Friday, August 17, 2012

About a Decision

I have decided to give up writing this blog for a while. It has become too difficult to give it my Friday mornings when I want to be in the studio.

There are a few other things I need to do that have been waiting for a long while. It remains to be seen whether I will get to them now. This current painting project has become all-consumimg. I imagine the fever will abate once it comes close to being finished but that also remains to be seen.

I will use the blog for announcements of shows and such and also to promote the June open studio event. And I might even write on a somewhat sporadic basis. I'm pretty sure that when this new work is more resolved I will want to put images on the blog. And maybe there will be something I want to say now and then. We'll see.

I started the writing on October fifth, 2009. There have been one hundred and fifty-two posts (counting this one). I planned to stop in March of 2014 when I would reach my eightieth birthday, but alas, my best laid plans needed rethinking. The truth is that I seem to have run out of words for the moment. It might be that a few weeks off will restart the engine but at the moment I am full of painting and short on talk.

So my dear readers, I thank you all for the time and attention you have lent me. I have enjoyed hearing from you and loved feeling connected and making the friendships. I bid you a fond (and perhaps temporary) farewell.

Friday, August 10, 2012

About the Quest

”An artist is not paid for his labour but for his vision."--. James MacNeill Whistler.
The value of this blog for me is that it compels me to use the lazier part of my brain. I have to become rational and clear-thinking before I can attempt to find the words that will make my thinking understandable to other brains. I don’t look forward to Friday mornings, my writing time, because I want to be in the studio and I have often considered giving up the blog. And I will, sometime early in 2014. But for now, I have to recognize how good it is for me to gain some understanding of the puzzles my life presents. I believe this writing is of more value to me than to my readers. After last week’s research and writing I had some of the best painting days of my life.
The unsettling question of this week is about how creativity, which with the help of John Cleese and a couple of other experts, I got clearer about last week, is not enough. Feeling free to explore and being inventive and productive is not going to make the Guernicas and the Mona Lisas happen. Something more and essential is needed. It is commonly called “the vision”. It is not the same as inspiration which is the provocation or impetus that the artist might begin with (or not). No, it is something she dearly desires which is (I am beginning to think) unattainable. And yet it surely does exist. I find it all over museums, at concerts, in books and many other elsewheres. I looked for a definition on the web, put “artistic vision” into Google Search, and came up with questions rather than answers. Which was fine. I didn’t really want some intelligent explanation of something so ephemeral.
On a more personal plane (as if the above were not so), I have some elaborate “pieces” of painting on paper which I will soon have to orchestrate into cohesive paintings meant to conform to a very simple format (which is as close as I get to describing the vision). The complexity and patterns and design elements in these pieces is what happens when I give free rein to my impulses. These diagrams are about how I want to put the pieces together:

My favorite museum exhibit of all time was “Byzantium” at the Metropolitan in NYC in 2004. Very ornate and deliciously opulent art and artifacts, a true feast for the eyes. My favorite painter of all time is Ellsworth Kelly; a bare and beautiful minimal vision. Some not minimal material is what I will  use to present a minimal (dictionary says: characterized by simplicity and lack of adornment or decoration”), vision. How to do it? Aye, there’s the rub. But the way to deal with the impossible, I have learned, is just to blunder on and make it happen. And that’s why, according to my lights, the vision is never attained. I suspect that Picasso never thought that any of his work ever totally fulfilled the hunger behind it. Which is probably why he lived so long and worked non-stop.

The images at the top are two unfinished pieces started last week.
A sample of Ellsworth Kelly:

And something from Byzantium:

And who but Don Quijote, the quintessential impossible dreamer, would inspire this:
To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ... 

This is my quest, to follow that star ... 
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ... 
To fight for the right, without question or pause ... 
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ... 

And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest, 
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm, 
when I'm laid to my rest ... 
And the world will be better for this: 
That one man, scorned and covered with scars, 
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage, 
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

Friday, August 3, 2012

About the Required Courage

It’s sweet to find the words of an expert to support one’s own line of thinking. In this case the expert was the multi-talented John Cleese. There’s a great video of his talk on creativity. One of the conditions he mentions as being key is “Confidence to allow spontaneity and audacity. To get properly into the creative mode, you need to pull up the tiresome anchor of reason. There are no mistakes, and nothing that you think or do in your confident state can, for the time being anyway, be wrong.” He mentions also space, time, time, and humor. Time is cited twice because of its importance. 

I have struggled with all of these. The space was resolved long ago when I made workspace more important than living (home) space. Time is always a hard one but it’s more or less manageable. Humor is easy for me; I can make myself laugh in my dreams. The great challenge is the one he calls “confidence” that I planned to write about as “courage”. If you google “courage and creativity” you will find a huge mass of information. Rollo May dedicated an entire book to the subject (The Courage to Create) and there is much more.

It’s difficult to write of something one doesn’t entirely understand but I’ll do it in the same way as I paint — when I am painting well. That is to just put down whatever occurs to me  and let the devil beware. It’s not even about trusting the self. It’s just doing it. (As Nike most famously said.) As I believe those olympic athletes are doing now. As a painter, my experience is that I sort of fall into the operation and let my hands and eyes take charge. That can be hours in which the operation takes over. And then, usually the next day, I look at what I have done. Sometimes whatever I have produced requires additional layers of paint and the process is continued. Sometimes I am not sure of what I have and I put it aside and go to something else. But often, oh glory! I am delighted and I have a keeper.

But it’s me I have pleased. My trip into a color, a color combination, a series of lines, dots or soft shapes, or clear drawing of architectural or organic shapes, whatever was the impetus, is such a personal experience that I cannot but wonder about how that could possibly have anything to do with the very different  challenge that lies ahead. That is using this object of paint on paper or canvas as a means to making a living. It is an almost impossible bridge to cross and I just do it. But not without a lot of performance anxiety. The other side of that is some excitement about showing the work but please notice: it’s just a jumble of feelings, not a rational, orderly procedure at all. And somehow, it has worked. The marketing part is, of course rational and orderly, but it is the poorest part of what I do. Not done as well as it could be but it is has provided most of what has supported me all these years.

I should stop here but hang on — just one more thing. Last week I wrote of curiosity being what provokes new works and keeps older quests for answers from becoming completed paintings. Once the results are apparent, the curiosity is satisfied and the more difficult task of resolving that into a finished work remains. Often it is the answer that is the painting and I wonder if it is a painting. In the words of Jun Kaneko I found this: “I do things I am curious about. This creates new ideas and this brings more questions and more curiosity to the original idea. This is how creative energy expands rapidly.” Words from an expert.

Today’s images are “pieces” painted this week, that will eventually be integrated into the large collage paintings that are my current project. The orange one is complete. The blue one is waiting for a decision about whether those white dots are needed or if something else would be better.

Friday, July 27, 2012

About the Answers

Oh, dear! What about those starts? How do I justify this move into new when the old and unfinished awaits? I can't.
I said in two separate posts, recently, that I would mend my ways and go back to the old “starts” since I know now how to move on with them. This is not happening and I need to search my soul to understand why and to determine if it’s a good thing or not. A “good thing” would be that I am using my time well now and bringing to fruition new work superior to anything I’ve done before. That’s the whole point of this operation. Nothing like getting clear about how one is spending one’s life.

I wrote the words above last week as a beginning to this next post as I realized that I had changed course — again. I planned to title the post “About Betraying the Self”. Unbeknownst to me my mind went to work, and somewhere in its depths found the answer. The question is about why, when I am so disciplined about everything else in my life, is my studio process so devoid of order. The space is organized but the process is not. Other areas of my life run like clock-work: I exercise, brush my teeth, eat the vegetables, and make my bed with military constancy; I never forget to put the garbage out. I have missed writing this blog only once and that only after careful deliberation.

The difference lies in (this was the truth uncovered) curiosity. I am eager to get to work and totally delivered unto the operation when there is something I am looking for. Or something I want to test. Like: How about a sheer glaze of this red over that yellow? Or, suppose I paint on this wallpaper sample and let some of these silly little birds come through? Or, as I am doing now: Let’s see now if this dark grey with a black layer over it will give me the quality I want for the stripes. Oops, well, that didn’t work. But crayon might help. Or pencil. Okay, that’s more like it. Or “Wowie! Look at that!” And then I call my daughters and tell them that I must be some kind of genius. They don’t hear about the forays that look like I was trying to paint mud.

But the older starts are not the place to experiment. I have a planned vision for each and must move into them with confidence, not questions. Of course there will be hang-ups and mud along the way. But when I move ahead and test the new applications on new works (which will later become starts), then I can go back to the older unfinished work a little more prepared and better equipped to make the vision visible.

I have explained the disorder. I will keep it.

The images above are partial views of the studio as it stands now. The pieces tacked to boards, on lightweight paper, will be mounted in groups of four on canvas. Those on the wall (the older “starts”) will remain as works on (heavy) paper but are also meant to be hung as groups.

Friday, July 20, 2012

About Dots and Stripes

The world turns in its crazy loop and I am thinking of dots and stripes.

I have painted dots and stripes many times in the past but this is new. The paintings pictured above, Hydrangea and Nocturne, are from the nineties. I am inspired now by the sets designed by ceramicist Jun Kaneko for  Madame Butterrfly. He uses stark whites and unrelenting blacks and clean color to dress the performers. So I am making black grounds and white grounds for my dots and stripes, and panels of from-the-spectrum hues for the color panels. The stripes I make now are softer and the effect less structured than before. As the painter changes, so does the painting.

The whites are not difficult. So far. But the blacks are a true challenge. I can get them right on the larger panels by layering and reworking until they glow. But black stripes on white tend to die. The stripes just lie there like corpses. So I go back into them with greys and overlay with transparent glazes and sometimes get some help from an intensely black pencil. It’s working but I thought it would be easier. The nice thing though, is when it’s finished, the labor is not apparent. You don’t want your viewers to suffer the travails but rather to enjoy the part where you finally get it right. If that happens.

Right now I have faith. The beginnings, as documented below in the first tentative joining of some panels, look good to me. This process, of first painting on paper and then composing the panels into groups and mounting them on canvas, leaves a lot of room for mind-changing. It is a system of trial with much error that works well for me. Nothing gets committed until it passes muster. So mistakes happen but are whisked away unwitnessed except by the perp. 

I wonder sometimes just how interested my readers are in this painting soap opera. I also wonder how it can obsess me as it does while the world warms and massacres happen. Or maybe it is because of that.

Below are the costume designs by Kaneko:

Friday, July 13, 2012

About the Gains

Yesterday I pulled out an old drawing pad, one that I started in 1985, to make some plans for the work I am inventing now. I make diagrams which sometimes amount to drawings, often in color, which are meant to determine the format of the work I need to clarify. These are like mini-maps. Not sketches. I don’t like the word; it sounds like something indecisive. I want clarity.

I begrudge the losses incurred as aging progresses. The memory, the physical energy, and the rest of it. But I saw clearly demonstrated as I browsed through the drawings that in the twenty-seven year trajectory, plainly visible there, I had come a long way towards strengthening the vision and at the same time being constant. How nice! A gain! I do what I do better now. Well, I did know that. My painting is now far closer to the vision. It only required developing the sureness and the abilities to make it visible. Okay, wait a minute. I’m not there yet. When I look around my studio at the work waiting to be resolved I think: “Another twenty years might do it”.

I Googled losses and gains of aging and learned a bit more. I’ll put some of it here to encourage my younger readers to move fearlessly onward and to, I hope, comfort the older ones for the losses. Here’s a direct quote: “at any given point in the life span, some abilities are increasing, and others are decreasing. Moreover, the life-span perspective does not posit a specific goal for development, other than successful adaptation to the environment in which a person lives.”So what else is new? Here’s one I didn’t much like: “Fluid intelligence, or problem solving skill, declines in old age.” So we are losing that when we really need it. “Crystallized intelligence, which includes knowledge that has been acquired, such as vocabulary and general information, continues to improve across the life span.” I can vouch for that one. I surprise myself with the words at my disposal as I write. On the other hand, I am often at a loss for the names of things as I speak. Go figure. And I used to be a good speller. Word processor to the rescue.

So it is not a uniformly negative loss-ridden time of life. Personally, I notice a gain in emotional stability and a sureness in the decisions I make that are pleasant improvements. And I am a better painter and much aware of how I continue to learn. Very grateful for that.

Still, while there might be a gain or two, golden it is not. From Mark Twain: Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. 

The images above are pages from my drawing pad done twenty-one years ago.

Friday, July 6, 2012

About Fame and Fortune

"Fame, for a painter," said Pablo Picasso, "means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated. I am rich." 

I let my mind wander down that lane.

It is a difficult topic to approach with honesty. One could take the “sour grapes” stand, or express disappointment or pretend to have no feelings at all about it. I have heard talk on the subject from artist friends, mostly desirous of imagined great success. Artist Elmer Bischoff once commented “Success begins and ends in the studio.”

My usual response when the topic arises is to say something along the line of “What I want is, above all, to get up every day and go to my studio.” There are of course a few other things I want. I want my family and friends to be well, food in the frig, a warm and comfortable home to go to when the work is done. And more. Peace in the world around me. An end to the warming of the climate and the deterioration of our planet. Maybe a few other things that I’m not remembering at the moment.

So what would fame and fortune bring that could possibly enhance so perfect a world? Well, the above desired utopian scene is not going to happen very soon. I can’t even arrange my life so that I can be in the studio every day. My children are grown, the husband is history, the grocery shopping done, but still there are chores and obligations and commitments and appointments. Fame would add to those diversions; just imagine: the television and radio interviews, public appearances and paparazzi trailing after one. I do love my privacy. 

Ah, but fortune. Now there’s an attractive scenario. I could have people to clean the house and do the laundry. Someone to do landscaping and yard care to make lovely the lot my house sits on. I would have the dull details of bill paying and checkbook balancing and such given over to a trusted accountant.

But would I be in my studio as much as I would like? Would I not be tempted to visit all the museums of the world and some of the wonders that I have read of? And wouldn’t that defeat the intention I began with? Kind of misses the point, doesn’t it?

So my conclusion here is: If fame and fortune were to come my way (and it would be a little late, I’d say), I would suffer accepting such fate.

The image above is Suffice ©1998, Acrylic on Paper on Canvas, 23" x 87"

Friday, June 29, 2012

About an Honest Day's Work

I am so glad to be back at work. I wonder sometimes about retirement. Most of the people in my world who consider themselves retired go on being productive in some way. Some were not happy to stop doing the work they were paid for. With unemployment rampant as it is now I suppose some room needs to be made for the youngsters entering the work-force. Otherwise I can see no reason to force retirement on experienced and effective elders. 

The way I see it, most people like to do something with their time. After all, how much leisure does anybody really want? Well, maybe there are those that can be content to loll about on beaches or in chairs with books for the rest of their days. But they are certainly not the majority. A well-earned rest after digging in the yard or producing marvels in the kitchen or studio seems to me far more appealing than days of swinging in the hammock. Though some hours of that here and there might be nice.

Once, long ago, when my aging father visited us in Caracas, I tried to persuade him to stay. I took him to see my doctor when he had some health problem and later spoke of him with that same MD. When I mentioned my plan to keep Pop with us he asked: “And what would he do?” Good question. My father was a worker. He had been a policeman and always had a well equipped wood shop in our basement where he could be found when not on duty. (He later lost an eye in a saw-table accident and was retired as a cop.) He was never content to be idle and took pride in his craft. So I stopped nagging at him about remaining with us. At the time he lived with my younger brother and kept busy doing some cooking and grocery shopping and housekeeping. That was a life superior to what he could have with us.

I have an image in mind of old people working in the rice paddies of Asia. There are paintings of elderly gleaners from times when retirement was not an option. You worked until you croaked or could do no more. And then the family either fed you or put you on an ice floe. Or something. No retirement communities or homes for the aged.

The photo above is my retired friend Mike Yanke (my prints on the wall behind him) who wears himself to a frazzle making more beautiful an already beautiful property in a wooded area a bit north of my home. And as you might discern from the photo, he keeps busy indoors too. His retired wife is an accomplished glass artist often engaged at a kiln.

From anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Sooner or later I'm going to die, but I'm not going to retire.” And here’s athlete Bill Copeland:Before deciding to retire, stay home for a week and watch the daytime TV shows.” 

Friday, June 22, 2012

I can be alone now in my studio. It is a private place, a place of solitude. I surrendered my cherished seclusion when I moved to this new setting. I needed the help of my family, my friends and the contractor with his crew. I needed their abilities to make real the home and workplace I planned to occupy for the rest of my life. I even had help in improving on the plan from all of these kind and generous people. Almost every bit of labor and problem-solving that they provided was not within my area of competence.

When it all came together, and that still seems nothing short of miraculous, I opened the door of my new workspace to those who were interested and/or curious during our annual county-wide open studios. These were lots of friends, and strangers too, who quickly became known through the intimacy that comes from talking of what I do and how. And sometimes even what it's about though I don't think I have ever made that clear enough to myself. I met some of my afore-unknown blog readers which was a treat. I am grateful to these helpers and rescuers and visitors and readers. I could not have what I have nor do what I do without them. I could not cover expenses without the sales nor deal with the solitary work without these connections.

And now, finally, I am repossessing my space. I have put away the framed and finished works that were arranged around the studio and have put my materials within easy reach. Less visitor friendly, not quite as tidy. I am refining my plan for finishing the "starts" that are hanging on the walls. The hiatus was good for pushing me into a new view of their future, the "vision" as it were.

I am very happy.

The image above, Little Pink House ©2012, is an updated version of the little houses that I have been making since childhood. They are safe places. I realized when I saw a little house by Rebecca Stauffer that I don't include doors and windows in mine. How's that for seclusion and safety? I must, however, admit that Rebecca's house is the more cheerful of the two.

I wrote an apology for not providing a blog essay last week and hope that it reaches those who don't go to the blog site online along with this newer one. Mea culpa.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My apologies. I pride myself on doing what I say I will do. Yesterday's blog essay was the first one that  I have missed since I started writing it in 2009. Well, I guess that's where pride gets you. 

Yesterday was a family birthday and there is a family visit happening and my routine, which was already seriously impaired, was forgotten. Obviously there are a few things that are more important than one's commitments and time for painting. But the only one I can think of at the moment is this family and the joy there is in having the kids with me. Even if it means chaos and the loss of one's usual orderly regimen.

Stay tuned, please. This blog will be back on track next week.

The photo above is the birthday girl and mother.

Friday, June 8, 2012

About the Talk

I think this is going to be a short piece of writing. I got caught up this morning in making little hearts for this weekend’s open studio event. They are fun to do and if I had nothing else on my schedule today, I would go on and on. Never mind that I don’t need more than I already have. I don’t, and the world probably doesn’t need more little hearts. It’s about the pleasure of being totally involved in making something. And using Photoshop to mess with my paintings is like having a magic wand.

Photographer Robert Adams, author of Why People Photograph, comments: “Art is by nature self-explanatory.” He goes on to put forth the reasons that artists are reticent, why they are disinclined to speak of their work. “Part of the reason that these attempts at explanation fail, I think, is that photographers, like all artists, choose their medium because it allows them the most fully truthful expression of their vision… as Robert Frost told a person who asked him what one of his poems meant, ‘You want me to say it worse?”

A lot of the artists I know are shy and prefer to keep their thoughts to themselves but many delight in talking about their work. (Count me in that group.) When amongst themselves, even those less comfortable with an audience will often be happy to speak of the project in hand as a way to get some response that might be of value. But what I find most interesting about this photographer, and a fine one he is, is that he doesn’t seem to be short on words. Google him. He’s written a number of books and you’ll find quotations, comments in his own words, all over the place. He writes well too.

What he’s talking about is explaining the work. I have to admit to having some trouble with that. I can speak of the vision and I can describe the process without difficulty. But if my interviewer wants some kind of rationality behind the making of the little hearts, or anything else I make in Photoshop or paint in my studio I admit that there is none. I have to believe that there is some need for art in this world. There certainly is the need to create. It just never stops, does it?

Friday, June 1, 2012

About Opening a Studio

Turning a workspace into a visitor-friendly environment and still being honest about the usual look of the space is the challenge. As my friend Richard used to say: “Nothing to it, just a lot of hard work.”

I am blessed with the unsalaried assistance of my youngest daughter. She is an engineer; her brain works in ways that mine cannot and insurmountable problems are surmounted in a flash. She has done all the framing of the smaller pieces and is tireless. Ah, youth.

We open tomorrow. I hope my readers, those that reside within reasonable distance, will give serious consideration to visiting. I am excited about welcoming guests into my new studio and showing new work. The event will take place on two weekends: June second and third, and June ninth and tenth, from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on all four days. More information, my address and information about other participating artists can be found at North Coast Open Studios 2012 -- Humboldt County, California. Or email me at

In addition to some paintings that I have just had framed, I have made some new prints. I also have some larger prints, meticulously made by Joseph Wilhelm of Meridian Fine Art. The image above, Toledo, originally painted in 2004, is one of these.

Here are two quotes from sculptor Anish Kapoor, a man after my own heart: 

“One does afford oneself the luxury to come into the studio and all day, every day, spend one's life making aesthetic propositions. What an immense luxury.” 

“I used to empty the studio out and throw stuff away. I now don't. There will be a whole series of dead ends that a year or two down the line I'll come back to.” 

About this last comment: visitors will see the walls to my studio lined with dead ends from my past. I propose to make marvels of them before the year is out. Propose, I said.

Friday, May 25, 2012

About Modern Times

I have been making prints to hang in my studio for the weekends of our North Coast Open Studios event. The process is very different from painting but it is equally absorbing and very rewarding. I have friends who are using the iPad now and are smitten with it. Some delightful iPad creations by David Hockney were shown a while back at the Royal Academy of London. And this is but the tip of the incursion of technology into the arena of the “finer arts”. Of course art and technology married long ago when artists had to learn about making their works less vulnerable to self-destruction. The advent of acrylic paint, and all the mediums and possibilities for using materials never before possible that came with it, caused many to turn away from the beloved fragrance of oil paint and its longer drying times. Some, like myself, will always miss its lusciousness but are faithful converts to the marvels of acrylic.

What I do with Adobe’s Photoshop - I need to stop to say here that I still find the telephone a remarkable device. I mean, think of it: lift the receiver, dial and talk to New Zealand. It’s amazing. And I won’t even mention what you can do with a mobile phone these days because I don’t use one and wouldn’t know what I was talking about. But, back to Photoshop. It works magic on the images it touches. I use photos or scans of my paintings and do with them what paint cannot do. There are times when what I want would be better done with paint so it becomes a way of enriching the traditional studio process too. 

I think sometimes about how fortunate I am to be living at this time. I’m sure my parents were happy to be alive at a time when automobiles became widely used and I wonder what our descendants will be grateful for.

The image above is of Charlie Chaplin in the 1936 movie Modern Times as the doofus made crazy by the machinery of his workplace. The image below demonstrates the power of Photoshop to enhance an image.

Somebody (anonymous) evidently not a fan of technology: “Computers let you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history, with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.”

And here we have American sociologist and writer, Daniel Bell: “Technology, like art, is a soaring exercise of the human imagination.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

About a Pot of Soup

Writer John Irving quoted in a recent interview in Time magazine: “If you presume to love something, you must love the process of it much more than the finished product.” Well, yes. But therein lies the rub. I would be happy to paint and never finish anything. Resolving a painting, deciding that it is as good as it’s going to get, or that it’s great or that it’s for the trash bin; that’s the hard part.

I love to cook. I like the process so much that it serves as time off for me. I like to be alone and focused and to work at my typical careful and slow pace. I turn putting a soup or stew together into a lovely time away from the cares of the world. In some ways it’s like painting. Except I don’t have a problem with getting the soup to the table in the same way I have with getting a painting to public view. When I was first married any criticism of my cooking would devastate me but I got over that after a while. 

It requires determination and discipline to finish a painting. I think that apart from the pure pleasure of the painting process there’s the factor that my vision for the painting usually goes a bit beyond the reality of my powers. There are those wonderful moments that the work seems to surpass my vision for it and there are a few paintings that seem to have happened sort of magically. But mostly, after some time has gone by, I think I can do better than that about many of them. That’s not a bad thing; it keeps the work moving on and always interesting, but accepting that not every piece of work will be a minor miracle is never going to be easy. So back to the kitchen and another satisfying experience of a pot of soup. And I can eat the finished product.

Wisdom from French painter Maurice Vlaminck: “Good painting is like good cooking; it can be tasted, but not explained.” 

The image above is a new small collage called BlueYellow ©2012, 8.5” x 10.5”, mixed media on paper.

Friday, May 11, 2012

About Hanging an Exhibition

“Viewing art gives the same pleasure as being in love.
The same part of the brain that is excited when you fall for someone romantically is stimulated when you stare at great works of beauty, researchers have discovered.
Viewing art triggers a surge of the feel-good chemical, dopamine, into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain, resulting in feelings of intense pleasure.
Dopamine and the orbito-frontal cortex are both known to be involved in desire and affection and in invoking pleasurable feelings in the brain.
It is a powerful affect often associated with romantic love and illicit drug taking.
In a series of pioneering brain-mapping experiments, Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London, scanned the brains of volunteers as they looked at 28 pictures.”

So begins an article published last year in The Telegraph. I am not convinced in spite of the expertise of the neurobiologists who conducted this study. Niether am I convinced that being in love is such a pleasure. I can remember some misery when in that state.

Yesterday my daughter and I and a good friend hung the show I spoke of last week. Fortunately the helpers were competent, but still it took most of the day to get it done and the effort exhausted us. It’s just one decision after another and a lot of measuring, looking and looking again. And then often making corrections when we didn’t get it right. But the biggest determination is about the whole look of the show; the “gestalt”, one might say (if so inclined). Ideally, the work would be from a particular time period and a single vision, or maybe a retrospective with works carefully chosen to represent of certain periods in an artist’s life (or oeuvre as it is sometimes called). The look I don’t like at all, certainly wrong for me, is that of the work of different people juxtaposed. Some work might be fine in that setting. My work likes to be with others of its own ilk. I like solo shows. I sometimes sound to myself like a prima donna but, okay, that’s how it is. In my studio I hang a painting, even when in progress, so that it is next to something that enhances it. None of this was possible yesterday. I chose for this show some work recently framed, never before exhibited, and some pieces from my studio that I wanted to put before a new audience. Also included were some of the prints I make myself and one of my work done by a professional printer (sometimes called “giclées”). These were included to provide a wide range of prices. Once out of the studio, it is about business. And I always want to hang as much as the space will allow sometimes to the detriment of the total effect. That's what we had to deal with.

But, it is oh, so important to me that the work look good. So with an eye to causing the viewer to feel as if in love (Who knows, maybe the neurobiologists got it right?) and at the same time wanting the presentation to have a certain dignity and elegance, and maybe a clue to the seriousness of the intent, (whatever that is), we struggled with our difference of opinions and got it done. Tonight we will see how it looks and next month we will have a reception. That will give us time to redo if necessary. That is an unusual perk, doesn’t usually happen this way. Now I’m going to take the weekend off.

I wish a Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers amongst my readers.

 Andrew Wyeth said: "To have all your work and to have them along the wall, it's like walking in with no clothes on. It's terrible."
The image above is Coreopsis ©2006, Acrylic and Mixed Media Collage on Archival Board, 11” x 36”, exhibited for the first time in this show and a favorite of mine.

Friday, May 4, 2012

About Soft Structure

I’ve been reading a biography of painter Joan Mitchell and thinking about her painting. Her work was all over the place the last time I was in NYC. There were two gallery shows and a museum retrospective and articles in newspapers and magazines. The paintings, many of them monumental in size, are gorgeous, full of passionate and fiery energy. I find the dark areas in some too dense and cold but that’s a subjective criticism and small flaw to find in such majestic work.

I often find something to take or learn from the paintings of others but when thinking of Mitchell’s I realized that what I want is very different from her kind of startling beauty. I want to paint quietness and order. I want peace, serenity and joy. Which I also want from life. I don’t want excitement or adventure. The challenge is to make the painting something to step into, a place of light and warmth. A place to rest. Well, as I said, it’s a challenge. 

Mitchell’s history in Manhattan preceded my school years there by about ten years but was spent in the same neighborhoods and from the photos I’ve seen she spent some years in the same building my then boyfriend lived and painted in. But that is the only way I feel even slightly connected to her. Our differences have made clear to me the plan for the paintings I am beginning to work on now. I have been moving back and forth between more or less structured paintings. From collaged hard edged works with some architectural drawing as in August Four (below) or softer, more organically inspired works like Bower (also below). The vision of the moment is for a soft structure. I wonder what I will be able to make of that.

So after getting clear about the direction I want to take now, thanks to Joan Mitchell, I am going to lay my brushes aside for a bit to focus on supporting the habit. I will be the artist-in-residence at Plaza , the new business on Arcata's plaza, set to open next week. For those not familiar with this beautiful piece of California, Arcata is ten minutes north of me (in Eureka) and home to Humboldt State University. This new venture means I will have paintings in a periodically revolving exhibition. While the business part of my operation is not where my aptitudes are best employed, I very much want the paintings to be seen and the prospect of showing new work spurs me on. This is the best of all possible worlds.  

August Four ©2011, 16” x 20” Mixed Media 

From writer and Nobel Prize winner Romain Rolland: “It is the artist's business to create sunshine when the sun fails.”

Bower ©2009, 50” x 37” Mixed Media

Andy Warhol was another kind of thinker: “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Warhol was unlike any artist I have ever known or read about. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

About Beginnings

I have been working in the new studio since Monday. There is still some fine tuning to do: some of the tools I have carefully stored need to be more easily available, and some of what I have close at hand could be tucked away.

But these are minor details in the bright picture; the studio is great. I can see what I want to see on the walls, all of the works in progress that will come to fruition within the loose bounds of the vision I have for them. I work on several pieces at once which for some unexplainable reason works well for me. But always when I am finally finished and satisfied (sometimes more and sometimes less), there will be leftovers which I call “starts”. On my new studio walls now are several groups of starts that I will push home to what I am imagining as walls of color. I like to see the work in groups; the image I have in mind for them is more apparent when there are two, three or more together. Never mind that they usually sell as single pieces (which sometimes saddens me), I will always see them, in memory (and in photos) supporting and enhancing each other.

The last series I painted, the Destinations, were soft and unstructured, before these there was a series of thirty-two clearly constructed pieces called Structures and before these a gentle group of five pieces that were sort of floaty. (These paintings are viewable at my website, The variation owes much to this going back to work that was begun earlier and slipping back into the mood they bring with them.

I plan to bend to my will the starts on my walls now and to play down any structure that remains in them from whatever it was I wanted when I last dealt with them. Paintings often take the lead but these I will tame, say I. They will honor my intentions or back to the holding bin they go.

Here’s writer George Bernard Shaw: Which painting in the National Gallery would I save if there was a fire? The one nearest the door of course. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Just a short note and for the first time in my blogging history, no image.

This is the final stretch of putting the studio (and my working life) back together. I am blessed to have work that is so satisfying and cursed in that without it, I am out of sorts. (I’m not sure what “out of sorts” really describes but I think it suits my meaning. I remember the expression from an old radio commercial for a laxative. Advertising was more discreet back then.)

Saturday will make three weeks from the day we (my daughters, son and some friends with little help from me), moved the contents of two large storage units into my clean and ready new studio. And what an unholy mess it became. After days of sorting and thinking and arranging (again with lots of help), it is almost what is was destined to be: a functional, comfortable workspace.

The fine tuning is happening now and by Monday my life will resume. Thanks for hanging with me. Next week there will be photos of the studio, and real life and better blogging will resume.

Friday, April 13, 2012

About the Whole Picture

I see my children today as every version I have ever known of them. They are the totality of the infants and toddlers and teenagers they were and the adults they are now, in all their moods and guises. The picture I have of each is a compendium of all their years. It follows therefore that the picture I hold of anyone who inhabits my landscape would be of a size commensurate with the time and depth of the relationship.

My two brothers, whom I have known longer than anyone else on this earth, are pretty big pictures. Not quite as complete as they might be as I missed a lot of their lives while I lived away, and because our paths took us in very different directions. Still, they are amongst the few lives that exist in my memory that include childhood. The children I knew when my own were growing up were left behind in Venezuela. There are nieces and nephews in Spain that I don’t know as grown-ups. My American nephews were teenagers before I knew them.

This is some of my thinking as I contemplate this weekend’s birthday of my elder brother. He will be eighty years old. You are only as old as you feel. So they say. Well, excuse me, eighty is old. It’s a long time to have been on this earth. A long time for a body to carry on in reasonably good style which both my brothers are doing. Take it from me — old is old, no matter how you feel.

But I’m finding it difficult to integrate this number into the picture I hold of this dear brother. I see him as the boy sitting on the stairs counting his collection of comic books, in the basement of our house setting his hair on fire while he played with his trains by candlelight (no harm done). He exists for me as the teenager who was causing worry, as the young man who shipped out with the merchant marine, who later became a lawyer and then a judge. But eighty? How did that happen?
From poet Emily Dickinson: Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought. 
The image above is Lotus ©2006, Mixed Media on Canvas, 35” x 40”

Friday, April 6, 2012

About Good Fortune

I believe that we are the captains of our ships. As always, I speak of this time and place, and of our not extraordinary lives within this culture. But the plotting we do is only one of the factors that add up to a lifetime. The forks in the road that require decisions are usually up to us. But the splendid surprises, the unexpected obstacles or possible shocks that await, we don’t get to predict with any accuracy.

What I mean to say is that a great deal of the path through our days is not under our control. Accidents, illness, the natural disasters that await with treachery, they are all potentially ahead. This morning I read of a woman hospitalized with “serious injuries” who was caught on the road by an sudden hail storm. That’s horrible bad luck. I’m not much of a driver, but I imagine there’s little you can do when your car spins out of control before you are even aware of the storm.

So I am almost always aware of not only how good I have had it, in spite of making a number of totally impractical decisions, but of what a miracle of good fortune my history has been. My mother died of cancer at forty-seven, her mother of the same illness at thirty-three. I expected the same fate and wonder how it was that I got to have so much life. I have four children, all in good health and well able to deal with what their lives deliver. When they were small and bloodied themselves with falls followed by emergency room stitches, I sometimes thought survival was a lot to hope for.

Not very long ago I would have found it difficult to believe that I would be where I am now. My house is warm and comfortable. My studio, still getting organized, is the best I have ever known. Soon I will be able to get back to work. The only thing I would like to have now and cannot is the energy I had in my forties. Alas.

About the image above: The studio is divided into work area and this storage room that is just beginning to be put in order. The tubes are used for shipping rolled canvases, the table for assembling frames and for packaging. That fifty inch wide roll of etching paper on the floor is a purchase I made years ago. It is a thick, velvety etching paper that makes a glorious surface for acrylic paint and is weighty enough to support collage elements. I was told when I protested the price that if I ran out of money this paper was good enough to eat. There have been some tough times but not of paper-eating magnitude.

From writer Francois de La Rochefoucauld: The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.

Friday, March 30, 2012

About Moving Day

In point of fact, it will probably be more like moving weekend or week. The contents of my before-studio, now to be reassembled into my after-studio, is housed in two storage units, one large capacity, one medium sized.

The new studio has been designed to accommodate my operation which requires keeping large boards on hand and easily accessible to use as supports for the paper-on-canvas works. There are shelves for the painted papers that I make to use for collage and there are racks for finished  works. All neat and tidy and set up so that little thought need be given to finding the materials and setting up the scene in which to pursue the vision. In short, a space that cooperates with and supports the process. Who could ask for anything more?

The rain is steady and heavy and predicted to be of old testament duration.Well, maybe not forty nights, but probably close considering what is already behind us. But no matter, the move will happen, the space will become a studio and I will resume my blesséd work.

That’s all she wrote for now. Tune in next week for a progress report with photos.

The image above is another of the little houses, as yet untitled, being readied for the upcoming North Coast Open Studios event in June. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

About Being Bored

I do not understand boredom. I have trouble fitting my life into the time allotted to me.

On the day to day there is everything I want to do, everything I think I should or need to do, and then what gets in the way, what finally gets done and trying to find the parenthesis in which to rest or escape. And afterwards moving on to whatever comes next.

On the life scale (as opposed to the day to day), there is: have I really seen, heard, tasted, experienced, all that was available to me? Will I die having missed something critical to the experience of life itself?  Have I done what I could with the gifts I was given, meager or bountiful?  

A life was given to me. I have raced through it responding to each scenario as it presented itself or that I had myself created. Was I ever or never aware of the bigger picture? The big picture being that a great deal was provided to me to savor, to delight in, to love or to just be aware of - did I take it all in? Did I use this life, live it fully? 

I fear that I was often too focused on the moment, on the laundry, the book, the work or even on the people, to be mindful of how short the moment of this light.

Today I filled out a form giving power of attorney to others in case the situation arose in which I could not make health care decisions for myself. My MD told me that an old one he had needed to be replaced by a fresher version. Same thing, different date.

Being dead must be very boring.

The image above is a new "Little House". I plan to make several versions of little houses to celebrate the little house that is my new home. I will give them prime space in the soon-to-be-finished studio when I open it for our open studio event in June.

Friday, March 16, 2012

About Getting Ready

I am usually good at staying in touch with the people who warm my world. This last month and a half I have been operating at fever pitch to get finished with all the organizing that seems to need doing so that I can feel free to paint. This blog has been my main link to others except for an occasional phone call or even less frequently, an outing.

The new studio should be ready at the end of the month. The tasks and chores and obligations that distract from the work will not come to a sudden halt at that point. I will still need to do laundry, some cooking and if I don’t want to become a total nut-case, keep my connections to friends and family alive and well. When I had a job and four small children and a big house, a husband straight out of the middle ages and an active social life, I managed it all. Not always easy, but definitely doable. Of course I was younger then. But that’s not where the difference lies. Back then I could give short shrift to any of the above mentioned pursuits. (Here I have to stop to beg forgiveness of my children for the times they didn’t get the attention they needed.) But racing through a painting is not advisable. The results are bound to be garbage-like. One needs to be focused, to have no thoughts of anything other than the work at hand. And how to get to that state of complete absorption in the process? Well, for me it means feeling that everything in my life is in place physically or otherwise or, if that is not possible, then there is a plan in place to cover all eventualities. Some of the basics however, cannot be ignored. There must be food in the frig and if any essential appliance is not working, calls will be made before work is started. If someone I am close to is in dire straits, not possible to turn a blind eye to, that will get attention. But usually, anything that can be postponed will get noted on a list (to be sure that I won’t forget it), and I go into the studio, lock the door and let the world happen without me.

I have tried not to think about the work. I've kept busy getting the house in order and it's now as good as it's going to get. For a while, anyway. Tonight I will spend some time over drinks with some friends I have missed. Life is moving back to what I want it to be. Oh, joy!

The images above are of the studio space, then and now. It's going to be magnificent. I plan to be ready, come hell or high water, for our county-wide open studio event in June, along with many other of the artists who ply their trade in this lovely piece of our world.