Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31, 2011 – Let Go, Look Forward

Some years on December 31st I ride the N-Judah out to Ocean Beach. At sunset a small group always gathers for the ritual for the Goddess Yemanja. It’s nothing like the hundreds of thousands who gather on beaches in Brazil. But it still is a nice way to end the year and look forward to the new one. I painted today’s final piece for the 2011 Project from a photo I took a few years back on a previous New Year’s Eve. I attempted to go out there today on this beautiful winter afternoon. Alas, I waited for a train or a half an hour. Some folks had been waiting for well over an hour. A beach trip wasn’t meant to be this year.

This has been a mixed year for many. I am trying not to dwell on the negative. We all just have to let some things go. I prefer to look back on the positive things that happened in the past year and look forward to more great things in 2012. My new mantra as time marches on — Let Go, Look Forward…

Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30, 2011 – Penultimate

It’s not often that you get to use the word penultimate. It’s a shame as it’s such a catchy sounding word. And if you’re not familiar with it, no need to be embarrassed. It’s rather obscure. It means second-to-last. I only know about penultimate as I studied a bit of Polish which features fixed penultimate stress. The stress is always on the second-to-last syllable in every Polish word – which is quite convenient for foreign speakers. Today, of course, is the penultimate day of the year and it’s the 364th piece for the 2011 Project.

Room for Two More

363 Pieces on the wall and there is just room for two more.
(photo courtesy David Wilson)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

December 29, 2011 – Map of the Future?

As the year on the calendar winds down it is natural to become reflective and look back over the past 12 months while thinking about what 2012 will bring.

2011 has been a lean year for many of us. It was all about being home. I barely have traveled beyond California. It’s been about eating in, having friends over and living frugally. Many of us seem to be in that mode and it’s been that way for quite some time. That said it’s been an amazingly productive year for me. I still haven’t grasped how much art I have actually created this year. My art has also probably reached more people in 2011 than in any other year — in person, online and in the press with articles in the U.K. and Italy. Even some of my sales in this lean year have lead to my art heading overseas.

As this phase of the 2011 Project ends, I wanted to do one more map piece. It serves as a prototype for a new pattern I’ll play with in 2012. It also contains some places I’d like my art to go in the future and hopefully I’ll be traveling with the art. To the coming year…

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 28, 2011 – Far From the Museum Crowd

When you know a museum and go often, you learn about the “secret” quiet spots where no one ever seems to go. Even when the museum is crowded, the quiet spots tend to stay that way. Sometimes you even recognize them on a first visit to a particular museum. Perhaps the masks and sculptures from Africa and Oceana scare people away at the de Young. A few were probably made with that intention. The Rongowhakaata, Maori ancestor panel is one of my favorite treasures. Today, like on most every visit, I had it to myself. It was the same at the old de Young as well. I always like to stop by for a quiet moment and feel myself transported back to New Zealand. It’s been far too long.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 27, 2011 – Route One

There is a lot I love about California and one thing that especially makes it an amazing place is Route One. In various pieces many, many times I have driven along the coast on Route One. Today I came back home to San Francisco along Big Sur, after all these years, it still remains as exciting as the first time.

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26, 2011 – Florida

In Britain and in much of the Commonwealth today is celebrated as Boxing Day, but where I grew up, if it was to be any holiday, we’d call it Florida Day. Old folks take down the tree or finish the last of the Chinese from the take-out containers, and it’s time for them to head south. Some might say the smart ones took off right after Thanksgiving. And here in California the concept seems exotic, we never need to go to Florida.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

December 25, 2011 – The Only Family with a Christmas Tree

Holidays tend to bring up a lot of memories and stories of celebrations in previous years. They bring up holidays past, the good ones and alas, the bad ones. One of my favorite Christmas stories was one my great grandmother used to tell.

It happened over one hundred years ago when she was a girl. She lived all her life in Buffalo, a city legendary for huge amounts of lake-effect snow. One particular December there was a massive snowstorm big enough to even close Buffalo down. So much snow that roads became impassable and no one could easily get in or out of the city. The storm hit about a week before Christmas. In Buffalo they are used to snow, but this time it was so bad that farmer’s could not make into the city. It meant that there were virtually no Christmas Trees to be found anywhere in the city. Just before Christmas, late one day, my great great grandfather saw a farmer coming in to town hauling a load of Christmas Trees by horse drawn sleigh. Of course he offered to buy one, but the farmer was frozen and not ready to sell. The farmer asked that grandma’s father just watch over the sleigh and the trees while he went and got warmed up and had something to eat. When the farmer returned a little while later, he gave my great great grandfather a tree for free. On the way home many men came up to him offering to buy the tree for huge sums of money. But he refused, and my great grandmother and her sisters and brothers were one of the only families in Buffalo with a Christmas Tree that year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

December 24, 2011 – Wigilia

Tonight is Wigilia, the traditional, Polish meal on Christmas Eve. The traditions get tweaked form family-to-family and a bit over time, but there is something special about a ritual meal that has been done this way by your family and ancestors for over a thousand years. Some of the traditions go back in Poland long before Christmas, when the Solstice was the holiday celebrated this time of the year. Traditionally the meal is meatless. It should have 12 dishes and with my family includes things like mushroom soup, fruit salad, pickled beets, herring, pierogis and plenty of baked goods. The other tradition is to always put some straw under the tablecloth. Or with today’s piece, there is some straw under and embedded in the art. Wesołych Świąt!

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 23, 2011 – Snow Globes

You have to be careful with snow globes. Mom returns from Florida and you get a few as a joke. You leave them out and people assume you collect them. Suddenly you have 50 in the kitchen. Then you take them to the office and fill the windowsill with snow globes. Two years later and there are 200 of them. You even select an apartment because an old doorway has been closed off and turned into a curio shelf. More, then more.

Friends come by, they schlepped that snow globe all over Europe in a backpack or suitcase. You know they check to see that it is still there. They get dusty and they need to be refilled with water. You begin to resent them. They end up boxed up in some friends’ basement for a few years. The friends get ready to move and you go deal with them and go through the boxes. You label the boxes with a magic marker with the words - Tofu’s stuff to sell. Some Haight Street denizen sneaks into the basement/garage when the door is open and the two boxes disappear. Imagine their disappointment when they got a few hundred nearly worthless snow globes.

The collection is gone. Hurray!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22, 2011 – Winter Solstice

This morning, at 5:30 a.m. in Britain was the Winter Solstice. Technically, it was still the 21st in California when the solstice occurred. But, as I’ve painted Stonehenge in the dark in the cold, early morning, we’ll go by the clock in Britain. I like this dark, short day, because even though it means winter is here, it also means that now it means the days are getting longer.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 21, 2011 – Christmas Cards

Being the oldest child has certain advantages. As babies we are the recipients of a level of parental enthusiasm that there is little energy for when the younger siblings come along. Not that my brother or sister were neglected, but I got things like the filled out baby books and scrapbook of every greeting card I ever received (the scrapbooking ceased as soon as my brother came along). Parents with a toddler and a newborn have better things to do.

Now, what do you really do with all these old Christmas cards, valentines and birthday cards in the 21st Century? Well, a few of them finally got recycled for today’s piece in the 2011 Project.

The 2011 Project featured in Urban Magazine

Check out the new December/January issue of Urban Magazine. My 2011 Project is featured on pages 48-51. There is a pop-up browser in their website so you can see the article.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20, 2011 – Valley of Fire

When it comes to national parks and spectacular desert spots, Nevada has got tough competition. Squeezed between California and Utah with the Grand Canyon just out of reach, the average traveler doesn’t think Nevada and scenic go together. And I have to admit that some of those dry and dull roads across Nevada can be a challenge. But I decided to treat the Silver State as a treasure hunt. There are some real gems hidden among the sagebrush. Years ago I discovered one of the best desert places in the west.
Valley of Fire State Park is about 90 minutes north of Las Vegas, yet most of the thousands who flock to Las Vegas will never bother to see the park. I am not complaining about that. It’s always quiet and so many other travelers assume that as a “state park” it can’t be as good as “national park.” Okay, you just keep driving. Valley of Fire is all about the canyons, the rock formations, the petroglyphs all in oranges and reds against an intense blue sky. I saw the place in a dream over and over for about six months before I first visited the Valley of Fire. That was over ten years ago. I have been back many times since then.

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19, 2011 – Christmas Cookies

Yesterday was about making Christmas cookies (over 100 in my small kitchen). And for today, there is a little Christmas cookie art for the 2011 Project.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December 18, 2011 – Mar Azul

I remember when we discovered Cesária Évora in San Francisco back in the 1990’s. I was hearing her wherever I went. It was a time when I was doing a lot of painting. Cesária was the soundtrack I would paint to for hours. I don’t think I was unique. I remember going to open studios back then and you heard her wherever you went. It seemed every artist was playing Cesária Évora. It would be difficult to measure how much art was created to her music in San Francisco at that time. I finally got to see her live, her shows usually sold out months in advance. Even in the soulless cavern of the Masonic Auditorium, she was wonderful. My only regret was not being one of the fortunate ones who saw her back in the 1980’s in some small, smoky, intimate Parisian dive.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 17, 2011 – Gruss aus Wien

I have ended up using hundreds of old postcards in my work during the past year. And my post office box is filling up as people are sending me postcards for my first piece of 2012. The other day I received a little box that was filled with amazing goodies. Most of the postcards were European and about 100 years old. The print quality on the ones from Vienna is quite amazing. The images are as vivid and detailed today as the day they were printed. I couldn’t resist using a few for today’s piece for the 2011 Project.

Friday, December 16, 2011

December 16, 2011 – Paint by Numbers

This stage of the 2011 Project is almost at the end of the road, or to use a paint-by-numbers metaphor, nearly all of the 365 pieces have been filled in. And no, I never did paint-by-numbers as a kid. In more recent years, I received a few kits as gag gifts. There are some people who collect paint-by-numbers paintings, and I get it. There is something post-kitsch cool about them. But I resist the urge to start collecting another thing, so I only own one. I have a horse head, paint-by-numbers portrait hanging in the bathroom. I bought it at my favorite antique mall in Bakersfield – they always have a good selection.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 15, 2011 – Snake Plant

The other night I was looking at the snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) in my window and realized this plant deserved a part in the 2011 Project. The plant is a big one. It’s nearly two feet in circumference and some of leaves reach up to over five feet tall. This is no ordinary houseplant. It’s always been in my front window for 21 years.

Even with a superficial knowledge of feng shui, I still assumed this was a good choice to protect my home. It’s a tough, resilient plant that looks like a bunch of swords. Finally I was curious and did a little more research. My instincts were correct. The origins of the snake plant are in West Africa where it associated with Ogun the Orisha of war. It’s a plant used for protection. It’s also good for the air in your home. NASA even has done research that has shown it is an excellent plant for improving the air quality in a room. Everyone needs a snake plant.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 14, 2011 – Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with Strings

I miss tying up packages with string. The post office started frowning on the practice and then they banned it years ago. I know, it messes up the machinery, but still, I miss it. Yesterday I mailed off Christmas cards and a few packages. And I have to wonder how long into the future this will go on. Less and less cards are being sent and the U.S Postal Service is struggling. In the meantime, I’ll keep buying Christmas stamps and sending Christmas cards.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December 13, 2011 – Headlands

In California, and particularly the Bay Area, old and abandoned forts, batteries and bunkers are plentiful. Across the Golden Gate Bridge, in the Marin Headlands, you can’t wander far without finding reminders of an earlier era of military defense. Many of the structures are from World War II. It might surprise some how interesting and aesthetically pleasing many of the old bunkers and gun batteries look today. I often see them as being like sculpture emerging from the golden hills. I find them haunting in the fog or striking in bright sunlight. It’s also easy to imagine the bunkers as precursors for the mid-century architecture that perched modernist homes on California hillsides. If we maintain our “ancient” fortifications for a few more centuries, they may seem as interesting for future tourists as any European castle.

Monday, December 12, 2011

December 12, 2011 – Guadalupe

She goes by many names, La Guadalupana, Tonantzin, the Mother Goddess, Our Lady of Guadalupe and today is her special feast day. Today is the day in 1531 when Juan Diego opened his cloak and a multitude of flowers fell to the floor convincing the Spanish Archbishop that She had truly appeared. She watches over and protects us all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11, 2011 – Kiwi, Kiwi, Kiwi

Here in California kiwis are in season and the farmer’s markets are filling up with bags of them at bargain prices. I just finished eating the one I painted this morning. I missed doing a kiwi piece six months back when the fruits were coming into season in the Antipodes. As many kiwis as we grow here in California, most people think about New Zealand when one thinks of kiwis.

Kiwis and kiwi kitsch are plentiful in New Zealand. I am proud to say I’ve climbed to the top of the 4-story high, giant slice of kiwi in Te Puke, New Zealand. Ironically, kiwis are not native to New Zealand. Originally the fruit was known as the Chinese Gooseberry in English. You can see why they came up with a better name for marketing purposes. And to make it all a bit more confusing, there is Kiwi, the flightless bird and Kiwi, the nickname for New Zealanders. Some prefer to use Kiwifruit, but mostly one just hears “kiwi” in New Zealand and understands the meaning by context. I can’t imagine a jam made from a fuzzy little flightless bird, yuck.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

December 10, 2011 – Winter Monarchs

I’ve always been a fan of nature programs on TV. Usually, whatever exotic and amazing type of place they show you, it is always far away on some other continent. But right here in the Bay Area, not far away at all, is the wonderful sight of thousands of wintering monarch butterflies. The butterflies tend to prefer groves of eucalyptus trees and have some favorite spots along the coast where the weather is mildest. One of the best places is in Santa Cruz at Natural Bridges State Beach. There is a sheltered grove just back from the beach. Some years there are up to 200,000 monarch butterflies spending the winter. It’s an experience as beautiful and “exotic” as anything you’ll get in places like the Amazon or Borneo. It wouldn’t be winter in San Francisco without that little excursion down to Santa Cruz.

Friday, December 9, 2011

December 9, 2011 – F Market Fido

City living has its challenges at times and there are times when it can be really aggravating. Then there is the good stuff, the moments big and small that make up the reasons why so many of us choose to love in big cities. Public transportation can often be a hassle but there is one thing that always makes my day. There is something about seeing a happy dog excited to be riding the bus or streetcar. It can put everyone in a good mood, like this fella I recently saw on the F Market heading downtown for a little adventure. So take your dogs on MUNI, just remember, they have to pay their fare.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 8, 2011 – Diego Rivera

125 years ago today the great artist Diego Rivera was born. On his birthday in 1940, he was in San Francisco. Rivera celebrated his birthday by marrying Frida Kahlo for the second time. It’s easy to imagine what Diego and Frida would be doing if they were in San Francisco in 2011. They’d be marching and participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Would security let Comrade Diego back inside at the Pacific Stock Exchange to see his own work? Diego Rivera’s first San Francisco mural is inside, “safe” from the prying eyes of the general public and the rabble in the streets.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 7, 2011 – Long Nights

It’s the time of the year when just after the sun rises it seems to be getting dark a few hours later. In San Francisco, at 37° North, it’s nowhere as extreme as when you travel further north. Yet still, the short days are a challenge and make you appreciate the winter sun even more. The Winter Solstice is still a few weeks away but tonight and tomorrow have the earliest sunsets of the year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 6, 2011 – Advent of Art

At this point in the 2011 Project it should be clear that I am interested in time as well as it’s connection to specific dates on a calendar. And you might remember that I also love chocolate. It should come as no surprise that I like advent calendars. A calendar with its 24 magic little doors that you open every day on the way to Christmas. And, behind each door a chocolate. It makes me think about other possible calendar treats. I consider today’s piece a prototype. I think combining the concept of the advent calendar with new art surprises behind each door could be in my future. Why it might be the advent of a new era in art.

Monday, December 5, 2011

December 5, 2011 – Dreaming in Korean

When artists talk about places they want to visit to look at art, they are likely to mention New York and Paris and such places that many people traditionally associate with the art world. For me, the place I most want to go to look at art is Korea. This may seem unusual, but it all started back in 2003 when San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum had a show of Eight Contemporary Artists from Korea. This show was a real eye opener that had me going back and back to the museum when it was still in Golden Gate Park. I saw that show at least four or five times. I didn’t know much about Korea but it was clear that something was up in Seoul. Since then, the Asian Art Museum has had other new work out of Korea. It might be the best museum for contemporary art in San Francisco. See more about my thoughts on that on my art blog. These “teasers” from Korea make me suspect that Seoul is emerging as one of the real centers of innovation in art.

Much of the contemporary art I have seen from Korea is an expansion on traditional themes in Korean art. That is the case with the current show of contemporary ceramics called Poetry in Clay that I saw last week. That museum visit has inspired today’s piece for the 2011 Project. Now, I need to figure out how to visit Korea in 2012.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 4, 2011 – Un-blue-ievable

I hate to commit to a favorite color, but I am particularly partial to blue. Just don’t tell orange or green. Blue is a dominant color in my work. I work in a blue room and also have a blue kitchen. And as much as I love using blue paint, I can never outdo nature. About eight hours north is Crater Lake. It’s an immense and intense blue lake high up in the Cascades. The lake is one of the deepest in the world. Crater Lake is all that is left of Mount Mazama. A volcano that was about 12,000 feet high before it erupted then collapsed around 7,700 years ago. It’s one of those places that I always like to stop at when I am up in Oregon, if only for a few hours just to stare at the blue.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December 3, 2011 – Time to Hang The Lights

It’s that time of the year and these are the steps to follow:

  1. Find the lights.
  2. Untangle the big mess you left from last January.
  3. Test them and see if they still work.
  4. If steps 1, 2 or 3 failed, then buy new lights.
  5. Hang lights in the window.

Now, if you’re a real San Franciscan, you might keep the lights up year round or at least you leave them up in other rooms in your home like most of us do.

Friday, December 2, 2011

December 2, 2011 – Arches

There is something compelling about a natural arch. For a good arch it’s nothing to drive far out of your way on a road trip or hike down a long trail. The geological explanations about softer layers of underlying rock, the effects of wind or water erosion are interesting enough, but arches are just magical. Arches National Park is one of my favorites among favorite places.