Sunday, December 11, 2016

Family Fun

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
Oscar Wilde

Growing up, my parents dressed up in costumes at any opportunity, and were big practical jokers, and my brother and I inherited those traits. We all love an excuse to dress up.  My parents always had a dresser full of different parts and pieces -- wigs, hats, boas, masks. Once, my dad got ready to leave for a party with an Uncle Sam hat on, rubber snakes coming out of it, wearing a hospital gown and carrying a briefcase--even he didn't know who he was supposed to be--but he was excited about what he was wearing and ready to go.

One of my childrens' favorite stories is when I was about 16 and my brother 19, the summer after his first year in college. There was a huge masquerade party with half of the town invited. As we "Came Of Age" in the 1980s, I dressed like Joan Jett and he was Sting. I had spiky black hair and high heels that I could barely walk in, even when I hadn't had a couple of drinks. We spray painted my brother's hair gold and he wore tight rock and roll clothes. We acted like a couple of hooligans all night. My parents had declined the invitation for the party, preferring to go out to dinner instead. The event was outdoors and really crowded, and very hot, as it was August in Virginia. At one point during the party two people showed up in long black robes and rubber masks that completely hid their faces. Everyone was talking about them because no one knew who they were--this was a small town--who was crashing the party? And no one could believe they could stand to wear those hot rubber masks as the humidity was crushing. The one dressed like the little old lady came up and pinched me at one point and asked me if I was old enough to be drinking beer. I'm sure I said something rude to her. They were the talk of the party, and eventually left quietly. The next day we filled in my parents on (some of) our exploits and talked about all of the costumes.

Skip ahead about 4 months. It was Christmas Day, and we had just finished opening all our gifts. My mother asked if I'd opened a box with a new purse in it. When I told her I hadn't she told me she must have forgotten it, and sent me up to her closet where she hid all our gifts (of course I knew that, so very few of the gifts were actually a surprise). I opened an old hat box, looking for the forgotten purse, and I pulled out -- 2 rubber masks.(!) oh no oh no oh no !!!!!!  What had they seen me doing at the party?.. I started yelling for my brother, and my parents realized their gig was up.  Flies on the wall, in costume.

Many many costumes and excuses to dress up have followed. Then I had children and making their costumes took over interest I had in dressing up myself. But several years ago, a new excuse for creative costuming has emerged.

We started a new tradition of flying to my brother's family 's house for Thanksgiving.  We always arrive late at night and he picks us up with a cooler full of our favorite beverages. The first year we flew to Austin, and he wanted to demonstrate how he had become a "real" Texan. Head to toe in jeans, cowboy boots, a ten gallon hat, and yes, even a Bolo tie (I hadn't seen one since the 80s)! And we promptly got into his pickup truck.  That was the first.

The next year, Chapter 2. He showed up at the airport in a black suit, dark sunglasses, and a sign with our name, looking like a chauffeur. Just like Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy.

Last year my mother and I decided to take our turn, so when we picked them up at the airport at Christmas we were dressed like the Beverly Hillbillies, complete with a misspelled sign with their name, and took it even further by blacking out our teeth. I wore a blond wig that looked like a curly perm and a pillow under my wife beater tee for a big belly. His plane ended up being late so we sat in the airport looking like fools for an hour and a half. My Mom and I laughed at each other for the entire wait. For the rest of my days I will never forget the look on my brother's face when he realized who the country bumpkins were-- it still makes me laugh.

(An aside: when my Mama first appeared that night in costume I was quick enough to catch a video of her, with a memorable statement that she spontaneously came out with. All of her grandchildren, et al repeat this statement every single time we see her. My oldest son even took the video and put it through an Auto Rap app. I'm sorry I've been forbidden to show it here).

We have just returned from their new home in Florida, from Thanksgiving. We assumed that my brother would be in costume, but we decided to catch him off guard, and arrive in costumes ourselves.  I bought some black hats for my boys, my mom found a couple of old calico dresses and  rush-ordered some bonnets from Amazon. The pilgrims were about to arrive!

We did surprise him, and puzzled quite a few people in the airport when the group (some of who looked like Hasidic Jews) greeted and stood with the surfer dude.

Anyway, here's what I've been working on this week.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

And speaking of politics...

“Was the dementia of old age a blessing in disguise? No more thoughts. No more damage inflicted. No more memories of damage survived.” 

― Janet Turpin Myersthe last year of confusion

If you've followed any of my stories about my teaching art to Dementia patients you might think we do more chit chatting than actual art projects. The truth is, we just do a lot of chatting while doing projects. I am truly interested in their stories, histories, and opinions. I often ask for advice as well. More importantly, I ask a lot of questions, especially about their pasts, to help them dig up memories about themselves and recall their pasts. 

I am not particularly political, and often avoid political discussions if possible because they often lead to fights. In general I also think most politicians are liars and cheats.  Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Veep and House of Cards. And I've listened to too much from the current political race. The reality(unreality)-show like atmosphere of today's candidates (one in particular) sickens me, and that's all I'm going to say. The other day while working with my Dementia patients, they got into a political discussion, and FINALLY, I walked away with a laugh.

(Note to some: by laughing  and gently making fun of what they say and do I am not in any way mocking or minimizing the seriousness of Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. These friends are self-deprecating and often make fun of themselves. I spend a lot of time building their confidence and there is a big difference in laughing AT someone and laughing WITH someone. As Jimmy Buffett once said, "If I couldn't laugh, I'd just go insane").

Here's how the discussion went (names have been changed of course). There are about 4 or 5 women, all in their mid to upper 80s:

Mrs. R: What about the election coming up? Are we going to vote?

Mrs. S: When is the election? There must not be much publicity about it because I haven't heard a thing about what's going on...

Mrs. H: Can I vote for Ronald Reagan?

Mrs. L: I feel like I should know something about this Donald Crump person...

Mrs. L: I remember Eisenhower.

Mrs. S: Is Eisenhower still alive or is he dead? Didn't he just die?

Mrs. L: Wasn't Eisenhower a big political person? 

Mrs. S: He was President I thought.

me: So what do you all think about the ones running for President now?

Mrs. S: Yes, well catch me up on that. Who's running?

me: It might be a woman -- Hillary Clinton is running.

Mrs. S: YES! I will vote for her! That would be more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

me:  What about Mr. Trump?

Mrs. L: I don't care for Mr. Trump.

Mrs. S: I don't know Mr. Trump.

Mrs. L: He must be old.

Mrs. S: Who, me? I don't feel very old.  How did you all get into this?

Mrs. L: We can't get out of it either.

me: Mrs. M, who do you think will be the next President?

Mrs. L: Of the United States?

Mrs. S: Who's the other one running besides Hillary?

me: Donald Trump

Mrs. S: Is Donald Trump a woman?

and so on...

Remember the movie Trading Places -- the huge Eddie Murphy laugh when he says, "It's just so ridiculous!!"

Friday, August 26, 2016

I Love Libraries

When an old man dies, a library burns 

to the ground.

This is an old African proverb. 

One of the women I work with in the Dementia area of the retirement home passed away last week. She was one of my favorites, 93, and I had worked (played) with her for 4 years.  She had lived her whole life in Richmond. Because she repeated the same details in her stories, I knew they were true.  I love to hear stories about Richmond's history. I was born here, but moved when I was 2 and a 1/2. In college several of my closest friends were from Richmond, and it seemed like such a rich and glamorous place to be from, especially after growing up "a country mouse". I've been living here for 20 years now, so I guess I can say I'm from Richmond (unless I'm talking to a Richmonder), and the city truly becomes richer and dearer to me as time goes on. I live in a historic neighborhood in a 100+-year old house and someday, someday, I'll take the time to research more of the history of my home and neighborhood.  It's comforting to know so many other people have walked these streets, lived in these homes, had their own adventures.

So, I naturally get the elderly Richmond residents to tell me their stories. The woman mentioned above had plenty of tales to tell. She grew up in Oregon Hill, on Cherry Street. She spent her childhood running around in Hollywood Cemetery -- it was her playground. She walked to the old train station (now the Science Museum) to feed coffee to the troops as they came in on the trains, during World War II.

My favorite story she used to tell was about when the Altria Theater was being built -- to most Richmonders it will forever be The Mosque. The theater is beautiful, Moorish in decor, and used to have a bowling alley and pool. (Maybe it still does.) You used to be able to take a tour of the inside. I'm not sure if that's still an option. When this woman was young, she watched for months as the building was being constructed. Suddenly, she said, one day construction was halted. Because the workers found QUICKSAND. Apparently it doesn't occur only on Gilligan's Island. She wasn't sure of all the details, or how it was overcome, and eventually they continued the construction.

She told me she spent her whole life on Cherry Street, until she got married in the mid 1940s, when she moved to the West End. "Where did you live?" I asked her.  
"Next door to The Mosque".  
The West End.

One day we looked at old photos from the height of the Thalhimer's and Miller & Rhoads era, presented to us by the Valentine Museum. She and several other women told stories of meeting friends "under the old clock", and then having lunch together in the tea room, listening to the piano being played. They all wore dresses with white gloves. In one photo, the woman I've been talking about pointed to someone in the photo and said, "I think that's me." Probably was. 

Old Is Beautiful:

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Not Frida

The MOST important source of inspiration for painting ideas is our own lives... and what we like most.

I do a lot of commissions of animals, mostly dogs. Have animals ever held such high esteem with
their people in history?  I know my dog is the sweetest person I've ever met.

A friend has me doing a series of animal portraits, for his wife, of all the pets they have owned together. That have died. Individual paintings of each. This includes about 4 dogs, and maybe 9 bunnies. (They don't presently own any bunnies, but have 2 dogs). His wife is a good friend of mine, fairly eccentric, and almost always dresses in black. So I've kept the paintings subdued, not adding too much color. A bit of a challenge.

I never knew any of their former pets, but I know their present ones. Both of their dogs are pit bulls, as nice as they can be. One of them, Frida, has that pinky coloring around her face, with white fur, and she is beautiful. Every time I'm at their house, I take pictures of her, I just love her pink face.  So when I saw an image of another pit bull with the same sort of face, I decided to paint it and add paper as I do with a lot of my paintings. I colored her in pinks and navy as I was thinking a lot about that color combination. Guess who she ended up looking like? Yep, Frida.  So because I am only painting their deceased animals, I decided to call the painting Not Frida. But I still think of Frida when I look at it. Here's Not Frida:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

But, But, Butt...

Inspiration is a message-in-a-bottle from the distant shore, a window into the other world, a tap of the muse's finger, the grace of the gods. It comes when you least expect it...
--Phil Cousineau

I have written several posts on how my subconscious often leads me in creating paintings, usually with my conscious self unaware. I have also spoken (ad nauseum, probably) about my chronic illness -- intestinal related, usually a taboo subject (at least around "proper" people).  Unfortunately, it affects many of the decisions I make in my life, although I refuse to let it rule me.

Several people have asked me why I do paintings of animal butts.  Yes, you read that right.  Before having it pointed out, I was completely unaware of this catalog of subject matter.  Now I realize that there are quite a few rear end views. I sort of see animals as the all-knowing, wise rulers of the earth, and they are a source of constant inspiration for me. It is natural for me to express -- project actually -- some of my own feelings/fears onto these creatures that I paint. So, here is my roundup:

                                  Green Zebra  (24"x 30")

                                 Bunny Butt  (18" x 36")

Roo (24" x 30")

                                     Besties (12" x 16")

Blue Emu (10" x 10")

Chickens Cooped (24" x 36")

Dog in Flower Shop   (10" x 20")

Dalmation Rear  (16" x 20")

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Master of My Domain

Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.
~Allen Ginsberg

In a lot of ways, my Daily Painting habit has been one of the best things I've started, ever.  I am practicing practicing practicing my craft every day. 

Malcolm Gladwell, the brilliant sociologist who has written several books on fascinating aspects of human behavior such as "Blink", "The Tipping Point", "David and Goliath", and others, says that no one becomes an expert at anything until they have spent at least 10,000 hours doing it. I don't ever expect to become an expert at painting (I am seeing my judges as fellow painters I admire. According to some of my 8 year old and 95 year old students-- as well as my children-- I'm already there!) -- but I am getting better and learning a lot and experimenting with color and technique and subject matter. 

It also feels good to throw away so much of the paper and imagery I've collected over the years for inspiration, as I go through and see where it takes me.  It's the little bit of cleaning out of the studio that I constantly battle. Every day I try to clean or organize or give away stuff in my "paper pond" so that I can better concentrate, and be able tomove around without tripping on something, or knocking something over, or hear my young students come up there to work and say, "This place is always such a mess!!". 

A few weeks ago I realized that it's not just me that's got this problem. I was at a Collage Society meeting [a little aside here: my foodie husband had the gall to make fun of this membership as he told me he was on his way to the Pickle Club, I kid you not.] and we were talking about paper and glue and canvas and board, and someone said, "I really need to clean my studio," and there were 20 or so heads nodding and "uh huhs", and someone said, "My husband is always complaining about all the piles of paper and stuff, and I finally said to him,
'For God's sake -- I do collage!!!'."
So I'm trying to come to terms with the fact that that's the way it is. There are so many things, papers, pieces of ephemera, lying in wait, to be used on some project. So many possibilities!

So the negative side of the Daily Paintings is that I'm only adding to the clutter of my studio.

Luckily, I have several places around town to hang my work, and I'm selling it as well.  Nevertheless, the additional paintings take up space quickly. I'm trying to keep them organized in boxes, and but there isn't a lot of space for (more) boxes. Also, there are some paintings that are unfinished, so are sitting around.  Others are waiting to dry.  Still more are waiting for me to paint the sides...

Feeling slightly overwhelmed by it all, I am taking a short break from painting until I can shuffle some things around. Here are a few views of precious items in my workspace, waiting patiently for their "upcycling".

I never ever tire of color chips. I have boxes and boxes of them. Sooner or later Lowe's is going to tell me to GET LOST.

I love these letters. Translucent. Remind me of ice.
Have no idea where I got them. And
naturally I don't have enough to spell anything.
I bought a huge jar of these knobs and I have
actually used a lot for Christmas ornaments.

My beloved paper file. Weighs as much as an
elephant. Papers organized by color.
sort of organized...

Paint, also arranged by color. Acrylic and oil separate.

Often called an "Inspiration Board"
Never enough paper.
I love my neat desk.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Color Purple

Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife could eat no lean
And so betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean
Jack ate all the lean,
Joan ate all the fat.
The bone they picked it clean,
Then gave it to the cat
Jack Sprat was wheeling,
His wife by the ditch.
The barrow turned over,
And in she did pitch.
Says Jack, "She'll be drowned!"
But Joan did reply,
"I don't think I shall,
For the ditch is quite dry."

Whenever I see a wisteria tree I think of my husband.

There is a little spot, a block from my house, that is one of my favorite places in Richmond. My neighborhood is old, my house over 100 years, and nearby there are several very old wisteria trees -- trees, not vines. Their trunks have become large and over the last 100 years they have grown and twisted themselves around other trees, and even a telephone pole, and their branches have spread so that when they are blooming they form a blanket of flowers. For several weeks in the spring when they open the sky is filled with fat purple and lavender blooms and the air is filled with their scent. The flowers meander across other trees, hang from branches, and twist around the pole. I walk my dog through here every day, and when they are in bloom I pause underneath, look up, and feel completely enveloped in purple. I can't just leave it at purple -- it is a lilac, or hydrangea blue (which isn't really a blue), a periwinkle, a bluish-violet -- a blanket of incredible, unbelievable color.

The blooms won't last if you cut them and put them in a vase so they have to be enjoyed right there, on the spot, for the week or so that they are blossoming.

My husband is, ironically, color blind. Bless his heart.  He can't fully enjoy the color show that this tree provides.  He prefers the wisteria later in the year, in autumn, when it isn't blooming flowers anymore. He discovered something else wonderful about the trees. Again, while walking the dog, he noticed something growing on one of the limbs:  oyster mushrooms.

My husband is a huge foodie, not as in huge, but a person extremely interested in food. He couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the mushrooms, and he even consulted a local mushroom grower to make sure they were the real thing. He thought foraging would involve a deep walk in a forest, at the very least, and not be as simple as leaning in.

So he has collected, and cooked with, about 10 pounds of these morels (so far) and could not be more thrilled that they are his for the taking, and not even a step off the sidewalk.  More irony: while my "daylong obsession, joy, and torment" (Monet) is color, and he remains color blind, his main interest is food, and I have Crohn's Disease. Thus, food is more often my enemy. Thus the Jack Sprat rhyme at the top.

Anyway, I saw an image of some beautiful wisteria the other day, and the image made me happy, and will suffice until the real ones begin to bloom in a few months. And thus was born another daily painting.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Doctors With Borders

I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living.
~Robert Henri

I learn so much from the elderly women I work with. Most of them I know well enough to understand when they have gone into their imaginary worlds. There are several types of Dementia, and some of the people I see can remember very clearly the earlier parts of their lives, but just can't recall what they said to me 5 minutes ago.  I love hearing their life stories and how they grew up. One woman I've worked with for several years now has had a fairly slow decline. She was a pediatrician in her professional life, extremely intelligent.   When I first met Doc, she was always commenting and reporting on current events and when she started my art class she nearly drove herself crazy with her perfectionism.  She was always the last to leave the project, refusing to give up until she got her piece the way she wanted it.  Over time, she has eased up, gotten slower, and become much quieter.  She still occasionally gets frustrated, and usually wants to leave the class if that's the case. But she is no longer afraid of asking for help and still shows up regularly.

I found out that she didn't want to be a pediatrician. She wanted to be a veterinarian. She always loved cats, even though she tells a story from her childhood where she got caught swinging a cat by its tail and slinging it across the room. I've heard this story several times and each time she tells it she looks like she's gotten caught with her hand in the cookie jar -- naughty but amused at what she did.

I asked her why she didn't become a vet. "I couldn't," she said.  "Women weren't allowed." This was the 1940s. 

Wait -- women could take care of people but not animals??

Then she told how she was accepted into 2 medical schools but she would have been the only woman, and didn't want to deal with that. Her graduating class had 9 women. She also told me that in med school, women were not allowed to go into surgery, specialized areas, or gynecology.

Hold the phone. Women weren't allowed to treat women????

Anyway, she seemed to enjoy pediatrics and has told various stories about her experiences. I like the one about the girl whom Doc had treated for rheumatic fever, who came in for a follow up visit. And was 8 months pregnant. Her mother insisted that the penicillin that Doc had given her had made her daughter really bloated. That was when the daughter went into labor.

Doc never seemed angry or resentful about her limited career choices.  But maybe you don't get resentful about something that you've never had. I told her that it never crossed my mind that I couldn't choose to do whatever I wanted (unfortunately, equal pay is still an issue). And I thanked her for her part in leading the way for women today to have choices.

When you read about women's' rights in history books it's so easy to think to yourself, "oh that's too bad for them", and not always being able to relate. When I hear these stories, direct from the people who've lived them, it becomes so much more real.  There are so many rich lives and adventures to hear about -- so many who spent their entire lives in Richmond -- and helps me see a bigger picture of my world, and my city, so full of history. 

That's one reason I love the old photos that I've inherited from my grandmother, and that I collect in thrift stores.  I love to imagine the lives of the people in the photos.  What are they thinking about? What did they do right after the picture was taken? What were the seminal moments in their lives? 

Everybody has a story.