Screwtape for Artists, Letter 3: On Originality

Monotype experiment, Suzanne Edminster
Monotype experiment, Suzanne Edminster

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

C. S. Lewis

Stormy weather outside, for California, that is. There’s a beautiful grey light against the too-early bloom of the magnolia petals outside the classroom door. magnolia

This C.S. Lewis quote really spoke to me, especially as I flounder about in a new media for a while. Reduced to the status of a beginner, questions of originality pale against simple technical ignorance. As I get older, I feel less unique and special, less original, as a person. I share experience with so many, and, as and adult, know it.

Dear Wormseed,

Congratulations on  the recent sale of the Gauguin for 300 million dollars. A flood of artists will feel discouraged in their own art, and the price obscures the painting itself completely, making it nearly impossible to view with fresh eyes.  Corruption rules!

The Subject-Artist recently proposed making a tableau of dream images.  This is very dangerous, as these inner vapors carry far too much information and spirit, and may speak to others as well.  Keep her in the familiar territory of easily understood beauty, like your recent Artist-Subject Thomas Kincaid.  You earned a sizeable bonus on him, did you not?

You are on still on shaky ground with the daily studio visits.  You must redouble your efforts to keep her away, or you will feel the consequences.  Keep your team on the streets with graffiti– it was brilliant to unify the art impulse with vandalism.  Keep it up.

In Venom–

Screwtape

Archived:  Letter 1 and Letter 2

 

2013: New Saltworkstudio, New Classes starting January 27, and a New Start

Hubbub club in studio

A big tuba shout out to you, friends, readers, and painters, for 2013!  The Hubbub Club drove out all the creative heebie-jeebies during my new studio warming in the Uribe Gallery in the SOFA  arts district in Santa Rosa during Winterblast 2012.  It reminded me of the ruckus of a shivaree, and felt like an early New Year’s Eve party.  Thanks to all my friends who came bearing gifts, good wishes, and their presence to the new incarnation of Saltworkstudio.

How to begin?  I’ve been creating in fits and starts.  I like this time of year for brainstorming and planting seeds. In 2013 I’m thinking of the Caerus Artist Residency,  my studio classes, gallery shows, and more large mythological paintings.  What’s on your docket?

In 2013, there are a lot of open studio doors, more than usual.  I’m looking forward to showing regularly during Third Thursdays and the SOFA Strolls starting Thursday,  January 17, 6-8 PM.  These are fun, informal drop-in open studios, where you can wander around SOFA, catch up with friends, get a snack.

Sofa Stroll Poster

Come on over to my studio and visit.  I have a biiiiiig SOFA sofa to lounge on.

P1080584

On January 27 my Sunday Studio painting classes begin.  You can take all 3 monthly Sunday Studios for $150 if you register in advance.  I’m also doing a Spontaneous Construction  whole-weekend intensive class in April, for the springtime.  In the new neighborhood it will be easy to get a lunch out or stroll in the park between paintings. There’s room in the classes right now- send in the registration form or contact me to sign up.

On a personal note, it’s fun but challenging to be open so much.  It requires an open heart and the ability to go with the flow.  My introverted self squirms a bit. I just want to hide in the woods with my deer antlers.

P1080591

Antlers, because they are created and shed annually, are a symbol of renewal. I wish the best to you in your renewal  for the New Year.

Invitation to Dionysia Reception at Wine Emporium, Friday Oct. 5, 5-8PM– and another great opening a block away!

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I’d like to invite you to stop by on Friday for my opening, Dionysia.   Dionysus is not only the god of wine and parties, but of organic form and growth, a fundamental premise of  intuitive painting.   James Haug, proprietor of the Wine Emporium,  is a great host and discerning patron of the visual arts.  There will be live music by Johnny Harper, hot American roots guitarist.  Wine, art and song are a time-honored recipe for a good time. You can find more details in my Facebook Invitation here.  Remember, Friday, 5-8, Wine Emporium!

Dionysia  is the real name for yearly wine festivals in Greece.  They are often accompanied by theatre, but in this opening the tragicomic  themes will be provided by the musicians, including new original songs by Sharyn Dimmick. You can enjoy a few of the Four Hands Painting Collaboration pieces that Susan Cornelis and I worked on earlier this year.

I’m showing some paintings that have never been exhibited before, several on mythological themes.  Obscure Greek mythology always pokes its fingers into my paintbox.  Point Reyes Dawn is based on seeing Bouguereau’s Venus at the DeYoung Impressionism exhibit a day before going to Limantour Beach at the Point Reyes National Seashore. The odd aqua pastels reflect the somewhat  tweaked sentimentality of the painter, but the pink spotted whale is all mine.  It’s the greenish painting in the slide show.

Bouguereau’s Venus, not mine!

There’s another great reception right down the road at Retrospect, 4 x 4 , with 4 pieces each by  Art Moura, Todd Barricklow, Judson King Smith, and  Gregory Odle.  It’s at 125 Petaluma Ave and it’s the same hours.  I ‘d have to be shizophrenic to be at both, but I’ll try.  You can find the Retrospect 4 x 4 FB invite here .

I like to paint in the fall and I’ll be posting some absolutely new paintings soon. Meanwhile, join me for some fun this Friday.  It might not be as fun as the gathering in Bougereau’s Venus, but then again you never know.    Suzanne

Metaphoracard Collage Play at Camp Winnarainbow for so-called Adults

One of my cards.

What the heck is a Metaphoracard?  Laura Foster Corben and I invented these small (5″ x 7″)collage paintings on matboard to provide art play for Wavy Gravy’s Adult Camp Winnarainbow.  I’m the Metaphoracard Girl and Amuse Grove Reader.

In the tradition of side amusements for The Players– the musicians, clowns, dancers, arialists, stiltwalkers, magicians, storytellers and poets of the cosmic, comic Circus– the cards provide diverse diversions, a little taste of trickster mind at play.

As in my Saltworkstudio classes, we work  in series, doing three at one time, and follow one of the Almost Unbreakable Cardinal Rules–Paint First.  Getting the mark of the hand, paint, brush or ink down before applying images is vital.  I’m not sure why, but it seems to transform the cards from stiff constructions to flowing, “wavy,” spontaneous combustions of dreamy image.

They are meant to be entertainments, in the way that some novels are called “An Entertainment.” There is no number to the deck.  The deck is temporal and temporary, created in time by a group, played with, and dismantled after.  Because they call forth a certain bubbly synchronicity, their accuracy can be astonishing, but unrepeatable.  Like an appearance of a Loch Ness Monster, they leave splashy traces, but can’t really be nailed down or captured in a net of a single meaning.  And they dissolve after the week at camp, each player claiming their own trading cards of vision, dream, and just plain weird stuff.

A little handful of art magic to play with.

Since Camp Winnarainbow emphasizes fun, play, and performance, we wanted to create a recreational visual art form  that would give satisfaction in the both in the making and in active use after.  The cards were read by a raggle-taggle Amuse group in the temporary Amuse Grove you see below.  There’s a Cosmic Phone for when we get stuck.  We just dial up the Demigods to get an anwer. The chairs are decorated with old wedding gowns from the Costume Tent.

Instead of the Muse Grove, the Amuse Grove.

Metaphoracards require a community.  You need a group to get a deck, and you need someone else to read your card. It’s the rule of the Cosmic Trickster that you can’t know what your image might say.  I puzzled over my image of Faulkner, doggies, and a flower, until my husband Scott said, “That’s easy.  It’s Power: dog power for the body, Faulkner power for the intellent, and the flower is pure vegetative power, an idea bursting out.”  Huh, and wow.  Flower power?

But… are they serious ART?  I absolutely hope not.

My thanks to Wavy Gravy, Jahanara Romney, and Laura Foster Corben for sponsoring me  as a Guest Artist at Camp Winnarainbow. Take a look at the cards the talented Susan Cornelis made. Towards the fun!

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Six Phases of Creativity

Worktable with 3 “Drafts” for Larger Paintings, Saltworkstudio

Where am I now?  What’s next?

I’ve been incubating this Dionysian series for a while. I have three 2 foot by 4 foot canvases waiting for paint to develop these themes, colors, and forms.  The starts shown above are meant to act as “thumbnails’ for the next phase of larger paintings on canvas.

I have the best luck with my finished pieces when I am purposely experimental, uncontrolled, and unfinished in my draft paintings. I’m groping in my own darkness when I paint.  I don’t want the whole process to happen even before I hit the canvas.  I don’t want  to pre-paint it in my head, my notebook, or anywhere else.

I found a useful new metaphor for thinking about any creative project, whether it’s painting or cleaning out the junk room. These ideas are from The Path of the Everyday Hero,  a book about mythic themes played out in life.  The six phases of creativity are preparation, frustration, incubation, strategizing, illumination, and verification (or manifestation).

Dignified, precise language allows us to reframe creative pauses or lapses. It’s interesting that frustration comes immediately after preparation, right at the start.  Frustration is the failure stage, the belly of the whale, the so-called “block”. What now?

My friend Karina Nishi Marcus is very clear on the idea that “block” should be eliminated from the artist’s vocabulary.  She says creativity is more related to nature metaphors, like “low tide” for the ocean, or “fallow” for the land.  It is a necessary part of the creative process.

“Noble Bull”, acrylic combined media, Suzanne Edminster

Frustration stops us from action, and makes us incubate our ideas, like an egg.  It’s on the back burner, in the nest, warming, passive on the surface but active underneath, mysterious, the seed under the ground.  To incubate properly we also need to strategize, to try things that might nourish or warm the invisible idea.   Some might work, some not.  But the passive time is needed, yin to the yang of action. Paintings can stay successfully in this stage for a long time, even years.

“The Great Ones”, acrylic combined media, Suzanne Edminster

The painter or artist may have to go back and forth in the frustration–incubation–strategy realm for a while, then illumination, the “aha moment” strikes, and elevates the venture to a different level, perhaps to completion.  The creative round, like the phases of the moon, will start again with a new idea.

“We Have Purposely Kept It”, acrylic combined media, Suzanne Edminster

These paintings are not done, but after some months of incubating, I am strategizing.  The notebook helps keep me on track.  When you find your way through an art dilemna, the solution often seems absurdly simple.  Still, it took time to get there.  The cycle may play out in one painting, or in series spanning decades.

The Dionysian metaphor is one of unbounded spring growth and ceremonial theatre, among other things.  Perhaps I should drink a glass of wine to Dionysios, and return to the paintings.    A flash of lightning,  a sprouting vine, or a Greek chorus might illumine the way to the next act of painting.

Mythic notes:  The Dionysian mystery cults tried to loosen the bonds between the worlds through sacred intoxication, theatre, dance and ritual.  The Pompeii Murals, with their glowing Pompeii red, were thought to have depicted aspects of this.

Pompeii Murals, probably showing Dionysian cult ritual

How We Built the Trojan Horse: A Four Hands Collaborative Painting Process

Trojan Horse, "Final" Version. A Four Hands Painting.

The Trojan Horse was surprising to both of us.  Just how did this image develop, seemingly independently of plan or will?  What was happening behind the Oz-like curtain of the studio process?  Follow us through our start and stages.

Trojan Horse Part 1: The Start. A Four Hands Painting

The Start: We poured ink, gesso and paint. What a figure emerged! I named him The Prophet in my mind. It was off-balance composition, with emphatic marks and lines hovering like bats, and Halloween colors. Edgar Allen Poe might have been proud.  We had agreed that we would work with large curves,  a vertical or upright form somewhere, and calligraphic marker lines on this series, and all those forms were there– but– like a “bad” child, acting out.   It wasn’t pleasing from the very start the way some of the abstract pours were; it was not initially not beautiful. However, it did invite radical action, which was fun. 

 Each Four Hands painting seemed to have its own soul or being trying to emerge.  When two people work together, control is lessened and gaps are created where fate or luck can enter.

Trojan Horse Part 2: The Development. A Four Hands Painting

Each “problem” became an invitation in the next stages.  Too warm?  Add purple shapes.  Periwinkle violet rectangles began to pop up.  An “arm” of the form was eliminated.   More gesso was combed on with one of Susan’s notched forms and a “coliseum” emerged.  Horse + ruins =… oh dear, a Trojan Horse was emerging, that gift that kept on giving.  The foreground aquired areas of blue and white as well.  Torch forms, cakes, candles started to light things up with red.  The canvas was very messy at this stage, with many distracting marks.  Time to remove and transform.  Heave-ho!

Susan had been exploring horses in her work, and I had just returned from Italy, where I bathed in Greco-Roman art and lost civilizations, so I supposed both of these elements emerged.  Like a dream, though, it was more than that.  The painting seemed related to Timeline in style and form, and was grouped with it in the show.  Trojan Horse and Timeline share some aethetic of “event” or chronology, time on wires.  You can see them together in the show.

Trojan Horse, "Final" Version. A Four Hands Painting.

 More blue added, orange cut back, violet reduced, pure red accents.  Opaques calm . A few greenish and brownish neutrals to rest the eye, and an iconic horse moves, as Joni Mitchell put it, on the “carousel of time.”  Or a child’s hobby horse thumps through a field….What do you see? For another Four Hands painting, visit Susan Cornelis’ Conversations with the Muse.

I’ve posted a picture of the Four Hands Collaboration below and an invitation to the event at Phantom IV Gallery this Saturday afternoon and evening. Come celebrate with us if you can.

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.