Mail Art

What is it?

So much of the time, we feel helpless in the face of what is so big…like a declaration of war or climate change or personal events in our lives. We can feel dwarfed and ineffectual.

Lately, I am asking myself a few questions:

  1. What’s going on? i.e. What’s the problem? or What’s bothering me?
  2. Is there anything that I can do about it?

An elderly friend was given notice to vacate the rental that he has occupied for over twenty-five years. He started putting the word out to his friends, acquaintances and clients. In this small community, there aren’t that many housing options for seniors. The two senior housing apartments have two-year waiting lists. He had a friend post for him on Craigslist. He also called me to be on the lookout for a room or apartment for him. As spring approaches, housing becomes even more limited with the arrival of tourists.

So to answer the first question, I could easily see the situation. My friend needed to find housing. I asked myself if there was anything that I could do. There were a few things. He is computer-illiterate. I told him that I would post his rental need on a local hub online. I also inquired at the local Community Center to see if they had any ideas or leads. I reported back to my friend what I found. Whether or not those things bear fruit is irrelevant. I could be satisfied that I did something to help a friend in need.

On a larger scale, we are faced with being witnesses to war (probably throughout human history). For me, this brings up a lot of feelings–everything from sadness, to anger, to frustration, to feeling inadequate in the face of it all. Then, I try to sit quietly with it, allowing the feelings to be fully felt. And I do what is called Focusing as drafted by Eugene Gendlin, Ph.D. in the 1950’s. I try to find a word or a few words that distill what I’m really feeling. I try to deeply describe it and go beneath the layers of my initial reactions. When I feel somewhat satisfied with what the word or words are, then I sit with them quietly.

Checking in with myself in this way, I ask if there is anything that I can do to lift myself up and feel like I have something to contribute.

That’s when I remembered Mail Art, also called Correspondence Art. Mail Art is flooding the post office with handmade or painted art in the shape and size of a postcard. The origins of mail art can be traced “back to the Dadaists and Italian Futurists in the early twentieth century. However, the New York artist, Ray Johnson, is considered to be the founder of contemporary mail art. In the 1950s, he began sending out small-scale collages he called “moticos,” some of which included simple instructions for the recipient.” (Wikipedia)

My most recent mail art below was intended to bear witness to the war in the Ukraine. As this little postcard travels to its destination through the system, others who handle it see it along the way.

photo of woman and sunflower

There was one other time when I did this. It was following “911.” When that feeling of helplessness swamped me, I bought several postcards, wrote little poems on them and sent them anonymously to family and friends. This act/action helped me and I hoped that the the recipients felt comforted like receiving the benefits of a prayer.

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I’m curious to hear how you respond to challenging things in our world. Do you have a go-to resource to guide your process in instances where you feel helpless?

Seal is too a Power Animal!

The seal as a power animal is both a land animal and a sea animal, symbolizing adaptability to the water and earth elements. Seal Energy taps into the intuitive while helping you to stay grounded. Some of the other qualities that it represents are playfulness, protection, imagination, strength, good luck, dreams and movement.

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My brother said that this seal looks “somber.” He added “…but who wouldn’t be with one’s habitat being destroyed and population dwindling.”

I told him that if he could see her in person he might think that she embodies power.

“The canvas is 24-inchesx24-inches,” I replied

He texted back, “Yes, I might have misspoken by using the word somber–maybe defiant (which could imply power) would be a better adjective.”

I texted back: “Interesting. I posted the photo on my artist page on Facebook. A friend wrote back: “He is so cute. He looks like he came out of a child’s story book. Beautifully done.”

I guess it is in how one sees it.

I didn’t plan to paint a seal. I didn’t plan to paint an animal. I mostly paint intuitively. I painted what emerged from the canvas and today, it is this seal.

I grew up by the ocean in San Francisco, CA. There was a big rock that we called Seal Rock because that’s where the seals loitered. There was a coin-operated tower viewer through which we could watch the seals as they clambered over the rock, as the waves dashed the rock, as the fog drifted in over the rock and hid it all from our sight.

According to Wikipedia

Seal Rock (or Seal Rocks) is a group of small rock formation islands in the Lands End area of the Outer Richmond District in western San Francisco, California. They are located just offshore in the Pacific Ocean, at the north end of the Ocean Beach, near the Cliff House and Sutro Baths ruins.”

As I type these words from Wikipedia, a nostalgia washes over me like a soft salty ocean wave. And then drifts across the sand into ocean’s memory. I knew these places and like the seals we grew up beside, we took them for granted. It’s often in memory that things take on a lovely patina and sometimes we linger there over the words and the images that they conjure. Lands End, Sutro Baths, Cliff House, Ocean Beach, Seal Rock–all in my backyard as we lived four blocks from Ocean Beach and The Great Highway that ran the length of the beach from the Sunset through the Richmond District. We rarely could see sunsets in the Sunset District. The fog was so thick! The foghorns played our nightly and daily lullaby.

We weren’t allowed to go to the beach on our own. As I got older, I got permission to take my younger siblings there. We walked from Moraga Street, crossed Lawton, Kirkham, then Judah where the streetcars ran. We turned down the street from 44th Avenue to 48th Avenue. At Judah and 48th, there was a tunnel which ran under the Great Highway. We ran through the tunnel, screaming, our voices echoing. The tunnel smelled of urine and the ocean. We probably ran and screamed to chase off any unsavory characters who might be lurking nearby. And then, like a light at the end of life’s tunnel, there was the ocean big, bold and vast. We were so small beside her.

When I was a young mom, I used to take my daughters to Ocean Beach and we’d sit on a cement wall gazing out to sea having our hot chocolate in thermoses with doughnuts. We would sit beside the mesmerizing ocean. The constancy of the waves, the intrusion of the foghorns, the taste of salt on our lips mixing with the bittersweet chocolate. People of all ages and sizes bundled against the cold, running, walking their dogs, walking with a companion or alone. I never really felt alone when I walked solo beside the ocean. I considered the ocean like a mother to me. Familiar and all-embracing.

Memories…a friend is writing her memoir. Mine would be wrapped in sea salt, waves, barking seals, my siblings, fog, and yearning.

This painting of a seal has taken me back in time and conjured up these memories.

A Reckless Moment

Thank God for the reckless moment in painting.  I am in process with a piece.  Although I’m in motion, the painting is feeling forced.  Who am I trying to please here?  What god am I being obedient to?  The one who is too cautious?  The one who wants to be certain that others will approve?  The one who is critical?  The one who demands perfection?

Then, an abandon of sorts enters.  I swipe my brush across the canvas and a whole new direction is created.  It’s a must…to follow that reckless moment.  Once, in such frustration, I took black and white and squiggled lines across the canvas and left the painting overnight.  The next day, emerging from this chaos was the form of a tiger!  I brought her forth and voila, a whole new painting than was originally intended.

tiger.2014.final

That’s where the magic is.  When I become too precious about something in the painting, I try to preserve it and work around it.  But then, something else isn’t working.  The freedom for the piece to become what it truly wants to be is sacrificed to save this portion of the painting.

It’s like in writing, you’ve written a line or a paragraph that you think is absolutely brilliant.  The seasoned writer is going to tell you to toss it!  Yes, toss it because now it has become a block to the real writing that wants to come.  Don’t you hate that!?!?

For some reason, when I’m grappling with this inner unrest, I don’t recognize that this is a stage of the creative process.  I forget this almost every single time.  I want this painting to be finished.  I want to be satisfied.  I want my fellow artists to approve.  I want my audience to like it.  I want to be representational in my painting.  I want…I want…I want…

Then, the surrender once again to what is being asked of me.  Go wild.  Be reckless.  Forget the false gods that you have been trying to appease.  Abandon the old constraints and allow the next steps to unfold.  As has been said, be in the flow.

A Delicate Balance

Recently, I watched a film produced by Patagonia–
The Refuge: Fighting For A Way Of Life.
The film illustrated the plight of the Gwich’in Nation of Alaska, specifically the area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“The Gwich’in population is located in northeastern Alaska, the northern Yukon and Northwest
Territories of Canada. Known as ‘The Caribou People,’ the culture and life of the Gwich’in has
been based around the Porcupine Caribou herd for thousands of years. The Gwich’in peoples
have relied upon the caribou for food, shelter, clothing, tools and medicine. So intertwined with
the Porcupine Caribou herd, the Gwich’in have named the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge
“Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” which translates to ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.’
The Coastal Plain is the destination of the Porcupine Caribou herd, which migrates to the Coastal
Plain each year to birth and raise their young. Not only does the life of the caribou begin on the
Coastal Plain, but it is also where the life of the Gwich’in nation is supported. The lives and
heritage of the Gwich’in are directly tied to the caribou herds – much like the Plains Indians
relied on the buffalo. Without a healthy caribou population, the Gwich’in culture would
struggle to survive.” from http://www.alaskawild.org/educate

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This painting is my tribute to the Gwich’in Nation in recognition of their intricate and interdependent relationship with the Porcupine Caribou. In legislating, thereby allowing corporate oil moguls to exploit this sacred region, we are influencing climate change to our detriment. In saving this region from such exploitation, we are not only protecting the rights of the Gwich’in Nation, the Caribou and migrating birds, we are protecting the future of a healthy earth for generations to come.

Becoming a Painting

Another painting of a landscape prompted by Sherry Lynch Woodward.

There isn’t much to say.  Lay down colors.  Then add other colors, shapes, textures in a randomly “planned” way.  Then hone in a little.  Add horizon lines, the building, the island, the sky, water, boats, some farther away, some nearby.  That’s what I seem to remember when crafting this painting early last year.

It’s isn’t nearly “perfect”.  In fact, it’s practice.  Reminder to self:  practice is important…it’s how we get better at something.  Let there be plenty of practice as you learn something new.  No judgment.  Noticing what works, what doesn’t work, following your inclinations.  Stepping away from the painting to get an overview.  I find when working on a landscape that when I’m too close, I can’t see how things are working together.  Stepping back, ah, yes, now I see.

If I were to address this painting today, I’d make some changes.

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When I wrote the word, changes, I thought of “ch…ch…changes” a song by David Bowie.  I’ve always liked the melody but missed most of the lyrics.  Living in this time of flux and change, I honestly find that there is less to rely upon–the things that we once thought were stable are less so.  Today, I give myself permission to be flaky.

Remind me, one day, to tell you the story of going to see David Bowie with my sister–his Serious Moonlight Tour at the Oakland Coliseum.

A Painting Odyssey

abstract.1

Embarking upon a journey is one way to look at creating a painting.  The artist begins with inspiration!  Inspiration can lead to action or non-action.  Preferably, it’s action.

When I take a class, I am provided with the inspiration and instruction.  And, of course, at some point, my own inner guidance takes over.

This abstract is prompted by fine artist, Sherry Lynch Woodward’s expert and fun lesson.  It is the beginnings of a landscape painting.

Sherry makes brilliant use of color and she enjoys mark-making and using tools that add texture and interest to a piece.

When I look at this abstract today, I can imagine going in many different directions with it.  I see a shoreline, an ocean, or a lake, maybe a building.  What do you see?

I also decided not to go any further with this piece…the journey concluded early because I liked it as is…the inference of images gives me a pleasing feeling.  I like the way the colors work together.  I don’t need to define anything further.

I don’t paint many abstract paintings.  When I first started painting in 2014, I searched for recognizable images in a mishmash of colors and marks on a canvas, I wanted to define an image…and quickly.  Today, I’m beginning to feel a bit differently about that.

I think that abstract accesses a different part of the brain.  The part that can’t quite see what the future is going to be.  And with that, there is a way of meeting what is to come with curiosity, acceptance and yes, grace.  Abstract, the unknown, have a unique appeal for me at this time.

Ocean in Abstract

abstractocean1

This abstract was done in a class with artist, Laly Mille.  I divided the 9″x12″ 140# watercolor paper into four triangles.  They can be cut into individual paintings if I so choose.  When I look at this abstract painting today, I think I would leave it as an ocean study.  In my thinking, abstract equals the artist’s impressions of a subject.

There are the colors that I’ve associated with the ocean.  There is, perhaps, a horizon line.  There could be rock formations not far from the shoreline.  And there is definitely sky.  With clouds.  A mood is created.

When I present an abstract painting, I don’t like to discuss it very much.  I like it to stand alone, to represent what it represents and to allow the viewer to be drawn into it and have their own interpretation.  To encourage the viewer to fabricate a story around my impressions of the ocean.

 

The Backstory

The elephant shows up in my art more and more frequently.  I’ve posted this mixed media painting from 2018 a few times.  I don’t think that I mentioned the entire backstory for this piece.

I cut my little purple elephant from a photocopy of an earlier painting.  Whimsical, right?  But the actual photo of an elephant that I used as a model was an orphan in Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s Wildlife Refuge for traumatized baby elephants.  Many of them were orphaned due to poachers taking down their mothers and harvesting the ivory tusks for profit.  A very sad story that continues to this day!

I could see the trauma in the eyes of the little elephant.  A glazed, dazed look of dread.  For he had witnessed the violent death of his mother.  And then, he was left to wander in this confused and fearful state until he was rescued by a helicopter team and brought to the sanctuary.  Once there, it took these tender experts time to help him overcome the initial effects of the trauma.  Gradually, he was integrated in with a group of older elephants to help him with further recovery…to the degree that he could recover.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her husband, David, started the shelter for orphaned animals, especially elephants, many years ago.  He passed away in 1977 and Dame Daphne  continued the trust in his name.  She died in 2018.  I wondered if the work that she and her husband had so passionately lived was being carried on.  I am relieved to see that their daughter, Angela, who worked alongside her mother for twenty years, continues this heroic work with the help of her husband, their children and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust team.  This is really a huge task as the poaching continues.  It occurs to me (and to others) that if there wasn’t a market for ivory, then the elephants might have a chance.  However, there is a market.  How does one address such greed?  I read recently that if someone is bragging to you about their ivory collection or even a trinket that they have…show them a few photos of whose life was taken to add ivory to their collection.  In other words, shame them.

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There are 415,000 elephants remaining in Africa.  Recently 350 elephants died in Botswana.  Cause unknown.  So far, these deaths have not been connected to poaching–no tusks were removed.  Elephants are deeply feeling animals.  Some have said that they are mourning the loss of lives in their community.  I can believe this to be true.

 

Paint Whimsy

When a painting asserts itself, there is no fighting with it.  Let it come forward.  As far-fetched or unrealistic, other-worldly or alien as it might be…let it come forward.  Are those antennas on top of her head?  Sobeit then.  She gets to have antennas.  The subconscious gets to have her field day.  The artist obeys.

That’s what I’m feeling when I look at this painting today.  I can’t remember my exact state of being when she presented herself.  Or what was going on in my life at the time.  Her expression captivates me today.  I think it’s because she has both whimsy and looks as if what she sees is hopeful.

The caption could read “Humankind, despite their ignorance, greed and selfish ways, is going to be saved…from themselves”  Perhaps because they have enough redeeming qualities or something greater has had compassion for them.

artasprocess.2018

Then again, she could be a fairy roaming through the meadows.  What does she spy?  Some new delight!

Whoever she is, whatever part of my subconscious she arose from, I’m sure there is more.  Yours too!  What’s hiding in there?  In you?

The thing about whimsical art is that in creating it, there is freedom for the artist.  She/he doesn’t have to measure up to any other standards of fine art.  The artist gets to be surprised as a painting evolves.  She is open to whoever shows up on the canvas.  And whatever direction it wants to go.  She experiments–for that is what play is.  It is serious business, this type of play.

So don’t delay, get down to the business of play!  What might you discover?

VOTE!

This painting was a passionate plea for women to vote in the 2016 election.  I had been painting for nearly two years.  I’m thinking of revising this piece with what I’ve learned since then.  Regardless, the message is the same.  The woman in the lower right hand corner represents the women who were part of the women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900’s in this country.  We are a melting pot of many nationalities.  Women united in the vote are a powerful force for change.

 

vote

Here we are coming up on another election this year.  How are we going to vote?  Are we going to consciously exercise this hard won right?  The American film, Iron Jawed Angels was released in 2004.  I don’t remember it receiving a lot of press.  When I first viewed it about five years ago, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of Alice Paul when I was in school.

 

This is a powerful film about our own suffragettes and the fight that they fought for us, the future generations.

Reminder to self:  Don’t waste your vote.