Wednesday, December 9, 2009

First Storm of the Season

I remember when I wrote this:  "I am going to post on my back deck until I have to type in mittens....It is Sunday, November 22.  Sunny, about 55 degrees at noon. " 

I woke up this morning to the wind howling in the enormous pines off my back deck and realized that with it getting down to 10 degrees tonight, I ought to take my patio chairs, table and umbrella in the house before the furniture blew away.  Til now, I kept smiling, thinking that I could sit on my lovely deck, talk to the pines, hear the birds, if even just a few more times til the cold really set in.  It is setting in.

It is good to experience the seasons, strong weather, and the realization that we are so much less than these forces.  The Gaia Theory addresses the interconnectedness of all things and all manner of current scientific theories continue to support and expand this.  Originally proposed by James Lovelock as the earth feedback hypothesis, it was named the Gaia Hypothesis after the Greek supreme goddess of Earth. The hypothesis is frequently described as viewing the Earth as a single organism. 

The Gaia theory was developed in the late 1960’s by Dr. James Lovelock, a British Scientist after he worked with NASA on research of life on Mars. Though no life on Mars was determined, Lovelock's research led to profound new insights about life on Earth. His theory was supported by Lynn Margulis, a microbiologist at the University of Massachusetts. Since their early work in the 1970's, many of the mechanisms by which Earth self-regulates have been identified. For example,  cloud formation over the open ocean is almost entirely a function of the metabolism of oceanic algae that emit a large sulfur molecule (as a waste gas) that becomes the condensation nuclei for raindrops. Previously, it was thought that cloud formation over the ocean was a purely chemical/physical phenomenon. The cloud formation not only helps regulate Earth’s temperature, it is an important mechanism by which sulfur is returned to terrestrial ecosystems.

As above, so below.

Today I featured a detail of My Ostraka:  History II:  xix, a 52 x 90 inch painting on canvas.  I had been experimenting with pigment mixtures, especially with intermixing silver acrylics with other pigments.  I let these experimental mixtures on my paining dry overnight, and as different pigments settled, beautiful star-shapes naturally occurred, better than if I had tried to paint them illusionistically.  

Monday, November 30, 2009

Good-bye to November, good bye to autumn

Our church had our annual poetry service, always right after Thanksgiving, fitting.

Jennie King gave me permission to post her poem:

Daisies in October

At the end of October, Halloween,
One defiant bloom hangs on,
Persisting against the autumn chill,
   Giving new meaning to fresh as a daisy.
   Intrepid, heroic or florally crazy.

The second of November we awake,
To find it shrunken against the frost
Dark and limp in the morning sun'
   Resurrecting its vigor that afternoon
   We still know that it will wither soon.

Valiantly upright in the autumn wind
Just outside the kitchen window
It succumbs finally one week later,
   Surrounded by buds still tightly folded
   Their future gone before it was molded.

The hummingbirds have come and gone
But a few of the iris are reblooming
Giving us unexpected color and grace.
   Never mind the turkey and the squash
   Its the promise of spring that we must watch.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Preparations-a week of thoughts

My Ostraka:  History IV:  v  22 x 30" 
watercolor, gouache and sumi ink on paper
This painting has been viewed in a number of exhibitions 
in the last five years throughout the midwest,
including a solo show the Director of the 
Contemporary Art Center of Peoria, William Butler, 
invited me to have.

Sunday, November 22.  I am going to post on my back deck until I have to type in mittens………

Sunny, about 55 degrees at noon.  Being an optimist, I have not put away my deck furniture nor deck umbrella.  I was pleased to see the grocery carts filling up at Kroger last night, families in anticipation of lots of cooking for Thanksgiving.  Hands down, my favorite holiday.

One of my colleagues has done a lot with food as the subject of her work and pointed out that Da Vinci chose to depict a famous meal in one of his masterpieces, ‘The Last Supper” though the associations are primarily poignant and religious, yet they center around sustenance and the metaphor for spiritual sustenance is clear.

Saturday, November 28.  This year, Thanksgiving fell on the 26th, which was the date in 1922 that British archeologist Howard Carter discovered Pharaoh Tut-ankh-Amen’s tomb.  With the radio on while I was rolling out pie crust for my favorite pumpkin pie Thursday morning, there was Garrison Keillor airing his daily Writer's Almanac.  Keillor features brief biographies associated with writers and other notable persons of history and he covers notable events that occurred on that day. Keillor discussed at length the details of Howard Carter's stunning discovery 87 years ago.  It started with a young Egyptian worker discovering a step in the sand and furious digging began that led downward to the hidden chamber.

Carter knew he had come to an unrobbed tomb once all the sand and dirt was removed from the staircase leading down to the chamber because the clay seal on the door handle to the chamber was undamaged. His heart must have leapt when he saw the cartouche (royal seal) of Tut-ankh-Amen pressed into the clay.

I have used this black and white photographic reference of the door and the clay seal with Tut-ankh-Amen's cartouche in numerous paintings, both watercolors and paintings on canvas.  Of course, the door handle and seal no longer exists except in photographs because the seal had to be broken by Carter to enter the unimaginably lush tomb of Tut-ankh-Amen.  It is an artifact of memory every Egyptologist recognizes.  In the painting above, I featured Tut-ankh-Amen's door, door handle  and clay seal in a delicate red outline.  Behind it is the sculpted face of a royal queen, Tiy or Nefertiti that is called the 'Royal Fragment,' in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York.  I saw this beautiful sculpture in a seminal exhibit "Pharaohs of the Sun"at the Art Institute of Chicago. I am thankful Carter found Tut-ankh-Amen's tomb 87 years ago - November 22, 1922.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Ostraka: History II: xxv

 Autumn and Faculty Biennial ExhibitionWe have had such a rainy spring, summer and autumn here in Illinois, I marvel that we all haven’t molded and turned various shades of green.  For the moment, I have given up my back deck, the ladybugs and oak leaves and moved to my living room and fireplace.  I traded a cord of good firewood for a landscape watercolor last year and have tried fiercly to make a dent in the pile of wood my good friend Carl has provided. So it is wonderful to type to the crackling of the fire, a nice compliment to the rustling of leaves on my back deck where I usually write.

We had our Faculty Biennial exhibition open Tuesday night and the exhibit runs through January 31, 2010.  There sure is plenty of time to see the show.  I am showing one of my major paintings from a series I started in Vermont at the Vermont Studio Center in 2003.  What a superb place.  The paintings I did there are seminal to my current artisitic concerns.  I made my first painting using a rare and beautiful Egyptian sculpture referred to as the ‘Royal Fragment” while I was in Vermont and I showed this first painting in the 2003 Faculty Biennial exhibit. I am showing a new one featuring the archaic landscape I have used for this series along with a mirage – Marilyn Monroe – in the desert as she faces (cajoles?) the Sphinx of Giza.  I love the quote from Grace Hardigan, who sadly recently died, “The past and present is part of a continous cloth.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jane Hammond:  "Fallen"

This is perhaps the most powerful metaphorical use of fallen leaves that has ever been used in art.  Jane Hammond started “Fallen” in 2004 and this ongoing installation of handmade paper leaves represents U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.  Hammond gathered leaves herself to use as templates for these digitally-printed paper leaves. Each leaf represents a fallen soldier with the name of the soldier carefully handwritten on the back.  This memorial/installation began with 1,511 leaves and now has nearly 4,000.

The Whitney Museum of American Art has purchased this powerful work and various funds have been made available so that the artist can continue it.  Conceptually, this is brilliant – it grows as the sad facts that govern the piece change.  Aesthetically, it is visually compelling, each leaf a stand-in for an American who has died in Iraq.

The Wexner Center Director Sherri Geldin says: “Having initially seen Fallen in its earliest gallery exhibition, it is something of a bittersweet honor to present this work—now three times its original configuration—at the Wexner Center.  No matter what one’s political or military perspective, one can’t help but be touched and overwhelmed by the poetry of Hammond’s gesture to mark each individual life lost with a unique, meticulously crafted reflection of nature.”  The work was shown in its expanded version in 2008.  It was last seen at the Museum of Contepmorary Art-San Diego in 2009 and when I find out where it will go next, I will report on this stunning and poignant evolving work.  When the war in Iraq ends the piece can come to rest.
Jane Hammond is represented by Represented by John Berggreuen Gallery, San Fransisco, Galerie Lelong in New York, Bryon Cohen Gallery of Kansas City, Missouri, Lemberg Gallery in Ferndale, Micnigan and Wetterling Gallery in Stockholm.  Numerous print publishers publish her prints.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Autumnal Tones

Monday, November 16                  My Ostraka:  History IV: lv

I love this small watercolor.  I love the archaic lion, the ruins of Selinus, Temple G, called the Appolonian.  Temple G is discussed because of the different dimensions of its columns, its dynamic asymmetry.  This watercolor was developing in my usual manner but its composition didn’t suggest oak leaves to me.  So I gave in to my lotus designs, I must have drawn about two-dozen different ancient lotus templates so far.  The lotus closes at night and reopens with the dawn, so symbolic for those ancient Egyptians who saw in all things metamorphosis, symbolism and spiritual mysteries.

I designed several lotus types using a curved petal.  Classical Egyptian lotuses from wall reliefs, tomb paintings and papyri have lotuses with pointed petals because the petals do come to a point.  I have designed two styles, pointed and curved.

I was going wild with my quinocridone watercolors, as you can see the rich golden hues that are more vibrant than classical burnt sienna, and I loved how the quinochrdone gold lotus, washed over the lion in sumi ink, gave the overlaid area a tender green cast, something like a terra verte.  Perfect.

The final touch was crystals, used in other works to demarcate constellations, but here used randomly, for art’s sake.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Oh Alexander

Thursday, November 5
My Ostraka:  Odyssey I:ii
This Alexander portrait was among about 6 watercolors of him I started in Thessaloniki.

Lady bugs are zooming about in the sunlight, one landed on my computer.  An  unidentified bird is warbling and I only know the calls of cardinals, wrens, robins, and those mighty crows.  Oh, how can I forget blue jays.  So this bird got closer the longer I sat in place, but no luck catching a glimpse through the pines.  Only the ladybugs are fearless, zooming around in the sunlight, landing on my keyboard.  I love them.

I have been using images from antiquity from a long time.  Alexander the Great first appeared in my work sometime around 2001 or so.  I was attracted to Andre Malraux’s book, Archaic Greek Art and I found this compelling sculpture of Alexander which is in the Archeology Museum of Istanbul.  Fat chance of ever seeing the full-length marble sculpture in person. 

Thank you Professor Xenis! It came to pass I came to Greece in 2006. I was staying while in Thessaloniki, with an American-born hostess, Kathy Majeski  She lived in Turkey and Greece since graduating from college in Illinois.  I went with her to Istanbul for a week and finally saw my Alexander.  This famous portrait sculpture will stop you in your tracks.  Alexander was beautiful, all his portraits-whether on coins, in bronze or marble-indicate this.  He was a Macedonian and he conquered the world.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, Leaves Falling

My Ostraka:  History IV: xlii
I am sitting on my leaf-strewn deck, a fine oak tree is looking over my right shoulder and all around me, those rusting sounds of leaves, branches, all these things of nature saying good-bye.  A crow has landed on the topmost branch of one of my pines, another in the pine tree right in front of me, another cawing from the neighbor’s yard. I throw a stone in their direction as my sympathies are with cardinals, sparrows, wrens, not with these dark predators.  Oak leaves start drifting onto my summer table; I couldn’t ask for a more idyllic setting under which to write.

I started getting jazzed by the shape of oak leaves, after finishing my first Alexander the Great watercolor I featured in my November 2 post.  I made several sheets of sumi ink studies of oak leaves, just looking at various leaves and turning my calligraphy-style brush to make the shape of each leaf.  I hope to make photo-etchings of these calligraphic leaf shapes as part of a suite of etchings.  These sheets of soft sumi ink leaves sit on top of my flat files and inspire me, even if I don’t have time to make etchings yet.

Meanwhile, I started looking for watercolors that were not yet fully-developed. I found some that I thought would benefit from additional oak leaf imagery.  I started with a watercolor featuring an ancient ruin, Selinus, Temple C, a powerful ruin I have used a number of times,  The surviving temple is so provocative, a long surviving collonade and a tumble of pillars strewn in the foreground.

The city of Selinus, an ancient Greek colony in Sicily, is famous for its ruined Doric temples.  It is situated near Augusta on the east coast, 20 km north-northwest of Syracuse, Italy was the westernmost colony in Sicily,.  Selinus was founded in 651 or 628 BC by colonists from nearby Megara Hyblaea and from Megara in Greece. It achieved great prosperity in the 5th century BC, when its great temples were built. The city was destroyed by Carthaginians in 409 BC and again in 250 B.C. The site was then essentially deserted. The acropolis was refortified in the Byzantine period. Excavations have uncovered Selinus’ extensive ruins and suggests that the city’s monuments were toppled by earthquakes rmore than by warfare. On the acropolis were four large Doric temples, two of the sixth century, two of the fifth, and a small shrine. None of these has been securely attributed to specific deities, but are identified by letters (Temples A, C, D, and O; Shrine B).

My original watercolor featuring Temple C had a ghost image in faint watercolor of the Sphinx of Giza in blue and another ghost image, Marilyn Monroe’s famous lips, in quinachridone magenta. I love combining ancient and contemporary imagery in one painting, giving us an opportunity to connect past and present. Marilyn’s lips loomed large over the picture space.  Over these I painted Temple C, the collonade a man-made horizontal, the horizontal lips from a beautiful contemporary icon. Temple C is in quinocridone burnt sienna and mauve so the whole painting pulsated with color and images. 

Suddenly, Vergina’s oak leaves seemed suitable, as Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world at the time.  A display of delicate falling leaves seemed right.  I was also experimenting with Daniel Smith’s luminous watercolors and added bright dots of pale blue.  This is, after all, a vision, not an illustration.

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Ostraka: Odyssey I: ii

A Meditation on Autumn Leaves

Monday, November 2, finally a brilliantly sunny day.
My dear neighbor Grace, a retired teacher just called me. She asked if she could 'play in the leaves' and rake my front yard. Mercy, what a welcomed gift. Teaching full time and carving out time to do my own painting does not leave much time for 'playing in the leaves,' so naturally I told Grace first that she was crazy and second, wonderful.

Autumn has always been my favorite season, the lush colors, sounds of leaves rustling, the crunch of dried twigs when walking in the woods-or even my back yard where I pick up twigs and pine cones for the fireplace, listening to the birds and rustling branches. I meditate while raking leaves, today being the first time ever I have a wonderful volunteer. The sun is so clear in autumn after the heady days of summer. As artists, we take in these subtleties.

In October and November 2006 I was a visiting professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, by invitation of artist/professor Xenis Sachinis who I met in Berlin at the Impact 4 conference. What a great guy Xenis is! He took me to Dion and Vergina, ancient Greek sites and I made watercolors and sketches. At Vergina, home to Philip II, father of Alexander the Great; I picked up six oak leaves. You can't pick up any stones, shards or bits of marble, but you can put these tiny oak leaves in your pocket. These tiny leaves have inspired a number of watercolors and hopefully in the future, some etchings. I wish I packed a whole bunch of leaves in my pockets, as I would like to use 'frottage' to make leaf impressions on some drawings.

These six leaves are so dear to me I have Xeroxed them and made template while the leaves themselves sit in a labeled plastic tub. Friend and fellow artist Brandy Larson, from grad school days in Madison, Wi, brought me back some leaves from Turkey when I told her about my plans. These leaves are not exactly the same, but they will add to the repertoire of fall leaves I will use.

I have one Alexander the Great with oak leaves finished, this one posted, with American oak leaves. The next two watercolors in progress feature the precious Vergina oak leaves. I now have at least five different kinds of oak leaves just from my yard, on campus and two exotic locales.

Who wouldn't use oak leaves in their art, what with their ancient associations?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I am teaching a week-end watercolor workshop in Chicago

Newberry Library Seminars Program: Arts, Music, and Performance

#Weekend Watercolor Intensive
Saturdays, 1 - 4 pm
July 11 - July 25
3 sessions, $120
Register Online

If you ever wanted to paint watercolors but felt they were difficult, now is your chance to find out otherwise. Watercolors can be fresh and spontaneous or complex and carefully developed. Learn watercolors anew or, if an experienced painter, brush up on drawing, composition, and color mixing while making meaningful personal still lifes. The exciting part is making meaningful paintings from your heirlooms, mementos from travel, or flowers from the garden. Supplies are inexpensive. You already have some materials at home.

Cynthia Kukla is a Professor of Art at Illinois State University and one of only two hundred members of the USA Watercolor Honor Society.

* indicates the class is offered on a weekday morning or afternoon
# indicates CPDU credit available for Illinois teachers seeking recertification

Friday, April 24, 2009

Some new paintings in 2009

I can't believe it is finally spring, we had snow in April here. Snow always makes me happy so I was among the few who liked it. Us skiers, we love to look at snow, think about snow and ski on snow ANYTIME.

So now, finally spring and good work done.