When I get stuck in my painting, I can usually find my way back into a creative space by either drawing or its closely related cousin, printmaking. I’ve been working out ideas through engraving, a technique of directly scribing an image onto a plate. The beauty of engraving is the act of drawing at its most physical and direct. And then, you get to create variances through ink, paper, wipes, etc. The Migrations series isn’t done with me, though I had hoped I could move on, and so I have been spending time in the print studio working.
I pulled a proof today, black ink on chine colle. The colle is a pixilated antique map of Santiago de Cuba. Can you see the body against the map in the print?
I think of this figure as an archetypal hero, arms raised to banish false freedoms. Santiago has always been central to Cuban independence and freedom. The birthplace of El Titan de Bronze, the home of Frank Pais, and it was from a balcony in Santiago that Fidel Castro declared the revolution a success on January 1, 1959. Santiago de Cuba is also where La Trampa was sited, the camp for political dissidents I was carted off to at the age of 6 with my family. My brother was 8. We must have been so dangerous to Cuba’s freedom and revolution!
When I think of my catastrophic experience of Cuba’s “freedom” I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to be here, in the USA as an American citizen. It’s true that I have found freedom here, that it is here that I fell in love with my California sunshine– my husband Scott– as red-blooded American homegrown as they get. In my heart and mind, I think of the USA as the land of the free and the brave. How tragic that now I can’t help but also think of the young Latinx children incarcerated at the border…they must be very dangerous to the American way of life, to the USA. Like my brother and I were to the Cuban government?
I thought I was done with the Migrations series, of wrestling with the Hanged Man archetype, but it seems like I am not. This week I learned that I didn’t get the funding for a project which merges the symbolism of borders, disenfranchisement, and political punishment with that of the archetype of the Union of Opposites, or the Lovers.
That’s okay. I’ll keep knocking til they let me in.
In conversation with a student this past week over identity politics, the vulnerabilities we face when traveling abroad as an American and coming back home as a person of color…what scrutinies do we face in our privilege on the one hand, and our disenfranchisement on the other?
To what extent are we our social status and history, are we our biology? The young artist I was speaking to wants to visit his ancestral home of Iran. Like me, he has fair skin and dark hair. Those that are bent on projecting the racial binarism of the USA onto all others would call him white. As they have me on occasion.
They don’t care that my family was kicked out of a restaurant because “No dogs, no Cubans, no N-word allowed.” Or the times I was told to swim home. Or the times I have been yelled at to speak English or American when I’ve been on the phone speaking Spanish. Or how my bank of over 25 years called to ask me if I was an American citizen shortly after Trump was elected president. I’m not the only one either!
Were they hoping they could report me to ICE and seize my accounts and property? I know Trump lost the popular vote, but not by a statistically significant majority. With a couple of neighbors that flaunt Confederacy flags I would have to be Pollyannaish to feel like my citizenship insulates me. It didn’t insulate Japanese-Americans during WWII. Even those born here.
It’s part of the reason why deracinating the Latinx body is a micro-aggressive act that feels like my very bones are being beaten out of my skin. What’s purpose anyway? There’s no triage for our hurt, our disenfranchisement, for the systemic exclusions of entrenched racisms? Everyone bleeds from deep cuts.
Identity and embodiment go hand in hand. And embodiment is serious business.
This young artist, he thinks that being an American citizen will insulate him from political malice when he travels abroad. I don’t think Trump would blink if something were to happen to him.
He was born here…but he’s a hyphen. Couldn’t we all write a whole tome about what that means?!
The questions of individual-social, or biology-identity are complex. Such rich territory for phenomenological and creative exploration…in any media, in any discipline! And it all begins with our embodiment.
I can’t for the life of me understand academics and artists who think figuration is somehow a lesser creative endeavor. They must have taken the biggest gulp of Cartesian Cool-aid!
I took my students to the Seattle Art Museum today, in preparation for the drawing Final. In conversation with one of the emerging artists in class, I found out that she had taught high school for five years before the system broke her.
Like me, she’s uncomfortable speaking in front of a class, so she marveled at how personable I am, despite introversion. Being personable is easy for me because though introverted I honest to goodness like people. All different kinds of people– they don’t have to agree with my politics or like what I like for me to enjoy their stories and points of view. I know that in our highly polarized world that’s unusual. But I was fortunate enough to have a socialist father and fascist mother who fell in love and married just 12 days after their initial meeting. From them, I learned that hearts don’t have to be defined or constrained by isms of any kind.
What’s always hard for me is the return to the classroom, standing at the front, with all eyes on me. It usually gives me insomnia the first week of each term, due to the anxiety of meeting so many new people all at once. I can feel sorry for myself when I’m tired like that. And then I remember that being a studio artist, being a public artist, being a teaching artist– these are all blessings that grace my life with opportunities to contribute to our larger cultural and art ecology.
Surrounded by the artworks and objects created by countless fine and crafts artists throughout the centuries, I was filled with a sense of responsibility and gratitude. Grateful to Seattle Art Museum for always welcoming my students. Grateful to all the hands that fashioned the works that engage us across time, unbound by the confines of nation, culture, gender. Like I do in the studio, as my students do in our classroom, each of these artists once upon a time touched this material world with their hearts their hands their minds leaving behind an indelible trace, a contribution to that great legacy to which we are all heirs.
I’ll spend quiet, reflective time in the studio over the summer. The easel is my home sweet home, but certainly, not my only opportunity to contribute.
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 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.
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.
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 occupiesunceded Duwamish lands.
So imagine my heartbreak if not outright horror to pull out a piece from the stacks in the formlinestyle 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!
I’m so excited to announce that the latest volume of Lunch Ticket is featuring work from the Migrations series. This art and academic publication is published by Antioch University in Los Angeles, and I’m truly humbled to be featured.Want to see? Take a look: Migrations series on Lunch Ticket
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!
My summer fruits, however, anyone can embrace year round. Voluptuous!
16″h x 12″w
oils on canvas
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
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
No matter what the weather outside, this will always bring a bit of bright skies and expansive land to mind.
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