to hell with solemnity and proper art

Artwork by Michael Leunig

 

In his scrumptious essay Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool, Michael Leunig  – Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet – speaks about the way our brilliant ideas often act to sabotage true creativity, leading us into frustration and disillusionment. But all is not lost, he suggests, for our temper tantrums can be the portal to the domain of the holy fool, and that’s the source of our authentic creative expression. The following is a short extract from the essay, which I posted recently at the awakened eye blog.  

It could go something like this: the painter might begin a piece of work with high hopes and set forth with an interesting or brilliant idea in mind, but all too soon the painting begins to fail, the idea collapses and ambition starts to sour.  The transcription from the intellect to the canvas is looking lifeless and artless, and the painter is starting to feel despondent.  It’s not working!  How often it is that the mind and the hand have lost touch with each other.

The painter redoubles all efforts but this only makes things worse and regression is happening as dismay and disillusionment set in.  Soon enough the painting is in a miserable mess and everything is in disarray. It looks awful and the painter is emotionally heavy with self-doubt and disappointment.  The worst has happened, the situation is lost and the painter’s ego is peeling away.

Little is it understood but at last the painter is breaking free, albeit a free fall – into a disturbing state of not knowing.  The regression deepens, reason has fled while tantalizing and delinquent infantile impulses are felt: the petulant desire to destroy the painting and get rid of the evidence; the painful reminder of inability and failure.

At this point one of the noble truths of creativity may begin to emerge: ‘disillusionment precedes inspiration and growth’.  So instead of abandoning the failure as many would, the artist recognizes an opportunity to be free and play about casually or recklessly in the ruins; to experiment and throw all cautious technique, all self criticism and high standards to the wind because now there is nothing to lose and nobody is watching.  Before long the painter has forgotten the failure and becomes absorbed in the anarchy of spontaneous gestures and spirited whimsical play.  The holy fool and originality are at hand. The artist is painting unselfconsciously and with happy abandon – and somewhat like a child.

To hell with solemnity and proper art; the joy of discovery is all that matters now; the unprecedented textures, the way the colours have by chance smeared into each other: beautiful startling subtleties and unimagined miracles small and large to delight or shock the eye.  And so it proceeds until the painter is staring in fascination at this revelation that the hands and impulses have created in a state of regression; a state that could not have been planned or organized – but simply happened when ego and ambition had sufficiently crumbled.

– Michael Leunig, Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool


I realise that many readers of this blog also subscribe to the awakened eye (nods and waves to you) and have probably read Michael’s essay.  But for those of you who haven’t, do yourself a favour and immerse yourself in his writing about creativity, authenticity, playfulness, wonderment, beauty, the holy fool, plus a selection of his whimsical artworks. Here’s the link:

on losing the plot and regaining the world of the holy fool

A couple more quotes – I can’t help myself, these are so cool…

The artist needs to know how to lose the plot
– how to not care and how to not know –
and how to actually enjoy that freedom
and understand what a blessed revitalizing state all of that mess can be.

The most joyous painting is not done for the art world, it is done for the inner world; it is a self delighting other-worldly thing – a getting lost in regression and solitude; a sub-literate, semi-delirious way to be with the spirited little fool in the depths of one’s being for a while – there to invent one’s art freely, and there to find enchantment, infinite surprise and the bright wondrous question ‘What is this?’

http://www.leunig.com.au

Michael Leunig Appreciation Page on Facebook


A Leunig post from the archives, 2010

artist, leave the world of art!


Michael Leunig, Holy Fool - Artworks

Holy Fool, Artworks, by Michael Leunig


 

slow down, feed soul

Father Bill Moore - A Gathering of Gentle Forces

 

When I began to paint and create my art, I did not know where I was headed as an artist. Yet what remained important to me was that I was beginning my calling as a painter. After I began painting and working as a priest, the idea came to me to create works that could benefit the members of my community.

It always seemed to me that the public was constantly being asked to support either museums, or other cultural institutions. So I decided to take that theory and turn it on its head and use my art to support my community. I do not receive payments for my art, all the monies go directly to my congregation to help others in need.

– Father Bill Moore


I so appreciate Bill Moore – the Bill bloke, without the Fr., or the Dr., or even the Mr. He knew his calling, even though it was a double-header.  He was able to acknowledge that his purpose lay in two directions: he was both a painter, an artist, and he was a priest, a mouthpiece that could inspire and point his congregation towards a sensitive, refined experience of life.  

Which came first or was more significant?  Why would it matter?  What mattered was that he honoured his two-headed calling.

But there was more.  He surrendered his calling to his flock.  He uses his art “to support” his community. This is an uncommon altruism.  My heart thrills to this.

Then there are the paintings with their invitation to touch, to gaze and graze. These are works that I find soul-satisfying on so many levels.

 

Father Bill Moore - Staying in The Present series, 1-4

 

I always want to have a peaceful resolution, even if the painting is full of energy, life and movement, I always want to evoke peace, tranquility and calm. I always want to organize this energy.

 

Father Bill Moore - The Reality of Spirit and Matter

 

“Father Bill imbues his art with a deep spirituality based on who he is,” says Mary Felton, who represents Moore’s work at Galerie Züger in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “His process is to walk up to a blank canvas and see what [the] Spirit wants him to paint on that canvas.”

 

Father Bill Moore - Contemplation

 

I think in many ways, people are hungry for poetry and music and art.  I think we have a deficiency in our spiritual diet.

My art has made me a better priest, and my faith has made me a better artist. We live in hurried times and are inundated with countless images. We have the capacity to immediately access a staggering wealth of information.

Through my art, I’m asking myself and those that would explore it to slow down. To look, touch and consider the essential colors, shapes and textures that can feed our souls.

 

Father Bill Moore - Assisi

 

I hope my paintings serve as an invitation to enter into the mystery of being fully human, and to face our fears and the challenges of life with dignity and grace.
– Father Bill Moore

 


Sources:

frbillmoore.com

westernartandarchitecture.com

avranart.com


Image titles from top:

A Gathering of Gentle Forces
Staying in The Present series, 1-4
The Reality of Spirit and Matter
Contemplation
Assisi

Sizes vary; all are acrylic paint and mixed media on canvas.


 

small holes in the silence

There are very few things I can say about my work that are better than saying nothing.
– Ralph Hotere

I was still very young and totally naive about “art” when I first met Ralph Hotere’s work head on. Looking back, I can’t help but marvel at that encounter. It shifted my brain. It was when I first understood that art had little to do with the materials used (in this case, weathered corrugated roofing iron) and recognisable forms of the portrait or landscape variety. What a shock, a revelation and a liberation in the same instant! My own art education, and the opportunity to visit major art galleries in New Zealand, Australia and further afield would unfold much later. So it was entirely by some intuitive capacity that I understood what the revelation meant – at least to me.

Hone Papita Raukura (Ralph) Hotere and I lived in the same small New Zealand city – Dunedin. He was well known and turned up at functions both formal and informal. I was always a little in awe of him because as yet I had no language with which to enter into a conversation about his creative life. These days it would be different, but were he still alive he’d probably be as reluctant to talk about his work as he always had been.

The revelation Hotere unveiled for me was a shift from thinking that art is about materials and techniques and objects that can be placed in historical/conceptual categories, to understanding that it is, rather, an immaterial communication, a relationship in which the viewer needs no explanation to deeply feel the artist’s intent.

Like another well known New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon, Hotere had a powerful way of including text in his work, a way that transcends the trap of the illustrative or decorative. His words are pictorial elements in their own right, not mere memes. During the late 1960s he struck up a relationship with the New Zealand literary world which would come to full fruition in subsequent years in collaborative works with New Zealand poets including Cilla McQueen, Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare and Ian Wedde. In 1979, he used his friend Hone Tuwhare‘s well-known poem Rain to produce Three Banners with Poem, for the Hocken Library at the University of Otago in Dunedin.

 

Ralph Hotere, Rain, 1979

Rain, 1979. Oil and enamel on unstretched canvas, 2440 x 985 mm.
Collection of A. and J. Smith, Auckland.

 

RAIN

I can hear you
making small holes
in the silence
rain

If I were deaf
the pores of my skin
would open to you
and shut

And I
should know you
by the lick of you
if I were blind

the something
special smell of you
when the sun cakes
the ground

the steady
drum-roll sound
you make
when the wind drops

But if I
should not hear
smell or feel or see
you

you would still
define me
disperse me
wash over me
rain

 

– Hone Tuwhare


These links open in new tabs:

Ralph Hotere
Hone Tuwhare
Hocken Library
Hotere: Out the Black Window: Ralph Hotere’s Work with New Zealand Poets, by Gregory O’Brien


and when I do that, I feel whole

 

An anonymous someone once commented that “a physicist is the atom’s way of thinking about atoms”.*

Well then, an artisan could be said to be Creation’s way of thinking about creativity.

I like that, and this post dances around that notion.

Sheep farming, Central Otago, New Zealand

 

My mother’s family farmed sheep. The station was remote in her day – a hundred dusty, gravelly miles to anything approaching civilisation. It was a high country sheep run in the South Island’s Central Otago province, and was – by New Zealand standards, huge. Over 100,000 acres. It was where I spent my childhood summers, and where I gleaned a little knowledge of sheep farming from my uncles and cousins – tending, lambing, shearing. Given that background I guess it was inevitable that my first experiments with ‘making things’ would involve wool.

 

Fingerknitting

 

Fingerknitting came first. Imagine the magic of watching a woollen chain manifest from one’s own tiny hands – and the surge of ideas about what it, in turn, could be turned into! Next I remember learning a simple way of knitting a long tube using an old wooden thread spool. It had little nails hammered around the central hole, and by winding the wool around the nails then popping the previous row of ‘stitches’ over the new round, a long tail would eventually make its way out the other end of the spool.

It wasn’t long before I learned the knack of needle management and began knitting garments. The first ones were for my doll. That’s when I learned about shaping and sizing – she was my in-house model. Soon sweaters were on the production-line. For my teenage sweethearts at first. And myself of course. I adored being able to make a garment that was exclusively my own, one that would be seen on no one else in New Zealand – or on Planet Earth. No one! It was, in retrospect, the beginning of my enterprise as a maker of wearable art.

I loved knitting. You have to love it to end up with a whole garment, because it takes a l-o-n-g time. Every stitch is a little action in its own right, and there are uncountable numbers of stitches in a sweater. Why did I find it so appealing? At the time, in my early teens, I would have said: It shuts me up and makes me feel good.

Now I’d have more to say, like: It calms me. It slows down my manic mind. It brings me to a stillness where my hands know exactly what to do without any help, where I seem to disappear altogether into a quiet spaciousness where wool and wooden sticks and fingers are dancing together as one. It makes me marvel to see the fabric coming into form – it’s addictive, especially if a pattern is being used: just another row, just to see how it’ll look…

 

Fair Isle jumper - detail

 
The hands that mastered circular needles, traditional Fair Isle patterns and gorgeous multi-hued designs produced with my own hand-dyed yarns (see example above) went on to explore other fibercrafts. Silk painting, dye craft, off-loom weaving, paper crafts – there are a few examples here. Then they went on to incorporate these in mixed media works, together with painting.

In retrospect I notice that I’ve always been attracted to acts of making that require a rather extreme degree of patience, and in return offer an almost reverential relationship with the materials at hand. (Let’s face it, you’d have to be seriously addicted to slow art to make a practice of painting the exhalation of your breath.) Renate Hiller calls it “the practice of empathy.” Her hands might be a decade older than mine, but her take on the profound importance of human handwork is identical to my own.

Renate Hiller - hand and spinning stone

I’m looking at my hand right now as we talk. It’s got a lot of wrinkles ’cause I’m 81 years old. But it’s linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand was shaped by when it was a fin in the mother seas, where life was born. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land and weave reeds into baskets. It has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the first — what Thomas Berry calls ‘the primal flaring forth,’ the beginning of space-time. We’re part of that story.

The use of the hands is vital for the human being, for having flexibility, dexterity. In a way the entire human being is in the in the hands. Our destiny is written in the hand. And what do we do in our modern world with our hands? You know, we move the mouse, we drive and so on. We feel plastic most of the time. The hands are relegated to very little that’s actually bringing dexterity to our times. So we have come ever more estranged from nature and also from what other human beings are doing – the whole social element comes into play as well, because if I make something then I think ‘Hmmm, how was that yarn made?’

So there is this loss of understanding the value of things, of the meaning of things, and in handwork, in transforming nature we also make something truly unique that we have made with our hands, stitch by stitch, that maybe we have chosen the yarn, we have even spun the yarn — even better – and that we have designed. And when I do that, I feel whole. I feel I am experiencing my inner core, because it’s a meditative process.

You have to find your way; you have to listen with your whole being. And that is the schooling that we all need today. Because we’re so egocentric and this makes us think of what is needed by something else. So we are in a way practicing empathy — empathy with the material, empathy with the design.

I think that this practice of empathy that we do in the fibercrafts is paramount for bringing healing to our world, and it’s a service for the Divine – that we are surrounded by.

– Renate Hiller


Renate Hiller is the co-director of the Fiber Craft Studio at the Threefold Educational Center in Chestnut Ridge, NY.


* Quoted in A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson


Photo credits: NZ high country sheep | finger knitting | knitting detail by yours truly | Hiller’s hand and spinning stone


art does matter

 
Why do I love Patricia Sullivan’s blog Art Does Matter?  I love the mix and variety of art and craft she features – jewelry, sculpture, painting and the oft-neglected fiber arts. I enjoy reading her perceptive reviews of exhibitions in her neighborhood (Philadelphia) and other important shows in the US. I find the way she writes about her own practice and creative process both enlivening and inspiring.  And I love the way she has been a loyal supporter of this little blog over the years.  If art matters to you, Art Does Matter is a blog worthy of a place on your blogroll.

 

Patricia Sullivan - Widget Locket #3

Patricia Sullivan: “Widget Locket #3: Homage to Art Nouveau”
chased/repoussé sterling silver, patina, plexiglas, archival paper
hand-fabricated chain/clasp, 21″ x 1.75″ x .25″, 2013. Photo: P. Sullivan

I design and typeset the two-dimensional interior news’ widget piece in Illustrator and draw out the decorative motifs that I chase and repoussé in silver. The 2-D graphic piece is printed in color on archival paper and set inside behind clear plexiglas that I hand-saw and polish to snap-fit into the octagonal-shaped oxidized silver locket body. Because I use materials like metal, paper, acrylic and sometimes fabric in my work, each jewelry piece becomes more of a mixed media composition that’s actually a wearable container for our recollection of soon-to-be-outdated technology.

Patricia Sullivan - Widget Locket #4

Patricia Sullivan: “Widget Locket #4: Homage to Mexico”
(front and reverse detail) Photo: P. Sullivan

… this locket’s chased patterning is derived from the history of the decorative arts of Mexico, such as the elaborate patterns found in ceramic or copper/tin tiles. I use chasing and repoussé on metal (a technique common in the history of Mexico’s metalworking genre) to create a beautiful exterior on the locket. Once the locket is opened, it reveals text that is printed on archival paper designed and typeset in Adobe Illustrator. The paper is cut and pressure-fit tightly into the locket’s rear octagonal piece and set behind polished Plexiglas hand-sawed to fit the exact shape of the locket. The entire locket body, hand-fabricated sterling silver oval chain and hollow-constructed silver clasp are oxidized to give this piece a darker, more “age-old” overall look.

[Notes sourced from Patricia’s blog. Click on the screenshot to read more.]

Patricia Sullivan's blog - Art Does Matter


I paint with my back to the world

 
Yesterday I moved home and studio. Body and mind need R&R. What could be better than a cup of tea and some wry wise reminders from painter Agnes Martin about what matters? I love what she shares about staying in bed until she knows exactly what she wants to paint. Ahhh.

 

Agnes Martin - Gratitude 2011

Agnes Martin – Gratitude – 2011

 

I don’t have any ideas of my own
and I don’t believe anybody else’s,
so that leaves me a clear mind …
– Agnes Martin

 

 


in the hands of alchemy

 
Sometimes finding the truth of one’s work – and one’s life – costs everything. How much of our belief structure, our convictions and habitual behavior are we prepared to relinquish in order to allow space for the utterly authentic to express through our voices and hands?

In 1979, at age 29, Jerry Wennstrom destroyed all the art he had created, gave everything he owned away, and set out to discover the rock-bottom truth of his life. He sensed an inner and outer world in perfect order and became a willing participant in that order – he leaped into the void, the ultimate creative act. He began a life of unconditional trust, allowing life to provide all that was needed. He lived this way for 15 years.

Wennstrom’s wish was to open to the energy of life itself. In releasing the structure of daily habits and routines, he learned to trust and appreciate the significance of each moment. This entailed relying on intuition, listening keenly to the deeper nature of feelings, and wisely observing the ways in which our inner world reflects the outer, and vice versa.

In 1998 he moved to Washington State, where he eventually married Marilyn Strong and produced a large new body of art.  Marilyn and Jerry’s charming Whidbey Island home is now filled with his unique interactive sculptures and paintings.  Jerry also built a 40-foot meditation tower on his property, which is featured, along with his story, in a book by Laura Chester called Holy Personal.

 

Jerry Wennstrom - The Confessional

Confessional
Interactive sculpture – 8ft in height

 

During a trip to Italy I was moved by a few ancient, worm-eaten Confessionals I saw in several of the older cathedrals in Assisi. The oldest ones were small and simple and appeared not to be in use any longer. They were often placed off to the sides of the smaller chapels or in out of the way places. These old confessionals were so well-used over the years that the places where knees touched wood were worn in shape of two half moons. There were places on the hand rest where finger nails dug deep into the wood. The inspiration for this art piece was the power and energy of guilt, angst and forgiveness that these confessionals embodied.

I call the piece Confessional and it is made out of an 8′ X 26″ hollow, cedar log that I drug up from the ravine below our house. The outer, female figure is a double door that opens down the middle and around the face to reveal the life-size, fully carved saint inside. Turning the Danger High Voltage switch that is situated under the lower mask turns the saint into a devil — his halo disappears, little red horns appear out of the figure’s head, a forked tongue comes out of his mouth, a tail wags from behind and his hands offer an apple.

– Jerry Wennstrom

 

Jerry Wennstrom - Confessional interior showing saint
Confessional interior showing ‘saint’.
See more details of this work on the blog (see link below)

 

Jerry’s story is told in his book, The Inspired Heart: An Artist’s Journey of Transformation (foreword by Thomas Moore) published by Sentient Publications and in the Parabola Magazine documentary film called In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry WennstromThere is also a Sentient Publications DVD with the same name, which includes a short new film called Studio Dialogue.  Studio Dialogue is a presentation Jerry did before a live audience with music by Susan McKeown, sung by Marilyn Strong.  Jerry travels internationally lecturing, teaching and presenting his film and work and he writes a monthly piece on the spirit of the times for a New York City consulting firm.

Most of the above information is sourced from  Jerry’s website. The images and his comments about Confessional are sourced from his blog.
 
Jerry Wennstrom's blog - In the Hands of Alchemy

Click on the screenshot to visit Jerry and Marilyn’s blog.

Jerry Wennstrom is also featured on my website ‘the awakened eye’: the way of trust and transformation


all finite things reveal infinitude

 

All finite things reveal infinitude:

the mountain with its singular bright shade

like the blue shine on the freshly frozen snow,

the after-light upon ice-burdened pines;

odor of basswood upon a mountain slope,

a scene beloved of bees; silence of water…

– Theodore Roethke

 

Imagine my surprise to discover that artist, writer and poet Claire Beynon now lives in my hometown – Dunedin, Aotearoa New Zealand – the very city I could not, as a teenager, wait to escape – lured by the attractions of life and culture in North America and Europe. She moved there from Cape Town – living and working nowadays in a gracious old villa overlooking the Otago harbour. What a wonderful addition she is to the cultural fabric of this nowly buzzing city.

Claire’s blog . . . all finite things reveal infinitude . . . is one of my cherished oases of nourishment. I go there for sublime poetry – her own as well as others’, for insightful new thoughts on old topics and artists’ work, for sneak previews of her own works-in-progress, and for an ever-reliable, refreshing, immersion in wonderment.

 

Painting by Claire Beynon
The Stilled Thread of Flight
Oil & steel strings on canvas

Making art is a way for me to connect the physical and spiritual worlds. It is also a means of establishing connections between people and place.

The foundation of it all is not having to know where I am going. I have to trust that there is something out there and in here that will connect. This trust leads my hand to make visible what is invisible. I start out with nothing. The process itself leads me and at some point along the way, I almost always look back and say “ah”.

… when I work, the work takes me to the necessary place of stillness and calm that is essential to my overall wellbeing. Whilst there, trust is like a fountain that energizes me and fills me up. I find I often create visual compositions that counter the outer chaos. Curiously, the more chaos and busyness there is in my outer world, the quieter and more balanced things seem to become in my internal worlds and the steadier and clearer my work becomes. TS Eliot wrote: “At the still point of the turning world is the dance…”  I reflect on these words often.

Excerpts from a conversation with Lawson Bracewell

www.clairebeynon.co.nz
 

Claire Beynon's blog: . . . all finite things reveal infinitude . . .

 


john macormac art

 
Irish artist John Macormac came into my view via interaction with this blog. I was delighted to meet another artisan who shares some of my idiosyncrasies – there’s a magpie here too, gathering bits of information and stuff, never disposing of anything, and always amazed that she has the ‘perfect’ bit of (whatever) for the unfolding of a making. The way he works in layers – scraping and over-painting, cutting up and creating anew – is right up my alley. Hmmmm. Might have to drop in to Belfast some time soon!
 


 
My work deals with an overload of information. I am like a magpie drawn to intricate detail, collecting and manipulating pieces of visual culture. I combine collage, oil paint, acrylics, emulsion, ink, spray paint, conte crayon, chalk, felt tips, pencil and anything else I can find. Found photographs and fragments of text can be included because of a personal sense of meaning, or purely as passages of visual ‘noise.’
 
John Macormac - Shoreline

John Macormac – Shoreline

I wanted this work to echo the feel of a beach in winter.
I employed a muted, faded colour palette.
Scrim was glued to the surface and resembles fishing nets.
The piece is an irregular shape, this also recalls pieces of flotsam and jetsam
worn with time and tides.

My work does not start with a finished image in mind. Rather it carries a sense of practical progression; each new area suggests the context and space for the next aspect of the piece. I often work on several at a time. The work is in a constant state of evolution and reinvention. Layers are added and scraped back. Each finished piece displays evidence of this process of revision, editing and adding new elements until it feels right to stop. Sometimes pieces become overworked. I often recycle them by cutting them up and using parts that ‘work’ to create new images.

– John Macormac
 
John Macormac Art

Click on the screenshot to see more of John’s work.


Edited to include Shoreline – a piece that particularly speaks to me.