The job of the Artist is always to deepen the mystery. francis bacon
ACRYLIC | MIXED MEDIA | COLLAGE
Much of what I've learned about nesting and gestation came as a result of painting hundreds of nest paintings.
My work has been shown in Santa Fe, Seattle, Dallas, Anacortes, and Lopez Island.
I am now available to do commissions to mark a milestone in your or a loved one's life.
Prices: 10 x 10 $175
12 x 12 $200
20 x 20 $650
24 x 24 $750
Please email me for more information or a complete set of available paintings and prints.
HOW I BECAME A "REAL" ARTIST
from The Bumbling Mystic's Obituary
One such prayer was a plea for help to become an artist, which ordinarily is not a mystery. Paint and then sell is basically how it goes. Of course I did not want to be a regular artist. I wanted my paintings to be like a prayer you hung on the wall. Like old-ways medicine, or a milestone on someone’s journey.
In the winter of 1996, I embarked on a pilgrimage to the Land of Enchantment— New Mexico—where I was born.
I stood in the world’s largest gypsum sand field, where the dunes drift over 275 square miles, creating massive hills sculpted by the wind’s hand: smooth on one side, ridged like waves on the other. Tall clusters of creamy flowers, encircled by the spiked yucca leaves, poked the cobalt sky. In between the mounds, troughs and indentations called “slacks” create an other-worldly landscape. Nearby White Sands National Monument seemed like a sacred portal, so I went there to pray.
I was born nearby, in Alamogordo, in the Tularosa Basin, an even larger indentation between two mountain ranges. Something, some part of me, was tethered here, and so I shimmied down into a 15-foot slack and lay my body against the cool sand.
Of course saying prayers in a slack is not considered the most direct route to becoming an artist.
Making milestone art was a curious ambition for someone like me, who had wandered off the path, early and often.. I’d head straight off the map into the white margins, without any blue lines or red dots or place names. I had been circling in that blank buffer zone most of my life, crossing occasionally into the gridded and claimed parcels of society. Still, some ancient homing instinct kept drawing me back into the strip of the unknown, although I was always careful not to fall off the edge of the paper completely. In the margins, landmarks looked more like coffee stains or the remains of a squashed gnat no bigger than the dot on the map for Alamogordo. With no pinpoints or milestones, getting lost is easy, and if you do it long enough you become adrift, like a sand dune whose edges are always changing.
I lay with my back in full contact with the earth to submit my application, or perhaps more accurately, supplication. I sought only to be the Apprentice of Mystery, transferring its essence (somehow) to the willing. I had not watched a Youtube video to learn beseeching. It had come naturally. I found the word for it later and wished I had known that afternoon that others, too, had felt like this: Lost and crying out.
After hours of full on negotiations, nothing happened. The sun’s shadow moved from my right to my left, that’s it. I didn’t feel any more like an artist than when I shimmied down into the slack. My earnest entreaty was pitifully ineffective.
I decided to head north to Santa Fe with my sister, to experiment with a more practical approach: visit some galleries, make contacts and do entry-level schmoozing. Strike two.
I drove block after block for an hour, intending all the while to park and attempt to make something happen with my wit and wiles. Instead, a storm front of doubt roiled in the car. What was I thinking? If I was meant to be an artist, wouldn’t I have just become one by now? Artists don’t spend their days debating whether or not they are artists. They have other concerns: cadmium red or ochre? Minimalist gesture or detailed study?
I decided to park. There, forehead on steering wheel, I succumbed to a textbook meltdown. When I recovered, I noticed that dozens of people passing my car headed toward a large church in front of me.
Bless me Father, for I have sinned – a lot, actually — and it’s been so long since my last confession I’m not even sure where to start. The Greek word for “sin” is hamartia, which literally means “missing the target.” By that criteria, I had surely surpassed the quota.
I followed the crowd to the church, slipping in through the side door. Right? You don’t barge in the main double doors unless you know why you’re there. Unless you belong. Which is why I couldn’t walk through the front door of the galleries, either. I was hedging my bets. The Spirit of the White Sands hadn’t heard me, but maybe the Almighty had a moment and mercy to spare. I genuflected and opted for kneeling in the pew rather than making a scene, laying prostrate in the aisle.
“Please,” I started in again.
I said my piece, then sat back, eyeing the rows of pews leading up to the altar, surrounded by a low fence to keep the riff raff out.
Suddenly an idea flashed in my mind, as if it wasn’t mine at all, but had been slipped in without me noticing, like a pickpocket in reverse.
“What would you do if you had a church?” the idea prompted.
What? That’s... ridiculous. I thought… but then, what if?
I would put a two-story waterfall behind the altar, which would be on an island, without a fence. People could cross a bridge and enter a threshold that would take them to the inner sanctum. People would gather and sit in a circle and speak their heart. Dancing would follow, music, laughter. Animals would find sanctuary here. The windows would be scraped clean of saints, allowing light to bounce off the walls.
And then another thought hit me: I’m crazy. Who flings themselves 1500 miles to pray to the empty sky? And now this desperate attempt.
I went back to the hotel, back on the plane, back to my job, back to not being an artist, discouraged my pilgrimage was a total bust.
A few days later I walked past the studio of a Real Artist, one who had become somewhat of a touchstone for me. I noticed the decal of his name was missing from the window. Suddenly a man burst from the large wooden door.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Is Al Currier here?”
“No,” he said briskly. “He’s in a new studio.” Meaning: Al’s studio was empty. Meaning: I could possibly rent this space, with its arched north-facing windows, high ceiling, and thick wooden door, which gave it grace and gravitas. Catching Al’s residual mojo couldn’t hurt either.
“For your art?” my inner Critic snarled.
“I’ll just make a phone call,” I negotiated. “That’s all. I probably can’t even afford it.”
But, to my surprise, I could afford it. I spoke with a Croatian woman on the phone and the next day did a walk-through.
“It was built in the late 1890’s,” she said. “And used to be a Presbyterian Church.”
I stopped mid-stride.
I had assumed the sky and St. Francis had ignored me.
“What would you do if you had a church?” The question reverberated, as if bouncing off the 22-ft high ceilings. Apparently I was being given a chance to live the answer.
I named it the “Sanctuary” and had artist and poet gatherings, where we sat in a circle and spoke from the heart. I put in a small fountain. I played music and danced and painted long into the night. I trimmed my hours at the newspaper so I could spend more time painting. I wasn’t a Real Artist yet, but I had a studio.
I stumbled on a book, “Everyday Sacred,” where Sue Bender describes a graduate-level art class. Students create 100 pieces of art of only one subject—one object that wasn’t a family heirloom, and had no religious or political significance. The premise, the promise being that one would develop or find one’s style in the process. You would organically make certain choices — in palette, medium, detail —that would become preferences, then habit, then, without affectation, your signature look. Since I couldn’t afford real art training, I decided to borrow the exercise for my own independent study.
What on earth would keep my attention long enough to create 100 pieces of art? I started with eggs, which seems elementary, but I liked their smooth, round shape and the soft shadow they left on the table. I loved knowing they held life force within them. I started with pencils and charcoal sketches, then watercolor and India ink. And one day I imagined the eggs sitting gently tucked in a nest.
There’s no other word: I was enchanted. The nest’s round shape, woven of humble materials, felt strong yet nurturing, mysterious, feminine. I painted small ones, big ones, intricate and modest ones. I used pencil and chalk and acrylic. I sculpted and smudged and swirled luscious blobs of paint around the canvas. I didn’t want to stop painting nests.
Within a few weeks a project at work had me working overtime, with two back-to-back 50-hour weeks. I was livid, shaking my fist at God.
“I said more time to paint, not less.”
Is God sadistic? Dangling things in front my nose, then snatching them back.
I decided to take my overtime check and get slides made of my work. This was before you could email a jpg, if you can imagine that. I would take the rest of the money and buy frames from Daniel Smith Art Supply. To spend that kind of money seemed ludicrous at the time, but it was a way to take my art seriously.
At the counter, after ringing up my purchase, the cashier with the mean tats and a nose ring, asked if I wanted the frames in a bag. I thought she was joking. The bag meant more than the frames. The kraft bag had the Daniel Smith logo on it. This is where Real Artists shop.
On my way out the door I stopped at the opportunity wall, covered with an expanse of colorful, well-designed cards, posters, and fliers about studios rentals, classes, openings, jobs, etc., until only slivers of cork show through. Oddly, beyond that wall, in the corner of an auxiliary board, I noticed a plain white index card. I walked over, cocking my head to read the note handwritten with ballpoint pen:
“Seattle area artists wanted for group show in Santa Fe.”
The deadline was the following day. And then it dawned on me. If I hadn’t done back-to-back 50-hour weeks, I never would have had the money to get slides made. I never would have gone to Daniel Smith’s and seen the notice.
Less than a year after praying in the dunes in the desert and in the pews of St. Francis, my work hung in a gallery on Canyon Road. I flew with friends to Santa Fe for the opening and afterward, the gallery owner asked for more paintings.
I was this close to being a Real Artist.
While in Santa Fe, I snuck in the side vestibule, and knelt to say a prayer of thanks.
When I got home, I started on a special piece. Before each stroke, I paused and asked what wanted to be painted. Trouble was, after following the inspiration, I hated it. So much that I held the bottle of gesso in my hand ready to pour white goo over it.
I heard another prompt, an idea that wasn’t mine.
“Stay with it,’ the idea insisted.
“I don’t want to,” I said out loud. “I hate it. It’s embarrassing.”
“Stay with it,” it repeated.
Now, my skill set doesn’t involve a lot of discipline. I compensate in other ways, but in this instance I mustered enough resolve to heed the advice. I stayed with it. I daubed a little., toned down some of its more annoying qualities, and then crated it up to ship to the gallery.
I never really liked it. I still don’t, but it was the first painting I ever sold for more than a thousand dollars.
I remember the email, too, from the gallery owner, who said the buyer purchased it to “celebrate her entry into menopause.” It was her milestone. And in a way, it was mine, too.