Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Different times, different media

Years ago Marshall Mc Luhan said: ‘The Medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium - that is, of any extension of ourselves - result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.
The different periods of my life have influenced the choice of medium in my painting.
At Epworth School– it was watercolour. “Mizz” Owen taught us well. In addtion to the fundamentals of drawing and painting, she made us pay particular attention to the care of our precious brushes. During my recent de-cluttering I found my old metal paint box and some of the brushes as well.
My old Winsor & Newton watercolour box

At Art School it was oil paint of course, with here and there a splash of acrylics. Unconventional surfaces were a favourite, I recall incorporating a wooden window frame – sans glass - to accompany an abstract painting. I don’t have any photos, because we didn’t take ourselves seriously enough to warrant documenting any of the works - pity.
There was a hiatus of some years while my children were growing up, but I then went back to watercolour. I was very involved with the Watercolour Society of South Africa  and was able to combine painting with raising a family. The introduction of collage gave the paintings an added dimension.
It was also during this time that I became fascinated by miniature art and after a talk by the founder Charmian Keneally I joined the Miniature Art Society of South Africa.

Blue porcelain & Tomatoes Watercolour on paper 57mm x 70mm
©2000 Carol Lee Beckx
Arch series – Abdaye Brialmont Watercolour on paper 90mm x 60mm
©1998 Carol Lee Beckx

Arch series – Limbourgh Watercolour on paper 90mm x 60mm
©1998 Carol Lee Beckx
 The attention to detail and importance of every part of the composition can become addictive. It also calls for a very steady hand – no sneezing, please!

Arch series – Maastricht Watercolour on paper 90mm x 60mm

©1998 Carol Lee Beckx

Eventually the detail of miniatures became too confining. I began to struggle both with the watercolour medium as well as my subject matter. I just wasn’t able to express myself fully. Many paintings were abandoned, to later be recycled as collage elements or greeting cards.
A few years ago, with more life changes, I became restless and needed something different.

So, after a break of many years, I resumed painting in oils. At first it was really hard – it was as though I had never used a brush. Gradually the medium stopped fighting me and it grew a little easier.
I began to enjoy the freedom of exploring the paint as though it were completely new to me. I felt as though I had come home.

Blue bowl with Apples Oil on canvas 500mm x 500mm
©2004 Carol Lee Beckx

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Philanjalo - live longer

The countryside is dry, dry, dry. There are rocks, dried aloes, and dry earth. There is no grass to speak of – what there is has been turned to stubble by the goats. No rain has fallen since April this year. The streams and rivers are collections of boulders – there is no sign of water. All my photographs have a haze –a dust haze that coats the landscape. The sky will only clear when rain has washed the sky.

Tugela Ferry mountains
I spent last weekend in Tugela Ferry in rural Kwa Zulu Natal, one of the poorest regions in the whole of South Africa.
Along the road we pass children with 20 litre containers of water on their heads or in wheelbarrows - if they’re lucky.  They get water from pumps at the roadside and then have to transport it back to their homes often kilometers away. We are greeted with smiles and friendly waves – so cheerful in spite of extreme poverty.
Carrying water home
My contact there, a doctor working at Philanjalo, showed us around. Philanjalo – meaning live longer - was started as a hospice for aids patients.The local people have a very high incidence of MDR TB – multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis and XDR TB, coupled with an HIV AIDs infection rate of about 50%, making it exceptionally difficult to treat the disease.
With the outbreak of the TB epidemic TFCARES set up the clinic as a research station.Doctors from all over the world come to Tugela Ferry to do research into MDR TB and XDR TB.
Now the emphasis at the clinic is on ARV treatment - treating the side effects of HIV Aids. I was struck by how clean and efficient everything was – and the cheerfulness of both patients and staff in spite of the enormity of the problems faced. Philanjalo works in conjunction with the Church of Scotland Hospital and provides both clinic and home based care as well as care for children left orphaned by the HIV aids epidemic.

On Saturday a trip to Msinga Hill was proposed. Oh dear, I thought, not mountain climbing!
Not at all - there is a road to the very top. The purpose of the road  became all too clear with the incongruous presence of a cell phone mast. 
Msinga Hill Rocks
From the top of Msinga Hill we could see patches of green along the Tugela River – the lifeblood of the area. Here plots of land are allocated by the Chief of the Msinga area to the local inhabitants. They have created community gardens planted with mealies, spinach, potatoes and tomatoes that flourish on water pumped from the river. The produce is sold at the market in town.
Community Gardens along the Tugela River
Violent inter- faction fighting previously wracked Tugela Ferry.  However, life now seems more peaceful – perhaps fighting poverty, MDR TB and HIV Aids is enough of a challenge for the people of this village.
To give you an idea of the value of the work done by these marvellous doctors and nurses, I quote from an email I received from the doctor we visited:
“The patient that I had to treat yesterday and who I thought would die, when I saw him today, is sitting up in bed, eating and chatting to his relatives.   Miracle”

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Tracing the thread - blog to blog

Sometime last year I started reading various artists’ blogs. I had been sent a post from Nicole Pletts, an artist friend. In this particular post, Clint Watson - Fine Art Studio Online, mentioned a number of artists who use the Internet to market themselves and their work.The FASO newsletter, sent out daily, is an excellent resource for artists to share knowledge and to debate pertinent issues.

One of the first blogs I read in my search for a plan to become a full time artist, was Self vs Self by Hazel Dooney. She is a fierce proponent of the artist being in charge. Her writing reveals her approach to art and life in an uncompromising way.
 In a recent interview on The Zone, Michael Short talks to Hazel about her move away from the gallery system and her use of social networks to promote her art 

I have discovered many interesting blogs  - there are millions - and am constantly overwhelmed by the number of artists who share their knowledge so generously.
Obviously, most would like the blog to make some cash along the way, but there is so much information available that is free of charge.
 Although you don’t meet face to face, you get to know the artists and their work. It then becomes a true social network and one can make many new friends.

Now, as I look back on the thread of blogs I have read, I can’t always remember how I landed up on a particular site. Somehow, those that are now most relevant have been directed to me in an almost serendipitous way – I needed to read that blog and meet that artist. I'll share more of these with you in later posts.

Now in case you think I do nothing but read blogs – I am going to do some painting…

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Artist's Plan

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans – John Lennon

When one is planning a move that involves not only relocating to a different continent, but also changing career focus at the same time, there needs to be a plan.

After having received a regular salary for many years it’s a big step to make the decision to earn one’s living entirely from art. Moreover, when you are going to be living in a place far from anyone who even knows who you are or that, in fact, you are a painter, you need to find a way to introduce yourself.

So, there has to be a plan. At the outset, I realized that a website showcasing my work would be valuable if not imperative. Then too, a blog would give me an opportunity to communicate with collectors of my work. Also, as my friends know, I love to talk, so this gives me another platform.

Years ago, artists had to rely entirely on print medium to publicise their art. Alternatively, you waited for a Gallery to show your work.Or you had to wait for someone to write an article for a magazine, give you a favourable review of an exhibition in a newspaper, or include you in a list of many artists in a Who’s Who of Artists. To merit a whole book – a book featuring your work, or a biography, generally you had to be very famous already. Most likely, the best that would happen would be that if you played your cards right with a friendly Art Page journo you would get a pic and a favourable mention in the local newspaper.

Now it’s a different world. The ease of online communication has allowed artists can be in charge of their own PR. The artist can create a website; write a blog, set up a Flickr page to display their art. They can direct the communication about their art.

The artist can talk directly to their collectors and to anyone else who cares to visit their website or read their blog. (Of course, sometimes the artist might just be talking with no one listening – is there anyone out there?)

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Spring cleaning - clearing the clutter.

When I moved from a large home to a smaller one 8 years ago, I didn’t really tackle the hard task of de-cluttering. Rather, I took the easy route and brought most of it with me. Now it is payback time and I have to face all the things I didn’t throw away then.

There is limited space in a 20 foot container and I have to make final decisions about what is important – there’s just no room for “I might need it.”
I need to simplify my life and keep fewer things. Excellent advice on this topic came also from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits – it’s a great site for becoming more minimalist and living a simpler, more effective life.

I have based the purge on the following:
  1. Have I used the item in the last year?
  2. Do I need the item?
  3. Do I like the item?
  4. And more practically, is there space in the container for it?

If the answer is no to any of the above it goes in the discard box.

There’s an exception to Rule1: if I haven’t used it, perhaps it’s because I am currently not teaching art? Once I have moved, I hope to teach, so these items will be essential and I can be forgiven for holding on to them.

Books are a major weakness and I am loath to toss them out. It’s comforting to have bookcases full of books. I have decided that I will only keep a reference book that I’ll use or a book I KNOW that I will read again.

About a year ago, I started taking books to a book exchange and swapped two or three in place of many. It is not ideal but it was a start to having fewer books.
Now I have to be ruthless and the local SPCA has also benefited from the clear out– they have inherited my magazines as well as many books and general bric-a-brac. The satisfying part of sending unwanted items to a charity shop is that someone else will love what you throw away and animals or people will benefit.