Yertle Was Not My Turtle

I made my first concerted effort to make a piece of 3-dimensional art in 1963. It was a more than double life-sized portrait of my pet turtle, whose name I do not recall.

For a brief period of time, I had a few pet turtles. Nevermore than one at a time though, and I don’t remember any of their names. I do know that as a second-grader my favorite color was green, and I will assume that that preference may have been due in large part to the inhabitants of my turtle bowl. The odor from that bowl that signaled it was time to change the water still stings my memory.

Even at the time, I did not feel that it was an accurate enough representation to be considered an appropriate homage to my testudinal companions, let alone a good piece of art. My mother thought otherwise as I recently found the said artifact on display in her home.

I find it interesting how a singular experience that my seven-year-old self had continues to shape my artistic decisions. Even today when the topic of sculpture comes up, I think of that turtle and remove myself from the conversation.

I have, mind you come to terms with that turtle and we get along just fine. But the trama it may have created, like the smell of that little plastic bowl that included an island with a palm tree on it, still haunts me such that I don’t believe that I have it in me to be much of a sculptor.

Do I want to be a sculptor? Not particularly. But I do wonder about how experiences I have had shaped and continue to affect how I approach my work today.

Dr. Seuss, wrote “Yertle the Turtle” about a turtle that was king of the pond. Yertle wanted to expand his kingdom and to do so he took ridiculous advantage of his subjects. A small turtle named Mack finally, out of pure exhaustion, couldn’t take it anymore. When that happened the mightly Yertle was toppled.

I could never relate to Yertle because he was so unlike me.

I was just thinking about how I piece together my thoughts as I figure out a new painting or monotype and I wonder why my process is shaped the way it is.

Can I change it? I think I could. Do I need to? Perhaps, perhaps not. I am not sure it is necessary.

This I do know, I can’t let a lump of clay dictate my course forever.

Would You Jump Off the Bridge?

I am fascinated by the topic of creativity and inspiration and how other artists embrace and pay attention to these curious and necessary partners in our individual processes. Influences are tricky things. We all can hear our parents inquiring about our friends during our formative years, asking us if your friends jumped off the bridge, would you? There is a good chance they used this line of reasoning because they understood that influences can be either good or less good. I choose not to say bad, not because I don’t believe that there isn’t any bad, there definitely is. But in regard to influences, especially as artists we can learn something even from the less good influences.

I think all influences are worth investigating for the most part when they come knocking. If something has enough pizazz to catch our attention, should we really be in too much of a hurry not to see if there might be something there?

Maybe it is a piece of art from some artist that you never heard of, or you have heard of the artist, but you never really looked because they do not produce the sort of work that you are interested in making.

What if you find yourself waiting for the light to change and out of the corner of your eye the light bounces off the slope of the sidewalk as it feathers into the crosswalk. Do you discount that flash in the moment of congestion on your way to the grocery store and curse the traffic and think this has got to be the most unattractive and uninspiring spot in town? Or could it be that that one vision of brightness on a dirty old Sunday morning sidewalk might possibly open up a whole new portal of investigation in your work?

Well, I think it’s worth considering.

This blog was originally published on 14 June 2020.

Every Tuesday and Thursday you can enjoy the wonders of figure drawing online. Visit my website for details.

Comfort Food

The question comes from a listener in Paduca, Kentucky.

“My question is about comfort food. I know when I eat roast beef and mashed potatoes with gravy I feel good. Like comfortable, you know? I don’t feel bad when I eat steamed broccoli with butter on it, but I don’t feel comfortable like I do when I eat mashed potatoes and gravy. You know?”

So listener, what’s your question?

“Well, I guess I was just wondering if I was doing something wrong when I eat my broccoli?”

It’s times like this that my mind drifts off to thoughts of Melvin “Sy” Oliver and James “Trummy” Young and their composition that remains as classically philosophical as it is classically jazzy, “It t’aint what you do, but the way that you do it.”

Metaphorically speaking, as artists our own personal comfort food that feeds our creative monkeys comes in all different forms from drawing to painting to writing, sculpture or choreography, and everything in-between.

Contemporary American artist Judith Schaechter takes comfort in making stained glass art. On a recent visit to the Toledo Museum of Art, I reluctantly stuck my head in a gallery exhibiting her work. Here is a woman that clearly takes comfort in something that holds less than a robust interest for me. After looking closely at her work, I could see how she not only made this art form her own, but she has also brought it forward from the dusty, dank old cathedrals of Europe…and I was really taken with it.

Here’s a link to her work: Click!

Okay listener, I don’t think that you are doing anything particularly wrong with your broccoli that I can tell. Maybe you just need to be a little more attentive to the unfortunate rap that broccoli often gets. Might I suggest you try it with a little hollandaise sauce and see if you feel any more comfy. If not, we gotta stick with the idea that one person’s broccoli is another person’s meat and potatoes.

Find out all about my online figure drawing sessions every Tuesday and Thursday. Click here.

You Lookin’ at Me?

Reasons aren’t everything. 

“But why’d yah do it?” the detective asked.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I said.
Even good reasons aren’t everything.

I look at a lot of things, I look at everything I can. Because of that, some say that I am good looking. I correct them and add “at.” I am good at looking.

For sure I am.

That having been said, I think we need to be careful about what we are looking at. With so many absolutely wonderful things to grab our attention, we can pretty easily be completely derailed and not even realize it.

In my working to rekindle a fresh body of work, in my new studio space, I was struggling to lay down any brushstrokes that felt like they meant much to me.

Puzzled, I made the conscious decision to look seriously back at the last work I did pre-pandemic that excited me. So, I unwrapped some work and stuck it on the wall and just looked at it.

I could see a thread, and for however many reasons there are that I let go of that thread I looked, and I heard my own art speaking to me as if it was Travis Bickle looking right back at me saying, “I’m hangin’ here, you make the move. You make the move. It’s your move. You lookin’ at me? Are you lookin’ at Me? … Who the hell else are you lookin’ at? You lookin’ at me? Well, I’m the only one here. Who do you think you are looking at?”

You can imagine, I was a little taken aback to have my own artwork talking to me like Robert De Niro flicking a pistol out of his sleeve at me.

Needless to say, it got my attention.