On a Mountain Top

This is where I am right now. Though it’s hard to tell through the haze, that lower swathe of dark blue is the ocean, and the little streak of grey at the upper left of it is one of the Channel Islands. I’m house-sitting for friends right now, and this is the view from the road by their home.

Their house is one of a couple dozen nestled together on a shared property up in the mountains. Coming up here feels a little like stumbling into a fairytale. The people who live here share an appreciation for the natural world and an affinity for creation. Everywhere I turn, I see something being brought into being. They are raising animals, raising vegetables, raising houses. And doing so with pleasure, with humor, with pragmatism, with beauty, with community.

I’m breathing in all the inspiration and letting exhalations flow into abstraction as best I can. I’ve spent most of the last week working on paintings to submit to a juried show put on by Sylvia White, a gallerist in Ventura well-known for her work helping artists develop their careers. I put together a temporary studio on my friend’s porch, and I’m making pictures up on a mountain top.

Raspberry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake and Gallery Wooing

On Wednesday, I had a meeting with the folks over at Gallery Acero, a local art gallery run in tandem with an iron forge. It is a wicked cool place. There’s heavy metal music (not sure if they intend the pun) playing over the sound of hammering and torches. The three brothers who run the place and their cohort create everything from custom furniture to fine art.

I am fantastically lucky enough to be friends with one of their production assistants, who  also helps out with running the gallery. She encouraged me to send images of my work to Dan, the owner, and propose a show, which I did. He liked my work, so we set up a meeting. And then suddenly I needed, like, a portfolio, a really spiffy up-to-date artist statement and exhibition history, some kind of plan for how I envision my current work being shown, and a face that says, “I’m a grown-up and a serious artist.” Gulp.

I decided to cheat a little and bake Dan a cake, in hopes that the instant affinity created by sugar and butter would help him overlook whatever fears and faults of mine peek through. Turns out berries are a straight route to his affections, so that went well. But funny thing, while showing up with baked goods always makes me feel more at ease in new situations, I was amazed to find that despite my nerves, I’m plenty capable of having a business meeting about art. When I take a deep breath and trust my own ideas and intentions for my paintings, I really enjoy discussing them with like-minded people. Having a dialogue with some one who is as passionate about art as I am and who responds to my ideas with interest, respect, and even a bit of challenge is seriously fun.

If that’s how to conduct business in the art world, I might just be able to make this work. And when I have doubts, there’s always cake. This particular one comes with high commendation from the gents and lady over at Santa Barbara Forge and Iron.

Recipe after the jump… Continue reading

Irish Cream Ice Cream

I’ve discovered the secret to happy hour.

I should start by saying I’ve never been a devotée of the tradition. I will occasionally have a glass of red wine in the afternoon or meet up with friends for a beer and something salty that will inevitably leave grease on my fingers and thus my clothes. That’s all well and good, and okay it’s super fun once in a while. Especially when you make salt shaker towers… But it’s not something I’ve ever made a habit out of, not something I lust after.

However, when you take the afternoon alcoholic beverage and turn it into an afternoon alcoholic frozen delight…well, I’m in. This ice cream is definitely something to lust after. I only like and only make thicky, creamy, real ice cream, none of that fluffy grocery store-style stuff (if you’re into that, I offer you a lovingly bemused look and a warning that you won’t find it here). This recipe counts as a paragon of the creamy ideal with all the caramel-y, grown-up deliciousness that is Irish Cream.

If you put it in a pseudo-martini glass with hot fudge and sprinkles, you can almost get away with claiming it’s a cocktail as opposed to a sundae.

What can I say? I’m so much more of twelve-year old than a twenty-something-year-old when it comes to my idea of a treat. This goodness gives the best of both worlds.

Recipe after the jump… Continue reading

A Subjective Definition of Beauty: What Feels Like Home

Be forewarned: This post is long, verging on essayic, but it’s filled with excellent images, and I had oh-so-much fun musing it up; I highly encourage you to plow through it.

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937, Oil on canvas

I’ve spent about a gazillion hours of my life asking this question: What is art for? Is it supposed to make a political statement, like Picasso did with Guernica? Is it supposed to rough up cultural norms like the Dadaists and Andy Warhol did? Should it celebrate the natural beauty of the world as did the Impressionists or explore the potential universal psyche vis à vis the Abstract Expressionists? The options are overwhelming.

However, I have lately been thinking a lot less about the purpose of art and rather more about its appeal. Most precisely, I have been asking this question: what kind of art do I like? And of my friends, this question: what kind of art do you like?

Vassily Kandinsky, Several Circles, 1926, Oil on Canvas

About myself, I realize how thoroughly I am drawn to abstract art, to simple images that emphasize color, form, and gesture. And yet I also adore skillfully rendered figurative images. I have a love affair with line.

Beyond what art looks like, I am hugely influenced by what it feels like to me. The reason why I like simple abstract art so much is probably the same reason why I make that kind of art: it feels like a true expression of the world to me. This idea resides at the crux of most of what I like; things that affirm my own experience of the world, that feel friendly and familiar, or, as I like to say, feel like home. I like art that’s playful or funny, a bit absurd even. When life is challenging, I take comfort in the ridiculousness of it all, and I’m drawn to work that helps me do that. I’m especially a sucker for tongue-in-cheek nostalgia.

Meredith Allen, Forever (duck), 2005, Photograph

Jung Lee, I Love You With All My Heart, 2010, C-type Print, Diasec

Yuken Teruya, Forest Cloud, 2006, Toilet Paper Rolls

I also like art that’s a little bit sad– wistful, if you will. Things that have a sense of longing and seeking. Mark Rothko always gets me in the gut. He said that with his paintings, he was looking for The Sublime. I’m not sure what Rothko’s idea of The Sublime was or if he ever found it; to me his work is neither tranquil nor euphoric, ideas that often go along with “sublime.” However, I do feel in his paintings a distinct sense of looking, and that I relate to: the endless search for something we feel akin to but which we cannot fully articulate or grasp. I suppose there is a certain tragedy implicit in seeking. One must always reckon with the risk that we may never find what we are looking for.

Mark Rothko, Red, Orange, Tan, and Purple, 1954, Oil on Canvas

I’ve been running into articles about the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama everywhere lately, and I love her because she embodies this idea of reckoning. She’s been living in a mental health institute for decades now, by choice. Her paintings are images of what she experiences in her insanity; creating them allows her to be less controlled by the chaos of her mind. She says, “I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art.” I am infinitely grateful that my own mind’s chaos is not as extreme as Kusama’s, but for certain I experience some amount of pain, anxiety, and fear every day. The idea that art is a space to negotiate and cultivate understanding around that turmoil is welcome to me.

Yayoi Kusama, from Infinity Net Paintings, 1958-1960, Oil on Canvas

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room, 2012, LED Lights and Mirrors

What’s more, I feel it in her work. Kusama’s oeuvre comes across as neurotic, filled with almost unvarying repeated motifs, but subtle shifts in form and arrangement seem to grapple with themselves, and a lot of her newer work with lights and brightly colored dots is even uplifting. But, I’ve also met people who can’t stand her stuff, who find it overly obsessive and “crazy-making.”

My current favorite from the archive of firedskyward: Chris Duncan, Human Interaction #4, 2010, paint, spray paint, mirrored paper, inkjet print and thread

It’s here that the question of what art is for breaks down in the loveliest way. A friend of mine who keeps the visual arts blog firedskyward recently wrote this to me: “I absolutely love how when someone tells me such-and-such piece is their favorite, it is inevitably different each time…At the end of the day, I think it just comes down to a subjective definition of beauty.” Not only do people often like entirely different things, but we also like them in entirely different ways. And furthermore, we often like them for reasons other than what the artist intended. I like Damien Hirst’s spot paintings because randomized colored dots strike me as adorable and remind me of the candy I ate as a kid (again with the nostalgia). I don’t like them because they are a clever joke about how art collectors can be suckered in to valuing something mass produced on a whim; to the extent that that’s true, I suppose I just shrug my shoulders.

Damien Hirst, Aminabenzoyl Hydrazide, 2010, Oil on Canvas

The art industry has a reputation for being pretentious and esoteric, perhaps because art is expensive and difficult to distribute widely, as opposed to more popular creative genres like film, music, and writing.  There seems to be a misconception that there’s something to “get” about art. I find that unfortunate, and I disagree.  The fun in art is not about getting it right, but in discovering what makes your day and then reveling in it whatever way makes sense to you.

The Taste of Nostalgia: Homemade Peppermint Patties

It’s a trait of the women in my family that we have food phases. During one of my most fondly remembered childhood food phases, my mom cooked homemade pizza at least twice a week for five weeks straight. For years my sister only ate Inari sushi, California rolls, and teriyaki chicken at Japanese restaurants. She never strayed. I myself had a phase that lasted from probably age nine to thirteen: the chocolate and peppermint candy phase. While other people dabbled in Skittles and Snickers and everything in between, I invariably ate either York Peppermint Patties or Junior Mints. Sure, on Halloween, I took whatever came my way gladly (with the exception of Bottle Caps, which I consider an affront to the concept of candy), but if we stopped for snacks on a road trip or got a treat at the movies, I always, always chose chocolate and peppermint.

The weird thing about food phases is that they end, and often the food which you once so loved sort of just falls off your radar. You hit your limit, or OD, or something like that. I don’t think I’ve eaten a Junior Mint or a Peppermint Patty in, I dunno, maybe five years and I stopped being impassioned about them long before that.

Then, when my sister and I were at See’s Candy a couple weeks ago, she ordered a peppermint patty, and some faded memory whispered to me. The next time I was at a candy shop, I got one myself, and it was like being hit over the head with my childhood, in the nicest way. A long forgotten source of pleasure resurfaced, like a friend you run into unexpectedly after years of absence. And as with that friend, you feel sort of bad that you’ve been out of touch for so long. Why did I let this loveliness go unappreciated for so long?

But hey, there’s a way to make up for the oversight: by creating a scrumptious ode to the altar of chocolate and peppermint with my own two hands. So I did. And you can too. Recipe after the jump…

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Things to Draw: The Geico Gecko

Geico Gecko, ink and colored pencil on paper, 5 3/4″ x 8 1/2″

This is one of the more entertaining prompts I’ve gotten, something I never anticipated attempting to render myself. It’s surprisingly difficult to make a gecko look friendly.

Snickerdoodles and Other Doodles

Look, I made cookies! It’s been a while since I’ve done that, which is historically an anomaly in my life. But lately, I haven’t been baking or cooking much in general. I’m not sure why. I dredged myself up from a cooking-free period to make these for my sister and her boyfriend, who are celebrating their two-year anniversary. When Tay came to visit earlier this week, she was juggling spending time with me, working on her novel, running a writer’s group, and present-making for Chris. So I decided to chip in and make something cinnamon-y that she could give to him, since he’s an ardent fan of the stuff.

Lavender Cuttings, ink on paper, 6″ x 8″

I took a little time out of my evening to mix the dough, portion it, sugar-coat the portions and bake them off. I even went so far as to play with the recipe. I made half snickerdoodles, and the other half I rolled in lavender with colored sugared to make what I am coining “Provençal Party Doodles.” They’re kind of awesome. It was nice. They tasted yummy and Tay was grateful, so it was all for the good.

But I’m still over here in the corner shaking my head and saying, “I just don’t know what I think about this right now.” I used to see my life as a plated dessert or a three-course meal. I planned my days around where I wanted to go grocery shopping and all my meditations were infused with distracted thoughts about flavor combinations and cooking techniques. But then I lived that out, pretty thoroughly. I cooked for work; I cooked at home. I cooked with people, but I also spent a lot of time cooking for people. And it started to feel like a chore. And at times an excuse. Being in the kitchen came so naturally to me that it was easier to do that than approach many other parts of my life.

I guess I cooked myself into a stalemate. I’m not sure what I want from the culinary world. I’m not sure what I want from art or community or this city or the future, and I no longer have a cooking frenzy to turn to to avoid that. In the simplest terms, I’m not sure what I want from myself. Which is okay actually. Maybe I am shifting away from the desire to throw myself headlong into anything, cooking or otherwise. I have noticed that when I live that way, I end up with tunnel vision, and I miss things. What I would like right now is to see the world, and to see myself. To let myself look, to let every day be new– a fragment all its own. Some days it’s nice to bake cookies for my sister. And some days it’s nice to eat apples and peanut butter and never put a pan on the stove or turn on the oven.

But if you’re having a kitchen day, make these. They’re great.

Recipe after the jump…

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