So so so much art... too many favorites to even post, but I'll try.
For years I dreamed of visiting the Biennale in Venice some day. I was lucky enough to go to Italy this year, and I decided to spend a week in Venice. That was a hard choice to make, since there's so much to see in Italy and only so much time. But there was so much art to see, and I thought it would be amazing to really get to know Venice. Of course, I only scratched the surface, but it was still amazing. I saw so much art... and my feet paid dearly. Oh, so much walking in Venice. I would end up soaking my feet in the bidet each evening, trying to build up the strength to go out to dinner. I stayed in three Airbnb rentals, giving me the chance to get to know different parts of the city. Although it would take two days figure out the path to get back without getting lost, as it's such a labrinth. The apartments were so great, that I'm doing one post on them and another on the art.
My first host was Alberto, and even though I felt sure I could find the place on my own, he insisted on meeting me at Piazalle Roma. Thank God - it would have taken me forever to find it, and going over those damn bridges of stairs with a rolling suitcase is no picnic. It was four winding steep steps up to the flat (I'll be Eurotrashy and call them flats), but the view was worth it. The sounds of wailing children and scolding mothers (both of which seem to be in endless supply in all of Italy) would waft up to the windows. I keep hearing an odd noise, which sounded like the cry of a human baby mixed with a cat. I pinpointed it to an odd creature on the rooftop across from my window, and realized it was a pair of baby seagulls. They look a bit like fuzzy aliens. I took to chucking bits of bread and cheese over to the roof, and the mom would snatch them and feed the kids.
Alberto was kind enough to invite me to dinner, can you believe that? His girlfriend made lasagna, while I helped Alberto and his twelve year old daughter practice their English. A retired French photographer and a young archeologist joined us as well, and we went through a lot of wine. I was exhausted, though, and jet-lagged, and was dozing off in a sitting position. When Alberto took me back to the rental, he did the double cheek kiss thing, and I was so tired my timing was off and I think I sort of pecked him on or near the lips. I was mortified and apologized profusely, explaining how tired I was. Hopefully he understood, but I still feel embarrassed writing this. ANYway, on to the next Airbnb. I got a beautiful FLAT in Giardini, where it was an easy walk to the main Biennale exhibitions. This garden district is on the outskirts of Venice, and it was a quiet break from the hustle of the city center. There weren't a lot of options in that area, so I splurged on a place that was way too big for me. The top photo on this post shows the big main room, which would have been wonderful for a dinner party. But alas, it was only me. But I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the balcony with wine or coffee.
Next stop, another splurge - I was on a roll. I got a place near the Rialto bridge and San Mark's square. Besides the location and killer terrace pictured above, the insane tile in the bathroom sold me.
The kitchen tile was also great. I enjoyed some of The.Best.Cheese.InTheWorld. up on that roof deck. (I know, people who write Like.That. are worse than people who say "flat")
I regularly collect old images off of pinterest for painting subjects, and was kind of thrilled to discover a 2nd and then 3rd of the same woman, sporting a big red beehive and what looked to be a post-coital cigarette. She kept popping up from time to time, and finally one image linked to an article on a book all about her. The book documents all of the photographs, paraphernalia and notes found in an abandoned suitcase found in an apartment in Germany. The estate was obtained by Delmes and Zander Gallery in Cologne, ( who have an amazing roster of outsider artists) and was made into a book and a show: "Margret – Chronik diner Affäre", which then traveled to White Columns in NYC.
The photographs, paraphernalia and notes in the suitcase documented a 1969-1970 affair between Gunter, a 39 year old businessman, and Margret, his 24 year old secretary. Despite both being married, he photographed their many trips together, and apparently kept obsessive notes on the details of their sexual encounters. He collected her hairs, empire birth control packets, even a scab and a bloody tissue.
I also became obsessed with Margret, and wanted this out of print book. I found one online for $195, and discovered it happened to be in a local bookstore. Alias Books in Atwater, Los Angeles - very cool shop. I wrote and asked if they would consider less if I came in with cash, and I ended up buying it for $160. I felt a little weird as the guy was counting my money, so I tried to lighten the mood by saying "That's my mom there on the cover. We're trying to get all of these out of circulation." Awkward pause. "...OH." he says. "Uh, just kidding." I say. He looked at me like I was nuts, and I scooted out.
I knew the book was in German, but I underestimated what a hard time I would have translating it. But maybe I'm better off just painting Margret, and wondering.
Currently working on a series of houseplants and cut flowers.
Something about the awkwardness, displacement and sadness of restricting a plant indoors in a pot - depriving it of sunlight, nutrients and space for roots to grow. It's almost cruel if you think too much about it, and yet houseplants have somehow come back into vogue recently.
I love this short film by Johnny Kelly:
I went thrifting with my friend Catherine the other day in Morongo Valley, and bought a whole mess of crap. The dumbest thing I bought was probably a massive floor-to-ceiling macrame hanging lamp - it's truly hideous, but it's my sarcastic tipping of the hat to the new macrame trend I've been seeing everywhere. I got it at a strange little store tucked behind a house, where there was also quite a collection of cacti for sale. And not for sale - all the cool ones had "sold" stickers on them, which I figured out was the proprietors way of keeping them. When we first walked in, he said to Catherine, "I'll give ya ten bucks if ya sit on oneof em!", gesturing to a huge coffee table full of prickly phallic plants. She's British, and only responded with a shocked "OOOOooooH!"
On our way out, I spotted a "sold" plant with an eye catching flower, and recognized it as a carrion flower, which I've only read about. This kind is actually a succulent, native to Africa, and it's flowers look and smell like the rotting corpse of an animal in order to attract flies for pollination (some carnivorous species attract them for food). I got all excited, because I thought these were really rare (I was thinking of a massive species at Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, which is news-worthy when it's 5 foot corpse flower blooms every few years). Like an idiot, I stuck my nose right up to it and took a big whiff.... dead animal smell, alright. I was sick to my stomach for over an hour. The guy said he would give me a cutting next time I visit (probably only if I buy more macrame fails).
I encountered an unsettlingly large tarantula marching across the patio a few days ago.... I pulled out my phone and filmed it (I couldn't handle getting too close), then set it to music on instagram: (click here to see the video)
Then today I saw another post on Instagram from Desert Sun magazine, announcing that October is mating season for these guys, and the time you will most often see them out and about in Joshua Tree. I found more info on the National Park Service site:
When a male tarantula reaches sexual maturity, between eight and ten years of age, he begins a journey that will both aid the survival of his species and cost him his life. Should you observe a desert tarantula in Joshua Tree National Park this autumn, it is likely to be a male in search of a mate. The male follows the scent of a female tarantula to the receptive female's burrow, which she has typically excavated in dry, sandy soil and lined with silk webbing. Tarantulas are solitary animals; there is only one spider in this burrow. (sounds familiar) To alert the female of his presence, the male taps one of his legs against the ground until the female emerges. The male must then participate in a dangerous mating dance, wherein he fends off the female, who wishes to devour him, by using hooks on his front legs. His death will give the female a needed boost of nutrition, as she must now produce 500 to 1,000 eggs and a silk cocoon where the eggs will be protected. Even if the male escapes being eaten by the female, he will still die within a few months. Females, on the other hand, often produce eggs for 25 years or more.
They also say a bite is no more dangerous than a bee sting to humans. Good thing I passed on the idea of taking it down - I never imagined the little guy was eight years old! It's also goat mating season - and mine are being as loud and obnoxious as ever.
I owe a LOT to Airbnb.... I started hosting almost four years ago, and then crafted it into a full time job. I've managed to pare it down to a part time job, and dream of phasing it out almost completely. Yes, it seems odd and I'm ashamed to admit it, but I daydream about quitting my day job (that isn't even a 9-5 job). Though I am super grateful to be able to have set up my life this way - I rent out my house in Los Angeles most of the time, which allows me to live out in Joshua Tree with lots of land, beautiful vistas, space to work and keep a little flock of chickens and a few goats. And then I get to go into the city about once a week, so I can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Small-scale, it's a great little side business with flexible hours, but I've been renting out four different residences between LA and Joshua Tree (which are 2.5 hours apart), and then co-hosting two more listings in Palm Springs. I bought more property in the desert while the getting was good (prices have since sky-rocketed), and became an Airbnb machine.
Talk about anxiety-producing.... while it's not 9-5, it can be a 24 hour job. You never know when you're going to get that call - the toilet is backed up, the lock box won't open, the key won't work, we lost the key, the cleaner forgot to come, I gave the cleaner the wrong dates, wifi is out, the water heater failed and flooded the house, the fridge died, the AC died and it's 112 degrees, the police have been called at 4am because there's a huge party.... all of these and much more have happened (some several times).
And while the vast majority of guests have been quite lovely, some can be a BIT of a pain in the ass. Many will not treat your space as if it was their own... you'll find your cherished vintage dish or souvenir from Italy used as an ashtray or in broken pieces in the trash. Dirty foot prints on the couch, on the walls! Unattended children coloring the sheets and bedspreads with markers (happened on two separate occasions). A steady flow of guests really takes it's toll on a house and furnishings. It's a delicate balance - you want to have an interesting space with nice things, but it's hard to watch those things become gradually trashed. You start to realize why hotels have bulletproof furniture and everything nailed down. You start to realize why you should always tip the hotel maid. I've had to clean up some things so disgusting I don't dare write them here. I don't have the time or the stomach to do all of the cleaning, so I juggle a few cleaners in the different locations, and live in fear of pissing them off and losing them! And then there's the looming fear of bad reviews. In this Yelp age, people use reviews as a weapon. Even when they've told you what a great time they had, many will still drum up some negatives to write about - I suppose to give a thorough survey of their experience. Recently a guest who crammed several of her friends into the house, complained in the review that it was "too bright" for those sleeping in the living room, and that I should get curtains for the big windows. The big curved 1920's window is my favorite part of the house! Why would I cover it up, to be a flop house for a bunch of 20-somethings to sleep off their hangovers?
One thing I think is really important when hosting, is to once and a while be a guest yourself. When traveling, it's great to be on the other side of the fence and rent from another airbnb host. It helps you to discover what little comforts are really important, what details are easy to overlook. Apparently it's also good to blog about it, because doing so made me realize what horrible photos I have on some of my listings! I'm embarrassed to put in a link to my LA house, but maybe doing so will force me to go update the terrible old cell phone photos I have on it! It's easy to leave it on autopilot, and forget to check and update your listing.
So while I love Airbnb and all it's done for me, I am down-sizing and renting some of my places long term so that I can preserve some of my sanity. Not to mention focus on making a living as an artist, instead! I also want to keep from getting too bitter - I really enjoy hosting people from all over world, and am so thankful that a platform like this exists.
For the last few months I've been working on a public art commission for downtown Santa Rosa, CA, and traveled up there to install it last week. It was funded by the city for a program called "Downtown Connect", and four artists were commissioned to create works in an attempt to connect walkable points of interest in the downtown area. The call for proposals had a wishlist of themes, including a treasure hunt, so I crafted my proposal to be a series of nine installations spelling out the name of the city. I thought this would be a fun activity for children and their parents, when walking through downtown.
The original plan was to install them on various surfaces - building corners, light posts, utility boxes, the ground, etc. But on my initial trip to meet with the planner and walk through the targeted areas, we realized that acquiring all the different permissions and possible damage problems (skateboarders!) made my plan pretty complicated. There were large planters around downtown, and most being city property helped to simplify things. The plan was to start in Railroad Square, continue down 4th street, and end up at the Old Courthouse Square. Still not simple enough - some permissions never came through from the mall and in front of some storefronts, so another game change was done the morning I was set to install them.
Being a shy person, I was just a little terrified to spend several days installing these - sitting on streets and sidewalks in a busy area. But I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Most all of the comments from passersby were of a positive bent, and I met some interesting local characters ( a boisterous hot dog seller, a few odd wandering/drunken souls, a youth who asked me to glue one of my tiles to his prized bong). The most common remark was "Is somebody paying you to do this?". When I was scrubbing the grout off (which was very difficult with the textured tiles, complicated by the sun beating down on most which dried it too fast, plus limited water), several people thought I was doing some sort of penance by cleaning the planters.
It was a totally new experience to have strangers call out sanctions of approval from cars or walk by and give the thumbs up while I was at work. I'm used to working in solitude, often with a sprinkling of self deprication. All in all, a great experience! Which is why I keep pursuing the public art realm.
Trying out some new paint - atelier interactive acrylics. They have an "unlocking formula" medium that you can use to prolong the drying time or reactivate the paint when it's completely dry. Although I've been finding that just water will reactivate the paint and let you rework it (though this may be with just thin washes? I'm not completely sure if it's a good thing..... I splashed a little wet paint on a study that had been dry a few days, and when I went to wipe it off, it took off the paint beneath it. And not in a way I intended! So I'm guessing these have to be coated when finished. It does open up a lot of possibilities!
Goat stew is something that floats through my mind often.... on days when my two pet goats are out of control. Luckily I've managed to "train" them to not expect to be fed very early, but for some reason 9am is the time that some clock goes off and they want to be fed NOW. Veronica gets indignant, circling the house and wailing, and then starts head-butting the front door. This morning she slammed into it so hard that she forced it open, despite being locked. How reassuring. Though the only intruder I really fear are these two with the horns. They can cause all sorts of destruction in minutes, and live to do so. I have an arrangement with the FedEx guy that delivers my art supplies, where he now puts them in the back of my van with a delivered note on the gate. This was after boxes were torn open and canvases gored (seriously). Last week, however, I suspect one of the goats ate the delivery notice, so there were new paints and canvas baking inside the hot van for four days until I decided to track the shipment. As I was excitedly bringing the boxes in, Veronica slipped out the gate. So began a half hour of chasing, cajoling, and finally dragging her back by the horns. As I was getting her in the gate, Betty managed a switcheroo, and took off to trim the neighbors tree (after watching Veronica hit that buffet out of her reach). Luckily I had corn husks from dinner the night before to lure her back with. (see instagram video of this scene here: https://instagram.com/p/3MrOeZNPNP/?taken-by=ranchokelly )
So why do I even have them? I ask myself that often. While there's days of intense frustration with them, they will then go back to being quite charming for many days - somehow, their personalities win you over. I love looking out the window to see them reclining in the shade of a tree, beards billowing in the breeze, peacefully chewing on their cud (which always has the relaxed look of someone chewing gum).
Since 2007 photographer Matthias Schaller has photographed raw, abstract paintings. The paintings however are not found on canvas, but rather smeared onto the tools used to craft each work of art—the palettes. His series, Das Meisterstück (The Masterpiece), claims these behind-the-scene objects as portraits of the artist, while also giving a direct insight into the detailed techniques performed by each painter. (You can read the rest of the article on This IS Colossal here).
I wonder how my palettes stand up? It never occurred to me to save them. I used to flatten out beer carriers to use, and they had a handy handle. I've felt guilty because I don't use glass and then scrape it clean , like I thought you're "supposed" to do.
Working in ceramics results in a lot of "win some , you lose some" and throwing away hours of effort due to breakage or some thing you stupidly didn't take into consideration. This bowl was a big mess of stupid things, and I re-built it twice after having it break and crumble during the drying process.
I realized the problem was that I was building it onto the underside of a bowl as a form to follow, and as it would shrink it cracked and fell apart.I tried taking what was left (after I had started from scratch a few times), and jamming it into the inside of the bowl to try and make it work. I knew it was probably a lost cause, but figured it was an experiment. I had just started working with paperclay, which is touted as having many forgiving qualities. It has a high ratio of paper mixed into the clay body, which burns off during firing, leaving a lightweight but sting result that looks just like any other clay ceramic. Supposedly you can build onto dried or even fired clay with it. So I took the broken shell I had and applied a thin skin of paper clay on one side.
After firing the original red clay had cracked considerably, so I then patched it with more paperclay. Being lazy and not sure if this would work, I then glazed it before firing again. The many cracks and patches are visible, but not obvious under the glaze. I'm not crazy about the glaze result, so I may re-fire it. And if you're wondering why on earth I would make a bowl with holes in it, it's meant to be a fruit bowl - the holes let air in and prevent rot.
Looked great, until it dried and cracked....
here I put a skin of paperclay, to try and reinforce it
and this is what it looked like when I turned it over.
There was so much rebuilding involved, I would have been better off to start over. But I considered it a learning experience!
After buying Scarlett along with two other chickens 2nd hand off of craigslist several years ago, I think she's FINALLY warming up to me. I've managed to pick her up a few times this week, and she actually relaxed a bit and seemed to enjoy being petted. She used to have another black Australorp sidekick named Butterfly McChicken, after Butterfly McQueen who played Prissy in Gone With the Wind. They came with Butters, featured below. They were all pretty pecked up from an over-crowded situation, but managed to reinvent themselves in my coop.
I think the reason is that she's excited over the fact that there are two young male chickens in the coop. I, on the other hand, am extremely ticked off that two of the 5 birds sold to me as hens have ended up cockerels, after I raised them in boxes in my dining room for two months.
Many months later, I'm finally getting around to posting photos of my Herradura tequila barrel commission. Besides having great tequila, they have a pretty cool marketing campaign. I think this was the 2nd year they did this - they selected 10 artists in various cities around the US (I was one of the lucky folks from LA for 2014), give them all barrels to go crazy with, then have a big opening event with LOTS of tequila, and judges who decide on the best three and hand out big cash prizes. Sadly, I didn't win, but I will say I had a barrel of fun.
The tile-making was just tedious - the hardest part for me was drilling big holes into the thick wood of the barrel, making them just the right size for the port holes to fit, then wiring it up to light up from the inside. The best part was the smell of inside of the charred oak barrel reminded me of chardonnay.
It used to be that when I felt "blocked" (sitting in front of a blank canvas with nothing coming out of me), I concluded that I wasn't a true artist - it wasn't really bound into my guts. Now I realize that it's something almost all artists (and writers, musicians, etc) suffer through. It's so reassuring and liberating to know that.
But being blocked still sucks. I had some great quote from Chuck Close scribbled in a notebook, which I now can't seem to locate, but the gist of it was that creative block was for amateurs, and the real artists just keep working through it. So I tell myself it's okay when I feel blank, but don't allow myself to wallow in it anymore. Since I have the attention span of a gnat and am always trying different mediums, it's easy enough just to start working on something completely different. So last week I just walked away from painting for a while, and pulled out the clay again. I made a big pile of little pieces and filled up the kiln - how exciting! It's such a roller coaster of the joys of discovery and the disappointment of screw-ups in this learning process.
I heard a fascinating podcast on Radiolab yesterday about color perception. I knew that most animals see less colors than humans, but never knew that some animals can see vast amounts of colors we can't. Humans normally have three types of cone cells and are therefore trichromatic…. however it has been suggested that as women have two different X chromosomes in their cells, some of them could be carrying some variant cone cell pigments, thereby possibly being born as full tetrachromats and having four different simultaneously functioning kinds of cone cells. One study suggested that 2–3% of the world's women might have the kind of fourth cone that lies between the standard red and green cones, giving, theoretically, a significant increase in color differentiation.
This of course made me wonder and hope… could I possibly one of the chosen few with super color sense? Researching the phenomenon online I found a test here, but after taking it my hopes were dashed with a crappy score. Of course, I do have a pretty dirty laptop screen.
There was so much amazing information in this podcast (here's a link)…. they went on to talk about someone who noticed in Homer's Odyessy his odd descriptions of colors. And then that he never once mentions the color blue. Studies of ancient texts reveal a pattern: across all cultures, words for colors appear in stages. And blue always comes last. Theories are that it's due to how rarely blue occurs in nature and the fact that it's the most difficult pigment to create for paint or dye. Because of this, many cultures have no word for blue.
I think I'll paint something blue today.
Just got the news, and I'm so excited to be accepted as one of the 10 Los Angeles artists in this years Herradurra competition to make a sculpture out of an old oak barrel! They chose 10 artists in 8 different cities, and will have a big event in each one. They haven't set the dates yet, but in Oct-Nov they will deliver a barrel to me and I have 6 weeks to finish it. I have a lot of ideas, but they're complicated, so I better get to work on a prototype… I'm picturing protrusions (like the piece pictured below) that have windows to the inside of the barrel, that will be lit from within.
Here's a link to last years event - http://www.herradurabarrelart.com
Yesterday I gave my two donkeys away to what I hope will be a better home, where they can act as guardians to sheep and graze on 20 acres. I gave them the best care I could in the near year that I had them, but I felt like they were really bored. They loved going on walks, their goal being to sample every growing thing they could fit in their mouths. But Ethel was so hard to control - one time she kicked the lead out of my hand and galloped down the road to visit another donkey (also adopted by a neighbor, they had come from the same place). And dragging them back home was always very difficult, involving lots of pulling that left me with a backache, despite carrot bribery. The final straw was being told that the new owners of the house next door might be coming after me to move the existing coral five feet back.
I didn't know much about their past - as the farrier I hired to trim their overgrown and damaged hooves said, between spits of tobacco, "it ain't like you can call up carfax and get a history on these animals." I was told they were adopted out after being captured wild by the BLM, and received paperwork from their captures about seven years back. According to the vet, they're about eight or nine years old, so they must have had a few years of free roaming. Enough to remember what it's like (another farrier wisdom: "donkeys don't never forget nothin"). How strange that we (humans, that is, not me and the farrier) tamed and bred these animals for mining work over 100 years ago, set them loose when they were no longer needed, and now decide to round them up to either be shot or shuffled around to screwball caretakers like myself. Now supposedly the "Wild free-roaming horses and burros act" of 1971 declares them to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” and stops them from being slaughtered, after a long letter writing campaign started in 1959 by a woman known as "wild horse Annie". However, there are reports online of National Parks and the BLM hiring out hunters to shoot as many as they can find, as well as videos of inhumane treatment during round-ups. A particularly painful one to watch shows a donkey being yanked up by it's ears. It still refuses to budge - a testament to how incredibly stubborn they truly are. Donkey advocates say that they are being unfairly vilified without scientific evidence as destroying habitat. That seems a likely bandwagon for me to hop on, except I can't help but wonder that the BLM must have better things to do with their time than pick on these stubborn creatures for no good reason whatsoever. And I've seen how they can eat. With similar gusto as the folks I've witnessed (and joined) at the Pizza Hut buffet up here in Yucca Valley.
At any rate, I'm heartbroken to have them gone and hope the pain of the empty corral passes soon. Twiggy had gotten very affectionate, and would nibble kisses on my face with those big fuzzy lips in the photo above. Ethel was essentially a b*tch, but did love her ears rubbed and quickly learned some tricks like this one: http://instagram.com/p/qNqF3oNPI-/?modal=true . She was mean to Twiggy, biting her and blocking her from the hay at feeding time, but I would sometimes see them being affectionate (only out the window when they didn't know I was looking). Last week I caught them sunbathing together, and got some photos of Twiggy annoying Ethel by deciding to take a dustbath. I'm glad I could find a home for them together, and just hope they are happy.
I hate overripe bananas and can't even stand the smell ( I do however like kind of green ones. I'm told that's weird).
Maybe my next still life will be of a dog turd.