Most recently, I've found myself becoming involved, once again, with horses. A friend purchased a horse in March, having never owned one before, and I have been helping her out with him. It's as if a sealed door to my past has opened, and memories have been flooding in. So much of my childhood was based on my life with horses, hours spent riding by myself in the open ranch land around our home in Santa Fe, or treating my horse much as other kids treated their bicycles, using him as a way to get places as effortlessly as possible. My library was awash with horse and dog books: Misty of Chincoteague, the entire set of The Black Stallion, King of the Wind, Smokey, and of course, Black Beauty, just to name the ones I still own and treasure. The stories formed my moral compass and gave me an understanding of how things worked, at least from a horse's perspective. As an adult, it was my 20 year old mare's inability to conceive that convinced me that, if I was going to have children, I'd better get going or I would soon be too old.
Many of my horse memories are painful, having to do with problems that arose with my horses, or accidents that could have been fatal--a friend being dragged by that same 20 year old mare. Some of the worst memories are ones of having to say goodbye to a favorite horse, or having to say no to being offered a gift of a horse because I didn't have the money to take care of him. And now, I'm not sure where I've landed with this new horse life. Something has shifted, but it's a wobbly shift, with no clear direction and no real sense of where I'm headed or where I'll end up. So I find myself watching YouTube, giving my chair directions on how to make a perfect 20 centimeter circle using my inside(imaginary) rein and my(real)outside leg.
Part of starting a new body of work is trying to think of ways to make images that are new, not only to me, but to all people that look seriously at art. I've been making images now for almost 40 years, and I find that my main battle is in not letting myself do what I know how to do, what I've become good at and comfortable with. Why would anyone want to do something that's easy, and familiar, that they are skilled at, when they can make themselves extremely anxious by doing what they've never done before?
Since painting is what always guides me, that's my first jump off the cliff: how can I paint in a way that's new to me, or newish, after all these years of painting? With that in mind, I recently discovered how to make clean hard edges with masking tape and polymer medium using colors new to me, purchased at Michael's, where all the serious hobbyists shop. Painting finished, then another precipice to leap off of, this time finding, from my hoard of materials, the right photographs in combination with the right hand-painted papers, along with materials that have no logic to the painting but that somehow work--in this case, a page from an Asian textbook. As well, I used my mother's pinking shears to cut the bangs, beautiful scissors that are probably as old as I am. And finally, after weeks of trying things out, putting different elements together, discarding, then reforming, I have a finished piece that pleases me. It seems new and different, a self portrait of a much younger me, something I didn't realize until I finished writing this piece.
A choice between two persons or things that will result in the death or destruction of the person or thing not chosen.
Origin: From the title of the book Sophie's Choice by William Styron Wictionary
As I continue to work, and accumulate more work, much of which doesn't sell, and some of which never even gets exhibited, I have to face the fact that some of the work must die, or better said, be recycled so that I can make another image on the panel or surface it inhabited. I sometimes think I'm not the best person to make the decision, being way too close to the images to have to choose. But if not me, then who? I can't even ask this of my husband, who is game to help me in anyway he can. So, it's up to me. I put the candidates for the death squad on the wall, and look at them for several days, sometimes weeks, sometimes years. At last I decide who must go under the big gesso brush, then put them out on tables on the porch, all neatly lined up, and, with my heart breaking a little, dip my brush into the bucket of white Kilz and go to work. After two coats, sanding between each one, I'm left with ten to twelve beautiful new surfaces, all ready to start a new lives. But still, for a little while at least, I will remember what exised underneath those beautiful white surfaces.
On May 5th of this year, my husband and I headed home, back to New Mexico, from Penland School of Crafts, located in the mountains of northwest North Carolina. We had been there since early March, me teaching and Bob taking a sculpture class. Our two small dogs were located on pillows behind the passenger seat in our 2006 Toyota Tacoma truck which was packed to the gills. It was full of Bob's sculptures, and all that we had needed for an extended stay including our art supplies and lots and lots of pottery that we had bought while we were there. It was a long drive, one that we were familiar with since we had made the same trip two months before.
We weren't looking forward to it. Both of us had come down with bad head colds that week, and the virus seemed to be getting worse as it progressed. None-the-less, we could do nothing except head out early that Saturday morning, heads throbbing, noses running, coughing and sneezing as we pulled away. Our first mishap happened while I was sleeping: Bob missed the turn for I-40 in Knoxsville and I woke up to signs telling us that we were just outside of Chattanooga. The wrong turn took us an hour out of our way, but we eventually reunited with I-40. Our next mishap happened when we stopped at our first rest stop in Tennessee and, upon opening the door to let the dogs out, I saw all of Sophie's breakfast streaming down the side of the seat.
We drove and drove, listening to Herman Wouk's "The Wind's of War", 45 hours in all, something we could fall asleep and wake up to without missing too much of the plot. We checked into the La Quinta Inn in Little Rock, Arkansas after 13 hours of driving. Exhausted, moving like the living dead, we took care of the dogs, and then stumbled into bed. The next day we took off again, determined to make it back home in one long day's worth of driving. I-40 was an endless stream of 18 wheelers, us passing some, some passing us, shaking our little truck each time they did. Rain that was so hard we could barely see outside of Memphis, and then a gradual browning of the growth on the sides of the road as we continued west. Another 13 hour day, both of us trading off the driving, sleeping when we had the chance. At 9:30 that night we drove into our driveway, breathing in the familiar warm, dry desert air, glad to be home, but not sure if we had really arrived or were just hallucinating.
My corner of the painting studio with one week left to go
The last week will be a mixture of working, critiques, and cleaning up, with a live auction on Thursday night and "Show and Tell" on Friday, where the entire school will put up the best work they've done over the last 8 weeks. I've done 20 pieces in this time, all work that I sandwiched in while helping my students who are all, at this point, fairly independent, usually just coming to me for confirmation or advice on how to do something technically. I've stuck to my rules fairly well, only using materials that I found/scrounged/bought here, or photos taken here as well. Among other things, I discovered a new technique of using pieces of dry wall mud that have cracked off another substrate, then reassembling and gluing them down("Trouble").
"Giant Waving", I did using a cast off image from the letter press class for the main part of the body and the ground(found in the trash and used with permission of the artist).
I'm not sure how successful these images are, and I won't really know until I get them home and see them in my studio, away from the clutter and compression of the class. However, I feel very good about having worked with seven other artists in a fairly confined space, sharing thoughts, ideas, and experiences(as well as being irritated with each at times as well). But most of all, I've loved being part of this community of artists, makers, and art related people who think that spending 8 weeks making art, day in and any out, is just about as good as it gets.
In sharing a workspace with seven other people, I've come to realize how much I need the space and solitude of my own studio. Because my method of working has evolved over the years, I hadn't really realized what the key ingredients were to my making an image until I found that I didn't have those things. They are 1. Lots and lots of space(I mean 7-8 large tables space)so that I can spread out and make a mess, and then leave the mess. 2. Not to have to think about what other people are doing or thinking or saying. 3. To be able to go in and out of the many moods I evolve through (among them irritability and frustration) without worrying about other people's reactions. And 4. To be able put up work in progress and look at it, often for weeks or months, until I feel it's done.
As we've progressed through our time here, I've found myself stealing as much space as I can and working early in the morning or on weekends when few people are around. I've learned to tune out much (but not all) of need for approval and attention from the other artists I share the space with. And I've gone ahead and finished pieces in a few weeks without the luxury of living with them until I'm sure they are finished. And that may not be such a bad thing.
The rules for working on my own images during my two months at Penland School of Crafts are this:
1. I can only use materials that I find(or buy)while at Penland.
2. I should try and use materials that are completely new and/or foreign to me.
3. Any photo I use should be taken while at Penland.
4. I have to stop complaining in my head about the lack of privacy and space available to me.
5. Students needs come first, except after hours.
6. I can break any rule I want.
"Round Head" is made from the negative space left over from student Troy Skully's portrait, the white marks are made using a new foam roller from a set bought at Michael's, the mouth is from a piece of dry wall mud mixed with polymer medium with the teeth drawn in ink, the eyes are student Beth Kokol's, and the sweater neck is from a photo of Photography Studio Manager, Betsy Dewitt's cap. Image not yet adhered, could blow away with the next strong gust of wind that blows in periodically when the door next to my area opens and shuts suddenly.
March 9, my husband, Bob, and I left New Mexico for Penland, North Carolina with our two small dogs in tow. It was a 2 1/2 day drive, and when we arrived it began to snow, and then snowed some more. It has all melted off and we are left with the purposes of our trip: me to teach an 8 week concentration and Bob to take an 8 week sculpture class.
I have eight students in a lovely, fairly new painting studio. I've never worked with students this long, and this intensively(we meet everyday). It's also a much smaller group than what I'm used to working with. I have a corner of the classroom for my own materials and work, and have set it up to be as much like my studio at home as possible, which is tricky since at home I have 1200 square feet of studio space and roughly ten tables plus wall space, as well as complete privacy.
I've done a weeks worth of demos for the students, but haven't really started anything of my own yet, and I have quite a bit of trepidation about starting. I will try and work on the weekends, but have already seen, with this weekend almost gone, and next to nothing done(a trip into Spruce Pine, the nearest town, to buy art and household supplies)how quickly it goes by. I will be way out of my comfort zone in terms of my ways of working, plus my normal, extreme anxiety anytime I start something new. I'm going to try and post every few weeks as we progress, so, sit tight, and send a few prayers my way.
As a lonely child I ate for comfort, usually while reading a book, devouring entire bags of potato chips and many many candy bars. Then, as a young woman, on my own, I found myself seeking out food when I was distressed or upset, which, it seemed, was most of the time. In the mid to late sixties, there was no information about eating disorders. I just knew that I was eating too much, always sweet or salty foods, and that I was gaining weight. I couldn't control it, and it caused me terrible distress. I told no one about it.
Years passed, and I learned not to use food to avoid my problems, instead, dealing with those problems directly. In 1997 I did this painting. At the opening of the exhibit that included it I noticed a young woman standing in front of the painting, rocking from side to side, clearly distressed. My memory is that she was very thin, slight and probably in her mid twenties. I asked her if I could help her, and she turned to me, and said, in a very angry voice, "Why did you do this? Why? And what does the red mean anyway?"*. I don't remember how I replied, only that later I found out that she was from a very wealthy family in Canada and came to live at a resort in Tucson every winter, which is where the exhibit was. She was, of course, struggling with her own overwhelming and destructive eating disorder. I wished I could have helped her in some way, but, of course, I never saw her again. *The red path refers to the cessation of periods in women with eating disorders
My relationship paintings almost always portray the woman as being the larger figure, and this painting is no exception. The woman is from an older photograph of my younger self, and the man, as well, a younger version of my husband. My shoes are red(appropriate), and his green(appropriate but I'm not sure why). Like the relationship, the making of the image was complicated, involving, but not limited to: many layers of acrylic paint, oil paint, crackle medium, transfers, and direct gluing(not necessarily in that order). The text is Japanese, from what is, I think, a Japanese textbook, but there is no way to know for sure since I don't speak Japanese and don't have any friends that do. I don't know what is being said, and even if someone were to read the text it would be backwards since it has been transferred. I simply love the visual look of the letters, and the way they exist and politely enhance but don't intrude. I've found my husband several times pausing in front of the painting and nodding his head in approval. I liked it to begin with, but, with every nod of his head, I find myself liking it a little bit more.