Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Studio Visit

I recently had an experience which illustrated for me the phenomenal changes that have taken place in my life over the last six years.

My friend Randall Anderson had arranged for his John Abbot CEGEP art class to visit several studios in Montreal where his friends maintain their diverse artistic practices. It would give the students a tangible feeling for what life looks like for practicing artists.

Hayley and I and our open plan condo would be the second last stop on the tour.

Randall suggested that I join the students as my day would already be interrupted. Sounded like a good idea!

In an exhausting but immensely enjoyable eight hour period, traveling from St. Henri in Montreal’s southwest to Petite Italie in the north, we visited the studios of Doug Scholes, David Spriggs, Etienne Zack and of course, ours and Randall’s.

I’ve only just begun to see that it helps my own practice to discover that people working outside my genre are often, surprisingly, working with similar concerns. Even those that aren’t help to further define my practice to myself.

I’ve spent most of my life as an artist working in complete isolation from other artists. I’ve always been wary of being unduly influenced by the thoughts of others, likely because of an overwhelming insecurity I’ve had in my own ideas.

More recently, I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that I’ve isolated myself for other reasons as well.

I’m a recovering recluse. Like most people recovering from debilitating conditions, I’m on constant alert for signs of slipping back into old habits. My default position has always been to disappear, to observe the world through a window.

I have a notion that my Mother, affected by her experiences in wartime Glasgow, passed on to me a feeling of being under siege. During the war she was a young woman coping with an untenable existence at home while also under the strain of constant air raid sirens and bombings.

When I was a child she and I spent what feels like an inordinate amount of time peeking from windows, hiding behind doors, waiting for the landlord, the Fuller Brush man, the Avon lady, or some other unknown solicitor to get the message and move on down the street.

A knock on the front door was a signal to shut the hell up and sidle slowly to a curtained window to see whether or not the door really needed to be answered. It was occasionally a misguided neighbourhood friend trying to get me to leave the house. I’d answer the door but I didn’t always leave the house to play.

Summertime allergies added to my desire to hole up, peering from the front window like an invalid tracking the movements of the neighbourhood.

I still get a jolt when the phone rings or when there’s a knock on the door. The miracle of call display helps quell some of the panic and there’s always the peep hole in the event someone makes it past the security of our condo’s main door. Old habits die hard.

I know now that I have the ability to be part of things that happen beyond my walls. To rise to the challenge of everyday social situations or, in the case of the class visit, to withstand the intrusion of twenty or so people into my private realm.

I also know (fair warning to my forty or so facebook friends) the old habit will unexpectedly kick in again someday and I’ll inevitably go in to my facebook account, click on ‘settings’ and hit ‘deactivate’.