30 July 2009

Waiting for the School Bus... John's Request.

This piece was made for me from my request by artist Cara Lynn Kleid. It was part of a trade. I made her the bonsai painting I posted here last month and she made this awesome piece for me. Here was the request I emailed her:

I wake up at 5:30 every morning to get my son, Theo, ready for kindergarten. I usually let my wife, Beth, sleep because she works longer days than me.
I live in Minneapolis where the days are very short and cold in the winter. Theo catches his bus at 6:40 am. Half of the year it is still pitch black at this time. In January, we walk to the bus stop and it's usually dead quiet, and looks like night, the stars and the moon are out. It's often well below zero and snow may be piled waist high next to the sidewalks. No one is out. Sometimes we are so cold, we jump around. Sometimes we look at the sky and talk about how far away and big things are.
Sometimes it's unbearable to be out there so tired and frozen. But it is also beautiful.

I told Cara to take any part of this narrative or all of it and do with it as she will. It turns out she told the entire story and completely captured the feeling of it. The rush to get out to the bus stop, the calm of waiting, the haziness of cold early morning, it's all there. If you look at the image closely, you will see that the location of each of my family members is labeled.
The lines of the bus are so simple and confident and loose...it's really hard to draw like that. Plain and simple, her work is really impressive... and she makes it look so easy. Damn you, Cara!

Cara requested that I send the painting I made to her father, Joe, in Florida who raises bonsais. I was pleased when she forwarded me some pictures he had taken of it with his trees.

Thank You, Cara!
As always, check out Cara's website:

22 July 2009

Motorcycle Sappho!

Yeah, you saw it ... and now you're going to have to deal with it. Motorcycle Sappho!

Stephanie Huss commissioned this painting for her close friends Beth and Allison as a gift for their commitment ceremony this coming weekend. Steph requested a larger piece than the usual tiny panda size and I agreed to it. (I like Steph, and I can do what I want!). This painting is an enormous 10"x12". It dwarfs everything else on this blog.

Steph didn't have anything specific in mind. She ran some basic information about her friends by me and then asked if I knew of any women in ancient mythology that ruled the world together. I didn't, but mentioned the ancient Greek poet Sappho who ruled the poetry world from the island of Lesvos (from which the word "lesbian" was derived. Etymology!).

Sappho was a respected and popular figure in the ancient world whose work traveled well outside of the Hellenic world. Very little is known about Sappho and what we have is greatly debated. At one time, Nine volumes of her poetry circulated but now only one complete poem exists, everything else is just fragments. (However, I can watch the complete first season of "Charles in Charge" on Hulu...preservation...). Many of here works are love poems to other women.
I bought a board and was going to do an ancient Greekish looking portrait but that seemed to random. I thought it needed some kind of fresh context. I knew I didn't want it to look like the lurid grotesquely-romantic paintings of Sappho that were popular in Western Europe in the 19th century. Half-naked women leaning against each other lounging by the sea.
I showed the original ancient source pictures I was going to use to Beth (Megas, my wife...two Beth's in this story...) because I know she never pulls any punches with me (even when I'd prefer it). Beth was unimpressed. She burst out with "Sappho should be riding a motorcycle". It was the worst idea I had ever heard. ...but it was kind of awesome... maybe?
I wrote our friend Karen Lillis in Pittsburgh and ran it by her. I thought she would be a good judge on the awesome/yuck factor of this one. She was excited about it. I called Steph and she gave me a big thumbs up. Motorcycle Sappho it is.
I changed the basic style and color scheme of this painting more times than I can remember. I originally approached it with the idea of an ancient artifact... but that seemed too gimmicky. At one point it was more graphic and Sappho looked suspiciously like a cartoon Nia Vardalos. There were scorpions and a cobra for a while. It also went through a darker German Expressionist phase. I lightened it up and made it much less angular and we got what we have now. I like this. I didn't want it to be too ridiculously serious or too much of a novelty piece.
If the couple are not satisfied with it, they can scrape off a couple layers, they are bound to find something they like underneath.

In Other News :
I've recently received an image of the piece artist Cara Lynn Kleid made from my request (see "Bonsai!") and I will post that within the week. It's beautiful and kind of wacky! My favorite combination.

Thank you, Stephanie, and my best to Beth and Allison. I wish you many happy years!

02 July 2009

A Haiku From Sweden And A Dream Of Kurosawa.

This Painting is for Catharina Jarl who lives in Stockholm, Sweden. Catharina is a writer with a very impressive past who currently runs a Haiku Blog called Swedeheart: Haiku from Sweden. The haikus she writes are awesome...and I love the fact that a Swedish haiku blog exists.
Catharina stumbled across the Panda when she was searching for information about Rowan Trees (see The Lucky Tree From Which The Devil Hanged His Mother?). She left some very kind comments on my last post and I replied to her with the suggestion that we make a trade. A haiku for a painting. The haiku she wrote for/about me is being published on her blog at the same time as I post this. Click over and read it.

I'm crazy about it... and I'm glad that she chose to write about her process.

As for her request, Catharina sent me a YouTube link to Sunshine Through the Rain, the first segment in Akira Kurosawa's film Dreams.
In this dream a boy wanders into the woods during a sunny rainstorm, despite his mother's warnings, and witnesses a fox's wedding procession. As you may imagine, the foxes are none too happy...
I decided to represent the narrative of this story but to change the look and approach. I wanted to depart from the traditional Japanese costumes and human "foxes" of the film. Very early on I thought about the Matisse painting "Boy with a Butterfly Net" that I have saw many times over the years at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (which I live less than a mile from). This, along with that Max Beckman painting of a crowd of people and a guy in a top hat, which I don't know the name of, where like ghosts haunting an almost subconscious part of my soul the entire time I was painting.
I also immediatley knew I wanted the strongest colors to include phalo blue (which I made the greens from) and burnt umber. Together, they felt like the appropriate dream colors to me. Lately, I've liked to set paintings up using india ink with a long skinny Chinese ink brush. Just making the lines of everything first. I did that here and ended up misusing that ink brush with acrylic paint for almost everything here. It felt right. I need to be careful. I've been using too many art supplies the way they were intended. Can make for boring stuff if you're not careful.
Be sure to read the haiku on Catharina's blog and ...
if you are a member of the Swedish speaking world check out her other blog:

Unfortunately, I don't read Swedish so I have no idea what it's about.
Thank You, Catharina! This has been fun.