Object Dar't

July 19, 2012

Reflections, ©202 Denyse Dar

I talk a lot about the process of creating from an artist's perspective. For me, it's the part of what I do that not only surprises me the most but interests me! There's so much in a painting that viewers can't pick up yet the commentary is important.

Each painting has a lesson for the artist. At times it is emotional or mental work being done. Other times it is a technical challenge that is being worked on. But most times it is a combination of the two. This painting was one of those.

I am in fact an untrained artist. I have nothing more than 2 drawing classes under my belt which for the first year I was painting, really bothered me. Mentally my challenge was to see myself as an artist in spite of my lack of training. We live in a world where jobs are specialized and a "professional" has the appropriate training. There for, I somehow could not be a professional artist legitimately. The support and encouragement from people around me helped me move out of that. What I didn't expect would happen was that I would move into a phase of NOT wanting to be educated in art. There are times now when I am frightened that if I take a class or workshop, that it somehow affect or change my style (and thus who I am as an artist.) I now understand why Barbra Streisand didn't get the nose job she wanted. No artist wants to sacrifice their craft - it's too precious and so we protect it at all costs. Yet I can't help but be frustrated when I am confronted with a challenge but lack technical know-how.

This painting presented two technical challenges; reflection on water and interior shadow. I'm sure these are basic elements and have a simple strategy. But I just couldn't bring myself to research or learn them. I stuck to my guns that I'd work it out in my own way. I wanted my brain to figure out what works for me and not what works for others. I'm not satisfied with the job I did in my first attempt and I really question how smart it is to disregard knowledge and training. The jury that is my brain, is still out on that one.

But the mental and emotional challenge here had a pay off. It's been a chaotic time in my life for sure. My days have been consumed with old chapters that are concluding and new chapters beginning. It's left very little time for "reflection" of any kind. This painting seemed to be a sort of moral inventory. I hadn't been able to really check in with myself over the past 6 months. I liken it to what would be happening if you were putting out a fire. You'd be busy finding water to put the flames out and not thinking about much else. In painting this, I had the first opportunity in a long time to think about who I am now after all these large events. And I pondered what I've learned, what I want now and who I want to be after all this. Like my painting, I saw my reflection and like the technical challenge - the jury that is my brain is still out on that one too.

May 21, 2012

An Ass With Stripes

Ok..I know that society looks at us and makes assumptions about who we are based on the decisions we make. And the plot in the story that is my life has always been the struggle to "conform." There is a part of me that has always wanted to just blend in and yet, the reality of who I am ALWAYS makes that impossible. Over the years, I've come to liken it to being a zebra in a herd of giraffe. While the giraffe's have always been a gracious group about letting me hang out with them, they spend a whole lot of time noting my stripes, short neck and and the funny way I run on these stumpy legs. :D

And it's always been a challenge mentally. When I was younger, I spent a whole lot of time wishing (and trying) to be a giraffe. At a certain age, I gave up. Then I moved into acceptance. I'm a zebra..so be it. And the last few years have been about embracing being a zebra and seeing the perks. Then just two weeks ago, I received a test. God/Life/the Universe has a really messed up way of doing that. It was like I was being tested to see if I REALLY want to be a zebra or not because I was presented with a situation where I could almost look like a giraffe. And guess what? I fell for it. :/

Because art doesn't pay the bills on a consistent basis, I decided that the "responsible, adult thing to do" would be to send out my resume and get a job. I did that on Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, I got a call for an interview on Friday in Cambridge. I went. I got the job and was asked to start on Monday. It was the kind of job that for all intents and purposes, would be any giraffe's wet dream. So I skipped off to Cambridge! By day 3, I was surveying myself and the landscape. Here I am - a zebra - successfully doing the giraffe thing. I know myself well enough to know that I could have gone on like that indefinitely. And yet something was horribly wrong about it. Little red flags started appearing for me. Some red flags were logistical (like child care and transportation) but they didn't bother me as much as the little red flags that didn't have a name. I realize now what those red flags were: they're the ones that show up when you sell out and compromise yourself. Little signs written in chinese that say,
"You..are..an ass..with stripes!" *sigh*

I lasted all of 6 days and I guess depending upon your perspective, you could say that was 6 days too many or 6 quick days. As for me, I'm not concerned with the amount of time - I'm concerned with the meaning of it all. Whether it was 6 days or 60 days doesn't matter. I still threw my own "ass" under the bus because on some level I must still want to blend in with the giraffe's. I'm a little sad that at 45, after all the success I've had in 2 short years of being an artist, that somewhere inside of me I must not have FULLY embraced the fact that I'm a zebra. But I guess I'm also a little bit proud because 10 years ago, I wouldn't have recognized the test or the flags. I just wouldn't have been able to look at those 6 days and extract much out of the experience other than to say that I'd somehow (yet again) failed at giraffehood. Boy, I hope I can really get the lesson of being a zebra. Trying to be a giraffe has really been pretty pointless and stupid.

May 5, 2012

DAR't With a Purpose

This will be slightly redundant for those who subscribe to my newsletter (and I apologize for that) but an EPIC moment requires a bit of redundancy. I try not to insert too much personal commentary into my newsletter, preferring that it basically just stick to facts and information. My blog is really the place for folks to come explore the crevices of my brain, while my Facebook page is the place for folks to converse and exchange with me. 

So the latest art related development in my life is the installation of 3 enormous DAR's in the new Pediatric Wing at UMASS. It all happened at the speed of light. I received a call the first week of April asking me if I could create two companion pieces for Patsy's Woods (which is the painting that was used for my Copley Society of Art application.) I was told that I'd need to work quickly though as the installation would just be a few weeks later on May, 1st. And here's where Fate/God/whatever you want to call it - stepped in because within a day, I had created two sketches that were met with great enthusiasm. I was given a green light to paint them and by the end of the week they were both completed and out the door.

And so two things are on my mind about this experience. First, it was a reaffirmation that I simply am not in the driver's seat in life. For me, life is very much like what riding the train daily in the Netherlands was for me. I'm on this train (life) and I'm sitting next to other passengers - some stay on the train longer, others get off at the next stop. I chit chat with some of them, others don't want to talk. Some people annoy me or vice versa and the only thing we all seem to know about the ride is that there IS a final destination (death.) Everything in between the beginning and the end is a complete surprise. You might hope that the train stops at a certain station you've heard about and lots of times, it makes stops at stations that you simply wish it'd never visited. And even at times, things happen on the train - challenges. The only thing in your control are the choices you make in each of those situations presented to you while you're on that ride. I always try to make a concerted effort to just simply do the RIGHT thing - for ME. No one else but me. And there's great comfort in this approach to life. I'm seldom disappointed, most often surprised, have a lot of fun on the ride and at the end of the day, I'm almost always proud of the choices I made. So the recent UMASS commission has been both a huge surprise AND a lot of fun. The train just moved me along through the whole experience and because I wasn't trying to control anything - it went off without a hitch and in record time.

The second thing (and most important in my mind) about this experience is the meaning behind this development. I've always been someone who just wanted to "give" and "love." It seems like a bit of a freakish way to be and I don't know why I'm that way but I've quit asking. I've accepted that this is just how I'm wired. And there must be a reason because everything else in the universe seems to have a purpose on this planet. Why not too someone who just simply brings joy? And although I have no physical proof that this really is my purpose in life, I do know that the effect my artwork has on other people seems to reaffirm this.  I feel such a sense of peace and accomplishment when other people respond joyfully to my work. We live in a culture that seems to focus on shock, horror and trauma. Every horrible happening is broadcast. Every human failure is highlighted to death. And I seem to be swimming against the cultural tide - I'm bringing a smile to people's faces with no expectation, no requirement that anything be returned to me. It's just a "here, have some love" given freely. And as a result, I'm changing the world in a small way. I can see it! In the past, when I looked around, I saw a lot of grumpy, miserable, sick people. Every day I see more and more people oozing excitement, being supportive and loving to me. It's been an AMAZING transformation and my God, what a train ride it's been. And so in wrapping this post up, I guess I'd like to encourage every person reading this to try to let go of the invisible score-keeping that the world tells us to do. Give freely. Who cares about whether someone else has gotten away with more or even took something from you. Dig under all that emotional rubble that's collected on your exterior and find your feelings, then let them out. Let it be ok to love without having that love returned. Give to the world around you and never mind what you think you can get. It's your purpose in life and you can't imagine how operating from that place will literally change everything. It's the difference between heaven and hell and it's solely your choice!

February 23, 2012

The Next Step in the Creative Process

As I go along this unknown path of making art - I tend to do a lot of examination and dissection because it's such a new and strange thing. Prior to 2 years ago, creativity for me was easy and safe. I specialized in nothing and just did what inspired me in the moment. I'd make this or do that and it'd be fabulous then I'd go on with my life until the next urge hit. I think that's how most people deal with their creativity. But making the commitment to making art on a daily basis takes courage. I've had to be willing and OK with making crap. That's a HARD thing to do when there are a lot of people watching; some of whom would relish seeing you fail. Those are the outward points of staking your claim as an artist. But the most surprising aspects are the internal, unseen things that happen.

I've written before about the dynamic of inspiration. And I'll restate that it's something unseen. This job I'm doing has me playing and practicing with this invisible force. Which when you try to convey to other people, sounds like utter madness. I'm afraid of madness. I've worked too hard for sanity. And there isn't a single atom in me that'd be ok with the world thinking I'm mad. So sometimes I don't want to say the things that I experience or think. And yet I also feel an obligation to say those things because there may be another human being out there who is just as afraid as I am. It's my obligation to encourage them and see them through it. So even at the risk of sounding utterly insane, I've decided to discuss what I've learned and experienced the past few months. *taking a deep breath*

An example of "Expression"
When I first started painting (and seriously..what is wrong with you people that you thought what I made was good or had potential!?!?), I plucked things from my heart and put them down on paper. So creativity for me began as "expression". They were things I loved, felt or recalled with longing; Paris and the Netherlands, mandalas that let out my fear.

An example of "Dictation"

Then I moved into what can only be described as "dictation." I was taking dictation of the things I saw around me and loved. I can never find the words to express how much I love being home and the feelings this place and its people stir up in me. But my paintings did albeit badly. the dictation continued and I documented all the places I was seeing. And then the fall came. My life became chaotic with the business of art and I was unable to paint for almost 2 months. Although my heart felt like it was in a vice grip, the pain of not being able to paint was tolerable because I was SO busy. I guess life decided it was a time for receiving encouragement instead. So I went with it.

Where "Translation" started

But when I returned, I found something very strange and unexpected happened. Somehow, I was no longer taking dictation. Which really upset me. I get that it's normal to freak out when something changes unexpectedly but it was more than that. The first painting I showed up to seemed to have a LOT to say. I was no longer taking dictation, I was TRANSLATING. WTH?!?! How do you translate a language you don't even know?? That first painting of the Rail Trail was far more detailed and complex than previous paintings and within it was hidden emotional commentary. It was the usual real place but I was translating that into a dissertation about an emotion. And I have to tell you - it unhinged me mentally because of my fear of madness. The painting talked (minimally) about the happy surface I was putting forward and the dark, moss covered depths that lay just under that happy surface. I saw all my pain, angst, fear and questions right there on the paper and I have to tell you that there were days I couldn't handle sitting over that painting. I guess like lots of people, I don't enjoy having my "stuff" in my face. But I got through it and thought it was just a fluke. The creative process brings things up inside you and so my thought was once it was out, it would be gone. Yeah right.

The next TWO paintings were again translation. Again, real places but within was commentary on how I was feeling about being a public figure and being watched. Both paintings have me (the pine tree) on stage separated from the crowd. The first is by moonlight which is a harsh spotlight with the tree almost frozen and lacking detail. The second seems to be acceptance of that situation; the spotlight is softer, the tree more rich and full of movement and beauty. Again - WTH?!?!? The translation continued. So much for a fluke.

I've learned now to embrace it. I can't say I like it and I certainly didn't want to tell anyone about it because who wants to be the "Insane Lady", but maybe it's important. Maybe talking about the things that happen with this invisible thing I'm playing with is something that others need to hear so that they can be more sure-footed. I still fear madness. I won't lie. The lineage of artists who've suffered madness throughout the history of man is a long and wide line. I just don't want to be counted among them. I don't know how to stave off such a fate but at the same time, denying my creativity or even trying to back it down now would cause my soul to wither and die. It has breathed such life into my existence. I am living so much more fully, feel things so much more intensely and loving to a degree that at times I'm sure my heart will explode. You can't go back to ho-hum once you've been here. You can only do ho-hum when you've never known anything else. So all I can do is continue to walk through this experience and hope for the best. I don't know what the next stage is in creativity. It'll probably unhinge me as much as all the previous stages.I make the commitment to tell you about it though. And if it brings me to the point of madness, well then I guess that'll be the lesson that was meant to be taught to whoever reads what I write; don't do what I did? ;)

January 2, 2012

Companion Pieces

I've returned to my studio finally and quickly trying to get back into my groove where I feel comfortable and safe. :) I have completed two companion pieces. The back story of the location can be found in my newsletter here

I hate self-indulgence but there is considerable commentary within these two pieces which previously has never been present in my work. I seem to have something to say about my life as an artist now. The truth is, I never set out to be an artist. I just fell into it and there are days when it is overwhelming. I was not mentally prepared so there are moments when I struggle. Suddenly people are watching and have very strong feelings and things to say about what I do. Add to it the fact that my anonymity is largely gone on a local level and voila; you have these paintings. 
Untitled, © Denyse Dar, 2012

All my paintings are painted to music. In each case, the lyrics seem to have meaning; I don't pick the songs, they pick me. I seemed to be a "blues" period with this painting because the songs were nothing but straight blues. This moonlight version was not only sketched to Stranded by Van Morrison but I also hiked this location to the song. I'm a horrific, diehard Van-Fan btw.

"Everyday, everyday, it's hustle, hustle time, hustle time
 Everyday and every way, one more, one more mountain to climb
 It's leaving me stranded
 In my own little island
 With my eyes open wide

It was painted to Black Sheep by Martin Sexton.   

"Times they were changin
  I did just a little re-arrangin
  take a couple chances
  my progress it advances
  to that prize of my freedom...
  gonna set my soul free."

Untitled, © Denyse Dar, 2012
The sunlight version was sketched to New Kid in Town by the Eagles. The New Kid in Town lyrics clued me into what was going on in the paintings (I knew something was going on but not WHAT).

"There's talk on the street; it sounds so familiar
  Great expectations, everybody's watching you
  People you meet, they all seem to know you
  Even your old friends treat you like you're something new
  Johnny come lately, the new kid in town
  Everybody loves you, so don't let them down"

And painted to Dreamboat Annie by Heart.

"Going down the city sidewalk alone in the crowd
No one knows the lonely one whose head's in the clouds
Sad faces painted over with those magazine smiles
Heading out to somewhere won't be back for a while"

So in these paintings, the pine at the apex represents me separated from the crowd on both sides by a river. The moon and the sun are the "spotlight" and the crowd appears to be craning to see what the pine is doing. Thankfully the tone is benevolent so on some level it must be ok. And the depth of color, strong sense of shadow seems to be my response to all of it.