Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back to the Meadow

So I had slightly better luck with my camera this visit to East Meadow to see Jess and Marc .
After only two tries managed to get this shot of the two of them. It's not quite in focus, I fear, but it still gives you a nice sense of their collective and respective energies.

I arrived around 1pm, and we headed off to Flo's Luncheonette, a great sandwich shop that was new to all three of us (right, guys?) but undoubtedly an old Summer tradition for lots of folks we saw there. It was fun for me to be in a town that looked an awful lot like my hometown, seeing people who looked a lot like folks I grew up with... but when they spoke, I knew I was not in Indiana anymore.

After lunch we headed further east on the island to go to a wine-tasting. Believe it or not, the Long Island landscape reminded me of the mid-west too (and in my book, that's good thing, before anyone gets huffy), though the trees are scrubbier, with more evergreens, and, get this, the land is actually flatter, at least the part I saw on Sunday. This is a giant sandbar after all. We were also in wine country, so I imagine much has been done to level the ground. This day trip gave me a chance to soak up some sky (saw one hawk, two rabbits, and one possible oriole), and it was made all the better not only be the company, but by the soundtrack. Since Jess, Marc, and I are close in age, we grew up listening to the same pop music, so this was a real road trip, complete with music. Listening to earphones on the subway just is NOT the same. You gotta have the scenery streaming past and the surround sound.
The photo above is from the tasting at Pindar Wineries; Jess actually knows how to use a camera, and took this shot, along with several others I stole for this post (go to his link for the full collection). I asked him to decipher and interpret my camera for me, but we both forgot about it. Next time we'll do it, assuming I haven't broken the code (or the camera) by then.

Marc is a fellow purple proponent with the garden to show it. Before I get to my (limited number of) successful garden photos though, I wanted you to see the eggplant splendor that is the guest bedroom (left). This shot doesn't do the room justice, giving you only one corner. Unfortunately the photo I took that gives you a full view of the room was the day after I had slept there. I was in the room for maybe twelve hours, tops, unconscious for the vast majority of it, and I still managed to make the place look like my suitcase exploded. I won't do that to Marc, so we'll have to make due with this sub-par shot. I think it still gives you some sense of how fancy the accommodations were. I didn't get a shot of the incredible shower, but I asked if I could sleep there the next time I visited. They seemed amenable.
I told Marc that the plethora of purple put the blackberry cosmos from my first visit into a deeper context.

I couldn't get the color of this purple rhododendron correct if I was too close. Actually I seemed unable to get the color or the focus right until I got some distance. Jess has a much better close-up of this bush, though I might humbly suggest my meager photo more accurately captures the color. What the hell is it about purple?
Left is one of several planters Marc has placed around the yard, and filled with several members of the viola family. None of my photos of the actual beds turned out well at all. I can't blame Marc this time either, I was completely sober when I took them. I know I look half-lit at the Winery, but I wasn't. Two sips of alcohol and my face lights up like a Christmas tree.
To the right is a fairly successful close-up of one of Marc's irises. I think the color is close, if not quite right. I wonder if these are the same ones you mentioned, Greg? Marc and I agreed they were almost black. They also had an amazing fragrance. Why was I not informed that irises smelled good? Honestly, I didn't have a CLUE. This one smelled fantastic. Maybe the ones in the stores suffer from the same problem most store-bought roses do, scent having been sacrificed in the breeding for color, but I also grew up with irises in my parents' backyard, and if I ever knew they smelled good, I forgot. I've mentioned before, here or maybe on Greg's blog, that I look forward to violets and lilacs for weeks, if not months, but irises take me by surprise almost every year. Now that I know to give them a sniff, I might start anticipating them too. I think they're still going strong in the parks. Must check.

It is comical how badly my photos of the puppies turned out. Blurry shots of their heads, remarkably well-focused shots of their asses, that was the best I did. So here again I poached Jess's shots. To the right is Mandy, the pretty pretty princess. She and Bernice made me feel special by fighting for my attention, frequently taking it to the level of a rousing brawl. This eventually would expand to include still-convalescing Dodger, whose bark, in timbre, resonance and readiness of use, hints at possible beagle heritage. So for the sake of his leg and our ears, we usually had to calm things down at that point. Bernice is alpha, but often would give way to the princess when it came to sitting on my lap. By the end of the weekend though, they seemed to have worked out some sort of equitable arrangement. I felt I got good cuddling time with both of them.
Each dog has his or her own ways of expressing affection. Bernice likes to kiss, especially on the nose (see right for non-nose kiss; yes I know I'm kissing her, but she started it). Mandy is the one most likely to want to lie on or next to you, but she's also fond of sniffing your hair, forehead, and occasionally giving a peck on the ear. Dodger likes to fall onto your feet, starting with his shoulder, in a move that looks like an Akiido roll. Then he playfully mouths your shoes, ankles and hands. Actually he and Bernice both often look like they're laughing, when they're at their most playful. Mandy just always looks pretty. We agreed that sometimes her face reminds us of a seal's. Bernice is half shepherd and half doberman, with one ear for each. One always sticks straight up, the other always flops over. It's adorable.
It's too bad I didn't take any pictures of the meals, nor of the new gas grill that provided two of them for us, but I'm sure I wouldn't have done justice to the taste: grilled salmon, broccoli with cheese sauce, teriyaki chicken, garlic green beans. Marc even created a special homemade ice cream called Cherry Cobbler. I feel it's not my place to share the recipe however. You'll have to ask the artist himself.
Thanks again guys, for your gracious hospitality and lovely company.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Whistle a Happy Tune

So I was starting to fear this blog was getting very Walt Disney, with me prancing along as I sang about flowers and butterflies and puppies. "How much of this do my internet buddies really need," I thought. "Most of them have gardens of their own, they don't need to look at flowers I didn't even plant."

Then I cast my mind forward to the Summer and realized that chances are very good I'll spend a lot of time snarling and spitting on the blog when the weather turns sweltering. Some of you might agree I've been a bit too Mr. Rogers of late, but come July you may be taking up an online collection to have me sedated. Or at least muzzled.

So I decided I'd gush about another great walk, and show you more things I thought were pretty. Come, hold my hand as we skip cheerfully through two more of New York's parks.

The pansies above record the first time I and the camera agreed on the shade of purple on the very first try. They're also a partial answer (a resounding 'yes') to Gillian's question as to whether I love purple pansies. An even stronger response is at the bottom of the page. In that photo I'd say most of the blossoms are the shade my eye saw, though a few are more blue than they should be. No idea what made the difference there; they all seemed lit the same way to me. The conversation with my camera goes on.

Pink is a shade to which I am largely indifferent, since I consider it nothing more than pastel red, and most pastels leave me cold. I'm rethinking this stance however, especially as I see more shades of pink that edge close to purple. On Thursday my walk took me through St. Nicholas and Morningside Parks. I smelled these roses (above) before I saw them; the scent was unmistakable. It's easy to forget why people make such a fuss over roses, when all one comes in contact with are the scentless ones sold in the stores. I do find the scent glorious. Maybe that inclined me to be more appreciative of the color. It's awfully cheerful, don't you think? The flowers to the right are in Morningside Park. They had no scent I could discern, but having been enticed in by the roses earlier, I was able to appreciate them more readily too.

While the camera seems reluctant to give purple its due, I discovered that day that it loves dramatic skies. In fact I'd say it makes things look more dramatic than they actually were. I think I've remarked before that just as I need greenery on a regular basis, I've finally realized I also need big sky, and far-off horizons. Not until it's lifting do I notice how much I am suffering from urban claustrophobia.

Thursday was a windy day, with threats of storms, and I was walking after 5pm, so the sun was at an exciting angle. Several times I saw something that looked almost like a monochrome Toledo; the image above comes the closest. Okay, I went a little apeshit on the cloud photographs, but I'll just share two of my favorites. The sense of space made me expand.

In Morningside I visited one of my favorite sculptures. I was one of those kids who fell in love with Greek mythology at a very early age, reading gentle, child-friendly version of those raw, primal stories. That, and Disney's Fantasia, led me to identify particularly with fauns. (I also adored Amazons, which led me to adore Wonder Woman. I'm less clear on what that says about me now.) As with violets and purple, over the years I've learned more adult-only reasons why I, as a nature-loving homo, might have a special bond with fauns. Their connection with Pan, and by association Dionysus, is just one. The first time I ever saw this statue, I especially appreciated that it was a faun and a bear. My boyfriend at the time adores bears (the animal, though he has no objection to the gay kind that I know of), so I liked the fact that here was an image that combined two of our respective icons. I looked forward to telling him about it; then it hit me. We had just ended a five year relationship the night before. I was out walking, in fact, in order to clear my head and exhaust my body because of the break-up. This was the first, but by no means the last time I would see something, make a note of it to share with him later, then have the crashing recollection that we weren't really sharing those little moments anymore. He and I have evolved a good friendship, thankfully. He's still one of my favorite people. I think this was the first time I was able to look at the statue without feeling sad, though. Such funny gauges of change and healing I have.

At first I wasn't sure if the bear was cornering the faun, or just waving hello. I'm still not completely sure, but nothing about the faun's expression or body language makes me think he's frightened. Enlarge the image for yourselves, and tell me what you think. Bears were sacred to Artemis; fauns, as I said, were sacred to Pan and Dionysus. All three were nature deities. I'm not aware of any special animosity between any of them, though Artemis was something of a loner, while Dionysus loved a good party. There's a story about how amethyst was created that involves them both.

Yes, I realize I'm spinning far too much out of this little fountain; it's what I do. There does seem to be some fun story there, though, don't you think? Oh yes, it's a working drinking fountain, see the lower right in the first picture. Nice of the faun to be looking after some one's hat. It's clearly not his; there are no holes for his horns.

Near to the fountain is a small pond. I attempted to photograph some turtles swimming, and got this result instead. This may have been what tipped me off to try the sky photos.

Below is the pond, and a view of the little cascade. I love water in all its forms, with special mention for waterfalls. Maybe it's the flat-lander's appreciation of elevation changes. Maybe it's my love of water combined with my love of movement. (Mountain streams please me in a way that big lazy rivers don't.) Whatever it is, they are magical to me. The statue is just around the corner on the right.

Below you can actually see a couple of the turtles. Someone who knows more about this than me says they're red-eared turtles, which are not indigenous; they're probably former pets that were dumped here for some reason.

I've seen them swimming about in all seasons, so they appear to be surviving just fine, while not destroying the habitat. There appear to be dozens of them in the pond. I have occasionally seen a white heron here too; I assume it's the same one I would occasionally see at a pond in Central Park, about thirty blocks south of here. If it's two different herons, I hope they know about each other.

Seinfeld - and Suzanne Vega- fans may recognize this diner. I passed it on my way home from Morningside Park.

Hmm. Dramatic clouds, nice scents, waterfalls, purple, fauns... some of my favorite things all packed into one lovely saunter. And I didn't even show you the (impossible to see) duck photo, nor the (blurry) photo of the flute player on the train home. He was playing a familiar song but I don't know the name. You know, the one that goes "la da da da DA dada, la de dada da..." I think it's Mozart. Or maybe Bartok. Philip Glass? No, definitely Mozart.
Yeah, I'm definitely in Chipper-Charlie mode for the time being. Today is grey, cloudy, and ten degrees below the average temperature for this time of year. I couldn't be more delighted. Tell me to come read this post in a few weeks when I'm spitting nails and you want to hit me with a brick. I still have to tell you about yet another soul-restoring dinner with good friends that occurred on Saturday. That, like the park walks, seems to be turning into one of this blog's leitmotifs. For now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Second Trip

Six days after my Beltáin visit, I more or less took the same walk. While May 1st had been sunny, it was only in the upper 50s (F), and while I was by no means the only person out enjoying the weather, the crowds were a little slim. May 6th it was substantially warmer, which meant many more people were out. Here's another shot I took of Midtown; I think it gives a much better sense of the crowds, the traffic, even the noise perhaps. I swear to god I didn't notice the guy in the light blue shirt with the nice shoulders until after I had uploaded this image to my computer, but he's a nice bit of scenery too, isn't he.
One of the aspects of Spring that surprises and delights me every year is how quickly things change. I'll admit I was bit sad to realize the violets were already their way out, but there was something new happening, something I don't remember ever noticing before. See those seed pods in the photo to the left? They were the cause of it all. The type of tree they come from lines the main drive in Central Park starting at the south entrance. As I walked in, there seemed to be a silvery rain falling everywhere. I tried to get photos of it, but was never successful. The image below comes the closest; if you look at the dark green of the bushes, you might notice some white flecks. That was the best I could do. It does nothing to give you a sense of how full the air was of them, how beautiful the shimmer was as they fell, conjuring up rain, snow, and something completely magical. I don't know what kind of tree they come from. My tree and plant expert people? Are any of these shots clear and close enough to tell you what the tree is? (See image of seeds still on the tree, below)

The shimmery rainfall was only part of their charm. They were on the ground in such numbers (seriously I don't remember seeing ANY evidence of them a week earlier) that they piled up in drifts; when the wind blew them, they'd skitter across the tarmac making a sound like rain on a rooftop. Several times they made little dirt devils too. The image above is the closest I came to capturing one of those. Considering how central these things were to my experience that day, they certainly don't lend themselves well to photography. Or at least they don't to my level of ability. Video might come closer, but I bet it would still flatten the whole experience.

I'd say at least a third of the violets from the previous week were gone. Thanks to friend Greg I now knew how to get my camera to do close-ups. In the image at left, look at the blossoms just up and to the right of center; they come closest to being the right color, though they're still a bit too blue. Other than using the macrofocus, I didn't do anything differently, so I don't know why these get closer. Is it as simple as them being in sunlight rather than shade? The photo that best captured the color is also a close-up, but is very blurry. I still can only get so close if I want the camera to focus. Intimacy issues, apparently. But are they mine or the camera's?

This one also gets closer to the right shade, but is still not quite right.

Leaving the violets, on my way to the lilacs, I was once again stopped by the lemony, intoxicating scent I mentioned last time, though now I couldn't see any blossoms causing it. In my search though, I found this single blossom. No idea what it is either (it definitely was not providing the scent), but I loved how tiny it was. That's why I put my hand in the photo, to give you a sense of scale. Apparently my focusing abilities deteriorate once again when using the camera one handed. I ask my nature experts, any idea what this is? I'd say it was not planted deliberately by humans, it definitely has the look of being a volunteer.
Below is a picture I took of the lilacs, just because I forgot last time. My camera has no difficulty with this shade of purple; this color matches my memory quite well. Yes, I think sunlight might be the big difference. That reminds me of another realization I had re: violets. One of the reasons I'm fond of them is that they're shade lovers, like me.

For a third time, I ask anyone who knows to tell me what this flowering vine ( upper right) is. I see it on the sides of buildings in Manhattan occasionally. It gives off a strong, heavy scent that I don't find appealing, but I bet it works a treat at getting the plant propagated. Here again the camera captured the color accurately, I would day. Maybe it just handles the blue scale better. Is it wisteria? I suppose I could go look that up. It's something like that, I think. I knew the name of it once. This is the sort of flower I would expect to love, musky scent notwithstanding. Extravagant blossoms in the purple range, exuberant growth, yet I'm largely unmoved by them. Weird. Nothing against them, mind you, they just don't excite me the way lavender, lilacs and violets do. Or crocuses for that matter, though I think part of my appreciation for them is rooted in the knowledge that when they show up, violets are not far away.
Two more times before I left the park I smelled that wonderful, mysterious, citrusy scent. I still have not identified what it is. I'm bad at describing scents, not sure lemony or citrusy is the way to go, but I'll stick with that for now. I briefly wondered if it was simply a whiff of lilac coming from a distance, but I don't think so now. Just not the same scent. I'll have to go back again soon, since presumably whatever it is won't be around much longer. Perhaps that's my final question; does anyone know of something in season right now that has a light, bright scent, not too sweet, not too cloying?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Run! Run for Your Lives!

So this sign was posted on the door of my apartment building. Sounds rather dire, doesn't it? "Imminently perilous to life," and all. And the threat of arrest if we should violate teh vacate order, ooh, scary.
I'd be inclined to take the sign more seriously if it weren't for the fact that I was reading it for the first time on my way OUT of my building the day AFTER it had been posted. Thus right away the sign's credibility got thrown into question since the "this premises has been vacated" assertion was a little inaccurate in the truth department. Meaning it wasn't. True, I mean. Down at the bottom you may be able to make out that the 'floor' in peril is actually the back courtyard. In almost ten years of living here I have stuck my head back there exactly once, for about a minute and a half. There's nothing back there. Tommy says he thinks the cause for concern is a tree growing in the foundation back there that is about to tumble. Okay, that seems like a reasonable thing to get worked up about, but didn't they have a sign that was a little less code red on them? You say the premises have been vacated and will remain so under threat of arrest until such time as the department deems it safe, those of us living here are going to be a bit confused, seeing as no one told us to leave. I'm really pretty certain that if any attempt had been made to inform us we needed to vamoose the night before, any knocking on the door, say, bell ringing, shouting in the stairwell, anything like that, Coltrane would have had a lot to say about it. Tuesday night was not a noisy night in Coltrane's world, so I'm reasonably confident I can assert no attempt was made to evacuate this building. When I got home again to find the sign still up, I had a brief chat with a new neighbor about it, wondering if we should be at all alarmed, and assuming that no news was good news. Maybe not the smartest move to take when it comes to big city living, but it's what we're all going with for now. After some high profile fatal accidents (you've probably heard or read about them) the building commission department is facing some heavy criticism for having been lax or irresponsible in the execution of its duties, so I can't help but wonder if they're going the Chicken Little route anytime anything comes up, just to play it safe. That theory would make more sense if they had actually made us leave though. Or maybe they were just out of the 'stay out of the back courtyard' signs. Even so, couldn't they have posted it closer to the courtyard? Putting up a sign saying 'do not enter, violators will be arrested' on the FRONT DOOR of a building is naturally going to lead me to assume I'm not supposed to go THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR. "Do not enter," I find that unequivocal, so it amuses me that it seems to have no bearing on reality. I've been home since five, Tommy and Ellen arrived without mishap, we've all come and gone as need and whim have dictated. So far, no repercussions.
I was pleasantly surprised that our mail got delivered today. If there was one person who I expected to honor this sign, it was another government employee. Maybe she knew better than I how to interprete the subtleties. The mail was still a disappointment, but that's hardly her fault. I really should be writing more letters. Email has spoiled me.
So yesterday afternoon an additional document, looking even more official (it had an embossed medallion, so you know it's good), was explicit in saying only the back courtyard had been evacuated, and (Tommy was right) the culprit was a tree eating away at the foundation. I'm not sure what they mean by 'evacuated' since the only creatures living back there that I know of are rats the size of chihuahuas, and feral cats who like to improve the summer nights with their pornographic yowling. If these folks have been moved along, I'd be delighted if they were never allowed to return, but I ain't holding my breath. Ah well. So I am safe in my home. Still not sure why they had to post the notices on the front door. It would have been so easy to put them up, along with police tape, across the narrow entrance to the courtyard itself. I seriously doubt Brian (read the comments) is the only long-time resident of the place who was previously unaware of the courtyard's existence. Better safe than sorry, I suppose, but this is another example of how official warnings get over-looked here. I think many of us, with some justification, start to see things like this as boys crying wolf. There was one day when in the space of three hours I heard three different warning alarms ringing (two in buildings, one in the subway), an no one, including me, took any notice of them. Somehow we all just assumed (rightly, fortunately) they were false alarms. And don't get me started on car alarms. Do they serve ANY purpose these days other than annoying the neighborhood? Maybe they're more useful in non-urban areas.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Making Due with the Tools Ya Got

When commenting on Ben's artwork (he has new stuff up), Shaney teasingly asked if the back view was showing my best side. I laughed when I realized that I was the last person who could answer that question. You see, my experience modeling for sculpture classes have driven home the fact that I've never seen any of the back part of my body from the top of my head to just above my calves (with maybe just a glimpse of the top of my butt) . Unless you are remarkably limber or, I don't know, part owl, you haven't seen yours.

Of course I've seen photos (and other drawings) of my back, and I've been in dressing rooms with double mirrors making sure those new pants don't make my ass look weird, but there has always been the imposition of two dimensions provided by the camera or the mirror. I know we've all been told that two dimensional images don't do full justice to three dimensional things; we've heard that photos and mirrors don't show us our own faces the way other people see them, and we think oh yeah, that makes sense, but secretly we don't really believe it, do we. I mean come ON. We see photos of other people, and we usually think they are accurate portrayals, why not photos of ourselves? We recognize celebrities on the street whom we've previously only seen in two dimensions, this whole thing may sound reasonable but doesn't actually represent how things work in the real world, right? Well, after the first time I modeled for a sculpture class, I became a believer.

Let me explain how posing for a sculpture differs from posing for a painting. For a painting, I stay still, and so do the artists. During my breaks I might get up and wander around looking at the paintings in progress, but when I'm in the pose, if I can see anything, I only see the back of the canvases, and the concentrated looks on the artists' faces.

With sculpture, on the other hand, the model pedestal is usually designed to spin, like a giant lazy susan, and the pose will get rotated one quarter turn every fifteen minutes. If the class is small enough, the individual students may also be working on wheeled tables, so they can zip around the room as needed, working on whatever angle of the pose they want. What does this mean for the model? It means that everyone in the class will at some point be in front of me, looking right in my eyes, and it means I will spend the entire pose staring at miniatures of my own back.

It was my first sculpture pose that finally convinced me three dimensions does lose something when rendered in two. I was looking at my back, in many ways recognizing it, yet also feeling like it was unfamiliar. I had opinions on who had rendered it accurately and who hadn't, and that would seem to refute the assertion I'm making here. The fact is, though, the over-all feeling was one of discombobulation. Here I was getting additional artistic renderings of something that had been following me around all my life. Almost half my body was, at a basic level, unfamiliar. And would remain so.


Yesterday Dessida and I made the final adjustments to the lights of her show, and walked away feeling like we done good. I've been wanting to describe what we've been working on for all of you for some time now, but when I wasn't working for Dess, or modeling, I wanted to be sleeping. Actually counting up my hours she and I were both surprised at how small the number was; it seems like I've been over there all the time.

Here's what we were doing. Dessida was putting together her thesis show for her MFA in painting. She had painted on huge sheets of heavy-duty watercolor paper in acrylic paint. The smallest of her works measured five feet square. When it came time to consider how to display them and -just as importantly- improve their longevity, one of her instructors encouraged her to use a specific -and apparently pretty rare- archival technique for mounting them.

I wish I knew what the name of this process is. I'm sure it has a name. English is a language of nouns; we love naming things, parts of things, parts of parts, we can't get enough of 'em. But whatever this is called, Dess and I have yet to learn it. Her instructor gave her the name of one archivist who does it, and on her own she was able to rustle up maybe three more in the NYC area. This is not a common technique, whatever it's called. If we were more certain we had been doing it correctly, we could probably start charging a pretty penny, doing this for other people, but that's hard to market when you don't know the name of the process.

Let me describe the steps.

One starts with a stretcher like what is used to mount a canvas painting. Because of the scale of her works, Dessida had to commission stretchers of special dimensions. Then one takes archival cardboard (meaning it is acid-free) and cuts it to fit the interior of the stretcher as smoothly as possible. Naturally the cardboard comes in standardized sheets, and all the stretchers were bigger than the cardboard, so two sheet would have to be cut to the proper dimensions, then held together by a strip of rice paper and white (acid-free) glue on either side of the seam. The cardboard is glued into the stretcher (again with the archival glue), then nailed in, finally for good measure strips of rice paper are glued along the front edges of the cardboard, then wrapped around the wood of the stretchers and glued to the back. The goal is to make a smooth, even surface with no wood or nails bleeding through, since they will age the painting.

So now we're halfway there. Next one takes the painting, trims it if necessary to fit the stretcher, glues six inch strips of rice paper to the back of the painting on all four sides, so the strips extend past the edge of the painting. Once this has been allowed to dry, the painting is placed on the cardboard, then one soaks the rice with water, stretches the paper taut, and glues it to the back of the stretcher. When the paper dries, everything should be tight as a drum, with the painting floating ontop the cardboard, the only place anything is pinned down is on the back. All this glue is water soluble as well, so the process is supposedly reversible. We may yet have to test that theory on some of the earliest attempts.

Everybody with me so far?

So that is the process as we understood and executed it. From the get-go we were a bit unsure of ourselves. Dessida could never find anyone willing to show her the process. The best she could find was someone who would take time out of her busy schedule just long enough to describe the process. Over the phone. (Any suggestion of snippiness on the part of the archivist is mine, not Dessida's). Then, because she was still finishing up the actual painting part in some cases, Dess handed me these instructions and asked me to make the best of it. It was like a weird game of telephone.

Needless to say we started with the paintings Dess was the least attached to, so as to practice a bit before hitting the big time. And boy did we (I) need it. Wouldn't you say this process sounds rather meticulous? Unforgiving of errors, perhaps? Yeah, me too. I'll ask my real life friends for their opinions, but I'd say that when describing me, 'meticulous' is not, perhaps, the first word that springs to mind. Exacting measurements, not exactly my forte. I mean, I can get them, I just get them very slowly, while chanting to myself constantly that yes an eighth of an inch does fucking matter in this case. Dessida's main reason for thinking of me in relation to this work is the fact that I do a lot in paper mache, so she thought I might have some useful insights when it came to a process involving paper and glue. I don't know that I provided much in the way of new information, but at least I had some sense of just how sturdy and forgiving wet paper can be. Rice paper in particular is very impressive that way, in case you're wondering.

So, a basic lack of knowledge and experience was always lurking there under the surface for both of us. I had started and done a few of the stretcher preparations before Dess finished painting, so the first time she and her sister Michal (who came down from the Berkshires two weekends in a row to help) put one together, she asked me if it looked right. The comedy in this was not lost on any of us. A voice in my head asked "does it bother her that she is asking you if it's correct? It should." Anytime we tackled a new obstacle, this annoying little voice would pipe up, saying that there was probably a really easy way to do what we were making very complicated, but we'd never stumble across it, and no one around us would know to tell us. Time was a'wastin' though, so we just put our heads down, and plowed away.

The two other challenges we faced in this process are common ones to the pursuit of any art, especially in New York: inadequate space, and inadequate tools. The MFA art studios are in the cellar (not to be confused with the basement, or the floor between labeled 'cm' in the elevator: cellar mezzanine?) of the engineering building. All the artists have been encouraged to work on a large scale, so both horizontal and vertical real estate were at a premium. When Dess got her cardboard delivered, storing it upright against the wall of her studio seemed like good sense. Once we started working with it though, we discovered that this had seriously warped it. Figuring out how to measure and cut it accurately, while getting rid of the curve, yet NOT crushing the corregation... this was an interesting dance. Then there was finding space to cut things on a scale of anywhere from 5 to 7 feet (sorry Cooper, I kept saying feet when I meant inches, I was delerious) which usually meant working on the floor of one of the common area studios, or occasionally an out of the way entryway in what, after the fire warden issued a warning, I took to calling the fire-trap. But see, these are cement floors that have been trod by generations of engineers and artists working in a variety of media. We'd sweep, put down cardboard (not the fancy kind), then a layer of something called glassine, which looks and sounds like wax paper, but is much more fancy (and costly) but in the end we were still on a bumpy, dirty cement floor trying to keep the cardboard clean and unflattened while we cut a straight line that couldn't be more than one sixteenth off. Oh, and we wanted the edges to be square, usually. We had an L square, but they aren't a whole hell of a lot of help without a T square and a good drafting board. Well, I came up with all sorts of jury-rigged systems using old wooden bookshelves and faith, but it was all very relative. I really want to see a archiving studio now, I bet they have fancy tables and special sliding blades for making nice clean, square cuts. I bet they have lots of room too. If I wasn't bumping into a wall, I was constantly afraid I was going to put my foot, or the blade, or the corner of a stretcher through someone else's artwork. There was stuff everywhere, a lot of it huge and fairly delicate. The bull in a china shop feeling was a constant during this process. It gave those epic-length head rushes I experienced (while sick) some extra drama. Goody. I love drama.

Oh and the exacto knife was probably dull. One might assert that it doesn't say a lot about me that it didn't occur to me to ask if there were any replacement blades, but in my defense I'll say that I'm used to doing things with inadequate tools, there were already so many other obstacles we were tackling, and this was the point when I had that snail-brain virus (I was amazed at how many different names you all had for that malaise, by the way). So being a bear of small brain and generally inclined to assuming things don't work quite right anyway, I just kept sawing away. I don't think I did too much damage to any of the cardboard. As Dessida kept pointing out, we want it to look good now, we'll worry about its place in posterity later.

All in all, I'd say that Dess, her husband Kevin, Michal and I did pretty well. Hanging the large paintings in such a way that they looked level in a gallery with a distinctly warped floor was our last and final challenge. Well, no, the final challenge was doing all that while getting a triptych properly lined up. No, wait, the last challenge was lighting the damn show when none of us really knew how lighting worked. The hope was that my theatrical background would be an asset here, but my knowledge of lighting consists of "ya point an instrument at the stage, then turn it on." Didn't really put me ahead of the pack, have to say.

But we did it. And I think it looks pretty good. More importantly, so does Dess. When I asked her why her professors all encouraged them to make big works when they knew how little studio space they provided, she said the faculty felt it was good practice for working in New York. These are precisely the struggles one will face here anyway, might as well start finding solutions now. I can't argue with that. Everything, I mean everything boils down to real estate here, and few are the artists who have enough space for their needs. I noticed a few years ago that if need be, most of my solo performances could fit in an eight by eight square space. The reason? I was usually creating the work in my living room, rather than renting a studio. Good lesson there.

Anyone in the area want to join me at the reception this Thursday evening? With Dessida's permission I might be able to take photos of some of her paintings.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Beltáin Walk

Work in the studio took a bit longer than expected, and I was wiped out afterwards, so I took a nap before heading out on my May Day walk. First though I had to stop by my Union Halls to deposit some checks. The Equity Building is at 46th between 6th and 7th Avenues. This is a picture I took from the next corner up, as I started up towards Central Park. Yes, Gentle Readers, for you I committed what is possibly the greatest sin a local can be guilty of; I stood in Midtown, and took pictures. Like I was a tourist. I'm surprised no one took away my Metrocard and the keys to my apartment. This photo doesn't quite do justice to the feeling of the place; the crowd looks so small and sedate, the traffic highly manageable. Not so much. Oh, and that poster in the center, of the M&M's? That's not actually a poster, it's a video screen. That image constantly moves and changes. And yes, it's huge, but not as huge as...

THIS. This is the side of the Lehman Brothers Building. They do something with finance. I have a friend who works there as an executive assistant and even she seems a little foggy on what it is they do exactly. Or maybe she just wasn't able to dumb it down enough for me. They're in the business of making money, as near as I can tell. They make truckloads of it, I'm really clear on that. All those letters? They're three stories tall, and these screens keep changing too. Here's another shot of the same wall, about ten seconds later.

Okay I didn't have to be anywhere in a hurry so I was a bit more sedate than is my wont while walking in Midtown, but with all the flashing lights, honking cars, crowds of people, it's easy for me to kick into BRISK SURLY WALKING MAN. Especially when people are STANDING IN MY WAY. I did better today. Like I said, I didn't need to be anywhere at any particular time, though I did want to get to the park before sundown.

Here's a dogwood I liked inside the park. It's over near the big lake (below) which has been undergoing some renovations and actually looks pretty good, though still under construction. I was glad to see the boats are still going to be available to rent. I thought of Cooper seeing this photo; you can't really tell, but it's an adult man and two small boys, and the boys are very happily rowing, one oar each. They're not getting anywhere, but everyone seems to be having a blast. They're not the same ages as Cooper's sons, but they still made me think of them. I bet the Coopers would enjoy rowing a boat.
Having already committed to looking like a tourist today, I decided it was all right to buy a hot pretzel from a vender. As a kid, I always thought this was one of the best things about cities, hot pretzels for sale all over the place. As an adult they rarely satisfy; somehow they are always stale and hard, albeit warm. This one was no exception, but I enjoyed it more than usual, maybe because I hadn't eaten anything since 9:30 am it was pushing 5pm.
Here is the field of violets I visit every year. For those who know the park, it lies at the northern edge of the Ramble, just south of Belvedere Castle. The Ramble is reputed to be one of those places where I could have found some male company if I had wanted to. Joe, would I find any commemorative souvenir jock-straps here, or is that just Riverside? Funnily enough, the Ramble is also one of the best places in the state for birding. Apparently the diversity of wild-life here, and in the park generally, is impressive. Right there in the middle of Manhattan.

It looks like I got here just in time; I don't think the violets have peaked yet, and though I won't be able to visit again before Monday, I think I'll get to see them at least once more before they fade for another year. My camera does something funky to the color; the blossoms are far too blue in these photos, all of them. I don't know what is up with that. I've only just started being able to get the damn camera to focus on a regular basis, I mean focus on the things I want it to focus on, what do you expect of me? I'll keep plugging away though. If I were forced to choose a favorite color, it would be this, the violet of violets, the purple you can't really see in these photos, where they almost look like bluebells. Which are also lovely, but don't quite make my heart sing the way violets do. I am always looking for clothes in this shade of purple, and it's harder to find than you might think. I like purples in all sorts of shades (just as I seem to like their namesake flowers: lilac, violet, lavender), but for some reason this one, which seems to me to be almost a perfect balance of red and blue, just isn't out there in clothing much, at least not for men. Way too faggy, perhaps.

An experiment with the zoom feature, as I was lying on the ground.

My unfocused homage to Georgia O'Keefe. But damn, that color is just WRONG.

I'm not sure why I love violets so much, but for as long as I can remember, they have been an important part of my Spring. Where I grew up, the college campus and back woods will get carpeted with them at some point in the season, and I always feel like something lush and opulent has happened in the world. Later in the season the woods will be almost as covered by white violets, which as a kid I found even more magical, almost like finding a unicorn. I still find white violets magical -even the name is funny to me, like white lilacs- but for the deep, heartsong response, I gotta go with classic violet.

No doubt I also became fond of them as a kid because they showed up right as the weather got nice again, and the prospect of Summer vacation began to torment deliciously. May was also the first month without an 'r' in it, which meant we were allowed to go barefoot. I don't remember hearing this rule from my parents, but rather from the mother of my friend Richard, but it did seem to sum up my parents' general policy. Well, Mom the farm girl was the one who agreed to a no shoes policy. Had it been up to Dad the inner city Philly boy, we'd never have left the house without shoes. They have a similar disagreement on the subject of curtains. In short, Mom wants the light, Dad wants the privacy. For nearly fifty years they've been having this discussion.

But back to violets.

As an adult I've found all sorts of fun stories linking gay men and violets -not just pansies- as well as the color purple (Judy Grahn devotes a whole chapter to the subject in her book Another Mother Tongue) , so it's fun to wonder if I was predisposed to like both those things because I was gay. Actually, there are times when I think I'm not just gay, but actually Faery (though I've never been a Radical Faery), given the way I gravitated towards pagan homo things from a very early age. I don't buy a lot of Grahn's book, but it's a fun read, with some great stories and interesting ideas. She'd be the first to acknowledge, I suspect, that as a social historian she makes a great poet.

After I communed with my purple friends for a while, I went up to Belvedere Castle to find the lilacs. On my way there though, I passed this bush, which gave off the most wonderful smell. Can any of my gardening friends tell me what this is? I haven't a clue.

The lilacs also were out, and smelling heavenly. I forgot to take pictures of them, I was too busy sniffing. I'm finally starting to realize that in New York one can lie on the ground to photograph violets, hug trees, or sniff lilacs for twenty minute stretches because:

1. People won't notice
2. If they notice, they won't care
3. If they care, they won't say anything to you.
4. If they say anything, you just need to act a little bit crazy, and they go away
and finally
5. Chances are good that even if none of the above rules hold true, once the encounter is over, you'll never see them again.

Anyway, the lilacs and whatever that other shrub is were intoxicating. I don't know why people don't plant more things that smell good. If I ever have a garden (and live with someone allergy-free, I guess I have to say), I will fill it with lavendar, lilac, basil, thyme, scented geraniums, scented roses (notice how the red ones don't smell like anything now? They were bred for color, not scent), sage, oregano, sweetpeas, rosemary and anything else I can get my hands on. Friends of mine got married on a lavender farm last August, and I had to resist the urge to roll around on the plants throughout the reception.

As I get older, I seem to be noticing and developing more opinions about scent. Sure, as as kid I had my likes (garlic, baking bread, coffee), but it wasn't a sense I gave much time to. Just about the only one, actually. In the last ten years though, boy have I begun to value it. Anybody else have a similar experience with smell, or any other sense?

Having gotten to the end of my planned journey, I realized that the ornamental cherry trees up near the old reservoir were possibly in bloom too. To be honest I figured I had missed them, but it looks like I caught them only just past their peak.

I took the photo above in the Shakespeare Garden. To be honest I find tulips rather dull most of the time, but I loved this combination of colors. I wonder if I can put similar colors together in a friendship bracelet, and not just have the red and green immediately fighting, or looking Christmas-y?

So there's a brief snapshot of my May Day walk. I'll have to wait for the "sex, eros, and dancing" to happen another day, but it still felt festive.