This is his heart
His heart is the kite trying to break free from its string.
His heart is the song that wants to be sung.
His heart is the ladder that reaches to the roof.
His heart is the dog on a chain with his food out of reach.
His heart is the candle burning too fast.
His heart is the key to turn in the lock
His heart is the salesman knocking on the door.
His heart is the spigot that won't shut off.
His heart is the rooming house with a room to rent.
His heart is the dry log ready to burn.
His heart is the seed that sinks into the earth.
His heart is the heel worn down to the left
His heart is the fledgling pushed from the nest.
In the process of writing this blog I have already written and then accidentally lost all of my content twice. This will be my third attempt. It is more than a little ironic since I am attempting to develop the idea of how the best art making tumbles into life on the broken back of the mistake. All of the best painters understand that they ride a mysterious balance between complete control and wild abandon.
In the series of paintings that I have been developing over the past nine months I have been making room for rough edges. I'm leaving paint brush strokes broken and obvious rather that blended and smooth. The grid that was the guid to transfer the original drawing remains showing through here and there. If I was a magician I would be showing you how the girl slips out of the back of the box before the swords start going through. Yes the magic may begin to dissolve a bit but on the other hand the implication is the very heart of punk rock- You can do this too.
In the painting above I loaded a large brush with a liquid dioxin purple glaze and let the paint make its way down the canvas. Each drip made its own path as it was tugged on by gravity. The result leaves us looking at a young woman through a veil of purple tears, purple rain or maybe a cell of her own making. As much as I love a ruler and a straight line the paint left to its own devices reminds my that the creative path jig jags. The true life journey meanders, stops and starts with out a rhyme or reason. Just because it does and that's a good thing.
I'm thinking lately that a painting is really the accumulation of events. The painting is the result of the many descions a painter makes along the way. With this new batch of paintings I am making that decision process more obvious because I have stopped covering my tracks. I want to let the process become evident. I want to pull back the curtain and allow the viewer come and join the journey and perhaps become transformed in the process.
We are building the StudioBeerhorst team. When people ask me what I do I say I'm a painter and then they say, a house painter? and then I say no, a fine artist. The problem with this getting to know you jive is they don't really know what I'm talking about. How could they? People have vague and romantic notions of artists from what they may have seen in movies. It's like when I meet doctors and I think Grey's Anatomy. The actual making of things is only a portion of what I in order to maintain a healthy studio practice. From day to day I'm investing in relationships, taking photographs, making videos, posting to social media platforms, cleaning and organizing the studio, emailing-incoming-out-going, packing and shipping work, reading, thinking, doing research and most importantly, staring off into space. This is not a complete list but it at least gives you an idea of why I need help to be successful.
I was watching a documentary about Lady Gaga the other day and it became clear to me that we know who she is because she assembled an excellent team around her. A team of people who love her and she loves back. Working together they have built something both beautiful and visionary. Her story got me wondering what my team might look like.
Just this month I have begun working with my very first intern, Sinjin Paulus. Sinjin does civil war reenactments. In order to save money he taught himself how to sew his own historically accurate clothing. He's very well read. He is a self taught historian with wide breadth of knowledge which makes for great lunch time conversations. He helps with what ever needs doing around the studio, from preparing and stretching canvas to digging the Wonder Wagon out of a summer's worth of tangled morning glories.
Pearl is our official videographer. I am convinced that the fact that we raised our last GoFund me campaign goal in five days and then went almost a thousand dollars over in the following week had a lot to do with the beautiful video she shot and edited. I love working with Pearl! I'm sure we made well over a hundred pizzas together over the years she was still living at home. Pearl and I just click and there is nothing quite like that.
Eric Tank is our official photographer. I have had the delight of watching Eric grow from hobby photographer to full fledged pro over the past several years. Eric is a blue flame of a man. He is one of the deepest thinkers I know with a vast knowledge of theology and a lousy christian in the best ways possible. Sometimes I think he is my personal priest, too holy for a collar who prays through his lens redeeming everyone with the click of a shutter. Including me.
Suzanne Beverage has stepped into the role of creative director. Suzanne became famous for her transformation of local vintage clothing store Scavenger Hunt from just another vintage store into what many people remember as the "Heart of Grand Rapids". If CBGB's had been a vintage clothing store it would have been just like Scavenger Hunt. It wasn't just a place to put together you look but a place here outcasts finally found a place to belong. Suzanne has a special gift of not only making places look and feel cool, she also has a special knack for building people into teams who work really well together.
We are still looking for an attorney and an accountant. You know who you are. Join the StudioBeerhorst, a place were we create art that makes you more alive. Don't wait! Contact us today.
I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at the Golden Apple Artist Residency this summer on the beautiful coast of Maine about an hour south of New Brunswick Canada. I had been invited by Shelly Stevens who runs her enchanted program with husband Greg Stevens to apply and I'm so glad that I did. They were generous in giving me a scholarship which brought the cost down enough to begin to make plans on how I could come up with the rest of the money I would need to make it happen. I was able to raise the rest of the money needed through a GoFund Me campaign which reached its goal in the first week and then went $800 over in the following week. (I started to get the idea that this was an adventure I needed to take.) This was my first artist residency of my career and even though I had an idea of what it might be like, the actual experience took me far beyond my expectations.
It was significant for me to be removed from my home turf and placed into a brand new environment that helped me to think differently and perhaps work differently. Sitting on a giant slab of granite looking into the bay littered with lobster boats and buoys I couldn't help but think how different this all was from Lake Michigan. At one point I noticed a little crab the size of silver dollar in a small tidal pool. I scooped him up onto the dry rock and immediately he rose up high on his little crab legs with his pinchers held high as if he was saying "You want a piece of this?" I actually starting laughing out loud which I'm pretty sure was insulting because he skittered of sideways back into the dark recess of his hid out.
I had ordered $600 of art materials from Dick Blick having them sent directly to the Golden Apple address including eight wooden panels. I got all of these panels started and was developing them all together going from one to the other as the days went by. I was able to make a lot of progress this way. When I needed a break I would go for walks on the grounds often ending up sitting along the shore of the bay just kind of being there in a mindful sort of way. Our meals were all provided for us and the food was delicious and super healthy. There were three other artists at the residency with me and we often fell into good conversations (and plenty of laughing our heads off) eating our meals together on the back patio looking out onto the bay.
With out question one of the most impactful aspects of this artist residency was the experience of working alongside of three very talented and highly motivated artists. As the days progressed we became more and more comfortable with each other, letting more of our selves be revealed. As we got to know each other we learned from each other. We inspired each other and even though we have gone back to our separate lives we know share a foundation to build on. I look forward to how these different personalities and points of view will go on to influence my work over this fall and winter as I continue my work in the studio.
Speaking of relationships, there were 91 people who contributed to my GoFundMe campaign with donations between $200 and $10. I would not have been able to have the experience I had if it were not for the generosity of these donors several of who chose to remain anonymous. I remain very grateful to these people and humbled by their example. It is experiences like this remind me of the value of being surrounded by good people.
I have been taking photographs of women beginning this Spring and on through the summer. I began with my daughters Pearl and Rain and have moved on to young women that are no relation to me at all. In fact some of these ladies I have simply approached on nothing more than a hunch that they would do well in front of the camera. So far I've not been wrong. Each woman who comes into the studio reveals deep insights and unique points of view that frankly I would expect to discover in someone much older.
The photograph has become a powerful spring board into making the painting. I enjoy the process of taking the photos for the opportunity it affords me to get to know the model. I have to create a connection with the subject in order to develop the painting. It is all about relationship. Relationship with the model and relationship with the canvas as I build each painting. My hope in this series is to capture some portion of the nobility, the unique powerful beauty and wildness present in each of these women. Each one a queen presiding over her queendom. Perhaps making her portrait will reinforce and extend her majestic rule.
I have added here a little three and half minute interview with Stephanie Eslick who I met one day at the Lightfast coffee shop. I went over to her table and introduced myself and the project I'm working on. We exchanged contact info and from there set up a time for her to come to the studio. She did a fantastic job in front of the camera and was nice enough to share some of her thoughts. Watch the video and here why she doesn't want to be famous and why she's drawn to people who are comfortable in their own skin.
I have a show of portraits coming to the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art October 27th 2017. I am very thankful to be showing at UICA because it is one of the leading alternative art spaces in the entire midwest. This will be my first time showing a significant body of work of large scale paintings. I've been painting for over 30 years and this is something I simply have never done before. What makes this show really significant to me is not just the large scale of the paintings and exhibiting in a top drawer alternative space but it is that these paintings reflect the very unique place I find myself at this time in my life. I am in a place of reconstruction and reinvention. After many years of painting I feel as tho I am actually rediscovering what it means to make a painting. I came to a point in my life when I realized what used to work was no longer working. I had set off on my adventure riding a strong spirited horse pounding the path of my life adventure until one day I looked down to find that not only had my valiant steed collapsed underneath me but it had died and was beginning to smell. This happened to me last Summer. It came in the form of a three month long depression which I wrote a blog titled This Dark Enchantment. Fortunately I was able to leave my dead horse and moved on. Being depressed I had my first artist block in my life. Fortunately I was able to slowly came out of my dark tunnel by doing a drawing series of a little still life I set up of a clock, a stack of books and a conch shell. I showed up each morning and did a drawing for an hour or so finishing it by writing down a brief statement of what I was thinking and feeling that day. I did this daily over the course of two months. It felt like something between therapy and becoming an art student again. It was this humble little practice that got me making art again. In fact it actually lead me into the current portrait series I am now working on and enjoying so much.
At this time in my life I feel like I a hermit crab that has left his shell that had become too small and is now crawling towards a larger shell, hoping he doesn't get gobbled up on route. Painting on a larger scale is moving towards a larger shell. Allowing paint to drip and run is moving to a larger shell. Painting to create an image and then scraping away that image and leaving only a ghost of what was is moving to a larger shell. Smearing paint to obscure the image I worked so hard to create with a few quick and random slashes with a drywall knife is moving towards a larger shell. With every painting I can feel myself getting a little closer, a little bigger.
A few years back I discovered a new word: rewilding. This strange new work hit an immediate responsive chord within me beyond how it was originally used to describe returning land and animals to its original wild state. I felt that perhaps with in myself there could be a sort of rewilding, a rediscovery of what it means to be human, to be alive, spontaneous, to live in an organic and potent way, to have control and loose it at the same time. I wanted this for my life and I wanted this for my approach to art making as well. In fact I believe that my life and my painting somehow move back and forth in some kind of inner reinforcing dialogue. Perhaps it is a sort of wave pattern. One makes the other possible bouncing back and forth and to keep both healthy and responsive they both must remain wild at heart.
My Father Rolf Hendrik Beerhorst passed away a little over two months ago. He was 91 years old. The last three years of his life were increasingly hallowed out by Alzheimer's disease. By the time he left us it was something of a relief so it felt odd when people said over and over "I'm sorry for your loss." I suppose that sentence sounded odd because he was gone before he was gone. It also sounded odd because in the deep ways that matter I never had my father in the first place and he never really had his.
My father grew up in the Netherlands. The family business was growing and exporting flower bulbs. This had his father (also Rolf Hendrik Beerhorst) gone on frequent trips to America by steamship to sell bulbs. He would come into New York City and from there ride the trains through out the country visiting customers to maintain existing accounts and at the same time always looking to begin new accounts as well. When my Grandfather eventually returned home, surrounded by his children he would open his steamer trunk in the parlor and pass out Hershey bars, cans of Skippy peanut butter and the cowboy and Indian books. The fact of the matter was my grandfather was gone a lot. As fate would have it, when my father was ten years old my grandfather came down with a bad case of appendicitis. It was a stormy summer night in June and the doctor recommended a warm compress and promised to come first thing in the morning. The next day when the doctor arrived my grandfather was already gone. This doctor's decision changed our families history for ever. My grandmother Margaretha was pregnant with her twelfth child at this time. With my grandfather now gone and the depression deflating sales in the United States, our family business collapsed and was liquidated a year after my grandfather's passing. Three years later Germany took over the Netherlands in a humiliatingly swift five days. A German Calvary detachment took over the Beerhorst tulip bulb barns and two officers took up residence in our family home. Over the next five years until the liberation by the allies in 1945, life would prove to be an incredible challenge for our family. I grew up hearing many stories of the war years. Stories of how they had to eat their flower bulbs mashed with potatoes in order to stay alive through the winter, stories of how my father and his siblings walked for miles along the railroad tracks picking up scattered pieces of coal that had fallen from the trains. This scavenged coal provide some extra fuel to keep their big home warm against the cold winter winds that blew in from the North Sea. Before they climbed into there beds (My father shared a bed with his brother John) for the evening it was necessary for the water to be blown out of the pipes from the upstairs bathroom to make sure the pipes wouldn't freeze and burst in the night. This was a rotating task that the children shared through out those long winter months during the occupation.
These hard ships combined with with a missing father meant that not only did my father suffer from a physical malnutrition growing up but an emotional and physiological malnourishment as well. I would go so far as to say that from what I knew of my father that this deep deficiency left him for ever soul hungry and underdeveloped as a man through out his life. Even though he found some kind of solace in his sect of fundamentalist christianity, it always seemed to me that his religion remained too light of a diet to provide the soul nutrition to enable the real growth and healing he so desperately needed. In writing about my father in this way I do not want to judge him and make myself the victim. What I hope to do is unpack my family story in such away that I can begin to fill in some of the hallows in my own soul. I want to take a good hard look at where I have come from. When I know my story and know what I need to work on perhaps I will be able to improve my ability to connect with my children. I want to be able to more fully give myself to those who come into my life. I want to develop my conscious self so that I have something real to give.
I know now that my father like many of his generation came into the task of being a father with an empty "fatherhood account". Most of the checks he wrote bounced when I tried to cash them. He came off stiff, distant and hard to please. He had few if any male friends I remember. His only real friend was my mother. I have absolutely no memories of him going out to hang with his friends or having any buddies over to our house. He disappeared every day Monday through Friday to something called "the office". Weekends were about yard work, washing the car and going to church. I really don't remember much else. When I reflect on it, what ever relationship I did have with my father felt very thin. A worn penny, a faded photograph creased and dog eared. So the real question becomes where does this leave me with my own son and daughters? I remind my self that my father and my grandfather before him did the best they could working with the limitations they were born into. I don't want to cast blame, I want to simply carry on my own journey with out resentment, to dedicate myself to remain awake and ready for my work.
This is a poem that I wrote last week that comes out of mulling over these thoughts of who I have come from and who I am becoming.
Where The Mower Never Goes
I wrangle deep in the pit from where I came
too dark for shadows
working clay mixed with sand and bits of root
I fashion a new me, a person
that has more in common with animal fur, sticks and the
broken windows of an abandoned
house siting back on a country road
I pick up the stone and throw it as far as my arm allows
it falls just beyond father's grave in the
tall grass and Queen Anne's Lace where the
mower never goes
dusk approaches with the frogs in the ravine
to call me back home
all photos by Eric Tank
This Winter I became curious about what would happen if I invited a film maker, and a still photographer to join me in creating a portrait of my daughter Pearl. (I have been painting and drawing Pearl her entire life.) Where would this collaboration take us? What does it even mean to make a portrait at this time in history? Is it possible that we could open up some new territory in our various artistic paths by coming together in this way? What would it by like for Pearl, who I know to be a very sensitive and private person, to experience being the subject of an ongoing project with these two other men.
We have been working together for the past several weeks. There have been times when we have gotten together and just talked and done nothing more than take down a few notes. We have also shot video as well as photos working with both available light and carefully constructed artificial light. I've been working on paintings from some of the photos. So far the paintings are in different scale from 8x10 inches up to 54x54 inches. To me it is important that tall of us become better friends through the experience of working together. It's my hope that what we create comes up out of deepening friendship. I want to portray Pearl in an honest way that captures something of who she is and what she is in the process of becoming.
These are the basic Principles from Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way
1. Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: Pure creative energy.
2. There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life--including ourselves.
3. When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator's creativity with in us and our lives.
4. We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.
5. Creativity is God's gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.
6. The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.
7. When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: Good orderly direction.
8. As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.
9. It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.
10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.
"Difficulty is actually the atmosphere surrounding a miracle, or a miracle in its initial stage. Yet if it is to be a great miracle, the surrounding condition will be not simply a difficulty but an utter impossibility. And it is the clinging hand of His child that makes a desperate situation a delight to God." Streams in the Desert October 14th
I have been ruminating on these words for the past few days and finding them to be completely counterintuitive because when the situations in my life look like they are breaking down around me, my natural impulse is to freak out. When things look bad my spirit fills with dread. I feel myself losing control as I slide towards the edge of the cliff.
The words above remind me to see life's troubles as opportunities for transformation and renewal.
I think a large piece of this whole process has to do with being redirected. We make our way through life repeating our daily routines, when suddenly something unexpected happens that changes everything. This change in trajectory may happen with the loss of a job or in the death of a loved one. Perhaps it comes to us in the loss of a particular freedom and measure of independence. When I was ten years old my mother suddenly died in her sleep. It was completely unexpected and it changed my life forever. Two years later I would be living in a brand new house in a different neighborhood, riding in a brand new car sitting with three new siblings with a new mother sitting beside my Dad. It was a drastic redirection of my life that was both terrible and wonderful -- mysteriously woven together.
This whole notion of life difficulties setting the stage for miracles to happen is about us coming to the end of ourselves. When we find ourselves in situations were we are suddenly powerless, that is the place were God's power will manifest. These are the conditions for the supernatural to break through. This is where things get really interesting. Think of the story of David and Goliath. David, a boy with only a few stones and a sling coming into combat with an armored professional soldier who was also a giant. Seen from the perspective of common sense David's complete failure was eminent yet that's not what happened that day. Little David walked off with Goliath's sword and massive head. David stepped into the situation without fear, knowing God was with him. That's the way I choose to live my life... which is often pockmarked with trouble and impossibilities -that are also windows of opportunity, miracles waiting to happen.
About a year and a half ago I had my first real manic episode that lasted about 6 weeks. Depression didn't hit 'till 14 months later. As of today I have been out of the depression zone for 17 days. I know this number because I am keeping a mood chart that tracks how I'm doing whether up or down. Normal is in the middle which is were I am now. I have to say I really dig feeling like myself again especially after I spent most of the summer in depression. Everything around me looked awful. Everything in my life looked like it was falling apart. The scary part of that kind of thinking is how our thoughts determine our future. During those days it seemed like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, there was just more and more tunnel.
Through this summer voyage of darkness, my wife Brenda had the patience of a saint. She gave countless pep talks in the morning (which was my worst time of day). She was pumping up a bike tire that would only go flat again a few hours later, but bless her heart for trying. She kept reminding me that I had never been depressed before so I didn't have any tools -- which was true.
Along with Brenda, there were a number of people that became part of my support network this summer. First there were the guys in my men's prayer group. They did a great job lifting me up in prayer for God's healing. There was also my Doctor at Network 180. He did a good job helping me find the right medication that really made a difference. I had my therapist, at the Pine Rest Christian Counseling Center to talk to. She has proven to be a truly wise listener. I was very glad to have my friends at the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance every first and third Wednesday night. They helped me not feel so alone in my struggle. And lastly I am very grateful to all the readers of my blog who reached out to me after I shared the blog entitled "This Dark Enchantment". You came around me like true friends with your thoughts, prayers and words of encouragement. Thank you for that because it made a real difference.
I have fallen into a deep depression. If you were to ask me when it began I wouldn't be able to say a particular time. It is as if I have slowly fallen into an enchantment, an evil spell. It has become almost impossible to make new art work. I can still draw and paint what I observe but the development of the kind of painting that I am known for feels completely out of my reach. Everything feels hard. I tell people it feels like riding a bike with two flat tires and the brakes stuck on. This is in my mind, so there is no real way to get away from it. I have experimented with meditation which does seem to bring relief during those 20 minutes of quiet thoughtlessness. The terror inside of this paralyses is that - if I am not creating new work, how long until we run out of money and the whole Beerhorst family circus goes bust? I think about this a lot. Today the light in the refrigerator stopped working which felt like a precursor to much more serious breakdowns looming in our future.
My friends tell me this will not last forever. They tell me eventually I will feel better and I will be back to my old self again. I really hope this is true though it is really hard to see that from down where I have fallen. I like being with other people for the relief it brings during that time I am with them. It is nice to have a listening ear though I am afraid that I am beginning to sound like a broken record. Honestly there is very little anyone can do to help me right now because the brokenness is inside of me and no one can reach inside and change the worn out part.
I have a bipolar disorder which means I go way up and then I come down. You can not give an antidepressant to a bipolar person or it could likely send them into a manic episode. I have begun a mood stabilizer medication that is supposed to even out my moods and keep me running smoothly like a more normal person. The catch is that it takes about a month to kick in and I am only one and a half weeks in. Two and a half more weeks sounds like two and a half years to me right now. As a bipolar person I have been mostly up through out my life. This is the first time I have really been deeply down so this is new to me. As difficult as this is I choose to navigate this darkness with grace and what ever wisdom God will allow.
I have five more drawings from the who's my neighbor project to share from the past week. I met a life coach, an high school english teacher, a project coordinator, an assistant plant manager, and a graphic designer. I continue to enjoy the process of getting to know people as I draw their portrait. It is an intimate experience to create a portrait and I am usually drawing someone I have never met before. I sometimes wonder if I should circle back with some of these people and take what was a one time encounter into a possible friendship.
I like to ask questions that help me understand a little about who the person is. An obvious question is "What do you do?" But often their is something alongside of their job that seems to say something even more about who they are and what they love. A young woman named Emma who is the project coordinator for a software consulting firm seemed to have a twinkle in her eye when she talked about being a runner and working part time at the local running store. Johnathan who is the graphics designer talked in animated detail about his annual trip to Beaver Island and unplugging everything for a long week away in the wild. He told me about the delicious white fish he buys from a native american who is a local resident of the island. John who is the school teacher is also working on his poetry in a MFA program. I would love to hear him read one of his poems which I just might ask him to do the next time I visit.
I am finding a lot of very friendly and interesting people who live just a short walk from my house. I don't know exactly where this is going but I am enjoying the process.
I have another 5 drawing of neighbors done. Some of the newness of my project is beginning to were off and I can feel the resistance beginning to settling in. When I am knocking on doors it is always a little bit scary because I don't know how people with react especially when it happens to be a complete stranger and yet with this group the interactions were really pleasant. When I am drawing it just feels like a good thing to be doing.
With one neighbor, Mr Matias, I really hit the jack pot. I must have ended up chatting with him on his porch for close to an hour after I had finished his drawing. He shared a story from his youth growing up in Chicago. His parents were immigrants from Puerto Rico where they have a tradition of roasting a pig for wedding celebrations. When his sister was engaged to be married his father purchased a young pig. They kept the pig in the basement of their building for several months fattening it up to be ready for his sisters wedding. This happened right in the city long before it was considred hip to keep urban livestock. There were other stories he shared as well including one about his father making his own flavored ice cart that he wheeled through the neighborhood wearing a large straw hat. He mixed up his own flavors and even learned how to make his own ice blocks.
In this group of portraits there are two social workers, a poetic visionary, a manager of a hospital lab and a physicians assistant.
I have added five more portraits to my Who's My Neighbor Project. I am fifteen drawings into this quest so far. It is really interesting to get to know people who live in my neighborhood by drawing their portrait. I am finding people to be very friendly and open to the idea so far.
The man with the wonderful beard is Jake and he lives right next door. He is both a computer programer and a very accomplished cook. Jake works hard to make both beautiful websites and tasty meals. He told me that he got an art degree from the local art college and that he does his best to engage both right and left sides of his brain in his profession. The girl with the long bangs is Amanda. She is 12 years old and aspires to be a animator when she grows up. She showed me her sketch book that was lined notebook full of fanciful creatures painstakingly drawn and colored. Jane is a recent college grad working for a staffing company She told me that she encounters a lot of people on her job that are recently released from prison. Shirley is recently retired from a flower shop up the road. She is also an amazing cook who sometimes has dinner parties in her beautiful back yard garden. Every once and awhile we are treated to one of her tasty kitchen creations. Jamie, who lives below Shirly keeps very busy as a flower arranger. He works in a nearby city which means a 45 minute commute back and forth each day.
I went out for the second time to draw the people in my neighborhood. I am still on my block just making my way from house to house. I got my first two no's tonight. Both were females that probably didn't feel safe with a man they didn't know. I also knocked on a lot of doors where no one was home. House after house with no one home made me wonder were everyone is on a Thursday night.
The woman in the flowered dress who's name is Vivian actually invited me in. I had to wait until she finished her dinner before I could draw her. Apparently she knows a lot of comic book artists because she volunteers at the Motor City Comic Con every year with her daughter. They work in the kitchen. She has even been featured from time to time in some comic books.
I have been really pleased so far with how willing people have been to participate by having their picture drawn. The experience is actually a pretty intimate because you sit close together and I stare at them the whole time. I try to keep the time to about 15 minutes which seems just about right so far.
Tonight I launched a project that I am calling Who's My Neighbor?. My plan is to draw everyone in my neighborhood over the course of the next twelve months. My goal is to do 25 drawings a week which will add up to 100 drawings a month and 1200 over the course of a year. I did 5 tonight. I am not sure how to exactly define my neighborhood but I am beginning with my block and moving out from there. Tonight I just knocked on doors, gave a brief description of my project and then asked if I could draw them. No one said no.
The fear I have at the onset of this project is that I will not be able to see it through. I am afraid but I have started anyway and I had a great experience tonight getting to know my neighbors a little better, one at a time.
Self Portrait in the Dining Room with Daughter Rain
I moved my studio out of the carriage house and into the house for February and most of March. I was running low on firewood and finding it difficult to keep the carriage house studio warm enough on the coldest days. (I have since moved back to the carriage house again.) I set up my easel in the dining room and moved my paints and pallet back and forth from the dining room to the basement to make room for meal times. It was nice to have a different room to paint and draw in for awhile. It was also nice to have a closer connection with my family members while I was working. My youngest daughter Rain even made it into my newest self portrait that I am working on now.
Winter is always a bit of a lonely time for me. The cold weather and snow that makes us bundle up also seems to have a way of keeping us in our own private corner of the world. We just don't see as much of each other as we do in the warmer months. Could it be that a certain amount of being lonely is good for us? I know that alone times can become times of healthy introspection. These are times for taking stock of who we are and what we are called to. Being alone well, so that we can be together well. I know that both are necessary for staying balanced.
Self Portrait in the Dining Room (detail)
Speaking of introspection, I am thinking about my role as a working artist as I paint a new self portrait. I make pictures that I hope will find their way into other peoples homes and make these homes environments richer. My goal is to make art that speaks directly to the soul of the viewer. I believe that living with art makes people more alive because artwork has a way of opening us up inside. Art enlivens the imagination even as it lifts the spirit. I think living with art can even help us to think in new and creative ways. In this way art helps us to adapt to the constantly changing world that we live in. These thoughts about what art can do inspire me to keep going through the tough times. Winter can be a difficult time in the studio. This morning I built a fire in the wood stove. The wind was blowing hard against the giant Black Locust tree wedged into the north east corner of the studio making the whole building creak and groan like a ship at sea - with me all alone painting my next picture.
The tulip bulbs we planted last fall have been hidden away in the cold dark soil all winter. Now it is good to see their hopeful green points coming up through the March soil. It's officially Spring on the calendar but for Michiganders we know that there can be plenty of Winter-like weather right up through April. It's just the way it is. Today I am thankful for Spring's promise of new beginnings.
This past week our family hosted a couple of touring musicians that we got to know the year we lived in Brooklyn in 2005. They had contacted us a few weeks prior letting us know that they were doing two shows in Michigan including one in Grand Rapids. They were hoping to be able to set up an extra house show and find a place to stay. We offered to do the show in our home and provide them a place to stay. We made the face book event , cleaned the house and even talked one of our kids into giving up her room for the night.
All the preparations had been made and the night of the concert was upon us. Our band the Wealthy Orphans was ready -- we had practiced for the event. We welcomed our audience and introducing the band we launched into our first tune of the night. That's when it hit, panic! Complete terror seized my brain and just started kicking things around making a mess in my head. My hands were playing my guitar but my mind was blanking out but somehow the right words were coming out of my mouth just in time. This must be why we practice so much so when you are freezing up with fear and your pulse is racing somehow there is some other part of your brain that just over-rides all of this and keeps the show going. I was wondering if the little audience that had gathered in our home could tell I was choking. Was it obvious to them? As we finished the first verse and came around the corner into the second verse I could begin to feel my breath rate returning so something more close to normal. Now I was able to begin to live inside the music and notice smiling faces. We were doing it. We were actually sharing our music with our audience and starting to enjoy the process.
I have learned over the years that the presence of fear can actually be helpful to the performer. It is part of the fight or flight response carried over from the ancient evolutionary roots of our nervous system when we had to survive in wild and threatening natural environments. Feelings of fear signal the release of adrenalin into our blood stream. This is to the mind and body what fuel injection is to the car engine, passing gear to the transmission, warp speed to the space craft. With adrenalin released into your blood you are Clark Kent coming out of the phone booth and ready to fly. This is a special operating system that may include the anointing of the Holy Spirit making the ground under your feet holy. I have to remember all of this is temporary and I will be exhausted afterwards but it is worth it. The live concert regardless of the venue's size or legacy is potentially a very powerful experience for both the performer and the audience. When music shared in real time it is much different than listening to pandora on your smart phone. Live performance becomes the experiences that we sometimes carry with us for our entire life.