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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