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I recently returned from two beautiful weeks exploring several focused areas of Spain, specifically Madrid, Ibiza, Costa Brava and Barcelona. First stop, Madrid and the art collections. An array of bucket list items were checked off in four short days there, along with experiencing an energy and rhythm that only a city with such history and flavor could exude.

To start, the Museo del Prado, Spain national art collection…and its most acclaimed work, Las Meninas by Diego Velasquez. The building and its location along the tree lined boulevard nestled among several key historic museums and government buildings reminded me of walking to the National Gallery and the Smithsonian layout along The Mall in Washington, DC. Inside, the main central galleries reminded me of the Louvre. It was more open, not as overwhelming as the Louvre, but one could spend days exploring and finding so many treats and historic feasts. https://www.museodelprado.es/en/

2014 Spain 016With limited time, (jet lag got the better of us that morning and I woke just  as the native Madrianos were taking siesta), I knew I would focus on some key works. The first, Las Meninas. As one friend referred to it, the Mona Lisa of the Prado, this painting commands attention. It is large, you have to be patient to wrestle the tour groups and constant crowd to get close. The placard is way too small given the gravity of the work. The small side gallery in which it resides is filled with other important Velasquez portraits, well worth the time to absorb and enjoy. The immediate trait that connected them all for me was the impeccable rendering of chiaroscuro and lush illusion of fabric, skin, hair and metal. One forgets that it is simply paint on a two dimensional surface.

As for Las Meninas in particular, we know that it is a portrait within a portrait within a portrait. There are many layers to be peeled back, like an onion, to get to the basic root of the painting. For me, it’s about identity, and the relationship one has to have with “the other” to define that identity. Seeing Velasquez himself in the painting, one questions his role as artist, historian, self-promoter, voyeur. It’s a portrait of Spain, of royalty, of family, of class hierarchy…notice the name it refers to the nurse maids who are the least accented figures in the painting, nestled in the shadows behind the foreground focus on the young Princess Margaret. They take a backseat to everyone else, which may be another commentary on identity. I particularly love the rendering of the hound. And it certainly is a painting about painting, a reflection of ourselves played out in a well-designed, dramatic space of values, composition, perspective and light. images

After Velasquez, I wanted to see the Goyas. The gallery with his Black Paintings, those done in his later life, is quite powerful. These paintings are intense, raw and portray the dark side of humanity. There’s Saturn Devouring his Son, and my favorite, The Dog. These are much small than the Velasquez works, not as refined, but oh, so memorable.

Goya - The Dog2

As we made our way back toward our home base of Puerta del Sol, one of the central public squares, we enjoyed working our way through a neighborhood of side streets set up with an outdoor market of home goods. There was a variety of artist installations on the buildings, antique vendors selling vintage chairs, pillows, families heading to the cafes, sounds of musicians from around the corner and smells of tapas being served. We stopped at several of the bars for sangria and what would become our favorite drink, Tinto de Verano, a summer wine spritzer of red wine and lemon soda (Fanta) with fresh lemon slices.

It was only day one of the trip and I had fallen head over heals.

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I have been called a perfectionist. I don’t like it. In fact, I find it offensive. For me, perfectionism is stifling and so perfect in its unattainable state that I wonder why anyone who truly knows me would declare this about  me. Perfectionism is paralysis. Perfection is procrastination.

Oh, wait! How long has it been since I posted on this blog? Where is the monthly e-newsletter I vowed over a year ago to start? What about the canvases started but set aside until I feel more inspired? Seems I hear myself say “I’ve been meaning to….(fill in the blank) a lot lately. And so it is in this visceral reaction that I step back and realize that there is a seed of truth to this projection. In the dark shadows of my psyche I know that there is a tapestry woven from early experiences of silenced dreams and mocked fears.

I have shared my struggle with balancing acceptance, authenticity and the ego hurts that come with being an artist. In a moment of synchronicity, I saw a blog post by inspirational/spiritual speaker, Brendon Buchard. His words are a staccato of truisms for any creative adventurer and perfectionist galore!! I had to share, for so many of us live in the shadow of doubt, procrastination and fear. Is perfectionism holding you back from your art? Is it keeping you from contacting a gallery, submitting to a juried show? Perhaps it makes you a yes-man instead of saying no to the things that don’t enhance your life. Often it makes us say to others, you’re not good enough, or I’ll do it myself. I know I have to step back and allow myself the luxury of letting go of control (perceived, not actual).

I think it’s important to point out that there’s a big difference in being a high achiever and being a perfectionist. They often get confused or used synonymously. But perfectionists don’t often achieve, or at least not to their full potential. They sit idle, mulling; they think things will get better when something outside of their bubble changes, instead of changing their perspective, changing their choices. I hope to be able to recognize the difference when faced with those moments of doubt. Buchard beautifully describes the work and sweat and time needed to get to that place, let me know your thoughts as well.

Brendon Buchard on perfectionism:

The prettiest excuse we wield is the perfectionist’s lie, that crafty and vain and elegant delay logic shared with a high-chin that says, “You just don’t understand, I am a perfectionist so I have yet to finish.” The reason for our holdup is so beautifully precise yet abstract; our personality is to blame. No, the reason most have not finished is because they have yet to truly begin. They got tangled up in doubt or distraction, and so they have yet to commit the grueling focus, toil, sweat, and investment that real work and creativity requires. They believe they fear the blemishes of beginnings and the faults on the path to finishing, but perhaps they fear themselves. If there were such a thing as a “perfectionist,” they would at least be precise and call it like it is: “I am scared and distracted, and so I have yet to proceed or complete.”

And if there were such a person, they would be wise, knowing that the act of “perfecting” something comes only after completing and releasing it. They would know “perfection,” if such a thing exists, only happens after the terrible mess of creativity has been waded through with heart and discipline and excellence; they would know that the real magic happens after a thing is done as best as possible given the time constraints of a true and often terrifying deadline, after it can finally be shared with the world and beaten up and commented on and criticized and iterated; that the learning only begins once you see your work and art in the hands of others, once you see their eyes shine with joy or squint with confusion. 

They would know that day dreaming is not enough; that action, not perpetual analysis, moves us toward a more perfected state; that initiative alone propels us to real glory and greatness; that true high standards demand implementation not anxious apathy; that flawlessness is a fiction of the dreamer and has no use in the reality of the learner, the artist, the master.

Should such self-labeled delayers overcome fear and distraction, and actually allow days and weeks and months of courage and commitment, allow all the sloppiness and the feedback, allow the grand challenge to ego and to faith, allow the highs and lows of inspired and meaningful striving—then they might find themselves having actually completed the thing. They might suddenly realize that it wasn’t perfection they were after at all, but rather contributing something great and worthwhile; that only in the actual duty and discipline to finishing the things we dream of can we become alive and whole and legend; that in the handing over of our gifts to those we serve, no matter how imperfect, is what finally, after all that time, fulfills our mission and lifts our souls.

So let us lose the perfectionist’s lie and get at it. Let us do the work and take thrill in the toil and hardship and meaning that inspired action gives us; let us create and share and learn and reinvent with joy; let us complete it and release it and love it and allow our works to live under the sun for some growing and weathering and beautifying. Let us become masters.

Brendon Burchard – Live. Love. Matter.

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Through the years of art study and my creative professional career, the topic of whether making art was work or if focusing time and energy and financial resources toward art really constituted a job or “work”, has popped up quite a bit. I’m sure I am sensitive to it because I have struggled with the fundamental reasons it is asked in the first place. How can doing what you love be work? How can one say they have a job when all you’re doing is having fun?

You see, many people associate art-making with a hobby or activity that we did as kids and a luxury for many. Recently several of my painting students commented that they didn’t realize how hard it was and assumed that it always came easy for me. They thought, like many who think there’s a magic happy pill out there, that taking a six week class would give them all the techniques they need to be a skilled painter.

But isn’t that how it usually is when we see someone passionate about their work? Don’t they make it look easy? It’s become intuitive for them, they are comfortable, which leads to confidence and a productive work ethic. But like any relationship, the one we have with ourselves as artists is a daily balancing act and requires nurturing and yes….work.

I struggle daily with my work/life balance, especially having three different jobs to manage, a quilting of income streams that is paramount to any artist’s financial success, let alone to satisfy the artist’s tendency to have several projects in the works. And I don’t mentally or physically work efficiently in a 9 to 5 construct. Creative energy comes in waves so I work on other aspects of art-making in those down times. The flip side to that is I suffer artist guilt if I’m not actively in the studio or at the easel. One way I overcome that and enjoy time with friends, exercising, doing the things that don’t feel like work, is to think of myself as always being on the job, that being an artist is 24/7. There’s not a time clock that gets punched when I become the working artist, it’s just an essential part of my being.

I know I am not alone in this struggle, it was brought back to mind yesterday as I was reading a blog post by one of my favorite artists working right now, Nicholas Wilton. It is refreshing to get a peek into his process because it is so relatable. He so eloquently shared his struggle with this issue, art as work, I literally thought I was reading my own thoughts.

Check out the post here, it’s worth the read.

http://www.nicholaswilton.com/blog/

Wilton’s words are personal and ring so true. I realized this struggle essentially makes me feel vulnerable, to judgement of course, but also to choosing hard, hard work. I could choose a different way of life. I could be making a lot of money, I’m sure if I had chosen a different career path. But at the end of a long day of teaching or working in the studio, the choice is quite easy, I choose joy.

 

Orion Rising, Acrylic/Mixed Media on 4 x 4″ canvas.

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2014 Word(s) of the Year

I will admit, on this cold, dreary February 1st of 2014, that I spent the majority of January thinking about what I would write for my first blog post of the new year. Would I share resolutions, my fears of the unknown, my weaknesses from the previous year, the shame in thinking about my weaknesses and realizing they are the same as the year before that, and the year before that? And why has it taken me a month to put the words down? A friend recently reminded me that January is a liminal time, it is a transition from the crescendo of year end festivities and the coming renewal of spring. In the meantime, she said, let us all percolate a little, ponder and hold tight as we digest all that led us to this point. Really what she was saying is just “chill.” (See #1 on the word-of-the-year list below)

I noticed that in  recent years, especially on social  media sites, many friends and colleagues posted their “word of the year,” a way to encompass their goal or mantra for the coming months. Here are some of the ones that came to mind for me:

chill (yeah, surfers and Buddhist monks seem to have this one covered!)

still/stillness – difficult for us artists who typically have 5 projects going at once and believe that busyness is the answer to all ills.

presence/mindfulness – big on my to-do list, especially when the creative spark strikes. I have a difficult time not thinking about the past without it causing angst about the future, the unknown. Practicing presence, or being mindful, with non-judgment, is one of the hardest Zen-mastery concepts I think for most humans. If only we could be dogs! They understand presence…and unconditional love.

generosity – a little different than just being a giver, some mindfulness tucked in there adds authenticity. Being a giver isn’t necessarily a good thing so it’s important to understand the difference. For me, giving has an underlying desire for something in return attached to it. Generosity has no such agenda.

authenticity – am I honoring the artist within? Am I honest and loving to myself and with the people I cherish in my life? Am I generous with that love?

open – open minds, open hearts, open to change, learning, making mistakes, open to love, open arms, open to vulnerability, to new techniques, to new goals. This was most certainly going to be my word of the year, until I read an article this past week about the one skill that will improve all of our relationships and how we deal with all the voices and noise bombarding us 24/7. So my word of the year, at least in this moment, is….

listen – yep, not only silencing the noise in your head and all that coming out of our mouths but just honestly listen. Can you be still and quiet? We all want to be heard, need to be heard,  through all the languages that hold our truths. If you want to be heard, start hearing. Give the gift of listening. Perhaps one of the biggest ways we hold ourselves back from authenticity and potential is by not listening to our body and our gut. Listen to your children, your mate, your friends. It’s really just another way of being vulnerable, and accepting of ourselves, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I think when we truly listen, we are mindful, we are open and we are generous. Now just take the time to do it. With January behind us, may we welcome the creative bounty of the new year.  

Cheers to 2014!

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Back in late October, I spent a week in The Big Easy, training with Patti Brady, director of Golden Artist Colors Working Artist Program, and 17 fellow working artists from around the country in what was one of the most intense, rich training programs I could have imagined. We were selected by Golden to be a part of a program that builds relationships, enhances the art making process, and expands the educational tools available to art instructors. This approach builds awareness for art students and practitioners to the amazing array of Golden acrylic products and mediums and their potential uses in art making.

I first worked with Golden paints years ago, appreciating their quality and diverse offerings in mediums immediately. While this program has many benefits for both students and us
GAEP instructors, I am not a paid rep, this is not the same as the Golden Working Artist Program, and I am not beholden to sell or push one brand of product over another. What I do hope to do is provide innovative ways to help students to express their stories in ways that pushes their process beyond the traditional envelope, experimenting with new mediums in contemporary, creative ways.

I have a lot of plans for workshops, classes, lectures, as well as enriching my own body of paintings, prints and mixed media pieces. I am thrilled to be leading a plein air workshop in May 11-18 of 2015 to Costa Brava, Spain. I will demo Golden’s Open slow-drying line of acrylics as well as share journaling techniques and fundamentals and joy of painting en plein air. Registration is open, check out the itinerary here:

2015 Plein Air Painting in Spain

As always, follow me on Facebook (Kirah Fine Art), LinkedIn (Kirah Van Sickle), Twitter (@kirahfineart) and my website (www.kirahfineart.com) for the latest in workshops and paintings fresh off the easel. The Golden website is a fantastic resource for product info, technical info and videos on techniques and proper usage for their paints, gels and pastes.

Golden Artist Colors

E-mail me with any questions about the Golden Artist Educator Program or to schedule a class or workshop!!!

Golden Artist Educators Logo_blk

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This week I have the pleasure and amazing opportunity to work with Patti Brady, director of Golden Artist colors’ Working Artist Program and author of “Rethinking Acrylics” for certification into Golden’s Artist Educator Program. As one of 18 working artists and active teachers in North America, I am gaining incredible rich insight to the product line and creative techniques that not only enhance my personal art-making process but will inspire and enrich students in all my various classes, workshops and demonstrations.

It got me thinking, after two intense days of training so far, that we educators often forget what it’s like to be a student again. I received my MFA fairly recently, the rigors of deadlines and late nights are still fresh, but I’m referring to something a little deeper. The student and teacher must build a relationship of trust as well as the student be open to all that is still unknown. I had to laugh when our teacher reminded me I needed to use more paint. How many times have I told my students that!!!

Despite 40 years of working with acrylic paint, a medium I so love and feel I have mastered to a certain degree, I am a mere grasshopper to the masters in the room this week. My fellow students come from a diverse creative background and I am equally learning from them.

Recently I came upon a list that apparently originates from artist and educator, Sister Corita Kent and developed for a class project she taught back in 1967-1968.

The list, found in Sister Corita’s “Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit,” touches on several themes of the student – teacher relationship, including the delicate line between intuition and intellect, and the crucial habit of being fully awake to everything. I thought I’d share it here:

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (Attributed to John Cage)

I am particularly fond of #8, especially when so many of us are stuck in analytical mode, we don’t allow ourselves the creative time to just make, to just be present to the process. And that has been the best advice for me this week, as well. To not over think, just enjoy this incredible time of play!

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For reasons unbeknownst to me, I never watched the acclaimed television series, The West Wing. In the years since it was last on, I have had several friends, who’s opinions and tastes regarding tv and movies I trust implicitly, tell me I’m an idiot for not watching it.

Thanks to Netflix and a Roku, that wonderful streaming device I gave myself for Christmas, I am now able to catch up on all the amazing series that ran through the years while I was obviously in some sort of cave. I did watch the Sopranos religiously, I should get some sort of credit for that. I seem to have a skepticism when it comes to tv in general so I wait and take my time shopping for where I want to invest my viewing hours. Unfortunately, while I catch up on The West Wing, looks like I will eventually have to catch up on Mad Men, Downton Abbey and Duck Dynasty. Again, thank God for Netflix.

The West Wing is on my mind since I have plopped myself onto the sofa the last few nights working my way through the end of season 2 and beginning of season 3, which took place in 2001. For those of you who followed the show, you may be wondering what does the show have to do with art? Certainly the set designers went to great lengths to create a decor that pays homage to the real White House and oval office. There are amazing works of art popping up in the scenes, the portrait of George Washington, various murals, the Remington sculptures throughout. But what I am really referring to is the amazing storytelling at the root of the show, and how it gets translated (the dialogue, actors and their relationships within the scenes) in an allegorical way. To me, that’s painting!

Art is a projection, an expression of an idea, a story. Painting uses a visual language of symbol and metaphor to tell that story. And one of the biggest metaphors for me, personally is a map. One of the themes that underlies my work is liminality, being in between. I have had several experiences along the way that have left me questioning “where am I?” – both literally and metaphorically. I have moved a lot and require a certain sense of stability of place and time. On the flip side is my love of travel and geography so there’s something to be said for my desire to explore new spaces/places…as long as I have said map.

How many times have we become complacent in our “space” to suddenly have something happen that knocks us off our axis? Have you ever trusted a bad map? (see “Apple Exec Fired Over Maps”) I was reminded of that question while watching the show, as several back to back episodes dealt with just that. I felt an immediate connection to these concepts, obviously I am not the only one who questions their place in the big scheme of things.

Using the presidency and the White House communications office as the backdrop is a brilliant way to paint a picture of humanity, hubris, the desire to be heard, the need to feel that what you believe is real and true. The particular storyline in these episodes is that the president has MS but has kept that fact from the public and the staff. As if that wasn’t a big enough breach, at the same time, parallel sub-stories, all with the underlying theme questioning fidelity, that we can never take trust, or what we believe for granted, are also playing out.

A fax comes in from NASA that a satellite will be falling back to earth. To some, this could have potential tragic consequences. Satellites die? What if it hits a populated area? One of the character’s is dealing with the fact that his father has been having an affair for 28 years. Another staffer is killed senselessly driving back to work in their brand new car by a drunk driver. What all these characters realize is that none of them were where they thought they were. And in a stroke of genius, the show plays out a scene that humorously, yet poignantly slaps us in the face with this revelation when the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality makes a plea that the map of the world often shown in schools is archaic and incorrect. Check it out, from Season 2, Episode 16, “Why Are We Changing Maps?”

We take our space/place in the world for granted every day. We rely on a false sense of trust  and assumption that isn’t really there. As if a premonition of what was to come, ironically these episodes aired in May of 2001, three months before 9/11. How many of us were knocked off our axis by that?

In the wake of the Zimmerman trial and a death this week of a young actor who appeared to have every potential for success in his pocket, I think it’s important to look at these events with the perspective that we function and move through the world based on a lot of illusions and assumptions and biased perspectives. It’s only natural to build a personal reference map in this way. The stories of our humanity are played out not only in our art, our television shows and movies, but on the evening news. Wait, take that back…on the 24-hour news cycle that is really, truth be told, just another fictionalized tv show.

How are you going to tell your story? What is your map of the world? Is it one that is racist, hateful and dark? Is it rosy, optimistic, hopeful? Maybe both. Do you feel safe if you own a gun? Would you think your children were safer if they were home-schooled vs. public school? Does your map offer short cuts and alternative routes or is there only one way to get between point A and B? Do you even need a map? Do you stay in the same spot for fear of what is around the corner?

Art in its many forms has an impeccable way of mirroring back these questions. These are the stories of Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens and Frost. They are our stories, played out over and over again. As artists and storytellers, we can decide who gets to be the hero of our tale. Will it be you, with all your warts, and all? Or a masked being in red cape and super powers? Maybe both.

I highly recommend the show for its insights, its humor, amazing acting and certainly its storytelling. Perhaps it can inspire a new perspective and angle of view. I know it has for me.

Happy painting!

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