I'm excited to share this "new" painting with you - although it was completed and delivered last month. I wanted to close my health issue chapter on a positive note. A while ago I applied for and was accepted to be part of a group of artists who were selected to create work to raise money for the Branch Out Neurological Foundation's upcoming fundraiser "Your Brain on Art"
Clearly, having just had brain surgery, this felt like a no brainer (see what I did there?)
We were matched up with a Neuroscientist and advised to contact them about the research project we had selected. I had chosen the research project: Vitamin Niacin on Brain Tumor Growth - Dr. Jeffrey Dunn, University of Calgary (I decided I wanted to fund brain tumour research, even though it wasn't directly related to the type of tumour I had) The idea was to call or email with them to learn more and then create a piece based on the conversation.
Imagine my delight when we figured out a time to meet in person at the actual lab! (I had an appointment with my neurosurgeon on the same campus and it all worked out for a face to face meeting) This became even better when I was told they work at the "Experimental Imaging Lab" in the basement, near the parkade. It doesn't get much better than that!
Once I met up with Jeff, he introduced me to the team and showed me the mouse MRI machine. Having had my fair share of "tube rides" in the past few months, I felt a connection to all the work and research that has to happen for technology like that to be useful in bringing people like me back to health (I also found it it kind of ironic that I blogged about people making better MRI equipment way back in the beginning of my brain tumour saga. Turns out, I got to meet some of those people!
Now, about the painting itself - I will admit, I went off on a different visual style than normal. We started our meeting talking about Greek etymology and somehow that stuck. Here is the write up I submitted:
This piece, Messenger, is a reflection of the dual stories found in the research project Vitamin Niacin on Brain Tumor Growth. The title hints at these two stories: delivery via Macrophage and delivery of information via MRI. The winged sandal represents Hermes, the messenger of the gods. He is known for his swift delivery via his winged sandals. I chose to use green to highlight this as a symbol of this messenger bringing healing, hope and growth. The area surrounding the winged sandal represents normal tissue cells; the area within the foot represents tumour cells. Tiny amounts of image contrast agent are being delivered to the core of a tumour via the macrophage, here shown as blue swatches of colour and orange dots
On a personal note, I haven't been blogging much lately, because I've been all blogged out. We have sunshine and the green is peeking out on my lawn. Health-wise, things are going really, really great. In order to consolidate the past few months and move on mentally, I've made a page with all my meningioma related posts with links in chronological order. If you want to start at the beginning and read my entire Meningioma story, click here.
I have two confessions to make. The first is that there is no secret decoder ring to these latest paintings. I figured I should be upfront about that as I've had a few people inquiring about meaning or looking for greater understanding. This is very appreciated - having people looking closely and seeing details means the world to me. Also, while these paintings are not something that gets "unlocked", they definitely do contain meaning and symbols. Its just a little more complicated than "draw item A, add symbol B, unify with meaningful colour C = painting that says this fixed statement about the world we live in/my life and struggles/current political climate" Now all that being said, I could explain what my current work is about, but I'm sure it would sound like a rambling conversation rather than a succinct mission statement.
When I create work, I start with a kernel of an idea and expand on it. Adding personal symbolism is visual shorthand that keeps me moving toward and thinking through that original idea. I'm usually starting out with something that I am trying to process or figure out for myself. These latest pieces are very much about processing - this affects the outcome significantly during the course of the piece. If you want an equation, it looks more like "draw item A, add symbol B, think about why you put those two things together, ask yourself questions about if it is right to hold the preconceived notions of A and B or A plus B, question if that is too obvious. Bury symbol with meaningful colour C, change mind, bring symbol B back to the surface but change the juxtaposed colour to offer insight as to why my position changed on this issue.... and back and forth until the painting you end with looks to be complete" When I paint, I am pretty much talking to myself the whole time. I'm questioning myself. I'm excited by how serendipitous application of paint looks beautiful and I look at ways to replicate that beauty in other parts of the canvas or how to make that little bit of beauty even more beautiful. It's a process in itself.
The second confession is while this style change has been influenced by my current health situation and I prioritize visual decisions a little differently, my brain tumour did not cause me to paint in this style. This change is very deliberate. After reflecting on some conversations I've had in the past few weeks, I want to be clear that I'm not seeing things funny in my brain or with my eyes. This is not like those 50 paintings Bryan Lewis Saunders did while taking a different drug before doing a self portrait. Truth be had, after going through my situation and really taking a hard long look at mortality, I'm ready to paint what I want to paint. Nothing wrong with earlier work, nothing wrong with representational work. I'm in a place right now where I want to change direction. I guess I'm tired of thinking about what other people will like and trying to paint those things. It's an easy trap for artists to fall into.
One thing that has surprised me since returning to painting and trying this new style is how much planning goes into each piece beforehand. This painting was not "intuitive" or a "just go with the flow" piece at all. I thought it through, made a sketch, thought it through some more, made a new sketch and painted from that. This is very heavily revised and edited for clarity and visual presence. This self portrait is a companion piece to It's All Over But the Shouting (That painting incidentally, is on display at cSpace Calgary for the People's Portrait Prize exhibition - you should check it out! More info can be found here). Not totally decided on my next piece but I'm enjoying the journey so far!
To read the whole story of my Meningioma click here.
I am starting to be ready to wrap up my recovery specific posts from my meningioma surgery. Not that I am 100% recovered, more that each gain comes in smaller and smaller doses. Not so many interesting breakthroughs. Lots of slogging in between each win, Truth be had, I am ready to close this strange chapter in my life because I am tired of talking about it. Yesterday marked 6 weeks post surgery, it feels like it is time.
Today, when I went into the studio I decided to paint something in my pre-seizure style just to ensure that those faculties are in working order. It was a fun exercise this morning and I might continue with these tiny 6" x 6" studies once in a while to keep my eyes sharp. I have pinpointed one area where my brain still goes haywire - colour matching. For some reason, when I try to get the right value mixed up, my brain goes into overdrive. When I painted "It's All Over But the Shouting" it was less noticeable because it wasn't so critical I get the colour correct, so I wasn't doing it as much. Today it did matter and I can feel it now in my fuzzy thinking.
My eyes are still a little different as well. Cannot totally pinpoint what it is, but it seems like trying to LOOK at things after painting a while is too hard for my brain so everything feels a little hazier than it did before I started. Almost like doing the job of focusing and paying attention to detail takes too much work. Still, that is improving each day.
This little painting is of some new to me ceramic orbs that I found at a thrift store. It joins another one that was given to me as a gift. They are sitting out at the moment by my reading chair and I study how the light hits them when I'm taking a break from reading. Every few days I move them around to see what that does to the scenario. This is the life of a woman who doesn't get out much I think. At least I am painting. At last it is warming up.
To read the whole story of my Meningioma click here.
I am very excited about this piece. For some of you, this might look like a total stylistic departure, but I don't see that at all. Something has changed and this image has a very unique story of it's evolution. I painted it a few days ago and since then it's been on my wall so I could dissect it and find out what part of my brain all the little pieces were retrieved from.
Returning to the world of painting was not a scheduled event. Truth be had, I've been avoiding painting with a fierce determination. The idea of getting out my brushes and thinking through steps was so overwhelming. Those feelings were starting to lead me down some dark paths too. The thing I've been struggling a lot with lately is that all my normal outlets have been gone. This brain tumour is only one story of many, because life goes on even when you get laid up with your own crisis. Long story short, I am processing far more than what I mention on my blog. Other people's stories are intertwined with my own.
Normally when I am overwhelmed, I drive somewhere and listen to music. I might sing along or I might pull over and have a good cry. Same goes for running or painting. Common thread - be by myself, listen to music and let stuff out. The past two months have had a growing frustration of never being by myself, not being able to drive and feeling too overwhelmed to paint. When I hit my low point the other day, wallowing in my self pity I had a moment of clarity. I asked myself what my next step was - stay here wallowing or aim to get somewhere else taking small steps in a way that I could manage.
This changed everything. Everything. I was in control of my life again.
So, I decided quite suddenly that it was time to paint. Now, I knew that just deciding to paint something was too much, so I decided to recycle or finish an old painting. You see, I have a basement full of unfinished experiments where I started something and then turned the canvas against the wall and moved on. I know better than to let a perceived failure trip me up for too long. Better to paint and learn what you don't like then not paint. At least you learned something. That was my starting point.
Truth be had, I am not totally sure when this was painted. Looking around at similar sized canvasses and the subject I was pursuing I believe this is probably from around 2008 due to the acid green and the illustrative style, I know for sure it is no later than 2012 because the Aesop's fable theme finally made it into a linocut then. I do remember that when I painted this, I was grappling with some ego swelling praise as well as some flattery and I was struggling for a way to articulate it. However, when I got a little ways into this piece it felt too flat.
The crazy bright background with a self portrait and two key symbols laid out front and centre just felt a bit too obvious. Too limiting. I wasn't sure how to bury the meaning and bring more nuance to the piece, so I dropped it. When I went to the basement a few days ago and spied it, I saw new potential and was quite excited to use that simple image as a jumping point for something far more complex.
An aside, typically I am a fairly representational painter for most of my commercial work. I enjoy the challenges of translating the world around us with a good deal of realism. However, a lot of my still life subject matter is highly codified and personally symbolic. I don't like to give away all my secrets so I put my thoughts and feelings down in paint. I also have a very private, personal style (like the painting above, Procession) that comes up when I am grappling with something big and just want to express pure emotion.
I also have a totally different art style that comes up more often when I'm doodling. That side is full of repeating shapes, spirals, flowers and dot patterns. Below is a set that I worked on in 2014 for an Easter service. That was totally fun and crazy and illuminated with black lights. Yes that is an actual VW bug hauled in from a junk yard.
The thing is, I have always had a hard time marrying those two styles even though I regularly try to unite them. I look at that bird in the early version of "It's All Over But the Shouting" and I can see it appearing in sketchbooks from the early 90's. What goes around, comes around I guess.
I was trained to do self portraits on a semi regular basis because it is good to struggle with depicting yourself. Everyone will know if you are lying. Success comes with telling the truth. As we look at some of my old work, you will notice that there are some key features to my illustrative work and some key features of my representational work and it seems I keep trying to marry the two in my self portrait work. As I look at my most recent, post brain surgery painting I think I have finally had a measure of success.
I am not going to lie, I am very pround of 1996 Michelle for painting the above image - she was only nineteen years old. Crazy. This self portrait came from a photo taken in 1994 in Austria, a very formative time in my life. You can see the illustrative attempts emerging in the top left hand side with those interlocking shapes that are also present in the sketchbook image above that. That little bit of drawing/brushwork goes all the way back to my early childhood. I am actually surprised it didn't make a full appearance in "It's All Over But the Shouting" it evolved a little there into line work not dissimilar to the amazing striped socks I'm sporting in "Prodigal". I've known for a while that my personal symbols evolve in meaning, it seems they are also evolving in appearance now too.
I can remember painting this unfinished piece but I have no idea when. I'm thinking it is late 1990's possibly early 2000's. I'm still doing the light colours, the interlocking shapes and bazillion wash layers. The canvas has staples on the side, not the back. It could be from Halifax times or New Westminster times. Hard to say. Definitely done before the early version of "It's All Over But the Shouting"
Where this derailed was I could tell right away I didn't get my eyes done right. Nose and lips are okay. Face shape is passable. Again, this is just a likeness on a canvas with some illustrated bits and it didn't leave me with a lot of options. There is no core to this painting and I knew it so I stopped rather than trying to retro fit meaning to it after the fact.
This was definitely painted after the early version of "It's All Over But the Shouting", the green is way toned down and representational imagery was higher on the scale for me at this time. This is meant to be a formal self portrait and I even purchased the gladiolas and posed for the source picture. There is a whole lot of subtext going on in this piece. I started it in 2013 and was unhappy with it because it didn't reach into the illustrative/symbolic world as much as I hoped it would. So I revisited it with a Molotow paint marker in 2014 (around the time of the Crazy Love sets - you will see similarities if you look) and put all the line work in. You can see circles (with the same meaning as my plate paintings) emerging on this piece as well. That was a symbolic step that was harder than it looks for me to take.
While I really like this piece, the thing that has kept me from loving it is there is something not quite right with my eyes, they seem a touch too small. I also don't love that the line work is just a screen placed over top of the representational image. They are visually separate. They are working together here, and I think for the framework of this piece it is a successful partnership, but it is not quite a true marriage of the two styles.
So, what exactly happened with "It's All Over But the Shouting" that is different? Long story short, my brain isn't prioritizing things in the same order. I went with what my brain said felt right and it was different than what it would have been a few months ago. This required new strategies and new work arounds and it was very very exciting. So exciting that the day I painted this it was like my head exploded with visual ideas and directions to take and I could barely eat and didn't go to bed until after 2:00 am (which is super late for me) I could barely contain myself trying to sift through the wealth of ideas.
Instead of placing the line work over top, I anticipated it and wove it into the structure of the piece itself. Instead of highlighting the obvious symbols with outlines and bright colours screaming "look at me, I'm a symbol, symbols are super important" I buried them because those symbols are there for me, not for the viewer. If you find them, you can do what you like with them. I am very aware that a painting is a conversation between the artist and the viewer and you will do with them what you will. That will depend on your own history, your cultural context and whatever these things remind you of - this is the wonderful thing about art. When you look at a piece, it is like we are dancing.
I cannot wait to keep painting. I cannot wait for our next dance.
To read the whole story of my Meningioma click here.
sOn Friday, I attended the wrap up event for the Bud's of Bud's Northern Reflections Painted Window Exhibition. It was a great night reconnecting with the organization's team, the other artists as well as my animation partner, Alyssa Koski.
During the evening they awarded three prizes, People's Choice, Celebrity Choice and the Juried Prize. Alyssa and I were thrilled when they announced our name for the Jury's pick.
I'll be honest, since completing this piece my life has had quite a few changes and developments and 2018 has started out kind of rough. To have a night out and to take home the big prize was a great way to end my week. Thank you, Bud's of Bud's, thank you Jury and most of all, thank you Alyssa - you were an amazing partner to work with. Your animation took this piece to a whole other level and it was a treat to collaborate with you.
This is a tough time of year to tackle studio projects. That being said, I'm pleased with this piece - especially knowing how hard I had to fight to get long uninterrupted stretches required to do such a technical piece. I think it was worth the fight.
It felt so good to work larger than my usual 10" x 10" sized canvas. Bigger brushes, larger swaths of colour, forced simplification and room to get into detail if I wanted too. Lots of breathing room on this canvas so I tried to capture that, especially in the background, with loose and airy brushstrokes to help tell that story.
Lately, life has felt complex - I think that has come out in the subject here. It feels like sometimes I am better at articulating visually than with words. An alternate title for this piece was "Hint of Lime" because of the peeks of green you can see throughout. However, I think those types of titles are better suited to fun little painting studies than to big pieces like this. I went with "Spires" because I think it better suits all that is going on here. Hope it translates.
I have finally taken a moment to post *some* of my upcoming classes for sketching, painting, mixed media and printmaking - there are even more in the pipeline! For the ones I haven't posted yet, I'm just awaiting registration links (so keep checking back), I'll put them up as I have everything confirmed.
I was thinking about it today and I thought I would do a blog post to highlight a unique Christmas gift idea: knowledge. If you have a loved one in your life who you struggle to buy "stuff" for, perhaps a class or workshop would be a great fit. Oftentimes those hard to buy for types are more satisfied through experiences and the gift of time.
If you know someone who always talks about wanting to try something new, is looking to start a fresh chapter in their life, has an interest in trying new art forms or wants to revisit something they've tried in the past - may I suggest one of my workshops (1 or 2 day courses) or a weekly class? I would love to see them (or you) there!
This upcoming season I have a really full calendar, a lot of which is happening right here in Cochrane - some of the upcoming classes I've put onto my home page. I will also be doing some workshops at Kensington Art Supplies, Leighton Art Centre, Kelowna Art Gallery to name a few!
Now, that being said, should you be looking for a more traditional gift, I have lots of my paintings, flour sack cloths and prints available at Bluerock Gallery, the Leighton Art Centre and Muk Luk Magpies. Contact me if you are looking for something in particular or to commission a piece!
Okay, confession time. I ate my subject before I finished this piece. It really was as crisp and as sweet as the title suggests. I have so much fruit in my kitchen right now as a result of this little series of acrylic on cradled panel paintings. I am definitely getting my daily quota of fresh fruit this season!
This week has be very productive, might be a few days till I can post another of these little still life paintings. I have an exciting public art project in the next few days that I'll save for another post. In the meantime though, I was happy I got an early start today in the studio so I could finish this piece.
Another little 6" x 6" completed painting. I think I've figured out what has captured my heart with these pieces lately - I'm having so much fun trying to paint these new patterns without actually painting the patterns.
One thing about a small space like this to work on is you are forced to prioritize and simplify. To actually depict these patterns in their entirety would require a 000 brush and infinite patience. The outcome would probably be stiff and stilted as well. Instead, by focusing on the impression of the pattern, it gives the viewer a chance to participate in the experience by letting their imaginations fill in the blanks. It's neat when painter and viewer can engage in this dance.
For a few weeks, I have had stacks of new bowls and plates in my studio. When I'm in the middle of a project and trying to think, I sort these into new arrangements until something catches my eye. In this particular set up, it was the juxtaposition of the icy cold, late afternoon light against the warm rusty reds of the shadows cast by the objects. Winter has very much arrived in the Foothills and I feel this painting reflects the warmth and coziness of my studio perfectly.
On a side note, it has been tough for me to get in the studio this week. I've had a number of pressing deadlines that are for future endeavors mixed with a wobbly, sick dog. I felt really blocked for painting, which is unusual for me. Today it was so good to put on a cup of tea, play music and just paint. I find when I have too much on my mind I feel creatively scattered. If I'm not creating and making stuff, I feel stifled. Definitely left the studio feeling much happier than when I entered.
Also - my Card Making class at Leighton has been moved to a later date! There is still room to sign up, Just follow the links below!
Leighton Art Centre, Calgary:
Classic Holiday Cardmaking Workshop New Date!
Sat, December 9th, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Cost: $85.00 (Leighton Members receive a 10% discount)
Make the Holidays extra special by printing your own Christmas cards! Join Michelle Wiebe as she guides students through some simple printmaking techniques. In this fun, fast paces class students will learn basic linocutting skills to make their own Christmas themed blocks that they can keep to make other great gifts and cards. Participants will cut blocks, learn some special embellishment tricks and hand print their own set of Christmas cards to take home. Excellent for adults and teenagers who are beginner and intermediate linocut students.
Space is limited and registration is required.
Please visit Leighton Art Centre or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org to register.