Pressing on

There are many things that are presently going right for me as it pertains to my work in the studio. The kiddo has adjusted to his new nap schedule, so I get that precious time back in the studio before I go off to work (with him in tow), and he is happier, and I am happy he is happier. Never would I have imagined that 94% of being a parent is worrying about sleep (my sleep, his sleep, is he getting enough sleep, why won’t he sleep, why won’t he sleep without me, why does he wake up so often, why does he sleep so lightly, why did he sleep so long oh no is he alive, and so on). But yes! He is back to regular sleep, I am back to regular studio.

I also discovered that if I stream radio shows, I can defeat the distractions and keep on course. There are so many things telling me to stop. Like my studio being a mess. I hate it so much when it is a complete wreck, but it is nothing less than that right now. Also like being tired, and the fact that thinking about how to make a certain color just right is mentally exhausting and that is entirely what I am doing right now. All of the conceptual and compositional elements have already been worked through; now the hardest part is evaluating the colors on my study and transferring them to the drawing.

I haven’t spoken much about the concepts behind the art yet, mostly because I feel silly when I do so. Not because it is a silly thing to talk about, but because it comes out in pretentious art-speak before I know it. It’s like I can’t even help it. Grad school probably did it to me, or maybe I did it to me. But I am ready to go there.

When I was making this watercolor series that I am putting to pastels, I was returning to photographs and sketches I had made of my time in Scotland (where I lived during grad school). I was remembering my time there, but the memories were idealized. I was aware of that, almost encouraging my memories to be so unscathed. Of course no matter how wonderful a place is, it isn’t perfect. When I look at the photos of the North Sea in Shetland, it is easy for me to forget how freezing cold I was (I packed poorly even though it was summer there), and how seasick I felt on the ferry back to Aberdeen. But none of that comes to mind when you really miss a place. And when I was in Scotland, I would remember my home in Mississippi with longing for its people, its food, its culture, its warm weather, quickly forgetting all the frustrations that come with all of those things (you know for me to miss the heat, I was REALLY cold there).

Where I’m going with this: longing for a place makes you see it in a different and half-true light. I wonder at what makes people decide to move to another place in search of a better life. My husband and I moved to another country so I could go to grad school, and I certainly had a grand view of it in my mind before we went. What makes a person uproot and search for something better? A sense of adventure, a desperate situation, an eye on a prize? What happens when they see its shortcomings? Maybe they find the ideal place to live, then they must make the best of it when they discover the truth about its imperfection.

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The piece I’m working on is called “It was ideal” and is a simplified landscape with a view toward where the water meets the sky. But it is a polished gesture of the place. Sort of like an illustration in a children’s book or a cartoon. It has enough to indicate a place but not enough to give you a realistic sense of being there. It is a mind’s eye view of the place you want to go, already realizing it won’t be quite as good as you long for. In a way, this whole series is about longing.

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Like the longing it took for a person to uproot his/her family and walk west with a covered wagon hoping to find that golden piece of land. Hoping for that opportunity you couldn’t find here, so you must go there. I really liked the film “Meek’s Cutoff” by Kelly Reichardt. It was the stunning cinematography that got me, along with the painfully realistic perspective of moving west by simply putting one foot in front of the other, complete with a squeaky wagon wheel. I also liked that it was a Western from a feminine perspective (many scenes with dresses blowing in the wind, see above). (Don’t watch it if you like action movies.) I bring up this movie because it struck a cord with me. I think I watched it three times in a row. It really showed how strong a longing for another place would have to be to undertake such a journey. And the hardship they endured along the way – before it was over, they were just wondering if they could even find water.

I’m not saying this piece is there yet. Part of reusing the watercolor is to take it further. Is it getting closer to this idea of longing for a place? Will it only be seen as “a pretty landscape” or will it resonate on a deeper level? How can I be truthful in my art (i.e. showing the stunning cinematography along with the squeaky wagon wheel)?

One foot in front of the other.

Kathryn

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