Coffee with Joaquín Torres-Garcia

Sometimes my head is filled with so much information and so many ideas that I cannot focus, resulting in accomplishing absolutely nothing. This is partly due to my present work environment. So lately I have been trying to develop habits that can reign in these ideas and store them for future reference. Journaling has never been my strong suit, but I feel it is so necessary at this time. I have always been jealous of artists that have managed to keep a running journal of their ideas and sketches and possess stacks of them to show for it.

I have piles of journals, but they  are partially filled, or contain a mishmash of themes with no consistency at all,  making little sense, void of notes and explanations. But these are journals of an artist that knew very little of herself. Times have changed.

These mornings, after the usual madness subsides, I find myself at my dining table accompanied by my favorite cup filled with strong, black coffee, and my assorted sketchbooks and moleskins. I say assorted because I have worked out a system that seems to work for me. I have learned to dedicate a separate sketchbook to a specific use or project. Each notebook is unique in style or marked in such a way to quickly determine its purpose. This saves me from wasting a great deal of time trying to determine which black moleskin among the stockpile of other moleskins I need for that particular sketch. I use this time to review the notebooks and add any notes, sketches or images I have tucked away. This helps me to focus on the work ahead. I don't know why I haven't worked this way before. Seems simple huh?

One of my favorites among the books is an abandoned watercolor sketchbook I began to fill with images of other artists' works. Some come from pamphlets, or from iPhone pics from museum visits, or whatever source that carries an image I want to remember. It is like a physical Pinterest board. I like this because I can jot notes alongside the images. I know I can do this in a more technical manner but I am sometimes old-fashioned and I like the tactile nature of the book. This idea came to me in the course of our holiday in NYC while perusing through museums, more precisely, MoMA. It was the retrospective on Joaquín Torres-Garcia that got me thinking.

[Installation view of Joaquín Torres-García: The Arcadian Modern at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (October 25, 2015–February 15, 2016). Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © 2015 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

[Installation view of Joaquín Torres-García: The Arcadian Modern at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (October 25, 2015–February 15, 2016). Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © 2015 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

I was not familiar with this artist before my visit to MoMA, but I quickly became taken with his work. First of all, a quick history. Joaquín Torres-Garcia was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1874. Even though he spent much of his life in Europe and the United States he is still considered the father of Latin American Constructivism. Constructivism was a movement in which artists believed art should promote radical social reform and directly reflect the modern world with an emphasis on technical skill and composition of material. He became acquainted with Pablo Picasso while studying in Spain and while living in Paris became friends with Piet Mondrian and Michel Seuphor, forming the movement Cercle et Carré (Circle & Square), an alternative to Surrealism. Holland Cotter of The New York Times describes him as "...an avant-gardist who was as interested in the archaic as in the new and believed they formed a continuum." In the publication Joaquín Torres-Garcia, The Arcadian Modern, MoMA labels his approach as a

“schematic impulse: rather than trying to destroy representation, to annihilate it, transcend it, or even less to subsume it into something else, or into nothing, he found a schematic solution to it. He was compelled to touch the skeleton of things, the ‘thingness’ of things, what gives things their quality of being a thing...He would eventually strip symbolism of its ‘ism’ and be left with the symbol alone, in all its schematic force.”

It is this approach that draws me to his work. But this is off point. Included in MoMa's retrospective were the original artist notebooks of Joaquín Torres-Garcia.

I really took pleasure in surveying the artist's notebooks alongside his work. Having had a glimpse into the artist's motivations, thought processes and visualizations was both informative and inspiring. Obviously such a record could prove invaluable to an artist's process. 

Thus the creation of my own...

Home (working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter...)

I love my studio but these days I spend very little time there. If you have been paying attention you know that I am tethered to my house alongside an adorable 11 week old  puppy by the name of Hamilton (yes, named for the 10-dollar founding father...you know you want to sing along). In order to keep those creative fires going I have to work at home and believe me, it is not easy with all that cuteness underfoot. Home in and of itself offers all kinds of distractions. Add a puppy and you might as well forget about it. Forgetting about it is not an option. Working at home is in some ways good for me. It requires discipline, patience, and forgiveness. Let me explain.

A wonderful thing about a studio space is having an environment dedicated to creating and nothing else. There is no packing or unpacking of materials in the middle of a project. If you have control over your space, distractions can be kept to a minimum. Home is a different story. It would be very easy for me to not to clutter my living space with grungy bottles of ink and gritty jars of graphite that transfer their contents to every surface they contact. It would be easy not to litter my house with scraps of paper and yogurt containers full of brushes and drawing utensils. It would be easy not  to clear my dining room table of journals and trays of paint before sitting down for a meal. Working at home has required a sense of organizing tools and supplies in a way that can be unloaded and then again stowed with ease. However, even the most organized of systems require use and application. When things are more burdensome there is a tendency to abstain, This is when you need that voice in your head constantly reminding yourself why you create and how important it is that you stick to the task at hand. 

Patience is indeed a virtue and not one that I am known to possess. I am eager to return to the canvas, but painting at home is not preferable. This is motivating me to experiment with materials that are more portable, less complicated to use and less assaulting on the senses. Unfortunately, materials that are less familiar sometimes come with a steeper learning curve. This is where patience is imperative. It takes time to become familiar with a new medium and mistakes are inevitable. But the more you work and the less concerned you are with perfection, the greater the outcome. 

Last but not least, forgiveness. Nothing kills creativity more than feeling like you should be doing something else. Your house is a mess. So what! Are you happier with a clean floor than with the two drawings you could have completed instead? I think not. And maybe those two drawings suck. So what! The more you work, the better your work becomes. Every sketch is a step closer to that masterpiece or that statement you are trying to make. The floor however will be dirty again tomorrow and you are back where you started. To be clear, I am not suggesting one live in filth. I am suggesting that things don't have to be pristine if is costs you creative energy. So forgive yourself for the untidy house and forgive yourself for imperfect sketches. Just forgive yourself period. 

So I am working hard at home producing smaller work. I am researching other artists. I am taking advantage of online courses from other creative people, museums and sites such as Lynda.com. I am keeping busy until I can get back into the studio...

with my right-hand man and studio mate Hamilton.

hard-at-work_6.jpg

What's Your Name Man?

So 2016 is in full swing and I am plugging away in my studio. I am creating prints...

I am experimenting with different materials...

I am feeling pretty productive. And then this happens...

Meet Hamilton, my new studio mate! 

Only problem... in order to avoid Austin's biggest threat to young canines, the Parovirus, 2 month old Hamilton shouldn't really leave home for 2 more months until he is fully protected by his vaccinations!

So, I am working from home...

That is, I am trying to work from home...

It isn't easy. Even Sadie has her doubts....