The heat wave has now broken, but we had hot and extremely hot weather in Toronto over the past while. During that time, I took to walking in the streets in the evening to listen to the cicadas and crickets. I discovered, to my surprise, that I was present to listening to the sounds of the insects, birds, cars and people instead of shutting out the sounds of the city. This led me to record one of my walks, which then led me to listen to some forgotten recordings. One was of the poem in this post.
Several years ago, I spent a lot of time writing and I’d read versions of my poems out loud and record them to hear which version sounded best to me. Here’s a poem which will explain itself, followed by a recent drawing.
It’s October two thousand ten
and I’m to apply for the Old Age Security Pension,
a task made more difficult
by my originally being an immigrant
and having four different names on my papers.
These burrs that I’ve transported across borders
I now scatter on the table
as I decide which ones to carry with me,
in the hope I will be recognized
as the thread that links the different words
by which I have been known.
In the process, I contemplate my various selves,
the changing names silently
eliciting my youth and middle age
not so much in sadness as in a survey of absences.
At City Hall, I sit in a crowded room
under fluorescent lights.
I have anticipated the long wait
and help manage boredom and an undercurrent of rage
by doing crossword puzzles
and half listening to the reassuringly incomprehensible
that two young people are speaking
as they wait, likely for their marriage licence.
All of us, including the staff,
are in limbo
holding this edifice of record keeping in place,
keeping tabs on ourselves, faithlessly
leaving trails of our scant existence
on dry forms and flickering screens.
I am rescued, however, by the relief of drama.
Some people, no longer compliant, have bolted
or gone missing.
Three couples cannot be found
when their names are called for their marriage licences.
Perhaps they have broken off their engagements while waiting
or decided to live common law or
have merely gone outside for a smoke.
The staff person I eventually see is contained though cordial,
takes me for who I am
and needs few of my compiled documents.
I leave knowing I will soon receive
the form letter of approval for my pension.
Not a joyous occasion
but a quiet rite of passage
into the realm of official old age
that strange pale land in which death befriends us
whether we like its attentiveness or not
a land made more rich by its limits
and on the threshold of vast amounts of time,
oneness with ancestors human and non
and the blinding light that shields us from an unknown world.
©Lily S. May 2010 – 2014
There’s a young oak tree on one of the streets in my neighbourhood. I’ve brought home 2 sprigs of leaves that I’ve found on the sidewalk on my walks. I love oak leaves! And I’ve done a few drawings of them.
The first two are of a small bunch of leaves that I drew first with a bold pen and, the next day, with a finer line one. I did this to see what changing the tool would do to the rendition. A very different look and feel appeared.
This third sketch is of a larger sprig of leaves.
I’ve continued doing line drawings. I find the practice helps me focus–literally and figuratively. Last week, I began paying attention to a carving we’ve had for years. The plaque has been done very skillfully and with great care extending even to its back that is covered in soft chisel marks. We found it at a yard sale and loved it, buying it for only a few dollars. The carver hasn’t put their name on the work and I have no idea where the piece came from. The wood is very hard. If anyone seeing this has an idea where the carving may have been made, please let me know.
As I drew the sculpture, I discovered how tricky it was for me to see, with some accuracy, what was going on. With felt pens you don’t have the luxury of painting over anything you consider an error like you do with acrylics or oils. Each time I learned more as I made my next error.
Here’s the carving:
Here’s part of my first drawing:
That led me to a quick thumbnail-like sketch:
In these next two, I laid out general shapes in grey pen as guides and worked over them in black.
I even tried a gesture-like pencil drawing to see the shapes:
I don’t think I’m finished with this series. I have a lot to learn from studying this carving about being present and not allowing imperfection to kill my love of seeing and being with this wonderful sculpture.
I haven’t done line drawing in a while and thought it would be helpful to begin again. It’s a way of grounding myself in the present and seeing what’s in front of me. Here’s several drawings I’ve done this week with black pigment markers. I found them calming to do.
This first one is in my work room: easel with recent crayon work and woodcuts of one of my favourite artists–Munakata Shiko*–on the wall behind. Plus another favourite woodcut by Naoko Matsubara. The drawing is practically an abstract.
Here’s one of a papier maché mask I made a few years ago, on a shelf in the work room as it awaits a place on a wall.
This is the view from one of my windows–a view I usually find disheartening because of all the ungraceful buildings. I was surprised to find that in drawing the scene I felt different about it. It lost its sense of ugliness for me. The lines and shapes held my interest and became a contrast between the curves of the trees and straight lines of the buildings that went beyond judgement. I suspect there’s a wider life lesson in this, although I haven’t fully formulated it yet.
Again, here’s some of the things on my work table.
And here’s part of a Bread and Puppet poster hanging in my work room. On the poster is a photograph of two of the enormous masks that Bread and Puppet has made, resting in their barn/museum in Vermont that we visited around 20 years ago.
*Here’s a video of Munakata’s work
I’m also at artsofmay.etsy.com
Here’s what I’m working on now–a variation of the piece I showed in Learning. This time, I’ve used only the watercolour crayons, both wet and dry. I’m slowly building up colour and texture and paying attention to shapes. I believe the piece is a work in progress–the more I contemplate it, the more aspects I see to work on.
This week, I happily received the copy of Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ book, Hansel and Gretel. In it, he has brilliantly reimagined the fairy tale. I ordered it last week from the U.K. and it arrived faster than some packages from other parts of Canada!
Clive Hicks-Jenkins is one of my favourite artists. He shows a wide array of his artwork on his blog and talks about the process that went into making the pieces. His artwork in this book is tremendously engaging with both terrifying and beautiful renditions of the characters and the settings. I’ve been pouring over the book and love the layers of paint, drawing and collage.
On the artist’s blog are many posts about the complex process he went through in making the book. The link above is to just one of those posts and also talks about the Hansel and Gretel toy theatre kit he designed. Below are the front and back covers of the book.
Last week, while I was home with a cold, I began experimenting with an old water soluble crayon set I have. I find painting/drawing on an easel a lot easier physically than printmaking with the pain of repetitive strain I’ve acquired from lino and woodcutting. So, I’ll return to the latest print after a break.
For the drawing below, all I started with was a desire to draw a human profile. The rest developed from there. I mostly used the crayons dry and combined some pigment markers with them. The drawing has a controlled feeling to me because of the outlines throughout. I was interested in experimenting with layers of colour and texture. At times when I was unhappy with the results and redid them, I managed not to destroy the image in an attack of self-criticism. I find making artwork is a dance between creation and destruction. There’s a line between honestly facing mistakes and shredding myself for making them. Now that the piece is finished, I think I’ll try making further works using this drawing as a starting point. I want to practice a looser look, perhaps bringing out the watercolour properties of the crayons. As for the content, for me it reflects some of the different voices or faces within a person, coupled with strange sci-fi or unconscious looking elements.
The next experiment I did pretty quickly, as a reaction to the first one. I cut up part of an earlier crayon watercolour and adhered it to a sheet that I loosely marked in black. I like the feel of this one. There’s the contrast between black, white and colour. And there’s the contrast of the controlled edges of the cut outs with the loose scribbles of both the black crayon and the colours within the shapes themselves. Perhaps this collage technique is one I can develop. It could stand alone or be part of larger works.
You can also see my work at artsofmay.etsy.com