I'm struggling just like you, folks. Clowns to the right of me, jokers to the left....
I was touched by the texts and calls I got concerning my well-being following my last post, Grief is a Drifting Landscape. I forget that when I post from a place of depression or loss that it effects those who care about me. For as long as I remember Art has been how I deal with these states of being. But I tend to forget that for what is a reasonable and necessary means of dealing with fears and anxieties for me can be distressing for loved ones. Not the least being that this dark landscape is so constant, so familiar as to be the easiest and most fertile place for me to draw inspiration. I'm not saying this is a good thing, just a known commodity. After so many decades I guess I have come to value the darker parts of my creativity over the happier.
I went back to sleep after posting Grief is a Drifting Landscape late at night. In the morning I still felt the familiar loss and confusion I have felt every morning since that day in July my husband suddenly passed away - but I also had a great amount of joy in my day. And I do. Everyday. Oddly grief has made me more aware of the wonderful, richness of life. I know grief is something that evolves and the power of it will dissipate eventually. Being bi-polar will not. So heres the truth: What goes down does come up. It always does, even when it seems impossible at the time. So, remember that. Even if I forget it in a dark moment.
...such is life.
After a more than year of intense work, my exhibition PRONK! is on view at the Bromfield Gallery in Boston, MA.- in spite of the accumulation of 109 inches of snow in just 29 days, frigid weather that kept any of it from melting and snow bound Bostonians that stayed away from it in droves. Actually they stayed away from all activities that required public transportation, driving, parking or walking. The Boston Museum of Fine Art saw a 46% decline in visitors this winter so I don't feel too bad.
None the less, I am grateful to have the work finally on view. PRONK! runs through March 28. (I will post all the glorious specifics with photos in an upcoming post. Including the magnificent fashion show Objet a la Mode, otherwise known as Furry Objects of Fashion with Ice Cream on the Side Damn You Snow)
If you should miss this opportunity there are two more chances to see work from this series I have been in general been calling Still Life in an Age of Anxiety. Yes, I am anxious. We are all anxious here in Boston. Climate change is real, people.
...and it was not enough.
What I know of depression, and I know it well, is love is not enough. Loving a person with a depressive disorder is not enough. Remember the old Al-anon phrases "unconditional love" and "co-dependency"? The relationship between the mentally ill and his/her loved ones is riddled with pitfalls, most notably one of perceived inequity.
We are not easy to live with, I know. But neither are you, dear friends. Perhaps more than any other illness mental illness comes with an extra burden of guilt. In part because some of the ones who love us most deep down believe that if we only tried harder, got happy, took things less seriously we'd get over it. It feels like a set up to always letting people down. That feeling of otherness eventually eats away at relationships. It is easy to love a mentally ill person "unconditionally" as long as you see yourself as the stronger one, the logical one. The saner one.
Let me tell you of the extraordinary feelings of exuberance, of joyful moments that the healthy mind takes for granted. To me they are gifts. These very gifts are what becomes my art. And those "un"sane moments? The unshakable dread, the suffocating anxiety, the escalating irritability that comes when words and sounds and sights converge into un-sortable chaos? They also become my art. I know these ups and downs tax the people I love. They are for better or worse woven into the fabric of me. Separating the illness, the behaviors and the core of who I am is tough work and often requires professional help. But most importantly, time in my studio. Art is the stabilizing factor that allows me to love and be loved.
Who are you?! I love your writing. I feel your insomnia...
March is the month I get restless. Spring supposedly is around the corner, although this year there is still deep snow and not a blade of grass or earth in sight. And snow is again predicted for Monday, St. Patrick's Day. White and green. It seems a cruel combination.
But March...spring cleaning, the urge to throw away the stale and consolidate the remaining mess. Meaning like clockwork I am driven by the urge to redo my Blog and Website. For years I've wanted a combined site that is dynamic and current. Kind of like the way my studio looks, but without the entire clutter. Multiple projects, impulsive accumulations, and wondrous merging and collaboration of elements and people I never would have conceived of. The deadline is March 23, 2014 when my other website is not renewed.
...faux fruit, faux tulip, faux still life.
After a year of work, my exhibit Within These Walls is finally up and all I wish to do is crawl into bed and sleep. Deeply. For a long, long time. Preferably until the sound of a very large martini shaker convinces me its safe to awake.
But the underwear drawer is empty (way past the recycling stage), the dog hair has gathered itself into the Cujo of all dust-bunnies (dust-doggies?), the dinner table groans under the weight of unopened mail and the studio qualifies for FEMA funds. Meanwhile new deadlines, new exhibits, more marketing, more networking, submissions, thank-you's, meetings, critiques, and "jobs" - all keep piling on. And the clean-up and catch-up of everyday life just gets harder. Dear God, make it go away!
OK. I washed my big girl panties. I paid the bills, vacuumed, saw the shrink, made a cup of coffee and here I be, awake and ready to resume my place as a responsible adult and fairly mature artist. I am finally writing a blog post.
Carol McMahon and I had the pleasure of being the subjects of a wonderful well-written piece in the current Artscope Magazine (Mar. 2013) by Meredith Cutler, Living in a Material World. I couldn't be happier or more grateful. Meredith writes beautifully and with the insightfulness thats comes from being a mixed media artist herself. Lately when I wonder if anyone gets my work and question why I do this insane art thing year after year, I quietly open up her article, read it and imagine a good dirty martini at my side.
Thank you Meredith and Brian G.
For the PDF click on: artscope43_MarApr13_Volp
Hurricane Sandy baring down. So what. Lazertran may go out of business. That is a true disaster. Broke my arm a week ago. Have to significantly change course for my exhibitions. Lazertran has recalled all their inkjet transfer product from the past 6 months. And now the new product has come up short.
Broken arm, crunched ribs...no Lazertran.... I feel your pain, Sandy. I feel the rage.
Meanwhile, all my Transfer Workshops are on hold.
house, 2012. 24" x 48". photo and mixed media on Sintra and wood frame
Today I read a wonderful post by Judith A. Ross, Contemplating a Mid-life Migration, regarding all the possibilities before us to find a new place to grow into the next phase of our lives. I have been thinking a lot about this myself lately. What is a home? A house? My father built the house I grew up in and my parents lived in until their deaths a couple years ago. After high school I left home and changed apartments nearly every year until I married 12 years later. Our house here in Concord has been my children's home for almost 20 years.
Yesterday my older son moved to New York City. The other son has settled in South Boston with his girlfriend.
Which comes first: the heart or the home?
Don't worry Mom. We're not lost, we're going somewhere else.
-Eric Manolson Lax, age 6
For many months I watched as my friend Ilana Manolson toiled to perfectly impose her artistic vision on a large installation that is currently on display in the Johnson Lobby of the Boston Public Library (BPL). This installation represents a year of vigorous exploration and risk-taking by a highly successful painter known for her lush, lyrical, abstract landscapes. Intimate and transcendent, her paintings pull us to the water's edge and hold us captive within the confines of the square frame of the panel. Mesmerized, we see only what lies before us. I think many people would wonder why she would choose to tinker with something that has worked so well. When I asked her about this, her response was fairly simple: the need to be relevant. Artists are the translators of the visual world. One cannot remain relevant while standing still. This means finding ways, whatever they may be, to push up against the boundaries of your own work, to walk away if necessary, if only to come back with fresh eyes and begin again.
1. Maps and contemporary landscape.
Ilana is a systemic thinker by nature. As such, it doesn't surprise me when this trained botanist gets enthusiastic over what to me, is just a pile of old maps. The BPL has given her access to it’s rare map collection. In many ways, botany, landscape painting and cartography have a lot in common: they all are ways in which to take a close look at the world and present it from a specific point of view. The roots, stems and streams of one are the subway and rail lines of another. Ilana was telling me how she became interested in maps during the past year's frequent travels, and how she was captivated by the exploration and the anatomy of place. Maps are abstract, she says, they give you a specific fixed point of view of a place, a singular system of connections by which to navigate within that place. But being there- well, is wholly different; it is personal and fluid.The more Ilana traveled the more she became aware of how place itself connects us to each other, interweaving our various points of views and building layers of history. She began to envision her landscape paintings less as singular points of view (from the water's edge) and more as overlaying and expanding systems; roots woven with roadways and waterways connecting us to one another through our varied journeys.
I see her studio filling by the week with more and more roots. She travels to a Boston arboretum to collect root balls, massive gnarled knots and serpentine branches. I see her struggling to reconcile her love of light and space she learned to render so exquisitely in oil paint, with the cacophony of earthy mass accumulating on the floor. This polarity of earthly and etherial is not unfamiliar to her as an artist. Over the decades she has addressed stasis and flux and the cycles of seasons many times. The problem she faces now is form, how to move from a flat, static canvas to a more dynamic medium that reflects the fluidity she feels when talking about layers of connections. As a result she must also make adjustments to scale and perspective.
As is the nature of systemic thinking, the idea of connections grew to include everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. One day I enter the studio to find large globes the size of exercise balls, composed of tubers, plaster and wire lying around the tables with smaller "chunks" scattered about in various states of paint. It looks like a sci-fi movie set. Ilana shows me a sketch of what looks like large suspended sphere exploding and raining down little worlds onto heads below. (actually, there were no heads in the sketch). I blame the size and specificity of the installation site itself coercing her into such an impossibly bold visual statement. The Johnson Lobby at the BPL is anything but intimate. The space is interrupted by multiple doors, desks, glass and metal detectors. A balcony and display case bisect the one and a half story stone wall where Ilana's piece was to hang. Ilana was still coming to terms with new materials, structures and techniques she was developing during her year long hiatus. Suddenly, integrating untested three-dimensional plaster forms, oil painting, photo transfer processes AND the roots themselves was only half of the challenge. Site installation issues kept rearing to divert the progress. Her vision was running away from her. She wasn't able to harness it until she could force herself to step back and approach it again with the mantra scrawled on her studio wall:
let it rip
Some artists (like me) can't seem to pull back until its a full blown FEMA disaster. Bless the artist who can extrapolate and salvage and file that idea away for another time when the troops are well fed and readied.
Next post: Part 2. The Birds-eye-view. The installation completed.
This installation is presented as part of reThink INK, a collaborative exhibition produced by the BPL and Mixit Print Studio celebrating the studio’s 25th anniversary. The exhibition features over 150 works by 71 artists and runs through July 31st at the Boston Public Library, Copley Square.
"Start at no particular time of your life. Wander at your free will all over your life; talk only about the thing that interests you for the moment; drop it at the moment its interest starts to pale."
-Mark Twain, in 1904, about his method for writing his autobiography
I have been trying to read the behemoth Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 since December 2011. Has anyone really read the whole thing? Then again, maybe that is Twain's point. Life isn't chronological. It only appears that way to us when we are staring at a calendar. So any reflection on one's life should not be chronological. But 3 pounds? The book weighs 3 pounds! That's a lot of wandering.
I have been thinking about this wandering thing and art. The old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" pretty much means "feel free to wander at will, without the linear restrictions of text." I have been thinking of this a lot lately:
Wandering is critical to the development of vision and essential to growth in general. But what happens when vision exceeds means and capabilities? How do you manage a vision that drives you, and gives you life but has grown complicated with external barriers and internal tangents? There is a common acknowedgement among artists that we are always chasing the vision, no piece ever feels finished, rather it is just the beginning of another. It is often easy for us to get so lost in the hugeness of an idea, we fail to distinguish the parts. I have made my share of Frankensteins - that is, a complicated piece that really should have been several pieces.
This has been resonating with me as I have been watching my friend Ilana deal with this very issue as she was working on her Boston Public Library installation. It's an imposing site to put art in and fraught with installation issues. Over and over I saw her adjust, re-evaluate and change coarse while staying true to her vision, but in the end it is still the product itself which will be evaluated. Sometimes adversity and sudden game changes suck the life out of an idea, yet sometimes it produces a more articulate, provocative and most importantly, honest art.
"I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe, I will tell you things at random."
- Simon Jeffes, founder of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Music un-clutters my mind. It opens up space for all the bits and pieces in my head I have collected while working, driving and doing all those things I must do when not at my studio. Music brings my thoughts into sync and moves creativity forward.