Sunday, January 25, 2015

Extending into the New Year

By now many of you have already checked off your entire list of New Year’s Resolutions. Others of you have already forgotten what you promised, and still others are still trying to knock out resolutions from decade ago. How's that last 10 pounds coming?

If you’ve been keeping track of me, you know that I’m not a resolution kinda gal.  There’s nothing about January that inspires me to change, unless it is to move south.

Rather than promise to become a thinner, smarter, taller or just plain better version of myself, I prefer to pick a single word that can be used as a guide during the coming 12 months for deeper, more honest living.  

In past years I've used words like allow, up, moxie (yeah, that was a bad choice. I allowed myself to give up that one). Engage was so engaging it lasted two years. 

The word extend came to me quietly a few weeks ago while sitting in my thinking chair. It's a cozy place I curl up to corral important thoughts and start my day. Other more dramatic words had made the initial list; seek, courage, power, fearlessness … words that require a red cape to complete the ensemble.

I'm too old for spandex and the last time I wore a cape it got caught - well, never mind that.

E x t e n d
A word for the year must be heartfelt and true, created for your own personality. It should encourage growth while supporting all that has come before. Extend seems to fit that bill.

To extend is to draw out, stretch, prolong. To make more comprehensive. It works figuratively as well as in the literal sense.  I can extend my painting sessions, or extend a helping hand. Perhaps a breaking point can be extended just a few more inches. I envision a bridge spanning a vast chasm. I think the reaches of my comfort zone will get a workout.

and then extend a little bit more
It's a year long process, so where this word will lead me exactly I don't know. That's one of the benefits of the process. So, I extend to you an invitation to come along with me. What word will guide you this year? 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Winter Passage

This time of year holds so much promise. 

The earth revolves to meet the sun each morning just a little bit earlier, and holds on just a little bit longer before it cedes to darkness.

The smallest branches high in bare trees accept color now from light freed of the frozen pull of winter.

Migratory birds begin to feel an ancient desire for flight, with promises to linger over fertile farmland here in mid-country. They have passed through here far longer than we have laid claim to boundaries and titles.

As I take refuge from brittle cold outside I feel these things.  We artists paint what we know, and I know that winter is a necessary pause from the wild growth of summer. It is a pause before the raucous call of the sandhill crane, kestrel and sharp-eyed hawk as they find refuge and food in the shallows of the Platte River. 

Winter is also a necessary pause, for me at least, from the habits and rituals of the past season.

I've noticed this feeling in the past; the slow movement at this time of year toward some sort of change.

This fallow season is when I too seem to pass through a sort of grace period, a recognition of old habits and an awakening to something that's been there all along but hidden, much like last years' summer vegetation now covered in snow. 

This painting is a celebration of the cool side of the color wheel; chill blues and violets, and cooler versions of the opposing orange and yellow. A relief from the intense greens and blues of summer painting.  As with the solstice, it's a turning point of sorts, an exploration of new ways of laying down paint and scraping it back, balancing marks from intuition and forethought. Like early sun on a winter landscape I feel a warming, a freshening of my course.   

Sunday, January 4, 2015


The best way to start out a fresh, shiny new year is to hit the road and see a new exhibit!
Handsome Husband and I did just that recently, taking Highway 81 north several hundred miles to see “Harvey Dunn, the Complete Collection" at the South Dakota Art Museum on the campus of South Dakota State college in Brookings SD.

Harvey Dunn was one of the most important illustrators in the early part of the 20th century. The paintings he created were dashing, romantic, aggressive and expressive, often becoming more interesting than the stories themselves.  During WWI he was assigned to chronicle the war. His "as it is" paintings did not sit well and he had to wait for other opportunities to share his pictorial experiences.

1928 House to House Combat for The American Legion Monthly

When he stepped away from illustration, he strode confidently into recreating the landscape and lifestyle of his youth. Those are the pieces we traveled northward to see.

The Prairie Is My Garden, one of  Harvey Dunn's first independent paintings.
Dunn, born in 1884, was raised in the same prairie neighborhood as Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame; the wide-open untamed rolling hills of eastern South Dakota – had South Dakota been a state then. (That didn't happen for another 5 years.)  His ability to express the loneliness, strength, camaraderie, determination to survive, as well as the vastness and power of the open prairie, is unsurpassed.

In many ways this part of the country hasn't changed all that much from Mr. Dunn's youth. Spare and beautiful.
HH and I spent a lovely 2 days wandering the museum, admiring and studying each painting. No doubt the staff will spend a few hours today wiping nose prints off the surface of the artwork. For me the best part of an art exhibit is getting right up close to see what’s going on. If I could climb right inside the artist’s apron I’d do that. Studying brush strokes, what they cover, how they swirl…oh!

Closeup of Model on Sofa, circa 1929

Closeup of The Prairie Is My Garden, worked on over several years
Closeup from happy Hunting Ground

(Note to museum staff: Stop hanging “salon style”. Just stop it. There’s a reason it’s no longer done. To hang a painting 10 feet off the ground is agonizingly frustrating to the viewer, not to mention the artist who would love for you to actually see it. That Handsome Husband refused to let me climb on his shoulders so that I could put my nose to artwork in the upper elevations is a testament to his patience and sensibility. Had he not been there insisting I keep my feet firmly planted on terra firma, my Plan B was to pick the lock on the janitor’s closet and free the stash of rolling ladders. (It just now occurs to me…does HH really enjoy these exhibits, or is he trying to keep me out of the hoosegow?))
I disavow any knowledge of the scuff marks climbing toward the upper level.

This is an exhibit that will stick with me for a long time. The power and confidence in each stroke of paint, the stories he told, the love he had for the wide open spaces of his homeland…I've got a lot to think about.  Hues, application, composition, courage, attitude - it all shows up on the canvas.

After the Blizzard n.d. by Harvey Dunn

Rough Country n.d. by Harvey Dunn

To see paintings up close is exciting and invigorating, like being able to sit alongside the artist and witness the paint being mixed and laid on.  Frustratingly, he left very little in the way of explanation or process. It'll be up to me to dig in and learn about that in my own way.
Thanks HH, you're a peach for coming along and making this an exceptional way to start the new year.
HH celebrating the first weekend of 2015 with his own version of Hot Tub Time Machine, courtesy of Brookings Super 8.