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It’s a Riddle

I, for the life of me, cannot figure out how a sculptor can see a piece of wood and carve out her/his exact vision of what is hidden in it or what s/he wants it to represent. Another instance of an extreme craft underlying a seemingly effortless artistic product.

I was introduced to wooden sculpture as a child, visiting various churches during travels, and what I most remember is my fascination with the millions of holes made by the woodworms. These days, now more enthusiastically exploring churches, I always wonder about how the facial expressions of the various saints and madonnas could give such testimony to grief or suffering in such static material.

However, the place I REALLY want to visit if I could get my act and my finances together, is Inhotim.  It is a contemporary art garden and museum in Brazil, with a wacky history and a mind blowing collection, from all I have read. The founder was recently sentenced to prison for money laundering (rumors had swirled for ages.) In any case, they have a collection of sculptures – benches made from found wood – by artist Hugo Franca that I long to photograph. The link below has a banner that shows some of the amazing works in succession.

Imperial Sculptures, The Benches of Inhotim

Wood sculpture has come a long way from a Madonna statue carved from Lindenwood. Artists from all over the world combine vision and skill to create something modern and yet somehow archaic.  Just look at the kinetic work of Dedy Shofianto. Links below show the diversity, from choice of material to degree of inventiveness.

Hybrid Kinetic Insects Carved from Wood by Dedy Shofianto

Pixelated Wood Sculptures Carved by Hsu Tung Han

And here is an artist from Holland working with found wood:

Bare Bones

In the meantime the Northwest woods have to suffice on this end, offering their own bounty of wood to be marveled at and photographed.

It’s an Enigma.

And it should be one. Landscapes can acquire a strange, beautiful quality inspiring anything from subtle goosebumps to an outright sense of the ominous. At least when photographed in the right light from the correct angle.

A lot of professional photographers have that down pat – partly because they are able to travel to landscapes that are inherently dramatic, partly because they know the craft to make the image focus on something particularly sublime and/or lurking.  I tend to be dismissive of that, be it from jealousy or an allergy to “slick.”

However, I do make exceptions, when the people in question also display intellectual substance; case in point is the essay linked to below,  – long, I warn you, but worth it – from Mark Meyer, a photographer of international renown, the kind you’d want to do your advertising.

Photograph by Mark Meyer

He describes enigmatic beauty but also talks about philosophers’ approach to nature and I found myself concurring with some of the observations made by them and him – on the scale of my own life as a lesser mortal wandering in more quotidian landscapes. This quote rang particularly true:

Here are more of my own photographs, taken in Eastern OR and the Silverstar trail in WA. Some I have probably shown before, they are just images I really like.

And then there are those photographers how have creative ideas that add to the enigma – like Henk van Rensbergen who created scenario that had animals as the sole post-apocalyptic survivors.


Back to naturally enigmatic landscapes, though. I certainly believe that documenting them involves representations of something invoking disquiet. Of the early Italian painters, no-one was better at that than Leonardo da Vinci. Look at any of his paintings that include landscapes, and you find something mysterious, unsettling. In our own times, Salvador Dali picked up on that and stretched it to truly otherworldly surroundings. Here is a link to an exhibit three years ago at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburgh, FL, that I only read about, but that made the point.

I tend to gravitate towards trees as subjects of enigmatic landscapes, but really consider myself an omnivore. If the quote below exchanged the word color with  light (or added that to it), it probably still holds, now for photography.

The poet Friedrich Schiller on the Italian paintings in the Dresden Gallery: “All very well; if only the cartoons were not filled with color. I cannot get rid of the idea that those colors do not tell me the truth.


It’s a Mystery.

It truly is a mystery to me how some people can use a pencil and with a few strokes generate a three dimensional image, evoke a sense of place, represent what’s in front of our eyes. In drawing, there is none of the forgiveness of working in oil or acrylic paints, where you can re-do over and over again; none of the softness of watercolors which also need to be rendered with skill, but don’t require the precision of the pencil.

Strokes of genius, indeed, which was the perfect title of a NYT article last year that reported on an exhibit at the Morgan Library, aptly titled Drawn to Greatness, and my general view of drawing, which is, of course, not something I will ever be able to do.


All this came to mind because my latest hikes felt like walking through landscapes drawn in colored pencil. There is something figurative going on before the buds come in, at the end of the winter when all leaves have been thoroughly blown away, and all that remains is the structure of the trees and the shifting, dry grasses and berry brambles.

There is a delicate quality of the views, something almost feathery. And the monotones, something reminiscent of renaissance drawings, are occasionally interrupted by a burst of color, red, or silver or gold, that has a childlike joy to it, for lack of a better description. As if a kid got her hands on that one red pencil and went wild.

Here is a list of numerous renaissance draftsmen that links to their work.

And here are last week’s Northwest landscapes. Judge for yourself.

Landscape photographs this week are in honor of three friends of mine, Roger Dorband, Michael Granger and Ken Hochfeld,  who are currently showing images from Clatsop County at Argyle Winery Tasting Room in Dundee. If you feel like a little field trip go out there and admire their work.



The Year of the Dog

Today the Chinese celebrate New Year and usher in the Year of the Dog.

I went to Portland’s Chinese Garden last week to take stock of the preparations for the celebration. As always, it did not disappoint. An unusually sunny February day intensified the technicolor colors of the decorations, but also made for beautiful reflections in the pond.

Super-sized lotus blossoms and a happy dragon vied for attention; the few displays of dogs were small and hidden, but amusing.

An exhibit of Loren Nelson’s photographs of flowers was worth the visit alone. He is one of Portland’s preeminent photographers with no fear when it comes to contrast in his images.

Here is a link to an article that explains what the Chinese New Year is all about and how it is celebrated both on the main land and in the diaspora. Photos alone are worth a look.  

It’s a happy time.

I did not have to search far for dogs in Chinese art that matched the beauty of the day. The Metropolitan Museum has a timely exhibition for the Year of the Dog, displaying dog sculptures of which I chose the ones below.

Here are some of Saturday’s images of the seasonal beauty of the Chinese garden, regardless of holiday celebrations.


And then there is this:

May this be the year when this dog is chased out of sight and when these homeless, who congregate in Old Town around the Chinese Garden, find safety and permanent shelter.

To Love!

My faithful readers know by now that I photograph shoes with the same, or almost the same, passion as I photograph birds. And last week I was in luck at a funky Gala.

The nice thing about the loose dress code at PDX events is the range of shoes one encounters. Some of them were quite cool, although I saw none last week that approached, even remotely, the works of art at the Brooklyn Museum linked to below.

If you have time take a look at the short clip from BAM – I was stuck between drooling and wondering how on earth one manages to walk in those things without busting an ankle. Maybe they should sell these kinds of shoes with a health insurance addendum, just in case….

Exception to the rule- pumps…..

It will quickly become clear why the exhibit was called Killer Heels….

Shoes as art is one thing; art about shoes quite another. Painters and philosophers obviously share a preoccupation with the subject, as the images and texts below illustrate. Van Gogh painted them

and Heidegger, Meyer Shapiro and Derrida analyzed them:

The Origin of the Work of Art(1935):

From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth. In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw wind. On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field. This equipment is pervaded by uncomplaining anxiety as to the certainty of bread, the wordless joy of having once more withstood want, the trembling before the impending childbed and shivering at the surrounding menace of death. This equipment belongs to the earth, and it is protected in the world of the peasant woman. From out of this protected belonging the equipment itself rises to its resting-within-itself.

(Accumulated tenacity does not extend to my memory. Excerpts of Heidegger, Shapiro and Derrida were found in a Harper’s article while searching for the 2009 van Gogh shoe exhibit at the Wallraff-Richartz museum in Cologne. That I remembered.)

Here is what I wore last week:

Here are some more examples of van Gogh’s take:

I want to reserve my love – on Valentine’s Day and every day – for humans, not material objects. So let me just say that I love finding myself in such varied company of those who party, paint, philosophize and in general walk this earth!




Let’s raise a Glass!

The next fun event from last week was a Fundraiser that had multiple surprises in store.

One subject that caught my eye was glassware – and for my taste nobody does that better (in the art department) than the flemish painters of the Baroque. The topic suggested itself by watching an extraordinary bartender, Estanislado Orona with Aperitif/PDX, lay out his wares and providing a drink that was out of this world.

Note, I like beer. Or the occasional Pinot Gris. I’ve only ventured into cocktails in the last year, and then sparingly. But this thing was a knock-out. Called Sprung it mixed Trisaetum Winery Riesling, Jasmine Honey, Whiskey Tincture, Honey Dust, Gold, and Ylang Ylang perfume.

Side effect, other than an involuntary smile on my face for the rest of the evening, was honey dust glued all over my camera, since I was at work that night. Just like the rise of the pronk (fancy display) still life paintings in the Northern and Spanish Netherlands in the 1600s were indications of increasing urbanization, the advent of cocktails in the Heuer universe reflects increasing sophistication. And mess. But I digress.

The bartender clearly understood that part of the pleasure is visual. Never mind that the chrysanthemum blossoms in the glass where fall flowers, the intended effect – spring – was achieved.

When you study the dutch paintings it becomes clear very quickly that glass was still a luxury item in the 1600s. Many painters used the same glass over and over in different arranged still life settings. And they chose to place them against dark backgrounds so that the sparkle became particularly visible in the contrast. I did not have that choice as a photographer who documented a set scene, but even then the glasses to me looked luxurious, perhaps in their multitude.

The paintings focused on personal possessions and commerce at that period, mainly in the cities of Antwerp, Middelburg, Haarlem, Leiden, and Utrecht.  Later, when Amsterdam became the economic center, the fancy pronk still lives really took off, featuring depictions of porcelain, venetian glass, exotic objects etc.

Here is to pleasure in life, for eyes and tastebuds. Cheers!

Jan Davidsz de Heem Still Life with a Glass and Oysters  1640


Osias Beert de Elder  Three Dishes with Sweatmeats and Chestnuts and three Glasses on a Table

Frans Ykens  Still Life with Shrimp 17th Century

Peter Claesz Still Life with Silver Brandy Bowl, Wine Glass, Herring and Bread 1642



Shared Interests

For this week’s blog theme I want to match things I saw last week with some counterparts in art. Since the week was filled with interesting stuff it should be an enjoyable ride.

My best experience last week was seeing performance artist Penny Arcade in Longing lasts Longer and I cannot quite tell whether I laughed more or kept more tears back during her event last Friday. Mostly the show made me think, and experience awe at the physical energy and intellectual courage of a woman my age (mid to late 60s) who takes no hostages. A singular monologue, accompanied by intelligently chosen music and creative lighting offered the most incisive assessment of our current cultural dilemmas. She tackled an astonishing array of topics, without sacrificing depth for breadth, with a killer wit.

NYC friends, check out her next engagement at Lincoln Center on 2/15. Run, don’t walk! ,


Much focused on gentrification of both, neighborhoods and ideas, pointing to the consequences of eradicating the visibility of alternatives, which were often provided in neighborhoods that are now mainstreamed for economic exploitation. Because of the gentrification theme I picked Vernon How Baileys’ sketches of NYC and some of my own photos as illustrations. (The performance, by the way, was presented by Boom Arts which once again made alternatives visible compared to our usual fare available in PDX. Check out what they offer next:


Arcade is based in NYC and I lived not far from her geographically in the 70s and 80s – East vs West Village. Might as well have been two different universes in other ways, given my life at the New School.

But gentrification was only one of the topics that were tackled by the artist. They included the current political insanity, a brilliant analysis of the difference between nostalgia and longing, with the former being thoroughly discarded, a poignant comparison between the inclusiveness and tolerance of the queer community of old, and the absence of those characteristics we experience today. As an academic I, of course, related particularly to her description of the tyranny of fragility, the insane insistence of safe spaces and coddling of all kinds in our institutions of higher learning.


Arcade, whose life could be succinctly described as the epitome of (voluntary as well as forced) risk-taking, mourned the absence thereof in today’s youth brainwashed to seek security and be the perfect consumers. Her criticism was counterbalanced, in the most poignant fashion, by sage advice to embrace the few periods of freedom you have in your life. For once, I heard advocacy for self acceptance rather than striving for external recognition, that wasn’t corny or clichee’d. Her rage against a society that ignores the dangers of AIDS, while conveniently filling the coffers of the Pharma industry that sells life-saving drugs sans mentioning the looming, debilitating side effects, was fueled by the loss of many of her friends and acquaintances to the scourge.


I left with a sense of sheer gratitude that people like Arcade exist and refuse to be silenced. I left with a sense that those of us who try to make our critical assessments of the world we live in known, are not alone, even if in a minor league…. and I left with a sense of wonder how age can be defied in the most dignified fashion by refusing to yield to the societally imposed rules of dignity. Friday night was a gift.



Here is more on the sketches by Baily, and below I add some photographs of the new skyline of NYC that he could not have envisioned in his wildest dreams.


The Artist Who Captured Early 20th Century NYC: 15 Sketches by Vernon Howe Bailey

No Hausfrau She.

I thought I’d end the week’s musing on reconciliation with something up-lifting.

The clip on top of today’s blog is an advertisement that displayed Melania Trump some years back with a duck voice as well as a duck with Melania’s voice. Or maybe it was a goose. That in itself is strange. Now consider that her husband mentioned this ad in front of the entire group of attendees at the Republican Party Retreat yesterday. Does reference to your wife the quaking fowl look like reconciliation in the middle of a strained marriage? In any event, I happily spend my time not only looking at idiotic things like this but, more importantly, visiting my friends’ events when they are showing their artistic output which provides just the right counter-balance.

And I am reconciled with the fact that that means the housework doesn’t get done, once again.  Thus the title for today’s blog. Although on second thought it fits Flotus as well…..

The two events I want to recommend to one and all are an upcoming reading by my friend Carl from his truly funny book: SLIDE!  With the longest subtitle anyone ever got away with –  read for yourself:

And yes, those are frogs on my new socks! The reading will be held here at Annie Bloom’s Books on February 8 at 7 p.m. Seats are limited so be there early.  

Carl is equal part stand-up comedian and politics aficionado, with a bit of radio talk show host thrown in and enough unusual hobbies that he is a welcome friend in our household. The reading should be quite interesting!

I also urge a visit to Augen Gallery. Henk Pander has a powerful exhibit there of recent drawings which are exquisite in their skill and quite transformative in their content. I took the photographs on the pre-show opening night before the crowds descended, with an i-phone, feeling that there was a stillness in the room that matched my emotional reactions to the works. No words needed. Henk’s Artist Talk is on February 10th at noon.

716 NW Davis
Portland, OR 97209
open Tuesday–Saturday 11:00–5:30
and by appointment
(503) 546-5056





The Laika exhibit at PAM showed whole wardrobes of tiny clothes for its tiny characters. For our last installment of made by hand, thenI chose the act of sewing.  My own experience with the craft has been less than stellar. I remember spending childhood Sundays with butterflies in my stomach because Mondays saw “needle craft lessons” in school. At which, to use contemporary language, I sucked. Darning damned me, cross stitch killed me. Crocheting cursed my brain. Back stitch blinded me, chain stitch tied me down and basting stitch bowled me over. The sewing machine reserved its clogging spools for your’s truly, and then there was the day where I gave it a good kick in fury and ended up at the headmistress’ office….


It is with pleasure, then, that I introduce someone today who has much better attitude and aptitude, a creative seamstress of my acquaintance. Here are her words about the process, studio and inspiration and her photographs to demonstrate.

In most cases, what I like to do is start with white cotton fabric and dye or paint it, then stamp it, stencil it, silk screen it, and stitch it (by machine or hand or both). Once I have colored and decorated the fabric, I like to sew it into useful items (examples: shoulder bags, zipper pouches, coin purses) or art quilts and fabric collages. The possibilities are endless! Currently, bright colors and simple patterns are my favorites but I’m curious about working with earth tones and interesting combinations of hues and values.

Joan’s work can be found here if you’d like to see the end products: 

Only the images of buttons are mine, since I can proudly announce I am these days able to sew them on, at last.

And here is a fun trailer from a Spanish film about a seamstress who also became a weapon smuggler and spy during the war.  Title translated means The time in-between seams.  

(English version on Netflix The Time Inbetween)

Watching pretty people do dangerous things and fall in love from the perch of your couch is so much more pleasant than getting a seam straight, don’t you agree? I cherished the fact that the heroine’s idea of dying and twisting plain cotton/linen fabric to make a special gown manages to make said dress take on the sheen of silk. Hollywood magic…. Hey, I might not have the hand, but I still have the eye to see these things!

From the Archives (this century)

Odds and ends today, while I am packing up montages for tomorrow’s event.

Dismay over the damaged prints I have to throw out, the result of a flood in my room this summer from a room-unit air conditioner.

Disbelief over how much work has accumulated over the last 7 years or so.

Decisions about what to take and what to leave at home.


Doubts about pricing, always such a tricky question, when you want people to be able to afford something, but also not undervalue what you have created.

Determination to have this

available for my next opening….. just kidding. For balanced reporting I recommend celebrating people who do good in the world, not just frivolous gestures. Today is the day the Alternative Nobel Prize (for human rights activist who are always overlooked) will be given out in Stockholm. Among the honorees is a US lawyer who fights multinational industries that harm with pollution.

Hope to see you tomorrow.