Mirror Neurons and Painting Neurons: Reflections on Four Hands Painting

Four Elements, 36" x 36", by Susan Cornelis and Suzanne Edminster

Susan Cornelis and I have been passing paintings back and forth in our collaboration, getting our mirror neurons working. “Mirror neurons” are really highly speculative, as far as hard science goes, but are a seductive concept. We are made to imitate and to share knowledge, to mimic. Our brains recreate what we see as our own experience. When we see someone pick up a lemon, our taste buds start. In our case, we have at times in the collaboration consciously tried to mimic the other: to use a Suzanne color or make a Susan shape. Some of these paintings are turning out to be the “best” ones.

It makes me wonder if paintings– and all art– actually encode the experience of the painter, or, in our case, painters plural, into the paint itself. When we look at the Mona Lisa, do we start to resonate with da Vinci’s beautiful brain? He wrote all his notes in mirror writing, so maybe he cracked the code centuries ago, as he did with flying machines and submarines. Why are some of the collaborative paintings powerful? Here’s a question for the ego to gnaw on, and one we’ve discussed. Are the collaborative paintings “better” than our individual ones?

You can come to our show and find out. The painting shown here, “Four Elements”, is a good mirror painting example: Suzanne paints with Susan’s cool palette, Susan tries Suzanne’s odd forms.  Let us know what  you see in this work.

Four Hands Collaboration: The Paintings Here No Longer Exist

These paintings no longer exist. In our Four Hands project, Susan Cornelis and I live in a world of vanishing images. This is true of all painters, of course, but I have the feeling that the collaboration magnifies the process. The painting can change radically at any time. We can now note and record the changes as their own event; this is also part of our collaborative process.

Carpe diem! Seize the day, the moment, the painting as it exists exactly now.

The Opening Reception for the Four Hands Painting Collaboration will be held on Saturday, March 10, 2012 at the Phantom IV Gallery in Windsor, California.   Join us to see the latest versions of these shape-shifters.


Picasso, Braque, Susan, Suzanne, and the “Squirrel”

Painting Start by SE / Cornelis Edminster Collaboration

Our painting collaboration (Susan Cornelis and Suzanne Edminster)  is finding squirrels,  squawking bird things, skulls, and stubborn winged beings  in  our  paint .  Are they vermin or rare species?  Should they  be conserved or eliminated?  Here’s a wild start on a 24″ x 24″ canvas.  These starts are ephemeral: this one no longer exists, but has already changed.   Check the left corner.

Karina Nishi Marcus told me about Braque, Picasso, and the  Squirrel.  Picasso found a squirrel form in the middle of one of Braque’s paintings, and Braque struggled for 8 days trying to get rid of it.  I’ve included the story in a link below. It’s interesting that Picasso told Braque to kill it, get rid of it.  Braque’s squirrel was living in a painting of tobacco, pipes, cafe glasses.  Picasso said the squirrel didn’t belong there. On the other hand, Picasso, with his autocratic personality, might not have  ever allowed something to appear in his painting that he didn’t plan, sanction, or control.  

Our wild things emerge from splashes, spatters, and a short discussion of media and possible compositional forms.  Keep them and develop them?  Paint them out?  What about this fellow?

Detail, Upper Left Corner, "The Bird"

He absolutely hijacks the whole composition.  Paint him out in favor of more balance and harmony?  Here’s a detail of what we did to the painting.  The “squirrel”– the bird in the corner– is still there.

Detail, stages 2 and 3, of painting start Cornelis Edminster Collaboration

A lot of you are painters out there.  What do you think?  Thumbs up or thumbs down to the Bird Thing?

Mythic notes:  Read the full story of the Picasso, Braque and the squirrel .   These painting apparitions belong to either the world of projection and psychology, or the world of the dream.  Painting is dreaming out loud, lucid dreaming.  Change the dream?  Is it nonsense or an omen?  Do we let it pass like a cloud, and onto the next dream, or painting?  See more of our painting day from Susan Cornelis’ point of view.

Studio news:  Karina Nishi Marcus is having an opening at the Wine Emporium in Sebastopol this Friday.  Come and enjoy her masterful work. 

Artist’s reception for
Karina Nishi Marcus
Friday, February 10, 2012 from 5-8 pm at “The Wine Emporium.”125 N. Main St. · Sebastopol CA 95472
Phone: 707-823-5200 
 
http://www.the-wine-emporium.com/calendar/event?eventid=11995

Plan to meet the artist and enjoy excellent food, wine and music!The Wine Emporium is located at 125 North Main Street, in Sebastopol, a few doors North of Hwy. 12. Karina Nishi Marcus’ paintings can be seen on the sets of major motion pictures and TV shows including, Mad Men, NCIS, Parenthood, CSI: NY, Monk and House.

A Quick Peek at a Painting Collaboration Process

Ever had one of those brilliant midnight ideas and let it drift away?  Well, painter Susan Cornelis  had one and made it a reality, that rare bird,  a painting collaboration. Encouraged by B.L.T., the collaborative project of Lisa Beerntsen, Tony Spiers, and Bob Stang, Susan asked me to be her partner in an a collaborative painting series with abstracted themes.

We began on Saturday in Susan’s studio.  Making it up as we went along, we decided to start with smaller paper pieces to get a feel for a larger series on canvas.  Here’s a start by Susan Cornelis:

Susan Cornelis Gold Start 6

As you can see, the starts were so beautiful it felt very risky presuming to “finish” them!  I “finished” the start you see above  with this version below.

Suzanne Edminster Gold Finish 6

 Here’s  another one of Susan’s brilliant starts:

Susan Cornelis Gold Start 4

 And my finish below:

Suzanne Edminster Gold Finish 4

A secret: this kind of painting is addicting, riveting, and fun.  To see more of the project, including a few of my starts and Susan’s finishes, visit Susan’s blog, Conversations with the Muse.   Cooperators are standing by, so more to come.

Ekphrasis: Poet to Painter to Poet

Suzanne Edminster, Poetry / Sally Baker, Painting

Yes, I practice Ekphrasis, and I’m proud of it. 

Now that I have your attention, I’ll put the definition of Ekphrasis is at the end of the post. I have a Master of Poetics from  New College of California in San Francisco.  I was lucky to study with  Robert Duncan and Diane di Prima, among others.  It wasn’t a creative writing course.  The poet-teachers had the vision of sharing their  vast source materials with students, not to coach them. Rather than giving us fishing poles to catch our own fish, they set us adrift on little paper rafts to encounter whales, and make of it what we could.

It was extreme:  Writers Write. Harsh.  Unlike most academic programs, the poets supported themselves primarily through writing, publishing, and performing, not teaching in the tenured shelter of a respectable university.  They lectured in old morgue rooms on Valencia Street  with smudgy green chalkboards and circular drains in the corners of the classroom floors, formerly used to collect embalming fluids. 

I remember being  terrified to expose my own beginner work to the mastery of the teachers.  In hindsight, I wasn’t that bad.  But many of us remained writing- paralyzed in the presence of genius, or perhaps it was just romantic depression endemic in the 80’s in the Mission District.

My poem was written in response to Sally Baker’s painting Persimmon with Attitude . My poem invokes Gary Snyder, another poet who wrote about persimmons.  Snyder references Mu Ch’i, a 12th century painter of pomegranates.  Poet to painter to poet to painter to….  Here is Mu Ch’i’s famous painting.

 Ekphrasis:Ekphrasis or ecphrasis is the graphic, often dramatic, description of a visual work of art. In ancient times it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, ‘out’ and ‘speak’ respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name.

You can hear me read my persimmon poem at 3:30 on Sunday, December 11, 2011 at Graton Gallery in “A Picture is Worth 500 words [or less]” with Sally Baker, guest artists Taylor Gutermute, Sandra Speidel, and Martha Wade.  There will be a good group of writers as well:  the writing was curated by Toni L. Wilkes, GregoryW. Randall, and Colleen Craig. I’ll write publish the poem in a future post, but it really belongs with the painting.  Ekphrasis to you, too.

Saltworkstudio Large Painting Class: 5 Clues, and Cool Painting Titles

Cythia Heimowitz' s hands on her painting

What’s a large painting for you? 12  by 12 inches?  6 feet by 6 feet?  A mural? Anything on canvas? 

 What’s a large series?  Two paintings? A hundred?
 
In Sunday’s Saltworkstudio Paint Large class, our goal was to clarify our intentions for a series and begin to paint on larger surfaces.   For the purposes making headway in a four-hour class, I suggest students bring half to full sheets of watercolor paper, or three identical canvases up to 30 inches on a side.
 
I won’t share the entire process of the class, but it did result in the stunning headway on painting series you can see in the slideshow below.  All paintings shown were done in class on Sunday, and they are very fine starts. Some students came in with well-developed ideas, and some came in “blank.”
 
 I had to figure out how to model and convey my own process when working on a large series of big surfaces.    We used some of the  ideas below as guidelines.
 
  1. A large painting is not a small painting “blown up.”  Start fresh.  “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.”  You are in a new, large, foriegn country.  Explore it.
  2. Composition is critical.  Plan a minimal, flexible composition format or idea.  It could be “Golden Mean” or “Diagonal.”  OR it could be quirkier: “Large X-Ray Animal in the Middle”  or “Floaty Fractal Bubble with Connectors” or “One Line High Horizon.”  Vary each painting in  your series, but stay within one compositional “meme.”
  3. Texture your surface first, then put on large swathes of color or paint BEFORE “starting” the painting.  Keep it very loose at first.   You’re getting hold of your surface, getting acquainted with it…developing a relationship.  The start is like a first date.
  4. You need big ideas for large paintings.  Work in your notebook. Catch the ideas and desires that hang at the periphery of your conciousness. We’re like Adam naming the animals of our imagination into existence… and some of them are very odd creatures! Don’t be afraid of titling your paintings right at the start.  You can always change them later.
  5. Remember, it’s only paint and canvas.  Sure, you might fail.  So what?

Enjoy the slideshow!  The Mythic News and Studio News are after the slides. Students, please leave some comments about your process and your series concepts and names.  I’m amazed by your work.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 
Mythic News:  You can get great abstract painting titles from myths and legends.  I just bought the beautiful, witty book  American Indian Myths and Legends, selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz.  Here are some titles I’d love to use for abstract paintings: The Origin of Curing Ceremonies. The Well-Baked Man.  Blood Clot. Jicarilla Genesis. Emerging Into the Upper World.  Great Medicine Makes a Beautiful Country.  The Theft of Light.  A Trick of Moon.  And more.  At the end of his life, my father told me that my great-grandmother was Native American.  It was the skeleton in the closet and a family secret.   At last I had a context for my resonance with ancient art.  Is there a DNA for visual desire, the passions of the eyes?
 
Saltworkstudio News:  All my classes are full through March!  I’ll be posting the next Spontaneous Construction date and time in the new year.   
 

My Desert Vacation 2: Petroglyphs and Premonitions

Grey Magic, acrylic combined media on paper, 10" x 10", Suzanne Edminster

Premonitions, by definition, come first. But, like ancient oracles, you never know what they really mean until you get there.

In hindsight, this little painting foretold our desert trip. I did this in October as a collage painting demo. Now it strikes me how much it is like the petroglyphs we saw at Painted Rock State Park, just outside of Gila Bend, Arizona, in late November. In fact, there’s a lizard spirit slithering gila-like through it.

Petroglyphs are the abstractions of the ancients. Were they a semi-precise writing or language, like heiroglyphs? Religious spirit encounters: “Hey, the Deer Dancer possessed me here!” Maps?

It’s interesting how there seems no real distinction between realism and abstraction in petroglyphs.  The deer with bulging belly seems so obviously pregnant, but the squared-off labyrinth delights  in the design-play of geometric abstraction.

Petroglyphs are vigorous and melancholy at once.  Here people met, prayed, danced, hunted, ate, and spent days and weeks creating with what they had– stone and imagination.

Boo!

Thanksgiving Eye Candy for Your Virtual Feast

Sea Garden, acrylic on paper, 5" x 7", Suzanne Edminster

Dear reader, I wish you a delicious day.  I shall be dining in a truck stop in Arizona,  Tonopah Joe’s, made famous in the movie Alice’s Restaurant, with Scott, my husband, and other travellers.

Pure paint is so enticing. I put these on your eye’s table, for your enjoyment.  I make them by painting a bright background, then squeezing on globs of color.  Then I press another surface on top of it, peel it off, and let it dry.  They are deceptively simple;  most don’t work, but when they do,  you’ve just received a chocolate from the candy box of Fate.  Now that I’ve told you how easy they are, do you still respect me in the morning?

We can celebrate with words as well.  I offer you synonyms for  giving thanks, from the lumbering Thesaurus: praise, benediction, paean, grace, recognition, bless one’s stars (archaic, but beautifully true),  acknowledge, appreciate. My thanks to all of you who have invited my work and words into your in-box in the last few months. Sniff. 

Meadow, acrylic on paper, 5" x 7", Suzanne Edminster

Mythic news: The Cornucopia  was the horn of the goat that suckled Zeus.  It overflowed with inexhaustable food and drink. Everyone who’s anyone among the gods loves it. Fans of the Cornucopia include Demeter for the harvest of fruit and vegetables, Dionysios for the wine, Priapus for the sexy fun, Flora for the flowers, Earth, Autumn, Hospitality, Peace, and Concord.  May we all dine at this table!  Hear, here.

Studio news:  I’m traveling in Arizona this week with my Sprockett Rocket in my pocket!  What’s that, you say?  More soon, when the images are developed for your pleasure.  Yes, it’s real film.  Remember those days?  Please comment if you like something here.  I’ll respond as soon as I am back in civilization.

Over Underworld Vacations in Graton

Over Underworld, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48, Suzanne Edminster

Over Underworld is going on a vacation in Graton.

This painting is part of a meditative abstract series on the links between worlds. I’ve always found it fascinating how much of our lives are lived in fantasy, dream, reading, and contemplation.  These are whole worlds that float beneath us. I wanted to paint the notion of a thin “skin” of organized thought, houses, civilization, geometry, over a beautiful chaos of creative form.  Ladders link the worlds, so, that with focus, we can climb up and down from one world to another… ladders without the chutes!

Painting process:   I established a horizon line for the three paintings, then started a gold and orange spatter process underneath, working on all three paintings simultaneously.  I tried various stages for the top.  You can see some of these in October Underworlds.  I opted to paint the whole thing rather than adding on the black and white paint compostions I had considered mounting.  Then I used areas of intereference paint mixed in with other paints over large areas of the painting, so that they would shift with the shifting light.

The Underwood, 5 x 7 watercolor collage sketch, Suzanne Edminster

I’ve spent little time in Graton, but the painting is currently on loan to Catherine Devriese and Isabelle Proust.  That’s mighty fine company, I would say.  And I did have a drink at the Underwood with Susan Cornelis last night, resulting in this immortal masterwork of a sketch.  Overworld, underworld, Underwood–  after my martini and some fun with Susan, watercolors, and ripping up the Underwood menu to collage, the horizons between them seemed to become , delightfully, more permeable.

Tell me, what lies Under your Overworld?

Mythic News:  I’m going to Rome this Christmas, and had forgotton that in one version of the Trojan myth,  the last of the remaining Trojans fled to found Rome.  I don’t know how this fits in with Romulus, Remus, and the Wolf Mom, though.  I’ve been feeding my soul with the classical warrior heroes, and only periodically get patriarchal indigestion.

Studio News: my new weekend workshop is called Spontaneous Construction and will be offered in the spring.  More soon.