Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"The World Will be Saved by Beauty"

In just the last few days, I have received multiple reminders of the importance of beauty in our lives. Even today, with the announcement of the winners of the Nobel prize in Physics, there were multiple descriptors of the "beauty" of the discovery of exotic topological matter. In a column today, David Brooks speaks of a "lovely" society. An exhibit of engravings by Fritz Eichenberg at my church in Paris, KY gave me the chance to learn more about The Catholic Worker movement and Dorothy Day. A statement about the work of Eichenberg ends with a quote from Dostoevsky, "The world will be saved by beauty." 

Each of these examples on the surface might not be typical subjects for beauty. Physics and mathematics are often a source of fear and loathing. Lately we are opining about society with scornful words and divisive rhetoric. And working to feed and care for the poverty-stricken does not immediately bring to mind beauty. 

How is beauty connected to physics and society? How can beauty save the world? Seeing beauty and appreciating beauty requires that we keep our eyes, minds and hearts open. The answers are not set in black and white concrete and not readily apparent on the surface. The beauty answer demands a closer look, a deeper understanding. In other words, we must learn to appreciate beauty. We can not appreciate beauty without learning. We must also have perspective. 

I have been thinking about this a lot lately because of a project in my hometown of Lexington, KY. It was a tattoo project where folks took words from a poem by Frank X Walker entitled Love Letta to the Worl'. A phrase from that poem has been popping up regularly around town, "unlearn fear and hate." This is a good sentiment, but how do we unlearn anything? There is only one way, by learning something new that dispels the old learning. We have to learn the lessons on harmony. This is what I learn from the poem. In fact, Frank X Walker's poem is such an all-encompassing and wondrous answer to what I am trying to say here that I will just suggest that you read his poem (and hear him read it), linked above. He takes in the whole world and loves it thoroughly.  I believe his poem can save the world.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Playful Interlude

Our haul from the Open Yourself to Play Art Workshop
In my last blog I wrote about building Redbud--the Kentucky Colors Harp. For five weeks I took over David's woodworking space, so I was delighted when the tables could be turned and David would invade 'my' territory: he said that he would be interested in attending an art workshop! Mind you, the actual 'terre' has significant David connections as the location of the workshop was St. Mary's Sewanee and David graduated from Sewanee a few years ago. The Ayres Center for Spiritual Development offers programs and retreats that refresh the soul. I was attracted to Lendon Noe's Open Yourself to Play Art Workshop. We were invited to return to art making for pure pleasure, playing and recreating ourselves. After a very serious gathering of art materials (the only thing I forgot was the pencils!) we set off for Sewanee and our renewal.

Lendon Noe inspires us with the art of Helen Frankenthaler
The first night, we practiced productivity with abandon, creating 3 or 4 (or 5?!) backdrops for the next day's work. I discovered that I really like to paint with my fingers and David particularly took to blowing ink around. All this activity, though in the evening and Central Time was invigorating. Could the work ethic for play carry over upon my return to the studio?
     We got up in the morning, took walks and had a fine breakfast (we were well-fed) and then got to work. We commenced to layer, mask and scrape; cut and glue. We outlined our hands. We wrote our names. We put tiny symbols all the way around and remembered about the sheer joy of making marks and cutting things up. In fact, I am getting a bit itchy right now, wanting to slam shut the laptop and start slapping around some paint!
After the afternoon session and before a wonderful Italian supper, I headed for the woods. This sylvan setting was conveniently located just below the bluffs where we playfully labored. The sun was slanting into the side of the mountain in a rosy fashion. I could imagine the scene in a month's time turning rustic with the autumn leaves. How could this be recreated on paper with my new favorite media combination: Pelikan opaque watercolors and Neocolor II crayons?

Lendon Noe finds the Blobimals and shows us how to find ours in our under-blob paintings
One playful idea lead to intriguing imagery. Lendon Noe introduced us to Carla Sonheim's Blobimals. We prepared our papers by putting down several watercolor blobs with tangents radiating out from them (not knowing that they would become blobimals! David discovered a shape that he particularly liked--and it was not an inverted donut. Very impressively, he began repeating this shape over and over, like a motif.

Can you see David's recurring motif?

My blobs were part of the same story. A carnivorous story, apparently, since there are meatball swans in the mix.

Cat Dreams
Sunday opened with a walk through the woods with my Beloved (David) an excellent breakfast which included hash brown potatoes with kale and quinoa. After that supreme nourishment, we had just enough time to make little gifts for each other. Tiny art is definitely something to take forward in my art making.
     Lendon gave each participant a parting challenge. David's was to: 1) Draw your favorite number 2) and fill it with imaginative detail 3) while listening to Rap music 4) Adding dark and light.  Mine was to: 1)Draw or paint what's up in the sky (look up!) 2. with your friend's favorite medium (that would be numbers, wouldn't it?) 3) while listening to nature music (or Adele) 4. Making red the dominant color. I know folks that have taken my workshops or classes will get a little laugh out of no. 4!
     David and I drove home with refreshed souls ready for what might meet us ahead. That turned out to be a couple of traffic jellies on the way. Still, a week later, there is invigoration and inspiration for new paths! Thank you, Lendon Noe and St. Mary's Sewanee!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Redbud--the Kentucky Colors Harp

A couple of years ago, I was thinking about a new chapter in life and I set my heart on having a green harp. That was not possible at that time and so I ordered a lovely harp, custom-made across the Ohio River in Sunrise, Indiana, and enrolled in a therapy harp program (Therapy Harp Training Program, THTP.)  I started playing harp at the local hospice care center and delved into the THTP material. My idea of what I wanted to do and create slowly came into focus.  People have a curiosity about my harp and they all have unique ways of relating to the music. It seems so appropriate to have a "local" harp. Could it be even more local and tailored to the music making that is called for?

The dream of building my own harp began to percolate, along with the desire to have a slightly smaller harp that was still a floor harp. Was this possible? The answer arrived this summer in the mail. It was a flyer from Musicmakers featuring the "Jolie" harp. It was such a pretty design and simple and the size and range were just right.  So I bit and bought the kit. It arrived within 3 days!

Being true to Kentucky, with a redbud branch design
on the soundboard
Part of my motivation was to have a harp that reflected the "place" of Kentucky. To me, warm cedar green and redbud violet are the true colors of Kentucky. I've written about this (please see Kentucky's True Colors, 3/27/12.)  The design on the soundboard would not be cherry blossoms or Celtic knots. It would be the simple sight of tiny, bombastic redbud blossoms and heart-shaped leaves.
"Clamping" the soundbox with bungee cords. The magic flyer on display
Painting the soundboard was the easy part. Now there was actual woodworking to be done. I now kind of know how to use a cordless drill, wood glue and a sand block--especially the sand block.

Blue masking tape holds the trim on during drying
The beveled edges of the trim had to be trimmed down to fit exactly in the corners. David had a handy little Japanese saw that worked perfectly. The trim goes over the hundred little brad nails that secure the soundboard to the soundbox. The tension of 32 strings on the soundboard will be mighty!

Neck and Pillar attached

Of course, most of the work was accomplished by the master craftspeople at Musicmakers. I am wondering how they cut out the pieces such as the neck and pillar. Screws are used to solidly bring these two together. Then we hide the evidence with little wooden plugs. The Japanese saw came in handy again to trim off the extra. 

The shoulder block and neck

Now comes the tricky--but also artistic--part. It probably would help to be a sculptor. The two parts must fit together, but apparently not absolutely. This was a leap of faith. Fortunately, the folks at Musicmakers were happy to calm me down.  My experience with making things and cutting into expensive fabrics, being willing to see and believe really helped, too. But definitely, the advice to take it one step at a time was priceless. Thank you, Musicmakers!

Sanded down and pegged!

This was very satisfying; to sand this down and shape the shoulder to support the neck.  I even had to do a bit of ad-libbing: using leftovers from the wood plugs to cover the screws on the shoulder block. 
Going green in the backyard

To have Kentucky colors on my harp, I wanted a warm cedar green to be hugging the soundboard. I felt a bit guilty because the cherry wood was quite pretty. A simple varnish would have been lovely. But, now was my chance to have my Kentucky colors harp and I could not wimp out! My stain job was not perfect. For example, the stain (Minwax Emerald) was reluctant to leave the tube, but when it did, it splattered on the pavers. I had to spray the pavers off and it splashed up on the soundbox. Oops. I thought it had dried, but the pattern of the spatters show up in the stain job. But, the rustic finish, with the ruddy cherry wood showing through, is quite a bit like Eastern Red Cedar.  Following were layers of varnish and lots of drying time.

Finished, before stringing

I allowed about a week for varnishing, sanding and drying. The varnish was an easy wipe-on that I was able to order from Musicmakers. I figured they would know which finish was best for a harp! Then I put the harp together. Musicmakers has a very clever design that allows the neck and pillar to be removed for shipping or refinishing. This engineering does mean that at this point, the harp is a bit wobbly. Will it come together and be solid?

All strung and keeping Rossignol company

Yes! It all came together and now I am tuning and tuning, bringing Redbud to a stable state so she can go out and bring comfort to my fellow Kentuckians.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Visions Differing

One Day Wonder Workshop at MS Rezny Studio/Gallery

We are deep in the season of opinions--loudly voiced opinions--and it is wearying. That is why it is good to remember that, in truth, we all have different opinions. We all see the world differently. We can't help it, because we see the world through our own eyes and the filter of our own experiences. The good news is that these views can be beautiful.

This was illustrated for me just this weekend when I taught a "One Day Wonder Workshop".  During these workshops, I extol the virtues of combining media such as watercolor and pastel. They have complementary characteristics (the watercolor goes wherever the water flows and pastel brings out the surface pattern of the support). Our first exercise is to consider what we want to say with our painting, what attracts us to our selected subject. Then we figure out how best to bring out our message. There were four participants and each had a different vision to declare. Let's have a look!

Mark paints hay bales surrounded by the mountains of North Carolina

Mark drove over from North Carolina to take the workshop. He showed us images of hay bales standing in the fields and spoke of how beautiful it was to come upon the sight, being quite specific and curious about how the light played upon the cylindrical bales. The way he spoke about the quality of light on the mountains at different times of day let us know about Mark's sense of place. Mark is also a furniture maker and his Windsor chairs, with their supportive vertical rods are reflected in the tractor tracks in the field. A quality of comfort in the gentle curves of his chairs is shared with his home landscape. Amazingly, Mark said this was his first painting.

Meg paints the winter bleached wood and grasses of coastal South Carolina

Meg is a friend and a font of knowledge! In fact, she looked up for us how to hold an image on our iPads and iPhones. She brought in a selection of images and this one particularly lent itself to watercolor and pastel. The aesthetic calls to mind Meg's love for Asian art: it was asymmetrical and had a certain sparse quality. While we were working, Meg told us about an art instructor who came to her house and evaluated her collection according to what makes art successful. One factor is that images should be 1:2 in dark versus light areas, or vice versa.  Interesting that Meg selected an image with a dramatic value contrast. It also features her favored indigos and aquas.

Jan paints a bright field-scape with her nephew's barn home in the backdrop

Jan has a very creative family and she is not afraid to have an adventure. In fact, her everyday world is filled with the wonders of dolls and toys--she runs a Doll & Toy Museum! The image she chose was also quite conducive to rendition in watercolor and pastel, looking at all the texture in the foreground. I had suggested for those with skies in their images, that they start there first and Jan quickly created a magical and lively sky. The task was to extend that liveliness throughout the composition. This was not easy as there were disparate elements to represent. The texture and movement of the Goldenrod and Queen Anne's Lace took some special thought. Jan persisted and succeeded in a joyful creation.

Deborah paints a donkey with a foggy backdrop

Deborah has taken multiple classes and workshops with me. Each time, she has painted something a little different and it is always remarkably effective. Her deep appreciation for beauty in all kinds of settings has led her to adventures around the world and close to home. Just the previous weekend, she had been to a special Jane Austen festival in Louisville, KY. So she is open to new experiences. She spotted this image on Facebook--and your's truly had posted it! A very distinctive donkey appeared through the Nicholas County fog. The challenge here (which Deborah is always ready to take) is rendering a very nuanced backdrop which conceals, yet also describes the distant landscape. Deborah accomplished this brilliantly. I believe she was calling this "Gloomy Sunday"!

What joy to spend some time appreciating how we see things differently. All this took place in the setting of "Firmly Rooted 2016" the juried show now on display at MS Rezny Studio/Gallery. We enjoyed working in the midst of all these other visions. Come on over and have a look!

Firmly Rooted 2016 up through August 20, 2016
MS Rezny Studio/Gallery, 903 Manchester Street, Lexington, KY
Tuesdays - Fridays 11 am - 4 pm, Saturdays 1 - 4 pm

Monday, June 27, 2016

Blessed Perception

Universal Color, 12 x 12", watercolor/pastel*
I listened to a fascinating Interfaith Voices program. The discussion was on near death experiences. The descriptions were compelling and appealing. The close proximity to death had the feel of a rich hyper-awareness. Later, reflecting on what I heard, I noticed that it was mostly about perception. Perhaps this was to make the case for an entity existing beyond the physical body. Certainly, the observations made while the brain was not functioning were extensive and accurate; also much more thorough than might be expected by a fully functioning, alert person. A woman spoke of her hearing and vision being so much more acute than usual. What I didn't hear about was judgment. Kind of funny for something we relate as being the "judgment day"! Perhaps we need to be more concerned with perception than judgment. Might this bring more peace to ourselves and the world?
Okay, now I am going to pivot to a sell: This is your invitation to take a day to revel in perception. A big part of my One Day Wonder Workshops involves consciously using our objective and subjective perceptions to create what we want to create. Interested? Here is the information:

One Day Wonder Workshop: Experimenting with Watercolor and Pastel
Saturday, July 23, 2016
10:30 am - 3 pm
MS Rezny Studio/Gallery
903 Manchester Street, Distillery District, Lexington, KY  40508
$75, this will include all the art materials. Just bring your own reference photos and or ideas
Limit 10 persons

To sign up, email: mail@msrezny.com or kathyreesjohnson@gmail.com

* I made this painting about a decade ago. There was a discovery of "the color of the universe" which was described as your grandmother's kitchen aqua. I made this painting inspired by the finding, but then the scientists realized their calculations had been off, and the universal color was actually beige. Ah, well... Surely when we are in our world beyond, we will see all the colors in the universe!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Accidental Inspiration

Mother, Mother Are You There? 7 x 5", mixed media 
I've been thinking about my recent affinity for combining musical and visual elements in creating. While on a walk, I struck upon the possible roots of  this inspiration. When I was about ten years old, my mother returned to college so that she could be certified to teach elementary school. Part of the curriculum included a cultural arts class that required attending performances (and I am just now flashing to students requesting programs to prove that they have attending concerts, etc.) For some reason, I was the kid who accompanied my mother. Though the way that I came to attend these performances was serendipitous, the experiences are burnished into my inner being. I have remembered and referenced the music and the images throughout my life. Mind you, I didn't immediately retain such information as the name of the opera or ballet, but rather images and fragments of music. In one of the performances, a young woman sings, "Mother, Mother, are you there?" She is a figure bathed in a cool blue light surrounded by darkness. I retained this single line for several decades before learning from my church's music director and font of knowledge, that it is from Gian-Carlo Menotti's The Medium. I purchase a recording and listening now, decades later, I can see why I was haunted by the music. My memory of that line is fairly accurate, no doubt because of this haunting quality and the recurring call.

Fire Forest, 9 x 12", mixed media
A second vivid experience involves another dark scene with a bright accent (do you suppose this is why I wound up with an Art History degree--I like being in darkened rooms with illuminated images?) The stage is almost completely black and there is a flaming red figure flitting across, left to right. You probably know that I was at a performance of The Firebird, but it was some time later, probably at another performance that I recognized what I saw as a child.

I imagine we also went to art exhibits and attended concerts to fulfill the requirements of my mother's course, but it is the events where strong visuals and haunting music were united that my imagination and memory become particularly engaged.  I love the richness and the feeling of being fully immersed in the experience. There is a Part II to this story and I'll save that for another day. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

In the Night Garden

In the Night Garden, 12 x 12", mixed media

I requested a digital audio recorder for my birthday this year, and I received it! The wish came to me as I have been creating small paintings illustrating how the seven (most famous, Western) modes connect with the seven chakras, or energy centers in the body. Last year I made a series of small paintings about these seven musical modes. They were part of my Recollection show last summer. At times during the exhibit's tenure, I would take my harp down to the MS Rezny Studio/Gallery and perform little impromptu mode renditions. Something clicked and I began to develop musical thoughts as I created new paintings.

This has opened new avenues for paintings as well. It works both ways. I think about music and paintings appear in my mind's eye. I was enchanted by the scene, In the Night Garden as we were returning to Pineapple Hill Inn Bed & Breakfast after a splendid dinner. It was a gentle night and the blue was so soft; the red umbrellas bright accents. The heron statuary stood guard over the burbling koi pond. I knew I wanted to make a painting and I wanted to make music, too.

I looked around for a support to make a painting; a painting more inspired by feeling than truthiness. Bending down to check on my prepared boards (watercolor paper affixed to 1/4" birch plywood) I spotted a board which had been "deckled" by our first dog, Carly. I think she liked the clay-based wallpaper paste that I use to attach the paper. Around two edges, there was a half-inch to inch gap in the paper.  I decided to experiment and brushed gesso on the bare board. Since working with children on an art project earlier this year, I have been keen on Cray-Pas Junior Artist Oil Pastels. I started coloring in my image with those, to use as a resist to layers of watercolor. I worked back and forth between the Cray-Pas and the watercolor, adding layers of watercolor as needed to bring a velvety darkness to the scene. I discovered that the watercolor and Cray-Pas would not sufficiently cover the gessoed areas, so the big guns were called in: I used Sennelier oil pastels generously, as it turned out, over the whole painting. I am a believer in using what is necessary to bring about what I envision. This worked.
After I finished the painting, I propped it up and started playing on the harp, letting the imagery inspire my music. There is a link to the music below if you would like to have a listen.


 In the Night Garden on SoundCloud