Year 5, Piece Fourteen: 21. Yellow Black White

GUEST PIECE by Janet Self

Every seventh piece this year will be a guest piece, and I am honored to share this one by my friend Janet Self. Janet started and leads Flockworks, a nonprofit organization supporting community creativity and local arts initiatives in Mendocino County, California. Janet can create a participatory art project at scale like nothing I’ve ever seen, bringing together the work of dozens (hundreds?) of people into one cohesive piece. But even more than her formal art practice, Janet has taught me about what she calls “The Art of Living,” how life itself is a masterpiece that you craft over time. I met her first as my friend Lily’s mom in 2009, and now she is my friend in her own right.

Janet and I spent much of 2020 germ-podded together, us city folk retreating to the redwoods for what was supposed to be the summer but stretched on much longer. On Thursdays my kids and I would head over to Janet’s, giving both her and me a chance to play: her with the kids, and me with Rainbow Squared. Without those Thursdays, I’m not sure I would have had the time or mental space to build the momentum to be as damn committed to this project as I am now. So I am delighted that she is participating in it, if not totally collaborating, which is a distinction that she has taught me the finer points of. If Rainbow Squared was born out of the beginning of motherhood, I also love that Janet is doing it at the beginning of her grandmotherhood. There are many ways and seasons to be a mother artist, to be a parent artist, to be an artist, period.

21. Yellow Black White

By Janet Self

“Can you do May 5?”

My first response was a very clear “NO.” 
too busy too occupied too worried too cluttered too anxious...can’t possibly.  

then the beauty of this request bloomed. 
simply Step In and fill this gap. Push a little into my cluttered head and join this intriguing art concept NOW. 
Transcend my fears… 

Step into the yellow light of 

Get my assignment from ilyse:

21. Yellow Black White. 
The Power of Interconnectedness.
Transcendent Yes.
Yellow is power, will, your gut, your solar plexus, the place from which you say Yes.
Black White is transcendence, light, the way it all fits together, beyond the self, interconnectedness.
Observe how the colors come to you.

There is time. Breathe. Simply lean in and enjoy what comes. 

A hardware run for a few gallons of paint turns into a deep dive into the wonder of Paint Chips. I am compelled to make a collection, carrying away a huge stack of sample cards, each with an evocative word or phrase for a hundred shades of yellow!!

home again home again jiggity jig!

Up nearly all night in my studio exploring yellow and all things related to yellow. I touch nearly everything search group examine sort remember play mix organize connect to this story of yellow. I collect an amazing array of things. A set of recent yellow paintings center the bits I move in and out of these yellow fields. I capture hundreds of sequenced images in sets of 10 to 25.  Working without any real concept or direction, I simply play. 


Transcend things and time, just being. Letting go.  

Big learning in this new creative sequencing, like sketching ideas in seeing and using Flipbook Thinking.  Oh so many many many choices! 

Ah, Shadows are interesting. 

The night ends in a crazed sense of possibilities. 
My studio mess, waiting for months, is now transformed. 

Exhausted but moving through the day. By evening I am fragile.

Fragility comes with profound change. 
Chaos of uncertainty. 

Space, time, role, generations, “things & stuff” 
plus simple body realities.

As the mist clears, I see this exquisite moment of change. 

Now comes a transcendent sorting of reality & meanings.  

I smile. 
My heart settles.
Everything will be done. 
No pushing.

Notes from a Yellow Journey 
Undertaking this project at this time required a powerful jumping in. Crazy with all that’s happening in my life right now but I begin to see that Ilyse’s invitation to be a rainbow squared guest artist extends well beyond “art making” and into a sharing of an intuitive search for meaning.  

Breathe. Step in. 

So I will attempt to use my words and explain this golden yellow light of meaning that is a key in my creative journey. 

I have a funny relationship between words and my art. I have always been a pretty good talker. I liked books, dictionaries, thesaurus debates, facts, truths, stories, studies, all of it. My professional life was made successful through my words and abilities to persuade, plan, and organize. 

However, when I first dived deep into art nearly 20 (!!) years ago, I aimed to give up words as part of my art practice or at least I tried to set aside explaining and telling and persuading. While my Art making springs from abstract ideas, I have tried to let things emerge without too much brain work and explanation. More simply intuitive, visual line mark makings process 
balance flow pattern tension entry point scope scale 
light dark.  

So my essay began as a visual process oriented mishmash exploring the color yellow with black/white in relation to other realities of my life.  Grammar, verbs, punctuation be damned as I played with spacing, fonts, alignment, color highlighting, scale and such, hoping meaning would seep through to the reader. I knew I wasn’t really doing the assignment properly but it felt “very janet” and did include the glory of insight embedded in my cryptic notations. I sent my arty draft off to ilyse with the caveat that she could/should send me back to my task.  And she did, sweetly and with many words of encouragement and flexibility. 

Yellow has a hundred shades of color and meaning as demonstrated by my beautiful paint chip collection. It can be bright and shiny like daisies and morning  sunshine. Or mysterious, as the light at the end, of the tunnel, or of life.  It is the glory of hope or the scrutiny of investigation. It is also the color of caution.  Yellow is one of the three primary colors from which all colors emerge. I use yellow lavishly and I love the way yellow influences other primaries so dramatically. Yellow with blue makes all the greenery of life!  Yellow with red adds the glowing embers of fire and sweetness of oranges. 

For me, yellow has always reflected the essential glow of life spirit and energy. And I have lived with a robust can-do attitude to possibilities and why not?!. And I have backed it up with action and results. However in the last few years, I have been struggling and finding real limits to my energy. I have become distracted, discouraged and frustrated by working with others. I have been easily overwhelmed with too many things to do. I am muddled and muddied, feeling brittle like an old letter yellowing with time. I realize that I have been becoming “fragile.”  

My studio all-nighter in search of the meaning of yellow was glorious. But at 65 years old, there is a price to be paid. Until now, fragile was a beautiful word for me that evoked precious treasure, delicate works of art. Now it carries a much darker side. Looking it up is even more disturbing:  fragile—easily broken or damaged…“fragile items such as glass and china”...“you have a fragile grip on reality”…“a small, fragile old lady.”  

Oh my!!

Words listed as similar to fragile include breakable brittle frangible smashable splintery flimsy weak frail insubstantial delicate dainty fine eggshell tenuous vulnerable perilous flimsy shaky rocky risky unreliable suspect nebulous unsound insecure iffy dicey dodgy weak frail debilitated tottery shaky trembly ailing poorly sickly infirm feeble enfeebled. 

Quite a list! And quite the Opposite of robust, strong and unstoppable !! It is easy to assume we are indestructible, but one of life’s most painful experiences is falling short of your own expectations. Facing these truths about myself gives real pause. Yet now I am smiling. “Less is more” and fragile can become ever more precious. 

What is important? 

As I found with my studio mess, things in life have accumulated, piled up, gathered dust, and been left for later. The “stuff” of my life is in dire need of sorting, cleaning, and clearing away.  And while I have been working on this for the past few years, big change is imminent with no way to dodge or delay. 

This yellowing has elevated this focus on “stuff” and the actions required to address it. So the bright yellow light of scrutiny and truth has come to play and the golden clarity of “importance” is shining on all “stuff” that makes up my life: space, time, roles, “things,” and simple body realities. I am now eagerly on task.

Generational Shift & Eldering
We are right now preparing for our oldest daughter and son-in-law to arrive here May 1. They will live with us for at least the remainder of the year. Early summer will bring an extra sweet arrival of the future, a first grandchild. She/he/they mean that everything is shifting into a new era and a lifetime reality of time and priorities are changing before my eyes. 

Boom. Boom. Boomers from 1956 and 1950 vintage. I am 65 years old and Dave is 70 ½  and we are edging near to 40 years together. Looking back, time has flown by with passion adventure family community action struggle love hope kindness and effort. NOW. Here we are. 

Looking forward, the scale and scope of the view have definitively altered.  Standing inside the infinity pool, I can see right over that edge. It is not endless. As Dave has noted, life expectancy tables give him a decade or so. 10 years!  

Yet being in this end of the pool reveals the possibility of another beauty: eldering. I am ready to Step to the side of the infinity pool and become a lifeguard, helper and cheering watcher. I can hand out towels and bring snacks. And this role can be true not only towards my daughters and son and their partners and all potential offspring. It is true for our close circle of youngers including nieces and nephews, and our children’s friends, and younger friends of my own.  For me, it stretches to thousands of those I have connected with as artist, mentor, advocate, friend and supporter. And generally widens to rightness, fairness and kindness for all life on earth. I have always admired the idea that actions can be framed by thinking seven generations forward. Drawing on a four generational scale is a good starting place. 

Dave and I began 2020 with a commitment to explore our priorities and dreams in this new reality and deliberately frame our time and actions forward with care. Sorting what is important and what is clutter.  Prepare ourselves for a true generational shift in efforts and perspective. Then Covid began and placed everything and everyone in a similar vice grip. A true globalization of perspective. 

Yellow light means proceed with caution and care. 

So discern carefully in this time of great change. Know what is important and who or what you are committed to serve. Then put your “stuff” in order and live well. 

Yellow + Black/White
Sequence… Segments...Bits to a whole 
Transcend Worry thought trying
Generational shift…Eldering
Let go. Let go. Let go. 

It helped me get a 
handle on myself
and my life at an 
exquisite moment of change. 

Age stamina physicality with a hopeful twist and Generational shift. 

Tension and balance between 
Outward & Inward

Fear & Action

Time longevity mortality 

Begin & End

The brightness of yellow, 
in a hundred different shades, each with its own evocative name. 

Nothing is 
black & white 
Black and white each encompass
everything nothing 
and all. 

So I offer my essay