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Phantom Pain

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My Father lost his leg in Normandy during World War II. No one in our family ever talked about his missing limb, though I grew up surrounded by heavy wooden prostheses. Well before the present-day prosthesis (He insisted on keeping the old ones for some reason.) Massive wooden legs stood behind every door in our house, and they were always falling down unexpectedly. We would be eating dinner, perhaps, and one would crash like a giant redwood.

He was awarded the three most prestigious medals, which were kept in the bottom of a drawer. He did not feel a hero – He returned from France, a silent man.

I didn't like crossing the street with my father. He would hold on to me for balance and limp across, never fast enough for my taste. I would watch in a panic as the cars came toward us. We are going to die, I'd think. From the safety of the far curb, my mother would chide him: “Leo, come on. You can walk faster than that.” He married the perfect companion.

My father was a salesman at a men's clothing store and stood all day long at his job. Occasionally, I would glimpse him getting dressed for work, hopping across the bedroom to grab one of the legs leaning against the wall. He would start by putting a special sock over his stump, to make the leg fit better. Those thick, funnel-shaped socks were always drying in the bathroom, hanging in a neat row over the shower rod. I would see them every day as I got ready for school: a row of hand-washed socks with faded brown stains. I saw them so often I barely noticed them.

Years after my father died, I remembered those socks and the red/brown stains. How could I have been so oblivious? The stains were blood, so much that even my mother's constant hand washing could never fully remove it.

For my father.

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Witch Hunts & Other Idle Party Favors

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“Rumour is a pipe / Blown by surmises, jealousies, [and] conjectures”
Shakespeare, Henry IV Part II

Imagine yourself sitting by a table, at a dinner party in a friend’s home. Conversation flows, and you find yourself in a trustworthy companionship. As talk unfolds, a guest talks about a mutual friend and laughs. With no reason to assume misrepresentation, you take the guest’s words as truth and unknowingly absorb Rumor’s malignant tendrils. Kool-Aid drunk, with no alternative presented, Rumor breeds, ready to stalk her next prey.

While this account may seem overly poetic, the point stands that rumor and slander exist as hurtful actions within our world. Throughout my life, a common trait among my friends is that we have been bullied. Victims, we and our families, are far too familiar with this pain. According to the CDC, “Youth who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior.” Furthermore, studies supported by the CDC show an increase of 24% in suicide rates from 1999 to 2014, a raise from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population. Whether correlation or causation, the facts are devastating. I hate knowing that my friends and I contribute to behavior that spreads fear in children’s hearts.

But the real problem is that children are not the only victims of this hatred. Bullies do not disappear when they graduate from high school. They climb the social and economic ladder with everyone else, and they feed the epidemic that has spanned generations. Rumor, gossip, and slander may be the more recognized names for “matured” bullying tactics, but the aim and the effects of the actions are the same: defamation and pain, with intent to destroy.

Some find themselves boggled at the phenomenon of such negative attributes resurfacing so regularly within our communities. Yet television, advertisements, games, magazines, and theaters lavishly indulge in tales of gossip and social ill will. Just check the tabloids next time you are in the grocery store. A main theme of entertainment has always been verbal contagion. Characters stir confusion and the audience chortles with rapturous glee. But in the real world when the audience laughs, victims do not get to walk off stage; they have to keep living their lives, attacked.

I am not stating my opinion on bullying. I am saying that bullying is empirically bad. With noted effects of bullying including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and poor social functioning, to argue in the case of bullying is amoral. Bullying can shorten, endanger, – and I have seen it firsthand – destroy lives. Age irrelevant.

Gossiping about the person who is not at the table is truthfully more dangerous than speaking it to his or her face, for they cannot join the conversation and have no opportunity for rebuttal. It is the person who is not even present, the person who is not even aware their name has been mentioned, the person who has no opportunity to share their side of a narrative; it is the most helpless person who is being slandered.

Sacrificing the absentee for one’s own personal gain is far from mighty. Yet this is not the consensus, for we are a people divided by our words against one another. We choose to brew anger and hurt. Communities from college campuses to small towns, cities, states, and countries spread lies and falsely label others. At a time when the world is brimming with hatred and mistrust, stirring new gossip for a petty triumph seems even more unnecessary than ever.

Perhaps the next social encounter could do without character assassination.                                

 

Additional Readings:
https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db241.htm
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/04/22/474888854/suicide-rates-climb-in-u-s-especially-among-adolescent-girls
https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying-suicide-translation-final-a.pdf
http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1995-43433-001
https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.pdf

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Human Rights

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The series human rights is different from all the work that has come before, yet it is simultaneously a culmination of that which preceded it. Painted on dark, rich backgrounds, the faces and bodies are shown as if emerging from the darkness.  It is not intended to speak directly to human rights in the modern, political sense, but rather it begs the viewer to think of the ideas of the human body as a source of Power, particular energy, radiance, and inherent complexity. this work speaks from a place of survival. The bright lights on darkened surfaces call forth the dichotomy of both hope and despair, which goes far beyond life today and extends itself to the entire history of the human condition. Shown without any contextualizing clothing or hair, these figures do not belong to any era; they float in the darkness, a beacon of light and, simultaneously, a reminder of that which is lost

The finger marks are clear in the form of the figures and the shadows surrounding them. This personal touch draws a poignant trace of personalism and specificity into an otherwise hauntingly ambiguous work. this work addresses all of humanity -- this is not a mystical otherworld, it is drawn from a reality, and because it is my reality, it is my truth. This realization of the viewer is the final piece to the enigmatic puzzle of this work: It is the human condition to create, it is the human struggle to be polarized, but it is the human right to speak ones truth. to survive.

Today, I give homage to Elie Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with human rights. Who fought for peace, human rights and simple human decency. 

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Drawings

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My drawings have always mattered to me. Their simplicity helps me to internally understand what is going on behind the marks, to understand process. And it is the process of making art that fascinates me most. The process begins with recognition, a trust in recognition. I first begin to make marks, varying pressures and tones—just drawing. If then I persevere, I see something personal, a clue, something that I recognize, and something that feels familiar and resonates unlike any other work I have seen before.

I leave the drawing alone. I leave the studio. I come back and spend time with it, getting to know it better. If it still surprises, I then look for more clues. Content begins to make itself known to me. The process becomes a communal experience. The drawing is giving me information: how to proceed and where to go. I am not interested in intellectual concepts. The work has to be experiential. I try to take significant moments in my life and draw them in a believable way. These drawings are pared down, just using mixed media.

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Portraits

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This ongoing work is about connection above all else. Portraiture is not an anonymous union of faces, quite to the contrary every work is an opportunity for truth to manifest itself. As an artist, there is a compulsion to express. Everything that is encountered is fuel to add to that creative drive. In this digitized world of disconnection in which millions of people hide their pain behind screens, both literal and metaphorical, there is so much need that is untouched upon. This is a time when not many people are listening and paying attention, but there is so much fear and so much pain. series _ Portrait is a genuine attempt to allow the figure to reach out and establish connection and open a dialogue stemming from an authentic desire to simply be of true help. These portraits hope to touch on something in the human condition that allows individual people and people on a universal scale to survive through the incredibly trying situations that they are faced with.

 

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Giacometti to Ground 0

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Sometimes I forget to breath. When I become aware of this, I take deep breaths, I try to remember. I have tried to pay attention, when this happens, why it happens, and then I forget again. Philip Guston consoled Painters "to live without consolation, to keep their eyes wide open, and to not look away." The studio is a place to sit with things, there is work to be done. There is a lot to sit with. I had been in my studio far too long. Solitude, my best and worst friend. The Museum of Modern Art was having an exhibit of Alberto Giacometti's works. That was a good reason to leave the studio and possible going to the World Trade Center Site. Maybe not. Had it become a tourist attraction? The Giacometti show was astounding. There weren't many people in the museum that day., two days after 9/11. I felt privileged to be there. It had the intimacy and directness of a studio visit. A primitive simplicity. Gallery through gallery his work sang. I listen to the compassion for man kind. his life's work. To see all the works together, so powerful, but vulnerable. After spending two days at the museum, long forgotten words entered my thoughts. "Don't seek what your sage's found, seek what they sought." Giacometti had left a trail. Trusting my instincts, I went to the museum of African Art Bamana and the Art of Existence of Mali, ancestral tribal images, so majestic, which we had inherited? The conflict I originally had of going to Ground 0 no longer existed. Now it was necessary. A place to pay respect. Pockets brimming with tissues, I would not need them. I felt detached. Closer and closer, I wanted to feel something, beside the numbness. The magnitude of this hate was too much to comprehend. At some point a relationship between the art and the tragedy impacted me, all came out of the vulnerability. The primitive in all of us had surfaced. Not contaied behind the guarded museum walls. I am not sure what I came away with but questions. What does it mean to be human? It was time to return to solitude of the studio, and remember to breath.

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Guardian

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The Guardian series is one that is particularly difficult to attach an explanation. Everything, even from the name, to the images, inspiration, and effects evades concise description. When people first see these images they often think of the winged figures before them angels, but this conclusion is not the intent of the work. This work, like all my work comes from deep within me, inspired by my own experiences and manifesting itself within my work. When I set forth to make a new piece I give myself over to the process. I must let go completely, or the work will never go beyond the limitations of a conscious mind. It is imperative that I allow my work to flow forth from me quickly, overpowering the psyche. I trust this process. I have been doing it for years. When my whole body enters into the work and I am open to whatever is about to come forth that is when my work is able to be successful.

This series in particular goes beyond any political concept or belief. It is much nearer to the realm of spirituality than I am usually comfortable with. I do not consider myself a religious person, but the experience of faith, of believing in the process of life, is one that I have closely identified with since my childhood. As a young girl with a difficult upbringing, I often found myself taking long bus rides, after school, no destination in mind, completely fearless, yet infinitely vulnerable to the adventure before me. Likewise, I would wander through deeps woods around my home, always off the path, trusting that no real harm would come to me despite having no knowledge of where the day and the woods would take me. This experience of blind, bold faith is undeniably parallel to the process in which I make art. Just as I had no sense of direction or control on a bus or in the woods, so too am I completely lost as I open myself and let me work take me wherever it requires that I go. The world, the work, always surprises me, as it should, yet simultaneously is protective of me.

It has always seemed to me, since my wandering childhood days, that there is far too much emphasis for us to stay on the path. As human beings we are often prescribed a direction, and given the impression that following it is our only hope. I know from experience that this is not the case. These paths are not our salvation. We need to be able to forage our own paths, sometimes emerging from the forest with scratched and bloody knees, but knowing all the while that the choices we are making are our own.

        This ability to fearlessly have faith and trust in one’s safety is one that I hope to give to others through my work. I cannot protect people from the pain that is inevitable in life, but I can do my best to give people hope. So often I am approached by someone who has been moved by my work, and has found that it gave them a sense of empowerment, or of peace or safety, in a particularly trying time. This effect was never my meaning - when I began making art, but after years of this pattern repeating itself I have come to acknowledge this surprising quality that my work has. It can act as a touchstone, not all the time but occasionally, for someone in need of hope or purpose. It is my story, the fearless quality of my childhood manifesting in my work, reminding people that it is possible to stray far from the path and simultaneously hold faith that one will encounter adventure and arrive through an experience safely. 

While I was always this protective figure for my younger siblings, I do not see these paintings in any way to be portraits of myself as the guardian or even a statement saying that I have the answers for anyone who is struggling. As always, I see my work not as answers but as as explorations of questions, attempting to stem my own infinite curiosity about people, the world, and myself.

        There are so many people in this world who are in need of hope, and the people attempting to help them are not the ones who you hear about. I am not someone who has the tools to help everyone in need, but if it is even possible for me to help direct someone to a place from which they can achieve real help that is an accomplishment all on its own. The difficulty arises when people relate to this experience of finding insight in a painting as some miracle that I am working. I am no shaman or magician. I paint my truth, and when someone finds a message that inspires them within that truth that is simply a wondrous coincidence. However coincidental, these experiences often reaffirm my belief that this is the work I was meant to be doing. I am no savior of the people. It is an artist’s compulsion to transform their experiences into images, and all one can do is hope that the effect these images have is a positive one. 

When I first began this series I felt embarrassed, afraid that someone might read them as self-righteous or preaching. I even left off the wings of the figures, not wanting to reach into the realm of religious iconography. As I paint more, however, I know that they are far from these things and my confidence in presenting them grows. These images are not of stereotypical, beautiful archangels of the heavens looking down upon earth in all their disconnected guardianship. The figures I am producing have elements of the mundane, a kind of nonchalance that grounds them in the world of humanity and humility. They are growing, both in strength and authority. They are not of the distant sky, but rather are terrestrial spirits exhibiting the natural human ability to rise forth out of darkness into the light, with fearlessness, and, above all, with faith in the ability to stray from “the path” and still arrive safely at a destination.

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Excuses

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I was never a big fan of formal education, so when my son decided he had better things to do than attend his high-school classes, I supported him. He wanted to become a filmmaker, and I wrote notes to excuse him from school so that he could shoot film and go to the movies. He attended only enough classes to graduate, and I wrote many excuse notes, always to a woman named Ms. Finn. I pictured Ms. Finn as half librarian, half prison warden, frowning at my notes, scrutinizing every word, looking for some hole in the iron-clad excuses I had concocted. This battle of wits with Ms. Finn inspired me to write even better excuses, brimming with legitimacy. I raised the excuse note to an art form. Then one day my son told me Ms. Finn was not actually reading these notes. In fact, she was barely looking at them. Ms. Finn, it turned out, was a long-haired free spirit not much older than my son. The image of Ms. Finn as a carefree hippie sapped the intrigue from my excuse writing — until I came up with a new angle: I would write excuse notes so outrageous that even she couldn't ignore them. With each failed attempt, I turned up the heat, to the point where my notes lost touch with reality: “Dear Ms. Finn, Michael has yellow fever.” “Michael has grown suspicious of his pets.”

“Michael just learned that he has an evil twin.” But my personal favorite was the simplest.

On a large piece of paper, I wrote just three words: “No clean clothes.”

 

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