Wind, wind, WIND……….a gale has been blowing all through the night and forecasters say it will continue throughout today and again tonight. The Soleri sandcast brass bells are ringing, some on the front ramada and others from hooks on the “breakfast tree” behind the house. The studio calls to me. There, despite the din of the wind and the thumping on the roof of the last pecans being blown from the trees, there is calm. The tiny paintings I’ve been working on are definitely a contrast to what’s happening outside. I suppose they speak of my hopes for blooms and blossoms and the peace of springtime. I see in them still waters and ways to experiment with floral shapes that show up when I scrape paint down the surface with the colors randomly deposited and see what has stained the archival illustration board. From transparent hues to deeper ones and opaque ones, the images emerge. Such fun! They carry me on adventures of assurance that springtime peace and joy are nearby!
On the “Clay Page” of this site I have explained a bit about the inspiration and development of the “Tablets Series.” Yesterday I completed another in the series, “More Words.” As with several of the other tablets, the overall shape suggests a cathedral window which suggests worship. Letters are spilling down the center of the tablet, maybe attempting to make more words, with tiny delicate bits of vegetation rising up below them. Of course words are the medium of expression the world relies on. I contend, along with others, that words are not necessarily the best means of expression……at least not in every instance. Is not music a universal medium that is understood in the intuitive mind, even when there are not lyrics accompanying it? So also are colors, textures and shapes used by the artist for expression.
“More Words” has a quotation from Josiah Cullen on the back:
Josiah was diagnosed with severe autism in his toddlerhood. He does not speak but at age 10 or so he typed on his ipad, “God is a good gift giver.” He has continued to use his ipad to express his inspirations. The story of Josiah has been written by his mother Tahni Cullen in a book entitled JOSIAH’S FIRE. She says of him: “Autism stole his words, God gave him a voice.” When the book was recommended to me, I could not put it down. You can learn about Josiah online. He is a miraculous inspiration.
“THE TABLET SERIES: MORE WORDS: the full image can be seen on the Clay Page on this site. Thanks for reading my blog.
Watermedia/Collage Workshop 2016 is fresh on my mind. It happened last week in the Carlsbad Area Art Association’s ROBERT S. LIGHT ARTROOM, behind the Artist Gallery. Busy! it was a busy class. The students were enthusiastic, chatty, positive, and eager. Each exercise I suggested was welcomed with willingness; some remarkable work showed up on their papers; and a generous spirit prevailed as they shared ideas and processes.
A favorite quote of mine from Robert Rauschenberg: “I like to have the maximum lack of control so things can happen that I can’t think of.” I consider “think” to be a key word in this quote. Letting go of rational “thinking” processes and trusting the intuition to guide does truly cause things to happen, allow for surprises, and let some “gifts” develop on the paper.
We started with a playful
application of paint, not thinking of anything but enjoying the paint, experimenting with it’s flow, checking out our brushes. Then we began to look for tiny compositions, discovering that the paint had indeed deposited some gifts we could work with:The class moved from this tiny start to more complex layers of paint and papers, preparing collage papers, making stamps to use for creating texture and holding off on composing. Yet, keenly watching all the while for shapes, directions, values of color that would appear from the intuition and guide us, we moved toward a composition. Rich layered and textured surfaces were created and compositions inviting final details called for completion.
Left:Ginger Price, experiment
Right: Renee Boyd, experiment
Left: Gerri Mattson, experiment Leslie Smith, experiment
When artists gather and stretch to see new ways of expressing, good things happen. There was talk of meeting to create/paint/collage together. A gathering of artists working, no instruction except feedback and encouragement from one another. What a splendid idea!
Judy Lanier, experiments
It’s been several years since I have taught a class or a workshop. Early this year Frank, the workshop chairman, for Carlsbad Area Art Association asked me if I would teach. Without really thinking, I heard, “sure, Frank” come out of my mouth. The possibility lay quietly, but not exactly silently in the back of my mind for a long time. I wanted to teach, I’ve taught a lot over the years, I like to teach and I don’t like to teach, I have a lot of experience and I don’t have enough experience, I have worked hard, not hard enough, and have learned a lot I can share. I had my doubts that anyone would be interested in my quirky ways of creating, and I doubted that I had the physical stamina. Sometimes I listen to my critical self yammering in my mind. Round and round the thoughts went but the creative spirit (The Holy Spirit) reminded me that I had said I would teach and that whatever I have to offer would be sufficient.
Then I encountered a Lubbock artist who asked me about teaching, and encouraged me to offer a class. Within days she had spread the word that I was considering a workshop in Carlsbad. Other artists called saying they would come. I set a date in September, chose a title: “Innovative Watermedia/collage Workshop” then vascillated between cancelling and pulling it all together as I witnessed the enrollment numbers rise.
On September 10, 11, 12 the class became a vital, creative, moving reality. It was amazing to see the enthusiasm of 15 diligent artists who listened to my suggestions and worked with such intensity. We all checked our critical selves at the door and let the spirit flow. From day one when I asked them to paint along with me and put paint randomly on the paper, keeping it in light to middle range of values we progressed through painting-along to experimenting, and into a variety of explorations and demos with discussion. I offered techniques and materials and suggestions to play with. The move of the creative spirit was obviously dynamic whether the students were grappling in confusion, happily creating stamps, gingerly painting tissues for collage material or testing their eyes to see what might be showing up on the papers.
Experiment by Carol Hammond
It’s a non-rational, intuitive way of operating that comes out of a part of the brain and heart that is absolutely trustworthy. Learning to trust it is like no other experience…..it has no language, no system of orderliness, is usually not logical. Often, and dramatically so among beginning students, it feels like chaos. It is pulling images confidently from our histories, from our heritage, and sometimes seemingly from no where. Sometimes the paints begin to show us recognizable representative images and sometimes the colors challenge us with abstract shapes that intuitively communicate wholeness. When we become like children and play with materials we allow ourselves to paint the worst painting in the world without judging whether it is a keeper or not, and we also allow ourselves to paint the best painting in the world.
Experiment by Renae Winters
Experiment by Laurel Weathersbee
Experiment by Judy Lanier
I would love to publish more of the student experiments here but alas, I neglected to take pictures when we put our works out on a common table to share what we had accomplished. I have put out the call to the students to send me pictures but when students leave the classroom, life envelopes them and the demands of home and work and play rise to the forefront and sending pictures to the teacher drops to the bottom of priorities.
Collage by Grace Lipps Collage by Carol Hammond
Below is a demonstration painting I worked on in the class. I will post other pieces I started with my students as I get them completed and photographed. They will be on the pages of this website.
Not really in San Antonio, but almost, and not really in Boerne, but almost. It was an invitation from Chicago, from Crystal Naubauer a collage artist I have admired for a number of years. It was also an invitation from Laura Roberts, (aka Hasty Pearl) gracious hostess with the innovative idea of having an art workshop in her home. Laura: artist, collector, gardener, who lives in a wooded area on the outskirts of San Antonio welcomed participants to her exquisite home and gardens with handmade name tags, delicious lunches, and a garage/workshop that could compete with any studio/classroom.
An eclectic group of artists reveled in the delightful setting and especially in the gentle/kind/generous/creative/ spirit of Crystal Neubauer. By her, we were led through a number of mark-making/drawing/painting/stamping/collaging exercises designed to assist us in accessing the intuitive artist within. Her quiet/rich/deep/confident personal nature, nourished by the Holy Spirit, established a comfortable working environment. The heady atmosphere of nine working artists fed each individual artist as we grappled with materials and ideas and stretched ourselves to let go of control and trust our intuitive natures.
Below are photos of our expressive attempts. I apologize for my quick shots, some of them may be presented sideways or upside down, (which is a good test for artists to see the quality of composition) and unfortunately I cannot credit the individual artists with each of these experimental works of art:
Pregnant with possibility? Some of them seem to have a full delivery of expression already. Only two days together, yet bonds were formed and each artist went home with several “works” or “starts” and an impromptu handmade paint brush culled from Laura’s garden:Fun? Fun! not a frivolous zany kind of fun, but a fun that had within it some Texas hospitality and an overflowing cup of creative juice, mixed gently with spoonfuls and tidbits and pinches of new ideas. I’m charged anew with energy for creative endeavors in my studio. Thank you Laura and Crystal!
I must say the thirty days of September have been flying along and my works and I have been flitting along with them. I think I will actually have 30 new works, maybe even a few extras! Two or three are larger pieces which have been developing alongside of the smaller ones. I’ve been saving the finished pieces in the studio, not consigning them out to galleries, so I can look at them altogether. Although they seem to be a hodge-podge without much of a focus, I can see clearly that they are mine. In the early days when I heard concerns among fellow artists of “developing a style,” seasoned artists advised that it shouldn’t be a “concern.” A “style” would develop naturally over the seasons of practicing the craft of expression. I have found that to be good advice. My ways of expression have truly become mine. Some of the works continue to pursue ideas that I have been exploring for some time: newness, beginnings, strength, endurance, words, fragility. Others have landed on the papers without much context. Maybe they are invitations to explore new realms.
Because tomorrow is “change around” at The Artist Gallery here, I plan to hang many of them. It will give me a new view of them, grouped together on a wall (I don’t have space in the studio to hang them all). So, “take note” if you who want to see what I’ve been doing. These are some of the latest:
(acrylics on cradled panel, 10X8X2 inches)
Clay Mail Envelopes
(painted and embellished clay)
In April this year, I posted a blog about working in a series. I have strong emotions (opinions?) and a powerful commitment to my way of working with an idea until I have made it my own. The exploration continuum has taken me deeper into visual expression than any efforts to capture new imagery with each creative session. A rich and meaningful poignancy has mounted up over years of probing around, into, and through a series.
Within the last couple of years I have unbuckled my work from schedules, commitments to others, to classrooms and students and from shows and festivals. Released from the avenues of work, what I am now doing in the studio romps, mostly, in the fields of play. Skipping out of my painting studio often and showing up at the co-op pottery studio surprises me with a compelling invitation to play. With an archaic childhood memory of mud pies returning to my consciousness, I have tossed clay up in the air, pounded it with force and rolled it flat. Drawing shapes, folding, patting and pinching clay harken to the girl that hasn’t entirely disappeared from my persona. Though I’m surprised, no one else finds it unexpected that I would continue to play “in a series.” These recent years of playing in the dirt have yielded numerous envelopes, probably more than a hundred angels, and a myriad of boxy pieces I call “altars.” Staying with a series of related pieces indeed seems to be my way of expression and I make no apologies for “sticking with it!”
Clay Mail Envelopes
(painted and embellished clay)
I haven’t made any clay envelopes in a while, I don’t know if that series is over or not. I think it may be meshing with the clay angels. I call the clay angels “Earth Angels” and have included some of them on the “Clay” page of the website, and a few more here.
Below is a smoke fired angel that I embellished with an envelope, making me wonder if the angels are meshing with the envelopes. I liked it so much that I have begun to experiment with cutting a place in the body of some of the angels and putting an envelope there. I will post more of the continuing playful series of Earth Angels on the “Clay” page when they are finished.
Several days ago I spoke with an artist visiting The Artist Gallery in Carlsbad, NM where I live. He talked about his works in acrylics, his techniques, and his imagery. He referred to himself as a “streaking” artist, which he described as streaking from one thing to another. He enjoys trying new things and his interests are widespread, in subject matter and in technique. He was quite surprised when I told him, I seem to be more of a “pedantic” artist, dwelling in one series of images for long periods of time, and although I use a wide variety of techniques there is definitely an “HGwinn” quality about them. When I told him my “Envelope Series” contains well over a hundred images, he was stunned. I wonder how he would have responded had I told him about Mark Gould who now has over 900 images in his series entitled “My Neighbor’s House.”
For me it is rare (but it does occur) that I complete an art piece and feel it is a full expression. When I finish a painting I commonly feel both content with the completion and a question in my mind about parts of it. Could I have done that shape better? added or reduced the amount of texture? Have I brought a wholeness into the design? Are the compositional details coordinated? Is the content, the imagery, compelling? Is there more to express?
In the late 1980’s when my daughter went off to college, we communicated mostly by letters…..now called “snail mail.” It was in the days when there was no email, cell phones were barely being heard of and long-distance phone calls were costly. It wasn’t long before I was aware that we were communicating more clearly through the written word than we had during her adolescent high-school days. I was loving to find an envelope in my mailbox with her return address on it. Soon envelopes and letters began to turn into imagery showing up in my mixed media paintings. Today the “Envelope Series” has nearly 200 pieces in it and has morphed into the “Cliff Gifts Series.” Tiny packets (envelopes of a sort) are packed and secured into the painted/collaged cliffs of this series.
CLIFF GIFTS: AMBER CANYON
mixed media painting, 20X13X1.5 inches
Helen Gwinn, artist
The Cliff Gifts Series currently contains more than a hundred pieces. While it seems to be waning in my focus, another series, “The Nests,” is developing. These images of freedom, of nurture and refuge are important elements for me to express. Although birds and nests have been important symbols throughout my days of painting, they are now dominant and demanding my attention.
THE NESTS: KEEPING WATCH
mixed media on panel, 16X12X2 inches
Helen Gwinn, artist
Refuge, protection, safety, newness, hatchery…….these are a few words of symbolism I attach to the recent series of art pieces I’ve been working on. My new show, entitled THE NESTS will be featured at the Weems Old Town Gallery in Albuquerque throughout the month of May. Last week I delivered fourteen new mixed media paintings and nine clay “Earth Angels” for the show.
My studio has become a comfortable nest over the years. When I began to work in there in 1979, and the materials started to pile up around me, my husband made some wry comments about my “nesting instinct.” I’m not sure how instinctual it is, but there’s no question that the clutter of colors and textures and shapes are a hatchery, an incubator if you will, for my creative endeavors.
Several years ago my co-teacher, Lynette Watkins, and I began to talk of “new beginnings” as a theme for the class we would teach at the La Romita School of Art in Terni, Italy. That’s when the “nest” symbol began to make itself known in my work along with eggs, which are poignant symbols of birth, hope, creative purity and expectation. In Lynette’s work symbolic “gates” and “keys” emerged.
Dramatic and powerful changes were happening in my personal life. Some of them seemed not at all like new beginnings but rather like endings. Changes occurred that were making an end to the life I had known and expected to continue knowing. My 36 year old son suffered a devastating stroke that left the right side of his body paralyzed and took away all, ALL, ABSOLUTELY ALL of his language. Two years later I was rushed into emergency open heart surgery for mitral valve replacement and multiple by-passes. Much changed but I experienced, in the depths of heart-break for my son, and the fright of my own physical broken heart, a rock-solid foundation in my relationship with God. A tiny newness began to nestle around me, a secure and steady glory-of-hope, a nest (if you will) of beginning, the commencement of a new level of living in grace. Imagine that! express that! I needed to.
What color is a “new beginning”? and what shape is it? What texture does it have? Creative expression helps to make sense of happenings in my world….. is that what vocations are? or pre-occupations? or “callings”? Are they methods of making sense? I love words and sometimes, often actually, put them in my works. Also I journal, journal, journal. I carry a journal with me at all times, loading book after book with drivel, thoughts, snippets of information and sketches that help me keep my bearings. But when I sit down to string words together into sentences for someone else to read, they aren’t big enough, fitting enough, or just right.
Nest Series: Nesting Notations
(mixed media on a cradled panel, 24X12X2 inches)
And often the creative expressions (paintings, collages, assemblages) miss the mark also, they’re not big enough, or should I say “deep enough” or “expansive enough”? Some of them get close. The creative expressions in the THE NESTS SERIES are my attempt to make sense of the refuge, the safety, the hope, the newness, the expectancy I am experiencing in my life and the life of my family (which includes not just my husband, daughter, and son but also my extended family of relatives and friends, fellow travelers on my life’s journey.)
Nest Series: By Grit
(mixed media on a cradled panel, 12X12X2 inches)
Additional images from the Nest Series may be seen on the pages of my website. My son is making a superb recovery. He lives and works in Austin and gets therapy at Austin Speech Labs.
Lately I’ve been playing again with crafting in clay. It feels like a side trip, a diversion. I am painting some, but the intensity has given way to this fun craft work that is growing inside. There’s no doubt that I’m a painter, a mixed media painter, a collager. Today I’m thinking of the talk of “content” which I’ve heard in watermedia workshops. Beginning painters struggle with technique, skills and learning the characteristics of the materials. At some point along the trip the intricacies of skill building make way for a trek into the wilderness of content. That path is laden with a longing to express more. It is fraught with bumps, and potholes, and boulders. There is something within that has no verbal expression, it demands visual materials. It is demanding and exacting requiring deep personal investment. I accept the challenge and love grappling with it but sometimes I need a side trip.
And so I have taken off on this spur of clay……..trying for ideas without skills, content without developed means of expression. Backwards. Actually I don’t even want to learn the characteristics of clay, or build any skills, I just want to make things. It’s exciting and scary, a process that’s risky and inviting. For a year or so, I’ve made envelopes and angels and lately a few “altars.”
Envelopes have been a major force in my work for many years so it makes sense for them to morph from paper and paint to clay and embellishments. I paint them with acrylics, and embellish them with postage stamps and a myriad of other things.
The angels just may be a quirk. Some of them are funny and kinda charming and definitely not part of my usual serious nature.
The way they are developing however seems to prove the validity of working in a series. I see more and more in them, more possibilities of expression. The clay crafted angels have grown increasingly complex and expressive…….maybe they are on their on their own trip and I’m along for the ride.
“Hurry? I never hurry. I have no time to hurry.”
I want to learn to wait, stall my impetuous spirit now and then, I hope I’m learning.
I have no skills to craft a box-shape from clay, but I am making these boxes to convey my idea of an altar. It’s okay if it is a crudely formed box; I just want a point of focus to express “altar,” “shrine,” “sanctuary:” a place of prayer, a place of dreaming, a place of hope, a place of stillness and waiting. Jacob wrestled with God in a dream. When he awakened he made an altar. I think the altar was a rock he had used as a pillow, or maybe it was a pile of rocks, yet it marked the place of a dream, a place of prayer, a place of hope for him. My altars do the same for me. They are road signs along the way of my side trip where I have made confession, presented petitions before God, heard good news, found shelter, and tried to wait in the Presence of the Lord.
The co-op pottery where I work functions under the umbrella of the Carlsbad Area Art Association. There I can buy clay, shape it, get my pieces fired and even use shop tools. Most of the potters own their own tools and have many gadgets to assist in their work. The clay artists work together with a generous camaraderie. I am learning a lot from them. They contribute to the joy of my side trip.