Saturday, January 30, 2010

This week's art-a-day

It's cold this week!

January 24 -- holly berries in the park

January 25 -- reflections

January 26 -- first it snowed, then it froze -- or something

January 27 -- cloudy day in the park

January 28 -- in the alley

January 29 -- big boy's toys

January 30 -- snow again

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Art-A-Day -- In California

Just home from an art week in California -- five museums in five days.  And what a wonderful week to be in Los Angeles!  While we were there they had five or more inches of rain, depending where you were, along with mudslides, waterspouts, tornadoes, flooding, snow, mandatory evacuations, road and airport closures and general distress.  Four of the five museums have only outdoor cafeterias, and the bus always has to park a  l-o-n-g way from the front door.  Good thing the art was great!  I'll write more about that later, but here are my daily photos.

        "Seems it never rains in southern California
        Seems I've often heard that kind of talk before
        It never rains in California
        But girl don't they warn ya
        It pours, man it pours."

January 16 -- Las Vegas airport

January 17 -- Little Tokyo

January 18 -- Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the rain

January 19 -- The Getty Center

January 20 -- pumping stuff

January 21 -- the Norton Simon Museum

January 22 -- just before sunset

January 23 -- guess what -- still wet

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Here's the second week of photos in my 2010 performance art project: one photo per day.  I'm happy to report that the self-imposed task of taking a picture every day has on at least one occasion induced me to turn off the trash TV, leave my cozy studio, get all bundled up and venture into the cold, nasty slushy world outside -- because I needed to take that photo before it got dark!  The old me would have said "I walked for almost an hour yesterday, let's just skip the exercise today."

January 8 -- wish I'd made this art

January 9 -- little girl, big coat

January 10 -- Eiffel Jr. was here

January 11 -- shoveling only enough for the mailman to bring my mail (to hell with the other pedestrians) (no, this isn't our sidewalk -- we don't even have a sidewalk but if we did we would shovel it!!)
January 12 -- in the alley again

January 13 -- shadows

January 14 -- garage doors

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Viola Arnold Memorial Postcard Project

After my mother died I decided to continue sending daily postcards in her memory. Each of her 11 closest relatives (2 children, 3 children-in-law, five grandchildren, one great-grandchild) got a month of postcards. My sister, who had been Mom’s daily caregiver, got two months of cards. At the end of each month, I asked the recipient to send a postcard to a friend in memory of Mom.

While Mom was happy to receive random cards and messages, I thought I needed a little more intellectual rigor in what I sent to other family members – after all, who but a mother could sustain interest over a period of years in what her darling fixed for dinner? So I decided to have a theme every month.

January’s theme was “Art By People I Know.” February’s was “The World (Book) of the 70s.” I have a set of World Books bought in the 70s when my kids were little -- and what is so obsolete as a 30-year-old hard-copy encyclopedia? I decided I was willing to cannibalize it for art, and found 28 articles on old technology, current events that had yet to be upended by history, and downright dumb things, like the lavishly illustrated and totally imaginary depiction of interplanetary space travel, which would be happening any day now, or so the World Book said.

March was called “Room and Board,” a collection of old cards from hotels, motels and restaurants.

In April, however, I fastened on a new approach, which took vigorous root and, I think it’s safe to say, changed my life as an artist. That approach was to start carrying my camera on my daily walks, in search of photos for the monthly theme. April’s theme was “Pathetic Landscaping,” and it turned out to be easier than one might hope to find 30 really striking examples! Those cards went to my brother-in-law, an avid gardener whose own landscaping is the antithesis of pathetic.

So what was so life-changing about this perfectly ordinary concept? I learned that my style of photography is not to search for beauty or grandeur – it’s to look for and document small themes and ironies in ordinary surroundings. Four weeks of keeping an eye out for pathetic landscaping, for instance, made me notice how many people in one part of town chose the same lawn ornament.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The six-year postcard project

On January 3, 2003, I had a good idea. I would do a “performance art” project in which I would send my mother a postcard every day for the year. Wasn’t it a bit late to start a daily art project on January 3, you might ask? Well, yes, except when you make up projects you get to make up the rules. I had been in Virginia to see my mother for the holidays and had just gotten home, so my rules were that I didn’t have to send a card on a day that I had seen her in person.

The project turned out to be a big hit both with Mom and with me. I enjoyed finding cards that I thought she would like, and she liked getting a lot of mail! The cards didn’t say anything really memorable –one from an uneventful day might report on the weather, what was happening in the garden, and what we had for dinner. But it was a way to keep in touch, and the cards were permanent; Mom could go through them as often as she wanted, reread the messages and look at the photos.

When it got close to Christmas Mom started dropping hints that she was sure going to miss the postcards when the year was over, and it became apparent to me that my one-year performance art project was going to be a lifetime endeavor. I sent her a card every day I didn’t see her for almost six years, until she died in December 2008.

At the beginning of the project I thought maybe I would make fancy cards, along the lines of the fabric postcards that some fiber artists send. But it didn’t take long for that idea to hit the skids. For one thing, it took too long to make. For another, it cost more to send anything thicker than card weight, or with loose embellishments. And most important: Mom really liked plain old commercial tourist picture postcards the best. She and my father had traveled widely in the day, and many of the cards showed places she had been.

Sometimes I would cut out an interesting photo or clipping from the newspaper and paste it to the card. Often I sent cards from art exhibits. After I got a small photo printer for a birthday present, I could print out my own pictures onto 4 x 6 index cards, the perfect size for mailing. I bought postcards voraciously whenever we traveled, and haunted flea markets, particularly one in Floyd VA where I could buy vintage cards for 25 cents (cheaper than I could get a lot of new postcards). Best of all, many of my friends helped feed my postcard habit, sending me cards from their collections or purchased on their own vacations.

Sometimes we had themes, like a week of birds or a week of flowers. Once we had a full month of cards from New Zealand; several times I cut up old Christmas cards to postcard size and sent them in December.

When Mom died I discovered that not only did I miss her terribly but I missed sending the postcard every day. There were only a couple of weeks left in the year but that was long enough for me to realize that I wasn’t ready to give up the performance art project. So on January 1, 2009 I started the Viola Arnold Memorial Postcard Project, which lasted a year. While the original postcard project was totally loose, the Memorial Project had more structure. I’ll write about that in a subsequent message.

Mom kept all the cards over the years. At the start of the project I made her a couple of fabric boxes in which to keep the cards, but they were soon outgrown. I have all the cards now but haven’t been able to go through them yet. Eventually I should be able to reconstruct six years of my own life in excruciatingly boring detail!

This was a particularly beautiful bowl of soup that made a nice postcard.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I've always been drawn to what a good friend of mine calls "art-a-day" -- the commitment by an artist to do something every day for a period of time.  Sometimes that results in work meant for the artist's eyes only, such as the many variations on sketchbooks or journals.  Sometimes it results in finished art, as the daily work ends up assembled into a package or exhibit.

My project for 2010 is to take a photograph every day.  I considered setting rules such as a theme or subject for the photos, but decided to leave it open-ended for now.  Maybe as the year progresses and the photos accumulate, they'll make themes for themselves.

Here's my first week of photos.

January 1 -- in the alley

January 2 -- walking on the golf course, a tree with a bazillion pine cones (probably a sign of stress)

January 3 -- a bitterly cold day, with the construction workers intelligently spending the afternoon indoors

January 4 -- real estate still in the toilet

January 5 -- watch out, Santa!

January 6 -- the Christmas lights have to come down by Epiphany

January 7 -- snowbound pumpkin