Archive for the ‘Ponderings’ Category

Father of the Year

Monday, October 29th, 2018

Pizza, baby cage, grenade … the stuff of childhood. When my son saw this he shrugged and said “This is normal”. I think he was kidding.

There’s also a cup of coffee and a doglike creature, two elements which keep finding their way into my work over and over again. One might begin to suspect that I like coffee and dogs of all types.

I’m amused at the notion that a palpably evil creature, a Prince of Darkness type, can’t keep his kids in line. However, I’m a little disturbed that the violence of the outside world is creeping into my work. There are some horrifying things going on in the United States.

I live in a comparatively pleasant section of Silicon Valley. In the main, people in my neighborhood are more focussed on changing the world and making things than attacking each other over cultural or philosophical differences. But once the violence and hatred escalate, nowhere is safe. Fear and suspicion inexorably creep into everyone’s lives.

Journalists, sometimes risking their own safety to share truth with the rest of us, are reviled by the current regime. “The Fake News Media, the True Enemy of the People,” caws the regime’s leader, a man who is apparently unclear on when and how to use capitalization. Assassination attempts have made against public figures. People have been slaughtered at their places of worship, murdered or abused for being the “wrong” color, and school children have had orange-sized holes blown through their bodies with assault weapons.

Meanwhile, the person at the head of the regime preaches the religion of violence. And boy, do some people love that doctrine. I’ve seen people I used to love and respect become instruments of hatred. I’ve watched them turn their heads and pretend not to see. Some of the worst I know are the old white men who served in the armed forces during the Cold War. They really should know better when confronted with the reality of Russian collusion and propaganda concocted in Macedonian boiler rooms. But they don’t. They refuse to see it. Gosh, no; they could never be taken in by disinformation. And by the way, keep your hands off their Social Security and keep those filthy, murdering “illegals” out of their country, the one given to Christian white people by God.

Are others waking up? I don’t know. I used to believe the best about people, in the main. I thought most differences were a matter of people having diverging notions about how to improve the country. Even if I disagreed with them, I could at least respect them for having principles of some type.

Now I believe there’s a core group that lives in denial, or is so filled with hatred that setting the world on fire is just fine as long as brown people and liberals go down with it. They’ll lose their businesses due to trade wars, have crops rot in fields due to lack of immigrant labor, die due to lack of health insurance, and maybe have their children or grandchildren cut down in school by an evil, deranged gunman. But it will have been totally worth it.

The father in this image is inept and overwhelmed. But evil as he is, at least he has the decency to find the mayhem around him disturbing and not incite more of it.

It’s tragic when a man-eating demon is more humane and ethical than a prominent world leader.

Pacific International Quilt Festival, 2018

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

 

 

Last week I went to the PIQF, which is a grueling 6.5 mile drive from my house. My piece Do Dragons Like Cookies? received this award, which I very much appreciate.

I’ve had pieces with 3D/CGI surface designs sell, be published, and tour. However, this is the first time one of them has received an award. That’s a welcome milestone.

 

Unless I mount an exhibit of 3D/CGI surface design or enter an exhibit for quilts featuring hungry dragons, I imagine PIQF will have been its last public viewing. I don’t much enjoy shipping things out to different shows – I prefer having work in exhibits that travel and stay gone for a year or so. I hope that those who saw it enjoyed it.

I always enjoy PIQF; since it’s so close, it’s a relaxed, fun show. Getting everyone’s work together so it can be studied at a size larger than that of a computer screen is a lovely, communal activity. It always drives home the vast range of aesthetics and skill levels out there.

One exhibit I greatly admired was provided by the Social Justice Sewing Academy. Quoting from their website,

“Through a series of hands-on workshops in schools, prisons and community centers across the country, SJSA empowers youth to use textile art as a vehicle for personal transformation and community cohesion and become agents of social change. Many of our young artists make art that explores issues such as gender discrimination, mass incarceration, gun violence and gentrification.”

The pieces are powerful, with quite a lot of heart. It’s incredibly sad that not only are adults having to face the issues depicted, but youth are too. They literally can’t escape them and, unlike adults, are powerless to vote or politic for different policies. However, they can engage in peaceful protest and statements of their concerns by creating artwork. They’re following a noble tradition utilized by, among others, women who wanted to vote, citizens concerned about the Vietnam war, auto and mine workers, Quakers who found the slave trade abhorrent, and the original colonists who didn’t appreciate taxation without representation.

Twitter Tantrum, Carina Cabriales

The words on the quilt weren’t invented by this artist. They’re quotes or messages from a sitting elected official. Given the hate-filled, foul-mouthed, bigoted, misogynistic messages this person spouts on a daily basis, this quilt is extremely restrained.

Learn more about the quilt and read the artist’s statement on the SJSA site.

 

One block from Activist ABCs, Bianca Mercado

See the entire quilt and read the artist’s statement on the SJSA site.

 

Exit Wound, Audrey Bernier

A portion of the artist’s statement:

“Did you know that the exit wounds from an AR-15 are the size of an orange? That means regardless of the shooter’s aim, if he hits anything he’s going to do severe damage – more often than not, fatal damage. I titled my quilt “Exit Wound” as a reminder that gun control in all communities is a social justice issue that deserves action and conversation.”

The Atlantic published an excellent article on the topic of AR-15 wounds. It’s written by a radiologist who dealt with victims of a school shooting.

 

One block from Agency.

Learn more about the quilt and read the artist’s statement on the SJSA site.

 

Protect & Serve: EVERYONE, Chloe Gorski

This piece concerns the disproportionate killing of African Americans and invites viewers to add the name of someone who was a victim of police lethal force.

“As of the summer of 2018, 38% of unarmed citizens killed were African Americans.” This is about three times the percentage of blacks in the U.S. population. No, not all cops are trigger-happy bigots. Just enough that if the outer 1 mm of your body is a different color from that of a white person, you live in fear.

To see more quilts, view an exhibition schedule, or find out how to help, visit the Social Justice Sewing Academy website.

Dani California

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Lately I’ve been taking some trips down memory lane. My kid turned fourteen this summer. Fourteen. That’s only 2 1/2 years younger than I was when I dated his dad the first time and 4 1/2 years younger than I was when I left home for good. The cake is all but baked. He’s on the verge of driving, dating, voting, and making decisions about schools and professions. All he really wants from us at this point is the occasional hug, a steady supply of pizza and Red Bull, fresh laundry, and no embarrassing questions about which websites he’s visiting.

It’s thought-provoking and mildly terrifying. Have his father and I done a decent enough job of preparing him? Is he going to have a good foundation for an ethical, productive, satisfying life? I hope so. He’s living in a much different world than the one his grandparents or his father and I came up in. It’s a better world in some ways and a much harsher, more challenging place in others.

When I was not too much older than my son, I moved from east Texas to the Bay Area. It was a move regarded with much suspicion and, in some cases, thinly veiled hostility on the part of family and friends. My father in particular had nothing good to say about California or the Bay Area. “I’ve been to Oakland,” he told me. “I’ve seen all I need to of the Bay Area.” I saw him one last time before I left Texas, a chance encounter in a Walmart. I smiled and said hello. He looked through me as though I didn’t exist. I wish I had realized then what that meant. Sometimes life presents lessons before we’re ready to absorb them, though.

 

The exquisite environs of east Texas, near the ancestral homestead.

Happily, the Bay Area was nothing but good to me. Unlike east Texas, the weather was congenial, without wintertime icicles worthy of murder weapon status or summers so hot that cracks formed in the ground. Yes, housing was on the dense side – “wall to wall people,” as my father groused. Bizarre as it seems now, at first I was confused by the lack of visible boundaries between cities. I was used to seeing open land with grazing cattle.

However, the roads were paved, not mud masquerading as limestone gravel. Power and water outages were almost nonexistent. The places I lived, while not luxurious, all had toilets that worked consistently, painted walls, and floors of tile or wood or linoleum rather than plywood floors, unpainted sheetrock walls, and rain blowing in around the edges of homemade windows.

There was public transportation. The locals complained about it in endless screeds to the newspaper, but I was grateful. If you had the price of a day pass for the bus and were healthy enough to make up the difference between the bus route and your destination with your legs, you could get around a good many places. You could get by without a car, for at least awhile.

People seemed happier out here. Education was valued and people were congenial, busily pursuing matters they found interesting or important. If you hadn’t formed dreams of your own or didn’t yet have the means to pursue them, you could help out with someone else’s for awhile. For years I did just that.

There were libraries. Not just one library, with a building erected by Andrew Carnegie and a paltry two books allowed out for a period of a couple of weeks. No, there were libraries everywhere, at universities and in the cities. People used them, piling bags high with books. There were also museums, art, music, gorgeous places to hike, and people out smiling and waving as they walked their dogs. It was a paradise.

Alas, my personal life was a wreck. On weekends I’d try to escape it by walking from Escondido Village at Stanford, where I lived, down to California Avenue in Palo Alto. I’d walk and walk and walk and stay gone as long as I could. California Avenue had a thrift store, a bookstore, a photography store, and tons of windows to peer in. There was also a club; I think it was called the Keystone. I dimly remember seeing concert posters, low budget things run off on colored paper on a copier. Those were fun to look at. One of them mentioned a band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers. 

Huh. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. That was an interesting name. I wondered who and what they were.

Happily, the Stanford Daily ran some lovely stories about them, such as this article about a concert in 1985:

“The Red Hot Chili Peppers appeared last, and it was soon apparent they Were out to prove that punk’s not dead but has merely absorbed other musical styles and undergone a slight transformation in the process. The band was visually pleasing — lead singer Anthony Kiedis tied an American flag around his waist, and drummer Cliff Martinez wore some sort of bizarre headdress. Unfortunately their performance was not so pleasing. Flea’s funky bass and Jack Sherman’s hardcore/heavy metal guitar riffs completely overwhelmed Kiedis’ voice, so I couldn’t hear what he was singing. Kiedis spat a lot, and he and Flea wasted time with their stupid shouting between songs. His posturing and posing during songs lacked Fishbone’s humor; he looked like an attention-hungry brat. Most of their songs sounded essentially alike. An exception was “Mommy, Where’s Daddy,” primarily because it wasn’t as fast as their other songs and allowed a clearer sound to come through. They are all proficient musicians, but they are entirely predictable; combined with Kiedis’ obnoxious behavior, The Peppers’ show was less than what I had hoped to see. However, they did possess a raw energy that is truly what rock is all about and seeing Fishbone’s crazed stage spectacle made the evening memorable. The Chili Peppers were not “red hot” at the Keystone last Saturday.”

Bizarre headdress! Spitting! Stupid shouting! Now that’s journalism. It also sounds like quite a spectacle. I’m sorry I missed it.

Later I read about their wearing the infamous socks. They will never be allowed to forget about that; it’s a cruel reality of being a celebrity. They’ll be 105 years old, kept alive only by a drip of opiodes and pulverized kale, and somebody will ask them if they’re going to do another performance while wearing only socks. That or they’ll be asked, once again, why they began performing that way.

“Why did you perform with only socks over your privates?”

“Uhhh … take your pick:”

  1. “It was an existential protest against the brevity of human life.” 
  2. “It was a clever bit of stagecraft.”
  3. “We hadn’t done laundry lately.” 
  4. “We didn’t want to be arrested for performing naked.” 
  5. “We were young, we were doing a lot of drugs, and we wanted to play loud music and attract a bunch of girls.”

For me, it was wonderful. Rock musicians wearing socks! Only socks! That confirmed every stereotype my stepmother had tried to pound into me about rock musicians – debauchery, womanizing, poor dental hygiene, rampant sock-wearing. I was mildly scandalized (just socks!) and secretly delighted (just socks! in public!). What can I say? I was clinically depressed but I wasn’t dead.

I never did get to a Chili Peppers concert, although I did go to other concerts at Stanford – Joan Baez, Shadowfax, Ravi Shankar. They were all chosen by my ex, who supervised my music consumption and many other aspects of my life. I was braced for debauchery each time but there was none, unless one includes wearing socks with Birkenstocks.

I spent the following years doing the things one does: going to endless counseling sessions, getting out of one messed up relationship and sprawling into another, shoving electrons and positrons around and around a giant ring, shoving electrons and positrons down a two mile long pipe, doing that and going to school, griping at people while shoving electrons and positrons down a two mile long pipe, studying graphic design, running a business, working at a startup, divorcing, marrying, having a baby, adopting a couple of dogs, and whining about putting on weight while simultaneously baking batches of cookies.

I didn’t get back to the Chili Peppers until a few weeks ago. Sorry, guys. Not that you missed me.

I may be late to the party, but I’ve found that their videos – and there are quite a few – are a delight. I missed the golden age when MTV was in vogue, so it’s lovely catching up now. I’m guessing that we’re in a second golden age and that making videos is once again necessary if you want your songs to be commercially viable. People my son’s age aren’t watching broadcast TV or browsing record stores for LPs or CDs. They’re watching YouTube or listening to stuff on Pandora or Apple Music.

Here’s one of my current favorites, Dani California, which was released back in 2006.

The video does a lovely, entertaining job of chronicling the eras of rock history via a series of set pieces, complete with changes in costume, dance style, and persona.

 

Screencap from Dani California

We get to see Flea’s hilarious, adorable mugging (5 seconds, 26 seconds, and elsewhere) and the antics of the other people in the band.

 

Screencap from Dani California

Oh yes. We’ve all been there.

 

Screencap from Otherside

As usual, Anthony Kiedis is charismatic and has beautiful abs and bone structure. I suspect that he has painting that resembles a morph between himself and Keith Richards tucked away in an attic, or perhaps he just has new bodies cloned every couple of years.

 

I kind of want to make a 3D mesh of his face, much like the one I’m making here. Yeah. Having total strangers make digital 3D models of your face isn’t creepy at all.

There’s a nice writeup about the song on Wikipedia. I’m not going to repeat all of it, except for this part: “Kiedis has commented that the character of Dani is a composite of all the women with whom he has had relationships.”

Anthony, sweetie, that statement worries me. Do all of your relationships end with the girl getting shot to death in North Dakota? That just doesn’t sound healthy. You have enough going for you that you could date women who are a little smarter and less prone to getting shot. Next time, maybe look for somebody with a Ph.D. in anthropology or a nice school teacher type. Somebody you could actually talk to, who won’t go fleeing to another state.

I kid. Who knows why anybody gives the answers they do during interviews? If it was me on the spot and I’d been asked the same thing for the 5,000th time, I’d probably make stuff up for my own entertainment.

The video is great but it becomes even better after viewing the three-part documentary. (The entire thing takes about half an hour to watch.)

It shows some of the moving parts necessary to make the video: costumes, makeup, sets, cameras, camera angles, instrument techs. It soon becomes clear that what looks like a film of a bunch of guys messing around, singing, and having fun is actually intense, repetitive work.

I have no idea how many days of prep were involved or how much work was required in post. The fact that they did the filming in only two days, with ten costume and set changes, amazes me. It’s a testament to the preparation and maturity of everyone involved. They went in, they got to work, and they made it look fun.

Part 1:

Some personal favorites:

3:23 Flea goes on a screed about the British Invasion. My kid found this delightful. I’ll refrain from getting concerned until he decides to buy a pair of pointy-toed shoes.

5:14 Anthony kicks it fifties style. That footwork! I’m not sure how he wiggles back and forth so efficiently. My son and I have tried to reproduce his movements, with much clumsiness and laughter. So far we haven’t injured ourselves, but it’s been a close thing. What can I say? We live in Silicon Valley. We do nerd stuff. Even our dancing is kind of nerdy.

 

Part 2:

1:54 Flea is downed by an errant microphone. Here we get a little sense of the affection between him and Anthony. I suspect that’s what has kept the band glued together over the years: friendships, forgiveness, and fundamental respect for the different members’ abilities. People grow, change, and conflicts happen. It’s inevitable. It’s how people cope with such changes that makes the difference between enduring and parting ways.

2:24 Anthony hospital war story. Amusing.

4:58 Flea’s pompoudor wig. It’s big enough to cause an eclipse!

6:12 Chad Smith doing some hair metal mugging. Once you have lipstick and a tiger print body suit on, how can you resist?

8:26 Photo-sonics tech John Wagner describing a Cold War military-grade camera used capture Flea’s jumps. Military grade!

9:15 Flea’s kicks. The man has ups! He’s darned near making it out of Earth orbit. I’m sure the camera is positioned so as to make his jumps look more dramatic, but they’re still very impressive.

 

Part 3:

3:22 Flea’s screed about his less-than-functional bass. There’s just something about seeing a man who’s wearing a net shirt, black lipstick, and a spiked collar grin and say “Maybe I should come over there and beat the **** out of you” that makes me sick with laughter. Another household favorite.

4:14 Chad being deliciously sour. That isn’t meant as criticism. He does it very nicely. Anyone would feel sour and weary by then, really.

7:20 Anthony’s facial gyrations during the punk segment, with a camera darned near shoved up his nostrils. Great stuff. Those are the kinds of faces I secretly make in the bathroom mirror. Yes, I stick out my tongue, too.

Good for these guys. 

These days I view all sorts of things as celebrations of life – badly made art quilts that make somebody’s grandkid look like he has leprosy, the tree behind the ice cream parlor that’s covered with thousands of blobs of used chewing gum, and going to the dog park to throw balls. A music video falls in that category, albeit a more sophisticated one. It’s a carefully crafted celebration of life. The guys in that band have gotten up to heaven knows what over the years, but they’ve also put a lot of joy in people’s lives including mine. Their music has kept me from going nuts at times, when I’m shambling along on a treadmill or folding yet another brain-numbing, idiotic stack of towels. I’m glad to get to celebrate that creativity.

Back in the mid-eighties, I was near the beginning of my arc as an adult. I was a scrawny young woman with bad hair, a couple of thousand miles away from friends and family, taking long walks and trying to figure out how to straighten out my life. The Chili Peppers were similarly starting out, doing whatever was necessary to launch their careers – couch surfing, grabbing concert dates, and indulging in antics that scandalized and delighted onlookers.

We’re all now further along in parallel, non-intersecting arcs. They’re creative and productive. I like to think I am too. Much of the turbulence of early adulthood has settled out for everyone. Hopefully we’re all putting more good into the world than bad.

It’s none too soon. In my household, the next generation is on its way to getting launched. I hope my son’s launch will go quite a bit better than mine did. We’re going to try to help that happen.

It’s quiz time!

Friday, May 25th, 2018

It’s time for some fun! I’ve posted eighteen pictures below. I want you to go through them and assign each to one of the following categories:

  • Abstract
  • Animals
  • Digitally created
  • Fantasy/Whimsy
  • Naturescape
  • Painted
  • People, portraits, and figures
  • Pictorial (objects, still life, wildlife, cityscapes)

Is there a point to this exercise? Yes, there is. We’ll get to that in a moment. But first, let’s go through the images.

 

Image 1

 

Image 2

 

Image 3

 

Image 4

 

Image 5

 

Image 6

 

Image 7

 

Image 8

 

Image 9

 

Image 10

 

Image 11

 

Image 12

 

Image 13

 

Image 14

 

Image 15

 

Image 16

 

Image 17

 

Image 18

 

DING! DING! DING! Time’s up!

What did you decide? Did you put any of these in the people or portraits category? How about abstract or animals? Did you see any still lives or anything that struck you as whimsical?

Well, it doesn’t matter what you or I think, or what the style or subject matter of these images is because every one of them was digitally created or modified. (More on that in a minute.)

As far as the International Quilt Association’s rules are concerned, if any of these are printed on fabric and made into quilts (actually, three of them already have been), if they’re submitted to one of the IQA shows, they have to be submitted under the Surface Design category.

That’s right. No matter how little these individual images may have in common, they’re alllllll going to be slopped together in the same category because a computer was used to create them. The same thing goes if you’re submitting a quilt that is more than 50% painted; it gets put in a painted surface category regardless of its style or subject matter.

Why?

Why is the instrument or technique used to create a design more important than its style or subject matter?

Why are quilts with painted or digitally designed fabric being stuck in a ghetto where completely unrelated works will be competing against each other?

What is the goal? To focus on works which use more quilting supplies, thus making vendors happy? To return to the traditional roots of quilting and reduce the focus on art?

Regardless of the intention, I know one probable outcome: to reduce experimentation and fossilize the art form. Fewer available categories for one’s work implies that there are fewer available slots and less work will be accepted. A few people I spoke with said that because of this rule change, they aren’t going to submit work this year. They’re excellent artists, but they find the rule change discouraging and ominous, so we won’t be seeing their work. I only submitted one piece.

***

About the images:

I made every one of them on the computer. Notice how little they have in common other than that. Then imagine them turned into quilts (if the image is suitable for that) and hanging on a wall together in one category. Why do that?

 

Image 1 – Apples. A digital painting I made in Procreate for iPad, using someone else’s photo as a reference. Apologies to the person for not crediting them, whoever they are. The painting may be mine, but the composition is all theirs.

Image 2 – Clouds. Rendered in a 3D program.

Image 3 – Eye. A digital painting I made in Procreate.

Image 4 – Odalisque with Squeak Toy. A digital composite of 3D CGI and a photo of my dog.

Image 5 – Dude with Fish. A digital painting I made in Procreate. I vaguely remember that I’d had a glass of wine and wished I was Joan Miro.

Image 6 – Succulent. A photo heavily, heavily edited then modified with filters.

Image 7 – Fractal something-or-other. From Filterforge.

Image 8 – Why Knot? – A digital composite of typography, images, and a photo of my son.

Image 9 – Handsome shirtless guy. Rendered in a 3D program.

Image 10 – Landscape. From Filterforge.

Image 11 – Dame with white hair. I rendered the woman in a 3D program, then composited her against a background I made in Filterforge.

Image 12 – Map. More Filterforge work.

Image 13 – Abstract. Again, Filterforge.

Image 14 – Abstract “painting”. Filterforge.

Image 15 – Pears. A digital painting I made in Procreate, using someone else’s photo as a reference.

Image 16 – Rock texture. Filterforge.

Image 17 – Snail ride. A digital painting I made in Procreate, using one of my own photos (for a change) as a reference.

Image 18 – a 3D rendering.

Three things are certain.

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

There’s an oft-cited quote, “Two things are certain in life: death and taxes”. Many have made half-serious additions to that list including dirty dishes, data breaches, and the likelihood of having a penis drawn on one’s face if one passes out at a frat party.

My own addition concerns losing touch with people and later on googling to find out how they’re doing. Most of the time there’s happy news and you get to cheer. You see that people have moved on with their lives, had great careers, popped out a kid or two, and have done good things. You aren’t a part of their lives anymore but you can be happy for them, even the people you once found annoying.

Unfortunately, there’s that third certainty. Eventually you learn that someone you respected and cared for has died. Yesterday I learned that Gene Holden, who I knew from SLAC, passed away last year.

Gene was a maintenance mechanic, existing in a shadowy world of lift pumps, low conductivity water, cooling towers, and the occasional flow switch calibration. I never understood the entirety of her job any more than I paid attention to the duties of the other support or maintenance staff, an attitude I now regret.

I was a noodle-headed twenty-something when we met. I plowed through my duties at SPEAR and later on Main Control with determination and a liberal sprinkling of profanity, if not grace or skill. I always knew I could count on her to help when I called and address issues with competence, bluntness, and acerbic wit. Sometimes I’d get lucky and she’d tell stories, some of which I shouldn’t recount in public. In retrospect, I wish I’d prompted her for more.

She’d been in the Army in the early to mid ‘70s, the first female mechanic to work on COBRA helicopters in the field. “They always made the mechanics take the first ride after a repair,” she once told me with a mildly evil cackle. The message was clear: if you messed up the repair, you’d be the one killed rather than your fellow soldiers.

According to a story I only dimly remember, the spelling of her name led to a mixup. The Vietnam war was still sputtering along and she was deployed to a combat area, an area women, at the time, weren’t supposed to be sent to. I doubt she let that fact bother her, though. She was a strong person, determined and at times salty, good traits to have in both the Army and at SLAC.

One graveyard shift, when I was manning SPEAR, a young man decided to jump off highway 280, which runs across the linac and the klystron gallery. Some said his leap was driven by mental illness; others suggested that he was high on PCP.

Regardless of the cause, he landed behind the radiation fence and went on a bizarre, addled romp through the research yard. No one knew his intentions. I was on duty by myself, so I locked up the building and stayed away from windows. Others did likewise, hunkering down until the police could come and escort the fellow away.

Then there was Gene. She wasn’t much of a hunkering sort, I guess. She and one of the other maintenance mechanics tracked the fellow down, cornering him a men’s restroom. According to some versions of the story, he crouched down cowering in a corner, afraid of her. For some reason that delights me. She wasn’t a mean person, but she also wasn’t a person to be messed with.

After I left SLAC, I touched base with her a couple of times. She changed professions, earning her master’s degree and taking on various writing and training duties, still at SLAC.

I never had the guts to ask about her health, although it was always in the back of my mind. She’d once matter-of-factly mentioned an issue that she thought might spell her end someday. I’ll probably never know if that was what caused her death, but I’ll always wonder.

In my mind, she’ll always be young and healthy, cornering drug-addled young men in restrooms and demanding to know what the hell they were thinking when they jumped off bridges. She was a good one.

There’s a writeup about her in an old issue of SLAC Today. It’s well worth a read.

Parigi

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

The title of this post is a tribute to my friend, the late Paris Mannion. She once told me that in Italian, her first name translated to Parigi. I called her that off and on until she died.

I visited Paris (the town) last week, so here are some photos and my usual random comments.

Notre Dame, looking across the Seine.

This was the third time I’d been, the first with my friend Paris/Parigi. As I walked through the cathedral, I was struck anew by her kindness. Years ago, we’d gone overseas to take photos for one of her books. Notre Dame had nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of her book, but she went out of her way to take me there and some other places she thought I should see.

This time I went with my family. My husband and I wanted to share Paris, at least a small section of it, with our son before he’s grown and having most of his adventures away from us. We need to do more of that. The clock is ticking away. The first year of a child’s life feels as though it lasts ten or twenty years, then the years abruptly speed up and begin zooming by.

 

Wood model of Notre Dame, inside Notre Dame. One wonders if there’s another microscopic model inside the model, making the whole thing self-similar. The fractal nature of Notre Dame, if you will.

 

There was a mass in progress when we visited. It sounded far more pleasant than the roaring and bloviating of the religious leaders of my youth. Perhaps the fact that it was said in French helped.

 

The famous rose glass window, or at least one of them.

 

Currency deposited in a collection box by the faithful. I thought it made an interesting shot. It must be costly to make repairs on a medieval pile of stone, a more-or-less constant process.

 

I adore gargoyles. I live in a very bland, suburban neighborhood. I  wonder if it would be improved by hanging gargoyles off some of the houses. They wouldn’t have to be the same style as the ones at Notre Dame. We could make effigies of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, which would be appropriate for Silicon Valley.

 

The angels are looking on as though to say “Dude. That has to hurt.”

 

Now we’re in another cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle. It’s a short walk from Notre Dame, also on the Ile de la Cité, and well worth visiting for the sake of its stained glass.

 

“Here is a Bible with which to cover your shameful nakedness. Go forth and keep your privates covered.”

I could probably think of a title for this if I worked at it, but perhaps it’s best that I don’t. The balcony just outside Sainte-Chapelle was covered with relief sculpture depicting stories and parables.

 

The lesson I take away: if you have difficulty nursing, try substituting peasant-grade gruel for mother’s milk.

 

Basement or undercroft of the Conciergie.  That’s a lovely-sounding name for a place where people were tossed in dank cells before being hauled off to the guillotine. Marie Antoinette was there for a time before being taken before a tribunal and having her hair and then her head lopped off.

There were some fascinating informational displays about the Revolution. I confess that I wasn’t as horrified as I could have been at the notion of citizens rising up and ridding themselves of vain, bloated rulers who cared little about their welfare. Not that there’s anyone in the U.S. I want dead – just gone.

 

There was an art installation inside the Conciergie. It involved diverting water from the Seine and having it flow through a channel in the undercroft.

This sign amused me. Evidently the water is so questionable it’s worthy of a warning sign. Don’t touch it, don’t make coffee with it, and for heaven’s sakes, don’t float little paper boats in it.

 

Sacre-Couer. It sits atop a hill and can be reached via a countless number of steps or via a funicular. The last time my husband and I visited, we climbed the steps. I complained viciously the whole way. Guess what we did this time?

 

The Pigalle, with a McDonald’s sign nestled up against a sign with a topless woman. That tickled me.

 

The Sexodrome. I love that name. It has something of a Mad Max sound. I have no idea what goes on in there, but I imagine it involves people riding motorcycles while waving artificial phalluses.

 

Tilework on the sidewalk in front of the Moulin Rouge. I thought the little windmills were charming.

 

Butt crack of Venus de Milo, on view at the Louvre. Everyone was queued up in front of the statue, but I thought the back was equally interesting. It’s a view one doesn’t see every day.

 

“How big do you think the Mona Lisa will be?” I asked my son.

“Big!”

“Can you show me with your arms?”

“Well, no. But I think it’ll be at least as large as the other paintings.”

Yeah, it was a shock to him. It was a surprise to me the first time as well. Somehow we expect the Mona Lisa to be monumental in size, not a foot or two on a side. Who knows; if da Vinci had known the painting would be so wildly popular, perhaps he would have made it larger.

 

Evidently France didn’t get rid of all of its rats during the Revolution.

 

Fontaine de l’Observatoire. I’ve always liked these creatures, although I wonder what they eat. Definitely not hay. Perhaps seaweed?

 

Medici Fountain. Some of these photos make me sad. This is one of the fountains I visited and photographed with my friend before she died.

Paris/Parigi had a dream of retiring overseas, in one of the places she’d lived during her youth. She became ill and passed away before that could happen.

 

An architectural element on, I think, Rue Monge near the Arenes du Lutece. How cool would it be to look out the window of your apartment and see something like that?

 

Down in the catacombs, an incredible underground repository with the bones of more than six million people. We’d never been, but we thought the boy might like it. Glad we went. It’s good to try something a little different each trip, and it was fascinating and thought-provoking.

I’m very glad we bought tickets in advance, though. The line for walk-up tickets extended down the block!

 

Another tasteful arrangement of bones down in the catacombs. Who knew there were so many artful ways to display them?

I guess that’s a bit tacky of me. There were once people surrounding those bones. Some reverence is in order. Someday I’ll be reduced to bone or ashes or goo myself.

 

Another tasteful sign. It seems that people have to be warned to not eat burgers or hit the bottle when they’re in the catacombs.

 

On our final evening, we visited the Eiffel Tower. Going there is something of a tourist cliche, but we had to take our kid. Otherwise, he’d have conversations with his classmates like

“Did you go up the Eiffel Tower?”

“No. My parents wouldn’t take me.”

There are just certain places you have to go if you’ve never visited a town before.

That said, I was heartbroken by the anti-terrorism measures. The area around the tower used to be a big, green open space with people strolling and lazing. Now it’s fenced off, there are deep gulches, and one must go through a security inspection to enter. I suppose one of the goals is to make it hard to roll a truck full of explosives in and take down the tower.

 

Anti-terrorism measures were visible everywhere we went, as part of Operation Sentinel. From the moment we landed at Charles de Gaulle, we saw roving bands of soldiers carrying assault rifles and convoys of similarly armed police officers. It startled my son, who said it made him feel as though he was in a video game.

Oddly enough, it didn’t make me feel unsafe the way I do when people in the U.S. are enthusiastically exercising their right to carry guns and, presumably, form militias for the purpose of quelling slave rebellions. Perhaps that’s because when people in the U.S. openly carry guns, frequently their goal is to intimidate. By contrast, the police and the soldiers in France were trained and conducting anti-terrorism activities. We were merely fat American tourists, spreading around money and mangling the pronunciation of French words. We weren’t particularly interesting to them.

 

The Statue of Liberty, seen from the Eiffel Tower. Or, as my son put it, “the real Statue of Liberty”.

 

We arrived at the tower at dusk. As the sun went down, lights in the surrounding town began to sparkle. The bright object at the upper lefthand corner of the photo is the Arc de Triomphe.

 

All too soon, it was time to head home. There were intermittent rail and airline strikes around the time of our stay, but we made it out okay, flying out over Iceland (above) and the Atlantic while covertly ogling the extremely handsome male flight attendants. Some of them may have even been straight.

The flight home was like being on a flying restaurant, with champagne and liqueur and other goodies shoveled down our throats at frequent intervals.

I could live in Paris, at least for a short time. It was blissful getting away from some of the garbage here in the U.S., exercising and eating healthily while avoiding Facebook and reports of current political horrors.

We’ve only been home a week. I already want to escape again.

Above

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Above

Above. 24.5 x 45

 

Here’s my newest work, Above. It’s so named because it reminded my husband of a view of a landscape as seen while floating in the sky. This is shades of the video for “And She Was” by the Talking Heads.

My internet friend Quinn McDonald has written eloquently about how recent events have affected people’s creativity. Amusingly enough, I’m having the opposite experience. I’m turning out tons of work. Unfortunately, much of it has a depressed, apocalyptic tone or, like this piece, is executed on the fly while listening to Terry Gross’s calming tones on NPR.

Closeup2

I don’t know what inspired me to create Above. Maybe there wasn’t any inspiration, save using some excess materials that were cluttering up the corners of my workroom. It truly is a Frankensteinian creation, comprised of chunks of old bed sheet, fabric scraps too small and irregular to piece together, and a bag of exotic yarn ends. Happily, although it’s quite a bit different than my usual work, it’s already been claimed.

Closeup1

When I do a piece of work like this that’s crazy, with bits of this and that salvaged and thrown in in no particular manner, I think of my maternal grandmother. Perhaps the work is something of a tribute to her.

My mother and I lived with her parents for a time after she divorced my father. In my memories, they were humorless people and not particularly warm. Both of them were poisoned by a particular strain of southern Christianity that embraced hatred and stupidity. It’s a strain that believes that questions come from Satan, one should regard reading materials other than the Bible with deep suspicion, and that “n—— aren’t human and should go back to Africa”. The philosophy is far more focussed on relishing the punishment of unbelievers and their eternal roasting in hell than it is following the teachings of Jesus.

Given all that, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that we weren’t close. Perhaps it’s difficult to be warm or affectionate when the core of one’s life is a philosophy that’s focussed on hatred and judgement. Or perhaps having a daughter and her child land in their household put them under a strain and they resented it. Still, they took in my mother and me, and I do appreciate it. They were never cruel to me. There was a roof over my head and food on the table at every meal. This, despite the fact that I must have gotten on their nerves.

I was a genius at conjuring up mischief. My grandmother had fragrant white roses planted out in front of the house. I would rip the roses off the bushes and shake them around, purely for the pleasure of seeing the petals fall down like snow. I would also pull unripe peaches off their trees and scrape away the fuzz with a fingernail, because the fact there was fuzz on a fruit fascinated me. These actions weren’t well received. Still, my grandparents weren’t cruel to me. There were sharp words but they didn’t yell or paddle me, despite my returning to that rose bush over and over again.

My grandmother was a quilter. Both of my grandmothers were, actually. That was simply what one did in their era, particularly if one was of a particular social class. They gardened and canned, they sewed clothes for their families, and they hoarded the leftover fabric scraps to piece together quilts to keep their families warm. In my memories, my paternal grandmother’s works were pieced quilts that followed a pattern. I don’t remember much about my maternal grandmother’s work, other than the crazy quilt.

That crazy quilt was a glorious thing, patched together out of salvaged scraps of cotton, jersey, and velveteen. It didn’t contain any fancy stitching or other embellishment, but it didn’t need it. The assortment of fabric types and colors and textures was sufficient to elevate it to the status of art.

I doubt that my grandmother intended it to be a work of art, because art wasn’t part of her universe. In her world, a picture of praying hands or of a long-haired, suspiciously Caucasian Jesus was sufficient art for a household. I’m sure she simply viewed the quilt as a frugal means of staying warm. It was art though, and quite marvelous. I loved every inch of it.

I spent hours with that quilt. It was my solace. My parents couldn’t simply agree that they didn’t get along and seek a divorce, you see. There were religious considerations plus my father was determined to stay in the marriage because, I think, of me. I understand and appreciate that, but it really was quite awful. My mother was paranoid schizophrenic and my father just plain hates women, so there had to be beatings and kidnappings and all manner of other nightmarish bullshit before they split up. So many things happened. So many. Life was out of control. But after the divorce, the quilt was there.

I used to take that quilt, wad it up, and explore its topology. I’d do that by the hour, when I wasn’t intent on destroying my grandmother’s roses. I’d use marbles for the activity, pretending they were tiny human spelunkers. They’d run through the caves and canyons in the quilt. I’d try to understand how the manner in which I’d wadded up the quilt led to certain formations, then I’d wad it up a different way and try to understand that.

Eventually the living circumstances changed. My mother and I moved out, urged on by my grandfather’s bellows of “Pack your duds and get out!”, a subtle hint that we’d worn out our welcome. Much of that period is a haze. There was a multitude of different schools, a rotating cast of boyfriends for my mother, and worn, cracked apartments that smelled odd. I’d let myself in after school and sit up into the night watching Mannix or Hawaii Five-O or Ironsides while my mother slept for whatever menial job she was attempting to hold down. Her life was hell. She had few job skills and the mental illness made life frightening. Each time she got a new job, there’d be a honeymoon period, then her co-workers would be “out to get her” or (in her mind) even kill her.

She’d have “spells” of depression or paranoia. I’d try to reason her out of them, not realizing that there was something organically wrong that kept her mind from functioning properly. Something as simple as a word scratched out on a piece of paper could become a plot in which people were trying to deceive her. Sometimes she’d turn on me with a sly, chilling smile on her face, and tell me that I was trying to hide things from her but she could see through it. She was going to leave me an inheritance when she died someday. I wouldn’t try to hurt her, would I? I wouldn’t try to get that money sooner?

I was only in the third or fourth grade. I couldn’t keep up with how quickly her mind could warp facts to fit a delusion. We’d spend hours talking. I’d about have her convinced that her coworkers really weren’t carrying razor blades in their shoes so they could kill her, then I’d make a mistake, she’d seize on it, and we’d be right back where we started. It was exhausting and about as fruitful as chatting with the Mississippi River and asking it to not form oxbow lakes after an earthquake. Still, she tried. Life was terrifying for her, but she kept trying.

The summer before fifth grade, I moved in with my father and his second wife. That proved to be its own story. I never really saw my mother’s side of the family after that. I barely saw my mother.

My grandmother passed away at the age of 93. I know only a few bare facts about her life, but I still have the memory of that crazy quilt. She raised a bunch of kids, she housed me for awhile, and she made a marvelous quilt. She did the best she could with what she had. I respect her for those things. When I look at my own work, I think of her.

 

Pulling Out Too Soon

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

One thing I’ve learned: if you create innovative, thought-provoking work, at some point somebody’s going to crap all over it. They’ll say things like “This is ugly; I want to see pretty” or “Somebody sure had a lot of time on their hands” or “You couldn’t pay me enough money to have that in my house.” It doesn’t matter how objectively good the work is. You can make a piece showing how people were transported on slave ships during the rum trade era, and somebody will whine about it because it made them think for a split second and their brains couldn’t handle it. I’ve seen it happen.

Works with nudity really get this treatment. If a piece includes nudity, real or imagined, somebody will have an apoplectic fit while they’re crapping on it. Sometimes, if the work is exhibited in a show, they’ll have their little fit all the way to the show’s organizers, then maybe hang out and wait for a TV news crew so they can be offended on camera. If they’re really good at being manipulative, they can scare the show’s organizers into taking the work down.

 

TFF

A few months back, I wrote an article on this type of thing. I interviewed Annabel Rainbow, Randall Cook, Kathy Nida, and a couple of other people who didn’t wish to be identified. Their stories of censorship are truly chilling.

The piece appears in Issue 122 of Textile Fibre Forum. I recommend checking it out, not only for their stories, but because TFF is a nice, crisp, high-quality publication. That issue also includes articles on the work of Grayson Perry, Charlotte Kruk, and others. Electronic back copies can be purchased on iTunes or via PocketMags.

 

kathy-nida-72

I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket, © Kathy Nida

Alas, censorship has reared its hysterical, pearl-clutching head again. One of my friends, Kathy Nida, just had work pulled from AQS Grand Rapids because a viewer THOUGHT she saw a penis in it. Here’s her blog entry. ***

I happen to know that the visitor didn’t see a penis. She didn’t see a penis, because there isn’t one. I’m posting a photo of the work for yourself, so you can verify that there is, in fact, no penis in it. That’s right. We’ve reached a new level of censorship – having work censored for something that isn’t there!

Based on this event, I think there’s some confusion about what a penis looks like. This worries me a little, because about half of all mammals have them. Chances are, no matter how sheltered you are, you’ve seen a penis. Dogs and horses don’t exactly walk around in tighty-whities, and most women have had husbands, boyfriends, or at least changed the occasional diaper.

However, I will concede that it’s possible this woman had never seen one, given the state of sex ed in Michigan’s school systems. Apparently it’s optional, and is given to things like pro-abstinence speakers.  Therefore, let’s have a little chat about what a penis looks like.

MrHappy

Mr. Happy

Here is a representative penis. I call it “Mr. Happy”. It’s a nice, non-threatening toilet paper holder and Kleenex dispenser that I made it for an art show a few years ago. I thought it was apt because it’s rendered in fiber. Maybe the AQS visitor was confused about what a penis looked like because she was looking at fiber-based artwork.

Mr. Happy depicts some of the standard characteristics of a real penis, such as being longer than it is wide and getting shorter and longer. (One adds and removes rolls of toilet paper to achieve that effect.) It even has furry testicles. I will admit, though, that the eyes are not true to life. If I saw eyes on a real penis, I’d probably flee as fast as my legs would carry me.

I hope that helps clarify things a little.

 

Show organizers, your censoring of works has gotten old. Real old. Even if the woman had seen a penis in Kathy’s artwork, so what? There’s been nudity in artwork for the past 50,000 years or so.

You know what I do when I see a piece I don’t like? I move those funny pink blobs at the bottoms of my legs and I walk past it. Personally, I found the picaninny quilt that was exhibited at PIQF a few years ago deeply offensive. And it won a prize. (Evidently it was a kit quilt, too – what a marvelous world we live in, when you can buy your very own kit for making racist quilts!)

Show organizers, you need to get clear on a few things.

What type of show are you running? 

Are you holding what’s essentially a bigger version of a county fair exhibit, where people gather and look at patchwork and say things like “Look, Paw! That shore is some plum purty stitchin’!”? Or are you going to support the growth of the medium into an art form? *

What type of work do you allow in your show?

Do you allow in artwork? Can the artwork include nudity, or just stuff like kitty-cats popping their heads out of pumpkins? How about you get real clear on your policy, and be up front with exhibitors like SAQA and the rest? **

What is your policy on pulling work out of the show? 

If it’s met your openly stated standards for being exhibited, are you going to do that? Are you going to pull work if someone complains about something imaginary? Are you going to deprive the rest of the paying visitors the right to see a piece of artwork simply because somebody else didn’t like it and didn’t have the self-control to walk by?

Allowing in artwork, then getting scared and pulling it when someone blanches and clutches at her pearls, isn’t working out. It’s bad for all of us.

Also, the next time someone threatens not to come back to your shows because of some damned thing she imagined, maybe just say “I’m sorry to hear that,” politely wish her well, and consider yourself lucky to not see her again.

 

* Edit: I now see that this paragraph implies that patchwork can’t be art, which isn’t true. However, I’ll let it stand, since that’s the way the majority of people have seen the post.

One of commenters also made a good point about my using “country speak” in a ridiculing manner. She’s right. Probably I shouldn’t have done that. On the other hand, “country speak” comes natural when you’re a first generation descendent of hillbillies and rednecks, and have used an outhouse more than a few times when visiting grandparents.

** Another clarification: I don’t want to revile AQS or any other show if they really don’t want to get in the business of displaying art. If art-lovers aren’t a key part of their business, so be it. But clearer guidelines would be useful for everyone.

*** Kathy has written a second blog entry which shows some of her base drawings and analyzes a variety of things which could be construed as penises. I think that from now on, whenever she has an umbilical cord in her work, I’m going to squint at it and refer to it as a penis.

 

Update as of Monday, 8/17: Per Kathy, “So AQS made the decision to pull my quilt I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket with the nonexistent penis from QuiltWeek in Chattanooga and Des Moines. They are now considering whether my other piece, Fully Medicated, which has zero complaints, should also be pulled (still no penis). Please let them know how you feel about either decision at the link below.

I am so disappointed and frustrated by their actions…please share this if you think it will help. I appreciate all your support…”

Here’s AQS’ contact form.

 

Don’t keep it in a safe place.

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

My husband gave me an Apple Pencil for Christmas, to go with the lovely iPad Pro I gave myself for non-Christmas. It’s been a delight. I use it with the Procreate app and sketch away during TV time.

One day I looked at my work surface and realized that I’d just haphazardly tossed the pencil on there. It was sitting in the midst of the clutter of soiled rubber bands, an industrial-grade dust mask, Athlete’s Foot cream, and random scraps of paper. It struck me as disrespectful. I was being unappreciative of my husband’s thoughtfulness and the fact that he’d had to work for the money to buy me the thing. Plus, what if something happened to the pencil? What if I put a hot iron down on it or spilled wood glue on it? (Because, frankly, that’s the kind of household I run. Everything happens everywhere.)

I decided to put it in a safe place.

I’ll bet you know where this is going, don’t you? Oh yes. I had another project crank up and I didn’t need the pencil for awhile. When I did, it was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t in one of the tech drawers in my work area, where I keep things like chargers and keyboards. It wasn’t in the little tech basket atop my work surface, where I keep things like wireless headphones and graphics tablets. It wasn’t in any of the thousand little receptacles for holding drawing pencils or pens or paintbrushes. Oh no. I’d kept it really safe. So safe I couldn’t find it.

I freaked out. Losing the nice hundred dollar stylus my husband had given me was even worse than leaving it out on my work surface. He isn’t the sort to get mad or hold grudges; one of his frequent statements is “It’s just stuff. Stuff can be replaced.” I felt awful about it, though. Plus I wanted to use the pencil. I began to systematically rip my work room apart.

ApplePencil

Here’s where I found it. Yes. This was my idea of a “safe place”. In one of the thread drawers. Do you see it? It’s that white pencil-like object, cunningly placed on top of a row of white spools of thread so that it will be very difficult to find. Because that’s where everyone puts their Apple Pencil, in a drawer full of totally unrelated objects.

Don’t do this. Don’t put things in a safe place. That’s the surest way to lose them. I know all about this: this isn’t the first time I’ve pulled this stunt.

I’ve found this philosophy applies to other things as well: making safe art. Having safe experiences. When we focus on keeping parts of our lives in a safe place, we can lose them. We can also lose our sense of self or even our sense of ethics.

In terms of art, this might apply to making art which we think will appeal to others or avoid offending them. We avoid putting too much of ourselves in the work.

Ahearn

Here’s the work of someone who, I suspect, isn’t keeping his work in a safe place. The artist’s name is Bren Ahearn, and this is possibly the worst photograph ever taken of one of his samplers. I urge people to go over to his website and take a look at his other work.   He has nice photos there, photos that don’t make his work look blurry and rumpled.

I ran across this work at the SDA exhibit in San Jose a couple of months back. We both had work in the show; his was pretty special. This piece is huge, about five feet wide and seven feet high, worked in needlepoint style on a substrate that’s satisfyingly like a scaled up version of needlepoint canvas. It reads like a standard needlepoint sampler, something proper young ladies would have been stitching away at in the 18th century, right down to the alphabet, proverb, and creator’s name. However, he’s subverted and taken ownership of the medium in this and his other works, many of which contain touching autobiographical details both real and imaginary.

His work is real. Personal. Genuine. His own.

I brood now and then. I do. I’ve been brooding about a certain matter since last October. I’ve debated writing about it and changed my mind back and forth several times. Maybe I’ll just tap dance around it. Evidently not writing about it at all is throttling back my ability to blog.

Odalisque22

Now and then, people will say that one of their works was “inspired by” someone else’s work. Here’s my eternal piece-in-progress Odalisque, for example. I didn’t invent the form of the odalisque in art; other painters did. Other people came up with the nude reclining on a couch and looking out at us coquettishly, and the throw and draperies and so forth. I claim that in this situation, my saying that my Odalisque was “inspired by” the ones which came before it is a fair use of the term. I’ve leveraged off all those other odalisque paintings by including similar elements. There’s a couch, a throw, drapes, and a reclining nude. True, the nude is a dog rather than a woman, but that’s the joke of the picture. The fact that we have a rich history of more standard nudes helps make it funny.

That’s the sort of thing I expect to see when someone says their work is “inspired by” someone else’s. A work which is their own. It may be similar thematically or in terms of the colors used or in terms of the composition. It may even contain visual elements which are very similar, although hopefully not to the point of being derivative.

MondayMona

Similarly, we can reference famous works such as the Mona Lisa and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. We’ve made a joke or a statement then, leveraging off the power or message of the original work.

HokusaiGreatWave

Hokusai’s Great Wave

bilibin-saltan-czar-08

Ivan Bilibin, Illustration from Pushkin’s “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” 

Many have leveraged off of Hokusai’s Great Wave, for example, including the illustrator Ivan Bilibin. The Wall Street Journal even ran a nice article on such pieces. Well-known works become cultural touchstones.

However, when no one knows the source of your “inspiration” and you don’t openly acknowledge it, you run the risk of simply plagiarizing or copying. What I don’t expect to see when someone uses the phrase “inspired by” is something along the lines of a work I saw last year. A photo had been downloaded from a free stock photo site, cropped, tinted, then rendered on fabric so precisely that when I overlaid the original photo with the resulting “inspired by” piece in Photoshop, even the details matched up.

I probably need to stop at that. I need to not describe how offended I was when I learned about this and a similar incident, and how I suspect that the person has done similar things many times. I need to not dwell on the fact that my respect for her plummeted when I saw that she hadn’t acknowledged the original photographer at all, and only wrote “inspired by thus-and-such photo” on her website after being prompted repeatedly. I probably shouldn’t mention the fact that I feel the urge to vomit each time I see a picture of her standing beside the piece, a broad smile on her face, and think about the fact that someone probably paid thousands of dollars for what’s essentially a copy of a free stock photo.

But I guess I really should thank this person. You see, I am so offended by her behavior and by the impressively low standards I see throughout the art quilting industrial complex that it’s made me rethink things. It’s taken the pressure off. Because really, what’s the point? Mediocrity and poor ethics win the day. Quite literally.

One of my art friends occasionally says things like “I’m making the next piece for myself”, meaning that she’ll be making something which fulfills her desires rather than fitting into the requirements of some mythical show. No, I want to tell her, you should always make the work for yourself. That’s perhaps the best reason to make it. Because that fire is burning inside you and the only way it can be quenched is by getting the art out.

Make that original work because you need to make it, and be ethical. Don’t fall into the trap of the “artist” whose work was “inspired by” the stock photo, of trying to churn out piece after piece which lives up to the crazy-eyed marketing fairy tale you’ve told over the years. That’s one form of trying to keep things in a safe place. That path can lead to making a deal with the devil. You lose your soul that way.

Of course, other things can happen when we keep things in a safe place. For example, we may never quite get around to taking risks or trying new things.

I used to visit family. One my family members was extremely toxic, the sort one might suspect had narcissistic personality disorder, but she deserved compassion. I can’t be around her because she’s cruel and awful, but you know, I keep hoping things will work out for her. We don’t have to like people in order to want good things for them.

She’d had some hard knocks, some rough times. Not everybody can rise above that sort of thing. Not everybody is able to look themselves in the mirror and say “Wow. Why, exactly is it that I enjoy it when people are miserable and I’m unhappy when they succeed?” I’ve done that kind of thing. “Wow. What do all of my failed relationships have in common? Oh. Me.” It isn’t fun. It’s damned painful. Once you’ve done that, you have to figure out what you’re going to do about it. Sometimes the answers aren’t easy. Sometimes it isn’t clear what to do.

Anyhow, this particular person had aspirations. Peering in from the outside, it appeared that many of them would get wrecked by her husband. He’d hear about one of her aspirations, rush in with some notion of how it should be done, and take over. Poof. End of aspiration.

Some of them just fell apart for the usual reasons, I guess. I don’t know if it was her experience, but I’ve found that the more I talk about doing something, the less energy and motivation I have to actually do it.

It was sad to witness. When I hear about somebody having aspirations, I generally want to applaud, even if I don’t like the person or relate to what they’re trying to do. I don’t enjoy seeing people’s dreams get wrecked. Reaching for dreams or goals is life-affirming.

One of her goals was writing. I’d visit; she’d describe some story that was in her head. “I’m writing a book. It’s about a young Indian girl living in West Texas. She sells crackers in a general store.” Or whatever the plot was. The ideas always sounded insanely dull to me, but that’s the beauty of ideas and aspirations – the rest of us don’t have to approve of them. Maybe she had some spark which was going to bring that plot to life. Maybe we were going to find out that the Indian girl had a side business making sanitary napkins out of dried cactus pads. Maybe she was the long-lost descendent of space aliens. Maybe she got on a train, went to Paris, and became a can-can dancer.

We will probably never know. I always eagerly awaited the news that she’d finished her book. Maybe she’d even have a publisher. Then I could lie and say that it sounded wonderful rather than like a steaming pile of horse feces, and I could sincerely applaud the fact that she’d achieved one of her aspirations.

It never happened. I never got to applaud. It made me sad. Seriously. I can’t stand her, and she’s caused me unbelievable amounts of pain and harm, but I always wanted to see her fly.

People can find all sorts of ways to not do the things they say they want to do. Maybe they don’t actually want to do them. Maybe, in the words of my husband, “I would like to write a book” really means “I would like to have written a book.” What they really want is the identity, not the process of doing the work. They don’t like the identity of teacher or grocery store clerk or insurance salesman, so they fantasize about being someone else. An artist, maybe. Or a writer. Those sound nice. Those sound less mundane. They want that doing thing out of the way so they can claim the identity.

I’m at a point where I’m not so worried about identities. I’m more worried about doing. Not doing frightens me. Maybe this is part of the “I’m not old … yet” syndrome. The unspoken half of that sentence is “but I will be.” Do you really want to try riding a motorcycle, visiting Paris or writing that novel? Get on it. The Reaper is coming. Maybe not today or tomorrow or in twenty years, but sometime. Figure out what the obstacle is. Sweep it aside.

At the end of last year, I decided to finally move past the “I would like to write a book someday” stage myself. It’s something I wanted to do for quite a long time, but I kept making excuses. I was afraid. I was keeping things in a safe place, sticking to the things I know how to do. The prospect of trying something new and finding out that I was downright lousy at it was scary.

Now I have two books and two short stories drafted. Probably they’re awful. “Ninety percent of everything is crap,” my husband often tells me. That sounds about right. I decided that I can live with that. I didn’t want to go my whole life without writing about my personal equivalent of the Indian maiden selling crackers at the general store.

I’ll edit the stories some more and then publish them on Amazon under a pen name, so that their stench hopefully won’t reach back to me. I’m glad I did it. It’s been quite an adventure.

I’m glad I quit keeping things in a safe place.

While others were at IQF Houston …

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Random photos spliced in throughout post …

WhyKnot

The big quilt show in Houston, IQF, is over. I learned that my piece, Why Knot? received third place in the digital category.

Immediately, of course, I began to see frank, dampening comments on blogs and mailing lists:

“Photo-realism wins the day in Houston. Frankly, I have never entered that show because, yes, I am a snob who considers it the same as a pipe and drape show, only larger. Art? Uh – no. Unoriginal work – yep. That eliminates all the artists I know.”

“… when I look at most of the other works my first reaction is ho hum… Yawn..boring.. same old, same old. I do not know what the others entries were but the winners are sadly without much interest.”

Sorry to hear that.

It’s true that IQF isn’t an art show per se. Although it does show some genuine artwork that happens to be made of fiber and is quilted, the show isn’t on the radar of the larger Art World, as far as I know. If it was, the “Husbands’ Lounge” (I assume that was still there this year?) or events like the costume contest or tiara parade would knock it clean away.

It is, however, enormously popular and many people love to go there, or dream of doing so. It provides an enjoyable escape where people can browse, admire others’ workmanship or artistry, do a spot of shopping, and bask in the font of natural beauty that is downtown Houston. Many people make a week or weekend of it, staying in hotels, eating out, and socializing.

IQF Houston is the world’s largest quilt show. I aspire to create work that is original and interesting (see comments above), and I like having my work in bonafide art shows. However, I also just plain like to have my work seen. It’s nice to have my work on display at the world’s largest quilt show, where fifty or sixty thousand people attend, and I appreciate receiving an award. As my husband frequently tells me, “Not everything is curing cancer.”

Itt

This is Serious Art. Give me money now.

Art – sculpture, painting, fiber, you name it – is not a meritocracy. There is no governing body looking to see whether, say, an entrant is re-rendering borrowed or stock photography without acknowledging the original sources. There are no absolute rules about what does or does not constitute art, and whether or not something is decent. There are no overseers looking over the entire universe of work and saying “Well, yours is the best. Here; have some publicity, some accolades, and a bag of money.”

What there does seem to be is a great deal of posturing. People joining organizations with the word “art” in the name and jockeying for position. “Hooray! These people, who coincidentally need membership fees in order to keep their organization afloat, have designated me a Professional Studio Artist and juried me into their organization!” People writing reviews of shows on their blogs, including only their cronies, and sort of not mentioning the fact that their own quilt was hung upside down and they didn’t notice for an hour. People writing pompous opinions of what does or does not constitute Real Art. People having vicious arguments on mailing lists, or hosting exhibits in which they’ve glued fabric on ancient AOL disks and have strung the disks together with fishing line. “It’s a synthesis of technology and tradition!” “Check out my latest piece! I coated teddy bears with house paint, laid them on fabric, then ran over them with the steam roller I keep handy!”

pumpkin

More Serious Art.

Here is what I’ve learned: with few exceptions, nobody cares. Nobody is watching. There are many, many people creating artwork, and most of them are busy doing their own thing. We have to take care of ourselves. If we’re lucky, we get to connect with a few other people and we get to appreciate others’ work.

Do whatever it is you like. In a hundred years, it won’t matter one way or another. Exhibiting in Houston or not exhibiting in Houston probably isn’t going to affect one’s art career. If one is born female and one’s medium is fiber, chances are there isn’t going to be worldwide recognition from the Real Art World anyhow.

One of the things I like is having my work seen. One of my series is comprised of portraits of my son in various situations, both real and imaginary. It isn’t on par with Wyeth’s Helga series, but the boy and I enjoy collaborating and we both get a kick out of seeing his portraits published or exhibited. That’s the majority of my work now, while he’s young and enjoys it. If my work is shown at Houston, I can figure on 50,000-60,000 people attending. Of those, I can estimate maybe 25,000 will walk down the aisle with my work and maybe half of those will take a good look, and hopefully enjoy it or get a giggle. That’s 10,000-15,000 people I got to share some joy or a joke with. That’s probably far more than saw my work when it toured with Quilt National, much as I treasured that experience.

Alas, I wasn’t able to go to Houston this year. Actually, I could have gone but didn’t. My husband would have bent over backwards to watch our kid for a few days. Unfortunately, barring one of those statistically unlikely “Drop everything; you’ve won a top prize!” situations, going just isn’t practical when one has a kid.

cookies

These will no doubt get me barred from providing class cookies in the future.

IQF Houston often occurs around Halloween, you see. I’m going to go out on a limb and state that their target market is largely comprised of people with empty nests – women, middle-aged to elderly. They’re mostly white, mostly conservative. Not entirely, mind you; I always see a few men and some younger people when I’m at a show, and I don’t mean to imply that quilt shows are trying to exclude non-whites. The demographics may also skew depending on the region of the country. But mostly, when I go to a quilt show, that’s who I see: middle-aged to elderly women who probably don’t have kids at home. People who don’t need to worry about staying home for Halloween.

Cupcakes

These cupcakes went to a party.

Cupcakes2

These cupcakes stayed home.

The Festival is wildly popular and, I assume, wildly profitable. The people who run it have quite a bit of practice and know what works for them and most of their attendees. It doesn’t work for me, though, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future.

For example, going to the Winners’ Circle celebration on a Tuesday involves a day of flying, hurrying to the convention center, then having the next day wasted because exhibits don’t open until Thursday. The last time I tried it, my intestines were coiling up and threatening to spring out of my body during the award ceremony.

WiiMote

WiiMote costume

It would have been nice to have seen the show this year, but on balance I’m glad I didn’t go. I would have missed my son’s Halloween party, school party and costume parade, zombie dance number with his Cub Scout troop, and of course, Halloween. Kids grow up. There are a limited number of years when one can bake cookies for parties or make Wii controller costumes.

Thriller

My kid is the one with the cone on his head. Of course.

The Festival will simply have to wait a few years.

goody

Making goody bags for Halloween, part of my master plan for clearing excess junk and craft supplies out of the house.

goody2