December 27, 2007

Song for an Abandoned Homestead on a Winter Day

Tin falls from a roof

like the foil off a box long emptied of its gift

An abandoned homestead stares at passersbys on a cold winter day

her window eyes rimmed with blue

Blue like the heavy powdered lids of a crooning blues diva

Blue to shoo the devil

that demon of snatched lives and time not regained
-Janet Kozachek

December 26, 2007

Domicile for a Poem by Tom Cassidy

One of Orangeburg's local poets, Tom Cassidy posted a poem on his blog recently which captured in words the sentiments that I have been expressing in my "Domicile" series of abandoned and near-abandoned homes around Orangeburg County. The sense of sorrow at seeing these old architectural gems and the simple lifestyles that they embodied torn down so relentlessly in the pursuit of progress is well expressed in this poem. I have tried to capture on canvas what Professor Cassidy has painted so well with words. Click on the link for Tom Cassidy to view the text of the poem.

December 24, 2007

Merry Mosaic Christmas


From me and my cherub made of ceramic, glass, and smalti. The small characters on the hands are ancient Chinese signs for the sun and the moon. The sun and the moon together mean enlightenment.

Madonna and Child

How does one paint a Madonna and child? In old schools of Italian icon making the artist had to purify himself for six weeks before attempting to paint the virgin's visage. Gold leaf was used and precious lapis lazuli blue.

I had procured some real lapis lazuli pigment and used it to paint my Virgin and Child Icon (Not sure who owns this now). The halo was made with true gold leaf. For inspiration, however, I turned not to inner purity but to a drawing I made of a marble relief sculpture on a Roman sarcophagus in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The mourning woman with her hand holding back her robe became the holy virgin with her hand delicately hovering above the child's head - protective and caressing.

Merry Christmas to all with more merries to come.

December 23, 2007

Ode to the Scuppernong

Cold weather finally forces me to bring vulnerable house plants indoors. They are the usual ferns, lilies, and philodendrons. There are this time, however, some seedlings that I grew from scuppernong seeds. Native to these parts, they would probably survive the winter. I just like looking at them and thinking of them bearing fruit one day.

The scuppernong is a delicately flavored grape peculiar to the southeast. I first became interested in them because of the sound of the name...scuppernong...scuppernong. It sounds to me like some far off Elizabethan fruit that one could write an ode to, as in "Gentle folk in joyful throngs come forth to taste the scuppernongs."

They are a rare delicacy indeed with an indelicate means of being consumed. The skin is rather bitter and the custom is to press the grape between your teeth and squirt the pulp into your mouth, spitting out the seeds. The taste is very subtle, like some fine ancient wine. And even though the taste is fleeting, it is worth the inconvenience of the thick skin and large seeds. It is a brief connection with something genuine, unhomogenized, and unhybridized. The partaking of scuppernongs makes one part of that unbroken line of tasters through early settlers and native Americans.

The grape itself is beautiful to behold. There is such a variety of shades of gold, green and bronze with slight speckling like something antique. So I composed a poem in sonnet form for my favorite South Carolina fruit. My "Ode to the Scuppernong" follows along with my painted homage to native grapes.

While at the farmers' market earlier this year, I came across a group of French tourists accompanied by a translator. Her group expressed curiosity about the scuppernongs I was buying. Both my enthusiastic reply and my poem were translated (briefer version) while the tourists enthusiastically piled the native grapes into their shopping bags. So this poem is also known as "Le Poem Du Scuppernong."


Gentlefolk in joyful throngs

Come forth to taste the scuppernongs

When Autumn season to market bring

The native grape fit for a king

Prithee scuppernong forsooth

Let parted lips partake thy fruit

My teeth upon thy hoary skin

Do press, and draw thy sweet flesh in

But lo! Beware thy bitter seeds

Lie as witch’s evil beads

Deep within thy fleshly pulp

Swallow quick! With fearless gulp!

Ah! Thy fruit so limpid green

Resplendent art thou muscadine!

When leaves their golden coats turn brown

Cold winds escort them gently down

And rounded fruits no longer sway

Upon thy limbs oh tree of Bay!

And bitter remains of fruit once grand

Lie moldering upon fruit stands

Then gentlefolk in weeping throngs

Will mourn the end of scuppernongs

Till summer’s end in one year hence

Will yield thy fruit in recompense

And gentle folk appear once more

To taste the fruit they so adore

And raise their voice in joyful song

In praise of thee, oh scuppernong

Scuppernong is a native American word, Algonquin to be exact.

December 22, 2007

Paintings with Expiration Dates

It is that time of year again. Officially 2008 with regard to new works. For the last month of the year I spend my time preparing the parts for mosaic constructions, making gesso panels, priming papers, and all other material preparations for the new year. It is a rhythm of working that is a result of both pragmatism and the way that art is arbitrarily assigned expiration dates in competitive juried exhibitions. That's right. Art work expires after two to three years.

Most curated exhibitions in museums and galleries ask for work completed within the last two or three years. This is ostensibly done to discourage people who have no new work to exhibit and are merely "recycling" old work. This edict can, however, inadvertantly penalize people who are very productive - producing more work than can be shown in a given year. The work can sit in a studio or gallery for a few years then cannot be shown in public exhibitions because it has "expired." It might never be seen after that.

This may also have the insidious effect on artists to not respect their history and to lose perspective on the progression of their work over time. It even gives some vendors and potential clients the idea that an "expired" work is now in the realm of bargain basement negotiations for price reductions like out of date clothing or a used car. So before we all start leaning in that direction, it may be a good idea at the end of this year to take stock on the way we view art and remind ourselves that although treated as such, it is in fact more than a commodity.

A somber, reflective note as the year closes. But there are many things to be optimistic about as the new year approaches, which I will write about later.

December 19, 2007

The Pointed Shoes

The Pointed Shoes

Tiny feet with pointed toes

graced with pointed shoes

Jewels of the lotus pressed inside

Red silk upon red soles

A purple robe, a backward chair

Blue room where beatniks roamed

Manhattan memories of golden skin

With only leaves to wear
-Janet Kozachek

The painting to the right, "The Pointed Shoes," was part of a project entitled "Monologues." I painted a hundred of these small square paintings featuring a single person in a simple geometric interior. At one time, I had started writing essays (some published) about each work. My ambitions were to create a small monograph of essays about each painting but eventually abandoned the idea. Quite recently, however, I have revisited this body of work - it pays to review incomplete projects - you never know what you might find when looking with fresh insight. It occured to me that the reason I had abandoned the essay project was that my writing at the time overstated the painting's content. After a few weeks of listening to poetry at the newly established Orangeburg Writer's Group I decided to go through the Monologues again and write short poems for each instead of essays.
I am not a poet, so this is a challenge for me. It just seems that poetry instead of prose is more suitable for this project. But I am pacing myself with the writing of one poem a day, with occassional days off for good behavior.
My poetic inspirations come from exposure to two traditions. The first was my training in Chinese Art at the Beijing Central Art Academy. Poetry is an integral part of Chinese painting because painting requires a calligraphy text. The two art forms developed an interesting symbiotic relationship as a result. My other source of inspiration comes from J.D. McClatchy, from whom I took a graduate course in Poetry and Painting. McClatchy had edited a volume of poetry on paintings, aptly entitled "Poets on Painters," which I'll be consulting throughout this project. I have it somewhere but I believe it will arrive more quickly from interlibrary loan than it will from my book shelves.

December 17, 2007

Sublime Subliminal Art

Some years ago, when I was the president of the Society of American Mosaic Artists, I had an opportunity to interview a mosaic artist who lived not far from Hollywood. He told me that one of his mosaic spheres was a fixture in a television show and spoke with pride that his work was being seen by millions of viewers. It was through him that I first learned that Hollywood borrowed work from practicing artists to decorate their sets. I had never really noticed the art on the walls in films and television - and well I would not. Most viewers would probably never see the work or any art on the walls. This is because it is always in the backround with a loud gesticulating actor obscuring our view of it and distracting our attention from it. But ever since this mosaic artist brought my attention to this hidden art show I've viewed the set designs on television and in film differently. There is a veritable gallery of delights on the walls of these sets. (A great collection of figurative art hangs on the walls of the parents of the bride-to-be in the film "Sideways.")
On television, Jim's house in "The World According to Jim" has a large red on red abstract expressionist style canvas on the wall. Jim and Hans Hoffman? Check out the fine collection of landscape photography in "Two and a Half Men." And who knew that George Lopez collects folk art? A watercolor of an African dancer sometimes graces the wall on "Bernie Mack." There are numerous other examples.....if only those actors would step out of the way more often to give us a clearer view!
To be honest, you can't really see the art unless you look for it, and often it is out of focus because the camera is on the actors. But I wonder if all this art is perhaps still perceived subliminally. I posit this as an explanation for a public opinion finding that I touched upon in a previous blog about anti-intellectualism in popular culture in America. In that finding, about 75% of people polled said that they have a negative view of artists. The other part to that equation, which on the surface doesn't appear to make sense, is that 75% of people polled also said that they liked and desired art. So where would this seemingly counter-productive, illogical stance come from? Maybe, once again, we can look to mass media. For the same conduit of mass information that gives us David Letterman exclaiming to enthusiastic applause, "Who the Hell is Jackson Pollock?," and repeatedly sends us actors portraying maladjusted and practically demonic visual artists, also bombards us with images of fictitious homes with real art in them. The mass media tells us that artists are untrustworthy at best but that all our most endearing media personalities are collectors of fine art (Well, maybe not David Letterman). Perhaps the constant messages that art is desirable but that artists are not is the real fuel behind public opinion - because people believe what they hear and see often.

December 16, 2007

Auguste Rodent

I have just returned to creative work again after a studio accident, or should I say a visitation? I had fully intended to keep up with posts and creative work but found myself sidetracked by a rat in the studio (my studio is in an unfinished garage/basement). I had been completing works on paper upstairs for the past month so had not been in my large basement studio. All the while I was creating work, writing, posting blogs, a creature was creating his own installations below me. The vile thing had gotten in to a sack of bird seed and was feasting and exreting all throughout the studio. Nothing seemed to be untouched. Even the log with my mosaicist's hammer and hardie on it was a working/dining table for Auguste Rodent. Having experienced it now first hand, I can truly understand the unpopularity of rats. They take whatever they eat everywhere, eat almost anything and excrete wherever they eat. Ever since Rodent's execution I have been cleaning off every surface, disinfecting and sometimes repackaging materials. It took two days - every container of goods had to be cleaned. Of course, after that I had to spend time cleaning and reorganizing upstairs as well. Nothing like a little sense of defilement to prompt a cleaning frenzy. New work will be posted shortly - in a disinfected style with clean edges.

December 11, 2007

Protozoans in the Mark Coplan Collection

A painting I made in my early student days now comes back to taunt me from the walls of the South Carolina State Museum. I recall that when I painted it years ago it had met with the ire of my art professor at the time, Joan Semmel. Looking at it again brings back the memory of her waving her hands over this little painting in exasperation, declaring it a failure as an art work. She brought out textbooks on painters such as Paul Cezanne and exhorted me to study the color and brushwork, hoping that perhaps his color palate and subtle gradations of tone would enter my eyes, reflect back into the recesses of my brain, and maybe, just maybe force out the primitive flat planes of local color and obsessive linear details.
Yes. The painting was a failure as a work of western European art. But what Joan Semmel didn’t know and what I didn’t say was that it was Eastern European - that I had been schooled in Ukranian decorative art and wanted to see what would happen if I applied that knowledge to a canvas and called it a painting. I recall that it earned me a low grade in painting that year.

Years later, when Mark Coplan managed to discover this painting at the bottom of a box at my yard sale, I was happy to relinquish it to him, happy to be rid of this vestige of my past. Who could have known at the time that Mark Coplan was a serious collector and that a small piece of history was in the making? But he was attracted to this strange little painting of decorative microbes - microbes painted with the almost microscopic lines of eastern understanding.
So much has happened since the time I painted that strange little thing - years in China, years in Europe, years in New York, years in South Carolina, and a surprise reconnecting to the Ukraine. Sometimes one can come full circle. I painted a protozoan again just for kicks - this time one sporting a whip-like flagellum. The more restrained colors are for the west, details for the east.

December 10, 2007

An "Oops" in the Mark Coplan Collection

Some time after Mark Coplan passed away, I was contacted by the woman charged with cataloguing his massive collection so I could help identify and value my work in this collection. It wasn't easy to idenity all the work by someone describing it to me over the telephone but I did my best. Fortunately the figurative work was self explanatory: "The Woman With the Cats," "The Woman with the Puppets," A back view of a nude woman staring out an apartment window I recognized as "Remembering New York." Then came the problematic identifications. Mark had purchased a mosaic mask. I had made about a hundred masks and couldn't figure out which one it was. Then there was a non-objective work. I asked for a description. " is abstract," she told me. That wasn't giving me very much to go on so I asked for some details. "Well, it has blue and green in it," She said for further clarification. That didn't exactly help ring a bell either. "Could you perhaps tell me about what size it is?" I asked. "About eight inches by twelve inches." An image of a long lost painting popped into my head. A nice abstract composition in blue and green. I had always wondered what happened to that piece and was happy that it had somehow found its way into Mark Coplan's collection. So I told the woman on the phone that it must be "Composition in BLue and Green," and the mystery was settled.

Shortly before the current exhibition of a portion of the Mark Coplan collection opened at the South Carolina State Museum, My husband and I were invited for a preview of the work. To my surprise(and a tincture of horror) the painting slated for the exhibition was not the sophisticated, painterly work that I had longed for and was eager to regain. No, it was a silly little acrylic painting I made in college before I started serious art training. "Microbial Hallucination," as I dubbed the piece, was a strange overlay of cartoon and science from the imagination of a young student enrolled in a pre-med program but with leanings towards art. I cudgelled my brain for some explanation as to how Mark had procured "Microbial Hallucination" for his collection. Then I recalled a fleeting memory of Mark rummaging this thing from out of a box at my yard sale shortly after I had just arrived in South Carolina back in 1991. I had either given it to him or sold it for a very nominal fee. It is now one of those curiousities of the exhibition like Mike Williams' discarded palette - also a salvaged item I am guessing.
I never did find out what happened to "Composition in Blue and Green."

Mark Coplan Collects

The Mark Coplan collection, a part of which is on view at the South Carolina Sate Museum through March 30, is interesting not only for the work itself, but sometimes for the way it was acquired. Mark was an avid collector of art by South Carolina artists with a passion that practically bordered on obsession. But that is probably how many art collections are built. Through shrewd bargaining and a radar for opportunities, Mark acquired many of his pieces for enviable prices. It was the spirit of the hunt, I think, which motivated much of his collecting. He often purchased smaller works by name artists, relied on auctions and sales, and made arrangements to buy larger works on layaway plans. Mark was also able to develop a rapport with artists who were young and emerging and not yet a part of the business world of art - thereby enabling him to buy directly from them and not have to deal with the middle men and women in the gallery system. My own work in the Mark Coplan collection was acquired in this latter way. I met Mark shortly after my arrival in South Carolina in 1991. And although I had finished graduate school and had an exhibition record behind me, I was new to South Carolina and had no official art representation. I had the good fortune of being given a retrospective exhibition at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. A portly man attended the opening and, to my surprise, purchased three paintings from that exhibit and more later. And that is how I met Mark Coplan. A big, bold person with a booming voice, he was always good company. About a year later I was invited to his home to see my paintings hung at his home, enshrined with gold frames and illuminated by gallery lights. It was flattering, to say the least, to see the paintings so honored but I was never quite certain that they merited such adulation. Mark was inclined towards my more humorous pieces and the small works. The first work he collected featured a heavy woman dressed in pink bedroom wear and sporting blue splippers and surrounded by her cats. The person was real, the animal collection my addition.

The next work to make it into the Mark Coplan collection was a small oil on wood of the same person, with her eyes closed this time and playing with puppets. I truly thought that no one in their right mind would buy such a sarcastic little piece but I was wrong.

Neither of these works are in the Mark Copland collection now on view at the State Museum. But more on that later.

December 9, 2007

The Mark Coplan Exhibition at the State Museum

A friend and I visited the Mark Coplan exhibition at the South Carolina State Museum the other day. It was the second time for me and the first time for her. The exhibition was impressive the first time around but the second time I could really study and appreciate the collection. It was an eclectic body of work. Primitive self-taught artist's visionary imaginings hung alongside the schooled work of seasoned and emerging artists. The exhibition poignantly expressed the vision of a collector with a passion for art and an uncanny sense for what would endure. The art was brilliantly hung with an artist's eye for creating a visual narrative by judiciously aligning details of various works with compatable elements in neighboring pieces. The eyes in Sam Doyle's "King Kong" with their gleaming whites were echoed in the equally strong eyes of Paul Matheny's "Knowledge." A wall of frontal portraits arranged like icons confronted the audience with brutal intensity.
There was a beautifully arranged corner of the exhibition which appeared to be a reconstruction (actual or imagined I am not certain) of a corner in Mark Coplan's home. The platform in the corner was replete with artistic furnishings - including coffee tables with books and magazines featuring artists in the collection. It was tastefully done, evocative but melancholy in underscoring the absence of Mark Coplan (He passed away in 2002). Two paintings stood out for me in this corner. One was "The Yellow Cat," a primitive work made with house paint on a paper bag. The cat's claws were made of applied pine cone fragments painted a carnivorous red. "Sneaking up on Ken Wilbur," by Neville Chuzzlewit (aka Tom Styron), featured two comic figures painted in oil on plexiglass which were reminiscent of the art-brut works of Jean Dubuffet. The only work that was not well-served by the corner arrangement was Lee Malerich's "More To Me and Less of Me." Lee's small, meticulously detailed embroidery was like a page from an illuminated manuscript- meant to be studied at close range and not sequestered ten feet away.
What was remarkable about this exhibition of a portion of Mark Coplan's vast collection was its diversity and strength. Just about every work in the exhibition bore a strong artistic statement but each in an honest, individual way. Brian Rutenberg's two abstract paintings were inviting compositions of beautifully orchestrated squirts, smears and washes of paint with gorgeous colors. Ghost-like homeless figures were painted so tenuously as to be barely there in William Thomas Thompson's "The City." In this powerful yet restrained painting these figures' struggle to survive the cruel city of the night was palpable. As sophisticated as these works were passionate were the large abstract paintings of Carl Blair, Ken Page and Robert Day. I particularly liked the Giacometti-like palette and brush work of Carl Blair's "Three Clouds, West Taos New Mexico." Black spindly lines criss-crossed a subtle expanse of greys, whites and touches of pinks.
There was one mixed media painting and assemblage which captured our attention not only for its simple virtuousity but for its humor. J. Scott Goldsmith's "Brownie Buster" featured a carnivalesque painting of a man taking a picture of a lion. The remnants of a broken brownie camera are glued to the side of a canvas. That was Mark Coplan, alternatively sophisticated, strong, refined, outlandish and occassionally very irreverent - but always with a good eye for art.

December 8, 2007

Multi-tasking Mania

One of my recent paintings, “Multi-Tasker,” sums up the frenetic pace that generally descends upon us at year’s end. This is the time of year that I conclude projects and plan for the next year. Although I could describe myself as a “multi-tasker,” I don’t necessarily believe that getting involved in several activities simultaneously is a good idea. But despite my best intentions, at year’s end there are a number of unfulfilled obligations, procrastination on difficult tasks, and incomplete projects. This week I decided to take on the completion of a number of writing projects in order to clear a pathway to more creative arts pursuits.

Virginia Woolf, in her pivotal essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” outlines the basic prerequisites for creative writing - time, space and money. It served in its time as a thesis on why there were not more women writers. Quite simply, they didn’t have the material resources, a private creative space and the spare time away from family commitments. Add to that the precarious health of 19th century women and limited access to higher education and you have a virtual recipe for a would-be artist’s disaster.

Although written in the 19th century, there are aspects of Virginia Woolfe’s essay that are pertinent even today. And what is more, it is pertinent for men as well as women. We all need time, space and money. In the pursuit to find the time and resources to finish various writing projects Virginia Woolf’s admonitions. For most of the past twenty years, however, I managed to create a substantial body of visual art work and carved out a modest yet fruitful existence as a painter and a mosaicist. But could a knack for getting the job done in one area be transferred to another?

As a visual artist, allocating time and carving out a creative space for myself has always been a challenge but through a combination of support when I needed it, hard work, and a little bit of luck, I managed to finish an impressive oeuvre of art - probably all told about 3,000 art works or more. For the past two years, I have been organizing and cataloguing this work. In my cataloguing process, I have come across an embarrassing number of incomplete works and work that was decidedly not up to par. This work, and there was, and still is, a lot of it, I decided to divide into three categories: work to finish, work to restore, and work to throw out. It was elevating to finish the unfinished and restore the worn. It was a relief to throw out the lost causes.

Some months later, however, this is still a work in progress, because life encroaches on even the best of intentions. Commissions had to be finished, lesson plans had to be written, courses had to be taught, web sites had to be managed. And once removed from concentrating on the vital task at hand, a stagnant impasse had to be breached. But from time to time, I could reconnect to the process at hand: work to finish, work to restore, work to discard. Slowly, methodically, I mined the oeuvre.

Applying this same personal edict to my writing, however, was not easy. The first task at hand was to confront the unfinished work - a necessary unpleasantness that no one likes to do. It was an unpleasant confrontation because one must come face-to-face with the feeling that one’s talents and abilities are not, after all, up to the task at hand. But not to confront it means forever leaving a desire unrealized, content instead to dream of the possibility. But fortunately I found other writers in the same predicament and joined forces with them to confront the difficulty of writing. So armed with a schedule, an agenda, and comrades-in-arms I set out to do battle with the overwhelming task of finishing my writing projects.

Virgina Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, despite its feminist slant, can be read as a general treatise on barriers to writing. So for my first week I sought to identify what the barriers were to finishing my writing work. Like many misguided multi-taskers there were simply too many items on my writing plate. Fortunately, a number of them were small, albeit annoying in their lack of resolution - an article in need of revision, a promised book review in need of being written, a conference paper abstract to submit with a deadline looming close, a course proposal deadline to meet, a web blog to keep up with - all this and my painting projects for my galleries. If I were ever to dig through all this to reach my better creative writing, it would mean mustering up the self-discipline to complete them without further delay, and the courage to limit further distracting demands on my time and resources. It would mean hard work and even harder choices.

The challenges identified, the week played out as follows:
I publish to my blog what I had just written for the writer’s group. Check. I spend a day writing course proposals, invoices and advertising for McDaniel College. Check. I revise my article, spend a while at the tedious chore of arranging the illustrations and send it off. Check. Now for the book review. It helps to finish reading the book first. Write the review. Send it off to Grout, a publication for The British Association for Modern Mosaics. It will be published. Check. Now the Conference Paper. Two days to come up with an idea. I come up with an idea. The panel chair is tepid about it - rightfully so. I go back to the drawing board. Six hours to come up with a new idea. Second try is a go. After two revisions it is sent off. I will present it in the spring. That gives me three months to learn how to do a powerpoint lecture. Nothing like a little pressure. Check. Finish preparing thirty panels for a series of paintings for 2008. Check. After careful consideration and four years of wrangling, I write an agent to tell her that I can’t keep up stocking both her galleries with new work - limiting myself to one city and freeing up my time and opportunities in the other to expand upon work already finished or in progress. Check. I make some long overdue appointments to set a better course on my health care. Check. I finally give that interview for the local newspaper. Check. I finally pull the plug on my defunct web site. Check.

Despite the whirlwind completions, obstacles abound. My husband and I share a “family” computer. It seems to go well until we both have pressing deadlines. As I work frantically my significant other paces behind me asking “Are you done yet? Are you done yet?” I relinquish computer time so he can sit at the screen while I pace around asking “Are you done yet? Are you done yet?” A room of one’s own? Maybe we need computers of our own. During the course of the writing week distractions abound. Telemarketers seem to be leaping out of my telephone like the seven lords on the seventh day of Christmas. Life happens. A health crisis back home. Hours are wasted as my embattled brain watches trash television.

The work completed I turn to the task, finally, of sorting through the plans for writing projects: work to finish, work to revise, and work to discard along with multi-tasking mania!

November 27, 2007

The Chinese Stamp

While archiving my works on paper, I came across an old drawing of an enlargement of a postage stamp. The drawing was completed in an illustration class when I was still an undergraduate at Douglass College in New Jersey. What is amazing to me now about the drawing is not the rendering but how prophetic the content turned out to be now that I see it again through the lens of age and experience.
I recall that I was attracted to this stamp because of the delicate colors and curvilinear composition. The dog seemed to rest in perfect harmony with the banana plant and the rolling hillocks. The colors were delicate, creamy pastels against a gold back round, the stark black and white dog a perfect counterpoint to this delicacy. I scrutinized the strange language on the stamp, carefully copying the odd shapes in pencil. I dutifully rendered the choppy lines of the printed foreign script. At the time they were forms to me but without meaning. Although I could see the artistry in the script, my ignorance of the language was a barrier to understanding the content. As an undergraduate in an illustration class in the United States in the late seventies, this language, however intriguing, was not relevant.
I had no idea that two years later, I would be in China, reading and writing this language. I would come to know masters of Chinese painting, both past and present and have experiences that would change the course of my life forever. Looking retrospectively at my young drawing of the Chinese stamp I am stunned at the thought of how quickly and dramatically a life can change. Knowing from my old-age vantage point that the young woman who made this drawing was teetering on the very brink of that change, I hold my breath, as if a sigh from the future would send a chill to the past. Within a year, my health would fail, I would leave the pre-med science program and study full-time in art, my family life would be turned on its head, I would leave my country. It would be a long time before I could come back home. In many ways I never really did.
Looking again at my drawing of the Chinese stamp, with my experiences in my second life as Zhen Ni Ta the Chinese artist well behind me instead of in front of me, I read instead of merely see. When I look at the writing, I cannot see the shapes without the crisp clear tones of Mandarin ringing in my brain. “Zhong Hua Min Guo You Ju Tai Bei “- the postal office of the Republic of China, Tai Bei. The writing on the face of the painting depicted in the stamp is too small and I cannot read it. But the carefully drawn little squares underneath the calligraphy I recognize as an ancient script used in seals. I can just barely make out something which appears to be a wish for good fortune.
The painting depicted in the stamp I now recognize as a work by the 18th century painter, Lang Shi Ning - another irony and harbinger of things to come. For Lang Shi Ning, the imperial court painter for the emperor Qian Long, was not in fact Chinese, but the Italian Jesuit missionary Giuseppe Castiglione. Too little is known of his life in China, yet it was known that apart from his tenure as an imperial painter, Castiglione designed architecture for the emperor which blended European and Asian aesthetics. Following in the footsteps of a rare artist who trained in China, I would learn to grasp the same traditional brushes, touch the same hand-ground inks to those same fine silks and papers. But in communist China, there were no emperors with courts to serve under (not that I would by any stretch of the imagination qualify for such a position!). There were only people who trained me in the traditional arts of painting - people like that nice family in Beijing who taught me how to make glue sizing for silk and paper. A family who, I was to find out shortly before leaving the country, counted among their members, Pu Jie, brother of Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China.

November 25, 2007

Soutine Heaven Sent

After showing in three different venues this past week, the "Angel" series of paintings are beginning to be acquired. The people who collected them, however, were attracted to the abstract qualities of the paintings rather than the subject. So my hypothesis was proven wrong, as was my advisor's. It was assumed that people would buy paintings of angels because of the subject matter regardless of how they were painted. But actually they were purchased for the way they were painted despite the fact that they were entitled "Angels."

In looking back at this series, I am reminded of the paintings of Chaim Soutine, with the impasto brush work, deep blues and reds. Is there something in the Eastern European nature which makes for such heaviness?

November 15, 2007

Angels, Reluctance, and Necessity

A sister of a friend of mine, upon hearing that my art sales were sluggish, suggested that I do paintings of angels because people liked them and would definitely buy them. I tried to conceal, but probably not very well, that I was bristling a bit at the suggestion because it conjured up images of ceramic kitsch. But I thanked her because her advice was basically well-intended and also because she was on her way out of town and therefore not likely to bring the subject up again any time soon. But the subject did come up again - this time in a letter via a third party. At that point I decided to diplomatically say that since I'm an artist for hire I would be happy to paint angels or any other subject for paying patrons, but on my own time, the subject matter would be my choice.
Then two things happened to change my mind. While in Charleston, I took in the exibition, "In the Spirit" at Nina Liu and Friends. There was a series of bold oil pastels by the artist Phillip Chen. They were beautiful abstractions with intricately textured surfaces entitled "Angels." The only allusion to angels in these works was a composition with a central form in the shape of a "V" which could be interpreted as wings. So what is in a name? One could very well paint what one always had painted but name it in keeping with the season.
Just a few short days later, I was asked if I might set up a booth to sell small gift items at a fund raiser for Glen Forest Elementary School in Lexington, SC. Since I had no more teaching gigs or commissions for the rest of this year I agreed. But I needed to come up with something I could do quickly to sell for under $50 each and in a style/subject that would not conflict with my gallery in neighboring Columbia, SC. Angels perhaps? Well, okay, I decided to give it a try, keeping it light, enjoyable, highly interpretative, and, out of time and neccessity - to use only materials I had on hand. So I scrounged around my studio and came up with paper sized with black gesso. Into the night? I had a bag of decorative feathers left over from a school project - wing parts? And finally, I had gold, silver and metallic leaf for a touch of the otherworldly. I laid out the metal leaf on the black gesso first, in no particular order and avoiding the obvious "halo." I next smeared on acrylic paint in between and sometimes washing over the metal leaf. The final touch came with the applied feathers. I found that when the feathers overlapped the metal, the light reflecting off the gold and silver irridized the feathers - giving them a somewhat otherworldly glow.
To my pleasant surprise, the project was engaging, and even my most discerning critic, my husband Nat, liked the results. So a project that I thought I would abhor turned out to be an enjoyable experiment in media that I might continue to use in later work.

November 11, 2007


There is a colorful piece of South Carolina history which is rapidly dissappearing and which my husband and I are endeavoring, in our own ways, to record. As large tracts of fallow fields are cleared when they are sold to developers, this history is briefly, tantalizingly revealed. During the course of the clearing, old homesteads, shot gun houses, and share croppers cabins reappear as a ghostly reminder of epochs past. In the brief weeks before they are razed, we go there to admire the red and green patinas mixed with the sparkling silver of a tin roof. The faded and cracked layers of paint on the sides of these buildings stand out in a surreal way against the textured grasses and blue skys like an abstract expressionist canvas suddenly transported from a New York studio in the 1950's and plunked down in the middle of a South Carolina landscape. And then they are no more. But in the brief time before their collapse into ruin, my husband has been photographing them, and I have been painting them. My paintings are sometimes literal, and at other times interpretive.
This ongoing series of paintings I've named "Domiciles." When I first started them ten years ago, they were tiny works on small wood blocks. I still paint them in this way like free-standing toys. But my last series are on larger canvases - 18" x 22" and 18" x 32." I suppose this is in part because although people like to collect my small works, tiny works yeild such tiny paychecks. The more important reason goes beyond that of marketing strategies, however. I just want people to see them and to get one last look at what will soon be gone forever.The "Domiciles" will be on view at the Pinckney Simons Gallery on 1012 Gervais Street in Columbia, SC as part of the Vista Lights Celebration this Thursday evening, November 15. Come and enjoy some art and history!

November 2, 2007

Anti-intellectualism in America?

Anti-intellectualism in Popular Culture

copyright 2007

“Intellectuals in the twentieth century have thus found themselves engaged in incompatible efforts: they have tried to be good and believing citizens of a democratic society and at the same time to resist the vulgarization of culture which that society constantly produces. It is rare for an American intellectual to confront candidly the unresolvable conflict between the elite character of his own class and his democratic aspirations” Richard Hofstadter

The painting above, “Artist Cannibals” was inspired by my looking at a horror film, which I should never do. Stylistically it was also inspired, I think, by some of the colors and compositions I saw recently at the “Cats on a Leash” exhibition in Columbia.
I had just finished a complicated commission and sought some evening relaxation at the television. I only have minimal cable so there was not much variety to choose from. PBS is the only really worthwhile program but on this particular evening there appeared to be a dry spell there as well - so it was back to surfing the waves of popular culture. Although I am not very enthusiastic with what comes down the pipeline of mass media culture, I cannot resist peering in to that pipeline regardless - and most of the time of find it relaxing and entertaining. Who can resist Super Nanny placing recalcitrant children into the “naughty chair” to calm them down and give everyone else a break? I think of many adults I know who should be sitting there. But this particular evening I watched disjointed patches of the horror movie, Hannibal. I watched it in snippets because a good portion of it was so revolting that I had to avert my attention to items on other channels. The story line wasn’t much disrupted by my doing so - just more killing and eating with overt sexuality upon my return.
I sat entranced - or should I say entrapped- by a particularly horrifying episode in which the evil genius Hannibal drugs an FBI agent and performs impromptu brain surgery on him. How a fugitive from justice obtains the drugs and equipment to do that is perplexing to say the least. But that little oversight aside, we are treated to a feast of cinematic gore in which Dr. Hannibal Lecter removes parcels of the hapless FBI agent’s brain and cooks them up in a convenient portable skillet. The Doctor then feeds them back to the victim who enthusiastically praises the Doctor’s cooking skills. As the victim consumes more and more of his own brain, he becomes progressively more stupid. It literally made me gag. Sorely regretting that I had watched this and wondering how I would ever sleep that night, I went to bed and tried to put it out of my mind. The following morning, however, the unfortunate memory of the movie I saw the night before haunted me again as I was cutting up some walnuts for baking. The walnuts started to look like little brains to me. I definitely should not watch horror movies.
But as I reflected on the movie with several hours of the rawness removed, I realized that there was something more than gore that left me with a bad taste. The film Hannibal creates an evil protagonist with painstaking details and it was these details that were so disturbing for a number of reasons, both personal and philosophical. The film carefully crafts a character, who, in addition to his penchant for killing and eating people, is an educated, urbane, gentleman with a fondness for gourmet food, opera, and art. We see his letters to the FBI agent Clarisse illustrated with his virtuoso renderings of figure drawings that would make a Michelangelo proud. We watch as he attends the opera, dressed to kill, so to speak. And he is never far from caviar.
In this film, the psychotic psychiatrist Dr. Lecter is an ex-patriot fugitive residing in Florence, Italy. He works in a library that boasts exquisite architectural details and classical sculpture amid anxiety-provoking poor lighting. For a victim who he ends up disemboweling and hanging, he does research in this library’s archive first to turn up a drawing of the victim’s ancestor, who was hanged in the piazza in a similar fashion. He does this so that he can give the victim a little art history slide lecture before killing him. One wonders why a supposedly highly trained law enforcement professional would be meeting someone he knows is a serial killer in isolated dark places without backup and persistently turning his back to him - but that’s American cinema.
In the final scene, after he has just exercised his culinary skills on a human brain, Dr. Lecter is on a flight, no doubt to some new European country where the people are artistic and cultured but inept at catching criminals. He has eluded authorities once again - free to star in more sequels. As a young boy in the seat next to him watches, Dr. Lecter, in avuncular fashion, introduces him to the delicacies that he has brought with him. Patronizingly promoting the virtues of his packed lunch over the inferior airline food, he opens a tupperware container with suspicious grey matter in it. The curious child asks if he can try some, and Dr. Lecter offers him a taste, spoonfeeding the brain to this unsuspecting innocent while remarking on how his own mother always taught him to be willing to try something different.
So why am I bothered by this piece of pop culture? I suppose on a personal level because I am an artist and opera fan, who loves Florence, gourmet food and art history. I have even been known to carry my own cooking onto airplanes - in little tupperware containers no less. So what is popular culture trying to tell me? That I have great cannibal potential? And what does this tell us about popular perceptions of artists and intellectuals in general? Does a film like Hannibal horrify because the artistry and intellect we so trust and admire is surprisingly and unbelievably juxtaposed with cold-blooded killing? Or has Hollywood tapped into the psyche of Americans and come up with a great formula for a super villain who embodies everything that arouses horror and suspicion: libraries, art history, food that doesn’t come from golden arches, opera, psychiatrists, artists, intellectuals, dark corners of Europe, serial killers and cannibals. I hope that it is the former but I fear it could be the latter.
I see almost no depictions of artists in American films and on the rare occasion they do appear, they are usually portrayed very unfavorably. The misanthropic, chronically irritated painter in the film, Hannah and Her Sisters comes to mind, for instance. Images like these in the mass media may have indeed penetrated the American consciousness, for at a recent art conference in Columbia, SC, a public opinion survey revealed that 75% of people polled said that they disrespected artists. Yet it was interesting that this point was not taken up by the participating artists. Is it because of a passive, fatalistic feeling that this is our lot in these United States? The focus of the conference remained then, on how to better market ourselves as artists. Market to who? Anonymous surveys are telling us that people don’t like us. It would seem to me to be an exercise in futility to try to effectively market to the 25% of people who are not unfavorably disposed to artists - considering that only a fragment of that population has the means or desire to purchase art. Futile, at least, without considering the public relations factor.
But before anything constructive can be accomplished with regard to remedying a tarnished image, it behooves one to investigate the sources of these impressions. My questioning led me to wonder whether negative impressions of artists are a recent phenomenon, or if they merely reflect an ongoing alienation between artist/ intellectuals and the public.
This prompted me to start a search for the sources of anti-intellectualism in America which led me to the Pulitzer-prize winning book by Richard Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life. I was led to this book by an interesting on-line article by Deborah M. De Simone at the College of Staten Island, New York. Richard Hofstadter published his famous treatise in 1963, when the country was still recovering from the McCarthy era - a veritable witch hunt which cost writers, academicians and artists their jobs. Professor M. De Simone considers the work so prophetic, however, with regard to the present climate in our country and in particular within our educational system that it warrants a second look. So I got a copy through inter-library loan at our local library and have been reading it ever since. It is a beautifully written book and in many respects, still timely - for Hofstadter so clearly defines what artists and intellectuals are and what their roles in society can and should be. In addition, it is a remarkably detailed historical analysis of the slow evolution of artistic sensibilities and intellect from virtuous attributes to character flaws. Hofstadter gives some solid social/historical basis to the feeling that should any of us presume to say that we are liberal, feminist, artistic, or intellectual that there is a crowd out there poised to throw tomatoes at us ...or why we want to throw tomatoes at them. It struck me as remarkable that given all the evidence laid out in his long treatise, that Hofstadter could actually conclude on an upbeat note.

October 28, 2007

Pogo and People

The Edisto clean-up continued, with the director of the Parks Commission, a vista volunteer, two volunteers from Friends of the Edisto, and an employee of the Parks Commission, all pitching in. The Parks Commission provided a truck, bags, gloves, water and snacks. What we had not planned for was the annual homecoming parade, which, I'm certain prevented late comers from also contributing, but did add inspirational music to our clean-up.

Evidence of the marauding possums and apathetic humans abounded in the litter but we cleared most of it from one side of the bank. I must admit that there is a fascinating irony in this for me. For the only two mammals possessing hands with opposable thumbs are possums and people. So our park was desecrated by the big hands of big brained mammals throwing out refuse to be retrieved by the little hands of the little brained mammals. Interesting symbiotic relationship, right?
It was cold and wet that day, but the comaraderie and a job well done gave me a warm sense of satisfaction. We'll go back for the other side of the river but it will be on to other writing for this blogger.

October 22, 2007

No Man of Woman Born

The meeting of the Parks and Recreation Department and Friends of the Edisto River is becoming civic action as I write. The first community clean up of the Edisto will take place this Saturday, October 27 at 8:30 AM. We will meet at the lower parking lot at Edisto Memorial Park. The invitation to beautify the riverbanks and learn about recycling is open to everyone. Equipment will be provided by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Putting together the observations and analysis of four minds, I've come to some conclusions about the mystery of garbage underneath the boardwalk at the very site of a refuse receptical. As I mentioned in my first environmental blog, it seemed odd that someone would rebuke the garbage can in favor of jumping off the boardwalk to stash their trash underneath, then go to the trouble of having to uncomfortably hoist themselves back up. It just didn't suit the human paradigm of maximum gain for minimal effort, let alone the modus operandi of a lazy litterer. And that's where the rub is, because it now appears entirely possible that no man of woman born is responsible for the crime at this juncture. Because at the meeting, one report told of garbage collectors who saw little trash to collect in the receptical, but did notice a line of possums sitting at the edge of the boardwalk. Possums staring up at them with their beady little possum eyes and their spiky-toothed possum grins. Could it be then, that possums got the better of us? Raiding garbage cans for late night snacks, then stashing the evidence of their crimes in their lair beneath the boardwalk? And imagine the awful irony of Sunday picnics on the boardwalk with a simultaneous possum picnic happening right there underneath human feet.
Time to possum proof the trash cans.

October 20, 2007

Edisto, Continued

I soon realized that the clean-up of the Edisto River was a task much bigger than myself. So I turned to help from the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center - nestled on a hill overlooking the river. Beth Thomas, the executive director at the center, knows city administrative contacts as well as local civic groups. She put me in touch with Betty Stone, who works with a non-profit association, The Friends of the Edisto. I called her to discuss the litter problem in the Horne Wetlands Park and how I had written an illustrated blog about my expedition to collect trash. Her interest piqued, she vowed to go to the Edisto the following morning to pick up trash herself. Concerned about her going out alone - with copperhead snakes at the ready on steep slopes and slippery banks, I volunteered to go out again with her.
In uncanny synchrony, we pulled into the parking lot and stepped out of our vehicles at precisely the same time, armed with gloves, boots and bags. Betty was everything that one imagines in an outdoors woman, robust, with short cropped no-nonsense hair and sensible hiking boots. She was obviously more advanced at garbage retrieval than a novice like myself, having procured long sticks with spikes on the ends for hard to reach refuse. So, armed with our industrial strength trash bags and a sense of mission we set out to the river.
The riverside had plenty of trash to yeild, including still more shoved underneath the boardwalk. We chatted and picked trash for about an hour and a half. Betty told me about her group, Friends of the Edisto and how they used to organize river sweeps to clean up garbage but that the organizaton had become inactive in recent years. Our day together inspired her to jump start the organization again and organize enough clean up brigades to clear the river and maintain its beauty thereafter. We agreed that if she found the people I would work on letters to the Parks Commission and the Mayor to solicit support. I went to it straight away with a letter to the local division of Parks and Recreation. Then I hand delivered a copy to the Mayor of Orangeburg.
When I stopped by the mayor's office with my letter he not only read the letter on the spot but chatted with me about it. This is part of the charm of Orangeburg, the most underestimated town in South Carolina. Where else could one stop by unannounced and have a spontaneous chat with the mayor and be dressed in jeans and a shirt with water spots on it no less. Imagine that happening in Chicago. Buster Smith, from the Parks and Recreation office, called today as well to set up a meeting with Betty and I to make our voluteerism official, with a web link to the newly jumpstarted Friends of the Edisto. So this is what Blog action day yeilded for us - an individual action leading to civic action making a big difference for Mother Edisto. Interestingly, after reading some of the environmental blogs, I found out that they were intended as discussion rather than action. But if I had taken the "action" part of Blog action more seriously than most, I am glad that I did.

October 15, 2007

Being Kind to Mother Edisto

The Edisto River running through Orangeburg, South Carolina, is one of only two black water rivers in the U.S. It is a beautiful river and a frequent source of artistic inspiration to me and to others. In my walks along the river I have chanced upon people who had been baptised in the river and have made pilgrimages back to this place of spiritual renewal. I've met people who were planning to be baptised in the golden water - stained the color of a richly brewed tea by the tannic acid of the cypress roots. I met a poet who comes back to the river to write along its banks. A dancer comes there to study the myriad complicated water eddies in search of inspiration for movements. I've studied these same swirls of golden light for patterns in my paintings. One woman, her love for the river palpable, simply refers to her river as "Mother Edisto," and is convinced that the water has curative powers.
For the past few years, however, this reverence for the Edisto has not been shared by all. By the increasing amount of litter along its banks in the Horne Wetlands park, there appears to be a growing disdain for this portion of an environmental preserve. It saddens and distresses me to see the white sands, the cypress knees, and the woodland flora defiled by beer cans and styrofoam food containers.
So for environmental blogging day I decided that I would do something close to home and personal. With garbage bag, gloves and boots in tow I set out on Sunday for the wetlands park. I had never picked up garbage before in a public park so this was a new experience for me. Like everyone else, I always just complained about it. But Mother Edisto and the Horne foundation had been good to me so I thought for at least one day I would return the favor. (In recent times, I have been working with paintings of figures walking into the Edisto River, one pictured above. Earlier, I had a grant from the Horne Foundation to make a sculptural bench for a hill overlooking the river.)
When I reached the Edisto with my rubber gloves donned and my garbage bag ready to receive its bounty of refuse I realized that there were some problems with my venture. The garbage had been tossed from the boardwalk and onto the banks of the river. I am fairly certain that park vistors are not supposed to mill around off the boardwalk but any attempt to retrieve garbage would neccessitate literally getting off the proscribed beaten path in order to reach it. Break a law to remedy a broken law? So not having had official permission to do this I decided to keep this project rather limited in scope, close to the boardwalk, and set a time limit.
This project turned out to be quite an educational experience. I had thought initially that it wouldn't be too difficult as I didn't recall there being a huge amount of garbage. But there was. I hadn't walked the banks more than an eighth of a mile before my garbage bag was almost full. (I stopped when I chanced upon a venomous snake coiled around a beer can - an intimidating site which might make its way into a future painting.) In the course of my garbage collecting I met well wishers and supporters. Many of them expressed the same perplexity as myself as to why someone would toss garbage onto the river bank within two feet of a garbage can. Some truly intrepid litterers would even have had to have lept off the boardwalk onto the bank, crawled under the boardwalk to stuff their garbage underneath it, then hoisted themselves back onto the boardwalk. All with a garbage can literally in front of them. It boggles the mind. The amount of the garbage stash undereath the boardwalk was quite a revelation. Most of the objects thrown away were soda and beer cans, various plastic items, and lots of styrofoam. But there were some very determined litterers who tossed big garbage items into the river - like a child's car seat. Yes - I removed it.
I have to admit with some guilt that I didn't go the distance and sort the garbage into items to be recycled but merely put the garbage into the trash receptical area at the park. But at least my own awareness was raised as to the extent of our local problem as was the awareness of others, who would peer into my bag at the terrible evidence collected into one undeniably ugly heap.

October 12, 2007

Here Come the Brides

The saga of the nudes in South Carolina Fairs continues with my figurative mosaic in the State Fair. "Brides," is a mixed media work composed of found objects, stone, glass and ceramic mounted on a hardibacker board. It is so named as an homage to Marcel Duchamp's Dada work of the beginning of the last century, "The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors Even." I thought of Duchamp in making this work because of his similar division of the artwork into two distinct domains - the upper part female and the bottom part male. I was always curious as to why Duchamp would depict a male as a chocolate grinder but I suppose he had his reasons. Click on the link to obtain more information about this early twentieth century work.
Presenting a work such as "Brides" is always a risk - not only because of the nudity but because one can never be certain that the juror has a knowledge of art history that would enable him to "get it." I like to think that the juror for this exhibition, Thomas J. Mew, III. PhD, did get it. He is chairman of the Art Department at Berry College so it is possible that he saw the correlation and the approximate centennial celebration of Duchamp's pivotal work. But one can never be too certain of PhD's. I once had a college professor with a PhD tell me in no uncertain terms and with the utmost authority that "If a chicken can lay an egg without a rooster, then a cow can give milk without having a calf." No, her doctorate was not in animal husbandry. But I digress - yet not too far because this is the South Carolina State Fair we are talking about in this blog, with art in close juxtaposition with bovines and poultry. Moooooove over Duchamp!
While Duchamp's grand work is allusive, mine is literal. I've reversed the male/female order here by placing the male at the top and the females at the bottom. The title of Duchamp's work alludes to a single woman and more than one male. In my work I have reversed this as well with a single reclining male nude in a static pose with two nude women dancing together. How I found these two women is my secret. I have been working steadily for three years on mosaics integrating my hand sculpted earthenware figures and this is one from my 2007 group.
I would like to thank the South Carolina State Fair for allowing the work to be shown and to the juror for awarding the piece second place.

October 9, 2007

How Nudes are Fairing in South Carolina

October is festival and fair month and there is so much excitement to distract one from working. This year I decided to challenge both myself and the South Carolina Fair system by exhibiting contraband materials - nudes. I had no trouble exhibiting nudes at the State level but only this year was told that technically it wasn't allowed. At the Orangeburg County Fair, there has never been a nude exhibited until this year when I presented my painting "Deluge." I painted "Deluge" in honor of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The painting features a semi-clad seated woman partially submerged. It was cathartic to paint it, but not only for the people lost and for the sorrow over my country's response. I had lost a number of artworks in the flood and was saddened by the loss but because the human tragedy was so great I did not dare say anything about a material loss which seemed trivial in comparison. But it stung nevertheless and painting something about loss was soothing to the soul. So armed with a story and a painting that was only semi-nude I set out to make local history. Previously, someone coming to the County Fair with even the most tastefully rendered nude would be compelled to take it down before the opening to prevent offending public sensibilities. I had a few things working towards my advantage here, however. A friend and sensible woman was in charge of taking in the pieces at the fair, and I offered to stay and help hang the show - thereby making it neccessary for anyone objecting to the piece to have to say so to my face. Oh, we spent a whole week prior to the show, my friend Harriett and I, thinking up arguments and justifications - not a one of which had to be used. In the end, good manners were all that mattered and the piece stayed. It was the only oil painting not to win any prizes, mind you, but the public was allowed to see it. And for all the nervousness about nudes in small towns in South Carolina - there was not a peep of complaint from the public. And history was quietly made. Tune in Sunday for the results of nudes at the South Carolina State Fair - three of them!

October 5, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Photo Store

I had taught a course in mosaic making based upon the black and white figural mosaics of ancient Rome. These Roman mosaics were elegant works of art with refined motifs - the limitations of black and white marble revealing the integrity of the individual tesserae. I was pleased with how my student's work in this course turned out. Like the good record keeper that I aspire to be, I photographed my students' mosaics with black and white film then took the film to the photo store to be developed and printed. When I picked up the photographs, however, I was in for a bit of a shock. For as it turned out I had not been sold a virgin roll of film. Oh no. It was film that had been opened, used halfway, and then, by some surreptitious means, reloaded into its casing and returned to the photo store to be resold to an unsuspecting customer. And the film had been used by none other than an avid Elvis Presley fan who sought to commemorate his pilgrimage to Graceland on black and white film. He had shot various important Elvis sites in and around the vicinity of Memphis, Tennessee, then, for reasons I cannot fathom, relinquished a partially exposed roll of film.
The strange yet spectacular result of the double exposed film was a collision of cultures and history - a crashing together of ancient Rome and Rock and Roll. My student's Roman mosaics were superimposed on such landmarks as the Sun Records building in Memphis. The photograph I've posted here is not something that I conjured up in photoshop. Who would want to do such a thing to a mosaic or to Sun Records?
Sometimes life is based on art and sometimes art follows life. My art proclaims the vicissitudes of life and the creative potential in chance occurances. So starting with the double exposed image in the photograph, I set to work on my oil painting. I've named the completed work The Sun Records Flounder Building in Memphis Tennessee. We all know it well.

September 30, 2007

Fossils at the State Museum

I recently met with the curator at the South Carolina State Museum to discuss some proposals for a lecture series on art and science. After mentioning my interest in fossils to him, he showed me the museum's recent acquisition of a huge turtle fossil recovered in the vicinity of Charleston. It was a specatular specimen - about six times the size of the Harvard turtle of my previous blog. The synchronicity of it all!I have a series of paintings of fossils that were exhibited at the Lancaster museum some time ago. Revisiting this series makes me want to do a few more - perhaps based on the State Museum collection. Sometimes you can travel far and wide to find specimens for inspiration only to find that the true gems are just around the corner. I've posted here, however, a painting made from a drawing I made of a fossil in a natural history museum in the Netherlands. The painting is in private collection in New Orleans and had survived hurricane Katrina.
There are a number of new paintings and mosaics in the works right now. But most of my studio time this week was spent on an elaborate commission of a painting with a mosaic border - something I've been working on slowly since August. One more hour of work and it will be finished. Check in next Sunday for my new work - paintings of unusual architecture.

September 22, 2007

The Last Wren

Art does not always need to be sought after. Sometimes it presents itself. Over the last few decades of creating art, I have had an unsolicited companion in my studio. I tried to ignore the Carolina wrens that kept flying into my studio, making a racket and getting lost in my supply cabinets. Intrepid birds, they got into everything, cackling werever they went. Then I took notice of them - especially their eyes. Their painted eyes made me nostalgic for China. The black pearly eye set inside a broad band of white with black stripes on either side of the white bore an uncanny resemblance to the highly stylized painted eyes of a Peking opera character. The wren reminded me of the Dan actor - a female character traditionally played by a man. I started thinking whimsically of the Carolina wrens as reincarnated Dan actors, relegated to bird status by some unfortunate karma.
I made drawings of the wrens on museum board then carefully cut them out to use as templates. Some I painted and used in mosaic collage work. The rest I used to fashion relief sculptures out of plasticine clay. I made plaster sprig molds from the carefully sculpted plasticine and used these to make multiple ceramic birds. Initially, I painted them in natural colors, then I painted them in vibrant ones - like the garish silk robes of the Peking opera actors. I then returned to natural colors again, only with the additions of pearlescent glazes and 24k gold overglaze in the details. I mounted the finished ceramic birds onto the remnant squares of heavy duty particle board that was left over from house preparations for a hurricane Floyd that never struck here (I had the boards cut up into numerous 12" x 12" squares). The compositional structure of the glass and ceramic mosaic backrounds for my Carolina wren series owes a debt to my training in classical Chinese painting - although some resemble Japanese screen painting and yet others have a European cinquecento look. The luminosity of the backround glass is often heightened by adhering gold and silver leaf to the obverse side so that the light passes through the stained glass and reflects the metal leaf.
I completed the very last Carolina wren mosaic, pictured above, a few weeks ago. I had to take a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before finding just the right way to finish this piece. I found my inspiration in a spare ink painting of briars and reeds by Shi Tao. They were so delicately overlaid in carefully calculated gradations of ink. How odd, I suppose, to interpret the strokes of ink and brush in glass. Yet how appropriate, too, as glass is merely a super-cooled liquid, flowing slowly through the epochs.
For those who have the good fortune to be in South Carolina, this mosaic and other Carolina wren mosaics can be seen now at the Pinckney Simons Gallery in Columbia, where they will be on view until December. Click on the link to visit their on-line gallery.

September 16, 2007

The Tale of the Harvard Turtle

I have presented in some of my blogs a number of curiosities from my sketchbooks. Like the sketch of the strange creature from the Han bronze, my sketches are often used as resource material. They can be sketches of other artworks, items from every day life, or something as unassuming as a turtle skeleton. At the Harvard museum of natural history, there is a fine collection of minerals, bones, and fossils. In addition to a few sketches of fossil fish, I made a simple line drawing of a fossilized turtle skeleton. As usual with my sketchbook items, the sketch lay untouched as the image simmered in my brain for about a year. It then emerged fleshed out with green paint as a detail in the aptly named paper mosaic, "The Dream of the Green Turtle." This was exhibited as part of my one-woman show, "Reflections on an Imagined Archeology," which opened in spring, 2005 at the Rabold Gallery, and once again in the exhibition, "Stones, Bones, and Fibers:Excavating Civilizations of the Mind," at Pinckney Simons gallery in January of this year. I used the image once again this past spring in Kim Wozniak's seminar on making mosaic installations in Mesa Arizona. I simplified and squared the design to make it suitable for vitreous glass tesserae. The finished mosaic just barely is discernable as a turtle skeleton. I gave it a final resting place embedded in a garden bench. After these two interpretations, painting and mosaic, I 've returned to the sketch and touched it up as - coming back full circle to the original inspiration. A lot of mileage for a turtle. I've picutured his various permutations here...

September 8, 2007

The Ex-pat in Holland

Now that my "official" review has been posted, and I am no longer obliged to sound like William F. Buckley, I thought that I would add a post about the review process and the memories it brought back. There were so many Dutch artists presented as well as expatriate Americans in Holland, I had to return to my old stomping ground and my previous days as an expatriate non-objective painter in Holland. In order to obtain some images and backround information, I had to go to Dutch websites. I am by no means a fluent Dutch speaker but I can at least negotiate my way to the "zoeken" button to search for images. But it was a pleasure to scan them - I even found myself beginning to mutter to myself in Dutch as I searched.
It was also a pleasure to speak with the curator and gallery owner, Wim Roefs, who happens to be from the area of Holland where I lived a number of years ago. Wim described to me his love of the process of art making - rare in curators. I was particularly impressed by the time he took to establish an intimate relationship with the artist's methods and techniques - even spending all day in an artist's studio to watch the creative process. No wonder artists like him.
I found an old photograph of an exhibition I had at the Gallerie de Vierde Dimensie in Plasmolen, Holland. The owner of the gallery and I had studied at the same institute in Maastricht years ago. We bonded over our love for ceramic sculpture (she did great work) and our spritely slavic natures (she's Czech I'm half Ukrainian). I've posted this evidence from my ancient history here along with a better view of one of the works from the exhibition. It sold at the exhibition and is in a private collection somewhere in Great Britain. I still do non-objective work on paper from time to time but it is for the most part off the record.
If you like minimalist non-objective work, click on the gallery page. In case you are not a Dutch speaker but want to see the work of the artists, click on the button that says "Kunstenaars" and you'll get a list of artist's names to scan. Have fun!

September 7, 2007

The Fame Factor

Fame. It is seductive, illusive, alluring. Americans are obsessed with it. Andy Warhol generously allocated to us all a fifteen minute portion of it - a portion we so hungry for that even a transient flicker of it in our lives is eagerly grasped.

"The Fame Factor," an exhibition of mixed media works by twentieth century artists, currently on view at Gallery 80808 in Columbia, SC explores the vicissitudes of acclaim through a presentation of artists who have earned various degrees of prominence. The exhibition is complex and somewhat didactic in nature as the artists presented demonstrate that fame is a relative thing - relative to time, place, choice of media, and audience. The artists presented are Benny Andrews, Karel Appel, Lynn Chadwick, Corneille, Jacques Doucet, John Hultberg, Richard Hunt, Wilfredo Lam, Ibram Lassaw, Ger Lataster, Lucebert, Sam Middleton,
Joan Mitchell, Hannes Postma, Reinhoud, Paul Reed, Edward Rice, Kees Salentijn,
Virginia Scotchie, Laura Spong, Leo Twiggs, Bram Van Velde. With so many artists featured it is a challenge to find a thread of continuity in this body of work, except to say that each artist is a master of his media.

Because of the large concept of "The Fame Factor," the span of history the work represents, and the cultural diversity of the artists, it would be advisable to see the exhibition more than once and to do some backround reading. Please click on to the links for a preview of the work of artists with whom you are unfamiliar - you won't be dissappointed!

A number of artists in the exhibition were part of, or influenced by the avant- garde CoBrA movement of 1948 - 1951, so named as an acronym for the cities that the majority of the artists hailed from; Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. They are represented in this exhibition by their works on paper, a fortuitous neccessity, as these works have a critically acclaimed appeal that often surpasses their paintings. In these and several other works on paper by other artists, there is an immediacy to them as a fingerprint of the brain that it exciting and captivating. The mark making process recorded by these artists is both revealing and deceptive. The silkscreens by French artist Jacques Doucet, for instance, have had multiple runs through the press so that a surface is built up creating the impression of paint.

Another impressive series is the group of mixed media works on paper by Kees Salentijn. Large, iconographic images with vestiges of figuration, they are brilliantly rendered in every permutation of line possible. Calligraphed, scratched, penciled, dripped and drawn, the marks pull together like a symphony.

Perhaps my favorite works in the exhibition are the silkscreen prints by Benny Andrews, which are nothing short of a sheer joy to behold. The frenetic, richly patterned subjects contrast starkly to a plain white backround. And who can resist the irreverence of "Turtle Dove," depicting an airborne turtle flying past a fantasy tree. (I have been working of late on a series of images based upon a turtle skeleton and seeing this somehow resonates with me at this time.)
The drawings by sculptors Ibram Lassaw and Richard Hunt are especially noteworthy, as it is unusual to see the 2-D work of 3-D artists. But this gives us a rare glimps into a sculptor's working process and I thank the curator for including these.
An immense amount of work and careful thought was put into this outstanding exhibition. Please honor this by seeing it in person if you can, and reading about it if you cannot.
The exhibition runs from September 7 - 18 at 1223 Lincoln Street, Columbia, SC. The opening reception is Friday September 7, 2007, 5 -10PM. For more information contact Wim Roefs at ifART, 803 238-2351 or
copyright 2007 Janet Kozachek

September 1, 2007

The Dance of Larry Rivers

While cataloguing my drawings, I came across a sketch I made of Larry Rivers dancing on a page of gesture studies of a robed model. In the New York of autumn, 1988, Larry Rivers taught the graduate painting class at Parsons School of Design. An icon of American painting, Larry Rivers struck an impressive figure. He was all angles - a chiseled aquiline face with an incredible beak of a nose. As an artist he was the consummate maverick, defying all the social and political mores of the twentieth century art world. I found a kindred spirit in this man, as he appropriated images from both western and eastern art history. His art was an amalgam of styles and influences as a result. Most contemporary art historians explain his reinterpretations of everything from Dutch masters to Japanese woodcuts as a deliberate attempt to challenge the status quo of artist as rugged individualist with impenetrable boundaries of identity. In my conversation with Larry Rivers, however, I detected a more visceral motive for his appropriation of the past. There was a yearning not to merely RE-present the past but to possess it. I've felt this same yearning when making drawings from the art of past masters. The slow process of rendering folds the touch of the artist into one's soul. The experience becomes a dance with the past.
On a sunny autumn afternoon in Larry River's classroom, while the model was on break, she put on a short robe then twisted around vigorously. I drew her as quickly as I could. But then Larry Rivers spontaneously broke into a funny dance himself which I also made a quick sketch of.
Despite his eagerness and his superstar status, most of the graduate students under his tutelage that autumn were not terribly impressed. Whether it was a mismatch of personalities, a negative reaction to his commercialism, or just a naive unreadiness for the raw reality of the New York art world I cannot say. But the lack of enthusiasm on the part of his students caused Larry Rivers great consternation, which he periodically vented upon someone or something. One day, he decided to rail against a teapot in a graduate student's still life set up. The teapot, yes, it was the teapot that was the cause of the ill wind in the studio! It was an outrage - a relic of the nineteenth century that must be obliterated! So Larry Rivers removed the offending teapot from JD's innocent still life set up and gave him a lecture on painting things that are only pertinent to modern life and not archaic objects that no one ever even uses anymore like a TEAPOT! I piped up to say that I use one and was quickly dismissed as being possibly the only person in the United States that does. And with that Larry Rivers left the studio to buy JD objects that he decided would be more apropos for 1988 American life. He came back from his shopping trip some time later and made a still life arrangement for JD consisting of a box of tampax and a jar of emolient. Now JD, being the urbane young man that he was, never did paint Larry River's still life. But I wondered if I would have painted it had I been challenged to do so. After coming across my little drawing of Mr. River's dance, I have decided to make three small paintings in homage to this landmark painte. After all, I think of Larry Rivers every now and then, mostly in the mornings when I'm drinking tea out of a favorite teapot from my collection. Even though I'm in the 21st century.
Larry Rivers passed away in 2002 and that year there was a retrospective of his work at the Corcoran gallery. Click on to the link to get a view.