Thursday, July 28, 2011

transient places

I've been reading The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, a book that lived on my shelf for a while and that I recently pulled out of a box. Seemed like a good time for it, as its themes are a current preoccupation of mine. He explores the ideas of transient places, modes of transport, the inspiration or disillusionment or the sense of returning to ourselves that we may find on our journeys. The anticipation and departure, the experiences ranging from mundane to sublime or both at once. Curiosity. How to process the abundance of information that we may receive, using it to enhance our lives, or sometimes how to pull the covers over our heads when the overstimulation gets too intense.
I wasn't even away for that long, but the combination of being in different environments, with new people, along with all the new thoughts I've been having about my work and how I want to continue.. along with that intensity of emotion I tend to experience... makes me feel like raking it all into a big soft pile, collapsing backwards into it and taking a nap. Bringing it back again to.. where's a good place to do this kind of thinking? On the road, or while pushing a wheelbarrow, or in the studio, whether that's inside or outside. Tomorrow I will include a few bits that I like from the book, as the talk of covers and napping has done its work.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

in the box

I can't say this will be the most thrilling of posts, but after I finished writing, I thought that it did reveal something about my path to where I am.
A new cluster of recollections arose while going through the last box in my old closet in Brewster. I've been working on the house, bit by bit. Eventually I'll reopen more cartons I filled only a few months ago, as perhaps if I live without some stuff for long enough, I'll realize I don't need it anymore. Sometimes, just giving myself time to think about some objects is all I need to let them go. I'd already done a lot, even threw away old art from high school & the earlier college years. No need to keep it all, it was so bad that it wasn't even useful as a record of my progress.
On top I found a bunch of letters and artwork from my first boyfriend. Do I throw them away? I'm sure that he didn't keep mine, maybe most people don't do that. But they are also a record, if one-sided, of that first significant relationship, and capture the intensity & enthusiasm with which we initially approached it, and then still the passion but also the angst and despair, the love and the extravagant verbosity. I haven't really reread them. I don't know so I just put them aside again.
Under those, a stack of old Sassy magazines circa '90-'94 (age 12-15). I subscribed to others but they were all lame- I knew it even then- this was a good one, actual articles and minimal fluff, cool and funky, probably cooler than I was, but it had an artsy vibe that I identified with. So I couldn't bear to toss them long ago as I had the rest. I liked that it wasn't just about flirting and makeup. A few years ago there was an article in Bitch magazine about Sassy and I loved it, it was of course aimed at women my age who had fond memories of the short-lived publication. Girls weren't even as overtly sexualized as they are now. Then again in the '90s we all wore our clothes oversized and baggy, some of us (ahem) more than others.
Leading me to the next, a book of lyrics by Paula Cole whose music I liked in '96-'98. "I'm only 16 and I think I have an ulcer/ hiding my sex behind a dirty sweatshirt.. I just want to be a dog or a lump of clay.. everyday I dream of leaving.. I don't want to be me, I don't want to be here".. By the time I heard these lyrics from her 1st album I was 19 but I remembered 16-18 and understood those feelings. What I was experiencing at 19 were also reflected in songs from her 2nd album This Fire which embraced self-expression, self-confidence, sexuality, and, well, inner fire. Still the conflicts raged within. I missed out on a lot of that kind of music for some reason, the female empowerment genre, but I went my own way. I also read about women artists and writers in Paris in the '20s and '30s (and then New York in the '60s-'80s), and took classes at Cornell and SVA on gender, art, language, psychology. Lot of good classes there, I could reflect on that for a while but won't. Nature, semiotics, beauty and the sublime. I remember these whenever I make a loan payment.
Another stapled packet was a published essay by my high school English teacher, an advisor and friend who cultivated in me a love of writing that I've been gradually excavating. In this '98 piece on "celebration of process and product", to illustrate his words he'd reprinted an ode-poem ("Brewster") I'd written in '96, a mild lament of my dull hometown.
Also: a sketchbook from my one year at Cornell, '96-97. Within: an assignment for my short-lived landscape architecture class, before I realized I had no interest in it and dropped the major, leaving me adrift, frustrated but defiant. Ink sketches from my single drawing class and my first life drawing sessions, indeed, the first nude men I ever saw were ones I merely drew. Some of the other drawings are good and some are lousy. I have no illusions. I'll keep it as a record anyway though. It's half empty so I could use the rest, though I've said that about other sketchbooks that still languish half-empty while I run off to buy new ones. Here's my Cornell notebook stuffed with essays/notes, got to keep that too along with my SVA papers. Maybe someday I'll decide I don't want them but damn I did a lot of work and it's good to remember what I've accomplished on my journey.
Also my planner from the first months at SVA, full of frantic but eager lists, notes and assignments. I was very busy with my new classes, working on weekends stacking wood, making truffles, and trying to enjoy NYC, but I was so happy to be finally studying what I wanted to, all the time (instead of at Cornell where I only managed to take a few classes that I really wanted to.. but they did whip me into shape. If there'd been a good, affordable art program there I may have stayed. And who knows what my life would be like now!)
Next up, a Postman Pat colouring book that Trudy'd brought me from England in '88 and I was going to toss, then I saw it had colourings from Trudy, Jill, Rick and Mom alongside mine and I just couldn't, it reminded me so clearly of how much I loved to colour with them (I'm spelling it this way in honour of the English Postman Pat) and how they influenced my style. Rick's were hilarious. I'd thrown away all my other coloring books, they were Barbie or whatever, but this was charming. A few months ago I'd decided to save selected drawings I'd done with others or that I was especially proud of, or that were touchingly disastrous like that backwards bicycle drawing that cracked me up. I just couldn't get it right, the tricky configuration of seat, pedals, handlebars. I really feel that I've made some progress in that area at last.
Rounding out the box was a Yahtzee game, a bottle of bubbles, a wineglass I'd stolen from the Waldorf in '97, a plastic Kodak Instamatic camera, and some art pamphlets featuring the work of my teacher at the Art Students League, where I took a couple classes to keep my eyes on the prize (and from going batty) during my reluctant year off to earn money between Cornell and SVA.
I sorted through so many other boxes earlier this year. Each one elicited a round of remembrances, but if I'd written about them all, packing would've taken even longer, though I'm sure it'd have been a real compelling read. Reviewing clothes then, I similarly paused to scribble notes about this or that garment (like the knitted poncho I thought was a skirt, or the purple velvet coat) before parting with it. Anyone who has trouble getting rid of possessions can understand how difficult it can be, and also how good it can feel to shuck off the past, to be able to know everything you own and why it is in your life.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

wood season begins

One reason I haven't been posting more often is the nomadic nature of my current life, as I don't always have internet access. Maybe I ought to get one of those wi-fi things you can plug into your computer. Not that I'm traveling as often as I might like to be (see previous post) but I am in a few different places. This week, I started stacking wood again, seems early but it has already begun. Grabbed my wheelbarrow, gloves and boots and started driving around. (This image is not of my current wheelbarrow, but a previous one, it's actually a 2"x3" print of a larger painting.) The wood, seasoned and dry, is very barky this time of year, and I breathe in its deeply earthy scent as I work (along with my own, ah, deeply earthy scent). Especially pungent right after it rains and the dirt is damp. I got caught both in the intense heat/humidity and in a fierce downpour. The rain was warm and although I got thoroughly drenched it wasn't entirely unpleasant, though the water streaming down my face impedes my vision somewhat. I'll try to keep the wood talk to a minimum, but it does occupy a considerable portion of my thoughts this time of year, and I do acquire amusing stories (or maybe they're of the "you had to be there" variety). It sure gives me a lot of time to think. Maybe I'll actually figure out some important stuff in the process.
Recently I've been staying in Brewster in the house I grew up in, which is now mostly uninhabited as my folks spend much of their time up in Cobleskill, where my father built a house. I'll be in Beacon too, but I think I'll be on the road several more times this summer. The latest move is to secure a studio space in Beacon for the next few months. I'm looking forward to having a separate space to paint again, which I never even had before the residencies. It's small but it will do nicely, both for the opportunity to work and to have studio visits! I think I'll feel more settled after this transpires.

Friday, July 15, 2011

road maps

While driving yesterday, I pulled over and wrote this..

I like the feeling of the gas pedal beneath my sandaled foot
I like the heat of the sun on my left thigh and forearm
I press my face into my warm arm to smell my own sweat
and taste that salt of being on the road.
I like how, with every second and every turn of the wheels
I'm somewhere different than I was the moment before
Going somewhere.. or just going
Leaving instead of being left behind.
I roar past shiny metal streaks of other trucks and cars
Lights flash, heart leaps, but it's not me this time.
I like how the wind blows through the open windows
and the midsummer flowers growing on the roadside
I like to buy fruit from farm stands or look at old things displayed on tables
I find six state maps from the 1950s at a garage sale
with illustrations of happy travelers excited to be on the open roads of America
stopping at bright gas stations for fill-ups and oil changes.
I like to be gone, or to arrive and be there.
Today I said goodbye to someone getting on a train.
I know someone else waits for me at the end of this drive
Part of me is always happy to see someone
and part of me wants to keep moving along

Friday, July 8, 2011

life by the bucketful

Looks like another of this blog's favored topics will be food, currently fruit-gathering. Following on the heels of last week's strawberry picking, I went up to a farm in Hudson yesterday and returned laden with no less than 25 pounds of sour cherries. I did have help in obtaining this vast amount, and hopefully will have help pitting 'em all too. Plans include pie, freezer jam (I can't can), cobbler, and bread. From the photos I took in the cherry orchard, I also plan to make a painting, in a similar vein as the grass painting I did at the farm. That one was from direct observation (immersion in the green), and so I'm more into the 'working from life' idea now, but it's not always possible. I actually haven't painted in a week and, needless to say, it feels strange! Still, I know I will soon. It feels good to reconnect with people and get back into the swing of things around here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

loose ends

face painted by niece Lauren (7)

Concrete Gallery, Cold Spring
Yellow Chevy from NM (yeah, same perspective as the blue truck) & some collages
Really, I did not plan this color scheme. But I like it

I thought maybe everything could be framed in terms of a residency. Life as art as life and all that. So, the day after returning from upstate NY and installing the show, I completed a 2 1/2 day residency in PA at my sister's house with (most of) my family. I brought red & blue paints and paper and instigated a painting party with my nieces and nephews, making decorations for our 4th of July festivities. We swam and played games and ate flag cake. Now I'm back in Beacon and feeling like everything is catching up to me, from tasks to thoughts to emotions by the truckload. Admittedly this is not too unusual but it feels somewhat overwhelming right now. It's easier to feel optimistic in the summertime, though. I sold a small painting already, and while I was away I'd sold four dummy light t-shirts and earned a % of proceeds from my art guitar. Among many things, I'll be posting new images on my website, getting prints & paintings out to the people who helped support my New Mexico trip (making new prints from the new work soon) and filing the final report for my NYFA SOS grant for the Better Farm residency. Also, following up on the various new contacts & friends I've made in the past two months! Yes, I'm lucky to have had all of it.

Friday, July 1, 2011


short-term solution for the blues
5"x6" watercolor of Kaiser, the lovable and emotionally complex dog of a friend at Better Farm.

Forget about the consolations of art. Today, I comforted myself with strawberries. Driving back downstate, having stayed the night in Cobleskill, coaxed the horse and admired the flowers, I stopped at a farm I like and picked most of the berries left in the fields. It's nearing the end of the season, but I hoped I'd be able to get my hands on a few, even if I had to really hunt for them- as opposed to earlier on when a sneeze in the rows will yield an effortless boxful. Yes, I needed something to help me deal with some of the intense feelings I've been experiencing after reluctantly leaving Better Farm, and the end of these two months. They don't call me strawberica for nothing. (Actually, that was a completely self-imposed name I came up with years ago, from a fruity poem I wrote.) After breakfasting on strawberry pancakes with my parents and, um, lunching on homemade strawberry ice cream, I feel a bit better. You do what you have to do.
Tonight we've been hanging the show at Concrete Gallery in Cold Spring (137 Main St), which opens this weekend- though the reception is July 9, next Sat. It's a quick shift of my mental gears, but I'm really glad to have the chance to show off some new work and see how it looks together in a space. Part New Mexico and part upstate New York. The other thing to ponder is how, instead of having it be the 'real' world I'm returning to from the 'ideal' (and idyllic) creatively charged atmosphere of an art residency, I can make a focused effort to conflate the two and try to live that art life ever more sustainably. Possible? The ongoing dilemma. But the idea of it feels a lot more real than anything else I can imagine doing. The support and perceptiveness of others has hugely nourished my spirit (and I've just received some emails and messages that have cheered me), and even if I'm a bit blue, I can remember that.