Category Archives: Art

Back in the Studio

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“Morning has Broken”  iPhone Photo DS

It has been a long winter and spring. Snow, snow, snow and cold, it is so unlike Vancouver. Survival mode had kicked in and chores, errands, duties, and disciplined study had taken over. Painting had been only cerebral. Images sometimes came and went unheeded. Planning for shows has absorbed me all spring. I determined to spend more than a few minutes in the studio this sunny day.

A leisurely breakfast with my loved one, a slow shower, then some e-mails were read. When I had completed my ablutions, I found my painting clothes in the bottom of the closet. In them I felt free. In their messiness I was a worker – a worker bee (my name Deborah means honeybee). Yes, I am ready for MY work, the work that is me.

This would be a contemplative day – albeit more on the ‘labora’ side of ‘ora and labora’ (pray and work) of the ancient monks. It had been so long since I had touched a couple of unfinished paintings I prayed specifically that God would help me. I did not want to deconstruct what I had built up so far.

A step outside into the fresh fragrant morning, I breathed, as if I was now truly alive. Rhododendrons bloomed red, hot pink, fuchsia, purple. The studio unlocked, I searched for pots of paint in the colours I had envisioned. One was dried up but the lids unscrewed easily enough. I noticed a small hole in the screen window with the mountain view.

I knocked over a red Folger’s coffee can of brushes from high on my shelf. They fell on and behind a stack of completed paintings. This is how I get my exercise today.

The studio used to be a hot tub building. It has plumbing but not a sink. The hose is right outside the door, so convenient for me to fill a water bucket.

The bucket reminds me of my childhood. When I visited my grandmother in N. B. water was pulled up by a metal bucket from a well. This ancient practice is added to the painting history back as far as the caves. Like a monk, I gather water, paints, and pray. This day I feel grounded and most like myself. I am truly me when I paint, the one I was made to be before I was born. Today I paint the telegraph cross that has lain dormant in my imagination for years.  I do not wonder at all if it will sell.

Painting Pink Trees

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“Pink Trees, UBC” iPhone Photo DS 2017

Dreams of pink flutterings suffuse my night. Are we sleeping under a pink tree? Is the bed covered in petals?

After writing an early morning blog post a memory surfaced. It is part of my birth story. I was a long awaited child. I was born when the apple trees were in full bloom, my mother would often say. So, here’s the thing: the more often we seek God, the more often we come to know something about ourselves.

So what is all the excitement about this month? Easter, of course – nothing can top that. Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for the Christian faith – our daily life. It is the foundation of our love – that he first loved us. He is our Source, our Sustainer, and our Goal in life.

One of God’s gifts that particularly excites my artist’s heart is the abundance of pink-petaled trees around town. When I first moved to Vancouver from Toronto there were things about this place that overwhelmed me with their beauty: the mountains, the trees, the ocean – and the pink trees (originally gifts from Japan I hear).

When I walk the streets in the sun, my eyes are filled with pinkness. Shear happiness fills my senses. One year and each subsequent year I thought of heaven and the streets of gold written about there. And I thought to myself that this day, on this street, in this rain, with pink petals flowing into the gutters, that God’s gift in the Spring of Vancouver is streets not lined with gold but with pink – a taste of heaven, yes. Again this year, I want to say thank you, your gift is much appreciated. Your love for us knows no bounds, in depth, height or care. Are these our modern day lilies of the field?

I have painted pink trees in VanDusen Gardens and cleaned my brushes on the snow. (Should I admit that?) Years have passed but I can still feel the shivering cold, the sunny warmth, the delight of choosing alternate lime and ochre colours for the trees. I see the blobs of various pinks as they come from my brush and the way snow accepts paint. I see the squareness of my canvases. The bird-filled silence comes back to me. I taste the water, the cheese sandwich, the apple I consume with painted hands. I remember the long contented walk back to my car, seeing the paintings complete in the studio and the joy of their donation. This I realize is God’s gift to me: painting. When I am in the flow, my life becomes a prayer and I feel most myself.

My thoughts are filled this week with the spectacle of there being a pink blanketed picnic in the park and fuchsia lit trees at night. I wish I could go. My schedule is tight. I will make do with viewing photos on the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival website. I will walk my own streets, take iPhone photos, and worship.

 

Experiences of Art: Interview with Wendy A.

EveCafe

“Cafe Eve, Simons, Park Royal”

www.modernmixvancouver.com

Bio: Wendy A.

  • retired Home Economics teacher
  • born in B.C.
  • powerful Scottish background
  • grew up in a household of visual art and music

Goya’s painting of a boy in an orange suit with a ruffle was something Wendy looked at in an art book at home maybe a hundred times starting at age five. It took her attention. Orange was not her favourite colour. She usually liked green.

The boy was Spanish royalty. She had the fabulous pleasure of actually seeing that painting a couple of years ago in the National Art Gallery in London, England. She said, I would have been surprised if it was not in the show of Goya portraits. In her visit to London she hoped it would be in the exhibition. She knew she would be visiting London but did not know if the dates worked for her to see it. They did. She did.

In her joy of recognition she was drawn to the oil painting, attracted again by its beauty. She remembered the painting as being about 5’ by 3’ and as having an ornate frame. There was such clarity, such colour, she remembered, and the facial expression of contentment.

Wendy wrote in an e-mail after our interview at the Eve Café:

The Boy in Red is 50 inches by 40 inches and it is of the son of the Count and Countess of Altamira.

I think I know why I loved this picture so much right from the age of about 5 and it never dawned on me before today —- he looks a tiny bit like me at a very young age. 

I guess I am a bit of a narcissist!!

Bye for now,

Wendy.

 

Painting of Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga, 1788

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_Osorio_Manrique_de_Z%C3%BA%C3%B1iga

“Striking and often unforgiving, Goya’s portraits demonstrate his daringly unconventional approach and remarkable skill at capturing the psychology of his sitters.”  National Gallery London, bio of Francisco de Goya

Esperanza 2017

 

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“Stephanart Studio New Years’ Eve” DS

The Vancouver Sun editorial, December 31, summarized that 2016 had been a terrible year: “Let’s file 2016 under miserable”. There were shootings, bombings, massacres, an assassination, murders, wildfires, viruses, protests, accidents, attacks and other deaths. And yet there were hopeful things too like peace in Columbia, the U.S. surprise win of Trump and popular vote winning for Clinton the first woman candidate. Queen Elizabeth celebrated her 90th birthday, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature and the best hope of all – 44,495 babies born in B.C. in 2016.

On New Year’s Eve we choose to leave the old year behind and often sing Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Sine as a blessing on the year to come. It is a time of new beginnings. We sip and kiss and dance with this hope. We begin to wait.

Waiting seems at odds with progress… yet [it] is not passive but a vigilant and watchful activity designed to keep us aware of what is really going on. Isaiah evokes this radical waiting as a source of vitality: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength /they shall mount up with wings as eagles.” Such waiting is meant to engender a lively hope rooted in the physical as well as the psyche. It is an action, the ‘hop’ contained within the word. To hope is to make a leap, to jump from where you are to someplace better. If you can imagine it, and dare to take that leap, you can go there – no matter how hopeless your situation may appear… hope has an astonishing resilience and strength… it is not a tonic for wishful thinkers but the ground on which realists stand.

Acedia & Me – Kathleen Norris

The studio appeared dark and barren for weeks. The artist was busy elsewhere. Red summer roses gone, a blackened dripping vine silhouetted the sliding door.

An idea bloomed one morning. It was just yesterday, New Year’s Day. The lights were turned on, the heat checked, then brush strokes poured forth from the neglected tool. After a period of gestation the paintings had completed their birth. It was a gift freshly given for the New Year.

The series of “Lament” paintings, four canvases, 16” x 20”: acrylic primary coloured words softened by a pale blue and green landscape format. This work, stuck since the summer for continued inspiration, was suddenly finished. This creation about the challenges of our society forms the backbone of an epic art exhibition hoped for in 2017.

So my word for 2017 is ‘Esperanza’. What is your word for the year?

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 

Book of Hebrews

Performance Art

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“Resting in the Beauty” DS

Today, again, it comes to me that facilitating is a form of performance art. It was especially obvious to me last month as local teacher from Emily Carr University; Jeanne Krabbendam enlivened us at the Ferry Building Gallery with her banter. Her accent, so Dutch, alone brings a smile of delight to my eyes. Her inclusion in discussions welcomes participants’ eager responses to her useful material. We had a popcorn critique of two abstract paintings as follows:

The Elements of Art –

Shape

Size

Line

Direction

Texture

Colour

Value

And Principles of Design –

Balance

Harmony

Gradation

Alternation

Contrast

Dominance

Unity

The morning started well for me when we chatted at length as she walked by my chair.  As if I was her peer she shared with me her challenges of the recent art tours she led to her birth land. As a facilitator myself I identified with many aspects of group dynamics to be managed. As I listened with restrained awe to her readiness to offer painting and gallery visits from small boat tours again, I too knew the love of introducing people to the beauty and meaning of making and viewing art.

Her appearance exuded her taste. Short textured dark brown hair with a shock of mahogany above dark green spectacles – contrasting colours, and bright raspberry lipstick below darkened eyes kept the focus on what she was saying. On her tiny frame, a thin-striped black and white tunic topped black leggings and boots. Yet it was her happy playful eyes that attracted others to her pedagogy. She lives what she verbalizes. She lives an art life (as if you could distinguish to the two). Her life and her art flow seamlessly into one another. This is what attracts and keeps her followers: joie de vivre.

Although it is more blessed to give than to receive, there are exceptions. Although I could have led the group discussion myself, it was refreshing to receive a different style of leadership from someone whose platform and practice differs markedly from mine. I was not only receiving her take on how to view paintings but I absorbed and reflected her passion for teaching.

And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

 Book of Psalms

 

15 Year Anniversary of 9/11

The black square in the 9/11 Memorial seemed to be bottomless. As I watched a documentary program this afternoon on the history channel about the events at the Twin Towers 15 years ago, tears came to my eyes. In this very room, watching the same TV in shock I struggled to take in the horror of the scene that day and its implications for them and for us.

We went elsewhere to fight. It was a given. Other countries were the sites of war, not the U.S. and Canada – especially not Canada. A loved one was in a hotel in Ottawa, having travelled from Vancouver there a few days before on business. My prayers went back and forth for her and for the victims and families of those struck by the attack – and for the firefighters and our leaders. Who knew if they would strike Canada next?

In June of 2014, in New York City on an art tour with the Ferry Building Gallery, I had seen the flowing water pour down that black square, into the very middle of the earth it seemed. I have never been so silent.

I almost did not make the effort to go there. I do not like to visit the sites of tragedies. An art history class about war memorials piqued my curiosity to see the sculpture in person. It was so big and so noisy with water rushing as if to cleanse and heal the land.

Today, as I watch the black square within the square, another tragic black square comes to mind. The “Black Square” 1913 of Russian artist Kasimir Malevich hung in an exhibition in a strange position in the room. It was in an upper corner near the ceiling. Gallery visitors at that time were well aware that this was where the holy icons of Jesus Christ were located in a Russian Orthodox home. One of the things this empty black icon came to mean was that God is dead.

The deep empty hole of a black square in NYC ‘s National 9/11 Memorial and the” Black Square” of Moscow’s First World War era, are they the same? Is God now considered dead? Could he not have intervened to prevent WWI and 9/11 or has human freedom meant freedom to do evil again in history? I think of this Proverb:

Do no violence to the place where the righteous live;
 for though they fall seven times, they will rise again;
 but the wicked are overthrown by calamity.

NYC rose again, Russia has gained strength, the Resurrection happened – such tragedy, paradox and mystery co-exist as does hope. All of these events drastically changed so many lives as well as history itself. Is the square really empty or like the ‘colour’ black, does it actually contains all the colours?

 

Failure: the Doorway to Success?

Photo of Iona and Labyrinth under new ownership 2015

Photo of Iona and Labyrinth under new ownership 2015 DS

Government programs fail to deliver; countries fail to provide for their citizens; ghost towns form. Movements fail or decline, new ways emerge. Countries like Syria are struggling for survival. The Yukon was the sight of failed gold mining. Planes fall out of the sky (Malaysia Airlines, EgyptAir, Indian Air Force), again.

Wars are lost. Boundaries are changed. Peoples are displaced.

There are failures on a global scale to protect air, water, and land. Species have become extinct. Some failures may just be the natural ebb and flow of existence.

The iconic Iona Building at UBC had to be sold although the theological college still exists apart from that grand space. I think of the Highland Clearances of Scotland (to make room for sheep), to be a failure, as well as the Potato Famine of Ireland. The wildfire of Fort McMurray is a failure of sorts but the town will be rebuilt. I hope.

We fail to rehabilitate, to resuscitate, to reinstate, to collaborate, to meditate. We are unsuccessful in love, in business, in losing weight, in baking a gourmet cake. I do/am.

Friendships are lost. Cars are crashed. Our bodies are injured or break down with disease. Mine does.

Everyday failure is real. It is not the end of the world though it may seem like it at the time. Failure may be a chance for change, or just sorrow to be endured.

How would Mother Teresa have measured success, or Picasso, or Matisse who created from his bed, or Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.…? (How do I – by mission statement?)

Sometimes our failures catch up with us. We stand in need of forgiveness. The making of amends, as in AA, can rebuild relationship success.

Success can be illusive or inconclusive. It can be fleeting or misleading. True success in life – who can define it?

I just received 2 ‘declines’ from an art jury. I have received many of these over the years. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I say. Do I take their refusal as permanent – or as fleeting?

Is it them or me, their judging or my creating? I have never actually kept track of my declines or failures. I change goals. My work has been exhibited in over 70 shows.

A Business of Art course instructor once told us that some artists have commercial success and some critical success. Juries love my work. Yet the fact remains, that I have a high ratio of donated paintings versus those I have sold. By which criteria do I judge my own work?

Much of what I create, I will admit, does not fit well in a living room above a couch. It is too raw for that. The colours are anything but subdued. The techniques are immediate, layered, direct and even messy. My style does not have the requisite consistency. But there is an internal rhythm. In my latest jury submission of 33 paintings (one for every year of the life of Christ) each has a cross or stripe pattern.

The truly difficult thing is that the work has to be created, the materials purchased, the time set aside. Years of work needs to be framed before one applies. One has to get the paintings onto a gallery wall so viewers can consider buying them. One has to have the space to store unsold paintings. New paintings have to be imagined and realized for the next jury, to fit the next art space requirements.

How, I think now, can any artist really keep going to achieve success? There are so many barriers, so much competition, so many people who ignore art totally.

It seems to me that each artist must define success differently. Each artist must hone and redefine the definition to fit the circumstances, must see benefits where they seem invisible.

Creating art is similar to being a mother. Our paintings incubate and are born. Success, I realize now, is to have children leave home ready to meet the world and to have paintings leave the studio to find their niche. My children and my paintings are offered to the world as the best of me. Adult children forever at home or paintings lying dusty in the studio are the true failures. But success often calls just when we are ready to give up.

In the meantime, children may struggle, paintings gather dust, but independence is close and my oeuvre is being built for that day not too far away.

How can one achieve success when accolades come for just the opportunity to show? What can assuage the echoing sting of ending an exhibition with few sales? How can one go on year after year financing one’s own – what – ego? When the paintings pile up in the studio why do I apply to more juries? This art-making refuses to die. It becomes like a form of addiction. That first flow of colour off the paintbrush at 7 years old had me hooked. As with all addiction there is grief.

My paintings need a home and I want money for them. There, I have said it. Maybe after I am dead, success will come in memorial. Perhaps it is my children, my estate that will benefit from my collection. I have now got it: my legacy will be my success. My part is to enjoy the process of creating.

One thing about achieving a degree of success is that one asks what do I do next? Where can I go? When can I say, it is enough? For now, I decide I will rest with gratitude.

I know that if I get that show for my 33 paintings my desires have not changed. I want people to attend the opening. I want a decent write up in the reviews. I do not want to carry those cumbersome paintings out of the gallery, into my vehicle, and back to my studio only to begin over again next week. I am tired. I need success now and I need studio space. My body feels broken. My mind and spirit carry it trailing behind like the tin cans tied to a wedding car.

Jesus’ death on the cross: failure it appeared.  Was his goal to live three score and ten years? The Resurrection 3 days later proved the success of his mission.

When I think of failure and success after all this, I ponder two questions:

  1. What do I want?
  2. How will I know when I get there?

As I wait to see how sales have gone at my latest exhibition, I receive a message that my painting “VanDusen Gardens” has been chosen by the art committee at Lions Gate Hospital for their permanent collection in ‘The Healing Power of Art Program’. It will hang with the greats – Molly Bobak, Sylvia Tait, Gordon Smith… Am I there yet?

 

VanDusen at home

“VanDusen Gardens” Acrylic on Canvas, 32″ x 48″, Deborah Stephan