In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
Still life with honeypot, glass salt shaker and fan. Fountain pen on paper, 9" x 6".
I've always liked the way certain objects recur in some artists' still lives, whether it's for their interesting shapes or their symbolism/role, or both. It seems like this little honeypot may be one of those objects for me. The top and saucer are silver, and the pot iself is glass. It was my mother's, and has a little chip on the rim from a spoon, but I don't remember her ever using it. In our old house there was a pantry off the kitchen, with broad shelves. We never kept food in there though - it became more of a closet for overflow dishes and seldom-used equipment; my father added a coat rack for our winter coats, and built a hanging rack for the vacuum cleaner hose and nozzles; the pantry was the home of the carpet sweeper...that sort of thing.
The honeypot lived on one of those broad shelves, behind a teapot and a set of cups: I can remember it quite clearly, but it never came out to the table, probably because we seldom used honey, except for the squeezable bear that was kept with the baking supplies. Eventually, when my parents moved to their house on the lake, the honeypot came along and was kept in a more prominent place near the everyday sugar bowl and cream itcher, but it was never filled, and never used.
So, a few weeks ago when I was at the lake house, I took it out and brought it back with me; I polished the silver and cleaned the glass, and set it on our table -- that's when I made this drawing.
Last week I bought some new honey with delicious flavor -- a piece of comb suspended within it like an insect in amber -- and filled the pot. I study it as I sit at the table: the little silver bee perched on it the top of its old-fashioned, domed hive, reminding me sometimes of pair of bronzed baby shoes and other times of ancient Greek gold ewelry in the shape of bees. I sit there wondering why it intrigues me so much, wondering where it came from, aware I'll probably never know.
Delphinium petals and a fossil, acrylic on paper, 6" x 3"
Once again, this is part of a larger painting, but when I got out the cropping corners, this is the part that I liked - partly because I'm partial to that fossil, but also because the composition and colors just work better. In the full version below, I think the leaves on the left side are too fussy and the daisies feel a little too literal - in this style of painting simple shapes are required, and a lot of attention to positive/negative balance. I do like the stiles of the chairback, though.
The national holiday up here, of course, is July 1, Canada Day, but for me the Fourth of July will always mean parades, cookouts, bonfires, and fireworks, American-style. We've been in the studio all day but are about ready to go home, have a drink, watch some soccer, and maybe fire up the seldom-used grill.
A recent piece by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian, titled "How to Think about Writing," caught my attention (thanks to Martine Page for the link) because he seemed to be describing how I've always felt about blogging -- at least the sort of blogging I do, and like to read -- but it also applies generally to much of the writing I admire.
"When you write," Pinker says, "you should pretend that you, the writer, see something in the world that's interesting, and that you're directing the attention of your reader to that thing."
Perhaps this seems stupidly obvious. How else could anyone write? Yet much bad writing happens when people abandon this approach. Academics can be more concerned with showcasing their knowledge; bureaucrats can be more concerned with covering their backsides; journalists can be more concerned with breaking the news first, or making their readers angry. All interfere with "joint attention", making writing less transparent.
Couldn't agree more, though I never thought of it quite so simply. As Burkeman points out, many writers start with this as a goal, but somehow abandon or forget it along the way. As a meditator, I'd venture to guess that what gets in the way is our ego: the writing becomes about us: our emotions, desires, problems, needs, the particular ax we want to grind. In other words, we forget that the reader is standing beside us, or sitting across from us, waiting for something to unfold; waiting to be delighted, surprised, enlightened; waiting to ponder; waiting for her world to open and shift ever so slightly, waiting to be changed. That can happen through a little quirk of human behavior shown through dialogue, or through a single sentence of luminous descriptive prose, a line of poetry that reveals the familiar through an entirely new lens -- and of course, I think it can also happen through drawing and painting and all the other arts. Burkeman concludes with this advice, worth printing out and putting on my studio wall:
The reader wants to see; your job is to do the pointing.
Of course, it really isn't that simple. First we have to train ourselves to be people who actually see something: people who are able to quiet down enough that we become an eye, an ear, a sensitive skin, but not so sensitive that we cannot bear it. Then we have to learn how to express what we have learned through our senses, intelligence, and experience. Finally, we have to learn how to give it away - how to point our effort toward the invisible reader rather than back at ourselves; how to become a vessel that fills and empties over and over again.
It was therapy...I had a tooth pulled Thursday morning and as the novocaine wore off, I did some drawing on the terrace to distract myself. Everything's pretty much OK now. It was good to lose myself in those fuzzy stems, busy petals, and crinkly leaves.
We took a quick trip across the border recently, for business, and drove through some of the small towns at the very top of New York State. In comparison to the well-kept Quebec farms, these areas look hard-hit by the economic downturn, just as it does in central New York where I grew up. The original downtown of Champlain, New York, is pretty much abandoned, the fine old brick and stone structures empty, boarded-up, windowless. Rouse's Point, on Lake Champlain itself, has a large marina and some restaurants on the main street, but all the shopping has moved to new little malls with a grocery store, post office, drugstore, liquor store and laundry on the outskirts. For bigger shopping trips, the residents probably drive down to Plattsburgh, 20 miles south.
We stopped for lunch at a diner, The Squirrel's Nest, in Rouse's Point. The diner was one half of two connected storefronts; the other was a bar with a few tables and a heavily-varnished massive wooden bar with curved ends made of glass blocks; it looked like it had been there a long time. We sat at a booth in the diner and ordered the soup and half-sandwich special. The soup was hamburg-macaroni -- what my mom used to call hamburg chowder - and it was just as delicious as hers. The turkey salad sandwich came as a piece of roast turkey in bread with mayonnaise - not exactly turkey salad, and without a tomato slice or lettuce leaf in sight -- but good anyway. The placemats and the walls were decorated with black and white historical photographs of the town: fine old homes and hotels, sleighs and snowstorms, factory workers, women in white shirtwaists, carriages, old signs. A few old artifacts and antiques also hung on the walls. As in central New York, a lot of people look to the past for their identity; why wouldn't they?
A stuffed squirrel presided over the restaurant's old soda fountain, with its stainless steel fixtures. "Wow," J. said, "I wonder if they can make a milk shake."
I shrugged. "Why don't you ask?"
But the waitress - a teenage girl -- looked confused at the term "milkshake" and said she'd "have to ask the kitchen."
"Don't worry," J. said. "I was just looking at the old soda fountain and wondered if everything was still working."
"Oh, no," she said, "that stuff is just there for show -- it's, like, from the fifties."
"Yep," I said to J. after she walked away. "And so are we!"
On a recent weekend we made our first foray to the Jean-Talon market with friends (she writes the blog Passage des Perles, he is one of the best and most knowledgeable cooks we've met in Montreal.) Thought you might like to see the colors and beauty too.
Enchanted mushroom forests.
Considering the wild asparagus.
Artisanal breads at Joe le Croute.
Foxglove plants, wanting to go home with me (they didn't.)
Radishes that did.
Are you starting to shop at farmers' markets or get deliveries of a CSA basket, or harvesting some produce and flowers of your own? I'm curious if the variety, freshness, and local availability of produce and local food products (honey, cheese, yogurt, etc.) have improved in your region in the last decade. It's a simple way we can all help the earth, support local agriculture and the local economy, as well as improve our own health and state of mind. What could be better than that? Bon été, bon appétit!
Bougainvilla, hexagonal tile and chased copper bowl. Pen on paper, 9" x 12".
I've been wanting to buy a bougainvilla for years but they're a) expensive and b) hard to grow and winter-over in the north. Mexico City put me over the top, though, so when I saw some first-year seedling plants thsi spring at one of the flower kiosks near a metro station, I picked one up...and once you pick up the pot, you're done for. The proprietor was knowledgeable and I asked him some questions about wintering the plant over - he said he and his partner do it every year, and so long as there's enough sun and you don't over-water, it will be OK. What the hell, I figured -- this wasn't a $40 hanging basket. I've had good luck with lantanas at our studio, where the winter light is quite strong and constant and I can keep a good eye on the plants - I cut them back pretty ruthlessly when they get leggy and pale, and they come back every year. Have any of you tried this with a bougainvilla?
Anyway, I want to paint it before I put it in its permanent pot, so today it got sketched. The flower bracts are strange, kind of like poinsettias, very much like a different kind of leaf - and they are an odd shape - a set of three petals that almost form a cube or square. Like a dog that has to circle around its tail three times before lying down, I seem to have to study plants by drawing them before I can do anything else, certainly not the simplification that will be necessary here. Of course the color is the main thing, but I like the plant's sturdy gangliness too.
My father-in-law's birthday was a few days ago, and I've been thinking about him -- he would have been 105. Through his stories, bougainvilla also makes me think of the Middle East, so I added a chased copper bowl that is part of a set from J.'s family, and am thinking about some other characters who could play a part in a still life. The bowl worked a whole lot better when I turned it upside down.
Jonathan with a bougainvilla in all its glory, at the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadelupe, Mexico City.
Lemon Lily and Lupine, approx 6"x 9", acrylic on paper.
I've been staring at a vase of flowers for several days - it had the aforementioned two types of flowers in it but also some ornamental clover on thin red stalks, and some bright green peony leaves. I couldn't take my eyes off the combination of that intense red and green, for which the lemon-yellow lily and purple lupine seemed like perfect foils. I wasn't sure what to do with it, but yesterday I picked a similar bouquet at the garden and took it up to the studio. The light there was very different, much more diffuse and softer, and the colors didn't have the same jolt, but when I viewed the bouquet from above, I saw more possibilities. So I decided to try to simplify it within a fairly abstract setting, and this was the result. I started with the "chair" on which the flowers were resting - my original intention was for it to be dark, with this reddish-brown underpainting, but I liked the color and everything else sort of evolved from there.
The reason I mentioned "via negativa" is that the process seemed so subtractive. During the painting I simplified the leaves a great deal and painted the lupines with a sort of shorthand. That was only possible because of the previous, detailed drawings I had done, during which the forms had become kind of imprinted in my head. It fascinates me how "line" becomes "form;" there's some sort of subtle shift in the brain that allows all that detail to be distilled and reduced to its essence.
By the same token, while I'm still far from feeling really comfortable with acrylics, all the paintings over the past few weeks helped me in this one. It's very different for me to work with opaque media (except for oils, whose unique challenges and advantages do not include working quickly in layers) -- and I'm finding that it opens up a lot of possibilities.
Anyway, I hope to be able to build on what happened here.