Changes

Note: Just as I was putting on the finishing touches of this blog last night, I learned that David Bowie passed after an 18-month battle with cancer. I had no idea he was ill. He just turned 69 on January 8. Very sad news. This blogpost is dedicated to David Bowie, and is titled "Changes" after one of the songs that defined his career. RIP David. Ground control to Major Tom. May God's Love be with you.

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I notice as I begin my first blog post of 2016 that I am remembering the pressure to produce a daily painting. Then, I relax and say to myself "this isn't the daily painting. I don't have to finish anything before the dawn of the next day. All I have to do is to write and to share a little of what is going on in my world."  

So, here it goes!

In the past week, I attended two amazing shows of art: Intimate Impressionism at the Seattle Art Museum and Counter Culture at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Both shows closed today, January 10.

Intimate Impressionism featured almost 70 paintings on loan from the National Gallery in Washington, DC and is considered to be one of the finest collections of French Impressionist and Post Impressionist art in the world. Counter Culture celebrates the handmade fashion and style of the 1960s and 70s and was presented in various formats: Funk & Flash, Couture, Performance, Transcendence.

On first take, it would appear that both shows are about as far apart on the artistic spectrum as possible. What possibly can they have in common?

In both shows, I spent several hours sketching the artwork in the exhibits. For me, sketching is a way to take in the information so I can really "see" and "experience" the work. It makes me think about the work and the intention of the artist. I helps me better understand the context and times that the artwork was created.

Pencil Sketch of Alfred Sisley's, Boulevard Heloise, Argenteuil. 1872.

Claude Monet as painted by August Renoir in 1872.

I saw a gentleman (on the right) in the Impressionist galleries at SAM that reminded me of a French Impressionist painter. He reminded me in real life of the Manet painting above. I painted this quick oil sketch from drawings I made. Oil on canvas paper. 8.5x11". ML.

After leaving Counter Culture this afternoon, I realized that, in fact, the two exhibits have something very unique in common: Both art movements sought to discard the conventions of the past and both movements created an artistic statement that shaped the future.

In the 1860s, the French Impressionists sought to abandon the tradition imposed on painters of the day by l'Académie des Beaux-Arts. The Académie preferred carefully finished images and realism of historical or mythological subjects. The Impressionists broke that mold by refuting the Académie, painting everyday life, painting outdoors, with a palette that was vibrant and with brushstrokes that were choppy and broken. The Impressionists were condemned and rejected and ridiculed by the Académie. It would not take long before Impressionism would be critically acclaimed about 20 years later and endure as a major movement of art that birthed modern art and countless styles and schools within the genre.

Fast forward one hundred years to the 1960s. The Peace movement in the United States brought about by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggles for equality also engendered a rejection of the political and materialistic, social, racial, and sexual conventions of the day. Youth, artists, musicians, spiritual seekers of the 1960s embraced the tumultuous times to make their statement against the war and of social constrictions through music and tie-dyed and embroidered fashion and through a willingness to use mind altering substances to explore the boundaries of reality and the infinite dimensions of spirituality. "Counter Culture" takes one back to the era when Woodstock rocked the world with its message of love and sexual liberation through exhibits of garments, jewelry, and accessories of American makers who "crafted the very reality that they craved, on the margin of society and yet at the center of epochal change" as explained in the show notes.

Pencil Sketch. Birgitte Bjerke.  Wedding dress.

Pencil Sketch. Birgitte Bjerke. Wedding dress.

Birgitte Bjerke, wedding dress, wool macrame. 1970s.

Birgitte Bjerke, wedding dress, wool macrame. 1970s.

Through shirking the social and political conventions of their respective eras, the French Impressionist/Post-Impressionist Era and the Hippies of the 1960s and 70s in the US introduced new ways of experiencing and interpreting the world: the Impressionists by painting what they saw in everyday life with a focus on intense color combinations and the "impression" of the present moment-a movement that opened up the world of art. The "hippies", the counter culture, did this by shaping their world of peace and love that refuted the violent war-torn times through self-inquiry, self-expression, and enlightenment expressed through their psychedelic/rock/folk music, through fashion, and through breaking social/gender/sexual structures.

It seems to me that we currently live in equally interesting times of upheaval and creativity on many levels. How do we want to ride this wave? What do we let go of that is no longer serving us? What can we create from these times that is positively transformative, individually as well as collectively? What gives? What changes?

These questions may be big. But actually, it is in taking each day as a gift that maybe some of the answers lie there during these times of change.

If you have an extra moment, this little video inspires and is an uplifting way to approach these questions. 

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"I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
And every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test.

Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time."

--David Bowie