Jeff Woodbury has a shelf in his studio stuffed tightly with 117 sketchbooks (at least, as I write this). I’ve published columns, catalogs and articles about more than 1000 Maine artists over the years, but I don’t know of another artist whose sketchbooks contain more visual ideas than Woodbury’s. His current sketchbook is always with him, and he doesn’t shelve it until every page is stuffed completely with images and ideas. No blank pages. Idea after idea. Image after image. Note after note. Nothing wasted. No leaf unturned.
For Woodbury, a sketch is “getting an idea down to physical form.” Drawing and painting have been part of his artistic practice for 45 years, but at its core, his work is launched by concepts — visual, strategic practice, hypothetical or otherwise. Phrases and notes are part of his process, but the critical kernel is visual thinking. There is a critical difference in contemporary art between “conceptualism” and “concept-driven work,” and this is apparent in every branch of Woodbury’s art.
Woodbury’s sketchbook work comprises an unwieldy blend of physically present ideas with a range of brain pings that reaches to the irrationally other-worldly. He might shift a bean pod to 2D swirl. He might note a red-headed airline attendant as a potential crisis-moment superhero. He might gush over the swollen magenta pinks of a Texas berry pressed into inky service. In a bored moment on board a work-related flight, he might transmutate a pencil into a jet engine… and let it take off on its own path.
From the surface to the deepest depths of Woodbury’s quick-sketched images, we feel the heady brew of his love for historical visual culture as it (generally) dominates and devours imagery of the past as a percolator engulfs coffee grounds. Yet just as often we see the almost meditative pulse of systems art in his sketchbooks: symmetrical drawings made with both of his hands at once, a page filled with lines pulled and limited by the space and time of the process-driven work.
Woodbury is almost bizarrely caught between his reverence for the visual art pioneers before him and the inclination towards individual creativity. He knows them. He learns their lessons. And yet his own path is fundamentally forced by his own integrity-driven inclinations to shift away from where they have trod… onto new ground which he seems to find everywhere, well-seeded and fertile. The easy-ready reading is to see Woodbury as an iconoclast. But considering his consistently productive practice, it’s clear that Woodbury is far more geared towards finding and producing visual ideas than anything else. His personal practice is often ironical and sometimes salty, but through it we see Woodbury as an artist floating up on a sea of ideas – that rare person who can continually churn concepts into robust visual reality.
Below are additional images and comments by the artist. All of the images within this article are culled from Woodbury’s sketchbooks. –Daniel Kany
“I almost always have my sketchbook with me. A friend gave me a leather cover more than 30 years ago, and it’s been with me ever since – my most cherished possession. I’ve filled more than 117 sketchbooks since then, all the same small size that fit inside the cover, which also provides pockets to hold random maps, brochures, stamps, and notes. I rarely remove pages, unless they are finished works, and when I do, I mark the removal, because that’s part of the history, too.
My mind is always churning with ideas, and I need to write them down or I’ll lose them. My sketchbooks are filled with drawings, notes, diagrams, lists, names, plans, dates, collaged pictures, kids’ drawings, and more. The first page is always for names, numbers, and important information, and the last page is reserved for testing pens. It’s been that way for years. It’s a good system for me.
I see my row of sketchbooks as my extrasomatic memory bank, and each book is part of what Zappa called his “conceptual continuity”: ideas come and go, and are not bound by time, but become part of the overall matrix, and an idea written 20 years ago might influence or become part of the current work. Sometimes I’ll look into an old sketchbook to discover a forgotten note, and that might trigger a new arm of work. Other times ideas are written down only to be fulfilled years later – I drew the logo for “CRUD” in 1986, and it wasn’t until 2014 that circumstances came together to stamp that logo into bricks I made with local clay.
I don’t keep a journal or diary, but my sketchbooks serve as a record of my life. And that includes a record of unfinished works and unrealized ideas, and mistakes and poor choices and people lost to time and distance, and some pages are painful to see. But some pages shine with sketches or ideas that caught there first, and grew into decent works. My sketchbook is the garden where I plant those seeds.”
In the years 2012 through 2015 I conceived and executed four collaborative drawing projects. These projects provided conceptual contexts for the improvisational drawing practice I had been concentrating on for the previous several years, and also incorporated social and performative elements. In retrospect, they can be seen as a progression.
The first, talking & drawing (2012), was based on Lee Lozano’s Dialogue Piece (1969). Lozano invited other artists, mostly male, to her loft for private conversations. From her notebooks we know who she talked with, but not what was said. I had been intrigued by this concept (a conversation indicated but not recorded) since I first learned of it. After a couple of years contemplating if and how to attempt something similar, and having benefited from sage comments from friends Lucinda Bliss (“you have to find a way to make it your own”), Ronnie Wilson (“well, why don’t you draw while you’re talking to them?”), and Virginia Rose (“you have to do it”), I launched talking & drawing in late February 2012. Between March 9 and August 9, 2012, I had conversations with 53 female, Maine-connected artists. During the course of each conversation I made an abstract drawing. My conferees were offered the opportunity to draw as well, and 16 did so. Other than the fading memories of the participants, the drawings are the only record of these conversations.
The first batch of invitations was sent out via e-mail at the end of February 2012 to a list of 30 artists compiled off the top of my head. Thereafter, additional invitations were made by e-mail, in person at art events, and in several cases, upon chance encounters in the street. A handful of people declined for various reasons, a few did not respond, and in one or two cases it just wasn’t possible to arrange a meeting. Most of the meetings took place in studios, theirs or mine, and others in homes, coffee shops, and in the garden behind the Longfellow House (there would have been more in this delightful urban oasis, but it was a rainy spring in Portland).
Conversations varied in length from 30 minutes to 2 hours, most in the 45-90 minute range. All conversations were begun with the same question, but they were not conducted as interviews. I did not start drawing immediately, but let the conversation develop first. Sometimes I had no idea what i might draw, other times I had something in mind based on my knowledge of the other person and her work. I think the earliest I made a mark was 7 minutes in; often 15 or 20 minutes would pass before I started drawing. I used the timer on my phone so that I wouldn’t forget that I was supposed to start making marks. Conferees were invited to make their own drawing during the conversation, and about 30% chose to do so and contribute that piece to the project. Some later said “I wish I had drawn”. Conversations would slow down a bit while I was drawing, or if both of us were drawing, but not cease.
I learned a lot about art and its making, the lives of women artists, the art of conversation, and about myself.
In addition to being an altered re-performance of Lozano’s Dialogue Piece, it also constitutes an unwinding of her General Strike Piece (withdrawal from the New York art scene) and her Boycott Piece (refusing to speak with other women) because it had the effect of deepening my connections with the art world and engaging in dialogues with only women. (For further information on Lee Lozano, see H. Molesworth, “Tune in, Turn on, Drop out: the Rejection of Lee Lozano”, Art Journal, vol. 61, # 4, Winter 2002.)
The entire suite of 69 drawings was shown at Rose Contemporary in Portland during November 2012. An excerpt, consisting of 16 of my drawings and 9 by my collaborators was shown at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in 2014.
My experience (or I should say the collective experiences of myself and 53 other artists) with talking & drawing had one disappointing aspect: only about one third of my collaborators took the opportunity to draw during the conversation. Hence, in considering the structure for the next project, I decided that drawing would be mandatory and that talking would be optional.
In the second project, the Rhombi (2013-2014), my collaborators were required to draw but had the option to remain silent. The Rhombi generated 59 drawings over the span of 11 months.
This is how it worked: we met somewhere, usually studios, homes, and coffee shops, occasionally bars and public parks. We both drew on the same 8″ square piece of paper, initially oriented so that each of us is facing a corner rather than an edge. We both used identical drawing tools, provided by me (there were two exceptions to this rule). The other person had to make at least one mark. The duration of the drawing session, within the limits of 1 minute and 1 hour, was chosen by my collaborator, who also chose whether we drew simultaneously or took turns, and had the option of choosing to talk or remain silent, and to specify other ground rules if he or she thought that would be conducive to the process. The shortest times were 5 minutes, the longest 59 (in silence) and 60 minutes. In most instances my collaborators chose to talk, sometimes with interesting limitations: “procedural talking only”, “no talking about the drawing”, “if you want to say something, you have to address the dog”. The first of 59 drawings was made on 28 April 2013, the last on 19 March 2014.
Over the course of the project I came to believe that the most interesting drawings were created when we took turns drawing. On several occasions the resulting drawing revealed a composite style that was unlike the individual mark-making habits of either of us. On the other hand, when two of us drew at the same time we tended to each have our own territory within the sheet of paper and work in our accustomed styles. The Rhombi was shown at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in 2014, at PhoPa in Portland, and at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth in 2016.
In the process of recruiting collaborators for the Rhombi, I found that a number of potential partners begged off citing lack of time. So, for the third project, I decided that I should devise a structure that required very little time for the execution of each component. This was blind eye contact contour (2014). Myself and another artist would draw on the same 7”x5” piece of paper for 60 seconds while maintaining eye contact. BECC generated 63 drawings over the span of 11 months, beginning in January 2014.
As before, meetings took place in studios, homes, coffee joints, etc, preferably a quiet place with a table. The 7×5″ paper was oriented so that each of us was facing a short edge. I used fountain pens, my collaborators could use any drawing tool they chose from their own supply or from a box of colored markers that I brought along. We signed our names near the edge of the paper closest to us. My initial concept was that we would draw in silence for one minute while maintaining eye contact, making allowance for normal involuntary blinking of course. There were no restrictions on what either of us could draw, but our intent was to keep our drawing tools moving for 60 seconds. Early on I found that some of my partners found the experience sufficiently strange that they could not resist commenting on it, so the requirement of silence was dropped. I usually tried to draw a portrait of the other person, but since one cannot look into another person’s eyes and also at that person’s eyes at the same time, this attempt was usually abandoned in favor of abstract mark-making. A few of my collaborators produced reasonably accurate portraits of me (perhaps they cheated). BECC was shown as a work in progress at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell in 2014.
The fourth project, talking & drawing 2, was executed in 2015. It returned to the format of talking & drawing, but in this iteration my collaborators were all male artists. There were 20 conversations from February thru December. We used 9”x8.5” sheets of toned paper, tan for my drawings, gray for those of my collaborators. Sixteen of my conferees chose to draw. Talking & drawing 2 has not been exhibited.
I had custom clamshell boxes made for each project, to protect the drawings and to present an attractive object for display. The boxes for the two iterations of talking & drawing were made by Crystal Cawley, the other two by Mullenberg Designs.
For the last year and a half, I have been obsessed with creating my upcoming show, American Steel, at CMCA. It is a true departure for me on many fronts: it’s realist, it’s text-driven, it’s political, and hopefully it’s funny. If it’s not a little bit funny something’s gone wrong, and if it doesn’t go past this charged political moment, something has also gone wrong.
I’m attempting to unpack my abstract and specific thoughts about this country of ours.
The work runs from the miniature–oyster shells–to the macro–enormous pillars and a serpent. I’m hoping the work will read like a dark allegorical fairytale with some optimistic twists. It has been an amazing work cycle. So many new discoveries of technique and form and specificity. When I’m not terrified I’m having the best time of my life.
The obvious reason for this strange new batch of work is the injection of toxins that this current administration has shot into our politics, and even more significantly, into our society. Trump has opened the door that I had hoped would remain locked at the bottom of the ocean. People just feel comfortable spitting hate without ever hearing or even wanting a cogent response. Because the dialogue seems so discordant, I felt compelled to enter it.
Ever since I graduated with my Bachelor of FIne Arts in 1991, I have said to myself that if I am to refer to myself as an artist, then I better be doing what artists do. Artists make art. So, I make art every day.
I create. I make. I consider. I react. I respond. I collaborate. I experiment. I begin again. Everyday I try new things and new approaches and I keep making art no matter what –especially on the days I doubt myself and even when I do not have a permanent studio.
In February of 2016 I packed up my belongings and left my 15’ x 22’ studio space at Wrong Brain Headquarters (WBHQ) in Dover, New Hampshire. WBHQ served as my studio ever since Wrong Brain, a non-profit alternative arts collective, opened the space to artists. Even though I had been very involved in the organization, including the honor of being one of its original studiomates, I let my space go after one year. The problem was that I was having a difficult time being in the space. There was just too much happening. With six other artists, as well as community events like music gigs, poetry readings, and lectures, the environment wasn’t allowing me to work off my own energy.
It has been over a year now — I am back to creating art outside of a traditional studio. I live on the New Hampshire seacoast in a humble, 6 room Cape Cod I share with my wife Sheri, my 18 year old cousin, Tal, Penny my 10 pound pomapoo, and our two cats. There are some artists who are fortunate enough to have a specific place in which to create. Of the 6 rooms in my house, I create art in my kitchen, living room, office, our three- season room, the garage, and the backyard. I live with art media in every corner amidst the scraps of found objects, the canvases, the works on paper, my soft sculpture, piles of cardboard, and pages of writing.
I try to begin the day by drawing. Like a meditation, I wake up early, before anyone else, and head into my office where I have been squirreling away all the packaging materials I consume. For nearly a year and a half, I have been working on my consumerism project, “Throw Away People”. I have acquired mounds of cardboard boxes, inserts, and packaging paper which I am repurposing as art. I now have piles of different size boxes, even boxes inside boxes. When I started out, I tried to keep up with all the packaging I consumed on a daily basis. While there are now hundreds of drawings done on post consumer boxes, I still cannot keep up with the consumables.
“Throw Away People” began as a series of paper sculptures I exhibited at Wrong Brain Headquarters in the summer 2016. The sculptures were made primarily with paper but also included rubber tires, burlap, plaster, ashes, tape, string, found objects and wire. The sculptures were roughly fashioned together with basic technology. For example, if i wanted to connect one part to another part, I would simply tape it in a very haphazard way, or wrap some string around one end of a thing and then wrap the other end around whatever i wanted to fasten it to. This process was very liberating. Low-Fi Technology. The sculptures then took on a new meaning for me because I was creating figurative sculpture with tossed out items, scraps, and bits of things. The pieces were much more than their parts. I began thinking about all of the people in society that we throw away. All the mentally ill, the homeless, the single mothers, people living with AIDS or MRSA, all the marginalized populations, the Queers, Transkids, Black/Brown/Red people. All the voices … all the people that do not matter … these are the people society throws away.
The project speaks to two ideas. One: LOOK at everything I have consumed – all the food, all the paper packaging – look at what we are generating – the recyclable paper products, more and more – it is never ending. I am just one person keeping track of everything my family consumes. What about this type of consumption on a local level like my neighborhood? What about the global neighborhood? WHY DO WE NEED ALL THIS PACKAGING? It’s advertising; they are selling us pretty pictures and we eat it up. Consumption.
The other idea I’m exploring is about the content of the drawings. So far I have well over 400 drawings on the back of cardboard boxes. I began noticing similar images appearing. I began drawing a lot of skulls, a lot of intestines, eyes, and teeth. All my figures, part beast part human, had severed appendages. Figures unable to help themselves, figures without hands. Heads without bodies. I use text as a part of my process and words were reappearing. I was creating not only poems but phrases that revealed an inner truth, leading me to the next drawing. The word “lies” was popping up very often. I use what I call “automatic writing” to discover what is going on inside me, right under the surface. I simply listen, and open my mind up to the stream of consciousness. Thoughts come into my mind, and I just put the pen to paper. I do not censor my writing. Sometimes I hear the words being spoken in my head. Sometimes as I am writing a word, my mind will skip a beat and change that thought ever so slightly. I remember specifically writing the word “tycoon” thinking about President Trump and the word changed to “typhoon”, and then I thought about this America where people are thrown away. Everything comes without planning or forethought.
I began thinking about the world where my “throw away people” exist. This world. I was feeling a sense of desperation, the zeitgeist of the times, the apathy, a doom and gloom mentality. I feel like I am speaking for those disillusioned by the status quo. I’m giving voice to the existential crisis I see happening. An entire generation disillusioned. My art is not pretty, my art is hard to look at. It’s part street art, it feels like graffitti to me. It’s subversive, confrontational, and difficult to understand because there are so many things going on in the picture plane. I leave it to the viewer to make sense of it. I love what I’m doing and occasionally I meet others who seem to jive with it, but, I”ve had people return artwork they have bought from me because they said they couldn’t live with it. Maybe the best compliment ever – “I love your work, but here, take it back please, it’s too scary”. I smiled a little before my heart sunk.
My drawings are a chaotic two-dimensional realization of a multi-layered existence between forces seen and unseen. Chaos fills the picture plane. Figures are both part of the landscape and part of other figures. The layers of reality bleed into each other. I ask enigmatic questions. I have been limiting and changing up my pallet. Sometimes I use a black, pink, and white palette (I love the softness of pink with the horrors of black/white). Other times I use red, white, and blue. I have also been drawn to yellow – a color I never favored.
The best part about having a home studio is that I can optimize my creative spaces. I use our shed to hang up large canvases where I can use spray paint and do more action painting in the nicer weather. I also use my backyard as a place to invite other artists to collaborate. Collaboration has always been a practice of mine. I find I am easily stimulated by creating work with others. Just recently I have been collaborating with Andy Heck Boyd, an artist in Exeter, NH. Andy and I have been making art together over the last few years. Just recently Andy shared his studio apartment with me because I wanted to oil paint in his company. I am very stimulated by Andy’s art and loved being in his apartment.. My whole body vibrated from just being in his space surrounded by all his art. Andy is the most prolific artist I have ever met. He makes me look lazy and I am constantly working. Our collaborations over this last month came in the way of conversations and storytelling. Lots of stories shared became the springboard from which my paintings were born. I created about 12 pieces that I call “Painting with Andy”. I have quite a collection of our collaborative work and eventually I’d love an opportunity to exhibit those works. I feel very creative when we work together.
When I’m not making art I am regenerating my battery with stimuli to get ready to make art. As part of my daily art practice, I go on walks around the neighborhood and throughout my town. As I walk along I take pictures of things that interest me. I also pick up pieces of trash (or treasures?) along the route.
I usually begin to notice things and they start to make sense in my mind. As I’m walking I’m scanning the ground, the road, and my eye dances around to make connections. Sometimes I am drawn to colors and everything I bring home is orange. One day, I saw something half buried in the ground, I kicked it and noticed it had a pointy end. I dug it out of the ground and was thrilled by the object, an arrow-like black metal piece. I also happened to notice the smallest scrap of fabric, an embroidered eye (that’s a keeper). That day I also picked up rope and string and a blue plastic flag on the end of a rusty rod. Those pieces all came together to create a found object assemblage resembling a bird, the metal piece its beak.
When I come home from a walk I document all the old and thrown out bits I have gathered as individual items. I begin by laying out each thing I picked up. I photograph the items first, then as a group: “A walk.” My process is an intuitive one. These sculptures are part of the THROW AWAY PEOPLE series as well. The assemblages are all quite different, there are some made from organic materials like bark and fibers I find, others are rusty scraps of metal, and bits and pieces of plastic, glass, mirrors, ceramics, aluminum. Some of my favorite finds are scraps of toys.
THROW AWAY PEOPLE is what I am working on for the University of Maine Farmington Art Gallery this coming academic year. The gallery is a two story building, and I can’t wait to fill it up with drawings, paintings, and assemblages hung salon style floor to ceiling.
Part of being an artist is about finding creative solutions to problems. Being without a studio is a serious problem for any artist, but I am a studio artist who can’t afford a studio outside of my home. I would love to work large, 10 foot canvases – I would love to paint and draw, and contemplate, and hang up multiple pieces and look over my artwork. Most of my artwork is sitting in piles waiting for the space I need to hang it and see more than one piece at a time. Until then, I am tasked with one thing – make art. I am an artist. So, I create.
After an earlier 25 year career as a textile artist, selling nationally a line of one-of-a-kind jackets and doing commissioned wall work, I returned to school to get a masters in public policy and started working full-time at the Muskie School at USM. My studio, on the second floor of the barn attached to our house in Portland, was no longer where I went to work. Although there was always something on the loom, I no longer “lived” there.
Even when I worked in planning and development, I still thought of myself as a weaver. I considered my job to use the same sensibilities, same end result: weaving together multiple ideas, people and circumstances to move an institution (or an idea) forward to fruition. But after 20 years in university administration, I am thrilled to now be back in my studio weaving full–time. And weaving has been augmented and informed by painting and drawing.
I began painting while I still had a full-time job. I wanted something more immediate and transportable than weaving. Inspired by my love of casein paint and a class at Haystack with Alan Bray, I have continued painting from nature as an antidote, an opposite starting point from weaving – although I seem to often end up in the same place. When I find a view – through the woods, over the water, or out my window – there is invariably some indiscernible pattern, some underlying structure that I can’t see, but want to find. That is what drives the painting. I try to replicate what I see, but at some point, it becomes about the pattern. And I can layer and evolve a painting in a very different way from weaving.
The loom requires an end vision, and then multiple decisions, all of which have a consequence. So it’s an ongoing process of trying to stay true, decision upon decision, about color and thread and pattern. I get glimpses along the way, but truly don’t know what I have until it is finished and off the loom. I love the constraints of the loom – that both inspire and limit me. I like to work at the edge of possibilities – to see how far I can push the loom in the way it orders and structures the threads. I’ve been exploring pleating, layering and tension changes in making a surface. My husband, Jamie Johnston, has a wood studio below me in our barn, and the dialogue between us continues to play a role in my creative process.
I bought my first loom in 1974, when I moved to the Maine woods, and built a home without power or running water. I still use the same loom. When I recently did a weaving on a new loom, only then did I realize how well I know my loom, and what a relationship we have. We are good friends.
Returning to my studio two and a half years ago, I had only begun to find my weaving rhythm when I became ill with a virus that lasted four months and left me with no energy for the physical work of weaving. While recovering, I began a drawing series “Stilled Life”, as an exploration of a grid structure that has long occupied my mind. I continue to love this simple process of making lines, the sense of hand, and the absolute attention it requires.
After drawing for six months, I began to see the relation between the drawings and weaving and how I could move from lines to threads. Now that I am healthy, I’ve shifted my weaving focus to take what I learned from the drawing process and translate that into weavings, where the loom places its own parameters and opportunities.
In these recent weavings, as in the drawings, each square in the grid is made up of four colors. Two colors alternate changing right to left across the grid, while the other two colors alternate changing top to bottom. The result is that every square is one color different from the squares surrounding it. In a block of 9 squares there is a complete change of colors from the top left, to the bottom right, repeated multiple times. Each weaving/drawing uses 20 – 40 different colors.
I’m consistently awed (infatuated) by how much energy and light is captured in a process that requires such calm concentration. And how the difference between individual threads used as lines and the same threads in a weave can look so completely different.
My practice is in simply working – everyday. I’m acutely aware of the cost of not weaving consistently for so many years. Although I have no regrets, I do feel committed to regaining the mental flexibility and comfort I had during my earlier career as a weaver, hopefully bringing a little more wisdom and ease to the process.
I am totally immersed in this journey at this point – grateful that I have the privilege of time and energy to go wherever this exploration takes me.
I feel that art can be active, holding real power, not just metaphoric meaning. My painting practice has always included an element of ritual and deep listening. It serves as a space through which encounters with personal and collective energies coalesce. Living in a culture that lacks personal passage rituals, I paint to affect the world.
Journal NOTES: October/ November 2017
RESTORATION ECOLOGY *: In troubled times how do we restore ourselves? This is what I am thinking about.
Among my most favorite things are the lidded box filled with small paintings on watercolor blocks (with cold wax and acrylic ) and some of my handmade books and journals. I make them for just myself to process my life and stories and the emotions they carry. Some of the paintings will be framed as is and others are studies for larger works. They are fresh, loose and spontaneous. Some contain photo transfers, painted into and sketched over in sharp thin charcoal lines that I smear with wax. They are yummy. Letters and numbers are stenciled in red and black over images, to begin a dialogue. I think this year’s classes will begin with these small works as a way of loosening up. Later in the week we’ll go into the larger compositions. I borrow text, excerpted from my journals, and join these words with images to begin the forgetting and retranscriptions, to abstract the stories of my life unfolding. This retelling always reveals new meaning. It’s how I know where I am! Right now I see that I am in the process of restoration. I am once again so alive… sharing adventures and work and love letters, rowing boats, island walks, kayaking on the full tides, laughing together with my lover late into the night after a strenuous paddle and a good meal at the cabin. Laughing over the tantrums of his wildly expressive 3 year old granddaughter who screams for the sheer pleasure of it. Watching him take her on his back and run as fast as he can in circles around his house, the girl shrieking in delight. These days I will remember love.
Sometimes when I cannot get into the studio or it’s full of clutter and I want to paint, I set myself up at my kitchen counter, get out the brushes and knives, paint and wax and work on small squares of heavy watercolor papers in blocks (to hold them flat). When I am traveling and away from my studio I pack a small box with supplies of good paper (cold press, print paper or heavy weight watercolor), plus stencils, xerox copies, citrasolve, a small bottle and various drawing tools, and acrylic paints (in a zip lock plastic bag). I place this collection in a basket or canvas bag and I am off….. By air or rowboat, I am transported with my studio in a box/basket, to another place and time, ripe for painting with all the distractions left at home. My new surroundings inform my choice of color and subject matter. Journals come along too. I scratch or write excerpts from the journals into painted surfaces. Acrylics dry quickly in the open air so layers can happen fast. I add and subtract, using cold wax mixed directly with the paint, then knife it onto the surface. Any sharp tool can be used to scrape or write. The process is important, it’s where I discover things. I make a lot of pages and on subsequent days add new color combinations scratching the wet surface to reveal the color now buried in a palimpsest way.
So what am I interested in this season? WORDS as always… resilience, restoration, emergence, (borrowed from a close friend who thinks this way too), some borrowed from a book I am reading: reciprocity, imbrication, juxtaposition, ecology, mythology. What emerges from all of this is a new body of work, unconsciously achieved through observation, mistakes, abstraction , painting over the ugly stuff. From all of my senses, I take in fog and seaweed, the muffled sounds, imposing rocks that appear and disappear. A picnic table can become a studio! I don’t have to be at an artists’ residency (though they are very conducive to this type of drifting). I can paint anywhere, with just that small canvas basket filled with good supplies and QUIET../ SOLITUDE and TIME FOR DRIFTING.
Out of all of this drifting I find a new course description for my classes, at least the concept. Painting memory as a way of holding opposition energies, to restore us to balance in troubled times, to integrate dark/light, release, surrender, restore. What is stored in your emotional body that prevents you from living fully alive, being present to this moment? My friend from the drawing department at OCAC (Oregon College of Arts and Crafts) asks: “What is your growing edge in your studio practice? What is exciting to you right now? Something about your little boxes as ‘containing’ feels fresh to me.” So my immediate answer is: “Islands, as gateways to enchanted states of consciousness.”
Restoring my soul through all the senses. Alive colors taken from the Maine landscape. Mixing the colors. Nature’s palette here in Maine, islands, seaweed. Transition states of consciousness: “…. as I cross over, by land or sea, I feel the shift.” Integration.
*Art as a form of RESTORATION ECOLOGY, the term borrowed from Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass
The loss of a beloved grandmother, father and then my young husband of 38, brought my art to its focus on spirit and the concept of the physical body as primarily the shell/wrapping for the soul. As a ceramist in graduate school, the stoneware sculptures I created appeared almost as layered, peeling armatures left behind. The clay bodies, heavily textured and pit-fired, were singed in large brick kilns constructed by hand, outdoors, and filled with wood, sawdust and oxides. With daily firings, I believe I spent three years smelling like I just came from a barbecue, wherever I went. Working in handmade fiber as well, as in “Winged Amaranth”, these lighter structures of abaca, cotton, and seagrass, seem to be lifted upward as if just releasing the energy within.
Enjoying the texture, translucency and opaque qualities of another medium-encaustics, I spent a great deal of time exploring and creating works that were layered and often combined with other materials. In “Text Memories”, a largescale work, 6 ft. x 5 ft. 6” x 1.5”, I sewed 12 encaustic squares on canvas that contained circles with the repetition of names of important people in my life.
Writing in script each name 200 times in the circle created a particular textural surface. The writing itself was a contemplation/meditation on that person and my feelings for them.
Working as a hospice volunteer for over 20 years has given me experience knowing others, aside from loved ones, through the dying process, and their loved ones, through the grief process. I have witnessed the joy that can also be alive along with the sorrow – the connection and appreciation of all that is still there throughout and until the end.
Living with full awareness of death is important to me, as in the biblical line “Remember man that you are dust and onto dust you shall return”. And to be ready, as Ram Dass narrates so beautifully, “I’ve learned to relax my hold on this body, to rest in life – as a wonderful Saint put it – like a bird resting on a dry branch, ready to fly away.”
My new work deals with light and its’ reflections, often on everyday objects. Streaming sun and its’ shadows creates sculptures and imagery that draws me into its’ focusing ability and ethereal qualities. I am now chasing the light and continuing to explore.
“Even in Death Mobility”
(New York Times Headline, Oct. 25th, 2011)
Even in death there is movement.
The soul kayaks out,
spirit climbs the Stairmaster,
perception, reception, bungee-jumps,
senses dance, a final drum song.
Even in death, action
Forces transpire, take hold, transform,
The heart still stirring,
brain still carrying
remains of vitality,
now transmitting, dematerializing,
a sacred, intangible world.
Even in death
(from a series of poems I wrote, inspired by New York Times
How does an artist express doubts, inner thoughts, or wishes?
At first glance my ceramic sculpture may look mythical. I have chosen to use both animals and people to express emotions that we all may share.
The inner stories we create about how we protect ourselves, deal with inner dialogue or hide our fears, are sometimes better revealed through an animal’s sense of preservation, such as a rabbit’s wariness, or the solemn contemplation of a chimp.
I find it comforting to know that others share my fascination with the inner workings of humanity. What drives us to behave the way we do? This question is what motivates my work.
Maine has its own character, soul if you wish. I felt it the first morning I woke
up in Maine, in an A-frame on Tom Leighton Point in Washington County, lobster
boats droning off shore, gulls crying, the smell of herring bait. A smudge of islands on the horizon. I had arrived from Scotland, and our two souls bonded. It was love at first sight.
As my work developed, it seemed to be formed by those two places: the
white fishermen’s houses of Jonesport and the whitewashed farms of Scotland; the presence of the Atlantic, sometimes moody and turbulent and other times fresh and clean as linen sheets.
So I worked with those visual stimulants, but the depiction of landscape is
never the end intention. For the creative artist it is the vehicle through which he
expresses something more universal, the landscape of the mind, where we all live no matter our physical location.
John Marin’s seascapes are not just about Maine scenery; “The Written Sea”
comes to mind, a favorite of mine. Marsden Hartley’s paintings of Mount Katahdin
are presences that go beyond Maine—they have the grandeur of a Tahitian god or a Greek hero, like Heracles.
So does it matter where we live? I think it does, for each artist finds his
comfort zone, a place he feels connected to. Van Gogh in Provence, Marin in
Addison, de Kooning on Long Island. It is a place that allows us to communicate
with our surroundings. We use the props at hand, be they hills or harbors; in my
case, clouds, islands, and boats. But are they any different from cypress trees, vineyards, and wheat fields? The trail of a lobster boat echoing the horizon is just,
for me, a necessary line in the composition, which strengthens the final expression.
Artists talk to their surroundings, but not in any local language; after all,
artists are forever from away.
—These images of my paintings represent a chronological order and represent the work that I feel is most directly influenced by my time here in Maine. There are other groups of works that deal with other issues and themes—Mary Armstrong, 2017
I first came to Maine to go to Skowhegan (then a school of Painting and Sculpture) in the summer of 1977. I returned as co-dean (with my husband-to-be Stoney Conley) in 1980 and then as faculty wife (Stoney taught fresco) in 1984-85. How lucky for us. The cosmopolitan nature of Skowhegan set us up, from the beginning, in a community of Maine artists and an International array of visitors that gave us a sense of Maine as a contemporary haven for all kinds of work.
We fell in love with each other and Maine at the same time. We were able to buy a little house on the coast at Georgetown in 1980.
For our first few decades we spent summer’s teaching-free months painting in makeshift studios. We lived a very solitary life of work. The only socializing was the occasional visit to Skowhegan for visiting artist’s lectures. Gradually we got to know some of the locals here in Georgetown. But, coming to Maine still means removing from the world, to focus, to work.
I think that there are several “Art Scenes” in Maine. We are so lucky to have the great regional museums and art centers, scattered throughout the state, that showcase really good work from artists working in Maine. I think these institutions keep us all on our toes, inspired and challenged.The Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) is especially important for expanding coverage and scouring the state for ambitious talent.
For me, the most interesting statement and question that you pose is: “ Today’s art culture inhabits an international archipelago populated by the educated, well- traveled, and well- read. These like-minded individuals may have more in common with their counterpart’s half way around the globe than with their next-door neighbor. Can a regional style be authentic in this atmosphere, or is it bound to be a willfully naïve affectation?
I think It’s important to keep an open mind and a raging curiosity about what other artists are doing. Now, at this later stage, it is just as important for me to make work that closes the distance between where I am, what I think and feel about that, and how paint, as an embodying material, can explore that.
There is an important balance between the world and the work. But, ultimately, the deeper wells of inspiration come more and more from simply being….in the light of Maine and my imagination. Perhaps I am willfully naive. If that can be translated into moving with rigorous simplicity, I’ll take it!
above: David Driskell, Pines Trees, Full Moon, Mixed media, 30” x 24”
Traditionally, Maine has served as a special place where artists, beginning in the 19th century, found solace in an attempt to get away from a busy city life. But I came to Maine to learn and experience the beauty that its landscape and nature offer. From the time of my first visit to the state in 1953 as a participant at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture until now, I have felt both a physical and spiritual connection to that great tradition here, where artists interact with nature, people, and events, which adds measurably to one’s creative prowess.
Although my roots are southern (Georgia and North Carolina) and I have lived in different cities from Nashville to Washington, DC, no one place has informed my art more so than the environment and spirit of Maine.
above: Stoney Conley, Cove North Island Afternoon, watercolor, 11 x 15 in., 2016
So we ask what does Maine mean to you?
I have a personal history with Maine, in 1977 my wife Mary and I met in Maine at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, so Maine has a special history for us. We have spent summers in Maine since 1981. At Skowhegan I was introduced to Fresco, which I painted in for a decade, and taught at Skowhegan for a few summers, my paintings at the time referred to the history and process of fresco. Now for over two decades I have painted the landscape in Maine, a direct response to what I see and experience. But I didn’t always and being in Maine made me observe the natural world closely.
Does it affect your work or does your art have nothing to do with where you live?
Over the 36 years we’ve been coming to Maine it has influenced my work profoundly. Overtime I became a painter of landscape, of water and skies and woods. I intend these works to have a sense of place. The light and color are essential elements in these paintings. Even the months I am not in Maine my time here influences my work, I learned to see nature here, I learned to see here.
Are you drawn to Maine by some romantic idea, by the landscape?
For a period I painted abstractly but after walking the beach for a decade I painted the sea. It took me ten years to learn how to see it. For the last decade I made collage-paintings of the afternoon light as my studio faces west. I paint trees as a distant horizon, or as a group, or an individual form, investigating the environment around me.
Do you summer here to escape the heat of the city?
Although I work in Boston in the winter, I balance that with Maine’s sea breezes,the shade of its trees, a walk in the woods in the summer. I cut a field and plant trees and put down roots like the plants that grow here. I return to the city when the days grow short and the fall semester starts.
Do you feed on the local art culture or does it oppress you, confine you? Is it special, or parochial, or is it, dare I say, provincial.
I studied in New York, then Boston and then the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Skowhegan had the broadest range of teachers and students. I find the Maine Museums a rich resource, showing contemporary as well as historical work, when I need a shot of culture. However I find I often stick to my studio and paint from local places. Time feels short; that gives you focus. I’m focused on what’s before me, get it down before it changes, get it down before I’m gone.
above: Emilie Stark-Menneg, Summer in Maine, 2016, 70”x70”, acrylic and oil on canvas
Deep underwater, I scramble to find the cave opening. Once inside the narrow passage, I tug myself along, hand over hand, until the rope ends. As I flail for another line, blue light cuts through the water. I surface, just out of breath, inside the Grotto Azzurra in Capri, Italy, a sea cave that glows ultramarine.
I often think about diving into that luminous cavern when I am painting in my studio in Maine. It helps, that in a shared studio, under the afternoon light, my partner John Bisbee’s forged and welded sculptures, seem to undulate like coral or seaweed. His work feels like an ocean adventure. Walking back into my space, I begin to paint, totally onboard with this dangerous and thrilling expedition into the unknown.
The painting, “Add Gulls”, depicting a couple of bathers looking out to sea, is one of many of my paintings that seeks to uphold and subvert the romantic allure of the Maine coast. In the background, the vintage wallpaper depicting a port town, peels away, as if to suggest a fleeting relationship to nostalgia. Thanks to the ephemeral qualities of the airbrush, the two figures hover in an uncanny digital haze, adding a fresh look to the ubiquitous Maine swimmers. I included a trompe-l’oeil sticky note, scrawled with the words, “Add Gulls”, as a way of pointing to a perfect Vacationland picture without ever getting there.
In “American Popsicle” I wanted to create a somewhat traditional snapshot of a group of bathers posing for a summer pic. I discovered the eerie bands of color bisecting the painting by accident; I was laying down background colors, when I realized that the effect was already so surprising that I should stop. Not following through on a plan and responding to the elements as it were, is one of the most exciting aspects of painting, an adrenaline rush, like a wayward voyage on turbulent seas.
My painting, “The Birth of Many” is of course a riff on Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”. I thought Venus might have more fun if she was not coasting solo, but rather tailgating aboard her overside clamshell with her posse, some snacks—fresh fish and “All Day IPA”, while adrift in a twinkly Maine cove. This goofy and ineffable group is an ode to my artist friends, particularly those in Fort Andross. Everyday I am inspired by them, knowing that they are each in their glowing caves, diving into strange and glistening waters.
For the most part I work intuitively, with no intent of narrative. But sometimes a narrative appears and I find a mantra building within my head. Other times I begin with a mantra that is fleshed out in the work.
This monoprint series was created at a time of turmoil in my life, the turmoil that comes both from my internal world and from the outside world often in equal measure.
Emotions spiral up from the gut flowing around, through and out the mind.
My emotions and my intellect are always in conversation.
BALANCE is key.
This series is about that balance and the reconciliation I have come to find in nature.
I have learned that I must catch, capture, reign in and offer up my thoughts and emotions in order to stay grounded.
The offering is given over to nature, is poured out in working the land, observing growth, death and rebirth with reverence.
The offering is consumed by my intellect and sublimated by both action and inaction. The doing and the not doing. Equal in their importance.
The earth, the garden growing, maturing, dying all feed my center.
LIFE by definition is sacred. Death sacred too.
The work in this series centers around the celebration of this sacred dichotomy, and the peace it brings to my soul.
With every brushstroke Grace Metzler investigates how humans behave, congregate, love and chill together.
She often depicts people interacting at what may appear to be a tailgate hootenanny turned mythic ceremony. Supernatural auroras emanate from her work.
In Metzler’s “Mitts”, a pair of ubiquitous oven mitts seem to have forgone their domestic duties to lend magical powers to their wearer, whose green skin and camouflage coat suggest she has become a forest.
Metzler’s “Make-out Hole + Runners”, depicts men jogging through a sparsely-wooded lot. Two identical bonfires rage like burning eyes. The runners appear to be enacting a ritual that might either conjure the sublime or wake the dead. In the lower right corner, a man and a naked woman make-out, which seems to suggest a fairytale or midnight kiss. But elsewhere in the painting, a figure appears to be climbing in or out of a grave. The tension between good and evil, and the magical code that sends us in either direction, lends great poise to Grace’s work, which teeters on the edge of a powerful and yet unpredictable sorcery.
In one of her most recent works, “Laundry Day”, a woman folds laundry while presumably her husband, who has just returned home, appears in the doorway, mysteriously pointing his hand upward. One wall of the living room is partially covered in depictions of horses and riders, recalling ancient pictographs. The cowboys adorning the wall might represent an accumulation of days, dreams and desires. Perhaps, for this couple, painting has the power to pattern the future, to in effect, bring home the steak dinner, which sits on a tray in the middle of the room. Metzler’s paintings seem to oscillate between portrayals of ordinary gatherings and magic rituals. She simultaneously offers the viewer a snapshot of the everyday and an epic fairytale. That both the TV dinner tray-table and the drying rack are collapsible and that the woman is folding laundry, suggests that the universe can be one thing, expansive and visible, or invisible,
I do not do politics, but I do practice art. My artistic creation is both poetic and social. I create because I dream. I believe things move only if we dream. But it is not just works of art that create change; change is created by the reflections, questions, and emotions that art arouse.
In this time of globalization that is weakening some of the world’s population, there are more than 60 million refugees in the world. Men, women, and children have fled their countries due to economic crisis or war. Meanwhile, governments cannot find solutions to welcome those fleeing and restore their human dignity. It is in these most critical moments that I create and invent new artistic forms. I create art to challenge, to create awareness, and to stimulate both reflection and dialogue on political and humanitarian issues. My hope, above all, is to touch the hearts of people in a sensitive and emotional manner.
In Africa, my art described the history of the Black Continent.
I channeled my experiences of democracy, promoting a culture of peace and solidarity, and denouncing armed conflict and war which have claimed millions of lives in Africa.
In the USA, my collections of ethnic jewelry and paintings made with various materials—leather, wood, and assorted metals—celebrate the beauty and struggle of peoples around the world standing to face their oppressors.
My collection of clothing for men and women, inspired by the concept of conjoined twins, consists of 27 designs focused on solidarity and humanity. I experiment with recycled materials, along with a coded language , with the aim of suggesting a more open attitude to the potential of these materials that overflow into our garbage and into our lives.
Are our lives not considered waste in the eyes of some?
Titi De Baccarat is an artist who possesses many facets at once: painter, sculptor, jeweler, clothing designer, and writer. Dedicated to justice in a hostile political context, he was forced to flee his country, Gabon, with only the wealth of his artistic ability. He has lived in Portland since February 2015, and is working through his African identity and artistic expertise to contribute to the culture of the city.
Boxes, vessels, holes, jars, and bottles all hold something within. I believe this is where my use of narrative begins.
Through these common references, I tell my own personal narrative. This thread runs through all of my work. Viewers can then find resonance with these themes that may reflect their own personal stories.
An example of this type of imagery is 3 eggs in a nest, the primary incubator of life. For me it relates a story my father would tell of the guinea hen, from whose nest you could take eggs. However, you must always leave at least 3 in the clutch or she would become agitated and abandon the nest. My father used this as a metaphor for my mother, who raised twelve children. As they grew up, she became increasingly restless as the last of her children were leaving the house.
Objects also become the patterns I use as layers in my work. The ovals within a circle, for me contain the whole of the previous story. Another element that I use to carry forward a narrative, is the organic shape of the cotton boll with its beautiful natural form painted in the deep earthy red of Georgia clay. It can appear to be just a flower, but for me the image contains the story of the American slave industry and Jim Crow. The imagery can be beautiful while the narrative is painful and difficult. The narrative becomes a mixture of personal and historical.
My Scaintings – 3D paintings – wryly celebrate American life from my perspective as an immigrant. They combine painting, sculpture and words (as embedded or accompanying text) with influences from media including advertising, film and graphic novels.
My work is tactile. Often, seeing it isn’t enough; people want to touch it. I encourage this.
All my work suggests narratives that breathe meaning and movement into intuitions which would otherwise remain abstract and static. I encourage viewers to imagine the backstories and possible endings of my narratives. This dynamic sense is reinforced by giving a work multiple parts, often free-standing or bursting out of the usual rectangular confinement. The relative positioning of a work’s parts is very significant for me.
My stories are palimpsests, with layers of alternatives to my preferred narratives. I’m often surprised by being shown a story in one of my works that I hadn’t seen.
Most of my work is non-representational. Stories needn’t be literal.
I don’t see interpreting art as only the audience’s prerogative. Why shouldn’t artists provide leadership in directing audience engagement? I call myself a Directivist. Neither artist nor audience is passive. I seek dialogue, interaction. In film (and comics), words and images work together; similarly, my titles aren’t labels but pointers. My side texts aren’t curatorial notes but narrative doors. I offer you stories that are new, yet (as good stories always are) familiar. The artist leads you along a path. Your discoveries there are your own.
My titles almost always come first. I choose a story, then decide how to illustrate it. Rarely do I buy or make a canvas without knowing its purpose. An exception is The American Dream. It was a time when I was feeling sorry for myself and needed a big challenge to take my mind off Me. The initial result, a textured white work called The Blizzard, didn’t satisfy me, so I went deeper and found another story, about my coming to the US from apartheid South Africa and finding that the Land of the Free, too, had problems including excess, class and poverty. Having the images on two canvases suddenly became important, reinforcing the haves/ have-nots split. The size of the work acquired new meaning.
Out of the oppressive environment of the overcrowded masses, the darkness of poverty and the freneticism of just coping, the ranks of the less fortunate thin out. Eventually the so-called winners of life’s rat race come to dominate. Here it was critical for me to show the winners as aloof from the hoi polloi elsewhere on the canvas. As a rectangular unit wouldn’t have sufficed, I consider this piece a Scainting, a term I invented to describe a hybrid work that was neither a conventional painting in high relief nor a sculpture.
Possessing the basic building blocks of life doesn’t justify complacency. Life demands that simply to exist we exert effort and take responsibility for all facets of our own development. How much have you managed to put together so far?
The stacked units in Serving Suggestion give concrete substance to an abstraction, in this case food spilling over an implied table. The gold underlay speaks of excess.
Each unit is linked to its neighbor with a continuing motif. The group shares a color, but is it searching for a hero, or is that an outsider trying to conform?
The two-color patterns here are muted so the piece can be seen as a whole without distraction from the individual squares, entitled as they are to their own spaces, and despite the ambiguity suggested by the placement and size of the oddities within.
The word Ubuntu, meaning “I am myself because of who we all are”, is a call and a reminder that we, as individuals, are connected to all people, especially in an increasingly globalized world.
What has been a core issue in my own work broadens this concept to “I am myself because we live on Earth” and the responsibility this brings. While we each carry on with our day to day lives, the knowledge that gives us is a much larger context in which to place ourselves. Information about the smallest of particles to the nature of the universe is now available to most people with the click of a button. The more we know, the heavier the responsibility can weigh.
The paintings I’ve chosen here, done since 2002, seek to examine our place in the world, what we depend on for life as we know it, and potential threats to this. While there are no human figures in my work, it is all about being human. While the work is representational, it is abstract in concept. The paintings are asking the viewer to think about these considerations. For example, in the painting Origin, I contemplate the nature of fire: what is its relationship to light and color, its use as a metaphor, and more significantly, its role in the maintenance of life on a micro and macro level?
In the end, I’m shouting out to the world, “Please don’t take this all for granted, it is precious and fragile.”
above: Matt Blackwell, “Devil On a Leash”, oil on canvas,
Visual Essay: Matt Blackwell
As the presidential election ended I was encouraged by several recent exhibitions I saw here in New York City. One of these was the Philip Guston show at Hauser and Wirth in Chelsea, of the satiric and biting drawings of Richard Nixon. Guston’s statement circa early 1970’s, “What kind of artist am I if I’m just changing red to green” struck a nerve with me in these times, and I decided to press on harder with a day to day account of what is unfolding before our eyes. I believe what I see, and I want to bear witness, as it is unprecedented in its dire consequences to our lives and civil liberties. Around the same time, I also saw the Max Beckmann show at the Metropolitan Museum. Beckmann is a personal hero of mine. ( In North Carolina I studied with Walter Barker who was Beckmann’s interpreter and student at Washington University in Saint Louis in the late 1940’s.) I’ve always admired Beckmann’s spirit, showing the rise of fascism in Germany in a sort of mysterious, coded way. His paintings are staged in a theatrical manner, dense , dark and full of mystery. He lets you know how it felt to be alive in those times, both in 1930’s Germany where he was stripped of his professorship (you can bet Bannon has a plan about this] and while he hid out in Amsterdam through the war. He laid it all out on the line for his work, risking internment and death. There is also a connection between these two as Guston studied briefly with Beckmann, as did many other artists.
On a more personal note, my father Richard Blackwell fought against the Fascists from North Africa to Germany in World War II as an enlisted Canadian with the American airborne. I am very lucky to be here as was he to survive. Even as a child, I was a student of the war and how Fascism arises, so who am I not to speak up when I see scare tactics, vilification of immigrants and people of color, as well as the annoying repetition of untruths (outright lies, alternate facts—Fascist tactics) on a daily basis. “If you see something say something”, as they say.
It pains me greatly to see the stripping away of safeguards and civility in our society. It pains me also to see people seduced by these liars and con men. There is nothing more that I would like to see than people working and prospering, especially in small towns and rural areas. I grew up in rural Western New York. I spent fifteen years in Maine in the 1970s and 1980’s where I have worked and made work about rural people and their concerns . Factory jobs are simply not coming back. The only way I see economic recovery is through small start-ups given tax breaks and most importantly free education at community colleges and job training programs. I doubt this current administration can get this done. Only imagination, skill and hard work can save local economies.
I have been a teacher at all grade levels for over 25 years now. I currently teach at a community college in Queens. My classroom is full of students from everywhere. They are hard working, hardly ever a prima donna. I concentrate on fundamentals: drawing, design, sculpture, painting and some basic art history. My students come from Tibet, Columbia, the Philippines, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Hungary, China, Poland, via Brooklyn and Queens. These kids are respectful, hungry for Knowledge, curious, and focused on their art and their studies. Once they realize their teacher has no other agenda, then they enjoy their efforts, and their interest and skills grow with every lesson. No matter from where they came, they are all American kids. It is an affront to me to see these students characterized as something other than American .They have the he same desires and wishes we all have. So basically I am not having any of this racial purity line. My students are now fearful of their place in America , while two years ago they were not. I owe them to speak up, and to say it is great to be a New Yorker! I wish I could say it was safe to take a road trip and see the country.
These days, nearly every day there is a new outrage, more lies, more outrage, more stupidity. “ But when the right time comes”, to quote the great musician Bob Marley: ”Why boasteth thyself oh evil men, playing smart but not being clever. If you are a big tree, we are the small axe, sharpened to cut you down, ready to cut you down.” Resist and support each other. We need to look out for each other, if I’m preaching to the choir so be it. We need courage and humor to see us through to a better future.
I don’t want my axe to get dull, so I shift in and out of political subject matter. Some days changing green to red is appropriate.