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

 

New series: “Blackboards” and “Kerubim” open in SOFA Friday

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“Black Elk Antlers,” acrylic and oil stick on wood, Suzanne Edminster

It’s always exciting to have a new series choose you.  It makes you famous with yourself.  A great notion has flown down to take you away its talons, like a mythical bird, the Roc.   This bird only sees you.

 Cretaceous Roc by Hodari Nundu
Cretaceous Roc by Hodari Nundu

This year two new series occurred in me, “Blackboards” and “Kerubim.”

I think much art lies outside conscious control.  These do.  Each “Blackboard” develops itself.  I have no idea of what the end result will be when I start. It’s childlike.  I see this, then I see that, then I turn the board and see something else.  I tell stories.  They develop out of the darkness of dream, the blackness of the childhood chalkboard, with markings and erasures like chalk.  And they can disappear like dreams too.

I believe art visits us.  The Kerubim series  (see below) is about visitation of ideas and phenomenon, texting from beyond, and decoding.  Cherubim are very old, going back to Assyria and Babylonia.  They orbit, rotate, have wheels, flames, eyes, thrones, and messages.

Chair Ubim, acrylic on Arches paper, Suzanne Edminster
Chair Ubim, acrylic on Arches paper, Suzanne Edminster

If you can make it, drop by during August.  The opening is in my studio, Friday August 5, 5-8 PM (invite below).   I’m happy to be showing with Chris Beards, an astonishing mixed media sculptor.  I’ll be releasing images on this site through the month of August for those of you who are far away.

It’s so much more interesting to be visited by Rocs or Muses than it is to watch summer blockbusters. With ideas, when the blockbuster opens,  you become its personal theatre.  I wish you happy visitations.

Suzanne

Implied large version

Access the Facebook invitation here.  We are also open for Artwalk on Saturday and Sunday.

 

The Cherubim Experiments and Winterblast

Cherubim 1, Suzanne Edminster

I’m doing experimental mark making and painting.  I start with automatic writing on each surface with drawing tools: conte, graphite, China marker, charcoal, oil pastel.  Then I white or obliterate areas of the writing or painting.  I follow ideas as they arise.  From automatic writing I get ideas and phrases.  An example: “History seeks to remember the mantra.”

I am fascinated with the process of making “sense” of random marks, images, words, and events.   The creativity lies not so much in the painting process as in the slow excavation of meaning out of fields of chance.

As I worked on this series of 3 20″ x 20″ paper pieces, the word “Cherubim” appeared to me.  Originally lions and bulls with wings, they “devolved” into Valentine Cherubs.  Cherubim guard the Tree of Life.   Cherubim guard The Big Chair, that is, God’s Throne:  Chair-u-bim. It seems that floating forms, surreal automatism, and a bit of religious icon are melding in this series.

Experiments are risky.  That’s why they call it “risk taking” and not “sure thing making.”  Below you can see one in progress.  I know they are done when a certain internal narrative about them crystallizes like rock candy in my mind. The point of “finishing” is in my psyche,  not in the painting itself.

Process painting in the Cherubinm series
Process painting in the Cherubim series

I think the real old-style Cherubim would be terrifying, more like wheels of UFO flame or hybrid winged lions, yet we know that sometimes monsters guard the gates we must enter as artists. I go forward with some trust in the process. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, friends.

Suzanne

If you’re in Northern California this Saturday, November 14, come to Winterblast, the best homemade holiday EVER.  I’ll be there with the studio doors open… if I’m not dancing in the street.

Winterblast 2015!
Winterblast 2015!

The Goose Game: Painting by Chance

Suzanne Edminster

I decided to compose two large abstract paintings for The Goose Game series using rolls of the dice and the old European board game, the Goose Game.  I’d let chance dictate the process.

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I used notebook pages and wrote either thematic or painterly elements in a list , randomly numbering them 2 to 12 to correspond with dice rolls.

You can see it’s a real mix: all the way from “use neocolors” to “holy spirit.” This way of working does have a lineage. John Cage used the I Ching to compose music, notably “Music of Changes”, including the notorious Roaring Silence segment. I found out about this during the eighties in New College, San Francisco, where a teacher, either Robert Duncan or Duncan McNaughton, friends of poet and musician Lou Harrison, who apparently also used the I Ching to compose, brought it up in class. Less known is that John Cage also used it to compose prints, monoprints and lithographs, during the seventies, at the end of his life.

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The best article on this I’ve found on John Cage and his use of the I Ching  is on S J Marshall’s fine site, Calling Crane in the Shade.  For painting,  I found the process beautifully meditative.  Quiet and slow, it let each element unfold by itself until I was done with it, with little anxiety or the press of “I could do this, I could change that.” Most important, it gave comfort to be rid of the tumult of “What should I do?”

It was calming and centering to give away the control to a larger element, as I did when I was walking the Camino de Santiago.  The Goose Game is an ancient European board game that has many metaphors for pilgrimage, which is why I chose it. This all sounds so odd.  I find it interesting that abstract composers and artists are drawn to chance in creation.  Something larger moves through us.

I’ll be happy to share more about my process at the opening of The Goose Game, Friday May 1st, 2015, 5-8 PM, in the Backstreet Gallery.  I’m located down Art Alley in SOFA Santa Rosa.  I’ll give an artist talk at 7 PM.  You can play the Goose Game if you visit.

Suzanne Edminster, Wind Over Water, The Goose Game Series.  Acrylic and gold metal leaf on canvas, 45 x 60.
Suzanne Edminster, Wind Over Water, The Goose Game Series. Acrylic and gold metal leaf on canvas, 45 x 60.

 

On the March

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Turkeys strutting it along the boulevard in front of my urban studio! I’m a lark, an early riser.  I swear that you see the most interesting sights in any city in the morning.  This fellow was preening, opening his tail, and doing a mating dance for a stopped car  as I went early to the studio to prep for my art class.

In Bodrum, Turkey, I saw sheep being driven into the surf at the beach at dawn to wash them off, baaa-ing in the foam.  In Naples, Italy at dawn, the gentle sound of sweeping of the stoops and streets in front of the stores fills the air. This meditative cleanup of ancient byways readies space and soul  for a new day of commerce.  Later in the day this vanishes, filled with shouts, songs, scooters, and swearing. Continue reading → On the March

Small Work, Big Impact: 40 venues go small at SOFA Sat. Feb 2, 5-8 PM

Suzanne Edminster, Sea Garden, acrylic on paper, SOLD

Small does not mean diminshed  intrigue or impact. A good small painting reads big.  I remember that in the Denver Art Museum that you could see the Georgia O’Keefe small painting from across a vast room, before we could even identify it as hers.  It just shone.  I’ve been working on larger pieces for a while now. It’s an interesting lesson: large is NOT small scaled up somehow. The dimension changes meaning. This one will be on display this Saturday.

Confession: the very small works are often traces of projects that lead to larger works for me. My own sense of detail is not robust; I prefer the BIG. Even my handwriting is large and scrawling. I like to work small on paper– it feels more open and free. But sometimes I do “smaller” canvases: 10″ x 10″ is one of the smallest. I like mixed media on smaller canvases to make more of an impact. Everything is small-ized now. Just think of your Iphone and Ipad.

Suzanne Edminster, Days of the Dead, combined media on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
Suzanne Edminster, Days of the Dead, combined media on canvas, 12 x 12 inches

Small can be very expressive. I did the piece above when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to make a response that expressed sacrifice and rebirth as his living spirit started to transition.  The Little Sun Cow below was just pure play and joy.  We all have our art totems.  Cosmic and regular cows are  mine.

Suzanne Edminster, Little Sun Cow, acrylic on paper, SOLD

One artist who has a great sense of the small is Susan Cornelis.  You can see her latest cool “fossil” smalls here. Come visit me this Saturday, or, better yet, start your own  small series. Small can lead  to big things. Surprise yourself!

SOFA Small Works

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.