It was a very Lenten Lent, and it's an odd Easter. I don't usually play music in public, and I rarely post about music here, but today made me reach for both art and music. I dug out my creation paintings (see the last post) and then played this edgy, modal, shape note hymn that seemed perfect for this understated Easter. Grace and peace to all of you this year.
Last year I was thrilled to get an invitation to be artist-in-residence for a worship and music conference. The themes were creation and Celtic Christianity, so right in my wheelhouse. Sadly the conference itself fell through (and would have by now anyway, if it hadn't before), but I tend to dive straight into ideas as I get them. So I did a bit of experimenting in paths that are not my normal art practice. I played with metallic acrylic paints in a series of self portraits, and I also did a small set of almost abstract (as abstract as I can get, anyway) paintings based on each day of creation. This very strange Easter felt like exactly the time to scan them in and share them. I think I'll put up one a day on facebook, but it's not bad to gather them all here to see together. I'll put them up on my liturgical sets page as well. Occasionally churches buy jpeg images to use in worship. It's powerful and uplifting for me to have my art used in worship by people I don't even know.
I spent a couple more days doing intricate and steady work on my current prints, but tonight I was missing my sketchbook. The Memphis Urban Sketchers had a "virtual sketch crawl" today (Saturdays are our normal days), so I wanted to join in. I sit on the sofa a lot in the evenings, but this is my other favorite spot. I'm grateful, so grateful, that I had spent the last year working to make my house a warmer, more pleasant place to be. This corner is one of my new happy places.
I just framed the poster last month to remember a really pivotal show for me. It was a solo exhibition of Berthe Morisot, and she's my new art hero. She just flat out went for it. She was showing in the salon in her 20's and then showed at every Impressionist exhibition that they put together themselves. Frustratingly, fully half of the show was from private collections. Museums just weren't collecting her when they were sucking up every available male impressionist canvas. And her work is amazing. One critic called her "the angel of the incomplete" because of her confident, calligraphic style.
After I saw her show, plus another current woman artist show, also at the Musee d'Orsay, two different friends challenged me to go for it if what I wanted was another museum show. My first, at Dixon, was a career moment, but I'd been having this "what now?" feeling ever since. I don't see ever landing in the Orsay, but Morisot's gumption and drive made me redouble my efforts, and I was awarded a show at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art for 2022. Which, given the current world situation, is perfect. And I'm so glad for something really exciting to work towards just now. It's been a huge bright spot for me lately.
I got really deep into print work for several days and didn't take time from that to do any Quarantine Journal, but last night I was missing it. I also got my first ever groceries delivery, and that seemed worth celebrating. I'd gotten some lettuce from the open air farmers market, but it had been just on a month since getting any other groceries. My milk lasted amazingly, but it was finally time to get fresh. So morning tea today was a treat as well.
The other provisions I got were books from Burke's Books here in Memphis. Their website is open for orders, they have free local delivery, and there is also curbside pickup. I took a break from work the other day and got on my bike for some loops through midtown and new books. Milk, avocados, blueberries, and books make for a good home life.
I felt really locked in for work again today. I’ve been so ADD in my work lately that I’ve got a bunch of different blocks in various stages of completion. This morning I decided I should get some final prints on the ones that are close, so I did 26 “rainbow rolls” (the technical term, which delights me, for multiple colors or shades hand rolled and blended onto a block with different rollers — time consuming but satisfying). The blue ones from today will be the background for my pelican block, and I’ll do another batch in yellow/orange for the starling block. I did a couple of pink/purple ones to try with the egret block I’ve been carving. You can see those sitting on the press in the photo. I love that the press is in that window with all the natural light coming in.
I treated myself afterwards with a bike ride since I was working so well yesterday that I worked right through my exercise window. I did not quite 10 miles around midtown, including a curbside pick up from Burke’s Books, which has been in business for 145 years. I’m making it a personal mission to help survive on to 146 and beyond. Burke’s is also doing mail order and free delivery in Memphis, in case anyone else would like to join in the fun. https://www.burkesbooks.com/
There’s baseball on the radio tonight. KMOX is replaying the Cardinals’ last seven weeks of the 2011 season while we all wait to see if there will be baseball this year. I love the story telling of radio, and it’s comforting to have my normal spring/summer companions keeping me company. Plus my memory’s pretty bad (of COURSE I remember Game 6 of the Series, but otherwise things are murky), so I’m enjoying it all over again. With that for company, I pulled proofs of the blocks I worked on yesterday. Both have problems and need a good bit of work yet, but it’s nice to see them beginning to take shape for the WAMA show. It’s been a satisfying few days being able to work more normally again. Sunshine and spring weather definitely help too. I’m really grateful for this show to focus on and look forward to.
This is a slightly dark snapshot of a watercolor color test. I’m back to a lot of print work today, and it feels great. I realized last night that one thing I haven’t been doing is lying in bed thinking about the prints I’m working on or want to start. Somehow doing that intentionally helps me wake up with a good vision of them and ready to go. So I did that, and today it worked. I’m back to carving on the hurricane tree I put aside ages ago, waiting for a problem to resolve itself a bit, and I also did the watercolor of this proof. I’d partly been waiting for the ink to dry, but I also just got distracted. I’ll carve the second block for the color behind, but I wanted to play with paint first and see if what i had in my head is the direction I want to go. I’m feeling pretty good about this one, though it certainly needs some cleaning up and thinning down. My concentration just couldn’t get there a couple of weeks ago, but I think I’m ready now, and it feels really good. There will probably be days when I’m not ready, but that’s ok too.
The work is flowing so well today I’ll probably skive off the Quarantine Journal today, but that’s a trade I’m ok with. It feels good to be working towards my WAMA show again. And you just never know when I’ll get in the mood to sketch anyway. It could happen after dinner. Though I’m also greatly enjoying my Harry Potter evenings just now...
I've been outside inhaling spring. The mayor has threatened to close the parks if people can't behave, so I've been diving deep into the forest and sitting and sketching and drinking it in, in case we lose it. I know my journal is heavy on the green lately, but that's how my mind works in spring pretty much every year.
Then yesterday I worked on the garden, which may be the real sign that the world as we know it is ending. I did have some help come in, since that's open air and socially distant. It's the last piece (except one tiny, bad upstairs bathroom) of the yearlong project sprucing up the house. I needed help getting out some poison ivy that I'd let get way too entrenched, and they put in blueberries and a fig tree for me. I got some herbs from an open air nursery, and my dad just brought me a couple of tomato plants (SO odd not to hug him!), so I planted all of those myself.
Usually I'd rather make art than take care of the place, but I have found a lot of satisfaction recently in making the house nice. Just in time for all this. So grateful. And usually I'm traveling, which makes watering and caring for a garden a nonstarter. But this year seems like the year to try once again to grow some tomatoes and herbs at the very least. So yesterday I did all that instead of a journal entry. I'm working not to put pressure on myself for specific projects just at this moment and instead do the things that bring me joy. So now I'm going to make dinner, listen to 2010 baseball on KMOX, and read some more Harry Potter.
As I approached my fiftieth birthday, a lovely minister friend of mine reminded me that Biblically every 50 years, fields lie fallow, debts are forgiven, and there are parties all year. I loved that. I had already set a goal for myself at age 49 to get my family house in the shape I would like to live with for the next 25 years of my living here, and not wait till I was ready to move out to do nice things. It was helpful to have time to think ahead, and I did do a good amount of cleaning up, repainting, fixing things, and buying a few new things (stained glass lamps, a comfy loveseat, etc.). I had planned to have the house ready for a Jubilee on my birthday, a party with music and dancing and all my favorite people. But the world had other plans.
My birthday was right as the ground shifted underneath everyone (except for Washington State, who had already gotten the preview). So no party. But I could not have done better work to make my home, if not magazine ready, a place I am very happy to be in. I think of myself as someone who does appreciate the small beauties of daily life. My show last year was Daily Pleasures, a still life show of tea things and farmers market bounty. But I also know that I have a tendency to be rushing out of town on a regular and frequent basis. It seems that this year I am getting a master class in the Jubilee of daily life.
Instead of the dance weekends, adventures, and new places I had planned, I am walking every day in the forest. I am home to see the bulbs give way to the wildflowers and the wildflowers give way to the blooming trees. I am sitting nightly with my dog. I am chatting with neighbors (from a good distance away), tracking the sunbeams' journey through my house, reveling in my newly blue-green bedroom, knitting, reading books, and drinking tea. I know there will be hard times to come, but there is great beauty to be found in the every day. So instead of thinking of my jubilee as being postponed, I am thinking of it as unexpected but still beautiful.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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