Sunday, May 21, 2017

WINNERS AND LOSERS

“What a fucking joke”
-Madam Pinky in Aravind Adiga’s 2008 novel, The White Tiger, describing society and class 
Dearest Readers,

I return to my blog after a winter hiatus, and a spate of wild painting.  More on that in a later blog…

I’ll pick up where I left off in January…sitting and thinking at my frozen upstairs bedroom window, now moist and green below, waiting for something to happen.

The opening quote refers to me…silly me. Back in January, I proudly attended the opening reception of “ArtsConnect”, a juried show at Catamount Arts Center inSt. Johnsbury Vermont.

I had been picked by Andrea Rosen, the curator from the Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont to be included in an exhibition of sixty-one local and New England artists. It felt good to “win”.  I showed two fabric sculptures created before I moved to Vermont. 
The Spinmeister_13in x 13in x 17in_acrylic on fabric_found objects and mixed media

The Fanatic_6.5in x 11in_fabric_acrylic_glass-beads and mixed media



Miss Perfect_8x20x3.5_fabric_wood_acrylic_ glass_papier mache_bricks_dynel and lightbulbs
Getting in the show stirred up the bones of another creature I’d made years earlier –“Miss Perfect”, a trickster masking the little Catholic schoolgirl in a blue jumper and white blouse who just wanted to please.
Academy of St. Aloysius Grammar School uniform made from memory, 2011
What did not feel good was “losing” during the awards ceremony mid-way through the art show. I would like to declare that it doesn’t matter, that I’m an artist just for the fun and fulfillment of creating, but I discover again and again that pride, PRIDE is laughing in a prominent corner of my brain. I try, but he (she?) will not relinquish my neural core. I can see her though. Some would say that everything is a game. We learn the unstated rules, then elbow or co-operate our way through life. Poets like Maya Angelou, I Know Why theCaged Bird Singsand Rumi remind us of the cages of power and social norms–

Take someone who doesn’t keep score,
Who’s not looking to be richer, or afraid of losing,
Who has not the slightest interest even
In his own personality: He’s free
-Jalaluddin Rumi–Open Secret:Versions of Rumi

Don’t get me wrong. The winners’ artworks were good. I smiled and clapped, but I was not happy.

“There is no key. There is no key.”
I’m quoting here again from Aravind Adiga’s wonderfully disturbing novel, The White Tiger about the roles and the rules of survival between the haves and have-nots in contemporary Indian society. There is a deadly comedy to this game of winning and losing inside the metaphorical “Rooster Coop”–an unlocked cage stuffed with chickens waiting to be sold in the markets for dinner. The poor creatures do not see that the door is open!
Trapped_25in x38in_Ink and acrylic wash on paper_1994
This goes for America too of course, down to my nascent wishes and desires. I know a few people who seem outside of the cage. I admire them and sometimes see glimpses of light in myself. 
In all fairness to me, I’m inching along on that enlightened path.  Age, self-kindness and experience in the world tell me to go easy on the self-blame.

So, as Spring bursts from the starting gate, I’m at the window again contemplating the wish or need to be a perfect winner as the creatures and things in nature win and lose, live and die on a daily basis around me. What I see is a wild raucous balance. Some say it’s survival of the fittest, but to me there is a powerful balancing act between the parts and the whole of everything . There is no cage.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

FINDING TRANQUILITY

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are”  -The Talmud
View from a chair
Dearest Readers,
Recently, I listened to an American journalist in Havana assessing the mood of that country after the death of Fidel Castro. She spoke of a mix of sadness and nonchalance among those she interviewed, and the sorry state of the country’s economy. Amazingly, the interviewer shared an observation that Cuban farmers in the rural areas, despite their poverty, exuded a remarkable tranquility (her word). She left it at that without any further elaboration. Tranquility! I couldn’t remember ever hearing that word used on the news. It seeped into my brain and my bones.  

Each morning I sit in a cushioned kitchen chair for a few minutes, and stare out my
bedroom window through a patch of congealed vapor at the trees below (I’m on a hill), and at the vastness of the sky scribbled with clouds. I meditate a bit, and then I recite a decade of the rosary adjusted for my intentions of the day. A decade is a grouping of 10 beads for 10 Hail Marys, and one large bead for an Our Father and a Glory Be. I pepper the prayers with more secular words, and good wishes for my three kids, six grandkids, and future generations, with special thanks to my parents and grandparents who got me here.
 
The tranquility of being Etta
I begin my day with the pleasures of reading in bed while drinking my one half-caff coffee, feeling Etta James’ little body curled next to my legs, and in due time, rubbing her belly when she rolls over with paws curled in begging position. A good start.

 I’ve discovered that tranquility implies timelessness. Its serenity depends on patience and the willingness to bend to a situation. There’s humility and selflessness inside it too. As soon as I seek to seek tranquility a contradictory itch is released in my mind and body that strives for the goal of relaxation. This is indeed the conundrum of thinking too hard, when tranquility just is. You know it when you see it.

Being tranquil is hard to do in our speedy world. I have an advantage in this search. I’m retired, I limit my “to-do’s” and I paint when I want to. I volunteer occasionally,  see friends and find that I can voice my opinions easily.
Having the responsibility of raising kids, or a job with deadlines, driving in traffic, or being on time are not so important now-a-days. I don’t need to control so many things. My daily walks are like praying, by imbibing calmness with the sun, snow and air. Simple stuff.

Last month Becky Jensen, the director of our Peacham Library filled a display case with books on kindness and character as an antidote to the lack of civil dialog during the presidential campaign. I’m reading one of them–The Wisdom of Donkeys, by Andy Merrifield, with the subhead, Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World. He wrote it in 2006.

Andy is an x-New York City writer of newspaper and magazine opinion articles who escaped the chaos, (his description) and now lives and writes in the rural Auvergne district of France. The book recounts a summer journey he took on foot up and down the forest and village paths of that area, leading Gribouille, a gentle, soft-eyed donkey, who carried his gear. It seems donkeys are masters of the art of tranquility. You cannot force one to rush or to proceed when it senses danger. They are patient and all-suffering. Merrifield moved at Gribouille’s pace, talked to passers-by, sat with his coffee at outdoor cafes while his companion nibbled quietly near a hitching post. It was life-changing.

I have tranquility sometimes, more than in the past, but it’s not the norm. I can’t say I’ve “reached” it yet. (There’s that oxymoronical “itch” again.) Tranquility can’t be a goal, I think. It’s just is a simple state of being. Ahhhh

“The essential is invisible to the eyes.”  -the fox in Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince

Sunday, November 6, 2016

ON COURAGE

Courage, Final version_2014, 6 ft x 4 ft, oil stick, ink, acrylic, charcoal and gauze

Dearest Readers,
I’m thinking about courage today, walking through the woods musing on the possible definitions–trying to find words that explain my winged representation in the painting above. Courage is one of my three large works on human goodness currently on view through November at the Gilmore Gallery in the Peacham Vermont library. Several viewers at the show’s opening reception asked for reasons why I chose the imagery of wings. I stumbled through my answers. 

Wikipedia says, "Courage (also called bravery or valor) is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation." A romantic painting entitled “Godspeed!”, by Edmund Leighton (1852-1922) accompanied their definition.
Godspeed-Edmund Leighton

Courage for me is personal and entwined with the natural world. It is a pair of wings to wear in difficult times. It is a flying machine for facing death, inspired by birds and branches that reach for the sky. But this is only part of it.
Helping-Hand-Wings for Hazel Who Was Afraid of Death-21 in x 16in, ink and pastel on paper, 2003

After my mother died in 1997, I drew her a pair of imaginative wings made out of “helping hand” gloves, with velcro-fastened shoulder straps and headlights to smooth her transition from this life and beyond. I saw the fear in her eyes when the priest arrived to administer the last rights. I realized that I too wanted assistance at the end.
Cecelia at Hambidge Center with early Courage wings-Dec. 2009
Wings at Hambidge Center with shoulder straps and white "feathers"-Dec. 2009

In December 2009 during a month-long artist residency at the Hambidge Center for Arts and Sciences in the North Georgia mountains, I began my painting that I now call “Courage”. It was a long time coming. I found two branches on the forest floor and mimicked their wing-like curves in ink, acrylic and charcoal. I added eyes to see in the dark and strips of painted gauze as feathers that I later changed to pure white. I sewed my own pair of silk covered shoulder straps that fit my body perfectly. I could “wear” my courage on the wall.
Courage-mid-point 2010

Later the sky in the center changed from cheerful blue to a deep and cosmic blue-green blended by hand from oil-sticks. Planets and stars dotted the universe beyond.  I slashed two angled gashes in rough red paint and created a high color focal point in the middle.
Left to Right_Sally_Cecelia_Ruth in Hambidge mirror_2009

I sent the painting a year later as a gift to an Atlanta friend, Sally Wylde in hospice in Massachusetts with breast cancer. Sally and Ruth Schowalter, friends from Decatur GA in 2009 visited me during my stay at Hambidge when the painting took shape and Sally was going through chemo and radiation. We took a selfie in my Hambidge cottage bathroom mirror. Sally is left, Ruth is right. I’m the somber one in the middle. After Sally’s death in 2010, her husband Btitt Dean gave the wings back to me.  I kept it rolled up.

In 2013 I found the courage to unfurl it on my studio wall. I ripped off one foot of “superfluous” painting on either end. This was an act of courage to potentially destroy it, but now I needed to make it less personal and more universal.

I removed the “cutesy” straps at once, and in 2014 I painted over the all-seeing eyes that felt like they were judging. There. Done!

So, what is courage?
For me it is stepping out of a comfortable space and taking the risk to move forward into the unknown, trusting in whatever the outcome brings. It is not the absence of fear. It is releasing hold of safety, and free-falling into what must be done. It is accepting help and wearing the wings.