Friday, February 25, 2011

Dreams of Von Bruenchenhein on a Friday morning

I'm slightly hung over from last night's sleep aid cocktail, but happily I am better rested than I have been lately (it's been a few months since I started having regular sleeplessness again, and it revved up to the next notch of intensity about two weeks ago).

Well. As I sit here at work, I started thinking about Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, an artist whose work I saw at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore several moths ago.

So, this guy, Eugene. Too short to join the ranks of the army in World War II. Instead, he helped out at home, he instead took a vested interest in botany. He was just a guy living in the midwest: card-holding member of the Milwaukee Cactus Club, self-professed horticuluralist, baker by trade. When he was 29 he met and married a 19 year old girl named Marie, who would be the great love of his life. Towards the end of his life, he and Marie were living off of his $220 monthly social security checks. He died in 1983 at the age of 72, broke.

What most people didn't know about Eugene until after he died (like many visionary artists) was that he had spent much of his life painting thousands, literally, thousands of dreamscapes--rhythmic, fantastical musings. His house was filled to the brim with artwork -- paintings and photographs. Now he's super-famous.

The first time I saw his work, I pretty much thought that it was crap. It struck me as the kind of artwork that you can purchase from an art school in China on a TV infomercial or a glossy paper brochure you get in the mail advertising "real art by real artists!" -- or something. However, the sheer quantity (there were scores of these paintings in a room in the museum) was so striking, that it led me to read the blurb about his life. Which was when I saw his photographs. His photographs were nothing like his paintings, but they clearly had the same soul -- or perhaps a deeper, truer soul. Von Bruenchenhein took hundreds of pictures of his wife, nude, or wearing exotic costumes, which he'd fashion for her out of junk. My favorite by far was one which shows her wearing a fantastic crown, which he'd fashioned for her out of an old coffee tin. This is the one.

The photo literally took my breath away, still does, even as I try to find a digital version for this post. His love for her, really his adoration of her is so palpable, and you can almost taste hers for him. Really, the vivid, yet whimsical images reveal the staggering beauty his dream world, their dream life. Looking at her, you can see how immersed, complicit she is in his vision; or really how his dream had so become their dream. She sees the magic too, he makes it real for her, she makes it real for him.

A crown out of a coffee tin -- it just takes my breath away.

I can just see them sitting at the kitchen table. "We're out of coffee, how did it go so fast?" she might say. He'd take it and rinse it out, and sit back down with some scissors and perhaps a pair of pliers. She'd cross her arms and rest her heads on them, pushing out her chair and cocking her heels. He'd squint and hold it up to her head, tink a bit, hold it up again, the mid-morning-turned afternoon sun catching the dust in the air.

ok -- I confess I thought the one above was the best fit for this post, and you know I have minimalist inclinations, despite myself. But this is absolutely my favorite image of her by far -- and I couldn't resist putting it...what the heck! what is a blog for anyway but a mechanism for methodical oversharing, anyway? Here it is, it honestly just slays me::::

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oh Sleeplessness

I thought I was tired enough last night to go without a pill.
Nope, wasn't.

Wish that I had...

please? aren't I pitiful? tell me that I'm pitiful!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


When people talk about "boundaries," or, worse yet, "boundary issues," it all just seems weirdly abstract, almost as though they're talking about something that was really ordinary to a lot of people, but that happened so far in the past that you can't even imagine it, like—churning butter, or having smallpox.

A hypothetical conversation about boundaries might go as follows:

"You've crossed some boundaries." They say.

"Hm?" I ask earnestly, squinting my eyes to help me recall, "Boundaries, yes I'm familiar with the concept, but the logistical reality isn't wholly evident. Could you clarify?"

“Look," they say, "Do see where the sea meets the beach sand? It's right there, that line. That’s the boundary.”

But, I think to myself, feeling slightly embarrassed, because no, I don’t see the line, What about the tide?

Recently a friend of mine took her daughter to see Niagara Falls, and they walked on the "Peace Bridge,” which spans the stretch of air over the water between the US and Canada. They approached the Canadian border, and crossed over, sans passport, only to be met by a border guard who told them that they had most certainly almost just caused an international “incident.” And, just as the sky was about to turn black in preparation for an inevitable apocalypse, my friend looked at the guard with her big, sad, confused mommy eyes, and said, “Oh we had no idea, officer! We didn’t mean to cause any trouble.” And he furrowed his brows and responded with something like, "Well, just be more careful next time, ma'am." So, just like that they were shoo-shooed away, international incident averted!

For me, incidents, international or otherwise, occur quite regularly, I’m sure. Intentional and inadvertent transgressions against arbitrary, unwritten and unspoken rules. “Is there a problem here, Mr. Officer?” Unfortunately for me, there’s not always a Canadian man there to tell me I've done something wrong.

And while I admit that I do have some boundaries of my own, they are often as unclear to me as those of others. They too change like the tides, depending on the person, the moment, the mood, the time, how I feel.

What did we do before we had our accurate maps? There were other maps, that weren’t as accurate, but just as true. The world was flat; our here was not even there. And now we laugh, Ha Ha!, saying how on earth could that have ever been true!?

I like to think of what people thought when they found out something like, America went on and on past Virginia, or the Mississippi River. Like, in their minds, did the land just bubble up and invent itself into being? Was it like a tumor, unwanted, rapidly and erratically billowing forth into the realm of the no longer deniable?

Or were there, perhaps, others like me who hadn’t much thought of things like that in the first place? You know, the ones who picked up newspapers with the headlines, “NEW WORLD DISCOVERED!” and nonchalantly flipped to the movie showtimes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I wish I could be neat.

I always say that I could be messy doing origami.

And it's true -- I could. Honestly, I could make a mess out of anything. Go on, try me!

I guess that's why I'm totally fascinated with the medium of print, specifically etching. The fact that to be a "good" print, it has to look spotless, smudgeless, precisely aligned, precisely inked and that with tools and various chemical components you might control the mess, making lines thicker in certain places with acid rather than with your clumsy, disgraceful, ink-covered hands.

To print an etching, you must wipe the oil-based ink off of the smooth metal surface, so that it only stays where you want it to (in the lines which are incised within the plate). This was where a few truly skilled printmakers had (have) me really jealous. These were the select, anointed few who could kind of "keep tidy," somehow, really miraculously, fully wiping their plates with perhaps the slightest little smudge on their lower palm, which they'd nonchalantly brush off on their aprons. I would stare lustfully at them as they whisked their spotless prints through the press, peeling them off with clean, dry hands. Complain maybe about a lack of thickness in this line, too much pressure on the press, or not enough blue mixed in here, not enough green there.

Across the room, mouth agape, I was a hot mess. The de-inking process was might have in my case been called a me-inking process (ha-ha), and when I was working there almost every night, I'd often trudge out of the print studio, without knowing that I'd ruined (yet another) pair of half-decent pants, and that I looked like the Bearded Woman, just getting off of her shift at the sideshow, hair-afrizz, and ready for her night cap.

And, sigh! I ruined so many prints with a fat black thumbprint here, or an ink blotch where it shouldn't have ever appeared, so than finding ways to "curate," (or de-thumb-print-ify) an otherwise perfect print became a mild-to-moderate obsession of mine (which, like most of my most unhealthy preoccupations, I primarily attribute to my Catholic upbringing, in this case, I'm specifically referring to the notion that the sinner can always find redemption -- out damned spot!).

Even then, when I had no thumb prints, and a perfect print, I'd inevitably tear the print slightly off-kilter when I went to re-size it, or find some other new and shockingly stupid way to ruin hours and hours of hard work.

And yet, I kept going, kept hacking at it, kept being too messy for the task, being clumsy, royally fucking up again and again. Because, occasionally, when the stars were aligned I somehow would manage to bring forth into the world a beautiful, perfect, good, clean print. And I was enamored of it because I thought that I had actually produced something that in many ways was better than I could ever see myself being. A good, clean print. When this occurred, the sensation was electric. I felt wonderful, powerful, and yet humbled, knowing that I could never quite measure up to what I'd just made.

And so now, thinking on it as I write this entry, most of my work now is aesthetically speaking a bit cold, a bit controlled, incredibly exacting, precise. The fact that I'm so drawn to this aesthetic kind of frightens me, and yet I'm drawn to it like a moth to a flame. And I suppose this is the case because I must be trying to compensate for some huge disappointment in myself, in my life -- a lack of tidiness in my own comport.

Because no matter how hard I try, I inevitably just lose track of the laundry, of that email, of my coffee mugs or used saucers. Trip over my high heels and bruise my shin or get a splinter, or or twist something or other. I lose my house keys. I get too drunk (steal sherry!). Or I smile too much, or too little. I blindly tumble into this situation or that one, because my the Ouija board of my curiosity won't let up. I do the wrong thing, show up at the wrong time. Or I say the wrong thing. Hurt feelings. Lie. Say too much; or not enough. Fall in with the wrong crowd. Fall in and out of love with the wrong people.

And there's no protecting myself from it because I'm a bit of a will o' the wisp:

I just landed here, here is agreeable? Here is my new here. Here I am!

All of this said, and returning back to talking about my artwork now; I don't think I'd be able to make my work if it was just the infatuation factor at stake. My art does have a good deal of the untidy me in it, too. And this is the part that goes beyond the fascination, really infatuation with what I can't be. This is the part that is really the essence of why I keep creating -- in a way it's me speaking things that I can't always understand right away. Things that I need to say, but don't always know how to iterate. (It's like how your mind speaks to you in a dream, and although you forget the details the same instant that your eyelids pull themselves apart in the morning, you're still left with a strong feeling that you can't quite explain, and you're waking up differently because of it. That's kind of what I feel when I feel compelled to make something.)

Most of my work, though ultimately presented in a sort of sleek way, was born out of a mistake of some kind, but one that strikes me so that I have no choice but to keep it. And part of the real, deep-set joy I find in creating is that I can actually make my mistakes into something that has some beauty.

I've tumbled in and out of a lot of seemingly sticky situations in my limited time on this earth, each one seeming like the worst possible in all of human experience. How in GOD's name am I EVER going to clean this mess up?!! And yet, the weird world rolls on. I keep breathing. And blindly tumbling along. And with time, ohh time, I learn that much of the beauty I see is because of some happy accidents, because serendipity and experience and intention and knowledge are all, for lack of better analogies, little hippie bedfellows. Mistakes help me to grow, and learn, and make cooler things, find better situations, and introduce newer aspects to my existence that my mind is incapable of conceiving without them. Because, while my mind has limits, my ability to get messy is truly infinite!

Boy, at times I really wish I could be neat. With my artwork, it would really be wonderful to be like Brancusi: smart, sexy and concise. In my life, I sometimes wish I could be like Ann Elliot in Persuasion, who knows just what to say, when to stay in, when to hold back. And shit seems to really work out for her...

[As a hefty aside: In reality, though, I could never be like them. And I don't really want to, either. I'd rather throw myself in the general direction of Amadeo Modigliani, who said as Picasso was buying his paintings to use them as canvas for his work, "Fuck your cubism, I'm making nudes with hairy armpits and haunting eyes," painting image after image of Jeanne Heberterne, because she was the wrong one (too young, too vulnerable), and he allowed himself to love her (albeit in an abusive, volatile way...) more than he loved cubism. Or, sigh! I could (and do!) happily fling myself in the fantastic wake of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whose messy candy wrappers, sheer blue curtains and unmade beds photographs on billboards spoke of his love for his partner, who was dying of AIDS, the same disease that would eventually take his own life. The work of both of these men, when witnessing it for the first time, brought me to tears. Let me be Agnes Varda, or Diane Arbus, or R. Crumb, or Vincent van Gogh! I'll take Delacroix's Paganini over Ingres' any day.

All of these people kind of walked to the uneven, messy beat of their own drums. And by comparison, they make my life look tidy as all hell. Shit was really, really messy for them! And look how cool they were! They help me along ... ]

But I can only be me, feel what I feel, and say what I need to say, even if it's not always what people care to hear, or should hear for that matter. And I have to follow my heart to whatever strange and mysterious and unspeakable paths it leads me. Indeed, glorified mistakes are, despite my best efforts otherwise, my ultimate medium -- in my thoughts, actions, and profession. Indeed, in finding and creating messiness I am the truest virtuoso.

So -- ok. One more situation to add to the list. One more day introducing a million new moments and experiences and sensations that turn my world in that moment totally on its head. Why try to stave them off?

Let's get messy. I'm ready for the next one! Bring it on.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Letter to Myself, from Myself

Dear Lizzy,
I know this is a really hard time for you for a number of reasons, but do take heart. You've just tried eighteen different color and contrast adjustments on a print on some fancy paper you can't even afford and they have all failed. It's 8:00 on a Friday night, you're 24 years old, confused and confused, and sitting alone in a dark room printing while all of the other kids are out having a fun time and making out with one another. How is it that the world in your head, and on the computer screen, have such a difficult time manifesting themselves in the world that belongs to the Others?

Well, dear Lizzy, that's just the way it is. What can I say? You have beautiful visions, and even more beautifully you want to share them, come hell or high water, with the rest of the world. They may be stupid. They may be shallow. They may be ugly. They may be derivative. They may be uninformed. They may be cheap. They may be easy. But They are Yours, and You are here to make them Be.

That is your job right now, so why don't you take another swig of beer, and keep on trying.

I love you very much, and I believe in you,
Sketch by Randall C. / how I feel.

Friday, February 11, 2011


I'm a bit rusty now on the blog post front, so you'll have to forgive me in advance; I don't plan to edit the following text (I usually don't when it comes to my entries) but in this case, I'm both out of practice and actually not at all planning to revise or condense in any way. I just want to write a post!

So, that said:

I've been thinking about labels. Noticing how others use them. How they can impede us in our goals. Talking to people about it.

Arguments, non-arguments...but mostly thoughts.

This isn't anything new for me. I've always been sensitive to the idea of labels. I'd say I almost militantly resisted them. Sometime in high school, I resisted considering myself as a feminist. That label--particularly at an all-girls school where we constantly walked the line between sleepover party intimacy and prom-court-style hostility--was a no-no, and if adopted, would have surely meant I'd never have a boyfriend. When I first stopped eating meat five years ago, I refused to call myself a vegetarian. I just was a person who chose not to eat meat. I hated the stigmas that, before anybody even knew my choice, were already descending upon me.

Likewise, when I was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter about my artwork, I made the mistake of saying that I didn't want to be called an artist. At this point, and because newspaper interviews can be skewed, I totally forget the context, but when drawn out in the final piece, it made me look pretty bad, as though I didn't know what I wanted to do. But in my mind that had been clear all along; I wanted to make art, but art has many forms.

More and more, I'm finding that my world view is full of vast spectrums of being. (I do think I have a slight twinge of synesthesia to which we might attribute the nuanced worldview. Certain spoons have subtly different personalities than others, 4 is a different person than 9. So when it comes to actual people, to myself, shit can be pretty confusing!). There are so many spaces in between being a man, being a woman, gay, straight, rich, poor, black, white, artist, banker. Why massacre the rainbow with a word? It just seems a bit brutal, honestly. And maybe I like using lots of words to describe things a little too much...maybe that's my problem. Or maybe it's just how I understand. Things.

Eventually, I figured out that labels, when used appropriately can be very powerful in terms of communicating a point to the rest of the world. So, if people ask, I am a vegetarian, feminist, artist. Primarily because all three are causes I'm invested in from a marketing, soap-box standpoint. And to get a message across at times you need to simplify your argument to a stance, which though complex and nuanced is still a stance that is slightly more powerful because it is shared by others. In reality, I'm not 100% anything. And, when it comes to issues of politics, religion, sexuality and gender, shit gets a little muddled, and I have a way harder time answering.

That's it.