Tag Archives: Aberystwyth

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

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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.

cri_000000151386

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

August 4, 2015

I’m a graduate…again!

Graduand

I enjoyed graduating for the second time, despite it being the largest and (no doubt) longest graduation ceremony that Aberystwyth University has ever seen.  In fact, I enjoyed it more than my Undergraduate ceremony.  Why? It was relaxed, I stormed about in my robes because I knew what was expected of me on that day – it was comfortable.

But this term ‘comfort’ is one which I have too easily associated with Aberystwyth.  In less than a month, I’ll have been here for 5 years…which has happened almost by accident.  There’s a saying in Aber that “If you’ve been here for more than four years, then you’re stuck…forever.”  And while I love having a network of people who care for me here, I’m aware I need to move on.  I want to make myself uncomfortable immerse myself in new things, surround myself by new faces and places, and fill the yearning in my heart to do something different.  As an Artist, I crave new experiences.  These experiences keep me feeling alive.  I’m not a student, nor am I an adult with a career.  I’ve found myself in a strange ‘limbo’ trying to find my way.  I’m ready for the next move and to carve a career, it’s just not happened yet.  I’m persevering because I want to do something that I love.

I’m reading a book called The Obstacle Is The Way by Marketing Genius Ryan Holiday.  Now while I often am sceptical of  these airy-fairy self-help books that centre on loving yourself… this has me instantly hooked.  Holiday is not so much cut-throat, but extremely honest which means this book has become a manual for me in this time of ‘limbo.’

– Perception

– Action

– Will

Holiday writes of an old Zen Proverb that tells of a King who is worried about the decline of his Kingdom due to the attitudes of the people. To prove his theory that his people had lost inspiration, a king had a giant boulder placed on the only road into his city. Then, hidden and perched on a hill, he waited to see what would happen. First, some merchants came upon the rock and said, “Well, this boulder is blocking our path. Let’s turn around and go home. No work today!” And they turned around and left. Next a group of soldiers came upon the boulder. “This rock is blocking our path,” they said. “I guess no one will need our services today”, and they turned around and went home as well. The king watched person after person continue to come upon the rock, see it as an impasse or excuse and turn and go home.  This was until a lonely peasant came upon the rock.  He was excited by the challenge.  He first examined the huge boulder and tried to push it with all his might. He realized this would not work and began to think of other solutions. Then the quote from ancient mathematician Archimedes popped into his head, “If you give me a large enough lever and a fulcrum on which to place it, I shall move the world.” The old man was instantly inspired, and found a long wooden pole. He placed the pole under the boulder and using leverage, moved the boulder slightly. He repeated this process until the boulder was completely off the road.With his challenge finished, the inspired man was about to set off down the previously blocked path toward the city, but he noticed a bag lying where the boulder once stood. He looked around, picked up the bag and found inside a large amount of gold and a note. He carefully opened the note and read, “This gold is for you, since you know that great obstacles can lead to bigger opportunities.” The king, happy with the actions of this man, left his hiding place and went back to his castle with hope for his people.

When I read this proverb, the meaning was crystal clear to me.  Things that I consider ‘obstacles’ such as the competitive job market, lack of experience, restlessness etc. has been a massive opportunity to develop and learn for myself.  I’ve become patient and driven.  Without these ‘obstacles’ I’d be less, not more.  When I came to understand this, I’ve learned that the obstacle is the way.

Things are happening, as vague as that may be… I’m ready for my break.  I’m waiting on the perfect chance to seize it…I’m on the path!

“If you want more, you have to become more” – Jim Rohn

Sources:

http://www.trainingforwarriors.com/the-obstacle-is-the-path-2/

Holiday, Ryan The Obstacle Is The Way, 2014.

Making Progress…

blogpost

Some Paintings together that I have created since the beginning of My Master’s degree in September 2013. The exciting thing about painting, although the uncertain nature of it is really daunting, when I see all my work together in one place, it’s exciting. I’m not sure of the direction my work is taking, but it doesn’t really matter.  I trust in my Process of painting, so I know the product will follow.

The more I trust my own instinct, the less I am able to articulate what I do. < This seems more relevant than ever.

Best Seat in Wales? Painting as a direct reaction to landscape, Nant-Y-Arian, Wales.

views from Nant-Y-Arian, Aberystwyth
Is this seat pictured above the best in Wales? Stunning views are featured at this Red Kite Bird Reserve, called Nant-Y-Arian just outside Aberystwyth, Ponterwyd in Wales. I took a trip down here with my friends at the beginning of November 2013 as it’s a spot we always escape from the small town life that Aberystwyth has to offer.

We followed one of the trails, and found this seat, where I sat for approx. 40mins just looking. I took a few photographs to document the type of day it was, but there are very few times where I remember being so stopped in my tracks by the beauty of the land around me. The transience of the landscape, and the fleeting nature of it was very apparent to me that day, and I felt inspired to paint.
close-ip detail of the painting in progress..

The next day, I began to paint a direct reaction to the landscape I had just seen and that was so fresh in my mind. From photographs and a few small thumbnail sketches to work from, I relied heavily on my instinct, intuition and memory. I adjusted and readjusted previous marks, responding to colour, form and what was left from before to build a constructed and experimental landscape. I wasn’t interested in achieving a direct representation, but rather an impressionistic interpretation. I was chasing the ‘essence’ of the landscape. I wanted to portray how the landscape made me feel, I tried to keep it light, vivid and full of life.

my coursemate Kristy has a go reacting to the piece in progress

My coursemate Kristy had a turn at reacting to marks that I had placed on the canvas. The result is a moody, landscape-esque type of painting. It balances somewhere precariously between figuration and abstraction.

Falling in love with paint all over again!

Departing from Aerial Views

Undegraduate Degree show, May 2013 Aerial View 1

These three Aerial View Paintings marked the peak of my Undergraduate degree in Fine Art Painting at Aberystwyth University. Throughout my Three years in Aberystwyth, I had been heavily inspired by the rugged Welsh landscape, and found a love for cartography in my second year of study. Moving away from Map work, the concept of the Aerial View stayed an important influence. Being from Ireland, I always loved flying back and forth to see the land from above. I was fixated with the natural forms, lines and colours of the land and how from above the earth looked like some kind of abstract painting. I began painting instinctive and gestural Aerial landscapes which were a direct response to my experience of flying and the earth from above.
However, at the end of my Undergraduate degree, and embarking on my Masters, I strived to move away from the Aerial View, with the idea of beginning to incorporate the skyline back into my works. I still was interested in forms, and experience of being in the landscape, but just didn’t have such a specific ‘category’ as such for my paintings. I was excited to begin experimenting in my Masters degree, unsure of the outcome, but relying on the process rather than the end product.