(The Arts) define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation

“The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it. Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation.”

― Michelle Obama

(The Arts) Define who we are...
“(The Arts) Define who we are…” Michelle Obama”

What will the next generation say about the non profits who approach artists of all types, and with a tug on the heart strings, request artists to donate their art for their cause, without recompense? What will the next generation say about the artists who give in for the illusion of “helping”, or “exposure” and the dream of “promotion”?

I would like to see a statement by those people who support the non profits, and who also support the Arts, whether it is music, art or drama, by standing up and saying to these non profits “you will see no more of my funds until you pay the artists and give them the respect they deserve”….

Is that a dream? Maybe. But I am a dreamer, and I believe it can be so.

Who would you like to see?

Roberta “Pyx” Sutherland

The first night in Otranto at the BAU Institute’s welcome dinner, I met a fellow Canadian named Roberta Sutherland.

She goes by the name Pyx, and lives on Hornsby Island, BC. Her name has since been Italianized and she has transformed in to Pyxia!

Imagine my surprise when she told me the reason she was at BAU was because she heard me on the CBC NxNW radio program talking with Alya Ramadan about going to Italy with BAU and how excited I was!

She loved it so much here, she asked to stay an extra week. She leaves on Friday to go to Spain for a few days and then back home. We will miss you Pyxia!

Check out Pyxia’s artwork on her website:  http://robertapyxsutherland.com/

Internet connection thoughts – free(!) wifi or Internet cafe?

Arrival in Otranto was wonderful. It was like walking back in to a different time, a different part of existence. I realized that time and space was not the same here, as the rest of the world. There is magic here. Traveling throughout the country side, it felt that the elements themselves held sway: by the Adriatic Sea, it was water and air, and the deeper inland, it was fire and earth. Kinda reminded me of the Robert Jordan tale of Rand Al’Thor and the Aes Sedai.

How to keep connected to the outside world was a hard one for me to decide. Because of my budget, I had to forecast how much the internet cafe would be, and how much purchasing a phone would be. At the internet cafe, it cost about 2EU for half an hour, and that was the minimum amount of time that I was spending on the net per day. I did all my typing at home on my mac, and brought a thumb drive to upload. Even so, keeping up with  my family, my husband and children, was an important thing for me to do.

The town has a free wifi, but in order to get a login, I had to send a txt message to them. The response from them was one’s login and password. Seemed easy enough. My blackberry worked with SMS, but I never got an answer back. After a few attempts and trouble shooting (which cost about $25 Cdn in SMS charges) I realized that it had to be an Italian phone. Checking out prices, I found I could get one for about 50EU.

Weighing out the costs, I decided to purchase the super cheap Samsung cell phone. No bells and whistles, it only does calls and SMS, no camera etc. I already had a camera in my ITouch, so it was not important. Instead the importance was cost. I did have to provide my passport as identification, but that was not a problem.

The phone was 25EU, activation was 10EU and I got a 5EU prepaid card. For being in Otranto for 30 days, at a minimum of 2EU a day, was 60EU. Even with the SMS charges already billed, it made sense to do this, so that is what I did. Plus, when I come back next year, I will be able to use it again, and it is good to have in case of emergency should we need to call anyone during the remaining time in Italy.

The only downside of this equation is that the service is not guaranteed, it is interrupted and disconnected often, and it is very slow. But for what I need to use it for, it is excellent. And with this much magic in the area, how can it not affect the mundane connections?

Lastly, if you are ever in a cafe in Italy, ask if they have wifi. The answer may be yes, they just have to turn it on.  There is also a required by law pre-amble of proper use (i.e. no porn sites), but the shop owner is happy to oblige. He will tell you what the connection name is, and just let him/her know when you are done, with Finito, grazie!  I leave a few EU for them, as a thank you when they do not charge.


Geckos … Geckos everywhere!

I’m not a bug person. So glad that geckos are.

There have been only a few select times in my life that I have seen geckos, and they have accompanied me on my journeys.

Accompanied is not quite the right word, more like … appeared. But it seem like they accompany because of the timing. They show up when I have made major decisions, or maybe I am just aware of them during these times.

These past two weeks are an example of this.

There may be many geckos in Italy, but these are beings that only show themselves to you when you are ready, or when your window of enlightenment has opened. I think … But to have them appear, and understand their significance is different than to have them appear and be dismissed. I think ….

The first gecko I saw was when I got home from Lecce the first time June 4. I almost did not see him, he was fairly transparent on the white wall. First I thought it was a chameleon, but then I was told it was actually a gecko.

Gecko on my wall coming up the stairs
Gecko on my wall coming up the stairs, the wall is actually white, and he was pink-ish

The second gecko I saw was in my first studio – and I am not even sure how I managed to see it, it was so tiny and far away on the ceilings, which were about 12 feet high.

There's a gecko in my studio
There's a gecko in my studio (now everyone will want one)

After that, they seemed to be following me, or making themselves known. They would scurry beside me as I walked in the fields to the beach, or when I walked around the castle. They have been my companion ever since, and I am glad of them.

There is something reassuring about the gecko, for me, not being a bug person … but there is deeper significance and more to geckos  … across cultures they are symbols of transformation and regeneration. Here is a really well written post from Dance of the Spirit. http://danceofthespirit.com/notables/4275/

“As a twilight and night creature, they are among the “dream-keepers” and “shape shifters”. Also, because of their molting, color changes and the fact that they usually mate in the spring months, Geckos represent transition and transformation, death and rebirth, metamorphosis and letting go of old things for the new.  Geckos also stand for our ability to overcome and cope with challenges. They remind us of wondrous emergence from transition as they depict dream guidance, beauty, mystery, communication, mysticism and awakenings.”

Now everyone will want one.

The Child Venus – Giving permission to run

This is part of my project Venus is Rising, which include selected thoughts on acknowledgement and separation from the patriarch, and the emergence of the acceptance of my feminine self:

One of the focuses in my life has been that of perception.  I am continually questioning what I see and understand, because the mind is a very powerful thing. I’ve always done that, but am now doing it with conscious purpose.

The latest artwork has to do with perception, how I experienced life as a young child, how I saw the world around me, how could I change it?

I think I’ve grown a lot. I am not longer the subservient-insecure-afraid-of-her-own-shadow-please-love-me-I’ll-do-anything-you-ask-how-can-I-please-you kind of person. In a recent email, my sister, who is eight years older, called that “respect” and wishes that person would return.

I do not.

The latest artwork explores me as a child. As I was painting it, I thought it was self-indulgent. I have never painted myself specifically before, never really gave my own self obvious attention. It was necessary however, as I tried to talk to that little girl of about two years old staring out at me from the old photograph. That photograph was a photo of the original and was starting to fade, like the memories it inspired.

The particular photograph I used has a story on it which involves my father telling me that I ruined it, because I would not smile like my brother and sister. It was the only picture that was ever displayed in the house of us three together, besides those yearly school pictures – it was a continual reminder of how I failed as a member of the family, failed to conform.

I was very sensitive as a child, some said overly so, but I did take to heart very seriously what people felt or thought. I took on the responsibility for others’ feelings and actions, and trembled at any sort of discord.

I don’t think I am alone in these feelings. I think there are others who are looking to find and connect with their own child.

I spoke to that little girl as I was painting her. Many times I almost quit, but I recognized there was a symbolic act in giving her this attention. Her face through the process went from sad, to insecure and scared, to angry to as she is now, I feel her being calm and confident.

The Child Venus, acrylic and charcoal painting on board 4'x4'
I told her there will always be others happy to lay blame on anyone else, doesn’t matter who, to avoid taking responsibility for themselves and their feelings. I told her it was not her place to accept that. I told her that things would be okay, that there will always be people in this world who did not appreciate her, and that they were not worth her time or effort. And on the other hand, there were going to be many jewels of personality that she would be thrilled to know and trust. I told her to stand up straight and not to be afraid to be strong, and explained that being strong means doing and saying things that might not be popular. I told her that being popular was over-rated, that being popular meant there was an implied requirement to conform, with the threat of popularity being withdrawn if you didn’t.

I told her no one was perfect, and that that was okay. It wasn’t being perfect that was important, it was being kind. I told her that she was a nice girl, she had a giving heart, and that will always win in the end, because there really are people who prefer truth and honesty.  I gave her all the hugs and smiles she ever wanted.

I told her that there will always be that big sunny field where she could run and play and sing and cry and stare at the sky making animals from the clouds. I told her to go run and play now, that all would be okay.

Upon reflection, I realized that field was always important to me. Whenever I came to a turning point in my life, there was always a big empty field. Many times I contemplated leaving this physical plane, but there was always that field. That field had so much potential, and if nothing else, I love potential; the idea of something new, something that maybe I missed, that maybe could be found. The idea that there is something just beyond the horizon, that I just had to walk to get there. I couldn’t leave without having explored that first.

Looking from the outside in, it makes me sad for opportunities lost for any sort of relationships with my brother and sister, but I understand now that was not my fault and that I shouldn’t personalize it. They had and still have their own troubles to deal with. While my childhood was very confusing because of the expectation I had of safety and security, trusting in the adults to take care, I understand now very clearly that any interaction I had with others was more a reflection of their own lack of understanding of themselves, and I acknowledge this without prejudice. I think a lot of people are experiencing this sort of revelation of their own childhood. Either they are understanding the source of their pain, and recognize it, dealing with it as they do, or they have not yet realized they have the supreme power to relegate it to its proper place in their lives: that of fertilizer for future growth.

Memories can either control us, or be controlled by us. Memories can either inhibit or inspire. It is always one’s own choice. Smile and wish the memories well, as they go on their way.

Even coming to that understanding was an epiphany.  It is very freeing, and there’s that field waiting ….

Why I am an artist, and not a ….

Why do I create art?

I have many skills, I am smart, I can certainly do other jobs, other careers. So why do I create art?

Because it is a way to communicate beyond words. Because it is my goal to learn about the human experience, through my own and relate to others, to create worlds where we live – we live in more than one – and accept ourselves including our faults. To understand and convey we don’t have to be perfect to be loved or accepted. Because I believe truly that we are not alone, even though we live lonely lives. Because even though we are separate beings, I believe that an experience I have, is shared and understood by many others. Because I believe that we have no other option but to connect to each other, whether emotionally, mentally or spiritually.

Picasso said “We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” (The Arts, Picasso Speaks, 1923)

I create art to discover my own truth, to get at the grassroots – the authenticity of existence. I am not out to shock the world, or to shock my neighbours or create works that please others or follow a fad. It is to create work that pleases me – and by doing so, understand myself, and, as a consequence, others. My goal is not to be the best artist or the most famous artist, or the richest artist; my goal is to be an honest artist, an adventurer, with the courage to speak my truth.

Should I name my artwork?

I used to be a proponent of leaving my artworks untitled – but now I think that is a big mistake, and an opportunity missed.

The philosophy of the un-named artwork being the undiscovered, unbiased potential available for each viewer does have merit. It does provide an open door for the person viewing the artwork to make their own judgements, their own opinions. It does detach the artist from the artwork, so that it can stand alone. It allows the viewer to focus on the surface, the methods of creation, the formal elements such as composition and rhythm. But after that, then what? Maybe that is enough?

Naming an artwork is a lot of work, on the part of the artist. It is a big responsibility and it requires the artist to be vulnerable.

Usually, people will see the artwork from far away, and be introduced to its colours, its composition, the vibe. Something will have caught their eye, and make them curious. After a person approaches an artwork, they will either look at it some more, walk closer, or walk farther to see it at a distance, or they might stoop to see the writing on the card. I like watching people to see what they do – it is a curiosity of mine, to consider if they are right brained or left brained. Right brained will like to explore the work first. Left brained people want the facts. Neither is wrong, it is just interesting to see the approaches.

I look at naming the artwork as an opportunity to provide a mini artist statement, a way for the person to connect to the artwork through words. The naming of an artwork provides a whole other dimension for the viewer, and sometimes even the artist, to explore. The consideration of the title requires the artist to look at their work and themselves. The title helps to consolidate their thoughts, or introduce new ones. Naming an artwork can be scarey, and it can be tremendous fun.

For the viewer, for those who have taken the time to wander through the artwork first, it gives them an idea of what the artist was thinking or feeling. For the left brain person, it gives them an additional fact about the painting that might not have been apparent. For each though, it gives them something else to think about.

Titles can indicate methods, or maybe it is part of a series, or an example of a smaller concept inside the whole. Maybe there is some other esoteric reason for the title. Maybe it was the music being listened to while it was created. Maybe the title is exactly what the artwork is “House on a Hill”. The title can be a strong indication, without expressly saying, what the philosophy of the artist is, it is implied with the structure of the words.

The whole reason for the existence of art is to express and communicate, isn’t it? It is for me. To communicate effectively, I think you have to try to reach more levels of understanding or awareness, unless your goal or your inclination is to be exclusionary, and only appeal to a select group of individuals. I remember when I was small, it was the fad for people to speak pig-latin, and only if you knew the format of pig-latin could you understand or speak it. How many people speak pig-latin today on a regular basis? Where is its longevity or the endurance? Fads come and go – do you want your work to have staying power, or are you content that people have forgotten it, when another Abstract Red #3 comes in? Will they remember yours?

Titles are hard work. But worth it. Think of the worlds you would be opening up for someone, and for yourself.

Self Reliance, the key to your success

“Man is his own star; and the soul that can
Render an honest and a perfect man,
Commands all light, all influence, all fate;
Nothing to him falls early or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.”
Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher’s Honest Man’s Fortune

If you have not read Sir Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance, you can do so here.

While this text was written in 1841, the ideas and attitudes he puts forth are more applicable today as they were back then.  It talks about taking charge of your life, and your actions. It talks about not blaming others for what happens to you. It talks about not being the victim anymore. Are you ready for this ….?

I’ll start you off ….

“ESSAY II Self-Reliance

I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. ….” Continue reading.

Butterflies do it – the concept of faith

One of the things I have been dealing with over my life is the concept of faith, what it is, and how it works.  In the past I have wanted everything defined, marked, columnized, articulated, specific. Who what where when why. As I move away from this left brain existence, I still have no answers, no definitions, and that I have come to the conclusion that that is okay. I feel that just by accepting this small premise is a step forward.

My father died in 2008. As mentioned in this post, he was a very important part of my life. I’ve thought about his life time, how he treated people, how he lived in the world …. and I feel sad for him. He lived in fear – fear of his own abilities. For whatever reason, he shut himself down, I am sure before I was even born, and he allowed no light in. I know he was a very sensitive man, and I wonder what happened. He became the consummate victim, took on that role and never put it aside. Everything happened TO him.  My mom has told me a few things, that has helped me to understand why he was so angry, why he was so distant, and to me in particular. Maybe one day I will write a book, who knows. But for now, at this point in the journey, it is enough to understand, and to understand that I do not have to take on his pain, his fear, his mistrust.

My father hated the church, hated religion. He didn’t believe in the idea of Santa Claus. He didn’t believe in fairy tales. … at least outwardly. Inside, secretly, I think he did.

My father did not have faith. And if he ever did, it was reluctantly and because he had no choice.   This is what I learned from him. At one point I remember him saying he did not believe in God. I think at the very end of his life he thought differently, but I don’t  know as I was not there, and our discussions on anything serious were non-existent. I remember one particularly painful event, I think it was the last time I saw him alive. I had traveled to Calgary from Kelowna specifically to visit,  I came to the hospital room with my mom, where he had been living for the past year – and he said, “Oh it’s you, hi.”  Then when my sister and her eldest daughter showed up about an hour later, he was all smiles and hugs and quite joyful. About five or ten minutes later, I left my mom and sister and niece in his room to continue the visit, and as I walked back to my mom’s house from the hospital, I realized there was no point on me ever being there again.

As I walked, I pondered the significance of my first family in my own life, never wanting to acknowledge their pushing away, always wanting to be close and realized that would probably never happen. I think it is because our family never really had much in common other than we were in the same family. There was no other esoteric or spiritual significance to our being together, no real commonality between our personalities. No real ties or beliefs or faiths were ever given or imposed, which mind you, I am glad about, because it gave me the freedom to make my own decisions about life, the universe, and everything. But near his death, about a year or so later, my mom said he did come round to having faith – to a point – but certainly, it was because he had no choice.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, my mom always said Let go and let God. I think I am finally learning to do that. Yes it is scary. But I console myself by saying there is really nothing to lose in having this attitude and belief. It does take some effort, but it’s not a big jump, more like a gentle floating on to a breeze that is already in existence …. Butterflies do it ….

Artists are multi-dimensional beings

Before I committed to my life as an artist, I did things that showed I actually had a brain. I say that tongue in cheek, and hope you have a sense of humour. You do, right? Okay, good. Read on. If you don’t, well, I can’t help you there…..

Not to say that artists these days are a bit vacant upstairs, but I am sure the perception of the general public is that we don’t really do much else anyway, and what the hell does thinking have to do with making art?

Yes, I am being a bit facetious, but please read on…

The artists of my generation were not always artists. Without revealing my age (I am still the younger side of 50), and thinking too hard, I know many people who are currently practicing artists but who had a traditional working job prior to committing to being a full time artist. For example, one friend was a teacher, another was a tv producer and skater, and of course myself, who was in the military and wore a ton of hats depending on the day, the posting and the CO.

Being a teacher, of course, necessitates that you need to be a few steps ahead of the students, and implies an agile and exploratory mind. Being a tv producer means you need to juggle tasks and people, and being a skater means you need to have the physical coordination and agility so you don’t trip anyone else on the performance floor. Being in the military means you have to constantly improve your performance and knowledge-base of everything under the sun and be steps ahead of your CO and your CO’s CO. All of these jobs include the requirement of event planning, from 10 people to 500 people, and those abilities similar to that of a symphony conductor.

Unfortunately, being an artist means we are usually an addictive personality type – now this doesn’t mean we walk around on crack every day, it is just that we can be somewhat obsessive (is that like a little bit pregnant?), and regardless if we are artists, the thirst for knowledge is a hard addiction to break. (On the other hand, we are also more likely to be stalkers than the “normal” person. What’s normal anyway? I think that is a total fallacy.) Previous careers indicate we possess a diverse multi dimensional experience. These careers indicate a requirement for organization, initiative, sometimes intuition but most definitely intelligence.

Now why on earth would this be important do you ask? I am so glad you asked that. The next time you see an artist, or talk with an artist, ask them what they did before being an artist, it will open doors for communication and understanding. All this previous experience informs their work. It has to. And it makes it incredibly rich and unique, and you would be lucky to own it.