This week I have the privilege of speaking at Dominican Collage
in a class taught by Leslie Ross entitled The Art of Mt. Tamalpais.
Leslie found me a few years ago through my website and ordered my book 36 views of Mt. Tamalpais. She asked if I would speak to her class and I gladly accepted. Not knowing if I could speak for an hour on my Mt. Tam paintings alone, Leslie said it would be great if I talked about my life as an artist. This will be the third time she has invited me to speak. That first time, many years ago, I had to go back to the beginning and piece together how I ended up as an artist.
It began with my early years at a "free school" in the 60s where we had the choice of attending any class we desired…I went to all the art classes and none of the academic classes, which left me woefully unprepared for the world after elementary school.
An Early Painting by Kalen Meyer
Note the mountain shape and bold color, since abandoned by the artist in favor of a
more subtle palette seen in her more recent work.
After reveling in art as a child I abandoned the idea of being an artist, until my interest was revived in my 20s by a rock climbing partner who was involved in the artist book and calligraphy communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Stepping back into art through books and calligraphy felt safe, and I spent a few years taking classes in calligraphy from various masters and book making classes at Mills College. I went back to S.F. State to strengthen my design skills to be a professional calligrapher and designer, but while there I discovered painting and printmaking and reignited my love of creating art.
Huerfano Mountain, Monoprint from S.F. State years
After leaving S.F. State with a degree in painting and printmaking, I started out on my circuitous journey of becoming a full time artist. Going back to school late, I married and had two children right after getting my B.A. and learned to paint quickly, having only the length of
a child's nap to work on art.
The idea for the series of Mt. Tam painting paintings came early in life from viewing a book of my mother's on Hokusai's 36 views of Mt. Fuji. I remember the day I realized that Mt. Fuji was in every print (not having read the title or any of the text), viewed from different angles, with people from daily life in the foreground, usually oblivious the mountain in the background.
Hokusai Print, from the series of 36 Views of Mt. Fuji
Having grown up on Tamalpais Road, I was always aware of the mountain and one day was struck by how similar Mt. Tam was to Mt. Fuji—surrounded by pockets of urban communities. I started photographing the mountain any time I saw it from an unusual angle. A familiar refrain in the car from the children was "Why are we stopping? Oh. It's Mt. Tam. Again!" After photographing and talking about the project for years, one day I figured I'd better just do it and so set myself the task of painting an image a day for 36 days. Having honed my painting skills during those earlier nap times, I very nearly pulled it off, finishing in around 42 days, not quite meeting my goal of 36.
View of Mt. Tamalpais from the Buchanan Street overpass, Albany
However, I found I enjoyed the challenge and learned so much about myself and painting during that time, that I have continued to set myself similar goals. One year it was 36 birds in 36 days (http://kalenmeyer.tumblr.com) and then One Portrait, One Landscape and One Object a week
(see earlier in this very blog).
Lately I have been painting a set of 12 birds and 12 dogs for calendars for a Pop-up I am doing with friends in early December. My now high-school aged son asked me, "Are you doing a bird a day?" and I assured him no, no, I'm not that crazy this time…. and then the next day found myself remarking, "I have to paint two birds today!" He just looked at me sideways and didn't say a thing.
Some of you may have noticed I've been offline for a while.
I've been intensely taking care of my mother for a few weeks (after years of taking care of her not as intensely) and it has become clear that it is time for her to go into assisted living.
She is scheduled to move in next week.
I realize somewhat in retrospect that this is why I haven't been able to paint for a while.
My mother was an artist and it was when I discovered that she hadn't been painting in over a year that I first realized that she had the beginnings of Alzheimers. She had been collecting empty canvases for a while, way too many, and after trying and failing to get her to paint again, I moved all the canvases into my basement where they are today.
She had been working on a series of icebergs that were beautiful.
I saved all her preliminary sketches and have thought about continuing
to work on the series myself.
Iceberg, Bonney Meyer, Oil on Canvas, 24" x 36"
I aways thought that painting was a refuge for me—
a safe place to work when life was difficult, but I am realizing it takes a certain amount
of energy and freedom to be able to work.
I suddenly have a more visceral empathy for people caught in difficult life situations
that they are unable to get out of; poverty, hunger, war and so on,
that rob them of any creative refuge or space.
Not that my situation even comes close to the lives of many others.
A friend of mine whose mother was a successful artist said once that she was not able to fully grow as an artist until after her mother died. There are so many strings and complications between my mother and me that I have basically been ignoring,
trying to get through these years of looking after her.
Paintings are formulating in my head—a portrait of my mother as she is now and one as she was as a young girl and a second pair of paintings of my daughter
young and in the present.
Because of course, this is also the year my daughter left home for college, and I still haven't processed fully the grief of losing my girl to the greater world.
So all this is saying is I realize I have to take a brief break from my own art work.
Art with children continues as always and that has been a refuge—
they are so present it's impossible to stay in your head while working with them.
This week we made ceramic chickens that most definitely cheered me up.
In photography this week after talking about editing and how important it is to
pair photographs well—that a particular pairing can either elevate the photographs or degrade them, one of my girls handed me this:
After telling her why each of her pairing worked so well (not knowing if it had been
on purpose or by accident), she looked at me and said,
Is it really week four? I don't even know anymore.
For the past few weeks I have had to pull back and regroup. Painting has not been going very well, painful in fact, and repainting wasn't working either. Both of which put me in a funk.
This was a new painting.... after trying to figure out what I really would paint if I could paint anything, I thought BIG black and white paintings... went to the basement and pulled out a large gessoed piece of un-stretched canvas and painted a crow. It was terrible.
The next morning it was still terrible.
So I made into this bag.
It works as a bag!
I started to pull old work off stretcher bars and sew.
A couple I thought needed repainting to make a better bag,
but then after repainting, I think I now like them as paintings.
I'll have to live with them for a while before I decide what they'll end up as.
Can't let go of the process of painting, so I am limping along for now.
This is a transistor radio I bought at a flea market just to paint:
Transistor Radio, acrylic on board, 8" x 10"
I don't know why I am being drawn to objects with a lot of detail, but that's how it is right now.
I was talking about this project the other day with a parent
and we were both remarking on how these are often our favorite kid's art projects,
simple objects drawn with charcoal and white pastel, mounted together.
I have to confess, painting is starting very slowly this year.
When I actually sit down and paint, it's all there, but getting there has been a struggle.
With this painting I was noticing how attached I get once a line I like is down,
even if it stops working with the rest of the piece.
I thought about making these creatures some day with some class and since I don't have access to a kiln at the second school I teach in, it was time to do these as horses, in honor of the Year of the Horse. Once they were made, they reminded me of Alexander Calder sculptures,
I hadn't thought about the similarities of the forms until I saw the show in LA last weekend.
Which was fabulous, by the way, if you're in Los Angeles, go see it!
Reworked Painting, 2/16/14
This painting of Gram was never right. It looks much more like him now and I am pleased with the looseness of the paint. I left the eyes alone and now they are a little too tight, but that's okay.
The question, why paint and not just photograph? comes up a lot for me, especially since I usually paint from photographs. I have decided it comes down to the quality of the paint on the surface, if done right, it adds so much depth, it becomes something more than just the image.
The paint on the surface is what I am continually working on.
It takes a certain amount of caring and not caring at the same time.
Each winter I start a new series of paintings. I find it helpful to give myself an assignment as a way to get work done amidst a very busy life. Previous series have been 36 Views of Mt. Tamalpais,36 Birds in 36 Days, and 18 Landscapes, 18 Portraits and 18 Objects in 18 Weeks (see below). Posting the work online keeps me honest.
Welcome to the new year and a new series! In mulling over what the work was going to be, I was feeling the weight of old work that didn't succeed slowly stacking up in my studio. Every old painting that did not show or get thrown away holds back a small piece of my creative self and in the past it has been liberating to repaint an uncomfortable image and turn it into something that works. Some of my favorite paintings have come out of reworked images.
However I don't want to just repaint, I also want to create new work, and it feels like time to allow myself to paint each week without the constraints of a single subject.
While cataloging my student's work early this year, I realized how much we have done together over the years. A friend suggested I post my student's work with my own to see connections woven between the two.
For this series each week I will be working on three projects:
• allowing myself to paint one work of whatever strikes my fancy,
• cleaning house by repainting one painting that feels unfinished,
• posting a student's work from my vast archives, curious to see connections between their work and my own and also perhaps to give inspiration to other teachers, since I have been inspired and learned so much from others myself.
You'll notice I work with many images of tea pots.....
one of my excuses to collect them, such a beautiful form.
This assignment on board was partially inspired by Bryan Nash Gill's amazing
I played around with his printing techniques one summer with the kids but we never came close to his brilliant images. We settled for painting the wood grain on plywood before painting still lives of teapots. The image at the top is mine, a sample painting in tempera,