Year of Greatness

January 7, 2018

Letters and wishes left at La Casa di Giulieta (Juliet’s House), Verona, Italy

Earlier last fall, my wife moved to Italy for one year to attend culinary school. She will be fulfilling a lifelong dream.

A fair question, which we asked ourselves, and which others are asking of us now, is something along the lines of: “What is Maura doing this year?”. Much like a Southerner saying “Bless your heart”, this question holds a world inside it! Depending on who is asking, it might register concern for me for being “left behind”; it might wonder in a gossipy way if we’re divorcing; it might be curious about new artwork; it might be excited for all of the endless possibilities for both of us.

Mia and I are both choosing to look at it as the latter: an adventure for two, a ball of yarn that keeps yielding more and more as it continues to roll.

My new studio is part of this plan. So are the monthly open studios that are held there (Second Saturdays! Come on over!).

In the studio, I’m trying new things, and continuing to explore and deepen long-time ideas. I’m showing my art to more people than I ever have. I’m steeping myself in art, visiting new galleries and museums.

I’m continuing to blog about my art life, my Year of Greatness, here. Thanks to everyone who has been supporting me so far on this journey! Stay tuned.

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Buon Natale!

December 21, 2017

Canaletto, Venice: The Bacino di S. Marco on Ascension Day, c.1733-4.

Buon Natale from Venice, where I’ve gone to meet my wife over the holidays.

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Loving Vincent

December 21, 2017

Loving Vincent, 2017

Some thoughts on the movie Loving Vincent

It was both spectacular and maddening.

The plot was ridiculous: Armand Roulin, son of the bushy-bearded postmaster who Van Gogh painted so memorably, is tasked by his father with traveling to Paris in order to deliver Vincent’s final letter (to his brother, Theo). In Paris, Armand discovers that Theo has also died, and decides that he must go to Auvers, where Vincent died, in order to deliver the letter to Dr. Gachet, with whom Vincent was close in his final months. Why didn’t he even attempt to find Theo’s widow, Joanna, in Paris? If I were her, and I found out this drunken punk decided to give my spouse’s final letter to a friend of approximately one year’s standing, I’d be furious! But of course, if he’d attempted to find Joanna in Paris, Armand wouldn’t have been able to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, in Auvers.

I questioned other plot points too, finding it hard to believe the suggestion that Vincent may have been involved with not only the young Marguerite, but also flirting and chatting with several women by the riverbank.

The accents were off-putting. Both Roulins, father and son, have two wildly different accents.

The film’s title is a little much…it becomes more palatable when you realize that was the way he signed all his letters (“Your loving Vincent”). But still. Too literal and cloying.

SPOILER ALERT:
No one loves a good mystery more than me…but if I heard this correctly, the final analysis is that the bullying teenager basically committed manslaughter by fooling around with a gun…while Vincent committed a suicide of sorts, by not turning in the teenager, and letting it be assumed the gunshot was self-inflicted…meanwhile, Dr. Gachet, who acted as Vincent’s confessor and entertained his deathbed laments that he was a financial and emotional burden on Theo, essentially granted Vincent’s suicide wish by not removing the bullet and allowing Vincent to die (slowly)…sounds like murder!…especially since, as another character points out, Gachet had been a military doctor in a war zone; he should have been able to easily remove the bullet, particularly since it wasn’t immediately fatal. Physician, do no harm!!

Sometimes the film felt a little CGI (related to the figures), and a little slick…and Van Gogh was the antithesis of slick.

The end credits reveal that some characters were not real people, but rather “inspired by” people in Vincent’s paintings. Vincent’s life was dramatic enough; I’m not sure the film needed to invent additional “characters”.

The murder theory comes from a biography by Naifeh and White. Maybe there is a case for that, but knowing that the filmmakers have invented some (silly) aspects of the story and smoothed over others to make for a tighter film, I feel like I need to research for myself before I can believe this.

The most engaging moments were the first ones of the moon, and of Arles, and then late in film when Dr. Gachet appears. I actually caught my breath when I saw him leaning on that famous table, with his head propped in his hand.

The film correctly and nicely recreated the flatness of many of Vincent’s paintings, particularly the portraits, with little depth between the figure and the wall behind.

It was probably at its best depicting landscapes.

It was visually stunning in many ways. I caught my breath several times. It was clearly an accomplishment, but that being said, it was clear that the original paintings were the real triumph here.

The opening credit sequence was magical; I could have watched that moon shapeshifting all night.

The film recreated 74 Van Gogh paintings, and it was a complete thrill to recognize them.

Loving Vincent was first shot as a live-action film on sets recreated from Van Gogh paintings. The film was then broken down by frame and painted, each painting (65,000 of them) was then photographed, then painted over for the next frame. Eventually, all of the frames were animated. This way of working reminded me of William Kentridge’s charcoal-based drawings that turn into films. In both types of films, you can see the results of this way of working in images like the windmill turning – you can see the track of the blades in the impasto of the oil paint.

It was beautiful in many places. Not many films can make you catch your breath – and not just once, but over and over.

I want to keep watching it…but maybe with the sound off? Yes, I’d like to see it again.

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Home Sweet Home

December 19, 2017

Domicilio, at home

It’s always exciting to see where your creations end up! I just received this photo from a new collector. He told me that the painting greets him and his wife whenever they come home; it’s the first thing they see when they come through the door. For a painting called Domicilio (“home” in Italian), that’s beautiful to me.

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Arrival!

December 19, 2017

My painting!

My painting arrived safely, and one day early! Washington state to Brooklyn!

I didn’t realize how much I was on pins and needles until now.

My understanding is that the drill is charging, and the painting will be hung tomorrow….more anticipation!

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Real Art in Real Places: The Bye & Bye, Portland

December 19, 2017

Real art from The Bye & Bye – bathroom mural!

I absolutely love discovering REAL ART out and about in the world…not poster prints, and not “featured artist” stuff at local bars and coffeehouses, but real art made by a real artist. Something that has been purchased, framed, and is clearly loved.

The Bye & Bye in Portland, OR was exciting because they have real art all over the walls! Every room has several pieces that are framed and/or featured in a special nook that complements the piece, including a large showpiece that defines the entire bar area. All of it is well done, and well, cool.

Real art from The Bye & Bye – permanent and framed!

Real art from The Bye & Bye – permanent and framed!

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Power of Art, Part 3 (Puppets!)

December 19, 2017

The Donald puppet, January 2017

I ran across this photo on my phone recently, taken at the Women’s March in Seattle in January 2017. So much that I could say, but I feel that others are saying it better than I can, so I’ll stick to the role of art – and its power – here.

When I first saw this giant puppet, my first instinct was to laugh. Second was to admire the craft (it’s very well done in terms of likeness, but also technical ability, and lastly, standing up to the Pacific Northwest weather). From a little remove, I can also appreciate its place in a long line protest art.

This will be an abbreviated, overly simplified commentary, but here goes. Puppeteers have always been able to comment more freely on social matters because they moved around. They usually took their show on the road, and so were able to comment more or less as outsiders (and I suppose, if the heat got turned up, they could leave town pretty quickly!). Puppetry was (and is) fairly low on the totem pole of the art world (patrons and curators are rare, for example, and there is no money in it), so puppeteers weren’t dependent on keeping powers-that-be happy, or romancing wealthy collectors. Part of the entertainment is a sort of brash, anything-goes schtick that seeks out laughs based on crude jokes and physical humor…we see and expect this with the Muppets, say, and can see how this easily translates to commenting on dirty goings-on in local government.

Anyway, the best education on puppets has to be at the Bread and Puppet Museum in Vermont. NYC sanitation workers to Latin American despots are proudly represented, from a protest stance, to the left of many.

But back to the idea of power…can you imagine how this puppet would get right under the Donald’s skin?! That’s power! A picture is worth a thousand tweets!

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Moomins Moomins Everywhere

December 17, 2017

Moomins are a secret in our family, something private that only we know about, as secret as the ruby hidden on the underside of my engagement ring, on the side that hugs my finger, that no one else can see. It’s there just for us.

Except that Moomins are already a worldwide phenomenon, translated into 44 languages…though all but invisible in the US, where they remain almost totally unknown.

But with a Hollywood movie coming out soon, as well as an animated series in the works featuring Kate Winslet, the Moomin secret is about to come out of the bag.

Moomins, which are genial-looking, hippopotamus-like cartoon figures, are symbols of our honeymoon. As soon as we stepped off the airplane in Helsinki, there were Moomins wherever we looked. On posters, all over the gift shop, on books and journals. These weren’t advertisements, although I seem to recall a welcome message or public service-style announcement from the airport itself that featured Moomin. They are simply woven into the popular fabric of Finland. There was no tagline or logo to clue us in or even tell us what to call them, just the figures, because they were clearly already so well-known. We were so inundated, so immediately, that we had to figure it out right away or risk being hopelessly lost in Finland.

Seeking answers, we asked a salesperson at the airport gift shop – purveyors of dozens and dozens of said hippopotamus-type items – “Um, sorry, we’re not from here, but what are these figures?”. The hesitating answer was one word – “Moomin”, while the incredulous look she gave us said – “Dumbass”.

“Oh, Moomin. Thank you. But what are they?”

“Just…Moomin…”. Now she felt sorry for us, with no easy way to explain all that Moomin stood for in her country. We accepted that they were “just Moomin”, and carried on. Of course, I bought a Moomin journal, and we continued to see them everywhere in Finland. They remain a central ingredient and symbol of our honeymoon, confined to that time and place, with warm memories attached.

Fast forward five years, and they’re about to explode in the US. I’ll do you the favor of cluing you in ahead of time so you won’t be surprised.

Moomins are illustrations that were created in the 1940s by queer Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson. She drew anti-fascist political cartoons (Hitler and Stalin were her favorite skewers) while working for a left-wing magazine, and used the Moomin as an outlet to process anxiety over World War II, particularly the Russian bombing of Helsinki. My understanding is that they populate children’s books, but with a realistic darkness that isn’t often brought to juvenile literature; that adults also find something to love there is proven by the invitation to segue into a comic strip for a British newspaper.

Several Moomin are inspired by people from Jansson’s life: her brother, an old boyfriend. My favorite creative spark comes from the duo called Thingumy and Bob (I like their Finnish names better: Tiuhti and Viuhti), whose inspiration was Jansson’s secret, illegal relationship with a woman. (Gay relationships were forbidden by law in Finland until 1971, though they currently have one of the most progressive outlooks on LGBTQ rights). Thingumy and Bob are not hippo-shaped, by the way: picture more humanoid, less shaggy versions of the 1980s video game character Q-bert, with the bodies of elves. Thingummy and Bob are twins; they are never without each other, and are almost always seen holding hands. Like many twins, they share their own, secret language. They also share a suitcase, which is filled with only a very large ruby (remember my engagement ring!) – a symbol of their love. Their favorite places are confined ones – drawers, purses that they steal in order to sleep in, under rugs (and maybe in closets?).

Jansson met someone else, her life partner, in the 1950s, who also inspired a Moomin character. Jansson never called herself gay (remember that it was illegal for almost another 20 years). Her niece said Jansson’s secret name for being gay was “spook side” – as in, exploring her spook side, crossing over to the spook side. Jansson and her partner lived together, defying the law, even purchasing an entire island on which to be themselves, free from prying eyes.

Welcome, Moomin. You won’t be our little secret for much longer.

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Painting Goats?!

December 16, 2017

But what does that mean?!

Driving along the Long Beach Peninsula in our beautiful state of Washington, I saw the above roadside sign, and had to pull an immediate U-turn. “Painting Goats” raises more questions than it answers.

Yes, there really are goats who paint with real art materials on this art studio/working farm. We took a tour with one of the owners. While I would have loved to have seen a painting goat in action, we did see various artworks, and learned about individual painting habits…apparently, some goats are more invested in painting than others. They generally like to imitate their humans, which is how this talent came to light in the first place, but some persist in painting, while some are very quickly ready to move on. We met some of the goats too.

We bought a small painting for a Christmas tree ornament.

Another first-time experience: we dug up our own potatoes, onions and carrots!

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In Transit!

December 15, 2017

My painting’s in there!

Crated up and ready to go! Heading for Brooklyn! Thank you, Craters and Freighters!

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Goodbye, Old Friend!

December 12, 2017

My painting is in that warehouse!

I just dropped off a painting, to be packed and shipped to its new home in Brooklyn! First time sending something so big and so far!

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Power of Art, Part 2

December 9, 2017

I saw this sign at an art gallery/studio in a beachside town in Oregon and felt a little zing of recognition. I felt it in my body to be true.

Artists are shapeshifters. We work with our hands; we get dirty. We read, absorb, and digest. We watch and listen. We feel, deeply. We philosophize. We attend cocktail parties and auctions. We sell expensive work, if we’re lucky and work very hard. We sell no work at all. We donate our work to people or causes who have less than we do. We will often do whatever it takes for the sake of the artwork (even if that means doing without in other areas, if only temporarily. Read as you will: scrimping on sleep/food/rent/non-studio experiences…most artists have done it all). We’ve been insiders. We’ve been outsiders.

Maybe much of the above is buying into the myth of the artist (that noble, poor, misunderstood creature). But I’ve been all of these things, and I do believe that this ability to shapeshift, the way we can be everywhere, is important, even strategic. We can make people slow down, and we can make them feel.

Today, that’s a superpower.

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Ginevra

December 6, 2017

Tess Martin, Ginevra

This fantastic, animated cut-paper film at Bellevue Arts Museum has very neatly intersected two trains of thought that have occupied my mind recently.

One is the issue of domestic and other violence against women. #MeToo; Harvey Weinstein and all the others who were unmasked after him, not to mention before him.

The other is, very simply: what happens after death? I’ve been thinking about the energy and physics of life quite a bit recently. As an off-and-on atheist/agnostic, I have been fairly certain (and then again, not certain at all) that nothing happens after you die. I’ve begun to change my mind recently, to consider other, energetic, possibilities. Where does the energy go? What does physics say about energy? And then with the recent death of my father-in-law, this question has recently shifted from a philosophical to a personal one.

This film by Tess Martin is based on an unfinished Percy Bysshe Shelley poem (which was based on a legend of an Italian woman of the Middle Ages, who allegedly woke up a day after she died).

I had to arrive at the end before I truly appreciated the film. At first, I was overly critical of the animation, thinking it too primitive (South Park viewers would see similarities in production values), but by the end, I came to believe that the simplicity actually enhanced the magic and feeling of the story. (Later, when I saw the set, which was approximately 18 inches square, I found myself amazed by how expansive the film actually felt. Beyond impressive).

Tess Martin, Ginevra

The action unfolds slowly, detail by quiet detail. We see a woman murdered in her bedroom, presumably by her husband, and then watch her mother pacing the quiet house with grief. These scenes aren’t played for drama, but with maximum feeling. The mother mourns with the body, which lays in state on a canopy bed, near floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a balcony, and then, the countryside. The mother is surprised to see the body rise, cross the room, climb the balcony railing, and surprisingly, sprout feathers with which to fly away. Which she does, with a sense of utmost grace and freedom. The last we see of Ginevra, she has joined a community of owls and other large birds who slowly circle the countryside, alternately flapping their wings and resting in the draft.

A beautiful ode to mystery, and freedom.

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Cut Up Cut Out

December 6, 2017

Charles Clary, Double Diddle Daddle Bereavement Movement # 1

I have a soft spot for paper. While my hand was injured, I kept sane by sewing papers together with a sewing machine, and this show at Bellevue Art Museum, about all the ways you never thought to use cut paper, really spoke to me.

I’ve been thinking about how to expand my paintings as I move forward, and this show was certainly full of options. The piece above was one of my favorites, and gave me something to think about, as I consider adding dimension and edges to my works.

Donna Ruff, 10.28.13

It took me a few moments to realize all of Ruff’s work are front pages from The New York Times.

Simone Lourenço, My Universe, Blue

Simone Lourenço uses thread (a love of mine) along with her papers. This, along with the explosion of color and edges, was one of my favorite pieces.

Adam Feibelman, Security (detail)

More sewing here (love!), with multiple sheets of paper making a detailed whole. A true depth and elegance.

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Cullercoats Women

December 6, 2017

Winslow Homer, Looking out to Sea, Cullercoats, 1882

My dad, who is fond of writing notes and memos, has recently sent two cards in a row from Winslow Homer’s Cullercoats series. We’re both fans of Homer, so maybe there’s nothing more to it. The theme is officially working women (fisherwomen and washerwomen of this British seaside town). But coupled with a recent public speech where he chose to highlight his relationship as Mia’s father-in-law – a proud father-in-law to a lesbian who is married to his daughter – instead of simply introducing himself as my father and leaving it at that, I think these scenes of women together mean a little more to both of us. This one is my favorite, with a dark- and light-haired woman (Mia and me?) in a close, intimate moment on top of the bluff, lost in contemplation, united in their mutual interest of what is happening below.

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