In late November, I attended a two day workshop on abstract figurative oil painting given by Ursula O'Farrell. Ursula taught us (a group of twelve artists) about working with a premixed palette, which greatly facilitated one's ability to paint quickly from 5 and 15 minute poses! The workshop was so intense, I was literally dripping in sweat by the end of the day (like the guy in "Broadcast News"!). We were definitely in a state of flow, looking up and wondering where the hours went at the end of the day. There was such good energy and creative leaps that several of us want to continue painting together!
I just got the pictures from the Pasadena Pops in July with my sister, Kim Hillis, my daughter, Kimberly, and my dear friend, Christopher Coffin. Christopher is owner of Christopher Coffin Design (http: //www.christophercoffindesign.com) . He is also an art consultant and was the first person to recognize my painting: "Thinking Woman", which is now in a collection in Pasadena. I believe this recognition by Christopher was the catalyst for my decision to exhibit my work. We had a lovely night at "In the Heat of the Night" by the POPS. I especially enjoyed the powerful voice of Nmon Ford (opera trained), piano performance by Daniel Lessner, and the poet raconteurs/balladeers Steve Connell and Sekou Andrews (the Misfit). At the end of the evening, Kimberly and I gave Christopher and Kim each a mermaid/merman art doll I designed and signed.
These are pictures from"Stars" at the MAH. I rode up from Aptos with the amazing painter and my dear friend, Ursula O'Farrell and her husband, Mike. We talked to Peter Orr (President of the Board, MAH) and Paul Figueroa (Director of MAH), who both produced a lovely event.
I ran into a collector of my work , Anne Hayden, and met her husband, Frank. I heard the great story of how they met while skiing, and that they share the same last name from birth!
There were hundreds of people there. Lots of food, wine, music, and great art. Ursula's painting was in the live auction and generated much excitement. It was a lovely night.
A sweet moment: unbidden, a lovely woman walked up and said: "I saw you from behind, and I love your gown" (the gown is compliments of Jen Berry). Thanks, Jen!
I almost didn't go. I knew I had only an hour and a half to paint. It's an hour drive. I told myself: just go , even if only to say "hi" to Brigitte and Marian and Kathyrn. Just go; commune with nature. I went. I was alone for most of the hour and a half. It was heaven. It was total peacefulness. All my friends showed up around 11am, as I was readying to leave.
What did I learn? I'd rather show up and risk disappointment or even "failure" than regret not going for it. In death/dying circles, the message is clear: we tend to regret more the things left unsaid, undone, and that never happened much more than the things done that were "mistakes".
The great improvisational jazz musician Miles Davis said: "there are no mistakes".
I just had an interview in my office with Angela Castellano, a Stanford student, for her project on art and medicine. She said it's like NPR's "Story Core". Angela is interested in the intersection of medicine and the arts. She heard my story in Larry Zaroff's "Women in Medicine" class at Stanford in October. Larry asks me, as well as Amy Kendrick, MD (AIDS specialist) and Wei Zhou, MD (Assoc. Professor, Vascular Surgery at Stanford) to be on a yearly panel to discuss our lives/experiences in medical school, residency, and in life as doctors.
I'll post the recording or transcript when she gets it to me. She has the raw material now and is working on polishing/editing for the final program.
I'm rereading Robert Henri's "The Art Spirit" for the fifth time. I love this book. It reminds me to breathe, to feel, and to express the joy I feel. Henri says the brush leaves a trace of the state of mind of the artist at the moment of contact with the canvas. Aren't we constantly leaving traces of our thoughts and consciousness? Interestingly, the Reggio Emilia educators in Italy (who have shown the world the amazing artwork young children can create) talk about documenting the traces of children's thoughts and ideas to bring visibility to them and to honor their importance. The traces are available, then, to be seen and revisited and built upon. Isn't this creativity?
I had a lovely day today. So many wonderful people visited my studio, including many artists. My friend, and fabulous artist Ursula O'Farrell and her husband, Mike O'Farrell came by. What an inspiration Ursula is to me! I love her work and she is so supportive and encouraging of my work. She is a catalyst for going deeper, pushing further, and taking risks.
A lovely and enchanting artist I met the first weekend, Christianna Hunnicutt, came back and brought an entourage of students and colleagues with her. I had a delightful discussion with these women and was so honored that Christianna came back!
I am increasingly inspired and catalyzed by meeting so many wonderful people at these Open Studios! I think this will further fuel my painting and collage work.
Well, I'm preparing for Open Studios tomorrow and Sunday. I just finished a painting of a girl on a horse, in oil,yesterday. It's quite wet. Can I place it in a frame for the exhibition? I did another painting of a girl and a dog which started out very experimental. I was investigating using the brush more like the Russian painters do, holding the very tip, loading the brush with paint, and using a very fluid, rhythmic movement to mass in the big shapes (Jim Smythe told me about this). I liked the feeling of this, though it felt awkward, at first.
I had a studio visit today from a wonderful artist, Hilary Scardino. Hilary works in watermedia, pastel, and charcoal, as well as mixed media. I visited her studio last weekend and loved and was very moved by her work. Some of it is quite abstract. I seem to love everything she does. She really puts herself into the work and is very experimental. Some of her work is sculptural (nails on board with geometric designs). Our visit was inspiring to me. It's so great to meet a kindred soul.
I just finished the first weekend of Open Studios. I had a great weekend. On Saturday, there were intermittent showers and gigantic, dramatic cumulus clouds. The day started slowly, then crescendoed by late afternoon. Lots of people came by on Sunday. I met so many lovely people and saw old friends, too. A collector from Silicon Valley came over and purchased one of my favorite collages: "One Step After". Four or five people have their eyes on their favorite paintings. Many artists and psychotherapists visited, as well. Paul Figueroa (the executive director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz) came by to help me choose a work to donate to the museum's benefit auction "Stars" which is December 6, 2008. He was lovely and kind and brought with him three lovely people who are involved with the museum, as well. Right upon their heels, came a beautiful and wonderful artist, Suzanne McCourt, whom I had met in the spring and who gave me a solo exhibition at her Surf City Coffee house in May. All in all, I had a fantastic weekend.
It's finished! I changed the ghostlike, light papyrus to a warmer, rust paper. I altered the top of the hat, using the Mexican bark paper and I threaded black and gold throughout the composition to unify it.
Much has been written about the issue of when a work of art is "finished". Is it ever really finished? There are stories of great masters going into museums with brush and paint, because something about the painting bothered them; they wanted to change the painting after they had looked at it or thought about it over time! Some say there is no finish, only interesting stopping points.
I've got the background laid down and I'm weaving black through the picture. I'm not sure about the man's face, though. The papyrus is a bit light, making him look rather ghostlike. I like how the threads of the papyrus come out at the mouth (an accident...or was it? Carl Jung might call this synchronicity or a calling from the deep unconscious or "imago ignota" (unknown image: all the antecendets we are born with that are not/cannot be articulated verbally). Anyway, it happened spontaneously, and made me think of a "horse whisperer".
Well, I decided to remove the burlap and use the marbled Mexican bark paper instead, which I feel is more interesting in terms of visual variety, a sort of counterpoint to the darker face. I've also laid down background papers. We'll see where this goes.
I've added the cowboy hat and I'm looking at potential papers for the background. I'm not sure I'll stay with the burlap for the horses' neck; perhaps I'll use a lighter value, Mexican bark paper I have on hand to differentiate it more from the horses' face (for greater variety)? These are the kinds of questions I ask myself as the collage progresses.
I'm adding darks to the collage now. I'll be threading the black through the compostion, for unity and connection. I haven't adhered any papers to the support canvas yet. I'm still playing with ideas of how I want the collage to look. This part of the process is quite subjective and intuitive, yet there is an underlying awareness of design principles upon which I am playing.
I started a new collage for my "Relationship" collage series. The concept is that of a horse whisperer connecting with a horse. I've observed a few amazingly sensitive individuals who have this gift. The horse senses she can trust this human with her life, and thus a deep bond is formed. Much like children, horses know which humans are compassionate and which ones they can rely upon.
I began with an image in my mind of a horse and a man eye to eye. I roughly sketched this image onto the canvas, using a graphite pencil. I used a 24" x 30" canvas support, adhering handmade and machine-made papers (Egyptian papyrus, Mexican bark papers, mulberry paper, silk tissue, etc) with artist's tape, to explore the image and the dark/light pattern using various papers. I'm experimenting with burlap for the neck, though I don't know if I'll keep it for the final collage. When I'm sure about using a particular paper in a particular shape, I will adhere the paper with acrylic matte medium. It will be interesting to see how this collage takes shape.
This figurative abstraction is titled: "Far Vision". It is part of my ongoing exploration of the lone figure in the landscape, as well as an ongoing investigation into consciousness and spirituality. I am interested in how our consciousness grapples with the existential issues of being human: awareness of death, the fragility of life, choices, responsibility, will, the creation of meaning, and the feeling of aliveness.
This oil figurative abstraction is 24" x 24" on canvas. You may also see this painting as well as others at http://nancyleighhillis.com
This painting is titled: "Remembering". This figure is deep in thought, looking off into the distance. Here again is the solo figure, alone with her thoughts, grappling with the exigencies of life. The canvas is 24" x 24" x 1 1/2". The paint application is a combination of thin, transparent darks with impasto lights. I used # 8, 10 and 12 filbert brushes and several painting knives to apply the paint. I call this series of paintings "Figurative Abstractions".
This figure is waiting. When I think of the solo figure waiting, I think of the existential play: "Waiting For Godot". Those are the words that come to mind. What is she waiting for? What are any of us waiting for?
This figure is stepping into the world with intention and clear vision. I was drawn to the movement implied by the right leg. In this abstract figurative painting, I am using lots of indian yellow, cadmium yellow medium, transparent red oxide, burnt sienna, and titanium white. There is a lot of impasto paint application.
The solo figure is compelling to me. In this series, I'm painting the figure alone, yet connected to and a part of the landscape. I'm thinking about the existential issues we live with: creating meaning, free will/choice, responsibility, the fragility of life, and the fleetingness of time. I'm moving toward a more abstract figurative way of painting. One could call these "existential paintings".
This is the second in the series of abstract figurative oil paintings that began with the idea of existential aloneness. I found myself painting with the warm, earthy colors: Indian yellow, yellow ochre, terra rosa, venetian red, burnt sienna, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red medium, transparent red oxide. The dark darks are a mixture of alizarin crimson and viridian. I used a palette knife and size 8, 10, and 12 filbert hog bristle brushes. I painted with very thick, impasto brush and knife work. The darks in the figure are thinner and more transparent.
I've been working in oils recently. I got on a roll and painted five oils in three days. It was interesting how one painting led to another. I was thinking about the existential issue of aloneness; about how we are born alone and ultimately, die alone. There are people whom we love who are there, but we still have to go through this mystery ourselves. This is what was in my mind when I started painting.
There was a surprise in the process of working out the dark/light pattern in the composition. Suddenly, a smaller figure appeared above the reclining figure and I realized that the collage wanted to be vertical! In the next blog, I'll show you the picture vertically.
This is one of my latest collage works (in progress). The background paper in the upper part has not been adhered to the canvas with acrylic matte medium yet. I'm very interested in the figure. In particular, abstract figurative work. I lay down the shapes that feel "right". The dark/light pattern is important. In this body of work, I always have black threaded through the composition.
The universe is opening up. In the space of two weeks, I've been asked to give two solo exhibitions of my art (both in the month of May). Additionally, three people approached me in the space of one week to donate art to two schools (Santa Cruz Waldorf and the Mountain School in Soquel) and the Santa Cruz Orchestra.
Open one door, and other doors start to open. A year ago, I put my toe in the water, by applying for open studios for the first time in Santa Cruz, CA. I got accepted. This led to two media articles about my collage work (Metro Santa Cruz and the Register Pajaronian , both in the space of two weeks in October 2007) and numerous contacts and friendships with some amazing people who visited my open studio exhibit.
What have I learned from this experience? I've learned to listen to what my heart's desire is and to hold that in the foreground of my awareness. I've learned to take a deep breath and just go for it!
I always wanted to be an artist. I love the materials of art: the firmness of a hog bristle brush, the creamy thickness of oil paint, the texture of bark paper, the smell of plaster. I love stepping into the mystery of creation; not knowing what is going to happen and being astonished by the image that emerges. I'm drawn to exploring the reaches of the
imagination and the orphaned off parts of the self. I like to see what bubbles up from the unconscious mind.