saturday, april 30, 2016
The Catch

He has a penchant for juxtapositions. The grey Pacific Northwest winter months culminated, as they do every year, in the gentle severities of Lent: fasting, abstinence from meats and sweets, kneeling and praying the Stations, meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and so on. During this time of solidarity with the Sufferings of Christ, my professional task was, nonetheless, to produce the brightest, sunniest, dare I say: ‘happiest’ painting I have ever yet attempted. This irony made me smile, for though the daily effort to face skies of cerulean blue and clouds of titanium white amidst an atmosphere of somber introspection was a cross in itself, the work was sweet, and I was grateful for the commission which would put gas in my car and pay the rent through the winter.


If I had to write a book entitled ‘The Boat’ it would be filled to the brim with dubious treasures. Gold disguising lead disguising gold--shapes covered with slime revealing living things that look and smell bizarre but are true delicacy to the mouth and sustenance to the body, would issue from such an excavation. Things that really happened and things that didn’t quite happen would all come tumbling out haphazardly, poorly rendered and linked together by chance, all in an elevated tone as if they were really the thoughts of someone very important and wise.


‘The Boat’ as I have come to think of it, is a physical blessing that brings with it many subtle graces; gentle enrichments of soul, something of which I will attempt to sketch out here in the particular case of a commissioned painting. There are too many facets and layers to describe all or even most of this one tiny piece of anatomy. A painter well knows that life has what you might call a “Power of Ten” quality; one can zoom in or out, ad infinitum, and keep unfolding worlds. It’s really too much for human beings. Angels of supreme intelligence can just barely stay abreast of the unfolding. Yet I must at least hint at the existence these precious nourishments, so as not to waste anything that might be divided up and shared among friends. If The Boat is too much, let me at least convey one small pearl that issues from her nets, namely, ‘The Catch.’


The Catch was a surprise that began with the 800th anniversary of the Dominican Order. Having a special affinity for St. Dominic and many of the saints that followed his example, not the least of which is Blessed Fra Angelico, ‘The Angelic Painter,’ I saw here an occasion to do something big. I had in mind a large scale portrait of St. Dominic for the Church. I asked the Saint to intercede for me in this matter, if he wouldn’t mind. I admit I was so bold as to mention specifics, including the price I needed in compensation for the work.


I thought of the fiery intensity of El Greco’s St. Dominic. Looking at a reproduction in one of my old books, an ember of desire smoldered within me. I wanted El Greco to teach me of painting and of devotion too. If it came to be, the painting would be a true effort of love.  All we needed was a sponsor. Surely some benevolent patron could be found to support such a timely tribute. I resolved to show up at a gathering at our Dominican parish on the very next Saturday to celebrate the start of the Jubilee Year, and perhaps find some willing client to fund the project.


Soon after, Krzys sent me a message. It just so happened at the same time that a young friend of ours was about to embark on a period of discernment with the Dominicans in California. His family was having a little get together to celebrate his going away. It was also on the very next Saturday. I considered what St. Dominic would have me do. Though I sensed my original plan was a good one (and I very much needed a commission), it seemed to me that it would please St. Dominic more to encourage a young man who might join his order and become a holy priest. I gathered his non-Catholic family was rather perplexed by his interest in the priesthood, all the more reason to encourage him. So Krzys and I journeyed to grandpa’s beach house in Bremerton.


I was expecting a hot-dog and shorts affair. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at Grandpa’s elegant home to realize that the man was a consummate collector of modern art! The beach-side property was packed with specimens. I remember more than one large scale Frank Stella and several huge outdoor modern sculptures. The place felt more like a museum than a beach-house, even more so in the otherwise blue-collar town of Bremerton.


We hit it off swell, of course. I think grandpa Paul enjoyed talking with someone who understood something about his little ‘hobby.’ He toured me through the collection with joy, and regaled me with stories of his buying and selling escapades. He told me he had for several years owned a print of the famous / infamous “P*ss Chr*st” by Andres Serrano but had finally sold it if (at three times the original price of course) in deference to his father, who hated it. I began to get the picture. The fact that I knew Serrano’s work and could comment intelligently on it without rushing into whether or not it constitutes a sacrilege opened up a doorway of trust between us. 1


It was at that point he asked who is “representing” me. I responded quickly that I am “self-representing.” With a twinkle in his eye that told me he sensed a bargain coming on, he asked me to follow him. He lead me to his office and showed me a large photograph of a sail boat racing along near a rural bay, surrounded by blue water, big sky and a rolling mass of clouds. “Do you know anyone who can make a painting out of this?”


When it came time to set the price, I remembered my earlier prayer to St. Dominic, and faithfully quoted the amount I had asked the Saint to dispense for my next piece. With gratitude, Krzys and I drove off with the oversized photograph (a journalistic image of Grandpa as a young man with his crew in his boat winning the historic Victoria to Maui race in 1976) in the back of my car.

We took a ferry to visit my dad on Vashon island to celebrate and to rest. The late August light drizzled the arms of the trees with honey; the water of the sound, cool and black as obsidian mirrored back their golen limbs. As the three of us sat in the little motorboat some fifty feet off the shore with our lines in the water, we reflected on the generosity of God to provide what we humbly ask for (and need), especially through the intercession of his Saints. This is most true when we relinquish our own assumptions and allow our Father to direct us in his ways, to put out our nets whenever and wherever he tells us.


I was beyond satisfied, yet I still couldn’t quite see why St. Dominic would have me paint a group of hopeful young men on a boat winning a race to honour him and his brother preachers. I was musing over this question when suddenly came that telltale ‘buzz’ on one of the lines. To our shock, we pulled up, as if by magic, a large, silvery King Salmon out of the deep.

My dad used to take me out fishing some when I was a little girl. It was one of our favorite pastimes together. It had been a while. Dad is of the age now where every special experience between us has the quality of eternity. We share a golden, grinning awareness that this could very well be the last time.

I manned the net. Krzys was thrilled; he had never ever fished before. Dad was speechless--he really had no intention of catching anything. He used only a rubber jig; intended merely to spend a little time demonstrating the technique to us and to have a peaceful boat-ride. It was like a prayer offered lazily, half in disbelief, answered at once.

There was some misgiving about whether to keep the fish or throw her back, but the hook had done its work and she was already giving up her life. We motored home, cutting a path through the glassy blue in silence. Dad solemnly butchered the animal, unwilling to let any of the unmerited gift of the Salmon go to waste.

My own grandfather, Virgil, whom I hope to finally meet at the hour of my death, is a Boat-man; an honourable Navy-man of modest rank. I say ‘is’ because I trust he is alive in heaven. A quiet convert to Catholicism, he had been raised sometime on the Reservation. By all accounts, Virgil was a saint on earth who kept his thoughts close to nature and close to his own heart. Whenever I see Dad cast into the deep of his father’s memory for the simple know-how which eludes most men today such as: ‘how to catch and clean a fish,’ or ‘how to bury the dead,’ his usual effusiveness is quickly subsumed into the silent, intractable wisdom of Virgil. This was how it was as we cleaned the fish.

Opening her belly revealed a trove of caviar glistening like rubies in the sunlight. These were for me. I examined them, holding them up to the light. I cleaned and salted them carefully, and ate every single one over the next several days before I began to plan the painting which was to be my food for the winter, reflecting on the Providence of God, the boat, the water, the faith, the fatherhood, the sacrifice, life and death; everything.


Anyway, it was a good catch.

And now, since Lent is over and gone with ‘The Boat’ (actually, the official title of said painting was ‘The Race,’ but that’s another allusion), Easter time is here, the spring is with us, the air is balmy and fragrant with lilacs, I begin my next commision: the dolorous narrative or our Lord’s suffering and death, or “The Stations of the Cross.” As I said, he has a penchant for juxtapositions.





1The piece is objectively sacrilegious, though I am not sure Serrano was fully conscious of that when he made the work. In one interview he claims to be ‘a Christian,’ yet one wonders in what sense he uses the term. If it is true at all, he clearly lacks the formation to understand the effects of his actions, which mitigates some of his culpability. This maneuver may deflect some of the heat from a moral standpoint, but a strike against him as an artist. Serrano claims to be ‘experimenting’ on the public with his concoctions, though he is ignorant of the results or doesn’t choose to think about them. I doubt that Serrano conducts his work with malicious intent, but he lacks intellectual integrity. I do understand the fascination of Serrano’s imagery, including “P*ss Chr*st” yet, reason forbids me in conscience to celebrate it or to freely pronounce or write the offensive title.

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wednesday, january 13, 2016
National Portfolio Day: The Power of 'Schlepping'

I have a personal story to tell about National Portfolio Day. I've naver shared it before, but it is important to me, and every January, it comes back to my mind. For those who don't know, NPD is a sort of European-rules college fair for young artists seeking to get into a competitive art-school track, hoping eventually attain the mystery of the coveted, yet elusive, parentally-misunderstood and generally terrifying: 'career in the arts.'

I remember when the event was held at the Seattle Center, back when I was just a sophomore in high school. A family friend, April Ferry, a beloved and now-retired art instructor at the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences (SAAS), encouraged me to go. I was not a student of SAAS. I really had no art program in the Catholic school I attended. But being a neighbor and a kindly soul, April did what she could to guide me. She gave me a lot of good advice and encouragement along the way without which I might never have found my footing. Having been a New York art student and a working artist herself, she taught me the meaning of the word 'schlep.'

And schlep, we did. All my stuff--goopy canvases, dusty drawings, greasy sketchbooks--up the steps inside the Center House to wait, terrified, in the long cue for a chance to have my work reviewed by actual representatives of some of the finest art colleges and academies in the country. This was in the days before digital photography, long before Tablets and IPads. We had to schlep our stuff in the flesh. And it was worth it.

Those brief conversations with the 'Reps'--actual artists themselves, people who seemed to care so much and take a real interest--changed my life. These people understood something about me that hardly anyone in my life could understand: I too, am an artist. The Reps could see it and they took me seriously. They spoke confidence into me; they told me I really could have a future in this. Even more, they affirmed that what I was doing with my time was something, well wonderful. I came away from my first National Portfolio Day with my heart blazing with hope and my work cut out for me.

The following year, I was a junior, almost ready to make my college applications, and I was well prepared. I had assembled the best of my work and had worked hard with whatever instruction I could find outside of school. I was doing figure-drawing from life at local art stores and anywhere I could get in front of a live model. I was taking workshops and visiting the studios of local artists, asking them questions. I was working with oils. I was reading practical books and art history books. I was copying artistic anatomy, and devouring reproductions of the works of my chosen masters.

That Friday night in January, I had my glossy black portfolio-brief all full of drawings, with my best canvases bundled up beside it. I went to bed early enough to get up on time. I wanted to get the full day of glorious critical feedback and insight, a chance at scholarship money--maybe even a rare 'on-the-spot' acceptance from some great, prestigious east-coast school.

When I awoke, it was still dark. Dad was shaking my shoulder, telling me the news: last night, someone very close to me, a friend and a mother, someone who was an intimate part of my childhood, had died. The body was found this morning. I'd better get dressed and come quickly. It was the worst day of my life.

Many hours later, after the police and the coroner had gone, and sobbing had dwindled down to a dull murmur in the house, dad took me aside and asked if I still wanted to go through with it. He wanted to know if I felt willing to take my work to downtown to National Portfolio Day to be assessed by the visiting colleges. If we hurried, there might still be a chance to have my work reviewed. Could I handle it?

I didn't know. I looked at my paintings and drawings all bundled up and ready. I had worked so hard for this moment. This was my last chance to be reviewed before I made my applications. I felt that some Reps had the power to make me an offer of acceptence, and that would seriously impact my chances of success as an artist. I thought of the future I longed for so much, and weighed it against the grief and weariness and agony of the day.

We schlepped.

I wasn't nervous standing in the line this time. I was numb. I had just enough time to speak with one or two representatives before the horn sounded and National Portfolio Day was officially over. I remember looking down at the table where my portfolio was laid out for inspection. I was now older than most of the other kids. I could see that my work was excellent, in some ways, very advanced compared to the others. I should have been proud, but I just couldn't care that day. I was too sad to feel anything like pride. Yet I stood in those lines at National Portfolio Day, clutching my work.

When it was finally my turn, I set my canvases on the table. There was my latest self-portrait in oil, the eyes, life-like yet weary from staring into the mirror, gazed up at me from the table. Then came the dread moment: as the Rep worked her way through the pile of canvases she finally pulled up an oil-portrait of the very person whose death had changed my life that day.

The Rep kept talking to me about my painting, but I couldn't focus on what she was saying. She sounded far away. I heard her voice suddenly grow concerned as my eyes began to fill with tears. I couldn't look up. I just kept staring at those eyes in the paint, burying myself in them until the critique was finally over.

Dad helped me get my work back to the car and load it up. Wearily, he turned on the engine.

"Come on, let's go back to grief street," he said.  

I am an artist. I proved as much to myself that on that dreadful day. I had never been touched by the indifferent force, the shock of death before. My sense of everything, the world and myself, changed forever.

Nothing felt okay, yet I watched myself do what I had set out to do anyway. I was reeling, terrified, but somehow I held on, for my self, my work, my future, because it was the only thing I could do, because I am an artist. In the midst of intense pain, I carried my work, my heart, my whole internal universe in a heavy bundle and laid it out before the eyes of objective scrutiny. In a way I still don't fully understand, this decision set up a spiritual foundation for who I am today. I schlepped.

There were no scholarships offered, no 'on-the-spot' acceptances that day. Due to financial constraint, my parents could not support my dream of going to a school on the east coast after all. Yet the dye had been cast. I had made my decision.

Months later, I received notice of acceptance to the University of Washington. On the first day of fall quarter at the state school, I marched across campus to the counseling office to declare my major. The counselor looked at me incredulously.

"Most students take at least a year or two before they're ready to declare a major. Your classes haven't even even started yet. And students usually change their mind, several times even, as they work through their general education requirements. Plus, you won't even be able to enroll for painting classes for the first two years. Are you sure you want to declare your major today?"

"Yes," I shot back. "My major is Painting. I wish to declare Painting as my major. Go ahead and write it down. Painting. I won't be changing my mind."

And I haven't.

So that's my secret story about National Portfolio Day. Now, as fate would have it, almost two decades later, I find myself appearing there in January, this time on the other side of the table--at the end of the long lines of nervous teens gripping their portfolios--as a Rep.

I don't normally tell this story of my experience with the event, except to say that I attended it faithfully it myself when I was in high school, and that it was indeed life-changing for me. However, I never can stand behind that seemingly mile-high table, scrutinizing the dreams and longings of hopeful students, sometimes pathetic, sometimes humbling, without remembering what it really means to me, and what power there may be for them too, in schlepping.  



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wednesday, november 04, 2015
On Being a Woman Painter or 'Fake Blood'


If only beauty were enough,

if desire were currency,

I could sweat the toil of my trade,

and trade the products of longing for a life.


A lifetime of time and being would be born

complete and viable,

projected, crimson, onto walls

Inside The White Cube of reason;

begetting little cubes. 


Viscera would be cordoned-off and labeled

in Times New Roman,

while unflinching Prudence

pushes pins in,

centers, justifies, edges, frames,

binds blind organisms, birthed--conceived,

in fervid dreams,

with Philosophy's cool surname,

and hands

dollars over fists

to clench it,

make it alright,

set it aright

with right angles.


I would spend every night

and waking day

making this kind of life.


I’d never paint a Crucifixion without tears rolling,

as in Fra Angelico’s face

of Christ, inviolate, radiant with restraint,

deep in his science.


I’d never work without a prayer to make

cadmium drip from my eyes

onto skins, titanium;

bones beneath them, white;

transparent tissues scumbled over yellow fats;

blood vessels threaded like roots,

blue through the zinc,

and umber hairs that shoot

from delicate membranes,

laced with lead,

and places where the white turns red

with feeling

(parasympathetic response),

always just turning red

(rose madder lake),

in perpetuity.

It would be enough for me.


And for beauty alone,

I would live until it was time to die;

fake blood,

love, work,

and never worry

about such moot questions as

‘where are my children?’

Where, my Spouse?’


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thursday, july 30, 2015

Looking at the landscapes of George Inness, and a few other tonalist painters from the 19th century, I am drawn in by the lure of the blacks. Deep, rich, throbbing, cosmic blacks. They remind me of the blacks of the shadows of Van Eyck, and other flemish masters. Blacks that defy reason, and yet have the effect, among other things, of bringing certain forms of the composition into full disclosure. Rendering them so pointedly clear as to be somewhat ominous. I have yearned for these.


Yes, I have longed for these blacks, and also, I have been harboring a desire to paint my surroundings, to apply myself to landscape study in earnest after so many years of focusing almost exclusively on figure. Recently, I went so far as to mention, in response to a question about my work, that “I also do landscapes”--which is stretching the truth I would say, since the last thing I did that could really be called ‘landscape’ were some thumbnail watercolors back in 2010, and before that, a single class taken with Philip Govedare as an undergraduate. What could have possessed me?

Thus, starting from last weekend in the midst of a most welcome rain storm (or what felt like a storm after so many weeks of uncharacteristic drought), I have found myself furiously gessoing small panels and boards in an effort to make this taste of black-in-landscape come to me as quickly as possible, and without further study or conjecture about how in the heck one is supposed to go about making good landscape. Oh yes, I have to admit I have been less concerned with perfecting the ground than one should be, too; I am acting a bit of a glutton. But what do I care? These sticky little rectangles are falling (and failing) from my easel like so many hastily opened chocolate bars, half finished and flung even as I move to gorge myself on the next. Yes, I am a glutton these days! It’s no wonder each session has left me feeling a little empty, and somewhat embarrassed of how little I have accomplished thus far. When will this binge end? Perhaps when my understanding catches up to my urge to attack my surroundings with paint. Am I painting angry? Perhaps. The only thing for it is to paint more.

I am learning my way. Today, it came clear that the way to handle these curtains of trees upon trees, especially evergreens near the water in the summertime, is to start the thing with a base tone of blue. Then the blacks can be added--not washed in, but hatched--to make form, like building the fur of an animal that extends from the taut and muscular frame underneath. Thousands of little terriers.

Yes, my mind is brewing with a black and sticky logic, not too well defined but searching dutifully, and a bit frantic. Like household chores blurrily undertaken in a concerted effort to stave off sadness, this is the particular moment of my art. When it passes, I hope I will have gained in virtue.

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friday, july 10, 2015
Some Thoughts on What it Needs Now

As an instructor, I tend to guide students through the stages of artistic development in an educational pathway similar to my own. When I became a student, I grasped at the 'parts' of art; the pieces and fragments of perception. I was preoccupied with collecting scraps of meaning through the coordination of tools with my perceptual organs. 
In some sense, this is still the task. Yet, in time, I have become less concerned with my own 'seeing' of things and more concerned with the nature of things themselves. I am beginning to yearn for the time and the fortitude required to reach a fuller apprehension, through understanding, of those things. 
Time and fortitude. I am still a beginner. I can barely approach a thing in the hope of knowing enough about it, through the organs of art, to be able to make sense of it. In spite of my highest hopes for clarity, my comprehension of things is still fragmentary. 
When I was in school, I learned to embrace the 'fog' of fragmentation. There were, after all, gems to be found in the fragments. Faced with deadlines and critiques, it was better to have something to show for oneself, some product to reveal to the critical viewer, than to waste time (or so it seemed) coming to grips with a complexity that was still well beyond my reach. I could always count my work as 'cool' and 'contemporary' and my confidence garnered praise, which I needed (it is no small reassurance to a young artist to be told repeatedly that you are on the right track).
Now, several years later, I am beginning to grow disillusioned with my own approach. With all my convictions about the intelligibility of the universe, I realize that in art I have clung obdurately to a modernist approach, one that has more in common with the view that the universe is unintelligible, scattered, and incoherent. This mentality, expressed in every media of art today, goes almost without question in the mainstream of society. Can this really be the most authentic way forward for the vocation of art? 
I still teach the modern masters because they are practical. They give us the ABC's of perception. But the classical masters give us, or try to give us, the thing to be perceived. They speak of content worth living and even dying for; their harmony of realized and idealized forms are discourses in philosophy, poetry, science and religion. Theirs is an ode not to the mechanics of creatures but to the creation of the Creator.
After twenty years of painting, I have barely learned how to write my own name. Now I must turn back again to my original, pre-art-school mentors, those who first charged my imagination when I was too little to begin naming things; when I didn't know what art was, other than a near miracle of intellection and dexterity, a thing of excellence and passion one could almost taste by seeing.
Certainly, I must work out of the inheritance I have been given, and that means making choices in the sight of not only the pre-modern, but also the modern and even the post-modern traditions. It would be unnatural to pretend that one can 'jump' out of one's historical milieu and carry on as if it had no effect on one's life and thinking. I have no wish to be that kind of a reactionary. And there are no easy answers to the problems of art in my age. What is still required, as always, is the sacrifice of time and fortitude.

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monday, march 09, 2015
Northwest Catholic Magazine

It has been an honor and a privilage to have my work and life appear as the cover story of Northwest Catholic Magazine this past December. Anna Weaver and the rest of the staff at NW Catholic did an amazing job of presenting my story with both sensitivity and directness. The whole process took several interviews by phone and in person, numerous emails and recordings, as well as photo shoots and filming to produce the accompanying video. Beautiful hard copies of the magazine were distributed widely across the archdisocese, and so many people have approached me and thanked me for the story; for the candid way in which my life was presented. Some have said it deeply touched them.

I have to keep telling people that it was Anna Weaver and the people from the magazine, the editors, photographers and all who were envolved in the production and distribution of the story that really deserve the thanks. I am humbled to have been a part of this project and to have recieved such support from the Archdiocese of Seattle. 


Click HERE to read the online version of the Northwest Catholic Magazine article, 'The Art of Faith.' 


Enjoy the short video below!



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wednesday, november 19, 2014
The Madonna of Humility

I'm pleased to annouce that The Madonna of Humilty is finished and will be featured as the cover story of Northwest Catholic Magazine, a publication of the Archdiocese of Seattle, in December of 2014. The painting has been installed in the home of the purchaser, Mr. Aaron Stockton, a parishoner at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Seattle. There will be a private reception to celebrate the installation of the piece, where the painting will recieve a priestly blessing from Fr. Jordan Bradshaw from the Dominican community of Blessed Sacrament. 

This is not quite the first religious painting I've ever done, it's certainly not the first image of Mary I've ever used in my work, which is largely personal and exploratory in nature. It is, however, the first religious art commission, where the express intent of the piece is that it provide an opportunty for religious contemplation and devotion. It is larger in scale than any other religious subject I've ever handled. It has already received a good deal of attention from the community, due to the story in the NW Catholic, a publication with a wide distibution in the Catholic network of Washington State, and a radio interview about the project which is set to air several times on Northwest Catholic Radio. All these factors together make it a piece of historical significance to me, not only personally, but in the progress of my work.

I will continue to make artworks that deal with the mysterious aspects of the human story, many of which are not overtly religious in theme, yet I am happy to signify with the publication of 'The Madonna of Humilty,' that I am ready to fulfill my artistic vocation within the service of the Church. I welcome religious comissions and am eager to explore what is for me a deeply important, challenging and intriguing aspect of artistic practice. I hope and pray that whatever gifts I can contribute will serve to edify and enrich the lives of the faithful, and also build bridges of goodwill between the Church and the larger world, and help to convey some glimpses of the gifts and spiritual riches which are the heritage of the Church to those who would behold them with curiosity and perhaps, hope.


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friday, july 25, 2014
In Parables

How shall the artist speak? In parables. At least when he speaks to the world. The work he makes is a kind of parable. When the painter illustrates the workings of truth--truth in the interactions of material, truth through the principles and laws of visual perception--he has the capacity to step into the role of divine servant, showing the world a mystery that points to all truth.

Is it enough? It could be, if he would only remember that his work is no more exalted than that of a carpenter. Even at his best moments, he can be likened to a ‘chef’ of visual perceptions. As Jacques Maritain suggests in his essays on Art and Scholasticism--speaking as a friend of both the likes of Thomas Aquinas and Pablo Picasso--for all his great expectations of sublime insight, the artist is at last a simple workman.

The artist must remember to be practical and humble among intellectual workers. He is by necessity, the most pragmatic of poets. He may raise his mind to the realm of ideals, but this amounts to nothing unless he also keeps his hands moving, pushing the mud around; his eyes fixed with a hunter’s gaze to the chance movements and tendencies of matter. Only then can he rediscover, as Maritain puts it, “the spiritual conditions of honest labour.”

The mud speaks for the artist, for he is made mute by the nature and conditions of art. He enters the temple filled with notions, only to have his tongue silenced. The mud speaks as it will. It speaks to those who have eyes to see; ears to hear.


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wednesday, july 23, 2014
The Bit In The Teeth

There comes a moment in the life of the artist when talking about the work is in order. Sometimes, this is a moment of triumph; the words seem to flow from the lips with the same facility and ease with which the ink flows from the brush, and one wonders why he had ever wasted a moment of life in doing anything else. At other times, to put forth the effort needed to cobble together a few mere sentences of truth regarding the work to which we have devoted our very lives seems more difficult than the most back-breaking labor; the words themselves grit the tounge like a mouthful of dirt.

A.D. Sertillanges, a French Dominican priest writing in the early twentieth century in his spiritual classic, The Intellectual Life, warns us of the ‘nausea’ of work. He reminds of the that dreaded moment when our project, no matter how passionately it was conceived, suddenly loses its savor. The worker, bewildered as the initial fervor flies away, finds himself repulsed by it. He begins to doubt himself, and perhaps even to despise what he has already accomplished. These moments come. What are we to do with them?

We press on, says Sertillanges. We take the bit in the teeth. And so we artists must take the bit in the teeth in speaking about our work, and sharing it with others. We are workers after all, and we must live day to day by our labors.

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wednesday, december 11, 2013
Open Studio!

It was incredibly cold on the day of the event--for Seattle, that is. It was unlike anything I’d felt in recent memory. The still, icy air was as clear as glass. The sunlight cut through it like a diamond. There were no shadows. The grass of the side trip was frozen solid, crunching curiously under foot. As I pounded in the wooden stakes for my signs leading from 34th and McClellan to the Edwards’ home on College street, I noted that I’d never actually dealt with frozen dirt in my life before, although I had read about it in books. I smiled with satisfaction that my signs were going to be particularly secure this year.


Driving that morning over I-5, I had gazed out at the city of my birth. Seattle felt for all the world like a fantasy castle built on a serene, crystalline planet, somewhere in a distant world. It was going to be a good day.

I admit I had put off planning for this Open Studio at first. Feeling a bit under the whether and crunched for time after the Thanksgiving holiday, part of me had hoped to ignore the fact that the Mt. Baker Historic Tour of Homes had once again rolled around, as it does every two years in my neighborhood, and with it a vital opportunity to throw open the doors of my studio on a Saturday morning and welcome an art-friendly public to enter and explore it’s contents. But I couldn’t ignore it. I also couldn’t deny that when I do go ahead with these things, however impromptu, I always feel energised and refreshed by the surge of interest in my work, lively discussion and the chance to make new and fruitful connections.


So, heeding my past experience, I picked myself up out of my turkey-soup induced malaise, and rallied for a low-key, mini-exhibition in the studio. In a few days time, I did the necessary facebook-hawking, sign-painting, flyer-posting, deep-cleaning, and last minute curating that goes along with creating a successful open studio experience.

This year’s event did not disappoint. The extreme cold kept the numbers down this year for sure. Several other artists and craftsmen in the neighborhood had likewise opened their doors, and I had it on good authority (a neighbor’s daughter, papoose in-tow) that the turnout was fairly low for them too. This seemed likely due to the cold and to the fact that there were fewer houses being showcased on the Home Tour this year, along with higher ticket prices, hence fewer tourists all around. However, notwithstanding the shortage of passers-by, mid-afternoon found a lively buzz in my little studio on 34th and College.


The lower numbers seemed to add to the frank, spiritual timbre of the day, allowing for more meaningful one-on-one interactions with friends and neighbors who stopped in, as well as Home Tour participants who were just passing through, and had followed the signs to my door. There was coffee pouring, prints being thumbed through and edifying conversation bubbling up into the rafters. A perfect Open Studio scene.

Best of all, a series of new works, which had barely begun to take shape within the last week, quickly became the hit of the day, generating interest as well as sales. These works are so new that I hadn’t originally intended on showing them at all, but a surge of inspiration at 3am led me to take a leap of faith, and see if I couldn’t find a way to present them confidently, and integrate them in with my other work. It was a good decision.



These small works were as fresh for me as for my guests. Even close friends who are frequent visitors to the studio had never laid eyes on them. They gleamed on the newly painted walls like the still, frozen day. They were images from my Portuguese heritage; my grandmother’s mysterious past back in Hawaii in the 1930s and 40s; barefooted figures under palm trees; tan women with children swaddled in white, locked in time in the crisp paper and nailed, tactfully, and tacked--or sometimes clipped--to balsa blocks, boards and bits of painting-prep. Made up of miniature ink drawings and delicate assemblages of wood, they felt to me as cool as ice crystals and as warm as the scrap-book memories from which they were born. This was just the beginning; a welcome portent for further work to come.

It was a good day. I must remind myself to do these things more often.

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