Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Choose your own adventure

Arne Backstrom flies through the air.

As I was writing the post about my adventure up Snowking with Pepi, I saw a tweet go by on my TweetDeck about Arne Backstrom. The report on his accident came out, and I took a moment to go and read it.

Reading the report led me to thinking more of the hope he had in going to Peru. He was on a month long ski mountaineering trip, and this climb was an acclimatization peak after establishing base camp.

I thought about what it would be like to be the kind of person that could dream up a trip like that, have the passion and the will and the skill to go out into the mountains and live from a remote tent for a month, skiing unclimbed peaks, loving the mountains, blissing on the sky and the snow and the friendships and the solitude. Asking yourself to push hard to do something, to try something, to keep climbing, to wonder if the line will go, to make decisions.

I didn't know Arne, but I do know what its like to loose someone unexpectedly. Even when it is expected, death is a strange thing to grapple with for those who are left alive.

Base camp Plaza Argentina, Polish routes Aconcagua

I feel for his sister, his family, the people he skied with, his climbing partners. I had a friend tell me that he could imagine what Arne might have been thinking, the thoughts flashing across his mind when he lost his ski.

This isn't a post about whether he made a good decision to ski the line he skied, or whether taking risk to ski in wild terrain is responsible or not. I believe that question is only answerable by each one of us in each moment. We do the best we can to make smart, healthy choices that let us live our lives fully.

I'm writing because reading the part of the report about Arne and his friends intention to ski mountaineer led me to a mini epiphany. I thought to myself, man, I would love to do that. I would love to go somewhere, on some trip like that. I wish I could be a part of a team that had an idea like that. I was grateful to Arne for inspiring me to think that way. Not because of his death. But because of his life.

And then it hit me, that life isn't about waiting around for your big break. Not in art, not in business, not in skiing. Life is about creating the dream yourself.

The Spiral Jetty, a piece that began with a question; Do we need the white cube of the gallery to make art? Or can I make art anywhere? Robert Smithson sparked the Earthworks movement of the early 70s with this piece and many others.

I thought about painting, which I've been thinking a lot about lately. About how for me, really good work is the effortless amalgam of years of information gathering, sketching, and technical discipline, suddenly, a concept comes, a story or a color or a medium that inspires all kinds of doors to open, and most of the time for me, the best concepts, the best impetus for creation came because I asked a question.

I did a series once on women called Is, Is Not, Is Too. The idea came initially because I was too broke to hire "real" models. I couldn't afford to pay Karin Chekirda $65 (which was her kind price for the very broke at the time, I'm sure she's leagues more expensive than that now.) an hour to sit for me, even if she is the most incredibly inspiring woman I've painted. I needed to practice figurative painting, and I needed willing nudes.

I started asking my friends to sit for me, and while they were nervous, they were willing, and over time, it became a study in something.

I realized that I was observing women interacting without the safety of their costume. Our clothes tell our story for us to some extent. When you walk around in life, you can say, "I'm successful." "I'm conservative" "I'm a free spirit" "I wish I was a free spirit" "I'm not sure who I am." You can even say, "I'm gay." "I may be gay but I'd never tell you" and all kinds of other things with your clothes.

I began to wonder if I took people in my life who were very different from each other, and removed their uniforms, how they would operate when put together, intimately, with no prior introduction, and no clues as to sexual orientation or economic status.

Is, Is Not, Is, Too #26 I asked that question in this series of 47 large paintings, "Laura, this is Shiela, you guys can take these robes into the bathrooms and change. Here's a glass of wine. What kind of music do you guys like?" They'd come out, I'd talk to them briefly about how to sit (things like don't put your weight too heavily on one arm because it will fall asleep and you'll be sitting for 20 minute intervals for three to five hours).

I'd ask them to remove their robes, and I'd watch their energy. None of these women had ever posed nude before, that was one of my most adamant requirements, I was looking at this as a social experiment. Some people became naked defiantly, some shyly, some openly, some questioningly, some with great vulnerability. It was my job to hold space for them, to make my warm studio a safe place for them to be without their armor or uniform and to collide their energies.

I took a gay woman in a committed relationship and posed her with a born again christian college student. I put a wild bi-curious flower child with a mom and an awkward just out of high school athlete. I watched these women take care of each other (for the most part) because they recognized that they were both in a place of fear, and that they had each other, and only each other for the next five hours.

I started to think tonight, thanks to Arne's idea to go ski the mountains of Peru for a month with his friends, that the adventure that I am trying to train toward is maybe the adventure of my own invention. I keep wondering how people come up with the great ideas that they get, to go climb this peak or that, to go wander through these mountains, or to go along this ridge line.

Perhaps the adventure that I am seeing is a question that I need to ask, like hiking Snowking was the result of wanting to hear some stories and history from Pepi.

Right now, the adventures that I can invent are very much in the line of adventures I've heard about other people doing. Just like being in art school and copying the masters, you learn line and color and discipline and composition by making your hand do what theirs did. And then as you grow, as you step outside and being finding your own voice, their influence is there for you to stand on, sometimes its loudly in your work, and sometimes its a nod or an homage, and sometimes, its the gentle breath behind work that is very much your own.

With this in mind, I'm going to begin to look for my own question and see what path unfolds because of it. Thank you, Arne, for the inspiration to choose my own adventure.

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