Monthly Archives

July 2017

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.

Happy Birthday, Oregon!

Yesterday was Oregon’s birthday and here is all you need to know about it…..

Well, there are some facts worth knowing that were not included, but let’s stick to the fun and positive today, if only to match the mood of last week’s insanely warm and cloud free walk along the Willamette river, about 7 minute north of my house.

The sun was out. Heuer und Hund were out.

So were the lovers,

a million Chinese tourists,

the anglers and wake boarders,

Mt. Hood and Mt. St Helens.

The geese were out as were the goose flowers.

The sea lions were out,

and  the cormorants preening.


Public art or what goes for it in these parts was out.

And the verdict was in: nothing happier than those little birds in the budding shrubbery.

For art today it shall be a painting of the Willamette in earlier times

and  birds – more precisely it shall be an invitation to Friday (2/16)  night’s opening and auction at 7:00 pm here:

Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1624 NE Hancock St. Portland, Oregon.

Show runs February 16 – February 25, 2018
Cloisters Gallery Hours:

The group show of more than 50 artists will be up for a week only; I’ll have some framed bird images there. Please come and join me.




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

Seeing Red.

You might think I am referring to this in our last entry to a week of colors:

Which would not be a bad guess in general, but today the color RED is brought to you by LOVE.  My love for humanity in general




and my love for one human being in particular who was born just this week 30 years ago.

He introduced me to Zbigniew Herbert and one of my favorite poems of his expresses the idea of moral necessity as perfectly as the concept is embraced by my incredible 30-year-old.  Happy almost Birthday, mein Süssen!!!! Keep the spark alive.

The Envoy of Mr. Cogito

Go where those others went to the dark boundary
for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize
go upright among those who are on their knees
among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust
you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony
be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous
in the final account only this is important
and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten
let your sister Scorn not leave you
for the informers executioners cowards—they will win
they will go to your funeral and with relief will throw a lump of earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography
and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn
beware however of unnecessary pride
keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror
repeat: I was called—weren’t there better ones than I
beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak
light on a wall the splendour of the sky
they don’t need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you
be vigilant—when the light on the mountains gives the sign—arise and go
as long as blood turns in the breast your dark star
repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand
and they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap
go because only in this way will you be admitted to the company of cold skulls
to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes
Be faithful Go
Zbigniew Herbert, “The Envoy of Mr. Cogito,” translated by Bogdana and John Carpenter, from Selected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert. Used by permission of Oxford University Press, Ltd.

The Color of Age.

Today my mother would have been 94 and my grandfather Eduard 120. In my wishful thinking he is playing Mozart on his stand-up bass while she is re-designing the garden of Eden, white hair luminous under the stars.

For me graceful aging has always included an acceptance of what nature provides. Nature is fickle, though, and few of us can boast that truly beautiful hair color, pure white.

It might not really matter, though, as long as your face is expressive and your spirits are up, never mind a body that doesn’t betray you by being sick.

Today’s color then is WHITE, brought to you by some of the more interesting people I’ve encountered in my wanderings. I find myself in agreement with one of my most revered artist, Rembrandt van Rijn, who painted age with love and respect.

I am also happy to report that your approach to aging might increase your defenses against dementia – the more positive you feel – embedded in a culture that is more respectful and accepting of age – the lower your risk to develop the disease.

Avoiding disputes like the one linked to below is probably also good for your health – who cares if our lifespan can be extended beyond 115 years???  I surely don’t want to be around during peak global warming….