Monday, September 22, 2014

girl power?

This is going to be kind of a mashup of three articles I've read recently. They're written by, or about,  interesting and accomplished women.

So first of all, you recognize Linda Carter as Wonder Woman of course. Jill Lepore wrote a piece in the New Yorker about her history. There's a firewall, subscribers only, so I'll just summarize a little of it. Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston, "a psychologist with a PhD from Harvard. A press release explained, 'Wonder Woman was conceived ... to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men' because 'the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity.'" This was only a few years after Superman and Batman were introduced.

Lepore traces Wonder Woman's origins to what she calls "feminist utopian fiction," which centered on Amazonia. The Amazons of Greek myth escaped to an island when men tried to make them slaves, and there they lived happily in their matriarchal society. It's also part of the story that the Amazons cut off one breast, the better to handle a bow and arrow. So the Wonder Woman that we know is actually quite anatomically incorrect. But what I really found interesting is that Wonder Woman was inspired by Margaret Sanger, the early champion of (then illegal) birth control, who was a member of Marsten's family. 

Today in the New York Times (another firewall, sorry) an article that coincided nicely with Lepore's, and this was all new to me as well. A professor, coincidentally also at Harvard, named Amy Cuddy, gave a TED talk that is the No. 2 most viewed of all time. The talk is on "power poses" and she references the Wonder Woman pose, that is, legs apart, hands on hips, head held high, as the key to better self-esteem, better mood, better work habits, more success. Even just visualizing a more confident pose seems to work. "Women often shrink in public settings, she said. The men in her Harvard classes shoot their arms straight up to answer questions, while the women tend toward a bent-elbow wave. Along with touching the face or neck or crossing the ankles tightly while sitting 'these postures are associated with powerlessness and intimidation and keep people back from expressing who they really are,' Ms. Cuddy said."

Even the way you get up in the morning can make all the difference in your day. Don't just rise from a fetal position- stretch your arms and legs out, and you will feel more optimistic. Sounds good. I'm going to try it, it can't hurt, right?

Now for the bad news. An article recently posted on artnet was titled "We Asked 20 Women "Is the Art World Biased?" Here's What They Said." And here's where I want to scream. Because no matter how much we talk about this, no matter how many women are now museum curators, the statistics concerning women artists are stubbornly unchanged, or nearly so. See another post on artnet: "Art World Bias by the Numbers." Women run just a quarter of US art museums with budgets over $15 million. Those leaders make just 71 cents for every $1 earned by men. New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz did his own tally of Artforum ads in the September issue: Of 73 ads for New York galleries, 11 were for solo shows by women—15 percent of the total." Women make up half of the graduating classes in art schools. So where do they go? What do they end up doing?

The reasons are largely market driven- male artists bring higher prices for their work than female artists. But there are biases ingrained in aesthetics as well, with a woman's "point of view" not valued as highly. Further consider the age factor, which exists for women but not for men.

I quote Margaret Harrison's response on the first artnet article:
As a pioneering third wave feminist artist, now observing the fourth wave (I count down from Mary Wollstonecraft and her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman), from a cursory observation, it still does exist. Even taking into account that the 2010, 2012, and 2013 winners of the Turner Prize were women, in its history since 1984 there have been 24 men to six women receiving the award. On a personal note, in 2013 I was awarded the Northern Art Prize, (known as the Turner Prize of the North). This prize, which doesn’t have an age limit—as in the case of the Turner—so is a non-ageist award, turned into an ageist event anyway. Nearly all the press, including the BBC, responded with the phrase “Pensioner wins the Northern Art Prize.” Now, there had been at least one male artist over the age of 50 (albeit not as old as myself) who had previously won the award, but age was not even discussed. It took the shine off the award [for me], as it intimated that it wasn’t about quality but more about the age of a woman artist. I subsequently was awarded one of the Paul Hamlyn [Foundation Awards for] Artists and there was no mention of age or gender, for which I will be forever grateful.
—Margaret Harrison, Artist

It's going to take a lot more than power poses to make a dent in the status quo. But Wonder Woman doesn't give up.

Friday, August 22, 2014


This post is about my wonderful studio, which I've had for almost two years.

 A couple of weeks ago I had a photo shoot with Eric Swanson, a photographer here who has a blog of artists in their studios. He's been taking photos like this since he was nineteen and he is good at it. I posted this photo of my studio on my Facebook page and people think I work in a space the size of an airplane hangar. Actually it's about 600 square feet, which is roomy but not overwhelmingly large, as it looks in the photo. All photos are copyright Eric Swanson.

Here's a photo of my keepsake wall. Some of these cards and photos I've had for a long time- a yellowed newspaper photo of a charred venetian blind from the World Trade Center, for instance, and a postcard a friend made from her own photo of the towers. I added a few cards recently.

Doilies from Chinatown in San Francisco, a white ink drawing on vellum from topographical map, a piece of intentionally crumpled paper.

Here I am about to squeegee. This was just for show, though.  Last year I started experimenting with using squeegee and mica filled acrylic paint over photographs that were transferred to Japanese paper, then folded and cut. I often use the processes of printmaking in my work- this is from silkscreening, and causes a smear of paint that is hard to control, which I like. I'll do a few and pick the one I like best. The paper doesn't always like it- some fibers come along with the paint. But I like that too. There's a subtle sheen to the paper and a not so subtle metallic look to the paint.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


I've lived in Santa Fe for over four years now and yet this morning, browsing Facebook, I saw a post that reminded me that in many ways I'm still an outsider here.

My past lives were spent in cities, where people naturally expect newcomers and accept that they bring something new to the conversation. Santa Fe is different- small town values in a way, and also people come and go here, so sometimes there is hesitation to connect with new people, because they may not stay. I've posted about this before, that one person told me to never tell anyone I've been here for less than two years or they won't bother getting to know me.

As artists, we spend many many hours alone. Probably most of our days, if we're serious. That's something I'm fully comfortable with. But then there are the moments that I feel separate and not in a good way. I have ways to overcome sadness- taking a walk along the river, feeling surrounded by beauty in the sky and the mountains, or just taking stock of what I'm grateful for is usually enough to lift my mood. But I'm lucky to not be battling depression all the time.

We've all been reminded of the danger of depression and addiction this week with the suicide of Robin Williams. Once again, as when Philip Seymour Hoffman died, everyone weighs in with their opinion, their emotional responses. Social media make it possible for us to all be pundits. We're first shocked- then we say, you know, you could see that in his performances. He seemed to be clinging to a lifeboat all the time. One thing it teaches us all- no matter how someone seems to have it all, we have no idea what their demons are. Be kind, because you just don't know when someone is suffering.

For me, the most poignant and well-written piece is this one by Russell Brand in the Guardian. Here is a quote:

What platitudes then can we fling along with the listless, insufficient wreaths at the stillness that was once so animated and wired, the silence where the laughter was? That fame and accolades are no defence against mental illness and addiction? That we live in a world that has become so negligent of human values that our brightest lights are extinguishing themselves? That we must be more vigilant, more aware, more grateful, more mindful? That we can’t tarnish this tiny slice of awareness that we share on this sphere amidst the infinite blackness with conflict and hate?
That we must reach inward and outward to the light that is inside all of us? That all around us people are suffering behind masks less interesting than the one Robin Williams wore? Do you have time to tune in to Fox News, to cement your angry views to calcify the certain misery?


Saturday, July 12, 2014

money (that's what I want)

You're probably not old enough to remember this song, but it was recorded by a bunch of people, including the Beatles. It came to mind the other day because there's been a lot of talk about how art has become commodified and some young artists are chasing after sales at the expense of developing their work. Art is big business now, and big collectors are chasing after the next big thing.

Of course this isn't a new phenomenon. Jean-Michel Basquiat was the poster boy (pun somewhat intended) for a young brilliant artist who cranked out work and flamed out early, dying before the age of 30, and his works command enormous prices now, into the millions. There's a young artist named Oscar Murillo who is being called the next Basquiat, as collectors line up to buy his work.

Anyway, the point of this post is to consider how this climate of money and sales is impacting the way artists approach their art practice. I'm not in the thick of it- I know what I do, and sales are great, and allow me to have a nice studio and pay for my supplies, but I don't make work for the reason of selling it. If I did, I'd be back doing illustrations for Lord & Taylor. It's stultifying to have to think of whether work is acceptable to the market. You have to have the freedom to develop as an artist, go down unknown avenues, fail miserably and throw things away (or not, saving them for a more objective look much later,) follow your curiosity and interests. I feel this way: art is a job and serious attention must be paid, time must be spent. It's frustrating and joyful and I'm fortunate to be able to do it. 

The other day a friend of mine, Edward Winklemann, wrote a post on his most excellent blog about how he, as a gallerist and lover of art, was dismayed at the way some artists pursue artmaking solely to make money and become famous, with a sense of entitlement and an attitude of insincerity and even dishonesty. Since I teach (actually make that past tense, as I'm letting go of my adjunct position for now) I notice that students do have a very skewed idea of what it takes to have an art career. If they were at schools in New York fame and fortune would be even more tantalizing. 

Here's a quote from Edward's post:

Increasingly I'm reading online this or that artist's opinion that cheating the system or scheming within the system to get ahead, through the creation/promotion/sale of their art is not only OK with them, but their due, because of how difficult they feel their life has been.

Edward feels, as I do, that art has a value in itself that is outside the market system, and perhaps it's with a bit of wishful thinking, feels that artists themselves should at least adhere to an ethical code that befits an individual who is creating beauty and/or thought-provoking works, as opposed to a Wall Street person, for example. (Insert dose of cynicism here about Wall Street types, that is probably unwarranted.)

Artists should emerge from their thorough explorations in looking/seeing and in particular their education in the humanities as, well, better humans. In my experience, most do. But specifically, within my concept of the role of art as a form of religion, artists are the leaders...the perceptive ones able to see and communicate sincerely with the rest of us the more important or at least interesting aspects of what it means to be a human here and now. That position comes with certain responsibilities, though. If they're not at least attempting to be good humans (and that is incompatible with willingly scheming or cheating others), then they're just hucksters demanding attention for wholly narcissistic reasons. 

There's a lot more to his post and I don't want to misrepresent what his thoughts are. He's looking to art for spiritual sustenance. It made me think about one particular thing I always told my students: don't put anything out there in the world unless it's the very best you can do. The world has enough garbage as it is. Should we as artists be held to a higher standard? It seems to me some humility and gratitude is appropriate.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


All the News That's Fit to Print, at the Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Fe, was a big success- lots of people visited and enjoyed it. It was great fun to put it together with Erin Elder of CCA. I've published images from some of the works already, so this is a summary of the show.

On the last day, we had a panel discussion with three of the exhibiting artists, whose works are below:
Adam Simon
Elissa Levy
Pat Boas

It was so interesting to hear the other artists talk about why they are attracted to working with the New York Times. Pat Boas talked about living abroad and how other countries have a national newspaper- the Times seemed to be the closest thing we have to a national newspaper. She uses content from the Times- in this work, she traced all the heads from the photos on the front page on tissue paper and each sheet would be used for a whole month, so the outlines overlap and fill the page. There are twelve drawings, one for each month. 

Elissa Levy also talked about being at a residency in Scotland and seeing how the newspapers there were full of sports. She and I are sometimes attracted to using the same front page photograph. She alters the page by painting and cutting, creating a three dimensional work that's colorful and thought-provoking.

Adam Simon's work was from a number of years ago, and stemmed from his desire to take himself out of the work by using the pre-existing design from the front page, painting out the photographs with white red or black paint, depending on his own system of hierarchy, affixing the pages to canvas and sealing them with resin. He said something at the panel that I loved- that we as artists are lucky that we can take a memorable moment from time and freeze it forever in an art piece. I think of my own work that way, because each of my cut New York Times pieces commemorates a historical event. I choose the page that jumps out at me from the paper in the morning when I open it.

I created a work specifically for the exhibition, titled Quotidian. I made vector files of the page layouts from the Times for a week, seven layouts in all. I had four of each of these laser cut into handmade gampi paper, which was folded and hung on a tall metal ladder, 16 feet to reach the ceiling joists of the gallery. The rungs of the ladder got further apart as it went up, so the paper sheets that were layered fairly thickly at the bottom were thinner at the top and seemed to float up into the space above. The image below shows the piece on site and a detail.

Other artists in the show were Guy Richards Smit, whose large watercolor facsimile of the paper full of his own funny made up news stories, was open on a large table so viewers could read it; Lauren Di Cioccio, who seals the paper in a muslin sleeve then embroiders through it to enhance the front page photograph; Francesca Pastine, who contributed a sculptural mask constructed from the financial pages and covered with copper leaf, plus moody photographs of other similar works. Shanti Grumbine recorded a sound piece that used redacted text from the paper as a kind of musical score- accompanied by a folio of prints of the score plus another print using the newspaper's design and text but overlaying her own pattern on the photographs; AJ Bocchino sent a large digital work on canvas that used headlines concerning the US relationship with Saudi Arabia dating back to the 1940's; and Fred Tomaselli painted his own phantasmagorial image on the front page photograph. 

Previewing this, I see that the text is all wonky, and I am trying to figure out how to fix it! For now, it'll have to stay put.  Why, blogger? Trust me folks, I've tried to edit so all the text is the same size, and on my page it is, but as you see it, it isn't. Mercury is in retrograde, so I've been told.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

fighting the doldrums

February. Isn't it the worst month? That's why Valentine's Day is during February. What else can you do but wait for spring? Of course Valentine's Day can be pretty awful- if you're in a relationship there's a lot of pressure. If you're not, you feel left out. But a day dedicated to love seems important and breaks up the month a bit.

Here in Santa Fe, we are in a terrible drought. We haven't had much snow, maybe an inch or two, since before Christmas. And the spring winds are starting- which kicks up the pollen, which started being released early this year, because of the warmth and dryness. The longer I live here the more I am susceptible to allergies- juniper in particular, and that's what's flying around now. You know how you look out at the New Mexico landscape and you see these green bushes all over the place?

The culprit

Anyway. I will be posting good photos of our "All the News" exhibit soon, but meanwhile here is a link to a wonderful article, one of three that were published around the time of the opening.