Love

Here it is. I’ve only painted one or two other things I’ve been really sad to finish, but if you don’t stop when you should, you end up very sorry. As I cleaned the lapis ultramarine from the brush, I might have shed a tear.

In other good news I spent an hour at the Rio Grande County Museum with the new director whom I already knew and liked. The grand re-opening is a month from now. I took a bunch of notecards and learned that they don’t want to do consignment any more, but they want to sell my cards. Yay!

A couple of tourists came in (the museum is also the town/county’s visitor’s center) asking for directions. Somehow the word came out that I’m a painter. The woman asked if any of my paintings were hanging in there. I said no, but I had made notecards of some of my paintings. She wanted to see. I pulled some out. Two of them that I told her about she ended up buying. $20. BUT once again I learned that when someone can talk to the artist and find out something about the story behind the painting, it’s MORE to that person that if it were just something to look at. I told her one of them involved time travel. And showed her, explaining that as she drove out of town she’d see this mountain and these bison, but she’d also see our hospital. Time travel was NOT painting the hospital. This painting is 24 x 36 and is in Maine.

I told her the story behind the big crane painting, too, and how I’d seen him in March 2021 when everyone was still staying home. I explained I’d been out there alone and seen the crane in the willows and thought of him as “my” crane. She was moved by the story and said, “He IS your crane.” Because I gave her something personal, she wanted the images. That’s actually very awesome.

I’ll be helping out a little with the Grand Re-opening, maybe reading a few poems from Shit, Fear and Beauty. I’m very happy the museum is up and running again, and that the new director is a person who actually LOVES the museum. It’s a little place, but its ours and I love it.

Hanging Out with a Friend

Yesterday my friend Perla came to Monte Vista (from Alamosa) to see the eye doc who is two blocks away from my house. We spent three hours talking. It was great. She’s an artist and a thinking person so the conversation was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and even included a little time spent in my frowzy studio where I introduced her to lapis lazuli ultramarine. She is extremely talented and skillful in a wide, wide, wide variety of things, so I was surprised when I could show her something new. She understood totally when I explained that the paint is like a person to me, a person who wants to help me paint. She laughed, but she got it. I told her about my dream of owning lapis ultramarine with lapis from Afghanistan, and that I’d tried to buy some with my Christmas present money, but the upheaval in Afghanistan meant no one had it. “Don’t feel bad,” I said, “but all I could get is lapis ultramarine with lapis from Argentina.” She’s from Buenos Aires.

That’s when we went to my studio so I could show her the paint. She looked at the painting that’s on my easel drying, the painting of the storm — which she loved — and at the one that’s in progress. “That’s hard. I couldn’t do it.”

“I don’t know yet if I can,” I said. I was, at the time, showing her the lapis ultramarine by putting it on the canvas with my finger. She compared it to indigo which she’d seen growing — and which dye she had used — at her recent experience as an artist in residence at a farm in Arkansas, an experience she’d loved and that had given her great stories and much needed renewal. Jeans are died Indigo. It’s a great blue and in medieval times was used to replace lapis ultramarine for walls and manuscripts. Lapis ultramarine which was expensive and hard to get. There was even a FALSE Indigo, or woad Indigo, that came from a nasty plant that made the ground useless for anything else, it depleted the soil so completely and so rapidly. Still, it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a great explanation and visualization of the difference between real Indigo and Woad. I didn’t argue or “clarify.” There’s no way to know what another person sees when they look at a color AND we look for familiar shades and patterns all the time. The chart below is excellent. The top blue is synthetic ultramarine. They are all great blues. The featured photo of my work in progress is not color true because the underlying ground is not white, but this chart is.


The subject of representational vs. abstract art came up and Perla has always let me know what she wants me to do. I accept that — a push from a knowledgeable person can be helpful in defining direction and everyone’s free to reject it. But knowing her and her work, I listen. Yesterday she said, “You’re obsessed with reality.” That’s true. As a person who lives largely in my head, reality is an important question for me. I’m not a subjectivist; I believe there is an objective reality and that is why I love nature so much. It is what it is whether I recognize it or. not. I WANT to. But as we talked I realized that I don’t see a difference in my work between the stuff I do that’s representational and that which isn’t completely representational. Wanting a tree to look like a tree isn’t, to me, a bad goal because a living thing is only static until you start engaging with it. I quickly find there is more to it than what I recognize as a tree. I realized that I don’t think most of my “realistic” paintings are realistic.

We discussed another artist’s paintings — which are really beautiful nature paintings — and she said, “I don’t like them. Every little thing,” and she made as if she were painting with a tiny brush on a wall. I think his work is lovely, but not exactly what I would paint (obviously). I proclaimed my theory of art, that nothing in nature is what we see, but the life behind what we see. I didn’t add the rest of the idea which is that the life within everything inscrutable and answers to its own demands. The only response I have to THAT is gratitude to nature for letting me in on a little something from time to time.

But the point — to which we both agree — is that it’s all very personal, meaning to the person looking at the work, maybe buying it.

And, of course, we talked about what probably every two artists have spoken about together since the beginning of time. Which is why are we doing this? After looking at my paintings, she became a little frustrated with her work which is felted clothing. I listened while she worked that all out — she makes money from her work and I, obviously, don’t make money from mine. It isn’t that I don’t want to, it’s that no one sees it. So far in my life, when people see it, they buy it. We talked about marketing and promotion — she’s a good saleswoman and goes to shows and has her work in stores. But THAT? In any case if I want to sell at the Crane Festival next year (which I do) she’ll help me by loaning me panels so I can hang my work. Behind the conversation was the immense expense in even getting work out where people can see it and buy it.

It was great conversation, inspiring and fun. Then “What will you do if Trump is elected president again?”

“Perla, remember? We already have a plan. We’re going to Argentina.”

“That’s right Patagonia. Good. Good.” It was a wonderful, wonderful day. And THEN?

Wu Song appeared in the garden and this morning? Two more — Lao She and Pearl Buck. Three have emerged in the house this morning, as well. Looks like I’ll have beans after all. Thank you mysterious forces of the universe that combine a seed, dirt, water and light. They will be growing among several sunflowers who will help hold them up, attract bees and add general amazingness to the garden.

Under a Painting…

The ultimate clock face took a rest yesterday, and we had some actual clouds and maybe fifty or sixty rain drops! In the distance was a lightning storm that set fire to grass near The Great Sand Dunes, some 45 miles/72 km away from me. The fire is already out.

Bear’s superior hearing alerted her to the thunder and that led her and Teddy into the Room of The Bike to Nowhere where they hide in thunderstorms. They were a big help to me doing my balance exercises because Bear kept leaning against me creating a new challenge for which I was grateful.

When I finished my training for the Idiotride (my personal challenge), I saw the wonder and beauty of how the afternoon had shaped up. I smelled petrichor; I felt the cool breeze. Teddy was on to me, and ran out the back door and into the garage fearing I wasn’t going to take him. (But I was!) I leashed Bear and we headed out to the Refuge.

I knew it would be good and it was. I was able to identify a bird I’ve been seeing, an American Avocet. Very pretty small being somewhere in size between a blackbird and a duck, with long legs and a curved bill.

The clouds to the south reminded me of a painting by Georgia O’Keefe. Above the Clouds.

She said she was inspired to paint this (and at least one other) from looking down at clouds from an airplane. The clouds I saw yesterday would have given O’Keefe the same view if she’d been flying from Monte Vista to Ghost Ranch.

The good news is — obviously — that I have a bean. Tu Fu’s little leaves will unfold today. This has been a little lesson in optimism and faith which, together, are synonymous with “do it anyway.”

The featured photo is of some strange stuff that hit my windshield. I just don’t know…

Creativity???

In creativity news, my drawing of the cranes on a windy day is going to be published in the Willow Creek Journal, the literary/art magazine from the Creede Arts Council. I needed this little “pat on the head.” 🙂

Sandhill Cranes on a Windy Day


I still think of turning the drawing into a painting and I probably will since all that can happen is it doesn’t work which is really not such a big deal.

Creativity is strange. I’ve had the word slung at me as a compliment and as an insult. Some of the people I’ve worked with it were convinced that creative people are unreliable, not quite right in the head. Other people have admired my talent (which is just that, talent, not genius) way more than it deserves. Talent is nothing if it’s not honed and developed. It’s like being born beautiful, an accident of genetics. Talent does not equal creativity.

People like Vincent Van Gogh haven’t done us any favors. 😉 The idea that BESIDES being (probably) bipolar, Van Gogh was also a hardworking, disciplined artist just hasn’t gotten through the hype of madness. So much effort and attention has gone into posthumously appreciating and understanding Van Gogh and truly, I think he might be past caring but there we are. Looking at art through time — all of it — I see imagination, discipline, and necessity. I will always (mildly) wonder what kind of artist he would have been if people had bought his paintings. I think it might have been the best thing for his work (not him) that people didn’t.

Goethe — who was pretty creative — shared that idea, that as a writer he might have been better if it had not been for the meteoric popularity of Sorrows of Young Werther. That book — and its sad story and tragic fallout — followed him most of his life. He even tried running away from it, incognito, to Italy.

For me, Federico Fellini defined creativity best.

“I hate logical plans. I have a horror of set phrases that instead of expressing reality tame it in order to use it in a way that claims to be for the general good but in fact is no use to anyone.

I don’t approve of definitions or labels. Labels should go on suitcases, nowhere else.

Myself, I should find it falls and dangerous to start from some clear, well defined, complete idea and then put it into practice. I must be ignorant of what I shall be doing and I can find the resources I need only when I am plunged into obscurity and ignorance. The child is in darkness at the moment he is formed in his mother’s womb.


Essentially, to me, creativity is this; “Here you are. This is what you have. What are you going to do with it?” A person doesn’t have to be an artist to creatively engage with that question and solve that problem.


Featured photo: Me getting ready to go meet a friend at Bassam’s Coffee House in downtown San Diego, afterwards we’d go to Cafe Sevilla, October 31, 1993, the very day Fellini died.

How Did I Do It? More about The Sculpture

After writing about my sculpture yesterday, that whole moment in my life of ran like a film in my memory. It is so long ago and far away that it is all pretty dim, but the process of putting that sculpture together was maybe even more interesting than the sculpture.

At the time I had kind of a boyfriend, Jerry. In truth, he wanted to be my boyfriend, but he just didn’t attract me. He was a guy who went to my church in Colorado Springs and was attending the University of Denver. Coincidentally, the guy he shared an apartment with, Doug, was the boyfriend of my best female friend at the time. Jerry had a car so naturally he was deputized to help me get all the pieces for this monument to something or another.

I remember going to real estate agents in Aurora, CO (far end of Colfax Ave) to scrounge an old “for sale” sign. I can’t believe now that I did that, but I did. I remember the shocked looks on the faces of the agents. Finally, one of them pulled one out of the back, and said, “You make sure there’s no name on that thing and no phone number when you set it up.” The plastic flags were easy; they were everywhere back then and I think we stole them. I didn’t need many. I think we cut them from a used car lot.

But the fenceposts? Jerry was up for the adventure because he had HOPES (ahem. Never happened). We drove out of Denver (a lot easier in 1970) to the open farm land — probably DIA now. As I recall we really did destroy a fence. Cedar fence posts are long — longer than I am tall — and they are heavy. Luckily, Jerry’s car was a convertible.

I felt back then that the whole world would naturally be behind my project, absolutely the opposite of the way I feel now.

I thought of how I would do that sculpture today. The only thing I would do differently is make my own sign. I realized if I had gone in THAT direction the piece might have said in a more universal sense what I wanted it to say.

What happened to all that confident energy? At the time this was in my mind, “Let not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport. Enjoy the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs.” (Thoreau)

That is exactly the wall I hit with that sculpture and exactly the wall that circumscribes our lives, isn’t it?

Featured Photo: Local adobe potato cellar with cedar fenceposts.


Sketch of the Sculpture

For context: https://marthakennedy.blog/2022/05/07/the-sculpture/ and https://marthakennedy.blog/2022/05/07/times-bridge/

Smelled Like Teen Spirit

Barbies

Back in the 90s, the days of Grunge, I lived in the hood — City Heights, San Diego. I liked the music of the times very much. I even went to a bunch of concerts and listened to it on my boombox in my garage on the weekend if I was working on an art project. In those days I was busy with the famed and immortal “Barbies Battle of the Bands; Benefit Concert for Cellulite Victims.” For what it’s worth, if you ever think of making a sculpture with Barbies, don’t. Mattel has LOTS of rules about that. I only got so far as making the instruments and stages and designing costumes for my two bands — The Black Widows (punk) and I think the other was The Bottle Blondes (girl band). All that remains of the monumental project are the guitars and parts of the drum kits. It was fun, but when Lucio, a little neighbor boy, came up to hang out with me and draw pictures one Saturday and asked, “Aren’t you kind of old to play with Barbies?” I began questioning myself. Otherwise, I was teaching and hiking a LOT and didn’t know I was on the cusp of getting a great job (1999).

My next door neighbors had teenage daughters, and the oldest was about to turn 15 which meant, as they were Mexican, it was going to be time for her Quinceanera, a fancy ball to mark the entry of a girl into womanhood. It involved a BIG party. None of us in the hood were wealthy (ha ha) so I didn’t know how that was going to go. I have never been to one but I heard stories and read journal entries from students over the years. It is a BIG deal.

One of the biggest events of the Quinceanera is the waltz.

A Quinceanera in Pasadena — really, aren’t those every little girl’s dream gowns?

After months of practice for the waltz, the moment finally comes during the reception. It is assumed that the Quinceanera (young woman) prior to this date has not been able to dance with anyone before. It is at this time that the Quinceanera will dance the waltz with her chambelan and accompanied by her damas and other chambelanes. This is a major highlight of the celebration. Other important highlights will follow such as the toast and the cutting of the cake. (Source)

So…there I was one late afternoon in November, I was in my little house grading papers with my six dogs hanging around, and I heard uncharacteristic music coming from the front yard. Huh? Strauss and giggling. Strauss and laughing. Strauss and “No, pendejo. ¡Asi!” More laughter. After a while, I decided that I REALLY needed to put my truck in the garage, right? It was an emergency. As I walked to the garage I saw one of the loveliest pictures from my life in the hood. All these kids, wearing the baggy-jeaned, Dr. Martin, grunge fashion of the times, had a boombox set up on the girl’s mom’s car. It was pumping out waltzes and they were practicing.

I loved it.

P.S. That girl later bought my house!

Show Hanging Update

You never know what’s going to happen in the San Luis Valley (or anywhere else). The year I moved here, I joined an art coop. This led to the fierce enmity of a local artist. She verbally attacked me twice in public and then scraped some of my painting off the window of the coop. She wasn’t even a member. She just didn’t want anyone but her painting windows. That is her claim to fame here in the San Luis Valley.

It was a nightmare for me because I hadn’t done anything to her and it kept happening.

Today…

I arrived at the museum just as she had finished putting up her work and had gotten into her car. I got out of Bella. The woman turned off the engine and got out of her car. “Can I help you haul stuff in?”

“Sure,” I said. I needed help. She’s also tall and I’m so short that it’s a little tricky for me to wrestle the boxes that hold each of my paintings up the stairs. Seriously. Between us we got everything inside. Then she said, “I’d stay to help you but you might be like me. You might want to do the hanging yourself so you can really think about it. I like to really think about where I put my paintings.” She had four, one of which took my breath away and I told her so. “I don’t even like people around me when I’m painting,” she said. “It’s kind of meditation for me.”

“Me too, ” I agreed. “Drawing is really meditation.”

“I love to paint,” she went on, “get into the zone and let the whole thing happen.” We talked about about our painting processes.

“You know, when I retired I only wanted two things,” I told her. “I wanted to do whatever I wanted, and I wanted to be nice to people…” I was going to say, “no more arguing with students over grades, just being myself.” She interrupted me and said,

“I guess I made that hard for you.”

Oh my god, I thought, she’s still thinking about that. We’ve been in the same place at the same time a lot since those days seven years ago!

“It’s OK,” I told her.

“I was really not OK back then. I was really messed up. I’m just so sorry.”

“It’s OK,” said again. “I’ve been really messed up, too. I get it.” I spread my arms for a hug and she fell into them. I could feel her relief.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, again. Then she got in her car and drove away.

Inside I looked around at “my” space. I have a whole large room just for my paintings. I got my work up and set up a little table for cards and tree ornaments. I forgot to take a photo of the show once I got it hung. I guess that will give me something to write about after the opening on Saturday. I had all the help I needed, too. ❤️🎨

Here’s how it started, though…

Linoleum Cuts…

I haven’t attempted linoleum cuts since 1983. Back then I remembered how to do it from having done several just a couple of years earlier. After all this time, my recent foray has felt like an expedition into a long forgotten world, a complete exploration with not much in the memory banks about it except “get linoleum, cut it, ink it, print it.”

As I cut the designs into the linoleum I felt more and more of how this worked, but clearly I don’t have it really figured out yet. I’m sticking with the apple motif because you know I’m pretty familiar with apples at this point.

I printed green first and then red. I’m doing another round with the red first and then the green.

Second round: green on red. It IS better.

Red on green top; Green on red, bottom

There was no reason for me to attempt something this complex except that I wanted to see if I remembered how to do it. Anyway they are failures from one point of view, but since what I am doing is trying to regain a lost skill, I think they’re successes. 🙂

These are the linocuts I made in 1984. I honestly thought they were masterpieces of the linocut trade back then, but they’re not. They do show me, however, that I DID know how to do this. 🙂

Images from China, linoleum cuts, 1984

The linoleum I’m using is a little different — it’s softer which means the edges are less sharp. If I continue, I’ll probably get different linoleum. I didn’t even remember what kind of paper would be best other than that heavy watercolor paper was challenging to work with. I have an assortment of papers — handmade papers from Nepal, Japan and Bhutan. I played around with them and discovered that the best image showed up on the paper I got for my pastel drawing experiments.

I need to get on the Christmas Card Production Business. The Christmas show at the local museum opens on November 20 and Christmas cards sell well. Many people don’t know that before Christmas trees, people put up Paradise Trees. An evergreen tree with a single apple. This represented to them that with the birth of Christ, people were returned to the Garden of Eden. I love that.

Yesterday I baked my apple models into a pie that was completely unworthy of them. It was the worst pie I’ve ever tasted. BUT the new oven worked well and that’s something.

Remuneration…

Seven years ago when I was cleaning out “archives” preparing my move back to Colorado from California I found this old pay stub from Head Ski. Most of of the cool stuff I found I photographed and threw out, this too. None of the jobs I did at Head Ski were great jobs. The first (fall 1974) was a factory job, on the line, finishing skis in preparation for the Christmas rush. I wasn’t completely aware of that at the time, but when I was laid off I understood it perfectly. Part of me — now — understanding how things worked and knowing what happened next — part of me wishes I’d never quit Head Ski. I wouldn’t have stayed on the line. When I was called back from lay off I was put in the mail-room, a middle-world between the office and the plant.

This pay stub is from the interval during which I worked in the mail room. I did cool stuff for the company at that point and even met Howard Head who was a charismatic, compelling, optimistic character who liked me. If I’d stayed? My imagination paints all kinds of wonderful things for that alternative reality, but who knows? Maybe back then I felt some sense of foreboding thinking of continuing to work at Head Ski. I don’t remember any such feeling, but??? I do remember thinking that with a B.A. in English, I should be doing something profoundly important.

I don’t see it that way any more.

Not long ago a reader commented on a blog post that we live many lives in our lifetime. This pay stub evokes a whole life, confusion, odd choices, long drives, an undetermined future, a bad marriage.

So what did this paycheck cover? It was a weekly thing. Rent was $140/mo in married students housing at the University of Colorado. Our apartment was by the track, the very track you can see if you watching Downhill Racer in which Head Skis have a cameo role. Five sacks of groceries (paper bags) usually added up to about $25. I figured $5/bag and that was a couple weeks, depending. Laundry? A handful of quarters. In short, this was a normal, lower-middle class pay check, about the same as I make now even though the numbers on my “pay” check look like a bigger number, the same amount in the sense of “real wealth” (as defined by Alan Watts) which is what that paycheck buys.


Summer continues relentlessly. The air has been so smoke-filled that I’m not going outside much. I know sooner or later it’s going to break and fall will arrive and then the good times. Meanwhile, having done my five apple paintings I’ve moved on to a medium I can’t control 100%. It’s a good thing. As I carved away at these bits of linoleum, I thought of when I learned this. I was 15. Most of what I do as an artist I learned in 9th grade. Good or bad? I have no idea. Anyway, the challenges here are mechanical: keeping the tools sharp and not cutting myself. 😀