July 14, 2017

A Tapestry in a Drawing

The second of my three recently completed 11" x 14" pencil drawings is "Man with a Hoop." In this drawing, the position of Dexter, the model, is echoed by a classic painting by Renoir, "Girl with a Hoop." This painting on the wall, as most of the other details in the drawing, were not in the original sketch made so many years ago in graduate school when I seemed to have an exceptionally short attention span. Other details that required fleshing out a bit were the container plant as well as the elaborate details in the fabric wall hanging.

It was a rainy day when I finished this drawing, so I had to haul the large potted plant up to the back porch and sit in the sunroom floor to render it in to the drawing. When choosing the fabric for the background I had a moment of self-effacement. I originally started reaching for my book on African fabric designs and then had to ask myself why I was doing that. This man was from New Jersey and was educated in an upscale school where he had designed his own program of study. Besides, I had already included a French Impressionist painting in the background. Being a man of the world, Dexter could easily have had a reproduction of that in his living space. So instead of thinking of the man as a shape, I decided to allude to his worldliness by making an elaborate quilt in the background. For this I used a pattern from our small collection of fabrics. My husband had found this piece in Winchester, Virginia and had to have it. I’ve attached a sample on the right so readers can enjoy the colors as well as the patterns.

The drawing itself is like a woven tapestry, curves echoing other curves, repeated shapes, and forms connecting in interesting ways.

July 11, 2017

Goya's Capricho No. 42 Is Now in an Odd Place

My intricate drawing that was only in progress when I wrote my last post is now finished. I often do not have a specific plan when I work on drawings, but rather, pull in elements from immediate observations and impressions. The design on the figure’s dress was plucked from an observation of the century plant growing in my front yard. Here is a picture of this lovely succulent with its pointed leaves and shadowy patterns.

The day I finished the drawing I was listening to scene three from Verdi’s Don Carlo. It was my original intention to include a painting within the drawing that alluded to Don Carlo. But the scene in question was a shadowy vision of the Spanish Inquisition. Who to better illustrate the Spanish Inquisition than Francisco de Goya. Goya is famous for a series of eighty aquatints satirizing the excesses of the Catholic church. These were called the Caprices, or Los Caprichos. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/nyregion/goyas-etchings-of-a-dark-and-complicated-past.html  Probably the most famous is the one about the sleep of reason producing fools. But that one didn’t suit and I instead chose Capricho No. 42, which depicted men carrying donkeys on their backs. It did occur to me while I was drawing these that some among my contemporaries would think that I was satirizing the Democratic Party. And was not Bill Clinton president number 42? But I told myself, "Nah, nobody’s going to think of that."

To my astonishment someone did read my blog post. I forwarded an image of the newly finished drawing to him and he asked if just might be satirizing the Democratic party. Oh! Woe is me! Unintended satires creeping in to my work! Is my brain now on automatic satire pilot?

It looks like this will take a bit more reading and research in order to ascertain, if possible, what Goya meant by Capricho No. 42. Then I might have something to say about what it is doing in my drawing.

July 4, 2017

The Fourth of July with a Drawing and Don Carlo

I am working on a slow drawing today. The basic design is complete and I am filling in the details. As I work I listen to music. Today I listen to Verdi’s Don Carlo. Don Carlo is probably Verdi’s most complex and ingenious operas. Set against the infamous Spanish Inquisition, it is also his darkest and most menacing.

In times of trouble, such as what Americans face today, I often seek both solace and understanding in art. I do so because although some come very close, the talking heads in the news media never seem to get it quite right. Then I find the answer in art - in the greatness of Don Carlo. There was one particular scene in this opera that so chillingly encapsulates all that happens in love, rejection, vengeance and the abrogation of humanity in favor of fanatic ideology. This is the scene of Filippo’s (King Phillip) aria and then duet with The Grande Inquisitore. In previous scences, we come to know of the engagement of King Phillip’s son, Don Carlo, to the princess of France. The King, however, decides to break that engagement and marry the princess himself. That does not go particularly well, especially since this is opera.

Before the curtain opens the music is sublime, plaintive and sad. The scene opens with King Phillip alone at his desk in a dark room. He is crying piteously about being a lonely old man with a young wife who does not love him. It is a heart wrenching scene and almost makes the listener cry in sympathy (this listener does), as Phillip describes the sad look of his wife, his nights alone in bed. His bed a crypt. We are wrenched inside as well, because who has not known the sting of rejection and isolation?

Then the scene changes. Almost as if summoned telepathically by Phillip’s sorrow, The Grande Inquisitore is at his door. The mood is altered from one of sadness to one of menace. If ever music captured evil, it is that terrible sound of string basses and horns that accompanies the entry of the Inquisitore through the immense black doors of Phillip’s chambers - flung open seemingly on their own like the gates of Hell. It chills one to the bone.

The Inquisitore is the personification of irrational fanaticism, literally blind as a metaphor to his blindness to reason. His eyes are black and lifeless voids as he asks if the King is present. The King acknowledges that he is present and had summoned this terrible visitor. Then to our horror, we see Phillip’s deportment change from one slighted in love to one bent on revenge. This is all the more horrible for me in that I cannot make that cognitive shift from pity to repugnance quickly enough as Phillip is now actively engaged in plotting with the Grande Inquisitore to kill his only son and rival, Don Carlo. And that is the genius of Don Carlo - in that we know in that instant how easy it is to shift from rejection to hatred, from victim to victimizer.

But that is when it dawned upon me that this is also where we are at in my country. How devastating it is to think that a collective sorrow would summon evil. But how often has this been the case in history? Many social historians contend, for instance, that the social and economic strain of Weimar Germany ushered in Hitler’s Germany. Tyrants sniff out discontent and use it to their advantage. How easy it is then, for them to sink their talons in to those who cry for help.

At the end of what is probably one of the most moving scenes in opera, King Phillip’s last line, after the Grande Inquisitore departs, is "The crown bows to the altar." Governance submits to blind fanaticism. It is a cautionary tale that perhaps can only best be represented by such an enduring art form. To see for oneself, here is the link to the scene in question from Verdi’s Don Carlo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph6p1Mtpp18&list=RDPh6p1Mtpp18#t=0   I will keep listening as I work on my drawing. Perhaps there will be some surprises when I complete this woman in front of a quilt.

June 11, 2017

Eighty Black and White Drawings

Sometimes others offer suggestions that might be not bad ideas, but I resist acting upon them because they involve a lot of time and energy with no certain rewards. Yet I have followed two of them. The first one was to create a digital catalogue of my art works, replete with images, descriptions and catalogue numbers. It was a lot of work at first to hunt down older works and to scan old slides. But now I make it a daily habit to catalogue. At the very least, it makes images always at the ready to send to a client, upload to a web site, or have on hand for someone who might be writing about my work.

The second piece of advice also required a lot of work, but not fortunately not nearly as much cataloguing a life’s work. This second piece of advice I actually heard twice. And since I heard it twice it seemed like it would be worth considering. I had written a book of poetry many years ago for just over one hundred small square paintings. Someone at an exhibition of these paintings suggested I do them all over again as black and white drawings and create a book out of them. "Black and white would be so much more economical to print," he added.

Last year a friend helped create a PDF file of the book in color. "You might think about doing all these over again as drawings, as black and white would be so much easier to print," she mentioned. It would have been easiest at that point to simply suggest converting the color book into a black and white book, but I saw an opportunity here in that many of my paintings were created from drawings. Since these were only studies they were hastily done and not intended as finished products. But since I was already do so much work on paper I decided to flesh out these old drawings, creating new drawings when there were no preparatory sketches.

As the months have rolled by on this project, I’ve put together a nice collection of figurative drawings. I had settled on doing about eighty drawings and have just passed the halfway point at forty-four completions. The last two, the drawing for "The Contortion," and the drawing for "The Red Shirt" are here. But how, exactly does one convey the feeling of a red shirt in a black and white drawing?

June 9, 2017

Recycled Drawings

Going solar as well as going with a green roof on my house have both proven to be untenable. One for lack of sunshine, the other for lack of consensus. So I will be needing to do other things to reduce my carbon footprint. I do the usual recycling, composting of perishables, and although it’s a strain we’re holding out with just one car.

This week, I decided to recycle bad drawings. Hmmm...bad drawings. My client’s agent told her this week that all my drawings were bad, but that’s another story. Let’s just say that I’m recycling the drawings that I personally don’t like but are on decent paper that I wish to reuse rather than discard.

I chose a large charcoal and pastel drawing and applied an eraser to it. Scrubbing out the drawing in a rhythmic way created a ground texture that forms a new platform from which to work. The seated lady still comes through, ghost-like, so I decide to play with her form. Another figure enters...a man strolling and swinging a suitcase. I had grabbed him off the internet. Now the lady sprouts extra arms like a Tibetan goddess. Colors are added and something quite different emerges from the original.

Most of my work this summer will be like this. New drawings will be made from old ones until I run out of paper.   I hope that my paper does not run out before my inspiration to do this!

June 4, 2017

Science Marches On

Six weeks ago I took part in the South Carolina branch of the March for Science. There was something special about this march, a gathering really, of enthusiastic supporters of science and inspiring speakers. It occurred to me that this is really an ongoing march - a rally for fact based writing and research, a rally for responsible health care, a rally to side with those who put responsibility for the preservation of our planet’s resources above partisan politics.
I have not taken part in a rally since then, but have contacted a few of the speakers at this initial rally in hopes of finding out more about them. I heard back from just two, Professor Tameria Warren, and the poet Tara Powell. They make for an interesting contrast, Professor Warren so quiet and reflective and Ms. Powell so exuberant. Her rousing poem, "Incident Report," is published on the web for all: http://jasperproject.org/what-jasper-said/llxk9y9mslnkfyw7dt22gl9ahn5h96
Professor Warren, by contrast, sent me a hand written speech which seemed more like a private, intimate letter of concern. I felt a certain sense of honor to receive it. Her speech made a pithy yet earnest appeal for science education, especially to train youth of color, for it is more often than not their communities that bear the brunt of science skeptics, climate change deniers, and corporate greed over community need.
For my part, I made two more painted snakes appealing for proper, affordable health care for the citizens of this country. I hold out hope that one day we will have a sensible and empathetic government that truly represents the needs of its people. I have been giving alternative names to these painted snakes, based upon precious objects. These two are the turquoise snake and the ruby snake.
The painted snakes, in their bold messages from afar and intricate patterns up close, represent how I experience the world of science. Many think of science as an agglomeration of facts and figures that lead us to correct conclusions about reality. To me, science is about the infinite revealed through the wonders of scale. Like Tara Powell’s poem , science points outward towards the cosmos, evinced by the solar system worn on her son’s head. Science is also like professor Warren’s analysis of community, plunging ever inwards towards the structure of things. It is both micro and macrocosmic depending upon how we direct our gaze. How deep can we go? How far outward can we see?

Many are angered at the disrespect leveled at science today. I am saddened by those who would cut themselves off from the wonder of scale, from the desire to extend vision, hearing and touch out towards the universe and down to the very core of being.

Wraith Infirmity Muses Literary Magazine

Three drawings from my book manuscript, You Look Great! Making Invisible Disease Visible, were published today in Wraith Infirmity Literary Magazine.  The drawings illustrate various aspects of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.  I will discuss more about the individual drawings later.
https://wraithinfirmitymuses.wordpress.com/wraith-infirmity-muses-volume-1-1-spring-17/

June 3, 2017

A Congress of Crows

Last night I finished an illustration for Kristina Miller’s book Woodland Harmonies. The story was cleverly didactic and featured crows as the main characters. Although a children’s story in format, it has very much an adult theme - the crows get together after work to meet at a local bar in a tree called, naturally, The Crow Bar. Getting tipsy, they start to become, as Miller puts it, "a raucous caucus," and decide to challenge each other to a nest building contest. They then divide themselves into distinctly dysfunctional groups. One group has a dictatorial leader who tolerates no constructive input from the rest of the group. Others are overly analytical and can never seem to get the project started. Clearly they represent human dynamics at its worst as they attempt to build hopelessly ludicrous nests. Fortunately the story has a happy ending, with the one egalitarian group volunteering to help repair the nests of the other groups and show them how these things are done (had that group not had as much to drink?)

While doing some background research for the project, I came across a list of names for gatherings of different types of birds. A group of crows is called a congress of crows. Congress. Now that was a word I was trying to avoid thinking about these days. I noticed that there was no word for a gathering of booby birds. A senate of boobies anyone?

April 26, 2017

Eggs of Concrete - Over But Not Easy

The long awaited tree removal finally took place this spring. We had two immense pine trees downed last autumn by Hurricane Matthew. Like many folks in Orangeburg, we were put on a long waiting list for tree removal. Months rolled by, with everything in disarray and no way to get to the broken fence and the steady accumulation of seasonal debris. In a final act of exasperation, my husband contracted with city workers to come over to our house after work at the local park. They removed the trees alright, but left a path of destruction in the wake of the heavy equipment. Insurance covered neither the property damage, nor the damage from the removal. Cement walls were toppled, hillsides gauged out, gardens plowed under and a large cement platform in the corner of the yard cracked beyond repair. So for the last three months, I rolled up my sleeves and set to work repairing the yard as best as I could on my own. During the restoration, I made a number of discoveries and even found inspiration for some art work.

Inspiration can come from unusual sources. The only art work I completed recently, other than my giant painted snakes for science, were paintings of large egg shapes. Looking at them one might conclude that they are symbols of life or fertility. They are not. They were inspired by the shapes of the huge cement slabs I was trying to remove on my own but could not - until I carved them in to egg shapes and rolled them down my driveway. The largest cement "eggs" had to be manually rolled out to the street. The smaller ones, albeit still quite large, could be rolled in to a wheelbarrow and taken out that way.

My three paintings of cement eggs were painted on Masonite. I found that the stamps I had created for my science snakes fit nicely in to the oblong shapes. The acrylic paint was mixed with mica dust and the impasto texture with washes on top created a nice texture - like paint on a rock face.

For the final painting, I used sized paper. Here I used a number of large and small stamps. The small round stamps were inspired by the granite stones found in the cement aggregate. The large leaf stamps were fashioned after the leaves from the magnolia tree I passed on my route to the street. In the very center of my concrete egg, I placed a red print from a stone seal that was carved for me by a Chinese calligrapher some decades ago. The words read "persist until the very end." Three months was a long time to persist in cement removal.

April 24, 2017

Science Snakes and the Science March in Columbia, South Carolina - and a Sister in Sarasota

Saturday, April 22 arrived. That long awaited date for the Earth Day/Science march on Washington was here. It was time to debut my science snakes at the sister march in Columbia, SC. The snakes, painted with elaborate designs of acrylic washes, mono printing with large stamps, mica dust and graphite, were stuffed the day before and their "rattle" tails added. In keeping with the Earth Day theme, for the most part the snakes were stuffed with recycled materials. The narrow snakes came in to firm three dimensional being when filled with large plastic gallon jugs for bottled water. The thicker snakes were filled with a combination of bubble wrapped plastic gallon jugs as well as recycled Styrofoam peanuts. To ensure a good fit and prevent leakage of the peanuts, these were first wrapped in recycled plastic supermarket bags - lest my science snakes become the giant peanut pooping pythons. Stuffing the snakes took much longer than anticipated. I learned from previous experience that if the peanuts are not condensed enough, the snake becomes floppy and difficult to carry. So I rather tediously chopped up the Styrofoam peanuts before stuffing each bag.

The open center section of each of the shorter snakes ( front and back of the larger snakes) was sealed with velcro. Placing individual bags inside the snakes as well as using units of plastic gallon jugs enabled me to pull one of these out of the center section in order to collapse the snakes in to halves or thirds. Modest engineering skills to be sure, but this did enable us to fit these giant serpents in to the back of our van.

Thankfully, we had help. Our friend and colleague Si Hui, who teaches Chinese at the nearby university, rode in with my husband and I to Columbia. We were preceded by our friends Lee Malerich and her husband Glen, who took two snakes in the back of their car. Since Lee and Glen made it to the State House ahead of us, meeting up with daughter and grandson, they obligingly paraded around the state house grounds with the Vaccine Snake and the National Parks snake. The youngest activist for science of their entourage, carried the head of the snake.

It was a sunny and hot day. I was much too over-heated to carry snakes, let alone stand and listen to the talks. Yet and interesting solution presented itself to this strained body: the snakes fit almost perfectly on the steps of the State House. So there we placed them there - like offerings from some giant cat of mythological proportions. I then sequestered myself under various shade trees and on the dark side of walls, dousing water on my face to keep my dysautonomia at bay. To my delight, and to the glee of everyone who helped, the snakes were photographed numerous times. One dramatic view even made its way to The State newspaper.

The artful science snakes were a colorful attraction, and hopefully encouraged participation. I thought of the one snake who was not present, The Jade Snake for the EPA. I had sent him off to my cousin in Sarasota for their sister march. My cousin graciously offered to sew this for me, as I had no sewing machine and sewing these things by hand was getting quite tedious. The picture at right features EPA snake marching along in Sarasota.

There were numerous other very creative signs at the state house march; A Don’t Tread on DNA sign, a man dressed in a lab coat and leaf underwear bearing a sign which read, "Without science you are naked and afraid." I could not see many of these closely as the security officers at the march told me that I was obliged to sit by my snakes. So I was rather glued to my spot at the state house steps, thwarted in my desire to mingle and visit booths.

What I could do, but also sometimes just barely due to a hearing deficit, was listen to the speeches. There were sixteen presenters altogether, representing scientists, science teachers, science advocates, two poets, and spiritual leaders. For the heat of the day, and the frailty of my body, it was probably sixteen too many. (Indeed, I noticed that other satellite science marches, such as the one in Asheville, NC limited their speakers to four) And yet provocative phrases from their talks made their way to my ears and in to my consciousness from time to time - enough to warrant closer scrutiny and investigation. But how?

Who has not attended a rally, heard talks while distracted by time, weather, and discomfort, and wondered what they might have missed? For most rally attendees with robust attention spans and stalwart bodies, hopefully not as much as myself. And yet, the forcefulness of emcee Arik Bjorn’s exhortations to make the science march a continuum did resonate to my soul and intellect, as did his stern warning about the dire state of affairs with regard to South Carolina’s standing in education nationally. It was serious enough stuff to inspire me to review my program notes and contact all presenters personally to inquire about transcripts of speeches.

Fortunately the first person to respond to my inquiry was keynote speaker professor Hector Flores, from the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics. His was a short, yet beautifully written speech which encapsulated all the exaltation and wonder of science along with the trepidation about how scientific details may be lost in the deluge of social media discourse. I was glad to have the opportunity to peruse his statements again as it touched upon my own concerns regarding social media - great for staying in touch, not always good for accuracy or depth. And I loved the allusions to Darwin and Wallace. As an artist also in possession of a biology degree, some of my favorite writings come from 19th century science texts illustrated by the authors. (Alexander Von Humboldt comes to mind here). https://www.scgssm.org/sites/default/files/march_for_science_talk_april_22_2017.pdf

Professor Duncan Buell, from the University of South Carolina, had his speech on Computer Science and Engineering already online for review. It was an interesting reflection on how we may forget how relatively new the internet really is and how support for cyber security is so crucial, given the vast amount of data on line. Vulnerable databases do make one a little itchy just thinking about it.

Today I packed away my painted snakes, as I await correspondence. I look forward to keeping the dialogue open and minds receptive.