Peer Perspectives: Creative Processes of Strong Women Artists
With predictable regularity, social media outlets get flooded with the call to arms, as it were, for general public to acquire original art, as galleries periodically hold events to encourage art appreciators to take the logical next step and become collectors by way of investing in the art they admire. But what makes fine art so special that we should hurry to take it home?
Jacqueline Boyd and Louise Strawbridge are both artists whose work stems from an involved process. As a figurative sculptor who makes her own work in its entirety, from cooking up clay for modeling to casting and finishing it in bronze, my favourite part about writing this blog is getting to ask my colleagues about their specific approaches, their methods behind the madness, so to speak.
Both artists in the current Stanek gallery exhibition, All Shall be Well, talk about their process being as intense and laborious as it is meditative and intuitive, but most importantly, as absolutely integral to who they are as creators and what their art is all about. Strawbridge in particular expounds on bookmaking and papermaking as examples of something commonplace that turns out to be quite extraordinary once examined more closely.
Consider papermaking. Papermaking as an art of creating paper products was born in the ancient China more than 2000 years ago. General steps of papermaking included soaking plant fibers (such as hemp, tree bark or old rags) in water, beating and grinding them to a slurry, which was later strained through a cloth screen attached to a frame, leaving a mat of randomly interwoven fibers on the screen. The mat of fibers would then be allowed to dry out to make paper. Louise talks about traveling all over the world to learn about making paper and being invited to participate in the process alongside local papermakers themselves. She then incorporates this homemade paper into her work, together with all the stories, soaked and ground and woven into it along the way. Jackie Boyd does something similar: her canvas, worked and re-worked and turned upside down to be painted over is an archive of a series of transformations that take place before they merge into a harmonious synthesis, revealing at last, after much questioning and experimentation by the artist, exactly what she intended to say.
Just these few examples shed light on what true nature of fine art might be. It is the fruit of a long, involved process, often strewn with angst and self-doubt, while its humble beginnings (and endings too, in the case of bronze casting) lie in laborious, time-consuming manual craft, driven only by the artist’s singular vision in search for personal meaning that also happens to be universal. Artwork’s task is not accomplished until there is an intuitive but sure sense of its creator having dug deep to arrive at the very heart of the matter, without any regard for how much time it might take to get to that coveted place. Greeks were known to take as long as two years to produce a single sculpture; Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, done in two phases, collectively took ten years to complete. Construction of the Statue of Liberty lasted over twelve years from start to finish, while the Great Pyramid is believed to have taken twenty years or more.
Fine art is then also a respite from the world that goes by too fast, from our digitally distracted day and age that has little patience and progressively less appreciation for the time spent just sitting around wrestling with an idea. Having art in our homes offers us a kind of a reflective solace, not unlike meditation or yoga or music most of us seek out whenever possible to rest our weary selves. Art is visceral and powerful, capable of reducing us to our knees when it speaks to us, reminding us of our larger purpose, of our authenticity and universal desire to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. It inspires, heals and opens doors. When it lives alongside us, it is a daily invitation to allow hope in its highest form into our hearts and into our minds.