Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Trying to Give Up 2003

For the past several weeks I've been  encountering obstacles that have seemed almost insurmountable.  The kinds of things that wake you up at 3 in the morning and then won't allow you to go back to sleep because your thoughts keep hamstering in your mind, going around and around, repeating the same crappy, black dialogue over and over.  

I can't remember the specifics of what was going on with me when I did this image 9 years ago, but I know it was probably very similar to what I'm going through now, just probably a slightly different set of issues.  I know I was reacting in much the same way I am now.  The usual big four--despair, anxiety, depression, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.  What's interesting to me about the painting(and it is a self-portrait of course)is that I don't know if the figure is giving up in a good way or a bad way.  Is  giving up simply accepting what is, seeing the situation as it exists and then going on, or is it giving up in the way that you want to get in bed and pull the covers over your head at 11:00 in the morning, or sit on the couch watching TV, immobile because you feel so discouraged?  In that large area of gray that most of us live in,  I think it's probably both ways, and  there is no hard line between one or the other.  We have to live with the discomfort and chaos that problems bring, but we also have to accept the fact that most of us are living our lives as best we can and that, at the end of the day, these are just problems that will, eventually, be solved.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Two People Fighting 1989

During the summer of 1989 a friend and I had gone for a horseback ride, and during the ride we got into a tremendous argument which started over the use of the term "tits" vs "breasts".  It was a very frightening experience for me because I couldn't pull us out of the blackness of the argument, which went far deeper, of course, then tits vs breasts.  The core of the argument centered around a traumatic event in my friend's life.  Years before, she and a friend had argued, the friend had stormed off, and several days later was found raped and murdered. 

What stayed with me was how the memory of the emotions from our fight wouldn't go away, and also, I realize now, how my friend, after ten years, could not rid herself of the blackness of what happened with her friend.  We carry those strong emotions with us for a long time, beneath the surface, but still there, viable, alive, ready to be called up.

Recently, my husband, Bob Wilson, did a large public art piece here in New Mexico.  It was completed this summer, and a short video was made about the process which was just released a few days ago.  At the beginning of the project, one of the city councilors tried to kill it, and that battle is recorded in the video.  What surprised both Bob and I, after watching the video, was how present our emotions over the conflict still are in us:  As I watched things unfold, I found myself becoming very tense and anxious.  My stomach started to churn and roil. Bob reported feeling much the same way.  I remembered this painting and thought it perfect to illustrate those conflicted, angry emotions that I still carry. Here is a link to the video:http://vimeo.com/35518361

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Leaving Paradise 2009

The tale of Adam and Eve has always been the one bible story that I could most relate to:  how two people, by just being themselves, could manage to so completely screw things up.
The Serpent, "slyer than every beast of the field," tempts the woman to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, telling her that it will make her more like God, and that it will not lead to death. After some thought, the woman decides to take from the tree and eat it. She then gives the fruit to the man, who eats also, "and the eyes of the two of them were opened." Aware now of their nakedness, they make coverings of fig leaves, and hide from the sight of God. God asks them what they have done, and man and woman defer responsibility. The man blames the woman for giving him the fruit, but implies a sentiment that God is also at fault for making the woman in the first place ("The woman Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate"), while the woman blames the serpent for seducing her to disobedience ("The serpent beguiled me and I ate"). God curses the serpent "above all animals," making it lick dust and go on its belly all its days and to be an enemy of the human race. God then passes judgment for the disobedience of the man and woman, condemning the man to a life of toil and the woman to create new life through painful childbirth, and banishes them from the Garden. (Wikipedia, Adam and Eve from the Fall of Man)

I think it interesting that I chose to use a photo of my head as the head of the snake.

Everything about this story is just so wonderfully complicated and true.  It seems that my husband is always suspicious of what I know, my awareness of things.  He is always doubting what I see.  For him, unusual water on the floor is not something to worry about, just something spilled.  For me it's a burst pipe, a leaky roof, something bad. I always feel badly about knowing too much, seeing what is going on and having to sound the alarm, "I don't think that's a good sound for your car to be making" as his old Subaru thumps away every time he accelarates.  And of course, it's been sounding like that for months, so why worry? And the snake!  That part of me that is always wanting me to know, to find out, to understand!  What a nuisance, what a little dust licker.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Coyote with Yellow Arm 1990 & Man with Wolf's Arm 2011

In looking for an image to write about, I came across Coyote with Yellow Arm, done in 1990.  As I looked at it, and thought about what I could say, I realized I had recently done another image that was very similar, called Man with Wolf's Arm. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two to see what had changed and what had stayed the same.

Coyote was done by using a black and white photograph as the foundation for the painting, and then applying oil paint over it, obscuring most of the image.  In this case, I know I used the photograph of a nude woman, but I can't remember now who it was.  The head and legs I painted as being animal, but the torso and one arm I left photographic, or "real".  The yellow arm is painted, but it's not clear if it's human or animal.  I painted it to glow, I'm not sure why, just that it was essential to the painting.

Man with Wolf's Arm was from a photo I took this spring in New York City at MOMA using my iPhone, which I had just gotten a few months earlier.  The man was a stranger, coming up the escalator on the top floor, and that's all I know about him.  The wolf's arm is not that of a wolf at all, but that of a dead coyote, a photo taken by my daughter, Teal. She left the image file on my computer and I pirated it without any shame.  Both the man and the coyote's arm are printed on clear ink-jet transparencies so that the paint underneath comes through the photographic images, giving them a strange and beautiful kind of clarity. 

Even though my process and the technology involved is completely different than what I did over twenty years ago, I'm still fascinated by how similar the two images are:  both are talking about beings that are part animal, part human; both emphasize the arms as being an important part of the story being told; and both are clearly speaking to that part of the world that we seem to be in danger of losing touch with--a world where man and animal exist together as equal partners.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bad Eggs 2009

In 1962 Rachael Carson published her book "Silent Spring".  The book argued that uncontrolled and unexamined pesticide use was harming and even killing not only animals and birds, but also humans. Its title was meant to evoke a spring season in which no bird songs could be heard, because they had all vanished as a result of pesticide abuse(Wikipedia).  I never read "Silent Spring", but what I knew about the book sank deep, then lodged permanently in my unconscious.  I would have been a young teen at the time the book came out, and even as unconscious as a teenager can be, I remember being frightened and worried by what the book was implying. 

Years rolled by, the environmental movement waxed and waned, and my level of anxiety about the environment waxed and waned with it, especially as I had other things to worry about.  Then, in 2004, I found that my process of making images had changed, and what I had to say changed with it.  My images went from being deeply personal to being more about the world around me.  And, as it turned out, I was back to being pretty worried about what we, as humans, were doing to our world.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bob with Spotted Dog 1984

When I first met my husband, Bob, he was applying to medical school and not having much luck.  In the interim, between refusals, he took more chemistry classes, and also got a job at the Emergency Animal Clinic in Albuquerque.  He had decided that he would apply to veterinary school instead, and this job would give him the experience(and recommendations) he needed.  

It was a strange job.  It was available to people when their normal veterinary clinics were closed, so Bob worked late night shifts, helping the veterinarian on call with whatever needed to be done.  Because of this experience, Bob gained a certain expertise, especially since, at times, the vets would allow him to do procedures.  One time he set the broken leg of a cat whose owners couldn't pay, and he brought her home to be our cat. He began to have a basic idea of how to take care of the different ailments and injuries that came in. Mostly though, he did the dirty work:  cleaning cages, bagging the bodies of the ones that didn't make it, holding struggling animals down for procedures. However,  my unconscious knew what was going on, and I started to understand  that Bob was a healer, the real deal. I began making paintings of him taking care of living things, and really,  I have never stopped.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Awkward Man Dancing 1996

Many of my images have been portraits of friends or people I meet that I find visually interesting.  Except for my husband and my daughters (and a few other kind and brave souls), people are usually not overly excited about what I do to them, and in certain cases, my paintings have aroused anger and confusion for the subjects of these portraits. I would make the image, show it to the person with great excitement and anticipation, knowing that they were going to love this painting as much as I did.  Then I would  watch their faces as they looked away or laughed uncomfortably.  By now I've learned to show people these portraits very casually, so that when they do look away we don't have to attach much importance to it.

This portrait is of a good friend and colleague, James Baker, who I have know for over 25 years.  I first met Jim when he invited me to do a workshop at Anderson Ranch in Colorado http://www.andersonranch.org/workshops/courses/faculty_search.php  . When I did this image I was trying to get at something that I knew about Jim that I don't think I could have articulated until I did the painting:  Jim is a very smart and very capable man, but I think his strongest, most wonderful quality is his honesty.  Truman Capote once talked about a man who was the same on the outside as he was on the inside, and that's what I always felt about Jim.  The way it translated visually is that the figure has a quality of awkwardness, or goofiness, a reflection of that honesty.  He is one of those people whose laugh makes you laugh because it's such an unexpected sound, loud and funny. Most of us work hard at trying to hide those parts of ourselves that are different or not acceptable. So to know someone like Jim is truly a gift.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Being Held Upside Down 2009

When I was putting this piece together, I was not sure if I could keep it the way it was.  It scared me a little.  Both figures use my head, and the hanging figure has my hands, so, a self portrait of sorts.  Before I glue everything down, I can put in different elements to see how they look, so I took the big head out and tried lots of variations.  However, I kept coming back to my head being the "right" one.  When I had adhered everything, and it was finished, I asked my youngest daughter, Teal, what she thought, or more specifically, if she thought it was too much. Her answer was immediate, and perfect.  She said she thought the image was about what we do to ourselves, about a bigger part of us that always wants to find something wrong, turning ourselves upside down. I realized she was exactly right. I felt  good about having made the decision to leave it the way it needed to be, disturbing or not.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

After the Blast 1984

As a fairly young child, I carried around quite a bit of anxiety about the world ending.  It was the fifties, smack dab in the middle of the cold war.  We were meant to be reassured by being given cheery news clips to watch about hiding under our school desks in case of a nuclear bomb detonating, the infamous, "duck and cover".  But I was no fool.  I knew from watching other news clips and listening to what my parents said to each other what would really happen when they dropped the bomb.

What I would do if it hit(and according to my friends, since we lived near the Los Alamos National Labs, we would be sure to be a target) while I was at school?  How would I get home since we lived ten miles from the city center, way to far for a nine year old to walk. What about my family?  Would they be able to make it home?  Probably not.  The pets--what about them?  If they could be enticed to join us in our crawl space under the house(where my stepfather kept a large bag of pinto beans just in case), would we then have to eat them as our food got scarce?  Could I put bits of our dog Robbie in my mouth and swallow, or my beloved black gelding, Rio Grande?  Who would do the killing?  Would I be expected to participate?  And then later, what would be left?  How would I get to my friend Jennifer's house to make sure she was okay?  There were no good answers to any of my questions and I was left to worry my way through the rest of my childhood, always waiting for that big, awful, shoe to drop.