Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Postscript...Reality of An International Art Residency.

The dust has settled on my french trip. I am no longer trying to look french (impossible anyway), feeling the need to cut heavy bangs in my hair or smoke moody Gauloise ciggies through matinee idol rouged lips.

Occasional wine with lunch has long gone, along with the endless baguette and croissant-belly dietary regimen. The requisite scarf swagged ever so chic around my neck has gone too along with red bugs that crawled up my old rusty tub. No cater-walling cats crawl on my roof at night driving my scared-crazy, and I don't need to leave the light on at night to ward off intruders.

All I am left with are my memories and 22 small sketches. I am back home of course easily slipping into to all my creature comforts of the, ah, well, comfortable sort in all regards -studio, home, language and transportation. Oh yeah, and washer/dryer.

I was reminded of this at the weekend seeing my France sketches from my month-long international residency in Dinan, France, graciously hosted by Les Amis De La Grande Ville. The panels were re-united for the first time on a wall for my Open Studio this weekend.

Seeing them again together reminded me what an experience it was, that I am proud I did it. And grateful for the experience to grow personally and artistically. I had at times to dig in deep, knowing my sketches would not change the art world amid feelings of isolation in this tiny studio building at the end of a quiet off-season street where it got dark early.

It seems to me the learning from those varied panels, and my trip of a lifetime, has continued since I returned home. I was told by a master in these matters that this would happen and it has. That one should just paint simple statements and the rest of the learning would come later.

So by popular demand, here is the promised postscript from darling Dinan.

1. I learned the last week is always the BEST on any trip! Probably best I didn't post that last week! I made some good friends in Dinan by month's end largely because I didn't have a car and can walk and talk a lot. I got to know the locals along the quaint Port of Dinan, and they, me. That crazy artist with the rats-tail hair, walking up and down the River Rance endlessly. They could not have been kinder to me. Great interest in what I was doing. Free drinks, free nuts (expensive in France!), free coffees, free rides to the market and sightseeing trips laid on for me. I will return, see #11!

2. I have learned that I like what I painted there more than I thought I would on return. I don't want to sell any of the panels at this point. I am attached to them. I felt like dumping some them in the trash at the time so this is a good sign and a surprise. Everyone of those panels, painted from life, is a special memory now of a different moment from the trip. Even the still life. The walk to get the utterly wicked butter cake. The trek into town up that 90 degree centuries-old alley, town almost closing and cold, to buy fuschia pink french knickers/underwear to paint. Seemed vital at the time.

3. I have learned I like more of a finished look in my work. The landscape quick-sketch especially leaves me with a feeling of: "Well, I can do it much better with more time." One is always in a rush to catch the light, it seems, especially October in Britagne where the light goes up and down behind the massive clouds faster than a Jack in the Box on espresso. I know it is training my eye to work fast like this, but...

4. I enjoyed the value of working from a limited palette. It makes everything look consistent. Consistently good or bad!

5. I enjoyed on return and reflection the seemingly wide-range of colors I got from those three primaries, cyan blue, magenta and cad yellow. It was surprising on second view.

6. I enjoyed painting at 4 a.m. with no questions. I enjoy waking up late the next morning without any strange looks at my tardiness eating cheese for breakfast because that is ALL that I have. Unbrushed hair, unbrushed teeth. This was of course the ONLY time I got a surprise visitor to the studio who politely left quickly.

7. I enjoyed making muted paintings but learn I still love a real 'POP' in my work too with reflection. I guess it is a bit like a preference for hard or soft centers in Sees Candy. You might dip in and out of that chocolate box, try a bit of both, but maintain a life-long preference for one or the other.

In France I decided to really work hard on value and pushing things back a bit in my work. Work on putting more air in the shadows. Keeping my value range closer. My daughter, who has a good eye, said on my return:"It must have been grey there Mom as all your paintings look grey". Hmmm... I think she meant 'muted' really compared to my usual.

As soon as I got home, I got my Vermeer/Boldini books out and felt the need to study them hard, CRANK up the volume in subsequent paintings the next few weeks a little bit, while retaining my better knowledge of air in the shadows and not taking things so dark and dense. Landscape painting, along with some incredible instruction from my mentor, has taught me how much I needed to address this issue. It has been a consistent issue in my work. I learned more about this issue perhaps than anything else on my trip technically. Still, of course, got work to do. But I KNOW I made progress.

8. I am finding the desire to paint more finished pieces of Dinan. I obviously took a ton of photos but I am giving myself time to see what comes through. I had a list of six big paintings I wanted to do on return as MUSTS. That list is no longer there. I had too many SHOULDS in my head on that trip.

9. Writing is powerful! Well, of course. I was blown away by the emails from people who had read my journal there. I blogged from the one and only free internet connection bar (?) the price of a beer or wine - and I was going to have that anyway. The feedback was so incredibly rewarding for me and very unexpected. Thank you to all who responded so warmly to it.

10. I learned a deeper respect for the landscapes artists, the colorist/value painters I really admire. I referred to them often on my trip for inspiration on my computer. They helped me from afar. Thanks of course to the great Everett Raymond Kinstler N.A., Michael Shane Neal, Dawn Whitelaw, and Hongnian Zhang. Funnily enough, on my way to France I was lucky enough to purchase a small landscape by the incredible Ms. Whitelaw at The Artists' Fellowship Gala in New York. It came all the way with me to the studio in France, which had also hosted Ms. Whitelaw several years ago and was displayed for inspiration the entire trip.

11. I plan on returning. My wish is to teach an 11-day workshop near Dinan, gourmet food/wine, three meals a day, travel to to sightseeing/painting spots included. Accommodation at the most delightful Gite place I discovered, run by the most delightful french couple. Let me know if you are interested. I have the venue. I have the time slot for next October. I just need the people and the interest. A maximum of 10.

Let me know!

I was unprepared for the incredible feedback I received from people who read the extensive journal. People said I was bravely honest about myself and my art. I think I forgot sometimes my ramblings in that little studio,


Marian Fortunati said...

Ahhhh Johanna, I love the way you put words to your thoughts...
You are funny, entertaining and informative!!
Love your analogies too... You make me smile..
The trip would be fun.... tell us more when you know more.

Portrait Painting By Johanna Spinks said...

thank you darling Marian...

The Josie Baggley Company said...

I'd certainly love to meet you over in Dinan ...wouldn't that be merveilleux?
Great writing as usual!

Portrait Painting By Johanna Spinks said...

Hey, Josie Baggley, right in front of your chocolate box house for some serious fun.