Me jamming to tunes during a painting session.
It's hard to believe that my short time here in Mooste is coming to an end. Today was my last full day in the town and strangely I am very sad to leave.
The day started like any other, except when I left my bedroom I found a number of artists and Moks members in sleeping bags in the lofted area outside my door. The sea of tie dye and the lingering aroma of green tea reminded me of Occupy Wall Street or St. Paul's. I noiselessly made my way downstairs to make my morning porridge where I was greeted by a few of the girls from last night's dinner who'd spent the night.
The morning and afternoon came and went without much event, until Patrick (an American who has lived in Estonia for the past several years) asked if it was okay if a reporter came to see my paintings. Since I set up my pieces last night there has been a steady stream of people to come see the works I've produced during my residency. Unanimously, they seem taken aback when I reveal that I have created all nine paintings over the past week and a half. When I confirmed this to the reporter he too seemed impressed, but I am always aware quantity does not necessarily mean quality.
A little later I decided to take advantage of my last day and took a walk "around town." The walk lasted 20 minutes, walking slowly. There is something so charming in this untouched part of Estonia. During my walk I saw one girl and a small dog- independent of each other. Though the day was overcast, everything around you is bright with white crisp snow and if it were not for the trees on the horizon you wouldn't be able to tell were the fields ended and the sky began. The isolated nature of this tiny town makes it seem that all time is suspended and the world outside of Moks doesn't exist.
Like clockwork Margeri paid her daily visit. This time bringing me peanuts- not sure why, but I opened them graciously and we shared them over our English/Estonian conversation (occasionally assisted by Google Translate). When she left she gave me a big hug and said what I gathered as "bye and take care," in Estonian.
As the afternoon melted into the evening I busied myself with finishing my book. As I sat in the kitchen trying to remember the three simple steps to using a French Press to make coffee Siim came in. Not one for many words, I was a bit surprised he stopped by. I offered him a cup of coffee, which we had to drink black because of the lack of sugar and milk- luckily He was a sport about it. Last night at the opening I gave him the name of an graphic/graffiti artist that he might be interested in. Over the next hour we talked about art, work and other interests. It was fun to have a nice evening chat and the perfect end to my stay.
Though I came to rural Estonia in an attempt to capture the potential racial tensions of entering a place which such a lack of diversity, I have been met with nothing but warmness and generosity. Yes, people were curious about me because I looked different, but never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome. Siiri would often relay to me what some of the locals would say after I'd met them. She'd laugh at their comments of how "tall and pretty" I was. When I asked her candidly about their comments, never did she report back any ill comments or impressions even when I pressed her. This experience has been wonderful to learn about a different culture, be able to paint during every moment of the day if I wanted and to make good friends during my stay. I only wish to stay longer next time.
Once a month Moks members and locals from the community get together to cook a feast of food, called Food Club. By tradition, the night's dinner surrounds a certain theme or type of food. Tonight's theme was beetroots. Now, I too thought what you're probably thinking, "what can you do with beets besides top a salad." Well, I had a lot to learn.
Opening my studio door to the sounds of chatter and plates clanking, I was excited to see what the evening of beets held. I was a bit hesitate as I approached and scanning the room I only recognized Evelyn out of the lot. I walked over to her and awkwardly asked what I could do to help. A part of the arrangement is that everyone must assist in the preparation and cooking of the food. Quickly I was given a chopping board, a small knife and six of these knotted rootlike plants to peel. A few of the girls my age began to talk to me about where they're from and how they love to come to Food Club and learn new recipes. I was told the Estonian name of the root I was peeling, which I forgot just as quickly, but it was described as "a pear that grows underground." It is eaten raw and does tastes like a firm pear.
As I looked around the table at all of us peeling and chopping various root vegetables, the image of Van Gogh's "Potato Eaters" continued to come to mind. The painting illustrates the potato harvesters gathered around in a small room cleaning and eating the potatoes they've just taken from the ground. Much like Van Gogh's rendition I was told that a lot of the food we'd be eating was harvested from various local farms.
When we finally sat down to eat, all of the residents had made their way to join the festivities. We all sat together laughing, eating and enjoying the various favors of beets!
The menu for tonight included:
This morning was a very late start as I woke up at 11:30. But once I was up and about I was ready to start painting. So far, I have managed about a painting a day, which has been a great exercise for both technique as well as creative outlet to keep up with this schedule.
Yesterday evening I began working on a portrait of the mother of the young boy I sat next to on one of my bus journeys. I didn't know it at the time, but as mentioned in a previous post his mother was one of the women working at the wool factory.
Happy International Women's Day to you all! Truthfully, I have never heard of this celebration, as all days should celebrate women. But, like the rest of the women artists at Moks, I happily accepted the flowers and chocolates.
Today was long, but productive. Somehow, I was able to complete two paintings between the daily visit from Margeri, the 10 year old Bieber fan, and a follow up visit from Iris the aspiring artist. Both of which came bearing gifts in the form of cookies, also in celebration of today. Again, I happily accepted and guilt subsided after a few bites.
Today was Siiri's last day at Moks before she heads to Tallinn en route to New York, New York. Over the past week we have been chatting excitedly about all of the things she "must do" and "must see" during her three days in NY before she continues her journey to South America for two weeks. Though Siiri will be visiting her sister there, she herself has never traveled to anywhere outside of Europe, so NY is bound to be both different and amazing. My words of advice included: don't talk to strangers, never look like your lost and watch your purse. I'm probably not projecting the best image of America, but better safe than sorry.
Since coming to Moks, Siiri has been amazing. She's shown me around the quaint town, introduced me to several of the locals and shared in many conversations over cabernet sauvignon, "because it's not too sweet" as she describes. It's impossible not to immediately love the soft spoken but feisty Estonian.
Though she is a few years older than me there is something about her which is very innocence and earnest in an almost childlike way. Her small frame and soft voice aids in the illusion that she is much younger than she is. In her portrait I wanted to capture this gentle persona in a cherub (angelic) portrayal combining both innocence and understated elegance.
"Man in Pink"
This afternoon, after I had completed the portrait based on Siiri, Evelyn gave me three additional canvases as I was quickly running out.
During the day we walked to the wool factory we also stopped by an auto shop to fix Siiri's bike that Sergei wanted to borrow. While we were at the tire shop there was a man there who accompanied us outside as we waited for the wheels to be inflated. The man simply stood there watching us as we watched the man put air into the tires. After a few awkward moments, in an attempt to document the awkwardness of it all, I circled around and began taking pictures of him. I gave him the "I'm a tourist and I take pictures of everything" shrug which he seemed to understand.
Therefore, equipped with new canvases I began reflecting on the seemingly mundane but awkward few moments at the auto repair shop to produce this painting. The stillness of the figure as it seems unaware of the viewer's presence is unlike the rest of the portraits that directly address the viewer. Also, the cropped composition insinuates something is happening outside the frame of the canvas's view captures this brief moment.
Wednesdays. For most they signify the halfway point to the week's ultimate goal, the weekend. For me, it marked a halfway point through my stay in Estonia. It's amazing how quickly the past few days have gone. But today was packed full of events.
The first being the completion of "The Woolhandler" painting. As mentioned in yesterday's blog, over the course of morning I finished the portrait of one of the workers in the wool and sheepskin factory. An hour or so later, as I sat at the wooden taken in the kitchen (as it was the "read my Marian Keyes book" part of the day) Siiri popped her head into the room to announce another visitor. Siiri had spoken to me earlier about one of the daughters of the women in the wool factory wanted to stop by. I was then introduced to Iris, a 13 year old young girl who upon first introduction seemed a bit shy.
As the three of us made our way upstairs towards my studio, Iris explained that she loved to draw and was interested in art school. When we reached the loft area Iris pulled out a small sketchbook of her works, but prefaced our viewing by saying "I get a bit embarrassed to show people my work." Without any further hesitation she dove straight into the first page of images. The square pages of the sketchbook were filled corner to corner of anime (Japanese cartoon style) drawings and sketches. She didn't seem the least embarrassed but rather in the thick of her element talking about drawing techniques and characters she'd made up. She was practically bouncing in her seat with excitement. All of her drawings were great and it was obvious she is very talented. After the showing Siiri left for downstairs and I began talking to Iris about pursuing art at college and to research performing arts high schools here in Estonia. Given her interests in anime, I showed her images of Roy Lichtenstein and other Pop artist dealing with illustrative works. After an hour or so, Iris was off with a promise to return the next day. It was a great time.
Later on this afternoon Evelyn, Moks' Lead Artist and Co-founder, arrived. I have only heard stories of Evelyn from Siiri and the other artists. I began to question her existence as she never materialized, more like a myth than a being. Though she was not here, I have been able to admire her work as her larger-than-life graphite drawings hang on the walls of the upstairs common space. Unintentionally, the more I learned about her and the more delayed our meeting she began to become this mysterious figure in my mind. When we finally did meet she lived up to all expectations, walking in the room with a warm smile and friendly banter. She happens to be an excellent cook with green chick curry on the menu for dinner. Dinner tonight was an unconventional but excellent combination of Thai and vegan bolognese pasta (made with Soya). The conversation began with the niceties of introductions since Katri and Dennis have just joined, but quickly turned to a discussion on the purpose and validity of art.
What I always like to keep in mind is Art like Politics can be a sensitive subject. Plus, I more than anyone, love to debate as everyone would soon realize.
The conversation dealt with two classical "Art Debates," art for art's sake vs. art for monetary gain AND what validates the "value of art?" personal preference or the art market.
Coming from a business background, I appreciate the fact that all art, at some level, requires an art market- those willing to buy, exchange and sell artwork. Though I do not believe the purchase price of a work validates it's "worth" from a conceptual level. But the existence of an art market is without question necessary for the sustainment of artists. That is, artists must rely on the demand (regardless of size) in order to sell their art. If an artist's intention is indeed communication of their ideas portrayed through art then they require a demand, a purchaser, an investor to spread their image, thereby spreading/communicating their views.
Unless, however, the objective of art-making is solely for the personal self- expression/reflection. If having an audience is not the purpose of art, then conversely it's purpose of the creation is purely to be consumed by the artist himself? Is art really art if it is not viewed by and communicated to the external society? Why produce it at all? If art's purpose is solely an internal experience not meant to be shared then why are there not more Vincent Van Goghs or Emily Dickinsons? Complete recluses who have no motive to show or publicize their work? (I guess thats a moot point as we wouldn't know about them if they were recluses).
That's why I believe we need an art market. But Sergei goes on to essentially ask "Is art qualified by money?"
I think he intended it as a rhetorical question. Regardless, I happily answered.
"Yes," I state simply, "in the sense of an art market it does. In the sense of the artist, no."
Bewildered he retorted, "Since when?"
"Since the beginning of time." I responded. It sounded right and ambiguous enough.
"Beginning of time? Give me a date. Give me a date for the establishment of an art market." He pressed.
However, when I returned the question back to him, "Sergei, can you give me a time for the establishment of the art market?"
Firmly, he stated "The 1800s."
The 1800s... Right...
Public Opinion: Didn't the first exchange of art and currency predate Christ. Maybe 1800 BC?
The other artists, agreed and disagreed throughout the conversation. It was great to hear Dennis and Katri's perspectives as well. As the conversation continued it shifted to a discussion regarding the next movements in the art world and motivating youths in art.
All and all it was a wonderful discussion and what I have concluded is there are various views on the validation of art and the necessity of an art market. No one person is right as it will never be determined how to define "value." BUT, the one with the Art Blog always gets the last word, like a true debater ;-)
Today was an extremely relaxing and beautiful day filled with sheep. Yes, sheep. Over breakfast Siiri told us of a place right behind Moks that is a wool and sheepskin factory. At the thought of any handmade craft and I was fully onboard for a field trip. A little past noon Siiri, Sergei and I left Daniel (who is currently installing his show) for a bit of fresh air as we walked to the factory. As we approached the red brick building it's exterior seems more like a rustic barn conversion than a CO2 pumping factory that I imagined. Siiri lightly knocked on the door, then using the entire weight of her small frame pulled the huge wooden door open. As soon as we entered we were greeted with the smell of warm apples. As it turns out, the wool factory owners also oversee the apple orchard and store some of the stock here. We made our way to the back of the open-plan building and climbed worn wooden stairs to the loft area. On the loft there were three middle-aged women all wearing long dresses, overlain with patterned aprons and Ugg-like boots, sitting as sewing machines, surrounded by mounds of sheepskin.
It was like the wool version of Bubba from Forest Gump: sheepskin shoes, wool sweaters, throws, hats, baby toys, blenders (not really blenders, but you get the picture). What's more, it is all handcrafted and sewn by one of the three women. For someone as obsessed with handcrafted anything like me, I was in heaven. Siiri began speaking to one of the women about altering one of the shirts she'd brought with her, Sergei began trying on various fur lined hats and I tried on the boots. After awhile, the women began asking Siiri (in Estonian) information about me and why I'd come to Mooste. They asked where I was from, seemingly unsatisfied with the answer Siiri gave, Birmingham, AL, as they might have been expecting the name of an African country. As I watched the woman pinning the alterations in place as Siiri stood in airport security pose, found it interesting that all three women were chatting feverishly and throwing the occasional glance and smile my way, to assure me all things said were positive or at least neutral. From Siiri's occasional translation of the conversation, I gathered they were all very intrigued but confused by my presence in the small town. One of the ladies even mentioned how her son sat next to me on the bus ride to Mooste, which gives some indication of 1.) the size of the town and 2.) my presence on the bus was noteworthy enough to relay to one's mother. We left after they'd finished with Siiri's shirt, thanking them for their time and hospitality. Upon our return to Moks I began sketching images that would embody the afternoon's experience. I have not yet decided on the final image, but that will be my task for tomorrow.
Other noteworthy events:
Today was a really productive day and I've finally established a routine: Wake up, get ready, eat breakfast, paint, drink tea, paint, read my Marian Keyes book, paint, think about painting, paint, see if Sergei is in the kitchen, eat, paint, blog. I've realized if I ever decide to become a full time artist, I'd be fat. Mainly because eating and painting are my two favorite things.
Onto art related topics: As I have mentioned, Mooste is only accessible by car or bus from Tartu. On the day I arrived into Estonia I had to take two buses, the first from Tallinn to Tartu and then one from Tartu to Mooste. On the latter leg of the trip I waited in the Tartu bus terminal where I encountered a man. Since the waiting room of the bus terminal was full I opted for waiting in the area outside where the buses arrive and depart.
On my way to the outdoor space I had to pass through a corridor where there was a haggard man prompted against the wall, head down and eyes closed. As I walked closer to pass him, you could easily conclude his state was alcohol induced. Just as I was a foot or so away from him, as if on cue his head flung up and looked straight at me and said "Hello, my darling!" Then went back to his previous position without missing a beat. This struck me as odd and somewhat comical, but thought nothing of it.
A few days after this incident a number of us were sitting around the dinner table when the topic of the surrounding areas in rural Estonia came up. The conversation turned from admiring the beautiful countryside to the high unemployment in many communities. It was explained that the high unemployment was due to lack of rural area industries. I then learned that a large percentage of the population in the areas surrounding Mooste struggle with alcoholism. This conversation made be begin to think of the incident in the bus terminal that I simply laughed off. In this painting I wanted to capture the solemn expression of the man from the station as well as the frustration of many of the families who are dealing with issues of alcoholism in these rural communities.
In the four days that I have been in Mooste I have already met a number of amazing artists. One of which is Sergei. Sergei is a sound artist and writer from Ukraine. He has spent his life in America, Russia and everywhere in between. He's has sarcastic humor, delivering punchlines in a deadpan manner which is only accentuated by his Russian accent. His slight build allows him the enter a room unnoticed until he makes his latest audience crack up with laughter. On the second day I was here Siiri took us to an old vodka distillery just up the road. The distillery has be converted into a high end guest house for visitors. Neither Sergei or I could determine who or why one might be visit this small town other that artists in residence at Moks. While looking around the premises we happened across a room that has been transformed into a photographer's studio. In the center of the room stood a victorian upholstered sitting chair against a black backdrop. Without hesitation Sergei sat in the chair when asked and posed for his portrait.
This afternoon I went to the local store to pick up a few items for dinner. During my visit I was helped by one of the shopkeepers to pick a red wine. She bounced around the shop and behind the counter with ease and familiarity, urging me to follow. When I finally narrowed my choices down to my final selection (only having four to choose from) she gave the simplest approving smile, which I matched with a full face grin. Though neither of us exchanged words that the other understood, it was a delightful experience.
I am slowly beginning to realize my stay here is as much about community and family as it is about art. At almost every meal the other artists as well as whoever seems to be in the house at the time comes together to partake in conversation, laughs and art debates. Last night was no exception as we all sat down around 9:00 to start our meal comprised of various courses reflective of the chefs' various nationalities.
Just before dinner I met Siim, a local from the town. Siiri laughed when she described how Siim comes by Moks whenever something needs to be fixed. Often when I meet people I imagine what techniques I would use when painting their portrait and Siim was no exception. As I introduced myself, Siim stood from his seat, looked at me with such directness that I couldn't help but be a bit timid in response. You can't help but notice the perfect symmetry and angular characteristics of his features. Over the course of the night I couldn't help but openly stare as if to memorize his portrait. If I had to guess I would say Siim is in his early twenties but there is a seriousness to him that makes him seem much older and more worn than his young face. I wanted to capture both the directness of his gaze and this illusion of age that transforms the young portrait.