Friday, December 30, 2011

About Napping

Moving hearth and workspace gives rise to a sea of stress that would drown me if I didn’t have a reliable life raft. Last week I griped about how I allowed my life to get crowded. This week I will pat myself on the back for taking naps.

I married into a family that played solitaire, spent long hours talking at the table over wine or coffee and got to work at ten o’clock in the morning at the earliest. My assessment of this behavior, oft voiced to my Spanish husband, was that my country’s work ethics got us to the moon. He seemed to prefer to live in the glory of Spain’s past and enjoy all the leisure he could get away with. I learned to nap from this family I married into, in addition to a number of other customs that have enriched my life, but napping is far and away the one I most value. Friends and family know that I don’t answer the phone between from about one to three (lunch and a bit of reading get factored in there) and I know that anyone who calls at that time is no friend of mine.

The effort I have been making to tie up the loose ends of my marketing projects and to walk away from those that have been my reason to live in my studio, and to dealing with the learning that goes into a house purchase and renovation — believe me, honoring my nap time, my splendid, blesséd indulgence, has enabled me to pick up and return to the fray every morning. Well, almost every. There has been a day here and there (this is the closest thing you will get to a confession from me), that I have gotten up at six (usual), sucked up a big cup of coffee, read the local paper, (all usual) and then, very quietly, I slip back into my bedroom and curl into my easy chair with my pillows and take a morning snooze. After coffee? Yup, napping is something I do exceedingly well. I can find that place in myself that connects me to sweet oblivion. The day I reach my one hundred and tenth birthday and am interviewed for my advice about how to keep going at such a pace for so long and so well, you will know the answer. Slumber. Often. More is better.

Bob HopeI don't feel old. I don't feel anything till noon. That's when it's time for my nap.

Remember that to ease the transition, all work from 2007 and earlier that I am not currently marketing is on sale at a 50% reduction in price. The image above, Small Town, is included in this group. It is acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, ©1993, framed and hanging in my studio. Email me for images and prices or call for information or a studio appointment. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

About a Full Life

I like to have something to do. I don’t like to have a lot to do. It’s lovely to be focused on a task to the exclusion of everything else. Days like today, when there was so much that seemed important and urgent, everything vying with everything else for my attention, make me want to walk away from all of it. 

Sometimes life gets too full. A good solution would be to get myself cloned — several times over. Then one part of me would be writing this blog, another would be in the kitchen baking the cake that I promised my daughter for her party and another would be paying the bills that are in danger of coming overdue. One of me would be working happily in the studio while another putters mindlessly about the house. One could be on the phone with a friend and an additional version could be reading quietly or (oh, joy!) taking a nap. None of me would be cleaning house. No sense in wasting any of this bounty.

And now all of me wishes all of you a joyful holiday with many happy returns.

The photo above is what the space that will become my studio looked like the day I saw it for the first time. If you stay tuned for updates you will see it become my ideal of a workspace: the well-illuminated inside of a white box. Hard to imagine, huh? Well, have faith.

Here’s an update on the moving story: I have the keys to the new quarters now. The plans for the renovation to what will be my studio are out for bids. The move is planned for the very end of January and it is my hope that the studio will be ready then. That is probably wishful thinking, but life has been so good to me lately, I’m going to assume this will just fall into place well. Or if not, I’ll adjust. Do not want to seem ungrateful to whatever angels have been seeing to my well-being.

Remember that to ease the transition, all work from 2007 and earlier that I am not currently marketing is on sale at a 50% reduction in price. Email me for images and prices or call for information or a studio appointment.

Friday, December 16, 2011

About the Loss of Selfhood

I just wrote a note that I ended with: “Imagine how many interesting people there are in the world, who have much to offer us, that we will never know”. Then I realized that is what books are for. And they are blessedly low maintenance. Joan Didion’s Blue Nights was a generous gift. I had read The Year of Magical Thinking which dealt with the death of her husband. Her daughter died not long afterwards and led to the writing of Blue Nights.

What surprised me about both books was that death caught her unawares. In spite of there having been several untimely and tragic departures amongst family and friends, she was totally unprepared for its assault on her. While the pain of loss would be whatever it was, death has always been visible in my picture of life’s probabilities at any moment. But what do I know? I hope to experience my own demise before that of any who are in the foreground of that picture.

Where Didion focused most meaningfully to me was on the loss of her self, of the person she was. As she experienced those disappearances she aged (or seemed to) more quickly than before. She had been fragile; now she saw herself failing and fading. Perhaps it is because she and I were born in the same year that her experience gripped me. I have not yet been drawn into the downward spiral she describes so affectingly but do not expect to be forever invulnerable. I think a lot about aging; it seems to happen far more quickly and causing more change than anticipated. Didion says: “Aging and its evidence remain one of life’s most predictable events, yet they also remain matters we prefer to leave unmentioned, unexplored”. I would recommend that everyone, at whatever age, give some thought to it. Best not to let it catch you unprepared. Think about death too. No matter what you think or how smart you are, it will get you, too.

I quoted here once Isabel Allende (who also lost her daughter) who said in an interview: “Life is about loss”. Didion says it differently: “ 'You have your wonderful memories,' people said later, as if memories were solace. Memories are not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone. Memories are (school) uniforms in the closet, the faded and cracked photographs, the invitations to weddings of people who are no longer married, the mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember. Memories are what you no longer want to remember.” She talks about “staying alive”. That is not the same as being alive. Big difference. I think in pictures: staying alive looks like someone who has fallen over the edge of the cliff and is hanging on to a tree branch by her fingernails. Being alive looks more like somebody dancing or busy at work.

I did a poor job recently of attempting to explain to my son-in-law why old photos make me feel sad. Recently taken photos don’t do that. Old photos are about the times that will never be again. I cannot ever again have the family whole and together as it was. Or be with my school friends feeling our futures in the palms of our hands, thinking we could do whatever we wanted with our lives. Didion’s take on this time: "Ask anyone who was a child during the supposedly idyllic decade advertised to us at the time as the reward for World War Two. New cars. New appliances. Women in high heels and aprons removing cookie sheets from ovens…  This was as safe as it got, except it wasn’t: ask any child who was exposed during this postwar… fantasy to the photographs from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ask any child who saw the photographs from the death camps.” Two sides to this coin.

Life is good now. I am more and have more in many ways. But that does not change the fact that I can’t have my kids as little children again nor my friends young, healthy and alive. I can’t introduce my children to the grandmother they never met. A reviewer in The Guardian said something about the artist’s ability to create order out of chaos. Sometimes it can’t be done. What was is gone. Forever.

From a recent interview in Time of poet John Ashberry:
You're 84. Do you think about death?
I've never not thought about it. There are not that many things to write poetry about. There's love and there's death and time passing and the weather outside, which is horrible today.

The image above is RedYellowBlue, ©2011, 8.5” x 11”, acrylic collage.

Please check out the poem that my friend Mike Yanke was inspired to write after reading about my slovenly housekeeping. Just click on “Comments” below last week’s blog post.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

About Art as Business

I have tried, heaven knows I have tried, to think of what I do as a business. I have even taken courses and did an almost one year workshop about art business. And I’ve read the books and done the online research. But the truth is that I would (and do) do it whether or not there is anything that resembles a profit. Now how can you call something a business if profit is not at the top of the priority list? Could you stay in business while the prime concern is the quality of the product, hang the cost? I have no limits when it comes to what I will spend on materials. I challenge anybody to have a greater variety of paintbrushes or pastel colors than I. I shop for food and clothing at the local discount stores but my studio materials are top of the line, state of the art. No expense spared. Frugality at home but in the studio I scrimp only when it comes to framing - which can always be upgraded by the purchaser, while the end product must be immutable.

Interesting, isn’t it? How one changes over a lifetime? There was a time when I had a salary which provided discretionary income; this I chose to spend mostly on furnishing the house we lived in as a family and some other happy indulgences. I had every pot and pan Le Creuset made and loved to spend time in the kitchen. I entertained cheerfully and spent a lot of time on the phone with dear friends. I sewed, loved making my clothing. At the same time I had a full time job, dealt with a demanding husband and raised the four who went on to support the conversion of the mother they knew into the person I am now. I don’t think they will ever understand how much I owe them. And a good thing that is too. No repayment possible.

I am now candidate for worst housekeeper by anyone’s standards, laziest cook and am an all around shiftless and unproductive individual in most areas outside my studio. And happier than ever. Who knew?

The image above is Orange-Violet, a new acrylic collage on paper, 23" x 17", framed and hanging at Piante gallery in the Abstractions 2011 exhibition. 
Erma Bombeck: “Cleanliness is not next to godliness. It isn't even in the same neighborhood. No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven.” 

Friday, December 2, 2011

About a Meaningful Life

I was ready a few days ago to write about what “home” means to me but the inspiration waned when I didn’t set to it right away. I don’t remember what I was feeling about it then. That’s the key. I need to have some sense of the topic, otherwise I’ll bore myself and my readers. Painting is like that too. One needs to catch it before it passes by.

Something that stirs me now and again is the expression “a meaningful life”. I quoted here before the words of writer-psychiatrist Irvin Yalom who speaks of life’s “givens”: death, isolation, groundlessness, and meaninglessness. He offers a choice of certain stances: to be “resolute” or “engaged," or courageously defiant, or stoically accepting, or to relinquish rationality and, in awe and mystery to place one’s trust in the providence of the Divine.” And then, elsewhere, he says: “The question of the meaning of life is, as the Buddha taught, not edifying. One must immerse oneself in the river of life and let the question drift away.” 

A meaningful life is not, I think, easily defined as a happy one or a morally good one. Most of us (and I speak of this western culture) make consequential choices while very young, choices that inform our entire lives — about schooling, career or vocation, spouses, having children or not, about where to live and work. We might make big changes later, but it all adds up; it is our story. Some of us make such big mistakes in our youth that the potential for a fulfilling life is lost. Looking back at my own life it seems I made most choices as I floated along on that “river of life” and operated partly as I thought was expected of me and partly provoked by some romantic appeal, responding to life’s questions as they appeared. There was no general plan. So there was marriage, children and a teaching job and life away from the US. All very rewarding and enriching. It was not until I was in my mid-forties that I stopped one day and said (to myself) “Hey, wait a minute. This isn’t my life.” I suppose that maturity, responsibility and the beginning of self-awareness begin when we realize how fast our lives are happening. There just isn’t as much time as we thought there was. 

Dostoevsky said: “It seems, in fact, as though the second half of a man's life is made up of nothing but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.” A life altering decision or crisis in mid-life might be far better than to reach old age and feel that one missed out somehow. How sad that would be.

Is it this time of year when I read of the wackiness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday that my thoughts turn to meaning in life?

The image above is Red-Blue. It is a new, small (17" x 11") acrylic collage now hanging at the Piante Gallery in Eureka in the Abstractions 2011 exhibition.

Friday, November 18, 2011

About Gratitude

Today is one of those days when I need to search for a topic to write about. I have been racing to get some of the new work ready to frame for a Christmas group show at our local Piante gallery. I have to deliver right after Thanksgiving and will do my best to have it all ready before the family convenes and happy chaos reigns. There hasn’t been a lot of time to think.

Behold! I knew if I just started to write the topic would declare itself. What better than to focus on gratitude for this good life? When I am about to spend time with the family I think about the miracle it is to have raised four children who have become responsible adults. The world seems to me so full of threat, tragedy lurking around every corner, that the fact that all four have reached middle age free of major illnesses or accidents, or a life of crime or addiction, seems nothing short of wonderful.

I didn’t know I wanted children. It was the fifties and I took for granted that was how my life was to play out. And so they came and I’m glad now that I didn’t know I could make a decision about it. I might have opted to devote myself to painting and not give away all the time and energy a family requires. I could make a list of women artists who followed that path starting with Mary Cassat, Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’ Keefe, and including writers Joyce Carol Oates, Gertrude Stein, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf and many others in all disciplines. Of course the list of famous artist mothers might be much longer but I can’t seem to find that list on the web. There is a good documentary about the artist/mother: Who Does She Think She Is ?, but none of these are household names. There are many in the movie business, but as in the film I just mentioned, the marriages are not often long-lived and there are endless accounts of neglected children.

To paraphrase writer Susan Rubein Suleiman, perhaps the greatest struggle for a woman artist who has or desires children is the struggle against herself. No amount of money, no amount of structural change, can entirely resolve the fundamental dilemma for the artist–mother: the seeming incompatibility of her two greatest passions. The effect is a divided heart; a split self; the fear that to succeed at one means to fail at the other. I might have reached greater heights career-wise had I remained in New York after graduation and stayed with painting to the exclusion of most else. Who knows? I might even have become a better painter. Maybe our psychology (or biology) somehow protects us from regret; I have none. If I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now (and modern means of contraception) I would again bring these four into the world. There’s nothing selfless about doing art or about procreating; both are selfish activities. The world certainly has enough paintings and more than enough lives. But no apologies for either indulgence. They are what make my life so good.

My children might argue now about where my priorities really are. But hear this, dearly beloved ingrates: the only reason I don’t turn off the telephone in my studio is that one of you might need me for something. Though very often that something is a recipe. A friend remarked that for this chapter of my life: “All you have to do is show up.” Not completely true as I am still in charge of turkey, stuffing and gravy. But no complaints. Cooking feels like time off for me now.
No blog post next week:  Happy Thanksgiving to all.

P.S. Now that moving is a sure thing, I am selling earlier work that I am not actively marketing at a 50% reduction in price. This includes some of my personal collection. Just call or email to set up a time to visit the studio or for any questions. 

The image above, Exposure, ©1996, is one of the paintings included in the moving sale. It is a mixed media collage on canvas, measuring 17” x 44”.

Friday, November 11, 2011

About Inspiration

I write the original draft of this blog essay on Thursday mornings, come rain or fog (not much shine where I live). Today I have an MD appointment (nothing critical) at 9:30 and hope to get something substantial written before I have to abandon the project for a while. Sometimes there is something I’m full of and I’m eager to write before the excitement wanes. And at other times, I have nothing in mind and am hoping to find inspiration in my own thought processes as I confront the blank face of my computer or else I look at notes made in the past about possible topics. Unless there is something that I find appealing, the outcome is of doubtful interest to my readers and unsatisfying to me. On most occasions, however, there is something that I can get into. As anyone who knows me can attest, I am rarely at a loss for words. Or opinions.

The question is: “Why do it at all?”. When I started this blog in October of 2009 (It’s been two years!), my intention was to use it for marketing my work. It soon morphed into me just talking as I am not fond of marketing but found the writing a pleasing self-indulgence. Not very different from painting. So why not just paint which I believe I do a better job of?

One of the several answers I came up with is about growing old, which can be scary. It’s not just about its being the last chapter. It’s about losing the person one was. We joke about the memory loss. It is funny, sometimes. But mostly it is an impoverishment. And the noticeable diminishing other strengths follow along, gradually if you are lucky. So the blog is like the exercise video, the careful choice of foods, the vitamins, and the MD check-ups.  Keeping a grip on the powers we still have. To stay vitally alive for this precious piece of life that remains. None of us really believes that we will come to our end. But at the same time as we refuse to lend it credence, we struggle against it and make an effort to hide the symptoms of our decline lest somebody believe that we really are old.

Wherefore I am about to design and renovate an almost 1000 square foot studio, a bit larger that the one I am in now. Me downsize? Why ever would I do that? Time marches on and so do I. Damn it.

After Thanksgiving I will start preparing the move. I think the first part will be to start tossing anything that I really don’t need. I have trouble getting rid of stuff so I will need to steel myself for that operation. Maybe I need to ask myself about the why of that.

From music critic Ernest Newman: Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, and Mozart settled down day after day to the job in hand. They didn't waste time waiting for inspiration.  

The images above are more of the current mixed media project. These are the smallest, measuring 8” x 11” each, and still untitled and unfinished.

Friday, November 4, 2011

About Transitions

Summer is definitely gone. No doubt about that. People seem surprised that I still say that in November; I do have some difficulty with transitions. I rather like to keep what Is familiar and good and am not really comfortable about what is ahead. I’ve seen some of the forecast for our winter weather. Looks like lots of storms. So? I have experienced thirty winters in Humboldt County. Storms? What else is new? I still love this place.

It’s change that unsettles me. Feels for a while like walking on quicksand (even though I’ve never done that). When my children were small I thought I would like to keep them that way. They were mine then and one day they would be their own people. My father looked around at my family back then, and said: “Enjoy this now. It’s the best.” He was right. But they grew up; they got smart, and I still like them. And this is still the best. I read history; I read biographies and life still surprises me. People have been watching their kids grow up (if they’re lucky) since our beginnings, but life is new in every life.

And now the change and transition that I am heading into is keeping me awake at night. A new home, a new studio. I’ve been where I am now for sixteen years; it is home. My studio has grown in its contents and the work has evolved and it is still the place I want to be. The place I submerge into where time stops, the world doesn’t turn and I am totally in charge. The radio is silent except when I want some music, not often. I love silence. I jump when the phone rings but don’t turn the ringer off because too much isolation is scary. I know I can recreate this space. Even better. And I can make a home again. I have done it before. The change from Brooklyn to Caracas, from single to married to unmarried, from Venezuela to Humboldt County, California. Always these were the right moves. Or maybe I have just been a good adapter. Still I wish I could fast forward to being settled into my new digs. 

The work is going well. Probably in part because there was the “now or never” feeling about resolving this series before is got disrupted. It is resolved now. What remains to be done is to mount these paintings on sturdy surfaces (on some kind of lightweight board or on canvas) as they are each composed of several parts. After that they will need to be studied carefully for color to be adjusted, design element added (or not). There are sixty in process so it will be a long lasting and gratifying project. One that I am loathe to put aside but will be happy to get back to later.

I think about those to whom change comes in the form of great loss: catastrophes of weather, war, epidemics, fire. I imagine the aftermath of a tornado and surviving to see everything that was your home and community blown away. Somehow people deal with it. Nothing short of amazing.

William Ralph Inge, writer and priest said: “When our first parents were driven out of Paradise, Adam is believed to have remarked to Eve: "My dear, we live in an age of transition."”
The image above measures 23” x 17” and is still unfinished, unmounted and untitled.

Friday, October 28, 2011

About Friends

I was twenty years old when I left the US for Venezuela and forty-five when I came back with my four teenage children. I left good friends behind here and went on to make deep and lasting friendships there.

The newer friends were mostly the people I worked with at the university, two single men and the rest of us women married to non-American men. We all had friends outside this group but this one was essential; we spent time together at work and away from it. The two women I became closest to were, one a Brit, the other Venezuelan. Before I left Caracas, Pat left with her husband to eventually settle in the Basque country where Juan had roots. Carmen died a short while later from a brain tumor.

After I settled back in I was able to see two of my original old school friends a little more often even though they lived on the other side of the country. Then Susan was lost to lung cancer. I painted what I called “Little Houses” then and at times of grief afterwards. They were safe places for me when my mother left me behind in kindergarten and now I painted them for my friends. I painted prettily colored tombs for them. No need for places of the hereafter to be dark and grey and cheerless.

One by one my ex-patriot friends drifted back to this country. I don’t think many of us had intended to come back. It just happened. And a good thing it was since Venezuela does not now offer the good life it did (at least for its middle class and above; poverty was and is rampant). We keep in touch, some of us better at it than others, and have since met a number of times to have sweet reunions.

My homecoming plan was to devote myself obsessively, passionately and solely to painting. No time, thank you very much, for socializing. This piece of life I would do on my own. Friendships take time and energy that I couldn’t spare any more. I dedicated myself to making a solitary and productive life. In the meantime my kids became adults (miracles happen) and they became my friends, my support and good company. And after a while I let myself be lured out of my studio. Loneliness won out. Without making any special effort, the friendships happened. I wasn’t aware of how real and strong they were until recently when I started talking about moving. So many sincere offers of help. People willing to give me the time and energy and whatever else they could to ease the transition. I have been grateful for a lot of the gifts that have come my way. This one is huge. How could I ever have imagined that I could survive without friends?

Albert Schweitzer: In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

The image above is Cloister, ©1985, acrylic on handmade paper, 30” x 22”. It is one of the first little house tombs.

Friday, October 21, 2011

About Transitions

We’ve made an offer on a little house with a big space for a studio. I am envisioning myself in this new space, set up cozily with everything in place and happily at work.

What comes between my well organized present situation and that rosy future, is daunting. I am by nature orderly. I hate to be focused on the task at hand and suddenly find that the tool I need is not where it should be. My experience with moving is that however well you organize it, some thing(s) always go missing, some things get broken and it is a time of converting order to mayhem and then putting it all back together. What comforts me now is the vision of a far better and more functional studio than the one I’m in now. This is one of many times in my life that I have wished for a magic wand.

The situation is complicated by the need to keep the business part of my operation unhampered. I will have a print in the Artful Home Christmas catalogue and need to be prepared to ship within three days. I am committed to twelve linear feet of wall at a fine local gallery (the Piante) for a Christmas group show, the work in progress now. I will have to stay connected to the people that I have consigned work to; there was an emergency last week when a painting arrived in Boston damaged, but that sot of thing is rare. What is not rare is that someone needs images for a presentation ASAP. Which means that I need to stay connected. All of this is doable. My friend Richard used to say: “Nothing to it, just a lot of hard work.” And in this case, a lot of thought given to the logistics, not where my aptitudes lie.

There is also on my list a grant I should apply for, deadline coming right up; I need to upload the new quartet to my web site and send the images to consultants who make the sales. And more.

But by far the most awful part of this is that the studio process will be disrupted. I am trying to put off feeling that grief. The work is going so well that most of the business stuff I mentioned above has been delayed anyhow. This morning I planned to get this post done early but I went first to the studio to complete a small task and was seduced by a collage painting that wanted attention. 

I have always thought that one day I would smell the roses. They will fade and bloom many times before I am ready to do that.

The image above is of the front room of the studio, taken a while ago. The work on the wall is different now, the rest about the same.

Below is the collage painting that grabbed me this morning, on the left. To the right are color “sketches”. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

About Death in Life

I count amongst my friends people with all levels of education and of life experience. But I cannot think of any that would readily enter into a discussion of death. It’s easier to converse about sex, money or the skeletons in the closet.

I want to know more about how people regard it and their feelings about it. I think if I could get used to talking of it and hearing others on the topic, I might find myself a little more comfortable and resigned to what undoubtedly will be my fate. The two people who have entered into the topic with me were helpful and I turn to the memory of those talks sometimes. My late ex-husband spoke of his return to the earth as if that were a good place to be. He grew up on a farm and was known to embrace trees. I grew up in Brooklyn; we went to Prospect Park or the Botanical Gardens to see trees. A therapist spoke to me of death as sleep — without dreams. Their untroubled acceptance of the inevitable was helpful but not quite enough. 

Since I was ten years old and saw photos taken in the extermination camps of the second world war, I have walked hand in hand with death. Not threatened; I have always expected to die a natural death. But always aware of the limited time I would have. My appreciation of that reality has influenced every choice I have made and every risk I have taken. While it was an early and traumatic awakening, I am grateful for it. Every moment of my life, difficult or comfortable, has been okay. Every person I have loved has been cherished. I am endlessly grateful for this life and plan to leave it only against my better judgment. Maybe even kicking and screaming as I go. 

In his commencement remarks to Stanford graduates in 2005, Steve Jobs said this: 
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

In his last piece of life, Jobs opted to spend the time he had left with his family. When his biographer asked why he wanted his story written, he said he wanted his children to know him, “I wasn’t always there for them, and I want them to know why and to understand what I did”. Maybe if he had his life to live over he would spend more time with them. Then again, maybe not.

Life in the studio is good. I usually need to squelch the monster that looks over my shoulder and derides my efforts saying something like: “You think anybody is going to believe that’s a painting?”. I do need to sell the work so the monster is always ready to pounce. But somehow, maybe because I’ve been thinking along the lines of the comments above, he has not made an appearance for this project. I’m moving along smoothly and with greater than ever freedom. It’s that what-the-hell attitude that supports dicey choices. 

In the image above are two examples of the series in progress now. It’s about small painted panels adhered to larger painted panels, 23” x 17”, mixed media. I am doing about forty of them to be mounted on archival board. There are some bigger ones that will be adhered to canvas. I will present them here as they come together.

Alice Walker – “Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

About Brilliant Minds

I marvel at how if you set a group of people to draw or even photograph an object, everybody’s results would be different. But what is more interesting and often hard to believe is how two people separated by great distances and sometimes language also, having no contact with each other, come up with the same invention or discovery at about the same time.

A few days ago, as I followed a link to a blog I saw photos of an installation that could only have been produced by my friend Lori Goodman. But wouldn’t I have known if she was exhibiting in a museum in Massachusetts? Sure, I would. I wasn’t informed because these little hanging pods were by a different Lorrie (Lorrie Fredette). And while they looked very similar to me, the mediums were different. Lori works with paper and Lorrie uses brass, cotton and an encaustic medium. Isn’t creativity about our individuality? As it turns out, they knew nothing of each other. 

I had a similar experience some years ago. I was walking in Houston and saw my painting in the window of a bank. I was startled, drew close and saw that it was not mine. But could’ve been. “Curiouser and curiouser!” said Alice.

I suppose this phenomenon is simply about the fact that we are now more than ever exposed to similar influences. We see the same movies and hear the same music the world over. Books are translated into almost every language. And in our separate fields we learn from those who came before us. How else would you explain the multiple simultaneous discoveries in science? Nobel laureates who have independently made the same discovery. The minds of great thinkers are primed with the results of previous efforts.

There used to be a great distinction in the arts from country to country, even regions within a country. There was the voice of southern writers in this country. A Japanese cellist playing Bach or a Bulgarian jazz pianist still surprise me. I suppose something is lost just as something is gained as we homogenize more and more. 

The variety of influences on food have certainly made restaurant eating far more adventurous than it was in my father’s time. When I was growing up in Brooklyn, we chose from Chinese, Italian or seafood. We did have a great place for pizza right across the street from our house so no complaints. When I remember that pizza I always recall the day that I entered my brother’s room to wake him for school and almost fell over backwards. He had eaten a garlic pizza (raw garlic) the night before and the fumes were thick.

I will never understand how anyone can ever be bored. It’s a very interesting world.

The image above is of a wall in my office. Those are some of the painted “pieces” I am using now in a new collage operation.

Below is a table in my studio with small collage elements taking shape.

Friday, September 30, 2011

About What I See

Does anyone see what I see? Does anyone care? Should they? You can’t eat it or use it to clothe or shelter yourself. How can anyone in her right mind make it the reason to get up everyday? 

When I had my first solo show, thirty-three years ago in Caracas, the gallery owner would stop by my little studio occasionally to check on me. He was giving over his beautiful exhibition space to me for a month and I suppose he thought he needed to crack his whip now and then. Actually, he taught painting at the Universidad Central and was the best teacher I ever had. He was able to put aside whatever his own aesthetic preferences were and help me to move ahead in my own direction. I always greeted him with questions somewhat in the vein of those above. And he always repeated these words as he left: “Now stop thinking and paint!”

I’ve just come from the studio where I dove into my red painting again. As I worked I knew exactly what color to put where, how thick or thin, how transparent or opaque and how short or long the stroke. But César was right, when I really know what I’m doing, I’m not thinking. I see and I act. Very strange.

I wind up feeling very pleased with myself, very complete after a session like the one I just described. And then I wonder if anyone really cares about whether or not that red comes alive. Maybe nobody sees there what I see. And, of course it could happen that nobody will ever see it. Over my dead body.

The response that I get when a viewer says something to me that means he delights in the color that I have manufactured means a great deal to me. So what is that about? I think it’s a kind of communication. It’s not too much different from preparing some wonderful food and then waiting on the edge of your chair as your guest(s) or family taste, and then tell you how good it is. Makes that time in the kitchen worth every second. There’s a movie about that called Babette’s Feast. Babette was a totally whacky artist whose medium was food.

I have finished the quartet. I will leave it hanging in place for a while in case I see something more it needs. I have already started the next project which is about assembling paper that I painted some months ago. I will adhere it to canvas to make collage paintings. I had a lot of this material on the walls of my office for a long time and not the slightest notion of what to do with it. And then after two days of playing with the stuff I got very clear about how I want the new work to look. Which made me very happy. I am committed to eleven or twelve linear feet of wall in a group exhibition in December and there is a chance that I will be moving home and studio soon. I need to get ready now for that show, just in case.

A long time ago, somebody who did his utmost to discourage me from the path I chose to follow said to me: “You’ll see, you will get tired of painting and then you will see what a mistake this plan of yours is.” I couldn’t know what lay ahead and those words scared me. But the mistake was his.

The image above is of some of the material I am using for my collage operation now. Each color panel measure 17” x 11”. They are usually cut up into separate sections, but not always.

And here below is the Destination Quartet ©2011, finally finished. 35” x 25” each panel, mixed media on heavy etching paper.

From Douglas Adams author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”: “He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

About the Challenges

I think I have raised the red painting from its grave. Red is hard for me. Every time I set out with red as my goal, as the predominant color in a painting, it’s as if I have never done it before. This one started well (they all do) and then I turned it to mud (not unusual). Then I worked and re-worked it and it went from okay to not okay and back again. Very frustrating. The panel must weigh twenty pounds now with all the layers of paint on it.

This morning I was determined to breathe life back into it but really didn’t know where to start. I dawdled and imagined the different routes I could take, looked carefully at some successful reds in a couple of older pieces and then advanced, brush in hand. And voila! I did it! But it is not finished. It has gotten its lights back and now I need to heighten the red. I plan to move ahead this afternoon with great caution. But first I took a photo. Here ’tis: 

It is still not ready. I intensified the red too much. Now I have to backtrack a bit and up the lights again. I am hoping to have it finished next week. It is still a challenge but I’m no longer flummoxed by it. This is its current incarnation: 

The other three members of this group are close to finished. They are far less a battle than the red.

I was more aware then ever last week as I turned the pages of Time magazine of the hardship and trouble all over the world. Page after page about the economy, more memories of 9/11, a hideous fire that took lives in Kenya, a malaria epidemic, and so much more that is awful and sad. A small section of the magazine at the end is given to “Culture”. There we have books, movies, music, the visual arts and more. This issue had an admiring review of an autobiography by film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert lost his jaw to cancer and with it his ability to eat, drink, and speak. He does, however, continue to write, very well it seems. He states his mission:”We must try to contribute joy to the world”.

Time magazine might begin by devoting more pages to it. I hope there is enough human creative energy to keep pace with the blights and maybe provide some kind of equilibrium in our world.

From writer Lois McMaster Bujold: Its important that someone celebrate our existence… People are the only mirror we have to see ourselves in.

Please note that I very much appreciate the comments I get about this blog and I always respond them. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

About Exhibiting

This weekend I will review a proposal I have been writing for an exhibition I am planning. I will polish it, choose the images to include with it and then submit the packet to the gallery I have chosen. And then I will try to forget it during the wait for the jury to meet and then to let me know if this plan will become a reality. If you have been following this blog for a while you might remember that a while back I decided to abstain from exhibiting — except for maybe participating in an occasional group show. Exhibitions are expensive, disruptive and unnerving.

So why this change of heart? Well, I don’t always know why I do what I do, but the truth here is that I will be very disappointed if I don’t get this one. I guess it’s mainly about constructing a script to make sense of this life of mine. I get up in the morning, take care of some of the chores and then go out to my studio to work on the current quartet until I tire. I incorporate a lunch and a nap into the plan and it works well. My spirit rises and falls with how well or poorly the work goes. Right now I am happy with three of the panels (see the image below) but the red one is not right yet. I am contemplating a radical intervention.

My usual procedure is to photograph paintings when I finish them and then store them away and market them from the photos. I almost never get to see them after they are finally sold and hung in place, usually in some building on the East coast. That’s mostly okay, but with this project, (and the current quartet is only the beginning), I want the paintings to be seen, and to see them myself in a clean and uncluttered, well lighted space. Otherwise this will be a story with no conclusion. My last big show was in 2008 and it was as I said before, expensive, disruptive and unnerving. And also wonderfully rewarding.

This current series, barely begun, is very close to my heart; I want to expose it to criticism or praise and to take pride in the achievement — assuming I can pull it off fairly close to the vision. I want to know how far I can move in the direction of minimalism and still maintain the interest of those who follow my work. While I cannot adjust to the tastes of my audience the  response to my work is important to me. I can survive censure and applause delights me. I need to mention here that the views on this topic amongst my artist friends varies widely, from those who refuse to exhibit at all, considering it “going commercial” to those who take every possible opportunity to get their work before an audience.

I thought I could be content and make my life easier by forgoing the labor and stress of exhibiting. It hasn’t worked. I have begun to feel invisible. I need to bolster the faith that I feel when I walk through a museum. The respect paid to art, old and new, helps dispel the doubts about what often seems to me to be a selfish and strange path. For after all, I do this for my own pleasure. Maybe the effort of producing a big show is the price I need to pay.

Brendan Gill: Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.

The images above are from a show I had with Humboldt State University’s First Street Gallery in 2008
The image below is the current state of the quartet in progress.

Friday, September 9, 2011

About Changing One's Ways

The image above (Gift ©2000) is a past foray into building a quartet of single-color panels. It is small (8” x 6” each panel) and was assembled from my stock of painted paper. I chose the colors for their capacity to enhance each other. Far easier to do than the current project (see below), which is larger (35” x25” each) and the colors pre-ordained.

My usual approach when I paint is to barge ahead responding to what the painting seems to ask for. But with this new quartet, because I have destined each piece to be a specific color, and for the four panels to work together as a whole, I am forced to modify my operation. I have in mind a specific color for each and cannot let the work lead the way. Ordinarily the outcome I seek is more a quality or a “feel” and is not pre-determined. I rather think I have done my entire life that way, often horrifying and worrying some of my more pragmatic and probably wiser friends and family. I don’t mean to say that I have operated spontaneously, no, not my style. I have been slow and careful about choosing which fork in the road to follow. But my choices have been sort of romantic and impractical, and often with no real consideration of what the future might bring. The truth is that I haven’t always believed that one can count on having a future. Sacrificing today for a secure tomorrow never suited me. I have felt regret at times for some of those choices.

My style of painting has, however, always been impulsive. So much so that it has often happened that a work that started off well has been sent to Hell by a leap in the wrong direction. I have a sad memory of doing that when I was about nineteen years old. Some second year painting students were awarded a two week stay at the school’s camp in the mountains of northern New Jersey. It was my first experience of painting outdoors and I jumped right in with a landscape that was quickly done and full of my young energy. Even I knew it was special. A visiting artist of certain repute and our instructor both praised it. The next time my instructor saw the same landscape, a little further along, his comment was: “Oh my, what have you done?” What I had done was, in my neophyte innocence, thinking it couldn’t have any value as a painting because it was so hastily produced, I overworked it and eradicated its sparkle. That experience left its mark, obviously, as I still lament it all these many years later. And while spontaneity continues to be basic to my work, I have since been a bit more cautious. Which is not to say that I haven’t ruined many a promising beginning.  Fortunately, acrylic paint is forgiving. While you can’t “revert to saved”, you can restart on the same canvas.

There is a story Elmer Bischoff told of the time when he shared a studio with Richard Diebenkorn and David Park. It seems that Park would often overwork his paintings and come up with a something his studio-mates called his “shit surface”. This description so angered Park that he would close himself in the small studio bathroom and emerge some time later with the same painting, reborn and shimmeringly beautiful. And that was before the advent of acrylic paint.

I started to say when I began this post that for the quartet pictured below, I am thinking through each step carefully before laying hand to brush. It was far easier the other way. It was play. Now it’s work.

Oscar Wilde: “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”
The image below is the current state of the quartet in progress, 35” x 25” each, mixed media on heavy etching paper. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

About Making Plans

Life got in my way again last week. My plan was to put a transparent layer of yellow on the painting that is destined to be yellow (third from left in the photo below), to inject some lighter areas into the orange one, and to think through what it will take to make the far right one more red without totally losing the interest it has now. The green piece on the left will have to wait a while. It needs to be made more uniform in color and could use some lights. Working on these was my projected immediate future.

But on Friday I got a request for four paintings to be consigned to a consultant in Boston. This is what brings home the bacon and therefor takes priority. My son came to help on Saturday. One of the paintings was a six footer and hard to handle, plus putting four large canvases into a ten inch diameter, six foot tube designed for concrete tubing made a heavy, clumsy package. I needed assistance of the unpaid variety. Because my studio storage system is far less than ideal, unearthing these paintings and then packing them converted my orderly workspace into a shambles. On Monday, when I finally had the energy and courage to face the mess, I realized that I knew what was in the assorted piles of raw materials, half finished work, and collage components, at least in part, because of where I had them placed them on my tables. (The finished paintings lay flat, covered and protected under these masses of matter.) Two days later I had everything in shape and in far better order then before. Today (Thursday) I write the blog and go to the library, farmer’s market and do the errands of the week. Tomorrow, I will work at the business of marketing art and on the weekend, I will do some of the computer work on the collage material I make, one of my favorite activities. And I’ll take some time off, another favorite pursuit. Good week, not completely as planned. Only a little frustrating.

Still, I go on making plans. Adding the time of anticipation expands, extends and enhances something one looks forward to. Care must be taken not to overdo, for there is always the risk of overestimating the success of the plan. Especially if one is fond of scripting the future. Hard to keep in check though. I buy a lottery ticket now and then which gives me permission to fantasize about the studio I would design — with lots of convenient storage space. But when the day comes to check on the winning number, I put it off. It would upset the plan of the day to have to suddenly deal with all that money. Sound crazy? Then you don’t understand that most fantasies are best as fantasies. Reality, in this case, would mean taking my studio apart and then putting it back together again. Don’t even like to think about that (though I may have to soon). Another downside of a win would be the disruption of the painting projects that I am so much involved in now. I hate when that happens because if the pause is a long one the project loses its appeal and must be set aside. That is the history of most of the unfinished work in my studio. Most of it gets done eventually but there is always a sense of loss that is integral to the experience.

On Monday I will paint.

Andre Maurois: The effectiveness of work increases according to geometric progression if there are no interruptions. 
And Lewis Mumford: Today, the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet. 

The image above is an example of the collage material I make: my own painting, scanned and manipulated and then printed to later embed in the paintings.

The image below is the current state of the quartet in progress, 35” x 25” each, mixed media on heavy etching paper. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

About Retiring

Recently my policeman son brought a group of his friends to my studio for a visit. None of these people have had much experience with the kind of art I do and probably little of any other variety. This small crowd had brought a couple of bottles of wine and some munchies and as we sat and chattered afterwards, one of my guests surprised me with: "Your paintings make me happy." 

After my last blog post I got a number of appreciative comments. (I love getting those and always reply to them, by the way.) And then this note from a person dear to me: “I read every word of every blog and value your perspective. I'm grateful that you take the time to share your thoughts and I have much respect for them. Thanks for taking the time to reply.”

I can’t give up painting; I need it in too many ways, but I was considering resigning from the blog. I write a first draft on Thursday (about an hour) and polish it on Friday (two, sometimes more, hours) A lot of time for a few paragraphs of unremunerated work. The switch from painting to writing is hard, especially on those days when I have no topic in mind. Then I get into it and it becomes something and it's okay. Other times I feel like I haven't quite said anything real and it's not okay. I am uncomfortable putting something out for all to see when it’s not everything I’d like it to be. But I have been committed to publishing every Friday come rain (often in Humboldt County) or shine (seldom and treasured). 

Life would be easier if I just gave up blog writing. Then I get comments like those above. What I can't give up is that connection that comes through the painting and the writing. I have wondered since childhood if anyone sees as I see. So this operation, at least in part, is a quest for that response. There’s an encounter at a non-rational level, one I don’t understand well enough to describe, but which brings a warm feeling of contentment. I used to put on one of Beethoven’s most dramatic orchestral works at good volume and stomped about saying: “You and me, Ludvig, you and me!”. It’s about connecting, about being appreciated and being heard. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like being appreciated but some of us are suckers for applause. Maybe it’s a kind of gateway drug. Get a little and soon the need escalates and you go on writing the damn blog ad infinitum. And complaining every step of the way, which is how I do a lot of things. While I am actually having a very good time.

The image above is Quartet Six, 6" x 16, Pigment Print on Acid-Free Paper, ©2010. It is more or less what I am attempting to do now in a much larger size. The quartet in progress in the studio is coming along slowly but should be at a highly photographable stage for next weeks blog post.

Friday, August 19, 2011

About the Artist's Unexceptional Life

I’ve been wondering what my topic would be this week. Many of my readers are artists. Many are not. I want to capture the interest of all (in spite of  what Honest Abe said about pleasing all of the people …). I had to think about what I know enough about to be able to speak of. And am I writing for my artist audience or my non-artist readers? Who am I anyway? Am I not both? 

This has been a typical week: a lot of painting which is going well. Some grocery shopping, a little cooking, no housecleaning (only gets done when there’s a dire need for it), some laundry, and much time on the phone with my kids. This morning I will write this blog, do some business stuff, (I’m uploading images of my pigment prints to Visual Art Source and will include a link to that new gallery page when I have it ready). In the evenings I usually watch an hour of something I get from Netflix and then settle into my cherished armchair with the book of the moment. I have thought a lot about what’s happening in Somalia and been horrified on a daily basis by much of what I see in our local newspaper. I will spend some of the weekend scanning and printing small paintings that I plan to use as collage material in current and future studio projects. And I will take some time off to read and probably spend some with the family. On the agenda for next week: painting, and a proposal for an exhibition I would like to have in the year 2014. Plus a repeat of most of the usual.

There are a number of things I’ve neglected to mention but I think I’ve got the bulk of it. That’s it, the fairly ordinary life of a self-employed person. I think it entitles me to write about art or anything that is ordinary. Oh, and I forgot. I do the (minimal) obligatory exercise three times a week with Jane Fonda. Into every life some rain must fall.

In a recent newsletter from painter Robert Genn, he uses these expressions when speaking of the generic artist: a higher calling, a higher path, the sensitive ones who struggle alone, a creative life and a life well lived, the most privileged of all. 

I have included a link to Genn because I have taken him quite out of context. But I have heard and read those terms applied to my ilk and find them unreal. So maybe there are those of us that live on a higher plane than most (Beethoven and Michelangelo?) but mostly we are working for a living and grateful for our ordinary lives.

All of this is my personal bias. Blogging can be wonderfully self-indulgent.

The image above is one of the little (17" x 11") pieces that I’ve scanned for use as collage material. The image below is the current state of the quartet I’m working on. Click on it for a better view. I’m using a variety of materials, mostly acrylic on 35” x 25” panels of heavy etching paper. Stay tuned for further developments.