September 26, 2013

Image seeds

Moving slowly, learning and thinking more about the politics of childbearing and motherhood, feminism in art, women's meager inclusion in some cultural elites, the shaping of children's sexuality, socialisation of girls and boys. I know so little. 

But progress! My mind is keeping pace. For the first time I'm seeing how all these things could become pictures. I wanted to collect together references, a big pile of images, made up or found, that could grow into painting ideas. Yet already, yesterday, I thought of coat hangers -- tools of unsafe abortion, modelling industry. Crude, but the first concrete thing so far. Something you could draw. 

Today I imagined a little girl peering into a heart-shaped purse. She's standing up to her thighs in a pool of water. What is in the purse? What is underwater? 

My hope is that through this work I will be able to lay to rest some of the jarring conflicts I feel about my own person- and womanhood. I also want to give to my daughter a world less circumscribed by random customs, as my mother did for me, and this work could be a vehicle for sharing these thoughts with her. I don't know. So little has been worked out yet, and I know my technical abilities don't match my ambitions at this time.

Reading: Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood, by Naomi Wolf.

September 24, 2013

The beginnings of a plan

Kicked out of work on behalf of my union's job action, suddenly I've had time to deal with my art questions. And after a couple of days to think, wander around, no one after me for a snack, change of clothes, whatever... it returns in a flood. The rush of ideas, the fever to produce something creative, the dread of actually delving in. Creativity.

This morning, not finding anything at the bookstore, I dropped in on the Ottawa School of Art and asked Lauren at the counter for advice on planning a series of paintings. Something like How to Write a Novel, but for artists. Everything else is out there, how to paint a face, how to paint cats, painting in encaustic, drawing from life or in the woods, but nothing on how to take a cloudy idea and turn it into a few pictures.

Off the top of her head, she came up with nothing, but luckily for me her Googling skills outpaced mine. She found a two-pager on a website called Empty Easel. And just like that, I have the beginnings of a plan. 

After scanning it intently on the sidewalk, I charged off to Galerie St Laurent+Hill. One of the too-many-to-count things I've learned from reading Alan Rusbridger is that I don't have enough information. The man interviewed scads of pianists, professional and amateur, and subjected himself to the direction of at least four teachers. He read books about his chosen project -- learning Chopin's G Minor Ballade -- and followed the progress of others engaged in attempting the same difficult feat via Twitter and Youtube. I'm too much alone by comparison, progressing slowly or not at all because of it.

I figured, maybe I should take in some series, get a sense of how others might have done it. But the gallery had no solo show on (come back for Leslie Reid on Thursday, I'm told), and both La Petite Mort and Terence Robert were closed.

At St Laurent+Hill I disappointed myself by not asking the man at his desk for any advice on concretising a broad theme that doesn't immediately call up images and turning it into them. He had a battered notebook in front of him, reams of paper, a weary but inviting face. Surely he's the curator, someone often at the side of many artists exploring ideas visually. I also know people so often love to talk - what am I so afraid of? Bothering people? Being a pest? No, it's that I hate to call attention to myself. What if I raise their interest, and then disappoint? Better to make no impression at all.

At home, emboldened, I tell my husband I will take the list of artists I like in Ottawa and fire off e-mails to every one of them. Won't they accept a free lunch from an amateur wanting a bit of advice? Hopefully I will have the courage to do it. 

September 22, 2013

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Four months I've let go by and I still haven't sorted out what to do next! I developed a lot of ambition this summer -- worked out in a basic way some characters and plotlines for a novel, thought vaguely about a poetry collection, dreamed up two related themes for a suite of paintings. Much of it in my head, but not much over all. I went easy on myself because one kid was starting school, another daycare, and I was going back to work. So no blogging, no art production, no writing. Well, enough time's trickled by, I guess.

I last planned out a major artistic project over two decades ago in high school, and I need advice. Loads of books exist on techniques for project management, as well as subjects like becoming more creative or persisting in spite of self-doubt or time restrictions. Are there any resources on the practical steps to taking a theme (say you wanted to do works on climate change, which I don't, but my themes are as broad) and turning it into a series of works? Is there a word for that part of the process, and does anyone know where you can learn more about that?

Guess I need to talk to people.

I'm reading a good book lent me by a colleague: Play It Again, by the impressive Editor-in-Chief of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger. He spent a year learning a difficult Ballade by Chopin, a song I used to half-play and that was outside both of our abilities, and by playing in small bursts, often merely twenty minutes, I suppose he managed it. I always assumed that if you had so little time, you might as well not bother. He also admits to a weak memory (never memorised a song, couldn't remember dates and events), but committed to memorising this complex, 9-minute-long song.

So I'm inspired/chastised on two counts! My lack of time and terrible memory are no excuse for anything. :) The fact that I'm no Alan Rusbridger, maybe I'll just not worry about that.

September 19, 2013

And I will leave you knowing

The euthanasia room's walls are replete
with poems, trite poems by amateurs
that comfort nonetheless. Another verse
on unconditional love this, a portrait
or broken-hearted footnote. I
never did enough for you, though I tried,
when even the way you died was kind, Bear,
grey chin on my wrist, not a whisper, no
loosened bowels or pee, just a softness flown
softer. Silent now the throat with the burr
of quick wings, only quiet the stethoscope finds 
along the lifeless ribs. I nibble your
notched ear once more, give up my burden,
write yet more words unequal to their muse.

Everything normal, old feather

Everything normal, old feather
and the child's rocks collected
on the porch, I'll drive the cat
to his death later
but for now I'm writing a poem.

Hearing winter prayers on the radio
instead of caressing you, leaving you
half-asleep sunning on the armrest, I'm

Trying to keep everything normal
until we leave the house together
for the last time for you to
play in the grass like the other cat
would never permit.

Why is the sun always shining
when I'm in the yard overcome
with the power of life and death?
Fragile creature that loved me so

Come, let me take you through the garden
I kept you from all your life. A scarecrow
is waiting with a needle and this mother has
but arms to warm your way.