January 27, 2008

New Work for 2008

For the last three years, I've fallen into a seasonal cycle of art making - works on paper for summer, oils for fall, etc. Winter has become my season to work on my figurative mosaics. The mosaic pictured here, "Woman Reclining with Gar Fish" was finished this month and is part of my ongoing Archeology Series which I will finish up this spring. The central figure is modeled out of white earthenware clay, stained and fired with a simple clear glaze. After I fixed the central figure onto the hardibacker board and applied ceramic bullnoses to the edges, I filled in the backround with mostly found objects. Some of these date from my walks with my friend, Gwen last summer. Gwen was especially good at spotting choice items along the road, like the rusted piece of metal that floats mysteriously under the figure. Other objects include pieces of driftwood and salvaged marble from dumpster diving outside tile stores. This is truly rummaged art.
Since it can be difficult to see that this is a work in high sculptural relief, I include a detail picture from an angle close to the figure.

January 24, 2008

New Web Sites

I have just launched two new websites. Goldriver Studio features my studio and teaching work in Chinese Art and my other site features my mosaics and paintings:


More to come.

January 17, 2008

The Fallen Deer

My book of poetry for paintings is now one third of its way towards completion. In celebration of this milestone I am posting an excerpt from the book, the painting and poem "The Fallen Deer." The model for this painting, Dr. Jacqueline Paskow, posed a number of years ago when we met in Konstanz, Germany. I was impressed by her intellect and facility with language. She had read all of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past in the original French. (I had finished it as well but in English which is not really the same thing). Like many scholars who are genuine, however, she was quite modest about her accomplishments.
Generally, I choose the props and subject matter in my paintings, but in painting Dr. Paskow, I did something different. In deference to my being in the presence of someone several tiers above me in intellect, I thought to let her choose her own subject around which I would build a painting. When I asked her what she would like to be painted with, however, she surprised me by saying "A dead deer." I did comply, however, folding the form of a deer into the drapery as I painted.
Despite the unusual subject matter, the image of the dead deer resonated with me because I had earlier published some translations of Chinese poetry from the Book of Songs which included the poem "Dead Deer in the Wilderness." There are some vestiges of that poem in the one I wrote for this painting.

The Fallen Deer

The deer lies where she was felled
when footsteps taken without caution caught the eager raised ears of the hound
and the attention of his hunter master
In that moment of discovery an ancient arrow pierced her heart
forcing a last breath of life from her raised nose
She lies motionless on the dry brown leaves of an autumn woods
The soft breeze ruffles her fur in waves
Her outstretched neck and parted lips crane...as if to speak
Her legs are bent as if to run still and leap once again
With tenderness she is bound
a white cloth wrapped around her supple form
He folds and tucks as for a swaddled babe
Then lifts his precious bounty
And escorts her gently home

January 14, 2008

From the Archive: A Statement About "Roadside Effigy"

Sometimes others write about an artist's work to reveal insights that even the artist himself/herself could not have anticapted in the creation of it. The painting above "Roadside Effigy" is from my archive and is now in the permanent collection of the Morris Museum of Art. A philosopher of aesthetics, Dr. Alan Paskow, had written an essay about the work in exchange for art lessons some years ago. For those interested in excellent writing about art, look at his book published by Cambridge University Press, Paradoxes of Art: A Phenomenological Investigation. Please enjoy the following essay by Dr. Paskow:

Statement about Janet Kozachek’s “Roadside Effigy”:

For me, this painting has four opposing thematic elements: the red earth, the man-made structure, the vegetation in the background, and the white figure in the right foreground. But the most striking opposition, and the fundamental mystery of the painting as a whole, is between the ill-defined, wispy, ghost-like form and the human shelter. This latter relationship raises several provocative questions.First, why is the white form there at all? Why not a picture just of the shelter itself? Is the form directly facing the shelter or, on the contrary, is it facing in the opposite direction? Or is it sheets blowing in the wind? Then are we then to think of men donning sinister apparel, the Ku Klux Klan? Also, why is the form anchored by a cross? And why isn’t it with the same detail as the shed. Are we then to think of it as something not definable like a physical object? Perhaps Kozachek wants us to feel a force underlying our everyday, factually-defined world. If that is so, we may ask: is it a benign force or a malignant one?And the shelter? Why the bold, contrasting colors? Why do they jar with the softer colors of the vegetation and the reddish-brown earth? Why is “God Loves You” written (in red) on the side of the shelter? And why is one able to see through the right side of it to the vegetation beyond? And does the white form in some sense belong inside the shelter? Is it “longing” to be there? Or has it, instead, turned its back to it? Moreover, what does this drama involving the white form and the shelter have to do with the more familiar, but nevertheless somewhat strange, natural scene in which the artifactual elements are set?

Here is one way to interpret the painting. The shelter is made by people in order to protect them and in order to affirm their presence in opposition to natural phenomena that have pre-existed people by eons and which will most likely post-exist them as well. The shelter is for me a church-like structure. But its form of expression is tragicomic. The shelter is flimsy, already dilapidated, rusted; its garish colors, while vibrant, are almost kitsch-like in relation to the more muted colors of nature. And the scrawl asserting that God loves us, while perhaps true, seems pathetic, almost desperate. A person who truly believes this already would not need to affirm it—in red, no less.The ghost-like figure is very disturbing and for me the most significant part of the painting. It, Janus-like, both looks to the shelter and turns its back to it. The looking-to suggests that it in some sense belongs, should be inside the shelter, as the highest spiritual capacities of humans truly belong to them and thus to our world. But perhaps the figure must always simply yearn to be there—after all, the shelter and the cross are two immobile structures—because of the ineluctable distance existing between who we are, in all of our moral and creative abjectness, and what we feel that we could and should achieve in our lives. On the other hand, if the ghost-like figure is viewed as facing away from the shelter, then it becomes more sinister. Perhaps the true forces that define our being are not positive, but darker. Then the figure would not be a Christlike Redeemer, but instead an expression of human restlessness and insatiability. I imagine that the artist wants us to feel the unsettledness of who we are, to stress its ambiguity and openness. Finally, in addition to the drama of ghost-form and shelter, I wish to return to the Kozachek’s depiction of nature. Its red earth, mutilated and “bleeding” to make way for the structure, nevertheless nurtures and sustains the tranquil vegetation beyond. In its own sheltering manner, and in its stillness, the natural world seems to offer a kind of solace to the struggles that we all have with others and with our own humanity. Perhaps certain features of the natural world (visible through the passages of the shelter) are able at times to reassure us, or at least give us hope, that above and beyond our daily human strife and all of its contradictions, there are powers that mysteriously and benevolently heal the soil and that can heal us as well, so long as we look and attend to them in the right manner. If this interpretation is right, then the scene suggests a form of nature mysticism.

Alan Paskow

Professor of PhilosophySt. Mary’s College of Maryland

copyright April 17, 1995

January 9, 2008


The painting at right, "Accumulation," is so named for a project I began about four years ago. Over the years I had accumulated an enormous variety and quantity of goods - canvas, stretcher bars, pigments, papers, ceramic supplies, glass and other mosaic supplies. As a mosaicist, painter and found object artist I had indeed found a lot of objects - boxes upon boxes, jars upon jars and bags and bags of STUFF. It was a problem of creeping studio materials obesity that my younger years and frequent relocations had kept at bay. It was the downside of stability and a place to call home. Like many problems that plague us in modern life, this one happened slowly but steadily. A number of materials had accumulated as leftovers from various commissions over the years - the leftover marble from that project for the park, the glass remaining after that mural in Philadelphia. All the materials I had collected from fifteen years of teaching compounded the problem. Found, donated, scrounged, given or purchased, I could refuse nothing or deny myself anything.

But I began to feel suffocated by the accumulation and frustrated by the chaos of my studio so I made efforts for a few years to stop acquiring new materials and to use up the old. I managed to make things more orderly and saved some money, but invariably the accumulation returned - like the well-intended dieter who loses weight only to regain it when she lets her guard down.
Oftentimes that same person in an unhealthy eating or physical lifestyle changes only when shocked into doing so by a health crisis. My shock came from my loss of a dependable teaching income to a competitor compounded with a significant downturn in my free-lance work. And then there was a personal turning point as well that I like to refer to as the "drill factor." I used to smugly make fun of my father for occasionally going out to buy more tools because he couldn’t find the ones he had in his shop. "When I grow up," I assured myself, "I’ll never be like that." Years later I found myself in the midst of a studio clean-up, finding not just one but three virtually identical drills. A chip off the proverbial block! It was time to change.

There are self-styled, self-help gurus like Dr. Wayne Dyer who write books about change like Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao. I listened to him speak on PBS once and had some misgivings about his methods. He isn’t the first "sage" to advocate relinquishing material goods. It was the way he seemed to be going about it - heaving just about everything and running away - that I had a problem with.

I am of the firm belief that anything that is relinquished quickly and thoughtlessly will inevitably return - sometimes with a vengeance like with that crash dieter who starves off weight then binges it back on again. Further, I’m suspicious of sudden epiphanies and conversions. In contrast to the popular exhortation to"change your thought and change your life," I once heard a much wiser maxim that went something like, "you can’t think your way out of a situation that you behaved your way into." I believe that what is at the root of this behavior for artists or anyone who might acquire too many things is an overabundance of restlessness combined perhaps with a short attention span. It is a creative nature but unfortunately one that can make you into a modern day hunter-gatherer. And in our consumer society we are inundated with calls to assuage the hunter-gatherer within us.

So trying not to heed these calls, I sought to turn chaos to sensibility in slow increments, confronting the clutter and putting it into service. I first sold off duplicate equipment. I relinquished some projects that were going nowhere. I vowed not to purchase new materials until I had used up as much of the old materials as possible. On this last step I had to make a few adjustments. If I had a commission that required materials that I didn’t have on hand then I would have to judiciously purchase them. There were also instances in which some materials required the purchase of additional ingredients in order to be used. So with these loopholes figured in to the equation, I assessed the materials in my studio and figured that I could probably produce art from it for six months to a year without having to acquire more supplies. Wrong. I am now in my fourth year and am still at it. What happened in those four years required restraint, ingenuity and hard work but it paid off in a neater, more organized studio.
The difference happened slowly. For a while it seemed that nothing had changed at all. But then, as the weeks, then months rolled by hidden "stashes" of stuff emerged - an extra box of marble that I didn’t know I had, some empty paint tubes that I made pigment for. By December of the first year, my stacks of bisque tiles were used up and I did not replace them, bringing my tile decorating days to a close. By spring of the following year, my wood blocks for painting oil on wood were used up. By the end of the year a broom closet that had once been crammed with extra canvas and stretcher bars was emptied and became once again a broom closet. In January 2006 I reinvested my income in shelving and storage bins and spent three days sorting and packing the remaining materials. The studio was finally not the overwhelming dungeon of unfinished projects that it had been.

There were some breaks in the discipline, of course. I couldn’t resist some expensive pigments and overinvested in a commission or two. And there were the inevitable donations of materials that I couldn’t pass up. But when I look at the space that once held about a hundred pieces of boards for substrates and see only three left I know that I’m still basically on track. And now my few purchases are made to complete unfinished work and not to assuage the restless hunter-gatherer within.

January 5, 2008

A Toad for Popsy

2008 is off to a literary start. I am working on three book projects, one practical, one documentary and the last one poetic. Each of these books has its own rewards and challenges. The book of poetry, "Monologues - One Hundred Poems for One Hundred Paintings," is off to a good start with most of the one hundred paintings selected and twenty-six poems completed.

An interesting challenge presented itself in writing poetry that I did not expect. I was expecting not to be able to find enough words for poetry. As soon as I started writing, however, my mind was inundated by words. A veritable floodgate of verbiage burst into consciousness. Trouble is, the words were not exactly of the most profound kind. This is probably a hereditary aberration. I had a Welsh grandfather who was known for his ability to spontaneously compose limericks and other short pieces of word play. Much to the chagrin of his family, he came up with these amusing ditties for every occassion - appropriate or not, like on the occassion of his daughter (my aunt) running over a cat in the driveway. I guess he wasn't always the most sensitive of souls.

So as I am composing my sensitive poetry for paintings, the genes of the Welsh grandfather (who I didn't even know which is why I conclude that word play must have a genetic component) kick in and a veritable deluge of irreverent limericks also spring into being like poetic byproduct. Rather than ignore them or try to suppress them, however, I'm collecting them. Who knows? Byproducts can be useful too. I've included the following sample. Somewhere there is a Welsh Davies laughing over this:

I found a toad beneath a rock

So I stuffed him into my wool sock

Then walked with him for half a block

And jumped with him from off a dock

I swam with him across a loch

Away to my friend's house, Nam Il Paik

Where toady got a knick and a knock

And stir-fried in a big black wok

Heaven help me! After making thousands of paintings, writing a few scholarly articles, founding a national arts organization, and perhaps finishing a book or two this just might be my legacy. "Janet Kozachek," people will say, "Hey, wasn't she the one who wrote that toad song?" Popsy would be proud and would probably have liked my purple and green pencil drawing of a toad as well.