As I pulled into the driveway I was welcomed by the neighing of horses that were grazing in the field. They nickered a low, greeting and slowly sauntered over to the fence line to meet us. My daughter, who is an avid horse lover walked over to receive their warm welcome. As I made my way through the gate I was welcomed by the artist, Michelle Loughery.
She greeted me and gave me a personal tour of her studio, home and yard.
I was immediately struck by the peacefulness of the surroundings, and of the crisp, cool air that enveloped the land. The horses watched as we wandering about the property. She showed me painted buoys from a project she had collaborated on, and each area of the property had a story waiting to be told. I could easily envision children playing here. The sense of tranquility was soothing to my soul. As we entered her studio I smiled to myself. Her paints, waxes and canvases lined the counters, walls and floor. What a creative sanctuary! It was so inviting and a sight to enjoy. I felt very fortunate to have been invited there.
I gave her something. I was actually hesistant but she received it with the feeling that it had been brought in. Gratefulness, thankfulness and friendship.
It was one of my last jars of dill pickles, made from my mom’s very own recipe. She popped the lid and I had to laugh as she used the ring just like my mom had taught us to do. She took a bite and commented on how good they were and asked about the recipe. What was it that made them different?
Pickles. Pickles are as personal to me as creating a painting. It is the time to harvest, pick over and of selecting just the right ones, then to wash, rinse and pack. It is the thought of gathering the ingredients, the washing and sterilizing of the jars, lids, rings and tools. The picking of the dill, cleaning of the garlic, and selection of the right size of cucumbers for each layer to hand place in the jars. It is the preparing of the table, counter and sinks. It is a process, a right of passage and a journey. That cucumber that started as a mere seed with so much energy stored inside had to be planted, watered, have the sun shine down, be picked, packed and then brought home to be scrubbed then packed into a jar with many other cucumbers. Brine needed to be cooked, made from water, vinegar and salt then poured onto the cucumbers, garlic and dill. The jars are then sealed and placed in a hot bath in the canning pot for several minutes. The jars are then removed and set aside for weeks. Weeks. These are not instant pickles. This is not a quick process. It takes planning, thought, production, action, and then waiting. Some jars may not seal. Some may crack from the pressure. The brine may not have the right amount of ingredients to make it tasty. The pickles themselves may become soft, white and unpleasant if the process is not successful.
We chatted over pickles and then she led me to the heating element that had coloured bees wax warming. She took a wood frame that had layers of wax on it and asked me if I wanted to try it. I did. It was out of my comfort zone. My art work is not so spontaneous I found. When I paint I tend to develop a plan as I go. Hills here, trees there, sunset here. With the wax it was layering, scrapping, melting, and turning. The more I tried to make something appear the less it did. Let go she said. Let go of all that is holding you back. She handed me a burner, and showed me how to light it. A blue flame appeared and I let it just kiss the wax slightly. It hissed a little from the particles within the color and residual left over from other pigments. It crackled a little. The colors began to swirl and move. The appearance was altered but not burned as I would have thought. With encouragement, which is her way I added more layers, more tones and scrapped in texture. It began to build. I was still caught up on making this to be something. To look like something familiar. Something familiar so I would not feel so out of my element. Michelle took the time to listen and chat with my daughter Amy. We soon discovered that her lovely mare Apple has the same genetic background as Amy’s horse Cheyanne. They are some how related do to the stud Impressive. It was quite amazing to realize this. Amy noticed Apple had a very similar build and way about her. She even has similar markings.
I continued to work on the painting. Realizing how controlled and uptight I am we took a different approach. I needed to let go of the pint up feelings I was experiencing. We are both of Ukrainian descent and as we talked we discovered a lot of commonalities with our upbringing and our relatives. I shared a story about my grandmother that is hard to talk about. As she listened she brought over some colour and poured it on the piece I was working on. She instructed me to put on some gloves and use my hands to move the liquid color around. I could smell the scent of it and smiled. Guessing at what might occur but not fulling understanding the process.
Now, she said, I want you to light this on fire. What? I am a firefighter! This goes against all I have been trained to do. There I was, standing, holding a torch and being told to burn what I had been working on. Very carefully, I let the flame kiss the fluid layer. It crackled to life and blue flames arose. It was incredible to see. There was no way to control it or to select the route it would take. It just came to be. The flames enabled the inner picture to emerge and take it’s own form. The result was amazing. The flame enhanced the creation. The flame became the creator. It was stunning.
After the flame diminished and the wax cooled down Michelle showed me how to take paper towel to rub the wax. This brought out a shine and polished it. It was such a moving experience. I had to truly let go of any preconceived notions to truly allow creation to come forth. If I tried to force it or overwork the piece it would just smolder. If I just stopped doing or trying and let it come out itself it leaped from the board with a life of it’s own.
It was an experience I will never forget. The smells, the visuals, and sounds all leaving a lasting imprint. Forever changing how I perceive creating a piece. That moment when I was justifying my thoughts and actions and she said just stop, breath, and let this go. Flame on. Flame on.
Thank you Michelle Loughery for seeing past the what is there, to what can be. To have the insight into the future and through the layers. There is a dream, a legacy that has already been written and as the collective we need to let go, and let it rise. Stop trying to control how it should look, and how one thinks it should be.
Stand back and it let it become. Flame on.
And don’t forget to bring pickles!