Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sisu, Gardens, Watercolor Starts

Sisu is a Finnish word. It's not easy to translate - it's a kind of stubbornness, an ability to stick with things until they are done, regardless of the difficulty, a drive to see things through. In Dearest's father's case (and in her case) this manifests itself as unusually strong drive to push through sporting events, hikes, etc. Dearest's father played tennis until he got tennis elbow. So he taught himself to play with this left hand, and played until he get tennis elbow in that arm, too. Gritting your teeth, smiling, saying you're "Fine," and going on to do what you want might be common in many cultures, but it has a certain look in Finnish.

So I recognized some of this in Dearest's insistence that we walk in Duke Gardens today. For anyone tuning in for the first time, she had arthoscopic knee surgery a few weeks ago, and has been gradually getting back to walking normally. She's also a bit anemic. So Duke Gardens was a big challenge. She brought her camera, to document her trek (see her post of this adventure, here - I love that we both have blogs), and she walked in with a huge grin on her face. A Finnish grin. I brought my camera, too. The first shot, above, is of our shadows, enjoying the incredible light, which was so welcome after so many gloomy days in the last three weeks. One of the things we love about NC is the 250 sunny days a year (as opposed to Michigan or NY, where we were born and grew up - where there are 250 cloudy days). This next shot is into the sun, not ideal photography, but it catches some of the golden quality of the day.

Duke Gardens are lovely in any season, because they have beautiful bones. The lay of the land itself is pleasing, but the trees, walks, walls, bridges, terracing, stairs, and other features make this a garden even if there weren't a flower in sight. But, of course, being NC there were at least some quiet blooms. Pansies, winter jasmine, camellias, creeping phlox, a daffodil (so early!) and even some pinks were blooming in the formal section.

Dearest went much farther into the gardens than I expected, and we walked around for the better part of an hour, with only about ten minutes of sitting. Up to now she hadn't done even fifteen minutes at a stretch. Gardens, aerobics, hikes, our children - they all bring out her Sisu.

This afternoon I did some painting prep and then some watercolor. Here are two sheets doused with a hose outside (boards, too) waiting for the three minute flip (when they are re-doused and then twenty minutes later stapled down). These are 22 x 22 - and I've already drawn the 19 x 19 squares that are the largest square I can get out of them leaving enough room for stretching and tape.

Here is a small watercolor ( approx. 7 x 9) that I started back at Christmas, based loosely on the shapes in a painting by Fra Angelico of a Madonna (yellow arches, red arch, blue stair sides, and some blue of the Virgin's garment). It moved beyond that today as I added a lot of red (looks orange on my monitor...) and aqua. I haven't looked at this for possibilities yet - that's tomorrow, and it may be too early, anyway. I've been working this way (paint first, then find what it will be) since Linda got me started on it. And I read this morning in my Nolde book that he worked the same way - paint on the paper first, react purely to the colors, see what emerges, then help it along from there. He called it painting without his brain - I think he meant what we now call painting with the right hemisphere (the right side of the brain, not the left). I was overjoyed to read that his gorgeous watercolors (1300 of them done in secret under Nazi prohibition!) were created in a way that at least sounds similar to what I'm learning.

And finally, this is one of the 19 x 19 squares, before I tape it (I always tape first, before painting). Today, though, I wanted to work on the just stretched surface while the paper was still damp. This composition is based on a landscape photo, but I don't intend for it to stay as a landscape. Starting with drawing or painting from one type of photo (or several) and then pushing the image (maybe after rotating it) into something else is one way I get surprise working for me. It keeps me from falling into my usual very dull compositional ruts.

I'm already emotionally into this image. About half way through the hour or so I worked on it I was hooked.


DarklyFey said...

I'm hooked, too! This is gorgeous. The colour is just what I need to see on a blustery winter's day.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about Sisu - as a Palestinian I have that same style of stubborness :-) ... can be a strength; can be a weakness - but there you go.
I love the photo of your shadows and the last painting in this post - the colours and the style are so peaceful and dreamy - I think I would like to go live there!

Steve Emery said...

DarklyFey - Thanks! Glad I could help.

Gypsy - I'm not surprised to find that Palestinians have a form of Sisu. The extreme living conditions in a place like Finland are probably part of the cause of this strength - adversity creates this kind of steel.

Thanks for the compliments on the photo and the watercolor. And Duke Gardens is a beautiful place. We're fortunate it's open to the public, and even the parking is free some portions of weekend days.

linda said...

I thought I commented on this and then came back to see your comments back and see I forgot too....the spiritual one, the madonna, is interesting and definitely a departure in color!

fascinating about nolde working the same way,with the paint first and then moving it from there....glad to know there were other crazies out there doing it before me ;) I need to get something of his work, I have nothing but the internet but prefer real books of artists whose work I like and it sounds like I would like his watercolors...even tho it seems sad, perhaps not, I should give it a try if the book isn't a fortune, which they so often are...I love my hundertwasser book and calendar I am using NOW, woohoo! what is the book called of his watercolors, please?

the huge appearing landscape is pretty amazing looking and I look forward to seeing it evolve - do you have a plan yet or is it going to evolve as it evolves?

sorry to be so late to comment here...I was off a day or so ago...that must be what happened...


Leah said...

oo, I'm loving the sky in the second one so much!

it's also awesome to see your process of preparation. I'd love to see the process of stapling or taping too!

Steve Emery said...

Linda - no comment is too late - e-mail tells me the comment arrived. Sorry your first attempt didn't stick.

The Nolde book is called Emil Nolde: Unpainted Pictures. It has over a hundred color plates (about life size, since these were so small) and it's only $20 from Amazon. It has some prefaces and introductions - one is stuffy and academic, but the others have lots of quotes that help understand his process and views on art. Like Hundertwasser, Nolde was in our family - creating organically, as Hundertwasser called it.

I have no plan for any of these pieces. They will just evolve. Tonight I looked and nothing more... Nolde did that, too - some times I looked a lot more than he painted. I think you do, too.

Leah - Thanks! And I'll see about show and tell of the rest of the mounting process sometime.