Friday 18 May 2012

Going beyond Beyond and quite possibly the longest post you'll ever get from me...

Yesterday I threw some paint at the work in progress, as I had suggested I was tempted to in the previous blog. I like where it’s at now, which is very different from my original limited palette, beige concept. Now I just have to get brave enough to put more paint on the flesh, particularly the face. Otherwise this is really 2 works inside the frame that aren’t integrated. There are some parallels with this work and the last one I did – “Wrapt; head full of bright ideas” That ended up changing radically from the original concept too. It ended up being a rather grey and monochromatic face surrounded by lots of bright abstract stuff. I decided not to alter the face much, being  just too worried about stuffing up what was a fairly competently rendered facial likeness. That I wanted to enter it into the Murrurundi Art Prize was a bit of a constraint too, with risking any adventurous alterations, because there was the date deadline.

Beyond, I'm happy with the background but will I be brave enough to alter the figure?

This a very long blog so some readers might get bored and drop out. Quite understandable as there is a fair bit of navel gazing about to unfold. Close examination of my belly lint probably has very limited interest to others! 

So be it. 

I have sort of split it into 2 parts so you can get a breather or refreshment approximately half way through if needed.

                                                                      PART ONE

A decade ago all my 2 dimensional work was abstract and I also made dolls. The dolls were sculptural and obviously figurative works, though I acknowledged that the dolls weren’t intended to be characters. I used them as a way to display my textile art collaged over the figurines. I was trying to be clever in making my essentially abstract surfaces into a figurative object that was more easily “understood”  (ie, in the SAP {Serious Art People} lingo “accessible”) by ordinary people who did not have highly evolved ideas about what art is. The point was that hopefully they would find the figures charming and would give me cash money to be able to own them!

Perhaps it could be a metaphor for me and my world that my last 2 artworks are grey, monochromatic figures surrounded by swirling, bright elements. In the last 3 years, due to the wonderful circumstances that my husband has bought into my life, I have had more time to work on my art than ever before.  Since January when I broke my ankle I have had 4 months off work. Except for a few weeks when I had to be horizontal I’ve been able to spend the bulk of this time just doing my art. I have never been so fully immersed in it and have never had a continuous period of time in my life when I woke up every day and had few other obligations other than the choice to do my art.

In just a few months the way I do art has moved forward rapidly, in a way that might have unfolded over a year or 2 when I only had a few hours a week. So now I find myself considering these last 2 works and acknowledge they are metaphoric. The monochromatic, competently rendered figures represent me, surrounded by clamorous viscous colour. Will I be brave and adventurous enough to be able to integrate myself with all the brilliance I feel surround by? dive in, make my edges permeable enough to absorb the gorgeousness of all that is available for us to experience in the visual world….?

I feel really threatened by venturing outside the safe realms of “competency”. As Roger Skinner put it in the quote I used in my last blog, to go beyond the ability to “accurately replicate” and “hand back to the tutor (viewer) what they want”

Doing art is about exploring what freedom is. At its most highly realised level it is a spiritual practice. All desire to do and create art expresses a yearning to explore subjective experience and what might be beyond it. The best art is often achieved when the boundaries are examined and transgressed. This requires risks to be taken and the humility of dealing with failure is a regular challenge to be overcome.

This blog is about words (ha!! pretty self evident!) It is a tool I’m finding useful in helping me focus on what I’m trying to achieve in my art. There is an essential contradiction here for me because my primary chosen means of communication is the visual, not the textual. I am often ambivalent about this textual means of communication. Sometimes it can be exhilarating as there are some words I find very textured, coloured and emotional. There is something very satisfying about finding the word that exactly, precisely sums up what you want to express. But that is also why language can be frustrating, as so often the word is not known or cannot be found...

Visual art feels like such a more competent, nuanced and authentic way of expressing an idea
Language and text is an overlay of culture and civilisation which is very necessary but ultimately messes with the brain. Bugger semiotics and semantics. The subtleties of communication through the necessary vehicles of language and text. In modernity the vehicles are in constant revision and flux. Historians devote entire lifetimes to understanding, deciphering or interpreting in various ways what their subjects “really” intended or meant.  We would find the written text of our ancestors a hundred years ago hard to understand; the language would be cumbersome, dated and awkward. Their accents would seem absurd. The further back you go the more unintelligible the languages and text of the past. In reality if we spoke to someone of our culture from 200 years ago we would find it extremely difficult to understand them. Bill Gates wrote the language which has thrown our modernity into freefall only a few decades ago. It will define our global civilisation throughout the next millennia. Remarkably that language uses only TWO SYMBOLS – 0 and 1. Everything in our whole world has never changed at such a rapid rate and every day it is exponentially building on that.

So I sit here today using the using the aforementioned ubiquitous invention of Bill Gates – the “word processor” and are now into the 6th month of blogging. I’m quite amazed I’ve been able to keep it up! Because it seems likely I’ll continue into the foreseeable future I decided to do some researching into how other bloggers do it. Like my art, if I’m going to invest so much time in it I want to do it well and get the most out of it. My writing of the last few months has made me realise how stilted, stylised and old fashioned my writing style is. This is partly because of what I learned at school in the 60s-70s which was defined as proper written English (haha, have to use the capital letter there!) and because the last time I wrote such vast tracts was at University 12 years ago and then it was necessary  to adopt the academic style and requirements.

What I have learned from reading numerous blogs in the last few weeks is rather similar to the learning curve in my artistic practice. Real world obligations usually mean I don’t have enough time to apply myself every day to writing and artmaking and the consequence is the way I do both these things is not very competently and frozen in time with outdated beliefs, learnings and conventions.  A number of wonderful young women writers have opened my eyes to the contemporary art of blogwriting in all its awesomeness.  These women are inspiring and electrifying writers who have bought me starkly to the realisation of my old fashioned, self adopted limits…and I thank them wholeheartedly!

They are listed down the sidebar of this blog if you want to investigate them yourself. I particularly recommend, in order of my favourites – edenland, magnetoboldtoo and bexstar - I’m just a girl & I’ve had it up to here. However, to quote the Popeye world view with a sense of humility - I am what I am. I can examine these other writing styles to extrapolate what I like and to help me loosen up and find my own heartfelt voice. A lot of what I admire about these writers is their absolute authenticity, their refusal to compromise, capitulate or pull their heads in to make other people feel more comfortable.  I have a lot of confidence I can do my own writing better with more time and practise….probably with a lot less swear words though. That is one convention I find hard to transgress!

                                                            PART TWO

Enough of that….at this point I want to return to the one paragraph sentence I made a while back to wholly explain what I meant.  To reiterate -

“Visual art feels like such a more competent, nuanced and authentic way of expressing an idea”

I spent a lot of time up above explaining why language and text seem such a secondary means of communication. There is something inarticulate, inchoate, from the time before language changed our brains that I want to capture and express in my visual art.

Visual art does communicate by giving the viewer a “feeling”. It is not like words which encapsulate information as a symbol (through intentionally grouped letters of the alphabet which represent a word).
As newborns and infants we had no language. We still had thought processes and through our visual acuity gradually make a sense of the world of objects ( I’m struggling a bit here because I’m no neurologist, paediatrician or psychologist….) to survive we have to quickly work out that the objects of greatest importance are the moving, tactile and soundmaking ones that bring comfort like food and warmth.

The human face is the first thing we come to recognise. We quickly find out that the faces respond to what we are doing in the world – cries of hunger or distress will summon a face that makes certain sounds, smiles and laughter create predictable responses and sounds from the face. So our first experience of selfhood and otherness comes from differentiating objects. Our first experiences of power in the world are that the objects do predictable things when we express in particular ways. When a baby expresses contentment by smiling the people around it smile and coo back. Infants learn to interpret visual clues on the faces of people around them before acquiring language. The visual is the first way we learn to understand the world.

My earliest memory is of the colour red. I have no way of knowing whether this is a genuine memory or one I have manufactured and embellished, but it really doesn’t matter. I believe I might been less than 2 years old at the time and lying in a crib when a lady came to visit who wore a bright red coat. The sight of this colour thrilled me so much I remember it still with a frisson 52 years later. In 1989 when I changed my name by deed poll I honoured this memory of my first experience of ecstatic feelings by taking on “Red” as my middle name.  Though my favourite colour is actually orange.

If you made it this far to read all of this I'm really touched. Thank you for your patience and I hope you got some interesting things to think about.

Comments are very welcome! 

Wednesday 16 May 2012

the cracks

Today a trip to Muswellbrook and a delightful physiotherapist called Leonie examined my ankle. She pronounced all seemed to be well on the physical level. The fractured bone has knit, the scar from the operation is beautifully healed, the flexibility was very good and the muscles and tendons were a little weak but nothing that exercise won't strengthen.

I was surprised to hear that as I feel a lot of sensitivity and discomfort. There is numbness, pins and needles sensations and electrical shootings. It feels too weak for me to stand on it alone. Going up and down stairs has to be done very carefully. As she gently massaged my foot Leonie explained how a lot of stuff goes on in the brain. So much of what we interpret as pain is generated there, rather than literally in the tissues. My body might have substantially recovered but I have to complete the fixing with gaining confidence in my head.

After the physio session I dropped into the art gallery, as you do (Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre). Fantastic exhibition on at the moment - "Driven to Abstraction"  Showing the works of Carole Corrie and Garry Foye, on until 10 June. I was fascinated that these artists had participated in running a workshop for local artists and the results from that were also on display (eating my heart out) wow! how amazing to see the efforts of the students contrasted with the teachers.

I had a short chat with Brad Franks, the gallery director, just before I left, relating how blown away I felt by the brilliance of the art. I did suggest to Brad that my art is "anal retentive, I need to loosen up and get my head of my arse and I want to go home and chop up all my work, pastiche it back together and throw paint all over it" I think he may have been somewhat taken aback - haha, perhaps concerned that the work I've accumulated towards the August exhibition might end up vandalised!!! - however I meant that in absolute enthusiam. Not as a destruction of my art - but as a positive reconstruction!

I loved this quote from Muswellbrook photographer Roger Skinner, one of the curators of the exhibition and Arts Centre Education Officer, this is a portion of a statement he has on the gallery wall;

Somehow, there had to be a way to get the artists into the area and to teach some
of our local artists to free themselves up and explore the notions of beginning to abstract their
work. A means of encouraging them to move away from the literal, the mere replica
of what exists in front of the canvas, which is like learning by rote.
This process is not an easy one, because of previous learnings in schools where we
are encouraged to accurately replicate, which, is a most perfect nonsense. Teaching
is a subversive activity, and the difficulty we experience in getting free of the idea
of handing back to the tutor what they want instead of what we can do can sometimes fails most of us for most of our lives

Meantime (back on the farm) this where "Beyond" has gotten to yesterday.... that I'm all fired up with wanting to DECONSTRUCT....where to from here!!!