Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter


Expressions West 2015, Coos Art Museum
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Orbetello Dalmatian by Win Jolley

I am tooting my horn today for the acceptance of my painting into a biennial exhibit at the Coos Bay Art Museum called Expressions West 2015. It’s a fairly big show on the central Oregon coast. This is the first time my work has been accepted since I’ve been in Oregon. And I think it’s all because I served my painting of the bridge structure upside down!

One other local artist, Win Jolley, also got his work accepted. Needless to say, we are both pretty pleased. An elite crowd of two! I am including my image called “Up-Ended” (below) and Win’s image, called “Orbetello Dalmatian” (above) in this blog.

The two are far apart in subject and style and colors, which may be indicative of the juror’s flavor for the show. Win’s is a realistic watercolor rendition of a beautiful Dalmatian dog set in an Italian village, maybe Orbetello? It is crisp, clear, warm colors and superbly designed with excellent draftsmanship.  The color and collage of the repetitive motif on the left, the spots on the dog, and the geometric patterns of bricks together provide a unity of textures and colors.

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Up-Ended by Susan Canavarro

My painting of the local Siuslaw River Bridge structure is abstract based on a flipped version of reality.  The  dark values and rusty colors of the structure set off the blues of nature’s sky; the sky with its soft morning light near the horizon and it’s cool cobalt at its zenith, in turn, acts as a foil or backdrop for the human-made structure. But I was looking for something more abstract, something that didn’t say “bridge,” but said Hey what? It becomes a simple relationship between positive/negative shapes, between natural and human-made, and between what’s up and what’s down. Doing one tiny thing like turning a painting upside down can change it from being a realistic rendition to an abstract design.

The official Press Release is below:

Two local Florence artists, Win Jolley and SusanCanavarro, have had their work juried into the Expressions West 2015 painting competition at the Coos Art Museum. Win’s watercolor “Orbetello Dalmatian” and Susan’s acrylic painting “Up-Ended” were two of sixty-one paintings selected.

The public is invited to attend the opening reception for Expressions West 2015  on April 24 from 5 to 7 pm. Many participating artists will be in attendance. An awards ceremony begins at 6 PM and Juror Brian Hoover will present the prize awards for the competition.​

The Expressions West 2015 painting exhibit runs from April 24 to June 27, 2015. Artists from thirteen western states were invited to compete in this biennial event. Juror Brian Hoover selected sixty-one paintings by forty-four artists residing in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.



Bridge Bones (1)

The act of imagination is the opening of the system so that it shows new connections. Every act of imagination is the discovery of likenesses between two things which were thought unlike. (Jacob Bronowski)

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Bridge Bones, Acrylic on Canvas, 30×40

I like the above quote and believe it applies to much of my work. I look for connections, not while I am painting, but after, when I am sitting and looking and wondering what it’s all about. Why is this painting important to me? Why did I want to paint it? And should it matter to the viewer, or just to me?

Okay, I have to admit it. Man-made constructions set against a natural environments fascinate me. In my mind, what we build isn’t always ugly, and it isn’t necessarily unnatural, for after all we humans are a part of a natural system. We are alive. We live the natural world all around us.

I enjoy juxtaposing the natural with the man-made in my paintings. I find the contrast exciting, even though I don’t always like what we do to our landscape and not all buildings are beautiful, not all changes, natural or man-made, in our landscape are beautiful, but the two things work in conjunction with each other, creating a foil for composition and concept. The contrast of man-made and natural environments provides a built-in subtext to my landscape painting—it is more than just a landscape.  I admit, this is a subjective view.

Bridge Bones is a painting of a small part of the Siuslaw River Bridge overhead structure (in Florence, Oregon). It is a span from one arch to the other of crisscrossed beams that create triangle and parallelogram shapes, allowing the sky to fall through. Structure is important because it holds the bridge up, and in that sense this painting reminds me of a spine, the part that gives it strength to survive since its completion in 1936. Seventy-eight years and more to come, most likely. More than I will ever see. Born ten years later than the completion date for this bridge, I am now sixty-eight years old, and though my spine has crumpled and hunched a bit, I am still held upright by it. It gives me the strength to move around on my feet, to bend over and pick up items that I’ve dropped on the floor in my new-found clumsiness since my chemo treatments. Items like spoons, forks, paint brushes, pots and pans and really big sharp knives just seem to fly out of my hands these days. Considering all that danger of sharp things flying around, not of my purposeful volition, the bridge will certainly outlive me!

Besides holding us up and giving us physical strength, the spine is also a metaphor for emotional and mental strength. I learned during my cancer experience that I am emotionally strong. And I had a great support structure of friends which gave me more strength. They had my back the whole time. I had spine.

I also like that once I am crossing a bridge, I see more. I see more of the beauty I may not see behind the roadside trees and mountainsides, and behind the buildings. A new world opens up, like when you are traveling by train or boat, suddenly great vistas are open to you. Riverbanks reveal pastures,  farm lands spotted with sheep, cattle, horses, barns and fences, and urban interiors. Mountains divide and open up their deep canyons and rivers. Mountains you’ve never seen, appear before your eyes. Have you ever walked or driven across a bridge and expressed awe at the sight of a magnificent view suddenly opened up? First there is light, then the sea and crashing waves on one side, then steep gullies and canyons, reaching deep to the river beds. I’ve seen it. And there’s no better experience that brings a reverence for our natural world than crossing that bridge, being one with that bridge, and feeling as if there are no boundaries between me and the rest of the world.

Looking through the railings, posts and beams of a bridge defines humankind and nature in a whole new perspective. We are not opposed. We are nature, and in that sense, we are beaver builders, bees building beehives and spiders spinning webs. What we build is just as much a part of nature as that which the wild creatures build. (Maybe that’s why spiders, shiver, haunt me so often!)

The simplicity of it for me is that I enjoy the geometric designs and patterns of bridge structures. Set against the backdrop of a clear dome of blue sky, or shroud of dense fog, or floating cumulus clouds high above, or distant muted rocky mountainsides, or crashing ocean waves, the bridge bones make my experience more intense. It’s the bridge juxtaposed with the natural. You can’t have one without the other.



Roadtrees

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© Roadtrees, Acrylic on Canvas 36×36,  Susan Canavarro

Road trees I saw out of the corner of my eye one afternoon as I was driving north on 101 from Coos Bay. I wanted the focus to be on the trees, and not have a definite background subject for this painting. Road trees are those trees left along the road by the clear-cutters. I understand it was an environmental conciliatory effort on the part of the logging company – trees left standing to hide the devastation. It doesn’t work. The devastation remains evident.

I do enjoy the dark and light juxtaposition of the dark shore pines against the light alders, and the background light. Small marks in the background give the feeling of logging detritus afloat in the slight wind created by cars and trucks zipping past the road trees…dust, twigs, leaves jumping with afterglow of the setting sun.



Surveying His Domain

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Almost everyday Tai The Terrible worried about his domain. He wanted to know what was going on, who was in his neighborhood, whether there were any mice, rats, coyotes, or feral cats roaming the streets. Who was causing trouble? Did he need to prepare for battle? Or was he just a curious nosy cat?

He waited patiently by the front door until I let him outside. He wandered five or ten feet from the door where he could get a wide open view of his dominion. There he sat.  His platypus(s) tail lay flat-out behind him, a sign of his high status and breeding.  Excited to be outside, he looked left and right, and now and then twitched in place.  His overall appearance of serenity belied his seething tension, his readiness in every muscle for battle or flight. He wasn’t called Tai the Terrible for nothing.

After a while, his hunger for interesting and exciting activities satiated, the boredom set in. Time to find a comfortable safe place for his afternoon nap. Or perhaps try a little camouflage among the tall grasses and wait for his folks to turn into the driveway.

© 2014 Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved.



Walking a Cat Walk

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.




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