Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I have been looking at a book about blackwork embroidery for some ideas for designs for my big lino prints. Blackwork was popular in the 16th century. I love these portraits from that period!

I've nearly completed my carving - I can't use the press yet, so I'll be installing my prints in the Walker Terrace window for the month of June rather than May.

I colored with white pastel on these proofs to get an idea of what to carve next. I'll pull 2 proofs tomorrow to show where I'm at with these!

Susan Beauchemin

It's this artist's birthday today! Five fantastic self-portraits by California artist, Susan Beauchemin, my sister.
Happy Birthday, Sue!

Self Portrait with Child's Handprint, 2008
watercolor, 7" x 7"

Self Portrait with Lisbeth's Snowflake, 2007
watercolor, 7" x 7"

Self Portrait Against the Wall, 2008
watercolor, 7" x 7"

Nosebleed, 2007
waterccolor, 7" x 7"

Shell Fragments and Shadow, 2008
watercolor, 7" x 7"

More Terrific SP's

Picasso, Neel, Gillespie, Paula Rego, Van Gogh, Kahlo, Beckmann, Kiki Smith, Munch, Rego...

The top pic, that charcoal self of Picasso's - I saw that drawing in Boston several years ago at a huge exhibit of his paintings at the MFA. It was drawn I think on a napkin. It is the single image that stuck with me after seeing the show that day.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In Celebration of Self Portraits

A few favorites: Anne Harris, Edvard Munch, Paula Modersohn Becker, Max Beckmann, Kiki Smith, Chuck Close, Frida Kahlo, Francis Bacon, Paula Rego, Vincent Van Gogh.
Also, check out this wonderful You Tube video!

My Father My Self

Reading Musa Mayer's memoir and biography of her father, the painter Philip Guston, has brought up for me thoughts about the tangled complexities of the father/daughter relationship. I can relate to the force that her larger than life father was in her life - I felt that way about my father, although he was not a famous man. Another thing that she and I have in common is a very quiet, almost voiceless mother. Musa Mayer's mother rarely spoke her opinion and dreaded speaking in groups - my mother was and still is the same way. The strong connection I feel with Mayer is that our fathers were in charge and center stage.

Much of my work is about my connection to my father: the healthy connects and the unhealthy disconnects; feeling protected, feeling unprotected; love that could feel good at times, and controlling and suffocating at other times. I have boundary issues around intimacy and sexuality that are the product of the times I grew up in (the 60's and 70'), and the product of growing up in a patriarchal culture, as well as of my personal dynamic with my father. Boundary issues are at the heart of the panic disorder I've struggled with my whole adult life and are the subject of many of my self-portraits.

Maine artist Amy Stacey Curtis writes in her book, Women, Trauma and Visual Expression:

For artists who have experienced trauma, recurrent symbols and patterns in their work could be archetypal, could contain language representative of personal, cultural, and collective experiences. Furthermore, it may be through the gradual emergence and development of these themes that artists work through their experiences of trauma.

Philip Guston's (whose birth name was Goldstein) late work is filled with these recurrent symbols - this archetypal language which speaks about his personal trauma and the collective trauma of the Jewish world community. I am rummaging through my old work now to see what is there. It is always my hope that my self-portraits reach and speak to others about shared experience and are not, as an old painting teacher of mine accused, "a form of masturbation," implying that they are merely a selfish, exclusive act.

photo: me at age 2 or 3 with my father's shadow.

The One That Got Away/Self, 1997
pastel and pencil on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
collection the artist

photo detail: my father's hand and mine
In/Out I, 1991
charcoal on Rives BFK, 29" x 41"
lost in studio fire

me and my father on our way to the annual Dancing School party, 1966 (though you can't see them here, I'm wearing my first pair of heels - white pumps. We won the trophy for best father/daughter dance partners!)
Surrendering Self, II, 1991
charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
lost in studio fire

me and my father at Point Judith, RI, 1971

Witch's Milk II, 1991
charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
lost in studio fire
me with my father and my sisters Amy and Debby, at my brother Steven's wedding in 1972

Ten Sentences

Another morning in my memoir class at MECA, Claude assigned this free write:

In one minute, write the story of your life in ten sentences. Begin.

1. I am in my crib hugging my pale yellow blanket.

2. I think that it is the skirt of a beautiful woman

3. My whole body is yearning for my mother.

4. My grandmother gives me a piece of bacon which I tie to a string to take down to the mussel bed to go crabbing.

5. I go to sleep in my bunk bed listening to the foghorn - there are 12 seconds between each blow.

6. When I kiss my boyfriend Tony and he kisses me, I feel the same yearning that I had in my crib for my mother.

7. I become so obsessed with this yearning that I have 5 babies in 9 years.

8. I have a couple of breakdowns and rediscover that I love to draw.

9. My daughter becomes very ill and it becomes difficult to do my art for 14 years.

10. My barn burns down and I lose 30 years of art, so I decide to go back to school.

Surrendering Self I, 1991
charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
collection Duane Paluska, ICON Gallery, Brunswick, ME
Surrendering Self I (in progress)

Double One, 1997
charcoal On Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
collection the artist
Catalpa, 1990
charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
collection Pat Hardy
Catalpa, detail
Catalpa, detail

Monday, April 28, 2008

Angels and Demons

"I am afraid, if my devils leave me, my angels will take flight as well."
Rainer Maria Rilke
I'm just finishing reading Night Studio: A Memoir of Philip Guston, by his daughter, Musa Mayer. It's a page turner. Guston was an extremely difficult man to live with. He had a tragic history - he was the one who found his father after he hanged himself when Philip was only 10, and he lost his older brother 7 years after that. He was depressive, alcoholic, chain smoking, egotistical, womanizing - also brilliant, charming, talented...
Mayer struggled her whole life to connect with her father who was at times resentful of her and emotionally distant. Her mother, the artist Musa McKim, was a typical codependent and enabler, giving up her art to be a support for her husband. According to Mayer, her father's art always came first, and she relays some pretty sad stories of her emotional (and sometimes physical) abandonment by both parents for the sake of Art.
So many questions come up for me from reading this book, not only about Guston's art and process, but about what makes an artist? Guston was of the generation that handled emotional problems at home and by themselves, usually by burying them with addictions. To enter therapy was a shameful thing. Interestingly and perhaps predictably, Mayer became a therapist. She is a typical ACOA.
So questions that arise, including this old one, does one have to be mentally ill to be an interesting artist? Can art be therapy? What kind of art do people make who are healed and self actualized? (Are there any such folks?) Guston became conscious of his demons and wrestled with them in his purgative paintings from the last decade of his life. It was as if he was coughing stuff up.
Do we separate the artist, the flawed human, from the art? Or do we hold the artist responsible for their behavior? Would art be a BORE if we were all humming OM???
(I can't help but think about an article I read about Carolyn Chute who wrote The Beans of Egypt. She was talking about Christmas decorations here in Maine, and how she loved all the cheesy displays on people's lawns and what a bore it would be if everyone had tasteful white lights and a simple wreath on the front door...)