Monday, January 29, 2007

An Airplane Epiphany

I had an airplane epiphany flying to Tucson this weekend for my exhibition opening at the Etherton Gallery. The chest cold almost prevented my traveling there. But in the end, I shortened my trip and flew in on Saturday and out on Sunday. As a good friend said, “famous people do that all the time - why can’t you?”

And so Saturday found me airbound, headed southeast on Southwest.
There is something about flying - literally hovering high above all the earthly concerns below - that grants a blessed sense of perspective. I have been so close to my new work right now, engrossed daily in the anxiety and exhilaration of pushing it forward and working toward the deadline of my Bolinas Museum show. On the plane, I was locked into one seat with no email, no telephone, no physical work to do on my art - just me and blank journal pages. Maybe it was the latte I had in the Vegas airport when I changed planes, but I found myself filling page after page with words and ideas on how to shape and refine what I am doing. A whole new understanding of my art emerged, giving me a renewed sense of confidence that indeed this work will resolve itself in time.

Friday, January 26, 2007


This chest cold continues to slow me down. One of the benefits of so much time at home resting has been the chance to watch DVDs like Contacts Vol II, which I rented from Netflix. This DVD features 10-13 minute clips with eleven contemporary photographers such as Duane Michals, Sarah Moon, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Nan Goldin - each sharing images from their contact sheets and speaking about their creative process. It was fascinating.

I turned immediately to Duane Michals, a longtime favorite of mine. I was surprised to learn that in his narrative series, Death Comes to the Old Lady, his father plays the role of death and his grandmother plays the old lady. A whole new layer of meaning has now been added to that piece for me – a sense that as the younger generation grows in strength, it marks the coming death of the older generation. Time keeps marching inevitably forward.

Then I turned to Sarah Moon, another favorite. Her voice, which I had never heard before, was accented and rhapsodic as she unfolded a poetic speech about the act of photographing. She starts with the words “I have been taking the same photograph for twenty-five years over and over...A woman...A dress...,” and she continues almost stream of consciousness to convey her thoughts as she photographs. I was so intrigued by that first line – that sense of steadily working away at one concept in as many ways possible. In the end, maybe all artists simply play one note again and again – refining it and offering variations on that same theme, which is ultimately the essence of their work.

I thought I would just dip into this DVD, watch one or two, and then return to it later. But no. I sat on the floor with my dog curled in my lap, watching every episode until my sick self was full of new inspiration.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Looking for Words

I have lost my voice and am looking for words. My head cold has morphed into a chest cold that leaves me speechless today. Ironically, my new series is word-less too. And so this afternoon, I have spread out each new print on my studio table and, with my thesaurus in hand, have been brainstorming. Whatever words tumble in I write down on pink post-it notes attached to each print. Words like..













The list goes on and on, and I am not sure where it is leading me. The prints are resisting words, probably because they were shot as a visual and emotional exploration – not an intellectual one. In my last two series, Milagros and Bottle Dreams, a story or concept was the key driving force behind them. So this time I wanted to make work that was simply about looking and responding to the objects and artifacts in my studio, creating what I hope are evocations of states of mind.

The next day or so must hold the answer, as it is time to take this work out into the world. One of these images will be the announcement image for my upcoming show at the Bolinas Museum. The postcard must be ordered tomorrow.

Maybe in the end, I will honor the silence of my own speech today by allowing each piece to remain a mute mystery, simply called Untitled. Time will tell. For now, my list continues to grow.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Incubating the New

A head cold has slowed me down. I canceled all my appointments today and stayed in the studio, next to the gas heater, drinking hot peppermint tea while I color corrected and spotted digital files.

Being sick with pending deadlines can lead to a sense of despair, but today I was determined not to give in. There simply isn’t time. Because of upcoming exhibitions, I have to keep the new work growing. And that is not a bad thing – it kept me in my chair today, working with new images like the one here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Figuratively Speaking"

Over thirty of my pieces are now installed at the Etherton Gallery in Tucson, Arizona as part of a three-person show called Figuratively Speaking. I shipped the work there a few weeks ago, and now thanks to the magic of the internet, can see the show online. At the end of the month, I will fly down for a reception and see the show in person, but for now, from a distance of 1000 miles or so, I am enjoying seeing the work arranged anew and spotlit on brown walls.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

More Miracles

This week I collected another two wishes for the Milagros project.

One woman wrote…

“May we see each other as family.”

And the other..

“I want the violent killing all too prevalent in the world to stop.”

The picture here is of the arm of the first woman. Soon I will print this image on transparency and create a collage - a visual affirmation of her wish. It will join the other hands in the series, all reaching for the miracle of positive change in our world.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Bug in Amber

I spent today combing through history – looking for images to share with my students. Tomorrow is the first day of a new class at JFK University. This image here is one of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris taken in 1838 by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, one of photography’s originators and the inventor of the daguerreotype.

I was first introduced to this photograph as a UNM graduate student in Eugenia Parry Janis’ photo history survey. Nia had a way of making photographs come to life with her enthusiasm and descriptive language. For this one, she described it as "a bug in amber," because if you look closely you can see two lone figures in the lower left who remain visible on this busy, bustling city street. Everyone else has been erased by the extremely long exposure - they simply walked right out of the frame before the chemistry could record their presence. Except two. A shoe shiner and the man who stopped for his services and stood motionless long enough that we can still see him today.

In the past when looking at this image, I have imagined Daguerre’s excitement at having successfully created one of the first photographs of Paris. What a thrill that must have been. Then I would marvel at the way photography captures slices of time, and in the 19th Century those slices were thick - many minutes wide - whereas today they are paper thin instants. Then I would be left with an eerie sense that eventually we all walk out of the frame.

Today, I look at this photograph and read a new meaning into it. On that crowded boulevard, the men who ultimately made the largest imprint were the ones who stood still - not the many people rushing off to important business, or even pleasure strolling. I take heart in this because as an artist, I struggle so with the rushing of life. I relish the idea (whether it is true or not) that maybe the way to have the most lasting impact is not to produce more art, teach more classes, or do more of anything, but instead to stand still - becoming fully present and part of everything around me.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

A Fresh Batch of Bottle Lids

On this bright sunny Sunday, I found myself with a pocket of time in the studio and used it to prep bottle lids for Bottle Dreams. The bottles I use for this series come with silver-colored, brushed aluminum lids. I spray them with black enamel paint to achieve the look I want. It feels a bit like baking, filling cardboard sheets with black round circles. At the end of the day, I have three sheets-full ready for artmaking.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

On My Wall...

My studio walls hold two large bulletin boards. I decorate these with snippets of projects in progress, images and words that inspire me, and other items of fascination. Some of the things collected there are...

Milagros and a rusty old keyhole purchased at a flea market in Merida, Mexico

A reproduction of
Anselm Kiefer’s sculpture of a book with wings

A photograph of my husband with our lab, Trinity, at 8 weeks old

Tear-outs from the Pottery Barn catalogue of interesting frames

A show announcement for
Jules Greenberg’s Fallen exhibition

The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

A packet of cards with bright red words printed on them - words like magic, devotion, grace, miracles, etc. – purchased at the
Paper Source

A list of how to move forward with a current project, shooting still lives of collages created inside bottles

A photograph of me at around age 6, working in my father’s art studio

A picture torn from the
New York Times Book Review of surrealists Lee Miller and Tanya Ramm reading the paper in bed in 1929 in Paris

A package of gold leaf

Quotes by artists like Agnes DeMille, Jane Hirshfield, Robert Bly, ee cummings, and these words by
Mary Oliver:
Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still
and learning to be astonished.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

A Box of Books

A bright spot in the midst of a rainy day yesterday was the arrival of a box of books. Even though I ordered these myself, cutting open the cardboard box felt like opening a gift. Here is what I found inside:

Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr
I discovered this book from reading Keri Smith’s Blog. Artist journals, especially those by women, have deeply intrigued me. This one seems like a great companion to others I love like Anne Truitt’s Daybook.

The Education of a Photographer
I am about to start teaching a new class at JFK University next week and bought this book thinking it would be about photographic education. I was a little dismayed to find it is really about photography in general – another compilation of essays by famous photographers and writers about the medium. Still useful, but not quite what I expected.

Bookworm by Rosamond Purcell
I first learned of Rosamond Purcell in graduate school at UNM when one of my peers there was researching her penchant for photographing scientific specimens. Being a book junkee myself, I could not resist the title. From my first quick glance, the images in this book offer a visual feast – many depict books in various states of decay and alteration while others are eerie photo-collages.

So the Story Goes: Photographs by Tina Barney, Philip Lorca di Corcia, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, and Larry Sultan
“Personal experience and photography are indelibly linked” the back cover reads, and these five photographers explore this theme in their own unique way. Sally Mann has always been a source of particular fascination for me, and my library was missing representation of these other well-established artists.

Francesca Woodman by Chris Townsend

A wonderful fat, hardcover book dedicated to this immensely talented young photographer who tragically died young. In her short career, she made some stunning images – rich in emotion and surrealist overtones. Her work was a revelation to me when I first saw it over 12 years ago. It was work like hers that illuminated for me the possibility of using the body to reveal emotional depths. In addition to many images and a long intro essay, this book also includes excerpts from her journals.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

My Studio in Muir Beach

Although the drive is only 30-minutes to San Francisco (and my 13-year old neighbor says his dad can do it in 22), living in Muir Beach is really living in the country. Nestled between acres of State and National Parkland, this small coastal community is comprised of only 150 homes and approximately 450 residents. The only commercial establishment is a quaint inn with an English-style pub. All other amenities are a long fifteen minutes away over the curvy route of Highway One. It is not uncommon to see bobcats on the fence line, and an array of birdlife and bunnies compete for space on our wide open lawn. Most days, I pinch myself at how lucky I am to live in a place of such natural beauty.

About three years ago, I moved my main studio from San Francisco to my home in Muir Beach. Now it is just a simple walk across flagstones from my house to this separate cottage I call my creative home. I relish the ability to wake up and walk this line of stones without worrying about whether I have enough gas in the car, whether the dog has had a good enough walk, whether there isn’t some pressing errand I should run on the way into the city, etc. It is simpler. I can get up and just cross the yard, and although I rarely work in my pajamas, I could.

Housing my studio in nature feels decidedly different. Yes, it is quieter and more solitary most days. But it is more than that. There are times where I truly feel that the natural world holds me – helps me to relax and move more deeply into my work. It anchors me to a different rhythm. As Angeles Arrien once explained to me, nature’s rhythm is medium to slow, whereas the dominant rhythm of our culture is intensely fast. Although my mind knows the fast track so very well, and can spin me into a frenzy anywhere anytime, when it takes a breather and looks around out here, a notch of stress in my shoulders loosens. This place is good to me.

Monday, January 1, 2007

A Seed is Planted

This blog has been a seed of an idea that I have been carrying around in my back pocket for months. It has been nurtured by my explorations of the blogosphere – by the pleasure and inspiration I have gleaned from blogs like Keri Smith’s Wish Jar. And it has been cultivated directly by my good friend, blogger Britt Bravo whose advice and input have helped me finally make the leap into blogging. I am deeply grateful for her help.

I start this blog with three hopes. The first is the hope that regularly reflecting on my creative process and sources of inspiration will encourage me to spend more time in both my actual art studio, and also in my inner studio -- that creative state of mind that allows even the most ordinary of experiences to open up with creative possibility. There are so many distractions in life, and I want this blog to be a tool to help me stay grounded in my creative center.

The second hope is that the blog will generate connectivity. As a creative person working most often alone, it has been so heartening to read of other’s journeys through the artistic life. Blogs like On My Desk take the edge off of isolation. Seeing all these other wonderful workspaces inhabited by creative explorers like myself, I am filled with a wonder at how many creative people are out there working away at this thing called art. It gives me an instant sense of connection.

My third hope is that what I share here may light a spark for someone else who is surfing the web, looking for that sense of connection or a hit of inspiration -- that I may be able to give something back to the blogosphere, which has given so freely to me.