Slow Sea of Indigo

A while ago I became frustrated with a landscape I was doing in pastel. It was looking a bit too pastoral and pretty for my taste. It left nothing for the viewer to complete with her imagination. It lay around on my studio floor for some days while I walked and shuffled over it as I came and went. The image improved considerably!

I then reworked it a bit, took a photo and then edited the photo (adding warmth and editing the contrasts), until I came up with the image below. I loved it. It has the warmth and emotional honesty of a true landscape – that is – a landscape seen through eyes of someone who actually feels, fears, lives and breathes.

IMG_4013

I posted the above image on my Instagram feed and (sigh) it has received the most likes of anything I posted! I set out trying to reproduce this style of image on paper. My strategy was to lay a foundation in watercolor to get the right warmth, then add the rest in pastel and stomp on it to add some random marks. This is what I came up with:

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Mixed Media on Fabriano Paper (approx 50 x 33 cm)

The image was not quite the same – it lacks the glowing warmth of the edited photo. But it is real and has a charm of its own, so I decided to try some more paintings in this style. Below are some results:

MM45
Mixed Media on Fabriano Paper (approx 50 x 33 cm)

Every time I look at Marie Marshall’s blog, I am amazed at the richness of the imagery that I find like pearls in her poems. Here is an excerpt from a poem she posted recently:

MarieMarshall

MM46
Mixed Media on Fabriano Paper (approx 50 x 33 cm)

It has been a hard year for our family. The original family unit was down from five to four when I was eight years old. Now in the last half of this year year we lost two more. They live on in the minds of the remainder and the many others that loved them.

I keep seeing in my dreams landscapes where the light has another color. Perhaps something like the painting above? Rolf Jacobsen wrote about this:

In countries where the light has another color
the faces along the streets at dusk
can turn to pearls in a slow sea of indigo.

And you must ask yourself - what do these
fiery diadems reflect here, and whose hands
have scattered them across these dark waters?

Rolf Jacobsen - from:
The Roads Have Come To an End Now, translated
by Robert Bly, Roger Greenwald and Robert Hedin

 

Read that again – that last verse. Those are big questions, aren’t they?

 

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content as the year roars to its end.

 

A Form of Communion

The painting above is charcoal and pastel on paper. I mount the paper over a rough board with some old, dried acrylic paint blotches on it. The rough surface forces me to focus on big areas and not get lost in details – one cannot draw anything small on such a rough surface!

I recently decided to paint on paper rather than board or canvas – mainly because I have so many paintings standing around making me mostly sad. I cannot move around in my studio anymore. Just by coincidence, a fellow painter/blogger commented on my last post that he had started to paint on paper for the same reason.

This got me thinking more about why I put so much time, effort and emotional risk into my painting practice. I can tell you one thing, it is not for the money! (oh God I wish it was!)

I went back in time to my past self, sitting in a small apartment in College Station, Texas in the early 1990’s, getting up at 5 am to practice drawing and make charcoal sketches. Why did I do that?

P36
Charcoal and Pastel on Fabriano HP Cotton paper (first wrinkled, then stretched, which creates the “veins” throughout the painting)

Moving over my odd 20 years of on-and-off painting, I think in each fresh assault on painting, my motivation evolved in three phases:

Phase 1: I see art that touches me and inspires me. Something in me awakens and says – also want to do that! Motivation: to make something beautiful.

Phase 2: I get feedback from other people (my wife, and these days, blogging or Instagram friends mainly). My motivation morphs – I like having the approval of others, I want more of that.

Phase 3: I strike a plateau. I now turn out paintings steadily, find some pleasing, others not. I still enjoy the praise of others, but part of me starts to wonder: (a) do they really mean it or are we just “liking each other’s stuff”? (b) What do I do with all the paintings?

I think I now go through the above cycle of motivational change in small (monthly) and large (annual) rhythms. Phase 3 is not an easy one. When I am here, I face into the fact that I will most likely never be a famous painter, and – commercial aspects aside – there are simply not enough people who know or are interested in my art to even pay postage to receive it. So what now?

P29
Charcoal and Pastel on Fabriano HP Paper

I understand that some may respond to this stage/question in a pragmatic way: “paint better and market yourself and your art better”.  But the way I am put together, this state only makes me question deeper.

And the answer I arrive at is always simple, and always the same:  I paint because I want to be happy.

Some instinct tells me that painting could be a way to be happy. But one can only be happy in the Now, while painting, not only when and if the result is satisfactory.

And always this points me to the attitude I assume while painting – it is either a gentle, rhythmic, humble form of communion with Something mysterious that is greater than me, or else it is a small, scared pursuit tinged with greed and trepidation.

And to be honest, one the days that I do assume the attitude of communion with something greater than me – working alone and quietly in my studio – I invariably find that there is very little need for strain and control, because the image emerges by itself with only some gentle coaxing from me. And the joy I feel in those moments lasts for hours, makes it all worth while and draws me back again and again. Maybe one day that could be enough for me. I hope.

I am reminded always of the lines from TS Eliot’s Little Gidding when find I drift away from the communal, spiritual attitude into more self-absorbed materialistic one:

...
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
...
(text copied from this site)
P38
Charcoal and Pastel on Fabriano HP Paper

Thanks for visiting my blog. If you are interested to see more of my paintings, please visit my (slowly) growing website: Fritz Jooste Fine Art.

 

 

 

Larger Questions?

Those of you that have followed my blog for a while will have noted (perhaps with an eye roll 🙂 ) that I am very often plagued by doubts and fears about my art. It is not a depressing state – simply a part of the fruitful dark side of life. I share this personal stuff in the hope that it would resonate with some other artists out there.

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O270 (oil on canvas paper)

Over the past weeks, I often pondered the two questions “what should I paint?” and “how should I paint?” For some people this would probably be a short deliberation. I wrote about it before in this post.

But for me, this time around, it went back all the way to the “what do you want from life?” question, which is just a hop-skip-and-jump away from the big one: “Who am I?” This sort of progression of questioning is just the way I am – I expect for some of you reading this it may be similar?

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O273 (oil on canvas paper)

I often look at some of the hyper creative and/or skillful painters interviewed on the Painting Perceptions website. These rock stars of the art world generally spend several years drawing from life, studying color etc. before becoming a certified “Master in Fine Art”. The best of them take that skill set and hone it into something that can express their unique voice in new ways – and some of those are just mindbogglingly impressive.

Although in my earlier years as a painter I put in many hours of drawing from life (my poor wife!) and still have notebooks from more than 20 years ago in which I painted pots and pans or systematically copied all of Bridgman’s beautiful drawings.

Despite having some skills in the ‘drawing from life’ department, I am often perplexed about where this leaves me, as someone drawn more to landscapes in the middle and far distance, where quality of light and mood predominate, and focus and detailed drawing is less important.

I am interested in how can this type of composition be perpetually developed into something deeper – more unique, more inquiring? Or is there perhaps a limit to what can be done with this style of landscape:

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O278: (oil on canvas, 16 x 16 inches)

Please don’t suggest practical answers to the above question! these are questions I long to solve myself! 🙂 There is lots more that can be said about this topic, and…

I think the debate deals with having something meaningful to say versus saying something not necessarily meaningful in a very skillful way. Both have their merits – I think am inclined toward the first – but in visual arts the second approach may just have more depth to be explored over a lifetime?

[If you are interested in this issue, I strongly recommend you study the interview with Harold Reddicliffe on Painting Perceptions].

But in the meantime, as I try to develop my skills and experience as an artist, I will stick to the advice of the painter Thomas Aquinas Daly, which I also quoted in my earlier post referred to above:

…my deep emotional involvement in my subject matter is the essential ingredient that carries my work. For years I floundered in a quandary over what to paint, until I realized the most rudimentary fact: that I should paint what moves me, and if handled with some degree of facility, it should in turn move others. The mistake I feel a great many artists make is in labouring to render material that is totally devoid of feeling…

If a subject matter doesn’t incite my emotions and possess my full sensory attention, it simply doesn’t get painted…

By selecting my subject matter with sentiment, I feel I incorporate a spiritual dimension that is the essence and true strength of any vital art form.

Thomas Aquinas Daly – Painting Nature’s Quiet Places

(out of print)

I am sure some artists may disagree with this sentiment, but it just happens to resonate with me. One thing I know for sure – the artist who does not seriously consider these sorts of questions and solves them at a deep internal level will most likely eternally dwell in the forecourt of the arts and craft markets (I realize this is super OK for many artists!)

But for those of us interested in these matters, we have to consider this question deeply over many years. It is probably a way in which there is no ecstasy:

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

T.S. Eliot – excerpt from Four Quartets

Thanks for visiting my blog. Apologies for the long post! If you are interested to see more of my paintings, please visit my (slowly) growing website: Fritz Jooste Fine Art.

Place of Humility

Two weekends ago I had my first solo exhibition at the David Lloyd Gallery in Hamilton, New Zealand. It was exciting if slightly nerve wracking and very rewarding to see so many of my works hanging together. Below is a collection of images from the exhibition opening:

I was very honored to have some established and respected artists such as Jennie de Groot, Santie Cronje and Michelle Ives at my opening.

As luck would have it, one of the most respected teachers in the USA, Martin Campos, was in New Zealand to teach and he also attended. Martin is an Adjunct Professor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. You can find an interview with Martin Campos on Painting Perceptions.

I was quite thrilled to have roughly half of my paintings sold at this exhibition. I have reflected on the experience extensively.  As a child, I was taught that “showing off” (i.e. exhibiting yourself!) was a bad thing. Something not done by people of character. So being there as a center of attention drawn to myself took adjustment.  I tried to mindfully observe the experience as neutrally as possible.

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O276 (oil on canvas paper)

At a solo exhibition I guess it is common for people to point out what paintings they like. Even though no one said what they don’t like, one senses somehow what is not so popular. This creates in me a huge risk of being diverted from what I believe is my true goal in painting – getting to know myself and my internal world better, and providing an outlet for things in me that I value deepest.

I recall reading about the dangers of having an audience in the book “Art & Fear“:

The risk is fearsome: in making your real work you hand the audience the power to deny the understanding you seek; you hand them the power to say, “you’re not like us; you’re weird; you’re crazy.”…catering to fears of being misunderstood leaves you dependent upon your audience. In the simplest yet most deadly scenario, ideas are diluted to what you imagine your audience can imagine, leading to work that is condescending, arrogant, or both. Worse yet, you discard your own highest vision in the process.

Bayles, David; Orland, Ted. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (pp. 39-40). Image Continuum 

Naturally, this does not have to happen. But one becomes highly aware and sensitive to this danger. After all the excitement abated, I took time to reflect deeply on my art and what I wanted to achieve with it. This period of introspection was perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this exhibition experience. I feel I have since deepened in my mission as an artist and heeded the advice of Bayles and Orland in “Art & Fear“:

The lesson here is simply that courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts — namely, whether or not you’re making progress in your work.

Bayles, David; Orland, Ted. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (p. 48). Image Continuum Press. Kindle Edition.

P37
P37 (charcoal and pastel on wrinkled paper)

 

I leave you with some beautiful prose by Pessoa:

Amiel said that a landscape is a state of feeling, but the phrase is a flawed gem of a feeble dreamer. As soon as the landscape is a landscape, it ceases to be a state of emotion. To objectify is to create, and no one would say that a finished poem is a state of thinking about writing one.

and something from one of my earlier posts:

Time and time again, a hurried pace, ambition and lack of self awareness takes me to the place of humble-making. There I find myself. Gold is found where I stumble and fall without hope.

I am not that steeply sloping hour that Rilke wrote of:

My life is not this steeply sloping hour
in which you see me hurrying.
...
I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death's note wants to climb over -
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
       And the song goes on, beautiful.

Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly in
Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke

Thanks for visiting my blog! I hope you are happy and content.