Occasionally in our lives there comes the chance to grasp or to pass by - to meet people who are "Great" or who have contributed to culture and thought in ways that can be measured. I had this chance a couple of weeks ago, and I jumped on it. I attended the Paradise Artist Retreat with a handful of great artists, right here in Bernalillo, NM; at the same resort where I married my husband.
I couldn't believe my luck. When I found it on Facebook, just a couple of weeks before it was scheduled, it just so happened that this retreat for artists had openings available and I could spare the time (and the chunk of change) to go. With no local promotion, it was attracting talent from a very select group throughout the US and abroad - mainly in Tattoo art. It was organized by a Tattoo arts support organization and most of the "greats" on deck were well known tattoo artists - even published authors as such, though none of the literature eliminated other sorts of artists as being welcome. Additionally, while the workshops were organized around visual study, none of them involved tattoo instruments. Conversely, classes and workshops centered around classical media - pencils, watercolor, oil paint, and the like. Clearly, if this was for tattoo artists, it was a chance to get out of the studio and work on expansion of studio arts as part of their practice. I found myself being in a boat needing studio expansion as well. There was figure drawing abound, realism workshops, energetic mechanism flow workshops (taught by the Greys,) and specialty workshops in specific techniques, like that of monster painter Chet Zar.
One of the unique opportunities that this retreat presented was the chance to meet Alex Grey and Allyson Grey, two modern visionary masters in painting, whose art is synonymous with the visual representation of energy within human form and in the universe at large (take your pick on this one - God, outer space, inner space, abstract chaos & order - they cover it all.) The chance to study with these artists, even for a brief time, was the reason that this retreat was particularly appealing (Oh! and it was close to home - I didn't have to fly. Oh! and I could spend some time doing art in this beautiful place. Oh! and the list goes on..) I was lucky enough, also, even in expressing delayed and late interest in this - to get a private critique with them, mainly focusing on Twitterscap.es, as without doubt they are the strongest of my work conceptually and have the most behind them to expand forward with, at least so far as is evident by their current presentation. Having their brains on Twitterscap.es for as long as I did (about 40 minutes) made this whole experience a bookmark in my history as an artist. And here's what I learned (and re-learned,) from them; Alex and Allyson Grey:
- What they mean by "Visionary Art" is "Psychedelic, out-of-this-reality art" - Inspired by chemically-induced visions, their art makes no bones about turning on, coming back, and presenting the experience as a snapshot image of a witnessing of higher truth. The mission they carry in their life's work is that this is important to re-introduce to society, which values productive or consumptive mindsets only, as a viable and important source of insight and knowledge about what we are really made of, and what really goes on within us and around us. They back this up with science, art history, social history, and the highest level of skill - which brings me to the next thing:
- Art is nothing without an adherence to a system and a practiced skill. No matter what you are trying to say or do in your art, only a percentage of your message will be delivered without being very, very good at your method of delivery, and having that method of delivery (realism, or abstract expressionism, for example) be established among those with whom you are attempting to communicate. This applies to when we see a new kind of art for the first time, or an artist tries something new, and the audience kind of goes "WTF." A select few will pry, most will walk off - and the artist's best chance of getting this delivered is to pursue, get written about, repeat, repeat, and get better.
- It's not what it means, it's what it communicates. Perhaps you love working with poop, and you have a very intrinsic message to deliver. If your audience can't get past the immediate sensory assault by the smell, your work may always communicate offense and disgust. Design and prepare art for its final delivery first, then have fun filling in the blanks. Meaning comes into motivating the artist and can be communicated, but without specific efforts to translate one to the other, it doesn't happen.
- Practice is everything. It's not what you practice, it's THAT you practice, and that which you practice is the vehicle for growth and greatness. It doesn't matter what it is. If you don't practice it, you have zero chance of being known for it or accomplishing anything with it. What do you do every day? Breathe? Congrats - you are practicing staying alive. Ultimately, the things we are successful at practicing are the things we like. This lesson runs hot and cold with me. I don't practice art nearly enough - my skill has fallen way behind. On the other hand, I have skill in web development and critical thinking that I practice every day (or darn close,) and that continues to be how I'm succeeding at most things - and I've even been able to bring art into it. This is one reason why Twitterscap.es is my strongest body of work.
- An art practice has four basic demands: Time, Space, Material, Content. Allyson was big on this one. If any of these are missing or damaged, so will follow the practice. In related news, one day I'll have a dream studio. I have a dream computer though!
- Twitterscap.es are Conceptual Art. Alex and Allyson Grey said it, so it must be true!
The experience overall of this retreat was to dig out some seriously neglected supplies (like my watercolor/glaze hake brushes from college,) and go immerse in a learning environment despite being 8 months pregnant, and a little shaky on my skills, around a hundred other artists all taking a break and enjoying some satellite work immersion. I left knowing that I was a lot shaky on these skills, actually, just from being surrounded by so many Tattoo artists (who are REALLY good with the realism drawing, the imaginary imagery, and the color/pigment placement. Wow!) but it's okay because that was the result of many decisions I've made to grow in different directions. I didn't know what to expect from Alex or Allyson, or the other headliners of the conference - but (re)learning that they are just people with an established practice and a drive to improve and heal the world was incredibly refreshing. In that, I could possibly see some similarities between they and I and look forward to an exciting career in what I am already doing, a few minutes at a time, day by day.