understanding a painting – summer abstract 2020

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Shifting through Time

when you find yourself in front of a painting you don’t understand
stay there
stand still
wait
and look…

look for a shape you recognise
look for a colour you’ve worn
look for a line that could be part of your own name

search, imagine

if you scraped back a layer
what might lie beneath?

can you find the first time you fell in love?
can you find the first time you were afraid?
can you find the first layer of paint laid down when you were still in the womb?
your first word
your first step
your first act of defiance

search, imagine

when you find yourself standing in front of a painting you don’t understand
stay there
stand still
wait
and look

you are watching your own life unfold

 

This started out as a much different painting –
an attempt to convey a family separation that happened in my early years.
I wasn’t happy with the painting, it felt too contrived and stiff.
When I decided to paint it out and start again –
suddenly – with those two sweeps of white – it was as if I’d overwritten the past
and shifted into the present.
Strange how things work out …

The poem was written in April 2019 – some sort of foretelling going on there.

clairegriffin©2020

 

painting

A work in progress – nearly finished.

A few thoughts on painting …

I’m finding that I’m becoming more able to look at a rough shape in the early stage and “see” the thing I’m wanting to paint.

I’m working from a photo – I can see that, all the details, but I have to be able to see it in a different way – it’s as if I have to take the image inside and then project it back out onto the canvas.

And in that process things change a little – colours, composition.

It becomes real in my mind’s eye first – and then I need to create that on the canvas. That’s the challenge, the frustration – finding how to bring that inner vision into reality.

And another discovery – when I’m painting for someone else (as with this) it doesn’t feel right to share until they’ve seen it first. So I’m only comfortable sharing very early stages or oblique views – it’s as if – once I’ve started – it doesn’t really belong to me.

shadow fire

a year ago today I said farewell
to my street child, my gypsy girl
my wild, fierce heart, my black queen

but in fact – she was never mine
she was always her own true self
a role model of feisty independence

she chose the best of times to cross over
and three weeks later she returned
to briefly burn

blue flame
shadow fire
spirit lightning

she stained my hands
indigo, alizarin, umber
she pushed my heart past fear and into passion
took me to the edge of obscured potential
of an essential choice

I felt the surge and flux
the rising breath
and leapt

©clairegriffin2018

learning to see

Its time I posted these thoughts.

I started writing this in June – and for some reason wasn’t sure about sharing. But its time now…

In the last few weeks of last year I went to a short series of art classes, deliberately choosing the option that would challenge me the most, drawing and painting.

This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never felt capable. Part of the problem is that I’d never learnt how. I’ve had a shocking tendency to think that if I can’t just naturally know how to do something straight away, then I’ll dismiss it by saying its not for me. (I know that this must be some form of self protection – but let’s not go there now…). And even when I have discovered something I’m good at, I haven’t kept working at it. Persevering hasn’t been a strength. Writing is probably the only thing I’ve really stuck at.

So – these art classes, about seven sessions – following the guidance of the tutor, his techniques, his encouragement, and sometimes, his direct acts of correction and teaching – it was a revelation.

I discovered I could draw – from a photo at least. I’m still working up to drawing from life.

So – the first session began with the instruction to try to draw the person sitting opposite. This is what I thought was a reasonable effort:

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What was I thinking?

Then later that session, following the guidance of the tutor, and working from a photograph, I managed this:

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And then the following weekend I did this drawing at home: (from a photo of Virginia Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen).

I was learning to look – learning to see.

During the next few sessions we explored different media and techniques, mixing colours, and I discovered the joy of painting with oil.

My elderly cat Frida died towards the end of the sessions. A week or so later, I went to the next class, and tried to engage with a couple of the photos provided as prompts for painting, but it felt as if it was forced, almost as if there was a rhythm I could sense but not connect with. So I restarted using my own photo of my girl – and if there is a “flow” then I fell deeply into it.

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I didn’t quite realise what I was doing until I heard a couple of “ooh”s and “aah”s from behind me. I stepped away and walked across the room – turning back – it was as if Frida was shining through the darkness. “Ghostly” was a word one or two others used.

I remember feeling quite spooked, quite stunned that I’d come close to her likeness, and that it had such an eerie quality. I was happy – but also in quite a strange state of mind – floating. To be honest, not really in a very focused state to start the 40 minute drive home. A near miss at a round-about shocked me into paying attention, and made me realise what a strange state I was in.

Can animals come through to us?

Can we channel their energy?

Was the thin veil still open, so I was in tune with her essence?

Did she come through to me, gifting me with an ability to see and create that I longed for but hadn’t known til now?

That’s how it felt. As if she had been present – and it wasn’t a “cat” presence. It was an energy, a pressure, a transference. As if there was more to her than I had realised when she was in cat form. And I haven’t stopped, I’ve kept working.

We got another cat. A sweet, nervy, anxious creature. I painted him that summer.

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This year, I started a painting of my friend’s dog. I wasn’t happy with the background, so I started another.

Just a few weeks ago I gave them both to her. And it felt good to release them into the world.

So – this is why there hasn’t been so much writing on here lately. This new passion has taken hold. And it feels like something I will persevere with. I know I’ll have days when I’ll feel as if its all rubbish and I should give up. But I’ve seen enough to know that this is something I can do – and I love it.

My goal – to keep learning – and to find a way to combine words and images – perhaps to have text as part of a painting.

Its going to keep me busy for a long time…

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So this is why I’m not getting much writing done at the moment. My attention has shifted towards the visual and I’m working on painterly things. Learning materials and techniques and experimenting.

I remember someone telling me years ago that the first thing you create should be given away. I released this little beauty into the world last night. A golden gift for a golden anniversary.

December 


relax, walk, watch the sun set 

It’s that time of year – two more weeks of work – then the summer holiday. This is the time of year when I have time to slow down, and reflect. It’s the time of year when I used to explore new ideas, try out new pursuits. 

What I’m proudest of this year is that I’ve made time, taken time, for personal interests throughout the year – specially the latter half of this year. I’ve started drawing and learning to paint. I’ve noticed that as I shift into this visual world my writing has gracefully taken a back seat – but I’m sure it’s going to surface again soon. 

What I’d love for next year is to find a way to combine paintings and text into artworks that balance both sides of my soul.