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Archive for the ‘Abstract Expressionism’ Category

An inventory of what I have done in my studio over the last year has proved a bit surprising—or maybe not!  For 8 months out of the 12, I have been gimped with ortho issues. A shoulder replacement in late 2017 had only just begun to heal when a hip kicked in saying, “Hey, it’s not fair. I want some of this attention.”

Two major hip surgeries later (the 1st, a total hip replacement and the 2nd, to repair a severely fractured femur with screws, metal hooks, and wires that make me think of civil engineered bridge construction) I am still hobbling and spending much of the time off my feet.

For several weeks it was 1 leg only, to navigate this “kid in an old body” to and from a cozy living room couch (my 24/7 hangout) to a bathroom (about 5 yards away), my piano right behind my couch, and an extra art studio which my wonderful husband set up for me at the nearby end of our dining room table.

Books, limited piano practice which—although done sitting down—wore me out, my French tutorial apps and a Public Television app on my I-pad (I re-watched the entire DOWNTON ABBEY), serial-shopping on Amazon (FUN/FUN/FUN!), Van Cliburn and other geniuses streaming through my devices into our fine speakers day and night (1 of which speakers was conveniently located beside my ear on my 24/7 couch), my knitting (how many cowls does anyone need?), and ART made up my life for much of 2018.

Who needs to cook, scrub floors, vacuum, and dust anyway?

I normally avoid medical discussions except with those professionals to whom Medicare is paying me to complain, but the above diatribe is to demonstrate how life can be a lot of fun under rather strange circumstances! And how art can thrive, when pain and disability prevail. One’s pain can literally be “drowned” in paint, especially the wet into wet method of working which I prefer.

Anyway, my inventory yielded a surprising 35 paintings that I actually like. (There are always the “duds” which get stashed on a shelf for possible reworking or salvaging parts; or sometimes they are so outrageous that I trash them.)

The keepers range from (3) 20″ x 24″ biggies, a 16″ x 20″, a handful of 11″ x 14″ renderings, and a preponderance of 12″ x 16″ paintings—obviously my favorite size. The paintings are predominately woodland scenes and funky individual trees—with a smattering of flowers, a sailboat in trouble, some landscapes with distant castles, a still life (my least favorite), and a huge, totally abstract on Yupo Paper which I LOVE most of all.

Although my inventory preferences are not exactly written in the proverbial stone, they are indicative—and it was fun reviewing a year of art making, body disability notwithstanding.

The year’s earnings amounted to $700.00 which constituted a donation to, and sale at, our local art group’s annual fundraiser. My dislike of office type stuff is such that I can find no record of which paintings I donated. I believe they were “masterpieces” from former years

Also, I give paintings to interested friends and family members. As with club donations, my right hand (very happily) does not know what my left hand is doing.

I share many of my favorites via prints glued to notecards, thus bragging about my art while facilitating my passion for writing actual letters as opposed to emails.

Above re the end of 2018 renderings, hardly even dry when I photographed them with my I-phone camera. They tend to make me think of Spring, and they are my HAPPY NEW YEAR to you!

Margaret L. Been, December 31st, 2018

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Throughout weeks of laying low after surgery to mend a broken femur, I have nestled close to 1 of 2 speakers which stream the finest music of the Western World from my I-Phone to my ear.

Among my favorites are Brahms’ incredibly stirring Hungarian Dances.  I have all 21 of them on my phone and pad, performed by the Berliner Symphoniker—and they make me want to fling myself around the room in wild abandon*, gimpy leg notwithstanding.

But in lieu of flinging, I have been painting—between earfuls of Brahms’ haunting Gypsy style refrains.  And the resulting art?  Well it has been wisely said that music is never neutral.  It pervades our psyche and helps to make us whom we are!

In my case, a Boho soul.  I have named the above renderings my “Boho Trees” series.  If you think the trees are strange, just blame Brahms.  Or better yet, stream his Hungarian Dances and get with the flow!

Margaret L Been — December 11th, 2018

*Flinging myself about a room in wild abandon is what I did regularly, as a young child.  My mother was a classical pianist.  She played the Hungarian Dances, and many other selections which motivated me to bounce from couch to chair, whirl in circles till I was dizzy, and then fall on the floor.  So maybe you can view the art and blame Mom!  MB

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British fine artist Ann Blockley advocates picking an art subject about which one is passionate, and then building a file of photos, sketches, word descriptions, etc. dealing with the topic.  Eventually this resource will continue to seep in and ultimately create significant art.

I love the concept of building the resource file.  One subject very dear to me, a place where I spent some beautiful university and early marriage years, is the state of Colorado,  So I have been building a file of pleasant memories, focusing on that drop dead gorgeous part of the USA.

Specifically prominent in my memory is the environs of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs—where my husband, our first child Laura, and I lived in 1956.  Our home was four rows of cottages up from Canyon Avenue on a foothill looming over stately Victorian mansions, where the wealthy of the late 1800s and early 1900s gathered to drink the allegedly-healthful waters of Manitou Springs.

In 1956, Colorado Springs was a sleepy Southwestern town of about 27,000 people—only slightly disturbed by the presence of the military, of which my husband was a part at Fort Carson.  Construction of the Air Force Academy began about the time Joe left the army for civilian life, when we returned to our native Wisconsin.

When we lived in Manitou Springs we were a young family, and we had only a primitive box camera in our limited stash of possessions—plus just a bit of extra cash for buying film.  I have only a few snapshots from that era, and naturally they are closeups of Laura—our darling first child.

So to resurrect the familiar scenic views of our neighborhood, I resorted to GOOGLE, and “he/she/or it” referred me to everything I could recall and more—views of Williams Canyon, The Cave of the Winds, the charming adobe houses and motels along Colorado Avenue in Old Colorado City, and of course The Garden of the Gods which we could see from our high-on-a-foothill bathroom window in Manitou Springs.

I printed out a stack of the online photos for my file, and added a string of my own sketches, rough watercolor and colored pencil renderings, plus word impressions—samples of which are pictured above.

The above drawing of a building is noteworthy—not my crude sketch but the history of the Colorado Springs area landmark, a mini castle called Glen Eyrie.  Glen Eyrie was built in 1871 by General William Jackson Palmer—the founder of Colorado Springs.  “The Glen”, as the castle is frequently called, is set on 750 acres.  There are 97 rooms of scenic Old World ambience, now tastefully refurbished with every modern convenience.

I recall this building to be dark and mysterious in 1956, and I always wondered about it when we drove by.  Whether or not refurbishing by new owners as of 1953 had begun when we lived in the neighborhood of The Glen, I cannot recall.

But if you GOOGLE “Glen Eyrie” as it is today, as well as it was before remodeling, you will see an amazing transformation in keeping with the castle’s Old World charm.  The “new owners of 1953” were and still are a Christian Campus and Community Ministry, THE NAVIGATORS* with a combined emphasis on evangelism and Biblical discipleship.

Glen Eyrie serves as a year-round NAVIGATORS’ conference center, especially meaningful to me as two of our six children were successfully “navigated” through the University of Wisconsin system via the NAVIGATORS.  Both our son, Karl, and daughter, Martina, have spent fruitful times at Glen Eyrie.

Thus my art file is building.  I am still waiting for some fantastic art to emerge, but oh what fun anyway!  Thank you, Ann Blockley.

Meanwhile, since all of Colorado and New Mexico are special to me, I do have a backlog of paintings inspired by vacations in those states.  Come along and see for yourself.

 

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And more!

Margaret L. Been — November 14th, 2018

*THE NAVIGATORS MINISTRY was founded by an evangelist, Dawson Trotman (1906-1956).  Trotman died while rescuing a young girl from drowning in a water-skiing accident, in New York State.  Since then, the ministry which Dawson Trotman began has resonated world-wide.  The Navigators Ministry has been used by God to save countless individuals from spiritual drowning. 

A beautiful picture of the truth of Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”

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Glancing back over decades of freelance writing, I don’t recall ever experiencing that dreaded infirmity called “Writer’s Block”.  Perhaps that is because, as I am doing at this moment, I always wrote from real life rather than fiction–although I love to read fiction at well as documentary and other forms of non-fiction.

The term “Writer’s Block” amuses me because my writing has always been a form of talking.  I certainly have never suffered from “Talker’s Block”.

Art is different.  Frequently I have a spell where I think I can never again produce anything “suitable for framing”.  Many artists have similar periods when they struggle with doubts and a dearth of that nebulous thing called “inspiration”.  My antidote for Artist’s Block is simply to plow right through it.  There may be days of frustration over perceived failures, but I find comfort in keeping on and working through the block.

Oxymoronic as it may appear, my dual approach to the block is to:  1) try something totally new either in subject, materials, or methods and 2) try to bang out something that has worked before.  Above is a sample of both options–a sailboat in trouble, an often rendered subject but this time in acrylics, still new and challenging to me.

Our family had many years of pleasant sailing on local inland lakes where falling in the warm water meant a fun swim and turtling the boat made for uproarious storytelling in retrospect.  But one family sail was not so pleasant.  In our cub boat we foolishly set out from a quiet cove which was sheltered from the elements, with the plan to explore one of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior–the Great Lake which allegedly “never gives up her dead”. *

And if you know the Great Lake–at least the two that I’ve experienced, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior–you are very familiar with the adjective “COLD”!

Anyway, we left that quiet cove, out into the immense lake (I believe the second largest inland water in the world–the first largest being somewhere in Russia) and horrendous winds bombarded us seemingly from all directions.  There were five of us in the boat–my husband, myself, our two teen-age sons Eric and Karl, and our lab/collie Duffy.

I praise God for my husband Joe’s Viking DNA.  He miraculously sailed us back to land with the help of the boys.  Duffy and I were ballast.  We huddled in the bottom of the boat, praying–at least I was praying.  I hung on to Duffy as hard as I could, and I think he was as terrified as I was.

So why in the world do I love to paint sailboats in trouble?  More than reliving an experience, I think the reasons are motion and water, since both make for interesting visuals.  Motion and water are easy for me to paint.  And due to incorporating acrylic paints which are still stretching me, the above painting titled “On the Edge” (part of a series) proved to be a complete therapy.

Voila.  Once again I’ve immerged from the block.  Three happy starts of paintings were produced in my studio this very evening.  The starts are happy enough that I decided to share my method of working through the block!  🙂

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*I knew the phrase about Lake Superior “never giving up her dead” came from Canadian troubadour Gordon Lightfoot’s classic ballad–“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” which helped to immortalize that historic 1975 tragedy.

Also I wondered if the phrase had actually been a traditional saying, perhaps passed down through Native American cultures in the region.

GOOGLE only reinforced the fact that the saying came from Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad, and I can find no extra specific info.  But the following Wikipedia quote indicates that Lake Superior’s reputation is well-founded since Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes:

“The Great Lakes, a collection of five freshwater lakes located in North America, have been sailed upon since at least the 17th century, and thousands of ships have been sunk while traversing them.  Many of these ships were never found, so the exact number of shipwrecks in the Lakes is unknown; the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum approximates 6,000 ships and 30,000 lives lost, while historian and mariner Mark Thompson has estimated that the total number of wrecks is likely more than 25,000. 

“In the period between 1816, when the Invincible was lost, to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, the Whitefish Point area in Lake Superior alone has claimed at least 240 ships.”

Margaret L. Been — October, 2018

 

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Back after a long hiatus—time enough for a new hip, a lazy summer, and plenty of physical therapy.  But artmaking was a huge part of the therapy.  Standing is easier for me than sitting, no matter what.  And regardless of whatever this body is up to, if I can create something I am a happy woman!

Above is a 20″ x 24″ painting that should be titled, “Love/Hate”.  Being a bit vociferous about opinions, I have long claimed that I hate acrylics.  They have seemed so fake appearing and stupid to me—stubborn, inflexible, hard to shove around, incapable of producing those wonderful watercolor “cauliflowers”, and totally lacking in subtlety.  Especially when gouache can do the job of building depth and texture, although gouache needs to be preserved with glass or an acrylic (there is that word!) fixative–and acrylic paint needs only itself for permanence.

Then, amazingly, I came across books and a DVD by a new-to-me British artist:  Soraya French who has painted in most all media, but absolutely LOVES acrylics.  The material struck me as somewhere out there, to begin with.  But after reading, re-reading, viewing, and reviewing, “somewhere out there” closed in on me.  Soraya French has pried open my closed mind.

I recently completed “Love/Hate” and still was not sure which it was:  love or hate.  The piece went through many mutations, layer upon layer, changes of theme and subject matter, as well as variations of color dominance.  But hey, that’s acrylics:  layer upon layer.

While the painting was at its final stage of dampness, I truly thought it was tacky—like something one might win at the county fair for knocking off a row of mechanical ducks.  But suddenly the piece was dry and it took on a whole new life.  I kept staring at it, as it penetrated my psyche.  Hate disappeared, and Love became at least a “Like”.  The painting is now hanging in our dining room.

Love/Hate has a new name.  My original idea was to suggest autumn foliage.  The foliage changed to bare branches for winter, sailboat masts on a stormy sea, finally returning to the tree motif—but with an attitude more like spring than autumn.  So the new title is “An Autumn That Looks Like Spring”.  Fitting, as we have had a gloriously warm/hot September, and today is once again in the high 70s.

For me, trees are like lilies and haystacks to Monet—although repetition is where the comparison ends between Claude and me.  Rather ridiculous to mention the two of us in the same sentence.  But I am as genuinely obsessed with trees, as Monet was smitten with his favorite subjects.

Over the summer and my surgery-recovery-period I did some more trees, with a focus on texture and application of mixed media along with watercolors and gouache:  soft pastels, hard pastels, oil pastels, India ink, Derwent Inktense Sticks, and water soluble crayons (all of artist quality as anything less would prove disappointing).  Here is some of that harvest of trees:

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In closing, I urge you to check out Soraya French’s website.  Another inspiring British lady—who has re-opened the doors to individuality, personality, and freedom in art.

Whereas from around the turn of the 19th/20th century right up to a couple of decades ago, freedom of expression in art was “trendy” (almost a given), in recent years there has been a definite swing back to photo-realism:  creating recognizable art such as “The Old Village Bridge”, “Apple Farm”,  “Country Church”, or realistic city scenes.

In our Wisconsin neighborhood, a familiar scene is the church with three spires high on a rural hill.  The site is called, “Holy Hill”.  It has been painted realistically more times than I can imagine, and a rendering of Holy Hill is recognized by anyone who has been around here for any time at all.

Beautiful!  Such art requires great skill, and deserves its place of respect.  But it is not, generally speaking, the art I desire to have much of on my walls.  More and more, I am drawn to mystery, unanswered questions, and the energy of abstraction–or semi-abstraction with a touch of realism, all with a focus on being as beautiful as possible.

In the arts, I see no value in trying to reproduce the ugliness of much of the world.  Art is a precious commodity, a timeless gift in keeping with great music and poetry—bestowed upon us to lift our souls.  Yes, we can and should portray all of life in terms of great sadness and poignancy as well as great joy; but the means of portrayal can be beautiful and the message behind the means, one of hope and anticipation of a better world.

Isn’t that why our Creator God has allowed us to reflect a token of His creativity, by making things with the gifts and resources He has provided for us—that we might in some tiny way attempt to fashion a better world?

Margaret L. Been  —  October 3, 2018

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Growing more and more enamored with abstraction, especially that which is soft-edged, flowing, and organic as opposed to geometric, hard-edged, and harsh, I was tremendously pleased with the above 24″ x 20″ rendering—so pleased that I framed it and the mysterious painting is hanging high in our living room, brightening up the entire wall.

When I study the painting, I imagine different scenarios:  a moonlit swamp; a campfire; the triumph of light over darkness and joy over sorrow; the vicissitudes of a long life on earth.  The print which you see does not do justice to the colors therein; they vibrate and rock.  Recently, the “vibrate and rock” appealed to a seven year old great-grandson/friend who came for a visit and art making.

“I want to do one like that,” Deacon decided after studying my various paintings on our walls.  Then he excited me up to my earlobes by saying, “I like the way the colors run together.”  Do I have a kindred soul here, or what?

Deacon proceeded to create his own mystery painting.  He learned that simply painting color over color with a loaded brush creates blackish-brownish mud, which I praised and applauded because children’s art is ALWAYS wonderful.  Then I showed him how gently introducing colors to different areas of wet paper, while jiggling the paper to let the wet colors mingle, causes mysterious marks never to be reproduced in the exact same way.

There wasn’t time to introduce salt and plastic wrap which add texture to a painting, but hey—we quit art making in order to fly kites with Deacon’s great-grandfather (my Joe) in the park outside our front door.  Kites are important, and highly symbolic of our free and funky Boho lifestyle.

My, aren’t we full of metaphors and similes today!?!  Having written poetry most of my life (since I could first wield a pencil or pen), I tend to think in metaphors and similes.  They are everywhere and—like paintings and kites—the colorful ones are the most fun! 🙂

Margaret L. Been  —  May 2nd, 2018

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I often giggle when I think of what comes out of my studio in contrast to the work of gifted, well-schooled artists!  Highly skilled artists may be among the most generously-encouraging-to-beginners group of professionals on earth.  We all are included in a vastly diverse culture where there is a place for most anyone at any level and inclination.

But I have a library of art books—both “how to” tutorials by well-known artists, and tomes of art history and criticism.  I love to study these books, and I do know the difference between classic art and smoke and mirrors—my off-the-cuff “hashtag” for a bag of tricks which I am delighted to share with any beginner who is eager to paint and willing to spend hours each week, building an inventory of paintings in his or her studio.

My 12″ x 16″ rendering below is titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”, and it is composed of tricks that my seven-year-old great-grandsons could perform if they decided to sit or stand still long enough,  I began by slathering gesso on the 140# cold press paper to create rocky slopes.  After the gesso dried, I sprayed the surface with water and applied different watercolors—jiggling the paper so the paints could blend and do their own thing,  When those paints dried, I streaked a thinned application of white gouache here and there to add mystery and a sense of age to the rocks.  Voilà.  Smoke and mirrors.

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The next example displays a couple of favorite tricks:  plastic wrap and salt.  (I use Kosher salt, but any will do—creating slightly varying effects).  The paper used here is Yupo, that glass-like surface which is not really paper, but rather an amalgamation of chemicals.  (There is no middle ground with Yupo.  Artists either love it or hate it.  The lovers are the “let it all hang out” group of which I am one, and the haters are the perfectionists who do well with lots of control.)

Where you see crinkles and wrinkles, that is where the plastic wrap was applied.  It takes a long time for the paint to dry under plastic wrap on Yupo, and less time on a rag surface which is absorbent.  The spots and phased-out parts were done with salt.  The salt technique is far more spectacular on rag paper than on Yupo.  The painting at the top of this page shows the result of salting the wet paint on rag paper.  Salt can make snowflakes, clouds, stars, dandelion fluff, and many additional effects,

Thus you can see that whenever art making is a person’s dream, it can be done.  And every dream will materialize differently—as each of us is unique.  What fun we can have, sharing our ways to implement the smoke and mirrors!  🙂

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