Archive for the ‘art and suburban life’ Category

A New Day

October 14, 2016

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

― L.M. Montgomery.

My life at the moment is about learning to accept daily the mistakes I make, other people make and their after effects.

For even in a brand new unblemished day, you have to live with the consequences of all your previous wrongs. Sometimes it feels overwhelming.

In my artwork I have tried to explore, allow, and appreciate mistakes. My drawings and paintings look so careful, and in a way, perfect. But they are not. I am not Bridget Riley, or Tess Jaray, or Julian Stanczak. I don’t even know how they do what they do.

In my brick drawings I don’t use a ruler. Every single brick is a slightly different size. Most do not line up as they should. No structure could survive if it were built with the bricks I draw. I try as hard with these drawings to ALLOW these errors as I try in my non art life to be perfect. It’s a challenge. A part of me feels a pull to use a ruler, to keep each brick the same as the next. It is the same feeling I had with my slinky series. I had to fight the urge to check the circles with a compass. I have to fight my desire to control, to be ‘perfect’.

I know my art work is stronger with these imperfections. What would be the point of making perfect bricks or perfect circles when artists have already done that, and done it brilliantly?

But navigating life outside my studio, where I have to exist with rules and parameters, with hearts, minds, souls, individuals, I think it would be better if I could control more of myself. I used to think I was more interesting when I let loose, said what I thought, tossed off opinions even if I hadn’t thought them through. I no longer believe this.
These days, I try every day I try not to offend people, to do well at my day job, to be kind to my mother who is barely my mother, to be a good friend, citizen, wife, mother, pet owner, housekeeper. Each day I am not all that successful at any of these things. I hate myself for it. I can’t seem to find a balance between being myself, and being what I think I am supposed to be.

I can forgive the imperfect me. But only in my art.


Six Days

June 28, 2016



I have a six day residency right here in Cranston, RI. I didn’t have to apply for this opportunity. There were no fees. I didn’t have to write a statement about why I need the time and how it would change my career.

I  had only to convince myself that I should not feel guilty even though there is no prestige attached to this residency.  Making the decision was the hardest part, but is done. My shifts have been filled.

I have been rejected this past year for grants and residencies from some of the best. The MacDowell Colony, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the R.I.S.D. Musuem, and the always reliable for rejection, RI State Council on the Arts. I have written statements for applications that have made me cry. It wasn’t enough.

I’ll have to walk my dog. I’ll do the wash and vacuum. I’ll water my flowers and grass. I won’t have anyone fixing me breakfast and dinner, nor will any baskets of lunch be left outside my studio door. I won’t have the built in community of like minded people. But I’ll  wake to day after glorious day of hours to be a full time artist.

It’s been a bruising year for me. But there is this:

Dear Jessica, congratulations. I look forward to seeing what you’ll do when you have six days to do what you love.  Have a wonderful time. 

My residency will begin July 3rd and end at the end of July 8th.

Six days. Congratulations Jess. You’re in.




Moral Compass

October 7, 2015

Inspector Foyle

Inspector Foyle



I have been knocked off course.

I need an ally like my father, or D.C.S. Christopher Foyle, to help me find my way.

My dad was the only person I have known who could actually change a person’s mind about something they thought they believed without ever raising his voice.

When I was in first or second grade at St. Hilda’s & St. Hughes Sister Mary Margaret was angry at me. I was terrified. She can’t have been more than 4″5″ but she was a nun, and nuns are fierce. I was afraid to go back to class. My father said he would come with me to school and clear up any misunderstanding. That prospect terrified me even more than the tiny but furious Sister Margaret. My dad was insistent. He was at least 5’10” and he had on a suit and tie. He looked impressive, strong, tall. He held my little hand and we walked into my classroom together. I sat at my desk. He strode up to Sister Margaret’s desk and leaned down to her. I don’t know what he said because it was a quiet exchange, but I had no more trouble from Sister Margaret. And I felt the way every child lucky enough to have a parent who believes them feels. I felt stronger.

My dad died in 2007 and I have found myself thinking of him, needing him in a way I had not when he was sick. His illness was long and by the time of his death I was not stunned. I was exhausted. Our whole family was tired, depleted by the medical community, by mismanaged care, by faulty diagnosis. I felt grown up, fully adult. I was a wife, a mother.

I have been thinking about my set of adults because certainly I should know some heavyweights by now. But somehow when you are supposed to be the wise grown up you feel small. When something happens to knock you for a loop you want to turn to someone with wisdom, gravitas, inner strength, and age.

Thus my love of Christopher Foyle. Nearly every night since I have been engaged in this dilemma I sit with my husband to watch 90 minutes of Foyle’s War. Last night he sent a priest off to be hanged. Of course, the bad guy was not really a priest. He was a German spy. But Foyle was not intimidated by the irritation of the clergy who tried to shoo him away, nor by the idiot superior who had to beg Foyle to come out of retirement to fix his blunders. He was quiet, wise, kind, strong, clear, and ethical. I want to reach inside my t.v. set and pull him out into my world, just until this is sorted out. I know he would immediately see wrong from right.

Alas my dad is not alive. Mr. Foyle is really Michael Kitchen and he is not available to help me.

But I know right from wrong.

I, along with my husband and my very excellent friends will have to be the adults. I have to be my own compass. My dad gave me the tools I need. I just have to find true north, and follow the arrow. It will be okay. And when my son finds himself faced with his own Sister Mary Margaret, or something more formidable, I’ll be his adult.


Every Day

June 20, 2015



a customary or regular course of procedure.

commonplace tasks, chores, or duties as must be done regularly or at specified intervals; typical or everyday activity:

the routine of an office.

regular, unvarying, habitual, unimaginative, or rote procedure.
My daily routine:
Wake at 9.
Walk Alice.
Make coffee.
Work. Drink wine. Work.
Go to bed.
     I am drawn to books and movies about people who have routines and who sometimes become the notable person they are because of them. Some find the idea of doing the same thing each and every day depressing and limiting. But I see a romance in it.
I like quiet stories of transformation by people who are extremely disciplined and evolve into a zen master of their lives.
     An example is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murikami. He was already a brilliant success. But I loved reading his account of going from a jazz club owner with a terrible smoking habit and a soft belly to a writer who runs nearly every day in every sort of weather. In his short, beautiful memoir he writes about starting by just jogging a few steps each day, and how difficult it was to do even that. He would put his sneakers by his bed each night, so that he would not have a moment to think about doing something else.
I loved reading about Edith Wharton, who wrote each day from 6:00 a.m. until noon, leaving the rest of her days free to live life.    I love reading about the long difficult days of nuns and monks and ballet dancers.
     I remember a novel about a college bound boy in India. He realizes one morning that he has nearly destroyed his chance of going to college by avoiding all the work he should have been doing during the past three years. One morning, so anxious he can barely breathe, he creates a chart mapping out on a neat grid every paper he must write, every book he must read, every test he has to pass, and how many hours he must study in order to set things right. His family is poor so he has to figure out how to do all of this in addition to his chores and family obligations.    He does it. I read that book when I was in my 20’s. It had an ugly blue cover with poorly designed black type and I can’t remember the title. But I’ve never forgotten reading about that boy and feeling like no matter how far off course I’d gotten in my own life I could find my way back if I created a careful plan and worked at it each day.
     My favorite part of  Orange is the New Black (the book, not the television show) is when Piper utilizes the old, neglected race track at the prison,  and during her sad time paying for her crime she runs round and round and round thinking about everything from her own misdeeds to the injustice of prisons in America.
sleeping Alice.
     Sometimes I think that if I could just wake at 5:00 a.m. and leave sleeping Alice next to sleeping Andy on our bed, make my coffee and head to my studio to work for a few hours, I might become the success I think I should be by now. I imagine looking out my studio window at the dark or the light, depending on the time of year, and sitting down to work. I imagine this discipline would carry over into other parts of my life. Like Mr. Murikami and Piper I would also become fit by running each day a little more and a little more.
     The closest I have ever come to putting this plan into action was when I created my Ulysses Gloves. I set about copying all of Ulysses onto Rubber gloves. I worked on it all the time, bringing the Gloves and the book with me when I had to be away from my studio. I wrote on the Gloves at my son’s voice and dance lessons, in airports, at my mother’s home in Brooklyn until I finished. I had an exhibit, and by all measures the finished work is a success. But it did not transform me.  What is it that I want? Do I need to see my name in Art in America? Do I need to have a big award under my belt? None of the people I so admire did the things they did for glory or fame.
     My drawings are often made by repeating a line again and again until a large portion of a page is covered. Even my Boston dealer, who has known me for more than a decade seems surprised at the commitment I have to spending so much time on so detailed and dense, so tedious an artwork. But making these small drawings brings me close to that feeling I seek.  I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. Sometimes doubt enters my mind and I slow down, or stop. I wonder if the drawing is worth the time after all. It’s a terrible feeling. Most often, when that happens I step away and go back to work later. But every now and then a drawing is a failure, and in spite of days of line making there is nothing left to do but throw the work into my trash bin.
IMG_0852     In addition to my drawings I am currently working on a stitching project that is an homage to my mother, as my Ulysses Glove project was an homage to my dad. I feel completely unsure of this project and it will take years to complete. I worry all the time that the project does not merit the time I’ll put into it. But does that matter? Is my dedication that is the point? I don’t know.
     I’ll keep blogging however inconsistently for my dozen or so followers (and for myself). I’ll keep working on my drawings and my crazy Mona project. Other than that, and walking Alice every day, I’m not sure what to put into my daily routine so that I can morph into the artist I think I should be by now, if it isn’t too late.

My Notebooks

November 16, 2014

I have too many note books. I see them, often at Spoonbill & Sugartown, my favorite bookstore, and I have to have them. They are usually not very expensive. Anywhere from $10 to $30.00. But if I never bought one more I would have enough paper to do drawings till I die, even if I did a drawing every day, which I don’t. And even when I draw every day, each drawing takes weeks. So, I don’t need more. But I love them. Here are a few of my favorites. Most have not been used at all. One is nearly filled.

The flowered notebook is for ideas. I jot down ideas I have for drawings, paintings, everything. I write about housework, dreams, revelations, thoughts that might work as embroideries. I’ll be sad when this book is filled. I bought it at a R.I.S.D. student sale, and foolishly lost the information about who made it. The pages are graphed. I am a sucker for graph paper.

All the other books on this page are empty, for now.

Two note-sketch books This blog is not looking at all the way I hoped it would. I can’t figure out how to make the images do what I want them to do. But I am going to post it because what difference does it really make? This is what happens when I try to be Maira Kalman.


ledger This book has all sorts of accounting type information, names, red type, numbers. It is glorious.

inside music book 2

inside the Musique book.

inside little turquoise book

Inside the turquoise book. This little book is a work of art as it is. Every single page has a different line design. Like a mass produced Sol Lewitt. I will draw in it someday, but I need to think about what would best suit it. I try not to make the books more precious than the art I want to make in them, but this one is a real challenge. I love it the way it is.

inside music book

Also inside Musique notebook. Another beautiful object, as is.

two more note-sketch books

I might give the Made In Japan notebook away. The pages inside are graphed and are silky to the touch.

The end.



Approximately 186 miles x 2 x 8

July 26, 2014

I am in Brooklyn, again. This is around the 8th time I have come to Brooklyn since April.
This time, my oldest brother Paul is also here (a rarity). There are three of us. My two brothers, Mark and Paul, and me. Mom loves Paul best. It is a fact of our family, and we all know it. It’s fine. So what if when I arrive she completely forgets that I was ever coming, yet when he arrived she waited up until midnight, to let him in? And now, they are out for a nice stroll. I don’t mind, that when I ask if she would like to walk she screams “leave me alone and stop criticizing me!!!!”.

I walked the dog.

At home,I started the Stitching Mom project, barely:


This will be much more of a challenge than the Ulysses Gloves were. That little bit of stitchery took around four hours. I can’t even say why.

I had to take a break from my Ruled Un Ruled series.
Once I start a piece I become obsessed with it. It is all I want to do, and everything else goes out the window.

And that’s fine.



It's a beautiful summer day.
Mom is with her golden boy, and it takes some of the pressure off of me. They are still strolling. The dog and I are back.
And that's really fine.

The Art of Thinking About Art

July 28, 2013

I went to Brooklyn to visit my mom, and, for a change, to see a couple of art exhibits. Whenever I drive, ever since the year I had to drive to Brooklyn every other weekend to see my father at the V.A. hospital, I listen to an audio book. It has saved me.

For this trip I was listening to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Image

I’d read it when I was in my 20’s. I remember that it was important to me then, but I did not remember anything specific about it. I just felt like I wanted to visit it again. At first it seemed like a bad choice. It sounded a little dated, and preachy. But eventually I found myself taking in every word, and I am glad this is the book I’ll have accompanying me on car trips for a while longer.

The first exhibit I planned to see was the James Turell show at the Guggenheim. Usually when I see a show, I just arrive. But for this one there had been a lot of hype, a lot of press, and  big crowds. I bought a ticket in advance, for around $24.00.

I walked in (my advance ticket really helped. I hardly had to wait at all) and looked up at the skylight. I saw the colored spiral that had been posted all over facebook.Image

It did not look like this picture. It looked a little washed out, like a hazy day at the beach.
The best part of the exhibit was a room of aquatints based on his light beams. They were beautiful, mesmerizing, elegant. Before I left the Guggenheim I looked up again. Now the color was sort of an almost white with a touch of peach.

I am so grateful that a friend told me about the Ken Price show at the Met. I was not very familiar with his work, but knew I liked it enough to go to the Met to have a deeper experience. I paid $1.00 to get in. The work was smart, beautiful, labor intensive yet simple, and it was so personal.

I thought hard about why I liked the Price show so much, and had been so unmoved by Turrell. I know it had a lot to do with what I KNEW about Turrell, or thought I knew. I am an artist who likes to see only a small degree of separation between the artist and the art. I deeply admire Sol Lewitt, which might seem a contradiction, because he is responsible for artworks he never touched. And there will be new pieces of his, even though he is not alive. But to me, the hand of Lewitt is in all of his work.

Anyway, this isn’t about Lewitt. This is about me, trying to understand my reaction to an art event that is far more complex, more bold, more complex than anything I could ever conceive.

But I never believed Turrell had much to do with it. I felt like he had an idea, he found people to make the idea into something solid. That is not nothing. But it is a cold way to be creative. This reenforces the subjective nature of looking at art. I know Turrell is Good. But the exhibit did not move me, and so I was disappointed and critical. With Ken Price, his hand, his humanity were everywhere. It made all the difference. That, and the fact of the work being so beautifully executed. There was humor, craft, skill, beauty, and there was Ken Price. I was in awe. I was not awed by Turrell in the same way. I was in awe of his ego, of his capacity to have people turn their buildings and spaces upside down with little support from him. But I am unmoved by his creation, or, at least,  what I saw at the Guggenheim.

UnhingedFrontWallThe above image is from the last show I saw on Friday. It is called Unhinged, and it was at Pierogi, in Brooklyn. I have work in this show, which you can sort of see. There are two drawings that are circles with red ink. This exhibit made me so happy. Not only because I have work in it, but because it is a heroic sampling of art from the vast collection within their flat files. There were rooms with drawings in every style you could imagine. The hand of each artist was clear and present and so was the eye of the staff, who must have gone a little crazy hanging all these pieces.

I have more to understand about why I like what I like and do not like what I don’t like. For now I’m glad I made it to two shows that were so inspiring. I would be happy to hear from people why they disagree with me. But, I know my mind is made up. It is not very Zen. Neither am I.

Catching Up On Many Things

May 21, 2013

Oklahoma…of course this is #1 on my mind.

So so sad. And yet, questions do spring to mind. When to tactfully remind the senators, Tom Coburn and his colleague James Inhofe , that while we all share their grief, they did not share ours after Storm Sandy? They were both quite steadfast about voting against FEMA relief. And…considering that this is the third (at least) catastrophic tornado incident in the same place since 1999, is it wise to rebuild an entire city there again?

The summer of Jess

Very soon, at the end of May or beginning of June, I am going to Philadelphia to watch the installation of my Ulysses Glove Project take place at the esteemed Rosenbach Museum & Library. It will be my second trip there. The third will be to attend my talk, a party, a gala, and Bloomsday. A weekend of Museum events where I will be part of the hooplah. It is a dream come true. I only wish my dad could be here to see it. He would have been my guest of honor. I don’t think my mom has much, if any interest in it at all. I bought a fancy dress at the store Zuzu’s Petals, on Thayer Street. My friend Bernadette, who is from Paris, helped me choose it. She saved me from making the terrible mistake of buying a pink dress with black kitties on it. This one is all sophistication. Nicole Miller, mostly black. I wish I could get my hair done and also get my eye brows threaded.


I am working on a series of small drawings, all abstract, while I think about my next BIG project. I want to write a novel. I want to make another epic art work. But right now I am making mostly 6″ x 6″ drawings and enjoying making them. Here is one. Blue Circle-Red Circle

Also, I will have a glove piece shown at the R.I.S.D. Museum. Not talking much about it. It has been shrouded in secrecy, but it will happen. Opening, July 18, 2013. Here is a sneak preview.

The-Election-Gloves-(flag)Very exciting.


You’ll have to read my mom blog.

Blanche, the Cat

Blanche is our cat. She is about 12 years old. She is not a good cat. She is very pretty (I think) but she willfully poops and pees in areas near but not in her litter box. I have done everything that every book ever written has recommended. I have given her extra boxes, moved box around to be more convenient for her (not like she has anything else to do mind you), cleaned it and generally been very sweet to her. Sometimes she does her business just where it should be and then wham! She won’t. All the books say that cats do not do things out of revenge. They are wrong. I don’t know why she feels the need for revenge, but these are revenge poops. Here is what Blanche looks like.


My Son

He is almost finished with his junior year of high school. He is a teenager. I worry about him, but really, he is pretty great.

My Husband

I love him too. He is a newspaper man. We all know that’s a business that has big issues. He will be with me for all the hooplah at the Rosenbach and he came up with Summer Of Jess.

The Not Sublime…Daniel Brush

October 25, 2012

A few weeks ago I was completely irritated and out of sorts because of the NY Times article about the artist Wade Guyton, and just when I had calmed down I read the next cover story, about artist Daniel Brush. Unlike Guyton Mr. Brush has skills. He has a vision, he spends time on each piece he makes and he has been making art for more than forty years. So, what's my beef?
Mr. Brush does not have a dealer. Okay, I can live with that.
Mr. Brush does not go to openings or parties for other artists. Okay, he seems like a curmudgeon, but what do I care?
Mr. Brush barely leaves his huge loft, according to the Times, for months or even years. About now I am beginning to get that needle in my brain that says…so, who is buying the groceries? Who is taking out the trash, feeding the guy (there is a photo of him. He is not starving. He looks like Walter from Fringe)?
And this is the paragraph that pushed me from puzzled to potential serial killer…
…after a one man show at the Phillips Collection (at 23 years old for God's sake!!!), he found himself selling lots of work, but his popularity didn't sit well with him. (After that sentence, and before the next round of what Mr Brush did the article mentions his "wife and one man support system, Olivia who doesn't seem to have a last name).
He says "I was so unnerved that I bought back every single thing from every person and destroyed all the work". Sweet. First of all, I don't believe it. He bought back every single thing? There wasn't one angry customer who didn't say "screw you, you nut job. Go get a therapist…I am keeping my painting!". And recently, when one of the world's most prestigious museums (which he won't name) wanted to acquire his work, he refused to sell it to them.
BUT, he has graciously allowed a sweeping exhibit of his work at the Museum of Arts and Design.
How kind of him.
I'm sure it's just great. I bet I would like this work. He has roots in jewelry, just like me, and does a lot with careful obsessive ink line drawings, just like me (only better, I assume).
The curators who put on this show "praised the technical mastery of Mr. Brush, who buys, melts and granulates his own gold".
Let me explain something. Buying your own gold (which is what gold is…your own, after the purchase. That is true of anything you buy. Cereal, toilet paper, pants…you get the picture.) is what every jeweler who works in gold does. Same for melting it. Buying and melting are fairly easy to do. Especially when you clearly have the money to buy your own pricey work and then destroy it. Granulation is tricky, but Mr. Brush is not the only person who can do it. I HAVE DONE GRANULATION!!!!! Okay? I mean, I am not great at it. But it is a skill, not some sort of wizardry. The master jeweler John Paul Miller of the Cleveland Institute of Art taught himself granulation, when no one was doing it. It had become a lost art. Mr. Brush probably learned it from Mr. Miller because, coincidentally Mr. Brush grew up in…wait for it…Cleveland! Anyway, it is hard, but not impossible.
Mr. Brush has devoted followers who keep him afloat. It makes him seem like he is struggling to survive and would perish if not for these generous souls, like Oliver Sacks and Marsha, the ex-wife of Robin Williams. (I wonder if Marsha was the babysitter Robin ran off with, or if this was the wife he had when he ran off with the babysitter).
Who are these people? This guy has a wife that completely takes care of him so he can make his specialty items for his short list of approved collectors . The Times says he is warm and has a sense of humour. Nice. Glad to know it. I'd like him better if he did the dishes and ran the vacuum every now and then.
Through the article to the very end there are tidbits about Mr. Brush and his very unique habits, his skills, his special followers (only about a dozen people are allowed to buy his work.).
Somehow he managed to find time to use his penis because they have a son who he probably never saw because he was too busy hiding in his loft making art objects. And somehow even though he made and destroyed things for a decade someone said "hey! Let's make a book of this guy's work!" and so Abrams published a book of his work.
His advice to young artists who want to make good work (as opposed to the young and old artists who want to make lousy work), "Stay inside".
and oh…if you want to follow that path, make sure you can find a good woman to completely support you financially and emotionally plus round up a few rabid collectors, a publishing company and a museum. Simple.
And that is why this article made me angry.

The Truth About Mother’s Day

May 14, 2012

I don’t love the concept of Mother’s Day, or Black History Month, or Poetry Month, or any of those sorts of shout outs to people and events that are on the bottom rung of most ladders. If you get a day, or a month, it means you aren’t doing very well (exception:Father’s Day).
That being said, I want acknowledgement. Today I mowed the lawn, washed the tub where we feed our cats (so our dog won’t eat their food), did some laundry, put away some laundry, and vacuumed. Kind of a regular Sunday.
But first thing this morning my husband gave me a gift. It is a book I wanted (there is ALWAYS a book I want) called Are You My Mother?, by writer/artist Alison Bechdel. I love it. And my son walked about a mile to buy me a chocolate chip scone, one of my favorite baked good items. And he sort of cleaned his room. And he got me an i tunes gift card.
I had time to write an extra half page of Ulysses for my Glove Project and I worked on a new slinky drawing. I took a long walk in the park with my girlfriend , and watched an episode of Glee. And I called my mom. I was very happy with this day.
A long time ago, before I was married and even a little after, I did not want to be a mom. But my therapist convinced me I would be happier having tried, than not, and I trusted him so I did try.
First I had a miscarriage. It was very early in the process, but kind of traumatic because of a lot of medical problems that made the ending of my pregnancy last longer than the time I spent being pregnant. The positive outcome was that it helped me feel much less ambivalent about motherhood. I felt ready for the real thing. Until I learned I was going to have a boy. When the chirpy moron on the phone told me the amnio results I said “what the hell am I going to do with a boy?”.
But, I am happy to report, it all worked out. The boy is now 16. He is exactly the child I would have wanted if I had known what to wish for.
We are not a very sentimental family, but I will say I had a very happy Mother’s day.