Friday, August 28, 2009

What's in a Title

"Well, Art is Art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water---and east is east and west is west, and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubard does."
------- Groucho Marx, in Animal Crackers, 1930

These are some of my favorite things on a corner of my desk in my library.

What do you think these are titles of?
  1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
  2. I Can do Bad All by Myself
  3. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  4. 9
  5. The Men Who Stare at Goats
  6. 2012
  7. I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
  8. The Blue Tooth Virgin
If you guessed movies, you would be right. These are titles of upcoming movies due out this fall. And yes, in the movie THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS (George Clooney), there really are goats and there really are men who stare at them.
What do you think these are titles of?
  1. When You are Engulfed in Flames (David Sedaris)
  2. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers)
  3. Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight (Alexandra Fuller)
  4. All Over but the Shoutin' (Rick Bragg)
These are books on my shelf and all excellent memoirs.

This painting is an early attempt of combining assemblage with paint. Several years ago, when I started my big theme of exploring the passage of time and what remains, I did a series of paintings that dealt with identity. I would either include my hand print or my fingerprints in these paintings. When I start a series, I brainstorm lists of words. Some of these words usually become titles for those paintings. This one is titled AUTHENTICITY. I am always trying to figure out who I am, what I like, what I am searching for, and am I being honest with myself and my work. So, I usually have my titles and paintings planned out before I begin. I know the title, the colors I am going to use, the papers, the found objects, the imagery, words and so on before I even begin. Some artists come up with their titles after they finish the piece. Some artists don't have a plan and as they work on the piece, and as it emerges, a title might come out of that experimentation. Some artists get their titles from other sources, like movies or books. How do you come up with the titles in your work?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Visual Nesting, of a Sort

I walked out, and the nest
was already there by the step. Woven basket
of a saint
sent back to life as a bird
who proceeded to make
a mess of things. Wind
right through it, and any eggs
long vanished. But in my hand it was
intricate pleasure, even the thorny reeds
softened in the weave. And the fading
leaf mold, hardly
itself anymore, merely a trick
of light, if light
can be tricked. Deep in a life
is another life. I walked out, the nest
already by the step.
----- Marianne Boruch

The main theme of my painting, for several years now, has been the passage of time and what remains. Within that theme, my subject matter has changed and currently my work has to do with the effects of time on memory. But there was a time when I painted bird's nests and bird eggs. I collect bird eggs and nests, and yes, even bird skulls. As I explored the effects of time on nature I was also interested in the cycle of life. Bird nests represent that cycle of life. Every
spring, birds build their nests and hatch their eggs. Like watching the waves come in, or drawing a circle, the nest also represents a recurring cycle and is calming and meditative. On a visual level, the intricacy of the structure of the nest is like calligraphy on the canvas. The textures, lines and marks of the nest are intriguing. Because of my love of textures, I am drawn to nests, as well as thickets, leafless branches, empty trees. I have used digital images of nests or hand painted them. Also, isn't there something wondrous about the aesthetic perfection of bird eggs? They are fragile, yet a powerful statement for the cycle of life. When you think about it, every animal begins life as an egg. Is there an image that shows up in your work over and over?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Enso, Zen circles of Enlightenment

Actually, the letter 'o' in the Japanese word 'enso' has a short line above it. The enso is a circle and is one of the most prevalent images of Zen art. As a symbol, the circle expresses the totality of our being. The Zen enso symbolizes enlightenment, power, and the universe itself. It can also mean 'empty' or 'void'. Some artists practice drawing an enso daily as a spiritual exercise. I have not figured out why I am so attracted to circles. I just know I love circles and dots and have been putting them in my paintings for years. When I see a polka dot scarf or a pair of socks in the store I can't NOT buy them. I have tote bags and towels with dots and circles. I even get excited when I see dashes, spots, and splatters on walls, sidewalks, cloth, wallpaper, artwork and so on, which is probably why I am dashing and splattering my paintings as well. To me the circle represents a continuing action through all time. It is never ending, and recurring through eternity. It is circular, repeating itself over and over. It also can have no meaning or cause outside itself. It can just be texture to me with no more meaning than that I love drawing and painting circles, dots and dashes in my work.
This might also explain why I love to sit on the beach and watch the waves come in over and over. The never ending action is soothing, calming and meditative to me. Is there a symbol or color or object that keeps showing up in your work?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Memories in light and shadow

Not soon, as late as the approach
of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me
and I entered
the clarity of early morning.
One after another my former
lives were departing,
like ships, together with
their sorrow.
And the countries, cities, gardens,
the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better
than they were before.
--- Czeslaw Milosz,
Nobel-prizewinning Polish poet,
from his 2001 poem Late Ripeness

My memories are like driving through a fog that has bits of clearing or clarity. Some of my memories are fragile traces, fragments or remembered moments from my past, especially my
childhood memories. Some of my memories are in the shadow, full of gaps. Other memories are vivid, clear and "in the light". I build up and remove layers of paint on my canvas, that
represent the layers of life experiences that accumulate in my mind as memories. I scrape, rub, scratch back into the layers of paint to reveal the meaning of my painting, much like the way we look back through layers of our memories when searching to understand ourselves.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Passage of Time, part 2

I started a new series last week, based on the passage of time and how it effects memory. For several years, my paintings were based on the physical aspects of the passage of time in nature. I took digital pictures of some of my favorite collections from nature like bird nests, bird eggs, bones, fossils, and animal and bird skulls. I also used digital pictures of trees, rocks, and piles of driftwood. Now, I am exploring memory. The first thing I did was brainstorm a list of words.
Then I found an old list of words from several years ago (see The Passage of Time, part 1). I was surprised to see so much similarity between the two lists. Some of these new words have already become titles of my new paintings.

  1. quiet memory
  2. faded memory
  3. traces
  4. vestiges
  5. fragments
  6. remnants
  7. recollections
  8. fragile memory
  9. a remembered moment
  10. dwelling in light and shadow

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Passage of Time, part 1

For several years, I have been interested in the passage of time and what remains. Most of my paintings (and the occasional assemblage) have explored the physical effects of time in nature and the transient cycle of life. With the passage of time there is a transience depicted with traces or layers of what came before, which has become worn, weathered, or rusty. But there is also an enduring permanence to the recurring cycle, which explains why circles often show up in my paintings. Being a list maker, I start a series by brainstorming lists of words. Some of these words end up as titles. I have found these lists to be great starting points for beginning painting a new series. I recently found a list of words, forgotten in an old folder, written 3 years ago, based on my passage of time series.
  1. traces
  2. timeless
  3. fragile
  4. endless
  5. reminders
  6. cycles
  7. imprint
  8. vestiges
  9. fragments
  10. a remembered moment
  11. dwelling in shadow