Happy Year of the Pig!

Happy Lunar New Year! It’s the Year of the Pig!

The Pig is always a sign of good fortune; she simultaneously embodies the down-to-earth aspects of human nature, a joie de vivre, and a love of exploration – everything from introspection, to creative pursuits, to travel. [This natural-born Pig says – Don’t forget our sense of humor!].

Because everyone can access these qualities during the Year of the Pig, we each have opportunities to flourish, and the color gold is a metaphor for the extra luck ahead for us all. More than usual, this New Year is about discovery, synchronicity, and good luck. So act like a Pig: excavate symbolic truffles and roll in the energetic mud!

Behind the Scenes: Phalanges

Introducing something new! For now, I’m calling these “Phalanges”…I often work with mixed media and found objects – recycled artwork, packaging, various papers, and more. These are small (3″ x 3”), unfinished mixed media collages. I set aside 10 to give away at February’s Art Attack, and I’ll do it again in March.

Pick your favorite, and write your name, mailing address and email on the back. When I finish the collage in the coming days, I’ll mail it to you! If you’d prefer your collage to arrive in a frame, I can do that for $25.

PS: your contact information won’t be shared with anyone, ever!

This project grew out of my experience with a significant injury to my right (dominant) hand.

I was dismayed (understatement!) to find that the injury left me without the ability to legibly write my own name, or take the cap off of a pen or tube of paint by myself – to say nothing of everyday tasks like getting dressed, using the bathroom, and cooking my own meals on the stove.

I tried to be patient while waiting for the healing process to take hold. I tried to return to the studio and do left-handed drawings and paintings, as I’d done in art school. The thing no one told you then is that experimenting with your non-dominant hand as a warm-up is one thing, but when it’s all you have, it’s murder on your identity and sense of pride. I had to abandon those drawings because it was sending me deeper into depression. I tried making some collages, but using a blade with my left hand was scary and begging for another accident. I was unable to use scissors.

Out of sheer desperation and the need to make something (anything!), I started tearing bits of paper and old collages, whatever I had. I bought a sewing machine because shoving papers through it didn’t require any fine motor skills, or strength, or finesse. I made greeting cards with sewn collage items on the front, and on the inside, sewed a hopeful message that I’d printed out, and that I didn’t really feel. I stamped the greeting and everything else, and got away with block-printing my name. I mailed a card to just about everyone I knew. It took me about six months because I was so slow, but that’s what I had to do to stay sane.

The reaction I got was amazing. People called, and messaged me. They cried. They said I’d surprised them, and made their day. They shared stories about the first time they met me, or what they were currently dealing with. Most importantly, they said the cards meant something, that they’d brought something hopeful and special to them.

They may or may not have needed this – but I sure did.

Nobody ever gets real mail anymore…it’s email, which is great, but you can’t hold it in your hands. Or on those rare occasions when you do get mail, it’s junk (at best), or something you just don’t want to deal with (at worst). I wanted to bring a little bit of joy where it doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

So I adapted these little Phalanges that can go out in the mail and surprise a few more people. They’re fun for me to make, and I hear they’re fun to receive. I plan on continuing this sharing as long as it’s still fun for everyone.

If you’d like to receive one, message me with your address and I’ll get to work.

Behind the Scenes with Coco Montoya

Introducing Coco Montoya – isn’t she lovely?

Have you ever wondered how the art gets made? Let’s lift up the hood for a second as I introduce you to Coco Montoya. Yes, that’s Coco there.

We met through OfferUp, after my old tabouret/storage system ended up leaning like the Tower of Pisa. I knew that perching my palette on a hastily arranged mash-up of chairs and file cabinets (like I was doing) was eventually going to lead to some kind of studio disaster. I decided to get a rolling cart to use as a palette and storage, but you know… champagne taste and Miller Lite budget. I turned to OfferUp, and realized I needed to be patient for this one.

Usually a great way to get very good stuff, I met more than the usual number of cranks and/or missed opportunities during this search: a guy who tried to start a bidding war by doubling the price on me, a very nice but flaky former mechanic who wouldn’t provide measurements for her utility cart (I really wanted to buy from her because I was charmed by her profile pic which showed her smooching her girlfriend in front of DIY garage projects), at least ten people who never replied…(I had big plans for the retro bar cart that featured folding panels to double the surface area, would’ve looked so good in the studio *and* converted into a martini bar for openings…but it was not to be).

Even Coco and I were star-crossed at first. The offer was made and accepted, but the overeager seller forced an immediate meeting by loading up his truck and getting on the road, when I was 40 miles away at the time. I almost backed out because I didn’t want the pressure, and I prefer inspecting these items in daylight.

But everything looked good, and he made the delivery for $5.00 (unbeatable!). We had a nice chat about my late father-in-law, who would have enjoyed that Coco used to help paint cars. He expressed condolences, which I genuinely appreciated. He also thought I was crazy when I said I was on foot. I paid him and proceeded to push Coco up the hill to my house, whistling in the dark.

She had to live in my entryway for about a week, until I could make arrangements to get her to the studio. I sucked in my stomach and inched past her every time I went up or down the stairs, or in and out the front door. She was a shoe/mail/purse holder during that time, because there was no room to reach around her.

When I brought her to Seattle, we had to tackle a short flight of stairs. I wasn’t worried (but maybe I should have been). Coco isn’t heavy, just a little long and awkward, but I decided to take the shelves off to make it a little easier on myself. One step at a time, and just two steps from the top, Coco turned on me. I don’t even know what happened but she was falling and I was falling, and she was on top of me and we both fell down the whole flight of stairs. She fell on her side while I landed on my feet, unbelievably.

I pushed past the bruises and adrenaline and finally got her in the studio, to find that she was now leaning noticeably to one side. I couldn’t fit the shelves back in because she was out of square. Poor Coco! Down, but not out. Fast forward to acquiring a rubber mallet named Marge, and slamming Coco back into shape (that hurt me more than it hurt you, Coco). In minutes (or two weeks, but who’s counting) she was ready to go. She’s only been part of my studio practice for one evening, but we’ve got a long history.

She might seem high-maintenance, but she paid me back that very first night when I finished TWO paintings that I really like. This is the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship.

Cut Up Cut Out

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.

Debut – Isolier as Knight

Isolier as Knight, Acrylic on wood, 8″ x 10″

This painting is inspired by the character Isolier in the opera Count Ory by Rossini (the recent production by Seattle Opera was called The Wicked Adventures of County Ory).

Isolier is what is known as a “trouser role”, meaning that the conventions of opera dictate that the audience is supposed to assume that the character is a young man, when it is in fact played by a woman. [Back in the day, the roles were played by castrati – yes, young men who were castrated before puberty to retain their higher vocal range. That practice thankfully became illegal, and the roles then went to women, usually mezzo-sopranos (not too high in the vocal range)].

In 1828, when Rossini wrote this opera, Isolier would have been understood, absolutely, as a young male. But, to our 21st century understanding, the role can perhaps best be described as “gender fluid”.

Recent productions have used costumes to suggest a rabble-rousing – and dare we say *butch* – side to the character, dressing Isolier in clothing inspired by 1970s rock androgyny (think Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones), as well as punk, and female rockers like Joan Jett and Chrissy Hynde. The costumes use tight-hugging leather and popped collars, mixed with tall boots and well-placed spikes. Isolier sports an enormous codpiece, yet the tight costumes show off female curves. Isolier’s hair is long, tending toward the layered and shaggy. In short, there is something bad-ass and butch about Isolier that is worn right there on the sleeve.

Isolier is in love with a woman, Countess Adele, and in fact ends up in bed with her. Shortly after, Isolier ends up in the same bed with both Adele and Isolier’s own boss, Count Ory. (This scene is played for comedy, and in the opera, no one cares one way or another).

This work was also inspired by my recent trip to the Met…and someone asked me if my currently bald head had anything to do with this depiction…am I Isolier???

I don’t know where this work is going…all I can say right now is that this character intrigues me.

More Moby Dick

Moby Dick by Kiss My Shades

On this day in 1851, Moby Dick was published. I admit to having a fascination/obsession with this book.

I lived in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Herman Melville once also lived. (He also lived in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where I was born). The parts of the novel that took place on land are set in New Bedford. Just like in the book, there really is a chapel, called the Seaman’s Bethel, with memorials on the wall to the sailors and fishermen lost at sea.

New Bedford hosts a Moby Dick Marathon every January, where the novel is read out loud in 25 hours, on-site at the Whaling Museum and Seaman’s Bethel. I attended three of them, stayed for the duration, and read a couple of chapters out loud. If you stay (a small crew, to be sure), you get your name in the paper, and a free book related to Moby Dick (one year the prize was actually an academic work about the marathon itself).

The holding power of this book astonishes me. The interest from people all over the country who travel for the marathon, the locals who stay up all night once a year to hear it read out loud, the artists who still make fresh artwork based on this story…

There’s another book I love, called On Beauty and Being Just that talks about this phenomenon of loving something beautiful, like a work of art, and replicating it with another work of art to put more beauty into the world.

The Oak and the Cypress: Mal di Mare

Mal di Mare, 48 x 36, Mixed media on panel, 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.

Nine years ago, the first time I was in Europe with my then-girlfriend, I collected (OK, I may have ripped it down) part of a poster that was displayed on a wall in Sicily. Although I liked the poster for its graphics and colors, its message is a political one about the state of the navy, border control, and various civic concerns related to the waterfront.

I took the title, Mal di Mare, from these graphics. Although it sounds quite lyrical in Italian, it actually means “seasick”. I hope this doesn’t sound too negative in tone, but I think it’s part of the ups and downs of a relationship, the bargain you make in a long-term commitment.

The Oak and the Cypress: Hesitation Change (Waltz)

Hesitation Change (Waltz), Acrylic on panel, 48 x 36

…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.

My wife is an avid dancer, and the waltz is the unofficial dance of love. My interest is picqued a little more, not by dancing the steps, but watching them being danced, and even by the visual pattern of diagramming the steps. A Hesitation Change is a real step in the waltz, although this diagram depicts the Whisk, and a Natural Turn. I liked the suggestion of the title, related to changing patterns within a relationship.

The Oak and the Cypress: Roadblock

Roadblock, 24 x 24, Acrylic and mixed media on panel

…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.

Being married usually means in-laws, and I’m lucky to have a very good relationship with mine. My father-in-law and I have a special relationship, one that’s humorous and tender. I could be wrong, but I don’t think our relationship would be nearly as sweet if I were a son-in-law. Recently, I’ve been thinking about him quite a bit. As the owner of an auto body shop for many years, he has a love of cars and driving. When I see something related to cars, I think of him.

I’m always on the lookout for found objects for my artwork, and often come home with something in my pocket. Besides the road reflector I found while running (I brought that dirty thing all the way back from Maui in my carry-on; I just had to have it), this composition is based in part on a diagram I saw of a fuel injection system. This depiction is so stylized as to be make-believe, and I don’t think any car buff would see it in there, so I didn’t mention that part to Frank.

But when I told him that I’d made a painting about him, he was quite moved and said with a real sense of wonderment, that no one had ever made a painting about him before. Only because you don’t know any other artists, Frank.

The Oak and the Cypress

The Oak and the Cypress, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 48 x 36
The Oak and the Cypress, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 48 x 36

…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.

The seeds of this painting were planted when my wife asked me to paint her some cypress trees one day, because they remind her of Italy. This painting began its life as a fairly straightforward, but boring, depiction of cypress and oak. I tried a few adjustments, but the painting needed a bigger leap, something less expected.

In researching oaks and cypress, I came across images of an illustrated manuscript from 14th century Persia. I used the original layout, more or less, including the primitive style and spatial depiction. The story concerns a prince who goes off in search of a princess with whom he’s fallen in love. In the style of an epic, he encounters many adventures, including one where the princess in question, while in disguise, challenges him to a duel. He has no idea that he’s battling his love until he wins the duel, and she reveals her identity. The quote contained within the painting is the exact caption that is displayed (in Farsi) on the original manuscript:

Defeated she removes her helmet before making up the quarrel.

Something about this moment affected me: the choice to be vulnerable, put aside whatever argument you’ve had, and take the first step to be friends again.

The title comes from a line from the Kahlil Gibran poem, “On Marriage”.

The Oak and the Cypress: Tangier Overture

Tangier-Overture

…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.

The Oak and the Cypress: Mia, Siena, Stripes

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 her 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.

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

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.

The Oak and the Cypress

The Oak and the Cypress

…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.

The first step toward this theme was a technical one: I challenged myself to begin using pattern in more conscious ways in my paintings. This technical consideration soon turned metaphorical as I began to consider the patterns (specifically behavioral ones) in my daily life. Around this time, maybe because of this train of thought, I suddenly realized that my eight-year relationship with my wife can now be considered “long-term”. We’re not honeymooners any more, and sometimes we’re both surprised to realize that. On top of this, we traveled to Italy last summer, the first time we’d been there since we went together as a brand-new couple. This trip provided a natural comparison and opportunity to look at our relationship at its beginning and at its current bloom.

It also caused me to revisit some of my earlier artwork, since I was inspired by Italy at that time. The warm Italian palette, crusty textures, sense of the passage of time, and found objects such as Italian wall posters frequently featured in my compositions, and I’ve returned to some of these themes to explore marriage.

The exploration of the figure is a departure from my usual abstraction, and a move into explicitly personal territory and themes.

Behind the Scenes, Part 2

Tangier Overture
Tangier Overture

“What does it mean?”
“What were you thinking about when you painted this?”
A few times: “I see a golfer”.

It’s amused me to think of doing a series on golfers to give the people what they seem to want, but I don’t really care for golf. So instead, here’s what I was thinking about when I painted this painting:

As I mentioned earlier, this painting already existed as another painting, until I decided I needed to return to it and improve it (which I hope I’ve done).

In the exhibition where that original version was shown, someone started a conversation with me about pattern in my work. Specifically, he said that he noticed that I used a lot of pattern, but that I always cover it up with fields of plain color. He asked me why I did that, and I didn’t have an answer because I hadn’t even thought of it that way myself. From that conversation, I challenged myself to consciously use pattern, and to resist what I now know is my temptation to bury it. This has led to some interesting developments for me, and a new (to me), labor-intensive way of deliberately creating patterns, such as stripes. I’ve used a lot of tape in the process, laying it down, painting stripes, blow-drying them, removing the tape, and starting again with the next stripe.

This mindfulness, and taking pains with details, came at a time where my wife and I suddenly woke to the fact that, Hey, we’ve been together a while now; this is now what you’d call a long-term relationship! We’re not honeymooners any more. Time has a way of creeping up like that.

In my mind, I started to examine these two things side by side, the attention to my process, and the attention to my marriage. Both go better when you’re mindful. Both go better when you take the time. Both need a lot of attention.

Also around this time, we took a long vacation, the first since our honeymoon. Among our stops, we revisited Italy, where we had gone together in the very early days of our relationship. Going there again provided a natural comparison and opportunity to look at our relationship at its beginning and at its current bloom, seven years in.

As an artist also, there was an irresistible comparison to revisit old themes, since Italy had provided me with such inspiration for my work a few years ago. I’ve started working with Italian wall posters again, as well as other found objects. Bruce Springsteen and many others have revisited past material and made it fresh again, for example, rearranging Born to Run, a song he wrote at age 23, to reflect a mid-life perspective, or touring this year solely on the back of an album, The River, that he wrote at age 30. There is the possibility for an increased richness of perspective and self-knowledge and of course – better work! Which is really what us artists are after all along.

So these are the thoughts that are influencing my work right now. For this painting specifically, I was also thinking about some experiences in Morocco. The blue and white color palette, as well as the suggestion of Arabic writing evoke a little of the visuals of Tangier, where we spent a couple of days.

You may or may not know that being gay is illegal there, and there is an active effort, in some locales more than others, to bring gays to “justice”, which is harsh. I wasn’t concerned to travel to Morocco, as I’d had quite a bit of experience in the Middle East, and we were going to Tangier, a major city located within sight of Spain. The sophistication of a big city and its familiarity with Europeans made me feel completely comfortable, and honestly, we can “pass” as straight whenever we want to. (We don’t usually do this, but sometimes it’s safer).

On top of this dynamic, in the airport when we left, I was pulled aside for an additional, private inspection by a female security agent. This never happens to me, so it was notable. It became even more notable when this particular inspection made up for the previous lack of attention. When I tell the story in person, I make it sound very funny and act it out with some degree of abandon. But that funny version sort of minimizes the underlying scare of it, because when you’re gay in a time and place where it’s illegal to be, you don’t have any power. I made the conscious decision to not object in any way to any part of the inspection, because I had my own fears about what would happen if I had. If I had suggested that the inspector was somehow wrong, or had gone too far, I’d be making a public declaration. By saying I was uncomfortable, I’d be saying that there was something inherently sexual in what had happened. Because we were both women, that would make it illegal. If I put her back up against that hypothetical wall, her only defense would be to lash out. And if she lashed at me, she’d hit her mark, because after all, I really am gay, and my wife is standing right there to prove it. Suddenly, or in my mind anyway, we’d both be going to jail, while the inspector is filling out paperwork and making jokes in the backroom. No thank you.

So these relationships – between visual elements in the painting, between my wife and me, between our current relationship and our younger relationship, between the agent and me, between my current work and my previous work, between a foreigner and a new city – were in my mind while I worked.

Then, one day while I was listening to classical music in the car, I heard the title of a piece, which was Algerian Overture. [Lately, I’ve been enjoying this fun game that I play with myself, which is that I get ideas for paintings from mis-hearing the titles of classical pieces. My favorite is that I heard Music of 10,000 Fernandas, which had so many possibilities to a lesbian, but when I checked the playlist later, I realized that they’d said “Music from Antonio Fernandez”, the classical guitar player. Which I can’t help but think isn’t nearly as interesting]. Although I’d heard Algerian Overture correctly, I knew then that I’d found my title if I just changed it to “Tangier”.