Monday, April 30, 2012

My Clover Year


Four Leaf Studio with clover and Klee-inspired paintings
Last year was my juste milieu year and this year must be my clover year. I've already talked about this (Seeing Four Leaf Clover, 7-23-11) but the unfolding year has only intensified this idea. I have found four leaf clovers in every month of the year. Usually, the clover has dried up by August. This past year the clover has grown as if on steroids. So if you live around here, it has been your clover year as well!

     Last summer I worked on an unusual project. I made a painting of a molecular structure (MetNI)that my brother Doug had studied. The painting was in the style of Paul Klee. (Please see my September 5, 2011 blog and Now for Something Completely Different!) Learning about Klee was an affirming exercise because he believed in his own guidance and his circumstances (often far from ideal) never hindered his ability to create. What is the clover connection? Klee is the German word for clover.

Some of the clover spotted this year
     I also moved my main working studio from Clover Slope to Jacob's former room (the floors are pre-distressed.) This is working out well. In honor of the abundance of clover this year, I named the new space Four Leaf Studio.  

     Mary went to France in September and in preparation started a blog:   trefle a cinq feuilles (the five leaf clover). She has had a wonderful year full of affection (in the sense that Wendell Berry expresses) learning Breton and teaching little French children English, along with simply being in France.

      It has been a sweet year, apparently, too sweet as my fasting blood glucose level is too high. So,  I have a new project for my new year. Perhaps I shall reach perfection! No need to worry about that!  But, I will enjoy tweaking my perspective. Maybe I will look up...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Life is Short, Art Lasts Forever

Larry admires the hound painting
It is easy to get discouraged these days, with art education budgets being slashed left and right. That is why every April I am inspired by the work of one man, Larry Mitchell. Larry makes the Student Art Show at Blue Licks State Resort Park happen.  I was praising Larry for creating the art show (as Sue, John and I helped set up the art) and he said, "It wasn't my idea. The former superintendent of the park thought there should be a student art show at Blue Licks."  Okay, so it wasn't Larry's idea, but here is what Larry has done. He took that suggestion and went out to the elementary, middle and high schools in all the surrounding counties and recruited work for the show. He was successful! Larry sent follow-up letters that he would be coming to the schools to pick up the art work, which he did adding hundreds of miles to his work horse of a truck.

Larry created the table and floor easels
    But wait, there is more! Every easel you see here was designed and built by Larry. I lost count of how many of the table easels there were. I can tell you that the floor easels are terrific. Once, when St. Peter's was is need of some easels, we borrowed some of Larry's and I obtained some store-bought versions. Let me tell you, Larry's were superior. This year, Larry crafted two new super-easels to help display the plentiful collection of work: there are 313 art works! Even with the new easels (which rest up against the wall, seen in the background) we had to place art work on every surface we could find, only saving the tables for refreshments (the reception is Friday evening, 7 pm) and for welcoming viewers.

      The art is very impressive. There are students out there with a keen sense of design. There are students who definitely use the right side of their brain, because there are exquisite drawings. There are a number of comedians as well. Viewing this work gives you hope. Some of the schools no longer have art teachers, but Larry's efforts give them the impetus to create work anyway. The repercussions of Larry's efforts are expansive and wondrous. Come out to Blue Licks State Resort Park along US 68 in Robertson/Nicholas County, KY and see this for yourself. The show is on display all weekend, April 20 - 22.

    In addition to recruiting and collecting all the art work and making all the easels, Larry also made the signage to identify each school's art. And there is another sign, which I recognized from the horoscopes earlier in the week. It advises Larry-the-Leo, and all of us: Life is short. Art lasts forever.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

First Hand Knowledge

I have long thought that everyone should learn how to draw so that they could practice observing the world in a first hand manner. This week, that idea was reinforced when I attended the University of Kentucky Libraries annual dinner and when I revisited the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
     I first read Betty Edwards's book in the 1980s. The third edition of her book came out in 1999. I had the occasion recently to dip into it. Since I have been teaching lately, the ideas inside shown brightly, so I bought at copy (at the local Morris Book Shop!)  In the introduction, Edwards puts forth her most radical idea: that the basic skills of drawing are not drawing skills but perceptual skills.  In other words, no one can teach you how to draw, you must teach yourself how to see. Fortunately, the book has exercises which put you on the path of enhanced perception.  

      The book is full of observations I have had while teaching, including the idea that every painting should be approached with a novice eye (you have never seen a tree before, etc.)  Here is a lovely quote from the book margins: "Every creative act involves...a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief." --Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers, 1959 (p. 38).  Doesn't that sound like a refreshing approach to seeing the world? 

     This past Friday, I was reminded of this type of thinking when Dr. John Anthony received the Medallion for Intellectual Achievement at the UK Libraries annual dinner. Dr. Anthony is a chemist at UK. He was nominated for the award by Dr. Theodore Schatzki, Senior Associate Dean of Faculty at UK. Dr. Schatzki made a masterful case for Dr. Anthony and his breakthrough in organic semiconductors.  I quote from Dr. Schatzki's nomination:

        "...Anthony realized that the chemical properties of OSCs (organic semiconductors) were such that these molecules, when applied to surfaces, would best conduct electricity if they "stood" on the surfaces like coins standing on their edges. In Anthony's mind, therefore, the future of organic electronics hinged on redesigning OSCs so that they would be soluble substances that would stand on their edges when applied to surfaces. 
         It is possible to design soluble molecules. Designing molecules, however, that will assume a specific, highly unlikely (standing on edge) alignment when applied to devices is beyond state-of-the-art; few people would even contemplate the attempt. Yet, one day, while playing with some plastic models of molecules in his office, Anthony noticed that one particular alteration to the OSC molecules led them to stand on edge when dropped on the floor.  This observation led to a versatile method for designing soluble OSCs that assume the correct orientation in the solid state." 

    Dr. Anthony's work shows us how unfiltered observation and perception can hand us solutions. And it pays to be playful! 

   It is easy to be overwhelmed in our world by all the information and sheer verbiage coming our way.  It is helpful to be able to see and think for one's self. Start drawing!

  Note:  The drawings on the right-hand side are sketches made while attending chamber music concerts. Musicians are very beautiful to look at with elegant hands and focused visages.  (But, I don't have x-ray vision. Got carried away with the skeleton!)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Darkness and Light

Mark 14:32-36
John 20:1-18

      It is early Easter morning and I am pondering mysteries, so I decided to go ahead and get up and write about it. One of the things that I treasure about belonging to a faith tradition is that my understanding changes as I live out my life. I guess you could call it a living faith and I love the surprises that come along. 
     This week provided some gentle surprises.  Maundy Thursday, for example. Now I have been surprised by Maundy Thursday before, so you would think I would know better...but there it is. Do I really want to go to a foot washing service? That seems kind of personal. But, I am in the choir, duty calls (or sings.) Maybe we will be singing through the foot washing, I have worn lace-up shoes as a defense. No, the choir retreats to the pews for the sermon and there we are, right in place for the foot washing! And I am reminded of the beauty of feet, their elegant architecture; a most wonderful form follows function. After the service and the stripping of the altar, we descend to the chapel where a garden has been created and the heavy, lovely scent of flowers fills the air. Outside, the sun is setting. This is the not-so-secret Garden where the juxtaposition is compelling: simple beauty and our complicated humanity.

     Good Friday was surprising. I am thinking of the stark reality of dark emptiness. But it is love and the just as real idea that death is necessary for life. We have a "reserved communion" (which I am just now realizing might have more than one meaning.)

     The Easter Vigil was a visual feast of light and dark. The lighting of the Paschal fire sent seductive (dangerous?) flames about the feet of worshipers. Into the sanctuary we all processed with our candles lit by the same fire. It was supposed to be dark, but the sun shone through the stained glass windows and with all the candles, there was an enlightened atmosphere as we heard the story from the very beginning. By the time we met at the baptismal font, it was truly dark outside. After remembering that story, if our candles had not been doused by the flung baptismal water, we blew them out and the house lights were blazing again.  (Now I have taken too much time writing and I must get ready to walk Carly and go to St. Peter's.)

     My Easter morning surprise is that when Mother Chris began to speak about the Gospel lesson this morning (John 20: 1 - 18.) She said that it was all about darkness and light. I must have been channeling her this morning at 5:20 when I titled this piece. Mary Magdalene is in dark distress as she tries to find the body of Jesus, missing from the tomb. Her darkness persists until Jesus calls her name. In that act,  Mary Magdalene recognizes Him as well as herself. 

     Wishing you the light of understanding your true self this season!

Note: I created the panels above for Faith Lutheran Church, Lexington, KY in 2000. There are four panels representing the four Gospels. Perhaps I will have the occasion to talk about the other two panels which depict Matthew 20:1-16 and Luke 1:46-55.  Photos by M.S. Rezny