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life markers

Lately I’ve been thinking about life markers.  Not milestones so much, but life markers.  Milestones seem to imply happy ‘firsts’, like a child’s first steps, a first kiss, or a first job.  It’s a reference mark of completion; signifying distance traveled in a general forward direction.  Accomplishing a task that leads to the next logical step.  Children walk, then run, then they ask for the keys to the car.  Milestones.

~sketch detail

However, life markers don’t always seem the result of a happy first; not always moving forward.  Sometimes they make me sit still (if just for a little while), maybe even turn away.  Perhaps semantics.  But, that’s sort of how things roll around in my head.

Visually, I see milestones marked with a gold star, an endearing awkward photo, a framed dollar bill.  Whereas a life marker might be denoted by a wrestling of wills, vulnerable prayer and petition, revelation.  One might lead to the other – a first job develops character and independence.  They sometimes cross each other – the accomplishment of graduation and the beginning of a new reality.  Despite the fuzzy edges, they feel so very different.

As this semester was coming to an end, I was fielding a lot of student questions.

  • What next?
  • What do I do with this passion?
  • Where do we go from here?

Common queries as students begin to look ahead.  The questions, answers, and discussions brought me back to a languishing photo I had taken for a drawing.  The image is one of struggle and determination; an altar.  A marker as a reminder that God has revealed Himself  – at this time, in this place, for His purpose.

Once classes were finished, I started a bit of research and began a little ear bending (thanks, Monica). The dialogue continues as I consider those times in my life that have brought about a transformed vision; revelation.  The tumbling of the idea of life markers is distracting, sometimes painful.  The struggle is part of the process.  Apropos.

In the works!

The Cap, Cup, and Mug Sale, Show and Trade
October 7 and 8, 2011

~ a sale of cups and mugs from 30 artists (and counting) from around the valley.
~ the collecting of knit hats and socks for Set Free Ministries.
~ more specifics will be available as we get closer to the event.

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love to all –

I like getting mail.  Not junk mail.  But, real honest to goodness mail – particularly actual paper mail; that which keeps the postal service from shuttering it’s doors and requires a stamp.

Because I enjoy having the cobwebs knocked out of the mailbox by an occasional decorative envelop, I tend to send notes and letters; anticipating that others find as much joy as I do in a handwritten note.

This past Christmas, I sent out several Christmas cards – as I do most every year.  When I was a kid I couldn’t wait for the mail to arrive around Christmastime.  I would rush to pick up the mail as soon as it was delivered so I could read the cards first.

Not much has changed.  Each day during the holiday, I anticipate getting a couple cards.  I so enjoy the notes and sentiment.  However, this Christmas I had several sent cards returned.  They came back with postal service employee scribbles, question marks and a few acronyms…NSN (No Such Number?), AWK (Awkward?), etc.

This is a bit confusing since most were people I am fairly regularly in contact with.  I even felt the need to check the obituaries of one returned card sent to a dear friend that I worked with at the university (I was an undergraduate work-study student and she was on staff at the library).  Good news.  After a quick search, she appears to be alive and well.

With so much returned mail I came to this reasoned conclusion: the post office can’t read my handwriting.  Truthfully, they wouldn’t be the first.  My husband can’t read it (with ease) either.  In my own defense, this is not because I write poorly or indiscernible.  More so because, as my husband puts it, my ‘letters are loopy’.  Ok.  So I’ve got a bit of a flourish to my script.  It’s nothing out of the ordinary.  Really.

~detail: cursive chart

No.  I think the underlying culprit is that children are no longer required to write in cursive.  They learn it.  However, it doesn’t seem to be the required standard in the classroom.  Instead there is a focus on keyboard.  And so, they don’t master reading and writing cursive.

So then, if the postal worker sorting my mail is anywhere in their 30’s or younger, they likely can’t read handwritten cursive.  Just a theory.  We could test it by asking any teenager or 20-something to write a sentence in cursive with proper punctuation.  It’s even a bit of a struggle for some to provide an actual signature.  Theorizing….

One returned card was addressed to a home on Ash Street.  Scrawled (in block print) along the side was, “I s L E t a ?”.  Really?  There are twice as many letters.  The only thing they read correctly was the ‘s’.  This is sad.

~detail: Gregg Shorthand Manual, 1936

It occurred to me as I was met daily by my own cards in the mailbox: if we aren’t requiring cursive writing, and the population is quickly becoming unable to recognize the script, then we will soon extinguish another creative form of communication (…anyone remember shorthand?).The lines of the words connected by cursive lettering provide character, beauty and tone to a note.  There is a speed and fluid run from one letter to the next.  Even the spaces between words create a rythym on the page.  Beautiful lines!  Will we lose the ability to create lines connected with elegance and purpose?

I once mentioned to a collegue that I wished I could see a particular exhibition in Chicago of the works of Cy Twombly.  Her response was, “Why would you want to see Twombly?  Just a bunch of lines.”

Hero and Leander, 1985. Cy Twombly

Just a bunch of lines? No. I don’t see it that way.  They are marks that show emotion, direction and value.  Likewise, cursive handwriting illustrates those things with the added responsibility of a message.

I will continue to write – by hand.  I’m sending my grandmother some note cards and stamps.  She writes – in cursive (she’s 91…probably learned shorthand too).  Her letters are created with care as she jots down news about her day.  I’ll be looking for her letter in the mailbox.

love to all,

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This December I will have a small solo exhibition of my clay drawings.  By small, I don’t mean insignificant – but, small spatially.  Perhaps compact better describes the space.

I’m planning on six pieces.  Smaller pieces than most of my previous drawn clay work.  The size thing is a real challenge for me.  The dedicated space for the exhibition is about 10′(h)x38′(w), which requires me to think and create differently.

BFA solo installation

~installation: BFA solo exhibition. 1985

I’ve always sort of thought visually in terms of actual size – life size.  As an undergraduate my drawings and paintings never fit into the confines of little illustrated vignettes.  I built and stretched large canvases for my paintings.  Life drawings were, well…life sized.  My BFA solo exhibition included several ‘sofa sized’ paintings.  Except, mine were actual paintings of sofas (and the occasional chair).  In drawing class I refused to be limited by the size of the paper.  A small page could easily be filled with a ‘large as life’ figure.

Thinking small.  Small in size.

I was a student of few financial means – as are many students.  I couldn’t afford large, lovely sheets of paper.  Often, I would scrounge in the trash for the crinkled brown paper that had been used to wrap rolled sheets of the good stuff.  Those crisp, hot pressed, mud colored sheets became my drawing surface.  Though the wrapping paper was less than ideal (and no where near archival), it was big and free.  On the occasion I was able to invest in good paper, it wasn’t uncommon for me to sit in life drawing class with a halved or quartered sheet of paper concentrating on a foot or hand because it filled the page nicely.

Thinking concise.  Concise in character.

~installation: MFA solo exhibition. 1990.

~installation: MFA solo exhibition. 1990.

In graduate school, I was once accused of having “little girl/big art” syndrome.  This comment was flung my direction as I loaded a 160 cubic foot car kiln with the parts to just one installation piece.

Thinking intimate.  Intimate in voice.

Praying for inspiration.

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the real McCoy

The Rembrandt Research Project was established in 1968 to determine bona fide Rembrandt’s apart from those works of his students.  In Dutch tradition, students would closely emulate after the artist in the artist’s school.  Often the student and artist would collaborate – particularly on portraiture.

Imitation was a means to teach and develop young artists in the ways and processes of a master artist.  This traditional approach has led to much confusion as to who created what work.  Indeed, if the experts debate the authenticity of a piece, we might say that the Rembrandt school was quite successful.

Forward, encaustic on panel, 72"x60", 2006 ~ Mark Perlman

During my years in the classroom, it wasn’t uncommon to have the class work on a composition in the manner of a master.  Like the Dutch tradition, the objective was for the student to learn from replication.  My aim was for the student to glean from the artist and perhaps adapt a bit into their own work.  The intent was never for the student to become a studious imitator – creating copies of established master works.  Still, there is the risk that a student will become so comfortable with their copy work that they never take from the original process, but adopt it.

Several years ago I gave a day long workshop that focused on drawing processes on clay.  In my approach, the process can be complicated.  The workshop attendees took notes and photos, asking many questions. 

Man in the Red Trees, color pencil, graphite, collage and ink, 18"x14.5", 2008 ~ Kurt Kemp

A few months afterward, a student emailed an image of a small tile she had created after the process I had shown during the workshop.  I was quite impressed with the tile.  Her image – a portrait – was soft, ethereal.

Over the years we’ve spoken several times.  On one occasion she was excited to show me a platter she had waiting to be bisque fired.  The platter had a delicate image of a figure.  I asked her how she was creating some of the shadows and edges.  As she began to share, she punctuated her explanation with, “just like you.”  Well, no – I explained – not like me.  These images were very different.  Her response was that she was ‘doing it all wrong.”  Again, no.  She had taken my process and developed them to her work and it was beautiful.

Ephemeral Passage, white stoneware, 15 tiles each 18.25"x19"x1.5", 2003 ~ Jeanne Otis

Students need to find their own way with all the options before them.  The last thing you want is a student creating copy work – particularly if it’s inadequate.

‘That looks like Beth’s work…on a bad hair day!’

The scenario made me think back to my instructors.  Did I take from the process or adopt the process?  So, with some trepidation I did a little research.  What if I’m doing copy work…eek!  In the end, I can see the bits and pieces I took and made my own.  Assuredly, these talented artists will see no copy work from me.

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when I left…

“Something has spoken to me in the night…and told me that I shall die, I know not where. Saying: “[Death is] to lose the earth you know for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
~ Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again.

In Thomas Wolfe’s novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, protagonist George Webber writes a book that makes frequent revealing references to his hometown.  When the hometown folks read his book, they think it less than flattering.  Consequently, Webber finds that he can’t go home again. 

Often, Wolfe’s novel is used in reference to that feeling you get upon your return, after leaving home in search of a more independent life.  Though not the author’s narrative intent, that distance does make home a more difficult fit.

Over the holidays, we went to visit family – not unlike much of the nation.  True enough, though we are readily welcomed and comfortable in our hometown, I don’t think we could move back.  There is a strange disconnect.  Most of which, I believe, is created through the strong relationships and intended purpose of our current home.

~ Milagro by Aura E. Zapata

Nonetheless, being ‘home’ for a few days allowed me to more closely examine what I took with me when I left…the bits and pieces of the of the region, the culture, the color and texture.  I took them.  I cherish them.  I find them in my work.

In graduate school when discussions in seminar sessions revolved around potters and the influences in their work, I was often at a loss to find connections.  It was almost embarrassing…well, it would have been if I’d let anyone in on my floundering.  For the sake of clarity – it wasn’t as if I didn’t recognize the visual or process similarities between the artist of influence and the influential artist.  I simply wasn’t so moved by the work.

Instead of potters, I studied the monochromatic intricacies of Louise Nevelson’s sculptures; not unlike the complicated surfaces of the Milagros from home.  Preferring the calligraphic scribbles of painter Cy Twombly; akin to silhouetted yuccas blown into a sky colored by the setting sun.  Or, captivated by the authority of each line and smudge in Larry Rivers’ work; creating layers of texture and information so similar to the complexities of border culture.

It was a good visit home.

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