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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Both chicks and grapes grow fast once they start. I wish you a surge of new growth as well in the Lunar New Year.
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.
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.
It’s easy to make fun of abstract artists. You only have to watch some TV to see the cultural perspective on abstraction. In sitcoms, Hal from Malcolm in the Middle throws so much paint on a canvas in his garage that the whole painted surface crumbles off in a paint avalanche.
In Grace and Frankie, a recent Netflix sitcom, space cadet Frankie (Lily Tomlin) paints two dots on a canvas and stares at those two dots for three days, stuck. (This fictional studio led Tomlin’s co-star Jane Fonda into trying painting and ceramics.) And in Mad Men, Don buys a painting, under pressure, and sits wondering what it is and whether he’s been conned. (This painting was created by my friend Karina Nishi Marcus.)
No one really can tell you what abstraction is. You’re doing this passionate, ridiculous, solitary, incomprehensible, contemplative, snake-oil-salesman of a job. Who can advise you? Where can you go for professional critique or discourse outside an MFA program?
This Saturday I loaded up my ancient truck with 4 paintings, all large, two new and two older. I had been accepted as a participant in an ongoing seminar sponsored by the Lucid Art Foundation. The seminar was held at The Dance Palace at Point Reyes Station, a renovated church in an idyllic setting. It’s not a painting seminar: it’s critique provided by professor and painter Jeremy Morgan.
Morgan verbally examines and critiques your paintings. I found it more of a mentoring process. Much of the critique is devoted to sources and origins, or possible artists to research that might have resonate with your own style. In this way the critique widens its viewpoint from the art at hand to encompass an expanse of history and connections. His examination leads not so much back into the paintings as outward from them into the next possibilities. My critique took about 35 minutes. Three people were critiqued in the three hour segment.
All participants were handed index cards to write their own notes or observations for the painter. At the end of the critique, these cards were handed to the artist. This allows the whole group to participate, but not interrupt the critique. Some of my cards are shown below, but it was really the critique from Jeremy that felt like a light shining into my process. I felt my art had been seen. And looking at others’ art for a long stretch of time felt both intense and satisfying. We so seldom spend more than a half an hour just being with a painting, unless you’re the one painting it.
This reminded me of my arts education in poetry. I studied in the New College of California Poetics program with poets Diane di Prima, David Meltzer, and Robert Duncan (partner of the artist Jess), and others. The poets chose NOT to teach in a creative writing format. Instead, the classes were devoted to examination of poets and their root sources. It was assumed that if you were a writer, you would write, independent of a program. Instead they wanted to offer the heart of their practices, their source material: myth, Kabbalah, deconstruction, archaic history, visual arts, Hermeticism, alchemy, other poets, natural history. These were the only treasure they could bring us; the rest was up to us. Poetry is the most abstract of the written arts. In a strange way, this odd education equipped me to enter the wilderness of non-objective painting.
Point Reyes Station is idyllic. I went with Nishi. Before the class we hit a bookstore and went cheese tasting at the Cowgirl Creamery, where I bought Red Hawk and membrillo, which I had not tasted since Spain. The day was beautiful. The town borders lagoons, meadows, riparian forests, and everything is walkable. At sunset, eating sandwiches in front of the view, we both said that Turner would have been right at home, notebook out, getting that Claude Lorrain smudge of eucalyptus on the windy horizon.
Susan and Carole have been participating in Bay Area Urban Sketchers Sketchcrawls. Carole had a lovely setup with her self-designed travel watercolor set and everything clipped and attached to a small drawing board. Susan loaned me her tiny Pocket Palette to try. I’m terrible at this kind of sketching, so it was good to do it on a Foolish day when everything was allowed. This sort of sketching from life takes plein air to a new level. It is meditative and process-oriented. My style tends to be more of an illustrated journal, with writing and collage. I kept a sketchbook through Spain, and at other times, but am entirely untutored in the finer points of more realistic rendering, and am hoping to improve.
Sketchbook, Suzanne Edminster– Suzanne and Scott in Rome
Suzanne Edminster, sketch at Getty Center
Sketchbook, Suzanne Edminster
Fears of Sketching
I might as well make a checklist of my sketching fears, and get them out of the way as soon as possible. On Saturday I accomplished all of them.
Fear of doing a really lousy sketch. Check. Around 5 times.
Fear of doing a really lousy sketch while others sketching are doing better ones. Check.
Fear of just not being up to the task— moving figurative subjects. Check.
Fear of messing up pages in a bound notebook. They will always be there as flubs. Check.
Fear that if I share the messy process of learning, I will be seen as less accomplished in my painting. Check.
I was happy to have some of my sketching doctors give me a critique, over Prosecco and prosciutto at the Underwood in Graton. Here are some of Susan’s sketches from the day. My Rx: mechanical pencil, slower more continuous lines in ink, some media suggestions. (I’m hearing that a new-to-me brush pen favorite is the Pentel.) I’m taking an online sketching class from Marc Taro Holmes which is really excellent. There is a new wave of arts education and it lives online. What if we all came to art school with many skills and techniques, and the ways and means, spiritual and practical, of living as an artist were taught by generous, seasoned masters?
I want to sketch people in life, not in a figure class. I think my best sketches recently were done in DMVs. It took me 3 tries to get a replacement for the license which was lost or stolen. Learning to sketch is a metaphor for letting a new identity emerge. And it’s not always comfortable.
Big Old Nature
My artist friend Laura Foster Corben and I went into a grove of coastal old-growth redwoods on a misty, rainy day. It used to have the worlds tallest tree at around 380 feet. Now taller trees have been measured, but these seem tall enough to me. I was struck by the primitive nature of these trees. Inverting the black and white lets me see the almost palm-like form of these titans in Montgomery Woods State Natural Preserve.
The eerie magic of the giant redwood forest puts those sketching fears in their proper, tiny place.
Monotypes are odd birds, strange fruit. It’s not a painting, yet not reproducible. It can’t clone, but emits ghosts, flickering between positive and negative images. Since it’s almost purely process, and resists planned end results, it’s an artist’s playground. Here’s my process to make one print, step by step.
These are Akua intaglio Inks, made with soy oil for easy clean up. My glass worktop is an old shower door recycled by my husband. The plate you see above is 18″ x 26″, thin plastic from TAPP. I’ve inked it up with warm colors and a few dark marks to get me started. I used an etching press for the prints.
Above, the first run from the plate. Below, another run, with magenta added for depth.
Now I press on a goose I carved with a Dremel engraver and etching needles on a plastic plate.
On the right you can see “brayer geese” from running the brayer over the plate and transfering it. Ghost geese! Then, the strange point where Chance takes her hand to the process happened. I wanted to add a dark layer in my next transfer. I spread random lines of dark ink and picked it up with a large roller. The rounded pattern ended up looking like bird and egg forms! I had just seen a Motherwell at the DeYoung and was reminded of his use of dark form over light.
Here you can see the plexiglass plate set over the paper so I could get an idea of what it might look like. Strange, but I found it compelling, so I rolled it through the press.
Finished! At the same time, I had been working on another. Both of these were done with the same plate. I just kept wiping the plate and applying more colors in different variations. Here is the second monotype in the series.
It’s exhilarating to be aligned for a moment to the unpredictable processes of making.
The “creative manifesto” is a popular idea right now. You’ll find a good variety, and they’re fun. But I have a problem with the word manifesto, which has a political agenda. A manifesto is to unite a group under a banner, to inspire. I suggest a creative “declaration”, from the old Latin, to make clear. The root has implications of brightness, to call out clarity, to make a contract– thus “declaring” taxes. It is a commitment, not a call to action.
Rather than another bullet point list, it’s challenging to try to condense your artist statement into a sentence or two. This should be a statement that will always return you to the authentic reason why you make art.
“My creativity feels like a divine gift to me, and I honor the gift by making my art about Spirit. I want to express the numinous quality of life, where the elements of nature and the stories and the stones and the places of power come alive and speak to us on a deeper level. ” Caren Catterall
“I paint from a longing to give form to what is hidden, even to me, until I paint it.” Susan Cornelis
“I work spontaneously to grow paintings as Nature creates, looking through the visible world to the undercurrents of inner forces.”Karina Nishi Marcus
“I explore archaic worlds to forge ancient metaphor into contemporary vision.”Suzanne Edminster
As Americans, we can’t hear the word “declaration” without the word “independence” implied. But these concise declarations, with their brevity, clarity and commitment, are at the foundation of creative structure. Fuzzy, overused “creativity” differs from demanding, grounded creation, where the spark is made, however imperfectly, manifest.
In Santa Rosa Junior College’s beautiful print show, 30 Years of SRJC Printmaking, I came on students doing drawings of Caren Catterall’s Giantess series of prints. They drew in the manner of illustrated journaling, with notes and impressions on the page along with the sketches. Art ripples out. You can see the prints on Caren’s website.
Students at SRJC drawing from Caren Catterall prints
On Saturday I and a group of around 30 others paid a fee to see three fine painters critique a group of mostly-amateur paintings. Paintings were lined up along the walls. The group– Marc Perlman, Chester Arnold and Frances McCormack-– selected paintings to bring on stage. The audience eavesdropped on their three-way conversation about each piece. It was an interesting, unusual event that I had never seen outside an art class.
My painting was not chosen. I offer some random takeaways from the event, and a few impressions.
Framing counts. Never use garage sale frames. Never ever, even if they “fit.” If you respect your piece, either hang it unframed or design a new frame for it.
Just because you have an emotional connection to a surface doesn’t mean it helps the painting. One good pop art work was painted on a piece of wood from a crate. True, the crate had come from France and the Louvre, but the nail holes weren’t doing the painting any good. Your emotional attachment does not make a difference to the viewer.
Composition, color, design, content, meaning and drawing were discussed, but much of the time they talked materials. Inferior materials can sink a painting. Buy the best you can.
One really cannot defend a less-successful work if you bring it out in public, because the public decides on its success. Give your paintings a chance by using good materials.
One good painting was still wet. The wetness dominated the critique of the painting, smearing black paint all over Mark Perlman’s hands. One element out of place can keep the viewer from appreciating your work.
One painting was an exact copy of a Cezanne. The critics’ consensus seemed to be that if you wish to learn through copying, copy a hundred paintings , not just one. Really do it and allow yourself to learn.
If you are doing a genre painting, such as a sort of linear, geometric, Mondrian-type abstraction, it helps to imitate the absolutely flat and smooth surface generally found in such paintings. Heavy impasto and imprecise lines don’t belong to that type of painting. Lobsters are good, so are strawberries, but you don’t want to mash them together.
I would add, however awkward, stand by your paintings, like Tammy Wynette singing “Stand by your Man.” Criticism has a place. My mentor always said that he painted for other painters. Never, ever paint because you think you might know what someone might like or approve of. Stand by your paintings, but you don’t necessarily have to show, or keep, every one. It’s only one point in an endless timeline of process.
I so appreciated the kind yet keen remarks of the commentors. Never did they deride a work of art or cross the line into condescension.
My own painting I had to criticize myself. It’s not the one at the top of the post, or the one at the side here, but one in a series in gold metal leaf that is quite similar. I didn’t get a good enough photo of it to post, as the gold metal leaf makes it difficult to photograph. Anyway, the negatives: careless, poorly conceived, not enough surface field depth or variety of line– too superficial. The positives: use of an interesting material, strong sense of gesture and movement, and good composition with interesting colors.
I am primarily self-taught and thus self-critiqued. I’m not sure I could have lived through four years of this in art school. What are your responses to critique and criticism?
Stand by your art.
Afternote: Satri Pencak kindly cited my blog. She has a fine curatorial website. I appreciate her discerning take on events and artists in Sonoma County.
For this post I’ve decided to back carefully out of the darker underworld of the Screwtape for Artists letters, and turn to brighter horizons. I’ve gathered my Camino de Santiago posts from last year into one chronological story for you. The photos give me a little spirit whiff again of wheat fields, wine, virgins, horizons. For a moment I was back in the land of blossoms and boots, mazes and muses. I hope you enjoy them.
I have a show hosted by the lovely people at Corricks featuring Sonoma County Art Trails artists. It’s me and the amazing Joel Bennett. Hope you can make it on Friday, if you’re in the area. Spring is almost here, a good time to consider your upcoming pilgrimage, wherever it may take you. Suzanne
For new readers, you can find an introduction to the Screwtape for Artists letters here.
My Dear Wormseed,
Excellent work lately, my friend. The Artist/Subject’s vague sense of victimization– our beloved martyred feeling, so handy for invisible destruction– is well under way. The joyous act of artmaking is actually quite difficult to martyrize, but you are doing a good job here. Humans make art under the most horrendous conditions. Art is a pernicious vermin that invades everywhere and is hard to stamp out.
Here’s a tip: remember that the coffin of the complaining victim is constructed with the nails of DESERVE. Whenever the Artist seems to move forward with energy, pound another DESERVING nail into that brainpan. She DESERVES a break, a cookie, an afternoon off, a cappuccino, to procrastinate just one more day. Here the DESERVE acts as a somehow “earned” reward. The more DESERVING, the less creating.
I am so glad that we have managed to sever the word from it’s original root, which has no “built-in” reward. It simply means to serve completely or fully. The Heroic Artist was very good for our cause in the 20th century: all those tortured men smoking and drinking and screwing themselves to death because they deserved it as artists. In the 21st century the women are taking the helm of the arts, and a new technique for destruction, victimization or the martyr impulse, must be assiduously and viciously cultivated.
The Goose Game is a series of 63 monoprints and monotypes based on my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. The Goose Game is also a European child’s board game similar to Chutes and Ladders with 63 squares. It may have been a mnemonic device used by the Templars to give illiterate medieval pilgrims a “map” to guide them. Forms of this labyrinth-style board game may stretch back to ancient Greece, where the legend is that Greek soldiers invented it to while away time on the beach during their ten-year siege on Troy.
I’m new to monoprint, but I have noticed that it seems to have a pronounced time element embedded into it. Once it runs through the press once, or twice, it is largely fixed, set, done. You get the feeling that each run of the press is a literal compression and limitation of energy, like the joint in a stalk of bamboo.
The press bed presents a threshold of before (the roller pressure) and after. In a metaphorical way, each print could be seen as a dream from the “bed” of the press, with traces remaining and fading.
We are at a hinge in time right now, the Lunar New Year before the Spring Equinox. This is my post 100, and I hope for a hundred more. I wish you good dreams in the year to come.