Marianne Morris | Artist

Living Life in Full Colour

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Soul Window

soul window abstract painting by artist Marianne Morris

“Soul Window”, 10×10″ mixed media on wood panel.

Been a busy week. I’m back to painting every day, which is certainly when I feel my best. It’s sometimes difficult to fit in the time, but even a half hour is useful. Actually… sometimes a half hour is better than spending hours working away at something. I get in, I do whatever, and I’m done. No time to second guess. Sometimes when I go back into my studio the next day, I’m surprised that I actually like the result. It’s going in a bit of a different direction than what I visualized, but it’s going, so I’m just going to forge ahead and worry about putting together a collection that makes sense later.

A while ago someone made a suggestion to put all my inspiration together, and look for common elements. I’ve done that. I’ve printed out a couple dozen photos and taped them to my studio wall in groups. I’ve got all my “nature” shots… the beach, rocks, ocean, trees, animals, flowers. Then I’ve got my city stuff; buildings, peeling paint, crumbling concrete, public fountains, and lots of arches. Old churches and cobblestone. They are vastly different in feel, but both sets are inspiring.

This painting started with a scribble on a wood panel. I progressed from there, responding to the marks as I went. It reminds me of the way the sun streams in old windows. It’s been one of the few pieces I don’t feel like I’m labouring over. It just happened, and I’m not about to question that.

Getting into the groove

abstract painting by Marianne Morris

“Earthbound”, 10×10″ Acrylic on wood panel.

I’ve done a lot of painting this week. Not necessarily producing wonderful works of art, but I’m working, and that’s a big thing. I’m going back to small pieces for the time being. If I’m going to work my way out of a slump, working small is the way to go. It’s fast, I can correct mistakes without feeling like I wasted a whole lot of time, and I can produce a fair bit this way. I’m not sure how I’m going to display these, but whatever… I’ll figure out that part later.

My first few pieces are somewhat monochrome. I know that value and contrast really make the design strong, so going back to basics make sense. I’ll work on that for now, then add some color next week when I’m feeling more confident.

I love water… lakes, oceans, rivers, whatever. Waves crashing onto rocks are so inspiring for me. So a tube of deep blue is it for now, along with black, white and buff to give me some variation. I may not produce a masterpiece, but if I like it I will set it aside and call it finished. At least for now.

 

That Elusive Muse

Drawing of two pears in oil pastel by Marianne Morris

“Pair | Pear”, Oil Pastel on paper. I think this was the most successful of my three drawings. I’m amazed I remembered how to use my pastels, but somehow it felt really natural.

There was a time I got excited when I managed to free up some time to go paint. If you are a regular reader, you know that lately, it all has seemed like a bit of a chore. It always does when things aren’t going well. In an effort to get that feeling back, I’ve been changing things up… last week I did a lot of drawing, and on the weekend I participated in a group art night.

It wasn’t what you would think. The people I was painting with were scattered across the continent. We had met in an online art group. Patti was Canadian from the opposite end of the country, who I had never talked to before we started. Kim and Thomas have know each other for years, one in Wyoming, the other in Florida. We started a group chat, decided on a subject (abstract still life), Thomas set up a Spotify playlist which we all tuned into, and off we went.

The process reminded me of school in a way. We all worked away, then my phone would beep… someone would post a photo or ask a question, we would chime in when we could. We weren’t in the same room, but we were connected in a way. I got out my oil pastels since the others were talking about working in pastel. I figured working with something other than paint would probably help reset my brain. I haven’t used oil pastel in probably 15 years. It was a nice change. And I remembered more than I thought  I would. My pieces were actually decent.

I really enjoyed the camaraderie of working in a pseudo-group. I’m hoping these nights will become a regular thing. I may not be able to manage every weekend, but it is important to fit some play time into my schedule. I’ve managed one work session this week and I really looked forward to getting into the studio. That in itself feels like a huge leap forward.

Drawing Drills

Ink and wash drawing in my sketchbook

The photo I was working from was very dramatically lit. I don’t get the same sense of drama from my drawing… mainly because I am too lazy to spend all that time hatching in a dark background. I think I managed to get the feeling of his age without drawing in every wrinkle. And this one is a bit looser, which I like.

This week, on a whim, I decided to sign up for one of those online challenge things. If you haven’t seen one of these before, what happens is an online facilitator, in this case, Carrie Brummer Hanna, walks participants through a series of exercises designed to do one thing or another. This one was to improve our drawing skills.

Now I’ve been drawing for eons. I have taken the occasional long break… some breaks have lasted years… but I always go back to it, and it usually doesn’t take that long to reconnect my eyes and my hand. A few days maybe. But there are some things that I am just not good at and so I tend to avoid them. So I do have things that I can work to improve.

I love to draw in ink. But until recently, when I started drawing the dogs, the only ink drawings I have ever done have been sketching on location (landscapes and buildings), or imaginary, illustration type of drawings. Any other drawings were in graphite or charcoal. Media that are easy to shade and create form. Ink is not so easy. But with the discovery of washable ink… well that opens up a whole new world. My goal for this challenge was to get comfortable drawing people in ink. I chose a copyright-free image for each day right off the bat; I know myself well enough to know if I am tired when I sit down to draw I will pick the easiest thing, and not necessarily the thing I need to work on.

Carrie suggested setting aside 15 minutes a day. That is doable, even on really busy days. Of course, the 15-minute limit only lasted three days… the fourth day I totally screwed up the drawing and had to do it again, and the next day the image I chose was way too difficult to complete in that time. I’ve not finished the challenge… it started last Friday but I didn’t start until later on… but I was amazed at the posts I saw in the Facebook group. Some people made HUGE improvements in their skill level in only 7 days. I recommend this to anyone who wants to up their game. It obviously works if you commit to it.

If you are interested in going through this exercise yourself, I think you can access Carrie’s webinar on her website. And she also has a Facebook group that can provide valuable feedback.

Attention is Everything

Abstract painting in blue, brown and bronze by Canadian Artist Marianne Morris

“Flow Interrupted”, 24×24″ Acrylic on Canvas.

My painting is not going well. I’ve been struggling with the same 5 canvases for going on 4 weeks now. I’m getting frustrated, and I’m feeling defeated. Not particularly helpful when I have a show to prepare for. I’m starting to panic, even though I’ve still got 5 months to prepare. Again, not helpful.

The painting above is “finished”. As an abstract piece, I’ve covered all my bases; Shapes, contrast, composition, colour. It’s quite possibly not actually finished… for although it works as a painting, I don’t get the feeling of calm I usually get when I look at a finished piece. Not sure it’s what I’m after, but at some point, I have to accept that this is what it wants to be and let it go. I can go back and change it in a few weeks if I can figure out what it is that bothers me. That’s always the hard part.

Part of my problem has been this feeling of restlessness that has settled on me in the past few weeks. I’ve been so easily distracted that I’ve found it hard to focus on anything. My days at work have been unproductive… I go home in the evening feeling like I didn’t get anything accomplished. Home hasn’t been much better. I spend hours in the studio trying to focus, only to have my paint dry on the palette while I’m reading comments on a Facebook post. I fear my studio is going to have to become technology free if I’m to get anything done, but I no longer have any “old school” ways to play music if I do. Maybe silence is what’s called for?

I know that this is just part of the creative process. It’s happened before, and it will undoubtedly happen again. I have to work through it. I need to pay attention to the work in front of me, calm the inner chatter, and block out the noise. I may step away for a week and do something else, just to reset. I need to find my center again, and then maybe I will be able to pay attention.

When does Inspiration become Appropriation?

Amanda PL in front of her paintings, from the Hamilton Spectator.

Amanda PL in front of her paintings, from the Hamilton Spectator.

Last week in Toronto, the young painter Amanda PL, had her first solo art show canceled by her gallery because of backlash from the Native community, and concerns of cultural appropriation. It has been the main topic of conversation in local art circles and discussed at length by many of the people I follow online. Her work is in a style remarkably similar to that of Norval Morriseau’s, probably the one First Nations artist that is instantly recognizable by pretty much anyone in Canada. As pointed out by a few people, one image on her Instagram profile looks like a direct copy of a Haida painter’s work. She claims to love and honor the culture. Indigenous people cry appropriation.

The topic of cultural appropriation has interested me for years. Being of Metis background but not being raised with any exposure at all to that culture, I have long been curious about Indigenous art forms and have studied them at length. But my first inclination of how Indigenous people view non-native’s depictions of their culture came years ago when touring an art show with a native acquaintance. We were standing in front of a booth of romanticized, native on a horse, “noble savage” type paintings. She Lost. Her. Mind.

I was curious, so I started asking questions. The rant that followed was truly educational. I was directed to books written by Indigenous writers. Historians telling the story of the “Imaginary Indian“.  Tales of what it was like growing up native and female in contemporary Canada. A reiteration of at least a dozen ridiculous cultural stereotypes. It sparked an interest that has continued on for more than a decade, and every time I see something that seems even the tiniest bit wrong, I will read everything I can get my hands on.

Before this event, I had been working on a series of charcoal drawings depicting a figure intertwined in a background of symbols, some including masks drawn in a style similar to indigenous carvings I had seen. Afterward, I backed away from this, not knowing if what I was doing would fall into the category of inspiration or appropriation.

This incident in Toronto has surprised me. Not the backlash… I figured that would come if she got any kind of widespread exposure, in the event that she was not actually native. It was that neither the artist nor the gallery expected it. Both seemed to be caught completely off guard. Given the amount of exposure given to recent events such as the banning of hipster’s wearing warbonnets to festivals,  the Pharell magazine cover controversy, and the D-Squared blow up of their racistly titled “D-Squaw” fashion collection, you would figure they would have braced themselves for the onslaught. I suppose not everyone follows this stuff as closely as I do, but this is pretty mainstream stuff.

As an artist, I draw inspiration from various sources. I too love Norval Morriseau. I love most of the First Nations art, from the traditional to contemporary (seriously, check out Brian Jungen’s hockey bag totem poles or Jane Ash Poitras’ mixed media work for some great contemporary stuff). What I drew from Morriseau was his colour palette… the bright, pure colours I used in my music series came directly from studying his work. The subject matter came from my own life. When I look at those paintings I see my own soul, not his. Should I ever decide to create a body of work that draws heavily from a culture that is not my own, I will be sure to check in with the online community before I get too far into it. In most cases, all you have to do is ask, and people will happily tell you what they think.

Undercurrent

abstract painting in neutrals and magenta

“Undercurrent”, 12×12″ Acrylic on canvas.

I’m slowly making my way through the pile of canvases I have stashed in my studio. In a perfect world, I’d use up the ones I have sitting around before I go and buy new ones, but I doubt it will work that way. I’ve already got some vague idea about how I want this work displayed, and what I’ve got hanging around isn’t really going to fit. And I usually like to have a selection of small pieces done before moving on to the bigger ones.  There is something about working that way that keeps me in my flow state.

I’ve written before about how working in a series keeps my momentum going. I know that is how my brain works. Being somewhat easily distracted, I know that going off in a different direction can sometimes derail me completely. Even so, I’m looking forward to participating in some plein-air sessions a local artist is arranging over the summer. I like painting landscapes, but hopefully not enough that it will completely distract me. I don’t think I particularly like painting plein-air (which only means, for you non-artist type people, painting outside on location), but I’ve only done it a couple times so maybe I haven’t given it a decent opportunity to enthrall me. It’s worth trying again, and it will get me outside my studio on my days off work. I can foresee this current project becoming all consuming, and the summer disappearing without me taking the time to enjoy it. That won’t do. I’m trapped in a building 40+ hours a week. I refuse to spend all my remaining time indoors.

As I write this, the sun is streaming in my windows and the radio says it’s a balmy 12°C. Ok, maybe that’s not so balmy, but after a Canadian winter, it feels wonderful. I’m going to head outside for a long, meditative walk before I start my weekend work. Hopefully, it will get me into the right state of mind to figure out what I’m doing with the canvas I covered with drywall compound a couple days ago. Because at the moment, I really don’t have a clue.

Hidden Pathway

abstract painting in neutrals and magenta

“Hidden Pathway” 12×12″ Acrylic on canvas.

I work on many paintings at a time. I sometimes have as many as 10 going at once, all in various stages of completion. I find that there will always be one that I don’t like at all, and I am willing to make bold changes because I’m not as invested. It often becomes my favourite.

Right now I have 6 going… well 4, if you don’t count the two I have decided are finished. The three small ones came together fairly easily. The three larger ones are not working. At all. There is one I must have 5 layers of paint on already, and I still hate it. I don’t know why.

I’ve discussed with a few of my artist friends putting together a critique group to help each other when this happens. I know I’m not the only one who goes through this (though I may be the only one to admit it publicly). Sometimes you just need someone else to have a look, and make a suggestion. It really does help. So far though, no one has had time. We all have day jobs, or other obligations, and at the end of the day we are wiped. Myself included. The small, online trial of the group failed miserably, as I was the only one who ever posted anything. After a few months we abandoned it.

I think I need to approach this another way. In reading biographies of famous artists, I know that they socialized with other artists. They hung out together, drank wine together, discussed books and went to events together…. all we ever seem to do here is gather at gallery openings, chat for an hour and retire to our respective homes. While we all know each other, it’s not like we are a cohesive group of friends. Maybe that’s what we need.

Personally, I love hanging out with creative people. They approach life in a different way. A group of creatives can turn an everyday experience into an event. The discussion is lively, they challenge your way of thinking, they are usually well-informed and willing to get involved.  I know that the only way I am going to have that group of friends to do things with is if I step out of my comfort zone and organize something. So that is what I am going to do. Wish me luck.

The Space Between. A meditation.

A meditation on space and connection, abstract shapes in neutrals and bright magenta.

“The Space Between”, 12×12″ Acrylic on canvas.

A while back, when I was off work dealing with some health issues,  I was told repeatedly that I had to reduce the amount of stress in my life. Since I had no idea how to do that, I talked to a councillor who specialized in stress management. She sent me a bunch of books, some of which I’ve read, and advised me to learn how to meditate. Mindfulness was something that would help me immensely, she says, from stress reduction to pain management (I have a back issue that I’ve been coping with since I was a teenager. There are times when I am pain-free, but it’s not a normal state for me).

Since my trip to Portugal in January I have managed to take the chaos of work in stride. I was rested enough that I could ignore the insanity of the deadlines, roll my eyes at the technical ignorance of those asking for the impossible, and laugh with my coworkers over the unrealistic expectations of management.

Over the past two weeks, my vacation zen has deserted me. It started with the shocking news that an artist friend of mine had, quite suddenly, passed away from a heart attack. She was such wonderful company, often when I was dropping off work at her gallery space I would stay for an hour or more to talk, her filling me in on the latest community goings on as other artists would file in and join the conversation. The monday after her funeral, we were informed one of my coworkers had suddenly passed away. The third, because there is always a third it seems,  was my cousin’s child… a mere 26 years old, and only a few short years older than my own son. It has been a stark reminder of the fragility and impermanence of life, and a very clear message to me that I need to spend what limited time I have here with people whose company I enjoy, and doing the things I love.

I decided to try taking this meditation thing seriously. I have tried a few times before, but I’m so easily distracted that after a minute or two I would give up. I’ve downloaded apps on my phone, I’ve tried audio “guided meditation”, I’ve done yoga breathing exercises. The only thing that has worked at all was a guided drawing meditation that I found online. I realized that creating, for me anyway, is meditation. It is the only time I am completely and totally in the moment. I am calm. The next best thing is walking alone outside… I will still often have the story running in my head, but I can sometimes manage to quiet that and observe my immediate surroundings. I’ve done both these things in this past week. I need to get going with these paintings anyway, so incorporating my studio time with meditation may actually be a way to cope that works for me. I guess the only way to find out is to try.

And… I’m off….

Last week I asked for suggestions, and I got a good one from Toronto artist Kevin Ghiglione (whose encaustic paintings I think are pretty amazing. I even own one). Here’s what he said:

Hi Marianne – abstraction will be a great way to present your new bodywork. Why don’t you gather up all of the inspiring photographs from your trip and put together and maybe something will come of that. There will be shapes. There will be colours. Patina. And I’m sure there will be feelings too – both passive and experienced. Try talking it through with a friend or an associate – because when you take all those dreamlike thoughts from your brain and talk about them and explain them – the simple fact of putting these thoughts into concrete words will make it much more concrete for you. I’m really excited what you going to produce!

Always one to try a suggestion, particularly if I’ve asked for it, I gave it a go. I looked through my photos and flipped through my sketchbook. I wrote some stream of consciousness about what I was looking at. I talked, to myself mostly, about what I found interesting and the visual cues that excited me. Then I set about painting.

The blue page I had started already, but had lost the thread of it part way thorough, and put it away. I had it finished within 20 minutes. While I’m not thrilled with the shapes, I do like the way you get the feeling there is something going on behind the surface. The charcoal marks and the spattering of ink peek through what could be a window or a passageway. I’m satisfied enough that I know I want to pursue the idea of covering up and scraping back… kind of like uncovering the old and decrepit under the new and the smooth.

The pink page I started with an idea of how I wanted to approach it, and I think it is my most successful of these experiments. The shapes work, the textures are lovely, and I like the way the linework doesn’t get obliterated by the paint.

I think I’ve got a path now. I’ve prepped some smaller canvases to start… a bunch of 12×12″ and a few 24×24″. I have a few large ones waiting as well, but I want to have a good idea of what I’m doing before I start those. We shall see how it goes.

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