Saturday, April 30, 2011

Will Graffiti Artist Leave His Mark at Riker's?


Basquiat is to art as Sammy Sosa to baseball. Both knew well the meaning of poverty. Each managed to find and follow a passion that led them to the top of their respective fields. Each became worth millions to their fans. Each became embroiled in controversy. And, each has inspired others to follow their paths out of poverty to a better life. In Basquiat's case, that path was the art of graffiti.

So it is that Angel Ortiz found a measure of success following the same path. His street art is on display as part of an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in L.A. His street name is LA II with his tag line Laroc.

According to Reuters. Ortiz was unfortunately nailed for practicing his street art in New York where such things are both appreciated and frowned upon. Appreciated by fans and frowned upon by police. He was out walking his dog with a spray can in hand, not your typical dog walking artist, but hey, this is New York. There are stranger sights on those streets.

It was Ortiz's third arrest, and this time he was put behind the bars of Riker's Island, the famous 413 acre complex that sits in the East River between Queens and the Bronx.

What's interesting to me is that Ortiz has achieved a measure of success now as an artist, his paintings selling for thousands of dollars. Is making graffiti some form of addiction then? Is there neurological thrill involved with crossing the line and doing illegal art?

According to the Reuters story he told the police that he knew "sooner or later I was going to get grabbed." The bummer is that he missed his art opening in L.A. On the positive side, maybe he will leave some artwork behind in the prison. I personally think the authorities would be just to bring him as much paint as he wants. It's got to be a dreary world in there, although there is a Salvador Dali drawing hanging there. Dali was once given an opportunity to speak to the prisoners but being unable to make it sent the drawing instead. Might even be worth going to Riker's for. Nah. I don't think so.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Twin Ports Art Scene

A lot happening in the Twin Ports art scene these days. The Empty Bowl event at the Depot raised over $57,000 for the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank this week. This was the 17th year of the fund raiser which includes lots of soup and an original bowl that you can use for the rest of your lives.

Tonight Jeredt Runions, curator for the Homegrown Festival and other collaborative events here, will be having a solo show at J. Lydia Salon, located at the corner of 12th Avenue East and Positively 4th Street. Runions, who grew up in the vicinity of Solon Springs, is a gallery assistant at the University of Wisconsin, Superior's Kruk Gallery. In addition to live music, wine and food, there will also be a performance by the Spin Collective, our local fire dancers.

The Homegrown Festival kicks of Sunday night, May 1. There are more venues for music and the arts than you can shake a stick at. Jeredt created the cover of this year's sixty page guide to who is playing what and where. This is Homegrown the 13th, and the Twin Ports is loving it. You can pick up the book-sized magazine at all the usual distribution points for free local rags, from the Red Mug to India Palace to the libraries.

Sunday night I will be at the Pizza Luce art opening with three new pieces in a collaborative show there. The art opening is from 7:00-9:00 p.m. but the paintings will be on display throughout the month, if you can't make it Sunday.

Another new happening here is the formation of Twin Ports Underground (TPU). Andrew Perfetti of the band Uprising has begun the process of assembling a team to produce a television show for PAC-TV covering the local arts and music scene, giving greater exposure to all the local talent here. In less than a month they have almost completed the first show with some exceptional moments including a strong Alan Sparhawk interview among other things. TPU is aiming for a one-hour monthly program which will also be distributed online. The current vision for the show includes skits and comic relief in addition to artist profiles and musician interviews. An, of course, some great local music. There's a lot happening here in the Twin Ports and the TPU team wants to shine a light on it.

NOTE: Anyone interested in being part of Twin Ports Underground can visit their Facebook page and join. There is a need for writers, editors and camera crew members.

This interview with Jeredt Runions, which aired on KUMD this week, will give you an idea of his personal enthusiasm for the local art scene.

And finally, you can check out some of my recent work online at the Limbo Gallery, Eris Vafias curator. Eris is also assembling a joint show for mid-May that I will be telling you more about as the day approaches. Like I say, there's a lot happening. Stay tuned.

Photo courtesy Andrew Perfetti. Jeredt Runions live painting at the Clyde-O-Thon.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why?

Why? Why why why why why why why why?

It is a question we often don't ask because we do not know the answer. Or we're afraid of the answer Or can't handle the answer? Don't trust the answer?

In June 1963 a Bhuddist monk sat down in the middle of a busy intersection in Saigon, South Viet Nam, and set himself on fire. A photographer was there as well as David Halberstam of the New York Times and a few other journalists. I was eleven at the time and I do not know if it ever entered my mind to ask, "Why would somebody do this?" but that image made an impression on me.

Why would a person do a thing like this? First, you must understand that he was not just a person. He was a human being with a name. He was Thích Quảng Đức, and his act was a protest against the religious persecution the Buddhists were experiencing at the hands of Viet Nam dictator Ngo Dinh Diem. The U.S. government liked Diem because he was anti-communist, killing and torturing them while consolidating his own power. Because of this, U.S. leaders averted their eyes when Diem also raided Buddhist pagodas and treated the monks badly.

Growing up I understood none of this. But then again, the U.S. newspapers only gave us a photo, which seared into our minds without having a full meaning. Thich Quang Duc's friends, however, understood the meaning of his act. They were there. One even offered to sacrifice himself in Thich Quang Duc's place.

The last words of Thích Quảng Đức before his self-immolation were documented in a letter he had left:

Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.

David Halberstam, the Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist who covered the conflict in Viet Nam and the civil rights movement among other things, wrote:

I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think... As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.

Americans may not have grasped it, but President Diem understood the significance of this act. Or more importantly, he grasped what it meant when the journalists shone a light on what was happening there in Viet Nam. Before the year ended, his own power was cut off and he, too, was dead.

It is a powerful thing when people are willing to die for their convictions.

Source for details of this story: Wikipedia

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ken Burns' Baseball and a Memory of the Mick

This week I finished Ken Burns' epic documentary Baseball which is a masterful re-telling of the history of baseball from its roots to the present. But it is more than about baseball. Burns chose to use Baseball to tell America's story, a story filled with mythology and with many unpleasant realities we sometimes close our eyes to in order to enjoy the dream. One of those darker shadows in our history is race relations, and Burns handles this with such finesse while unflinchingly keeping it in our consciousness that we have a problem here.

Joseph Campbell once wrote, “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.” Baseball has been a very public dream in America. We love these heroes, the gods who descended Olympus to be with us for a few seasons.

I grew up watching the Cleveland Indians in the fifties, glory years of the Yankees, our arch-adversary. Mickey Mantle was in his prime then, and when we moved to New Jersey in 1964 I had the privilege seeing the Mick play in Yankee Stadium as well. My biggest thrill was Bat Day in the mid-1960s, a game in which Mantle did not start but watched most of the game from the dugout. In the bottom of the eighth, with the Yankees down 2-1 and the bases loaded, Mickey Mantle was called in to pinch hit. The entire stadium was on its feet holding their bats skyward screaming for their hero to come through. The voltage was so high in that electrified crowd that would couldn't imagine it going higher. Suddenly the pitch and a swing and that most beautiful sound in the world (no doubt drowned out that afternoon by the noise, but I can imagine it because it is the most beautiful sound in the world, a bat striking a ball). The ball shot out like a cannon burst in a line drive deep into left field, striking the grass and bounding on one hop over the wall, a ground rule double. The two runners who scored put the Yanks up by one, and an inning later that's how it ended. Every person there was satiated. They had feasted on the Mick, and the Mick did them good.

Mantle is the subject matter of Jane Leavy's The Last Boy, an audio book I started reading yesterday and which promises to be good. Mantle, like many American heroes, is a flawed man. His time in history was a period of innocence in which the sportswriters knew he was a man different from his iconic image. In those days the sportswriters could lose their jobs for writing some of the things they knew, Leavy notes. And today sportswriter might lose their jobs for not writing about what they knew. We live in a different time, a time of innocence lost.

When I was a kid you bought baseball cards for the players you loved and for the noise they made in the spokes of your bicycle. During the baseball card craze of the early nineties, kids bought cards looking for the ones with potential, sometimes throwing the rest straight into the garbage. Sometimes throwing them all straight into the can.

Ansel Adams said, “Myths and creeds are heroic struggles to comprehend the truth in the world.” Perhaps this is what Jane Leavy and Ken Burns are trying to do when they examine the mythological heroes and legends of our history, trying themselves to understand something about themselves because they are themselves one of us.

Food for thought as you await the next pitch.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Five Minutes with Artist Paul Klee

Swiss-born artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) was a significant influence in my early art. What excited me about his work was the incredible variety. He seemed like an artist who defied categorization. Modern? Yes, but only in the sense that his work was liberated from everything before it. He worked using a variety of media and a seemingly endless variety of styles. He worked on paper, cloth, canvas, burlap, or what appears to be anything he could find. Like Dylan today, he seems to have been constantly re-inventing himself.

I caught up with him recently to discuss his life and work, somewhat eager to learn his impressions of mine.

Ennyman: Tell me about your early influences?
Klee: My earliest influence was music. I was raised in a very musical family. My father was a music teacher and my mother a trained singer. I began playing violin at age seven. But my grandmother once gave me a box of sidewalk chalk and it was clear I had a good hand for drawing. As a teen my drawings showed a considerable level of skill and my parents, reluctantly, allowed me to pursue art school at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.

Ennyman: My grandmother was an influence, too, in my art development. After college, then what?
Klee: I went back home and lived with my parents. It was a rueful time, and my work travelled down two paths. My black and white pieces were dark, and so color came to mean something special to me, even began to possess me. I was also doing a lot of experimentation at the time, doing one series of 57 pictures drawing on a blackened pain of glass with a needle.

Ennyman: Interesting technique.
Klee: I still kept up my music and played violin in the orchestra and was writing concert and theater reviews.

Ennyman: Yes, you were also a writer.
Klee: I'd begun a diary very young and never quit that. It's a good way to learn how to capture abstract ideas in words and to develop an understanding of how you observe.

Ennyman: How did you come to be a recognized figure in the European art scene?
Klee: I was doing illustrations for Voltaire's Candide and met Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and other avant garde artists, who became known as The Blue Rider group. Wassily has a keen mind and had been developing theories and ideas about color, as I had. Art does not reproduce the visible, rather it makes visible. We both went on to teach at the Bauhaus school of art.

Ennyman: Mr. Kandinsky wrote a number of books as well as opening modern painting to new spaces. I enjoyed his Concerning the Spiritual in Art. You wrote as well, did you not?
Klee: I published my diary in 1918 and also some other writings later.

Ennyman: You once stated that even drawing has changed for you.
Klee: In the final analysis, a drawing simply is no longer a drawing, no matter how self-sufficient its execution may be. It is a symbol, and the more profoundly the imaginary lines of projection meet higher dimensions, the better.

Ennyman: Are there any common threads in your world view with other disciplines:
Klee: The art of mastering life is the prerequisite for all further forms of expression, whether they are paintings, sculptures, tragedies, or musical compositions.

Ennyman: Any last thoughts?
Klee: Some will not recognize the truthfulness of my mirror. Let them remember that I am not here to reflect the surface... but must penetrate inside. My mirror probes down to the heart. I write words on the forehead and around the corners of the mouth. My human faces are truer than the real ones. Also, when looking at any significant work of art, remember that a more significant one probably has had to be sacrificed.

Ennyman: Thank you for your time.

This interview is a work of fiction. The information is not fiction, taken from Klee's actual quotes and the entry about his life and work in Wikipedia.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Duluth Does Dylan

In years gone by the place to be in late May was Hibbing, MN, young Robert Zimmerman's hometown and the place where his music interests began. Hibbing's annual Dylan celebration is called Dylan Days, which has evolved to songwriting competitions, art and poetry contests, and lots of music.

This year will mark Bob Dylan's 70th birthday and Duluth, where Bob was birthed and lived his first six years in the Central Hillside, will have its first full-fledged Dylan Fest as well. Momentum has been building for years. Here's a quick take on the agenda for that positively fourth week in May.

May 23
Guthrie/Dylan Dinner at Valentini's Vicino Lago
The evening of Guthrie and Dylan music by Bill & Laurie Bastian is a fund raiser for the Duluth Armory Arts and Music Center. Duluth's armory was where young Bob Dylan saw Buddy Holly perform his second last show and felt he'd heard the call to pursue a career in music.

May 24
Dylan's 70th Birthday Party at Fitger's Brewhouose
The Brewhouse is hopping with Dylan fans. This year will be specialty Dylan beers including Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Hefeweisen. Johnny's in the Basement will be performing Dylan songs. And this is also a Duluth Does Dylan CD release party.

May 25
Dylan Film Fest at the Zinema
Two films will be shared, The Other Side of the Mirror: Live at the Newport Folk Festival and Don't Look Back, the D.A. Pennebaker documentary covering young Dylan's first exposure to the England scene, or rather, England's first exposure to Dylan in 1965.
Dylan Art Show opening at the Ochre Ghost. Ochre Ghost is a hot topic in the fermenting Duluth art scene. Dylan paintings and Dylan-inspired work are being gathered for the occasion.

May 26
Blood on the Tracks Express
The North Shore Scenic Railroad to Two Harbors will be cranking it up.... and back. On the ticket will be The Bitter Spills, Dirty Horse, The Fontanelles and Old Knifey and the Cutthroats. In Two Harbors Donny Fox and his Rolling Thunder Band will be performing. Donny Fox is, I believe, a two time winner of the Dylan Days singer/songwriter contest. I saw him perform last year at the Armory and he's fun.

May 27
Duluth Does Dylan at the Fitger's Brewery Complex.
Two stages will feature The REX and Fitger's Brewhouse original artists from Duluth and the North Country interpreting Dylan material. This event is a fundraiser for the NorShor Theater.

May 28
The Million Dollar Bash at Beaner's Central
This songwriter showcase will feature Sara Softich, Erik Koskinen, Diedrich Clark and others to be announced. Great way to wind up the week if you haven't had your fill.

People literally fly in to the Northland from all over the world for Dylan Days in Hibbing and no doubt many will visit Duluth as well. Last year I spoke with artists from Germany and France who came to the Armory event. They'd come for the Hibbing celebration but joined us in Duluth when they heard about the activities emerging here.

One more item for the week will be the installation of the Bob Dylan manhole covers for Bob Dylan Way. I might have to ask for some time off to attend that one.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Have a great day.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saving Grace

Anyone half familiar with Dylan's songs and music over the many decades of his career recognizes that there has always been a spiritual thread woven throughout the various themes he explored. This is why the period of his life in which he produced three explicitly Christian albums cannot be considered an anomaly.

With reference to the songwriter's early works Scott Marshall noted in his Dylan bio Restless Pilgrim, "Dylan may not have claimed a personal faith, but his own words indicate that God was very much on his mind." Biblical imagery saturated Dylan's early music, from the Gates of Eden to New Morning and back to the very beginning where he exclaims, "Better tell Jesus to make up my dyin' bed."

I once read a prediction in an early Rolling Stone magazine that Bob Dylan would be the leader of a new religion some day. Obviously they'd keyed in to this spiritual component of his work, too. Except, they also failed to note that Dylan would never want that kind of responsibility. He stepped back when people clamored for him to be a spokesperson for our generation. "I'm not the spokesman for anybody's generation," he said. "I want to emphatically deny being the spokesman for our generation. Fame is just having your name known by a lot of strangers. People who are kind or good are the ones who ought to be famous."

Slow Train Coming was the first of the three to roll into the public. It was well produced, and surprisingly well received. That this album has a special place in Dylan's is confirmed by the fact that he repeatedly opened so many of his concerts over the next two decades with the unsettling directness of Gotta Serve Somebody.

Saved came next and it could not have been more explicit. Songs like "In The Garden", "Pressing On", "Solid Rock", "Covenant Woman", and "What Can I Do For You?" are as straightforward as a Sunday morning revivalist. This caused no end of consternation for many of his former fans.

The third in the trilogy was Shot of Love. Many really good songs here, some with the old bite of Positively Fourth Street and Idiot Wind. He was not going to be shaped by expectations of what others, even the Christians, thought he should be.

This song came from that second album. Anyone who knows me knows that I am often quoting Dylan. So many of his lyrics serve as maxims or expressions that encapsulate an observation or emotion. The last line is one that I have borrowed quite a few times over the years: "It gets discouraging at times, but I know I'll make it..." It seemed, too, a suitable offering for the blog today, as it is Easter.

Saving Grace

If you find it in Your heart, can I be forgiven?
Guess I owe You some kind of apology
I’ve escaped death so many times, I know I’m only living
By the saving grace that’s over me

By this time I’d-a thought I would be sleeping
In a pine box for all eternity
My faith keeps me alive, but I still be weeping
For the saving grace that’s over me

Well, the death of life, then come the resurrection
Wherever I am welcome is where I’ll be
I put all my confidence in Him, my sole protection
Is the saving grace that’s over me

Well, the devil’s shining light, it can be most blinding
But to search for love, that ain’t no more than vanity
As I look around this world all that I’m finding
Is the saving grace that’s over me

The wicked know no peace and you just can’t fake it
There’s only one road and it leads to Calvary
It gets discouraging at times, but I know I’ll make it
By the saving grace that’s over me

Copyright © 1980 by Special Rider Music

Photo, top right: Dylan mural in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Propeller Move and Homegrown Musical Fest

The last scene in my last dream of the night, just before waking, involved Pierce Brosnan performing the propeller move to escape from his pursuers. I'm sure Brosnan showed up in my dream because I'd just finished watching Roman Polanski's The Ghostwriter this past Thursday, which features Brosnan as former Brit Prime Minister Lang. In my dream, however, he was doing a reprieve of his 007 schtick. Or at least this is how it seemed to me.

Here's the action. Crowded streets, chase scene, bad guys in hot pursuit right behind this little car with a long ladder strapped to its roof. A dark-haired woman is driving hard as Brosnan hangs from the ladder in front of the hood, staying low so as not to be shot by the gun wielding pursuers. Parked cars line the street and traffic creates the usual challenges for a car chase. At a certain moment Brosnan swings himself up and stands atop the ladder, stretches out his arms and with a slight twist of the outstretched limbs he leaps and spins, propeller like, over the parked cars into a marshy area where he escapes... and I wake.

This dream scene has nothing to do with anything other than it was my last image from the subconscious, boring through to consciousness, preceding my first thoughts of the day. Upon waking, after re-playing the propeller move and scribbling a note about it, my mind went to the day's agenda, which includes delivering a third painting to Jeredt Runions for the Homegrown Music Festival that starts next weekend.

Homegrown has truly blossomed here in Duluth. What began as a birthday party with a handful of bands has now become a multi-venue, multi-media explosion of talented musicians, artists, film and more from May 1 to May 8. Yes, even our Fire Dancers will be part of the act.

The week begins at Pizza Luce May 1st with the Opening Reception for Paintbrush Thinkers art exhibit at 7:00 p.m. The bands start at nine with Roxie Magistrate slated first.

The same night Carmody's Pub will be hosting events as well, beginning with the Homegrown Pub Quiz at 9:00 p.m. and music beginning at ten with The Tico Three, Sweetgrass and Pennies for a Dime.

After that, things really begin to accelerate. Monday is Ancillary Arts Night, followed by Experimental Tuesday, Hash Wednesday, Soup Town Night, Rawk Night, Roll Night and Sunday's Brunch & Shows for the Kids. The venues and featured artists and musicians are so numerous it is impossible to list them on this blog, but here's the link so you can mark your calendars.

I myself will be at Pizza Luce May 1, and hope to see you there.

In the meantime, don't get hurt trying that Propeller Move. It's a tricky one.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Good Friday Reflection

Today the markets are closed on Wall Street because it is Good Friday, the Christian holiday commemorating the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary. It's a holiday observed during Holy Week, preceding Easter Sunday.

It reminded me of a dream I had many years ago, which I recorded in one of my journals. It's possible I've shared it here before, but it's been a while and I present it once more.

On Another World

In this dream I was being held captive on another planet. The people of this planet were in bondage to false ideas about God.

Early in the morning I was taken to a private meeting with the leader of this planet. We were alone in a large, clean unfurnished room. A single guard stood outside the open door.

By some means I had been paralyzed so that I could neither pray nor speak nor think straight. I was standing in the middle of the room in this strange, paralyzed state. I had no consciousness of the passage of time.

In the dream, Dr. Spock (of Star Trek fame) came to the door of the room and requested permission to enter. It is possible that I was captain of the Enterprise, though I do not know this for certain. I do know that I was from earth, as the following dialogue will attest.

After obtaining permission, Spock entered the room carrying a bucket of what appeared to be a powdered cleanser. He stumbled and spilled the cleanser on me, pretending to do this accidentally. Immediately, I found myself released from my paralysis and I started to pray, standing by a wash basin with my eyes closed. (It was one of those chrome sink basins that you find in painting studios at college.)

Upon seeing my fervent attempt to pray the leader of the planet was in stitches with laughter. He asked what I was doing.

I said I was praying to God.

"This is hysterical!" he said. "We would never pray to God like that," and he wanted to know how I got the notion that I could talk to God.

"God came to our planet once," I said.

"God came to your planet? What was God like?" The leader was suddenly interested in hearing this new thing. "What was God like?"

"He came to our planet as a human."

"A human? A weak, pitiful thing like that? A human! God came to your planet as a human?"

"He took the form of a human, a man, actually, and lived on our world, on earth."

"And what happened?"

"We killed him," I said.

I woke.

Thank God for "the rest of the story."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Twelve Minutes with Painter Olivia Villanueva


I discovered Olivia Villanueva through one of the art eNewsletters I get on a regular basis. Not only did the work I saw speak to me, I was also impressed by her story. Shortly after finishing high school she married and raised a family. It was only later in life, when her kids were grown, that her art career blossomed and flourished. Her work has been featured extensively in shows and galleries throughout Texas. She has also been featured in numerous publications including USA Today.

The interview may be a bit long for a blog entry, but has a good payoff.

Ennyman: How did you get to where you are today and how did you take an interest in art?
Olivia Villanueva: Growing up as a child I was introduced to music and art through my mother. At the age of 3 I was already showing interest in art and music. My father Christobal Cassanova Cisneros is a self employed business man, so that is where my sales tactics come from. I have 4 brothers, 1 sister. Only 3 of us can paint, but I was different, I had to paint. My mother Margaret S. Cisneros is a classical pianist and paints, so I just started playing the piano (not the piano professionally more like just playing ) and picked up drawing and painting; it was normal to me, just like walking.

My very first exhibit was in 1983 while I was in high school. The drawing went to state and I received an award for our district. One year after high school, I got married and have two children who are now grown up. I stopped everything to be a mother to my children. I did not want anyone raising them but me.

Fourteen years later I picked up the paint brush again. During this time I was working for Saks Fifth Avenue. I was one of the key makeup artists for the stars. I would use my clients’ faces as a canvas, and bring the beauty within out, so I always had a need to create. One day the store director noticed I was showing a photo album, and I said to myself, “Well this is it, you have done it now.” This is called conflict of interest. The director comes right over to me and asks may he see my album. Of course I showed him. To my amazement he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I would like to call the New York office and get some information about having a one woman show for you.” I was speechless! New York gave the approval, I was the first woman in San Antonio to ever exhibit in Saks. This happened in 1999.

After that exhibit, several months later I took a leap of faith and decide to quit my job
and become a full-time artist. The store director was very pleased but also saddened. He knew this was the right thing to do. He told me, “Follow your dreams and never let go,” I left in good standing and a wonderful heart to follow what has been with me the day I was born.

E: Where did you go to study and who were your influences initially?
OV: I have only studied on my own. I took a class at Southwest Craft Art School in San
Antonio, TX. I wanted to know if there was something I was missing, i wanted to know what art class was about as an adult. I learned that i was born with a gift, a rare gift that
in some way, you just know what your doing, it comes from the heart and soul.

Back to Southwest Craft Art School...Long story short I was asked to teach. I did learn a few things about mediums. It was an experience and I enjoyed the class. As far as teaching, no, I did not take the offer. It was too soon for me.

My influences first came from my high school teacher, Mr.Tamez. He spent a lot of time with me in class showing me the difference from all the pencils, I had no idea there were dozens of them! I though a pencil is a pencil, but of course at a young age your mind is young and you can do anything you want that pencil to do, even fade it out, I did that with tissue, i would even wet the tip of the pencil to make it dark my teacher noticed and that’s how we started talking about all different materials. I was very much into Renaissance, the old masters. I studied every mark just by pictures, and museums.

Funny short story... in school we had an exhibit in another school. My art was the ONLY art stolen. I thought, well I must be doing something right! It’s OK, I can draw it again I said to myself. It was the schools who were really freaking out. I guess when you are young you are free.

E: In what ways has your style changed since that time?
OV: My style has changed from pencil, to charcoal, to oils, to acrylics and now mixed media. My saying is, “you name it, I paint it.” Truly, I paint figurative abstract. I paint what is in my heart. Even when I do not want to paint, I paint, because I feel there are never any mistakes. I as an artist will look at the so called mistake and take it as a challenge it to further my ability to find what no man has, and that can only come from within.

Enny: Who are your current influences?
OV: My current influence I would have to say is Juan Farias and myself. I do not mingle in the art scene, especially when I am painting. I do not want to get off my course of what I am doing or where my art is taking me. Juan and I are probably the only two artists that can handle the studio without the complications of getting lost.

E: I like the way you say that you “paint from awkwardness.” Can you elaborate on that?
OV: Painting from awkwardness is like painting from each and every angle of the painting. It’s called painting from all four sides, and sometimes throwing another painting over it to see the result of what was once a pretty cool painting. These are some of the interesting ways of painting that Juan showed me. I say to myself, ”If you cannot try something different over a painting that I feel is done, then why paint. I know I can do it again, but I will never know if I don’t try the awkwardness of it.

E: On your website I see a page in development for Juan Farias. In what way is he part of Olivia Villanueva?
OV: Aha! The question everyone asks, “Juan Farias.” When I first walked into the art gallery I was amazed at his works! I did not know of this man who is an extremely magnificent artist. I wanted to speak with him during his exhibit, but that did not happen. He was busy as all artists are during exhibits. Later down the line we both started working out of the same gallery “Casa Salazar” above The Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. He asked me several times to go to his studio. One time he told me, if you were a real artist then you would show up to a real studio. Well, I showed him I was a real artist. I showed up, and studio it was! I am talking huge! 50 foot high ceilings. I mean my studio was 10’ x 13’ at the time so you could imagine! That was one of the best days of my life. Juan took me under his wing and showed me what painting is all about, “no limits.” Texas University of San Antonio owns several of our collaborated paintings. Collaboration painting is more like a dance, a figure eight if I may say. This is how we paint on a 20 foot long painting. It then becomes an orchestra! I have learned much by Juan and I owe him dearly for his time his expertise of wisdom and knowledge. I am honored that Juan Farias and I are still partners in the arts and very close friends.

E: What is the meaning of Red in your paintings?
OV: Red, is who I am. I am passionate. This is where my red series comes in, I do all things with love and heart. My fingertips drip blood on a busy week. Red is a language that I only know and very few who find it.

To see more of Olivia Villanueva, visit www.OliviaArtist.com

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Puzzles

Colors must fit together as pieces in a puzzle or cogs in a wheel. ~Hans Hofmann

Last night Susie asked if I could get the bungee cord unstuck from the gate. The fish hook shaped end had somehow penetrated the lift mechanism and seemed impossible to dislodge without breaking it.

I went out and examined the situation, wiggling the piece a bit to see exactly what the hangup was. It reminded me of the countless puzzles my dad used to bring home when we were kids. The puzzles were often pieces of bent metal in various configurations which you had to figure out how to disassemble. Depending on your level of patience, these mind benders could sometimes torture you as you shifted and flipped things around.

On one occasion one of my brothers gave up in exasperation on one of these puzzles and went to bed. In the middle of the night he sat up, the answer clear in his mind, and he returned to resume working on the solution, which came almost instantly.

So it was that the bungee cord and flange reminded me of my youth. And in a moment, after pondering motionless for a half minute, I arrived at the elegant solution. A very clever puzzle which I will call Gate and Bungee, to be sold for $9.95 if I can get it manufactured at a reasonable price.

Wikipedia defines puzzle as "a problem or enigma that tests the ingenuity of the solver." Puzzles can often be a form of entertainment. Crossword puzzles are an addiction for some people. Math problems can be a puzzle, and I myself never tire of word puzzles like the Scramble that appears in our daily paper.

Many things in life can be considered puzzles. Doctors try to solve the puzzles of patients' symptoms in order to diagnose illness. Psychologists do the same for the labyrinthine recesses of the mind. Counsellors strive to understand the complexities of personalities in order to help people unlock their relationship puzzles. In business, marketing professionals often see the process of increasing sales and market share as a puzzle to solve.

And then there are those who wrestle with the meaning of life itself, the biggest puzzle of all. Even when you think you have a handle on the "big picture" it can test one endlessly to figure out where your piece fits in the whole.

In the meantime, life goes on all around you. Have a great day, if you can figure out what you want to wear and eat today. Don't make it more complicated than it already is.

Ciao.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why Did Cisco Kill the Flip?

O.K. I've loved my Flip camera. I mean, I didn't use it fanatically, but it sure made it easy to make videos for the Internet. I mean, the Flip video camera was so simple you could hardly make a mistake. It was designed for low-tech non-geeks who wanted something they could point and shoot. It was the Polaroid camera for videography.

Not only was it simple to use, it was the perfect tool for what so many of us wanted to do... upload video to YouTube. The movies you made with your Flip required no re-formatting. They were ready to go and you did not even need a fast connection to the web to upload.

An article at the Forbes blogs by Anthony DeMarco tells his reaction to the story. The title says it all: Upon Further Review Cisco's Decision to Kill the Flip Makes Even Less Sense.

If you'd like to check out some of the videos I created with my Flip, here's the link.

I've had fun with it, even if nothing I made was entertaining enough to go viral like some vids that have seemingly been shared with the entire cyber-universe. Items in my playlist include some live painting, turkeys gobbling, my assistant hitting a golf ball, scenes from the NSRA Nationals in Louisville, a train going by on a rural road, and a few other brief diversions.

My camera still works fine, too. Even if the company has distanced itself from it I'll keep it around and upload a few more snippets for our mutual benefit.

In the meantime, have a great day.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Publishing Scene

We've come a long way since books were chiseled onto stone tablets. It's no wonder that early correspondence was generally brief. It's evident that our ancestors had the same need to communicate as we do today, except now it's a tad easier and faster.

Parchment made book-making quite a bit easier, but before the printing press it sure got tedious if you wanted to produce anything in quantity. I'd be curious how many books you had to reproduce by hand to make a bestseller.

Paper was eventually invented by the Chinese who taught book binding and book making to the Arabs in the 8th century. In the 12th century Marrakech in Morocco had one street alone with over 100 book sellers. Kind of a book fair, it seems. These selfsame Arabs brought the new technology into Europe where it evidently helped play a role in the Protestant Reformation in conjunction with the invention of movable type.

At a writer's conference that I attended in 1995 I learned that 50,000 books were being printed a year. The instructor of that class was attempting to impart a little realism to temper our expectations of becoming a published author. This did not include the countless volumes of manuscripts in various stages of development in desk drawers and waste baskets across the land.

Today, easy access to print-on-demand and digital publishing have resulted in one million volumes being created this past year. The Kindle, B&N Nook and other digital devices have enabled breezy access to publication.

Who knows where it will all lead. I can picture a land someday where everyone is writing books but no one is reading them because they are too busy writing their own. Or are we already there? It's called blogging. Hmmm.

Thought for the day: your life itself is a living book, read by all. Make it a worthwhile read.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Baseball

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball." ~Jacques Barzun

Well, the season is underway. I myself have been underway watching the Ken Burns documentary Baseball, halfway through the eleven hour epic and drinking it up. More than one of my paintings feature people wearing baseball caps. And there will no doubt be more.

Baseball is nearly as interwoven with Americana as the notion of democracy. The dollars players get paid may have changed, but when all is said and done a ball game is nine innings and three strikes is still an out.

Burns appears to be a master of the documentary form. My first Burns series was his Civil War, a singular achievement and the highest rated mini-series in PBS history. A couple year ago I saw his ten inning series on Jazz, with its phenomenal insights into twentieth century black culture. Here again, in his ten inning offering on Baseball, Burns makes yet another contribution to our understanding of black culture. It's impressive how full-orbed his contribution is to our understanding of a theme we could easily take for granted.

What makes this a rich heritage piece is the great images and footage of those early days of baseball that are simply stats in the history books. Beginning with baseball's roots and Abner Doubleday, Burns takes us on a tour of baseball's influence through the 1800's and straight through to the unpleasant present with its scandals, walkouts and steroid use. But at its heart, there is still something pure, a game of not only skill or science but psychology.

Quite naturally, if you have a favorite ballplayer from the past, Burns will give you a glimpse and a handful of new insights. Naturally Babe Ruth get a lot of attention, but here's footage of Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio and my one-time favorite Ty Cobb.

Did you know that Jackie Robinson was not the first black pro baseball player? Did you know that there was a subset of the game called Shadowball in which black ballplayers would play ball with an invisible ball, as if something real were happening? What president turned on the lights with a push of a button for the first night game in Major League history? The game took place at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. (I fondly remember watching the Big Red Machine there on more than one occasion.)

As one Amazon.com reviewer puts it, Ken Burns' documentary is essential viewing for baseball fans and American history buffs. I would concur.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Five Minutes with Award Winning Narrator Grover Gardner

I've been reading audio books for more than a dozen years now probably. Both of our libraries have good collections. But one thing an audio book benefits from that a printed volume is exempt from is a good narrator. Some readers you just put up with because you want to hear the book. Others are very good and are like icing on the cake. One of these I have listened to so many times that he's almost like an old friend. His name is Grover Gardner. His style is a perfect balance of restraint and, where suitable, empathy.

The first Elmore Leonard audio book I ever listened to was Mr. Majestyk. I liked it so much I've listened to it several times over the years, along with many of Mr. Leonard's books including Out of Sight, Get Shorty and others. Little did I know that half the reason I enjoyed these books so much was due to the reader. But now I understand this and whenever an audio book begins with this voice which has become so familiar to me, I know it will be a better experience because he is accompanying me through the story.

Over the years I've listened to many books narrated by Grover Gardner, most recently the deeply moving Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. But his repertoire includes C.S. Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Umberto Eco, Will Durant, John Grisham, Michener, Kerouac and other household names.

This is the first time I've ever gone out of my way to thank a narrator of one of the books I've listened to. I commend him to all of you. There is a link to a lengthy list of Mr. Gardner's 650-plus readings at the end of this blog.

Ennyman: What was your career path from student to award winning audio book narrator?

Grover Gardner: I began narrating for the Library of Congress' "Talking Book" program when I was a graduate student in Washington, D.C. That was in 1984. A fellow narrator, Flo Gibson, started her own company a couple of years later, and hired me to narrate commercial audio books for her. From there I began working for Books On Tape, then Blackstone, and on from there.

E: How and when did you discover you had a gift at speaking and reading?

GG: As a kid I loved listening to old time radio comedy, and from high school on I had thought it would be great to read books out loud, for the radio or some medium. I seem to recall making cassette tapes of sketches and stories, adding background music, things like that. In college I spent a lot of time in the radio station, but it wasn't until I was hired to narrate some magazines for the blind that I realized there was a whole industry devoted to what I wanted to do.

E: Are there things audio book readers do to develop their voices?

GG: No. Apart from being pleasant and easy on the ear, the voice doesn't have that much to do with it. We just think it does because the great narrators are so intelligent and use their voices to convey the ideas behind the text.

E: Your readings show remarkable range, and so many classics. How do you choose the projects you undertake? Or rather, how much freedom do you have in selecting what you read?
GG: As Studio Director for Blackstone I naturally get to pick and choose a bit, which is nice. In the broader freelance market narrators are assigned titles. The more in demand you are, the more you have the luxury of turning down the occasional project that doesn't really suit you. But by and large narrators are dependent on the casting smarts of the audio publishers.

E: I've listened to nearly all of the Elmore Leonard books you’ve read, a few several times, and the Hemingway books also. I was not aware that you’ve also read numerous books by Evangelicals like A.W. Tozer, J.I. Packer, John Piper and Eugene Peterson. Do you have a favorite author from this vast range of audio titles you’ve helped produce?

GG: Elmore Leonard was great fun to record. Mark Twain is an especial favorite of mine. The John Gardner novels I recorded years ago for Books On Tape (October Light, The Sunlight Dialogues), now sadly o/o/p, were memorable.

The Cider House Rules has always remained a favorite. Lately the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois Bujold has been a joy to do. Also the David Rosenfelt series for Listen and Live, those are great fun. And Ross Macdonald is an indulgence. I think the best thing I've done is Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones. No one listens to it because the subject matter is so ghastly, but it's my favorite book because it's so dark and subversive. No one who enjoys hearing me do an Andy Carpenter mystery would want to sit through it.

In terms of non-fiction, Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb was one of the best books I've ever read, about anything. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was titanic and utterly absorbing. Shelby Foote's The Civil War and Will Durant's Story of Civilization (all eleven volumes!) were landmark recordings in their day.

E: Thank you for your services in the advancement of literature.

Check out Grover Gardner's full catalog here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

No Guarantees

Quitters never win, and winners never quit.

That's the way it is. Without persistence, we are guaranteed to fail. The reverse, however, isn't necessarily true. Sometimes we persist, we finish the race, and yet we don't get the prize. This can be a hard nut to swallow.

I love the Old Testament verse that says, "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong... but time and chance happen to them all." (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Why do I love this saying? Because it give us a much needed reminder that things don't always work out. That's reality.

For example, there are no guarantees that if I say all the right things I will "close the deal" in business. Or get the job. Nor am I guaranteed to win the big race at the track meet if I prepare better this year than last. Nor am I guaranteed to become a famous novelist by writing lots of books. In all of these examples there are many factors outside of our control. Illness, strong competition, a death in the family, a car accident, even death - the list of things outside our control is limitless. As we all know, none of us is God. We are finite creatures with limited capabilities.

Nevertheless, there is one thing that is in our control. We can choose to give up, to quit, or we can choose to keep going. The one who quits pursuing his dream is certain never to reach it. The one who keeps going, who persists, will find that his dream inspires and strengthens him. And whether he reaches his dreams or whether he doesn't, he will be an inspiration to others to go after their own dreams.

If I remember correctly, Stephen King's first novel was rejected more than thirty times and he threw it in a waste basket out of exasperation. His wife encouraged him to try one more time, and sure enough, he found a publisher to take a chance on his book. His persistence paid off.

This story like many others about persistence are repeated in order to give us hope. Quotes about perseverance are legion, one of the most of quoted being this one by Calvin Coolidge.

"Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

And here is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on the same theme:

"The heights by great men reached and kept Were not attained by sudden flight, But they, while their companions slept, Were toiling upward in the night."

And yet, at the end of the day when all is said and done, there are still no guarantees. Like Rocky we can continue to the end and give it our best shot. Even we fail we can hold our heads high.

Press on!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Peace and Quiet

The fruit of Silence is Prayer.
The fruit of Prayer is Faith.
The fruit of Faith is Love.
The fruit of Love is Service.
The fruit of Service is Peace.
~Mother Theresa

We live such frantic lives these days, rushing to check email, our Facebook friends and all manner of activities, attending events, working on projects... not to mention our manifold career and family responsibilities. And when the children are in the home, rushing here and there to soccer games, baseball games, hockey practice, scouts, and friends' houses.....

We feel good about not having to haul water from the well as they did in the old days, or chop wood, but maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. They were active instead sitting in chairs and moving from the computer to the easy chair to the car seat during one's commute to the seat at the office.

I like the title of that Nicholson film, "Something's Gotta Give." Don't know what, don't know when, don't know where, but as much as I like to say "embrace life to the full" I also understand you need to pull back now and then to re-center. It's a matter of balance.

How you doin' in that department?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mourning in America

It is what it is. The poison is within.
When what's lost is beyond recovery
and we're powerless to change the past
the platitudes pile up fast.
"The sun will come out tomorrow."
"Seize the day."
"Put on a happy face."

Pain. Too much pain
and mourning in America.



Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Archaeology of Knowledge

Here's an interesting exploration... Historically, what is the origin of each idea or belief that we have today? What is the origin of democracy? What is the origin of our right to vote? Think about it. This was not always a "right" and so it must have appeared at some point in history. That is, there was a time when people did not vote or have a say in who ruled them and made the laws that governed their lives.

And even then, when the notion emerged, only some people had that right. Women did not have this right. Nor blacks. Which means that at a certain moment in time this changed. And both of those things changed in a very recent point in time in this country.

This kind of meditation was stimulated for me by Michel Foucault's philosophical explorations in his difficult, but not totally inaccessible, The Archaeology of Knowledge. He strives at one point to probe into who decides what behavior is acceptable, and what is not. In particular, how did some behaviors get people cast into "snake pits" (nickname for insane asylums) and others were not thus treated.

Part of his focus has to do with moral behaviors. Who makes the rules? Had Oscar Wilde lived today there is no way that he would imprisoned (two years) for his homosexual behavior. Today the thorny issue is not whether homosexuals should be imprisoned but whether they should be able to get married.

These are but examples of how the world is in flux.

One of the difficulties today is the disruption certain ideas have as they collide with other cultures. I think specifically of the empowerment of women. We've come a long way since women's suffrage and the right to vote was given to the fairer sex. Women run for office and run many organizations and corporations today in the U.S. Simultaneously, we see women in many parts of the world still treated as second class citizens. And it wasn't that long ago in this country that the highest many women were expected to aspire for was to provide offspring and heirs.

What seems obvious at one point in time is not always so obvious from another point in time. In many Muslim states certain Western ideas are a great threat to the balance of power within the social structures which are interwoven throughout the fabric of their lives. How liberate women without the destruction of men? Or is the very notion itself absurd in this context?

Life is complicated. My waking thoughts took me down a different path today as I pondered where certain ideas come from... and how we should never take anything for granted.

Think deeply, embrace life fully. And have a great day.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Alan Sparhawk, Shaking Worlds

Last night I finally had a chance to hear Alan Sparhawk's Retribution Gospel Choir, one of several bands he performs with. First impressions: it's the reincarnation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but not. That is to say, the three piece band had that Hendrix structure, but put Lou Reed on bass.

The What Four opened the night with an acoustic set, followed by eeriearq and the rocking Reggae band Uprising. Then Sparhawk and team quietly plugged in and took over.

When that first bass note rattled the floor boards under my feet I knew something serious was coming down. Sparhawk followed with singular intensity, accompanied by an accomplished drummer who could easily have been Mitch Mitchell's stand in. Retribution Gospel Choir was the fourth band of the night in a benefit concert for autism at the Clyde Iron Works in West Duluth.

My first encounter with Sparhawk was through his participation in the 3N6D performance 14 months ago at The Venue. John Heino's collaboration brainchild brought together a film maker, dancer and musician for a Happening-like experience that he himself photographed. Sparhawk's eerie, subdued innovations helped carry the imagination for those who drank it in, a feast for eyes and ears. So I did not know what to expect. last night....

Sparhawk is part of several bands, perhaps most famously Low, which has recorded eight albums. In 2010 Robert Plant, former lead singer for Led Zeppelin, recorded two of Low's songs, "Silver Rider" and "Monkey," for his Band of Joy album. Sparhawk made headlines earlier this year when Plant's recording of "Silver Rider" was nominated for a Grammy.

Sparhawk also plays with two other bands, the Black Eyed Snakes (blues) and Los Besos. He's also recorded some solo guitar work.

Though born in Seattle (another Hendrix connection) his family moved to Utah where he was raised and ultimately married his childhood sweetheart. They are unabashed Mormons, now living here in the Duluth with their two children, contributing to a local music scene which seems to be broiling with vitality right now. I was told last night his band does a month in Germany each year. I can see from his willingness to be so poured out in a performance of even modest size that he could really rattle the rafters in any sized venue. His band held nothing back, and their fans drank it in.

It got kind of late for some who get up for work early, but it was a good cause, and a show many of us did not want to miss.


Lower right: Alan Sparhawk mugs for the camera.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Superior Public Art

One of the areas of tension between some liberals and conservatives is in the realm of public art. You don't have to look too far to find people asking the question, "Why are my taxpayer dollars being used for that?" I've been guilty of this as much as the next fellow. But the reality is, what a drab world we'd be living in if it we're for some of the public art that permeates our cities, sometimes in the most surprising places.

When my son was going to school in Grand Forks, their downtown river walk area was decorated with artistic fork sculptures. A couple years ago, it appears Duluth took their lead and requisitioned small creatively executed aerial lift bridge sculptures which can be seen around the Canal Park area.

One of the features of downtown Duluth is a fountain/sculpture across from the tech center. I remember a few caustic letters to the editor grumbling about the wasted money involved in implementing this aesthetic investment. But guess what? I can't imagine that intersection without it. If it were absent, we'd just have a bit of sidewalk there and... what? This is a great piece of public art.

Artists throughout history have made countless contributions to our lives, heralded and unheralded. What is it that makes New York City a distinctive safe harbor for the world's castaways? The Statue of Liberty beckons.... a work of art in the highest degree.

Having lived in Mexico one readily notices a great deal of public art, from murals in the town squares to the manifold statues. I would show a more examples if I could figure out how to transfer my Ektachrome slides to digital in a timely (the next 15 minutes) fashion.

And so it is that a group called Superior Public Spaces has been carrying out a face lift for the city of Superior, Wisconsin. The full name of the group is Superior Public Art Creating Community Environments, or SPACES. Last year the group initiated the Backdoor Project, in conjunction with the city's business development team (BID). The Backdoor Project involved hiring artists to paint murals in the alleys of many of the businesses on Tower Avenue, the city's primary and once thriving business district.

I like their slogan/motto: "Bridging Art and Commerce with Community." Here is more about SPACES and how they describe their role...

Superior Public Art Creating Community Environments – SPACES was formed in early 2009. We are an active and engaged planning and working team of representatives from a broad section of the community including artists, cultural organizations, businesses, and city agencies.

By us and through our working relationships with other community partners, our goal is to develop short and long-term art-based projects. These will lead to neighborhood and business revitalization, which will in turn, showcase Superior as a vibrant cultural destination.

At this time, we are working on the Back Door Project with local artists and the Superior BID, and developing a Phantom Gallery Project to bring all disciplines of the arts into our vacant storefronts. Longer-term goals include ways to beautify all major highways coming into Superior, and expand upon the mural project started by the Douglas County Historical Society.

For some reason I did not connect the reason for the murals on the alley side of these Tower Avenue businesses until this week I learned that Tower Avenue is slated for a major re-construction next year. In other words, they are going to dig it up and do it all over again. In short, the back doors will become front doors for a year. Pretty nifty idea, then, to think about all these details so far in advance.

Which leads me to the Phantom Galleries project. Phantom Galleries Superior is another SPACES project, designed to turn the empty storefronts and spaces on Tower Avenue into short term art galleries, events, installations and performances. Very cool idea. Artists get their work promoted as empty building spaces get utilized.

The call to artists went out earlier this year, but applications are still being accepted through April 15. For more information check out their Facebook page.

TOP RIGHT: This tribute to John Lennon in New York's Central Park is another well known example of public art.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dream Big Little Pig

Like many Americans, the Olympics have provided a thread of continuity throughout the course of their lives. In summer, it's swimming, running, jumping, gymnastics, javelins and diving. And in winter we see bobsledding, all variety of skiing, hockey and skating, among other things. For some reason, we were especially avid fans of women's figure skating. Like nothing else it seems to embody the perfect combination of aesthetics and athleticism. And the way it is produced on television, there's a wonderfully human aspect to the spectacle as we learn of their life stories, the sacrifices they made and the dreams they nurtured.

Twelve years ago I had dinner with an ESPN producer who was involved with many sports, including some extreme winter sports with their jawdropping exploits. He confided that of everything he did with ESPN, producing the World Figure Skating Championships was his favorite assignment. All of us who have watched these programs appreciate the work these people behind the scenes do to bring us stories of the world's most gifted and determined competitors.

Even if you're only half a fan you know the names.... Michelle Kwan, Oksana Baiul, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding, Tara Lipinski. And Kristi Yamaguchi, who not only took the Gold in 1992, she also won two World Figure Skating Championships and the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, plus national titles in pairs skating as well as celebrity champ on Dancing with the Stars in 2008, a sign to me that she is still having fun trying new things and inspiring fans. Her lifelong motto has been, "Always dream."

So it should come as no surprise that this year she found a new way to plant that message in young peoples' heart with a children's picture book for kids 4 and up. Right off Dream Big Little Pig took the #2 slot on the New York Times Bestseller List. Illustrated by Tim Bowers, who has illustrated more than 25 children's books, the flavor of the story and it's imagery all work together to bring a little sunshine into young lives.

The story is about a little pig named Poppy. I am reminded here of Charlotte's Web to some extent, and perhaps a comical scene from Disney's Fantasia. I'm imagining that Ms. Yamaguchi wrote the story to encourage her own two daughters to dream as she had dreamed when young. Being somewhat well connected after her television stardom, I can imagine that someone in New York said the story deserved a wider audience than just her daughters.

Dreaming big is more than just a motto. In 1996 Yamaguchi founded the Always Dream Foundation, a charity for children. Life is pretty bleak without hope, and hope is the bedrock of big dreams. Hence her commitment to sowing hope amongst young people.

If you can't find the book in your local bookstore, I'm sure a quick Google search will lead you to several sources. There's nothing like the habit of reading a good book with a good message to your children every night. It makes a difference, for them and for you.

Message to Kristi: Write on.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Jung, Art and Dreams

"In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order." ~Carl Jung

Sigmund Freud published his book The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900 in part because he believed Twentieth century man was on the threshold of a new era akin to a new enlightenment age. Two world wars and numerous occasions of genocide proved him wrong on that score, but in one respect he was right. Man is a complex being, and dreams can be a tool for getting below the surface of our conscious minds.

Carl Jung took this initial research a step further, applied a different approach. Jung proposed that the human psyche is "by nature religious" and continued to pioneer dream analysis. Some, building on Freud, attempted to define images in dreams the same hard and fast way that a dictionary defines words. Jung widened this window to something beyond all that.

Jung also offered up the idea that making art has therapeutic value, helping bring resolution to emotional stress and disruption. I remember, for example, when I returned to Ohio after witnessing a disturbing level of police violence in the May Day protests of 1971 that I completely lost myself in drawing images in my sketchbook which attempted to release the bad energy within me. It was a more than unsettling experience and the sketchbook helped assuage my pain and inner confusion.

In 1957, at the ripe old age of 81, Carl Jung decided to set down in writing the story of his life. This book, which is in front of me as I write this, was titled Memories, Dreams, Reflections. It begins...

My life is a story of the self-realization of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to experience itself as a whole. I cannot employ the language of science to trace this process of growth in myself, for I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.

What we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis, can only be expressed by way of myth. Myth is more individual and expresses life more precisely than does science. Science works with concepts of averages which are far too general to do justice to the subjective variety of an individual life.

When you are 81 how will you begin your life story? What will you have learned about life and your self that you would like to share? Then again, why wait till you're 81?

Have a great weekend.