Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sphinx 2011

A sphinx (Greek: Σφίγξ /sphinx, Bœotian: Φίξ /Phix) is a mythical creature with, as a minimum, the body of a lion and the head of a human or a cat.
In Greek tradition, it has the haunches of a lion, the wings of a great bird, and the face of a woman. She is mythicised as treacherous and merciless. Those who cannot answer her riddle suffer a fate typical in such mythological stories, as they are killed and eaten by this ravenous monster.... a unique demon of destruction and bad luck. Wikepedia, the free encyclopedia.

Its been a tough year.  December particularly rocky:  two days after the death of my father, 27 people were gunned down in Newton, Connecticut, 20 of them young children, only days after a mall shooting in Portland and four months after the Aurora Theater shootings(I thought of my father wondering at the sudden onslaught of young souls). This fall, Sandy made us all aware of the destructive side of global warming. When I opened my Internet browser yesterday, one of the headlines told of the rape and murder of a young Indian woman, a medical student on a bus on her way home from a movie with a male friend. The crime stood out because it was so horrific, not because its unusual for women to be raped and beaten to death.  On a more personal note, I've just "unfriended" a  personable and attractive young relative whose posts are filled with hated and vitriol against President Obama.  Global warming, gun violence,  the abuse of women and political dissonance are all things we have lived with for years, it's just that this year all seem bigger, heavier and more out of control than in years past.

I wonder what our riddle is?  Is it something like, "What has two legs, walks upright and ruins everything it touches?", or perhaps a little more in keeping with the original, "what walks on four legs at dawn, two legs during the day, three legs at dusk and can't seem to understand that its days are limited if it doesn't start behaving in a responsible way?"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Woman with Wolf Dress 2011

Self Portrait:  a portrait of oneself done by oneself

Today, the day after my 61st birthday, I wanted to use an image that would best describe me as I am now.  This image, done over a year ago, combines many things:  a self portrait after applying facial cream taken when I was in my late twenties; the side profile of one of my daughter's high school boyfriends; and the fur and paw from a dead coyote that my daughter Teal photographed.  The images were printed on ink jet transparencies which allowed the surface under the photo to come through.  In this case, the painting was a crackled surface using two different colors as the crackle contrast--subtle but effective in dividing the little painting in half. The cooler side contains the young man's face looking down, eyes almost closed.

The painting is about aging--drying up, cracking, and finally blowing away, fine dust in the harsh spring winds. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Man with Child Inside 1994

On Wednesday, my father died.  He was 86 and had recently suffered a fall, cracking three ribs in the process.  He was ill for about six weeks, and finally, I think, had enough and asked to be taken off  life support.  He died within about 24 hours of his request. 

Man with Child Inside was based on a multiple photographic panel of my husband and our daughter Ramey when she was still quite young.  In this image, the father figure nests the child inside himself.  The child is calm and peaceful.  Content, she knows she is cherished.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Longing 2000

In my late 20's I lived both in Mexico and then, a year later, in  Ecuador.  I was young, blond and, most significantly, American.  Walks on the street would inevitably attract Latin men, either in groups, or alone, calling out, whispering of their love, trying to get physically as close as possible to convince me of their passion and ardor.  Because I was an American woman that meant I possessed lose morals and with just a little urging,  I would probably do any manner of things of an explicit sexual nature.  Kissing noises, hands on private parts, arms around my shoulders.  Every once and awhile a breast squeezed in a crowded space. All this to excite me?

Over Thanksgiving, I was hiking with my daughter, her boyfriend, and my husband.  We were on a low cliff trail overlooking the flood plain of the Rio Grande River.  Below us were two young Hispanic men.  One waved to me, I waved back.  Then, from below, "Can I suck your titties?". Giggling, they ran, losing themselves in the thick growth of Tamarisk that grows along the river banks. I wondered if they knew just how old those titties were that they wanted to involve themselves with.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Man with TV 1984/ before and after

My husband Bob and I have always had issues with the TV.  We are addicts, Bob worse than me.  We have tried different techniques over the years to try and keep our addiction under control, but now, past midlife, we have finally given in to the dark side and have a flatscreen TV and cable.  Our only nod to our addictive selves is that we don't have a huge TV, just a mid-size one--kind of on the smallish side.  This painting is about that addiction; the little TV with the rabbit ears our attempt to keep the importance of the TV to a minimum.  Of course we both watched it all the time, so it was kind of silly. 
I recently found a slide box full of before and after images, showing what the photographs looked like before I painted over them.  In this photo, Bob had collapsed on the couch, tired from doing some kind of physical labor. The painting is so much more elegant and interesting than the photograph, although you can see the connection between the two.  For example, one arm is "real", the other wiped so that the cushion on the sofa becomes the structure of the arm.  I think what is most interesting in Man with TV is that the painting reveals something that couldn't be described otherwise:  a reclining man in a gray world completely absorbed in the small square box in front of him.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Snake 1999

I hadn't seen "Black Snake" in quite some time, and had forgotten just how much I liked it.  I was visiting a friend who happens to have a large collection of my work, this being one of them.  We walked around to the different rooms with my paintings in them, and when we came to this one, I stood in front of it for quite some time.  My friend began to talk about the painting, and what it meant to her.  She talked about the snake and how it could mean so many things:  betrayal, heartbreak, money problems, rivalry, revenge.  She felt that each girl was reacting differently to the implied threat of what the snake meant.  I listened, fascinated.  When I made the painting I had photographed  my daughter, Ramey, when she was four with her younger friend, Emily.  They had been making faces, using their hands to twist their features into bizarre shapes.  Once I started combining the paint with the photographs of the girls, I realized that they needed something to look at, so I  added the little black snake.  I thought what my friend brought to the image was  more interesting than what I had thought about when I made the painting, and I liked that it spoke in a stronger, clearer voice living at her house than it had in mine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Rapture 2009

Rapture: The state of being transported by a lofty emotion; ecstasy. Free Online Dictionary

For many years my husband and I had a postcard stuck on our refrigerator door.  I loved the image.  Cars smashing, planes flying into buildings, little souls rising from their graves headed toward the big guy in the sky, his robe white and dress-like, similar to those of the small figures flying up to meet him.  It was the Rapture.  According to the Rapture is what happens when "True followers of Jesus Christ will be transformed into their spiritual bodies in the Rapture and taken from the Earth to be in Heaven with God. Non-believers will be left behind to face severe tribulation as the antichrist prepares to take his place ......How will the Rapture Occur?  According to several verses in the Bible, believers will suddenly, without warning, disappear from Earth in the "twinkling of an eye."  "

For years I've mulled over the idea that a group of people would believe that if they just followed the teachings of one person, in the "twinkling of an eye", all would be well.  They would be among the chosen that would zoom right on up to heaven, avoiding all the confusion and misery of what was to follow.  I've always known that I wouldn't be one of those fortunate people, but, really, who would want to belong to a group that would believe any of this?  My Rapture puts a different spin on things.  These followers of Jesus Christ are being tossed, helter skelter, to land, who knows where?  Heaven?  Maybe, maybe not. The beings left behind are the ones experiencing the true rapture, calm, but clearly filled with some kind of peace and presence. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Quarrel 2000

In November of 2000 I headed to my local polling station to vote for Al Gore for President.  I went to bed not knowing the outcome of the election, and when I woke up the next morning and turned on the news, I was none the wiser. The results from the state that would determine the outcome of the election, Florida, had been too close to call.  A mandatory machine recount was called for by Gore which still showed Bush ahead by almost 900 votes.  Gore requested a hand recount in the four liberal, most densely populated counties. 

For a month people dickered and argued and hurled accusations at each other.  Who were we to trust?  The Supreme Court in Florida was called in, overturning a state court decision not to extend the time limit to recount the ballots.  Then the US Supreme Court overuled that decision, which disallowed the recount. It was a horrible time for all of us, those citizens who had marched in on that Tuesday in November and cast our ballots.  There was anger and fear everywhere with the media painting a bleak and horrific picture of what could happen if we couldn't decide on a president. I was left with feelings of hopelessness and despair.  Why was it that this problem couldn't be solved in a way that didn't involve so much hatred and bitterness? It was the Quarrel to end all Quarrels, and gave us an inkling of what was to become of future politics in America.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bob and Blackie 1980

It was 1980 and my husband, Bob, and I were close to officially being adults.  I was in my last year of an MFA program at Arizona State University, and Bob was just finishing his family practice residency. His medical school had been paid for with a scholarship from the United States Government.  In return, he had to pay the government back, year for year, by being a doctor on an Indian Reservation.

We decided to take a road trip, visiting the different reservations so we could make an informed decision about where we would spend the next four years of our lives.  We drove our 1969 VW bug.  Old, funky, and fun to drive, we had no concerns about bad heaters, zero cooling, and a tiny engine.   We installed horse head decals on either door, and a luggage rack on the roof, which flew off well into the journey.  Mount Saint Helen's had just erupted, and the weather had an odd feel to it.  With our two dogs, Doug and Blackie, sitting on the tiny bench seat in the back of the bug, we drove from Arizona to Washington State in about six weeks time. Along the way we stopped  and spent time with the Zuni's, the Hopis, and the Lummi Nation in Washington to name just  a few.  By the end of the trip, we knew that the Zuni tribe, our first stop, had won our hearts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Woman Trying to Step Outside Herself 1991

In 1991 my family and I moved from the Zuni Indian reservation in New Mexico to Uptown in Chicago.  We had two young daughters, and were to live there for a year before moving back to New Mexico.  The titles of my pieces from that time reflected my world.  Many have to do with struggle and separation, Woman Bleeding, Woman Being Pecked, and Bound Man to name a few.  The work also seemed to be about immanent danger and isolation, such as  "Man with Snake on his Head" and "Man Looking both Ways". When I call up these images, and what was going on with me at the time,  I know things were difficult, yet my memory is that it was a tremendously exciting and rewarding experience, one that I wouldn't have traded for anything.

Woman Trying to Step Outside Herself spoke to me of confinement, of trying to move away from fear and lonliness.  At the time, one of my biggest challenges was expanding the boundaries of who I was as a person.  The old Holly wasn't working in many ways, and the new Holly had no idea of where she was to go, just that she had to leave, to move on.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Woman with Crow 2012

The crow has just landed on the woman’s outstretched arm. She has a halo made from the branches of a tree in winter, filled with small birds. The crow knows he can trust this woman because of her halo. It tells him that she is safe, holy. His body is made of the feet and legs of a dead bird, but his head is alive and knowing. Like the crow, we can see inside the woman through a portal that has made her available to us. Inside are leaves and tubing--her inner workings. They are sharing something profound, a deep connectedness.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Man with Holes in the Sky 2012

In 1992 I had a young family: two daughters under the age of four. Things weighed heavily on me as I wondered what kind of a world my daughters would grow up in. Among other concerns, I fretted about were global warming and ozone depletion. Although I didn't really understand the concept of ozone depletion, I could picture the big holes in the sky that we‘d been warned about, and so I did a painting. Scratching into the paint at the top I wrote, "He heard on the radio that there was a hole in the sky. He didn't know what to do". The painting sold. A good sign that someone was listening. Now, twenty years later, I've done another painting with holes in the sky. We don’t hear much about ozone depletion anymore, but clearly it was something my unconscious still wanted to discuss. No text this time, but birds and trees accompany the man who looks bewildered, or, at the very least, puzzled at what has gone awry.
Hole in the Sky, 1992

Monday, October 8, 2012

Frightened Elephant 2012

Two years ago, in the fall of 2010 I taught a workshop on solving visual problems using paint and collage.  The last day of the workshop, when everyone was cleaning up, I went around to different students and asked if I could have the paint peels from their palettes as they scraped the old paint away.  Everyone was happy to oblige, and I brought home an assortment of beautiful acrylic paint peels made by hands other than my own. One of those paint peels spoke to me of being an elephant, so I built this image.

I've written earlier in this blog about The Last Elephant Frightened Elephant is The Last Elephant's cousin, or brother, or sister. With their incredible intelligence and awareness, I can't help but think this elephant knows what's coming, and that he's very anxious and worried about the fact that he may be one of the last of his kind. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Snake Daughter 2012

After Adam and Eve ate fruit from the Tree of Life, as bidden by the serpent, what happened next?  Lots of not so great things:  women were doomed to suffer in childbirth and men were forced to toil for their living. Innocence no longer existed in the world and the two sexes stopped coexisting peacefully because of all of the shaming and blaming that went on.  And of course, God booted both out of the Garden of Eden to live miserable, conflicted lives for the rest of eternity. 

So--who had to carry the guilt for of all of this?  The serpent's daughter, that's who. So much blame handed down from her parents, what a thing to have to bear! She carries the Tree of Life, upside down now, within her, holding her mother and father in each hand as she walks, giving them a good shake every now and then, letting them know of her disappointment and frustration.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Three Birds Resting 2012

My mother loves birds. At 83, she lives alone with her Aussie mix, Abbey, in a small house 18 miles south of Santa Fe. Her backyard is filled with bird feeders and watering stations. She sits at her dining room table for long stretches of time and through her large plate glass windows watches the hundreds of birds as they arrive to eat and drink, bathe and socialize. At times, even though she has hung shiny, swirly things to detract them, one will fly into one of those windows and die. I've asked her to save those birds for me so I can photograph them. In the past, she has always placed them in small plastic bags and put them in her freezer for me to collect on my trips to Santa Fe.

Over the last several years, her memory and judgment have started to decline. The last bird she saved for me she forgot to put in the freezer, and kept in the garage instead. Fortunately, it was winter, so although the garage didn't freeze, it stayed cool. None the less, by the time I picked it up it was starting to decay. All three of the birds that are "resting" in this image are from my mother, including the one she forgot to freeze. As her memory continues to decline, I imagine these will be the last birds she will have been able to save for me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Being Scolded 2012

To Scold:To reprimand or criticize harshly and usually angrily.

These are the people I scold (in the order of most to least): my husband, my children, and, every once in a great while, my students. I'm always amazed at the power of a scold, and at how harmful scolding can be when it's done on a continual basis. When my children were young and overwhelming in their energy and illogical approach to things, I found myself scolding them often, and then always regretting it afterwards. I almost never scold them now, and when I do, it's more of a gentle reprimand. After all, as young adults, they have the ability to simply remove themselves from my life if they so desire. My husband I try not to scold. It makes for big trouble between us, but sometimes a scold just pops out.

Rarely do I scold my students, but I did while teaching at a recent workshop. With the group gathered in front of me for a demonstration, I found myself suddenly very annoyed at finding a dirty brush left in an open container of medium that should have been covered. The words jumped out of my mouth, "Who did this? This is a shared area and people can't leave things open, contaminated, and dirty!" Immediately, I could see the alarm in their faces, and then their nervousness. It made me separate and apart.  And, once again, I regretted my harsh words.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Couple Dancing 2012

It was a hot day. The neighbors were having their roof re-done: stripped, rebuilt, and then tarred. Working on that roof in June in New Mexico had to be hot, hard work. Ranchera music blasted out over the neighborhood. It seemed like the same song, or at least a variation of it, over and over and over. Annoyed by the incessant music, hot, and already tired, I started to work in my studio, picking up pieces of paper with images on them and moving them listlessly around, dropping them onto the different paintings I'd prepared earlier. And suddenly there they were: two figures dancing to the Ranchera Music-- stiff, quite polite, the man a little scary, but really a nice guy once you got to know him. I tried turning her face away, but then the painting became about fear, and that wasn't right. This was about two people in a strange land, connecting through what they knew and loved: the sounds of accordions, bugles, guitars, and violins, accompanying a soulful singer, a man dressed in tight pants, a white, fluffy shirt, a short jacket and a huge hat, singing about lost love and betrayal, loneliness and pain.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Coyote with Thistles 2012

In November of 2011 I posted a blog with an image of a coyote that I photographed
This is one of several images that I made this year using my photos of the coyote.  Recently, while teaching at Penland School of Crafts, I gave a short presentation on my work, and included this image.  It was only when I was prepping the morning before my talk, running through the images on my assistant's computer , that I remembered the memory that must have generated this picture:

Several years ago, while driving down our quiet, semi-rural road, I noticed a dog trotting in the middle of the road.  It was about 10:00 in the morning, a typical, bright. sunny, New Mexico day.  Dogs, for the most part, don't run loose in our village, so I was curious to see who he was.  However, as I got closer, I realized it was not dog at all, but a coyote.  Held firmly in his mouth was a large, fat hen, clearly no longer in the land of the living.  The coyote moved to the shoulder to get out of my way, never interrupting his brisk, efficient trot. When I remembered that morning, I was glad I could bring the memory back to life:  his insouciance, his pleasure, and most of all, the fact that he had been alive and well and taking such good care of his coyote business(of course it wasn't my hen).

Monday, August 27, 2012

Big Tears 2012

I just returned from a two week workshop that I taught at the Penland School of Arts and Crafts  called Solving Problems:  Paint and Collage.  It was a wonderful group, 12 students plus my assistant, Chris Peregoy.   When I teach at the longer workshops I will sometimes try and do my own work, something that I have to be very careful of.  Once I start working on my own pieces I can go from being a kind and helpful teacher to the snarling, testy, and moody animal that is often part of my creative persona. And in an instant, I can morph from testiness to neediness, wanting to know what everyone "really" thinks about the piece I'm working on.

I prefer not to take any of my own materials, and I borrow or scrounge everything I use.  In this case, the background color was from a tossed palette full of lovely yellow paint. The bar codes in the body were from a FedEx label, and the tears and blue hat were all scraps of magazines or paper that I found floating around the studio.  The head was from an old magazine from the 40's which showed a disturbing photo of two men involved in some kind of unpleasant activity on one side and on the other were photos of concentration camp prisoners waiting to be released.  Chris had bought in a box of material that once belonged to Stan Vanderbeek, the American experimental filmaker, and I pulled it from that box.

As I was working on the piece a family came through, a father with two young girls, probably 7 and 9 years old.  They stood as a group around my table and watched for a moment .  Then the father commented with some alarm, "Oh my, he's crying, isn't he?"  With that, he quickly turned to the girls and said, "But we're happy today, aren't we?" The next time I looked up, the girls were being hustled away, their father's body shielding them from any more glances at my collage.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bird with Black Lungs 2001

Pulmonary fibrosis is the formation or development of excess fibrous connective tissue (fibrosis) in the lungs. It is also described as "scarring of the lung".  Wikipedia

My husband's father, Bill, died from complications of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis on the day that George W. Bush was sworn in to office.  A dedicated liberal Democrat, we always thought it was his final comment on just how much he resented the Republicans taking over. Never a smoker, Bill was in his 70's, and had been having trouble breathing.  For the last years of his life he had been on oxygen, a tank at home, a portable device for when he was out.  The week before he died he hadn't known that he had confused the tubing between the two when he went to change from one to the other, and for about an hour hadn't received any of the supplemental oxygen.  When he got up to go to the bathroom, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.  My husband, Bob, was with him the entire week he was in the hospital,  sleeping on the floor of his hospital room at night.  When Bob came home for a short break, Bill died.  I think Bob was keeping him from going, holding him with his love and concern, and it was only when he left that Bill could take off for parts unknown.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Horse with Birds Resting 2012

Earlier this spring I posted a blog about working in my studio . This is the painting that I was working on at the time, now finished.  Most of what I do in the studio, I love. However, the last stage, adhering, I don't love.  It calls for another kind of personality than mine.  That person needs to be meticously careful and able to think things through ahead of time. She should be cautious, precise and able to delay gratification.  In other words, not me.

While holding a large, wet, curling-in-on-itself piece of paper, which needs to go down very quickly or the adhesive will dry, I suddenly can't remember which way is up and which way is down.  And the bubbles--oh, the bubbles.  If worst comes to worst I can always pull the piece back up, reprint it, recut it, and then glue it back down, but that often means not just pulling up the bad piece, but anything on top of or around it.  The photos are pieces of things and I have lots of photo folders and files(approx 24,000 at this writing).  Where did that particular tree bark come from anyway?  While fussing to get it perfect, the paper tears and I'm left with a gaping hole.  I stand while I work and my back, neck, and jaw hurt, not to mention my legs, after several hours at the salt mines.  When I'm done, I put the piece up on the wall  and I can see only errors.  My stomache churns and I walk around for several days trying to decide whether to do  it over.  Usually I don't, and later can't even find the error that was screaming at me the week before.  But the best part is that I get to teach all of this to my students, and then watch them suffer. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins: Carelessness

Carelessness:  Marked by or resulting from lack of forethought or thoroughness: a careless mistake.
Showing a lack of consideration.  Unconcerned or indifferent; heedless.  The Free Dictionary
While avoiding attending to one of many important things on my list, I came across a posting on my Facebook news feed.  The comment was, "friend, teacher to our son, running partner to my wife" and it showed a picture of an attractive you woman and a link, which I followed to a article about a young woman who had been killed while riding her bicycle.  Since I ride bikes so much, I am always drawn, morbidly and with much trepidation, to these stories.  Here is what happened:
A woman was driving down a road(I think this was in New Hampshire), and by her side, on his motorcycle, her boyfriend was doing wheelies and surging forward as they progressed.  The boyfriend decided to come alongside on her right(that center position may have felt a little dangerous), so he slowed down, got behind her truck, then pulled up rapidly on the right, hitting and killing the young woman bicyclist who was riding on the shoulder.  The woman driver was booked for DUI and the man taken to the hospital where he would be charged later with reckless endangerment  and involuntary manslaughter.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins: Duplicity

Duplicity:  Deliberate deceptiveness in behavior or speech.  The Free Dictionary

I find it interesting, now, 18 years after making the Seven Deadly Sins, that I had both deceit and duplicity on my list.  They are really almost interchangeable.  Duplicity is about deliberately misleading someone and deceit is the practice of deceiving or misleading.  When I think back to what was happening that would cause me such distress, I realize that it's all about my experience with a New York Gallery which happened over about five years, from 1989-1994.

The gallery was in a beautiful space in Soho, and was owned by a small woman with jet black, very big hair piled on top of her head and curling down the sides of her face(a wig I later learned) . Always stylishly dressed, she was the epitome of what the New York Art Scene was all about: power, money, and attitude. I had two one- person shows with her over the four years she represented my work.  Her stable of artists was impressive, and I was proud to be  part of her gallery.  .

However, there was one problem, and that problem was that just because she sold our work, that didn't necessarily mean that we ended up with any money. She thought it enough that we were in her beautiful gallery and that she worked so hard for us, plus she was allowing us to be part of the New York City Art Scene, no small matter.  And she did work hard, placing my work in numerous private and public collections and traveling with it to Europe for the art fairs there.  There was just that tiny problem of her not liking to part with "her" money. 

After several years of "the checks in the mail" promises and me not receiving anything, I finally pulled my work out of the gallery with her owing me quite a bit of money.  I wrote her a long letter and got an immediate reply back from her lawyer telling me they would take me to court if I acted on my threat of exposing her to the art world.  I got my father to write a lawyerly letter which she ignored.  In desperation,  I went to a friend  in Chicago who was an important photography collector and told him my story.  He listened carefully, then put a call through to her gallery.  He and the gallery owner chatted for a short while making pleasantries, then in his wonderful, crinkly, old man voice, he mentioned that he had Holly Roberts sitting here in his office and that I had mentioned that the gallery owner owed me quite a bit of money.  Over the phone, they worked out a deal so that I would be paid $500 per month until the debt was paid off.  About a year after she had finished paying me off, he called me from Chicago to tell me that she had declared bankruptcy and that the gallery was no longer in existence. *

*Having just googled her name, I found that she is back up and running a gallery in NYC that is"more private in nature without a public space" and that she is a "private dealer and consultant with public visibility".  Beware!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins: Indifference

indifference:  lack of interest, concern, or sympathy  google
We all adored this man.  He was handsome and capable, and took time to be with us, taking us on horseback rides and camping trips.  There were eight of us, all girls, varying in age from seven to twelve.  Two of the girls were his daughters and they lived with him and their mother on a small ranch with a few horses and some cattle.  The neighborhood was rural, and most of us had horses, but the ranch was the real thing.  He was a WWW II vet, and had been in the Bataan Death March.  I remember one story he told us about the March that involved having a meal of some one's finger and not knowing it.  He always had lots of great stories to tell us.
This man molested me the night his wife was buried after a slow death from cancer.  I don't  know if his daughters, asleep in the same bunk bed with me, were aware of what was going on.  I didn't tell anyone about it until years later, when I was a young adult.  The person I told, a woman who knew this man, responded that he "bothered everyone", including her, and that was the end of our discussion.  Not long after that I brought it up  with one of the other members of our group, now a young woman in her twenties, who was several years older than I. Sure enough, he had molested her numerous times and had done things to her that were far worse than what had happened to me.  We thought it probable that he had molested all eight of us, including his daughters. But what I hadn't thought of, until recently, was the fact that he had probably made indecent advances to all of the adult women in the neighborhood as well, including our mothers, all friends.  It was a small and close knit community, yet no one ever seemed to put the dots together.  They must never have talked about it, nor considered it odd that he spent so much time with a group of young girls. Certainly they never thought to keep this monster away from us. Recently I asked the woman I had first told about being molested if  this man had "bothered" her a lot, and she said, "No, after that first time I just made sure I kept my distance".  I wondered why it had never crossed her mind that perhaps the little girls of the neighborhood might have needed some help in keeping their distances as well.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins: Disappearance

To disappear 1. To pass out of sight; vanish.  2. To cease to exist.

I've always had a terrible time with people that don't make themselves available to me. One of the hardest things for me to endure is when I've called or emailed someone with something important, and then don't get a response.  My stomache churns and clenches as the time goes by and it becomes clear to me that no answer is coming.  A few days ago I dropped by a new neighbor's house to welcome them and to gather information so that I could add them to our neighborhood contact list. I rang the doorbell and waited, then rang it again after I got no response.  I felt awkward and embarrassed, like a Jehovah's witness or a Mormon "Elder".  Dogs barked and scrabbled around inside, and I knew someone was there.  I knocked a last time, and with still no response, I left.  The experience bothered me for the rest of the day, nagging away at that fragile part of my self that doesn't know if I really matter or not.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins: Denial

My Aunt Beth was an important person for me.  She was my mother's older sister by 12 years, and was a twin.  She and her family lived in Colorado Springs, and some of my earliest memories are of waking up surrounded by looms in their strange and wonderful home.  A weaver by trade, Aunt Beth was a consummate crafts person.  She was feisty and energetic, and with her quick mind and strong sense of humor, she was fun to be with.   She bought an RV, and became a snowbird, driving from Colorado to Arizona every fall and returning in the spring.  She would stop to stay with us on her way and kept us updated on the ins and outs of her life.  But there was one problem:  she smoked. 

Her health began to deteriorate.  She had a terrible cough, and because of it, became incontinent.  She often smelled of urine.  When she would visit, I would make her go outside to smoke, and she would stand at the open door, inches from the screen, continuing her conversation with me, all the while puffing away.  Diagnosed with emphysema, she started using oxygen on a regular basis.  She could no longer make the trips to Arizona, and we stopped seeing her as much.  The last time I saw her she had two small, clear tubes coming from her nostrils attached to a tank of oxygen and she reeked of urine.  As we talked, she  carefully turned off her oxygen so she could light up, and then explained to me how all of this bad health had come about, not because of her smoking, but because of ozone depletion in the atmosphere.  She died a few years later from complications of the emphysema. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins: Neglect

Neglect: to be remiss in the care or treatment of.  Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.

Shonto Boarding School:  Rural, Remote Census-defined rural territory that is more than 25 miles from an urbanized area and is also more than 10 miles from an urban cluster.

My first class was with  fourth graders.  Normally, nine year olds are wonderful human beings to teach:  not yet adults, they are capable, open, friendly, and curious, and, of course, love anything to do with art.   In this case, the minute I walked into the classroom I knew things were wrong.  Children were racing around the room, screaming.  Desks were overturned, and one boy stood on top of a small table throwing erasers at the other kids as they tore by.  His aim was good; a girl stood and cried loudly, chalk dust covering her face. There seemed to be no one in charge.  At first the kids didn't see me, then, as my presence became known, they began to shift their attention, slowing down a little.  It was unsettling.  I thought of Lord of the Flies and wondered just how much worse it could get. I asked one of the children where their teacher was.  The room became completely silent and I could hear a pounding coming from behind a closed door in the room.  I went to open it and a short, older, very overweight woman with  dry, broken, gray  hair shot out of out of a small closet, "Okay you kids. I know who did this.  Bryson you get over here.  I'm going to paddle your butt 'till it bleeds and I mean it!" The kids watched her for a few minutes, then took off again-- running, screaming, shouting.  The woman grabbed the arm of one of the boys that ran by her but he easily shook her off and continued to run. I thought I should intervene;
"Mrs. Kaufman, I'm Holly Roberts and I'm here to teach art for the week".
She turned to me, and replied;
 "You can have the little devils."
With that, she left the room, handing over 36 nine year old Navajo students to me.  These same 36 nine year old students would go every night, not home to their mothers and fathers, but to a dorm, and these same students would spend five days a week, seven hours a day for the rest of the school term with Mrs. Kaufman guiding  them through their fourth grade year.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins: Deceit

Deceit: the act or practice of deceiving; concealment or distortion of the truth for the purpose of misleading; duplicity; fraud; cheating.

My life is about honesty:  honesty in my relationships with others, honesty in my words and actions, and honesty in making images that are truthful.  Deceit is the flip side of all of that, and it hurts and offends me.  When I  first painted Deceit, I was thinking specifically of a gallery dealer in New York who sold my work, then tried to get out of paying me by telling me half truths and lies.  Now, almost twenty years later,  when I think of deceit I don't think of it affecting me personally as much as how it affects us all:  leaders who say one thing and do another; people who say they are "good Christians" (or Muslims or Jews)but then seem to do everything that isn't spiritual or even just good;  physicians who provide care for their patients as much to be able to reccomend tests or procedures that they can bill for as to help those patients with their health issues. 

I have never been able to do anything about people being deceitful around me, not even in my own family.  I don't think things will change much in that way, but I do know that I can continue to try to be honest, and certainly, when I see and recognize honesty in the people around me, take great pleasure in that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins 1994

The Seven Deadly Sins, also known as the Capital Vices or Cardinal Sins, is a classification of objectionable vices (part of Christian ethics) that have been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct Christians concerning fallen humanity's tendency to sin. The currently recognized version of the sins are usually given as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

I'm not sure what lodged in my unconscious that urged me to do an artist's book about the seven deadly sins, but lodge it did.  I looked up the sins and found that they had little relevance to me or my life.  I was guilty of having been possessed by all seven, but I didn't think of them as especially sinful.  Envy was probably my biggest and most consistent "sin", but I just tended to think of it as an annoying emotion that I had to put up with, kind of like an old, overweight, male relative who repeats the same not at all funny jokes and is just this side of being a pederast.

What I decided was that I would come up with my own seven deadly sins, not sins that I had committed, rather sins that were committed against me.  This is the title page for the book, with the/my seven deadly sins to follow.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fenix 2009

The Phoenix  is described as a bird with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends.  It has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self.  The Phoenix's ability to be reborn from its own ashes implies that it is immortal, though in some stories the new Phoenix is merely the offspring of the older one.   Wikkipedia

It's been a long and hot summer so far for most of the country.  However, for those of us in the West it's been a little more intense. On the news a few nights ago a graphic was shown with little orange flames on a map of the United States indicating where fires burned.  At that point, there were 53 fires burning from Montana to New Mexico.  It made an alarming sight.  In New Mexico we had the largest forest fire in the state's history, the White-Water Baldy Fire in the Southwestern part of the state.  Closer to home, the Romero Fire burned at the North end of the village of Corrales, where we live, jumping the Rio Grande River to destroy almost 400 acres. We dodged a bullet-the expected high wind gusts of up to 50 mph never happened and the fire was contained within a few days with no destruction to homes.  The air can be thick and soupy with smoke.  At times we can't see to the end of our road, and it's not unusual to wake in the morning and find ashes covering everything outdoors.  My body responds with a polite, dry, hacking little cough that never seems quite to go away.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Addendum to Girl with Yellow Braids

I just found and added the picture I have been looking for since I posted Girl Yellow with Braids.  I thought it lost, but sure enough, just hidden in the morass of all of our stuff.;postID=8317346987886766161

Friday, June 29, 2012

Stolen Eggs 2009

I recently became aware of the work of Chris artist based in Seattle, Washington who is best known for his large scale works depicting mass consumption and waste, particularly garbage. He has been called "the 'it' artist of the green movement". Wikipedia

I was absolutely mesmerized by his images, especially his Midway project, which is about sea birds that live on the Midway islands in the middle of the Pacific, ingesting large amounts of plastic from the ocean, and then dying.  Chris's photographs are of the corpses of these birds; a cornucopia of the plastic remains of what was in their stomaches surrounded by the feathers and appendages of the birds. The images are stunning visually, and then you are hit with the impact of what they mean.  But it isn't just these bird images; all his images are very extremely powerful, and all depict a world/culture that is out of control.  After going to his website and looking through all of his images several times, I left feeling that my images, about much the same things, don't have the same visceral impact that Chris's have.  My images are several steps removed from reality because they are about things that are about other things:  a man with eggs in his belly and blood dripping from one hand might mean that something bad is going on in the forest or it might just be a man whose body is made from a bird's nest in a world of strange trees and flowers with something red dropping from his fingers.   My work says, "You might want to think about this, but if you don't, that's fine, just look".

I know I can't go where Chris goes.  For one thing, I can only imagine the world he must live in in terms of anxiety and worry about our world.  I carry that around with me also, but I can ignore it when I want to think about other things-bicycle races for instance. I don't think he ever gets away from it.  Chris' work says that we can't ignore the trouble we are in.  If we do, it's going to be us with the plastic in our bellies, if we aren't there already. 

Chris is trying to raise money to make a movie about Midway through Kickstart.  He needs 100K and he currently has raised 40.  I just donated $200 dollars(I was going to donate $100 but then saw that I would get a small signed print if I came up with another $100).  I hope he raises the money he needs, and I know he will.  We need both Chris's voice and vision.

( This link will take you to an article in Outside Magazine that will link you to Kickstart if you think you might want to help Chris make his movie)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Couple with Roses 1995

My brother and I had a game we played where, after being put to bed, we would wait for a short time, then sneak to the front of the house and spy on our parents.  Incorporating all of our skills learned from reading Indian and spy books, we would get just close enough so that we could hear them talking, but not so close that they would see us.  We would listen for awhile, then sneak back to bed when we got tired.  I don't think our parents were wise to us.  At any rate, nothing was ever said.

The last time we played this game we had slithered into the utility room on our bellies, then found hiding spots behind the laundry basket and the ironing board.  We could hear our parents talking in the kitchen.  We always had to muffle our laughter when we first started, and we must have done pretty well at not being heard, because the conversations always went on without any breaks.  As we settled in to listen and observe, it became clear that something wasn't right.  Our mother was crying and our father's tone of voice was somber.  I don't remember what he said, just that I went from feeling silly and happy to serious in an instant.  My brother and I lay and listened for a bit longer, then, without any overt communication between us, we crept back to bed.  My child time line isn't clear, but sometime after that my mother told us that my father would be moving out, and he did.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Young Man Smiling 2000

About twelve or thirteen years ago, I did a short workshop in Kentucky at a small University.  I worked with art majors, both in painting and photography, and we had a Friday, a Saturday, and a Sunday to work, which meant that the students were giving up their weekend for the workshop. Although I was there for only a short time and didn't get to know the students as well as I would have liked, I remember coming away with the feeling that it would have been nice to have had a son--an art boy.

I have two wonderful daughters, and had really wanted girls rather than boys. I wanted the best of both worlds--adorable little tomboys wearing high tops and overalls.  Of course, we got two girls who went their own ways, sometimes in high-tops and overalls but more often than not in sparkly red shoes and frilly dresses.  My experience with boys was that they were loud and wanted to throw balls in the house all of the time.  They seemed foreign to me, as if from another planet.  But not these art boys.  They were kind and sensitive, and filled with all kinds of wonderful and interesting neuroses which they had no problem sharing with me.  For the first time I realized that my husband and I might have missed out in not having shared our lives with a boy.  But then again, we might have gotten one of those little football throwing, gun desiring, never talking, boring beings from Planet Normal.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Two Dogs Out Walking 2007

Yesterday I headed out with my two dogs for a run.  I had Junior, the mentally challenged Dalmatian, and Niko, the small but mighty Rat Terrier. Usually, I keep them on leashes until I get to the banks of one of our irrigation ditches, but, if no one is around I take the leashes off, or, if there is someone with dogs, but their dogs are off leash, then I will do the same. Over the years having a dog off leash has gotten dicier and dicier, and can lead to some big problems.   However this is what my dogs live for-- the 15 of 20 minutes of complete freedom that allows them to sniff, pee, and run, pell mell, on their own up and down the sides of the ditch.

When I got to the ditch bank, there was a woman with two large white dogs on leashes, and a third, a black lab, loose.  Since her lab was loose, I let Junior and Niko go, and headed off in the opposite direction, assuming my dogs would follow.  I heard a frantic, "No, No" as my two started to follow her lab back to where she was standing.  I called them, but with no luck, and they proceeded to head towards the woman as she repeated, "No, No, No!" over and over.  By this time Junior had made it close enough for one of the white dogs to lunge at him, and the woman was dragged to the ground.  Junior yelped and then turned and scurried back to me, tail between his legs, Niko close at his heels.  I snapped their leashes on and turned to face the woman, laying on the ground, tangled in the leashes as her dogs struggled to get free and come after us.
 "Wow!" I said.
In a quavering voice she answered, "I tried to tell you!"

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Shakerag, Sewanne, TN 2012

St.Andrews Prep School, Sewanne

First day of class-clean tables and blank spaces
I just returned from teaching a one week collage/paint workshop in Sewanee, Tennessee at Shakerag.  Held for just two weeks every June at St. Andrews, a small  private prep school, Shakerag is tiny operation in the world of arts & crafts workshops. Because the school is a boarding school during the academic year, Shakerag students and faculty are fed and housed at the school, and the classes are held in their classrooms. The food is spectacular, often local and organic. All of the bread for the meals is provided by a local wood fired bakery, as well as the coffee coming from a local roaster.  The students are fanatically loyal, coming back year after year for the classes offered.
Alice George's Artist book/paint and collage with her poems
Kathy Loisel's workspace
My class was about learning how to combine paint and collage.  There were 15 students in the class--a combination of different types of artists with most being women (we had one man in the class).  Students worked in many ways, but with the commonality of using paint(either oil, gouache, or acrylic)and some kind of collage media.  One student constructed a book from large sheets of water color paper, halved the sheets, bound them, then painted and collaged onto the surfaces, finishing off by adding her poems using an acrylic transfer technique.
Ami Cole working
The class was a rowdy bunch, working late into each night.  Each morning when I would come into class I would be astounded by what had transpired during the night, along with a constant stream of references and jokes hatched the night before. On the last day we had a critique, each student putting up their three best pieces to be talked about.  The student whose work was being critiqued was only allowed to listen--a fly on the wall-as we discussed the merits and problems presented by their pieces.
Teaching is an enormous pleasure for me, and I left Shakerag pleased with what we had accomplished.  I felt refreshed and revitalized from the lush landscape, the wonderful food, and the generous and hardworking students I had worked with, as well as the community of like minded people that I was part of for the week--perhaps as close to artist's heaven as we get.

McLeod Tumer examining work before the critique

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Deer with Spots 2011

Frida Kahlo "El Venado Herido"(Wounded Deer)1946
In this painting of a young stag fatally wounded by arrows, Frida expresses the disappointment which followed the operation on her spine in New York in 1946, and which she had optimistically hoped would cure her of her back pain.
Back in Mexico, however, she continued to suffer both physical pain and deep depression. In this painting, Frida presents herself with the body of a young stag and her own head crowned with antlers. Pierced by arrows and bleeding, the deer stares out at the viewer from a forest enclosure. Although the stormy, lightning-lit sky in the distance is a brightening hope for escape, the deer will never reach it. One meaning of the word "Carma", which appears in the painting's lower-left corner, is "destiny" or "fate". In this painting, as in most of Frida's self-portraits, she presents herself as incapable of changing her own destiny.
Frida used her own pet deer "Granizo" as a model for this painting. The deer in the painting is surrounded by trees and trapped, transmitting a feeling of fear and desperation, with no way to escape from the situation.

I have always been a fan of Frida Kahlo's, and in the early 80's my husband and I made a trip to her home in Coyoacán, Mexico.  The brightly painted walls were covered with objects, and, like every artist, they were all the things that inspired her.  She had a huge collection of paper mache figures, and I remember standing in front of her bed trying to figure out the easel mounted above it so that she could paint lying down. In the true spirit of Mexico, the security guard was drunk, staggering from  room to room, paying no attention to us at all.

Frida helped me realize that is is possible to talk about very personal experiences, no matter how dark or how harsh.  Her painting, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale was an image that may have influenced my work as much as any other that I know of.  And while my work is considered "dark", it pales in comparison to Frida's.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Startled Rabbit 2011

Rabbits survive because of their startle response.  Like deer, with no defense except for hyper awareness and quick bursts of frenetic speed, they have to always be ready to move, and quickly, so they don't end up as someone's main meal.  But this response is also what gets them killed.  When they see a car coming the rabbits frantically dodge and weave to get away from the large thing moving rapidly toward them.  They don't understand that the car, having no need of rabbit meat, could care less about these evasive tactics as they head directly into the path of the car's rolling wheels. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Girl with Yellow Braids 2009

I think this is a self portrait, but I'm not absolutely sure.  I have a school picture of myself from when I was in the second or third grade:  the standard mother's bowl cut bangs, braids on either side of my head, blond.  So there is that memory, but none of the photos in this image are of me.  The right eye and the mouth are my older daughters, but I'm not sure of the origin of the other body parts, the ear, the nose, and the other eye. The chest and neck are from a pile of sticks under a beautiful oak tree in front of my residence in Roanoke, Virginia at Hollins College when I was there in 2008.

When I made this piece I was trying to figure out how to use the luscious scraps of painted paper that I had in my pile of things I'd made but didn't quite know what to do with, which is actually what all my piles of things in the studio are.  The background painting was a small panel with many layers of paint, and it also was something that I felt compelled to do something with-it was just so lovely. When I finished the piece, I was pleased, feeling that it captured something very simple and honest.  It was only today, when I looked at the piece and immediately thought of that small school picture from so long ago, that I realized it was most probably a self-portrait of 7 year old Holly.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lonely Horse 2000

As a child growing up in a rural area outside of Santa Fe, I always had a horse in my life.  At the age of four, my mother and I negotiated :  If I would give up my bottle I would get a pair of cowboy boots.  With the new boots came riding lessons, and then, when I was six, we moved into a house with five horses out back.  It was in an area without many people, and there was a large ranch to the west where I could ride endlessly without fences or roads to impede me.  My horses were my best friends, and I learned about my place in the natural world while on their backs, usually without a saddle.

I was very shy as a child (and still am--I've just learned how to act like I'm not), and I didn't have many friends.  Being around people was  difficult because I didn't know how to interpret their emotions, or understand how they felt about me.  In the third grade I met Jennifer, and she became my best friend.  I was complete for the first time in my conscious life, and not alone anymore.  However, I was a jealous and possessive friend, and by the fifth grade, Jennifer had dropped me for a new group of less demanding girls.  It was a hard lesson, and even now, 49 years later, I can remember the overwhelming pain and sadness of being alone once again.