Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kid Canvas Transformation

It takes a certain amount of hutzpah to start a blog, to proclaim I am So Sure that people out there in the world want to hear what I have to say. In normal life, we can see people's eyes glaze over if we wander into murky territories and clam up, but here in blog land, the rambling never stops.

Of course, it also takes a certain amount of guts to step out on the stage and give folks opportunity to take pot shots at my art. On that note, this weekend, I went out to Lewes, DE, again, to the Novak beach house to collect some prints, walk on the beach, and (the most fun) play with oil paints in the studio there. I have permission to work on unfinished canvases, so I started with a canvas that was clearly identified as a Kid Canvas (that is, a canvas Karen donated over to her children, presumably so she could do a little of her own painting as well).

So it started out looking like this:

This is what I did to it:

It's, uh, abstract. I'm thinking about calling it Squid's Garden.  Oil paints are way more forgiving than arcrylics in some ways, as you have more time to mess around with them, and blend them into each other.  I haven't quite figured out how to work with all the mixing, stand oil, stinky turpentine, etc., and different kinds of consistencies and brushes and such, but I had a great time experimenting with the possibilities, and occassionally pausing to dance to some very bad pop music on the radio.  A good weekend all around.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


In an odd, bookend sort of way, my creative life is populated with deceased painters. One of the first stories I ever wrote was about Anne Freeman's death, a friend of my then-boyfriend. Anne died before I ever even met Jim, and he still reeled from it then (and now, in quieter ways). She was a painter, although I have no idea how dedicated she was or could have been. She was only 17 when she died. It could be I've expanded her artistic inclinations for my own purposes.

Now I live in an artist studio surrounded by the art of Karen Laub-Novak. She passed away last year. I know her through her family (my friend Jana, who is her daughter, and now Michael, her husband and my landlord), through the works of other artists who wrote some profoundly touching remembrances, but largely, I know her through her art, the paintings, her studio, and the prints. I've yet to catalog the prints (still on my list), so my knowledge of those is incomplete. But her paintings, finished and unfinished, resonate with me -- art about struggle, striving, color, flight, movement (a sampling, not including many of my favorites, at And I also came to have an idea of her when I cleaned out the studio.

An artist, of course she liked lights -- light fixtures, lamps, lightbulbs -- this makes sense to me, the play of light being crucial. But the box full of hinges and locks remains a mystery, part of some project I don't know about. The handyman took the two sinks, closeout deals for renovation projects that didn't come to fruition, and many, many tools, saws, drills, sanders, etc. The books on art, the St. Christopher medal, the shelves of wooden plaques, hunks of clay, many different levels and rulers and boxes and boxes of nails, and those endless tweaks to the house. She was a painter, assuredly, a writer, a sculptor, but she was also a builder, a tinkerer, a collector of Might Be Useful Someday, a collector of possibilities. I relate to that, and stare at those wooden plaques, thinking, hmm. The blue plumbing metal tubing I wove into the Ugly Mobile 2.0.

Both Anne and Karen have, in different ways, served as guardian angels of art, people that I have re-created in my own ways to look out over me. For years and years, I wore Anne's rings (yes, given to me by that beau - as a morbid teenager, I found it romantic). Now I stare around a living room covered with paintings by Karen, and have acquired her old blank canvases to use for my own wranglings with paint. I find I'm not quite sure how to approach those canvases yet. I've never even used oil paints, her medium, and have little to no idea what I'm doing with my batch of acrylics. But I want to do something on those canvases, stretch something inside myself, prove that somehow I've absorbed something of the energy of the art on the walls, the paint splashed on the floor.

Because I never met either of Anne or Karen, part of my draw to them is perhaps really to the affection those left behind have for them. Perhaps if I can tell a story or draw a line or carry on, in some way, a legacy of creative spirit, I too will merit that kind of love. Of course, the grieving for lost love is perhaps the saddest, and most strongly idealized.

With the death of my own brother -- a real live person that I actually knew, but at the same time, did not know, because the severity of his autism locked him away from me, from my family, from ever even hearing him say my name -- I find I am also mourning not just his loss, but also the fictionalized version of a "normal" brother I wrote into my godawful book. I'm aware that this makes me sound a wee bit delusional, but rest assured, I still know fact from fiction.

Many people comment that art is all about creating something, that it is new and love and creation and sunshine and rainbows, cathartic and transformative. And it is. But it is also, for me anyway, with these shadow guardian angels that inhabit my creative world, about mourning a loss, accepting not just the creative force, but the destructive force as well. The time that we have together is so fraught and brief. And sometimes, we never really meet at all, as it was with me, and Anne and Karen. And my brother Tommy, the boy I have always missed.


On my refrigerator is a magnet that says, "Leap and the net will appear." I'm hugely fond of this idea - that if you just Go For It! - the universe will support you somehow. But I'm having a great deal of trouble putting it into practice. There are all these things that I want to do (or claim I want to do) that, instead, languish in various stages of disarray. In some cases, I can understand this. A book, however godawful, is a large undertaking, so fine, I can be a bit intimidated. But what about some of the godawful short stories? I can fit the entirety of their plots in my little brain all at once, and yet, I don't fix them, don't finish them, let them rot unpolished and decidedly unpublished.

I could go on a long psychological harangue on how I'm a commitment-phobe and afraid of failure, blah, blah, blah. All that's true, but really, what will it take for me to just suck it up and do something other than what I positively have to do in order to be able to survive? I mean, I want more than subsistence creativity, but I settle for the bare minimum, the burst of words or painting or fumbled guitar chords that gets me through without gaining me any ground. Art is craft, and craft takes practice, time, practice, practice, practice. The view from this plateau was lovely when I first stopped to rest, but how much more resting do I need? Am I really this lazy?

Friday, March 5, 2010

death & taxes

Another Ani quote: "I was a terrible waitress, so I started writing songs." I waitressed for three days at a place called the Greenhouse in Harvard Square in Cambridge, back when I lived in Boston in 1989, in between colleges. It's the only job where I just walked off, failed to politely give notice and leave with bridges unburned. Charlotte, the unpleasant, mean ole wombat of a manager, yelled at me for letting the patrons crowded at the door sit down before the table had been cleared, and that was somehow it for me. I went back in the kitchen, took off my apron, collected my sad tips, and waved at her on the way out the door.

My bravada lasted until I got to the T subway. I was 19, and (although not yet consciously acknowledging it) on the verge of being fired at my other job at the day-glo spandex clothing store. I had no ability to get hamburger orders correct (there's a difference between a single and a royale) or sell flourscent pink socks, and it was becoming a problem. Scrabbling for change to buy a token, I burst into tears at the window, much to the concern of the old man behind the plexiglas. He asked me what was wrong and I blurted out my story, how I'd quit my job, how I couldn't afford it, how my boyfriend was going to be mad, how I was going to die in the gutter just as my parents predicted when I left college. He pushed a token through the slot, told me to keep my money, instructed me to go home, assured me that it would be OK.

And it was. A few days later, I interviewed at a jewelry and mineral store and got the job. I politely exited Day-Glo land, much to the immense relief of my manager. A month or two after that, I was promoted to Assistant Manager, my affection for shiny, pretty things finally being useful.

Today, I'm trying to keep the long view, that however circuitous, I am finding my way. And it is a scenic route.