Wednesday, February 4, 2015

cart before the horse

Lately all the dreams I've been having take place in Japan, as though my brain is finally getting around to sorting it all out... Funny how there's a lag time.

Last summer I collected pottery shards from the Kamo River, intending to make little studies of each one, so in love with the bright blue and creamy white. 

I finally got around to it, but it was mainly because during the course of unpacking here in England, I found a frame I really needed to fill.

That's the truth of my motivation... I might not follow through on a meaningful and profound exploration of the allure of Kyoto and the pieces I couldn't take with me, but here is a bright pretty frame that needs something inside it right now. 

I am not a conceptual artist. Pretty comes first. 


Monday, January 26, 2015

the only rule

I am suddenly the busiest I've ever been with portrait commissions, which is of course both exhilarating and terrifying. 

I feel like the girl in the story of Rumpelstiltskin, I explained to Jason: I have told people that I can spin straw into gold, and now I have to find a way to actually do that. 

So I distracted myself by doing a quick study of him, instead.

Infuriatingly, when I don't pressure myself to produce something amazing and perfect, I get the very quality of fresh brushwork and bold colors that I'm after when I want the thing to be amazing and perfect. 

Forget the straw, forget the gold; the only rule is work.


Friday, December 12, 2014

the costs of complicity

Haven't been writing. It's all been building up inside.

I've been grieving so hard this mess in the States... the most recent murders of unarmed Black men and teenagers and boys, the white cops who killed them not indicted, the whole system so corrupt and racist and despicable. 

12 year-old Tamir Rice, shot dead. How can I honor his life? How can I fight against what led to his death? How can I even look at his sweet young face?

So I obsessively check Twitter, get in protracted fights with strangers over FB, draft insane letters to Obama and to Congress, and despair that anything I could do would mean anything. I try to work and it feels indulgent and pointless. I am spinning, spinning, trying to contain all of this conflict, desperate to render it, sort it out, amend the wrongdoing. I have to do paintings about guns, about sugar, about prisons, about lynchings, about most white people's complete fucking inability to comprehend the problem. 

This blog is an inconsequential as a hairpin. I haven't been writing because it feels indulgent and pointless. And then I am angry at myself for overthinking it and allowing myself to be paralyzed by guilt, and for mistakingly believing that I cannot grieve and take action at the same time.

Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Michael Brown, Vonderrit Myers, Dontre Hamilton, Cary Ball, Oscar Grant, and far too many others: I want to memorialize you, I want to paint your portraits. I want to celebrate your human existence. I want to join the chorus singing BLACK LIVES MATTER, until they do. 

"All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity."  -- bell hooks


Saturday, November 22, 2014


The last project for my collage workshop was to incorporate handrwriting:

I have just a meager stash of collage materials (I will never quit you, Brown Paper), but had a surprising collection of handwriting samples. In the past I would have been reluctant to use them, though that feels completely silly to admit... Why get protective and hoard-y about bits of paper? They're speciaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllll.

But this turned out to be the funnest assigment for me: I was protective about nothing. In fact, if there was a bit that I liked too much and was trying to work the entire composition around, I deliberately covered it up. 

That sounds kind of silly, too. WHY AM I SO PROTECTIVE ABOUT PAPER.

But every time I covered up something I thought defined and anchored the whole piece, the whole piece got better. Like Annie Dillard says, sometimes you have to take out a wall. Sometimes it is the bearing wall. 

These quick little pieces are a good place for me to practice this. 

So many of my paintings have suffered because I was protecting them -- couldn't push them past that layer that was supposed to be just a warm-up layer but had some interesting little bit that I got weirdly attached to and wouldn't want to cover up. 

But here, all the truly interesting bits happened in the covering up... I hope that lesson translates from paper to paint. 


Saturday, November 15, 2014

what the paper will do

Another assigment for the online collage workshop was this sweet little accordian book:

It has been very good to keep my hands busy with collaging. I am too impatient to paint these days, feeling all flayed open and distracted. But collage takes somehow less brain power and is more immediately gratifying.

It's good to crank them out, it's good to have deadlines. This is the benefit of school and classes of any kind: stop being precious and do the work. 

I like it, despite its clumsiness. It's a strange story in an unlikely little diary.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

pursuit of patterns

The human brain loves patterns. 

I read an interview once with author and educator Parker Palmer, who asserted that it's our brain's strongest function: creating and following patterns. "The brain is a patterning organ," he said, "it thrives on making connections."

It amused me that among the many intricate and boggling functions our brains perform, there would be one it did best -- liked best. 

How satisfying, then, to work on this assigment, which was to create my own patterned paper and incorporate it into a collage:

It's ironic, too, that I arrive at more dynamic and visually interesting pieces when I think less.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

piecing things together

When I was checking in my bags at the O'Hare airport on our way to England, I was told that I could not take any of my paints with me, because they are "unstable" at flying altitude. I considered arguing that I had successfully transported them both to and from Japan in my suitcase, but there was an official-looking sign at the counter indicating that oil paints are not allowed, and you and I both know exactly how far you get arguing with airport people. 

So, I am without paints until I can figure out where to go to start replacing my stock. Rather than wallow in righteous resentment, I've decided to keep my hands busy by taking an online workshop in collage, led by artist Randel Plowman, of the inspiring A Collage A Day blog. 

I like how collages can be quick studies of color and composition, and it's oddly freeing to work with just a limited range of materials. The results have been looser, less protected, less calculated.

Except for THIS assignment, which was to start with a concept, and create a collage to illustrate it. This is usually how I overwork and kill a painting -- by trying to make it conform to a pre-conceived idea -- but here I tried to be more vague in my definitions and allow for accidents. 

Home -- the colors and creatures of my beloved Lake Michigan:

Home -- apples in season, like a diorama in the Public Museum of my childhood:

Dream -- an convoluted explanation of a simple event, in shapes, shadows on the periphery:

Desire -- a thread connecting the object to my imagination, the gulf that separates me from what I want:

And then I felt impatient with myself for staying too much within the lines of what I always do, so I made these last two without any perimeters:

This one is my favorite:

Which one says what, do you think?