what’s going on in the studio now

okay, the computer ate my post.  honest.  it was maybe the best one i’d written yet.  and in a quantum world, it’d still win a prize.  the trouble is that i’m not sure which blog to post it on, my art blog or my breast cancer blog.  because it’s about art, and it’s about death, and everything in my life is like that, so why i decided to separate it in the beginning i don’t know, and it causes me conflicts.  what else is new.

my point, in the blog that was et, was that things’ve been very busy the last six months or so, and now everything has changed again, with the departure of my brother, who’s been staying with us since the spring.  window air conditioner and everything.  it was good, and now it’s over, and the details are in quantum cyberspace, which i can’t link to at this time.  but it’s the beginning of the fall and winter, and i’m shifting gears with the seasons.

what was accomplished in this last bit –

lots of stuff i’d been wanting to finish since i brought it home from kerry – a silk wall hanging, two prints mounted and ready to hang, two quilted seat cushion covers, and a dvd full of 30-second film clips of old fashioned roof thatching.  my sister is delivering them at this moment.  also there was time to print, mat and package 150 prints for jim’s dragoncon showing for this year.  and for my dragoncon contribution i painted dragons all over a 6-yard sari, a 4-yard dhoti and a 2-yard sarong.  and took the time to gather all the crap necessary for entering several competitions each.  not to mention three commissions, a frantic week at the beach, and an ecstatic weekend at dragoncon.  my daughter is kind of settled and out of my hair, and my brother is going toward his future, and is out of my hair.  it’s like time has stopped.

what’s coming up on my agenda –

i still have to complete the dyeing of three toddler dresses for my neices.  i need to get to that quickly before events overtake me.  there’s susie’s kimono to sew, and lisie’s to even think about starting (need some measurements from her first).  i’ve got the clothes i requested from walter and the kids, and can start thinking about marie’s quilt.  i’ve started studying quantum physics, and have a stack of physics for nonphysicist books from the library by my bed which i read when i get the chance.  i’m keeping a notebook and online references also, about quantum physics, and am at the beginning stages of working up a plot line and characters.  i just haven’t created a new blog to put it all in, so i’ve got it stashed in another blog that gets random stuff.  all during november i’m doing nanowrimo, and this year will be finishing my novel train wreck: the wrath of mom.  i left it at the climax two years ago, and it’s a tangled mess of paths at this point.  i’m reading a chapter a night of what i wrote two years ago, and by the end of october i’ll have it all worked out in my head.  i hope.

so this is what i’m doing this winter.  that and all the yard work i neglected over the summer on account of the heat.  that and the attic project i started two years ago.  the attic project where i organize everything up there, freecycle a whole bunch of the shit up there, and catalog all the paintings and drawings and studies jim’s done over the years.  and i’m talking about thousands of pieces of artwork, stacked and piled and portfolioed and strewn about the attic.  basically it’s all catch-up after putting things off in order to do things for other people.  but isn’t that life?

one of the fun things we’re turning our attention to here in the studio is jim’s entry for the biennial portrait competition for the national portrait gallery in washington.  it’s a big deal, and lots of artists enter paintings, and jim’s done it twice, once with a portrait of his granddaughter sitting there looking like a teenager, and once a portrait of our friend asha dancing to create the universe.

and tho the likelihood is just as high that he’ll get in this time, he’s decided to do a portrait of me.

this is a radical departure.  i’m not young, attractive, or blond.  i’m way middle aged, i’m mutilated by cancer, and i don’t reproduce well.  not what you’d call a model.  i can sit still, and i can control my face, and i can project a mood or thought or gesture.  but i’m not pretty.  i’ve never been pretty.  interesting, fine.  striking, okay, but you’d want to define the term first.  expressive.  intense.  with snakes in my head.  just ask my several exes.

so jim is fixing to make a portrait that will elicit groans if it’s done right.

it’s all part of a series of really ugly paintings he’s been doing that explore death, to put it in a single word.  we’ve recently gone thru his paintings back to the ’60s, and there are skeletons and grim reapers all over the place.  his earliest art was war comics, drawn after he finished his homework.

this will be a double portrait, both of me.  it’ll be two paintings, cut into strips and mounted facing two different angles, like venetian billboard ads.  jim’s used this technique once before.  it was after his wife died and he was working out his feelings on canvas.  one side of the painting was lovely laxmi, dancing and being wonderful, but the other side was kali consuming her husband shiva, using jim’s self portrait.

that painting hangs in the bedroom, with the kali side facing the bed.  it’s not going into the competition.  but the same themes are being dealt with in the portrait i’m posing for.  life and death.  sex and death.  the deeper mysteries.  the only serious topics.  except i suspect the typical reaction when people first see the painting will be a nervous giggle.

it’s set up as a diptych.  one side fetching and seemingly conventionally attractive.  the other side completely unleashed, with the darkest fears out and ready to get you.  if you stand to the right side of the laxmi/kali painting, you see lovely laxmi dancing naked.  as you edge toward the middle, the plane of the painting becomes broken, and you start to see the broken strips of the other painting between naked flesh.  and then you see both of them together for a moment, and as you go to the left your vision is taken up with the horrific sight of kali devouring her husband, while a form even more terrifying rises up behind her – another avatar of the mother goddess even more basic than civilized kali.

but that’s kali.  we’re talking about medusa.  we’re talking about the close relationship between the artist and his model, we’re talking about two people who you’d think liked each other enough to share close quarters.

and this is what he really thinks of me?

but i have to say i’m in on it as well.  we both think it’s funny as hell.  jim was looking thru his gift copy of the pastel journal the other day, and it had artists who were accepted into the national portrait gallery’s competition, and did well, bless them.  all the portraits were so slick, so lush, so presentable.  it made us laugh to think of turning that aesthetic on its head.  and thus the idea for a portrait of a woman whose face can turn a man to stone.

as you can see by this photograph, i worked hard on my characterization even when i was away at the beach at the end of summer.  these rat tails i’m wearing are the result of absolute weeks of not brushing my hair, even tho i washed it almost daily.  and after a week in salt water, they felt like snakes, let me confess.

and you can see what a good job jim did of making the snakes look like my hair.  this is the lovely attractive side of medusa, so don’t get alarmed yet.  i’ll show the other painting when he’s done messing with it.  right now it’s only pastel studies, but he’s got a full month until the deadline, so we’ll be going back and forth on it a lot.

the hard part will be when the paintings are finished and it’s time to write the artist statement.  the last one i wrote with him started out a nice three pages, stating his whole philosophy, discussing elements which he revisits time and time again.  and then, at the very end of all that, and only hours before the online deadline, i discovered that the artist statement could be no longer than 300 words.  which sharpened my focus considerably.  this one is 3000 characters – tomes!

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