Pull up a chair

I recently renovated the attic of my 1885 house into my studio. I evicted the bat squatters, took the entire floor with it’s sloped ceilings and odd angles, and molded it into a sprawling space for creating. An artist studio is a critical indulgence in this vocation – to have a space where I don’t have to worry about being messy or what other people might think about my mental state when they glance in. The space is entirely mine. Lots of the things lining the shelves make sense – materials, paints, wood, paper, books. They are the things I actually need to do what I do. There are, of course, things that I simply just love to look at. Rocks collected from travelling, beat up metal figures I found while digging up the garden, old photos and things I don’t even know what they are. I just liked the look of them.

And then there are the chairs.

I have 6 chairs in my studio. At least two of which don’t even work. I love chairs. Particularly old chairs, chairs I find on the side of the road that people are throwing away (hence the non-working models in my collection). If I see a decrepit rotting once-chair as I drive by I will, to the utter horror of my teenager, turn around at the nearest side street and load it into my car.

As I moved into my studio and began carrying all these chairs up the stairs, it struck as me funny and slightly concerning. What am I doing?  I was beginning to question my mental state.

As far as I can tell all people in all cultures like to sit. And within our western culture it is on a chair of some kind. Chairs are one of the first things we fill our little box-houses with. They are the most common of commonplace in their function but beyond imitate in their actuality.  And most importantly and attractive to me, they are full of stories.

If you go and find a chair at a thrift shop (or side of the road, I don’t judge, I encourage) it is a safe bet that it is old, probably at least 20 years old but more likely 50 or more. For those of you saying no way, let me remind you that 20 years ago only takes you to 2000 and 50 to 1970, so all those beautiful mid-century modern pieces are in fact around 70 years old. That is a lot of years of people sitting in it, living with it, eating dinners and doing homework with it. Family fights, first words, big questions, small moments, comfort and sorrow – they are all there silent and still. That’s a lot of history bound up in those pieces of wood and upholstery.

My favorite chairs are chairs in name only. I find old broken things beautiful, I always have. In university photography class I would waste rolls of film (yes, I said rolls) walking the cobbled alleys of Richmond documenting the decay. I loved it even if admitting it now makes me cringe for it’s sentimentality. There is beauty in something which has been used, has been a part of a life, moving past its function into object. It demands our respect and pause if we let it.

The chair pictured above is one of my street finds. It was clearly used often by people I will never meet. It’s craftsmanship tells me that it is old, it’s wear that it was loved. It is perhaps repairable but then I might not notice the exquisite hand carving, the mortise and tenon joints, the hand drilled holes for the caning of the seat. No, I love this chair exactly how it is. It was thoughtfully crafted, not just made.

Before you get too concerned, let me just say most of the chairs in my house are functional. None of them match (which makes me happy) and I do take the time to repair them if need be so they are safe to sit in. Then comes the exciting part – then I can begin to add my own history. When I look at a chair in my home I am reminded of the common everyday things that happen in my common everyday life; the things I take for granted. I see the meals we share around the table, and the games we play afterward. I see the books read curled in the sunroom. I see gatherings of friends and hours of homework and a myriad of other little things that make up the years.  In short, I unsee the chair and I begin to see time.

Time is the one thing we want more of. We want to stockpile it for vacations and hoard it for sunny 75 degree days. But we can’t. We must spend the same amount each day no matter what. So we better make how we spend it matter. When I look at a chair I am reminded that the mattering of days is not only in the Disneyland Vacation days but in all the little things of each day. The time I spend with my son and not my cellphone matters.  The time I sit with a coffee and catch up with a friend matters. The time I spend meditating and praying, being still, matters.

So, I suppose, my fascination with chairs is not as concerning as it first appears. We all have our little things that keep us grounded and appreciative of time. It’s a gift to be reminded of the preciousness of time in something so banal and ordinary. Unlikely reminders that though I cannot make extra time, I can craft what I am given.

On Unseeing

So it’s been years – yes, years – since I posted anything here. I recently started a little project over on my website and I thought why don’t I post it here as well. So, without further ado.

On Unseeing

I remember the first time I read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. I was just starting University and I found an old yellowed copy at the used bookstore nearby. For anyone who doesn’t know, Berger’s work rose out of a British television series in the 70’s of the same title. Throughout the program and book, Berger discusses the many ways we see things, not the physical aspect of it all but the societal and political convention as from which we view art. And I might add, therefore, the world.

His book has been a long standing first year art student read – or at least it should be if its not anymore. Not an assigned read, but a stumble-across brittle paged paperback that each aspiring artist should at least pick up once.

I’m not really going to talk about Berger – go read it. But the concept of what he was exploring about got me thinking about things. I just turned 42 years old. I have been creating art, living life, working jobs, and raising a family for a while now. A big part of me feels like I should have a little more figured out by now, a little more smooth sailing, a little less seat of my pants. But that is not the case. For whatever reason 42 was a bit more jarring to my delicate psyche than 40, and Berger popped into my head.

I think he was almost right – we need to adjust our ways of seeing. Almost. What I really think I need is to adjust my ways of unseeing. So much of what I do, my roles in life, have a seen set of standards, of expectations; of things I feel like I should know how to do. Or at least I feel like other people expect me to know how to do. But is that true?

This idea makes perfect sense to me when I put it in the context of painting. In my artwork I gravitate toward exploring the unseen. I am interested in what surrounds us but is not in physical form. When I am painting, or drawing, or doing whatever it is I do in my studio this makes sense. I am able through paint or line to see the hidden abstracted mess that weaves my life together. It’s the translation of this way of thinking to outside that studio that is a stumble for me. I forget, when I am picking out apples at the grocery store, that connection between people is a sacred thing. I forget again, when I’m vacuuming the living room, that the phrase living room is a beautiful idea that deserves hours of exploration. And I forget, as I go over the monthly bills one more time, that the riches I would really seek could never line the walls of my bank account.

So, 42 is going to be my year of unseeing. Of learning to unsee everything in front of me. I’m afraid the common has lost its glory and the everyday has lost its beauty. That is not how we are called to live. For over twenty years now I have created and painted and thought about how my work could speak about unseen things to others. Now it’s time to see how the act of creating this work could speak into the unseen in my everyday.

lines and colors

start to Finish-2

so, here it is…I documented this little painting from start to finish which I must say was a strange experience. I don’t usually have my phone in the studio nor am I paying attention to my surroundings that much. So to stop and snap a picture periodically felt odd.

This little painting is what I call a painting sketch. It is done on primed millboard and quicker than most my paintings. It is also much cheaper (if you’re in the market) and will be one of the first paintings I offer for sale on my website. Web sales is a new venture for me, I usually stick to galleries and commissions. If you’re interested in it, you can find it on my Shop page at the end of the week.

Now, on to the process.

 

and there we have it.

ready. steady. go.

IMG_20170324_101527921_HDR

People often want to know about an artist’s process. “Where did that come from, did you make it up, what is it?” I get these questions all the time. Along with, “I wish I could watch you create.” So, I’ve decided to post my way through some paintings. Just for fun for you and a kind of curiosity for me. I’ve never really documented a painting.

So, here we go…

How can something so small take so long? That’s right, it’s a website redesign!

DONESo, my website is small, under ten pages. Yet the process of redesigning it (which was prompted by the stifled laughter I received when I mentioned I edited it in Dreamweaver)(it was deserved laughter) took me so long and it’s still not done. It is, however, miles better than what it was and I am happy to say it is live! I will continue to add galleries to it and actually update it (now that it’s actually easy! Sorry, Dreamweaver)

So have a look, enjoy. Don’t tell me about any typos. too soon.

www.rsawanwhite.com

just when you think you’re starting to find your feet…

You realize how completely small you are and any tiny inkling you had that maybe you had a little control over even a sliver of your life is put in it’s proper place. Which is that you don’t.

Anyway, here is a new painting. finally.

you cannot hold it, it is light, it is lost, it is constant 30x40

you cannot hold it, it is light, it is lost, it is constant
oil paint and waxes on wood, 30×40