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.


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!