A few years ago we packed up and moved our family to a new home in a new city with a new school and new employment. Every day leading up to the move was full of real estate issues, cleaning house, planning for the transition, etc, etc…Moving falls in the Top 5 list of most stressful life events we encounter-it is a time of rapid change.
I created “Catch My Breath” following this period of transition. Painting right through the transitions in my life has been a growth point for me-not waiting until the “perfect time in life to create”, but creating right in the middle of it. Painting helps me to process my life as I live it. I used to think “I’ll paint more someday when…”
If you would have told me five years ago that this time in my life was coming, I wouldn’t have believed you.
For the past four to five years, I’ve been sitting on my couch in the quiet, thinking, pondering, and sketching in my art journal. I’ve been going to my studio adding paint to canvas. I’ve been applying to art fairs and art exhibits, traveling and sharing my work in an ever widening circle around central Iowa.
One day, last winter I was asked if I was interested in exhibiting my work at the Iowa State University Memorial Union. I said “Yes” and agreed to bring 25+ medium to large paintings to be hung in December and January, which is good timing for me since I don’t normally travel for art shows during the winter. I spent this year looking forward to the show and creating new paintings knowing that the exhibit date would be coming up following my art fair season.
One other rather strange thing that has been happening to me recently at art fairs is that several people have repeatedly mentioned to me I should be exhibiting my work in Florida. Now as an artist from the heart of the prairies in Iowa, this was initially surprising to me. Doing an art show in Florida was not something I imagined myself to be doing in the near future. But, clients began to purchase my paintings and telling me they were planning on bringing the art to their condos in Florida. Others were telling me my colors and swirls and designs reminded them of water and I should be showing them in Florida. I began to listen to the comments about Florida that kept coming as I shared my work, and this fall decided to apply to art fairs in Florida for the month of January.
By October, I started to get acceptance letters from a couple of Florida shows. I got waitlisted to a few shows (“waitlisted” is artist talk for what happens if you almost make it into the show-it means if another artist drops out of the show, they might call you) and I got rejected from a few shows (which is another thing that happens frequently to artists).
By Thanksgiving I had to finish all of my paintings for the Iowa State show and I had to make decisions about what Florida shows to attend and how I was going to handle all the logistics of going to Florida.
And then, after a year of planning, painting and preparation, my art exhibit Nuances of Freedom opened on Dec. 14 at the Iowa State University Memorial Union Gallery. Over the last month, I’ve had a delightful time sharing the show with friends and family who have visited over the holidays. A couple of school groups are scheduled to visit the gallery, who I have the opportunity to talk with about the art. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Art Reception on Tuesday, Feb. 5 from 6-8pm in the Memorial Union Gallery. For more information on the show, visit Memorial Union Exhibits Ames Artist Van Zee’s Work-Ames Tribune.
In addition, I have my first art fair in Florida this upcoming weekend. I’ll be sharing my art at the Las Olas Art Fair in Ft. Lauderdale from Jan. 5 & 6. I’ll also be exhibiting at Boca Fest in Boca Raton, FL on Jan. 12 & 13 and the Boca Raton Fine Art Show on Jan. 27 & 28.
If you would have told me even a year ago that I would be simultaneously having a large exhibit of my work here in Iowa, while doing three art shows in Florida, I wouldn’t have imagined it would be possible. It’s like the journey to creating the Nuances of Freedom show spilled over into other parts of my art business and my life. Stepping into a lifestyle of choosing freedom on a regular basis, helped me to find the creative courage to pursue other goals.
Our human condition is to not feel freedom, but to focus on pain, pressures, restrictions, perfectionism, doubts, and fears. But, expressing our creativity helps us to tap into our inner core, to tap into our spirit within where vast resources of energy, abundance and intuitive knowing await. Expressing my creativity helps me to process my life, to leave a record of the fact “I was here” and to share the beauty I see. Painting allows me a place for my internal thoughts and insights to be processed visually.
We all have things we want to do in our lives-passions to pursue, dreams to fulfill, hopes that life could be different. We all experience pain, hurt, fear, and at some point we have to decide “what is going to win?” Will it be the lies or the truth? Am I going to live a restricted, “safe” life or a life of freedom? I’m not talking about the freedom to do “whatever we want, when we want to” or the freedom to hurt or injure others, or our own bodies, but rather an internal freedom to make choices that will be healthy and life giving to us and those around us.
I know that art can move us, heal us, inspire us and assist us to make sometimes imperceptible shifts and changes that can eventually, over time, with repeated actions, help us to make choices and develop habits that break us free from the negative and bring us to places we may never have imagined possible.
I’m excited to share that my solo show “Nuances of Freedom” will be opening December 14, 2018 at the Iowa State University Memorial Union in Ames, IA. This show will feature over 25 of the paintings I created through a process of carefully observing my own creative practice.
One thing I’ve learned after years of creative work-either my own creative work or nurturing the creative work of others, is that paying attention to the little things is important. When I first started out on my own personal creative journey, I thought “If I just had a beautiful studio space, then i could make things” or “If I only I didn’t have to go to work so much, then I’d have the time to create paintings.” These avoidance thought patterns were not helpful to my creative work. I know in my own creative journey that has been just as hard to start a painting if I was in my basement working on top of a door laid over two filing cabinets or in a well-lit sunroom with big windows and a great easel.
My experience is that while “lack of studio space” or “lack of time” are some of the easiest excuses to why we say we can’t do something creative, these are surface level issues. They are rarely the true reasons for why we have such a difficult time beginning, continuing or finishing creative work. There are often much more hidden, subtle, and nuanced reasons why we are not giving ourself permission to pick up the pen, pour paint, or make a life change. We often deceive ourselves that the real reason we don’t create is due to outside forces or circumstances. The reality is that most times this truly is a “inside job”. It is the internal issues that are creating the roadblocks.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been consciously observing the nuances of my own creative process- the personal rhythms, the energy flows and my own internal mindsets. I’ve been asking myself questions like…
“How do I create a life of abundant creative freedom?”
“What structures and experiences will nourish my creativity and support my work?”
The lines, colors, and movement of these paintings are brief moments of captured energy from my own growth process. They are a reflection of the inner changes and experiments I’m exploring as I work to intentionally build a lifestyle of creative freedom.
“Nuances of Freedom” opens December 14, 2018 at the Iowa State University Memorial Union in the Gallery. The Gallery is on the 3rd floor of the Memorial Union located at 2229 Lincoln Way Ames, IA 50011. The show runs through February 6, 2019. The gallery is free and open to the public 8 a.m.-8 p.m., seven days per week unless reserved for meetings. Call 515-296-6848 to confirm open viewing hours.
You may also want to mark your calendar now for the Art Reception for “Nuances of Freedom” on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 from 6-8pm in the Gallery.
What kinds of problems are you struggling to solve on a daily basis? What areas of your life and work need innovative thoughts? A recent problem I was invited to solve by one of my artistic communities, the central Iowa based Paintpushers group, was to create two paintings with the theme of “Light & Dark” for our yearly group art show. I was given a couple of canvas sizes to choose from and a deadline for completion and exhibition. And, then time, to contemplate and create.
Often times when we are faced with big problems to solve and looking for truly innovative ideas, the project can seem so overwhelming it is hard to even know where to start. I started my creative process by asking myself big picture questions like “How do I visually represent the vast concepts of ‘Light & Dark’? How do I put color, line, and form around such abstract concepts? What comes to mind when I think about light and dark? What do they represent to me?” These big picture questions are a good place to start while grasping vision for innovative ideas, but only the first step.
Over the early months of the project, I let my mind drift around the concept of light and dark. I thought about the concepts of light and dark aesthetically, philosophically, emotionally and spiritually. I read current news reports, ancient scriptures, art history books and novels. I wrote notes in my sketchbook along the way. I spent time drawing what felt like random abstract shapes in my art journal. I had conversations with artists in my Paintpushers group. I worked on other paintings for different shows. I interacted with my friends and family. I went to yoga and took walks. Basically, I call this the “marinating phase”. Like a good steak, ideas need time to marinate. Ideas need time for the thinker to research and to draw connections from a variety of sources.
My thoughts around the topic grew deeper, actually more confused. “Is one painting all light and one all dark? Do they each have elements of both? Who am I to try to paint Light & Dark? What wins Light or Dark???” And, now I was sinking down into the messy middle…cross pollinating ideas, the sorting and eliminating concepts. I referenced my own experiences and I looked for the universal connections. For example, I know that I have personally experienced light notably masked by grayness/darkness-a light marred by dark shadows. I know, too, that this is the experience of humanity-a universal experience for all of us. I know that each of us gets to choose where we will focus in the midst of these complicated realities-will it be on the light? Will it always be on the dark? Will it be with eyes open wide to the reality of both?
I started wrestling through the emotional and spiritual roadblocks to solving my problem. I asked myself “How do I let despair, anger, evil win and block out the light? Do I pretend that everything is sunshine and roses putting on a false front of uber happiness that is unsustainable? Can I acknowledge the beautiful, tumultuous experience of having both light and dark simultaneously appearing in my daily life often times at a mock rate of speed as I do something as simple as scrolling through my social media feeds? And, how on earth, might I somehow be able to translate these larger questions through paint?”
As I was working through my own personal, “why and how” questions, my fellow Paintpushers members were asking themselves similar questions. I find it kind of fascinating to watch this process of corporate creativity and innovation. What happens when you take a group of visual artists with numerous personalities and life experiences and ask them to commit to exploring the same topic-in this case creating two pieces of work with the theme of Light & Dark? What happens as each individual artist lives through the wrestle of how they might interpret these concepts with their own media, personal symbols, textures, and color choices? What happens when we all finally commit to doing the work and start creating?
For at some point in the innovation process, the creator actually needs to commit to the work. Decisions start to be made. Tools come out- in our case…we begin to draw, sketch, paint, pull brushes out, uncap paint pens, order canvases, commit to size of panels, pay fees, sharpen pencils, fret, and plan. We apply the paint, pencil, and charcoal. We start with 1st layers, obsess, stare, avoid, research more. We add more paint, take photos, turn work upside down, paint over, look at it from across the room, and complain about the process to anyone around us. And, then we finish. We declare a painting complete. We photograph and varnish and sign and title and add wire to the back.
But, then this creation, this innovative solution to a problem, this personal interpretation of a theme, needs to be shared, needs to leave the safety of the studio, needs to make its way into the world and the artist needs to let it go. What happens when a group of creators come together and shares this new body of work corporately imagined, but executed in the privacy and quiet of individual studios? My answer to this question is growth-growth is what has happened. Growth and transformation and innovation-new ideas and images have been welcomed into the world.
The process of innovation is fraught with ups and downs, sideways maneuvers, emotional upheaval and uncertain outcomes. But, for each of us that undertakes the creative process, we transform a bit of who we are in the process. Taking invisible concepts like “light” and “dark” and making them visible-that is what artists do, but the process for how we actually do it is sometimes quite a mystery to the artist themselves while in the middle of the process and almost always to those around the artist.
However, this process does not need to remain a mystery.
I read so much about how our culture is deeply in need of innovation, but I fear we have much to learn about where true innovation comes from. The worlds of education, business, government, health, science all have deep needs which will take innovative thinkers to solve.
How does change, transformation, and innovation happen in our communities and businesses?
What if artists become the teachers of innovation and problem solving?
What if artists would teach other people this process of corporately imagining new things- how to ask big picture questions, how to research and draw connections, how to live the wrestle and commit to the work?
What if artistic communities become the model for sharing explorations and incubating innovative ideas together?
And while the Paintpushers “Light & Dark” show at the Heritage Gallery for 2018 is now history, the process we took to achieve the innovating work in this show is something we can repeat over and over again in the many arenas of our lives. And, it is a process you can adapt to your own problems-your own situations in need of solutions and innovative answers.