The distinctive creak of a bicycle coming to a stop behind me gave an unexpected jerk to my brush. Sandals shuffled on the flinty stones — then a pause. It was a long silence, even for a place where everybody has the time. His was a gravelly voice — perhaps the recent memory of smoke. “It’s all about imagination, skill and discovery,” he said.
My observer was a ring-eared, grey-bearded ponytail — his gnarly foot cocked on the pedal of an incredibly rusty bike. “I’ve been a truck driver, electrician, boat captain, caretaker and a film editor so I know all about art,” he added. I detected New York.
“It’s not meant to look like what it is,” I said.
“No need to apologize, fella,” he put in, lighting up a half-toke from a leather pouch. Then he shouted something in Spanish and creaked off in the direction of the Corona sign. “You need to work at it,” he called over his shoulder, “Like Cezanne. Now there was a dude.”
I started thinking about the dude: “He unfolds, as a painter,” said Cezanne, “that which has not yet been said; he translates it into absolute terms of painting — something other than reality.”
I was pretty soon back into it. Stuff dries like crazy in the Mexican sun. You can glaze and tone down almost immediately. Shade helps, and I had a big blurry spot of it from a grackle-noisy palm. There’s a tendency to be lax and easy. It’s all about freedom and concentration.
There were a couple of bangs, like gunshots, but it could have been firecrackers. Across the square several policemen appeared to be arresting someone. A mariachi band stepped out of a cantina and didn’t seem to care. Tourists and locals sat around, eating things, staring at each other. A two-litre bottle of Fresca came by with a four-year-old girl attached. The pelicans were diving into the sea. The kids were diving into the pool.
The toke-guy was right. You have to work at it. In our game nothing much happens until you have immersion.
PS: “There is an occupation known as painting, which calls for imagination, and skill of hand, in order to discover things not seen, hiding themselves under the shadow of natural objects, and to fix them with the hand, presenting to plain sight what does not actually exist.” (Cennino Cennini 1370-1440)
Esoterica: It’s not ideal, but it works. I’m using ordinary chunks of canvas, formatted to 11″ x 14″ and gesso-toned in warmish grey. Right now I’m taping the canvas to tables or walls. I like the whole kit to be minimal. Not too much trouble. I’ll stretch the decent ones when I get home. I think I’ll go get a Corona.
It is what it is
by Cy Hundley, Longmont, Colorado
“It is not meant to look like what it is.” I was surprised to hear this quantifying remark from such a veteran Mr. Genn, but thank you for allowing me to remember a lesson I learned from my pastel instructor at Western Washington University circa 1984. One day, early in the semester during a painting session, I approached this gentleman’s easel, and looking on, watching him work I innocently asked, “What is that?” He literally threw his pastel stick against the wall, gathered the class and explained, “In reality a piece of art is not a depiction of something else, it stands alone as a new creation. What is it? It is what it is, a painting judged without the need for comparison.”
I will explain that I am a realist, in many cases a photo realist working in acrylic. I do paint images which are supposed to “look like something,” however a painting should never be judged on this criteria, except, possibly, when commissioned for portraiture or illustration. The beauty of a painting, sculpture, a song or even a dance, all of art really, is that… It is what it is.
Perfectionist versus spontaneous
by James Lane, Markham, ON, Canada
My painting habits have been spotty. Stop-and-go. On-off. You get the picture. I have admired those artist friends that paint every day. I haven’t been able to do that and have wondered why. After seeing an interview by Charlie Rose on PBS interview Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, I have realized that my perfectionist attitude is conflicting with my spontaneous abstract painting style. It has been impossible to immerse myself with these two things offending one another. But, I am beginning to realize that if I build a checklist of chronological techniques of building a painting, my perfectionist tilt is appeased by the order that a checklist establishes. My Canadian upbringing with the English/French tensions that produce compromise seems to be benefiting me.
Possible new beginning
by Teri Peterson
Immersion has long escaped me. Years ago my “Becoming an artist” event was marked by a huge mental decision to allow it to happen. From there I built a fair reputation and daresay, a growing career as a watercolorist. Then “life” happened and the negative experiences swept me far away — both literally and physically — I moved across the nation to escape. After traveling the last 6 years through a complicated maze of life events, there’s been a recent discovery of how far I’ve traveled away from my art passion and aghast at the humbling realization of having to again give myself permission to be an artist. Now, I’m contemplating the thrill of immersion and excited of how the past will influence a new beginning.
(RG note) Thanks, Teri. While you didn’t ask for particular advice, your situation is universal. The person who wishes to return to a former passion needs to rekindle through a controlled and obstinate attention to process. You can monitor your IWU (Immersive Work Units) through the respect for and measurement of time, or you can monitor your progress by works accomplished. Some people are cut out for this sort of self-managing activity, others are not.
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Painting with Purpose — Haitian Relief
by Ellie Harold, Norcross, GA, USA
A gentle rain falls, tapping out a rhythm on the banana leaves. The damp weather typical of the June-November hurricane season seems to have extended for a couple of more months.
A few hundred miles to the west, on another Caribbean island, I imagine the weather is not much different from here. Perhaps the roosters are crowing just as they are here. But the rest is so unimaginable, it seems too hard to even try. Living so close to Haiti, however, it’s not quite so difficult. It could’ve been my beloved little island that cracked open. It could’ve been me or my family crushed beneath a concrete roof.
I get to do what I love most of the time. I’m grateful for that. I don’t get paid for much of what I do, so the cash flow is not always what I’d like it to be. Nonetheless I am committed to my employment as an artist for the Universe and keep on painting. I’ve been struggling with what I can do to help my neighbors in Haiti. I checked to see if I could offer services as a former nurse and discovered that without disaster experience I’d be more trouble than help. I’ve gathered up a few clothes and shoes to donate. I’m sending a check to match what I spent on dinner last evening. But what else? I’ve also decided to put my paintings to work. I will donate 50% of all my painting sales (less framing, or shipping and handling charges) from now until Valentine’s Day. I’ve chosen Partners in Health, a medical aid organization that already has a structure in place in Haiti, as the destination for this gift. They have a good reputation for low administrative overhead, so the money goes to work with a high degree of effectiveness. If you’d like to support the relief effort in this way, please visit my website and make your choice. I can accept most major credit cards. I will provide you with a copy of the check I send to Partners in Health with proceeds from your purchase. I hope other artists will see their painting as having a purpose and consider using them to fundraise for this cause.
(RG note) Thanks, Ellie. Great idea. And thanks to others who wrote to ask if there was some way they might help out. My choice is to funnel cash to the foundation already put in place by Paul Haggis and others before the earthquake struck in Haiti. It’s called Artists for Peace and Justice. With minimum administration costs, they are directing relief in the most effective way to get help and supplies into Haiti. Other subscribers have written to say they are donating online through the Red Cross active in their own countries. In the case of Canadian donors, the Government of Canada is matching all donations. One of the world’s poorest nations, Haiti is home to 10 million folks who need our help.
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Travelling with canvas
by Katherine Harris, Bracciano, Italy
If you paint on a piece of canvas just taped to the wall, and then let it dry, roll it up or otherwise carry it home and only THEN stretch it, after it has (presumably) dried, why doesn’t it crack?
(RG note) Thanks, Katherine. I paint in acrylic and have used this system several times. As long as you don’t paint on the last day they are dry enough to stack flat along with your clothes in your suitcase. (I limit myself to smaller sizes) The greatest downside to me is the lack of spring that you would get with stretched canvas. But that will happen in the home studio for the final touches. Further, it’s a bit psychological, but a temporary frame under the light tends to heal prior discomforts and misdemeanors.
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Taking the time to self-critique
by Edna Hildebrandt, Toronto, ON, Canada
In anything we do we need to put our full attention and really concentrate to achieve our goal .We have to give it our best effort and look at every detail until we are satisfied that we did it to the best of our ability. I think this is especially true in painting. Every now and then move away a little distance from the piece and self-critique your work, check every angle, color and line and think of the message you would like your audience to see. Does it excite the emotion or does it convey a deeper meaning or does it challenge the imagination? Then keep working until you are happy and satisfied with your creation.
How to spot immersion
by Cathy Harville, Gambrills, MD, USA
As a painter, I have experienced immersion in many ways:
— I am startled when someone walks into my studio unexpectedly;
— I often forget to eat lunch, or to eat at all;
— I make coffee, and forget to drink it;
— I constantly lose track of time, despite the very accurate “Whatever” clock I have beside me (all the numbers are falling off, so I really never know what time it is);
— I realize I was supposed to meet someone, and forgot;
— After a while, I realize I have been cleaning my brush in my coffee;
— My phone rings, and I am immediately annoyed;
— and, I put off bathroom breaks until the very last minute! (Just let me finish this one area!) Come on, I know you have done that, too!
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The concentration of Jane Austin
by Walter Wembley, London, UK
Writers enjoy a peculiar and specific type of immersion. Can you imagine Jane Austin “living in” Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility and keeping track of all those characters and their distinct differences? With visualization comes the ability to a kind of literary empathy for each character that determines what he or she will say or do next. Further, making a novel is not something that an author can leave alone or neglect for long periods of time. Living within the bounds of her close-knit and probably somewhat boring family environment was key to her escape-motivated imagination. Not much is known about Jane Austin, who died at age 41, never married and was hardly recognized in her own time, but one thing is certain she could concentrate.
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Market day, Florence
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Madeline Bishop of McMinnville, OR, USA, who wrote, “I am sitting in a cafe in rainy Seattle. A sixteen ounce latte came by with a 60 year old man attached. I kept typing.”
And also Jim Wilsterman who quoted Terry Allen:
“Some say it’s pathetic when you give up your aesthetic
For a blue collar job in the factory.
But all that exhibiting was just too damn inhibiting
For a beer drinking — regular guy… like me.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Full immersion…