Monday, February 28, 2011

New Painting and Poems

8x10, mixed media
completed for Wilderness Art Challenge

I guess I am getting old, because I looked forward to the memorial service yesterday of a friend who passed away a couple weeks ago.  This woman was a good person, a teacher, a poet, an avid reader, and an activist; the world will be poorer with her gone.  I was pleased to have a chance to hug members of her extended family, her husband, daughter, sisters, nieces and nephews, all of whom I have known for more than twenty years.  Tucked in between the tributes, songs and prayers were a couple of lovely poems, and I thought I would share them here, along with a short quote I found today.

Everyone once, once only. Just once and no more.
And we also once.  Never again. But this having been
once, although only once, to have been of the earth,
seems irrevocable.

Rilke, Duino Elegies

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl?
Who has it and who doesn't?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

Mary Oliver, Some Questions You Might Ask

Guests of my life,
You came in the early dawn,
And you came in the night.
Your name was uttered by the spring flowers
And the showers of rain.
You brought the harp into my life,
And you brought the lamp.
After you had taken your leave
I found God's footprints on the floor.
Now I am at the end of my pilgrimage,
I leave in the evening flowers of worship,
My salutations to you all.

Rabindranath Tagore, Guests of My Life

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A New Look at Recycled Foam Tiles

Over the past year or two I have been taking foam meat trays, cutting them into four inches squares, then distressing the surface with acetone.  The textured tiles then get abstract paint treatments, and sometime I collage on skeletonized leaves or other natural materials.  The finished tiles are preserved with acrylic varnish, then mounted with a floating mat.  The finished pieces are 11x11 inches, and are unique and eye-catching - though hard to capture well in a photo.

I have recently been taking the tiles in a new direction.  I recently complete a series of six, and instead of distressing the surface of the foam tiles, I have been painting each square with black gesso, then adding collaged elements in a limited palette of black, buff, red and sometimes gold.  The simple compositions looked oriental to me, so I asked a friend in San Francisco to mail me a Chinese newspaper, and I have been using some text for added interest.  I do not know what any of it says, but I'm not too concerned about anyone translating the little snippets.  I suspect they are advertisements.  Anyway, these tile use colored bits of paper doilies, cardboard, some stamping, some home textured tissue papers, and bits of salvaged wallpaper.  I like the idea that all the materials are recycled from materials that might otherwise be tossed in the trash.

Each tile will be mounted on a brushed gold back board, with a black mat floating around the completed tile.  I'm excited about the new direction this sort of work is taking.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Happier Time - a Week in Mexico

The past couple weeks have been pretty dismal here.  We both have had colds that left us tired, achy and coughing endlessly.  The political news from Madison has been both exciting and very depressing for us, and we both have been hearing from our former workplace friends and colleagues (teachers and county workers) about their hopes and fears for the future under Governor Walker.  A friend died after months of fighting a brain tumor, and another lost her adult son, and I learned that still another has bone cancer.    Dismal.

So, I thought I would share some photos of our very enjoyable week in Puerto Vallarta at the beginning of the month.  The weather was warm to us, though the Mexicans were wrapped in sweaters and jackets, making hot chocolate (very tasty indeed). Sometimes it's good to consider, and share, happier things.

 We have visited Puerto Vallarta before several time since we have been married.  It continues to grow and expand, and currently seems free of the violence that plagues some other resort areas.  The cruise ships still visit, the weather is still great, the whales still leap in Banderas Bay, and we still love the atmosphere and food.  We stayed in a nice hotel near the Malecon, a seaside walkway in the old town. Villa Premiere is not very large, is a block off the busy main street, has a friendly and helpful staff, and all rooms have a balcony facing the water.  I took this view from ours.

Back in Wisconsin winter festivals and snow carving competitions were in full swing, but in PV there was a sand sculpting competition, a whole series of intricate and huge sculptures that were already blowing away by the end of the week.

One of the things that makes this city appealing to me is the way the Sierra Madre mountains rise up from the edge of the water, and the way the old part of the town clings to the slopes.  I took this shot from a window in our hotel.  There was some fog every morning that rolled in off the bay, and was captured by the hillside.

The beaches here have sand, but only because the hotels have hauled it in - the beaches are naturally rocky.  Still, it is an easy walk to downtown along the water, and fun to see all the hotels, condos, and beach vendors. I loved hearing the surf each night, and it was warm enough to crack the patio door for fresh air and the sound of the waves.

We both loved Mexican food, and we made an effort to both return to places we liked before and try new ones.  We always have gone to a place downtown on the second story, where we could drink some cervesa and watch the sunset.  I was sad to see the restaurant we liked had sold out to a chain, but the food was fine and the view unchanged.  You just cannot get avocados like this in Wisconsin in February.

All of our previous trip had been four or five days, but this time we stayed a week, and decided to see a bit more of the area.  We signed up for a day tour out of town that included an old silver mine, a small coffee plantation,  old mining town of San Salvador, and a very small tequila distillery.  It was fun to get away from the town, and into the countryside of Jalisco.  We traveled through agricultural areas, small towns, on a fairly new road.  The coffee plantation was interesting, and we strolled through the farm, chickens fussing over insects, and parrots making a racket.  We tried their excellent shade grown arabica coffee, and bought the best sugared peanuts I have tasted for about $1.50.  They were excellent with homemade margaritas each evening on the balcony a sunset.

We also stopped at a very small tequila distillery.  Much fine blue agave tequila comes from the area. This is a wood-fired oven where the plant is roasted before it is distilled.  The taste is sweet and mild, almost like brown sugar.  We ended up buying some smooth flavored tequilas, one coffee flavored similar to Kahlua, and one almond flavored.  I'm thinking either will be nice in Sunday morning coffee or over flan.

One reason we enjoy traveling here in winter is to see the humpback whales.  They arrive from Alaska each November to mate and have their calves, then the mothers and babies head north at the end of March.  We've been out on Banderas Bay before, but never saw so much activity as this year. We saw adults and calves breaching from the water each day, many times.  I took this shot from a whale watching tour. We also saw lots of dolphins and baby giant Pacific manta rays - currently the size of large pizza boxes, but eventually to grow to be twenty feet across. 

It was a great trip, one we hoped would break the back of winter.  I hope it achieves that goal, and sustains us both through to spring.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Quiet Before the Game

Today the Green Bay Packers play the Steelers in the Super Bowl, and we will head out in a little while to meet with friends to eat, drink, and watch the big game.  I wanted to get a little work done first, and managed to finish up two small abstract collage/paintings.  I hope to create a series, all with similar colors, all using recycled materials, like the styrofoam trays I use for the tiles, and salvaged bits of an old dictionary, scrap paper, wallpaper from a discarded sample book, and even little bits of cardboard boxes I cut up.

My framer sometimes cuts mats and backboards for me from leftovers from other people's projects.  She gave me a very dark charcoal mat with a brushed gold back board, and the little tiles look good displayed that way.  I hope to put together a series with similar materials and colors.

All this black and white reminded me of a poem from an old anthology, Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle.  This poem is entitled Absolutes, by Gustave Keyser.


(from an ink painting by Seiho)

black on white
crow in snow
wet lump
on brittle branch
remebering warmth
remembering corn
as life
black on white

Friday, February 4, 2011

Black and White

Bucky, our solar powered cat, has been spending lots of time recharging her batteries in sunny spots on the carpet.  I keep thinking I should paint her in all of her poses around the house, but I need to catch her with her eyes closed, or the camera is just too fascinating, and she leaves her pose. 

Maybe it's the lack of color outside, all the shades of white, blue-gray, brown, and black in the winter landscape, but I have been enjoying making small (4x4 inches) collages with a limited palette.  Most of the time I've been working on Bristol vellum, but these recent ones are painted and collaged on small squares of styrofoam, salvaged from packages of hamburger or chicken.  The resulting tile has a nice dimensional quality that looks good floated in a shadow box style frame.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pear Collage Finished

5x7 inches, paper collage on canvas board support

This collage paper painting was started about a month ago, then set aside for other projects.  Oddly, it wasn't the pears that caused me problems in this one, but rather the table.  The old dictionary pages I ripped and used started out looking too similar to the pears.  My first solution was to use a thin glaze of acrylic on that area, but the result looked muddy and unappealing to me.  My next thing was to add the dark brown paper, this time from a glossy magazine spread.  That was better, but I still wasn't  satisfied.  I ended up adding some pieces of a very old (1950s) hardware store receipt, and a few more pieces of dictionary pages, this time stamped with a design. Now I'm feeling much better about the results.  I used a bright blue under-painting on this picture, and let it peek through in places to spark up the warm golds and oranges, and to pull the image together. I'm looking forward to seeing this one framed.