Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fuel for the Creative Fire

I've been immersed in classical music for the last two days.  Friday night I was able to exhibit some of my art in connection with the New West Symphony's current concert Pictures at an Exhibition.  I took a few representative pieces of my plein air work

The particular composition that the concert was named after was written by musician Modest Mussorgsky in response to the death of a dear friend, the Russian artist Victor Hartmann.  Hartmann died very young at 39.  Another of Hartmann's friends, art critic Vladimir Stanssov organized a memorial exhibition of work by Hartmann.  Mussorgsky was so moved by the exhibit and the death of his friend that he wrote the touching piece that gives the concert its name.

Principal Viola
Lauren Chipman
Friday night I set up my work and was able to attend the concert as well.   I was seated next to a woman who was especially excited to be there because she had new hearing aids!  Her experience gave me a deeper appreciation of my own hearing.  I took even more joy from what I heard by sharing the time and space I spent listening next to her.  During intermission she realized that I was one of the guest artists which was my moment of celebrity status. During the second half of the concert she shared her amazing opera glasses with me.  They were heavy and the most optically clear lenses I've ever used.  I could see the spit on the woodwinds and the impeccable makeup of principal viola Lauren Chipman.

I also connected with Sarah Hodges and Andrea Landin who are the director and manager, respectively, of the Symphony's education department.  They are in charge of the VIP Family programs and invited me back to be an art facilitator for the Symphony's VIP Families. I was able to work backstage with the musicians and education staff. I had the children do gestural line drawings to two movements played by symphony members. One was a lyrical piece played by the brass section that elicited curvy, graceful lines. The other was played on viola by Lauren Chipman and was grumpy and discordant. The kids got it! If you're in the area and interested in your family being involved with the symphony check them out here:  VIP Family Club
Andrea Landin, Sarah Hodges and some of the VIPs

Master conductor and Music Director of
New West Symphony,  Marcelo Lehninger
I'm part of a lineage who is passing on our heritage.  You know, the one where we completely experience life through the Arts.  Amazing.  We are such gifts.  Life is so precious.

Multi-sensory experiences bring us more into the present moment and allow us to essentially slide back and forth in our memories.  They can compress and expand time.

 Touching the lives of children plants the seeds for a long term relationship with the arts.  As I left the concert hall last night I overheard one woman refer back to her school days (no doubt 50 years ago) and how she would have loved to be in the brass section last night.  She said the only solo she ever had was Taps!  Too funny, but obviously her early experience left a life long imprint.

Chairman of the Board Karl Klessig,
me, Andrea Landin, Sarah
This experience further reinforces my own art philosophy, which is process and experience based.  I'm all about immediate present moment awareness and emotional connection.  Once again my heart is full.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Life of a Creative or There's More to This Than Meets the Eye

I've been wallowing in inspiration for the past twenty-four hours or so.  Yesterday I was invited to a salon at the home of English Professor and poet Sandra Hunter.  She included performance poets Andy King, Crystal Little Bird Salas, Julius Sokenu who is the Dean of Student Learning at Moorpark College, two musicians, and several other talented performers.

The intimacy of a setting such as a salon is unique and allows the unfolding of vulnerable new work.  I was privileged to be witness to the flexing of some considerable creative muscle.  Think of a dancer rising en pointe and taking a stage.  Years of training and hours of practice go into that mastery.

The sound bites and images I experienced yesterday will color how I see the world for a while.  To give you a glimpse into the Life of a Creative I'll paraphrase.

One of my own paintings begun on a walk
where I picked the flowers on a cool 
spring-like morning. 10"x8" oil
"Today I ignored a dog and I felt like I was ignoring myself." (Andy King)  "I sometimes confuse beauty with happiness." or was it "happiness with beauty?" (Nancy-Jean Pement)  There were images of warmth, love-making and the ocean that I want to hear again by Julius Sokenu. There was a story of a strange little man considering an epic journey told by Sandra herself. It all passed too quickly, like a sunset, a smile or love-making.

We discussed the difference between journey and destination; the necessity of an Audience to the Performer.  That will be an ongoing internal conversation for me as a process-oriented artist.  Which is which?  Is there an absolute truth?

The young cellist who played performed a rather avant-garde piece. She warned us ahead of time that it involved hitting her cello.  She assured us that her cello would be ok:) then shared her obvious technical skill. When she finished, she told us that in learning the piece, she discovered what it is to be lost in the music for the first time.    We gave it witness, support, and love.  That's art.  That's when the most deeply personal exposes universal truth.

A larger (40"x30") unfinished abstract
loosely based on the smaller piece above.
An even younger pianist, who had never performed in front of an audience, played George Winston's Autumn.  She was dressed in a little black skirt and flannel shirt that matched those of her best friend.  They clutched each other's hands before the lovely young musician walked to the upright piano at the front of the room and turned her back to us, facing her music.  

As she settled into an obviously familiar space, the tenuous first stanza gave way to a lovely piece played with skill and love.  It transformed her and made us relax into the beauty of the experience we co-created. We couldn't have gone there without her any more than she without us.  The safe space we all made opened her world to new possibilities.  We'll all have the joy of hearing her again as the cycle of her creative life continues.

At the moment I'm obsessed with 
intermingled patterns of light and 
dark punctuated by birds and flowers.  
They are simple sometime cliche 
subject matter but they are feeding 
whatever it is that I'm exploring.
One thought sticks in my mind.  It's that some of us do have skills that others don't.  I've only just realized this.  I've always taken it for granted.  My accountant can't do a painting justice any more than I can fill out a tax form as well as he does.

To take it personally,  I have the good fortune to have been blessed with generations of family members who were and are artists, poets and musicians.  (I'm Irish:) We have nurtured our individual skills and collectively supported the refinement and sensitivity required to see the world as painters, poets and musicians.  I'm completely immersed in a world where everywhere I turn there is yet another master, including my own children.  I am fortunate enough to be a painter by avocation and must share it as a professional.  It is, after all, how I pay the bills!

My obsession is everywhere.
As I listen to my own classical music strangely intermingled with the rollicking hillbilly tones from my neighbor's guitar, my heart is full to overflowing.  I have no choice but to express that.  For good or bad I enter a place where I'm lost in creation daily. I lift my pen to scratch the paper or drag the oil across the rough canvas while I work towards a mastery that's by its very nature ephemeral.  

It's raw, sometimes messed up, punctuated by refinement and carefully considered choices and comes from a place of the deepest feeling.  I'm unable to completely understand my creation without benefit of a viewer.  That viewer can be me.  In this case I'm inviting you to join me. Let's witness our lives together.

It makes beauty continue.  I often mix that up with happiness, Nancy.  Thank you for exposing that.  Brava!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Perfect Puffy Penguins or It Doesn't all have to be Art With a Capital "A"

The Penguin Who Started It All

Perfect Puffy Penguins or It Doesn't all have to be Art With a Capital "A"

Last night I saw a photo of this adorable little penguin posted by a Face Book friend.  For some reason his pompom shape and goofy look appealed to me.  

Having made pompoms in the past to tie to ice skates, I knew I had the skills necessary:)  So I created a video with basic techniques and came up with this adorable prototype.  It may not look like a penguin but has a very high cuteness factor.  

Penguin prototype
It looks a little like a sheep and could easily have a couple of white balls added to his furry little body to become a snowman.  My vision last night included pre-made goggly eyes but I couldn't bring myself to commercialize the little beast like that.  I could do felt but not plastic….

Here's a quick instructional video on making the little prototype here ->
 I had started with this.
Today I went to the art supply store and got some felt, raided the yarn drawer at my art studio, got scissors and got started.  I needed to play with something relaxing and silly.  This kind of project is best done around other people so I went to find a group of other artists I know.  They were kind enough to let me join them.  I learned a little bit about penguin anatomy from them also. Like they have black backs.  I hadn't cut the ball right to make his  back.  I was a little bit disappointed that I hadn't thought of following correct penguin anatomy but kept going.

and this.
At this point my Perfect Penguin research yielded this image of a glorious Adelie Penguin.  This noble beast, whose source I've lost, made my little guy look silly.  I loved my little Puffball and kept going.  Sometimes I wonder if I should have just let him stay a little puffball but that's ok.

I attempted to fix his back with a toupee.  A Perfect Puffy Penguin with a back toupee (think penguin mowhawk) is a scary thing.  I slipped down the path of attempting to change something special to fit in with expectations. I'm a little disappointed in myself because I know better than to force something to be something it's not.  Puffy would always be a puffball no matter how much I trimmed his little fake feathers.

I expected my Perfect Penguin to look like the photo instead of…himself.  He did make me giggle at every point of his conception.  Yarn balls have a lot of character and humor when you personify them.  It starts to get tough when you give them toupees.  And use glue guns on them:( that gets very sticky.

You can see that his species is suspect here.  He looks
a little like a poodle with some weird yellow things
stuck to him.
That toupee is kind of spiffy.  He's just propped together
In the MEANTIME, here are a couple of his incarnations.  I took him inside and glued him together, trimmed his fuzzy fake feathers and had a Perfect Penguin Prototype.  I'm not sure I'll continue down this path of penguin production.  This little guy is one of a kind.  He could use a younger sibling though.  You know, the kind that gets away with everything because his/ her parents are worn down from taking care of the older one!  Regardless, this was a fun experience in play and process which are essential to a happy life.  I'm looking forward to returning to the studio to clean up the fuzz from the haircut that gave him the final "polished" look.  The penguin is a little perplexed at the haircut.  He doesn't look at all like the noble beast he was (well, I was) trying to make him into.  At this point it's time to accept him as the perfect Penguin that he is.  I'd like to go back and remake him but it would feel a little disloyal.  Time to let go!  Needless to say I had a very enjoyable couple of hours just playing.

This whole thing just cracks me up.  I'm pretty sure that if you got this far you may think I'm very clever and you want to make your own penguin or other puffy creature.  Please consider jumping into the icy waters.  There's room for everyone and Puffy would love some friends to play with!
The sweet little Puffy Penguin 
shedding his baby feathers.
(He looks like a wet dog, but
don't tell him.)
It's been a rough winter.

Just don't pursue perfection with too much enthusiasm.  You'll never catch it…
The final chapter in our story is a testimonial from one of my students who owns a plush animal company.  Puffy and I are feeling pretty spiffy over this!