Friday, December 31, 2010

Vacation and the Act of Creation

I just returned from a wonderful vacation to San Diego, California. It was over the holidays and we stayed with family. Of course some might argue that this is a recipe for disaster with family drama and all the insane over indulgences of the holiday season, but it turned out to be an unexpected time of creation and renewal of my artistic spirit.

Because there were so many people visiting at the same time there were snippets of time that allowed me to slip away and be alone in the warm California sunshine. The locals felt it was cool, but to my blood the 60s and sun were gorgeous and very balmy compared to the 20s back home. I took advantage of these moments and sketched or painted. It's not that anything fabulous was produced, but it was the nurturing of that spirit and that quiet reflective time that was important.

Working as a full time art educator you spend so much time fostering your students flickering flame of creativity. If you're able to go home in the evening and stoke your fire you are lucky and more energetic than I. So this vacation was a chance to spend time with just me and my moleskine sketchbook. I love flowers and gardens and my mother-in-law has a lovely expanse in the back yard next to the pool. I painted the ice plant and the few roses that were blooming. I photographed the lovely liquid amber leaves of the maples and the burnt red berries hanging in clusters over the fence. So much color for an artistic soul who'd just settled into the whites and grays of winter.

There were other stolen moments too, when we took a large communal walk with the 14 cousins, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents all present for Christmas morning. It had rained over night, but the sun was shining for the walk and the low dramatic clouds clung to the mountains in the distance. The dramatic lighting made this photographer positively giddy. I brought my camera and while others walked and talked I dawdled behind a bit snapping images along the way.

When we returned home and I uploaded my shots my father-in-law commented "Did you take those on our walk?"
"Yes" I replied.
He said, "I never saw any of that."

I smiled to myself. Isn't that really the artist's calling? To hold a magnifying glass or mirror to those fleeting moments that most don't see or take in. The artist registers the subtle innuendos of light and color. The artist sees the light shifting. The artist notices the shadows. How delightful to be able to see so much. I always tell my students Draw what you see, not what you know. Really see the subject. Take it in. Through artistic observation we see so much more.

My final day in San Diego was spent seeing....looking and interacting with art at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. While I greatly enjoy this Museum I was especially thrilled to see the New Realities exhibit featuring the works of Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor. I must say I was so filled with emotion walking through this exhibit. I was by myself and my only regret was that there were no other students of art to share my joy and wonder with. If I had an iphone I'd have tweeted endlessly the happiness that filled me as I walked through the exhibit.

I'd studied Mr. Uelsmann's work as a college photography student back in the 80s. He was amongst the "gods of photography" whose actual work I hoped to see someday. He was also amongst the last of my "gods" that I had not ever seen before. Ms Taylor's work is some of my favorite current digital work. She is a goddess of Adobe Photoshop and the use of a scanner. I often show her work to my students to help them understand what is possible, that artistic digital photography goes beyond just shooting an image. There is so much more one can do. There was an excellent digital display that illustrated the step by step screens of how Ms Taylor builds these images, which develop like paintings really. There was also a video featuring Mr. Uelsmann discussing his process. He does his large black and white, surreal juxtapositions by using 8 enlargers in his customized darkroom. No computers are involved. I wish the video had shown a bit more of this step by step.

Overall the exhibit was wonderful. It showcased each artist as individuals, but also paired a number of their photographs together. Uelsmann and Taylor are husband and wife. This partnership was evident in these pairings, but I don't know if they intentionally create imagery that is that closely linked. Several that struck me included the Uelsmann 2008 Untitled piece that featured an archway with a female figure standing silhouetted in the low light and with female faces juxtaposed in the walkway. At the bottom in the foreground there was an open tintype or daguerrotype print with the face of the woman repeated and an old image of a young girl in 19th century dress. Taylor's work next to this one called "Small Storm" 2002 replicated the archway shape, but featured more whimsical imagery of an umbrella and rain falling under the umbrella. There were other pairings that were equally intriguing in their repetition of themes, shapes and compositions. I loved this exhibit and spent nearly an hour wandering through and revisiting sections.

After viewing this I continued to the rest of the Museum and discovered images from some of the greats of photography. It was like bumping into dear old friends. There were Ansel Adams, Ruth Bernhard, Edward Weston, Bill Brandt, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans to name a few. I was equally as excited as an art educator to view the juried local student exhibit of works called: Reflections: Exploring Cultural Identity. The energy and vision of the students, some as young as third grade, was very inspiring. Having taught in California I was especially happy to see the quality of work being produced in this era of program cuts, which usually gouge the arts right out of schools.

I also took a brief stroll through the San Diego Museum of Art and saw many favorites there. Mostly I just enjoyed the beauty of the rain-drenched Balboa Park walkways as I found my way back to my husband and son at the Aerospace Museum. It was a lovely day even if the rains came down. To me it gave everything a clean wash of light and color. I was awed as one often is in California by the grandeur of nature the enormous banyan trees and eucalyptus and the wondrous palms and flowers; their colors and textures all larger than life.

It is good to be an artist on vacation. I think I saw more than the other people I was with or maybe I just imbued it with my artistic imagination. Either way I face the dull gray winter with a renewed spirit of creativity and will keep the colors and the light in my soul flickering through the long winter.