Yesterday evening my husband and I went to the Pomona College Museum of Art. Conveniently for us, the museum stays open until 11pm every Thursday for Art After Hours. PCMoA has three shows up currently: a selection of Brenna Youngblood's abstract paintings from last year, a selection of the Guerrilla Girls' witty and pointed posters, and the very poetic work of Italian poet, writer, artist Mirella Bentivoglio.
I felt that Youngblood's paintings were hung too closely together, and didn't have as interesting or varied of surfaces as I expected after reading the wall-text extolling her process. It was also a little bit out of kilter with the evident connection between the Bentivolgio and the Guerrilla Girls shows, with their common emphasis on the relationship between word and image, as well as exploring what it is to be female historically and currently. It was disheartening to read the updated versions of the Guerrilla Girl posters from the 80s and 90s only to find the statistics of female and non-white representation in museums about the same, and in some cases worse. Like feminism in the broader culture, the posters make the same points over and over, because from decade to decade there has been so little change. It was saddening to walk through that hallway, despite the deftly used humor (which had both my husband and I laughing out loud), because each poster is still relevant and applicable today, a quarter century or more after they were made. It left me wondering why it is still so hard for women -- why don't more men support feminism for the sake of their wives, daughters, girlfriends, sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers, if not for themselves?
Bentivolgio's work was more wide-ranging than sticking to strictly feminist themes, and yet I found some of her feminine, feminist pieces to be the most memorable to me: the reoccurring image of the egg among stones, the egg made of stone and split into a book, the faces of stone damaged or being unwrapped and excavated, the woman disappearing in the photograph and reappearing behind the curtain, and Bentivolgio herself, present as a shadow, a mask, a name, and as a photograph doubled under the arch of time. It was harder for me to follow the beauty of her concrete poetry since I do not speak Italian, although the wall-text translations helped. But her work with images, books, and stones carry across cultural language barriers quite smoothly, speaking as they do a visual language which I could intuit and understand. Viewing her work left me with a freshened awareness of the uncanny repetition and resemblances of things in nature and culture, past and present, and respect and awe for the ongoing, never-ending connection between things.
Working steadily in the new year. The studio is full of half-finished, mostly finished, just started, and still blank work. Still, I am trying to catch up to documenting last year's work. I added an oil painting called 'Little Sleeper Sleeping' to the 'painting' portion of the website, and I will add a drawing below. I did post my first finished piece of this new year to the website, a watercolor of Mimi which I framed and gave to my mother. It is under the 'watercolors' tab. So it is not all 2014 here. 2015 is already in progress.
Reading graphite on paper 2014
I wanted a simple, Dutch-style frame for 'He Glows in the Dark (Ryan Among the Stars), and finally found one. It was old and dirty, but I took the time to clean it carefully and give it a fresh coat of paint. I am pleased with the way it protectively embraces the painting and expands the dark space of the sky a little further before the eye comes to the pale wall. I haven't framed very many of my paintings before, but I realized recently I don't want them to go about naked and unclothed. Sometimes a painting wants to be bare, other times it wants a thin frame, and this one, surprisingly, asked for a wide one. Now that they are united, I think this frame suits 'Glow in the Dark' very well.
"Practicing is training; practicing is meditation and therapy. But before any of these, practicing is a story you tell yourself, a bildungsroman, a tale of education and self-realization. For the fingers as for the mind, practicing is an imaginative, imaginary arc, a journey, a voyage. You must feel that you are moving forward. But it is the story that leads you on. . . From the outside, practicing may not seem like much of a story. . . Yet practicing is the fundamental story. Whether as a musician, as an athlete, at your job, or in love, practice gives direction to your longing, gives substance to your labor."
--Glenn Kurtz, 'Practicing.'
I recognize the daily labor of creation in Glen Kurtz's description of practice as the "truth of who you are, today, as you strive to change, to make yourself better. . ." It is frightening when you feel alone and without success to keep on working. You wonder if all will be for naught, if your attempt to sing will come out as silence, like the barely heard voice of Josephine the mouse singer in Kafka's story. But Josephine's song, though weak and barely audible, moved her people's hearts as no other did. And I think the ability to continue working, to keep practicing, comes from the hope that what one is attempting to describe through one's work may someday end up holding meaning in another person's life, and perhaps even offer "consolation for broken hearts," as Van Gogh put it so eloquently. One of my college art professors said that it is in the most specific that we reach the universal. Our lives are unique and yet they are also repetitious in the great human pattern: birth, love, illness, work, death. The attempt at honesty and sincerity in one's work, no matter what kind of work it may be, is worth all the doubt and fear and struggle behind it. Because without that struggle, anonymous, alone, where would the poetry of Emily Dickinson or the artwork of Vincent Van Gogh be? If they had given up because they lived no public life and achieved no public success, what consolation and understanding and heart-felt images would now be sorely lacking.
Vincent Van Gogh Vase of Irises oil on canvas 1890
Vincent Van Gogh Irises oil on canvas 1889
Vincent Van Gogh Vase of Irises on a Yellow Background oil on canvas 1890