I got to go to a great house concert over the weekend. My banjo mentor had seen a group from Johnson City called Bill and the Belles and liked them enough that he arranged for them to play in Memphis when they were passing through on the road. They were marvelous. Old time swing, lots of songs from the teens and twenties, a good dose of Jimmie Rodgers, and a bunch of new songs that sound delightfully old. As usual, I sketched as well as listening. This group is used to artwork too. They're the only band I know that has an original linocut of the group for sale along with the usual cds and stickers. It was as old timey as they are, so of course I came home with it, along with my own sketches.
One of the great things about Christmas being over is that now I once more have time to make art for myself. I love commissions, but I have a backlog of ideas that I am now champing at the bit to get to. Steady readers of this blog will remember this block from back in October. I had meant it to be a single, black and white (or brown and white) image, but I began to wonder about putting color behind it. I've carved a second block, and yesterday was its first test run. I have to fix places where the color drops down into the figure, and I'm doing a bit more refinement as I go, but it's close to what I want. The orange definitely amplifies the 70's vibe it already had, but I'm a child of the 70's, so that works for me. I'm hoping it conveys the joy I feel when I play music.
One of my favorite things to do in Paris is hang out with my friends Rene Miller and Stephen Harrison while they play. Rene is from Louisiana and plays masterful slide blues on an old metal resonator guitar, but he mixes in all kinds of other songs as well and always makes them his own. I so admire that about his performances. He's also been playing on the street here for 25 years or so and is an unflappable master of accepting all kinds of odd happenings and weaving them into the show. Stephen is a fabulous bass player (touring with various folks as well as playing with the orchestra here), and he joins Rene when he's in town. They're magic together.
This past weekend they were set up on the bridge by Hotel de Ville, and I spent chunks of both days sitting out on a park bench and listening and chatting with them and watching the people watch them. And sketching. Of course.
I was using a Pentel dark, smallish brush pen. I've been wanting to work on my people, since I'm enjoying the idea of more illustration, so I did a ton of gestures sitting out there through the Sunday midday.
I was also kind of fascinated by their shadows extending towards me and did a couple of quick watercolor sketches, one with the bridge railing in it and one without.
I'm still scrambling around with my show a bit, since the opening is tomorrow night (Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, 5-6:30pm), but I did manage a bit of sketching. The weather is fixing to change, so I took yesterday afternoon to go hang out in the forest with my sketchbook and drink in the last of the gorgeous weather. It's good to have the flexibility to do that and reorder my priorities as bit as the weather calls to me. And it was fruitful. I might try an oil from this first one. We'll see.
Then tonight I went to Dixon to see Wayne Edge's new show and hear some of my favorite jazz guys play at the reception. I couldn't resist sketching them too.
I'm on my third self portrait in what I've come to think of as my Hopper series. It's funny, because the first of these sprang out of my time at the Musee d'Orsay looking at Odilon Redon, but I guess I just don't have it in me to go quite that far out. I do hope I'm capturing some of the sense of mystery and narrative that draws me into his paintings. Pure landscape (and TREES) will always draw me in, but I am enjoying working more figuratively the last few weeks. Story telling is a powerful thing. But I definitely seem to be in a Hopper place of people alone in spaces, caught at odd moments of their lives.
Self portraits can feel like the most self indulgent art form ("Here's another painting of ME!"), but one friend while I was still in Paris responded to my first one (my small form against a big window and bigger sky) by saying she felt exactly that way herself and that my painting gave voice to her feeling. That's what I hope for in this series. We all feel small in this large, crazy, heartbreaking, magical world at some point or another, and by expressing that, I hope to somehow invite people in to that place with me so that none of us feels as alone with it. Sometimes all we need to know is that other people have that same experience. But I also have the buttresses of art, music, and dog to keep me company in those spaces. This piece is also a celebration of the space I have to make my art, and the quiet that is necessary for it.
I got a lovely response from a fellow creative across facebook last night. Jude Dippold is a poet and photographer whose work brings me daily beauty in my feed. He saw this and wrote, "The sense of a life alone is profound with the way you placed yourself in the deepest space of that room; yet the banjo and your dog give both meaning and existential dignity." That understanding and sense of fellowship is what I most hope for with the self portrait series and whatever else might grow out of this work.
Here are several of the stages of the self portrait as I worked on it across two fullish days.
Little Maggie, the original badass woman of blue grass, is one of my longtime favorite songs. It's about a strong woman with a banjo who picks herself up and marches forward as often as she needs to, and every woman needs a few songs like that in her back pocket. I made a little bit of art from it several years ago (below). Delightfully, I was called a badass wild banjo woman, and there are moments in life that you just have to make art to commemorate. This was one of those, and of course Little Maggie had to be in the print as well. But she hadn't had her own print, and it was more than time this week. I pulled out a carved block of my Unger banjo that I had first done for a series of Easter psalm prints. I layered that first and then set type that night, finishing the printing the next morning. I used several different fonts along with the nifty pointing hands that I found in a market in Paris last summer. It's not a great photo -- I haven't gotten this one scanned in yet. I only did an edition of 8. It was more for personal satisfaction. But I have a few bluegrass loving friends who might also appreciate it. And a few resilient women friends as well.
The next day was the Shaw Art Fair, which I'd been wanting to check out for several years. Thanks to Carol for the shout out to come visit for it, and also to her and Larry for joining me and hanging out at the fair a bit. I was there latish on Sunday to hear the band Cave States, which did a fun, much more modern music show with a great mix of instruments.
Park Friends Music Nights have started back again for the fall. We had the Side Street Steppers open the season for us, and Mr. Darcy and I had a night out together. I did a good bit of sketching, as I tend to when I'm listening to live music, and I tested out a new golden brown ink in my favorite fountain pen.
I was kind of low energy, and it was also a little bit low light, so I didn't do any watercolors. Just stuck to line drawings.
Of course I had to draw my date...
The next morning I took my sketching things along for my morning walk to check out that ink in the forest. I really love how it melds with the watercolor.
I also drew my favorite tree (again) on the way home.
My work for the Daily News has given me a leg up on the calendar this year. Here is one of Jerry's SnoCones I did for them over the summer. I'm laying out both Memphis and Paris calendars this week and will have them available for order soon. I'll have a bunch of full page watercolors like this one, but following in last year's footsteps, I'll also include a few more sketchbook feeling pages as well. Here's my musician one for this year. A sketch of Breeze Coyolle's band on top and Le Tumulte Noir on the bottom.
I also think I'm going to be a little self indulgent and include my show from last year at the Dixon. It was such a highlight for me that I want to just keep savoring it a little bit. I'll probably make that one March for my birthday. I'll post the full set of images and get them up for order soon.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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