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.