Monday, July 24, 2017

My Experience at the Openings Art Residency in Lake George

Inspired by a could-cluster, Lake George, NY

I am writing this blog post while riding a train. I just boarded (the train was almost two hours late – thanks Amtrak!) and now I have about four hours to kill on my way back home to New York City. I spent the last six days upstate in Lake George at the Openings Art Residency at St. Mary’s on the Lake. Might as well write a blog post about it!  

Over the last year or two, I’ve been working on a lot of art-related projects, however, mostly in a scholarly/theoretical, organizing and/or behind-the-scenes type of way. Even though I’ve continued to paint and show work occasionally, I had not been spending a whole lot of time working on my own art. I started to realize that my own art practice was falling by the wayside so I began thinking about applying to art residencies where I could go to specifically to focus on my art and contemplate what I want to say as a visual artist. Like a Godsend, I came across information for the Openings Art Residency on Facebook; someone (I don’t know) in some group I’m acquainted with posed about it and I started clicking the links to read more. The website explained that Openings is, “an interdisciplinary artists’ collective that values collaboration, creativity and camaraderie.” Run by the Paulist Fathers, this once-yearly program invites artists up to their 72 acre historical lakefront summer house: St. Mary’s on the Lake. Their mission statement says: “Openings believes that the connections between creativity and transcendence foster critical conversations that have the potential to unite individuals across cultural divides.” I felt inspired to apply to Openings and shortly thereafter I was happy to get word that I had been accepted.

Flash forward a couple of months: I went ahead and cleared my schedule, packed my bags and some art supplies and went up to Lake George. I had an idea that it would be nice, but once there, I was really impressed at how beautiful it is. To be tucked away in a mountainside, situated directly on the massive, tranquil Lake George, staying in cozy student’s quarters was truly a treat for this world-weary New Yorker. Father Frank Sabatte, who runs the program, welcomed me, along with the other nine artists participating in this year’s residency. I soon found out that most of them had actually participated in years past (some of them many times) and are a part of the Openings Art Collective, which does exhibitions and projects in the City, on-going.

The residency is only six days (five nights) total and it’s totally designed for artists to do their own thing. We were allowed to wander pretty much anywhere on the property and make whatever kind of art we do – and/or we could swim in the lake, hike or just relax. The only expectation, so to speak, was that we show up to meals (yes – they provide breakfast, lunch and dinner!) on time, so that we can casually talk with each other about art, or anything else. The food was delicious and abundant, by the way. On the last day, we would be expected to do a sort-of show-and-tell about what we did through the week.

As for me, I normally paint in oils and obviously, that doesn’t travel well. So, I decided to bring up acrylic paints, small canvases, a sketch book and colored pencils – not really my forte but I was willing to try. I didn’t really have a game-plan for what I would make while at Openings, but rather I thought it would be a good opportunity to experiment and explore. Being that I had never been there before, my first challenge was to find a place where I would feel comfortable and inspired to make art. My first morning there, after a hearty breakfast, I packed up a bag of art supplies, grabbed an easel and went walking into the woods. I managed to find myself a perfect spot overlooking the lake. There was no one but me and the mosquitoes. Being that I didn’t have a game-plan, I decided to grab my sketchbook and pencils and suddenly I was inspired to draw the Yoruba goddess, Oshun, standing in that spot, overlooking the lake. I didn’t have any reference images of Oshun with me, so I drew her from my imagination. I drew for about two hours straight before I realized how much time had passed. I went back to the same spot the next day and completed the drawing. Doing a drawing of Oshun made sense to me since she rules the rivers and lakes. Plus, I had been thinking about making a painting about her for my Sogni D’Oro (Sweet Dreams) series (so perhaps I will turn this drawing into a painting sometime soon).

Now that I had established my spot and completed one drawing, I felt compelled to try to start on a painting. I happen to love trees and have painted a fair amount in the past. So, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was standing there with a bunch in real life, and started to paint. Between the fact that I had no plan and am not used to painting with acrylic, making this little tree painting proved itself painstaking (lots of problem-solving). However, I stuck with it, and after two hours there, and another two hours in my room, I finished it. Oddly enough, the scene looks kind of tropical, but I’m fine with that.

On our third night, one of the Fathers kindly offered to take us out for a sunset ride on a pontoon boat. I didn’t bring my iPhone with me (it was out of battery) so I couldn’t take photos. At first, I was disappointed since the view was gorgeous – but then I felt happy to be truly present, no technology mediating the experience for me. Floating down the lake, watching the sunset behind the mountains was otherworldly. And then we saw this spectacular cloud cluster! I thought that I would love to paint that scene, and then I regretted not having my camera with me. Luckily, later that evening, one of my fellow artists, emailed me some photos she took of that cloud cluster! So, the next day, I trekked back to my spot, and I started painting the clouds.  

By the time Thursday rolled around, we were nearing the end of our residency. Thursday night we were expected to do our little show-and-tell. Up until then, I had not shown anyone what I was working on, so I was a little nervous. Father Frank (who is an artist himself) started things off by showing something he’s been working on, then the rest of us showed our pieces one by one. There were also a few other Fathers there, who were interested in seeing what we had been working on and join in the discussion. It was nice for me to see the other artists’ work, hear them talk about why and how they did it and what they plan on doing with it. The discussion afterwards with everyone was thought-provoking and inspiring. In the end, I told Father Frank that I was amazed at how (even in such a short time) I felt that I had been impacted upon by the landscape and atmosphere – he agreed and added that the artists’ interactions also influence one another. I agreed.

As I sit on this train (almost home now!) and think about it, I am happy that I had the opportunity to attend Openings. I went into it feeling like I needed a break from busyness, time to clear my head and just focus on my artwork – and I feel like that mission was accomplished. There were some deeper questions that I was asking myself in terms of what I want my work to say at this juncture, and while I don’t think that I have completely answered that, I do feel as if I have begun to.

A panoramic pic from the boathouse at St. Mary's on the Lake.

Me,  arriving at St. Mary's on the Lake.

First evening of the Openings residency - artists are arriving, some sitting, watching the sunset.

A pic of the student house.

Monday morning I went in to the woods and found my inspirational spot.

One of my fellow artists, Oksana Prokopenko, got a shot of me painting in my spot.

My drawing of Oshun on the lake.

A meme that reminded me of this art-making experience; quote by my favorite astrologer, Chani Nicholas.

The boathouse.

Me, sitting on the dock, looking out onto the lake, as the Minne Ha Ha boat cruises by.

Drone-perspective group photo of the 2017 Openings artists, by photographer Margeaux Walter.

Group photo of the 2017 Openings artists.

Maia Nero working on her painting out on the dock.

Working on a tree painting; started out in the woods, finished in my dorm room.

Tree painting finished.

Me out on a pontoon cruise, photo by Maria Maxime.

The inspiring sunset cloud-cluster over Lake George.  Photo by  Maria Maxime.

Working on a cloud-cluster painting, out in the woods.

Show-and-tell night: Father Frank Sabatte showing us his work-in-progress.

Maria showing us her collaboration with Oksana Prokopenko.

Anthony Santella showing us his two works-in-progress.

Michael London Berube showing us one of his drawings.

Eric Jiaju Lee showing us one of his paintings, off of the stretcher.

Maia showing us one of her paintings.

Oksana talking about the collaboration with Maria.

Oksana showing us her flying fish piece.

Margeaux showing us some of her photographs. 

Amy Hill showing us a sketch she was working on for her next painting.

Fireworks over the lake on Thursday night.

Fireworks over the lake on Thursday night.

One last dip in the lake, and kayak ride on Friday morning.

Amy walking up the path.

Michael, Goober and Tigger coming up the path.

One last dip in the lake, and kayak ride on Friday morning.

To see more photos, check out my Instagram: @WhippedHoney

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