Creative Process: Let It Simmer


Idea to action…
That is success.  The idea energizes immediate action and grand results.  The concept erupts into being and the audience goes wild!

Isn’t that how it goes?

“Creating something new requires leaps of imagination… A hunch, immersing yourself in source materials.. Things need time to simmer, connect…Somewhere along the way…Click…everything falls into place.”(Davis&McIntosh)

Xu Bing scribbles a bird into a sketchbook.  Maybe he has just returned to Bejing.  Maybe he is in the galleries of NY.  Maybe the little sketch has followed him from his days in China’s countryside.  A small scribbled bird becomes two cranes.  The cranes are rejected and evolve into  The Phoenix Project; a male and a female phoenix, 100′ each and over 20 tons collectively.  The exhibit program (Mass MoCA) dates the project as “(2007-2010)…Created over a period of two years.”  This implies that the first year mentioned is dedicated to the concept.  When your birds carry the weight of socioeconomic class differences that structure China’s growth, this time span is reasonable.

For most, the neglected part of the creative process is the “simmering” stage…. That part where we sit still and let the idea set for a while…take it in.  Immediate result-driven action undermines the potency of the idea.  Complexity and detail fall by the wayside.

We take in so much.  Some things stick and some are forgotten.  A scribble turns into a sketch.  Time goes by.  We observe and absorb.  Ideas grow. The sketch sits.  The idea outgrows the sketch.  We need more sketches.

“Xu Bing is known for mining a subject in depth over the course of many years.”(Mass MoCA)  His Phoenixes are made from the waste materials of the skyscraper constructions in Bejing.  Small LEDs line the birds.  When the sun sets, the mythical pair turns into a constellation.

Their original home was to be the Cesar Pelli-designed World Financial Tower. The contrast of the luxury building and the course nature of the sculpture’s materials emphasized all of the underlying themes.  “The original commissioner abandoned the project.”(Mass MoCA)

The Phoenix Project astounds at every level: physicality, layered concepts, the materials and the relationship between concept, process and material.

It is about the simmering.

Xu Bing was sure it would only take 6 months to complete.  What shadow of a phoenix would he have come up with in that time frame?

Posted in Mass MoCA, phoenix, Phoenix Project, Xu Bing | Leave a comment

Little Red Ridinghood

I have an interdisciplinary partner in crime.  Every artist needs a good musician or scientist, or philosopher friend.  My musical friend has the voice of an angle and the schedule of a working mom.  In between teaching voice, performing, running a small business and taking care of two kids, she directs the occasional small opera geared towards kids.

Last year it was the operatic version of the Three Pigs (to Mozart, mind you).  She wanted to keep it simple…a doorframe that can switch from brick to stick to straw, a chimney, some signage (“Francis Bacon University”), and a pig statue… a “Smart” pig statue.
Piggy Project Details


This year it’s Little Red Ridinghood, the opera.  I’m relieved to the Sound of Music is finished and we can borrow a tree or two.  Adding to an existing set takes the pressure off building.  As much as I would like to have a bit of carpenter in me, I am a 2D person at heart.  We confiscate some Sound of Music scenery and amp it up for an opera version of Little Red Ridinghood.  Trees must become forest, with critters and birds, and Red needs a strawberry patch.

I love an excuse to paint on the ground! I finally have the space too!  This project wouldn’t have worked in my old studio spaces…One was a basement and the other a closet.

This is a great turn from my last job.  As a set painter for movies, you can’t say too much until a movie is released.. but I’m sure it won’t hurt anyone to say I was shoveling snow off an ark outdoors in Long Island before the sun rose.

The warmth of bright little sets for a kid’s opera feels pretty damn good.

Posted in boston artist, children's music, Kerri McGill, Little Red Ridinghood, Powers Music School, set design, Three lIttle Pigs | Leave a comment

Christmas Eve 2010

I told your Mom you’re coming home- nothing else…
~Is she okay with it?~
yes.very happy.  
This was a relief as I had made sucha big deal about telling her I was NOT going to be at Christmas.  We spent the whole day together.  I made dinner.  I told her over tea…She gave me a funeral hug on the way out, you know, the long lingering  type used in heavy emotional situations, as opposed to our usual frat-boy hug – one arm wrap with a back tap.  Ha, all that effort and now I’m coming back.
As my uncle and I text, the sun rises, warming the  Greyhound bus on my 5am ride.  The manajory of bus smells intensifies- tired travelers, stale food, tobacco smoke, body odor, all more pungent.  These observations become overwhelming as I call  DUA to reinstate my unemployment.  I’m in my wallmart sweats that I bought when my friend’s boyfriend locked us out of the house two nights before in a fit of rage.  Could I be in a more white trash moment right now?

At least I’m on the bus.  Thank God for Deb! hauling my ass to the bus station at 4:30am!  It didn’t occur to me they’d have a security check before getting on the bus.  The line was so long I thought for sure I’d miss it…not to mention I have a bag with snap blades in it.  (I use them to sharpen my drawing pencils.  When it was my turn, I held the mixed bag to the security, pencils on top, blades in the palm of my hand.) 

On arriving, I’m happy to see this bus station has lockers, even after 911.  I call the hostel to let them know they won’t have to hold my luggage for me.  I hear the releif in the girl’s voice.  She’s kind- but noone wants to oblige strange requests on Christmas eve.  I change in the ladies room from comfy cotton and sneaks to spashy polyester and pleather pumps, mash my belongings in the locker, save my wallet, lipstick and  the plastic red moneybag that reads “show me the money”.  I pull out my yellow legal pad itinerary and find my way to the local buses. I was glad I chose this outfit over the shiny club dress.  Conservative as it was, the look drew hollers from the locals- the kind that started their drinking before noon.  
It’s a straight shot from the station to my destination, but I’m nervous.  I watch the arrow inch up the map’s line.  I ask the driver about my stop even though GPS says it’s a way’s off.  I don’t trust my fancy map phone.  Good thing.  The driver immedialtely pulls over.  We had passed it two blocks ago. 
I had a great visit!  All the trouble and money to change flights, find a bus – all worth my little two hour visit.  I leave beaming.  With a good 20 minutes til the next bus, I drop into a bar and trade my story for a beer.  An enourmous black man(very proud of the size of his toungue) and his plain pale girlfriend and I are the only ones.  Timing – perfect! 
I head to the bus stop..search pockets- no bus pass- back to the bar – not there either– and out the door again to see the bus zoom by- not even slowing down!   Back to the bar, where my latest edition gets me another free round while I figure things out.  The next bus in an hour.  I am now in danger of missing my flight out.  The bartender says a train is much faster.  The station is a 20 min walk.  The next train is in 20 minutes.  So that works out nicely….. I dash out. 
It’s cold. 60 degrees. But dammit, it’s FLA
This place is all highway and nothing.  They do provide sidewalks – not a usual highway acrutriment.  I start jogging in my pleather pumps by the side of the highway, polyester blouse flopping about me.  I follow the bartender’s directions but  nothing fits his description.  I run in a bar- This one’s pretty full for a sunny afternoon…
~Hey wheres the train station?~
 Oh it’s through the parking lot, behind the next building.
~ I’ll be back if I miss my train~
 We hope you miss your train!! says a chorus.
~Fuck you!~
I dash away.
I see posts!  I hear the train!  I see a cement wall, 5ft high and like amilion miles long.  I grab a tree branch and fling myself over.  The train rolls in.  I’m on the wrong side and there is another wire fence dividing the two sides.  I yell to a very large black woman  “Hold the train if I don’t get over there!!”  If anyone could stop a train this chick could…. I dash by the ticket kyosk and into the train.  I sit very erect with my makeshift paperbag purse ready for the conducter…ready to play the dumb card…
~I’d like to buy a ticket please.~  to a perfect vision of a train conductor, white man in his late 50s, thick perfect mustache, the whole get-up, hat and all…His slight wince and tight smile calls me on my attempt.  
Thats not how it works Dear.
~I’m so sorry. I’m a little flustered today.  I’ve been traveling since 5am, bussed down from Orlando, to fit a visit in to a friend in jail before he gets deported and I fly back up to Boston.. They’re predicting snow storms too…(exasperated sigh)  How is your Christmas Eve?~  His face softens and he sits down across from me.
Oh Dear!  You must have gotten on at the Myrtle stop…
~No.  I got on at the last stop.~
He sighs and with an exagerated air 
I said you must have gotten on at the Myrtle stop…The one with the broken ticket printer
~No.  I got on at the – ohhhh. Yes. that’s exactly where I got on.~
A smile of aproval and we fall into a pleasant banter.  He is from Oregon, did plenty of military service traveled to Haitii and other places and retired to FLA because he loves the weather. 
 ” You have to love the weather… The people are assholes.  No one told me I was moving to South South Jersey.”
He flirts a little, as a rougish older man will do, telling me to stay and if only he were younger and this and that.. I had to shake a bus # out of him.  I need a bus to get back to my locker and then to my flight.  Nothing’s far away,  but I’m unfamiliar and a misrouted move can jeapordize my plans.  The jog to the train was my one mishap.  I can’t afford another.
I get to a line of buses, all with closed doors and no #s.  I looked so visibly confused one of the doors swings open.
I jokingly say “Are you my bus?”  A thick island accent says, ” I’ll take you where you need to go.”  He says the bus station is close-by, no problem.  Others get on, about five others.  He drops each one off.  I feel the panic of time passing.  I am the last on the bus.  “Is it up here?”  ” Why do you want to leave?  Boston is cold.  I don’t want you to leave.”  I realize this bus driver may not be as helpful as I supposed.  We seem to be driving in circles. Now I’m pissed.  
I lean over him and say in a low voice, ” If I end up missing that flight,  I’ll make you wish I hadn’t”  I’m not very big, and I don’t think that even made much sense…but I was menacing enough that he “remembered” where the bus station was pretty quickly. 
Grab my stuff…grab a cab…add some whiskey to my travel mug of tea.  Get to the airport with 5 minutes to spare.  It doesn’t take me that to finish my tea and go through security.  Yes.  They pull my empty travel mug to examine it for what? I don’t even know.  
~It’s not a bomb !!- It’s a toddy!!~ 
They don’t put whiskey in their tea in Florida.
I made it back in time for Christmas brunch and mass.
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A word to launch a thousand paintings…

My posts to this point focus on images.  Today I write about the word.  


We rely on language for all transactions, emotional, business and everything inbetween.   Written or spoken, the word can fall short sometimes.  Delve into something beyond banter, something below the surface of social interaction to emotions deeper felt, those driving forces of our daily actions…. This is when verbal communication lacks the accuracy to articulate emotion.  This is when the artist (visual or audial) reaffirms a hold on a deeper type of communication.

This thought is indebted to another’s search, posted publicly:

I’ve been hunting down this word for years… And it’s finally in my grasp. This is a perfect word for how this reality makes me feel most of the time:
Saudade
(The definition is mostly from Wikipedia)
Saudade is a Portuguese word that has no translation in English.  Saudade describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing/yearning for an absent something or someone that one loves, often one whose whereabouts are unknown, a lost lover or a family member gone missing.  It carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return. 
Saudade describes “the love that remains” after someone is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone or something should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence.  One can have ‘saudade’ of someone whom one is with, feeling a loss towards the past or the future (e.g. unrealized/unfulfilled expectations).  While saudade conveys longing for a past that can never return as well as a future that will never happen, acceptance of the reality is also built into the word.  It embodies all that is positive of a time or feeling that is no longer, while deeply acknowledging the sadness of this truth.
In Brazil, the day of saudade is officially celebrated on January 30…
(I admit I am most curious about this holiday of heartache.)
Communication is a tricky game.  Similar background provides us with the same set of words that we combine in different formations and toss back and forth to each other.  We agree on meanings for all of these words, though different interpretations are inevitable.  There are times we search for just the right word.  Sometimes we never find that word.  It may not exist in our native language.  
A list of 20 untranslatable words gives more examples of things missing from our English.
(I really love #2 as well – Mamihlapinatapei)
The continual hunt is a constant for any artist.  They say the painter paints the same painting his whole life.  Like searching for the right word to convey the thought, the artist searches color, composition and subject to find the most powerful presentation of the idea.

The idea behind this one word, Saudade, is the source of hundreds of artist.  Hopper comes to mind quickest.

A painting may be worth a million words, 
but you can make a million paintings from the seed of one word… the right word.


Posted in communication, saudade, translate, untranslatable | 1 Comment

Gift Given, Gift Received

The Blind Drink, the Seeing Hold Sky
The Gift

A recurring theme in my images is The GIFT… most plainly expressed in the Vessel series.  It took me a while to see the recurring part until my dear friend and artist, Soapheap Pich, moved back to Cambodia.  His last painted works are a Sacred Vessels series.

His idea of the vessel stays with me, Greek burials, alms bowls, the Grail.  I revisit my flower sketches.  I notice how my people clutch things, like the potted orchid in my “Gift”.   The idea is already there… It’s in the damn title for Christ’s sake!

I ran with it.  I veer from flower paintings in favor of the pots and bowls that hold them.  Oranges are a traditional gift, for Buddha, Chinese dragons, good children, monks, and travelers.  Many of the images have a perspective that flattens out.  This is something I love in 4×5 photography, changing the plane of the negative.  It stays with me in painting still.  I love qualities of the two dimensional.

One Gives, One Recieves
Receive a Gift with Grace

A gift…Give and receive, the action between empty and full embody these images.  Release something to another and make room for something new.  The physical action: one extends something into the personal space of another, one takes something in allowing another’s action to impact them.  We are in flux.  Every moment we have something to offer another and we are in desperate need of something just out of our reach.

There is vulnerability in needing.  It is a harrowing terrifying humbling place to be. Even in deepest moments of need, we are so full there is always something to offer, to give to another.

Posted in alms bowls, boston painter, gift, Kerri McGill, sacred vessels | Leave a comment

Evolution of Studio Space


Establishing a studio space after college means something at home.  To make art between the waitress shifts, art shows, and general mayhem of daily life on no budget, my home needs some type of extra corner, just an extra something… and low and behold, I come across an apartment with a walk-in closet.

The closet is cozy to say the least.  A fan is always on so the oil fumes don’t make it into m bedroom.  I have to step back into my bedroom to look at my paintings…But if Weegee used the trunk of his car for a darkroom, then I have no worries. (more details in “Artist in the Closet” post)                                                    

So the roof fell in and I fell into a beautiful new apartment with room in the basement for a studio space.  It’s so much larger!  I was excited… So  excited I gave it a good cleaning, a special “anti-moisture” paint job and spent the next two years rearranging things.    It never quite took off. 
I thought I was just being spoiled, wanting some kind of natural light…I mean if Monet can have a boat studio, why can’t I have a basement studio?
It turns out, general consensus says basements are challenging studio spaces.  Apparently dark and dank is tougher than wind and waves.
On a random day filled with random tasks, I drive down an unfrequented street.  There is a huge brick building, door propped open with a small handwritten sign: “studio sale”.  I stop for yard sales, tag sales and church bake sales.  This fits right in… I use the opportunity to ask about renting studio space… “..two year waiting list..maybe try your luck posting on the bulletin board..” 
I did.  Just as I poked the thumbtack in, a voice from a man trotting down the stairs- “Hey what are you doing? Are you looking for space?.. This door shouldn’t be open..” and he pulls the wedge. 
The door locks shut. 
 But I am already in. 
Now I have a beautiful sunny spot at 6 Vernon Street Studios in Somerville…Let the painting begin.
Posted in Artists studios, boston painter, Kerri McGill, Open Studios, Somerville Artist, Vernon Street Studios | Leave a comment

Mural in a day

With the help of two stellar painters, Lori Horushka and KTron, the task of monster window mural in a day becomes an enjoyable challenge.  A vacant greenhouse becomes part of the celebration – Faneuil Hall opens the holiday season with the grand tree lighting and Blink!

I am not sure what the whole program is, but I’m happy to be a part of it!

Posted in Boston Pops, Faneuil Hall, holiday, mural, tree lighting | Leave a comment