Running With animals

I’m continuing to turn out smaller, sellable things for the featured artist gig at 3060 Gallery on the West side in 2020. “Nude With kangaroo,” finished just today probably isn’t one of them.

“Nude With Kangaroo” by Lynda McClanahn

I’ve been obsessed with the theme of naked ladies riding animals for some time. It began with observing depictions of Goddesses atop their “vahanas,” (mounts). I’ve obviously been influenced by a God-niece who married a Malaysian Tamil Hindu from Australia and, yes, there is a baby involved.

The skin color of the human figure came slowly and caused some anxiety. The first impulse was to make the lady’s skin dark, but that would have made her disappear too much vis a vis the kangaroo. There was also a desire to avoid depicting anyone of African descent in relationship to an animal. Once the lady became light skinned, I had to decide how much the piece would be a literal reference to my young friend and how much it would not. In the end I nixed portraiture in favor of something with more universal appeal. The result is quirky, funny and probably only showable at hipster venues like the Vanderelli Room. Thank God for the Vanderelli Room!

Two other pieces destined for 3060 Gallery are also complete. Both are re-dos first done in the mid-aughts.

“Lady With Buckeyes” by Lynda McClanahan

The original of this work was smaller and technically less accomplished but it DID sport a spray of vegetation which looked more like a marijuana leaf than a Buckeye tree. Oh well. You get some things and lose others when you revisit old ideas.

“Red Flower” by Lynda McClanahan

“Red Flower” is another copy of an old work. I first started painting again as medicine for a deeply disappointed and troubled emotional nature. At that time lower impulses were edging out higher ones and I was at wits end. Since getting rid of my animal nature was impossible, I decided to honor and make love to it instead via painting. Unlike repression, this actually worked.

We are all riding our own “vahanas” through this life. Just as in gardening, everything starts from the ground up. I celebrate the animal which takes me everywhere, from the lowest low to the highest height.

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Step, Pause, Step

The stairs leading to our attic are being replaced, necessitating nearly a full week away from the studio. I’m always surprised by the hole left in my life when these forced time outs occur. Art has become a daily practice and a pre-condition for mental and spiritual health. Without access to art, I find myself at loose ends, roaming the house like a ghost and waiting for its return. Now that I have the drafting table back again, all sorts of things have been spilling from its surface.

I’ve been stockpiling small pieces for a while: some for shows I know I’ll be entering later in the year and some for the upcoming featured artist slot slated for February of 2020 at 3060 Gallery.

“St. Uke” by Lynda McClanahan

Two things are already completed for the Ohio Art League’s Thumb Box show which occurs every November. Thumbox is the only Art League show into which members are automatically accepted and I enter every year.

“Virgin With Ukelele” by Lynda McClanahan

I hate to be rushed and nearly always do these ahead but this year seems particularly early. I’ve had the intuition that I’ll need the space to do other things when the deadline rolls around.

I’ve also been re-visiting images from long ago sold paintings which retain psychological resonance or are just plain easy to sell.

“Heart Hand” by Lynda McClanahan

I’ve done at least six versions of this henna-inspired hand over the years and they always fly off the wall. The sign painters enamel I use really lends itself to fine lines and shows its strength in paintings like these. I’ve always been attracted to making things which act as a good luck charm or house blessing. It’s like praying for people you don’t even know.

“Lady With Buckeyes” In Process

“Lady With Buckeyes” is another example of an old image which has bubbled up to the surface. One of my visual preoccupations is affirming the broad range of people who make up our citizenry. This painting is a timely reminder that not all of us who belong to this land look the same. Who would even want it to be?

“Nude With Kangaroo” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

The other piece on the drafting table is a continuation of the naked-ladies-on-animals series. Sharon Weiss of Sharon Weiss Gallery once counseled that success in art depends on finding what works and then doing it. These ladies often sell even before the opening of a show so I’m following Sharon’s advice. I sketched it out months ago but hadn’t started due to a neuroto-doubt-attack (this is too weird, everyone’s laughing at me, people will be offended, blah, blah, blah). Now that the project is actually under weigh however, I find the whole idea delightful. Go figure.

There’s a rhythm to life and there’s a rhythm to the way art projects present and unfold. Step, pause / step, pause might feel jerky and uneven, but viewed as a whole, it’s just another way of walking.

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Subconscious Impulses and Free Will

It’s widely assumed that artistic ideas arise from an ocean of possibilities in a free, spontaneous, unfettered way. Perhaps the initial impulse to make something is free of inner constraints, but I often wonder about the rest of it. Every painting requires an array of decisions which are thrilling and fun to make, but the way they’re made probably owes more to well-worn grooves in the psyche than to anything resembling free will. The ley lines of ones personal psychology seldom become evident, but once they do, they’re hard to ignore.

Source Photo for “Two Ladies”

I started out with this edgy but sweet little Persian Miniature, collected many years ago and promptly stuffed away in a file. It’s not unusual to find Eastern hetero-lovers gazing longingly into one another’s eyes, but two ladies doing the same thing while offering wine to each other is definitely unusual. Perhaps this is what the ladies of the harem got up to, or perhaps just what the artist hoped they did. A recent studio visit by Lisa McLymont and Cat Sheridan shook the image loose from memory and prompted a quick rummage through the files. At long last, I experienced a strong push to work something up.

“Two Ladies” by Lynda McClanahan In process

I used nearly everything from the original painting to make my own. The figures, headgear, bolster pillow and position of the hands are all pretty much the same as in the original. I opted to stray away from the peeping tom voyeurism of the Persian version (the original seems to be an inadvertent peek at secret goings on seen through an open window). This meant figuring out what to do about the rest of the bodies, a problem solved by one cross-legged figure and one in kneeling pose. I used the same configuration in an old piece entitled “In Love With the World” from the Red Woman series. It has the advantage of putting both figures at eye level without abandoning the lower half of the painting to a boringly long expanse of legs. It worked once, so I figured it would work again.

“In Love With the World” by Lynda McClanahan

After spending time with Lisa and Cat, I knew I wanted one dark skinned and one light skinned lady, but the decision as to which should be which came immediately and with no thought. Ditto for the clothing. The jacket worn by the lighter woman is based on what Cat wore on her visit, the rest is made up.

“Two Ladies” by Lynda McClanahan in Process

I wanted a contrast between the two women, which led to one femme and one less-femme figure, but I wonder about this. Is the lady on the left clothed in billowy trousers with a sweet pink top just for contrast, or did I put her in them for reasons not quite known to myself? Who offers and who receives? Does it matter?

I am struggling with a sketch for another work requiring similar decisions. The question as to whether I am capable of choosing freely is an open one.

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Reserving Judgement

One of the surprising things about completing a painting is how often your opinion of it varies. Assessments can run the gamut from satisfaction, to close enough to I-wish-this-thing-would-disappear-off-the-face-of-the-earth, often on the same day. I’ve come to accept that the eye is prejudiced, fickle and unreliable. Judgement is best left to others.

One of the main challenges of this painting was overcoming the over-the-top intensity of the background.

Wallpaper Background “Saint Gertrude”

I nearly always do backgrounds first, both to set the tone of the work and to avoid the labor of cutting around the central figure later. I got exactly what I wanted with this riotous mix of order and chaos but what problems it caused! Unintended consequences abounded; notably a terrible imbalance between subject and background. This only appeared at the last minute when the protective masking was removed and I finally understood how the painting was really going to work.

“St Gertrude” Finished Product No. One

Not to put too fine a point on it, poor St. Gertrude was simply disappearing from the panel like a hole punched in a psychedelic blanket. What to do?

After much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, I took the only option which didn’t entail yelling “uncle” and completely starting over. I decided to add details to capture the eye and hopefully give the center a bit more weight.

Buckeye Necklace

A buckeye necklace on the same line as the cat’s eyes grounds the neck and suggests a relationship between the two figures.

Earring Detail

An earring draws the eye up through the figure on the opposite diagonal to the background….

Wedding Bangles Detail

….and traditional Hindu wedding bangles function the same way through the lower half of the painting. The bangles hint at a closer relationship between feline and saint than just the surface visuals of a pretty lady holding her cat. Only those who look closely and are familiar with Hindu wedding customs will get this, but I like hidden connections like these. Sometimes a painting is also a puzzle.

“Saint Gertrude” Finished Product No. Two

The end result may or may not be enough to bring the panel into balance, but it’s as close as it can get.

It’s not up to me to decide if a painting is any good or not. With a judge as unreliable as the eye, the only thing I can decide is when it’s finished.

I declare the piece done.

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Changing Your Mind

The last painting, “St. Gertrude, Patron Saint of Cats,” has found me less sure-footed than usual. I went from this….

“St Gertrude” Masked and in Process

To this…..

“St Gertrude” in Process

To this…..

“St Gertrude: Patron Saint of Cats” by Lynda McClanahan

….all in less than a week. The wonkiness of the face in the original painting bothered me, but since I didn’t know why, I wasn’t confident about fixing it. All my usual tricks (holding the piece up to a mirror, hauling out the ruler, masking off one side, then the other etc.) led to nothing. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced this before but maybe there’s a lesson in it. When a piece only comes together by finding its own way, you just have to let it. The original painting is more serene and icon-like, an impersonal Kore statue from ancient Greece rather than an individual person. The new one is younger, more vulnerable, more fully present and absolutely human. I’ve lost a goddess but gained a very sweet and strange person. Welcome St. Gertrude, patron saint of cats.

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Balancing the Bitter With the Sweet

I have been toggling between angry, bitter and sorrowful themes and lighter, more hopeful pieces. After “Do As I Say” I was in desperate need of mental refreshment, which the latest piece provides.

I started out with this vintage photo of a lady and her cat.

Vintage Photo Source for “Blue Robe With Cat” by Lynda McClanahan

Contrary to my usual habit, I didn’t alter the image much. I worry a bit about this, actually. The internet provides an embarrassment of riches when it comes to photo sources, but I’m already starting to recognize images I’ve used in other people’s work and even in advertising. I worry about our visual vocabulary becoming too homogenized. One can’t help but wonder where all this will lead.

In Process “Blue Robe With Cat” by Lynda McClanahan

It is my hope that I’ve made the idea my own via the eccentric, psychedelic background and the gaze of the cat, which is now directed at the viewer. I wanted to suggest that the lady and the cat were not just connected, but perhaps one and the same being. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea that Nature is conscious of Herself everywhere and in equal measure in all beings. The fabric-like background is crackling and alive with an organized, yet chaotic energy, which might be a fitting description for our existence here. When the world meditates upon itself, does it apprehend a condition which is vulnerable, limited and paradoxically eternal?

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When The Community Calls, Answer

I think of calls for entry as assignments from the local art community to add my two-cents-worth to whatever subject is at hand. “Lucky Cat With Pinups,” “River of Forgetfulness” and “Joanna and the Whale” were all direct responses to curatorial requests. Left to my own devices they would never have been painted but how glad I am to have them! The latest works in process are arriving via a similar route.

“Goose Goddess” was completed in anticipation of being a featured artist at Gallery 3060 in February of 2020. I’m consciously concentrating on smaller, sweeter things which might appeal to a general viewership and are more likely to sell. As is often my habit, I started out with a coloring page of Greek Goddesses and went from there.

Aphrodite on Swan Source Drawing

Another smallish piece, “Nude With Horn” was entered into an upcoming Erotic Art show slated for the Vanderelli Room this summer.

“Nude With Horn” by Lynda McClanahan

I figure there will be plenty of semi-pornographic images but not many with the impishly sweet naughtiness which I favor. I hope this one makes it in.

The most labor intensive of all the things I’ve been working on was initiated by a call for nudes put out by Val Pennington of the Pennington Arts Studio. When I first read the specs, I thought the call was just for unusual treatments of nudes. A later, more careful reading revealed that life studies and other traditional figurative pieces were being requested, not the wacky neo-primitives I produce. It’s too late now because I’m nearly done with the latest piece of mischief, “Do What I Say.”

“Do What I Say” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

The call for nudes may have been the initial catalyst behind “Do What I Say,” but what popped to the surface quickly morphed into an anguished response to the “Heartbeat” bill supported by Mike Dewine, current governor of the State of Ohio. Anti abortion forces in our state are strong, loud and passionate. Strangely, none of them seem to find making a woman’s body property of the state to be troublesome or even of note. Why sovereignty of the body, the most basic requirement for status as a full human being, is so hard for women to acquire and maintain is anybody’s guess.

Detail “Do What I Say” In Process by Lynda McClanahan

I’m a bit embarrassed at the sloppy reading of Val’s call but I’ll submit anyway. Why not? When an artist dips her hand into the well she never knows what will come up, and neither should anyone else.

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