The Past Points to the Future

by Laureen on February 13, 2013


Saskatchewan wind

Here in the winter wilderness the wind is howling outside my windows. Though the sky is bright and sunny and the temperature is above freezing, it’s one of those days you stick close to buildings if you have to go out. I expect to see small deer flying by at any minute.

This seems to be a time of year for wind. Maybe that’s how spring gets here – the wind blows it in. Or maybe it’s the future that comes on the wind. Spring – future – same thing, right? A couple of days ago the wind and I blew along the Trans-Canada highway from Regina, my car heavily weighted with freight from the past. I’d been in the Queen City to visit friends, and to collect artwork. The gallery which had carried my paintings for over 20 years closed its doors at the end of 2012. I was delivering my own artistic history from where it had been stored, back to my current self.

Twenty-five paintings crammed into the Nissan Sentra. The back seat looked like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. And at that, there were pieces staying in storage until the next trip, because they were just too big to be crammed. So many artworks. So many I didn’t remember some of them existed. I had forgotten parts of entire exhibitions. So much production my memory couldn’t retain it all. Who did all that?

It’s a bit daunting to have your old creations return home. Some of them you still love, some you’ve outgrown, some you wonder why you ever thought that was a good idea in the first place.  How will you make sense of all these images? How will you come to terms with these pictures nobody wanted?

What I really need to understand is this: They are the tip of the iceberg. During the time I was with that gallery, I painted enough work for nine solo or two-person exhibitions. Plus group shows, and public gallery exhibitions in other locations, and special events. That’s probably hundreds of paintings. And most of what I made sold.  It isn’t that nobody wanted these pictures. It’s that somebody wanted all the others more.

I threw so much life at those canvases. Inspiration, concept, story, change, love. Now some of that life has come back to me. I have the chance to discover what the past left behind and which future is blowing in next.

It’s a gift, what the wind blows in.

What did you make in your past that can point you to the future?

The blog is a series of posts from one artist/art gallery owner’s life in her community in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. I hope you will find yourself and your spirit reflected in it.

Photo: Kevin Martel


Jeanne Apelseth February 14, 2013 at 11:10 am

Laureen, I had a similar experience this autumn when several of my collections returned home from various exhibitions at the same time. I was suddenly faced with the perplexing problem of where to store them all. I experienced this feeling of love/hate looking at them. Why didn’t they sell? Did the viewers not see what I had seen when I produced them? Was the price too high? Were they not good enough? The self doubt and insecurity that plagues many creative people is a curse, yet it is part of what makes us see things in a different way and allows us to create art that is fresh and intriguing. I guess that it is not selling that is the goal, but creating enjoyment and drawing the viewer in on some level. That being said, I have a whole room full of art if anyone is interested! 🙂 Keep Warm. Oh, and if you need something to stoke your fire, I heard of a local group of artists here that recently had an art-burning party to get rid of their old pieces. I must say, they are braver than me. Jeanne

Antoinette Hérivel February 14, 2013 at 11:51 am

Hi Laureen
I was surprised to hear that gallery in my past also, closed! But I can relate! I have more time to create now but produce less- and can’t believe how many paintings I turned out. – and like you sold nearly all.
When I moved and packed up in 2011 I had a huge clear out- kept only a few of the old work and had studio sales – ending up by selling way cheaper and also giving to friends and donating large pieces.
In a way it was very freeing- I was turning a corner and starting over. I think now that I am more choosy about what I am making- putting more time into it- trying not to fall into making “products” – but that is something I angst over- because have to make a living. Perhaps you would address that aspect in one of your posts

Laureen February 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Jeanne, thank you for your thoughtful comments. “Drawing the viewer in on some level” – that’s it, isn’t it? Not surprisingly, we want to know the response is there, and one of the ways we find out is if the work sells. There must be so many responses we never know about. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could know how profoundly we had drawn in every viewer?
The last time I had to deal with this was when I moved to Val Marie. I decided to hold a potlatch from my old studio. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term, it’s a ceremonial giving of gifts practised by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The host does the giving. In my version, I had an exhibition reception in my back yard and invited visitors to go home with the painting of their choice. I focused on colleagues and acquaintances instead of friends, because I didn’t want people to feel required to accept an artwork they didn’t want. And anything I wasn’t ready to part with, I put away. It was a lovely afternoon. So many people who would have never bought were made happy. And I got that warm response we always wish for.

Laureen February 14, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Antoinette, you’re right, it is freeing to turn corners. Moving here was a big one for me. I too feel I’ve slowed down. I look at the scale of some of those earlier works and can’t imagine it now. There’s a line in Margaret Atwood’s book Cat’s Eye, about a painter. The artist is looking back at her life in art and says something like, “I can’t make as many of them [paintings] as I used to.” Maybe it’s universal, becoming more thoughtful and less quick. Maybe I have to go back and re-read that book.

Mark Lampert March 22, 2013 at 7:17 am

I haven’t read any of your post for a while. this was a good read. thanks.
Aren’t all those painting “that couldn’t be crammed in the back seat” or in your memory, extensions of your painters palate? Natalile Goldberg said “it takes a lot of manure to make a rose” BTW, I’m not comparing any of your work to manure. but there are sacrificial lambs for writers, developers, painters and so on. Are these paintings those lambs?
If so, what do you do with the carcass (the actual painting) – store it in the basement or attic? build something from it? give it away?
I’m excited to hear about the future of your past.

Laureen March 22, 2013 at 10:54 am

Hey Mark, good to have you reading! And I like your take on the future and the past.

It seems impossible for me to tell if these pieces are sacrificial lambs or under-appreciated works of genius. They’re such a strange and wonderful mix – the pieces that didn’t sell. Often that’s one painting from an entire exhibition, or from an entire body of work spanning several exhibitions. I’ve never been able to tell which works would work for other people and which wouldn’t – I can only think ’em up and make ’em and hope I got ’em right.

As for their future, it’s still unclear. I know they don’t get turned into something else. They’re as good as I could get them, and then they’re themselves. And heaven knows, I don’t need them in the basement. So then what?

There are a few – from as long as five years ago – that fit into an exhibition I’m working on now. They actually look better in this context than they did in their original. Who knew? One piece illuminates a part of my own life. I didn’t know that when I painted it. (Part of being unable to tell who will love them, maybe.) Its permanent home is now my home. One or two might be good candidates for fundraising efforts by organizations I care about. I’m pretty careful about donations like that, because it does nobody no good to think art hasn’t got more value than as a free lunch. But these pictures and agencies seem to be good for each other. Some of the paintings are in an informal exhibition in my porch, from where they’ve been encouraged to find new owners. It’s been a really interesting study of humans’ interests in images – just to see who responds to what. The previously un-crammable ones have been rescued by kind friends with a van. Said kind friends have offered to host a small home show and sale. Maybe that will lead to new lives for some of those pictures.

And the paintings whose next stage isn’t immediately evident? With all my heart, I just don’t know.

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