Working Art into Change

Working Art into Change

Life has a beautiful way of keeping us exactly where we belong. If we think we know where we want to go we can push hard and sometimes we can get to somewhere different, but the pushing affects the outcome and often we end up on a path different from what we had envisioned. This new place then opens up a world of content that teaches us remarkable new lessons. Creative artists thrive on this type of disconcerting change.

Think of Chagall who started out his early life painting in dark brown tones and ultimately ended up the world's most popular colorest of brilliant reds, yellows, and blues. Life experiences clearly influenced his shift in emphasis. There is Picasso who explored the representational human body in pink and blue tones as a youth, and ended up inventing intensely psychological geometric portraiture years later. Neither of these artists could see their futures, since their art styles hadn’t been invented yet, but both recognized the remarkable resonance of their new realities, and expanded each to make enough noise to be noticed by the art world. 

Changes of a similar sort have occurred in the Bay Area. SF painter Joan Brown remained open to artistic change throughout her life. She began her career grouped together with her fellow young burgeoning figurative artists, but shifted off on her own path, following the direction of her spirit. While the human form figured strong in her work, it was ultimately the theme of water that became the symbol that tied her life’s work together, and warmed the hearts of her followers.

Even more close to home, I am able to look at Peninsula artists and see how changes in their lives have influenced their work. Arabella Decker (a founding member of PMA, now deceased) began her years as a vibrant graphic fine artist and large form mono-tone sculptor, but the difficult experiences of 911 (a relative of hers was one of the designers of the buildings and this personalized the disaster) and a studio fire that destroyed much of her artwork led her to introduce an innovative sparkling light into her formally dark-toned art.


Here in the studios, Myrna Wacknov (who will be exhibiting in the PMA Studios Gallery at the end of this month) began her career winning awards as a traditional watercolorist. (Above we see a detail from a self-portrait series.) 

As time progressed, changes in Wacknov's life inspired her to create textured portraits. My opinion is that her new handling of the watercolor materials allows her viewers to reach deeper into perceptions of human impermanence (the progression can be seen in the images above and below).


For that matter, PMA would not be the large and multiple-galleried Burlingame space that it is today without the imposingly antagonistic attitude of Belmont’s City Council driving Ruth Waters out to finding a new home for both the PMA Museum and the nearby 1870 Art Studios.

This is where my story comes into the picture. At 1870 the ability to circulate fresh air through the studios enabled me to create many a large oil painting. Here at PMA Studios the closed heating/air conditioning system has shifted my work towards acrylic paintings and miniature gouache and ink drawings. In the early months, I resisted the change, but as I settled into my work I watched a whole world of insight open up.

It is when an artist has no idea what will happen next that the most exciting discoveries occur. Every time PMA invites an artist in to exhibit at one of its five galleries I get supercharged by how this artist may teach me something new about art. Every time a new artist moves into a studio I am enthused to see the workings of a fresh artistic mind. Every time I sit down to write in this blog I am curious about what I will say. I often pre-plan a profile, but on days like today, the path is wide open.

I ask you, as you go into your day, think about the changes that are going on all around you. Look to see how you are counterbalancing these changes by incorporating new aesthetic elements that affect your life in a beneficial way. If you can see signs of this, then you are mastering the Art of Living Well.

Banner Image: Detail from a painting depicting an aesthetic process of change. This piece is by the recent winner of PMA's "Invisible" Volunteer Award, 2016. Congratulations invisible person! Congratulations also go to PMA's "Visible" Volunteer Award winner, star docent Richard Roth. Your work is treasured!


“PAI on My Mind” contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PAI as a whole.


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