Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter


where has the time gone?
August 4, 2015, 3:09 PM
Filed under: Confessions

It’s been days since I last posted on my blog. I apologize. I must have zoned out on FaceBook politics and gossip. Ugh.

I just discovered a new blog that might be of interest if you are an animal lover. And I know, because of Facebook, that there are thousands of animals lovers out there.

The new blog is:  https://robin1244.wordpress.com/   – Divining Dr. Dolittle – Reflections, Revels, and Rants of an Imperfect Animal Lover.

Start on her home page and you’ll find that Robin is a terrific writer, as well as a caretaker of animals. It is her work and her love.

She is a cousin of a good friend living in Maryland –  whom I met in Grad school many many years ago.



EXp WEst show

Brian Hoover: A Feast of Dreams

Brian Hoover’s highly detailed and symbolic work revolves around dreams, myth and spirituality. Often he begins works by spilling paint onto a canvas and then drawing out the subconscious images which arise. His work has been exhibited nationally and is part of many private and public collections. Hoover, a Professor of painting and printmaking at Southern Utah University, received art training at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Kutztown University and the State University of New York where he received his MFA.

In the Uno E Richter Atrium Gallery: April 24 – June 27

From the Coos Art Museum website. Coos Art Museum (CAM)

The Expressions West Juried Exhibit at the Coos Art museum proved itself to be a wonderful and exciting show. An eclectic exhibit featuring a variety of styles, subjects and content, it also drifted towards the juror’s tastes as exemplified by his own work in the Uno E. Richter Atrium Gallery upstairs gallery.

Because  many of the paintings in this show are highly different and innovative in concept and style, for me it had the fragrance of an academic art program. I don’t mean the “old” academic art classes where you learned how to draw with meticulous detail, and spent hours and hours making color charts and designs studying the rules of composition.  I’m referring to the contemporary art schools. At most universities now, professors push you to the edge with your work.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was a BFA student, and an MFA Candidate, our artwork had to be innovative; it had to be meaningful on the personal or sociopolitical-statement levels. It couldn’t just be spot on as far as technique or formal issues, for example with a landscape or portrait.  It had to say something. (But what it said couldn’t be too obvious!) The content, the media, the colors and form, all had to be evident in the overall concept of a painting. And that was no subtle thing hammered into our brains.

In the late 80s and 90s when I was a reentry student, we felt pushed to the edge and felt the great pressure of innovation to make a statement or make our presence known in the land of art. And after receiving lackluster reviews  from our professors, we artists now thrive on a real sense of freedom to do what we want with our art. Anything goes. If you call it art, then it’s art. If you do it well, prizes and notoriety may follow. If not, it is okay. Still art.

For our professors,  tired of the same ol’ same ol’,  a  beautiful and beautifully painted landscape didn’t give them a rise.  Neither did a vacuous abstraction full of gratuitous brush marks (for which I am guilty of making) excite them. Brush marks had to be meaningful marks in the context of the painting. They were looking for something showing the artists hand or thought or expression or creative process. They didn’t want to see a painting that looked like a Zoltan Szabo or a Rex Brandt, they wanted something that looked like you.

And they wanted something they could talk about. At her unusually quiet critique sessions for beginning drawing students, my friend and fellow-TA instructor at SJSU told her students stand in front of their drawing against the wall and tell a story about the drawing, and if you didn’t have a story, make one up. Give us something to talk about, she said. It was a successful idea. She had some lively and bizarre critique sessions for the rest of the semester. It doesn’t matter if the other students agree with you or believe it is truth, but what matters is that it started conversations.

My fellow TA influenced how I think and write about my paintings  and how I look at paintings. I write about how the ideas for my work come up in the process, the problems or issues I encounter in the making of a piece,  and what it means to me personally. Sometimes I don’t know until after the piece is completed!

Anyway, the point of my rant about college art education is that the juror Brian Hoover has a background of teaching art at the college level. He is …”a Professor of painting and printmaking at Southern Utah University, received art training at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Kutztown University and the State University of New York where he received his MFA.”  This is bound to have been an influence in his selection process. Nobody can escape the influence of a university art background. Not even I.  And so it behooves all of us entering our work in juried shows to not take the juror’s non-acceptance as personal. I can think of only a few shows where I agreed with the judge’s choice for 1st place. And this show is one of them.

It is my belief that Hoover looked for things that were well done, but more than that he looked deep into a painting for the raw technique of explorations and thought process, for the reasons why an artist painted a background grey, put hand-writing on its surface, and how it fit with the chair and the red ball placed in front of the grayness. The big concept. It wasn’t just a nicely painted chair with a red ball to him like it was for me at first. It took my friend to tell me there was writing on the grey area, as if it was a classroom “chalkboard,” she said.  Suddenly it dawned on me, it was a child’s chair holding a red ball in front of a blackboard with writing on it which pulled the concept together. It wasn’t just a chair and a red ball. The blackboard gave it context. It became personal, possibly a memory owned by the artist, but perhaps one shared by many. Universal. The chair with the red ball was, of course, a prize winner.

There was a variety of work, but an overriding commonality. The number of pieces that were different in content, style, media, concept—often surreal, bizarre, imaginary, fantastical, meaningful— was higher than the number of traditional landscapes or abstracts. The landscapes were for the most part exceptional, but the pieces  proclaiming themselves as different in some way owned the show.

My painting was hung in a smallish room off to the left of the main museum door. Not sure why, but it turned out to be an interesting assortment of works and events. One piece,  “Portia” painted by Andy DeWeerdt, hung on the wall directly facing the lobby entrance, took center stage. It was a large painted female figure with lots of red and gold dancing on her and around her. Stunning. I liked it immediately. It was the only painting I saw in that room. I didn’t even want to look at mine! To my friend I said, this one “is going to win 1st place.” And so it did! It was in the same room as mine, but no, unfortunately none of that glory gold  rubbed off on my painting!

Another painting that I enjoyed had a very simple two-tone metal gray surface, like Mark Rothko’s late horizontal abstracts in depressing grays and blacks as he pondered suicide.  It was by Claire Duncan. On top of this gray surface the artist painted the back side and open wing span of a pure white egret ( I think it was an egret)  placed in the exact horizontal and vertical center with its wings spread fully open, the tips almost touching the sides of the wide canvas, the wings expertly delineated in full bloom, and the egret flying towards a horizon…the end point.

The experts in composition have always said centering a subject is taboo, but breaking all the rules is what sometimes makes a painting interesting. The two grayish background areas were not centered. They were a sliver of dark sky at the top and a wide expanse of medium grey as a body of water. Her painting of the egret was so elegant and precise, and so vertically and horizontally centered it broke all the rules. To that same friend who opened my eyes about the blackboard and chair, I said this is a winner. And it was! Struck by the combination of the absolute realism centered against the abstractness of the gray background, it was special.

For me, the selection of paintings was a strong reflection of the juror’s tastes and style. And with that, it was a great show. I find that interesting because it confirms the idea that judges are often not as objective as we think they should be or they claim to be.  How they look and what they choose in the end is highly subjective. We just have to accept it. The odd thing is, I agreed with his choices. And they were probably the most bizarre nearly surreal pieces with a combination of realism and abstraction!​  Maybe both of our tastes in art became jaded by university art programs; always looking for paintings that are different from the norm, even though the norm is often well conceived and executed to perfection and deserves just as many accolades.

ACCOLADES: Local Florence artist, Win Jolley’s Orbatello Dalmatian (see previous post) won an Entry of Merit Award. It is a beautiful combination of realism and compositional abstraction that Win often uses in his paintings.

ERROR CORRECTION : A third local artist, Carol Kumpula-Clark, also had work selected for the show.  Not being able to find her name in our local phone book, I assumed she did not live here, but in Eugene where I did find her name and address. Due to my confusion about her residence,  and not considering Eugene part of the local Florence area, I neglected to include her name in all my press releases. My apologies to Carol Kumpula-Clark.



Meal Time Dance
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Meal Time Dance

Tai the Terrible, the Himalayan, stole bits of food from Brillo’s dish even before Brillo the Black walked away from it. As soon as Brillo took a bite and turned his head away from his dish to chew, Tai extended his front leg with cupped paw over into Brillo’s bowl and scooped out a piece. I admonished him to wait for Brillo to finish eating: Tai, don’t even think about it! Wait until Brillo finishes. Understanding my command he walked away in slow misery, sulking, licking his paw. Oh how he wanted that piece of food! He always wanted more and seemed to have no qualms about taking more.

I often wondered if Brillo turned away to chew just to give his brother cat the opportunity to steal his food. Between two cats that often got into fur-flying scuffles, it felt like it was a cordial entente, a symbiosis, of a sort, providing each other an environment for survival by helping each other out. Tai got to satisfy his hunger, and Brillo got peace… maybe.

On another level, Brillo was the hunter, and Tai got to eat his catch. And I got to clean up the mess when he vomited all the indigestible parts! Ugh!



Bull Leaping Gold Medalist is…

The most famous depiction of bull leaping is a fresco discovered in the Palace of Knossos in ancient Crete. It shows a human leaping over the horns of a bull, flipping or cartwheeling the length of the bull’s back.  The sport, if it was a sport, begins with a bull and a running man charging each other, the man grabbing the bulls horns to use as a spring-board and flipping over backwards, doing a handstand on the back of the creature, and using his strength to spring up and over the rump to land on ones feet. Surviving this feat was rare.

There are many depictions of bull leaping and many archaeologists have theorized reasons for this activity. Even today there remains a group of modern tattooed-bull-leaping-sportsmen in France and Spain leaping over cows. This is a link to the National Geographic interactive educational Bull Leaping description.

My bull leaper, Cricket, is charging and jumping over a stationary exercise bicycle (the bull), only she begins with its seat or rump, not the horns or handlebars. No video, so you’ll just have to imagine her in this sport and vicariously enjoy the fun she is having. She started when she was a kitten. She enjoyed racing 8 feet across the length of the catio to two cardboard boxes she used as a springboard to leap on to the bike’s seat, then straight over to the handle bars. She managed to maintain her balance on the bars, turn around to leap back to the seat and boxes and race again to the far end of the catio. Over and over she used the bike and cardboard boxes in this manner, exhausting herself, honing her running and strength and balance skills. And keeping me entertained all the while.

In this image she is staring intently at the ball I recently placed near the handlebars, the bull’s horns. She is leaning on the bull’s rump, and it  looks like she is wondering if the ball is worth the challenge. Do I really want that ball? Do I really want to play cat-sitter Susan’s game? Is it worth getting mangled by those horns?

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1. Pondering, is it worth the challenge?

This next image shows she has made up her mind. She is going for the ball. Tentatively she reaches out to it, but realizes her leg stretch isn’t quite long enough. She tries several times, while still maintaining her ground on the bulls rump.

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2. Decision made, she reaches across the divide…

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3. Reaching, stretching, just a little more, and she’s there!

She takes a minor leap and lands her front paws near the ball, grabs it with her teeth, however, she is in a mighty precarious position. She now has to finish her routine, but how does she get from point A-Rump to point C-Horns? Especially without dropping the ball? It’s a monumental task…a challenge in which she has to get a grip and take the bull by the horns. Her crooked tail fluffs in excitement.

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4. The catch is in her mouth, now what?

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5. Feeling stretched!

We can see she still carries the ball in her mouth. Okay, she’s got both front paws on the horns, now all Cricket has to do is get balanced, adjust her forepaws and somehow leap on to the horns so she is there with all four legs. Can she do it?

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6. Teetering and Turning

She teeters back and forth, and finally inch by inch, teeter by teeter, turn by turn, she maneuvers her body around so she is now facing the opposite direction. Balancing is tricky. Still a bit wobbly perched on the front edge of the horns, Cricket is now pondering the trip back. She has to leap back to the bull’s rump with the ball still in her mouth to win the game. And then…

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Heading back to the bull’s rump, the finish line…

She steps gingerly on the lever to get closer to the bull’s seat. She is almost home.

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Finally, all four paws on the rump

The movement and power of the jump has created a forward momentum. She brakes as forcefully as she can to avoid vaulting off the edge of the seat.  She  rocks back and forth to regain her balance.

On the bull’s rump, she will need to turn her body once again and face the judges. The ball must remain in the mouth all the way through this sport. It is about the agility and balance of the cat plus their multitasking abilities.

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Turning, trying not to fall off, not to drop the ball

This is getting tense folks. We’re waiting on the edge of our seats to see just how Cricket will end her bid for the gold medal. Leaping the bull is no easy task, but so far she has done a splendid job. Long ago, in ancient times, if a young powerful athlete failed to leap the bull perfectly, he was dead. Cricket is taking her time… wanting to make this last step just right.

Remember, she needs to do it with the ball still in her mouth. It takes concentration to hold that ball and at the same time maneuver into the last perfect position.

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The final turn…and OOPS!

Oh no, Folks, she’s dropped the ball! Cricket has dropped the ball! She may have lost her one and only chance to win the gold medal. This is disastrous!

She’s looking up, looking for reaction, did someone see that I just dropped the ball? Maybe not. Hopefully not. This is the end. I’m not sure I can get through one more Olympic challenge after this. I think I’m done. Oh woe is me. Pleeeeeeease let it not be the end. She hears hissing from the stands.

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Wanna-be Gold Medalist awaiting her scores

Despite her disappointment at dropping the ball at the end of a perfect challenge, she waits patiently. A true sports-kitty. She sits. Waits for the final score. She sits staring off into the void she created for herself today, the black hole of failure.

The crowd is off their seats, meowing, ratcheting up the meows to  growling and hissing. We can’t tell if they are happy she fumbled the ball, or if they are unhappy with the knowledge she may lose.

Wait! here it comes…

The officiating officer of the games announced the winner of the Gold Medal: And the winner of the Gold Medal is... in anticipation the crowd breaks into a cacophony of roars. Deafening. Roaring Cricket! Cricket Cricket! We want Cricket!

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A gold-plated paper wad.

…The winner is Miss Cricket!

Amidst the roar and excitement of the crowd, Cricket accepts the gold-plated paper wad, designed by a renowned Florentine cat-toy designer. Set before her on the pedestal, a large bowl of Stella and Chewy Chicken nuggets and a large container of bottled water. So hungry and dehydrated from her strenuous bull leaping, she growls and hisses as she chews. No one is going to steal away her meal.  Let them eat wad.



No Way
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No Way that fix-it guy is going to get my mouse!

Blondie has been going crazy with the tiny toy mice that I send her. She exhausts herself playing with them. Before taking her nap, she hides them in various places. After her nap she digs them out from under pillows and furniture and begins playing again. She carries them around in her mouth. She wakes her mom up by sitting on her chest, staring at her, Wake up! Wake Up! Wake up! Four in the morning is a startling moment to wake up with anyone sitting and staring at you, nonetheless with a cat sitting on your chest inches away from your face, staring at you with a mouth full of mouse! Willing you to wake up, wake up wake up!

I woke up in the hospital bed one night after my surgery and as I rolled over I became aware my night nurse was standing about four feet back from my bed, quietly staring at me, listening to my breathing she said. Willing me to wake up first probably, because the last time she woke me up I was combative and socked her in the face! It was a strange feeling to know someone was staring at me while I blissfully and fitfully slept. Did I snore? Did I talk in my sleep and give away ungodly secrets?

​Regarding Blondie, I am just delighted that she is enjoying my gifts so much!

This cartoon developed one day when her mom had a repairman out to fix her clothes dryer. She said Blondie sat in the living room with the mouse stuffed in her mouth the whole time he was there working.​ The image stuck with me, couldn’t get it out of my mind. I just had to give it a try. Hand-drawn first, I then scanned and computer manipulated it.  I had in mind this image of Blondie sitting upright, tall, still, prim and proper like a princess, with her tiny cheeks bulging with a black mouse, and anxiety in her eyes wide-open; how long, how long, how long was she going to have to suck on this soggy mouse? When could she breathe? When could she get a sip of water?

There was no way she was going to let this fix-it guy steal her mouse. But, she may also have been hiding the mouse, and feeling remorse, thinking it would give away her secret…that she had quietly secreted away another mouse behind the dryer and it was the cause of the strange noise her mom had heard.

I tried to get the character of Blondie’s stubbornness and the strain of having to hold something in her mouth for so long – she couldn’t swallow, the mouse was undoubtedly soaking up her saliva, drying out her tongue, making it feel fuzzy, and her eyes would get wide and buggy with the stress of it all.

Poor kitty, all she had to do was spit it out, but maybe she didn’t have any spit left.




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