February 26, 2015

The Dance of the Gar Fish at SCSU

South Carolina State University has seen troubles. But this February the state legislature upped the anti by voting to close the institution for two years, opening again only if its fiscal house is ordered. My own personal reaction to this was to first wonder at the timing of this pronouncement in Black History Month. Coincidence? Or just bad manners?

For now, the enforced closing appears to be on hold in the face of administrative shake-ups. I do hope that SCSU will be able, somehow, to get its fiscal house in order. There is much about the university that is worth preserving. The I.P. Stanback Museum, the theatre, music and arts departments come to mind first, albeit on account of my artist’s bias. There are great holdings of African and African American art at the Stanback. The music department does incredible work, with graduates often moving on to international careers in performance. The best dance performance I ever saw, and I’ve been around the world, was at South Carolina State University.

Some of the dancers I knew some years ago at South Carolina State University posed for me when I was creating a visual arts project involving the gar fish. The recent debacle with SCSU’s precarious fiscal position made me think of those dancers once again. I wanted to post a drawing or two of them. I searched my archive, however, and only found photographs and a previously posted ceramic piece. So conjured up a new drawing based upon my photographs. An original photo is at right.

Won’t a Deus Ex Machina, a Sugar Daddy, or a Sugar Mother arrive on the scene and help set things right for this beleaguered university? Creative ingenuity needs to continue to grow and thrive.

February 18, 2015

An Experimental Udu Drum

The wild purple clay from Congaree, South Carolina yielded some unexpected results. I had expected the purple clay to fire dark - almost black. I suppose I expected a dark color because the purple clay in its raw state reminded me of the dark purple yixing teapots from China. But what emerged from the bisque firing was a light pink color. This can be seen at the base of the vessel above. The top part of this vessel was painted with pink and blue terra sigillata. I then brushed some iron oxide on it to see how what effect that would have. Ordinarily I would smoke fire the vessel in a pit fire but I decided to leave this unsmoked due to the fragility of the glaze, which was delaminating in parts. To save this work, I sanded down the parts where the glaze puckered and buffed the whole surface with a microcrystalline wax.

This was an experimental vessel in many ways. The clay was a new and unknown entitity. Harvested straight from the ground, its composition was a mystery. I used a painting terra sigillata with some old underglaze colors, not knowing what the effect would be. The shape of the vessel was a departure from my usual symmetry in making functional musical instruments from clay. This vessel was fashioned as an udu drum. I purposely made the form lopsided to see if that would affect the sound. It did not. It sounded the same as my symmetrical vessels. I was pleased with the off-center form though.

February 10, 2015

A Figure and a Lee Bontecou Collage

For the last three days, I have been working on one of my slow, detailed pencil drawings. The original sketch was from a model dating way back to graduate school at Parsons School of Design. Like most of my sketches from that time, the composition was spare. The figure rested in front of a blank square on the wall. It was originally a backdrop that consisted of a wild and wooly painting by one of my classmates. In other drawings from that time, I sketched in the painting - a strange imaginary scene replete with floating figures and mythical horned beasts.

Time has made the memory of my reasons for leaving the painting out fuzzy. In looking at the sketch again, the blank space behind the figure beckoned for content. For this content I chose to pencil in a mixed media collage by the artist Lee Bontecou. Lee Bontecou’s collage of canvas and metal dates from 1961. I chanced upon it when I rediscovered an anthology of American Women Artists by Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein. At the book’s publication in 1982 the collage was in the Whitney Museum and I suppose it is still there.

In most of my new drawings from old sketches, I include an homage to another art work in the composition. I have used primitive art, folk art, old master paintings, and even some of my own art work. I chose a women artist from the 1960's this time because I realized that I had not used the work of women artists much and decided to remedy the situation. The 1961 art work is there on account of a memory I had of the man who posed for the painting. He liked to watch old films, in particular films from the early sixties. The model was especially fond of the 1963 film, Bye Bye Birdie.

My choice of the art of Lee Bontecou was apt, for I felt that there was a evolution in her art from relief sculpture to drawing that I could relate to, as it paralleled my own development in recent years. Bontecou was a star of the 1960's who selected, or perhaps was consigned to, a quieter life for the next few decades before bursting on the scene again in the 21st century with a retropective at the Smithsonian in 2004 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/arts-culture/lee-bontecous-brave-new-world-180940 I like the ovoid shapes in Bontecou’s work. They seem to serve both as solid egg-like structures as well as voids. The saw blade that she incorporated in her "Untitled" work from 1961 that serves as the backdrop in my drawing adds a disarming note of aggression.

In a final stroke of kitsch in juxtaposition with serious art, I added a small heart by the model’s left side. After all, Valentine’s day will soon be upon us.

January 26, 2015

A Buckle in Beemerville

My most recently revised drawing came from a sketch made several years ago in Beemerville, New Jersey. The man in the sketch is Leland Bell. I sketched him first at an outdoor picnic table,leaning over a radio/tape player. He was listening to a piece of jazz music, tapping out the beats with his right hand.

After listening to his music, Leland rested by the side of a small outbuilding. I drew him again in that spot, recording the two poses on the same page - dual aspects of Leland Bell. Leland was very ill at the time and it was impressive that he made the trip out to New Jersey to be with his graduate art students.

In order to finish this composition, I darkened the foreground and extended lines throughout to tie the elements together. This tying together in the final drawing reminds me of an observation of my husband’s about certain historical works of art. He coined the word, "buckling" for the technique of unifying a composition by attaching the lines that create the spaces and forms at various junctures like a buckle on a shoe.  In two areas, Leland is the buckle.

January 24, 2015

A Lens Distorted

Once again, I am turning to old sketches to turn into new drawings. How is that for alliteration?

The drawing above was completed in charcoal and pastels over an original pencil sketch. I believe that the model’s name was Francesca and she purposely wore these long black stockings and struck and pose reminiscent of Toulouse Lautrec or Degas.

The original pencil sketch had no background so I created one that was like a view through a distorted lens. I had been reading about lens implants so this may have had a subliminal influence. I was advised to find out more about the makings of lens implants before getting one on account of my numerous chemical allergies. Thus far they look okay - mostly made of silicone and plastics.

Artificial lenses, although great for restoring eyesight, aren’t the same as the eye’s natural lens in that they only provide focus at one distance and the cataract patient is then obliged to wear glasses for close-up work and reading. What I found fascinating, however, was that in 2013 a new lens was patented that focuses in three ranges - more like a natural eye lens. This is something that might be worth asking about, although on account of my far-sightedness in my right eye that may or may not work. The new multifocal and accommodating intraocular lenses (IOLS) are patented under the trade name Cystalens and Trulign. When I call the companies about materials used I may inquire about these as well.

January 21, 2015

The Cat with TMJ


I have been working on my sculptures, musical instruments and pottery using my found purple clay. These objects will take a long time to process before they are ready to photograph and include on a blog or web site. In between drying times I am working on small charcoal drawings and illustrations - always nice to do things that give immediate results. The latest completed illustration is a pathetic little illustration for my rhyme about a cat with TMJ. I was recently diagnosed with this and can now add that to the growing list of difficult to treat conditions. Fortunately TMJ can be treated with physical therapy and a brace - it does do some good.

The Cat with TMJ is part of my new collection of rhymes, "A Book of Hapless Cats." His rhyme:

When he eats a mouse, without fail
his jaw will lock if he chews the tail
Munch the bones and he’ll have to pay
That hapless cat with TMJ

He is careful not to yawn too wide
or move his mouth from side to side
He sits slack jawed to keep pain at bay
That poor little kitty with TMJ

He would like to meow at the moon at night
But it would probably cost him a jaw locked tight
So he sits mute towards the end of the day
wishing that he was not a cat with TMJ
copyright 2014 Janet Kozachek

January 10, 2015

The Cat in Cataract

I have decided to self publish The Book of Marvelous Cats. This is my way of coming to terms with the fact that I need to move the work out there for friends, family, and the larger public if possible, and must do so by relying on professional services than my own hit or miss process. I haven’t committed to a service yet but have at least decided on a publishing method.

In the mean time, I am at work on a second volume, The Book of Hapless Cats. Thus far, these have been illustrated with quick charcoal drawings for speed and ease of execution. My second illustration in this series is for the Cat Aract. I had originally intended to make this drawing using only my blind eye but found that I am now so blind in that eye I would only be making an amorphous blob. Instead I compromised by peaking with my good right eye in order to make a cat form more discernable. But anyone viewing the Cat Aract will get the general idea of diminished vision. The blurred lettering in the background of this drawing is what even the largest "E" on an eye chart now looks like.

January 2, 2015

Allergy Cat

In recent blogs I addressed the issue of how to deal with a growing list of allergens that most likely were contributing to my woeful health. My list of chemical allergens and their alternate names/forms were overwhelming. A veritable laundry list of polysyllabic names was handed to me. I wondered if I should just slowly memorize the list as if it were an epic poem. To that end I started writing a poem about a cat with allergies, including some of the names on my long list. To illustrate the text, instead of using detailed pencil drawing as I did in my Book of Marvelous Cats", I made a sketch in charcoals and pastels in my quick and gestural style. The cat wears a dust mask and Apretec barrier socks. I suppose it is a self portrait of sorts.

The poem goes like this:

Allergy Cat

Allergy Cat’s snout swells out from fleas
But all his flea powders just make him sneeze
When he eats canned cat food he starts to wheeze
Diphenylguanidine in his catnip makes him heave

Dried cat food preserved with methylparaben
is Allergy Cat’s most volatile allergen
But the soap in his bath that he really does hate
is the one made with butyl-p-hydroxybenzoate

Allergy Cat improves in a pesticide free sweater
On a mite free cushion he does even better
His paws turn red from untreated wood
Hypoallergenic cotton booties do him some good

The sniffling kitty cannot abide
Kitty crackers with parthelinomide
When other cats come in wearing strong perfume
Allergy Cat will up and leave the room

Allergy Cat gets a rash from his collar
-the cheap used one he picked up for a dollar
So he reached into his pockets and pulled out some green
and purchased a new one made of polypropylene

His friends advise Allergy Cat not to be so neurotic
and to sit among flowers both colorful and exotic
Allergy Cat replies "I beg your pardon...
but I can’t swish my tail in a pesticide garden"

And thus begins the new "Book of Hapless Cats" 

December 31, 2014

Finishing "The Book of Marvelous Cats"

The end of the year is here. I had set a modest goal of finishing the illustrations for my Book of Marvelous Cats and have done so. Most of the illlustrations were revisions of previous drawings. The revising, although truly time consuming, turned out to be a good idea as the second generation of images were much more detailed and rich with nuance than the first generation.

After completing the last revision, I created one more new drawing - Carpenter Cat.

In the remake of Bouncer Cat, pictured above, the interior has been transformed from a vacant space into a lived in home. Gone is the rat in Bouncer Cat’s right hand. Instead he grabs a hapless person by the foot. In keeping with my new interest in shoes, there is a shoe on the floor. The enormous cat is so eager to fling the man out of the house that he doesn’t even allow the "bounced" person a chance to put on his shoes. On the wall is a picture of "Designer Cat," from a previous illustration. The picture is replete with a number of such details of the cat within the picture of the cat. See the earlier version at right for a comparison.

December 2, 2014

Eliminating Methylparaben, Other Parabens and the Return of the Dragon

The drawing illustrated above is a cultural overlay of ancient and modern design. The bottles are drawn from Byzantine glass perfume vessels. The background consists of over a hundred repeated tracings from a tube of ointment. What they represent are my present search for paraben free products. My drawing, however, with its background of nine columns each of thirteen tubes (if you count the implied tubes hidden behind the glass bottles) came to signify something else after I completed it. So I will address the subliminal, almost mystical aspect of the drawing first, then proceed to the paraben issue.

Before attending to my blog post about my attempts to eradicate parabens from my life and after I finished the drawing I had an interesting experience with my history in China. I was cleaning out my basement, also to downsize and remove allergens, when I came across a crate that my mother had sent to me nearly two decades ago. The crate contained my letters from China. She had kept every one. I had not the heart to open the crate because although China in the 1980's and 1990's was a meaningful experience, life there was very painful in many ways as well. Yet as I was doing yard work later that day, I thought about the memoir I had started to write a few years ago before I became too ill to work on it. Should I recover enough to work on this memoir again, I thought, looking over the letters would be helpful as time clouds memory.

Later that day, I received a package from a friend that I had kept up with off and on since high school. She had been cleaning out her house this past week as well, she told me in a letter, and thought I could use the contents of the package she sent. The package contained three boxes of letters from China that I had written to her over a four year period. She had kept every one!

After this day of synchronicity, I looked began to look at other things for clues or signs that there was something mystical in the works. Was there something subliminal or cosmic about my choice of nine columns of thirteen tubes in the background of my drawing? Nine times thirteen equals one hundred and seventeen. Out of curiosity I looked up nine, thirteen and one hundred and seventeen in Chinese numerology. To my surprise I found that nine is the symbol of the dragon and that the Chinese dragon has one hundred and seventeen scales because nine times thirteen is one hundred and seventeen. Amazing! It could be coincidence or perhaps the China years are so ingrained in my subconscious that I subliminally use significant numbers.

Does this relate to the preservative methylparaben and can I extend the metaphor of dragons, numbers and China to a chemical compound? Probably not. I suppose I could grab at an obscure reference to methylparaben having an odd number (3) of oxygen atoms in its chemical structure but that would be a stretch. Once again, my writing about an illustration will be in two completely unrelated parts.

The preservative Methyl Paraben as well as other parabens, has been receiving scrutiny in recent years as a commonly used preservative in numerous over the counter as well as prescription medical products. There is some research implicating parabens as not quite healthy for human consumption in general and as a result there are a growing number of "Green" , "Eco-friendly," and "Hypo-Allergenic" industries that claim to leave this preservative out of their products. See the Washingnton Post article: www.washingtonpostcom/...parabens

For those who are suspicious of this product and wish to eliminate it from their daily use, I have provided links to various companies that produce paraben free products. For those who are allergic to it, elimination will be essential.

I first became aware of the preservative methylparaben when I found out that this product was on my long list of chemicals that I am allergic to. Finding products without methylparaben in them has proved to be challenging. The first product to eliminate was local anesthetics, cortisone injections, or other ingested drugs with this product in them. This first line of attack against the parabens was essential because ingesting or injecting the paraben would cause the most severe reaction, i.e. low blood pressure, tachycardia and loss of consciousness. Not being able to use local anesthetics for minor procedures was becoming increasingly difficult. Although I did get through a forty-five minute tooth extraction with no anesthetics I would not recommend it.

Fortunately there is an epinephrine free lidocaine without the methylparaben in it. I did get chills and some tremors after using this, probably from hypersensitivity, but the severe reaction was eliminated. A heads up though, about local anesthetics for people allergic to methylparaben. Local anesthetics fall into two categories; amides and esters. The ester local anesthetics are broken down by the body into para-aminobenzoic acid, or PABA, which is a metabolite of methylparaben. This could provoke an allergic reaction. http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=amide+local+anesthetics+PABA&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C41&as_vis=1

With the local anestheic problem tentatively addressed, I turned to eliminating methylparaben in the numerous over the counter and prescription medications as well as in soaps, shampoos, and cremes. I was amazed at how ubiquitous the chemical is. I found it in sunscreen. It was in my lotion. The metabolite of methylparaben, PABA, was in the multivitamin I was taking every day. It was in metalworking oils and fluids. It was in the food I was eating.

In addition to its predominance in so many products, another problem in eliminating methylparaben and paraben mix compounds from these products is that it goes by so many different names. It can even be masked under "other fragrances." The alternate names for methylparaben are: Methyl p-hydroxybenzoate, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid methyl ester, methyl parahydroxybenzoate, p-methoxycarbonylphenol, ethyl p-hydroxybenzoatek ethylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid ethyl ester, ethyl p-oxybenzoate, p-carbethoxyphenol, propyl p-hydroxybenzoate, propylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid propyl ester, butyl p-hydroxybenzoate, butylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid butyl ester, benzyl p-hydroxybenzoate, benzylparaben, phenylmethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate, p-hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl ester. Like spell check on my computer, most health care professionals do not recognize the names of these chemicals.

Considering the hard to remember multi syllabic chemical names and the fact that companies may not even list the names, or may mask it under a vague name, the best course of action I found, was to use products that specifically state that they are paraben free.

The paraben free product that I was initially most interested in obtaining was hydrocortisone creme. It seems counter productive, but just about every over the counter hydrocortisone creme on the market contains both methylparaben and paraben mixes. One wonders at why an anti-itch anti-rash creme would contain a common allergen known to elicit contact dermatitis - unless the object is to create more rashes so that the hapless victim keeps using more hydrocortisone creme. There is one company worth mentioning here. Exederm, based in New Jersey, offers a paraben free hydrocortisone creme: www.exederm.com 908 542-9300. They may be the only company that manufactures paraben free hydrocortisone creme. They are worth checking out, as they are committed to purity in their products and produce other items that are paraben free, such as shampoos and conditioners.

For paraben free toothpaste and lip balm (yes chapstick brand chapstick has methylparaben in it) I used Tom’s of Maine: www.tomsofmaine.com The Allergy Asthma Center has a good line of paraben free soaps, shampoos, detergents and skin lotions. They also have a shower attachment that removes chemicals such as chlorine from the shower water. The latter has proved to be quite rewarding: www.allergyasthmatechcom or call 1-800 621-5545. Hope this helps chemical allergy sufferers!