Tuesday, June 21, 2022

praise the wordless speaker I am

Colourless, nameless, free - 

That's what I am.  

When will I see myself as I am?

Put mystery in the middle.

Where is the middle
in the middle I am?

And this silver-tongued stream in me  - 

when will it grow still enough to know

the streaming stillness I am?

The ocean

I am drowned in the ocean I am - 

shoreless, boundless, wonderful.

Don't look for me in this world or that world.

Both worlds are lost in the world I am - 

My soul, you are my true eyes.

What are eyes in the invisible visible I am?

Then what do I call you?

words can't name what I am.
Settle in the nowhere everywhere I am.

Gold mine I am.


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

it's a thing

Two Years Into Covid by Martin Kotyluk  2022 acrylic on canvas  (detail)
The pandemic.

It is a thing.  

To not mention it would be lying and I try to tell the truth here. 

Our lives have changed because of that pandemic.  

Our ways of being with other people have changed.  

(my baking got better, my introversion got worse)

Cabin Dream in the Big Muddy by Rob O'Flanagan 2020-2022 acrylic on linen (detail)

My eye doctor had to close her local office.  

Which meant that I had go into Sudbury for my check up.  

I have not been going anywhere other than to the mailbox so this was huge.

Ned came too.  It was his almost birthday and so we had a date.

(My distance vision got better, my myopia got worse.)

Sick and Tired by Andrew McPhail 2021 sequins on bedsheet

We went to two art exhibitions because they were there.  

Both exhibitions had a pandemic slant.

Pandemic Partners by Rita Vanderhooft 2021 photographic print on paper

Art Gallery of Sudbury:   "is this real life?"  

A juried exhibition with a wide variety of media including ceramics, glass, textiles, photography, sculpture and painting.  It was thought provoking.  It was interesting.  I found beauty too.

I recognized many of the names, I am friends with some of the artists.  

In The Shadows no 1 - 7  Trish Stenabaugh  2022  digital print on paper

Gallery 6500: (a new gallery that has popped up in the hallway of the steelworkers union office)

Also thought provoking, this exhibition was self organized by the 'peer mentors group' of artists and poets.  The loss of one of their members over the winter, Ray Laporte, may have been the trigger for this exhibition that was entitled  "Lost and Found".  

I am friends with some of the artists.

Lost Dreams  Elizabeth Holmes and Gunhild Hotte 2021 acrylic on canvas

I wanted you to know that all this is happening in Sudbury.

Art.  Poetry.  Loss.      

I'm changed because of our trip to the city.

I keep thinking about the art.  

Cabin Dream on the Big Muddy by Rob O Flanagan 

I'd almost stopped thinking about the pandemic, but it's a thing.  

It's a whirl.  

Friday, May 27, 2022

solitude is a place

Q  Where have you been?  

A   I've been visiting a place that encourages me to work by instinct.

Q  What is the name of that place?

A   Solitude.

Q  Don't you get lonely?

A  Sometimes.  Most of the time I'm fine.  

Q  What do you do all day? 

A  I make my own coffee and don't follow my usual routine. 

There is absolutely no agenda on the weekends. 

However, during the work week,  I work.

The difference is that the solitude gives me a feeling of freedom.

I can't explain it. 

I don't think about the work first.   I don't plan it.

I just start.  

It's as if I am a four year old child and the adult who loves me gives me construction paper and scissors and  crayons and says:  "make art".  

So I just start.  The adult who loves me (myself) tells me to. 

Q  Can you give us an example?

A  One example is the new quilt that I started two weeks ago.  

I didn't know that I was going to make it when I went to bed the night before.

It's a huge piece, at least 100 inches square, but very light. 

I am using up the cotton that I painted with iron water dots in July 2020.

That cloth had been folded up in a basket for nearly two years.  

Q  So you follow the materials?

A  Yes. 

I also think that something intuitive happens with the passage of time and personal and world events.    

My brain didn't know, but my spirit and body did.

"knowledge grows slowly like a wisdom tooth"  said poet Adam Zagajewski

Q  Any other examples?

A  I did make some break throughs in other media.  I may post about them in the future, not now.  

Q  Tell about the circle stitching that you are doing.

A  After mounting the exhibition last fall I had started an embroidery on some wool cloth dyed with avocado.  It was like hugging myself, going round and round with the running stitch, but I had put it aside.  I picked it up again in May.  I hope to finish it this summer.   

Q  So this avocado piece was not planned either?  

A  That's correct.  The two pieces in this post have no plot.  They tell a story, but there is no plot.

Q  But I thought that you sketched in your sketch book and worked with the design wall.  

A  With these pieces, I sketch them after I've stitched on them rather than before.  

I figure out what to do while I do it.    

Q  How come you have solitude in May?

A  Well, it's a busy time for my husband so he's been going in to work rather than working from home.  He's also been away opening our cottage for one of the weekends and this last week, he's been on a fishing retreat with the guys.  He comes back home today.  I will be glad to see him and have him here with me at night.  

Q  Do you always have projects like this when he is away?

A  Probably.  But I think that this year something is different.

I seem to trust myself more.  I don't care if I please others.   

I don't know where it is coming from, but I am letting it come.

Q  Please tell us about your unique mark making.

A  Timeless geometric motifs have become my language: Circles, dot grids and simple running stitch.  

And like a mother tongue, I speak them without thinking. 

They seem so normal to me, yet at the same time,

I know that they are not normal because the way I use them is my own personal language. 

Q  Do you have a philosophy?

A  I am a woman artist.

I look at the horizon from my window or I sit outside and listen to birds.

I always have stitching in my lap.

The archetypes and the female in me rise up like clouds and stars in the sky and I let them.

Carl Jung struggled with understanding his own unconscious. 

He tried to find an image for the feeling, as if that would help him understand the feeling. 

He identified the first shapes that all humans seem to understand.  

It is difficult to translate our inner reality into a visual symbol.

Abstract art is a valid way. 

Abstract art with the touch of my hands it my way.   

"Classical art depends on inspiration.  It exists in the mind, it doesn't exist in the world.

Many artists live socially without disturbance to mind,

but others must live the inner experience of mind,

a solitary way of living." 

Agnes Martin. 

"I found a means to express my vital concerns as a woman; 

my body, my feelings, my relationship to others, my frustrations 

and my values: tenderness, resourcefulness, endurance."  

Radka Donnell

Thursday, May 12, 2022

rya rugs from Finland

Wedding ryijy from central Finland 185 x 152 cm  (6 x 5 feet) (circa 1790)
Tree of Life in the center with two male and two female figures, accompanied by hearts and crosses.  

Spot design ryijy 1825      189 x 130 cm (6'2" x 4'3") 
The initials of the owner (MIT) and the year (1825) are in the upper central field.
  The central field is filled with dots.  The bright red and green colours are typical.  

My father came to Canada from Finland at the age of 5 years with his mother, Anna.

This is a post about Finnish rugs.  First I need to say that there are two kinds of rugs made in Finland.  One type is the woven rag rug, usually quite narrow, used as an everyday rug on floors.  I've written about the Finnish rag rug before (here).   My grandmother, Anna, was locally famous for how fast she could weave a rag rug.  My art piece Not To Know But To Go On references the Finnish rag rug, but is not woven, it is stitched.  

The second type of Finnish rug is the rya or ryijy.  Although the rya is considered as art for the wall now, it originally functioned as a warm bed or horse-drawn sleigh covering.   Rya rugs were woven from wool over a linen warp and have a shaggy pile, often on both sides.  This post is about the rya rug.

I'm inspired to write this post because of my recent discovery of  Tuomas Sopanen's collection of rya rugs.   His collection includes pieces from the late 1700's right through to the 21st century.  I am especially interested in the dot grid and the tree of life designs.     

Wedding ryijy 1825  pile on both sides  206 x 148 cm  (6 '8" x 4'8")
This is a wedding rya.  It has the initials of bride and groom ( ABSD and IIS).  

All the images in this post are from Tuomas Sopanen's book,  The Ryijy Rug Lives On. 

Art historian Leena Willberg wrote the text in the book.  
Tuomas Sopanen translated it into English.

Spot design bedcover ryijy 1843  with pile on both sides 174 x 127 cm (5'7" x 4')
Another red and green rya, made for AKSD 

I use grids of dots often as design elements in my textiles and see a connection to these 18th and 19th century pieces.   

spot design bed cover ryijy mid 19th century 184 x 154 cm (6' x 5')
When the multi-coloured dots are very dense, the pattern is called 'net'. 

Spot design ryijy 1860 183 x 129 cm  (6' x 4'2")
The dots are simple and sparse.  This rya is a bedcover for one person.

I feel that I made something very similar to a rya rug in 2012 with my green and red wool quilt, Canadian Pioneer.  

What is interesting is that I did not see the connection when I made it.  I knew about rya rugs and had researched them but did not come across images of the older ones.  I am floored by the pieces in Mr Sopanen's collection. The aesthetic of the antique rya is similar to mine - or should I say, my aesthetic is similar to that of my Finnish heritage.

I wrote about Canadian Pioneer on this blog here and here.   

Wedding ryijy 1799 171 x 130 cm  (5'6" x 4'3")
An ancient net design, can you find the date 1799 among the figures?
Diamonds / bridal figures / flowering branches / tree of life symbols in eccentric sizes.  
It was woven in two parts and then joined.

Wedding ryijy 1817   184 x 135 cm
The motifs in this rya are symbols of luck and protection:  hearts, hourglasses, crosses, human figures.
It is rare to have a cow in a Finnish rya rug.  
The initials of the bridegroom are in the central heart (INS) along with the year 1817. 
The pink and green colouring is a variation of the typical red and green.   

Look at the wool art piece that I made from two old blankets in 2021.  It too has dots in an orderly grid.  It has a textural pile on the reverse side.  I made it without consciously thinking about the rya rug.  

I am excited to find the heritage wool bed rugs that have been collected by Tuomas Sopanen.   You can order his book directly from this website if you are interested.  An exhibition of Tuomas Sopanen's collection of rya rugs is at the Saari Jarvi museum until May 22, 2022.  

Saarijarvi is my father's home village in Finland.  

Sunday, April 24, 2022


One of the main challenges I have faced as a woman artist is the conflict I feel about caring for someone, loving someone, yet remaining dedicated to my art in an undivided way.
I think that generally men find it much easier to be selfish.  And you do need to be selfish.  Ideally you need 'to care and to not care'.  You need to give yourself completely, while at the same time seeing things from a distance. 
Every important creative act has this duality: of giving everything and then of letting go, so that the created work can have a life of its own.
I would like this book to speak to young women artists - and perhaps to all women who will no doubt face this challenge in their lives at some time and will have to resolve this conflict in their own way.
This seems to be essentially a feminine dilemma.  Throughout history, women have too often been seen as subjects of art, rather than artists.  Their natural propensity for giving themselves up to the experience, combined with an aptitude for stillness, has made many women great muses to great male artists.
As a woman painter, one needs to work out a strategy: I feel the need to put up barriers to protect my solitude.  I agree with Virginia Woolf that the vital thing for a woman artist is ' a room of one's own.'  

Celia Paul
All the previous text  is from the Prologue to Celia Paul's memoir Self Portrait.  

I loved reading this book slowly over about ten days.  I took my time with it because I did not want to finish it.  I snapped it shut after a few pages, saving its depth and resonance for another day.  I consumed it like dark chocolate, loving it, looking forward to the still unread sections.  

By understanding Celia Paul through her very honest self-gaze, I understood myself.  The book is about a woman artist's interiority.  It is rare to find something so poignant and true.

Self Portrait has had rave reviews, please see here and here and here.

Celia Paul is interviewed by the very intelligent and perceptive Judith Thurman here.  
The way I feel about this book is how I feel about my green quilt.  I linger over it.  I'm so in love with spending time with it, intentionally going at it slowly, knowing I will miss handling it when it is finished, but at the same time wanting to work on it, eager to work on it, wanting to see it done so that I can move on, even though I love it in my lap, under my hands.  Becoming finished.  How can I express this feeling in words?

In my mind the name of my quilt is 'lamentation' and it has only been in my hoop for a little more than two months.   When I hand pieced the squares together a year ago, I un-picked and re-stitched over and over as I worked towards creating a meadow of green that would encourage our eye to keep moving.  Now the double grid of quilting stitches seem to give this field a 'mysterious stillness'. 

The rest of this post continues with more text from Celia Paul's memoir.        
Painting is the language of loss.  The scraping-off of layers of paint, again and again, the rebuilding, the losing again  Hoping, then despairing, then hoping.  Can you control your feelings of loss by this process of painting which is fundamentally structured by loss?
Painting has a unique relation to time.

A painting that has been done quickly has a different energy from a painting that has been done slowly.  A painting that has been done quickly is like a newly decorated room and the air is fresh, empty and echoing.  A painting that has been done slowly is like a room that has been quietly lived in: it acquires a mysterious stillness.
When you are overpowered by loss and grief, you stare at the image, almost uncomprehendingly, not knowing or caring about how to define the thing you see.

Celia Paul

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

I keep journals

Sometimes, we think that things we say or think are important.   
They are.  

It's worth it to think and feel and remember.
Not worth a lot of money, but worth a lot of SELF.
A notebook / scrap book / is a way to keep a conversation going with the inner inner.
It's a way to keep the self open and trusting and aware.
I spend time every day on my journal.
It's not a waste of time. 
I am worth it.  
I continue learning.  
I study and take notes
The above sketch is of one of Louise Bourgeois' sewn head sculptures.
When I come across old family photos I save them.   

I also save things I find in old journals like this poem by Louise Rogers.

At the front of every journal, I list the books I am reading and give a wee review.

I tape the year on the spine 

Every morning I start a new chapter with the day's date.  
You can't think "my life is more important than the work"   
You have to think that the work is paramount.
One new thing after another
say "what do I like?"
      "what do I want?"
Find out exactly what you want in life.
To progress in life you must give up the things that you do not like.
When you go along with others you are not really living your life.
Find your way.
Happiness is being on the beam with life.
Agnes Martin  said this and I copied it and found it and taped it.
There is a two minute video of me speaking about this on my vimeo account, click here.