Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Last Painting in Series of Eight ~ Swan Song

This last painting in the series of eight based on birds is about Swan. The largest of water birds, Swan enjoys a long life and stays with one mate for the duration, which may be why, in Hindu tradition, Swan represents the perfect union.

Since ancient times Swan has been thought of as a powerful totem, standing for beauty, grace, harmony, love, purity of soul, poetic inspiration; a symbol of muses and nymphs, associated with Heaven and connected to the Great Spirit. Swan feathers are used as healing tools. Figureheads of Swan have adorned the bows of ships for good luck and safe journeys, Aphrodite's chariot is pulled by a team of the birds and Zeus seduced Leda in the form of Swan, an example of the shape-shifting attributes from human to bird and vice versa. We think of Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake, with all its feathered, dancing maidens and Hans Christian Anderson's Ugly Duckling, the message of which is that our true beauty is within. But, look for quotes about Swan and you may be struck by how often the bird is referred to as a symbol of death. Many, including Chaucer, Tennyson, di Vinci, Coleridge and particularly Shakespeare use Swan in poetry and prose as an expression of the last beautiful gasp before death; the Swan Song.

Swan song; a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort or performance; refers to the ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song in the moment just before death.

There is much discussion and some debate about the origin of this belief that Swan sings a song upon expiring. Scientifically speaking, this may be because the Whooper Swan has been observed to make a noise as it dies. The sound is thought to be due to the bird having an extremely long tracheal loop through which air flows when its lungs expel a last breath.

How did I apply that concept to this painting? Just in the title, not because I'm retiring, or, not because I'm expiring any time in the near future, as far as I know, but just because this is the last in the series. There is not much in the imagery of the painting that expresses Swan, save the illusion to two black arching wings in the upper left hand corner. I did think of light and grace, creating the textured background of many pale patterns from block prints layered over one another.

Swan Song
Acrylic, charcoal, ink, painted paper collage, thread, oil pastel
24" X 18" X 2"

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Seventh painting in series of eight ~ On Our Own

This painting, the penult in the series of eight based on birds, is about Grouse. Grouse is a secretive little bird, close to the ground, camouflaged under the leaves by her dappled plumage. She is content to remain quiet and secluded unless she feels that a threatening thing has gotten too close, and then she will explode in a ruckus of flight. I can relate to that.

Grouse's mate is a splendid dancer and swirls around in beautiful spirals to get her attention. It has been a long time since I could relate to anything like that, but I do recognize the spiral as a symbol of power; of birth and rebirth; of renewal and creation.

With this painting I was thinking of these two parts of Grouse's story: the undercover aspect plus the dynamic movement of the spiral. Quiet introspection and movement, particularly walking, helps me feel more balanced in body, mind and spirit. On introspection: one of the books I have been using to research ideas for this series is Animal Messengers by Regula Meyer. The author suggests that Grouse offers us a new beginning concerning how we feel about ourselves. Like the singular bird, independent in her well-hidden nest, we can be honest with ourselves on our own terms and recognize that we are our own best advocate. If we don't depend on others to tell us who we are we can do what we do out of our own conviction, finding contentment in our own authenticity. Okay, that being said, I find it difficult to not depend on affirmations from others to feel that, for example, my paintings are valid. I want to know that they are reaching someone other than myself. But for this painting I did try to put that aside and work from my true self. Not sure I did that, totally, but I did think about it. The movement part; that is depicted with the spiral. In fact, I traced the Golden Spiral for the composition. The spiral shape got painted over at least ten times in different color combinations which distorted the proportions of the original figure. In the end I resorted to my fondness of white negative space enhancing a strongly contrasting field of color. The patterns in each (now distorted) section of the spiral are collage, painted paper. The 3-D bead-like additions are cut up straws wrapped in painted drafting tape. This is the only painting in the series that has a representation of the actual bird it is about. I like the shape of Grouse in profile, so she appears, tiny, in the emerging center if the spiral.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sixth painting in series of eight - Bouquets While Living

Benjamin Franklin was disappointed with the selection of the bald eagle as the representative of the United States, because of its "bad moral character". He felt the turkey was "a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America".

For Native Americans the turkey is the "Give-Away" bird. Turkey represents the act of giving with a joyful heart to the benefit of oneself, one's people and the earth.

A rafter of wild turkeys is a common sight where we live, particularly in the spring. Not long after we moved here Judy was surprised to see what she thought was a large armchair in the middle of the hay field. It took her a moment to recognize the big tom strutting his stuff.

The idea for this sixth painting in the series of eight about birds came to me immediately. I pictured flowers, a symbol of giving, with petals that could also be interpreted as the fan of feathers in a turkey's tail. Also, I was copying a detail that I liked from my most recent painting, Ravenous, up in the right hand corner, a small red fan with a black, triangular center.

Here is Turkey's painting, Bouquets While Living, in process...

The background started as did all the others in this series, by applying many layers of paint onto the wood panel with a spatula. Flower/fan/tail shapes were cut out of white tissue and applied with matte medium.

Stems drawn in with charcoal.

Painted wax paper was used for the petal/feathers and Thai banana paper for triangle shapes at the centers.

The effect of the colored paper shapes was too strong so white paint was rolled over the fan shapes through a stencil.

The surface still wasn't interesting enough so the whole thing got painted over with a roller.

The roller loosened some of the applied pieces, a look I liked, so I made the most of it by rubbing off the loose parts with my hands to reveal some of what was underneath.

The texture of the surface was accentuated with oil pastel.

Another set of petals/feathers was applied using some of the prints on deli paper made in November. I stuck with blacks, grays and earth tones on these new shapes, but tiny bits of blue and red peek through here and there. The deli paper is translucent, so the previous layers remain part of the image.

This time the small black triangles were made with a stamp cut from a rubber pad. Stamping more than once with one ink application gave them variety.

I know I said the effect was too strong when the petal/feathers were colors and that the effect in the finished piece may be said to be as strong, but I'm happier with the earthy palette. I decided to not redraw the stems in charcoal. You can see a trace of the lines from before, which is okay, but I like the ambiguity of these shapes being maybe flowers, but maybe they are things flying?

The title of the panting comes from this funny little piece written by Louis Thayer (1878-1956):

I fancy when I go to rest someone will bring to light
Some kindly word or goodly act long buried out of sight;
But, if it's all the same to you, just give to me, instead,
The bouquets while I'm living and the knocking when I'm dead.

Bouquets While Living
24" X 18" X 2" wood panel
Acrylic, charcoal, oil pastel, paper collage

Friday, January 13, 2017

Fifth painting in series of eight ~ Ravenous

This is the fifth painting in the series of eight with the theme of birds as totems. This one is about Raven, who has a number of things in common with Owl (previous post). They share ambiguous reputations as being both admired and thought of as omens of death. Ravens are associated with Magic. They bring messages from the void, the darkness, the black hole of space.

I started the painting with the idea of the dark void in the form of a circle, a powerful symbol. Another aspect of Raven lore that stayed with me from what I read was the number of stories about Raven in different cultures that have him as a white bird which came into some unfortunate circumstance that turned his feathers black.

Below is what the painting looked like at one point. The feathered being is made up of feathers that are changing from white to black. Each feather is cut from a piece of paper and positioned with matte medium. The fish shape and the small white birds (notice they are in flight as opposed to my usual stationary birds) are also cut paper.

I felt that the painting was getting too explicitly detailed here and didn't match the abstraction of the first four, so I covered the part I was unhappy with...

The covering layer is painted wax paper. Going over this with oil pastel highlighted the cut out shapes underneath. I tore the wax paper away from the feathered being and the acrylic had transferred to the surface because of the matte medium I had used to secure the layer - a happy accident.

Sometimes when I work on a painting for a long time, making many changes, as I did this one, I get to a point where I feel that it is finished, even though I don't know why, and I have to trust that if I leave it alone to be what it is, eventually I'll connect with it. I'm hoping that is the case with Ravenous, so titled because I was inexplicably very hungry for much of the time the painting was in process. I think it's possible that Raven was working Magic on me, trying to get my attention, telling me to listen for messages from those old places.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fourth painting in series of eight ~ Companion to Owls

The wolf is now my brother, and I have become a companion to owls. Job 30:29

This fourth painting in the series is based on Owl, a bird that has been both feared and revered over time. Thought of as a deceiver perhaps because of her silent flight, she has always been a denizen of the dark night, intensifying her reputation as harbinger of all things foreboding.

With her large eyes, Owl is also the seer of everything, all truth, and is therefore considered wise. Her wisdom was admired by the Greek goddess Athena, who made Owl her companion bird. Merlin had his Archimedes and everyone at Hogwarts was paired with an owl familiar. Pooh enjoyed the company of Owl, his scholarly mentor. It is Owl's role as companion I wanted to think about as I worked on this painting.

I started the painting with the black background to represent Owl's night environment. The white charcoal made great marks on the surface. It brought back childhood memories of scribbling on a blackboard with chalk. There is added collage and patterns are stamped on. The small hand is a gesture of offered friendship.

Companion to Owls, 24" X 18" X 2" wood panel, with acrylic, white charcoal, paper collage, ink, monoprints, sgraffito

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Third painting in a series of eight ~ A Message from the Skies

This third in the series of eight paintings based on totem birds is about the hawk. Hawk is the messenger in Native American culture. He reminds us to be observant, to be aware of our surroundings and to be open to receiving what we are being shown or told.

This painting was finished in the final days of 2016, looking ahead to the new year.

When I looked up "message" in Bartlett's I found this beautifully appropriate excerpt from Robert Burns' poem New Year's Day :

The voice of Nature loudly cries,
And many a message from the skies,
That something in us never dies.

A Message from the Skies, 24" X 18" X 2" acrylic, charcoal, ink, conte on wood panel.