Sunday, May 25, 2008

Billions of Stories

More crows. I took a break from an oil painting commission this week and did this crow study. I’m wondering if I’m becoming a ‘bird’ artist. But after looking through my reference photos of sandhill cranes and snow geese taken on Westham Island, I realize I’m only interested in crows. The other birds are just passing through and caution is probably the only regard they have for humans. Crows are in my ‘hood, they are part of my world, and they thrive because of human activity. This TED video on the intelligence of crows is fascinating (thanks to Hayden mentioning it on Andrea’s blog).

The other painting that was accomplished this week was by my 6 year old daughter, Olivia, after watching, My Kid Could Paint That. Odd how it's usually Olivia who wanders in and stays to watch documentaries with me. The film is about Marla Olmstead, the preschooler that became a celebrity artist for her abstract paintings until a 60 Minutes profile on her suggested her father helped her with her paintings. Whether she was helped or not means nothing to me. I felt sympathy for her parents, who clearly let themselves be swept up in the hype and caught in the centre of a world that wants to make and break people. This is a great film to watch and think about whether you're interested in art or not.

People latched onto the story of Marla, the art 'genius', and collectors made the price of her paintings soar to $20,000 a piece. One collector in the film, proudly displaying her painting beside his Renoir, talks about the images he see in her work - a doorway, a figure. He said he asked Marla about it and of course, being a typical preschooler, she didn't know what the hell he was talking about.

My daughter, seeing the man describe her painting said, "Wow, she's a good painter to do all that!"which brought on a great conversation. It became one of those rare moments when you feel like you're saying something worthwhile to you children instead of "clean your room and stop trying to kill your sister with the remote!"

I said, "she didn't mean to do that, she was playing with paint but the man saw those things in her painting. It's like when you stare at clouds and see dogs and dragons. The clouds didn't make those images, they're just clouds, but we imagine those pictures in our mind." After the film, Olivia had fun randomly scribbling while I found the images and stories within her drawings. The next day she really wanted to do a scribble painting and find her own stories in them. I let her loose with lots of paint and a canvas and she had fun finding bananas and bears and mice in all that abstraction.

It made me realize, meaning in life is about all those billions of stories that make up our perception. Some we share with large groups (religion, political views, etc.), others are smaller and subtler and make up our personal mythology, some seemingly unimportant things like how we feel about cats and the movies we like to watch. Everything is based on a experience or idea that's recreated through a lens in our mind. One collector of Marla's work in the film gets a little teary eyed when describing why the paintings are important to her. She says they 'capture the moment it was like to be a child' (okay, I have add 'duh', Marla's 4). I imagine one story for that woman is a romanticism of childhood, the free abandon and innocence she perceives to be childhood. Maybe my little obsession with crows is a story about finding connection with something natural and wild in my contrived, suburban surroundings. I think my daughters story right now, is just to find the stories.

Whew, I'm getting too long winded in my blog writing. Next post, pictures and point form. Maybe a meme, anybody know any good ones?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Because He is Funny...

Demetri Martin. My kind of funny. Worth a watch.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Painting on Garbage and He Has a Medical Degree?!

I saved my garbage from my Whistler trip with the idea I would create some art from all those paper coffee cups and sandwich wrappers. I’ve done this sort of thing before and had garbage sitting around my studio for a long time. I realized I had gone a little crazy last year when I was reluctant to throw it away because I thought it was TOO valuable, as if garbage was hard to come by. Then I mentally slapped myself and tossed it.

This art work is painted on top of the garbage from my recent road trip (below post) and some junk mail left in my car. It's an image based on Nairn Falls, a place we visited while in Whistler. I still have to add some detail and contrast before it's finished.

I intended to have the painting finished for this post, but this weekend could be named, "The weekend I destroyed my flesh by various forms of heat". A day at the beach, stupidly forgetting to put on sunscreen, turned my wonder bread skin into a peeling mass of red, or for you arty types, 'alzarian crimson'.

Later, while working on this painting, I took a break to cook lunch and tipped over a boiling pot of water onto my hand. I still tried to finish this painting, keeping the burnt hand immersed in ice water and the other holding a paintbrush. Not that I'm usually so dedicated but I was on a roll and I didn't want to stop when I felt all this intense motivation. But as I stood at my easel, whimpering like an injured puppy, dreaming of getting morphine injections while I looked at the skin coming off my fingers like a glove, I realized I should go see a doctor.

Doctor: "When did you last have a tetanus shot"
Me: "About 8 years ago"
Doctor: "Did you wash the burn with soap and warm water?"
Me: "Ummm...yes?"(truth- no! my flesh is exposed and my skin is coming off! I'm not going to touch it, are you crazy?!)
Doctor: "Was the water that fell on you hot?"
Me: ???????
Me thinking: Thank you! thank you for that ridiculous question so I have something to write about on my blog this evening.

I'm quite alright though and here's my hand. I was thinking of doing an outdoor finger puppet show about 3 newborn babies.

Before I go, I'll leave with this art produced from garbage (and light) that is truly amazing, something I would have loved to see in a gallery.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Road Trip

My sister Tiina was visiting from Toronto this past week. A different sister from the one who visited a few posts down. There’s a small army of my siblings scattered around. We’re like the Osmonds, but not as cute and only this one (Karin) can sing.

Tiina and I planned to go to Salt Spring Island this past weekend, but discovered the ferry back was full, so we had to change our plans. We thought of just getting in the car and driving, no plan, no idea of where we were headed, just GO and... BE. The spirit of Jack Kerouac was flowing through our veins for about 10 minutes. Every sentence after that began with ‘but...’

“But we should at least know if we’re going north, south, east or west”
“But we should know how far we want to drive”
“But we should go somewhere where the weather isn’t bad”
“But what if we get somewhere and it sucks and there’s nothing to do?”

24 hours later we were in Whistler, our chosen destination after long, painstaking, careful research and thought. After sitting down at a lovely restaurant, also chosen after careful research and much discussion, we were about to order a bottle of wine. Tiina wanted to ask more about a certain wine but I said, “STOP, don’t ask, let THAT be our spontaneous moment, just...order it” So from our initial intention of acting out Easy Rider (in a minivan), our risk taking amounted to refraining ourselves from gathering more information about our beverage. That’s when I really got it... I am NOT 20 anymore.

But Whistler is beautiful and I had a fantastic time. Being there makes me want to get insanely fit, ski, snowboard and mountain climb and wear $600 gortex jackets and be everything I’m not. Being in mountains and surrounded by so much wilderness also makes me feel small (in a good, humbling way) and connected to something deeper. While I was there we were able to catch the last hour and a half of Pangea Day in Whistler Village. Pangea Day is “is a global event bringing the world together through film. On May 10, locations in Cairo, Kigali, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro will be linked for a live program of powerful films, live music, and visionary speakers. The entire program will be broadcast – in seven languages – to millions of people worldwide through the internet, television, and mobile phones.” The turnout for Whistler was small, but the films and speakers were inspiring. This little animated film is worth a watch and is about a man who transforms his world through origami. A particularly moving moment was when an Israeli mother recited the letter she wrote to the snipers' family who killed her son. All the films can be watched on the website, so if you have some time to spare, it's worth browsing. I managed to snap a picture (below) of the several moments when the world was joined in forced laughter as a part of the laughter clubs that began in India in an effort to promote happiness worldwide. Even though most of us reserved Canadians were laughing out of pure embarrassment, I have to say it did feel good and I noticed a lingering smile on the audience afterward. Here’s a few more snapshots of my trip

In the spirit of Pangea day, three powerful words that I'm determined to keep with me - understanding, forgiveness, peace.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Watcher of Little Boxes

I thought I almost killed this crow. I wanted to get a close picture of it, so I grabbed the nearest crow-type food I had handy, some French bread and threw it a piece. It took the bread, tried to gobble it but then it kept it’s beak open for a long time and looked like it was going into convulsions. I thought, "oh my god, I’m killing this bird with my unhealthy, starchy white bread. Can birds choke? What’s the right response to this? Do I press on it’s little belly in a sort of small animal Heimlich manoeuvre? Do I hold it upside down and give it a little shake?” The crow was fine of course and came closer to me so I was able to get a few good pictures. The result is this little painting that I just put in my Etsy shop.

My imagined near crow death experience led me to research all about crows (because that's the kind of nerd I am). I'm fascinated with them. In my effort to cut down my driving, (see this post) I've tried to find ways to appreciate wandering around suburbia on foot. Going on a few 'suburban safari's' was the answer for me and crows happen to be the most fascinating creatures in my little pocket of the world. They are adaptable, clever in getting their way, social and into garbage, in other words... like us.

That same nerdy part of me can't resist mentioning this little gem. According to ornithologist and crow expert Kevin J. McGowan, "Crows do have one endearing characteristic that is apparently not shared by other birds. They will get to know people as individuals. While you can get chickadees to eat out of your hand, any old hand will do, and I suspect that the chickadees do not know you as an individual. Crows will! If you toss them peanuts (I recommend unsalted, in the shell) on a regular basis, they will wait and watch for you. Not just any person, but you. If you do this often enough, they will follow you down the street to get more. I have made a point of getting on the good side of a number of crow families around Ithaca. Some will follow my car down the street, and if I don't notice them and toss them peanuts they will dash across the windshield to let me know they are there. Some of these crows recognize me far from their home territories, way out of context."

After hearing this little tidbit, my 8 yr old daughter really wants to make herself some crow friends. But first I'll have to go get some HEALTHY peanuts.

I'm off to Salt Spring Island later this week. Maybe I'll run into this famous wildlife artist who lives there. In my rebellious youth, I used to think his art was too commercial and I was too cool to stomach it, but I've softened a lot. And I would love to own this painting of his, I think it's stunning.

Since I titled my painting, "Watcher of Little Boxes", I'll leave with Pete Seeger singing Malvina Reynolds song, "Little Boxes". It's all about suburbia.