Cosmic American Music

gramI’ve been squashing my yen for portraits. I painted people from 2000 to 2005, and then found myself in a room full of stares. Portraits used to be the thing to have before daguerreotypes came to be. In every tasteful dwelling, there hung an oversize oil painting of Crusty Old Ancestor scowling over the fireplace. Now we have thousands of pictures on our computers never to be printed, although we swear we’ll print them someday.

This is Gram Parsons, inventor of Cosmic American Music. His life could have come straight out of a Tennessee Williams play, or at least the Twilight Zone. His family owned the largest citrus plantation in Florida, thriving in rapidly rotting opulence. Raised a true Southern gentleman, he was reported to have always pulled back chairs for all the ladies.  Gram was both blessed and cursed with the bad combination of unlimited wealth and a hereditary addiction to alcohol and drugs. Growing up, there were numerous toys and gifts, wild bourbon-fueled parties, a giant swimming pool. His father committed suicide when he was 12. His mother drank herself into oblivion and died the day he graduated high school. His stepfather had a pet ocelot and drove a Jaguar convertible.

Gram had a talent for music early on. There was no doubt his playing and song-writing provided a catharsis for all of his painful experiences. In the late 1960s he moved to Los Angeles and dove headfirst into the hippie music scene, fiercely defending country music to his peers. He took rock and roll, stirred in some country and called it  “Cosmic American Music.” With his hair hanging in his eyes, he took his creation to the old honkytonks in Los Angeles. The rednecks would have beat him up in no time, had he not played so well and sung so earnestly. (Actually, he did get beat up, never was able to keep his mouth shut.)

Gram played with the International Submarine Band, the Byrds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He turned out two brilliant solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel, then died of a heroin overdose at the age of 26, on the verge of hitting his stride and making music history. He not only sang sad country songs, he was a sad country song. Like so many other musicians of his time, God only knows what he could have accomplished had he lived. But with a life so complicated with tragedy and hereditary addiction, it seemed destined to be short.

Perhaps Gram himself puts it best:
“It was a dream much too real to be leaned against too long.”

( Thanks to David N. Meyer for Twenty Thousand Roads, a great, in-depth biography of Gram Parsons.)

Caught

All the great artists out there who are anywhere have a stated purpose and intention with their art. It’s called an artist’s statement. I came across a really good one recently, so complete and polished, I felt like slithering somewhere dark. For a while I was thinking perhaps I had something good here. At least I have a portfolio site and I’m writing a little, expressing myself—somewhat.

I know I need to write a good solid artist’s statement. All the self-help books who make us even more helpless say so. But what if I don’t have anything to say? In my world, it is rare when an idea comes before a drawing. If there is an idea at all, the viewer will know when they see it. Most of the time I just feel like drawing.

 I just want to make things.

Often I will look through books and magazines, find something that interests me and add my own embellishments along the way. I illustrate what illustrates me. I find the story in the drawing, not the other way around. I used to write stories this way; coming up with a title and writing a story around it. It’s like taking little trip each time I pick up a pen. What fun is a trip, always knowing what’s around the bend?

There is a common misconception that an artist is supposed to be omnipresent, ever clear and trying to make everyone else think. We are so deep. Actually, I am just as thick as the rest of us. I like what everyone else likes. I work all day and watch television at night because I’m too tired for anything else. I cook dinner, do house work, pay bills, shake a tail feather. I don’t have time to be deep.

If this is bringing me any closer to a well balanced, concise artist’s statement, I’d like someone to tell me. Maybe this will have to be it.

Mixed media, 18 X 24.

 

Apocalypse

apocalypse

Destruction is inevitable, resistance is futile. After the first Matrix movie, I stopped listening to the screenplay, it was so full of fantasy physics and beyond making sense. I do remember the part about living in a false consciousness  generously padded with the fat marbled layers of a material world. We eventually awaken to discover we are naked and afraid, living inside our own eggs precariously attached to a cold wet outcropping at the edge of the howling wind and crying ocean. It is much cozier to gaze at the raindrops pelting the window pane, forget we are engaged in our own undoing. It’s nice in this chair, but it doesn’t stop the polar ice caps from melting. Hiroshima was an awful mistake, still praying for peace, but we can’t look in the mirror anymore.  Just get rid of the bombs. You first, no you first, forget it. Nobody is flying the plane. Mixed Media, 24 X 18.

Ghandi Mountain

It’s one hell of a mountain to climb—the journey to superhumanity. To be more insightful, more intelligent, more compassionate with each passing day. It’s not the destination, right? It’s the journey. Just getting to the foot of the mountain on the other side of the river is an accomplishment. This is where I am now. Ten years ago I didn’t even have a single thing packed, felt selfish and angry all the time. Then one day in my thirtysomethings I woke up and thought you know what? It’s not about me. I’ll admit, I’m still dragging my ego behind me, but I’m not tripping on it as much as I used to.

I remember seeing the movie about Ghandi when I was a kid. I yawned through the whole thing. There were no Muppets. I watched again recently and it captured me. He changed a whole society by just being there, and proved that love was stronger than hate. Love is really the best system for problem-solving. An example—what works better when modifying behavior, positive or negative reinforcement? Positive, ding, ding.  If the Indians had fought back with violence, the British could have called it a war. But a war is only a war with two sides fighting. How can you beat them down if they keep standing up and smiling? The situation became so absurd, eventually all the British could do was just leave. Ghandi trained them well.

It takes guts to be Ghandi. Infinitely more guts than it takes to stand there with a gun and be all like, then he’s like, and then you’re like goaheadmakemyday. When you know that you’re about to be ground under someone’s heel and you will not be defending yourself. When you are expecting to be ground to bits more times than you can count, and accept that you’re only a grain of sand letting the ocean wash over you. Mixed media, 18 X 24.

The Never-Ending Story

No beginning, no end. Neither coming, nor going. Neither here nor there. No future,
no past. Not inside, not outside, neither east nor west, not above, not below, nor within.
The serpent is the truth. The city is a construct for our mind. It is there to help us choose what we want to see. You want this, gotta have that, it’s the latest craze, it’s the hip-est fad, it’s the hap-hap-happiest dance. Society dictates who you want to be, but it doesn’t change who you are. Let it all fall away. Fly above and be free. Mixed Media, 18 X 24.

Egyptological

I was poring through a book about Egypt one day and came upon a picture of a scarab amulet. What would it be like if these things were actually in a swarm? At the time, I was experimenting with drawing perspective and wanted to see for myself what it would be like to have more than one perspective in one picture. It turns out the effect is much like having many creatures buzzing about your head at once.In ancient Egypt, the scarab was a depiction of the Sun God Ra, who carries the ball of the sun across the sky each day, giving life to the body and transforming the soul. The scarab does the same thing, only with a ball of dung, which it keeps as food and shelter for its larvae. In the most general sense, the scarab is a symbol of regeneration. Another day, another ball of crap. Mixed media, 18 X 24.

Gran Mal Torino

This was done almost a year ago, right after the Newtown massacre. When something upsets me, it goes straight to paper. The results are difficult to behold, although the Gran Torino is the perfect getaway car. This is the most I can say about the subject without opening a big can of nasty.

It’s good to serve up some nasty every so often, just to keep us thinking and talking. I suppose the biggest question about modern-day massacres is “why”. The answer doesn’t matter. It’s the fact we are still asking that indicates we remain a relatively civilized society. Anyone who has delved into history knows that civilization has cycles of evolution and devolution. Being a glass-half-full type, I would stay we’re still at the apex. For example, consider the colonization of the western hemisphere. Not only children, but entire races of people have been wiped out in the search for riches, power and political gain. There was the common perception that some people were lesser than others. People were killed for entertainment, and there were very few souls asking why back then.
So of course, be sad for the lost ones, but be glad for the unity we share in this time. And never stop asking “why”. Mixed media, 18 X 24.

Riding High in My GTO

I’ve always wanted a muscle car, despite the reality of skyrocketing gas prices and the fact that they’re useless in the snow. I know I can’t have a GTO, so the next best thing is to draw one. When you are in a GTO, the hum of the engine aligns the chakras, and off you go. Perhaps it’s quite telling that the GTO is adrift in a pink tree, out of my reach. Everything seems out of reach these days. I hate to be a bummer about it, but that’s the way I feel when the winter is too long.

And if you must be adrift, be adrift in nature. Admit that we put ourselves adrift with our own desires, drilling the earth and polluting the air just to feel the thrill of hitting the gas while coming around the bend. Cranes are revered by the Japanese, but in the United States, god bless the GTO. Mixed media, 18 X 24.

The Golden Mean

In junior high science class, I vaguely remember learning about the Golden Mean, those specific measurements that repeat themselves throughout the natural world. It’s not to be confused with the Golden Rule, which could be the moral equivalent to the Mean. I painted the shell and outer space together to compare and contrast the Golden Mean. One is small and finite and the other is large and infinite. And yet they both start at one point and spiral outwards. At least they do in my mind, where factual science, although interesting fodder for creativity, takes a back seat to my personal mythology and stories that begin with “Maybe” and “I think”. There is so much to learn, it all becomes blurry as time passes.

I lost interest in this painting while painting it, which happens sometimes. I wanted the shell to look crisp, and I couldn’t achieve the results I wanted. Eventually it was deposited in the reject pile to be painted over at a later date. Then we moved and my husband took it out of the pile and hung it up in our new abode. So maybe it is done, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Nothing more will be added, but at least it won’t be painted over. Acrylic, 24 X 24.

Cacti

They are much more impressive in the wild. I’ve killed every cactus I ever owned. I over water and pay too much attention to them. The one I have now is shriveled and sad-looking. The motto of a cactus is “Be compelling and repelling at the same time.” My approach to this painting is two-fold: Paint everything I see. If painting what I see isn’t possible, then paint a suggestion of it. Acrylic, 18 X 24″.

Thoughts on a Plane

Drawn on an airplane on my way to an exotic place, I could not help but express how my head was literally and figuratively in the clouds. The view out of an airplane window is fantastic, yet forbidden. We are originally land animals, after all. Clouds are fun to paint and draw. They have so many shapes and textures— tibetan tanka swirls, whipped cream, vanilla pudding piles, cottony wisps and bones of deities.
I wish drawing in public were as commonplace as reading. People always want to see what I’m drawing, which is fine for them, but embarrassing for me. No one ever asks what one reads or writes, but drawing in public is a novelty for most. More art should be done on planes to take the eyeballs off me. Or, I should hone my public persona and be more friendly.

Pen and pencil on paper, 7 X 8

Pen and pencil on paper, 7 X 8