Susan's "subject matter, context and medium...present a coherent artistic vision"
John Torreano, Clinical Professor of Studio Art, NYU

"Great stuff. Love your work."
Seymour Chwast

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Manet, My Muse and I

In grad school, one of my classmates, upon viewing my paintings of my cat, Muse, criticized them for their (intentional) lack of anatomical correctness. Then he gratuitously suggested, "If you want to learn how to draw a cat, trace a photograph of a cat." I countered, "Art, even traditional figurative painting, is not a representation, copy, or imitation of life. It is especially not a tracing of life; it is a transcendence of life."

The French painter Eduard Manet (1832- 1883) was always careful to filter out the expressive or symbolic content of his models, so that the viewer's attention would not be distracted from the pictorial content--brush strokes and color patches. By this filtering, he transcended the literal meaning of the subject. The model would still have been the inspiration for the painting, but the subject would have been painting. The models in Manet's creations transcend their actual selves and become truer, purer, never-before-seen versions of themselves. They are distilled down to their essence.

Manet's paintings were revolutionary visual manifestos of artistic freedom. His canvases exhibited what he believed to be the "natural laws" of the world of painting. Because of this, Manet's works are substantially different from those solidly constructed works of, for example, Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) with their familiar reality. Manet described the natural immediacies of the eyes' perception in terms of painting. The results were broad, flat areas on his canvases using no transitional tones to show what the eye takes in at a glance–not the way things really are.

Manet believed that the painter's first loyalty must be to his canvas, not the world outside the canvas. This is the beginning of an attitude which was later to be summed up under the rubric of "Art for Art's Sake." Manet's life was devoted to "pure painting"–to the belief that brushstrokes and color patches themselves, not what they stand for, are an artist's tools, as well as her primary reality.

If Manet had painted my cat:
Muse would have been a totally new image and the painting's content, although literally Muse's image, would have been about painting itself. The anatomical shapes of Muse's head and body would be less important than the shapes that he would have abstracted from Muse's form. The abstracted shapes would more accurately exhibit Muse's essence than the more literally rendered versions of Muse's "actual" shapes. These "actual" shapes would have inspired Manet. They would not have limited him, as they do less gifted artists who search for "realism" in painting.

In his concern for being true to the canvas, Manet would have found the truth, rather than merely the cuteness of a little cat in a three-dimensional "window." He would have had to make painterly decisions and some "sacrifices" at the expense of literal reality. Yet, he would have remained faithful to the canvas–his primary concern. By freeing himself of reproducing literal reality, Manet was able to capture the essence of his subject in a more truthful way. He would have transcended Muse, the signifier, and come to a clearer, purer painting of Muse. Art would have been created and the figurative subject abstracted in such a way as to be totally new and dazzling.

When I painted my cat:
I was delighted to see there is no more dazzling way to see a signifier abstracted and transcended than to spend an afternoon observing Muse. He is more my muse than my cat. He is, in fact, the perfect example of transcendence. Although he engages in the usual cat-like activities of eating, stretching, napping, purring, stalking and climbing, the shapes he assumes while so doing are more important than the fact he is a feline. The shapes he affects are so abstract as to make me altogether forget that he is a cat.

He has transcended cat as animal and in so doing has become a fresher, purer, more universal image. Sometimes he is a ribbon or, perhaps, a comet as he leaps over my head. Then he is a sphere–a ball about to bounce off a shelf. He is a rectangular brick as he stuffs himself into a shoebox for a nap, and is flat as a modernist's canvas, or a pancake, when he tries to squeeze through a tiny space between window and sill. Finally, he is the crescent moon as he arches his back in preparation for battle with the neighbor's cat. Even he seems to know that the shapes he assumes are more significant than the fact that he is a cat. He never loses his "catness," but he transcends it--by leaps and bounds!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Jeez, We forgot the kids!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Spooky Housekeeping

One would have thought I had an ideal childhood. Though our home at 64 Standish was beautiful and comfortable in every physical way, it was not a peaceful environment for me. My parents were very busy, so I was on my own much of the time. I had to figure out a lot of things for myself. In addition to suffering the usual childhood traumas featuring imaginary villains, my brother and I noticed something spooky going on in the housekeeping department. Mrs. Foales, our housekeeper, and Faith, her household assistant, seemed to be turning our household into a battleground of good and evil.

The Angel: Faith took care of cleaning and organizing the house, the clothes and the children. Faith wasn't her birth name. It was given to her by Father Divine. She was one of his "angels" and lived in one of the several communes he called "Heaven." She lived in Heaven rent-free and was fed and clothed by Father Divine. If she hadn't had a job, he would have found one for her. In exchange, all she had to do was turn over her entire salary to him every week. I guess the thinking there was that you don't need money in heaven. He needed money, though, to maintain his extravagant life style. I don't think he was as bad as the press made him out to be. He actually was interested in civil rights and did help a lot of people to overcome poverty. Even if he was helping himself to his angels' incomes, he at least was providing them with services, religious inspiration, a place to live, clothes and food.

Faith was a delightful, happy and contented person who took very good care of us. She quietly hummed cheerful hymns to herself while doing her work. I was fascinated by the way she looked because I had never seen clothes like the ones she wore. Father Divine apparently picked them out for her and all his other angels at thrift and second-hand stores. Her outfits may have been mismatched, but they were always clean, well pressed and colorful. The clothes she wore made her look like a clown of sorts. That was OK–I loved clowns and was happy to have a clown in the house. Once she bent over and I could see that she was wearing red bloomers with yellow polka dots all over them. I thought that was hysterical and burst out laughing. Faith admonished me, saying that I should not laugh at other people because I might hurt their feelings and God would be disappointed in me. I wasn't sure if she meant the God or Father Divine, but I wasn't taking any chances. I never made fun of another person's clothing ever again.

Once when my mother was out, Faith made my little brother Tommy two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I could tell that she was not that familiar with food preparation or sandwiches, because this is how she constructed it: bread, peanut butter, jelly; on top of that bread, peanut butter, jelly, on top of that, bread, peanut butter, jelly and on top of that bread, peanut butter, jelly. Poor Tommy couldn't even fit his tiny mouth around it. Everybody loved Faith and we, as kids, thought the sun rose and set around her.

The Witch: Mrs. Foales lived with us. She managed the household, supervised Faith, ordered the food and cooked meals. She was as colorless in her attire--gray dress, pearls and a white apron--as Faith was colorful. When she first came to the house I was very excited because my father told me she was from England and had worked as a baker in the Queen's confectionery kitchen. Even at a young age, I understood the implications of this--we would have great desserts! "Great hire," I thought. If she could make desserts that were good enough for the Queen of England, they were going to be good enough for me. However, all of her deserts were flops; her cakes never rose. Nor did she in my estimation. She explained that in the Queen's kitchen they used the metric system for measuring ingredients and she was confused by our American system of measure. There went that sweet dream. Only years later did I find out that England used ounces and pounds, just like we did. Also, her accent sounded funny. I used to imitate her much to her dismay by saying, "Blah, blaaaah, blah, blaaaah, blah, bla bla blaaaah." Try it, it sounds just like an English accent.

I frequently overheard Mrs. Folds doing something that I thought was really scary. She would lock herself in the bathroom repeatedly, sometimes for as long as half an hour and it sounded like all Hades was breaking loose in there. There were thumps and thuds and scraping sounds. But more frightening than that, her voice changed from that cheery little high–pitched English blah blaaah to a rough growl that might as well have belonged to Beelzebub, the Prince of Demons. Also the words didn't sound like any I had ever heard before. Might she have been speaking in tongues? When she emerged from the bathroom, she was flushed, sweaty and slightly disheveled.

I couldn't tell my parents about this, because I had already complained about the man with long, hairy, elastic arms and sharp fangs who lived under my bed and would try to hook me with his rubber arms and snap me under my bed, never to be seen again. This necessitated my jumping into bed from as far away as possible in order to avoid being ensnared and imprisoned. I might add that even when I jumped into bed I still was not entirely safe. As soon as I landed, the gathering of Golden Ladies convened. They would float out of the bathroom, giggling nastily with their high heels clicking down on the wood floor as they approached my room to get me. They made quite a racket bumping and stumbling against the long corridor wall and clicking their heels. I had never actually seen them, but somehow I knew they were beautiful, glowing evil specters with long golden hair streaming down their backs over their shimmering, diaphanous gowns. What particular brand of punishment they had in store for me, mercifully I never learned because just as the first one reached my door I woke up screaming. I complained to my parents about the Golden ladies, as well as the hairy, long-armed creep under my bed, every night.

In fear of losing my credibility with my parents altogether, I decided to keep my observations of Mrs. Foales to myself. Between Mrs. Foales and Faith, I believed that I was living in the midst of the classic battle between good and evil. After much contemplation, I was not that worried. I figured out–or at least hoped very much–that Faith's cheerful hymnal humming would overcome whatever evil Mrs. Foales was perpetrating in the bathroom. At a minimum, I hoped that the household would at least hold its own, remaining neither good nor evil but at least neutral. With that in mind, I kept my mouth shut and continued on with my daily life and activities. But I made sure I stuck very close to Faith.

Postscript: I lived at that Zoroastrian battleground of 64 Standish until I went away to college and then on to my own apartment in New York City. Mrs. Foales and Faith stayed in the house until my father passed away and remained there for about six months afterward to look after the house, receive real estate brokers and dispose of the furniture, furnishings. and clothing that remained. My brother, sister and I had left the house many years earlier, to conduct our battles elsewhere, and my mother was also gone. After the house was sold, I wanted to look at it just one more time, so I returned to my childhood home.

As I entered, I remembered how I had worried about everything as a child. I thought that I probably misremembered and misconstrued Mrs. Foales' nefarious bathroom activities. However, when I walked through the house, what I saw sent a chill up my spine.

Spooky housekeeping: The whole house was set up as if one person still dwelled there. All the furniture, furnishings and clothes had been removed, save for one of each item. In my parents bedroom, one suit, shirt and tie, hung in the closet with one brilliantly shined pair of shoes on the floor, and in the one bedside table that had been left was one set of underwear and one pair of socks. One of the twin beds remained and was made up with pressed linens and blankets. My father's pajamas and dressing gown were laid out on top and his slippers lay at the foot of the bed. In the infamous bathroom, there was one toothbrush, one bar of soap one towel and one washcloth. Strangest of all, in the dining room, the large dining table was gone but there was one place setting with a perfectly pressed napkin on our card table.

Outrageous! Dr. McLaughlin would never eat at the card table.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mc LAUGHS - Politically Correct Science

No I will not because I respect the protozoa's right to privacy!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Binx Speaks

Some years ago, for an undergraduate class in cinematic set design I took at Parsons, I had to give an oral presentation to my fellow students. My professor was the Director of the Museum of the Moving Image. However, it really was not I who spoke. The words came from my mouth and sounded like me, but they were Binx's.

I was in such a panic that you would have thought I didn't speak the English language. My assignment was to analyze Hitchcock's sets to see how they supported his cinematic concepts. Once again, I, a humble artist, was in over my head and Binx bailed me out. He told me to come over to his apartment and said we would work on it together. I thought this would involve a lot of pedantic research. However, when I got there, we didn't go to his library. We went to his TV. Binx had three Hitchcock movies and a bottle of chilled wine ready. What a lovely way to prepare a talk!

The following are my, er...that is...Binx's, talking notes. He pointed them out and I wrote them down while we watched the movies together. All the points he made were from his head, not from any book. When we finished, I asked him how on earth he knew so much about Hitchcock. He modestly said, "I wrote an encyclopedia article about him."

Talking notes: When viewing Shadow of a Doubt, Binx made sure I noted the quote, "If you rip the fronts off pretty little houses, you find swine." That is important. In that and other movies Hitchcock made in the forties and fifties, that's exactly what he was doing. He placed the actors in, if not pretty, at least everyday, sets–ones which are so ordinary that we get comfortable and never expect that horror could happen anywhere within miles of such places, let alone inside of them. In films, Binx explained, the audience doesn't expect anything awful to happen in pretty, brightly lit frames. Hitchcock gives the viewer a false sense of security because of the hominess and familiarity of his sets. In Shadow of a Doubt, we don't expect a psychotic killer in that pretty all-American Thornton Wilderesque town of Santa Rosa. And in North By Northwest, in such a serene setting as a wheat field, we don't expect Carry Grant to be pursued by an airplane.

In Psycho, made in the late fifties, we see Hitchcock masterfully toying with our expectations through set design. Psycho was a low budget film made with a TV crew. It is different from his earlier movies in that it was meant to be shocking. He shot it in black and white because he thought seeing blood in color would be too shocking for the audience. His earlier movies were more of the suspense or thriller genre. It is rumored that he was jealous of the attention that Henri-Georges Clouzot's Diabolique was getting, so he made Psycho.

Sets: The architecture is presented with a strong feeling for the ways it restricts and regulates human movements. Hitchcock uses the architecture expressionistically, as does Douglas Sirk. Hitchcock's film architecture expresses ideas that do not depend on the architectural functions. He uses architecture more as a tool. For instance, the architecture in Psycho traps Marion. The small spaces through which she continually moves are a metaphor for her horrible fate. Her movement illustrates the inevitability of that fate. Also, the claustrophobic sets are so small that she seems enclosed, trapped, and unable to escape.

There are two different, contrasting kind of sets--horizontal and vertical. The Bates Motel and most of the other sets are horizontal and the Hollywood gothic mansion, home of Norman and his mother, is vertical--looming above it all. Hitchcock uses this contrast to misdirect our expectations. Again, we don't expect the horror to happen in the ordinary, sterile, well-lit Bates Motel. Once he shows us the gothic mansion, we are manipulated into thinking that's where the horror is going to take place.

The Victorian house is fully furnished. Again, with this densely cluttered set, Hitchcock is deliberately trying to misdirect us into thinking this is where the horror happens. The Bates Motel bathroom where Marion's murder actually does take place is bright and sparse in comparison. There is a jokey foreshadowing of this scene in the beginning of the film as Marion is shown in her own bedroom with a brightly lit bathroom in the background. Also, the viewing of the bathroom in this scene indicates that Marion is a transgressor, which we know her to be, namely an adulterer and a thief. "Good" women were not shown in the context of a bathroom in the 1950's.

Hitchcock carefully selected forties-style furniture for the contemporary sets even though this movie opened in the late fifties. That's the kind of furniture most people had in their home at that time. When styles changed into the kidney-shaped tables and such of the fifties, people didn't rush out to buy them. Most of America still had forties furniture in their homes. If Hitchcock had used fifties furniture in the sets, they would have lost the ordinary everyday quality that he was seeking.

Motifs: Throughout the set decor, there are recurring visual motifs: windows, mirrors, eyes, vanishing point perspective and vortexes.

Windows: Usually the windows are closed and Marion is being viewed by the audience as voyeurs. (Voyeurism is another recurring theme in Hitchcock's movies, e.g. Rear Window.) Initially, we are viewing Marion through the windows of the small motel room of her tryst. Then we are viewing her through the car windows, emphasizing that she is in a small place–like a cage–from which she cannot escape. Finally, we view her through a peephole, with Norman Bates simultaneously doing the same.

Mirrors: The mirrors in the interior sets deny the "reality" of architectural space in order to comment on the characters and their helplessness. The mirrors in almost every scene are analogous to eyes. In Norman's mother's room there is a double mirror which makes us anticipate another murder. (my thought follows) Also, I believe it is a metaphor for the split in Norman's personality.

Eyes: Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that in an earlier movie he had attempted to create the image of a pair of eyes shifting back and forth by having two men in the back of a paddy wagon looking out the two back windows. He succeeds in doing this in Psycho in a different, more fascinating way. The windows of the vertical set of the highly organic Victorian house are like eyes and Norman's mother (very small because she is seen from a distance as she walks back and forth in front of the windows) becomes the pupils. The pupils (Norman's mother) seem as if they are shifting because she is pacing back and forth. That was my absolute favorite visual.

Vanishing point perspective: In any real tragedy, which Psycho is, there is a sense of inevitability. Hitchcock utilizes all the visual motifs discussed here to support the concept of inevitability. But we sense it unmistakably through use of vanishing point perspective. In the beginning of the film there are vanishing points in the artwork on the walls which frame (trap) Marion in her office. Then we see the highways on which she travels to her death as vanishing point perspective. We see it again reflected in the state troopers' sunglasses (which are also mirrors). These recurring pin-point perspectives are graphic indicators that she is on a straight-line, no-detour journey to her horrible fate. There is no way out for her. She can only go in one direction. In addition, the rearview mirror in the car reinforces this idea by reflecting the vanishing point of the highway, so we see it twice. This is Hitchcock's typical frame-within-frame approach of driving a concept home. Douglas Sirk used this approach as well.

Vortexes: The vortex appears at least three times - first as a flushing toilet, followed by water and then water mixed with blood draining in the shower drain and finally as Miriam's car becomes mired and is
pulled down into the marsh.

Hitchcock was insistent on having the toilet visible in the movie. In addition to the vortex it created, it is so mundane, it fools the audience into thinking nothing unpropitious could happen in the presence of something so ordinary. (The next thought is my second contribution to my presentation.) In fact, Marcel Duchamp had already rendered the toilet harmless when he presented the urinal along with other ready-mades as art. How scary is art? And how about the shower? They're pretty innocuous too, aren't they? If you really want to know how successful Hitchcock was at set design, just ask anyone who saw the film how comfortable he or she was taking a shower after seeing Psycho. And speaking of showers, I have to go to bed right now–as is–because there's no way I'm going to get into the shower in my brightly-lit, sparse bathroom so soon after writing this post. No way.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Goer was actually one of my classmates. Following the conclusion of my presentation, Goer said in front of the whole class that my presentation was "fatuous and extremely simplistic." Our professor, the museum director, disagreed and said that he was quite impressed with the originality of my ideas. When he asked what sources I had consulted, I simply replied,

"Binx has spoken."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

All My Children

Probably nothing this deplorable has ever happened to you (and I hope it never does), but it did happen to me.

One day my entire family got killed violently and in one fell swoop. It was death in a most horrible way–by exsanguination. A vicious, untrustworthy editor stuck a knife in the back of every one of my children while I, their beloved mother, had to sit by impotently in a refined, business-like manner and watch the ink drain out of their tiny bodies until they turned white and expired.

Three months before the massacre, I had been hired to create my little family by this very same editor. She said sweetly they would appear weekly for a year in a four-panel cartoon strip in the newsletter of a renowned international law firm. I said, "Shouldn't we have a contract?" She replied, "No, a handshake is good enough for me." So we shook on it. Then she brazenly paid me to conceive them. I didn't like the concept of exchanging money for life. But knew that it meant that my children would have a good life, be comfortable and get to travel all over the world. Even if this evil editor did own them, I would still be their birth mother and in control of their weekly activities. So, I left with the check, set about my creative work and became pregnant immediately. Labor was not easy. I was paid for 35 hours of creative labor, but it took more like 355 hours to create my children and their strip. No matter, a mother loves her children, however difficult and long the labor.

At this writing, my drained, pale children have been living for some years (if you can call it that) in a storage locker in my basement. Sometimes, when I am down there storing a painting, I can hear their cries and whispers. They are barely audible (remember, they had all the ink sucked out of them) but they are there. If I listen carefully, I can make out the words and hear them reminiscing about their heyday--their 15 minutes of fame--in the newsletter. "Ah, those were the days," I hear them whisper amongst themselves. Their vitality, adventure, graphic beauty and moxie were unmatched.

I loved my children and still do. My favorite is Attorneyman, the protagonist; he had beautiful, golden #2 Mongol pencils for hands; he was sharp. Let's say about Handria, what she lacked in body (her body was comprised of just a hand and an arm) she made up for in organizational skills. Gavella was born to be a judge. She got her name because she was shaped like a gavel. Using the top of her gavel-head she made legal points with a thunderous whack. But she only hammered for justice–either that or trying to knock some sense into Attorneyman's head. Loose Ends was my problem child, but I loved him too. He was very smart but couldn't apply himself--too many loose ends. He also interfered with others when they wanted to get something done by entangling them in his own loose ends. There were many other children, too numerous to recount, but I loved the first-born four the best.

My children were not born of a natural, nor even a Caesarian, birth. They were born of the pen. Although they are comprised of ink and paper, they are just as rewarding as if they were flesh and blood. Ink and blood are pretty much the same anyway. A difference in color and consistency maybe, but both support life.

My children were sophisticated, classy, clever and funny–just what the editor wanted. They enjoyed providing their rather humorless lawyer-readers with a laugh or two on Fridays after their very boring week of hostile takeovers, CMO's and REITS. My children were drawn into amusing situations weekly, some of which poked gentle fun at lawyers and judges. Actually, it was Attorneyman, not Loose Ends (as I would have thought) who got the strip and all my children killed when he referred to a judge as "a hypoglycemic donut dunker" who wasn't sophisticated enough to understand his legendary legal legerdemain. Apparently, some of my insecure, puerile lawyer-readers thought that they would lose all their court cases if their firm newsletter referred to judges as hypoglycemic donut dunkers. Did they think that judges were that sour?

I did what any mother in the same situation would do. I laid my children to rest in a basement storage locker, got hysterical, drank 52 white wine spritzers and slept for an entire weekend. Then I went to that lying, cheating editor's office and reminded her that we had a handshake deal that my children were hired for a year. She replied, "Do you have it in writing?"

Potscript: The international law firm in question left its posh quarters in one of the most prestigious office buildings in Manhattan, and is now conducting business in a sleazy, dark building on Sixth Avenue. Several of its lawyers are serving time in prison for various frauds and Ponzi schemes. The editor who betrayed my family lost her job and relocated to Saudi Arabia, where she had both her hands cut off as punishment for the many deceitful handshake deals she perpetrated in that country. Attorneyman and the kids are happy to be out of the basement storage locker and living with their Mom in her studio again. They are thrilled to be making a comeback on Depingo Ergo Sum, which by the way has readers from twenty countries, which is 15 more than the countries in which the law firm had offices. Soon Attorneyman will be made into a major motion picture with Brad Pitt playing the lead role. Angelina is hoping that Brad doesn't fall for Handria, who is even taller, slimmer and prettier than she. Mother is happily blogging, painting and gardening at Foxglove Cottage and planning to paint formal portraits of all her children very soon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Modigliani finds the perfect model.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Dilettante Lifeguard

A dilettante lifeguard named Tom admired
a pretty blond bather he really desired.
He saw with a grin, she was thin as a pin
but did not notice the circling fin.
Splashes and wakes of crimson transpired.
Tom blew his whistle--loud! and got wired.
He had to jump in and fight with the fin
Who swam off with the girl and ate her for din.
It troubled Tom his rep might be mired
He schemed and hoped he wouldn't be fired.
Encountering crying from her next of kin
He placated them....."at least I jumped in!"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Belle of the Ball, Shoe and Bra


Several other unfortunate incidents made me consider, with angst-ridden guilt, returning my willful pup to her North Carolina kennel. Bella, as if reading my mind, turned nice immediately. She became obedient, polite, calm, and devoted overnight. Night turned into day. Puppy love resumed.

YOUNG ADULT: She has replaced nips and bites with kisses. The word "kiss" is one of her 200 word-vocabulary favorites and she kisses on command. We never intended to show Bella, but don't tell her that. Her presence and commanding strut are far more seductive than any supermodel's.

Previously on walks she would tug on her leash while simultaneously tripping me and shredding my trousers. Now my little champ obediently heels all along the length of the Carl Schurz Park promenade. Her elegant gait, soulful eyes, alert erect head, stretched out tail , floppy golden ears and feathers gently blowing in the wind are an arresting sight. Everybody stops to admire her. She looks up at me if she wants to say hello to them. I give her permission to "break" the "heel" and she greets them enthusiastically. She looks at me again seeking permission to kiss them.

She has replaced her systematic destruction of shoes and underwear with careful and thoughtful management of these items. At night she secretes them in her den (which is under our bed). There they are safeguarded with her own most treasured possession, her tennis ball. In the morning she returns them to us. In addition, she has elevated herself from cat bad-deed instigator to cat monitor. If Blossom, our cat, starts manicuring her nails on our furniture or rugs, Bella officiously chases her away.

Bella has also taken responsibility for guarding the house. Foxglove Cottage is secluded and surrounded by woods and lake. Whenever anyone approaches the house via the long steep stone steps, Bella rushes the intruder and actually holds him at bay on the stairs, barking, growling and lunging. She has never hurt anyone but our visitors don't know that and are afraid to move. The only way she will let the visitor pass is if I put my hand on their shoulder or shake hands with them. It is our "safe" gesture. I did not teach her that. Indeed, she taught it to me.

SENIOR: Bella is sweeter and more affectionate than ever. Though she is quite lame, she keeps up with her self-assigned work. She does not have as acute a sense of order as she once did, so now we might find our socks, shoes or underwear in a neighbor's house or outside or not at all. Also, when she brings them to us now, they might be mismatched. Still, she guards the house when she is not in too deep a slumber to hear suspicious noises. She can no longer make it up the stone stairs without great difficulty. However, she now sits under an old three-trunk birch tree with a perfect view of the stairs. She will bark to alert me whenever she sees a car or person approaching. She still keeps the squirrels in line. She also swims many times every day, rolling in the grass to dry herself before returning to her post under the tree.

Now that it is spring, when I brush her, I leave the removed tufts of her hair on the lawn so birds can use them for building their nests. While reaching for my garden hose today, I startled a bird who was busy making her nest in a nook between our cottage's roof and drain pipe. I was startled as well. She flew down and landed on a branch about an inch away from my nose. There we stood beak to nose. Neither of us budged. It was among the prettiest sights I have ever seen. In her beak she had a bundle of Bella's hair, which she was using in the construction of her nest. It was also the prettiest sentiment. Bella has made a complete turnabout. In her dotage she has gone from birdivore to bird-adore -- benefactor of birds.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Belle of the Ball, Shoe and Bra

The best looking, sweetest creature I know is Bella, my yellow Labrador Retriever. Please note I did not say "best behaved."

Bella is her "call" name. Her full registered name is Top Honors Belle of the Ball. She is canine royalty–a princess sired by BIS BISS Am Can CH Boradors Alligator Shoes JH, officially designated as the no. 1 Lab in the US for 2000. Her mother, Quintessential Caper, though not a champion herself, has an elegant bearing, an uncommonly pretty face and a pedigree boasting five generations of champions. We had to request Bella's adoption before she was born because puppies with pedigrees like Bella's go very quickly. Top Honors Kennel, where she was born, is in North Carolina, so we couldn't even see Bella other than in photographs for eight weeks because she needed to be with Caper. Her breeder told us that she matched Bella with us because she was fearless. The breeder, or " the food lady," as she was known to the pups, said Bella's littermates were too skittish to live in New York.

When finally weaned, the breeder put Bella in a crate and shipped her to New York. The princess flew cargo. However, it was special cargo (for princesses). The food lady trained Bella for her solo flight. She practiced with Bella by placing her in the crate and leaving her in it for increasingly longer periods so that she would not be traumatized when it actually happened. She needn't have done even this though. Bella is truly not afraid of anything.

Bella flew up to New York all by herself. I picked her up at Kennedy Airport's special cargo area. When I opened her crate, she came galloping out and leaped into my arms. Thirteen pounds of puppy kissed me all over with her long, wet, soft pink tongue. White as snow, she looked like a fur-covered basketball. She was soft and sleek. In fact, she looked more like a baby seal than a puppy. She had no doggy odor. Her scent was fresh as spring air, except for her oversized paws which smelled exactly like Fritos. It was puppy love at first sight. She could not stop kissing and nuzzling me the entire ride home from JFK. And that was the last time she was nice to me for the next two years.

PUPPYHOOD: Our relationship quickly deteriorated from love at first sight to love at first bite. After she rested from her long journey, Bella immediately set about trying to establish dominance over her new litter mate--me. She loved "play" fighting with me. That's how puppies entertain themselves in the litter. The only trouble was that I have a much softer hide than her original littermates and therefore sustained multiple wounds about my feet, ankles, hands, forearms and face from her sharp little puppy teeth–not to mention torn clothing and broken eyeglasses. She probably thought she was pretty scary because I never bit back.

Bella also liked roughhousing. Like Tina Turner singing "Proud Mary," Bella didn't do anything nice and easy, she did things nice and rough. She galloped around, crashing into things and breaking them. She chewed everything she came upon--doors, furniture, shoes (Pradas were her favorites because the leather was deliciously soft.) She instructed my cat on shredding upholstery and rugs more efficiently.

I was quite smitten with her anyway and brought her with me everywhere, sometimes with disastrous results. On weekends away, even though by this time she was fully house trained, Bella invariably chose to conduct her business inside our host's house. One weekend she had so many in-house "accidents" that when Bella "woofed" to go inside, our host asked, "Why does she want to go inside? Does she need to relieve herself?" When visiting other friends, Bella reduced their children to tears by systematically puncturing and deflating every one of their pool floats and toys. As if that were not enough, she terrorized their dog, a hyperactive and nervous terrier who spent the entire weekend in a kitchen cabinet, hiding from Bella.

I hired a personal trainer for Bella and enrolled her in canine charm school. She was an excellent student learning all of her lessons quickly and performing them perfectly, with a "ho-hum-big-deal- give-me-the-reward look" on her face. When she finished her performance, all canine pandemonium broke loose. A cacophony of growls, barks, snorts, and fang-bearing lunges from Bella's classmates accompanied us back to our seat. Unbeknownst to me, Bella had been flashing intimidating looks at her classmates on the sly as we passed by. When the trainer investigated, Bella put on her sweet, innocent "who me" face. Though an excellent student, Bella did not change her attitude and after a while we were not invited back to classes.

I could live with most of Bella's transgressions, but one day she crossed the line. I could see that she had a small live bird in her mouth. Labs have "soft" mouths, so I knew the bird would be all right if I could extract it. I approached Bella in a casual manner with a dog cookie in my hand and offered a trade. Bella sensed what I had in mind and, rather than relinquishing the bird, she simply swallowed it whole. Then she demanded the cookie.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Postcard from the Sea of Life - Windy City

Like Janus,
the wind is two-faced
coaxing teardrops from my eyes
then gently drying them.
Windswept whitecaps on the lake
energize me
and refresh my spirit.

The Janus-faced wind fiercely
breaks my lilac limbs
and shatters my umbrella,
my protection.
Gnarled spokes point at the wind

Swallows defy the wind.
They shake their tiny feathers in its windy face
and pierce it with their beaks,
circling around its blustery gusts
engaging in demented dance.

Might I defy the wind?
No, I will acquire and sell it–
Twenty-five cents a blow.
The wind is cheap.
The wind is someone you know.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Killing the Comment

Don't let the comments get you down.

An acquaintance of mine, Comment, actually said to me, "No gallery has ever expressed any interest in you." This dampened my eyes as well as my spirit because, generally, Comment is quite supportive. It made me feel like never approaching another gallery ever again. Worse than that, for a while I did not even feel like painting.

So that I wouldn't forget those intentionally discouraging words, I hand-printed them on a paper and displayed them on my bulletin board. I frequently do that with remarks that hurt or baffle me. That way the comment cannot be denied. Also, I can readily recall it and analyze it for truth and accuracy. Usually, this way I can kill the comment.

My analysis of the statement, "No gallery has ever expressed any interest in you": Presently I am being considered for two prestigious and well known galleries for emerging artists -- one in New York and one in Connecticut. The one in New York has my digital portfolio. I guess there is a case for their not expressing any interest in me in that I have not heard from them yet. Upon submission, though, they told me that it would take a long time to get back to me because they get many submissions and have to review them all. On the other hand, you could say that they have not rejected me either and for the sake of argument that could be construed as interest.

The assistant curator of the Connecticut gallery emailed me after receiving my portfolio to let me know that their gallery schedule is filled up for this year, but said he will contact me with dates for a showing of my work for next year. Additionally, he provided me with an insightful critique of my work, let me know which of my paintings he preferred and suggested that I take my current work in that direction. I thought that showed a great deal of interest. Because his input strengthens my work, and so he will remember me, as I complete new paintings, I email the images to him. Comment referred to my keeping in touch like this as pestering the assistant curator.

Over the weekend, I delivered paintings to a local show. Despite the discussion that occurred initially regarding raw edges on my paintings, I thought my work was enthusiastically accepted. The show chair came over while I was registering. She said she thought the pieces were quite accomplished and that she agreed with my decision in not framing them. This I believe showed interest and was very encouraging.

A high-end event planner and florist in New York has given me his prominent storefront window to use as my own personal gallery because he likes my paintings and believes they will enhance his shop. This shows interest also.

My final comment on Comment's comment?...No comment, other than... back to work for me and...

I killed the comment.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


They're nice, but I prefer something a little more representational.