Monday, April 27, 2009

Whose Gift is it Anyway? (Happy Anniversary to Me)

When we were in San Francisco in August 2008 I met a sidewalk artist whose whimsical work I really enjoyed. I bought several of her prints and got her business card. I had hoped she could do a portrait of my dogs from a photo, but when I emailed her about it she got kind of weird on the subject and said she had not felt “inspired” by what I sent her to work from and couldn't make a profit at the prices she typically charged. She said all that with finality so I left her the hell alone. Huh?! Little did this lady know, I will spend any ridiculous amount of money for art featuring my canine children.

I Googled to look for DFW dog artists, of which I knew there were many. Some are too expensive, others too schmaltzy, but finally I found one I liked (Rebecca Collins, who works from photos and adds brush strokes electronically. I wasn't sure she could do much with the photo I sent - the lighting and composition were not great - but I thought that particular photo showed our 3 personalities.

Maybe it's egocentric to insert myself in a photo with my dogs, but it's very difficult to pose Marley and Billie without a human hand holding down at least one of them, unless we snap them sitting in the kitchen doorway and begging for food, but that's a pose we see far too often and don't necessarily want to capture artistically.

Rebecca, the local artist that I found, sent me several proofs for review. Some were easy to reject, such as the fake pine panel background, the no-color version, and my artistically-enhanced-to-be-even-more-toothy grimace.

I liked the paint-spatter version although I feared it looked more accidental than artistic.

I loved the blue brocade background but thought it overwhelmed we three mammals.

Still undecided, I consulted Rebecca, who offered to throw in a free 8 x 10 print if I could only make up my mind about which large size (11 x 14) I wanted. To my great satisfaction, when the package arrived it had 3 paintings - my chosen 11 x 14 canvas with the orange-red-purple background (which I chose for the House That Got Away, Morningstar, but also looks great in Wildgrove), an 8 x 10 with the plain blue background that was my second choice, and, nice surprise, a 5 x 7 of the spatter effect version Rebecca and I had agreed was fun to look at.I should say at some point in this blog that if I had known we were going to put an offer on a new house, I would not have ordered a fake-painting of our dogs. Well, maybe I would have, but doesn't it sound better to say I wouldn't have? Craig's reaction to my art purchase was, "What an ego!" I pointed out that the dogs won't pose without one of us involved, and he doesn't like photos of himself. He didn't bother to respond to my logic. I think it was at this point that I realized he would not consider the paintings an anniversary gift to him.

I don't know of anyone who wants canvas prints of me and my dogs, but I went ahead and bought frames for the 2 that needed frames (the stretched canvas can be displayed as-is). I tried to convince myself that when we bought a new house it would have room for TWO portraits of me, Marley and Billie. Not really – I keep the second one at work and I gave the third, smallest one to my dad – who was puzzled but polite about it.

I thought of asking Rebecca to airbrush out my birthmark but I didn't know if I would like the result, either aesthetically, philosophically or psychologically. Then I assessed, if it's OK to show Marley having gotten too gray and white to have his original beagle tricolors, it should be OK to show me with spreading thighs, squinty eyes and other facial imperfections.

Pushing My Art Frontiers - Spam, Florals & Waterfalls

I have loved Spam since my mother first served it. We had it fried with eggs and plain with mayo on bread. I don’t like chewy meat or bland meat so salty soft Spam was a perfect protein to me. I realize that it disgusts vast sectors of the planet!, including my husband. He did gum down a sample grilled-Spam mini-sandwich at the 2008 Richardson Wildflower Festival and allowed me to accept 2 coupons that came with it, and he even managed his nausea long enough to grill a Spam chunk for me on his precious Egg ceramic grill…he cooked that for me out of love…but he will never be a Spam fan.

I had read that many Polynesian peoples enjoy Spam – one of the more disgusting theories is that it’s because Spam reminds them of the softer human organs that some Polynesians ate back in cannibal days – but it still startled me to see Spam on menus on our 2008 Hawaii trip. Not a bad startle!, just a startle. My mother-in-law doesn’t eat Spam and she worries about the heath (classic Spam is high-fat and high-salt, although it does now come in slightly healthier versions) of her Hawaiian friends, but even she had Spam art hanging in her lanai (fancy Hawaiian word for porch screened on both sides that helps you forget your house is not air conditioned).

Before my Hawaii trip, I’m not sure I had ever bought floral art. But a shop I went to several times in walking distance of our condo, that featured the low-priced work of local artists, had many nice examples of Hawaiian flowers. And if I was gonna buy a flower picture, might as well get a waterfall too – I was in vacation mode.

Not too long after our return to The Mainland (aka Dallas) I was at a party at my friend Julie’s house and noticed a print, Point of Origin, that her artist husband Chet Phillips ( had done – it reminded me of my Hawaiian print of Akaka Falls. Paired art is something I like to do/buy – so I had to have it. The waterfalls may not always hang in the same room but they will continue to share synchronicity.

Adventures in Online Art

This blog entry was started many months ago, in early November when we were still pursuing the Morningstar house. I had written: “Thinking of art...Craig and I fell in love with a larger house not too far from our current one. Even in week 2 of the buying/selling process our frustration level is pretty high. Since I can't control any of the realtors or other players involved, I distract myself by thinking of art for the new house. It has much more wall space than our current one and since it was refurbished all the colors are light and neutral - perfect for art! And perfect for Chucks...they can have their own closet, their own room?, and I may even put the socks I like best with Chucks on a shelf in the Chucks closet instead of having them clog up my dresser drawers - but enough about Chucks...this entry is about art…”

In late October, November, December, January…my escape from home selling/buying frustrations was to fantasize about arranging our furniture in a new house, at first Morning Star (how wonderful to contemplate moving to a larger house, so that I don't need to get rid of my current stuff!), then another house we found, a rather dorky one in a claustrophobic Garland neighborhood on a dorky street with a lovely name, Barcelona, then finally Wildgrove, the smallest of all 3 houses, but still a new place to show art, meaning I could keep thinking about acquiring more art. Actually I didn't start out thinking I needed to buy new art, at first I was satisfied that I could hang the art previously parked in closets and behind big pieces of furniture (our high ceilings and large doorways at the old house meant there was less wall space for display, plus Craig doesn't like a cluttered-wall look), but the internet got me... I was looking for a book for my dad on Amazon when I noticed a promo from The promo was for Andy Warhol poster quotes, and Warhol is a kind of icon of Craig’s, so I went to the site, and in internet parlance got “stuck.”

It seemed like for an out-of-control couple of weeks I almost every day put new things in my shopping cart. I was trying not to buy, but maybe play-shopping – I finally permitted myself to order one small Dali print, Rose Meditative, which I knew I could display in my office cube even if (gasp) we never got the house we wanted. As fun as this was, looking at copies of famous artwork made me wish I had more original pieces.

Two of our framed items previously stashed in closets are Van Gogh prints Craig got for cheap when his office was moving years ago – not to knock Van Gogh but I’m not crazy about these two – but when I saw Van Goghs on somehow I got enthused again, plus I was thinking, we’ll be in such a big house we can have His and Hers art, what the hell. This brief Van Gogh consideration was about as much as I involved Craig’s taste in my thinking process, I’m sorry to say.

In early explorations of AllPosters’ search feature, I looked through flower-theme paintings, and found a lovely although maybe too hot-pinkish Impressionist print of roses on a table in a heavily wallpapered room. At that point (early November) I was still showing some purchase restraint and by the time I allowed myself to get back onto the site, I could no longer find the print.

When I searched for other rose-themed art I found many versions of Salvador Dali’s Rose Meditative, which I instantly loved – yes, it has a bit of Dali strangeness (what is it, and why did he paint it) but when I look at it I somehow feel centered and relaxed. One of the AllPosters choices is a canvas print, an option available for Rose Meditative, even in a cheap small form. I bonded with the canvas as soon as I unpacked it but still nitpicked, measuring the distances from each side of the central rose to the borders to see if they were symmetrical. They weren’t, but should I bother to return it? No, probably not, since it only cost $36.99.

Finally I did a kind of mental/mathematical calculation of other versions of Rose Meditative online and realized they were all off-center. So, OK, I could feel good about keeping this one…in which I liked the muted colors (for some reason, the canvas print was more earth-toned than other AllPosters renditions) and even the small size. However, I struggled for a while about where to display it, not liking anywhere I put it in my cube but finally depositing it on a vacant nail against the end of the kitchen cabinets in the house we finally bought…home at last, yay! And with that positioning, it was too far away/high for me to obsess about the small dark spots on the sides of the rose, which might have been screen-printing errors or might have had to do with my scissors technique when I cut open the package.

As a tense person I need many reminders to meditate and as an obsessive person I wanted to try again to get a more perfect version of the painting, so a couple of weeks later I bought a preframed (non-canvas) print that now hangs in our home office. I feel creatively sneaky to have two such different versions of a lesser known Dali – most people don’t recognize either one or notice they are the same painting.

During this time of tentative and then escalating art purchases (a desert sunset photo that relaxes me every time I glance at it, a canvas-print Klimt I bought for the orange flowers, several pieces of beagle art--more on that in another post, and other spends), I reached out to my artist friend Leisa, now in Illinois - and yes, this counts as online art too – I saw online ( a particular painted image I remembered seeing in her Dallas studio, and Leisa and I dealt with this subject entirely by email. Leisa let me know that Banana Boxes had won a prize and was also available, but it was Separate Bananas, with two bananas posing around an elegant black tray, that I wanted.

I hadn’t remembered that the painting was framed, which meant more money, but I knew Leisa was giving me a friend discount so really didn’t want to quibble. As much as I enjoyed browsing I knew the stuff there was cheap renditions of the work of dead people, and especially some of the ugly floral/fruit still lifes I saw there made me want to acquire one of Leisa Corbett’s innovative tableaus. Bless her heart, although Leisa had long since made Separate Bananas part of her personal collection (she says she misses it since she sold it to me), she agreed to sell it, and wanted to be sure it was shipped to me carefully, taking time to survey all safe (i.e. expensive) shipping options, including briefly considering the idea of bringing the piece to Dallas on a plane or train herself – combined with other business, but still…what a friend/artist.

Such a big day when Separate Bananas arrived at my office (I wanted to be sure someone was around to sign for it so didn’t want it sent to my house) – incredibly/beautifully packed, it was better than new, but…it was greener than I remembered. Leisa’s framer had picked up the green in the painting and used that for the mat. Not a bad thing!, just not what I had pictured or seen on her gallery website. I had also forgotten the size, having a mental image of a smaller painting – maybe when I first saw it, it was high up on her studio wall? While Leisa conscientiously explored shipping options I had kept myself enthused by looking at a jpg file from her website, which seemed to have more lavender and gray, colors I was especially enthused about when I thought we would get the Morningstar house, which had green and black granite kitchen countertops and gray carpets, such a perfect setting.

Oh well, to the rescue as my life and my house hunt changed direction…somehow I got the idea that I could flank this original painting with (cheap, sorry, but Leisa knows it and I think is OK with it) prints of Magritte paintings that would somehow fit the theme of objectified fruit and synchronize with the green.

Since I was having the art shipped to the office and didn’t want to transport it twice, I kept it there till we bought our house. At the place I currently sit I have a wonderful large window behind me, although the cubes themselves are gray, which makes for a hugely institutional look, and tends to make even original art look like somehow institutional. My coworkers were complimentary to my face but probably giggled at me behind my back about the Bowie Collection as for several months I stashed framed prints that had no house to go to. I especially enjoyed having Bananas and the Magrittes nearby, despite the paper clutter at my desk that sometimes drifted toward the gallery – hardly a museum-like setting. Since Leisa was having to wait so many months to see a photo of her painting in my house, one day I photographed it in my cube. With my expert photographic technique I managed to capture a reflection pile of Hudson paperwork - oh well.

It was truly a wonderful moment when I “brought baby home” the day after we moved in – even just walking into the kitchen with Separate Bananas, and especially after I leaned it against the wall where it would hang, I had that “aaahhh” of rightness in my chest.


PS Artistic inspiration for Leisa and my personal connection

It belatedly occurred to me to ask the artist whether she had a concept or philosophy about the painting. I had shown the jpg image to my therapist and she said the composition reminded her of a healthy relationship - "in the vicinity of one another with clear boundaries,” and stated, “Only when you have boundaries is closeness safe enough to thrive.” I told Leisa that the painting actually made me think of me and Craig - we have separate activities and interests but still have many similarities and are close in ways that matter.

Leisa’s response was this: Thanks for giving me some insight about why you find Separate Bananas intriguing…. I am happy to know you and Craig have a relationship where you both are free to grow. Yes, there was a definite inspiration for the painting. Edgar Degas is one of my favorite artists. I've always been fascinated by the psychological content in his portraits of his family and other scenes with figures. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see if I could create this content with an inanimate life form. The spaces between objects can create tension on a continuum from attraction to repulsion to unrelated.


PPS Craig’s comment on my artwork
(Poor Craig...)

"Hey, are some of these new? Because I brought over all our picture nails & hooks from the old house and I notice that now we don’t have enough hardware to hang everything."

Geisha Billie & Dam Beagle

In February I emailed my friend Julie’s artist husband Chet: “I have your Japanese beagle print and would love to also have one for my other dog. Billie is a mutt but looks mostly like a greyhound, and I like the background of the greyhound print, with the pink blossoms - she is a girly dog. How difficult would it be for you to change the color of the gray greyhound in your design to a reddish-brown? Her ears are a bit larger than a greyhound's and don't really droop - they are either up or back, but they're close enough that if the color of the dog was changed, it would look like her. Am I the goofiest dog-owner customer you know? Sorry...”

Chet was so great – he said I had a long way to go to achieve Goofiest Dog-Owner Customer and he quickly put together a Japanese-styled portrait of my girl dog that my cousin Amy and I refer to as Geisha Billie. Taking the silliness further, we have identified characteristics of Billie’s we find geisha-like (not that we know much about geishas besides the occasional novel or romantic movie): She is supple, gentle, gracious, accommodating, quiet, obedient when she thinks we want her to be.

I didn’t have QUITE enough dog art so trolled with the key word “beagle.” Uh-oh, I hit a treasure trove of classic photos of LBJ’s beagles. I talked myself out of the black & white shot of dogs w/LBJ wearing a 10-gallon hat and the Life Magazine cover of “Him and Her,” creatively named Johnson dogs in front of the White House. The one I chose was Francis Miller’s “Pet Beagles of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Sitting Together in White House Sitting Room.” It hangs behind our ½ bath/laundry room door so few people ever see it, but I enjoy it. It’s a great balance for a Lonnie Duka photo I bought, “Beagle Dog at Lake Powell.”

Let’s just say that when Craig uses that bathroom, he keeps the light off.

Nutshell & Wine Bottle

My friend Marq, who I hadn’t talked to in a while, made the mistake on 3/17 of asking me what had been going on. I packed a lot into my nutshell email: We have moved, and I love the house, but I am so exhausted from the whole scenario...closing near-disaster (Chase called us after we signed the papers, asking for more documents before they would fund...touch & go whether we could even move that week), dog door in the wrong place, fence redo, now we need a foundation specialist at the new house, the dogs tracked (trucked) in Katrina levels of mud last week…my dad loaned me some money for closing but then needed part of it back for his taxes... Interest in the old house has dried up, the realtor wants to meet with us to discuss "options." Also my work group just had a humongous reorg with more layoffs than expected, my manager and I are the only 2 people left in Dallas...Craig is complaining about his job again and sent in his resume for another one. Both dads were visiting last weekend, plus I had to babysit Craig’s little sister Frances for 2 straight days. (Love her, but…) Craig is obsessed with unpacking all the boxes in the garage but never has time to hang my pictures. His dad felt sorry for me and he and his wife put up all the Home Depot picture shelves (they look great). It took a lot of cursing & banging, but they got them up and only a couple are crooked, supposedly because the house was built crooked. One of the dogs, I'm guessing butt-head Marley, keeps having accidents in the den, where he apparently thinks there should be a dog door. We still don't have home internet (Craig was in charge of setting that up and gets defensive every time I ask about it), meaning I can no longer work from home, plus I am way behind on my sister’s to-do list (she needs addresses, needs web research, needs calls made, etc.) - yes, she does ask other people to help, but everyone else procrastinates or flat out ignores her. Did I tell you her parole application was rejected and by the way, her daughter just had a baby? Now she has calling privileges - collect calls - adding to the national Bowie debt.

Marq’s intelligent and caring response to all this was – hey, would you guys like to come over for dinner & a beer on Saturday night? I told him I drink wine now, not beer, and he opened a bottle of white just for me – it was an extra large bottle and I tried to pretend the size fooled me on how much I was drinking – but not really, I know I drank way too many glasses. Maybe I had some stuff to let go of…that Saturday was not a bad day but I still had previous baggage tied to my nether parts. I survived the wine overload due to divine intervention and/or because I ate so much of Marq’s delicious barbecue. I don’t usually eat much meat but I have to admit, it soaks up the booze.

Parking Lot Vertigo

Setting…I had spent the past 3 hours waiting for the gas company to repair our alley gas connection and hook up gas in the house we had moved to the day before…Craig was out of town and the dogs were still in our old house…while I waited, I had gone around the new house figuring out what art would go in what room. Which was kind of fun but surreal (alone in a strange house full of misplaced furniture and boxes) and frustrating – when would the damn gas be turned on? I had been calling about it for 2 weeks… I promised myself that when I was released from gas-guy duty I would have a drink and a snack at Sol’s, our favorite Mexican restaurant in the old neighborhood. I had to go over there anyway to get a Zappos delivery (of both shoes AND jewelry!) that I knew had been sitting on the porch all afternoon.

2/27/09, 9:30 pm [Journal Entry]
Waited for gas guy, went to house to give dogs a treat and get Zappo’s. Opening King Baby pendant at Sol’s parking lot so I would have light, thought a truck had just pulled up to my left, that vertiginous feeling when someone else is moving and you think you are. My car was mostly dark so I was focused outside it. Then it hit, even more sick-making than the visual (I still feel sick, waiting on my food…also really hungry and tired), that my car had rolled back, and slightly crooked – because I hadn’t straightened my wheels when I parked. I was in a hurry (and, tired…) and thought I’ll turn off the car properly in a minute, gears or brake or whatever I hadn’t done yet, but I thought I already had one handled, like when you turn off ignition w/car in drive but have your foot on the brake. I had been in a hurry to get my headlights off because I could see them reflected in the Sol’s window and thought they might bother people, although now from the inside I realize the customers have blinds partially closed and the distraction of building lights and neon outside. So metaphorical – feeling of being carried to places I don’t want, but not that far…and while risky it is a modest risk because of how I live/behave…generally so little movement going on although an element of slight wackiness…self-blame…self-sabotage over the expensive jewelry gift I got myself? I was distracted because concentrating so hard, is the necklace too chunky, L.A.-style, pendant and fastener ring bigger than I expected, and the ball chain is…motorcycle ish? in a fashionable, dainty? way. None of which would matter if I return it for credit. I’ll wear it for a while and see what I think…. [Who was I kidding…I still have the necklace and bought more from the collection. Now the chunky style looks just right to me – I have retrained my visual assessment of style to favor the motorcycle look a little more.]