Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Angry Trees

Angry Trees

I was hoping to spend time today sharing stories and photos from my camping weekend – which just passed – but the photos won’t be ready until this Friday. I could have paid almost $20 to have one-hour photo developing but I decided to spend less than half of that and wait for the photos. Once I’m hooked up with a digital camera this won’t be a problem – soon…

So… I’ve decided to share photos and stories from the previous weekend – June 27-28.

A local art gallery called The Arts Project (TAP) was having a fundraising art-a-thon. Many artists, playwrights and musicians from London were gathered by 8:30pm on the Friday evening. Announcements were made and then we all awaited the topic for the event. I thought that this was going to be interesting and challenging to not know what our subject was to be until that evening.

The whole idea was to announce the subject for the event and then the artists had the next twelve hours to complete a painting. Artists from the theatre were participating, as well. There were 5 groups preparing scripts throughout this night. Each group had a writer, director and 4 performers. The next morning the directors and performers met with the writer and then the rehearsals began until the stage was to come alive that evening. The artists’ paintings were displayed the next afternoon until the time of the performances. The public had that day to place bids on the completed art peaces with the money from the sale of the items going to TAP. It was a totally amazing experience for me and like life, it had a few ups and downs but the downs got turned upside down – on my face! Did I tell you that I had a great time?!!

The topic was “Angry Trees” and it was presented to us with a short video clip of a guy pretending to be an angry tree who was about to make a march on city hall. The laughter was deafening.

Many people from the community came to watch the painters, talk, dance and laugh while the music played until about 3am.

I had several wonderful moments when I was able to share my guitar with a more experienced player and in return I shared a few of my own songs. I have never learned how to play someone else’s songs. In the last year and half of my playing I’ve created a few nice ‘ditties’ and three songs. Just within this last month I’ve written four new songs so my performances this evening were a bit rough, but everyone complemented my lyrics and told me that my playing was very good. My energy is there – now my skill needs to catch up!

My favourite moment of guitar playing was not when I was hooked up to a mic and amplifier – it was in a quiet room with seven other people. When I began to play only three people were present and everytime I blinked someone new appeared. I began my “Turtle Song” (link to previous blog - http://bitsandpeaces08.blogspot.com/2008/07/turtle-song.html ).
I hadn’t even finished the first lines before everyone started laughing. I’ve never shared the lyrics without that response… people love it when I look all serious and then I begin to bellow:

“I think turtles are great
they’re big and round just like a plate”

Now this was a group of artists and they immediately picked up on my one line of repetition in the lyrics, which is “They live in the water….most of the time” and every time I came back to that line they all sang it out. The last time we sang that line it was so loud that many other people came to see what was going on and we all burst out laughing. Like I said we all had a great time!

The evening – for me – began with a little hesitation, though. After the announcement of the topic for the art works there were minutes of hasty movement throughout the gallery while I and many others ventured out to the street to cool off a bit. I went to a nearby parking lot and found a quiet place to sit and let my mind wander. Luckily, I found myself staring at a huge brick wall – the side of a store – that had no graffiti so that it became my blank canvas of imagination.

Images from a scene from Lord of the Rings played in my head as I recalled “The March of the Ents”… yet how could I capture that much movement? I let my mind relax a bit more but the blank canvas of a brick wall remained blank.

I wandered back to where the action was happening and people had begun to dance! I was soaking in the scene and trying to realize that I had no need to fear for my failure. An idea would come to my head when the time was right and the mood fit. For now I could enjoy the music and all the other people that were enjoying themselves.

After a few songs I continued to the back of the room where it opened up to downstairs studio spaces and I stopped short when I saw what I saw. I couldn’t believe it.
There were four artists standing in front of large canvases and the canvases where already half covered in paint. I felt a gulp in my throat. My paintings usually take over two weeks to complete and I knew that a 12 hour painting session was going to be a challenge, but suddenly I felt very out of place. I put aside my worried thoughts and instead went around and complemented the other artists and introduced myself.

I sat in front of my blank canvas for twenty minutes and the only thing I had drawn was a box. This was the only idea to come to me so far. I always paint a nice texture around the edges of a canvas and my idea was to make the border texture extend onto the surface of the canvas… basically making my actual painting space a little smaller. The idea is not to create a smaller painting but to have some elements of the painting reaching into our world from inside the image. I thought it would be a fun idea to have my angry tree reaching out from inside of the painting to try to grab the viewer of the painting. During this time I became know as the painter with the box. People would come into the room I was in with other artists and wander around watching what we were doing. When someone approached me I would ask them if they liked my box and they would look at my blank canvas with only a box drawn on it and say “Yes, that is a lovely box you have drawn!” At least I was still laughing.

It was now almost 10pm and my ideas were not gaining any focus. I walked down the street until I found a payphone and I called my wife. I can’t believe that it costs 50 cents to make a local call. Joanne could understand my building frustration and she calmed me by showing me that it’s okay to feel that way, “after all” she said, “you have never done anything like this and you knew it would be a challenge to work with lots of people around you, in such a short time.” We talked about the silly things Koly did that evening and then we parted with a laugh. She knew I’d be okay.

I went back to my canvas and my pencil began to move very slowly. Suddenly an angry tree hand had appeared and it was wrapping around the side of the canvas. A few trees appeared in the distance. The angry tree spoke to me then, as his mouth was simply formed, “Arghhhh!!!” – with four h’s and three exclamation marks. Then the reason for his anger became clear to me and I could see all the cut down trees and the factories in the distance. The pollution from the factories escaped the painting and drifted away. I stepped back and began to laugh… it looked like I had drawn a Far Side comic image.

I’ve never painted anything that looked like that before. I guess that the art show needed a sense of humour with my silly angry tree being surrounded by all the other paintings of intensity and grace.

One artist that I got to meet is a pretty happy guy. He works as a cake artist at a renowned specialty cake shop during the day and works on his own paintings at night. He showed us some of his cake artwork… not just decorating but also layering the cake with certain fruits and creams and other yummy things. It was now 2:30am and all the artists gathered for cake and coffee. Then things got out of control.

We all started sharing stories about our ‘Angry Tree’ topic and one artist began singing a song – sung like the munchkins – from the Wizard of Oz but had changed all the lyrics to tell a story of an angry tree and all the shrubbery. I had tears rolling down my cheeks when that happened. We were all tired and getting a little delirious. Lots of people liked the idea of painting an angry tree sitting in the back seat of a New York cab with his head and arm out the window and the tree is shaking his arm at the city in anger. This went on for a while until someone pointed out that many artists still had a lot of work ahead of them. The painting continued.

Earlier that evening I had felt a little out of place with my way of looking at things and painting ability and style, but by the time I left I knew that the other artists had learned just as much from me as I did from them.

I thought it was typical that once I got home – at 10am – and had a chance to relax with Koly in the backyard that my brain suddenly filled with all sorts of ideas for really cool paintings I could have done. My imagination was really going wild now… but like I said – it was a typical situation. A little while later I decided that I wanted to write a poem about the experience…


Angry trees are
to the Earth bound.
Angry trees are
weak without a sound.
Angry trees are
disappearing with great speed.
Angry trees are
in a time of need.

Artists timely congregate
with visions of tones to be structured.
Brushes deftly instigate
their actions in a moment captured.
Bringing to life a voice reflected by light
raising an eye or brow
the trees have friends willing to fight:
Artists of the here and now!

Jim Kogelheide
June 28, 2008

Upon departing many of us shared ideas about finding excuses to do something like this again. I hope we do. I had a great time! Did I already say that?

To find out more about London's TAP use this link http://www.artsproject.ca/index.shtml


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