February 27, 2013

Goodbye to Hearts

There are some people who are unmistakably recognizable even from behind. Although this is a black and white drawing and you can’t see her green fingernails and her ziggurat of wild red hair, it is Patti Battaglia. Patti and I shared a booth at a craft fair a few years ago at Common Ground on the Hill in Westminster, Maryland. Pulling out this sketch to make it into a complete drawing for my portfolio, I am reminded of the wonderful time we shared in Westminster. We shared our booth with Native American Ceramic artists, Gilbert and Wanpovi Sanchez and the very musically talented Jeremy Wright. Between the music, the jokes, and Patti’s outrageous colors I think that our little enclave was the liveliest on the Hill.
The sketch I made of Patti became a painting, then an illustration for a poem for my book manuscript Moments in Light and Shadows. I’ve reproduced the poem and the painting to the left. There were many changes I made when completing the drawing. The horizontal composition allowed for much greater detail. I decided to create a dialectic between European and African Art by populating Patti’s booth with African Sculpture and drawing the Parthenon in the distance. African sculptural masks seemed to suit Patti. The boldness of her jewelry design reminded me of the sculptures.

In keeping with the theme of hearts and love, I’ve made some heart shaped pendants around the Patrinkets (the name of her store) sign. It is my homage to the love of the day and to fond memories.

A puff of tree
springs from malachite nails
growing off a raised hand
like the metamorphosis of Daphne

The reaching hand
hails a distant acropolis
faux finished
in mock grandeur

gems rest there
gilded like her millifiori dress
awaiting patiently
the mercantile grasp

a ziggurat of crimson hair
spins off her head
a conscience
framed by poplars

Apollo like
we creep behind
our faces in the darkness
searching for jewels

February 26, 2013

Mother Love

Orangeburg has a small but active arts community, a number of artists claiming international reputations. One of our native artists is a very fine photographer, Rachel Bair Ficek. She had sent me a photograph of herself holding her infant son some time last spring and I consulted this photograph for my drawing "Mother Love," posted above. The drawing is rich with my over the top patterning - a method I’ve been experimenting with over the last year to distract me from discomfort. Drawing minute details works better than one would expect in this regard. There is something soothing about slow work.

February 25, 2013

Titian's Pastoral Love on a Diet

I had made a quick sketch of Titian’s painting of a Shepherd and a Nymph because I liked the Shepherd playing the flute. That was probably why I drew him much better than the nymph. Another reason for the fascination with the Shepherd and my favoritism in rendering is because my husband plays the flute.

But what happened to the nymph? The original sketch was too smudged to figure out where I got off track but her head was too small and her posterior so large it could wipe out the state of Rhode Island if she sat on it. Challenging myself to finish this sketch and correct the anomalies without going back to the original source, I reduced the excessive portliness of the nymph and added a different head - one not nearly a delicate as Titian’s I’m afraid.

The background is reconfigured as well, with a highly textured and detailed stump in the composition that was only a vague ghost of a tree in the original painting. (Yes, I looked back at a reproduction just to see how much I remembered, how much I hadn’t, and how much still I added). My stump now looks more like it was extracted from a Chinese landscape rather than a sixteenth century oil painting. I attribute this to my Chinese art training years ago at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing. But I like this stump, as well as the small line of trees and the imagined water. So the nymph was starved and the landscape was fed.

February 23, 2013

Tiny Hidden Hearts

I could not resist hiding a few small hearts in this recently finished drawing so that I could feature it in my February posts. They aren’t immediately obvious. There is one in the enigmatic statue of the man with a derby hat. The others are in the quilted design on the couch pillow which I took from an actual quilt we have.

Every detail of this drawing was fun to do. The peculiar painted wooden statue was an actual sculpture owned by the person who sat for me. I liked the sculpture because he was amusing with his pin-striped suit, his beckoning hand, and the snappy hat. I may have added the dachshund on the man’s lap. There was an amorphous form there that looked dog-like so I just went with that.

The mirror in the background was an invention. The reflections in the mirror are the back of the model’s head and the object she is looking at - an imaginary painting of a snake. The snake is there to celebrate the Chinese New Year. If I were not lazy about it I would have looked up the animal for the Chinese Year that I had started this drawing and included that as well. But I suppose it has quite enough details.

The composition of this drawing is actually a bit larger. What is seen here is simply the portion that would fit on my scanner.

February 22, 2013

Sticky Love

Most of my recent blog entries have been about older works of art and newly composed drawings from old sketches. I have, however, been making new works as well. These are still completions because they are illustrations for my books of poetry. This year, I completed all the illustrations for my poetry chap book manuscript, My Women, My Monsters. One of these poems and the accompanying illustration are in keeping with my February theme on hearts and love. Bear in mind that this is an excerpt from the monster lady book so the poem explores the darker side of love, namely, obsessive, clinging love. The poem is “Sticky Princess” and the illustration aptly has a veritable plethora of reaching, clinging, grasping hands. Disgusting! My next entry will have to be an antidote to this one.

Sticky Princess

She knows no boundaries
holding sway over all in her dominion
Bound to them and them to her
The Princess of attachments
saunters forward
her skin glistening with adhesive slime
that sticks to all she moves upon

A syrup issues from her breasts
oozing with sap-like viscosity
from the swaying pendulous forms
bloated like the udders of a cow
She encourages the young to suckle there
Glued fast, they never leave
and she never lets them go

She knows to move slowly
edging closely to her peers
Heedless to encroachment
they are unprepared for the moment
that she slides against their being
sealing them to her sides
so that they can never walk away

The Princess of Attachments
generously imparts her troubles
conniving to unearth the woes of others
Exchanging ties like laces intertwined
We are are bonded now”
she lisps in atonal breathlessness
as she tightens a convoluted knot
in a kerchief in their mouths
so they can never give a cry

Her tree toady fingers
caress a dewy face
leaving round pock marks
from the moist suction of her hands
taking, bonding, absorbing
into one within her flesh

February 21, 2013

French Sculpture Ala Carte

I see that in my last post, I had not included my drawing of the back view the faun and the nymph. I’m publishing the couple today. This view had also been made into a number of paintings. One was the center panel of a triptych, which I believe is the one that is now in the Columbia Museum of Art somewhere. As in the other sketch, the faun’s cloven feet and horns are removed. So South Carolinians of a religious bent will be pleased to know that the devil is NOT in the details.

February 20, 2013

For the Love of French Sculpture

My husband and I took a tour some years ago of the Glyptotek Art Museum in Munich. The purpose of the visit was to see the Barbarini Faun. He was everything we had anticipated and I have some drawings of him somewhere. But what really caught my eye and piqued my curiosity was the French sculpture housed nearby. I made several quick sketches from various angles of a sculpture there depicting a common subject of carnal desire - the nymph and the faun. I n such scenes the nymph is usually delighting in the unbridled lust of the faun - despite his rather conspicuous horns, goat legs and a tail for good measure. When I made these sketches, I left these usual trappings of the faun out of the picture. They somehow just seemed to keep getting in the way of the composition. But on account of this omission, the faun now took on a more human countenance.

I made several paintings from these sketches of what began as mythology and ended as a depiction of consenting adult human beings, for I stuck with leaving off the bestial part of the faun. A good call too, for I live in the Bible Belt of South Carolina and an image of a female cavorting with a goat-legged man sporting horns probably would not go over well.

The small oil on wood paintings that I made of the pair have all found their way to permanent collections, one of them in the Columbia Museum of Art. There was both money and posterity to be made from these images. I generally sell only about one in ten of the works I make but every painting I made of this couple was snapped up by eager patrons. I could not bring myself to continue with them, however. My finished drawing of this couple, as well as the detail of the back view, now sit in retirement in my portfolio. They served me well.

February 18, 2013

Ecstatic Love in a Flash of Carnelian Red

In one of the museums that I frequented to sketch I saw a small cabinet filled with Roman signet rings. These rings, carved with exquisite detail, had all manner of interesting designs and motifs. One of their functions, other than decoration and a pronouncement of social status, was to certify documents by impressing the design into wax. Because the gemstone carnelian does not stick to wax, it was a favorite stone for carving into these rings.

One of these ring seals had an image of a dancing maenad carved in intaglio into a red carnelian. Magnified about twenty-five times or so, she looked similar to my red pastel drawing pictured above. Of course the original carving was much finer than this drawing, but hopefully this drawing catches the exotic spirit of the dancer in a Dionysian reverie. I used my original sketch to make a miniature painting on wood some years ago. In that piece, I also painted her in red to look like the carnelian. I know this oil on wood to be in a private collection now - hopefully giving the owner a little rosy burst of carnelian inspired joy.

Cupid Ala Carte

In my last blog entry, I discussed my drawing of Titian’s Venus and Adonis. The painting had an interesting detail which I had included in the drawing - a small eros (cupid) curled up and sleeping on a distant hillock. I made a second drawing of this detail which is now in a private collection in New Jersey. An ala carte blog for an ala carte cupid.

February 17, 2013

Foolish and Hopeless Love

Titian’s painting of Venus and Adonis was always a favorite of mine. As in many cinquecento paintings, there is a sublime relationship between the figures and the ground. The trees, water, and foliage echo the gestures of the people who inhabit it so well that they seem extensions of the body. The landscape in Venus and Adonis seems to gyrate and roll forward to accentuate Venus’ desperate and futile grasping of the departing Adonis. She is treated to this foolish and hopeless love by Adonis turning his upper body back to glance at his adoring goddess. Adonis smiles patronizingly, almost in a self-satisfied smirk, delighted in his ability to have Venus in thrall. Yet his turning back with his upper body is not as committed as his stride forward, just as the one hound that turns back does so with a vague temerity.

I made this sketch originally while standing in front of the painting. The experience of drawing this work was almost as good as listening to an opera. Fortunately, it didn’t take as long. Now that it is complete it is one more drawing for my portfolio. Maybe future viewers will see the connection between this drawing and my painting and poem for The Woman in the Chapel. I’ve included the poem and the painting below.

The Woman in the Chapel

Ghostly arms outstretched
Reach fruitlessly for Adonis
A love unrequited
Yet present still
His body striding forward
His gaze turns back
A smile of tenuous empathy
Filters across his face
He sees the woman in the chapel
A Silhouette against the fleeting light
Mirage upon the marble floor
Time propels her towards the invisible
yet the image on the stone wall remains
as does the smile on his frozen face
proud object of a goddess’ desire

February 16, 2013

Love from the East by Another Name

Taking a turn towards the east in my search for art on the theme of love and hearts, I came across one of my musical ceramic musical instruments. It doesn’t look like it fits my theme for the month of February at first. But the embossed design on the surface is a zhuan style Chinese character for love. Instead of the usual Chinese character for love that is commonly reproduced, the one that is pronounced "ai," I chose an older character for romantic love pronounced "lian." The "ai" word is actually very broad in its meaning and use. "Ai" can mean "like" or "fond of," as in "I really like playing football". I supposed modesty was behind its popular use as a symbol for love, "lian" perhaps being a bit too lusty. But here is an idiophone emblazoned with the latter character anyway.

February 15, 2013

The Ambivalent Valentine

The sculptress Camille Claudel, also known as the famous mistress of the sculptor Auguste Rodin, made a lovely small bronze of a waltzing couple. Perhaps it was on account of her tempestuous relationship with Rodin, who she finally left, that her depiction of couples seemed somewhat diffident. At first glance, the little bronze sculpture of the dancers seems like it embodies the emotions of a couple in love. But on second glance, the man seems over-arching, the woman simultaneously leaning too far away. I first sketched this on site in the upper right hand corner of an 11" x 14" piece of paper. This left room to include another study in the lower right corner of a male figure - also from a small sculpture. Rather than excise him from the final drawing, I decided to incorporate this figure into the composition - veritably welcoming him by enfolding him into the woman’s flowing skirt. The male figure’s upraised arm and his averted glance give him the appearance of a denial or a wish to eschew the existence of the dancing couple. Perhaps this composition should be called "The Ambivalent Valentine."

February 14, 2013

A Valentine for the Left Handed

Valentine’s Day is here. I hope readers of this post are in receipt of many happy Valentines - or at least one good one. Rather than give my own husband the usual disposable card, I decided to make a custom-made drawing that can be part of his art collection. For this I’ve made a drawing based on an old master’s work. This one is a drawing of Pietro Da Cortona’s (1596 - 1669) “Nymphs Carving Trees.” I decided on this as a valentine because, like my husband, all of the nymphs are left-handed. My theory as to why Pietro Da Cortona drew all the nymphs left-handed is that he could have posed models and used the reflection of a camera obscura to trace them - thereby rendering a mirror image. There are other paintings from the period with left-handed models for this reason.

Nevertheless, my valentine is a lefty. He shares this trait with mostly good company; eight presidents including Barack Obama, Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein and Oprah Winfrey. There were also a host of left-handed conquerors including Alexander the Great, Julius Ceasar, Napoleon and Queen Victoria. And my husband is apparently in good artist stead as well, with such notable left-handed artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein, Paul Klee, Michaelangelo and Raphael. The list goes on, but for those curious enough to know more, a left-handed web site will suffice. I looked at them and was surprised to find out that August 13 is International Left-Handers Day. Do I need to get a gift?

February 13, 2013

Illicit Love

Taking a 180 degree turn from my previous blog on Godly love, I’ve posted a pastel drawing I made from a sketch based on a painting by Watteau. The painting that I made this from on a visit, I think, to the Barnes Foundation, depicted a cuckolded man discovering an amorous adventure between his wife and another man. I recall some detail in the faces in the original painting. My pastel drawing, however, is in my more amorphous style. No need for a facial expression here anyway. The husband’s indignant stance says it all. We may have to wait and see if the Blogger glitch allows an upload of this image.

February 12, 2013


Some historians believe that the love associated with St. Valentine’s Day was the Christian love represented by the saint. This love was called Agape. A painting I made along this theme was the Virgin of the Roses, which I still have in my private collection. Many of the small paintings of the Virgin Mary have long since found their way into private collections of various clients. But this one was perhaps difficult to understand - the eyes of the Virgin painted so narrow and faintly that she looks blind. Certainly she is not seeing the roses she is surrounded by. Also a symbol of love, the roses in this painting denote the sense of smell and touch rather than sight, the virgins’s eyes focused spiritually inward.

February 11, 2013

Drawing After Tintoretto's Narcissus

No study of the permutations of love would be complete without addressing the love of self. For this I feature a recent drawing I completed after Tintoretto’s painting of Narcissus. There was much to admire in this painting when I first made the sketch in front of the painting - the bold composition with Narcissus strategically placed in the lower left corner, his dramatically foreshortened arm vaulting into the direction of the landscape. The mystery, too, of his right hand concealed beneath the water’s surface, searching in vain for the man behind the reflection, attracted me to the painting. Some of the details of this drawing are invented, since I only made a general sketch of the composition. Instead of figures in the background I included a small collection of vessels. The invention helps make the drawing at least partly my own. Narcissus comes to mind as I come to grips with illness. There is no narcissism quite like the self-absorption of the unwell. It can become a beast looming almost as large as the illness itself, growing exponentially with symptoms that demand attention. The challenge becomes one of not feeding this growth and to try as much as possible to reconnect to others. Caring for and responding to the needs of others can be quite difficult in the face of being needy onself. “And how are YOU doing,” I would ask, the unoiled machinery of reciprocity and altruism grinding together. But with help and practice it is possible, however small the contribution, to care again for the welfare of others. It is better than spending one’s time chasing phantoms beneath the water’s surface like Narcissus.

February 8, 2013

Excuse of a Heart

In my last post, I mentioned the exhibition of works of art that featured hearts at the Nina Liu and Friends gallery a few years ago. The second work I made for that exhibition was a slightly revised still life. Once again, it was a still life painting that was not painted to my satisfaction. These are always good to experiment with as there is no compunction about ruining a good thing. A bad painting cannot be made worse - but it can possibly get better. So after toning down some areas and keying up others, I added a small red heart on a platter, leaving it up to the viewer to decide what the heart is and what it signifies. It could be a candy heart with a red wrapper. It could be a locket. It could be a carving. Or it could be an excuse to include it in a thematic exhibition. The painting is now in a private collection in Charleston, SC.

February 7, 2013

Francesca on a Heart Rug

Although I had recently resolved not to randomly add little hearts to a design so it can be reused for Valentine’s Day, there was a time in the past when I had done such a thing. The occasion was an exhibition on the theme of hearts at the gallery of Nina Liu and Friends in Charleston. I had a painting of a woman seated in an narrow upright chair on top of a round pink rug. I never liked the painting but was too parsimonious to throw it away. So I first changed the rug into a heart shape. Not stopping there on the heart theme, I started adding all kinds of decorative green and pink hearts in a make-believe fabric design behind the model. For good measure, I covered the awkwardly painted hands with a round bouquet of tiny white flowers. A funny piece, indeed, which I still have hanging in my dining room above a quilt with similar colors.

February 6, 2013

Portrait of a Man with Dan Fabric Design

While in the midst of making drawings this month, I told myself that I would resist the temptation, by my seasonal search for hearts and various other love images, to force the topic by insinuating little hearts into the compositions. But recently, little hearts did present themselves in my search for an African fabric design to finish the background of a portrait I was working on. In the original sketch I made of the model’s head, there was only a roughly indicated piece of drapery behind his head. It was a blank slate into which I could insinuate a pattern of my choosing. I did find an interesting pattern in a Dan (Yacoubu) fabric. As serendipity would have it, there were little hearts in the design. The drawing was completed yesterday and boldly goes forth as a portrait true to both cultural and seasonal accuracy. The image above is a detail from this drawing.

February 5, 2013

Heart Heart Heart

While delving into my archive in search of hearts and love, I revisited my mosaic
chart series. Since I had not published my mosaic take on an EKG previously, I’ve selected this one to post in keeping with the February theme. The mosaic is made from glass, gold, and semi-precious gems and is now in the private collection of a cardiologist. It is the only one in the set of a bell curve, a bar graph, and a chart showing alpha waves, that I don’t still have in my own possession.

February 3, 2013

A Touch of Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens was undoubtedly one of the most sensuous of Baroque painters. Everything about his rendering of human skin was resplendent beyond the flesh of mere mortals. A fallen Amazon in his Battle of the Trojans and Amazons was painted as if she were a lush oyster offered up for the feast. Even his rendition of Christ on the cross was more sensual than spiritual. Christ’s flesh was painted to look like polished alabaster with the crucifixion marks so tiny as to look like nothing more than rosebuds. In Rubens’ robust scenes of amorous adventures, the cavorting people - and sometimes half-people- often border on the kinky. I stood in front of one such bucolic scene and made a quick pencil sketch, which I just blackened with charcoal and white pastel for a more dramatic effect. In the original painting, Rubens managed to make the man’s romantic partner look coy and seductive. My rendering, I think, makes her look somewhat overwhelmed. Would that I had the delicate touch of a Rubens!

February 2, 2013

February is the month of hearts and love. For this month, I’ll be posting images of both recent work as well as work from my archive on this theme. The image above is a valentine I made for my husband using water soluble pastels.