We haven't solved any of the world's problems here.
But we have found a way to take the chaos of everything out there and use that energy for something else - to connect, inspire, commiserate, encourage, listen and see.
It is our sincere hope that our art and words will touch you, dear reader. We hope to hit a nerve, strike a chord, make a little splash. Maybe, if we're lucky, it will inspire other small experiments in the world - nudging and shoving until our kind multiplies (Plath).
Art is about seeing.
And the sun is in Leo: See and Be Seen. 21,915 days as a human being. And still the way I see is changing.
I've been stuck in my head, mired in the negative nonsense of the number of years I now am. How I saw myself (in the mirror, in my mind's eye) was not always flattering (and now and then downright unkind). Until someone who loves me showed me how I look through his eyes and camera lens. It was (is) the greatest gift. Thank you, my love, for seeing this me in me.
This all started because I challenged myself to be exceptionally vulnerable about turning sixty. (You know well, dear reader, how much I value vulnerability and all it brings). Which included being wiling to put my very self out there the same way I do my art, risking rejection and ridicule but going for it anyway. Because when I am ninety and look back at sixty, I want to know that I was sixty without reservation.
What I didn't expect was to be changed by the experience.
I did not expect to feel exhilarated standing nude on a mist-shrouded beach in freezing water. I did not expect to feel self-love cover me like a warm blanket, and the weight of inhibition to fall away like unwanted detritus. I did not expect it to be so awkwardly and wonderfully delicious.
Days later, upon seeing the final photos, I did not expect to be overwhelmed by tears.
What I saw in those (these) pictures was not the me I knew. What I saw was a woman much and gently and gracefully loved. I wanted to be her - and I was (am) her. How could this be, that I never saw this me?
There are tears as I write these words. To be seen changes how I see.
Mark Nepo's words have illuminated my experiences for some years now, and these words (which I have quoted here before) are just the thing, I think, for this:
“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time.
When we hesitate in being direct, we unknowingly slip something on, some added layer of protection that keeps us from feeling the world, and often that thin covering is the beginning of a loneliness which, if not put down, diminishes our chances of joy.
It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real. Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold and the car handle feels wet and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.”
Here's to sixty, dear reader.
Here's to not covering up who we are, to ungloving ourselves.
(with deep gratitude to my partner for the gift of his skills as a photographer and artist and all the things.)
NUDGE-SHOVE opens right here on August 1. Sign up for email notifications (in the column on the right).
Sometimes, as a storyteller/artist, I don't even know what the story is until someone like you, dear reader, comments on how the piece feels to them. And then there is a little AHA lightbulb - it is often spot-on. We are complicit, you and I, in these tales woven in paint. I like the idea that we're conspiring together.
About the art: beginning with a heavily textured and gesso'd canvas, painting a portrait in oil paint (this one inspired by a photo of a coal miner). The underpainting was allowed to dry for several days. Then adding thick, loose oil paint (mixed with Liquin) in large brush strokes all over the face. Moving the paint with squeegee and rubber wedge from left to right. I returned to the details with a small brush to bring out the eyes and face highlights again. Then, a Gamsol-soaked wet brush dragged along top edges and allowed to run through the wet paint, leaving delicious texture. Want to see it in action? Head over to my instagram for a little video.
It might be a response to the world. Or maybe a way of working through to the words I long to have. Or just a delicious journey of destruction.
Whatever the reason, there are more to come. And once you get started down this rabbit hole, there is no stopping.
About the art: beginning with a black gesso'd canvas, loosely sketching a portrait and building the layers in oil paint. Moving the paint with squeegee and rubber brayer, then back in with more layers of detailed definition and shadowing. The final layer is mixed with a generous helping of Liquin to keep the paint very wet. Moved horizontally with squeegee and wedge.
Want to see it in action? Head over to Instagram.com/jenjovanart for a video
And while my thoughts are fermenting, the art is expanding. A new show is coming (shhhhhhhh! It's a little secret! Details soon!) and it's pushing me in the studio. If you'd like to be notified when the show begins, subscribe (in the column on the right) and you'll get a little notice in your in-box. :).
If you've also been struggling for words lately, leave a little comment below. Maybe we can all help each other figure out exactly what words might be best right now.
About the art: beginning with untreated Arches watercolor paper and sketching with charcoal, then blending in acrylic paint to form the structure of the portrait and basic values and colors. Using rubber wedge and large brushes, going over the acrylic with oil paint and allowing it to move and slide and blend. I'm delighted to be working in oils again!
And so the inner world has become a miasma of reflecting, ruminating, regretting, celebrating and feeling - oh so much feeling. All the way to the ends of my fingertips and edges of my eyeballs.
Nepo's words give purpose here. They point to the BIG REVEAL that we all face when confronted with the loss of others - the inevitable ends of our own lives. I was fighting the stream until a few days ago, when the overwhelm of exhaustion and feelings had me fed up with my own stew of sadness. And I surrendered.
We have no control over this stream - who it takes, who it leaves behind. But we can "steer in the stream", accepting, seeing more easily where we can live. That's where the relief is. Where the lives of those loved and lost become even more meaningful - they point us where we can live. And so I gently steer myself to the tender and wondrous parts of the stream. I think Heidi and Dana would approve.
About the art: another piece on that lusciously leathery gesso'd craft paper. Layers and layers of softly blended paint, added with brushes, sprayed, scraped away, then added again. Embracing the random textures, lines and splatters that result. Following her gaze to clearly seeing.
We've become those people. The ones who wander with pockets filled with peanuts, chucking and clucking and calling the crows. And now, often, the crows call us. Or swoop silently over our shoulders to land in a tree limb ahead, waiting for the morning offerings. There is great joy in this, for us. Making contact, forming recognition, learning each other's ways.
It has become a lovely pause in a tumultuous world. Our eyes and ears are atuned to the crows, leaving little space for news and chaos. I think of it fondly as crow meditation. :)
About the art: this piece is painted on one of my new favorite substrates - craft paper. Once gesso'd, this paper takes a beating and forms delicious textured wrinkles and warps, creating an overall leathery texture and heft on a thin plane.
Beginning with black gesso'd paper taped to a board, drawing the bird with white charcoal and then adding water and paint to form a value sketch. Continuing to add the requisite 80 million layers of acrylic paint, this time choosing a very dark, limited palette. Using the sprayer bottle, squeegee and rubber wedge to force the paper to wrinkle and warp, enjoying the way subsequent light layers cling to the high points in the texture and leave the valleys dark. Resisting the urge to overly define all but eye and feet.
There's a lot going on in the world right now.
It makes me tired to think about it. But think about it I must, we all must, because war and disease and the economy and the people making decisions on our behalf effect us. The key, I believe, is not overthinking about it.
I'm a big overthinker. It comes with being introverted, highly sensitive and a survivor of a measure of trauma. There are worlds of thinking in my head that are ever expanding during times of strife. So Whyte's words, the reminder to "give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong", places that brain of mine back in the present moment - this peanut butter sandwich on my desk, the sound of the crow outside, the in and out breath.
Anything (or anyone) that does not bring us alive, dear reader, is too small for us.
About the art: beginning with a wood panel thickly gesso'd in black. Using colored charcoal and blocking in shapes based on an inspiration photo from a sunset on the rocky Oregon shoreline. Grabbing the gist of the scene with layers of fiery oranges and then building rocks and pools and edges with a palette knife laden with acrylic paint. Liberal use of spray bottle, squeegee, rubber wedge and chopsticks (for carving into the paint). Dollops of colored pencil. Thin washes of paint mixed with matte medium for the sky. Resisting the desire to overly define. Allowing paint to move.
This piece. moves, me...I hope it moves you, too. xo
Nepo's poem goes on:
In the very center, under
it all, what we have that no one can take
away and all that we’ve lost face each other.
It is there that I’m adrift, feeling punctured
by a holiness that exists inside everything.
I am so sad and everything is beautiful.
When all that I've lost (in nearly six decades, in my case) meets all that I have (which is more than I ever imagined), I catch my breath. There is a holiness, an unmistakable sacredness, to this. Wonder and grief, in a beautiful duet, leaving me smiling and brimming with tears.
Here are some of the recent gems in the realm of overwhelming beauty:
About the art: beginning with a panel covered in black gesso, mixing a limited palette of colors and applying them with rubber wedge, paper towel, chopstick and brush. Allowing the paint to move and dictate its direction, resisting the desire to drop more color than a small piece can handle. Finishing with colored pencil applied with a very loose, non-writing grip to keep the marks organic.
The wild Pacific is surging through the studio, and a cosmic octopus dropped by.
This piece was a commission request from one of the most sparkly humans I know. So when she asked "would you?" I immediately said "yes!" Personal altars are just that - personal. They speak to your insides while sitting on the outside, gathering your special talismans and holding your hopes and wishes in a sacred place. And if you are a very colorful, very sparkly human, your altar needs a candy-coated cosmic octopus.
I'm going to want one of these for myself!
About the art: beginning with a solid wood, two-tiered altar, the areas to be personalized were taped off and coated with black gesso. A colored pencil sketch followed, along with the requisite 80 million layers of color in both acrylic paint and Uni Posca Paint Pens. Finished with a coat of cold wax to protect paint and wood.
Jen Jovan and her imaJENation