Marianne Morris | Artist

Living Life in Full Colour

Category: Life (page 1 of 3)

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.

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.

A fine mess I’ve made here…

journal painting

I painted over this one 3 or 4 times. I’m not impressed, but I finally just decided to move on. Looking at it now, a few days later, I can see what’s wrong with it. Time, I suppose, is the artist’s friend.

While I’m in my exploratory stage, I do my best work when I approach it without any semblance of a plan. Not that hard really, knowing that even when I do have a plan, it very rarely works out the way I think it will.

Working as I do, I always get caught up in something. Sometimes it’s the way the paint is flowing, sometimes it is a subject, or maybe an emotion. I will try to identify what it is that grabs me, and then keep following the thread until I get to the end… or I lose interest, whichever comes first. That may be a half-dozen pieces, or it could keep me occupied for much, much longer. For instance, my Fascinating Rhythm series ended up being almost 50 paintings, and took me close to 2 years.

For this project, while I’ve identified what I loved about my trip to Portugal, I’ve yet to figure out how I’m going to translate that visually. I don’t particularly want to paint a bunch of landscapes. I could, and they would probably sell, but I’m much more interested painting abstracts. Maybe it’s time to forget about doing a concrete “inspired by” kind of collection, and just let its influence come through however it decides to show up. Any of my artist friends have suggestions on that?

ink drawing of a Beagle, Boarder CollieX

This little doggie was distracting me. She wanted my undivided attention at all times.

This week my work time was seriously curtailed by the furry visitor we had. Destiny is a beagle, border collie cross… and spending time with her you could see exactly how each breed influenced her personality. Nose to the ground for the entire time we were outside, going faster than any big dog I’ve walked, but stubbornly refusing to move if she smelled something interesting. That’s so Beagle. Inside, she would stare a hole through me if I was not paying attention to her. She wanted to be in my lap if at all possible. Made it a bit difficult to paint. Still, it was fun to have her here. And it is short term. If she were my dog I’d have to figure something out, but now she’s gone home, and I have a week free before the next one arrives. I’m certain I’ll get my paintings figured out by next week. I need to…. the clock is ticking.

I need a Hero…

Ink drawing of Mastiff dog

Our “loaner” dog, Hero. He stayed with us for a week, booked through the dog-sitting service DogVacay. He was a very agreeable subject. He let me take photos, and sat still enough I could draw from life. Sometimes.

So, for those of you who have been reading a while, you will know that I lost my dog in December. And the year before that, my other dog passed away. We went from being a 2 dog family to a no dog family, and it was difficult. As I am a dog person… and I mean really a dog person… people were predicting a couple of months before we got another dog, no matter how much I insisted we were not going down that road again.

My husband and I are still dogless. We want to travel. Together. It’s a challenge when you have 4 legged beasties to take care of. But we needed our doggie fix. So after a bit of investigation, we discovered the dog-sitting service DogVacay. It’s like the Air b&b of dog-sitting. Dog owners can search for a caregiver by location and availability. Hosts can choose what works for them, in terms of dog size and care requirements.  We immediately signed up to be hosts. Essentially, we get to have a dog now and then without having to commit to being full-time “parents”. How perfect.

Our first “loaner”, as I’ve taken to calling them, was Hero. He is an adorable 2-year-old Bull Mastiff pup, and he stayed with us for a week while his family were off on vacation. It’s amazing how quickly we got attached. It was a bit sad to see him go home, but it was nice at the same time. We got to do the walks and play with him for a short time, which was fun. But it isn’t something that’s required daily for the next 10 years, and I can appreciate that. And it was wonderful that he was calm enough that I had a great subject to draw while he was here.

And I’ve had that old Bonnie Tyler song stuck in my head for the entire time…

A pen and a sketchbook is all I need…

Ink sketch done on the beach in Albufeira, Portugal

I loved the rocks and trees by the beach. I tried to capture it a few times.

Oh, it’s good to be home. I had a great time, and I am so incredibly inspired… but hell, it’s wonderful to sleep in my own bed. I missed my home, I missed my boys, and I missed grocery shopping in English.

I am so fortunate that I was able to paint during my visit. It’s not a luxury I would have had if I stayed in a hotel. I will be eternally grateful to my host for the opportunity. But as an artist looking for inspiration, I know that all I need is a sketchbook and a pen. The rest is a bonus.

My drawings started off a bit rough… after the first time out I was actually beginning to think I had forgotten how to draw. It has been a long time, after all. But persistence is one of those things that usually pay off. After a few days working consistently I started to feel more comfortable. My drawings improved. Then I discovered my new fountain pen has water-soluble ink… what an awesome discovery!  I also got out my watercolours and did a few coloured sketches. By three weeks in I was doing a couple drawings a day along with whatever else I was working on. It’s like I found myself again.

Now if only I can manage to hang onto this feeling now that I’m back at work. Easer said than done, I fear.

The Leftovers: Lisbon and the Algarve

Lisboa view

View of the city of Lisbon

I’m home. It took a while, but I made it. The trip was long… it actually took 2 days. Started out normally enough, a bit late boarding the plane but not unusually so. But then we sat out on the tarmac. And sat. And sat. Finally, we went back into the terminal to sit there until they figured out if they could fix the problem with the plane. And then they bussed the lot of us to a hotel for the night. Sounds like an ordeal but it was actually kinda fun… the hotel was on the other side of the city, so we got a bus tour of an area I hadn’t managed to get to. I got to drive right under the aqueduct, which I was sure I was going to miss altogether. The hotel was quite nice, and we were provided with a lovely buffet dinner. I spent a few hours talking to my fellow passengers over food and wine… people I would never really had the opportunity to talk to if we had just got on the plane and gone. I made a couple new friends. And when we did finally get going, it was almost like being at a social event. People were wandering the aisles chatting, instead of just sitting there watching the inflight entertainment. Not too bad at all.

I’ve noticed a few things about the Portuguese. They run on their own version of time… and nobody seems to get irritated at delays. People just go with the flow, and things work out. Every place seems to shut down for a few hours in the afternoon. I was told they go home and have lunch with their families. Maybe have a nap. I think North Americans should take note… they seem to be much happier than the average person here.

People in Europe seem to have normal shaped bodies. I saw very few insanely thin women, bulked up men, or obese people. I also noticed that by comparison, at 5’7″, I am tall (here I am on the short side of average). I noticed this while on a crowded metro in Lisbon. I was one of the tallest people in the car. I wonder if this is because of all the additives we have in our food…. because the food in Portugal seems much fresher and less processed. The bread is stale in two days, the egg yolks are almost orange instead of pale yellow, and the majority of the supermarket is fresh produce, meat, cheese, fish. Not nearly as much in packages. And of course there is always lots of wine. It is local, inexpensive, and very good. And a part of life. Here, if you drink wine with every meal people would think you have a problem.

The cities there do not seem to be built for the car. There are areas that are pedestrian only, and lots of people on foot. While I might see lots of pedestrians in downtown Toronto, outside of that it’s not as common. Women in Portugal do not wear heels as a matter of course. It’s not practical at all given the cobblestone streets and the hills… you’d be likely to break an ankle if you tried to navigate the roads in stiletto heels.  Almost everyone in Portugal speaks more than one language. Chatting with the woman who runs the art supply store in Albufeira, I asked how many languages she spoke. Five. Finding someone with both our official languages here is unusual. And while I speak bits and pieces of a few different languages, I am only able to have an actual conversation in English. I really should work on that.

Europeans seem to see a value in old things that we in North America don’t. There is history everywhere. Yes, I understand we are a much younger country, but I returned to a flap about a heritage building in Toronto being unexpectedly demolished.  Even in my own neighbourhood we have a grand, old building presently being “rebuilt”… oh they saved the facade, but the rest of the building had to go. Why not just renovate and restore? From what I understand it was structurally sound… but I digress…

I’ve just started going through my hundreds of photos from the trip. I had some interesting ones that I haven’t posted yet, along with my shots from the couple of days in Lisbon. If you’ve been following along, it might be of interest to check them out. I loved Lisbon…. and kinda wish I had more time. I got to see the Castelo de Sao Jorge, the Santa Justa lift and the Carmo Church ruins, but missed the Jerónimos Monastery  and the Belem tower. I guess I’ll get to those next time. And there will be a next time.

Oh, and if you happen to be interested in visiting the area I was in, the villa I stayed in is rented out when not otherwise in use. You can check it out on the website allgoalgarve.com.

And some bits and pieces leftover from my Algarve photos (click on a pic to go through the slide show)…

The end is near…

landscape painting inspired by Algarve, Portugal.

“In the Golden Light”. Acrylic on Canvas. Private collection. Inspired by the rocky cliffs by the beach in Albufeira, Portugal.

My trip is nearing its end, and I’ve spent the last few days finishing up my last couple projects and taking a last look at this amazing landscape. I hopped on a train Saturday and trekked to Lisbon (photos to come), to spend the time before I fly out exploring something new. I head out tomorrow morning, and am back to work on Tuesday. The time has flown by.

Abstracted cityscape painted in Albufeira, Portugal

Acrylic on Canvas. Private collection. Created on site in Albufeira, Portugal

My companion for my last week in Albufeira was Suzanne Southerton and her husband Andy. What a fun pair. Dry, English humour from the both of them… very different from my Texan friends but just as fun. She was busy painting away from her first day. Her stuff was looking good. I imagine the few paintings she gets done will end up being house favourites.

I’ve hit my first bit of unpleasant weather this week. Thursday it rained like hell… not just a little drizzle but torrential downpours off and on right into the night. I had been checking the forecast so it was expected… I had a last canvas I’d left unfinished so I’d have something to work on that day. Saturday the rain kept up, and it’s expected to rain all day today as well.

Figures… exploring a new city in the rain isn’t quite the same as doing it in nice weather. Come to think of it, last time I was in Lisbon (many, many moons ago) it rained the whole time as well. I guess it’s just one of those cities I’m destined to have grey, wet photos of. I can’t complain though… I’ve been here for a month, and up until this week every day has been pleasant and sunny. If it hadn’t been I’m sure my paintings would have turned out much differently.

abstracted landscape inspired by the rocky cliffs in Albufeira, Portugal.

“Golden Hills” Acrylic on Canvas. Private Collection. Inspired by the wonderful landscape in Albufeira, Portugal. The metallic looks so much better in real life. It’s difficult to get an accurate image.

Painting by 9 different artists created in Albufeira, Portugal

Final painting created by all the artists staying at the Albufeira “Casa de Cor” in 2017. Mine is the flowers with the butterfly.

Inspiration of the Algarve

Painting of the Albufeira beach.

The painting was to represent what reminds me of the Algarve. To me, that is these rock cliffs. I’ve used metallic (those light areas on the rocks) to give the feeling of the sun hitting them. The painting changes with the sun at different times of the day… just like the rocks.

Been a busy week. If you follow me  on social media, you’ll know I worked on a couple of paintings, hauled my gear into town for a plein air painting session with Abner Cabriales  (who has agreed to do a guest post! Yay!), did some sketching, walked endlessly, and ate a lot. It’s been fun. The weather cooled down a bit the last few days, so it seemed a perfect time to stay indoors and finish up the numerous things I’ve started. My big triptych is finished, and I’ve got a couple smaller paintings done as well. I hope my host will be happy.

Painting on the streets of Albufeira

painting in the streets of Albuferia. Lots of people stopped to look, but no one commented…

My stay here is nearing an end, and I have to admit, I’m ready to get back to real life. I’ve arranged to spend my last couple days in Lisbon. Seeing as I fly out of the Lisbon airport, it seemed the best time to fit in some sightseeing. Hopefully it won’t rain the whole time I’m there. The forecast doesn’t seem to be working in my favour this time. But hey, as I have yet to see any rain at all, I can’t really complain. I have a tan… ok, a somewhat reddish tan as it was hot one day this week and I seem to have gotten a wee bit of a burn. And yes, I was wearing sunscreen, but I’ve got fair hair and freckles. It happens.

This week’s photos are from the eastern part of the Algarve. Of the few towns I got to visit, Travira was the one that captured my imagination. What a beautiful little city. Built into a steep incline, as most towns in the Algarve seem to be, it was endless trekking up and down hills. Many of the heritage buildings have been restored, but some are just at that level of gorgeous shabbiness… a bit run down but not yet sketchy, a bit of crumbling concrete, old windows, cobblestone streets that need just a bit of repair. There is a cobblestone bridge that runs across the river in the centre of town. I assumed it was a pedestrian bridge until I saw a car trying to cross… and having to wait for the people to get out of the way.

The age of everything here amazes me. I was told that all these heritage buildings were protected by law, so the people who bought them couldn’t tear them down to put up a more modern structure. They could restore them and renovate the inside, but that’s it. It certainly lends to the old world charm of this place. It almost feels like time has stopped.

One morning this week we got up really early to trek down to the beach for the sunrise. Abner’s wife, Yvonne, also dragged herself out of bed for the excursion,  though I’m not sure if that was her idea or not. I haven’t seen such colours in the sky in a while. I’ve been figuring out how to use all the manual settings on my camera during my trip, so I have loads of photos using various exposures. Some turned out pretty well, others, not so much. At least I got a few that work for me. Maybe before I go I’ll try to photograph the sunset as well. Just, well… because.

I’m on my own for a couple days now until the next artist arrives. Suzanne Southerton, from the UK, will be the last one here. While I like the quiet, it was way more fun having someone else around who thinks in the same weird way. Abner would point out an old, broken wooden door with peeling paint, inset in crumbling concrete, and I would swoon along with him at the beauty. Yvonne would roll her eyes. Although she did spend days watching us paint, claiming it was fascinating to her. Not sure how that is fascinating, but ok. I do know that I appreciate the wonderful meals the two of them would whip up, and gratefully roll up my sleeves to clean up the dishes. A month of solitude would have been a totally different experience.

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