Sunday, October 2, 2011

October Poems

For those of you who, like me, always feel a little melancholy with the coming of Autumn, here are some poems, songs, and art pieces to resonate with that mood.

Forest of Beech Trees, Gustav Klimt, c. 1903

"Autumn" by Rainier Maria Rilke
The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,  
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning "no." 

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We're all falling. This hand here is falling.

And look at the other one. It's in them all. 

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling. 

Click to hear Joshua Shank's choral setting of this poem. 

Late October by Gloria Newton, 2010

"Intercession in Late October" by Robert Graves
How hard the year dies: no frost yet.
On drifts of yellow sand Midas reclines,
Fearless of moaning reed or sullen wave.
Firm and fragrant still the brambleberries
On ivy-bloom butterlies wag.

Spare him a little longer, Crone,
For his clean hands and love-submissive heart.

Click here for Morten Lauridsen's choral setting of this poem, which was dedicated to my choir director, Donald Brinegar.

Silence by Odilion Redon, 1913
"Automne" by Armand Sylvestre
Automne au ciel brumeux, aux horizons navrants,
Aux rapides couchants, aux aurores pâlies,
Je regarde couler, comme l'eau du torrent,
   Tes jours faits de mélancolie.

Sur l'aile des regrets mes esprits emportés,
Comme s'il se pouvait que notre âge renaisse !
Parcourent en rêvant les coteaux enchantés,
   Où, jadis, sourit ma jeunesse!

Je sens, au clair soleil du souvenir vainqueur, 
Refleurir en bouquet les roses déliées, 
Et monter à mes yeux, des larmes, qu'en mon coeur   
  Mes ving ans avaient oubliées! 

Click here for Gabriel Faure's vocal setting of this poem, which is one of my favorite art songs. 

Translation by Peter Low:
Autumn, time of misty skies and heart-breaking horizons,
of rapid sunsets and pale dawns,
I watch your melancholy days
  flow past like a torrent.

My thoughts borne off on the wings of regret
(as if our time could ever be relived!)
dreamingly wander the enchanted slopes
  where  my youth once used to smile.

In the bright sunlight of triumphant memory
I feel the scattered roses reblooming in bouquets;
and tears well up in my eyes, tears which  my heart
  at twenty had already forgotten!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Growing Orbits

In the summer of 2005, when I was about 18 months into the first clinical depression of my life (and hopefully my last), I created a performance that tracked my journey, and looked ahead to the future.  Even though I wasn't feeling it at the time, the show ended on a hopeful, celebratory note.

Anyway, the opening scene, based on Robert Bly's translation of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, was a pre-recorded video segment that remains one of my favorites, now 6 years later and light-years beyond where I was then, emotionally, spiritually, interpersonally.  And yet, as the poem alludes, I live my life in circles, coming back to ideas and thoughts and behavioral patterns I had seemingly moved beyond.  The difference is now that I'm visiting them again, I recognize them for better or worse, and am able to respond in ways that reflect my present self.  The circles, die "vachsenden ringen" are growing ones; I go travel further and more broadly over my exterior and interior landscapes alike.

I'll always be grateful for the partnership of my friend and videographer, Bob Nolty, who not only shot the footage, but so completely understood my idea for this segment that I loved it at his first edit.

Here's to recognizing our own growth and continuing the questioning journey.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Teaching by Getting Out of the Way

I once had a career as a teacher that spanned the better part of the decade of the 1990s.  I left teaching to pursue the arts, and thought I'd never want to go back.

Creative students at play: Ezra, Julia, and Natalie
Gradually, as I learned more about myself and began to come into my own skin as an artist, and as I put 11 more years on the birthday cake, the idea of teaching crept back into my vision for my future.  I didn't want to teach English, like I had before, and I wanted to teach art, but not in a regular school setting.  I don't have an art degree, so being hired by any institution seemed unlikely anyway.  So, with the unflagging support of Kimberly and Randy, two friends who run the Peace & Justice Academy, a private middle and high school in Pasadena, I started my own classes, and called it the school's Summer Arts Program.

FUI Students create an image of the theme of "poverty"
I also was invited back to lead workshops for the Fresno Urban Institute interns, who are college students seeking to participate in the Reign of God in the impoverished neighborhoods of Fresno.  Such summer programs are emotionally charged and spiritually intense (I did a similar program the summer I graduated), and the workshops were designed to give them a chance to process their experiences in non-verbal, or creatively verbal ways.

As I led these classes and workshops, I found myself in a much different place pedagogically than I had been before, much less concerned about the outcome and much more engaged in the process.  I discovered that my main role was to show up and provide the stimulus for the creative act (materials, a project idea, writing prompts, theater games), and then all I had to do was allow things to happen.  What did happen far exceeded my expectations, and gave me joy that will fuel me for a very long time.

Josh's Subject Delta
 All of the Summer Arts Program students were fantastic to work with, but Josh in particular never ceased to amaze me.  Once he got an idea, there wasn't much I could do to stop him. At one point, when he was making a small scuptural rendering of "Subject Delta" from the video game BioShock, he was doing some technique I wasn't sure would work.  When I started to question it, he said "Trust me.  I've done this before."  And sure enough, he knew what he was doing, much better than I did.  Click here to see a picture of the original character.)

Back view of Subject Delta

And even when students haven't done something before, I still need to trust them, their own individual processes, their opinions and ideas.  Now that I'm smack dab in the middle of my 40s, I am able to appreciate and learn from these people decades younger than I.  They are energetic and honest, they don't have the baggage carried by we who are older in years; they are kind, compassionate, and funny as all get out.
Three cool guys: Ethan, Jacob, and Joshua

      I was allowed to see all of this because I stayed out of the way.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Good Day For Looking--Part 2: From Burton to Burgundy at LACMA

While CAFAM is not on very many people's cultural map of LA, the LA County Museum of Art, just down the street, certainly is.  Even more so these days with the opening of the highly-to-the-nth-power-anticipated exhibition, simply titled Tim Burton.

Unlike many people of my generation and younger, I am not much of a Tim Burton aficionada.  I've only seen three of his movies from start to finish (Pee-wee's Big Adventure from 1985, Edward Scissorhands from 1990, and Ed Wood from 1994).  I've seen most of A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and some of Beetlejuice (1988), and that's about it.  But Burton's work is so engrained in the cultural fabric of the past few decades that I felt sure I'd have enough context to appreciate what I was seeing.

The show is really well done--exhausting if you spend time looking at every bit of ephemera, every drawing, sketch, photo, and watch every short film.  My basic approach was to skim through so as to see everything, stopping when something was particularly intriguing (for the record, I stopped a lot).  The curators and exhibition designers have intelligently placed the extensive collection in groups either by theme (such as sketches, drawings, and paintings from the "Creature" series), or in relation to one of Burton's feature films or larger projects.  Among my favorite pieces were his 6-minute, stop-motion animated short Vincent (1982), with the figures and sketches on display near the monitor, and a case of no less than 23 heads of Jack Skellington used in Nightmare, which showed the range of expression and emotion that puppets can communicate.  Of course, I also loved the other puppet figures on display from movies such as Nightmare and Corpse Bride (which I really must see!), but I found the sketches and storyboards equally enlightening as well.  I always appreciate getting a glimpse into the artist's process, and it is clear Burton's final products truly spring not only from from his prolific imagination and skillful hand, but from a team of like-minded artists and designers who are integral in bringing Burton's visions to life.

Even as I write this blog, I find myself smiling, just as I did walking through the galleries.  As I looked around, I noticed most of the other visitors, no matter what age (and there was quite an age range present), were smiling also.  Sure, Burton's humor is dark, but it's also wacky and grotesque (in the sense of distortion and absurdity) so that the creepiness is balanced with the sense that it's laughing at itself.  It assists us in seeing ourselves and our own innate creepiness a bit more lightly.

Catch it if you can--the show officially opens May 29 (I went on a "members only preview day") and closes on, you guessed it, Halloween.

While I was looking at LACMA's website for information about the Burton show, I saw images of a procession of marble statues"The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgandy."  

"Oooooh!" I thought, and probably said out loud.  I planned to check them out whether or not I was able to see Tim Burton that day.

These 37 sculptures, carved in the mid-15th century by Jean de la Herta & Antoine Le Moiturier, surrounded the tomb of John the Fearless (1371–1419), the second duke of Burgundy.  Normally housed at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, the sculptures are currently removed from their architectural setting and are being shown outside of France for the first time.

From the photos on the website, I thought the sculptures would be life-sized.  I was surprised to find that they are miniatures, no more than 18" high.  They are arranged on four banks of pedestals in a somberly-lit room painted dark gray.  The marbles are luminous, gorgeous; the sculptors have masterfully captured a wide variety of human postures and facial expressions.  Even when the head is covered in a hood, the face is still carved with precise and seemingly loving detail.  I couldn't take my eyes off the folds of the garments (or "drapery," as I learned to refer to them in my art history classes).  It makes me realize one of the things I love most about art is its ability to transform the appearance of one material into something with almost opposite physical properties:  stone becomes fabric, cardboard becomes clay, insects become decorative wallpaper.

I would like to see the Burgandy marbles in their original setting, which includes carved arches and columns.  Without them, the figures seem somewhat doll-like, due to their size (a review of the show when it was at the Met in New York cheekily called them "cute").  Yet the design of the exhibit encourages them to be viewed with a quiet contemplation that counteracts any impulse to find them "precious" (which isn't necessarily a good thing in the art world, or so I've learned).

Burton and Burgandy:  two very different takes on life, death, what's beyond, and what's between.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Good Day For Looking--Part 1: Cardboard and Insects at CAFAM

I hadn't treated myself to a museum visit day recently, so today was the perfect "calm before the storm" opportunity before a busy summer begins.  So I saddled up my trusty steed (my hybrid-cruiser Schwinn bike, Ceci) and hopped on the Gold and Purple Line trains, then rode from the Wilshire/Western Metro Station about 3 miles west.  I rarely do two museums in one day, but I was feeling particularly ambitious today, planning to visit both of the museums where I hold memberships, The Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) and the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA).  I saw a lot, too much for one post, so I'm breaking it into two.

cardboard, staples, shellac, steel bases
97 x 42 x 18 inches and 88 x 46 x 35 inches
Photo: Lee Fatherree
I love CAFAM.  It's small, it's friendly, and constantly amazing.  The two current shows, which run through mid-September, use quotidian materials--cardboard and insects--as the basis for creating magical, unexpectedly delightful sensory experiences.


found cardboard, staples, polyurethane
seven pieces ranging in size from

10 x 10 x 10 inches to 96 x 52 x 46 inches
Photo: Lee Fatherree


I was particularly interested in seeing the work of Ann Weber, because, like this sculptor, I REALLY love cardboard as an artistic medium.  I am intrigued by the way she layers and weaves with cardboard, using only staples to hold things together.  I often get irritated when there is printing on the boxes I find--Ann makes the colors and patterns on the cardboard a part of her pieces. 


(installation view, Triton Museum of Art)

cardboard, staples, shellac
seven pieces ranging in size from 
28 x 16 x 16 inches to 96 x 48 x 44 inches

Ann is giving a workshop at CAFAM in August.  You can bet I'll be there.

(All photos (c) 2010 by Ann Weber.  More photos are at her website:

I've volunteered on installations at CAFAM, and this time I helped during the first week of painting and prepping the galleries.  I was aware of what was to be installed, but I was not prepared for the sheer wonder and fantasy of "All Creatures Great and Small" by Jennifer Angus. 

Thousands of real insects, dead and dehydrated, yet surprisingly beautiful, are pinned to the wall in intricate patterns, interspersed with floral shapes molded with beeswax.  Get close enough to smell, and it's unmistakable.  This show truly impossible to describe--you simply must experience it. 

In addition to the wall installation, Angus has included diorama-type scenes, using doll-sized buildings surrounded by and filled with insects, interacting in various ways, and more beeswax sculptures.  I laughed and marveled at the energy and often dark humor of the various
insects and found objects that populate these scenes.  It's so unlike anything I've ever seen, and yet has echoes of what is familiar and even dear.  (I am quite sure that the molds for the reclining cows, donkeys, and sheep that I saw in several of the cases were cast from a nativity scene, because they look just like the ones in the creche we inherited from our grandmother.)

Angus has recently made a couple short stop-motion animation films using her insects and molded set pieces, and these are also on display at CAFAM.  Alas, they are not available online at this time.

If this work is at all intriguing to you, check out the videos on YouTube that show Angus at work, such as Touch of Weevil.

All of the photos here are from Jennifer Angus' website.  The CAFAM show has its own surprising look and color scheme not shown here.

CAFAM is one of the hidden gems of the LA art and culture scene.  In addition to unique shows, they offer a wonderful array of workshops, artist talks, studio visits, and film screenings.  Next time you're in the neighborhood (5814 Wilshire Bl., directly across the street from the mammoths sinking into the tar pits), make a point to stop in. Also see for a list of programs and offerings.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Deep calls to deep

When it comes to art, I'm not I'm not overly critical--I tend to think most things are ok even if they aren't really my style.  (I say this because I've had conversations with a number of artists who seem so jaded that they can't enjoy much of anything.  This is not true of me).

Nevertheless, it's not often when I find myself stunned to such stillness in front of a work of art that I forget to breathe.  And yet, this was my state of being when I visited the Huntington Library exhibition "Three Fragments of a Lost Tale" by the sculptor and filmmaker John Frame.  Over the past five years, Frame has  hand-crafted dozens of small sculptures ranging in size from 3.5 to 32 inches tall, with most of them measuring in the 8 to 12-inch range.  Not simply inanimate objects, these sculptures are a complex cast of characters for Frame's yet-to-be-completed stop-motion animation film "The Tale of the Crippled Boy."  A twelve-minute montage of scenes is at the artist's website--I highly recommend that you check it out. 

 I can't exactly say what makes me drawn so strongly to these tiny friends (for so it is that I have begun to think of them).  It's deeper than the fact that Frame's work incorporates so many of the media and materials I love:  craft, theater, puppetry, found objects, wood, stop-motion animation, miniatures, etc.  It seems as if I have known them all my life yet have never met them, as if they will reveal things about me that I've been wanting to know.  They exude longing and melancholy; these are emotions that have been my close companions, and perhaps that's why I feel such kinship with Frame's creations.

More funds are needed in order to complete the film.  The scenes that have been assembled for presentation as of this time barely hint at the larger story, which, from what I understand, will not be told using standard, linear narrative techniques.  All the better, for the soul is not linear--it follows circular orbits, overlaps itself, is in more than one place at the same time.

I need this story.  I don't know why, but I know I do.

"Three Fragments of a Lost Tale" is on view at the Huntington Library's Boone Gallery through June 20.

All photos were taken by John Frame; I borrowed them from the Huntington Library website.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Space to Lament

The frenetic pace of urban life doesn't lend itself to reflection.  Maybe that's one reason creating and encountering art has become so important to me, and why my art often aims to engage the viewer in a way that encourages a pause, an engagement, an exploration, and hence, reflection.

The Wall of Lament before the service

For the Good Friday service this year at Pasadena Mennonite Church, I designed three physical spaces that allowed for this type of thoughtful interruption.  At one of the "stations," I used a curving wood divider for a kind of "wailing wall" where I attached pictures from the last few days' editions of the Los Angeles Times.  (It was not difficult to find images that lent itself to this theme).  Like the historical Western Wall of the temple in Jerusalem, people were invited to write prayers and laments on small pieces of paper, and to add them to the wall (in Jerusalem, people fold up the prayers and stick them between the stones of the wall).

After a reading of the crucifixion narrative from the Gospel of John, interspersed with songs, people were given time to visit each of the three stations.  As the artist, I was trying to keep an eye on the stations as well as participate in the meditative time--not really possible, so I did neither very well.  However, after the service I collected the slips that people had put on the wall, and a day or so later spent time reading through them.  They ranged from single words to simple sentences to poetic phrases, combining into a evocative plea for restoration, both personal and global, specific and all-embracing.  A few contained pictures, two were written in non-Roman characters.  I share them below, so that we may add our "amens" to this outpouring of sincere expressions of doubt, grief, and faith.

...and at the end of the service
For the impotence of our love, of my love;
For the shallowness of my self-givenness;
For the insecurity of my hopes;
For the fruitlessness of my life;
For the rage of my righteousness,
Forgive me Lord.


I lament so much illness and disease in the world.  So many struggling to live in broken bodies and disturbed minds--

All the people hurt by war and violence

For the hopes of people who have risen up in courage and risked everything and in some cases have lost everything.  When will Justice and Peace come to this earth?  When will we stop murdering the earth?
For all the people here who just don't care or don't pay attention, or don't do anything, or are too scared or too busy or too hopeless.
For those who try but find their personal issues get in the way, for those who fight each other on the quest for justice and peace.
Heal our world, O God, heal long?

The cycle of death continues...pain begets pain and there feels like no hope at times...

Peace in Lybia
    in Bahrain
    in Egypt
    in Syria
    in Palestine
    in Tunisia
    ...(something written in Arabic)

For M and her addiction, especially to hopelessness
For A and her laments, complaints

Not stopping climate change


For those in fear,
all who feel unloved,
all who suffer violence.

I feel sad that people don't have enough money to stay alive.

For prejudice disguised as theology
for rejection cloaked in intellect
My parents' divorce,
my mother's re-marriage,
disrupted relationships

    Violence &
Prioritizing war & defense spending OVER taking care of the poor, hungry, & marginalized


I pray for all of the broken people who say they aren't broken.  They push it all away when they need you most.  Show them, God, what it is like to be healed through you and not broken.  We need you.

I lament that there are so many who cannot see a good and loving God when there is so much pain and suffering in the world.

For victims of natural disasters--
    for sadness, discouragement, despair

For endlessly deep and unreachable despair

For cancer

I lament my shallowness.  I lament my selfishness.  I lament my sins.  I lament my one-sidedness.  I lament when I forget the cross.  I lament not being Christ-like.  I lament my lack of patience and my temper.  I lament...I lament...I lament...I lament...

I lament my brokenness of spirit that makes me pessimistic, judgmental, and angry.  I lament all suffering--
God be with us.

For the brokenness and hatred that causes people to do violence to others, destroying humanity and creation in each person.

broken families

the way the modern world forgets how war and violence affect all of us/
the way kids learn that violence and war are good and okay.
ignorance about these and many other issues

the sick
the lonely

I want to remember our brothers and sisters who have died serving Christ as they were called.

So many suffering.
So many hungry.
So many without  homes.
We seem to be going backwards.
Give us eyes to see your light in the darkness.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.  Amen.