Friday, June 25, 2010

Abstract Art meets Form

I was recently invited by abstract painter Jared Knight to work on some collaborative pieces together. It was the first time I had been asked by another artist to fuse our creations and I instantly accepted! Especially exciting to me was the fact that Jared was a painter. Oo-la-la!

I hold painters with special awe and admiration as that is what I wished to be when I was a little girl: a painter! I always loved painting and as a child I used to identify myself with famous artists. The year I turned sixteen my sister gave me a wooden easel and some very fine brushes. I would lock myself up in my room for days and paint! I imagined my paintings hanging in art galleries and communicating meaningful messages to people’s hearts. Needless to say that dream never fructified. Although I was given an art scholarship to Parson’s School of Art and Design when I was a teenager, I opted to travel around India instead, never returning to painting. There was something almost godly about painters, which I felt set me apart from them, oddly enough. All the more reason that I felt particularly privileged to be invited by a painter to work on collaborations!

In fusing my photographic work with Jared’s gorgeous oil paintings, I found that a part of the little girl in me who always dreamed of being a painter was vicariously indulged. Mixing mediums via todays computer technology makes such collaborations between artists so easy, even when living at a distance from one another. Sharing these pieces over the internet has also contributed to that spontaneous gratification. There is something so satisfying to me in seeing my photography merged with an artists paintings! Especially fun has been the mixing of our two apparently opposing styles: Jared’s abstracts with my form, which I think together produced something unexpected and original. Both Jared and I were pleased with the final outcome. We hope you enjoy them as well, and we look forward to making more!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Inspiration

Seasonal changes inspire me to make art! The grasses around my home grow wild and lush as the summer sun infuses them with a beckoning green florescence. They are so tall now I need to lift my long-skirt tails as I weave my way around them on my morning stroll to the pond. When I need to relax, I gently float flowers on the water and watch as the warm breeze moves them to the sound of frogs, and crickets and song birds.

I would like to wear one of my renaissance dresses today and take photographs of myself in the grasses, surrounded by the soft pink blossoms that decorate the southern meadow. But the blackberry bushes have grown so thick in the pastures that I can’t roam freely without the thorns catching my skirt. Maybe I should take the canoe out instead and delight in the beautiful overabundance of the earth that is summer! I echo Henry James sentiments when he writes: “Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

I’ve spent most every summer of my life barefoot and outdoors. This year the summer has given birth to so many little frogs, they leap out of my way as I walk near the creek. The air is filled with intoxicating scents of honeysuckle and magnolia, and fuzzy seeds that glide magically before impregnating the rich soils. I intend to acquire a proper camera lens to capture all these tiny details of beauty as it paints itself into this most glorious season! Sometimes all one can do is lie down and breathe in the loveliness in gratitude, lest we miss this most festive of seasons. Then again, as Shakespeare says: “...thy eternal summer shall not fade”.

Summer is the season I was born in and therefore I connect it to a celebration of life itself! It fills me with new inspiration and prospects, and a feeling that all of life’s little wrinkles will eventually iron themselves out. I think Ada Loiuse Huxtable may have sensed something similar when she said: “Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world!”. May each of you enjoy your summertime and let it move you to make beautiful art!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Risk of Being an Artist

Art is powerful as it can evoke such passionate responses in others. It also evokes such diverse reactions! Some people may feel elevated and elated by a work of art, while others may feel offended and threatened by the same piece! Today I was reminded of the ways in which people may find certain artistic creations offensive. But offensive enough to kill!?

Have you ever looked at a work of art and found it offensive? Feeling uncomfortable while regarding a work of art is one thing, but taking personal offense is another. Would you find a work of art offensive enough to kill the artist who created it? And, if you were an artist, and knew that your art could put your life in danger, would you still create it? It might sound incredulous to have to weigh the production of art against life and death scenarios, but for much of the world, it is indeed a tragic reality.

I grew up in a developing country in which freedom of expression was regulated by the government and it’s underground branches. If the power at hand determined that your art, (or your book, or your lectures, etc), were a threat to their power, they would issue death threats and then assassinate you. When I was eleven my father’s colleague was killed in this way. He was killed because his work felt like a threat to those who killed him.

Undoubtedly, artistic expression (as with every other means of human expression), can feel threatening to some, depending on how they interpret what is being expressed. If one experiences a work of art as directly challenging or threatening one’s lifestyle, or beliefs, or positions of power, they may simultaneously experience that work of art as a direct threat upon their very self. The most primitive response then is to eliminate the threat by destroying it at its source. It is an impulsive, fear-based, defense mechanism. Needless to say, it is also violently barbaric. Unfortunately, history is full of individuals who were killed for voicing their opinions. Artists were certainly not immune to this. In fact, artists are still being killed in contemporary society for expressing themselves through their creations.

Personally, I have never received death threats for making art. And, thus far, I have not had anyone tell me that they found my art offensive or threatening. Even when engaging erotic and religious themes in my photography (which are the ones which spark the most violent reactions in others), I have yet to encounter an individual who openly objects to my creations. I am most thankful for this as my art is my voice, and silencing it is just not an option.

Perhaps, it is easy for me to say that silencing my artistic voice is not an option when my life is not being threatened. Recently others have congratulated me for finding the courage to express my personal pain in my art, and I deeply appreciate their recognition of how vulnerable an artist makes her or himself when doing so. While this does indeed require bravery on the part of the artist, I cannot imagine how brave an artist must be to continue expressing their views through art, even when doing so could endanger their very life. Ultimately, how important is what we communicate through our art to us? Are we willing to risk our lives for it? Perhaps something to ponder as I create my next photograph.

I thank Jared Knight., a wonderful abstract painter and passionate supporter of the arts, who inspired me to write this blog by reminding me of the senseless death of artist Theo Van Gogh (great grandnephew of the famed Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh), who was brutally killed in 2004 for his film “Submission”, his final and most controversial artistic expression, a collaboration with Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Expressing Pain in Art

The human experience, by definition, includes pain. Not a single one of us is immune to it. For this reason, I have deep respect for pain: it seems to be an inescapable part of what shapes us. Pain is part of life. And everything that is part of life, is also an inevitable part of art.

One of the most powerful lures art had over me as a child was it’s brutal honesty! It did not try to conceal or deny pain and suffering. Instead, within photographs and paintings, musical compositions and dances, film and theatre; within the many forms of art through which human being express themselves, I perceived a raw exhibition of pain. And I loved this rebellious freedom to express pain through art! It seemed terribly constructive to me; certainly much healthier than keeping all the pain inside.

There are so many different varieties of pain! What would each one look like as a work of art? For each person pain would look differently, for how each of us experiences and expresses pain is as unique as our own original, artistic creations. To me, each such creation, even when birthed out of pain, is an extremely valuable one. Such art isn’t always visually pretty, but it is real, and I deeply appreciate it’s straightforwardness.

I have had my own share of pain in my life, like every person. Interestingly, emotional pain seems to stir my creative juices unlike any thing else. I might even say that I have been the most artistically productive in my life when I’ve been hurting the most. Pain seems to act like a war cry within me, challenging me to rise to the occasion and make something beautiful out of it. Not necessarily aesthetically beautiful, but beautiful in the sense that in expressing my pain artistically, I seem to engage that pain as a vehicle that eventually transports me beyond it. Pain turned into art then becomes a transformative tool that reconnects me with my own inner peace.

When I pour my pain into my art I am instantly comforted and calmed. Ironically, art that perceivably expresses deep hurt doesn’t have the same effect on the audience experiencing that art. Quite to the contrary! The observer may become uncomfortable. Most of the art I produced as an adolescent had this unpleasant effect on others, for my artwork was an honest reflection of my pain. Nevertheless, I chose to continue to express my pain in this way, as art seemed to help me process and understand my pain.

Through releasing my hurts into artwork, I explored taboo emotions the way astronomers explore the stars, and found the journey a very valuable part of my own self development. I also found that my own artistic displays of pain also proved valuable to others, as it seemed to help them connect with pains of their own, which they had been repressing. Giving voices to our pain is not easy, even when done through a painting or a photograph. Expressing pain through art requires that one become vulnerable and open. It also engages trust and courage.

Today, I honor periods of pain in my life the same way I treated them when I was younger: I give them a voice in my art, in my photographs. Why should I silence my pain and pretend it does not exist? Instead, I echo William Faulkner’s sentiments when he writes: “Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.” At least when we hurt we know we are alive! Or as the poet Lord Byron says: “The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.” Since pain is indeed such an unmistakably unavoidable sensation in life, why not extract value from it? As I experience it, pain holds a beautiful value when married to artistic expression. In fact, pain has been the fuel throughout history for many of the world’s greatest works of art! May we turn our pain into artwork, and have them shape us, and others, in ways we never imagined possible.

May we each communicate our own hurts in constructive, inspiring ways.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Can I call myself an artist?

I am by no means a professional photographer, or artist. I have never been commissioned to create anything artistic for anyone. I have never had my work exhibited or published. I have never sold any art for profit, despite having a few of my photographs up for sale on the Internet. I have never received formal training in photography, or art, except a few painting classes I took in high school. I am an unknown, and yet, I define myself as an artist. Why?

I identify myself as an artist because it has been the one most consistent way in which I have related to myself most throughout my life. It was the one identity I felt I could depend on. Before thinking of myself as a sister, or a daughter, or a female, or a student, or as belonging to a particular nation, or ethnic pool, or economic group, or religion, or occupation; before any of these I have always considered myself an artist, first and foremost. It seemed to be synonymous with my nature.

What does it mean to be an artist? For me, it begins and ends with an insistent, utterly unquenchable, nearly compulsive desire to create. Creativity wakes me in the middle of the night and won’t let me rest until I give it my undivided attention. It can make me restless during the day and pull me from my schedule. The urge to create art, as I experience it, is a rebellious one that knows no timelines, or pays any mind to anything else going on around the artist. It seizes the artist with a passion and carries her away to where she can make more art. I equate being an artist with the sheer irresistibility of this force. It is a force which I feel originates within me, yet is simultaneously part of a greater field of being which is beyond me. Perhaps I have always most consistently identified myself as an artist because, in creating art, I feel myself connecting with something beyond temporary designations of self: with a part of my existence that is eternal. At least this is how I experience it.

Just before a work of art emerges from me I feel myself absorbed in a heightened state of sensitivity. Not just sensually, but emotionally. It visually conjures up the image of a dam gate within myself that has been opened, suddenly flooding my imagination with raging rivers of visions, and ideas, colors and shapes; but above all else feelings. My work is always emotionally charged. These emotions are fluid as they move me in my creations, never ceasing to surprise me with the final form they eventually translate themselves into as my art. I become a love-slave to the feelings that move me to create art, as each creation is an inevitable outpour of my heart.

Within the chambers of the artist’s heart (as known to me), is the limitless universe we draw from. Sometimes, in the drawing-out process, I enter into a rhythm that overcomes me at the expense of all else! Forsaking sleep and food, an artist who is caught in the flow of an emerging creation, will know nothing else but the creation before her, or him. The meditation is so absolute, some may relate it to a spiritual experience of sorts. I would like to say that there is even a certain sacredness to the creative process an artist becomes absorbed in when creating.

Art is sacred in the sense that it speaks to the soul, and crosses barriers of time and culture. Art is it’s own language. It is it’s own power. And I believe that art is something, without which, the world would not be as desirable a place to be in as it is today, for art nourishes our spirits. In this sense, perhaps artists, function as reminders of the divine, within us, and all around us. Defined in that manner; don’t we then all have the potential to be artists? I imagine it’s just a matter of what kind of art each of us makes. Thus, through this blog and my art, I hope to inspire others to find the artist within themselves and encourage us all to make more art!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Unfolding of an Image

In this blog I attempt to offer a little glimpse into the technical process involved in creating my photographs. It is a process that continues to develop gradually and organically, and primarily independently of any formal tutoring from anyone. The subject for this blog is inspired by Jearvi, a very talented female photographer with unlimited creativity and a wild imagination, and it dedicates itself to supporting the larger virtual community of photographers I have had the pleasure of meeting online, of which Jearvi is a part.

Perhaps I’ll begin by stating that I have never received any formal training in photography. I am self-taught, mainly through trial and error. I jumped into photography about two years ago, after my closest friend gave me a camera for my birthday. I had always wanted a good camera and was thrilled! I read through the manual and instantly put it to work, experimenting with the camera settings and familiarizing myself with it’s capacities. I reserved hours every week in which to give my undivided attention to my photography.

I seemed to be instantly moved to use my camera as an instrument for my voice. This naturally led to my creating self-portraits. The discovery of the ten second timer on my camera was enough to get me hooked! At first I lacked a tri-pod, so I used stools, counters, and chairs as stands for my camera. When shooting outdoors I usually carried a wooden stool with me, or balanced my camera on fences, or tree limbs! Finally I acquired a tri-pod.

I use a MacBook Pro computer, so when my photographs were uploaded from my camera they went directly into my computer’s photo software: i-photo. There I discovered I could adjust the colors on my images, and play with crops. About a year later, I became excited about what I was creating and wished to share it. I decided I would open a flickr account, though I was not very familiar with what exactly that was! The feedback I received from other flickr memebers proved to be most valuable, as I had unwittingly tapped into a whole network of professional and amateur photographers, eager to support one another. I began to feel as if I were a part of a photography-club of sorts, in which the members all offered one another encouragement, constructive criticism, lessons, challenges and, on rare occasions, even friendship.

Through my exposure to the other photographers on flickr I learned about photoshop and had it installed on my Mac. The potential of what could be created in this “digital darkroom” excited me tremendously! I taught myself to use other artists textures and then began experimenting with creating my own. Paintbrushes and textures opened up a whole new wold to me, as did the techniques required to create a composite image.

On Jearvi’s request, the following is a tutorial on how I create such images. I have chosen my latest image titled “In the Clover”. (There may be more effective, efficient means in which to do achieve this, but this is what I arrived at through my own uneducated efforts.)

First I began by taking this picture of clover growing on my front lawn. The sun was beginning to set behind them and I lay tummy down on the grass and used my zoom lens.

The next morning I took this picture of myself with my tri-pod and ten second timer. The sun was rising behind me.

In Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended I opened the image of the clover as my first layer, or my “background image” and gave it a little color boost. Then I opened the image of my self, and using the “quick-selection” tool I drew an outline around my body. Then I refined the edge, and copied and pasted it onto the background image of the clover and adjusted it's size. I also had to cut and paste some extra clover flowers around and in front of the edge of my dress, to create the illusion that I was standing amidst the little flowers.

I then took three butterfly images and cut and pasted them into the picture in the same way, duplicating them as well, to make a total count of six butterflies. Lastly, I adjusted their size and moved them to the places I wanted them in.

Next, I gave my image an antiquated look by adjusting the color temperatures and tints, favoring yellow.

Finally, I selected my photoshop brush tool and set the tip to 300% size with an opacity of 38%, color black and played around with darkening the shadows and giving the edges somewhat of a vignette look. I did this until I felt I had achieved the look I wanted. The finished creation consisted of a total of ten layers:

I made this particular image on a day I was not feeling well and lay in bed a bit frustrated that I could not go outside. I had that passionate urge to create, so I plopped my computer on my lap and looked for photographs I had already shot the week before, hoping to somehow piece them together into some kind of art. The end result was the image you see above.

I am very new to this, so there may be easier ways in which to do this, but I share with you what I have taught myself thus far, in the hopes that it will inform your own creations in a helpful way. You can see the evolution of my art, if you wish by visiting my flickr photostream. Lastly, I thank Jearvi for suggesting this blog to me and I refer you all to her beautiful photostream for an endless flow of imaginative creations of this type, involving composite images, and lots of original and inspiring ideas! Click here: Jearvi and enjoy!