Thursday, April 29, 2010
I've always been one of those humans who expect a lot out of life. Like, I seriously believe that everything good and wonderful is en route to me, albeit on the pony express. For the most part I've had good reason to nurture such high hopes, since life has thus far been extraordinarily kind, with no shortage of blessings. I think it's sort of a WASPy thing – I am a middle-class American, after all, with all the accompanying expectations of liberty, justice, and the acquisition of happiness.
I attribute my anticipation of impending bliss to my early teenage reading list, which consisted chiefly of Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton mysteries. You know, those perky gal-sleuths who drove around in Big Daddy's roadster and solved mysteries by sheer temerity and goodness of intention. As a kid I thought it odd that with all the unscrupulous villains they encountered, neither Nancy nor Judy had the opportunity to meet up with a demented, knife-bearing, homicidal maniac. Weak. My adolescence could've used some blood-soaked carnage, but I had to settle for moderately bad apples with names like 'Mortimer Bartescue' and 'Nathan Gomber'. Why my memory got clogged with these mundane details is the biggest mystery of all.
Anyway, I believe that by ingesting copious volumes of the above-mentioned literary masterpieces, my brain was scarred with the peculiar notion that gobs of goodness are headed my way, for the simple reason that I'm a swell gal. Like Nancy and Judy, I need only to show up and be nice, and all the 'clues' I'll ever need will present themselves to me within the course of a few chapters. The fact that some of these incoming boons and blessings haven't yet found their way to my door shouldn't be taken as an indication of my lack of worth; rather, it's because they're gathering goodness along the way, like a downhill snowball, and once it hits, I'll be plowed with blessings too exotic and numerous to recount.
Fast forward 40 years. That dang snowball has got to be half the diameter of the earth by now, and I question if I'll be able to handle so much good fortune once it finally slams into me. I also have to question the soundness of my long-held presumptions, and consider other possible explanations as to why the snowball is taking so long to find me. Like, is it possible that good things don't always come to those who wait? Could it be that we don't always get what we want? This is a heavy load for an officially middle-aged gal to bear, so swerve around me as I pull my roadster over to the side of the road to consider the full implications.
What I'm talking about here is the 'C' word. Yes, that's right – compromise. A better word may be 'acceptance'. What exactly should I be accepting? The way things are, right now, without the expectation that they ought to be otherwise. If ever there was a key to success, it's to lower one's expectations. If I set my sights to get out of bed in the morning and drink a cup of coffee, then it's a slam dunk that success will prevail by noon. If I add to the morning's line-up the expectation that I'll create a fantastic new piece of art, then I've got some work to do. And if I throw in the anticipation that George Clooney will present me with a MacArthur Grant by nightfall, then there's a solid chance that I'll be cozying up to some major disappointments. Hope is the enemy, as my friend Claude the pseudo-Buddhist ('Pseudhist') likes to say.
Where am I going with this? Jeez, I dunno. Is it really time to start settling? This smacks of rampant mediocrity, and I'm not sure that I've got the stomach for it. Next thing you know I'll be voting Palin. But I have to admit that the pursuit of happiness is getting a bit dodgy, and I'm ready to actually snatch a decent-sized chunk of it. You know, grab onto its love handles and have my way with it. However, in order to do this, there has to be something to grab, and that implies an acceptance of what's within reach. Which in turn implies a dashing of the hope for something better, and settling (there's that word) for This. Because This is the only place where That can be found.
NOTE TO SELF: There will always and forever be supremely desirable things just out of your reach. Get over them.
Nope, sorry. This is way too mature for me. Nancy and Judy never gave up hope, and never stopped reaching. Heck, they managed to solve the mystery, arrest the crook, and get the cute guy! I once did the math, and figured out that Peter proposed to Judy when she was 17. What a gal! Is it any wonder that she was my teen-chick-idol?
Anyway, I'm going to wait a little longer for my snowball. If it doesn't hit me by 50, I'll begin to consider the possibility that everything I want and need is within arm's length. That's 1.5 years, and I'm going to need all of that to relinquish my high expectations.
Above: There's my gal, but she's looking uncharacteristically clueless. I inherited the Judy Bolton and Nancy Drew mysteries from my dear mom, who in turn inherited them from her mother. I've read them all at least 3 times, which explains a lot.
Monday, April 26, 2010
This is my newest text piece. It's called Hymn to Durga. Here's the deal: I cut the letters from the Tablets of Baha'u'llah, the holy book of the Baha'i faith, and with them I recreated the Hymn, which is the type you see in the background, reading straight across. On top of that, the ornamental lines form Chapter 10 from the Tablets of Baha'u'llah, the chapter on Wisdom. I cut the letters for these curving lines from the book of Proverbs in the Bible, which are words of wisdom from King Solomon. Got that? I know, it's a little complicated, but I invite you to just let all that information go, and enjoy it as a visual experience.
The concept is actually pretty simple. I use the text of one holy book to recreate the text from another. Why? Thanks for asking. It's incredibly satisfying, for some odd reason. Introducing these wildly disparate spiritual traditions and giving them the opportunity to talk to each other is deeply rewarding. I feel like a diplomat of sorts, except that I don't have a big agenda; I don't care if the two traditions clash, mesh, or bomb each other with exclamation points. I'm mostly interested to see what they have in common, even if it's precious little.
In this case, there's little indeed. The Baha'i faith is founded on the principle of one God and one humanity. They claim that the time has come for the world's spiritual traditions to unite and form one world religion based on peace, equality, and unity. The Baha'is are all about cultural diversity, environmentalism, grass-roots activism, and a network of international councils who oversee these actions with amazing organizational prowess. In a word, they're a practical lot, and zealous, if not religious, about spiritual change as a byproduct of aggressive social action.
The Hymn is a Tantric ode to the Goddess Durga, and thus rooted in the Hindu tradition. The Tantric hymns worship the Goddess in her various forms, and are so thickly veiled in mysticism that if you try to get a glimpse beneath the surface, the only thing you'll see is a reflection of yourself. That's the point, you see. The power of Tantra lies in its mirroring back your own divinity. Unlike the Baha'i faith, Hinduism isn't generally known for its social activism; it inspires devotion through the use of symbolism. Which isn't to say that Hindus aren't socially conscious, but there is a clear separation of agendas when it comes to inner transformation versus cultural evolution.
Now, I'm not a representative of the Baha'i tradition, so this is off the record, but I think they'd have as much use for a six-armed, wide-hipped, boon-bestowing Goddess as they would a fluffed-out, long-eared Easter bunny. But hey, what do I know. In any case, as you can see, these two world religions don't have a whole lot in common. That's why I nudged them a little closer and let their complexities collide and coagulate. Something arises from this improbable juxtaposition – in a sense, it's Hegelian:
thesis + antithesis = synthesis
That is to say, when you unite something with its opposite, the byproduct is a thing unique and entirely unto itself. Or, in the case of my text drawings, the end result is (I hope) a deeper penetration into the depths of the human experience. See, it's my belief that in spite of our many differences, we humans are united in one thing: The desire to cultivate meaning amid the chaos of our lives. Whatever vehicle you choose to take you there is your own path, your own synthesis, and your own hymn.
Above: Hymn to Durga (from the Tablets of Baha'u'llah, Chapter 10, "Words of Wisdom"), 11" x 8.5", 2010.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
I got some good news and some bad news. Which do you want first? Right–the bad news. This: I've been getting a lot of rejection letters from galleries. And the good news: Each and every one of them thinks my work is "interesting". Hey, better than them thinking my work's not interesting, right? It's better than them writing, "We don't want to show your work because it's uninteresting and it sucks." Or, "We hate your work and lined our bird cage with it." Or, "Your work is so uninteresting that our bird won't even poop on it and we're forwarding you a link to our favorite accounting school."
It's not as though this comes as a big surprise. Honestly, I didn't think that Mary Boone would suddenly convert to obsessive sacred text art, but you never know. And Gagosian? Well sure, he's into the big name artists now, but in the future he might want to include in his line-up a show of sliced up Bibles retrofitted into Tantric prayers. I realize it's a stretch, but I figure it's better to aim high and fail than aim low and kick butt. What artist would want a solo show at the local senior center? Who wants their mid-career retrospective to be held at the Poughkeepsie Elks Club? I ask you.
I'm taking all this in stride, and trying not to take it too personally. But, see, I sort of have this thing about getting turned down. No one likes rejection, but I happen to have some major issues around it. That's right, folks, and let me just spell it out for the sake of clarity:
I have rejection issues.
Which are not to be confused with abandonment issues, btw. Abandonment I can deal with. The difference is subtle, but not insignificant. Sort of like someone asking if you'd prefer to be flogged or whipped.* See, the act of abandonment implies an Abandoner, and he or she is by definition a not-nice person. At some point in time, he or she accepted you, and you were "in". Don't ask me in where–it could've been the senior center–but the point is that you were One Of Them. Then something happened, God only knows, and now you're out, baby. Whoever it was that abandoned you is a bit of a prick for having jerked you around, and that, my friend, is the solid ground on which you now stand. Granted, it's a mighty small plot of land, but it's yours.
Rejection, however, offers you no such real estate. Rejection isn't nearly as charitable as abandonment. Rejection implies that you never got "in" in the first place. You can't use the flaccid excuse that you were the victim of some bad-ass Abandoner, because you never got that far to begin with. Rejection has an edge that keeps on giving, long after its cold steel enters your quivering flesh. Abandonment is indeed a knife in the gut, but rejection provides the teensy twist of the blade that Vlad the Impaler featured in his mid-career retrospective.
But hey - let's not get all macabre or anything like that. Rejection is a fact of life. Rejection is good for society at large. If it wasn't for rejection, this city would be overrun with dilettantes who paint their poodles and call it Art (see above).** If not for rejection, we'd be stuck with cardinals and popes and bishops who think they can sate their self-serving desires and then hide it from their seething congregation. If not for rejection, I'd be married with kids and implants and living in the 'burbs, and if that's not proof of the existence of God, then I don't know what is.
New York has never been known for coddling its artists. I haven't been cut an inch of slack since the day I arrived here, which is one of the things I love the most about this city. It demands that you become the best you can be. It weeds out the faint of heart in a jiffy, and the thin of skin have to choose whether to toughen up or throw in the towel. So bring it on, I say. Shower me with rejection and keep those nice gallery letters coming. Can't we call them something else, though? Something a little softer? Like, how about "abandonment letters"?
* Always choose to be whipped. A flogging is executed using an instrument with several "tails", or strips (usually leather), whereas a whipping will always be done with a whip, which has but one tail. Good luck with that.
** My apologies, if needed, to the person who poodled this piece. It's really pretty cute. It didn't deserve my flogging, so mea culpa.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Most artists get a little cranky when they don't get to do their creative work. It's terribly depressing, and the darkness has a flavor all its own: a hint of guilt, a dollop of anxiety, and a litany of complaints thrown in for seasoning. Me, I get downright morose. You don't want to be around me. I don't want to be around me. Without wading too deep into self-pity, let me just say that if a few days go by and I haven't been able to get into my studio, you might want to avoid bumping into me in the cereal aisle. And for God's sake, don't ask me how I'm doing, as you're likely to lose an ear.
How am I doing? Well, it's like this. See, I've been really, really busy with my business. Like, cranking. That's a good thing, right? In this dreadful economy, I should be on my knees, circumflecting or something, thanking God and the Gipper for the abundance of work. And believe me, I'm profoundly grateful, as is my landlord, who likes to get paid every month, as well as Larry at ConEd, who says he'd feel like a rotter if he had to come out here and turn off my electricity. So everyone's pretty happy about my booming business.
The bad news, of course, is that there's little time to do my art. (Here goes the swan dive into histrionics). Life becomes mighty wretched and quickly stale when it's centered around making money. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that money-making for the sole purpose of making money is futile, preposterous, and excruciatingly dull. Does anyone out there know what I'm talking about? Am I in good company out here on this limb? To the rest of the world we're a bunch of whiners, but without time to do one's creative work, what's the point? I mean, why bother making money and working 'round the clock, if at the end of the day you're so used up that all you can do is dial the phone and order Kung Pao Chicken?
Okay, so no one dials the phone anymore, but you get my point. Please understand - I love my work, love being self-employed, and love that my clients are also artists and for the most part wonderful to work with. I'm very fortunate in this way, and I adore my job. But how to balance work with studio time? Every artist I know, and I know a LOT of them, has to figure this out. It's thee biggest problem that we artists face, especially living in New York City. In fact, it's the topic that comes up most often in discussion. Rather than talking about what you're working on in the studio, the conversation tends to veer toward how much time you're able to spend there. And all too often, it's not very much.
My solution, for now, is to work in the mornings, since that's generally my best energy of the day. I get all cranked up on tea, then Earl Grey and I wail on my text drawings, bright and chipper and knockin' them out. Life is extraordinarily fine for an hour or two, then Earl leaves and I need to get to work. So it goes. My progress in the studio is minimal at present, but bills are getting paid and other boring stuff like that.
I don't know how other artists do it, especially those who have kids and other immense responsibilities. Heck, I feel suffocated by the tremendous weight of keeping my houseplants alive. I don't know if there's been a tougher time to be an artist. You almost have to make an art out of it; finding the time, sneaking it in here and there, and inventing new ways to whine about it. So many nuances to the art of making art.
Above: This is me at the end of a bad week, when I haven't had enough studio time.