On Heroes, Reviews, and O'Keefe

I’ll try not to sound defensive . . . but how can an artist not defend their paintings? I do appreciate that it was my first real review. Mostly it was very good. I was glad how she reviewed the shells and she could see how wonderful Vista 4 Panarea was . . . although in the magazine they printed the wrong vista. The one pictured was Vista 2, San Simeon. I’m not going to get into how I felt about the Hollywood series write up . . . so much was wrong. I see what Warhol did was so different . . . purposefully shallow and pop culture . . . it was not what I was doing and exploring. I’m after Warhol, there is nothing I can do about that. His time is very different from my time. His experience different than mine. He was after different things. I try not to hate him, but I do. From where I stand he was the end of something . . . or the beginning of the end. Maybe. Hopefully. For me, that is how I feel. It was not the first time an art person told me that they didn’t like the Hollywood Series. It is like people want to steer you. They are afraid for you. It’s a pain they are avoiding for you. It’s not as good, they say. I can feel it is. This has happened to me before . . . it takes years sometimes before people like or understand what I’m doing and by then I’m doing something else. I don’t want to be steered. Words do effect me and some seeps in. Through awareness, I learn about human nature and that helps me . . . so I’m grateful for what they say. I guess.

After the opening my husband and I planned a trip to New Mexico to see Georgia O’Keeffe’s houses and studio. Tours were booked months in advance. O’Keefe’s love of nature and her painterly approach to objects while letting the subject matter move off into abstraction . . . is close to my heart and although I don’t think our styles and approaches are the same . . . I look to her and I love to read about her life. BUT It is a mixed bag for me because of her fame. Going on tours (my poor husband) I’m just a jerk. I hate tours. The stories and the spin. It is not the tour guides fault, I tell stories I love over and over again in order to support my love of my hero. They say Georgia moved to New Mexico because she fell in love with the landscape. The land there is wildly cool but . . . Georgia moving to New Mexico had much to do with getting away from Stieglitz and his, what must only have been, humiliating affairs. The whole Stieglitz thing. He steered her work and gave her the opportunity to show . . . without him would there have been an O’Keeffe? Probably not. She wanted children, he told her no. Whatever she said in her progressive vows, she obeyed. Maybe he was right . . . or maybe this is the shitty way that woman go through life. Steered. When Georgia came on the scene Stieglitz took beautiful nude photos of her. This helped her fame. The artist as the object. Was this just a modern day Kardashian style media play? Yes, you can be sure it helped. So for me, Georgia is a mixed bag. Things I know — the junk of life. Stories that are spun. There’s more. I have more thoughts and feelings about the whole “Georgia O’Keeffe” thing and what has become of her . . . or her fame, or her story. I still love her paintings, not all, but many of them. I still admire her resolve to keep going. I feel her pain. I can see what she was doing in her time and I can see it was the best it could be. She lived a good life but . . . it was considered, it was assembled knowingly to help create her fame. To make it easier for the public to digest. Georgia is in my Hollywood series. She is part of the problem with fame and hero worship for me. I based her portrait on a Stieglitz photo. She is looking at an object to paint and we are looking at her lovely breast . . . just like Stieglitz. In the end, she is an object that he gets tired of. This is our humanity.

Hollywood Series #17 2016

Hollywood Series #17 2016

Getting Ready

Soon, my exhibit Looking Back will open at Regis College. I’m looking forward to the opening and seeing family and friends and new faces and to see how the paintings will look all hung together in the gallery. For me there are two successes that matter right now. The first one is when I am working on any one painting within, or not, a series and the finished painting has “magic” — it works — it has life and can stand on its own. I love this part of painting. It doesn’t always happen but it does often enough to keep me going. It’s exciting and it’s a powerful feeling to make something new that I know is good. It matters less and less if others agree because I’ve seen people come around to liking things and I know that tastes vary and not everyone thinks Rothko is a genius. Universal appeal will never come for an artist. Even in music, not everyone loves U2. Georgia Okeefe said, “I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.” Yes, Georgia, me too.

The second success, I feel, is showing the paintings in a room where people can come and see them. My paintings hang in my apartment and I live with them. I love looking at them and being with them but I love to get them out and into other spaces. That is exciting. I love planning for shows and all the work and logistics that go into it. I’m grateful for all the people that help put it together.

I read recently that artists should prepare for the post show blues. A friend said, start the next thing now. Today I did prep some canvases for a small series for what’s next — but who knows if the magic will happen but is usually does . . . you just have to keep going, keep preparing for the next thing. Not getting thrown off by unknowns.

In 2003, I was painting a series of fish, freshly caught and painted quickly before the color and life had completely drained out of them. I was on the beach in the shade underneath the cottage. Rags ripped, paint orderly squeezed out in generous helpings, canvas on easel. My brother’s boat now in view speeding towards shore at full speed, I knew he had one. My dad and neighbors lurking around just out of sight trying not to disturb me, they were, but they weren’t stopping me . . . they were staying away enough that I felt I could freely work. Holding the bluefish by the gill Josh brought the fish to where I was and I said “it’s a good one” and he left. Then I realized. . . no brushes. I had forgotten to pack my brushes. I had everything! Not letting the moment go to waste, I just dove in with my fingers and a stick that I found laying in the sand. At one point I heard my dad say, “She’s using her hands! She must not have her brushes!” Then I heard him say, I’m buying that one. Pressure. After all that, the painting was good. It worked. It captured the colors and vitality of the fish — a moment.

I’m always as prepared as I can be but I’m also ready for the unknowns . . . how else will the magic happen?

public.jpeg

Process: 100 Broken Shell Series, Numbers 69 and 70

I decided to paint a series of 100 Broken Shells to get through a time of grieving (death of my mother) and a difficult divorce. With no rules imposed on myself other than — there needs to be 100. By the time I had reached beyond the half way point, the metaphor of brokenness was fading and I was thinking about all the things one has in life to do. Renewing your license, cutting your hair, making dinner, shopping, driving . . . all done in certain ways and for me, they needed to be done perfectly. Or did they? Why? I thought of all these things as “systems” . . . systems of thinking and doing. Stuff that gets in the way. Habits. There are good things — birthdays! And bad things — dishes. Positives and negatives. In my paintings . . . systems moved in and started dominating the paintings.

I nailed the gesso’d water color paper to the wall with 8 brass nails. 69 and 70 were nailed to the wall side by side. I did a wash of yellow on 69 in oil and a wash of blue oil on 70. I dripped blue over the yellow and splattered yellow over the blue. Let that dry. I painted a ghost of the open side of a conch on 69 and the turned away side of a conch on 70. Then I added the systems. With a coffee can I drew circles with pencil in rows over the ghosted Shells. On 69 I painted around the circles. This felt like the old plastic six pack holders we used to have. Junk. On 70 I painted in the circles. Like a bunch of coffee cup rings over the painting. Let that dry. Then I painted a red transparent layer over both. I wiped that off the red paint over the shells. On 69 after all the layers dryed I used white oil pastel to add patena to the systems. They’ve been there a long time and I wanted them to look old. Cobb webbs? Dust? To me it was adding oldness. 69 represented negative systems and an open view of myself. 70 represented positive systems and a turned away view. It was a turning point. I could see that with all the negatives, remaining open was the better, more interesting way to go. The systems left completely in painting #75

public.jpeg
public.jpeg
public.jpeg
public.jpeg
public.jpeg
public.jpeg
public.jpeg

Bodacious Dahlias

I was bitten by the dahlia bug when a co worker at Rebus, Sandy, who was an editor, gave me a grand, maybe 15 stems, bouquet of dinner plate (yes blooms that big) dahlias for my 28th birthday. No smell, but big, wild, and beautiful. They lasted well over a week, maybe two. She cut them from her garden in Massachusetts where she traveled from NYC nearly every week end . . . suddenly I got it. It’s a long trip, but certainly the garden where these came from must have been grand. 

That was 22 years ago. Sandy, I think, must have given me the low down on how to grow them and I did lots of pre internet research on them. I knew I was primarily interested in dinnerplates. There are hundreds of varieties. Right out of the gate, I chose Bodacious to be the first I would try. In my garden at the gardener’s cottage at Shadowbrook in Irvington NY — technically Tarrytown — I grew a few seasons of them. I saved the tubers down in the dirt and rock cellar wrapped in newspaper and successfully planted them year after year. Sadly, those years came to an end. Better things than dahlias were grown over those years. Those memories become intertwined with the dahlias. 

I’m amazed you plant a seemingly dead root in the dirt and with care and timing and luck — something beautiful grows. Something that stops your heart. Something better than you. Does it last? Ughhh we all know no. Ends come.

I moved to Millburn NJ — the middle of a garden state. I sent away to Seattle for a fresh tuber of Bodacious. Would it grow? Would I love it the same? 

I’ve cut the first bloom and it’s on my desk. I study the twists and turns. I sniff. Nope. I turn it around and look at it from the side. Each morning, I think, maybe it will be wilted, or worse, dead. For now, I’m lost in amazement — how can I not be? The end will come, but I’m holding onto the right now. I’ll survive the end, I have before. Right now, I’m looking.

What do you see? I see everything 

public.jpeg
public.jpeg
public.jpeg
public.jpeg
public.jpeg

Artist Statement 2019

Working with oil, I paint from either an object or inspiring photo in a way that feels to me both compressed and intense. I usually paint a series over the course of one or two years—items from the ocean are a recurring theme, but subject matter varies, from portraits to flowers to landscapes to shells. My aim is to capture a moment in a piece that is abstract yet truthful; I call it “realistic abstraction”—viewers know what’s there, but it isn’t photo-realistic. Matisse said, “Exactitude is not truth,” and I’m searching for the expressive line or color that speaks of the essence and personality that initially drew me to the subject.

Millburn, NJ studio 2019

Millburn, NJ studio 2019

Artist Statement: 100 Broken Shells Series

When I was a girl I only collected perfect shells . . . any shell with a chip or a crack or a barnacle was dismissed. So when I was walking on the beach last year thinking of what to paint and thinking about whether or not I could paint after a series of life altering events, I realized that at mid life we have all lived half a life and gotten knocked around and had some deep sadnesses and our shells are no longer perfect. We all become broken in different ways . . . no more perfect shells . . . so I started looking at the broken conch shells on my walk and there were many. All broken and worn differently . . . all unique. The breaks allowed me to look into the shells and see the spirals. Sometimes the color was subtle and sometime it was still bright. Maybe a shift in life or a closer look at the once disregarded can produce a deeper and truer experience. It has become impossible to look away from the broken . . . what follows is tenderness and understanding and acceptance and work . . . all very beautiful things that were previously unexplored and disregarded.

— Susan Darwin Ordahl, May 2012

100 Broken Shell Series #8  2011  20” x 24”  Oil on Canvas

100 Broken Shell Series #8

2011

20” x 24”

Oil on Canvas

100 Broken Shell Series #7  2011  20” x 24”  Oil on Canvas

100 Broken Shell Series #7

2011

20” x 24”

Oil on Canvas

100 Broken Shell Series #4  2011  20” x 24”  Oil on Canvas

100 Broken Shell Series #4

2011

20” x 24”

Oil on Canvas

Egon Maniac

“Bodies have their own light which they consume to live: they burn, they are not lit from the outside.”

Egon Schiele

Definitely one of my favs

Definitely one of my favs

A Short Story: Cumberland Island Adventure

It was a hot day and John and I decided to go on a bike ride to the other side of the island. The island is flat and mostly deserted . . . so, no cars or hills to worry about. The well traveled dirt/shell/grass road was shaded by tall live oaks that were draped in drooping clumps of grayish green moss. The scrub of the forest floor to the left and right of the road was mostly hidden by low growing fan palms. Not quite tropical but far from the New England woods I’m familiar with. I did see an armadillo and I did see a corn snake cross the road. Also wild horses and wild turkeys. It was a nice easy ride on bikes at mid day but — John and I were slightly on edge. This was unfamiliar territory and help in the way of a passerby or cell service was spotty to non existent.

We pulled into a marked State Park area. Day trippers to Cumberland Island were boarding the ferry back to St Marys GA. The boat hand and park service guides were conserned we were not ready to get on the boat. “We are staying. We are staying at the Greyfield Inn” ahhh they relaxed. We chatted with the park service guide who did indeed feel lucky to have the job on the island for the month of July. Living on the island is a dream if you are a nature lover. She was. She told us about a boardwalk trail over the marsh that was hard to find. She saw a stork the night before. But then things got weird. The tone of her voice? A distant look in her eye? It was a piece of dialog right out of a 1940s film noir. “Not many people go there. It’s not marked for some reason. Go down to the old cemetery. Way in the back, find the trail, way back to the left.”

Finding the cemetery was not easy. The map for the island was very good but the island is quite large so the tiny square used for the location of the cemetery was hard to figure out. We parked our bikes and walked over the 1900ish foundations, of what, we didn’t know. Down another trail and there it was. Big formal tombs of well off dead. Wrought iron surrounded the old carved stone boxes. I thought she said right and John remembered left. Nothing was marked and lots of areas looked like the beginnings of a trail. We did go left and the trail was narrow, but good. Something big flew over low. Striped feathers? Osprey? Barred owl? Couldn’t see. The trail went on long enough for us to curse and doubt the park ranger. She seemed creepy in our memory— was this a plot to get rid of the fancy Greyfield Inn customers? Some kind of misplaced revenge on New Yorkers?

The new pressure treated wood of the walkway came into sight and all was forgiven. What a view! The walkway went way out over the marsh. We were no longer under the protection of the live oaks. We saw a manatee! It was lumbering around in the water looking like a smooth rock surfacing every now and then. There were two stations for binoculars, one was handicapped accessible. No quarters needed! 

The heat was extreme. Do we head back the way we came or do we keep going and hope we come out to a road? John said, “If one set of binoculars was accessible — how will they get wheel chairs down unless there is a road? They didn’t come down by way of the cemetery on that hilly narrow trail.” So smart. Yes, let’s go forward. The long hot walkway took us to sand dunes. No way was clear. We thought we’d walk for a bit — it must be close! Nope. As the sun beat down we sipped the remaining water. Do we keep going? Go back? It was suddenly — too hot. We started to worry about any decision we might make. Everything now seemed too hot and too far to walk. Under a small barely effective shady bush we talked about what to do and how we regretted getting into this mess. We were too worried to be mad at each other. We joked about dying there. Headlines: “NY Couple found dead in Dunes of Georgia” story at 6. 

Thankfully I had cell service on my dying phone (15%) I dropped a pin and switched to satellite view. I could see the road. Great! But it was not close. We moved towards it slowly. We stopped under small shrubs and trees that ever so slightly helped us gather the strength to make the next hot leg of the journey to the road . . . blissfully covered by live oaks. 

At the road we could see where we had stashed our bikes. Yes! Just a 3 mile bike ride and we would be home at the Inn. True relief would be given in stages. The bike ride was grueling and I stopped a few times and felt faint. Water splashed on the face and then riding fast against the air, helped. The dinner bell didn’t ring until exactly 7:30pm. So we sat on the grand porch and drank our cocktails and played Scopa (I won) and talked about the time we were lost in the dunes of Cumberland.

Susan-Darwin-Artist-Cumberland-Island.jpeg

Nature Heals

Is it a vacation if I wake up at 4:15am and wait until the sky is light enough to bike down to the beach? Racing to see sunrise? Every morning brings a new adventure. . . a crab, a shark in the shallows, a corn snake slithering across the trail. Is it because it makes me “happy” or does it make me feel alive? Is it because my thoughts are filled with the same problems — but nature throws me new things at every moment? I love to study nature. To look longer and see more. Time to look, time to see, time to be. When my daughter was 3 she woke up at around 4am and when I asked her why so early she said, “sleeping is boring”.

I googled “nature and happiness”

“Nature heals

Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell.

Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.”

— U of Minnesota

https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing

What will i see today?

Sunrise on Cumberland Island GA

Sunrise on Cumberland Island GA

This guy on the beach

This guy on the beach

Susan-Darwin-Artist-Cumberland-Island-GA.jpeg
Corn Snake on the path to the beach

Corn Snake on the path to the beach

Go Ask Alice

“You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is... unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far.” — Alice Neel

There’s a great documentary (2007) about painter Alice Neel that was put together by her grandson.

Dead Tulips (detail above)  2017  by Susan Darwin  Oil on Canvas

Dead Tulips (detail above)

2017

by Susan Darwin

Oil on Canvas

Susan-Darwin-Artist-Dead-Tulips.jpeg

Touched By An Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage 
exiles from delight 
live coiled in shells of loneliness 
until love leaves its high holy temple 
and comes into our sight 
to liberate us into life. 

Love arrives 
and in its train come ecstasies 
old memories of pleasure 
ancient histories of pain. 
Yet if we are bold, 
love strikes away the chains of fear 
from our souls. 

We are weaned from our timidity 
In the flush of love's light 
we dare be brave 
And suddenly we see 
that love costs all we are 
and will ever be. 
Yet it is only love 
which sets us free.

by Maya Angelou

Bonaventure Cemetery Savannah GA

Bonaventure Cemetery Savannah GA

Sunrise

I beat everyone to the beach three days in a row at Hilton Head. Every morning, a new sky and new things to see. No music this morning . . . just surf on one side and cicadas on the other.

Susan-Darwin-Painter-Pictures.jpeg
I wasn’t the first to find this poor old dead guy

I wasn’t the first to find this poor old dead guy

There was a beige crab in that hole in the foreground.

There was a beige crab in that hole in the foreground.