Just wanted to share

New Year's card, 2017, mixed media
New Year’s card, 2017, mixed media

At the height of my hand injury, I was going stir crazy about not making art, not knowing when I would be able to make art, not having control with my painting hand, and not even being able to write properly. My writing looked like a child’s.

I decided to keep busy making things, in whatever way that was possible. I tried opposite-hand drawing (for me, that’s left), which is supposed to be liberating. I’ve used it as a technique in my own classes to encourage students to loosen up, yet also delight in the resulting drawing. Well, I reached the conclusion that it’s all well and good when you’re simply taking a break from your self-critical ways, but when it’s all you’ve got, it stinks. It’s fairly demoralizing, in fact. I quickly moved on from the left-handed drawings.

I tried a few other things, eventually settling on the idea of using a sewing machine to continue making mixed media works. Why a sewing machine…in college, I had occasionally used hand sewing in pieces as a repetitive, anxious, angry technique (which was echoed years later when I saw a woman embroider a protest message that said something to the effect of “I just made this so I could stab something 38,000 times”)…although hand sewing wasn’t an option due to the state of my hand…the feminine history of sewing appeals to me at this point in time, and I figured I didn’t need any finesse or precision to shove some things through a sewing machine. Whatever happened, happened. I think also, I felt like mending things metaphorically. I was certainly broken; the country felt broken. So I decided to sew. At this point, I couldn’t even use a pair of scissors, and didn’t trust my hand to cooperate in making new work that was good, so I found old show invitations, paintings, and pieces of this-and-that in drawers.

I needed cheering up after a pretty difficult, by any measure, year. I heard lots of people expressing the same feeling, so I decided to make cards to mark the new year with a hopeful new start.

True to my word, I began shoving things through a sewing machine I bought used in a parking lot (it was speckled in glitter). I loved the messiness and jumbles of thread that revealed themselves. I made ten or so cards and the machine stopped doing anything. I could settle for messy and jumbled, but not nothing.

I got another machine. I took a sort-of beginner’s lesson. I sort of broke the second machine, but it’s still with me. I’m still slowly making New Year’s cards, even though the worst of my injury is behind me now.

This is one of the first batch of cards. I think this one went to my kindergarten teacher, who sees me just as I am.

Dore Ashton, In Memoriam

Dore Ashton, from Queens Economic Development Corp. website
Dore Ashton, from Queens Economic Development Corp. website

I always loved reading Dore Ashton’s writing. It’s clear, but elegant and beautiful. Her friendships with artists put her in the unique position of being able to reveal anecdotes that cast their work in a new, more personal light. In her hands, they were significant yet little-known accounts that further enlightened the artists’ work; they were never gossip, nor did they ever inflate her own role. Not many writers can pull that off.

It’s because of her writing that I am charmed by the thought of Joseph Cornell, the shyest of shy people, holding a small afternoon gathering at his house in Queens, at which he was uncharacteristically charming and voluble. At the end of the party, he gleefully whispered to Ashton about Octavio Paz, who was in attendance with his wife: “Was he really an ambassador?”

That childlike wonderment has informed my sense of his collage boxes ever since. What a new and delightful way of looking at them.

Another personal favorite is Ashton’s account of a visit to Mark Rothko’s studio in the late 1950s, when Rothko deliberately kept the lights off. Ashton compared the silence and dark to that of a cathedral, and as her eyes searched in the dark, she felt, more than saw, the presence of his paintings. At one point, a white cat walked into the middle of the room; the visual contrast was enough to startle her. For me, this story reinforces the two most important things about Rothko’s work: the theatricality of it all, and also the weightiness of his search for morality and truth in his paintings.

Thank you for some of the most graceful and captivating writing about art.

Happy Imbolc!

St. Brigid, Mixed media on board, 4" x 5"
St. Brigid, Mixed media on board, 4″ x 5″

Imbolc is a Celtic holiday that celebrates the coming of spring, as the days get longer and the very first buds make an appearance. It’s still celebrated today in Ireland, as folks make St. Brigid’s crosses and hang them over their doors for protection. This day is another in a long line of special days celebrating light, or perhaps more exactly, the return of light, as the shortest day of the year recedes into the rearview mirror. These festivals are ripe with new beginnings and directly or indirectly reference light: Winter solstice (the days start lengthening again), Christmas (Christian adoption of the solstice celebration, literally adding lights to trees and other objects, Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights), New Year’s (fireworks and sparklers, perhaps), now Imbolc. (Thank you to a yogi friend for pointing out this connection to me recently).

Imbolc falls halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox, so this is the last of the light festivals, since soon we can celebrate spring itself!

I’m grateful for any chance to make a new start. This year, I’m especially starved for it.