Friday, December 30, 2016

Years are marked by a calendar. A calendar that punctuates the way we think about time. The truth is, another day is another day, regardless of the date we stamp on it.

I don't do resolutions. I don't feel that the new year is what creates cleansing or change or even anything "new" other than the number we attach to it.

The world is still chaos and rhythm. It is seasons and grief and beauty. None of that changes because we call it 2017 as of midnight tomorrow.

Yet this season of dark and cold (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) brings some melancholy, some digging, and a need to punctuate shift.

In business, we wrap up a tax year. The practicalities of that exist regardless of intentions or ideas.

So naturally, I start thinking about marketing plans for 2017, what kind of shifts will come both to my own business and to the overlap between myself and Keith Dixon Studios, and what kind of trajectory we will build in as we begin a New Year.

Trajectory. Let that word settle in.

I don't do goals. They speak to me of attachment to outcome, of desire weighed down by something just out of reach.

Trajectory I can do. It's focused on building a solid foundation. It speaks of aim, of movement, and flow.

So as we build trajectory, I remember how many deviations and turns we've taken since the beginning. How many times we had to shift because life is unpredictable. Because the chaos is as important as the rhythm.

I feel the need to look back for a brief moment here. To pause and celebrate the deviations, the wins, the pitfalls and accomplishments of 2016. As much as it was a shit year nationally speaking, there were quite a few personal highs that are worth noting.

This year was a solid year of business for Face by Ren. Highlights included;

Two music videos for The Avett Brothers (Ain't no Man, and No Hard Feelings), These are both songs on their latest album "No Hard Feelings" which is absolutely amazing. I cried on the day we were shooting "No Hard Feelings" in the studio. It touches on end-of-life desires and leaves you raw.

A short film book trailer for "Serafina and the Twisted Staff", the 2nd in the series of 3 by award-winning, best selling author Robert Beatty. I had the privilege of working on the set of "Serafina and the Black Cloak" in 2015 as well. This book series is wonderful and I highly recommend it if you enjoy young adult fiction as much as I do.

Working Fantasy Fest in Key West for the 2nd year.

Booked work and collaborative projects in Fort Lauderdale with Avi Ram (Skin Wars Season 2), Angela Rene Roberts (Skin Wars Season 1), Anja Yamaji, and Breanna Cooke.

Competing once again at Living Art America, placing 7th overall and winning the North American championship for UV bodypainting, my first national title.

"Interwoven"; Art show collaboration at Nelson Fine Art Gallery in Johnson City with textile artist Laura Bowman, and Keith Dixon Studios, showcasing the textiles, underwater photography and bodypainting.

Organized two bodypainting exhibitions locally featuring both local bodypaint artists as well as international champions, traveling artists, and Skin Wars contestants; One in March at Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room, another in August at Nelson Fine Art Gallery.

Traveled to multiple bodypainting showcases in the Southeast, one of which was made into a documentary titled "Fire on the Mountain", a stunning look at the primal arts of both fire performance and bodypainting.

Finally had the pleasure of viewing "Oh Beautiful", the bodypainting documentary film by Natalie Fletcher of Skin Wars season 1. Her movie about body positivity as she traveled to all 50 states is raw and vulnerable. We were painted by her here in East TN and got a short clip in the film. I can't recommend this film enough. Truly wonderful!  The book is now available as well.

Taught a bodypainting class for the makeup academy students at Paul Mitchell school in Nashville TN.

Add in a very booked year of weddings, commercial work, prom, lessons, classes, and cosmetics retail and 2016 was very full and busy for our businesses.

Our year wrapped up with an unexpected special-needs kitten entering our lives. We are sculpting the business around our new family member who needs extra care. Wizard Cat Merlin is an extraordinary being who bring us much joy, and because of his paralyzed back legs, goes with us everywhere.

He's reminded me that I need to come back to center, back to the gardens and paint once again, right here at home.

Always grateful for those of you willing to support two crazy artists trying to make a go of this thing from East Tennessee. We love these hills and our downtown studios like mad. Here's to more chaos, more rhythm, more painting, more tea, more photography, more adventures, and more creative passions.

Carry on beautiful humans. We're glad you're here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dear reader,

I didn't expect to fall in love. I didn't expect to be swept off my feet.

But there it was. A book full of humans in every size and shape, different genders and colors, all bodypainted head to toe.

I swooned. In one moment, my entire life changed, though I had no idea at the time.

When something sends electric shock currents through your body, when it makes your jaw drop and your heart race, you'd think it would be worth paying deeper attention.

For a few years, I just wished and dreamed. I longed for and desired. But did little to nothing.
One day, I cautiously stuck my toe in the shallow end; I purchased paint.

Just a handful of bodypaint cakes, and some play. That play led to my first bodypainting exhibition, then another, and another...all local. Eventually the tug on my heart kept pulling me along, to classes, and other bodypainters, to competitions and even assisting an artist at the World Bodypainting Festival in Austria.

Those tugs on the heart are powerful things. Little, powerful things we can often our own peril.

What I hadn't fully realized in the beginning;  bodypainting was healing me. With every brushstroke, and every human encountered, with every story told, and connection made, we were healing each other.

I was telling their stories, and healing my relationship with art. Falling back in love again, and again, and again.

The culmination of all these years, all this paint, and this love was brought to the forefront when my friend Sharon hired me to paint something I had never dreamed of painting. Pain. Her pain.

Her ongoing battle with chronic illness, inflammation, and bad medicine. I was to paint this experience of searing pain across her scarred body.

How does one paint pain? How could I help her express something to personal, so esoteric, and so intense? I paint beauty on people. I help them change their inner dialogue. I help them SEE differently. I don't know how to paint hurt and pain.

But she, the gracious and wise elder, gave me exactly the energy and words I needed. Once again, trusting the tugs of the heart led me directly where it needed.

I painted with my whole heart. A fierce fire-breathing dragon, shooting reds and streaks of pain, barbed wire and twisting electricity. So many things that needed to surface, that needed to be told. Pain that doctors dismissed. Pain that was now paint on skin.

I think in that one session, I finally realized how powerful this gift of bodypainting is for me. How much of a gift it can be for others in caring hands. How much the paint loves every body. How many of us need our stories on our skin.

It brought me home to my artist self. It changed the way I see human forms. It makes me fall in love again, and again, and again. I intend to serve this gift well.

Create, connect, be brilliant, beautiful readers.

Colorfully yours,

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Skin Deep

"I became a woman who learned her own skin and dug into her soul and found it full." 

Sometimes I plan a body paint because I see things in my head at night while I need to be sleeping instead.

Sometimes another person's art, or words, or ideas spark a painting.

This time it was an Anne Sexton quote and I knew exactly who would model for this, and that it would be heavy on abstract color.

It came out even better than I imagined. I felt that the inner colors had made it to the skin.

This quote spoke to me on so many levels....a bit of the back story;

Model: Emma Dubin
Photographer; Keith Dixon Studios

It took me a very long time, and a lot of hard experiences to understand that my soul (whatever that may mean) was full. FULL. Brimming over.

Not broken, or damaged, or lacking in any way. Full.

I spent most of my teen and early adult years completely at war with myself. With those desires born of earth and air. It felt like they were constantly fighting inside of me.....fighting with fighting against all that I was.

So eventually I called a truce. The truce meant I gave myself permission to love what I love, to embrace what I chose, to do exactly as I please, and to build a life of my choosing.

I did. I have. I will continue.

The pain was not about earth and air desires being in conflict with each other, the pain was in believing I had to choose.

In a sense I DID have to I chose both.

Yes, I can be a full time artist AND a good parent.
Yes. I can garden/homestead AND travel.
Yes, I can be both full of ideas AND grounded.
Yes to all of it.

How are we saying no to ourselves before anyone else can beat us to it?

Maybe it's time to put down the tools of self-war, and pick up some self-kindness.

As for me, I'm going to keep learning this skin and digging into this soul and see what else I can find.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Winter garden

Winter garden is temporary acquiescence.
It sings of silence. Life suspended. Of turning inward and down and deep.
Weeds that seemed to taunt me, to mock my efforts mid-summer are now submissive.
No fight left. No desire to conquer.
They have laid down their bones, their armor.
Anyone believing it is a truce, would be mistaken.
But it is reprieve. I revel in it.
I love the dark and deep that is the earth smelling of leaf decay.
I love the skeletons that were last season's fierce vines.
They rattle in the wind and tell me stories of warmth, of facing upwards, of tea mornings spent together in solitude.

Life, death, rebirth;  constant reminders.
The ongoing cycle of the growing-dying things here.
My life which has always seemed to pivot in the garden.
My center seems to come back and back and back.

Moss covered hand-prints in concrete telling of children who are no more.
Their now-hands will never fit that small shape again.
Mosaic fragments of a life that no longer exists, hiding beneath
hibernating rose bushes. A pin prick view into the past.
Rebirth isn't always some mystical idea.
It's happening all around. Every second.
I know this to be true, in the winter garden.

There is no choice...
Change is the crux of everything.
Our conclusion is in the stories.
In the building of fragments.
In the shifting of seasons. How well we navigate loss.

In moving hulls of seasons past, and protecting soil, in clipping of rose hips, and
clank of shovel I find the center of the universe.
Everything hushed. Everything waiting.
To show me the exuberance of growth untamed yet again.
How "life persists" is the constant and death not separate.
It never was.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Diving into the deep end

                                                                                      Photo copyright; Keith Dixon Studios 2014

Longing calls.
Laps at your feet and drifts through your days, river gently chiseling stone.
You might finally shrug off this long dormancy.
Finally awaken.

But you can't see bottom. Back away from the depths and keep on doing what you do.
Stay with the surface.
That which feels like safety in an unsafe world.

Dissatisfaction with that safe world, takes you right back to the threshold.
To the silky feel of the deep end lapping at feet again.
Dip your foot in.
So soothing, intriguing...
ebb and flow.
What would happen upon submersion?

Diving in, both exhilarating and terrifying.
You know what might be there, what is calling.
But not how deep you can go.
Or what will swirl up out of the abyss.

So you keep playing roulette with your dreams.

Can't do it.
What will people think?
How will I make money?
I don't know if it's safe.

You don't have to fling yourself off a cliff. Wings might be overrated.
Just have to keep tuning in to the things you love.
With all the fears riding along, until they slowly drown....because the deep end can't support them.

Can you quench this longing, this unending desire?
You will never know how deep you can go.
Knowing is for the safe ground.
Some get tired of standing at the edge and wondering.

Step forward.
It's the baptism only you can give yourself.
Nobody else in all the world holds this voodoo.
The world marches on, it isn't holding it's breathe.

What you thirst for washes over you, it closes over your head.
You aren't drowning though.
Not at all.

It melts around every smothered emotion.
There's so much in the deep, all you can do is be alive this moment.
Be unsure and terrified and in love with this one life,
with the chasm of desire and every possibility it holds.

The truth is, you can swim and float and even dive and dive again.
You don't have to fling yourself off some ledge.
Just step in. Sink deep. Feel what you love surround you.

Come on in...the water's fine.

                    Photo copyright; Keith Dixon Studios 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Threads of our scars

Cancer survivors;Martha, Sharon and Brandie.Courage and beauty embodied

What I have learned is that we are made up of scars. Fabulous, awful, cutting and dangerous scars that connect us. Connect our stories and our alone. Scars our bodies weave. Scars we weave.

Knit them gently. Oh so gently. Let them be a landscape.  Delicate embellishment.  These scars that connect us. Never knitting them so tightly that breathe becomes labor. Or making a tomb of them. Never knitting them into a casket of fear and longing. Knit them gently. So we can pull a tendril here, or there. A thread of seeing. A thread of knowing. Of  "I see you" and of the telling.

 Let us be a landscape. A Story. Let us sing of longing and desire and pain. Sing loudly. Sing boldly. Intertwine these scars ever so delicately. Press them into our skin, our spirits with love. Let the sediment sift down in between so they don't define us as much as our stories about them. Let these scars illuminate strength, fortify fragility with the knitting together.

Inspired by Andrea Gibson poem, "Birthday".
Our bodies will walk with the strong fiber of being. Walk through this world with threads trailing behind. Don't pull one too hard. Let them brush against our skin as we walk. Stitch us together in resilience, their tendrils entangling. Kindred spirits facing dark. Facing hurt. Facing light and breathing it all in at once, until the scars can barely contain the fiber. Until the dark nights and lonely days turn into soft. Until the tide of your existence can ebb and lull without a battle.

We are not at war with this world. With it's stories told upon our skin. Our scars are not all battle wounds. They stretch with our coming and going. Becoming silken threads. They float with us as a trail of braided wonder. Touch them.  Yield to them. Feel their ridges describing this terrain.

Our craters and lumps, our tears and engravings, the gaping holes we try to fill that scream of longing not met. That meteorite impact can't be filled. Except with wonder; or maybe occasional chocolate. Look in awe at this skin carrying cells. Broken and vast and whole all at once. Own this terrain that is ours.

This fearless wonder of a machine that has not yet taken us out of this world. When it does, I hope our scars are soft and perfect and woven so gently we can breathe down into them.

Let them be a cradle to carry our stones and eggs and beautiful things. Let them be an ark to carry our iron, our blood, our dreams. Rocking inside that boat of scars, across the voyage of forever. Our star-stuff embodied in not-so-broken flesh.

Flesh that walks like a flash on this sphere before morphing into other star stuff. Cocoon ourselves in this scar-boat carrying us across the vast. Love it; every cell is art, stories, earth, and salt. It's varied forms were never meant to last.
"500 Reasons to Love You"

*Credit and thanks to Keith Dixon Studios for photography.
Art available at Ren Allen, Artist online gallery.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Act of defiance; part 2

Does there really need to be a part 2? Why yes, yes I believe so.

Some awesome synchronicity happened from the last post which caused me to remember one of the thoughts I originally had when Judy Clements posted for advice about how to deal with painting for the public. She asked, I answered and that comment led to the first blog post on this topic. But the thread that keeps tickling is about process.

Process is very different from outcome. Are we outcome oriented or process oriented?  As a parent, I am much more interested in my children's process than any outcome. As an artist I tend to put outcome goals on myself. That can be dangerous territory.

Of course we have ideas about what we want to create, or at least a general direction. Frustration often stems from outcome and expectation not meeting up. Part of me thinks it is the artist's curse because the things you see in your mind are often going to be far more amazing than what our hands can create. An artist's mind is full of WOW.  How do you express that "wow" in adequate terms?

What if we release a lot of our ideas about outcome? What if we become like children again and learn to experiment. Become willing to create "crap" without labeling it as such? What if the process is the most important part and outcome secondary?

I'm not going to pretend I have this mastered. I care about adequately expressing what is in my doubt. It rarely matches up. I am learning that expectations in art are pretty much as deadly as expectations in any other part of life.  * Liberally apply some Zen Buddhism here*.

Art has a life of it's own. Sometimes the thing we imagined we would say with our art or try to create  has different ideas. Just as willingness to be vulnerable is powerful, so is release. Release of outcome. Release of judgment of our own art, even though that has it's place in growth as well. Release enough to be at one with our process. To immerse ourselves in the process. Even lose ourselves in it once in a while. Let's see where this art can take us.

Process and judgment. Those two things bring me back to painting for an audience.

Process is messy. It doesn't look very good at various stages. In fact, it looks pretty amateur. Process means making "mistakes" we didn't want to make. It means stopping and fixing those things or incorporating them. Process is often private, intense work.

What happens when you allow yourself to be eviscerated? To be laid bare? Exposed for the world during that process?  It feels oh-so-vulnerable. So oh-my-god-they-can-see-me-when-I-want-to-hide in the process.  It is the most exposed feeling I've ever had.

That is what brings up the insecurities. It gets comfortable to finish work and put it out for the world to see eventually. But to let just anybody see your process?

What does an artist's process look like?

That has as many answers as there are artists in the world. One thing I have realized over the years is that we need to see process. We need to see the mess. The not-quite-there form. We need to see artist's struggle, see them question themselves. We need to know we share similarities.

It is far too easy to put yourself in the category of "I could never do that" and let go. Watching an artist during the creation of art is fascinating. Watching birth is fascinating!  Birth of all kinds, metaphorical or not is messy business.

Inviting people into my mess has helped me learn so much. It has helped me connect with my audience in a whole new way. Keeping them out of that process makes art a mystery. A mystery and a dance to which they have not been invited. I love inviting people into my world now. It keeps me humble because dang, I make a lot of mistakes. It keeps me connected because they can ask questions while they watch it unfold right in front of them. It shows people what process looks like and encourages.

People need to know about the mess of birth. That the frustrations which accompany creation are okay. That they are not alone. That you welcome the mess.

It was really awesome to watch world renowned body artist Craig Tracy and his sweetie Ashley Breaux painting for a huge audience during the Palate to Palette event in Chattanooga recently. Their willingness to be surrounded by noise and questions and photos and hub-bub gave so many of us a chance to see their work flow in person. As a body painter it was empowering. I learned about tools during this observation and solved some of my own challenges. Rather than intimidating, it was growth.

Do we have a responsibility to share our process with others? Not necessarily. Only the individual can choose that. Solitude has a very important role to play as well.

For me, it has been a crucial part of my evolution as an artist. My hope is that others realize the insecurities are going to surface. They exist for most of us at first. You don't have to take them seriously though.

As my friend Patti Peters says when those voices start tripping me up...."Shut UP Ren. It always turns out fine. Just paint."

Just. Paint.

             Photo courtesy of the brilliantly talented Keith Dixon Studios.

Special thanks to client and friend Renee Bowman for commissioning this piece and for letting me share it in such a public manner!