Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why I Make Art

Back then, in those preteen years of mine, my fingers used to wiggle. Sometimes my arms moved around simultaneous to the finger wiggle. Draw anything and the wiggle would stop: A chair in the restaurant, a pant leg (with or without shoe), a couch in a living room, or weeds growing outside the window. Whatever it was, people liked it. They told me I had a secret; that I possessed the miracle of art making that they could appreciate but not understand. I could pretend I was self-conscious, making a fuss about not wanting to show my sketches. That way I could reinforce their belief that I held a secret. And if I did finally allow the sketchbook to be opened by them, they were suitably awe struck and did not try to pry the miraculous secret from me.

And I, to play my part, was suitably silent and humble.

When my mother was dying of brain cancer, for the last four months of her life, I cared for her day and night. People would tell me how wonderful, how brave I was. They thought I was being so completely unselfish. I must hold some kind of secret, because they thought they wouldn't be able to do that sort of thing. But I moved into my parents' house, bathed, coaxed sips of water into, changed the diaper of, held the hand of, and tried desperately to understand the mumbled mixed up words of my dying mother for completely selfish reasons.

I wanted to be like God. I wanted to understand everything. I wanted to be omniscient. I wanted to make instant connections between life and death, and have it all make sense. I wanted to know everything and hold it all in my hands. I wanted to hold my mother's pain and her inability speak, her jumbled, mumbled words, even my dad's false teeth or the dead skin that peels off my feet, my mom's diseased cells multiplying as a cancerous tumor, her dog that never left her side, the scar on her head, the one on her neck, and her missing ovary. I wanted to care for it all.

But all I could do was care for my dying mother, and make art. I made vessels so I could try to hold that cancer and pain.

Now, I'm older. I no longer want to be like God. The vessel stage has passed (sort of). My fingers no longer wiggle and I'm happy to shove my art work in front of anyone feigning interest.

There are no more secrets. Even if there ever was one, it was only ever this simple: This is what I do.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Squirrel Bones and Possum Skulls

Although I live in the city of Los Angeles there is much undeveloped land in my neighborhood. In my backyard I have found: owl pellets with full, intact vole skeletons hidden away inside; many possum jaw bones; a squirrel carcass just fur and bones that was unfortunately squirreled away by some other animal before I could get at it. On the hillside across the street we have found: a cat skull with all its teeth; a possum tail; a portion of (I think) a small dog skull. I have even inspired little girls to collect bones for me on the hillsides of Los Angeles.

But why do I gold leaf them and put them in "ceremonial tins?"

The easy answer is: I can change something tiny (icky even) into something so big and worthy.

The short version of a complicated answer: Making forgotten dead things important - I realize now that even though my process has changed, 15+ years later, I am still making artwork about my mother's death.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Because of My Friend Rosie

For the last few years, whenever I went to visit My Friend Rosie in the neighboring State of Nevada, we would hole up in her house for 72 hours straight and craft - craft, craft, craft, craft, craft. From about 1997 - 2005 I had been on a hiatus from artmaking. These intense crafting sessions with Rosie were the closest I came to creating art.

After one such weekend a few years ago, I ended up with this...

...the very beginning of my obsession with shrinky dinks, gold leaf, and birdhouses.

Soon thereafter, in an epiphany (hey, my calendar states that today, January 6, is the Epiphany), I realized that I could embrace my crafty love in the pursuit of "serious" artmaking.

Although I still see Rosie regularly, we no longer craft together. She has recently given me permission to write about the reasons for that. Perhaps soon, I will share that story here. Thanks in more ways than one, Rosie, for giving me permission to make art again.