A Tapestry of Bark Paintings

During my 2017 solo show Le nez dans l’herbe, I put together a group of bark paintings on a wall.

I had been doing bark paintings, along with grass, foliage and water studies in the course of this series (Le nez dans l’herbe could translate as smelling the grass), and with each of those, I was fascinated by the endless variety of rhythm and color they inspired me.

The subtle and muted colors of bark take a significance when painted on a larger scale. Since the purpose of this series was to bring the visitor in contact with the sensorial aspect of nature, I thought putting up a wall of 22 x 30 inches bark watercolors would make a surrounding effect.

 

 

 

This is how it looked in my studio as I was preparing this ensemble.

 

 

 

 

 

I was pleased with the result (as you can see)
because this body of work brought me a step further in my ongoing research for expressing the sensorial aspect of nature.

 

 

Louise Jalbert, “Bark Tapestry”, 2017, Watercolor on paper, 5.6 x 10.2 feet

The Bareness of Bark

Once in a while, I like to get back to a feeling of bareness, of looking at what is essential, setting aside all the superfluous and complex and agitated in my life. Winter is a good time to do this, as nature itself is devoid of adornment.

For some reason, the bark of trees gives me the impression of bareness. Perhaps because I notice it more when the leaves have gone, or could it it be the restrained palette of browns and grays?

Yet, upon looking carefully at a single patch of bark, I see a whole world: intricate in patterns, complex in textures, with a great variety of nuances. Muted, certainly. But also rugged, strong, protective, and so discreetly appealing.

And so the humble bark conveys an invitation to see more in less.

Louise Jalbert, “Large Bark no 7”, Watercolor on Paper, 2017, 22 x 30 inches

Scents

The opulent array of colors that illuminated the trees only a week ago is now adorning the ground, carpeting lawns and streets with a lavish expanse of faded oranges.
In this final act of their life cycle, leaves are taking a majestic bow.

There is great elegance and grace in this aerial beauty coming to rest with such sumptuous abandon. As they desiccate, the leaves bring a coat of lightness and rustle to the hard concrete; under my steps, they exhale an earthy scent that stirs childhood memories of playing in them.

And from beginning to end, how mysterious and grand can also be the familiar things in life.

Photo Louise Jalbert, 2018

A Gouache Study

This is a gouache study of my children at a young age. Color sketching has been a foundation of my practice since the very beginning.

And painting people is something I want to get back to. If a quiet moment amidst your busy schedule appeals to you, let me know, I am looking for models.

Louise Jalbert, Children watching TV, 1995, Gouache on paper, 6 x 8 inches

The Role of the Artist

During our pilgrimage in India last May, we visited several ashrams, and had the chance to meet a some very interesting swamis.
In Uttarkashi, we visited Swami Janardananda, who has been doing, among other projects, educational activities with the young people in his surroundings.
After school, children and teenagers can walk up the hill to his small ashram, and are invited to do yoga postures, meditation, or chanting on a voluntary basis. With this comes spiritual teachings from the ancient yogic tradition, that foster strength and peace of mind, along with a strong sense of community.

When Swami Janardananda started this initiative some 30 years ago, ignorance, violence and alcoholism were rampant among the population. After children started coming to the ashram, they brought home new insights and practices, inspiring their siblings and parents. Now the children of these children come, and will in turn influence another generation.

 

 

 

Children walk up the hill to the ashram after school

 

 

 

At a time when India is developing at an incredibly fast pace, this is vital work, and quite an inspiring story. During a few minutes of casual conversation, I asked Swami Janardananda a question that often is on my mind:

What is the role of the artist in society?

He thought for a moment, then answered: “Express, not exhibit. Everything is divine. If it comes from the heart, it will be divine.”

(I understood “not exhibit” to be meaning not to show off rather than not exhibit art in venues).

A simple yet deep and wide-meaning answer. I appreciate the openness it leaves, because it is impossible to define the artist’s role: to create is an impulse, not a duty. It has to remain free. And connected to the heart.

What a way to go about our daily work, not only an artist’s work, but everyone’s work.

 

 

 

There was also some good advice given freely by the roadside.

 
Photo credits
Anya Sluchak: Swami Janardanada
Louise Jalbert: Mother and Child Climbing Stairs to the Ashram
Karsten Verse and Julia Noelle: Lady by the Road Sign

More Grass

“Green is the color of youthfulness; it is full of spring energy. It is the color of the earth aflourish. Green is not static but full of the energy and direction of growth, urgent on its journey towards the light. Gravity cannot keep it down; the call of light is always stronger. Green is the color of relentless desire. Even from under earth smothered over with concrete or tarmacadam, the green blade will rise. Nothing can keep grass down.”

John O’Donohue,
Beauty, The Invisible Embrace, Harper Perennial, 2004, p.105

Louise Jalbert, “Grass with orange and pink”, 2015, Watercolor on paper, 8.5 x 11.5 inches

Grass

“”By working in the garden you will serve the trees and plants and living with them try to become like them. Let the trees be your Guru. A tree gives fruit and shade. When the fuit is ripe it falls down, it is sweet to the taste. The wood of the tree you use for cooking your food. So the tree gives itself entirely, it holds nothing back.”
“Watch how the trees grow and learn from them. Also from the grass. Grass is lowly and puts up with everything. People tread on it, cut it and it does not defend itself. So also the earth; everyone walks on it; you hammer it, powder it-do anything you like with it, it remains quiet and friendly.”

Anandamayi Ma

Excerpt from “As the Flower Sheds its Fragrance”, Dairy Leaves of a Devotee”, compiled by
Atmananda, an Austrian born lifelong devotee of Anandamayi Ma

Louise Jalbert, “Grass with Yellow and Violet”, 2017, Watercolor on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches. Photo: Guy L’Heureux

A Pine Tree Sketch

Here’s a pine tree study. A simple, non-revolutionnay pine tree study. Because when I paint outside, my focus is on observing, not inventing.

I keep a receptive attitude, open to register colors, movements, smells, and everything up to the tingling of the pine needles. There is a selective process going on, there has to be (I did not paint each branch individually, nor every crack of the bark), but the exercise is one of careful study.

Not every artist goes through that process, but it is essential for me. These conscientious studies teach me; they feed my imagination, grounding it in reality. And they allow me to be in contact with what I want to express that lies on a more subtle plane.

How close do I need to be to the real thing? I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. Each sketch expresses what I could capture, then and there.

As I work on these sketches, a dialogue is formed between what I notice (Did I grasp the essence of this pine tree? Did I manage to express the splendor of it, the strength of it’s trunk or the softness of it’s foliage? How about that swooping sound the wind makes in the branches? Can I ever get all of this???) and what I intuitively perceive, that lies beyond the sensory impressions.

It is this subtle perception I am after. It reveals itself while I am sketching a tree or a lake. It comes casually, when I am attentive, not searching for it.

Louise Jalbert, “Pine Tree, lac Paré, July 27th, 2018”, Watercolor on paper, Moleskin Album, 8 x 23 inches

Painting Outdoors

Why paint outdoors?
Because you learn a lot by observing. It’s that simple but not so simple to do.

I do sketches more than paintings, but the exercise is the same. They are a first step in my work. The rest happens in the studio, based on these sketches and the experience that came with them.

Because outside, things happen. The eleven o’clock light has disappeared at noon, clouds get carried away by the wind, a bird sings then stops, it’s hot, it’s cold, now it rains and the lake has become gray, the water making a clapping sound.

Meanwhile, I try to grasp a little something: the diagonals formed on the surface of the water, the clouds that are reflected on it, the colors right under my nose or farther away. In this array of details, I make choices; each essay is a unique lesson.

This is better than being at the movies with special glasses on, because my whole body gets involved. Between what happens, what I manage to do and what comes as I do it, this little exercise is a bit of a happening in itself. It’s rather simple, don’t you think?

Louise Jalbert, “Lac Paré, July 27th, 2018”, Watercolor on paper, Moleskin Album, 8 x 23 inches

Outside

is one of my favorite words. “Go and play outside, children”, my mother would say, and it was free time, winter as well as summer.

Oh! The snow forts we built and the fun we had on swings! Maybe that is why I so love to paint from nature, because I feel so alive outside. As soon as weather permits, I love to take my gear outside and work there.

For practical reasons, I use techniques like watercolor and drawing, because they are easy to carry and organize. What matters to me is to feel and capture life as much as possible, let myself be infused by light, colors, sounds, smells which all contribute to inspire me.

This is why I’ll be happily out of the studio as much as possible for the summer. Acrylics will wait for a rainy day and will benefit from the harvest.

 

Painting by a lake, Lanaudière, Québec, summer 2016