hemming flames

I love what some writers can do with words.

Last January, Trish tells me about her soon-to-be-published book. The title is Hemming Flames, she says. My quickest thoughts… fire? forest fire? firemen? wild and out of control fires wanting to contain or control? The response is visceral…fire in the gut?

Months pass and now I hold the hardback book in my hands. I read the title and see the image and make different associations… a cover? clothing? that which we wear? fray? and again…control?

Whatever it is, it gets my attention and keeps it.

Hemming Flames is a beautiful hard back book of very personal poems written by Patricia Colleen Murphy.

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The weekend before I get Murphy’s work, a friend drops over to pick up a book she lent me last summerI recall how I respond to Adrienne Rich’s book, Driving into the Wreck. The title and the words hold my attention. I read through the book the first day and then I have to put it down. It takes time for me to come back to it and read again – slow and careful. I have feelings of determination (to continue reading) and curiosity (understand).

The day I get my copy of Hemming Flames I read late into the evening and then some more first thing the next morning. The days that follow I come to it with curiosity and I have to say…once again that odd feeling of determination…to read with care and let it sink in.

Art.

I email Trish. I ask how people have responded. 

The book has been very well received. I am so glad it’s out in the world. A lot of people have mentioned that they feel it is a brave book. I’m glad for that because it was hard to be that brave.

I agree, she does courageous work.

Today….

 Turkish Get-ups

I thought she meant costumes but she meant
what’s inevitable when you’re down. It is how

to stay exceptionally strong, she says. She says
this to me often out of one of her many mouths.

We’re born prone, she says. Then we roll onto 
our bellies. Up, she says. Get up, she says. Get up.

I am down and I hear her in the other room.
Without visual clues, I can’t tell the exact

meaning of her statements. She says, it is not 
hyperbole if it is true. She says, you began life

as a vowel. She says, people incapable
of guilt can have a really great time.

Years ago, fresh out of grad school, I take lines from Sylvia Plath’s writing.  I creat a series of small drawings (stream of consciousness narratives).  Pulled in by how Plath organizes her words and thoughts, I want to make sense of her writing. I do this with Doris Lessing’s work too. I don’t work in this way anymore but it’s easy to imagine Murphy’s words could hold the framework for such a series.

Here are lines (from different poems) that catch my attention. I separate each by indentation. What I could draw out – I wonder…

I drop a smile into the tub
near the edge. Irretrievable!

and then he carves
sailboats into the linoleum.

all studium and no punctum

I spend all day in a room
with every item I will ever own

Doctor put me on the stare-pills.
I can’t feel my distal parts.

Brava Trish!
To learn more about Patricia Colleen Murphy and her work go to → hemmingflames.com.


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Patricia Colleen Murphy teaches creative writing at Arizona State University where she is the founding editor of the literary magazine Superstition Review. Her poems have appeared in many journals including The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, American Poetry Review, North American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, Natural Bridge, Black Warrior Review and others. She has received awards from the Associated Writing Programs and the Academy of American Poets, Gulf Coast, Bellevue Literary Review, The Madison Review, Glimmer Train Press, and The Southern California Review. A chapter of her memoir-in-progress is published as a chapbook by New Orleans Review.

be the rage and be the light

Vanessa: I’m going to be in Phoenix … could I come visit with you?
Me: Yes! 

Thursday morning I drive to the Tempe Center for the Arts to pick up artist Vanessa German. The plan – bring her to Phoenix for lunch (Barrio Cafe) and then to my studio.

I find her in the atrium, sitting outside the theater. After greeting each other she tells me she’s walked out of a production. She reacts to what she hears and sees. I listen as she pulls words together in an organic and real way.

Her sentences are visual and visceral. She draws me into the body with her language. Because I connect to anatomy and its symbolism, I see and feel her right away. I recognize honesty. I like Vanessa, she won’t hold back.

We talk about truth, about honesty, vulnerability, courage, curiosity, compassion, and the value of questioning. We talk about history and education. I am aware, in the background of our conversation, hovers a new president-elect.

We also talk epigenetics, cells, and DNA, ancestors and magic. The woman knows the sacred.

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White Naptha Soap or, Contemporary Lessons in Shapeshifting Mixed media assemblages

While we eat, we talk about The State of the Art. We agree the opportunity was/is unique and important, fun and fabulous. Above is my photo ↑ of her sculpture (at the opening), which I sat with for a good amount of time. We catch up with how art and life have played out since then. She’s out there.

In my studio I learn Vanessa is also a photographer. She brings out her i-Pad and shares photos and stories about a recent stay at Standing Rock. My husband I listen intently as she tells us about the people, the water and trees. We are both moved. I need to get Vanessa back to Tempe where she is scheduled to teach a workshop.

I get on the highway back home and think about the fullness of our conversation this afternoon.


Vanessa is a multi-disciplinary artist based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is self-taught.  Her narrative will only expand as she continues to show her work, speak and perform.  She learns, she educates.

Below are her 2 photos and her own written words about them.

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artist photo – installation

this was part of my emerging artist of the year exhibition at pca. it was scary sometimes, i didn’t understand that curators helped to shape a show. I’d been use to doing everything myself, hustling, asking friends with ladders to join in a late night install; calling all graffiti artists, paying people outta my own shallow pockets and hugging out an exhausted embrace of gratitude. i truly didn’t get it. one of the most recent installs we did at a museum, and they moved most everything with museum staff; if I touched a sculpture the registrar would take photos of my hands moving over a piece. i am learning a lot about putting exhibitions up at larger and larger scale. I am learning about insurance, shipping, and communicating my ideas to all of the different people at the museum who make exhibitions work. today i am doing a teach-in with the docents at the everson museum of art in syracuse. i will tale you of any interesting bits later.

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Do The Whole Thing and Do It.With Your Whole Entire Soul. stand up inside of it.be the rage and be the light.move with it all as though a mountain wit the spirit of excellence lengthening yo spine. write yo own name on a piece of paper three times. three consecutive lists of yo very own syllables and then to kiss your hands.then to hold yo fingers up in the light of the day– splay them and then let them reach upwards to the sky to recognize the face of yo own soul in that there glory: All of the things that you are before the constructed world cobbled itself together, You Have Always Been and Will Always Be. Your Glory is Brighter Today– you have been sharpened. Hold that clarity on yo tongue and gleam with it. Love With It. You have been Sharpened. Let yourself feel good about this sharpening, what will you go to cut? Who will require you to scissor away at their bonds? There iz no thing that can hold you down. We Are The Mighty Ones.

German is an artist who communicates in broad, eloquent form. The powerful force she holds is grounded in love, vulnerability, courage, history (her ancestor’s, my ancestor’s and yours),  truth and magic. Did I say magic? Plenty of magic…

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Vanessa German in my studio.


State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now shown in 2 smaller exhibitions than the original (for practical reasons) currently travels the country. The work has recently left Savannah, Georgia and will open January of 2017, at Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, Following that stop the exhibition travels to The Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina in April of 2017.

I hope to visit one, if not both showings.

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Cards from the catalogue showing each of our work.

a day, a week, a month, years…of a life, in pictures

Last February I attended a 2 day lecture/roundtable discussion hosted by  SMoCA. The subject was the People’s Biennial.

People’s Biennial I learned, is an experimental, local community-based exhibition that will come to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, in the fall of 2011. Curators, Harrell Fletcher and Jens Hoffman were present and looking for … remarkable, under-appreciated work by anyone and everyone, especially people who may not be considered a part of the art world. This could include a child who makes dazzling science fair projects; a sign painter who creates fascinating window displays; innovative motorcycle designers; etc.

I immediately thought of my friend Dave, and his calendar drawings.
David is a Cardiologist. He has 26 years of calendars, that he filled with colorful, narrative drawings.


When Dave was 8,  his dad brought home a calendar, a hardcover, desktop ledger. Father asked son if he wanted to use it. Dave began the usual gesture of crossing off days, sometimes writing a note.  One day, a friend, who had a bent towards comic book art, drew a series of pictures in the calendar. Eventually those sketches would trigger in Dave a desire to begin drawing an image a day. Gradually they evolved into a portrayal of the day’s events or his reaction to them.

As Dave says, it quickly turned into a compulsive obsession. More importantly, it became a time for reflection of his life. He’ll admit the act of drawing became the best part of the day. The images eventually become portrayals of his inner life. He layed out symbols of his own codified language, meant to be hidden from the casual viewer, but clear in meaning to him.

Impressing me most, is that this went on for nearly 26 years. As his life got busier; family, work, and needed rest took over, and the drawing came to an end.  I can’t imagine drawing time coming to an end.  Clearly our intentions are different, but it still makes me think. I prefer to imagine, that like Louise Bourgeois, who just died at the ripe age of 98… I will pass in my studio, at a ripe old age, and maybe… drawing.

My first visit to their home, was to discuss a family portrait Dave and his wife, Dominique were commissioning from me. I saw a years worth of drawings, matted and framed, up on their wall. Through them, I learned a bit about the couples personal history.  He then pulled out a box that contained all the years of these calendars.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, a real hidden treasure.  I have on the occasion, spoken to Dave about sharing them.

Last Saturday, at SMoCA, one of the curators from the People’s biennial was present for an open call, to consider work. Yes…Dave took his calendars. I find them to be wonderful visual statements. Framed of course, they’re cool. But the box of them, are an incredible statement, a marking of time; a day in the life, a week in the life, a month…26 years in the life of an ordinary man. They cause me to wonder about my husband, my father, my brother, male friends, every man…and his every day life.

I communicated with Dave this morning. We continue our conversation, he says …  “On Sunday I actually sat down with the calendars to try and organize them a bit more and browse a little bit.  Although they go  from 1970 through 1996, they start thinning out about 1990 and then the last 3 have only a few random drawings….although I knew it was coming to an end because I was so busy, it took almost 3 years to admit to myself that “no, I am not going back to fill them in…”  Stubborn, eh?  Then the last page of the last calendar has the statement:  “The Last Calendar”.  That felt very heavy…”

They’re very light actually, and remarkable. Good luck Dave.

* The commission: I did take some of Dave’s calendar art and reproduced them as framework and compositional elements within the family portrait. Click here to see the post.

JULY UPDATE: Dave’s calendar art was accepted into the People’s Biennial!  

SEPTEMBER UPDATE: 


Gallery 4, SMoCA
October 15, 2011- January 15, 2012
Seven Arizona artists  are featured in People’s Biennial: Gary Freitas, Jim Grosbach, David Hoelzinger, Beatrice Moore, Joseph Perez (a.k.a. Sentrock), Andrea Sweet and Paul Wilson.
MORE INFO

Congrats Dave!

a hubcap for sam

A Studebaker hub cap arrives UPS to my studio, from Meadowland, Minnesota. Sam placed the order himself. Unbeknownst to him, the hubcap is his birthday present.

Greg and Veronica commission a painted and personalized hubcap for Sam.  Commission, good in that I generally do something I wouldn’t otherwise do. Out of my comfort zone. New challenge. Problems arise. Solutions follow.

Once upon a time, I painted my first hubcap  (9-11/08 You Rock!). Didn’t necessarily like the experience, but I liked end result. The exhibition, at the Mesa Arts Center, very hip. Artists created cool and thoughtful designs.

This second round of hubcap painting, a good time from the start. Feeling open. I research a few choice subjects, learn some interesting things I’ll be considering to use. I start to paint. Two challenges. One, design of the hubcap itself, space is compartmentalized in a way that doesn’t suit my original idea. Enter in…a new idea.
Two, painting on metal…bleh.  It doesn’t f-e-e-l good. A hubcap is a hard, unforgiving, and an easy to damage surface. Not like a beautiful smooth sheet of BFK or Arches paper or heavy-duty, giving to the touch, pristine canvas. Sand and prime, sand and prime.

The Studebaker emblem, in the center…it’s supposed to be an ‘S’ but it looks more like a  ~ (…squiggle) to me. I know what to do with it.
Why a Studebaker hubcap? Let me tell you about Sam…

Indeed, Sam has a Studebaker. Sam has several cars. And a Harley Davidson bike.  He’s designed for himself, one beautiful garage. He spends time in that space. Check out the striking black and white floor tile, it’ll appear in the final hubcap design.

I meet Sam and Francene, over spring break, up in Northern Arizona. The information gathering begins quickly.
I learn Sam is born in Missouri, and now lives in Arizona, with his wife, Francene. Francene is in on the surprise. She shares how they meet. I decide, after her account, the relationship has to be Kismet. The circular center S/~ (…. squiggle) on the hubcap will become a yin/yang, symbolizing a balance of female and male energy. It’s what I see between them, strong balance.

Sam’s a retired Engineer (Aviation?…maybe.  Aerospace?…maybe.). We have dinner at La Posada, in Winslow Az (yes…we do sing The Eagles song while arriving there). He talks about building Apache helicopters. An unusual conversation, in an off the beaten path location, with an extra-ordinary man, good company, spirited waiters, and excellent food. Told you this was fun. I learn Sam can build just about anything. And he’s green! Veronica enthusiastically says. Meaning…he’s conscientious and recycles. The shelving for his garage comes from the close out sale, of a CVS. I like Sam. He’s creative. Engineers usually are. I get the sense that he enjoys learning and maybe even teaching his skills. He appreciates history. While walking the restaurant grounds, he tells me about  Mary Jane Colter, the early American architect, who created the landmark building we’re walking through. He talks about her as though he knows her. I’m impressed. He’s kind and generous, and has a precision about him. I learn from friends he faithful, loyal and LOVES Dos Equis beer. When I hear the latter, I know the emblem will appear in the hubcap design.

His favorite animal, at the moment, is the mountain lion, hence the paw designs on either side of the hubcap.  He describes the animal as strong, elusive and vulnerable. Purple, he tells Veronica (cuz she asks), is his current favorite color. He describes it as regal, stoic and compatible. These descriptive words say something about him. They’re the last design element to go into the circular composition. I paint the outer edge of the rim a deep purple, with a copper metallic wash, and I place in the text.

Overall, I get the sense that Sam is an intelligent and thoughtful man. He’s comfortable in blue jeans, a cowboy hat and boots. I want to put his distinct profile into the hubcap. The small areas don’t allow me enough room.  I do include a small frontal view portrait. Though my preference would be, that it appear larger. Design is resolved. It’s balanced, measured out, and clear.

I realize only now as I write, Sam is a Taurus. An earth sign. Fixed fire. No wonder he felt so familiar to me.  Both my husband and my dad are Bulls….persevering, down-to-earth, stable, stubborn, possessive, prosperous, dependable, and physical. Now I see why I instinctively put that copper wash atop the purple. Copper is the Bull’s metal.

Both Sam and Francene have interesting histories they openly share. This circle of life…is sure to continue.
Happy Birthday Sam.  And many more!

text as an element within a 2d design

Preparing to facilitate a workshop at SMoCA, in the coming week. Thinking about my use of text in an art work.  Text as an element within a design, is the focus.

The World Stage, a play in finite acts

The first time I consciously used text in a painting, I wanted to create a series of works that together made up a narrative. I was drawing/setting up (the idea of) an act, a play. And like the playwright, I too had a cast of characters I was to direct. I was influenced some, by Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. I liked his use of the narrator/stage manager. I created narrators that stood in the foreground, in black and white, while the cast stood center stage, in full color. Introduction text was in black and white. I wanted the audience to read the words and relate to the characters, so the words were literal, familiar, direct.

Let Go

I used text in another series where I was thinking about the power of the words, thoughts and the make-up of the mind. The series dealt with the creation of a limited identity. I used Spanish words (alongside English) for the first time in this series. Because large canvases, with a central figure were surrounded by words, I recognized the use of text as a way of creating movement in an artwork. I played with letters and punctuation, and created rhythm using strings of words. Not only can text be read, it can also create interesting space.

Label and Seperate

Lately I have been using words or complete sentences to create small intaglio prints. In this case, words generate the image.  They come first. Words are used to frame or surround a focal point.  Text informs the form. The printmaking process lends itself to making small, quick, stream of consciousness artwork that stands alone or can be the start of a larger series, at a later time.

The workshop will be fun. And it will be informative for all of us. I’ve prepared a presentation of some work, to begin the day. And then I’ll teach process.  The participants will hopefully complete a small work within the allotted 4 hours. I’m sure to learn some specific things about each of them, while they apply what they learn.
Using text, communication is usually immediate.

karl and helga-a fantastic story

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In the book On Writing author Stephen King shares with the reader his approach to writing a story. I note he describes almost the same process I used for many of the commissions I painted this year – the ones that were narratives. He writes about the value of being aware of what he wants his reader to experience.  I think about my audience, and their experience, at the start of most everything I do. King writes on translating what he visualizes in his mind, into words on a page. I translate my thoughts  into signs and symbols and place them on to a canvas. He notes another quality, and yes, I use it too…allow the reader (the viewer, in my case) to supply some information. And then…he says…it’s all about the story

Part 2 of this story goes like this…
The commission:

I meet with Dominique in early January, on a Saturday afternoon, to discuss a commission. She has in mind a family portrait.
She informs me of the two main characters, the focal points, her father Karl and her mother Helga.  Karl has been in spirit for at least a decade. Dominique is considering presenting a family portrait to her mother. I don’t know why I imagine that she might keep it for herself. I ask her if it’s possible that she could keep it.  Well, of course, I suppose that’s possible, she says.
I can’t meet Karl in body, to get a sense of him. Nor can I really sit and talk with Helga as it would ruin the surprise (if there’s to be one). I rely on Dominique’s descriptions and stories. Important to me are her facial and body expression as she shares details. We spend the Saturday discussing what appears to me to be a magical childhood. I’m sure Karl is present that afternoon…and maybe even Helga for that matter. I leave hours later with notes, photos, and a few unusual shells. The shells are a gift.

content begins to take form

content begins to take form

Part 1
The Wichtl’s:

Karl Ferdinand Wichtl and Helga Maria Hörmann marry in Vienna, on Sept 21, 1958.

Karl, born March 19, 1932. The life of the party, over indulges in everything, Dominique tells me…food, drink, kindness, celebration…all of it!  I like hearing about Karl, he’s a character. A free spirit. Yet practical! Self educated. Oil engineer. She smiles, lost in remembrance. He loved to have fun. He was also the one who made sure everyone else was having fun too. He wore wacky, crazy ties, thin, red leather, he had sideburns, he drank a lot, and he ate a lot…again, she smiles. He was a self-made man, very intelligent. And he had green eyes. Karl liked Boynton cartoons and treasure hunts. He liked the word FANTASTIC and used it often. She tells me a bit about his mother and father, her grandparents.
And she tells me how much Helga loved Karl.

Helga,born December 13, 1937, she is…intelligent, tenacious, disciplined and organized. Very organized! Dominique stresses. She held down the fort, she had to, we moved every few years. She was brilliant! Helga was an oil brat. Education was important to her. Dominique comes back to the present…light green eyes and… she…loves… black pearls.

I want the feeling of happiness in the workJoy! Freedom! Bare feet! Dominique quickly starts to give visual possibilities but I don’t listen to all of it…I get the picture. She comes back to the word fantastic…everything was fantastic to Karl. With that word I begin and with that word I end.

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processing

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and more processing

We use to vacation in Bora Bora. The request is for a Polynesian landscape. Two other characters are important to this story – Dominique and her sister Patricia. We spent a lot of time in the water, like fishies. The four of us, all the time. Scuba diving. Collecting shells. She shares photos of their water escapades.

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I begin the composition with an outline in treasure hunt format and then a cobalt sea floods in and takes over.  I follow some of the barely visible trails and insert an oil rig in one spot, a representation of Karl’s work. His job took his family across the world.

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An imaginary boat named “The Fantastic” gets placed strategically across the rig (in another treasure hunt spot), signifying balance, of work and play, the real and the fantastical.  In the far background is the family, in bright silhouette. I borrow the familial image from the tarot deck. They point up to a cloud filled DNA strand where 8 birds fly, representing each daughter and her respective husband and children, the generations that would day come.  The sun or the moon, I can’t say which, sits in the horizon and deposits light across the water, in the form of South America where the family lived for some time and where Dominique is born.  Austria floats in the foreground, where Karl and Helga marry and Patricia is born. The masculine sun, and the feminine moon also act as time elements, night and day, day and night, on and on. Eternity above (infinity) and beneath Karl and Helga. The white dog represents Helga’s favored family pet. The cup of abundance and four fish shooting upwards…four shells collect around the cup…four sea horses make their way into the art work…family of four.fish

I fill the landscape with palm trees…lots of vegetation, sky and clouds, and a bungalow…all accurate to the photos I borrowed.
Wild and calm bright blue, full of life, fluid, magical is The Fantastic Tale of Karl and Helga.

Part 3
The story doesn’t end here.

…I complete the painting in May.  Dominique has it in her possession today. Where will it land?  I suspect it will move several times…belong to one generation and then another, and perhaps another. The story will only continue. Fantastic!


photo painting