Archive for August, 2010

Henri Rousseau and I

August 30, 2010


No, that’s not me on the couch, but Henri Rousseau and I do have a relationship. Like Henri, I loved art as a child and would spend hours drawing. He, too, was discouraged by his middle class parents on pursing a life in the arts, and was pushed into something practical. I, into initially training to be a math teacher, he, as a lawyer. Eventually he retired from a government job as a custom’s agent, and I as an art teacher. When he retired at 49, he devoted his time to painting. He would go to the museum and sketch and paint. He was self taught, and his jungle scenes of which The Dream is part, were entirely from his imagination. When I saw his works in the National Gallery in Washington D.C. many years ago, I was immediately struck by how these paintings reminded me of the medieval tapestries I had seen at the Cluny museum. The colors were rich, the perspective flat, yet layered. In looking for this painting, I read that art historians think he did see the tapestries at the Cluny and these may have influenced his style. Even though I trained as an art teacher, I must say I am self taught as well. During the ’70’s the “academic” side of drawing was ignored and abstract expressionism was favored. I taught myself how to teach drawing, and thus learned the basics of drawing. Now for the immediate connection to Henri Rousseau. Tonight I brought a few printed reproductions of Rousseau’s jungle scenes, plus some of my own sketches to a producer of a local community theater in order to be considered as a scenic designer for their upcoming children’s production of “The Jungle Book”. I, thanks to Henri’s inspiration, will be working on the production.

Hurray, I finished!

August 26, 2010

This is me doing the dance o’ joy! See how I twirl around so gracefully, doing something akin to an Irish jig, or maybe it is more like southern clogging, naw, I think it is more like jumping up and down to music no one hears…but anyway, I finished my “fat book” pages. That is not to say I am fat, well, I am sort of, or that I made a book, well, no, I made 25 pages that will be coordinated by a “host” into a book, titled “The Flower Garden”. I spent hours doing my contribution. I know full well that others’ will have spent just as much time, or even less, and their work will look better than mine. But that said, mine will be just as sincere and true as theirs, and at this point when I make art, that is what I am striving for. In the works (read: in my head, in my sketchbook, protypes of set and puppet being worked on), is a puppet show about women. Well, not exactly about all women, or about women of every age, but let’s start with this woman. It is a three part show. Act I, will be on women’s cancers (not specified on which cancer, just the experience), Act II, will be on becoming invisible in our society as you get older, and Act III will be called “How to open a jar without a man” dedicated to all those women who are defined by society as “without a man” for whatever reason. I could have just as easily entitled it “No kids, what’s a woman to do?”, and that could be Act IV.  The puppet itself is what is called a “table top” puppet, manipulated on a table like surface, and in this case by three women. One works the head, one works the arms and the other works the legs. At this point my idea is to have us rotate who manipulates what, from act to act, but my volunteers can’t see past my sketches and preliminary puppet, or hear my voice as yet, because it is not a “whole” concept. The stage for the first act will be a white on white pop up book on a “lazy susan”, that the puppet will amble from one room to another as the floor spins. I think. At one point the stage was going to be a cart to mimic a hospital cart, and the “rooms” were going to be on the different levels of the cart, and the puppeteers would be in hospital gowns. That design left nothing to the imagination, so I went back to the drawing board. The first act is written in my head and heart because women’s cancers are always in the forefront, and I’m a survivor. I hope my puppet show will be able to speak to survivors, as one of my intents is to “take it on the road”. Yes, the acts can stand alone. Just like our life is divided up into segments, usually by social milestones: school, driving, college, marriage, birth, death, my show will have resonance to women in different stages in life. The second act has to do with being dismissed as a woman when you get older, the “yeah, yeah, we get it” refrain we usually get visually but also verbally. As if we are done. Well I’m not. The last act is on the struggle to maintain one’s identity and independence with or without a mate. Easier typed than actually lived. I have been lucky, or maybe the word shouldn’t be “lucky”, how about headstrong, or maybe stubborn, or forceful, but I have been able to stay true to who I am without getting sucked into what society thinks I should be. I’m hoping that I can make that option clear in the third act. So you see, dear Reader (a little Ann Landers), I am busy in my early stages of retirement. Oh, did I mention I have an interview Sunday to see if I should do scenic design at a local Community Theater?

Boy do I have stories to tell

August 24, 2010

As most of you know who read this blog, I am in the middle of working on an art piece. (I am taking my 10 minute break to write here).  My mind is wondering while I am cutting 25 identical pieces to be watercolored. Believe me, doing anything over and over again is really not my style personally or artwise, so my mind is zipping all over the place. Should I write about the time the Swiss Guards refused me and a friend admittance to see the Pope although we had written invitations? How about the time I broke the regional Tony Award in McCarter Theater? There is always the time my gifted students competed on local tv and one impulsively pushed the buzzer and screamed MANATEE, which of course was wrong, and caused me to almost die of laughter. Or how about when I was sick, about to be operated on and I saw a apparition (I think it was the drugs talking). Stories. Stories. Stories. We are all full of them. And, yes, the longer you live the more stories there are to tell. I think we define ourselves by HOW we see what is happening around us, and how we remember those events. I, am sure, embellish, and especially for the laughs. I want to laugh because as I say “laugh until you cry because you are going to cry anyway”. I want others to see that stories are universal in their telling, in their meaning, and in their outcomes. And to that end, I am a puppeteer. Well sort of. Yeah, maybe, yes, I AM a puppeteer. I have a puppet show in the works, and once the first act is complete, I will feel better about saying “I am a puppeteer”, right now I am an artist, cutting and pasting 25 identical things to be collated and bound in a shared book with 25 other artists, all on an identical theme.

Whisk brooms make me cry

August 22, 2010

There I said it. Whisk brooms make me cry. If ever I were to become a stage actress, and had to cry on demand, and really mean it, just have a whisk broom in the wings, and I could become mush in a minute. And, if “This Old Man, He Played One” was piped in, well, then, get out your flood insurance. I went to the hardware store the other day to buy paint thinner to clean out the brush that I had used to paint the steel door. On my search, I saw a whisk broom hanging. Immediately I saw my Dad, suited up in his Umpire uniform, sweeping home plate. Dad loved baseball. We listened to it religiously on American Forces Network savoring each play painted by the announcer’s voice. Whenever I hear the refrain of the classic “the Dodgers win the pennant, the Dodgers win the pennant” I am reminded of all of the plays we hung on to, imagined over the airwaves. These painted images in our minds were much more romantic than the actual games we DID get to see Stateside when he watched his beloved and oft reviled “Phillies”. So, without any sons to toss the ball to, although I do wonder now about what kind of tossing ability my Dad might have had, he did the next two best things, one, he umpired at the army base’s Little League games, and two, he found a companion in me to watch the games. I learned how to score games and to cheer and scorn the “team”. These days my husband can hear me cheering and booing the Mets in the same inning. We never went to a professional game. We couldn’t afford it. Years later when I finally did make it to a stadium to see a game, I was totally overwhelmed by the shared experience of 30,000 people all roaring and then the collective gasp of watching a player being tagged out sliding into second base on an attempted steal. I immediately felt the democracy of the game, the notion that a small boy from Brooklyn, who played stickball on the streets, who would eventually serve in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, could connect with others at that one instant in time. I could see how in the stands and on the field players and fans looked alike. I understood that Dad’s choosing of the military was almost an extension of his love for baseball: uniforms, rules, hits and misses, collective and shared experiences.  In his final days, as my Dad lay in his hospital bed, I singing “This Old Man, He Played One” quietly in his ear, my sister holding his hand, he was surrounded by his fellow veterans, who were passing around a photo album from one of their last outings, as if to remember games gone by.

Painted in her underwear

August 20, 2010

My mother was an incredibly difficult woman to pin down. By all outward appearances, she looked and acted like the “lost” Gabor sister..Let’s see there was Eva, Zsa Zsa, Magda, and oh yes, Gertrude. Shelley, as my mother was known had reinvented herself many times in her and my lifetimes. You see, she married a military man, which carried the burden of moving every 22 months, or staying in one spot while he was in combat. Her first incarnation was that of a young wife. She peers out at me in pictures in full length pose, head slightly turned toward the camera, a fur slung seductively over her shoulder, hair dark and bobbed. Movie vixens of the time, influenced style. The next phase was that of mother. Pictures show her in 50’s shorts and top with a headscarf of some sort tied like Rose the Riveter, laughing along with other women as their children played together. Then the next phase is all a blurr to me. Somehow she went from a happy brunette to a blond, red lips, red fingernails, ironed bra making sure things were in the proper perspective, and very sharp. Sharp talk, sharp edges, sharp deadlines, sharp expectations, sharp dresser, just ‘sharp’. This is the mother I remember, up until the sharpness softened when she became old. In between the laughing and the sharpness was a woman of incredible creativity, loyalty and love, who realized the life she was given was perhaps not exactly what she signed up for. I was thinking about my mother today, as I was painting a back door for my mother in law. I remembered my mother, who insisted that we paint the walls of our current house or apartment every summer. We would pull down the shades and she would stand on a ladder in her underwear to paint the ceiling.

What do Work of Art: The Next Great Artist and Leonardo DaVinci have in common?

August 19, 2010

I admit it. I watch The Next Great Artist, and Project Runway. My husband comes in while I am watching and asks “why do you watch this crap?” Sometimes I fantasize about being the oldest contestant in the world on the show, and just cursing at the younger whippersnappers in their own vernacular. Other times I see myself creating original pieces in response to the ridiculous challenges as if to say “bring it on” or “who gets paid to think of these things” or “what, are you kidding me, I can do this in my sleep”. But mainly I watch to see how the human brain responds to challenge. Leonardo DaVinci’s sketchbooks with all of their intellectual fits and starts on mechanical weaponry, the life of a wave in an eddy, the various expressions of the elderly, horses, or man’s physical mysteries, show us the human brain in its creative, curious, and contemplative state. We see how Leonardo is peeling away layers of the conventional in his quest to create, to show, to enlighten, and ultimately to survive financially. So it is with Project Runway and The Next Great Artist. We, the public, are in effect like the Medici’s, laying down our order for the artist to create for us. Like patrons of the past, we have time, subject and media constraints. And they, the artists are scratching and clawing and creating, dancing to our tune. Lest you think that Leonardo didn’t dance the dance or have issues with other artists of the time, just read about his contempt for Michaelangelo, whom he called dirty. Look again at Leonardo’s sketchbooks and you will see that some of the experiments in design are not fully realized. He didn’t have the luxury of time to work out any kinks or build models, he was busy working on his next commissions. And so it is with our contemporary contestants on Project Runway. While they are making dresses in one day out of confectionary products, their minds being stretched from inception to completion, I get to see how they respond to the challenge. What will they choose to make the dress? Muffin cups or colored sprinkles? While not exactly inventing the flying machine, in this day and age of tweets and qwerty keyboards, I am thrilled to see a show or two on tv that explores creativity, and dare I say it…working with your hands.

Retired from work, starting Act II

August 17, 2010

I went to see Bruce Nauman’s exhibit of Days (I think that’s the title) at the Museum of Modern Art last week. For those of you that haven’t seen it, I will try briefly to describe what it is. In a separate gallery, there are 10 or maybe more thin rectangular white membranes suspended from the ceiling by two wires and anchored from the floor with two wires (all 4 wires eminate from the corners of these rectangles). The rectangles are in fact speakers. These speakers are suspended in two even rows capped off by two speakers at either end. In the middle of this formed rectangle are bar stools evenly spaced. Coming from the speakers are individual voices (one for each speaker) of different ages, sexes and I will assume ethnicity, although they are all speaking English. The voices are randomly saying the days of the week, and not in sequential order. When you sit on the stools you can hear the speakers in a sort of surround sound way, the voices tripping over each other, saying days. I was moved to laughter and joy when hearing these days. Why? I am no longer bound by days, hours, minutes and bells. These are mere words and contrivances to me now, and it fills me with great joy to know I can move about my day under my own terms.