Acting on a tip, I downloaded from the app store a deck of imagination prompts. Originally created in 1975 by musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies began as a box of index-sized cards for artists, made of cut up, discarded prints from Schmidt’s studio. Now, in 2016, the cards can arrive on your phone. I found them by following the breadcrumbs from a story in the New Yorker magazine describing a world-renowned food critic who sometimes emails his editor around deadline time to say that he’s forgotten how to write. For him, Eno and Schmidt’s “strategies” have been a go-to during moments of creative malaise. But what about deadlocks at the easel? The “strategies” include:
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Several years ago, my dad asked me to join him for a workshop at Hollyhock, an island retreat on the West Coast of Canada. After a crisis of confidence, I agreed and we found ourselves a few months later on the beach with a group of keen and diverse painters. We took turns with demos, talks, exercises and crits, working as a gelled but paradoxical unit. Our students seemed to enjoy the yin and yang of our strokes.
In post-war Belgrade, Marina Abramovic’s parents were war heroes, having fought against the Nazis with the Yugoslav partisans and been rewarded with positions in the Communist party. Marina’s father was part of Marshal Tito’s elite guard, her mother director of the Museum of Art and Revolution. Her family of four lived in a larger-than-usual apartment and Marina had few responsibilities other than to do well in school.
I guess there’s about a billion paintings of sky, mountains, trees and water. Beneath these basic and universal elements lie symbols that may empower our work.
For example, the sky may represent infinity, eternity, immortality, transcendence or inspiration. As the traditional residence of gods, the sky may suggest omnipotence. The sky may also be symbolic of order in the universe.
Mountains are thought to contain divine inspiration, and are the focus of pilgrimages of transcendence and spiritual elevation. Mountains surpass ordinary humanity and extend toward the heavens.
While learning the springs at my local Pilates studio recently, I noticed a sign above the cubbies: “You are only one workout away from a good mood.” I thought of a friend — a marathoner, hyper as a junkie, her “runner’s high” streaming with endorphins day after day. These endogenous opioid neuropeptides are pumped out by the central nervous system and pituitary gland to counteract the transmission of pain signals — a side effect is often euphoria. In lieu of a marathon, you can release them by laughing or getting a tattoo — but what about painting?
Termites, dormant over the winter, issue from a small hole in the corner of my studio ceiling. When I “Raid” them, they withdraw momentarily. Today, apart from the perennial easel-struggle, this is the main distraction. Rain streams on the windowpane and distant, silent lightning can be seen on the horizon. Here, all is quiet, save Mozart, and this studioscape is blessed with peace.
Yesterday, while disturbing one of the corners of Dad’s studio, I discovered a box of my grandfather’s paintings. Hugh Douglas Genn grew his Victoria, BC sign shop into Genn Advertising, making bus cards and ads for Vancouver Island businesses. His was an era of penmanship, “one shot” sign paint and a properly loaded quill brush. Everything he lettered was finessed with professionalism. On the side, Ad man Doug was a painter.
Brooklyn-based designer Ryder Carroll prescribes a generic, blank notebook to organize productivity in a system he calls, “Bullet Journal.” Believing that pen and paper are mightier than an app, Bullet Journal’s simplicity and artfulness has beguiled some techies and planner junkies. A YouTube video explaining just how to do it has clocked over a million views.
I’m laptopping to you this morning from the Tate Modern in London, England. I’ve a confession to make. While I dearly love seeing quality paintings, and love even more trying to make them, I’m a bit of a junkie when it comes to contemporary installation art. This place is screaming with the stuff. Glazed gallery goers, their minds numbed by the visual challenges, wander in the ambience of this renovated power station on the south bank of the Thames. To the many who snicker and snort, it’s sort of an intellectual curiosity and freak show.
Today is my and my twin brother James’ birthday and the second anniversary of the day we said goodbye to Dad. An old friend recently came to the door with an amazing gift. It was something my dad had given to his dad shortly after they met in Fuengirola, Spain in 1964. Bert, an Englishman, first noticed Dad standing at an easel near the beach. A hobbyist, Bert cruised up behind to take a look, and as he did, a little crowd grew around the painter. The story goes that after a long period of saying nothing, Bert suddenly exclaimed, “My, that’s a magnificent brush!”