I just needed to draw today. I have several projects going on , some concepts I need to move forward with for upcoming shows but that all said , just wanted to draw , for drawings sake .
So I did, not the most disciplined of actions perhaps …
I ignored a big looming unfinished painting which is at that stage of “will I ever finish ??”; ignored other works half begun ; ignored projects germinating .
And this drawing , my interpretation of that moment on the road to Damascus is the result. Not the greatest of accomplishments perhaps but I feel more at ease.
It was wonderful to have new thoughts and to just let the pencil move where it wanted to . Mentally , drawing is so clarifying. Particularly welcome as my studio is a happy jumble at the moment. Actually it’s always a jumble , which is how I like it.
Tomorrow I will begin anew on “Goblin Market “. But for the moment calling it a night , pleased I listened to that inner voice .
We live now in what was described recently in a New York Times article as “ the age of rage”. Outrage is in the air , folks are prickly (often justifiably so ) and tensions are palpably high; I have experienced this myself, having inadvertently caused discontent and expressing my own discontent. There was the recent brouhaha at the Whitney over the death portrait of Emmett Till painted by a white artist , pitchforks were raised and there were calls for the destruction of the work (so much attention was paid to this single painting that I almost failed to notice the rest of the collection -much of which I found addressing social issues effectively as well as being visually dazzling).
For more information follow this link: https://hyperallergic.com/368290/censorship-not-the-painting-must-go-on-dana-schutzs-image-of-emmett-till/ In a more pedestrian instance, an entire day on social media was recently focused upon a banal advertising commercial featuring an overhyped celebrity play-acting social activist all whilst peddling a soft drink . A valid point concerning the appropriation of social activism (in particular that of the Black Lives Movement) was made , the advertisement was swiftly pulled and social media moved on . But personally I hadn’t felt the level of outrage that was so vocally expressed in my FB feed. This may very well be the privilege of the white male but discovering that capitalism is coarse and ugly and will employ any marketable hashtag it thinks will sell one more bottle of toxic bubbly brown just doesn’t seem that surprising. Yet I know heretofore apolitical artists, myself included , who relentlessly employ hashtags that indicate a political engagement not previously expressed ; is this so called click bait or sincere outrage ? I have to frequently ask this question to myself . Within a few days the angry collective cloud had seemed to blow over and we were collectivity ( and appropriately) crushed by images of Syrians, men, women and children painfully gassed by their wantonly cruel dictator. But the issue will reemerge and I sincerely question appropriation, what exactly entails appropriation and in many situations what justifies the righteousness of ” identity politics”. I am determined to avoid the heated rhetoric of the far right but I have become increasingly aware of the painful divisiveness amongst people of goodwill even here in my own camp . For although I am not poor, nor am I traditionally disenfranchised, I do lack an advanced degree and I too have felt the sting of being shut down by the Judith Butler/Foucault-quoting-critical theorist-academic elites.
This past weekend I attended an artists talk at a local gallery . The well curated exhibition was self identified as queer (a term – and a hashtag – I have frequently employed in describing myself and my work). Even before I attended the discussion there was a minor social media outrage , accusation of racism freely bantered about concerning a perceived lack of diversity in the collection . These accusations seemed unfounded and hollow to me as the intent of the show, as clearly stated in the curators’ statement, was focused upon the Western male homoerotic gaze . And although much of the work was indeed depictions of pretty dewy-eyed white boys (as has so often been the case in mainstream gay culture ), there were in fact alternative images of desire and longing .
All that said , the point of the show was focused upon the male-to-male gaze , that fairly or not , has been undeniably inspired by the West , one need only look to the Greeks . The co- curator of this show , a thoughtful and well informed fellow , rightly pointed out that the homosexual art historian Johann Winckelmann was in fact writing love letters to Hellenistic works of art .
Gay men have historically been doing this ever since ; it is a driving force with my own work and the intention of the collection in question. Diversity in representation is of course important but the orthodox backlash of what is acceptable inspiration and the (over?) heated division generated is often stifling and ultimately may lead to self censorship. All that said , the self identified queerness of the show left me feeling alienated and questioned my own “appropriation ” of the word ( and hashtag ) ” queer”. From the panel discussion of queer artists , academics and activists , I was clearly not queer enough . There were open jokes skewering conventional mainstream gay men as IKEA shopping , happily and monogamously married homos settling into a presumably sexless existence with well tended gardens and adopted children ( or in my case adopted pups ) all whilst the “real” queers reveled unshackled ( or perhaps shackled ) in sex clubs, dungeons and public parks, “documenting” shenanigans heretofore kept out of public view .
This of course is an overstatement, but the body of work deemed queer (at least in this well curated collection) was in fact focused upon salacious images of dick . So much so , that this artist who is NOT afraid of the penis , felt uncomfortable, rather queasy and ultimately a bit bored . I also felt , once again , alone . Identify politics , in this case queer identified politics , can possess an orthodoxy of identity that I frequently cannot meet and once again I felt as if I were looking into a room ( in this case of attractive young men ) where I simply did not belong and was not welcome . This sense of isolation is familiar , personally and to many of us , no matter how we identity . Identity politics with its wonderful intentions of giving voice to the unvoiced can easily slip into the righteous orthodoxy of the oppressor. Well intentioned or not, so much anger and outrage can in fact be hurtful and alienating . While marching at the LA Women’s March I witnessed protestors of color taunting white suburban women with hostile placards mocking their (perceived) new found activism , questioning explicitly wether they would be found at the next BLM march. They have a valid point and it is perhaps a fair question to ask, but if I were those “nice white ladies”, I doubt very much I would attend.
Squelching well intentioned good will is unhelpful at best . In fact I rarely attend most activists events, even those addressing issues important to the LGBTQ community, POC, women’s issues or any other cause I have allegiance with, for the very reason that somehow , someway, my motivations and intentions are just not up to snuff or “pure” enough . In place of good humored camaraderie, I often encounter a competitive edge that is bordering upon open hostility , a frantic jostling as to who is more informed, more passionate and possessing the most fervent militant zeal . I find it all so daunting and alienating, frankly I’m ill suited to conflict and ill equipped to defend my own good intentions . Instead I retreat . I will however continue to diligently plod along, making my art that isn’t queer enough , righteous enough or identifiable enough . However I can say that the negative repercussions of what is acceptable inspiration and what is cultural appropriation has entered my creative process and my studio practice . Whilst recently brainstorming a concept, I was initially considering exploring ,once again , the archetype of the great and fearsomely attractive Mesoamerican war god Huitzlipochtli to embody the excesses of patriarchy.
But rather quickly I shifted course , not wishing to endure the accusatory arrows of appropriation, I looked to safer territory , the Western canon , specifically the ancient Greeks and Romans, and chose instead that granddaddy of patriarchy , Uranus .
And while Dead White Men have their very vocal critics, I for one can live with this focus , in fact I revel in it as western art, culture and tradition is in fact familiar and eternally thrilling . But it’s also somewhat limiting , instead of feeling free to draw upon any inspiration unfiltered, I feel now a need to question my every motivation. But until I feel better able to defend my intentions I will remain focused upon the Classical traditions of the West.
Recently I had a discussion with a friend, an art historian who’s opinion I hold in high regard. We were speaking of what constitutes inspiration and what is appropriation. I brought up Picasso, Cubism, the well documented influence of African masks upon his work and the subsequent masterpiece Les Demoiselles de Avignon. My friend quickly dismissed Picasso as caring not at all about African art. I felt more than a bit perplexed by this response as I’m not sure what is the appropriate level of appreciation an artist must have for art made outside of his or her own culture in order to find inspiration. Must we really be of a culture in order to draw upon it for appreciation , inspiration and joy ?
What I can say is , whether or not dear Pablo possessed the “appropriate” level of appreciation for African art or not , I am certainly happier living in a world with Cubism than without . And whether or not it was his intention, he introduces this queer little suburban boy from New Jersey -and much of the western world – to African art in a broad and general way . Was Picasso a scholar of African art , probably not , a tool of the Oppressor, certainly not , a great artist? Absolutely. Art ,made manifest by unfiltered inspiration in a seemingly less hostile age.
https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79766 The restrictions of outrage are increasingly more heated, more limiting and more intimidating. I am a quiet person, a shy person , averse to conflict and I will retreat into my hermitage and continue to make what is most likely insignificant art but I will do so without the specter of potential anger and criticism so easily provoked in this Age of Rage by simply avoiding certain inspiration deemed by the powers that be as not my own to draw upon.
Thankfully the Getty has an extraordinary collection of medieval illuminations, if you want me , you can find me there.
I have been hard at work on my contributions for the group show “Bad Girls & Outcasts” at Cactus Gallery . Earlier last year my friend, the talented Ulla Anobile had conceived of the theme and had invited me (and the marvelous Mavis Leahy) to participate. Initially it was to be the three of us, but given the interest in the theme ( perhaps in large part due to our current political climate ) , Bad Girls are all the rage and many fine artists are now participating. It should be a very exciting show, Cactus Gallery always gathers together diverse artists and I have no doubt this will be an exceptional group of makers.
For my part I’ve focused on a few of my favorite archetypes: the brazen femme fatale; the sinner/saint; the vengeful goddess and of course, witches. I worked in a variety of techniques: fiber art, painting, drawing, and relief printing. The following images are the results of my love affair with all girls bad, wonderful and misunderstood.
Happily, as I finished up yesterday, I did one final drawing of The Magdalene, as a study for personal reasons, not for the show. After posting my studio progress on Instagram I was pleasantly surprised to find that a collector for the drawing. I’m not yet ready to part with the drawing but I’m telling you, Bad Girls are all the rage!
I am happy to say that I have finished my latest figure for an upcoming group show here in the Los Angeles with a theme of “Bad Girls &Outcasts”. I’ve made about five pieces for the gallerist to consider and this soft sculpture figure is my latest.
As I continue on this practice of “painting-sculptures” I find myself more and more drawn to the possibilities of figures in the round. The making of these figures being immensely gratifying.
This particular figure was directly inspired by a relief print I had made before crafting The Magdalene. Perhaps its gimmicky but that print will accompany the figure when she is presented to collectors.
As with much of my work one thing leads to another, this small print leading to another more complicated and I believe, more successful print, of the same subject.
It will also be presented at the gallery.
The Magdalene has been a figure of fascination since my boyhood, searching out her familiar red hair and raw tears in countless museum visits throughout my life.
Her renunciation of worldliness in order to be closer to the God who left her behind stabs my heart every time. I’m of course playing loose with history and church tradition, but that is the emotional effect, one of abject abandonment, that moves me so deeply . In many ways, she reminds me of Dido and her awful lament.
Of course, at least according to Church tradition, she is ultimately reunited with her Savior , often depicted ascending heavenwards garbed only in her anchorite-wild hair. This visual tradition of presenting The Magdalene as a Wild Woman is also extraordinarily interesting to me. She is in effect the corporeal equivalent of the divine other-wordly Blessed Virgin.
That old trope of Virgin and (Redeemed) Whore.
This resonates for me in that it allows exploration of the Old Gods and the New and how we , as a society , have tried to synthesize these elements in a cohesive and manageable way. I love both the BVM and The Magdalene, but personally, I feel closer to the latter.
Following are a few (unattributed) images of MM that I treasure.
(this is I believe, her reliquary , at least that what my what I noted)
Below is info concerning the show, if in LA, please visit.
I am working on a series of pieces for an upcoming group show devoted to the maligned women of history , folk tale and myth . The show is called “Bad Girls”. There are plenty of so called Bad Girls to choose from and I’ve selected a few that have resonated over the years : Salome , Mary Magdalene, the three crones from “Macbeth”.
My studio progress which had been going well has been interrupted a bit ( even this post , ordinarily made from the comfort of my studio , is now made from my IPhone at my breakfast table .
My little dog Rose is very sick . We nearly lost her over the weekend and her recovery is arduous and fraught with worry . My time and my emotions are occupied with her recovery .
That said , I did manage to bring all the pups to the studio yesterday and put in a few hours . Rose’s whimpering abating , the anti anxiety meds kicking in allowing me some time to focus.
What I focused upon was the Mesoamerican moon goddess Coyolxauhqui, link below :
According to the legend this unfortunate goddess for reasons complicated by patriarchy and misogyny, is mutilated beyond recognition. Forever memorialized in the monumental disc bearing her image found now at the Templo Mayor museum in Mexico City . She is a powerful figure.
I worked rather feverishly yesterday as I knew my time was limited before Rosie became restless again needing my attention and the result thus far , is the corpus of the goddess found above . I myself was struck by the pathos of the being .
As usual with my dollmaking I hadn’t filtered my emotions for mechanics; the figure emerged on her own . And after I held her broken body and posted her image online , only then , over dinner with my husband ( the psychotherapist) did I realize that my Coyolxauhqui was in fact Rosie.
This should have been obvious , Rose has an amputated rear right leg and now a near lame right arm- she is essentially an invalid . That the doll is nearly life sized to my sweet pug is also an unconscious similarity.
I’m of course completely absorbed with Rose’s needs , we both are . David , a medical doctor’s son is particularly adept in assessing in a calm cool manner; but he has his own work , patients of the human sort wrestling with their own traumas .
As the artist with a more flexible schedule, nursing is for the most part, my duty . I’m so happy she is alive I am grateful to have this second chance . But it’s hard , she cannot eliminate on her own , fights me ferociously over her bitter pills and the whimpering, not consistent, but when she does whimper , it breaks my heart in half . Believing myself to be impotent , useless .
This is Rosie yesterday , a better day ( after a fraught night ) , shopping for new bedding and nursing paraphernalia. She loved the attention , her tail wagging with enthusiasm.
Today, after her follow up at the hospital ( it’s predicted to be a lengthy recovery , six months or so of this schedule), I plan to head to the studio and meet my other obligations to the show , my work and to myself .
The following images are of my progress thus far: Wish me luck.
After a rather arduous process I have at last finished my latest relief print depicting the “weird” sisters from Macbeth (actually any practitioner of ancient arts). It is for an upcoming show here in LA devoted to Bad Girls, and as witchery and pagan ways have beguiled me since boyhood (going so far as memorizing the witches’ lines from the bard’s play), I felt they were a worthy subject. I wanted to laud the women (and men) who have been maligned and persecuted in the past. I also wanted to, as in the middle sister, explore intersex identity. What I like about this print is that it recalls a stained glass window, a pagan stained glass window to ancient seers and prophets.
But I hadn’t anticipated such difficulty in the making. Perhaps it is a testament to my increasing skill in printmaking,but my expectations are now higher. And as with my painting practice, as I make progress, I also find myself more keenly aware of how to improve the work. In this case, after rather laboriously cutting multiple plates and running a rather sizable series of prints, after reflection , I just felt the print to not be up to par.
The cutting of the plate (s) above, and the enthusiastic running of sixteen prints.
And the lackluster results.
Having run the series on a Friday, by the time I returned on Sunday, the print seemed cramped and illegible. I have a high tolerance for density and visual information , but I found myself unable to read the image.
So back to the cutting table, the previous series essentially material for collage.
This new series is smaller (mostly because I have run low on good printing paper) , I was concentrating on making a sound image, not quantity. As it is, in a series of six, only half are in high enough quality to market. I had trouble with the density of black, too much “snow-flaking”, as in this blue version.
Given the small run and limited number of prints available, they are artist’s proofs. But I now feel confident that the next run will be a success. To ensure that success I may resort to a spell or two:
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
Harpier cries “‘Tis time, ’tis time.”
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.
Double, double, toil and trouble; (10)
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe (30)
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.
[Enter Hecate, to the other three Witches]
O well done! I commend your pains;
And every one shall share i’ the gains;
And now about the cauldron sing,
Live elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in.
[Music and a song: ‘Black spirits,’ etc, Hecate retires]
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
I’ve just received word , via text , that a dear friend has just died, cut down far too short. Her death, though expected, stunned me to tears and has struck me once again by the unfairness of the inevitable. Unfairness is probably a foolish thing to say, it is the bargain life makes with the eternal. On my jog yesterday I was delighted by the glossy virgin leaves of the pear trees, providing a lovely frame to the sweet tender blossoms. But interspersed between the verdure I saw the withered and desiccated leaves of last spring, clinging on just a bit longer. Perhaps holding on, making sure the next generation was established.
This curbside philosophizing made me chuckle and shudder all at once; I’m the brown leaf and what am I doing fretting about the petty worries of my day? The fresh sprouts of time forever surging forward. I had been fretting, as is my wont, by yet another unfavorable review, this time, that my work was too dense, too time consuming to experience. The critic felt it would take twenty hours to discern and hadn’t the interest or the inclination to do so. That of course stung, but what I realized was, this is MY vision, my interest, my art; not hers. And although the conversation with the world at large is of vital importance, perhaps a fundamental impetus for art making; the conversation with my soul is paramount. I make dense, frequently incomprehensible art (even to myself), it is intuitive and flawed but true.
Today I am feeling the passage of time acutely, with my friend’s death, a nascent cold/flu/bubonic plague looming and most recently a loss of a tooth. That tooth, an emblem of youth, of green vitality , now missing , forces the mirror of life upon me.
Upon hearing of my friend’s death I rushed to the studio, and although it is St. Valentine’s Day and I should say my greatest passion is for my dear David (and it is ), my greatest love today, my most pressing desire, was in making. Making flawed, imperfect art that I hope at times resonates.