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One of the biggest problems I have, after 40 years of making images, is that I just have too much.  Too much to store, too much to keep track of, too much to leave to my daughters when I die. Today, while going through my digital files, I came across two pieces that I did in 2010.  I had decided they weren't good enough to keep, so they were gessoed over and then made into new paintings. Now, looking at the two, I find myself  thinking, "What the hell was going on with you? How could you have painted over these?".  I love the pattern paper that makes up  the background in both images, for both the physical reality of the lines and the conceptual one of using an image that is all about making something else.  The snake on God's very red chest, and the apple falling from his hand in Adam and Eve give us clear clues as to what this is all about. The stories are strong: at the same time that God is sending the two errant humans out of the garden, he is creating sky, trees, and birds and clouds as well.  With  Beasts he gently urges the elephants out of the flower they have been gestating  in while a huge yellow sun glows in the background.  In both images God is nerdy, but clearly well meaning(but maybe not the best dresser). There is nothing about these two paintings that I don't love, yet they no longer exist except as digital images. And at least now, there are two more paintings that I don't have to worry about.
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To Keep the Wolf from the Door: to have just enough money to be able to eat and live, Cambridge Dictionary.

A few days ago we received a card from a long time friend.  Along with a picture of the family, and a recounting of the year's travels and adventures, it also stated that our friend had been diagnosed with (stage 2) ovarian cancer.  She wrote on the card, "Big white waves ahead for us.  And here we go!".  This is not the first friend to be diagnosed with cancer.  Recently, my husband counted four friends who, in the past two years, have been diagnosed and treated for cancers, all serious, including a young, recently married mother diagnosed with breast cancer.  On my side, I  have a friend's sister who is literally, at death's door, and another friend who died last year of pancreatic cancer. The wolf is at the door, although different for everyone. For my mother it is being made frantic at not being able to turn the TV off because she has confused the phone for the remote. For my husband it was a DVT in his leg a year and a half ago, and for a young friend it was his mother being hit by a motorist while on her bicycle, left in a coma for weeks. I could go on and on.  We all have these stories, they just seem to be coming faster and more furiously.  I don't think we can keep the wolf from the door.  He's coming.  Be ready.

 

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In every successful artist's life there has to be someone that believes in that artist 150%, and for me, that person has always been my husband, Robert Wilson. Not only does he care deeply about what I do, but he has been my subject hundreds and hundreds of times.  The photographs I take of him are awkward and odd, and then I do even stranger things to the photos once I start incorporating paint.  What happens next, once I start painting, has always been a form of magic to me since I have no idea what will come of these images. Something takes over and it's much bigger and better than me. The results speak to me of another world, another reality that I was somehow able to step into for a brief period of time.  Sometimes the images referenced parts of Bob and his personality, as in After the Operation, an image about kindness and concern, taking care of those things smaller and weaker than ourselves, and other times they might reference his being part of a different reality as in Bob as BlackieIn Bob Dreaming, I caught that moment when we go from our sleeping selves to our dreaming selves, separating off into another dimension. Looking back over the years of having made these images, I'm amazed at what we both have managed to accomplish--me with my camera and brushes, Bob with his support, his unconditional love, and his connection to the other side.


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Sophie Rex Symer with their two self portraits

As a graduate student at Arizona State University in the 70's, I was fortunate enough to have had, as one of my instructors, John Kacere.  A photo realist painter of woman's sexily glad midsections(but mostly of buttocks), John was a fantastic teacher. Short(he let us know that he wore lifts in his cowboy boots) and very intense, he made us all feel that each of us was that one special student. At one point, when John was talking to me about my work, he leaned in, and in his gravelly voice, insisted that I had to follow three rules if I were ever to teach. The rules were:

1.  Know the subject you are teaching inside and out--be very good at what you teach
2. Never give your students more than they can handle
3. Always love every student the same. 

I have gone on to teach now for 30 some years, always workshops in different art centers around the country, or at universities or with privately produced groups of artists who invite me to work with them.  I have found that all three of John's rules are something that I apply in each and every workshop I teach.  As a working artist, I have a depth of knowledge in the very narrow area that I work in:  combining paint with other kinds of imagery, and I've become especially knowledgeable about different transfer processes. I am good at and do know well what I'm teaching.  I have found that rule number 2 is very important, because by allowing someone to get in over their heads and then failing, they are then convinced that they can't do, and will never do whatever that thing is they are attempting. They think it's their entirely their fault, and they want to give up.  I back them out of the problem, and together we come at it from a different direction until they succeed. The last rule is probably the most important, because if someone feels that you are preferring one student over another, they will lose trust in you, even if they are that preferred student.  A class works as one unit, and if there is disharmony or if one  of the students feels left out or overlooked, it affects, negatively, the entire dynamic of the class. The students aren't just learning from you, but also from each other and they need that basis of trust. Finding one's creative voice is such a delicate process, that with any sign of of preferential treatment, that creative voice will go into hiding, and refuse to emerge. 

I would like to think that John, who died in 1999, would be pleased and proud of the way I've continued his legacy of teaching.  I'd like to think that I've helped people become the best artists they can be, just as he helped me all those years ago.



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I first met Nancy as a student of mine at Anderson Ranch here in Snowmass, Colorado. She would eventually take four of my workshops:  two before she was diagnosed with breast cancer and two after. In the first two workshops she struggled to find her voice, but after she returned from her treatment to get rid of the cancer,  she was fierce.  In each of the two latter workshops she progressed rapidly, finding ways to express herself that were novel to all of us, but especially to her.  She worked hard and consistently, the old nagging voices of self doubt gone, replaced by confidence, curiosity, and courage.  In the last workshop she took with me she brought in large, 24”x24” panels, and proceeded to fill them with strange and beautiful landscapes using paint, dictionary pages, and contact paper.  She was focused, and worked about as hard as anyone can work in a room full of 12 other people, keeping her socializing to a minimum, not letting herself be distracted from her work.

On April 18th of this year, Nancy succumbed to her cancer.  She left a legacy, not just of her courage and determination, but two endowments to help other women in their own journeys.  One is a yearly scholarship to help woman in the snow sports(having grown up in Aspen, Nancy had been both a ski racer and a ski instructor), and the other, again, yearly, is for a female artist to take a workshop at Anderson Ranch. I hope I’m lucky enough to have one of those students in one of my workshops.


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"Beautiful Woman", finished three days ago



The work of "Izzy" found at the Restore in Asheville, N.C. this last April. 20 paintings at $2 each.

This past fall I've been chasing my tail in the studio.  I'd start something, then jump to something else, then find another process or idea that interested me--usually some new way to do a transfer.  I experimented, messed up, continued, had some success, then would go back to the pieces I had been working on earlier, but still not finishing them.  I'd print things out from my computer to use in my images, then sit in front of the screen and read the news, hunt for full frame Nikon cameras on eBay or craigslist, or look at Facebook posts.  The minutes, then the hours would go by.  Still, nothing done. I found myself consciously trying to make things ugly.  I did, and they were indeed ugly.  I decided to use old nude photos of myself taken when I was in my 20's, then backed out, nervous about having them out in the world. And so I continued to circle, and circle, and circle. 

Then a few days ago I thought to pull out the paintings I'd bought in North Carolina from a thriftstore earlier this year.  Only one is signed, but they are all by the same hand--Izzy's.  They aren't great art, but they have a liveliness and an authenticity to them that I was attracted to, and so I ended up buying 20 from the more than 50 that were there.  I removed all my work from the long shelf in my studio and put Izzy's work up. I looked at them for most of the afternoon--really looked.  They were energentic, bold, and unafraid, all qualities that I seemed to have been lacking this fall. I played around with a few of Izzy's portraits, adding mouths and eyes and lips to them, and then, quite unexpectedly I started working on my own pieces.  Within a few hours I had laid out four panels, then finished them all off in the next few days.  For me, they were strange, quirky, and oddly wonderful, all portraits, "Beautiful Woman" being the last of the four.  
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Drawing for "Bird with Spots"

Drawing:  a graphic representation by lines of an object or idea, as with a pencil; a delineation of form without reference to color.  Dictionary.com
 
When we do one of the transfer techniques that I teach,we end up with millions of little pieces of paper from rubbing the backs off of our photographs.  It's obsessive-compulsive work, and most of us like doing it, at least for awhile. Then we'll get bored, or our fingertips will start to hurt from the constant rubbing(some of the more obsessive of us even getting blisters).  The paper lays around on the table top in a messy, annoying way, but then--something happens in that part of your brain that makes those kinds of connections that you have learned to listen to.  You decide to collect and lay out all of those paper crumbs, then spray them with black ink. What you are left with are thousands of little black rolled up balls of paper. And after pleading not to be tossed in the nearest trash can, those little black balls began to really speak to you. They might, for example, began to want to be a bird.  So, you move them onto a piece of white paper so that you can see them clearly, and before too long, a little bird shows up. With the addition of a photographic eye taken of one of your students, you might then have a tough little bird with a soft, warm, human eye.

Although you love the drawing you've made from the tiny rolled up pieces of paper, black ink and the eye of your student, you probably feel that it isn't quite enough. So, you go through all the smallish, abstract paintings you have(and there are many) until you find one that suits your drawing.  Then, through the magic of Photoshop and another equally magical transfer process, you marry the two, ending up with "Bird with Spots".  You feel good about your strange little drawing and it's final home.


"Bird with Spots"






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On almost every major intersection in Albuquerque, I see pan handlers, usually with signs asking for help.  Hand written on cardboard, often misspelled with the writing getting smaller as it gets closer to the bottom, they are missives wanting us to know that they are hungry, cold, disabled, and sad.  They look to make eye contact with us as we wait for the light to change, hoping that we will roll down our windows and hand them some money.  Not far away, on the corner, their metal shopping carts sit patiently, filled to overflowing with blankets, sleeping bags,clothes and who knows what else one needs to survive without a home.  At night, the panhandlers in our area are gone, headed for the Bosque, the dense cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande River, to set up camp.  If they are unlucky, someone will call the police and while they are panhandling, their tents and sleeping material will be swept away, so that even that temporary home will be gone.  They will need to find another place in the Bosque, that hopefully won't be raided as they stand in the cold, or sun, or wind waiting for something to make their lives a little better.
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Here, we only see the aftermath of the Big Event, Eve having taken a bite of the forbidden apple, which of course, causes she and Adam to be cast out of Paradise, nude, into the world.  Paradise, which had been theirs, is no longer available to them, and for all time going forward, there will be woe and strife between men and women, men and men, and women and women(but not so much as the first two).  The devil, disguised as the snake that tempted Eve, lays under Adam's foot, accidentally being crushed by a bumbling and unaware Adam.  The two float on clouds of different colors, Eve striding forward confidently, Adam hesitating, unaware that, from now on, the two of them have doomed all mankind.
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Because of the attention brought to the "Me Too" movement by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford*, I've been looking at my own "Me Too" moments, and, as well, asking my close woman friends about their experiences.  It's been eye opening, to say the least.  Friends I've had for years, good friends, I'm now finding out were raped, and in some cases, not just once, but twice. Of the three close friends that I see on a regular basis, all have had some sort of negative, aggressive sexual encounters as younger women. I myself had bad experiences as a child, a teenager, and as a young adult, some events worse than others. Something that was so traumatic to us, so devastatingly harmful, we seem to have swept under the rug so that we could go on with our lives.  Like Dr. Ford, we had chosen to live our lives without comment or conversation about these awful things, until finally, the door has opened and we see that it wasn't just us.

*https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/16/politics/blasey-ford-kavanaugh-letter-feinstein/index.html
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