I couldn’t stop working on “Strange Fruit”. The formal aspects of the piece weren’t sitting right with me. The yellow was garish and suddenly didn’t make sense. And people didn’t understand the third leg in the middle- my take on it was that the figure was spinning in air and so therefore it looked as if there were more legs and besides- it’s supposed to be strange. But my critic friends kept up bringing up “third leg” as a sexual reference I was unaware of related to dick size. I wanted to avoid that confusion. If you think about dead weight, it’s heavy. It doesn’t spin. It was my favorite part in the painting, but as my favorite Professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Kit White advised early on, sometimes you have to destroy your favorite part of a piece in order to make it work. Nothing is too precious to be destroyed, so I eliminated the leg with a slight echo of it below to indicate animation of the feet. I think that part works better now. But then what to do with the background? I tried to imagine what foliage in the South looks like: heavy underbrush maybe and Spanish moss hanging in big leafy trees. Perhaps an unruly crowd/mob at the bottom - but just in the abstract. There should be more of a reference to things hanging down. I painted out the yellow and replaced it with a Payne’s gray mixed with warm gray but let peeps of yellow come through for light and alluded to trunks and branches. I dragged the painting outside and my artist friend Theodore Svenningsen came over for another crit- he likes it better. I do too- but another friend couldn’t even see the figures at first- only the negative space in the background and someone else saw the background instead as ghostly images. One friend said her favorite part was the third leg and another preferred it yellow. Anyway, I’m finished with it now. I put it in the racks and am going to leave it alone. Sometimes when you overwork something the emotion can be lost. I hope that I am conveying how seriously I take the unspeakable lynching incident and the Black Lives Matter movement. As you may be able to tell, I was feeling a little insecure about the piece but a friend reassured me that “the forces for ending white racism need to move beyond African Americans and white lefties. At some point all minority groups need allies and white and black radicals have united before. It’s high time that white people speak up and against white racism”.
A new piece: “Strange Fruit”, oil paint on linen, 76” x 76”, June 2020. The title refers the lynching deaths of Abraham Smith, Thomas Shipp and James Cameron in Indiana in August 7th, 1930. In retribution for the killing of a white man and supposed assault of his girlfriend, a mob broke into a jailhouse and beat to death and hung the three black men. Abel Meeropol, a Jewish communist teacher and civil rights activist from the Bronx, had seen a picture of their lynching and carnival of white supremacy and wrote the poem as a form of political protest, which he later turned into a song. Southern trees bear a strange fruit Blood on the leaves and blood at the rootBlack bodies swinging in the southern breezeStrange fruit hanging from the poplar trees Pastoral scene of the gallant SouthThe bulging eyes and the twisted mouthScent of magnolia, sweet and freshThen the sudden smell of burning flesh Here is a fruit for the crows to pluckFor the rain to gather, for the wind to suckFor the sun to rot, for the tree to dropHere is a strange and bitter crop In the 1940’s African American jazz singer Billie Holiday made it famous not just as a song, but as a work of art. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Web007rzSOI Holiday’s father had been turned away from life-saving treatment at the hospital, because he was black, and consequently died. She sang the song to close her shows and exited while the stage was black with no following encores as a commemoration to her father and as a protest against racism. Those in support of civil rights were very supportive while other patrons vehemently opposed the song. One of those hostile to Holiday’s boldness and intent on wanting to keep blacks "in their place", was racist Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner Harry Anslinger. Anslinger wanted to crush Holiday’s career as he believed jazz was the “devil’s music” and encouraged drug abuse. He forbid her to perform the song, and knowing she was a drug user, set up a sting operation which entrapped her into purchasing heroin when she persisted in singing the song. She was sent to jail for a year and a half and upon release was denied a license to perform in cabarets. She was still able to sell out some venues but lapsed back into heavy drug abuse. When her health failed on multiple levels, she checked herself into the hospital. However, Anslinger was still bent on her destruction and had her handcuffed to the bed and forbid doctors from treating her illness. Like her father, she died days later. It is some consolation that Time named Strange Fruit the Song of the Century in 1999. Holiday was treated with the dignity she deserved and posthumously awarded 23 Grammy’s and inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. Why did I paint this? A shrink I once saw recommended that I should never defend myself, and just listen. Clearly, this is an area fraught with tension and I am sensitive to the disgusting nature of the content. Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till at the Whitney created such controversy and pain that it was removed and some might say that as a white woman, I have no right to paint such a topic. This is a very disturbing time in the country and as a member of this society, I am affected by what is happening. Sociologist Marshall McLuhan said “You cannot not communicate.” As an artist, I filter what I see, feel and think about from events in my own life and the world around me. I am a depressive. I was/am devastated by the death of George Floyd and by police abuse of power and systemic racism. We are surrounded by death tally’s daily now- with Corona virus spikes and death rates going up constantly. Like Leon Golub’s politically critical work, I express my own outrage over present day versions of lynching while at the same time offering my support for a bold outspoken woman- Billie Holiday. While she sang this song in the 40’s, the same issues still persist. This painting is open to interpretation of course. I’m not a figure painter, but one more like in the tradition of Ben Shahn with clunky characters and awkward poses. Like my big yellow painting, “My Addictions”, I focus on feet and legs. One character is clearly black, one has three legs and one is red- maybe flayed, maybe not. The yellow and reddish color paint strokes indicate an up and down movement. Their feet are misshapen and club-like. They could be dancing and jumping- they could be on their tip toes, they could be hanging and twisting in a death grip. Aside from the title, it is unspecific. I refer to my work as abstract representational. What you see is who you are. Maybe they're jumping from hell into heaven. Ultimately, I hope it is seen as my own protest work.
Feeling a bit shell-shocked at the loss of two people who were really good to me: Thomas and Ann Sergott and of Sergott Contemporary Art Alliance. Tom and Ann championed my work, and many other SoCal artists in art fairs around the States and at their Rancho Santa Fe home. Tom had a stroke a year ago. During his recovery, his wife suddenly fell ill and passed away and then he followed a few days ago. The double loss is a surprise and I’ve been despondent at the loss of both their friendships and representation. Being an artist sometimes feels akin to being an actress- just hoping someone will see your work and potential and give you a chance, handing out business cards in a sea of others. My work can be a bit of a challenge to the average art consumer because of its scale, subject matter and price: it’s not “couch art”. I was blessed that Tom saw my work when I had just finished grad school and gave me a chance to start showing. He took my work to fairs in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles and San Diego. Artists aren’t always good about aggressively pricing their work and Tom helped me make my first big sale of “Misplaced Desires” to a collector in Shanghai which felt so validating. It means a lot when my work resonates with others- but it means even more when they buy it. And whenever I came to their home, typically hungry, Ann would make sure I left well fed and chatted up at their kitchen counter. As Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
I’ve stopped applying for shows during the time of Covid because… why? Currently the future of the brick and mortar gallery system is uncertain and in crisis. It will be interesting to see which will survive and which will go under after months of being shuttered. Art fairs have been canceled and…maybe that’s okay- they were becoming exhausting and expensive- though I did enjoy dressing up and making a splash. For the time being, no art is being hung, and even if it were…would you really want to go and walk though air wafting with potential Covid? We shall see what happens with rates of infection after the huge protests. That being said, I did apply to a show at the Orange Country Center for Contemporary Arts 40th Exhibition and was accepted with my piece “End Times” (online until July 26th). We had a zoom call reception with an “attendance” of sixty plus people on Saturday. A panel of select artists talked about their work and people reminisced about the forty-year history of the gallery. (During these sorts of events, putting one’s speaker on mute and being a passive listener is to be recommended!) My pieces tend to be large and rather underwhelming on a screen- the texture doesn’t really show and you can’t get up close to see the mark-making. Plus, I photograph them myself and things tend to turn out trapezoidal and get cropped out. I know I’m supposed to have a pro do it but… saving money you know? I might apply for a couple other things, but in the meantime, it’s been really nice to have a time-out from the whole scene and to experiment a little. Here’s a picture from the OCCA show- this is just one screen of people from several screens!
New painting. "For George", oil paint on linen, 7' x 7', June 2020. How do I even begin to describe how horrifying these past few weeks in the US has been? The casual indifference of the “peace officer” who knelt on the neck of George Floyd and murdered him in the streets... the violence against protesters gathered to protest abuse of power perpetrated upon African Americans… This is the time to reflect on my white privilege and to listen to people of color. Their experience in this country has been unspeakable for centuries- beginning with slavery to institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system and socioeconomic issues which contribute to the systemic oppression of brown and black people. My first degree was a BA in Criminology with a minor in Sociology. My degree was from Canada and so the focus was on First Nations Peoples, not African Americans. However, just like in the States, minorities in Canada are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. I learned to question the constructs of society, to examine why things are the way they are and to not accept statistics but to look at the reasons behind them. Upon graduation, my professors nominated me as the top Criminology graduate of the year. However, having learned what I did, I decided I didn’t want to work within a system that systematically oppresses minorities- from the “us vs them” mentality of cops, to the failure to rehabilitate offenders, to laws that benefit corporations over people. The criminal justice system- as is it- is broken. Yes- it gets dangerous offenders off the streets and we cannot live without it. Several of my former basketball teammates and my first boyfriend are Mounties and I value the work that they do and appreciate their sacrifices and the danger they put themselves in, putting away people who are dangerous and harmful. However, speaking as a whole, for some people, the criminal justice system has failed to make society better and habitually persecutes certain communities. My life took a different direction after I graduated and after some years of meandering I decided to express myself as an artist. I’ve addressed institutionalized racism in my work before with my painting, “Albert Woodfox”, an assemblage called “Pride”, from my Sins and Sorrows series and now “For George”. I’m not a figure painter so it’s a bit clunky and I’m feeling insecure about how the cops aren’t specifically white- they’re green, pink and red. However, I’ve tried to identify them as fascists with signifiers like their black boots, armband, cuffs, belts, hat and batons. I’m also reading articles like, https://lithub.com/white-artists-need-to-start-addressing-white-supremacy-in-their-work/?fbclid=IwAR1NbkI2u6Hm_v-tneXN_cc6BgGHng3bPfWZm967LlV-tW-ZmAOe7R6eB20 and trying to analyze my work and be open to when it falls short. My latest painting is large- seven feet square- and it is bound to offend. However, I’ve always tried to reflect what is happening in society and my life and this is my honest, if awkward attempt. The movement to end racism and change the ideological hegemony of this country has been met with extreme resistance to say the least. Art should reflect the times we live in and police violence and racial justice is something that needs to be thoughtfully and empathetically addressed.
America is burning. Cops beating protesters. Looting and burning. A “good” time to revisit my piece, “Pride”, originally done in response to the KKK march in Charlottesville and part of my Sins and Sorrows series. Unfortunately still relevant. #assemblageart #assmbleage #pride#whitepride #whiteking#Americatoday.#racism #GeorgeFloyd#fightthepower
I’m sequestered in my studio near downtown LA with police helicopters overhead and sirens in the distance. Santa Monica (far, far away) is being looted and protesters are being shot and it sounds like there’s more protesting going on downtown- but I don’t have a TV and the internet here is overloaded and so slow that I don’t really know what’s going on. Instead, I’ve wandered around my studio today feeling listless and unproductive and like I should be out there, but I don’t particularly want to get shot in the face with a rubber bullet and blinded (like I’ve seen happen to others) or worse. I made a sketch of sorts of a beat down on a 7’ square canvas. I’m not a figure painter though so it looks about as bad as it did in undergraduate school- very blocky and awkward. I’m aware of my strengths and weaknesses and figure painting isn’t a strength. Nonetheless, echoes of previous paintings will always shine through and each painting is made up of dozens of ruined compositions beneath- so may slivers in this protest painting still appear in whatever it becomes.
During a time like this, one goes back to the artists who did it best- Picasso's Guernica of course. Starting a new painting that's really large. Perhaps I can borrow a few elements, or at the very least, digest some of his marks and symbols.
Finally banged out a new piece yesterday probably reflecting my frustration/sadness with flights home being canceled so unable to see my family. Here we have, "Happy Little Bridge to Nowhere", 48" x 48", oil paint on upholstery fabric, May 2020. Sort of a San Fran looking scene with a car on a dilapidated bridge ending in the middle of nowhere, detritus in the ocean below...industry tearing up a mountain side and a reference to Christo's on top of the hill. Good to finally bang one out!