Monday, August 27, 2012

The Cat in Asian Art

Everybody knows that the Japanese love Hello Kitty, but there are two lesser known feline icons that I fell in love with during my time in Asia. The first is Maneki Neko, the Japanese beckoning cat. One of the first things you learn when you move to Asia is that you do NOT beckon people to you using a palms up gesture like we do in the West. Thus, Maneki Neko is not waving to you from the counter at your local Chinese restaurant; he is actually beckoning good luck into the establishment.

The second icon of feline fame in Asia is Tamasiro. The story goes that the original Tamasiro was a kitten that someone left on a Japanese subway train. The kitten was adopted by the engineers and has lived on the train ever since. He has also a hugely successful cartoon marketing tool. My favorite thing about Tamasiro? While it is considered incredibly rude to beckon with a palm up, it is apparently just fine to flip someone the bird---look closely at the purple slippers.

It was really interesting being a cat owner in Korea. In Japan, cats are somewhat revered as a general rule. In China, they are hated and despised---unless battered and fried. Koreans are still trying to come to terms with the domestic cat. Some see them as rodents to be poisoned like rats. Others are adopting them as pets following the Western model that many Koreans try so hard to emulate. Most Koreans who visited my apartment were both fascinated and terrified by Petey and Bonnie. Even my vet was a little awe struck on the first visit. "American cat very big!" I had to stop myself from saying, "Yes, and I'm not even from Texas."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

In Addition

Years ago, a decorator friend told me that people should move their art around at least once a year. Otherwise, they sort of forget what they have and start to take the pieces for granted. This is never a problem in my house. Right now, several of my own pieces, along with a few pieces of my furniture are on display at Southdown Plantation Museum. This gives me a great opportunity to try out different pieces in different places and to finally get to some projects that I have been putting off since we moved. I just finished reframing a piece by Laurie Ceesay titled Blue Bob and added it and another called Pele to Sarah's room. I should be ashamed to admit that these are $5 Walmart frames that I painted and sanded to add a vintage feel to the contemporary pieces, but I am not. I change the frames on my art as often as I change the pieces themselves, so paying frame shop prices is not an option for me. (Not to mention, it makes the art harder to swap out if it is professionally framed.)

In this same vein, I just finished reading Wendy Rodrigue's latest blog, which offers a much more eloquent explanation of why artists are a decorator's worst nightmare. It's a great story, with great photos. The only thing missing is a cat (insert smile and wink here).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Art & Decor

Event Horizon

In one of life's odd little twists of fate that wind up making things interesting, over the years I have developed a taste for contemporary art but vintage decor--and then I went and married a man whose tastes are traditional, traditional, and beige. Decorating a house is a difficult task, but decorating it to suit two people with such opposing tastes can be downright snarly.

There was one thing I was certain of about our house in Houma before I ever set foot on the property. I wanted a green guest room. Ok, really I wanted a green bedroom, but I knew there was no way I would ever get John to go for it, so I had decided to live vicariously through the guest room. I painted the walls a color called Lemon Grass and hung up lace curtains first thing because these two things remind me of my grandmother's bedroom, and what could be more vintage than Grandma's house? I then proceeded to fill the room with my mom's collection of turquoise glass and my own collection of turquoise and white garden statues. In the end, the room looked great, but the walls were bare. Thus came to be Event Horizon. One thing about making your own art, you can always dream up a piece to suit any room. I think this one even feels a little "vintage" but still contemporary enough to comply with my one decorating rule: For a room to work, it must contain one thing that is totally incongruent to the rest of the room.

Of course, in the end, all of my careful planning and effort are upstaged by the most perfect accessory any room could ask for: a sleeping cat. I love how she centers herself exactly with the throw pillow.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, John hates the room. He says the green is too bright and looks like a color you would see in a hospital or mental institution. Good thing I chose that soft yellow for the master bedroom....

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Surreal Life

I really enjoy reading the blog of New York artist Joanne Mattera--mostly because her life as a professional, big city artist is the polar opposite of mine. If you were to attend a reception for an event where her work was being shown, you would likely enjoy catered delicacies and champagne. In my world, you could replace those with homemade goodies and lemonade. Mattera and I live in totally different worlds. This was really brought home to me a few months ago when she asked a question on her blog that went something like:  How do you cope with it when someone else gets the award/exhibit/job you wanted? A lot of people weighed in on this with various methods of coping with disappointment, but not a single one of them suggested what seems to be the obvious answer to me. All of these people were focused on how they would deal with their own negative reaction to being passed over. That's Mattera's world.

In my world, I get to celebrate the success of others. If the person is not someone I know, I might send an e-mail or a card saying Congratulations! If the person is someone I know, I will call them up and invite them out for lunch or a cup of coffee to celebrate their achievement. There are two darned good reasons to behave like this. One, doing something nice will make you feel good about yourself and help you get over your disappointment. Two, the person who you are nice to is going to remember it and be more likely to give you a leg up in the future if they have a chance. My mom was always fond of saying, "What goes around, comes around." I try to remember those words of wisdom and always look at disappointments and rejections as a chance to build up not only my own character but a stockpile of good karma.

Personally, I'm glad to live in my small time art scene, but I greatly appreciate the glimpse that Mattera' blog gives me into her world. She tackles a lot of tough issues that arise in the art world straight on and often has very insightful and wise words of her own to share--not to mention the fabulous photos of art. If you don't believe me, take a look yourself:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What makes good art?

Installation at an outdoor mall where John and I stopped to have lunch on one of our trips to Seoul.
The other day, my husband and I stopped at my local art supply and framing shop on the way home from lunch so I could pick up a couple of things I needed to complete a pet portrait. A few days earlier, I had been there and noticed a really wonderful painting of a pug that I was told was done by a local high schooler. It was bright and a little abstract and showed a tremendous amount of budding creativity. So when my husband stopped near the door to admire a painting, I assumed that was the one. Of course I should have known better. He had stopped to admire a pastel of a collection of tire rims. He commented to the owner, "I am not sure about the subject matter, but this is wonderful technique." So I went over to have a look. I was not impressed; just as he was not impressed by the pug when I pointed it out to him. I didn't like the rims because they looked like something I could do on Photoshop. He didn't like the dog because it was too "artsy" for him. What is the moral of this story?

Art is as much about the viewer as it is about the piece itself or the artist. My husband is an engineer and appreciates technical skill and realism. I am a humanities instructor and appreciate creativity and originality. Given, there is some art that is just hands down good, and hardly anyone can argue the point. I mean, really, who has ever looked at Michelangelo's David and said, "Wow, it just doesn't move me." But, in general, people look at art from their own personal perspectives and either see something in it that touches them or not. This is why artists should never feel bad if someone doesn't care for their work. Not everyone comes at it from the same place.

One thing that John and I do agree on when it comes to art:  we will not be hanging any toilet seats on our walls. We both had a good laugh the day we found this unique attraction in Seoul's historic district. And, hey, maybe that is what the artist intended.

Monday, August 20, 2012

She don't lead a glamorous life...

Trash can featuring raised inlay apple.
I would like to say that I spent my weekend doing something glamorous and exciting like going to a gallery opening or a charity art auction, but the truth is I spent it tearing down a rotting arbor and helping my husband blow insulation into the attic of his shop. Oh, the things we do for love! By the time we were finished, I was wearing a thin coating of fuzzy recycled paper that left me looking a little like an oversized, sweaty, cranky teddy bear--and I was the lucky one feeding the bails into the grinder. Was it worth every minute? In a way, yes. My husband is a woodworker, and I am supportive of this hobby for three reasons. First, I have great furniture. Second, I believe that we all need some sort of creative outlet to keep us sane. Third, he is supportive of my hobbies and interests--and I am sure he has been to an art event or two that he enjoyed about as much as I enjoyed installing insulation.

Some years ago, John and I had a joint exhibit that was attended by many friends, co-workers, and complete strangers. One of his co-workers stopped to chat with me and asked me a really honest question. She said, "I understand why John builds things. It's functional, and it's a good second income for him. But of all the things you could spend your free time doing, why do you paint?"  My reply was:  "Because it's cheaper than therapy and healthier than booze." And, I was being completely and utterly honest.

When I paint/draw, it takes me to my zen place. The rest of the world melts away, my brain shuts off, and I am totally relaxed and out of myself for awhile. Sometimes when I finish a piece or stop for the day, I look at the work and think to myself, "Did I do that?" I used to joke with my husband that it was like being possessed, and it is, but in a good way.

Woodworking is more than just a second income for my husband. It is what takes him to his zen place. We all need that to stay sane in this world, so if the price of his sanity is spending an afternoon coated in cellulose, I say:  Bring on the dust mask!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Trip Down Memory Lane

For some reason, I was reminded this weekend of the lovely sculpture park/walking trail along the coast of Geoje Island near Jengsunpo that features ocean themed sculptures and a variety of beautiful blooming plants. I enjoyed many a wonderful stroll through this park with friends, and though it may sound absurd, these photos make me homesick for a land that I wasn't even born in.

If you wonder how the large tinker toy shaped object at the back of the last photo is related to the ocean, it is because you never lived in Korea. It represents the giant concrete versions that are used to form erosion barriers along the Korean coastline.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Model Behavior

My quilter friends all tell me that "cats love quilts."  Well apparently this one also loves a good drop cloth because the only time I have even seen her sit in this chair is when a freshly laundered drop cloth is draped over it to dry.

Friday, August 17, 2012

If you don't have anything nice to say...

People who know me and know how much I love the humanities might be surprised to learn that I started out my academic career as a biology major. This was mostly because my parents wanted me to "get a real job" in a field where I could make a decent living. I had always loved plants, so I figured I would go into botany when I got to university. Alas, it was not to be. My love of art, history, and especially literature was too strong, and I decided to pursue an education that was actually interesting to me. For the most part, I have always been glad that I made that decision.

A lot of times, when I meet new people, they will tell me that their child is interested in the arts, but they don't want him/her to pursue it because of the lack of job opportunities. Then they will ask if I regret my career choice due to lack of opportunities. I don't. If you are in the humanities and open minded, there will always be opportunities. There is only one thing that has ever really made me regret my decision. The humanities--art especially--is a very competitive field, and perhaps due to this, there seems to be a much higher ratio of really ornery people that you have to deal with. I noticed it a little during under-grad, and by graduate school, I felt like I was living in the world of Mean Girls. Since entering the working world, I have met a lot of really great people who are dedicated to promoting the arts, but I have also met a lot of artists, professors, gallery owners, etc. who seem to devote their lives to putting other people down and just generally being jerks. I've also met a lot of snooty, pretentious, fake people. So I always wind up telling these people, that what their child really needs to be if they want to be an artist is thick-skinned. They also need to have the good sense to ignore the mean people and to seek out the kind, genuine people who became artists or writers because they really love their fields.

Having said that, I am including a link to an interview with an artist who I have not met in person, but I love what he has to say about the field: Mr. George Rodrigue.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No Easel.....No Problem

I do almost all of my drawing on a flat surface. Don't ask me why. It's just more comfortable for me. So when I was working on this piece and decided that it needed to be vertical for part of the process, I didn't have the standard artist's easel to turn to. Instead, I put this folding step stool that my husband built for my short little person to a new use. I always tell people that if you need a problem solver, you should turn to an artist. We are good at creative solutions!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Artist's Statement

I really hate writing my own Artist's Statements for exhibits. It's not that I have difficulty writing. As an English instructor, I've written many such statements, not to mention cover letters, letters of recomendation, etc for colleagues and various other professionals. The problem is that when it comes to my own work, what I really want to say is:  "I like to draw cats." 
The truth is, I love animals. I especially love cats and their graceful, spineless poses. I like drawing pictures of my cats because it makes me happy. I like doing animal portraits because it makes the owners happy. It's hard to translate that sort of simple joy into a statement that sounds intellectual and academic. One of these days, I will write a statement for an exhibit that is totally honest and complete. My little 8 by 10 frame will contain a piece of paper that says in big, bold letters: I LIKE TO DRAW CATS.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Louie and Garfield

What I really love about doing portraits for two animals that live in the same house is the "conversation" that seems to be going on between the two pieces. In this case, I imagine Louie saying, "So, how exactly do you rate that you get to sleep anywhere you want?" and Garfield replies, "Shove off dude, I'm trying to sleep here." Or maybe Garfield doesn't reply at all, but the on going contest between cat and dog continues.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paint Brushes and Power Tools

John and I just beat the rain on our way back from Southdown Plantation/The Terrebonne Museum, where we spent the morning installing Paint Brushes and Power Tools--an exhibit of art and woodworking that will run through the end of October, with a reception being held September 30 from 2 to 4.

Southdown is one of several beautiful antebellum homes in the Houma area that has been converted into a museum. Unlike most of the homes, which have been lovingly redecorated to show visitors what life was like in the era of the Southern plantation, Southdown is a museum dedicated to preserving various aspects of local history as well as promoting the arts and local culture. It features a room dedicated to Mardi Gras, one celebrating the history and culture of the Houmas tribe, one to sugar cane, etc. It also contains this beautiful rotating exhibit room. The new director, Rachel Cherry, is a dynamic individual who has devoted herself to improving the exhibits and to bringing new and interesting exhibits into the museum on a regular basis so that it can be regularly enjoyed by locals as well as tourists. John and I are honored to have our work displayed there and hope it will encourage other local artists to share their work with the community as well. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Go Saints!

The first of a triptych that was commissioned by a friend for her new home in New Orleans. It was a totally open ended commission, which made it both fun and challenging. I knew that my friend prefers non-representational art, so I focused on creating a lot of texture and subtle symbolism. This particular piece is layered with obvious New Orleans symbolism, a cat to my stamp on the piece, and swirls that remind me both of the shape and the chaos of hurricanes. All three pieces were finished with a metallic glaze which makes them nearly impossible to photograph, but really fun to look at.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Charity Case

During the time I lived in Wisconsin, I must have seen 100 deer pass through my yard. They are beautiful, graceful, and majestic creatures, but I never really felt compelled to draw one. Then something happened that changed both my mind and my life.
I got sick--really, really sick. My doctor told me that the excruciating pain in my lymph nodes, the night sweats, and the inability to do more than feed my cats during the day was due to mono "which was going around."  I couldn't figure out how I could have gotten mono, but I trusted my doctor and believed that a few weeks of bed rest and lots of fluids would have me right as rain.
Instead, a few weeks later, I was suffering from a whole other round of symptoms. To make a long story short, a few months, hundreds of tests, and five doctors later, I finally found a doctor who was willing to ignore the test results and make a clinical diagnosis. I had Lyme's disease. In fact, I was well into Stage 2 of the disease. I already knew that I was allergic to two of the antibiotics most likely to cure my illness, and it didn't take long to establish that I was also allergic to the third. Thankfully, my doctor has seen this before and prescribed a book that detailed a regimen of herbs, vitamins, and lifestyle changes that would help my body beat this ugly bacteria into submission. It took a few more months, but I went from laying on the couch wishing I would die to sitting at my window watching the deer graze in my backyard.
Stage 2 Lyme disease is defined by the fact that the bacteria has begun attacking the nervous system. My doctor informed me that while my neurological damage was mild, it was irreparable. My short term memory is shot all to hell, my sense of direction comes and goes at will, my balance is no good. Some days I can't string a sentence together. Other days I walk into door frames or bounce off of the furniture as I make my way through the house. Just yesterday, I went to get my hair cut, and on the way there, I was overcome by a moment of disorientation, so that I had to pull over and wait for it to pass. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, but when I experience them, it is like being drunk, I am suddenly very tired, and sometimes I forget where I am and where I am going. Because of them, I no longer leave the immediate area surrounding my home by myself. This is my life since Lyme's.
The above drawing is also part of my life since Lyme's. I joined a support group for people who are suffering the long term effects of this misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mistreated disease. A fellow member put together a charity auction to help fund research. The auction was in Minnesota, so I wanted a subject that would sell well there. This drawing isn't fabulous. My hand-eye coordination was still off at the time, and frankly deer just aren't my thing. But, sometimes you have to step out of yourself and do something for someone else, for a greater good maybe.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Portrait of a Lady

One of my all time favorite animal portraits: Lily the Cat who lives with my friends Garrett and Dean. Some cats are cute, some are graceful, some are silly, but they all have attitude! Lily is famous for scaring off door to door salesmen and missionaries and for committing assault and battery on catnip plants. What can you do? 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I recently completed this 4 by 4 portrait of Molly for her owner's 90th birthday gift. Though I will always choose cats for my own work, I love drawing portraits of all kinds of animals for their owners. There are two reasons for this. 1) People love their furry companions and are almost always happy with the portraits. 2) Each one turns out differently. I usually draw from a photo, so the challenge is to make the portrait look like a piece of art--and not just a copy of the photo, while still looking enough like the pet for people to have immediate recognition.