Saturday, September 30, 2017

Woman with Black Purse 2017

It was a horrible day starting with a restless, sleep interrupted night as the pressure tank that connects to our well kept cycling off and on, off and on, keeping me awake, worrying. At 3:45am I got up, unplugged the pressure tank, then, finally, managed to get a few hours of sleep.  The next morning I woke up, groggy and irritable.  After my husband called the well people, we had an idea of what might be wrong and called our plumber, who never called back.  Next, to the studio, where I was denied entry because the lock to the door, after a few days of hard rain, had frozen.  Went in through another door, turned on my computer with my brand new monitor attached and got nothing from the new monitor(it's a dual monitor system).  I caller Acer and they determined that it was my computer and not the monitor that was the problem, so I piled all in the car(two monitors and my Dell desk top) and headed for PC Experts where Vu, the owner, met me at the door of his completely torn apart store.  Boxes and boxes of old hard drives, cables, dead computers, monitor screens, and desk top carcasses littered the floor.  Vu was moving.  The rent was too high.  Amidst the mess and confusion(his workers in the background talking and smoking, "Can't get this f****ing thing up!)", Vu looked at my problem, and after an hour of digging around through all of his things determined that what I really needed was a new computer. I loaded everything back in the car and headed home, the beginnings of a hard driving headache starting up as rush hour traffic swirled around me.It was clear what I need to do: swing by my local thrift store(Savers)and shop.  An hour later, with a new(used)pair of plaid leggings,and a new(used) teal green down vest, I was okay, back on the planet.  Headache gone. Life would be okay.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Woman Falling(and Laughing)2017

A student of mine brought a number of old photographs into class a few years ago to share with all of us. I snagged this wonderful snapshot of a 50's era woman who was posing with another couple. She had on a pearl necklace and pearl earrings, and a lovely, form fitting striped dress. I loved the image, and although I never knew this woman, I wish I had.  And while 2017 has been a rough year so far(multiple illnesses, aging parents with numerous problems--and knowing that we will be there soon--missing our eldest daughter's wedding, the death of a beloved dog)for some unknown reason, I've felt surprisingly good, almost buoyant at times. This unknown woman, in her swirly dress, perfectly captures my mood--falling, but still, joyfully, upright!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Empty Woman 2017

Last night I spent time looking at the work of Frank Moore, an artist--primarily a painter--who would have been a few years younger than I had he lived. * He was a victim of the AIDS epidemic, and his work is a fascinating and complicated reflection of not only his declining health, but of our failing environment as well. The work is visually complex, reminding me somewhat of Hieronymus Bosch if he would have reincarnated as a 20th century gay man.  The work isn't as damning or condemning as Bosch, and has a dark humor and an intelligence that's hard to fathom at times. The work has so much to say, and is so well done, that I found myself questioning my own imagery, wondering what I have to say that matters anymore.

In the 40 years that I have been making images, I've grown and matured, not only as an artist, but as a woman, and as a human being. I no longer suffer the way I used to, and the magic and mystery of the world that seemed right around the corner, now seem distant. I feel inspired by Moore's work, but also humbled, and worried that maybe what I have to say is of no great importance.  But then I think that if Moore hadn't died of AIDS, if he would have lived a life parallel to mine, he would probably be in the same spot I am right now. Like me, he would have been fretting and worrying about his images and trying to figure out how to continue working in a way that is significant. And he would know, as I do, that he would have had no real say in the matter and could only make the images that he was given to make, significant or not.

*http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/07/arts/design/toxic-beauty-the-art-of-frank-moore-at-nyu.html?mcubz=3

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Transfers 2017


Transfer: 1. an act of moving something or someone to another place 
               2. a small colored picture or design on paper that can be transferred to another surface by being pressed or heated.



 Dog(with Doe and Spots)2015

Although I've been teaching transfer processes in my workshops for years, it's only been recently that I've started to incorporate transfers into my own work.  In the past, I've directly glued onto my painted surfaces. It works--you get what you see.  Transfers, on the other hand, are not that, and, as far as I can tell, pretty much starting a dance with the devil.  Not only do you not get what you see, in fact, you get the reverse, since the transfers are always mirrored.  If you are doing a paper transfer, you don't see anything at all since the paper backing is opaque.  If you do an ink jet transparency, you see what's underneath your transfer, but somehow, in the process, what you thought you were getting is never exactly what you saw in the first place.

 Wrapped Crane 2016

You have the ability to take whatever is in your computer, print it out, and then apply it to another surface.  The surface can be white, and your image will be pretty true to your original, or you can have a painted surface underneath, and that will change the nature of what comes through.  But you can almost always count on something going wrong, either something won't transfer completely, or you will have forgotten to change it to mirror image in the computer, or part of the image will transfer and part won't(always, of course, the parts that matter the most being what's not left behind).  Because the transfers are so tricky, I've become obsessed with them.  I'm constantly trying to find the perfect, least labor intensive method of making the transfers.  Like a true scientist, I'm continually trying different papers--writing to companies and asking for samples, ordering what I think might work from EBay or Amazon, even (I know this is hard to believe) taking and keeping notes.

However, this seems to be part of the dance, that it's risky and scary, and that you mostly don't know whats going to happen. When you peel or pull away the backing material you have something that may be the most wonderful thing you've ever seen, or just bad--but a good dance nonetheless.

Man Being Surprised 2017
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Monday, July 31, 2017

Tiny House 2017

As four year olds, we were boyfriend and girlfriend, but then his parents moved to a city 60 miles away, ending the torrid love affair.  17 years later we met again, him tracking me down after seeing one of my lithographs in a student exhibition. Events unfolded and we ended up living together for some 14 years before we had our first daughter.  We decided to get married when I became pregnant with our second, much to my mother's relief. When he became seriously ill recently, I suddenly had a picture of my life without him in it, and it was terrible.  This painting was made to celebrate the fact that he still is very much in my life.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Culling: Summer 2017


At a certain point in the last few days, I realized that I had no more room.  My shelves were completely full, my storage units packed and popping, and my table tops full of all the stuff(plus much much more) I need to work with.  I knew I had to cull the herd.  Like Sophie, I knew that the choices I had to make were almost arbitrary:  Who was more likely to sell?  Who had the stronger personality?  Who made my stomach churn the least when I thought about him or her out on the table ready to be gassed(aka gessoed over)? After almost a year of abstinence  I began ripping at my fingernails.  I would select a piece, then put it back, then re-select it.  At last I was ready for my husband, Bob, to help me decide who lived and who died. 
We went back and forth, allowing some pieces back on the shelf, others doomed to the big  Kilz brush waiting outside.  I gathered the rejects up, then lay them outside on the long wooden tables in the 90+ degree heat.  I began going over the surfaces.  Gone, gone and gone, Sophie the dog witnessing.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Fred Smith John Michael Kohler Arts Center


On a recent trip to Wisconsin, I managed to make it to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan.  It's a small museum(the woman's bathroom was a tiled wonder  https://www.jmkac.org/explore-discover/collections/washrooms-new), and quite lovely.  The exhibits that were up were part of a series of 15 exhibits that would allow us to experience artists whose work is their environment.  All were outsider artists, all were quirky, fun, and interesting.  However, the pieces that moved me the most were work by an artist named Fred Smith(1886-1976). The son of German immigrants, and a lumberjack until the age of 50, he began his sculpture garden on property that he owned that ran alongside Highway 13 outside Phillips, Wisconsin.  He worked on it for 15 years, until 1964 when he suffered a stroke and was incapacitated until he died in at the age of 90.  The figures all are made of concrete, then covered with broken bits of glass.  Most are life sized, or larger.  He is quoted as saying, "Them ideas is hard to explain.  Nobody know why I made them, not even me". The quirkiness, the dignity, and the power of his figures made me feel that I had come home, found a safe harbor.  From what I got from seeing only two sculptures, I can only imagine the pleasure and inspiration for me of actually going to the sculpture garden in Phillips where 237 of his figures exist.  Looks like a trip is in the not too distant future.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Man Being Touched 1988


On Monday of this week, my husband's right leg began to swell.  He had been experiencing pain in his buttock, but could tease it away by stretching.  However, this new development concerned us. On Tuesday, he had an ultra sound taken of his leg, knowing that it might be a DVT(deep vein thrombosis), but it showed nothing of concern.  We sighed a collective sigh of relief:  our daughter's wedding was to be held in a few days in Mexico and we were relieved that we would be able to go.  The next day his leg was more swollen, and quite painful.  This time he had an ultra sound done, which showed that he had an enormous blood clot that went down his chest and into his right leg.  Weak with anxiety and fear, he had himself admitted to one of the big the ERs here in town where he was pretty much ignored,  then checked himself out AMA(against medical advice)and was readmitted our Heart Hospital, where a surgeon was waiting with a team to do a thrombectomy(1). Two days and three procedures later he was released from the hospital to begin a new life with daily blood thinners and the knowledge that his body was not the strong, capable vessel he always thought of it as being.We were able to watch the wedding on FaceTime sitting at our kitchen counter in front of my Ipad.  Not what we had imagined, but good enough.

(1)  the emergency surgical removal of emboli which are blocking blood circulation. It usually involves removal of thrombi (blood clots)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Breathing 1997

This last week I went from having bad allergies to suddenly having a bad chest cold.  I went to see my acupuncturist, Dr. Chu, who tortured me with needles and cupping, then sent me home with instructions to make sure I wore socks with my shoes(I had worn flip flops in) and a baggie of herbs to be taken twice a day.  Two days later I couldn't seem to move, think, or react.  My cough had turned into a deep ,wracking, and painful bark and I began to bring up nasty looking phlegm, colors that I wouldn't have minded using in my paintings but didn't feel good about making in my lungs, which ached terribly. My husband and I talked it over(he's a physician)and we decided that I had contracted a bacterial infection in my lungs(aka pneumonia) and I needed to start on antibiotics.  I'm an antibiotic nihilist, but, in this case, it seemed clear to me: if I didn't do something, I was going to be toast.  So, I started on doxycycline. I couldn't help but feel that something dark and scary had been knocking on my door, and I needed to do everything I could to keep that door shut, including wearing socks at all times and taking my daily dose of doxy.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Painting with oil 2017

 Woman Brushing Her Hair 2017
 Woman with Black Hair 2000

I recently started painting with oils again after a 14 year hiatus. It was serendipitous really, a friend having just given me about 20 tubes of Gamblin oils.  http://hollyrobertsonepaintingatatime.blogspot.com/2017/04/floating.htm  I had plenty of tubes of oil paint in my studio that were left over from my oil painting days, but these new ones were colors I had never used before.  As well, I've been a little lost in the desert for the last couple of years with my old techniques and have been unsure of where I'm headed.  So, It's been interesting watching myself using this media that I was once so familiar with, but am now relearning, both in technique and approach.  

17 years ago, in 2000, when I did "Woman with Black Hair" I was basing my painting on the photo that lay underneath.  Although I've never been able to preconceive what the final painting would look like, I knew when starting that the image would have something to do with the photo, no matter how little or how much was left of it in the final painting.  Now, however, my creative self seems not to want to have anything to do with any photos, and my guide to what I'm going to paint seems to be the paint itself rather than the photo underneath.  "Woman Brushing Her Hair" does have an image buried beneath the paint, but nothing of it exists in the final piece.  As always, I have no idea of where I'm headed, but I do seem to have a very clear directive to just let go and allow the paint and my brushes to call the shots. Although this is the essence of how I've always made my work, there seems to be a new sense of confidence that didn't exist before. It understands that I just need to get out of the way, and that once I do, everything will be alright.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Dog Barking 2017

 In trying to make drawings that took away most of my control, I came up with the idea of using dog's hair. While petting our dog Sophie, idly collecting her hair in my hand as it came off, I suddenly saw the beautiful chaotic spiral that the hair made. I put the clump on a sheet of white paper, and took it out to my studio where it sat for several weeks.  I finally got around to photographing the hair and then tried using the image as an abstract, but my figure making self wouldn't allow me do it. I began to "draw" with the hair.  It seemed only fitting that one of the first drawings to come out of this new process was of a dog, an alert male dog doing his dog job of letting the world know that he was taking care of things.  Since then, I have done many more of these "hair drawings", and have begun to amass baggies full of not only dog's hair, but my own(from my hairbrush), my husband's and different friends hair after haircuts, not to mention wire, cord, metal findings, frayed rope, dried snap pea stems and tiny wadded pieces of paper sprayed with India ink.  The most banal and mundane objects in my life are now all grist for the mill.
Sophie's Hair

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Floating

In 2004 I turned my back on the paints I loved, and started painting with plastic.  I had painted with oils for over 30 years, and found that I didn't have anywhere else to go with them.  With the acrylics, I had an entire new planet to explore, and explore I did.  Now, 13 years later, with about 20 tubes of Gamblin oils given to me by a friend, I find myself, once again, painting with oils. It's a very different experience from the acrylics I've become used to--like going from a Unitarian service in California where everyone is wearing flip-flops, to high mass in a Catholic Church in Rome where there are candles and chanting and mysterious men clad in dark robes and funny hats. The oil paints have a rich heaviness and stay wet forever, letting me blend colors and add and change things even a day or two later, while the acrylics, while immediate and fresh, once they are dry, or drying(within minutes of being applied)can't be altered.  I'm rediscovering my brushes from 14 years ago, and remembering what each one does, some with only a hair or two left from so much use.  I'm not sure where this will go, only that I don't want to repeat what I did all those years ago, hoping that I will find a different way to marry my photographs with paint.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Guard Dog 2016

Almost two years ago, our youngest daughter wasn't able to keep her beloved Mastiff cross, Cash, with her, so we offered to keep him until she could.  He settled in nicely, with two smaller dogs to hang with, a huge backyard to protect and defend, and a steady supply of sun and dirt to bask in.  We've grown to deeply love this dog, with has steady dignity, deep intelligence and quirky, funny ways. However, in loving Cash, something has moved in me so that now, whenever I see any kind of large animal--elephant, horse, bear, lion, etc.--I find I have a deep connection with them as well, something that I didn't have before Cash came into our lives.  There is something about his size or his dignity that attracts me to these massive beings.  Movies with Elephants especially can bring me to tears.  Cash is in his last days now, having stopped eating, and mostly sleeping.  It's just a matter of time before we call the vet.  I will miss him so very much, but at least I will able to keep loving him through this new connection to the large animals in my life.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Standing by the River 1997

The River Styx (Greek: Στύξ, Stux, also meaning "hate" and "detestation") was a river in Greek mythology which formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld.

Sometime around the year 1996, our friend, Bob Zachary, had to have open heart surgery.  While the surgery was being performed, he was connected to a heart-lung machine. During the surgery, to my simple, magical thinking artist's mind, he wasn't completely alive, but neither was he dead, just in a nether land between the two. After the surgery he had a beautiful scar going from his throat to the middle of his stomach, with two incisions on either side. It's still there, but not really visible after 20 years.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunset 2017


Sunset: the time in the evening when the sun disappears or daylight fades,
a period of decline, especially the last years of a person's life

I had had an image of retirement as a glowing beacon far off in the distant future, a time where one would have no cares or concerns, but instead would lounge about, wearing one's robe and slippers all morning, watching as much TV as one's heart desired.   And then, wham-mo, it's there and it's not quite what you expected.  For one thing it's a sign that the end is near, even if that end is 20 or so years away.  It means that of those 20 years--if you are lucky--you only have perhaps ten more years of good health and reasonable facility.  If you are lucky. That's not much time, just a blink in the eye of an 80 year life span. Your identity from what you did professionally is no longer valid.  Who you were and what people thought of you shifts, and you are suddenly free floating, not really sure who you are. And while the time seems short, suddenly your days are wide open and you aren't sure exactly what day of the week it is, or how you will fill that day.  You know each day is precious, but you can't quite seem to get out from under that filmy gray cloud of depression and anxiety.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Anderson Ranch Immersive Winter 2017

On January 8th of this year, at 4:30am, I left home in our little Mazda, loaded down with suitcases, art supplies, cross country skis, and snacks for the drive.  I was headed for Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, Colorado https://www.andersonranch.org/, a nine hour drive over a high mountain pass with  a ferocious winter storm forecast to hit later that same day(hence the leaving at 4:30 in the morning).  I made the trip safely, and was settled in by the time the storm did hit, dumping lots of snow in the Colorado high country. 

For the next three weeks it snowed and snowed and snowed.  Every morning when we headed out for the school, tediously scraping the snow and ice off the windshield of the car, we could hear the cannons booming in the mountains, releasing the snow that could cause dangerous avalanches at the nearby ski area. And I loved it(except for the tedious scraping). In the mornings I would meet and work with my group of nine students who were learning to integrate their photographs with their own painted surfaces.  However, the afternoons were mine.  I was given a large studio to work in(half of the printmaking area), a brand new Mac, and a large Epson  printer( I had brought the rest of what I would need with me).  And while it snowed, I worked and worked and worked.  No meals to prepare, or dishes to wash, or errands to run.  Nowhere to go unless you were bundled up in hat, gloves, boots, and down parkas.  When I left on Jan. 28, after three weeks away,  I had over fifteen new paintings in the back of my car--fifteen new paintings that were unlike anything I'd ever done before.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Woman with Yellow Arms 1987

In 1987 I was still forming the vocabulary that was to inform my images for many years to come:  my figures were becoming more and more simple, often with stick like arms that are outstretched, either in an imploring gesture or showing fear or distress.  Although the images were always based on a photograph(I painted with oils directly on top of a black and white gelatin silver print), the mid to late 80's seems to have been the time I started to discard as much of the photograph as I could get away with.  As with Woman with Yellow Arms, there is no photo that I can discern, only the drawn scratched lines which reveal the darks and lights of photo beneath.

In 1987 the world was an anxious place for me.  I was only 35 at the time, and working through many personal issues as well as dealing with the larger concerns of my world.  At that time we had been living on the Zuni Indian Reservation for four years(we stayed for eight), and was I becoming familiar with their customs of masked dancers:  a figure inside a figure, something that I was completely fascinated with(and still am).  When I look at this painting now, 30 years later, I see a love of the painted surface, and a struggle to define a complex personal view through a single figure.

* Woman with Yellow Arms is going to be included an exhibition at the Tucson Museum of Art called "Body Language:  Figuration in Modern and Contemporary Art"(Feb 25-July 9, 2017).