Monday, November 23, 2009

Getting Clearer: A New Artist's Statement

While preparing to deliver a few small paintings for an exhibit at the Dodwell Gallery on Long Island in Casco Bay, I decided it was time to update and upgrade my "artist's statement". After a few false starts, it finally started to click and I worked at it happily until I happened to glance at the clock. It was time to go meet Maggie Carle, the curator of the gallery.

I threw on some proper outdoor clothes and got to Portland in perfect time! But not before printing out my new statement, which is here:

Curiosity, amazement, joy and wonder--these are essential elements that I bring to making art that celebrates being alive in this world of "things". I find the natural world an endlessly fascinating source of inspiration and rejuvenation, so it makes good sense that I choose to paint landscapes as well as interiors featuring flowers, fruits, and vegetables. I paint whatever captures my attention and curiosity and quickens my pulse. These are usually not scenes of staggering beauty or grandeur but of more ordinary loveliness--a certain slant of light, the curious shapes and lines of bare tree branches, or the complexities of color in a single piece of fruit. Sometimes I paint from direct observation and impression; other times from a quick drawing or series of drawings that help me to simplify my response to what I am seeing and feeling, perhaps even to the point of abstraction.

I paint primarily for the joy of it. I love playing with paint--mixing colors, pushing the paint around with my brush, palette knife, or fingers--see what happens in a process of discovery, intuition, and a bit of trial and error. At times the creative process flows through me, and my goal is to hold myself open to collaborate with a living energy rather than to "think my way through" in a any methodical way. Other days I am more deliberate and considered. Nearly always I start a new painting with a mixture of excitement and fear, summoning courage (since there are no guarantees) and a commitment to show up and do my best with what evolves, with hopes that some measure of my own joy and quirky delight will be received by the eyes and spirits of my viewers. I consider myself hugely fortunate and richly blessed to be a painter.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Interlude and Return

Without really meaning to, I seem to have had a break from blogging for the last two weeks, and now I'm returning. I can say that, not surprisingly, the longer one doesn't blog the harder it seems to be to pick it back up again. So I'll start slowly.

Some gorgeous late fall weather this week made being outside a real treat. Yesterday I took David's camera out with me, and I caught these backlit oak leaves looking stunning.

Again and again I realize just how essential spending time outside is-- to my spirit, my well being, and my artwork. Noticing things, savoring and celebrating.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Inspiring Art Mentors

Recently I've found great inspiration and encouragement from visiting two local art galleries that highlight the art of adults with disabilities. The two galleries are Spindleworks in Brunswick and YES Art Works at Creative Work Systems in Portland.

I step into these galleries (or stop to look in the windows of Yes Art Works on Congress Street as I walk from my car to the Farmers' Market on Wednesday mornings), and my heart soars! I smile, I feel liberated and affirmed and pump my fists to return  some affirmation; I cheer, I bow in gratitude, and sometimes I cry, too.

I want to paint and draw as these artists do--without pretense, boldly expressing themselves in the style that emerges from them with paint, pen, paper, wood, cloth, yarn, whatever the material may be. I consider them my mentors and a source of inspiration, and I am deeply grateful that they choose to share their work with the world.

Matter of fact, I am going to stop right now and write a note to thank one of these artists at Spindleworks, Caroline Boylston, one of whose works is hanging on my wall. (Click on her name here and the link will take you to a list of Spindleworks artists; click on her name there and you will see her and some of her work. Then you can sample others' work as well!) Maybe some day soon I will ask her if she'd like to join me for a cup of tea or coffee. I think I'd like that very much.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Making Art

I believe that Robert Motherwell once wrote that he wished he could be living and painting in an earlier era, like way way earlier, like in the age of the cave paintings of Lascaux. Back in a time before there was any such concept as "Art" (note the capital A). Back in a time when creative, artistic self-expression was present despite so called "primitive" life circumstances, thus affirming that art is something essential and intrinsic to being human. One can imagine that in such a time there wasn't a whole lot of froo-frah about what is or isn't Art, or what makes real art, good art, great art, bad art, childish art, etc. (I could be wrong of course; perhaps there was a selection process for getting the best space in the cave.)

When there were no museums or galleries (just cave walls!) and no gatekeepers of the art world to say, "Yes, you're in", or "No, you're not". (Actually, I'm glad there are museums and galleries most of the time, but I trust you know what I mean.)

Of course in my experience, the gatekeepers are not just potentially out there but are also quite actively "in here"--meaning, in  my head! The jury is interminably in: "No, you can't paint that way. People will think (or know) you're just an amateur." "That's not art or (depending on the day) not good art, real art, or just plain art)."  "You're just playing with paint.""You can't do that; that's not real painting." Blah blah blah. Ad nauseam.

And when I'm in my right mind (which is somewhat  but not altogether different from being attuned to my right brain), I reply:

"You know what? Who cares? All I know is that I'm happy making art (at least when I get out of my own way). And if sometimes my art is also happy-making for someone else, all the better! So for now, I'm not going to think about great art, about museums and galleries. I'm just going to make art that makes me happy and dare to share it and trust that it may help someone else to feel happy, too. Not everybody, mind you; just somebody. And that will be plenty."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sometimes It's Like This

Well, I flunked out of church today. Maybe that's the best way to say it.

Maybe I just don't go to church often enough to do so easily and simply, without a lot of "reactivity" (an insightful word that David supplied as I tried to debrief on the way home). I wish it were simpler for me to be there--like, couldn't I just go and enjoy the parts I enjoy and let the rest roll off my back and come home reasonably content, instead of leaving in tears and either wanting to break something or to bash my own head against a wall? (Don't worry--breaking something appealed to me a whole lot more that the head against a wall thing!)

But it seems in order for going to church to be simpler, I have to REALLY WANT it to be so, and then to follow up that wanting with showing up with a bit more frequency than once every--hmmm, how long since I last went to church?

OMG, as they say, have I actually not been to church since . . . Easter? I'm really not sure. Let's see: for the record, I have been to three memorial services and an Evensong in these intervening months.
(Oh, and believe me, I can feel the total shock and horror of some of my clergy friends and former parishioners.)

Good thing I don't believe in being banished to hell for skipping church, because in terms of "the due celebration of Sundays" I am without doubt an infidel.

Perhaps I need to say a little more about my flunking out of church this morning, the tears, the complexity.

I actually thought I was doing pretty well, remembering to call myself back to a centered place when I felt a lot of rebellious stuff brewing internally. (Maybe that is part of the problem; maybe I ended up kidding myself that I was letting things go when in fact I was stuffing them in and building up a battle within.)

The internal stuff isn't all bad; at least it lets me know I'm alive. For me, with today being All Saints' Day, the internal brew was a mixture of this day when remembering people who have died is in the air. I was remembering not only my father, and David's father, and my cousin Lola, but also a bunch of others, too, including my friend Sarah's father, whose memorial service was just last week, and my friend Anne's mother, who died just before Easter. That's a lot of remembering for one small part of the morning.

And then there was the un-ordination thing, which crept up on me in an unguarded moment when I was receiving communion, and I looked at the hands of the person giving out the "bread" (if you can call those stupid, lifeless communion wafers bread), and I remembered in a flash that I used to do that, that it was part of who I was, and it is no longer something that I do.

And I actually really enjoyed that part of being a priest--not so much saying the Eucharistic prayer in which the priest invokes God's blessing on the bread and wine--but the giving out the bread part. That part is so refreshingly, thankfully tangible and concrete (all the more so when the bread that you have to put into the hands of those receiving it is actually some form of bread, with substance and nourishment, flavor, texture and scent--something you can actually sink your teeth into!).

So in a flash I remembered all of that and experienced a fleeting pang of maybe missing it, of maybe something akin to grief, and then the subsequent challenge a feeling the grief and letting the grief be grief without turning it into evidence that I made a big mistake renouncing my vows and giving up being ordained. To stay with the pang of grief, to breathe into it and ride the wave of it--that's probably all I needed to do but wasn't quite able to manage, although I did pretty well for a while.

And then, after the organ postlude, bless his tolerant heart (I mean that--he has lived with me for twenty-two years after all!), David mentioned to me that I had bad breath, and instead of riding the wave, the wave came crashing down on me. And in kinda junior high-ish fashion, I blubbed something like, "Sometimes it's hard just being here, and I guess I'd better just leave" and I fled the scene as tears brimmed again, barely speaking to the usher in the doorway on my way out, and not stopping to shake the Dean's hand, either.

So here's the thing, or a thing anyway: you know back up there a few paragraphs ago when I said, about giving out communion, that "I remembered in a flash that I used to do that, that it was part of who I was and is no longer what I do"? Here's what I noticed as I wrote that; here's a truth worth remembering for the next time this happens, since there probably will be a next time.

Yes, I used to do that handing out of communion; yes, I used to enjoy that, too. It was part of who I was, not only as a priest but also as a human being, and it is still part of who I am. It will always be a part of me.

Yes, I have taken off the shirt and collar* (and that reminds me, what do I do with the vestments?), and I have chosen living free over death in holy orders. And yet those years of being a priest, those moments of connecting with people's eyes and with their outstretched hands as I gave them bread, all of that is woven into the fabric of who I am now. I can be grateful for those years even as I know that I was often not sure I belonged in that role, even if I often wondered what it might be like to be free.

*About the shirt and collar: I've been savoring a comment that my friend Sarah shared with me not long ago. (I believe it was shortly after her father died, and she and I were talking about the fact that if I were still ordained, I could participate in her father's memorial service in "priestly" ways. I was feeling a touch of regret that I couldn't be there for her mother in that way, and Sarah's response was unequivocal: "Thank God you're not still ordained!") Sarah was for many years and is no longer a church organist. She told me that when someone says to her, "You could always brush off your organ shoes and play again," she replies: "No, you don't understand. Those shoes aren't even in my closet; they went out in the trash."

Done. Finito. Fare well.  Gone but not forgotten. Amen (which means, so be it.)