Saturday, February 16, 2019

WORD PAINTINGS #59 - 1969/72 REAL LESSONS IN ART & LIFE



The course of the rest of my life was set in these three important years.  My children and I lived by ourselves on Kiva Road in Santa Fe.  Ernie was a frequent visitor and somehow he began to complete the picture of family life for us.  The children had visits to the "ranch" out on Highway 14 to visit their dad.  Always had a good hot meal and home baked cookies when they came home.

At first all was confusion.  Gradually a routine began to develop.  Job at the law office, managing debt collectors and painting every night and on the weekends when the kids were away.  Developed the little Hallway Gallery right outside the law office and kept the walls updated with new paintings.  Those random "Hail Mary" sales to clients helped to pay the bills.  Children, job, painting; little by little the emphasis on painting became my true mode of survival.  Bills were being paid, maybe not on time, but I was starting to feel that I was being made whole in some strange way.

Ernie and I continued to do the art fairs in Albuquerque and Austin.  These events were a very important part of my education.  There were crowds of people, many of whom stopped by our booths. Some were attracted to Ernie's beautifully welded sculptures.  He was the star.  Gradually things evened out and we could both be proud and happy at the end of each show.  Lessons learned - invaluable interaction with the public!!!!  For every show I tried to up my game - better paintings, better sales.   The quality of my work began to improve.  That old adage that "practice makes perfect" was working.  More than fifty years later I still haven't reached perfection, but it is fun to keep trying.

The nights in the studio after the children went to bed was my precious time.  Peace, quiet - some good music - total concentration.  Although I have never had a formal art education, I took many evenings to read books on color, composition and everything a real artist needed to know.  Initially painting was my way of survival, gradually it became my way of life.  I began to believe that, if I worked hard enough, I might become a "Real Artist".  In that case I found myself in the right place at the perfect time.

Santa Fe still had the feeling of being a small village.  It hadn't been a long time since the woodsellers on the Plaza replaced their donkey driven carts with old pick up trucks.  People loved to tell their  family stories and I listened deeply regarding each story as a privileged confidence.   How did I get so lucky?  Some days when the children were away I would just wander around the Plaza - visit the museum, the Palace of the Governors, the Shop of the Rainbow Man - have lunch at the counter at Woolworths - just sit on a bench and watch people walk past.  I was a listener, an observer; this was my new home....would I ever feel that I belonged to this place?

The only two galleries - Jean Seth on Canyon Road and Margaret Jamison across from La Fonda - were learning this "art business" right along with the rest of us.  There was some rivalry, but everyone was excited by their derring-do to start a "new thing" in this small, still somewhat provincial town.  The openings were exciting - this was before the time when people just came for the drinks and snacks.  New artists began to emerge.  Jean Seth focused more on the down home local painters in and around Canyon Road.  Margaret had been friends with Fechin and Gaspard and was fond of the Taos painters.  She took a chance on a little known Native American named Fritz Scholder and kick- started what was later to be his international career.  Both galleries were the only real art venues in town.  Canyon Road was still an unpaved side street where most of the artists lived and had their studios.  In day to day life with all its ups and downs, one doesn't realize that they are living times that will never come again....the right place at the perfect time!

It was too soon for me to feel that I was part of this unusual place.  I still had one little toe in Chicago.  The tough Polish part of me lingered.  The fighter in me came out.  I was becoming part of a very competitive community of wanna-be artists - and I soon learned to hold my own.  At first it was all about financial survival - taking care of my children, paying down what was at that time a mountain of debt.  My days in the Advertising Department of Holiday Magazine in Chicago began to pay dividends.  Learning how to promote my work was essential.  Art shows, the Hallway Gallery were lessons learned - invaluable.  Some days were successful; some were complete flops.  The most important lesson for me was that the quality of my work really mattered to me.  I wanted to be a Good Artist!  This was my New Beginning.....

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

WORD PAINTNGS #58 - AN ENDING AND NEW BEGINNINGS


Una Senda Desconocido - A Path Unknown

Taos, 2/2019 - Last night I had a death dream.  I was with a group of people who knew they didn't have long to live.  One girl stood out and we ended up having a short conversation.  She asked only one question.  "Are you afraid to die?"  My simple answer was an emphatic "No"!  After waking I stayed in bed - the house was cold and I pulled the covers around me.  Time to ponder my mortality.  Gradually I have been waking up out of the cloud of grief that has been my daily companion since the death of my son four years ago.  Four years seems like a long time, but it is only a nanosecond in "Mother Time"!

My conclusion is that I am not ready for that Big Easel in the Sky!  There are about twelve new oil studies all sketched and underpainted and ready to be completed.  From those I have strong feelings that several large pieces will emerge.  There is still so much I need to do!  What if it is all over?  The phone rang and Gabe Abrums from Chimayo Trading called to say that he had just sold a $2500 painting - the previous month he sold one of my major pieces called "Bearers of Light".  Wake up!  Wake up!  And then there was an email from a lady named Valeria Teles who wrote a book called Fit for Joy.  She wants me to do a podcast with her.  Think about it - life came roaring back at me.  Time for a shower!

Death dreams don't scare me.  They are more about the death of an old way of life, old ideas, old habits - CHANGE!  If you really live your life, take chances - take those empty-handed leaps into the Void, you experience a thousand deaths both large and small.  Many times those endings lead to a completely unimagined new way of being - a new life. 

Coincidentally 50 years ago this week I received my final divorce papers from the father of my children.  The divorce was definitely not something I wanted.   I actually grieved my girlish dreams of a happy marriage, happy children...a happy, uneventful life.   Again - tell God your plans and He just has a big belly laugh! Naively that Polish/Catholic guilt and shame would haunt me for years!  My friend Dan told me that writing this blog would lead me to forgiveness of others, but mostly I might learn to forgive myself!  Truth is there is so much more - a deeper understanding of events.  Most of all that my husband's questionable choices eventually led me to New Mexico and the life I was meant to live in the first place - there are no accidents!

Am smiling - life has certainly turned around once again since moving back to Taos!  Am back at the easel with more ideas for new paintings -  head is full of new canvases and colors.   Such a gift!  My Art Gods have shaken me awake one more time!   Thinking about "Fit for Joy" - and all the times I ambled down that dark road looking desperately for Joy and Happiness!  That was then.  Now my philosophy is more "one day chicken, the next day feathers".  Whatever I do, as long as there is breath in my old body (and I can still hold a paintbrush), it's not over....live to paint and blog my adventures another day!

Note: Santa Fe, 1969 - My marriage was over and I was a single mother with three small children.  The old judgements of being a divorced mother threatened to hold me back.   All the more reason to focus on becoming an artist - put the blinders on, look straight ahead.  It was obvious that my secretarial skills would never be enough - art was the open door.  The Great Unknown....I didn't know what I didn't know.  Sometimes just daily life is all the education one needs - the next three years were my crash course in Art and Life 101 - my New Beginning!!!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

WORD PAINTINGS #57 (Kiva Rd. Santa Fe l969/72) - THE FUN HOUSE


 

So many, many years later I now realize that trying to raise children in a toxic marital environment can be considered abuse.  In retrospect all the misgivings I had about divorce were still alive and well as we prepared to leave that pretty little, terribly unhappy house on Sombrio Drive. We moved to a small somewhat uninspiring place on Kiva Road in Casa Alegre in November of 1968.  At first we all went through feelings of being displaced - confusion reigned.  Gradually we began to bond as a family of four - we were out from under the cloud of constant arguments and tension.   Being together in this house was our new normal and it began to feel good!

There was a large, beautiful back yard. with lots of trees and hiding places.  Once all the pails, shovels and little bikes were in their new home, it all felt real - here was breathing room!  There was an exuberance building in all of us.  At night I would put on my favorite Jim Croce songs and we would all do a mad dance to Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.  We were learning how to have fun!

Our divorce was final in early 1969.  Their father married one of his college students one week later.

Gradually things began to lighten up.  It still was hard for me to leave them with the babysitter in the morning when I left for the law office.  It was important for us to have a routine - times when we were all together.  Dinners and bath times for the most part were delightful.  After I put them to bed, I changed to my work clothes and went to my easel and worked for three or four hours.  The day before payday was our "treat" night.  The four of us would dress up and go to Furr's Cafeteria in DeVargas Mall.  Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy!  Walter Goetz (son of the famous Hollywood costume designer, Charles LeMaire) played oldies but goodies on the grand piano.  Afterward we all went to the bookstore and they picked out whatever they wanted - coloring books, crayons, puzzles.  I can still picture their faces in the bookstore - excitement; best of all, Curiosity.

Each year at midsummer monsoon season arrives here in the high desert.  Thunderstorms begin with low rumbles in the distance. As the thunder gets louder and closer, we know a "gully-washer" is headed our way.  The four of us would gather up pillows and blankets and make a huge bed on the living room floor.  Story books, coloring books and crayons lay all around us in little piles.  This was a special family time.  Often the electricity would go out and the bright lightning flashes would prepare us for the loud thunder to follow.  We would count - one thousand one, one thousand two...the time between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder measured the distance between us and the storm.  The louder the thunder, the more we huddled together.  There were times when we could hear the sizzle of the lightning and within a second the boom of the thunder - the windows would rattle loudly and the rain would pound on the roof - the end of the world!  Gradually the storm would move off into the distance and we could relax.  Time for some milk and cookies.  Remake our beds and settle in for the night. Unforgettable....

We had Sunday picnics - the Pecos Monument, Puye Cliffs, Hyde Park.  The three of them would run and roam in all directions, exploring their rapidly expanding world.   They were babies no more!

That first Christmas on Kiva Road, Ernie went to Baillos, the appliance store in Albuquerque, and bought us a color TV!  Ah - Sesame Street in color!  The girls decided they wanted their own TVs in their room.  They drew their own sets in indelible markers on the white wall beside their beds.  No amount of work could erase those little TVs!  Am sure they still survive under countless coats of paint in that little house on Kiva Road.

John and the twins spent Easter with their father and new stepmother that year.  My first holiday without them was definitely a heartache.  About six that Sunday night the whole gang appeared in my living room - My three "babies", their father, the stepmother (sporting new and really perky breast implants) and her daughter, who was in the process of being adopted by my ex-husband.  He puffed up to an imposing height and informed me that now he had a "real family", he was preparing to sue me for full custody of my children.  Deep wounding FEAR!  And then I got pissed and told them to leave!  In my heart I knew his only motivation to want custody was to get out of paying the court ordered $250 a month support payment.  No matter what, he would never raise my children!

For the first time since leaving Chicago I felt a freedom I had never known.  My life was my own and I was content to work hard and raise my babies.  Damn that man! In a way I was still afraid. I refused to be at his mercy!  The next night after I put my gang to bed, I went out to my little studio, filled up my palette with new, juicy globs of beautiful colors and started a new painting!


Saturday, January 26, 2019

WORD PAINTINGS #56 (Taos - 1/26/19) - CEREMONY



Before I dive into more memories of the past, just one more post in the present tense.  Once the decision was made to focus more on my art life, I discovered a whole new perspective - clarity.  This is certainly a surprising adventure!  At the beginning of each New Year I begin my daily practice of writing morning thoughts in a new journal.  Usually I give it a title.  In the past my favorite labels have been "rebirth", "renaissance" or "new beginnings".  In my mind I was always struggling to overcome some obstacle - caring for my children, shortage of funds, relationships, recognition for my work.  Rarely did I give myself credit for any progress.  Usually God got all the kudos for the good stuff and I took responsibility for my "mistakes". The other day I read that life expectancy now is 71 - I will be 80 this September.  Time to consciously begin what I hope is my "long walk home".  Thinking of my mortality, I realized that there had to be another word for this New Year.

When I began telling the story of my first marriage it focused on the betrayal and abuse.  The truth is that the dark parts led me away from my old life in Chicago to the high desert of northern New Mexico.  In Chicago, due to family resistance, there was no possible way for me to fulfill my dream of becoming an artist.  With one fateful phone call from the mother of our pregnant babysitter, my little world shifted on its axis.  Just like Dorothy and that wicked tornado, I was on my way to my own personal Land of Oz....a dream come true.

There are definitely dark chapters in my life and it is my hope that I can tell them without any hint of victimhood.  The unbreakable thread of my life has been my work.  As recently as last September, still mourning the loss of my son, I had the strong urge to give away my art supplies and just wait quietly to go to that Big Easel in the Sky.  One day I had the urge to call my old buddy, Geraint Smith, and book what I believed would be my "last trip" to all my heart places.  Two hundred photos later led to thirty small studies from those photos.  The studies have led to ideas for larger paintings.  Am planning to begin sketching some those canvases next week.  No overthinking.  Believe I am experiencing a true renewal of my Spirit! Another awakening?  A rebirth,  A time to celebrate!

Then the word for this time appeared - CEREMONY!  This is my celebration of life.  Am free of all the competition, the striving.  If I have any regrets they will be revealed in further posts about struggles for recognition as a woman artist in the heyday of Cowboys and Indians of the Great Southwest.  My ideal has always been to "paint for the sake of painting" hoping that out in that huge world there is someone who will be enriched by my effort....I call that a Divine Appointment!

Just painting for the sake of painting is the ideal.  My autobiography has been written in the paintings I've made in the past 52 years...the early works were learning exercises.  Gradually my love for this place overtook my need to "fit in".  What I celebrate today are all the backroads - those unexpected moments of joy....the mysterious path unknown.

Walking home requires a ritual - an acknowledgment of all that brought me to this moment - a  ceremony....just one more blank canvas.... 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

WORD PAINTINGS #55 - Taos 1/22/19 - HIBERNATING



Wakened to another snow storm this morning....wind blowing, hints of a blizzard.  Made a great cup of coffee and crawled back into bed.  Yesterday my friend Doug and I went to Orlando's my favorite New Mexican restaurant - enchiladas with red and green chile!  Perfection!  Back at the studio Doug took the above photo - proof to myself that I am REAL!  Survived another holiday season!  Back at the easel!  Planning to put new paints out on my palette this morning.  Yes, I am still alive!

My first morning thought was a long ago memory which I believe was triggered by that photo above.  I was 19 - on a movie date with a really good looking and very kind law student from Notre Dame.  Standing in front of the Chicago Theatre in the Loop he began to tell me his hopes for our relationship.  Honestly I have thought of him so many times through the years.  He was offering me a "normal" life!!!   That night so long ago I told him I couldn't be involved with anyone because I was going to be an artist!  Whenever life takes a turn into darkness, I think of his calm and steady presence with a little pang of regret...what could have been.

It has been my habit for many years to "hibernate" through the winter. Around the beginning of November I make a list of the art supplies I will need to carry me through to the following spring.  Oil paints, turpentine, brushes, canvases, frames - everything necessary to make more paintings.  An old habit from when I lived on the ranch in Truchas, I fill up the freezer and the pantry.  Oh, and books!!! I buy lots of books - stacks and stacks!  Art supplies, food and books - what else is there?.....can't forget Music!!! 

So much of me was lost or forgotten when my son died.  Talked to my daughter the other day.  She is still grieving, as am I.  Described myself as a broken clay pot, smashed to pieces.  Even in good hands the repair is not quite the same - the pieces don't fit together as they did before.  Little by little life is being returned to my body.  In the beginning I wanted everything to go back the way it was before that night John died.  An added burden was trying to appear "okay" for family and friends.  Nothing was okay and life will never be the same ever again!  Acceptance is the key to a new beginning!  

So, here I am - still in bed on this beautiful snowy morning.  Finished my coffee.  Enough art supplies to see me through to Easter, stacks of books, food in the pantry and Music.  Time to rise and shine!  Looked at the four small studies on my easel - planning to finish the one of the little shady lane near the church in Arroyo Seco.   More work on my website this afternoon - working on a new store on eBay to sell prints and paintings.  Haven't paid much attention to the more practical things in life for the past four years.  Getting back on my thread.

Remembering the book I read recently "How I Save My Life - a true story of Finding Everything When you are Willing to Try Anything" by Amy B. Scher.  Her story inspired me to wake up!  As long as there is breath in our bodies, we need to keep moving!!!!  Somehow I have clicked into a cell memory - the paintbrush sets comfortably in my hand again.  The easel no longer looks like an instrument of torture - I am in the process of making friends with my new reality.  Planning to resurface some time around Easter...Life is good!

Digging into the past again (Santa Fe 1968-1972) in future blogs - stay tuned.... 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

WORD PAINTINGS #54 - Taos, 1/10/19 - "MORNING WORDS"



Up early.  The sun rose through a bright yellow band of clouds over the mountains towards Pecos.  Joyous!  Worked all day yesterday to prepare the house for some rather serious hours at the easel.  Coming out of the longest period of "creative work block" I can remember in all the years I have been painting.  Starting over.  Have likened this waking up time to a ballerina recovering from a broken toe - muscle memory needs prodding - the first steps are hesitant and slow.

My painting "Two Cows in a Winter Field on Christmas Morning" was completed last spring. Friends Doug, Seamus and I had a wonderful eggs & green chile Christmas breakfast and then took a long drive through the villages north of Taos.  I was hemmed in and couldn't get out of the car; Seamus took the photo of a large herd of cows in a winter field.  For months I stared at the photo and then isolated these two in a rather abstract composition.  Finally I felt a spurt of inspiration and I began to lay in the paint.  When the painting was completed, I knew that I was capable of moving into a new phase of my work.  Mistakenly consigned the work to Gabe at Chimayo Trading.  Two days later I was back at the gallery asking him to give it back to me. He reluctantly took it off the wall and let me have it. Good Gabe!  It is still hanging in my living room and I am loathe to let it go.  In my life and my work, the road ahead is a mystery.  I believe this painting is a "life arrow" - a signpost.

Laying out a new palette of juicy colors this morning.  So many pieces in front of me half finished.  The little studies from my trip to Truchas.  I need to get acquainted with my brushes again - my motor memory - how they feel in my hand.  Once it begins it is like waking up to life again.  For a long time after John died I really didn't want to live.  Every day it felt as though I was just clinging to the edge of a cliff.  What changed?  Healing comes in phases.  It doesn't happen all at once.  The deep grief diminishes - except when it hits when I least expect it.  Yesterday when I was "doing the things in life which must be done" I felt a sense of wholeness.   An old and sorely missed friend.  Order out of chaos - the return of purpose and meaning.

Would love to start out with a large and profound landscape this morning, but like that wounded ballerina, I need to exercise - stretch - take those small baby steps of a brand new beginning.  Setting a goal for myself.  Complete some of those studies and get them to Gabe by the end of February.  One step at a time, one day at a time.  

My friend and helper, Doug Yeager, is coming by on Saturday to photograph two large canvases which I completed last year.  One canvas is 60"x36" - "Autumn Fields at Ranchitos".  I want a photo of me standing beside it.  The painting is a meditation of a place near Middle Road.  Whenever life would get too hectic, I would get in my pick-up truck and climb the hill overlooking this little valley.  Silence, calm - a quiet heart.  Small hypnotic brushstrokes....colors of the earth. Meditation - peace.

The frames  for these paintings have been leaning against the wall of the studio for almost six months, the result of my creative brain freeze.  Will varnish the paintings and Doug will help me frame them next week.  Time to fill up the studio again....perhaps my Art Gods still have some surprises in store for me.  Who knows?  What I do know is that one little canvas will often have inside of it a much larger inspiration.  Progress, not perfection!

And more will be revealed....   

Monday, January 7, 2019

WORD PAINTINGS #53 - TAOS, 1/7/19 - TAKING STOCK


"No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of the night.  We know that every moment is a moment of Grace, every hour an offering" - Jakob Shekaneder

Life without drama is a gift from a chaotic universe.  It doesn't happen every day, but when it does, blessings abound!  This is the beginning of a new year - a time of revaluing, reorganizing - creating order and perhaps some new and healthier habits.  (Smiling broadly as I wrote the words "healthier habits").  Ever since my move from the old house on Santistevan Lane where I accumulated 23 years of "Life", I have been clearing out the old.  Half my household things were either sold or given away.  After my son died living in Tesuque and Santa Fe no longer worked for me.  Taos is my home and I needed to return.  Another purge - pick-up truck loads of paintings and furniture to friends and family.  I became obsessed with simplifying my life.  Back in Taos - a smaller house with good working studio areas.  Am looking around this morning and know that one more clear out will do it - some clothes, dishes - extra pots and pans.  This feels so good!!!  It is only common sense to clear out the clutter - don't leave a mess behind!

Those small studies I mentioned earlier are on the easel right now in various stages of completion.  The first ten will go to Gabe Abrums at Chimayo Trading del Norte in Ranchos de Taos Plaza.  Shortly after arriving back in Taos, Gabe sent an email asking if I would consider him as an agent to sell my work.  Mainly he sells his own beautiful jewelry, native pottery and paintings from old Taos artists like Gene Kloss and Doel Reed.  He has lived in Truchas and his wife, Alicia, is from Chimayo.  It felt like a perfect fit for my paintings!  More than once he has come to my studio looking for one painting and I ended up consigning 15 - leaving my walls bare naked!  Without a doubt this is the best "gallery" connection for me ever!!  They respect my work.  And Gabe has been patient and sensitive enough to understand that sometimes I just need to sit and stare at my big toe.  His sales of my work are consistent.  He pays on time!  I trust him!  Grateful?  You bet!  New paintings for his gallery by the middle of February.

"All who wander are not lost".  I have been a nomad.  It is no secret that I was meant to live in this place for the past 52 years.  Santa Fe, Taos and Truchas have given my life purpose and meaning.  With all the speed bumps on my Road of Life, I can't imagine a better place to have live all this time.  This land has always been a source of healing for me.  Planning another road trip with great photographer and friend, Geraint Smith (www.geraintsmith photography.com).  Kodak is producing Ektachrome slide film again.  Six rolls were delivered from the Camera Shop in Santa Fe last week.  Tears in my eyes to be able to work with my old camera with the Vivitar Zoom Lens.  Digital is fine, but there is nothing like the rich colors from that old Kodak film!  Working on the paintings from my trip this autumn.  Now I want to take some photos in the snow.  I love the winter landscape with a passion!  Subtle colors - lavenders, grays, red willows - shadows on the snow!  Planning another day trip - can't wait!

Groceries today - part of my weekly routine.  Lift myself out of the "holidays".  Straighten up my work area.  Set up a new palette and dive in.  Have the feeling there are still some surprises around the corner!  One day at a time....

WORD PAINTINGS #59 - 1969/72 REAL LESSONS IN ART & LIFE

The course of the rest of my life was set in these three important years.  My children and I lived by ourselves on Kiva Road in Santa F...