May 17, 2015
Soon I will be visiting Brooksville, Mississippi for an artist in residency at the Choctaw and Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge. The time spent will include investigating the patterns of the natural environment, creating artworks, and interacting with the community. Part of my family legacy is woven into the history and reconnecting with the unfamiliar will be part of that journey.
According to the Friends of the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge: “Noxubee Wildlife Refuge is located across three counties in east-central Mississippi. The 48,000-acre refuge was established in 1940 and serves as a resting and feeding area for migratory birds and resident wildlife including blue herons, white-tailed deer, alligators, egrets, ibis, beaver, and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The refuge contains wetlands, cypress groves, prairie grasslands, and forests.” I’ve been imagining the views, textures, and smells. How will Southern light change the shadows or clarity of surfaces? The stay will confirm or expand expectations.
The refugee’s past starts and continues with the Choctaws. The United States of America government wanted lands for military purposes. From the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indian’s website: “When the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed, there were over 19,000 Choctaws in Mississippi. From 1831 to 1833, approximately 13,000 Choctaws were removed to the west. More followed over the years. Members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians are descendants of the proud Choctaw individuals who refused to be removed to Oklahoma in the 1830s.”
My grandfather’s mother, Nora Mae Nash, was born on the border of Louisiana and Arkansas in small town named Gillham. Her father died when she was an infant and Choctaw mother when only eleven. She then lived with an aunt performing housework. At the young age of nineteen, she met David Preston Balisle and married. Nora maintained a beautiful garden with an open gate for neighbors to take whatever they needed. According to my grandfather: “Nora Mae was a princess with dark hair and dark eyes….It was hard for her to cook anything I didn’t like.”
The residency will be personal and artistic. What patterns will be discovered? On my grandfather’s first day of school, Nora Mae instructed the bus driver: ”You better bring back Tom the same way I sent him.” Upon return, I will be the same but different just like my ancestors. The experience will define but lead to further questions.
More to follow…
May 10, 2015
It’s been over two months since Susan O’Malley passed and seven years for Juanita Lee Gibbens. Two wonderful women that touched my life and many others. Their presence was steady, secure, heartfelt, and honest. While time is used to record an absence, their legacy is stronger than ever. Why does it take loss to understand what we have truly gained?
A term to describe Susan and Juanita would be beautiful. While both ladies were gorgeous on the outside, it was their outlook and perspective of the world that was beautiful. They would engage in a moment completely, slow down, and be patient for an authentic experience.
My grandmother Juanita Lee Gibbens took me to Paris during graduate school. It was my first overseas trip and I was very excited! To this midwestern girl, it was truly magical. Part of the excursion included visiting the Louvre, Musee de O’rsay, Champ-Elysees, Palace of Versailles, and Notre Dame. We traveled perfectly together: had the same sleep schedule, ate leisurely, and enjoyed the day’s offerings. At each stop, we would patiently pause for the best in everything. According to Juanita: “A beautiful view is always worth the wait.” Her advice never disappointed.
In 2010, I asked Susan O’Malley for assistance with an exhibit at the Art Museum of Los Gatos. Over two weekends fueled by cookies and oranges, we visited the art studios of Mari Andrews, Sharon Chinen, Nancy White, Emily Clawson, Lorene Anderson, Mel Prest, Lea Feinstein, Amy Trachetenberg, Klari Reis, and Carol Ladewig. At the end of our journey, Susan declared: “Jenny Balisle, I really had a fun time with you.” Surprised, it took me aback. No one had ever said that to me. I replied with a smile, “If you give me a chance, I’m really not too bad…” We both laughed and said our goodbyes. I was so happy that she had given me that opportunity. At the Factor XX opening, Susan gently escorted her mother while beaming with pride.
With the loss of these two women, I have to strive or at least try to be better. Susan O’Malley’s posters declaring “IT WILL BE MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE” highlight our physical landscape. My grandmother’s words reinforce this wisdom. Both women spoke to beauty in words and action. I was unaware at the time but am now fully conscious.
Be grateful for every moment on this Mother’s Day. While my grandmother had the opportunity to raise a family, Susan O’Malley will be doing so from heaven. Their love continues to embrace while their words provide guidance. This is the true definition of beautiful.
May 3, 2015
After many years of creation, it still feels good to get recognition. If your profession is a mother, teacher, doctor, lawyer or whatever your passion: acknowledgment warms a soul and makes one smile. I never take any opportunity for granted. This philosophy has guided me through this journey called life.
Being a Richmond Arts & Culture commissioner, I look for shows that support local communities. The Firehouse Arts Center fits that definition perfectly. According to their website: “Theater performances, arts exhibits, classes of all kinds, all develop skills and provide memorable experiences that last lifetimes. The Firehouse Arts Center, a beautiful work of art in and of itself, located in the heart of Pleasanton, serves as an inviting beacon, strengthening community image and sense of place.”
The juror of Firehouse’s current FRESH WORKS V exhibition, Philip Linhares, was former Chief Curator of the Oakland Museum of Art. Spending many years in West Oakland, I’ve admired his work. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the California College of Arts and Crafts. Linhares worked 43 years in the arts including organizing retrospectives for Joan Brown, Bruce Nauman, Leo Golub, Ruth Asawa, and Michael C. McMillen.
For the last five days in San Francisco, a big fair dominates the art scene. However, I decided to spend my time in Pleasanton. Why? Mr. Linhares picked JBD.3.15.41013, a pen and ink drawing, to be included in the exhibit. It was an honor and where I needed to be.
At the opening on Saturday, my artwork won a $250 award. Really? I was shocked. Pinch me. Did this really happen? Yes, it did. My intention to support a local arts center provided the will to continue. This feeling has no price or monetary value. Thanks for adding more fuel to the creative fire.
FRESH WORKS V, May 2- June 6, 2015, Harrington Gallery, Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Avenue, Pleasanton, CA.
April 26, 2015
This weekend is the de Young 19th Annual New Generations Student Showcase. Friday night the museum is open late and like a proud mother hen, wanted to support students and witness the beginnings of a bright future. Being an avid San Francisco Giants fan, attending the exhibition meant missing a game. In the end, my team lost to play another day but my students won big!
Putting together a three-day temporary exhibition in a major museum is an amazing feat. There are many logistics for the institution to consider. For example, certain materials are not allowed like fur, skins, preserved insects, old wood, dried fruit, seedpods, and others that could possibly damage its collection. Artists aren’t allowed to display posters or signs anywhere on the premises. Imagine if the museum became a billboard for anyone with no rule or order. It would lose its sanctuary status and feel.
The de Young 19th Annual New Generations Student Showcase is located in the Piazzoni Murals Room. Gottardo Piazzoni lived from 1872-1945, he was an American landscape painter born in Switzerland known for his serene, beautiful, and stylized California landscapes. According to ARTINFO, Piazzoni was asked about his religion and responded “I think it is California.”
The exhibit was meticulously organized like bringing order to chaos and putting together a puzzle without prior knowledge of its parts. Curating is a delicate skill and displaying 41 pieces from 27 artists could present a challenge. However, the museum didn’t disappoint and it looked flawless.
This is a wonderful and rare opportunity for local art students. The only other museum with a similar exhibition theme is the Getty in Los Angeles. BTW, they got the idea from the de Young. If we need to improve critical, independent, and creative thinking then supporting a new generation with hope and encouragement is a start. Community outreach and art has the power to make us better. That’s a win for us all.
DIVERGENCE: EMERGING LEGACIES, 19th Annual New Generations Student Showcase, April 24-26th, Piazzoni Murals Room, de Young Museum.
April 19, 2015
On Saturday April 11th, I presented a talk to the participants of the de Young 19th Annual New Generations Student Showcase. It was an opportunity to share my artistic experiences and the important role of legacy into one’s practice. The goal was to stress the significance and rarity of the event. I wanted the students to embrace and enjoy every minute of it.
This year’s exhibit features 27 student artists from local university and college programs. The artworks are based on the theme of DIVERGENCE: EMERGING LEGACIES. From the de Young’s description: “What legacies are you inspired by, and how does your artistic practice emerge from these inspirations? Or do you diverge from traditions that you wish to change? How does your legacy connect to the de Young’s collections and exhibitions?”
The talk discussed my background, the current status of the art world, Susan O’Malley’s life, rejections, future legacies, and at the end opened the discussion for student comments/questions. Highlights included trying to demystify the gallery system in a new economy. In addition, shared that rejections are great and one step closer to an acceptance! I stressed to have no fear of participating on planet Earth. As Susan O’Malley would say: “THIS IS ALL PART OF THE PROCESS.”
Afterwards, several students shared their backgrounds, fears, and hopes for the future. I recalled that same time in my life. All the questions about the unknowns and how to create a place in the world plague one’s mind. Getting older, the unfamiliar becomes more certain and the excitement of new possibilities grows. How does one tell a younger self this?
I wanted to talk to Susan O’Malley in person about the experience. She would have genuinely loved hearing all about it. Part of her practice was listening and editing information to the highest forms of wisdom. It was what made her a master. To me, legacy is an interesting concept. Does one realize what their legacy is while living? Or is legacy left for friends, loved ones, and admirers to remember, cope, and emulate? We might not ever know. But if I can help others define their legacy, hopefully that is part of mine. Susan O’Malley taught me.
DIVERGENCE: EMERGING LEGACIES, 19th Annual New Generations Student Showcase, April 24-26th, Piazzoni Murals Room, de Young Museum.
April 12, 2015
As a Richmond Arts and Culture Commissioner, had the opportunity to visit Ai Weiwei’s Alcatraz exhibit for the second time thanks to the RYSE organization. Brought my Academy of Art University class to meet community activists, artists, and to view an amazing show before it leaves San Francisco. Thanks to their generosity, the trip was free of any charges. However the experience was invaluable for all.
According to their website: “RYSE was born out of a youth organizing movement initiated in 2000 in response to a string of homicides amongst youth near Richmond High School that galvanized students to take action to address the violence and lack of safety at school and in the community. Students organized vigils and community forums with over 1,500 youth and community members, met and worked with local officials and stakeholders on a comprehensive assessment of youth-identified priorities and solutions, culminating in the RYSE Youth Center (RYSE), which opened its doors on October 18, 2008.” Born out of injustice, RYSE and Ai Weiwei advocate for positive societal change. The connection is stunning.
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist whose work is beautiful, powerful, and political in nature. He has been arrested, detained, and currently works out of his studio in Beijing with no passport to leave. Weiwei co-designed the Serpentine Pavilion for the Summer 2012 Olympics, was commissioned for the Beijing National Stadium, received honorary degrees from many prestigious institutions, and won numerous impressive awards. His Alcatraz exhibit investigates its troubled history through artwork installations that shed insight on past, current, and future human injustices.
California has been experiencing an epic and historic drought. The trip to Alcatraz was positively welcomed by dramatic storm clouds and a challenging commute. Weather didn’t wreck the visit. Overall, the day was spent with creative instigators and individuals. Ultimately, the sun and exhibit prevailed despite the weather and political predictions.
This visit delivered clarity and questions. Starting and continuing a conversation is the beginning of change. Many people have died, been punished, or are currently imprisoned for “freedom” of speech, protecting human dignity, and living an honest and authentic experience. Hopefully, the pieces will find a permanent home. Peace, security, and freedom of expression can be found in organizations like RYSE and globally through Ai Weiwei’s artistic endeavors. Hope continues to be more powerful than hate.
@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz on view from September 27, 2014 – April 26, 2015.
April 5, 2015
For the last 12 years, I’ve been a full-time artist. That time has been spent with two close family members of the furry variety. Trout and Tule have been my partners in artistic crime, routine instigators, warrior walkers, and prancing protectors. How lucky I’ve been to have them part of my art practice and life!
This vegetarian and animal loving artist couldn’t imagine a day without a four-legged companion. Honestly, I’ve met only a handful of people that display the same sincerity, honesty, and dependability. That unconditional love makes me want to be better creatively and most importantly as a human.
According to Flavorwire.com, artists David Hockney, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keeffe, Rene Magritte, Emily Carr, and many others had beloved pets. An anomaly in the art world order, I don’t think so. Working in the studio is a solo adventure and a pet offers the perfect amount of honest companionship without being annoying or vindictive.
Trout was an 110 lbs studio companion for almost 10 years starting in West Oakland and ending in Richmond. Taught him “no zones” where he learned quickly: paint doesn’t taste that great. He perfected a bark that scared off intruders and created a healthy barrier from trouble. Driving to work, he would lean out my truck window and playfully stare down people. Trout was always ready for an adventure and loved his job.
When Trout passed in August of 2013, the pain was deep and the thought of another was unbearable. No one or anything could ever replace him. When the holidays arrived, I missed that regal presence and energy. As a result, my husband and I drove over 10 hours to Portland to get Tule. Would this pup live up to Trout’s legend?
Yes and no.
Tule is a different personality at a different time in my life. It is a perfect fit. He’s currently only 1-½ years-old, still in training, but has adjusted well to the routine. He’s faster, sweeter, and more sensitive than stoic Trout. Tule loves nuzzling while Trout demanded love. A loud discussion scars Tule’s soul while Trout loved being judge and jury. However, both deemed reliable at any moment with the guarantee to steal your heart.
Not a particularly religious individual. However, do consider myself “spiritual optimistic.” On this Easter Sunday, can’t help wonder why dog spelled backwards is god. Maybe it’s a silly notion or an accident. Not sure. But what I know is that Trout and Tule have provided forever love and acceptance of my flaws. Mark Twain: “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” Agreed.
March 29, 2015
Waking up last week Tuesday at 5:30 am, I looked on my iPhone for the schedule. It read continue drawing, take food to Susan O’Malley (no mushrooms), and Mari Andrews’ studio visit for my Academy of Art University class. With Susan’s recent passing, that was no longer part of the plan. Loving order and routine, what would be the new schedule? What would I do that day to honor Susan?
At 4:15 pm, met my students at the West Oakland BART station promptly. We proceeded to go past my two old art studios in the neighborhood. The buildings were obnoxiously full of graffiti and weeds. It was like viewing a scene out of an Apocalypse movie. I wanted to demonstrate that sacrifices were made for my life as an artist.
Next stop was to visit the two Susan O’Malley murals on San Pablo Ave. “BE HERE” and “LESS INTERNET MORE LOVE” peaked their curiosity. Would my students some day see their art grace the public domain someday? Setting goals, dreaming, working hard, and believing was the message.
KALA Art Institute was next on the agenda. Upon arrival, the gallery appeared closed. As a result, rang the doorbell to be certain. Fortunately, we were allowed inside to view the exhibit and converse with welcoming staff. My class witnessed the labor behind the scenes and amazing prints from the masters. Andrea Voinot, Art Sales Manager, graciously talked to my class and personally invited them to the upcoming auction and Print Public events.
Time was of the essence and my group headed for a quick dinner at Panera in Emeryville. We were meeting Mari Andrews at 6:00 pm at her studio and didn’t want to be late. Upon arrival, Mari was waiting outside with open arms and a big smile. It was time to see more great art!
Mari Andrews’ studio is a laboratory of the earth’s finest specimens resulting in an inventory of endless creative inspiration. She proceeded to share her extensive background of exhibitions, residencies, and awards. Mari detailed her motivation, art practice, and favorite artists. Her contagious excitement of natural environments, mathematical patterns, and language script left the class empowered and in awe!
As we made our way back to BART, the day spent with a new generation of artists was a true tribute to Susan O’Malley.
Part of life is adjusting to a new routine or being flexible when one has no say or control. Tuesday was a day in which I fed students with new information, a warm meal, and most importantly hope for the future. As one tries to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense, I must try. Time will eventually carve a new routine. However, what we make of that time is what truly matters most. Onwards!
March 22, 2015
Last week, I recalled a conversation with the late and great artist Susan O’Malley prior to a meeting at the de Young museum. She expressed how it was interesting to be approaching an age where you’re considered to be an “expert.” Susan proceeded to be amazed and amused by that classification. She joked: “What is an expert?”
On April 11th, I will be talking at the de Young museum in a short lecture to the New Generations Student Showcase exhibitors. The goal is to share my background, discuss the current status of the art field, encourage students to think about an artistic legacy, and facilitate an open dialogue about future hopes and dreams. Inspiring a new generation of artists at the museum is a full circle moment.
After working out details at the meeting, I decided to view the Botticelli to Braque exhibit. From the de Young museum website: “Spanning more than 400 years of artistic production, this exhibition highlights works by many of the greatest painters from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. See this rare presentation of some of the most iconic images in the history of Western art as they travel to San Francisco from the National Galleries of Scotland. Paintings selected from the collection include masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli, Diego Velázquez, Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Sir Henry Raeburn, Frederic Edwin Church, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque.”
Continuing the quest for evidence of expertise, I ventured in the Shaping Abstraction exhibition. I couldn’t help but think did any of these artists consider themselves to be “experts”? What makes one an expert? Is it life experience? Is it hard work and determination? When has one crossed the threshold into expertise?
Leaving the museum with masterful images on my mind, I continued to replay Susan O’Malley’s thoughts. Stuck in horrible traffic on Highway 80, my vehicle moved onto the Ashby exit in Berkeley. Driving on San Pablo Ave., I parked near Bob’s Machinery. Its storefront showcases Susan’s wisdom: “LESS INTERNET MORE LOVE.” At my upcoming de Young talk, I will share her expertise. These words radiate the same power as a Velazquez painting: it lures, hypnotizes, and makes one think. My goal will be to pass that message on to a future generation. What a gift, what a legacy, and thanks to the masters for the continued guidance.
March 15, 2015
The Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco is a classy, elegant, and in my late grandmother’s words a “fancy shmancy” place. Last week Thursday, I volunteered for the 12th Annual Students Rising Above Gala in the upscale Nob Hill hotel. My job was to smile and greet patrons upon first arrival. Tasks included welcoming visitors prior to donating financial support, encouraging bidding on auction items and having fun in the spirit of supporting young adults.
My first encounter with the organization was in the fall of 2013. HANG ART gallery in San Francisco asked me to be part of the A Lot of Good exhibit. A portion of an artwork sale would be donated to a worthy cause. My choice was the Students Rising Above organization and since that moment I was hooked.
According to their website: “The Students Rising Above community is dedicated to impacting the future through the cultivation of extraordinary youth. SRA invests in low-income, first generation college students who have demonstrated a deep commitment to education and strength of character while overcoming tremendous odds of poverty, homelessness, and neglect. We help each student to realize his or her potential by guiding and supporting them through college graduation, and into the workforce. Our graduates are breaking the cycle of poverty within their own families, serving their communities, providing a new generation of employees and leaders from diverse backgrounds, and accelerating positive change.”
Last year, I edited student essays for SRA students. It was a fantastic experience helping high schoolers focus dreams into words for college applications. In January, was given the opportunity to mentor a fabulous student. The best gift is being able to give back to an individual who wants to succeed. At Thursday’s gala, it was another way to contribute meaningfully.
Bottom line: education has been key to my success. Without it, opportunities would have been little to none. For the next 18 years, my $454.20 monthly student loan is a badge of honor with no regrets. That is fine with me. I hope to live to see the day when the balance is zero. However, education is priceless. Organizations like Students Rising Above uplift and provide hope. It just doesn’t get much better than that.