The teaching residency I just returned from at the Holderness School in NH gave me a wonderful opportunity to listen. I was honored to be a part of what is called Artward Bound. Artward Bound provides an intense opportunity for the sophomore students to be emerged in the arts for ten days of uninterrupted work. The school brings professional artists to the school for this artist-in-residence program. The artists this year offered a variety of artistic forms, including, improv, poetry, photography, painting, hip hop dance, ceramics, blacksmithing, drumming and altered bookmaking (the class I taught). My time at Holderness allowed me to listen and experience many different art forms and artistic journeys.
I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time with the artist, Marlene White http://marlenewhite.com. As you know Marlene went to Goddard College with us. I had always found her inspiring and admired her work on many levels. Since our paths rarely crossed at Goddard I was really excited we would have an opportunity to get to know each other better at Holderness. In no time at all it felt like we were old friends. We enjoyed juicy conversations, rich with meaning and I was reminded of all of our late night chats. By the end of the residency my head was swimming with things I knew I would ponder long after we left the residency.
I learned a lot about listening from Marlene. Her work is very intuitive and spontaneous, yet controlled and beautifully executed. She has a way of allowing her emotions to pour out onto the canvas, which is refreshing, candid and beautiful. She truly listens to herself as she works and trusts her instincts. If she doesn’t like something or the conversation within the painting shifts she just paints over the previous layer. Each of her canvases are impressive in size, yet the many layers of paint applied to a single canvas I found miraculous. At first glance you might notice one thing, yet hidden below the surface of each canvas are lingering traces of Marlene’s conversation with the painting. She uses video to record this conversation, editing it into a beautiful memory of that moment. In her videos you might see an owl transform itself into a tree and then a figure. Each layer of the painting is rich with energy and meaning. Marlene graciously allows the viewer to gaze into her private world through video and I felt privileged to share in her process.
The students at Holderness were so lucky to have been able to share in her creative process as well. They were taught in a similar manner using six large canvases that could be moved around and painted on in different configurations. The reorganization of paint between each class was amazing. In the morning you might walk into the studio and see an abstract painting transformed into a penguin by the afternoon. Marlene and I spent an afternoon painting together. Although somewhat intimidated at first, there was something unbelievably exhilarating about this process. Marlene taught me to not think so much as to listen. Our work morphed into a large cake that grew flowers in the video. It was so liberating and FUN! I learned to trust my intuition and not get caught up in the “thinking” like I often do. I feel a big painting coming on soon for myself. Who knows, maybe it will be ongoing and transform itself over time, with may layers like the cake we painted.
When you look artwork does the size influence you in any way? My smaller paintings always seemed to hold a certain intimacy for me, yet Marlene described the intimacy of the larger canvas and I felt that for the first time as I painted. I was reminded of the giant Rothko paintings I saw at the Tate Modern that had such an effect on me.