The Still Point

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Self Portrait, Killkee, Ireland ©2016 Janet Maher

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is. But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…*

As years go by the work of creating art, work that one does to earn a living, and life in all its permutations become less possible to separate. Each one informs and supports, but also robs from the other. There is no real possibility of balance until the parts are simplified through the shifting of time. Artists are always seeking the still point, where extended moments exist without the sense of before or after. The dance of creation is perfectly still.

In Ireland this summer I was able to experience the still point in free-floating time, unhinged from my moorings, feeling new in every day unfolding in one beautiful environment after another. Days were about absorbing and working solely from inner direction, and each contained a surprise.

Most of the time this is not possible, though we make the effort to consciously clear space for moments and notice them when they arise. We generally work in fits and starts throughout days that require many different things. In whole or in part we work hard on one aspect to the sacrifice of the others. Nothing, however, is ever wasted. The attempt is work that matters and each amount of progress counts. Long achievements require long efforts over long time. Thankfully, as we remain breathing we are repeatedly given twenty-four hours to use as productively as possible.

As if fated, over the past ten years an extensive project demanded to be done such that I could not ignore its need. I felt impelled to do it (#1)—NOW(#2)—not set it aside for some future in which I would have leisure time to devote to it. When we have time we may not have the ability or the financial possibilities. When we have the money, the desire, the physical capability, or any number of other things may have significantly changed. I think that when a creative idea takes hold with a vengeance we cannot wait to pay attention to it.

My attention was claimed by trying to figure out how to take on a project that I did not have the training for but felt that I had to do, coupled with the need to continue to be viable as an artist. In the realm of a scholar I was an amateur. In the realm of the art world I was not approaching the content conceptually enough. For some within the non-art world I was not being traditional enough. Who, then, was my intended audience? In the beginning I attempted to continue to make art that had nothing to with this growing interest, keeping the new project quietly aside. It became increasingly impossible, however, to continue to keep both endeavors functioning without overlapping. A positive side-outcome was that I learned a myriad number of skills I might never have attempted or exercised.

I ended up teaching many of the new processes, techniques and materials I was using in my own work, and my previous engagement in photography, which had always been kept to the side, came to the forefront. This, in turn, caused the need for me to master particular Photoshop skills, learn In-Design skills and become able to do my own digital printing, which led to hand-coloring images and bringing photography into my mixed media forms. (I also have taught aspects of this, and the computer as a tool has become a natural component in some of my courses.)

Since 2002 I have made four trips to Ireland, two of them specifically related to research and photographing for what became my first scholarly book and the foundation for my second. By 2010 I had accumulated so much material through scouring records in Connecticut, online, through subscriptions, the renting of microfilm, and reading towers of books and articles that it seemed necessary to publish the material in some form. Who else would have been able to or been as driven as I was to gather this foundation of a history that applied to so many people besides my own family? How could I just store it all away, like so much clutter to anyone else’s eyes? The material had to be put together and presented to others, like artwork does. The project needed to resolve and see the light of day.

Some images among the uncountable number that I have made since 2006 seemed to make the leap into existence as photographic art. Some were exhibited. Many illustrated my first book, some of the second, and my blog postings—which became another outgrowth of this activity. Some works made intentionally as art included photographs that I had made specifically for use in the first book. In some cases it felt necessary not to alter historic images except in further enhancing their visibility. In other cases I attempted to create artworks that might appeal to others who didn’t need to know or care about their actual sources, as I usually do when making collages and assemblages. The process may have been a somewhat schizophrenic way of going about the dual attempt to make art and use art in relation to an attempt to write a book. When one is driven, however, there is nothing to do but follow one’s instincts—even when others think you are on an entirely wrong path. Halfway through a project it is impossible not to see it through. Like art, the question continues to nag, when is it finished? In this case it required a second book in which I sought more contributions from others than I did in the first one, most of my own imagery did not appear, and I was not also the graphic designer.

It was with great joy that I traveled to Ireland this recent time, not as a researcher, but as an artist. This time in Ireland I also worked on books, but they were the hand-made kind (something else that I teach). I also began to draw again (which used to be my primary means of working). Still, I could not help but also make almost 4,000 photographic images. As before, there are some photographs in this collection that might conceivably be exhibited as art and others have illustrated my blog posts. The rest wait in digital folders for when their reason and time may arrive.

There are many works in play at the moment, however, life as an artist in residence focused upon the dailiness of exploration and response (somewhat akin to life in graduate school) is quite different from life in the real world. I am eternally grateful for an amazing, soul-nourishing experience and the fact that my time-juggling (and all that needs to get done) problems are those of the first-world. To have such problems is a privilege. That after all these years I have been able to remain an artist to the degree that I have is also a great privilege, as is the ability to have spent this time in Ireland as such.

Since one project, another journey and my life finally feel as if they have come together in the present, I would like to share my most recent postings from my Irish-related blog here. Following are sequential links to bits of my experience from residing for five weeks in a place that has become an indelible part of me. Ireland continued to open herself further through her people and in my own relaxed exploring of her beyond the specifics I formerly searched for like a dog with a bone. For all, everything and everyone I am eternally grateful.

  1. Ireland, 2016
  2. Ballyvaughan.1 
  3. Ireland 2016. Images
  4.  Ireland Images.2 
  5. Ireland Images.3 
  6. Ballyvaughan.2 
  7. Ireland Images.4 – The Flaggy Shore
  8. Ireland Images.5 – Corcomroe Abbey
  9. Ballyvaughan.3 – The Burren 
  10. Ireland Images.6 – The Flaggy Shore, Again
  11. Ireland Images.7 – Still Point 
  12. Ireland Images.8 – Dublin, Galway 
  13. Ballyvaughan.4 – Wrapping Up 
  14. Ireland Images.9 – Connemara, Mayo
  15. Ireland 2016, Last – Ireland Images.10 

*T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, The Four Quartets, I, II

 

 

 

 

 

©2016 Janet Maher

All Rights Reserved

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Research / Remix: Mapping the Invisible

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It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

 

Google quickly revealed that what seemed to be my perfect title for a new project has already been used in myriad other ways. Since “mapping the invisible” is something I have been doing myself over several years, that phrase occurred as a given. Although I worked with other word plays, trying to jettison something already “taken” to replace with something else, I decided to simply enter a stream that many other people have also encountered while mapping their own versions of the invisible. Many of us also “trust the process.” So be it.

Also like so many others, maps fascinate me. They were imperative during the several years of my previous Connecticut-Irish research as I studied places on both a global and highly personal, even walkable, scale. Maps led me to uncover the invisible both historically and in real time as I witnessed a hidden past of many specific places, now over-layered by multiple centuries of others’ awareness of their present. On another level, X-rays of my own body have revealed on more than one occasion hidden activity that needed to be put in check and forced to remain at bay. A heightened awareness of environmental world decay effected by our careless population of humans continues to reveal other invisible maps that juxtapose with the world I notice surrounding me in my day to day activities.

For these and further reasons I was ready to become intrigued with the research of Johns Hopkins biologist Dr. Jocelyne DiRuggiero. She and her team are deeply involved with a portion of land in the Atacama Desert, Chile, a place of extreme daily temperature changes. Its popcorn-like areas of salt rock, with other parts dotted in smooth boulders that appear as if sleeping, are distinctly otherworldly. By studying the biology of the rocks’ interiors, the team continues to find algae surviving within, against all odds. DiRuggiero’s microscopic discoveries may have significance in relation to the consideration of possible life on other planets, such as Mars.

In the Atacama rocks contain outwardly invisible organic matter that quietly waits to take hold and grow if circumstances become right. Like seeds and bulbs in our own environments that reveal their dormant existence when the weather warms and annual rains resume, that life which we had forgotten about or hadn’t known of previously becomes manifest as if by surprise. The first crocuses, daffodils and  hyacinths of the year did that very thing this past week in our gardens. Metaphorical thinking regarding concealed and revealed macro/micro forms sparked open-ended questions that have excited me to begin a new chapter in my own artwork.

Jocelyne and I began our collaboration in February, just before she left for an extended research trip and I was immersed in teaching and completing several projects at Loyola University. Although time was not on our side, we were able to meet on two extended occasions and share aspects of our respective work. While she was gone I began to experiment visually with details included in her research publications. Microscope fragments depicting the interiors of rock samples seemed beautifully abstract to me, pleasing collections of shapes and lines. I chose particular ones to revise in Adobe Photoshop and enlarge from their one-inch size to a 16” – 24” scale that I printed on photography paper and began to paint upon.

Two years earlier my work, “Journey” (shown on another blog post here) began in a similar way and had accidentally become an acrylic painting followed by a second, very much to my surprise. Although I had painted as an undergraduate several decades ago, generally I only use paint for necessary additional touches of color in something else I am otherwise making. I have never identified as a “painter.” Each new project of mine, however, introduces a new challenge for me to learn to overcome, keeping my own work interesting to myself and encouraging me forward. This project has opened a trajectory in my studio practice that now includes watercolor and gouache paint—no doubt a direct result of having recently made yet another gouache color wheel including tints, shades and washes as an example for the benefit of my students!

Included here are my first four “Research Remixes.” Each is paired with an enlarged version of Jocelyne’s graphics that had served as illustrations in her papers. These will be on display at Gallery Q, Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, from  April 4 through 19, with a reception April 5 from 5 to 7.

Microbial#1CPRT   MappingTheInvisible1.4in.CPRT  Mapping the Invisible: Chasmoendolithic Habitats #1

Microbial2.CPRT    MappingTheInvisible #2.4.CPRT  Mapping the Invisible: Chasmoendolithic Habitats #2

 

microbial#3CPRTsm    MappingTheInvisible3CPRT72.5  Mapping the Invisible: Chasmoendolithic Habitats #3

 

Microbial4cprtSM     MappingTheInvisible4cprt.SM Mapping the Invisible #4: Endolithic Cells

 

©2016 Janet Maher

All Rights Reserved

Welcome, 2016.

 

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Alphabet ©2015 Janet Maher, pigment print of original collage

As we grow older

the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated

Of dead and living. Not the intense moment

Isolated, with no before and after,

But a lifetime burning in every moment

And not the lifetime of one man only

But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.   

~T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

The changing of the year has always been physically tangible to me. In the days of palm sized lockable five-year diaries I recall the thrill of the first day that I began to write, intending to visit my favorite Christmas present dutifully, adding four lines per day. I can will myself back to the image of an iced-over parking lot near my neighborhood on that cold clear day, as I looked out over all with heightened awareness and the goal to remember every sensation to record later. My diary did not get a year’s worth of faithful attention, much less did five more grade levels as the page design had allotted, and fear of my mother’s reading it kept me from ever truly baring my soul. It did, however, contain partial thoughts about my first big love and began a tradition of writing the start of journals, then letting them grow into free-for-alls, usually never completed. This diary became full of collage, perhaps my first artist’s book. I wish it still existed, like the two duffle bags that my mother would not store for me when I moved from her house. The homemade bags were full of notes that my boyfriend and girlfriends had passed to me in high school, and decorated letters from when we lived somewhere else for six months during grammar school. What is relinquished that should have been saved, I wonder? What is saved that should be released?

I don’t literally remember most January firsts, as I don’t remember most birthdays or anniversaries anymore, but I do remember eagerly anticipating and actively noticing the feeling of change. Somehow January first seemed the longest day of the year, stretching out into a far off horizon before which lay a landscape of possibilities. It was a clean day, new and hopeful. I wanted to savor it, vowed to use the next 364 well, to make the upcoming year especially matter.

It has been difficult for me to think far ahead like that for quite a long time. There have been too many losses, too many close calls, too many twists and turns in the narrative of my life to dare anymore to look too far into the future. In a mire of never seeming to be caught up with all my various projects before more “to-do’s” are added on, I live on a week-to-week basis, weekends woven into the mix of the work week and only slightly different. The turning of the year has become for me more about looking back. Whew, finally got through that one. Wow, did all that actually happen in only twelve months (or the past four)?

This year I intentionally paused. Like the adolescent I had been with her first diary I wondered if it could be possible to reclaim that state of being, even within the “unfinishedness” among the piles that surround me at home, in my studio, in my office. Rather than continue to feel that all must be organized and properly stored so as to be able to find what needs to be found again, might it be better to simply have a good, cleansing bonfire? Would that it could be so! (What is relinquished that should have been saved? What is saved that should be released, I wonder?)

In our vastly interconnected and fast-moving world we hear about global occurrences, feel everything as if it were just beyond our own doorsteps. We have the ability to take action on behalf of something outside ourselves that needs addressing. We are peripherally aware of what our friends and acquaintances are up to via social media and the deluge of events that come across our paths, possible opportunities for our participation.  How good is it to know, I wonder, about something that would be satisfying to do but cannot fit onto the list of the ongoing “must-do’s?” It seems increasingly impossible to fit all the parts of a life together. Time seems to have mercilessly sped up. Days of lingering moments, thoughtful, creative reverie and time to express what results from it have become shorter, more sporadic, then finally disappear, even as they cry out to be actively reclaimed. What does such a situation create in us over time? What happens to our psyche when the spiritual food of active life experience becomes mere memory?

Robin Dunbar, director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, by mapping the layers and levels of human engagement came to an interesting premise. Our brains can only adequately manage and we can only interact successfully with about 150 people. (He refers to significant relationships with shared history and mutual responsibility to and for one other.) I could not agree more, and actually feel the number should be less. How many directions do I feel pulled in, which ones demand to take precedence? Which ones must fall by the wayside, which ones do I miss most? Like the piles of papers and files that surround me, many of the most important relationships also seem lost in the shuffle. (What is relinquished that should have been saved? What is saved that should be released?)

The world is such a different place this year than it was even a year before. It seems to have gone a bit crazy. Killing is rampant and random as if secretly waged wars have suddenly manifested overtly everywhere, including in places we least suspected. The earth herself seems to be rebelling against our presence, erupting, drying out, alternatively washing so many of us away. Industries and regulations have worked against the health of all, and both the weak and strong among us succumb to environmentally-born carcinogens on ever-increasing levels. Having “survived” cancer once, having lost so many friends and family members already to it, knowing so many who are currently battling it, I retreat to my books. They require the least from me, nourishing and stimulating me instead. Tell me a story. Teach me about things I wish I’d learned years ago. Make me marvel. Make me cry. Turn my brain off, let me immerse into your words. Take me somewhere else.

It is another new year. I vow, somehow, to write the many letters that need to be written, send people the photographs and other things I have saved for them that have been sitting in piles for yet another year, reconnect with someone I have wanted to for decades. (I think her daughter should have her own drawing that I have treasured since we were undergraduates, one of my early trades.) I have also begun to sweep. I am sorting, giving things away (even books and art), recycling on a larger scale than that of basic weekly maintenance. I am trying to manage time such that my studio has adequate attention, which, of course, is where my most needed food is stored. Showing up, moving my hands, being in the still point of the endless present, the turning world, there is truly where my dance is.

It is difficult to dance when one’s brain is compartmentalized into too many sections. (Much more possible to write in that state, I have found.) Are 150 compartments too many? This year I will slowly reread Eliot’s Four QuartetsI will let him guide me back to the place I once knew so intimately, immediately, daily. Each changing year has been modified according to circumstances. In this one I will remember the girl and her diary. I vow to use future days well and to make 2016 matter differently than other years have. I vow to release that which no longer needs saving, creating space for something else to enter. I want to savor this January, look out from it as if it could stretch through to a horizon full of possibilities, clean, new and hopeful.

©2016 Janet Maher

All Rights Reserved

Thank You to the Baltimore Print Fair

©2015 Janet Maher, As Yet Untitled Collage Series, in progress, not glued in this shot
©2015 Janet Maher, As Yet Untitled Collage Series, in progress, not glued in this shot

“Most people don’t know there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable & fall asleep & miss your life.” – Brian Andreas

When I made my first major art purchase I was able to pay for it in installments over many months. At the time I was living paycheck to paycheck and was the “breadwinner” (such as it was) in a relationship. Something in me believed that one day down the road I would live in a house where I could have this large lithograph on permanent display. I had a frame made by the local person who made some of my own frames, and I archivally matted Dan Rizzie’s print. It was one of the possessions that traveled with me across the country when I started another chapter of my life, and it has lived with me for more than twenty years.

I have a large collection of art, much of it acquired through trades since undergraduate years with other artists, but increasingly more through outright purchase. There have been some impulsive regrets that I may someday donate to something or other, but in general it is safe to say that mine is a better than average collection. Preferring to live among others’ works, my own art is mostly in my studio. This past year, however, I began to bring some recent pieces into the home mix, testing their hold on me/us. Do I like them as much as those by others that continue to claim places of honor on certain walls in certain rooms? All these choices represent enthusiasms and relationships over a lifetime of making. There is something comforting about being surrounded by my friends and memories in this way. Every work has a story and a person attached to it, beyond the fact of its existence in its own right.

This weekend I made my third most expensive art purchase. It was something that had to happen. When I saw the new series of collage monoprints that Robert Kushner produced at Wingate Studio, I lost my breath. There was barely a moment between “Oh, my God!” when I saw the first one, to “I need to buy this.” I excitedly looked at all six that were available, easily coming back to the first one I saw – and that my husband agreed was the best of the group – now temporarily protected in a foam core folder at the foot of our bed where it will eventually hang on the wall archivally matted and framed. (Ours is not depicted online.)

The event of becoming an owner of a Robert Kushner during the Friday night opening of this year’s biannual Baltimore Print Fair at the BMA, was followed by something even better. The next day in my studio I produced NINE new collages and by the day after had glued three of them in place! This included several steps similar to Kushner’s as well as running them through an etching press and setting them to dry slowly under light weight. Though inspired by him, mine look like the kind of collage and mixed media work that I do. They do not have anything printed on them (like his do), but some may end up with a touch of pencil — maybe. I’ll see if any need that when they all get up on my studio wall.

The school week has begun again, and thus my 10+ hour days at and/or for my job. The Print Fair weekend already seems like a month ago, my mind having shifted back over into another space-time continuum. In the wings I know that some part of me has the anticipation of gluing up six more pieces, the process having already safely begun. The act of finishing is doable when there is no open-ended time available for brand new creation.

Inspiration comes to me from within my own studio. All I need to do is show up. It is my desert island where I could likely exist for years. (It will take years to work my way through the piles of source material/starts I’ve generated and left percolating there.) It is rare, however, that inspiration occurs through seeing most artwork anymore. Perhaps I simply see too much student or derivative work. Or maybe I don’t get out enough or far enough away from my increasingly narrow physical radius. This year the Baltimore Print Fair seemed to have come to town particularly for me. It fed me in a way I have not been fed in a very long time, and I intend to use its memory as a touchstone for as long as it can last.

Gratitude to the BMA, Kusher, Rizzie (who also had some beautiful new prints there) and to the work of several other artists who made me stop and take notice of them, inhaling deeply and holding them in. I felt a bit like Rip Van Winkle coming out of a long sleep. Now continues the life-long process of trying to remain awake.

©2015 Janet Maher

All Rights Reserved

Here, Now, Beginning

Journey. Pt. I ©2014 Janet Maher
Journey. Pt. II ©2014 Janet Maher

Invisible and visible, the world does not exist without both. – Rumi

I recently had two back-to-back solo exhibitions, the second of which I called “Trusting the Process.” This is by now a well-worn phrase that I chose with a tip of the hat to Shaun McNiff, whose 1998 book has long been part of my studio library in the group of “books I think every artist should read.” Until this moment I didn’t realize how many other books McNiff has written, including a new one, released last year – Art As Research – which I’ve added now to my list of must-reads. Perhaps I already live what his book blurb describes.

Every bit of my world seems to revolve around process. It is the means by which I usually juggle too many things at once, all needing the same amounts of attention and dedication. By fully engaging one, I invariably neglect the others, back and forth, over, under, sideways, down. Process is also 90% of practically every creative project and work of art that I produce. Resting, another necessary process, also gets its share of neglect.

Artists and writers, makers of all kinds know about process. It is where the best part of anything resides, the real stuff of the matter. It’s why I always feel that my art exhibits are residue, frozen moments arranged neatly in a logical visual narrative. They were never that way until all the elements came into that particular space at a given time. I find that part of the process to be strange, yet it is how things are done. Something very important for me is over once the work hangs in a room for a month or so waiting for people to come and see it. An intangible trajectory had evolved in me while I worked to reach each result, notwithstanding the moments of bliss that also occurred when I experienced the feeling of becoming empty while the work seemed to make itself without my effort. Lewis Hyde wrote so well about this aspect of the creative process in his book, The Gift, which has also lived on my studio shelf for more than two decades.

A simultaneous transformation occurs when one attempts to form something beautiful, that others will desire, from worthless scraps, snippets of personal meaning or a blank support. Nurturing, responding, wholly communicating with the materials over stolen hours ensues as is possible until something resolves in both the work and in the maker. The process and the transformations are entirely hidden from the viewers at the exhibition, even as we might attempt to express them in a gallery talk.

Between August and November this year six works of mine sold, and I am thankful for the people who now live with them. Having made my work theirs, the works have come back to life. They now have a larger reason for being. This time after taking the show back to my studio I had the urge to bring some into our home. I would have admired certain pieces if they had been in someone else’s exhibition, and perhaps would have wanted to add them to the collection of mostly other people’s art that surrounds us daily. Why these works, why not leave them in the studio, are questions I will need to ponder more about. Within days of bringing them home, however, I entered them into a competitive show somewhere else. (Maybe they will get in and leave me completely, as the other works have.)

It is almost the end of another year, and here I am beginning a new blog, instead of apologizing on my other one about having to drop the series of essays I had started there in the summer. My hugely productive sabbatical was coming to an end and deadlines for my new book loomed on the horizon. I will instead point from that one, tied to a particular kind of topic, to this one, which I hope will allow all of my many engagements to co-exist, as they somehow manage to do in life. Irish research, current explorations in encaustic and assemblage, the tending of bees, worry about the Monarch butterflies, the art and soul of gardening, meditation and inspirations from so many disparate sources may all find their place here, as writing helps me find my voice through considering each of them.

Everything matters. Everything is process. There will be time for everything, somehow, until the last breath. If not, who knows? Our souls may get to keep all we have learned along the way and build that work further within another persona, getting done what we couldn’t in a single lifetime, given the circumstances that were put in play for us at our births. Like Henry Miller I feel that, “Someday I will die, and all the [projects] I dreamed of…will die with me. Therefore, what…must I complete to die satisfied?” Moreover, what must be addressed, in a way that only I can, given the knowledge and experience I bring to the topic? What will not happen, what will be lost unless I step in and take the topic on? At the moment that is a book which will wrap up a project that has engaged me for several years—now with only a few weeks left to finish it.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for all the people who have been and are part of my process. I will attempt to write as regularly as I can in a way that allows accountability to my projects and may be interesting to others. With this first post I send good wishes to the virtual world and welcome subscribers and comments.

©2014 Janet Maher

All Rights Reserved