My first real experience with Vincent was unusual if not bizarre. We locked eyes in the Russian Tea Room on the downstairs landing en route to the Ladies washroom. I stopped cold, with a shiver, as our eyes met and clung—hazel green eyes shocked into awareness by the steady, unwavering china blue gaze.
Why had I never noticed him before? I had gone down those stairs countless times in the past and never before “seen” him so clearly. I shook my head, continue on and returned on my way aware of his gaze, deliberately choosing not to engage.
The next visit to the Russian Tea Room, I numbly made my way downstairs. I again found myself arrested, compelled into stillness and consciousness by the shocking clarity in those same exotic blue eyes. “What does he see?”, I thought. I want to look at life that way—wide-awake, passionately, intensely and unwaveringly focused on what is out there, not in my mind. After an almost reverent pause, I threw back my head and laughed aloud, marking and enjoying the reverberation of my big round laugh in the empty space.
We continued “meeting like this for over three months. Each time I looked into his uncompromising blue/green eyes, I stopped, shivered, tingled back to present time and went on my way—restored to a “self” I recognized but have not kept in touch with for many years. Outside of the Russian Tea Room, I began to notice my own eyes in the mirror each morning—their increasing clarity and focus reflected back to me as a promise, gentle and persistent, of illuminating sunshine, verdant growth, new life.
At this point my relationship with Vincent escalated. I was invited to work with a group of artists on a fund raising auction. The theme? “An Evening with Vincent van Gogh”. I couldn’t believe the synchronicity of the event. I was excited and enthused to be nudged into greater intimacy with someone I not only liked and admired, but someone increasingly instrumental in reconnecting me to my “self” and the world. JOY!
During the first Sunday painting experience, I was exposed to the breadth and magnificence of the work of van Gogh. Through slides, prints, and chaotic tumbling stacks of art books, I ran, swam and wheeled through the course of Vincent’s visual life. I thirsted, gulped and ingested the energy and vitality of each brush mark, and the amazing, intuitive-not-making-sense colours of his palette. I was ablaze with passion and energy, eager to paint—to begin again. I was eager most assuredly because I would be copying his work and not boldly encountering the blank canvas myself. What a relief, I thought—to be allowed, NO, to be invited, urged, to paint again—as a labourer of art, a doable, step by step job. An apprenticeship requiring only that I shop up; no courage, no brilliance, no “giftedness” required—simply by presence and hard work. I can do this!
It wasn’t as easy as I thought, after three hours of circling the perimeter, dashing in for a “bite”, a piece of Vincent’s work to copy that didn’t scare me or of “bite” back with it’s luminosity and indefinable, incopiable energy. I sat down to paint. I stood up to paint. I tentatively brushed the surface with beginnings of marks. The canvas growled back. In fear and desperation, I lumped on colour after colour—raw, dissonant hues jostling for position and dominance. Finally out of paint, I surrendered, exhausted, discouraged and disheartened.
I was not Vincent van Gogh—I was Sharon Moore-Foster. No matter how I tried to emulate him or infuse life force into copies of his art, it simply wasn’t there. Phhhpt! No sizzle, no real encounter. No energetic, insistent, have-to-get-down-fast, seize the moment painting. Put down the brushes and slink away Sharon…
The next week I returned to the Russian Tea Room. I borrowed the Self-Portrait by Vincent, the poster than hung in the downstairs landing. It was tattered and abused, but intact in its embodiment of Vincent’s incredible life force. The china blue eyes, clearly, relentlessly, without judgement, observed me and the world. I felt bone-melting peace. I had been seen. I had been recognized and accepted. I felt his voice whisper “Break loose from your bond. I do not know the future. Make a thorough change. Try the heath.”
Back to the studio and paint. I chose to paint Vincent’s eyes, “the eyes that know the darkness in my soul”. I timed myself—17 minutes a painting. I worked frenetically, senselessly. I didn’t see the palette. I responded to it intuitively, not because I was “at one with the universe”, but because there was no time. 17 minutes. I painted fast and furiously, without thought. See. Respond. Take another look. Paint another colour; the process is as pragmatic as making a meal, 20 minutes beginning to end. Add a dash of this, a pinch of that. Quick judgments. Yes, that adds body; no, that’s too flat. I paint five pieces and a fabric panel, all copies of of parts of Vincent’s works. But they are my paintings too. My energy, my process, my life force, my intuition.
That Sunday I learned how to work. I learned how to paint. I understood that you cannot infuse your art with vitality and passion you don’t possess. In that slowly savoured exhalation, I knew that if you show up day after day, alert, observant, brush in hand, the vitality you do possess tingles in response to all that is in you and around you—that energy will “encounter the blank canvas”.
Vincent would say, “For myself, I have a simple plan: I go out and paint what strikes me, steep myself in the fragrant air of the hearth and believe that in time I shall become fresher, newer, better.”
Thank you Vincent.
Sharon Moore Foster is an active visual artist & art educator in the Edmonton area.
by Zoltan Varadi, University of Alberta Express News site
October 11, 2006 – Edmonton – That particularly Canadian attribute which seems to find us constantly addressing and re-addressing our collective identity has, ironically enough, yielded at least one constant – our varied responses.
Such was certainly the case at The Idea of the West. The one-day symposium, hosted by the University of Alberta Bookstores on Wednesday, posited the question of ‘What it means to be a westerner’ to a mutli-disciplinary swath of artists hailing from British Columbia to Saskatchewan, including novelist Gail Anderson-Dargatz, musician Roy Forbes, broadcaster Fil Fraser, sculptor Sharon Moore-Foster and the U of A’s distinguished drama professor emeritus Thomas Peacocke, among others.
Peacocke, a Genie-award winner and recipient of the Order of Canada, discussed the prairie mythology, arguing that the “artist is tied up with self.” He then offered a series of spirited anecdotes from his personal history growing up in small-town Barons, AB, relating how those experiences shaped him as a person and as a storyteller. Quoting Robert Crouch, he said, ” ‘We have no identity until someone tells us what it is.’ Fiction makes us real.”
Anderson-Dargatz’s presentation concurred with that sentiment, albeit from a perspective quite different from that of Peacocke. Whereas Peacocke evoked the prairie winds and grain elevators of Barons, the novelist repeatedly touched on the rain-soaked, “haunted” landscape of her home in the Schushwaps as the basis for informing her sense of self as well as providing the framework of her tales.
“I don’t think there is one unified West,” she said, citing varying geographies, economies and cultures. “My West is the wellspring for my fiction.”
She, too, used a quote to illustrate the importance of a narrative tradition, this one from Isabelle Allende: “Death does not exist unless we forget to tell their stories.”
When Moore-Foster took to the podium, her admission of how, as a figurative sculptor, she was at first uncertain about effectively infusing a regional influence to her work led to some of the more interesting personal insights of the day.
“The sky, the mountains, are all too much for me,” she said. “Then I go into the studio and just let myself be me – not a mother, not a teacher. I’m just facing the energy and the light comes in, the prairie light, and it’s always different, ever shifting. I’m always seeing things differently and learning to start again. That shift in energy is what I search for, and it’s what the West provides.”
The U of A alumna added that the kind of indifference artists often face from everyone -from families to government – also makes for a marked characteristic of the western artist communicating fundamental truths about their culture.
“Maybe it’s the gift of masochism,” she said to much laughter. “Yes it’s painful, but we do it because it needs to be done. Sometimes boundaries aren’t bad, because we can burst out of them. We do it because we believe. We come, we work, and we are all different but on the same journey, and I think that’s part of the spirit of the West.”
An award-winning installation on the festival grounds of Kaleidofest 2014, a neighbourhood festival in north-central Edmonton. The artwork was created by Sharon Moore-Foster and Leona Olausen and Wanda Resek
Per4mance Anxiety | 1 Point of View by Sharon Moore-Foster
What is it about a blank piece of paper, canvas whatever that intimidates even the most composed human being?
Is it Undiluted Potential that stands like a towering monolith, casting (at first) a HUGE shadow over our modest, mortal selves?
Is it the Mirror of Fables and Foibles, reflecting the disabling, destructive and self-deprecating views we carry in our arms so that we aren’t free to lift a brush or a pen?
Perhaps could it be so simple that it is the perfection of the moment before engagement… the quiet before the storm of obsessive enquiry and unceasing labour. Once the mark, the word is committed, we are lost to our family, friends and co-workers. Even when we are physically present, we are either ghosts of ourselves, frustrating others as they attempt to relate, or we are a walking maelstrom of frenetic energy, multitasking ineffectively on one plane while our minds spirits float above the fray.
What b.s. #! You sound like one of those ceramics monthly idiots, blathering on about what you think about art or if it is art or how good you are at talking about art. Who gives a d—? Just get in the studio and get to work!
I argued, but Dad was right…not eloquent or tactful, but right nonetheless. His simple rule of thumb was: get up, put on your work clothes, grab your coffee and head out to the shop. He accomplished a huge body of work in his lifetime…not all finished, not all refined, not all sold…but a body of work to be proud of. As well as a hotel, several restaurants and houses, all of his grandchildren have amazing oak rolltop desks, deacon’s benches and cedar chests and a collection of his pottery. The sheer volume of his work demonstrated his daily work ethic and generated some beautiful pieces.
What is this…a eulogy! #! Would you just shut up and get to work! Quit analyzing everything to death, get in the studio and get started. Something will happen, it always does.
And I guess that’s the long and short of it all. If you have time to waste, or if you need to build up a surge of fear or angst-driven adrenaline before you get to work, work whatever distractions you desire into your game plan. It’s your process.
But you may want to consider the merits of showing up where you need to be…studio, shop, spare room… dressed for work, coffee in hand and sees how it plays out.