Monday, December 20, 2010

Celebration of Fine Art - Winner - 2010 Sterling Awards - Micro Business

We are so proud to be a part of this wonderful group. Susan and Jake Potje work all year long to make this event world class and really unique in the world of art shows. If you're in the Scottsdale, AZ area this winter, come visit us - I guarantee you won't be disappointed!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Landscape In Glass: Syed Ahmad-Waterworks Museum, Salisbury, NC

Here are some pictures from Syed's exhibit at the Waterworks Museum.  He will be giving a talk on December 16, at Waterworks.  All of the pieces in this show are sized for the home and may be used individually or in groups, as indicated by the installation at the museum.  Though physically small, the work creates an expanded perception of sea and land when hung with space between.  The clear glass overhangs create wonderful shadows of apparently moving water or air, and the dichroic glass creates movement of its own as the viewer passes by.  This work is both subtle and dynamic.  The show closes on February 7.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas of Thanksgiving

Everyone has strong memories this time of year. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, and the more ancient memories of winter solstice, deep in our cells. Memory is who we are and where we came from.  Sometimes it’s where we’re going.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, detached as it is for most of us, from religious trappings.  It’s easy for me to take my place at the laden table, surrounded by family and friends, clasp hands and say what I am grateful for.  I don’t mind that God summoned up is a laden table itself.  I’m willing to listen to Him or Her or It, the Universe, the Source, the Ancestor, the Creator, the Holy of Holies, the Mother Earth, Father Sky, be called upon to listen to our gratitudes large and small.  The pressure to Believe, the need to be right, doesn’t seem to be there on Thanksgiving.  Everyone seems to be content with just the moment  in which to be grateful.  Memories of turkeys cooked frozen with their parts still wrapped in paper buried inside the bird, the oyster stuffing everyone hated, the absolute must of three cranberry relishes – out of the can, orange-cranberry with port wine, and Mama Stemberg’s Pepto-Bismol pink, memories of grandparents now gone and of the unborn baby keeping me far from the table so that much gravy ended up on my stomach.  We express gratitude for all of those memories by gathering with others to create more.  We are our memories.
The other holidays are locked in my memory with burdens.  Christmas and Easter particularly so since they carry both religious and secular weight.  Perhaps that confusion adds to the encumbrance.  After all, how can making the list of things we want lie comfortably with charity and gifts of selflessness for the Baby Jesus?  And how does the enquiring mind justify counting packages under the tree with having to give up toys from last year for the poor kids.  Who were these poor kids anyway?  Every Christmas, before I could make out my list, I had to select several items to give away from my personal collection of toys, and they had to be good enough to give.  Obviously if they were “good enough to give”, I hadn’t been playing with them very much.  But I was a selfish little brat and with the call to give, came the louder voice from within, “NO! That’s my favorite toy!”  Though I was given several days to make this selection, it never got easier.  Those toys that had gotten pushed to the back of my closet, lying in the darkened corner, unopened even, were too shiny to pass on without a fight.  As I fought, I grew uglier, being reminded by adults that if I were not acting lovingly on the inside, it would surely begin to show on the outside. Pretty is as pretty does.  Beauty on the inside is the only beauty that counts.  Do ugly, be ugly. Standing on my “tall girl” stool, checking in the bathroom mirror, I was certain I could see ugly warts growing on my nose, bad teeth coming in, my hair falling out.  I trudged to the closet and yanked my new favorite toy out, slamming it on the bed, now hating the very item I wanted most to possess.
If giving was burdensome way back in my childhood, it grew to be something of a yoke around my neck in later years.  In my twenties and thirties, having gone back to the earth, so to speak, to raise my family on a farm, it was only natural to make every gift by hand.  The list of people to gft (having finally gotten that giving is more fun than getting) increased each year, until the making took most of my free time from June to Dec. 25, about 3 a.m.  Often times the gifts failed to cross the threshold of the “store bought” look.  My jams were tasty but I never got the knack of the packaging.  My cloth covered lids always looked common.  I needed Martha, but Martha wasn’t yet.  Now, I wouldn’t have Martha.  But, that’s what happens on the route from hand-made in the 70’s to artist-made in the 10’s - the mass market makes everything common.  Nevertheless, the gifts piled up – sweaters and mittens, socks and purses, handwoven pillows and throws.  The dollhouse with furniture, curtains and bedcovers kept me up till 3.  I should have gotten a real job at the North Pole.
What is giving now?  I wonder how much laughter, how many tears, how many memories people will have now that the holidays are so much about getting great deals from ever larger and more generic stores.  Does lining up in front of Best Buy at 2 a.m on Black Friday make Thanksgiving more memorable?  I try to connect the dots of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but the dots form no lasting string of memory for me.  I just know that if you want to be in that line at 2 a.m., you don’t feel like playing Charades or Monopoly, or even Wii, with the kids while you get ready for the second round of turkey and pie.  Where are we going with memories of big box stores and cheap goods from overseas?
         In these trying financial times, memories of fatter days can ask you who you really are.  I used to sigh with the sadness of wanting more than I had.  When my kids were little I wanted to get the best and biggest of the toys plus everything else they had on their lists.  I never could.  I often felt that I had failed them somehow.  It took me such a very long time to understand that my desire to fill their world with things was nothing more than me trying to fill the unfillable void left by the death of my mother and the breakup of my family.  I could not see that my children were the gifts  given to me to fill the void.  The memories of Christmases past are burdened by that endless struggle to have enough.  When would I ever have enough?  Not in time to relieve my daughter of the same burden.  Our memories are who we are and sometimes who our children are as well.  Sometimes it’s good to be selective about which memories we carry with us.
         I have packed my burdensome memories in a Lucite box so that I may see them, acknowledge that they are mine, but I place them on a shelf in my mind where I need not go unless I choose to, a shelf lit by the light of transparency but high up so children and grandchildren cannot be tripped or tumbled by them.
         This year, as I held hands around the Thanksgiving table and listened to the gratitudes, small and large, being spoken by all in turn, I was filled with the memory of last Christmas season.  My children and grandchildren traveled all the way to North Carolina to spend the week with my husband and myself.  We don’t celebrate a religious Christmas.  Nor is it exactly a secular Christmas.  Rather it is a Christmas of Thanksgiving.  My husband and I are not Christians but a neighbor gave us a tree with lights, for the children he said, and we all spent days making paper stars, cranberry and popcorn strings, and cookie angels.  As we sat around the kitchen table we told stories of other Christmases and that was when I realized that all those Christmases of sighs, of being afraid that what I did wasn’t enough – well, it was only my memory.  Just mine.  The kids remembered joy and fun and wonderful times – riding in the bucket of the old red tractor to cut firewood in the forest, tramping out in the field to cut three straggly trees to wire into one whole Christmas tree that would be too tall and have to be cut down to fit our house, carols and baking cookies, and decorating with paper chains and, oh yes, the yearly gingerbread house, to be decimated on New Year’s Day.  Full and loving Christmases.  Memories of love.  And, of course we all know…"love is all there really is."

Syed and I send our love to you all in this season of Love.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Self-expression/Trash/or Art?

As someone who has mostly worked with less than conventional materials, I am always interested in conversations about what art is, or isn't.  This article in the Los Angeles Times engaged me, and many others, in that conversation again.  Reading their comment section, I see that some went from 0 to explosion in short order.

It used to make me angry (and defensive) when someone would suggest that what I do with gourds was not "art" (with that tinge of disparagement in the voice...or, was my sensitivity barometer too finely calibrated?)  There are certain undeniable rights to aging (or is it maturing?), and one of them is the throwing off of the yoke of caring what other people say.  It really is something to be treasured (and envied if you're not there yet).  Obviously, whomever is negating the art of fine craft is seriously limited in imagination.

But, oooops! Am I now one of that limited audience?  I actually have seen some visually beautiful and exquisitely executed graffiti, so I would have to say, no, I don't think I am dismissive of graffiti or outsider work.  And, I don't have problems with calling much of it "art".

 So, what are the distinctions between what is art and what isn't?  Good art and bad? Commercial and "real?"  Trendy and lasting?  For people with a language as massive, fluid, creative and alive as English is, we are sorely lacking in either actual words or use of words for "art."  (Admittedly we also seem to fall short of words for "love" and "snow" (not so short for "rain.")  I also mourn the lack of imagination when it comes to expletives.  (Skip the remainder of this paragraph if the 4-letter word offends you.)   How seriously can one be taken if the only response to "That's not art! That's crap" is the ubiquitous (and therefore relatively meaningless) "Fuck you!" (unless it is amended, as does my friend, Bob, with "...and the horse you rode in on."  After all, if that doesn't make you smile, you may need a day off.)

But, back to distinctions.  Personally, I distinguish between "decorative art" and "serious art", which now, upon reflection, seems pretty lame.  Does that mean that Diego Rivera's monumental mural work, which certainly "decorates" the National Palace in Mexico City is not "serious?"  It doesn't get too much more "serious" than holding a brush in one hand and a pistol in the other to guard your work against right-wing students as Rivera did with Creation done at the National Preparatory School, also in Mexico City.  So much for that distinction.

What about distinguishing between work that is traditional, executed with great skill, and work that is innovative, experimental, untrained?  That lets out Dubuffet, the father of outsider art and may allow in the many who are painting the same aesthetic over and over without expansion of their own sensitivities.

In regards to Chaka, many comments referenced his hoody connections to crime, the criminal aspects of painting on private property.  What does any of that have to do with art?  How does what the work is done on matter?  Does the Chaka work, hung in a gallery, mean more or less to the viewer than Chaka painted on the gritty walls of LA?  (I'd say that hung on gritty walls, it may have more relevance, since graffiti implies a certain revolution and willful act of protest which would certainly be lacking, made impotent, in a gallery setting.  Perhaps that is what is achieved, after all, by hanging Chaka in a fine LA gallery, 700 people in attendance, drinking wine, waiting to be photographed with this outsider who, in other scenarios, might be far more intimidating than they would like.  Is this our way of putting his guts in a box?  Or is this his triumph, knowing he's not really anything remarkable in the vast, untapped world of grafitti artists, as he mugs for the camera?  Or is Chaka a true self-expressionist?  He paints his name repetitively.  Listen to me!  I am here!  I count!  And does this make him an artist?

What about work that stimulates thought and conversation as its main end?  I think of a recent incident in my own town when a local artist hung a pair of men's underwear in his shop window.  Someone was offended and the controversy was ignited.  The underwear was unembellished in any way, but because the local artist is, in himself, controversial, the underwear became the fuse.  In the end, there were weeks of interesting conversations about what was art and why is art.  Seems that hanging underwear on a gallery wall is not the same as hanging underwear on a clothesline.  In the same way, Chaka writing his name over and over on a gritty LA wall, dodging cops and security guards, hanging by a rope from an overpass, risking jail and fines, is not the same as Chaka painting his name onto some surface that can be hung in a gallery.  The intent makes all the difference.

Or maybe not.  I have seen much work with good intent and disastrous results, either because of unclear intention, complete failure in execution, or both.  The road to mediocre artwork is often paved with good intentions.

Distinctions seem self-limiting. Exclusions the same.  Inclusions become a dilution of meaning.

It would seem, then, that we are in dire need of an expanded vocabulary.  This is a dictionary definition of art that I came across - "Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature. "

I am imagining myself at a holiday party.  An attractive couple joins me at the table.  Mr. Attractive turns to me and asks, "And what do you do?"  I spread my napkin in my lap, take a sip of water, and reply, "I make a very human effort to imitate, supplement, alter and sometimes counteract the works of nature that surround me."  He smiles, pats his wife's hand, and they turn to an imagined question from their other side.  Too broad, I decide.

There are many phrases for the styles of art: fine art, graphic art, impressionist art, expressionist art, modern art, classical art, outsider art, folk art, and dozens of others.  If we spent money on art history education in our public schools, this all would be so much easier.  I am flummoxed.  (Now isn't that a great word for confused, puzzled, baffled, bewildered, mystified, nonplussed, stumped, stymied?)  Why do we use only "art" for all the results of making a "human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature?"

I just don't have the answer, so now I am going to return to carving, sanding, sculpting, painting, and grinding an interpretation of my inner thoughts about expressing the impermanence and significance of both my personal and female human relationship to the ethereal and spiritual qualities of an experience with a wall of succulents in my neighbor's garden.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

From Start to Finish

Several weeks ago I posted an "in progress" group of pictures on my FB page.  I did finish the piece and here is the chronicle of the project - from start to finish.  It's a long process, doing a sculpted gourd using the natural direction of what nature gives me.  There isn't much sense in making drawings on paper because your plans will invariably go awry and your paper drawings will have been wasted.  I believe one has to "see" what the gourd wants to be, then help it become.

This tall snake gourd bent fairly gracefully in one direction,with a nice gentle swelling at the bottom.  The iris hiding there needed to be set free to blow in the garden breezes, leaves wanted to arch and droop as landing places for dragonflies and butterflies.  

After drawing the images onto the gourd and burning the line work in, the engineering begins - after all, when you cut a leaf or bloom from the center of the gourd, what will hold the remaining top to the bottom?  Leaves and stems must be rebuilt behind the flower which wants to lean outward.  After soaking the "free" parts of the design (blooms and leaves), the gourd walls are soaked in warm water and gradually bent, holding their positions with strings tied to weights or to the table, till the piece is completely dry.  If the parts are very narrow or the stem is all that holds the large bloom, support must be built onto the backside of the gourd wall.  But, careful, don't build so much support in that you can't reach the inside of the design where a butterfly might be resting.  The contraption in the pictures holds the gourd for me in any one of many positions.  I used to have to do the holding in my lap - very precarious!  All of the cut edges and the sculpture material added to make the design more 3-dimensional must be sanded, hence the mask.  The sander is loud - headphones help.  Sander makes talc-fine dust - so I hold the vacuum in my left hand while sanding with my right.  It's definitely a balancing act!

The painting is done in stages - basic colors applied in the beginning so that I don't mistake positive image for negative space.  Lots of layers of transparent acrylics build the nuanced color in each leaf and bloom.  Often something may start out life as magenta and end up as yellow!

Here are several views of the finished piece.  I miss gardening, but I love making one that lasts forever!  I'll be bringing this one to the Celebration of Fine Art, Scottsdale, opening Jan. 15.  Hope you'll get to see it!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Pace of Mindfulness

I have lately become a fan of Daisy Hickman's blog, Sunny Room Studio.  Today she was reflecting on writing by Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh who wrote,
     "Our habit energy is what causes us to repeat the same behavior thousands of times... The practice of mindfulness helps us to recognize that habitual energy.  Every time we can recognize the habit energy in us, we are able to stop and to enjoy the present moment.  The energy of mindfulness is the best energy to help us embrace our habit energy and transform it. The energy of mindfulness is the full awareness of the present moment...The energy of mindfulness carries within itself the energy of concentration.  When you are mindful of something, whether that something is a flower, a friend, a cup of tea, you become concentrated on the object of your mindfulness.  The more you are mindful, the more concentrated you become.  The energy of concentration is born from the energy of mindfulness.  And if you are concentrated enough, the energy of concentration contains the energy of insight.  Mindfulness, concentration, and insight are the energies that make up the Buddha."

Ms Hickman went on to say,  "A superficial life is much like an “unexamined life,” a sequence of events without meaning or purpose. Or understanding."

My studio is very sunny and quiet today, Sunday.  There is no music, or sound other than an occasional bird or muffled road noise from a passing car.  I am at work on an intricate gourd and, at the moment, the sculpture medium needs some drying time.  For a while I can drift in the topic of mindfulness.  

There is something acutely near my mind that I cannot quite grasp.  This sensation surfaces frequently when I am in the midst of my work.  The creative process is one of great concentration, or mindfulness, when one is fully engaged.  Some would call it focus.  Others might define it  in more religious terms as in God speaking to me.  I am neither a very scientific, nor a very religious person, so those analogies don't quite work for me.  Nor am I of a meditative nature.  My mind is not easy to quiet.  One of the most difficult things about being an artist is turning the generative mind off - sleep eludes me, and when it does come, it often arrives with much dream activity, sometimes solving problems, often giving the gift of wholly finished works which I must try to capture in my conscious mind in the instant of waking, lest they slip away.  But, I do like to ponder.  

Buddhist thought is often expressed in simplistic terms and becomes trivialized as greeting card adages.  An example of this was in vogue several years ago when everyone was spouting "you create your own reality," and much sadness transpired as folks with major illnesses came to believe that somehow they had created their illnesses, and parents dealing with the death of a child were shamed into believeing they were to blame for their tragic circumstances.  Too simplistic.  Not incorrect, perhaps, in certain deeper implications, but far too simple to be left unexamined.  Life is not a greeting card.  Why are we always looking for the simple, the easy, the quick in everything that we do?  

Ms. Hickman went on to say,  "A superficial life is much like an “unexamined life,” a sequence of events without meaning or purpose. Or understanding."  I agree with this, knowing that I have many superficial moments - after all, how deep is the moment I spend plucking my eyebrows or making certain my dishes don't have water stains on them?  We could talk about levels of superficiality here, but let's not.  Pick up People magazine for that.  But I do think that some pondering on the Buddhist Mindfulness-Concentration-Insight path is worth some time.
The link that Mr. Hanh makes is mightily important, because it points to growth, and by extension, change.  Ms. Hickman's "sequence of events" may coincide with a certain level of mindfulness (think focusing, visualizing that new car, winning lottery ticket, check-in-the-mail from nowhere).  But is there meaning or purpose beyond the simplistic car, ticket, check?  Does the mindfulness of the self (or self-desired object) lead to Mr. Hanh's "concentration?"  He says, "The more you are mindful, the more concentrated you become.  The energy of concentration is born from the energy of mindfulness."  So, when we are disappointed that the car doesn't materialize, do we recognize that we have not fully enrolled ourselves in the mindfulness of the car, to the point of concentration?  Probably not.  We, most likely, are like a child who wants what he wants now, until he wants something else in the very next moment.  Which leads to the question of what happens in the state of "mindfulness?"  Turns out that perhaps mindfulness is not so easy after all, nor simple.  I'm pretty certain that anyone reading this who has been practicing mindfulness for very long, is having difficulty staying in the moment, without clicking to another blog.  Yes, I say yes, not so easy.  Not simple.  How many things snag your consciousness when you are focusing on mindfulness of breathing? Please!  I know I've already copped to not meditating.  So what is there for us less disciplined folk, we who feel our stomach rumble in the middle of the out breath, who have to scratch the itch impeding our in breath, whose every aching joint and muscle scream for our attention while we sit cramped in the impossible lotus? 

There is this: slowing down.  That's all.  Just slowing down.  Try this: get three clocks- one with no second hand, one with a second hand, and one digital (stop watch) counting one-hundredths of a second.  Sit down with them, one at a time, and be mindful, or concentrate on one specific thing for two minutes.  Be mindful of how well you can do this in each given time sequence.  This is not rocket science, because, as I mentioned, I am not of a scientific bent.  It is, however, pretty obvious.  Given the slower pace of the clock with no second hand, your mind quiets itself, able to readjust it's thought even if it wanders.  It wanders, if you will, at a slower pace.  I think that perhaps what Mr. Hanh is telling us is to slow down.  Being in the moment is not equivalent to jumping into the moment.  It is slowing down your eternal forward motion enough so that the moment, the elusive moment, can envelope you.  The moment isn't stationary.  It isn't a stop in time.  The moment is moving forward also.  But, if one is able to slow down, become enveloped in the moment, that act will take you to a different place than you would otherwise have arrived at.  And that is the insight.  That by slowing down, we can change what we are consciously aware of; we can alter our moment, and in that altered moment, or altered consciousness, something may open for us.  An insight. An understanding.

"A superficial life is much like an “unexamined life,” a sequence of events without meaning or purpose. Or understanding."  A superficial life, then, is a life in which we, without consciousness, allow ourselves to be propelled by the ever increasing speed of the Universe, without pausing to experience our own being.  

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Small Vacation

Replenishing oneself, when what you do for a living is make art, market art, sell art, ship art, move art, is something which must usually be accomplished in a short period of time - substantially less time than the two or three week vacation from a straight job.  Last weekend we combined a bit of art biz with a bit of stress relief by meandering around rural southern VA and northern NC, followed by a "side" trip to St. Augustine, FL.  Riding through a sea of cotton playing against the firery reds of autumn forests in NC where we had no bars (those would be cell phone bars) to distract us, was taking a deep breath of sweet relaxation.

We delivered some paintings to Hilton Head - extensions of the season into the home - 

followed by a walk in the woods near Blufton, GA.....


and on to visit my brother who was on a hunt for great cigars (ugh!) in St. Augustine - and we found them - hand made by the family, using tools of the trade that looked like they should be in a great antique display somewhere.  Just a moment in the day, but one in which I learned something I knew nothing about!


And then, back to Salisbury, to work in the studio - Piedmont Craftsmen is coming up soon!  And Celebration of Fine Art, Scottsdale, is already gearing up for their 2011 show - gotta be ready!



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Finding Meaning in Texture, Giving Texture to Meaning

This painting is one part of a group installed as a large horizontal installation (though spaced individually about 6" between each).  Because I paint from texture and color, I depend on those elements to give me the information I need to develop meaning, or theme.  Some would say image, but since my work leans to impressionism or expressionism, I discourage the sense of finality that "image" conjures for me.  "Image" comes from the click of the digital camera, the slick magazine page torn out at the dentist's office, the picture our minds make because that is our ocular-cerebral function.  I have never spoken with anyone blind from birth, but I would like to know how they describe what they "see", or "imagine" when presented with a physical object.  That may be where "image"(likeness) reverts to its origin "imagine"(to picture to one's self) and retains a floating, ephemeral quality, not needing to be crystallized (unless of course the object presented to a blind person is something like a knife which would need to retain some mental impression of possible danger). If, in fact, this is the way in which blind people see, I can "imagine" an exciting working relationship between sighted artists and blind wordsmiths co-creating visions tossed back and forth like weightless dandelion heads till, scattered, they grow into a new kind of experimental verbal/ocular garden.  For me, then, to stay in the realm of "imagine", I need to push "image" aside and find the birth of idea, theme or meaning, another way.  Another way, and by no means the only way, is via texture and/or color.

Recently I signed on for an Essay class taught by Andrea Collier, a member of my new favorite group, SheWrites.  Among a list of questions posed to each student was "what do you see as your biggest obstacle in essay writing?"  I answered that it was in not knowing where I would end up, or less vaguely put, the obstacle looked like a brick wall, behind which hid the answer, the conclusion, the "image" that an essay needed.  I can see the meadow of a general topic; I can see the path of personal experience, the atmosphere of a wider implication of the experience; what I cannot see is the clipped image, the 8 x 10 glossy of the conclusion.  So, I do not begin. 

Happily Ms. Collier told me that I do not need to know.  I need only to begin.  We chatted about my art process and the curtain parted;  easily visible was beginning with the kernel of concept and then, in the writing, both distill and clarify with texture and color - rather like the opposite of how I paint, but viscerally acute.  I begin.

Check back for progress and for other notes on art processes and musings (voices from the Muse)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Star Ratings Don't Matter: Adjustments and Extended Traveling

Cleaning up some files - found notes on some of our travels (is that travails?) during the 90s.  (I've upgraded again, thanks to Price Line.)

What is that odd shift which occurs when one stays in the same lodging for the third night of an extended trip?  The moment when you turn the key in the lock, or wake in the morning and something in you has made this "home".  A sense of familiarity washes over you.  You drop the key on the table, kick off your thongs and walk barefoot on what was, only a moment before, a cringingly suspect surface, or you roll over, snuggling down in this bed that felt all wrong just last night.  Perhaps the surest sign of all is actually sitting, not hesitantly or gingerly, but with assurance and intention, on that toilet.  Whenever that moment is, one enters into a new state of traveling, affectionately known as "being home", and it is this great reprieve from the work of traveling that allows me to live out of a backpack in a series of strange smelling places for many months at a time, unfettered by desire for my house in America.
 An aside for public transportation.  Admittedly, I do occasionally long for the luxurious spaciousness of my Dodge van with plush seats, enclosed on three sides by privacy, tinted windows, dry and comfortably clean with my own dirt, where my entire length (and that of my husband's) may horizontalize itself without touching another human, knowing that if I roll over it will be an inanimate car wall separating me from possible embarrassment or contamination with god knows what unfamiliar, contagious particle left for me in a manner I cannot bare to ponder.  Steadfastly, I quash those moments of straying from the mysteriously satisfying travel by public conveyance...third class trains, racing night buses, donkey carts, rickshaw, tuk-tuk, bechaks - all riding me along the fanciful edge of death, or minor catastrophe.  Perhaps I intuit that it is that quarter turn toward nostalgia that can threaten my joy in travel.
             In other lands I sleep in the most unlikely of places, covered and not, safe and not, rarely bug or rodent free, and covet the stories those nights breed.  Covered by only a scratchy, odiferous camel blanket in the Tar Desert, I am reassured by my husband squeezed in next to me, and later by the mound of sand blown toward and over us in the night.  Very cozy.  Crowded into a six foot square wooden box of a cabin with one twelve inch square hole with shutter, my husband, son and I roll to the middle of a hammocked mattress, Golden Triangle monsoon turning our space into a sauna. But, in Iowa or Seattle, San Diego or Tucson, I will not turn toward the nostalgia of survival in those other far-flung lands and check into the NoTell Motel. Too much risk of what?  Bedbugs.  Pubic hair.  Athlete's foot.  Crabs.  I do not let go of the sure knowledge gained in high school that one can get crabs from the toilet seat.  Motel 6 is as low end and I go, and as I work my way into my fifties, I feel myself upgrading to Red Roof Inn.  Has there ever been a good story born at a Red Roof Inn?  Reluctantly I check into Motel 6 where just a short time ago, somewhere nearby, in Illinois perhaps, or Georgia, they uncovered a meth lab set up in two adjoining rooms.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Four Stages of Garage Sale Grief

Barnes and Noble shelves are filled with books on grief and grief counseling and, as one who has suffered some socially legitimate grief in her life, I certainly don’t mean to make light of grief in any way, particularly in light of these times when people are once again throwing themselves off bridges and other high places, if only figuratively.  However, I do believe that some consideration needs to be given to Garage Sale Grief since it afflicts so many, regardless of the dearth reported in the media or prayed over on Sundays (or Saturdays or Fridays, for that matter).  So, with utmost respect for the gargantuan range of grief that people are experiencing, I put forth the Four Stages of Garage Sale Grief to promote greater understanding in the populace at large, both the large portion of hunter-gatherers scanning their local and regional papers on Friday’s (and Thursdays’s and Saturday’s for the hard core), mapping our their routes, matching hours of sales with density in given areas, quality of area, distance from starting point and distance from Sale #1 forward through the ten or so sales they hope to get to the next day, and the fewer retailers-for-a-day who are having the Garage Sales (or Yard Sales, though there is a distinction to be made between the Garage Sale and the Yard Sale. I fully acknowledge the validity of the Yard Sale, and have been known to cruise by a few myself of a lazy summer weekend, but herein lies the very distinction itself.  I ask you, can you, in good conscience, equate the Yard Sale event – one for which neighbors or extended families gather together, often with their little urchins racing around the tables of goods, upending those boxes of tattered toys to grab the broken hula hoop, the ragged Curious George, the Godzilla action figures, the red wig that was the very essence of the Little Mermaid, for a resurrection of their tiny memory banks of fun – these rambunctious young families gathering on the green lawn of one or the other, someone starting up the grill, chilling the beer and the sweet tea (substitute Kool Aid, lemonade, sodas for Anywhere, USA), putting out the lawn chairs (NFS of course), some in front of the (possibly for sale) TV plugged by way of multiple extension cords stretched as far from the garage as they will reach, ready for the long leisurely day chatting, occasionally selling the badly cleaned grill, deflated football, odd mismatched glasses, old paperbacks, and cookies (cookies!).  I ask you, does this equate to the bona fide Garage Sale, the rain or shine event which disrupts the very gut of a home, forces complete subjugation of all authentic garage items (cars, trucks, lawn mowers, bicycles, lawn games, man-stuff, etc.) so that days, perhaps weeks, can be spent hauling boxes from the netherlands of the home, examining contents, sorting, choosing, re-sorting, reclaiming and handling endlessly in the arrangement of such items so that they will indicate meaning at the Actual Sale, during which there is room for only one lone attendant, staring at the residue of his or her (but usually her) life, assaulted by memories, to make change for that dollar bill thrust out as the offer on the Mister Coffee (asking $5 - how many dimes, nickels, quarters will I need?)?  Need I say more?  Garage Sale Grief is real and palpable.  Yard Sale Grief?  I don’t think so.

Hereafter we will speak only of the Garage Sale (GS) and with quiet respect, Garage Sale Grief (GSG), and one holding the GS as the Garage Saler.

Of course, the initial or Stage One of GSG, Deciding, starts not with sadness, but rather with either 1) the heartfelt desire to lighten the load, simplify, make a physical/spiritual space in one’s metaphorical Garage/Life or, 2) make some money (which may also achieve #1 if one is very, very fortunate and has excellent Karma). For some, these ostensibly obvious two purposes begin to morph back and forth almost immediately, usually beginning with The Box.  The Box is a professional term used to describe that item, heretofore hidden from daily view, perhaps in an actual box, but more likely put in an attic or basement, hidden behind, stashed away, but certainly forgotten.  Oh, Forgotten!  How soon we forget!  How could we have forgotten!  Don’t you remember when…? 

And so it begins, Stage Two: The Angst of Letting Go.  It is possible, at this point, if one is doing the GS alone, without emotional and tactical support, that paralysis may set it.  It can strike with the speed and power of a new Cuisinart on a Bermuda onion – final, irremediable, forestalling any future plans for the Garage Sale.  The unsuspecting Garage Saler simply cannot deal with the guilt of forgetting, cannot withstand the onrush of poignant memories -tiny fingers pressed into the plaster of paris Mother’s Day gift, the dusky smell of Grandma’s hairbrush, the box of matchbox cars, little plastic hammers and saws, a father’s fedora.  The Saler is lost.  The usual response is to replace the goods (a long sigh, perhaps a few tears, a story or two recalled), close The Box and guilt free, having now cancelled all GS plans, return to the forgetting.  However, should the Garage Saler have been forewarned by a sharp eyed and experienced Garage Saler Guide, this phase can be delicately handled with patience, hugging, an empathetic ear, enabling the grief stricken to gracefully move on to the next stage.

Stage Three: It’s Only Stuff.  (This paradigm shift is critical if one is to not only recover from the GS experience, but to move on to a position of Support For Others embarking on their first GS experience.)  The phrase, “It’s only stuff!” must not be acknowledged by the experienced Guide too quickly lest the Garage Saler think the Guide is making light of the “stuff” in question, and therefore, the whole painful, excruciating exercise.  This can result in anger and a lasting distrust of the friendship.  Tread with care upon others’ memories.  It’s Only Stuff is the transitional stage of GSG, the stage during which the Garage Saler has time (while moving boxes, bins, furniture, pieces of her unexamined life, chunks of her persona, of her history, of her memory, of her successes and fears) to recite the litany of the transition from purpose #1 and 2, mentioned above, to the Truth of It’s Only Stuff.  Momentarily overwhelmed by decisions and memories she can usually accept the Guide’s suggestion that the sorting begin with what can be disposed of (“…just the stuff you really want to throw away…”).  Saler, desirous of comporting herself with dignity, mumbles the new mantra, “it’s only stuff”, as she discards the detritus of that camping trip, old house, school holidays – crushed Coleman stove, torn sweats, cracked pottery lamp, worn out kitchen utensils with melted handles from when she had that gas stove in college, it’s only stuff, kid’s coloring books (whose were they?), unidentifiable metal things (he should have stayed to help me sort this stuff out!), oil paints hardened in the tubes (damn, I wish I’d taken that class..), bird house (ick – stinky), small dressing table chair (oh.  Damn.  Mom’s.  It’s only stuff.  It doesn’t work in this house.  Kids don’t want it.  It’s only stuff, Mom.)  It’s only stuff.  The process may be short, more likely, long.  It requires the sorting through of so much more than the stuff.  The sorting of memory, of feeling, of sadness and joy, all takes time.  And then, in one moment, the window opens and the Garage Saler looks out at her garage full of stuff, and it IS just stuff – beautiful stuff, ugly stuff, useful and useless, reminiscent but no longer redolent of emotion.  A Heart Shift has taken place.  Memories of sadness, anxiety, anger are gone – weighed and found no longer valuable.  The goods are now Just Stuff.  Memories of love, joy, fun, generosity are so alive that the goods representing these emotions pale by comparison – just stuff.

Prepared now to let go, she enters Stage 4: The Sale.  It’s just stuff – stuff that the young couple are so excited to get for $2 for their kitchen, stuff the man collects for his shop, stuff the mom will use to do projects with her children…wonderful stuff, and so cheap!  Aren’t they lucky!

Aren’t I lucky? I love.  I am loved.  I am free.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


"Grace" found a new home this weekend at Common Grounds Birmingham, MI. I had just finished her the day before we left for the show, so I was fortunate to have good natural lighting to take this photograph in. I thought the texture and color was leaning towards flowers, but then I dropped the rusty red in and her cheekbone appeared! Magic! And she was there with her swept back hair and slightly tilted head, full of knowing. I love her!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Zen of the Now

94 degrees today in NC and the first day of fall.  Can you hear me  pounding my head on the dashboard of my van, as I wait in the drive through line at Starbucks waiting, waiting, WAITING to get to the window, with van windows open?  We are fully loaded with artwork, show tent, walls, chairs, bags, tent weights, computers, chilly weather clothes (and WHEN WOULD THEY BE NEEDED, I scream in my head), couple of totes of misc. show gear.  It’s 9:45 am and THIS LINE IS NOTNOTNOT MOVING – the man with the cool, golden, smooth skin smiles at me from the driver’s seat which is in the #%^)0**^-!* SHADE and says (something like) “Patience, Whitney”, or was it why are you so irritable honey, or, no, I think it was more like what’s the matter? Too warm?  TOO WARM??? It’s been in the &$%#@@@** 90s for three $%@*#$^$ months – I can’t STAND this for one moRE DAY (read with escalating volume) – and yes, of course I GET (and that guy I just mentioned pointed OUT to me) that such escalation simply causes my body temperature to rise another several degrees which, now that we are three hours down the road and the air con is ON, segues into my thoughts about the zen-ness of being in the Now. 

I read the occasional personal growth book.  I have friends who meditate.  I breath in and out several times a day.  I know what a moment is and that I am supposed to be in it.  Riding along through the rounded green and gold and russet mountains of Virginia, just the hum of the road and lightly cracking sound of that guy (mentioned above) opening sunflower seeds (little rustlings of the cellophane bag as he reaches in for a few more), van gearing down as we start another incline, swishing sounds as cars pass us slower traffic keeping right – riding along in this way, it is simple to be in the moment, attuned to the slightest variation in timbre or temp….change in temp? Change in temp?  Why are you turning the air OFF?  Climbing, he answers, between seeds.  I look up.  I see cerulean sky filled with cumulus pillows in shades of white tinged with varying degrees of palest blue echoing into the vastness of VA skies.  Quickly we have ascended, are skimming the ridge and turn the air on again.  My brief relapse over.  VA. WV.  I gaze out as the cumulus sky becomes forest mounds. The radio tunes in again.  Amazing Grace.  I kid you not.  We must hear Amazing Grace at least six times each way whenever we make this trip from NC to The North (draw a line anywhere above Washington, DC to central IN).  A bit of Alizarine showing.  Dark Cadmium Yellow.  Heavy blood red-brown Sumac heads. (Are they poinsonous?  Some interior voice raises the red flag of warning whenever I see Sumac. I don’t think I would hear the red flag if I were’nt in the moment.)

But what I really wanted to discuss is this thing with the Now.  The whole thing of Being in the Now.  It’s not that I can’t see the value of this Way of Being – my friend Leah seems to float in the Moment most of the time.  Pretty unflappable, not given to fits of  anxiety or rage.  Now, I’m not saying that she doesn’t experience these, just that it appears to me that she is able to dilute them, to extinguish them, probably during the act of mediation, which, to my amazement, she does daily.  I’m just saying that for those of us who are not so far along the road to that more highly evolved state, there should be more discussion of the value of understanding that sometimes the value of being in the Now is knowing that if you stay in the Now you will explode, possible doing bodily harm to oneself or others, and that the more prudent, some might even say more evolved, choice, while still being IN the Now and making choices from that place, would be to rapidly, expeditiously, and without passing Go, EXIT the Now NOW.  And, blissful in the lower regions, deny that particular Now of 90 something degrees for three long running months, buy a ticket to good movie in a large and very cold Cineplex, sit in the dark and be in a different Now.  Just till Fall really shows up.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Momix Bothanica _ Taormina Arte 21 July 2009

When you feel dull or trampled on, when you can't see grace or hope or beauty, watch this group in any of their videos.  Immerse yourself in what art can do, indeed, what it does to you while you experience this performance.  If you question what you can do to help the state of the world, watch Momix, open to Momix, allow what they create to wash through you, and the wave that they create, if you allow it to, will go out from you in energy soaring in the Universe.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Look What the Muse Left

So here's what the Muse left for me after yesterdays session.  I took this pic on the floor mats in my studio at about 6 pm with no direct light, so it looks pretty flat.  I'll take another tomorrow and you can see it and other new paintings at

Echos IV
We'll be heading to Common Grounds Art Birmingham on Thurs - better clean the studio up and finish stretching those large canvases I started yesterday.

And this isn't the real mess...that's behind me!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Where's the Vision? or Back to Backwards

Still wandering down the Vision quest of my painting (see earlier posts), I worked on a piece in the Echo Series, Vision in mind.  Ooooops.  The Vision had grown into something too concrete.  What happens to me at that point is that I become imaginatively paralyzed - can't let go, let happen (riffing on those Step Programs). Nope.  Nothing. Worse. BAD.  Into the trash.  Now what?

I've been making art for 40 years - sometimes it feels like 40 Light Years - but long enough to know that with some time (and a brief stint doing something I hate - that would be cleaning house, working on the computer, nothing...) the muse that lives in my head will return, usually demonstrating selective memory (can muse have memory?) - memory that doesn't remember the mess I'd gotten myself into the day before.  And so it did. (Thank you, Muse.)

Now, it is my opinion that when Muse returns, one doesn't look the giftMuse in the mouth and try its patience with things like New Process or Practice Process or the Bag of Already Gone Before.  One simply dances blindfolded to the workspace and begins.  Some may call this intuition.  I call it knowing your Muse.

So.  What you see in the pic (look carefully now - that's why I put it in pretty high res) is my eye and hand doing instinctively what they do with color and texture.  Tomorrow I will return and peek into the dry surface to see what Muse has left, revealed, granted, gifted, or tossed to me.  I trust that it will be there.  I trust because....well, I trust, just because I trust.  See you tomorrow - for now I'm going to stretch some large canvases.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Part Two-Working Backwards on Visions

It's been a curious week working on four paintings that came to me in a Vision - full blown (but not easily adaptable to my process...see earlier posts).  A Vision is a willow-the-wisp when it comes to getting it down in concrete form.  Waking with the image in my head, I knew I would probably fail - too etherial, too much in the dream state.  So, I went back to sleep.  That's dangerous.  Happily, the Vision locked itself in pretty well and I sat for a bit, eyes closed, dissecting the layers of paint, setting them in my inner eye as though they were open pages on my Mac screen.  Hmmmm.  That was a new experience.  I am so NOT analytical - never thought of actually mentally dissecting work!  Maybe Syed's wearing off on me!  Still, not ready to actually get to it, I wandered around, physically and mentally, for a while.

So, here are two of the pieces.  Are they the Vision?  Well, close.  But, they are definitely sketches for a direction I have been wanting to go for some time...guess my subconscious just decided I needed a kick-start.

Echos I

Echos II

Poppies for Auction

Coming up this Saturday, Sept 25, Winston-Salem, NC - "Going Once, Going Twice" auction to benefit Piedmant Craftsmen. I can't be there - doing the Common Grounds Art Birmingham show in MI - but I'll be hoping they do well on my latest gardenscape, "Poppies". It's 24" x 30", acrylic on board, in simple clear ash frame.

Poppies for Piedmont

Gorgeous House in Savannah for Sale

OK, I'm not the real estate agent and have NO vested interest in this house, BUT I do know the house and it is to die for!  The owner is a friend of mine and her taste is impeccable, creative and she and her husband have made this home like stepping into an art film, and all with a pinch of Scandanavian flair - while still having a universal appeal.  The location is right next to a gorgeous old park, complete with the moss hung oaks and old iron fence!  If you have any interest in moving to Savannah, don't miss this opportunity to live in a dream!  You can call Gail Levites Selling Real Estate with Keller Williams Downtown Savannah, 912-232-8580.

On other in NC the days are still hot in the 90s, but the nights are wonderfully comfortable and we can sleep with all the windows open again.  I'm at work on a group of four 24" x 24" paintings called Echos.  I hope to get the pics up tomorrow - varnish drying today on two.

For those of you near Winston-Salem, I will also be posting the pic of the gardenscape painting I did for the  Going Once, Going Twice auction for the Piedmont Craftsmen to be held Sat, Sept 25 (coming right up). Check on this site tomorrow for the pic.

Gotta run for now...time's galloping by!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sometimes Backwards Doesn't Work

Breaking into pattern, destroying the flow, jumping the groove can disturb one's life in subtle ways.  I was rolling along, really into painting gardens, botanical themes just pouring out of me, blooming like they were July in a Friday Harbor meadow, loose and buzzing with movement, life, sun, process of beginning with texture and color birthing visions of poppies, iris, fields of wild grasses working like second skin, third eye, fingers like dancers, quick, weightless, singing memories.  Then, stepping off the ride, off to do a show - mode reversal to the max - out of my subconscious and into the now of connecting with audience - and by that "now" I am not talking about the Now of Now - the zen flash that comes with touching someone's heart or mind with the painting they are gazing at - that grace filled speechless slow-motion conversation of souls when it matters not if it culminates in sale - matters only that the connection happened.  No, not that "Now".  The small n now is that space I often find myself in at a show - the polite but forgettable "beautiful work thank you great colors thank you hmmm nice thank you i'll be back great thank you - (oh god, is it 5 o'clock 6 o'clock dinner over yet?).  Small n now is death to the artist, to connection.  It is equivalent to drinking hemlock with your (maybe not) free bagel and dirty water coffee at the check-in table.  It is equivalent to stabbing the words "beautiful work great colors hmmmnice i'll be back" with a rapier and putting them and their speakers into the ragged, stained Bag of Trys hanging at your side (perhaps grafted there - no need anymore for the shoulder strap).

So, when I returned from the show, the garden energy petered out, I busied myself with Other Things - that would be all the stuff you dread about FB - I cleaned the fridge today, yuck! Did anyone see the red sweater I left at the...etc.  Then my muse returned, thank you Muse, and in the form of a Vision.  A Vision is when an idea erupts, full blown and crystal clear, into my mind.  This is not a frequent occurrence and it's a good thing.  Sounds like a great thing, right?  What's to do but get it down?  Not a great thing, and here's why, which brings me to the title of this post - Sometimes Backwards Doesn't Work.

I've written before, about my process of putting down texture and color, tuning in and waiting, looking for what evolves out of this method.  Something virtually always comes bubbling forth, inspiring a train of thought/work, energizing me.  The energy usually stays with me when I take the work to a show and enter into the small n now, naturally lifting me into the Now of Now.

The Vision doesn't fit well into this paradigm.  So.  How to get the Vision down without destroying it in the process?  And that is where I am today.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hydrangia at Alexandria

 Hydrangia - one of my favorite works on paper, sold at Alexandria Art Fair this past weekend. We lucked out with the weather, having rain Sat night and a bit Sun morning. Took a little scenic tour around Fredricksburg on Mon after staying in the very fun and new Marriot Courtyard downtown. Now it's back to work for Birmingham Common Grounds in two weeks.

"Here's to Now" Ugly Casanova

And "here's to NOW"!  What more do we have, and how do you want to spend it?  I just read that our country is having an epidemic of depression!  Are you breathing?  Are you eating?  Don't be depressed - whatever you have is more than someone else has!  Say "Thankyou" outloud, louder, louder, till you believe it.  Then go do something for someone else.  Doesn't have to be much...a smile is often enough for the smiler and the smilee.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Rest of the Process

Having finished the 12 x 12 canvases pictured in an earlier post, I moved on to a quartet of larger work - each piece is 16"x32".  This shows a bit of the progress - here I am into the 3rd or 4th layer, building texture and basic composition of shapes and flow.  Of course I always prefer, when I do a work in a form meant to hang together, that the entire work sells.  But I also try to make it possible to pluck one or two pieces out so that they work as pairs or singly.

 Here the flower shapes are emerging - looking like hollyhocks, loosely interpreted.  Within the texture and color I am almost always looking for a certain mood issuing forth from memory, or as a reflection of memory.  I paint to leave as much room as possible for the viewer's memories, sparked by my work, to flood in.  When the viewer is able to find his/her own memory in the painting, the conversation is complete.
 This is the most right hand side of the quartet - very textural, very colorful.  The narrow shape of the piece keeps it from being overwhelming.  It is rich and intimate close up, soft and quiet from a distance.

This is the most left hand side of the quartet.

You can see all four pieces by clicking here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Process of Work in Process

There are many ways of beginning a painting.  Some do a sketch on the primed white canvas or paper.  Then they may put a wash or underpainting on to create a mood of light or dark, followed by blocking in the lights or darks.  Some go straight to the color, following the lines of their sketch.  I even knew one painter who worked directly from the top of the canvas to the bottom, on the most elaborately detailed images of fantasy that I have ever seen.  Perhaps it has to do with training.  I don't know.  But I think it may have more to do with one's personality or how the mind works.

Personally, I always begin with texture and a color wash.  I never begin with image, though often with thoughts of nature, most often of gardens (I think I miss the large gardens I had when I raised my children, and of the idyllic ones created by my son and his love in the San Juans where we spent some time this summer).  On large canvases (or board which I most often use) I use large trowels to spread texture medium, emphasizing areas with more or less texture.  I like the smooth feel of spreading the medium and the surprises that show up, created by rivulets, overlaps, creases, thin transparent spots and distinctive lines caused by the knife or trowel edge.  It is almost always in this first phase of the process that I can see what the painting is, but occasionally it takes another go after the first layer is dry.  While the medium dries, which can be a day or two, depending on thickness and humidity, I work on other pieces in other stages (but always on paintings, not gourds since the processes are very different as well as the mess I create), taking time to watch the new piece drying, becoming.  I will turn it, letting it rest on each side, lest I miss something wonderful trying to come out.  It is intuitive, I suppose.  Painting is a time of meditation for me - a time when I can more easily open myself to the flow from mind/imagination to hand.

Here are some pics of the ongoing process on one of several small pieces I am currently working on -