Thursday, April 27, 2006

Painting My Way Out

In my beginning painting class, our most recent assignment was to make a mixed-media painting - any subject was fine. I began with a rather large canvas (30" x 40") and used a drawing I had made of my grandmother's face. I made multiple copies of the drawing in various sizes, and then tore them up, moved them around, and made a composition inside a grid. I had no idea where it was going, but something about it made sense to me. I used gauze, screening, and rice paper to add texture to the surface in various places as I painted. As I worked on this one I began to get emotionally involved with it. It seemed as if I was painting about my life, about all the ways I have tried to see myself, be myself, as a whole person. I've struggled to come out from behind the walls, veils, shields, and labyrinths that seem to have covered over much of my adult life. Sometimes there have been little glimpses of something, small moments of emerging, and then sometimes fruitless repetitions of things that didn't work, more groping in the dark, more self-censorship, or fear, or repression. Lately I can see that I am getting free of all that constraint, at last! This painting speaks to that feeling of emerging from the darkness and the walled-in consciousness, and beginning to look at the world through clear eyes. (detail below)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Life Drawing

My life drawing class this semester has been a mind-blowing experience. We are learning so much anatomy along the way, and being asked to accurately draw the skeleton, the musculature, and learn all the "bony landmarks" and "muscular landmarks" and how the light and shadow is impacted by what's in the body.. Just to give you some idea of the learning curve, I'm posting here my first drawing and my latest one. As you can see, I still have trouble getting the proportions of torso to legs right, but it is coming along and soon I expect to have that nailed. Now we're working on how to draw shadows and highlights and to show how the skin looks in particular lighting situations. It's all about practice, not perfection!

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Best of Youth (La Meglio gioventù)

This week we watched an awesome DVD, The Best of Youth (La Meglio Gioventu), a two-part, six hour film from Italy. I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is a story of a large, extended Italian family. The action stretches from the early 1960's through the present, following several generations of the family. The film focuses particularly on two brothers, Matteo and Nicola. It's in Italian, with subtitles, but one quickly forgets about that because it is so totally engrossing, and the acting is superb. Everything about this film is smart, passionate, in-depth. If you check the link to the film (above) you can see a number of one-liner reviews that amply sum it up. If you want to watch something great, run to your nearest video outlet and demand this film!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I Blew It (Caveat Emptor)

Well, yesterday I went to the Michael Moore web site, to see what he's up to. He had a nifty sidebar item, giving the daily count of the dead in the Iraq war. I thought I could copy it and put it onto my blog sidebar (I mostly succeeded). However while I was fooling around with my template I impulsively decided to change my blog's "look" and choose a new template style. Don't try this at home!!! I didn't consider that when you change your template style, you lose everything you've programmed onto your own front page, such as your links, sidebar items, etc. I didn't even stop to think about it, or make a copy of my source file before I pushed the fatal button. It will take me awhile to rebuild what I had. Meanwhile I may try on a few more styles, as long as I'm in the mood.....

P.S. Hot off the press - I just heard a leak that President Bush is choosing a new Defense Secretary to replace Rumsfeld. He wants a "kinder, gentler" image to sell this war to the American people. Here's a clue....

Monday, April 17, 2006

Past, Present, Future

As seen on Tara Dharma!

20 Years Ago I...
1. Was enduring the first year of a bad new marriage, and had already taken one of my children and run away from home for a week!
2. Was working full-time at the university.
3. Was commuting twice a week to JFK University in Orinda to take classes in “interdisciplinary consciousness studies”, (woo woo) but it was actually terrific!

10 Years Ago I...
1. Was celebrating a 4 year anniversary with my new love thang…
2. My children were moving out, going to college, getting jobs.
3. Had finished treatment for breast cancer and was feeling good again.

5 Years Ago I...
1. Began visiting Whidbey Island, where my sweetie bought a vacation home. Fell in love with a place, big time.
2. Was thinking about retirement after 20+ years.
3. Had moved to a new job at the U, and was refreshed by the change!

1 Year Ago I...
1. Was retired (as of July ’04) and getting excited about my new life style (slowing down!)
2. Began taking art classes and learning how to draw and paint.
3. Celebrated having owned my home in Santa Cruz for 30 years!

So Far This Year I...
1. Have begun blogging.
2. Have have been studying life drawing and beginning painting.
3. Lost our wonderful dog, Lola, after 13 fantastic years of her company.

Yesterday I...
1. Took several walks with our little dog, Zuma.
2. Began a new painting.
3. Was treated to a FABULOUS and extravagant 'tapas' dinner at the home of some lovely friends.

Today I...
1. Am working on a little part-time job.
2. Will go to class later tonight and draw somebody’s beautiful body.
3. Am wearing a watermelon-colored shirt, mmmmm….

Tomorrow I will ...
1. Celebrate my birthday..
2. Go for a hot tub and dinner out…
3. Hope my kids remember me….;-)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

I've Been Away for Awhile

On Wednesday night last week, we hosted a beautiful Passover seder at our home. About 14 people attended, and the food was off-the-charts delicious. Our friend Rose brought copies of the Haggadah that she has worked on for years, a very moving and relevant ceremony. Below is a photo of a chopped liver goddess, made by our friend Eileen.The next morning we left town and headed south for a visit with friends in Ventura, north of Los Angeles. The weather was finally clear, and as we drove south on 101 we soaked in the acid-green hills, the hot orange California poppies everywhere, and the puffy, racing clouds blowing across the azure skies. It was a spectacular drive. We had our little Zuma along, a great traveler.Highlights of this little mini-vacation included the following:
a) staying at our friends home, about 100 feet from the beach, and being able to walk out the door and onto the beach several times a day.
b) a terrific lunch at a place called "Tutti's" in downtown Ventura. Every bite was a melt-in-your-mouth moment.
c) hours of stimulating conversation and laughter with our friends.
d) dinner at a Chinese restaurant (name withheld, I don't know why!) where the food was just awful, and the service so laughable that we felt as if we were in a Saturday Night Live piece. Our waitress slammed trays, ran back and forth past our table, put other people's dinners on our serving table and then shook her finger at us "don't touch, it's not for you!". She borrowed one of our dinner forks to serve something, then dropped the dirty fork back onto our friend's plate. She served our rice in an upside down bowl, on a plate, spilling out in all directions. She brought our water on a tray full of dirty dishes from another table, and shoved it in front of us. "You want water, take it, take it!" It wasn't clear if the water came from the other table or from the kitchen. She told us we couldn't order Mu Shu Pork because she didn't have time to serve it, "unless you want to make it yourselves". Otherwise we would have to wait at least 20 minutes. Sometimes such an outrageous experience can be a highlight - it provides laughter and stories for a long time to come, and this one certainly fit that category!
e) On the drive home yesterday, we stopped in Paso Robles, a former cow-town and rodeo center, now morphing into a little "Calistoga"-south. Probably the movie "Sideways" has changed everything in that part of the world. From King City on south, the former agricultural fields along highway 101 have suddenly all become vineyards. Anyway, Paso Robles now is full of boutiques, patisseries, cafés, French restaurants, wine tasting salons, and little inns. It is nearly unrecognizable from what it was 10 years ago. The barbeque pits and steakhouses are being elbowed out of town by the clink of wine glasses and the aroma of baguettes baking in wood ovens.
f) In the town square in Paso Robles, we noticed something else interesting. A family had brought their boxer dog and her 7 puppies (all six weeks old) out into the park. All the puppies were dressed in various pastel doll dresses - pink, yellow, aqua, mint green, etc. From a distance, it gave the impression of some kind of wierd easter egg event going on, with these little pastel fluff-balls running in circles, and tumbling on the grass as they tripped over each other. Closer up we got to have some puppy-breath kisses from these little wonders. Didn't have our camera handy, darn!
g) back in Santa Cruz, a little sunshine, our wonderful home! But that was yesterday. Today, I'm sad to report, it is raining again. Oh well......

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Der Struwwelpeter (Slovenly Peter)

Listening to this morning's Weekend Edition on NPR radio I was jarred into alertness by a report on the return of Der Struwwelpeter (Slovenly Peter). This was a book we had as children, so terrifying that when I think of it I sometimes tell myself that I must be making it up. But it was a real thing. The book was first written in 1845 by Heinrich Hoffman. The color illustrations were magnificent, but they featured children having their fingers cut off with giant scissors because they had not been good children, stuff like that. It was all about frightening children into behaving. I suspect our book was from around the turn of the century. Artistically, it would probably be worth a fortune today. I have no idea what ever happened to it. Perhaps one of my brothers has it.
I tell of naughty girls and boys,
Of ill-bred children, full of noise,
Who play with lights and fire when able,--
Who rock their chairs beside the table,
Till falling down the dinner comes,--
Who suck at once at both their thumbs
Who would not let their nails be cut,
Until at last so long they got,
That from the hands away they stretched,
Until the floor below they reached.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Miss Trimmer's

We were forbidden to go there under any circumstances, so of course we went as often as possible. It was dangerous, we were told. The building was falling down. Someone had fallen through the floor from the second story. We could get hurt. It could all collapse on us and kill us. Just the slightest wrong move could bring it down. AND it was private property.

Miss Trimmer’s barn and house was next door to our farm. It had been empty for as long as I remembered. I had no memory of any Miss Trimmer, but I pictured her as a tiny, white-haired lady who had mysteriously disappeared. Probably the reality was that she had gotten too old to live alone and was off in a nursing home somewhere.

Her beautiful whitewashed stone house sat on a slight hillside, gently set back from the road. It had windows trimmed in light blue paint, and a decaying roof. The lawn was green and old roses had gone out of control on the perimeters, lavishing their abundant vines and blooms in every direction. The lawn was cut occasionally by someone, but the rest of the property was badly neglected. The photo below is NOT her house, but it has something of the feeling of it, if it were whiter and surrounded by luscious green growth.On the side of the property, almost hidden by a heavy overgrowth of berry bushes, roses, and trees, was a collapsing old barn. It was dark brown and 3 stories tall. Some of the boards had come off the sides, and part of the roof had fallen in, so that shafts of sunlight pierced through.

The ground floor appeared to have been a garage, probably for carriages. It had an open garage-size door that faced the street, but no vehicle could have driven through that tangled overgrowth in those days. Above the garage was the fabled hole through the ceiling where someone was reputed to have fallen through from above. At the back, in the darkness, was a rotting stairway to the upper floors. Some steps were missing, but my brothers and I made our way through the cobwebbed darkness, across the dirt floor, and up those stairs. We held our breaths with fear of death, expecting the whole building to fall on us as our dad had predicted. But our sense of adventure carried us over our fear.

Inside, on the second floor, was the most exciting place. It was an abandoned country store, cash register on the counter frozen in time, rusting items everywhere, a glass Mr. Peanut jar, empty but enchanting to us children. Mr. Peanut seemed to be watching us sneak around as he reclined in his top hat and monacle!Rusty kitchen utensils lay about. Old signs were decaying on the walls. Cabinets and drawers were full of spools of thread, thimbles, canned goods, fabrics, tools, buttons. Everything was the color of rust or dust, layered in cobwebs and dirt. Whispering, we fingered each item and rummaged through each drawer until we knew the place by heart. We tiptoed gingerly across creaking boards, always watchful not to be the next to plunge through the flooring to the garage below.

At first we only went into the barn, and it was enough. But eventually we began to wonder about the house and to creep through the yard, around to the back, and peek into the windows. With our childish imaginations, we were never sure that someday Miss Trimmer, or someone or something even more scary, would be inside peeking back out at us.Photo by Graeme Kerr, 2006. I think it is England, but it reminds me of the countryside near our home and near Miss Trimmer's place.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Good Day. Sunshine!

Enough said. It's sunny. It hasn't been sunny for weeks. I'm outta here to bask and enjoy!(Photo from the Golden Gate Bridge last month)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Deep Diving

I've spent the better part of the last 10 days working on a painting for my class. The assignment was that we were to make an abstract painting, a "re-imagined master painting", inspired by artist Jay DeFeo's painting, "The Rose", completed in 1965 after 8 years of work (reproduction at the left of this post). This massive, 8' x 10' painting, had a sculpted surface. When completed, it weighed in at 2,000 pounds, and required dismantling the San Francisco apartment in which DeFeo lived so it could be moved and shown. It has been described as "heroic, epic, legendary, tragic, Promethean even". It resides permanently in the Whitney Museum in New York, but it is rarely shown due to the difficulty of keeping it in good condition.

It has been fascinating to watch my classmates grapple with trying to paint something that works for this assignment. It has been a huge process of trial and error and trial and more error watching myself grapple with it! I originally thought I would do a close-up of a cactus plant, and started out painting in greens and blue/greens. A bit of purple began drifting in, and several rows of wire bristles were placed down the spines. More layers, more hours of work. After awhile, everything looked flat and colorless and dark, and dull. I had gone way too far. I began to place a few dots of lighter color on the surface, and next thing I knew the painting took on a life of its own. It now is a predominant blue/violet, with tiny bits of magenta and golden yellow. Most people who see it think it looks like some under-sea creature, or a starfish, or an imitation of an aboriginal work. It's not what I had in mind, but I sure learned a lot in the process - I guess that's what it is all about. Oh, and mine is 30" x 48" and weighs almost nothing!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Tough Week

Haven't posted anything for several days. It has been kind of a tough week. I actually worked two days this week to earn a bit of $, a habit I though I had shed nearly 2 years ago, but it seems to be a necessity right now. Have been working on a very difficult painting assignment that has cost me hours of struggle, but also has been a great learning process. I've probably put 25 layers of paint onto one painting, attempting to get somewhere with it and perhaps, it seems, making it worse with every effort! The result is still out ahead of me, more layers to go! I have until Thursday to finish it. My niece, Amy, and her husband Carson were in town for a few days from New Hampshire and I wasn't able to see much of them for a variety of reasons. And the political scene in the US and everywhere has been pulling me down, breaking my heart, making me wonder how we all can wake up and do something, anything. This is not the reality I want for myself, my children, my (future) grandchildren, my world. Tonight I write in a mood of sadness and grief for all the innocent lives squandered by those "in charge"."But these are tainted years, ours; the blood of men far away
tumbles again in the foam, the waves stain us, the moon is spattered.
These faraway agonies are our agonies
and the struggle for the oppressed is a hard vein in my nature.

Perhaps this war will pass like the others which divided us,
leaving us dead, killing us along with the killers
but the shame of this time puts its burning fingers to our faces.
Who will erase the ruthlessness hidden in innocent blood? "
Pablo Neruda, The Water Song Ends, 1967