Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Legacy

January 16, 2013

A friend, someone for whom I have felt affection and whose bumping up against my life has left me with indelible marks, has chosen to end his life in early February, 2012. It has been so long since he left this vale to take up residence in one room of my memory house. He is there, along with other close friends who have died.

Some days, whenever my phone rings, I think of him calling on the spur of a moment to share an errant thought, happening or recent accomplishment. “Hey, G” he would announce, “get this!” But it never is he calling, nor will he ever again.

Often I amuse myself, recalling how, 16 years ago, when we were auditing a Contemporary Painting Course at a local University we would engage in a mad scramble to carry our piles of materials and equipment into the studio so we might be able to take possession of a choice piece of studio real estate. Because he had OCD tendencies, and really knew how to pack up stuff for easy and organized ferrying back and forth  I learned a lot to be less haphazard and more organized in my packing up for studio time. I cringe to think of he had disparaged, publicly to a studio full of young painters, my piggish painterly practices. Of course he did this in an amazingly witty fashion, so that rather than glower at him I would break out in fits of laughter.

I don’t think I will ever be able to sit through a Peter Greenaway movie without imagining him sitting nearby and saying, “Wait, lets replay this… and this…look… look!!!”

He left behind his wife and two grown boys.  They are devastated.

His older son went to Burning Man last summer where he created a shrine of his Father’s digital artwork, printed out and strung up like Buddhist prayer banners. These he burned.

Both sons have access to his files of visual work and writing. He did produce two books on Blurb.com, as well as hundreds of paintings and drawings.  He was a man of remarkable sensibility and aesthetic sense. I miss him.

Rest in Peace, Thomas Ziorjen, my friend.

On listening to Rimsky-Korsakov…

September 14, 2012

Yesterday, Martha, who is disassembling her life here and moving to London, brought me a plasti-bag full of music CDs she is de-accessioning. “Keep what you want,” she said.  “Most of these are from a time when I was trying to develop a taste for classical music, but no longer play regularly.” In spite my promise to myself to acquire no more possessions, on studying the labels of each CD, and what composer and piece of music was exampled on the different discs, these gifts from Martha seemed appropriate to where my head and heart are these days, reveling in memory, revisiting long-assumed to be dormant pleasures of sensory nature. Perhaps because it is September, a treasured time of the year for me, when memory causes me to anticipate the joys of this season, that aides memoires such as the sound of winds in the late afternoons, and specific passages of sound make me revel in being alive.

So, I popped onto my player the Scheherezade of Rimsky-Korsakov as I prepared hot water and vinegar with which to wash the tile floors in my apartment. I should know myself better by now, because, all of my life I have been unable to multi-task, especially when music is a component of what must compete for attention. After hearing about the fourth bar of the overture, I collapsed into a heap on the couch, dripping scrubbing cloth clutched in my hand – and all ears.

Memories arose, unbidden.  Of kneeling on the floor in my childhood home, right next to the radio, of a late September dusk, Anyu and Apu sitting close-by in the scuffed leather chairs, Idiko perched on the piano bench, all of us silent as Scheherazade piped through the cloth covering the radio speaker.  A few years later, coming home alone  in the afternoon from Catholic school in Kingston, after parting from Ildiko at the church where she had her daily piano practice session, letting myself into the empty brownstone parlour and for company putting on the Rimsky-Korsakov record which had arrived as donation in a box of household goods from our church. On hearing the second movement, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude in the memory of how that music had helped me then assuage feelings of nostalgia for my lost homeland, and how it had kept me wonderful company when I was feeling particularly alone.

After an unexpected lassitude overcame me, my thoughts strayed to doing guided meditation sessions while recovering from Leukemia treatment, which involved the therapist verbalizing a scenario in a soothing voice – so sound and meaning implied by word content and context was able to transport one beyond quotidian concerns into a place of respite. That fleeting moment of puzzlement was replaced by a sense memory of holding my new-born son and a reminder of the special place of safety and oneness a mother and infant shared moment can be.

At some points in the music the sound made me experience temperature change, taste sensations, colour variations and the texture of varied fabrics.  Sinewy arabesque threads wound along the lines of melody Instrument sounds implied tapestries woven of different weight and colours of fibres. A taste of fresh figs, honey, acrid sweetness of plums vied with pungently spiced  taste tidbits, the texture of roasted almonds. I was awash in sensations.

Sudden silence when the music stopped brought me back to the clammy touch of the cool washrag in my hand, the sunlight streaming through the windows, the sound of wind teasing through the aspens outside. The noises of nearby construction re-asserted itself. My tile floors remained uncleaned, but after relaxing in my newfound sense of comfort and pleasure, I tackled that chore with a vigour which surprised me.

I do wonder though, do creators of works of art ever comprehend the effect of their creations, because they are ever varied, and largely unpredictable. But the riches bestowed on the individual appreciator are thousand-fold.  Was Scheherezade an artist? She of the Thousand and One tales, the one Rimsky-Korsakov references as muse, to aid us in reviewing tales of our own, read about, told to us, or directly experienced. Hmmm…

Confession about acquisition…

February 28, 2010

Let me begin by stating I have few needs and wants. This does not mean that I am without desire, or prone toward acquiring objects which have little usefulness in my life. This afternoon Martha and I attended the opening of the “Out of the Ombu” exhibition which Looking For Beauty and I did installation last Thursday. I am such a sucker for quiet, tactile beauty, and should have realized I was in trouble when the first area of concern for exhibition to me was for six examples of Shino ware. While the curator was explaining the need to display 6 sculptural pieces against the main wall, I was ruminating about where to display these gems. In less than three minutes, I had dragged over the display plinths and placed the beautiful, quiet-as-a-whisper pieces – two tall slab bottles with diagonal carved stripes, two small bottles, beautiful examples of Tobigana with subtle blue soda glaze, and two Tobigana bowls with Shino slip decoration.
One of the pleasures and privileges of mounting an exhibition is the opportunity to closely look at and handle art objects – on a more intimate level than is available to the gallery goer. When I upended the Tobigana bowls and happened to see the accidental glazing due to the vagaries of wood firing on the surface of the chattered ware and the subtle beauty of the foot finish, I should have realized that the demon of acqusitiveness that lurks in my otherwise modest person would set up a persistent chant in my unconscious – “these are meant to be for you!”
Barely one minute into the opening, my feet took me to this part of the exhibition, and immediately to the curator to beg for a red dot to place by the two Shino Tobinaga bowls. I did not care whether these items were of collectible value, nor that the potter was a relative unknown. That doesn’t figure in my estimation of the desirability of these beautiful bowls. What did was their quiet insistence that existence is very much dependent on the vagaries of chance acting on material, and that these items had been blessed by the character of heat and fire carefully tended by the potters, and the happenstance of these objects’ position inside the ombu and the introduction of soda ash at a particular time during the firing. Nothing is guaranteed! That is of what these bowls speak to me – and of unexpected gorgeousness.
Now, I have put myself in the position of bringing these items into my home. How do I explain this compulsion to Rumpole? Me, who prides herself on wanting little. But, by gum! I can hardly wait to bring these beauties home. I know I was meant to have them. Earlier this week, as I was dusting the mantle I picked up the beautiful Tobigana decorated vase I had picked up a couple of months ago from the Sally Ann. It has a gorgeous salt glaze, a simple form and a subtle chatter decoration around the shoulder. It cost $1. I googled the decorative practice and did some reading on the technique this week. And, behold, this opportunity has occurred.
I feel very fortunate to be able to afford such an act of whim. Maybe Rumpole will understand.
But I have plans. I talked with the potter at the opening – an older Japanese lady. She was pleased I so wanted these two bowls. As I was gazing at them and lifted them up to run my greedy fingers over the surface, I decided to paint them as a still life from many aspects when I get them home. What a challenge to paint using earth colours to approximate the feelings which these objects yield to me. I can hardly wait for the six weeks of the exhibition to be over.

The Conference Workshop with the three amigas…

January 23, 2010

We were as ready to lead the workshop for teachers as any oveprepared presenters might be. In fact, we were so nervous in anticipation we thought we should arrive at the conference venue two hours before our stint was to begin. Then, we found out we could only arrive just an hour prior to star time.
The evening before we went over our materials and equipment checklists, trial ran CDRs on the laptop we were to use and almost added to our burgeoning boxes items we deemed essential for workshop participants to have.
Lee conjectured, “Should we take pencils and pens for the people?”
“Are you kidding me?” I snapped back. “We are not dealing with high school students here. Surely to God no self-respecting teacher would dare turn out to a workshop sans writing equipment!”
I did think having rice-powder on hand for the participants to try out making Kolams and Rangoli was essential, so I busied myself with the trusty Braun coffee grinder and ground up a whack of rancid rice that was about to be heaved into garbage. The jar of rancid rice-powder was large enough to provide coverage of Kolams over a large area of pavement. I didn’t think people would be overwhelmed by the smell of it. Besides which, “waste not, want not” is my motto. Rice Powder, check!
Meanwhile Louise was pasting labels on all items to remain in the teaching kits, and double checking contents. Lee was reorganizing the workshop handouts and making sure all was in order. We did this in the kitchen. Rumpole came home to find the place a disaster zone and kicked his way to the bedroom to change into his grubbies. We finished our labours, drank one more cup of cold tea, loaded our stuff into two cars and parted company with plans to meet up at the Conference place with all our stuff the following morning at 7am. Lee was to pick me up at quarter of seven, practically the crack of dawn.
The morning of, I scrambled around half-asleep after a largely sleepless night, washed, dressed, got the kinks out of my hair and bolted back a couple of cups of coffee. Waited beside Rumpole’s snoozing Hyundai as I waited for Lee to arrive in her red Mustang. Bless that youngster, she had brought me a Starbucks latte. As we drove toward the Conference place Dawn broke over the horizon in a milky iridescent pearl-grey band. The day promised to be mild and dry.
When we arrived at the parking lot, Lee nipped into the building to find a dolly to haul our gear, leaving me to call Louise and let her know exactly where we were parked. Louise arrived just as I was unloading the stuff from the Mustang’s trunk. Soon, Lee returned with the dolly in tow and we loaded the containers on to it and went to find our workshop room.
Luck was on our side. We were booked into a science lab with many electric outlets, a big screen and gererous white-boards as well as two sinks. Perfect for an art workshop.
Lee proceeded to set up the electronic equipment, and much to our relief it all promised to work as required. Louise set out the handout material and placed printed visuals onto the whiteboard with stick-um. I set out art materials into stations adequate for a large group to work at without a hitch. We were so organized we had a half- hour to spare before deadline for start. We went in search of muffins to feed on. These two gals were an absolute joy to work alongside!
When teachers straggled in, with no one late ( they are so conditioned to time dictates) I was surprised to note there were no men in the group. All women, mostly young ones who looked so very young. Just three retirement-age ladies in a group of 19 souls. I suddenly felt like a creaky antique.

Lee opened up the workshop with having everyone introduce themselves. She looked glamorous in her Punjabi suit outfit of Royal blue with gold embroidery.. On her wrists she wore Indian bangles with bells attached – so whenever she needed to call people to attention she only had to shake her arms. Louise overlooked proceedings like a fond aunt. I sat by the side as grannie types are wont to.
I had prepared the lesson plans on Kolams and Rangoli and figured if someone else could present and lead the lesson, any teacher attending the workshop could also follow the information for successful presentation. The workshop participants got right down to work, experimented, made permanent examples with chalk on black paper for themselves and experimented with rice-powder Kolams on the floor. They got so involved that they worked right through the half-hour rest period. I helped with making Kolams on the floor, showing how to hold the powder in the palm and trickle it to the ground and make gestures whilst doing so. Participants made amazing patterns and expressed eagerness to show the process to students. Lee glowed with pleasure. Louise went around the room documenting people at work, so much so she went through two sets of batteries. We all had great fun, largely in silence.
We were all so occupied with making Kolams we ran out of time for the presentation of the second half of the workshop. The keeners wanted us to carry on, so we showed CDRs on Navajo sandpainting, discussed similarities and differences for those two types of imagemaking, emphasizing the ritual differences, showed the sand which to use in making sandpaintings and discussed techniques for making permanent examples with students. It helped to have two permanent sandpaintings Lee had brought back at Christmastime from Arizona. The principle of Symmetry exemplified in both types of images was a huge topic of discussion, as was the abstraction inherent in both. The teachers expressed that they could use both to teach mathematical concepts, and also to have students use symmetry in their expressions of beauty and story telling.
They also stated that since we had made teaching kits using the internet for much of our research, they could further have students continue to research and compare information found on the net.
Overall the workshop was a success. We packed up our supplies and headed back to my kitchen to decompress over a couple of pots of tea. Louise planned to take out one of the kits for high schools and use the information for teaching art during the next semester. She also decided to extend the scope of the kit by designing further lesson plans and units. She has much to work with from the kit – on Contemporary Ephemeral Art and its practitioners – with DVDs added to explore in depth the work and its underlying concepts.
Lee called me this afternoon while I had my head down for a nap. She had begun to teach the unit on Kolams and Rangoli and reported her kids were tremedously excited by the potential for making ephemeral art in public spaces. Maybe the future grafitti taggers ( taggers give such pain to the maintenance crews in our town) will make practice of leaving their mark using ephemeral materials which disappear in short time.
It feels terrific to have brough this project of ours to such a succesful conclusion. I am anticipating seeing concrete results from our project by school year’s end. The project has been a form of therapy for me, useful, encouraging, engaging. Being part of it reassured me that I still have the “stuffing” left in me with which to contribute in my small way to my community, vision problems be damned.

Typing (ugh)… not writing…

December 11, 2009

I have neglected my blog for the last couple of months. It seems the project I have undertaken in September has taken precedence over most of my activities. It is an educational project for the Local art gallery’s educational arm, worked on with two teachers from our local school district and funded by two public bodies – the school District and the Art Gallery.

Initially we were to come up with a kit of lesson plans on Environmental Art – a topic of huge scope. In my usual capacity of “loose cannon”, I interpreted this topic as exploring Ephemeral Arts. My rationale for this was, “Does the world need to document and compile more examples of art in a museum, when art -making can be a largely personal, communal and ephemoral activity which can be passed on through common practice repeated over and over again, and allowed to be replaced and extended by future practices?”

So, I thought and thought – about works made only for a temporary purpose, of importance in the culture within which they were made and which gave expressive colour to to lives and belief systems. Enter the notion of Kolams as made in India’s Tamil Nadu, mandalas as made by Buddhist monks as a form of contemplative practice, and of Navajo sand-painting as ritual practice in one of North America’s larges indigenous tribes. Much research followed on the heels of this notion.

And, of course, there are contemporary practitioners of the ephemeral arts – Andy Goldsworthy, Rikrit Taravanija, Diana Lynn Thompson, Alan Sonfist and others who place process above product and life cycle above permanence. How to relate contemporary practice with historic practices? There is a relationship. As always no contemporary practice is without historical antecedents. How to relate the continuum?

Three of us sat down over wine and dinner and hashed out the congruities and continuities. It is good to have several good minds working together. One of us, a young High School art teacher worked out the mechanics of relating contemporary to historical practices. man, I envy her her energy, and her ability to directly narrow down relationships. Also her ability to negotiate the, to me, complexities of computer programs and mechanisms. I have been relegated to being typist, a task to which I am definitely not well suited, and to the work of coming up with lesson plans appropriate to grades K to 7.

So I have been typing up background information as well, collated from a variety of sources. Have also played with materials to see about their suitability to the various grade groups. Lots of typing; lots of frustration with my brand new Windows program. To take a break today, I ground up a bunch of rice in my Braun grinder and made a Kolam on the threshold to my studio.

This afternoon, two of us are to make a presentation of the kits we have prepared for K – 3, Gr. 4 -7, Gr. 8 – 12 – complete with visuals and CDRs and DVDs. I have sets of dominoes, side-walk chalks, rice flour and coloured sand packed with binders full of lesson plans and visuals. We also have beautiful reproductions of a Tibetan Thangka to share with the people coming to the unveiling meeting.

Mu forefingers have grown calluses from all the typing over the past two+ months. The bound documents need layout help – I am beyond incompetent at this. My two cohorts have heavy vocational committments. WE NEED HELP! Yes, we are going to beg for help.

Now mind – we are doing this as volunteers – and as such have racked up a respectable 30+ hours on this project – and that is a conservative estimate. But if all goes well, and we get the clerical help we so desperately need, we shalll have a really fine program to lend out to busy public school teachers.

Still typing, not writing, in suburbia….G

Six Word Bio…

June 21, 2008

Lose, find, listen, hear, consider, share.

Christine at www.mariachristine.wordpress.com  has tagged me for this meme.

I tag:

Deborah Barlow at www.slowmuse.wordpress.com  – she is one to always deal with essence, and i am curious to know how she describes hers.

D at www.joefelso.wordpress.com – he is a master of getting to the point.

Lookingforbeauty at www.lookingforbeauty.wordpress.com – a subtle soul, and I am curious to see how she describes herself.

Canadada at www.canadada.wordpress.com – a good writer who needs to be known.

Rocky at www.redneckarts.wordpress.com – a fine mind, great find and wonderful painter and writer.

 

These five people are bloggers who have so much of great value to share. There are so many others – iinvite you to tag them to enrich us all.

Studio visit with Anarchist/Artist…

June 12, 2008

Flora and I had been planning this trip up the coast for a couple of weeks. We intended to visit Anarchist/Artist, take him for lunch, see his local exhibition and then visit his studio. I was pumped, and not only because for a shut-in, like me, a trip like this is a special gift, but also because I so much enjoy spending time with Anarchist/Artist and see him pull out of storage one remarkable work after another. Prissy german Tourist, who is also friends with him, and I, both consider Anarchist/Artist one of of B. C.’s underappreciated artistic treasures. He is absolutely committed to his work and to living within certain stringent principles which he espouses. A man to admire, in the complete sense of admiration of coherent belief and practice as exemplars in living. He does good, does no harm, and lives gently with great respect for the gifts life bestows upon him.

Taking a ferry to get to his community is such a production. Because Flora is such a fine and intelligent companion, time travelling didn’t seem so onerous. En route, we discussed various points of politics and practice of the publicly funded gallery system. We admired the views from the ferry’s lounge, even though the day was one of lowering skies, greens, and misty greys. We watched a small motor boat struggle to cross the bow of the ferry up ahead, quite nervous and anticipating a small marine disaster. Some operators of small craft have little awareness of the speed of larger vessels. Our coast has a history of many accidents during such attempts to not lay by and let a larger boat have right of way. We were quite relieved to note the smaller boat scoot out of danger, by a hair, it seemed.

Once debarked, we made good time on the Coast road, and soon turned off the highway onto the dirt track where Anarchist/Artist’s cabin and studio nestled among a profusion of Rhododendrons, past bloom, and tall evergreens. An eight foot cairn marks the parking area. A bonsai-ed horse-chestnut tree in a planter stands near the front steps; its leaves perfect and tender green. Sweet woodruff carpetsthe foundations on either sides of the staircase. We peeked through the glass door to see Anarchist/Artist upright near his vomiting skeleton sculpture, happily sipping from a ceramic mug with a temmoku glaze. We tapped on the window. He came and let us in; greeted us with warm hugs and kisses on the cheek.

I invariably feel good whenever in his company. He is courtly, charming, beautifully spoken with an educated British accent. In his mid-sixties, he is aging as only men who have led a healthful and considered life age – gracefully and well. He lives a simple and aesthetic life surrounded by his work, by books, music, and growing things which he propagates for his survival and consumption. On his easel was a recent still-life study of a clutch of beets and their greens. This glowed in jewel-like splendour, made with reverence, vigour and beautiful marks. When asked if he got his vegetable garden in ample time this spring, he bemoaned that he had been reluctant to set out his cucumber seedlings because nights, even in June, have been so cold this year. He is fearful he will not get in his usual crop. He grows an organic cash crop, and exchanges for meats and other supplies. We wondered what kind of crop he might get this year. The weather has been so unusually somber and lacking in hot sunny days.

Flora sked him wher he migh want to go for lunch. we decided to blow the budget and go to a restaurant where there was a good chef. However, after we drove there we found it closed. We went off to a waterfront pub and sat outside under propane heaters ( a most unusual necessity in late spring at this latitude). We ate, drank wine with our pub fare and discussed his long career. Flora demonstrated by her demeanor that she much enjoyed his company. I listened and posed some questions and small observations. After all, our intention in visiting with Anarchist/Artist was to have the two of them meet and discuss further exhibition possibilities of A/A’s works.

After lunch we drove to the local Municpal Gallery, where A/A’s plein air paintings of local industrial landscapes were exhibited. I should hesitate to label them as “plein air” because they are qualitatively much different with what is associated with plein air paintings. They are really direct studies of industrial constructions in the landscape, and as such differ from the flabby, inchoate landscapes that are lately characterized as plein air paintings. A/A has an acute manner of distilling industrial forms, and way of notating the characteristic land, water and sky patterns of our region. As a collection, this exhibition should be bought by a local museum, as examples of a painter’s recording of the economic activities of a specific region. But, by God, there were several I would have loved to have for myself! We stayed in the gallery for a long time. I entertained myself by getting nose-to-painting looks at the marks he had made the paintings of, and studying his truly idiosyncratic use of colour. What a treat!

We drove back to his studio afterward and stayed for a couple of hours more. He pulled out from storage his more controversial and political work, some drawings and studies. We looked at his collection of seed-pods, bones, roots, a remarkable desiccated skunk, stones and dried insects. Much of his graphic work is inhabited by the presence of these objects as part of the symbolic vocabulary he uses. He has obviously developed his visual language over many past decades of consideration and study, and in his work offers permutations and combinations of them much as a poet does of words and metaphors. The energy and control with which he makes his marks is masterful; his skill developed by years of trial and practice. he is a remarkable colourist. While his political imagery is disturbing, it has the conviction of thought and belief, long considered, as underpinning. One may or may not like his paintings, his prints, but they seep into the brain, into memory, under the skin and won’t let go. Flora looked and looked, commented, asked questions. I asked to buy a book of his prints and one of his more anarchist print images for myself. But there is one remarkable painting i am going to save my shekels for, now. I know Rumpole wont necessarily like it, but usually he assents to my decision to acquire art that means something to me.

Flora and i realized after a time that we were almost going to mis the ferry home. So we said our goodbyes to and appreciation of the time Anarchist/Artist had given us. On the trip home we discussed how Flora might be able to raise funds to have an exhibition of Anarchist/Artist’s work at our Municipal gallery. We brainstormed over coffee and muffins and filled paper napkins with copious notes of our fundraising ideas. We agreed it had been a day spent in the best possible way.

Today I am exhausted, but happy at having had such a wonderful experience and opportunity. I just hope Anarchist/Artist doesn’t feel like we have wasted his time. And I am hoping that a local exhibition comes about from the meeting between him and Flora.

Pitt River, looking West…

March 31, 2008

img_0087.jpgimg_0086.jpgimg_0085.jpg Lila and I gathered our outdoor painting stuff at 8am on a warm April day, piled them into her Ford Focus and drove to the end of Harris Road in Pitt Meadows. The road ended at the dike and we parked right next door to the barn in which Dry Sherry kept her beautiful Percheron/Andalusian, Paris. He was out in his paddock cruising around, munching hay, a splendid dappled, distressed grey -white monolith in motion. Because I was busy gawking at him I nearly ended walking my easel into the ditch. Lila meanwhile, being much better organized and less of a wool-gatherer, made an efficient job of carting her easel, large canvas, and carrying bag up onto the dike. I dragged my easel and set it up. Had to go back to the car to get my drawing board and paper pad as well as my bag with my drawing stuff. Once set up near each other we sussed out the place; looked about us to select an area to work with and from.

I had earlier in the morning determined that  in no way was I going to get precious or self-conscious about my materials or the imagery which would absorb my attention. I was in a rebellious mood. No museum quality paper, archival drawing medium, or picture-worthy, picturesque subject would distract me from the pure pleasure of looking, seeing, making marks, moving freely and playing.

So, the paper was plain old 18 by 24 newsprint. The tools, oil pastels. The challenge for me today with the subject was to take the least picturesque aspect of the landscape in front of me and to find the rhythm and unity of forms in front of me. It didn’t have to be an earth-shattering or mind-blowing image. So there was the spring growth of sedges near the river’s edge; shrubbery, low-lying near the shore, denser and taller, more vigorous further from the river, and in the distance a massing of vegetation, then the sky. The log-booms snugged along the river provided a warm contrast against the sky-reflecting blue of the water.

I windmilled my arms to get the blood flowing, did some knee bends and lunges and then selected the pastels colours and began the drawing dance. And kept drawing until the study reached the above stage. Lila may as well have been on the moon, for aside from hearing her brush scratching and swishing on her canvas somewhere to my right, her presence didn’t infringe on my concentration.

We spent the whole morning, working in silence, absorbed as the sun rose to the zenith and we began to tire. Lila worked on an ambitious 22 by 30 inch oil of the mountains and river and had a strong start with which to work later in her studio. I made the three oil pastel studies and felt satisfied with having met the goal I set for myself.

As my vision has failed me now, to the point that I no longer can make such distinctions visually as in these three-year-ago drawings, I like having these rather flimsy pieces of paper up on the walls of my studio. As I come and go from the house the drawings are an aide memoire. Now when walking along the dike this is not how I see what is there. It has changed so profoundly that patterns have lost their crispness, shapes have lost their clarity and tones and colours have become of paramount importance. Now, I realize that already, three years ago my vision was starting to change from the almost painful acuteness and clarity I have been gifted with throughout my first fifty years of life. These drawings represent a change, though not necessarily for the worse. A change toward some different ways of seeing, maybe a different way of being.

The keys to the Kingdom…

March 10, 2008

He was a sage man, Mr. S.. I trusted him to be honest with me, especially since he had been the adjudicator of my entrance portfolio at my interview seeking admission to the Art School. At that time he hadn’t pulled his punches. He had asked me, then, how my parents viewed my desire to attend art school. Since it was in my best interest to be candid with him, if he would be a reliable supportive person for my poorly-formed goals as art student, I had admitted to him that my parents were full of dispair as to what was going to become of me, if I persisted in following my desire to learn intensively about “Art”.

Mr. S. encouraged me to wholly immerse myself in the art school experience. He did say that at the green age of 17 years, and relatively untested, I would come to have conflicting feelings about what all might happen to me during these formative early years. “Come and talk to me, whenever you have difficulties or have reactions which confuse you. My door is always open.”

During those four years, whenever I had doubts and questions, I’d tap on his office door and promise to bring him a coffee if he would spare me a few minutes of his time. He was always most generous and patient. He was my “eminence grise”. My parents had no inkling that there was such a trusted advisor whose opinion I welcomed and valued and weighted far more than their own. Come to think of it, he was indeed a grey, silvery presence. He was small and wiry, pale in complexion with tarnished pewter hair and beard. He seemed to be everywhere; like escaped beads of spilled mercury he could be glimpsed doing his rounds in the art school hallways and studios.

By the end of third year at school, I had paid my tuition and supply costs with a series of low-paying jobs – usherette, cleaning-woman, waitress. Still living at my parental home, I began agonizing over how, in the future after graduation I would maintain my art practice, move out into my own digs and sustain a life beyond mere existence. My parents exhorted me to give up all ideas of pursuing a life-long involvement with art. They considered my four years of art school as an early, but doomed, love affair which held out little hope for a lifetime of sustaining joy. Ildiko had gone on to university, to follow the family plan for her to become a doctor. Surely, now, the penny would drop for me, and I’d realize the fruitlessness of a life in the arts and would bend to the family plan for me to become a pharmacist. At every available opportunity, my parents would attempt to engage me in conversation about going to the U to take a degree in science. They completely and conveniently forgot those angst-ridden nights of my struggles with chemistry and math in high school and my sudden blossoming with joy whenever taken up with studies in the arts and humanities.

In the quiet working hours in the print-making studio, while engaged in preparing plates, applying grounds, working the plates in the acid baths and inking, wiping and pulling prints, I mulled over possibilities  facing me in the future. I realized that making art takes materials, equipment, space and working at low-paying jobs would not afford me the means to do more than just keep a roof of sorts over my head and a few squares to sustain me. Advice from an experienced and trusted mentor was in order. I turned to Mr. S.

One morning, I nipped over to the coffe shop across the street from the art school, ordered two mugs of coffee, slices of cheese and carrots and carried them on a bakelite tray back to the school offices. “Morning goodies, for Mr. S.” I told Mrs Trevelyan, his secretary, breezing by her to tap on his door. Luckily he was peckish and glad for refreshments. He waved me into his office.

“I need your help.” I said, and launched into an agonizing and detailed account of my ruminations about my uncertain future.

He listened and ate his carrot and cheese slices; nodded between sips of the now tepid coffee. He swiveled on his oak teacher’s chair and gazed out the window; turned back and beaded me with his perceptive pale blue eyes. “You are the child of the upper Middle Class; you have learned to expect certain comforts from life. Your experience with people is mostly from that class – that is where you operate most comfortably. You need to attain the keys to that Kingdom, so you can enter it at will. It is only through further education that you will achieve the freedom to do this.” He said this without a trace of pressure. He was simply asking me to think along with him and go down that particular road of thinking. “How can you turn the knowledge and information you have gained so far to your advantage?” he asked.

“I could go and seek a position as an artist’s printer in a workshop,” I conjectured. “Although, there is no possibility of this here as there are no working ateliers. I’d have to research this. Maybe further afield. But maybe I’d not be too content labouring over other printmaker’s images. But of course, this might provide me access to a studio with presses.”

“Have you considered any other possibilities?” he asked.

“I have flirted with the idea of teaching. Am not too sure I have the patience and whatever else it takes to teach.”

“There is a way you can find out if you like teaching, or have an inclination in that direction. You can sign up as a teacher with the School Board and try your hand at teaching an adult night school course in Drawing. You’ll find out very quickly if you have the aptitude for teaching.”

He sent me on my way. As his suggestion made great sense to me, I followed up and engaged to teach a night school course at one of the recreation centres. Eight sessions. Not a huge, long-term committment, so even if I was fearful of being pathetic at this job, people’s  limited exposure to my green inept methods would not harm them in the long term.

A couple of months later, after a wonderful experience with teaching and thorough enjoyment of the persons with whom I shared a limited number of hours working, I bounced into Mr. S’s office and announced my pleasure with the outcome. “It sure is hard work but, man, the expressions of pleasure in accomplishment from people in the class makes the process worthwhile. And working to help someone overcome their frustrations with a process or to unearth an untapped potential is so invigorating.”

“You know, if you have had such an good experience, maybe you might consider taking teacher training at UBC. If you do so, your parents will probably be amenable, and you will have chance to obtain one of the keys to the Kingdom. Think about it, at least.”

I went off and thought about it all. Continued to work in the studio and made the work for my graduation show. My mind was at ease, I had decided on a sense of future direction – to take my degree in teaching and train as an art teacher. Went through the application process at the university, and only when formally accepted did I make the announcement of my intentions to my parents.

“We expected you to follow up in a more worthy discipline,” argued Apu. “To be a teacher is not good enough career for someone from our family.”

“Apu. I need to work at something which provides me with personal satisfaction as well as a way to make some kind of living. I am not at all interested in studying in the sciences. Besides which, having an education degree, will provide me with a little key to the Kingdom.”

“What on earth are you babbling on about?” complained Apu. “What’s this Kingdom ?”

Practice Writing – Circles…15 minutes

January 17, 2008

Mr. Joplin’s black-board writings were works of art. He formed beautiful rows of elegant cursive script, letters perfectly spaced, the runnels between horizontal rows spaced just so, to permit ascenders and descenders from becoming cramped. But it was the peculiar way in which he dotted his “i” that lent special distinction to his written hand. He placed accurate round circles above the lower case Is. In a blackboard full of notes we, in class, were to copy into our notebooks, what was written had the appearance and elegance of sacred text. I laboured over transcribing these notes and emulated the slowness and care with which Mr. Joplin scribed on the black-board. I strove to make the meaning of wisdom he imparted have beautiful form. My notebooks were labours of love. I felt reverent toward the information. And, I learned to slow down my writing and when a word containing an “i” was complete, would patiently hover over the “i” and with great deliberation form the circle above it. The act of doing this caused me to savour the writerly gesture, the making of a mark, to not take it for granted. The circle marks slowed me down to an almost trance-like state.

When I learned calligraphy, making circles and rounded elements became easy for me, due partly to this slowing down of making a mark of a circle from Mr. Joplin. It seems funny to think back on this now and realize that what someone does in demonstrating a way of doing something has consequences for developing skills related but not being taught at a particular time. Or, was Mr. Joplin unaware of the unintended consequences for students of his circling his Is instead of dotting them casually, swiftly without thought?

This Writing Practice topic was suggested by the folks at  www.redravine.wordpress.com. They provide constant stimulus for me for developing my writing. Thank you Quoinmonkey and Ybonesy!