“It’s time to talk about our fear.”
Updated: May 16
Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom. Marilyn Ferguson.
In Conversation with Bobbi Sue Smith Part 1.
A Conversation With Fear 2. Mixed-media on canvas paper 14.7cm x 20.8cm 2020.
Visual artist Bobbi Sue Smith began thinking deeply about fear months before the Covid 19 pandemic shook up the world. Up-rooting herself from her hometown of Vancouver, Canada in the summer of 2019 and moving to Paris, the artist found herself starting all over again in her art practice. She told me how, before she had left the familiarity of her home, she had a set plan as to where she was going next. But, as soon as she arrived in Paris, all of that clarity vanished. This upheaval both physically and existentially plunged the artist into a state of uncertainty where she had to confront constraints that she had imposed upon herself throughout her life. This was a personal fear—one that would have an uncanny connection with what was soon to come.
I had a conversation with Bobbi Sue from her Paris studio, mid-quarantine, on April 10th, 2020.
Karen Moe: I am intrigued by the title of your new series of paintings: “A Conversation with Fear.” At this moment in history, people will most likely assume that it's connected to the pandemic. But you started working on this series long before the Covid 19 outbreak. Where did this focus on fear come from?
Bobbi Sue Smith: When I arrived in Paris, I quickly began to understand why Paris has been a mecca for so many artists throughout history. You’re inhabiting a place where you’re living simultaneously with beauty and with decay; with modernity and layers and layers of history. It gives you such incredible perspective on the human experience. Paris is a place that is conducive to thinking deep thoughts.
I quickly embraced that way of being in the world. For the first five months of living here, I spent so much time integrating myself into that experience I had no compulsion to create any art work at all. I found it almost impossible to sit down and paint. I eventually arrived at a point where I needed to start painting again.
Stillness 4. Watercolour on paper 10.5cm x 14.5cm 2020.
BS: I sat down to paint and I felt so overwhelmed by this incredibly long break and how much change had occurred inside of me. I had packed up my entire life in Canada. All previous art work I had ever made was sold. I wasn’t interested in storing it. I knew I was going to be moving on. I sat down in front of the art supplies that I had brought. I knew that when I had left Vancouver I was really clear on where I was going with my art for the next chunk of my painting career and suddenly it didn’t make sense anymore. It didn’t ring true.
I went down to Sennelier. A lot of artists will know Sennelier because they make gorgeous pastels, paints and papers. It’s a French company. The store is on the Seine and has been there since the mid 1800s. A lot of the painters that I look up to have shopped in this store. Three of my favourites are Bonnard for his gorgeous sense of light; Degas for the sensitivity of his sketches and Picasso for his constant questioning of the established way of doing things.
Stillness 9. Watercolour on paper 10.5cm x 14.5cm 2020.
BS: I went to Sennelier and I bought these massive pieces of paper and when I got back to my studio, I promptly threw them on the floor. I took big squares of graphite and just let these massive forms evolve from somewhere deep in my subconscious. I had no idea going in what was going to happen on that piece of paper. I also experimented with using twigs I found on the sidewalk in my new neighbourhood, dipping them in ink to create linework and mark-making. Looking back I see it was a way of internalizing, then processing and externalizing my new place of living.
Walking is an axis of my art practice; my art work is always a direct result of my long daily walks. My street photography captures my fascination with the quotidian experience in a very literal way; but this curiosity is expressed more abstractly in my paintings, through shape, palette, forms, textures, emotions, and now physically gathering bits of the city for mark-making. This is why gathering traditional supplies (as opposed to the non-traditional, like twigs and feathers and such) from Sennelier is an important part of the practice for me of ‘making in place.’
KM: I have always said that, if I were a politician, I would be a trade protectionist and focus absolutely on what can be ‘made in place.’ Except for the profit margins of international corporations, the global system of production is madness. One of many examples being how raw logs from British Columbia, Canada are shipped to China and the US to be turned into lumber and then sold back to Canadians. We are perfectly capable of milling our own timber as we were before the Neo-Liberal agenda took hold. Mexico, as another example, could be completely self-sufficient. They can grow anything, have gold and silver and even their own petroleum. There is no reason for Mexico to keep being raped by international corporations except for the continuation of an ideology of exploit. Do you see a connection between the creative praxis of ‘making in place,’ as an embracing and celebration of where you physically are making your work, and a transformation of Western culture and the global production chain?
BS: I think making and consuming in place, and in season, is absolutely a major component of pro-active change. I don't pretend to know enough about foreign trade to propose what a shift away from relying so heavily on international trade could look like, in a way that is beneficial to economy AND environment. But it is clear to see that on the individual level we hold a lot of power when we commit to meeting our wants and needs locally.
Many years ago I lived in a small city that was populated with small shops along the main street for specific goods and services. When the wave of big box stores moved into the north end of the city, I watched shop after shop close down as they couldn't compete financially with such heavy hitters. The casualties were not confined to losing these mom and pop businesses, we also lost a sense of community downtown, a sense of control over what goods were on offer, the ability to meet household needs without needing a car, and the vitality of the main street disappeared. That town is in the process of re-building a vibrant downtown, thanks to the efforts of locals. But witnessing that kind of profound shift awakened in me how supporting local producers nourish much, much more than the immediate physical need being fulfilled.
A Conversation With Fear 14. Mixed-media on canvas paper 14.7cm x 20.8cm 2020.
BS: The first series that I did in Paris is a very vulnerable series of water colour. They are very small pieces. It is called Stillness. I engaged in the process of this series where I chose a very limited palette, four colours. I chose one kind of paper and just a couple of brushes. And I said:
“This is where you’re starting. And you’re going to sit down in front of this piece of paper and you’re going to be very still and you’re going to listen to what shape wants to arrive.”
I turned myself into a conduit as opposed to something with intention. I sat very still and sometimes I would have to sit for a long time before the shape would emerge. And I would just paint whatever shape came to me. What wanted to be painted. And it took me a month. And at the end of that month, I thought:
“That was a safe place from which I got out of my place of being stuck.”
But I needed to push myself to evolve and I needed to challenge myself. Being in a brand new chapter of your life is a really good time to review what you’ve been through up until now and challenge yourself to let go of all of the shit you’ve been carrying around. It becomes really obvious when you remove yourself from the familiar how much shit is your own. It has nothing to do with your circumstances or your surroundings or any of your friends or your peers or your family. This is what you own and decide what are you willing to do to not get rid of it fully but to understand it and transcend it.
Stillness 30. Watercolour on paper 10.5cm x 14.5cm 2020.
KM: I believe that this whole idea of 'not getting rid of' what oppresses us both personally and culturally has to do with not forgetting what we have resisted and, from a revolutionary perspective, revolutionized. It’s important to not forget what we have overcome so that it doesn’t come back. We can keep an eye on it. Similarly, as someone who has been victimized by and survived sexual assaults, I think it’s unrealistic to somehow ‘move on’ completely. I think what we have lived through and worked through will never disappear fully. The ‘not getting rid of’ as the not forgetting what was necessary to understand and transcend. Be vigilant. Keep watch. So that it can't come back.
BS: I absolutely agree. Just like our body digests food, we process, take what nourishes, and the rest is shit that we can let go of.
A Conversation With Fear 13. Mixed-media on canvas paper 14.7cm x 20.8cm 2020.
BS: A Conversation with Fear was born doing a lot of intense work on myself and wanting to deliberately provoke myself in my painting to do things that I was uncomfortable with. How that looked for me in this particular series was using colours that I would not allow myself to use. I’m normally attracted to quite muted colours and to really limited palettes. I broke away from the graphic style of my early work. What happens when I bring bright colours in, what happens when I stop saying ‘No’? What I had started doing was saying a lot of No’s to myself. Placing all of these rules on my work that I had somehow collected or perceived along the way as to what makes good art. It’s funny how we can collect all of these perceptions or limitations. So, every time I came up against a sensation of No, I deliberately made myself jump into it. I used lots of colour and lots of layers. I used to be very obsessed with masking; this process is the opposite of masking. It’s really messy, and in contrast to Stillness it’s very agitated; it’s very restless; there’s a lot of movement. And you’ll also see a lot of borders drawn or lines. I’m examining creating these perceived limitations exploring our perception of containers. We can perceive containers as I draw a line around this and that makes me feel safe.
KM: How do these components of lines and containers as safety relate to what people in the First World have been experiencing through the pandemic? In these paintings, it looks to me like the lines are as remnants of constraint, but they are still present. Like the notion of never forgetting that which we have transcended, there is erasure, but it's not absolute. The lines, the borders, the containment are still there but they don’t have as much power.
BS: I'm examining a lot in my work this year the idea of borders or containers. Containers keep things in, but they also keep things out. They can hold, and protect. They can carry a life – in the case of an egg, they can sustain life - in the case of a water vessel. Even our own body is a container of fluids and matter. Containers can be imaginary also, but they become very real when we mutually agree to them - as in the case of borders. They allow us to collect and organize, or they allow us to demonize or exclude. Humans have relied on all manner of containers for survival and evolution, but we've also relied on them to punish (jail) or reject (internment camps). When we live in fear, we set up imaginary and real borders in our lives, borders that include or exclude. Right now, in quarantine borders / containers are a very tangible part of our existence. Limitation is also something that constrains us, it prevents us from learning, from connecting, it prevents us from stretching outside of that container that we’ve created for ourselves.
KM: So, ironically our safety can be constraint.
A Conversation With Fear 7. Mixed-media on canvas paper 14.7cm x 20.8cm 2020.
KM: The same way that I was intrigued by your A Conversation with Fear being composed of beauty, I don’t find these paintings agitated at all. I find them quite peaceful. They’re also very joyful. People generally think of fear as something like Goya, something with darkness as the quintessential perception of fear. And your palette couldn’t be more delicious, so there must be great joy in plumbing this (personal) fear. When you’re in the act of painting, how do you feel? Do you feel fearful?
BS: I believe that fear looks very different for everyone. While this palette does register as quite joyful, for me it's definitely out of my comfort zone. The funny thing is when I completed this series and I looked at all of the sixteen pieces hanging together, I felt elation and liberation. I felt a sense of accomplishment and sincerity. The work felt absolutely authentic. And that was because I knew that, while I was painting, I was really struggling.
There were points when I really wanted to give up and go back to painting what I knew felt good to me. To retreat to that safety. I wanted to quit so many times. As I persisted and as I kept reaching for these colours that I would never have used all together, I began to feel a kind of defiance towards my fear. I had pushed through all of the boundaries, the walls I had erected around my work: my work has to look like this, has to behave. When I looked at them all together, I felt free of those self-imposed constraints.
A Conversation With Fear 6. Mixed-media on canvas paper 14.7cm x 20.8cm 2020.
KM: As someone who has painted so much figurative work, what’s the difference for you between abstract and figurative painting both in praxis and perhaps even intention?
BS: I’m attracted to abstraction because, for me, it’s much more challenging as an artist to create a good abstract painting. It’s infinitely more difficult for me to come up with a composition in abstraction, the scope is so wide, it’s infinite, you’re playing with no rules. It’s like free-falling. This is a new frontier for me. It’s a next evolution.
KM: Abstraction is a good metaphor and practice for our time, a starting over. The current reality as an abstraction, a new frontier. The abstraction of the familiar that you speak of in your art can be seen as a jumping off point. How does this practice of painting abstracts that emerged during your personal experience of uncertainty and the new connect to what could be happening throughout the First World at this point in history?
BS: A period of great unrest and swift or monumental change is most wonderfully navigated by simply being OK with not knowing. The ego wants to know: when? how long? how much? But when we accept that we don't have the answers right now, that things will reveal themselves at their own pace, not our pace, we move back into the present moment, which is a much easier place to be. The present moment is, in fact, all we have.
This moment in the privileged world, for me, connects very closely to the state I was in with my art practice when I moved here to Paris. Suddenly the series I had been so clear about in Vancouver was no longer relevant after three months of upheaval and moving across the globe.
I was left with all this empty space, no series, no new community, no established routine. It felt a little like a free fall. I felt like I needed all these answers in my practice, so I could move forward and create, but the harder I tried the more I felt as if I was spinning my wheels in mud, creating a bigger rut. I found myself in front of these blank art substrates, completely intimidated. At this point I had to make the decision: I have no idea what I'm going to do, but I'm going to start anyway. I'm going to be OK with not knowing what is going to happen. Little by little, I sang the flesh and fur back onto the bones of my practice. Now my muse is so wild, I cannot keep up with her.
KM: Do you see the abstraction that we are experiencing now as temporal? Do we inevitably, as a society, have to come back to a form of the figurative?
BS: I think the long-lasting strategy you refer to can only come from a massive internal shift, but yet on a global scale. The abstraction we experience now is of course rooted in the temporal, but it is when that shift happens in the non-tangible plane where the real work is done, where the very core of our values lie, that's when we'll begin to see progress. Perhaps this means we do come back to the "figurative", but what does that figurative look like? Can it be a new representation that we've never seen before?
Stillness 28. Watercolour on paper 10.5cm x 14.5cm 2020.
KM: What is your connection between stillness and fear?
BS: The first time I experienced real, deep fear was when my sister was killed by a drunk driver. The day of her funeral, I was outside, perfectly still, just staring at the sky. The unbearable grief I felt made it seem that time had come to a complete standstill. I remember most this feeling of crystal clear stillness, where life was simultaneously unbearably sweet, and painful. I wanted to clutch every perfect thing and seal it into my chest, somewhere safe, where it couldn't be snatched away—my son, the blue sky, the birdsong, my breath, my youth. It was in that stillness of absolute grief that the illusions of what we ascribe importance to just fell away and all that was left was what was truly valuable. My gratitude felt like it would shatter me.
I feel a similar sense now in this time of global stillness. We are still in shock, but as we begin to register how this pandemic has changed things forever, we will collectively mourn. The stillness will be shattering. We have no choice but to live in this new world, this new way of being. We don't even know what that means yet. But we do have a choice as to how we integrate that grief into our new experience. We can be bitter that it has happened, but that will only lead to more fear. But we have another choice. We can allow it to soften us, to ponder how this experience can change us for the better. How we can be more compassionate, more vulnerable, more generous.
KM: Do you think it's also (very) possible that people will snap back into what they are/ were used to? How do you think this pandemic has changed things forever? It would be nice if we had no choice but to live in a new world, but don't you think the corporations will revv up again as soon as they can bring us First World kiddies all of our goodies back? Do you really think Covid 19 is going to inevitably lead to a transformation of being, of ideology? Are people really making a connection between this virus invading our homes because we brought it home, to the big picture of a destructive system based in greed? You are much more optimistic than I am.
BS: I do think the pandemic will leave an indelible mark on us. Much the way 9/11 did to America, or the way my sister's sudden death did to me. A shift in perception may not make a radical difference that is evident from an outside perspective, but it does change our inner compass doesn't it?
For me I make sure to tell my near ones how much they mean to me with complete abandon because, unfortunately, I know that in one fateful moment that opportunity could be snatched away forever. For America, I think many of us are familiar with how 9/11 has affected traveling into the country, not to mention the aftermath of illness/death the first responders are still experiencing to this day.
How we are affected by this pandemic is yet to be decided. I think we've all caught a glimpse of how quickly that which we take for granted can evaporate. What people decide to do with this glimpse is unpredictable. We've seen incredible acts of generosity, innovation, creativity—for example, people all around the world are working to create community in new ways, setting up forums to help each other out, museums and cultural institutions are sharing exhibits and performances for free, people are providing free classes or entertainment for each other, not to mention the profound generosity of the people on the front lines: medical workers, first responders, people working in grocery stores and public services, the workers ensuring we have power, water, heat, sewer, garbage collection, transportation—these people are out there every single day taking care of us at their own personal risk. I have so much respect and reverence for all of these helpers. They give me the wonderful sense that with the right motivation we as a whole can solve any problem the world is experiencing: quickly, efficiently and creatively.
Stillness 24. Watercolour on paper 10.5cm x 14.5cm 2020.
BS: But we've also seen enough acts of manipulation, selfishness, capitalizing on suffering, and ignorance to understand that the momentum could easily tip in the exact opposite direction. One example that immediately comes to mind are people buying up all of the cleaning or first aid or medical supplies available in a community and then re-selling them at a massive profit. A capitalist might argue that creating false scarcity is just a good business move; a humanist could argue that it is putting lives at risk for profit.
What we are experiencing now is just the very seed of experience, the repercussions of which will undoubtedly take years, decades to integrate. The blow to the economy is just one factor that will not be sorted out in a few weeks’ time. It is here particularly that we see an incredible amount of opportunity. What if we focus all of our energy on rebuilding the parts of the economy that are sustainable; creating equal opportunity; becoming responsible to community, to the environment, to the feminist causes, to our children? And what if at the same time we told businesses that exploit, that profit the few at the suffering of many, to take a flying leap? Because we in the privileged world have all been complicit in allowing this and future disasters to unfold. We are complicit in the way we clothe ourselves, feed ourselves, shelter ourselves, transport ourselves.
It would be nice to think we can choose something new, wouldn't it? But that would require looking past how this pandemic has inconvenienced us, and use the "great pause" to consider how we have personally contributed to the state of affairs in 2020, and what changes we can personally make to contribute to a better 2030. Let's never go back to "normal", because "normal" was severely fucked up.
A Conversation With Fear 3. Mixed-media on canvas paper 14.7cm x 20.8cm 2020.
KM: What does this grief that you speak of contain? It seems to me that it is far from only personal, like when grieving the loss of a loved one, and that it’s more of an existential, cultural grief that you are alluding to.
BS: If we are to properly move forward, we must grieve and let go of the way things were. Grieving a past doesn't mean that the next stage brings doom. But it does require taking stock of things, truly understanding what is useful, and what no longer serves. That will take some serious guts. Are we up for the challenge?
KM: Grief is about loss and processing a sudden absence. What have we lost that will instill change? Perhaps we must let go and then grieve. Or have we lost something already that will generate more letting go and lead to a deeper grieving? Going back to the personal where we began this interview: what are you grieving?
BS: What we have lost is only just beginning to be revealed. For example, millions upon millions of people have lost their jobs. How will that play out? What will that look like? As a parent, I'm unfortunately familiar with the sense of extreme fear and failure one can feel inside when you have no idea how you are going to feed and shelter your child next week or next month or when the savings run out. What happens when the government can no longer continue to provide assistance?
My father grew up during the Great Depression. I used to query him endlessly about it. The concept seemed so foreign, so dramatic, so desperate. Now I'm wondering if we'll begin to see the kinds of things he told me about. Humans are incredibly innovative when necessary. But if we are to traverse such wretched terrain together, it will take a lot more than creativity, it will take community. It will take thinking of the whole before the self––which isn't exactly the privileged world's forte at current.
Besides processing the absence of having what we want when we want, perhaps people are also grasping with the sensation I was left with when I was processing the grief of my sister's death, or the divorce from my son's father––the realization that it's not always going to be OK. Sometimes really horrible things happen. And it breaks us. But they say tenderness comes from pain. So even though I'm reminded of that loss of innocence that happened during my times of greatest grief, I am reminded that I always have the choice of how I can respond to the pain: with even more tenderness, even more compassion. Let's hope that this is a global realization.
A Conversation With Fear 12. Mixed-media on canvas paper 14.7cm x 20.8cm 2020.
BS: I found it very interesting how my first series of 2020 are based in stillness, and the second in fear. For me, I've not witnessed such a pervading sensation of stillness in my lifetime. Amidst the chaos, fear, and tragic loss of loved ones for so many, there is simultaneously an experience of calm, of people being at home with their families, finding contentment in less, not travelling, perhaps re-discovering what is truly valuable in our lives. So it’s interesting to me how the two themes that I began the year exploring, I am now seeing reflected on such a massive scale.
KM: That’s really interesting to me that you are speaking of the pandemic in a positive sense of people coming together with their families and experiencing this transformation as a personal experience. For me, even though people aren’t able to travel, it’s the opposite. I don’t think that those in the Third World (and the Third exists in the First and vice versa) are or will experience the pandemic this way. Many people have been talking about using this pandemic, this great pause, as a time not only for realization, but also as an opportunity to ‘change our ways,’ so to speak, that this is a sacred opportunity that we will never have again. I would argue that this is a task and responsibility of the privileged of the world, the ones who have, ironically, benefited from their culture’s dysfunction.
BS: Absolutely, this pandemic radically sheds light on how much privilege we hold in the privileged world. But with privilege comes responsibilities. At least it ought to. The level at which we’ve been consuming is completely unsustainable. We’ve hit a wall where the repercussions of taking and taking and taking from the earth has hit its saturation point. I have the sense, the hum in the ear, that this pandemic is not so much a flash in the pan to be dealt with and then we’ll carry on business as usual, but rather the hair on the scales of balance that are now tipping toward something we’ve been avoiding looking at for a long time. This isn’t so much a knock at the door, but the footsteps on the path before we even hear the knock.
As Gen Xers, we devoured apocalypse films growing up, joking we'd be ready when the proverbial shit hit the fan. But I think on some level some people are disappointed this can't be solved with brute force like we witnessed on our screens, but must be approached with patience and selflessness. I think for me personally and others globally, many are recognizing the value of slowing down, that we really don't need so much. We don't need to own so much, do so much, travel so much, to validate this miracle we've been granted called Life. The value of connecting with a dear one, taking a walk in the forest, a freshly baked loaf of bread, a hug, a chat with a neighbour—these are the things that nourish our lives. We can live without a lot of things; it's really very simple what we need to flourish.
I've been thinking of my father and grandfather a lot through this time, wishing I could ask them for advice. A little perspective is required now I think from people who are intimate with loss, with upheaval, with uncertainty, with making do. Because my father was born in 1925, I once decided to ask him what his favourite decade was and why. He said they had all had their charms but he would choose the 40s:
"People get so excited about buying all kinds of things now, and doing so much," he said. "But back then on a Friday night we used to go to a neighbour's house for a cup of coffee and a card game and it really felt like enough. I miss that."
Stillness 18. Watercolour on paper 10.5cm x 14.5cm 2020.
KM: Were all of the pieces in A Conversation with Fear painted pre-pandemic? Are you planning more? If so, do you have an idea of where you’re going go with these now that your personal upheaval and fear has become externalized globally? The first are very libratory. From a quarantine context, there are going to be restrictions. But perhaps these will be restrictions that result in openings.
BS: That is precisely what I'm thinking about now. The conversation with fear isn’t finished yet. All of the finished work were painted pre-pandemic. I painted them in February and it still felt like an abstract issue. It was a tragedy in China, but it didn’t yet feel like a personal threat.
Before March 16th, when President Macron said "that’s enough," life in Paris was business as usual. The painting of the fear series came before the incredible blow that hit France so hard. It happened suddenly. It felt like a sudden life change. It feels like a totally different life, now. I process through painting. I can’t predict what the new work in quarantine is going to look like. I am the witness to my work. It’s not being generated from a place of intent, but rather from a place of being present. I'm very curious to see the impact of living in isolation on the new work, as my work is in a constant dialogue with my surroundings.
A Conversation With Fear 15. Mixed-media on canvas paper 14.7cm x 20.8cm 2020.
KM: I asked another artist recently if he has been working on any art while being holed up in his studio. He says he has been trying but so far it has only been a series of false starts. I told him that this could be a good title for a new series! False Starts. I think your personal life-experience and art creation process as a sudden shift from a fixation on representation and the known to an immersion, almost inescapable, into abstraction and the unknown can be connected to what we are (or can) experience as a culture. An acceptance that there will most likely be series of ‘false starts’ and keep pushing through even though it’s not working out right away.
Throughout history, artists have often led the way in terms of creating through what is happening before it literally happens. In his article in Vulture Magazine “The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One,” art critic Jerry Saltz states: “I want to speak loudly for what art has always been—something done against the rules of advanced capitalism. Art isn’t about professionalism, efficiency, insurance, and safety; it’s about eccentricity, risk, resistance, and adaptation.” How do you see your creative transformation connecting to Saltz’s proclamation about the true nature of art, and also how do you see artists leading the way in terms of a cultural (and ideological) transformation? Is there a strategy that non-artists can use in learning through the risk and adaptation that Saltz claims is inherent to art? In your opinion, is there a way that these words can be translated into practice beyond the obsessive desire of artists to take risk, innovate, and delve into the unknown? Or the as-of-yet known?
BS: I read that article in Vulture, it is fantastic and has stuck with me since reading it. I was also struck with an interview in the Japan Times with Mori Art Museum director Fumio Nanjo that I return to often when I’m thinking about just what you’ve asked. He claims that creative thinking is the key to success in future urban planning: “the more we can create a society in which people seek their own answers, in which people address problems without allowing existing practices to restrict them, then the sooner we can create a truly innovative society.”
A Conversation With Fear 9. Mixed-media on canvas paper 14.7cm x 20.8cm 2020.
BS: I think we can expand on this praxis to include not just urban planning, but forward thinking on all levels, from the individual, to the community, to the national and international. A new set of values based on these very merits Saltz speaks of. Buying local, making do and mending, relying on shared assets and skillsets, growing your own food, making your own clothing, creating solutions instead of buying solutions, prioritizing experience over material accumulation, making homes with small to zero ecological footprint, radical self-acceptance—all of these things are antithetical to capitalism and they begin with the individual. What power in that! They all require eccentricity, risk, resistance, and adaptation. They require taking the risk into our own hands, rather than waiting for a governing body to implement necessary change. They all require individual thinking, personal and social responsibility, being different. Until it’s not different anymore.
The creative life is viewed with apprehension, even suspicion, by people who don’t think themselves creative. But the truth is we are all artists. Creativity is definitively the reason humans have endured thus far. When we examine the history of humankind, it is creativity that has met each hardship with a reason to innovate and progress. Though the life of the artist lacks a map from A to B, that should not keep us from the treasure buried at X. X represents the unknown, the wild beast in the woods, not to be trusted, yet despite that, creativity seeks to befriend that wild beast and learn from its instinctive ways.
When the artist meets the unknown in their studio, they likely don't consider technical limitations of the solution: they likely hold the ideal in their head, turning it this way and that until the path forward presents itself. We find ourselves in these dark woods lately, the world is changing so rapidly, that looking to the past for guidance is no longer relevant. What is called for is the fearless innocence of the artist. Never doubt that we can observe, listen, contemplate, sit with, question, take risk, possibly fail, iterate, solve, and re-iterate our way to that ideal. Envision that ideal. Look to the Artist in you for the way forward.
Stillness 7. Watercolour on paper 10.5cm x 14.5cm 2020.
About the Artist:
Bobbi Sue Smith is a visual artist who has worked in both solo and collective capacities in communities ranging from the isolated to the metropolitan. Her work, in painting, textile, and photography collects and questions the impressions of the quotidian experience, paying particular attention to the roles of memory and story. Her diverse body of work is unified by the aim of promoting discourse and critical thinking about materiality, process, class politics, and the socio-political contributions of the handmade. You can follow her work on Instagram @madebysmitty and her website madebysmitty.com.
She currently lives in Paris, France.