“Karne” (Report Card

Btw Foça and Yeni Foça
Half-finished Prismacolor sketch of the sea, just north of Foça

Well, all the world’s school children are onto their summer holidays after getting their report cards for the year. In Turkey, the last day of school is the much-anticipated moment when your kids carry home their “karne” and parents celebrate the accomplishments of their offspring.

I have well passed the age when report cards were a thing of pride (mostly) or fear (math, usually). But last week, after all the world’s school children were already involved with swimming and soccer (or sowing and reaping, depending on your demographics), the thought crossed my mind that it might do to write myself my own report card, going back to my List of Ideas and checking to see how well the implemenation was going. Think of it as a mid-term “progress report” for 2017/2018, rather than an end-of-term final appraisal, because, as that great artist Yogi Berra once said, “It’s not over ’til it’s over.” ( Or as I said yesterday, “I’m not dead yet.”)

Report Card – Deborah Semel Demirtaş – 2017/2018

1. Sitting down in my studio and doing some more oil pastels of people in the water, using the photos I took in Georgia, Portugal, and the Turkish Mediterranean coast as sketches. NO PROGRESS. (Studio is a mess, greenhouse effect is making it more than a little unbearably hot… but I did manage to clear enough space to sew me up some summer clothing to make the heat a little less oppresive. As they say, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the studio!”)

2. Writing and illustrating a children’s book about “The Adventures of Yellow Dog”. In it, the erstwhile Yaprak is transformed into a doggie who had to leave her home for reasons she is too young to understand, but ends up making friends with a chicken and learning to swim. AND 2a, the sequel, “Yellow Dog and Her Friends”, in which Yellow Dog and her chicken-friend, over much objection from their families, end up visiting one another at their respective homes – and nobody gets eaten. PROGRESS. (Okay, this is, admittedly, theoretical progress – meaning I’ve decided that Yellow Dog’s adventures might be more interesting as an animated film than in book form. That’s as far as I’ve got.)

3. Going back and doing some large (for me) oil-stick drawings like the ones in the “swimmer” series I had started a few years ago and then had to abandon because “the princesses” had taken over my “outdoor studio” so there was no room to work out there anymore. NO PROGRESS. (I’ve got a whole lot of paper cut to size, but this has been just another thing that I haven’t gotten around to. For the reason why, see No. 4 below.)

4. A “film project”. (I have this “wild hare” of an idea to organize a festival, or something, of films on “cultural heritage”… please don’t steal this one…) PROGRESS.  (If there’s a whole lot of “no progress” on anything else on my list, this must be the reason why.)

FFG LOGO web

5. Paint some more wooden furniture. (This is not as easy as it sounds – if you place the emphasis on “wooden” – because everything these days seems to be made of pressboard and the like. Boo-hoo.) PROGRESS. (I did one. For proof, see the  photo of the “Camouflage Table” below; bet you have a hard time finding the table leg… designed to blend in with the flagstone…)

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6. Continue making temporary trash sculptures. (This one should be pretty easy; there’s a lot of trash out there.) PROGRESS. (But since I can’t find any pictures, you’ll just have to take my word for it. And by the way, there’s still a lot of trash out there.)

7. Something to do with food! (I’m not there yet…) PROGRESS. (Still not there yet, but undoubtedly there will be some food-related cultural heritage at the 1st Foça International Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Film Days…)

8. An illustrated travel book… NO PROGRESS. (But today I’m going to Kos, with a box of Prismacolors in my backpack and a painter-friend, who might be a good influence on me… or maybe not; we’ll probably just drink a lot of frappes and eat pig.)

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(By Yasemin the Art Teacher – who cannot be guaranteed to be a good influence.)

9. Painting a mural on the top row of kitchen cupboards. (This was agreed with my husband before we got new kitchen cupboards. The choice was not between whether to paint or not, but between what to paint: 1. Beach scene; 2. Abstract painting of the vastness of the universe, with lots of gold leaf and light blue; 3. Tropical paradise. And the winner is… “3, Tropical Paradise”! NO PROGRESS. (But white looks good, too… )

10. Two paintings (oil stick on plywood, 40x40cm, of flower blossoms on a mainly black background with a lot of line drawing done in gold leaf) “commissioned” by my husband in return for making him not hang a painting in a spot that I didn’t want it to be hung in. PROGRESS(One is finished and hung on the wall. One is progress, isn’t it?)

 

There.
A list of 10.
A nice, round number.
“Top 10 Ideas From Amongst Which At Least 1 Must Be Chosen Before Another Idea Is Had”

Art Activity and Embodied Consciousness from Enrique Martinez Celaya

“I eliminated from my painting anything that anybody has ever said that I was good at. So if I was good at drawing, I took it out. If I was told I had facility with color, I took it out. And then I said, “Well, if I give up all these things, what is painting, for me?”

That is exactly what I did back in 1990 during my first year in graduate school at MICA when a visiting artist came into my studio at Mt. Royal, looked around at my paintings, said, “Nice,” and then proceeded to engage me in conversation about Baltimore or something else without another word about “my art”. When I asked him why he didn’t want to talk about “my art”, he said he didn’t think it was necessary, because I was already, in his exact words, making “perfect paintings”- so he had nothing to say, I should just keep on doing what I was doing.

That “keep up the good work” was what prompted me to “eliminate what I was good at” to find out what was left. Paradoxically, the moment I decided to head off in an unknown direction was the moment that I knew I had a direction.

But what’s most interesting to me all these years later about the words above is that they are not my words: They belong to Enrique Martinez Celaya.

I had never heard of this “physicist, philosopher and painter” until a few days ago when a friend sent me a link to an interview he did with Krista Tippet for her radio program, “On Being”. Quite frankly, I was a bit wary when I saw the image that came with the link, but trusting in my friend’s judgement, I started listening to the interview. From the very beginning, I felt like I’d found a kindred spirit. The way he described working in his studio, how he thinks about art – I just kept thinking, “Yes!

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you may have noticed that I very rarely post work by other artists (and if you’ve only started reading recently, you’re probably wondering if I even write about art at all!). That’s “my bad”, and I will try to devote more time to this in the future. Sharing “some consciousness” from Enrique Martinez Celaya seems to me to be the perfect place to start.

So, below are some paintings along with some quotes from the “On Being” interview.  (To find out more about Martinez Celaya, here is a link to his his web site.)

“I think paintings are odd, in the sense that it seems to us that everything that is important is on the surface and visible. Unlike, say, science: we expect that we have to go in deep to understand what’s really at play in an equation or something. But that’s very deceiving. I think paintings have a complexity, a relationship to presence and reference in the work of art, the tension between what seems to be and what is… Rather than just be representatives or embodiments of a consciousness of the producer, they themselves having some consciousness: I guess animated, open engagement. There’s nothing intelligent I can say about it other than a feeling that I have that this is the case…

Enrique Martínez Celaya, The Fourth Angel, 2010, Oil and wax on canvas, 30 x 24 inches, Private Collection, Ocean Ridge, FL

One of the most obvious examples, I think — and it happens to me every time I encounter any work by Van Gogh, no matter where it is, and the moment I see it, something happens. There’s an intelligence at play in the work itself and a sense of something I can only describe as a consciousness in that work that engages me, forces me to be a witness, forces me to be a conversation partner, places me in a very unstable place. And there’s an instability in that exchange that is more, simply, than just looking at a bunch of marks and thinking of how Vincent might have made them or something like that. And this is a rare thing, I think. But I will suggest that somewhere around that, one could construct the definition of what art is, as opposed to an art activity. It’s when something has the capacity to embody consciousness in a way that it can be unfolded…

Enrique Martínez Celaya, The House (from the Sea), Oil and wax on canvas, 2015, 19 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches (framed), Collection of Lydia Cheney and Jim Sokol, Birmingham, AL

“When you go to a museum, and you look around, most works are forever trapped in their moment in a way that they are completely historical. But then the great works of art are always ahistorical. Regardless of the historical condition, they speak to you in the present…

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“It seems that both in science and art and anything — in anything, the truth is not screaming that much. And I think that you have to be attentive, silent enough, be able to look and listen very, very carefully. And even then, you have to be very lucky to hear something…

“Even though sometimes people don’t realize it. I think that one of the most important ways in which (a background in science is) alive is the treatment I have towards my studio. I approach it not as a factory, which has become very much the way of artists looking at the studios in the last 40 or 50 years, but rather as a laboratory, as a cross between laboratories and a monastery, that kind of hybrid place…

“Many of my experiences with academic art and art theory has been the tendency to want to be scientific — or pseudoscientific. And when I came to art, I came to art without apologies. And that gave me a great deal of freedom…

“A lot of people talk about art as freedom when, in fact, it is the constraints that allow the possibility of art to happen. And color constrained under the pressures of these relatively small dimensions is beauty under compression, which is always an exuberant form of beauty…

Enrique Martinez Celaya, The Nebraska Suite, No. 17, watercolor on paper, 2010

(When asked about “what it means to be human, this is his response:)

I think the thing that is most pressing that comes up when you ask that question is compassion. I think — not because it comes naturally but because it doesn’t, to me. And I find that at this age, with four kids and with a world that everywhere one turns — and not just in the news, in just about every encounter with every — every person is carrying something. And I think what I’m reminded constantly is, to be human is to be aware of that, more than intelligence, more than anything else. And it’s increasingly urgent and increasingly hard to remember that.

 

An Oil Painting Lesson

I’ve taken a break from collages and books and other things to do – of all things – an oil painting – on canvas.

How in the world did this happen??

In fact, a couple of years ago I ordered a bunch of oil sticks, since they fall right in the middle of painting with oil paint using brushes – which I pretty much hate- to working with oil pastels, which I love, and which I’d been doing for years, but which aren’t really suitable for anything not under glass, since they really don’t dry. Also, the oil sticks appealed to me from an ecological perspective, since you don’t really need to be messing around with a lot of thinner, either as medium or for cleaning up. Basically, oil sticks felt like “oil pastels writ large”.

But these oil sticks had been sitting in my studio cabinet for a couple of years; I think the last thing I did with them was some landscapes on board – in an exhibit from 2011 –

Lights on the Waterkkk

Now, I was taking them out again basically for the purpose of teaching somebody a lesson. You see, this friend of mine had a picture of a rowboat sitting in his office. It was pretty ‘tasteful’ – for something that looked like it came from a department store. But my friend was not quite satisfied with it, because if you stuck your nose up real close to the canvas, you could see the jagged edges of the pixels – the tell-tale signs that this was, in fact, a photocopy, rather than an “oil on canvas”.boat erdem

Now, this friend offered to pay me some money to make him a “better” copy of this rowboat – but with real paint, and no jaggy edges. I agreed.

And then I took this photocopy/painting to a printshop and got another copy made, gave this copy to another artist friend, who is supposedly at work right at this very moment painting the exact same rowboat, “only better” (and doing it right on top of the “original” – for the sake of convenience).

I, on the other hand, thought my friend needed a present.

And I think it’s done.

Except maybe that brown triangle in the lower left… what do you think? I’ve still got a week to deadline…

Educating Erdem