October 30, 2010

A New Painting: "Turning"

Turning, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 7 1/4 x 5 inches.

My newest painting is composed differently from most that came before: instead of an essentially flat plane, parallel to the picture plane, this work pushes back and forth in space, turning round from side to side and from back to front. I've been feeling that this illusionism is possibly too naturalistic, so am not sure of the success of the painting, though at times it seems interestingly strange. Is it too real, too complex, not abstract enough? I like there to be an even balance, but here it might be tipped; what do you think?

Because this is a fairly complicated painting, I took a couple of process shots. This first one shows the painting when the color was first sketched in and there was still a lot of transparency to the paint. The parchment has a very luminous quality at this stage.

And here is the painting after I worked on the drawing, getting each form in its place in the correct proportion. I do some of this freehand with paint and some, like the straight lines, with a pencil and ruler. This foundation of drawing allows me to use paint more freely. It is not etched in stone, however, as I do change things as I continue to work; my aim, not always achieved, is to keep a quality of freshness within the precise rendering.

October 28, 2010

Middle Eastern Beet Salad

This is a wonderful recipe that comes from my cousin Poopa Dweck's grand cookbook Aromas of Aleppo. My mother never made beet salad in this way, so I tried Poopa's recipe and was delighted with the results. The most important flavor in this recipe, and most exotic, is the sour taste of tamarind paste; pomegranate syrup would also work, but not the sweetened juice. This ingredient can be found in some health food stores and in Middle Eastern and Indian markets. I've had great success with this salad at pot lucks.

2 pounds of beets, boiled and skins removed
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs tamarind paste
1 teas ground cumin
1/4 teas cayenne
salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 small red onion, chopped

  1. Cut beets into 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. Make the dressing by combining olive oil, lemon juice, tamarind, spices and salt. Mix well.
  3. Pour the dressing over the beets, then add the parsley and onions and stir.

October 27, 2010

Sheila Hicks: Miniatures

Ringlets; made in Paris, 1993; interlock, reversible; rubber bands, paper clips; 12 1/4 x 5 inches
A cascade of circus-festive, elastic bands congregates and loops into a paper clip. A repetitive gesture, on the accumulation of similar elements, accords with my natural instincts.
I chose to build with fiber rather than overlay paint upon paint, or carve wood, or struggle to give form to soft clay or wax.

One of my favorite catalogs on my bookshelf is Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor, from a 2006 exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center in NYC. Now that I am painting at a very small size, the small works that Hicks has made throughout her life have extra meaning to me. Sheila Hicks is an important contemporary textile artist whose work I had been unaware of until friends told me about the show; I sadly missed it, but the catalog has given me a great deal of pleasure and inspiration.

Although Hicks makes many more traditional looking pieces, the works that I most love are surprising and inventive, such as Ringlets above. Paper clips and rubber bands: what could be more simple, or closer to hand? They are transformed into a marvelous rhythm of irregular circles and bouncing colors. Hicks commented on many of the works in the show, comments that are thoughtful, articulate, and often personal, so that the pieces are like a diary, a notation of place and feeling, and of making. It was very difficult to choose just a few works to show here because there are so many ideas and enticing images in the book.

Dimanche; made in Paris, 1960; wrapped leather, linen, paper; 3 1/2 x 5 inches.
Shoelaces bound with linen. Sunday I rifle through castoffs in the flea market in search of distinctive discards.

Another piece made of ordinary materials, Dimanche is tightly bound, yet bursting with energy.

Trout Quipu; made in Galway, Ireland, 1964; woven, braided reversible, three finished selvages; wool; 8 x 5 1/2 inches.
Quipu––an abacus of the Andes––became the model for a series of wall panels I knotted in a carpet workshop in Ireland. The concept of dangling, tangled warps worked into a counting system was labor-intensive but captivating.

I chose this image because I found the inspiration for it so interesting; imagine turning an abacus into a weaving!

Cross Over; made in Paris, 1968; woven, all selvages finished; wool; 8 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches.
Vertical parallel warp detaches and moves diagonally to invite weft to follow the errant path.

I find this piece lovely, as though two figures, side by side, are moving to touch each other and join together. It's quite a conversation they are having.

Miniature Textile; made in Nantes, France, 1987; woven, stitched, reversible, all selvages finished; 7 x 5 inches.

I see this as a charming portrait: a young woman, stylish haircut, bound and free. Or sometimes I see a cartoon face, full of joy and fun.

Back from the Front; made in Jerusalem, ca. 1979; knitted, stitched cotton jersey; 9 x8 inches.
Khaki green t-shirt jersey is repeatedly sewn with a sharp needle.

It is moving to think of Hicks sewing "repeatedly" on a khaki army t-shirt "with a sharp needle", a brilliant metaphor for the intractable problems of Israel/Palestine.

Tibidabo Daydream; made in Barcelona, 1973; woven, all selvages finished; wool, cotton, paper; 9 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches.
On my way to Tibidabo, the Barcelona amusement park, I bought pajamas for my son who was in the hospital. I kept the tags and inserted them as weft.

What an idea, to weave clothing tags into a textile. This is an example of the weaving as diary; photographs work for this, but how much more present are the actual objects of a life.

ChoCho San; made in France, 2006; dyed, woven, and sewn; synthetic fiber, color transfer paper; 10 x 7 1/4 inches.

The sewn, brightly colored piece of paper caught between strings, bound by weaving, though still managing to burst free. The combination of transparent and opaque, paper and fiber give a sense of movement, so that I might have titled this "Continental Drift".

And here, taken from her website, is a Hicks commission, which I think is pretty amazing; the ideas from the miniatures writ large.

October 26, 2010

Built: Barn Cupolas

I've been passing this small structure by the side of the road for years now. It sits there with its pointed hat topped by a moss covered wand, like something out of a fairy tale. I had assumed it was a cupola from a long vanished barn, but when I stopped today to get a closer look, and a photo, I wondered at its flat bottom; how would it have perched on the roof? and why did it have that door?

A half mile down the road, I got my answer: there had been an additional structure added to set the cupola on the slant of roof, and this one had windows instead of a door. I stopped to chat with the farmer, who spread his hands wide to show me the size of the cow atop the weathervane, perhaps 3 feet; quite a beautiful thing, with what look like two crows perched beneath the cow.

I wonder at the feelings of the people who left that cupola sitting in the high grass; could it be a memento, a memory of a building sadly lost? or a humorous addition to their everyday view?

October 25, 2010

A Walk in the Woods: The Colors of Beeches

Most of the leaves have fallen, but beech trees, late to the show, are still adding color to the autumn woods. They begin as green turning to gold

and deepen to dusky reds

which catch the light and glow like tiny lanterns brightening the spaces between the tall dark cylinders of bark.

The leaves will turn a warm brown, then begin to dry, as many have already. They hang onto their branches into the winter months, a brittle memory of summer.

October 24, 2010

A New Hooked Rug: "Standing Circle", along with a new project

Standing Circle, hand-dyed wool on linen, 9 x 11 inches

Here is the latest in the series of works with two forms/one moving out from the frame. It feels very different to me in mood from the two previous, more static, serious, classic. A circle spins, but remains in place, while the triangles zip outward.

After trying hanging the three works in different configurations, I found that this one worked, with Standing Circle slightly apart, as if an old uncle, adding weight to the flightiness of the youngsters.

This is the thumbnail for the 4th of the series, which I've named Floating Oval.

It took me a while to work out the size and shape of the oval, so that it would balance with the trapezoid (I had to look up the name of this four-sided shape). I drew the oval freehand with the help of measuring parallel lines from the center. Of course when the work is done it's unlikely the oval will be anywhere close to perfect.

And here is the piece started. You can see that the colors are lighter than in the thumbnail sketch, as were all the others. I decided that in keeping with the mid-tones of the other works, I wouldn't make this very dark, but maybe the yellow will look too light. I suppose we'll see when it's all finished.

October 22, 2010

A First Dusting of Snow; Coloring Leaves

This morning I woke before full dawn, and as I passed the window looking out towards the vegetable garden, I saw it glowing, as if in moonlight, in the soft dim light. Of course, it was snow, which settled on the soil of the garden, a white rectangle in the center of the darker lawn. It seems fairly late for this tiny amount of snow, which fitfully fell in light flurries throughout the day. Last year we had a more substantial snowfall on October 13th, which I blogged about here.

The flurries were broken by bursts of sun, so I went out to take some pictures of the foliage of perennials still in the garden, waiting to be cut back. It's very hard for me to cut the plants while the leaves are still alive and full of color. The Siberian Irises above are flopping over in front of the shed, but are still a warm green, turning to yellow; I'll cut them back when they are closer to brown.

The peonies also have some beautiful color: dark reds shading to greens. They are beginning to look sad, though, and will soon be done for the season.

One of the prettiest foliage plants in the garden is Amsonia; it has tiny steely blue flowers in spring and beautiful leaves all season. The plant is now a cool bright yellow, standing out against the darker leaves behind it. Maybe there will be a nice mild day in a couple of weeks, when the leaves of the perennials will all be dead, and I'll feel ready to take my garden knife to the plants.

a hat tip to the blog Each Little World, with its Foliage Followup to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

October 21, 2010

A New Painting: "Three Hoses"

Three Hoses, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 5 1/4 x 6 inches.

Three long cylindrical shapes, which happen to be hoses, crisscross a surface; the hoses a pinkish color, likely faded from red, the surface orange-red; all is capped by a metallic colored curve. I like the snaking movement of curved lines, both resting and floating on what looks like a very gently curved plane.

This detail is to show some of the surface texture, the way I used the brush and paint. This was one of those paintings that had me in despair at its midpoint. Below is what the painting looked like before the final layers of paint, after I had laid down some layers of the red background color. I had worked and worked on it and at the end of the session, it looked completely lifeless: the color, the brushwork, the surface, all dead. (it may not look so bad in reproduction, but believe me, it was awful.) By adding some cadmium orange to the color mix, which brightened the color, and by scumbling a lighter value over the darker red-orange, the surface came back to life. The lighter color added a semblance of shine, and the brushstrokes gave a subtle variation to the color. Phew! I guess it worked out okay.

October 20, 2010

A Walk in the Woods: Painted by Lichens

When I take my daily walk in the woods these days, it is a very noisy stroll: the path is covered with browning fallen leaves, which are tossed and crunched, rustling and crackling, with every footstep; childhood memories re-emerge of splashing through piles of raked leaves. With the waning color of leaves comes an awareness of more subtle coloration on trees and rocks: the swaths, splotches and spots of lichens. Above, a tree trunk is covered in a beautiful pale green, as though a woodsman had come through the forest with a bucket of paint and large brush, marking certain trees.

Rocks too have their own lichens, from warm to cool bluish greens. The warm green on the lower rock is, I believe, a moss. They are all richly patterned on the rocks piled along a wall.

On a large old tree that I pass each day is a dusting of intense lime green lichen at its base. The color is so brilliant and seemingly out of place; I haven't seen this lichen anywhere else but on this one tree. We can almost imagine, looking at the photo, that we're seeing a satellite view of a mountainous tropical landscape.

I love the way the irregular patches of white lichens are arrayed on the rocks along with cool and darker greens; I can see an abstract painting, the various textures playing off against the gently sloping diagonals, creating a vigorous composition.

And here, a very subtle painting, of whites, grays, and soft reds, and for contrast, a corner of rich green (moss? liverwort?). The colors, alone and in relation, of the lichens are an inspiration, and I make a note to myself to pay attention to them.

October 18, 2010

In the Root Cellar

I decided to dig my carrots and beets yesterday, although I probably could have waited longer; I suppose I'm ready for garden chores to be finished. After leaving them on the ground outdoors for a few hours so the dirt could dry and be brushed off, I brought them into the cellar, where they will be stored until spring or until they are all eaten. I thought it would be interesting for those of you who've never seen an old house cellar to get a glimpse of mine. My 1821 house has a stone foundation and a dirt floor in the cellar, usual for this period of house. The sills are huge granite slabs. About a third of the cellar is blocked off by a stone wall, behind which is granite ledge. The dampness associated with dirt and stone is perfect for storing vegetables, as they are less likely to dry out.

I had a wooden wall built to block off the root cellar room from the rest of the cellar because I have a furnace down there, which I use occasionally. Because of the furnace, and because the room is on the south side of the house, it is not as cold as it should be for beets and carrots, but is perfect for potatoes and cabbage. In the photo above, you see the right side of the room, where cabbages, carrots and beets are stored. The planks of wood are there because the floor is very irregular, with rock poking through here and there.

I put the carrots in a large wooden box, left here along with the potato box by the previous owners, layering them and covering them with sand and peat moss. I layer the beets in 5 gallon buckets and use peat moss, which is easier to obtain than clean sand. From time to time I sprinkle some water on the vegetables, so they won't dry out; covering them with plastic also helps.

The potatoes you see here are seed potatoes that I chose from this years crop to use for next year. Hidden under three layers of newspaper are cabbages, which amazingly last until May in very good shape (they are storage varieties of red and green cabbage).

And here in a very large box, for which I made a divider, are my potatoes; French Fingerlings are on the left, with the few Red Norlands remaining; on the right are Carola and Purple Viking. I love potatoes, so am happy to see a pretty good crop stored up.

This final image is of old shelving outside the root cellar room, that was in the house when I moved here. Narrow tree trunks are the uprights and cross braces holding the rough wood shelves, so this must be very old construction. I use the shelves to store my preserves––jams and canned tomatoes and applesauce, which are in the cardboard boxes to keep them dark (there are small windows in the cellar)––and lots of other stuff. On the left are my recycling bags.

I feel very lucky to have this wonderful old cellar, full of character and quirks, such as: a stream runs through it during wet springs so it has a channel wandering to a drain pipe. To me, it's so much nicer than a clean, bright cement floor.

October 17, 2010

Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty

Kubilai Khan as the First Yuan Emperor, Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), ink and color on silk, 23 1/4 x 18 3/4

The Metropolitan Museum of Art mounts some fantastic, sweeping exhibitions, which I try not to miss; currently on view until January 2nd is an exciting show of Chinese art titled The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty. I had so much fun looking at the wide range of beautiful objects, from paintings and sculpture to ceramics and textiles, paying less attention to the historical context in which a Mongol empire was established in all of China (for the history, see here). Every object in the show is online at the museum website, so if you can't see the show, you can get a secondhand look at it, with excellent enlargements. It was very difficult for me to choose a few images to illustrate this post because there's so much of great interest.

We are greeted at the start of the show by this charming portrait of the Emperor, using simple forms and elegant lines suggesting swelling volumes. What I found most fascinating about this portrait is that it is not a finished work, but a cartoon for a tapestry; all the Imperial portraits of the Yuan dynasty were tapestries woven with silk thread, since Mongols valued textiles "above all other art forms".

Textile with Animals, Birds and Flowers (detail), late 12th-14th century, Eastern Central Asia, silk embroidery on plain-weave silk.

With this lovely embroidery, we can get a sense of how finely sewn the Emperor's portrait would have been; the rich color of the silk thread, its sheen, and the varied directions of the stitching create an almost sculptural effect.

Ren Renfa, Nine Horses (detail), 1324; handscroll, ink and color on silk; Image: 12 5/16 in. x 8 ft

There were many beautiful paintings in the show, and calligraphy of differing styles. I can't resist sharing a detail of one of the horse paintings, since several years ago I used to ride dressage. Horses were very important to Mongol culture, and here, in the Chinese artist Renfa's painting "horses and their grooms served as metaphors for capable officials who were valued by their rulers." (from the Met description here) The animals are painted with great sensitivity and grace.

Scene of a Family Watching a Parade, 1334; Stone, 27 3/8 x 20 7/8 in.

I was surprised to see a series of narrative relief sculptures in the show, since I don't think I've seen this before in Chinese art. They were shown along with several pieces related to the theater, which thrived in China at this time. The work above was to commemorate the awarding of an academic degree. I love relief carving, and this lively piece with its somewhat primitive forms, is very engaging.

,Arhat (Luohan) mid 14th century; Wood with traces of pigment, 38 9/16 x 32 5/16 x 16 5/16 in.

The grace and power of this piece are not well served by the museum's photograph. For me, this was the most compelling religious image in the exhibition; the monk is intensely thoughtful yet very physical and alive; his gaze is inward, his body at rest under a swirl of cloak. The tradition of depicting Luohan is a distinctly Chinese one; I wrote about three earlier pieces in the Met's collection here.

Bottle, Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368); Porcelain with underglaze copper red (Jungdezhen ware), 8 7/16 x 4 5/16 in.

This porcelain bottle stood out for me among all the wonderful ceramics because of the stunning irregular red splotches on the white surface, so brave and powerful and free, decorating an elegant form.

Pair of Stem Cups, Mongol period (1206-71); Gold, 5 11/16 x 4 5/16 in.

I admired these cups because of their graceful form and proportions; the flare of the stem is somehow balanced by the outward curving cup. The cup on the left is delicately incised with a pattern, which I believe is a lotus flower.

Cup and Saucer, Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368); Glass; Cup: 1 15 1/16 x 3 1/2, Tray: diameter 6 in.

And here, another lotus flower, marvelously transformed into glass of a heavenly color. This is a very refined, lilting work, an homage to floral beauty.

I could have posted 20 images of things I loved in the show, but instead, if you are interested, take a look at the Met's website. I hope I've wetted your appetite.