Friday, December 27, 2013

not prepared, but ready

Perle Fine    
Since this will be a two-person show — though really more like two solo exhibitions in the same space — and we’d never met, with excitement and apprehension I made a date with my fellow exhibitor this week.  I was a little nervous, having built a rather romantic image of her after seeing a few pieces, nearly convinced that the world would fall in love with her work at first sight (and, natch, ignore mine).

I’ve been thinking a lot about flowing lately, that whole ‘going with the flow’ — a phrase I’ve often dismissed as trite, too laid-back and passive, too faux-surfer.  I’d noticed that, in dreams especially, I am often trying to back-pedal, reverse, pause the action to get my bearings.  Survey the hill, and then down; arrive at the crest of the next, stop to assess.  I seem to not fully trust my capacity to make and savor decisions as I go, flowing from one to the next. 

I often remember a phrase Reb Anderson said to me once:  Not Prepared — But Ready.  Not thinking ahead, not under some illusion of Control, but alert and accepting.  

I thought about the notion of stepping into the stream and moving along with it as I sat waiting for her to arrive.  Faking it, till I’m convinced otherwise.  

I thought about inadequacy, and as usual The Voice took its cue from that slight opening to rush in with YOU ARE NOT PREPARED FOR THIS WHO ARE YOU TO THINK YOU CAN DO THIS YOU’RE NOT THIN ENOUGH YOUR SKIN’s NOT CLEAR ENOUGH for you to have the gall to exhibit your work BLAH BLAH BLAH….  And then, brought to my senses, I thought, well, maybe I just get in this stream and flow with it for a change.  Maybe this Here is the right Here.  Maybe there’s no such thing as a fearless warrior anyway, so might as well hop into the driver’s seat of this careening-out-of-control bus and take command, if not Control.

Maybe acceptance, rather than complacence or passivity, equals fluidity.

Maybe I can stay upright in the midst of all this through accepting what’s happening, accepting a new addition to my identity, accepting reality. 

As it turned out, she was very human, and quite nice really, and imperfect in the way we all are, and we talked and shared a bit about our stories and I tried to bring myself back when I’d get caught in a little eddy of self-doubts and How Dare Yous, to climb back into the driver’s seat and return to the bloody conversation for pete’s sake. 

That same day I brought my work to a framer for matting, and I felt so exposed again, all that work and all that time, just sitting there on the counter like a commodity.  We discussed dimensions and colors and edges without once talking about the image, like designers behind the scenes at the catwalk, fussing over the surface of the model, ignoring whatever life’s underneath.  And the owner came by, and I wanted his approval, which I knew was so screwed up, and I also knew that I may well never get it and never know why, and then I realized I need some serious therapy. 

But let’s close.  Let's return to important things, the stuff that matters.  

Janice Biala: Untitled (Landscape), mixed media collage, 1958.  courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery 
Two artists came into my field recently when I by chance picked up Suitcase Paintings: Small Scale Abstract Expressionism.  These diminutive pieces, their texture and action, had such big impact.  From the pages, out jumped Perle Fine, and out leapt Janice Biala.  Long overdue, I’m so glad to meet them at last.

Perle Fine:  Untitled, collage of ink, charcoal and pencil on paper laid on board, 1961. courtesy  

Janice Biala: Japanese Maple II, oil on canvas, 1960.  Tibor de Nagy Gallery
Back tomorrow.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

friendly faces in the chill of dawn

I met a one-year-old named Gabriela last night at a play.  Like my own son she was unable to sit through the performance, so we’d assembled out in the hallway with others in the under-3 set.  She was toddling about in her little leather slippers and soft cotton jammies, clearly pleased to be upright and discovering.  As I watched her stagger, a little dazed, I was reminded of myself, when I rise early and head to the studio, fuzzy-headed, reluctant, a little fearful even at what awaits, that it will be nothing, that my brain won’t activate today.  I stumble, bleary, in the pre-dawn hours into the kitchen to begin my coffee-making ritual.  It’s cold.  I’m still half in a tiring dream, still embarrassed about that weird bathroom bit in which I wore no clothes and was also late to catch my plane but hadn’t yet packed.  You call this a Creative Process?

I splash cold water on my face, notice the drunken monkey of my mind, notice the clock and know that if I don’t start I’m in trouble, so I pour my coffee and head to the studio, turn on the lights, crank the heater, and light my incense to invoke the muses. 

I look at my desk greeting me— 

And out of nowhere it happens:  one little piece sings out, and — Aha!  You!  I’d forgotten about you.  Hello again! 

And I give myself a short assignment, maybe just to add a layer of this or shift a piece here, to see what might happen.  What if?  

What If.  The question fuels me till I have to wake L.  It’s happened again.  Just a small something — I’m amazed at how much time goes into a one-inch-by-three-inch composition — and maybe it'll never see the red carpet, but I’ve turned a corner, for today.

For the coming week:  keep showing up, and let the muses work their magic.  


I walked alone in the chill of dawn

while my mind leapt, as the teachers

of detachment say, like a drunken

monkey. Then a gray shape, an owl,

passed overhead.  An owl is not

like a crow.  A crow makes convivial

chuckings as it flies,

but the owl flew well beyond me

before I heard it coming, and when it

settled, the bough did not sway.

—Jane Kenyon