Dear Reader, before I left Davis, my neighbor lent me a book : Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City—Adventures In the Art of Being Alone. Laing discusses the work of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz and Henry Darger, all artists who worked from deep loneliness and, through art, transformed isolation into forms of intimacy. This is a difficult, challenging book, but a rewarding one. Meanwhile, my time alone is transforming itself by increasing social interactions.
February 11 : Open Studio
If loneliness is to be defined as a desire for intimacy, then included within that is the need to express one’s self and to be heard, to share thoughts, experiences and feelings. p75 Olivia Laing, The Lonely City.
In Mendocino, 2nd Saturday is gallery night. In conjunction with the new show in the MAC gallery, artists-in-residence are asked to host open studios for the community. I think I should pick up a bit. My studio has become a true work space. Every surface is covered with some experiment or work in progress—much of which I’m not inclined to talk about.
My first visitor appears early, just after lunch. He’s elderly, a little unsteady on his feet, out of breath, but determined to take a look around. He says that years ago he was a painter. Then, one night, away from home, he lost his studio and everything in it to fire. He admits that he never had the heart to take up painting again. Artists often speak about the pain of having to neglect artwork at one time or another during their lives. This man lost the thread completely.
Later in the day, others drop by to look at work in progress, to breathe in a whiff of oil paint, listen to music and savor the mess that accompanies art making. I decide to stop cleaning up.
Late in the evening a husband and wife wander in to look around. They have driven from Ukiah for a brief Mendocino escape. They take it in—the work tables, the unfinished paintings, the paint tubes and pigment sticks. Moving toward the door, the husband stops to look silently at the deep browns and luminous pinks and greens of the large nine piece Landscape Grid. The Album Leaf is plays softly in the bright white studio and night is pressing in against the glass door. “Oh!”, he says. “This is it—the whole thing is art—the studio, the music, the colors of the work—everything we’re experiencing.”
It’s time to close up. We shake hands. My visitors have given me the gift of paying attention—everything I could ask for in an open studio.
February 13: Art Talk and Action
Intimacy can’t exist if the participants aren’t willing to make themselves known, to be revealed.
—Laing, TLC, p75
The four of us fine artists in residency have gathered for wine, cheese and conversation. Here we are: Linda Ryan, who works in abstracted landscape shapes and colors with poured acrylics, Linda Cloonon, a watercolorist whose still, air filled representational images suspend time, and Rogene Manas, who collages paper and drawings into a series of powerful women, “Everyday Saints”, and me—painting sense impressions of this place with layers oil paint and paper. Three of us are Californians; Rogene is coming from Oregon. We all have long histories with art. So what do we talk about? The workings of life—how we live, how we work, how we manage relationships around an obsession that is essentially solitary.
It all comes around to the possibility of working together—maybe pouring paint with Linda R, taking each others’ workshops, but finally we center on the press in my studio and conclude that it needs to be put to use ASAP.
On Tuesday morning, we do just that. I have plates and etching ink. We share watercolors and gum arabic. Nick Collins, a local printmaker, looks in, drawn by the energy of experimentation. No one is attached to outcomes. We all work right through lunch. It’s mid afternoon when we survey the chaos as we prepare to gather our materials, our prints, our many failures and some few shining successes. Linda Cloonan laughs and sums it up for all of us: “Now that was art making!
Dear Reader: As my time as a resident artist at the Mendocino Art Center passes, I’m feeling my way into the place—talking to people, relaxing into my work a bit, continuing to read Alain de Botton and John Armstrong’s Art As Therapy, and noticing how art and community relate to each other.
What Is Art? 1/31
We implicitly believe that artists should decide what they do, and according to processes that they don’t themselves completely understand. —AAT, deBotton and Armstrong
Early morning—up to watch the lunar eclipse in the pitch black darkness of a town where street lights can be few and far between. In search of the darkest dark I wander up the west end of narrow Calpella Street, where I find three other like minded sky observers. The moon and stars are spectacular. A companion points out Jupiter to the south just above the constellation Cygnus. Having ascertained what I am doing in Mendocino, a voice with an Aussie accent asks, “So what is art, anyway?” Ummmm…It’s just after 5 am; I’ve had no coffee; I’m freezing and completely absorbed by the reddish shadowy moon and brilliant stars. This is obviously not a right brain question.
But it is a good one—certainly one that matters. If, as deBotton and Armstrong speculate, art has achieved the status of a secular religion in western culture—then it’s a place many people put their spiritual concerns. My mumbled answer feels inevitably insufficient.
Later in the day, I am searching for a formal definition, a starting place. Here’s what I find: [art is] the application of human skill and imagination…producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. There’s certainly something there; still, I realize, the answer to the question, as posed in the early morning of January 31, was not in words, but in the sky above us, in absorbing its moving, improbable beauty and rich, meaningful silence.
Finding the Way In 2/1
…art’s true historic mission: the promotion of a sensory understanding of what matters most in life. —ATT, deBotton and Armstron
There are those days in the studio when everything comes together with the suggestion that there is a true path and that you may have just stumbled across the trailhead. In a few hours two diptych boards—36x36” and 24x36” go from blank white gesso to a layered mix of oil
paint, cold wax, pigment sticks and charcoal, mitigated additions of Gamsol and Galkyd gel. There is a word scrawled across the surface of both boards, “acquaeous”. It is there to remind me of the color of water, its sharp salt smell, the way it moves. This piece has a way to go, but for now I’ll leave it drying out for a few days, waiting for more shims of color, darkness and light.
Art and Science 2/3
…art changes how we experience the world. AAT—deBotton and Armstrong
Between Mendocino and Ft. Bragg there’s a turn off to an older, narrower road that leads to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse station. At the entrance to the half mile trail that leads to the light house is a warm and welcoming, hand illustrated and lettered sign. The Cabrillo Lighthouse Station was once touted as a perfect second home community. Local folks—people who saw the value in the lighthouse, the outbuildings and the marine life that inhabit this place—spearheaded a preservation project and petitioned to make it a state park. It is still largely staffed by volunteers.
Visitors can stop by a small museum of wonders organized by local marine biologists—shells, starfish and anemones and a whale watching platform. Then there is the light house itself—an odd, schoolhouse looking structure with its magnificent multifaceted beacon. I’ve seen the lighthouse beacon flashing in a steady rhythm from the Mendocino Headlands when I walk there at night. The glass lens is beautiful, a complex piece of art and craft.
There is a bi-annual exhibit at the non-profit Pence Gallery in my home town called The Consilience of Art and Science. Being away means I’m missing it this year. But here—the lighthouse, the sea life, the meadow crisscrossed with spare decaying fencing from the sheep ranch days all have the sense that this is a place where art and science cohabit. Tonight I am drawing constellations.
Exhibits and Art Makers 2/5
…[an] agenda for art in a liberal society would be to assist the individual soul in search for consolation, self understanding and fulfillment. ATT—deBotton and Armstrong
Like most arts organizations, the Mendocino Art Center promotes memberships, which aim to create a steady flow of income as well as involve people more closely in art with class discounts and member opportunities. The new year kicks off with a member show in the gallery. There’s a wide variety of work—paintings, drawings, prints, photography and some very large sculptures. Local exhibits interest me—I like to see what people are up to in a particular place.
[Our culture is moving toward] an art of participation rather than just spectatorship… AAT deBotton and Armstrong
In addition to the arts center show, there are a number of galleries in the area. Ft. Bragg’s gallery night is first Friday—which proves to be a happening event. Four galleries and a co-operative ring a one block area and it’s crowded with artists and art viewers.
I’ve noticed this sheer abundance of art work in many small communities over the past year,— exciting evidence of creative engagement—both on the part of the artists and for the large numbers of people who want to interact with art—to have it be part of their lives, to live with art and make it themselves, as in this toy store window in Ft. Bragg, this mechanic’s bulletin board, and the window of a small house at the bottom of the hill on Calpella Street.