Friday, March 30, 2012

Praying for Rain 2011

I live in New Mexico, where in a good year we will get 7-8 inches of rain, and in a bad year, under an inch. We've had a number of bad years now. We are in a moderate to severe drought cycle. The drought is sneaky. It seems not so bad on the surface: day after day of sunshine, no weeds to pull in the spring, and a winter that is mild and pleasant. You keep watering your lawn, doing your laundry and washing your car as usual. But at some point you realize that while the rest of the country is experiencing terrible tornadoes, rain that never stops, and snow that shuts cities down for days, our extreme weather is drought. It's not as dramatic, until we have a forest fire that burns for weeks, but the consequences are just as damaging. Worse in some ways because it's so stealthy, tip toing around, pretending to be innocent, but actually causing great harm to all that need water to survive.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lucky Bird 2008

I kept hearing a gentle knocking somewhere inside our house. It was faint but persistent, and a little spooky to hear and not know it's origin.  As the day went by, I kept hearing the sound, but couldn't figure out where it was coming from.  I would get close, then it would stop. Then, the next morning, I thought to look in the fireplace.  It's covered with a steel door, and, since we never use it, is always closed.  Sure enough, there was a robin inside, and of course, it was his patient tapping I had been hearing. I didn't want to touch him for fear frightening him, so I used a broom handle and then the broom itself to herd him out of the fireplace, then into the living room and out the door.  He staggered like a drunk. Poor guy. I finally got him outside on the grass and made sure the dogs were shut out so they wouldn't rush in and terrify him, or worse still, pounce and kill him. He stood groggily in the sun, blinking, and I had time to run in the house and grab my camera. I got as close as I could on the grass in front of him and took several photographs before he gathered his strength, hopped  a short distance away, then flew off.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Young Man Smoking 2000

As a child of the 50's I loved sitting near my mother and breathing in the wonderful aroma of her cigarettes.  Everyone smoked and being around smokers was as normal to me as eating candy or riding in the cars sans seatbelt.  We had two neighbors, an older couple, who were very close to us, and they both smoked--a lot.  Although not related by blood, they were my grandparents, having no children of their own and spoiling and doting on me as only a good grandparent can.  My memory of them always includes a cigarette dangling from their lips, usually in conjunction with a glass of some potent alcoholic beverage being waved around in their hand as they talked.  When I was in my late teens, and then early twenties, the two died of lung cancer, first Joe and then Jane.  I was with both of them as they died, and as unconscious as I was at the time, I was fully aware of the pain of their deaths.  I missed them when they moved on to that big bottle of bourbon in the sky, and it shocks me to think that, when they died, they were younger than I am now.  So now, when I do a painting that includes a cigarette, that cigarette is always there to represent death. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Man Drowning in Lake Michigan 1992

After living on the Zuni Reservation for eight years, our family moved to Chicago so that my husband could do a Sports Medicine residency. Our small family located in Uptown, renting an apartment and a basement studio from photographer friends who had moved North to Evanston.  We settled in, Bob going off every day to his residency program, Ramey to Montessori school, and Teal to spend the afternoons with her babysitter in a high rise apartment not far from the lake. Once I dropped Teal off, I would go for a run along the shore of Lake Michigan, then return to my studio to work. 

In February of that year the lake was cold, but not frozen.While I bundled up to go for my runs, I wasn't terribly cold and I enjoyed torturing myself with thoughts of somehow falling into the cold, choppy water.  One afternoon, as I arrived at the lake, I could see that the parking lot had been closed off, and there were a number of police cars and vans.  Several divers in wet suits were diving off a small wall into the water.  Evidently, in the early hours of the morning, a man had driven his sports car at a high speed directly into the lake, and the divers were searching for both the car and his body.  I stood and watched, hoping they would find him, but also dreading that they would find him since I had never seen a dead person before.  Vicarious peeping Holly was stronger than timid Holly and I stood around and watched for quite awhile as the divers would dive in, submerge, be under for awhile, and then come back up.  But, no luck, and finally, bored, I went off on my run.  Left to my thoughts,  I could only imagine what it would have been like for the driver as he hit the frigid water and went down, trapped in his car, surrounded by the freezing water.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Last Elephant 2009

At the turn of the 20th century, it is estimated that elephants numbered between 5 and 10 million, but hunting and habitat destruction had reduced their numbers to 400,000 to 500,000 by the end of the century. In the ten years preceding 1990 the population more than halved from 1.3 million to around 600,000, largely caused by the ivory trade, prompting an international ivory ban. While elephant populations are increasing in parts of southern and eastern Africa, other African nations report a decrease of their elephant populations by as much as two-thirds, and populations in even some protected areas are in danger of being eliminated. Chad has a decades-old history of poaching of elephants, which has caused the elephant population of the region, which exceeded 300,000 in 1970, to drop to approximately 10,000 today. In Virunga National Park, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the number of elephants living in the observable area of the park fell from 2,889 in 1951 to 348 in 2006.  Wikkepedia

Watching a nature program on PBS one evening, I was appalled to hear that elephants could be extinct by 2050.  Of course, I needed no more information then that to react--if PBS said it might happen, then I knew it had to be true.  Over the course of the next several weeks, an elephant began to form itself in my studio, birthing itself into a world covered entirely by concrete, a relection of the world in 2050.  The only trees are just barely alive, if at all.  Graffiti is everywhere: on the ground, the trees, and, adding insult to injury, someone has even managed to graffiti our elephant's ear and side. Even the clouds have been hit. The sky, while beautiful, reflects an atmospheric soup of noxious gasses and pollutants, nothing any living thing should have to breathe.  Like all elephants past, present, and future, this last elephant is stoic, but very, very sad.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bob with Lightning 1984

In this image, I chose to give Bob strangely striped pants, mismatched shoes, and a disjointed stance,  black snake hanging casually from his right hand,  all of which support his being the awkward outsider.  At the same time, I surrounded him with peculiar natural phenomena:  a thin lightening bolt, a floppy, rubber like snake, the oddly threatening yellow cloud, and shadow with a life of its own. His chest glows and he peers intently out--we have no idea where, just that it's important. And it's clear to us that if the going gets any rougher, he has his lightening bolt, his snake, and his fierce cloud to help him find his way.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lost Child 2008

Three years ago, in 2008, I was at Hollins University in Virginia for a semester as an artist-in-residence. I got there in early February, and the first week I was there I got a call from my youngest daughter.  She was upset because a friend of hers from New Mexico had disappeared.  He had gone back to his college in Vermont a little early, before the winter interim was over, and was last seen by friends at the school.  After that, there was simply no trace of him. 

I was very concerned about this boy.  I didn't know him, but I identified with him in many ways.  He was  between the age of my two daughters--a year older then my youngest.  I felt  vulnerable at Hollins when I first got there, worrying that if I went for a run or a bike ride and if something were to happen to me, no one would notice, especially if it happened over a weekend.  As the weeks went by, there was not only no trace of him, there were no clues of any kind to indicate what might have happened.  His mother moved to Vermont with his younger brother to live until he was found, and a website was set up(which I followed every few days to see if anything developed or changed).  From everything I read about him, I knew I would have liked this boy. One day I did something very unlike me:  I went into the  chapel at Hollins and I prayed for him, tears streaming down my cheeks as I asked the powers that be to help find this great kid.

In March, just before spring break, I was working in my studio and "Lost Child" made itself present to me.  It literally fell into place, the pieces of paper landing, almost on their own, into this descriptive piece of a figure(an Angel?) leading a  boy somewhere.  I didnt' know if the figure leading the child was a good figure or not, and I still don't know that.  I did know, of course, that the piece was about the lost boy.  In May, after returning to New Mexico, I heard on the evening news that the boy's body had been found in a stream that ran through the school's property.  Evidently, he had fallen through the ice, drowned and then been frozen in the ice until the spring.  When I look at Lost Child now I see that the painting was giving me all the clues of what had happened: a winter landscape with what I now see is an icy pool of water, his body constructed of paddles to connect him with the drowning, and the crows and clouds witnessing his death as the Angel leads him away.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Two People Walking in the Desert 1995

Here is how you paint over the surface of a black and white photograph:

1. You cover the surface of the photograph with oil paint.
2. You push the paint around until you have something you like.
3. You wipe the gorgeous paint away until you find something that you can hook your unconscious on to--some bit of photographic information that will let you know what it is that you need to talk about.
4.  The painting begins to reveals itself to you, and you are off to the races, happy, excited, and curious to find out what needs to be said.
5. You struggle to make the painting work.  At times you think you have made the best painting ever, but then later you think it's never going to come to completion and that it's really terrible.
6.  You think you're finished but you have to ask your husband to come and take a look(you are very vulnerable at this point).  If you are lucky he will say he thinks it's fantastic.  If you aren't lucky he will just stand and stare at it and not have much to say, or start to tell you about his day.  Then you have to go back to #5, or possibly even #1.

You have to both remember what the photo is about, but at the same time, forget it.  What is revealed has to be a surprise, but then, if you need some bit of photographic information as the story develops, you have to be able to remember where it might be.  If you blunder around trying to reveal something, you risk losing your painting, but if you need the perfect eye or nose or a certain texture, then you have to be able to find it pretty much on the first swipe.  The paint is forgiving--it takes over 12 hours to start to dry, but what isn't so forgiving is your creative self.  It will give you nice paintings and clues about what is going on, but if you get sloppy or careless with the information it has given you, it will turn it's back to you, cross its arms across its chest and refuse to help.  Then you're really screwed.