Sunday, January 25, 2009

Birth of a Black Mermaid: A Tale of Art, Ale and Serendipity

Above: Monika, Kristin, Sue and Ahna tape before grouting the black mermaid.

Despite my extended absence from cyber-communications, Art Ruckus has by no means been on vacation!

On the contrary, this time has been rife with much art-full activity as I set up studio on my new houseboat abode in Sausalito, California.

I will have to save the details of my new digs for another day, because in this moment I have a more pressing matter to share with you: namely, the birth of Caledonia, the black mermaid!

Above: Caledonia the mermaid is named after the main street in Sausalito.

It all started with a vision I had of a mermaid swimming in to restore magic to a rather dark, dismal, Pepto-Bismol-colored purple bathroom on the boat. She wasn't just any mermaid, mind you – this was no stereotypical, shell-pink Barbie with scales, but a fierce, black, wild mer-goddess.

With a hearty dose of guileless gusto and a brazen beginner's mind, I decided that said mermaid should not just be a mural, but a mosaic mural (a medium I've had very little experience with), and that, of course, she should be larger than life.

Above: Monika and Kristin rub grout off Caledonia's tail.

One by one, with baffling alacrity, a stalwart team of mermaid-makers joined me to take on this deliciously formidable feat.

My cousin, Kristin, was the first to rally to the black mermaid's cause – together we began plotting, hoarding tiles and sketching the mermaid's imposing form on the freshly painted bathroom wall.

Above: Kristin lays out a loose tile mock-up of the mermaid. Check out my new pink walls behind her!

When it came time to lay the tiles, my friends Monika and Shawn joined our crew. The mermaid seemed to have a life of her own, and magnetized random people into her orbit, from friends who donated supplies, to hardware store grouting gurus and my previously unknown Peruvian neighbor, who showed up at the door one night with a cement mixer, a bottle of wine and an offer to cook our art team dinner.

Above: Monika dressed in fancy garb for our celebratory meal. Amilcar (l.) and Ernesto (r.), our fabulous cooks, chow down beside her.

In addition to many fabulous instances of creative serendipity, the mermaid's birth was also accompanied by a constant stream of running jokes, costumes and foul humor.

Monika brought over fake teeth. We banged on buckets and danced with brooms and tile-nippers. During long, delirious hours of grouting, we channeled strange characters, such as "Neal," a Marin-dwelling New Age spiritual type who enjoyed raving about the benefits of watsu water therapy and suggested we engage in periodic processing sessions to enhance our inter-group dynamics.

Above: Monika and Ahna get their groove on before grouting.

We also discovered that the black mermaid preferred beer to wine and could woo us all, with her siren wiles, into tossing back bottles like lovelorn sailors. In fact, she exercised particular clout in convincing us to drink too much stout while grouting.

Above: Grout and stout, anyone? Ahna, Kristin, Sue and Monika flout their brews.

This had rather severe repercussions.

Above: Where are the beer goggles when you need them?!

All in all, since the mermaid represents the first large-scale art piece born here during my time on the boat, I'd say we're off to a rollicking start. Stay tuned for news on the next creative adventure aboard this enchanted vessel…

Above: the proud artists admire their work.

** If you'd like to see more pictures of the making of Caledonia the mermaid, please visit my flickr page.

*** I'd like to thank the academy.... Er, uh, no... Wrong speech... ahem... I'd like to thank Kat for the amazing birthday pottery, Joui, Ernesto and Amilcar for cooking and feeding our hardworking crew, Eric for his trust and openness to creative boat renovations, the folks at Heath Ceramics for giving me a "nice person discount" at the counter, my passionate, playful collaborators and anyone else whom I am forgetting!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Recipe #1: Blue Election Dream Fricassee

The first "Recipe for Creation" is complete! If you haven't yet read about the premise for this collaborative exchange, please check out the last blog, which explains our vision and goals for the project. Otherwise, read on and enjoy!

Above: "Into a New Era," my interpretation of Recipe #1.

  • a smattering of election ballot or other political paraphernalia
  • a dash of electric blue
  • a hand-stitched image
  • a word or image from a dream.


1) Begin with a dream you remember vividly. Choose some dreamy music and warm up by dancing out your memory of the dream. You can dance out the roles of the different characters, the action that took place, or just the overall feeling of it. Do this blindfolded.

2) Choose something from your dream dance that stood out to you. It can be a word, a sensation, a person, a scene… Whatever! This is your starting point.

3) Tear up some newspapers from election week. Tear for the sheer ple
asure of tearing! Take a couple of scraps from your mess, or use your absentee ballot, or other political paraphernalia and add it to the mix.

4) Go wild choosing blues, wielding your needle and throwing in w
hatever else strikes your fancy. Don't think too much. Work quickly, freely and most importantly, have fun!

Above: Joui's interpretation of Recipe #1. To read about the making of her piece, including the dream that inspired it, please visit her blog.

The Dream behind My Piece
I started Recipe #1 in response to a dream I had several weeks before the presidential election.

In the dream, a black man was a passenger on an old-fashioned steam train. There was some kind of turmoil on the train, and the sense that it was headed in the wrong direction, about to enter a very dark, narrow tunnel.

The man clambered outside the train, holding onto the side ladder. Even though the train was passing over a deep ravine, which dropped hundreds of feet below, he let go, and fell backwards, soaring in free fall. Miraculously, he landed at the bottom unscathed.

Into a New Era

I felt like the man in this dream represented the courage and fearlessness it takes to break with an old way of being, and let go into the new, the unknown.

I titled this piece "Into a New Era," in honor of the dream, and this pivotal time in our country. If you look closely, you can see bits and pieces of election materials – scraps from my absentee ballot and voting materials – peppered throughout the piece. The figure is flying forward, leaving behind a cityscape, and about to exit the canvas, into…???

Above: Detail from "Into a New Era."

Art without Borders
I really enjoyed creating this collage. In fact, I was so caught up in working on it, that when it came time for me to depart for Mexico (where I am now) I couldn't bear to lea
ve it unfinished, so I smuggled it along in my suitcase. I've been sitting in cafes at night here in Guanajuato putting the finishing stitches into the canvas and attracting many curious glances from baristas and waiters.

The other night I had a young barista approach me shyly and ask "How m
uch will that cost when you're done?" I told him: "One million coffees!" We both had a good laugh.

Above: Me working on Recipe #1 on the terrace of Alma del Sol, in Guanajuato.

So that's the tale, on my end, behind the completion of Recipe #1. To read about Joui's experience of working on this first project, please click here. Thanks for following along, and please do drop us a line if you have an idea for some ingredients to go into our next recipe, or if you have created your own version of this one. Hasta luego!

Above: A "buzon", or mailbox, here in Guanajuato. Don't forget to write!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Recipes for Creation: A Collaborative Art Exchange

Above: "Fancy a taste?" Chef Ahnabella caters to every palette.

A sprinkle of chance, a dash of collaboration and a whole lot of play are the main ingredients in "Recipes for Creation," a new collaborative project that fellow artist-friend Joui Turandot and I schemed up over lunch at a kebab restaurant in San Francisco recently.

Above: Chef Turandot dishes up some piquant fare.

Here's what we've got cooking: Every few weeks one of us will devise a list of at least four random ingredients to be used in an art project of our choosing. For example:
  • tinsel
  • toy soldiers
  • something blue
  • something dug out from a dumpster
  • the first sentence from a cheesy romance novel.

As you can see, the possibilities are limitless. Anything goes! The main rule is to have no rules, although it's probably also helpful to ensure that the suggested materials are available (in this dimension).

Above: "Please sir, can I have some more?"

The person may also choose to include a short set of instructions, containing any particular suggestions for how to go about creating this crazy art concoction. For instance, a suggestion might be to begin the process blindfolded, or warm up with a dance. The instructions can be anything to help shake us out of habituated ways of creating.

Above: Warning - may cause indigestion.

After sending out the recipe, each of us will set to work in our own studios to see what happens! We will, of course, include you in the fun. Images of all the creations we cook up will be posted here for your delectation. We also welcome you to participate by emailing images of your own interpretation of the recipes, or by making a suggestion for a future recipe that we may wish to try.

Check back soon to see what's cooking…

Above: "Hmm... An interesting bouquet. Though perhaps a bit too oleaginous..."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Creative Play in Times of Change

If asked to describe the current cultural milieu in this country, I think I'd say that it feels like America is holding its breath.

Above: Ahna and Amy blow bubbles in the park.

With so much change afoot, it's hard not to feel a bit afraid. Staying open in times of groundlessness is no easy task.

We tend, instead, to become tight, adopting rigid ways of responding to situations in our lives when we don't feel totally secure.

We forget that in times like these we can still access our innate creativity and sense of play, that they can help us to find new ways of responding to difficult situations.

Above: A moment of adversity...Mortimer seizes Ahna's scone.

Play, spontaneity and laughter come from the opposite place of fear. They bring release and freedom, while fear is clenched and holds energy in. When we relax into a playful or creative state, we open the way for new life and fresh insights to move through our systems. Who knows what other shifts this may inspire?

Above: Amy and Ahna bust out some improvisational dance moves.

Given the current state of affairs, there couldn't be a better time to do something that gets us out of stagnant patterns—rollick in the grass, blow bubbles, bake cupcakes, throw a tea party—anything to bring in new energy!

Above: Tea party invitation for Amy.

So this past weekend, in celebration of my friend Amy's birthday, that is exactly what we did. The two of us set off for the park with a cargo of fine china, tea-time morsels and stuffed animals.

Above: Tea party invitees (left to right): Teddy, Rainbow Kitty, Scruffy, Chip and Cotton.

After chowing down on blueberry scones and chocolate cupcakes and dancing on grassy knolls till dusk, we closed the day with a night-time poetry reading by flashlight.

Above: Amy listens to Ahna read.

I hope that these pictures help share the day's magic and perhaps even inspire you toward a playful manifestation of your own. If you'd like to see more tea party photos, the complete album is up on my flickr page.

Above: All the tea party attendees enjoying the day.

Until next time, may you find new ways to play, make art of your life, and remember to write and tell me about it…!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sketches from Spain

Above: "Female Mask," one of the drawings from my art journal.

Last week's journey through London and the south of Spain was deliciously rich on the art front. I loved meandering through the new Picasso Museum in Malaga and seeing some of the striking street art in Granada. Perhaps the most memorable visit, however, was to the childhood home and birthplace of my poet hero, Federico Garcia Lorca.

Above: The cover of my art journal, collaged with scraps of the Picasso Museum brochure, plane ticket stubs and a photo of Lorca.

By all accounts, Lorca was quite a special soul. Reading his biography one is treated to numerous tales of his silliness, pranks and child-like delight with life.

Above: Lorca in Uruguay, 1934.

One anecdote describes how he and a friend "coated their faces with rice powder, donned bogus nuns' habits and boarded a city tram, where they cast lascivious glances at their neighbors."

When Lorca visited New York (having convinced his parents he would study English), he didn't learn a lick of the language. Instead, he chose to spend his time visiting aquariums, playing with toys in dime stores and wandering the city streets. According to one friend, his favorite English phrase became "I DON'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING," which he would "shout while standing in the middle of the street, arms flailing, his face red with laughter."

I think Lorca was definitely on to something.

Above: collage from my art journal with photo of baby Lorca taken from Lorca museum brochure.

Aside from this happy pilgrimage to Lorca's home town, our trip provided many lovely moments filled with park picnics, impromptu puppetry, art-making on airplanes and sitting in the plazas watching pigeons, wedding parties, accordionists and other forms of life pass by.

Above: Picnic with family and friends in Regent's Park, London. I finally get to meet Francesca (front right), a fellow artist/writer whom I first connected with right here in the blogosphere!

Above: "Two Feet," pastel and watercolor paintings from my art journal.

Here are a few more images from the art journal I kept during our trip. If you'd like to see more photos from London and Spain, along with the rest of the sketches and paintings from my travel journal, please visit my flickr page.

Above: "Male Mask," pastel, pen and watercolor on paper.

Above: "Winged Creature," acrylic on paper.

Above: "Maskuline and Feminine," pastel and watercolor on paper.

Above: "Toro" collage using corrugated coffee cup holders, London tube tickets, magazine scraps, etc...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Of Beasts and Prophets" Art Show Opening

Many thanks to all of you who turned out for my first solo art show, "Of Beasts and Prophets."

Amy, Ahna and Chris, the proud set-up team for the show.

I was moved by the outpouring of enthusiasm and energy at the event, by the community of people who came together around the art, engaging with it, and with each other, through the experience.

Good people, good music and bounteous art...What more could a girl ask for?

My greatest reward as an artist is in the act of creating itself, but it feels like a double bonus when the art is seen and strikes a chord within other people, perhaps providing inspiration or catalyzing some new energy in their own lives.

An art-appreciator takes in "Portals V" (a.k.a. "The Door").

Art is so mysterious in this way. When we make it, we never know how it will affect others. We can only strive to be true to ourselves and to the process, and then let go and allow our creations to do their work in the world…

Above: "The Spinx Speaks in Moon Language," acrylic and pastel on canvas.

For those of you who couldn't be present at the opening, I hope you'll enjoy some of the photos from the evening. I'll also be posting a bit of video footage up here in the near future. To see the pieces that were included in the show, please visit my online gallery. To view all of the photos from the evening, please visit my flickr page.

Thanks again to everyone present (in person and in spirit!) for lending support and good energy during this "opening." Viva el arte!

Below: After the crowds depart, Ahna and Amy bust out some interpretive dance moves.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

'Of Beasts and Prophets' Art Show: Save the Date!

Dear Friends,

This summer I've been visited by a host of strange characters... Sphinxes, unicorns, circus elephants, mangy dogs and prophets, to name a few.

With such company, there's rarely a dull moment in the studio!

Please join us (yes, all of us) for an evening of art, wine and live middle eastern/flamenco music by guitarist Douglas McCarron. Here are the details:

'Of Beasts and Prophets' Art Show
Sunday, September 21, 4-7 pm
at the Art of You Studio
3060 Adams Ave., Suite B, San Diego, CA 92116

Below is a sneak preview of some of the characters that you may get to visit with at the show.

Thank you so much for your continued support, and I look forward to seeing you there!


Above: Pariah Dog, mixed media on paper. 9 X 12.

Above: 'The Circus Elephant,' mixed media on paper. 11 X 14.

Above: 'Prophet', plaster and acrylic on an old cutting board. 21 X 24.