July 26, 2015
*This is the first of two writings documenting a trip down south to Los Angeles. Visiting old friends, making new ones, admiring art, and embracing its culture, L.A. delivered. Home is and can be many places…
Waking up early in Richmond’s fog, travels today include a Los Angeles adventure. It had been over a year since my last visit. I was curious what stayed the same and changed mixed with new surprises. This would be my tenth trip to the sunny destination.
My first excursion to L.A. was a spring break vacation during my Wisconsin undergraduate years. That was almost 20 years ago. When thinking of that time, surprised to make it back alive. My friends and I were oh so naïve. There were no cell phones, GPS, or any other modern devices. Luckily, I survived for another visit!
First stop was the Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. Met with former Academy of Art Student, friend, and artist: Emily Clawson. She was part of the Factor XX exhibit at the Art Museum of Los Gatos. Accompanying her was an artist who just finished an artist residency at Joshua Tree National Park. Three female artists on the loose, watch out world!
Highlights included John Chiara at ROSEGALLERY. His amazing photographs are taken with a unique camera and innovative production processes. The colors and content become luminous layers of ghost like impressions of our landscape. The work was beautiful and haunting.
Hints of Pop Art could be found in Todd Gray’s work at Skidmore Contemporary Art. Abstract expression mixed with Julie Mehretu’s layers influenced the art of Laura Fayer at Ruth Bachofner Gallery. Katherine Rohrbacher’s floral crown politely demanded my attention at Korman Gallery. Joe Pinkelman’s porcelain plates at TAG gallery created delicate patterns that broke from the traditional. Overall, it was a fine aesthetic day.
Afterwards navigated through robust traffic for dinner with my best friend. The same individual who I had made my first L.A. trip with. We were now older and hopefully wiser. Oh to remember “when we were young” and today we reminisce. Thank you City of Angels.
July 19, 2015
Officially in SFMOMA withdrawal. The museum is closed for renovation till 2016. I took it for granted when it was open. Access and exposure to inspiring and innovative works at one’s convenience is a gift. Part of me has been lost and disoriented despite the institution’s off-site programs. However, the new spaces will provide more opportunities and strengthen the San Francisco Bay Area’s aesthetic culture.
Patience is in order.
I’ve been watching the construction time-lapse movie of its progress. It’s fascinating because the website is updated every 15 minutes since June of 2013. Been geeking out due to the fabulous lines of Snøhetta. Each day shows new light, shadows, and growth.
See for yourself:
From the SFMOMA’s website: “The architecture firm Snøhetta is collaborating with SFMOMA to develop an expansion that will not only create compelling new spaces, but also enhance the museum’s contributions to the community. In the words of Craig Dykers, one of Snøhetta’s principals, the extension of the SFMOMA building will ‘become the tissue that merges building and community, supports the museum’s role as an educational and civic catalyst, and opens up the museum to the diverse audiences it serves.’”
Yes, indeed. In my art practice, I’m inspired by natural and manmade environments. This relationship is the foundation for my love of lines. How one mark can be extended through intention, speed, width, and invention is truly inspiring. As a result, wanted to see Snøhetta’s vision in person.
First parked at the garage closest to the museum. Checked each floor to see any glimpse of the masterpiece. No luck. Security was suspicious by my behavior and concluded a walkabout of the massive block limits any innocent incident potential.
Street level walking around the construction site provides blocked views. No complaints here. I was happy for the opportunity and time to see such beauty. Turning the corner, an Academy of Art University building appeared. Asked the security guard if viewing SFMOMA’s construction was an option. She looked me over while examining my ID and said with a smile: “Wait here. Sure!”
From the roof, I sketched and took photos. Feeling alone, neighbors in adjacent buildings observed my actions. One individual waved and smiled. I sat down and watched the fog sauntered in. Lucky me to have this opportunity and vantage point. Only a bird gliding across its surface would have a better perspective.
Inspired by its patterns, lines rolled out of my pens like the city’s energy. This was only the beginning. The art that would be waiting inside for future visitors was an exciting notion. The wait will and has been well worth it.
July 12, 2015
On June 26th Pride celebrations were underway, the Grateful Dead performing their last local concert, Nascar Jeff Gordon’s final career start, and two major league baseball games. I was at a Richmond Arts & Culture Commission Retreat. The meeting was held at commissioner Kit Pappenheimer’s Square One public space overlooking the Bay. Art in the public realm just doesn’t appear, it takes work even on a beautiful and sunny Sunday.
The morning started with commissioners sharing an unknown piece of their background. From one being born on a Native American Reservation, a childhood at Joshua Tree National Park, and Shakespeare acting experience, the commission shares diverse qualifications. Since 1988, individuals have worked on Cultural Plans, Revitalization Plans, Percentage for the Arts, and many other projects for the city of Richmond.
In 1995, the first Neighborhood Arts Mini-Gant Program was implemented. In fact, Richmond won a NeighborhoodUSA First Place Award for this innovative practice. Individuals, groups, and organizations apply for monies to engage the arts in local neighborhoods. This includes artworks, performances, murals, classes, and exhibits.
In the afternoon, we discussed strategies moving forward. This includes finding support staff or interns to aid with an artist registry. Budget cuts slow progress. Michele Seville, Arts & Culture Manager, desperately needs help. Our job was trying to figure how to provide that assistance.
According to the city of Richmond’s website: “The Richmond Arts & Culture Commission, in partnership with the Arts and Culture Division, is the lead organization for the development and advocacy of the arts and culture in Richmond. The Commission is respected and sought after for its broad and diverse knowledge of the arts. Members reflect the strength and diversity of the City and represent multiple fields of expertise.”
People exist that will not allow the arts to die. Each commissioner is passionate about Richmond. The old proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” comes to mind. In this case, good intentions will do good. The commission won’t accept any other outcome.
July 5, 2015
From a refuge in Mississippi to Facebook in California, my reality is experiencing whiplash from an accident called art. Both places were hot for inspiration despite the staggering differences. Are these two realities located in one United States of America?
As the artist in residency at the Choctaw and Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, 48,000 acres of natural environment dominates the landscape. Facebook’s office designed by architect Frank Gehry spans 40,000 square miles topped with a 9-acre rooftop park. The social media’s campus “only” covers 57 acres compared to the refuge. However, both leave a visitor unable to see its borders and possibilities.
Dana Morrison graciously provided a tour of impressive site-specific artworks at Facebook. Most were created in conjunction with the company’s artist in residency program. Employees live aside museum quality pieces as part of their daily ritual. Similarly at the refuge, staff engages with gators, snakes, flying squirrels, and other creatures while performing tasks to protect habitat.
Facebook’s culture is positively shocking to me. Oil changes, bike repair, recreational areas, dental care, and other perks are available to employees. Meanwhile on the refuge, the government sequester took a staff of 35 and gutted it to 9 individuals. Comparing my work experience, there are no bonuses, benefits, or consistent raises. The “perk” is having the “freedom” to create.
On the refuge, sustenance fishing is normal and a daily occurrence for many local residents. No fish equals no meal. Residents would declare they’d eat what God delivered that day. On the other hand, Facebook is stocked with gourmet dining areas, snack stations, restaurants, and goodies. Options are plentiful and hunger is nonexistent.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: “I think that people just have this core desire to express who they are. And I think that’s always existed.” This quote reminded me of a passage from H. B. Cushman in the History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indian. Referring to the Choctaws: “They believed that the Great Spirit communicated his will to man in dreams, in thunder and lightning, eclipses, meteors, comets, in all the prodigies of nature, and the thousands of unexpected incidents that occur to man.”
How does the Great Spirit communicate to man today? Perhaps with a utopian Facebook experience of how labor and creativity should be treated with respect. A living wage isn’t too much to ask. Why do risky financial products produce ridiculous profits when protecting nature is “complicated”?
A bird can migrate thousands of miles and an Internet post can reach a global audience within minutes. The natural world and information technology have no boundaries. Each can protect or destroy at a moment’s notice. In the right hands, both reap rewards.
June 28, 2015
*This is the final in a series of four chronicling a journey of living outside one’s comfort zone and trying to discover a new path. An artist in residency at the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee and Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi confronted and educated while teaching acceptance.
This is my red recording chair. It sits on the backyard deck of my Refuge home. The house resides near the water’s edge with large trees hiding its contents. Unaware of its creatures, they are fully aware of my presence.
For numerous days, I documented the sounds at 6 am, noon, 6 pm, and midnight. The recordings last for 6 minutes each. I sit still not reacting to the bugs resting on my face, arms, and legs. Sometimes a snake moves through the grass, a fox prances by, frogs chirp, birds gossip, or leaves wrestle. The audio can capture my breath, a belly rumble, and an occasional slap from a persistent critter. They are real, raw, and accessible like this world.
A passage replayed in my mind during the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee and Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge artist residency. I used it as my guide for artwork inspiration. It was from a book by H.B. Cushman titled History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. In 1820, Cushman lived in the Choctaw nation in Mississippi with missionary parents. His first hand accounts are an invaluable historical and respectful account.
Cushman describes a Choctaw philosophy about life and death: “They also believed that spirits of the dead, after their flight from the top of the pole to the unknown world, had to cross a fearful river which stretched its whirling waters athwart their way; that this foaming stream has but one crossing, at which a cleanly peeled sweet-gum log, perfectly round, smooth and slippery, reached from bank to bank; that the moment the spirit arrives at the log, it is attacked by two other spirits whose business is to keep any and all spirits from crossing thereon. But if a spirit is that of a good person, the guardians of the log have no power over it, and it safely walks over the log to the opposite shore, where it is welcomed by other spirits of friends gone before, and where contentment and happiness will forever be the lot of all.”
After reading the above passage, I started to visualize how this would appear. I could see and hear his words in the Refuge’s trees, water, air, and light. This natural environment carried the energy and remnants of this history.
What would the “flight from the top of the pole” look like?:
Before leaving Mississippi, I visited the Trading Post. According to the Historical Sketches of Oktibbeha County, it was called a Choctaw Agency “…for the purpose of doing business with and keeping in touch with the Choctaws.” Steve Reagan, Noxubee Project Leader and local Larry Box provided an amazing tour. Florence Box provided photocopies of Choctaw writings ranging from a 1925 educator guide to detailed descriptions of tales and legends.
Mr. Box escorted us in an all terrain vehicle through untouched and dense forest to our location. Stepping out, we maneuvered through thorns, pine needles, crowded timber and crossed a small dam. Persistent thunder and mosquitos kept pace. We arrived at a clearing on higher ground with a large and elderly tree. This was a place of significance for the Choctaws and held secrets. At that moment, Mr. Box gave me three arrowheads from this land.
I was shocked and grateful. Experiencing this history was the gift. However, to be given physical remnants was overwhelming. This generosity was stunning.
That evening, I rigged a black plastic spoon purchased at the Dollar General during my Choctaw visit to a long stick. Raced back to the Bluff Lake Boardwalk to see if Susan O’Malley’s pin would appear in the muddy waters. This was the last attempt of several unsuccessful retrievals before leaving.
To my surprise, its metal glowed with the setting sun. Scooped it out after the third vicarious try. It had lost its bright red and green color. Now it was purple and pink with a spot in the middle. It peered like an eye similar to the energy here. Even when it appears calm, there’s an undertone of unsettled business. This was my Mississippi.
June 21, 2015
*This is the third in a series of four chronicling a journey of living outside one’s comfort zone and trying to discover a new path. An artist in residency at the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee and Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi confronted and educated while teaching acceptance.
Finally settling in. Routine is important. Now “know” which trails work best for my skill set. How can I avoid an incident? First start at Morgan Hill Overlook and Prairie Trail, Loaktoma Lake lilies, Bluff Lake Boardwalk, Cypress Cove Recreational Boardwalk, Goose Overlook, and Woodpecker Trail if the heat allows.
A dawn and dusk walk is part of my daily prayer. It’s the best time to see the changing of the guard and nature’s drama. My “job” is to offer respect to Mother Earth for its inspiration. Irritated, I proudly picked up litter at each location. Highlights of waste on beauty becomes unacceptable and as visitor, will leave this refuge nicer upon departure.
With a cleaner canvas, I can cautiously and curiously proceed. Subtle changes in weather, temperature, light, and sound become magnified when visiting familiar destinations. A Mississippi thunderstorm resulting from a hot and humid day, sweats the imagination. These variations electrify like BB King’s guitar named Lucille.
I’m sensitive to noise and associate colors to sounds. The Blues are warm navys, rusts, olive greens, and honey yellow drop highlights. Techno music throbs with silver blues, lavender spots, bright orange bursts, and beams of white. Talking color with my husband is speaking in tongues. Why isn’t there an app for this?
Broke the routine to visit the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Numerous attempts trying to connect with liaisons resulted in no response. Venturing from California, indifference wasn’t going to ruin a positive opportunity. Time to listen to my gut and go.
The Chahta Immi Cultural Center is wedged between a Piggly Wiggly and Dollar General. Sitting behind a tall desk, an elderly woman politely requested my admission fee. Then an enthusiastic young woman named Kassie Cox declared she was my tour guide. Her aunt is Phyliss J. Anderson, the first female Tribal Chief of the Choctaws.
Driving back to the Refuge, dusk was slowly approaching. Two dogs were barking and running aside my rental car while turning back into the Southern jungle. Today was the start of truly listening and recording these vibrations. This isn’t just noise, it’s a gift and art.
June 14, 2015
*This is the second in a series of four chronicling a journey of living outside one’s comfort zone and trying to discover a new path. An artist in residency at the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee and Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi confronted and educated while teaching acceptance.
My dawn and dusk Mississippi prayer includes sitting in silence, being present, and appreciating nature. Critters are abundant here. This city girl is experiencing stalking gators to sunbathing snakes dangling on tree limbs. Everything is new, strange, and out of routine.
As the artist residency continues at the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee and Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge, a touch of homesickness hit. Miss my husband, golden retriever puppy, Vietnamese sandwiches, and Trader Joe’s. An invite to the Mississippi State University art galleries and department was just in time. Gallery Director Lori Neuenfeldt welcomed and provided a tour. A highlight of the current exhibit was Fatima Curiel’s Stratum and surprise on the back of a bathroom stall:
The “graffiti” here at the Refuge is surprisingly polite by lacking the vulgarity I’m used to:
On Saturday, provided an artist talk with pattern tour. Visitors were escorted on a pattern excursion on the Cypress Cove Recreational Boardwalk. They observed and listened by expressing in a sketch what the refuge meant to them. Each drawing was unique and wonderful.
All week, been wearing Susan O’Malley’s BE HERE NOW pin. On a morning walk, I stopped to take photos of the water’s patterns. The pin fell off my apron into the muddy waters. To this outsider, these waters are dangerous. Hunted down a large branch and struggled to push the pin to the edge. No success. It just went deeper, became muddier, and disappeared into the abyss.
Why wasn’t it secured tightly? How could I lose this sacred artifact in Mississippi? I was angry and disappointed with my lifelong battle with awkwardness.
This is what Susan would have wanted: to be here now. Life isn’t secure, it’s fragile, and can be lost at anytime. Accept and embrace the moment was the only option. I felt comforted and able.
June 7, 2015
Mississippi welcomed with storm clouds dragging like cypress trees and heat resembling sweet sticky rice. Driving late evening into the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee and Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge, fireflies lit the sky gently while frogs politely crossed the road. The fog at night was mysterious and haunting like its history. I felt the Native Americans, Civil War, and its ghosts. A thunderclap represented the drumbeat of this humanity. This world was new, strange, and fascinating. The uneasiness in the air was magical and intoxicating.
Oh what did I get myself into? Everything!
For two weeks, I will be the artist in residency creating abstract pen and ink drawings inspired by its marvel. Noxubee County Historical Trail, Mississippi’s American Indians, The Red-cockaded Woodpecker at Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, and the History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians books were my inflight required reading.
Steve Reagan, Project Leader, took me on a tour of the facilities and park. A three toed turtle and flying squirrels said hello. A stop at Morgan Hill Overlook and Prairie Trail was breathtaking. I was on inspiration overload.
On the way back, we turned down a gravel road. At the end was an old and small cemetery. It was divided between white and black lines. The “white” side was clean and neat. The “black” side was overgrown and unrecognizable. Creating black and white drawings seemed uncanny.
At 6:45 am the next morning, I went with biologists to observe the habitat of the red-cockaded woodpecker. The group drove deep into the Refuge in a petite all terrain vehicle that took in water and chugged over logs. The nests are located up to 50 feet off the ground. A specialized pole with a camera at the top is used to peer into the cavity. This is to protect the babies and monitor predator invasions.
In the afternoon, visited the Cypress Cove Recreational Boardwalk. Observed the tall trees in the water and listened to unfamiliar noises. Alligators played hide and seek. I was present and engaged in the moment. Then a sign from the late artist Susan O’Malley: “ALWAYS ALWAYS Remember, you. yes. you. are BEAUTIFUL.”
This was the first 48 hours into the residency…
*The above writing is part of a series of four chronicling a journey of living outside one’s comfort zone and trying to discover a new path. An artist in residency at the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee and Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi confronted and educated while teaching acceptance.
May 31, 2015
As of today, I’ve applied and sent proposals to over 1400 opportunities. Rejections are badges of honor representing the time spent as an artist. Every day to create is a gift. I’ve received fantastic opportunities while others turned out to be “character building” moments. Regardless, the acceptance of “no thanks” has made me stronger.
One “opportunity” included paying thousand of dollars to showcase artworks in a venue that would change my career forever. Another requested a large painting donation for an auction in exchange for a cheap bottle of Vodka. One philanthropic organization wanted my art from a client’s home to give to them to fundraise. It’s been interesting!
Following my intuition has helped when something felt unknown or uneasy. Recently received an invitation to showcase artworks on scarves and clothes. I was skeptical. What’s the catch? This type of “opportunity” has presented itself in other forms and shapes but has never worked out.
What would be different? VIDA.
According to UPSTART Business Journal, VIDA: “…is backed by a $1.3 million round of seed funding from investors including Google Ventures, Universal Music Group, ‘The Valley Girl Show’ creator Jesse Draper (an early fan of Vida’s scarves), and others, all of which will be used for recruiting and product development.” This sounds great but what else?
Workers who make the VIDA products in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Latin America are provided literacy training. Umaimah Mendharo, founder and CEO, grew up in a small village in Pakistan. Her resume includes working for Microsoft and design firm West. A smart, creative, and globally responsible woman running a fabulous company? I’m in!
To some, it might be just pretty scarves and blouses. In my humble and biased opinion, they are beautiful! But to try to do good in the world using art, that means something to me. It’s worth the leap of faith. Not trying, being scared or cynical results in nothing. VIDA in Spanish means life. It’s worth engaging and giving a try…
The collection (VIDAVOICES code=20% off):
May 24, 2015
Last Saturday, I participated in a “magic hour” tour in Berkeley honoring artist Susan O’Malley. The Swell artist duo of Ali Naschke-Messing and design studio ScrapD facilitated the experience. From the KALA website: “Wear yellow in Susan’s memory – she traversed San Pablo in a yellow hat for her Print Public project. The 40-minute walk will convene at the Kala Gallery, begin with limbic exercises related to Swell’s walking practice, and then embark along San Pablo Avenue. Susan’s ‘BE YOU’ artwork marks the beginning of the walk, and her mural ‘MORE LOVE, LESS INTERNET,’ the end with meandering in observation of common beauty along the way.”
Mixed feelings overcame me prior to the outing because of Susan’s passing and personal events. I had lived in the neighborhood and experienced a flood destroying my vehicle, a pit-bull attack almost killing my dog, and neighbors fighting a building extension. The area was calling to investigate it once again. However, I was reluctant mixed with rays of resentment. These blocks provided so much pain and now it had become a beacon of my friend.
What would the “magic hour” have to offer?
Entering the KALA gallery, a sea of yellow clad individuals awaited instructions. The Swell artist duo of Ali Naschke-Messing and design studio ScrapD shared the itinerary of events: pick a stranger to sit in front of, talk for 5 minutes while they affirm in silence, answer a question from the Listening Partnership banner, switch roles, and repeat. Once finished, we walked the neighborhood twenty minutes in silence then the group was able to share positive intentions. The goal was to be more present and aware. The final destination was Susan’s mural: “LESS INTERNET MORE LOVE.”
During the expedition, an old adversary yelled at our group: “Are you my new neighbors?” No one responded. She didn’t recognize me but it was ironic. The same woman who fought my family’s presence was delighted to see people traversing her street. I felt calm and accepting. Like Susan O’Malley would say: “BE HERE NOW.”
On the stroll back, “Love” written in chalk adorns my old “home.” Like the Facebook status: “It’s Complicated.” Love inhabits this territory now. It’s shaped into a different form and meaning. Appreciating silence and forgiveness on this path of discovery can be difficult. That’s what the “magic hour” provided for me.