A History of Home

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A HIstory of Home in the window of the Art Museum of Sonoma County

[About Lascaux cave paintings, Paleolithic inspiration, and my abstract painting process.]

Once in a while we are lucky enough to create a painting that somehow is a little bigger than we are.  This painting, A History of Home, was that for me. I want to take the time here to let the painting tell her story, her history of coming into existence.

It’s sometimes difficult for an artist to really explain what went into a particular painting.  In these days of marketing, the emphasis is on the “elevator speech,” a short, catchy, 5-second summary.  What a nightmare– trapped in an elevator and having to give a speech!  I won’t be doing any “elevator speeches” any more, in my studio or anywhere else.  Life is too short to waste it on the superficial.  This will be a wandering journey, like the entries to painted caves.

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A History of Home, detail, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 36″ x 48″, private collection

The second painting of a triptych,  I envisioned painting a series of abstract “maps,” entries to a colored world of cave and imagination.  In this one, we have begun to enter the painted caves, specifically Lascaux cave.  We stand at the threshold.  It is a map of dreamtime,  perhaps similar to Australian ritual paintings that mark imagined geographies mixed with “real” landmarks.

It fascinates me that parts of the painted caverns are actually called “galleries.”  They may have been our first cathedrals: most were not inhabited.  I am often inspired by the maps of the passages of the caves, and their abstract forms that are very unlike maps of the daytime world. Some of the marks in the painting feel like one of these “gallery maps” to me.

lascaux-gallery-diagram

I really love the line drawings the earliest modern archaeologists did as reproductions of the paintings. Because photography was more primitive at the turn of the century, most archaeologists were adept at sketching artifacts and paintings.  Almost all archaeologists who were allowed to enter the caves were male, of course. The most famous was “The Pope of Prehistory,” Henri Breuil.   He did the most amazing drawings of cave paintings and petroglyphs from around the world.

Drawings by Henri Breuil of cave paintings

I’ve spent a lot of time, literally many years,  seeking out  books with Henri Breuil’s drawings in dusty shops in so I could own some of his reproductions, with little success.  I think what was “drawing” me was  the beauty of the originals, but also a fascination of entering the world of the caves through transcribing the marks and animals by hand.

On the other hand, so to speak, I didn’t want to do reproductions of cave animals, no matter how compelling and beautiful.  The caves themselves show centuries, perhaps millennia, of overwriting– animal on top of animal, elaborations and erasures, adaptions, handprints, and abstract graphic marks that were most likely a symbolic language.  Generations of hands, eyes, pigments, footprints, erosion, stalactites,  mud and flickering lights.   Generations of whatever went on in these deep galleries. I wanted that. I wanted to enter that process, the one that started 35,000 years ago and is still going on today.

Back to caves, cave paintings, and my painting.  After a trip in the late 1990’s to the Grotta del Genovese on the island of Levanzo,  in the Egadi islands off the coast of Sicily— where I was led (by a genuine small hunchbacked cave keeper!) to the caverns with paleolithic paintings– I began to wonder why we have so few modern records of women scholars and archaeologists visiting European caves.  (I would love to revisit this island: just look at the setting of the entry to the cave!)

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Entry to cave on the island of Levanzo off the coast of Sicily.

I found that one woman archaeologist had documented Lascaux cave,  Annette Laming-Emperaire.  A part of the French Resistance, she entered Lascaux in the 1950’s and documented paintings and marks as a part of her doctoral thesis. Her method of cataloging and interpreting cave art is still in use today. But what fascinated me the most were her line drawings of cave paintings: sets of different style bison horns, diagrams of colored areas, and superimposed animals.

The young Annette Laming-Emperaire

I wanted to use her marks, so I enlarged them with a copy machine, created transparent acrylic transfers, and embedded them in the painting.  The black line drawings and diagrams are sunk in a dense field of paint.  Because they are transparent, the paint underneath is visible.

Hooves over color diagrams
Lower right, bulls and horses, superimposed

The painting has multiple layers.   Just last year I found that my paintings transform with 3-D glasses; the translucent bright layers, and the use of fluorescent paint, help facilitate.  With the glasses, the layers separate, and the lines float in an intermediate space on the picture plane.

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Viewer looking at paintings with 3-D glasses at the Paleomythic show. Chalk horses on “cave” wall by Caren Catterall.

This painting emerged out of paleolithic art, a trip to Sicily, Annette Laming-Emperaire, and the modern technologies of plastic, digital copies, and fluorescent pigments. The feeling of the painting is hearth-fire warm yet mysterious, filled with the spirits of people, animals, and landscape, and invoking a great woman scholar.  A History of Home is a story of entering art and making it our home over vast expanses of time— creating the new on top of the old every generation.  This process is hard to explain when someone asks “How long did it take you to paint this?”  (I figure about 25,000 years, give or take.)

I am pleased that it is going to the home of Rachel, Brendan and Tabitha Welsh in Alexandria, Virginia.  Their home was built in the 1790’s, so A History of Home will reside in a home with history.

Suzanne Edminster, September 2018

 

How to Use Gold Metal Leaf in Abstract Painting, Part 1

Abstract Paintings with Gold Metal Leaf – Suzanne Edminster

Gold leaf always seems so complicated.  It makes us think of old masterpieces and secret processes.  How can you use  gold metal leaf in intuitive,  contemporary abstract painting?

  1. Prep the canvas first.  I like to use gesso and modeling paste.  Build a few bumps and ridges into the canvas.  This will make the gold metal leaf have interesting texture when you apply it later. Then drip on a few interesting colors in light, abstract washes. You can use Golden liquid paints.  Remember that you are not planning too much.  In intuitive art, the painting will form itself from the media. You will get ideas as you go along. Let the  layers dry.  You can see an example with texture under the leaf here.

    Detail of Danae by Suzanne Edminster. Note the different kinds of texture under the gold areas.
  2. Let the gold metal leaf tear into large and small forms.  Don’t try to control the shapes: that’s part of the process! Then use regular waxed paper from a household roll to pick up the “broken” pieces.
  3. Apply the gold metal leaf first or in the under layers of the painting.   I use  a Minwax acrylic deck varnish from the hardware store.  I brush it on, let it dry a minute so that it is neither wet nor completely dry, then apply the gold leaf.  Let each random fall of the leaf lead you to decisions on where to place the next layer.  Press the waxed paper to make the leaf adhere.

Now you have the start of a very interesting abstract painting!

But how do you integrate the gold leaf and make it a finished painting?

I will write more on the process next month.  I don’t believe in “trade secrets” in painting anyway.  I will always reveal media and techniques– because your painting process and finished work won’t be like mine anyway!

I am hosting a class in my Santa Rosa, California studio this month.  You can find the listing for Abstracts with Gold Metal Leaf here on my website.  Please scroll down.   Gleam on!   Suzanne

Saltworkstudio Art Blog turns six.

 

 

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My shadow on Arizona petroglyphs.

Dear interweb world humans, beings, friends, voyeurs, and artists,

Thanks for following me all these years!  It has been a journey reflective of my inner world, a composition of shadow and light, beauty and imperfection.

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Turquoise Window World, an early painting post from the blog

 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I have to break through an invisible membrane of fear every time. As an introvert, sometimes I don’t even enjoy posting carefully edited versions of my life and paintings.  I’ve constantly struggled to be “authentic” with the innately inauthentic medium of social media and blogging.  At times I have been both over and under-attached to your reactions,  first living for them– the fabled “stats”– and then rejecting them entirely.

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Floating beauties from the Naples Archaeological Museum

 

I think the high point of authenticity for me is, ironically, not the art blog, but the Camino de Santiago pilgrim  posts.  I really perceived the blog, during the time of being on the road, as a tentacle of true connection.  I could feel support reaching through it.  The art, if you can call it that, was completely unrevised– the messy notebook pages.

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Portals of color, locked, Spain
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Pilgrim sketchbook, Camino de Santiago

Looking forward, I find myself increasingly interested in pure abstraction and an authentic gesture.  I want distance from approval and marketing and time to develop on my own without outside pressure, time to grow a new set of metaphors. So I’ve decided to take 2016 as a learning year, not showing year.

I won’t be doing open studios, except for our local events. I am going to paint at the Art and Soul Retreat in Portland this March.  These 5 days in a hotel room, painting and sketching, should be fun and instructive.  I’m excited to finally be studying with Jesse Reno.  I think he is a master of staying with the process until the final image, however eccentric, emerges.  I hope to focus on composition with Jane Davies.  I’m looking forward to cooking on the hotel room iron! (Just kidding. Sort of.)  I will be in the Sheraton Airport Hotel, car-free, and am thinking about how to keep costs  low.  It will be a rather fancy art  garret.  I’m bringing plastic sheeting so I can paint in the room if I want, storing the paintings on the extra bed.Let me know if you have ideas for hotel room survival.

At home, projects include new chicks in March, and planters for the heritage grapevines we got as starts from the UC Davis plant ark. The grapes are no longer grown in France,  having been hybridized, but  they are the ones that appear in many old masterpieces.  An ancient strain has been preserved and will grow on our arbor, or so we hope.  The grapes themselves are perhaps these that Monet painted, pale green with a rosy cast.

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Both chicks and grapes grow fast once they start.  I wish you a surge of new growth as well in the Lunar New Year.

Suzanne

 

 

A Trace of Gold

 

A Trace of Gold series at La Crema Tasting Room
A Trace of Gold series at La Crema Tasting Room
Selfie with "Phaistos"
Selfie with “Phaistos”

It’s been a summer full of road trips, but my newest show, “A Trace of Gold” is staying put, on view at La Crema tasting room in Healdsburg through September 2015. It has been great to have such an elegant space to display them.  I’m told that tasting room patrons have a few glasses of the outstanding Pinot Noir , then take each other’s photos in front of them. Larger scale paintings– these are four foot by five– take you into totally new spaces.  You enter the particular alternate universe of that painting in a way different from other work.  The broken gold metal leaf catches the light, even in near-darkness.   I painted these to try to catch something both fragile and eternal, like our lives.

Over Underworld at La Crema
Over Underworld at La Crema
Suzanne Edminster, The Phaistos, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 48 x 60
Suzanne Edminster, The Phaistos, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 48 x 60

Right now I’m writing from Mendocino, artful and artsy, charming and  pretentious.  I’m staying for a night in a watertower art studio– more on that in my next post. This is my third road trip of the summer.  Not to stretch the metaphor too much, but larger work is really a bit like travel that takes you into odd worlds.  It’s the closest we have to time and space travel through wormholes.  The brush is your vehicle, jalopy or spaceship.   Now I really have stretched that metaphor to the breaking point.  Next post will be the real road trips.  Don’t disembark yet.

Screwtape for Artists, Letter 1


The Screwtape Letters, written by C.S. Lewis in 1942, is a series of wickedly funny and ominous letters from a higher demon, Screwtape, to a sub-demon, Wormword, who is in charge of corrupting a human soul or “patient.” Of late, it has been fashionable to read of “gremlins” who want to steal your creativity, block you, and so on. I’ve never been fond of the word gremlin. It’s actually a 20th century coinage used for mechanical problems on airplanes, and is “imaginary.” It trivializes and reduces temptation to a cute, manageable,  pet-like critter  and whitewashes the tempters’ fierce battle for your art.

Artists deal with the shadow; it comes with the territory. But I think we need to correctly name our underworld enemy, and honor it with a measure of gravitas. In this spirit I have hacked the cosmic mailbox to expose some new Screwtape letters for artists, written to a certain Wormseed, who has been assigned the soul of my art. Read the original: it’s a fresh as ever today. I write these to discover what I might have to say to myself about my life and art.

My dear Wormseed,

I see you have been making good progress with the Artist.  She’s slowly slipping into a low-key despair, which is always a highly desirable state.   Since the advent of the Internet, which I had a gargoyle eating manlarge role in creating, your job is so much easier!  In some senses, the progress from the medieval artisan to the 21st “artist” has been our major achievement in the Arts.  Ironic, isn’t it, that those stone masons, as hungry and poor as they were,  accurately carved our likenesses as gargoyles. Portraiture was not dead!  Despite oppression  and all the fabulous  corruption of that  Church,  they were often closer to escaping us than the sleekly fed, well-medicated artists of today. The Cathedral of Technology holds so many new opportunities for us!

But I digress. I see she’s starting a new project.  This is your chance to make more progress.  Please amplify the level of distraction in her life.  A turn to “reality”– money, job, status, looks, and so on– is one of the best methods we know, because it is so supported by the society at large.  Involve her in her own reality show drama, as opposed to her actual life. By all means, keep her from daily walks and home cooked meals, as these fortify her, stopping up those wonderful chinks and holes through which we enter.  And DO NOT LET HER OPEN JOURNALS OR SKETCHBOOKS.  As soon as she creates even one word or line, our power begins to ebb.

If you keep her in this state of stasis, you will soon see a satisfactory decay.  Best of luck to you.  Sorry about the turn to non-toxic materials in her studio.  You can’t win them all.

Your  Master,

Screwtape

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.

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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.

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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.

What It Took for “Upside Down”

Upside Down by Suzanne Edminster, 36" x 48"
Upside Down by Suzanne Edminster, 36″ x 48″

Artists are often asked how long it took to make a painting.  Less often are they asked about materials, techniques, theme, and concept.  I’ve decided to tell you what it took.  My story is not unique; every artist has hundreds of these stories.  Most artists are polite enough not to bore you with them.  Here goes!

Materials: Golden liquids.  Flourescent Nova colors.  White acrylic ink and gesso.  Huge to tiny brushes.  Canvas prepped in 2010-2011 with gesso, lightweight spackle, and hand-carved forms.  Masking tape to establish horizon consistent with previous series of 10 paintings. Then swaths of translucent red, then swipes of flourescent red-orange.  Allow canvas to sit for 14 months to mature, and because you don’t quite know what it wants to be. 5 books on Hindu motifs, 2 books on symbols, 2 hours of research to establish authentic Warli painting examples.  Notebook with notes.  Film called “Upside Down”, an Indian movie not yet released in the US. Brushes borrowed from Karina Nishi Marcus.  One glass of cognac drunk in her studio.

Techniques: pouring, stamping.  Gesso applied with gloved hand, no brushes, for smooth yet organic texture.  Mixing of whites to achieve varying translucencies for folk painting.  Wiping back with variety of materials. Acrylic inks applied with brush and pen, water-soluble wax crayon scribbles, and 2 different varnishes, one spray and one applied by brush.

Experiential and conceptual development: one marriage, 1991-1998, in which I lived in Bangalore, India for several years and collected both fine and folk art.  Conversation with Indian woman who decorated the threshold with gorgeous rice flour designs daily at 4 AM so that her husband could step through this blessing on his way to work at dawn, her paintings destroyed and rebuilt day after day.   Color vocabulary from photographs and memories of India.  Conscious decision to paint naively.  Memories of circus and thoughts of Ganesha,  a major presence in South India. Wanted to use a sort of ‘tumbling down the rabbit hole” theme used in previous paintings, where animals float and turn in a metaphorical world, Chagall-like.  Mythic theme for paintings and series size established in the Terra Incognita series, 2011. A sadness over a  recent death and a desire to use forms drifting up and away, or birds to symbolize soul in release and  in captivity.  Threw out color balance and let the colors blend randomly, as in India.Memories of elephant festivals and ecstatic dancing.

And luck.

Questions?

Studio Note:  You can see “Upside Down”, both my painting and the film, at the Santa Rosa International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 12-21.  Visit http://www.sriff.org/ for more information.

A Contract with Creativity: 5 Tips on Time for Art

I am secretly annoyed when people ask me “How do you do it?”  I have a job.  I make art.

My first thought is that any young mother is ten times as busy as I am.  It’s just that she doesn’t get the public accolades of an art show.  Her project is her child.  How do young mothers do it?

Here are a few hard-won ideas on how to make time for art.

  1. Do your art first, before anything else.  Use your best time of day.  Twice a week I go to the studio and work from 6AM to 7:30, then go to work.  I have an alarm clock set in the studio to remind me to leave, just in case I enter flow time or art trance.
  2. Keep notebooks everywhere, not just in your home or studio.  That’s right, have duplicate or triplicate notebooks.  You can do some studio time in a notebook, but it has to be there.  Sketch and write down poetry, daily junk, and ideas. It’s not important which notebook is your art notebook and which is a daily journal.  Mix them up.  The important thing is writing in them.
  3. Remember that even if you had more time, you wouldn’t necessarily do more art in it.  Work in what you have right now, rather than get lost in a resentful dream state about your “other” imaginary life, which has both more time and more money, and in which you are better-looking.  This is easier said than done.
  4. Make a contract with yourself or another person.  That’s what the Caerus Artist Residency is all about: a simple support structure for art time and work for two weeks.
    Caerus, god of opportunity.

    Impose a commitment and yes, gasp, a few limitations on time and energy.  Be accountable to yourself and a few other people as well.

  5. Stop work when the painting (or your art form) is going well.  Leave it in a good place.  Do not work until crazed exhaustion and retinal eye spots begin to appear.  If you stop when your time is over, and the work is going well, you’ll have an eager feeling when you hit the studio again.  JUST PUT THE PAINTING DOWN AND LEAVE THE ROOM.

Don’t over-dramatize or over-romanticize the time needed for art.  Routine is not a dirty word for creative work.  It’s the fuse for the fireworks.  I know you know this already.  Just sayin’.

Book recommendation:  I found The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield  incredibly useful.  We make war on our own resistance.  Though I don’t like war and warriors as a metaphor, he uses it beautifully, and it’s one of the best books on artistic discipline I’ve ever found.

I liked this recent article by Aimee Bender called “A Contract of  One’s own.  You can read it here.  Both authors are professional writers.  I’ve often wondered about the difference in time needed for writing and painting.  Painting, I found, requires more time and more “stuff.”  Anyone else have an opinion on this?

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.