Monthly Archives: August 2008

Island in time

The San Francisco Airport Museums has an exhibition space in SFO’s United terminal that you pass through on your way to the gates. You can walk the wide carpeted concourse with Plexigas display booths on either side, or you can be conveyed on a moving belt past the displays. The exhibit this past weekend was painted pottery from Santa Catalina, an island off the Southern California coast. I walked the concourse.

On any given day, our senses are bombarded with more than we can take in. Those United passengers on the people-mover probably didn’t see my favorite tile nestled in its display with a panoply of others. The tile was exactly like the one that I had sketched in watercolor while visiting Catalina twenty-three years ago. In the main town of Avalon, colorful tiles wrap the quaint public square, which was built in the early 1900s. The small sketches I made there inspired a large group of oil paintings called Island Songs, which I worked on for two years following that Catalina trip. They were exhibited at the Plaza Gallery in the Bank of America headquarters building in San Francisco—124 paintings wrapping a contemporary public square. There’s much I could say about those paintings and may in future posts, but this post is a contemplation on a six-inch square piece of glazed clay. 

The tile triggered a rush of memories: a bright sunny day; white-washed, decorated stucco; a romantic island getaway with my husband. (I called him on my cell phone to reminisce.) I thought about how artistic inclination—seeing the tile, selecting it from all else in my vision, choosing to paint it—leads the artist to deeper exploration. In this instance, that first glance led to a series of 157 oil paintings, 20 x 20 inches square.

On the plane, I wrote a bit about the tile in my journal, then forgot about it during the weekend in Vail with my sister. Returning to San Francisco, I walked from the gate, thinking the thoughts of a disembarking passenger—baggage, shuttle bus. I came around the corner and whop! There it was.

The art that had transported me back more than twenty years did it again. The little tile beckoned, “You are older now, are even stepping into your own new decade, but you are timeless with me.” I had traveled 2600 miles to Colorado and back, but I felt as if the bigger journey was taking place in the concourse, standing in front of a display case, gazing at a fragment of clay made by an unknown person’s hands, long ago and faraway.

Watercolor of Catalina tile

Watercolor of Catalina tile

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Women Impressionists

In San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor, the lower level galleries were filled with paintings by four women Impressionists: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzales, and Marie Bracquemond. I toured the exhibit with my long-time friend Sally. The biggest surprise for me was the brushwork in some of the Morisot paintings — so lively, fresh. A hat in the grass, the flower pattern on a dress, or the draping and ruffles of a white dress were like small expressionistic paintings— holding their own as a collection of strokes, color, highlights, and shadow. 

When leaving the museum, walking toward pedestrians crossing from the parking lot which has a large, circular pool, I was reminded of “There’s Your Trio,” a painting I made years ago with a view from the same vantage point. I had the benefit of a polaroid camera, which the four women Impressionists did not have. They were limited mostly to interiors, parks, and gardens or other places. A reputable woman of the late 1800s couldn’t depict street life, as could the men painters.

There's Your Trio, 96" x 72" oil

There's Your Trio, 96" x 72" oil

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Inventing characters

When writing a novel, you want to know your characters. To help with imagining them and propelling the story, make scrapbooks for each fictional person. From magazines, catalogs, newspapers and other photo sources, snip visual detail to cut and paste onto pages dedicated to each character. What did your adult characters look like when they were children? Where do your characters live? Who are their friends, relatives, pets? What foods, fashions, and fetishes do they enjoy? How might color palettes convey their personalities? Does your protagonist wear an old t-shirt or negligee to bed? Is her lover a man of mismatched socks? Most of what you discover won’t end up in the prose, but it will deepen your characters and their story. Books on the craft of writing  suggest making lists of character attributes, but I find the visual prompts to be richer. In the example below, I knew enough about a minor character in the story to recognize him at eight years old painting a watercolor at his living room coffee table. I knew he had protruding ears, so I recognized him in a photo as a baby. I was surprised to see him as a teenager with his recording equipment, yet his look of focused attention was familiar and right. All of this was used, not only for his character development and scenes, but also for that of his mother, who was a main character, his father, and his friends, who are prominent in the story.   

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At aqua aerobics this morning, the instructor Sandy Sakwa reminds us, “Turn your smiles up.” She puts forefingers to her mouth and pushes the corners toward her cheeks. “It’s easy to do,” she says. “You’ll feel better. It will lift your spirits.” Everyone laughs and smiles. Music pulses from Sandy’s portable blaster; the sun shines; the water sparkles and laps at our torsos as we frog-jog across the pool floor, knees bent, arms flapping. Later in the deep end, we stretch out on the water’s surface and roll like otters. I feel lighter, happier. I want to remember Sandy’s words during the week and be buoyant on land.  😦 Turn your smile up. 🙂

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Beauty becomes us

My husband, Dennis Hysom, and I post a reminder in our studios: 

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

I think it’s true. Our beautiful thoughts and actions become us. As do the ugly and unkind. “Let the beauty you love be what you do.” Rumi.

Prelude 7, Monotype

Prelude 7, Monotype




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Starting to write

How to begin? The question shouts from the blank page. The mind may also be blank, or it may be glinting with ideas and images, blinding in the way the sun’s reflection obscures vision while driving east in the morning or west in the late afternoon, especially when the windshield is streaked with dew or dust. You lower the window visor or salute hand to forehead. You fumble for sunglasses and put them on. Now there’s just the road ahead, stretching out flat.

You pick up the pen or put fingers to the keyboard. The mind numbs, then chatter begins: there are already too many blogs, an abundance of books. Who needs yours? You think of deadlines to meet, calls to make, dishes to do, a dog to bathe. You’ve heard it all before, so you silence the chatter, slapping it away as you would a mosquito, and missing. His buzzing annoys. You quickly type “How to begin?” There. You’ve marred the page. Now what about caffeine? Coffee or tea? You become the mosquito, darting here, landing there. A pot of tea, trip to the bathroom. You circle back to the target. Two paragraphs in there’s a pulsing in your temple—that body awareness. You breathe deeply and smooth the keys, feeling your fingertips, their bulbous bounciness against the concave plastic.

You have so much to tell. The TED videos you watched online this week: Ken Robinson’s humorous and dead-on talk about how schools kill creativity, Jill Bolte Taylor’s passionate story about her stroke of insight. A revisiting of Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” based on Raymond Carver stories and the Carver extras sandwiched with the DVD. Your own wrestling with creative process, with reclaiming joy. Conversations with friends and strangers. Work unfinished in the studio. Hand goes to head again, this time as the Thinker. You see clearly the road you want to travel. Miles to go.

See you there!

Christine Walker

© Christine Walker 2008. All rights reserved.

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