Since my time in Ireland last fall, shapes have entered my recent work--big, shaggy, organic shapes. I relate them to land forms and colors of the part of County Mayo where I stayed for seven weeks, and was impressed by the craggy bog landscape and rugged sea cliffs. The oil painting above is Boglands #1, 36"x36", 2014.
Dominant shapes have not been part of my imagery since the late 80's, and I feel that I'm rediscovering an old idea in a new way. Those earlier earlier shapes tended to be harder edged, less subtle. There was often a triangular or shield-like shape, and were important in my path to where I am now, as some of my first explorations of abstract forms. The painting below, Shield, 30"x 24"
, is from 1987. I saw these shapes as strong yet also fragmented, a reflection of the particular emotional state I was in at the time, beginning my career as an artist and raising young children.
After this time, my work entered a more landscape-inspired phase, and headed back toward representation for a number of years. When I entered fully into abstraction in the early 2000s, my work tended toward color field and geometric divisions rather than distinctive shapes. Multiple panel constructions gave structure to these color fields, or simple divisions were created within the picture plane. Although I included soft shapes and gestural marks in these paintings, I didn't tend to emphasize distinctive shapes within the color fields. Below, a painting from 2011, Fragment
Soft, atmospheric shapes did begin to enter my work about this time, and to gradually develop a unique character. An ongoing series which I call the Veil Series
includes paintings such as the one below from 2012, Veil #6
, 20"x16." I continue to enjoy working with these rather undefined cloudy forms, inspired (as much of my current work is) by time spent in Ireland.
Strong, bold shapes are what's really new and exciting to me. Some are of soft color and edge, showing a pretty clear progression from the Veil
paintings, such as the one at the top of the page, and this one, Mayo #2
and others are dark, bold and massive, painted with memories of the dramatic cliffs of North Mayo and Clare Island. Below, Mayo Coast #5, 2014, 60"x48." The detail shot below the main picture shows that some edges I am working with continue to have a soft quality, while others are stronger. I find myself paying a lot of attention to edges as I work on these, wanting them to have variety, and a quirky, organic sort of energy.
I'm excited about continuing in this direction, and find I have a very keen sense of what is "right" when it comes to these shapes. I spend a lot of time searching out their boundaries, tweaking and shifting. I also find challenge in making dark, dense, solid forms that also contain variety of surface and subtle color shifts.
Bringing shape back into my work has been an evolving process, and as always, I find that change for me comes slowly, in progression, and relates to something in my own experience. I am reminded of this process every time I teach and talk with students who often view abstraction as something to dive into without reference. Connection to feelings, memories and visual impressions of the world are for me the source of ongoing ideas and imagery.
(painting by Michael Roberson
, Los Angeles,CA)
I'm back from teaching two 5 day workshops on beautiful Vancouver Island, BC, hosted by Vancouver Island Workshops
. The first was an introductory level class in Nanaimo and the second, a Level 2 class in Victoria. Teaching these two sessions back led me to think about how different they are to teach and to experience as a participant. Because I'm so often asked "what happens in a Level Two workshop?" this post is to clarify and explain the progression of ideas from one class to the next.
My Introductory Level classes are focused mainly on basic techniques, "the toolbox," as one of my students dubbed it. There is a LOT of information to absorb. Besides giving demos and plenty of individual assistance, I also make presentations about abstraction and process-oriented painting. These lay some groundwork for the focus of the more advanced classes.
In a Level Two workshop, I expect the artists who come to not only know most basic techniques of cold wax and oils (as learned in the Intro level) but also to have practiced them for at least 4-6 months on their own. Although I'm happy to provide quick reviews, and run through any new ideas or tools that I've been working with, the emphasis in this class is not on technique, which is a given. Instead we take on the big questions of form and content. In terms of the medium and process, we deal with the possibilities for expression that lie in the techniques, issues of scale, considerations for substrate and other choices of materials, and quick painting exercises designed to strengthen basic skills in composition, use of shape, color and value distribution. Below, a value study in powdered charcoal and cold wax medium by Eva MacLowry
, Portland, OR:
As for content, I encourage each person to dig into the meaning of their work and what they wish to express--to connect with and clarify their inner voice. The longer the workshop, the deeper we can go. For example, Level Two workshops may include self-critique skills and small group discussions. I always schedule an extended one-on-one with each person in a review of his or her work as a whole (not only what is done in class), offering feedback and direction on an individual level. Below, participants in the Victoria class paired up to discuss each other's work with guideline/questions provided in a handout:
I also work on my own panels in class, and try to bring at least a few to completion. While I can (and sometimes do) talk all day about working spontaneously and covering over ruthlessly--it seems that showing, rather than explaining, is most effective in getting across this approach. (You can read more about this here
in an earlier post.)
I often receive requests from advanced artists asking to skip the Intro level workshop and go right into a Level 2 class. But from the description above, I hope it's clear that even advanced artists need the basic toolbox of techniques and these are offered only at the first level.
For a taste of the experience of a Level Two workshop, here are a few testimonials from artists in my class in Victoria, BC:
This 5 day intensive was just what I needed to energize myself and my painting. The quick exercises that were interspersed throughout the week were a revelation and I realize now that I am/was inhibiting myself and not trusting my artistic self. It feels great to have freedom of expression again and I look forward to returning to my studio with a renewed creative spirit.
--Janet C. Hickok, Anchorage, AK
(Janet's quick series based on spontaneous drawings, below.)
I came to class with challenges and (Rebecca) was able to help me identify solutions immediately....—Aryana Londir, New River, AZ
There is always something one can learn or relearn about the materials and the fundamentals of art and abstraction and Rebecca does that so very well. Having time for some exercises was both fun and useful-and of course being able to watch her paint for a long time is treat.--Eva MacLowry, Porland, OR.
Rebecca helped me excavate genuine elements of who I am through creative exercises and then gave me tools to express my individuality in my work. Learning was playful and opened a door to the rich language of experience. --Kathleen Schildmeyer, Lake Oswego, OR
(Kathleen's series on paper, below.)
If that sounds enticing and you've taken an Intro level workshop (mine or from another artist) please note that I have openings in two of my upcoming Level Two workshops: at Cullowhee Mountain Arts
in June and at Ballinglen Arts Foundation
in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo Ireland in November (please email me for information on that one...firstname.lastname@example.org)
By the way, I also offer a third level of instruction, Master Level classes, for those who have completed the first two levels and wish to continue working with me and with other artists experienced in using cold wax. There are openings in these classes in May at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI and in September at Lake Logan Retreat Center (through Cullowhee Mountain Arts) near Asheville. Please email me for more info on those if you are interested.
Below, monocromatic color study by Aryana Londir: