Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Big Girl 2009

The year following my graduate studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, I was chosen to be an Artist-in-the-Schools.  It meant that I was given a studio and a monthly stipend and in return I would teach a certain number of art classes per week.  I taught all of the grades in their system, from kindergarten to mid-school. The mid-schoolers made me nervous and the really little kids, six on down, were just too young for me to engage.  However, I delighted in the rest of the ages:  I was a hero just by walking in the door with the label of artist, and could do no wrong in their eyes.  I came up with various projects that we worked on together, but really, I was just one artist surrounded by many.

I had a class that has always stood out in my mind and that's because of one little boy.  He sat with his desk facing the wall, clearly separated from the other children.  As we started to work, and I went around helping each child, I noticed that he was perspiring profusely. He had a heavy, dank, little boy odor about him and his clothes seemed not quite clean.  He gave his drawing all of his attention and focus.  When he finished, and I came around to look at what he had done, I was staggered by his image.  It was of a house and a child, but the child was much bigger than the house, and the child was leaning over, a stream of vomit coming from his mouth.  It was a beautiful drawing-- profound and honest and just very well done.  I praised him and told him what a great drawing I thought he had done, and he beamed back at me.  He knew I was being sincere, and he knew that I saw what he had done and heard what he was trying to say-that there was big trouble in his life. 

Later, when the class went out for recess, I showed the drawing to the teacher.  She couldn't say much to me, but I understood that this child wasn't in a good situation, and that she was doing the best she could to help.  I wasn't telling her anything she didn't know.  I left that day, and of course, I never knew what happened to the little boy.  I can only hope that his art helped him through his life, and gave him the connection he needed to somehow make it in a hard and unforgiving world.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Long Journey 2006

If Mary and Joseph were to show up with their mule today, on their way to Bethlehem, they would find a very different world, one that was mostly urban.  Although the baby Jesus would be riding safely inside Mary, she would reflect today's gray, grim world, graffiti decorating her robes and the world around her.   Joseph's robes would be made, not from soft cotton, but from impenetrable material--torn and twisted corrugated iron.  The mule would be calm and placid, the same, since animals haven't changed their nature over the centuries, but his blanket would advertise his passenger, just as buses and taxis  do today. Their journey would be lonely and full of anxiety, and they would probably end up in a parking garage in downtown Bethlehem, waiting nervously for their baby to be born.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Woman Meditating 2011

Blue:  sadness or happiness.
Yellow: renewal and hope or cowardice and deceit.

For a long time I have been trying to mediate consistently.  I know it's good for me, actually more than good for me, I think it's probably vital to my health and well being.  However, I am a slackard meditator. Days, weeks, and even years have gone by without me meditating.   I don't know why I have so much trouble with this seemingly simple and straight forward exercise.  All I can say is that it's just easier not to, especially when I really need it, when I find myself in one of my typically stressed or highly emotional states-normal ways of being for me.

Carl Jung liked to say that it is only in middle age that we began to realize that  the sun is no longer rising, but beginning its descent. As I start my sixth decade, I know that I have choices that will make my life better, and choices that won't.  Knowing that sun is sinking makes the choices a little more immediate and a little more urgent.  I  hope to make those right choices, but maybe even more importantly, not to despair when I don't.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nancy's Dream 1980

I started college life thinking I would be a ceramic artist.  I worked hard, made lots and lots of clunky shapes, both thrown and hand built, and at some point, realized that ceramics wasn't really my friend.  Next, printmaking, worked hard, made lots and lots of lithographs, and  realized I wasn't really cut out to be friends with lithography.  Then, painting and drawing, again always working hard, and I was able to make large, slightly surreal paintings, mostly about people and animals.  They weren't great, but they weren't bad.

I started taking my own photographs, not to be a photographer, but to have information to base my paintings and drawings on.  At some point, in some flash of laziness, or genius, I'm not sure which, I began to paint on the photos with oil, thinking of them as rough sketches for my paintings.  I found the surface slick and non-absorbent, and the photograph never disappeared, the way paint or marks on paper would when you tried to rework them. I loved these little 8'x10" photos that I painted on, that I didn't have to despair over the way I had everything else. I wish I could say that I immediately snapped to and understood what I had, but I was slower than that, and it took me several years before I finally understood that I had found my voice.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winter Kill 2008

Winter Kill:  to die as a result of exposure to winter conditions, especially the cold of winter.
I think this image is about loneliness, and about waiting, and hoping, but to no avail.  The two figures are male and female, the male is on the left with his arms raised, and the female figure is on the right.  He is imploring and she is waiting.  She is afraid that he will never turn to her, and he worries that he will never be answered.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tough Woman 1998

I have never smoked and I have almost never worn pearls, blue eye shadow, lipstick, or high heels.  But with that being said, I have to say that Tough Woman is a very accurate self portrait.   Those who don't know me well perceive me as being affable, somewhat granola, a little (or perhaps a lot) hypochondriacal. .

The real me lurks not far beneath that friendly, seemingly open surface.  She is stern, critical, and not about to budge from an idea or a perception of reality unless proven otherwise(and sometimes not even then). Bossy comes to mind. The real me is a little feared by my family because nothing slips by, "And why is it that the clock in your car is still set for daylight savings even though we switched over three months ago?"  (husband and daughter).  My mother can't wait to get off the phone with me, "Are you drinking enough water?  How much sugar have you had today?  Did you make it to the gym this week?  And why not?"   More of the same for my 83 year old stepfather. Constant bullying in the form of endless conversations about how important it is for him to work on his core muscles.

At times I despair of this woman who can't let go of things, can't be easy, flexible, or "fun loving",  who hounds her students and her daughter (youngest)until they end up with best possible image they can pull out of the creative void.  Whose jaw sometimes hurts from clenching it so hard.  But, at the end of the day, although this woman is not always the easiest person to live with, I'm glad  she's in my corner.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Passing 2009


This piece started with Minnie's head.  Minnie was a pinto mare that my friend Colleen had happened upon during the six years that she and her family lived  in Albuquerque.  Colleen knew next to nothing about horses, and I know a lot, so over the period of time that Colleen's family owned Minnie, I taught Colleen how to ride and much about the care and feeding of a horse.  Colleen was head over heels in love with Minnie, and in middle age, had became passionate about horses, something I hadn't felt for years.  Minnie was in her 20's when Colleen got her(she was a gift) which is rather old in horse years, but she was in good shape, calm, pretty, and fun to ride.  When Colleen's husband found another job in the Midwest, they gave Minnie back to her original owner, sold their house, packed their belongings and moved on. I had no other friend quite like Colleen, and even though I knew we would keep in touch, it wouldn't be the same. 

Because of her advanced age, I knew that Minnie might very well not be around anymore.  When I came across Minnie's image in my studio, I found myself thinking about a  painting that would have to do with dying.  As a young adult, I had read the book I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven.  In the book, Craven used owls to symbolize death, which has evolved into my own world view. I'd photographed some concrete owls at a roadside stand a few years earlier, so I started my image-building with the owls and a photograph of Minnie's head. The painting evolved slowly and painfully-as usual. But gradually, the visual order became clear to me, and I understood where I needed to go. The geese became helpers, who were accompanying, and even lifting Minnie and her rider through the gates.  The owls watched quietly over it all, and the Navajo rug in our family room became the portal that Minnie and her rider strode through. I had thought the painting was about Minnie's passing, and about death, going through that portal, whatever that is.  However, I realize now that the painting also has to do with the smaller losses that all of us experience, the things we lose that we know we can never have back.  In my case, it was losing the day to day closeness of a  personal relationship; my friendship with Colleen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Man with Heart Attack 1989

My friend Kay had called, it seemed, just to chat.  We spoke often on the phone, and our conversation was fairly mundane:  how was my corn growing, were we going to go for a ride that day?  However, this time, after we talked, Kay asked if he could talk to Bob .  I put Bob on, and listened with some concern as I heard Bob say, "I'll meet you at the hospital as soon as you can get up here".  Bob hung up and told me that Kay had been having chest pains and his arm hurt, classic signs of a heart attack.  Bob was getting ready to head back to the hospital and meet Kay(Bob had walked home for lunch), when he said, "Somethings wrong. I'm going down to Kay's".  Kay lived about five minutes away by car,  so Bob took off.

Here's what happened next:  Bob arrives at Kay's, sees his car in the driveway, so Bob knows he's home.  Kay's mean dog, Jack, is barking ferociously, loose in the yard.  Kay is not standing on the porch holding Jack by the collar so Bob can come in. Kay is not standing anywhere. Bad sign.  Kay always comes out to greet his guests.  Bob steps out of the car, thinks of himself as bigger and meaner than Jack, and manages to get inside Kay's mobile home without having Jack tear his leg off.  He finds Kay on the couch, arms splayed, mouth open, not breathing.  He pulls him to the floor, lays him on his back, and attempts CPR.  He realizes he has forgotten to pinch his nose shut when the air he exhales into Kay's mouth comes shooting back out of Kay's nose.  He pinches Kay's nose shut, tries again. More breaths, this time going where they need to go. Kay gasps and then vomits. Bob knows Kay is back on the planet.  He calls the hospital, gives them Kay's name and says "heart attack".  He hangs up and attends to Kay.  The ambulance arrives within minutes and Jack has to be distracted so the paramedics can get out and get to Kay.

Soon after they brought Kay into the hospital, I arrived and went to be with him in the small room used for emergencies.  He came in and out of consciousness--muttering to me he was worried about his socks being dirty. He had to be shocked several times to keep his heart going, and I waited just outside with the door open, terrified at what I was seeing.  My great and wonderful friend Kay, one of the kindest and warmest people I had ever known, literally, at death's door, in terrible pain.  A plane was summoned and it landed on the small runway adjacent to the hospital.  Within a very short period of time, Bob and Kay were in the sky, growing smaller, and then disappearing as the small plane headed West, to Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque.  Once there, Kay coded several times, but made it to the OR where a cardiac surgeon performed bypass surgery. Twenty years later, just two years ago, he died at the age of 80. He had lived those intervening years in Zuni in his mobile home under the big cottonwood tree with his little brown VW bug, his horse, and his dogs.  When he had his heart attack, he was the age I am now .

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Shopping 2009

I don't think I'm quite at the level of needing to attend a Twelve Step Program (Hi. My name is Holly and I'm a shopaholic), but I'm close, especially if I'm not working in my studio.  I have in my DNA a need to look for things, to hunt, to find, to search out.  In a primitive society I would have been the one tracking the deer, calling out the alarm when warring tribes came to destroy the village, sniffing the air for fire or rain. But I wasn't born in a primitive tribe in the Amazon, I was born into the most affluent culture the world has ever known, chock full of things to be hunted down.  

So that's what I do:  I hunt for bargains, sales, things that I usually don't have any need for but that are  pennies on the dollar.  It's exciting when I start shopping, and often I find wonderful things, especially at thrift stores:  bicycle jerseys, shorts, and shoes; bikes, boxes of ink jet transparencies (20 boxes for $2 each), Dansko clogs, large rolls of printer paper, an opaque overhead projector, riding breeches.  If I'm not practising my hunting skills at real stores, then I'm doing it online, Craig's list being my favorite. At times, as I sift through hanger after hanger of clothing that I don't particularly like but is marked down 75%, I wonder just what the hell I'm doing.  It worries me.  And as I continue to shop, I think of all the things I could be doing that would make my life and the lives of others better.  What redeems me is knowing that once I start working in my studio, this powerful need to find things gets channeled into the making  of images and the solving of problems that have to do with those images.  It's the same attention and focus, it's just much more intense, lasts for longer periods of time, and I don't have to worry--at least for awhile-- about finding the right Twelve Step Program to join.