Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter


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.



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.



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!



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.



EEEEEEEG!!!
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What? No Frontal Lobe activity????

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that measures and records the electrical activity of your brain. Special sensors (electrodes camera.gif) are attached to your head and hooked by wires to a computer. The computer records your brain‘s electrical activity on the screen or on paper as wavy lines. Certain conditions, such as seizures, can be seen by the changes in the normal pattern of the brain’s electrical activity.

 Yesterday I had an EEG test.  It took about 30 minutes of setup-time – including malfunctions of the wiring and electrodes. Using the sticky gel, the electrodes were placed all over my head, in my hair, on my ears and my cheeks. For some reason, the computer was not reading the electrical impulses from the electrodes on my forehead. After some minutes went by and the two technicians were still trying to solve the problem, I dropped a hint: I said, maybe that means the frontal lobe of my brain was dead, flat, nada? They laughed.

I asked if they could read my mind by looking at the brain waves. Unfortunately, Nah, they said. What a relief!

I asked if they could tell I had been dreaming, they said no. Which is good. They wouldn’t like my nightmares.

So what can they see? Or learn?

Basically, they see wavy lines indicating specific patterns of Alpha and Beta, Delta, Theta. They’re looking to see if both sides of the brain are the same;  looking for bursts of activity in parts or all of the brain; looking for the signs of epilepsy, brain tumor, stroke, infection, and injuries and the non-functioning indications of a flat line. My neurologist is looking to see what damage occurred during my experience this year of several TIAs.

So what did they find with my brain?  I don’t know…yet. Will find out when I see the neurologist again.

The whole process took 2 hours, and during that time I had to sleep. They call it a sleep-deprived test because they want you to get less sleep the night before so you can sleep in the Sleep Center for an hour. I managed to accomplish that because I was extremely tired, and my eyelids wanted to close. What they don’t know is that I never get a good night’s sleep. Yet, for the test, I couldn’t fall a sleep.

He soon set up the strobe light facing directly in my eyes. Many kaleidoscopic bright colors moving towards my closed eyes, swirling around on the inside of my eyelids, like an abstract expressionist painting from the 1950s…and just then that dreaded sensation began that I needed to run to the loo…quickly, or else. I could feel my bladder filling. No way I’m going to sleep if I’m worried about peeing in my pants!

 The technician let me get up with all the electrodes and wires still attached to my head, but no longer attached to the machine. That might have been interesting – what was my brain doing when in the loo? if anything?

 I saw myself in the mirror of horrors. I had transformed into a  female Frankenstein. I only wish I had had my little camera – would have made a great selfie shot. I’m still finding little bits and pieces of that sticky gel on my head, stuck to my hair, my earlobes and my cheeks!

 After my trip to the loo, he set the strobe light up again and I managed to fall asleep very quickly. Or it seemed quickly because before I knew it, I heard him calling my name, shaking me out of a bad dream. I didn’t want to wake up. I became combative. He had to hold my arms down to keep me from hitting him and/or falling off the bed. A wild one-hour night of sleep? You betcha.

So I’m thinking as I write this, sixty-eight years ago born from my mother’s womb it must have been a slippery combative struggle into the world, and that feisty fighting spirit has stuck with me! My way of making entrance to the real world, and into each waking day with my heart thumping painfully fast and furious in my chest.



The Defiant One teaches me about courage
The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie)

The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie) #1

I found this quote on PaintersKeys.com the morning after I had made changes to my painting The Defiant One for all the wrong reasons. It seems all too appropriate for a discussion I was having the day before with a friend about the importance or lack of importance concerning perfect drafting skills. I said I didn’t care about drawing correctly, that I thought the character of the drawing was more important. I don’t look for drawing errors when I look at art.  I look at the whole composition and how it works together. And I believe character is key. It is that which expresses the unique feeling whether one draws the cat correctly or not, and that expression of feeling is most important. It is character that turns it into a painting and not a photograph.
On Painter’s Keys the next morning:

​Limitations are an access point for focus, discipline, resourcefulness and the development of voice.

They’re clues to uniqueness and form-style and point of view — requirements of all works of art to communicate and connect. “In abandoning the vagueness of the sketch,” wrote Eugene Delacroix, “the artist shows more of his personality by revealing the range but also the limitations of his talent.” We fear our limitations will define us, yet they’re the hurdles necessary for refinement and courage. They’re the builders of character, and paintings need character. “The greatest progress in life,” said Yogi Bhajan, “is when you know your limitations, and then you have the courage to drop them.” ​

The night before, Blondie’s ears haunted me. I couldn’t sleep. I had already made many small corrections to this painting, but suddenly when I was looking at its enlarged version on my laptop, I saw that the ears were way too large for her head. I had drawn them incorrectly. They were too tall and too pointy. They looked like bobcat ears. Perhaps the devil’s ears. BUT they contributed to the character of her stance. She was excited, riled up, the hair on her rump standing up in anticipation. Blondie waited for her mom to do something, perhaps something Blondie didn’t want to do, and her fierce alert and defiant pose said so.  Okay Mom, take the darn picture, let’s get this over with, okay! I’ve got mice to play with.
Shamefully,  last night I decided to redraw and repaint Blondie’s large pointy ears that gave this painting so much unique character. Truth be told, I was afraid of failure. I’ve never been able to draw with ease. Always a struggle. And I didn’t want anyone pointing out that I was bad at drawing! I lacked the courage to believe in my work. This lack of courage rears its ugly head a lot with me.
Oh woe is me…what’s a gal to do?
I learned a valuable lesson last night, two lessons.
  • One, I am a hypocrite, I say one thing and do another. BAD. I don’t care about the drawing, yet I feel a deep need to make mine look right. What?
  • Two, I learned from the above quote that it is okay make mistakes because the errors work with the whole picture to create character and emotion and draw people in to experience something powerful —whether you as artist recognize it or not—an experience of connection and a wonderment. Oh look how those ears stand up so tall and pointy and don’t they add to the mood of that cat’s stance!
If courage and wisdom had not escaped me, I would have left the ears alone.
Here’s the altered ears. Smaller, shaped better, and more proportionate to her head.
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The Defiant One with new ears #2 CORRECTED

They added very little to the total emotion of her stance. So I made the new ears appear more pointy by limning the edges and tips of the ears with white light. Now some of the pointy character is back, but they are not as big. Not as fierce!

​Next time I hope I will be able to control my urges to make it perfect. I claim to not care, but I lack the courage to live with my failures if I cannot do it. I’ve got to let go of that. I’ve got to let go of the idea that my bad drawing means failure—not only in my painting of cats, but also in my landscapes and papiér maché cats. It is, rather, about character and emotion.


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.




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