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Without a Net

Daring Starts From Within

Home From Hambidge

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I spent a two week residency in the breathtaking mountains of north Georgia, writing, painting, hiking, playing guitar, and interacting with other writers and visual artists. This was my first residency. In my long career of making and selling and teaching art, I’d never indulged in this most luxurious of retreats. I will be feeling its effects for a long time.

(The photo above is my studio table.) See my other blog for more images from hikes and such.

A residency is applied for and awarded. I was humbled to be among the other talented artists who enjoyed this time at Hambidge Residency for Arts and Sciences. There were nine artists total, and each of us had our own house and studio, all tucked away in the woods with enough distance from each other to have total privacy. Four evenings a week we’d gather for dinner, where a chef had prepared us a meal. After dinner we would talk about art and writing and sometimes animal horror stories.

I got an enormous amount of painting done. Not that output was my goal. I would have been satisfied with any amount of work, as long as I felt like I was following my creative impulses. But as it happened, I felt compelled to spend up to 12 hours a day at the easel, absolutely ecstatic to have weeks to paint without distraction. I finished a first coat on ten paintings.

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Hambidge Residency

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I leave Tuesday for an artist residency at Hambidge Creative Residency Program in North Georgia. A residency is applied for and awarded. For two weeks I will write and paint without distraction due to lack of internet or cell service. I’ll write about my paintings/cards and work on my new body of paintings (to be revealed after my trip.)

I will have my own house and studio, and will join up in the evenings for supper with the 9 other residents from different artistic disciplines. I’ve heard from other artists that the place looks like paradise. I’ll be sure and take lots of photos.

The following information is copied from their website:

The Center was created in 1934 by Mary Hambidge, who established the artist enclave and sustainable farm in memory of her artist partner, Jay Hambidge (1867–1924). After a brief career as a performer on vaudeville stages (Mary was a world-class whistler who appeared with her pet mockingbird Jimmy), she discovered weaving and eventually found her home among Appalachian weavers in the North Georgia mountains.

In the early days of Hambidge, she employed local women to create exceptional weavings that would one day be featured in many exhibits including the Smithsonian and MOMA. Later she broadened the scope of the Center by inviting artists for extended stays. After her death in 1973, the Center evolved into a formal and competitive residency program open to creative individuals from all walks of life.

Hambidge encourages applications from creative minds representing the widest possible range of perspectives and demographics. Visual artists, writers, poets, scientists, ceramicists, musicians, choreographers, chefs and beyond.

Nestled on 600 pristine acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia, the Hambidge Center is a natural sanctuary for reflection and creativity. The property includes 7 miles of hiking trails among an incredible biodiversity of meadows, streams, waterfalls, native plants and wildflowers, and a cove forest. Its salamander population includes rare species that survive in only few parts of the world.

In the Shadows

Stained glass shadows

An article titled, “Me and My Shadow” by teacher and writer Sally Kempton brought to mind how my Without a Net project is an option to spiritual bypassing.

I’ve always been mystified by the people who believe in the put-on-a-happy-face philosophy of life. Sayings like “the past is the past—move on” or “snap out of it” or “cheer up” have never been helpful for the navigation of problems. In fact, they could be considered a little cruel. They ask that you quit being yourself in the moment and act like someone else thinks you should. People who say these things are really saying, “I’m nervous about your hard feelings, so I’m going to demand that you stop making me uncomfortable.” These people are actually uneasy about their dark side and unskilled at expressing it.

Spiritual bypassing has become more common as a term for skipping over our ugly parts with the use of meditation, prayer, or positive thinking. The result is a lack of engagement with our whole self, and an inevitable rebound of ugliness when the concealed issues resurface. In simple words, if we don’t deal with our crap, it will come back to bite us.

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Pick a Card

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Until the Without a Net cards are published, I’m sharing findings gathered from using them in various ways. Check out the new CARD page with details on how to use the cards.

One of my favorite uses for the cards is to draw a card every morning and interpret its meaning in the context of how I see it on that day, in the mood in which I find myself, in the circumstances of the present. Each reading surprises me with how different its meaning can be from my original intention when I painted it and wrote about it. Insights about a card can change throughout the day, sometimes dramatically.

One of most common and helpful ways the cards influence my day happens when I read something about myself that I’m not happy with. I place the card where it can remind me of the trait, and watch how it plays out in my mind and affects my decisions and actions. I don’t try to change anything; I just observe. By the end of the day of paying attention (with the card as a great reminder) I find I’m more earnestly familiar with the trait and have seen it with more engagement and absorption. I also feel like I’ve made progress in awareness of the subject, usually by finding how surprisingly often it comes up.

The less hidden my shadow side is, the less it has the power to run amok, unchallenged. When I observe it, I step out of the blind spot that keeps me disempowered. After witnessing the affects the thoughts and feelings have on me, I write or talk about the realizations or questions that come up. My goal is not to “figure it out” or devise a plan of action. I’m simply being aware, sharing it, and then making an offering of it, waiting with patience in hopes that grace will transform it.

It doesn’t always go smoothly. I can have days when a card points me to hard realizations. But still, the hand-held reminder to continue being aware (and nothing else, necessarily) is breaking me out of the habit of reaching for an escape when I don’t like how I feel or think. (Some of the cards are about escapes, so those are good to witness, too.) Getting better at facing instead of running is crucial to gaining emotional maturity.

There are many other uses for WAN cards, and I’m looking forward to sharing those with you soon.

 

What the Cards Are Not

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I’ve had people ask me whether the Without a Net Card Deck is a deck of playing cards or a tarot deck. The answer is neither. I’ll explain the differences.

Compared to a regular deck of playing cards, WAN cards are larger and contain no numbers, suits, kings, jacks, and the like. WAN cards are simply a collection of 55 images of my paintings on one side, and a uniform back side. In their present incarnation they are numbered, to be referenced for meaning on the blog, which is still in the works. One may play games with the WAN deck, but not the usual playing card games.

WAN cards resemble tarot cards in size only (and the fact that they both contain images.) At 4 x 6 inches size, the WAN deck resembles some versions of tarot decks. If you’re unfamiliar with tarot decks, here’s a little explanation with information gathered from Wikipedia:

The tarot deck (with different names, depending on the country) started as a pack of playing cards in the mid 15thcentury. Like regular playing cards, the tarot deck has numbered cards in suits, face cards (like kings and queens,) and a version of the Joker card. Instead of spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts, the suits are named pentacles, swords, cups, and wands. Decks come in different forms but a standard deck has 78 cards. The deck is still used for games today.

The most well-known use for the tarot deck is divination. Its first known use for cartomancy was in around 1750, and has gained in popularity and acceptance for such uses in recent years. Some people have a reader interpret the meaning of the cards, and others use them personally for spiritual growth and guidance.

The uses for the WAN cards are being explored. Stay tuned! I will be reporting soon about the many fun and intriguing applications for them.

 

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Without a Net Cards

Over 10 years I’ve created 55 paintings in the Without a Net series, and last month I finally had the images made into a deck of cards. It was a marvelous and overwhelming moment to hold all that work in my hands for the first time. I had ideas for the deck, but the intentions weren’t well articulated or developed. After having several prototype decks printed, my enthusiastic focus group and I are now experimenting with uses for the cards. As I come closer to offering the cards to the public, I’ll share our progress and insights.

The Guest House

Ermine

Becoming more familiar with and even welcoming our shadow side is not a new concept. Rum’s poem from 800 years ago illuminates the idea beautifully.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Looking on Thee in The Living

Bunting

16″ x 20″    Oil on Board     2015

I’ve always looked up to dead people. As a lifelong fan of history I’ve felt small and insignificant compared to the pantheon of superstars from all walks of life, whose names and stories are remembered through the ages. I’ve counted as my heroes the ones who made the biggest impact on humanity and our planet. There was a bit of torment in my fanhood. I painted this piece when I kept coming up against the unpleasant reminder that, as enormous as these giants of yesteryear were, they are now gone, and I, little old infinitesimal me, am still here. I have the very human longing to make my mark, express myself, offer my voice, and venture forth into making things happen. But I let a meddlesome comparison—me vs. the greatest minds and hearts that ever lived—make me feel like a peon. Its effect left me expecting less of myself, and daunted by the daring task of getting out in the arena.

I chose to paint my historical friends as colorless plaster busts, a certified gesture commending their monumental contributions, but implying that they bought the farm long ago. To represent myself, I wanted a small animal, but a brightly colored one to contrast the blanched figures that dominate the piece. I attended a bird banding a few years ago, where we caught migrating birds for tagging. Holding a Painted Bunting is like tending a little rainbow. They are indescribably bright, and, like most songbirds, light and delicate. I love it when an animal with which I’ve had a close encounter becomes appropriate for my work. The wallpaper is old fashioned, another nod to history.

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Thy Jewel in Hand

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Oil on board        2013       16″ x 20″

Someone once told me that my past was my greatest asset. I took it as a prompt to value my experiences in their ability to give clues on the path of transformation. That said, I hated the saying for a long time. There were plenty of experiences I avoided revisiting, and many things about my past that seemed unfair or too difficult to ever expect to find meaning within. Over time, and with the help of this painting series exploration, I have found my past to be an exceptional—although tough and scrupulous—teacher. The pains of looking back and looking inward were sometimes excruciating, so I painted this piece as an homage to faith—a reminder that I would be OK, no matter what I uncovered in this examination.

My animals are inspired by the archetypes of various religions and cultures, and this one is no exception. I chose the sheep, one of the world’s most obvious symbols of faith, as expressed in Christianity. (For those unfamiliar with this symbolism, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who watches over his flock.) I adorned my sheep-girl in a dress I would have loved when I was a kid. The luxury of blue velvet and the high collar give it a Sunday-going-to-meeting feeling. I drew inspiration for the background from some of the morning walks I take on local public paths near my home. Along the trails sunlight pours through trees to cast shadows on green lawns, which can’t help but start my day with a welcoming greeting. Corny, but heavenly.

In my sheep’s hand is a bloody Band-aid, an emblem of childhood wounds, which she holds almost timidly. This small thing near the bottom of the painting, away from the usual focal center of attention mirrored my trepidation at going forward with this painting/writing project, knowing that my shadow side, my past, my secrets, my mistakes, my doubts, and my blindness would be under the microscope.

This piece embodies an offering. I’m offering myself—the good, bad, and whatever— to my own scrutiny, to whoever wanted to look or listen, to God, to nobody. I didn’t feel proud or brave, just willing.

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All Frailties That Besiege

Monkey

Oil on board           2015          16″ x 20″

Sometimes life is so confusing that I assume I’m not seeing reality clearly. I’ve had times when I would label myself as crazy, and I’d feel the shame that accompanies such a classification.

I chose a chimpanzee for my painting because they act zany. I dressed him in a straightjacket because that’s where crazy people can end up. A straightjacket is also a metaphor for constraint. I used to feel incarcerated by the maze of thoughts and feelings that converged when situations and people were beyond what I thought I could handle.

I imagined the cast of a circus would sum up the whole idea of crazy with its outlandishly costumed characters and their variety of exaggerated body sizes. What a joy it was portray the clowns and weirdos! I kept the background a monochrome blue to relegate their presence to a dreamlike haze of sameness. They are presumably an influence on the monkey’s craziness, but he stands out on his own as being the main-event nut. (Excuse my use of these politically incorrect words for mental instability. I’m not meaning to be dismissive of real mental illness. I’m using offhand lingo to vaguely sum up a felt state.)

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