I spent the afternoon on Monday doing some updates to the website, getting it ready for the changes to come; a new bio and a little portfolio reorganization to open the way for new work. I am struggling a little with the new paintings because, for me, it is not enough just to paint pretty pictures. They need to mean something – I need to feel something beyond the surface. Colours and form are not enough on their own. In order to do that, I need to develop a connection, let a place speak to me.
Oklahoma is beginning to speak. But in a language that I am not accustomed.
I am discovering a little bit more about what moves me to make art. It has been years since I have seen so many new things, new places and I am not finding I am drawn to the usual suspects. Here, the landscape is intense. It has me working outside of my comfort zone and I feel like a beginner all over again. It is allowing me to see where I have held myself back and allowed some people and their ideas of me to live rent free in my head, affecting my creative choices. I am still exploring, filtering and trying to understand.
Last week, I met Gordon Yellowman, an artist preserving and continuing the tradition of Ledger Art. It was developed by imprisoned Cheyenne over 100 years ago. A sense of urgency compelled these prisoners to record their stories in images on old ledgers their military captors gave them. Pictures of horses, people and the objects the Cheyenee considered important or of value were drawn over the numbers and sums. The result is a book of sorts, a palimpsest of two cultures, forever bound.
The following day, Celtic music filled the Oklahoma City Underground where I experienced a near private concert with the Flyin’ Fiddler, Wayne Cantwell, accompanied by Susan Pierce and Tim Hart on flute and guitar. I struggled to keep tears from my eyes between the joy of jigs and mournful tunes so beautifully rendered by these artists. Susan pulled out the bodhran and I was instantly transported to a land full of ancient memories – and of the East Coast home of my heart.
On Tuesday, I listened to Albert Gray Eagle play his wood and ceramic flutes. The sounds from these hand made instruments filled every corner of the Oklahoma City Museum lobby. The room’s rectangle of plaster and tile dissolved, replaced with a colourful canyon where each note echoed softly off sandstone walls deepening the sound. Albert’s struggles are in each of the instruments he makes. A serious accident left him unable to make traditional wood flutes and his solution was a creative one made of red earth. With these he wins the hearts of the children he plays for and teaches.
The journey of the artist is far from straightforward. It is a constant challenge to stay connected to that soul voice, Guth an Anam (Irish for ‘voice of the soul’). This landscape, both cultural and geographic, inspires in me something more primal. I am drawn to things that I buried or lost or perhaps exist only in the ancestral memory of my DNA.
I am stuck in my works in progress, fearing to go forward. I am still learning so much and finding things I need to embrace. I am hoping the coming hours will bring with them that push to pause long enough to create a piece of this new world to share with all of you.