Who are Your Artistic Ancestors?

Who are Your Artistic Ancestors?

If you were to name your artistic grandmother or grandfather, who would that be?

Many people have an artistic lineage that you work in response to. For instance, for my friend Teresa Smith, it is Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, the Canadian painters of the early and mid-20th Century that had a spiritual and symbolic connection to the landscape they painted. She identifies with their spiritual approach to color, and works with the landscape to bring out these symbolic and underlying themes of light, transcendence and internal essence.

Rock on Water, Teresa Smith
Rock on Water, Teresa Smith
Tree in Autumn, Emily Carr
Tree in Autumn, Emily Carr

For me, I have a LOT of artists I’m always looking at, but a few I really identify with, not just the way they paint, but the way they lived.

One of those painters that is incredibly important to me is Morris Graves (August 28, 1910 – May 5, 2001), one of the “Northwest Mystic” painters in a group of friends and creative colleagues dubbed the Northwest School, that included Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson and Kenneth Callahan, and others.

When I approached a recent assignment in the Trowbridge Atelier where I’m studying in Georgetown at Gage Academy of Art – to paint a “cornucopia,” I immediately thought of Graves’ “Summer Still Life” with its dark colors and flat perspective, amazing composition and mysterious symbology.

Picnic / Aftermath, Shannon Borg
Picnic / Aftermath, Shannon Borg
Summer Still Life, Morris Graves
Summer Still Life, Morris Graves

I created a cornucopia of my own, also set in nature, like Graves does, but in this case, located at my favorite beach, South Beach in American Camp, National Historical Park, San Juan Island. Since I was in Seattle at art school, I relied on a still-life set-up I created in my apartment, and then placed it in relation to my many photos and memory of South Beach.

my cornucopia setup in my apartment
photocollage of my idea
charcoal drawing of my idea

Then I created two canvases – one a daytime scene, and one a nighttime scene. I love how Graves’ scene is kind of in the middle – you can’t tell whether it is day or night. So I made both – and it was fascinating to work with the more abstracted shapes and try to create a sense of moonlight and how that light is different than sunlight. I took pictures of my setup at all times of day and night.

Then I flipped the image, so day and night would be mirror images of each other – kind of Alice in Wonderland meets Morris Graves.

I’ve started the “day” side of the painting
the setup for the “night” side
I flipped the night side

Having an image, an artist, a friend like Morris Graves to be by my side through this process was very comforting – like I have with me a kind teacher gently nudging me this direction or that. My Atelier teacher and mentor, Kimberly Trowbridge, is that person for me IRL – but as artists, we also need our artistic ancestors with us at all times, so we can have that dialogue with them, too.

What artists – living or gone – are you having an artistic dialogue with in your work?

Summer Still Life, Morris Graves
Picnic / Aftermath, Shannon Borg

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Color at the Beach

Color at the Beach

We think of the beach as being composed of grey/brown sand, white shells, blue water. But every beach has its colors. Where I live, on San Juan Island, I am continually amazed at the intensity of the colors I find even on a grey day. Today at South Beach it was misty and overcast, but the stormy weather had washed up all sorts of seaweed, from iridescent pink to olive-green. Crab shells, driftwood, eelgrass, rocks. An endless array of the colors in these fascinating organic forms!