Periplaneta americana: la cucaracha!

Periplaneta americana underpainting
Periplaneta americana underpainting. Acrylic and graphite on watercolor paper.

This was a quick project that I’ve put aside for now, as predictably I have moved on to something else I find a little more interesting than a painting about this ubiquitous insect. Cockroaches live all over the world and come in several species, the worst of which I hear are migrating to my part of the world at a terrifying pace. The initial inspiration came from finding some small specimens in my sink and my subsequent battle with the seemingly limitless reinforcements that back up their fallen compatriots. Luckily, there are some handy dandy and non-toxic ways to deal with minor infestations of them.
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Des couleurs, des corbeaux

Color and form progression
Color and form progression

In my relationship to color, I have never been careful.

I’ve just arrived at the end of my next session on this painting, and I can see some rudimentary color “themes” coming forward and some birdlike things happening with form. I began developing the color fields and establishing the noisy, frenetic lines of the tree branches – the painting has begun to take on a more significant weight. The experimentation with hue usually takes place right on the surface of the canvas, and if I don’t like what is happening, I treat it as a challenge that must somehow be incorporated or subordinated.
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About: Color

Initial color progressions
Initial color progressions

Starting a new painting is exciting. There are so many possibilities to consider, and watching where the piece begins to move, stepping back every twenty or so minutes, helps decide whether the formal decisions are beneficial or useless. The composition of this piece comes from a photograph I took in a friend’s backyard after I helped him dig a ditch for a French drain at his new house. I was exhausted and sweating, and looked up to see sun filtering through the changing leaves of Minnesota’s autumn. I snapped a quick picture and translated the tree forms onto this square canvas.

My formal goal with this piece is only to explore the possibilities of color, starting with stark fields in a slightly geometric formation, and build them slowly to maximize subtleties. I have a lot of ideas for how to proceed as the colors develop, but for now I’m enjoying the simple rapports between the hues and tones cutting up the white space.

White space can be intriguing in its absence (as I wrote in my last post) however when I start again with a solid idea, it’s a race to get rid of it, to fill up that void with something physical, workable, without destroying the potential of the surface. The image is taking form and life and breathing all that open, white air to begin its own progress towards something unique in its own. The artist is the image’s careful guide, in this case.

M. lucifugus: cauchemar

myotisLucifugusDone
Myotis lucifugus, or the little brown bat, is the most common species of mouse-eared bat in North America. Several encounters with these guys have made me quite familiar with them, from having to trap them in my apartment building – scary – and let them go outside, to watching them zoom around in the evening catching mosquitoes before a movie in the neighborhood park. From the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources “Living With Wildlife”:

  • Bat Fact 1: Bats will not fly into our hair.
  • Bat Fact 2: Bats are of benefit to humans.
  • Bat Fact 3: There are ways to get rid of bats without killing them.

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We Were Warned About Time (Excerpt)

Blueberry and Grasshoppers

“Ook-see-kook-see-koo-la-ma-vee!” Dad is yelling at our irreverent laughter, as we bounce along in his old truck, heading north into the pine lands above the prairie of my childhood. On our way to the Hiawatha Festival, the long, even Minnesota plains highway has buckled into sudden hills, the truck jaunting up and down, and my sister and I are throwing our tiny hands up – the family truck has become a roller coaster.

“Ook-see-kook-see-koo-la-ma-vee! The grasshoppers are gone, it’s Saint Urho’s day!” The legend of Saint Urho, as bellowed happily by Dad, involved an embattled plague of locusts pursued by a giant exemplar, armed with a pitchfork and some irresistibly humorous gibberish. Long ago, Urho drove the insect horde out of Finland because they threatened the grape harvest, and the Finns were so rapturously thankful for the salvation of their wine-making crops, they beatified the brute…or so the story is told by Dad. In other, more esoteric versions, Saint Urho was known to drink large quantities of pungent fish stew, which in turn gave him a supernatural vocal quality. Full of piscine broth and thunderous of voice , the great Saint yelled nonsense and rhymes, shattering the ears of the grasshoppers. They were sent swarming away, holding their heads, toward more quiet and hospitable crops. Still, other versions indicate Saint Urho was simply someone’s joke, a figment conjured from imaginations of some area drinking buddies, more out of jealousy for the Irish Saint Patrick than out of pious observance.

Quixotic, retired exterminator Saint Urho stands at the Gateway to the Pines in caryatid relief, gazing down the quiet highway towards those who approach Menahga. The blueberry town at some point adopted Urho as its patron and protector, and the story was passed down by the jealous Finns who may have dreamed him up. I think of him as a benevolent presence between the birch and pine woods surrounding these fading central Minnesota towns. In Menahga the veracity of the Saint’s tale doesn’t matter, only that his legendary protection is important, even though most everybody there is Lutheran.

Rebirth of Venus

Rebirth of Venus
“Rebirth of Venus” (a working title) is an in-progress piece that is a rebuild of Sandro Boticelli’s famous 1486 “Birth of Venus,” a commissioned painting for the Medicis of Florence. This piece is more or less an exercise in compositional elements and an attempt to explore a painting style that is both very beautiful and very different from my own. The piece is being built in several layers, having started with a flat plane of gesso divided by a grid which I used to carefully enlarge each element of Boticelli’s composition. The “canvas” is a large piece of cardboard divided into a 1×1 inch square grid…I think people use these for patterning/sewing textiles. The painting can be folded up. Challenges are tending to be uniform color balance and overall conformity of brush stroke quality, mostly due to several short periods of work on different sections rather than long sessions working the whole surface. Continue reading

Man With Drapes, Misadventures

Man with drapes is called man with drapes because there is not another good name for it. A man stands, picking up some drapes. This was one of the first of my “progressive painting” experiments, in which I worked primarily in charcoal, then liberally applied paint, then alternated back to charcoal, and so forth in a pattern cycle that eventually became “constant revision” and changing of position, color, etc. I searched for a surface full of movement, uncertainty, but also shape and form. Making art this way, it is impossible to know when to stop revising or beginning a new cycle for the piece. At a point, I believe the art tells you when to stop. If the artist feels it is unfinished, then it is up to the viewer to finish it.

Unfortunately for man with drapes, there were very few viewers. This painting featured in a solo show at the now defunct Pi Bar (a MPLS GLBT night club), then hung on my studio’s wall for awhile. When I went to France, the boyfriend of a friend threw it in a dumpster after they had a fight. A loyal girlfriend of mine drove to the suburbs to rescue the piece, which was returned to me upon my return from France, months later. Man with drapes hung happily on my studio apartment wall for a time, and it was the favorite painting of my then long-distance boyfriend. When we broke up, I was maudlin. I piled all things that reminded me of him into a box, including a tiny plastic christmas tree, and this painting. I had ripped it from its stretcher and rolled up the canvas, shoving all into a box. I was going to send everything to him, but instead the box sat in my closet for over a year. Much later, in a purging mood, I decided to throw out the box. I had forgotten man with drapes was there entombed, and didn’t bother to remove the layers of packing tape securing the carton’s edges. Ultimately, man with drapes met his end in a crappy neighborhood dumpster, and is now lying buried under a trash heap, I presume.

Reckless abandonment of art is a shame, I have learned, because instead of anybody finishing it at all, it winds up finished by a dump truck! This is the only surviving image of that painting left. Le sigh… Original size was 4 ft x 5ft, acrylic on hand-built and -stretched canvas.

Shadow Palm


Shadow Palm (working title)
This is a large painting started in my bedroom. I had this big canvas leaning against my wall and woke up one night to see shadows playing on the surface. I decided to trace the shadows in the middle of the night, which were coming from light outside interacting with my palm tree (now dead!), and begin a “progressive” painting with multiple sessions of tracing and then painting. It’s still not finished, but it makes a nice decoration for now. Hoping to “finish” it this summer.