Monday, June 4, 2012

Revealing the "glimpse" and in the Flow, thanks to eb

A rainy day in Northern California:

So I am thinking … I tend to dream about practical things: continuing a conversation with one of our children, anticipating an afternoon out, remembering to buy coffee.  But once or twice, I dreamed about Picasso and Gertrude Stein.  I wondered (while I was awake!) what language they used to communicate. In my dream, Picasso and I were walking along a Connecticut beach.  “She was so smart,” he said.  I asked him – did they speak together in Spanish? French? English?  “French,” he said.  “We spoke decent French. Enough to talk about art and sex.”

Definitely not a practical, earth-bound dream.  And then I dreamt about Picasso, again.  He was very tall, looming over me, kindly, concerned. And he handed me his guitar.  I suspect this dream came from my reading that when Picasso was young, his painter-professor father had handed him his own brushes, naming him, symbolically, his artistic heir.  So, I used to interpret this dream as evidence that I wanted to be Picasso.  And I don’t know why, but it gave me courage. I wasn’t afraid of it.

That was twenty years ago.  And over that time, my artist-models broadened to include not only Picasso, but Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Agnes Martin and David Hockney.  I was seeing myself as a (third? generation) post-post Abstract Expressionist.  And painting large paintings, 2’ x 4’ or 3’ square, lovely, mine. Each new painting became part of a series, beginning with French-inspired abstract landscapes and ending with my odalisques.

But each time I completed a series of paintings, I was inconsolable, waiting for the next series. And I wasn’t painting enough, I knew that, and I was painting too carefully. Everything had to be perfect, which had not been my feeling twenty-odd years ago when I began to paint, feeling, then, a sense of great freedom and joy.  My inspiration over the years came not only from my Picasso-guitar dream, but from Robert Motherwell: “The problem is to seize the glimpse. The ethic lies in making the glimpse invisible.” So he might be painting about the Spanish Civil War, for example, but there wouldn’t be a soldier, a weapon, or a destroyed town in sight.  Only what he would call “the essence,” which often came down to black and white forms as “protagonists.” So I shifted styles, settings, always seeing that the painting was mine, but always looking for something bigger, greater.

We go to art shows all the time. I saw people painting or installing work that was different for the sake of newness, but not, I thought, any kind of real move forward. And, at the same time, abstract art has become trendy again.  I kept looking for the grand gesture, and got somewhat ahead of myself until I was virtually (artistically) paralyzed. I wrote and painted an artist’s book about the problem that I could not quite articulate.  The story line concerned Isabella, me, but wiser, who was trying to move beyond Motherwell. She begins to listen to a line from Vito Acconci. Here are three pages from the book:

(The arrow in the photograph above is pointing to the nearly hidden Connecticut River).

But then Isabella goes into a kind of funk.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where I found myself earlier this year.  I had no ideas.  So I stopped reading all the blogs that discussed seizing and hiding the glimpse, stopped looking at all the trendy re-visions of Mondrian and de Kooning, and started looking for artists who were finding and revealing the glimpse. And successfully bringing that glimpse forward, into the light.  

And I found several people trying to do just this, live in the “glimpse” of each moment, one of them an artist whose work I have come to love. It glows. Her blog is “Be… Dream… Play…”(
Elizabeth Bunsen creates journals, fabric art, paints … there is a very good interview with her at the site “Finally Me” that introduces us to Elizabeth’s life and work: .  Here are four of my favorite images from her site (used with permission from eb):

What I love here is the flow: the way the sunlight catches the x’s and o’s and crossed lines in the first golden-black work; the reds and blues and greens where the lines move from color to color seemingly without effort in the second piece;  the facility in the third, with just circles, script and neutrals, that despite its small size creates a wall-size effect;  and the outline of a crow, that somehow reminds me of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” – here is a stanza from that poem:

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Elizabeth’s work echoes, like those “innuendoes” in Stevens’s poem.  And it resonates with a kind of joy, the joy of someone who has found her way.  I contacted eb (as she signs herself) and lamented that I could not take one of her workshops in person. I sent eb images from her site which were most striking to me, and she wrote me back with some ways she works, with writing, with coffee stains, with lace, collage, gesso, “I build layers,” eb wrote, and “…. keep going until it feels complete but still airy -- hopefully a bit spacious … I am striving increasingly for quiet simplicity.”  I wrote what I most needed to do –- re-capture that glimpse I once found in my art -- and we set up a web course together.  eb encouraged me to “allow” myself to be “messy” and “play” with different combinations of gesso and words and drawn shapes, and “add what comes by way of impulse and make it your own.” And I send her each assigment and she writes me back with helpful commentaries and new assignments (growing a little more complex each time!).

Really good teachers don’t just teach the techniques they have learned and developed; they teach you how to do your own art.  And eb is such a teacher.

I have shelves filled with journals, but none were like these: works of art.  And I have a room half-filled with big paintings on wood and canvas, but I needed, I thought, to try to work small. It’s one thing to want a viewer to feel surrounded by your work because of its sheer size. It’s quite another to find yourself surrounded by a series of 9” x 12” paintings and drawings on paper.  And I wanted to create work that was portable, closer to the bone, closer to the glimpse.  And I am beginning to get there, thanks to eb.  Here are a few examples of my new work, mostly 9” x 12” but all of it between 5” x 7” and 14” x 17”:

As my teacher and I have discussed, these works have placed me back into the “flow” I had lost, and taught me about the worth and weight of the small, the personal, the intensity of going down into a color and a shape.

In my little book about “Isabella,” I had tried to get there, and I guess I was anticipating the artistic re-birth that, thanks to this class with eb, I have found:

Thank you, eb! And here’s hoping that you have had such an awakening sometime, when you needed it most … let me know!


  1. Ann,

    Thank you
    for this lovely posting
    so rich
    with deep feeling,

    with passion
    for the Muse
    that dances within
    and without...

    I am swept up
    with the joy of sharing

    the teacher in you
    has found the teacher in me

    with deep gratitude
    the teacher in me
    has found the teacher in you...

    (btw: 13 ways is one of my favorite poems)

    your work shines
    with vitality
    the vitality of discovery,

    the discovery of
    the dance with
    the treasure within you...

    xox - eb.

  2. Dear eb,

    Thank you! so much for your comment...I love the poetic form and your generous truly is, for me, too, "the joy of sharing." Thank you for helping me find that flow...

  3. ahhhhh....
    i found my way
    Here via eb's link
    thank goodness for that!

    this part you wrote
    ""Really good teachers don’t just teach the techniques they have learned and developed; they teach you how to do your own art. And eb is such a teacher. ""

    you were spot on
    with that observation!

    flow on!
    i hope to flow back

  4. Dear somepinkflowers,

    I hope you will! I have visited your blog -- like it very much -- and will come back for more inspiration. Thank you for your lovely comment. In addition to "Santé!" I think we should begin to toast ... the FLOW! xo Ann