Losing My Religion

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Here’s a painting that evolved from random abstract mark-making.

Somewhere within the chaos I saw a church and from there, all my thoughts on the current state of religion in the US came to mind.

Of course religion in America is loaded.  It’s political and something most people would choose to avoid discussing. Nevertheless, It’s what came up in my painting.

I guess for me, I feel a bit of anger at the indifference some people find towards the First US Amendment – Freedom of Religion.

I can remember my earliest encounter with other faiths when I first went to kindergarten.  My little class had Christians, Jews and Vietnamese Buddhists in it.  I didn’t even really know what that meant, but I do remember that it was a lesson. Through school I learned that many people believe in many different theories of God and in America you can practice any religious faith you’d like. Or none at all.  There is room for everyone.   That was about it.  Sweet and simple. Oh, and there is church and there is state.  Church is your own private choice and state is where everyone agrees to respect everyone else’s choices.  To a small kid, I remember thinking that sounded pretty fair.

A decade later I was in high school. For the first time in over a decade we were told they were changing our morning routine. The Pledge of Allegiance had always come onto the loud-speaker. We stood up, said the pledge and were then told to sit down for a moment of silent prayer.  But, for now on, there would simply be a moment of silence.  I don’t think us kids had ever thought about it before.  We just did what we were told. We put our hand on our hearts, stood, recited, sat down and stayed quiet until we were told we could speak.  On this day, I can remember the teacher explaining why the government was doing away with the word “prayer”.  Prayer had come from the fact that our country was predominantly Christian for hundreds of years, since most people were Christian, no one really minded if there was Christian religion in the public schools.  But now, people were becoming more observant of the fact that not everyone is Christian.  Perhaps a moment of silence to whomever your God is might be better than the Christian idea of “prayer”.  I remember thinking this was amazing.  Right in my little classroom we were discussing the First Amendment again and how as a country we really needed to hold true to our word. There is freedom of religion and separation of church and state.  You believe whatever you want outside of school, but when you are at school, we respect that everyone may have different beliefs. We focus on learning at school. That’s it – period.

I got it.  I got it at every age. We Americans are free because we respect everyone’s right to freedom. That’s how it works.

Now, I’ll admit it. I haven’t been in school in a couple of decades.  But the talk I now hear goes against everything I was taught in school.  Things like “Finally, we can bring back prayer to the classroom.” and “Bring back the Christmas pageant”. Things that sound incredibly CHRISTIAN to me.  If these same people found out the school was pausing to face towards mecca to pray 5 times a day they would go berserk.  Perhaps there should be no school lunch as all kids should fast during Yom Kippur?

You can’t have it both ways. If  you don’t want someone else’s religion shoved down your throat, then you can’t shove your own.

The other thought that came to mind as I was painting this little church is acceptance.  I am pretty sure every faith has some form of “Love All” in their tenants.  This caused me to draw all sorts of symbols.  Religious ones. Feminine vs Masculine. Patriotism. Rich vs. Poor. Educated vs. Illiterate.  Citizens vs. immigrants.  Who does America belong to? All or some?

Me. I believe in the freedom to mind one’s own business.  You leave me alone.  I leave you alone.  Mutual respect = Co-exist.

Call me a snowflake.  A flaming idealist-liberal.  I’m OK with that.  I’ll own it.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but guess what? I’m not the only one!

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Feeling the Blues

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Not feeling like I have any control over the subject matter, composition or colors, but I’ll show you how I tamed this wild beast from some dots and crosshatches to at least something… Negative painting (painting the background instead of the foreground) seemed to go well.  It’s how you edit the mess and I’m finding it’s the key to creating the composition.  I will take what I learned and move forward.

Blue Still Life

11×14 acrylic and charcoal

Little Field Study

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So let me quickly explain what “mixed media” means to those of you non-painters.

 When it comes to art galleries, museums and art publications, an artist needs to very specifically categorize their art. Here are some classic examples.  Oil painting, acrylic, pen and ink, gouache, watercolor, pastel, … you kind of catch my drift…

Well “mixed media” is the term the industry has coined for any artwork that uses more than one medium.  I don’t know where in my schooling I got this notion, but I was always made to feel like mixed media was a lower, non-purist, uneducated art form.  That’s pretty loaded huh?  Some artist/teacher/adult taught me that and like Adam, I bit that apple.  I think in art there is this “purist” thing which now that I am getting a little older, I would like to re-term an “ego” thing.  If you can put people and their work in a category, then you can compete against one another. Then you can have “the best” in show and don’t we all want to work so hard to compete with our peers to be the best???

Ugh, I’m exhausted with this premise and I’m only in my forties.

Now, when you go to art shows and you see “mixed media” near an artwork title, pretty much it’s a lump word that  means – more than one medium.  Think of all the categories above. If you simply add a tiny bit of charcoal to your acrylic painting, you are – mixed media.  If you add a tiny bit of gouache or acrylic to your watercolor painting – you are mixed media. God forbid you glue anything to your artwork, you are mixed media.  Of course any type of collageis – mixed media. This leaves all of these artists lumped into the “we don’t know what to do with you category”. For award giving,  “purists” are being compared apple, to apple, to apple, to apple…. For mixed media artists, award giving is comparing apple, to orange, to pineapple, to egg…. No one fits per say. Maybe that’s what gives the industry it’s uneasiness. I also  think there’s a rich vs. poor thing going on too.  Poor people can’t afford the best art supplies nor can they afford the proper education to know the rules. Great industry to be a part of right?

I mention this because for me, wanting to work in “mixed media” obviously has loaded negative connotations.  But guess what?  I LOVE MIXED MEDIA. I really love artworks that use ALL THE ART MEDIUMS ALL AT ONCE.  Why not?  Who says you can’t?  I want to use charcoal, paint, pencil, gold leaf, and spray paint all in one work of art.  Why is that such a bad thing?  Why do I feel like I will be judged poorly for doing so?

I think of the most famous mixed media artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat.  I am pretty sure he wasn’t thinking “Gee, what are the leaders of my industry going to think about my art and art practice? Hmmm?”  Nope. He was a street artist, a gritty-city graffiti artist who used whatever he found on the streets to get his vision across.  Racism, poverty, segregation, social inequality.  He was feeling it and he was expressing it.  When you look at his work, it is raw.  It is loaded with power, anger, inquisitiveness and humor.  Somehow mixing all the art mediums, packs this visual punch.  There’s so much to look at.  In this genre, there is a contemporary mixed media artist I love and admire, Mitsi B Kral. Click on her name to see her work.  Mitsi has these great YouTube videos.  When you watch her, you clearly see she doesn’t give a crap about being a “purist”.  She is just blasting music, scribbling, painting, gluing, spray painting, pretty much going nuts on a canvas. Her work again is raw and expresses so much emotion to me.

I love mixed media. It’s crazy and free.

But, Just when I think I am crazy and free, I find that really, I’m not.  I have all these rules in my head and I don’t even know where they came from. They’re clearly un-examined.  So for me, wanting to be wild and free at least when it comes to painting, is going to take a lot of practice.  First I have to challenge every preconception I have.  I have to undo every classicly-trained art lesson I’ve ever had. Dump all of it and try to uncover what’s under there.  What is my raw unexposed self?  Beats me.  What do I care so strongly about that I find ways to express it through my art and share it with the world? Beats me.  But it sure seems more interesting than painting a still life of some grapes.

So this is a little taste of the mental garbage rolling around in my head.  I am such an over-thinker/over-analyzer. My step-father used to ask me how I could even wake up every morning?  He’s got a good point.  Maybe if I go to a therapist, they can teach me how to stop over analyzing and then I will be the best painter in the world.  I’m thinking world-domination good! Mhew Ha Ha Ha Ha <- that’s an evil maniacal laugh by the way.

OK. I think I’m losing it. Something tells me I need to stop.  I should step away from the computer and simply just try to make a little more art.

OK… OK … I’m going… I’m going…

 

Mixed Media Painting

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I’m going to begin to show some of my mixed media experiments.

My thought is to skip the critique  because I don’t want to come off as complaining.

However, I have plenty of insight. Learning what to do – what not to do.

So, if you want to hear me complain – Oh, I mean give a critique  of my works, send me feedback. Yea or Nay?

If not, I’ll just post some of these pieces I’ve been playing with…

Off to throw some pots.  TTFN

On The Painting Front

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If you asked me September 1st, I would have told you I would be posting a new painting on my blog every 2 days.

Boy was I delusional!

With that said, I’ve been suffering with some major disappointment.  Reality is nothing like what I have rolling around in this head of mine.  Don’t get me wrong, I have been painting just as feverishly as a person who would post a new painting every 2 days, but the results have been hmm… what’s the word…. Let’s just say not matching up to the amazing-ness I find in my daydreams.

I saw my artist/painter aunt at Christmas and she asked me how the painting was going.  I told her I was failing miserably.  She said “what makes you think you are failing?”  I said “the fact that I wouldn’t hang a single piece of my work on a wall”.  She said “Ohhh, you’re learning.”   what?

Duh, why didn’t I think of that?

I get SO serious and I try SO hard, that I forget I am trying something I’ve never tried before. Why on earth would I think the first experiment would be a masterpiece?  Well, we know the answer to that one. It’s the ugly “P” word.  – perfectionism.  I am telling you, me and perfectionism are like Dory from Nemo, swimming around in that fishbowl.  Every lap, I forget I’ve already been there!

Then, the universe sends me a loving message, like it always does.  These quotes came up in my Pinterest feed just as I was thinking these thoughts:

So let me explain what I am trying to achieve through painting.

These are my personal beliefs OK? Please disagree with me.  It makes the world a more interesting place.  That and I am likely to believe the complete opposite 3 months from now ;)

OK.  My current thought – Why bother painting exactly what I can see?  In an age where every phone has an amazing camera attached to it and every human is recording at least 5 beautiful observations a day, why on earth would I want to waste my time carefully constructing a painting that looks similar to a photograph? What is it communicating to the world?  Is it simply an observation?  Isn’t there more out there than that?  More inside me?  What can I communicate through a painting?  There has to be more to it than simple observation.

My second thought is – What do you personally gravitate towards Mary? There are SO MANY styles of artwork i.e. still lives, landscapes, abstract, old school vs. new school.  When I answer the question, what am I attracted to?  It’s folk art and outsider art.  I love its color, humor, and simplicity. Now many people  think of these genres as naive, simpleton, and not serious art.  Let me tell you, I am trying to cultivate my own folky-outsidery-style and it is hard as hell.

These paintings above have been plaguing me for about 3-4 weeks now.

There are a ton of layers of paint involved. At least 10.  You start with the complete disorder of mark-making and then you are supposed to edit, negative paint and control what’s on your canvas. I can mark-make, but that’s about it!  The controlling, editing and simplifying is really difficult.  I feel like my canvas is a bull and it keeps knocking me flat on my behind.

I know what I have to do to get there, but I now realize it is going to take a hundred tries, not 3 .  Getting over my lofty expectations has not been easy. With this style of mixed media painting, you have to very confidently paint over 75% of your marks to give the eye a rest.  I find the experience paralyzing.  What if I paint over an area and then have second thoughts?  I can’t get it back. What if I screw up??? With these thoughts, I am leaving too much uncovered and it leaves the paintings really chaotic.

Now I consider myself the color queen.  I know I have a gift of color-combining that  has served me well over the last 20 years.  However,  with this chaotic mark making technique, there is so much untamed everything that it is throwing me off my color-game.  I have absolutely no control.  I finish a painting and think there is not one single color in this entire painting that I would have chosen!

__Untitled-1 One day I took photos of my work and the used the photo-editing app called Aviary to mess around with color combos.  I had a lot of fun playing, but I haven’t figured out how to exactly to implement it.

At this point in the process I started avoiding painting.  I would rather pay bills, clean, reorganize  – anything else I could think of. Christmas gave me every excuse I needed.

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Then I had the idea to abort ship. Why not ditch these paintings and move on?  Let’s call them what they are, experiments, and not waste another minute on them?

It worked.  I hung them on my studio wall and cleared the space.  Just the thought of starting over was enough to get me back in the arena again.  I have been working on new paintings and it feels pretty good. I’m already at the “hang-up” phase with the new ones, but now I have had a little bit of time to look at the old paintings on the wall and see some areas I can fix/alter.

So, At least I’m back in the game.  I have reset my expectations and I’m hoping by the time I get to painting 35 I can stay up on that bull for at least 2 minutes!

My own personal style is in there somewhere and I am going to find it damn-it.  I can’t wait to look back at this time in my life and laugh at all my worries and woes.

HA!

Second Field of Grass

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Yesterday, I mentioned I didn’t have the attention span for pointillism. When faced with painting tall grasses in this painting, I decided to take a different route. There are probably 30 layers, but instead of hand painting thousands of dabs of paint, I took my palette knife and scratched the paint off to create the line work. When you are standing in front of the painting it looks really life like. As if someone had just trampled through creating a path in the grass.

This technique didn’t drive me as crazy as the pointillism did. I will be adding it to my bag of tricks :)

4 Paintings

Here are the 4 paintings I forgot to photograph :) 3 of them are 12×16 and the smaller 11×14. All of them are acrylic paintings.

This one is of the clay cliffs of Block Island, RI.

Another Block Island painting, this is one of our favorite fields to sit and watch the sunset. Ok. We never sit. It’s more like hike!

There is a tiny little shed near my kids school in Kingston,RI. It’s bright white against the fields and trees. The white of the building always says “haunted” to me. I guess like the famous haunted “girl in the white dress”.

This is a view of the Island of Jamestown, RI from the mainland. The area where I live is blessed with both beautiful farmland and breathtaking seascapes. The juxtaposition of the two is a painters paradise!

My thoughts are to paint a bunch of 12×16 paintings. Reason being the size will allow me to work rather quickly. The more I make the more “gems” I will produce.

I’ve learned in pottery that not every pot comes out perfect. If I make 6 mugs, I can count on really loving 1 or 2. I call those the “gems”. With these four paintings there is only one true “gem” for me.

my favorite is this one. Other people may agree or disagree, but this painting meets my standards of what I deem a successful painting, a gem.

Ahhh…. I guess I am putting it out there (again :). My weakness.

Deep breath…. I have perfectionist issues…. Don’t judge me, we all have something! ;) This one is mine. Not my first mention of it, but I think it’s important to admit imperfections in ALL humans exist. I know I haven’t found that real-deal airbrush app for real-deal-life so until then, the first step to fixing anything is admitting it, one time or apparently twenty times….or maybe thirty for good measure.

I get it. I do. For instance, I’m new to pottery, I am gentle with myself, I know I have to put a ton of time in to master the art form. But with painting, I am not so forgiving with myself, even if I know I haven’t put In a spec of the time needed to master the art form. I create all sorts of stuff. I cross a wide range of mediums. And I feel no anxiety. No cares in the world. It’s all just play for me. Except for painting. Every insecurity and ounce of angst pours out of me. If I go even deeper, to find the source of my angst, it’s probably a childhood incongruent thought. I grew up in an art gallery surrounded by incredible talent. My childhood association with ART and SUCCESS was based on my observation of PAINTERS. As I sat there scribbling with my crayons, they were the unattainable in my mind. Natural talent. Just pure magic. Little me scribbles = big artists come in to frame their masterpieces. I could never be that good. Why did little Mary think that? Beats the shit out of me. I wish I could go back and shake it out of her!

So, in my 43rd year, I am finally putting the pieces together. All the “unattainable” artists I observed as a child with their perfect paintings, were get this -not perfect. What???? Really, they are my people now. I talk to them regularly. Did you know they have a garage full of duds they never show the world? Did you know they have to practice and practice and paint and paint until they find their gems?

Mind blowing. I know. I wish someone could have told me not every piece will be a masterpiece . Then I’d just need to find a way to get the last thirty years of my life back!

So that’s it. I am going to paint a lot this year. I am not going to craft and fill every hour working on craft shows. I am going to practice my heart out painting and heal my little inner-child. Who is going to come out of this year saying “I am not perfect, but I’m a darn hard worker. If you don’t believe me, check out my garage. It’s full. And there may even be some gems in there.”