The Secret Artist #6: Opposing Forces

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How do YOU find a balance?

Dear Secret Artist,

Do you sometimes feel pulled in different directions? Or question your true identity? I have for sometime been aware of opposing forces within me. One example is my extrovert tendencies vs my introvert nature, this was even more extreme during my twenties. I would sometimes experience from day to day feeling like a totally different person. I did not enjoy this flexibility in my character and most of the time I felt like I was having an identity crisis. Everyone else appeared to be solid in their character and sense of self. I felt neither this nor that. I felt inauthentic, fraudulent and flimsy. I longed to know what kind of person I was and to draw strength from being either one thing or another. Such is the confusion most of us feel before we cross the threshold of 30 and thankfully step into less fraught stages of growth and change. Today’s blog post is about how the restless duality within my seIf still continues, nothing has changed within me, only my perceptions have evolved and the opposing forces are now less a source of distress and more of a catalyst for my artistic practice.

There are many examples of opposing forces within me that I could choose to talk about: extrovert/introvert being one and my puzzling desire to be visible and invisible at the same time being another. Today I’m interested in discussing a perhaps more subtle contradiction that shapes the process of my painting.

It’s as if I’m split down the middle. One side of me is purely aesthetic, I have an eye for colour. You could say I have a colour obsession. The interplay between colours is an endless source of intrigue and mystery. There is a part of me that is completely satisfied with the puzzle of rearranging colour, texture, line and form into endless formations. This concern affiliates me with the Formalist Art Movement: without subject or representation, only the materiality of the paint and the compositional balance matters.

“The creative force and the expressiveness of painting reside materially in the color and texture of pigment, in the possibilities of form invention and organization, and in the flat plane on which these elements are brought to play (…)” ― Man Ray

abstract pinkartistquarter

Pink Abstract, Acrylic on Canvas 80x80cm

The other part of me is imaginative and loves story, metaphor, symbolism and characters, it can’t help but construct narratives. It reminds me that I was a writer before I was a visual artist. From as early as I can remember I have enjoyed creating images with words. Most of the content in my collection of sketchbooks from the past 15 years is written. I write in order to think.

The story teller in me seeks meaning and insists on creating connections. You may relate to my child self that would stare at a pattern on a curtain and watch it transform from the abstract into a face or an animal, this part of my brain says ‘there has to be more than this.’ But the aesthetics side of me does not want to be weighed down by story, tied to following linear connections. It protests that there is no meaning beyond colour, form and texture and it must be free to organise as it sees fit to achieve a compositional balance.

So, as I paint, these forces play out, constantly competing for dominant expression. Regardless of my intention to engage one side of myself or the other, they both come to the table, insisting that they are the authoritative mode.

In one moment a neutral mark may become a suggestion of a figure or a landscape and then my imagination kicks in, creating links between these snippets of representation. This momentum can also bring the obstacle of attachment, as it is harder to paint over a ‘something’ than a ‘nothing’ (neutral mark). Equally I find that a painting can’t be completed on the merit of it’s imaginative journey alone: the work must also achieve a compositional harmony of colour, texture and form. To achieve this whilst honouring the narrative elements is extremely challenging and can feel virtually impossible. Some paintings are epic, layer upon layer of intensive working, pushing through many stages until finally there is a pause and the restless sea is calm.

“In a sense my painting is a performative act.  I go inside the painting and when the balance occurs it is a shared moment of recognition between myself and the work.” ― Gemma Kauffman

The above is a quote from my About page on my website. These transitory moments of recognition and balance are what drive me to create. I need the process of making art to externalize and allow the different aspects of my self to play out. My art practice is the movement between the opposites.

These days I find that I no longer feel the need to be ‘this’ or ‘that’, or to adhere to a title such as writer, painter, performer, extrovert or introvert. This need to be labeled does not come from me, it comes from a world that needs things to be things. I believe we are in a constant flow and state of flux as we grow and evolve and that we are complex. Life is full of profound meaning and also simultaneously has no meaning at all, we are echoes of this fundamental contradiction. I believe people are processes not things and allowing ourselves to intuitively flow between our dual aspects is to claim our humanity, our oneness with duality.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

See you next week,

Love and Best wishes

Gemma

Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

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The Secret Artist #5 A Question of Value

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A Question of Value.

How do YOU measure your Self Worth?

My upcoming exhibition, And The Dark And The Dark, was the inspiration to begin this blog. In the first entry I declared, “Art exists in connection, not isolation”.  With confirmation of the exhibition, I made the decision to go “all in”, no more hiding, no more holding back.

exhibition publicity image

I’m noticing a very welcome increase in my confidence when I talk about my work. Yet I still detect some awkwardness when discussing the exhibition directly, I’ll often add something in at the end of a conversation like “What’s the point of having an exhibition any way?” As some kind of disclaimer, basically already apologizing for having an exhibition and for daring to ask you to come!

I have two weeks left to rectify this sad state of affairs. So what’s going on? Pressure. I think pressure comes from wanting approval and validation. I feel the pressure to demonstrate success. I want to sell my work.  A sale equals time to work in my studio. A sale brings opportunity; it will be easier for me to dive deeper into my new work. The equivalent of a green light or “pass go”. Therefor, understandably, it’s hard to remember that a sale does not equal my self worth or my value as an artist. So where do I find my value?

The more I promote the exhibition, and even as I write to you now, I feel a mounting sense of anxiety. My anxiety is that I’m creating expectation. My anxiety is that I won’t be able to ‘deliver’, that I will let people down, and that I will not be enough.

I have come far enough in my self learning to be somewhat objective about these feelings. I am aware this is not rational and definitely not new. This is a very old mental and emotional pattern. I am also aware that this is not about letting other people down, this is about me letting myself down. This is a battle I am having within myself.

I would guess most artists struggle with this when it comes to showing their work. We know our work has value for ourselves, but does our work have value for others?

To some artists a showing of their work may seem an unnecessary act of giving (their) power away to an other. However there is another point of view, as brought up by interesting point made in a comment posted on the blog last week relating to the work of Lewis Hyde:

“A work of art is not finished until it is shared. Like actually not complete. It needs the gaze of another to finish it”

Whatever an exhibition may or may not be, it is an offering, an offering to YOU.

As I prepare to offer my inner landscape to the outside world, and into current value systems over which I have zero control, I remember that the opportunity to worry about the unknowns of the exhibition process is an achievement in its self!

Not so very long ago the hope of having a body of art work ready to show anyone was virtually non existent. Back then I was more into self punishment than self application. I regularly felt lost and broken and would turn to film for escapism. These were the days of collecting DVD’s from Video Star and passing out to the blue glow of world cinema. But one night I found myself watching YouTube videos of people I found inspiring such as, Patti Smith, David Lynch, Kate Bush. I watched documentaries about artists, designers and filmmakers. Hungrily, I absorbed interviews, live performances, and any scrap I could find in quick succession one flowing into another; in a chain that didn’t break, a stream leading from one artist to another, the river did not run dry. Only after several days, with dry eyes, I pulled myself to shore to rest. I was tired but I had received nourishment: the dark abyss in my chest was now a glow. I had been set alight.

In the following days, I reflected upon the connecting force between all the artists I had encountered on my video marathon. They were all people connected with their art, their truth, and were being fully and unapologetically themselves. They all had the courage to say through their work “this is who I am.” This trail of inspiration suddenly felt like the only thing that mattered. I was reduced to one question: Do I dare to dream?

Joseph Campbell, in his book Pathways To Bliss, talks about finding your own way out of the dark woods as a metaphor for finding your calling: if the path is well trodden then it’s not your own and at some point we have to step off the beaten path with no ones footsteps to follow but our own.

underthetree

I’m not sure if the trail of inspiration led me in to or out of the woods that day, but I certainly experienced a vital re-orientation of my life path. To answer the question regarding value and self worth in today’s ever growing pressure to succeed and achieve, we risk succumbing to the delusion of a one size fits all definition of success. It is important to remember that only we know how far we have come and, as we find our way on our individual journeys, the most important step might be to remember where we started.

See you next week.

Love and best wishes,

Gemma


Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

The Secret Artist #4: Putting Your Self in the Picture.

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How much of you goes into what you do?

One of the biggest struggles I have faced during my life as an artist is that making art is unavoidably revelatory. My introvert self wants to hide but in the creative process we see ourselves. We see ourselves as we are, not as we want to be. We are in the picture whether we like it or not.

20140401_173118

It can be scary to create because it can be scary to see yourself. The work is your mirror. When we share the work this mirror then becomes a window for our viewer. We open ourselves to be seen. However the process does not end there. For the window then becomes (we hope) a mirror once more, but this time for the audience as they locate themselves within the work.

“Painting is a physical thinking process to continue an inner dialogue”. – Amy Sillman

Perhaps part of the reason much of my painting is in the language of abstract expressionism is an attempt to hide and protect myself in someway from the judgment of my audience. But now, I have come to accept that painting is a revelatory process. How can it not be? Hours and hours of intimate memory and perception tangled together. On canvas I share my unconscious thoughts, wrapped around fragments of story, a moving sketchbook of my private emotion and imagination. No amount of coding and symbolism can change this.

I have found surrender through the realisation that Life itself is also inescapably revealing. Our every thought and action communicates information about ourselves. Including what we don’t say, this can unveil just as much about us than what we do say.

It’s not surprising we feel resistance to showing our true self. When we show our true self or give ourselves fully to any aspect of our lives: our working life, our creative life, our personal life, we in turn risk failure, judgment and rejection.

Often we don’t respond to the call to express our creativity because we know that when we do we will expose ourselves in some way. The creative process is a summons to our self. Often we fill our lives with other work and maybe find ourselves helping others as a way of avoiding facing our self and our creative desire. For 10 years I was an art teacher supporting young people to explore and develop their creativity and art skills before I found the braveness to bring myself to the table and put myself into the picture.

20140401_173629

“Creativity takes courage.” – Henri Matisse

Matisse was right; it takes courage because there is risk involved. To truly embark on the creative process is to exit our comfort zone. Outside of the comfort zone is a sense of danger and (self) exposure.

Writing The Secret Artist blog has brought a lot of my internal junk to the surface. I have felt exposed and vulnerable. No matter how much I have enjoyed writing each and every chapter, after pressing the send button I am more often than not consumed with a desperate urge to claw back my words. My worst-case scenario kicks into overdrive, delivering to my frightened brain scene after scene of imagined ridicule and humiliation. These fears reduce me to an emotional wreck; rational thought is nowhere to be found. But then, the first email will arrive thanking me for my recent blog entry, or complimenting me on the content. Slowly my head fog of worry clears, the clamp releases my chest, and I see it for what it is: the persuasive fabrication of my fear based mind.

This is why I committed to writing The Secret Artist. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. To get to grips with ‘actually saying something.’ I did it to share my self. I am putting my self out there.

I am terrified every week and every week I am growing.

I want to share with you one of the comments emailed to me this week:

“In short I am loving the fact we as the reader are getting know you, the artist, without you having to tell us you like long walks on the beach. It’s an unguarded view of you. Letting that mask drop and being (not literally obviously) warts and all on a creative tip.”

I was very happy to receive this feedback confirming I was succeeding in my goal to be open and giving of myself in a way that I haven’t managed to do before.

Thank you to everyone who has written to me these last 4 weeks. Every comment, every story, every suggestion propels me forward. This process has made a huge difference to my confidence and I can feel a sense of expansion as I take small steps to go beyond my self imposed limitations.

GK1

Eva, 2014

We all have masks and we all play roles but the creative place is a space to play and explore. The canvas is a great space to work things out. As a secret artist I waited a long time before I took the step. Give yourself to your work; write without censor, draw without expectations, sing without criticism, dance without shame, and allow your self expression. With each small risk we take, we make incremental steps towards the goal of experiencing our true creative potential. What a different world we would live in if we could all find the courage to allow our true self a chance to speak!

Thank you for helping me.

G.Kauffman Evadreams, 2014 50cmx30cm 2933x3678 Acrylic, Chalk and Ink on canavs

Eva Dreams, 2014

See you next week

Love and best wishes,

Gemma


Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

The Secret Artist #3: The Lost Art of Letting Go

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Letting Go? Holding on?

Only one of the above is a story of Transformation.

This is the story of The Goddess.

The female figure was a surprise. When she first appeared I felt both intrigued and confused. Why was she here? What did she want? Finding this figure waiting for me on the canvas was unusual.


goddess sequence

The idea came to me that she was some sort of Guide. Perhaps my imagination was in overdrive. My approach to painting is to weave a world from suggestions of narrative, symbols and abstractions. I consider it to be an adventure of present moment awareness; action, marks and movement come before words, reflection and analysis. If she was a Guide, then my job was to listen. Right from the beginning there were conditions.

I was cautious from the offset, every mark felt loaded. If I went too far she might disappear. I already had something to lose. I did not feel free.

I was fearful of losing the image of this Guide, yet she continued to hold her own within the unfolding scene: teetering on the brink of being submerged, but still she remained. Each incarnation she was different, altered, bathed in her surroundings. It was as if she was the gold of the rushes, the fluorescents of the vines, the jewels in the sky and of the darkness. I was fascinated by her reincarnations and her fearless orchestration of the world around her.

Over time it became more and more difficult to maintain the presence of the female figure and to honour the momentum of the painting. I felt pulled in different directions, yet still I avoided painting over her. Even though this is exactly what she, as my Guide, was urging me to do and had been right from the beginning. It was me who was resisting, I was the one who was in the way. After many months I had become attached to her, but because of this attachment I was losing the flow of the painting.

One day I woke up and this time when I met the canvas I knew it was time to release her back into the ocean of consciousness from whence she came. Otherwise we were stuck and the painting wasn’t going anywhere.

The next session of painting was different. This time I gave myself fully to the process without hedging my bets, no longer leaving space for the figure to return as she had many times before. I surrendered to the marks and gestures that appeared before me. I was back in the flow.

Immediately a vibrant energy returned and the painting made huge strides forwards. It felt like I had stepped through a gateway. Much like in the hero’s journey. My final test was to demonstrate, without reservation, the learning I had received from the Guide. I chose to trust the process and in that moment all hesitation was gone.

goddess sequence

So often we live life as if we have something to lose, rather than something to gain. Nature is the embodiment of loss and renewal, yet still we separate ourselves; insisting upon our own rules, imposing our demands, attempting to bend reality to suit our picture of how we think life should be.

The tree does not hesitate to drop its leaves. The plant does not agonise over the wilting flower. There is a synchronistic, harmonious pattern to all of life in accordance with the Laws of Nature.

Ironically the painting that has taught me the most about surrender, loss and renewal is the painting that has the biggest hold on me. Perhaps because I know her secrets: the skins she has shed, those lost images beneath her surface, compressed into hidden layers.  But now… so do you!

I began this blog to explore sharing. With your help I am learning how to be more open about the creative process. Not all of my paintings were such a journey to create.  I consider Adam and Eve and The Goddess to be the parents of my painting family tree. From these two great teachers, my art practice was born. The principles I have learnt from these paintings I carry with me, into my practice and into my life. Through them I have come to understand that the experience of painting is mine, but the painting themselves are not. I am learning to let go.

ultimate Goddess

The Goddess is a mystery. She is an open mirror and a gateway, for all who behold her.

The Goddess will be featuring in an exhibition at A-side B-side Gallery, London. From the 6th -17th November 2015. Click below for details:

See you next week.

Love and best wishes,

Gemma


Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

The Secret Artist #2: Roots to Fruits (Journey of a Painting)

What does it take to make Art?

Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!

Hi!

Last week I made a promise to open up, connect and share my secret art life… with you!

I want to talk to you today about a painting called Adam and Eve.

G.Kauffman Adam and Eve 120x100 Acrylic and Oil on Canvas

This painting emerged at a time in my life of chaos, uncertainty, insecurity and instability. I had recently returned to the UK from living abroad. I had expected it to be tough, to rebuild a life after time away, but I found myself in more of mess than, even I, anticipated. I am by nature a worrier (yes that is an “o” not an “a” although they could be one and the same). I have the worry line to prove it: a deep ravine slowly carving my forehead in two. Yet, when the unlikely opportunity to paint appeared, a Zen like focus descended. Rock bottom is a good place to start after all!

I approached the blank canvas with myself as I was then… full of fear and full of questions. At that point in my life I felt stuck. I knew I wanted to change but I didn’t know how. There was a blank space in front of me.

‘If you create space something will fill it.’ Someone said that to me once.

It‘s important to say this opportunity to contemplate a blank space, with the afore mentioned Zen like focus, was no accidental occurrence. I only managed to do that with the encouragement of a friend and fellow artist who saw within me an urgent, creative energy about to burst. She took me under her wing and together we conquered the steps required to create. The first and most important step on this journey was to commit my meagre funds to buying the canvas. Then the next step was finding a space: it was this same friend that was kind enough to offer her front room as a temporary studio. We had tools, we had space; we made the commitment, and we supported each other. Art creations are always a collective effort. We have become a culture fixated on the name of an artist but on every level there is a community effort. Brian Eno articulated this brilliantly in his recent John Peel Lecture – I highly recommend.

Back to the blank canvas, a window of time and a box of paint: But how to make the first mark? What was my plan? I am not from a painting background. I went to art school but I had not allowed myself to explore my creative potential, in any committed or meaningful way, since leaving college. I had blocked myself for years, waited for permission, but now I was at a turning point. The turning point is often the lowest point.

It seems to be a common thread among artists that they wait until they are ill, or ready to pop, before they allow themselves the opportunity to express themselves. It doesn’t have to be like this. If you don’t have a friend right now to guide you then let Steven Pressfield be your friend! His book ‘The War on Art’ is the voice of triumph over resistance, trust me, it doesn’t get better than this.

I had received some life coaching advice from another friend just prior to my beginning the painting. The advice was: that if I wanted to grow my potential, then I need to put down some roots (in myself) before anything could grow, before I could receive the fruits (of life). I kind of understood what putting down roots in myself meant, but also I had no clue at all. This was the question I brought to the blank canvas: What does growing roots mean? So, I painted roots, in a trance, I painted roots, over and over, squiggling roots reaching down. I didn’t know what else to do.

Adam and Eve 1 flip (roots)      Adam and Eve 1 (roots)

My second encounter with the canvas, many weeks later, was by chance upside down and I saw this time not roots but branches. I took this as a good omen and a conversation opened up between the canvas and myself. I allowed myself to play with the idea that my roots had become a tree and growth became the theme in my mind and expressive flourishing marks became a garden.

Adam and Eve 2 (garden)      adam and Eve 3 (book)

As time passed a garden, rapidly transcending the seasons, appeared before my very eyes. And then as night fell in the garden an ancient dance began, as old as time. Masculine and Feminine. This was (symbolically speaking) the Original Garden.

G.Kauffman Adam and Eve 120x100 Acrylic on CanvasTowner submission1

Adam and Eve is it’s own world, which it is up to the viewer to decipher, and this painting has too much to say to remain hidden away.

See you next week.

Love and best wishes,

Gemma


Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!