Before Words

Before Time – mixed media on canvas – 30 x 24″

Both on the canvas and on the page, immersed in colour and texture, tone and feelings, words and imagery, I find myself coming home to a place I didn’t know existed before I became immersed in it all.

And then…. I read the news and must find my way back to that place where I find myself grounded in the darkness and the light, the ugly and the beautiful, the intolerable and the harmony.

This morning, I read the news. Story after story of unease and confusion and injustice and racism and phobias too unbearable to name, deaths too heavy to endure, history to unbearable to uncover.

And the muse pushes me to write it out. To name it. Feel it. Know it. See it. Bear it. Even when the words are too dark to see or feel too heavy to bear in the dim light cast by the news. To write it out and bear witness to it all so that in all of it, the mystery, the awe, the ineffable beauty of life can shine through.

In keeping with the Before Time poem from yesterday, this morning’s poem is titled, “Before Words”. (and the painting is the finished version of yesterday’s share.)

Before Words
by Louise Gallagher

Before words
man had no name
for who he was
or who the others were
who shared this human 
state
without a name.

Without a name
he could not name
the things he saw
that were the same
yet different
and lived within the mystery
of the world
for which he had no name.

And then words came
and labelled all that man was
all that man created
all that man did
as wanted/unwanted
beautiful/ugly
funny/sad
curious/dreaded
intriguing/frightening
right/wrong
us/them.

And in the naming of it all
man became black or white
dark/light
rich/poor
believer/nonbeliever
love/hate.


And in the names
man called 'them'
there were no words
to label the things he did not
understand
or know
and so he named them all
The Other.

There was no room
for the others
who did not fit into man’s tidy
labels
designed to keep the others
out
until fear grew 
wild
hatred flourished 
fierce
and man became
the one 
to fear the most.

About the artwork: When I began this painting it was an overpainting of an old piece that did not please me. It was going to be flowers and then, the evolution of time began to unfold and this is what appeared.

Before time…

Before Time– Mixed Media on Canvas – 30 x 24″

Most of the pieces I’ve been working on for he art show next week are relative small — 12 x 12″, 11 x 14″ and smaller.

As I was looking through my stash of old canvases I found one I decided I wanted to paint over. It’s 30 x 24″ so a big ‘jump’ from what I’ve been working on.

I had a vision in my head of what I’d create. The original canvas was extremely textured and layers, lots of collaged in pieces along with ridges made with different papers. I layered on a bunch of white paint, letting areas show through and once dried, used alcohol and baby wipes to lighten up some of the thicker painted.

And that’s when the magic happened.

Originally, my vision was to create big splashes of colourful flowers. Somewhat impressionistic/abstract. And then, the muse whispered… before time, there was only limitless space.

Hmmm…. and suddenly, the flowers became the sun and moon and earth and all the planets…

I’m not done yet. Lying in the bath this morning after returning from my early morning walk with Beaumont the Sheepadoodle, I closed my eyes and felt the warm sunshine on my face. I listened to the river flowing and the trees standing silent with no breath of breeze brushing through their limbs. In the sacred nature of the silence, the rest of the ‘quote’ wrote itself out.

And now… I’m off to work on the painting…

Have a beautiful, glorious day. May it be full of warmth, joy and above all, Love.

Namaste

Can Writing It Out Clear It Out?

Love Fest – 10 x 10 – Mixed media on wrapped canvas

Yesterday, after writing out my fears of imperfection and my frustrations with where I was at in my creative journey, I headed into my studio, clear of mind, fresh of spirit, grounded in my body’s wisdom and knowing.

I had fun.

All day.

Sure, there were those moments where I wondered… hmmm….. where is this going? But each of those moments appeared as curiosity-filled elements of the bigger moments of pure joy in the art of being present and embodied in this moment, right now.

Did I mention… I had fun? ‘Cause I did!

And here’s the thing… I realized, as I was layering and wiping off, layering and wiping off, (I use a lot of baby-wipes in my art-making — you’re welcome Pampers) the ‘imperfections’ are integral to my art-making. They are part of who I am. A part I want to celebrate, embrace and allow to shine.

And that’s what my creative practice, both writing and visual art-making, teaches me every day.

To allow the artist within free and fearless expression, I must:

  • Be curious
  • Witness and embrace my fears
  • Dive in and open up to vulnerability
  • Seek imperfection
  • Be present and revel in the moment
  • Cherish, nurture and honour my process
  • Let go of my ‘judgements’
  • Celebrate all I am, beauty and the beast, yin and yang, light and dark

Thank you everyone for your wonderful and loving feedback to my angst yesterday.

What I heard you say rings true and deep within me: We gotta love the imperfections because there’s no such thing as perfect.

___________________

True story….

Years ago, when I was thinking of signing up for a painting course at a studio I often go to, the owner approached me and suggested I might think twice about attending that particular course. “It’s realism,” she said. “You’re going to end up frustrated as is the instructor. You’ll drive her so crazy with your need to redefine reality to your sensibilities, she’ll ask you to leave.”

I had to laugh.

She was so right.

I don’t ‘do’ realism. At least, not in my art-making.

I love the unexpected. The rough. The blurry. The ‘impression’ and imprecision of suggesting there’s a hammer without having to hit someone on the head with it. How they use that hammer, how they hold it, see it – that’s up to them. Not me.

Me. I’ll be the one in front of her easel, apron over her linen dress because she couldn’t be bothered to change, and because, isn’t it wonderful to wear your ‘Sunday best’ when doing something you love?

Ultimately, that’s what my art is all about. Self-expression for the pure joy of it. Arting-it-out for the love of being present in the moment of creation, that moment when my heart sings and dances in concert with the world in and all around me.

Namaste

_______________

Oh…. and… this painting was inspired by Mother Nature. Yesterday, when I stepped into my studio I noticed that one of the robin chicks had stepped out of the nest and was standing on its edge.

It sat there all day, not quite ready to fly, but definitely testing the temperature of the air, the strength of its wings as it savoured the possibility of flight.

(It’s a bit blurry as I don’t want to get to close and scare her.)

.

Fear of Looking Imperfect

One of the things that inevitably comes to the forefront for me in art-making, is my fear of looking imperfect. Of looking like an imposter, or that I haven’t got it all together.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve gotten ready for the Vale’s Greenhouse Cultivation of Art Show and Sale, I have come up against my fear again and again.

Yesterday, after what I deemed another miserable attempt to create something worthy of being part of my offerings at the show, I told my beloved, “I figured something out in the studio today.”

“What’s that?” he asked from where he sat on the sofa watching a hockey game on his laptop.

“The thing I hate about art shows is that I get all caught up in the outcome and lose my joy of creating simply for the sake of creating.”

“Oh.” he replied. “Is that why you’ve been on edge these past few days?”

I was on edge? Hmmm…

“Probably. I love being immersed in the creative nature of art-making, but what I’ve noticed, as I’ve gotten ready for the art show, is I’m not allowing the creative process to just happen. I’m making art instead of making space for art to happen.”

I paused for a moment as C.C. sat quietly watching me, waiting for me to find my way through my angst. “I hate art shows. Don’t even know why I go in. I don’t create to sell. I create to have fun. And I’m not having much fun right now.”

Ahhhh….. that little five year old loves to get into it when she feels like I’m fleeing the scene of my artistic potential.

It isn’t that she’s trying to create havoc or run amuck with my self-confidence. Rather, it’s that she feels my fear. Unfortunately, when I am running with fear as my companion, she gets scared. Scared means she can’t go play with abandon amongst the wildflowers. She can’t paint the moon all the colours of the rainbow because I am standing outside the sacred garden of my creative nature.

When I’m running with fear of my creative expression and talents, my peace of mind is a fast river of muddy waters swollen by spring run-off. .

This morning, I woke up, took Beaumont the Sheepadoodle for his early morning walk. At one point, I stood at the railing of the John Hextall pedestrian bridge which joins the western edges of the city to the downtown. I stood on the Hextall and watched the waters of the Bow River flowing deep and fast beneath it.

As I stand and watch the waters and Beau sniffs the grasses growing in the planters that line the center of the bridge, I am reminded of a poem by Apollinaire Guillaume. I was first introduced to Apollinaire in my teens. His work still resonates deeply. The poem, The Mirabeau, begins with the line, “Under the Mirabeau flows the Seine.”

And I am transported back to that child of five who danced and laughed and spun about when she was a little girl and we lived in France. Life was full of possibilities. She had such dreams, such flights of fancy and wonder and awe. There was nothing she couldn’t do and she planned on doing it all.

And I hear her whispering deep within me. “Let me go back to where I am free to run amidst the wildflowers and paint the moon all the colours of the rainbow. Let me go back so you can run free of fear standing here on the Hextall above the Bow.

And when I return home I take a flight of fancy and write an homage to Appollinaire.

An Homage to Appollinaire
by Louise Gallagher

Under the Hextall flows the Bow
muddy waters churning
the mountains are running 
free
of winter’s excess
the lakes are flowing 
clear
of mother nature’s blanket
frozen
against their beauty

I stand on the bridge
and cast my doubts
into the fast-flowing waters
free
of fear that the waters
will never run clear again
that the lakes
will never thaw
that I will never
be free
of fear

I cast my doubts
beyond the thrall
of my confusion
and breathe
the morning’s cool fresh
kisses
falling
upon my face
where I stand 
musing
on the Hextall
above the Bow.

And I return to my studio.

I need not fear my imperfections. I only need to embrace them so that I am free to celebrate my creative expressions in all their many colours, all their multi-dimensions and all their unique expressions.

In that frame of mind, I let go of expectations and outcome and throw myself with abandon into the deep running waters of my creative expressions flowing free.

Namaste

How to Beat Back Fear

Grow Wild – mixed media on canvas, 12 x 12″

Every time I sit at my studio table, stare at a blank canvas or page in an art journal, I feel the dark, dank tendrils of fear slithering up my spine. They scurry throughout the dendrites of my brain, plump with their insidiously sour whisperings about why I must stop. Now. Before I prove my worst fear true: I am inadequate to the task.

And every time I put paint brush to canvas or word to print or complete any task I set out to do fearing I can’t, I beat back fear.

Painting has taught me, I must feel the fear. See. it. Acknowledge it even. And then, I must transform it through taking action.

It doesn’t matter if the action leads to a ‘masterpiece’. What matters is, I stepped into the fray, faced my fears and forged on.

Creativity is the art of facing fear down with action. Action that takes you into the very territory fear is trying to keep you out of. Your fear of facing your magnificence, your beautiful self expression of your soul’s calling to be witness to all of life. Your fear of moving beyond your comfort zone. Of facing your fears, and the world. Your way. Wild and Free.

Perhaps, that’s what makes one person dive into their creativity while another will insist they don’t have any – the willingness to face fear again and again and again and still keep going.

Perhaps, it is our definition of ‘creativity’ that needs to expand so that we can all see how inherently creative it is to be human.

I have a friend who constantly says she is not creative, even though she is a marvelous cook, seamstress, friend. One of the things she does that always strikes me as an expression of her creative nature is to make beautiful meals for friends in moments of distress. She artfully packages each meal up with flowers and a beautifully penned note of support and delivers them to her friends in need. Yet, when I point out this is another viewpoint of creative expression, she brushes off my assertions with a, “That’s not very creative. It’s just what friends do.”

“Don’t you worry about intruding on their grief or pain?” I ask. (I have a fear of intruding when people are in moments of distress.)

“Sometimes,” she replies. “But I also know how much comfort someone feels when a friend turns up at their door with a gift of food and flowers when the last thing they can think about is what to make for dinner. So I do it anyway.”

See. Facing fear with action to create beauty, comfort, and ease in the world around you.

Yesterday, a friend picked up one of my paintings he’d purchased. One of his comments touched me deeply. “I love your art,” he said. “It’s so peaceful.” (Thank you BC)

I have never thought of my work as ‘peaceful’. Yet, when he said it, I felt the peace that consumes me when I face my fear of the blank canvas and lay down swathes of color and texture. Perhaps, that is what my friend sees and feels – the peace and joy within me, expressing itself outward onto the canvas.

The great Russian abstract painter, Vassily Kandinsky said, “Color is a power which directly influences the soul.”

I paint with color. It is an expression of my soul. It soothes my mind, my body, my being present.

It calms my fears and, even though I hadn’t realized it before, it stirs my courage awake. Awakened, I beat back fear. Not with angry words and protestations against its presence. But with the most loving, kind thing I can do for myself. Get creating.

And while I often don’t know where I’m going with a painting until I get there, the fastest route to get beyond my fear to find out where I’m going, is to let the colors lead my body into self-expression.

So thank you BC. Not just for your friendship and support of my work, but for your words. They touched me deeply and bring me great joy. And have given me a window into my own self-expression I hadn’t opened before. Much gratitude.

Namaste

Why I Dance!

Why I Dance – mixed media on canvas board. 11 x 14″

Years ago, as a gift for my daughters, I painted two paintings on the theme of dancing.

Yesterday, I wrote a poem entitled, Why I Dance.

I knew that somewhere I had a photo of the painting I’d created for my eldest daughter and went in search of it. I thought it might make a good accompaniment for my poem.

I found the painting, (believe me I was surprised!) but… I wasn’t all that pleased with the work. At the time, it was good. I had only been painting for a couple of years and it was a reflection of my nascent skills and talent.

But, (and yes, there’s always a ‘but’) I had totally forgotten about the ‘when’ of my beginning to paint until I started working on a new piece to go with my poem.

I started painting in the throes of a relationship that almost killed me. I had mostly quit writing. Writing is about truth for me and the truth around that relationship was enshrouded in so much pain and fear and terror I could not, would not, didn’t dare express it.

On that first day when I picked up a paintbrush, I found a way to express myself through creating beauty to block out the pain and fear I lived within every moment of every day.

As I look back on the gifts that painting has brought me, I am humbled by its power to transform fear into faith, pain into perseverance, horror into hope.

My eldest daughter taught me how to paint.

My daughters teach me how to love, the darkness and the light, within and all around me.

Writing teaches me every day how to walk in truth.

Painting awakens me, every day, to the beauty, within and all around me.

And here’s the thing about writing. This post is not at all what I had thought it would be about when I started typing this morning.

And then, the words appeared and as is the way, they just kept flowing as I flowed with them.

I’d type more but… Beaumont the Sheepadoodle is sitting by my desk, staring at me with that looks he gets when he feels I have been sitting here too long. “It’s time to get out into nature,” he says with his emploring eyes.

And I believe him and am off to dance with nature.

Why I Dance 
by Louise Gallagher  

There is no rhyme 
or reason 
to why 
I dance 

there is only  
the beat 
pounding 
pulsing 
pushing 
my body 
to move 
cavort 
contort 
into expressive release 
of the energy 
coursing 
through my veins 
limbs extended 
reaching out 
as if in that one  
fluid motion  
I can grab on 
to nothing 
but air 
and fly 
as high as the sky 
free 
of all earth 
bound need  
to be tied 
down.  
There is no rhyme  
or reason 
to why I 
dance. 
 
There is only  
the desire 
to fly 
free. 
This is the painting I created in 2003, the year I was released from that relationship.

She Could Not Let The Gods Die

My mother was born in India of Euro-Asian descent. At the time, Pondicherry was a French Protectorate with a very vibrant and strong Catholic community.

Devoutly Catholic, she affixed crucifixes above doors and kept statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus by her bed. She also ensured there were statues of Vishnu and Lakshmi and other gods all around the house, just in case.

The words of a prayer were never far from her lips, especially if one of us four children lost something or tested her patience (read mostly me). Where I was concerned, it didn’t take much provocation for her to quickly launch into a prayer to St. Jude, the Saint of Lost Causes.

I remember once, we were camping and my sister and I were using one of my father’s favourite camping pots as a bucket. We would scoop water out of the river and then throw the water back in as if it were raining. I was scooping and throwing and accidentally let the bucket go as I was throwing the water back in. I remember watching, aghast, as the bucket bobbed along the surface of the water, out of reach. My mother made me pray with her to St. Jude and a few minutes later, the pot was found safely tucked in between two rocks a bit further downstream. She was convinced it was St. Jude answering our prayers, just as she was convinced, God and St. Jude would never give up on me.

Yesterday, I read Agah Shahid Ali’s poem, “Lenox Hill” which arrived in my Inbox via The Poetry Foundation. Reading his powerful and provocative words, I was reminded of my mother and her many gods and goddesses and her deep abiding faith in the God of her faith.

This poem was born…

She Could Not Let The Gods Die
By Louise Gallagher

Tired now,
she prayed feverishly
to her Lord
God of her faith
committed 
to following His way
to the other side.

It was the way 
of the cross
she’d carried away
from the land of her birth
when she’d left
to follow the way
of a man
who appeared
like one of the gods
she could not let
die.

She carried her faith like a cross
but could not let the gods
of her land of birth
die
just in case.

You never know when you might need
a god of another colour
she whispered into the shroud
of mystery
that encircled her
in the dead of night.
You never know who will meet you
at the door
of Heaven or Hell or Svarga loka.

And when the time came
for her to pass over
through the gates
of an unseen world
she held tight
to the rosary she’d carried
with her from the land of her birth
as her lips silently moved,
praying feverishly for her soul
to achieve enlightenment.

I have never let you die,
she whispered with her dying breath
where karma met Moksha on the way
of the cross
releasing her from all earthly ties
free
to live in peace
forever 
on the other side.

Unfurling

I awoke with the first stanza of this poem drifting through my mind.

When I wrote it down, the second stanza wrote itself out as if it knew its truth long before I heard the words calling.

When I went in search of an image to include with it, the image above was the first image I opened on my computer. It is from the Sheltered Wonder art journal Icreated last year to mark all I’d learned, experienced and grown through during the initial months of our sequestered solitude.

The body knows even when the mind doubts.

Yesterday, in response to a comment by the lovely and thoughtful Kiki, I told her I wished I’d taken a video of the raw journal. And then… while I was looking for something else, I accidentally uncovered the 19 sec video I’d taken of my Learning to Fly art journal before I started to create the images and quotes.

The body knows even when the mind doubts (or as in this case, forgets).

Since completing the LtF journal, I have been working on pieces for the Vale’s Greenhouse, Cultivation of Art Show and Sale I’m in June 18, 19, 20.

Initially, I was hesitant. Worried. Fearful of moving from art journal to canvas.

I love the freedom of the art journal. There is no right or wrong way. There are no rules. Anything goes.

The Canvas… well there my mind starts to impose rules. It has to be ‘good’. Sale-worthy. Meaningful. Impressive…

I balked. Stalled. Procrastinated.

And then I listened to my body. I sank out of my thinking mind into the font of knowing deep within my belly.

Just start, my body whispered. Just start and let whatever is yearning to appear find its way into expression.

And so I did.

And so it has.

And I am reminded again, the body knows even when the mind doubts.

Blossoming – mixed media on canvas board – 10 x 10″
Nurture your dreams – mixed media on canvas board – 10 x 10″

Falling in love all over again.

One of my first loves was film.

As a child, my sister Anne and I would re-enact scenes from our favourite movie — especially The Parent Trap where we would each take on the role of one of the twins and spend hours recreating various scenes.

In my 40s, I studied screen-writing and had a script optioned. I also worked on various films, writing and producing documentary along with other pieces.

But it was hard. A single mother with two daughters, I had to make a living so I got a job and life kept moving on.

Over the past year, I’ve been coming back to my love of film-making. It has been a lovely gift to myself to edit videos both for my Dare Boldly Art and, as I most recently did, for my sister’s 70th birthday.

It gives me such joy!

Yesterday, I decided I needed to finish off my Learning to Fly art journal with a video of all the pages. Called a, ‘Flip Through’, the purpose is to show the body of work in its entirety.

And again, I had great fun.

I also created a page of all the quotes I’ve affixed to the pages and it was in that process I felt the shimmer of divine grace descending and wrapping me up in its mystery.

I honestly don’t remember where all the words came from. They just appeared as I immersed myself in the creative process.

Which brings me back to the joy of film-making.

Last night I attended my first board meeting for THIRD ACTion Film Fest which I recently joined. (Do check out the upcoming festival list! The films are amazing and you can watch them from the comfort of your living room or deck — it’s all online this year again!)

As we talked and went through the processes necessary to govern a film organization such as this, I was in awe of the talent around the ‘Zoom table’ as well as the passion and commitment of everyone there.

I also felt my creative juices spark and fire up and get all excited about an idea…

I’m not sharing it yet… ideas need time to germinate. But, I will say this… it’s the first screenplay I’ve tackled writing in 25 years.

I’m hoping it’s like riding a bike. The skills I learned in the two year screenwriting course I took way back when will reawaken and my natural gifts for story-telling will get all charged up and I’ll be on fire!

I am excited.

Which is why it felt so serendipity this morning when I gathered up all the quotes from my Learning to Fly art journal into one document and I discovered the path unfolding with my writing wings unfurling.

As they say in the screen-writing biz… CUT TO:

_______________________________________

This is the Flip Through video I worked on yesterday for my Learning to Fly art journal.

Did I mention how much I’m enjoying creating videos? No? Oh well… A LOT!!!!

Leafing Out – Lessons from the canvas

Leafing Out — Mixed media on canvas – 10 x 10″

I find some transitions hard.

Like going from autumn to winter. Here in Alberta it can happen in less than a day, just as spring can pop out and then be burdened again with snow. Some days, like this morning when Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I went for our walk, I’m not prepared for the sudden leap backwards from 22C (72F) yesterday to 3C (37F) this morning – my hands were really cold!

Another transition I find challenging is moving from working in my art journal to a canvas. My mind starts chattering about how ‘There are rules when painting on a canvas.” “A canvas can’t be wasted.” “Make it good.” “Don’t mess up.” “This isn’t as much fun…’

Which is what happened when I went back to working on a painting I’d begun a couple of weeks ago in preparation for an art show I’m in next month.

The under-painting

I had an idea of what it ‘should’ be. Big pops of colourful flowers on the background of smaller flowers I’d already painted.

I worked hard to make my vision come into reality.

But it just wasn’t happening. I felt stiff. Confined. Like it was all just turning to muck and mud.

I took a breath. Stepped back. Made myself a cup of tea and contemplated what was going on.

It wasn’t that the painting was awful. It was that my mindset was full of ‘stinkin thinkin’.

I was getting caught up in my expectations of how it should be, versus allowing whatever was seeking to appear to find its way into expression.

I wasn’t letting it be. I was trying to make it become…

And that’s why I was feeling so frustrated and uncomfortable. That’s why the critter was prattling on about how I couldn’t paint. How I wasn’t good enough. How my art sucked.

To find my inner knowing/intuitive self, I had to shut off my thinking mind and get into my ‘belly brain’. I needed to allow myself to sink deep into my body so that I could be present with the process instead of trying to force it into what I was trying to make it become.

It was a great lesson.

Getting stuck in your head. Dousing yourself in self-judgement. Self-criticism. Self-harshness and a desire to control the outcome all play a role in limiting joy, self-expression, creativity and passion.

To live life fully I must release myself from expectations. I must let go of the outcome to fall deeply into the process of being alive in this moment. Right now. Unfolding in all its ineffable mystery.

When I hold on too tightly to the outcome, I lose sight of where I am, what I’m doing, how I’m being in this moment right now.

I’m pretty sure spring leaves don’t tell the tree, I’ll only leaf out if I can be 3 inches long, two inches wide and a certain green hue. And they definitely don’t say, “Oh. And I’ll only unfurl if you promise to not make me turn orange and fall later in the season.” They leaf out fully immersed in the journey of leafing out.

To be fully immersed in my life, I must release my need to control the journey and throw myself with wild abandon into each moment unfurling in the deep unfathomable mystery of life.

Namaste

.