Essays

The Amazing Thing About Skin

The amazing thing about skin is that there are so many different ways to depict it.⁠ Like a religion, there are many different sects and belief systems.

You can either attempt to replicate skin tone exactly, as if you’re sculpting flesh from scratch.
You can capture the ways it reflects light, against a pool and sun.

Or you can go completely off the reservation and paint it with, say, Indigo Blue, Old Holland Gold Green and white over a wash of Rose Madder:

⁠Or you can punch up the peachy reds to make the flesh aflame with golden light.  It often looks more real without the natural color.

If not Grissaille, the technique whereby Verdaccio, the method of creating a green underpainting to create shadows that complement the peachy colors above. ⁠

Nor could one neglect the importance of glazing, where one applies thin transparent layers of paint above a molded form to capture the nature of skin’s translucence.

For portion of the lecture where I discuss another curious aspect of depicting skin, not mentioned here, and a recipe to help you achieve it go to the link below:

www.oilpaintingessentials.com/skintone

Getting to the Ribbons of Color Faster

Painters all have a fantasy that the images in our head will flow from our fingers, brushes and minds in ribbons of color onto a surface; that we don’t pause or hesitate too much. It just comes.

We’re all angling and positioning ourselves for that moment.

Gathering knowledge and scuba diving into organic chemistry and history for my little black book about materials and safe practices, while painting, exhibiting and teaching collided.

The more I learned, the more I realized what so many artists didn’t know.

When I teach a class, It gets to the point where I wanted to just stand at the door and shoot laser beams of knowledge and concepts into people’s heads like a science fiction movie or a really cool ASMR video.

But I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen.

So I decided to create this awesome comprehensive program instead, writing and recording over seventy one videos this summer. Of course, I cover the history and differences between inorganic and organic pigments, how to paint without solvents, and how to mix colors, etc. but I also draw from art history and contemporary art in the process. From Gerhardt Richter to DeKooning, Jenny Saville to Cecily Brown. No artist escapes.

My students, from all over the world, were gracious enough to write feedback after each of the eight modules and their favorite lectures had titles like Painting Architecture, Painting is a Castle, The Nudist and the Chemist, Copyright & Naked Ladies, Deconstructing Weird Picassos to name a few.

I’m not going to sugar coat how complicated it was to figure out how I was going to do it, or the cameras I put all over my studio to capture demonstrations, or the software I learned to edit video, or the gimbal I learned to operate in order to and live streaming studio visits. But man has it been fun.

Painting is a universe and a religion and an archeological dig. Followers need proper gear and space stations to navigate. Zoom conferencing people in from all over the world, Australia, Bali, Michigan, Utah, New York made it intimate and bonding. We are a family now. The experience is entirely next level compared to any class I’ve ever taught before.

I never felt like I taught conventionally anyway. I always felt as though I exploded. My students loved the energy but my fantasy of transmitting the information by shooting laser beams into people’s heads as they walked through the door so they could get to the ribbons of color faster never dissipated.

But I am definitely closer.

My Hebrew name is Keren which means “Ray of light”. So fitting! If I can paint with pigments, I can surely add light and photons into the mix, which is exactly what this program is.

Keren in Hebrew means "Ray of Light" but can also means "horns" which is why Michelango put them on his statue of Moses.
Kerenim also means “horns” which is why Michelango put them on his statue of Moses.

Oil Painting Fluency & Flow opens for enrollment again next week, Sept 9 and starts September 23rd. Space is limited.

If you would love to go scuba diving/ space traveling in the color painting universe with other artists from around the world, I would love to have you join.

 

Book Announcement

I remember the first time I ever painted in oil as if it were yesterday.  I was initially hesitant to use the medium for 2 reasons:​  ​First​ly​, I put it on a pedestal, as if one needed a right or permission. ​ ​Second​ly​, I knew it involved materials that were somehow dangerous.

But I did it anyway. I knew then that I would be using this medium for the rest of my life.

 

Ten years in, I started to feel funny from the solvents.​ ​At the end of every painting session, I would have a weird taste on my tongue. I moved to “Odorless Mineral Spirits”, but barely felt better.​ ​If only I knew then what I’ve since learned during the illuminating journey of writing a book about the subject of everything I wish I knew at the start, the wonder of the history of pigments and particularly how to paint without solvents.

The dearth of knowledge about materials and craft among painters is an unnecessary epidemic. Either instructors assume the students learned it in a previous foundational class that no longer exists or were never taught themselves.

I’m so excited to announce that I created something I wished for my younger artist self: a little black book just for oil painting of all the materials I would need and why.

Oil Painting Safe Practices, Materials, & Supplies: The Essential Guide is a culmination of knowledge I’ve gathered over twenty-five years of painting with the last decade focused on how to paint in the safest way possible. It is a perfect shorthand for me to teach about materials and enabling anyone to mix their own mediums, reduce toxins, save time, live longer, and create more art.

Thanks to Chronicle Books, it will be widely available to painters worldwide soon. For now, I’m making it available and use it as a text book for my students

Oil Painting Safe Practices Materials & Supplies: The Essential Guide
by Kimberly Brooks
An overview of every facet one needs to know for an oil painting practice, including pigments, mediums, surfaces, brushes and how to paint solvent-free.

Buy Now

 

Leonardo’s Brain

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LEONARDO’S BRAIN NEWS & REVIEWS

It is with great joy and gratitude that I announce the posthumous publishing of my father, Leonard Shlain’s last book, Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius which he completed shortly before he passed five years ago.

The book is available online and in bookstores now. My siblings and I are hosting events to celebrate the book’s release in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco this fall.

Many of you already know about Leonard Shlain’s previous books, Art & Physics,The Alphabet vs The Goddess and Sex, Time and Power, or were lucky enough to attend one of his presentations. Otherwise you may have learned about him by my Technicolor Summer Exhibition, the articles I have published about our vigil or the flowers or when I dedicated the founding of the Science and Art Meets Science sections to him.

Leonardo’s Brain is not only one of his grand intellectual journeys akin to his previous books, but also has a particularly special meaning as synthesizes of so many of his ideas connecting neurology, history, philosophy, art, science and ourselves, holding Da Vinci as a harbinger of how our species could evolve.

We have so many people to thank — from our publisher John Sternfeld at Lyon’s Press (now Globe Pequot), Robert Stricker, his long time literary agent and particularly Andy Ross, the literary agent for Leonardo’s Brain who seized the opportunity to bring this book to market with zeal our father would have loved.  We also want to thank Ann Patty, (The Life of Pi) who helped us edit the final manuscript. The act of conversing with his ideas in our minds as we navigated the different stages of the editing and publication process was one of the greatest gifts of all.

 

The Creative Process in Eight Stages

I made a great big canvas. For three weeks it sat in the center of the studio like Jack’s massive desk in The Shining. No matter how many “painting miles” I’ve earned, there’s really nothing more terrifying. Of course, I have some ideas, a subject, a palette in my mind. Several in fact. But I’ve encircled it, ignored it, worked on smaller paintings instead. Finally, today, I took six different shades of pink. Some cadmium red light, rose and violet, and I just attacked it. It’s okay, I wasn’t totally committed because I knew it was just the ground of probably ten layers that will live above it. But it was a start.

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India, My Heart

January 5

Dear Friends,

I hope your new year is off to a great start.  Despite my perpetually lying on Instagram about my location (like posting pictures from my November trip to India weeks after I returned), I have indeed returned to home to California and have been quietly painting, planning and immersed in life.CityPalaceUdaipur_KimberlyBrooks
I took the above picture Inside the City Palace Museum which is across the water of the Lake Palace in Udaipur, India. There are rooms of walls just covered with Indian miniatures which chronicle the court life of the Mewar family who still rules after seventy six generations — the oldest dynasty in the world. You can spot how the introduction of perspective and portraiture seeped into the way artists depicted events at pivotal moments after the British came and gave art as gifts. *Sigh*

Portrait of Arjun | 20 x 16 in, Oil on Linen

Portrait of Arjun | 20 x 16 in, Oil on Linen

But immediately I must tell you that I will be in NY THIS WEEK, to attend a group exhibition I am participating in curated by legendary feminist artist and writer Mira Schor entitled ‘”A Womanhouse” Or A “Roaming House” A Room Of Ones Own Today’ at the A.I.R Gallery in New York.  A.I.R. Gallery. January 9 – February 2, 2014.  Opening reception is this Thursday, January 9th, 6 – 9 pm.

AIRGalleryKimberlyBrooksfront
AIRGalleryKimberlyBrooks

I hope I get a chance to see you at one of these exhibitions. If not, you can follow me on Instagram where I post pieces of my paintings and lie about my true whereabouts.

Happy New Year!

Kindest Regards,

Kimberly

If I Were Queen, Kids and Screens

If I were Queen, I would make everyone repeat after me:

“Technology is addictive and allowing children to attempt to regulate themselves is akin to helping them regulate their use of cocaine or alcohol.”

I started to have the desire to be Queen when smartphones invaded my children’s elementary school. The first time I noticed it was when a third grader with divorced parents was discovered to be showing video porn to classmates and a few second graders during recess. When some horrified mothers found out and alerted the boy’s mother, a nurse, she put the iPhone on the kitchen counter and smashed it with a hammer. In fifth grade, another boy took a picture of some girls doing cartwheels that showed their underwear and then regularly threatened to post it on his Facebook page. It was weeks until the girls’ mothers, seeing their children visibly upset and suddenly not wanting to go to school anymore, got to the bottom of what was bothering them and had to get the principal and the mother involved before the boy deleted the pictures from his iPhone.

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Life by Me

Life by Me

(The following interview is the aggregation of answers to a series of questions posed by Sophie Chiche)

I used to be fueled by independence and artistic freedom. I came out of the gate wanting to shock and be shocked by the universe. But that has transformed into a love of much smaller moments, usually in the studio or with my family and people I love, like hours two through six in my studio, a gorgeous view, and cooking a great, healthy meal for my children when they come home from school.

Because I’m an optimist and want to do everything, I’m always having to dial back. My father used to say, “May your grasp always exceed your reach,” or, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.” I’m always edging toward the next new challenge, but that also means I’m constantly reassessing to get back into balance.I don’t come from a place of judging whether or not other people’s lives are meaningful, but what I’ve observed is that the biggest obstacle often holding people back is a lack of confidence and courage.

People who believe in themselves and are brave move forward. People who follow through and realize their dreams, as I’ve been fortunate to do, seem to experience many deeply meaningful moments in their lives.I love being surprised. A few years ago, when I thought I’d seen it all, I spent time in India for the first time. There wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t surprised – by the colors, the scents, the beauty of the people.Being in the studio demands a constant state of innovation, with the subject matter or with the material itself.

As a painter, every day I face the challenge of discovering a new way and a new thought in the work.I’ve been developing a meme called The Left Turn Theory. Whenever I feel totally comfortable in a situation and can see the road stretching before me, sometimes endlessly, I make an unexpected left turn and the world becomes exciting, strange, and new again. For example, I never expected to live in Los Angeles. Now, every time I see a palm tree, I’m slightly shocked and surprised and it makes me smile.Every day, I care less about what other people think and I become more and more daring. In a few months, I might just do something I never imagined I’d do, something I can’t even guess about now. I might even do it naked. Can’t wait.

Kimberly Brooks

Welcome to the New Huffington Post Arts Page

About four years ago, Arianna Huffington asked me to blog about my paintings and process as I made them. At first I demurred, saying that it would be impossible for me to expose myself or my work that way. The real truth was that the proposition terrified me. A few days later, I thought to myself, well, perhaps I could interview other artists about their work and start a conversation.

Since then, I have had the privilege of interviewing and writing about over seventy eight artists for a column I started here called First Person Artist. Featuring my own and other artists’ work, I covered range of topics including politics, photography, fashion, the last election, climate change, war, feminism, facebook to my own creative process. I made writing and having a conversation with other artists an integral part of my art practice. The act alone gave me courage. And unless you subscribe to the Emily Dickinson model of posthumous discovery, a huge part of making art requires courage, oxygen and getting it “out there.” We are encouraging artists, curators and critics alike to write about their work, review others’ work, curate their own online exhibitions, and write about newsworthy items that inspire further thought or a strong opinion.

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The Magnificent Merger of Arts & Culture

I’m lucky enough to have caught on video the exact moment when I was running along side my daughter’s bicycle as she was learning how to ride for the first time and I let her free. As soon as she was balancing on her own, I had this huge beaming smile on my face as I watched her circle back towards me in a wide loop and then did it again. I feel no different today as the beloved “Arts” vertical, something that I created from scratch, merges with Culture and to become a “Super Vertical”, “Arts & Culture”, which is exactly how it should be.

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The Merging of Arts & Culture. Illustration by Priscilla Frank

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Art & Physics and Me

“The artist, with little or no awareness of what is going on in the field of physics, manages to conjur up images and metaphors that are strikingly appropriate when superimposed upon the conceptual framework of the physicist’s later revisions of our ideas about physical reality. Repeatedly throughout history, the artist introduces symbols and icons that in retrospect prove to have been an avant garde for the thought patters of a scientific age not yet born. “
Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics” Chapter One: Illusion/Reality

This was the huge meme that grew inside my late father’s head throughout my childhood. It spilled forth onto our dining room table, on walks along the beach during family outings, on napkins where he diagrammed what it would look like to sit astride a beam of light and how Einstein’s Theory of Relativity corresponded with, say, Cubism and Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircaise’ and it spilled forth within the reams of paper that I edited, chapter by chapter of what would become his first best-selling book, throughout high school in and college.

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I Survived Giving a TED Lecture

What would you do if you had 18 minutes to impart a meme on a stage in front of an audience with three cameras and no notes?   I created a lecture that combined the ideas of three essays I had written in the past, and then added some personal stuff.  They encouraged making it personal in the “TED Commandments” materials that I received when I agreed to strip off my clothes and waltz around in a bikini… I mean talk on stage and be fascinating with no notes… I have done so many things that scare me in one year.  I’m actually getting use to it.  If it doesn’t scare me than what’s the point?  Now I wait while they edit.  Honored to be chosen as the guest speaker.  Still recovering..

Naked Summer Newsletter

In an interview with artist Ethan Murrow, I depicted a spectrum I call “The Nudist and The Chemist”. On one side, there is “The Chemist”, who works in a pristine lab with a Bunsen Burner and the thinnest of pipette; on the other, there is “The Nudist”, who slathers paint with a spatula in one hand, a glass of wine in the other, all- while naked. While every artist’s approach is different, I’m leaning towards “The Nudist”.  I think of the elder Matisse, who worked in bed into his eighties with yards of fabric, a big pair of scissors and sunglasses that the doctor prescribed he wear for fear the colors might get him too excited.

For this recent show I’ve been painting directly on oil primed linen, stapling it to the wall and then stretching it afterwards. All the themes I’ve been working on as a painter — portraiture, narrative, the language of costume– have melted into one another the way meat falls off the bone after it’s been roasting for a long time– no longer recognizable in its former incarnation, but more succulent. Whereas my previous exhibitions revolved around specific subjects, including people wearing specific types of styles (“Mom’s Friends”) or people who wield style altogether (“The Stylist Project”), I now let folds and patterns serve as a vehicle for a kind of abstraction.  I’ve created a series of “unportraits” where the figure no longer serves a purpose like telling a story. It’s a shape, a part of the painting.

The Gap Logo, New Coke and the Legendary Walter Landor

The introduction and subsequent rescinding of The Gap Logo unleashed a series memories of my younger self and the visionary designer Walter Landor.

I was a freshman at UC Berkeley. Being the always drawing-painting-coloring-designing “creative-type” kid, my father thought I might enjoy a lecture at SFMOMA by the legendary designer Milton Glaser who was introduced by his West Coast Counterpart, Walter Landor of Landor Associates. I was raised in Mill Valley so my university, my hometown and the glittering lights of San Francisco were all only a bridge away.

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7 Rings, My Turn

Today I played 7 Rings, the game created by Rebecca Campbell and Nicole Walker on the Huffington Post.   Each participant has 24 hours to respond to the previous artist’s work.  I was responding to the poem below by Alison Deming called The Mirror.


“Chains for Alison” 2010, gouche on paper, 9″ x 12″ Kimberly Brooks

THE MIRROR

Once I had a cat who studied himself
in the mirror. He didn’t know
what it was in there staring back at him
but he couldn’t stop looking
because the face never turned away
and eyes meeting eyes
want more seeing. It’s already dark.
No moonlight. No whippoorwill–
the bird that tormented my childhood
refusing to take on the night
without incessant song. That bird
must have been the size of a fire hydrant,
something alarming anyway, I thought then,
but learned later it was just a pip
of feathered life with a voice
insistent as the news, that continuity
of disaster and argument to which
we all belong–bomb in recruiting office,
stoning in public square, crude oil
in everyone’s hair, to mosque or not
to mosque. Don’t turn away. It’s just
the brute world that will outlive us,
the lean hard muscle of it
flexing. But the birds
don’t belong, they are settling
into the night, their feathered quilts
ready-made. Some of them
are rising out of their bodies, whole
categories of bodies, and into
the being of non-being where of course
we’re all headed after a few more parties
and fixations of eyes upon eyes. But first
who doesn’t want to make something
of it, the clutch of childhood’s
solitary rages and the way the face
begins to cave in on itself with age
so that it looks like an Arizona landscape,
all contour and defile, telling the outcome
of its story to everyone, leaving out
a few details, so that a person might stare at
himself and say, Don’t I know you from
somewhere? You look so familiar and yet . . .

Alison Deming was responding to self portraits by Don Bachardy.


Don Bachardy, Untitled,  2010, Acrylic on Paper, Aprox. 24″ x 36″

7 Rings is a game of artist telephone that we launched on August 2nd.  I wrote about the overall concept for the game here.

A Vigil for my Father, Leonard Shlain

As I write this, my father, Leonard Shlain, is dying of a brain tumor. A couple of weeks or months ago, I might have said “living with a brain tumor.” But now that is just not the case. I write from the top floor of the beautiful home in Mill Valley that he built and helped design with San Francisco sparkling to my left and Mount Tamalpais sleeping to my right. My father is in the bed behind me. I am sitting at his desk. He drifts in and out of consciousness (mostly appearing to sleep) and this is where my family is holding vigil.

I was going to tell the editor that I cannot write this week or next or maybe for a while. I may still do that, I don’t know. But I cannot be the only one in pain. I thought maybe if I shared this sorrow that it might make me feel better or maybe it could even make someone else feel better who is going though something similar. Also, he is an unrepentant ham and when I asked him if he wanted me to devote this week’s column to him, he squeezed my hand and grunted one of the three words that he uttered that entire day which was yes.

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Mothers Against Plastic

My first real introduction to inane plastic over-usage was having children. There’s nothing quite like the mountains of toys and bits and pieces that only seem to be enjoyed during the “opening” portion of a birthday present. Then I’d notice curiously that my kids would receive far more hours of enjoyment over a cardboard box. It’s less about the material itself, but that kids are suckers for brightly colored things. Once they get over the rush of tearing open the clam shell plastic packaging, they literally never play with it again. I’d end up filling large plastic Glad bags (the really large one for leaves) with bits and pieces of toys that, once torn asunder, were never decipherable again.

And then, there are the straws.

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Typical way restaurants serve kids drinks.

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Vigil for My Father, Leonard Shlain

Sunday, May 10

As I write this, my father, Leonard Shlain, is dying of a brain tumor.  A couple of weeks or months ago, I might have said “living with a brain tumor.”  But now that is just not the case. I write from the top floor of the beautiful home in Mill Valley that he built and helped design with San Francisco sparkling to my left and Mount Tamalpais sleeping to my right. My father is in the bed behind me.  I am sitting at his desk.  He drifts in and out of consciousness (mostly appearing to sleep) and this is where my family is holding vigil.

I was going to tell the editor that I cannot write this week or next or maybe for a while.  I may still do that, I don’t know.  But I cannot be the only one in pain.  I thought maybe if I shared this sorrow that it might make me feel better or maybe it could even make someone else feel better who is going though something similar.  Also, he is an unrepentant ham and when I asked him if he wanted me to devote this week’s column to him, he squeezed my hand and grunted one of the three words that he uttered that entire day which was yes.

As I write, I push the monitor to the side and keep my hands on the keyboard while I stare out the windows. I’m looking at the birds flying over the water and I can see the boats and Sausalito.  What happens when we die? Is he afraid? Is he still angry for being snatched from the living two weeks before the birth of my sister’s child with ten more books to write? 

Many people say that their dad is amazing.  My dad is the real deal. He used to write me long letters filled with wisdom when I was at camp as a kid and in college on a yellow legal pad with his signature green pen.  Sometimes they were typed.  When we were young, he would entertain us and our classmates by bringing a human brain to our elementary school in a white bucket of formaldehyde during show and tell.  In the backyard, instead of a swing set, he built a stained-glass geodesic dome with a hot tub in the middle (ah, Marin in the 70s).  Dinner conversations typically spanned from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to politics, literature to an incredibly dirty joke.   

When he came home after a hard day’s work as a young surgeon- saving lives for a living-, occasionally he would have dried blood spatters still on his glasses as he would diagram the operation of the day on a napkin.  Later, his diagrams became more adventuresome and expanded to thought experiments that included what it would be like to sit astride a beam of light and how that corresponded with Picasso’s rose period, blue period.  This, and when he took me to New York to see the museums, was what inspired him to write his first book Art & Physics.  Alphabet vs. The Goddess and Sex, Time and Power followed.

My father sometimes described his experience of life as that of him climbing up a mountain and that there is some old guy on top throwing boulders at him.  

He always sought the unattainable and would achieve it.  He grew up in Detroit Michigan, the son of immigrant parents, graduated high school at sixteen, medical school when he was twenty three, became a Captain in the Army got married and moved to Mill Valley in the late sixties.  When as a surgeon he started writing a book about art and physics, he was initially met with disdain from experts in those fields who would say “How dare a surgeon should write about these two fields, neither of which he is an expert?”  Oh but he was an expert and the books that line the walls of his house attest to it.    One huge boulder was being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of thirty seven.  He went into remission and survived.  

It was this first bout with cancer that in a profound way set him free.  He saw every day after that as gift.  He pushed himself far out of the boundaries of being a doctor by writing his books.  He was hungry and greedy for life experience, never wanting to miss a thing. It wasn’t until thirty some odd years later (three years ago) that he would be struck by a string of diseases, lymphatic interstitial pneumonia, MDS, leukemia and then for the grand finale a stage four terminal glioblastoma brain cancer for which he had emergency surgery this fall.  We, his incredible wife, Ina Gyemant, my brother, sister and I, gathered around him in horror as he awoke in the hospital and couldn’t speak.  “We’re all big satellite dishes, dad.  We can hear everything you’re thinking and want to say.”  He eventually regained his speech and we took a huge family trip to Hawaii. 

 Ironically, when the tumor hit he was finishing up his last book “Leonardo’s Brain” based on Leonardo Da Vinci.  So for the last nine months as I edited the manuscript and he gave us blow by blow details of his health, all we talked about was Leonardo’s brain in some form or another.

In addition to setting an extraordinary example as a person, he was an exceptional father.  When I was twelve my father would repeatedly sit me down a say a version of that quote I always see attributed to Nelson Mandela or Maya Angelou— about being brilliant and gorgeous and how dare one not be as great as he can possibly be.  He would say “You have brains, beauty and talent and can do and be anything you want.”  He told me that a great power would come with all this and that in the coming years I would be testing it out and that I had to use it wisely.  I believed him and I still do.  He gave all of us Shlain kids an unbelievable confidence and daring.  Anyone who knows us (my sister Tiffany, the filmmaker, and my brother Jordan, the doctor) knows this to be the case.  (He also told us other truisms, such as to never trust a man with thin lips or who wears a pinky ring or who has to say more than one sentence to describe what he does for a living.)

I asked him the other day while I was helping him add quotes to his newest book:  “Are you afraid to die?” “No” he said.” I’m not afraid to die.  I just want to live.” Last Monday, when we got the news that the Avastin (the tumor-shrinking drug he was taking) was no longer working, my stepmother told me that he said he wanted to call his parents who passed away long ago.  He wanted to tell them the horrible news that he was going to die and that there were no more bullets in the chamber to fight all the diseases.  

When he is actually no longer here, something I’ve been preparing and dreading and yet still cannot fathom, like all the most important events in my life, I know he’ll be the first person I’ll want to call to tell him the news. 

Update: Leonard Shlain passed away Monday morning, May 11th at his home in Mill Valley. For information about the memorial go to www.leonardshlain.com.

The Man Who Attended His Own Funeral

My father, Leonard Shlain, passed away three weeks ago.  I wrote about the vigil my family had been holding for him the night before he died.

We buried him the next day in a plain unlined pine box — a green burial — in a beautiful hillside that I used to look at when I was growing up as a kid in Northern California.  The spot he chose is on a 35 acre nature preserve with hawks soaring overhead, an ocean breeze and views of Mt. Tam. I could hear the kids playing at elementary school I once attended.   In lieu of headstones, the funeral home buries a GPS device 18 inches from the surface so we can find his exact place on the hillside when we return.   It is a perfect place to spend forever.

The memorial, a few days later, was particularly spectacular because he showed up.  He had the foresight to have my filmmaker sister, Tiffany Shlain, shoot a video of himself several months beforehand.  After the Rabbi briefly spoke, she introduced him on a huge screen next to the platform in the center of the synagogue.  The audience gasped.  There he was, looking dapper in white suit, sitting on a chair in a spacey kind of heaven. With the help of a green screen he had clouds alternating with stars and outer space floating behind him. It was so Lenny Shlain.   “I always wanted to attend my own funeral.”  He said as he opened his hands, show time-style, paused and said “Well…I’m here!”

“Actually,” he continued, “I can’t tell you where I really am because it’s a secret.”    He then proceeded to the story of his improbable life, how blessed he felt, how much we all meant to him and how much he will miss us. He assured us that he was in a good place.  What a tremendous gift.

Hubble Photo/ Possible Location of Leonard Shlain

I can’t wrap my head around the finality of death and I don’t really believe he’s gone.  I made a shrine for him — like the kind I used to see for goddesses while living in India — in the living room where I walk back and forth in our house.  I put flowers and candles around his picture. It looks like his spirit burns bright there still.  It also gives me something to do every morning that honors him.  I look into his smiling face and say good morning.  I make sure the flowers are fresh and the candles are lit.   

Before he died, I was helping him edit his newest book.  One of the chapters that stood out was about the importance of beauty and the significance of flowers.  I remember when his theory was in its infancy.  He called me excitedly one day. “You’re not going to believe this,” he said.  “What?” I replied.  “We almost missed the flowers!” He then marveled over the fact that during earth’s 4.5-billion-year existence, that flowers have only come into existence the last .0003% of that time and that man has only been around the last .0000003% of that time.  He couldn’t believe how lucky we were that our species could have come and gone and missed this botanical celebration by a hair.

Even though I’m his daughter, a part of me thinks of our souls as flickering beings that go in and out of existence at different times and places throughout the universe.  I feel equally lucky that mine got to exist here at the same time as his.

I was profoundly touched by the outpouring of support and love myself and my family received after I published the story about the vigil and after his death.  I felt I would be remiss not to share some form of a coda to the experience before diving back into the what I normally write about.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share with you one of his lectures based on his second book, The Alphabet vs. the Goddess.   With your blessing, I will do this every so often.

What Climate Change Might Look Like: Chris Larson’s Deep North

Every now and then an artist so vividly articulates a quiet fear that it takes my breath away. Fresh from the celebration of Earth Day, a year long celebration, I wanted to share with you “Deep North” by artist Chris Larson.

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Chris Larson, Deep North, 2008, C-Print mounted on aludibond, 35 x 35 inches, Edition of 5 + 2 AP’s, Courtesy of magnus muller, Berlin

As an artist, I do not profess any deep knowledge about the science of climate change, but I do have specific images that come to mind when I think about it. There is a moment in “The Inconvenient Truth”, for example, when Al Gore explains how the Gulf Stream– the conveyor belt of ocean currents that guides warm water around what would otherwise be a much colder climate, might break and could theoretically plunge Europe into a rather a rather sudden ice age.

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The Art of the Headshot

As I navigate the web, both as an artist and a new media person, I think about the images we use to present ourselves. Other than movie stars and professional personalities such as Oprah and Martha, real estate agents were actually the first profession to use headshots as one of the means of conveying who they are and what they would be like to work with. In the marketing and advertising world they call it “branding”. But since that always makes me think of seared flesh on a cow’s ass I tend I stay away from that expression. Whatever you call it, we’re all doing it now.

Take my friend Sharona, for example. Occasionally I receive postcards or web announcements with her face smiling at me. She’s smart, confident and looks it. When I see her picture, I also instantly hear her signature sexy voice. I think to myself, “Man, if anyone is going find me a great house it’s going to be her.” As realtors go, she’s pretty low-key. (She also has the curious distinction of being the namesake of the Knack’s famous song “My Sharona” so she doesn’t have to sell as hard.) But most real estate agents take it much further, putting their faces on everything from billboards, bus stops and print ads. I often wonder when the trend started. It must have been in the seventies, and some blond babe, probably here in Los Angeles, an out-of-work actor, perhaps, thought “I bet if I put a picture of myself on every business card and bus stop, billboard and sign outside the house, people would rather buy a house from me.”

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Facebook and The Death of Mystery

I received an email recently notifying me that I was “tagged” in a facebook entry called “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me” from an old friend. We actually went on a few dates many many years ago and I haven’t seen him in about three years, but we’ve remained friends. Curious, I clicked on the link and learned twenty five things about him I never knew, like the rest of his four hundred friends. He’s a very witty guy, so it wasn’t quite like “I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain,” but in another way, it was oddly close. By tagging me he was requesting, or essentially daring me, along with the other nine friends he had tagged, to do the same thing. I impulsively started to do it and then never posted anything

My facebook life started off about a year and a half ago with friends and people I know closely, then my family started dribbling in, and the next thing I knew my friends included that person from a job I had ten years ago, students I’ve taught at art school, that really weird guy from high school, and an old roommate in college… and on and on it continued. That was the first sign of “friend leakage”, where I had expanded beyond the scope of intimate friends and was venturing into people outside of my circle, but usually by only a few degrees — at least I knew them.

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Michelle Obama’s New White House Portrait

The White House revealed the new official White House Portrait of Michelle Obama today. I’m working on a series of portraits right now and am obsessed with the subject. Even though I love her signature bare arms, I found the blue curtain exploding directly above the center of her head a curious choice of composition, as well as the white rose blocking her hand.

Michelle Obama Portrait

It reminded of John Baldessari’s “Wrong”, a photograph he made in response to a photography book telling would be artists that strong vertical design elements sprouting from people’s heads in a photograph or painting is wrong.

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INTERVIEW: Shay Kun & Larissa Bates

If every cell in my body had a face, it would resemble that of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, with each of the mouths getting wider and wider until November 4th is over with.

As an artist, I have, like the rest of my species, huge antennas and right now I find it simply impossible to make or write or think about art and not think about the election.

Watching history being made in every regard is to see reality afresh; when a few elements are tweaked, whether the first African American or the first woman vice president.  Although let’s be real about the latter—McCain’s injection of Sarah Palin into his campaign was less history and more like an over-dosing Uma Thurman getting a shot directly in the heart a la “Pulp Fiction”. I attribute the genuine history making moments to Obama and Clinton.  And thanks to them I do not think as a country that we will ever see four white guys lined up on those debate stages again.

I notice, throughout the elections, and especially when candidates are being interviewed, they interrupt or defend their positions by saying “the fact of the matter is” as if everything said before that moment was sort of mushy and not “fact based”.  That said, the fact of the matter is that things are being shaken up and it is fantastic.

This is not to say that we’ve reached the very end of white-male dominated patriarchy and that we can now all hold hands in a circle under the moonlight and embrace our inner pagan witch/goddesses just yet.   But it does signify an historic reality tweak, and hopefully, one that will lead us to some new post gender, post racial, post carbon age that transcends anything we’ve known before.

I recently interviewed two artists, Shay Kun and Larissa Bates, who made me think of the election.  (Everything makes me think of the election).  Shay Kun’s show “Nails and Features” is currently at the Buia Gallery in New York and Larissa Bates’ just had a much acclaimed show at the Monya Rowe Gallery, also in New York. Both artists have masterfully taken familiar and tweaked it in such a way that we see it anew.

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Shay Kun, “Life Is A Journey Not A Destination”, 48×72 inches, acrylic and Oil Paint on canvas 2008, Courtesy BUIA gallery, New York.

Drawing on landscape backgrounds inspired by the artists of the Hudson River School (the great mid-19th century American art movement that redefined Romantic landscape paintings of nature and westward expansion), painter Shay Kun projects viewers into an unstable and unfixed natural surrounding.  Here Kun tossles and jars the untouched environments that painters such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Church perfected by adding disjointing products of conspicuous consumption and human activity into the pristine landscape paintings.

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Shay Kun, “Premonitions”, 96×72 inches, acrylic and Oil Paint on canvas 2008, Courtesy BUIA Gallery, New York.

The result is refreshingly disturbing.  We question human impact on nature in terms of degradation—not just of mining our natural resources, but of the footprint we leave as environmental tourists and adventure seekers in national parks.  As fireworks explode and army soldiers stake out a dugout amidst the glaciers in “Premonitions,” the premonition Kun leaves us recalls our wars in Iraq and Afganistan and the celebration to its end that we have not yet obtained.  Glaciers serve as a stand-in for human impact on the earth, and the soldiers create a dramatic juxtaposition that pits humans against nature.

Kimberly Brooks: Tell us about “Nails and Feathers”, we can start with the title.

Shay Kun: These works are an infusion, a hybrid of absurdities. Drawing on the style and subject matter of the Hudson River School, particularly Thomas Cole’s reverent paeans to nature and Albert Bierstadt’s awestruck visions of the sublime in the American West, these works captures the grandeur of nature.  Despite acquiring a newly cultured look, these landscapes that were made with all the sincerity and attention, are transformed into a juxtaposition of nature and its human invaders, who appear in the guise of tourists or adventure seekers. The contrast between these contemporary characters and their stylized environment is abrupt and, despite their small scale, they’re an almost offensively inadequate substitute for the deities or characters of noble bearing that filled their place in painting of the past centuries.

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Shay Kun, “Nails & Feathers”, 96×72 inches, acrylic and Oil Paint on canvas 2008, Courtesy of the artist and the BUIA gallery, New York.

Kimberly Brooks: What experience led you to create this body work?

Shay Kun: I remember myself in my childhood seating down at my moms’ studio — a commercial landscape artist, asking myself if these welcoming ‘greeting card’ paintings are in my genes…at that time I could only produce a pastiche of Freudian Van Gogh type of work and this affliction of sublime testimony seemed too simple and sincere to justify. In retrospect I know today that both of my parents work shaped my style, those untouchable materials in my youth and through my education became the only motive that put a chock hold on me and did not let go. My exploration is not a tongue in cheek one, a one liner of an Israeli artist flipping the European/ American sublime but an emotional exploration of the point of departure and how I can add to that my own small voice liquefying this ‘unfinished symphony’.

Kimberly: Your metaphor is beautiful and believe me, were you flipping off the American/European sublime you unfortunately wouldn’t be alone.

In Larissa Bates’, “Hustle and Bustle”, she sets hyper-masculinized wrestlers or cupids in lederhosen and other unusual elements in romantic landscapes in a series of gouaches reminiscent of Persian Miniatures of the 15th and 16th Century.   The extreme macho within a feminized nature cannot help but remind me of the Bush Administration’s attempts to exert itself and its mores onto the world.

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MotherMen Birthing Scene at Bingham Bluff, 2008 Acryla gouache and ink on canvas. 16 x 20 inches Courtesy Monya Rowe Gallery

Kimberly Brooks:  What were your intentions behind “Just Hustle and Muscle”?

Larissa Bates:  My newest body of work focuses on my continued interest in cultural constructions of masculinity.  I am fascinated by the kinds of cultural pressures that are placed on men to behave within certain codes and rituals.  A lot of people freak out when guys don’t follow their prescribed gender role—I think the role is just as limiting and binary as traditional roles for women.  For example, my husband took my last name when got married and it ruffled a lot of feathers—even in our very liberal social circles. 

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MotherMen Wrestling in Washington Allston’s Desert Landscape, 2008

acryla gouache on canvas

12 by 9 inches.  Courtesy Monya Rowe Gallery

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On a bigger scale, I would propose it’s the reason a country can’t just step back and put its hands up when confronted by another; it’s the Bush cowboy mentality that ends up strutting to war. There is an interesting documentary by the Media Education Foundation called, “Touch Guise” that gets into the social conditioning of boys. I watched it in college and it touched on my personal experience of being raised by a single Dad from age zero to six. My Dad struggled to both embody this cowboy idea of masculinity while having to play variations of maternal and paternal roles in my life. He did this in a culture that offered him a gender script for masculinity that was highly inflexible. Continuing to think of gender as a binary role system limits the authenticity of people—from living in a way that is true to them. My work reflects my deep desire to see a more dynamic and flexible gender world—one that is more varied, complex, and fluid. I think we have to address the rigidity in the roles that continue to be prescribed for men. I should mention that this mainstream rigidity seems to be more of an American phenomenon, because at my show in Denmark last spring, a male critic was offended that this would even be an issue. Kimberly Brooks: Indeed, America has a lot to learn in this regard but I think (fingers crossed) we’re headed in the right direction.

First Person Artist is an column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process and showcases artists’ work from around the world.

Sarah Palin First Impressions

Before I had even a moment to recover from the history making of last night and Obama’s incredible speech, my cup overfloweth with excitement about McCain’s vice presidential announcement this morning, a visual bonanza! So much to see, so much to chew on, I don’t even know where to begin!
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I will try not to dwell about lame TV producers of McCain’s announcement this morning.. God knows what screens to the left and side of his head that made everyone behind him look like they were either shifty or channeling Ramtha. Nor McCain, whose peeps can’t get it together to use a teleprompter and look us in the eye. (Hello, McCain.. there’s new technology out there…Google much?) Today’s on screen gaffe was almost as bad as when Hilary had every member of the Clinton administration standing behind her when she was defeated in Iowa vs. Obama’s endless sea of admiring smiling faces.

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Artist as Exhibitionist

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Much has been made of the recent Memorial Day Weekend Issue of the New York Times Magazine displaying, not a war veteran, but former Gawker editor Emily Gould languishing on a bed sporting a wife-beater and tattoo. It is not about the blog culture so much as an 8,000 word autobiographical tale about her experience in it. She paints a portrait of herself as a compulsive over-sharer where she describes, in great detail, how she blogged about her every thought, told amusing stories of boyfriends, skewered media insiders and experienced total humiliation by Jimmy Kimmel on live television before being ousted from New York’s subculture and media world. Aside from babes on beds selling more magazines, the repentant pose begs us to pity the entire generation of bloggers who expose too much of themselves online.

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Artist Porn: 10 Things That Turn Me On

Writing a weekly column about artists that turn me on omits a gigantic portion of what turns me on as an artist. The truth is that more artists don’t turn me on than do— there are a hundred for every one I feature. But there are certain things, not by fine artists, per se, that really turn me on and I affectionately refer to them as “Artist Porn”.

Note, the dictionary definition of porn is: “obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, esp. those having little or no artistic merit.” I certainly don’t use the word by this definition. One of my friends insisted that I was describing a “guilty pleasure.” But, no, that is just not the case. Dark chocolate is a guilty pleasure. Making love before breakfast is a guilty pleasure. Doing it during a conference call, well that’s just plain kinky, but I digress. No, this is clearly “artist porn.” These are things that light up my brain like a hormone-addled teenager gazing upon some moaning glistening assemblage of limbs. Behold this partial list that I encounter in daily life that visually rock my world:

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Rock Stars, Orphans and Rescue Missions: Preparing the Solo Show

As I write this, I’m sitting on a stool in the middle of my studio. My solo show is less than five weeks away. I have over fifteen canvases of all sizes strewn about, the finished ones hanging on the walls, the rest facing the walls. I’ve divided the paintings into three categories: Rock Stars, Rescue Missions and Orphans. There’s nothing like a deadline to align all the atoms of the universe so I can see with crystal clarity.

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Kimberly Brooks Studio Five Weeks and Counting
Unlike a typical triage unit on a battle field or hospital where you attend to the worst first, I do the opposite. First I must recognize and admit when a painting is not working and kill it or let it die. This is never easy. So I focus on the Rock Stars— the ones that fly out of my mind (my heart) and onto the canvas with ease. Even if I hit turbulence I know I can still get out of it and it will make it on the gallery wall. I’m jamming when I’m painting them. I’m confident about what’s happening, the palette, the composition, then surprises that always happen in painting are bonuses. They make me feel like a Rock Star. I focus on these first.

Next, the Rescue Missions. They were Rock Stars. What happened? That hand doesn’t look quite right, the palette needs fixing, the detail not enough or too much. But there are Rescue Missions and then there are Rescue Missions. I have one Rescue Mission that I’ve been painting on and off of for five years. It was once the basis for an entire show. Someday, it still will be, but now I work on her in between. Leonardo Da Vinci carted the Mona Lisa around with him for twenty years, touching it up until his death (and to think it started as a commission!). Like Jean Le Feo’s ongoing and never finished painting “The Rose,” or Jacob Wrestling the angel, I don’t know when she will be ready for the public, but I’m not giving up.

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Jay De Feo’s “The Rose”
How many times in my life have I spent too much time on a rescue mission? With the wrong relationship or a lousy job? Relationships, work and ideas— they are all things we have to nurture. I take note of what’s going well. Life is short and I don’t want to spend all my time fixing things.

There’s a common misconception that artists are focused on process and it’s all about “the journey.” Certainly the journey’s great (and challenging and circuitous and rewarding, etc.), but I want beginnings and endings. I want results. Nabokov wrote that there can be no art without facts and no science with out fancy. There’s nothing more satisfying than fact of a finished painting and the dream that it will somehow embody an ultimate aesthetic self.

But truthfully, thinking that any painting might represent the whole vision or spirit of anything is as impossible as attempting to hug a tornado. Rather, each painting or idea represents a single moment and angle of that tornado in motion— it’s early crosswinds, it’s fury, the occasional flying cow or car— it’s just just one piece in a life time of work.

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Detail from “Technicolor Summer” Oil on Linen
Yet the urge to strive for the ultimate “Hero” painting is irresistible. My artist friends and I joke about the “Magic Painting” that we’re going to put on the postcard for a show. As if one painting can summarize an entire show and bring more people in. Which reminds me, I have a solo show in less than five weeks. Time to get back to work. Back to the studio. I have a jam session to attend.

The Nudist and The Chemist


As an artist, I consider art on a sort of spectrum in my mind by the manner in which it is rendered. I picture two opposing ends: one a chemist, who has a pristine lab and measures everything in the most precise manner, conducting experiments in a white coat with the thinnest of pipette, a Bunsen burner, and a notepad to meticulously record results. On the other end is the nudist, someone completely of the body who paints without a trace of inhibition, who never decides what to put on the canvas in advance but just instinctually slathers it on with a huge brush or spatula, perhaps even while sipping a glass of wine with the other hand, all while naked. In my mind I call the two types of artists “The Nudist and The Chemist.” With every painting, I fall somewhere in between–with “The Nudist” being my ultimate goal as an artist, like Howard Hodgkin or perhaps the elder Matisse, working in bed into his eighties with yards of fabric, sunglasses and a big pair of scissors.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kimberly-brooks/the-nudist-the-chemist-a_b_91633.html

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Judging The Campaigns By Their Colors: Shades Of Red And Blue

I have election fever and everything else I had intended to write is out the window. It has been an all out Red and Blue assault–everywhere the eye can see. Not Prussian or Cerulean blue, mind you, but a pure, pungent royal blue. And the red–the purest cadmium deep– not a touch too orange or blue, the color of a bullseye, the color of blood.
These are the colors of our patriotism. Red is the color of power, passion, aggression, and war. It’s the id that overpowers all colors. Blue is the color of wisdom, calm, hindsight and thoughtfulness. In this light, I love the design of the American flag. Admittedly, I’d love to update it (another post), but it captures what I view as the colors of America. Furthermore, the colors assigned of Red=Republican and Blue=Democrat, undoubtedly by some anonymous graphics editor, seem seem totally apt.
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“Three Flags” Jasper Johns 24″ x 16 1/2″

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Why Artists Shouldn’t Have Blackberries

A few months ago, after an unfortunate incident involving a melted chocolate bar and my cel phone in my car’s console which rendered the latter useless, I decided to try a Blackberry. It was something I’d been debating with friends, family and myself for years. I was extremely hesitant. I would regularly interrogate the people I knew who had them as if they’d just casually used the Orgasmatron in Woody Allen’s Sleeper.

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Woody Allen in Sleeper
“What’s it like? Is it weird? Is it really that great?”

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The Macho Art World

I considered writing a piece this week relating relationships and art to Valentine’s Day, but found myself struggling with it. This was not because I knew that papers and the Internet would already be dripping with pink and chocolate, nor because there’s any lack of artists who make love with their subject. Rather, I struggled because I find the art world so inherently macho.
That is not to say that artists themselves are necessarily macho: artists are dreamers and essentially romantic, aspirational people- to even call yourself one and place yourself near the canon of artists before you- is a lofty enterprise. An artist’s relationship to his or her ultimate realized self is often just as essential as it is to other people.

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David Hockney imagining himself being drawn by Picasso, whom he never met.


Artist and Model, 1973-74. Etching, 22 5/8 x 17 1/4 in., Courtesy of the artist. ©David Hockney. All rights reserved. Courtesy of LACMA

It is also not macho because art prices are soaring and it is still so male-dominated. Even this Thursday the feminist group called “The Guerrilla Girls” called on its members to send a letter to BCAM demanding that the museum reconsider the curation of it’s predominantly white male collection.
No, I find being an artist in the art world macho for other reasons. There’s a required toughness to stick it out, get to work and put it “out there” — more exhibitions, more galleries, more museums — constantly pushing to get on the radar. And the most macho part of all is the need to reach thirty feet inside your own guts for content. Picture young medical students eating pastrami sandwiches around the cadaver they’re studying to show it doesn’t phase them.
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Photographic Painting of Gerhard Richter’s daughter Betty
Certainly there are other spheres of the art world that are different. There are painters who paint flowers and sunsets on the weekends. But even within that sphere there are ardent realists who seek to recreate reality down to the molecule. This is especially prevalent in the water color world where first prize winners are often indistinguishable from the photograph it was copied from. Realism is very macho. When my artist friends and I swoon over one of Gerhard Richter’s photo paintings, we undoubtedly stalk and make the same noises as young men admiring a red muscle car.
Combine all this machismo with the feminine sensuality of working with paint and color, then the act of being an artist itself forms the ultimate couple.read more ›

The Painter Directs: Julian Schnabel And The Diving Bell and The Butterfly

I watched The Diving Bell and the Butterfly the other night. I couldn’t wait to sink my eyes into what I knew would be a visual extravaganza by painter Julian Schnabel. Film is a great medium. It’s such a new art form, still licking the placenta off its ears, compared to others. But I’m a tough audience — after most movies I just want my money back. But to have someone already established in the Grande Dame of painting, and Julian Schnabel no less, I just knew I was going to be in for a ride.

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Installation of Paintings by Julian Schnabel
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From Miami Basel with Love

Right now, there is a giant pulsing orb of a fair going on known as Miami Basel singeing most artists’ arm hairs. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, it was started only five years ago as a sister fair to Art Basel Switzerland and has since mushroomed into an extravaganza with over 20 satellite fairs and numerous insane parties and festivities to go along with it. I’m not there, but some of my paintings are, and I have no arm hairs left to speak of.
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A Sculpture by Uri Nir who has a film at the Pulse Fair in Miami. ABS and Stainless steel.
Image Courtesy of Braverman Art Projects.

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First Person Artist- New Column by Kimberly Brooks

I was walking down Rose Avenue in Venice the other day and the sky sparkled a fantastic shade of blue above a row of rumpled clouds and faded buildings. I rushed to get my camera to take a picture of the way it was playing out. But you just can’t capture that sort of thing on film. As a painter, light and instinct are the currency of my work. I work on many paintings at once and face the ones that are drying against the wall. When I turn them around I look at them afresh and try and let my gut guide the next move.
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Ron Pippin

I ran into a friend of mine recently in a restaurant, and while greeting her with a kiss on the cheek, I accidentally knocked out a “Bluetooth” earpiece that allows her to answer the phone without touching a phone with her hand. “Oops! My Bluetooth!” she said as it fell in her salad.
I once had swaths of time and space when I wasn’t connected to any one and cell phones were shaped like small refrigerators. Now, I feel like I forgot my foot if I don’t have mine with me. I think about this a lot as I continue to resist the urge to be reachable by email or have access to the internet when I’m not sitting in front of the computer at the end of the day. At my studio, there’s nothing but a radio (okay okay, it’s cable), glass jars, chairs, tables, easels, turpentine, paint, brushes and canvases. That’s it.
I constantly marvel over how technology has integrated itself into our very being making us practically unrecognizable to our prehistoric selves. This was on my mind when I walked into the Obsolete Gallery and discovered, among other treasures, the work of Ron Pippin. There I found an antique canoe with a plastic heart inlaid in resin suspended from the ceiling next to a zebra skull with a piston jutting into it’s jaw beneath a glass museum case.

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Burchell Zebra Museum Box, 2005
skeletal taxidermy, mixed media, found objects, wood,
plexi glass 45″L x 13″W x 20″H Ron Pippin
Courtesy Obsolete Gallery

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Skin Tone and the Challenge of Depiction

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I’ve often sought a literalness when depicting the color of flesh. Overtime and many techniques, I eventually landed on a restricted palette which uses burnt sienna as a base along with french ult. blue, cadmium orange, sap green and crimson.

In “The Sophia Loren of Mill Valley”, however, I used only indigo blue and golden green with white over a cool rose background. It struck me how much “cool” color could be used to depict heat.
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While I work on my next series of paintings, I’m further struck by how much more emotion can be conveyed when I stray from burnt sienna. In fact, no matter how far out or psychadellic my pallete becomes (gold green for warm tones, orange for cool tones, etc.) the viewer will still read it as a flesh and color, along with gesture, becomes yet another layer of articulation.

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I remember watching the Academy Awards a few years ago and Selma Hayek and Penelope Cruz were on the podium to announce the next winner. Here were two of the most beautiful Latina actresses working in Hollywood standing side by side. But instead of having their beauty compounded by seeing them together, I started to focus on their differences– Selma’s arms seemed oddly short in comparison; the top of Penelope’s lip to the bottom of her nose is too small, etc.

I wonder if attempting to emulate the colors of flesh tone too close forces a subconscious comparison; whether or not deviating dramatically sets the viewer free. Surely Van Gough and Gaugin discovered this long before me, but it is one thing to know it intellectually and then another to do it and feel it come alive.

Mom’s Friends

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When I was a young girl, I remember my mother and her friends, their clothes, their dinner parties and their laughter, as a distinctly as a perfume.

 

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These women were not fifties housewives who stayed home and marvelled at the new technology of the dishwasher.

 

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This was Marin County in the 1970s, when love songs oozed from the radio, a geodesic dome spung from the lawn in our backyard and my mother put rhinestones on everything.

Now that I am a mother with a daughter of my own, I see the way she studies me and my friends, how she imitates the way I walk and talk or wants to traipse in my heels. While the imagery of women I paint in this series is unique to this time and place, the group itself is universal. In this series, investigate young mothers as a powerful subtribe around which everything evolves.

Speed of Light

I was at a dinner party tonite and a man was telling me how his ninety four year old mother was dying. She woke up in the middle of the night last night and said,
“Oh Henry, I thought it was seventy years ago and you were six years old and I was getting you a glass of milk!”
“No, mom, it’s not. It’s just me and I’m an old man and you’re an even older woman.”
“My god.” she clutched his arm. “It went by so fast.”

Van Gogh’s Head, Cezanne’s Grave

Last night we watched a film about Vincent Van Gogh.

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Here’s how it was structured: an actor read all the letters in chronological order while visuals of the Dutch landscape and eventually his drawings and paintings illustrated the voice over, Ken-Burns-Civil-War Style. They never showed the letters (below), I could only heard them through the voice over.
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Later, I took a shower and scrubbed my skin with lavender salts I had bought at Trader Joe’s. On the label, the word lavender is inscribed with a font called Cezanne. Someone took Cezanne’s letters and manuscripts and separated each alphabetical letter, turning it into a font. Now Cezanne’s handwriting adorns everything from book covers, bath salts, greeting cards, bath salts, anything to connote authenticity. They also made a font out of Van Gogh’s handwriting but it’s not as popular.

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Lavender Oil from the same product line
I used to avidly keep a journal. I had a beloved fountain pen to write entries, make sketches and draft letters. The bending nib captured my every gesture and stutter– it recorded my aesthetic DNA– my emotional state, my discipline, or lack of it with the ruthless accuracy of a blood pressure machine. People hardly write letters anymore. I don’t keep a journal anymore but for skywriting on WordPress. I really love technology but sometimes I mourn the things it has displaced.