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Alaska: Full Circle!

June 06, 2014

I have always been fascinated by Alaska.  When I was a kid my next door neighbor’s cousins would come visit ever summer from Alaska.  They would tell tales of walking to and from school in the winter with flashlights because it was so dark out, black out curtains for the summer because it was always daylight, and running into moose!  I was hooked.  I carried around a little puzzle piece of the 49th state as a reminder of my goal to go there.  Thanks to a willing travel partner with plenty of frequent flier miles my dream came true!

Not only did I want to experience 24 hours of daylight, I wanted to see glaciers, and mountains and wildlife.  I wanted to experience first hand the effects of global warming on the environment to gain inspiration for my art work.

 

Sunset in Anchorage

We landed in Anchorage at 11:00pm to a sunset blazing red through the haze of smoke from a near by wild fire due to an unusually warm dry spring.

 

Cool Inlet

The next day we drove to Homer.  The air was thick with smoke creating interesting colors reflecting off the water in Cook Inlet.

 

Glaciers!

Here I am with my amazing travel companion in Homer.  You can see the Portlock and Grewingk Glaciers spilling out of the Kanai Mountains across the Kachemak Bay.    Luckily the winds were blowing in our favor and much of the smoke filled air cleared out of the souther part of the Kanai Peninsula.  We spent two days exploring Homer.  It has a cute little downtown with a great book store, Captain’s Coffee Roasters, and the Pratt Musuem.

 

Sand CranesOur first wildlife sighting:  Sand Cranes!

We were off to Seward and Girdwood to see some glaciers and  hike in the northernmost rain forest in the world.

 

glacial retreat

Here at Exit Glacier, just outside of Seward, you can really see evidence of global warming.  The drive into the valley carved out by the retreating glacier has date markers documenting it’s retreat since 1815.

 

Exit Glacier

A glacier that once filled a whole valley seems unimpressive as it now only peaks out from the Harding Ice Field above the mountains.

Our last stop in Alaska was to see the impressive 6 million acre Denali National Park.

 

Denali David!

We stayed in a sweet little cabin at the Perch Resort owned and operated by two brothers.  My favorite part of the whole trip was eating fresh baked blueberry muffing for breakfast at their restaurant.

 

Inside Denali

We never got to see Mt. McKinley due to cloud coverage (it’s usually cloudy 2 out of 3 days in the summer) but the park was still beautiful and impressive.

 

Baby Moose

You don’t have to look far in Alaska to see wildlife.  I was very excited driving into the park and spotting my first mamma moose with it’s little baby!  They are very cute from the safety of your car, but they can be mean so don’t get too close!

 

Carabou

Reindeer alert!  Some Caribou stumbled across us as we were on a hike.  They didn’t seem to bothered by humans.

 

Caribou

We patiently waited at a safe distance while they foraged along the trail.

Denali was probably our favorite place and two days there wasn’t nearly enough time. When we go back to Alaska we plan on spending more time there and taking advantage of some of the great tours and activities inside the park. I would love to stay at the Perch again and go back tot he 49th state brewery for some great beer and the biggest portion of mac & cheese ever!

We headed back to Anchorage and spent our last day of vacation in the city.  It was cold and rainy so we didn’t mind spending all day in the Anchorage Museum.  It was an amazing museum with a mix of contemporary and traditional art by native and non-native artists.  It also doubled as a science center with cool exhibits for children of all ages.  The museum is a great place to learn the history of Alaska and of it’s native inhabitants.  One exhibit in the musum’s Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska, shared how how each Alaska Native nation is unique–and how all are connected.  One of my favorite quotes from the exhibit is from the Haida people: “…after the arrival of the Europeans in the late eighteenth century, we suffered great losses in population, cultural knowledge, and most of all self-esteem, self-worth and identity…It has been the art that has brought us back to our roots.”

There were so many great exhibits in this gem of a museum, but one exhibit really turned me on:

IMG_0574

Gyre:  The Plastic Ocean.  I this it was a great coincidence that this exhibit happened to be showing and luckily I got to see it.  I’ve been fascinated with the ocean gyres since I first heard about them.  Also, David and I happened to be celebrating our one year anniversary in Alaska and our first date was at a science pub lecture on the Pacific Gyre.  We had come full circle!

 

gyre

So, what happens is all the plastic that gets into the ocean, and doesn’t get washed up back on shore eventually breaks down into little pieces and gets stuck in these circular currents called gyres.  Gross.  The plastic that does wash back up onto the beaches gets eaten by birds and other marine life.  And guess what?  Plastic isn’t digestible.

Gyre-Jordan

“Midway”  by Chris Jordan, digital photograph

 

jars

There were so many great pieces of work in this exhibit, but this piece by  Karen Larsen was my favorite.  ”Preservation” relates to Karen’s childhood memories of farm life and about the connection we loose to the land, water and our sense of place when we opt for convenience.

 

anchorage

Well folks, I leave you with the last image of Anchorage from my amazing trip! Alaska was amazing. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Lyme Disease Awareness Month!

May 08, 2014

May is Lyme Disease Awareness month so I am dedicating this post to my experience with Chronic Lyme and the impact it had, and still has, on my art.  I want to share my story, not only of my struggle with the Lyme, but my struggle with my life after Lyme. There is plenty of information out there on the symptoms of the disease. But what happens after Lyme?  Most people never get better.  Eventually you learn how to cope with Lyme and create a new life for yourself.

So, a brief history of my Lyme: I started having anxiety and chronic fatigue in 2005.  Nothing severe enough to cause much alarm.  In 2009 I had a very stressful year and I believe the stress weakened my immune system enough for the lyme to really take over.  As the year got more stressful I began to notice something was really wrong.  I couldn’t comprehend what I was reading or stay focused and organized. I had no energy and my right knee and elbow started hurting.

By Jan of 2010 I was having such bad anxiety I couldn’t eat or sleep and finally was so sick I had to go to urgent care. The doctors had no idea what was wrong with me and sent me home. Luckily I was seeing an amazing naturopath at the time, we spent about a month testing me for all sorts of things.  When every test came back negative, she suggested I get tested for Lyme.  Sure enough I tested positive.

I was very fortunate to have been diagnoses correctly so early on. A lot of people who have Lyme go untreated for years. Like me, they never realized they got bit by a tick. Because Lyme mimics so many other diseases it can be really hard to diagnose and tests can sometimes result in false positive or false negatives.

In March I started my 10 month treatment of antibiotics, but by the end of April I was so sick I could no longer get out of bed. The medicine that was supposed to cure me was wreaking havoc on my body.

I spent the next 8 months my life in bed. I had to give up every aspect of my life and focus on healing. Most days I struggled just to get out of bed and go to the bathroom. Gravity was my enemy. I was lucky if I could make it to the couch in my back yard studio. I would lay there looking at my art wondering how I ever had the energy to hold a paintbrush. How would I ever be well enough to paint again?

Cat Nap

Cat Nap

By October of 2010 I started to see a little improvement and by January of 2011 I was finally able to get off the antibiotics. I realized my road to recovery was only just beginning. Not only did my body have to recover, I had to start getting my life back together.  I had to get back to the “old me”.

Here I am 4 years later, I still have symptoms and like most people who have chronic Lyme, I don’t know if I will ever fully recover. I finally realize I will never get back to the “old me”.  I have learned to cope with Lyme and balance my life so I can stay as healthy as possible.  But it isn’t easy.  Compared to how I felt two and three years ago I feel great, but my body still aches and I am always tired.

Sleep, sweet sleep. Being tired is the base line of my existence, then there are the times when I am exhausted.  And not just regular exhausted, painfully exhausted.  My body aches with a buzzing pulsation, I can’t think, I feel like I am going to vomit. Living with Lyme is living with a limited  daily supply of energy and there is no borrowing from tomorrow’s supply.  When you are out of energy, you are out.

Being tired and in pain all the time makes it hard to go out and participate in life.  I have really slowed my pace of life down, and I have to continue to work at keeping it that way.  It is too easy to fill my week up with errands and socializing and then not have enough energy to paint.  I also had to make changes to my studio practice and to the direction I want my art career to go to accommodate my health.

Having a couch in my studio is a must,   having my studio in my house is preferable.  It makes my life a lot easier when I can multi task throughout my day by getting household chores done or taking a quick nap while I wait for paint to dry.  I find myself saying no more often now, not just passing up socializing but also turning down art opportunities.   While I used to enjoy painting murals, I know I can’t work at the pace and scale needed to complete a mural. I paint at a much slower pace now, so I have less work available  to show.

The benefit is that  I have more time to contemplate my work.  If I am too tired to paint, I can still sit in my studio space and look at the art, deciding what my next move will be. I find I am much happier with my finished work more often now. I also find that I am much happier with my life now. I don’t have the energy to sweat the small stuff and my life is filled with amazing people who support and love me.

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Flashe!

March 25, 2014

Lately I’ve been a bit concerned with the effects of oil paint on my health.  I’m not the most tidy of artists so by the end of a good painting session I usually have as much paint on me as I do the canvass. And since my studio is in my home, I am also concerned about the fumes. Even though I use odorless mineral spirits as my solvent, the only additive I use in my paint is cold wax, and I have an air purifier there is still an “oily” smell.  I used to love that smell of fresh oil paint and the delicious buttery texture and vibrant colors.  But now when I paint the smell is too strong and I get a little grossed out having oily paint all over my hands and sometimes my face… I often contemplate switching to acrylics but when I add cold wax to my paint is creates a velvety, powdery matt finish that I just cant reproduce with acrylics.

A few weeks ago I was looking at some art on line and one of the artists  that caught my eye, Mary Weatherford, was using a paint called Flashe Paint. It is a water soluble vinyl paint that has been around since 1955.  When dry it has a matte, velvety, and opaque finish.  It sounded very interesting so I decided to give it a try.  I had three larger canvases that I had started an acrylic under layer.  I was able to paint over the acrylic with the Flashe paint with no problem.  It dried fast and it dried matt. Now, the colors did darken a bit when the dried but that wasn’t a problem for me. Here are the finished pieces:

2014_30x30_Buried

“Buried”,  30×30″

2014_36x36_Braddock

“Braddock”, 36×36″

2014_36x36_Beneath

“Beneath”, 36×36″

It was a little daunting at first to try something new when I have a system and style that really works for me.  But  I am able to layer the paint like I do my oils without waiting weeks in between layers for the paint to dry and the finish is close to the velvety matt that I get with the cold wax.   I am excited to play around with the paint more, adding more watery washes and trying different blending techniques.  I’ll keep posting my progress!

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Where It All Goes

March 11, 2014

A few years ago I saw a screening of Manufactured Landscapes.  In the film photographer Edward Burtynsky travels the world observing changes in landscapes due to industrial work and manufacturing.  It was fascinating and scary, and I think it took me a few years to really digest all the information in the film.  It starts in an electronics assembly factory in China, where rows upon rows of workers are creating goods that I assumed would be exported to places like the U.S. He also photographs villages where electronic waste gets dumped for recycling.  The haunting images depict the extremes of massive waste heaps against the minute components the villagers are salvaging. My Final memory of this movie are the images of the Three Gorges Dam, where entire villages, looking like bomb sites, are dismantled since they will eventually be under water.

For Burtynsky, his work proposes that man made landscapes define who we are as people. He sees a certain physical beauty in the order and/or symmetry in some of these landscapes, despite the negative reasons for them or the subsequent degradation they pose to the environment and people around them.

Pittsburgh, 2012

 

I often felt the same way growing up outside of Pittsburgh.  A city that was polluted by the steel industry then seemingly abandoned because of it’s collapse.  My memories of driving in to the city with my dad are some of my favorite.  We would drive south along the Ohio River, past factories and mills, through small towns with empty shops and dilapidated homes.

There was a beauty in all of this that I somehow knew, though I was to young perhaps to fully understand.  The brick homes and big factories juxtaposed against a beautiful landscape. Green and vibrant in the summer and grey and dreary in the winter.

 

In his film, Burtynsky doesn’t say weather these landscapes are good or bad.  He doesn’t’ want to influence the viewer either way, but let the decision up to them.  He doesn’t have a solution, but he brings these topics to light.  As an artist, I believe this is our job.  To  bring into focus what is happening in the world around us, hopefully to inspire positive change.

A few days ago I read an article in Popular Science, that immediately reminded me of Burtynsky’s film.  ”The Garbage Man” starts with American environmental activist Jim Puckett who traveled to the town of Guiyu in southeast China to look for old computers. He’d learned that electronic waste from the West was finding its way to Guiyu.  A town where,  for centuries, residents had earned a living farming rice along the Lianjiang River. When Puckett arrived, one of the first things he saw was a man riding a bicycle stacked 15-feet high with computer keyboards.  The descriptions of the crude recycling  that happens here brought back the haunting images in Manufactured Landscapes.  In this article, however, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A man named Mike Biddle discovered how to separate certain mixed plastics completely.  Biddle can take the plastic from laptop, reduce it to its purest form, and sell it back to a computer company to make another laptop. Biddle started out as an engineer making the very plastics he would soon figure out how to recycle.

The article goes on to talk about the lax recycling laws in the U.S., which is the reason Biddle’s first recycling plant opened in England.  The good news is that in  February 2013, China announced a new policy crackdown called Operation Green Fence. This means that shipments of recyclables into the country must truly be recyclables, not contaminants or waste. To read the full article, go here: http://www.popsci.com/article/science/garbage-man

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Coal – Not In Any Back Yard

January 15, 2014

A dear friend of mine, Bonnie Meltzer, has been working hard to protect Portland from coal trains. As part of her fight she is having a show at Portland University and has invite me and Thom Caccamo to show a few pieces with her.

postcard front

The details:

January 13 – February 6, 2014

Reception:  Saturday, January 18 
2:00 – 4:00  Short Gallery Talk at 3:00
University of Portland, Buckley Center Gallery 

The threat of hazardous coal trains rumbling through Bonnie Meltzer’s North Portland neighborhood sparked her environmental activism and prodded her to produce a series of artworks about the proposed coal export terminals. Environmental issues have been a long-time theme running through Meltzer’s very mixed media sculptures.  Her use of globes and other found objects give her a symbolic, visual and verbal vocabulary in which to frame an idea and interpret the news.  In this exhibition Meltzer offers a compelling and even humorous look at the local and the global implications of destructive coal by turning crocheted wire, beads, found objects, and painted wood into sculptural commentary.

Coal mined from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming would travel on barges and trains through our beloved Northwest (including the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area) and on to Asia by mega-ships. At the time of this writing, three out of the six coal terminals are still waiting for permits to be approved or denied.  Three of the original six proposals have withdrawn but the three left would have a destructive daily impact. Dozens of trains will stop traffic and spew toxins.  Meltzer not only makes art about the issue but testifies at hearings, organized an informational rally, and writes a Facebook page about coal.
Born in New Jersey, Meltzer came west to get her MFA in Design at the University of Washington — and she never left. She has exhibited throughout the Northwest and across the nation.  Her work is in many private and public collections including the the National Science Foundation, the City of Portland, the Community Music Center and the University of Washington School of Business. The sculpture, “Global Warming”, which will be shown at this University of Portland exhibition, is on the cover of the new book The Fine Art of Crochet by Gwen Blakley Kinsler.
When Meltzer saw Thom Caccamo’s ceramic fish skeleton series and Kelly Neidig’s traffic and cloud paintings she invited them to exhibit with her. Their artworks fit right into the coal and environment theme.

More Information about 

Bonnie Meltzer:   www.bonniemeltzer.com
Coal Export:   www.facebook.com/northportlandcoalcommittee
Other Artists:  www.thomcaccamo.com

 

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New Work!

November 20, 2013

It has been a busy summer, now fall is almost over. The days are getting shorter and the light here in Portland seems more yellow with the sun so low in the winter sky. The weather has been pretty mild. The clouds have rolled back in for the rainy season but we have had some beautiful sunny days and some amazing sunsets. Here is one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve seen in a while:

(the picture isn’t the greatest as I was driving when I took it….)

November Sunset

 

It has been nice to look up at the sky and gain inspiration for my new series of work “Clouds”. While my landscape paintings reflect the subtle changes that happen over a period of time my cloud paintings represent a brief moment in time. I have always been amazed with the world above me. How light can create a mood or a feeling of a place that helps to create a memory that seems timeless.  Instead of creating an organic cloudscape, I incorporate a grid pattern. With that my clouds, like my landscape paintings, speak of the effect humans have on the environment.

Here are a few of my new pieces:

Prism, 12x12", oil on canvasSide Effects, 18x18", oil on canvasMicro Burst, 20x20", oil on canvas

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