This summer I took a trip to the desert. Here's a snippet of my journaling and subsequent paintings:
"I wonder about the jarring contrast between the "empty" desert and my familiar Sierra Nevada, and the constant seduction of my soul to certain geographies. How our perceptions are our only internal map of the earth and how certain places feel like home, not by account or story, but merely by their forms, their shadows and colors. Visible light and wavelengths of color - how you can fall in love with shapes, how you can fall in love with light. Turquoise; the color of yearning, the color that holds the renewal and growth of green and borrows the serenity and calm of blue."
"Every boy and girl who treats nature as a therapist, everyone connected to its' spirit must be prepared to defend it. Otherwise we have not earned it. When we stumble in from the glistening stream and the starry night, we must argue on their behalf and begin to wean ourselves from our addictions to corporate blubber and bullying. We must pressure politicians to act in favor of things that matter, like air to breathe, water to drink and places to wander. And in my naïveté, I still believe that simply looking, feeling, touching; using all of our senses to respond to this place, we would love it, save it, care for it, and ultimately behave ourselves in it. But for now, first things first - breath."
"The light filters through my cortex and plays an important part in my consciousness. The light, with its wavelengths of color, senses yellow and passes through green to reach blue. Blue pulls me towards it,
and it is there that I am stuck."
new work bringing new ideas
This is a series of mixed media pieces on paper from my recent work, Melodies from the Sea.
The meditations accompany the art making process .
Inspired by this Issa haiku
Insects on a bough, floating downriver, still singing.
This is me. This is all of us. Our worldly and personal situations are serious. But we're alive, floating downriver, still singing. There is beauty that surrounds us. We live in a dancing, singing world full of sun, water, wind; we hear the songs of the sparrow and the Humpback Whale; we smell the scent of Jasmine after a rain. We can't forget this, or we will forget what it is truly like to be alive.
This semester I've taken on a different approach to teaching middle school art. Middle school, the age where they wear their hearts and egos are on their sleeves; the age where they need all the affirmation that they are good human beings, with a smattering of behavior management. I'm liking it.
I am determined to work with students on a level that attempts to reach their core creativity. The results are not only affecting their work and their attitude towards the work, but it is affecting me and my approach to my creative process.
Core: meaning the central and most important part of something, the substance, the part that without, might result in failure, or malfunction - a total collapse in the inherent structure.
1st day student challenge: students were asked to create a metaphor for something (anything) using only items they had on themselves or that were directly in front of them. They were given two minutes. I was met with puzzling looks, scowls, and even crossed arms and dragon breathing. But after they realized that I wasn't kidding, they set to work. After two minutes there was a flower made from a scarf, a crashed airplane made from a sheet of binder paper, a porcupine made from erasers and pencils, tents made from books and paper, etc. But this was not the overall result. Most students were uncomfortable with an ambiguous assignment and were unable to create anything. There they sat; frustrated, fidgeting and watching each other. After making this observation, I was ready to adjust. It was clear that they were uncertain with ambiguity and free expression.
The first of three ideas I want to examine is the idea that an artist must become comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. This comes from observing my own path as an artist. When there is a certain amount of ambiguity, I allow myself to take risks, try new ideas, make mistakes, make connections, and the consistent outcome is growth. This may sound basic, but I want to encourage students to have both the courage to have ideas and the courage to fail. We know, as both parents and teachers, that kids are loaded with ideas, but often times, especially in a middle school art room, students might be embarrassed or reticent to express what they are truly thinking and feeling. My goal is to create a space where all ideas are welcome and explored, and all mistakes can be looked at as opportunities for growth and reflection.
Step one: being comfortable with ambiguity
each student has an unlimited amount of uninterrupted time to work on a large group painting. Each student will choose their materials and will have a choice of three colors; black, white and blue.
Overheard yesterday, "I love this project! I didn't wash the paint out of my fingernails all weekend!"
Step two: generate ideas - where do they come from?
Step three: veracious research and the quest for information.
I'll be writing about step two and three when we get there. But as for me, I've been making messes and mistakes all over the place!
Faith, hope and shear determination are what we hold onto as we learn to let go. When my sister was sick, she let go of working, walking, talking, and slowly she let go of breathing. This painting is not about that process, but it imbibes the process of me letting go of her. It took me a year to complete.
It's a funny thing - painting. It can reflect joy, sorrow, passion. It duplicates life in all aspects. This painting allowed me to grieve, reflect and meditate on loss. This piece took many shapes in the process, starting as a monochromatic work; black, white and blue. Slowly colors and organic shapes were added until it reached it's final phase. It speaks of loss and disconnect, but communicates directly with the peace and joy of life itself. From that, came the series of 50 small works, Bloom.
poetry in the painting
giving in to being wrapped, i can feel it
wrapped in whispers, i can feel it
wrapped in air, i can feel it
wrapped in love, i can feel it
wrapped in fight, i can feel it
wrapped in peace, i can feel it
flexible, vulnerable, soft
making it easy to digest
soft by the hours
Lately I've been studying about people and communities that put a priority on surrounding themselves with ideas and objects of beauty. Their focus on beauty, breathe, meditation, peace and prayer gives me inspiration and direction in both my painting and teaching.
Granted, there is so much that distracts us today. These are intense and profound times. It is easy to leap to anger, fear and doubt. Those feelings can be so tempting and seductive. But when we look beyond what is only one perspective, we see a layer beneath that is full of beauty, passion and creativity. We see life for what it truly is - life; complex, messy and incomprehensible, and at other times forgiving, patient, and understanding.
Art is so often the life that we see to speak. It is complex with tones, textures, shades, colors and shapes. It can speak to us in the light. It can help us make sense of the dark. It can show us solitude. It can show us community. It can give us words where there are none.
It is my affirmation that art and culture, beauty and creativity are neither frivolous or unnecessary. They are the essence of the heart and infuse life into our lives. Art is human in all forms.
There's a reason why we're still on earth.
and a reason why we choose.
There's a reason why we love our self
and a reason why we muse.
There's a reason why our parents die
and a reason for our view.
There's a reason why your son will slip
and a reason why he grew.
When the wind moves its gentle hands
in the trees;
when the fire-white stars of summer look smaller
than the hearts you love;
when the colored light bounces off
the black birds back;
when the backyard lilacs swell quietly
with the smell of heaven.
The petals will stand, armed with colors, open to seeds of growth that will bloom beneath your feet. Like nothing else exists, you fall in love, again.
I have a favorite spot in the Sierra Nevada's. When I'm there, I answer to myself, only. It is peaceful, playful and reflective. It's a place that has given me the gift of getting and keeping perspective.
An Impulse to Begin Today
Soft edges of my pencil
would have thought
opening of frailty
might let in
When we sat by the waters edge
I promised myself I would remember.
The call at 2 AM
The ER trip holding her hand
The DA making his final statement
Watching as he waved goodbye to his dreams
I promised myself I would remember.
I would remember that the water was crystal blue and moved with the motion of the wind
I would remember that it made transparent shapes that overlapped like breath
And the small breaths, the pulse of life in the rock, the leaf, the insect, I would remember
Remember that the driving power of the world rests in this one sacred spot
A far away, peaceful engine not paying attention to the rituals, rules and paraphernalia of humans.
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I recently went to my sons end of the season swim banquet, where moms, dads and kids get to celebrate and acknowledge the accomplishments, hard work and dedication of great kids. These are proud moments. These are profound moments.
One of the awards given tonight was a new award. Coach titled it the "Heart and Soul" award. When she made the announcement, I cheered inside. Finally, an award that I could relate to. Finally, an award that acknowledged something in an athlete that was not determined by the number of wins, speed or a scoreboard. She had created an award to recognize much more. Then she told us that the award was in honor of a young girl named Madeleine. Madeleine was a beautiful, accomplished and inspiring young woman and swimmer, who earlier in the school year lost her life to melanoma.
The award went to a young man who coach said had "dug deep to inspire, motivate and encourage his peers. And that even on the days when he didn't feel that great, he gave it his all. He dug deep." He dug deep, just as Madeleine had. He dug deep. These words stuck with me and I started to think about how many of us are put into situations in our lives where we are invited to dig deep; to understand, to grow, to let go, to show love, to accept, to heal. I did not know Maddie, but we have a picture of her in our home. It sits on my sons desk. To us, she is another emblem of perseverance, strength, courage and faith.
When the awards were over, I was chatting with another mom about the prom, swimming, summer plans, knee injuries and broken collar bones; the things that we live with every day. She interrupted me to give an urgent and gentle embrace to a woman who was walking towards us. I noticed she was tearful. I have never met her, but I knew it was Madeleine's mom. I gave her a warm smile and she to me. The warmth of her smile at that moment of connection said a thousand words to me. She, like I feel sometimes, was digging deep.
I give to her my award. It's my heart and soul.
I have been working on this painting for the last eight months. The painting talks about process and transformation, and the gradual movement from precise to ambiguous. It includes deliberate text, words and phrases that are significant at the time they are painted.
I have decided it will be titled Digging Deep.
Digging Deep, In process 2014
Madeleine Bonta's Blog: http://madeleineblogger.blogspot.com/
A while ago I came across this quote. I liked it so much that I tucked it away in my “keep” folder. Recently I took it out. There's been days when I needed its reminder.
“What I want is to open up. I want to know what’s inside me. I want everybody to open up. I’m like an imbecile with a can-opener in his hand, wondering where to begin – to open up the earth. I know that underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.” Henry Miller
Underneath, I look at rose petals fall like confetti against the soft brown earth. Underneath, I see white clouds against a slate blue backdrop. Underneath, I imagine I’m smelling heaven when I walk out in the yard. I see the lilacs blooming.
Even on the hardest days, the beauty of the world can pull me back, back to a place where my senses honor the magnificent.
Underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.
Appreciating beauty allows me to feel grateful. It is something that I have always done and I’m still able to do. It makes me aware of all that I am blessed with, and allows me to feel connected to something larger than myself. The wind blowing tall grass, the color of the sky before a storm, the soft earth on the forest floor, the smell of pomelo flowers blooming in the night air. It reassures me that indeed, underneath the mess, everything is marvelous.
It sneaks up on me like a gentle surprise or an unexpected gift from a stranger. It reminds me that miracles happen, trees bloom and the beauty in the world has the ability to once again, pull me back. For me, it’s the most powerful type of medicine.
pomelo's taste good, too
The fragrant citrus fruit is good to eat, too. We use it in salad with shrimp, cucumbers, shallots and red peppers. The pomelo, basil and gin cocktail isn't too bad either. Here's my recipe:
art Artists painting
Here’s what I remember. I was 13 and my mother and I were planning a trip to San Francisco. My father had recently passed away and mom needed to work full time. So any time spent with her, especially alone time was welcomed. Part of our trip was a visit to the Museum of Modern Art. We purchased our tickets, went up the elevator and walked into the large rotunda. And then by chance, it happened.
The enormous paintings captured me and wouldn't let go. Their size was unbelievable and the colors were brilliant. The paint was splashed, sprayed, dripped and dribbled. There was brilliant red, dark purple, pure yellow, bright blue, green and black. The white of the canvas was as important as the paint. Then there was the subject matter. These painting were not about a place, a person or a time in history. These paintings were about paint, color, light and motion, and they had a feeling. They were about joy, spontaneity, risk and freedom. It was life affirming. I stayed in the rotunda and looked at the work, mesmerized and captivated by their sheer size and color. My mom was patient and eventually left me “alone” with a watchful eye.
She told me that the paintings were done by Sam Francis. He was a California born artist and his work was called abstract expressionism. I would later learn what that meant, but at that moment, I didn't care. It asked something of me. And at the same time, it wanted to tell me something. I wasn't sure what that was, and to this day I’m still not sure. But what I do know is that we were having a conversation, a conversation that was between my heart, head and the paintings. The conversation has grown deeper and more profound as time has passed.
I don’t think my experience is exceptional or uncommon. I think that we all have experiences with art that speak to us in profound ways. It could come from a piece of art or a piece of music. It could come from a story, or a poem. Age is not a factor. I believe that there is something in all of us, way down deep, a mood or a feeling that is longing for an understanding and a conversation. When we hear a piece of music or see a piece of art, that longing has made a connection and it's invited to have a conversation. It has found its companion. It becomes a friend that communicates to us unconditionally with affirmation and acceptance.
When I studied art and became an abstract artist, I would learn about color fields and abstract expressionism. I would learn about the work of other abstract artists; Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko. I would learn about the artists that influenced Sam Francis; David Parks and Clyfford Still. I would learn the facts. The facts were validating, but the facts I might forget. What I didn't learn, but would never forget was that when I was 13, I had been moved by an artist that I would never meet. We had a conversation. It was about both the subtle and blatant quality of paint; it was about the importance of leaving empty space; it was about the power of large; it was about spontaneity, risk taking, joy and beauty. We’re still talking.
And you? What art is talking to you? Listen very closely. It might have something important to say.