Monday, September 4, 2017

"A good traveler has no fixed plans

and is not intent on arriving."

                    Lao Tzu

Dear Theo

"I've attempted a night sky."

       Vincent Van Gogh to his brother in a letter. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A House Cat Observes the Sun Set

I have always been drawn to the tension between home and away.  

Everybody should be quiet near a little stream

and listen...

                                  Maurice Sendak

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Tale of Three Cities

Actually there's not much of a tale, but here are paintings of three cities.  Whenever I go to a new place, I try and do a painting of it.  These paintings only exist in my travel journals.  At times I've tried to repaint them from the journals on to paper but it is never very successful.  For whatever reason the journals seem to be the only place where I feel completely free. Though I have started to work right on paper more, especially when I'm home, I love doing this work in my journals.  These are, in order, Mojacar, Spain, Auvillar, France, and Matera, Italy.

"There is no blue without yellow..."

In a letter to Theo, Vincent Van Gogh once wrote, "There is no blue without yellow and without orange, and if you put in the blue, then you must put in the yellow and orange too, mustn't you?" 

I was stunned when I read this.  For a long time I have been doing watercolors.  I've never really studied art, though I've wanted to.  But then I've never really studied writing either.  I just read a lot, all the time.  And I also looked a lot.  And for whatever reason when I paint I almost always use a lot of these three colors.  But especially yellow and blue. 
My mother loved blue and yellow.   Our living room was always some blend of those two colors. Yellow curtains, blue chairs.  She had a good eye.  She also had a degree in fashion from the Art Institute of Chicago but was never able to work in fashion.  But she had a decorator's flare and an artist's eye.  And our house was a study in blue and yellow.

I read once that the painter, Joan Mitchel, used a lot of blue and yellow.  Joan was the first wife of my cousin, Barney Rosset, founder of the Grove Press.  So I know a lot about Joan.  Her biographer posits that when Joan was little her mother had yellow curtains, as did I, and if she pulled those curtains back, she could see Lake Michigan.  As could I. 

So blue and yellow and orange.  You cannot have one without the other according to Van Gogh.  Or my mother.  Or Joan.  Who knows why the eye must see what it sees.  

I am painter really.  I don't know a thing about drawing.  But I love color. 

Most of my paintings are done in my travel journals on the road.  But lately I've been more sedentary so I am trying to allow myself to be in the travel mode and paint on a small card table upstairs when I am home.  

On thing that helps me do these is the Tahitian definition of art that translates to something like I'm doing the best that I can.  That's all we can hope for, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Child's Play: Reflections on Serena Williams and Pablo Picasso

Last week two events happened for me on the same day.  I went to see the Picasso sculpture exhibit that is just opening at MOMA and I watched Serena Williams get throttled on the court.  At the Picasso I was amazed at how much inventiveness and experimentation and truthfully just plain fun Picasso must have been having as he bent sheet metal and carved wood.  I'm not saying that it's not hard work, but I was amazed that he could bend a fork and it becomes the talons of a bird or he takes a child's toy car and turns it into a baboons head.  As I stood staring at this completely ridiculous, and amazing, piece entitled "Little Owl," I thought that here is someone who has a child's imagination and sense of wonder. All of his work to me reflected his child-like nature and in that nature he is completely free.

 And then I watched Serene, grunting, shouting, smashing her raquette, never a smile, a look of contentment and certainly not playfulness.  She was not just miserable.  Her ranting and stumbling and failing was almost Biblical.  Of course everyone is calling it the biggest upset in tennis history, but I watched Vinci smiling, shaking her head, steady, enjoying the game.  It didn't surprise me that much in the end that Serena lost.  What surprised me was how miserable she seemed even before she was losing.  How she wasn't playing so much as pummeling.  Whatever she wanted, she wanted it too badly, and that made her lose it.

It was interesting for me to see these two events back to back.  I am reminded of one of my favorite tidbits of knowledge.  I've written about this before but I'll say it again now.  The Tahitians have no word for art in their language.  The closest they have is an expression that translates to, "I'm doing the best I can."  I love the idea of trying, doing your best, but it's not about winning or losing.  And in the end for me it is really about pleasure and pleasure is about freedom.  It's not easy to become children again.  (I think it was Matisse who said that you have to grow up to become a child again).

Sometimes I'll sit down to write or paint and I'll say to myself oh I'm not any good or I don't have any ideas or whatever we say to make ourselves feel lousy and then I'll just start to fool around - in my journal, with my watercolors, on the page.  As artists, performers, even athletes, we have to be able to play and we have to be able to enjoy the game.

I feel badly for Serena because this loss will haunt her her entire life.  But perhaps she will learn something from it.  I'm not sure if she ever really loved the game (I think what she loves is winning), but maybe she can find it in herself to enjoy it.  I remember once when I was in a very bleak place and nothing was working out and my husband told me to write stories again the way I did when I was twenty years old and did it for the love of them.

I go back to Picasso's Little Owl.  Go and take a look.  Here was a great artist.  Perhaps the greatest artist of his time and he made a little owl with screws and bolts for legs, a silly little

glorious object that I fell in love with, and I thought to myself that we all need a little owl in our lives.  If we're trying to write a little poem or win a grand slam, you need your little owl.  A part of creativity and success comes from having a good time.