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Building For Us All

June 2nd, 2015

building for us all

I felt like I had gained a new understanding over the course of 2014. It started in the summer when I read Tony Morrison’s Beloved and watched the TV series Orange is The New Black. It continued over the fall when I learned more about how prisons affect families and communities today by attending a fundraiser and launch for the book Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better. My understanding deepened as I participated in a march in Oakland that called for justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men who had been murdered by police. I was really feeling the violence that exists in our society today. By December I made the connection that the way we’re treating our environment has been culturally acceptable because it’s part of a larger pattern of socially accepted exploitation.

My first impulse was to want to share this connection that I made by making art that shows how this culture of violence and exploitation is causing climate change. If everyone saw how certain behaviors are damaging to our planet and to many communities, we would understand and change our behavior, right? Perhaps. But I’m not sure how effective this “calling out” strategy would be. I wanted to try something more positive, something that could inspire us all to collaborate. I’ve always been inspired by the Queer Pride movement that shares the love and strength of the Queer community, which has drawn me in, rather than showing me bad behavior. Similarly, I wanted my art to be filled with love and light.

I started asking myself “What does it look like to have a healthy relationship with our environment, to really care for our earth and all of its inhabitants?” and “What does it feel like to build the kind of society that we all want to live in?” I wanted to paint what this place would look and feel like, but I also recognized that it’s not up to just me. It must be empowering for all of us. That’s where the idea for my piece Building For Us All came in. I could make the building blocks for us to build the world that we all want to see. So I did just that; I made bricks out of paper-mâiché and painted them in my colors. The piece is meant to be collaborative, and I’m inviting viewers to come and make their own sculptures and formations with the bricks.

Here are some images of me working on the piece as part of a live art demo at Pro Arts Gallery a few weeks ago, during the preview party for East Bay Open studios. I’m also sharing some images of sculptures that viewers created during the event.

photo credit: Robin Beck

How Robin Williams helped me understand art

October 2nd, 2014

When I started to take my art seriously a few years ago… I’m talking quit my job, leave my rural town and go to art school; really change my life around to make space for it serious… I felt like I had a secret. The secret was that my art was going to be ugly.

In truth, I didn’t know what my art was going to look like. But I did know that the art was going to be about climate change and how I was not ok with us messing up our planet. I felt angry, sad, and I demanded large-scale change. And I knew that I wanted to express all of this through art. How could these feelings and demands result in something beautiful?

For a while, I had a hard time reconciling how my art could be beautiful, sellable, or something that someone might want in their home. For a while, I felt pressure to build this perceived gap between beauty and what I felt my art was really about. But in doing so, I think I misunderstood what art really is.

I heard a replay of an interview with Robin Williams on the radio recently. Towards the end of the interview, he talked about how honesty, particularly regarding sad and depressive subjects, is so key to comedy. He said that he felt that comedians are the most real people he knew because they look at both the good and the bad. In other words, they experience difficulty and they process it; they don’t ignore. They sit with uncomfortable things and offer a new take. The interview helped me see that it’s this time spent hashing things out about the subject that’s so valuable.

I feel that artists do a similar thing. We’re not necessarily ending up with something beautiful, but the process of going through it and chewing on truths of a certain moment in time is valuable. And the pursuit of that, actually, is quite beautiful.

Creating a World

August 15th, 2014

“Oh yes, I like to create a world,” I remember telling someone when I was at art school who happened to walk into my studio and comment on the smattering of drawings and doodles taped to my wall, as if this was something I did all the time. In truth, it was the first time I had made sketches of the same subject, experimenting with different mediums and colors, and then displaying them on the wall. I’m pretty sure I had invented the idea of calling it a “world” on the spot to capture what I had done. I remember that it was helpful and inspiring to immerse myself in the visual language that I had started to develop. I thought of that today when I put up some doodles on my wall that felt fresh and exciting. I’m going to surround myself with them and see what shows up next as I practice art.

Clarity through Practice

March 25th, 2014

Some spring cleaning led me to an old notebook I kept from a figure drawing class. There were some notes with advice on drawing, such as “set up the easel so you can see the model and easel together without moving your eyes.” And “start the drawing with the interior. First find distances between the features and then look for outside shapes.” However, I was most intrigued by this two-line note that I found in the middle of the page:

Beginner’s Mind –> Many Possibilities

In the Beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.

I’m not sure what compelled me to write that note, and I can’t even remember doing it, but it resonates with me now. I used to have no idea how paintings would turn out. I would squeeze out every color I had on my palette and try many things. Now I feel like I have more clarity at the beginning. I limit my color palette at the beginning and work in layers, starting out light and adding emphasis at the end. I’m posting some recent work in progress here.

Thoughts on Structure

March 6th, 2014

I noticed something interesting today as I was wrapping up teaching my after-school art class. Usually my classes run like so: five minutes of sketching to warm up, 45 minutes of the project of the day, and then I orchestrate a clean-up and then have everyone gather around the finished pieces to talk about them with the remaining time. To spark discussion, I ask them about what they like in the art, how the art makes them feel, if anything is surprising or unexpected, and if they have any questions in particular for any of the other artists about how they made something.

However, I decided to skip today’s end-of-class-discussion since it looked like they wanted a little more time to finish today’s art. When I announced that class was over, they surprised me by organizing themselves around the table where we usually have our discussions and started their own discussion, using the language I typically use. (And it was funny to hear a six-year old girl, unprompted, comment on how it was unexpected to see another student use the color that she chose.) I hadn’t realized that I had created a routine that they were eager to repeat. I let class go a few minutes longer to allow them to talk about and process what they had all made.

Today’s class showed me that not only do we all crave structure, but that I had successfully set up a structure for myself and the students to work within.

Before I went to school for my BFA, it was rare for me to make art without taking a night art class. While I was working on my BFA, I knew that the school would provide me an art-making schedule to work within. I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach my art-making when I graduated.

Right after graduating, I rode my bike through the Italian Dolomites with two friends. We passed through many small towns tucked away in the mountains. No matter the size of the town, each one had one thing in common: a tall spindly church spire sticking up out of its center. These churches provided structure and identity for each town in so many ways. I imagined that the church gave inhabitants a spiritual structure by supplying a belief system and a schedule of spiritual practice. As a visitor, it was clear to me that the churches had a strong physical structure, as the buildings were like the masts on ships, giving each town its own identity and visual presence. Aside from the fact that I don’t practice Catholicism, I secretly fantasized about traveling through time, going to church and making art within the structure of a life shaped by the church…. that’s how much I craved a structure.

Luckily, I didn’t have to travel through time or change my religion to figure out how to have my own art practice. I have come to realize that it’s about showing up to make my art consistently, planning ahead and blocking off time to do it, and saying no to things that will prevent me from working on it. I don’t need an external structure to get started on my art any more, but I often think of those spires and towns tucked away in the mountains, as a symbol of structure.

Valle Di Caddre Church


Word from the Trail

January 7th, 2014

This summer I took a break from my regular life to do something I had been wanting to try for a while: hike a long trail. I decided to hike the 211-mile John Muir Trail to explore the mountains that were close to my relatively new home in Oakland and to spend some time with my boyfriend Robin who had been wanting to make this trek from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney for quite some time. Although I had spent several days backpacking before, I had never spent several weeks doing it. While I was almost sure that I could physically do this walk, I had no idea if it was something that would challenge me to the core every moment, be something that I fell in love with, or fell somewhere in between.

We prepared for it by packing and shipping boxes of nonperishable food for resupply at outposts along the trail and thinking about what gear to take. Just as importantly, we thought about what gear not to take to keep our packs light. For me, art supplies made the cut, but I wondered if I’d have any time to practice my art, or if it would be all hiking all the time.

It turns out that not only could I do the hike, but I absolutely loved it. Although I only pulled out my art supplies a few times (I brought watercolor pencils, some paper and a brush) I spent some time on the trail thinking about my art practice and how there are some similarities between setting out to do this long hike and pursuing a career as an artist. Here are some of my thoughts from the trail:

• Sometimes the mountain you think you have to climb is not actually the mountain on your path. Stay present; don’t be scared.

• It’s amazing how far you can get just putting one foot in front of the other, day after day.

• It’s amazing how far you can go by pacing yourself, and doing a little every day, rather than trying to accomplish everything in one day.

• It’s true that you will get stronger with a consistent practice.

Here are some of my drawings from the hike and some paintings I made when I got back home:

Art Show at Ajuda Day Spa

August 4th, 2013

I currently have a show up at the Ajuda Day Spa in Old Town Oakland. It includes some collage as well as some paintings that are based on the collages. The show is up through the end of August, and you can check it out by visiting the salon at 807 Washington St, Oakland, CA.

East Bay Open Studios

July 12th, 2013

I recently had the chance to exhibit some of my paintings in two artists’ beautiful live/work home as part of East Bay Open Studios. East Bay Open Studios is an event that takes place during the first two weekends in June where many artists open their studios for people to meet them and see their artwork. The event is sponsored by the art non-profit Pro Arts, who publishes a directory of artists in Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito and other spots in the East Bay.

When I decided to participate in Open Studios, I was living in a small studio apartment, so I was looking for a bigger space to exhibit my work. Through Pro Arts, I connected with Laurel Cain and Nate Boxer, the two artists who invited me to show at their home. They also welcomed artists Chris Gillis and Helen Dannelly. Together, the five of us presented a show that explored urban industrial landscapes and textures of Oakland and spots in the West through painting, photography and encaustic wax.

During the two weekends that we were open, we had over 100 people stop by, chat with us and check out our work. Nate took a time-lapse video on the last day, and here are some pictures from the event:

Coming soon… greeting cards!

February 4th, 2013

Coming soon… greeting cards with images of my artwork on it! I’m conducting a survey to get some ideas and input on how to make them. Please click here to participate in the survey! I’ve heard it takes three to five minutes to complete.

How contemporary is contemporary?

February 4th, 2013

On my vacation to Santa Fe over the holidays, I stopped by an artist’s booth to look at the watercolors, prints and note cards of Santa Fe that she was selling. We started chatting, and during our conversation, she asked if I was an artist and what kind of art I made. Once she learned that I had moved from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to the Bay Area in California, she made the comment that if I lived in a city and studied art in a city, my art must be contemporary. At first I said “well, it’s not as contemporary as others’ art,” since I feel like there are some traditional, or more accurately modern (see next paragraph), qualities to my paintings. But later I backtracked and said, “well, if you’re making it now, it’s contemporary, right?”

The word contemporary when describing art actually has a specific meaning, but I have experienced a lot of variety in its definition. Generally, it describes art that is happening now, but there is some disagreement about when “now” started. There is also disagreement about if we should even call current art contemporary at all, or use a more descriptive word. In my art school, I learned that first there was Modernism, also with a varying start time, either starting in the 1860s with the Impressionists or in the 1950s with the Abstract Expressionists, or anywhere in between, and ending at some point in the 60s or 70s with Minimalism, Pop Art, or with the social revolutions of 1968ish. Then came Postmodernism; art about art from the 1980’s. Finally, some refer to the period of art that we are in now as Contemporary, others refer to it as Ultra-Modern (a return to Modern Art, but enhanced), and still some argue that Post-Modernism is not over. But the MOMA recently had an exhibition about Contemporary Art that started in the 70’s, which basically lumped everything together after Modernism. And I am never sure where Warhol fits in… modern? postmodern? And not to be a total smartass, but at any point in history (Renaissance, Romantic, Modern, etc), couldn’t any artist claim that they made art that was contemporary?

Art offers us new ways of seeing the world. Art from 50 years ago still feels relevant because it reflects and is connected to our society’s structure, and we’re still living in the same economic structure (basically, capitalism) as we were 50 years ago. Since our world hasn’t been a fundamentally different structure since the Industrial Revolution transitioned us away from Feudalism, perhaps that’s why we’re splitting hairs when it comes to defining current art movements.

Thinking about all of this, I realize that my art does fit in to contemporary art, especially since it picks up on themes in our economy. I paint the port cranes that unload shipping containers; these are players in the global economy. I also have been making collages out of advertisements from magazines; also part of the system that implores us to continue buying things. So I’m going to own it. I am a contemporary artist.

Here are some sketches and collages I worked on while I was traveling: