Category Archives: Influences

Soutine Exhibit in Paris: such glorious inspiration

I dropped everything I was doing that felt so terribly urgent yesterday morning, braved the freezing weather, and headed off to the Musée de L’orangerie in Paris to see the Chaïm Soutine exhibit.

Musée de L’orangerie, Paris

It feels SO glorious to just let go of the endless “to do’s” and go see a fabulous art exhibit mid-week instead. I’m following the Artist’s Way, along with 60 other women online across the globe, and now I call these visits« Artist’s dates ». That means time for me and my inner artist to go flll the well and get inspired. Before calling these excursions artist’s dates and adding to their number when I realized just how very nourishing they are , I just called them, TAKING ADVANTAGE of being in Paris and anywhere else I happen to be where great art is to be found !

I get such tremendous pleasure from these impromptu museum visits, I wanted to share the experience here with you.

I arrived rosy cheeked from the brisk walk (did I mention how cold it is ?) across the Tuilleries gardens to get to the museum just as it opened, and delighted in the fact that there were almost no people. I managed to take these two shots before getting in trouble and being asked to put my phone away…

I wasn’t that familiar with Soutine’s work, but I certainly adored the title of this show : “Order in Chaos”. I was only mildly surprised to find out I love this artist.

The first paintings I came across were so visually arresting in their color and emotional intensity, it took my breath away. They seemed to pop right off the canvases painted in the 20’s and power their way through to us here in 2013, and on they will go through time, strong and present.

I can never quite articulate what makes Great art, I don’t really feel the need to be able to, but I know it when I see it. All I can say is, it makes my heart sing to witness that visual power and grace.

None of these scanned images do much justice to the stunningly bright colors of the real thing, but here they are, a few of the show stoppers that captivated my attention.

This one was painted in 1929, and is called Madeleine Castaing, one of his biggest collectors. It’s a big favorite and is on the cover of the catalogue book I bought. There’s an interview done in the 40’s of Madame Castaing talking about her friend Soutine. It’s fascinating to see how he’s captured her face and strong personality in this painting

Madeleine Castaing, Chaïm Soutine

This one “Le View Moulin” , my favorite of his landscapes, was painted around 1922, when he lived in the village of Céreste in the South of France. I love the wild brush strokes, fine lines and distorted image. Makes me imagine the galling winds cascading savagely down through the village.

Le Mieux Moulin, Chaïm Soutine

Imagine bright greens and splashes of deep red when looking at this one called L’Arbre. Again, can’t you just feel that wild wind whipping through the branches of this massive tree, and shrinking the tiny houses down below ?

I spend a lot of time in the wind, living in the South of France. These paintings make me want to start trying to express the wind in my paintings instead of complaining about how crazy it makes me.

L’Arbre, Chaïm Soutine

I love all of his portraits, but this painting titled “Déchéance” (loose translation “Decline”) pulled me in. There is something so bizarrely familiar about this desperate image, and something so poignantly human.

Déchéance, Chaïm Soutine

On my way out of this spectacular show, I stopped, as I always do, to watch the movie about Soutine’s (short) life (1893 – 1943) and work. I never tire of hearing how these artists lived, worked, and thought.

Here I am, back out in the Tuilleries garden, my heart and eyes filled with majestic images.

As I made my way through the freezing gardens, I asked myself a question I often ponder over : What will I remember when I get to the very end of my life ? What will have been so significant, it’ll be there with me at the end ? Aside from remembering the people I’ve loved, I know, for sure, I will remember the great art I was privileged enough to see.

Would love to hear what this visit has inspired in you ?

The Books that Most Nourished my Creative Soul in 2012 (that I’m sure you’ll love too)

I learned this year that reading is a fundamental part of the creative process. Ok, it took me a while to work this out, but better later than never. My industrious self thought that actively making art, refining technique and looking at other artist’s work, was most, if not all of the picture.

I was wrong, there is just so much to be gained from the more receptive position of reading. I found that when I allowed myself the time to relax and read up on other artist’s stories , or about creative guidance and processes, It was both eye opening, nurturing and powerfully influencial. Reading about other people’s stories allows you to somehow « normalize » the experience of being an artist, to see how others before yo have battled with the same exact issues, and to see where you stand with all of those questions.

I wondered why I hadn’t done this type of reading long ago.

Here are 6 books that altered my vision this year

De Kooning, Am American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan

This is probably one of, if not, THE greatest biography ever written about an artist. It’s a masterpiece, and as Amazon says, “a page turning tale”.

I relished in following De Kooning’s process and progress as an artist from his very beginnings in extreme poverty (living on ketchup in a New York Studio with no heat and spending his money on art supplies) and struggle, to becoming one of the most important and revered painters that ever hit the American painting stage.

It was fascinating to read this brilliantly written account of the New York art scene in the 30’s and 40’s during the depression and war years, and the bursting forth of the powerful American abstract expressionists in the 50’s when New York became the powerhouse center of the Art World.

Most of all, what I took away from this was De Kooning’s fierce commitment to his art; reading of his phenomenal drive and passion to paint every single day, through poverty, rejection, artistic blocks, success, fame and decline, was both mesmerizing and sobering.

De Kooning, Portrait of an American Master felt like an experience of being up close with a genius.

Portrait of An Artist : Biography of Georgia O’keeffe, by Laurie Lisle

I discovered Georgia O’keeffe when I was growing up in San Francisco and was drawn to her vibrant colors and soft flowery, feminine forms. I had no real idea who she was, or anything about her remarkable story until I read her biography in Portrait of An Artist.

This is an even earlier glimpse of the New York art scene and a fascinating vision of “Out West”, New Mexico in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s.

The greatest part of this book is the detailed description of the life, habits and thought patterns of this pioneering and spirited woman – she was a bona-fide trailblazer for future generations of women artists and successful women in general.

My Swedish great grandmother emigrated to the US from Sweden when she 16 years old, all by herself with her little brother, and I recognized that same brave and gorgeous spirit in Georgia O’keeffe. I love stories of fiercely independent women doing their thing no matter what anyone else thinks or says.

I came away from this read fully grasping, once and for all, that abstract art, is by no means avant-garde, or radical ! A lot of people still react to abstract art as if it were way “out there” in the left field of daring experimentation. And yet It goes way, way back. Georgia O’keeffe was one of the greatest and earliest of it’s advocates starting in 1918!

That somehow made a transformative difference to me and helped me past the last barrier to making art in my favorite style, no matter what anyone says or thinks.

Tom and Jack: The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock, by Henry Adams

This is another formidable biography and a full-scale look into Jackson Pollock’s work and life as an artist. I’d read a lot about him in the De Kooning book and their rivalry for the super star position on the art stage of the 50’s. I’d also seen the film, knew he was a notoriously violent drunk who died young in a drunken car crash. I didn’t really understand his work before reading this, nor had I any idea of his real genius, his potent artistic influences nor how profoundly mystical the root of his work is. I particularly loved this quote :

“Two central ideas particularly interested (painter) Macdonald-Wright :first, that great art does not slavishly copy the surface of nature but probes beneath the surface and grasps fundamental principles; second, the artist achieves this goal by entering a mystical state of mindless thinking which eliminates the distinction between subject and object.
Both these ideas correspond very closely with jackson Pollock’s artistic methods and intentions.”

Finishing this book just happened to coincide with a trip to Manhattan. I rushed to the MOMA and stood spellbound in front of his paintings. I came close to weeping at their majestic power and haunting mystical beauty.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

I’d known about this classic for 20 years, and yet I’d never read it. For a long time I admit to being convinced I never suffered from creative blocks ! Ha ! what a naïve soul I was. Then a few years ago, I confronted myself with two years in my studio, in a new region, and found myself by myself without mentors, teachers, influencers or even supporters of any kind, and well, I had a melt down of sorts and hit the wall.

I was so happy to find this book. It’s a magnificently supportive book for artist’s, full of exactly what the doctor ordered : Empowerment, tools and stimuli to free yourself to become your richest creative self.

Now I have to be honest. I didn’t make it to the end of the book. I have a hard time getting to the end of self-help books in general. I usually pick out one or two things that will be of immediate help and start doing them. This was no exception. I jumped in with chapters one and two ; the daily pages, and the artist’s dates and got so much out of them, that I stopped reading and never made it to the end of the book.

I recently came across a post by Vickie Martin, announcing excitedly to the world that she was working through “the Artist’s Way” chapter by chapter with 60 other women online, worldwide. The coach in me loved that idea and support network, and also huge fan of worldwide online initiatives that I am, I joined the group ! Very excited.

12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women by Gail McMeekin

As I just mentioned, I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time making my way through self-help or course books. I think it must be because the coach and teacher in me looks at that kind of reading as work. My brain goes into hyper-drive as I try to tackle each and every suggested exercise.

This one was an exception though. I highlighted my way through the entire book and learned SO much on each and every aspect of the creative mindset, challenges and life that I hadn’t before been able to articulate.

It puts it all out there for you. What it means to be successful in your creativity, and the skills and tools you need to cultivate along your journey. It’s an empowering resource that I plan to read and re-read.

Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

This book had me nodding, agreeing and laughing all the way through as if I were communing with a wise and funny art sage.

It’s a short book, piercingly smart and dense with brilliantly written advice for artists. Reading this felt as though these marvelous authors got right in there inside my mind and belief system and pulled out all the issues that I was struggling with all by my lonesome and which I thought were mine alone.

They lay out probably every issue we all inevitably deal with once we start calling ourselves artists, they articulate them with wit and get you to rethink most of them from a different and more productive angle. Another exceptional read.

That’s my list. I’d love to hear what books you’ve read, enjoyed and learned from !

Rome: A City That Sends My Inner Artist Into Rapture

I’d waited an absurdly long time to see Rome, (living so close as I do) and yet, the timing of this first visit a few weeks ago was just so perfect, (as are all things when you really look at them).

As soon as I arrived (and even before) I recognized that familiar little voice that drives me to where I need to go and who is telling me now that Italy is a place I should go regularly to recharge my life and beauty loving artist batteries.

All of the ingredients are there that connect me to my heart, and from that heart center, art will flow : beautiful color everywhere, intoxicatingly gorgeous churches and museums, an astounding cultural heritage, generous, friendly people, a singsong language, and…of course….Amazing Food ! All of my senses are in a constant state of rapture when I’m in Italy.

What struck me immediately as I awoke my first morning in Rome was the jasmine scented smells floating into my room, the burst of color as I looked out my balcony at the orange domes and rooftops, and the sweet sound of birdsong.  Birds are everywhere in Rome, joyfully swooping in and around, chirping happily away. They’re nothing like the carnivorous pigeons that live in Paris and scare the living daylights out of me half the time. These birds sing !

My first important stop was the Vatican, and I had the extraordinary good fortune to find an exquisite guide who made that part of Ancient Rome come to life through the magic of her storytelling. Patricia Fogli-Iseppe is an absolutely brilliant historian and art lover. She’s really got a special genius, and if you’re ever in Rome, well, look her up, you won’t regret it !

Patricia explained that during the Renaissance, beauty became linked to divinity and thus became the door to something higher than oneself, call it what you may. « Someone whose eye is educated to see beauty is someone whose soul is at peace. »

Just as the renaissance was a time of artisitc and intellectual flourishing on all levels, I’m going to consider this visit to Rome as my personal renaissance. It’s a rebirth to the origins of beauty, to color as a vital life force, and of course, to art as the central theme of my life. When I see this much beauty and focus on it, my soul really does feel at peace.

There is so much to see, I found the best way to really focus and absorb the ambiance and some of the details was to slow down and do some relaxed sketching and drawing in my journal. Those sketches will become abstract paintings and deep intuitive responses to so many of the things that sent me into a state of rapture. I can’t wait to spend the entire month of July exploring this in my studio.

I’d love to hear your comments on places that are special for you, places you want to go back to again again. What about them nourishes you and calls you back for more ?

When is it Time to Change Painting Styles ?

I’ve always readily accepted, almost despite myself,  the challenge of reinventing my life, and my work . Moving from the US to France when I was 24, without much of a clue as to how I would pull it off,  is just one of many examples. I’m also one of those artist types, who,  as author Paul Dorrell says so perfectly « can’t seem to go through life as we are, and is always struggling to evolve into something we aren’t yet. »

Sound familiar ?

I’m sure this is a universal tendency, exacerbated, perhaps if you’re an artist.

As I see it, either I just like hanging out on the creative edge, no matter how scary, or else, I’m just driven to renew cycles when I start to sense them  stagnating. Renewal is one of my cherished themes.

Whatever the reason, I do still wonder what drives the desire to change styles and mediums. When do you decide you’ve reached the end of a chapter and it’s time to turn the page ?

I’m guessing it’s a combination of ingredients : where you happen to be in your life, your experiences, imagination, environment, the visual, emotional and intellectual influences that are impacting you, mixed in with the just wanting to play and try something new.

I’m standing on a new creative ledge right now, as as I commit to learning the language of abstract art. I’ve always loved the style, am completely drawn in by the poetry and dreamlike intuitive expansion it evokes for me.

Although I’ve worked abstractedly before, creating a series of paintings on the tarot that was then published as a card deck,  I’m exploring this medium differently now. Am going further out into the unknown, allowing my images to emerge as they will, and not as I’ve decided they will.

This resonates a lot more with where I am in my life right now.

A few examples of some recent experiments ;

Paris as it so often is, has been grey this Spring,  impacting my mood and energy.  Usually I look inward when it gets like this :  inside café’s, inside museums, inside great books, and wait for the fog to lift.

I came down South to Cassis last week where Spring is bright and full, bursting out in every direction. I look out at the water and cliffs, my senses alive, and breathe it all in

I’m curious to know what inspires you to change or modify mediums, styles…or for that matter your life ?

Top 10 Reasons Why Being An Expat in France Helps Me Become A Better Artist.

I moved to France 24 years ago, “on a whim” I often hear myself say. But then when I stop to think a little more deeply about it, I realize the move was pretty much pre-programmed into my genes. I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, and my mother, born in Paris to two American artists in the 30’s decided to enroll me in a French Bilingual school when I was three. From the “jardin d’enfant” till the end of middle school I received a bilingual education before moving fully into the American system. Towards the end of my last year of college at UCLA, my grandparents invited me to Paris to attend the inauguration of one of my grandfather’s large sculptures, that the American Embassy had just bought.

I traipsed over from LA for the grand event, and the expat seed my mother had planted so long ago, grew into a flower instantaneously when I came into direct contact with France, it’s food, it’s architecture and museums. Three months later I moved without the slightest clue as to how to survive, and here I am still.

When I probe a little deeper into my lengthy expat experience, first in Paris and now in the South of France, I started thinking for the first time of how living here in France both influences and helps me as an artist. I came up with a top ten list :

1. The magnificent wealth of museums, major exhibits and art galleries

2. Being from another culture and having a broad outsider’s perspective no matter how long I’ve been here, or how integrated I’ve become.

3. Food as a much loved and revered art form

4. The open markets, the colors and scents

5. The extraordinary diversity of gorgeous landscapes

6. The architecture, castles, churches and abbeys, old stone infused with history, the glowing stained glass.

7. The push and pull of nostalgia and living with a heightened rosy view of “home”as it was when I was growing up.

8. The proximity to other European countries and cultures (especially Italy !)

9. The people with their extremes in behavior: either overly direct and rude or sophisticated and so refined

10. The fantastic art supply stores


If you’ve had an expat experience, no matter how long or short, have you ever stopped to notice how the country you chose influenced or is influencing your creative work ?

Or maybe you’ve thought about how the country you chose resonates with the person you are despite the culture you were born into ? Have you given thought to how that affects your work ?

Or like me, maybe you’ve felt the strange tension of the pull of home and your past, and the push of the culture you currently live in ? What does that look like for you ? Are you expressing it in your art ?