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!