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.
Here’s 2 photos I took today at the Art Gallery of Ontario of David Milne’s Black Waterfall. This is the painting I love that I wrote about in 2014 and included in my last post, A Poem for an Old Woodcut. David Milne lived from 1882 to 1953 and as far as I can tell it appears that 50 years after an artist’s death, his or her work goes into the public domain. Hopefully this is so.
The first is the whole painting and the second is a detail showing him blending into the scene.
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
I have loved this autumn. Last week, I was on the grounds of Todmorden Mills Heritage Site to see an art exhibit and enjoy the still colourful day before the more muted part of autumn arrived. A few years ago, I started experimenting with black and white photography in the fall just to see what would arise in a season that is so much about intense colour. I did this again last week and came up with this photo that looks, to me, a lot like a painting although I didn’t plan it that way. It’s not edited, except to decrease the size for the blog post.
It’s federal election day in Canada. In honour of that, and after voting earlier this morning, I’m posting this portrait I painted of our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, in 2009. It was autumn then, as now, and I happened to have some ornamental gourds in my apartment. I placed one of them on his head to counteract his severe nature and policies. He is running for reelection today and we’ll know later if he and his Conservative Party will remain in power.
Here’s another painting that I don’t have hanging up at the moment that was good to see again as I was organizing the art give-away I held. I’m keeping this in my collection. I painted it in 2009 with water soluble oil paints on canvas. It was one of several expressive works I did–meaning that I allowed it to develop as I went along instead of planning it ahead. This is a favourite way I have of working that I’ve returned to over the years.
This past weekend, I held an art give-away. Over time, I’ve sold some of my work, but after decades of making linocuts and woodcuts plus painting, sewing and felt making I have accumulated a vast amount of work. So, I decided to keep a copy of each print for myself and to offer the others as gifts to those who wanted them. I also included a few early drawings, some paintings and wall hangings. It was a great experience. My plan is to hold give-aways every few months until I make a serious dent in what I’ve been storing in boxes, portfolios and closets.
In preparing for the event, I began organizing and carefully storing my work in a way I hadn’t before. The process of reviewing my life’s work to date has been worthwhile. At times I came upon works I had forgotten I’d made, such as the gouache painting in this post from the 1990s.