A long way, indeed.

I went for a run this morning on the beach. Not the street next to the beach. The actual sand-in-your-toes beach. There were a couple of dead catfish, one beheaded, washed up on the shore and I zig zagged around my fair share of jellyfish. The sand wasn’t packed down very hard and my feet were sinking into it with each stride making the effort more than I had planned to give. I ran slower than I’ve run in ages, and it was harder than I would have liked. It is indeed “a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world.” 

It feels like eons since I accepted Mary Oliver’s poem “Invitation” as just that– an invitation. A spiritual practice. An awareness. A starting point for a series of paintings. In the poem she asks us to take time out of our busy and very important day to attend to goldfinches who are singing in what she calls a “rather ridiculous performance.” I have tried to seek out the goldfinches which have come in the form of many things– clouds forming various shapes and patterns as they move across skies I’ve paid attention to long enough to notice changing colors. They’ve come in the form of trees whose leaves move ever so slightly even without a perceptible wind, the taste of yogurt truly savored, a long line of ants, busy, fragile and easily trampled. 

And with this intention to notice, I’ve lingered with my paintings too, revisiting ones I once would have long called finished. I reread my old blog posts before starting this one. I’ve been talking about this “Linger” series and Mary Oliver for longer than I’m comfortable with, which might just be the point? There’s part of me that wants to apologize.

I could spend a lifetime on these paintings but at some point, I’m going to have to put them out into the world or else “linger” turns to flat-out beached, like the fish I saw on the sand this morning. 

Beached. That is exactly how I feel right now. When the perfect gallery space became available I first decided against it, then decided to go take a look just for fun, then said definitely for sure because seeing it changed everything. Now it’s painting (on walls with rollers), getting signs made, figuring out where to put a desk, and what POS system I should use all the while the paintings that will hang on those walls are still changing. I’m still thinking and rethinking them, adding to them, throwing others out to start again. I’m in the in between time. I’m filled with excitement and nerves. I’m doing an awkward junior-high-style dance with “this is going to be great!” and “who in the world do you think you are?” I feel like a million bucks and I feel like a kid trying to sell lemonade on the street corner. 

On my morning beach run I imagined Mary Oliver visited me and she brought with her my great aunt, Sr. Catherine who was my first and greatest art teacher. Neither of them say much, but their presence comforts me, reminds me that I am both important and yet maybe not all that much so. That the “and” spaces are alright. That the gallery is good. That the paintings will be fine if they sit still yet a little longer. The sand is sinking with every step, and I feel like I’m running in peanut butter, but when I look back at the beach, I see I’ve come a long way, indeed. 

The painting below is one that I’ve been working on for months, both scratching off old bits and adding new. I think it reflects a little of the push and pull I’ve been feeling. The “and” in the fear and excitement of doing something new.

So I plan to be open sometime in September and use the time to slowly figure some things out while my doors are open and there are actual paintings on the walls. A grand opening is tentatively scheduled for the first weekend in November– likely that Friday. It’s definitely safe enough to pencil in.

Thank you all for your kind words of support and excitement over the past few weeks as well as your feedback and suggestions. I’ll continue to post gallery updates to social media and I’ll certainly send out an email when the plans firm up. 

In the meantime, I’d love to connect with you about your own “and” spaces where joy and frailty meet. What is your greatest comfort, your mantra, your ritual?

Sneak Peek at “Linger”

“Invitation” by Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy
 
and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles
 
for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,
 
or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air
 
as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine
 
and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing
 
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,
 
do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.
 
It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

 

It all started with some train tracks and a bird. Ever since I saw the great blue heron in my backyard, Mary Oliver’s poem “Invitation” has lingered in my mind. I’ve tried to be mindful of it’s message as I’ve navigated my studio time the past few months. I’ve tried not to walk by without pausing. When I’ve lamented the thought of my “busy and very important day,” I’ve cleared time for stillness instead of soldiering on. I’ve quietly revisited canvases several times and am still not sure if any of them are “done,” a feeling that delights rather than frustrates me.

The whole series started with the culprit, the heron. I then turned more literally to Oliver’s poem and played around with actual yellow goldfinches on the canvas, brought out from their surfaces with the aid of some cold wax medium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the spirit of “linger” was well established, I moved to human figures and faces, postures I hoped were either lingering or encouraging such a thing in the viewer. 

Somewhere along the way, and quite unexpectedly, I started scratching my knives into wet paint with haste. Scribble scratch came to represent the “busy and very important day” of the poem and of my psyche. It also represents an acceptance of messiness and a release from the pressures of an unattainable perfection. I loved that the scratches became an element in what was overall meant to soothe, remind, slow down, and calm. In a yoga class, the instructor often asks you to set an intention. That’s what this series is made of. A simple intention to linger, to notice, to pay attention. I am amazed, maybe dumbfounded is a better word, at what transpired from that intention– it’s far more than the 25+ paintings I’ve created. It’s my patience with the kids, an even deeper love for my husband. There’s a new and exciting opportunity lingering just around the corner, and I am certain it is at least partially one of the fruits of this intention. I’ll be sharing more on that soon.

Until then, the new paintings in this series will be available on my site August 2nd at 9am. I hope you’ll check them out and maybe even let me know what speaks to you. But more than that, I hope, that as summer somehow already finds itself with more days behind it than ahead of it, that you, too, will find a moment to heed the sacred invitation to linger– in your garden, in your thoughts, in your relationships, in your hopes, and in your art, whatever form that may take.

Why do we even need painting?

My art professor asked us, a bunch of bright-eyed students, this back in 2002. Even then, we were still anxious about technology. Post flip phone, pre texting, my friends and I would type out messages to each other on our computers which sat on our desks, grounding us to a space. We’d write “away messages” when we went to the cafeteria or library where messages could not follow. 

My professor talked to us about those machines at arcades that could turn a photo into what would look like a drawing or a watercolor. We didn’t know that in a decade our phones would be able to do that, no problem, plus a good bit more. 

I didn’t know the answer to her question about painting, but the slowness of her words, the nonchalant tone, the thoughtful pauses were driving me crazy. I was hanging on her every word waiting; I had to know and already believed whole-heartedly in whatever it was she was about to say.  

She said she thought it had something to do with texture. 

Ah, glorious texture– that thing you can’t get from an app or a screen. Maybe that’s why I obsess over it, overdo it, and enjoy it so deeply. In a world where I can see everything and touch almost nothing, I throw overflowing globs of paint onto canvas (and sometimes the floor). Touch me, touch me, touch me, I want my paintings to say. (Below is a photo of my cousin and her baby who very much heeded that call).

texture painting

Texture is my anti-screen, my appeal to remain in this physical world. Texture is how I take up space when I feel most invisible, how I navigate abstract, intangible, and shape-shifting worries, scary narratives that play on repeat in my mind. Texture is the answer to more than the question my professor posed to me nearly twenty years ago. Texture is my comfort and my delight. 

I’m not sure texture fully answers why we need painting. I would bet there are hundreds of other reasons. But it certainly answers it for me. It’s why I need painting. It’s why, even as the world I inhabit becomes increasingly backlit and small, expanding with just two fingers stretching it out, I need changing contours and bumps, mountains and valleys, globs and goo. 

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Work and toil, blossoms and blooms

 

When I was in college, I did a painting series on street musicians. Smart phones weren’t a thing yet, so I brought an actual camera to the French Quarter and wandered around snapping photos of people playing music on street corners, their instrument cases open, oftentimes full of change and one dollar bills. 

The one I remember most vividly was a violinist in faded jeans, a ragged maroon button down, standing next to a bright green trash can playing something classical and, in my memory, quite sad. 

When I showed the reference photo to my painting professor, she was struck by the juxtaposition of the elegant violin and the shabby scene. He belongs in a tuxedo in a concert hall, she said. I hadn’t been able to articulate what I found intriguing about the image, but once she voiced it, I knew that’s what had drawn me in, too. 

So now, decades later, I’m painting at weddings where, more often than not, there’s a second line band and the musicians wear suits and ties. I snap pictures of them, and in my paintings put these dressed-up players in fields and valleys where again they do and don’t quite belong. 

It’s borderline that corona beer commercial– find your beach– where the sip of a corona transports some corporate worker to the zen of a beach, only in this case, the act of creating is what takes you someplace lush and temporary. Oh, how I relate to these musicians in their work clothes at weddings. And no matter how many times I’ve done it, I so often get swept away in the color, the shapes, the sounds of what I’m doing to my blank and previously untouched canvases. 

Context is flexible. Changing it creates it. 

Creating is work and toil. And it is blossoms and blooms.

Musician paintings like the one that starts this post and others will be part of the “Linger” collection coming to my site in July. Stay tuned. And if you want an email about it, make sure you’re on the list.

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Home is where the art is.

,

My husband and I built a house. That is a funny sentence because we didn’t physically build any of it, but that’s what people say. That’s what I say. 

What we really did was dream of a home near the water and a coffee shop that also sold books. A home on land with oak trees we could squeeze the house underneath without disturbing. 

We met with a nice woman at a house off the beaten path and she drew it for us. Then, a year later people started bringing trucks and lumber to the land, and nine months later there was a yellow house where there used to be just grass and trees. 

I’m writing this on the porch that the woman drew as the focus of the house. It’s a warm June morning and I’ve got the fans on. The dog is gazing at the woods across the street, no doubt hopeful a squirrel will emerge from some limb or shadow, and she’ll let it know whose home this is. While both dogs felt immediate ownership of this place, it is taking me a while. So much about here feels like home and so much still strikes me as foreign. 

I remember when my dad turned forty because my mom threw a surprise party where she served a huge sandwich in the shape of the number 40. We ate off it for weeks in a kitchen that was part of what I thought of as home my entire childhood and most of my adulthood. I lived in that house since I was a baby and only left it when I went to college. I knew every crevice and closet. My cousin and I would climb out the window and onto the roof, lie on our backs, and look at the stars wondering if they were in fact real objects or just little holes in the universe where the light was sneaking through. 

My husband and I didn’t really build a house so much as watched one being built– participated via proximity. And now that it’s here we are slowly learning to think of it as home. I thought maybe it would happen all at once, but it obviously takes time. It takes memories and moments– that’s the real building and it adds up, starts to accumulate– like a painting that develops from a blank surface. I suspect that the feeling of home will sneak up on me and eventually envelop me without me even knowing it. I suspect I’ll wake up one day wondering how this place could have ever felt unfamiliar.

Maybe part of building this home is sitting on the porch early in the morning looking at the trees and writing about it. Maybe once I witness the leaves changing color a few times, I’ll be part of the world they inhabit. 

I’ll be forty soon, and I’m still building what my parents had long established at my age. My blended family is still fresh, our memories and traditions still forming, still taking shape. I still hit the wrong light switches before the right ones and forget where we keep the colander.

The working title for my new series is called “Linger” and, true to that spirit, it sure is taking a while. I hope that I can learn to also linger in this process of the home we’re building. That I’ll savor it and hold it close without smothering or suffocating it. I hope the kids will feel a deep sense of home and belonging, that this yellow house will invoke in them a sense of warmth and security. That they will know every crevice and closet. That their own kids will run down the stars like buffalo the way they do now. That they will sit on the porch (and definitely not the roof) looking at the stars, feeling certain they have a tiny but firm place in this world. 

The painting that starts this post is one I did in my studio. I didn’t look at my house or even a photo of my house when I painted it, and relied instead on the memories that are just now beginning to form. I love the childlike nature of what developed when I was just playing around with crooked lines and globs of paint, using my studio time to reflect on this crazy notion of home, to pray for it to be a safe and welcoming place, to hope deeply for the kids that will grow up inside its walls.

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