Sunday, March 27, 2016

Telling My Story in Art: "the rest of the story"

This has been an interesting painting to put out to the viewing audience. It has stirred up many stories and evoked many ideas and feelings in viewers. Before I tell you what inspired this piece, I'll share some of the ideas and comments I've received. I have been amused, touched and surprised.Best of all, I've discovered of many ideas that were not present when I began the painting. Sometimes I get deeper meanings from my own paintings as time goes on.

Because the main figure in the painting has her back to the viewer, her emotions are not revealed, yet she is a powerful little person. Most people interpreted her as happy. Many people thought of her as leading a choir, which makes sense because the women I borrowed from Gustav Klimpt are in a choir. Some comments were about her self confidence: every woman in the painting is accepting of her, and she is drawn to all the figures.

One of the most interesting ideas is that it elicits a political theme because of the red, white, and blue. Is it the "Year of the Woman?" Will the young voters put the first woman into the White House?

Some people wish they could have been that little girl. One of my sisters thought it was me running toward my older sisters. Another friend thought the little girl might just take a 90 degree turn and run another direction. She's a little teaser.

I purposely chose to put a uniform undemonstrative face on all the women. I thought about the 1950's and all women wearing dresses off the rack. If you lived in a small town, you might only have one or two stores to shop in. It would be likely you would see your friend wearing the very same dress.

Some of the painting was done from an artistic viewpoint, such as the red shoes. The repetition is very pleasing to my eye. Some clues were added as afterthoughts. The red shoes were confusing, so I added the sale sign and dollar signs to the shoes to indicate the women were shopping.

So here is the memory that sparked this painting. When I was three-years-old or so, my mother and I were in town shopping at the "Golden Rule" department store. It had a lot of sections to it, because it sold everything! It was easy for a little kid to wander off and loose sight of the parent and visa versa. So I did wander off and started to feel lost. My mom was wearing a navy blue polka dot dress, so when I spotted her dress, I ran up to her and grabbed her around her legs. When I looked up, to my dismay, the face at the top of the dress was unknown to me--it was not my mother, but another woman in a navy blue polka dot dress!

I find it totally amazing that one moment, one memory from over 60 years ago inspired this painting that has so many layers and deeper meanings. Thank you to those who have looked and shared your thoughts. So far, the painting goes untitled.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Telling My Story in Art: Borrowing and Struggling

Yes, I know, all my art tells something about me. But this is different. I am now actually painting memories of my own human life. And now I am brave enough to let me be a human figure, not a heron or salmon or rock or rapid.

Gustav Klimt - Beethoven frieze (detail) 01The inspiration for this painting came to me in Ventura, CA, last July. I wanted to paint about a specific memory of mine and had an idea that I wasn't sure how to express on paper. I wanted a row of women, but was not clear on how I might do that, nor how the rest of the painting might fit together. I don't know whether it is synchronicity or coincidence or Big Magic, but soon after my idea started brewing, I came across this image of Gustav Klimpt's Beethoven frieze. If Klimpt could do it, I could borrow the idea. Viola, I had the beginnings of this painting.

In early December I actually started drawing out my ideas. A row of women wearing identical navy blue polka dot dresses. They are shopping, all with identical shoes in hand. A little girl is running toward them.

And then it came to putting it all on a full sheet of watercolor paper. I had so much to block out and save to get the depth of color I wanted in the dresses. I used contact paper, tape and masking fluid before applying any paint.

Then I began the process of layering blue after blue after blue. Each layer has to dry completely before pouring on the next. I have learned to adjust the color as I go, adding reds or yellows to the intense blue to get just the right navy blue.

I must say there were many issues and corrections I had to make with this painting. First, I had a severe masking failure because I used very old clumpy fluid. (Just a small issue that comes with living an hour from town. I didn't want to give up studio time to go by new!)

Once I got that far, I had to peel off and begin to paint. My intentions were to make this a transparent watercolor painting, but that was ended by the masking fluid failure and I had to move on to gouache to regain the skin of my figures.

I did want a flat painting and really limited my using any dimensional means to tell this story.

At this point I had only given the little red sweater some dimension by making it a cable knit. You'll notice that the flooring is totally flat: I did not add any slant or perspective to it. I was now needing to decide "to face or not to face" the woman.

I tried subtle eyes, nose, and mouths; but even though I tried to make them look alike (my intention) they all had subtly different personalities.

Away went those faces and I settled on the half faces with lips that you see below. Then, while on our trip to SE Asia, I came to grips with the last needed details, a sale sign and shoe tags, which I added just a couple of weeks ago. The painting is now finished. I really want to know if it brings up a memory or a story within you, my reader. Please send me the story this painting tells to you. I will reveal my story in the next post! I'm also waiting for the right title. My working title is "Into a Sea of Polka Dots."

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Competitions--Entering, Rejections, and Acceptances

Lately I have been getting more of the R (rejection) letters than the A (acceptance) letters. I've consoled myself by acknowledging that I am in a transitional period.  I have been moving from river flora and fauna to more figurative work. The transition is challenging, and I have been slowly getting better at finding my voice in this new body of work.

Finally I received an "A letter" from the NWWS 46th International Open Exhibition. My painting, Enduring the Cure, was one of only 56 accepted paintings by Juror Jeanie McGuire.

After its creation, I did not post the painting or send the image out to a competition because it was about a personal experience with my daughter.** (I posted just this snippet on the right on Facebook quite awhile ago.) Finally I became comfortable with giving it a public presence.

The painting is full of symbolism and personal emotion. I felt that it had a unique presence that would not only tell part of my life story, but would resonate with almost anyone.

It has had a transformation from the original painting. Although I loved this from the beginning, I came to see the painting as too busy. You can see that the final painting has quiet corners, letting the viewer sink into a more intimate look at the figure and blanket. That is the story.

It is this edited painting that I have submitted to two other competitions before getting this acceptance to the NWWS Exhibit. The acceptance of this piece gives me confirmation that I successfully communicated  with at least one juror.

My good friend and fellow artist, Ruth Armitage told me, "Have faith in a good painting." I'm glad I took her advice. She will be giving a talk "Oh Boy! Another Rejection!" at our upcoming Watercolor Society of Oregon convention. I plan on getting a front row seat.
Enduring the Cure
Gouache on Watercolor Paper
Image 29 x 22 inches, Framed 36 x 29 inches

**Two years ago my daughter went through a radical procedure of chemotherapy and stem cell transplant to cure Multiple Sclerosis.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Seeing More of the World: Part VII Ho Chi Minh City and Mekong Delta

We flew from Hue to Da Nang, traveled 1 1/2 hours to a warm beach resort and took 2 days of R & R before our last adventures in Vietnam. To our surprise, we were the only English speakers and found ourselves in a remote resort favored by Russians. I realized that a warm beach in Vietnam would be a wonderful break from the winter in Russia.

We rested up by the pool for 2 days and then flew to Ho Chi Minh City.

Countryside near Nha Trang, Vietnam

We landed in Ho Chi Minh City and were met by a driver and guide. There was a whole city to see in one afternoon. Our first stop was the Jade Emperor Pagoda, a Taoist Temple built in 1909.

Interesting offerings were left for the Jade Emperor, including live gold fish and open drinks.

In the 17th century, the Catholic missionaries developed a Latin based script for the Vietnamese language which has been used ever since. But here we see the continued influence of Chinese based script in the Pagoda.

The beautiful ceramic rooftop decorations are unfaded and boldly colored.

Our next stop was the Reunification Palace, earlier called Independence Palace. There is an interesting history to this place which went though bombings, then rebuilding. The president who was creating his dream house was assassinated before he could live there. It became the home of his successor, Nguyen Van Thieu, who lived there until a North Vietnamese tank broke through the gates in 1975.  

The Palace is a beautiful example of 1960's architecture. The interior has an opulent decor and an interesting mix of classic Asian art/furnishing and contemporary.

The view from the upstairs reveals a grand boulevard decorated in yellow for the Lunar New Year.

We visited two more colonial buildings of importance to Ho Chi Minh City history: a small version of Notre Dame Cathedral (building materials shipped from France) and the Old Central Post Office. The interior of the Post Office has an impressive arched ceiling.
 The War Remnants Museum is a must see for Americans, expecially of our age-group. We were surprised to find that it is call the American War in Vietnam, but that certainly makes sense. It is sobering, but not new to us.  I can't say it better than this clip from Lonely Planet: Formerly the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, the War Remnants Museum is consistently popular with Western tourists. Few museums anywhere convey the brutality of war and its civilian victims. Many of the atrocities documented here were well-publicized but rarely do Westerners hear the victims of US military action tell their own stories. While some displays are one-sided, many of the most disturbing photographs illustrating US atrocities are from US sources, including those of the infamous My Lai Massacre.
The next day we headed off to the Mekong Delta. One the way we stopped at the Buddhist Vinh Trang Temple. Built in the 19th Century, it has had many renovations over the years, and recent additions of giant statues. The grounds are truly a place of peace and beauty.

We were then on to more boat rides on various boats and waterways. We visited local small businesses: coconut wood workshop, honey-bee farm, and restaurants on a canal.

We were treated to some folk music

Final thoughts

The countries we visited, Cambodia and Vietnam, have withstood terrible devastation in recent years, yet the people welcome visitors and have a warmth and friendliness I will not forget. Our fear that there would be resentment of Americans by the Vietnamese people was unwarranted. Both countries have very young populations that have different memories. 

In returning home, I am once again reminded to be grateful for all that I have from material goods to security to political freedom to drinkable faucet water. I am privileged to travel and am thankful to all the new friends I made on this journey.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Seeing More of the World: Part VI Hue

A 14-hour train ride and Hue, Vietnam

We had our last breakfast in Hanoi, overlooking the city from our top floor breakfast room at the May de Ville Hotel.

Then it was off to the train station, where we had a bit of drama when we realized our guide did not have our tickets. Very quickly the owner of the travel agency we had booked through showed up in his rain gear, having ridden over to the station on his motorbike in the rain. Before long we were boarded and on our way.

Mike snuggled up under the covers of our compartment while I caught up on my journal writing. I loved the country that we saw, and the break from sight-seeing for a day was not unwelcome. Lunch? I wouldn't recommend it.

Below you will see snippets of our train ride. I love the huge number of motorbikes waiting at a traffic light and the architecture of Vietnam: the tall skinny buildings with interesting decorations on the top level.

We had people come into our compartment, asking to practice their English with us, and eventurally ended up with two people sharing our compartment. I felt so lucky to have the lower bunks. Our views from the train ended with nightfall and we finally arrived in Hue at midnight.

Hue has the allure of once being the Royal Capital of Vietnam with many Pagodas and Emperors' Tombs. It also was the sight of one of the longest and bloodiest battles during the Vietnam War (or as they saw in Vietnam, the American War) in 1968. So as we visited the wonderful historical sights of Hue, many were or had been demolished and it is a long process to rebuild the splendor that was the Hue of the past.

We were treated to a lot of river travel while in Vietnam. This was a short trip up the Perfume River to an historical sight.

We then went back down the river to visit the Citadel and Forbidden Purple City.


And here in Central Vietnam the New Years brings apricot blossoms.

And drove to an Emperor's Tomb.

On the road we enjoyed these billboards.

The next day we traveled to Tam Giang Lagoon, a place to see the rural communities at work.

A person makes $5 for a finished chair.

After visiting the lawn furniture and bamboo weaving facility, we were off to the water to experience the fisherman's life.
A ferry ride across the lagoon.

Thank you for the tea and use of your restroom!

Laundry day

Heading back to the city of Hue, we saw plenty of the iconic rice paddies of Vietnam.

Next: our final destination, Ho Chi Minh City.