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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Art Matters: a brief survey for you

Is it Piero, Picasso, or Punk art that moves you? Your input to this 7-item online survey will contribute your focus to an art-related column for Art Avenue magazine.  Please click here for direct access to the survey.  I look forward to your views. Thanks!

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Folly of Prediction;The Prediction of Folly

Right now, I'm still just trying to pull myself from the floor I sank into after the US election results.
No commentary. Just this: it's one prediction that actually hit right on! 

Hoping we all stay as sane as possible.
 



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Saturday, November 5, 2016

No Storms on the Horizon Except Political Ones

Now that the weather has settled down and clear skies are overhead, all is calm. OK, it's raining, but that's usual for this time of year here. No storms on the horizon ... except the ongoing political one just a border away. I wonder if we should think about putting up a wall? 

I'm stressed about the US election, Won't write about it because there's already so much out there. And, it seems to me, the media is both building and feeding on a frenzy of stress. Instead, I've taken the down-time to stay at Saturna, think about what needs pruning in my totally wild garden, maybe plant some daffodils, and complete a new painting. 

Actually, I'd started a few new canvases  since my return from living in Europe. But then got distracted by welcome visitors, apple-picking, and this October's recent art show opening. Too much happening. I haven't been clear about what I wanted when I was painting, and so the results haven't been clear either. Pruning is in order in art, too. For me, that's an even harder task than on the land.  

Earth Like Scattered Jewels, 36"x36: painting by Janet Strayer
At least one canvas has been finished. Interesting that it's composed of fragments --- but really that was intentional!


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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Dark and Dramatic Opening Night: Art and Artful Living


The news media were filled with dire forecasts of an impending series of  storms about to hit this area full-on for three days. People were anxious, given the last big windstorm here blew away significant parts of Vancouver's historical trees and gardens and left the city scrambling to replace electric power. 
Click here for local news report on impending storms.
On Saturna Island we were concerned, as all islanders are, by the damage the high winds and forceful rains would do to our rural ecology, tidal pressures, vulnerable power-grids  and communication lines.

Nothing like the weather to trump (forgive the awful pun in this US election year) the festivities of a planned art opening --- mine. Esprit, my show of paintings, was scheduled for an opening celebration on Saturday Oct. 15, and invitations had been sent out (click here). 

Visitors from the US planned to join me, but daily checks on the storm and worried anticipation of ferry-travel led them to cancel. Radio reports from Vancouver supported the fear with disturbing news that a boy had been killed by a wind-torn tree falling upon him and repeated forecasts of more gloom. Reports of power outages were mounting, with resulting city panic on roads and bridges left without signalling functions. And so the tension mounted. Talk about timing! It was to be a dark and dramatic, if not outright tragic, opening night!

My little world, my little art show, my little spotlight, my not-so-little expectations. Whew! They were being shattered. The curator thought perhaps we should cancel the opening. But the chef thought no, he could prepare the celebration dinner even if the main power went out. So we started hanging the paintings.

Midway through the afternoon with only half the paintings hung, the power went out.  Oh well, there was enough natural light to finish hanging the show, at least. And we did so under less than ideal conditions: flashlight lighting, mistaken alignments, shadows, uncertainty.

Oddly enough, when it was hung, the show looked good. Although  the space was limited, the paintings accommodated to it and sang together harmoniously. It was a pity. Too bad no one would see them. The forecast was that the third and worst of the storm series would hit that night.

My expectations took a big dive. Nothing much could come of this. Oh well, life teaches even large and generally optimistic (or at least hopeful) thinkers like me to exhale. Big sigh. A few more big sighs... and I felt better. Nothing to do about the weather. Nothing to do about living on a little island. Nothing to do about choices everyone makes. Nothing to do but what I needed to do.

Unburdened by expectations, I would take in stride the rest of the day, the forecast, the weather, the news of my absent friends, and the ensuing evening's event-- that no one except me, the curator, and his partner would attend.

Oddly enough, I was happy.  I changed clothes for the upcoming "opening" event and dinner, consoled by the good dinner I would have and knowing that the chef always prepares a good meal. I arrived to see the power was back on, my paintings looked good, and .... the room was empty. The curator looked a bit sheepish, but what was he to do?

And again, oddly enough, some people started coming in. Bit by bit. Not a crowd. Some I knew and thanked for braving this treacherous evening to wish me well and see the paintings.  Others were strangers. Some had been visiting the island for just a brief stay.

After a couple of hours of talking with visitors, discussing paintings together, and just enjoying our unusual time, the dinner table was set. And then the power went out! The storm had darkened the outside by now. But by now, too, I couldn't care.

Out came the candelabra and the candles. The table looked beautiful. The room, itself, glowed. It was entirely charming and inviting. The five-course meal was delicious. The conversation was good--- ranging from painting, to lifestyles, to politics, to literature, to travels and  personal histories. And the paintings,  in candlelight, came alive with a special radiance.
Opening Night Celebration
Again oddly, for me personally this was one of the best openings I've experienced. I felt good, at ease, happy, and well-fed. 
Janet Strayer in candlelight on opening night
All this drama, natural and human, surging around me. It led me to think about power (natural and human), storms (natural and human), and life in the slow lane, here on this island, compared to city life.
 Here, though our electric power system, internet, and other technological accoutrements of modern life are all reasonably good, there is always the nearness of weather and nature disrupting things: the sea tides, the winds, the odd little pockets of microclimate that idiosyncratically seem to follow no forecasts but their own, affecting crops and homes. Power-outages are not that rare here, but are usually short-lived. It's an irritant requiring searching out downed trees and power-lines, re-setting electric clocks, attention to sensitive computer re-boots, and, of course, heating, lighting, and cooking. But most islanders can fairly easily deal with these short-lived inconveniences. In contrast, the effects in the city on businesses, schools, transport, entertainment and communication tend to be more catastrophic.

Living here in the slow lane on a small grid is a lot different. Not to say one can weather anything here on the island. Some things hit here a lot harder: medical emergencies, for example, or one's range of options. The point isn't to judge lifestyles. It's just to note and reflect upon how the contingencies surrounding any event can differ so dramatically depending upon where you are.
 
And where you are, at any moment, oddly enough, depends. 

 
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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Esprit


painting shown is mid panel of a triptych (click to see)

It's going to be a special evening, as you can see by the invitation. So soon upon returning to Canada after a remarkable year of living in France and Italy, Esprit is the title of my new solo show, right here in this remarkable spot in the sea, Saturna Island! 


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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Getting Grounded


Not like its negative meaning when we were kids, "getting grounded" now means getting  feet on the ground and head in the here-and-now. It's a tricky business if you've recently been living for large stretches of time in different parts of the world (as I have). 
Collage by Janet Strayer, www.janetstrayer.com
  

Not that I regret it, or wouldn't do it again in a heartbeat, but the re-entry into life-as-usual stops being "life-as-usual" after a long-enough absence. That's part of the deal when you leave for a considerable time: it's supposed to shake things up, leaving normal for new.

A corrollary is that the normal, itself, becomes new after your return.  It's taken me a long time to get back into (and liking getting back into) my usual routines back home in Canada. I still haven't fully accomplished it. My friends here are patient with me, as they've always been, knowing my clockworks and sense of time have always been slightly off-kilter. Living imaginatively sometimes requires that, I think. But it also takes its toll.

Larger life has its own clock. Nature waits for no one. Time, relentless and inevitable, passes no matter how you fill it. Moments occur and are gone. You can be reckless with them or not, no matter. The season for planting remains that season. Imaginary seeds can sprout in imaginary ground. But the real ground requires (so far as I know) real seeds.

So it is that life on Saturna Island is helping to ground me. Physically, there's been the dominant landscape here-- a rainforest of trees, sea, and earth with their natural inhabitants. We humans seem an after-effect.

I've seen my flower garden go to weed, a rebuke to my neglectfulness. Yet, it has still offered up some beautiful roses. At the same time I've seen my partner's well-tended vegetable garden rather fitfully produce its crops in this erratic growing season. Yet, it has also produced more than enough to give away to others. Much ground-work for him, who loves and tends his garden.  No ground-work for me, who has decided to let it go this year. No challenge to deduce which of us is the more 'grounded'. Yet, we are both grateful: me for the grace of this moment, despite my efforts... or the lack of them.

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

'Incantations'--A New Film!

It's gone public! I've just put my first little film production called "Incantations" (In Search of the Miraculous) on Vimeo: click here.

This 4-minute film integrates paintings in my Book of Incantations series with music and a bit of poetry/narration. 

It was an absorbing process for me -- linking the music from electronic sources to the visual art and mixing in just a bit of narrative. And it all lasts only about 4 minutes on screen. Think Spielberg should step aside?

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Artist Recognition

 It's nice for all of us to get some valued recognition once in a while. So, I was pleased when Saatchi Art included my work in their featured online curated collections. Thank you!

 I'd also recently finished an Open Studio event at my Saturna Island studio as part of the Art Saturna Tour. At the end of which, off walked several paintings to new homes. Thank you! That's nice, too.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Summer Daze

The summer is in full swing.  Our little orchard on Saturna Island has already given us plums and its first crop of figs. The earliest veggies are up from the garden -- not the tomatoes, yet. And the sailboats are out on the sunshiny water, with ferry boats travel loaded with tourists.

I'm home ... but I still seem to be living in two places at once. Part of me remains in Umbria where a local cultural Festa is delighting residents and visitors (click to see). It's in Acqualoreto, a hub of a town within walking distance of the one I'd lived in. The festa is a tribute to and celebration of the abundance of this lovely region -- visual art, music, poetry, food, wine, and more. The visual art, for example, includes an international roster of famous and emergent artists associated with this region (me happily included), as you can see.


The part of me that isn't in Umbria is here, on Saturna Island, where we've just finished our local Art Saturna Artists' Studios Tour weekend. It was fun too, on a different scale. Though my Saturna Island studio is off the beaten path, I had some very enjoyable time with interested visitors, and some paintings found themselves new homes. For example, here's a threesome that took off:
paintings by Janet Strayer



I returned to Canada just in time to set up my lovely studio here after 10 months of life and art in Europe. I had to hit the ground running to get the grounds cleared and the studio in shape to store the art I'd brought back, hang the paintings to show, and ready the space for visitors.  It was a bit harrowing to get it together by the deadline, given all the other tasks needing to get done despite my struggling though the disorientation of travelling through time and space. Mornings still leave me foggy with questions like: Which country am I in? and Where's the bathroom from here?"







I think of my paintings having lives of their own. Remembering some that sold in Europe, I wonder for each of them what their new surroundings are like, what's being said around them, and in what languages How would it be different for them here? I do believe it makes a difference who buys a painting and how it is treated. Oddly animistic, I know, but I think dimly of paintings bought for investment only, isolated in vaults where their state is preserved -- a state of suspended animation -- and few, if any, enjoy interacting with them.

Not even half the things on my "must do right away" list have been done. Time works differently for lists than reality. Have you noticed? So my lists go through multiple iterations of repeated items, and "right away" becomes a movable moment in time. 

I tell myself life will get back to normal soon, whatever normal is. Routines will take hold, I will get on track rather than continue ambling en route. But each new day upsets my to-do list and I really don't know when "soon" is.






 

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Home But Still En-Route

Now back home on Saturna Island after my eventful 10 months of life in Europe, I feel I'm still En Route. Like my other Artist En Route columns (duplicated on this blog), I feel charged with the energies of the place. Though very sad to leave my life in Italy, coming back to Saturna has its own special qualities.

Like the Open Studio Tour next weekend. The Gulf Islands are a prime destination spot for visitors during the summer months, especially. So, perhaps I'll see some new faces during your visit! 





Keep with the spirit of creative adventure!

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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Some Wonderful Natural Things

I'm writing this just before getting on a plane routed for home: Vancouver, Canada.  
I want to say goodbye to some things. Not only the people I've met, but some wonderful things I'll remember as special to living here in Umbria.

These are some wonderful and natural things. I've limited myself to noting just five of them -- a very small and idiosyncratic selection from the much larger set of natural things awaiting any timid or intrepid explorer here in this Italian countryside.
 
http://www.birdforum.net/opus/Eurasian_Hoopoe

Hoopoe
Going up my very rocky road and onto the flatter path of loose gravel above, I saw two unusual birds walking together on the ground. They made me smile. As I approached, of course they flew away, rather erratically, like butterflies. It was just enough time for me to see a wild pattern of black and white stripes on their bodies and a flash of orange around their heads. I'm not a birder and had no idea of what kind of bird they could be. But a visiting ecology student and avid birder knew. The bird was a Hoopoe, and he said I was lucky to have seen them. There are none in America, only in southern Europe, Africa, and Asia. 
 

Tartufi
Not notable for their good looks, the culinary treasure known as tartufi (truffles), abound in this region. But they're hard to find. In the forests, of course, but no one will tell you where. They're worth their weight in gold, literally it seems. A very smoky, earthy taste. Good shaved on well-made pasta. Or in eggs. It's not just we humans who like them. 


Cinghiale
So do the cinghiale (wild boar) that live here. You can see their hoof markings in the muddy trail after a rain. Their strength is notable in the large rocks and rooted plants  they've overturned to get to their food.  It's not unusual to spot a live one, though they keep away from people. Good reason: they are actively hunted for their meat. Salumi made with cinghiale is a specialty of the city of Norcia. And so are truffles! I took this photo of a stuffed cinghiale outside a shop in Norcia.
porcupine quills
 
http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/can-porcupines-shoot-their-quills














 Porcupine Quills
Porcospino, or porcupine, inhabit my little neck of the woods here. Every time I come, I gather and save the quills I can find. They're like talismen for me. They're so well-made (thank you, nature) and a a pleasure to see and so smooth to hold. I've even painted with them. 
 This time, and for the very first time, I also saw a porcupine in full display. I was driving home at night and my headlights must have startled it. 



Balthasar, the Donkey
Balthy, as I've named him, lives in the open field sloping down from the small piazza in the little commune in which I've lived. I've written about him before. And he's worth saying goodbye to again.

More wonderful things will likely crop up after I've posted this. Like the stunning wildflowers of Castelluccio that blanket the isolated terrain north of here. And the wild asparagus of the wetter weather, now past. But I'll stick to my limit of five. 

In the meantime, many happy trails to you. 
  
Arrivederci. Ci' vediamo.


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Monday, July 4, 2016

Approaching Night


This is my final week in idyllic Umbria. I'm torn between a reluctance to leave and, after all this time away, a wish to be back home. 

The friends and acquaintances I've made here have been such welcoming and remarkable people, each in his or her own right -- both native Italians and transplants from around the world.  Each could write a book (and some, indeed, have)! Writers, poets, journalists, farmers, lawyers, architects, cooks, entrepreneurs, teachers, professors of diverse subject-matter, and artists. Each creative in her or his own way. 


It's hot now and the air is still. Too still. No birds. No wind. Not much wish to explore in this hot, unmoving air. But, as night approaches, a transformation occurs. Sitting outside and watching the reflected sunset on the terrain, it's a dramatic moment.

painting by Janet Strayer, click here to view in detail
This is my abstract-expressionist painting, modernistic in style and emotive of approaching night -- with its high contrasts of dark and light, luminous forms and active shapes that change with  shifts in interpretation. For me, this is the extraordinary moment when daylight changes into night. 


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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Go Fly a Kite! in Italy

Summer has suddenly burst through with hot, sunny days after a long spell of thunderstorms, rain, and chill.  Spending my final weeks here in the beautiful Umbrian hills, I'm taking in all I can of my surroundings... while rampant mosquitoes get their fill of me. Reciprocity. 

An Italian friend invited me to an unusual event in a nearby village of Toscolano. It was to be a slide-illustrated presentation on kite-making, followed by a luncheon for all attending. YES! This was just the kind of out-of-the-ordinary event to round out any conventional ideas that might be creeping in about Italian life. That the invitation came from a rather reserved and distinguished, mature Italian woman made it all the more charming. 


We drove together to the event (me silently remarking on how competently fast she took the hillside curves, compared to my foreign driving habits). A small, 15th C. chapel was open near the venue, with some semi-restored and original frescoes lining its walls. As I've said before, there is always something remarkable in almost every locale you set upon here.
chapel in Toscolano, JS ph
After being introduced to the organizers (friends of my friend), we joined about 50 other people of all ages seated together at long tables. Not only were we to hear a presentation, we were also going to make and decorate kites ourselves! What a kick for adults who'd never thought to play like this! My rather reserved friend was, at first, a bit embarrassed by the idea, but  then got fully into it. Good for her. And what fun to see the transition of all of us into child-like seekers and makers of objects that would fly.
my kite in progress
We were given the materials and instructions while the rather wonderful history of kite-making flashed on the large screen. Everyone set to work, everyone earnest in their playful attempts to make a kite that might fly... and one decorated in our own way. A fine novel, the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, came to mind, along with thoughts of the meaning and value of kite-flying in human history. Leonardo, Benjamin Franklin. Kites in all cultures of the world, especially as featured in China and Japan, throughout the far-east, and elsewhere. Their transformations.

When our kites were finished, with streamers and string attached, we went to a nearby field to test them for real. Would they fly?

It was a hot sun beating down on the field. I took off my shoes and tried to run with my kite in the grass. Seeing my lame attempt to get my kite to fly, a young boy came over and asked if he could fly it. Indeed, yes. And so he did! Around and around he ran, delighted. And delighted me.
and so it flew...
The importance of play, of exploration, of seemingly unimportant things. Of friends and new acquaintances. You never know what may fly.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Getting Lost (and Found) in Italy


painting by Janet Strayer
Today was a good day for a hike. After many thunderstorms and much overcast weather, today's sunshine encouraged my decision to explore the hills around my Umbrian homestead. My destination was a solo hike to the chestnut grove across the ravine into the deeper part of the forest.

Not hard to find if you know the way. But then, nothing is-- if you know the way. I had good directions from a visiting neighbor who'd already explored  the area. Being a student of ecological history, he told me that these chestnut groves in Italy were at least several centuries old,, having been planted by ancient communities to forestall famines in other foods.  And, the chestnuts are still harvested today

Do you know how lovely it is to come upon a chestnut grove in the midst of a forest, especially when you don't exactly know where you are? It's a special spot. The tree branches are magnificently broad and heavy with leaves, while the brown ground is clear and soft. Enchanting.

After three happy hours exploring, I thought I should head back home. After five hours, however, hiking around and around, in and out of the beautiful chestnut grove, I was officially lost

I have a talent for getting lost. Like Hansel and Gretel, I should have brought something (more durable than breadcrumbs) to lead me back home. Ironically, all the trail signposts  that pointed in different locations were printed with the same location name. My cell phone didn't operate in the woods.. Besides, who would I call given a recent thunderstorm had knocked out landline phone service in my home territory (in which there's also no cell reception).

You can see the view from where I got lost in this photo. I can almost see my house in the leftward distance
photos by JS

So, I trekked another time around the woods to take another trail. It lead to an asphalt road. Aha! Better than a lone night in the forest when friendly trees can turn monstrous, not to  mention the wandering wild boars. I stood by the road and stuck my thumb out at the first passing car. No luck. How many cars travelled this rural route? But I was turning in circles back in the forest. So...

Like a fortune's fool, I waited and held my hands up prayerfully at a car coming from the opposite direction.  Yes, it stopped! I sputtered in Italian to explain my situation and the kind driver, named Basilio, drove me home. I learned he was from a neighboring village. I told him I went to Cesare's hardware store in that village. He told me he worked for Cesare. And so it went. And so it goes... in Italy.

It would have taken another 45 minutes for me to have reached my village on foot along that road. But I didn't know that, and my feet were already blistered.

I reached home, gulped a liter of water, and ate the cold chicken and pesto salad I'd prepared the day before. Thank you, Basilio. Thank you, Italy. Thank you, good fortune.
 
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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Staying On In Italy

Good fortune. I'm staying on in Italy (Umbria, to be exact) for another month. The weather has been odd for this time of year: many thunderstorms, lots of cloudy days and rain. But I'm happy. 

I even met a new cheese with the strange name of squacarone: makes me think of a duck. It's good, though. Rather runny, so you scoop it with a spoon. Nothing like it I've tasted before. Another memorable thing from here. 

And art continues. I've met several artists here among a very interesting group of local and international residents. There's going to be an art show in August to showcase the known (yes) and as yet unknown talent living in these hills. I'm pleased to have my painting be a part of it, though I'm not sure which of the new work it will be. By then, I'll be back in Canada and missing being here. 

As I continue to be en-route in my abstract paintings, I've looked back to earlier work I did in a very much more realistic/illusionistic manner. I continue to love painting people in imaginative ways. And I love learning from the masters of the humanistic. To remind myself why, here's a charcoal I did of Judith's face, based on Caravaggio's painting.
Recalling Judith, charcoal by Janet Strayer, based on Caravaggio's painting



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