Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bellingham Peacehealth St Joseph Medical Center

It's finished and delivered to the beautiful new hospital in Bellingham. Here I am with Mary and Linda of Lucia Douglas Gallery who commissioned this piece and organized all the art for the hospital. It's gorgeous and full of art! What a wonderful job they did. All the art has something to do with nature and the hospital itself is in the woods with native plantings all around.

Hey there's that sweater again. 

Here is the reception area. The painting will be hung higher on the wall.

Most of the fish and reptiles in the painting were suggested by people on Facebook. Here is our ubiquitous Pacific Northwest banana slug. And a shaggy mouse nudibranch. How could I resist?

While all the animals are native to this area, the plants are just things from my own garden. I was happy to include our native Oregon Grape (Mahonia) since its leaves have wonderful gothic arches and a complex structure. I needed to counter all that Rococo gold with a reference to a more serene period of art. Well in my mind it works like that. I also included some tulips since the Skagit Valley is a major tulip growing area.

The sunlight peeked through our November clouds the other day and fell on the trumpeter swan in my studio. Yesterday while I drove the mural up to the hospital I passed the Skagit Valley farm fields full of these swans and their companions, the snow geese.

I wish strength and health to all the people who see this tree of life welcoming them to the cancer hospital.

And now I can vacuum the studio floor.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bellies and Guts

Last night in the studio Huckleberry fell asleep on my lap with all his paws in the air and his belly facing up. If you know cats you will recognize this pose as one of trust. Cats only bare their bellies when they feel secure.

I have been thinking about bellies and stomachs. Guts. And vulnerability. When a person is brave we say she has guts. More accurately we might say that she bares her guts, or makes herself vulnerable. Vulnerability is one of the most important themes of my painting when I paint small intimate oils. I have been missing it during these recent adventures with show-off gold and giant scale. But I think I have found a way to add a feeling of vulnerability to my large work now too. I have started to smooth out some of the ribs and angles of my creatures, adding sagging and bulging bellies. Who at my age doesn't feel vulnerable showing off the sags and bags of stomach and jowls? I'm not saying I want to become Jenny Saville who creates paintings of such extreme exposure they are brutal. I am trying instead for a feeling of intimacy. Think of the extraordinary round and wobbly sac of guts that is a baby's belly. Did nature really design them with no protection for all the important things inside them?

I like when people expose their hearts and guts and fears to me. I like the intimacy of friendships like these. There is no better way, I believe, to feel connected.

I'm going to work a little more on painting these saggy belly animals. I haven't got it right yet.

If this subject interests you Brene Brown has a new Ted Talk that I recommend as well as her original one.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Textures and Perspectives

The Tree of Life mural is progressing. As I work with the textures of paint on gold and gold on paint it feels appropriate to the theme. Life itself is layered and textured and full of roughness and sweetness and accidents. So I am enjoying a more painterly approach to this than is usual in my work. There are even some drips, though I always swore I wouldn't use that old painting trick. I might leave them.

Some of the drips were made by my son exuberantly painting his Halloween costume which was a Jackson Pollock painting, in my studio. I like the idea of including his work in this celebration of life. 

One of the most interesting things about working with gold leaf is how it changes both with the shifting light through the day and also with the angle it is viewed from. What better metaphor for life. Right? Sometimes it actually absorbs light and seems black. And at other times it reflects everything around it and emanates. My favourite moment each day comes when Huckleberry and I shut down the studio lights, one by one to go down to the house to make dinner. And the colors on the mural disappear. All that is left is the gold leaf reflecting light that I didn't even know was there. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mural Details

I am responding to a wonderful list of suggestions that happened on Facebook (jean bradbury art) for fish and reptiles to include in my Tree of Life mural. Here is the first - a Rockfish. Some of the texture and gold surrounding it will remain and some will be painted over with plants. Below you can see the large oval shape that will be filled with painted flowers, leaves and animals as well as the tree branches. The painting is twelve feet wide.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Some Drawings of Cats

Giant Pacific Octopus

My house looks down toward the water of Puget Sound which is home to amazing Giant Pacific Octopuses. I first saw one of these animals at the Vancouver Aquarium where its tiny tank seemed cruelly small. Similarly the tank at the Seattle Aquarium seems inadequate to me. These animals can measure more than 15 feet across. They are highly intelligent and can open jars, solve mazes, unscrew light bulbs and recognize people. I know that the octopus at the Seattle Aquarium is only held in captivity for a few months before being mated (on Valentines Day) and then released into the wild to lay her eggs. This makes me feel a little better about visiting her. I want to tell her to be patient and soon she will be free to swim again.

Maybe I am making assumptions about an octopus in a tank. Maybe she likes the security of her small enclosure just as some people like the physical comfort of a cosy house or the mental restraints of routine, roles and rules. I was thinking about this while making these drawings. I watched two movies back to back to explore this idea. Ang Lee's "Remains of the Day" about extreme emotional restraint. And for contrast "Sid and Nancy" about people who seemingly have no emotional restraint at all. Both ended tragically.

I drew this octopus both swimming free and in a tank, though I prefer the free one.

The day after I drew these pen and inks an octopus made headlines in Seattle. A diver was photographed dragging one out of the water, punching it repeatedly and throwing it in the back of his truck. This is legal. But there has been a huge outcry. It is interesting the read the comments as well as the articles in the Seattle Times.  I wonder when we will feel secure and well fed enough in this world that we learn to treat animals with kindness and respect. I feel our culture moving in this direction. I really do.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Yesterday I delivered my 30 canvases to the 30 Day Art Challenge.

I entered this event with some misgivings. I don't believe that something is art just because an artist makes it. Especially if it is produced in a rushed panic two days before deadline. (Or else, as Duchamp reminds us, everything is art) I also don't belong to a school of art that champions the overtly expressive "hand of the artist". I like to take care and time with my work. Just as I wish we could take time and care with the world around us. I like to tell a slower story.

But I enjoyed and learned from this experience. Firstly I switched mediums. I have never worked much with pen and ink. It was good. I liked it. I may be the only person in the history of the world to use pen and ink on canvas. The blade of the pen catches on the canvas and spatters. There is a constant struggle and a brittle scratching, stabbing feeling, trying to drag and push the pen over the canvas threads. I have been Lady McBeth this week and the ink still stains my hands.

Apart from discovering that I like the struggle of pen and ink, I also found how hard it is to hide my emotional state while making art. I decided to draw some "cheap and cheerful" (as we used to say in the flower shop) pictures of the food in my weekly CSA farm box. Happy vegetable still lifes. But I confess I have been blue lately. Not cheap and cheerful. And as the rain bucketed down from the roiling sky this week  my pears and onions gave me away. If art is communication then maybe these anguished vegetables are some small form of art after all.