October 31, 2010

Halloween Blog, or Why Chinese Bats are Cute

When I first started my series of miniature paintings, “Twenty-six Days of the Bat” I began by reviewing two sources: images of bats on the internet and my own small collection of Chinese embroidery bats. People generally have mixed feelings about bats. They are those scarey little things of Halloween and vampire lore. But in China bats have always been depicted as a beautiful and auspicious animal. In large part this is due to the fact that the word for bat, fu, also happens to be a synonym for the words for good fortune and prosperity. Hence, a bat will bring good tidings.

After looking at images of bats more carefully, I realized that there is a second reason why Asian bats are “okay” but western ones are scarey. Bats can be broadly divided into two distinct groups, the megachiroptera and the microchiroptera, or megabats and microbats for short. The microbats are more familiar to us in the west and generally have faces with a squished in spade- like nose, little eyes, pointed teeth, and long ears. Conversely, the megabats are large and have a face like a little terrier dog and a look that is somewhat endearing. They are also known as Fruit Bats or Flying Foxes These Flying Fox bats are the ones native to Asia and are about as innocuous looking as puppies with wings. How could they not be the subjects, then, of paintings on vases and embroidered garments made with great love and care?

My bat paintings are half on the megabat side and half on the microbat side. The microbat group were painted naturalistically and the megabats were painted in the stylistic forms and colors of folk art. Happy Halloween!

October 20, 2010

My Bonnie Bonnie Beaufort

My Bonnie Bonnie Beaufort

The second leg of my trip around South Carolina to replenish galleries with new work took place yesterday in Beaufort. I hadn’t been there in six years and I had almost forgotten how beautiful this charming port city is. The reason for my journey was to deliver my new South Carolina architectural paintings, known by consultants, agents and patrons as the Domiciles, to the Pinckney Simons Gallery. In past years, I used to deliver new work to their branch in Columbia, a short forty-five minute commute from my studio here in Orangeburg. But since that branch closed two years ago and everything became consolidated in Beaufort, I had been somewhat remiss in traveling the longer distance there. But after seeing the richly decorated gallery and having a great day in the downtown district, I was glad that I went.

There was much paperwork to update and records to scan, but we got everything done in good time. I managed to pick up a portion of work that had been in storage from Columbia - some of which I had not documented and will post an article about after I finish my archive updating. It felt good to bring in the bright new work and reclaim the familiar old friends.

Generally, I have no trouble parting with my work, but I had a twinge of sadness at relinquishing my triptych of three square buildings, two of which were from Blackville. I have pictured two of them here. The one above is from an abandoned cotton mill in what I believe is Orangeburg County. The buildings had an almost old world, creamy beige adobe finish. There were a number of similar structures at this site and I will be slowly painting them. The sky in the painting pictured above has a touch of genuine turquoise pigment in it, which gives that gem-like glow in the center. The other painting of the square building featured at right was from a street in Blackville. The colors have been altered somewhat to make the facade a more buttery yellow and the sidewalk slightly rose colored. I sometimes see buildings like that in dreams where I am traveling through old towns from the late nineteenth century. Those dreams are not far from reality however, because my travels on assignments do take me through the centers of small towns with these two-story store fronts with facades like miniature golden temples of bygone eras.

These paintings and many other will be part of the open house gallery walk in Beaufort this Saturday, October 23.

October 18, 2010

Dark Bird in the Day of the Double Nines

Dark Bird on The Day of the Double Nine

The picture of the bird at right is a charcoal drawing that I made recently from an observation of one of the prize roosters at the South Carolina Fair. Because I drew him from life and he was a very active chicken, I was precluded from adding many accurate details. It is more a portrait of an impression of this remarkable creature - as they all were. This one was drawn with black charcoals and white chalk on a piece of orange paper - suitable for the October Halloween season. I’m not particularly fond of using charcoal. It is messy, dusty and difficult to control. But it also goes very black and can have a nice velvety effect in a drawing. The bird that inspired this drawing was one of the Polish chickens I saw at the County Fair, and again at the South Carolina State Fair. I do believe that some of these chickens were making the circuit from County to State competition. Can the run for National Chicken of the Year be far behind?

I had originally intended to write a China story to go with this picture. The story was about the Manchurian coal and factory town of Changchun, where I lived with my husband in 1983. But it will have to wait for a future post. In the mean time it is tucked away in one of the chapters of my book Another Soul. Instead, this writing recalls something closer to home yet reminiscent of China.

Things did not go as well as I had hoped at the State Fair on Saturday, October 16. It took a long time to get there, I had a flaming sore throat the whole time, and my photographs came out blurry from the low light exposure (They are still usable but will have to be filled in by painter’s imagination). What compensated me for the trouble was the opportunity to have an outing in the good company of a lady friend and my husband. The weather was fairly nice and the exhibits were fun and captivating. Oddly, the two lady artists in our group spent more time looking at the beautiful colors and patterns found in feathers and fur than we did looking at the art exhibition. In part this can be attributed to our running out of time. We had agreed to meet up with my husband, who had gone into Columbia to sit in a quiet cafĂ© and grade papers instead of enjoy the fair, at the front gate at 6:45 PM. 6:30 PM rolled around quite unexpectedly as we were admiring a particularly decorative bird with an explosion of colors on his wings that looked like the intricately woven patterns of a Persian Carpet.

So in a mad fifteen minute dash we ran through the art exhibition, pausing briefly to admire my painting on paper “Multi-Tasking Mania,” and Nat’s photograph of large yellow floats on a shrimp boat. We then waited outside to meet up. We waited ten minutes, fifteen minutes, then thirty minutes but our ride did not arrive. Forty-five minutes later my flustered husband arrived on foot explaining that he had been in gridlock traffic and had to park about a half mile away. So we trekked out on this cool autumn evening that was a mixture of unfinished business, glorious discoveries, and mishaps. After dinner in Columbia and a late return home I was at least partially resolved to trying the State Fair again. The chickens were still calling to me and I was still curious about all the art I missed.

The next day I was nursing a cold while doing lesson plans for an upcoming residency in Beaufort. The program I was planning included highlights from Chinese language and culture. I decided to check the lunar calendar for upcoming Chinese holidays that I could introduce. I was amused when I found out that Saturday, October 16, was the Day of the Double Nines. Chong Jiu Jie, falls on the ninth day of the ninth moon in the lunar calendar. Because odd numbers are yang (forces that are male, fire, light heat etc), the double nine is a very heavy yang day. It is therefore a day of imbalance during which precautions must be taken to guard against injury and illness. It is difficult for me to read about deeply ingrained superstitions and not start thinking of the possible concordances with real life experience. Of course the superstition made perfect sense to me and it was easy to redefine our own day of the double nines by imbalance; a fire of a sore throat, too many fire birds and not enough watery art, a long wait on a cold night. Obviously we should not have had the representatives of the Yin (the women) separated from the Yang (the man). Otherwise he would have most certainly not ended up caught in traffic. Had we known better we should have all done the traditional thing and eaten cakes while drinking chrysanthemum tea. Next year we’ll be prepared.

October 13, 2010

Two Chickens for Final Hours

This is a quiet but happy day. It is an ordinary one here in Orangeburg. I go about the day, setting out my palette of colors to finish the next painting, letting the electrician in to fix the errant lights and old sockets, sending off pictures for an article and writing one of my own. Throughout it all, because I’m at the computer on and off, I check to see how many miners have been pulled out of the San Jose copper mine. Over half of them at this count. Wow! What a feat of engineering, personal and social skills! I’ve posted my miniature paintings of roosters and chickens in celebration - phoenixes they are not but at least they are exuberant.
Days of more celebration lie ahead, as well as the usual difficulties with such a big media event. But for now, it feels great to be so happy about something.

October 12, 2010

Drawing to Conclusions

In the middle of August I began my painting a day countdown to my September exhibition, which then became a painting a day countdown to my October exhibition. I am now counting down towards my November exhibition. The November exhibition, however, is not really an art show per se as it will not have an opening. It is just basically an increase in the autumn/winter inventory in Beaufort, SC. My painting pace can be moderately slower now as the work towards show season comes to a conclusion and the season of making smaller works for December begins.

Everyone knows of course, the story in the news about the miners in the San Jose copper and gold mine coming to a conclusion ahead of the previously estimated schedule. I marvel at the engineering skills that have gone into their rescue. It truly has been a fascinating story. And in the midst of so much news of chaos, it was always good to read something about coordination and ingenuity. It did make me wonder what it must have been like, though, to be camped out at the mine’s surface for what seemed like an interminable wait. I had been making a miniature painting every evening to count off that waiting time as well. It is a visual tale about waiting told through images of animals - bats, felines, and finally canines. I tried to make each image as different as possible; naturalistic, decorative, and abstract. It was such a good exercise to make these little experiments at the end of the day that I might continue even though the original inspiration for making them is just about concluded.

The last two of the miniature paintings that I’ve posted above and at right were made in part from imagination, in part from notes, and from something in my immediate surroundings. The dog in lavender was painted from a sketch I made years ago of a marble relief sculpture of a dog at the Bargello museum in Italy. The painting at the left began as a simple abstract composition. I later added this small parade of blue canines after studying a batik decorated with a parade motif that I think was taken from a Han ( about 60 AD) stele.

In consideration of Halloween coming, I will post more images of the bat paintings now that I have a small treasure trove of them.

October 8, 2010

Blessed Above the Rest

Blessed Above the Rest

I was about to watch “The Way We Were” as my bi-monthly film treat but decided to switch last minute for a more serious documentary, Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” since a fellow artist at the recent annual Artist’s Booking Conference in Columbia recommended it. Always one to have a very odd detail stick in my mind, I recalled the amusing clip from the film of a dog jumping up and down repeatedly from a kitchen floor to snatch glances at the food on top of a table. The family eating this food seemed to ignore the importunate little beast. The little dog inspired me to start my next series of miniature paintings, “Eleven Days of a Dog,” numbers four and five pictured here.

Although the jumping dog in Michael Moore’s film was very funny, the point he was making was of course an unhappy one. The meal on top of the table represented a wealthy life belonging to fewer and fewer Americans and the little dog our determined hope that we too may someday be able to partake of this wealth. There was a pervasive message in “Capitalism: A Love Story” that corporate elites, along with media hype and political maneuvering have indeed manipulated that quintessentially American optimism to their advantage.

Some parts of the film, like the comparison of American society to the Roman Empire in its decadent final era, were a little cliched - even though sometimes it is indeed difficult not to feel that way. Also, Michael Moore’s repetition of his theatrical attempts to confront the powers that be in their corporate headquarters as he did in his previous films wore a little thin and probably should have been dispensed with. The only victims here were unfortunately the security guards trying to do their jobs. Nevertheless, the message of the film was brave and hard hitting.

One interesting segment of “Capitalism: A Love Story” was Michael Moore’s bringing to the forefront a question of the relationship of capitalism to Christianity. According to Mr. Moore and the priests he interviews, Capitalism is not in accordance with Christian principles and is in fact inherently evil. He then seems to propose that in the post World War II decades, and in particular with the advent of the Reagan era, corporate powers and the right wing appropriated Christianity to serve a capitalist agenda. I am not certain that I agree with that time line. Capitalism has had a stronger tie with Protestant Christianity than Catholicism and that tie can probably be traced back much further than the last few decades. It may even have a relationship to doctrines dating back to the sixteenth century. I am speaking here of such things as the doctrine of predestination in the teachings of John Calvin. According to the strict adherents of Calvinism, only a certain portion of the population were selected by God for salvation. The rest were simply damned to Hell and no amount of faith, good works or fine intentions could change that. There was apparently not much room for upward mobility in that faith.

The idea of a select few being graced by God and the damnation of the rest dovetails at least conceptually with the idea of plutonomy. Plutonomy, the rule of a small elite group of wealthy people over the rest of a society, was the description of the preferred state of America that was leaked in a 2005 Citigroup memo to its wealthiest clients. The film “Capitalism: A Love Story,” drops this memo on viewers like an atom bomb with a big red circle on the phrases in the memo alluding to fears of repercussions if the hoi ploi revolt and exercise their one person one vote rights.

It is this over arching belief in being blessed above the rest that seems to be a factor at work in what “Capitalism: A Love Story” illustrates as a mind set of the very wealthy powers that be. Whether this is manifest in a secular or religious way there may be more than a conceptual alliance with the early doctrine of pre-destination and the way this old alliance with capitalism played out in America over the last few centuries. I am condensing a long, complicated history, and drawing upon reading I actually did a long time ago so it would be best to read Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather and other early American theologians for better direct references to this old alliance I’m referring to. But basically it works like this: Given a determination that only a portion of the people are selected for divine grace and entry into Heaven, it became socially expedient to know in this life who God’s preferred were. It could be socially awkward to say the least if you were to wake up one day and find out that a friend or associate of twenty years was among those destined for eternal damnation. But how could one know who was in the Heaven club and who was not? Some early American theologians solved that riddle by maintaining that grace in the afterlife was manifested by material prosperity in this life. In other words, to quote the famous blues singer Billie Holliday, “Them’s that got will get. Them’s that not will lose. So the Bible says and it still is news.”

Many modern protestant sects have disavowed the Calvinist doctrine of pre-destination and some have even claimed it to be a blasphemy (Although some recent Southern Baptists have apparently tried to reinstate Calvinism). Yet sometimes ideas so powerful can linger on - becoming hard wired somewhere deep in the social consciousness. We can see it in various modern permutations like in the so-called prosperity gospel that caused people to spend beyond their means. We might even see it in everyday innocent remarks on the occasion of mishaps like, “What did I do to deserve this?” Volumes could be written on this subject but because I only intended a short review I will just say that the idea of Cohabiting Capitalism and Christianity (how’s that for alliteration?) may have a longer and more complex history than that proposed in “Capitalism: A Love Story.”

But perhaps Michael Moore knew some of this and could not delve into it on account of the topic of Capitalism itself being so broad. And there were plenty of other occasions in the film for enlightening material - like the low wages paid to airline pilots and the practice of companies betting against the death of their employees by taking out secret life insurance policies on them called “Dead Peasant” insurance. My favorite part of the film, however, was a clip of the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt a year before his death, calling for a second Bill of Rights for the American People, guaranteeing, among other things, a home, an education and healthcare. We’re still waiting to be blessed with that.

October 5, 2010

The Test

To mark the occasion of my two-hundredth blog, I thought I would write something a little longer than usual. My thoughts in this essay follow the recent Pew study of American’s knowledge of religion . In keeping with the theme, I have posted a picture of one of my recent paintings, “Archangel II.” at right.

On a recent autumn morning before heading off to work my husband told me that he had just taken a test posted on the CNN website on the knowledge of religion and had made a perfect score. I looked at the test and noticed that they gave it the somewhat intimidating title of “Religious IQ.” The article that accompanied the test was the usual forlorn one that Americans write about their sorry level of knowledge as evidenced by their nearly universal poor performance on a “test.” The test that my husband took was the somewhat attenuated version of the 32 question test of religious knowledge used in a recent survey on religious knowledge in America by the Pew Foundation. Nevertheless, according to CNN, most Americans cannot even get more than half the questions on the short version right. I usually have serious doubts about the ability of such tests to actually prove much of anything but out of curiosity I took the test. I made a perfect score.

What was interesting to me here, however, was not that fact that both my husband and I made perfect scores but by the completely opposite reactions we had to our “achievement.” It seemed to make my husband confident about his stature as an educated man and he could barely conceal his glee over the affirmation of intellectual prowess. For me it was merely a possible indication that I done more reading about religion than the average American. But when I read that my score and predilections, according to the Pew survey, put me in the category of 4 % of Americans, I actually got gloomy. I hope this doesn’t mean that ninety-six percent of Americans will disown me. I thought to myself. Just to be certain, I read more about the questions on the extended version of the religion test. I got all those questions right as well. It confirmed my suspicion that I was indeed doomed.

I tried to go about my work that day, but there was a distinct cloud of unease hanging over everything due to the AM religion test that sent my husband off to work in a cheerful mood and me down to my studio in a funk. I suspected that there was more to this than just gender differences and personality. And, after a little more reading and re-examination I assured myself that what was at the bottom of all this uneasiness was an experience of how, in both past and present circumstances, both personal and general, tests have been interpreted. For most of my suspicions about the way surveys and tests are conducted in the United States come not from the test itself but by the way some “expert” or other fills in the blank at the end of the sentence, “The results of this test indicate that you are ........”

My skepticism about the interpretation of tests began ages ago, with an experience in Princeton High School. To start with, I recall a guidance counselor calling me in to her office to tell me that I had scored high on a test for engineering skills and that it indicated that I was “not a normal girl.” ( My mother happened to be very good at taking small machines apart and putting them back together again so perhaps I had inherited some of her “abnormality.”) My later career identity tests rattled the nerves of the guidance counselor even more for the results indicated that the most suitable career for me would be navy officer with army officer running a close second. Neither came to pass, I’m afraid.

But in addition to the humiliation of test pigeon-holing that teenagers then and now are subjected to, students at Princeton High School had the dubious honor of being used for informal psychology “tests” by students in the psychology department of Princeton University. I recall some of their more ridiculous research on peer pressure and self-esteem. I call it ridiculous because questions were posited to students without the students themselves being allowed a chance to explain their circumstances, motivations or actions. There was only one possible explanation for any youthful decision - and that was determined by the researchers. To give an example, I remember that a question was posited by the researchers as to whether or not we might downplay a high test score if everyone else in the class had not performed well. No one answered right away, but one brave boy raised his hand to say that under certain circumstances he might. Without waiting to hear what those circumstances might be, the Princeton University psychology students barked out at him, “That’s peer pressure.” and proceeded to worry him about his low self-esteem. It might be worth noting here that since he was the only student who dared to raise his hand while the rest of us were trying hard to look stony-faced and not even twitch it could easily be deduced that he was in fact the only one to NOT cave in to peer pressure. Had I myself been a bolder student I would have proposed to the Princeton University students that they were confusing discretion with low self-esteem and peer pressure with simple self preservation. But I had no empirical experience from which to draw those conclusions until a few years later in a class in Analytical Chemistry.

While a student majoring in both art and science in college I found analytical chemistry challenging but interesting. I loved the system of equations and the logic of flow charts. But I generally found that my grades hovered around a B and I just managed to keep up. One week, however, I found myself in the unusual position of being ahead of my studies so I decided to do some extra reading in analytical chemistry. The extra reading served me well because the next exam I took seemed to relate more to my extra reading than to our most recent text assignment. In the exam room, I noticed that the other students taking the exam looked confused and that there were not a lot of pencils moving. Had I not done my extra reading I would have been among them.

The following day, when the test results came in the professor announced that the results were very disappointing. Everyone in the class had failed save one person. He explained furthermore that because that one person had earned an “A” he was obliged to grade on a curve and give everyone else a “D” or an “F.” I had found the test challenging but not impossible so I was confused by the outcome. As the professor passed back our exam papers the anger among students grew. All eyes were upon the papers with grades of 40%, 45%, 35% as they seemed to fall on desk tops with a resounding “boom!” Everyone was waiting for the paper that blew the curve to come floating down upon desk of the person who had condemned the class to failure. I was also eagerly looking around to see who it was that messed up my analytical chemistry grade. I was so intent on finding out who it was that I did not notice the paper with the number 96 scrawled in bright red ink at the top lying in clear view on my desk. When I did see it I could not wait to grab it and stash it somewhere out of sight. Of course, if I were the Princeton University psychology department’s ideal of a self-actualized youth with high self-esteem I should have instantly leapt to the top of my desk, waved my paper around and loudly proclaimed victory. It appeared, however, that I had a sudden attack of low self-esteem so I quietly tucked the paper away instead But it was too late. It had been spotted and I heard the words rumbling in low disgruntled tones and spreading with viral intensity around the classroom: “It was Janet.” And I was obliged to sit through that class for the remainder of another two-hour lecture. It may have conceivably been the longest lecture of my college days. I could feel hostile, incredulous eyes burning a hole in my back, from my sides, and from across the room.

Hopefully at this point in my essay I have allowed readers to come to a false assumption. Was I brighter than the other students? No I was not. In fact I failed just as many tests as I made good on. If I hadn’t I would not be an artist today but would have gone on to medical school like I had planned. So what did it mean? It simply meant that on that day, by a strange coincidence, the professor had designed a test that dovetailed with my extra reading rather than the assigned text. And of course anyone with an ounce of intelligence would understand that the circumstances in the above instance warranted discretion rather than a public announcement.

Things are not always what they seem in tests and surveys and their interpretation is largely subjective. Such was the case for the “self esteem and peer pressure” questions, the odd circumstance of a science exam and for the most recent Pew test on religious knowledge. In the latter case I believe that the way the results of that particular test were perceived and disseminated explains why a man with a perfect score would smile and his wife with an identical score would frown, especially with regards to the conclusions that were drawn concerning the beliefs of the test takers.

As an agnostic I was personally rather nonplused at being thrown into the same category as “atheist.” We could not be further apart. An agnostic simply neither affirms nor denies the existence of God. An atheist affirms a belief that God does not exist. One questions, the other answers. One is not committed to a specific dogma or belief, the other is. In this regard, an atheist actually has more in common with a believer than an agnostic does.

When a spokesperson for the Pew foundation was interviewed recently about the results of the religious knowledge test for Americans he made an interesting assumption in his interpretation. Asked about why atheists and agnostics outperformed all others of various religious persuasions on the test, he concluded that it meant that the people in the former group came to their atheism and agnosticism only after studying religion carefully and weighing all the options. That may be so for some people. For me it was entirely the opposite. I was an agnostic well before I studied world religions. It was not a cause and effect relationship. In fact, I had no intention to read about religions in order to “rate” them. And yet the media latched on to this rather utilitarian concept and pronounced it to be so - as if we really were looking at religions of the world like they were themselves a multiple choice test:

A. Christianity - wrong!
B. Judaism - wrong!
C. Buddhism - wrong!
The answer is “D” None of the above!

Further exacerbating the problem of the biased way the test was interpreted was that it appeared that the only mouths allowed to comment on behalf of atheists and agnostics were spokespersons who seemed to be unfavorable to religion. I am not unfavorable to religion I just happen not to belong to any at the present time. It does not mean that I have concluded that I never will belong.

Nor does it mean that I hold myself as more intellectually enlightened than people of faith. So what did the test mean for me? And why would an agnostic make a perfect score? In my case the spokesperson for the Pew foundation came to the wrong conclusion, although that is not to say that he was not spot on with regard to others. But the simple truth for me was that I made a high test score because I read about religions with no other motives in mind other than to enhance my knowledge and understanding of art and in order to enrich my knowledge of the various beliefs of world cultures. And I suppose it helps to have friends from diverse religious backgrounds.

As an artist, it behooves me to understand art history. In the history of art, secular art has been the exception rather than the rule. The church has been a major patron of the arts throughout history, as has the religions of most other cultures. It would be impossible to have a grasp of world art without knowing at least something about the history and beliefs of the religions that inspired and supported it.

In addition to understanding the world of art, a knowledge of religious history supports the understanding of literature, philosophy and ethics. In most religious writing there is at the center a belief in a supreme good, an absolute truth. Much of religious writing is about the striving to be as close as humanly possible to that supreme good or absolute truth. Some of the most sublime writing that human beings have penned is about this striving to be better humans by means of closeness to their God. It is worth reading on that merit alone.

It would be unfortunate if those who misinterpret cause and effect in the recent survey of religious knowledge would use that to dissuade people from reading about religion and theological history. I can easily see how someone with less than ethical motivations might use the idea that knowledge and faith are mutually exclusive as leverage to prohibit religious inquiry. That would be a shame. It would be equally unfortunate if educated people conclude that a low test score on religious knowledge casts too much doubt on the motivations of a group as a whole. One highly educated man I spoke with recently, for instance, concluded that the low test scores among Catholics meant that they are “just believing whatever they are told.” That may be, but it also could mean that the Catholic church has made greater inroads to poor communities than other denominations have - someone working three jobs to support his family will not have the time to sit around and read about Maimonides.

In conclusion, test scores are just indications of the knowledge of people at a particular time and place. How we each got there is a mixture of chance and opportunity. The results are often highly individual and idiosyncratic and should never be used as a tool to embarrass others or define people in accordance with preconceived notions - whether their scores are high or low.
And now that I have clarified this I might join my husband in smiling.

October 2, 2010

A Pearl in an Ocean

The Pearl in the Ocean

Despite the tidal waves of information posted, commented upon and hopelessly lost as the sea of time flows by on the internet, I have always been always able to find small gems in the most unlikely of places. And since I had expressed disappointment and skepticism about social networking, I feel that I should also, on balance, highlight a few of these pearls rolling along in the oceans of data. Any bit of pearly light is as much so for what it inspires as for what it is in itself. For me this little illuminating fragment was my reading in Facebook about someone who had a collection of monsters (toys I presume) and wondered why it was so difficult to find representations of monsters in our culture of the female kind. This started a dialogue which resulted in my writing a chapbook of poetry entitled “My Women, My Monsters,” which I have just begun to send out to publishers. I have also begun to illustrate the book with detailed pencil drawings and hand lettering - almost like the medieval Bestiaries I so loved to see in the libraries in Great Britain and in Europe when we lived there. The illustrations are still works in progress and the writing itself still needs to find an interested publisher. The former is just a matter of time and effort but the latter will be a series of leaps of faith, divisions and revisions.

“My Women, My Monsters” was fun to write, and included a cast of characters that readers found both engrossing and amusing, like Mother Puffer, the Empress of Clones, and The Queen of Bones. The poetry might be difficult to publish, as it may not have a fully defined audience - straddling the boundaries of juvenile fiction and adult satire. But I will continue to work on it and post works from it from time to time.

To end my cycle of small paintings, “Thirty-three Days of the Big Cats,” I am posting number thirty-three, the grey terrible she cat, in keeping with the completion of the book of Monsters.

October 1, 2010

The Finished Collage

October first seems to be a meaningful time to post my now completed collage “Facebook Purgatory.” As the title implies, it is numerically divided into the threes and nines found in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. My original painting that this collage is derived from was a satire on Facebook putting me into a two-week long waiting period before deleting my profile. It struck me as having a purgatory-like judgmental quality. In recent times, however, with the release of the film today, “The Social Network” as well as the news stories of a youth whose tragic death appears to be linked to a form of harassment exposure on the net, it seems as if the social network of cyberspace itself stands in limbo.

The part of Dante’s long poem about purgatory is distinct from his descriptions of Inferno because although it describes sin, they are character flaws - the seven deadly ones to be exact - rather than actions. Figures in Dante are often described as being in strange positions - backwards or upside down, which is why I decided in my collage to take the face icons and turn them upside down. The three large central icons were made from cut out painted paper and the rest were made with carved rubber stamps. Generally when I design a stamp for an art work I keep them for use in future art works. I threw away the face stamps for this art work, not wanting to revisit the theme.

The painting of the she-cat and her two little ones is number thirty-two in my series of paintings of the thirty-three paintings of the big cats. Tomorrow they will end and it will be on to the next cycle.