Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thinking Of You, Blue

Storm Coming, 20x16 inch Mixed Media Collage
My thoughts are in the Blue Ridge Mountains today, in part because we're getting ready to head up there in a few days. I've also christened my new office by completing my first project in there: this mixed media collage. I started with some gorgeous handmade and marbled papers, some I brought home from Italy in 1995, laying them down as a collage, before painting atop with various acrylic and oil mediums. Whenever you are layering acrylic and oil, the rule is to remember to seal everything with acrylic first and then move on to oil. Always use oil on top, or sandwiched between acrylic layers of clear coat, so the oil paint doesn't eat through the underlayers of the collage. In this case I used acrylic Gloss Medium to seal the collage and the acrylic layer.

At university I learned to create gorgeous light effects by sealing each layer of oil glaze in between several coats of Krylon Crystal Clear spray paint. That technique allows light to penetrate through the layers of oil glaze and produces amazing depth of color, but it is very smelly and bad for the lungs and since I don't have any ventilation in the office I decided to try the brush on Gloss Medium. I think it turned out pretty well. I used some photos I took on Beech Mountain back in September as a reference. A storm was rolling in that day.

Reference photos: a storm rolls in over Beech Mountain.

The colors in my piece are a little brighter, as you can see. This is a painting for Jerry. I was originally going to use this in the bedroom, but it seems a bit too agitated. I may just let Jerry take it to work to hang in his office. The piece turned out with a bit of a Van Gogh feel. We all know how he turned out; I hope I'm not heading in that direction! The mysterious thing about art is how, no matter what the artist's intent, some pieces have a way of evolving on their own and taking a direction you might not anticipate.

The work in progress.
Here is the work in progress while still mostly at the collage level. You can see how junked up my office is already! I hate what a messy worker I am. In typical fashion I had to start painting before I finished unpacking all the boxes. Starting one thing before finishing another...a defining facet of my personality and the cause of so much trouble in my life.

In this case, the papers I used in the collage influenced the color scheme. I tried to capture the sense of infinity I have when the layered clouds just blend into the layered mountains and there's no end to one or another and no horizon. I wanted to portray the shadows cast by the clouds when a storm rolls in, contrasted with the lit up, sunny spots. I love to watch cloud shadows race across hills when I'm really high in the mountains.

I was also thinking of a certain day, in a different place and time. A few years ago I was on the way home from the optometrist. My pupils had been dilated and when they had gone down enough for me to drive I put on a pair of polarized sunglasses. I was driving down Highway 50 and it was another stormy fall day, with big clouds rolling in but flashes of bright sunlight and leaves like gold coins falling down. The colors I could see with my pupils dilated and the sunglasses on were so much more intense than those my eyes usually process! I remember thinking how amazing it would be to see with such uncovered eyes all the time.

The thing is, being able to see so much all the time can be a problem for us. I was taught in art school that Van Gogh was poisoned and made insane by his paint. Vincent Van Gogh had a special formula he mixed himself and no one has ever been able to duplicate certain colors of his, most famously his yellows. I never really understood the big deal with his Tournesois, or Sunflowers, until I was able to see it in person at the National Gallery in London. Those yellow flowers actually seem to glow in that room like the paint is lit from within. It's just amazing and I've never seen anything like it. God only knows what he was using in that's probably radioactive! But the beauty of those colors is stunning.

Art history is littered with artists driven mad by the absorption of foul chemicals from the inks and paints and things they used. Piranesi, inventor of the monotype, became obsessed with hallucinogenic "dream prisons" and Roman architecture. Poor Charles Meryon can actually be tracked in the course of his madness. His first prints are rather staid, tight architectural prints, but by the end of his career the skies swarm with monsters. At first glance a regular Parisian street  view becomes on closer scrutiny a nightmare, with clouds turning to flying sharks descending on terrified pedestrians. We were cautioned again and again throughout school to the dangers of our work.

I wonder, though, how much of it comes also from living always in extreme awareness. Art requires a life in the mind of so much more stringent awareness than is necessary to ordinary life. If I haven't worked for a while and I start up it often seems to me as though I've been asleep through life, like one of those enchanted princesses in fairy tales. It seems like we subconsciously limit what we process to protect ourselves. Some of us can't seem to do that, though, and then tend to meet a bad end.

Rebecca Stead writes so eloquently about this in her novel, When You Reach Me. That is a book for middle school age or so, and even though it covers weighty subjects like the theory of Relativity and time travel, you can probably finish it easily in a day or two. I bought that book for my son, but I highly recommend it for adults. If you've ever had to make a choice when there seemed no choice to make, or nothing you'd actually want, or if you've ever felt you ruined yourself or others through your actions, you'll sympathize with the characters. It's also just a really good story, and one you'll find yourself thinking of again and again.

So, anyway, I hope my jagged looking depiction of the mountains is a result of my paper choice and not an indicator of impending madness! More than anything recently, I feel somnolent. The rain here just goes on and on. Every walk I've taken this week has soaked me. The gray days stretch and stretch and make it hard for me to feel awake enough to care about anything.

 "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time..." A trip to the mountains will be the tonic I need, I hope!

Today my mother-in-law arrives for a visit, so I have a lot of cleaning and cooking to do, and lots of laundry for our trip. I'm planning a big menu for tomorrow night. I think ham and mashed potatoes and biscuits and maybe cooked carrots. I'm still trying to decide between homemade cream puffs or truffles for dessert. Last year I made heart-shaped cream puffs and they were a big hit. Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

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