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.

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

It calls to you.
It laps at your feet and drifts through your days, like river gently chiseling stone.
It feels like you might finally shrug off this long dormancy.
Finally awaken.

But you can't see bottom, so you 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.

Your dissatisfaction with that safe world, takes you right back to the threshold.
To the silky feel of the deep end lapping at your feet again.
You dip your foot in.
It's so soothing, so intriguing...
ebb and flow.
You wonder what would happen upon submersion.

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

So you keep playing roulette with your dreams.

No. 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 and grow wings.
You 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.

So you 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 we can't breathe. 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 the scars 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 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. And 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 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!

Monday, July 08, 2013

Acts of defiance

Demonstration for Flat Rock Middle School Students, 2013

I am an artist. Not often the one I'd like to be. But here I am, stumbling along, learning all the time and quieting those voices who try to tell me "not enough".

Not good enough. Not talented like those other know, the REAL artists. Not dedicated enough to my craft because I didn't get a degree or formal training. 

But an artist of sorts. The kind who comes and goes from her craft with little sincerity other than a need to have a method of expression in order to quiet herself. In order to find ways to say things I can't otherwise say. To focus my angst and swells of desire to see and do everything in this world. To keep from exploding.

I have been a dabbling artist my whole life. A practicing artist, the kind who makes some money here and there, for most of my adult life. Then I found the magic of body painting. 

I remember discovering this amazing art form in 2004. Suddenly my Superpowers* came into clear focus, my ability for creation and collaboration had found their home. Their WOW. I knew I wanted to paint people forever and that I would never be done with this. I just knew. Deep in my core. 

So body painting led to body painting shows. Body painting shows came with a price. The most frightening thing of all for me as an artist. I had to paint in front of people. Real live people.

They would see my process. They would see that I was a fake, not a real artist. Just a silly girl trying to do something she wasn't qualified to do. Certainly not for an audience. Buying some paint and painting a few people does not make you an artist. It can't fool them. Not for long.

But see, I had committed to this show, to this painting for a live audience throughout the day as a big "fuck you" to those voices telling me; not good enough. I do that frequently you know. 

Body art show at Nelson Fine Art, 2012

Like the day I hung a canvas painting right over the fireplace that I wasn't happy with. The painting I wasn't sure I'd ever be happy with. "People will see this" they said. "People will laugh" they said.  "People will know you aren't a real artist" they said. "Fuck off and die" I answered. "I'm hanging it up anyway."

So I did.

Guess what?  Nobody laughed. Nobody thought less of me. In fact, it inspired a few people. 

The voices got a little bit quieter. They could see I meant business.

But then my very first body art show came around. They started getting louder again. "Fuck off, I'm painting anyway" I reminded them.

So I did.

Guess what?  People were thrilled to see someone body painting live. To see several of us body painting live.  
Some of them had never heard of body painting and here was a room full of locals, willing to expose themselves (quite literally) to share this amazing art form.

The voices got less intense again.

Practice painting in studio, Jonesborough TN

I have continued in this manner many times over. Every time I paint for the public, which is now a regular activity, I feel that little nudge of "what if I can't think of anything new?" It is now a whisper...a silly flirt of a thing I can smile at and remember when it had more power. It is familiar, so I don't mind it's silly little attempts, failing as they are. 

Sharing your art with the world, with a live audience is often daunting. Sharing anything you care deeply about is hard at first. It won't get easier if you keep trusting those voices of disbelief. Telling it to "fuck off" is as simple as picking up the brush. It is as simple as saying "yes" to some request. It is doing the thing you do. Over and over and over again until you know, without a doubt, that your dreams and desires are far more powerful than the voices that say "wait, don't expose yourself...don't be vulnerable".

There is a great power in choosing to be vulnerable. Putting your art or music out in the world is a willingness to choose vulnerability. A willingness to be strong. A willingness to grow and to inspire others.

There will also be naysayers. Someone who doesn't appreciate your art. Someone who doesn't like it even. Gasp!! You aren't painting (drawing/singing/dancing) for them. You're doing it for you and for those who find themselves connecting to it. Let the others go. It's ok.

The last time I painted live for an art event, I was working with my back to the passing crowd so they could see my model. Portfolio and magazine articles about my work were spread out on the table next to me, for the interested. Someone behind me stopped and with a snort of derision said something about how "goth is the one thing that never goes away". 

Painting for Mini-Documentary filmed by Jami L. Bennett**

GOTH?? My art was being perceived as GOTH?  I was so annoyed I almost couldn't continue. His one inaccurate perception  (probably based on the Halloween sugar skull painting) was enough to make me mutter under my breath several times throughout the evening. "Goth? I'll show him goth!"  Did he not see the beautiful maternity bellies I had painted? Did he not glance at those sweet baby feet of tiny twins?

You know what? I wasn't painting for him. I am not painting for the people who see body painting as some freak show or for those who want to buy yet another paint-by-number landscape. I paint for me. I paint for the humans who come to me with a desire to express themselves or to find healing.  I paint for the chance to get better, to learn and to continue to inspire and be inspired. I paint.

Because I paint, because I care deeply, I will continue to paint in front of audiences. I will share my art form because some person, somewhere is going to connect with it. No voice in my head, no fear is worth letting go of the desire. 

Tell the voice to "fuck off". Right now. Today. Say "yes" to something you've been wanting to do that scares you. Move....just keep moving. It will be ok. I promise.

The voices of fear, the voices of "not enough" are only as strong as we allow them to be. The love for a thing is their Kryptonite. Our determination, their death. As we paint while people watch, their opinions and thoughts are really none of our business. We are about your business of creation. Breathe deep and watch it be born....

We choose how we answer those voices in every response. Every act of picking up a brush. Every direction that is opposite of safety. Let our response be an act of defiance.

*Credit to Fabeku Fatunmise for the notion of Superpowers and how to find them.  
**Mini-Documentary available at YouTube for viewing.

Photos courtesy of the brilliant and amazing Keith Dixon Studios.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

New Year's resolutions haven't been my thing for a long time, but I still look to the New Year as a chance to re-organize, examine, process and reflect. This year I'm feeling a need for some goal setting maybe, just  maybe. We are a goal-setting, goal-driven society but I see that cause a lot of grief for people as well. It's not so much the goals as the attachment to the goal that can become problematic in life. My Zen practice reminds me of this and the impermanence of it all.

For the first time in a long time, I am mapping out some goals. I'm realizing that it's the small things for me. The daily practices I need to be more mindful about.

It might be as simple as sitting down to write or do art instead of getting on Facebook. Or bake some bread and make soup for my family. I want those small moments to be wide awake as is in the daily tasks that we build the life we choose.

2012 was a lot about growth and taking big leaps. I'm hoping 2013 is continued growth and  personal development. I'd like to think that the steps I've taken up to now have prepared me for bigger success, for more dedication to the interests I have and to claiming more fully this life I love.

2012 was about saying "yes".  Yes to self-employment, yes to marriage, yes to signing up for a body are competition, yes to the development of a book.... YES.

Mostly I just sit in gratitude for all that is mine in this life. For the opportunities and friendships that have come my way. For my children, for this home, for the life we are building and have built together. For a soul-mate, for connections and for the time to do the things I love. For health and access to wonderful food.  I am a most fortunate human being.

As we reflect on the year and look towards the future, let us not lose living in the NOW. Right this second, we have much.

 EnJOY this moment, enjoy the planning and scheming and make sure you make some room for body paint and photography. Because I'd love to see you soon!!!