I have kept journals–diaries–on and off for the past 40 or more years. In the 1990s and early 00s, I hand wrote a huge amount in dozens and dozens of lined notebooks–mostly recording my dreams and feelings but also world events and my activities. I’ve been working on a big project, going through my journals from those years and massively editing them. By that I mean, I’ve been tearing out and shredding large portions of them while noting what I was going through at the time. Now, this may seem ghastly to some people, but it is extremely liberating to me. I am creating more room for myself at my current age, while remembering, but not holding onto, what my younger self experienced.
In the course of editing a journal this week, I saw an entry I wanted to record here. I wrote it in April of 1991 after attending an excellent painting workshop with the artist and teacher Sam Feinstein. I have always remembered the powerful nature of that workshop, but had forgotten his teachings about the nature of making art. This was my understanding of what he told us, as I wrote it in 1991:
About art making–you needn’t even believe in your creativity–do it as a way of expressing the life form that is particular to you, that is of nature and larger than you, that goes through you. As a way of being authentic. Dreams and art are of the unconscious life force, bigger than us. Dreams are fleeting, art remains. Once a piece of art work is done, it is its own thing. It never was yours anyway. As its own thing, it is judged on its merits, apart from you.
Art is the spirit made visible through human beings reaching out from themselves, beyond themselves. Art is beyond our own feelings as we create.
Words to make art by!
The gouache painting above is one I made in the 1990s. I did it like a form of free association, attempting to allow whatever came to consciousness to find its way onto the page without censoring it.
I’ve been working on several art projects as once. I’ll be completing the linocut from my last post. Meanwhile, I’ve taken some time to edit linocuts and poems for printing. When I get the physical postcards back from the printer, I’ll show them to you.
As I work and go about my days, part of me is always contemplating the climate of hatred in North America–the new president of the U.S., his withering executive orders, the recent murder of 6 muslim men at worship in Quebec City, Canada….
I’ve been thinking about hatred, which when left unexamined seems to me the curse of our species. Perhaps there are some people in the world who have never felt hatred, but I believe these would be in the great minority. Hatred, being a human emotion, is something any of us can feel.
I have found myself wishing to abolish hatred. However, when I’ve thought more closely about this, I realize that the greatest ill is not the hatred in our hearts. If we do the hard work of deeply looking at ourselves, we can develop the capacity to understand why we hate–what pain we have suffered that the hatred has arisen from–and not project this onto scapegoats. We have the capacity, then, to turn aside from violence of word and action. Instead, I see the greatest ill is when influential people stoke hatred and create scapegoats to gain power. This is what is most disturbing to witness at this time, both here in North America and overseas.
I didn’t know if I’d write about this on what is an art blog. Or tell you how fantastic the women’s march in Toronto on January 21st was. However, since I don’t work in a vacuum and since we are living in a critically important time in history, you have this post from me. The photo I’ve chosen is an antidote to hatred that I took several years ago while visiting friends in Saskatchewan.
The great great poet and song writer Leonard Cohen died yesterday. I was very fortunate to see and hear him perform a few years ago in Toronto when he filled a stadium with fans of all ages. He and the musicians with him gave the most generous long gracious show.
This is in remembrance of Leonard and in honour of his poetry and songs that make it easier to carry on with life.
Saturday, Nov. 12: I learned today that Leonard Cohen didn’t die on the 10th–the day his death was reported–but a few days earlier on Monday, November 7th.
I’ve completed an accordion booklet with my writing about Milne’s Black Waterfall painting. You can see the initial idea in Poem for an Old Woodcut. There’s other related posts following that one. I decided to print my writing on thin Japanese paper and adhere it to the booklet. Here’s some photos of it from different angles. I like seeing different parts of the print showing through the paper in the light.
As I continue turning some of my early prints into booklets, I’m playing around with words I might include with the prints. This last print I’ve been working with (the one that’s also in my previous post) has a lot of black ink in it. And that got me thinking about some writing I did a few years ago. In 2014 I took a poetry writing workshop at the Art Gallery of Ontario. After our meetings, I’d often wander around the Gallery, looking at various art works. This prose and poem came out of one of those meanderings. I’m contemplating the design of the booklet and will show it to you when I’ve completed it.
Here’s another photo of the woodcut I plan to use that I’ve cut down the middle.
And here’s the prose and poem:
On a day when the tomb-like qualities of the gallery seep into me too much, I enter the rooms of David Milne’s paintings looking for peace. I find some here, away from the more flashy works of Lauren Harris and Frank Carmichael. Milne’s are quieter, less assuming, but they give back to me, emitting life.
I stand looking at one that I like. It’s called Black Waterfall, a scene in the woods by a small falls. The water is, indeed, black, the colours subdued. After many minutes, I am surprised to see what I hadn’t noticed: Milne, himself, at his easel in the upper left of the painting. He’s the same colours as the trees, rocks and earth. He has disappeared into the scene or become one with it. I like the humility, the humour and the wisdom of his image, considering where the alienation from nature has taken humanity.
This is a painting I can carry with me, softening the dense traffic of the city, helping me inhale forested air where rivers flow, while the ghost of the artist amidst the trees silently witnesses my passing presence.
By the black waterfall
the painter has disappeared
into the trees, rocks and soil
where, being invisible,
he can more closely observe passersby
and the woods and water he’s depicting
camouflaged at his easel like a deer
but not bolting
steady of hand and sight
neither a conqueror
nor a slave
embodying a gentle way
to save a life.
©Lily S. May–May 2014
Here’s what I originally wrote in this post:
Several years ago, I had a dream that made a great impression on me. In it, I was at a retreat in the countryside on a grassy lawn with a forest at its edge. There I heard about a course being offered called The Care of Latent Kittens. I planned to sign up for the course because I had always wanted to learn to work with animals.
A few months after the dream, I decided to write about this course and its mysterious animals. I wound up spending many months creating a story set in the future about an endangered species and efforts to save them and humanity from environmental catastrophe. Recently I looked at some of that writing again and decided to enlarge the work to include images. I’ll be printing the drawings and text soon, but also wanted to put the work out in digital form on the blog. This is the first chapter in a series I’ll be developing with some of the 14 scratchboard drawings I’ve made to go with the words. The drawings are not so much illustrations as attempts to reflect the atmosphere of the story.
However, I began further editing the writing yesterday (Feb. 25). During the process, I decided to remove all the writing that originally followed in this post while I work on it. So, here’s what’s left–a few of the drawings from the time of Latent Kittens.