Wednesday, April 9, 2014

the essence of which

We all try to capture, in a picture. In hundreds of pictures. Humans out in droves, smitten with trees.

I laugh but I do it, too: aim my camera at one frothy pink cluster after another, delirious at the beauty of it.

I know the pictures will render them flat, stripping away the enchantment of the whole scene, which is in their dimension, their presence. But I can't help it, I am compelled, swooning. Clicking.

It's like being under a lacy waterfall, a lilting, living veil.

I walk through it, aware and existing and enthralled, and still I can't get enough. Is this why the pictures? To take it home and keep a part of it, no matter how small and approximate?

Even on our bike ride home, I am reluctant to quit the chase, drawn in by the honeyed light through the branches, caught in a blizzard of falling petals when the wind gusts over the river. How can we not feel beneficently blessed? 

The moment is already passing, cameras be damned. The trees are leafing out, the streets look like they've been littered with the most elegant confetti, such a party as it has been. 


Sunday, April 6, 2014

lest all my post titles become gerunds

There hasn't been much activity in my studio this month, with parents visiting (yay!) and the kids out of school (yaaaaaaay), not to mention balmy temperatures and cherry trees blooming left and right. 

But here's a piece I started last month... About 3 x 4', larger scale than what I've been working on for the past six months, and therefore both compelling and daunting. What am I doing? 

I ask myself every day.

I want patterns so badly, and yet I don't know where to start. I have made several attempts, and they all looked clumsy and contrived.

That's ok, though, because covering up the mistakes is leading to some more depth in the layers, and more simplification overall. 

I like it when you can see evidence of previous choices. When things look a little haphazard.

Looking at finished work, it's easy to take all those strokes as a foregone conclusion... That's why I like to put up pictures of the process, when I am wondering what comes next, too.


Thursday, March 27, 2014


Most of the playgrounds in Kyoto look like they have been neglected since the 1950s. They usually consist of a decrepit see-saw, a sand box (which is really just a ring of concrete filled with the same pebbly sand as the rest of the playground), and a pair of low chin-up bars. Sometimes a bulky slide, which is made of concrete. This appalled me when I first saw it, but I soon discovered the trough part is polished like a terrazzo floor and is surprisingly slippery. Still, the paint is always chipping, and usually reveals several generations of paint underneath, and even despite the paint, the overall look is dingy, dusty, and sort of creepy.

"This is a sad playground, isn't it?" the kids will say, parroting my initial response upon seeing not just one weedy little lot, but dozens. All.

No, not all!

It turns out the city has poured all its playground resources* accumulated since the mid-20th century into two giant parks, one in the north of Kyoto, at Takaragaike, and the other in south, near the new Aquarium in Umekoji Park. 

*This is pure speculation on my part, I have no actual facts to back me up.

The playground at Takaragaike has a brilliant little maze, about 30 square feet of concrete passages, punctuated with tunnels, portals, and stairs. It's the first place we go, and the place we play the longest. Also the best place to play Minotaur, if geeking out on Greek mythology's your thing.

I think all the running and hiding is fostering some bad behavior, though, because while chasing the kids through narrow passageways with lots of hiding places is endlessly amusing in a primary-colored labyrinth, doing the same thing at home to wrangle them before bedtime makes me want to claw my eyeballs out. There's a Greek myth for that, too, right?


Sunday, March 23, 2014


Early days of spring: the air has that bright, scrubbed feeling; the breeze still cold. We went to the Imperial Palace at Gosho today, walked around in a grove of blossoming plum trees until the kids whined and clung and begged to go to the playground. Bless their little oblivious hearts -- they can't appreciate the sublime beauty of flowering trees and early spring light.

I haven't been able to write anything about our life here... Every time I try, it seems preposterous, vain, loaded with haughtiness. And yet I read other peoples' blogs voraciously, desperate for the details of their lives.

I had a dream the other night that a friend asked how it had been living with my family in OUTER SPACE. It was hard, I effused, and described living in zero-gravity and how challenging it was to acclimate to Earth's atmosphere on the way home.

Even my subconscious is hyperbolic.


We took a walk after dinner in the twilight, to return the pine branches we used for our Christmas tree to the mountains, and it was so quiet and humid and soft, the kids giddy to be outside in the growing dark. I feel it too -- like I'm coming out of the long tunnel of winter, finally able to see what I'm looking at.

The warmer weather makes me suddenly want to be deliberate. I will take more pictures! I will be descriptive! I will try nihonga! I will notice my life! 

All winter I have been simmering in the resentment of Not Knowing What Is Going On, and it occurs to me now that I don't have to orchestrate anything grandiose or full of purpose. A picture is emerging anyway, whether or not I write it down or paint it out.


Auden graduated from Kindergarten, speaks Japanese in the most adorable Kansai dialect, is dead-serious about anything having to do with directing and/or performing, and is also suddenly interested in science.

Isla prattles on and on, paragraphically, in English as well as something that sounds just like Japanese but isn't, quite. She is a dreamer, a dally-er, an enthusiastic describer of nonsensical details. We are constantly telling her to stop shouting.

We ride our bike-for-three every day, me sandwiched between them, huffing and puffing up hills while they argue about song lyrics and discuss the characteristics of momentum. They blow kisses to gaggles of schoolgirls, which results in a collective squeal of delight and is endlessly amusing.


Six months here, four to go. The amount of time it takes for my heart to anchor, my brain to find its patterns and cling for dear life.

Day after day: put away the futons, step down into the kitchen, make the coffee, send the kids off, ruminate over colors, collect the kids, squabble and laugh, make the dinner, protest and cajole, put out the futons, read the stories, breathe and rest.


Monday, March 3, 2014

more grousing

I have no direction, and consequently I am pulled in all directions: one minute coveting the scumbled texture of an ancient earthen wall, the next minute mentally mixing the perfect pale peach to match the scales of the koi fish I just saw. 

Pale peach, white, a splotch of black -- how can that fish be a master of composition and I cannot?

I start paintings with one thing in mind, and half-way through I change that mind, inspired by something completely different. I want Kozuki's bold fields of color, Ruth's bright brushstrokes, Tomoya's soft daubs, Karina's geometry. Larry Rivers' acuity.

I am part chameleon, part charlatan.

Meanwhile, I have nothing conclusive to say. It's just a jumble of pieces in there, a human kaleidoscope: reflecting the accumluation of potentially usable bits, the tinest shift changes the entire scene.

 I had a dream once that I was hanging my art for a show, and all the pieces were these awful, muddy, lumpy figure studies. I started to panic -- where is my REAL work? Will I know it when I see it?

It keeps escaping me, that thing I'm trying to do, yearning to do. Reaching with my whole elastic brain and don't even know what question I'm asking.


Friday, February 28, 2014

rainbow dilemma

Experimenting with new colors sometimes leads to what I like to call the "circus phase."

I will think I'm being daring and edgy, lighting those shadows up with orange and blue, and then when I step back I see that I've rendered my poor daughter like a marshmallow rainbow slurpee.

When I get to this point, I marvel that I have ever been able to mix colors in any kind of harmony. You'd think it was the first time I ever saw a tube of Quinacridone Red. 

Nothing to do with that circus but paint over it:

I want to simplify my palette, flatten the surfaces, take a softer and looser approach over all. But of course I'm taking my customary circuitous route by mucking it up first.

It's like I have one idea, and the brushes have another.

I'm inclined to let it be for now. There's a spontenaiety in it that I like and it's worth preserving -- the feeling of those brushstrokes -- even if only as a stepping stone to the next piece. And a warning against further sherbet color combinations. 


Monday, February 24, 2014

composed of random

I feel like patchwork. I feel like a big, wide question.

I have the creative attention span of a flea: Always hungry. Always jumping.

I want this, I want that. I wonder, I brood, it seems like I can never settle.

I said it was an experiement, right? But then there's this inner curator who insists that NONE OF THIS STUFF MATCHES. WHO ARE YOU, ANYWAY.

So I have to trick myself into letting go. Be enthralled by that creamy jade color. Create now, curate later.