Photo of Secretary bird © 2012, Ink Dwell, LLC.
You may recognize the artist in this very short video (think “Hungry Caterpillar”):
For the past six weeks I’ve been slaving over my artist’s statement. It turns out you’re not a real professional unless you have one. I looked at other artists’ statements, and didn’t see any that I liked. They were so hifaluting (spelling?), filled with art-speak and treated me as if I was too much of an imbecile to figure out what their work was about. It was maddening.
An honest explanation of why you do what you do takes real brain work. You really have to turn your noggin on and think, think, think.The best analogy I can think of is the genius of a small child caught in a lie. You call them on it and ask, “Why did you do it?” And what do you get from the kid? A little face all scrunched up as (s)he tries to think up yet another lie to cover the first one. You watch that little genius face at work and you just know that you are about to get a fantastically unbelievable story about how they didn’t actually do what you just saw them do. It takes that kind of brain power to write you own artist’s statement. No easy task that. So here now, is my explanation of why I create and how and what I create. Your comments, suggestions, criticisms are all welcome.
***** ***** *****
Color is My Personal Symbolism
Jamaica’s Blue Mountains did it and now the Bay Area’s ridges and valleys are doing it again! Colors unfold, vibrant and vivid, take hold and send me rushing to my studio where I feverishly squeeze paints from tubes, freeing images I have conjured up during my mountain and coastal hikes.
Often you will find me sketching atop a grassy mountain knoll or on a dune at Ano Nuevo. From my perch I draw things I encounter during my hikes — plants, insects, birds or the scenery before me. If I sight a coyote, badger or mountain lion, I sketch as quickly as I can, trying to capture it before it heads for cover in the woods.
In the studio, sketches transform into paintings: there are today’s golden California poppies, ruby throated hummingbirds and green, brown and gold Bay Area hills; and there are yesterday’s women ambling through Blue Mountain towns. The outcome is my highly texturized process paintings and detailed miniatures.
Recycled bits of metal, scraps, feathers and straw are given new life in my works. I fold them into gessoed surfaces then bathe them in paints, pigments and inks. Some paintings are whimsical; others move from the realm of the real to the unreal. A woman, for example, can be transformed into a California Quail.
Unsurprisingly, the unifying thread throughout my works is the sun infused colors of the Caribbean and California. I could not have created these paintings without these two muses. I nod in appreciation to both.
“Blue Swallowtail” Mixed media on board. 12 x 16 inches © 2013
Questions, Questions, Questions
I have a monthly art blog, Funny Face Studios. It forces me to keep creating: I paint consistently now; I didn’t before. Last week a visitor to the site asked me two questions: What size is the “Spectre” painting; and what is the story behind its creation? The first question was easily answered and in fact, was already present on the page. I always place the title, description, size and year of creation directly under the photograph of the painting. But the reader missed it and I had to wonder, “Why?” What was I not doing correctly that caused her to miss that particular bit of information? This week I went to an artists’ workshop and asked the question. The presenters had this advice, “Provide a distance shot along with the close up. That way, readers will have a clear idea of the size and scale of your works.” Such simple advice! I knew that I worked in what the art world now considers miniatures, but visitors to my site didn’t necessarily know this. (True miniatures are nazar paintings that Indians used to present as gifts to their Mahajaras.)
Stories, Stories, Stories
The second question was easy to answer as well. The painting about which the reader inquired, Spectre, had quite a bit of personal history behind it and I provided the answers. But by asking these questions, the reader started me thinking about my presentation. It made sense to include the actual stories behind my creations. So for this month’s, and all subsequent issues of Funny Face Studio, I will provide the stories that go with the works. Thank you, Kristen, for making me think more about how I present my works. This post is a re-presentation of my current Funny Face art piece. It is about my “Blue Swallowtail” painting and includes the story behind its actual creation. Any feedback is appreciated.
I have also included two “to-scale” photographs of “Blue Swallowtail.” Here it sits on my tabletop easel. You can see from the photograph how small (or large?) it is or isn’t. While in width it fits properly into the easel, it isn’t quite large enough to fill up the entire height of the structure.
About the Painting
“Blue Swallowtail” is from the “Appropriations Series.” The young woman in the painting has been appropriated from Iranian graffiti artist A1One (also known as Tanha). She reminds me of my Aunt Carmen as she appeared in an old black and white photograph ages ago. I guess you could argue that like the woman, the butterfly too, has been appropriated (from nature).
The Blue Swallowtail Butterfly
The blue swallowtail is one of many butterflies from my childhood. In a way, this painting is a nod to Jamaica. It wasn’t too long ago that these butterflies swarmed the Eastern end of the island. Today they are quite rare. You can still find them in a countryside area called Rozelle which is close to the sea. (Rozelle lies between Morant Bay and Yallahs Pond, in the parish of St. Thomas.) A mini-waterfall descends from the mountains and cascades into a culvert by the roadside. Here you will sometimes find naked boys and men soaking up the invigorating, and free, mountainside shower.
More About the Blue Swallowtail Painting
As with many of my paintings, the representations are not literal, not exact. The shapes are in keeping with what is being represented. This is true of my presentation of the blue swallowtail.
Here, as in my “Spectre” painting (September/October issue), I chose to use just a few monotone type colors. If you look carefully, you may be able to see a slight hint of a horse’s head in the top middle of the painting. It is another homage to a childhood friend, my horse, Ghirlie.
This was a busy weekend. I BARTed into San Francisco for a look at the light show at the new Bay Bridge and for happy hour at Chaya (across the street from the bridge). I also went on a behind the scenes tour at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (awesome!) and today, re-experienced art in the woods at Djerassic, in the Santa Cruz Mountains (more awesome!!).
Friday Night on the Embarcadero
The new Bay Bridge is nearing completion and is set to be opened soon. Here is a nighttime view of the waterfront along the Embarcadero with a view of the bridge. The new installation art piece (an LED light show) is in the foreground of the bridge. (Those are the lights you see in the upper right hand side of the photograph.) It looks like San Francisco is almost ready for the 2013 Americas Cup!
Moon Jellies and Such, Oh My!
Oh, the jellies I saw! Lot and lots of jelly fishes were on show at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Moon jellies. White moon jellies. Purple sprite jellies. Spotted jellies. Mediterranean jellies. Can you figure out which ones these are?
The history of how the Monterey Bay Aquarium came to be is fascinating. It involves David Packard (of Hewlett Packard fame) and his daughter who was at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station (in Monterey Bay). The senior Packard was looking for a family project to do with his daughter. That project evolved into the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Aquarium sits at the far corner of Cannery Row. The entire area was made famous by John Steinbeck in his books, Cannery Row, and The Sea of Cortez. His friend Doc features prominently in both novels and also on the Row, where he died in a car crash. One interesting note is that Monterey Bay is, in fact, a bight, not a bay. It is more open (less sheltered) than a bay and shallower also. The rocks in Monterey Bay are also an indication that it is not a true bay. A bay, by contrast, is a inlet of water enclosed on three sides by the land. Monterey Bay is not enclosed at all. It is wide open to the ocean with tide pools and salt water constantly moving in and out.
Here are some art installations in the woods at Djerassic and also, a window view from the Artist’s Barn.
This show runs from October 2012-February 24, 2013
The Nazis’ Entartete Kunst Show Revisited
A better title for the show would have been, “A War on Modern Art: The Notorious Hitler/Nazi Purge of 1937,” or quite simply, “The Entartete Kunst Show.”
The infamous Nazi art exhibition of 1937, Entartete Kunst, sought to stamp out certain art forms, including abstraction. It had the opposite effect. By drawing attention to modern art, the Nazis helped to make it unforgettable.
Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian painter and theorist, has been credited with creating the first purely abstract Western artworks. He taught at the Bauhaus until the Nazis closed it in 1933. His use of colors, shapes and lines so offended their sense of beauty that in the Entartete Kunst exhibition, they declared his art to be “crazy at any price.” Included in the current Cantor exhibition are several Kandinsky pieces that are representative of the ones featured in the 1937 show.
In 1929, The Great Depression hit Germany hard. Over five-million Germans and Austrians were out of work. The “unacceptable” were blamed for infecting the society. Anything and anyone violating the Nazis’ sense of classical German beauty (Aryan) were deemed degenerate and therefore, to be destroyed. In defense of this destruction, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, is heard declaring on archival film, “Der Fuhrer liebt die Kunst, weil er selbst ist ein Kunstler” (The Feurer loves art. He himself is an artist).* Unfortunately, this love extended neither to abstract/modern art nor its creators.
Book burnings began in Berlin in 1933: German and Austrian books were burned alongside books by “corrupting foreign influences.” This included books by Ernest Hemingway, H.G. Wells and the German playwright, Heinriche Heine. Heine, in his 1821 play, Almansor had written the following line:
“Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”)
The 1937 Degenerate Art show featured many of Kandinsky’s works, including an edition of the book, Klange (Sounds), and the portfolio of twelve prints entitled, “Kleine Welten” (Small Worlds). None of the works in The Cantor’s exhibition were actually in the Nazi sponsored art exhibition but both shows feature(d) a copy of Klange and several prints from Kleine Welten.
Also on view at The Cantor is a reproduction of the 1937 Nazi exhibition catalog (in both German and English). This too, was disturbing and did what it was meant to: It shocks the visitor by its immediacy and also by its accessibility to the English-speaker.
Over one-hundred artists and six-hundred pieces of art (including illustrated books like Kandinsky’s) encompassed the Nazis’ 1937 art exhibition. When the Degenerate Art Law was passed a year later in 1938, the Nazis had confiscated more than 16,000 objects of art.
Julien Bryan’s Archival Films
Chilling and voyeuristic are apt descriptions of Julien Bryan’s 1937 short films. The documentary of the museum goers viewing the show is numbing, disturbing, evocative and sad. You wonder which attendees will become murderers and who will be murdered. What are visitors thinking as they view the show? Is each visitor thinking for himself or has he allowed his thinking to be sanctioned by the State? Who, at that show, will help those in need and who will turn on “the other?” You wish you didn’t know how it ultimately ends.
Three links to various Bryan documentaries are embedded below. These are silent, black and white films. Because they are soundless, they are all the more harrowing. They have a certain magnetic pull, drawing the viewer in in a way that modern films do not. In their silence they force you to pay attention, to listen with your eyes.
Who was Julien Bryan? He was an American photographer, filmmaker and documentarian who traveled throughout Europe in the 1930s. He tried to warn America of the dangers of Nazism and Fascism based on what he saw in his travels abroad, in Russia, Poland, Germany and Austria. His documentary films of the era are now part of the public domain. Access them here:
- Munich Exhibition of Degenerate Art — Filmed by Bryan when he visited the 1937 Nazi exhibition.
- Pupils at Goldschmidt Jewish Private School in Nazi Germany — Bryan filmed the Goldschmidt Jewish private school shortly after Jews were no longer allowed to enroll in public schools in Germany. Again, you wish you didn’t know how this all turns out.
- Hitler Youth Girls –Here Bryan documents the indoctrination of German/Aryan school children, even during playtime.
*”PBS Film Chronicles Nazi Art Suppression”, The Daily Gazette, (Tuesday, April 6, 1993) <http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1957&dat=19930406&id=XWlGAAAAIBAJ&sjid=LukMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1166,1427669>
Crawling out of the same old womb
they headed their separate ways
he, a seeker of fortunes,
she an itinerant with no place of her own
unlikeliest of pairs.
Magpie and dusky footed rolled into one,
he lined his world with trinkets, baubles,
blood red garnets, platinum, aluminum, bauxite,
until several of his houses, filled to the hilt,
exploded into a dizzying array of colors.
Blues of the bluest blues
floated along on the wind
radiating skyward, outwards.
She, his other half,
hungered for some safe place
on gossamer wings
reminiscent of youthful treasures
like the barrette she’d been given
to contain her hair
on the cusp of dawn.
A slight wisp of a silver clip,
special even after it had lost its luster,
the glistening paper-like synthetic slowly peeling off
to reveal the transience of her gift,
adhesive and plastic,
glued onto a shiny metal base,
the cheapest of alloys,
releasing prisms into the air
upon the land.
Elusive, no two the same
never again seen
yet continuous in places
South America, the Caribbean,
Asia, Eastern Europe,
and now, today
this Arabic spring.
***** ***** *****
Yesterday I came across the old video in the link below. Although it presents some of my ideas of what travel and tourism ought to be about – grassroots, local and community-based – it caused me to re-examine the idea, taken so lightly in the video: “Once these wheels were turned by slaves.”
Enjoy the people and the place as you watch the video. Make a toast to great rum everywhere. Most importantly, pay homage to the genesis and evolution of rum in Jamaica and the rest of the “New World.” My doing so resulted in the poem, Ye Olde Arab Fling.
A friend sent me NASA’s earth art book and immediately, I started scribbling down place names for no other reasons than these: They are arresting names; and I wonder what goes on there. What do these places look like up close? Who lives there and how do they live in and treat these places and spaces? Are there open spaces for me to go wandering about in and exploring?
Ever since I arrived in the Bay Area, I have a renewed appreciation for open spaces that I have not felt since my childhood and my later adult sojurn in Jamaica. Just as importantly, this appreciation informs and colors my art. When I looked at the NASA pictures I thought once again, how cheeky, trying to create something, anything, when nature has already done it and done it so well. Here I am, getting ready to re-work my “the vees in picasso” sketches that I did last spring. I know not where the inspiration came from nor why it came from those particular sketches. All I know is I have a clear vision and I am going to move it from inside my head and out onto my canvas. But damned if one of the NASA shots isn’t an almost exact replica of what is in my mind’s eye! Even the coloration and texture (hence the use of modeling clay on the canvas) are the same as what I envisioned.
I just got through experimenting with a light modeling clay and a golden bronze acrylic paint that I have been reluctant to use. The experiment was tedious and it took me a long time to master that paint. I tried working with this bronze before and it hadn’t been tactile. In fact, the wretched thing was and still is, a very heavy paint. It does not rest easily on the canvas. This is the same paint that I worked with in the “David at Yosemite” painting. Turns out this paint is truly a bitch to work with and not simply because the David painting was a difficult subject.
I finally finished this new experiment in bronze painting. It has turned into a painting called, Little Fairy Castles in the Cow Pasture (or Childhood at Belvedere Estate). When I finished it I thought, “That was really difficult but I’m ready to work on my “vee” painting. Now along comes NASA with its “Earth-observing environmental satellites in orbit around the planet”, to show me that it has already been done! They have all conspired to outdo me, NASA, Earth, Nature and those dim-witted satellites that never did anything except spin about in the skies. They never lifted paintbrushes nor tried to coax heavy bronze paint onto canvas! Adding to my chagrin, the NASA picture, shown at the top of this post, is of the desert outside of the United States that I have my eyes on. Yes, it is of the Namib area that I wrote about in an earlier article, the same Namib desert that I invited my Yosemite painting man to visit with me so we could photograph, paint and sand-board there. Sand-boarding and sand-sledding in Swakopmund, Namibia, was another of our Urban Daddy Magazine discoveries. But that is another story.
Here now are some of the place names from NASA’s earth as art book that stirred my imagination:
- Painted Desert, USA
- Desolation Canyon, USA
- Lake Disappointment, Australia (childhood fairy tales and river myths come to mind)
- Parana River Delta, Argentina (this conjures up images of piranha fish)
- Anti-Atlas Mountains, Morocco (what does it even mean to be “anti” in a place name?)
- Carbonate Sand Dunes, Atlantic Ocean (how do you even have dunes in the ocean??)
- Ribbon Lakes, Russia
The following are not place names but oh, the conjuring up my mind does just thinking of these titles: gravity waves, ice waves, phytoplankton bloom, and Wadi Branches, Jordan (is this a geographical feature or a place-name?).
Oh, stupid NASA Earth as Art book can be accessed here: http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/703154main_earth_art-ebook.pdf and the artworks mentioned in this article are shown below.
Happy New Year and see you in 2013!
I will be out working with the seals all this weekend so I’m getting this week’s post in early. Sorry to throw you off with my early schedule.
So, back in May I stumbled across those crazy lost and found emails, remember? Thanks to them, I started thinking about my creative side and how that part of my life was being lost or shelved. In those emails I found I had done all this writing and photography and paintings – I created much more than I realized! What’s more, if I could do all that while having fun, how much more could I do if I set goals and got serious about my writing and my art?
So, here then, is the list of goals I set to help me focus on my creative side/work. If you are wondering about the inclusion of trips to national and state parks, don’t! Some (okay, maybe all) of my earlier posts relate in one way or another to nature and the outdoors. They feed my creative side and make me happy too. No wonder I’m so creative here in the Bay Area. It turns out that I have a new old muse. Hello Nature girl.
*Write a short play (done)
Submit said play to x competition (done and done)
*Work on poetry (done)
Submit poems to program xx (done)
Submit poems to program y (still working on it!)
Await outcome (I won’t have the results until April; am crossing my fingers and my toes!)
*Start a blog (done)
Maintain said blog and complete one post each week (done and done!)
Visual Arts: paint, paint paint!
Take a painting class or workshop (done!)
Create at least three pieces I am totally happy with (done!)
Buy a good digital camera (done)
Learn to use and master said camera (still working on it!)
Blend writing and visual arts into creative pieces (done and done!)
Visit and overnight at one state or national park (done and done)
*Sequoia (done and done)
AND in 2013:
*Enter at least one art piece (a painting) into a local and a national competition
*Try to stop destroying writing and artwork that I’m not totally satisfied with (this is a work in progress)
*Enroll in a workshop at the Crucible or take a drawing class (hope I have enough money for this!)
*Visit and overnight at a state or national park outside of California (Yellowstone or Grand Canyon) and/or visit Picasso’s, Guernica, in Madrid museum (hope I have enough money for this too!)
Thank you for hanging with me. Next week I’ll give you my Jamaican Christmas cake recipe. I’ve been busy these past few nights making cakes for family, friends and co-workers. Let the festivities begin!