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.