Have you ever noticed how when you’re traveling, time seems to move differently? The days go by both faster and slower, and once home, it can feel as though you never left. Yet simultaneously seem like you were gone for months?
That’s where I am right now. My trip to France seems like a dream, while also remains deeply embedded in my mind. It’s both real and unreal. The piece I created while at the artist’s residency, a physical reminder of my time there.
La Bete turned vertically!
Isn’t it interesting how a piece can change, often quite radically by turning it. This was done by pure accident because I needed to clear the desk it had been resting on horizontally and the only way to prop it up was to turn it vertically. I didn’t think much of it, but then my husband called to me and said, “Look!”
We both decided that we liked it better this way, so this is how it will now be! A little like time, everything shifts when you change things up and view from a different perspective.
And in the middle of teaching a workshop this week, but thought I’d grab these few free minutes that I have to write a post. First off, if you haven’t seen my other videos and posts about my artist’s residency, it was AMAZING! Truly beyond anything I had imagined. Being immersed in art, living with a group of artists for two weeks was just incredible. I had no distractions other than self imposed deadlines, and the occasional load of laundry, but otherwise I was free to explore, create, learn and be inspired by everything and everyone around me. It was magical. And added plus, in a group of 16 artists, there wasn’t a single prima donna! Not a one. Everyone was beyond lovely.
I’ve been home now for just over a week and already it’s all beginning to fade into the background. In many ways it feels as though I was just there, as in yesterday, and in other ways it feels as though it was all a dream and never happened at all or if it did, it was years ago. Time is strange like that. Still I have both Paris and Orquevaux on my weather app, so everyday I look to see what the weather is like over there. It’s a tenuous thread that still attaches me to that magical place and time. One of these days I’ll remove them both, but for now, it’s a bit like listening to an old phone message from my mother. I know she’s gone, but I can’t bare to delete it.
The piece I created while at the residency is pinned precariously to a large foam board and propped up on a desk until I can put together a more permanent solution for it. I started referring to it as The Beast until someone suggested I use the french word for beast, which is La Bête, and they’re right it does sound better, a bit less jarring, a little softer. Still, there’s something about the forcefulness of “The Beast” that I rather like, so I alternate between the two depending on my mood. My friends in Paris suggested I call it Genesis, particularly since I’m doing a series. I’ve bookmarked that idea for now.
Once this workshop that I’m teaching is over, I’ll get back to it, but for now, it waits for me patiently.
While at the artist’s residency I interviewed a few of the other artists and then ran out of time and so was only able to interview six of them. If you’d like to see what some of the other artists were doing while at the residency, you can watch those interviews on my youtube channel. They are all under the Interviews! playlist.
I also had time to create a number of videos on the process or more accurately my process. Here are a couple of those videos:
It’s hard to believe that this artist’s residency is coming to a close. I have just four more days here before returning to Paris. So I thought I’d do a pictorial recap of my time here so far. It’s been beyond anything I could have imagined or hoped for. Just amazing.
Gare de l’est
On the train heading toward Orquevaux!
My Studio! I can’t believe it!!
Some of the art work in the Chateau left by other artists in residence
And so it begins… getting the work up on the wall.
but now I have all of this space… I can go much bigger!
The view from my studio
Taking a morning walk with fellow artist in residence, Kevin Ford
Throwing some paint around
Working and adding
Playing with shapes, getting in the blues…
Lichen always inspires
Taking a walk to clear my head and get some perspective on the challenges I’m seeing in the piece now that I’ve doubled its size.
The sheer beauty and magnitude of this place…
The boat house
The blue alien is now an ever present “issue” that I work hard to resolve…
Deciding that I have to stitch stuff down anyway…
Boldly stitching the blue insect/alien even though I have misgivings… maybe it’ll look better once it’s stitched down.
Nope it doesn’t. Annotating the work, before adding more blue, because if the blue bits are the problem, let’s throw more on there and see what happens.
The blue rabbit hole continues. I’m so deep in it I can’t see my way out.
Still I can appreciate the fabulous art all around me that covers the walls of this amazing place.
Raclette night and the fabulous Beulah van Rensburg: artistic director
The. blue continues to prove problematic.
But I’m determined…
and when all else fails, start another piece…
Fellow artists put on a puppet show for all of us, to great hilarity and fun!
and then I return to my studio to finish my little study inspired by the lichen I’ve seen on my many walks.
And on it goes… the creative process continues.
The big take away from all of this is that the process of creating is often bumpy, but if you don’t give into despair and just meet it head on matter-of-factly, the process is actually very instructive and can be wonderfully fun. It so mirrors life. Some of the things I tell myself: Don’t take it personally. You got this. It’s a momentary hiccup, what can you learn? This feels uncomfortable, but it’s okay. I’ve been here before and gotten through, I’ll get through this too. Breathe. Be patient and honor the process.
The ups and downs, the unexpected road blocks, the work arounds, it’s all there, just as in life, but making the decision to find the joy, to be present, even when I’d rather not be, that’s the trick. Right now I still haven’t resolved some of the issues I have with this piece, but I know I’ll get there eventually. It’s all part of creating and creating is always wonderful! Hard, but wonderful!
Grief comes in waves. People say that, and I know what they mean. The other day I was happily working away on a new piece, trying to get the elements to behave themselves and talk to each other nicely, when suddenly I thought of my mom. It was a tsunami of emotions. I had to sit down and just be still while the feelings crashed over me. And here’s the thing… this blog? It reminds me of my mom, because when I first began blogging more than a decade ago, my mother was its biggest supporter and commenter. I think she commented on every single post or nearly every one of them. That blog was called Emma’s Hope Book. It eventually reached a massive audience with thousands of views per post. And then it was time for me to move on.
I started this blog: Where Art & Life Meet. I wanted a place where I could write about my work and art and life and everything in between. And so my mother began commenting here too. I miss her so.
During the last few years of her life she began sending videos and funny quotes to a few lucky recipients, of whom I was one. I loved receiving them, especially because it was right when COVID hit New York City and all of us were reeling. The city was in lockdown, I’d just started my YouTube Channel and often Mom’s videos and messages were the one thing I could count on to make me laugh, so I’d post them here for all of you to enjoy too. I miss her so.
Whenever I see a funny video on Youtube I think of her. Sometimes if I’m doing a couple of things at once, I’ll catch myself thinking – Oh! I have to send this to mom!! She’d love it. And then I remember that I can’t.
Her favorite video of mine was this one that I’ve added below. One of her caregivers told me she watched it multiple times.
So when I saw the video I’m posting below, I thought, Mom would have loved this. This one’s for you, Mom. It won’t let me share via this blog, so you have to click on the highlighted text instead.
I’m not feeling great. I should probably just end this post right here. But, no, I’ll soldier on. Not because this post is important, it’s not, but because it represents all the things on my to do list and so much that is just life. No one needs to hear my laundry list of “woes”, we’ve all got them. More to the point is that I’m struggling. My mom’s death feels like an endless, bottomless pit of emotions. I know I’ll get through it. I know work-arounds that help me get through those days when things are really bad and “getting through the day” feels impossible. That’s when the put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other method of coping gets enacted.
Grieving is a luxury. Some days require putting all of that to the side so that other things can be dealt with in a timely fashion and because life moves along, it doesn’t wait for those of us who are grieving. And I also know I can’t leap frog my way beyond the grief. It will be there waiting for me on the other side. It’s always there. Some days I’m luckier than others, the grief stays on the edge, other days it moves front and center. Those are the days when every step feels like I’m dragging a fifty pound weight. Those are the days when showing up feels like a monumental task. But I know from designing, from creating, from every day that I work on a piece, that even when I don’t “feel like it” showing up for the work is one of the most important things I can do. And, counter-intuitively, it is what ends up making me feel better in the long run.
All of this reminds me of something Michael Crichton once said. It was decades ago when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had reached out to him to kick off the conference. He was game and gave an amazing talk in the Paepcke Auditorium at the Aspen Institute. I will have to paraphrase as there is no transcript of his presentation. He was talking about writing. Imagine, he said, if you were a commercial airline pilot with a full schedule of flights and woke up one morning and said, You know, I don’t really feel like flying today. I think I’ll go back to sleep for a few hours. Writing (any of the arts) is the only “profession” where people talk themselves out of getting up and putting in the hours. Everyone in the audience was quiet. But it doesn’t work that way, he continued. If you’re a writer/artist then you get up and you put in your hours, whether it’s flying a commercial airline or writing a book, or in my case, working on a new piece, writing up a new workshop, filming a new Youtube video or any of the other things I’ve got on my list of things that I need to do because this is the life and profession I’ve chosen for myself.
How does grief fit into all of this? It doesn’t. It’s just there. All the time. And as a result, it is I that must make the necessary adjustments in my life to accommodate these new feelings and emotions, while continuing to show up for the work.