the thought-stream of an artist and writer

Tracey Physioc Brockett

the thought-stream of an artist and writer

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sorting things out.

"Scheduling Conflict", oil, acrylic and aluminum leaf on MDF, 8x8
It has been a time of tremendous upheaval in my life, this spring, and I have been working sporadically on several projects without the feeling I am doing much of anything. There have been other places in my life where it has felt as if I am crossing a great divide, and there is before and then after, with much altered between them. My work has always gone through chaos to get to form, and it wasn't until I understood and embraced the correlation between my emotional/physical state and the state of my abstract work that I really felt  comfortable, even happy with a canvas. It gave me a clearer way of knowing when to stop work on a particular piece... to accept a state as an intermediate place but legitimate in it's own right. It may not sound like much but it was huge.

"Night Noises", oil and aluminum leaf on canvas, 8x8
When I started painting I had no idea what I was about, and painting classes didn't help much. Nothing I did looked the way I wanted, or even in any way I could make sense of. But it took years to figure out I was painting about how things felt. How they seemed to all the senses. I was painting about things that had no words or pictures. They leave me feeling raw and vulnerable, even at the best of times. I am learning to let go of that as unimportant. My messy life is just fodder for them.

"On The Slow Boat", oil and gold leaf on MDF, 8x8
Bit by bit, I feel as if I am getting closer to the work's own intentions. That sounds bizarre, even to me. So much of my life I have felt as if I am on a huge wave, a tsunami that has taken me where it wills, and it has been my job to hold on, to be brave and tenacious. And also to be quiet and pay attention.

previous posts about this body of work;

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time there was a little girl. That much I know as true. I hesitate on the rest because I am searching for the truth now. What really happened is what really matters now. And what happens next.

Once there was a little half-breed Cherokee girl named Hepizbah. Her mother was a full-blood. Her father was a white, Scottish school-master. She grows up and marries white. Her children are white, and she lets the secret of her birth be buried by time. Is silent when she sees her Mother's people rounded up, and white families settle newly in the houses and farms. It is 1835. She has stopped speaking and reading the old way, does not hear the land being emptied out of it's spirits, and she blinds herself to the bloody footprints in the snow, heading west, while she stays on, and she buries it all so deep it can never be found again.
Three generations later they will joke about the children being as wild as Indians without a trace of irony. The Patriarch will lean over at the dinner table but get interrupted and his confidence dies in his mouth.Someone will remember him about to speak. 
Four generations later, at a family reunion in old Beaufort South Carolina, much will be made of the tendency to long, straight-as-a-blade noses, the "Indian " nose, and a photograph will be taken all in profile, for a joke.
Five generations later a casual comment from one cousin to another about the family tree, and someone will scan the birth records in Columbia, glean what she can from the dry fact of names and dates. The story she can piece together will not have flesh and bone. It will not breath. But it will fester like an unhealed wound until she sees a TV documentary about the Cherokee Nation that shocks, and she knows in her heart the words and gestures, feels how extraordinary her mother's talents for sensing things. Will know the DNA is there. That her mother, taught confession and contrition for her sins by the nuns at the age of six is still, and always a wild and pagan thing. The Trickster Rabbit and The Rattlesnake Woman still live and the story is not done.

I have left another child standing at a door with the key in the lock while I catch up to her story. It is about 1970 and she turns the key and pushes. It is a smallish room, and quite dark, and it smells of the spicy scent peculiar to the plants that grow between the stones on the sunny terrace, a scent she will never forget. And of mildew. There is an old leather sofa like a lumbering shaggy animal, and books. Shelves and cases of books. It is a treasure trove and she wants it all. She wants to claim the room for herself, to spend the rest of her life in that room, reading those books, in a  life where no-one tells her to stop reading and go out and play.

But she is not greedy, or rather, she knows better than to indulge in greedy behaviour, so she choses one book, a book with a green binding and a title that seems familiar. It is a fable about a King and his knights, or rather, about one particular knight, an old story and one that stirs her blood even though she is only a girl and they have never expected deeds of daring-do of her. She does not know that the sofa and the other books will be discarded because of mold. Already she knows that this is a symbolic gift, like the microscope, and the real surgeon's scalpels the Doctor across the street gave her when they dissected the frog together. A test. A promise. And because she is sure that the adults know everything, she ponders it all and waits for more signs, because she knows the test is still on.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

1.Where the Story Starts

While I was very ill the last three days the daffodils have flowered and the lilacs have leafed, delicately, tentatively. Now the wind is blustering in that cold April way. In my feverish sleep of the dead I wandered through the basement of my childhood home and found the closets and drawers empty and turned to dust, and the playroom of so many hours as if abandoned for the 35 years I have been gone from it.

Also, I managed to find myself at my dentist of many years, to have a broken front tooth repaired, and though we were in a garden, he pulled the tooth and then left. He had seemed so nervous about something that was happening behind the scenes, and eventually I gave up hope and knew he had run away. He had talked while working on me about presenting my portfolio to someone he knew, but I couldn't do it now that I was toothless.

In the twilight sleep of the recovering I remembered M.'s friend and bluegrass duo partner Rick Fisk. He had a high sweet tenor voice and a quick and wild wit. In the days when they found themselves playing to inattentive crowds he would sing nonsense that would have the dead on the floor convulsed with laughter. When they played old timey ballads or gospel you could see all the pain and beauty in the world and want to weep with it. They were that good. After Rick had finished grad school and come back from Virginia they were going national. One night on a treacherous back road a young woman with a crying baby reached back for the baby bottle and then she and the baby were stunned, changed and Rick was gone. We always thought he'd be the one to cause an accident.

Early English had a word, "wyrd", pronounced roughly like our "weird", that meant fate. My etymological dictionary has our modern weird as a noun "fate: that which comes to pass" first, and then the adjective as we know it. In the fairy tales of my youth it was the destiny required of you. The Greeks wrote of the parts of the story the protagonist did not know but that which drove him inexorably to his end. Like our weird, it is dark, odd and unsettling, not to know what is ahead.

Three days for my mind to wander where it will and this is where it ended up. Because I have things I have wanted to say, since I studied history in college and saw how the world could turn on a simple thing done or not done." For want of a nail the horse was lost. For want of a horse the battle was lost."

Ultimately, I think this will be a happy story, or at least an uplifting one, though it will be long and I do not know the ending. I am Scheherazade spinning out the long nights and these are the stories I tell myself when there is a time to bear, to endure. It is like painting abstractly; follow what is already laid down and it will take you to the next place. It will take a while to recognize the important things among all the details that my senses remember. It is a journey, and I will try to enthrall you along the way.

I had grandparents who lived on the edge of a very large lake; a lake so large it was like an ocean. There was an immense Willow on the edge of the sea wall and the garden ran up a hill to a terrace that the house snugged around. When I was very small my grandfather owed much of the land on that point and it was eventually sold off and houses built on but their house always seemed like an island. It had been a polo ground, once… the stable paneling was now in my grandparent’s study, and there was a funny mound in the middle of the street where a famous polo pony had been buried standing up, with his tack on. This is a true story.

Oh, but I must begin again, for I have gotten it wrong.

Once there lived 2 elderly people in a white house by the edge of the sea. They had a very old weeping willow, and a little blue budgerigar named Peter who talked very quietly all day into the old man’s left ear. They had a big stain on their ceiling in the shape of a map of the world that they never would paint over because it was a map after all, and so very useful. The old man was tall and kindly and he liked to look out the window through his telescope at the boats that steamed by on their way to port. His little round wife had a gentle round face and she grew a little orange tree with tiny fragrant oranges on it, and she was always crocheting and used thread so fine it looked as if it had been spun by the fairies.

One day when she was visiting, the kindly old man gave his dark-haired little granddaughter a golden key and told her if she could find the door with the lock that fit it she could have what she liked behind the door. So she looked and looked, and although she had spent every Sunday playing in all the rooms and she thought she knew the house she could not find it. So she went outside to walk around the oak trees in the park for it was a nice sunny day and her mother told her not to stay indoors in the good weather, and she was a good girl and tried to listen well to her mother. And there, on the side of the house was a door she had never seen before, and the key fit right into the lock and turned.

to be continued....

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Small Hours

Small Vision, acrylic, oil, thread and gold leaf on panel, 8x8

Every winter I do a kind of walkabout in my studio. Because it is cold and I have little light and I am usually working many hours at a job I try not to frustrate myself with producing anything important. Instead, I change everything about my working process. I "go see". Last summer and fall I was working on large sheets of paper with acrylic and oil pastel. In January I switched to little 8x8 panels and canvases and went back to using oils. But I added things... gold and silver leaf, thread and cloth and fur, beads and buttons, glitter. I had been thinking about this for a long time and now was the time to play with it. Usually, for most of January I make terrible art. I don't know what I am doing in a more fundamental way than usual, so I don't know when to shape when something good appears. Eventually themes appear and I settle in to expand upon them. I love to experiment. Essentially all my work is about that. I paint to discover.

Record, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 8x8

When I start to get a glimmer of what this work is about, then I can start to figure out how to say what I think it is saying. I never really know about my work. There are layers I understand, and deeper ones I do not touch. After all these years I have come to realize that there is a dangerous place in one's work  where it does not pay to meddle. There is a dark magic there that cannot be revealed through words, through analysis, only honoured. Respected. I know when it is there. Sometimes a painting has it right from the start, and it is my job to enrich it. Sometimes it is very hard won indeed. The fact that my work, for all it's abstraction, is intimately tied to my moods and experiences is a conundrum deeply confounding and confusing to me. I'd like to know myself but this is a river I cannot swim. I paint to figure it out as far as that is possible, but it is Pandora's box. I hang on to the threads that make sense and let go of the ones that will pull me into somewhere I don't need to find myself. The whole process is a kind of faith thing. A trust that it will all,  if not make sense exactly, at least hang together in a functional way. It is a provisional life.

Small Snag, oil, silver leaf and thread on panel, 8x8

Waitling, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 8x8
For more blogs on this subject; Where to Put Your Feet When Your Head is Occupied Elsewhere