Ahh, where to start?
I have my father’s fountain pen in hand. Now I see why he rarely used it. Messy, but the fat barrel feels good in my fingers again. It’s been awhile since I’ve held it and set it to flow. I like the scratch of it on the paper. Reminding me of the sound of brush on canvas. Funny how exquisite these tools used to feel, their grasp the start of my day of work. A pen on paper, once a brush on canvas, or a chisel to stone. Long hours, if the day’s flow went well. Stroke, pause, squint, smoke, try another color, again brush to canvas or chisel to stone.
For over 40 years, these were the tools of my trade. And now, as ink from a leaking pen stains my fingers, I’m reminded of that 20 year old cigarette puffing, paint splattered tight jean wearing art student I once was. Filled with my father’s pride, and a teacher’s knowledge.
Barefoot from the heat of Los Angeles, I’d walk or stand on the dust covered cement floor of the grubby studio I was so ecstatic to have a place in. Where my teacher, Martin, taught and inspired his students. He would gaze at my painting, then stroke one color onto it. Which would break my ego of gloating, youthful pride, but push me further into the space of possibilities, shattering my comfort zone. Which is what a great teacher is supposed to do.
Ah, to swim in those dreams again. Before life slaps me into reality of hard learned lessons- the land of make or break me. The sea of swim or sink.
I survived because I swam a pond of sweet dreams to challenge me. Encouraged by loving parents and brother. I’d go on in life, collecting wonderful people who had not had the joy in their lives that I had. The chilling stories I’d been told over a drink or three. Martini or Scotch. Or on silent mornings whispered from the lover’s pillow. My own parts of life that had kicked me in the teeth had not necessarily been brought on by myself. Yeah, life is a roller coaster of surprises, and as I watch the sun rise through the dark clouds- literally – I see what I’d not see for years: the sky break at dawn. Not since the first days I’d biked home from an all night dance club. Back then, this city was mine. When I’d driven home through this silent city of dawn’s early light, still buzzed from cocktails with a smile on my face. Thats when I embraced this crazy- anything goes- “Only in Amsterdam” town. As I see before me silhouettes of leafless trees. Behind them a strip of the palest custard yellow topped with pale blue. Floating above me are darkening clouds slashing the grey. Bird silhouettes, now awoken, float, looking for food I guess or just enjoy the morning.
Enjoy the morning is what I want now before I am too old. Far to the left I see orange sherbet splash into an otherwise charchol sky. The pop of orange lamp switches on from the yellow and red brick houses. Above their chimneys, a towering tree or three.
I sigh, reflecting, Its all about the tools and how they feel in the hand, between the fingers. I’ll never be one to tap a keyboard. (Yet here I am).
My whole grasp is to be involved. So how does one use words to say what once she spoke of only through image? As I watch my window streak in water lines, I think of what I’d asked myself about writing: Do I really want to spend the next 40 years trying to capture life’s images – do what I’ve always done – that which would be chiseled on my gravestone if I were not being cremated :
“She saw every detail but missed the big picture.”
I answered myself, ‘No’. I want to be out and live. Meet people. See places. Not to be forever inside, carving stone or brushing oil paint on canvas. I look up and see the flying ‘V’ shape of birds across the sky towards who knows where? I think, What is the name for the flying ‘V’ pattern of birds, anyway? I never bothered to learn this and so many other things in this life. My whole world was about art. Seeing it, being inspired from, creating it- now I see in all forms- even word. So yeah, here I am a long way off from the start of these pages. But that’s what art does- carry me off into all places I’d forgotten, or blocked, or not before thought of.
And now, turning the page, I go back to what I’d awoken from sleep – too early- to grasp before it was gone:
That yes, I’ve created beautiful art, lousy art, indifferent art, fantastic- really?-art. I’ve cut, carved, carried, penciled, color mixed, stretched canvas for, breathed in the paint and the turpentine, smoked the cigarettes, sipped the alcohol, delivered by bike, car, van, ferry, train, metro and bus my art to sidewalk shows, expositions, venues, galleries, podiums, openings and unveilings, always on time, meeting deadlines I’d set for myself.
As I look at the sherbet streaked sky, I remember that I’d intended to sit down here and thank every single person who I’d met along this path of my journey. Those who leaned in, not run away.
Those who’d sat for portraits as a teen (Mary). Who helped carry bathtubs (Karen) in the east end of London. Who carried stone torsos (Zlatka and the east end boys) Those who helped me to find the perfect solution to whatever my current art dilemma in Amsterdam was (The Ijzerwaren guys). Those who gave me expositions (Donna and all the creative ABC Treehouse gang of creatives, actors, photographers, and artists). In London, the gallery and it’s group of warm, efficient, smiling art lovers who broke their asses to sell my sculptures. Along the way – one of many side paths I’d taken – when curiosity got the best of me: the school I’d found in Stratford, where I’d befriended 2 of the teachers and one of the students, one who I still call my friend. I’d wandered into that school of art and learned new tips on cutting stone. Tips I’d first learnt at UCLA alternative course in Los Angeles, high the atop a mountain in the glaring sun burning down on me, hacking the stone. Tap, tap, tap. I had no idea then that this sort of art would bring me so damn far from my home.
But now I think of Laetita who was the one who reminded me the importance of who we meet along the way- and what we learn if we are open to it, from each other.
After a day of shooting a video and all the prep work that had been done before, we were both tired, bordering on exhaustion. It was she – Laetitia – who had, while she’d browsed my website, said to me, “Why not make a video to promote your site and shop?” “I don’t know how,-” I’d replied. “I do,-” she’d said. Ping! Light shines on me. On her. On artists at work.
Its what I love the absolute most about being alive- after that first breath,- talking and sharing with people. And for me, with another artist (but need not be) that idea which sparks the flame. These inspirations are like a gentle fragrance that come towards us but like smoke are hard to grasp. So came this idea.
It was all this that led to yesterday’s video shoot.
And to help – if for no other reason than they wanted to help, to participate and give their best to this moment – two actresses I’d met years ago. At the job I’d taken when I’d walked – no – limped away, wounded and heart broken, from London, a gallery, a relationship, and art. When the bank crash, my 8 year relationship, and complete burnout had ganged up on me, having me walk away from all things art. I’d not slammed the door, not locked it, but I’d felt I was finished with art. And I stayed that way for more than 6 years. The place I’d never, ever thought I’d be. Not ever. Because I’d had it in me to be an artist from birth. Or at least from the age I could clench a crayon or mix a color.
As I’d been saying, Laetitia and I were tired and a bit irritated from too little sleep and no food. I’d seen early on that there should be only one director. I’d handed the director’s cap, or crop- whatever- over to her. Later, after all was filmed, she’d said to me, “I see now that I must learn how to stop and let other’s give their opinion.” Then went on to say, “It’s your shop, it’s your promo film not mine.” I had only been trying to tell her to say, “Action!” when she wanted me to walk onto the stage.
I don’t know if its because she is Dutch so the whole bark of “Action!,-” was too Hollywood for her… (where I was born ) or perhaps she was too much in her head. As she’d said to me later, “I’m used to working alone, in my own way. To grab an inspiration, (before it leaves?) and go with it.” Myself, I am a bit more methodical but am also used to working alone. I often don’t enjoy the fun.
So it was that yesterday, I’d handed the reins over to her, to make a video in her vision and above all to do as she’d said to me weeks ago.. “I want to enjoy, have fun with what I do, not just produce.” That hit home for me. Because when was the last time – or ever – I’d enjoyed- had fun creating art in place of producing it? (Sounds funny, right? All artists are only having fun, right? No, they should be but no.)
In the years from 2001 to 2010, I’d become a torso making factory. That’s how I’d functioned until the bank crash: Make another torso, carve the same figure, maybe use a different color stone. Six to ten life size torsos per year, carved in Amsterdam, brought by van to sell in London. And God knows, it had taken me 30 years to find a gallery who were willing to work as hard as I’d been doing all those years. I’d felt their (extremely high) percentage was worth every penny because finally I found a gallery who worked as hard as I did. They sold my work, consistently and in good cheer. I’ll admit it was, in the end, a bit of a love/hate, well irritation with, relationship. Probably It was my burnout and the looming financial crisis.
Fact is, when the London banks went broke, so did all the bonuses. They’d happily spend their pounds less on bling and expensive cars (like in Los Angeles) and more on art. Maybe only as investment- but who cares?- not me. I was selling steadily for the first time in my life. I’d finally found a reputable gallery minus the pretentious attitude.
My gut feeling, that which kept me going all those years was this: A piece of art does not live unless people see it. And as I watched that video being filmed, my paintings were revealed to me in the most creative way I’d ever seen or thought of: Suddenly the art was more alive, lived more completely because it was part of something, shall I dare to say, more important than I? To be more accurate, more important than my work.
With these 3 women, one a new director who’d I’d befriended long ago in a studio upon my return from London. An Amsterdam studio that is now is more hotel than art spaces . The woman with whom I’d smoked cigarettes and planned expositions. Who now, 10 years later, I was, we are, curving along yet another path, separate but together. Not as lovers or partners, or colleagues, but as friends. The sort of friendship – dare I say- only women can have with each other. The relationships I’ve had with women, for years and years. More years than I would like to admit. Oh hell, who cares? 61 years.
And the actors? I’d met during those 6 years away from art, years I’d not glanced inside a gallery window or peaked into a museum. Hell, the whole reason I’d moved to Europe in the first place- 20 years ago! Not even an opera or theater could budge me from my new life: That of a grunge job, working for minimum wage, 40+ hours a week, lifting, packing, loading, ironing, steaming, counting and shipping, the best selling clothing brands, created in New York, stitched in Indonesia, packaged in Amsterdam.
It had been there I had met one of the actors, Hanna, on my first day. Her shy smile held in reserve until she’d gotten to know me through her inquisitions of questions, not for gossip topics but because she wanted to know me. And Agata, whom I’d known for fewer years, but yesterday I’d seen more clearly than in the past. Because there, in front of the camera, I’d taken time to see the color of her eyes and her perfect smile. And perhaps most importantly, when I’d asked how she’d been all these years, in place of talk of jobs come and gone or relationships the same, she’d done as only women do when they feel a bond with another woman: Confess. Or to be more accurate, she spoke about having taken the time to reflect and ponder until a new path was shown on which to again try her boots on, to open her smile to those shining upon hers.
That, among other fun things is what happened yesterday.
And what better homage to pay to this body of paintings, The Woman’s Series – The series started from my self searching for the woman’s power so many of us are blind to see. That which is in us and yet, we still put aside what we love to do and instead do for others. Un-like men, who don’t.
It’s not even that but the strength of our fight to show to the world (to men) how amazing our gifts of creativity, healing, empathy, commaradery, intuition, and the gift of love we have inside our souls.
That is what this series of paintings were , are about. And for me, at that time, so long ago to the time when I first arrived here, to re-discover my power and walk away from one who was no longer good for me towards another one who was. Life is all about choices. We forget the power we have to chose.
When some unknown critical self asked me, ‘Why, in the video, do we hear birdsong from butterflies? How is that possible? I’d answered aloud and without hesitation: because ‘Butterflies don’t sing.’
And so with this title, I circle back to the joining together of four women, each of us finding within our own strength. To my falling back in love with art, and my pride, no my duty to art: to have it seen in the world. Circle back to what I love life for: that journey of moving forward, effort and experimentation, hard physical work and self reflection, respect for self and dignity and, to: What we learn, who we touch and what we give back.