August 31, 2015

A New Textile: "Overlap"

Overlap, hand dyed wool on linen, 10 x 21 1/2 in.

Two overlapping circles, pushed to the right by a field of gray, or are they moving to the left? As the circles overlap at their centers, they form a pointed shape called a vesica piscis, a "fish's bladder. It's a shape I first learned about when I began to do my series of drawings based on Islamic design. The vesica piscis is seen in sacred art; it is the shape that often encloses Christian religious figures. I understand how this came about: a circle is a perfect form, so two circles intersecting would yield something transcendent.  

Overlap detail

However....there's nothing sacred in this design; for me it's simply an interesting pattern. When I began this piece, I had the usual decision to make about the direction of the hooking: should I make it circular? I didn't think that would work, because then what would happen with the overlapping shape? So I went for a simple horizontal, vertical, diagonal. The colors of the circles were mixed to achieve the orange of the center shape.

Overlap detail

For the background––a gray with some of the pink and yellow added to it in spot dyeing––I used an random pattern; I think the irregularity of the hooking does help it to sit back, not claiming much attention....except for the push it gives the circles.

August 28, 2015


These are the images that illustrated my first blog post on August 1, 2009. They were accompanied by a brief paragraph:
Bees are gathering pollen in squash blossoms. The raspberry canes are loaded with berries, so it's a good day for making jam. I use the long cooking method, with 3/4 cup sugar for every cup of crushed berries. By using 1/4 to 1/2 unripe berries, the jam is sure to thicken. 

That was it, though on the same day I also published two posts with images of recent textiles. At the time, either there weren't the do-it-yourself websites widely available, or I didn't know of them, so in order to have an online presence after losing my NYC gallery I decided to start a blog. I knew that I wanted to combine my work with the natural world around me, and at the beginning I did that, in very short blog posts, published 5 or 6 times a week, sometimes more, with more than one post a day. As time went on, I wrote longer posts, and tried to balance the subjects between my work; the artwork of others, both contemporary and historical, with a bit of writing on other fields such as literature and film; and the natural world, including my garden, the woods, and as a tangent, recipes.

I wanted to explain to my longtime and new readers, during this anniversary month, how my thoughts about keeping up with this blog have changed over the years. At the beginning, I would just toss off a thought or two; I would often show work in progress, step by step. Now I show only finished work because I'm not interested in showing my progress; now I only write a post if I feel I have something substantial to show and write about. Since I've now written so much, many subjects have been covered; take a look at the "Some Favorite Posts" on the right sidebar of the blog to see some of them. The result of this is that I may write posts 2 or 3 times a week, or sometimes less. I still love doing this: I love sharing my work and my ideas about it; I love the process of writing, as it helps me to understand my thinking; I love taking photographs.....I will just do it less often.

August 26, 2015

Late Summer Harvest

As August advances, the sound of the cicadas and crickets reaches a crescendo, heralding the height of the summer, and its ending. It is a paradoxical time, as the fruits of autumn and those of high summer ripen at once. The main crop of Duchess of Oldenburg apples is ripe, and what says fall more than a bite into a crisp, tart apple?

As they ripen, the apples fall to the ground, making picking easy, and providing delicious meals for the local deer, and an occasional bear. The image is one of pure abundance.

In the vegetable garden, the summer crops are ripening. The corn is late this year, the ears are small and the plants not as prolific: cool wet weather for much of the summer is to blame. But I am enjoying what there is. 

The tomatoes, too, have had a hard time with this summer's weather; I won't be canning many quarts this year. I'm glad I'm not a farmer, and don't depend on earnings from the always uncertain harvest.

I baby along the peppers (Carmen) and eggplants (Diamond; from Fedco Seeds).....

....and melons, which I grow on a soil warming black plastic mulch, and under row covers, to keep them toasty during those cool northern summers. It's especially magical to grow melons in this short season climate. This golden beauty is an Orange Honey melon, a honeydew variety.

The seedheads of dill plants are blooming like yellow starbursts, soon to form seeds.

The dill seeds are for me, the sunflower seeds––here a head partially eaten––are for the birds. I love seeing the small birds flitting among the sunflowers, hanging from the laden heads, eating their fill.

And then there are the flowers: the hydrangeas that in late summer are can be picked and dried for winter bouquets. The Annabelle hydrangea turns from white to green when it is ready to be dried.

The blooms of Hydrangea paniculata glow pink as they mature. Flowers, fruit, vegetables, all honor the fecundity of summer.

August 24, 2015

A New Painting: "Three"

Three, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 8 x 9 1/2 in.

I've titled this painting Three because of its three cylindrical elements. The three volumes are on two colored planes, blue and lemon yellow. The two cast shadows are similar, but not exactly the same: I thought they were identical until I looked at the finished painting the next day and saw the differences; I decided to keep them as they are to add a little imperfection and quirkiness to the image (or was I just being lazy?). 

Three detail

Painting a convincing shadow is always difficult, but especially so with yellow, which is such a light color; the shadow can so easily go dead. I hope there's light within these shadows. We tend to think of a shadow as something dark, but there's always color and light within it.

August 20, 2015

Leon Polk Smith: Perfect Pitch

A selection of paintings from the 1960s; image courtesy Leon Polk Smith Foundation website.

 Sometimes I say to myself in wonder, "how is it I didn't know this artist?!". It is a thrill to learn of the work of a painter, Leon Polk Smith (1906 - 1996), whose use of shape and color and space is so varied, so simple and bold, and so perfectly balanced. And on top of that, I feel such an affinity for what he's doing; it feels close to my textile work. I look at the selection of works above and feel exhilarated. In 1962 Smith wrote (he was part Cherokee, from Oklahoma):   
As to color, - The traditional use of somber color was never a part of my environment. I grew up in the Southwest where the colors in nature were pure and rampant and where my Indian neighbors and relatives used color to vibrate and shock in all its intensity with equal rampancy. 

My recent introduction to Smith's work was at Washburn Gallery, where the two paintings above (sorry for the poor photos) were hanging in a group show. They are 5 or 6 feet high. In these paintings, black and white take on the vibrancy Smith speaks of. The shapes move and energize the space of the canvases, oval and rectangular, as the colors switch their places forward and back. I imagine that these paintings are from the 60s or 70s (sorry not to have the info). 

Accent Black, 1949, oil on canvas, 42 x 31 in.

During that same visit to NYC I came across an earlier Smith painting at the Met, a wonderful gridded composition with a jazzy feeling. The Met's description of the work cites its influences as Pueblo design and Mondrian.

Accent Black detail

The color relationships in this painting are subtle and beautiful and rich.

A selection of drawings; image courtesy Leon Polk Smith Foundation website.

There is a Matisse quality to some of Smith's drawings, pointing to Matisse's organically shaped cut-outs. Another artist that comes to mind is Ellsworth Kelly, and I imagine that Smith's large paintings have a similar presence to those of Kelly.

Black-White Repeat, 1952; oil on canvas, 51 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.
This and the following images all courtesy of Leon Polk Smith Foundation website, except for the installation shot.

I am sharing one painting from each decade of Smith's career. In the black and white painting above, the positive and negative spaces do a flip-flop, with first the white shapes taking precedence, then the black, with the whole having a totem-like energy.

Correspondence Green, 1966; oil on canvas 68 1/4 x 50 1/4 in. 

A similar play of figure/ground happens in this painting. At first the big green shape commands attention; its rounded forms bounce across the plane, but then that dagger-like point of black pushes back. I can see how this kind of movement in space led to....

Constellation # 5 Blue - Red, 1972; acrylic on canvas, two elements 94 x 47 in. 

....a series of shaped paintings, many composed of numerous elements, with color flowing across them.

New Moon for August, 1983; acrylic on canvas, 120 x 60 in.

The diagonal blue shape is so powerful that it hides, at first, the perfectly vertical, perfectly symmetrical, white pointed oval.

Event in Red, 1994; acrylic on canvas, 72 x 24 in. 

During the 1990s, Smith explored the dynamism of lines moving across the picture plane. A simple black slightly curved line animates the elongated rectangle.

untitled, 1990; paper on paper, 20 x 14 in.

Lastly, a work on paper, here a collage which, when I first saw it, made me exhale: aaahh!....such beautiful balance in its color and shape.

Installation view of exhibition "Leon Polk Smith: 50 Years of Separation" at Washburn Gallery; image courtesy Washburn Gallery.

This installation view gives an idea of the sizes of the work: the large paintings are from the 1990s, the smaller ones from the 40s. The Brooklyn Museum mounted a large exhibition in 1995-96, Leon Polk Smith: American Painter; at the link you can see 25 images of the installation which give a sense of the scale of the works on a wall; if this work interests you, it's worth taking a look. 
The only thing good about being an ignoramus, as I sometimes am, is this thrill of discovery.

August 19, 2015

A Spread for Bread: Spicy Chick Pea Puree

When I have friends over for a meal I like to set out some appetizers; since I always have some good home-made sourdough pain de campagne on hand–, (you can see the recipe here), spreads for it are usually on the menu. I've shared my recipes for a roasted pepper spread and carrot/potato appetizer here; in this post I add to the possibilities with Deborah Madison's Spicy Chickpea Puree, from her great cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It is similar to a hummus, but without the tahini. This is a delicious, simple recipe, for which I always keep a couple of cans of chickpeas in the house. When I make any recipe calling for whole chickpeas, I cook the dry beans for better texture and flavor, but being that this is a puree, the canned beans work fine. The recipe calls for using spice seeds, but if all you have are the ground, that's fine too.

1 teas cumin seeds
1/2 teas coriander seeds
1/4 teas fennel seeds
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1/8 to 1/4 teas cayenne
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup cilantro leaves (when I make this in winter, I don't have cilantro from the garden, so I leave them out, and it's still delicious)
juice of 1 lemon

Toast the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in a small skillet over low heat, shaking pan often, until the aroma rises. Remove them from the pan to cool.

In a food processor or blender, coarsely chop the garlic, 1/2 teas salt, cayenne, oil, and cilantro, with 1/4 cup water. Add the spices, chickpeas, and lemon juice and puree until smooth.


August 17, 2015

New Prints: Cardboard and Collage/Potato

Red Squares, ink on Sekishu natural paper; image size 12 x 12, paper size 22 x 22 in., ed. 4. 

Recently, for my cardboard prints, I've worked with very simple compositions using a single color. (See my previous two cardboard prints here). Within a 12 inch square are 2 larger and two smaller squares; the solid color of the smaller squares balances the larger squares made up of lines. After I'd printed it and was looking at a proof hanging on the wall, I noticed that there was an optical shift going on, with the squares bouncing forward and back. Another inadvertent element: the top of the linear square at the right has a rolling dip, a subtle curve down and up, which I didn't notice until the plate was printed. I like it: for me the irregularity adds some amusement and some energy to the outline.

Untitled 80, ink on Nishinouchi paper, 16 x 14 1/4 in. 

I had prepared several collaged sheets for this day of printing, but Untitled 80 is pure potato print, the only one I did that day.

Untitled 81, ink and pasted paper on Masa dosa paper, 16 x 14 in.

I am intrigued by the textural and shape relationships between the painted, pasted paper and the shapes made by a potato print stamp. In Untitled 81 the triangle and rectangle are pasted paper that had been painted with egg tempera; the lines connecting them are made with a potato print.

Untitled 82, ink and pasted paper on Izumo Mitsumata paper, 10 x 10 in.

When I began doing Book Paintings (see the post about them here), I thought it would be fun to try some new papers, so I ordered a few, sight unseen, from the fabulous NY Central Art Supply paper catalog. This beautiful hand made mitsumata paper, which I bought in several colors, turned out to be too heavy for my books, so I will use it for potato prints. The piece above has a collaged vertical blue rectangle with small shapes added with potato print.

Untitled 83, ink and pasted paper on Izumo Mitsumata paper, 12 x 16 in.

The yellow translucent paper pasted onto the mitsumata is a hand made gampi, a paper that I found too smooth and fine for books, so it will serve another purpose. A small stamped square holds the composition in place.

Untitled 84, ink and pasted paper on Akatosashi paper, 2 panels each 19 1/4 x 7 in.

Rectangles of pasted paper and stamped squares converse with each other across a small divide.

Untitled 84 detail

Here is a detail to get to give a better sense of the textures. The two papers pasted on the darker one are a Sekishu natural, and Gifu green tea medium. Much of the time I paint the papers I use for collage, but in this case their actual color worked well on the darker Akatosashi.

Untitled 85, ink and pasted paper on Izumo Mitsumata paper, 16 x 12 in.

Another print on the shimmery mitsumata, three long rectangles––one pasted, two printed–––move diagonally up the surface of the paper. I photograph these prints in a raking light so as to show the surface textures and irregularities; in other lights they don't appear as strongly, but for me they are part of the character of this work.

August 12, 2015

Water = Life

Mereia Anning, Hunting for Dugongs, 2001; acrylic on canvas.

Animals cannot live without water; scientists believe that life cannot begin without liquid water. An exhibition at the Hood Museum of Art, Water Ways: Tension and Flow, examines the relationship of water to human life. On a wall outside the gallery of photographs, many of monumental size, there is a small painting by an Australian Aboriginal artist showing traditional sustenance coming from the sea: fish, turtles, eel, and dugong (a sea mammal similar to a manatee). How long will our seas and waterways provide us with food if continue on our present path of despoilment?

Margaret Bourke White, Dust Bowl––Taken near LaMar, Colorado, 1953; gelatin silver print.

Yesterday, when I began working on this post, it was pouring rain. Here in the northeast, rain has been overabundant the past couple of years, while in the western United States there has been a drought of epic proportions. Bourke White's photograph, taken 20 years after the terrible dust storms of the "dirty 30s" shows that we did not learn from the mistakes made earlier. And we still haven't learned, as the Oglalla aquifer sinks and California farms suffer from lack of water. There is a great book by Timothy Egan and documentary by Ken Burns about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which I wrote about in this blog post.

Daniel Beltra, Alter Do Chao, Para (Brasil), from the series Amazon Drought, 2005; pigment print on paper.

It is not only in the US that drought has ruined landscapes: the photograph above was taken during a terrible drought in Brazil, where a vast watery region became dry and like a desert. What happens to the inhabitants during such a terrible time?

Nici Cumpston, Campsite III, Nookamka Lake III, from the series Attesting, 2008; archival print on canvas, hand colored with pencil and watercolor.

While some droughts are caused by natural weather patterns (should people be living in areas prone to drought or flood?), others, such as the American dustbowl, were caused by human activity. This dramatic work shows the drying out of one of the largest freshwater lakes in Australia. Overconsumption of water from the river that fed this lake is leading to its death.

Chris Jordan, Living Room Floor, Ninth Ward, from the series In Katrina's Wake: Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster, 2005; pigmented inkjet print on paper. 

Then there's the opposite problem of too much water. In this touching image of a mud-caked floor (sorry for the reflections at the lower left), we sense the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and how it upended lives. The devastation of the flood was multiplied many times over because of the human channeling of the Mississippi River. The photographer, Chris Jordan, writes:
The 2005 hurricane season's extraordinary severity can be linked to global warming, which America contributes to in disproportionate measure through our extravagant consumer and industrial practices. 

Gideon Mendel, Joseph and Endurance Edem, with Their Children, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, 2012, from the series Drowning World; giclee print on paper.

Gideon Mendel has photographed the effects of flooding on the lives of people in several different countries in Asia and Europe. Joseph Edem is a traditional healer; he said:
This is my house. I was here when the rains began falling. Before we knew it the flood came. There was nothing we could do. I just ran out with me and wife and children. This water has been here for more than a month, with no help from anywhere.

Ian The, Kuye River, Yulin, Shaanxi, from the series Traces, 2010; chromogenic print.

In the exhibition are images of obvious environmental devastation, such as the one above, which looks nothing like a normal river landscape. Ian The writes:
Due to overmining, the water table has sunk, and the river that was once full is now nearly dry. The city, now wealthy from decades of coal mining, now regularly suffers from water shortages.

Edward Burtynsky, Oil Spill 1, REM Forza, Gulf of Mexico, 2010; digital chromogenic color photograph.
Image courtesy of Edward Burtynsky's website. 

Edward Burtynsky is a great photographer, both of beauty and of environmental degradation. His photograph of the BP oil spill is stunning and shocking. (I used a photo from his website, and the image below by James Balog, rather than my rather poor photos from the exhibition) Burtynsky writes about his series Water:
While trying to accommodate the growing needs of an expanding, and very thirsty civilization, we are reshaping the Earth in colossal ways. In this new and powerful role over the planet, we are also capable of engineering our own demise. We have to learn to think more long-term about the consequences of what we are doing, while we are doing it. 

James Balog, Birthday Canyon, Greenland Ice Sheet, from the series Extreme Ice Survey, 2009; chromogenic print.
Image courtesy of James Balog's website.

James Balog has been documenting the disappearing Arctic ice sheets in a series of gorgeous photographs, and in a powerfully beautiful and frightening documentary Chasing Ice, which I wrote about here; it is available for streaming on Netflix. His project is a very important one; we should all be aware of his work.

Altoon Sultan, Well, Rolinda, Central Valley, California, 2001; egg tempera on panel,15 x 17 in.

My paintings were not in this exhibition, but I wanted to show them in this post because they are about water. Twenty years ago I taught for three years in California and became aware of how the land was farmed: the bounty of produce coming from there was produced with irrigation and with lots of "inputs" of fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides.

Altoon Sultan, Young Pepper Plants, Gilroy, California, 2001; egg tempera on panel, 20 x 22 1/2 in.

The water came from far off, carried in concrete canals, or was pumped from groundwater wells, which held less and less each year. On a visit back to California some years later, I did studies for a series on water. A great book on water in the West, written in 1986 and foreseeing the problems that have now become so extreme, is Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner.

Tony Gleaton, A Son of Yemayá, Hopkins, Belize, from the series Tengo Casi 500 Años: Africa's Legacy in Central America, 1992; gelatin silver print.

We are immersed in water, we are water. According to the USGS, the brains and heart are 73% water, the lungs 83%; even the bones are 31% water. Yemayá is a mother spirit in Yoruba mythology, a "patron spirit of women, and the mother of all living things. She is often shown rising from the water or as the owner of all water." (from the wall label) May she protect us from ourselves.