Saturday, April 19, 2014

Only Connect: Ah, the Thrills of Collage...

I've been making postcard-sized collages for the annual National Collage Society Postcard Show. I love working small! I find I can use tiny bits that I've been saving. The show is a an annual non-juried event, to be held online this year for the first time. Members submit one 4 x 6 " collage and all will be shown. I look forward to seeing the postcards. The three shown here were among the contenders, but obviously I can not/should not publish the collage I am submitting beforehand. The one shown above is called 1, 8, 15, 22, 29.

I named this one High Tide, Low Tide. I love using maps in my collages.

And this one is: Tiger Lily. As you can see, I limited my colors to warm browns, reds, yellow and a little, green and black.
Making collages, I often think of the E. M. Forester quote found at the end of his novel, Howard's End, which I read in college: "Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die."
To be exact, there are two parts of this quote I especially relate to: "Only connect."  And "Live in fragments no longer." Someone recently asked me "Why collage?" My immediate response was that in collage, I find deep integration. Combining fragments into a new whole is deeply satisfying. It is a bit like quilting, which I also enjoy. But I find cut and paste work with various papers and some mixed media provides a faster form of satisfaction than sewing.
When I've gone too long without making collages, what a joy it is to sit down and rediscover its thrills: connecting images that were formerly disconnected. Working with color and shape as well as the inherent subject matter feels a bit like making picture poems. There are joyful times that lines, shapes or textures inter-connect as I play with the pieces. And though here I am praising the points of connection, I believe most collages have inherent disconnected elements as well, and that makes for a certain built-in paradoxical or (hopefully) eye-catching appeal. Collage exists in sort of an alternative universe or dreamtime. I have observed that often people do not take the art form of collage seriously. That is why I am glad for the existence of the National Collage Society. When the show goes live later this year, I will link to it here.
Happy Easter weekend!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

There's always plenty to love about a new novel by Anna Quindlen! I felt immediate sympathy for Rebecca Winter, the photographer who at age 60, considers herself at an impasse in her life. Once famous as a groundbreaking (some say feminist artist), her fame has peaked and her finances are precarious. The only way she can pay her bills, including her mother's nursing home tab, is to rent out the Manhattan apartment she owns and move upstate and become a renter herself. Clearly she is lonely and running scared.

When the rundown cabin she moves into proves to have a raccoon inhabitant in the attic, she gets help from a roofer/Wildlife worker named Jim Bates. Eventually, he helps Rebecca find work as a nature photographer. She also finds herself becoming a hiker and begins photographing a series of mysterious white cross shrines she finds in the woods. She begins to think these may be the best photos she's ever taken. Reluctantly, then more enthusiastically, she accepts the company of a stray dog and also photographs him. Supporting characters in the small town take a shine to Rebecca, though she tends to shrug off her former fame. Connections between Jim and Rebecca provide complications and mysteries. Taken all together, these characters exemplify small town life and really paint a picture of the world Rebecca has dropped into.

If I was to pick at anything about this book, it would be the predictable nature of the somewhat timeworn plot arc where a big city girl morphs into a country mouse, etc. But I forgive Quindlen this structure for it afforded me communion with the soul of the artist Rebecca Winter. I found her to be so unique and interesting, she truly seemed real to me. Thus I read the book quickly and felt quite bereft when the novel ended, not that it ended sadly, but just because my time with everyone between its book covers was over.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Spring Fever (Not Quite...) 2014

Here are a few herbs that have survived the colder-than-usual winter. Today when I woke it was in the high 30s, unusual for Houston in March. We had three hard freezes this winter. I  know that is nothing compared to so much of the country, but freezes here do require a lot of fuss-budgeting -- dragging pots into the house or garage, wrapping shrubs in blankets and every old sheet you can find, building freeze barricades out of cardboard boxes, etc. Enough already!

Agaves are becoming my favorite succulent. This one looks like it may need a bigger pot soon, but generally they are content to be pot-bound.

Here's another agave. Easy to care for, and they don't need much water.

I love to plant nasturtiums after the new year and watch them arrive as the first blooms of late winter.

Buddha guarding the flowering salvia.

I planted five tomato plants yesterday and to tell you the truth, I should have waited, given the weather forecast. This plant looks OK since it is somewhat protected from the cold because of the fence nearby. Two of the tomato plants looked a little wilted this AM, so I may have to replace them. Other years I've planted tomatoes as early as mid February and not had any problems. My favorite places to buy tomato plants: Buchanan's and Joshua's, both independent nurseries thriving in the Heights neighborhood of Houston. I especially recommend the Juliet tomato variety (sort of a plum tomato), great for salads; it stands up to the Houston heat and thus lasts longer than any other variety I have tried.

I love gazing balls. There I am trying to get a good shot. Everything is springing up clover this time of year. Later on, it will be too hot for weedy clover and they will disappear.
I have decided not to try and grow many vegetables this year. It just takes too much water and time, plus we have only sporadic success depending on the weather. We will make do with tomatoes, lemons, figs, and herbs. In fact, I am really striving to simplify my yard for a more Zen look. Using more much, gravel, stone pathways, etc., should hopefully make things easier to care for. The problem is plants that spread like wildfire -- ferns, wedlia, ruella, plants that do grow well here but persist in trying to take over! This year I do not really feel spring-feverish. I am concentrating on the less-is-more concept and hopefully that will result in more time to appreciate and enjoy the yard. I will, however, continue to indulge in flowers -- just can't resist their beauty. Note to self: plant sunflower seed as soon as this cold patch is over....

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This collection of previously published articles, speeches and essays by Ann Patchett deeply satisfied my curiosity about the life of the best-selling author. Usually such collections are a grab bag, too miscellaneous for a straight-through read. But I did not feel that way about this collection. Patchett's remarkably down-to-earth voice, at times playful, wry or questioning, often self-deprecating, kept me reading.

Readers will close the book knowing not only the story of her happy second marriage, but also her disastrous first, as well as her long and soulful relationship with a foundling puppy named Rose. Further topics include caring for her grandmother, her friendship with Lucy Grealy (which resulted in the book Truth & Beauty), her love of opera, learning how to write and her writing process, as well as her role in opening Parnassus, an independent bookstore in Nashville. I found the last chapter especially moving; it tells the story of her relationship with the elderly nuns who once taught her in Catholic school.

Patchett's writing process amazed me. She works the bones of a novel out in her head, not writing down a word until she has a good feel for it. What a feat of active imagination! I love these lines about learning to write:

Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art, you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. (page 29)

Patchett graduated from the esteemed Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she learned "how to tune my ear to the usefulness and uselessness of other people's opinions." Among the teachers she shares memories of are Grace Paley and Allan Gurganus. So reading this memoir-ish collection was truly a fantastic tour through what makes accomplished storyteller Patchett tick.

Here's one more surprising fact I learned about Patchett reading the book: thinking she wanted to write about police work, she trained hard and passed the Los Angeles Police department's physical and written exam, following in the footsteps of her father. She can leap over tall walls in one bound! Now I know Ann Patchett truly is a superwoman!

Monday, January 20, 2014

"LoveToken" Collages

I began a new series of collages a few months ago. I call them Love Token collages and most of them feature Hershey's Kisses strips. On the back of each laminated postcard-sized collage is a secondary collage featuring a quote or short poem. I had fun combing the internet and borrowing poetry books from Harris County Public Library to find the right quotations. It brought out the librarian in me!  (Books turned out to be much better for browsing than the web....) Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Zelda Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Christopher Marlowe and Robert Herrick are some of the folks whose words I chose.

The beautiful gal on this card comes from one of the Dover Clip Art series, The Art of Perfume.
I love the Fifties era millinery model in this composition.

Although some of these are selling as Valentines, I did not limit myself to the usual red and pink color scheme. I guess I'd like to think they are all-purpose keepsake collages. In this one, I also used colored pencils, paint and tissue paper.

I forget which Dover clip art series this Victorian clip art image of a woman with a fan comes from, but I adore all the old engravings and love to use them in my compositions.
These collages are available for purchase from Lucia's Garden here in Houston.
PS: What I'm reading: The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy.
Best books read recently: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and The All-Girls Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fanny Flagg.
For my humble comments on these books, I refer you to my Goodreads page.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Favorite Books, 2013

Here are ten really good novels I read this year, a totally personal list, my seventh annual "Best Books" list since beginning this blog in 2007 when I was working for Harris County Public Library. Longer reviews of these books can be found on my Goodreads page or in earlier blog posts.

Benediction by Kent Haruf. Knopf, 2013.
Dad Lewis had what can only be called a good death. His pain was attended to with loving hands. He was not alone. He was deeply loved.The plainspoken, decent people of Haruf's Colorado-based novels always enchant me. For all their high plains starkness, they exemplify much that is mysterious about the human condition.
Flora by GailGodwin. Bloomsbury, 2013.
During World War II, ten year-old Helen loses the grandmother that has been her maternal mainstay. Her father is away doing mysterious war work, and Helen sets her mind against spending a summer under the care of her fawning, sentimental cousin, Flora. Strong characterization and much emotional depth.
Guests on Earth by Lee Smith. Shannon Ravenel, 2013.
Evalina Toussaint spends her adolescence at an insane asylum in Asheville, North Carolina during the 30s and 40s, though she does not seem very mentally ill. One of her hospital chums is none other than Zelda Fitzgerald. Evalina plays the piano and Zelda choreographs dances for hospital recitals. A coming of age tale, one of real substance, strong on regional and historical color.
Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper. Bantam, 2013.
Major meow-wow! Within a few pages, I knew Gwen Cooper had done the impossible -- made me believe I was hearing the authentic interior monologue of Prudence, the rescued cat who is the major star of this novel. But not to worry, Prudence doesn't have to carry the whole book. Readers will also lap up chapters by Sarah, the woman who originally rescues Prudence, as well as her somewhat estranged daughter, a lawyer named Laura. When Sarah dies, Laura inherits Prudence and thus the trouble begins. A humorous and heart-warming read.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Michael Joseph, 2012.
During the first weeks of caring for Will Traynor, a wealthy wheelchair-bound British quadriplegic, Louisa Clark doubts everything about her new job. Yet somehow they form a mutual admiration society. But Will is not sure he wants to continue his earthly life.... A wrenching, thoughtful and quirky read.
Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth. Atria, 2012. During her midnight shift on the radio in Naples, Florida, a DJ dubbed Miss Dreamsville plays the music of Patsy Cline, Elvis and Nat King Cole. It is 1962 and there has never been a woman on the air at WNOG before. She also starts a book club which includes an African American woman and a gay man. At first glance, this book is hilarious, but also manages to cover serious ground on matters or race, gender and human nature.
The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood. W.W. Norton, 2013.
Vivien Lowe did not realize what wisdom there was in grief after losing her lover, David, to the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. When fate brings grieving people needing sympathy and a listening ear to her door, she becomes a gifted obituary writer. A surprisingly lively novel with well developed characters.
Someone by Alice McDermott. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2013. 
Marie Commeford is an unprepossessing Irish Brooklyn girl through and through. Of all things, she ends up working in a local funeral home, where she matures into the role of comforting angel for the bereaved. Will she ever find someone to love? I found this slim novel to be rich in both the sacred and profane.

 A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee. Random House, 2013.
 Helen Armstead and her husband Ben have been sleepwalking through their marriage for some years. Even their mutual love of their adopted Chinese daughter does not really give them shared ground. Then Ben, a lawyer, gets arrested for a DWI and faces a sexual assault accusation. Within a few months newly divorced Helen becomes a surprisingly gifted PR agent. Lots of twists to this multi-layered tale.
A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy. Orion, 2012.
Chicky Starr sinks her life's savings into renovating an old mansion and turning it into a restful small hotel by the sea on the western coast of Ireland. An ensemble cast of needy characters show up during the first week the hotel opens. This endearing read is the last novel from the beloved Irish author (1940 - 2012).


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Collage: "Reconstituted"

The National Collage Society holds an annual online juried show, and when I first entered the competition in 2010, I felt quite lucky to have a collage accepted. Next two years, not so lucky. But this year my luck changed. "Reconstituted" appears in this year's show! It is one in series I think of as my "panoramic" collages, long and narrow.

When you enter a show, you just never really know if the judges will find your work favorable. It's really a matter of each judge's individual taste. They might favor realistic, abstract or minimal compositions, etc. Achieving my goal of placing in the show feels like such a blessing, especially coming on the heels of my mother's death in May. It took quite a while to get back to my collage practice. But then, along came this new series, and I was able to hit my stride again.

The printed catalog for the 2013 29th Annual Juried Exhibit is available for $19.00, digital version for $10.

Thank you for looking at my art and/or the online show!