Feeling Better

After 7 days in the hospital I was good to go home at last– to my family; people, fuzzies and friends– to recuperate. With the help of my loved ones, a little red wine and some medicinal herb, I was able to put the past week behind me and heal pretty quickly.

After a week or so at home, the surgical pain was gone and I was eager to get back to painting. Although I was still in a cast, my arm was bandaged nearly straight (approx 90° angle) which allowed me to paint– broader, looser strokes anyway. I managed to work on the farm animal diptych begun in November from the Painting With Attitude class with Nancy Mitchnick. A couple weeks later, the stitches were out and I was freed from the cast. I completed the painting, which my older son has endearingly named, “Barnyard Surprise!”


In early March the “Gang of 4” met up for a luncheon at the BBAC in my honor. It was so great to see my art friends and catch up. The girls brought/made little thoughtful gifts for me — I was so touched! Nancy gave me two metal Milagro pieces; a small arm and a larger hand.

Milagro translates to “Miracle” in Spanish and these small trinkets have been part of Latin American culture for centuries. Traditionally used in religious prayer, a Milagro may be given to a loved one to convey a sense of well-being or well- wishes.

I strung them together with a personal zodiac necklace of mine and added a few extra colored beads to create a new piece.


In addition to the Milagros, Nancy gave me an awesome palette knife and a mini Isabey painting brush! One of my favorites!! Laura brought delicious strawberry preserves for everyone, Kristen painted a mini-milagro canvas of an arm, and Cynthia (who is an incredible dressmaker) hand-knitted a pair of arm cozies for me!! You can see all the wonderful gifts in the last picture — Zoe the cat approved! It was such a wonderful afternoon and I truly feel blessed to have these incredible women in my life!

Day in Detroit — Part I

A Peak Inside the Artists’ Studios

In December our little “Gang of 4” were treated to an incredible field trip to see Nancy’s studio at the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit and receive an outstanding one-on-one talk at the DIA on Diego Rivera and his Detroit Industry murals.

History of Russell Industrial Center

In 1915, the Center, a 2,200,000-square-foot (200,000 m2), seven building complex, was designed by Albert Kahn for John William Murray. Over the years it has been used for various manufacturing industries (automotive, military, metal stamping, household appliances, printing) and has passed through many owners. From 1970-1991 it was even owned by the notorious billionaire Leona Helmsley, hotelier and tax evader.

In 1998 the Center was closed as it suffered major damage from storms and the printing company could no longer sustain. The RIC fell into major disrepair and sat vacant until 2003 when it was purchased by a local development company for 1 million dollars. Since then it has become a community hub for local artists and small businesses.

Detroit artist Kobie Solomon‘s “Chimera” mural is painted on the side of the RIC. Measuresing 8,750 square feet, it is the largest mural in the state of Michigan. Kobie combined a bit of Detroit history along with the four major sports teams; the Detroit Lions (NFL), Detroit Pistons (NBA), Detroit Red Wings (NHL) and Detroit Tigers (MLB) in his creation.

Fieldtrip

We made our way downtown and meandered through the enormous complex until we located the Art Building. Nancy was already there to greet us and let us in. We rode up in the old style industrial elevator — the unsteady, creaking, wire-barred kind you see in scary movies — to her studio.

We were greeted by a friend of Nancy’s, fellow Detroit artist, Darcel Deneau. She let us check out her extra large studio space filled with incredible glass mosaics of the city. When putting this post together, I discovered more about her art and her incredibly heart-breaking story.

Next we headed over to Nancy’s studio. It’s a nice size space that offers a lot of natural light. She let us explore for a bit and showed us some of her wonderful paintings. Then we all sat down for a bit, had coffee and snacks, and talked about art and life. Nancy is a natural born storyteller and she’s accumulated so many great ones over the course of her life. We all said she should write a book– it’d be a bestseller!

Just down the long corridor was another friend of Nancy’s who had agreed to let us peak inside his studio. Alan Bennetts is a young Detroit artist and recent graduate of the Cranbrook Academy of Arts MFA Program. His artist statement reveals the intention for his current project that we were treated to view up close:

I seek to examine the varied positions consumer technologies occupy in both our collective and individual perception. In particular, the way these familiar, often intimate objects fundamentally change when they cease to function in the way in which they were intended. AB

I was blown away by Alan’s eye for detail and steady hand in creating these incredible works of art. How in the world could he achieve such accuracy in the tones of grey, black, silver, white… I’ll never know.

I fondly remembered that we had many of the stereo pieces in the 1980’s and a wave of memories came flooding back — dancing to Madonna and listening to U2s, “The Joshua Tree” in our basement and watching my step-dad spend countless hours making mixed-tapes. It was a great trip down memory lane.

After meeting the artists and touring their studios we headed over to the Detroit Institute of Arts for a phenomenal private lecture from a DIA docent who really knew his stuff! It was turning out to be an incredible day! Stay tuned for Day in Detroit — Part II.

Diptychs

Our next assignment, and last for me, would be a diptych. Wikipedia defines a diptych as, ‘an artwork consisting of two pieces or panels, that together create a singular art piece that can be attached together or presented adjoining each other’. Earliest pieces were frequently hinged and depicted biblical or religious themes. Diptychs often represent opposition/contrasting objects or elements. A triptych (three panels) might represent a sequence or a change; like those prints you see in stores of the different seasons.

I couldn’t really decide on an idea for the diptych so I went with a picture I’d saved to paint some day. The image is of several farm animals standing together and taken by well-known animal photographer Rob MacInnis.

We worked on our pieces for the next several classes. These were to be our pièces de résistance — our masterpieces! Below you can see a few of the multiple iterations the animals went through as I tried to figure them out.


Unfortunately I wasn’t able to complete the diptych by the end of class term, but I did finish it up in the new year! More about that in my next post. Stay tuned…

Historical Art

One of our assignments focused on historical art. We were to paint something that we were drawn to from history; e.g., Japanese/Chinese scrolls, African or Native American designs/patterns or even a particular wallpaper pattern. Nancy gave so many examples, but I couldn’t find a one that I was particularly fond of or drawn to. So she helped me find a beautiful Kimono Dress online whose colors and pattern I liked. I focused on a small section and with large brushes on wood panel, I began painting.

I’ve never painted on paneling and it wasn’t the easiest. Although it had been gessoed, the paint didn’t want to flow easily, or maybe it was just me; afterall I hadn’t worked on anything that size before and maybe subconsciously I was intimidated not only by the scope, but the subject, since it was just chosen, I didn’t have any time to noodle it over — plan my attack– if you will. Looking back, yet another exercise in stretching that comfort zone I guess.

Kimono — 18″ x 48″ Oil on Wood Paneling

It’s not like anything I usually do, and when class came to an end, I wanted to paint for 5 more hours to get it up to my standards but I couldn’t. My family liked it, so I left it alone. But part of me wants to gesso over it and make something new. Any thoughts?

Paint

We talked a lot about the PAINT itself. Nancy was interested in how we ‘laid out our palette, moved the paint around, messed with it and put it on.’ She would say that we have to ‘attack’ the paint, not mix it gingerly, all willy-nilly; after all the goal is to create an original chemical compound from two or more — you have to use strength to recombine the molecules.

This idea of ‘recombination’ had never occurred to me. Now, every time I mix paint, I think of her words and remember how vigorously she mixed the paint and try to do the best I can with my messed up arthritic hands/ wrists/ elbows— it’s not easy. Instead of the effort and force shown, I mix the paint for longer hoping to achieve the same effect. It’ll have to do.

We did class exercises in Fast and Ugly and Pale Tonality using large canvases and brushes in order to get more fearless and “push the paint around more.” One of our home assignments was to make a small copy of a Van Gogh since he was a master ‘paint pusher’. I chose to copy one of his self portraits on a small square canvas. I used quick visible strokes and worked way faster than I usually do. In the end, he looked like a skinny version of himself, but I kind of liked that.

The experience of making the paint becomes part of the subject of the painting…if it is any good at all…

beautiful paint is honest paint…

and the great artists are our teachers…

Whose paint do you love the most?

NMM

6″ x 6″ Oil Painting on Canvas adapted from Van Gogh Self Portrait

Compromise

Our next assignment for the “Mitchnick Gang” was to work with, “UGLY PAINTINGS FAST and STRONG… to get into risk taking mode…and get energy flowing…” Nancy set up individual still lifes, at eye level, with various light sources and we went to work.

Although I heard her words, there is something within me that prohibits the sort of frenzied painting I interpreted as her meaning. A few times I have tried this, it usually turns out looking like a preschooler attempt and gets scrapped. I realize that is whole point of this type of exercise–right?–to move through and past your comfort zone so that you can make successful paintings.

Why am I so tentative– wanting to plan every detail, before even placing a single stroke down? I’m sure it comes down to a myriad of things: past teaching styles, my own slow, methodical nature, not wanting to waste precious paint, energy, time, etc. I’m sure the best answer is somewhere in the middle — a compromise if you will — Well, isn’t everything in life a compromise — when you really think about it?

Later that week I sent Nancy a note regarding my ideas for the painting and mentioned my thoughts on being a “fast” painter. Her response was most insightful, as always.

“You don’t have to go faster, you just need to simplify and get all the parts of the painting to hold together more beautifully and count (this is not easy… it is the abstract nature of all painting) different artists knit it all together in ways that have to do with their own vision and being… it is something you have to want to do… (not just get a clear image of what you are seeing… but build a little world where the absence of one part would have the whole set up fall apart… and not to many extras either… what is fine and necessary…sometimes a pretty bit is just in the way and has to GO… this really is work!

“The different bits need to depend on each other. It is another way to think… to make a painting that is always a pleasure to look at, the balance is mysterious… as you work towards this you may feel it in your spine, one thing for sure is to work seriously in connecting all the shapes and forms and SPACES…The space is still PAINT YOU KNOW… it is not nothing… it counts as much as an object… even if the observer never notices… we have to notice… All the elements have to connect and interact and hold together. All at the same time. Otherwise it is skillful and decorative and shows what you can do, but that’s IT! …it doesn’t always go anywhere or give you a base to build on… or simplify from.

“It’s bad news and good news. And one never stops learning… each body of work sets up new problems…and that is why it is so interesting and compelling… and never ends…

NMM

For some reason I can’t even remember the light source painting from class, but I went home and put together a little composition of my own using a bright table-top desk lamp as my light source. I raised it up a bit, so I didn’t have to deal with too much perspective.

Painting with Attitude

The name of our class was Painting With Attitude. Each week we were treated to new “Nancy Notes”– a bit philosophy, a bit about art – a bit about our upcoming class assignment. Here are a few of my most favorite nuggets from the third week of class.

Get The Paint On…

20” x 20” Oil on Canvas

…Your’e going to paint with strength and vigor…and not be afraid of making a mess of it…I hope we don’t have to get drunk like those dreadful painting parties….”

To the left is my completed assignment for the week. Began in class and finished at home.


“The way paint gets onto the canvas…attack… advance…softly… intensely brave…capable of being reworked.. scraped off and put back..but mostly with intention, force (light or heavy), fearlessly, serenely, but NOT tentative and weak…Or so thin that it’s barely there…

We have to go back…It is your nervous system that you need to connect to, your touch, your aggression that so many of us don’t allow ourselves. It isn’t easy to make gentle work that is strong… all the forms depend on each other… There is a way to be in the moment, conscious, where every mark does something…

One of the tests of a good painting is ‘how long can you look at it?’, Hang your work on the wall…if you get tired of seeing it after a few weeks or notice you never look at it…Well?

What makes the art we love so possible to never get tired of… has to do with the state of the artists mind as the work was being made …the kind of connections that were happening between the eye, and the hand and the mind.

“Why are mistakes so scary? Why does getting it ‘right’ mean only how it looks and not how it feels? What happens when it feels great but looks a mess? What do you have to do to make the paint alive and as necessary as the picture you are trying to copy? How do you the means and the subject to be equal to each other?

“When it works is it Magic?”

“How can you stand it when it is strongly painted but ugly?”

Can you leave your comfort zone? How far? A little tiny bit… a jump off a cliff? NMM

Painting Again — Finally

This Fall, I was finally able to find a good class fit at the BBAC and begin taking a painting class with an incredible instructor, Nancy Mitchnick. Before class started, I researched Nancy and was blown away by her credentials and was a bit intimidated, but the second I met her, I felt I had met a kindred spirit and knew immediately that I wanted to be friends with this incredible woman!

Nancy is a well-known artist originally from the Detroit area and was part of the “Cass Corridor Artists” in the 1970’s. She has taught art all over the country, including CalArts, Bard College, and Harvard.


Of course it wouldn’t be my life if I didn’t have some kind of accident. Two days before class was to begin I misstepped, in my own house this time, and fell really hard on the step that separates our dining room from the living room. Again, my bad knee hit first, then my right arm, then my head hit the corner edge of the wall. I was all alone, the boys were out joy-riding. My head was bleeding profusely and I just sat there crying holding my head. Thank goodness they came home within a few minutes, I was too shaken up to move. Once I was “fixed” up, I began to wonder if the universe was trying to tell me something. Afterall, this was the second time, in a row, that I had a bad fall just before art class was to begin. I thought about cancelling — again, but decided against it. “Universe be damned — I was taking that $%@#ing class, and you couldn’t stop me!”


And, I’m so glad I did! Our class was very small– just four students, all women, plus Nancy. It was the perfect size to get to know each other and become more than just a “class”, we became Nancy’s “Gang of 4” as she would often refer to us. Each Wednesday, I was truly excited to see what Nancy had in store for us! Of course coming from mostly an academic setting, Nancy was a task-master, very different from what we were used to at the arts center. But I loved it and felt like I was back in college again — only this time I was doing what I truly loved!

One of the best parts of the class wasn’t the class at all, it was receiving Nancy’s Notes via email a couple days prior to class. At 72 Nancy had accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience, not only about art, but life in general, and her weekly notes were a little peek into her brain– rambling and unorganized — but always thought provoking. I usually had to read them a few times to weed out the nuggets! They’re so fun that I’ve actually kept the collection.


One of our first assignments was to paint some type of material or fabric. My in-class attempt was terrible, so I scrapped it and painted a piece at home. The fabric I chose was a colorful zip-up sweatshirt/ jacket that I bought at an art fair years back. I hung it and using a picture frame mat I visually cropped the subject into an interesting and manageable size.

Work In Progress