Category Archives: On Art
This gallery contains 3 photos.
The colors of water are richly varied – there to be observed and shared… Continue reading
This gallery contains 3 photos.
Summer this year means sailing, exploring, observing… Continue reading
I’m only one person, but there are many different aspects to my life. I am my own unique (and ever-changing) combination of knowledge, skills, desires and activities. As you are.
You never stop being all the things you are, but there are times when you have to shift your focus. For me this is one of those times.
Soon I’ll be living on board our sailboat again. That means that right now I have to spend time working on that transition. There is furniture to send to new homes, books that need new readers, accumulated stuff to get rid of. There are things to clean, to move, to arrange and rearrange.
And that means that the time and energy that is usually focused here will be focused elsewhere for a little while. Though not for long…
Because art and writing are too deeply a part of me, too intertwined through every part of my life.
And because I know that if from time to time we must shift focus, that’s okay. It just means there’s a familiar place inside ourselves that’s waiting to welcome us back.
I hope you know that too.
Words and painting by Margaret Mair
It has taken me this lifetime to realize all that my mother gave me. Love, support, guidance, comfort. Encouragement to spread my wings, even when I didn’t feel ready. A place to leave, a place to come back to. And something more.
My mother was a very important part of my development as an artist.
Art covered our walls, artists and art lovers were among the people we knew. There were art books for looking at, art shows and exhibitions to visit. There was thoughtful commentary, and support for rising artists. My mother loved beauty, but she also loved work that made her think, awoke questions in her. Work that was not always comfortable to look at. She gave me a foundation for my own work, though I did not realize it at the time.
Later, after she saw some of my pictures (I was living far away), she encouraged me to keep working and learning, and hung one of my pastels in pride of place on the dining room wall. And she shared others’ appreciation of it with me. Encouragement which gave me courage to keep going forward.
Now, as I think about her, I am grateful for all this and so much more.
I am grateful that she encouraged me to explore, to stretch my wings even when I was afraid. That she taught me to be self-critical without being self destructive.
I am grateful that she shared more and more of herself as I grew older – including, to my initial surprise, a bawdy and irreverent sense of humour.
I am grateful that she taught me to look closely at the world around me, with an observant eye, an enquiring mind and an open heart.
I am grateful that she showed me that the world was full of many different people, good and evil, poor and rich, and that worth is a matter of character not circumstance. I am grateful that she let me see that talent achieves nothing without hard work, and that no-one succeeds by themselves.
Thank you, mother mine.
They’re laughing in the rain. After looking at this picture a while, I thought – there must be a story here. But I don’t know what it is.
What drew my eye in the first place? The unexpected. Looking at the background I would have expected something more formal, more formulaic, flatter.
Instead the women in it have a sense of mischief, of movement, of brightness. I see it in the way they stand, how they look at each other, the clothes they wear. It’s in the unexpectedness of their bare feet, their laughter in the rain. It’s in the way their kimonos, lifted or blown, expose bare legs and red undergarments.
And then there are the differences between them. The young woman in the middle wears a bright, ornately patterned kimono, though I can only guess at the details of the images on it. Body elegantly arced, feet facing one of her companions, face the other, shoulders toward us – she includes everyone in her movement, even us.
Contrast that with the others. They wear kimonos more modest in design, more everyday, more informal. They are looking at their brightly dressed companion, bodies turned toward her, framing her for us, guiding our eyes back to her. She seems the center of their attention.
Where are they coming from, where are they going, these barefoot women clutching their umbrellas in the grey rain?
And who created this picture? The artist is Utagawa Kuniyoshi, a 19th century Japanese master of print-making. He was best known for creating pictures of Japan’s historic and legendary heroes and brigands, and for including dreams, apparitions and heroic feats in his images. But he also worked actively in other genres, creating prints like this one.
There is a name for the kind of art he created: floating world art, or ukiyo-e in Japanese. It was art that was meant to reflect moments in time, in a time and place far from the cares of the everyday world. It was an art for dreaming on, full of beauty and mythical heroes and popular entertainments.
And it was art that was meant for a wide audience, for people who had not been buyers of art before. Because the pictures were produced in large quantities as woodblock prints so they were less expensive than a single original work, more affordable to the then-growing merchant class.
But success and sales, then as now, depended on an artist building a group of supporters who love his work. It took Kuniyoshi time to develop his own style, then to become popular and well-known. And as he developed he was influenced not just by his Japanese teachers and fellow artists but by the Dutch and German engravings of western art he collected, by the way they were composed and the light and shadow effects used in them.
So there is more than one story behind this image – there is the story of the artist himself, and of the time he lived in. Those we can learn a little bit about.
We can see how he learned from other artists, studying one their work even when he was separated from them by time and place. We can catch a glimpse of what it was like for him, working in his own time and place, under an authoritarian regime, for a particular audience.
But – I still don’t know the story of the women laughing in the rain. I guess I’ll have to imagine it myself.
And really, isn’t that one of the things art should do? Waken curiosity and imagination?
My dancer makes me think of the world in spring. She radiates restless energy, attention turned inward, dancing to a rhythm only she can hear. And she’s clothed in green, like the new-grown leaves that promise deeper greens to come.
Spring has been a long time coming this year – cold winds, falling snowflakes, icy hail have all conspired to keep it at bay. As March turned into April those winter friends did not linger long when they came – but they refused to stay away, bracketing each promise of warmer days with their cold storminess. We might declare that is was time for Spring to be here, but they did not agree.
But now they have retreated. Spring is actually here. There’s green grass and the promise of leaves on the trees. There are buds and birds and warming temperatures that bring the hardy (or foolhardy) out in shorts and shirts. The sun shines differently though my window as it comes closer to our northern climes, lingering longer each day and angling its beams towards where my plants sit, waiting. Like me, they are hungry for its light.
And then there’s the feel of things, a kind of restless excitement that tingles the body and wakes the imagination. There’s a sense of good things coming. As day follows night and happiness follows sorrow so spring follows winter, and after the dark days we are glad again. It’s the rhythm of being, the dance of life.
As my dancer in green reminds me.
For some reason this painting touches me. Perhaps it’s the colors, iridescent and luminous. Perhaps it’s the sharp break between background and foreground, like the breaks between different times, different states, different ways of living. Perhaps it’s the roundness of spheres, containing what? Possibilities? Perhaps it’s the sense of quiet movement.
The background moves from a blue-grey misty softness through the colours of a foggy sunrise to light. Over it a dark mark hovers, sharp and angular and broken, rough edges driving outward, darkness smattering into the background. In front, as if they were coming toward us, luminous spheres hover and glow, delicate as bubbles. Their colours lie lightly on them; the ones at the top hold the most darkness.
The curves of the spheres contrast with the straight marks behind, their luminous quality with its darkness, their softness with its strength. It’s as if a world of beauty is bubbling out through the darkness.
In one sense, all art is abstract – even what looks most realistic is only an illusion, an abstraction from reality. After all you can’t reproduce the real world on a flat canvas.
But this is abstracted from a world of thought and imagination. Which made me wonder: what kind of imagination? What kind of person created this? And why this?
When I went exploring, this is what I learned:
Waldemar Smolarek was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1937. During World War II his family was separated by the occupying Germans, and his father died just before the end of the war. Then times were hard, the family was poor and he had to become independent and self-supporting as soon as he could.
He became interested in and studied metalwork and painting, and by 1958 he was taking part in unauthorized exhibitions at the Barbican (Barbakan) in Warsaw. Through them he became friends with many other independent artists, and his circle of friends and acquaintances was wide.
And since the Barbican was a place to which foreign visitors came his work was seen and appreciated by many from the West. He was invited to exhibit his paintings in Italy, Sweden, Austria and the U.S.
With his reputation growing and life in Warsaw becoming more repressive he left Poland illegally and made his way to Sweden. There he developed more friendships with artists and within the Jewish community, but he wanted to be as far away from Poland as possible. So he left for Canada, going to Vancouver, where he continued to work and to exhibit internationally.
Waldemar Smolarek was a quiet, solitary man who channelled everything into creating his art. He sold a few of his paintings, donated some to charitable causes and kept many for himself; and when he passed away peacefully in 2010 he died surrounded by those paintings.
Quiet and solitary and brave. To work abstractly takes both courage and faith: courage to strike out into the world of imagination and faith that others will take the time to contemplate and understand.
Now I think of him working, thinking, crafting the images he shared. And you – now that you know more about the man, how do you see this painting?
(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike 3.0 Unported License)
Spring is a busy time for me. We are getting our boat ready to sail, and the work spreads into and occupies all the time available. As time runs shorter other things are pushed aside. By the time we are ready to leave our winter resting place I am reminding myself that it’s all worth the time and effort.
The reward for all the work? Time spent on the water, reaching and exploring new places, seeing new things that will become part of my life and my work.
As happened with this painting.
We were in the Canaries, where volcanic rocks are rich with color, when I saw her – a young woman sitting, waiting, on a flat rock by the sea. Later I took what I had seen, and mixed in my own feelings about waiting, about being alone, about being by the sea…
We all need a place to breathe, a place where we can simply be ourselves. I breathe best by the water, or on it – in a place between the earth and the sky where the water stretches out before me, the sky arches high overhead, and the air moves freely.
Here I can think my own thoughts, dream my own dreams, contemplate and explore.
Here I feel in tune with the world. I can meditate with the sounds of water all around me, feeling the rhythm of the waves, the rhythms that give us life – and many other creatures too. I can feel the wave-beat in my body.
And I remind myself that a rock by the sea feels solid, as the earth seems solid. And yet the waves moving against it are washing that rock away. They are taking their time, doing their work patiently, whether we are there or not.
I think: we build our lives as if the foundation we have laid for them were as solid as that rock feels. Yet life itself, moving in its own rhythm, constantly changes us.
Rock slowly becomes part of the sea – and we, do we become part of the wider world around us?