setting the foundation and opening to grace

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For many years I studied a Yoga that began each practice with the words set the foundation and open to grace. In general, setting the foundation has to do with the body parts that touch the floor, while opening to grace becomes the mental underpinning for each posture. Think intention and receptivity – alignment between physical and mental
(the heart comes into it all but I won’t get into that now).

The last few weeks I’ve laid out the foundation for a new work on paper. It is a life-size study of my father. One could think with as many skeletal systems as I’ve drawn, this part would be easy. It’s not. It begins the commitment to carefully observe and render detail. This is the start of my 7th full-body portrait work.

Last week I outlined the form, set the clavicles, ribcage and some of the backbone. My dad has a broken clavicle and he has a large ribcage. Now I work on sacrum, pelvis, legs and feet. I spend most of the day working on the structure of the feet. I’m setting foundation. I don’t know how I’ll do this but I intend to keep the bones as the focal point of the composition.

The bones support and protect the organs of the body, produce red and white blood cells, store minerals and enable mobility. At birth we have over 270 bones and as we enter adulthood we have 206.

Bones symbolize foundation and are associated with enduring truth.

a wandering nerve

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Vagus – Latin for wandering. The Vagus Nerve is known as the wandering nerve.  To understand why and where it wanders, I decide to draw out its path and the organs affected. The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve – CN X (there are 12 cranial nerves).

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It extends from the brainstem (Meudlla Oblongata)

The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves and has both motor and sensory fibers. It extends from the brain stem ( the medulla oblongata)  through the face and thorax to the abdomen.  It forms part of the involuntary nervous system and helps to regulate heart beat, control muscle movement, keep a person breathing, and to send a variety of chemicals through the body. It is also responsible for keeping the digestive tract in working order, contracting the muscles of the stomach and intestines to help process food, and sending back information about what is being digested and what the body is getting out of it.

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CN X moves from the brain stem and the neck, through the thorax, lungs, heart …

 

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…. and through various parts of the viscera


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and continues to the digestive tract

In this study I learn through the work of Kevin Tracey MD, there is a direct connect between the brain and the  immune system via CN 10 – in regulating the body’s  inflammatory response to infection and auto-immune diseases.

The body is more complex than I can ever really understand, but the glimpses and connections I make are exciting to me.

The images posted here make up only a small area in the upper right hand corner of a new figure composition.


autonomic

A few years ago before I began my current full body anatomy studies, I drew out all the  individual organs.  I collage many of them into small compositions. This one above is my best guess at the autonomic system.

Today as I better understand the Vagus Nerve, I realize this is some of the area I was trying to formulate through this early study.

no woman is an island

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.
Rumi

 


I have worked on this commission for most of the last 3 weeks. Normally I don’t do this kind of work that fast, I tell Terri yesterday when I deliver the completed, though unframed, large work on paper. I enjoyed it and I struggled with it. In general my drawing is changing, I am including much more information, if I can figure it out.

There are things about this composition I don’t normally set up to do – like a smiling face. Because I told Terri to stand in a natural way and she stood firm, bright-eyed, strong, chin up and she smiled, I worked very hard to get the face just right – eyes, smile and all.

Here are a few progressive shots of it:

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general sketch

 

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refinement and muscle structure

 

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anatomy goes in

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completed head includes cranial nerves in and out the head

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I wish I could take that, Terri points to all the internal anatomy in the artwork, and place it here, inside me – she points to her chest. It came from you, I say as I laugh. She nods and repeats herself, I wish I could bring that inside me, now.  That’s a great thing to hear.

This is an anatomy study , it’s a study of an energetic system, it’s Terri. And Terri has brain cancer.

I ask if she is okay with me sharing all this. She nods her head – Yes, I am. I ask a few more times. I feel protective. But whom am I protecting, I wonder. Terri is accepting of her life. Her son, who is present, agrees – she’s accepting it all!  Terri is forthcoming about where she finds herself, and she’s at peace. I see it in her expression. I hear it in her voice. She tells me she’s had 3 other cancers – of the colon, in the sacrum, in the lungs, and now – the brain.

I consider the physical body a lot these days, as I immerse myself in these anatomy studies. The body serves a great purpose, it holds the spirit. As human beings we live and connect with it and through it.

I prefer to use medical terminology when I title a work. This could be different, it is a human body, a female front body, from head to hips. It is a  Study of a Human Female Body, Anterior View. But I am thinking of another title, a sub-title, something like –  Inside me, Inside you.

Thanks again Terri. It’s been some assignment to study your spirit – strong-willed and so directed.

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The work is casein, gesso and graphite on cream Arches paper, 36″ x 25″


The blog posts titled No Woman is an Island acknowledge the people and/or organizations who support me and the work I do.

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The art in this post connects to another work completed in 2012. Terri and Patricaia traveled to Italy recently and upon their return, drove to California and married.

organs

My current and in process anatomy work is a life-size study of my mother’s body. Though still in the Nothing In Stasis series, I also see it as a tangent. As you recall my last painting was of my niece. I consider this work and the last as studies of anatomy, studies of the female form, and maybe studies of inheritance.

While there is bone and muscle structure, they are not primary in this composition as much as they’ve been in earlier art works. I’m thinking more in terms of organs and tissues. I sketch and outline for a long time before I decide how to approach things.

IMG_6177I like the shape of particular organs especially the ones of the immune system, which I am so curious about. I spend time researching the thyroid and the thymus. The butterfly shaped thyroid is found in the lower part of the neck.and affects every cell in the body. The thymus sits below the breast bone and is larger in a child than it is an adult. I find it contradicting  that it begins to shrink at puberty. I look at various tissue including adipose tissue. It’s lovely under a microscope.

Each organ takes a few days to complete because the work is compact – I want it dense and colorful.

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My mother had her gallbladder removed. I include it early on because again I like the shape. It reminds me of how a leaf looks growing off the stem of a plant. Eventually I remove it and place it into the background of the composition. The gallbladder is the first form that fills the lower space behind the physical body – it will appear as if growing out of the earth. I leave a trace of it where it once sat just under the liver. While the physical shape is gone, the energy of the organ remains.

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It’s interesting doing this particular work. The fact that this is my mother and the body of a woman who is 20 some years older than I am makes it familiar and yet unfamiliar at the same time –  difficult and fascinating.

I consider this work a meditation for sure.

days in the studio


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Days in the studio …

This last weekend while I prepared a 72″ x 44″ paper,  New York Times photographer Ruth Fremson looked on. She took studio shots as I worked the surface.

The next day I spent carefully setting a contour study into the picture plane. The subject is my niece Sara. I don’t have children. I’m not used to looking closely at a younger generation and seeing anything so like mine. Today in my niece’s feet, I recognize my toes.

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mixed media cat study

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This is the last paper I prepped and the final cat I planned to work on. I feel like I am just getting the hang of this and putting the paper to its best use.

This work is in casein, graphite, gesso and prisma pencil. The color went on so subtle in some places and so rich in other areas. I love the feel of the pencil on this surface. It’s unfinished, I’ll get to the background next. And the rodent on the other side  –  is going to get reworked and mixed with other mediums.

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¿rata o ratón?

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Often go awry.     – John Steinbeck


I was not comfortable with the research phase of this composition. And now that I am almost done, I wish I’d painted an alive looking rodent (as opposed to a dead looking one). I loved discovering the small clavicles, the little shoulder blades. and the delicate rib cage.

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Every summer I make time, usually 5 consecutive days, to complete one small composition a day. I work from morning to evening.  I like the intense practice that gives way to  creative solutions. I never know how things will turn out, but I determine to complete a composition that balances and appeals to my eye – and to do so rather quickly. By the end of the week, I have a series of little artworks.

In summer’s past I’ve printed, drawn, and done collage. This time I paint. It’s not a week of work though, it’s going on over a month at this point. I will have 6 small paintings on paper instead of 5. I am working steady and quick but this particular time the process requires a different pace.

It’s varies because I am working a bit larger than usual. I work the front and back of a prepared sheet of paper.  The images on each side connect, and I’ve decided material and color have to compliment. I make the egg tempera palette a little different for each panel. Drying time is part of every step. The running themes are the cat (or connection to a cat) and anatomy study, the latter requires research. Consequently I need more than a day to complete an image.

Today I’ve completed a rodent. Never confident the composition would work, I decide today I like the direction it’s taking.  The image at the top of the post is the casein under-painting. I finish below – with egg tempera. I planned to only make 6, I need the other side of this paper to complete that intention. But it’s possible I may continue and finish a few more, the challenge appeals to me.

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Common House Mouse (Mus Musculus)
Black Rat (Rattus Rattus)
Brown Rat (Rattus Norvegicus)

FYI – Rodents get their name from the Latin – rodere – to gnaw …

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