Abstract art is not my thing. I’ll take a Rembrandt over a Jackson Pollock any day…representational realism is more my forte in the art realm. However, I must admit that there can be beauty in abstraction, and that abstraction is easily found within the marvels of nature. JMW Turner’s stormy seascapes (ex. Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth) are tumultuous walls of spray, movement of water in greens and greys. Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night features the abstracted motion of heavenly bodies, with explosions of light radiating from stars and moon. Until my master’s program in 2009, I had not realized how common sights around us can capture moments of abstract composition. Murray Tinkelman (pen & ink illustrator and head of University of Hartford’s MFA Illustration program) gave a memorable lecture where he took famous abstract paintings and placed them next to photographs of the streets of New York. Old rusty doorways, paint spillage at a construction site, brick patterns in a wall…each accidental scene perfectly mimicked the matching Rothko or Pollock masterpiece. Murray called it “found art”.
In honor of Murray’s eye-opening lecture, and as an homage to Pollock’s method of titling pieces, we’ll call today’s post Autumn Rhythm (Number 53). The Number 53 in my title refers to 53 reclaimed wood boards I sanded, stained, and installed as a feature wall in my basement. Is a wooden wall considered artwork? Yes! The studs and braces were my canvas. Stain created a similar translucency to my usual watercolor paint. Natural wood grain replaced ink lettering in playing with line, curve, and repetition. But the design principles remained the same as I utilized contrast, balance, movement, and emphasis in arranging each row of boards. The final composition is truly artistic. As with viewing a van Gogh in a museum, peer closely to see nuances of line and color, then step back to enjoy the overall effect of the piece.
In planning the wall, I chose black as an accent color, using two lighter stains on the majority of boards. Within each row I placed boards end-to-end, looking for continuation of line or interesting patterns. I’d step back to see what it looked like from across the room before nailing anything in place. Each board was approximately 30″ long (donated by a friend from a deck her husband tore out and replaced). I cut some boards shorter for aesthetics, or to fit the needed length. My scroll saw came in handy when cutting a curved slot to fit around pipes. Since I don’t own a nail gun, I pre-drill holes. Tip: when pre-drilling, you can cut the end off one of your nails and use that as the bit in your drill. This saves any risk of breaking a regular drill bit and creates the perfect size hole for your nail. I used black finishing nails (typically used in baseboard and trim) so that the visible nail heads would be small and decorative. Working with old, uneven boards, I did check to see that each row was basically level as I worked my way up the wall. Sometimes I had to file down edges or adjust the tilt of a board to maintain an even, horizontal line pattern. Below is the finished result!So, for those of you who never thought of carpentry as artwork, take a closer look at the movement of line and color in wood grain. It may inspire the Abstract Expressionist in you!
Image credits: Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, oil, 1842, JMW Turner; Starry Night, oil, 1889, Vincent van Gogh; Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), enamel on canvas, 1950, Jackson Pollock
“My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me! I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam…”
Oh, the busy-ness of life! How quickly we get sucked into projects, commitments, pressures, and the heavy burden of feeling like a failure when we can’t keep up. Fear of letting others down. Fear of rejection when we can’t meet the standard that seems to be set. Fear that when we miss the mark, God Himself will be standing there, tapping His foot impatiently, saying: “When will you get it together and be good enough?!” I’m not talking about you guys out there in the blog-reading world…I’m talking about myself. But, I have a feeling many others can relate.
That’s why I need passages like Micah 6:3-4,8. God seems ticked off with Israel here: “Answer me!” He charges His people to explain exactly what burdens He’s placed on them. The charge jerks me up out of complaining mode, forcing me to look back over everything that’s led to my feeling over-burdened/overwhelmed. And, honestly, I can’t answer Him. I can’t continue to complain and rant at my Heavenly Father for long, because He hasn’t placed these burdens on me; most are pressures I’ve put on myself. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” It’s not that God promises a burden-free existence. Oxen yoke were designed for two to walk together, sharing the work load. If I’m exhausted, I’m either refusing to be yoked with the God who can make my burden light…determined to prove I can do everything in my own strength. Or, I’m fighting the direction my yoke-fellow wants to take me, and the squirming and wriggling and wandering wears me out.
So, what does the LORD require of me? Micah 6:8 continues: “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” First off, He wants me to look back and see the ways He’s been providing for me all along. I wasn’t a slave in Egypt, but I know the suffocating feeling of being entangled in decisions I thought would free me, which really left me empty and dissatisfied. He disentangled. He redeemed broken relationships. He brought me out into the sunlight, filling my lungs with the fresh air I hungered for. Secondly, He wants me to look right beside me…do I see Him there? If not, I’m probably not walking humbly with Him. Do I trust the God who offers to walk beside me? If not…why not? What am I afraid He’ll keep me from, that I’m so sure I’ll enjoy? Or, what do I fear He’ll make me do that I’m not ready to do? Lastly, He calls me to look around. “Act justly and love mercy” sounds very similar to Jesus’ simplification of all the commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30,31) If we love God with every part of our being (heart, soul, mind, strength), that love will naturally show itself in how we’re treating others. I always wanted justice as a kid…always wanted everything to be “fair”. Of course, my idea of fair consisted of basically wanting things to go my way. Am I acting in fairness to the people around me? Do I love to be merciful? Or, am I stingy with mercy, handing it out only as I see fit; giving it to people I feel deserve it?
Deciding who deserves mercy and justice isn’t my call. It’s a burden I’m not qualified to bear. So, when I’m overwhelmed with burdens, this verse often comes to mind. Then I take a step back, look at things in perspective, and call out to the God who is beside me. “Love your neighbor,” He whispers, “and walk with me, trusting me. Everything else is non-essential. It can wait while you rest. I’ll take care of what burdens you, or I’ll give you the strength to get it done, but for now, your soul needs a break.”
The piece above was commissioned by a friend who is a quilter. In fact, we did a trade: I painted a favorite scripture in calligraphy for her; she quilted a table-runner for my kitchen table. She specifically requested Micah 6:8 but left all design choices (other than color preference) up to me. Starting with sketches, I researched quilting symbols that could be incorporated into the layout. For the word “God”, I wanted 3 interconnected circles, representing the Trinity. But I needed it to clearly read as G O D. Playing around with line and color, I managed to make it work. The surface is cloth stretched across a canvas and attached using Matte Medium. Matte Medium is a liquid plastic, which looks like glue but isn’t sticky. When two surfaces are coated and pressed together, they dry with a permanent bond. I projected my design onto the canvas/cloth and sketched it in pencil. Painting was done with acrylics, though you can see where I used Matte Medium to attach bits of fabric detail as well. To use my art-geek vocabulary, this is the first time I’ve worked basically in a tertiary triad color scheme. Translation: main colors used were blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.