"How did the messy person make such beautiful art."
My 4-year-old granddaughter on Jackson Pollock.
There are several layers to this question as stated. One, that Pollock might actually be a messy person (a cursory glance at the history does not reveal the level of veracity of this claim). Two, that his artwork was actually messy, (mmm. maybe). Three, that a four-year-old can confirm that so much of Pollock's work was, in fact, beautiful. How does a messy person make such beautiful art?
Pollock was a pioneer in using alkyd enamel paint, focusing for many years on his "drip method." I don't believe the technique was entirely random, nor that he did not have some level of organization (non-messiness) in his studio. There is nothing worse than being "in the zone" and not being able to access the next absolutely necessary tool or color. But there is something that rises from deep inside the artist that, when allowed to escape, creates beauty, however fiery. Or messy. Pollock's art was called "volcanic."
Somewhat ironically, my granddaughter and I can sit fascinated for long moments watching YouTube videos of acrylic pours. We try to emulate some of this work, and it is a messy project. Evidently my granddaughter is not so averse to messiness as to help clean up much afterwards, but I digress.
I have heard people say, "what is so difficult about acrylic pours? It's just pouring paint." And another, "Where is the focal point?" Just as so many of us (and I have been guilty of this) think of some artwork, "Even a child could do that," or worse, "Even I could do that." Well, yes, some things are like that. (Just like an American Idol contestant whose immediate social milieu convinces them they are a darlin' and the hottest talent since Elvis, the truth will out on the stage) But some things, that look so simple, are indeed dancing into beauty, in an almost inexplicable way.
I wish for this. And it mostly eludes me. So I think, sometimes, maybe I need to be more messy.
Recently my husband commented that he needed something new to learn. He's already studying astronomy, Hebrew, botany, woodworking, and a smattering of other subjects, but nonetheless, he needed something new. So he's now studying Yiddish.
I do understand this impulse. I have so much to do, and sufficient projects to keep me busy, but I have hit some plateaus and find myself often sighing at the "same old thing." But Yiddish?
After wondering momentarily if I needed to study Yiddish, too, the answer became clear.
I'm learning tapestry. Learning and relearning, and hopefully spiraling into some improvement, and coming to a place of design inspiration. I can learn technique, different styles, experiment with materials, learn(more) color theory, delve into the history and the biographies of tapestry artists and so on. There is even a language. "Hachure" anyone? (Gesundheit!) There is enough here to stimulate the brain for a long long time. Stimulate and sometimes confuse....
Yes, sometimes I have to hide from a current project for awhile until I solve it's particularly problem (as in--why am I getting visible warp on this piece when the sett and materials are the same as the last piece?) And in those moments I may think about throwing in the towel. But, you know, there is the investment to consider: yarn, looms, bobbins....
And the commitment of having SAID I am weaving tapestries. But mostly there is the continually renewing fascination with yarns, colors, shapes and process, no matter what the outcome.
But look at those amazing pomegranates on the Yiddish book. I could practice hachure on the highlights, do some weft bundling in the shadows, practice circles.
Maybe I have all the Yiddish I need for right now. Ja?
One of the most delightful aspects of tapestry development is the planning--the dreaming and playing. I love to pull down yarn balls and juxtapose them in different combinations--in relation to each other and sometimes in relation to source material. The moment a color "clicks in," it is all over for me--I am in love.
What do I mean by a color "clicking in?" While I do study and contemplate color theory, and try to abide by its certain injunctions, there comes a moment when colors in relationship become another entity, when their combination results in something much greater than the sum of their parts. And it is like tumblers on a lock dropping into place. Sometimes this happens in "violation" of color theory expectations, and I move a color aside, thinking
"no, no, no, that shouldn't work." And I fuss and fuss with other colors and usually come back to that first color moment-- that ka-thunk when the initial colors first hugged.
So, that being said, what are the cool red glasses for? Desirous of being sensitive to the relative values of yarns used in a tapestry, I use the glasses to negate the colors, stripping them down to their value to see if they are close in value for blending, or farther apart in value for good contrast.
I could maybe figure this out by squinting at the colors for a long time, or holding them up to a greyscale card one by one. But the red glasses are easier, certainly more fashionable, and there is nothing quite like looking through them out the studio window at sunset time.
What's so hard about that?
My first experience with tapestry was when I was a senior in High School and I took a class at the local YMCA. We wove on basic wooden frames leaned against the wall before which we sat cross-legged on the floor. It seemed a simple thing, if time consuming, and we were young and flexible enough to pursue weaving this way without undue pain. And I certainly thought, "Over under over under, under over under over.....what's so hard about that?"
When I returned to the art of weaving so many years later, I still carried with me that idea - that this has to be so simple. Why, then, has it turned into a type of Hydra, with ever increasing numbers of directions and skills to pursue like Hydra's multiplicity of heads. As soon as I think I've grown in skill, there is something else that spins me around, and demands my attention.
I cannot stop thinking about a scene in the movie "Frisco Kid." When blocked by a vertical drop down to a swiftly moving river, the experienced protagonist (Harrison Ford) maintains it is safer to go around, while the "greenhorn," Avram (Gene Wilder), says to himself, "That doesn't look so hard." Confused why his "pard" insists on going the long way, Avram sets off after him. Until his horse is panicked by a rattler, gallops toward the cliff and jumps off into the swirling waters below.
I feel like that guy.
I've naively muttered to myself, "That doesn't look so hard," then clutched the reins and gone galumphing over the cliff.
But what a happy surprise! The water is exhilarating and refreshing; there is much more depth and challenge than I ever expected. There is much to learn, much to play with, and enough to keep me in the saddle for years to come. It's a skill and it's an art. It's often frustrating,. And definitely addicting.
I apologize, though. I don't know what the rattler represents in this analogy....