I got tentatively back to painting this week for the first time in a month or so. Regular readers will have noticed that I haven't been posting here nearly as often as I usually do. Normally I wake up every morning thinking about what art I want to make that day. I feel lucky to be a happy painter -- I don't have to cultivate or channel angst in order to make my art. That generally makes for a happy life.
However, in times of trouble and grief, it means that I hit a point where making art is very hard for me, and sometimes I just have to take some time off. I'm in the process of getting a divorce, and it's been difficult to work lately. Fortunately I don't have any shows looming, and my clients for the above commission have been very understanding.
The only thing I've been able to tackle lately is the series of lament psalm prints. They're heartfelt, relatively small, and simple in just black and white. Hopefully I can get back to more complex printmaking soon. I miss it, but it's sometimes hard to dive into a more intricate project. In the meantime, I'm trying to finish this painting (it felt great to get back into it) and also keep going with the psalms, since one is due each Sunday in Lent for use as church bulletin covers. The whole set will be available in digital form for any church that would like to use it for future occasions.
Here's the first proof for next week's psalm.
I had a rare day where I didn't make any art yesterday (a series of other obligations and a little time just sitting in the park to drink up some winter sunshine), but the day before I put the sky into this painting. It felt great to play with clouds in oils again. The main thing I'm unhappy with in my watercolors is my handling of skies. It's fun to be doing a lush one in oils again.
Today I'll be back in the saddle.
Come join us if you can. I got my labels up yesterday and am looking forward to the party. All I have to do now is wrap some unframed prints and gather up calendars to have available.
It's been a crazy busy week. My dad got married on Saturday, and my big show for the year went up on Monday. Thanks to an all day framing marathon on Friday, I was able to relax and enjoy all the festivities with the new family and siblings (now we are six!). It's a hilarious, uproarious new family, and I couldn't be more delighted.
Monday, Elizabeth Alley and I showed up to hang our joint show at ANF architects on Union Avenue in Memphis. It's a beautiful space for art, and we had just the right amount to fill it up without overcrowding the space.
That's Elizabeth's work above, which I love, and it looks gorgeous in this sun-filledroom. My prints (top photo), which are the main body of work I've been preparing for this show, are across from the reception desk, and I'm thrilled with how they look on the wall.
We each have a "welcome painting" in a front alcove, and I also have several paintings and a couple of groupings of watercolor sketches in the hallways.
It was fun to get my prints framed and hung as the group I've been intending them to be.
I finished a couple of new ones at the last minute, and I'm glad I could get them in the show. My only regret is not getting the French Broad print done in time. The family wedding and related events cut into the time a little, but it's also a pretty complicated print, and it may take me a little bit longer to wrangle it where I want it.
Here are the couple of very recently finished ones. If you're in Memphis, I hope you can come out and join us this Friday, November 2nd, for the opening from 5:30-7:30.
I've spent most of the week working on illustrations for a short story for Memphis Parent. It's my first commission for them, and I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to post them before they go into print. I was excited to be asked and very happy to be illustrating again. It's fun to work with a text and see which scenes really beckon to me.
So instead of posting those, I'll post this super cool video. Frank Kelly, the director of youth ministry at Idlewild, took photos of the hanging of "The Garden". He set up the camera to shoot at one minute intervals and then strung together a 30 second video from his stills. I'm so grateful to him for using his gifts to document what was, for me, quite an occasion. And I'm posting it here because it really is nifty to watch.
It's fully three years since I first started thinking about doing a large scale painting for the chapel wall at Idlewild Presbyterian, where I'm artist-in-residence. I almost always go to early service, so I spend a lot of time in the chapel.
I did one early study, and while there were things I liked about it, it wasn't right in the space and with the windows. After thinking for a while, I did the study of what would become the final painting. It's a more ROYGBIV than most of my paintings, but the front of the chapel has a fabulous, mod, 1950's or so stained glass window with lots of red and yellow, and I wanted colors that would complement it.
I did a good bit more thinking before I dove into painting. I had done exactly one painting even close to the size of one of the larger sections, so this was fully three times bigger than the biggest thing I've done. It was intimidating, but also exciting. A trip last year to the Walter Anderson museum, with its glorious murals, finally sparked me into action, so it's fitting that I was just there again before the final hanging of my piece.
The painting is called "The Garden", and is my vision of the promised renewal of creation, with the tree of life at its center and rivers flowing out of it to water the earth. I've been teaching apocalyptic literature over the last couple of months, and one of the things I love about it is that promise of a new creation. Not just human souls are saved, but all of creation is remade into what God intended for all of us. The visions of life lived in the very presence of God are the most compelling thing about that genre for me, and worth facing and making peace with the strangeness and occasional violence of those books.
The Bible texts included in the painting read: "They will be called oaks of righteousness, the plantings of the LORD." (Isaiah 61:3). "The righteous shall be like trees planted by streams of living water." (Psalm 1). "The LORD God planted a garden.... A river flowed out of Eden, and there it divided and became four rivers." (Genesis 2:8-10).
The painting was done in memory of my mother, Neta Wellford Kelly, but because of the tree of life imagery, I decided to include names from my personal tree of life along the stretchers on the back. I have found myself unexpectedly moved by lighting candles in Greek Orthodox churches on my travels, a completely alien action for a life-long Presbyterian. However, the tangible symbol of the prayer, continuing in the space even after I've left the sanctuary, is powerful. I decided to include the names of those who have been dear to me as a tangible prayer, keeping their names perpetually in the space of worship, even if I'm the only one who knows they are there.
I'm a little nervous about people seeing it for the first time on Sunday. It's big enough that folks can't ignore it, like it or not. I hope more people than not are happy to have it in their worship space. I love the Gothic idea of every craftsman in the village building the cathedral bringing their best work to be part of the house of God. I'm incredibly honored to be able to do that in my own way, and I hope the painting will be a help instead of a hindrance to people's worship.
It's leap day, and I'm celebrating with a couple of new projects. Here is the proof of my first real multi-block color print (at least the first one that wasn't a class assignment). I need to refine the edges a bit, lighten the sky, and use a more opaque dark green, but this gives you a good idea of what it will look like eventually.
This process is a leap for me, especially since I'm still printing by hand, rubbing on the back of the paper with a wooden spoon. This block will have to be printed three times for each print (one for each color, with time for drying in between), instead of just the once for my black and white ones. I visited an old family printing business here in Memphis yesterday. They have a lovely, small table top press that they no longer use, and I was hoping to sweet talk them into selling it to me, but sadly they weren't ready to let it go yet. Maybe someday. It would have been very helpful for this print in particular.
My other leap today is starting a new oil painting -- I finally finished my five canvas piece for church, so this is my first new painting in a while. I've got a show with Elizabeth Alley this fall at Askew Ferguson Nixon, and I'll have a mix of oils and watercolors. Today I'm starting the first oil for the show, one of Dixon Gardens. I'm finding myself really drawn to formal gardens lately and only wish we had more in Memphis for me to paint.
I've been working on a five panel painting for my church, Idlewild Presbyterian, for the last year or more (with several long pauses along the way). This is my final large project for them as part of my artist-in-residence position. I'll keep doing the weekly bulletin drawings, but I don't have another large project planned for this year.
Over the last week, I've finally gotten the five panels pretty much finished. Today I had a scattered sort of day, with lots of outside business to attend to, but I did take advantage of the cold weather to finish the backs of the panels.
I wanted each individual canvas to have the critical information on it, which is that this large piece, my vision of the tree of life at the center of God's Garden, is painted in memory of my mom. I had done layers of gesso on the supports of each canvas earlier, and today I got all the lettering done. Lettering is not my strong suit, but fortunately it will be facing the wall anyway. I just want the information on there for posterity, and also to have Mom's name, even hidden, present in worship each week, as my own sort of permanent prayer for her.
These two photos show the information on the diagonal struts of each larger panel (there are two that are 36x72"). The first photo is the three smaller panels, each just 12" wide and six feet high. I've got a date with my photographer for next week, and I'll post the front when I have good photos of the finished work to show.
I was commissioned this Christmas to do a pair of paintings of Greece, and it's always fun to relive my time there. The clients chose two small pastel studies I'd done when I was there, sitting right on the sidewalk, so I had the color and light information I needed to do the oils. The left-hand one is in Athens, a walking street in Plaka, and the right-hand one is on the island of Hydra.
I didn't have time to get them photographed by my regular guy, so the colors are a little wierdly warm with the sky not quite blue enough, but you get the idea.