Thursday, July 16, 2015

Art a la Mode

Iconic Ionian

In the Dorian Wood

Phrygian Fire and Depth

Lydian Lark

Mellifluous Mixolydian

Lent in Aeolian Mode

Lunar Locrian

     On Friday, July 17, 2015 my exhibit, Recollection will have its opening reception in conjunction with Lexington's Gallery Hop. Recollection is my DIY retrospective of the last 20 years of painting. My most recent work takes a little different turn; I am creating paintings inspired by musical modes. I am studying modes in my pursuit of becoming a certified healthcare musician through the Therapy Harp Training Program. I thought it would be fun to demonstrate the modes on my little Rees harp. During the reception, from 5 - 8 pm, I will from time to time give into this inclination. I hope you will join me at the MS Rezny Studio/Gallery, 903 Manchester Street, in the Distillery District of Lexington. You can tell me if my representations of the modes are on target!

   I will also have my harp on hand for the pick-up and drop-off day, noon - 3 pm, August 8th. This will be the last day for work for notBIG(3) to be delivered and the last day for Recollection. So it can be a pick-up date should you be a new owner of a Recollection painting. I will send you off with a song, a la mode!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Recollecting Twenty Years of Painting

Looking back on 20 years:  Echo, 14 x 22", watercolor/pastel on paper
paintings by Kathy Rees Johnson
MS Rezny Studio/Gallery
903 Manchester Street
Distillery District
Lexington, Kentucky
7-7-15 to 8-8-15

Recollection is my DIY retrospective exhibit and thus it gives me the opportunity to look back (and forward!) at my work as an artist. The act of organizing the show at the MS Rezny gallery has distinguished three eras in my artistic career:

1) Beginning, falling in love with the landscape:  My first painting in 1995 (At the Shore, below) was a landscape, even though, at the time, I found landscapes rather difficult.  That same year, I began taking annual pastel workshops with Fay Moore. For the third workshop, we focused on landscapes. The combination of using an underpainting with pastel and the pastoral subject matter lit a fire under me. Painting the landscape became a natural! This joyful rendering also had the effect of improving my eye, helping me to appreciate the landscape. It was also a way to remember favorite places. One such favorite place is Lyme Park, outside of Manchester, UK, represented above in my painting, Echo. 

The first painting: At the Shore, 15 x 30", acrylic on canvas
2) Strengthening family links:  Almost a decade into my painting career, I began making paintings from old family photographs.  An odd thing happened shortly after my paternal grandmother died; my father and grandfather arrived at my home with boxes of old family photographs. I did not question why they brought them to me, but I'm glad they did, because a few short years later, my father died in a tractor accident. As it turned out, that year, the theme of the annual pastel workshop was "memories". I took in photos from the family stash and realized this was a wonderful way to meet and remember my paternal ancestors.  While working on this series, my mother died and I knew that the same work could help me process my feelings around that loss, as well.

Outstanding in Their Field, 14 x 14", watercolor/pastel on paper

3) The future; sating a longing while embracing the present and past:  Making paintings from old family photographs certainly gave me an understanding that life is fleeting. We are here but a short time in this particular form. As I was approaching 60, I developed what I call my autumnal longing. There was a desire to do something new, see new sights, but also to be totally at home. How to do this? Well, I had harps that I kept strung and tuned. I realized that I could create soundscapes that could take me anywhere I wanted to go. Also, I could use music in a healing way. I enrolled in the Therapy Harp Training Program and became immersed and entranced with musical modes. This lead me to the exercise of illustrating the modes (please see my previous blogs), combining my love of creating images and making music. The final era is represented by the seven musical modes.

Going up: Mellifluous Mixolydian, Lent in Aeolian Mode, Lunar Locrian

I hope you can join me on this retrospective journey at MS Rezny Studio/Gallery! The opening reception is Friday, July 17th, 5 - 8 pm (Lexington's Gallery Hop night). On Saturdays, there will be Recollection Sessions. These are opportunities for you to come play with watercolor/pastel to create your own Recollection. All the materials are provided. There is a $25 materials fee. Please bring any photo references you might want to use. Recollection Sessions are: July 11, 18 and 25 and August 1st. Looking forward to seeing you!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Iconic Ionian

Iconic Ionian, 7 x 5", watercolor/Neocolor II
     And the first shall be last. The Ionian Mode is the basis for the other six modes. It is the fundamental C Major. Joanna Mell, in her book Modal Musings calls the Ionian Mode neutral. Perhaps that it why I waited until I had illustrated the others before tackling this mode. How do you represent neutral? But when I started thinking about that, I flashed to a study about what people find to be a beautiful painting. It turns out, that across all cultures there are commonalities in what constitutes such a painting. This painting would include the following elements: a water source, an open field, a path and the color blue. It was pointed out, that basically, the image would include what was needed to sustain human life: water, arable land, breathable air and the suggestion that humans had been there (path).
    The Ionian Mode represents abundant and happy life and the contentment of home. And that explains why the other modes exist; we can never leave well enough alone!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lunar Locrian

Lunar Locrian, 5 x 7", watercolor/Neocolor II
   The Locrian Mode is the last of the seven modes, and it is the most "unsettling" as Joanna Mell observes in her book, Modal Musings. The obvious reason is that it begins with a half-step. To me, the Locrian Mode sounds like outer space with planets spiraling ever farther. In particular, I think of Gustav Holst's  The Planets, and after a little exploration, I see that it is even more particularly, Neptune, the Mystic. I was thinking about the ending, where the voices are singing two alternating notes, a half-step apart. My mind's eye sees the spinning planets. Interestingly, while listening to Neptune, it seems that Holst is using the Locrian scale straight-up (and the harp is prominent).
    However, I am an Earthling, firmly tethered to the Mother Earth. Therefore, I am going to use our moon as my inspiration for illustrating the Locrian Mode. Yet, Mother Earth, straight up is probably in the Ionian Mode. To present a Locrian half-step twist, I will represent our moon with a shadow moon (not Moon Shadow, the Cat Stevens tune, which is Ionian, I believe). Our own moon, with a reflection, like what might happen when you are trying to take a picture of the moon through a window (which I did this very morning!) The Locrian Mode is a reminder that although we are firmly planted on Earth (the same seven tones) we are also part of the vast, infinite universe and beyond.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lent in the Aeolian Mode

Aeolian Arch, 7 x 5", watercolor/Neocolor II
Every Lent, I like to read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, preferably reading from the worn copy that belonged to my mother and still has her special page marker attached. The Secret Garden is the perfect story for Lent, or winter leading into spring for that matter. It starts with death and winter. Nature and humble humanity work wonders and the old, dead, matted detritus of garden and heart are pruned away to allow Spring to slowly, but surely bloom. It is the ultimate redemption story--my favorite kind.
    I also like to watch the l993 movie by Agnieszka Holland. At one point, the cook belts out Greensleeves as she rolls out her piecrust. Her song carries out of the house and echoes across the moor where Mary Lennox is warming to the idea of life. In her book, Modal Musings, Joanna Mell cites Greensleeves as the classic Aeolian tune. It occurs to me that the message of The Secret Garden is also of the Aeolian mode. It alternates minor and major chords to come to an "introspective, plaintive and hauntingly beautiful" truth.
   My painting here was inspired by scenes in the movie. I have layered minor and major chords in the landscape to make an Aeolian composition. Spring is coming!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mellifluous Mixolydian

Mellifluous Mixolydian, 5 x 7", watercolor/Neocolor II 
     When the thought first came to mind to pursue some sort of harp therapy training, I looked into a book by Kay Gardner, Sounding the Inner Landscape.  One of the things she considers in this volume is the history and use of musical modes, a subject I find quite intriguing. Gardner gives a bit of history of the modes and where they originated. It turns out that "Mixolydian" is credited by Plutarch to have been developed by Sappho on the island of Lesbos, thus Gardner suggests that "Mixolydian" is rightly named "Lesbian," and that we might make our "own conclusions as to why the Church and other sources named it Mixolydian." She calls this mode, "open and joyful", "extroverted and happy".
      This certainly rings true as I have been practicing and playing in this mode, thanks to the book by Joanna Mell, Modal Musings: Modes & Music.  This delightful volume is part of the Therapy Harp Training Program, the conduit for my pursuit of using the harp to help.  Playing through the original compositions by Mell has helped me to absorb the nature of the modes and identify the modes of common, and not-so-common tunes. The idea of making little paintings representing my interpretation of the modes also came out of this practice. The Mixolydian is indeed an "open and joyful" mode. I find that it easily trips off the fingers and is very much like a skip down a path to the open sea.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Lydian Lark

Lydian Lark, 7 x 5", watercolor/neocolor II
    Next stop on my musical modes tour, Lydian. To my ear, this is an odd mode. It strikes me as high key, with irregular steps. Perhaps my painting is too literal in interpreting these characteristics, but I can imagine ascending a path with oddly spaced stones, entering a mystical landscape.