Tuesday, March 28, 2017

#SOL17: Live in the Layers

Mono Print Painting (M. A. Reilly, March 2017)

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray. 
Stanley Kunitz, The Layers

What's sacred?  What definitions of self are unwavering? In Stanley Kunitz's poem, the speaker learns, “Live in the layers,/not on the litter.” I have pondered those two lines for a long time, intrigued by their brevity and bigness. There's considerable wisdom in that bit of advice. 
Across the decades, identity layers have been formed and reformed by the attention paid and missed, by pressures and weights, as well as through the many understandings composed while living. Reflection matters. How easy it has been at times to be overly attentive to what rests at the surface, what Kunitz would call the litter.  In the last year, I have learned--out of necessity-- to tune my ears to silence and name those deep strengths and earth-bound truths I call my own.
At the center of my identity is the bone-deep belief that I am highly competent--a problem framer. I remember being so surprised after Rob's death when I had trouble doing ordinary acts, like booking a flight. I sat for hours, unmoving, until I realized that I just had to get on with it. And I did.  
I also am empathic. When I was writing my dissertation, Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of "I for Myself, Myself for Other" was central to the learning theory I would later compose. The self, as Bakhtin said, is always in dialogue with other.  Identity is dialogic--I exist in relationship to others. Even memories that we often think of as private are socially composed. What Bakhtin's writing helped me to learn is that empathy happens in the return to self.
As a child, I came to understand that I was a problem framer and empathic.  Later, I refined these understandings through my roles as wife, mother, sister, friend, teacher, artist, business owner, and now widow. 
Some years ago I wrote a poem that looked at these beginnings based on  George Ella Lyon's poem, "Where I'm From." I wrote it during an exercise in a class.  (I suspect you may have your own version too.) The poem means more now then when I wrote it.  Then I did not have need of the deep, abiding trust in self that this last year has required. These losses, multiple and shattering, have been costly, even though I realize that I am the better for it. 
Like the speaker in Kunitz's poem, as I age, I too have struggled not to stray. 

Where I'm from (Based on George Ella Lyons' poem) 
Self portrait, March 2017
I am from blocks of ivory soap of ice wedged between milk bottles in the summer, from the white, gabled home with dark green shutters, so solid against sudden storms. I am from the gnarled Cherry tree, its pale pink blossoms translucent against the wet, black bark. I’m from tinseled trees and stacks of books from Catherine Mary and Robert Emmett. I’m from daily piano scales and two-part Inventions. From Pop who played ragtime, all the time. I’m from “batter up,” and “I was just passin’ the time of day.” From Marches on Washington to “say five Hail Marys,” knowing too well the slim comfort of the confessional-- so dark and thick with secrets. I’m from Stamullen, tucked tight alongside the Irish Sea. From late afternoon tea with those who came back from the war and those who could not give up the ghosts. I am from all of this from the limbs that formed those long afternoons strong in ways I’ve learned to test.

Monday, March 27, 2017

#SOL17: Give Me Things that Don’t Get Lost

Painting w digital remix (M.A. Reilly, 2017)


Those haunting lines from Neil Young's song, "Old Man" have caught my attention. Young sings,

“Love lost, such a cost.
Give me things that don’t get lost..." 

and I am nodding alongside him--as I too want things that don't get lost. I too have wanted the permanent.


What are the types of things that don’t get lost? What treasures do we carry that do not have the potential for wandering, migrating?  

Nearly two years ago I wrote that perhaps those people in your life who are your true North are the types that don't get lost. I was thinking about what sticks to you, what stays true through all the changes. A handful of months later, my true North would suddenly die and I would wear that loss like a glove that fits too perfectly, too necessary. 


I thought heartbreak was the result of Rob dying. It was not.


During the last year, I could not seem to let go of that which was already gone.  The second after Rob took his last breath, he was gone from that body. I remember looking at him and thinking, This is not my husband. This is not my Rob. Nonetheless, I looked for him in all that was familiar, sought the comfort of his company when things felt new, and thought if I practiced being really, really good, he would be able to return. 

I'll tell you now that the main source of my heartache was not letting go of what was already gone.


Love doesn't get lost--even with death.  
It adheres.  
It is bone deep. 

As Devon would tell me one night when sadness was more pronounced than not-- Dad isn't gone, we carry him with us. He made us.

Love endures.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

#SOL17: I've Never (Thanks Linda!)

image from my art journal (2016)

I was reading Linda B's post the other day and she invited readers to play a game called, I've Never...

From Linda's blog: Game explanation

Each player receives five (or three if there's less time) toothpicks. Each time the player HAS done the shared action, she or he must forfeit a toothpick. The one or you can choose to have three who still have at least one toothpick are the winners! You can time it and those left are the winners. 

Here's my list...

I've never. . .

  • climbed a mountain
  • traveled to South America
  • eaten Red Snapper
  • worn 4" heels
  • been to a professional basketball game
  • ubered
  • watched The Walking Dead
  • read or watched Gone With the Wind
  • been in a helicopter
  • voted Republican
  • seen the Northern Lights

How did you do?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

#SOL17: Making a Gelli Print Art Journal

Cover to Birgit's handmade art journal

Cover to Birgit's handmade art journal

inside Birgit's journal


Last weekend I took an art class with Birgit Koopsen from the Netherlands and she had with her several gelli-printed art journals she had made. Although our work during the weekend did not involve making printed art journals, I found her work compelling and beautiful and knew I would want to make my own journal after seeing hers.

Below is a quick look through one of her journals.

She outlines the process in this blog post.

gelli print plate with paint on it


papers I have made
So this week I decided to start making my own art journal by making a series of printed papers. I used a 12 x 12 gelli plate, fluid acrylic paints, Canson Watercolor sheets 9"X12" (90 lb), brayers, and different objects I had on hand to make marks on the plate, such as the rim of a glass, a corn holder, a foam stamp.

I had never used a gelli plate before last Saturday and I am finding it an incredibly useful tool for printing. Right now I am creating pages for the journal. Once I create enough pages, fold and glue them (back to back), and then assemble folios--I will move on to binding the journal.

Birgit creates a heavier cover using cardboard and
folded folios
paper. And then she just binds the pages using heavy-duty tape. I plan to do so as well.


After all that work, I will then have a journal ready to work in. Then I will create different art on top of the painted sheets of paper in the journal. One type of art I will be creating are image transfers from original photographs. Below is a brief video that shows one way of transferring laser printed images.

I found that using Liquitex Pouring Medium helps me to achieve even transfers. Also, printing black and white images with high resolution offers the blackest image for transfer. Some of these images I will hand paint and then transfer, others I plan to leave as black images that contrast with the paint already on the page.

Below is an example of a painted image I transferred to a journal based on a black and white photograph I made some years ago.

Two-page spread in one of my journals.
I hand painted the back and white photograph and then transferred it to a journal.

I love the collection of art journals I have created during the last year. I have posted images from the last year of hand made work, here. Most of the books I have used have been purchased, although I have altered two books: an old atlas that was Rob's and a book on color.

There's something special when the entire journal is made by your own hands.

Friday, March 24, 2017

#SOL17: Home

(M.A. Reilly, 2016)

I know/there are days/when the only thing/more brave than leaving /this house/is coming back to it. -Jan Richardson, The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief


I love my home.

This house was new when we moved here--not yet a home. During the last 15 years, we made every crack, every chipped paint, ever scratch on the wooden floors.

We leave marks in life--transforming wood and siding; pipes and soffits from house to home.


Everywhere I look I can see Rob, even among the new things he never knew--such as the kitchen table Devon and I bought after Rob died. I imagine Rob saying, Finally and I laughing. He grew to hate the round oak table we had for 14 years and wanted a change.

Now the table is gone. Devon and I rolled it out of the front door, placing on the street in early February, 2016 and in the matter of hours it and the four heavy oak chairs were gone.Someone had come along and claimed the set. We needed to make room for the hospital bed that Rob would need when he came home to die.

And thinking of this imagined exchange between Rob and me helps me to conjure my husband's voice--something I find more difficult to do as time passes. I can place him at the table--a cup of coffee before him in the Black Dog Cafe mug he had used for more than a decade. I can see him there and his hair is long, tied back with whatever piece of leather was handy, but I strain to hear him speak.

The sound of his voice is receding.


Home is where I give my heart to craft the work and art I love, to spend an hour each evening having dinner with my son, to remember the too many memories that we have made here between these walls and beyond them.

Love, like life, are matters of the heart.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

#SOL17: Making Images

What the Lark Knows (M.A. Reilly, Ringwood, NJ, 11/23/2010)

Someone in Australia  just purchased "What The Lark Knows," an art print of mine. I most likely will never know who the art purchaser was and in a few weeks I will receive payment. Meanwhile the art buyer will receive in the mail an art print of an image I made late fall, just a few days after Rob's birthday, when Devon was in 6th grade.  It was a day when there was a glorious fog. Dev and I ended up playing hooky from work and school.

"You want to run around in the fog?" I asked my son early that morning on the way to school and work.
"We'll go out for breakfast after I make a few images." 

We headed to the grounds of the local botanical gardens and Devon would later pose for me and then run through a field as the sun , looking very much like the moon, burned through some of the fog. I was able to capture both moments as photographs (see below).

And then we went out to a local diner and had some breakfast.

The Uncertainty Principle (M.A. Reilly, Ringwood, NJ, 11/23/2010)
Coming through the Rye (M.A. Reilly, Ringwood, NJ, 11/23/2010)

Now and then, I think about the many ways that the Internet helps to connect people with one another and with work that gets shared. I think of this each time I get a notification from Red Bubble, the company that sells reproductions of my work. It's a bit of a kick to think that in a week or so an image I made in 2010 will be hanging on the wall of someone's home in Australia. What a glorious time to be alive.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

#SOL17: Noah and the Raven

Today's slice of life grew out of a painting I did in a journal. I stared at it for a while and the story emerged. A year after Rob's death brings the knowledge that I am responsible for my own life. It isn't the acceptance of his death that I now struggle with. Rather it is the acceptance of the life that rests in my hands and what I am making of it.  

from my art journal (digital remix - 3.22.17)