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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


Open Door Studio Opening: “This Inspired That”

“Lucky Cat With Pinups” finally made its public debut at the Open Door Studio’s show, “This Inspired That.”

The idea behind the exhibit was to choose a work completed by a resident artist and respond with a work of our own. I chose Jenny DeBrier’s “Farrah” as my starting point and ended with “Lucky Cat With Pinups.” The project drew something forth from me which would have never manifested otherwise and for that I’m grateful. The opening was last night.

“Farrah” by Jenny DeBrier and “Lucky Cat With Pinups” by Lynda McClanahan

I believed my entry was well conceived and properly worked out, but I worried a bit about how it would look hung next to “Farrah.” Frankly, I was concerned my piece would appear weak next to Ms. DeBrier’s work, which is bolder and graphically stronger than mine. The sizes of the two pieces are comparable and the colors work together nicely, however, so they hang together just fine. My only regret is that Jenny was not at the opening. I enjoy her art so much and would have loved to meet her.

The gallery at Open Door is spacious and well-lit and the opening was well attended. “Farrah” and “Lucky Cat” generated some interest, which is always nice.

“This Inspired That” Opening Attendees

Friend Maddy Weisz at Open Door Studio Opening
Open Door Studio Opening

There’s a sense of satisfaction at having completed a task in such a thorough fashion. The nervous system is a bit worn out by it all though. Usually when this happens I do some small things to recover my strength. Onward and upward with the arts!


Operation Monarch Show: Columbus Cultural Arts Center

The flurry of openings and shows continues. I have two openings this weekend. The first, “Operation Monarch,” opens tonight at the Cultural Arts Center. The exhibit centers around the issues of substance abuse, recovery and the role of art. The state of Ohio is in the middle of an opioid epidemic, so the show has generated a lot of interest.

“River of Forgetfulness” by Lynda McClanahan

The curators invited several artists to be “ringers” and issued an open call to the rest of us. I submitted two small things, “River of Forgetfulness” and “Joanna and the Whale.” I usually stick to small things when entering special interest shows. If the works aren’t accepted or turn out to be hard to move, I don’t have too much time and money invested in them. Luckily for me, both of my submissions got in.

“Joanna and the Whale” by Lynda McClanahan

I did a nice, long walk-through of the show earlier in the week. Experience has taught that it’s next to impossible to really see art at an opening. Receptions are for schmoozing, not tarrying! Due to the subject matter there won’t be any booze at this one. Oh well.

The show is emotionally rich, with lots of personal stories and text. It’s also exceedingly well-hung. It’s not easy to organize a large, wide-ranging show in salon style. I’m always appreciative when an exhibit includes attention to sight-lines and displays a good visual rhythm. You never know how your work will be positioned in a group show so it’s always dicey. I once had a painting literally hung in the dark and out of sight from the rest of the show but this time I got lucky.

“River of Forgetfulness” and “Joanna and the Whale” by Lynda McClanahan With Assorted Robots

I think this grouping is very fortunate, indeed. The blue of the lady’s legs matches the far right almost exactly, and the orange accents act as a color bridge between my work and the other artist’s. Red and blue always play well off one another and the blocking of the pieces is elegantly balanced and quilt-like. At least one of the people who hung the show is a fabric artist so perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. It is so nice to show work. I’m supremely satisfied at present, a condition which might take some getting used to!


First Commonwealth Bank Show and Adventures With Pinups

The shows are coming so fast and thick, I hardly know if I’m coming or going. The latest opening was on Saturday, March 2nd at the First Commonwealth Bank in the Short North.

Conference Room: First Commonweath Bank

This is the first solo show I’ve had in some time. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing my work hanging and playing together nicely since 2014.

Teller Stephanie, Manager Dee Kates & Lynda McClanahan

Bank staff was extremely friendly and helpful at the opening, offering up punch, cucumber water, ginger cookies and homemade popcorn. Many businesses open their doors to artists in our area, but First Commonwealth Bank is perhaps one of the best locations. The large, street-facing windows let in loads of light, giving any show hung there great visibility and a visual crispness not easily found elsewhere. I feel lucky to have landed such a nice venue.

I played a memorial service for a departed friend on the same day as the opening so the nervous system was chugging toward exhaustion by the end of the night. Musical and show-prep duties have precluded the restorative balm which art always provides, so it’s a relief to get back to the drafting table.

“Farrah” by Jenny DeBier: Inspiration for “Lucky Cat With Pinups” by Lynda McClanahan

I have now turned my complete attention to “Lucky Cat With Pinups.” There is nothing I like better than focusing on one project at a time, so I am temporarily in heaven.

“Lucky Cat” is part of an upcoming show at the Open Door Studio entitled “This Inspired That.” Artists were invited to choose a work by a resident artist and then respond with a work of their own. Once I chose Jenny DeBrier’s “Farrah,” it was off to the races.

Sketch for “Lucky Cat With Pinups”by Lynda McClanahan

Ms. DeBier’s “Farrah” is an interpretation of the famous Farrah Fawcett pinup poster of the 1970’s, which led to a contemplation of exactly what a pinup is and who gets to be depicted in one.

I settled on the multipaneled lay out I’ve been using of late and got to work arranging as many images in as great a variety as I could manage.

Reclining Lady Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I looked at literally hundreds of pinups and found some interesting recurring themes. Many of them look directly at the viewer with a “come-hither” expression.

Girl at her Toilet Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

Others exhibit a voyeuristic look into what the viewer imagines as the secret life of young girls.

Reclining Lady Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I referenced the Indian blanket background of the original poster in this image.

Mexican Beauty Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

Per usual, I’m drawn to humor. Sombrero-wearing Mexican lass with an erupting volcano? What’s not to like?

Vintage Burlesque Queen With Fan Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I’ve used the source photo for this image at least twice. There’s a sweet and sexy good clean fun aura to the figure which I like.

Dark skinned Bathing Beauty Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

Some panels came easy, others came hard. This image is in the latter category. In general, the paint I use doesn’t lend itself easily to modeling. If I had it to do over again, I would make the background contrast more with the model’s skin tone, but too late now.

Cow Girl With Pistols Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

Some of the pinups are fetchingly strange yet sweet. Who would have thought a pistol-waving cow girl says “sex?”

Aphrodite With Cupid Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I’m always aware that people don’t give art much viewing time. If you get four seconds, you’re doing better than most. I always try to subvert this tendency by including visual rewards for those who do look carefully. This panel of the Greek goddess Aphrodite with Cupid shakes the piece away from I-know-where-this-is-going-without-actually-looking into what-the-heck-is-this territory. It calls out for an interpretation, building a bridge between the artist, the work and the person doing the looking.

Smart Phone Asian Girl Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I took care to include a broad spectrum of pinup genres. This one is inspired by the wonderful girlie photo calendars given out by Chinese restaurants when I lived in Chicago. The images were almost always sweet school-girl types with beautifully innocent smiles.

Sad Asian Girl Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I tried to do something similar with this panel but didn’t succeed. No matter how hard I tried, this model looks more like a victim of sex trafficing than a wholesome tease. I finally gave up and let her be what she wanted to be. I did manage to hide a cheeky “finger” in the middle of the panel. Sometimes when a figure goes its own way, all you can do is wave as it goes by.

Redhead With Boa Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I rounded out the assembly with a luscious redhead. If people can’t find a pretty girl they like in this painting, they’re just not looking.

Lucky Cat from “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

The last image is perhaps the most confounding, but I wanted to throw in a bit more visual disonance. In Japanese restaurants, there is often a Lucky Cat sitting on the counter right next to plates of plastic food which are visually identical to what’s on the menu. Maybe pinups are the plastic food of the sex world: they are what is on offer, or should be on offer if only the world bent to our desires. They are a promise and a menu from which we can order absolutely anything we want.


Vanderelli Room “Let There Be Light” Show

The shows are coming so fast, I hardly know whether I’m coming or going. The idea of struggling with well-deserved obscurity may have to be released

The latest show, “Let There Be Light” is curated by A.J. Vanderelli of the Vanderelli Room.

Catherine Bell-Smith’s Leaf Mandala

It’s nice to show with other former members of the now defunct Creative Arts of Women (CAW) again. Catherine Bell-Smith contributed this huge mandala made from magnolia leaves with holes cut out of them. Sweetly, the holes were available for viewing in an offering-like pot on a pillar.

Ceramics by Kate Morgan

There is much variety in the exhibit, including some really nice ceramic pieces by Kate Morgan tucked into a chapel-like alcove close to the door. This position had the added benefit of being directly across from the bar.

Jay Mueller, Artist Wrestling League Maven and Yoeman Bartender

I brought some homemade wine to the reception and Jay Mueller efficiently put together a mysterious punch with vodka and various juices. Jay is the manager of the local Blick Art shop which is being forced to move due to a 40 percent increase in rent. This is the way things have been going in the neighborhood for some time, but it’s still dispiriting. I used to walk to the grocer, the dry cleaners and the art supply shop, but now I must drive to get to all three.

Piano Rolls with Dictators

The show has some performative elements which spice things up.

There was literally jazz at the opening. This trio may have had a solid plan or maybe not. To an unschooled ear, it sounded like they were bringing up stuff straight from the subconscious. Joel said he thought the drummer looked like he was in a trance, but then, I think most drummers look that way.

Altar Piece by April Sunami

April Sunami’s altar assemblage shares the same alcove my piece occupies. Her work is consistent, always effective and lends just the right amount of mystery and longing to the show.

“Waikiki” With Sculpture by Sandra Aska

My painting seems especially well placed next to Sandra Aska’s sculpture and the exploding golden apple in the upper right. A.J. has a talent for creating visual rhythm and spends time making sure the sight lines work. The harmony of rhythm, form and color in this show is really remarkable.

I am working on a new work and preparing for another opening on the weekend. There are more shows lined up later this month and on into March. I hardly know what to think.


Theme & Variations

The longer I paint, the more I become interested in how a work changes over time throughout the process. Sometimes things get better as one goes along, sometimes they tank and sometimes each stage is just a different choice, whole and complete in its own way. An example is the latest piece, “The River of Forgetfulness.”

The work is in response to a call for entries by the Cultural Arts Center for a show centered on the opioid epidemic in Ohio. I was fairly certain there would be lots of butterflies and other transformational imagery submitted, but not so much on the subject of attraction. What is it about opioids which initially draws and captures so many people?

Source Material: Ancient Greek Goddess Coloring Page

Per usual, I began by poking around the internet looking for inspiration. As I often do, I found a suitable illustration in a printable coloring page designed for children. These usually are composed of simple lines and are a great starting point. The above page depicts the goddess Lethe, the presiding deity over one of the rivers of Ancient Greek Hell. One drink from her bowl and the soul forgot all about its former life, presumably sinking into oblivion thereafter. I retained the idea of a figure holding up a bowl, but the rest is my own invention.

In Process: “River of Forgetfulness” by Lynda McClanahan

You can see other echos of the initial graphic in the folds of the blouse and the substitution of hair for a veil.

The above photo was taken at a point in the process in which I could have stopped and still had a perfectly good painting. It’s a simpler version and graphically stronger. It even veers into magazine cover territory with plenty of room left on the bottom for text. I continued adding details only because I’m competing for entrance into a specific show.

“River of Forgetfulness” by Lynda McClanahan

To this end, many details were added. A poppy flower crown tops the figure’s head and poppy seeds sprout from her pocket. Buckeye earrings refer to Ohio and the various tattoos suggest power, danger and some of the reported slang for heroin (Auntie). A pocket watch set to midnight communicates that “time is running out.” I’ve ended up with a nice painting and a decent entry for the show, but I wonder if I’ve veered uncomfortably close to a polemic. Too late now.

Each version of a work has something to recommend it. Only the artist remembers and cherishes each one.