Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Does life spiral in ... or out?

Alone in the world, 2007
There is a line 
that divides the world
sky above
water below

Twelve years ago today, a line was drawn and my carefully crafted life began to be sucked away piece by piece: marriage, home, work, identity, history, financial and emotional support, love ... all gone leaving only bruised bits behind. Richard's long illness and death twelve years ago was the beginning of a tidal wave that swept away all the structures in my life.

I am a flight animal so I ran, trying to leave pain in the distance. My first flight took me to a small fishing village south of Puerto Vallarta where I was going to take a digital collage class. I was sure I would be the dunce of the class since I had never even opened Photoshop ... and would also be an emotional basket case and center of unwelcome sympathy.

Turns out I was the only person in the class so I had a week of one-on-one instruction in Photoshop, an introduction to a completely new way of looking at photography, and was held in the kind, accepting, creative environment created by Robert Masla at Casa de los Artistas.

Art gave me hope

A few weeks later, I was still trying to out run grief when I invited my friend Lynne Snead to join me for a 10-day kayaking/snorkeling trip to Belize. She said yes and we wound up on a primitive island, sleeping in palapas with no electricity, water or toilets, and with only a million hungry no-see-ums for company.

The view from my palapa was of a jetty, dark and wet, with one lone, empty chair staring at the endless sea. (See image above.) 

It was a heartbreakingly lonely sight which inspired one of the first digital collages I ever made. Amidst the life and beauty of Long Caye island and the presence of one of my best friends, I felt alone in the world.

When Lynne and I met at the airport in Dallas, we were having lunch when she handed me a silver, plastic fork and told me a story that still keeps me balanced. It's a common story about a man who after a big meal, tells people to keep their forks ... because the best is yet to come.

Some time later she replaced the plastic fork with a metal one that still hangs by my window, holding a space for the next best thing.

The question with no answer

Richard and Ava
Occasionally, my mind turns to the fantasy question: if my fairy godmother gave me a wish, would I use it to turn back the clock, restore Richard to health, to our home in the Sierra foothills, to our jobs, lives as grandparents, to what we thought of as "normal?"

It's a meaningless question ... there is no magical clock. There is only life, and, after twelve years, I realize I am not the person I was.  These years have given me opportunities to discover things about myself that I could never have imagined. I believe I am more who I was meant to be now than ever before in my life.

I loved my life with Richard; I love my life now. While I mourn his death and miss his wisdom, humor, and constant kindness; I am filled with gratitude for all that has come my way in the past twelve years.

Sometimes, as I think of all of this, I wonder if I am spiraling in toward my authentic core ... or spiraling out toward the infinite? Whichever way I'm going, I'm grateful for life, for friends, for art, for having had so many different forms of life and love.

Spiraling in ... or out?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Love Letters to my life #5: Coin-toss days

A painted garage on Independencía
by Joyce Wycoff

It was Day of the Dead but I couldn’t decide how to spend it. 
Should I stay home and have a nice quiet day or go out and see what was going on in the village? 
I had already experienced Day of the Dead here last year. I knew what to expect: altars on the street, people in the cemetery beginning a day of honoring their ancestors, flowers everywhere. I was torn; wanting both, two things that couldn’t exist simultaneously. 
Finally I tossed the coin, grabbed my camera and headed out, determined to at least vary the route between my house and the cemetery.

I seldom walk down Independencía even though it has always been a favorite. Immediately, I started seeing lovely signs, details and wall art I’d forgotten or never seen.

Vision Nocturna, Efren Gonzalez, 2008
And, as soon as I turned onto Ocampo, I began to see altars on the street. And, while they are always similar, they are also always unique and compelling. I had never seen this "family tree" treatment.

 I love the bits of philosophy that show up on the walls.

This one from the playwright Lope de Vega. Google Translate gave me a very unsatisfactory translation but Wikiquotes gave me this to ponder:

"But life is short: 
while one lives, everything is lacking; 
when one is dead, everything is superfluous."

Finally, I arrived at the cemetery where everything was abuzz with activity. 

Walking into the cemetery, I noticed a huge pile of "trash" ... flowers and arrangements removed the day before on cleaning day.

As I walked the narrow paths through the graves, I looked for good "shots," trying not to interfere with the processes of others.

However, I soon noticed that some graves were bare, apparently forgotten. For some reason, that bothered me and I wondered why they were left behind. It didn't seem right in this place where there was so much attention and memory lavished on almost all the graves.

I went back to the trash pile and began to rescue flowers, most of which were still quite beautiful, and distribute them to the barren graves. In the process, I discovered the grave of a local writer, Dane Chandos and decided to read his books about early Ajijic. (See blog post here.)

Later, during a conversation with the founder of a local writers' group, we decided to come back next year and honor him as one of our ancestors and replace his broken gravestone.

Somewhere along the line, I realized I was having an amazing day. That what looked like a coin-toss, was something else indeed. Taking the effort to go out to an unknown possibility showered me with joy and made me grateful to be alive.

The rest of the day was filled with altars on the plaza, sawdust paintings, giant Catrinas, visits with friends and a candle lighting at Ajijic's unique Wall of Skulls.

In total, an amazing day. I hope I remember this the next time I think I'm facing a "coin-toss" day.

Way too many of the altars honored young people.

Artist, Efren Gonzalez before the lighting

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Calle Arteaga: Walking through the history of abstract art, part 1

Walking through the history of art
Calle Gral. Arteaga, Jiquilpan, Mexico
Recently I received an announcement of a painting class focused on the rules of abstract art. I thought about taking the class because I don’t know the rules of abstract art … but it was a painting class and I don’t paint. So, of course, I went to Google to see what those rules were.

I found a six-part YouTube series called Rules of Abstraction with Matthew Collings. The first thing I learned was that what we call abstract art, should actually be called non-objective art. According to The Virtual Instructor, who turns out to be a guy named Matt Fussell, who says "I'm simply a normal guy that loves to draw and paint, and most of all - teach,” there are three types of art:
Representational: We can easily identify with recognizable subjects in a painting, drawing, or sculpture.  This makes representational art widely accepted among the masses.

Abstract Art: The often misunderstood type of art known as abstraction aims to take subjects from reality but present them in way that is different from the way they are viewed in our reality. 
Non-Objective Art: The third type of art is often mistaken for Abstract art although it is entirely different from it. Non-Objective art takes nothing from reality. It is created purely for aesthetic reasons.
The video series by Collings didn’t really provide a set of rules. Rather, each video discussed 3–4 artists, showed their work and then abstracted one or two rules important to each artist. It didn’t take me long to realize I was going to have to take notes if I were to remember any of what I was going to see. 
And, then an even stranger thought showed up. On my Photoshop screen, I had the second photo above which was taken in Jiquilpan, Mexico, on a street called Gral. Arteaga. I didn’t much care who General Arteaga was, I just liked it that his name had the word “art” in it and it was a beautiful street.

For some reason I decided to create a collage superimposed on that street. (The things one does when one doesn’t have to go to work every day!) The first image above is the end result of this exercise.

Here are the artists I met on this journey and the pieces of their art that became part of the end piece.

Spirited Away
Hilma af Klint  — Even though Hilma didn’t consider herself an artist, she is credited with being one of the first abstract (or non-objective) artists. Hilma was a Swedish mystic, deeply involved with Theosophy and considered her art to be soul directions to help connect with “higher masters.” Her spiritual journey began at age 18 when her younger sister died. She was also greatly influenced by Rudolf Steiner. She left 23,000 pages of notes about her journey and described her work as a kind of channeling: 
 “The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.” 
Hilma af Klint, Photo: Wikipedia
Hilma seldom showed her 1200 paintings to her contemporaries. After Steiner rejected her work, she decided that the world was not ready to understand her visions. She specified that her work should be kept secret for at least 20 years after her death. The boxes of paintings were opened at the end of the 1960s, but she was little known until the mid-1980s, and only in 2018 did her work find a permanent home in Moderna Museet.  See Guggenheim exhibit 2018-2019.
Wassily Kandinsky Photo: Wikipedia
Wassily Kandinsky “Transcend Nature” — Kandinsky, too, was deeply spiritual, influenced by Theosophy and the work of Rudolph Steiner. He was affected by music and thought working with color was like playing a piano. He believed that black animates everything and used repetition and surprise to create a sensual impact. I began the project thinking I would put pictures of the artists in the end piece. However, I soon realized that a bunch of disconnected heads wasn’t what I wanted. I really like Kandinsky so I left his and Klint’s photos in the piece. 
"He experienced a sort of epiphany upon viewing a Monet exhibit in Moscow. At first put off by the artist's Impressionistic Haystacks paintings, Kandinsky found nevertheless that Monet's use of color impacted him in a significant way, taking on an almost mythic power. " More about Kandinsky and description of the piece below (and photo credit) available from http://www.wassily-kandinsky.org/

Accompanied Center - 1937
Fiona Rae “Surprise Move” — I love so much of the work of this artist from Hong Kong. Gallery description of the image used states: The large work Figure 2a (2015) is the first painting in the series to reintroduce colour in the foreground while keeping the backdrop in greyscale. This emphasizes the colour and creates a new concentration and dynamism in the constellation of figure and ground, surface and line. Still, Fiona Rae’s signature remains clearly recognizable in these new works, evidence of the many visual codes and tropes she has developed and made her own over the years. Info and photo credit to Buchmann Galerie Lugano
Figure 2a (2015
Sonia Delaunay "Color is Light" -- Ukrainian-born French artist, who spent most of her working life in Paris and, with her husband Robert Delaunay and others, cofounded the Orphism art movement, noted for its use of strong colors and geometric shapes. She celebrated light as a spirit lifting force. And, like Kandinsky, related color to music. Info and photo credit: Wikipedia.
Rythme, 1938
M.E. Chevreul

M.E. Chevreul “Color is an optical vibration” — , a French chemist rather than an artist completes the portraits contained in the collage. His color theories greatly influenced many of the early abstract artists. Info and photo credit: Wikipedia. 
From ColorSystem: The purpose of the (Chevreul) system is to establish a law of «Simultaneous Contrast». Leonardo da Vinci had probably been the first to notice that, when observed adjacently, colours will influence each other. Goethe, however, was the first to specifically draw attention to these associated contrasts. Chevreul designed a 72-part colour-circle whose radii, in addition to the three primaries of red, yellow and blue, depict three secondary mixtures of orange, green and violet as well as six further secondary mixtures.