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I keep drawing these grids in my little 4×6 sketchbook.

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I’m experimenting with how to change the shape and flow of the squares; in my view this next one went off the rails, but the two people who have seen it both like it a lot, so what does the artist know:

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These next two are my favorites–I love the way they ripple and move:grid-5-from-sketchbookgrid-6-from-sketchbook

I thought this one wasn’t finished (I don’t have my markers with me and there are still orange intersections to put in at the bottom), but since I was scanning the rest I scanned it too. Now I think maybe it is finished.

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In related news, I’ll be putting up 17 drawings, prints, and alebrijes from my sabbatical in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto lobby today, with comments on each one. They’ll be there through the end of March.

A benefit of being in Mexico is that I don’t have my smartphone. My service wasn’t easily transferable to Mexico, and rather than sign up for something that would deliver data here, I just got a pay-as-you-go cheap phone with Telcel, a Mexican company. It lets me text and call, which is all I need, and frees me to look around and be more present. My smartphone is waiting out the six months in a drawer, but I recognize myself in the people all around who are doing this:

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The only reason I’m not doing the same thing is that my phone doesn’t work.

I made the above piece under time pressure. I had to draw something for a lesson in silkscreening, since the project I had in mind didn’t fit the criteria of simple lines and three colors. So I drew what I’d been noticing, wincing a little at the preachiness of it. Silkscreening turned out to be fun and frustrating; of 30 prints, I didn’t get a single one that was in register (colors lined up properly) and lacked smudges and had a clear print of all three colors. Just the same, there is something very satisfying about lifting up the screen to see what the squeegee has accomplished.

Most of all I am glad I made this piece because it lodged a reproof firmly in my mind: the preachiness hit the mark it ought to, myself. When, last month, the munchkin and I spent a week in Maryland and Pennsylvania and I reactivated my phone, I remembered this just-finished print and managed to use the phone mostly for its important purposes–calling and GPS–and stay off it the rest of the time. But oh, the lure of Facebook! So much of what I’m seeking there is simply “We see you,” as Marc Maron says, in a statement illustrated devastatingly by Gavin Aung Than on Zen Pencils. It is a supremely ironic reason to ignore my friends and family. But the data access and other tools are very useful, so I’ll have to find a good site blocker when I’m back, to use them without giving in to addiction. And maybe I’ll post this print where I can see it often.

I’ve been working on this drawing for a few weeks, as part of a series on change, decay, and erosion. It feels like a collaboration with the unknown sculptor or sculptors who carved these paths through the wood of a tree. I do not know who they are or even their species–some kind of insect, most likely–but I am moved by the patterns they make, which could also be called decay and disease.

Discovered on the leg of an outdoor table in San Augustin Etla, Oaxaca. Pencil on paper, 6.5 x 8.5 inches, November 2016.

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I’m working on a silkscreen print in the same series–it will be of rust–but it went wrong and I decided to start over. I’ll have to begin a new screen on Saturday.

Here’s another in a series. I finished it a few weeks ago and then took the ideas in a new direction, seen here. The common thread is the way forms show without outlines. They just emerge, presences that are undeniably there even without clear definitions. It didn’t work quite to my liking with this one, hence the new direction, but it was fun.

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I’m taking a class on woodblock and linoblock printing. The first piece I made was this one. As I was working on it I was dissatisfied, and made this drawing also. The drawing is a more successful rendition of what I was going for, but hey, it’s my first woodcut. I don’t have control of the medium enough to make lines as fine as I was imagining, and there are places I went too light–once you’ve done that, there’s no undoing it. Really, I think the only print medium that could have captured what I had in mind with this image would be a lithograph. But here it is, anyway, the first proof.
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The second piece was a linocut and much more successful. These are the seedpods of a kind of acacia, called huizache in Spanish, that grows here abundantly. I love them, and have enjoyed spending so much time with this one.

In previous wood- and linocuts it was very challenging to have drawn lines on the surface that signified the places I did not want to cut, i.e., that I wanted to print black. I kept feeling like I was supposed to carve where I’d drawn. So with this print, I made the drawing in negative, blacking in the places where I intended to carve, i.e., where I wanted to print white. It worked well.

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Another pastel. One day I opened the door from our kitchen here in Oaxaca, saw this light, and knew I had to try to draw it.

Pastels are tailor-made for one of my challenges, which is to refrain from too much detail and trust that broader strokes, well placed, will convey what is there. I went looking for oil pastels in pencil form (not for this piece, but for another one) and discovered that they do exist but that I’d have to have them shipped to me, which is slow and expensive. Just as well, as they’d be my attempt to do an end run around this limitation of the medium, and thus miss out on its promise as well. (I will buy them when I get home, though. They’re right for some projects.)

I keep thinking this piece isn’t quite done, but I’ve put it on our art wall, a declaration of “done enough.” Call it “patio with orange bucket.”

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I haven’t been posting most of the art I’ve been making, so over the next few days I’m going to post a piece per day.

This is a linoprint, about 4 x 4 inches. I was in the studio we all go to together most weeks, Ishuakara (I finally found out the origin of the name; it means “rebirth” in the owner’s native Zapoteco), with extra time on my hands, and no particular idea for a print. Armando had a field guide to shells on his bookshelves, and since my daughter loves cowrie shells,  I started in that section and zeroed in on this one, a measled cowrie. I’m going to frame one of the prints for a Christmas or Hanukah present for her (shhh).

It’s the second linoprint I’ve made. His methods are a bit different than those at Burro Press down the street. For example, rather than using a press, each was printed by hand, with the pressure applied with the back of a spoon. Nice to learn these different ways to do things.

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There’s a passage in the novella “Seymour: An Introduction” by J. D. Salinger, advice from Seymour to his younger brother, Buddy, a writer, with which I have an ambivalent relationship. It has been sitting in my quotations file, mocking me, for several years. On the one hand, it seems very wise. And I don’t know if Salinger succeeded in following it (or even thought he should), but he was a very fine writer and so when his alter ego, Buddy, gets a piece of writing instruction, I listen up. I’ve rewritten it here to be advice to a visual artist:

You . . . sit very still and ask yourself, as a [viewer], what piece of [art] in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to [see] if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and [create] the thing yourself.

My ambivalence arises from the fact that I don’t think I have ever managed to make a piece of art in this way. I see art that makes me gasp and sigh with instant recognition: it has given shape to something in my spirit. And I’ve made lots of art that I like, that expresses something of what I perceive. But to have an image come to me that is just what I most want to see? . . . no. I can’t think of a time when that’s happened.

It’s not that such art would necessarily be better. What I seek is that fluid connection between the images in my mind and the longing of my spirit. And this week I felt that connection in a way I can’t recall feeling before. This is the piece I most wanted to see, or close to it:

img_7314Untitled, pencil on paper, 4.5 x 6 inches

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Grief (with thanks to Denise Levertov), conte crayon on paper, 11 x 12 inches

Levertov’s poem “Talking to Grief” gave me this image that helps me to acknowledge and honor such sorrows; I’m so grateful. And grateful also to my spiritual director, the Rev. Sandee Yarlott, for the language of “acknowledging” and “honoring.”

While I was working on the drawing, I returned to the poem and decided to try to translate it into Spanish. Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation, and it’s probably more than I can do to get a literal translation right, much less evoke the poetry of the original. I have a lot of questions for my Spanish teachers when we meet next week, such as “what’s the nearest Spanish equivalent to ‘grief’?” and which of the various terms for “mat” evokes the kind you’d be likely to give to a stray dog, and whether the tone is at all like Levertov’s. But here’s my first pass at it. Friends who are fluent in Spanish, I’d love your input on the translation, if you’re so inclined. The English original is here.

Hablando a Luto
por Denise Levertov

Ah, Luto, yo no debería tratarte
como un perro sin hogar
que venga a la puerta trasera
por una corteza, por un hueso sin carne.
Yo debería confiar en ti.

Yo debería engatusarte
para entrar la casa y darte
tu propio rincón,
Una estera gastada para acostarte,
tu propio plato de agua.

Tú piensas que yo no sé que hayas estado viviendo
debajo de mi porche.
Tú añoras que tu verdadero lugar esté preparado
antes de que el invierno venga. Necesitas
tu nombre,
tu collar y chapa. Necesitas
el derecho de ahuyentar intrusos,
considerar
mi casa la tuya
y yo tu persona
y tú mismo
mi proprio perro.

 

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Pencil & ink, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, July-August 2016

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