Three new abstracts I made this fall. Let’s take a walk through them.
Abstract Landscape 8
Watercolor and ink, half painting, half monotype print, 5 x 7 inches. I printed Prussian blue over a dilute Prussian wash, then incised color with a palette knife. It’s one of my more purely abstracted things, but you know me – I can’t really do abstracts. To me, this small painting suggests city lights reflected in water.
Abstract Landscape 9
Watercolor and ink. 9 x 12 inches. Definitely a seascape, to my eye, winter, the surf viewed through dried grasses. What do you think?
Abstract Landscape 10
Mixed media – watercolor, pastel, and collage, 12 x 9 inches. In this one, I altered the original abstract watercolor to pick out the image I saw in it – a pine forest, full of mist pierced by light.
My series of abstract landscapes get at the heart of my creative practice. They’re about following and exploring, not directing the process. They’re about finding the images that resonate most naturally with me, like a kind of Rorschach test to reveal how I see the world.
These three works will be in my shop in a couple of days.
Also coming up, Chapter 4 of An Alchemy of Dragons, and a gift for all of you, connected to a Yuletide painting in progress.
This one is about the gifts the universe sends us, the treasures we pass by on the road.
The moon was particularly beautiful over Somerville last night, when the storm clouds parted. It was bright enough to light my room, overcoming the street lamps. The wet air smelled of spring.
By the way, we call April’s moon the Pink Moon, not because it looks pink, but because it’s the month for pinks, the flower, to bloom. Indeed, my city is filling up with flowers now.
I repurposed one of my blue landscapes for this collage. Sometimes an image has more to say, and I will often revisit older pieces that seem like they want to go in a different direction. In fact, I won’t let go of a piece until I’m sure it is what it wants to be.
I can hardly believe it has been about three months since my last update, but as most of you know, I tend to fall off the planet fairly regularly. I don’t apologize for it. When I have crap to work through that’s irrelevant to anyone else, I just do it without showing it to anyone. But finally, I do have news to share.
New work on exhibit this summer
“Sometimes the neighbors are up all night,” collage and acrylic on paper.
This new work is inspired by our local wild birds, whose songs frequently echo through the streets at night, when all else is relatively quiet. I find the birds’ nightlife deeply reassuring. Even in something as small as a bird singing in the dark, we are reminded that we share a living and lively world. The collage is 7 x 10 inches, and made with copies of vintage images, bars of music randomly sliced from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite,” my own blue landscape in acrylic paste, and a line from Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing With Feathers.”
It’s part of the summer show at the Brickbottom Gallery, “The Great Outdoors,” running July 15 – August 14, 2021. Visit the Brickbottom website at This Link for details.
Allow me to introduce Luna Lynx, Lady Silvertip, our new cat and studio assistant.
She has been with us about a month and is still in studio orientation, but has taken the job of House Cat well in hand. According to the good folks at Animal Rescue League of Boston, although very young herself, she had just weaned off a litter of kittens before coming to us. I believe she has transferred her maternal instincts to her two new humans. Luna Lynx is extremely attentive, playful and nurturing. She scolds us if we wander off, makes sure we eat on time and get our exercise, and checks on us in our beds at night.
I’m grateful because we have needed someone to take care of us these past few sad months. With her to get us up and running, I feel like we can finally start to move again and that the winter – and all of last year, really – is over at last.
Finally, watch this space for upcoming projects and a new online shop system, coming soon.
Well, darn it. September got ahead of me. October got off the leash entirely. November has been very uncooperative. And now it’s Thanksgiving. Let’s think about what we have to be thankful for.
Fair warning: I’m going to be blunt again because, apparently, that’s my medium. Nothing herein should come as a surprise. 😉
I am deeply grateful that both my sainted mother and myself are healthy, as are my friends and family as of last report. I don’t know how the friends and family have managed it, but Mom and I have done it by draconian measures, which are not being lifted any time soon – home, distance, sanitation, masking, no exceptions ever. Life has been completely insane in the US this year, and the madness continues, I’m sorry to say. But, so far, so good at our house.
I am grateful to almost 80 million of my fellow Americans for making Joe Biden our next President – and equally to the point, Donald Trump NOT our next President – and if anyone out there wants to start muttering about recounts and lawsuits, stow it because I’m not interested. We still have to get that person physically out of the White House, of course, but we did unseat him, so we can check that off our list of things to do, at long last.
And I am grateful for the roof over our heads and the dinner that will be on our table this holiday. Food, shelter, health, and a light at the end of the Trump tunnel – I think those are blessings enough for this hellish year.
Now we are less than two months away from 2021, and I feel a combination of relief and anxiety. The results of the election were like having a crushing weight lifted off my chest. I can breathe, but four years of that tension have left me like a plate of jelly, unable to pull myself together.
I am working on some things, though. First, I’m doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), because when you’re exhausted and brain-fried, the best tonic is trying to crank out 50,000 words in a month. I’m not doing too well, but the month isn’t over so…fingers crossed? I’ll tell you all about it when it’s over. (Spoiler: It’s not going to happen, and I’m okay with that.)
Also, bats and moths are in progress because why not? I like bats and moths. This is an experiment I’ve been mulling a long time, making hard sculptures out of traditional origami. Expect to see more.
I’ve been designing dollhouses and books, putting my garden to bed between rainstorms, rethinking my approaches to social media and time management, and wandering off on artistically esoteric (or esoterically artsy) mind trips which take me far from the madding crowd and which I hope will produce work in the coming year.
But I haven’t really been, you know … productive.
Screw it. We all deserve to give ourselves a break. If 2020 isn’t an excuse for falling short of last New Year’s expectations, then I don’t know what is. I’m thankful just to have made it this far, in a depressingly literal sense. I’m taking the rest of the year off. And I’m giving you all the month of December off, too. There. That’s my gift to you. Just be alive, at home, healthy and safe, and we’ll deal with the rest in January.
In the meantime, you might see some odd posts here as I play around with styles and topics over December. Feedback is always welcome. And below, please enjoy some photos of things I’ve been doing while being unproductive.
That’s it for now. Take care, my friends. Keep well, hang on, and have a small, intimate, safe, and happy holiday with the ones closest to you.
Not entirely unproductive. This new work returned from exhibition this week and will be available in the shop soon. The moth is an origami-based paper sculpture colored with acrylic paint and mounted on a collage of hand-tinted vintage images.
When not in the gallery… Luna Moth atop my desk with Call Me Ishmael, Woman Found and Studied, and random inspirational bits.
Bats and Moths!
Did I mention…
We had a snow storm in October. It didn’t last long, though.
I’ve had an unusually productive two weeks since launching my newsletter. The thing must be magic! Here are some of the highlights, including a new work for another upcoming exhibition.
I’m going to be binding some new journals and re-binding some older books, so I made a selection of paste papers for them, which led to me playing around with the paste paint. That resulted in some not too bad monochromatic landscapes, which then led to shades of the color blue scrolling through my mind. A certain dusky shade of blue-gray struck me as perfect for a collage that had been simmering in my mind for some time, so I set about inventing the color with layers of paint and dyed tissue paper. The resulting collage of geese flying across the moon will be shown with the Brickbottom Artists Association summer exhibition, which just happens to be on the theme of “BLUE.” That will be shown online from mid-July. See the Home page for details.
I finished an additional collage today – The Death of Orpheus – but I did it on paper so I could experiment with a new pasting technique to prevent warping. Fingers crossed on that one. Two more collages on canvas are in the works, inspired by views from my studio window – one a particularly spectacular spring morning, the other a rather spectacular super moon.
Nature has been pushing me along. These past weeks have been full of moon views and thunder storms. The garden is filling up with flowers, bees, butterflies, and rabbits. My landlords’ mulberry tree, outside our kitchen window, is bent under the weight of fruit and crowded with birds and animals. And all day today, my landlords’ dogwood, outside my studio window, hosted two fledgling mockingbirds fresh out of the nest, crying for food as their parents came and went, stuffing them with mulberries.
I can’t help feeling a little allegorical. I took the lesson of these weeks from the text on the collage of the geese, adapted from a Siberian shaman’s song:
“The birds’ way of returning, The birds’ way of leaving behind the sea, If I lean on these ways, I find support for my legs.”
Where are you finding support in these difficult times? Drop a comment and let me know what flashes or colors or things outside your window keep you going. If you have any questions about the works below, I’ll be happy to answer.
Also, issue #2 of the newsletter is scheduled for around July 16th. Sign up now for more updates and exclusive content.
Estuary Moon, part of the Mystic River Project and Cities
Death of Orpheus, part of Literary Works, another experiment
The Brickbottom Artists Association exhibition, “Construction/Deconstruction,” is now up in full online. Please enjoy!
The Brickbottom Gallery here in Somerville was forced to close to the public due to the pandemic, but my fellow artists did a fantastic job establishing our first virtual gallery. Our annual spring show is extended into the summer.
Today, I launch an informal, irregular series about my inspirations in life and work. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone a little. I don’t like to “explain” art, but I hope to share the interests and ideas that make my work what it is.
I have an absolute passion for planet Earth, and of course, I have strong feelings about climate change and humanity’s role in both driving and stopping it. As an artist and as a person, I feel a duty to speak on this issue in the ways that the arts can, that the arts are supposed to speak. So what am I saying about it?
Nature is the omnipresent context of everything humans do, and my work pushes back against the idea that humans and nature are somehow alien and distant from each other. You can find nature in almost all my work. The street scenes of the Cities series include birds, weather, plants. Even a toy like the Interphase Multiversal Observatory references the infinite night sky.
I want to lure people into seeing nature differently, feeling differently about their relationship to it. I show them what is in front of them every day. This is Earth. Yes, it’s polar bears, but it’s also right here, right now, next to you.
The Mystic River Project
The Mystic River Project will be a long journey examining this relationship of humanity and the natural world via the Mystic River watershed here in the Boston area. It’s a dramatic tale of human impact, of US history, the Industrial Revolution, politics and cultural attitudes, environmental degradation and recovery, and the persistence of nature.
The story will be told in collages, objects, books, maybe some videos (not sure about that yet), and in chapters focusing on different parts of the river, using my own photographs as well as made and found materials.
The first few species portraits of the Estuary Birds chapter set the mood. My photos of the birds and the Tobin Bridge are cut apart and reconstructed to capture moments as I saw them at the Schrafft’s City Center in Charlestown. Anyone can go there and see for themselves. That’s what I want people to do.
We see these birds every day, but maybe the problem is that we don’t see them. We should. They are our neighbors. They have survived all our bullshit and stupidity, and they are still here. They are the nature we struggle with and long for, staring us right in the face. They are every bit as much the natural world as the legendary, romanticized whales, which, by the way, also happen to be right here among us, just outside the river, passing through Massachusetts Bay.
Estuary Birds may end up with as many as twenty species portraits. Just last week, I saw two birds I’d never seen before, a male surf scoter and another I’m still trying to identify. Then there’s the rest of this micro-ecosystem – the life under the water and on the streets. And later, chapters on the upper river, the lakes, the tributaries.
In every part of it, there is the struggle, the presence of human beings, and the question of what we will do with our living world. Which brings me to the other side of my inspiration. The shadow side, as it were. There are always shadows when you deal with me.
In 2014, I made an assemblage titled Judgment in response to an article in Smithsonian Magazine online. It was about climate change melting the glaciers of the Italian Alps. As the ice melts, it uncovers the remains of soldiers killed in World War I. The campaign there was called the White War and included a vicious and environmentally allegorical tactic. Apparently, each side used artillery to deliberately trigger avalanches to destroy each other’s encampments on the mountainsides. Thousands of soldiers were killed this way, their bodies and belongings encased in miles of ice, lost – until now. The report said that every day brings another discovery of human bones washed down the melt-swollen mountain streams into the villages below. I found the Biblical reference apt indeed.
Nature in my work expresses what I love most about life. It is beauty and continuity and hope. It is the seamless connection of every person to the whole of creation. It is what really matters.
And it is the choice we face. Humanity is at a crossroads, brought here by our past choices. In one direction awaits judgment for our mistakes. In the other, a new way of thinking, an adjusted set of priorities. One, payment for the past. The other, a future based on love and connectedness.
As I try to sort it all out, I find myself celebrating the natural world in the city. I hope to raise people’s consciousness of their immediate surroundings. The world worth saving, the one where each of us makes a difference, is the one we happen to be standing in.
A Selection of Recent and Older Works Inspired by the Natural World
I thought I’d share a glimpse into my creative process today.
I did some monotype practice, making black and white dendritic prints. Those are the ones where you squish paint or ink between two panes of glass or sheets of metal – two impermeable flat surfaces – then pry them apart, leaving a pattern of branching forms on each surface made by the physics of fluids. You then pick up the patterns on your paper, producing two mirrored images.
There are a lot of tutorials on Youtube, so I’m not going to teach you how to do it. Just go squish some paint and see what you get.
No, I want to talk about the process of designing a collage. The thing with dendritic prints, similar to inkblots, is you will see in them whatever your mind creates. I typically see landscapes, so go psychoanalyze that. The point is images emerge, and the artist will build upon them.
So I focused on this print and thought, “It’s a forest. A deep, dark forest. Who will I meet there? What action will I witness?”
Scenes began to coalesce in my imagination, and I hit my clippings files to find figures and objects to play the parts.
Unfortunately, all the images that would work are also black and white and tend to disappear on this background. Adding color masks didn’t work.
I need an image in color or which can be colored. Something in the right mood. I have this one image from a Victorian Christmas decoration. It’s about two inches high, a little girl holding a miniature Christmas tree that would be perfect for what’s in my head.
This kid has been haunting my studio for nearly ten years. Clipped ages ago but never quite fitting into a scene, she’s constantly fluttering about, in the way, falling out of every stack of papers I pick up.
Wouldn’t you know, today I can’t find her.
Obviously, I went first to where I thought I’d last seen her.
Then I checked a succession of places she could likely be.
Then I went back into the files on the off chance I had inadvertently put her away where she belongs.
By that point, I was pretty well cursing her, her damned tree, and the entire Victorian era straight to the Devil, and considering stopping everything to completely reorganize all my collage clippings. Maybe my whole studio into the bargain.
Then I got called for tea, and I realized it will soon be dinner time, and I have other things to do.
Still haven’t found the papery little pest. The cat better have eaten her, that’s all I can say.
This is the life of a creative. The prints came out well, though.
Tomorrow dawns the 2020s, and I realized that exactly 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment became part of the US Constitution, and American women got the vote.
The parallels between then and now are uncanny. We were talking it over at dinner this evening. In addition to giving women the vote, the 1920s saw the rise of extreme political and religious beliefs, overweening morality laws and backlashes against them, social and political grassroots organization, massive advances in science and technology with accompanying benefits and abuses, domestic and international terrorism, a great flowering of arts and intellectualism, and fundamental, permanent changes in the ways people lived day to day. In the wake of WW1, it was a decade of no going back to the old conformist pantomimes of class and propriety of the 1890s and 1910s. We can debate whether it was good or bad, but it was truly a revolutionary decade.
I’m pretty sure our 20s will be revolutionary too, with climate change crashing into us, the return of extreme ideologies, science racing forward, and all of us facing the challenges of a shifting world. One way or another, I think we are all going to change our lives forever. I think there will be a lot of ideas to express. Who knows, but we might even finally settle some of the fights we started way back then.
It’s scary but also exciting. Maybe I’m just itching to mix it up with the world. Maybe I’m tired of the same old same-old. I can’t help it – I’m an Aquarius. We like new things. We live for tomorrow.
But tonight, I say farewell to the 2010s. Here is the last of my final project of the decade, the East Somerville Trees collages – preserved memories of autumn under our urban canopy, part of the Botanicals and Cities series. It’s about the things that really matter in the midst of all the changes.
These are destined for a book, so be on the lookout for updates on that.
Spring starts this Wednesday, March 20! The trees are budding. The first green shoots are showing through winter’s litter. The birds and animals are setting up house. The sun is higher and warmer, and everything seems full of energy and movement.
I celebrated by making my annual mistake of cleaning my rooms. I learned that I don’t need any more clothes or hair ties, my cats don’t need any more toys, and the only things that are ever truly lost are the ones that are a big pain to replace. I didn’t even do the Kondo method, and I’m overwhelmed – but motivated afresh.
Experiments with monoprint continue, and I’ve started a small set of collages on paper using natural botanical bits. This first one is a tribute to the season and our city rabbits down by the Mystic estuary. It belongs to my ongoing series about walks around town.