Leaning In With My Work

Epic 102 (Rickety Isms Failing Us All will be published in the Raven Chronicles Press Anthology, Take A Stand: Art Against Hate. The book will be published in the fall, 2019.

The acceptance contract for publishing the above piece and another drawing came right on the tail of an emotionally challenging week. I feel so grateful that my drawings can contribute to the conversation against hate and divisiveness.

And in the college, there I also lean in, trying to sow unity and peace. Sometimes more successfully than others. This week, it felt like it was a slog, though.

First, a one-on-one sesh with an artist who doesn’t feel safe in a fairly white classroom (this term I only have three African American artists in printmaking). There’s little I can say to this student to assuage her anxiety. Even when classmates don’t mean to microaggress, the many assumptions that come with white privilege almost guarantee that someone with raw feelings will feel hurt.

Following the discussion, I approached the artist whose work most affected the anxious printmaker and broached the subject of representation and choices. Oh, the white tears flowed! I don’t mean this cynically. She felt misunderstood, defensive, and hurt as well.

Navigating identity politics is dicey, any which way you cut it.

In my studio and in my teaching, I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and lean into the hard work. It may get messy, but at least I try to do what I can to encourage empathy, understanding, and open minds with my work on both sides of this creative practice.

Earlier in the day, a rather intense discussion occupied the hallways in the FA building, as an intermediate painting student explained to me the failings of Seattle Office of ARTS & Culture’s Equity and Social Justice Initiatives. Responding to an assignment to search through the Artist Trust and Arts & Culture sites to find useful links, he was deeply disappointed by the vestiges of colonialism and threats of globalism making even the most helpful links unappetizing. I was disappointed that he couldn’t see the good effort both these organizations are making to level the playing field so that all artists can thrive in our cultural ecology. That said, his criticisms were not unfounded. He was loudly skeptical of an initiative that couldn’t even hire a person of color to coordinate the Social Justice workings. He was absolutely right. I agreed with him.

An ardent idealist, I could tell, he was annoyed by my long view and willingness to chip away bit by bit at the glass ceilings keeping us from reaching greater successes. He’s more interested in lobbing Molotov cocktails to burn down the entire system and bring about radical change once and for all. Figuratively speaking, I’m sure.

Happily, one day after our discussion, the ARTS newsletter announced that Rick Reyes, seen below, is the new Racial Equity Coordinator. I feel like a happy cat in the sunshine, warming up after cold water was thrown on her.

Rick Reyes, new Racial Equity Coordinator at Seattle Office of Arts & Culture

Rick Reyes doesn’t need a Molotov cocktail to bring down the institutionalized racism that has denied countless artists of color, LGBTQIA artists, differently abled artists, and Indigenous First Peoples entry to the ranks of success in the arts economy and culture class. Neither do I.

It’ enough to lean in and do the hard work, every day. Change does happen, even when all the isms have failed us all.

Open Eyes at SAM followed by Heartbreak at Stonington Gallery

I had the most amazing time with my painting students on Thursday, when we went on field-trip to Seattle Art Museum. We got to visit the special exhibit, Jeffrey Gibson’s Like A Hammer.

Comprised of sculptures, installation, film, paintings, and mixed media objects, Gibson’s restless aesthetics reach out across gender, sexualities, and racial lines to open our eyes and our hearts to our shared humanity, and the deep wounds felt by indigenous peoples and queer communities.

Power, politics, and all kinds of hierarchies were called into question relentlessly, but without a strident voice. Gibson’s work seduces first and foremost with his color, textures, craftsmanship; gently guiding us to a reframed state of mind. I am often wowed by creative genius and this show certainly grabbed me by the eyeballs and shook me. But more than that. He reached deep into my soul.

The institutional power of museums and our colonial past was movingly called into question by a documentary project in which Gibson invited fellow Native Americans from different tribes to come to the Denver Art Museum and relate to the institution’s tribal art and artifact collections. The sense of deep loss and intergenerational trauma was so palpable I had to push back tears.

Stonigton Gallery in Pioneer Square

Afterwards, I met my printmaking class for a short gallery tour, visiting several galleries that focus some or all their programming on the graphic arts. Stonington Gallery was on our itinerary because we wanted to look at contemporary Native American printmakers.

Stonington has been a fount of knowledge about contemporary indigenous artists from the Pacific Coast and Alaska since it opened back in the late 70s. The gallery was the very first to ever give a Native American artist a solo show in Seattle and openly acknowledges on its website that the gallery and larger city of Seattle occupies unceded Duwamish lands.

So imagine my heartbreak if not outright horror to pull out a piece from the stacks in the formline style of Northwest Coast art by a non-indigenous artist! I mean, a complete, unabashed appropriation (rip-off), being sold in a gallery that has become known for its championing of indigenous arts and artists.

A student asked, are they just being influenced? Another responded that it was appropriation, an I was inclined to agree. No self-reflecting artist would ever send such an outright cultural trespass out to a gallery, much less one devoted to Northwest Coast art!

I felt a little cornered by this gross example of entitlement because in the very first lecture for the class I showed slide after slide of how printmaking as a communication and art form has bridged cultural and national lines. Like language itself, it is universally human. I told these emerging talents that culture and art form part of our shared history. And here was a predatory printmaking piece that argued loudly for cultural isolationism! Philosophically, cultural isolationism is a kind of protectionism that stems from fear of the Other. Granted, people of color and indigenous peoples have a historical basis to fear the aggressions of white and European oppressors. But it’s a two-edged sword. All we have to do is look at the atrocities committed in the name of protectionism in the past (and in the present) to know that while self-defense is important, putting up walls is always a self-defeating proposition in the long run. But I didn’t say this.

The only thing I could think to say was that context matters.

I return again to the amazing Jeffrey Gibson, who is indigenous and queer and must have experienced both micro and macro aggressions, many of these cultural, but whose generous spirit broadens our cultural touchstones and his own by including other cultures and references into his work.

I’m thinking especially of his piece Im Ein Ani Li, Mi Li-Hillel, which features a quote in Hebrew using glass beads, artificial sinew, wool, acrylic, among other materials referencing Gibson’s cultural origins. Although the Gibson features the quote by Hillel, a Jewish leader who endured Roman rule and incorporated the Star of David in his design it differs entirely from the offensive piece we saw at Stonington. For one, Gibson doesn’t try to make it look like some unearthed manuscript found on Mt Sinai, while the print artist at the gallery definitely masked his creation so that it looked like a Northwest Coast indigenous creation.

That difference means that Gibson doesn’t trespass. He doesn’t appropriate. He doesn’t feel entitled to Hillel’s culture. But he is inspired by that ancient leader’s question, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?”

We all left the gallery in a somber mood. It was a little traumatic, actually, to discover Stonington could be selling something like that. It felt like a betrayal, though of course, they can conduct business as they like.

Thankfully, we got the chance to hear from Greg Kucera at the end of our gallery walk. His recollections of the great master, Jacob Lawrence, were touching, and reminded us all that there are big souls in the world that change their societies with their art, and with their teaching. That was a real balm to my heart, to be sure!

a collection of Jacob Lawrence’s screenprints are on view at Greg Kucera Gallery


Summer Fruit

Summer is so voluptuous, ripe in the fruits of the earth. A time of pleasure.This juicy piece winks at fruit of the red palm which reminds me of the Artemis of Ephesus. As a fertility goddess she is covered in breasts.

A man’s fantasy…no one who has ever suffered breast pain during a run or that time of the month would imagine beauty quite like this!

ephesus_artemis_selcuk

My summer fruits, however, anyone can embrace year round. Voluptuous!
16″h x 12″w
oils on canvas
$950

summer fruit

Plump To The Uprights

Celebrating the fertility of the landscape discovered on a hike in the Grand Tetons park.

Begun with watercolors and finished with passages in oil on a stretched gesso canvas that was treated with a proprietary absorbent ground.  It was fun trying out different combinations of materials and then…the perfect ground!  Because what artists doesn’t have a bit of the mad scientist inside?

20″ x 16″
Oils on prepared canvas
$1,920 with shipping

Plump to the Uprights

An Easy Sweep Of Sky

This one is still drying on my easel. I’ve been hiking throughout California, encountering redwoods, meadows, vineyards. I was remembering a few lines from an Emily Dickinson poem, ” My Cocoon tightens — Colors tease –I’m feeling for the Air –A dim capacity for Wings” as I trailed a partially hidden creek.

24″ x 20″
oil on canvas
$2,200 with shipping and handling

easy sweep of sky

No matter what the weather outside, this will always bring a bit of bright skies and expansive land to mind.

Link

There’s something special about in-betweens, like the shore between land and sea, the twilight between night and day, the shimmering breath between two sets of lips. These hinges that open and close the liminal veils between here and there, this and that. Between kisses.

A Season’s Hinge In Beacon
12″ x 12″
oils on canvas

A Season's Hinge In Beacon
Perfect scale to hang in some in-between wall space in your office or home.
$700 plus shipping and handling.
Buy it from Puer on Saatchi Art

No Uncommon Destination

This delightful watercolor was inspired by the memory of the solar eclipse last year.

I’m a total urban dweller, so Emerson and Thoreau have always seemed exotic literary hors d’oeuvres, nibbled delights too rich to dine on. Or too crunchy, like a big bowl of Grape Nuts cereal.

And then there’s last summer’s car trip– a drive down to Oregon with countless other astronomy nerds that inexplicably becames something else entirely. I was in a crowd of people, and I could have been completely alone, swept away on gravitational waves.

No Uncommon Destination
22″ x 30″
watercolor on Arches

Throwback Thursday: The Coolness of Graphic Novels

First let me just say, Pipo is a saint. Pipo is my stepdad.

I remember that when I was a kid, Pipo loved reading graphic novels. I guess my mom was afraid that my brother and I would gravitate towards reading them instead of the classical fare we were encouraged to study instead, so she ridiculed the genre and anyone “low” enough to read them and then she took them from him. That’s right, TOOK them.

Ie…he let her take them from him. I now think peace at any cost is costly indeed, but those 20/20 lenses of revisionism sure are convenient.

Graphic novels are still deeply embedded in popular culture, but additionally are now recognized for the important art form they are.

One of the things that appeals to me about them is the fact that they, like public art, are not exclusive. I think it’s awesome that writers and visual artists can collaborate to bring stories to life for anyone. No exclusions!