Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion
July 28th, 2014

Photo Diary: Beauty

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”- Sigmund Freud
Central Park 2013

 

May 23rd, 2014

Ineffable: Time & Space

The interval between events is not insignificant.  I’ve come to understand this over the years.  Desire is often not enough to create something beautiful or meaningful.  Looking back, I see how willful I used to be.  I’d toil away at making drawings of people or landscapes.  I’d fill sketchbooks to the brim, trying persistently to create a photographic drawing.  Persistence can be good when it creates discipline.  But too much persistence restrict creativity and freedom.

 

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The illusion of being in complete control of my life and work was, at first, very attractive.  “If I just try harder” was something I repeated to myself incessantly.  This was initially very good, because I lacked discipline.  My life was chaotic.  I did everything haphazardly.  I tried to do so many things at once that I did none of them well.  My workspace was in a disarray and would distract me.  And then I would think of 10,000 expectations and judge my work harshly.  The desire to “try harder and be better” helped me to be disciplined.  Most people don’t like that word.   Yet I’ve come to enjoy it very much.  I’ve designated times for being productive.  Keeping a clean and sparse environment allows me to focus and be creative.  I’ve learned that more can be distracting.  Discipline freed me up from chaos and allowed me to be more present to express myself in whatever media I choose.
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But then there came a point during which my desired to try harder and be better consumed me.  I’d try so hard that I lost sight of what I really wanted.  If things didn’t happen within the time frame I’d created, well, it was all over.  I’d push people away.  I’d throw my work out.  I’d burn my writing.  I became so attached to the idea of achieving success – whatever that was – that all the creativity seemed to stop.  I came to resent the interval between events.  Why couldn’t I be creative, successful, in love, or simply “on” all the time?
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Slowly, I began to notice that there was some sort of mystical ebb and flow to creativity, and all beautiful experiences.  They cannot be forced.  It’s something that happens on its own.   After realizing this, I just stopped trying.
Now, what is important to note is that I did not give up the discipline that I had developed or the space in which I made to paint.  What I gave up on was the belief of arriving at some mythical point of success that would never appear.  I gave up judgement.  I gave up attachment to a finish product.  To be good or terrible no longer had relevance.  Then, the ideas and experiences seemed to flow through me.  There are durations in which I experience intense creativity.  I will make 5 or 6 paintings all at once, ineffably.  The paintings seem to paint themselves, and my only role is to introduce different colors and textures to each other.
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Other times, I will be in a creative drought.  Either I won’t want to make anything, or it requires such a tremendous amount of effort that it’s joyless to do.  Instead of forcing it to come, I acknowledge the interval of time that passes.
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The space and time in between being creative, being with people I love, and experiencing satisfaction isn’t insignificant.  In letting go, I’ve noticed that experience always returns.

 

April 22nd, 2014

Ineffable: The Beauty of Nature

There is nothing I enjoy more than spending time outdoors.  I savor the quiet time, at first getting lost in thought and then letting them all fade away.  Being in nature always makes me calm and serene.   When I come back from long hikes or runs, people often remark that I look happier.  There is something transformative about this time alone in the wild.
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 A Field in Denver, Colorado.  January 2014.
It’s difficult to put into words what I see and how it makes me feel.  For many years, I tried to capture my experience with photography.  Today, however futile my attempt may be, I feel the need to speak about what the experience is like for me.

 

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 An Alleyway in Pennsylvania.  March 2013.

Walking alone gives me time to observe the external world.  Most of the time, I want to be outdoors to escape the thoughts in my mind.  It’s so easy for me to get swept away by worry and doubt.  Lately, my concerns have been focused on money.  It feels like I’m always scraping to get by.  I scrutinize every dollar I spend.  My social life is far from the glitzy fantasies that a Manhattan address may evoke.
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The Last Leaves.  February 2014.

Like so many other people, I wonder how I’ll every pay off my student loans.  I criticize myself for not having understood what I was doing to my financial future at 22, when graduate school was so appealing and the economy was more stable.   Thankfully, I have a wonderful job and a plan to fix the mistakes that I’ve made.  But staying positive can be challenging.  The smallest event can carry me far, far away on a trail of self-loathing and doubt.

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Evening.  March 2013.
Worrying doesn’t change the situation.  It doesn’t make my payoff date come closer.  Instead, it takes me away from the peace I can experience now.  We’ve all done this.  We’ve somehow told ourselves that happiness, peace, and success are only allowed after completing some far off task.  But experiencing peace is really a daily choice.  It shouldn’t be delayed.
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A Walk in Central Park.  April 2014.
Being outdoors reminds me of what is really important.  It reminds me how precious time is.  I notice how everything changes based on the time of day.  The amount and intensity of light changes through the day.  This makes the environment change colors.  The way I feel in the environment in the morning versus dusk is so different.
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Seeds of Spring.  December 2013.
My walks start out very simply.  I just try to listen to as many noises as possible.  The sound of my feet hitting the ground.  The whisper of my own breath. Birds chirping.  The wind rustling through the trees.  The focus on sound inevitably brings my attention to the beauty of my surroundings.
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Blossoms.  April 2014.
I take the time to look at all the details around me.  The way the light hits a flower.  How an overcast sky turns pastel as I gaze up at a tree in full bloom.  Seeing delicate petals flutter in the cool breeze of a spring day.
 
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Delicate Petals.  April 2014.
Seeing this way starts to spill over into my ordinary day.  For my 30th birthday, I went to Colorado to visit friends and family.  It was such a wonderful trip.  The weather was perfect.  I was happy to spend time with people who are important to me.  We spent half a day skiing in Vail.  Every view was exhilarating.  But the really special moments had something in common: something very subtle would catch my eye, like:
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Skiing in Vail, Colorado.  January 2014.
a flickering light . . .
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Snowfall in Central Park.  February 2014.
a gust of wind that blew powdery snow on my shoulder . . .
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Snowfall in the Forest.  March 2014.
the warm feel of the sun hitting my cheeks on a winter day.  These small queues snap me out of routine and thought.  I shift my attention.  Then I grab my camera as fast as I can to capture the moment.  How I feel in the moment has no words.  But the picture can capture it more completely.
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The Reservoir in Central Park.  February 2013.
Now that spring has finally warmed up to us, I’m feeling optimistic.  The beauty of nature reminds me that problems are temporary, just like the seasons.  It seems like a great time to stop doubting, to believe in something new.  Forget about time, go outside, and take flight.
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 Flight.  October 2012.
Happy Earth Day!

 

April 9th, 2014

Ineffable: Patience

I’ve been trying to cultivate patience.  It’s not something I was born with.  Things never seemed to happen fast enough for me.  My childhood impatience carried over well into my twenties.  I always felt restless, always wanted to impose my will on situations and people.  When I didn’t get the desired outcome, I’d become very irritated and upset.  I had no emotional self-control.  Constantly being ruled by emotion is exhausting.  I decided to try consciously be more patient at 25, right when I started teaching.  Having to lead a classroom made me aware that growing irritable was a quick way to lose control and the interest of my students.
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Patience is a discipline that can grow over time.  For me, it was very hard-won.  I still find it difficult to be patient with myself.  But I was lucky enough to find resources in developing a more peaceful way to deal with delays and setbacks.  I think painting has helped me tremendously.  Sometimes it comes out all wrong.  Preparing and mixing paints takes time and effort.  Then, the process of trying to make something beautiful can go terribly wrong.  My first few failed attempts would leave me outraged and angry.  Negative thoughts would stream through my mind, like: “What a waste of time. ” or  “I’m terrible.”  But for some reason, I kept showing up.  (New to my site?  You should check out my previous post, Showing Up.)
One day I realized why I kept coming back – the process of painting helped me to quiet my mind.
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I’m not sure what your mind is like, but my is complicated.  I think lots of thoughts and am easily distracted.  I make plans for the future.  I read books.  I worry about things that are out of my control.  I judge myself harshly.  With all of these plans, hopes, fears, and ideas jumping around in my head, it can be difficult to be present.  Lost in thought, I’d bump into people in the subway.  I’d get irritated that they didn’t see me.  Or I would be so distracted I’d be late to appointments or meetings.  This would lead me to blame anything or anyone external to myself.  My inability to focus and tame my mind was the problem, not the train being late or the people in the streets.
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These thoughts and feelings that were always whirling around inside of me would slow down and stop completely when I started to focus on creating.  A new-found patience started to grow within.  I could quiet my mind more.  Life became less about imposing my will on people and situations.  I experienced freedom from anger and irritation because I started to realize that there is nowhere else to be but here, now.  It’s been 5 years since I’ve made the decision to become more patient.  My relationships with other people are better, my ability to focus has improved, and I’ve learned to let go of expectations.
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Still, waiting always seems to test me.  The new paintings I’ve been making require a lot of drying time.  The linseed oil needs time to harden.  At first, it looks slick, smooth, and saturated with color.  I let my paintings dry on an old Ikea clothing rack, since I don’t have a lot of space.  As the oil dries over time, the painting starts to look very different from how it started.
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The surface hardens into textures and patterns.  It’s less shiny.
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The colors’ vibrancy also change.
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New shapes and color combinations emerge that I never intended to create.  It makes me realize the importance of being patient.  Not forcing the painting to occur in a set time period allows something more beautiful than what I set out to create to happen on its own.
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It’s almost dry enough to hang, but not quite yet.  Until then, I wait.  Sometimes patiently, sometimes not.  When I catch myself aggressively wondering how long it will take to just be done, I stop.  I think to myself, “Maybe it’s time to make a new painting”, and I move on.
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April 4th, 2014

Ineffable: Knowing When to Stop

“If you don’t know what you are making, how do you know when to stop?” That’s a reasonable question.  Yet it’s difficult to answer.  Maybe I can answer it with a personal story.  I started a new job at the end of August 2013.  It’s in a completely unrelated industry – a real suit and tie type of place.  When I went on my initial interview, we arrived at the question and answer portion.  I brazenly asked if I could remove the existing art work and replace it with my own.  (How’s that for bold?)
I got the job, and it was quite a transition.  I’m the only woman in the office (keep in mind that my previous work environments were the reverse – mostly or entirely female).  I’m also the only aesthete.  Making something for this shared space really preoccupied my thoughts.  It had to be appealing to an audience I knew very little about, and one that would have only one real strong opinion about the work – if they didn’t like it.
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This made me try doing a series of small studies on paper.  I used all kinds things, just doodling all over the page.  I used crayons, and colored pencils and markers, and pens, and ink.  When I started with ink, I used a brush to draw circles all over the paper.  Then I made circles with different colored markers.  Finally, I traced the circles with water and a brush.  The effect?  The colors started to bleed out.  All of the sudden, I saw rain drops hitting a puddle.  That’s when I knew to stop.  When I start to see something – like seaweed or rain drops – the picture is complete.  A feeling of finality washes over me.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post – the first in the series of explaining the unexplainable.)
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So I had an idea with I approached this canvas.  This allowed me to complete the painting very quickly.  I applied the blue base coat.  Then, I swirled silver paint onto a brush, and whipped the handle in little circles.  I’d have to dip the brush into the can of paint and pull it out quickly – this lets more paint settle on the brush than taking it out slowly.  I mixed black oil paint to a thin consistency and did the same thing.
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I let it dry for a week and half.  It still needed something, so I decided to spatter yellow paint on the surface.  One of the guys commented: “Hey!  It looks great with yellow.”  That was another sign I knew this version was complete – someone so far removed from art could judge it favorably.  A man that I did not know well that had no previous interest in art liked the painting.  I’d say that’s a good point to stop.
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It took another few weeks to decide where to hang it, and which type of frame would look best.  Here’s the finished product:
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March 29th, 2014

New Series: Ineffable

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  I’ve been allowing myself to really run away with my thoughts; explore my ideas more fully, read, and experiment with new media.  Somewhere, I came across this idea:
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This was such a perfect word.  To say what can’t be said.  So much of my personal work is an attempt to express what seems impossible to say.  People often ask me how long it takes me to make a painting, and I struggle to tell them.  Sometimes it can be in one sitting, other times it can take weeks.
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It’s even difficult to say how I start.  Every painting is one big experiment.  Recently, I made one for a friend.  It was my first commission.  He was really interested in hearing around my process.  We even had a lengthy discussion about how to hang it.  It’s very difficult for me to explain my process, mostly because it’s spontaneous.
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I generally start with certain colors in mind, and not much else.  My preferred media is oil on board, and I like to use lots and lots of boiled linseed oil mixed with the paint.  (Oil paints are ground mineral pigments mixed with a carrier oil, which is usually linseed oil.  The oil makes the dusty pigments gel up into paint that can later be put into a tube.  Mixing oil with the tubed pigment makes the paint more fluid.  There are different ways to process linseed oil, each rendering a different effect when mixed with the paint.  I’ve discovered that boiled linseed oil creates this interesting, textured surface. See above.)
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I’ll apply a base color to the canvas with a thick consistency.  Then I’ll mix other colors and make them more fluid than the base coat.  Sometimes, I use a brush and thrash the paint.  Other times, I pour the mixture directly onto the surface.  (The orange, above, I poured right onto the surface.  The dark green color I applied with a brush.)
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Then, I step back and look at it.  I look at how the paint is moving.  I try to see how the colors blend, and how it makes me feel.  I noticed that the dark green paint was bleeding out.  It wasn’t really staying in the area I wanted it to.  Instead, it made these dripping, tentacle-like shapes.
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After some time had passed, I decided to edit it.  I thought it could be improved.  I picked it up on one end, and let the paint drip down to the other side.  Then, I repeated on the reverse end.  The effect much better; the colors blended so fluidly, it reminded me of seaweed.
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But I don’t work on it from strictly one direction.  I attack it from all sides.  Then, I let it dry.  As the oil dries, the values of the colors change.  The surface hardens and becomes more textured.  It takes shape.
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I wasn’t sure which side was up.  It’s difficult for me to visualize working that way.  Shouldn’t the entire process be more important than the initial concept?  I think it’s ok for the composition to change based on the process, as long as the product makes you happy.
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It made me so happy to see it framed and hanging, too.  I have several paintings that I’ve made in the past 5 months that I’d like to attempt to express in words.  It takes a lot of effort to do this, because it’s trying to explain the ineffable,“ the thing that can’t be said.  And yet, I’d like to try.  That’s what I’d like this new series to be about -  explaining how to see beauty in that which you don’t fully understand.
January 26th, 2014

Grace Kelly & Fashion Illustration, Part II

Today’s post is a summary of a talk I gave at the Michener Museum a few weeks ago.  So I suppose the big question is, why fashion illustration?  This was the only method of distributing fashion information for centuries.  Paintings, prints, and drawings were the only visual methods of documenting fashion until the 1850s, with the advent of the modern camera.  Photography was problematic for several decades after this.  Exposure times were long, forcing people to sit very still for several minutes.
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Illustration for the House of Paquin, 1907.  Image courtesy of the V&A Museum.

 

Photography progressed slowly through the early 20th century.  Prices went down.  The process became better and faster.  Color photography was soon possible.  Magazines started to incorporate more photography, along side with illustrations.  As the 1930s progressed, photography became the preferred media for covers and fashion editorials.  Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar added in-house photographers to their the art departments.

 

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Left: July 15th, 1936 Vogue cover.  Photo by Edward Steichen.  Image courtesy of We Heart Vintage. Right:  November 10th, 1930 Vogue cover.  Image courtesy of Baba Yaga.

World War II impacted the fashion industry in many ways, including the duel between illustration and photography.  The most common materials were rationed for the war effort, including textiles, cosmetics, and the chemicals used to develop film.  Illustrations continued through the war.  Editorials that used photographs focused on showing patriotic fashions and how to “make do and mend” existing items.  Staged studio photography was deemed inappropriate and unpatriotic during this time.

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of a Christian Dior evening dress, c. 1948.  Image courtesy of Indulgy.  Right: “Venus” dress by Christian Dior, 1948.  Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Post-War period ushered in glamorous silhouettes and unbridled use of fabrics and trim.  1947 was a pivotal year in fashion, in which Christian Dior created the “New Look”.  This collection featured skirts were much longer and fuller than were available during the war.  Waists were nipped in with corsets and girdles.  The newly instated trappings required women to buy new garments.  This was initially met with some resistance.  Dior teamed with fashion illustrator Rene Gruau (1909-2004) to promote his sophisticated garments.  Gruau was one of the most prolific fashion illustrators of the Post-War era.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post, Rene Gruau.)

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit, 1947.  Image courtesy of Design Museum.  Right: Photograph of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit by Willy Maywald, 1947.  Image courtesy of Contemporary History.
Gruau’s had a clearly recognizable illustration style, which included:
  • stark outlines
  • the use of negative space throughout the composition
  • sensitivity to color used to contour figures with highlights and shadows
  • curvilinear compositions
During this time, America’s most prominent fashion illustrators were Hollywood costume designers.  It is often easy to dismiss costume designers’ contributions to fashion history, since the focus tends to be primarily on New York.  Helen Rose (1904-1985) was an extremely influential costume designer that worked closely with Grace Kelly on and off the set.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress.  Right: Grace Kelly in the wedding dress designed by Helen Rose.

Born in Chicago, Rose attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and began her career designing costumes for nightclubs and theaters.  During this period, she mostly worked for vaudeville acts, including the Lester Costume Company.  In 1929 she left for Los Angeles and began costuming for films.  She worked for Twentieth Century Fox from 1940-1943 and later became chief costume designer for MGM.

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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Gracie Bird.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of Equally Wed.
From 1947 to 1966, Rose costumed over 200 films and worked with Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr, and Esther Williams. Rose designed Grace Kelly’s 1956 wedding dress for her marriage to Crown Prince Rainier III of Monaco.  Rose also designed her civil ceremony outfit was a full-skirted suit of dusky rose pink taffeta with beige Alenson lace overlay (currently on view at the Michener Museum).  Many of Rose’s illustrations survive, particularly those made for Grace Kelly’s role in the film High Society.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Live Auctioneers.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of IMDB.
Edith Head (1897-1981) also worked very closely with Grace Kelly.  Born in San Bernadino, Head earned a Master’s degree in romance languages from Stanford before switching to illustration.  She took classes at Chouinard Art college, and in 1924 was hired as a costume sketcher at Paramount Pictures.
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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume.  Image courtesy of December’s Grace.

Some of the most wonderful costumes Head designed for Grace Kelly were from the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window.  Grace Kelly plays the role of Lisa Freemont, a society fashion consultant.

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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume. Image courtesy of Daily Mail.

As you can see from the illustrations and photographs, the costumes are a perfect character construction.  The costumes lend an air of elegance, sophistication, and refinement of someone “in the know” about fashion.

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Left: Right: Edith Head sketch and costume for Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954.  Images courtesy of Classiq and Glamour Daze.  Right:  Sketch by Edith Head.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.

November 19th, 2013

Spontaneity

Life is spontaneous. It happens by itself. This is one of the fundamental principles of Buddhism. While it is good to make plans and set goals, it’s important to make time for life to unfold before you. This isn’t living life according to whim. There is more to spontaneity than caprice and disorder.

As an artist, I can tell you how this is true. I can’t tell you where my ideas come from. They happen spontaneously. It’s difficult for me to approach a canvas or piece of paper with an expectation. When I try to make something specific, it never seems to turn out right. So my approach has been to let the materials “speak” to me. I mix the paint right on the canvas. I see what shapes start to appear on their own.

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A few months ago, I bought some new paint. I like buying different materials. If I use unfamiliar media, I can’t go in with any expectations. I have to be observant and patient in my attempt to make something beautiful. I have to let the beautiful thing emerge on its own.
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I sprayed and sprayed several hued paints on this board. I noticed how the colors mixed together, how each can sprayed differently. The only method I had was that I would keep painting until it felt right. I did countless layers of paint. The yard was filled with a thick cloud of fumes that made me dizzy. I stopped and mixed some oil paint with stand oil and dripped it over the board. I started thrashing the paint brush wildly at the board, giggling and having fun at not caring what the outcome would be. I turned the board to let the paint drip from one end to the other. Then I alternated between layers of spray paint and oil paint.  From the photos, you can see how wildly different the painting looked at each stage.

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Suddenly, almost magically, I knew the painting was finished.  There was no way for me to schedule the right amount of time.  I just had to feel it.  To me, painting is like playing a game.  When we play games, we get most fascination out of games that combine skill and chance.  Games like poker or bridge.  You don’t feel completely at the mercy of chance, and you don’t feel completely at the mercy of skill.  It’s exciting and fun to not know the predictable outcome.  Order and randomness go together, creating surprise.  That’s how I define spontaneity – the perfect harmony of order and randomness.

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One of my favorite Buddhist philosophers is Alan Watts.  He has a great recorded talk called The Art of the Controlled Accident.  He consistently compares Buddhist philosophy to painting.  Life should be lived in a manner like painting.  You can’t have calculated expectations for everything in your life.  You have to approach situations with an open mind, only to search for possibilities and opportunities that present themselves.  Never force something.  It will only elude you.  Instead, take the approach of letting the beautiful things around you emerge on their own.  You will be surprised – and happy.

 

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If you liked this post, you should consider reading my previous posts:

Tantric Art

Looking at Buddhist Art

Showing Up

September 27th, 2013

Old GRTC Bus Terminal

I mentioned in my last post that I started a new job. Part of my training took me to Richmond.  After work, I decided to roam around the city for a bit by myself.  My only plan was to check out a few vintage stores, figuring that fashion would somehow lead me to an adventure.  I hopped into the hotel shuttle bus and gave them the address to a local vintage retailer in Carytown.

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I had no real desire to buy anything, but just wanted to walk around – absorb some of the local scenery during my short time in the city.  Chatting with the driver, I looked out the window.  We passed an old bus terminal that was absolutely irresistible to me.   It was covered with hundreds of the most evocative, brightly hued art I’d seen.  Set against the warm, sunny late afternoon the setting seemed dreamlike.

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Cooing while trying to snap a few photos from the van, the driver sensed my enthusiasm.  He didn’t really know what the site was, other than it was an old bus terminal.  I asked him if we could take a quick detour and investigate the site.

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Everywhere I looked was beautiful!  The space has previously belonged to the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC).  Built in 1902, the structure housed trollies and buses that were not in use or needed repair.  The site was abandoned back in 2009.  Residents were unhappy with the crumbling buildings.  They pushed for a creative use of the space, hoping to install stores and restaurants to boost the local economy.

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The city’s response was to create a Street Art Festival, inviting artists from around the world to create large scale murals.  Since the time frame was limited, it became a hotbed of creativity.  Artists were working side-by-side, helping and inspiring one another.

Hamilton Glass, a Richmon-based artist, likened the festival is like a jam session for artists:

We feed off each other, he said about five hours into his mural. It’s great painting next to someone who’s being creative.

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The mural above was created with the help of Art on Wheels.  This Richmond-based non-profit helped in transforming the abandoned bus terminal into a work or art.  Founded in early 2007, Art on Wheels mission is to bring comprehensive arts programming to communities with limited access to the arts.  Their intent to make arts education accessible to all ages and abilities

 

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I could have spent all day here!  There was no evidence of any businesses within the compound.  But there was a young couple walking around taking photos.  They took a photo of me, which shows you the scale of the work.  It’s really massive and overwhelming!

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Like a kid in a candy store, I ran down the empty streets eagerly taking in as much art as I could.  Every mural was so interesting and unique.  Some were even 3-dimentional.  One of my favorites was a blue wall filled with metal birds.

 

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After closer inspection, the birds are decorated with names and poems.  If you’re in Richmond, I highly recommend stopping by to see it for yourself: 2501 W. Cary St.

To see the rest of my photos from the Old GRTC Bus Terminal, follow me on Instagram!

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September 15th, 2013

Currently Reading: The Non-Objective World

All my favorite books have pictures.  While I enjoy reading and writing immensely, sometimes words are insufficient.  How do you describe a perfect sunset?  Or that moment you realize that you’re in love with someone?  Of course there are wonderful adjectives that can help explain the experience to another person, but somehow that magic moment is inexpressible with words.  I find myself in this situation often.   It’s frustrating to be unable to share a feeling or experience with someone because you can’t describe it.   This frustration is what leads me to draw or paint.
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When I enjoy the work of other artists, I’m curious as to what they are trying to express.   Looking at art always makes me feel something.  It stirs up my emotions and thoughts.  So I’m eager to see if what I feel is what the artist was hoping to express.

 

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Cosmos by Kazimir Malevich, 1917.  Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Russian abstract painter and costume designer Kazimir Malevich.  His work really fascinated me, initially because his experience as a costume designer influenced his later path as a painter.  So, I started to look at his artwork.

 

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Mystical Suprematism (Black Cross on Red Oval) by Kazimir Malevich, c. 1920-7.  Image courtesy of Malevich Paintings.

Malevich is most known for starting the art movement Suprematism. He conceived the idea of Suprematism around 1913, which focuses on basic geometric forms painted in a limited range of colors.  Malevich believed that the true power of art was it’s ability to evoke emotion in the viewer.  By using simple geometric forms, there was no way for political or social meanings to be imparted on the work of art. I loved the ideas behind his work.   He saw painting as a way to make people feel something that could not be manipulated or placed out of context.

 

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Mystical Religious Rotation of Shapes by Kazimir Malevich.  Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.

Lucky for me, Malevich wrote a manifesto on what his artwork was trying to make people feel.  He traveled to Berlin in the 1920s to exhibit his work and network with the faculty at Bauhaus. (New to my site?  You should read my previous posts on the Bauhaus.) His manifesto, The Non-Obective World, was published as book 11 in the series Die Gegenstandslose Welt.  (A friend told me this title translates to something like “a spirit without products” or “the spirit of the abstract”)

 

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Formula of Suprematism by Kazimir Malevich.  Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.

NYPL had a copy of The Non-Objective World, and I’m reading it now.  The introduction was really powerful.  It explains that, according to Malevich, art is eternally powerful because it originates from a feeling.  Artists are inspired to create something because of an almost mystical experience.  The urge to make something and share it with others is what makes an art object beautiful.

He insisted that art and the feelings which generate it are more basic and meaningful than religious beliefs and political conceptions.  Religions and the state, in the past, employed art as a means to further their aim.  The usefulness of works of technology is of short-lived but art endures forever.  If humanity is to achieve a real and absolute order this must be founded on eternal values, that is, on art.

 

 

August 29th, 2013

Love is Telepathic

A few years ago, someone I knew insisted on taking me to a psychic.  Her name was Miriam Berry.  She was an old soothsayer that my grandmother used to visit, so I figured it could be amusing.  I’m not really superstitious, so I wasn’t expecting much.  Miriam was absolutely charming, her yellow-gray hair piled messily into a bun.  She flashed a smile as bright as jeweled fingers, and asked me some questions while flipping through a tarot deck.  She told me to think of a question.  This, of course, made my mind go completely blank.  What do I really want to know?  I settled on something really generic and vague, like “Will everything turn out alright?”  Much of this meeting was not memorable.  But one thing she said will never leave my mind.  She paused in the middle of a thought.  She looked at me, smiled, and said “love will prevail”.  We looked at each other and giggled.
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I think messages like this keep us going.  And if you look or listen carefully, these messages are all around.  Recently, I was introduced to Mark SamsonovichHe is an artist that worked in solitude for many years and decided 2013 would be the year to share his work with the world.  Every week, he produces large scale installations in public spaces throughout Manhattan.  Street art is something I adore, so I was nearly beside myself with excitement to meet someone that works on such a massive scale.  (New to my site?  You should check out my previous posts on street art.)

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Before our meeting, I carefully looked at Mark’s website and Instagram feed.  I’m always curious to look at other people’s art.  It reveals so much about the way they think and experience the world.  I could tell that Mark and I had similar ideals, but perhaps he is better at expressing them more poignantly than me.

 

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As you can see, the main subject is love.  The art is really brilliant because it is inviting and interactive, welcoming people to have fun.  But there is something else that is really special about about Mark’s work.  It’s the way in which he defines what love is.  Have you ever tried to summarize what love means to you?  It certainly can be tricky to do.
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I think that Mark’s work exemplifies how love is a spectrum.  It is an underlying emotion that makes us care for others.  It may show up in various ways – like romance, lust, agape, or friendship.  However it appears, love allows us to connect others to share the experience of life.  Love can transform a mundane day into an adventure.

 

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I’m so pleased that Mark’s will be sharing new artwork at Tesla Style Night.  Buy your tickets to come check it out.  And also keep your eye out for his work throughout New York City.  It’s everywhere.

 

July 20th, 2013

Triadic Ballet Costumes

Seeing the costumes from the Ballet Russe made me curious about costuming in general during this era.  This led me to do some investigating, and I was really happy to find some images of theater costumes designed by the students and faculty of the design school Bauhaus.  Back in November, I wrote a bit about the Bauhaus influence on the design world.  (New to my blog?  You should check out: Trigère vs. the Utah Tailoring Mills)
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Costumes for Triadic Ballet, designed and created by Oskar Schlemmer.  Image courtesy of Freelancer Frank.

Bauhaus (or Staatliches Bauhaus) was a German design school that operated from 1919-1933.  Founded by Walter Gropius, the school’s mission was to promote a synthesis of the arts.  Importance was placed on considering how to unify all aspects of design, from typography, fashion, architecture, interior design and so on.  (Gesamkunstwerk is the precise term in German)  The school attracted many fantastic designers.  A recognizable Bauhaus style emerged because many that attended the school were interested in functionality and minimalism.

Geometric forms, balanced compositions, and a sort of “futuristic” look are all telltale signs of Bauhaus design.

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Costume for Triadic Ballet  Image courtesy of Body Pixel.  
Bauhaus encapsulated the very ideal, utopian collective that many creative types wish they could be join.  Every art and design discipline was represented at the school.  I was familiar with some of the Bauhaus teachers, including:
  • László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), a Hungarian born artist and painter that emphasized the integration of new technology and industrialization in design.  Moholy-Nagy taught several courses in diverse media, but was most interested with manipulating photography.  He considered cameras to be a “new eye”, capable of seeing and capturing the world in ways in which the human eye cannot.
  • Josef  Albers (1888-1976), the famed color theorist and Modernist painter.
  •  Anni Albers  (1899-1984):  a textile designer, weaver, and printmaker that helped pioneer many young women’s careers.

yet knew very little of Oskar Schlemmer (1888-1943), the instructor responsible for direction and development of these costumes.

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Wire Costume (Draht-Kostüm) from Notes and Sketches for the Triadic Ballet (Das triadische Ballett) by Oskar Shlemmer.  Image courtesy of MoMA.
Schemmer joined the faculty at Bauhaus in the early 1920s.  He taught a variety of courses, including sculpture.  His main role at the school revolved around the theater.  He choreographed and designed costumes for the school’s performances.
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Costume for Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer.  Image courtesy of Anne Cann.
 Like many of the instructors at Bauhaus, Schlemmer was eager to translate his art into everyday life.  He wanted to take his sculptures and make them come to life.  Many of the performances at Bauhaus worked on translating this concept into a reality.
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Dancer in White (Tänzerin in Weiss) from Notes and Sketches for the Triadic Ballet (Das triadische Ballett) by Oskar Shlemmer.  Image courtesy of MoMA.
Shlemmer’s first international success as a costume designer was with the Triadic Ballet.  It premiered in Stuttgart in 1922.  This avant-garde ballet explores how modern technology and design literally transform the human body.
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Dancer in White designed by Oskar Shlemmer.  Senac University Center recreation of the original costumes by the fashion and design students and faculty.  Later, these costumes were donated to the Bauhaus Institute. Image courtesy of Angela KC.
Many of the costumes transform the dancers into geometric shapes – making them resemble children’s toys.  The geometry of the costume echoed the design principles taught at Bauhaus – thus elevating the status of the school as the ballet toured the world.
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 Notes and Sketches for the Triadic Ballet (Das triadische Ballett) by Oskar Schlemmle. Image courtesy of MoMA. 
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Costume for the Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmle.  Image courtesy of Flickr.  
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Abstract Dancer (Der Abstrakte) from Notes and Sketches for the Triadic Ballet (Das triadische Ballett) by Oskar Schlemmle.  Image courtesy of MoMA.
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Abstract Dancer by Oskar Schlemmer.  Image courtesy of ArsCenter.
The ballet also explored how technology impacted design.  Many of the dancers appear to be the personification of electricity.  Wire and metal were used to construct many of the costumes.  The stage lighting illuminated these costumes, making them shine.  This gave the illusion that the costumes were fitted with electric lights.
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Spiral (Spirale) from Notes and Sketches for the Triadic Ballet (Das triadische Ballett) by Oskar Schlemmer. Image courtesy of MoMA.
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Spiral by Oskar Schlemmer.  Image courtesy of unw0man.
Figurines of Schlemmer’s costume designs were exhibited at the Societe des Arts Decoratif in Paris in 1930.  MoMA also had a retrospective of these designs in 1938, showcasing the figurines as well as the notes and sketches appearing in this post.