Friday, August 07, 2009

Making art:
Where does it come from?

Sometimes I don’t have a clue. Strike that…many times I now realize, I don’t have a clue. I pull out the clay or copper or aluminum mesh. I push. I pull. I paint. I write. Then it goes out into the world in some form or another, a gallery show, a commission, or a play. Sometimes it sells and sometimes it might be displayed in my home or stored in a closet.

One piece I created about 9 years ago features a copper mask/face on the front layered with oil paint mounted in a black wooden box. The box opens to reveal a copper repoussé of a woman in a cloak, her arms raised with a sun on her right and a moon on her left, waves indicating water are below her and the tree of life forms a border around her. On the left side of the box is a copper piece inscribed with the words, “From fire to water to life.”

I was compelled to create this piece, but always had a deep discomfort with it. The mask/face on the front scared me, but I loved the goddess repoussé on the inside. The kite shaped black wooden box, made by my husband, was beautiful. But after I showed it, I was happy to put it in the closet. There it stayed for many years.

Last year, as I was setting up for Portland Open Studios, my husband pulled it out of the closet. I didn’t really want to put it out but he insisted. So I reluctantly hung it up on a wall for display intending to take it down when the tour was over. But something funny happened along the way, I realized what this piece was all about and made my peace with it.

This piece is about my Dad.

My Dad had glaucoma and was forced to retire, when the large automobile corporation discovered his disability. His anger and grief led him in a downward health spiral. After he died, I created this piece. The ‘kite’ shape is actually a coffin, it even opens up like a coffin with hinges on the side and inside, the poem I wrote and the repoussé are all about freeing him from his pain and letting go.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But I didn’t get it. And if my husband hadn’t insisted that I take it out of the closet and hang it up where I had to look at it for two weeks, I’d never have figured it out. As artists, writers, musicians or anyone who creates, the why is always a big question. Sometimes, we know. Sometimes, we don’t.

For the past year, I’ve been doing interviews and podcasts with artists and writers. What I’ve learned is that the drive to create is fueled in many different ways and that some artists do know where that fuel comes from, and some don’t. But sometimes, if we’re lucky, like I was, you get to figure it out. Patrick carves wooden sculptures based on his desire for stillness. Kelly paints her memories of landscapes. Nicky sculpts and welds her way back from cancer to health.

You can hear these podcasts at or read the articles on my other blog at

These podcasts will give you the opportunity to hear these artists personally explain their work. Their stories are unique and inspiring and these interviews give you chance to understand where their art comes from.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely realization, Susan! Thanks for writing about it with such courage and heart. And congratulations on finding the "why" and in the doing, freeing yourself and your understanding of your father.

Susan Gallacher-Turner and Michael Turner said...

It's amazing that I can make a piece and not know in the making...but maybe that's the point. I am, perhaps, sending myself a much needed message during the making of the piece. And it's in the finished product, that the meaning is made clear. And my challenge is to be open to receiving the message.

Thanks, Susan.