Category Archives: mindfulness

Did someone say Paintings?

I’ve been Painting again… I don’t have much to say about them – except, I think I like them.

They’re little Welsh landscapes that sum up my time here since I’ve moved.  I’ve been a lot more content. I’ve been a lot more relaxed.  And I feel like even one percent of the time I’m on my way to proving my potential…the challenges I’m facing are all good ones, adult-making ones.

I forgot what painting felt like, I think it’s quite clear in these that I enjoyed it…at least I hope so, anyway.

🙂

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Supporting Ambition in the Arts – Celf o Gwmpas

I’ve always wanted to work in the Arts…as cliched as it may seem, I’ve always wanted to inspire others to be creative.  I’m quite lucky that I’ve landed myself a Project Co-Ordinator role at Celf o Gwmpas, Llandrindod Wells.

It’s quite an amazing place, really.  It’s easy to get caught up in emails and admin., but Centre Celf breathes a sense of ‘happening.’ Someone last week told me that Celf o Gwmpas has changed their life.

I remember when I first applied for a job there I stalked the Celf o Gwmpas twitter and the description simply said ‘Creating social inclusion and supporting ambition in the arts.’ – I thought, I want to work here.  And now I do, yay!

As part of our  ACW year-long Learning and Practice project, throughout June we have been running sessional weekends for Artists who have experience or knowledge of the arts and mental health.

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The Learning & Practice Project is made up of multiple strands, with Blue MacAskill working with ‘at risk’ young people through filmmaking, and sessions with Stephen Park being held at various venues throughout Powys during his residency – The Welfare, Ystradgynlais and Oriel Davies, Newtown. Working together, they are developing knowledge, practice, experience and creative aspirations and promoting wider understanding of arts and mental health.

In November 2016, Celf o Gwmpas is hosting a week of events and activities Boxing Shadows in a celebration of arts and mental health as part of WALLS:MURIAU Welsh Mental Health Arts Festival 2016. (programme details at end of post)

 

The aim of the Peer-To-Peer training sessions in June 2016 is to provide a platform for Artists to develop and elevate their professional practice while giving them the opportunity to exhibit work as Part of a Wales-Wide Festival.

Our first session was 11th June at Centre Celf, Llandrindod Wells. We were aiming for up to 6 participants for the group, and found that we were oversubscribed! We began with Stephen introducing himself, and playing ice-breaking games where we got to know each other and tried to remember everyone’s names! Stephen explained his ideas of finding creative ‘flow’ as an Artist. He showed us images of artwork that he felt had achieved this ‘flow.’ ‘Flow’ is achieved when we are being creative but not too restrictive and not too perfect. Imagine it as a line…extrinsic on the left (creating freely without inhibitions, restrictions) and then intrinsic on the right (where we’re being too careful, too precious with our work) – Stephen explained that the ‘sweet spot’ is somewhere near the intrinsic, but still creating with an element of freedom. It’s when we arrive at this spot, we are in a rhythm of creating work as an Artist which is vital to developing and sustaining your practice.

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Stephen Park in residence at Celf o Gwmpas, Llandrindod Wells

We then did some ‘High Pressure, Low Expectation Exercises’ where we had to create something by following a brief e.g. creating a drawing by using no more than 5 lines- it didn’t matter what it looked like, it was the process that was important. This is important to apply to our own practice as Artists. We’re often so caught up in what we want the end result to be – we might have an exact idea of a painting or a sculpture in our mind, but we need accept the process itself may change the course of the result. It’s when you accept the validity of the process that the work becomes authentic.

On Sunday 12th, we worked more intensively on ideas of teamwork to find ‘flow’ with each of the participants creating a beginning of a series of Artworks. They had the job role of the Art Director where they took ownership of their series- deciding the colours, shapes and subject, the only rule was – they had to form a pattern. After creating three/four of their series, they then switched from ‘Art Director’ to ‘The Artist’s Apprentice’ and moved around the group to each person’s station, observing and attempting to follow the pattern. The aim was to have a collaborative series of artworks based on finding a creative flow and working together – and we did! It was interesting to see how each person had interpreted the Art Director’s series from their own perception.

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With the first weekend being one of such encouragement, we then organised individual mentoring sessions with each Artist to apply these ideas to their own practice. From 12th-18th June, each of the participants had a one-to-one mentoring session with Stephen. This gave each Artist time to chat with Stephen about their own work, what they’re interested in, and the direction they’d like to go with it in the future. It’s important as Artists to have regular feedback on the work we create and to gain a wider understanding of the artwork in context. As well as this, some pieces that we may have disregarded others might see value in. As the Peer-To-Peer training sessions are for Artists who have already established a level of professional practice, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to meet with Stephen who gives solid and constructive advice on developing their practice.

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For the remaining sessions in June, the Artist’s are putting ideas they have learned into practice by creating work for the Boxing Shadows Exhibition at Centre Celf in November. Between now and November, they will be working on a personal project developed in these sessions. We’ve set up a private online forum where the participants can share ideas, comment on each other’s work and encourage each other after the sessions end and throughout the Summer as they live all over Wales. In addition to this, we will be having two gallery visits during the Summer months to gain inspiration, as well as meeting up at the start of November to curate the Boxing Shadows exhibition as a group.

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Boxing Shadows Programme:

Thursday 10th November 4-6pm

Exhibition Preview at Centre Celf, Llandrindod Wells

Providing a platform for the artists involved to exhibit and screen work.

In parallel with Stephen Park: Residency Exhibition

Showing new work created during his residency stay over the course of six months in Llandrindod Wells.

 

Friday 11th November 6-8pm

Performance at Centre Celf, Llandrindod Wells

Performances/Stand-up comedy evening with:

  • Artist in residence Stephen Park
  • Writer, performer and outsider artist Sean Burn
  • Havin’ a Laugh’ showcasing a Powys-based project helping to build confidence and improve mental wellbeing through comedy.

 

Tuesday 15th November 10am-4pm

Panel discussion & Artist’s Talks – Centre Celf, Llandrindod Wells

Artists in training presenting their practice with Stephen Park talking about his residency and:

  • Blue MacAskill (tbc) tackling issues of aspirations, isolation, rurality and immobilization through creativity and art.
  • Sean Burn reclaiming the languages of lunacy, reflecting on his own lived experience of long-term mental distress.
  • Jane Cooke, Senior Officer, PAVO Mental Health Team, psychotherapist and trainer exploring forms of expression that bypasses a diagnosis in the minds of both client and mental health worker, and leading an investigation of creativity as a tool for encounters at different levels of experience.
  • Amanda Wells (tbc) former Celf o Gwmpas mentored artist and instigator of Celf-Able, a group of disabled artists in Mid-Wales, who meet to do art together, share skills and break down barriers.

 

Why being impressionable is a good thing

‘Oh she’s just impressionable…’

This statement is weighted with a negative stigma that I’d like to challenge.  In my last blog post, I talked about the need to become ‘aware’ of ordinary things to break the ‘active but absent’ mindset that are bodies are accustomed to.  We’re all guilty of going through the motions in our daily lives – it’s pretty normal.  We as humans are creatures of habit and fall into routine.  The danger of this of course is that we don’t think or feel for ourselves.  We’re constantly bombarded with advertisements ‘LOOK HERE, BUY THIS, TASTE, FEEL’ etc.  With these directions, often comes empty promises of fulfillment and happiness.

Therefore, to ‘live’ as such, and to be present, we need to become aware and be humbled by ordinary things. Christophe Andre’s book Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art has been a brilliant insight into the importance of looking, and really seeing.  Much of my inspiration and thoughts have been catalysed by his writing.

Claude Monet has always been one of my favourite Painters.  I often get asked who my favourite Artist is, and when I was very young I panicked and exclaimed it was Monet. This at the time was partially true, and partly that I knew everyone would be familiar with some of his work, or at the very least, his name.  As an impressionable child, I began to look and marvel at the work of Claude Monet.  I saw his piece La rue Montorgueil a Paris. Fete du 30 juin 1878 at the Musée d’Orsay and was inspired by his ability to capture the spirit and the enthusiasm of the later coined ‘French National’ day through his urgent and lively brushstrokes, all whilst still sitting removed from the festival feeling in a balcony he reportedly hired to paint the scene especially.

Monet flagsMonet, Claude, La rue Montorgueil a Paris. Fete du 30 juin 1878, 1878, Oil on Canvas, 81 x 50.5cm Musée d’Orsay

This painting is a blur of motion and celebration that when is viewed up-close is constructed of what seems like very frantic brushstrokes. There seems to be little composition and structure, but when viewed as a whole it becomes almost like a snapshot of the day, full of life and vibrancy.

Claude Monet 1840-1926 - French painter - The Rue Montorgueil, Paris 1878 - The Impressionist Flags (4)Monet was inspired to paint a scene of people in France that have been hurt, but are moving forward to a greater and more plentiful life.  The term ‘Impressionist’ was first used as an insult in response to an exhibition of new paintings in Paris in 1874.  According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term impressionable means ‘easily influenced.’  As one of the major members of the movement, Monet would record fleeting, transient moments that influenced him through the medium of paint.  By painting scenes that he found influential, he was mindful and aware of the present moment.  He was so inspired by dancerly nature of the flags that he paid to paint on someone’s balcony.  The scene wouldn’t have been any better later, or any worse.  It just wouldn’t have been the same.  This was the impression that he was inspired by, it was perfect – the here and now.  You may find yourself asking, but how does this apply to me in my daily life?

Artist or not, we all can learn from Claude Monet.  Being impressionable allows us to be simply present to the ordinary moments of living.  This is important, because most often, it is the present that we ignore.  How often do you find yourself thinking about the past, or the future rather than concentrating on living in the present?  Being influenced by things we see and hear helps us fragment and interrupt the ‘automatic flow of our actions and thoughts.’  According to Christophe Andre, finding yourself being impressionable and therefore aware of the present moment is no doubt easier in more beautiful or favourable surroundings.  For example, it’s much easier to be inspired by a remarkable sunset than it is a washing machine. Knowing this, it’s easy to relate to Monet’s instancy to paint La Rue Montorgueil.  With this being said, we can be impressionable in any environment as long as we are prepared to make an effort.  ‘It requires a decision on our part to open ourselves up as often as we can to being touched, contracted and struck by life. This is an act of deliberate awareness.’  There may be things you see every day on your way to work, in your home that you’ve never looked twice at.  These ordinary items will never be the same twice.  Every experience you have is different, in the fact that it’s always unique – time passes.  Looking with the eyes of a new-born can help us reveal beauty in things that we may have considered unchanging before.

rouen-cathedral-monetMonet, Claude, Rouen Cathedral Series, Oil on Canvas, various sizes, 1890-1896

With over 30 Paintings in the Rouen Cathedral Series, Monet focused on portraying the distinctly different character of the cathedral depending on the light that was cast upon it.  This monumental effort by Monet acts as an ‘attempt to illustrate the importance of light in our perception of a subject at a given time and place.’  When looking closely at the Paintings, it’s quite extraordinary how the same building can almost take on a completely different persona due to the time of the day it was painted.  Monet, like a lot of the Impressionists, was inspired by light.  The effect that light had on an object or a place was a driving force to paint, because it was ever-changing.  We like Monet, can attune ourselves to be impressionable and look with eyes that want to be inspired and an open mind.  This ever-changing concept of light applies to everything, no matter how seemingly insignificant.  A pepper grinder today is going to remain a pepper grinder tomorrow, but where it’s placed may be different, the reflection will be different.  When we become aware of these little things, we’re alive – broken free from the shackles of the past and the fears of the future for an instant.  When we become aware and momentarily dismiss our staggered thoughts and just ‘live’, the world is a more dazzling, brighter and fulfilling place.

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” – Henry Miller

I’m working on becoming more impressionable, are you?

Sources:

Andre, Christophe, Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art, p 20-24. 119

http://lesiksarthistory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/rue-montorgueil-vs-rue-mosnier-with.html

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/learn-about-art/guide-to-impressionism/guide-to-impressionism

http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/painting.html?no_cache=1&zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=4035

Do you see things differently, too?

I was passing, and then I stopped.  There’s something special I notice about the scene.  I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that captivates me – the architecture, the light, the viewpoint, but it does.  I have this experience every day with a telephone pole as I walk through the town of Aberystwyth.  Now this in itself might sound ridiculous and you may find yourself asking how can I possibly find beauty in something so…pedestrian? Truth is, I’m not entirely sure.  Each experience I have with the telephone pole is completely unique.  The light is always a little bit different, I’m a little bit different.  But alas, every day in my walk to the library I still stop for a moment.

It’s often remarked by family and friends that I’m extremely observant.  I notice colours in reflections, strange textures in tiles and make shapes in my mind with woodgrain.  I don’t observe everything, but I’m aware that certain things that most would consider unimportant captivate me and wholly capture my attention becoming the most important thing in the world for a fleeting moment.

It’s taken me years of this kind of seeing to bring it to full awareness and begin to realise what it means. I was always under the impression that it was my creative temperament that led to this appreciation of ordinary things, but the more I learn, this seeing is not exclusive to the ‘creatives’ amongst us.  Everyone without limit can find beauty in the banal.

Christophe Andre in his book Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art uses Gas by Edward Hopper to illustrate this idea of seeing ordinary things.  Hopper was renowned for his oil paintings of American Life that were all simplistic in composition.  Somewhat reluctant to discuss himself and his art, he famously summed up his Art by stating “The whole answer is there on the canvas.”  This feels like an apt statement when weighted with the appreciation for the ordinary.

gasGas, Edward Hopper (1882-1967) 1940, oil on canvas, 66.7 x 102.2m, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Andre suggests that when you begin to look, and really look you become aware of the silly detail of the Pegasus on the sign.  Then you see his three little brothers on the pumps which anchors your attention. You start to assume what could be happening inside the lighted house.  Is there music playing? Where does the darkened road lead to?  How long will it be before the man pictured sees anyone else?  For Hopper to paint this, it must have captivated him.  This moment is completely unique. You stopped because you will never again see what you are seeing now.  In the same way that you will never experience exactly what you are experiencing now.  This is the point – you understand.  This becomes the most important thing in the world – this seeing, this experience, this awareness… and this is living!  You are living life.

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All too often we find ourselves going through the motions in life. A work/rest alternate.  We absent-mindedly wander through our days, only to get up the next morning to do the same.  We’re programmed on repeat – ‘active but absent.’  Our lives are directed with signposts ‘Look now!, listen now!, taste now!, feel now!’  to ‘carefully delineated moments where we ‘have to’ be enchanted or moved (cinema, theatre, museums and galleries).’  If we allow ourselves to be victims of this signposted and dictated awareness we become robot-like.  This is why moments in appreciating the ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’ are so vital to enriching our soul. We must appreciate and respect normal things. I agree that is much easier to become aware and mindful in a beautiful landscape but it is true to say that it can happen anywhere and at any time – with a little effort to ‘remain awake and present.’

How do we do this in our daily lives?

I went to grab a coffee yesterday in a busy coffee shop.  While I waited for mine to be made, I watched the barista work efficiently calling out different orders for collection.  After a few minutes she exclaimed “banana latte and a watermelon chocolate!” A woman came and lifted the tray with a quick thank-you but didn’t pull the barista up on her comical drinks.  She looked at me and grinned “I have a theory that if you shout anything, people will come and take whatever is ready.  Last week it was items of clothing, this week it’s fruit.”  I laughed, but after I left with my non-fruit flavoured coffee it really made me think.  People hear but how often do they listen?  We’re always in the doing mode, but we’re not often in the being mode.  Take the painting, how often has people just filled up the tank, paid, left, not experiencing the sights to be seen?  It’s important to practice listening to sounds around you, observing the light, smelling around you, tasting, touching – awakening your senses if you like.  Looking with the eyes of the new-born, as if everything is new.  You’ll be amazed at how much there is to see and sense.  This isn’t robot-like, but it is human being-like.  ‘We must be aware that we are alive. Living in awareness, touched by ordinary things, jostled by normality.  It means being enlightened by the benign and ordinary- dazzled and delighted by life.’

‘Never forget that every mind is shaped by the most ordinary experiences.’ – Paul Valery, Mauvaises Pensees Et Autres

Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art, Christophe Andre, L’Iconoclaste, Paris, 2011 (p.112-121)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Hopper

http://www.moma.org/collection/works/80000

Approaching Happiness

“We enter paradise every second – either that or we leave it.” – Christian Bobin

Turner-Approach-Venice

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775 – 1851 ), Approach to Venice, 1844, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection

Venice to Turner meant ‘delight.’ A misty city, quasi-visible across the Venetian Lagoon through a golden twilight. John Ruskin, the major art critic who was one of Turner’s few champions later in his career, hailed the canvas as “the most perfectly beautiful piece of colour of all that I have seen produced by human hands.” In the Royal Academy catalogue for 1844, this entry was accompanied by a quotation that Turner himself rewrote from Lord Byron’s poem Childe Harold:

“The moon is up, and yet it is not night,
The sun as yet disputes the day with her.”

This painting is a fleeting moment captured by Turner.  Soon we will be there.  We will be captivated by the sights, smells and the sounds the city has to offer.  The Sun acts as a guiding light, welcoming us.  It illuminates the City with glory, turning the lagoon a golden yellow.  The moon too reminds us of the freshness and urgency of the night.  The golden light will have disappeared by the time we land, and been taken over by the crisp darkness.

I’ve been blessed to see a painting of Turners’ for real.  There’s something about the way he paints that draws emotions from you – it’s mostly not even voluntary.  The canvas becomes an object in which you portray your emotions, hopes, thoughts and experiences onto.  The gesture, colours and light-heartedness are all strong enough to withstand it. You associate your own personal experiences with the subject, making it appear different to each individual. And isn’t that the simplest purpose of Art? That it makes you feel something?

Christophe Andre uses Approach to Venice as an illustration for happiness in his book Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art.  Approach to Venice is a metaphor in seeing Happiness gently emerging in your life.

Andre suggests that there is no happiness without awareness.  Have you ever found yourself looking back at something in your past and thought about how happy you were but you didn’t realise?  This is something we all fall victim to.  Even just now, I thought about my experience with the Turner painting in the National Gallery and how happy I was to just look and be…and often now I find myself going to extreme lengths restlessly looking for this calm again.  This retrospective happiness is human nature.  As French writer Radiguet writes ‘Happiness, I knew you only by the sound you made as you left.’  Without awareness of the present we long for these past moments of happiness which we didn’t know how to embrace at the time.  This happens when we are too busy…there are simply too many things on our minds to revel in happiness- work,eat,sleep,repeat.  It happens too when we are sad or worried…our minds become uncertain about the future or regrets over the past.  I’ve always admired Turners’ enthusiasm to ‘be’ in the moment and it is something we can learn from.  His drive to capture these transient moments are influential to not only my own painting practice, but my way of living.  I remember reading stories when I was a child of Turner supposedly strapping himself to the mast of ships to experience the moment in later, more stormy work. Even as a child I was inspired by this act of living.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775 - 1851 ), Approach to Venice, 1844, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection

How do we become aware then?  If we regularly open our mind, not looking for happiness but just looking, we will see happiness in things.  When I’m sad I force myself to go outside and just look.  It’s not long before I realise beauty in things- it could be something as simple as a tree or a flower.  As Andre puts it, these fleeting moments of happiness in our everyday lives will be ‘slight, brief, imperfect and incomplete, but multiple, changing, alive and constantly renewed.’

Venice mightn’t be as promised – but there are glimpses of happiness to be found in everything.  By being mindful, we can train ourselves to notice everything, pains and pleasures alike.  In times of adversity we should stop and accept snippets of happiness.  It’s a fleeting comfort, but later, we will do it again.  Thus, it becomes an endless cycle.

“We will keep on making misfortune breathe alongside everything that resembles life – in other words, happiness”.

https://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg57/gg57-117.html

Andre, Christophe Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art, L’Iconoclaste, 2011, 232-238