Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dot Dot Dot

I've started working on a series of very tiny collages, not much bigger than postage stamps. As with most of my recent collage work, the process is simple: I cut one bird shape out from a two-sided image in a bird guide and lay it over text. I've been working on these types of things for a while now. Here's an example from a recent series of twelve collages (for these I cut out part of the image itself):

I've always been a lot more interested in what goes unstated or unseen...the things that are left to the imagination, and make the book, the picture, the song, a personal, intimate thing. Given this, it will come as no surprise that the ellipsis is my very favorite punctuation mark. And, lucky for me and my collages, the ellipsis seemed to be Daphne du Maurier's favorite as well. You can barely turn a page of The King's General without seeing one. This may explain why I love her books so much -- there are holes and shadows, places where language falls and fails, and so much has to be created in the reader's mind. The ellipsis, like the trail of bread crumbs Hansel and Gretel dropped in the forest, points one in a direction but stops just short of taking one by the hand...

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Fine Art of Neglect

I spend a lot of time painting. I spend a lot of time playing with my kids. I spend a lot of time cooking breakfast/lunch/dinner. But what I MOSTLY spend my time doing is neglecting things I should be doing. Sometimes I neglect my students, letting them put down layer upon layer of ugly paint without a word of caution passing my lips. Sometimes I neglect my kids, letting them watch one too many Scooby Doo episodes before finally rounding them up and dumping them in the tub only to neglect them for a few minutes more. I often neglect painting, letting gawky, unfinished work sit on the easel like somebody's Grandpa in his dingy tightie-whities when the doorbell rings. I definitely neglect housework. Who wouldn't? But, in all this neglect, something IS getting accomplished: one lovely daydream after another.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Putting it ALL Together

...is what I find myself doing as I prepare my tenure file (due on September 21!). I decided to update the hoary teaching statement I've been carting around lo these many years, and have begun another, which I thought I'd publish here. All you students out there who know me well can tell me what I'm leaving out, or whether I've told lies...

I’ve taught, and the first thing I did when I taught art, was not to teach art.
Louise Nevelson

I’ve only begun to learn what not to teach. I can teach a few of the eight hundred ways to hold a paintbrush, but I can’t teach a student to let her hand dance with the brush like Monet did, never approaching the canvas the same way twice. I can teach a student when to use poppy oil, and in what quantities, to make pigment approximate flesh, but I can’t teach him to how to paint a portrait as breath-takingly present as those of Rembrandt. And so what I “teach” my students really amounts to this: to say “yes” with curiosity and vigor to all questions; to think originally and paint with integrity; to find, as they internalize the techniques and concepts associated with the craft of painting, their own way to art.

Saying “yes” should be easy, but it’s stunningly difficult for most students. To be smart is to be a critic, they think, and they scorn enthusiasm as a sign of naiveté. So enthusiasm (creating it, modeling it, sustaining it) guides my preparation for any course. Hard work that pays dividends can breed enthusiasm, as can surprise, and I find that these two strategies are the ones I use most often. Especially at the introductory level, I engage the former strategy by creating technically challenging assignments that build in complexity over the course of the semester, encouraging accomplishment through process. I know I’ve succeeded when I hear a student remark, on critique day, “I didn’t think I could do it,” to which I always reply: “I knew that you could.” Part of the responsibility for creating a challenging environment lies in maintaining defiant, perhaps quixotic, belief in potential. Whether that belief is justified or rewarded is somewhat beside the point. The latter strategy – surprise – requires that I design each class session in such a way that students can rarely take it for granted. So whether we’re taking an impromptu trip to the museum or drawing blindfolded to trip-hop, there should be a sense that we are all making discoveries together – that we are all (myself included) absolute beginners.

Chuck Close, an artist famous for his enormous portraits of fellow artists, once had occasion to tell Willem de Kooning that he’d painted more de Koonings than de Kooning. This is a useful anecdote for advanced undergraduate and graduate students who struggle (as they put it) to “find their style." It takes a mountain of self-knowledge (not to mention experience) to think originally, to feel comfortable in one’s own shoes. The work that students produce at this level is largely self-directed, and much of what I do amounts to giving permission, while also making frequent reference to historical and contemporary artists and painting practices that will feed students' process. Frequent group and individual critiques give students the opportunity to reflect on their work and establish a way of talking about it that enriches their own, and their viewers’, understanding.

Finally, I encourage all my students to separate the processes of thinking (which typically means overthinking) and painting. “Thinking” in painting should be thinking through paint: that is to say, the process itself should be a particular kind of knowledge that is distinct from the processes of reflection, criticism, and contextualization (though these are quite necessary after the fact). Above all, I hope to teach my students that there is tremendous joy and deep satisfaction to be found in striving after art; the words I hear myself utter most often are: just begin.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Night-night, Sleep Tight

What is the food that creativity thrives on?  I guess it's different for everyone.  I used to be an "early to bed, early to rise" kind of girl, grooving on the early start and painting on a 9 - 5.  And I took a certain pleasure in reading about all the artists who did the same:  Jennifer Bartlett, Elizabeth Murray...up at the crack of dawn to put in a good day's work.  And they have kids, just like me.  
Now here I am, two beers and a few hours past everyone else's bedtime, still glowing with some kind of 120 watt bulb that manages to illuminate the creative process for me, if only until I fall from fatigue.  What is it about a box of paints, a piece of paper, and some good music I've never heard before?  I can't help but feel like this is the elixir, the fountain of youth...it's like love, or jumping off the roof of your garage for the very first time...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Closing the Windows, Closing the Doors

"A painting is like the facade of a house...and you're like a janitor who goes around systematically trying to close all the windows and doors -- but when you get to the top floor to close the last window, a wind blows open the one on the first landing.
You rush down and close that one, and then one on the middle floor blows open and you rush to close that.But when you've closed all the entries to the house, then the painting is closed -- not that it's finished, it's just that you can't enter it any longer."  (Graham Nickson)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Play is Serious (part one): Chad

One of the big revelations that has been provided to me by parenthood is simply this: play is serious business.  And it bears a fair resemblance to the artistic process, which might lead you to conclude (depending on how you feel about children and/or artists) that a) all children are artists, or b) all artists are children.  Maybe both are true.  When I paint, I feel the same transcendent, focused joy that led me to spend hours creating apartments for mice out of snow drifts, or piling up rocks in a stream to make waterfalls.  The goals and objects of play, while real, are always ephemeral.  So is art.  And the best things happen when you realize that you chose only one of infinite options, that your solution is only a place holder for the next creative act.  

Which brings me to Chad.  Chad stands about 2 inches high, wears a casual (if slightly emo) outfit, and his hands are locked in a steering wheel grip so that he can drive his yellow-orange adventure vehicle. 
Despite his diminutive size and lack of physical mobility, Chad has led an astonishingly adventuresome life since coming to live with David about 2 years back.  Among other things, he has survived being swallowed whole by an enormous Komodo dragon, worked for a time driving a John Deere tractor, and dallied in Cinderella's coach.  
He has flown through the air repeatedly without the aid of even a parachute; has suffered attack by dinosaurs on many occasions; has been buried alive in the wilderness of the backyard. And through it all his face has worn the same blank look that suggests a kind of calm readiness. 
Right now, he's thoroughly wrapped in pink yarn.  That right: Chad has been mummified.  Will he survive?  Will he walk the earth in search of victims?  Will he lay an eternal curse upon all our heads?  Only David knows for sure, and he's not telling.  To my eye, he's the perfect little art object.  A thousand or so more, and I'd have a great installation...all I need now is a title.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Long Time Gone

Going away from a painting feels a bit like leaving your cat at home for a couple days with a heaping bowl of food and plenty of water.  You know the cat will be okay, but you also feel the guilt of the neglectful caretaker.  While you're away, you won't be loving it enough.  There will be no one to rub it behind the ears!  A painting can't purr, but it does suffer from being unconsidered.  Paintings, after all, thrive on attention.  But I'm back now, and trying to make up for lost time.
Like any neglected relationship, my affair with my painting needed a little spark, which came in the form of a new brush that defies adequate description.  Try as I might, I can't articulate a metaphor potent enough to contain all the wonders of the Daniel Smith Faux Mongoose #14 Flat, which I will hereafter refer to only as "the Goose".  (Okay, I know I just lost about 75% of my readership, and for that I apologize.  I only hope you'll visit this site again; I promise I'll try not to bore you to tears.)  The Goose was a big surprise to me, as I usually don't use synthetic brushes.  I'm a purist.  Sable, bristle, even fitch.  But I found myself, one day, cruising the DS website in search of something new.  What the heck, I thought, I'll give it a try.

Well.  Like I said, the Goose defies description except to say that it is one luscious brush.  It's got bounce.  Loaded up with color, it goes for miles and miles.  I can build up thick strokes; I can layer wet on wet; I can scrub, dab, and glaze.  And it all feels effortless, like I'm painting with Devonshire cream.  

So my painting and I are feeling that old spark again.  We can see our future together, thanks to the Goose.    

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's Not You, It's Me

Dear Painting,

I don't know how to begin, so I'll just say that I think it's time for us to spend some time apart.  I've been planning a trip for awhile, and now seems like a good time to reevaluate and get some perspective on our relationship.  This isn't about you: you've been great.  This is about me.  I'll see you when I get back from Maine.



Monday, June 22, 2009

One, Two, Cha Cha Cha

There comes a point, with every one of my paintings, where I feel like I'm dancing to a song I've never heard before with someone I've never met.  This is where the stranger and I are right now; what happens next is anyone's guess.  I've included a couple detail shots below to give a sense of the surface:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

And a Little More Progress

Now about 7 hours old, and very much a gawky teenager, needing some help to feel confident.  The space on the right (our right) is mushy and indistinct.  The clumps of dark foliage -- looking like last year's leaves still clinging to branches -- need some work to feel at home, especially in the area just left of center.  But there is a space beginning to develop, and I like the glowing "center" of lemon yellow at the top.  I'd say I'm nearly half way there...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Painting's Progress

My next few posts will be devoted to chronicling the progress of the painting seen above.  It's about 4 hours old now, just a baby.  It's about 2 1/2 feet high, and 5 feet long.  I have this idea that I want to work on a series of paintings that place the viewer within a tangle of leaves, vines, limbs, etc., that need to be penetrated in order to see (or move) beyond.  For those of you who are familiar with my work, you know that my surfaces tend to be fairly refined, and my forms realistic.  What you probably DON'T know is that all my paintings start out looking like this one.  This time, though, I want to develop the surface, and the PAINT...not the forms.  What I mean is that I want the experience of the painting to be more about getting lost in a tangle of color, line, and texture (think Jackson Pollock goes outdoors) that resolves itself into subject matter from a slight distance.  In short, I want to find a new balance for myself between abstraction and representation that tips slightly more toward the abstraction end of things.  But as much as I want to develop the abstract (or maybe a better word is formal) qualities in my paintings, I'm too attracted to the subject to let it go.  So finding some specificity is important, too. 
What this amounts to is that I'm giving myself the advice I give my students.  I'm forever badgering them to make PAINTINGS, rather than PICTURES OF x,y, and z; I tell them that each square inch of canvas is equally important and that a painting is only as strong as its weakest moment.  Can I practice what I preach?  I'll keep y'all posted. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pirate Stuff

Mom!  Where's my pirate stuff??!

It's on the table by the door.  (Time passes).

Mom!  Where's my pirate stuff??!

David, I told you it's on the table by the door.  (Time passes).

MOM!  Where's.  My.  Pirate.  Stuff??????!!

David.  I've told you twice already, it's on the table by the door.  (Yet more time passes).

Mom, I've looked everywhere and I can't find my pirate stuff.

David.  Where did I tell you it was...?

On the table.

What table?

The door table.

So, did you look there??

No.  I did not.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Early Morning Showers with Sunshine Late in the Day

Trinity's a little sad.  She's moving from the 2 year old room to the 3 - 5 year old room at her school.  By all outward measures, she should be thrilled.  There's lots more stuff to do in the 3 -5 room, and lots of kids to play with.  There's Tiffany, dream teacher.  And there's even David, her big brother (admittedly a mixed blessing).  And she'll even tell you she's excited.  But we know the truth.  For one thing, she can't bring First Teddy.  For those of you who know Trinity, you know that where she goes, First Teddy goes.  So starting next Monday, First Teddy has to stay in the car.  Second, she's the reigning queen of the 2 year old room.  She's the oldest and the peppiest.  If they were seniors, she'd be Most Likely To Succeed, Most Likely to Be Voted Prom Queen, Editor of the Yearbook, AND Miss Congeniality.  She has Marisa and Smijla (her teachers) and Avery, her "best friend."  But I know Trinity, and I know it's all going to be okay.  She'll find her way to the top of the heap with the 3 - 5's and soon be singin' in the rain. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Congratulations, it's a moth...

And, just like that, Fuzzy has emerged from his cocoon a wee lovely brown moth.  The little bastard did it while we weren't looking, but it was quite an exciting transformation, nonetheless.   

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mom Said I Could...

Trust me, they're a lot easier to hose off this way.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Fine Art of...

My profile says I'm a mother, a painter, and a teacher. These descriptors overlap in so many ways, and have so much in common, that it is impossible to pry them apart. Instead of feeling fractured ("there's no there there") I more often wonder at how the kind of artist I am is also the kind of mother I am is also the kind of teacher I am, and on and on. And so, when I found myself with the following poem in my head this morning in the shower, I was unsure whether to title it "Mother's Diary" or "Painter's Diary", or even "Teacher's Diary":
Day passes. Night comes.
What's been done's undone
and under the moon
the clematis descends
the trellis, unwinding
leaf and vine and blossom down
to become a seed again
ready to test the strength
of the ground.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What are little boys made of?

Snips and snails and puppy dog tails...that's what the old rhyme tells us. Yesterday, after choosing a temporary tattoo of a particularly fierce dinosaur for his left forearm, David made what I consider to be his first statement of personal aesthetic taste: "Trin likes beautiful things, and I like bad things." "Do you think it's possible to like beautiful things AND bad things?" I asked. "Yes," was his answer, "I like bad things AND beautiful things." That's my boy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Art and Nature

Anyone who knows me well knows how fond I am of butterflies, moths, and other flying things (see above). My fondness is all about metaphor, though, as I've found the "lived experience" of winged creatures to be another matter entirely. The way that moths hurl themselves at lights; the creepy delicacy of butterflies; the obliviousness of the dragonfly: while I would call myself "outdoorsy", bugs are bugs. So the situation I now find myself in is one that is fraught with contradictions. In short, I'm raising moths.

It all started when David found one, two, three, four caterpillars in the back yard. The first one got smooshed but the remaining three made it inside and into the gallon jar seen here. I should mention that these caterpillars are a long way from the Eric Carle ideal. This is the Eastern Tent caterpillar, a generally reviled little beast that destroys flowering trees (like the redbuds we found them on). They are destined to become small red-brown moths, or so the literature tells me.
It's a habit of mine (some would surely call it a coping mechanism) to philosophize about ickiness and thereby turn lemons into lemonade. But let me tell you something about Fuzzy, Mrs. Fuzzy, and Cousin Fuzzy: they poop a LOT. I supplied them daily with fresh redbud leaves, lovingly arrayed in an old spice jar. And daily the leaves were devoured, the cotton balls placed at the mouth of the jar to prevent death by drowning covered in caterpillar waste. I really should have gotten a picture. Fortunately that all stopped when they began to spin their wispy little cocoons. They worked slow and steady building a cottony fog around themselves, then turned and turned until they were mummified. I'm full of questions. How long will they stay like this? Do they need anything special? What happens when they emerge? I'm sure the internet has all the answers. Until then I'll just watch, a bit horrified, as nature performs one of its little miracles.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Last week I said goodbye to the most recent crop of graduating seniors in painting. This is the card for their show, featuring Tyrone's chipped tooth. I'm usually fairly dispassionate about the comings and goings of art majors and, truth be told, more often than not I'm glad to see them go. After all, art is a much more personal endeavor than, say, marketing. By the time I've spent upwards of six semesters with them, I know too much about the vagaries of their personal lives and I'm ready for September's clean slate.

For some reason, May 2009 is a different story. This group of students challenged me in a hundred little ways that made me a better teacher, and I want to take a moment to thank them here:

Rachel, thank you for never letting me get away with a damn thing. Every day you managed to remind me of my own disorganization, and you made me answer all of your questions thoroughly. If I was ever tempted to dance around an issue, you brought me up short with the kind of raised eyebrow that is the province of the President's scholar.

AJ, you argued long and well about the differences (or lack thereof) between painting and digital painting and, what's more, you enjoy arguing almost as much as I do. You created a final exhibition that was rich in both form and content and I hope you feel, as I do, that our disagreements played a part in making it what it was.

Jackie, thank you for creating work that left me speechless on numerous occasions; we all know that's not easy to do. You challenged me to think in new ways about style, genre, and technique, and while I don't have any plans on building my collection of fantasy art any time soon, you showed me that my way wasn't the only way. Thank you, finally, for humoring me.

Tyrone, you took so long to get your BFA I considered adopting you. Thank you for letting me be a witness to the transformation of a shy kid into an artist with talent, drive, and conviction. You have a lot to say and a way of saying it that is purely your own. You'll be the one, someday, to endow that new painting studio I keep talking about.

Corey, you are fearless. Thank you for showing me that there are still students willing and able to challenge themselves every day to be better. You are one of those rare people who says "yes" far more than "no" -- in other words, an artist.

I'm going to miss you all. Go out in the world and paint well.