During this time of new realities we are living in, one healthy way I have found to process the changes in our culture and find my way back to my creative work is by taking frequent walks in nature.
This spring and summer I have made repeated walks around and around the circular path of my neighborhood park planted with a wide variety of interesting trees and a small natural prairie area.
One Saturday night this spring at the end of a challenging week, I stopped mid-walk around the park as I spied one of the wood benches. I didn’t sit on the bench, I laid down on my back sprawled across the bench-feet dangling over the arm. This is not normal behavior for me. But, I’d had it. I was overwhelmed. I closed my eyes, listened to the wind, and took a moment to just be.
Eventually, I opened my eyes and looked up. There was a tree reaching its branches out over me. I thought “Those leaves are beautiful dancing in the wind. Are those leaves aspen leaves? Do we even have aspen trees in Iowa? I know they are prevalent across the mountains in Colorado, but here in Iowa?”
And, that train of thought led to words, and then more thoughts led to more words, leading to this poem.
Maybe the birds always sing at this vibrant level in the spring
Maybe the crabapple blossoms always smell this sweet
Maybe the trees always burst forth this brightly green
Maybe the breeze always brushes across my skin this freshly
Maybe the taste of grilled anything has been too overlooked
Maybe the Aspen leaves have always quaked this splendidly
Maybe my ears have not been tuned in
Maybe my eyes have grown dull by not seeing deeply
Maybe my nose has been too bent to the grindstone
Maybe my taste buds have been too quickly satisfied
Maybe my skin has been trapped inside for too long
Maybe my presence to reality has been misplaced
Maybe having the world stop for a while has allowed nature to awaken
Maybe having my world stop for a while has helped me to pay attention
Maybe having life interrupted has led me to profound observation
Maybe having new rhythms has helped me to calm incessant noise
Maybe having moments to ponder gratitude has revived empathy
Maybe having a new reality
is not the end of everything
but a shift to renewed beginnings
Melynda Van Zee ©2020
Enjoy a peek inside my studio process as I created the painting, “Unraveling Towards a New Reality.”
Here’s to shifting to new realities and renewed beginnings!
Stay well friends,
Someone encouraged me recently that as an artist I should be noticing that I notice what I notice. I’ve been noticing lately the many reasons why I paint. There are so many reasons NOT to paint…but, why have I chosen to dedicate so much time and energy to the practice of painting?
One reason that I paint is that it is a sensory experience for me. I experience the vibrancy of the colors flowing out of the brush across the canvas and the feel of the lines pouring out as thick paint moves across the surface.
But, creating art is also so much more than that for me. When I am creating, I take the time in quiet to listen to my own internal landscape and translate it to the canvas. I allow what’s inside to flow out through my hands. I process my world in a healthy and life-giving way.
Painting is meditative and centering. It is a time for me to sift through what is important and what needs to fade away. Sometimes it is a safe place to wrestle with unknowns and mine the depths of my life experiences-the good, the bad, the gifts and the tragedies.
I take this long, hard journey deep inside my thoughts, my heart, with brushes, pigment, water, and time. I paint this inner excavation-down through the layers past all the junk that gets in the way. I take these sensory, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual journeys time and time again through the years.
The finished painting is not the journey. The journey encompasses so much more. But, the painting is an important by-product of the internal processes. Maybe it’s like the postcards sent to friends and family along the way while traveling?
So, I’ve taken these journeys…why could that matter to anyone else?
Isn’t it self absorbed?
A giant waste of time?
A waste of precious resources?
A waste of art supplies?
Who really cares?
How can a few more paintings in this world make anything different?
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg hinting at issues that creatives battle against. They are only the beginning of the thoughts that can and do haunt or stop our creativity from flowing into our world.
Because I can. Because it is part of me being alive in this world. Because it keeps me healthier. Because I am human. Because you are too. Because art reminds us of who we are. Because it helps us all to heal. Because it activates our senses. Because it reminds us that we all have stories. Because it builds community around us that helps us survive the perils of life. Because we all have the task of figuring out who we are in this world and what kind of life we wish to create. Because we are all in this journey together.
I have three exhibits available for viewing the next couple of months. Freedom from the Core is on view at the Becoming Free Semeiotic Gallery in Chicago, IL. This gallery space is a beautiful and historic church building in north downtown Chicago. The exhibit will be on view until October, 2019.
Nuances of Freedom is on view at Harvest Vineyard in Ames, IA. They will be hosting an Artist Talk & Reception on September 15, 2019 from 12:30-2:30 pm. Come join us at the Harvest Cafe if you’d like to hear more about my work.
Finally, I have my last couple of art fairs of the year this month. This weekend I’ll be Rockbrook Village in Omaha, NE and on September 22 you can find me at the Octagon Art Festival in Ames, IA. This will be my only Iowa art fair this year.
“FREE: Pathways Toward Freedom”, my solo art show of original acrylic paintings remains open at the Ankeny Art Center in Ankeny, IA. The show will be open for two more weeks and closes on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. The show is free and open to the public. Gallery hours are 9:00 am-1:00 pm Tues-Fri, 5:00 pm-7:00 pm Thursday, and 9:00-Noon Saturday.
Creating paintings that resonate with viewers, paintings that hold the viewers attention and bring them back again for another look, is a major goal of every painter. I spent the winter months this year buried in my Iowa studio creating a new body of work and now I’ve started to share it publicly. I’m two art shows in for the year. In the last month I’ve been to my first show in St. Louis, MO at the Laumeier Sculpture Park and participated in a show on the downtown streets of Iowa City, IA.
One of the major benefits to artists exhibiting at an art fair is getting direct feedback from your audience and customers. I’ve learned to observe my visitors and listen closely to their feedback. I’ve also started to jot down some of their comments and observations for me to reflect on later. They are teaching me about my own work. They ask inquisitive questions and as I answer their questions they help me to become more articulate about my work and techniques. Creating a painting is much more of a solitary pursuit, interacting with the general public in my art booth is not.
Observations, Questions and Comments from the road so far this year…
“I feel like you are inside my head.”
“There is so much depth here.”
“You’re my kind of painter.”
“Looks like lots of spontaneity there- I like that…to see surprises.”
“Calming and soothing, yet full of life bubbling up.”
“It’s just like free… so free.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I love your stuff. It’s so vibrant!”
From a trio of college friends… “Groovy!” “It’s crazy stuff!” “Rad!”
“What is the name of your method? What about the ‘Van Zee Free Method’?”
And, lots of questions about technique…
“Is it glue?”
“Is it Elmer’s?”
“Is it wax?”
“Is it encaustic?”
To which I answer… “No, it is all acrylic mediums and paints”.
“Really??? Cause I didn’t even know acrylic could do anything like this?”
And, then I start to notice which paintings people are gravitating toward and which paintings they look at for a long time and which paintings they point out and talk about to their friends or family.
This year I’ve noticed there is one painting that consistently gets feedback. It is the painting titled “Unraveled Fears”.
Some comments about “Unraveled Fears”…
“It looks like a tornado of love.”
“I think it is an elephant.”
“Looks like female anatomy parts to me.”
“It’s a tornado. I know it’s a tornado!”
“Have you ever in your life stood in front of a painting for such a long time?” From two college age musicians who spent a good half hour studying the painting
And, an interchange between a mom and her high school age son…(which so appropriately happened on Mother’s Day)
Son: “I think it is going up.”
Mom: “No, it is going down.”
Son: “No, I am sure it is going up.”
Mom: “No. I am positive it is going down and I’m the mom so I am right!”
“Unraveled Fears” may be the painting that I wrestled with the most this winter. I spent so much time adding more layers to this painting and and it was the work I was the most hesitant to share. This seems to be a reoccurring experience for me- the paintings that resonate deeply with me, the ones that feel the most deeply personal, the pieces I’m concerned about sharing…end up being the paintings that elicit the most in-depth concentration and conversations. They draw people in for a longer look.
The work that resonates deeply with me, also resonates deeply with others.
And, once again, I am reminded and challenged of what I know to be true…that when artists create from that which is within, when they create from that which is authentic, when they allow their heart and soul to flow into the work, the work will resonate and the real conversations will begin and continue long into the future.