Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Birth of Impressionism

No matter what season it is outside, I've learned that after a show, it's time for me and my studio to lie fallow for a bit.

It seems contradictory. Fueled by the adrenaline rush of preparation and the reception, I used to rush back into the studio, but like a cake without the leavening, the work I made fell flat and I learned to say, "Vacation time!"

I'd love two weeks in Paris so I could drink in art and a few cafe au laits, but there's that small matter of my other job and my bank account--so I've been wondering, 

What do you do to refuel? I'd love to hear some of the ways you restore and refuel yourself after an exhibit or teaching a class.

Without the time or the money to visit Paris, I figured the next best thing would be to visit the Birth of Impressionism exhibit, an hour and a half down Interstate 80 in San Francisco.

My sister and I piled into the car with lots of water, and munchies and headed off. It was a beautiful blue sky day and a whopper of an exhibition.

The DeYoung Museum is the only museum in the world to host this show from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The exhibit is arranged so that you can trace the artistic movement from the French Realist style (approved by the official Government Salon) to the original and inventive style we now call Impressionism.

My sister and I walked through galleries painted a deep salmon and hung with paintings by Courbet, Manet (that challenger of tradition!),  Pissaro, Monet, Renoir, not to mention Berthe Morisot and Cezanne.

In the past, I've walked through galleries with the feeling that people who lived and worked before me simply belonged to another human race entirely, but this time was different. There's a piece of growing older that helps me to understand my place in the parade of human history and human art history.

As we left the museum, surfeited by our visual feast, we entered out into the brilliant blue San Francisco day. The sound of a brass band issued from a nearby band shell and we went over to investigate. In front of the shell, a couple waltzed and a young child spun around, twirling to the music. The band in their red uniforms with navy blue epaulettes played on.

It was almost unreal, the clarity and perfection of it all. Had I popped up in the middle of Mary Poppins in the park with Burt?

As I look back, it occurs to me that clarity is the gift that paintings offer us. They give us a very personal and distilled view of their world. If we in turn, give the paintings our own sustained looking, we are gifted with this clarity.

I took it in, my invisible gift and carried it home with me to the small Central Valley town where I live, rich with possibility and almost but not quite, ready to begin again.

If you live near San Francisco, or are planning to visit there, The Birth of Impressionism continues until September 6th, If you're not, what visual feast is going on near you?

Pictured above: From the top: The Swing, Pierre Auguste Renoir, View of the DeYoung, Still Life with Soup Tureen, Paul Cezanne, Entrance to the DeYoung with me and a mysterious stranger.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Send in the Archetypes

Do any of you remember that Leonard Cohen song, "Send in the Clowns"  Judy Collins sang in the mid seventies?  It began to play in my ear last week for no reason that I could think of.  I used to listen to Judy Collins as a teenager, but I thought Clowns a mournful, depressing song. What to make of this?

After several days of hearing this soundtrack in my head, I was in the shower (my modern equivalent of a cave in the Himalayas) when I remembered a SoulCollage® class I had taught the previous week on archetypes.

For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, archetype is a word that has been around for a long time, but was popularized by psychologist Carl Jung. He wrote about the muses, guides, challengers and gods who dwell in the realm of the invisible. Present across time and culture, they originate in our collective unconscious.
The best way to give form to these presences is through images-which is what I was telling the class when all of a sudden, mid-sentence, I looked up, towards the "EXIT" sign posted above the door. I could have sworn there were half a dozen invisible presences swooshing through the entrance.

Call me crazy, and I'm sure several students thought that, but I had the idea that we were about to have visitors and I confess, I was very curious to see who might turn up. Have you ever wondered who is dwelling in your inner abode?

Pat B. Allen, in her excellent book Art Is A Spiritual Path, notes that:
Guiding images are waiting for us if we choose to receive them...These images may at first feel unfamiliar and startle us. In fact they come to restore balance...Our task is to learn to dance with, to flow with, these images...The images all arise from the place of infinite possibility, and that place is the core and basic home of every person. 

I asked everyone to browse our collection of magazine images and the thick, fat magazines we'd collected and to let the images choose them rather than the other way around. By holding the simple intention of wanting to discover our internal guides, an amazing thing happened. 

Six distinct archetypes emerged on the cards over the next hour and a half. I was delighted to meet my own Alchemist Buddha (pictured above). As I looked at the others' images and listened to their descriptions, I had the feeling that the class was somewhat shocked. It was a bit like the tale of Aladdin and the Genie. They had no idea that something so powerful would emerge when they glued images to matte board.

One student, Jeanette, who had imaged the Indian goddess Durga, discovered after googling her over and over (just to make sure), that the qualities ascribed to Durga were exactly the qualities that had sent Jeanette back to graduate school and straight into her new career. As I watched Jeanette grab her hair and repeat "WEeeiiirrd..." I had the feeling I was witnessing the beginning of a great new relationship.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with archetypes.

Pictured above: 
Alchemist Buddha, ©2010, Hannah K. Hunter
Mom Goddess, ©2005, Hannah K. Hunter
Seer, ©2008, Hannah K. Hunter

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scavenger Hunt

Each week day afternoon, I offer an art group for patients, siblings and any other family members who might wish to attend. Coming after "rest hour," its a welcome activity, providing a chance for parents to chat and kids to get up to their elbows in whatever we're doing that day.

Yesterday we only had one child, eight year old Sonya whose brother has been hospitalized for some time. Sonya loves the art group. Lately, though, as her brother's days in hospital have accumulated, she seems restless. What to do? Organize a one person scavenger hunt!

I found some small give-away toys that we keep, hid them carefully and came up with a list of funny clues about where they were placed, ex.: "Where would you go for a good cup of tea? (Why the dollhouse in the shape of a teapot of course!) As I hid the toys, two more kids joined us, six year old Sam and nine year old Jamie.

As the kids worked out the clues, their smiles were contagious (I mean that in the best way possible.) The hunt went so well I decided to auction off all the "found" toys with Sage, Sam's mom as the auctioneer and using Monopoly money for the bidding process. The kids loved it, getting into bidding wars and flashing goldenrod and sky blue colored slips of paper. (I kind of worried that some administrator would hear the noise and think we were gambling!) When the last stencil set was auctioned to the highest bidder at $600, everyone sighed with relief (they all came out even), pulled out their dragonfly, star and ladybug stencils and began to paint.

In some ways setting up this show, "Striking A Balance," has been its own kind of scavenger hunt. I found an unexpected treasure in my e-mail box yesterday; a post by my friend Beth Rommel about my work in her words. What a gift that was, the opportunity to see myself through another's eyes. Thank you Beth.

A good many of the pieces in the show were created last year when we lost a number of beloved patients. At the end of my rope, I decided to make memorials for each child. I went to work, collecting materials and scavenging for fabrics and images that resonated with each of the children I was thinking of. I quilted pieces of fabric together in colors that I associated with each child and stretched those over a 6" x 6" x 2' frame. Early on, I realized I couldn't keep each of the pieces true to that child.  I had to go further than the notion of "their favorite color or toy." At that point,  I let go of the notion of portraiture and to my surprise, the true nature of the relationship I'd had with each one of them emerged.
Pictured above from top to bottom:
Fan, Please, 2010, ©Hannah Klaus Hunter
Zig-zag Path, 2010 ©Hannah Klaus Hunter
Change Your Buddha, 2010 ©Hannah Klaus Hunter

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Striking a Balance/ Take 2

I was lying face down on a dock this morning, peering through the space between two weathered gray boards.  Water rippled beneath me and I could see the sepia colored sandy lake bottom.  A momma merganser and her flock strolled on the nearby beach.

Me? I found myself wondering once more about this elusive thing called balance. 

I'd arrived in northern Minnesota two days before to celebrate my in-law's 60 wedding anniversary. I'd worked up to the time of my flight, trying to bring closure to my upcoming exhibit, "Striking A Balance".

Before I left, I went over to my artist friend Linda's house with  several collages. "Are you crazy?" my sister Amelia said to me. You're leaving tomorrow and you've got to focus!" I pleaded temporary insanity and thought about the need for a good visual editor.

Over the years, I've developed a healthy respect for a judicious critic before a show; someone who loves your work and can tell you the truth about what's missing. It's a means of seeking balance, because in the process of exploring a new direction its easy to lose your way. I also wondered if I could use Linda's suggestions to tweak my own inner balance and find my way back to the center.

Linda took one look at the rice paper covered panels I'd made for mounting my collages and prescribed multiple, multicolored glazes. I mixed the washes and began brushing on layers of deep yellow, olive and sepia. After several hours, I was about to leave when Linda pointed to the collages I'd brought and stated definitively: "That one's finished, that one's finished, but that one's not."

"Oh my word!" I thought to myself. It isn't crazy enough that I'm trying to do this all today, but she's gone and found another fly in the ointment! It seemed that I wasn't going to find my elusive inner balance just then. Back home, I picked up a Diet Coke and headed upstairs to the studio.

Four hours and 10 matte medium covered fingers later, I emerged, satisfied with what I'd acheived.
I plopped down on my bed and riffled through "Sacred Therapy," a book I'm reading, and found this passage:

Healing into our wholeness involves learning how to gracefully navigate our lives between these opposite poles of yesh and ayin, form and emptiness.

Intuitively, those words sounded right at the time, but they didn't really make sense to me until today, on the dock. Stripped of my "doingness" in the studio, I'd discovered ayin, or emptiness, right here in the space between the weathered boards on the dock.