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

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Seymour Chwast

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Saturday, October 30, 2010


Yeah, they're flowers, but they're deadly nightshade!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mc Word's Worth: Toll House Cookie

SINCE I WAS FIVE years old I have been fascinated by words, especially their illogical/multi-definitional aspects. Even at that tender age, I was embarrassed by words. Being a Virgo, I was very strict about the way I used and interpreted words and I tried to really use them only in accordance with their precise meanings. But the more I found out about words, the more I was–and still am–perplexed by their capriciousness.

One day our kindergarten teacher administered an IQ test to my class. (At that age how smart could we have been anyway?) Because we did not have sufficient vocabularies and many of us could not yet read or write, the test was supposed to measure our intelligence by having us copy different geometric shapes, drawing them with a pencil next to the ones which appeared on the test.

To this day, I remember the specific directions which I, and apparently only I, followed. The teacher instructed us, "Copy the shapes and draw them next to the ones on your test exactly as you see them." The test was printed on newsprint, so the shapes were formed by hundreds of tiny dots, comic book style, rather like a Roy Lichtenstein painting. (I wonder if Lichtenstein had to take that same IQ test? Maybe that's how he developed his artistic style.) Because our teacher had stressed that we were to draw the shapes "exactly " as they appeared, that is the way I drew them– dot-by-dot, with each dot placed in the "exact" location corresponding to the one in the original shape. Only that constituted drawing them "exactly" for me.

When the allocated time for the test was up, most of my classmates had drawn all 25 or so shapes, incorrectly to my mind, in outline form, while I was still precisely composing a corner of the first shape. I was working on it in all its volumetric glory, carefully and faithfully, dot by dot. Yes, I can follow directions and did, indeed, draw the shape "exactly" as I saw it. How embarrassing. I guess my IQ was off the bottom end of the chart!

Suspecting that I might be considered intellectually challenged, I thought I might be able to save face if I figured out how words and language were conceived. There must have been a time in the history of mankind, I thought, when there was an absence of words. In my infinite five-year-old wisdom, I was certain that the two greatest, wisest people I knew of at that time–God and George Washington–had jointly invented words. What surprised me, though, was that some of their words were quite illogical. Take, for example, the word they made up for "dog," which is the inverse of the word for "God." If I were in charge, I would have chosen that word for the Devil. He is more the opposite of God than a dog, which is one of God's finest creations. Other words seemed arbitrary, overused, stretched and too all-inclusive.

I truly believed I would redeem myself when I told my teacher I figured out that God and George, sitting atop Mt. Rushmore, made up names for all the things they saw. They picked the highest place they could find in order to see everything and not leave anything out. I imagined God would say to George Washington, "You know, George, we've got a lot of interesting things here on earth, but how can anyone talk about them if they don't have names?" George agreed. He understood that agreeing with God was the wisest course. Accordingly, the two great wordsmiths started pointing to various things and naming them. "Let's call that, 'woman,' George," said God. Then they both agreed on "tree" for trees, with God adding, "Now don't go chopping any down, George." (That's the one time George didn't agree with God). But here's the part I don't understand: they picked out several disparate items and gave them all the same name or a name that sounds too similar for such different things. Consider the words "witch," a woman credited with usually malignant supernatural powers and "which," used as a function word to introduce a relative clause. Also, "train," as in teaching and "train," a series of connected railroad cars pulled by one or more locomotives.

A prime example is "cookie." I hate to challenge God and George Washington, but what they did with that word just doesn't work. What were they thinking? Did they run out of words? Below are three wildly disparate things that they decided to name "cookie":

1. The desert or snack we eat that is a small, flat-baked treat, usually containing fat, flour, eggs and sugar.*

2. A piece of text stored by a computer's web browser.
3. An orthopedic insert placed in a shoe under the metatarsal bones in order to take pressure off the foot and relieve pain.

Maybe they were tired by the time they got around to naming all those things "cookie."

They did a little better with "toll" and "house" and also when they put them together and got "toll house". It does makes sense to name a payment for using a road a "toll" and the structure in which a collector sits a "house," and together have them called a "toll house." I have to admonish God and George on "toll," though. We didn't really get our words' worth with "toll"; it's only four letters. In addition ... helloooo ... I am not even getting into the word's alternate confusing sense as when used in "For whom the bell tolls," or as in the verb to "toll" metal.

Getting back to cookies, they did something really nutty (and think about "nutty," which can mean either
mentally unbalanced or having a flavor like that of nuts.) They gave one of the cookies the name "toll house cookie." To prove my point, I have illustrated the toll house cookie. God! George! What were you thinking? Please see above.

PS. There is a school of thought that believes that George and God were not responsible for naming cookies, or anything else for that matter. This school believes that "cookie" derives from the Dutch word "koekie," which means "little cake" and arrived in the English language through the Dutch in North America. This heretical school further erroneously believes that Ruth Wakefield invented and named the toll house cookie when in 1937 she got the idea to make a chocolate butter cookie for her guests. She broke up a bar of semi-sweet chocolate that Andrew Nestle had given her. She thought that the chocolate would melt and mix with the dough to make all-chocolate cookies. As we now know, it didn't and chocolate chips were left in the cookies. Her guests loved these tasty delights, which were named after Mrs. Wakefield's Inn, The Toll House. This unlikely tale is a sweet, chocolate-y little fantasy, but ...

Depingo's readers know better.

Paint on,

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Sneaker Graveyard

SWIMMING UP FROM SEVEN FATHOMS UNDER Candleberry Lake* at a speed so fast he would leave Michael Phelps far behind and probably get the bends, a young diver, trembling with excitement, breaks the surface and sputters to his mates, "Hey, there must have been a sneaker factory here at one time; I found hundreds of sneakers in one spot." When I hear him say that, I breathe a sigh of relief. No one knows the truth–the real truth. The diver's assumption is plausible, but it is wrong.

It is plausible because Candleberry Lake was not always a body of water. It used to be farmland at the base of Candleberry Mountain. In 1926 Connecticut Light and Power Co., in order to create hydroelectric power from the Histrionic River, dammed the river, flooding the surrounding farmland. In doing this, the utility created the extremely deep, 18-mile long Candleberry Lake. Local legend has it that if you dive down to the bottom of the lake you will find old roads and farm houses with families preserved as they were at the time the land was flooded. Some say there are entire preserved families sitting at the dinner table with their food-laden forks poised halfway up to their mouths. Other unfortunates still sit in their easy chairs knitting. This is why our young diver thought he had found (and indeed might have found, had there been one located in the vicinity in 1926) a sneaker factory.

But that is not the case. No, there never was a sneaker factory there. What the diver found is much more sinister. It is the sneaker graveyard. I might add that this final resting place for sneakers was not there when the land was flooded. I am one of an elite group of five people in the entire world who know how that sneaker graveyard came to be. And only three of this select circle are alive today. I feel I must share what I know of the events leading to the creation of the sneaker graveyard before this knowledge is lost forever. Therefore, I have decided to reveal what I have been concealing for so many years right here on this blog. Depingo's readers deserve to know.

Although I cannot reveal his name, I can tell you that some years ago a good doctor and his family lived on the lake. He was a surgeon, scholar and gentlemen, loved by all who knew him. He worked hard in New York City healing patients 11 months out of every year. He saved many lives and made many patients whole again. But when he was on vacation for the month of August... well, that is a different story.

The good doctor, escaping civilization, would drive up to his manse on Candleberry in full doctor drag, including an F. Tripler suit, cashmere socks, pinstriped shirt punctuated with gold cufflinks and a Countess Mara tie, and highly polished Bass Weejuns. Upon arrival, though, he would divest himself of this costume with haste, as if wearing it were the final human indignity. He shed it faster than a snake sheds its skin. However, while snakes shed in order to grow and advance their form, the good doctor would shed his last remnants of domestication in order to return to a wild state. Upon doing so, he immediately became feral.

This formerly manicured doctor quickly donned his summer wardrobe, which he had designed and manufactured himself. It consisted of three items: cut-off, shredded khakis (not much better than a loin cloth really); a rope which he tied around his waist, belt-style, to hold up the cut-off khakis; and a pair of tennis shoes. He wore these items for the entire month while he toiled at landscaping, building stone walls, making furniture and various other projects. He also swam, ate and slept in these three items for all of August. (OK, some nights he took the sneakers off for sleeping,)

Quite frankly, the doctor's wife was beside herself. She didn't know what to do with her severely devolved husband. She knew, though, that she wouldn't allow his shorts to go into the wash with the rest of the family's clothing. This did not present a problem for the good doctor. The one time he felt his garment needed washing, this brilliant inventor of surgical implements and procedures designed an operation for cleaning shorts. He tied one end of his rope/belt to his khakis and the other end to the stone dock and let Candleberry do the work. The lake swirled them around in its waters and its whitecaps beat them up against the stone dock. When the doctor felt they were clean (which was not very long), he put them on wet. The morning sun dried them in conformity with his body and at least they were somewhat cleaner. They didn't look so great, but he didn't care.

One of the neighbors was a kindly grandmother from an extended Italian family that summered on the peninsula. She had a hammertoe that bothered her and asked the world-famous trauma doctor if he would take a look at it. He needed an office, so he set two canvas-covered folding chairs on the dock, washed his hands in the lake and examined her while dressed in his summer outfit. It was comical to see patient and doctor sitting on the dock, she with her hammertoed foot resting in his lap on top of the torn shorts. She didn't seem to mind; in fact she seemed very grateful. When she asked how much she owed for the visit, the doctor replied, "Do you make clams casino?" She did indeed; in fact the dish was her specialty. The following day she delivered a tray of homemade clams casino, hot from her oven, for the doctor's lunch. Good thing, for by this time, his wife had decreed that he was not to come to lunch without a shirt on. Because a shirt was not part of his summer wardrobe, he enjoyed his clams casino while sitting on his favorite tree stump, accompanied by Peter, and Taffy, his cocker spaniels.

Word spread throughout the Italian summer community and he saw many more patients on the dock. He never had to don a shirt because he had a steady stream of clams casino, lasagna and pasta fagioli coming in daily.

There came a day when the doctor's daughter, who was coming of age, requested that her father put on proper clothes (perhaps at least a shirt) to meet her date when he came to pick her up. The doctor said, "I'm not putting on clothes– just tell him I'm the handyman." She was quite concerned about this antisocial turn her father had taken. She hoped his behavior was within normal limits for vacationing surgeons. Maybe this is how surgeons relaxed ... or was it? Maybe ... it was something else ... something far worse! Then, on their last night at Candleberry before the family returned to New York for school and work, she followed him and saw what he was doing. She actually witnessed it with her own eyes!

Before the ceremony started, her father sat quietly on a willow twig bench he had made himself and stared across the lake. Then, he slowly rose and moved toward the end of the dock. Was he carrying something in his arms? No ... it couldn't be. Yes! She could see them clearly now, for unsuspecting that he was being watched, he had moved into the moonlight. There were two of them and they were both badly decayed. You could almost discern the souls separating from them. The odor was unbearable even in the fresh, pine-scented night air. With a hint of hesitation and what looked like regret, the doctor raised both hands high over his head and heaved his decomposing, moonlit burdens to their watery doom. They sunk promptly because he had filled their orifices with rocks and bound them with their own laces. Then he waved goodbye, went up the stone steps to the house, took a long, hot shower and carefully laid out his full doctor's drag for the next morning's ride back to New York. Through careful observation, the doctor's daughter learned that her father repeated this morbid ceremony annually.

In retrospect, she believed that the doctor actually was very fond of all of them. After all, they were his sneakers.

*About Candleberry Lake, Candleberry Mountain and the Histrionic River: I changed their names so as not to get my father ... er ... um ... that is, the unnamed doctor, into any trouble.

PS. I wonder if anybody has discovered the cigarette "factory" adjacent to the sneaker graveyard yet?

Paint on,

Thursday, October 21, 2010


And that's supposed to make me like you better?

Friday, October 15, 2010


You look marvelous today, dear!