2.20.2018

my own private Magnolia

On Friday last week, the day I spend all day with my five-year-old, in the brief afternoon downtime that used to exist for the purpose of napping, after feeding cows, cooing over piglets, and picnicking in Berkeley, I did what any hard-working, short-on-time aspiring artist does: I scanned the Internet on my phone. Looking at Instagram, where I waste most of my fleeting peak cognitive years these days, I admired artwork shared by my son's art teacher, butterflies symbolizing migration inspired by local artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez. I followed the link to her Instagram account, where the most recent image was this one, Ms. Rodriguez standing next to W. Kamau Bell, another local celebrity I'd recently heard on KQED's Forum talking about his playlist collaboration with the Oakland Symphony.

Later that afternoon, after picking up the nine-year-old from school, before hitting the library, I treated the kids to the daily flavor at a local, very popular Italian ice joint. I complained a couple of weeks ago about how overpriced this place is, but a couple friends encouraged me to give it another try. You have to get the dollar daily flavor, they insisted. Personally, I'll pass on cotton candy flavored frozen sugar water, but the kids were into it (initially disappointed they couldn't select anything they wanted but hey, a small serving of the daily flavor is better than no Italian ice at all, right?). Then, while in line, Mr. Bell himself walked in with his daughter. I never see famous people, even when in Los Angeles or New York, for example. Never. There was that one time I made a margarita for Will Patton. But short of that, I never see famous people. What do I do? I thought. Keep it cool, act like he's one of us? Make small talk as I probably would with anyone else in line? Or awkwardly thank him for the Forum interview (not able to attend the actual symphony, of course) and let him know how much it brightened my day, listening to it early the week after it aired while attempting to ignore the anxiety that seems to accompany me into the studio two or three mornings each week.


I'll admit I've been in a bit of a funk the past few weeks. My goal this (school) year has been to make new work in order to submit it to some local residencies, fellowships, and exhibition opportunities, which would help to bridge the nearly decade-long gap of sorts on my sad artist CV (a decade during which I had two kids, moved cross-country, started a small business, applied to over forty day jobs, worked at one for 2 1/2 years, all while attempting to launch multiple social practice projects). Those deadlines began popping up on my calendar late last month. And of course I know I won't get everything I apply for; I'll be lucky to get one or two opportunities by the end of summer. And though I should be an expert at this kind of thing, that first rejection email wasn't any easier to read. I quickly moved on and refocused on the four new paintings I recently started but the sting stayed with me all week. Somehow seeing Mr. Bell took me back to that half-hour in the studio a couple weeks earlier, and filled me with a renewed sense of inspiration and focus (not to mention local pride), if just for the rest of Friday afternoon.


In the end I chose to say nothing (if I did interrupt his father-daughter Italian ice time to say thank you, how would that conversation play out, anyway?). So to Mr. Bell I say now what I couldn't bring myself to say then: thank you.

2.05.2018

diluted

The title of this post seems a fitting one to follow my last, pushing back a bit against the expectation that I commit all my waking hours - and maybe some of the sleeping ones, too - to being an artist. Along those lines, one thing that I've been mulling over quite a bit lately, as I transition back into the reality of establishing a more robust studio practice, is this idea of "diluting" one's "brand". Search the web for something like "artists dilute brand social media" and you'll find no shortage of how-to articles and cautionary checklists (I'm an artist - I will naturally question your so-called "rules") about how to market and sell your work without diluting your brand. One could write an entire essay (and I'm sure someone already has) about whether or not artists should even think of their work in the context of personal branding, but I won't do that. Whether you think of the images you share with the world via social media a personal brand or not, I'm here to argue for artists in particular not really giving a fuck.

A day (or two) in the life of @danceswithkids, one part artist.
I think about this a lot for selfish reasons, obviously. My social media handle is @danceswithkids, after all, fully embracing sometime in 2017, the many facets of my life as a creative parent who sometimes has to do boring stuff to make money and who, in her elusive free time enjoys dancing, baking, traveling, and spending time with cats. If I have a personal brand, it includes all of these things. I won't open a separate Instagram account for any particular area of interest (or obligation). I'd like to think, instead, that I'm part of an increasingly vocal community of creative folks who embrace the idea that being an artist, in particular, can include being all of these things, not just sharing images of one's work, studio space, other art we're looking at, and so on. Less so in my case, but I've seen a lot of artists wrestle with this lately for political reasons as well.


These ideas I hope will get some steam from the late, great Ursula K. Le Guin, whose passing a couple of weeks ago inspired a surge in rereading and listening to past interviews. I had no idea she addressed so openly her life as a writer and mother. In this Fresh Air interview (from 1989!), she tells Terry Gross, on the topic of "babies and books," "there are some of us who really need to do both and are perfectly capable of doing both.” And this, via Austin Kleon, from Le Guin's Dancing at the Edge of the World: "Babies eat books. But they spit out wads of them that can be taped back together; and they are only babies for a couple of years, while writers live for decades..." (emphasis mine). And finally, from this article via Jocelyn K. Glei's weekly newsletter, second of ten things Karen Joy Fowler learned from Le Guin: "There is no reason a married woman with children can’t also be a committed artist. (This seems self-evident now but wasn’t immediately clear to me.)" It struck me that the self-evident part isn't necessarily so for visual artists, at least not yet, and perhaps made worse by the convergence of social media and our multi-faceted lives being whittled down to "personal brands" that can be bought and sold. Even the artists I follow and admire who don't have kids seem, in my opinion, unnecessarily concerned with diluting their "art-brand" by sharing images of all the non-art in their lives. This unfortunate trend I find, frankly, a little boring. Being more transparent about the juggling act at the core of being an artist is important. It adds to our humanity, and we could all use a little more of that these days.

Diluted? No. Rich in a way that those with monetary wealth from their successful personal branding may never truly understand.

1.29.2018

one part artist

As promised some time ago, this being my first post of 2018 (Happy New Year, by the way), I wanted to compile a recap of art/making that happened during the first four months of this day-job break


To warm up a bit in my studio, I initially started making mini "art from ephemera" collages on leftover business cards from my last office gig (a tongue-in-cheek response to the question people are no doubt asking when they find out I'm one part stay-at-home-mom, one part artist: what do you do all day?). You could say this ongoing project is "artists in offices" meets "art from ephemera," two themes I've explored in various informal projects over the past three years. As my time in the studio has increased, my desire to make these every day has decreased a bit. I'll continue this project when I have materials from the day and the time to do so, but I'm not forcing myself to commit to making one every day; they served their purpose in the transition from full-time day-job to part-time artist. You can see the 40+ cards I've made so far in this photo album on my Facebook page.


I don't want to say or post too much just yet about my newest body of work, Heavenly, except to summarize that, finally, as of this month, it's going well. To date, I've completed about 4 to 5 of the total dozen or so pieces (roughly 13 x 19 inch mixed media works - paintings, if you will - on paper), several with sculptural elements I hope to explore in an installation format at some future time (and space). You can follow my process on Instagram and see progress shots in this gallery on my Facebook page. I'm using this new work to apply to residencies and such so wish me luck.


Other than my own work done when both kids are in school, I spent much of the fall, during our significantly increased time together, trying to distract them from screentime with various creative projects. Here are some images from that effort (with mixed results*):

Made at Michael's weekend workshop. Time, space, money - pick two! On a very limited budget, my challenge is to find things to do with the kids - and ways of working - without spending much money. This workshop was $2.

Our brief interest in kindness rocks.


Halloween-inspired.

The 9 year old's diorama book report for 'A Boy in the Girls' Bathroom'.


This little nook was once a built-in DIY play kitchen. Since both kids have long outgrown it, I decided to convert it to a mini maker-space, so that they have easy access to a variety of art/craft supplies. Monday afternoons are devoted to making stuff, whenever possible.

This is also the reason why I'm in no rush to replace our 13 year old table!

Pirate turkey advocates for a vegan Thanksgiving.

The 4 year old's painted paper-mâché cat. Not creepy at all.


For the short-lived "troll in a bowl" project, and as the subject of a "maker-space playdate" the 9 year old had with one of his classmates, I made this mini longbow, courtesy of Sonic Dad.

Okay, yes, this is food but it's of my studio so it should be included in this round-up!

Nailed it!

More clay, this time at the awesome drop-in art studio hosted by the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF.
*To clarify, I'm not anti-screentime. But, with multiple screens and a sudden, significant increase in free time, on top of a shoestring budget, the hours were quickly adding up. Making and movement are my main tools in this endless battle!

12.13.2017

wait for it

In my last post, I mentioned spending about half of the traditional work-week since leaving my day job in August with at least one of my two kids. That portion has increased slightly as I'm no longer sending the fourth grader to the after-school program at his school two days a week (long story, partly financial), taking another roughly four hours of my studio time, which is a significant chunk. I'm down to 16-17 hours of kid-free time most weeks during which I manage the household (menu planning, grocery shopping, errand running, cleaning, etc.), hang out with cats (usually just one or two shifts a month now at Cat Town with my regular shift at OAS on Sunday afternoons), and, most importantly, spend time in my studio painting and writing.

It's ludicrous. But it's more time than I had when I was doing all that and working full-time (and it's forced me to continuously refocus my studio efforts which is a good thing given my generalist tendencies). In my last post I also promised a recap of the making I've managed to squeeze in since September 1st but, like me, you're going to have to wait for it. Instead, I wanted to share with you all another phenomenon of having more time with the preschooler in particular and that is: waiting in public bathrooms. Like so many young children who haven't quite mastered the art of going at home before leaving the house, and being one to take her time no matter what she's doing, I've spent a lot of time with little else to do but take a bathroom selfie. So here you go, the top 10 bathroom waiting selfies since summer.










11.14.2017

art you can hug

I have now been unemployed-by-choice for about 2 1/2 months. When people ask me if I love it (and they always ask that way) I say, other than having less money, YES! Our one-income budget, without dipping into savings or racking up any new debt, is tight, and spending about half of the traditional work-week entertaining two young children without spending money is challenging, especially in the Bay Area. But, fortunately for me, much of what I enjoy doing - looking at art (not to be confused with blowing funds on this kind of thing) and spending time outdoors - is free! Additionally, while I will admit that spending two full days in the studio each week has proven challenging due to all the other little things I commit to each week, I have made significant progress in the area of organizing the creative spaces in my home and generally making stuff, often with the kids. The good news there is that I have a ton of art and craft supplies already on-hand. To that end, following is a recap of art I've seen, usually with at least one kid in tow (we saw a lot of art; stuff I've made will be included in a follow-up post).



Before I left my job at the end of summer, we purchased a family membership to SFMOMA. Special exhibitions we may reserve for seeing sans kids on school days, but it's also one of my post day job goals to schlep the kids to more art shows. So in early September, we went on a Sunday morning to check out the new Julie Mehretu paintings and the SECA award exhibition, right before it closed.


Good stuff all around. I've been a fan of Mehretu's work since I saw it at the Berkeley Art Museum as an undergrad and I found a new favorite in the 2017 SECA award exhibition in Sean McFarland's work.


I think the kids liked it, too. Also in September, our neighborhood in Oakland - the Laurel - got three new murals, all related to the plight of the grizzly bear population in the state.


We spent a weekend morning on a bear hunt, followed by some afternoon crafty time at newish shop Mischief.


Wednesday afternoons, while the preschooler is still in preschool, I pick up the 4th grader early (all Oakland schools get out early on Wednesdays). Several afternoons so far we've seen art during our "wacky Wednesday" afternoons, just the two of us, before picking up little sister.


For example, we saw the Martin Wong exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive. Get this - kids are always free, as is one adult "chaperone" per kid, per visit! I'm so used to things being so expensive I almost wonder if this policy wasn't a mistake of some sort. For now, however, I'll take advantage of it.


The following week I met Neal, who works a couple blocks away, at SFMOMA for a quick, kid-free lunch hour tour of the Edvard Munch exhibit before it closed in early October. What can I say except it made me want to go home to my studio and paint, which I think is one of the best compliments a show of paintings can get. The only other time I've seen Munch's work in person that really stood out was at MoMA in New York in 2006, mentioned at the end of this post.


That same week I again schlepped the 9 year old to see some art on a Wednesday afternoon, this time abstract paintings by women artists at Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek. As I wrote on social media after, I'm not usually abstraction's biggest fan (though my own work oscillates between abstraction and representation, but more about that later), but I thoroughly enjoyed this show.


When we're flush with funds again (ha!) we plan to financially support the Oakland Museum of California. For now, we take advantage of their free first Sundays. We went in October to see the new Jet Martinez mural in the courtyard (above), part of the annual Day of the Dead exhibit, among other California art, like Susan O'Malley's lovely series of prints, 'Advice from My 80-Year-Old Self' (which you can also get in book format).


Both kids were out of school one day in mid-October, so we took a day trip down to the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University to see the Nina Katchadourian show.


What can I say other than: fabulous. I'm a big fan of her work and the 9-year-old was pretty into her rendition of Under Pressure (from the series 'Seat Assignment') when he saw it at SFMOMA shortly after they reopened in 2016. A very kid-friendly show if my kids are any indication. And, best of all, the Cantor Center is free.


On a pre-Halloween "wacky Wednesday", as we call them, the 9-year-old and I saw In-Between Places: Korean-American Artists in the Bay Area, at the Mills College Art Museum and Culture Industry at Slide Space 123 (also on the Mills campus). Both spaces are, you guessed it, free.


On an early November Friday with the 4 1/2 year-old, we took advantage of light traffic to make our way across the bay to see the work of my friend and fellow "artists in offices" Lisa Jonas Taylor, also my first time in the newish Minnesota Street Project space (Lisa's work was in the Bass Reiner Gallery, one of many galleries in the space).


I've seen Lisa's work in person before, and I'm a fan, but I thought this show was particularly stunning in her use of the space's "horizon", the window, and her materials.




The 4 1/2 year old was particularly enamored with the many "treasures" shed by one sculpture in particular.


Finally, for the second first free Sunday in a row, I took the kids to experience Nature's Gift: Humans, Friends & the Unknown at the Oakland Museum. Art that is not only okay to touch, it's art that beckons to be embraced.

Stay tuned for part two of this almost quarterly report, in which I'll write about stuff I/we have made and the progress, slow though it may be, being made in the studio.

11.02.2017

day of the dead cats

Since today is the final day of El Dia de los Muertos, I thought it fitting to not only share the altar I made here but also, because this shrine celebrates feline companions who are gone, provide an update on my cat status since my last, incredibly sad post a little over one year ago.


Let's get the bad news out of the way first. About six months after Sophie died, we had to say goodbye to Xander, too. He was fairly out of sorts for awhile when Sophie never returned home, but he settled into his new, solo cat routine eventually and - if there's any silver lining from losing Sophie - enjoyed lots of extra love and attention in his final months. In the end, I guess you could say he died of old age. He was about 18, after all, and seemed to suffer from mysterious, hard-to-treat ailments, like steady weight loss despite a hearty appetite and chronic congestion. Up until a day or two before he died, however, he was still very social, still eating, and still (mostly) making it to the litterbox (one normalizes a lot of less than ideal behavior with an aging pet). But one evening he was having a hard time standing up and walking without falling over. We knew it was time. We spent our last morning with him, after taking the kids to school, in our daughter's room, which gets the best morning sunlight. I brushed him a bit (he always loved being brushed), we basked in the sun, and he alternated between mine and my husband's laps. Around 11 a.m. on February 22, 2017 we took him to the vet. I had mixed feelings about whether to do this at home or at the vet's office but in the end I feel comfortable with our choice. It was in every way the total opposite of how we lost Sophie. We were able to say goodbye, for starters, we were both with him, holding him the entire time, and it was, thankfully, very peaceful (at least what we observed). He purred until he was sedated (step one) and we stayed with him for a long while after the second shot. It was so hard to leave his body behind, but I knew he was gone.


For a few months after Xander died, I thought I might be done with pets altogether. I wasn't sure I could handle that kind of heartbreak ever again. But the desire to have cats is, apparently, pretty resilient, and around May I started visiting Cat Town cafe in Oakland, an organization I'd been following for a few years. I visited with one or both kids 4 or 5 times throughout the summer and, as my final day at my day job approached, decided to begin the process to become a volunteer.


Through that process, we also began fostering Penelope, a sweet 2-3 year old white/tabby mix who'd been pretty stressed out after a six-week stay at the city shelter following a guardian surrender. Somewhat by accident, I also began the volunteer process at Oakland Animals Services (I was under the impression I was to take the volunteer orientation there as part of my volunteer training at Cat Town). The last time I'd been to OAS was during my search for Sophie, which, if you've read the heartbreaking post in the link above, didn't end well. It was extremely difficult to walk in to that space, but I also felt a sense of relief, once my volunteer orientation was done. Adding to this, I eventually ran into the very volunteer who, along with the vet, delivered the news that Sophie was dead. I didn't recognize her at first (that day is understandably a bit of a blur now) but eventually connected the dots and shared with her why I looked so familiar, which was really difficult to do. I did my first cat training with her a few weeks ago and the entire process, though difficult at first and not at all what I was intending when I got involved with Cat Town, has been extremely healing. There is something liberating about coming full-circle to interact with the people who were with you on one of your darkest days and understand better than most what you've been through.


Phew, we made it. Are you ready for the good news now? I'm a full-fledged volunteer at Cat Town, popping in a couple times a month to hang out with the cats in the "downtown" cat zone. I'm not yet trained to work with socializing the "forgotten kittens" in the cat zone two "studios" but I hope to do so in the future. I'm nearly done with the process at OAS and at some point may need to focus on one or the other due to schedule and time constraints (as much as I'd sometimes like to, I didn't quit my job to hang out with cats full-time and unpaid), but I'm hoping to remain involved in both in some way since witnessing the partnership between the two is what has been an educational and rewarding experience. Additionally, after a couple of months fostering Penelope, we decided to make it official and permanent with an adoption! I will always miss Sophie & Xander, and all the cats I've had in my life, but I am really enjoying having Penelope around the house.

Finally, speaking of past cats, and in honor of this final day of the dead, here is the altar I made using a box of holiday chocolates from last year. Before:


(I mean, I had to make something out of this amazing box, right?!) And after:


I knew I wanted to use the box for a day of the dead altar but I wasn't sure whose life (or lives) to celebrate.


I'd recently come across this picture of my Mom with the two cats we had in Virginia (Bogie and Bacall), when I was in 2nd and 3rd grades (when we moved to Germany they went to live with one of my aunts), and that gave me the idea to dedicate this altar to my dead cats.



It's not exactly traditional (no marigolds, etc.) but it does the trick. Catharsis via cats and crafts!