Not Much News from the Back of Beyond

Checking in — as the title tells you, there’s not much news here in the Back of Beyond which is why it’s the Back of Beyond and why I live here. I’ve been attempting to work on the slo-mo novel in progress and prepare for the little event on December 7.

The one VERY cool thing that’s happened is an argument FOR the Internet. I was prepping for my gig in two weeks and, in the process, looked up a book I stole back in 1981, China Changed My Mind. Wanted to know more about it, I googled it and to my immense surprise it has a website put up by the stepson of the author. The book tells the experiences of a young Welshman who, believing he was a conscientious objector, joined the Friend’s Ambulance Convoy and drove medical supplies from Chongqing to the Burma Road. The book was (obviously) memorable. The website has several hours of recordings of this author being interviewed for the Imperial War Museum. So here I am, in 2019, listening to this man’s voice. I contacted the website owner and we’ve been corresponding a little. Pretty amazing.

So far the show at the museum has drawn people in. I haven’t sold any books, but I’ve sold ten packs (I think) of notecards. The packs of cards are left over from the “olden days” when I was participating in an artists’ co-op (RIP). I’m selling them at cost, $5/pack, so I’m not really making money, but the money I invested in them was gone long ago so it kind of feels like I’m making a little something.

It’s made me think, again, about making money through my creative ability. I’ve never made money from writing. I have made money from painting. Is that a message?

I also talked to the museum director about my mother’s moccasins. My mom was a teacher on the Crow Indian reservation in Montana back in the 1940s. The mother of one of her students made her a pair of moccasins. Because “the future is uncertain and death is always near” I have wanted the moccasins to be somewhere where they would be appreciated and cared for. The Rio Grande County Museum will take them and their story. I’ve also contacted the Bighorn County Museum in Montana where the moccasins most properly belong. If they want them, they get “first dibs.” If not, I’ll be very happy to have them nearby.

That’s my news. I’ve kind of been reading posts from time to time. I don’t know if I will ever go back to blogging every day, but who knows.

OH — this guy’s album has been nominated for a Grammy. It’s not my kind of music, and this song doesn’t seem to say much, and the words are unintelligible, but this beautiful video shows you the San Luis Valley, Heaven, where I get to live every day.

Crestone Studio Tour

First, my foot did fine, and I didn’t wear the heavy hiking boots. It struck me I need to break them in before I head out for a day. I wore my light hiking high topped boots and they were perfect. The cane was very helpful, and I even went up and down stairs, walked on uneven terrain. I walked 3/4 of a mile. 🙂 I only felt pain when I had to stand for a while, BUT during those moments, there was a dog named Max who hung out with me and relieved the pain by being a dog.

We had lunch at a pretty new cafe called “Food is Art.” I had a health food meal straight out of On the Road though I think Kerouac usually had apple pie and ice cream. I went for the next best.

The menu was typical of this arty-farty somewhat cosmopolitan town with things like Thai chicken tacos. The cafe was cute, the people friendly and all was well.

We then proceeded to look for some place we could get the catalog of the show and finally went to the townhall. A very nice man was freezing inside working on a computer. It was a lot warmer outside. We got the catalogs and all went out together. The deer had been feasting on the plum tree beside the building and the evidence of their high fiber diet was all over the lawn. There was, also, in a juniper tree, a very amazing nest made of juniper branches.

No idea who made this but they did good work. Possibly the juniper titmouse.

From there we went to the gallery where I met a woman I liked very much, Jennifer Thomson. I loved her paintings, too. We had a great conversation artist to artist which isn’t always easy. When it happens, I savor it. She had a painting of a Swiss mountain I would have bought if I had any money. She told us how it came to be — it was a painting she did as a student and she told us about those days in her life. The painting below is gouache and seeds and ink — it’s really spectacular in real life

She also teaches art and I bought her workbook — I don’t know that I will do it as a workbook, but it has many of her paintings in it and a lot of her philosophy. She was influenced by Goethe’s theory of colors so, you know…

From there we went to see the work of a quilter, then a photographer (by mistake) named Peter Ismert. He had an amazing photo of Shriver/Wright along the Rio Grande, (where I love to take the dogs) at night, under the Milky Way. The photo took my breath away. I got his card. Maybe he has a small copy. 🙂

From there we went to a house that had three — maybe four? — artists. The one that struck me most died five years ago, the wife of one of the artists I met today. Her name is Robin Ross and her work is mysterious and beautiful, I think. You can learn more about her here.

I especially liked this one:

Coyote Blue

She had written a poem to go with it, but to me it sounded — I mean the painting sounded — like a poem by Paul Valery:

“Patience, patience,
patience in the blue.
In every atom of silence
Is the chance for ripe fruit.”

Patient, patience,
Patience dans l’azur!
Chaque atome de silence
Est la chance d’un fruit mûr!

Crestone itself is an interesting town — dilapidated buildings city-dwelling lovers of western movies would think were a set from a film nestle beside art galleries and yurts. This eclecticism and art is backed up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains which I really saw today for the first time. I don’t have a great photo, but they go something like this:

Artists in the Family

“You have to do like this,” my brother holds up John Gnagy’s book, Learn to Draw that we’d gotten for Christmas. It was part of a kit with pencils, charcoal, a blender (a paper pencil like thing pointed at the end), a eraser, a sandpaper pencil sharpener, a plastic pencil sharpener and some paper.

Gnagy was on TV, too, but we didn’t watch much TV. Parental controls were parents saying, “No, God dammit.”

I looked at the cone my brother was copying from the book, the early pages where Gnagy was teaching about shading.

“You have to see where the light comes from. That’s how you get three dimensions.”

My brother was always able to talk about art in this kind of way, theoretically, abstractly. I couldn’t, can’t, don’t and am seriously frightened by it. I don’t know what kind of artist I am, but not the theory to reality type.

The kit ended up my brother’s. At that point I saw myself as a future designer of women’s clothing and that’s what I was drawing. I also got a Barbie doll that year (1964) and had discovered sewing clothes for her was a lot of fun. I was also painting in oils, landscapes from my mind.

The interesting thing is that my brother was a cartoonist from the very beginning, but he understood how “real” art was important to cartooning. Somewhere inside he wanted to be a “real” artist and he did some amazing “real” paintings, but there was always something missing from them. At heart he was a story teller but needed a page of squares to tell the story. His painting hero was Howard Pyle whose paintings definitely tell stories.

Years later, when we were both in our late twenties, walking on a snowy Denver street near my mom’s house, I got some useful advice from my brother. I had just taken down my one-woman show at Cafe Nepenthes in Denver. My brother didn’t seem to think much of the show — it wasn’t his “thing,” or, maybe, he was jealous. I don’t know. Artists in a family that doesn’t support art? Well, friction is inevitable. He said I was an “abstract expressionist” (which I had to look up, later, in my book, The Shock of the New) and he said my paintings were flat, lacking depth (that damned shadow thing again). I’d sold $1000+ which I don’t think my brother ever did.

Here’s one of the paintings from that show — not really a Modigliani knock-off.

At that point, I was taking a break from painting and was doing linoleum cuts having seen Picasso’s in the National Gallery earlier that month. I was talking to my brother about them and what I was trying to do. I explained how I felt making art was responding to a divine impulse. I told him how I was having a little trouble with the knives I used to carve my linoleum. “It’s easier if the linoleum is warm,” I said.

His response, “Well, Martha Ann, if you want to talk to God you have to play Black Sabbath backwards at 78 and you need some emery paper, honey.”

Fast-forward 20 some years to San Diego. My brother and his then wife came to visit from Northern California. On my wall was a “thing” I’d spent the whole summer making. It was the dark summer of my mental breakdown, but the products were pretty nice.

“Did you do that?” my brother asked.

“How I spent my summer vacation, Kirk.”

“Dammit, Martha Ann. You ARE an artist.”

He wasn’t entirely happy about that, either.

Hippy Fords of July

One of my favorite cartoons done by my brother depicts me, Aunt Martha and him in the backseat of our car. It’s supposed to be an afternoon we all — and my mom — went up on the Gold Camp Road near Colorado Springs to look at the golden aspen. In real life, my Aunt Martha was driving. She kept looking in the rearview mirror and saw my brother reading a comic book instead of looking out the window. She would then yell at him to “Look at the aspen!!!” My brother might not have put my Aunt Martha in the driver’s seat, but he accurately depicted the sense of the day and each of our personalities.

A cartoon my brother did for my Aunt Martha’s 80th birthday

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/12/rdp-saturday-shadows/

Color in the Lines, Dammit

I subscribe to Taos Magazine. It’s a tourist magazine, really, which is disappointing. It showcases artists, craftspeople, galleries and restaurants. This month there is an article on coloring “outside the lines.” This is a thing I’ve noticed for a while, that there is a perceived virtue in coloring “outside the lines.” It’s a metaphor for originality and non-conformity. But…

I remember coloring books. It was not easy to learn to color inside the lines. I remember a friend — Susan Cobb — who lived up the street and she had taken this to a higher level. Once she’d colored inside the lines, she outlined the shape in question with the same color, pressing harder on the crayon. It had a lovely effect. I imitated her, but I took it a little farther. If the shape were light green, I might outline it in dark green. She, in her turn, imitated me.

It takes discipline, a well-trained hand and eye to color inside the lines. It doesn’t take much to color outside the lines. A two-year-old who doesn’t know how to hold a crayon can do it. Yeah, I hear you, “How do YOU know the two-year-old doesn’t know how to hold the crayon? He’s holding it HIS way!” I’m sorry, but you need to teach that kid when he’s ready or he’s going to be VERY frustrated that he never makes progress and that his crayons keep breaking.

“See Picasso’s work?” said my dad one day. “He couldn’t have done this,” he pointed to an abstract woman’s face that I later learned was a linoleum cut, “without being able to do this.” He showed me a very realistic portrait of a woman. “An artist needs the discipline and ability before he can make the choice. Picasso was so good, he could choose.”

 

gertrudesteinpicasso

Gertrude Stein by Picasso — among other things, look at that HAND.

 

People argue endlessly about what makes good art. I honestly believe that I know good art but really what I know for sure is what I like. But as a writer and a painter, I know that discipline is a big piece of the puzzle in coming up with something really good. My dad was completely right. Only a master can choose.

Lucio Means Light

The occurence of love is often suprising, precious, random. Some of the loves in my life have been sweet beyond belief, and one of those was Lucio.

Lucio was a little boy who lived down the street from me when I lived in the “hood.” He was Mexican, his status was not quite up to Donald Trump’s idea of “legal.” He lived with his grandma and several animals — also not quite legal in the city limits, ducks, chickens, a small pig, a dog and a cat. His aunt and her little daughters lived next door. I first knew him when he was six or so years old. He came up the street to visit, sometimes with another little kid, sometimes by himself.

He liked to draw and when I was doing art in my garage, he liked to draw his own pictures while I did whatever project engrossed me at the time. Then, of course, he got deported.

A few years later (!) Lucio was back. He was twelve! Almost as tall as I. There had been major changes in my world — my marriage had broken up, and I was teaching a lot more to hold life together. Still, as before, I was doing art work in my garage. Lucio asked about my ex and I said, “It didn’t work out. He left a couple years ago.”

“That’s too bad,” said Lucio. “But you’re still here. You need someone to take care of you.”

“I’m fine this way,” I answered and we both nodded.

The project at the time was “Barbies’ Battle of the Bands Benefit Concert for Cellulite Victims” and involved two stages, instruments and costumes for eight Barbie dolls. I didn’t finish the project; I got to the last part — sewing doll clothes — and realized that wasn’t happening.

Lucio hung out while I was drawing guitars. Then, one day he said, “Aren’t you kind of old to play with Barbies?” I cracked up and tried to explain it was sculpture; I wasn’t playing with Barbies. I gave up the project anyway and starting painting a mountain at Zion National Park. Lucio had no objection to a 42 year old woman painting a mountain.

One day Lucio came up with a brightly painted blue, purple and white wooden push cart, the kind used in Tijuana by street vendors. “My grandpa died and left me this,” he said. It was truly amazing. I believe Lucio saw himself as having inherited the family business and having become a man because the next thing he said was, “I want to take you out for lunch.”

I was mildly dumbfounded (if that’s possible). “Ok,” I said. “Where? Did you ask your grandma?”

“Yes.”

There was a new restaurant (Mexican) a few blocks away. Lucio had it all planned out He’d saved his money, too. We walked over to the restaurant, ordered our lunch, talked about art, school, whether there was a ghost in the crawl space of my house. The food was pretty good the usual Baja/Tijuana cuisine that I did, finally, get used to and even miss now that I’m back in the land of hot green chile and sopapillas.

We walked back home and Lucio said, “I’ve wanted to take you out for a long time.”

I said, “Thank you, Lucio, it was fun,” realizing, suddenly, that I’d been on a date with a 12 year old.

Not too long after, Lucio, his grandma, his aunt and his cousins were all deported. I never again saw my young prince or his beautiful cart.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/06/07/rdp-7-purple/

Personal Art History — Suffering for Art

The first time I heard the word “patina” was in a high school art class. We’d just done clay sculptures and fired them. The next step was to paint them, but we didn’t call it painting them. We called it putting on a patina. The goal was to make the clay look like bronze.

My teacher did not like me or my work and made no bones about it. He often asked me what I was doing in the art room since I had no talent and I just bothered people.

I don’t know what he saw when he saw me. I don’t know what my behavior was like, but probably very obnoxious. No idea. I wanted attention from my teacher, but all I got was negative attention. “You have no talent,” he said. “I don’t know why you hang around here.”

We had open scheduling so we could just GO to the art room at any time there was no class in session. I did that, but I also went to class. I had a lot of projects in my mind. I did all the assignments — but probably NOT like he wanted me to. He was very, very nurturing and helpful to those he believed had talent, but he hated my work and disliked me.

His own work? In my opinion (even then) everything he painted looked the same. He was of the Western Impressionist school and the colors he used were out of nature’s paintbox for the most part. Yellow ochre figured prominently Yellow ochre is a GREAT color, but not the only one… He, naturally, used large brush strokes, painted directly, and so on, but he encouraged my brother and his friends who were cartoonists. Clearly the man was NOT invested in teaching everyone to paint just like he did.

So…I soon donned the patina of the high school graduate and went to college. I was determined to major in art. I wanted to be a sculptor.

My sculpture teacher told me I had no talent for sculpture, and he said I should stick to drawing which (he said) I was good at. He was explaining this to me as we talked about a drawing I’d done that was taped to the wall in the hallway of the art building next to the soda machine.

“Professor,” said one of my classmates who HAD talent, “I’m so sorry, but I tried to buy a soda and the machine exploded all over some chick’s picture that’s taped to the wall in the hallway.”

The picture was drawn in pencil which isn’t all that water soluble, and was actually improved by the patina of Pepsi.

My drawing teacher, on the other hand, was a real teacher. She watched me drawing one  afternoon in class and assessed the problem instantly. Fear. I’d been brow-beaten into a kind of secret artistic existence. This emerged when I attempted to make art. Our work says a lot and our working process maybe says even more. I was going at a piece of paper with a #3 pencil from 9 inches away. Way too close, way too light, way to tentative. I was a conundrum. I wanted to draw, I wanted to be an artist, but…

“Put that down,” she said of my pencil. “Wait here.”

She returned with a small can of black tempera and a small can of white tempera and a 2 inch brush. “Draw,” she said. “Stand back here where you can see something. And you need to get some better paper.”

She set me free.

Over the years I’ve confronted this over and over. Other artists sometimes have strong feelings about my work. I don’t know why. First, whether a person has talent or not they should make art if they want to. There’s no law that says a piece of work anyone does — even Leonardo — is going to be any good. Second, there are a lot of artists out there whose work I absolutely hate. Yet, they are considered to be great artists (Frida Kahlo tops that list). Is my opinion important in any way? There are other artist whose work moved me at one point in my life and now I think it’s “Meh” (Georgia O’Keefe for example).

This weekend my friend L painted rocks with me. She was trepidatious. She might get it wrong. I got a rock ready and sketched the reindeer, just an outline, with the nose. She sat down and grabbed an acrylic pen. I’ve learned they don’t work that well on rocks. “Use this,” I said, handing her a brush and some tan paint. The paint flowed perfectly into the shape on the rock in seconds. Then she wanted darker brown for the antlers and was going to mix black with the tan. “I’ll mix you some darker brown,” I said. “That black is a higher quality paint than that tan and will just be black.” So I mixed some brown. She painted and began to relax, finally putting an evergreen wreath on his head. 🙂

Then she wanted to do a wreath, but she just had a white rock. “I think you can handle that,” I said. “It’s just a wreath.”

“Yeah, I think I can draw a circle.” She picked up my drawing pencil and drew a circle, very tentatively. I pointed out that the rock was a long oval so maybe she wanted to leave room at the bottom for a bow.

She went at it and was suddenly INTO it. “I’m going to make a peace wreath,” she said — and did! Then she wanted to put leaves on the wreath. She dipped the brush in green and started to “draw” leaves. It wasn’t working.

“Here, let the brush do the work,” and I showed her how to use the side of the brush to make leaf-like blobs.

Then I thought about all that is involved in learning to paint.

How to mix colors, how to use colors, what a brush can and cannot do, what things ACTUALLY look like vs how you KNOW them to be (a tree doesn’t look like myriad leaves attached to branches. It looks like a blob of colors). There’s so much more, and it all takes time and practice.

I’ve had a hell of a time in my life selling a story. My life as a writer (everyone has always said, “Martha Ann, you’re a writer not an artist”) has never “taken off” but I’ve sold a lot of paintings. As I told my friend this weekend, “Just have fun. It is the least important thing in the world.”

Except to the person who loves it and we never know who that is, who that will be.

My friend’s rocks were found by a little girl during the Christmas parade… I think my friend is now a VERY successful artist!!!

Lois Rocks 1

Lois Rocks 2

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/patina/

Magnet

It’s a bit earlier than I usually write this and a bit earlier than I usually get up. My brain is still dreaming though I’ve managed to make coffee and breakfast and feed the dogs. Unfortunately, my favorite part of sleep is the hour or so before I get up and that would be going on right now. But I like this time of day.

I was thinking about routine. I like routine and so do the dogs. If anything, they are more tied to doing this thing at this time than I am. For me it’s a scaffolding on which I can hang adventure, and today I’m going to Taos with a friend. It’s a 1 1/2 hour drive from here. My friend is an artist — usually she works with fiber and makes “wearable art” — and has work hanging in two galleries. For the last month she’s had a large wall show hanging in one of the galleries and we’re going to take it down.

I never imagined I’d live where I do. In my memory/imagination Taos and Santa Fe were exotic locales one went to for special reasons or because one was very lucky. Even when I was looking at Monte Vista on the map before moving here, I never put it into the bigger picture, looking beyond the boundaries of Colorado.

Taos has been a magnet for artists for a century or longer. I imagine everyone connects it with Georgia O’Keefe. It’s strange to think of D. H. Lawrence having lived there, but he did. What a jaunt from the coal mines of Yorkshire, England to the high desert of northern New Mexico.

The photo above is wild mint growing beside the ditch next to the Monte Vista golf course. When I crushed a leaf, the fragrance was very mild but definitely spearmintlike, the leaves are a little bristly and the flowers are a magnet for the bees.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/magnet/