July 26, 2008

The Red Thread

This week marked the completion of the seventy-fifth poem for my book of poetry, Monologues: A Hundred Poems for a Hundred Paintings. This project was started in autumn, 2007 and I am hoping to finish in autumn 2008. The project has proceeded more slowly than I had anticipated but the poetry and paintings crept steadily along. The words and paintings come even more slowly now, as I am writing new verse while revising the old and making new paintings to replace those that I was not satisfied with. Many thanks are due to Professor Tom Cassidy of South Carolina State University and Professor Tamara Miles of Orangeburg Calhoun Technical College for getting me this far along and for their literary insights.

The poem and painting “The Red Thread,” is inspired by a German phrase “finding the red thread,” roughly meaning “a thread of continuity” in an individual’s life that ties together and unifies various passions. I am still searching for that red thread myself.
The Red Thread
Baffled before the armoireand not knowing what to wearhe crouches naked on the floorto search for a red thread
A red thread that bindsumbilical cord to motheror spirals upward and outwardlike a ribbon dancer’s gift to anonymous spectators
A thread that could weave his unruly loveinto sensible tweedor a thread free to meander like the vinethat clings to the roots and stems it feeds upon
A red thread to carry aspirationslike the veins that carry his life bloodor messages upon a wirelike nervous impulses conducting themselves across a synapse A thread pluckedlike the straight taut string of a luteor inextricably jumbledlike saffron noodles eaten from a bowl
A red thread that braids togetherthe lines of intertwined impressionsinfluences that tug against his heartinsinuating lines that wheedle the sense out of chaos Janet Kozachek copyright 2008

July 23, 2008

The Common Ground Experience

Once a year in mid summer, artists, dancers, poets and musicians come from around the world to converge upon the small college town of Westminster, Maryland in a feast of the arts known as Common Ground on the Hill. The program is conducted by professor Walt Micheal, who coordinates the music program and Professor Linda VanHart, a jeweler extra ordinaire who rounds up all us visual artists. This was my second year to have the honor of being among the lucky chosen artists.
The first week at McDaniel College I taught a course in Chinese Landscape Painting during which I pulled out all the stops to expose my students to Po Mo (broken ink) style landscape painting, cun fa (cross hatching) landscape techniques, calligraphy, seal carving and a bonus lesson on how to create Chinese glue for sizing paintings. The course was very full but the students were all quite capable as well as courteous - a talented bunch and a joy to teach. The second week was more relaxed - just three students for my “Secrets of the Masters” oil painting materials, techniques, and formulas. This actually worked out well, since I had students grind pigments into paint which proved to be rather time-consuming. I had my students make traditional marble dust gesso panels for these pigments much like the small oak panel that I used for my painting “Reflections on a Tremor” illustrated at right which was part of the Common Ground Faculty Exhibition.
Apart from teaching highly motivated, interested students, the second truly rewarding thing about teaching at Common Ground on the Hill was the opportunity to take courses taught by my colleagues. A knee injury left me having to curtail my dance activities but I did manage the morning yoga class with Laurel Hummel. She is probably the best yoga instructor I know, paying great attention to every student’s strengths and vulnerabilities for a custom made program towards better health and flexibility. I also managed a few classes with yogarhythmics instructor Marya Micheal, a gentle soul and a beautiful person to be around. Lee Francis introduced me to the new generation of slam poets in The Spoken Word. This was a great course for learning how to bring poetry alive as a performance art. Women in the Blues, taught by Scott Ainsley and Lea Gilmore, was a lively and informative introduction to an often neglected history of women’s contribution to the development and proliferation of Blues music. We learned how to sing and compose 12-bar blues music in this class - which was immense fun.
The weekend before the second session of classes was celebrated with the annual arts festival at Carroll County Farm Museum. There were no sales for me at this festival (It appears that arts and crafts shows are not an optimal venue for me) save for a last minute mercy purchase of a small ceramic pendant. The moribund market for art was offset by the interesting artists that I met. I spent two days making drawings and hobnobbing with craftspeople. I was particularly impressed with the Native American potters with whom I shared my tent. My meeting them was the completion of a long ago yearning to meet the potter Maria Martinez. As it turned out my neighbor artist at the crafts festival was Kathy Wan Povi Sanchez - Maria Martinez’ granddaughter. She has kept the coiled black pit-fired pottery art alive. There were a number of charming little black vessels on her table, some with turquoise inlay and all of them burnished to a metallic sheen.
Another highlight of the crafts festival was meeting Tatianna Rakmanina - a third generation milliner from St. Petersburg. I greatly admired her on-of-a-kind handmade hats. Some were so understated they were just embellishments fo wear in the hair. Others were way over the top in decorative design. The latter had broad brims decorated with bows and spots. A number of these bore an uncanny resemblance to the hats worn by characters in Johnathan Green’s paintings. Fortunately Tatianna the hatmaker was fond of my watercolor paintings so we traded paintings for hats.
During the second session of arts immersion at Common Ground I was joined by my husband and we spent some time exploring Westminster and nearby towns. We had a good time and a reprieve from cafeteria food. My class attendance was sporadic this second week but I did mangage to spend three sessions in the Big Song Swap, guided by Rod MacDonald and Bob Lucas. They were wonderful mentors and I learned from them the value of memorizing the songs one writes - something I haven’t done yet. In fact, I found to my own astonishment I had more Chinese poetry and song memorized than English ones. I am still amazed at Rod and Bob’s tolerance for my belting out Peking Opera tunes, although I did also debut one of my blues songs, “Your Mama Has.” I believe what I enjoyed the most about this class and the Common Ground experience in general was its authenticity. Too often we are served up entertainment in the popular media that is fast, easy, accessible, and boring. The songs we shared were rich nuanced and personal.
Perhaps one of the best features of being a Common Ground Artist is the access to concerts. Where else can you hear music from the Southwest, Iceland, Quebec, German folk songs, bluegrass, blues, and strange instruments like the Norwegian Nyckelharpa all in one place? Add to that Walter Linigar’s grand finale virtuoso harmonica performance on the final night and it was a two-week extravaganza to remember. Kudos to Walt Micheal and Linda Van Hart for once again making this a great occassion for the arts.

July 21, 2008

The Long Walk to the Ball Park

The Long Walk to the Ball Park
Picking up where I left off before my two-week gig as a resident artist at McDaniel College, I introduce the second of my mosaic seminar demonstration pieces. I call it “The Long Walk to the Ball Park,” because it reminds me of summers in the New Jersey of my youth. The road to the local ball park back in rural New Jersey in the 1960's was a dusty dirt road where wild blackberries grew alongside fields of queen anne’s lace. The ball park was an adventure whether it was baseball season or not. A vacant ball park was the setting for childhood war games - the dugouts serving as bunkers, the stands city walls to be scaled. And the concession stand had a flat roof suitable for furtive scurrying. This last mosaic reminds me of the overlay of natural and man-made textures on the dirt road to the ball park - or perhaps I just think of these things again because of the summer heat.
The glass in the mosaic are drops from a stained glass window project which required very thick block glass. The blocks had to be faceted by hand chipping out pieces with a hammer and anvil. The multi-colored glass drops fit well onto a flat surface because they have at least one flat edge. Turning the mosaic on its side reveals more keenly the effect of the overlapping wedges of glass. Many of my recent mosaics have this kind of high relief which can almost be read like a diorama. I may even consider displaying them at some point to be viewed from above.

July 2, 2008

Summer Stalactites

During a recent seminar on mosaic art I demonstrated some cutting and compositional techniques. “The Opus vermiculatum technique,” I explained, “sharply defines the edges of forms and creates sinuous lines in the back round.” I then cut angles and wedges in the tesserae, placing them along curves that would allow that to happen. The class was lively and the time went by quickly. I packed up my equipment at the end of that rewarding day along with two unfinished “demonstrator” mosaics. I could have left them in this state and probably should have with so many other immediate commitments looming. But I have some compunctions about leaving things in various states of incompleteness before moving on to other projects. Unfinished mosaics have a particularly strong pull on this compunction - staring down at one from a wall or looking plaintively up from a worktable with their pathetic gaping blank spaces. So instead of doing the “smart” thing and getting my work packed up early for my upcoming teaching at McDaniel College, I had to spend some time to sit down and complete the mosaics before sorting and packing materials for my next group of hopeful students.
As I sat in my studio slowly applying bits of glass and stone to cement backer boards, conglomerations of patterns began to emerge which evoked pleasant memories made rosy by their remoteness. The vertical piec to the left reminded me of family summer vacatons replete with trips to caverns. I had a special fondness for caves, especially those with stalactites. I remember in particular a cave with live dripping with mineral-laden water that formed, over eons, the stalagmites on the cavern floor. The mosaic “Stalactites” is made with chips of clear block glass interspersed between slate and marble tesserae. The clear glass chips represent the water dripping from above. Since glass in not actually a solid but in fact is a super-cooled liquid, its use in this vertical study mosaic is apropos for it represents water dripping over thousands of years - which it is in fact doing.