I recently took a trip to Mexico to see some close friends who are currently living in the city of Guanajuato (Gto).  My image gallery is below but kindly indulge me while I sing Guanajuato’s praises! It is a wonderful city rich in history and culture.  This capital of the State of Guanajuato, is situated roughly between Guadalajara and Mexico City (or about 3 hours Northwest of Mexico City), just about in the center of the country.  It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and is the birthplace of two cultural signifiers: the Mexican Revolution (for Independence from Spain) and the painter, Diego Rivera.

I have been to Gto in the past and it was a delight to return. This time, I was based again in the neighborhood known as San Javier and specifically timed my visit to coincide with the annual Festival Internacional Cervantino (dedicated to the city’s adopted philosophical and literary muse, Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote).  Mexico has a quite admirable, serious and extensive appreciation of world art and culture, and this is affirmed by the care with which the Cervantino is organized and presented each year.  A full spectrum of international arts (visual, music, theater, and dance) is represented during the festival, which comes to an end right before celebrations centered around El Dia de los Muertos.

I spent much of my short visit this time enjoying the visual arts in the “centro” or old center of the city.  The centro of la ciudad Guanajuato is peppered with glorious, weathered Spanish colonial cathedrals and churches, and other architectural monuments, including the cavernous central market (Mercado Hidalgo), which was designed by Ernesto Brunel in 1910.  In conjunction with the Cervantino, galleries throughout this small but dense city are replete with painting, sculpture, photographic and other visual art exhibitions, many directly relating to the theme of this year’s festival “the science of art/the art of science.”

By foot, car and bus, my energetic friends led me all over the City during my visit. Between meals and afternoon coffees, my legs and feet began to become accustomed to the hard and irregular surfaces of the myriad calles and callejóns (alleys) linking the city’s plazas and landmarks.  One day we visited the Museo Diego Rivera, which is part monument and part art gallery.  There one finds the Mexican master’s earlier works, some studies for later murals, his exquisite Popol Vuh renderings, as well as adjunct galleries showing varied works from contemporary artists.  I also toured the Museo de Historia Natural, a monument to the career of Alfredo Dugès.  Dugès was a French émigré who settled in Guanajuato at the turn of the 20th century.  He was a serious amateur naturalist and spent his life cataloging Mexican flora and fauna, as well as documenting these findings through detailed renderings.  Think: Mexico’s Audubon.  The extensive taxidermy collection housed at the museum (now under the auspices of the University of Guanajuato), languished for years in storage before it was “rediscovered” and properly archived.

Perhaps one of my favorite visits was to the University of Guanajauto’s main art gallery where I was delighted to find 2 concurrent fiber art shows. In one gallery recent fiber works by Trine Ellitsgaard are currently on display.  Ellitsgaard is Danish by birth but lives in Oaxaca.  In the adjacent gallery hang felted tapestries and mixed-media handwovens.  This collection pays homage to the many facets of the corn (maíz) plant, its value to Mexican culture, and its vulnerability in the wake of continued proliferation of genetically modified corn seed (the cultivation of which goes hand-in-hand with the burden of chemical (and thus financial) inputs not part of traditional agricultural practices); for a society deriving much of its sustenance (both literal and metaphorical) from corn, this is a serious issue.  The pieces in this exhibition were designed by the painter Francisco Toledo (who is married to Ellitsgaard), and were produced by a felting workshop situated in Oaxaca, at the Centro de las Artes de San Agustin.

Finally, I cannot fail to mention another highlight of this particular trip – As it turns out, in conjunction with the Cervantino, the City-centro is also temporary host to a collection of fantastic large bronze sculptures marking entrances to important alleys and terminuses along the city’s labyrinthine layout. These pieces are based on original small-scale wax models created by the British surrealist artist Leonora Carrington.  Carrington, primarily a painter, made Mexico her home for a most of her adult life.  What good fortune to see these pieces (and window into Carrington’s vision) at such a scale!

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Guanajuato is a riot of color and texture, teeming with a beautiful, bustling population moving here and there along crowded streets and alley-ways. Even absent the tourists now pouring into the city for the Festival, this city is dense and compact and it does not sleep for long…automobiles, busses, and pedestrians do an amazing and complex dance on the busy avenues.  To that vibrancy add the host of colorful rectilinear dwellings perched atop each other on the surrounding slopes, looking down on the old city below.  Here in the “suburbs” (which are all walking distance from the centro), you might run into a wandering cow or burro as these newer neighborhoods quickly give way to country here in the high desert.

I could go on…so much…of everything.  Did I mention my trip was excellent? I am deeply grateful to my hosts and new friends for making my stay such an inspiring and stimulating experience.  I hope to return soon! 

 

I am a child of marine environments who ironically lives inland (it happens).  From Hawaii to Cumberland Island, I have been nourished by the big oceans and the ecotones associated with them.  The shoreline is a magical transition zone wherever it is encountered – an abundant strand, rich with life as well as decay.  On a recent visit to the Pacific Northwest, I returned to an oft-visited, ever-changing rocky beach which perennially holds amazing treasures for the texturally-inclined…

I am just beginning to “unpack” the content and experiences I had last week at Arrowmont in Catharine Ellis’ Natural Dye workshop.  The volume of information we were introduced to, along with the actual practices we were absorbing, was tremendous and overwhelming – towards the end of the week it was almost as if a bomb had exploded in my brain – an indigo-cochineal-weld-ferrous bomb – shaken, stirred, dissolved, precipitated…I feel like the cloth we worked with – now primed to soak up as much as I can following this most intensive week of learning!  I am so grateful to Catharine for making the space and providing the energy for this experience…I am also indebted to the fabulous workshop participants whose individual contributions to the body of understanding were, for me, an essential part of the process.  I am overflowing with joy and an urgent desire to get to work!!  First up: my organic indigo vat.  Meanwhile, here are some images from the week (click on a thumbnail to open the gallery).  Many thanks to Jane Cooper for supplying a few of these images.

There is a certain willfulness which brings any creative work to fruition.  Fueled by optimism and forward vision, a body of work is an unstoppable train of energy and enthusiasm for the possibilities embedded in one’s undertaking.  And when that train starts rolling and has plenty of momentum, it accumulates more energy and substance, and the desire to do what is required to see the accretion reach its destination.  The outcome is the accumulation of wisdom and experience on which the next journey is based and the next wave of momentum is founded.  That process is made manifest in the work of Dale Chihuly and the exhibition, “Garden and Glass” (newly opened in Seattle in May, 2012), which presents work across the vibrant career of the U.S. studio-glass artist.  I recently took a walk through the exhibition; here are some impressions.

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From the inside out. Rippling, corpuscular disks, spikes, bulbils, orbs, and other protrusions and protuberances populate several linked exhibit spaces, the center of which is an almost theatrical dance of forms along a black reflective conveyor – each surface and texture a translucent delight, projecting, casting, reflecting arching, arcing, coalescing then breaking apart.  There are additional galleries displaying examples of other series of works, including both the Persians and Macchia series, in their own energetic spaces – the Persian ceiling is exuberant and transfixing; the Macchia gallery a calm meditation on fluidity.  The interior exhibit concludes in an impressive conservatory (containing a floating assemblage of Persians) which transitions to the garden.  The sense of immediacy and intimacy of the interior exhibit yields to a more open and expansive experience in the daylight garden.  Alien at first glance, these esoteric glass forms “make sense” –they neither overwhelm, nor are overwhelmed by, their surroundings.  Here a clever balance is struck and the works take on new meaning in the context of landscape and surrounding architecture (the grand conservatory, exhibit hall and the neighboring Space Needle).  With the passage of time, an established garden of Chihuly glass will further fulfill the strong vision initiated by the interior exhibit.

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Art and design are always about collaboration on some level.  No work is created in a vacuum and a body of work as extensive as Dale Chihuly’s does not come into being without the contributions of a broad community of other individuals with whom one’s vision is interwoven: student-apprentices (who will go on to fulfill their own creative visions), other master artisans and technicians, collectors, institutions, family and supportive friends, not to mention an enthusiastic and appreciative “public.”  Myriad energies are involved in the nurturing of a creative career and, arguably, no work by a master (at this or any other period in history) can be viewed as other than a synthesis of these energies (rather than the accomplishments of just the one).  But as we are both part of a larger whole and unique parts, somewhere in the center of this work lies the fundamental willfulness and optimism of Dale Chihuly whose product and process are apt symbols for the dynamic and complex almalgam encountered by all humans who make art in a world outside the vacuum.

I knew I had found my calling when I began my amazing creative immersion five years ago.   I also knew instinctively that I needed to give it space and time to grow.  What a gift to have had that opportunity!  Over time, I also grew to realize I would continue to support the growth and progress of my creative endeavors for the remainder of my life (and I’m hoping for the sake of the Work it there will be sufficient time within which to do that!).  In truth, I have been working on this, somewhat haphazardly, for a long time.  Many leads were followed but this was the first time I actually felt I was truly “on the path.”  So it is now with that “certainty” that I move from my current lifestyle-as-uninterrupted-creative-effusion to something. . .well. . .less so.  Of course, I really haven’t stopped the current, merely rechanneled it and, as a result, the material by product – i.e., the size and nature of the bodies of work – is changing.  What I am discovering is that as my life-focus, priorities, and supporting activities change, the intensity of my creative work and effort are actually increasing.  In short, I am distilling years of creative immersion into an essence which will (I hope) nourish the work for years to come.

Without that lovely 5-year period, I would not have the discipline (or the courage) to do what I am doing now, nor would I feel I have a future of creative possibility still left to “unpack,” which I do.   It is for this reason that I experience no despair or regret over the shift, or worry over a future of incomplete satisfaction, or remorse for things not done in the past/lost to the past.  When one has a calling and a passion for something, no obstacle is large enough to undermine it.  Things may change, time and energy, access and resources, and many other variables may change, but the essence of the calling – the root connection to the passion –  continues. . .indeed, it cannot be denied.  It may be expressed in small works and in the temporal interstices of a life crowded with other responsibilities and relationships.  But it is still the Work.  And in truth, the quality of immersion that came out of my 5-year “grant” period is such that I am able to concentrate and focus within much smaller blocks of time and yield similar results.  I have prior experienced of this phenomenon as an outgrowth of movement meditation (thank you Dunya!) – visiting very deep wells in a relatively short period of time – so I know it is possible in any absorptive activity.  Although I would be deluding myself if I believed I would not be visited by moments of despair and frustration along the way, there is a certain comfort in knowing I can recognize and have access to that state as I move forward in my creative evolution.

When I reach these junctures in my life and work (as I have noted before), I find I am inspired and uplifted by Lewis Hyde who has a talent for articulating the nature of art, creativity and the creative spirit in contemporary life in The Gift.  “We nourish the spirit by [realizing and] disbursing our gifts. . . .,” he writes, and I am reminded that the calling, the passion, the work are the gifts which carry with them an imperative – they must be expressed and shared else they perish.  The key to sustaining the work in the face of time and energy challenges is to surrender to this imperative. . .and to trust that the work will find its way into the cloth, onto paper or canvas, through the limbs, the voice, heart, mind. . .in fullness of time.