Whenever I ponder why I am so drawn to writing this Studio Journal, it always comes back to: I write to understand, to reflect, to connect. The Desert Island Necessaries in my artmaking include both the doing of it and the writing about that doing, because the writing takes flights that illuminate the making. All else – especially that tedious biz end – can go hang, really. Validation of the power of a purposeful collection of writing was highlighted by a mostly-forgotten book we happened across in the attic last weekend: The Tooth Fairy correspondence belonging to my oldest son, Roger. It affirms that writing is more than just the words and ideas. Tucked in there is also a world view, original evidence of what was important once upon a time. I hope my Studio Journal does that now and in the future for each of us in some way.
Roger’s Tooth Fairy Book was written and thickly illustrated, starting with his first bottom tooth on April 21, 1991 until twelve teeth later on July 25, 1995, when the magic morphed. I’d like to quote at length from that correspondence, formed first in his youthful random caps printing, then in tentative cursive, and then back to printing. While I, in mysterious TF persona, wrote with my non-dominant hand – my brain crying out in protest the while – so he would not recognize my printing. Even if it’s a tad tangential to my usual posts, this is also a hoot – with original spellings – and we all could use that. Let’s start in.
An allegory: On one especially memorable family vacation when I was a pre-teen we drove from CA to WI (and back, but that’s another story) camping each night along the way. Donner Memorial State Park in CA. A last-minute offroad spot outside of Salt Lake City (with cows and a babbling brook.) Somewhere high in the Snowy Range in Wyoming, where we got altitude sickness. And then there was Nebraska, which was flat and took all day to cross. US80 (now I-80, but also known as the Lincoln Highway, Oregon Trail and California Trail) is an old road and in Nebraska there are 72 miles of the most absolute straightness in all of the Interstate Highway System, not varying by more than a few yards. Back in the day it was still a field-flanked two-lane clogged with slow-moving farm equipment and a town with reduced speed limits every ten miles. I stared out the back window of our 1956 Ford Country Sedan Station Wagon at the endlessness of the landscape and at the huge wall of black clouds that followed behind us in the west the whole inching way. We kept just ahead of the thunderstorm until we stopped and set up camp for the night at some tidy midwestern roadside wayfarer court where every car there was from California. Then came the deluge. It wasn’t like you couldn’t see it coming!
Each December I take a moment to reflect on the past year and try to peer into the next. It’s an agenda-less non-ritual with a few symbolic visuals, good smells, candles, flowers, and cowbells. This year I carried objects of continuing fascination to my (slab-roller) altar. I also brought my lists: 2016’s Successes and Suckages and 2017’s Future Games. This writing is intended to be my last post for this year, so I will dwell on 2016’s Gumbo of the Sublime and see you back here bright and early in 2017 to discuss what else I can see on the creative horizon and how you and I can meet there.
Mamma Mia! Here’s a new one: What if a bunch of artists got together for a group show made up entirely of personal renditions of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? All media welcome. Could be a rollick and I said, “Sì Sì.”
For this discussion, PTCS means “Post Traumatic Critique Syndrome” and Defectology, means focusing on lack and limitation.
I can still see my Beginning Painting instructor’s bushy 70s walrus mustache motating as he critiqued – no, outright criticized – my certainly awful attempt at the current assignment: paint a self-portrait as a famous person. On a 3’x4′ canvas I had modeled a full-bodied gesture of Greek-robed, barefooted Isadora Duncan in mid-bound and was having trouble putting my features onto it at all convincingly. I particularly remember the mustache’s emphatic contract/expand curl as he sneered the word “dumpy” in slow motion. “IS-a-dora DUN-can WAS NOT DUM-PEE! ” he intoned as he was actually looking down his nose at me.
Thing is, this guy worked hard in his critiques at tearing apart the whole line-up of our work. I was not singled out here, but by the time he got to me I was seething. At the sight of that slo-mo sneering ‘stache, I blinked. Out of hot shame and powerlessness, I sputtered back with all I had: my born fightin’ Ulster-Scot sense of justice and fairplay. “We already know our work is bad!!!!!” I yelped, “Why don’t you help us see what’s good about it???? Or at least suggest what we could try to make it better????”
I wish I could tell you what happened afterwards, or even the rest of the semester, but soon after that episode I had an emergency appendectomy and took an Incomplete. Within the year allowed to remedy the INC, I returned to his office with several other paintings I had done without the torment of his criticism. I got a B. Not sure it’s a direct consequence, but I have never taken another painting class.
The HOME Exhibit at the Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery just closed. Everybody’s pieces are going home – some to new ones. I have written about this exhibit for the past six weeks: the drop-off, its reception, three of the most compelling pieces in it, and my artwork in depth. (All the links you need are below.) We will close this Summer Blog-a-thon too, with a tiny glimpse of striking the set and beginning the new production. Over is OVER, as the deconstructed title wall serendipitously demonstrated when I showed up to get my piece.