The Oak and the Cypress: Tangier Overture

October 7, 2016


…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

This body of work is about being married, or in a long-term relationship.

This painting was inspired by our trip to Tangier, Morocco last summer, as a leg of our European trip. The blue and white color palette, as well as the suggestion of Arabic writing evoke a little of the visuals of Tangier. Maybe more importantly, tensions about the risk we were taking in traveling to a country where it’s illegal to be gay, as well as an encounter with a security agent at the airport informed this painting.

The title addresses these tensions and comes from a game I’ve been enjoying recently, where I get ideas for paintings from mishearing the titles of classical music pieces on the radio. The true title of the piece of music that this painting is named after is Algerian Overture, but as soon as I heard it, I knew that if I changed the place name to “Tangier”, I had my title.

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The Oak and the Cypress: Mia, Siena, Stripes

October 7, 2016

Mia, Siena, Stripes

Mia, Siena, Stripes

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

This body of work is about being married, or in a long-term relationship.

This painting was inspired by a photograph I took of my wife in Siena, Italy. Once I decided to incorporate pattern into my work in a conscious way, I suddenly saw pattern everywhere. Especially in Siena, each row of brick and each tile were thoughtfully placed to achieve maximum visual impact. While taking this photo, I was struck by the stripes in Mia’s skirt, but also the more subtle stripes from the architecture. This painting won the People’s Choice Award at the City of Federal Way’s Arts Alive exhibition in 2015.

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Roof Life

October 7, 2016

Roof Life, by Svetlana Alpers

Roof Life, by Svetlana Alpers

Recently I was at the library, and on the shelf near the book I was looking for was a different book. It caught my eye because it was written by one of my former professors, Svetlana Alpers at UC Berkeley, someone whose lectures I thoroughly enjoyed. On a whim, I checked it out.

It was a bit of an oddball (not an insult) and I can’t stop thinking about it. Through vignettes of various lengths, Professor Alpers unpacks the psychology of looking, and settles on how a certain amount of remove and distance is needed to really see something. She writes about selling a Rothko painting from her parents’ estate after their deaths, witnessing the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers from her window, looking at photos of herself, and selling her family home (which just happened to be designed by Julia Morgan), among other memories.

The artist in me lit up to read these intimate details about a Rothko painting, for example. Art porn.

But she was after something deeper. In a short passage, she wrote about witnessing the events of 9/11. She didn’t write about it in a dramatic way, but thoughtfully, with reserve. I appreciated that, because so much of the words around 9/11 are designed to provoke a reaction, and I find that to be cheap. Cheap emotion from cheap shots. The way she described the scene – watching from a little bit of distance, noticing the odd way that the cityscape flattens the scene, feeling the simultaneous remove yet complete personal investment in what she was witnessing – is exactly how I also witnessed those events 15 years ago (although I was farther uptown than she). I happened to read that passage on the morning of the anniversary, which I was steadfastly attempting to honor in my own private way, without watching or reading any news accounts, as I do each year. The day is difficult enough without the sensationalism of those images, and it’s always tough to strike a balance between remembering while not falling prey to that crassness. (Patriot porn).

Anyway, I picked up the book early in the morning, determined to not wallow in anniversary tributes. I was at that point in the book where I wasn’t sure yet that I’d finish it – far enough to wonder if it’s really my cup of tea, but not so far that I felt I’d given it a fair shot. I had no idea that it touched on September 11th at all, but it suddenly came up, and there I was, reading about that day, against my intentions. But I didn’t mind; in fact, I welcomed the opportunity to read this compassionate, understated account that so closely matched my own feelings.

This book sort of appeared when I needed it. I felt that was the most perfect, profound tribute. I couldn’t have read anything better had I searched for it that morning.

Encouraged, I kept reading. I learned about the home Professor Alpers lived in while she taught at Berkeley (fascinating because it was designed by one of my favorite architects, Julia Morgan, a treasure of Berkeley, and also because I was learning about the private life of one of my professors, including a dispute over earrings bought at a tag sale that ended a friendship. School porn). She even mentioned my art history class at one point, though when I Googled the painting she referred to, I didn’t remember having ever seen it, and I felt guilty.

I waxed nostalgic when she mentioned various details about Berkeley, or especially New York, where she lives now. I enjoyed reading her descriptions of contemporary art, since our class together focussed on much older art history.

In the end, Professor Alpers advocates for the practice of looking. Looking in order to learn. Looking because it’s fun. And beautiful, even when the subject is painful. And by looking – beginning to see.

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The Oak and the Cypress: Diving In (Gina’s Window)

October 7, 2016

Diving In (Gina's Window), acrylic on panel, 36 x 48

Diving In (Gina’s Window), acrylic on panel, 36 x 48

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

This body of work is about being married, or in a long-term relationship.

When I’m thinking, I always look around me. It provides me with outside inspirations for paintings sometimes – especially colors and patterns – and frees my mind to go inside and think at the same time. This is also how I discover my many found objects! This is a stylized view of some of the scenery out the window of my therapist’s office, where I do some heavy thinking.

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October 7, 2016

Hand-Marbled Paper

Hand-Marbled Paper

Learning something new somehow refreshes the soul, doesn’t it? I felt like I was walking on air after a friend taught me how to marble this paper.

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Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

September 25, 2016


Deinstalling an exhibition is emotional work. It’s the end of something you’ve worked very hard for, you find yourself looking at empty walls once again, packing up the car and holding a little box of plastery nails and gnarled wire…when you’re used to making things instead of tearing them down, it’s tough.

I just closed two exhibitions within a week of each other, so it was doubly hard. But, what makes it manageable is distributing the paintings that have sold. I was lucky enough to bring seven paintings to new homes. I had some of the most excited, grateful reactions I’ve ever had from collectors, so I know these works are going to good homes. That makes a difference!

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Pride Project #30 – Barbara Jordan

July 3, 2016

Barbara Jordan, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"

Barbara Jordan, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

This is the last post celebrating Pride Month!

U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan embodied many important “firsts”. She was the first southern Black person elected to the Texas State Senate following Reconstruction. She was the first southern Black woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She was the first Black woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, in 1976, and despite not running for President, she received one delegate’s vote. She’s the still the only Black woman to have ever served as governor (she was Acting Governor for one day in Texas, and that stat doesn’t count Lieutenant Governors).

She was a lawyer, and a professor too. In fact, she had such a keen legal mind that President Bill Clinton said many times that she was his top choice to appoint to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, by the time he was in a position to make a nomination, she was too ill to accept.

Ms. Jordan, in true lesbian fashion, met her long-time love on a camping trip, though she wasn’t out publicly.

She carried a copy of the Constitution at all times, in her purse.

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Pride Project #29 – Dave Kopay

July 3, 2016

Dave Kopay, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"

Dave Kopay, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Dave Kopay, a retired NFL running back, was the first professional athlete from a team sport to come out of the closet.

This was in 1975, three years after Dave had retired. He read a newspaper article, along with its follow-up letters from readers, about an unnamed NFL player and his experiences in the league as a gay man. He recognized the player (because he’d slept with him) and knew that the story was accurate, but was upset by the readers’ feedback claiming that the story must be false.

Kopay decided to contact the reporter and verify her earlier story. That, in turn, led to an autobiography that was published in 1977, which was influential to people all over the world – from young kids in the Philippines all the way to Billie Jean King – who were grappling with their own issues of coming out and sexuality. King has said Kopay’s book was helpful to her as she navigated professional life in the wake of a public outing in 1981.

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Pride Project #28 – Lorraine Hansberry

July 3, 2016

Lorraine Hansberry, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"

Lorraine Hansberry, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Lorraine Hansberry is the first Black woman whose play, A Raisin in the Sun, appeared on Broadway. She was also the youngest playwright so honored.

It pains me to say this, but through two unsigned letters that she sent to The Ladder, a lesbian magazine, in the late 50s, as well as lists that she regularly made for herself, we know that she was uncomfortable with her sexuality.

The lists, especially, show her ambivalence and her struggle to process her identity. They reference her delight at “the inside of a lovely woman’s mouth” and “69 when it really works”; her love of “slacks” and “Eartha Kitt’s legs”.

For me, though, the most poignant entry lists “my homosexuality” under the headings of both “I like” and “I hate”.

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Pride Project #27 – Geri Jewell

July 1, 2016

Geri Jewell, Mixed media on board, 4" x 5"

Geri Jewell, Mixed media on board, 4″ x 5″

Geri Jewell is the first person with a disability to be cast as a regular in a primetime television series, when she played Blair’s Cousin Geri on The Facts of Life in the 80s.

She got her start as a standup comedian who joked about her own cerebral palsy and got lucky one night when producer Norman Lear and MRS. GARRETT were in the audience. The rest is television history. She worked on other shows like Sesame Street, 21 Jump Street, Deadwood, and Glee.

Years later, she came out as a lesbian (though she says that actress Lisa Whelchel – AKA Blair and Geri’s real-life roommate – knew at the time that she was gay and closeted. Great Hollywood gossip 30 or more years after the fact!).

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Pride Project #26 – Leonard Matlovich

June 30, 2016

Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"

Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service in the Air Force during the Vietnam War but was discharged when he came out as gay to his superiors and refused to sign a pledge to “never practice homosexuality again”.

This was a calculated move to try to test anti-gay policies in court, and with his spotless record, Matlovich was the perfect face of this campaign.

Time magazine featured him on its cover in 1975, the first openly gay person to land there, and the first time the gay rights movement was featured. This was back when Time was a big deal and brought the queer struggle to lots of American homes via their mailboxes.

Matlovich sued for reinstatement and won in court, but the Air Force preferred that he accept a financial settlement instead of reenlistsing. It was only $160,000, but he took it. He became politically active, and used his celebrity status to campaign against various anti-gay initiatives around the country.

In his last public speech, in 1988 as he was dying from AIDS, he said:

…And I want you to look at the flag, our rainbow flag, and I want you to look at it with pride in your heart, because we too have a dream. And what is our dream? Ours is more than an American dream. It’s a universal dream. Because in South Africa, we’re black and white, and in Northern Ireland, we’re Protestant and Catholic, and in Israel we’re Jew and Muslim. And our mission is to reach out and teach people to love, and not to hate…And in the AIDS crisis – and I have AIDS – and in the AIDS crisis, if there is any one word that describes our community’s reaction to AIDS, that word is love, love, love.

If you’re not already crying, there’s more. His tombstone reads:

When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

Not long after his death, I saw these words (or something very like them) on a panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt when it came to UC Berkeley. I don’t remember the name on panel, if it was Leonard’s or belonged to someone else in similar circumstances, but I vividly remember reading it and crying huge, sobbing tears in the middle of Sproul Plaza.

Those remain some of the most powerful words I’ve ever read in my life.

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Pride Project #25 – Sylvia Rivera

June 30, 2016

Sylvia Rivera, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"

Sylvia Rivera, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Sylvia, like many queer kids, became homeless as a kid because her family (in this case, her grandmother who was raising her) didn’t approve of her queer identity. The queer community, especially drag queens, took her under their wing and christened her “Sylvia”.

Her experiences hustling in Times Square and living at the Christopher Street piers in NYC fueled her later advocacy for homeless queer youth and trans women of color. She always maintained that she was there at the Stonewall Inn during the riots in 1969 (though some, including her best friend, say that she wasn’t).

In 2015, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery included her portrait in its collection, making her the first trans person represented there.

You’ve been treating us like shit all these years? Uh-uh. Now it’s our turn!… It was one of the greatest moments in my life.

Sylvia Rivera, on the Stonewall Riots

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Pride Project #24 – Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

June 29, 2016

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Sor Juana, a nun who lived in New Spain (colonial Mexico) in the 17th century, taught herself to read in her grandfather’s library and entered the convent to continue her studies (the only avenue open to a girl at that time). Her living quarters, filled with books, became the salon of the day, where contemporary cultural progressives gathered. She was an early feminist, with her most famous work being a manifesto that advocated for the education of girls and women.

She also wrote love poems to a countess.

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Pride Project #23 – St. Brigid

June 24, 2016

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

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

St. Brigid was an early Catholic nun, (who was probably a Celtic goddess and “Christianized”; her feast day is the same as the Druid Imbolc, which celebrates spring). She founded convents all over Ireland that focused on education and art. I read somewhere that she also enjoyed beer.

She was very close with another nun named Darlughdach, who was significantly younger. They shared a bed together at the convent, and were so close that when Brigid had a vision of her upcoming death, Darlughdach prayed that she might have a simultaneous death, because she didn’t want to live without Brigid. Brigid begged her to hold on for a year, to continue Brigid’s work at the monastery, and Darlughdach died exactly one year later, to the day.

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Pride Project #22 – Dr. James Barry

June 22, 2016

Dr. James Barry, Mixed media on board, 4" x 5"

Dr. James Barry, Mixed media on board, 4″ x 5″

Circa 1800, James dressed as a boy and entered college at age 10, graduated medical school at 13 and became a surgeon in the British army.

This red-headed Irishman’s interests and accomplishments revolutionized medicine:

  • he promoted hygienic medical practices before that was common
  • he relished difficult assignments to tropical areas with deadly diseases
  • he treated the poor, Blacks, prisoners, and others at a time when doctors could – and did – refuse to treat these people
  • he called attention to the inhumane conditions in insane asylums
  • he posted notices to educate the public about symptoms of and precautions against smallpox, plague, and other diseases
  • he performed the first Caesarean section in which Mom and Baby both lived

As if he weren’t already proven to be brilliant, ahead of his time, and on the right side of everything, he was also against slavery.

At his death, it was revealed that he was born a woman, when his body was undressed to prepare for burial. This was explicitly against his wishes – the undressing, not necessarily the burial – since he’d repeatedly stated his desire for his body to remain untreated in any way, and to be buried in the clothes in which he expired, with only a sheet wrapped around the whole package. No undressing – it was very clear, and expressed many times during the last 25 years of his life, at least.

Interestingly, the feminist and queer movements have begun a tug-of-war over whose camp he belongs to…was James a woman forced to live as a man in order to realize a dream of becoming a surgeon – a course that wasn’t open to females – or a queer who identified as a man and lived his life accordingly?

There was a Hollywood movie several years ago that spun James’ biography by introducing a heterosexual love affair with a male governor who fell in love with James as a woman. This is unsubstantiated by any historical documentation. Some accounts that I suspect have been “straightened up” (we’ve seen it before) state that the servant who undressed James at death saw abdominal stretch marks that proved James had been pregnant into late term.

Although we’ll never know the true story – James never recorded any thoughts on the subject – this feminist has to side with the queers.

First, there’s his lifelong insistence on never being undressed, even at death. If James were living as a man only for career purposes, the case could be made that the empowered-female-within would have wanted to be unmasked at the end of life.

But my best piece of evidence? Written accounts call James a notorious “lady-killer”!

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