Of the three million items to ponder in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Peter and I have gravitated across the Palace Square to the comparatively meditative General Staff Building. As if our own little secret, behind its 580-meter long façade (the longest in the world) is a dreamy block of pastel-coloured galleries recently opened to the public; the new home to 74 French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings unveiled after being thought lost for 50 years after the end of World War II. First titled “Hidden Treasures Revealed,” the collection opened in 1995 as a Soviet triumph of preservation and safekeeping.
Perhaps it’s the unsettling variety or the mind-bending sunshine. I’m at sixes and sevens and my stuff is all over the place. Maybe it’s just being away from the home studio. Maybe I’m coming up on another period. Last night, with the lazy fan turning and the wall-geckos chirping, I was dreaming of Corot.
Outside the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, a crowd mingles under swift June rainclouds before funnelling inside for speedy champagne and to take their seats. Red velvet armchairs secured to the floor tip forward only slightly, sloping from the royal box down to the orchestra. Five stories of golden balconies climb up to the trompe l’oeil ceiling like the tiers of an Imperial wedding cake.
I’m laptopping you from M.V. Mareva, near Chatterbox Falls at the head of Princess Louisa Inlet on Canada’s west coast. Surrounded by the glaciated walls of sky-scraping mountains, it’s a wonder that we’re getting satellite service in here. The rocky defiles are vertically lined with narrow rivulets and cascading waterfalls, some of them hundreds of metres in height. Today, Chatterbox is swollen and thundering from the melting snowcaps above, producing a mist that hangs out over the glass-smooth inlet like a shroud. At the base of the falls there’s a lush ecosystem of startling abundance.
Peter and I threw a couple of small bags into the Wrangler and headed for the back road. We skirted Joshua Tree and peeled off onto one of the dirt tracks behind Wonder Valley, passing through a spotty outbreak of settler’s shacks, some now re-inhabited by those not wanting to be found. The track, navigable by an outsider only by the grace of Google, cuts through Route 66 and its trading posts: Bagdad, Siberia, Klondike and Cadiz. An extra large homemade sign reading “TRUMP PENCE” flanks a 5-acre parcel of early Toyota chassis.
In a roaring heat-wave, I’m walking down Queen St. in Toronto, Canada. It’s a run down, low-rent area full of decaying storefronts, pizza joints, print shops, art stores, alfalfa bars. Every few doors there’s an art gallery. “Alternate,” artist-run, as well as pricey satellites from up-town. I’m people-watching. The smart and the not-so-smart. Panhandlers. Street meat. Smoothies. A woman in low-rider shorts, bare midriff, lip and brow rings, pedals slowly by. She’s balancing a huge virgin canvas as she rides. A sleepy guy in torn pajamas is trying to get one more canvas into the trunk of his Volvo.
Last week, a successful actor who collects original art launched a new venture. Having studied art in college and being a lifelong art lover, Portia de Rossi started a business she believes will help artists make a better living. Based on improving the giclée with a new, trademarked 3D printing process, her online retailer “General Public” aims to sell art to the masses. With “all the texture and articulation that’s in an original painting” says de Rossi, a “synograph,” will make it nearly impossible to tell the difference between a reproduction and an actual work of art.
These days, high-powered creativity coaches are offering themselves to the world of business. Companies improve their bottom lines with the latest techniques in creative thinking. Much of what they’re saying has been known to artists for some time.
Today’s top mantras include keeping new ideas private until the time comes for a full birth in the presence of the right crowd. Another is accepting the idea that creativity pops up in unusual places in its own sweet time. The bathtub, the car and the fishing boat are often mentioned.
Artist Damien Hirst, describing his spot paintings made by offsite assistants at undisclosed locations, said, “They’re all a mechanical way to avoid the actual guy in a room, myself, with a blank canvas.” For Hirst, it was a way of avoiding the possibility of his own mediocrity.
Weekly, an email comes in describing similar avoidance. They usually have an elaborate end-goal in mind, but struggle, for years sometimes, to get into the activity that the goal requires. What’s the matter? The matter is fear, and fear breeds avoidance.
The activities of most plants and animals are timed to the cycle of day and night. These natural rhythms are called circadian rhythms. The most obvious example is the sleep cycle. As well, many plants and animals are sensitive to other time cycles. “Phototropic” sunflowers, for example, turn their faces to follow the sun’s path. Others make their moves in guaranteed light. Some sea animals time their activities to changing tides. These creatures seem to know such times even when away from their home waters. Yep, if you put clams into your kitchen sink, they will try to feed when the tide is rising down there in the bay.