Monkey, dressed in finery

Desert Rose
Another one that went into Gypsies, Vagabonds & Wild Mad Women (currently showing at TactileArts in Fannie Bay, NT, until the 7th of May,) although I photographed this in-progress, and then didn’t bother to take another when it was done. Her fingers are in the final work, and a bird perches on the window ledge.

Not a painting, at all, but something I did to fulfill my quota of pieces for the group show.

With so much repetitive pattern going on, this is actually a sly deception…it’s a zen tangle pretending to be a painting. The difference? In a painting, every mark is—ideally—placed with purpose…even in (or I should say, especially in) abstract paintings. Nothing is put in carelessly; a good painter doesn’t just fling his brush wildly at the canvas while he’s watching The Bold and the Beautiful over his shoulder. No mark is superficial, or accidental. In the world’s serious art schools, a mark is defined as having a beginning, and an end. Even the smallest mark moves in a definite direction, carries a weight. A mark finishes as strongly as it began, and plays a part in balancing the whole. A successful mark is one that, if removed, would ‘unbalance’ the painting…rather like a judicious comma in a complex sentence. Painters make their marks intentionally, consciously.

Pattern making, on the other hand, is a form of hypnosis. It is avoidance of The Present. It lulls awareness to sleep. It is the hand running on autopilot, making repetitive marks, while the mind floats away. It is—ironically for those who look to aimless pattern-making as meditation and to stay grounded in the present—quite the opposite of mindfulness. It is more like nail-biting, chewing gum, or swinging your foot to a fro incessantly when seated: a nervous habit that the body fidgets with, unconsciously, as the mind sneaks off to wrangle in thoughts of the past, the future, or engages in monkey chatter with itself.

The deception is upon myself. My monkey is very sophisticated. I should know better…I have read many books on mindfulness; but then, so has my monkey. Something like this picture can seem so much more ‘purposeful’ than nail-biting, or watching television, or scrolling through Pinterest for four hours. At the end of my doodling, Monkey has produced something colourful and attractive…to the unpracticed eye, it looks as though I have been very creative with my time. But making this was no more creative than hours spent on a colouring-in book, staying within the lines. I know Monkey was behind it, all along, because I produced this like an automaton, and at no point did I feel like I was putting any of myself into it. I used the heavy allover pattern-making to fill the void, to avoid real engagement, the hard work of being honest with myself. I let my monkey distract me from the challenge of really looking, from working with mindfulness and with all of myself present.

Don’t think I am feeling “down” or beating myself up, please! And no, I am not fishing for compliments. Trust me, I know what it is that I have made. I am writing this down partly as an apology for including it in an exhibition…it was not honest enough a work to be shown to others. But in the end I didn’t have enough pieces, and didn’t want to let the other artists down by not producing my share of work.

More than all this, I am amused, and glad that I caught my clever little monkey at her tricks. I am someone who enjoys discussing all the ways in which I deceive myself, and catch myself, deceiving myself. It makes me laugh. I will be more firm and honest with Monkey, next time. Every crappy thing I make is a chance to learn and grow. They say that every starting painter has a thousand shitty pictures inside…to arrive at the good stuff, she first has to paint out all that rubbish. I have a LOT more paintings to do…

I called this canvas “Desert Rose,” though its real name should be “Monkey, Dressed in Finery”.

jungles real & imagined

We Go...
We Go In Search Of Our Dreams, 2017.30x40cm. (12×16″) acrylics and alkyds.

My friends organised a group show while I was in Guatemala, called Gypsies, Vagabonds, and Wild Mad Women (open from 13th April – 7 May at Tactile Arts, Fannie Bay, NT), and included me. When I got back to Darwin in October of last year, I found it so difficult to do the work for it. Of the 7 small canvases I prepared, I only managed to paint 2 in the end. This painting was one of them.

Unlike most of the other things I made for the show, this one practically painted itself. That’s partly because realistic stuff is actually quite easy to paint…I’m not really inventing anything from scratch: trees, plants, jungle backgrounds, lianas, ferns, backpackers…I’ve seen them all, at some point in my life, and know roughly how they ought to look. Putting all these elements together may be a kind of inventing, but I’m really just layering one familiar image on top of another.

The other reason this painting came so easily is that I have fairly recent memories of jungles like this. Kris and I spent 5 months up a river in Guyana, surrounded by riverine jungle…and very little else.

Jungle Trail

I have some photographs from this part of our trip, but looking at them now somehow doesn’t recall the way it felt to be there. That’s the danger of relying on photographs to preserve your memories: very few of the photographs we take do the experience justice. With a camera in hand, I tend not to observe as much of my surroundings…I don’t stop to gaze at one thing, burning it into a complex memory that includes sounds, smells, textures, movement. I am counting on the digital record to reproduce all of that for me, later. But the camera can’t record smells or textures or sound (not mine, not well), and it focuses on no single thing; unless I’ve taken a macro of some flower or other small object, most of my shots of “the jungle” are just a mess to look at: a million leaves, a tangle of branches and vines, every skinny palm tree or rotting log is there, in the poor light that filters down through the canopy. The photographs show everything; and yet, often, show nothing. A green and brown shadowy chaos.

DSC_0206

If I hadn’t spent hours upon hours just paddling around, gazing up at the forest canopy, or walking around with my eyes glued to the forest floor; if I hadn’t taken individual plant specimens home to carefully sketch, or written page upon page of what it was like, at that moment, to be sitting on deck, looking up at canyon walls covered in trees and snaking vines…I would not remember Guyana as vividly as I do.

jungle underpainting

All that actual looking, writing, smelling, touching, sketching paid off. As I painted each layer of this canvas, I heard the whooping bird calls again, the yip-yip-yip of toucans colourful as piñatas; the drawn-out roars of howler monkeys  echoing from deep among the trees; the boiling surface of the murky river, as great fanged arapaimas hunted blindly for the smaller piranhas; the ghostly lights of giant fireflies floating among the buttress-roots of giant trees. I saw again the up-and-down floaty bounce of morpho butterflies—their Dutch Blue wings flashing in and out of sunlit patches. Felt the cool air of the forest floor on my face, and heard the muffled patter of fat raindrops falling through the jungle canopy in a storm.

Jungle Trail

This painting became a doorway back to that world, that time in my life. I got misty eyed quite often, painting this (even though the finished painting is hardly fine art) and the memories flooded me with rapture—How can this wild, primeval memory be mine? How have I deserved to be the owner of such magnificent sensations?—and regret, because I could have spent a decade in that jungle, and still be a stranger to its secrets. I am sorry I could not spend more time…not just in Guyana, but in all of the places we visited and fell in love with.jungle underpainting

Still, to have been there at all is a miracle. I never dreamed I would make it to any place so wild and beautiful. And I have my memories, scented and intricate and rich, tucked inside: a miniature door that I pray will continue to open for me, when I need it, given the right touch, turning the right key.

The ♥ is curved like a road through the mountains

The ♥ is curved like a road through the mountains

Inspired by a two-week trip among the volcanoes, lakes, and colorful mountain villages of Guatemala’s lush highlands. And an ode to chicken buses. I love chicken buses.
The ♥ is curved like a road through the mountains

What are you waiting for? Hit the road and have an adventure! It is later than you think.

This is a new art print, available in my Society6 store.

the-is-curved-like-a-road-through-the-mountains-6oy-prints

Singing in my chains like the sea

painted Moleskine
painted Moleskine

The friend from university who first introduced me to Dylan Thomas went into a coma last December, and everyone who knew him left messages on his facebook…in the hopes that he would wake up and know that he’d been missed. In honor of our Thomas connection, I (mis)quoted* these lines from the poem Fern Hill.
painted MoleskineThree weeks ago Luis passed away…a mercy, really, after being so long in coma. We were not close, but his death was made more poignant because he was so young (we were born the same year, 1974). To me it seemed an urgent message to get as much as I can out of this life, because we never know when it will all come to a halt.

The lines of the poem have stayed with me… sometimes I lull myself to sleep with them. Dylan Thomas was a sorcerer of lilting, musical  language…his words dance, surge, rise and ebb like the ocean he was named after. I had a sudden urge to write them out somewhere that I would see them often, and decided to whack them on the cover of this Moleskine watercolor sketchbook. The curly waves were inspired by what I could remember of Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa.

* …Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas

Just erotic. Nothing kinky.

the bird book

It started with a book that I bought to read on the flight from Johannesburg to Capetown: The Search for The Rarest Bird In The World by Vernon R.L. Head, a South African bird-lover. It was a strange book, surprisingly dreamy with a lot of beautiful language, images shimmering like a tree shot with sunlight and a thousand cherry-sized birds. An emotional book, with just touches of natural science. I read that book 8, maybe 9 times…it was not very mentally taxing, just a pleasant ramble through forests and savannahs, chasing birds with one’s thoughts. I wanted to keep it, but didn’t want to read it a 10th time…felt strangely compelled to interact with it, somehow.

I started doodling and painting in its pages…beginning with the catalog of eggs used for the endpaper design, the large white spaces around chapter titles, then moving into the text…
the bird book
the bird book
the bird book
the bird book
the bird bookAt some point this feather thing took over, and I set aside the altered book project to explore feathers in my sketchbooks. Colours, brush marks, how to make a feather using a single stroke of the brush…
the bird book
the bird book

Moved from sketchbooks to watercolour paper, with a mapping pen to draw fine lines, and a lick of gouache to sometimes give a highlight.
the bird book
the bird book

The final version is at the top of this post…a series of feathers using yellow and sepia paint, on rough watercolor paper. A present for my Colombian friend Liz.

“Just erotic. Nothing kinky. It’s the difference between using a feather and using a chicken.”     ― Terry Pratchett, Eric

the groove

bracelets
Trying to get back into the creative groove. It’s been a while since we were in a country where I can find decent (not top quality, but good enough for my skill levels!) art materials. Also, I have time to uncramp my arthritic creativity …we are here another two months.
fish tale
These are bits and pieces I’ve made, or am working on these days.
café Colombiano

hot sauce
Calle de las Damas