Monday, March 05, 2007

Ode to My Mom: Observation Nurseries of Calgary


Even my immersion in it was complete, and aimless. There was no outside, no space that wasn't in it.
My Mom worked for, and eventually directed a non-profit society in Calgary called Observation Nurseries of Calgary. Their method, as I remember it, was to form a once-a-week space in church basements around town where children, brought by their mom, were allowed to travel through the various activity areas(water table, sand table, painting), undirected, aimlessly, minimally monitored. At the end of the day we would sing together, the only prescribed activity.
Given that it was my Mom who worked there, this unstructured play and its value was present daily for both me and my sister, Amy. Not once-a-week in church basement, but the usual quotidian state of things in our house.
We were not a particularly hippy family. While I can still taste wheat germ and sugar-free health food lollipops, we had nothing on some folks I know.
Left to my own devices in play, structured activities always felt cursory and un-involved. If I could not spend the whole day at something because someone was encouraging me to move on to something else, it was too distancing for me to ever feel like something I had actually done. A personal relationship to something was impossible from the start if the end was pre-determined.
In art school, I started to explore the aimless in painting. My artist statements began to contain lines about the disappointment I felt at achieving anything I had intended to accomplish. Goaless painting, aimless work was so outside the mode of work I saw all around me that I believed I had thought it up myself with a little help from Heather Kvill's description of the methodology of Graham Peacock.
Years later it dawned on me that Mom had been a major influence on this way of working.
These days I never get to the studio if an end to the hours spent there is pre-determined. I will never meet anyone for drinks "after the studio" if the want me to be anything besides resentful for their having capped my aimlessness. While the purity of aimless work is always eroding and and returning, it never leaves my practice.
I mistrust directed activities, sketches, and costumes.
There's some rigorous patience that this bred.
There's something there too, just beyond my fingertips that is about duration and solitude and why I can paint again and again.
Truthfully, it may be because of my failure at my first chosen vocation. After asking me what I would like to be when I grew up, my sister complained to my Mom about my ridiculous choice. She answered in deadly seriousness: "He can be whatever he wants when he grows up, even an Elephant".

PS. Thinking about this, and having some conversations with my sister about it, I find that another common theme in my work -or at least its existence as thing-to-be-looked-at- has some ties to this.
The difference I often speak of between anyone and everyone. Or "for everyone" and "for anyone"(the prettiest chasm). I cannot yet connect this and that, but feel the juicy strings between them. Maybe that whole wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, sheep-in-wolf's-clothing, wolf-in-wolf's-clothing, sheep-in-sheep's-clothing, sheep, old wolf friend called "accident and intention".

5 comments:

Orchid & Wasp said...

This is great, I've been waiting for this one.

sarah said...

There's some rigorous patience that this bred.

patience yes, but impatience at the same time.

Wil Murray said...

Yeah the impatience is funny. Like many things that are deep inside of you, I count it as completely justified and so it is often not included in an assessment of things I got from childhood. Rather it gets counted under the heading: natural reaction to things.
That really smacks of terrible pop psychology, I know. Gahhhh....the very idea of an inside and an outside to myself is ridiculous and self-worshipping. As if I could see myself at all.
This post was less intended as an assessment of some total me, and more as an assessment of some sliver of me as painter. I think.

sarah said...

i felt, immediately after posting my comment, like i would sound like i was snarkily inverting your line or something to the tune of "oh yeah, well there's another side to the coin!", and the tune of "an intersectional understanding of the self means that everything/nothing is definitive!"... while i'm stunned by both of those ideas generally, i don't mean them rudely when i point them at you.

heather said...

I knew a Wolf once. He never wore sheep's clothing, though. It might have worked out if he did.
Look! I'm a label! Right next to you mom and your sister! I'm thrilled!