Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Big Girl 2009

The year following my graduate studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, I was chosen to be an Artist-in-the-Schools.  It meant that I was given a studio and a monthly stipend and in return I would teach a certain number of art classes per week.  I taught all of the grades in their system, from kindergarten to mid-school. The mid-schoolers made me nervous and the really little kids, six on down, were just too young for me to engage.  However, I delighted in the rest of the ages:  I was a hero just by walking in the door with the label of artist, and could do no wrong in their eyes.  I came up with various projects that we worked on together, but really, I was just one artist surrounded by many.

I had a class that has always stood out in my mind and that's because of one little boy.  He sat with his desk facing the wall, clearly separated from the other children.  As we started to work, and I went around helping each child, I noticed that he was perspiring profusely. He had a heavy, dank, little boy odor about him and his clothes seemed not quite clean.  He gave his drawing all of his attention and focus.  When he finished, and I came around to look at what he had done, I was staggered by his image.  It was of a house and a child, but the child was much bigger than the house, and the child was leaning over, a stream of vomit coming from his mouth.  It was a beautiful drawing-- profound and honest and just very well done.  I praised him and told him what a great drawing I thought he had done, and he beamed back at me.  He knew I was being sincere, and he knew that I saw what he had done and heard what he was trying to say-that there was big trouble in his life. 

Later, when the class went out for recess, I showed the drawing to the teacher.  She couldn't say much to me, but I understood that this child wasn't in a good situation, and that she was doing the best she could to help.  I wasn't telling her anything she didn't know.  I left that day, and of course, I never knew what happened to the little boy.  I can only hope that his art helped him through his life, and gave him the connection he needed to somehow make it in a hard and unforgiving world.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Long Journey 2006

If Mary and Joseph were to show up with their mule today, on their way to Bethlehem, they would find a very different world, one that was mostly urban.  Although the baby Jesus would be riding safely inside Mary, she would reflect today's gray, grim world, graffiti decorating her robes and the world around her.   Joseph's robes would be made, not from soft cotton, but from impenetrable material--torn and twisted corrugated iron.  The mule would be calm and placid, the same, since animals haven't changed their nature over the centuries, but his blanket would advertise his passenger, just as buses and taxis  do today. Their journey would be lonely and full of anxiety, and they would probably end up in a parking garage in downtown Bethlehem, waiting nervously for their baby to be born.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Woman Meditating 2011

Blue:  sadness or happiness.
Yellow: renewal and hope or cowardice and deceit.

For a long time I have been trying to mediate consistently.  I know it's good for me, actually more than good for me, I think it's probably vital to my health and well being.  However, I am a slackard meditator. Days, weeks, and even years have gone by without me meditating.   I don't know why I have so much trouble with this seemingly simple and straight forward exercise.  All I can say is that it's just easier not to, especially when I really need it, when I find myself in one of my typically stressed or highly emotional states-normal ways of being for me.

Carl Jung liked to say that it is only in middle age that we began to realize that  the sun is no longer rising, but beginning its descent. As I start my sixth decade, I know that I have choices that will make my life better, and choices that won't.  Knowing that sun is sinking makes the choices a little more immediate and a little more urgent.  I  hope to make those right choices, but maybe even more importantly, not to despair when I don't.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nancy's Dream 1980

I started college life thinking I would be a ceramic artist.  I worked hard, made lots and lots of clunky shapes, both thrown and hand built, and at some point, realized that ceramics wasn't really my friend.  Next, printmaking, worked hard, made lots and lots of lithographs, and  realized I wasn't really cut out to be friends with lithography.  Then, painting and drawing, again always working hard, and I was able to make large, slightly surreal paintings, mostly about people and animals.  They weren't great, but they weren't bad.

I started taking my own photographs, not to be a photographer, but to have information to base my paintings and drawings on.  At some point, in some flash of laziness, or genius, I'm not sure which, I began to paint on the photos with oil, thinking of them as rough sketches for my paintings.  I found the surface slick and non-absorbent, and the photograph never disappeared, the way paint or marks on paper would when you tried to rework them. I loved these little 8'x10" photos that I painted on, that I didn't have to despair over the way I had everything else. I wish I could say that I immediately snapped to and understood what I had, but I was slower than that, and it took me several years before I finally understood that I had found my voice.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winter Kill 2008

Winter Kill:  to die as a result of exposure to winter conditions, especially the cold of winter.
I think this image is about loneliness, and about waiting, and hoping, but to no avail.  The two figures are male and female, the male is on the left with his arms raised, and the female figure is on the right.  He is imploring and she is waiting.  She is afraid that he will never turn to her, and he worries that he will never be answered.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tough Woman 1998

I have never smoked and I have almost never worn pearls, blue eye shadow, lipstick, or high heels.  But with that being said, I have to say that Tough Woman is a very accurate self portrait.   Those who don't know me well perceive me as being affable, somewhat granola, a little (or perhaps a lot) hypochondriacal. .

The real me lurks not far beneath that friendly, seemingly open surface.  She is stern, critical, and not about to budge from an idea or a perception of reality unless proven otherwise(and sometimes not even then). Bossy comes to mind. The real me is a little feared by my family because nothing slips by, "And why is it that the clock in your car is still set for daylight savings even though we switched over three months ago?"  (husband and daughter).  My mother can't wait to get off the phone with me, "Are you drinking enough water?  How much sugar have you had today?  Did you make it to the gym this week?  And why not?"   More of the same for my 83 year old stepfather. Constant bullying in the form of endless conversations about how important it is for him to work on his core muscles.

At times I despair of this woman who can't let go of things, can't be easy, flexible, or "fun loving",  who hounds her students and her daughter (youngest)until they end up with best possible image they can pull out of the creative void.  Whose jaw sometimes hurts from clenching it so hard.  But, at the end of the day, although this woman is not always the easiest person to live with, I'm glad  she's in my corner.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Passing 2009


This piece started with Minnie's head.  Minnie was a pinto mare that my friend Colleen had happened upon during the six years that she and her family lived  in Albuquerque.  Colleen knew next to nothing about horses, and I know a lot, so over the period of time that Colleen's family owned Minnie, I taught Colleen how to ride and much about the care and feeding of a horse.  Colleen was head over heels in love with Minnie, and in middle age, had became passionate about horses, something I hadn't felt for years.  Minnie was in her 20's when Colleen got her(she was a gift) which is rather old in horse years, but she was in good shape, calm, pretty, and fun to ride.  When Colleen's husband found another job in the Midwest, they gave Minnie back to her original owner, sold their house, packed their belongings and moved on. I had no other friend quite like Colleen, and even though I knew we would keep in touch, it wouldn't be the same. 

Because of her advanced age, I knew that Minnie might very well not be around anymore.  When I came across Minnie's image in my studio, I found myself thinking about a  painting that would have to do with dying.  As a young adult, I had read the book I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven.  In the book, Craven used owls to symbolize death, which has evolved into my own world view. I'd photographed some concrete owls at a roadside stand a few years earlier, so I started my image-building with the owls and a photograph of Minnie's head. The painting evolved slowly and painfully-as usual. But gradually, the visual order became clear to me, and I understood where I needed to go. The geese became helpers, who were accompanying, and even lifting Minnie and her rider through the gates.  The owls watched quietly over it all, and the Navajo rug in our family room became the portal that Minnie and her rider strode through. I had thought the painting was about Minnie's passing, and about death, going through that portal, whatever that is.  However, I realize now that the painting also has to do with the smaller losses that all of us experience, the things we lose that we know we can never have back.  In my case, it was losing the day to day closeness of a  personal relationship; my friendship with Colleen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Man with Heart Attack 1989

My friend Kay had called, it seemed, just to chat.  We spoke often on the phone, and our conversation was fairly mundane:  how was my corn growing, were we going to go for a ride that day?  However, this time, after we talked, Kay asked if he could talk to Bob .  I put Bob on, and listened with some concern as I heard Bob say, "I'll meet you at the hospital as soon as you can get up here".  Bob hung up and told me that Kay had been having chest pains and his arm hurt, classic signs of a heart attack.  Bob was getting ready to head back to the hospital and meet Kay(Bob had walked home for lunch), when he said, "Somethings wrong. I'm going down to Kay's".  Kay lived about five minutes away by car,  so Bob took off.

Here's what happened next:  Bob arrives at Kay's, sees his car in the driveway, so Bob knows he's home.  Kay's mean dog, Jack, is barking ferociously, loose in the yard.  Kay is not standing on the porch holding Jack by the collar so Bob can come in. Kay is not standing anywhere. Bad sign.  Kay always comes out to greet his guests.  Bob steps out of the car, thinks of himself as bigger and meaner than Jack, and manages to get inside Kay's mobile home without having Jack tear his leg off.  He finds Kay on the couch, arms splayed, mouth open, not breathing.  He pulls him to the floor, lays him on his back, and attempts CPR.  He realizes he has forgotten to pinch his nose shut when the air he exhales into Kay's mouth comes shooting back out of Kay's nose.  He pinches Kay's nose shut, tries again. More breaths, this time going where they need to go. Kay gasps and then vomits. Bob knows Kay is back on the planet.  He calls the hospital, gives them Kay's name and says "heart attack".  He hangs up and attends to Kay.  The ambulance arrives within minutes and Jack has to be distracted so the paramedics can get out and get to Kay.

Soon after they brought Kay into the hospital, I arrived and went to be with him in the small room used for emergencies.  He came in and out of consciousness--muttering to me he was worried about his socks being dirty. He had to be shocked several times to keep his heart going, and I waited just outside with the door open, terrified at what I was seeing.  My great and wonderful friend Kay, one of the kindest and warmest people I had ever known, literally, at death's door, in terrible pain.  A plane was summoned and it landed on the small runway adjacent to the hospital.  Within a very short period of time, Bob and Kay were in the sky, growing smaller, and then disappearing as the small plane headed West, to Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque.  Once there, Kay coded several times, but made it to the OR where a cardiac surgeon performed bypass surgery. Twenty years later, just two years ago, he died at the age of 80. He had lived those intervening years in Zuni in his mobile home under the big cottonwood tree with his little brown VW bug, his horse, and his dogs.  When he had his heart attack, he was the age I am now .

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Shopping 2009

I don't think I'm quite at the level of needing to attend a Twelve Step Program (Hi. My name is Holly and I'm a shopaholic), but I'm close, especially if I'm not working in my studio.  I have in my DNA a need to look for things, to hunt, to find, to search out.  In a primitive society I would have been the one tracking the deer, calling out the alarm when warring tribes came to destroy the village, sniffing the air for fire or rain. But I wasn't born in a primitive tribe in the Amazon, I was born into the most affluent culture the world has ever known, chock full of things to be hunted down.  

So that's what I do:  I hunt for bargains, sales, things that I usually don't have any need for but that are  pennies on the dollar.  It's exciting when I start shopping, and often I find wonderful things, especially at thrift stores:  bicycle jerseys, shorts, and shoes; bikes, boxes of ink jet transparencies (20 boxes for $2 each), Dansko clogs, large rolls of printer paper, an opaque overhead projector, riding breeches.  If I'm not practising my hunting skills at real stores, then I'm doing it online, Craig's list being my favorite. At times, as I sift through hanger after hanger of clothing that I don't particularly like but is marked down 75%, I wonder just what the hell I'm doing.  It worries me.  And as I continue to shop, I think of all the things I could be doing that would make my life and the lives of others better.  What redeems me is knowing that once I start working in my studio, this powerful need to find things gets channeled into the making  of images and the solving of problems that have to do with those images.  It's the same attention and focus, it's just much more intense, lasts for longer periods of time, and I don't have to worry--at least for awhile-- about finding the right Twelve Step Program to join.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bob as Blackie 1984

I got Bob and Blackie around the same time.  I had been dating Bob for just a few months, and one weekend we decided to visit friends in a remote, rural town in Northern New Mexico.  On the way there we passed several puppies by the side of the road.  We sped on.  Several days later, on the way back, we passed one of the puppies, now road kill.  I knew there had been more puppies and I began to look.  Sure enough,  a flash of black and white in the high grass along side the highway.  We stopped and gathered up an approximately  six week old female  Shepard mix.  We kept her, named her Blackie and she developed into an absolutely beautiful dog.  However, she did have some eccentricities.  She was fearless, and could face down any pack of semi-wild reservation dogs that would later, when we moved to Zuni, try to intimidate her.  And although domesticated, she had a kind of wildness about her that seemed to lurk right below the surface.  I was discovering some of the same things about Bob.  Although he didn't have a need to face anyone down, he did seem to be inhabited by a self that wasn't all that domesticated, and it seemed sometimes that I might lose him to his feral side(see Spiral Jetty 2011 October 30).

The photograph that I used to start this painting was a full frontal face shot of Bob, but a little blurry.    When I was done painting, I had created a large Blackie head which lay over Bob's face, with only his blurry, slightly unfocused eyes remaining as photograph proof of his existence.  They both shared the same eyes, the same world view.  I realized that it was Bob as Blackie, and Blackie as Bob.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Man with Baby 2001

I was not someone who had always wanted to have children.  Babies especially frightened me.  I had no idea what to do with them and the thought of actually owning a baby was a little more then I could handle.  So, I waited until I was 35 to have my first daughter, Ramey, and the decision was made more out of fear of waiting too long and not being able to have a child rather then racing to embrace motherhood.  My one comforting thought was that my husband, Bob, would be able to deal with the child through baby and toddler hood and then I would take over when it was, say, nine, an age I knew I could (probably)deal with.

So, Ramey was born via C-section after a long and difficult labor.  When I first woke up out of the anesthesia I saw Bob with a baby girl in his arms, both staring down at me with  concerned expressions on their faces. I had not had even a glimmer of the power of what a baby could extract out of her parents. It was, of course, complete and utter love at first sight.  Oh those hormones I guess. Now, 24 years later, I wonder why I sold this beautiful little painting.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Coyote 2011

In September I signed up for a bike class with a group call Women Riding Well  The first few weeks covered basics, such as applying the brakes suddenly without going over the handle bars, riding in a straight line, learning to feel comfortable with someone riding right next to you, etc.  As the weeks progressed, we learned about pace lines(among many other things), which meant that we would ride in a line, switching out the leader on a regular basis so that the first person, who would be "pulling" the rest by allowing the others to draft close behind, would get a chance to rest. A few weeks ago, we were riding in our pace lines, refining all the things we had spent the last three months learning.  I was leading one of the pace lines just north of Algodones when I noticed the most beautiful dead coyote by the side of the road.  I could only glance at it and try and mark where it was so that I could come back later and photograph it.  If I stopped suddenly, my line would crash into me, creating a very dangerous situation.

About an hour later, we finished our ride just as the rain and wind hit.  I drove home with a friend, and as soon as she dropped me off, I changed clothes, grabbed my camera, got in my truck and headed back to where I thought the coyote was, about 40 minutes from my home in Corrales.  It was hard to find.  It's one thing to be whizzing along on a bicycle, fairly close to the ground going 17 mph, but quite another to be high up in a truck with someone right behind me wondering why I'm going so slowly. I made one pass in my truck without any luck, and then finally, on the second try, located the coyote.  I parked my truck on the shoulder, got out--it had started to rain again--and took numerous photos of the carcass. 

I don't know how or when I will use this coyote in an image, but this is how this whole process starts.  I'm out living my life, doing something that has nothing to do with making art, and then suddenly, there it is; some startling image that I know I have to have.  For me, it's about making the decision to stop and take the photo, or, as in this case, to try and come back when I can.  So often I won't or don't or can't take those photos, and I always regret it.  I've found that the one constant in being a photographer is that you can almost never come back and find the image that you missed.  After I photograph I always try to thank whatever it is that I've taken a photo of, whether it be living or dead, animate or inanimate.  It's a gift to me, plain and simple, that I hope to honor by making that initial photo mean something that's more than what it was.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Three People Exercising 1984

New Zuni Wellness Center
34 spin bikes
Zuni Head Start Turkey Dancers

Aerobics Class, Zuni, early 1980's

Today my husband, Bob Wilson, and I drove to the Zuni Reservation for the dedication of the new Zuni Wellness Center.  It meant getting up early and driving for 2 1/2 hours to get there in time for what we thought was the dedication, but in true Zuni fashion, it was really just an arbitrary time which was part of a long day of activities.  We did make it in time to see the the Zuni Head Start kids dance, and we were there for the ribbon cutting, then streamed in with everyone else to see the beautiful new facility.

It was important to us to be there because 26 years ago, as a physician, Bob had been the founder of the Zuni Wellness Center as part of a program to try to do something about the extremely high prevalence of  Type II diabetes in the Zuni population, something that hadn't really existed in Zuni before the 1940's.  Based on the idea that through diet and exercise it might be possible to control diabetes, Bob worked at implementing this program in the Zuni community.  The Zunis took to the program with a passion, and by the time we left, after 8 years in Zuni, there were over 60 aerobics classes every week, not to mention fun-runs and a workout center that Bob and his team had put together.  The Zunis continued to work at staying fit, and this new wellness center was a wonderful tribute to their dedication and passion.

Because of the religious nature of so much of what went on in Zuni, I had to be very careful about what I photographed, never wanting to even have my camera present when there was something going on that was not to be photographed.  However, I was able to photograph the aerobic classes with complete freedom and I did a series of images from those classes.  Today I thought about the Zuni Dances that I couldn't photograph, but could watch, and those aerobic classes(which I could watch and photograph and participate in) that were in some ways so similar: they both were a result of the Zuni People working together in physical and spiritual ways to keep their culture alive and healthy. 

*My Zuni friends told me that currently Zumba is the most popular class.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Man Crying 1991

Last Friday night I sat in front of the TV to watch "Blue Bloods" on  CBS. It wasn't a program I had ever watched before, but three of my  paintings were going to be used as set dressings for a scene in an  episode called "Lonely Hearts Club". This project came through Film Art LA, a company that represents my artwork and licenses images for  movies and TV: . In September I got a call from Jennifer Long, who owns the company, to tell me that my work was being  rented for "Blue Bloods". She explained that "Man Crying" had been requested for use during the scene in which the work would be  talked about by the actors. She also let me know my name would be used  in dialogue as the fictitious artist.  They would be using digital prints-much larger in the scene than in  real life. I was asked to sign off on the part of the script that used my name, so I knew exactly what was going to be said. It was thrilling being on TV and seeing my images.  I thought it was pretty great being Holly from Red Hook with a nice New York City Gallery and a sympathetic boyfriend named Patrick.  You can see the scene with my paintings in the first five minutes of the episode at$

The image itself was based on the photograph of a close friend who is one of the most stoic people I know. The image was about showing one kind of face on the outside, but having another face happening inside, where it doesn't show to the world but is deeply felt. I'm always somewhat surprised at how images portraying distress or sadness offend or push some people away, and it was interesting to me that they used this image as an example of how depressed and angst ridden, or "EDP"(emotionally dysfunctional people-their words) artists are.  In fact, what the painting is really about is how difficult it is for us to constantly have to hide what we really feel.  It's a kind of cautionary tale about allowing ourselves and others to have true and genuine feelings, whatever they may be.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jealous 2009

Perhaps it's because I'm a middle child, but I've always had a hard time with jealousy.  If something good happens to someone else, I always have to work very hard at being happy for them.  What my true, middle child, never-got-enough-love self wants to do is be angry and upset with the fact that those good things aren't happening to me.  I'm especially jealous when good things happen to other artists:  shows, sales, any kind of success no matter how large or how small.

Several years ago I had a very attractive young woman student in Gallup, New Mexico in one of my classes through the UNM branch there.  I didn't particularly like this student.  She seemed to need more love and attention then I really wanted to give her, especially considering how beautiful she was.  However, I successfully kept how I felt from her, and she continued taking classes with me.  Towards the end of her time in that area, she had a show at the Public Library in Gallup and ended up selling quite a few of her paintings.  When I went to see the show, and the librarian found out I was an artist, she informed me that not just anyone could have a show there, implying that my chances were slim.  I was, of course, very jealous.

My student applied and got into graduate school on the East Coast, and I wrote a nice letter of recommendation for her in spite of my jealousy.  On a trip to New York City, about a year later, I ran into this student quite by accident at the Museum of the American Indian in front of an exhibit of Zuni Kachinas.  She was ecstatic to see me, and I pretended the same, but inwardly felt disgruntled.  Why her of all people?

It wasn't too long after this, when I was back in Gallup teaching, that one of my colleagues told me that my student had been killed in an automobile accident in New Jersey.  I was devastated.  I cried for days.  I realized that her success with the Gallup library show had been important in a way that I couldn't have foreseen, that her short life had a much different trajectory then one that lasts for another 60 years, as hers should have.  And mostly I just felt terrible about my petty jealousy and dislike.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

(Small)Fox with Hummingbird 2011

When I start a piece I start it from an abstract painting. Before any images, I have worked on that painting until I think it's the most wonderful thing I've ever seen. In this case, I thought this little painting especially the most wonderful thing I'd ever seen. I loved the surface, with its multiple cracks allowing the intense colors underneath to come through. I had a vague idea of son and sky, but only a vague idea.  I didn’t know if it would end up being horizontal or vertical. I like the painting either way.

When I began to form the story, I was working with new media; photographs on ink jet transparencies, which allow the colors behind the photos to show through. I was working with transparencies of two animals.  One was a little hummingbird we found on the ground outside one of our large, plate glass windows. The colors that made up its body were vibrant and it had a long, slender beak, so unlike most of the birds I photograph. The other animal was a fox corpse I had photographed in Virginia several years ago. He had been hit on the busy road near the school I was teaching at, died, and then been dragged into the bush by crows. I had seen crows circling around when I was out on a run, went to investigate, and found the fox. I didn't have my camera so I went home for it and came back as quickly as I could to photograph. I returned over the weeks to take pictures until his bones and hide were too widely scattered to make much sense. In the painting, I liked that the animals are still alive, the fox ready to snap up the little hummingbird at the first chance he gets. And since it is my world, the hummingbird will always stay just out of his reach, safe from predators and plate glass windows

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hats for my Mom 2011

Another present that showed up at my (studio)door was a large, dead, crow that my younger daughter Teal found.  I think she was about 10 at the time. She held the crow for me while I photographed it with it's wings spread, wearing her pajama bottoms and her favorite sweatshirt. We also took photos of the crow spread out on the sidewalk alone, but the ones with Teal were my favorites. 

Teal is now 21 and a senior at the Kansas City Art Institute, so when she asked me to send as many photographs of myself as I could, I was more then happy to oblige, thinking that she might work my face into one of her drawings, or perhaps, one of her combination embroidery/drawings.  One of the drawings I sent was a self portrait I took of myself in my late 20's.  I had tried out a cream that was supposed to help my complexion in some mysterious way and while I can't remember that the cream did much, I loved the way it became, literally, a mask.

A few days ago I opened up a link to Teal's blog, "Rattime all the Time",   and found myself staring back at me.  The bulk of the crow is embroidered, and the rest graphite, including the chest of the crow and my face. She had based my portrait on the facial cream photo, and of course, my mind went back to the crow connection that we had shared so many years ago.  I don't know if Teal thought about the crow she had brought me so many years ago when she did this piece, but I know the memory exists in her artist's brain, just as it does in mine.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Duck Walking 2009

One morning, when I went to gather the dog's bowls so I could feed them, I found a present waiting for me on the back porch.  It was a rather large, dead, duck.  I knew who the gift was from (the dogs), I just wasn't sure how they had gotten it.  Whatever, I was thrilled, and took as many photos as I could of the lovely bird before burying it so the dogs wouldn't continue to "re-gift".  Later I discovered  broken glass in one of my high studio windows where the duck had hit, then fallen, probably with a broken neck.

Over the years I've used bits and pieces of this duck to make countless images.  In my mind, I'm bringing him back to life, and in this case, fairly minimally: just the head, with a human eye, attached to a dictionary page that forms the body, and wings that are made of dirt and gravel.  This isn't a bird that's going to fly anymore.  He's walking on top of an aerial view of one of the many cities that I fly over and photograph whenever I travel.  In this case, probably Los Angels, sprawling, freeways and cars everywhere.  It's what he would see if he could fly, but then of course, he wouldn't be able to land anywhere since the city is so densly populated for so many miles.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spiral Jetty 2011

Spiral Jetty with Bob Wilson

Bob walking the Spiral Jetty

Bob's outfit for walking the spiral Jetty (post)

This past weekend, my husband, Bob Wilson, and I took a trip to the Great Salt Lake to visit Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty. It was just barely visible under the purple water, and Bob decided to try to walk out to the tip of the spiral. He removed his shoes, then his pants, and started out. The water was cold and the basalt rocks slippery. The temperature of the air was about 55 degrees, and the water slightly colder, so it was not pleasant. He made it out about 1/3 of the way and then decided that his feet were too cold and that he was running the risk of slipping and cutting his feet as they became more and more numb, so he turned back and started in.  He discovered, about 15 feet from the shore, that he could actually just walk alongside the jetty in the sand, thus eliminating the risk of hurting himself.

As a young couple together, Bob and I would often go out and have adventures much like this.  Bob would do something totally unexpected, usually somewhat dangerous, and I would photograph him. His actions usually involved physical suffering, or finding something that he could do that might result in bodily harm if he wasn't careful. Whatever he did, it always took all his attention. I think now that it was his way of making himself completely present and connected to his world.  I couldn't do what he did, but I could certainly appreciate and record and then make something more of his involvement.  Over the years, I made many paintings using these photographs of Bob as a base.  They were critical to my beginnings as an artist, helping me see where I needed to go.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Two Dogs Together 1990

Our first dog was an English Pointer that we named Robbie.  My parents had her bred to another English Pointer when she was about two years old.  Subsequently she had a litter of about 9 or 10 puppies, one of the better memories of my childhood.

Because spaying and neutering were not really options for dogs in the fifties, we had a small wire pen built for Robbie whenever she came into heat, and she would be put in that pen for several weeks every year.  At nine years old, I knew what was going on-that it took a male dog to make puppies-and I was dying to repeat the experience of our previous puppies.  So, one afternoon when I was alone at home with Robbie, and she was in heat, I opened the gate to the pen and let one of the more persistent dogs in with her.  And sure enough, they did what dogs do. He got on top and started working away.

My plan was to let the male dog out when he was done, shut the gate, and no one would be the wiser until the puppies showed up.  But it didn't go as I had planned.  The male dog seemed to finish, and dropped off of Robbie.  But then, to my horror, he stayed joined to Robbie, attached by his penis.  It was awful.  I didn't know what to do, only that I had to do something because something was clearly very wrong. I called my stepfather, Nick, and crying, told him that one of the dogs had forced his way past me into the pen and that now they were stuck.  Nick must have been close, because he showed up fairly quickly, careening around the corner of the driveway in our old black Chevy pickup.  He got out, went over to the dogs, got a stick and started hitting the male dog.  He wasn't angry or upset, just pragmatically working at getting the dogs apart.  Sure enough, it worked, the dog was able to free himself and he ran off after Nick gave him another emphatic thump with the stick.  I sobbed and sobbed, watching Nick through the fence. I'm not sure now which was worse:  getting caught or witnessing the two  joined dogs, looking as miserable and frightened as I felt.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mother and Son 2010

I have no sons, and I am a daughter, so my experience of mothers and sons is only observed, not known personally.  I am married to a man who, like almost every man on the planet, has a complex relationship with his mother.  My older brother and I share the same mother, so I have known that relationship for almost 58 years now.  And then I watch the male world:  men who are powerful, men who are babies, men who are good and kind, men who heal and men who destroy.  I wonder what kind of mother each one of those men had.

This mother longs for her son, but I don't think it's a good kind of longing. Notice her feet aren't moving-she only makes the motion of caring, but doesn't really have to follow up. The son is child sized, but has a man's head.  He appears to be trying to get away, but doesn't look very distressed. The background lines-sewing patterns-create a kind of chaotic directional order: Come back, go away, leave me. Stay. I can't live without you.  I'll get you!  No I won't.  I didn't mean that. Yes I did. The son stays just out of reach, but will never really leave her sight.  I'm not sure they can survive without each other.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Woman with Jesus and Cigarette 2006

When I was a child we had neighbors who were for all intents and purposes my grandparents even though they weren't really.  Joe died of lung cancer when I was 18 or 19, Jane a few years later of the same thing.  I can remember Jane coming to visit, sitting on the high stool at our kitchen counter, a cigarette in one hand, legs curled around each other, smoke curling up around her face as she discussed the world with me, my mother, and my stepfather, "Nickie" as she liked to call him.  After they died, I missed them both tremendously, especially Jane.  I think they were in their late fifties or early sixties when they died, close to the age I am now.

This woman showed up in 2006.  I pieced her from photographs of many things:  boulders from a trip to Colorado, the cement floor from the parking garage where my husband works, my hands, and Jesus, taken from a painted wall along the highway on that same New Mexico to Colorado route. She's relaxed and confident.  She thinks that with Jesus inside her she will be okay, that nothing can harm her.  Under her left leg is a little warning which says, "please be careful".  But she doesn't need to pay attention, she's got Jesus.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Zebra with Hyenas 1986

In the 1980's National Geographic Magazine did an article about hyenas.  In the article were a series of photographs that have stayed with me ever since.  They were black and white, taken at night using flash so that the images were very harsh.  They were sequential, showing the zebra being surrounded by hyenas, attacked, and then brought down.  I cut the pictures out of the magazine and had them up on my studio wall for years.  The pictures captured that instant when something living goes from being alive to not; death, the inevitability of it, and the fear and darkness surrounding the event.

My zebra was originally a  horse. All it took to transform him were a few scratched stripes and white markings on his face and legs.  The hyenas are also pretty minimal-just really teeth and small dark bodies, not really very hyena like at all.  And then finally, I added the palm trees to make it clear that this was some place foreign, clearly not New Mexico, certainly Africa.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bob with TV Guide 1981

My husband, Bob, has always been pretty much enslaved by TV.  One of those There is a power greater than myself and it is TV  kinds of things.  At one point, realizing the depth and breadth of his addiction, he decided that he would only watch TV when I turned it on, meaning that he couldn't initiate any TV watching himself, could only watch when and what  I wanted to view.  But being an intelligent man, he found a way around those limitations.  If he waited until I went to bed, leaving him alone with the TV, he could unplug the it instead of turning it off. Then he could come back and plug it in anytime he wanted, not violating the terms of his agreement with himself.  He wasn't "turning it on", just plugging it in.

This painting, done in the early 80's, was the first of many that I've done of Bob which explores his complex relationship with the TV.  When I took the photo, he had just woken, and was sitting in bed, quietly reading TV Guide, getting ready for his day ahead.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sail Away 2008

Getting old is like going out to sea on a boat that you know isn't seaworthy. You know this boat won't be coming back, and that at some point you and the boat will both be going down .  You don't know if it will go down slowly, a bolt popping out here and there with water starting to slowly fill the boat, or suddenly, poof, just like that, sink.  All you can do is cast off, and hope the waves won't toss you too badly and that you'll have enought to nourish you until the end. And that finally, as the waves wash over your head, you'll be able to see your life's journey as being everything  that it could have been.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Trying to Keep Trouble Away 2008

In the fall of 2008, I was teaching a workshop in  Alabama.  As I went around the large room, helping each person in the class, one of my students told me that she was on the phone with her husband, and that the stock market was dropping fast.  I had about 20 students, so it took me awhile to work my way back to her as I made my rounds. Every time I got to her, she told me the market had gone down even further.  Of course, that was the day of the big crash. The weeks that followed were a time of  uncertainty and dread, and, as it turns out, just the cracking of the lid of what was to become a deep and dark Pandora's box full of troubles.

When I look at this painting now, my heart goes out to this woman, with her coarse man's pants and shoes, and her odd jumper made of words.  Shes standing on a chair to make her a little bigger, bravely trying to keep those troubles away.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Crow Hanging 1995

Shaman:  A member of certain tribal societies who acts as a medium between the visible world and an invisible spirit world and who practices magic or sorcery for purposes of healing, divination and control over natural events.

As a young woman, I loved the works of Carlos Casteneda.  I couldn't wait for each new book to come out, and I would read and re-read the books on a regular basis.  I even developed a way of  seeing the world, which broke people into Stalkers and Dreamers based on what Carlos had to say (which I still use to this day).  In graduate school I did a paper about Diane Arbus and Shamanism, which proposed that, had she been born into a culture which practiced Shamanism, Arbus would have been a Shaman, and her death would have been symbolic rather then real.  I imagined that artists could act as Shamans in our society, but I wasn't sure what that really meant.  For instance, I wasn't sure any of us could control natural events, or heal people, and the divination part was a little dicey for me.  I fasted, I read, I talked  and studied shamanism, but I didn't ever think I was a Shaman, and only once met a man who claimed that he was.  I wasn't sure, but he talked a good line which made me suspicious that he wasn't the real deal.

However, something has been going on all these years that does address a Shamanistic part of me.  Every so often, a painting will emerge that will be about animals that are people, and people that are animals.  I don't think about the paintings before hand, and when I start a piece, I have no idea of where it's going. I'm always surprised by what happens, especially when these animal/people show up.  I have a hard time explaining them.  I'm not really sure what they mean, just that they are honest and make a deep connection, first with me, then with other people outside myself.  I wonder sometimes if I, like Arbus, might have been Shaman material in another place and time, and in  this culture, only able to bring up remnants of the ability to go between the two worlds, unable to know the real meaning of what my paintings are saying.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Being on Call 1983

My husband, Bob Wilson, did his residency in Family Practice Medicine at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.  It was a three year program and involved him doing rotations in different specialties:  surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine etc.  In each rotation he was assigned an on call schedule.  This meant that when he was on call, he would go into the hospital in the morning, see patients all day, stay at the hospital that night to see whatever emergencies arose, then start the next day seeing patients all over again.  It meant that, at times, he might go for 36 hours without sleep.  With luck, he might be able to sleep for  an hour or two before being interrupted, usually by something urgent.  By the time he got home after being on call, he was exhausted.  He would topple over onto the bed where he would immediately fall into a deep sleep.  I would remove as many of his clothes as I could, cover him up and wait for him to wake the next day.  The next morning he would wake, dress, shave, eat, and then head out to the hospital.  A good rotation mean that he only had to take call once a week, but with some of the rotations he took call every 4th or 5th night.  I can only imagine the stress that he was under: sleep deprived, a new doctor, asked to make critical decisions about health care for someone he most probably had never seen before.

When he finished his residency, we moved to the Zuni Indian Reservation so that Bob could practice medicine at the small, beautiful hospital that served the over 8,000 residents of Zuni. Along with the approximately six other doctors that worked with him, Bob was once again asked to take call.  This call schedule was more humane.  He could come home on the nights he was on call and at times get by giving the nurses instructions over the phone.  He had  an amazing ability to wake up from a deep sleep, and with no grogginess or confusion, listen to the conversation, give orders or advice, then hang up the phone and immediately drop back into the same deep sleep.  He no longer takes call in his medical practice, and hasn't for a number of years.  However, he doesn't sleep as well anymore, and often wakes up in the night and finds it difficult to fall back asleep. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dark Rider 2011

This past April, a good friend of ours was mowing his lawn, getting ready for a family get together with his wife, and three of his four grown children.  It was a beautiful day, sunny without being too hot.  He came inside, complained of some pain in his shoulder to his wife, got a drink of water, then went back out, started to mow again and dropped dead. 

I did this painting the afternoon of the day we found out that our friend had died. It's about his death,  that Dark Rider that shows up to escort us to the other side, whatever that is.  The crows underfoot, supporting the horse and rider.  The sky, dark and swirling with small bits of yellow shining through.  The rider, calm but stern, the horse with his large, kind, human eye.

I've since wondered what our friend's last thoughts were: were they about a pesky section of grass that kept popping up as he was mowing, or was he thinking about his life, his family, perhaps what they were going to have on the barbecue later that afternoon.  His daughter told us that when she saw him laying on the grass and ran to him, he had a smile on his face. He was 53.

Two and 1/2 months later, in July, another good friend died suddenly, this time of an aneurysm.  Talking on the phone to a good friend, someone he deeply loved, he experienced a terrible headache, then dropped the phone as he fell to the floor.  She was able to call 911, and they took my good friend to the Hospital where he went in and out of consciousness, dying early the next day.  I didn't do a piece about this friend's death.  My grief was too large.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Steer 1984

I did this image in the early 1980's.  At that time I lived on the Zuni Indian Reservation, and would often make the long drive between Zuni and Albuquerque.  We traveled on a two lane black top from Zuni to Grants, then picked up I-40 to head on into Albuquerque for shopping, the airport, whatever we couldn't get in Gallup or Zuni.  On this particular trip I happened to pull over at a  wide place in the road that we would sometimes stop at just before we got to the intersection of I-40.  On one of the fence posts (all fences are barbed wire with either metal or wooden fence posts) I saw a steers' head stuck onto the fence post.  It was askew, titled to one side.  It hadn't been there too long, the eyes still looked back at me.  A few crows sat on the nearby posts, waiting to start in. I had my camera, photographed the head, then proceeded on. 

30 years later I wonder what that head was doing there.  Had someone poached the steer, then stuck the head on the fence as a kind of sticking their tongue out gesture, or had someone just wanted to get rid of a steers' head they had riding around in the back of their pickup?  I didn't think of it at the time, just took the photo and went on my way.  Later, when I printed the head out and started my painting, I found myself bringing him back to life, alive and well in a vibrant New Mexico landscape.  The painting went to my first New York City show where it sold, and, hopefully keeps on living somewhere in that area.