Artist Date 6 Visit an Art Museum

 

Meditate on Some Art

Here’s Artist Date Idea #6

I love having a world-class art museum in our small city. Without the Holter Museum of Art, there would be a huge hole in the community. Whenever I can, I make a point of visiting, or drop by for a few minutes on my way to work. It’s the perfect artist date by yourself.

Openings of art exhibits are great fun, but sometimes I do more socializing at an opening and less focused deep-looking. When I’m alone at the museum I take the time to really see the art, meditate on just a few pieces. I’m glad the Holter’s exhibits have long runs, because when it’s art that really intrigues me, I go back again and again. And I see something different every time I go.

So, for this week’s artist date, check out your local art museum. Plan to have at least an hour or two so you can really spend some time looking deeply. 

  • If you live in or near Helena, and haven’t spent my time at the Holter, you are missing something huge! Go there.
  • If you live elsewhere,go to your local art museum. If your town doesn’t have an art museum, perhaps you can plan a trip somewhere close by that does. Or go to an art gallery.
  • Instead of just walking through the exhibits, on your artist date, try sitting and contemplating one piece for a longer period of time. If there isn’t a bench, sit on the floor.
  • Check out the other parts of the museum the public doesn’t normally see. Ask if you can see the permanent collection. Introduce yourself to the curators, find out what’s coming up, sign up for a class or a tour. Make the best of your community’s art museum. They are there to be a resource. As artists and creatives, an art museum is like a home away from home/studio.
Holter Museum of Art Corvid Exhibit

Kids learning about corvids and sketching, during the Larry Blackwood exhibit at the Holter in 2014

 

Artist Date 5: Sound Painting

Play like a child, but be nice to the piano!

Play like a child, but be nice to the piano!

Here’s Artist Date Idea #5

Play a Piano — or make your own percussion/sound instrument. If this is something you do all the time — mix it up a bit and try playing the piano like Wassily Kandinsky painted (see links below.)

Just make gorgeous, fun, free-form, play-what-you-want Sound! If you don’t have a piano, ask if you can play one in a local church or at a friend’s house when no one’s around.

If you can’t find a piano, line up a bunch of containers on your kitchen counter, fill them with different amounts of water, grab some utensils and make percussive musical sound by tapping away on the containers. Get your BEAT on!

  • A piano is a percussion instrument. Let go of the idea of piano and create your own!
  • Play by yourself, with your ears and your heart as your only audience.
  • Let go of perfection.
  • Be nice to the piano.
  • Stroke the keys. Tap with abandon (cuz no one but YOU is listening) …
  • Make a Sound Painting. You don’t need paints or brushes or canvas to do this! Feel the sounds you make as if they were shapes and colors and smells and wind or breeze or snow or rain or sunlight. Wassily Kandinsky saw colors and forms when he listened to music. He had an unusual but pretty cool “hidden sense” called synesthesia. Make that happen inside you.
  • Don’t worry about the product. Sound is ephemeral anyway.
  • Just Play! Have fun. Be inspired. 
photo 1

The artist, Kandinsky, saw colors and shapes when he heard music/sound. Some people with synesthesia taste colors, hear numbers, smell sounds …

Here are some more of Kandinsky’s wonderful abstract paintings for your inspiration:

Visual Poetry … Words Conjure More than Meaning

Maureen Shaughnessy 1987 Artist

That moment when you are trying to explain all the swimming thoughts and notions that go into a piece or series and you realize that you can’t get it all out and you crack up at yourself.

My post for today is about two things I think are related. Poetry — visual poetry. And how I feel about aging. I originally published this post on April 12, 2007 and the photos are from an exhibit in 1987 in Helena, Montana at the Third Eye Gallery.

 

Trying to look like one of the calligraphic stick-sculptures in this installation"Fragments of An Ancient Poetry"

Trying to look like one of the calligraphic stick-sculptures in this installation”Fragments of An Ancient Poetry”

 

I used to be part of a weekly online poetry group and originally wrote this post for the writing prompt, The Body Knows.

Fragments of an Ancient Poetry

Imagine a word such as moon. When you say moon, your lips curve. The word itself has curves. It conjures: round and old, and traveling on a long, slow-sounding journey. It’s interesting to me, that along with the sound of a word, the visual aspect of the word affects its meaning.

As a sculptor, I’m fascinated by the shapes of language and as a writer I’m drawn to the meaning of shapes. This is a natural merging of two of my primary interests.

Fragments of an Ancient Poetry is a three-dimensional page of my sketchbook-journal, revealing the increasingly refined and complex strokes of a thought process, or poetic idea.  ~ excerpted from my Artist’s Statement for Fragments of an Ancient Poetry.

 

art installation by Maureen Shaughnessy

Installation piece by Maureen Shaughnessy titled “Sometimes Breathing Feels Like Dancing.” Handmade paper cast on willow branches.

I completed the majority of the pieces in this exhibit (along with some working studies, sketches and paintings also exhibited) while attending a paper-making intensive at the Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta, Canada.

The other major piece in the exhibit is titled Sometimes Breathing Feels like Dancing. There were 10 large figures comprising a series of yoga/dance poses. I made the figures with handmade paper and willow branches, and had access to a live model (a dancer) at the Banff Center while I was doing my studies for the sculpture.

 

Installation art by Maureen Shaughnessy, 1987

Looking at the photos of this exhibit almost 30 years later, I realize I have always been so supported by my friends in Helena.

Now for some thoughts on aging and how that is related to these sculptures …

 

"Day Dream Night Being" Maureen in 2006/2007

“Day Dream Night Being” Maureen in 2006/2007

2007 (when this post was first published):  

  • I’m 20 years older now. Maybe 20 years wiser, though that’s arguable. As I revisit my artist’s statements and photographs of my work from that period of my life, I realize I have a different perspective now. I hope it’s a broader perspective. I still love these pieces and wish we lived in a house with walls large enough to display them. I definitely feel differently about my body these days. And I know my heart and head are different.
  • I look at the figures in Sometimes Breathing Feels like Dancing. I see my youthful body bent gracefully, supplely, just like the willow branches I used to form the dance. My life has taken some twists and turns … in many ways I am still dancing with life. And death. With joy. And sorrow. And grief. Feeling the grace along with twinges of pain, love, longing … feeling bent, slightly dried out, though still beautiful.
  • Will I ever truly know the steps of this dance? Enough to look ahead, to feel confident that I will not trip over my own feet? That I will be able to glide over the dance floor without regret, with my heart open to the music, to the senses, to the love of the one whose body sways in rhythm with mine?
  • Looking back on the experiences that have brought me to this threshold, I would also say, that “Sometimes Dancing Feels like Breathing.” ~Maureen Shaughnessy, April 2007
My mom and me in 2014

My mom and me in 2014

My thoughts in 2015, 8 more years later:  

  • I’m 60 now. I am happy to be this age. My body, my face, my hair all look very different. I have gained weight, have wrinkles (duhhhh) and my hair is really short, silvery (and cute.)  My body is shorter too — almost 2 inches shorter. Geez!
  • And… I am still beautiful. Sometimes I hate looking in the mirror. Sometimes I love the way I look. Sometimes I feel bent and do not feel the grace. Other times I just do a happy dance. I revel in stretching my muscles on a walk or hike. I have less sorrow. Less heart-pain. More joy. Lots more joy.
  • I think I am wiser. World-smart. More engaged with others, though content to spend long hours alone.
  • My heart is full with the love of my partner, Tim, our 5 children and 5 grandchildren and all of my siblings and mom.
  • I have lost some people who are important to me. I have gained new friends. Really good friends.
  • When I had that solo exhibit at the age of 33, I did not know I would become a full time artist. Or that I would own a gallery with my husband whom I had not yet met… I had no idea of the trajectory my life would take. The ups and downs.
  • I am grateful for every single moment I have had and every feeling, joy and loss, every person whose path I have crossed.

Sometimes Breathing Feels Like Dancing. Sometimes Dancing Feels Like Breathing. These days, in gratitude, I Feel Like Dancing and Breathing. Namaste´

SoloExhibit1987IRArticle

1987 Independent Record Article about the mixed media sculptures exhibited in 1987 at the Third Eye Gallery in Helena, Montana

All of the black and white photos were taken by my dear friend, Robin Leenhouts. She is a wonderful artist and art teacher, now living in Milwaukee.

Artist Date Idea 3

1

Here’s Artist Date Idea #3

One of the best places to hang out in Helena, Montana is the Archie Bray Foundation. I love it so much it’s the place I recommend to visitors most often. In the winter, the snow adds a layer of interest to the hundreds of ceramic art pieces placed around the Bray grounds by resident artists.

  • If you live in or near Helena — this artist date simply must be at the Archie Bray.
  • If you live elsewhere, look for a place similar to our Bray — preferably outdoors. A sculpture garden? And art school or facility that has resident artists working in their studios? A ceramic arts guild or artist cooperative studio building … somewhere you will be free to explore and feast your eyes on art and artist’s studios.
  • Bring your camera or sketchbook to take visual notes for later inspiration.
  • Or just let the beauty and power of contemporary art soak into your soul.
  • Talk to the artists you meet there if they are open to being interrupted.
  • Check out the bulletin board wherever you go, to see what’s happening in the community.

Artist Date Idea 2

ArtistDate2-Cemetery

Here’s Artist Date Idea #2

  • Spend a couple of hours in a cemetery in your community.
  • Take a camera or sketchbook.
  • Pay attention to the details: memorials, carvings, names, families, cultures, and the landscaping.
  • It’s not a morbid activity. Hanging out in (especially) a historic cemetery, can actually be lovely and peaceful.

Gesture Drawing with Clay

"The Vast Chasm Of Indifference Melted Before He Could Change His Mind" Ceramic Sculpture by Trudy Skari

“The Vast Chasm Of Indifference Melted Before He Could Change His Mind” Ceramic Sculpture by Trudy Skari

I want to introduce a friend of mine, a sister artist and one of the artists represented by my contemporary fine art gallery, 1+1=1 Gallery.

Trudy Skari is seriously cool

Trudy works intuitively, quickly, and with her whole body, heart and spirit. Her ceramic sculptures seem to come from some other-world, a dream world, a world of childhood memories or a place in nature that lives inside her. Having studied psychology, philosophy, then depth psychology and world religions, Trudy is greatly influenced by mythology and Creation stories from around the world. Her other influences are Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and the open prairies of Montana.

"What a Flower Knows" by Trudy Skari

“What a Flower Knows” by Trudy Skari

Like someone who does gestural life-drawings from a model moving through quick poses, Trudy uses scraps and bits of clay to sculpt an implication of a flower … or the essence of a rabbit, bear, fox or dog.

"Serena Finally Gets It" by Trudy Skari

“Serena Finally Gets It” by Trudy Skari

She constantly learns new ceramic techniques and experiments to push herself and her art beyond the obvious. I love her work! I love having it in our gallery and looking at it — deeply — every day.

Each time I look at Trudy’s sculpture of the goddess, “Pele´ Eats a Fish,” I see some other aspect of the feminine, some other level of meaning. Trudy told me she was thinking of titling the piece “On Her Day Off Pele´ Eats Sushi.” This makes me think of how we all have different aspects of ourselves co-existing inside of us: masculine and feminine; adult and child; light and dark; serious and funny; out-there and in-here …

Detail of "Pele´Eats A Fish" by Trudy Skari

Detail: “Pele´Eats a Fish” by Trudy Skari

Wouldn’t a god or goddess also have co-existing personality aspects? Wouldn’t Pele´– goddess of volcanoes and all things explosive, also have a softer side when she’s taking the day off? And wouldn’t a softness also have a bit of harsh-reality tossed in for balance? So … on her day off, maybe Pele´ wears curlers in her hair, cooks (the spatula) and dives deep into her ocean world to catch and eats fish.  She even looks fish-like. And so beautiful in an earthy, watery way.

"Pele´Eats A Fish" by Trudy Skari

“Pele´Eats A Fish” by Trudy Skari

 

Detail, Polar Bear by Trudy Skari

Detail, Polar Bear by Trudy Skari

Polar Bear by Trudy Skari

Polar Bear by Trudy Skari

Trudy Skari, Artist Statement:

I find that the objects I make are sometimes part of an unspoken narrative. Rather, they reside under or beside the formulated word or thought. At times the piece goes dallying around in some poetic realm and finishes sentences I was not aware I had uttered. The realm of image is forged in a different light than the realm of word. Like the visible spectrum the imaginal realm has a range that is just outside of the awareness to human senses but wide open to human insight, consciousness and our desire for making meaning.

Animals so are present in our understanding of how we navigate the environment, they protect us from our rigidity and ground us in our mammalian firmament. They are however always other, even if we anthropomorphize them to aid in our understanding. My attempt is to create an animal-ness that functions on a level of knowing and not knowing at the same time. It all works best when a balance is found between the gesture and the intent.

Trudy is represented in Helena, Montana by 1+1=1 Gallery. Her ceramic sculptures will be available for viewing during regular business hours at the gallery located at 434 N. Last Chance Gulch. Please call 406.431.9931 for more information about Trudy’s work.

More of Trudy’s artwork available at 1+!=1 Gallery. If you are interested in any of her pieces, call or email maureenshaughnessy@gmail.com

Ecology of the Unconscious

In The Tongass Forest, the Trees are Made of Salmon

Detail of “In The Tongass Forest, the Trees are Made of Salmon” by Maureen Shaughnessy

Introduction:

According to Haida cosmology, Raven called the ancient rain forest into being. The Haida and other indigenous peoples who depended on the resources of the forest and ocean, knew that without the forests, the plentiful salmon would not exist. They understood, because of their close relationship with Nature, the co-dependence of salmon and forest.

Mixed Media on Cradled Wood Panel

“Stream Keeper” by Maureen Shaughnessy

The Story of the Salmon Forest:

We know that forests keep the rivers and salmon populations healthy by cooling the waters and preventing siltation of the gravel beds where salmon spawn. But what about the other way around? Do the forests need the salmon? About 20 years ago, a team of scientists from UBC in Vancouver set about to check this hypothesis.

Studying the Ecology of the Salmon and The Forests:

The team of scientists studied the Tongass Forest in Alaska. With core samples of some of the oldest trees, the team correlated trees’ growth rates over hundreds of years with salmon run. Wide rings matched years the salmon were more plentiful. They also discovered the trees’ tissue contained Nitrogen-15, the rarer of two nitrogen isotopes. All of life has Nitrogen-14 in it. Nitrogen-15 however, comes from the oceans and is rare on land.

"School of Nitrogen-15"

“School of Nitrogen-15” by Maureen Shaughnessy

Nitrogen 15 is normally found in the Oceans:

How did N15 get into the trees so far from the ocean? The salmon brought it! How cool is that? The roots of the forest extend far into the Pacific Ocean.

Salmon are born inland, where they grow to fingerling size then migrate downstream to the ocean. They live most of their lives in the ocean, accumulating body mass (and N15) the whole time. Then, they head back up the original river/stream they came from, to spawn and die. The cycle begins again.

Guess Who Helps Spread N-15 Around?

The plentiful salmon are a rich food source for many animals, especially the bears and eagles. Bears in particular, like to take their huge salmon catch uphill where they can eat it without having to fend off other bears. They eat the guts and heads of the salmon, leaving most of the carcass on the ground. The carcasses are consumed by scavengers, insects, worms, bacteria and fungi. So, a kind of magic is happening here:  the salmon carcasses become part of the forest, of the trees and animals, understory plants. The Trees are Made of Salmon!

mixed media painting on wood panel

“Can’t See the Forest for the Fish” by Maureen Shaughnessy

I originally heard the salmon-forest story from my sister, an artist in Vancouver BC. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Salmon began appearing in my dreams. I started this body of work inspired by the story, and by the ways my unconscious transformed it into something meaningful in my own life.

What does the Salmon Forest have to do with the exhibit title, “Ecology of the Unconscious?”

Hmmm …

What is the Unconscious?

Our unconscious is the aspects of ourselves hidden to our conscious. Once we become aware of those aspects, we bring them into everyday life through our behavior, our responses to things around us … and they are no longer hidden.

And Ecology?

Ecology can be simply defined as the relationships between organisms and their environment.  I set out with some pretty big questions, hoping to find answers. I am pretty sure I found more questions and not many answers. That’s okay with me though. Mystery is good. Wonder is a good thing.

So, how do Ecology and Unconscious Fit Together?

  • What is our relationship with the aspects of ourselves that are normally unconscious? How do we become aware of those parts of ourselves … and how do we manifest the hidden gems in our everyday lives? How are our inner aspects reflected in our relationships with Nature and with everything around us?
  • In Jungian psychology, water signifies the unconscious. So, rivers, rain, fog, the ocean … these are all different aspects of my unconscious self. Fish fly through the water. Birds swim through the air. These are messengers for me. Water links life and land together in an ecosystem. Water/Fish/Birds link my dream life to my waking life and help me understand both.

Humor Helps Us Understand and Go Deeper:

You will find my sense of humor in many of the pieces of this exhibit. I believe that if we approach our unconscious (our dreams) with a healthy sense of humor, it easier to understand. Visual puns are one of my favorite ways to convey an idea. And there are always more levels of meaning in any of my pieces, than what you see at first look.

mixed media on wood panel

“Lucky Chinese Fortune Teller Fish” by Maureen Shaughnessy

mixed media painting on wood panel

“King Salmon” by Maureen Shaughnessy

mixed media on wood panel

“Night School” by Maureen Shaughnessy

mixed media on wood panel

“We Can’t ALL Jump Ship”

mixed media on wood panel

“What Do You Need?” by Maureen Shaughnessy

Mixed Media on Wood Panel

“Body Ecology” by Maureen Shaughnessy

Here are some details of the pieces in the exhibit plus a few more I didn’t feature above. In all, the exhibit included 21 pieces in this body of work. Thanks for looking! I would love to hear what you think. Comments are much appreciated! <3

Pain, Patience and the Patient/Physician Relationship

hands in lap

On Labor Day, 2014 I began a new documentary-style photo essay in collaboration with Dr. Mark Ibsen who owns Urgent Care Plus in Helena, Montana. We are telling a story with photos of his patients, of Mark and of his staff. We aren’t sure what the story will be yet — that will come when we see what the photos are telling us. For now, I am going to be spending time at the clinic and with permission from the patients themselves, documenting their time with this passionate, compassionate healer.

Watch my blog and my Brown Bird Studio Facebook page for progress on the photo essay, and for announcements of an exhibit which we hope to have sometime in the next few months.

Hands can tell so many stories just by themselves. Like eyes, hands are expressions of our history, our struggles and triumphs, our pain, sorrow and celebrations. Hands instruct. They argue. They heal, comfort and can hurt. Here are a few images from this week, from the first batch of photos that really pulled at my heart. I am curious what you think and feel when you see these images.

Hands 3 Hands 2 Hands 1 Hands 5 Hands 4

Thank you for looking and appreciating. I look forward to some dialogue about this project as we continue.

~ Maureen