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.

 

 

 

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.

O276
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.

#P24: Perfection of Thought

My first finished painting in several days. This old weathered pine I pass on my morning walk every day. It is like an old friend by now. Below I show the source photo and my first version charcoal sketch. This was done on Fabriano HP Paper on which I first applied strong washes of a yellow sky and a deep orange foreground.

p24-source

In the charcoal and chalk sketch I placed the horizon line too high and it made the tree look smaller. But it allowed me to explore the values and especially the leaf character of the pine tree.

p24-sketch

The moon is bright tonight. I remember a night long ago when I sat on the stoop reading in a hot summer night. It was like this poem by Wallace Stevens says:

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

Wallace Stevens, "The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm" from 
The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. 
This copy from Poetry Foundation.

Thanks for visiting, I hope you are happy and content.

#P23: Rain

This is a charcoal sketch I made a few days ago. It was supposed to be a foundation for a pastel painting which is shown below. But as often happens, the sketch turned out to have more soul than the more finished painting. Something about black and white and twilight.

p23

As all of us probably do, I sometimes wonder about the use of keeping a blog. William Stafford must have thought about this also:

Keeping a Journal
At night it was easy for me with my little candle 
to sit late recording what happened that day. Sometimes 
rain breathing in from the dark would begin softly 
across the roof and then drum wildly for attention. 
The candle flame would hunger after each wafting 
of air. My pen inscribed thin shadows that leaned 
forward and hurried their lines along the wall. 

More important than what was recorded, these evenings 
deepened my life: they framed every event 
or thought and placed it with care by the others. 
As time went on, that scribbled wall—even if 
it stayed blank—became where everything 
recognized itself and passed into meaning.

Stafford, William. 
Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford 
Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.

Thanks for stopping by!

#P22: Toward Sunrise

This is a pastel version of the charcoal sketch shown below. It is actually the same sketch used in my previous post, but with a very different sky and mood.

This was done on Fabriano HP Watercolor paper, over which I applied a colorful watercolor wash before starting in charcoal. Most of the sky that is visible in this painting is just the watercolor shining through. I have whittled down my pastel range to only about 10 colors now. Applied over the charcoal, I seem to get the color mood I like with this simple combination.

a2-sketch

As I write now this painting stands in my living room on the floor. I still have to remove it from the board over which I stretched it. Looking at it as I write makes me happy.

Two verses from a poem by Rilke:

14
This is my labor - over it
my shadow lies like the shell of a nut.
It's true I'm the same as leaves and mud,
but as often as I pray or paint
it is Sunday, and in the valley I am
a jubilant Jerusalem.
...
My streets rise toward sunrise.
After people have left me alone a long time
it happens that I am larger.
Inside me I hear steps ring
and I stretch my loneliness out
from eternity to eternity.

Rainer Maria Rile, tr. Robert Bly, in
Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke

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

#P20: Another Road

This is the pastel version of the charcoal sketch I posted before. This was done on Fabriano Hot Press Watercolor paper, which I first gave a few heavy, abstract washes of warm color (below). I have since made oil and acrylic versions of this painting, which I hope to post soon. Continue reading “#P20: Another Road”

#P18: Earth Overflowing

This is an invented landscape based on a charcoal sketch (below). In the sketch I started out with abstract black lines and blocks all over and then used white chalk to carve out shapes. Slowly this landscape emerged. Continue reading “#P18: Earth Overflowing”

#P17 Coming Home

Still chasing the wild feeling of my earlier charcoal sketch. This time I started off with a watercolor under-painting (photo below), and then went straight in with charcoal. I did not mind the “do not use black” dictum. Continue reading “#P17 Coming Home”

#P16: The Best Season

Here is the pastel version of the charcoal sketch I posted earlier. I quite like this painting, but as much as I tried, I could not achieve the same wild, desolate mood that comes through in the charcoal version. Continue reading “#P16: The Best Season”