Saturday, March 31, 2012

Expletive Newbies, Art Oggling, a Finished Woodblock

Last night was the perfect cap to end a progressively-more-frustrating week. Yesterday even included a pity call to my Mom, wherein I ranted and she took my side against the more problematic aspects of the universe, before saying,"I wish I could just hug you! I wish I could just rub your back." She usually mourns the lack of physical presence, though as you know, it was the listening and the rallying that were comforting, bolstering.

Separately, there are much larger, more stressing items within life which are leading my Mom to actually curse. While I have followed in my Dad's cursing footsteps, my Mom is more liable to angrily exclaim, "Ohhhhh...Heck!" Yesterday, she queried, "You know what I think that is?? Baloney! It's just baloney!!" I agreed with her, because the circumstances are absolutely outrageous.

"It's...bull!...It's...bullshit!" Perhaps baloney no longer cuts it, given the events. Either way, I am in total agreement. Life can be over-the-top, often in less-than-pleasing ways.*  She helped me feel like I was cool with getting off the couch again, so I shifted my attention to an evening of drinks and sushi with Compatriot.

*One of Virginia Woolf's underlying themes in her literature was the inadequacies of language to truly convey experience, which I often come back to; she clearly loved language and the mind's internal narrative making abilities...though being nice and depressing, she was also exploring that in connection with what she perceived to be our faulty ability to connect with others.

Compatriot was first to arrive in the basement cave of Melange and when I arrived somewhat out of breath from running a few blocks**, peeved by the zipperhead which had just broken off from my favorite sparkly spangled sweater, and still kerfuffled from the day. I began volleys of over-sharing. "Sit down," Compatriot laughed at me, "I ordered a few starter rolls because we're getting close to the end of happy hour." She is fond of duck, so it wasn't surprising she ordered the duck nachos.*** I'd say these were the best tidbit of the evening -- wonderful melange (ow! sorry) of flavors, textures.

Our waiter was tops -- delivering strong service, with the added bonus of being quite an interesting conversationalist. He grew up in Northampton, MA (home to Smith College), in the same valley where I went to Hampshire College, has formed a still operating independent acting/theater company and is currently studying film making. Compatriot noted something along the lines of directing needing to involve lots of ego wrangling and ensuring that production moves forward in spite of all the ongoing background drama; she combined that with the drama and human wrangling (not her word) involved in retail and restaurants. He heartily agreed and said he planned on dovetailing all the skills he has cultivated through waiting into film direction. May the wind be always at his back!

*Oh good lord, I need to start running again. Stamina, people. A good thing to develop. Geez.

*** From the menu: Duck confit glazed in hoisin and served on a crispy wonton chip. Topped with manchego cheese, guacamole, fresh tomato and sriracha sour cream." 

The martinis kicked in, we gloried over our maki and talked about substantial and fluffy things. One of us was usually tossing out something silly or borderline obnoxious when waiter stopped by; sometimes he popped into the conversational flow, other times, he glided an empty plate away. She enthused over "The Anderson Project," put on by Ex Machina, a fascinating one man show riffing on Hans Christian Anderson and themes of alienation, sexuality...I am sorry, Comp, I'm butchering this. Readers, you should just talk to her: she's extremely articulate and insightful. Sounded like the technology used for the performance was fantastic: lots of the stage sets were purely projection -- the character is seated in a train, with images of the receding landscapes and pole repetitions marking the passing distance and time. The train lights morph into strobe lights (right? or am I making this up, too?) to signal his entry into a dance club. In any case, if this performance comes your way, sounds like one worth checking out! 

Afterward, we popped into WSG Gallery to peek at the opening exhibit, oggle the newest works by favorite local artists and have the pleasure of chatting with them as well. One artist urged me again to come check out her studio and this time I vowed it would happen. And really, what kind of a lovely life is this? That you get the opportunity to bond with people over their creativity, that they invite you into their lives, just as you do so with them? I really, really love it. No tinge of irony here. 

On that tip,here are a few process shots for the latest block. I am going to pull prints tomorrow, yay!

The first inking is always the moment of truth.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Glass of Wine + a Nice Little Tale of Psychological Terror

{Ok, I don't think this post needs a spoiler alert exactly, but it does mainly focus on reactions to Martha Marcy May Marlene. So, put that in your pipe and smoke it.*

*DON'T roll it in a cigar. Filthy, horrid things.}

Last night, I needed to just chill and put everything aside, so I watched the next film in my Netflix queue, "Martha Marcy May Marlene." {Check out the trailer here} Because what says unwinding like a movie about a woman who escapes a cult, but remains psychologically shattered? What, indeed. Those of you who know me have already said, "duh, of course," are rolling your eyes and wondering when I am ever going to start creating a less punitive queue.

In my defense, my last one was Bridesmaids! A comedy! And I liked it! But this...not so funny. It *is* fascinating, though and the untwinned, less mogully Olsen woman (Elizabeth) certainly deserved the accolades she got for the starring role. Olsen as Martha is haunting, remote and also irritating in a self-absorbed psychologically unbalanced way.*  You don't learn any specifics of how she became a part of the commune and the present flows into flashbacks with a disconcerting ease.

*Wow, that sounds bad, doesn't it? The mentally disturbed are SO selfish, it's always about them! But I guess what I'm trying to get at is that her sister and brother-in-law take her in and do their best with her and you totally believe how frustrated everyone is, her sister feels rejected b/c here's her sister, who dropped out of her life for TWO years, and now she's HERE, but she's totally walled off and clearly bad things are going/have gone/ down. Which is worse, the pain caused by a loved one's absence, or the pain caused by their fragmented & unavailable presence?

John Hawkes is suitably disturbing as cult leader Patrick, though at times, I gained more faith in his charisma through his followers' reactions than from him playing the role as blindingly charismatic. Maybe that's purposeful, too, though. Honestly, I was disturbed by him in this role -- not saying he was miscast -- because I'm still holding onto him as his character in Deadwood and he was as close to a good person as you could find on the evil series. A silly reaction, too because he was riveting -- and hella menacing -- as meth addict Teardrop in Winter's Bone (love! that! dark movie, too! And if you're gonna see Hunger Games, you need to see Jennifer Lawrence's amazing role in that...).

Screenwriter Sean Durkin also deserves credit for giving Hawkes and the rest of the staff good material to bend to their wills. Almost everything Patrick says is simultaneously superficially magnanimous/warm/supportive and manipulative/controlling/undercutting; and while I was on the verge of writing that it was never overdone, the scenes I was going to make note of...would seem overdone, if I were to write about them. Maybe this speaks to the nuanced strength of the actors involved? Maybe I'm totally losing my thread and just swimming around here.  Hmmm.Cults! Why are they so fascinating? Discuss. Last night I was thinking that it was the intimation of hedonism, combined with such rigid, artificial control. The psychological breaking down of individuals, so that they may be refashioned for the good of the collective (or more realistically, the megalomaniac at the head). While the latter part is the territory of the entire movie, it was also nicely (or *duh* too easily? again, now I'm of two minds) encapsulated in Patrick's reaction to hearing Martha's name:

"Martha...You look like a Marcy May..." And you know that's what he'll call her from now on. The remaking, the claiming of identity, starts happening immediately. And done with a nice, flirtatious touch. Too pat? Possibly. But somehow it works. She is annexed, as the incoming females are, until they are in it deep enough to inculcate other women themselves, in a nice, sisterly way...And clearly there are rewards there: a sense of community, the belief that they have something special there, they're working toward a better way (gulp) of existence...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

New woodblock, continued


Mellow weekend ended with more carving, visiting with Maestra and walking about downtown. I think this design will be done shortly, though haste isn't a primary goal. The fact that it's part of a larger project is perhaps pushing it along -- I have neglected it for the past 6 weeks, and now am so happy to be back at it. Sketches have been hanging out on my dining room table and taped to the walls, egging me on to begin work again. While I relegated the assorted drawing papers to the study, with some resignation, I expect the carving and subsequent printing to invigorate me...
Inevitably, between yesterday and this morning, I noticed the first big mistake -- the upper B was lopped clear off. All hail the first mistake! Bound to happen anyway, and now there's zero chance for it to be pristine. A flimsy, yet persistent ideal sails out the window...and it brings a certain freedom.

This morning, I focused on the frosting:

Good Night and Happy Week, All!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Resume Normal Programming.

The week ended with a cool down, and rain. It's still gloriously warm for this time of year and I'll take any time I can get, being outside in a park; but this just feels a bit more appropriate. Like many Michiganders, I can't help but feel we will pay for those 70's and 80's days in March with some other TBD weather misfortunes. It's only a matter of time...course if you look for the negative, you will surely find it.

In any case, I transferred a drawing onto a woodblock a couple weeks ago, but couldn't bring myself to spend time in front of the basement workbench, when there was a premature Summer to be had. But today? Beautiful certainly, but not luring me to go lay down in the grass somewhere. So, armed with the first bowl of coffee, I did some initial carving on another Cakeasaurus design. A lovely way to start out a Saturday! After an unusual 6 weeks or so, it felt like a nice return to normalcy.
 After that, I checked out the 30x30 event at the Ann Arbor Art Center and I'm so glad I went! It was my first attendance and it definitely made me want to return, if not try to participate next year. The basic gist: 30 artists make 30 works of art in 30 days and they're all on sale for $40 each. Super? Super! I totally missed the driving altruistic part, in my need for stimulation: the proceeds go to the Art Center's Art for Kids program. I felt a little bashful that this had totally passed me by -- but I inadvertently did my best. So.

The offerings were pretty varied, the exhibit spaces were bustling and signs everywhere intoned: "If you remove an item from the wall, you are expected to purchase it." The latter part struck me as bit brusque, but I saw the wisdom in it soon enough when the hoarding part of me kicked in, wanting to amass my favorites prior to actual decision making. There would have been little art hoarding piles nestled in all the room corners and resentments would definitely have run high.

So I wound up circling several times and falling into conversation with various art acquaintances -- a lovely way to spend Saturday afternoon. Anastassia Fulmer had a nice wall of prints fused to plywood boards, including a cagey looking pigeon and a contorted rabbit who sported nice classic woodblock lines. She's a senior at UofM's School of Art & Design and will be featured in the senior show opening on April 13th, though I'm a little unclear which building will house it.

The always entertaining Jason Gibner was there with his happy-making paintings, which will certainly sell out by tomorrow's show. Ryan Weiss, who made that great house piece for "Reclaimed" in Wyandotte was close to selling out when I came through, as were Stephanie Salamone's screenprints.


Meanwhile, I had quite a time deciding between bowls and vases by local ceramicist and bartender Mark Ehrman. I really liked some of the darker glazes and designs created by tape resist, but this pastelly one pulled ahead in a surprise win.

Calming shades, nice variations and speckles

Trio of troublemakers. Robot vase by Douglas Spalding in background
...and wacky clay figures by Diane Hawkey. The more I look at them, the more they grow on me.
Stop looking at us like that. We don't need any trouble here. Actual acorn as beret: niiiiiiiice.

Sweetly satisfying. Small painting on gessoboard by Darlene Mowatt.
If you're local, this event's continues tomorrow from noon-5. Though many of us have already scooped the lot of you. Mwahaha.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New Orleans Float-O-Rama: Visual Feast at Blaine Kerns

Blaine Kerns's web site is a little frightening. It looks like a tourist trap to be avoided...And yet. Mardi Gras World makes 90% of all the floats in the Mardi Gras parades. So it could be a fun behind-the-scenes trip. Like a studio visit on a huge scale. Several New Orleans guide books and travel sites recommended it. Maybe if one gave into the hokeyness of it, the over-the-top-ness of it, it'd be fine.

As it turns out, it was more than fine. It was one of my favorite parts of my New Orleans trip. For most of the tour, I felt like this fellow tour-goer looked:
Beware monkeys in top hats.

It began with an obligatory video overviews of Mardi Gras history, with the development of the Krewes etc. In case you're not already aware (I wasn't), each Krewe throws its own parade and there's at least one parade (if not several on the weekends) during the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. The Krewes are all responsible for paying the costs for the floats and all their throws (which always include the ubiquitous beads, but also often include cups, doubloons and various other items, in keeping with the Krewe's theme that year).* After the video came a nicely informative tour, followed by a permitted wander throughout the hanger. If I recall correctly, this mammoth place was only one of 18 hangers, all filled with floats.

{*Why would anyone want  those throws, Compatriot and I asked each other, they're just plastic/metallic beads, and slurpee cups. But you DO, once you're watching a parade, you get swept up and the float's rounding the corner, you're shooting your hand skyward and hollering. You eye your neighbor enviously, what with her snazzy metallic purple beadstring with the elongated diamond shapes and wonder why you only seem capable of snagging fake pearly beads. Meanwhile, Compatriot is triumphant because she scored a light-up peacock necklace. Built guys wander around with mounds of necklaces around their necks and you want to accuse them of buying them: how could they possibly have gotten so many? Perhaps their noontime drinking properly acquitted them for aggressive bead diving**.}

**Diving is advised against. "If you almost catch a throw, or drop it to the ground, do NOT bend over to pick it up. Trap it with your foot." People's hands get trampled.

Laughing Squid and Dutch Baby both made me wish we had the opportunity to visit earlier in the year, so we could have seen more floats and characters in process, but it was a fantastic time nonetheless. I especially like that Dutch Baby snapped a few pics of guys creating the sculptures out of polystyrene using chainsaws.

Suitably frightening jester where one waits for the Mardi Gras World shuttle

The king was self-serious, but the mermaid's humor was wicked.

The lizard behind the lockers

Reminds me of Maurice Sendak's Jennie

Initial Float sketch
prototype leaf

the balloon without its porcine pilot, plus tour guide.

Marx, Vulture, Kennedy, Jennie

Aviator pig, to go with his balloon. I wish I had more back-story on him.
The bull's got a secret or two

Alien over Elvis

Unadorned float

Whew, bring the pretty! I could happily work on these. Seriously.
I think this was a jabberwocky affair. Scary.

Napoleon Kongapart
I fancy a self-important pigeon.
Humpty Dumpty: what a baby.
My head hasn't emerged! Bring the chainsaw!

 More pictures here:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wall of Sound

Mannnn, I go away a couple times, a couple things happen and blogging goes out the window. I can hear the skittery passage of virtual tumbleweeds in here and I can't blame anyone. If I were alone, I'd whistle a little*, but I'm in a cafe and rainsticky playing. So at least that distracts me from the tumbleweeds in this blog space.

*If I could, but I suck at whistling.

I suppose the relative quiet is good. Because people have been talking to me A LOT lately. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hermit. I love connection. It just seems that the incidence of strangers-who-share is quite high these days; and while I find this comes in waves, it's usually a spurt of maybe two or three really interesting and random ones, followed by months of no such thing. But this time, it began with the trip to New Orleans and it has happened steadily until a few days ago. I'm not complaining. It can be interesting to give over, settle in and wonder, "well. Where's this going to go?"

For example, I just took a short trip to New York City recently. Now I had purchased a stupid-early flight going in because it was either that or stoopid flight combinations like so:

Detroit -- > Atlanta.
Atlanta -- > New York.

Or arriving quite late in the day, and for more money and then that seems like a waste. But it was so stupid I allowed myself to forget that it was, indeed a 6 AM flight. "Well." says John, who runs a paid cab-limo (really a white SUV, but fine), "How early?" I tell him and he kind of half chuckles. "Well, I have another fare, I can combine you in there, but I'll have to pick you up at...five of 4." He whistles. "How does that sound?"

"Fine," I say grimly.

"It sounds early," says John. He calls me back later.

"I have good news and bad news."

"...okay" I say.

"The good news is! The couple begged out, so now, you know, I can let you sleep in a bit more, that'll be better for you." It's perfectly obvious he had been equally mortified by the first pick up time. "...the bad news is -- well, not for me, for you -- since you're the only passenger, it's gonna cost you more."

"....Right. Okay."

", you know. whatever you want to tip, hahaha!" he chuckles. Ok, John.

So, with John I knew what I was getting into, as he had picked me up from Detroit when I was returning from New Orleans. With a few mmhhmms, no really! But what about~~?s he talked steadily for the entire 50 minute ride. Now, one can resent being a captive audience. Or one could be rude. One could refrain from asking questions, when it becomes clear that one won't be listened to or questioned in return. But he's an appealing character. He texted me a few times about where *exactly* we'd meet, to reassure me he was where he said he'd be; and nodded and raised his hand in greeting when I popped up by his car. Curls of his silvery chin- length hair peeked out beneath a fuzzy Nepalese knit hat with ties dangling on either side; he has a nice smile and sparkly eyes. 

He worked for one of the major cab companies for years, until new management rerouted it poorly in his opinion; a handful of anecdotes about atrocious interpersonal dealings were shared. So he eventually went off on his own and it has turned out very nicely, thank you very much. But before that, in his youth, he drove just long enough to save up enough money so he could spend six months in India, which he did repeatedly. India has always fascinated me, so I dug into that. There was a young woman here, an artist on the art fair circuit, a failed romance after several years -- and there was also a guru. As to the woman -- "I didn't see it coming! I got a Dear John letter -- and obviously, it said, 'Dear John,' but you know it was also like, 'Dear John'!, right? And I was crushed, I mean crushed, like really, really depressed."

So he moped along, in a barely functioning existence, until one day when he discovered The Book of Secrets (Osho, formerly Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh). He had been curious about meditation for some time, so he decided to check it out.* It took hold of him. He taped black plastic bags on his windows to keep the light out, so he could meditate in more complete darkness. He used taxi downtime to stare into the fog over local ponds, to get into a meditative state. He told me parables that appealed to him. He was meditating every day; and then several times every day.

*{This turn was also of interest to me, because I periodically flirt with the idea of meditating -- but so far, the very reason it would be extra good for me -- the chattering "monkey brain" they talk about in yoga -- also makes me think it would be especially hard/maddening to do and I stay away ~~} 

And then it happened: a state of sustained bliss, where ego fell away and he was able to contentedly observe petty emotions pass and live life, while suffused with something approaching glory. {I should note that he said this was NOT drug induced}. And the monkey brain (that part of your consciousness that provides unending narrative, conjecture, worry and pretty much insists that it really, really matters, regardless of how trivial matters are) fell silent. This lasted for about three weeks. And hokey as this may all sound, I do think it was rather remarkable.
So of course after that he needed to go meet his guru in person, see if the man was as truly enlightened as his teachings. And he found him to be so, "though you know, they totally got on him about all those cars he owned, know~~"

"Porsches? Ferraris?"

"....Noooo, they're like limos~~"

"Rolls Royces?"

"...yeah. But his followers bought those for him, because a lot of them were really rich and loved him. And he was still of this world: he liked Rolls Royces: So. What."

Which, in the end, I don't think he told me that much about India proper (though this was awhile ago at this point, I am forgetting some things). He went through lots of small villages, where they hadn't seen white people, much less a young guy with blue eyes and long blond hair, so he would be followed and surreptitiously touched, out of curiosity. Mostly what you usually hear: visually stunning, plus a mind-numbing disparity in wealth.

So that was trip one. Trip two, I was barely awake, grim about it and not tracking so very well. He was talking about existence and an online debate he had recently engaged in -- and it was more developed than this, certainly, but this was kind of what I picked up: "...And he wrote, 'I think therefore I am" and I was like he's TOTALLY missing it, he's completely arrogant, Descartes wasn't talking about the LARGER state of being-- I shot back, 'I think therefore I am NOT' and I think THAT stopped him. Your thought does not precede your being! Being IS and being in the moment-- truly-- is NO THOUGHT.  Any thought is either past or future, it is not NOW."

I thought that I would like more coffee. Or perhaps more sleep. My brain seemed as if it were starting to hurt. "Say you lose your keys: where were YOU when you lost them? You were lost in thought.You were not in the present moment: that's why you lost them. You were too busy thinking of THIS thing or worrying about tomorrow, but the point is, you were not THERE." I blinked. Dammit, this seemed to hold some truth. I tried not to slump against the passenger door. We arrived at the airport and the time for talking was past.

Or so I thought. A small group of gangly young teen girls shuffled in the security line behind me. Their impatience made them space invaders, their jangly energy ensured they jostled their elbows and bags into those around them. Their young selves could not be quiet. Their sentiments seemed to flit indiscriminately amongst them, as though they were a highly trivial, annoying Greek chorus.

Why are people SO SLOW, I think it's like a MIDWESTERN THING, like they're NICE and they're SLOW. They don't care about being fast it's like god get on or get out I know right OMG I totally want McDonald's do you want McDonalds Cara? Awwwwwww yeah, Cara's in,  getting the McD's, I mean seriously, what's the DEAL. Look at him, I HATE it when the person in front of you expects you to nudge all their bins along like I'm not moving your stuff *I'm bored* You know move your own stuff have you talked to Lisa Chhhhhh, Lisa doesn't even KNOW like she has NO idea Look at that girl, Kim, her hair is even SHINIER than yours its like super shiny it like GLOWS I'm totally getting fries

At one point, I silently mouthed ahead of me: SHUT. UP. This was momentarily pleasing. I removed my sparkly sweater and then my shoes.

Getting onto the flight itself feels like a bleary triumph. But then we are grounded for about an hour and a half, due to various unfortunate circumstances. At one point the pilot comes on: "Just to give you an update, folks, when I was testing a backup engine generator, I fried some of the circuit board. But everything's okay now! We should be up and running soon." If you want to a do an extra double check of the circuit boards, that's cool with us.

The driver of the car that meets me at LaGuardia owns three dogs: a chow chow, a german shepherd and a something else. Months ago, she erected a party tent in the small backyard, because they don't like to go in the rain. She brushes the white furred Bella in the backyard
"And it looks like it snowed! Like I could make a while nother dog from this dog! I'm not kidding!...I tell you though, I'd get rid of my kids before I'd get rid of my dogs. I tell them that! They know! They're all full grown anyway..."

She is currently living with her brother, who is in his thirties, but seems to have some kind of mental deficiency (maybe?) and can't hold a job (or is too much of a lazy bum, she alternates.) But not for much longer -- she has an apartment lined up in Jersey City and she's sorry, but he can't live with her again. She loves him and will always be there for him, but just not to live with. "He stays up all night, talking, and I think,'I'll have to kill him.'"

"That's not cool, you've got to get your sleep. That alone would make you crazy."

"Am I telling you! Right! I'm drained to the point that I'm....drained." The brother is problematic: he has alienated everyone in the family but her, burned all his bridges, and now he has trashed HER on Facebook.

"And my Father! I'll tell you! He once bought my brother a BRAND NEW truck, paid in full with cash and gave it to him! And you know what he did? He traded it in! For a truck that NEEDED payments and don't you think that's a big "FUCK YOU GO FUCK YOURSELF" to my Dad?!?"

There is sudden silence. She jerks her head around to me. Apparently, I had missed my cue. "....Right, why would you even trade it in?"

"RIGHT!! It was like a big FUCK YOU. But so anyway, he's still there right now, he was gone a few weeks, he's got another baby, with another woman, but now he's back and my son says,'OK, Mom, he can be here, but if he says anything against you, I'm gonna pop him.'" Her son's a good boy, he comes over for dinner and leaves money folded under her pillow, because she feeds him steak, even though it's tight.

Amazing, the endless stories floating around. So many people have them walled up, many slowly divulge, while others unfurl them at the slightest provocation, like pushy rug salesmen to passersby: "You like this, you like this?? Highest quality, best price~~" I felt rather worn out, by the time I reached my destination, luckily to be hosted by good friends who don't feel the need to be ON all the time. Everyone loves an audience, but the size of audience required -- and the frequency desired -- varies to a fascinating degree...