The garage known as my studio was built in 1911 by a Swedish lumber baron. The sturdy framing and knob and tube electrical wiring were covered with beautiful fir panels. . . until recently when portions were removed to make way for shear walls. The way of California. When my electricans were updating the wiring I had them salvage the knob and tube remnants. I love the feel of the ceramic and the sound of the pieces knocking together. The white pieces remind me of bone. I also wonder about their history. Who used the electricity they enabled for the past 104 years? What things happened with those lights and that power? Did Jerry Garcia ring the doorbell when he arrived to buy his first banjo from Jon and Deirdre Lundberg? I can’t just let my electrician walk out the door with those beautiful objects. They are perfect for assemblages. The bone white seems to belong with dried opium poppies and erasers, string, Indian elephant trinkets, legos, sunflower seeds, copper, boardwalk tickets and other stuff.
The ceramic knobs are the type that consist of two pieces with a nail running through the middle. They were nailed directly into the wall studs or floor joists. Electrical wires were wrapped around the knob, which securely anchored them. The knobs separated the wire from potentially combustible framework. Because they were suspended in air, they could dissipate heat well. They also facilitated changes in direction and ensured that wires were not subject to excessive tension. The ceramic tubes were inserted into holes bored in wall studs or floor joists, and the wires were directed through them. This kept the wires from coming into contact with the wood framing and from being compressed by the wood as the house settled. There is a great deal of integrity to this old method of wiring. As my electrician pointed out, knob and tube wiring is in some ways superior to today's wiring, (except for some flaws such as lack of a ground conductor). And most noticeably, today's wiring won't offer up any timeless ceramic when it is replaced a century from now.
There is something special about the space where music is created. My two boys take piano lessons from a fabulous teacher in her home across the street from Willard Park in Berkeley. Stepping into her "piano salon" is like entering a secret world. There is a warmth of wood, couches, dogs, books, and tapestries. The open windows and grand pianos take this coziness and spread it into the park and the world beyond. It is a pleasure to watch my kids play here.
I have a lot of hellebores in my garden (also known as lenten roses). I love their muted colors when they start to bloom in winter. Last week I picked a few and tried to put together a still life. I experimented with several different vases but every set up overpowered the subdued flowers. Then I pulled out an old port box and laid the flowers on top. Perfect. My husband has had this Quinta do Vesuvio port box for at least 15 years. Even after our apartment was broken into and most of the port was stolen, we kept the box with one lonely bottle for several years. We brought it from Boston to Berkeley. And now it plays a dignified role with my lenten roses.
Still lifes with flowers pose a challenge. One may find a flower alluring. But I need more than just a flower. If you look at the lenten roses still life you will see that the flowers cover less than 20% of the painting's surface. All of the other elements (the port box, the books under the port box, the bit of table, and the wooden panels behind the table) give me the opportunity play with shapes and colors on the canvas.
In the yellow rose still life I was attracted to the rose and the light through the beer bottle. But there are other important elements in this painting: the light behind and beneath the table, the indication of a tea pot and a pomegranate, the triangles light on dark and dark on light, and the texture of the table cloth. Without these elements, the rose and beer bottle would have no context.
When I was just three years old, my parents travelled with me and my two brothers to Madrid for six months. My father was teaching art with a small group of Americans. I have very distinct memories of this trip, since that is the age when I first began to form memories. I remember the taste of the potato chips made on the corner, the butterscotch candy I ate at the bullfight, and the time I got lost when I went to the park with my father. I made my way back to our apartment, rode the elevator and rang our doorbell. My mother was surprised to see me standing there all alone.
Luckily my parents took several pictures of this trip. I remember these images from family slide shows. The memory of the photographs and the actual memories of my experience are now indistinguishable. Recently I've begun a series of paintings based on these old slides. I am drawn to these photos through a personal connection. But the other element that draws me to these photos are the strangers randomly captured on film some forty years ago. What were they thinking and where are they now? They have no idea I have been studying their singular gestures on one random day in Madrid.
This painting is called "Celebrating with Franco". The young girl in the foreground with the yellow coat is the same age I was at the time. I look back at her across a chasm of space and time, and wonder if she is making gazpacho tonight like I am.
My kids play soccer at the Bladium Sports Club located in an old airplane hangar at the former Alameda Naval Air Base. Sometimes after soccer we stop at the the beach across from the Port of Oakland to see if there's anything exciting going on. We are rarely disappointed. There's always at least one container ship being unloaded. And frequently later in the day we can see a container ship moving through the narrow channel, out towards the Pacific Ocean, or coming in with cargo to unload. It's surprising how quickly they move when you are right up next to them.
The container ship in this painting belongs to APL - American President Lines. Headed towards the Pacific, it reminds me of a Morandi still life with it's simple forms and shadows. Some kids are watching the ship from their perch on little piece of concrete jutting into the port. Beyond the port lies Treasure Island, the Bay Bridge, and eventually the Pacific. Beside the ship stand the insect-like loading cranes which always remind me of the Star Wars AT-AT walkers. (George Lucas has denied the urban myth that the cranes inspired his creation of the walkers.)
Some years ago I painted a Hanjin container ship entering the San Francisco Bay past Crissy Field. This painting is more fanciful, with Van Gogh style waves below the calm boat. This painting is now hanging now in the Hanjin headquarters in Seoul.
I have always admired Max Beckmann's Rugby Players painting. So when my stepson Alex started playing rugby I knew I'd certainly take on a rugby painting. The push and tangle of bodies makes for constant visual engagement. It reminds me of the overlapping legs of horses and soldiers in a Pierro della Francesca. Moreover, the rugby uniforms usually have interesting stripes and patterns. And because the uniforms aren't overloaded with padding, it is easy to read the body movements.
Philip Guston also liked to paint tangled legs and objects and was an obvious fan of Pierro della Francesca. Guston always had a couple of postcards with Pierro della Francesca reproductions pinned to his kitchen wall. As for Beckmann, he was also a fan of Pierro della Francesca. I wonder if he was thinking of Francesca when he painted his Rubgy Players painting.
I frequently pass the four bears fountain at Marin Circle in Berkeley. The circle offers many views of the fountain. In any season and light, each view of the fountain is engaging. This painting depicts the fountain the way I visualize it from memory, combining multiple perspectives. In reality, one cannot see all of the surrounding streets and spaces between them from any one point - even from a bird's eye view. But in the painting, all of the radiating streets are visible. The result is similar to David Hockney's photo collages. Several views of Marin Circle are pieced together to create the illusion of a real space.
I have painted Monkey Island (the park located on Claremont Boulevard and Oak Knoll Terrace in Berkeley) several times using the same approach. In these paintings I depict the neighborhood the way it sits in my memory. The tree tunnels and island cannot be located in one rectangular painting using conventional perspective. Because the the tree tunnels and the island of grass are integral to my memory of the space, I have pushed them all into the four corners of the painting. Another important element of this painting is the time of day. The shadows are long, and the filtered light gives a sense of protection. The fleeting figures also play an important role. One feels the passage of time in a special space that is at once real and imaginary at the same time.
I finally finished my small painting of the Elmwood Cafe. My initial inspiration was the yellow striped awning. It acts as a halo, backlighting the engaged figures. In the foreground sits an exaggerated still life. The circular shapes in the still life are nestled among vertical stripes - found in chairs and ceramics. Likewise, the people are nestled among vertical stripes, found in chairs, windows and awnings. There are many arch shapes in the painting to soften the vertical lines. A zig zag path starts from the cafe door, leads through the figure with the colorful shawl, to the napkin and bowl in the foreground, and straight to the viewer via the spoon. This is a small painting with a lot of elements woven together. The Elmwood Cafe is a great place to visit, and they donate half of their profits to charitable causes such as Vida Verde and the Go Green Initiative.
The same week I finished the Elmwood Cafe painting I came across this painting in a Bonnard catalogue from a recent exhibition at the Beyeler Foundation near Basel. This painting is called La Nappe Blanche. You can see my attraction to a composition consisting of figures and a still life nestled among vertical lines and colorful stripes. The white table cloth serves as a canvas for round shapes, abstracted figures, and the colorful pattern of a sweater. Bonnard's painting also displays a mix of light sources. I really love his paintings and am enjoying this recent catalogue.