I have finally finished my Creation triptych, right up against the deadline of hanging my show at Memphis Theological Seminary yesterday. It feels good to see it up on the wall and hanging together as intended. The titles for the pieces are "Firmament," "Every Living Creature," and "And It was Good."
Unlike the vast majority of Adam and Eve paintings, where they are separated by the tree, already in the process of reaching for the apple, or being expelled from the garden in shame, I wanted to include their embrace as part of good creation, part of the full range of wholeness and celebration that God intended for us. As a church we have tended to shy away from Song of Songs and not talk about the bit of Ruth where she is sent in to the harvest floor to seduce Boaz. There is body positive, celebratory sexual space in the Bible, and I see that as one of the gifts of creation when used in loving ways that don't harm other people.
I appreciate working at a seminary that is willing to have these discussions and hang such art.
The show also includes watercolors and pen and ink drawings I did for chapel bulletins through my year at MTS. Above is the Creation series from back in September that the print triptych is based on, and below is Exodus.
One other body of work I included is my letterpress posters. I acquired a printing press and some type about the same time as I started making liturgical work from the Biblical text. I had always been a pure landscapist before, and I have so enjoyed playing with letters and words and images together. There's also a great power in putting words into print, one reason printing presses are so often attacked during revolutions of various kinds. It's meant a lot to be able to typeset and print phrases that catch my heart and my imagination at various places in my life. This work is different from the liturgical pieces, but I feel they are in conversation with each other artistically, and they come together to celebrate a new phase of my art making.
I've been continuing to work on my creation triptych lately. It's taking me a lot more than six days for sure. I've got the sky piece done (that's first proof above, but it's quite close -- I just took more yellow out of the moon).
I've been printing a lot of blue skies lately.
Below is the final of the animal panel and a later draft of Adam and Eve for the third panel. I'm still edging blue back out of the figures. You never want to cut too much at once, since you can't put it back, and I'm hoping I didn't get too extreme last night. I printed blue today and will do the top layer to find out once that dries. This is definitely the slowest one, because the blue is the middle layer instead of the top one. With the other two panels, the only other layer is a light yellow/brown, so it's less of a crisis what happens in the figures with that. The blue is the top pattern layer. With Adam and Eve, the blue can bleed into the figures, so I'm having to really proof it, check it, carve some more, proof it again. Hopefully this last round will work, because I'm hanging the show at the seminary next week, and this is my centerpiece. I'll also hang the watercolor sketches of creation (five total, the number of Wednesday chapels back in September, not the days of creation...) that inspired this print series. It will be fun to have them shown together.
I'm not posting as much as I like to right now. Between the printmaking and some deadlines and seminary work and switching to a new (to me) computer which wasn't talking to the scanner well, I haven't been either sketching or scanning in what I do nearly as much as I like to. An ongoing crisis in my park, where so much of my painting happens, has also taken a ton of time lately. It's lovely to be able to schedule my own time instead of punch a clock. When something that important surfaces, I can take a lot of time to help. But it's all piled up to make me feel pretty frantic lately and to have less art creation time than I like.
I'm strongly looking forward to a return to Paris in a couple of weeks. It will be marvelous to have three weeks solo just to walk, paint (hopefully the weather will cooperate and I can bring home enough work for a show this fall), and look at art. I do love getting away. I always work intensively when I travel, but it's the best part of the work. The book keeping, matting, schlepping work around, and anything else is eliminated, and I just get to paint. So lovely.
Here's the first proof of a print based on the creation of the animals. I'm working on a triptych, if they look right together, or perhaps just a series of three, for my upcoming show at Memphis Theological Seminary. They're based on a series of watercolors I did for MTS worship back last fall.
The sky needs to be lighter and bluer and more gradated, but I'm overall happy with the carving. I started a second proofing round last night. Below you can see the carving underway and also the bottom block proof, with one main gold color but pink rolled in spots for the pig and cow udder. I've also got an Adam and Eve underway, with a moon and sun drawn out but not yet started.
I went to the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum yesterday. It's a lovely place with a gorgeous garden atrium and a fine collection of Sargents, who is one of my favorite painters. I had never seen his watercolors in person before, so that was a treat.
I was sad that both lighting and hanging of pieces precluded you from really seeing some of the art. A beguiling line of tiny Whistlers were way across a room, behind furniture and a rope, and in dim light. You just couldn't see them at all. Some of the Sargents were also high and dimly lit. I understand staying true to the spirit of the founder, but I wish they could improve the lighting a bit.
Also the second floor was completely closed for renovations, and the paintings don't go on alternate view until the day after I leave. So I missed the Dutch collection (what's left of it) among others. But overall it was a lovely place to wander around and see art.
One neat thing was that they have an artist in residence program. There was a really lovely exhibit of the latest one. She had done tiny, text heavy drawings of the musuem, and they fit into various small boxes. Lots of them had a library stamp on them for the date. Brilliant. Nicely in the urban sketcher style. I did a very quick sketch to remind myself of the overall feel.
Memphis Theological Seminary is celebrating African American history month in February, and I suggested a series of Exodus paintings for the chapel bulletins. I love how the chaplain, my excellent boss, lets me run with the things that are calling to me. She suggested that the phrase "Let my people go" has special resonance, so I used it as the background for each image, and I like the continuity it provides. It's nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and to collaborate with. That's been a beautiful upside to this job.
It's chronologically out of order for the book, but I want to do a series of Biblical women for March (women's history month), so I ended with an image of Shiprah and Puah, to bridge that transition between the months. I continue to be amazed that we have remembered and celebrated the names of two midwives several millenia later. Powerful.
2015 was the banner year of my art career, with my Dixon show and my residency and Memphis Theological. Personally it was incredibly painful for a good long time, with one small, last kick in the pants on the way out. There were also periods of exquisite beauty and over the top happiness. Such is life, I suppose, and I'm deeply grateful to have the art to carry me through the harder places. Art is healing and escape and meaning for me, and I'm so lucky to have such an absorbing focus for my life.
I started the new year with a dear friend in the house and a first sketch of Mr. Darcy. Begin as you mean to continue. I'll take it. And now I'm off for the annual new year's jam to play my bass and banjo.
I don't want to add to the glorification of busyness because I am a moderation kind of girl, and I do build in good life breaks like sister lunches, girlfriend teas, and daily long forest walks with Mr. Darcy. But I had not taken a whole Day Off since the first weekend of October (which in itself was nice enough to carry me through the month by itself), and I did greatly enjoy myself yesterday. Truly, I'm not great at taking a whole day off unless I'm off dancing somewhere. I tend to draw a lot even on vacation, but that's the fun part of being an artist. I've been doing a lot more of the nuts and bolts work lately, though, and a day off sounded good.
So yesterday I treated myself to a massage to celebrate the end of the show. I got myself a Muddy's cupcake for lunch to celebrate National Chocolate Day. I took a long walk and a snuggly nap with Mr. Darcy.
And then I had a two hour design committee meeting for Overton Park. Sigh. So I sketched. Because what else are you going to do in a two hour design committee meeting? (Even though it was good, and I was glad to be there to have some input.)
I took my adorable teapot by my friend Melissa Bridgman (who will join me for my Holiday Open Studio Sale in December) plus a white cup and saucer to Memphis Theological Seminary yesterday to set up a still life for my art journal group.
I wanted them to easily see values (on the simple, white forms), and I also wanted to practice making grays with French ultramarine blue and burnt umber. That's one of my favorite things about watercolor -- that lovely gray that can be pushed from warm to cool and have a spectrum of colors in it. I also mentioned squinting to see value more clearly, getting rid of detail and color (an art class trick that doesn't necessarily trickle out to the wider world), and using one rich color to go with a mostly monochromatic sketch, like the blue above.
It took me a while to get going. My first sketch (below) didn't make me as happy as the second one, but that's also how things work when you're creating. Some of it isn't as exciting as other bits that happen how you want them to. It's just part of the deal.
I am continuing to celebrate Inktober (and my lovely new pen) with some very simple line drawings. I've been crazy busy and exhausted with the Pink Palace Crafts Fair (which went BEAUTIFULLY! Thanks to all of you who came out to support and hug me and say a few words) and getting ready for the Dixon exhibition. So a quick line sketch of Mr. Darcy on the sofa in the evening is just what the doctor ordered. It's lovely to do something creative in the midst of the show prep and printing.
Today I did two rounds of printing and filled my print rack, worked with my art journal group at Memphis Theological, and picked up framing supplies. By 5pm, it was gorgeous outside, and I decided to treat myself to a sketch outing in the forest. I started with another simple line sketch.
As I was drawing, Mr. Darcy settled firmly on my foot, and I couldn't resist sketching him as well. That's twice in two days sketching him on my feet. I'll be glad for that come winter.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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