September 30, 2010

A New Painting: "Cylinders"

Cylinders, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 5 x 10 inches

This painting has a different internal scale than the previous works, which you can see below; the forms are smaller and more complex. The composition is basically divided into three parts, each with a different character, and topped by an apron overlapping the forms below. I get a kick out of the illusionism of that top rectangle; I don't know if it shows in this photo, but when I look at the painting, there seems to be a tangible space.

I had a thought while I was working on this painting that helped me to clarify what I was trying to do with this body of work: make forms that become archetypal rather than particular, so that the real objects which are the subjects of the paintings become disconnected from their origins, become simply abstract forms. I realize I've written similarly before, but working on this painting, struggling to get a balance of form and detail, made it more clear. It's funny how certain ideas that you've had become magically more concrete and present to your mind.

A suggestion: because the painting is long and narrow, it looks quite small on the blog or email page; if you click on the image, you'll see an enlargement. I must apologize for the quality of the photo; I had a hard time getting a shot without glare, which picks up the surface imperfections and somewhat changes the value relationships.

September 29, 2010

More Autumn Color

It was a beautiful day today, mild, with enough moisture in the air to give a luxurious late summer feel to the out of doors. The color is such a delight that I can't resist doing another post on this briefest of seasons, hoping to capture some of its wonder to share with you.

My walk through the woods today was so marvelous, with golden light sparkling on leaves drifting from trees. A photograph gives only a bare hint of the almost heavenly feel of walking through this landscape.

Just three days ago, the paths through the woods were mostly brown with old leaves, and now they are colorful carpets. In some areas, there are intense scarlets from the maples, in others more subtle yellows and red-browns.

The orange of a maple leaf is echoed by some small jelly mushrooms on a downed tree trunk, the bright green of lichens adding a cool note to the composition.

And to end this post, a wide view of my house perched on its small hill, a line of sugar maples brightening the view, a glimpse of Blue Mountain in the distance.

September 28, 2010

A New Rug Hooking Project: Purple Points

I've begun the second of a series of four hooked rugs that have an overlapping form jutting out from the space of a framing shape. (to see sketches of the four, go to this post.) I've used a triangle again, but this time I designed it to stick out from the background at two of its points, one slightly and one in what will be an elongated journey onto the wall. The colors are vivid secondaries, green and purple, a memory of summer flowers perhaps...

September 27, 2010

Epicurus: The Pleasurable Life

Today the word epicure means "someone who takes particular pleasure in fine food and drink", and there are recipe websites with variations on the name. We tend to think of an epicurian as something of a hedonist, a self-indulgent pursuer of pleasure. But the actual Epicurus, the Greek philosopher of the 3rd century BCE, would likely be appalled at the use to which his name has been put. As he wrote
It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly.
Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.
Last week I read a post on Epicurian aesthetics on my philosopher friend Tom Leddy's blog and a light went on in my brain: oh my, I must be an Epicurian. Epicurus emphasized that the highest good was a life free of pain and worry, and having pleasures that are natural and necessary, therefore simple:
The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.
Granting that my understanding of philosophy is minimal, I still felt a rush of excitement in reading about Epicurus; here was an approach to life that echoed what I have been coming to understand as the meaning of my own: a deep pleasure in the simple things around me––garden and nature––and in the aesthetic pleasures of art making, reading and writing, cooking, watching movies; the joys of friendship, online and in person; the paying attention to small things.

September 26, 2010

Autumn Color

Every year in mid September, I inevitably have some variation on this conversation: "It looks as though we might not have very good foliage color this year; the leaves seem to just be turning brown around the edges; there's no red." Then another week or so passes and the color begins to intensify, with bright reds and oranges popping amid the transitional greens. The views from my windows are gorgeous with astonishing color; even though they come every fall, the hues of the season remain a marvel; the air itself seems infused with particles of orange and red. It isn't only the grand views that provide visual pleasure at this time of year; when I look across my small pond, I see the ferns at its edge have become beautifully colored with warm yellows and earthy reds.

Also across the pond, the ground under the birch trees has become a small moss and lichen habitat. Colored leaves have fallen on the club mosses; strawberry leaves, alongside branching lichen, are spotted with deep red.

The blueberry bushes are not only of interest when full of fruit; in fall they turn a beautiful range of reds, from a cool bluish red to a fiery scarlet. Walking about my land, looking at the changing leaf colors, walking on the woodland path, beginning to be carpeted with fallen color, I feel an aesthetic thrill with this explosion of richness before the coming dun months.

September 24, 2010

Cauliflower, Four Ways

The head of cauliflower is hidden among large green leaves; in order to keep it white, the leaves must be tied together, or as I do, folded over, to keep the yellowing effect of sun away. This year I had an abundant crop, so have been eating cauliflower every day, and still have 2 enormous heads in the refrigerator (I must make some soup for the freezer!) A fresh cauliflower from the garden has a wonderful sweet flavor, vastly superior to the long-traveled supermarket item. I have several favorite ways of cooking this vegetable and thought I'd share them with you. If you have any favorite way of cooking now-abundant cauliflower, I hope you'll share it.

Cauliflower Salad: A first way of eating cauliflower is a very simple and delicious salad: steam the florets until tender, then dress them with good olive oil and red wine vinegar, adding salt to taste.

Fried Cauliflower

This is a favorite from my mother's kitchen.
  1. For fried cauliflower, steam florets until tender, as with salad, and also the pasta below. (I keep a big bowl of steamed cauliflower in the refrigerator at this time of year.)
  2. Dip the cauliflower into beaten egg and then dust with flour seasoned with salt and pepper. I put the flour in a brown paper bag, drop the cauliflower into it in batches, and shake to coat the florets.
  3. Heat 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in a wide skillet; fry cauliflower, turning, until golden.

Penne with Cauliflower, Garlic and Oil

This recipe comes from Marcella Hazan's More Classic Italian Cooking, out of print, but available used; it's for anchovy lovers only. The amounts that follow are for a pound of pasta, so adjust for a smaller amount.

a 1 1/2 pound head of cauliflower
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
6 flat anchovy fillets, chopped
1/4 teas chopped hot red pepper
1 pound package penne or other macaroni
2 Tbs chopped parsley

  1. Break apart cauliflower into florets; steam until tender, about 10-12 minutes.
  2. Put the oil, garlic and chopped anchovies into a medium sized saute pan. Turn on heat to medium and saute until garlic begins to turn golden, stirring and mashing the anchovies.
  3. Put in the cauliflower and break it up with a fork, crumbling it into peanut sized pieces, mashing some of it into a pulp.
  4. Add the hot pepper and a liberal amount of salt. Cook for a few minutes more.
  5. Cook the pasta, place in a serving bowl and pour the sauce over it; toss and add the parsley.

Curried Cauliflower and Potatoes

Years ago, probably 30 or 35 (!), I bought a collection of paperback cookbooks, which included Mexican, Jewish, Spanish, Vegetable, Asian, Bread and Indian cookbooks. I still dip into them from time to time. The Indian cookbook that came with this collection, The Art of Indian Cooking by Monica Dutt, out of print but available used, has very simple recipes, Americanizing the Indian cuisine. For instance, there's rare mention of ghee, but instead vegetable oil is used. If you, like me, are intimidated by complex Indian recipes, this is for you.

6 Tbs vegetable oil
1 medium cauliflower, separated into florets
3 medium potatoes,peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves, crushed
a pinch of black pepper
1/2 teas grated fresh ginger
1/4 teas crushed red pepper
1 Tbs ground coriander
1/4 teas turmeric
1 teas ground cumin
1 cup boiling water
salt to taste
2 Tbs chopped cilantro (the book calls for parsley, but cilantro is obviously the better choice)

Heat vegetable oil in a wide skillet and saute cauliflower and potatoes until light brown, stirring occasionally. Remove vegetables and set aside.
In the same oil, fry bay leaves 1 minute, add remaining spices and mix well. Add the sauteed vegetables and fry and stir for 5 minutes.
Add the boiling water and salt, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender and water has been absorbed.
Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley.

September 23, 2010


Pointed, hand-dyed wool on linen, 11 1/2 x 10 inches

An orange triangle, one point jutting out from a pink square, two other points just meeting the edges, pushing against them: this is how I'd describe this piece in words. Our visual responses do, of course, bring in other considerations. For instance, how do we think of the small triangle that extends beyond the square border? is it uncomfortable? or does it add a lively element to the work? I myself wasn't sure what I'd think until I finished, and when I hung the work on the wall (last photo), I was pleased; there was an added allusion to 3 dimensional sculpture that I liked.

I had thought (see this post on beginning the work) that I would cut the loops of the background pink square to make the piece into a relief sculpture, but when I tried cutting some, I saw that aside from a subtle textural change, it didn't really affect how I saw it. This technique seems to work best when using a single color; changes in texture then read like color changes. So, I didn't cut the loops.

Below is Pointed hanging alongside the slanted witch's window on the second floor of my house. (to see a more complete photo of the window, go to this post.) I like the way it seems to float above the architectural elements on the wall, and the way the diagonals of the image converse with those of the window, a felicitous placement, I think.

Pointed, hand-dyed wool on linen, 11 1/2 x 10 inches

An orange triangle, one point jutting out from a pink square, two other points just meeting the edge.

September 21, 2010

A Walk in the Woods: Late Blooms

Although we have moved past summer––tomorrow is the first day of fall––there are new blooms in the woods and fields, adding their color to the fading goldenrod and the purple asters. It seems that the late blooming time has made for small flowers, sometimes very numerous, but still small: 1/2 to 1 inch wide. The yellow flowers above are even smaller than that, clustered along an arching stem. I assume that they're a type of goldenrod, later blooming than the more widely seen plume-like form. They look very pretty massed on a bank in the woods, the bright yellow like frothy points of light.

Asters are the flower of the moment, and many variations on them are blooming now. The Flat-Topped White Aster (at least that's what I think it is) is a very tall plant at 4 or 5 feet, with a wide loose spray of blooms. It is quite dramatic, in a restrained sort of way.

These tiny flowers, 1/2 inch wide, add subtle brightness to the changing colors around them. I particularly like the purpling centers of the flowers: this darker value of the petal color seems a deliberate aesthetic decision on the part of a designer.

I think this tiny plant is called Stiff Aster, probably because of the needle-like leaves that recall a cedar's needles.

This white aster was growing in a mass alongside a group of maidenhair ferns, a beautifully designed grouping. The 1 inch flowers with their swept back rays and heart shaped leaves looked very elegant with the ferns. It is a pleasure to see all these delicate flowers before the explosion of color soon to come.

September 20, 2010

A New Painting: "Arch"

Arch, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 5 1/2 x 4 inches

Expanses of greenish yellow and yellowish red establish the main structure of this painting, as flat, tilting planes. The original colors were more pure and intense, but I decided to try to make a color relationship that tended toward the harmonious rather than the raucous; the red and yellow are still fairly bright, but much subdued. I like the curves of this painting: the yellow arch over black, the round raised cylinder with its button of red, like a clowning exclamation.

I've included a detail to show the paint handling more clearly; keep in mind that it's above life size.

September 19, 2010

Built and Grown: A Garden in Town

The subtle colors of a woodframe house are welcoming: the home of Beth Mueller, artist and friend, sits on a corner lot of a small city/large town in Vermont. The restraint and sensitivity of the house colors give way to a riotous profusion of growth when we enter the small back and side yards: brassicas, squashes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers run rampant, producing large amounts of good, healthy food. Last summer, Beth grew so many eggplants that she gave me a bagful because I'd had a poor crop.

It is quite a surprise to see such abundance tucked alongside a house where we are used to seeing prosaic lawn, some foundation plantings, perhaps a few flowers. It's a lesson to us that we need not have acres of land to have a productive vegetable garden.

Even the local animals are well fed: when I walked towards the giant sunflowers to photograph them, a gray squirrel went scampering down from a sunflower head. The seeds are not completely ripe, yet the squirrels of the neighborhood have already eaten half of them. For any passerby, this is a visual feast, an unexpected joy on a quiet street.

September 18, 2010

Thoughts While Mowing the Lawn

I don't usually enjoy mowing the lawn, what with the noise and the smell and the emissions, but occasionally there is a day so lovely that chugging around on the lawn tractor heightens my appreciation. I see my land from a different vantage point; my thoughts are free to wander. While looking across the ferns and stone wall into my back yard, I was suddenly wonderstruck, so that I almost said it aloud: "this is my home!"

The September light, brilliant and casting long shadows, lit up every edge, found its way onto surfaces, the breeze making everything glitter. Photographs can't capture the aliveness of the light, its quick movement and intensity. While on my noisy machine, I looked about and felt utterly grateful, for the startling moments of beauty, for small pleasures, for this home.

September 16, 2010

Henri Matisse, 1914

View of Notre Dame, 1914, oil on canvas, 58 x 37 1/4 "

When I was in NYC last week, I went to the Museum of Modern Art to see the the exhibit "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917". The premise of the show was that it would illuminate, in a very different way, the work of this period, by looking at Matisse's studio practice, rather than "as a response to Cubism or World War I". The problem with this is that Matisse was very friendly with Picasso and other cubists at the time, and was influenced by them. And he was so profoundly shaken by the war that he tried to enlist in August 1914, at the age of 44. Also in 1914 were influential lectures by the philosopher Henri Bergson which explored ideas of perception; his friend Matthew Prichard wrote that Matisse
accepted Bergson's idea that the artist is concerned with the discovery and expression of reality.....He accepted also that a picture by Corot was meant to be looked at, while his own painting was meant to be felt and submitted to.*
The paintings of the period in this show are so intensely worked, so structural, so full of the evidence of working and reworking that we can't help but feel them as a physical presence. Before painting the View of Notre Dame above, he completed a more conventionally pretty view, with none of the power or energy of the more abstract version which gives us the essence of the monumental form in space.

Interior with a Goldfish Bowl, 1914, oil on canvas, 58 x 38"

Goldfish and Palette, 1914, oil on canvas, 58 x 44"

I love this period of Matisse's work, so it was great to see so many of these canvases again. I turned to my catalog of the great 1992 Matisse retrospective (available at reasonable prices, used) at MoMA to photograph paintings for this post. I was amused to find that the 5 paintings I chose were all painted in 1914, all but French Window at the studio in Paris on the quai Saint-Michel. What an amazing year Matisse had there! The two paintings above are very interesting to compare; the first was done early in the year, the second in the autumn. The move towards simplifying and dramatizing the forms in space is very clear. The decision to have a black vertical mass, subsuming table and floor and bringing light to table top and bowl is a very nervy one. There is a trace of the artist on the right, a thumb lightly emerging through the hole of a palette, saying "I am here, I perceived this, and made this."

Woman on a High Stool (Germain Raynal), 1914, oil on canvas,
58 x 38"

I found this portrait very moving, the figure tensely composed, a thin rectangle surrounded, pressed upon by gray space. The energetic handling of the gray makes it seem as though the air around the figure is more alive than she, held in as she is by strong black lines. I wonder if Giacometti was familiar with this painting; it seems to anticipate his concerns.

French Window at Collioure, 1914, oil on canvas, 46 x 35"

This remarkable painting, now easy for us to understand after years of looking at abstract art, was never shown in Matisse's lifetime. He painted it in the fall, while in the south of France for a short while, as the Germans advanced on Paris. Lovely colors of shutters and wall look out on utter blackness, a bare hint of railings hovers. Matisse was painting his heart.

* from Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Color, by Hilary Spurling, p. 148

September 15, 2010

Fall is Approaching

Today was a raw gray day, blustery with occasional showers, the temperature only in the low 50s. It was the perfect day to fire up the woodstove, the first time this season. Although I have a gas furnace, I primarily heat the house with wood. (You can see my woodpile in this post.) Wood heat fills the house with an even warmth. The stove becomes a center of comfort, to sit alongside, to warm the body after a cold walk.

The cookstove came with the house; it's not an antique, but a modern airtight model. It has a small firebox, which you can see above, but it manages to heat my house on all but the coldest of days. And I cook on it all winter long, using the oven for such things as roasting vegetables and baking beans.

Out in the mudroom is an old handmade box for stovewood, and an old washtub for kindling. Both were here in the house when I moved in. The wear on the back of the box speaks of years of wood piled up against it.

Also in the mudroom are bunches of drying onions, garlic, and herbs. Looking at them, I feel a great sense of satisfaction; summer's bounty, ready for fall and winter meals.

September 14, 2010

A New Rug Hooking Project: Pointed

When I was mulling over my next rug hooking project, thinking that I'd like to do another shaped work, I happened to read some blog posts at Steven Alexander's Journal about Brazilian art he had seen while on a trip there. The top photo is work by Luciano Figueiredo, the bottom, Manfredo de Souzanetto. These paintings, minimal yet full of verve, got me thinking: why not put two elements together, with one sticking out from the basic rectangle, engaging directly with the wall.

I did a group of thumbnail sketches, coloring 4 that I liked (the sketch of pink oval with blue is not part of this series), using very saturated colors. My idea is that the color will be intense and spirited, almost verging on the garish. The first project I'm tackling is the orange triangle on a pink ground, the point of the triangle just barely jutting out from the square.

There was a large piece of yellow dyed wool which I had never used, so I overdyed it with the same cherry color I used for the deep pink, yielding an interesting orange, which tends to magenta.

Here is the ruglet just begun, with only its outlines hooked. As I've been working on it, I'm starting to feel that I'd like this group to have something of a sculptural feel, so may cut the loops of the background shape; this will give the piece a look of low relief sculpture. I used this technique in the triptych below, so you can see how it'll turn out. I'm still not sure I'll be doing this, but once I make the decision to cut, I would have to re-hook the background if I don't like it.
....but I think it will work.

Ovals, 3 pieces, each 16 x 7 inches

September 13, 2010

Purple Loosestrife

The purple loosestrife growing at the borders of my pond has begun to dry, turning a beautiful purplish color, so I picked a bunch for winter display. Now I must go out and cut all the heads so that the plants don't set seed. I love the look of this flower, but I found out from listening to a program on Vermont Public Radio that it is very invasive, taking over wetlands and crowding out native plants. I had no idea of this when I planted 2 or 3 around my pond. For years they didn't spread, barely even bloomed because the deer ate them (there's a worn trail in the grass around the pond). But this year they are on the move: I pulled out several plants that had migrated to my lower field, where I'd never seen them before. Here is a perfect example of the dark side of beauty.