Monthly Archives: July 2020

Timeout for Art: Abstract

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Here I am, just one day after posting a conversational blog (that should have been published on Sunday), with another. And this, my “Timeout for Art” blog, which I planned to post every Wednesday, has been pretty hit-and-miss over the last few weeks.

Here’s the thing. After weeks of Corona-virus induced stay-at-home time, I find myself back out in the work force. And it’s exhausting!! Not that any of it is too hard or so demanding, but just that I’m not used to it.

I work one or two days a week at our Island Treasures Resale Shop. It’s a worthy cause, providing support for our island Fire Department and EMS. All merchandise is donated; all staff is volunteer. Everyone that I work with is helpful and kind. No job is difficult, and there are many hands available when assistance is needed. The shifts are only four hours long.

I work two days a week at the Beaver Island Golf Course. My duties are few: I sanitize carts and equipment between customers, and accept fees for golfing and cart rental. I drive a golf cart around the course to check for any problems. If the weather is good, and the office isn’t busy, I can cross the road and work in the garden. Pleasant activities for lovely people.

Compared to my work at the hardware, where I would regularly:

  • run five miles or more on freight days, just in repeated trips from the back to the front of the building, often with heavy loads
  • carry 50 pound bags of bird seed, potting soil or water softener salt out to the customer’s cars
  • haul 12′ ladders through the store to retrieve products or set up displays
  • make dozens of trips each day up and down the basement stairs to stock products on shelves

This, in addition to helping customers find what they need, managing telephone calls, cash register and veterinary appointments, cleaning, mixing paint, cutting and threading pipe, cutting keys…the list goes on. That was a hard job. That was a job that warranted the exhaustion I felt at the end of a day.

That’s why I am baffled at the way these relatively simple jobs wear me out. Other than that I may have gotten too accustomed to the lackadaisical, easy-going lifestyle of the unemployed, I don’t understand it. But, that’s the way it is.

I was so tired Sunday evening, after four days of having to (dread!) leave my house, I couldn’t possibly write. Monday, I felt it was necessary to just sit around, one dog or another on my lap, to recuperate. Yesterday, I finally managed to write and post a blog, mainly as a means of procrastinating on another obligation (which tendency, I swear, deserves a blog all to itself!).

Today, with that “other obligation” still looming, I decided (surprise, surprise!) that it was of ultimate importance to get my Wednesday post out on time. So, here I am. I’ve been struggling with finding enough to say about art, so I’m going to work my way through the alphabet, starting today, with Abstract for the letter A.

I was thinking I’d have some trouble when I got to those hard letters at the end of the alphabet. As it turns out, the trouble is already here. I was planning to write about my reasons for working mainly in the abstract. It’s something I’ve talked and written about before, and a topic I’ve thought quite a bit about. Simple.

Then, I came across a wonderful essay by an artist I admire, that tossed all my rote thinking out the door. Brian Rutenberg, a prolific New York artist, has a series called “Studio Visits” that I’ve been watching on YouTube. I’m also reading his latest book, Clear Seeing Place. He says, “abstraction is a process, not a style.”

Aren’t even the most realistic paintings abstract, in that they are two-dimensional renderings of three-dimensional objects? Rutenberg makes me believe it with his description of Van Gogh’s ropey brushstrokes. So often, the brushwork or pencil lines are an integral part of art work, though they have nothing to do with the object or scene being depicted, and everything to do with the act of recreating it. According to Brian Rutenberg, “saying you’re painting abstracts is like saying you’re eating cooking: it doesn’t mean anything.”

He’s given me a lot to think about, and rendered my planned essay unusable. So, there.

 

 

 

Conversations

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I mentioned recently how I regretted missed opportunities to talk with my mother when she was alive. I could have picked up the phone to call her. Then, as now, I generally avoided telephone conversations. Or all conversations. It’s not that I have nothing to say, but that verbal exchanges are not easy for me. That may be why writing appeals to me.

There are a very few people who I – without angst or trepidation – will readily pick up the telephone to call, and I tense up every single time the telephone rings. The tension seeps away when I recognize the voice at the other end; it’s replaced with joy when it’s the voice of one of my children. They, one friend and a couple sisters are easy for me to talk to. Beyond those few people, I dread telephone conversations. That is also true of in-person conversations.

I’m not very good at the verbal back and forth. I have a tremendous, unreasonable fear of silence within a conversation. I know where it comes from. I was painfully shy as a child. When friends or relatives came to visit, and spoke to me, I couldn’t force myself to speak, no matter how badly I wanted to. My silence put all attention on me, which just made the situation worse. This came up later, when I’d be called on to speak in class: that horrible feeling of everyone waiting for words that I could not form.

That causes me, now that I’m able to form words, to dominate just about every conversation. I start talking, and just don’t stop. Sometimes I repeat myself, just to avoid an uncomfortable pause. Especially when chatting with my sister, Brenda, who is a good and patient listener, I often feel like, other than the occasional, “hmmm…” or “really” (which just encourages me!), I have done all the talking.

I’ve tried to improve my listening skills, display more empathy, to ask better questions, to show more interest. Most of the time, though, whether speaking on the telephone or over a lunch table, I feel like I’ve commandeered the conversation, and it has all been about me. And it has worn me out! Though I appear to be out-going to the point of near  obnoxiousness, inside, I still feel like a shy little girl. Jabbering on, non-stop, is tiring!

When, as a young adult, I started working as a server, I would go home absolutely exhausted. There was the running around with large trays of food, sure, Mostly, though, it was the long hours of interacting with people. Smiling, reciting the specials, answering questions and making small-talk can be a lot of hard work!

I’ve now worked in some form of customer service for nearly forty years. I’ve done some teaching, too. Certainly, over the years, I’ve managed to have quite a few conversations. Still, I’m best at getting my thoughts out into the world by writing them. That way, I have total control of the conversation!

Monday, Monday…

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We are awfully close to halfway through summer. In some ways, it seems to be flying by. In others, this has been the summer of my dreams, and distant memories. I’ve probably already mentioned that I haven’t had a summer off, on Beaver Island, since I first moved here in 1978, until now. I always worked hard, too: busy days; long hours. Summers are the busiest season here.

This year, though, Covid-19 has wreaked havoc everywhere. Though this island remains, at this time, free of the virus, we still have all the usual misgivings about how to stay safe. We need the business, but it’s scary to think of crowds of people coming here from areas where the virus is prevalent. Fortunately or not, many usual summer visitors have not come. The Corona Virus has taken a big bite out of our tourist industry, and left me temporarily out of work.

I watch with sadness and horror as other communities deal with overwhelming sickness and death. I’m very aware that my age puts in in a “high risk” group. There is still some trepidation whenever I have to be in public. I cancelled a planned trip to attend my grandson’s high school graduation party downstate, due to fears about being exposed. And I’m still second guessing myself over that decision. I don’t want to be ruled by fear, but I absolutely want to be safe.

Beyond all that, though, I’m having a wonderful time! I am kind of a loner, and definitely an introvert. I have house, garden and studio to keep me busy, dogs to keep me entertained, and a regular routine to provide some structure to my days. I have a little one-day-a-week volunteer position, and a new part-time job on the week-ends. I get a little Social Security check each month, and a little unemployment to supplement that. This is a lovely summer!

Mondays, though! When I worked at the hardware store, and before that when I worked at the Shamrock Restaurant and Pub, I almost always worked Saturday and Sunday. My “week-end” is Monday and Tuesday. So, even now when I mostly don’t work, I wake up on Monday with a sense of urgency, a feeling of near panic, at all the things I need to do. Today was no different.

I got up early and got going right away. First my morning routine: meditate; write; draw; yoga.  Then I spent about an hour studying. I am working my way through an embarrassingly large collection of self-help books, with topics ranging from art techniques to exercise to how to stop procrastinating or become a better listener, writer, cook or general human being. If nothing else comes of this time off, I will have at the very least made every effort to better myself!

I took a shower and dressed, then took the dogs on their first walk of the day. Garden, next, to water and weed. Then on to one of the flower beds It’s hot out there, though! Especially in that flower bed, against the south wall of my house. There was no breeze, and the heat was magnified by the white siding. When I was driven inside, I’d start a load of wash, dust a surface, or sweep something. Then back at it. When I cleaned up for lunch, I made a pot of chicken soup. Always, with the idea that I’d better keep busy. No time to waste. Lots of things to get done.

As I was working at filling the wheelbarrow with crab grass and bladder wort that has taken over among the day lilies, my mind was racing ahead to the next thing to do. The rugs need to be shaken out and washed. I have two paintings underway in the studio. Windows show patterns of dog nose and dog paw. Before long, the yard will need to be mowed again.

After my third long bout of weeding, while wiping the sweat from my brow, it occurred to me: what I don’t get done today, I can do tomorrow. Or the next day,Or the day after that! I broke into a big grin. I love this summer! Mondays do not have to be filled to the brim with urgent tasks. Mondays can be just another normal day. As long as I remember!

Timeout for Art: Mash-Ups

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Drawing or painting from a photographic model presents challenges all alone, but it was never a challenge that interested me. When I hear, “It looks just like a photograph,” meant always as a compliment, I always wonder, “then why not just take a photograph?” Honestly.

There are artists that work from a photograph, but put their own spin on it. Chuck Close comes to mind, with his wonderful, large pixelated self-portraits. Others contribute their own lush brushstrokes or distinctive line quality that – though based on a photograph – raise it to another level.

When I was learning to draw, I drew every single day. I sketched my husband, my children and my pets, but they grew tired of sitting still. Likewise, I grew tired of drawing still-life arrangements, room-scapes, and crumpled paper bags. Then, I would turn to photographs for subject matter.

To keep things interesting, I’d do what I call “mash-ups.” Rather than one photograph, I’d choose two or three, and combine them on the page. For instance, from a book of black and white photos of the excavation of King Tut’s tomb I’d get the “bones” of a drawing. From People magazine, a movie star’s face. The torso from another photograph. Add my own surgical scar to finish. It wasn’t always successful, but it was always fun.

Hot Summer Sundays

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Sundays, when I was a child, we went to church. No matter what, all year ’round. During the hot days of summer, church was a sweltering time. Sunday dresses were scratchy and uncomfortable. Church-going demanded the wearing of shoes, unused on every other summer day. All women and girls wore hats.

The pews were full; there was no movement of air. The priest in his layered vestments was red-faced with the heat, though electric fans situated on each side of the altar were aimed directly at him. The temperature didn’t seem to shorten the sermon by a single sentence.

When we were finally released from that hot chamber, we lingered on the steamy pavement while our parents shook hands and greeted friends; my Dad always took time to scold the good Father for the length of the service. Finally, we made our way across the main street and down the side road to our station wagon. The front windows were rolled down to let in a little air as the car moved forward.

We made a brief stop, to drop off a small basket of laundry to a house on Court Street. It was the house, I think, of one of my mother’s aunts. The laundry belonged to Magabelle, an elderly family friend who lived a short walk from us. We waited in the car. Dad walked up the sidewalk to make the exchange, one basket of soiled laundry for another of clean, folded clothes.

Then, home. Out of the car and to our rooms to kick off shoes and exchange church clothes for summer shorts and tops. Down to the kitchen, then, to help with breakfast. We always fasted before Mass, so Sunday breakfast was always after church. Because it was close to noon, it was always a hearty meal that would tide us over until suppertime. Mom would hand out assignments: peel potatoes; butter toast; set the table; pour the juice. By the time Dad returned from his visit with Magabelle, the meal was ready.

After breakfast, once the table was cleared and the dishes washed, dried and put away, the day was ours. This was not a day for housework. House-cleaning and laundry took time every other day of the week, but not on Sunday. In the late afternoon, another meal would have to be prepared, served, and cleaned up after. By evening, the garden would need to be watered. The afternoon, though, was ours.

Memories of those hot summer Sundays involve all of the senses. I can picture our yard, with its patches of sun and shade, small fruit trees, big willow trees, swing set and sand pile. I can feel the hot sand underfoot, the cool, tickling blades of grass, and the warm, rough texture of the garden. I remember the taste of water from the hose, peas fresh from the vines, and the tiny bit of sweetness from the base of clover flowers.

The scent associated with summer Sundays is the smell freshly-mowed grass. The sound of the lawnmower was a backdrop to the giggles of children, enjoying the freedom of a hot summer afternoon.