Marianne Morris | Artist

Living Life in Full Colour

Category: Life (page 1 of 4)

Requiem

abstract painting in red and brown by Canadian artist Marianne Morris

“Requiem”, 36×48″ mixed media on canvas.

I’m reading a novel, “Requiem” by Francis Itani. It popped up on my Library’s “you should read…” section, and as I was uninspired by other offerings, I took them up on their advice. It’s about the internment of Japanese Canadians during WW2, and the toll it took on one family in particular. It’s taking forever to get through it… not because it’s boring or not well written, but because I’m often already exhausted when I start reading and I doze off after a few pages.

The story is engrossing. The protagonist is an artist, and the act of creation is what saves him from being consumed by bitterness. He works his way through his grief by creating. His emotions are all left there, on his canvas. This sounds remarkably familiar. I think as artists, that is what we do, to a certain extent. At least this is what is true for me.

The definition of Requiem is an act or token of remembrance. I thought this was a perfect title for this piece because I can see evidence of every layer of paint, every mark… even if I covered it eventually, the texture is still there because of the thickness of the paint. The colour from the underpainting shows through in spots. I can see a hint of green from the first layer, some of the pinks still show from when I first decided it should be red instead. There are large quiet areas,  evoking the feeling of calm I needed at that moment. The linework is covered in spots, but not completely. In some places, it is enhanced.

This piece is like a map of my psyche at the time of creation. I suppose that is why it feels authentic to me. I’m not doing anything new or revolutionary, I’m not the innovative, “turn the art world upside down” kind of artist. I’m just working through the emotions that would otherwise be bottled up and giving me an ulcer. Art therapy, indeed.

Resting Place

Abstract painting in teal and brown.

“Resting Place”, 10×10″ mixed media on wood.

It’s been a strange couple of weeks, weather wise. North America is in rough shape. The west coast is burning… still. Both Canada and the US. Hurricane Harvey made a mess of Texas, and this past week Irma crushed the Caribbean like it was nothing. We have yet to see what destruction José is going add to the mix. Add to that a devastating earthquake in Mexico. How can anyone possibly still deny that climate change is real? I think what’s going on right now is hard-core visual proof that what scientists have been predicting for the past decade is coming to pass. it’s a very scary situation.

I whine about my home being a mess right now. First world problems, right? At least I’ve got somewhere to go. Somewhere warm and dry, food in my belly, a healthy family all making our way without much to complain about. I can earn a living doing something that keeps me somewhat engaged, I have enough money left over to pursue something I love. I’ve got it good. I am reminded of my luck every time I check the news and see what’s happening elsewhere.

My friends in Texas are safe. They haven’t been online much (not that I expected them to be), but they did check in to say that they made it through ok. Seems everyone I know in Florida has checked in as well. For that I am thankful. I hope the people who have been displaced can manage to find shelter and someone able to help them, and those who have lost loved ones can find comfort. I hope everyone will find their resting place.

 

Where the Light Gets In

purple and red abstract painting by Canadian artist Marianne Morris

“Where the Light Gets In”, 36×48″ mixed media on canvas.

My life is in chaos. I knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make it easier. I am now in reno hell.

I tried to organize things as we packed up the kitchen. We put the stuff we don’t use often in boxes in the basement. Everything else got stacked up somewhere we could access it. But I can’t remember where I put things, no matter how logical it seemed when I put it there. And having to prepare every meal on my dining room table to be cooked either on the BBQ or in the microwave is challenging. To say the least.

There are things you do once and decide you never want to do them again. I was that way with water-skiing. And team sports of any kind. No thanks. A kitchen renovation is something we did 15 years ago, and I vowed NEVER AGAIN. And yet here I am, doing it again.

It’s not that I was in love with my kitchen. It was adequate. Everything worked. There was some wasted space, and the fronts of the cabinets were peeling off. The upper cabinets, where we put our dishes, were right around the sink area… so putting away dishes while someone was washing them was impossible. I regularly caught a finger or bashed my head by having more than one door open at a time. But still, I didn’t want to do a reno. The last one was still burned into my memory as a completely unpleasant experience.

Eventually, we decided we should get this done while we still planned to live in the house long enough to enjoy it. We figure we’ll be here for a decade or so, give or take, so it makes sense to fix the problems and give ourselves some space. If only I could live elsewhere for the duration, I’d be happy.

We’ve got the room completely gutted at this point… the unwanted wall is knocked down and the electrical work is updated. This week we get new drywall and, if I’m lucky, a floor. It will still be a couple weeks before we’re done with this… hopefully, with enough time to finish up my last couple paintings before I have to drop off my work at the gallery for my October show.

 

My Inspiration is revealing itself

Abstract cityscape in violet and green.

“Borrowed View”, 10×10″ mixed media on wood panel.

 

Abstract cityscape by Canadian Artist Marianne Morris

“Echoes of an Ancient Time”, 10×10″ Mixed Media on Wood Panel

I’ve written before about how I’ve taped up photos from my Portugal trip around my studio for inspiration while I’m working. For the most part, you can’t really tell what I was looking at from my finished pieces. It’s vague… a colour here, a shape there… things picked from an image and put in an entirely different context.

I wanted to incorporate all the arches I saw there into my work somehow. If you look closely, you’ll see them appear here and there.  The craggy rock cliffs appear more in the textured areas than in the shapes, but they are there. The way the concrete goes from smooth to eroded inspired many an edge. These two pieces are a much more literal interpretation, although still very abstract.

In “Borrowed View”, what I see (which is probably not at all what someone else will see), is a representation of my view from the villa balcony. The church is at the highest point in the city, the grove of green between where I was and the town, the cliffs are there, and a vague reference to the city emerging from the rock.

“Echoes of an Ancient Time” reminds me of Lisbon, and how coming around a corner suddenly revealed the amazing aqueduct rising from the city. Not literal of course. The aqueduct is enormous. I tried to get the feeling of awe I had when it came into view.

I’ve been working at breakneck speed the last few months. I imagine when I arrive at the gallery once the show is hung, I will be able to see things I haven’t noticed so far (and will possibly want to change once I see it). How much will it feel like me? I know that so far my pieces have primarily been light. As in a feeling of light as opposed to the deep, heavy colour of my previous work. I should probably try to complete a couple darker pieces for balance. It’s difficult for me to think of these paintings as a group because I’m so focused on each individual piece as I’m working on them. But as I’m nearing the end of my time limit (hubby has already started ripping stuff out of my kitchen), it’s something I can’ t put off any longer.

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…

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