Filed under: cat paintings, cats and dogs, Confessions, dog paintings, fragments, pet paintings-stories | Tags: florence, oregon, pet sitting stories, susan canavarro, writing
Copyright 2013 – By Susan Canavarro
When you are not writing, you are a writer too. It doesn’t leave you. Walk with an animal walk and take in everything around you as prey. Use your senses as an animal does. Watch a cat when he sees something moving in the room. He is perfectly still, and at the same time, his every sense is alive, watching, listening, smelling. This is how you should be when you are in the streets. The cat’s mind is not thinking about how much money he needs, or whom to write a postcard to when he visits Florence: he is watching the mouse or the marble rolling across the floor or light reflecting in crystal. He is ready with all of him to pounce. Now, you don’t have to get down on all fours and twitch your tail. Only be still – some part of you, at least – and know where you are, no matter how busy you are.
- Be An Animal, From Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, p. 90 ——-© 2005 (Shambhala, Boston and London)
I am reading Writing Down the Bones in a coffee shop called Mon Ami. Mon Ami sells antiques and estate sale items. Cindy, the owner, also serves delectable deli and bakery items, espresso coffees and teas. Her employees cook up fresh wicked apple-cinnamon and/or cherry turnovers daily. Her cappuccinos are deep and rich and soothing for my soul.
It is steamy outside. Sweat is beading up in my every nook and cranny and my bra, chaffing. I can feel my skin glowing red with rash. I have a headache. This is not your average Florence weather. This day I choose to drink iced tea at Mon Ami’s.
When I read the above paragraph by Natalie Goldberg, I sat staring off across the ocean with a grin spreading across my fat cheeks. Cindy waved her hand in front of my face to see if I was okay. Mustn’t stare too hard and too long when in a coffee-house. I smiled, nodded my head, yes. In fact, I was better than usual. Across the ocean across from my table was an antique soft creamy white dining buffet with ornate filigree decorating each cabinet-door edge. One door damaged and detached, leaned against the front of the cabinet. On the buffet top stood a large showcase trophy sailboat, two tall masts in full sail. This day, the ship, gripped in the stall of its display stand, was unable to fulfill its purpose–adventure on the open seas.
At one end of the ship was a small table-clock made to look like a ship’s helm, also an old gimbaled compass in its original box and two kerosene lanterns filled with red liquid. At the other end, a selection of three books leaning up against the base of a lamp: a first edition copy of Victor Canning’s novel The Chasm a story about adventure in the Italian Apennines; a first edition by Oregon writer Elizabeth Lambert Wood writing about the magnificent forests, ocean and lakes in her home state; and a 1931 edition of Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia Vol. IV of people and places, only the “B” list included. A set of very old binoculars with its original leather carrying case lies next to the books. And on the floor a small white, red & blue Route 66 sign, ticking time. A display of adventure signs, sailing the oceans and rivers, crossing a gorge in the Apennines, learning about new worlds and old times. Details observed.
A small table sculpture of two black Scottish Terriers standing on their hind legs holding up two interlocked rings declares an eternal cycle of loyalty, love, life, death and rebirth.
And here I sit in Florence, Oregon, not Italy as in Goldberg’s quote, living a life nearer to its ending than its beginning, yet dreaming of a desire to write, to publish, to create passable if not stunning paintings, to travel the world and sail down the canals of Europe, and to have the love, acceptance and tolerance of good friends.
I smiled at Goldberg’s words because I recognized that I had just experienced one of my Dad’s favorite synchronistic moments. Reading her book for the second time, wondering how to write about my animals while vicariously traveling to Lyon, France thru the email and picture journals from my friends just seemed to come together to bring more meaning to what I was writing. Dad believed that when you experience a coincidence such as this and it relates meaningfully to something happening in your life, it is a moment of Grace; one to which we should give our attention. And what’s happening in my life this moment is writing and armchair traveling and learning to walk like an animal. So it all fits.
Natalie Goldberg said writers should walk like an animal, with your senses alert like an animal’s senses are alert to every nuance of sound, smell and movement. As a pet sitter, I walk a cat walk. My senses are alive to what my special charges are doing and feeling every moment of the day. If they had been my cat or dog living at home with me, I would not have been so focused. Their daily adventures and idiosyncrasies would become uninteresting to me and I would have ignored them. I would have said, Oh you’re hungry again? You eat like a bull, Taurus. What is your problem? It’s not time yet. Bootsie, why the heck are you biting my legs? What is your problem? Leave me alone.
But, as pet sitter, I watch. I become a peeping-tom, a stalker. I follow them around. I walk like an animal. I check to see what they are up to, to see if they are okay. I annoy them to no end, especially Trina and Simon. I look for details. And they follow me. Even the cats follow me like a dog as if they were afraid I, too, would leave them. I remember thinking in the beginning, Why don’t these creatures let me have a moment of peace? But secretly, I love it. I know they are feeling insecure without their people and I become their only source of comfort when they are home alone. They eventually get it. I am it! I have the hand that feeds them, that gives them a rub-down. I glean a small bit of satisfaction that my presence makes them feel better.
I’m learning a lot about pets and about myself. I’ve learned that I like to ascribe human emotions to them. I know when they are happy. I see a cat tail extend straight up when he or she walks into a room and I say Hello Simon or Hello Tai or Hello Bessie! I watch whiskers turn up or down, knowing sadness, irritation, anger or contentment; I know eyes half-opened is an expression of love and contentment and trust; eyes large and round with dark pupils in full-moon is an autonomic response to fear or anger, and preparation for an attack. Often, I’ve experienced that glare. In fact, I have been the feared one too many times, the recipient of those big, dark alert angry eyes. Scary. Suddenly I am their prey and I want to hide under the covers.
I see the young kitten-energy return over and over after they do their daily job in the cat box. They burst into the living room wanting to play, wanting attention and affection, as if they know they’ve done a good job and they want me to know…so I can scoop it out for them. Cat sluggishness goes with cat constipation; and cat energy and happiness comes after a good bowel movement! The emotional and physical behavior of animals is amazingly familiar. Language of the animal world is as it is for us humans, too.
Dog tails swish back and forth and I know they are happy campers. Tails wagging. Jumping up and down barking. Barking in embarrassment, barking to warn, barking in excitement. Running in circles. Dog whimpering. Each whimper and bark a language to be deciphered. Each look a look of desire or love or need. Each rump-wagging, tail-wagging, a sign of love and excitement. The white lab lifts her head and looks at me, a sad questioning look in her eyes. What is it this time, Belle? I know she is asking me something but I don’t know what. Are you sad, hungry, do you need to go out? I prefer to think she is sad, but her owner says she is hungry. Just hungry.
I become a cat watching them like a cat watches a bird, chattering, waiting to see what would happen next, my body quivering with tension and excitement over what I might see, what indiscretion, what new sign I can read and learn, what might become a good story to tell their owners, thus Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter is in the works.
Writing. Watching animals. In Florence, Oregon. Traveling from my computer chair from cat house to cat house while reading emails from Bonnie and Ralph in Lyon and Avignon, France. A synchronistic moment. Just maybe I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
Filed under: art, Confessions, fragments | Tags: 1964-1966, Boys from berkeley, california, Chico, florence, Fort Bragg, long lost loves, memories, Mendocino, Monterey Peninsula artist, oregon, susan canavarro
This week I received a meaningful and thoughtful gift from my stepmother Lois. The treasure box was full of old photos of my father’s paintings, a few 8×10 photos of me, a 1972 letter to the editor written by Dad concerning the construction of a nuclear power plant in Point Arena on the California Coast, and a small booklet of pen and ink and watercolor sketches by my sister Veneé. After discovering the gifts inside this box, tears rolled down my blotchy-rosacea cheeks for thirty minutes or more.
You may ask why this gift moved me so strongly, but perhaps first, before telling the story of the package and its contents, I need to tell you a bit about my life prior to this point—specifically, my kinetic life after my marriage dissolved.
In the summer of 1987 I packed my car with as many of my “things” as I could stuff into it, said a tearful goodbye to my husband and drove off. Caught the ferry to Anacortes and drove all the way to Monterey. This break-up was not the first. I had left several times before but always came back. Ultimately, I felt like I was going crazy and that leaving was the only solution. If I were on my own, I could finally be myself, not a wife and not an emotionally distraught step-mother. To some degree, that came about when I left this last time, especially after I reentered college.
With only what I could carry in my car, I left everything behind. I had to start anew. Get an apartment, get a job, and buy all new bed and blankets, and chairs and kitchen equipment. I virtually lived on the floor of my apartment in Monterey for months.
Along the way, after leaving my husband and after a half-assed attempt to get back together again, I moved several times, each time having to give up more of my belongings. I moved to Chico to go to school, from there to San Jose for graduate school, then on the Monterey to be close to my demented mother who died one week after I moved, and then I moved north to Fort Bragg. From Fort Bragg I moved east to Sacramento, and then finally on up to Florence, Oregon. With each move I gave away more of my possessions and wound up buying more items, like beds and chairs and computers, etc., only to have to give them away too. Here in Florence I had to move out of my first good apartment and into a small, narrow, cold, and moldy old travel trailer. Out of necessity, I got rid of more things and bought lots of plastic to cover all the non-thermal-pane windows. Finally after 3 years in the funky trailer, I was old enough to get into low-income senior housing, where I’ve been since early 2010, with only one move to a downstairs unit, and in the process of that last move and all its attending frustrations, I tossed many more things into the dumpster.
Before moving to Florence, planning for the very real possibility that I might actually become homeless and have to live in my car behind some lonely and/or isolated gas station, I gave my brand new bed and other furnishings to Salvation Army; I gave several framed paintings and a Futon sofa/bed to my good friends in Merced—I should say they were gracious to take my paintings off my hands. I gave away my top-notch stereo system to the son of a friend who had done some work repairing my PC. I gave my desktop PC to him also. I gave away my smaller portable record player used for folk dancing sessions. All of my precious art books, collected and well-used for over 27 years, I donated to the Sacramento Fine Arts Center to do with what they pleased. I gave away my drawing table and stool, purchased when I had finally gotten my first dedicated artist studio in our 2500 square foot house on Orcas Island, which helped to relieve my migraine headaches. I gave away all the large and heavy items I knew I could not carry in my car and then hauled what I could in three car-loads to Florence, Oregon.
I entrusted into the care of my sister our family photo album, consisting of pictures of our childhood years with photos representing us through all the grades on into high school and in all the front yards of our many lived-in houses; photos of our parents when they were younger and celebrating their marriage with a photo taken at a Hollywood lounge; pictures of our automobiles, pictures of grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, and pictures of our family dogs and cats and chickens and roosters and ducks and nasty angry geese that we had cared for over the years; images of my mother’s garden before it and she became ravaged by dementia. Images, each representing a miniscule part of who I was and who I’ve become, given away when I gave custody of those items to my sister in 2003 just before my final trip north. I also entrusted to her my wedding album which not only included pictures of our wedding in one of Dad’s unfinished houses, but also pictures of the husband’s family, all our Christmases spent with his brothers and sisters, his mother, pictures of our stepson, and his growing years; Christmases on Carmel beach at the mouth of the Carmel River on cool, blue-sky sunny days.
I knew Veneé would take care of these photo albums. She had done an extensive genealogical study of our family and had been tacitly elected as the family archivist. Memories come flooding back to me. Little did I know at the time that she would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008. Dreams gone, lost, dead, buried in the dark depths of my sister’s subsequent struggle with Alzheimer’s. I have no idea what happened to all of her things, to the family albums and to the book she had created about our family history.
I loaded my car up with a new laptop so I could stay in touch with people, my clothing, a few kitchen items, a small TV, paintings and art supplies, and drove to Florence. I shipped six boxes of books via UPS, so they could haul them up the stairs for me! I made three trips with my car loaded with small items. Again, I lived off the floor in my new Oregon apartment. I slept on an air mattress, ate and worked at my simple portable table. I bought an unfinished door and placed it across two plastic light-weight saw horses and this became my new painting table with an art stool.
Along each step of the way, with each looming move, I gave up more of my precious belongings. It was just stuff you might say. You can buy more stuff when you get settled somewhere, you might say. That might true, but only if one had the extra money to do so. But you cannot replace all those old photos if they disappear into a black hole. Due to financial necessity, I had adjusted to living light, to living without my old belongings and without much new stuff, but I felt the loss. I not only lost my husband to his errant ways, but I lost the stuff of my life. At each step of the way I gave away a bit of my self, never to be found again, except in memories, and those were fading fast.
When Lois’ package arrived this week filled with old photos of Dad’s paintings and sketches, photos of me learning how to throw a pot on the potter’s wheel, and of my sister’s wonderful watercolor sketches, and the insightful and revealing letter to the editor written by my father in 1972, it opened a flood gate letting loose the waters—I was awash with memories and emotions. I remembered who I was when I was 17, 18 and 19— that trusting, fresh, young spirit—and it reminded me of long losses of time between then and now at age 66, but I am so pleased to have these old images filling in my memory gaps.
In the old brown portfolio were several 8×10 black and white photos of me. One, an image of my face as I leaned against the upstairs window sash looking out of an old abandoned building in Mendocino. My eyes, shielded by lowered eyelids and dark lashes, looked down at Scrib the garbage collector as he pointed his camera at me. He was a professional photographer who supported his family by collecting garbage and hauling it off to the bluffs and dumping the trash into the ocean and on to the rocks. For decades that’s how the northern coast folks got rid of their garbage.
Rapunzel’s Save me! Save me!
There I was in 1964, not yet 18, in Mendocino at my father’s place, insecure and on the brink of a breakdown for fear of being unlovable. So what do I do? I fall in love with the married garbage man. I had a thing about falling in love with unavailable men—married, gay or just plain emotionally, physically or intellectually unavailable.
Charismatic, intelligent and witty, Scrib drove a large green garbage truck. In those days detritus was garbage and recycling non-existent, but for dumping it all back into the sea from whence we all came. Scrib backed the old rusty truck up to the edge of the bluffs just off Main Street and tipped the bucket, spilling garbage on to the rocks and sand 100 feet below. Ultimately, all of it dispersed by the ocean’s crashing waves.
Even though I knew he was married and had two kids, I flirted with him. He didn’t seem to mind. When he was not acting the garbage man, he was a fine art photographer, a writer and poet. We had trysts in the derelict buildings that dotted Mendocino. He shot many photographs of me standing in front of open doors and windows in the streaking dust-filled sunlight. With long brown hair and hazel-green eyes, I was his Rapunzel, flaunting my sexuality, enticing my prince of a trash collector to climb the blackberry vines and pick me. Choose me, my heart called out. Save me! Save me!
After I moved to Santa Rosa to attend Junior College, Scrib surprised me by showing up at the motel where I was staying. My roommates were a bit surprised that the quiet and shy Susan had an older boyfriend. However it appeared, though, ours was only a brief summer platonic encounter. My romance with Scrib was seemingly innocent and safe. We were sexually attracted to each other, but no sex beyond kissing. I trusted him implicitly. He was married. I didn’t have to make a commitment, nor did he. We both knew this and we both knew it was morally wrong.
I missed seeing Scrib, I missed his attentions and pined for him after he left that day, but I very quickly fell in love with another unavailable man—oh so cool Dan, a Santa Rosa guitar player/folk singer.
Our relationship remained platonic probably because at age 17, I knew nothing about sexual matters.
I thought Scrib’s photos of me were lost. To see one of them again was a sweet treat. It brings back my carefree summer salad days as a young adult in 1964 -1966 Mendocino. Whether I want to or not, I recall all the young men I flirted with and dreamed about, and over whom I pined and suffered countless hurts: Scrib the garbage man and a photographer who took many photos of me on our secret trysts; Philip the writer and poet who once wrote me a love poem that I carried in my wallet for over 25 years; Dan the coffee-house singer and guitarist I stalked at the Santa Rosa Coffee house and as fate would have it, whom I sat next to on the bus to San Francisco and thus began our brief encounter; the fishermen boys from UC Berkeley, John a pianist and Gil a classical guitarist, both students wigged out on pot and other drugs and the Beatles, and now gone; then on to beautiful and handsome Peter, a counselor at a youth camp near Philo and stealing away together in the middle of the night to climb down the bluffs on the Bodega coast; and Russell the intellectual with his blond hair falling in his eyes, his rough pock-marked face oh so serious yet smiling at me in the Caffe Mediterraneum living in his tiny purple Berkeley apartment with the orange kitchen, and who cared for me when I needed caring; and Lee the blonde film student from San Francisco State who created a short film of me and a young man running through the sunlit dappled forest to a romantic tryst—after all these years, I now see this was a proverbial love scene with film students and commercial movies. Not too original.
Then, in 1968 another John showed up in my life in Pacific Grove who enlisted and went to fight in Vietnam soon after we met and came home married to a Vietnamese woman; and finally the man I married, Antonio who played classical guitar and with whom I had secret liaisons at the Monterey Peninsula Cemetery…because at the time he was married, and his wife was wont to show up on campus! I knew all along that if he would liaison with me while he was married to someone, he would eventually liaison with others while we were married, but in my bliss, I ignored all the signs!
It’s a long tragic list for which I do have a few fond memories and many unpleasant and embarrassing moments. I was cute, flirtatious and alluring and I easily became infatuated with every man who crossed my path. A romantic addict, I wanted to be loved and to be in love. I often wonder how I survived. What strength I must have had to survive that time of hippies and drugs, innocence and ignorance without becoming a drug or alcohol addict? How did I survive falling in love so many times yet remain so naïve and trusting? Or was it that I was too frightened to get drawn into all that free love and sex, and the reckless lifestyle of drugs? I often think all of my neurotic fears saved me. They kept me out of serious trouble!
Next week’s post will consist of another cherished artifact found in my father’s old brown portfolio.
© All Rights Reserved. Susan Canavarro.
Filed under: Ann T. Pierce, art, Confessions, Paintings -Inspiration, Paintings-stories | Tags: art, California State University, Chico, susan canavarro, watercolor
Conversation with Ann T. Pierce – Part II:
Continued from Part I:
The kids were also involved with the development of the Empty Sack series, which started with an innocent painting of orange-packing sacks hanging in the barn of a friend who has an orange orchard. When my family saw the painting, I became literally swamped with bags of all kinds: currency sacks from banks where my two daughters worked; bean and vegetable bags from my son who managed a farmers cooperative; grain sacks from my husband who fed the livestock; sacks another son found at a garage sale in Eugene, Oregon, and the empty sacks (skins) discarded by my third son’s snake. The enthusiasm spread to the wrapping of my Christmas presents in all kinds of sacks, which I opened for the occasion and then repacked for the watercolor paintings.
The first painting of the orange packing sacks was nothing more than a response to form, color, arrangement, and shape. As the paintings progressed, I began to realize that the bags had pregnant, maternal aspects. The sacks my family members were giving me had symbolic relationships to themselves. These paintings occurred at a time when the children were getting married, packing up and leaving home: thus, Empty Sacks.
Tribal Presence, the last painting in the “Sack” series, is really a record of an occasion when the “tribe,” the scattered children, was all back home for Christmas vacation. The word “presence” has a double meaning – the whole family’s attendance as well as the exchange of gifts.
Your paintings are very powerful, visually and emotionally. Has anyone ever said that you paint too powerfully for a woman?
No, but I notice that men are attracted to my paintings. They really seem to like the Southwest scenery. It’s interesting. I don’t know if it’s equally attractive with women.
I’ve thought of my paintings as fairly masculine, especially the most recent Canyons and Upper Bidwell Park series. In a way, it’s the subject, because the Southwest subject itself is very powerful. I feel like what I’m looking at is a masculine subject and that’s what I’m trying to express. And I can’t express that feeling of power and masculinity about the subject without using bold colors and shapes. I paint the way I feel like painting at the time I’m attracted to something. If it’s a gentle subject and I feel like painting that way, then that’s the way I’ll paint it. If it’s a big bold Southwestern scene, I’ll paint it bold.
The subject and content of your work has changed over the years. Is your work influenced by changes in your location, or what you are going through personally, or the art of the times?
My work changes all the time. I’ve been criticized for having so many ways of painting. My first major paintings were abstractions and it seems I’ve come full circle through semi-abstraction, representation, and back to abstraction again; from colorful to subdued and back to colorful. Environment has played a heavy role in its influence on my work. Most of the paintings I did in Colorado were vertical and influenced by the mountainous scenery. In Colorado the mountains went straight up. When I came to California, to this valley, everything turned out to be horizontal.
An artist is influenced by everything. I can remember being inspired by things I read while in school, and it having an influence on what I was going to paint. I was taking an art history class and the image of the Deposition of Christ, an altar piece, stuck with me. I’m not a religious person particularly, but it really made an impression on me. In watercolor class, I did sketch after sketch and many small paintings of this painting. Never in my life had I put so much effort into any thing. This is how my Dad used to paint. He’d do one study after another and toss them away, then do another study, and he’d do tracings and more tracings, and he’d finally get it on the canvas and start painting. I work more like my Mom who was a very spontaneous person and would not even use a pencil; she would just start painting.
Back then, I remember doing all kinds of preparations for this one painting and when I finally completed it, my instructor said, Hand me those sketches, hand me the painting. She took them up to the front of the class, pinned everything up on the board, and said to the class, This is what you should be doing to create a painting. And I didn’t feel that way at all. I learned from that experience that every bit of creativity I had for the painting, for the idea, went into the sketches, and the sketches were wonderful little things. They were spontaneous, but the painting itself was pure drudgery. I got to the point where I felt I could paint it, and it turned out to be just a lot of hard work.
A lot of times, the way you paint has a lot to do with how creative a piece is. Things happen as you paint, you know this, and if you take advantage of those things, make the changes that you need to make, it’s a much more creative experience than doing all these heavy preparatory sketches.
Were you affected by art that was happening around you?
Well, my graduate work at the University was abstract. I’m sure a lot of that was influenced by the abstract expressionists because that was what was happening in the fifties. Jimmy Ernst, the son of Max Ernst, influenced my work. He was an abstract expressionist. I was doing very linear abstractions, not non-objective, but abstractions derived from subject matter, very linear and colorful. Jimmy Ernst taught a summer class at the University of Colorado. He was impressed with what I was doing, and then I realized it was because his stuff was very similar to mine.
Who are some of the painters besides Jimmy Ernst that have influenced you?
Well, I guess if I like them, I’ve been influenced, although I can’t say that I’ve been directly influenced by anyone. One of my favorites is Paul Klee. It’s the abstraction and symbolism in his work. Another more recent influence would be Wolf Kahn.
Kahn uses strong subjective color in his landscapes and his work has a soft textural quality like your recent canyon paintings.
Yes, I guess that’s a very pointed influence. I’ve never felt a direct influence, but I love his work.
Are there other people in your life who have influenced your directions with your art?
All my teachers have given me direction, either by negative or positive criticism that has pushed me in a different ways.
What was one of the biggest pushes?
I was a beginning painting student and one of my first watercolor teachers, the one that hung my stuff up on the wall saying this is the way you should paint, came around to where I was painting. At that time I was using a lot of browns. She said, I like this, but why did you put in the “shit brown”?
That really made an impression on me! I’ve remembered that phrase “shit brown” ever since, and avoid using browns. I tell my students, Watch those neutral colors! I don’t say it the way she did. I tell them to paint in any color they want, but use bright colors to get there. You can get down to any neutral you want with washes and various techniques, layers of colors, and it makes a better neutral than taking it out of a tube.
Usually, I’m painting for myself, but I also want to create a visual image of what I feel for the subject so that other people can see what I saw and perhaps have the same experience.
If they do or don’t get it, does it make a difference?
In some cases it does, because I work so hard to bring across this feeling or idea and if they don’t catch that, sometimes I’m disappointed.
One of my students said to me, I want you to talk to me about this painting. So I told her the technique I used and the subject and how I felt about it, that I loved the fog rolling in over the Butte Creek Canyon, used to take my dad for drives up there, and took lots of photographs.
And she said, Oh, I thought it was an ocean!
It does have that feeling and I’m fine with that. That doesn’t distract from the feeling at all. You look out across the canyons and you see the fog and it’s very much like the feeling of an ocean.
It bothers me that people will look at a painting and say, Oh I see a donkey up there in that corner. Do you see that donkey? If I’m still working on it, I’ll take the donkey out!
But anything that has to do with the feeling of the subject, not the subject itself, but the attitudes and the response I have toward the subject, is fine. They may also feel they have a completely different feeling.
So, the experience a viewer brings to a painting contributes to his or her understanding and appreciation of your work?
Yes. I don’t care how they interpret it, it’s their business. But, if they can catch some of that feeling, that’s my communication. That’s what’s important to me.
Can you tell me how you get from idea to finished product?
I get ideas or inspiration from the photographs I’ve taken on location. Photographs are an excellent resource, especially in situations where metamorphosis is a problem; where there is movement or when a constant light source cannot be maintained. I develop understanding through sketches, which are just an arrangement of lines on a small thumbnail scale to work out a composition. Sometimes, I do a little more than that, like a linear or value study. I’ve used the process of blind contour frequently in a relatively slow, methodical technique which not only aids in understanding the form, but also forces the recognition of aspects that might otherwise be missed. That said, however, I’m a firm believer in direct painting as opposed to doing a lot of preliminary work which feels too complete, soaking up all my creative efforts – efforts which really should be evident in the final painting. A painting has to involve the initial creative process.
When you begin, do you have a clear idea of what your image will look like?
No. I can visualize what it might look like when I start, but because it’s developed on the paper as I go along, I make a lot of changes. I flow with those changes, making corrections as I need to, adding or subtracting. If I need light, I’ll add light; if I need dark, I’ll add dark areas. The emphasis is not on the way the subject looks itself, but on the feeling I get from the subject, so if I’m not getting the feeling, then this is where changes are made. Feeling is important. I’m not just painting a representation of what I’m looking at, but I’m painting the way I feel about it.
Do you ever get stuck with certain areas?
All the time. Sometimes, I’ll throw away the whole painting if I can’t resolve it, or I’ll put it away for awhile. There are very few paintings that go from beginning to end without problems. When things do fall into place, I’m always proud of those. There are so few, I can probably count them on the fingers of two hands. Most of the time it’s just hard work and making changes. But, I love it when the spontaneous painting happens, because when it does, you look at it and say to yourself, When did I do that? I don’t remember doing that—because you’re in another world completely. In an altered state. You’re painting, but you don’t realize what you’re doing. I wish that would happen more often!
It’s different teaching college and teaching workshops. Because a lot of the students in the college situation don’t know what they’re doing, they need to have special art direction and help in terms of technique. The more advanced students have a direction and know something about paint, but if they don’t know the techniques to start with, they’re lost. They need a basis for understanding design and how to put a painting together, for understanding composition and color. I object to a lot of the recent university level education that I’ve seen because students aren’t being given the basics. You have to know what you’re doing before you can do it; you have to learn technique; and eventually after the technique and the ideas of design and composition are understood, then you’re able to do what you want. And you don’t even think about it, you just paint, just do it. So knowing the basics comes first.
Another thing I try to get across to all the students at the university level and in my workshops is that everyone is going to paint differently. Everyone has their own signature, their own way of writing, and everybody has their own way of holding the brush, putting down the paint, with their own emphasis and development of the painting, i.e. their own way of putting it together. If you have an artist that you like a lot, no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to be able to paint like that artist. You can’t paint like anyone else.
For that reason, I try to make demonstrations as brief as possible. In my art education background I was taught that you don’t demonstrate the whole painting. Another instructor I had in a graduate program did complete paintings in front of the students and there wasn’t one student in that class who painted any differently than the teacher. That made an impression on me, so rather than doing a whole painting and saying this is me, look at what I’m doing with this beautiful painting, what I try to do is demonstrate the technique, a way of holding the brush, a way of beginning, a way of breaking up the space, or ways you can use bright color and overlapping washes. I show students certain techniques, and then turn them loose.
If I give my students the same problem, every one of their paintings comes out different. Some of the people are beginners and some are experienced painters, but they do their own thing, which is what I think is important.
In the late 1990s Ann participated in a group show at the Chico Art Center, a show that had the largest attendance ever for the Center. Called “Bag Ladies,” the exhibition consisted of work from eleven Chico women artists. All of the works were created and woven around specific proverbs and sayings. I wrongly assumed the women called their group the Bag Ladies because when they painted together, they brought their own bag lunches! But, oh, how wrong I was! Intrigued by the name for its many connotations and associations, I asked Ann about how the Bag Ladies got started and where the name came from:
We are a group of women artists from or near the Chico area who used to get together every Friday during the ’80s at the Chico Art Center to paint. Sometimes we had models or we set up a still life. We just painted together.
In the mean time, my parents had moved to Paradise, and Mom and I would occasionally paint together. Before she moved, she had had cataracts removed. This was before the implant procedure came into being, so her vision was affected terribly by light and she couldn’t go outside to paint. I tried to find things to take up to her that she could paint while remaining indoors. A friend gave me a bunch of old corn that still had its dried husks attached and that was the first thing we shared together. I painted it, and then took the box of corn up to Mother, and she painted it. Then there was a wasp’s nest that a friend gave Mother. She hung it up, painted it, and asked if I would like to paint it. So I did, and we got together to compare paintings again.
I mentioned this to the ladies at the art center and we decided that we would come up with a project—we would each find an object, do a painting of it, then put it in a paper sack or bag and pass the bag to someone else. None of us saw what anyone else was doing until we finished. At that time there were seven of us. Seven bags and seven people meant there would be 49 paintings we were supposed to do! Not all of us finished, of course, but finally we got together to look at everything, had a glass of champagne, and talked about the paintings. It was such fun to see how different people reacted towards the same subjects.
The second time we put different objects in the sacks and passed the bags around, we decided to have a show. The show was held at the Vagabond Rose in Chico in 1997. It was a very successful show.
In this recent Bag Ladies show, Ann not only had several works from her current series of Canyon paintings as well as the “Bag Ladies” paintings, but she also had a three dimensional rock installation which consisted of near perfect spherical yet naturally formed rocks laid out from the largest to smallest in two rows, with minute visible changes from one rock to another. But, when all together in a line, a distinct difference in size from first to last was evident. Inherent in the roundness of the rocks was nature’s sense of perfection, pattern and design; the natural order of things. Ann says when she looks for a cohesive thread in her own work over the years, she sees that there is a “…consistency—not in the intent or the visual images, nor in the technical presentation itself, but in a basic sense of order, or, if you prefer, organic unity or design.” She knows this order and design when she sees it in nature, and deftly creates it in her artwork, whether in painting or in collecting rocks!
Is the rock installation something new for you?
Yes, it took two and a half years to get that together and there’s more of it over there on my kitchen counter and two sets in the studio. It was a fun thing to do. I’d go out with the dogs to the Channel and other places, like the creeks around Chico, and every time I saw a rock I liked, I’d pick it up. I found that the rocks I was picking up were as round as I could get. Then I started organizing them and reorganizing them. I had two sets going at once. I’d take one rock and place it in the other line if it fit better.
When you were collecting and organizing rocks, did you think of it as an art project?
No. I’ve done very little three dimensional work, but really enjoyed it. It was just fun, and I loved the feel of them. Then, with this last Bag Ladies’ show, where we worked around the sayings and proverbs, I thought, well, I can use the rocks for one of the proverbs in the show. After the show was over, I moved the rock piece to the Chico Museum where a high school teacher at Pleasant Valley High had put together a show to help her students learn how to set up an exhibition and judge shows. The title of the show was “Chico Scene.” Everybody submitted things that had to do with Chico, so I entered the rocks; it’s all Chico. I didn’t know if it would be accepted.
How is creating that three dimensional piece different from creating a painting? Or is it?
Not much. It’s a matter of selectivity, you know. Trying to put things together in the order in which you want them. It isn’t that different, except the rocks were more easily changed. I could just move them. With a painting, you can’t do that.
And, in that sense, it is a living, evolving piece. It could still change, every time you find a new rock.
Yes. It can.
Another continually evolving and productive project for Ann, like her own painting, is the scholarship fund she set up in the name of her mother, Frances Trucksess. Our conversation began with Ann telling me about an exhibition she and Marlys Williams, then curator of the BMU Upstairs Gallery on campus, pulled together of Ann’s many paintings that had been loaned out to various departments on the Chico campus over the thirty-one years of her teaching career. It was a difficult endeavor because in the course of their search, they discovered that many of the departments had moved to new buildings and taken the paintings with them. In order to find them, they first had to find the new locations of all the departments, and then they had to convince people to let go of the paintings for the show. Many people, who didn’t want to give up their treasured paintings, wound up purchasing them. In their search, Ann and Marlys collected over 72 pieces which were finally hung in the Upstairs Gallery. The proceeds from the sale of the works went towards the Fran Trucksess Watermedia Scholarship at CSU Chico.
Ann T. Pierce, Professor Emeritus, California State University at Chico, currently resides in Chico, California, and continues to work on her own painting projects and teach workshops out of her own studio.
Filed under: art, fragments, Paintings -Inspiration | Tags: abstract painting, florence, red, susan canavarro
This is my latest painting effort after a near two-year hiatus ( normally known as painter’s block) from painting. It is a 36″ square, 1 and .25″ deep stretcher bar. Acrylic on canvas.
The idea derived from a memoir fragment I wrote called Frozen Like a Block of Blood-ice. It only started with that thought and quickly took off on its own and turned into a geometric abstract. You’ll notice the squares/blocks are not precise squares, nor are the smaller ones centered in the larger squares. I don’t live in a precise world – physically or mentally! The beginning of my dream-story is handwritten in the wide wine-red border, but it is not easily read. The text is more texture than story although the story is relevant. I did not intend for people to spend time reading the painting. One couldn’t read my handwriting, anyway. Sometimes even I can’t read it! The paint itself provides areas of raised surface texture as well as areas of smooth layers of transparent washes of reds and greens.
One thing I didn’t remember is that red is a middle value color. On the grayscale red, in its various ranges of colors, will be of the middle to dark gray. In color, visually our eyes see light reds and dark reds, but in the grayscale, it is all mid to dark gray. I proved this to be true when I changed the image to grayscale on my computer.
Feedback is welcome if you feel like hurting my feelings! LOL
© 2012 All Rights Reserved. Susan Canavarro.
Filed under: art, charles Draper, Confessions, Fine Art Photography, Photography | Tags: cattaleconfessions, charles draper, charles draper photography, confessions of a florentine pet sitter, florence, florentine confessions, landscapes by photographer charles draper, landscapes of the oregon coast, oregon, photo landscapes, susan canavarro