It remains to be seen if I can paint it. But I have good help…
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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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. 😀
Stuck here more or less right now because of the shoulder, I took advantage of my little deck and pretty yard yesterday to read. It’s not a very pleasant place because of the summer traffic going down the state highway, but I put in earphones and obscured most of it. I’m reading Yellowstones Ski Pioneers: Peril and Heroism on the Winter Trail by Paul Schullery. There’s something comforting about reading books about frigid cold in the summer.
Every backyard is a little wilderness. Back in the day when I was teaching Critical Thinking Through Nature Writing I required my students to go out an observe nature for 30 minutes every week (more was better, of course) and to write a journal of their observations. I knew some of them weren’t in a position to GO anywhere and I told them their back or front yard was OK for this journal.
There were butterflies — cabbage whites, and a flickering fleet fast little black and white one I’d never seen before. I had to find out what it was — it was so pretty. When It stopped, finally, I was able to see it had a bright red head. I “googled” and learned it wasn’t a butterfly at all, but a “Police car” moth. The big reward was watching a hummingbird in the beans. With my fancy new phone I was able to photograph it even though it was 15/20 feet away. It was a rollicking good time out there in the garden.
My arm is healing well, and I have a pretty good range of motion at this point. I also decided to learn how to use pastels. Long, long ago I got a set of colored Conté Crayons for Christmas. They are beautiful and it was a wonderful gift, but I have never been a fan of, or skillful user of, dry media. I think the last thing I drew with pastels was a copper tea pot in my 9th grade art class. I was 15. 😀 It was a pretty good drawing, but stressful somehow. BUT I’m not feeling much joy from painting right now, and it’s always good to learn something new, so…
Yesterday I got the apple out of my fridge and implored it to pose for me. After some gentle persuasion and the promise that I would eat it for supper, it agreed to sit a few minutes on my drawing table. I’m no Cezanne but I think apples are wonderful subjects. They are beautiful.
When I don’t know what I’m doing, I draw or paint an apple. So, I sat down on my new drawing stool in front of my new tablet of charcoal/pastel drawing paper and went at it. After a while I realized I had forgotten a lot of stuff I once knew, but it was OK. I was still having fun. I also realized that teaching myself was going to be the slow way, so I ordered a book and some good tools for blending because using my fingers — which is OK with me — would end up putting the chalky, colored residue left on my digits where it didn’t belong. I need to get back to the mentality that 1) it doesn’t matter what I do, 2) I’ll never get it right. When I lose that it’s time to stop or try something new at which I can’t possibly succeed. Pastel drawing is definitely something at which I will not succeed. There’s freedom in failure. ❤
This morning in my Facebook memories were photos of one of the best days of my life here in Monte Vista. The new Valley Art Co-op (of which I was a member) was about to have its grand opening. I didn’t know any of the people, I liked everybody, was living with my post-teaching resolve just to be nice to people and was in the first blush of love with this place that has turned out to have many sinister little corners. I still love it very much, but it’s not Heaven. The Valley is Heaven, but where people go gets complicated though human complications and nature’s complications are similar — if not the same.
The local window painter had decided against joining the co-op and everyone wanted the windows painted for the Grand Opening. They were mirrored windows and no one could see inside to the shop so this was important. Someone hired the local window painter to paint the windows beside the door, but there were (miles?) of windows and the co-op had no money. I also think, maybe, some of this painter’s friends who were members were a little angry and very disappointed that she hadn’t joined in the experiment of an art coop..
“Can you paint windows?” someone in authority asked me.
“Sure,” I said. I never had but…
I spent a few days sketching and planning the windows. I saw them as the San Luis Valley. People (tourists) driving by the co-op would see the whole valley painted there. We were the VALLEY Art Coop so that made sense and no one complained. I didn’t know the valley well then (I still don’t) but I had a general, global idea. We were going to paint them as PART of the grand opening celebration.
I wanted to use tempera so they’d be easy to wash off, but the local professional window painter said I should use acrylic. I had a lot of craft acrylic so that was all good. The day before, I painted an underpainting of white so the next day all of the painters would have a place to start.
It was glorious.
During the various seasons (Christmas and Crane Festival) we added to the paintings.
The “calumny” began when the professional window painter got jealous and thought I was after her job. The gossip machine started to roll and it was ugly. First she (behind my back) accused me of using the wrong paint. I’d used what she’d told me to use but when I saw how hard it was to get off the window, I switched to tempera for all the seasonal changes. Then she went at me publicly in front of the Post Office and then during the Christmas show of the art guild we were both members of. Calumny was heaped upon my head (which, I understand from 19th century novels, is the usual way of dispensing calumny). She even went and scraped off part of the painting. OH WELL.
Her life would have been so much easier if she’d just 1) joined the co-op in the first place and painted the windows herself, 2) asked me if I wanted to paint windows all over town and compete with her (I didn’t). But strangely how people often don’t do the easy thing.
How does this relate to nature? Ah, geese. At this moment, the two geese families and their babies (almost fully grown) are swimming serenely together in the pond as if the competitive ugliness of spring mating, nest building, egg sitting had never happened. As if they hadn’t gone at each other with the full capacity of killing each other.
And this town “pond” — like that at the Refuge — is small. In the passing years, this woman and I have participated in shows together. Last year, with Covid, the show at the museum still happened, but we artists were pretty much the only people there. She sat down beside me and opened up. I just listened, thinking to myself, “OK, you’re sorry, but you still did that. I forgive you because you thought I was after your bread-and-butter, but you could have saved yourself and me a lot of grief back then and never had to carry around this thing you’ve carried around for 5 years by just TALKING to me.”
Words from Hamlet went through my mind:
“Use every man after his desert and who shall ’scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.” Hamlet (2.2)
It was one of those “There but for the grace of God moments.” No one likes calumny heaped upon their head, and I feel about her now the way I feel about rattlesnakes. I don’t seek them out, but I appreciate their role in the ecosystem and see their beauty.
Sometimes it seems like my mind is a kettle brewing stuff while I sleep. I woke up thinking about two very difficult things: communication and mastery. It struck me that they might be related.
Back when I had an art shed and lived in California, I started a blog on blogger about painting. I called it “A Lifetime Apprenticeship” because I couldn’t imagine ever being a master or even imagine what it would mean to BE a master. I also decided that becoming a master would be the end of the exciting part of painting which, at the time and still, seems to be learning more and doing better.
I still think that way, and it’s a good thing because I’m a long way from being a master, but… I wonder what it would be like to approach a project and KNOW it’s going to work out. I wonder if that’s even possible.
I did a drawing yesterday that seemed to be going really well and then, later, when I looked at a photo of it, I realized the river in the drawing was behaving in a manner that is impossible for rivers, all for want of a line.
The thing about this is that I’m OK with that. I’m even OK with, “I’ll never get it,” and that doesn’t discourage me because I don’t even know what “it” is.
As for communication, I can’t begin to figure that out. Like drawing and painting, there’s probably no mastery. Unlike drawing and painting, I can get discouraged, fatigued, disgusted, and hopeless about communication. It’s all Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Yesterday I wasn’t too enthusiastic about going to teach art to the kids. I felt like they were losing their focus, and I’m not the goddess of construction, paper, glue and cute crafts. I’m an artist, dammit! But I went. The kids were waiting in the alley,. The little boy was on his bike. Regular readers of my blog know that a period of my life was spent with a group of boys and their BMX bikes. It was a strange time (but really, how would I know?) and our little group of a lady with a truck and boys on bikes was the best part. And there I was yesterday, looking at C, a little boy who was eager to show me how fast he could ride and the great stop he’d learned.
My heart went back to those Boys on Bikes, now in their 40s, some dead already. The one to whom I was closest is raising his own kids now and is teaching his little boy — who’s about the age of C — to ride BMX.
Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Personal history too, it seems.
C’s parents are more protective of him than the Boys on Bikes’ parents were of their boys. He’s only allowed to ride in the alley when I’m out there, otherwise he has to ride in his yard and driveway. Knowing this, I walked down the alley very, very slowly. He showed me how fast he can ride and he showed me his skidding stop. He fell, took it “like a man,” and I said, “Good for you. The only way to learn is to fall.”
The Boys on Bikes — until they met me — rode their bikes ten miles from our neighborhood up to the BMX jumps. My Ford Ranger and I, and the fact that almost daily I drove up to where the jumps were, were a big boon to their lives.
It’s just a different world today in so many ways, but I liked our old world. I admired the reckless courage of those boys so long ago and the way they took shovels up there to perfect, adjust and repair the dirt jumps. They were amazing.
Little boys are an interesting species. Much derring-do and showing off of prowess; they are all medieval knights.
Yesterday I ran the art “class” a little differently. I had two activities planned and made them go run around the yard for 5 minutes in between. They’d also done their homework. The little girl, M, had drawn me pictures of animals and C had three nice pictures of trucks. He showed me one and asked if I could read the writing on it. “It’s Morse Code,” he said. “Can you read Morse Code?”
I said no and he told me it said, “Hi Miss Martha.”
When they came in from “recess” we made tissue paper sun catchers. They loved the project, which was incredibly messy, and Mom even joined it.
“Isolation…exposed the deep sense of connection I took for granted within my relationships with friends and family. Don’t forget to express gratitude for those connections.” From today’s Washington Post newsletter on coping with COVID-19
Yesterday I drove along the 18 miles of Road T in Saguache County Colorado. That was after some 20 miles on the US Highway 285 and before another 15 miles on paved Saguache County Road T. Saguache County is the first county north of my own, Rio Grande County. I was heading to the old mining town of Crestone — now arty-farty spiritual center — to buy my easel.
Nothing notable about the deal — except getting a $500 easel for $100 — but driving toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains takes my breath away. They resemble the Alps in the way they rise from the valley floor, rugged and young.
The easel is large and it was a struggle to get it into the house, but I did it. But then — as happens — I realized I had to move stuff out of my studio and THAT led to moving stuff out of my living room. It’s interesting how when you get a small piece of new furniture you might end up re-arranging everything and cleaning.
I haven’t figured out everything about it yet — the main thing I still have to work out is adjusting the up/down of the tray on which the painting rests. I see how to do it, I just haven’t been able to do it! I’ll make it work for this big painting, but it won’t work for a smaller one but if I never manages that, a cool thing about this easel is it can go flat, like a table.
Now my little studio has three work “surfaces.” A dedicated drawing table, the table of all work, and an easel. Pretty up town, I’d say.
OK, this isn’t much of a video, but I thought, since I have this fancy new upgrade I should try it…