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Posts Tagged ‘#ArtistMaryChamie’

When is a Painting Your Own?

As a young woman and Peace Corps Volunteer, many decades ago, I became entranced with the Madhubani paintings etched on the outer home walls of the Bihari women of my village neighborhood in India. The mud wall paintings were colorful, filled with shapes and stories of local culture, using natural dyes, painted by village women using simple tools such as sticks or by placing the colors on the walls using their hands and fingers.

We lived in an area of Bihar where women were largely at home and when they did go out, they went outside with their heads and sometimes their faces, covered. Yet, even under these conditions of hidden faces and strict “purdah”, their art was not subdued but instead remained brave and colorful. It is an art based on thousands of years of experience and its bravery and beauty fascinated me.

Some time in the 1960’s, the Madhubani paintings started being sold on paper, as part of India’s cottage industry, allowing women and their households to gain some earnings from their local art activities. It also allowed tourists and interested persons like myself to take some of the Madhubani paintings home and place them on our home walls, where we continued to appreciate the art and tell others about it.

Since then, I have always thought that it would be fun to try something similar using my own experiences, but amending the art to touch more upon my own cultural interests. Recently, while joining with a group of artists organized by Ruth Armitage, I have begun a series of paintings that use this concept of the Madhubani painting, but in my own style, and my own way. Sometimes I use paint brushes, sometimes I simply put the paint on with my fingers or using a simple bamboo stick. I tend to use earth tone colors, with the simple reds, yellows, blues and browns.

The purpose of these paintings has been to express simple emotions, from frustration, to hope and happiness. Here are a couple of examples.

Beach Bar Dance acrylics

This particular painting was playfully painted on a large piece of cardboard that I chose to recycle as a canvas for painting. I outlined it with a colorful border like I have seen used on African cloths. I call it “Beach Bar Dance”.

Here is another one, called “Happy”, that depicts a similar point of view with life.

Happy, acrylics

Below, is another version of a happy couple dancing. This one was painted by putting gesso over an old painting and using my hands and a wet cloth to produce the structure.


Best Friends, gesso over acrylic paint

Not everything that I tried in this fashion was happy. Here is one depicting home, in the times of Covid and under our current political stresses.

Safe at Home, acrylic paint

During this period of work with the “Roaring 20’s” group, I have been experimenting with new styles and approaches to my art. Sometimes it meets with great success. At other times, I think that I am leaving others speechless when they look at the end result.

But in my eyes, and in my heart, I am finding this time with an organized group to be very instructive and filled with new ideas, even when these new ideas are coming from memories and the art of village women whom I met decades ago.

I hope that I honor them in the process.

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Recently, I started a series of paintings of a girl and her dog walking on the beach. The first one I completed was rather illustrative, but still leaning toward impressionistic.

Girl Walking Dog on the Beach – acrylic

On my next try, I came up with this abstract painting that focuses more attention on the sun and the yellow colors beating on the beach.

Girl Walking Dog on the Beach, acrylic

With time, I worked it over again, painting it so that the girl blends in with the background, almost becoming one with the big river and beach.

Girl Walking Dog on the Beach – acrylic

My last one highlighted the variations in shapes and marks between the sky and the beach and how it might be interpreted into perspectives on the girl and her dog.

Girls walking dog on beach – acrylic

Since then, I have done several more, but have mixed feelings about them and am not yet posting them up.

My sense is, that I have gone as abstract as I want to go for now, and that it is time to move to another subject for a while.

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My Collage

Recently, I took a challenging course offered by the Oregon Society of Artists via Zoom called Mind Boggling – 2D Collage offered by Poca Kim. The strategy of the art course is to learn how to take an artist’s earlier paintings and artwork and make them into new art by cutting them up and designing a collage. Poca Kim brings excitement and humor into the room while she works with us to develop our collages.

For the class, I chose to cut up several watercolors of nature scenes that I had completed and then reshaped them into a collage of a child playing an instrument.

I chose this theme for my collage because owing to the coronavirus pandemic, children are staying home. School is often canceled, or attended only on-line. Children’s play is built around what they can find in their homes to play with, as they cannot play with others so easily owing to social-distancing. I wanted to build a collage based on this idea, using several watercolors that I had earlier painted of nature scenes.

Having prepared the collage of the dancing child, I then decided to have the child be a type of “Pied Piper”.

Sketching over the rough collage
Pandemic Home School Child
Pied Piper Child

Looking at what happened during this class, I personally prefer the painting that I have called “Pandemic Home School Child” to the final painting that I did for the course called “Pied Piper Child.” I prefer the roughness and chaos of the “Home School” painting which is more in line with the chaos and playfulness of kids. This does not mean that I needed to stop at one point in this class project rather than going to the next. Each stopping point is providing a kind of wonder of its own. Classes are supposed to make us think, and consider new options to our art goals.

Here are some of the things that I learned from this very interesting collage class.

First, the technique of using my old painting for collage pieces was very different than cutting and using other artist’s work or magazine art to make a collage. There was a personal touch to cutting up my own paintings as I remembered making the marks.

Second, while cutting up my art pieces and moving them into the collage, I also considered my previous work as it related to color, shape, brush marks and line choices, without thought to the final illustration for which they were originally used. It amused me that even after the paintings were cut up and moved around, they still looked like my personal work to me. I liked the idea that these earlier works resulted in useful images for the collage. It taught me that the lines themselves, the color choices, the movements of the brush across the paper all had subtle meanings that reached beyond the simple original illustration.

Third, using the collage as a starting point made up of pre-constructed materials encouraged me to creatively move beyond old paintings and discover new value in their colors, lines and brushwork.

Fourth, I focused very steadily on the composition for a considerable amount of time, freely moving pieces about to fashion my idea, before moving on to the painting itself. The activity of working through my compositional ideas via a collage left everything open and optional, shifting the composition again and again, as long as I did not glue anything down.

I think the concept of abstract art is starting to take shape in my mind more clearly through this collage and I want to work on it further.

Having completed this first assignment for the class, I am thinking of doing this collage-painting again, but this time even more abstractly, using acrylics.

This new goal is leaving me a bit stumped at the moment, but with time, I think that I will figure it out.

Taking this course with Poca Kim has made me ask, how does one’s mindset shift meaningfully from the art of illustration to that of abstract art, or vice versa? What role does structure and composition play in all of this?

I am finding that physically moving the composition around meaningfully via the collage is one way to consider this important question.

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