Friday, May 27, 2011

About What We See

There are people who look at a painting I have made and see a horse or a house or a face. I wonder about that need to see a “thing”. Which no matter how much it reminds one of a three dimensional solid object, is still an illusion. For some of us color and shape or pattern don’t make a painting. The kind of painting I do, which aims to be about joy, serenity, harmony and whatever else I want for myself at the moment, is not about the world. It’s about the person within the world. Maybe about the world within the person.

I do often remind the viewer who sees the face in my painting that it wasn’t me who put it there. I suppose what this is about is that we want the world to be consistent with the picture we have formed of it. When you look at a painting, read a book, watch a movie, you are looking through someone else’s eyes and/or brain. It’s not easy to enter into another’s head but the artist can put you there and sometimes we don’t like it. I find that in general I am more comfortable with books written by women (which doesn’t mean that I eschew all the great books by men). But there are some writers, painters, moviemakers and such who do fine work and are much respected, who place one in a world I am not happy in. I don’t often leave a novel unfinished or walk out of a movie. But I do resent the experience of spending a piece of my life in discomfort. I will suffer the experience if I think there is something to be gained by it. For those who are curious I’ll mention a few of the artists whose worlds I have found inhospitable: Jonathan Franzen, John Updike, Lucien Freud, Ingmar Bergman (though I’ve seen most of his films). There are many more but fortunately for me they are a small part of the offerings I can choose from.

I think we would like to be characters in our own movies, writing our plots to suit ourselves. It’s irritating when others don’t follow our scripts. This is not how I wanted this to go! Don’t you get it? There’s something wrong with this picture!

When I was a little girl I entertained myself with fantasies about what my life would be as an adult. I was well prepared to write my story as I was an avid reader of fairy tales and later delighted in the happily ended romance movies of the forties and fifties. They always ended before real life began.

Anais Nin: We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.

I invite my readers who live close by to visit my studio during our North Coast Open Studios event. It will take place during the first two weekends of June, the fourth, fifth, eleventh and twelfth. I will have new paintings on the walls along with some new giclĂ©es. This year I have had some larger prints made for me by Joseph Wilhelm of Meridian Fine Art. I’ll be picking them up tomorrow and am very excited about seeing them. I look forward to visits with old friends and new faces during this, my eighth turn at this event which gets to be more fun every year. For directions, email me at

The image above is one of the new prints: Enclosure 3, ©2011, archival ink on acid free paper, size varies

Thursday, May 19, 2011

About What We Take

I am reminded often of how much I have taken from those people who have tossed something into the mix that became who I am. There are too many to remember, too many to write about and, of course, a great many forgotten, their gifts absorbed and unidentified.

There was a friend that my older brother met at a summer job. George M. was the son of Mexican immigrants; he was becoming an engineer back then. He brought classical music to us. And a look at our lives through a more elastic window. I was seventeen and unhappy about not being able to afford an art school education. He told me of Cooper Union (his school), where if you passed the exam, you were admitted to the tuition-free school of art. My life as my choice began that summer.

Later there were boyfriends who added to my store: Loring was/is biracial, the son of a black mother and Chinese father. A very different heritage from mine. But he was from the next high school district and since I met him at art school he was more like me than anyone I had gone to school with before. Lots of learning there. George L., another boyfriend of that era, was just back from the war in Korea, older by ten years and full of Asian culture. I was introduced to zen in the early fifties. I was a Jewish girl dating a guy whose brother was a priest and sister a nun.

Then there was total immersion in another culture by way of the husband whom I met in Venezuela when he had just emigrated from Spain. From him I took some of those elements of myself that are most precious to me: a command of a second language, an appreciation of baroque music (Bach is still tops), learning so rich and varied and well integrated that it’s hard to separate out who I was before him.

From my friend Susan, I learned to shop. And to discern fine quality in clothing. Might have more in the bank now but for that. From Carmen about dignity and responsibility; she was as much mentor as friend, never feared to hold up a mirror to me. My friend Patricia might not remember that I ceased all contact with her when I learned that she was moving back to Europe. She called one day and said: “I’m not dead, you know!” And I learned that how I dealt with painful separation was to obliterate the person from memory. Thank you, Patricia.

From my children, apart from augmenting my vocabulary with expressions that would make my mother blush (in two languages), I have learned about how love can fill to the brim and warm a life. Whoever thought that those uncivilized little beings would add so much? Great returns on that investment.

These were (and in some cases still are) relationships based on deep affection and the pleasure of each others’ company. I have spoken of some of the gifts that have enriched my life. The reality is that they form the very fabric of my being.

John Donne said: "No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main." Women, too.

The image above is another of the new quartets: Enclosure ©2011, 26 x 20” each, mixed media on heavy etching paper

Friday, May 13, 2011

About the Spark

I have finished refurbishing my web site (see it here) and am now sending announcements thereof to those people who make the sales for me. The last couple of years have been dismal business-wise but this year has begun well and I’m feeling optimistic.

My next task, to be started forthwith, will be to get ready for our annual county-wide open studio event. Today I made the list of the details involved, which are many. I am fortunate to have the help of two of my offspring for the preparations. These include some tasks for which I have little or no aptitude like matting, framing and hanging.

There are some other items on my marketing to-do list but they will have to wait. I have been too long away from the studio, have had my nose in the computer for weeks getting images of new work readied and the marketing updated. Returning to the real work after a sojourn like this will be a vacation.

I invariably have a lot to do. Too much most of the time. I have come to understand now in my dotage, that it is not life that busies me but it is how I do life. I like to be occupied. If I arrive at the dentist’s waiting room without some reading matter of my own, I will gaze unhappily at the assortment of golfing magazines and those that advise about investments and chide myself for being absent-minded. (Isn’t that a nice term? The mind absent? How like so many of my moments.) I am not good at hanging out. If I can be fairly sure that I won’t offend my hosts, I take my sewing with me. I hem pieces of fabric to make scarves; my scarf collection has grown to be an embarrassment.

I don’t understand boredom. There is so much that not only wants doing but would make for a good time. And meditation puzzles me. Why would one want to quiet one’s mind? I enjoy my thoughts. I even make myself laugh sometimes. It will be quiet enough after I croak.

I was once assaulted and did the right thing and got rid of my attacker. Afterwards it seemed as if my brain operated without me. It was over before it happened, no time to size up the situation and make a decision. My brain saved me.

And writing surprises me. I start with some topic and then this unquiet mind takes off in directions unplanned and unexpected. Painting is like that. It grows from itself. One just has to allow whatever this human spark is to take the lead. I am as grateful for still having it after all these years as I am for life itself. I encourage all of you youngsters who don’t yet qualify as elderly, to take courage and take care of yourselves. Old age isn’t as bad as it looks. Though it would be nice if it looked better.

The image above is one of the new quartets. Dusk, ©2011, 26 x 20" each, mixed media on etching paper.

Friday, May 6, 2011

About the Big Picture

I woke up last night thinking of a talk I’d had earlier with a new friend. He spoke of growing up in a family deeply entrenched in right wing values and becoming himself a “flaming liberal” at a relatively young age. I can attest to his self-description. How does that happen, I wonder? I have known so many who inherit the worlds of their parents along with most of the belief system. How does it happen that some of us are able to stand back, see the big picture, and think for ourselves?

I thought it was the domain of the artist to filter the facts through him/herself, sort them out, and then present them either in words or pictures for the eyes and ears of his audience. Would we really know what poverty looks like without photos like those of Dorothea Lange? I have lived far away from the horrors of war but the photos I saw of the death camps of WW ll changed my life.  Picasso’s Guernica, and Goya’s Tres de Mayo are images that once seen, are hard to forget. The “Okies” of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” are equally unforgettable as are the images that formed in my mind as I read John Hersey’s Hiroshima. The pictures of poverty and war granted an education I might have otherwise escaped. The photos being published now of children with facial deformities, in need of surgery, are heart wrenching. A more complete view of the world is not only about hardship. Nor is it as we would like it to be. But we need to know it or, as I believe, we risk having incomplete lives.

For a long time I was close to a man who never outgrew the learning of his early years. There was a time when he was in his fifties, that he was distraught and feeling terrible guilt for doing something his grandmother would have taken a dim view of. Never mind that it was a situation in a culture and at a time that his forbears had not known.

My theory (feel free to stop reading here) is that if, as an adult, you think of completely revising your perception of the world, you have to blow up the foundations you built your life on. Not easy to do. It is a painful process that some people take on in psychotherapy. The book “Love's Executioner” by Irvin Yalom describes ten people at the end of their lives attempting major changes. Brave souls.

So back to my question. Some of us don’t take on the views that we are handed. We may need some time to sort it out but we can think without bias. For me, this has been tough going. I am still struggling to rid myself of prejudices inherited and the conclusions I reached before my experience had widened. I hope to have enough time on earth to really get to see the big picture.

The friend I mentioned earlier is not an artist; he is, in his own words, “Trained as a scientist with degrees in physics, math and engineering …”. I think the truth here is that he stirred the mind of the artist who had come to some conclusions that needed to be reviewed.

I know, I know. I said I’d be briefer. I tried.

The image above is another painting from the past, long gone. 48” x 36”,  circa 1985, acrylic paint and pastel on etching paper. It is from before the time that I started keeping careful records so I don’t remember the title.