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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Visual Poetry and Colin Chase at #VermontStudioCenter

An awesome human being, Chase approaches his work and materials questioning each part- what it is, what it was, and what it could be. As a sculptor, he understands that materials all have a history and he hopes tap into that and at the same time to encourage new meaning. He can re-purpose four basketball hoops to become a mystical icon. By combining different objects into a new whole, the sculptures resonate with wit and spirit. His work is elegant and full of word play.


Like my father, Chase equates living with learning. A lot of what he works with are games, codes, history, art history. He is a dumpster diver like the best of them, (including my father...) and I imagine he has warehouses full of collected parts that feeds his iconography in the right timing.
Living outside NYC, Colin teaches at City College and calls Home Depot and Lowes his jungle for roaming and attaining new ideas, resources, etc.
When he came to my studio to do the critique I found he was able to access the work, and understand what was missing and sense the trajectory I desired to be on. We had a great time and ideas soon flew back and forth between us. He talked about juxtapositions of different pieces that I have already made and that were hanging lifeless and isolated on their own. Together the works started to come together like poetry. It was all my language, I just hadn't put together the sentence. By stitching together smaller paintings I am able to create larger works. It is a method I used when the kids were little and I only had time to work small. I would create tiny paintings and put them in a shoe box until I had an evening when I could sew them together for a larger whole. They were fun to do, and held some dream like quality for me as they manifested themselves playfully.
It is all about showing up to do the work and then knowing when to play!
My work...Seeds: paint, embroidery, felt, plaster, burlap, paper, a found glove, plastic plants and apple on shelf
I hope this work of mine, SEEDS,  speaks tenderly of what it means to be human and cultivating a life of learning.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Painter Tomory Dodge at #VermontStudioCenter

A RISD and CALarts grad, Dodge gave a summarizing PowerPoint of his career path within hours of arriving from Los Angeles. Soft spoken and honest about his doubts, Dodge has always liked the precarious image and the, (his words) "materiality of paint." His large, (average 8 x 8 foot), paintings have transitioned from representation to abstraction since leaving grad school.
From Dodge's Space Junk series of 2008
Using a high contrast of lights and darks, crisp lines versus a soft-edge blend, and some nifty cartoon visual tricks, Dodge creates a foreground "figure" with receding windows and hallucinatory exaggeration. His work veers towards the philosophy of AbEx with a sense of the genius soul latent in every gestural mark and scrape, BUT he uses California candy colors- like hot pink and turquoise.
Only 40 years old, his work was early on snapped up by dealers. He is now in permanent collections everywhere ...
Berkley Art Museum, Berkley, CA
Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FL
Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TN
Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, KS
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, C T
and... represented by galleries in London, Los Angeles, NYC and Zurich!
He will be making studio visits until next Wednesday.
Dodge came to my studio first thing this morning and it was good to get a response suggesting that there is way more work to do. Having painted straight for three weeks, I am slowing down. I am getting tired. I am, to be truthful, starting to look forward to getting the hell out of Dodge next week.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Can I still call him my "baby" after 20 years?

Time flies. Feels like just a few years since when I was so eager to first meet him.  Even though he was yelling when we first met, he has proved to be mostly the silent type. More often than not, he is always "fine", though this past year has been more challenging than he deserved. Lots of intense lessons. I guess that is a good way to leave the teenage years behind and move into the wider space of adulthood.
Goodbye teenager!!! Happy 20th birthday, Max, my baby, (always)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What a poetic evening!

An amazing performance of literature readings by VSC residents and guests left me pretty pumped up and speechless. I went through a roller coaster of emotions: from laughter to gulping tears, from shock to commiserate comfort. The energy in the church was raw and throbbing and at times, exploded. The place was packed. People were at the edge of their seats. We became a community of vulnerable tenderness and bonding. Still reeling from it, the poems and stories continue to be the conversation topic at mealtimes. I have a book list as long as my arm. Jerriod's poetry is in a few magazines. Beth read her hilarious poems made up from google searches and spying through trash. Her poem about the news of her dad's death left us breathlessly suspended similar to her spider like"fingers over the keyboard". Lesley had some really good poems about family gatherings, and I was glad to find that she has a wonderful website of her poetry. Alan, most notable as an actor, is working on a new collection of poems that are inspired by snapshots he has taken, where he both describes each object and spirals away in a line of thought, and excellent storyteller. Sanderia read an excerpt from her novel, Mourners Bench, which will be released this fall. Pre-order on Amazon. Demisty read three poems and I really liked the one about the inelegance and embarresment of merging bodies; it reminded me a bit of my layered life drawings. Stacy shared visions of growing up with angels and/or mental patients. And Matt, a very published poet, screamed some of his shorter  poems and an excerpt from his 180 page poem he is currently working on.
I think I am so moved because of the richness of the experience, the talent, the evident hard work and fearless searching... The evening was one vision that I imagine of Paradise.
Matt Hart performing poetry
Alan Cummings, Sanderia Faye, Jerriod Avant, Stacy Seidl, Demisty Bellinger, Lesley Wheeler, Beth Roddy, Matt Hart
*****All photographs by Maxwell Mackenzie*****

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Figuratively speaking

At VSC, one of the many perks is access to live models every day! I've been going to the life drawing studio just to warm up. By repeatedly reusing the surface front and back sides as well, I loosen my expectations, and flow with the accidental intersections.

Inevitably there is some psychological drama created. Emotion is a reaction to a mental (here: visual) interpretation.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Deana Lawson Questions

We had the privilege this week to have Deana Lawson, photographer, as a visiting artist to VSC. She shared her work with us on Thursday and then came to my studio on Friday. A lecturer and soon to be professor at Princeton and an MFA graduate from RISD in 2004, Lawson’s work has been shown all over, including at MoMa, the studio Museum in Harlem, and the Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago.  Her photographs and stories have been featured in magazine such as the New Yorker and Time.  
Question one, for both Lawson and for myself: Who are you to tell this story?

Lawson with one of her pictures
Working mostly in the Brooklyn, Rochester and New Haven areas, Lawson recently won a Guggenheim Fellowship that allowed her to travel to the DR Republic of Congo, Jamaica and to Haiti. A good storyteller, Lawson cited both a real and almost mythical Kodak photographic lineage and referenced the “photo Gods” at play in her work. When Lawson spoke of the designs and compositions of her shots she gave a nod to Hieronymus Bosch, Diane Arbus, Egyption iconography, soft porn magazines and, (in preparation for Haiti), Maya Deren.

Her images are mostly of nude women within domestic interiors and in contrast to clothed men. She celebrates skin and the dynamic relationships captured in the shot between multiple figures. I was reminded of Manet’s Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe. 

There is a definite shock value to the nudity as well as the prominent stare of the subject to the photographer /us. Being a beautiful black woman, Lawson is able, I might suggest, to tackle this subject and get away with not seeming to be totally exploitative.

Question two: How important is the story?

Lawson's appropriated photos of a cousin's jailhouse visits
Her photography practice, as Lawson tells it, serves to affirm the connection between black men and women and defy the stereotypical media emphasis on the separation of the black family, due to things such as the neighborhood prison pipeline. She both directs her desired scene, (hiring models and sharing a sketch with them ahead of time) and uses appropriated photographs and online screen shots.

Ms. Lawson must be an excellent teacher. Carting a three-month old baby daughter with her, she tirelessly visited studio after studio. Our visit resulted in a fruitful list of resources to check out: book titles, artists, etc. She questioned my multiple bodies of work and suggested that I narrow the focus for the next few weeks to just one aspect of the work, and that I take more time to suggest rather than illustrate. She asked me to answer the questions above, and, ironically those were the same questions I had for her work as well.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dad has always served as a touchstone.

A stone crazy colorful rock
Through his eyes I can judge the value of a thing and weigh the quality of an experience. I think the most important lesson he taught me was that there is something to learn every single day.  Even a bad experience was what he called, “tuition”. As a young dad, when he came to wish my sisters and me goodnight, he would ask us to tell him something that we had learned in the course of our waking hours. We had to come up with something. It could be grand, such as being nice to people is important, or trivial like the way a frog would change it’s colors between states of wet and dry. It was a demand to be awake and aware, and to never lose the curiosity of new people, places or things. He taught us about the stars, and took us around the world and read Rootabaga stories by Sandburg and recited the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot.

I have learned much today at the Vermont Studio center…
In the room people come and go
Talking of Michelangelo

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Finding the unexpected

Two young artists at the Vermont studio residencies have taken me a bit by surprise.
Over looking the waters, my sun starved eyes slowly focused on a new addition to the rock pools. It has been raining a lot here, with intermittent spots of sunshine, but these bits of color were not here before.

They are the work of Lauren Eve Skelly, a ceramic artist. Skelly uses clay to emulate nature and has situated her pieces around the residency in ways to make your eyes open. She just received her masters degree from RISDI in May and recently served as a moderator on a panel, “MFA: is it worth all this” at NCECA. 

clay and mixed media by Skelly

Devin Balara, a visual artist (and see card), plays with nature with a decorative and fairly absurd approach, as if committing a domestic remedy or home improvement on it. Balara does “neighborhood greening”, (temporarily covering parking lots and outdoor areas with green bath rugs), and upholstery bombing, adding ruffled seat cushions to tree stumps.  From Tampa Florida, Devin is exactly half my age and she is a bad ass. 
Upholstery bombing by Balara

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pepe to my Shadow Self

Sheila PePe lecture last night at VSC
image from

Even though I found it hopeful, I was beset with a feeling of impending weight after listening to Pepe. I flung myself on my bed, legs in the air, and wondered about social relevance, patterns, and my personal artwork.

Pepe grew up in a New Jersey deli and went on to work in a collaborative lesbian diner in Boston. Her work today, collaborative social gathering spaces, crocheted chairs even, encourages a gathering of people to interact, observe and hang out. The ends of her fabric, twine, or rubber lines are left with crochet needles for the viewer to participate in the process of creating the work. Her art pieces grow and move throughout their lifespan. The twisted and crocheted sculpture defines a space much like the deli might have or as the diner certainly did. She spoke repeatedly of taking space and making a place.

She also spoke of feminist legacy. Citing many of her teachers in the power point, Pepe emphasized that female artists need to find their lineage, even if it means reaching backwards after the fact. “Acknowledge and pull up the women that worked before you.” Back your work up with smart context. A pile of precedent is more interesting to set your work under than having it viewed in isolation. “Cobble together your best teachers.” “Know your culture.” We are contextualized by the contingency of when/who/how people see our works… Check out what the patterns are of things you are interested in. (Hindsight is the gift of getting older). She asks, “How do we place ourselves and deal with our ambitions and its implications?” (A really good question).

Pepe’s work grew from capturing shadows. She literally drew them on the walls and tied them to her abstract mixed media sculptures. The work grew out of the shadows similar to the way her visual presence grew metaphorically out of the 1980’s shadow of lesbian culture.

Now her work is less ephemeral and when I asked her why the change, she spoke of being tired of constantly making new pieces, and her schedule, which was shared ahead of time, certainly makes the imagination dizzy. Her work has been a learning process and was a result of economy.
But with the hope of more female role models to be pulled from the shadows, working ephemerally is counter indicative. Poignantly, Pepe finished her answer saying that once your parents are dead, ephemeral isn’t as romantic or idealistic as it used to be.
What is now ephemeral for her is teaching. She looks to find and construct the valuable moment.  It certainly was a valuable evening for me. I have lots to work on now.

Birthday lesson

Today my son, my first born child, turns 24 years of age at 3 pm .  I have been a mother for 24 years. Though, actually I have been a mother for longer than that. Add the nearly 10 months I carried him and shared all my cells with him. 

In thinking back over the years, flashing the highlights and churning through the challenges like small movie clips in my brain, I have come to realize that this is the anniversary of a LARGE and ongoing lesson of letting go. The physical labor was part of releasing him from my domain. With God and my husband and the staff of Sharon hospital, I brought him into the world. I’ve nurtured him through illness, made sure he got an education, fed him, and clothed him, but basically this was all so that he would be readily and handily prepared for life on his own.
You don’t get the manual the day they are born, because the tools vary from family to family. I’ve learned from other mothers, especially my stepmother (who shares this birthday as well) that it takes faith to raise a child. I’ve learned that nothing lasts forever, and to try to be present in the moments. I’ve learned to honor my son’s talk about joining a war, or when he share his battles with an addiction, or, hardest of all, when he has to deal forever more with a broken heart. I’ve been schooled by his unique perspective, bowled over by his powers of insight and story telling, moved by his unfailing good heart, and am proudest of all of his compassionate and empathic character. It has been my good fortune to be his mother.
Can you imagine how hard it is not to cling to such a divine creature? I am learning to let him go.
me with both my sons, last summer

Monday, June 15, 2015

Markings by Maxwell

Flying above the rest of us here at VSC is fellow resident Maxwell Mackenzie.
flying along the Gihon River

Maxwell Mackenzie at work play
A well-known architectural photographer from Washington DC, Maxwell is spending this month's residency photographing the land from a unique perspective, up in the tree tops, pushed by the air.
Where the typical artists brought paints, cameras, paper and easels, Maxwell brought his own little plane with him. I can't imagine how he got here, but it looks to me like his flying contraption packs up pretty small. It can't be larger than a go-cart. The rainbow colored parachute  is a wonderful sight when you catch him in the air. He sounds like a small lawnmower passing by.
Maxwell spends the good weather days high in the sky and the rainy ones in his studio, upstairs, putting together books and brochures. I've got one of his books. It's called Markings, and it features some spectacular rural vistas. The images are cropped in such a way so that they stand as unique design statements. They are some of the best abstractions I've seen in a while. There are no people, and only an occasional building or backhoe. The play of light and shadow defines the geometry of farmland and the textures he captures make the images intriguingly tactile. I want to slip underneath them as if they were wild tapestries, fuzzy quilts, or shaggy blankets. Some of the looping tractor paths make you wonder if the farmers who shaped the land below Maxwell's plane, were doing a dance of some sort. Since the images can only be seen from above, they are angel's vistas. The book is a real treasure, and perfect for anybody like me who insists on the window seat when flying.  Besides the couple double page spreads, each photograph in Markings  is paired with an interesting quote.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Waiting out the disaster

When will Max Get His Teeth?

I Think I will Try Yoga

Worry Knot (for Ben and Kent)
We have lost all confidence in the human body. Reading The Medusa and the Snail published in 1979 by Lewis Thomas, I grasp some of the underlying ignorance in the pervasive goal to outlive our bodies. Even though we have made huge strides in combating diseases, providing health care and increasing the average lifespan, we as a human species are beset with anxiety about age, stressed about lifestyle, and worried about toxins. There is a "new consensus that we are badly designed, intrinsically fallible, vulnerable to a host of hostile influences, and precariously alive."(p47)  The media feeds us a menu of possible diseases and injuries, from dramatic medical television shows to advertisements for life enhancing cereals to the hourly news recaps of grisly violence committed in our backyards as well as in war zones far away.  And then there is the weather. We wait for something disastrous to happen. Thomas sums it up early in his book, "we are a nation of hypochondriacs", (p49).
The book goes on to open up a stage of fabulous marvels that exist right now in nature all around us and Thomas celebrates the trajectory of science, both it's history and future potential. Most poignant to me, he expounds on the importance of a well rounded study of mythology, anthropology, and ancient literature to add richness and relevance to our existence. As a mother, I often get caught holding my heart from running off, fearing the delicate balance of my son's living their lives with risk and the wish to harbor them from pain and mortality. I do find peace in old stories, the power of Love, and painting.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Sketching the poetry of routine

the studio building

my cozy bedroom looks out onto Clay St.
A semblance of a routine is slowly establishing itself- after a morning in the studio, I've taken to napping during the afternoon and painting late into the night. I stop everything for the meals- fabulous organic fresh meals served at 8am, noon and 6pm. I am pretty restless trying to sleep through the night... not used to the rural sounds, missing my lover, worried about the loud creaking floor boards if I need to creep to the bathroom. I am easily awake by 6am. The songbirds and an occasional gravel-crunching sound of a car passing slowly punctuate my morning prayers/meditations. 

Last night we had a poet reading by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, who has written three award winning books of poetry and is a professor in the NY State university system.  Her reading was very theatrical and entertaining. She writes using words as though spotting them on a rambling walk. Her sense of wonder and awe remind me of the poems of Mary Oliver, and her reverence for nature, considering the fragility of the moment, recall the writings of Rachel Carson as well. As the talk ended she spoke briefly about correspondence, the loveliness of snail mail, and her recent collaboration on a chap book, Lace&Pyrite: Letters from two Gardens (by Organic Weapon Arts press), with Ross Gay. I thought of collaborations I have tried long distance with girlfriends and sisters and how they fizzled and ended and I thought about trying it again.

I like the idea of taking a dusty system, like the postal service, and using it as a basic parameter to a time based art project. The pace of packaging, stamping, and mailing correspondence delivers a segment of time that suspends routine and allows space to let the imagination flourish, unlike the immediacy of phone, text, and email.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Big Glorified Nothing

Leaving the dining hall stuffed, and slightly righteous from my early morning rendezvous in the meditation chapel, I crossed the sleepy road and was struck by the fact that I have nothing to do. I have gloriously nothing to do! I could go back to bed, or sit on a rock by the river; I could paint in my studio or paint my toenails; I could read in the library or start an exercise routine. This time is an incredible gift. This is what a residency comes down to. I have nothing to worry over, to race under, to catch up to, to fix, to break, to organize, or to procrastinate. Nobody here cares if I achieve my goals or not. They don't even care if I have goals.
Staring at the walls

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

To Err is Human

My sister who runs the Dora Maar Artist RESIDENCY program, told me that the best thing a place like that can do for an artist is make it a safe place to fail. She actually wished me a, "Go and fail" salutation! And so I have been ruminating on it. I have also been preoccupied with what makes us human in an age when we are morphing into technologically enhanced chimeras.
"Human" comes from the same ancient root word that makes "humus" and "humble". Sitting in the verdant northeast during a 3 day rainstorm is humbling. The ground reeks of thawing, moving humus, and the rivers are swollen races of froth, and the air is filled with a roaring "shshshshshhh". I nap often. I read, I paint, I wander.

"Error" comes from a root word meaning "to wander about, looking for something". Yesterday I found a small dead chick at the doorstep to the studio. I washed it off, (the ants were already at work), and studied it for some time. Then I took it out back and buried it under the leaves on the river embankment. I believe we are all connected in this closed ecosystem called Earth, so the dead bird echoed it's existence onto the realm of my residency wanderings.