Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Citta Vrtti Nirodah

Since June I have been teaching yoga two times each week over at Full Tilt Creative Centre in McIvers.  Full Tilt is the brain child of Colette Urban.  Over the past three years she has turned this former chicken farm into an active center for visiting artists and a small-scale organic farm.  She also happens to have a great space for yoga, although we occasionally have to shift our mats to make way for installations in her gallery space. 

I have a core group of about four students and then some people who come and go as their schedules allow.  Over time we have come to decide that it makes sense for everyone to learn the ashtanga primary series (or half series, at least for now) so that they can continue with their practice even when I am not around, which is the beauty of ashtanga.  I admit that I am a bit of a cheerleader for ashtanga, so it wasn't like they had to twist my arm too hard.  

It has been really satisfying to observe how people, some of whom were totally new to yoga, have grown over the past weeks.  As a new teacher, I don't have loads of confidence in my skills but I do have confidence in what I am teaching.  It is especially wonderful to see people easing into half-lotus for the first time and to watch their chatturanga dandasana transform from saggy to solid.  

Last night we walked slowly through the half series, really focusing on breath and alignment and the bandhas.  Everyone looked so strong - it was really beautiful.  And I don't think I will ever tire of the big smiles after savasana.

That's why we do it - to feel better afterwards.  To extend the space between one thought and the next and carry that beyond our mats.  It's real.  I see it happening before my very eyes.

Friday, July 24, 2009


A three-hour drive that is like stepping into another world...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What does it look like where your food comes from?

Click here to see.  This isn't environmentalist propaganda.  It is real world photos courtesy of googlemaps.  

Something needs to change, don't you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Alotta Ins, Alotta Outs

Dan is here for a couple of weeks so we will be using our family time in a more vacation-y way.  Yesterday we drove down the other side of the bay, which has charms all its own.

On Thursday, we will head down to Burgeo for an overnight with our good friend Les, who is in town for a few days.  Les has left Newfoundland behind for the big city thrills of southern Ontario so it is a real treat to be able to hang out with him.

Burgeo is on the southern coast of Newfoundland and it is a completely different landscape and climate from where we are.  To get there, one must drive on a road that goes through a tundra landscape where we have seen caribou in the past.  At the start of the road there is a large sign warning travellers that there are no services for 250+ kms.  It is pure wilderness save one little cluster of cabins and a restaurant about 1/2 way there.  The road itself dates only from the mid-1970s.  Burgeo also is the starting point for reaching a series of other south coast communities that are still only accessible via boat.  We won't be headed out that far on this trip, but maybe someday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

If Stuck...

For the past couple of weeks my zazen has, not to put too fine a point on it, sucked.  I know I am not supposed to have gaining ideas about it and blah, blah, blah...but it has sucked and I know it.  For no real reason, my mind has been racing around, planning this and that, congratulating myself on being clever, and all sorts of other fairly useless things.  I tried to keep noticing it and re-focus, but part of me was in some kind of rebellion or something.  Who or what I was rebelling against, I am not exactly sure.  

Many was the morning when I went to dedicate my efforts at the end that I felt I should be issuing a formal apology for being such a lame-ass instead.  I am so sorry generous teachers and ancestors!

Add to that an upper back injury that has made my yoga more than a little tentative.  It forced me to back off on some of the more challenging poses that I had been so enjoying earlier in the summer and thus make me feel like I am not measuring up (again to whom?).

Needless to say, there have been a couple of mornings when I just said "screw it - who needs ya" to whole shebang.  But somehow those days sucked even more; felt even more like things were off-kilter.  I secretly knew that what was needed was not backing off or slacking off but to press onward, with renewed effort.

This morning I dilly-dallied, had a cup of tea, checked email and finally, when the kids did not give me my needed excuse by getting up and making noise, I finally sat on my pillow.

A little less sucky today.

And on my yoga mat...also less sucky.

Why?  Who knows?  Just keep pressing onward.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's A Beautiful World

We are starting to have a small harvest of greens...

...and the onions are thriving.

Lori at Capistrano Fiber Arts was having a sale.

The alder twigs created a creamy, rich colour 
(soaked for a week, boiled for an hour).

The old stand-by, onion skins, never fails.

Finnian let me take his picture.

And the laundry was done.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Consequences of "Yes"

May I, once again, plug Jackie Battenfield's book, The Artist's Guide?

I received my complimentary (ahem) copy yesterday and immediately had to make a nice cup of tea and sit down and read, well, at least the introduction.  And having read the introduction, I can say with certainty that is a lovely book.  In fact, I think every artist should not just read it, but follow the damn advice already!  I can see how some people might recoil at some of her practices because they are business practices not art practices but, if I may quote from one of the artists in the book, "All my decisions come from wanting to make art for the rest of my life" (Janine Antoni).  If that isn't your story, then what exactly are you doing calling yourself an artist?

Read the book!

For myself, staring at calendar for the next year that is jam-packed with exciting projects that will take me across Canada as well as to Portland, OR, Boston, MA and Riverdale (in the Bronx), the book came at the perfect time.  Never have I been so busy as an artist and it scares the bejeezes out of me.  In many ways rejection is easier to handle than success.  The word "NO" is pretty clear cut and it gives one something to fight against.  "YES" on the other hand...how to handle "yes"?

My challenge seems to be time management.  Time management.  Kind of an odd phrase, really.  I am a believer that multi-tasking is an oxymoron, so this will be an interesting time.  The nature of my work means I need to be in the place where the work is happening.  It means I can't just ship my paintings off and move on - I have to be in residence.  Just me...and my two children.  Just me and my increasingly cranky, almost teenaged children. 

But this is what I have worked for decades to attain, so it is a total thrill.  I am ready for it.

And yet....

Jackie tells me that what I need to do is some planning.  Short-term and long-term and keep track of stuff.  

Yes, I can do that.  

Thanks Jackie!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunday Afternoon at Full Tilt, McIvers

the gull soars on nothing
but slight corrections
to the tilt of its nose
(George Marsh)

Thanks to Adriana Kuiper, who is working in residence at Full Tilt, 
for bringing us out to fly kites on the most perfect kite-flying afternoon.

I'm sure it's true...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Hala" Means Poison or How to Ruin an Enthusiastic Post About A Friend With Your Own Heavy Shit

Grrl+Dog's installation is up in Sydney! Go take a look enjoy the colour and the incredible knitting that people all over the world have done to make this project happen. Quite impressive. Congratulations Denise! I hope you are enjoying the fruits of your labours.

She has another project in the works. Hee, hee. Maybe I can use up all my left over Vanna's Choice from The Knitted Mile. Hee hee.

Seeing Denise's photos was perhaps the first time I could look at a Knitta Please project and not get a little zing in my stomach. I have harboured some resentment towards Knitta Please for, well, far too many years. You see, they are almost always described as inventing knit grafitti or yarn bombing or whatever you want to call it. It just ain't true. I know of at least two people who were doing a similar kind of activity long before they came on the scene. And yes, one of them is me, and thus the little zing.

I had sent them an enthusiastic email right after I had heard about their activities in Texas with a link to my website, specifically my Canal Street project. I never got any reply but I was added to their mailing list so I guess they received it.

I know that it is impossible to control what journalists write about you and certainly being able to label them as "inventing" knit grafitti makes for snappier copy than "they were among the first..." so, no doubt, they have had little say in how they are presented up to a point. And yes, I will say straight out that I was jealous that they were jet setting around the globe doing cool stuff while I was working away at my drab little life.

Then finally, and I think I can finally say finally, I realized that the little zing said acres more about me than Knitta Please.

Samsara, hala, hala, as Ashtangi yogis say.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Natural and Otherwise

On Monday a small group of us gathered in Glenburnie, which is a town in the heart of Gros Morne Park about a 1.5 hour drive from Gillams. We got together with Brenda Stratton, who is a fibre artist and dyeing expert so she could share some her extensive knowledge about all things dyed. She focused mainly on acid dyes with some information about plant dyeing.

Brenda was the technician for the Fibre Arts Department at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary for several years, so she knows her stuff. It was all the more of a relief to see her techniques, which include things like "add a glug of vinegar" and "just put it in the pot and don't worry about it!" She dispelled a lot of misinformation I had been carrying around with me and took some of the fear out of dyeing. Perhaps fear is too strong of a word for something as fun and magical as dyeing.  It may be more accurate to say that she calmed us down, particularly in our anxiety about felting the wool. She had the pots up to a rolling boil with merino fleece in them. Merino! The secret is apparently to let the wool cool down in the pot. Such a simple thing.

I have been experimenting with my new found knowledge.

Here are two types of different wool dyed with Peruvian madder (masham on the left and merino on the right)

Here is some natural grey Shetland wool dyed with organic acid dye (in blue, obviously!).  I am really loving dyeing fleece that is naturally coloured grey or brown.  You can see I have not achieved a perfectly even dye effect here, but the beauty part is: I don't want one!

And this, my friends, is a pot that is cooling down as I write this.  That bright yellow comes from alder leaves harvested from our backyard.  I boiled them up for almost an hour (again, nearly to the death of us with the smell!), then strained out the leaves, put in the fleece, a dash of alum and voila!  (Another thing Brenda shared with us is that you don't have to pre-mordant the wool.  Liberation is at hand, I tell you!).  I have the alder twigs soaking.  I have heard they give a very nice green/brown but need to be soaked for several days.  

And here is a gratuitous cat shot.  Minkie enjoying the morning sunshine (and a camera in her face).

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Crooked Cucumber

Lately I have been thinking about something Shugen Sensei said about how birds don't ever sit around in their nests saying "oh, I worked so hard yesterday, I will just take a day off today."  I think his point was that they just get their work done, no muss, no fuss and in a way that is 100% bird-like.  

I do sometimes say that I am taking a day of rest.  Of course it still includes the important stuff but rest, for me, often means reading.  I thought I would share some of the books I have been digging into in hopes of hearing about the books you have been digging into - please leave a comment and let me know!

I started this post thinking I would list off some of the books I have been reading, but I quickly got caught up in the very first one, so maybe I will add some books later as an ongoing series, especially if people share their opinions.

At our first meeting, I was happy to discover that one of the people in our very small meditation group has a nice collection of popular books on Buddhist topics, so I borrowed three:  Crooked Cucumber, The Life and Teachings of Shunryu Suzuki by David Chadwick, Instructions to the Cook, A Zen Master's Lessons on Living A Life that Matters by Bernie Glassman and The Master, The Monks and I by Gerta Ital.  

Since I credit reading Zen Mind Beginner's Mind by Suzuki Roshi with giving me the courage and inspiration to actually take myself to a real Zen center, I am a great fan of his.  It was good read the biography and learn more about his life and especially to see that he was by no means perfect.  I did want him to be perfect - a perfect teacher, a perfect father, a perfect husband - but he was, instead, human.  It was fascinating to read about the history of the founding of the San Francisco Zen Center.  Everything I know about it comes from the stories of a friend who spent her teen years there while her mother was a student - a circumstance that was not always so great for her and, indeed, left her with a rather sour taste towards Buddhism.  Reading another perspective was welcome.

Also, it was good to read about Suzuki's training - certain aspects were explained that threw some light on things I have encountered that have always seemed inexplicable, like why no one ever just tells you how to do something correctly.  

My experience with certain aspects of the rituals and ceremonies is that it often feels like I am wandering around in the dark, bumping into things and knocking things over while everyone else has the layout so well mapped in their heads that they zip through as if the room was fully lit.  There seemed to be a very deliberate purpose to not telling me (or anyone) "watch out!  you're going to trip over that chair!" but I couldn't understand what that purpose might be.  I couldn't understand it because it is so different from nearly any other type of training one goes through.  Usually, if you are learning something new with a teacher, the teacher is guiding you very exactly, with lots of information and with the goal of helping the person to get it just right.  In Zen, not so much.

It was something of a relief to learn that Suzuki Roshi had the same kind of experience and same kind of frustration when his teacher would allow him to make mistakes and then correct him, often in a rather public, seemingly harsh way.  He couldn't understand it either until well into his training he began to see that he needed to make all his mistakes for all sorts of reasons - to come to understand and really embody the practice as well as to loosen and ultimately lose the sense of self, or ego, that needs to be perceived as perfect and smart (or any specific way for that matter).

To encounter a teaching that isn't a teaching or a teacher that isn't a teacher, except that they are a teacher and it is a teaching....well, it is something that turns you on your head for a while.  That seems to be the way of Zen - turn you upside down so that you can turn right side up again so you can realize that you were never upside to begin with.  

Or so I am told...I'll let you know!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Meet Patrick Glover

Patrick Glover is an artist living in Charlotte, North Carolina. We met at the beginning of our first year of art school at Cooper Union and quickly became fast friends. Perhaps inevitably for a friendship of such intensity, we had a falling out before our years at Cooper came to an end and we didn't see much of each other until recently when, via the magic of Facebook, we reconnected in a very good way.

One especially nice discovery since reconnecting with Patrick has been coming to know of a series of paintings that he has been working for the past several years.  They are based on photographs he takes while driving. For me, they bring up lots of childhood memories of being driven around while my mother went shopping and riding the school bus. They also tap into something that feels very North American and not completely unrelated to my own Knitting Sprawl project.

I asked Patrick some questions about himself and his work and I am very pleased to share his answers here, along with some images from this series of paintings (inserted somewhat at random). For more information about Patrick and his work, I also invite you to take look at his website.  (Note:  all of Patrick's work is oil on canvas)

(Robyn) Please give me a little of your biography.

(Patrick) I was born on Long Island. When I was 5, my father moved us to a very rural, poor and isolated part of upstate New York. I had just enough memory of Long Island to be aware that there was a bigger world out there, and to be frustrated not having access to it. I was fortunate to be accepted at The Cooper Union and ran as fast as I could to NYC, graduated in 1987, and stayed for nearly 20 years.

I spent a number of years after school basically drifting, from job to job and from non-traditional living situations, from squats to friends' spare rooms. One of those jobs had been for a large restoration company where I picked up decorative painting skills. It took me about ten years to finally have connections and to decide to make a career out of decorative work, at least until I could "really" paint. I had some success, saved up some money, made some bad decisions about how to spend it, wound up hospitalized with pneumonia and without health insurance. As a result of that and the economic crash, now find myself in debt and stuck where I am. However, I am continuing to paint, and living month to month, which is nothing new.

My work has been shown in NYC, as well as in a number of galleries in North Carolina, Seattle, Savannah GA, and Columbia SC and soon in St. Petersburg FL. I am currently working on making my studio into a multi disciplinary performance and collaborative space, which is pretty rewarding and keeps me focused on possibilities instead of problems.

(R) Why did you move south? What are some of the aspects of living there that are positive? negative?

(P) I moved south with the idea of being a real estate speculator:  flip a house in about three years and hightail it to Europe. It didn't work out as planned.

This area has some amazing flora and fauna, incredible spiders, lots of interesting insects. Of course, that includes more biting varieties. The winters are mild and have some of the most subtly colorful grays I have ever seen. Spring is a riot of color, but is very short. Summers are brutally hot and humid, fall is also too short. The mountains to the west are incredible, about a two hour drive. Chapel Hill and Carrboro are very hip, progressive and also about a two hour drive in the other direction. Charlotte has a fairly vital music scene, lots of experimentation, always a number of venues to hear music just about nightly. I am happy with the little mill house I now live in and like this neighborhood which is ethnic and working class. I also like having a yard which makes it possible to have dogs. I love my dogs.

Unfortunately, there really is no arts scene here. Galleries almost exclusively show either decorative, pastoral landscapes or decorative, formulaic abstractions. There are a number of real estate developments and real estate schemes that are attempting to market themselves as an arts district, but none actually are...It is very isolating and that isolation is aided by geographical realities. This place is a poster child for unregulated suburban sprawl. There are plenty of other cultural aspects of this town that are far from enjoyable. I personally have created a bubble of friends and tend to spend much of my time in the studio.

R) Can you talk a little about the evolution of your paintings? Did (does) your decorative work influence your current work?

(P) I basically stopped painting after Cooper, other than doing the decorative work and murals. I was still trying to work through much of my own art school related confusion and what seemed like contradictory impulses. I maybe produced three or four paintings on canvas a year for about 8 or 9 years.

When I did start painting more seriously for myself again, I made a conscious decision to be a little schizophrenic about it, to keep my work and the decorative work as far away from each other as possible. One reason for that was that faux finishing and murals both require that you know and utilize formula methods, standard techniques and are consistent with process, all of which I hoped to avoid in my own work. Another reason was, as I would tell the people I would hire for my crew, with decorative painting you check your own aesthetics at the door. The designer and the client make aesthetic choices, all we were there for was to be the hands. I was also conscious of not letting the market driven motivations that influenced the way I worked as a decorative painter effect my own work. Efficiency is crucial on a jobsite, but can lead to formulaic painting in the studio.

Having said that, there has been some definite crossover, especially in regards to prep work, ways of scaling up and familiarity with a fairly wide range of materials. One chicken and egg question would be my use of glazes, which although it is a basic part of most faux finishing, predated the decorative work in my own work. I suppose an argument could be made that I have developed some skills working with layers of glaze from years of decorative work, though I am pushing that in non-decorative ways, I hope. Other than that, it has been adaptation plus recognizing and working with both my weaknesses and strengths, gaining confidence in the chance accidents inherent in oil paint and letting go of ownership once I put the brush down, which is an ongoing process, I think. I'd imagine that to be true of most painters.

(R) Who are some artists, living or dead, who you think about every time you enter your studio?

(P) There are some that are probably fairly obvious when looking at my work - Turner, Pinkham Ryder, Corot, Monet, Soutine, Zao Wou-ki, Pollock; some who's influence may seem a bit more obscure; Rembrandt, El Greco, Stuart Davis, David Park, Vuillard, Morandi; and a few that would probably take too long to explain - The sculptors Andy Goldsworthy, Anish Kapoor and Maya Lin, and the composers Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Mozart, who make up more than half of my studio musical accompaniment. Different lessons from different teachers.

Most recently, I have been sort of obsessed with one particular painting. About three years ago, after having started the windshield series, I was back in New York visiting friends and spent a few days at the Met. I had seen Richard Pousette - Dart's "Symphony #1 the Transcendental" countless times since the opening of the Met's modern wing. On this occasion, it seemed as if I was seeing it for the first time. I was stuck in front of it for about 45 minutes. It has since become a model for me of tensions and contradictions in equilibrium and a visual musicality. Those basic ideas has become more and more important as I continue working on this series. "Symphony #1" has been consistently buzzing around in my head since then.

Symphony No. 1, The Transcendental, 1941–42
Richard Pousette-Dart (American, 1916–1992)
Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(R)  Any other influences, not artists necessarily?

(P)  Well, I have a strangely amalgamated jumble of philosophical influences. Marx's theory of alienation as reinterpreted by Guy Debord, mixed with and contradicted by the likes of Dewey and Stendhal... I'm very intrigued by what is going on in higher mathematics like Fractal Geometry and Quantum Physics, but I lack the math skills, education or language to fully appreciate the beauty of the truths they are discovering. Recognizing that, I am influenced by the little I am able to comprehend ( or maybe just my misunderstandings ). Music of all types, and the culture in general, especially the ways in which perception is influenced by mass production and reproduction, standardization and consumption.

(R)  Can you talk about your current series (rainy highway series)?

(P)  The highway series grew out of a small series I worked on when I was still living in New York around 1995-6.

I was looking for an approach and subject matter that could relate to everyday experience and somehow reflect this culture at this time. I began 3 series dealing with both the media and it's affects on narrative, sense of self, desires and perception and the automobile and it's effects on landscape. I did a series of still lives that included a television set as a central object, which was interesting, but ultimately seemed like a dead end. 

I also was working on paintings in which I was attempting to work out some of the issues that the glut of images and information we are bombarded with through the media suggest. That series is still ongoing, but typically stalls for various stretches of time as I lose faith in it as an approach or find myself either feeling boxed in or sense that the work is overly dogmatic...

I also did a series of 12 paintings of highways. I wanted to avoid any personally idiosyncratic, overly individualized or stylized approach to the work, because I felt that the anonymity of the images would be best served by a purely observational approach. I was pleased with the paintings, but couldn't imagine where else to take them.

When I moved to Charlotte in 2002, (a nearly entirely car dependent culture), it seemed to make sense to continue to consider the idea. I had many more opportunities to actually take images, since I was now driving every day and since I was also now using a digital camera. Images captured in the rain where purely coincidental at first and in fact, I dismissed them as unusable, since they did not conform to the original concept. It took a while before I realized what I was seeing, and took a while longer to convince myself to try to make paintings of it.

The images I capture in the rain are endlessly varied and I am very pleased with the fact that they are entirely a matter of chance. I'm also happy with the things they can suggest about standardization, recognition, predictability, even perception itself. They also have given me the freedom to really play around with materials, since each image tends to require it's own approach, which also helps to keep me from being tempted to become formulaic. It's nice to find that a subject matter can be so varied yet consistent, keep my interest and continue to suggest possibilities, even after a number of years.

(R) What are you in love with right now?

(P) Music, randomness, chance, ephemeral perceptual inconsistencies, nature, the patterns in nature, my dogs, food.

(R) What/where do you see yourself in ten years from now?

(P) One lesson I've learned in the past 7 or 8 years is that plans seldom turn out the way you might hope, so I'm not making any predictions. I'd like to be in a more culturally vibrant place with access to mass transit, art, music and cultural dialogue. Wherever I wind up, I would hope that I am able to honestly say that I am making the best work I am capable of making at that time.

Thanks Patrick!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Striking It Rich

Among my wanderings along the lower shelves in the handicraft section at the Corner Brook Public Library, I found a book about lace and lace making. When it comes to knitting lace my instinct is to back away slowly and then run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. No, lace and I have never been friends. I ventured to take out the lace book in the same spirit that I took out that c. 1970 coffee table book about weaving - if only to prove to myself that I would not catch the all-future-work-will-now-be-strongly-vaginal disease from just looking at early feminist craft-related art work. I dared to look at the lace book because what doesn't kill us will make us stronger.

What I didn't expect (just as I didn't expect to be so inspired by the c.1970s work - you can decide if I begin to lean towards vaginality in my future work) was that I would immediately see parallels between lace and my suburban project.

To wit:

The book I had checked out had some limited instructions for making this kind of lace (it is needle lace, not knitted lace) so I took a look over at Dover Books and they did not fail me.

A treasure trove of good, old time instruction there. I also picked up a book on fair isle knitting because the original impulse is still there.

I feel I have tapped into a rich vein.