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Begun a New Commissioned Portrait Painting

Setting the scene, nowhere near finished. It takes about 25 hours to complete a portrait painting, from original sketches to final canvas. To get to this stage in the underpainting, about 10 hours. I'm sharing the process as I go. 18" x 22" x 1.5", oil on canvas.




             

 
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An old painting, a stretcher for new paintings

Phoning lumber yards, plywood only comes in 4' x 8' sheets, and I need 5' x 6', so... I remembered this old painting of self-portraits, and dug up the post I wrote on the story behind them at Xanga, where I was blogging at the time. Reading the post brings tears to my eyes (even if I think the painting unsuccessful). Anyway, I can tear the canvas off, and staple new pieces to the frame and thus satisfy my muse (see yesterday's post for clarification). 



Sunday, 01 August 2004

This is a large painting, 4ft by 5ft, and it was many years in the making.

What I went through over it, I can barely look at it. It was my post polar bear painting. Pure soul retrieval. It consists of three actual self portraits, and one psychic self-portrait. It was about finding myself again after my marriage collapsed.

This painting had something to do with that collapse. A bit of paint on canvas, but not as innocent as it looks. After we bought our cottage, I stopped painting. The cottage was really one large room, and my children were small. After almost 7 years, I began to miss painting, which is like a need in me, and which I don't understand because nothing throws me into as much despair as painting, to paint is pure torment, it is where I throw my life on the line, risk everything, and is anything but an enjoyable activity, sort of like giving birth, it's best when it's done.

Anyway, we were having financial difficulties, but I asked my husband if I might have a large canvas for my birthday. He said no. That there was not enough money--he was still going through a case of beer a week and a bottle of wine every other night, but, for me, no.

The next year again I asked him for the same present. Can I have a big canvas for my birthday? Still the same answer. No. No money. He must have felt some remorse though, because maybe a month later he said I could go get a canvas if I wanted, but I didn't because I wanted him to give it to me as a gift, meaning for him to recognize my need to paint, and to support my talent too. He is a poet himself, having published 6 books or so, and always received emotional support from me, as well as time away from the kids to write, not to mention a typist in pre-computer days for his manuscripts.

Shortly after this we separated. It was amicable, we had a Separation Ritual, inviting the same people who had witnessed our wedding at City Hall 15 years earlier, and a party afterwards.

I told a friend at the Waldorf school that my children attended at the time about the canvas. She looked at me incredulously. I'll never forget the look in her eyes, ever. And said, "But why didn't you buy the canvas yourself?"

So I did. I was working, editing, and did have money. It cost around $100. My ex picked it up for me from the discount art store where I ordered it and brought it home on the roof rack. That was supportive, no? Or perhaps it was because I had broken the code of silence between us and told someone else and he was a little embarrassed.

It could have been the relationship, the long hard years of being secondary to my husband, of having my writing, painting, degrees considered not just unimportant but a waste of time, of my ideas, perceptions, learning existing only to catapult him to poetic stardom, and so on. But by the time 1997 rolled around I realized I had developed major creative blocks.

With much will power, I began the painting. It was like learning to walk all over again. Slow, hesitant, painful. The first image in the middle is from a photograph taken when I was 32, in the a few months after my father died. His death signified the loss of many things in my life, and my probable career in academia. She's standing in a yellow rain slicker in the mountains, mountains which I painted in and then painted out. When my father died, something died in me also, and so I painted my younger self as a way to go back and retrieve her drive and enthusiasm for learning, for life, for reaching out. Above her is another me, with antlers growing out of her head, a little older, from a photo taken at the cottage. The angel is from a photo at my daughter's second birthday party. The old woman on the right is an image after one in "Soul Cards," by Deborah Koff-Chapin (Center for Touch Drawing, 1995), and was a card I pulled almost weekly at the small yoga class I taught.

The painting’s a triptych. It's the old Christian tri-level world, hell, earth, heaven, only in New Age spirituality, it's grounding yourself in the earth for renewal, through your Winter, ordinary life in a yellow rain slicker, looking upwards, moments of revelation, nature, with echoes of shamanic spirituality, and the angel is one's higher self, a more wise version of oneself who can guide one through.

All in all, I worked on it from 1997-2002. It's called, "Self Portraits." After I finished it, I realized that I never wanted to paint at an easel with a brush again and began throwing my canvas’ on the floor and finger painting right out of the tube; whenever, that is, that I can work through the creative blocks that I am still struggling with.

That’s the story of the painting that I posted today.

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 brendaclews.com
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An untitled painting of a man

Untitled, as of yet. I just painted this. An iPhone photo taken with a daylight bulb. 18" x 24", oil on canvas sheet.

I have been deeply troubled, as ever, by Syria, the refugee camps, the deaths, the conflagrations. And the miners in South Africa, their horrendous treatment, not just the shooting deaths, but the survivors being charged with murder (withdrawn as of today, but it influences). This is a -just-sit-down-and-paint-woman-whatever-fucking-emerges-let-it-be- painting. From the inner self, where the cauldron burns.




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 brendaclews.com
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Resisting a multi-media rendition of Palmistry, a Psalm

After I began this painting, a prose poem became 'an inner pressure,' and so I spent a few days writing one, and even made a little recording, and while I would have finished the painting last week by writing the poem onto the canvas, the 'inner pressure' now is to make a video poem. I don't want to! I argue with my muse: It's too much work; no-one watches them. Who needs a video? But though I have tracing paper taped to the painting for a 'dry run' on the writing - want to make sure I space it properly so it all fits on - and have sat to work, that da*n muse won't let me! So now I need to create a video space with canvas or something around it and video the act of writing, pen on parchment for the spacing, pen on canvas for the final, up close. Do you think I can manage this little task? I'm so in resistance.

Doing a piece in three media, painting, writing, and video is way too much work for one woman and yet, resist as I might, the muse is stronger and is resisting my resistance and will win out. Due to a busy week, likely won't video until next week. Oy! Is it like this for you?

The layered x-ray (real, of my wrist) and the painted hand (I was looking at my actual hand when I painted it) that you see in the first image was done digitally and would be fun to work with in a video, fading in and out of one or the other. I could do some found footage of Nazis, also. Coatlique, Ophelia, yes, if I find public domain images. Oh, and those great drawings of the hand for palmistry, palm readings. That would be fun. And so on. Lots of ideas, no will to do it. Lol.








Below is the prose/poem for if you hadn't already read it and wanted to take a look.
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A Palmistry, a Psalm

The hand is a poem. A fragmenting poem in my hand. Fingers blow in the wind like bulrushes. That gnarled branch overhanging the water, a twisted wrist. I wear a carpal bone like a pendulum, the rattle of Coatlique.

Our hands, neuronal cells pulsing nerves probing the world, soft, sensitive. In the signs in the lines on our palms a seer's language. Our journey mapped in grooves of curvature of skin over muscle and bone. Born here; die there. One, or two, or five central relationships. You will /or will not have children. This will be a difficult time; easier there. My, you are a sensualist.

They cut off the hands of thieves. Only I never stole. When was my hand severed? As a child? In the nightmare it is staked in the window, a sign for the henchmen of dictators, thieves of the freedom of souls. Herod's soldiers grabbing the first born; Nazi boots kicking down the doors of the Jews. Marked houses. Signs of those sacrificed on the altars of cruelties of power.

In my hand, you will find I've lived a clean life. Does this echo the ethical universe? Ethos is what enables order, harmony, beauty. This swollen and sore hand is emblazoned with 'the mark.'

I touch you, lying on the soft grasses of the riverbank, glide delicate fingers over your features, reading you, your body of braille. And massage you, warm oiled dance of fingertips and palm whorls penetrating knots, torments, memories. Even as my wrist flicks, and breaks.

My hand drifting downstream, decked in an Ophelia of lace and rings. Hold it; hold me.






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A Palmistry (in process)

Finally working on a new painting.

A hand, yes. My current 'hand crisis' is what I think I was doing, but then the disembodied quality of the hand made me think of a nightmare long ago, of the strangenesses of our lives, which are like intersecting arcs.

These paintings are becoming a style, I guess. I work from the imagination. When I sit down I have no idea what will emerge. It's scary! Let it be messy. Yikes! Don't over-work and the way to do this is to be fast. Shivers! Just dive in. Though there is a sort of representation of my hand because it's very much a focus now. So is a psychic I saw around the time of the nightmare - a Wiccan witch from Northern Ireland who really was the real deal - who read palms.

Because of the the complex cluster of images that this painting is drawing about itself, I decided to call it, A Palmistry.

Palmistry is a way of reading the life of the person whose palm it is.

The dream, dated June 2, 1980, was quite long, and went on to become much more scary than the beginning, the part about the hand (which is all I'll relate):
There was a darkness outside, pushing in. 'S' was here, and entertaining as always, but aware of the ominousness. He went to the bathroom and when he came out he said that there was a hand on the windowsill with a note beside it (he told me what it said but I can't remember now). I shucked it off, asked if it was an effigy and he said no, it was a real hand. I knew it was a child's hand and had been deliberately severed. I could not go and look at it directly but could only think what poor child in this dear world had been sacrificed. I thought it the work of a demonic cult, and that, like marks on houses, of the first-born to be killed by Pontious Pilate in the Roman era, or the Jews during Nazi Germany, this was a mark that was a warning. I could not consider it a symbol, for it was a real hand from a real child. I saw it clearly in my mind's eye throughout the dream. I could not step into that room, however, and see the hand in flesh and blood as a sign in the window. I could not have borne it - a child of maybe 4 - unbearable. Perhaps it was my own hand.
....The sign of the hand - I was already becoming disoriented and couldn't perceive the situation clearly. I tried to calm 'S' as best I could in my state - my senses were being scattered and broken up....The blackness all around us was growing. The atmospheric temperature was dead still, enclosing, pressing against my home. I tried to stand. All I could see were sections of the visual world - a plane of darkly embroidered fabric in the air, and nothing else. Or a distortion of furniture. Memory told me where to stand for my senses were turning the world into a 3-dimensional Cubist picture that did not have coherence. The world of time and space and the way the senses order it was shot to hell. I could barely negotiate my way around and could not think with any clarity....It was like seeing the world through a crystal prism, darkly....Other dimensions could enter.
My intention had been to write some of the text of the original dream onto the canvas, but... I'll see. It is most strange that with my SLAC wrist and the recommended removal of the scaphoid bone and the fusing of the other bones in the hand with bone taken from elsewhere in the body that I find this old dream re-surfacing.

Can my painting move beyond my immediate concerns to connect with the strangeness of hands, all hands? Look, those red dredges of oil pastel running from her neck and down are not blood, but were meant to represent a red striped top. Lol.


"A Palmistry (in process)", 2012, Brenda Clews,18" x 24", charcoal, oils, oil pastels, oil sticks on triple-primed cotton canvas sheet.


 on the easel

 earlier stage


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As if Death Were a Passion



As if Death Were a Passion, Brenda Clews, 2012, 12" x 16", graphite and acrylic on triple-primed cotton canvas sheet.


outline the skeleton
in red
make the lines of the bones
red

alizarin crimson, cadmium red
flame red, poppy bright

ok, blood too

the passion of death

as if death
were a passion


_________

It's taken many weeks for me to watch this great little instructional video on how to draw a skeleton. I've never taken anatomy, so I fully appreciate teaching tools like this (thank you Kenny Mencher!). I'll have to get myself a wee skeleton at a Medical Supply store at some point. :)

I meant to take a photo before I started working it. Ah well. It's not perfectly drawn because I don't want that.

The instructional video is here: http://kenney-mencher.blogspot.ca/2011/11/video-drawing-skeleton-front-view.html?m=1 (if, like me, you'll probably watch it later do bookmark it since it's an unlisted video you won't be able to find it on YouTube without the link)

I took the photo with my iPhone 4 using Camera+ and then a Clarity filter - later I'll blog it without the filter. It's just kind of neat with the tones the filter gives it.






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Celestial Dancer V put out on the street and taken!

I've been clearing out a lot of stuff the last few weeks, many bags of clothes to the drop-box, lots simply to garbage. This painting was one of the first I did with water-soluble oil paints in 2004. I did it on a canvas board - dumb, the cardboard warps, impossible to frame ever - and I didn't really like it. I drew it from an image of Nijinski in a dark body stocking, so always felt, though I love the richness of black skin, that this painting was a bit misleading even though it was grouped with my Celestial Dancer series and called it Celestial Dancer V.

Last weekend cleaning up my art supplies, I came across it wedged behind my desk, where it's been stored for years. I pulled it out, not sure what to do with it. The thought of standing on it to crack it in half for the garbage was too much at that moment.

On impulse, I took it outside and put it against the fence on the sidewalk. When I looked 5 minutes later, it was gone.

I hope whoever found it either likes it and has hung it on wall that needed 'something,' or has painted over it.

I'm so delighted that I did this that I'm considering what else I can put out! :)



When I looked for a photo of the painting on an external hard drive where the contents of my old computer are stored, I found it, not only easily because labelled, but that I had, as usual, taken images all along the way. And I even found the original image I drew! How wild is that. I have not, as yet, been able to re-locate the Nijinski on-line to see which ballet he was leaping about in a dark body stocking in! He had a slick of glitter on his costume that I did not add to my painting. :) This piece was done in my studio in Vancouver - as you'll see in the final image (they work backwards). I also used a wet-on-wet technique and so lost some of the detail in one of the arms that clearly turned into a lake of paint that dissolved out and in the detail of the hands.










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Two Lamps and a Pot of Orchids

This is a sketch to toss. Part of my enterprise this year: to go backward to go forward. To return to before I got sidetracked and see where a more natural route would take me.


Two Lamps and a Pot of Orchids, Brenda Clews, 2012, 13" x 10", acrylic on archival paper.


The charcoal sketch.


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Retreat to Beautiful Objects


direct link: Retreat to Beautiful Objects

When I retreated to my world of beautiful objects.

She was a dream, not the mask but how I composed her in Tangled Garden.

A vegetative force, Nature, birth, life, death, decay, mulch, compost. Beautiful and frightening. Strange dreams, the unknowable body itself. Life consuming life to live, plant or animal. Cells fuse to make new life, new connections, new hybrids. Wood/trees; metal/circuitry; bone/grafts; skin/love. Teeming presence.

I come from a jungle, the nature I write of is not pastoral, pretty. A fibrous network of vast connections. Natural processes. We are Nature looking at herself through her own eyes. This slip of consciousness viewing the universe for a knowing moment, soon to be lost. How can we forget the hungry ghosts, the floral opera singing in us?

An ecology of consciousness. An understanding of the parasitical and angelic. Leave the savageries. Our worlds of beautiful objects call us to retreat.

_________________________________________________________




What I wrote at YouTube:

...to celebrate the unexpected popularity of my long videopoem, Tangled Garden, http://youtu.be/OG37qWh4rTM, a slow art film of a triptych of earth poems, Surreal, mythopoetic, a rhizoma of images, metaphors, explorations, philosophies (with English subtitles). I had originally thought to paint a Tangled Garden painting to give away when the video reached 1500 views (my daughter's claimed the painting, so some other celebratory gift), and began making a video of the process of the painting.

There's lots of aspects here - from the drawing and painting itself to photos of the making of the papier-mache mask, to a dance in the woods which inspired the figures in the painting. The fishnet gloves - don't you adore them! - will now be featured in any future art videos. I just love them!

The writing came out of a dream I was having during a nap when I was considering what to say in the video. It's more of a piece about the poetic process in the poems in Tangled Garden, what sort of consciousness is holding sway. I woke up laughing. I felt a bit strange laughing all by myself in a dark room late at night for the recording for sure!

Prefer the video without the subtitles, but they're there for the hearing impaired, those who like to read along, and for YouTube automatic translation into one of 25 languages if the viewer is not fully conversant in English.

Music is Pierre-Marie Cœdès' 'Whirling Thoughts,' from his album, "Insomnia": http://www.jamendo.com/en/list/a94667/insomnia (with his permission). It is a great album, do go and listen.





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Tangled Garden painting finished!


Tangled Garden Painting, 18" x 24" compressed charcoal, watercolour pencils, a touch of acrylic but mostly oils on triple-primed 100% cotton canvas sheet.

My Tangled Garden painting is finished. Or is it? I painted without have any pre-conceived notions about how I wanted the final piece to be and so I am having to accept what has transpired under my paint brush. Yet it works in the video of this painting's process that I have been concurrently working on. Can't believe I've been painting this painting for over a week! Usually I'm done in a half a day's hours, with some tinkering later.

Taking you back though memory lane below. :) And I'll subject you to a video of the process of this painting in the next week or few weeks too! Enjoy!








Tangled Garden, close to 900 views since Jan 25th as of this moment (unheard of for a loong videopoem featuring original poems - most videopoems maybe reach 100 views in a year), is a slow art film of a triptych of earth poems, Surreal, mythopoetic, a rhizoma of images, metaphors, explorations, philosophies (with English subtitles). -A Floral Opera (2011) -In the Hands of the Garden Gods (1979) -Slipstream, the Tangled Garden (2006) (with impromptu speaking between the poems, which each end with ~~~ in the subtitles): http://youtu.be/OG37qWh4rTM


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