Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spiral Jetty 2011

Spiral Jetty with Bob Wilson

Bob walking the Spiral Jetty

Bob's outfit for walking the spiral Jetty (post)

This past weekend, my husband, Bob Wilson, and I took a trip to the Great Salt Lake to visit Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty. It was just barely visible under the purple water, and Bob decided to try to walk out to the tip of the spiral. He removed his shoes, then his pants, and started out. The water was cold and the basalt rocks slippery. The temperature of the air was about 55 degrees, and the water slightly colder, so it was not pleasant. He made it out about 1/3 of the way and then decided that his feet were too cold and that he was running the risk of slipping and cutting his feet as they became more and more numb, so he turned back and started in.  He discovered, about 15 feet from the shore, that he could actually just walk alongside the jetty in the sand, thus eliminating the risk of hurting himself.

As a young couple together, Bob and I would often go out and have adventures much like this.  Bob would do something totally unexpected, usually somewhat dangerous, and I would photograph him. His actions usually involved physical suffering, or finding something that he could do that might result in bodily harm if he wasn't careful. Whatever he did, it always took all his attention. I think now that it was his way of making himself completely present and connected to his world.  I couldn't do what he did, but I could certainly appreciate and record and then make something more of his involvement.  Over the years, I made many paintings using these photographs of Bob as a base.  They were critical to my beginnings as an artist, helping me see where I needed to go.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Two Dogs Together 1990

Our first dog was an English Pointer that we named Robbie.  My parents had her bred to another English Pointer when she was about two years old.  Subsequently she had a litter of about 9 or 10 puppies, one of the better memories of my childhood.

Because spaying and neutering were not really options for dogs in the fifties, we had a small wire pen built for Robbie whenever she came into heat, and she would be put in that pen for several weeks every year.  At nine years old, I knew what was going on-that it took a male dog to make puppies-and I was dying to repeat the experience of our previous puppies.  So, one afternoon when I was alone at home with Robbie, and she was in heat, I opened the gate to the pen and let one of the more persistent dogs in with her.  And sure enough, they did what dogs do. He got on top and started working away.

My plan was to let the male dog out when he was done, shut the gate, and no one would be the wiser until the puppies showed up.  But it didn't go as I had planned.  The male dog seemed to finish, and dropped off of Robbie.  But then, to my horror, he stayed joined to Robbie, attached by his penis.  It was awful.  I didn't know what to do, only that I had to do something because something was clearly very wrong. I called my stepfather, Nick, and crying, told him that one of the dogs had forced his way past me into the pen and that now they were stuck.  Nick must have been close, because he showed up fairly quickly, careening around the corner of the driveway in our old black Chevy pickup.  He got out, went over to the dogs, got a stick and started hitting the male dog.  He wasn't angry or upset, just pragmatically working at getting the dogs apart.  Sure enough, it worked, the dog was able to free himself and he ran off after Nick gave him another emphatic thump with the stick.  I sobbed and sobbed, watching Nick through the fence. I'm not sure now which was worse:  getting caught or witnessing the two  joined dogs, looking as miserable and frightened as I felt.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mother and Son 2010

I have no sons, and I am a daughter, so my experience of mothers and sons is only observed, not known personally.  I am married to a man who, like almost every man on the planet, has a complex relationship with his mother.  My older brother and I share the same mother, so I have known that relationship for almost 58 years now.  And then I watch the male world:  men who are powerful, men who are babies, men who are good and kind, men who heal and men who destroy.  I wonder what kind of mother each one of those men had.

This mother longs for her son, but I don't think it's a good kind of longing. Notice her feet aren't moving-she only makes the motion of caring, but doesn't really have to follow up. The son is child sized, but has a man's head.  He appears to be trying to get away, but doesn't look very distressed. The background lines-sewing patterns-create a kind of chaotic directional order: Come back, go away, leave me. Stay. I can't live without you.  I'll get you!  No I won't.  I didn't mean that. Yes I did. The son stays just out of reach, but will never really leave her sight.  I'm not sure they can survive without each other.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Woman with Jesus and Cigarette 2006

When I was a child we had neighbors who were for all intents and purposes my grandparents even though they weren't really.  Joe died of lung cancer when I was 18 or 19, Jane a few years later of the same thing.  I can remember Jane coming to visit, sitting on the high stool at our kitchen counter, a cigarette in one hand, legs curled around each other, smoke curling up around her face as she discussed the world with me, my mother, and my stepfather, "Nickie" as she liked to call him.  After they died, I missed them both tremendously, especially Jane.  I think they were in their late fifties or early sixties when they died, close to the age I am now.

This woman showed up in 2006.  I pieced her from photographs of many things:  boulders from a trip to Colorado, the cement floor from the parking garage where my husband works, my hands, and Jesus, taken from a painted wall along the highway on that same New Mexico to Colorado route. She's relaxed and confident.  She thinks that with Jesus inside her she will be okay, that nothing can harm her.  Under her left leg is a little warning which says, "please be careful".  But she doesn't need to pay attention, she's got Jesus.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Zebra with Hyenas 1986

In the 1980's National Geographic Magazine did an article about hyenas.  In the article were a series of photographs that have stayed with me ever since.  They were black and white, taken at night using flash so that the images were very harsh.  They were sequential, showing the zebra being surrounded by hyenas, attacked, and then brought down.  I cut the pictures out of the magazine and had them up on my studio wall for years.  The pictures captured that instant when something living goes from being alive to not; death, the inevitability of it, and the fear and darkness surrounding the event.

My zebra was originally a  horse. All it took to transform him were a few scratched stripes and white markings on his face and legs.  The hyenas are also pretty minimal-just really teeth and small dark bodies, not really very hyena like at all.  And then finally, I added the palm trees to make it clear that this was some place foreign, clearly not New Mexico, certainly Africa.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bob with TV Guide 1981

My husband, Bob, has always been pretty much enslaved by TV.  One of those There is a power greater than myself and it is TV  kinds of things.  At one point, realizing the depth and breadth of his addiction, he decided that he would only watch TV when I turned it on, meaning that he couldn't initiate any TV watching himself, could only watch when and what  I wanted to view.  But being an intelligent man, he found a way around those limitations.  If he waited until I went to bed, leaving him alone with the TV, he could unplug the it instead of turning it off. Then he could come back and plug it in anytime he wanted, not violating the terms of his agreement with himself.  He wasn't "turning it on", just plugging it in.

This painting, done in the early 80's, was the first of many that I've done of Bob which explores his complex relationship with the TV.  When I took the photo, he had just woken, and was sitting in bed, quietly reading TV Guide, getting ready for his day ahead.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sail Away 2008

Getting old is like going out to sea on a boat that you know isn't seaworthy. You know this boat won't be coming back, and that at some point you and the boat will both be going down .  You don't know if it will go down slowly, a bolt popping out here and there with water starting to slowly fill the boat, or suddenly, poof, just like that, sink.  All you can do is cast off, and hope the waves won't toss you too badly and that you'll have enought to nourish you until the end. And that finally, as the waves wash over your head, you'll be able to see your life's journey as being everything  that it could have been.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Trying to Keep Trouble Away 2008

In the fall of 2008, I was teaching a workshop in  Alabama.  As I went around the large room, helping each person in the class, one of my students told me that she was on the phone with her husband, and that the stock market was dropping fast.  I had about 20 students, so it took me awhile to work my way back to her as I made my rounds. Every time I got to her, she told me the market had gone down even further.  Of course, that was the day of the big crash. The weeks that followed were a time of  uncertainty and dread, and, as it turns out, just the cracking of the lid of what was to become a deep and dark Pandora's box full of troubles.

When I look at this painting now, my heart goes out to this woman, with her coarse man's pants and shoes, and her odd jumper made of words.  Shes standing on a chair to make her a little bigger, bravely trying to keep those troubles away.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Crow Hanging 1995

Shaman:  A member of certain tribal societies who acts as a medium between the visible world and an invisible spirit world and who practices magic or sorcery for purposes of healing, divination and control over natural events.

As a young woman, I loved the works of Carlos Casteneda.  I couldn't wait for each new book to come out, and I would read and re-read the books on a regular basis.  I even developed a way of  seeing the world, which broke people into Stalkers and Dreamers based on what Carlos had to say (which I still use to this day).  In graduate school I did a paper about Diane Arbus and Shamanism, which proposed that, had she been born into a culture which practiced Shamanism, Arbus would have been a Shaman, and her death would have been symbolic rather then real.  I imagined that artists could act as Shamans in our society, but I wasn't sure what that really meant.  For instance, I wasn't sure any of us could control natural events, or heal people, and the divination part was a little dicey for me.  I fasted, I read, I talked  and studied shamanism, but I didn't ever think I was a Shaman, and only once met a man who claimed that he was.  I wasn't sure, but he talked a good line which made me suspicious that he wasn't the real deal.

However, something has been going on all these years that does address a Shamanistic part of me.  Every so often, a painting will emerge that will be about animals that are people, and people that are animals.  I don't think about the paintings before hand, and when I start a piece, I have no idea of where it's going. I'm always surprised by what happens, especially when these animal/people show up.  I have a hard time explaining them.  I'm not really sure what they mean, just that they are honest and make a deep connection, first with me, then with other people outside myself.  I wonder sometimes if I, like Arbus, might have been Shaman material in another place and time, and in  this culture, only able to bring up remnants of the ability to go between the two worlds, unable to know the real meaning of what my paintings are saying.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Being on Call 1983

My husband, Bob Wilson, did his residency in Family Practice Medicine at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.  It was a three year program and involved him doing rotations in different specialties:  surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine etc.  In each rotation he was assigned an on call schedule.  This meant that when he was on call, he would go into the hospital in the morning, see patients all day, stay at the hospital that night to see whatever emergencies arose, then start the next day seeing patients all over again.  It meant that, at times, he might go for 36 hours without sleep.  With luck, he might be able to sleep for  an hour or two before being interrupted, usually by something urgent.  By the time he got home after being on call, he was exhausted.  He would topple over onto the bed where he would immediately fall into a deep sleep.  I would remove as many of his clothes as I could, cover him up and wait for him to wake the next day.  The next morning he would wake, dress, shave, eat, and then head out to the hospital.  A good rotation mean that he only had to take call once a week, but with some of the rotations he took call every 4th or 5th night.  I can only imagine the stress that he was under: sleep deprived, a new doctor, asked to make critical decisions about health care for someone he most probably had never seen before.

When he finished his residency, we moved to the Zuni Indian Reservation so that Bob could practice medicine at the small, beautiful hospital that served the over 8,000 residents of Zuni. Along with the approximately six other doctors that worked with him, Bob was once again asked to take call.  This call schedule was more humane.  He could come home on the nights he was on call and at times get by giving the nurses instructions over the phone.  He had  an amazing ability to wake up from a deep sleep, and with no grogginess or confusion, listen to the conversation, give orders or advice, then hang up the phone and immediately drop back into the same deep sleep.  He no longer takes call in his medical practice, and hasn't for a number of years.  However, he doesn't sleep as well anymore, and often wakes up in the night and finds it difficult to fall back asleep. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dark Rider 2011

This past April, a good friend of ours was mowing his lawn, getting ready for a family get together with his wife, and three of his four grown children.  It was a beautiful day, sunny without being too hot.  He came inside, complained of some pain in his shoulder to his wife, got a drink of water, then went back out, started to mow again and dropped dead. 

I did this painting the afternoon of the day we found out that our friend had died. It's about his death,  that Dark Rider that shows up to escort us to the other side, whatever that is.  The crows underfoot, supporting the horse and rider.  The sky, dark and swirling with small bits of yellow shining through.  The rider, calm but stern, the horse with his large, kind, human eye.

I've since wondered what our friend's last thoughts were: were they about a pesky section of grass that kept popping up as he was mowing, or was he thinking about his life, his family, perhaps what they were going to have on the barbecue later that afternoon.  His daughter told us that when she saw him laying on the grass and ran to him, he had a smile on his face. He was 53.

Two and 1/2 months later, in July, another good friend died suddenly, this time of an aneurysm.  Talking on the phone to a good friend, someone he deeply loved, he experienced a terrible headache, then dropped the phone as he fell to the floor.  She was able to call 911, and they took my good friend to the Hospital where he went in and out of consciousness, dying early the next day.  I didn't do a piece about this friend's death.  My grief was too large.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Steer 1984

I did this image in the early 1980's.  At that time I lived on the Zuni Indian Reservation, and would often make the long drive between Zuni and Albuquerque.  We traveled on a two lane black top from Zuni to Grants, then picked up I-40 to head on into Albuquerque for shopping, the airport, whatever we couldn't get in Gallup or Zuni.  On this particular trip I happened to pull over at a  wide place in the road that we would sometimes stop at just before we got to the intersection of I-40.  On one of the fence posts (all fences are barbed wire with either metal or wooden fence posts) I saw a steers' head stuck onto the fence post.  It was askew, titled to one side.  It hadn't been there too long, the eyes still looked back at me.  A few crows sat on the nearby posts, waiting to start in. I had my camera, photographed the head, then proceeded on. 

30 years later I wonder what that head was doing there.  Had someone poached the steer, then stuck the head on the fence as a kind of sticking their tongue out gesture, or had someone just wanted to get rid of a steers' head they had riding around in the back of their pickup?  I didn't think of it at the time, just took the photo and went on my way.  Later, when I printed the head out and started my painting, I found myself bringing him back to life, alive and well in a vibrant New Mexico landscape.  The painting went to my first New York City show where it sold, and, hopefully keeps on living somewhere in that area.