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one more peek

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"True realism consists in revealing the surprising things which habit keeps covered and prevents us from seeing.
" -- Jean Cocteau

I went to the Garfield Park Conservatory for one more peek of the Niki in the Garden exhibit before it closed.  It was dark, around 7pm.  The Master Gardeners annual award meeting was being held in one of the banquet rooms.  By day the sculptures sparkled, but at night they became mythical, mystical figures holding guard.  Huge ferns, palms and other lush plants towered overhead as robust Nulas danced in the water.
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Sweet Pea was relieved. In years past I would drag her to these meetings.  When you aren't married, your family lives in another city, friends are busy, and a babysitter costs $10 an hour, one has little choice but to occasionally bore the heck out their kid.  But last night, well last night I think she missed something special.
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She missed the magic of the exhibition as it twinkled in the twilight and she missed live opera.  Yes, we gardeners are a creative lot.  One of the newest members is an opera singer with the Lyric Opera.  He had a friend from the Met in New York join him in a series of songs based on plants, gardening and Nature herself.  If you happen to remember a posting from a few months back, then you know I love opera.  My first taste of it is what set me on the path I have chosen.  So imagine- live opera AND Niki de Sainte Phalle's work in one place.  Now add a gardening friend who brings you rare heirloom apples and bags full of different flowers for the dye pot.....I was on happy overload.


niki in the garden

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"Nature, dragons, monsters, and animals have kept me in touch with the feelings I had about these things as a child.  I feel that the part of me that stayed a child is the artist in me."  -- Niki de Saint Phalle

Last Sunday was the last gasp of summer.  Despite the sweater my daughter is seen to be wearing, the temperature soared to 78 degrees which is about 20 degrees higher than normal.  I was loving every golden drop of it.  We started out at our local farmer's market where I purchased a divine lavender and honey flavored cheese and enough Roma apples to make ginger apple jam.  We then moved on to the Garfield Park Conservatory to catch the exhibition Niki in the Garden before it closed. 

Sweet Pea kept asking if I was okay.  The work filled me with such joy that tears formed in my eyes. The mosaic technique obviously relates to my bead embroidery, but what got me was the sheer scale and beauty of her sculptures.  They glistened in the sun, dazzling the viewer with rich saturated color.   
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Niki de Sainte Phalle's work is exhuberant.  It celebrates life and the many pleasures it has to offer. There are moments when you see another's work and a light bulb flashes in the brain.  You know that this is work that will somehow eventually be seen to influence your own. I don't know what will come from seeing this show, but something and something big which is just a tad scary to feel.
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beautiful

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"Nothing is more the child of art than a garden."  -- Sir Walter Scott

It is an interesting process to review one's history of production and make sense of it for strangers.  My lecture at the Bead Society of Greater Chicago was a success in my opinion.  I focused only on work created in the past 5 years.  The challenge was to maintain the levity which is not an easy trick when talking about cancer, death, spirit and prayer.  Yet, I managed to keep people laughing with my many tales from living in the Land of the Sick.  I am cancer-free at the moment, but I still live with the long term side effects of the treatments I received.

I moved from looking at the exterior landscape to the interior landscape the day I learned I had cancer for the second time.  Images of tumors, skeletons, and blood vessels began to fill my canvases.  And though I am still very involved with this line of work and have developed an entirely different line dealing with issues of family and community through knitted installations and performances, I am still intrigued by my Visions of Paradise series. 

This may be due to my yearly devotions in the garden, but I think the desire to return to this work is in the color.  The above piece, Notting Hill, is comprised of over 30 shades of sequins and nearly a hundred or so shades of beads.  The trick to producing more colors than physically present is in optical blending, the way the eye reads color.  I miss the technical challenges this process of working poses.

Over the years people have hailed this series as neo-Post Impressionist (now there's a mouthful), naive, unsophisticated, and my favorite - beautiful.  A friend recently wrote suggesting I remove them altogether from my website.  Her feeling was that this series isn't as developed as my current work and brings down the overall quality of what I am showing.  That was a fun email to receive.  Honestly, these have been my most commercially successful and widely recognized pieces.  Most from this series have sold.  The few that remain are available through Mobilia Gallery.  They've shown in such established venues as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and have been published in a series of books and articles. 

I'm not going to have studio time for another two months.  It's beginning to drive me crazy.  I am working a full-time job in addition to two part-time positions.  It's been good for me.  I had to enter a crossroads and choose my next path, whether to follow my love of eduction or my love of my art.  I've chosen the path of my art.  It was a difficult decision as the full-time position has the perks of regular income, health insurance and the creativity of guiding the educational programming of an art center with over 60 faculty and several thousand students.  I will continue to teach children and the occasional adult class, but my focus needs to be in the studio.  Once a person has been found to fill the Director of Education position and Winter Expo, the center's annual holiday art and craft fair, is over, I can get back to juggling a saner schedule. 

I no longer question the fact that the art market is a funny bed fellow.  Some of my work receives greater critical acclaim while the other sells better.  I will need to make more money from sales of my work and perhaps this is why I keep thinking about Visions of Paradise, but a part of me just wants to play with my beads, to make beautiful work that brings a smile rather than a frown. 


quince

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"They dined on mince, and slices of quince
Which they ate with a runcible spoon
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon."
--  Edward Lear

Sweet Pea and I were up 'til the wee hours stirring our pot of quince jam.  We were on a mission.  The summer had flown by both of us so quickly, that this was our first chance to make jam of any kind.  There is nothing better than homemade jam other than perhaps a slice of homemade bread with a schmear of homemade jam.   

Quince is not the prettiest of fruits.  The above photo is from Wikipedia and makes them look far nicer than those I have ever seen.  Ours were twisted and somewhat bruised as the skin of the quince is so fragile. Our jam recipe came from this book.   As Chef Madelaine wrote, "Once you begin to prepare this fruit for cooking and see how astringent it is in the mouth, you will be convinced  that the market sold you the wrong fruit." (p.58) 

Our friend Elaine had joined us earlier in the evening and helped to peel the zillions of fruits.  Her family owns several restaurants in the Pittsburgh area.  She grew up cooking and is a wizard with a knife. We were fortified by a scrumptious new pasta dish I tried from this recipe and some roasted butternut squash.  A few glasses of wine didn't hurt either. 

Soon the kitchen filled with the delicate aroma of apple blossoms.  Heaven!  Yes, as ugly as this fruit may be, it is well worth the effort to make quince jam.   


mother nature

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"The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think.  All that we can hope for is to put some order into ourselves."  --  William de Kooning

If I were to describe my work in one word, the word would be healing.  In the Visions of Paradise series,   I wanted to present an alternative to all the negative energy swirling around this planet - war, famine, global warming, etc.  I wanted to make something beautiful, to provide a place for the eyes to rest and relax.  I couldn't always be puttering in my garden, so I turned to embroidered landscapes.  They offered an advantage over an actual garden, they're portable. 

People don't exist in these works, but their presence is implied. I think of this presence as a version of neutral carbon footprints, a hope that we can live on this planet with respect for self, others and planet.  But occasionally my anger and despair slip out.  The above piece Mother Is Crying is an example.  I was living in England soon after the Cherynobl disaster.  Meat was being sold in butcher shops as "Cherynobl" affected.  I still wonder if there was a cancer spike in England as a result.  I know there was in Cherynobl and its surrounding communities.

I grew up in Missouri where the disaster at Times Beach made the national news in the 1980's.  Stupidity, greed and arrogance resulted in outrageously dangerous levels of dioxin in the soil.  The town had to be deserted.  For many years as you drove along  Route 66, you would see men in white decontamination suits cleaning up the mess.  All that remains is a small state park with a plaque. 

When applying to one graduate program, I was asked why I didn't study landscape design if I love gardens as much as I do.   As I've stated, gardens aren't portable.  I wanted to bring the garden to those who could not or did not reach out to Mother Nature.   Some would say that gardening is a form of colonization through the direct shaping and controlling of nature.  Every gardener will tell you that this is a joke.  Mother Nature is always in control.  I simply try to enjoy what she has to offer, to share her wonders with others.

What I've enjoyed about being part of the environmental project Cool Globes is the focus on solutions.  Mother Is Crying is not a solution, only a highlight of environmental disasters.  How many times can one be banged over the head about the disastrous state of our environment before tuning out?  Yet even the smallest positive change can reap huge benefits.  It can be as basic as wearing a sweater rather than turning up the thermostat or planting a tree in your backyard.      

Since that first garden planted under the "El" tracks of Chicago, I have attempted to plant a small garden at every residence I have lived.  When I first moved to London, I arrived  in late December, not prime gardening weather.  So, I visited Kew Gardens and sketched inside the greenhouses, read everything written by Gertrude Jekyll (I named my beloved schnauzer Gerttie after her.) and absorbed all I could of the London parks.   Gardens can be as beautiful in winter when dormant as in summer when in full bloom. 

You know, I never did embroider a winter garden....hmmmm.


secret garden

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"Life is a train of moods like a string of beads; and as we pass through them they prove to be many colored lenses, which paint the world their own hue, and each shows us only what lies in its own focus." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Gardens for me have always been places of sanctuary.  They offer a place for the body to linger and the mind to rest.  My backyard faces a large Chicago thoroughfare with a train line crossing the terrain just a half block to the west.  Despite the sirens and honks and rumbles, I can spend hours in my garden oblivious to all put the dirt in hand.  Bumble bees buzz industriously assuring a yearly crop of sour cherries for summer pies as butterflies flit from flower to flower.

My first Chicago garden wasn't as successful.  My neighbor and I were a bit optimistic about the sun our little garden received.  Some plants flourished, but many looked bedraggled, and yet we were thrilled.  If you've seen the film  Greenfingers, then you know the silly joy we received from anything that bloomed.

This love of gardening crossed over into my art.  For four years I focused on a series of beaded landscapes.  Some featured open expanses with great Midwestern skies, while others were more intimate views of secret gardens.  I couldn't change the violence of my neighborhood, but I could create visual alternatives.

The contemplative nature of embroidery is akin to gardening.  Time flashes past without notice.   I can easily spend hours in the studio sewing on each bead one at a time.  My first piece consisted of individual garden views from various perspectives.  They were each 14" x 12" and installed as one long continuous vista.  I was fortunate - very fortunate.   I sold every piece in my undergraduate thesis exhibition.  I had seed (bead) money to grow as an artist. (I can't resist the cheesy puns.)  I paid off my student loans and moved to London. 

.....to be continued.....


visions of paradise

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"A garden is the best alternative therapy."  -- Germaine Greer

I've been spending the past two hours pouring over slides that span the past 23 years of my creative production in preparation for a lecture I am giving at the Bead Society of Greater Chicago.  It is so funny to see work I made in high school.  Was my mother's rear end really that big?  (Sorry Mom! I appreciate all those hours you modeled for me!  Really I do!)   Then there is looking at what I call the first work, the work created my final year of undergraduate studies - Visions of Paradise.  I still love that work. 

I realized while looking at the slides that I have a chapter of blogging to do.  Should I call it "What makes Lindsay tick?"  or "The story behind the artist statement?"  Maybe something simplistic - the lecture.  I don't know, so I think I will just plunk it all under ART.  Though my art is based on my life, so maybe I should categorize it under life.  Oh, heck....

The early years.......
You may be surprised to learn that my early years were spent in a holography lab.  That's right, I was making pretty pictures using a helium neon laser.  I love light.  The physics of light.  The way light illuminates the leaf of a rose.  Light in all forms.  You can't get much purer than with a laser. 

A holography lab is dark.  Your set up table is surrounded by a weighted curtain to prevent any currents in the air from disrupting the light waves.  Hold your breath and count - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.... until your shot is made.  I quickly went insane.  It seemed counter productive to love light if one spent all that time in the dark. 

I moved onto the loom.  Math.  I love math.  Weaving is a binary system of overs and unders which eventually translated from the Jacquard loom into zero's and one's, the underpinning of computer systems.  I began weaving with mylar, a reflective medium like Christmas tinsel. 

My third year of study was spent in York, England within a stone's throw of Monkgate.  York is a small city, a medieval city surrounded by a wall.  I could walk everywhere at any hour of the night.  So you can imagine the counter culture shock upon my return to Chicago.  The day I moved into my apartment a dozen or so police were on the streets looking for a young teenager who had just shot another teenager.  Chicago is a fantastic city, but you certainly can't walk anywhere and everywhere at all hours of the day and night. 

I couldn't change my environment, but I could change my view of it.  A fellow neighbor and I started a small garden in our building's courtyard.  The El (short for elevated train) thundered over our heads as we planted those first seeds.  Call them seeds of hope, they were my first visions of paradise.

....... to be continued....... 



oscar

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"Until you value yourself, you won't value your time.  Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it."  --  M. Scott Peck

Taped to my computer are two fortune cookie axioms by which I try to live my life:

        Family is more valuable than money.

        Keep an eye open for an opportunity.

There should be a third:
         
        Learn to say no.

In keeping an eye open for opportunity, I frequently forget that I don't live in an endless expanse of time in which everything is possible.  This is partly due to the basic reality of living life as an artist.  To do the art I enjoy making, I have to accept that it isn't necessarily going to sell.  So, I teach, write, curate, jury, lecture, design and administrate.  Soon my time becomes so filled with earning an income that I have little time left to make my art, let alone hang out with my daughter, tend to my garden, and enjoy long walks along the lake with my dogs. 

There is something to what Mr. Peck says.  It is important to value one's time. I need to learn how to say no, because if I don't,  I always end up losing touch with what is most important to me.  And that turns me into a very grouchy person.   I don't like being grouchy.  Grouchy is definitely not good.


take me away

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"Calgon take me away." -- American television commercial

There are times when I need to be alone.  My new job is fun, but incredibly demanding.  I now manage the education program at a local art center.   It's only a temporary position, but requires the focus and energy as if it were permanent.  The demands of over 50 faculty and the general public has me running from morning through evening.  I've been coming home so tired that I've had little energy for more than dinner followed by sleep. 

Last night was the auction for Cool Globes.  I stayed home.  Yes, I know I should have been there schmoozing with the best of them, but I needed to be alone, focused on myself and my work.  I have a new performance premiering at the end of the month that requires my making 12 hats.  Normally this wouldn't be an issue.  It takes me approximately 2 hours to make an adult-sized hat, so one a night, but tendinitis in the elbows slows me down.  I will have everything ready just in the nick of time by my estimation. 

So there I was, me and the tv with my sidekicks Jack the Pomeranian and Josie the Monster Pup.  Josie's latest trick is to play with the yarn as I am knitting.  I don't know if you cat moms and dads have a similar issue, but dogs aren't supposed to be enamored with yarn.  At one point Josie had the yarn hooked across her paws and wound around her tail.  Cute, but annoying.  She had the nerve to look at me as if I was the problem.   Never mind that I had to get up at several points to fetch the yarn out from under the couch.   It does beg the question of who is the better trained.


bye big blue

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"Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true."  --  Lyman Frank Baum

Yesterday was the final day of the Cool Globes exhibit.  Sweet Pea and I went to say say good bye.  It took several months to paint and knit and has been on display for last 4, effectively a part of my life for the last 7 months.  I hope she finds a good home.  The auction is this Friday and it's going to be quite the swell affair.

I've made my piece with the sag.  It's irksome as I take pride in my craftsmanship.  I trust my skills, but some things are just not meant to be.  Big Blue preferred to wear a sweater with a bit more give at the base than I had intended.  I mended her back in May, taking out a foot of rows, but all those loving touches had their effect.  I watched as people passed her.  No one could resist reaching out to see if the sweater was real.  Children grabbed and took a swing.  Adults pulled and gave the sweater a snap.  It's okay.  She held up.  There is little sign of fading.  Nothing has been cut or frayed.  Folks seem to like her.  All is well with the world.

The experience has been more than slightly amazing.  I've learned much technically.  I've met many artists.  Friends and strangers alike have been sending me photos of themselves in front of the globe.  Publicity continues to occur.  Big Blue was recently featured in Fiberarts and Piecework. In two weeks I will taking part in a panel discussion co-sponsored by Around the Coyote Arts Festival and the Wicker Park Garden Club.  She is even the inspiration for a local high school biology project.  Just how cool is that!

What's next?  Hmmm.  A performance connecting a dozen people with knitted garments.  If you live in Chicago and want to participate, let me know.  It will be taking place later this month.