Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Art and the Artist

There is a craft to what I do. I am an Artist.

My grandmother would bundle me up and away we would go downtown to Mission and 5th Street. Disembarking from the No. 14, we wandered west on 5th, past the Old Mint Building and it's cherub fountains, past the bakery crossed 5th at the J.C. Pennies building that stood on the southeast corner of Market. We would wind up at my version of heaven...the Woolworth's that used to be housed on the corner of Market and Powell in the Flood Building.

From the second that you entered you were assailed by the smells of fried chicken, stationary, syrupy coke-a-cola and burgers form the luncheon bars on both sides of the building. There was the huge cosmetics aisles holding everything you could think of at even the most thrifty price range. I remember small, heart- shaped bottles of perfumed with light blue, pointed caps for 50 cents and shrimp pink frosted Cutex nail polish for about the same price. Jewelry was in glass cases or hung from displays. The bargain bins were filled with things you could get for anywhere from 25 cents to a dollar...nice jewelry, too.

The record section was in back of the jewelry/cosmetic area. I would linger there for awhile, hoping that someday I would look as beautiful as Nancy Sinatra, Lulu or Dusty Springfield. I bought Supremes A-Go-Go there back in '68. Next to the record section to the right was the stationary and school supplies. This was my haven. The smells of freshly milled paper, binders, pencils, erasers and paints...oh, yeah. You could buy all sorts of glues, spider shaped pencil sharpeners and office supplies. I still have a box of watercolor pigments in tubes, now dried up, bought during one of our excursions downtown.

Woolworth's was where I fell in love with the basic tools of the artist's trade.

My real love of art came from the many trips my father would take me on to the De Young Museum. That was the second incarnation, not the new building there now. Sometimes we would sit in one room and Dad would have me focus on my favorite piece of art work. I would get as close as I could and look at the way the light would cast shadows on the brush strokes. I noticed how thick or thin the paint was. My Dad had pointed out all these things to me before I could even understand really what he was trying to teach me.

Occasionally, later when we could afford it, my Grandmother and I would ride out to the Palace of the Legion of Honor. We would pack a lunch and spend the day out there, wandering the gallery or looking at the statuary. I was first introduced to Rodin there. The Thinker still sits in his spot in the gallery entry. I always wondered what it was he was brooding over. Why would someone be so serious? He always seemed like he was some terribly, wise person with a vast knowledge of all the secrets of the world. The Thinker impressed me, but not enough to want to be a sculptor.

In school I grabbed art lessons as I could get them. I loved the hour of daily art class and lived for it. In Junior High at West Portal, we began working with different media...plaster, pen and ink, fabric collage, and drawing perspectives. No more crayons and filling in pre-printed pages. It was here that I won a first place ribbon for a pastel chalk drawing of my little half-brother Andrew. The pastels had been bought at, of course, Woolworth's.

High School was my introduction into serious watercolor study with Mr. Larsen. I took jewelry making, sculpture, and tried a different type of art, drama. I began to see how the arts interwove themselves into each other. Music had always been important throughout my life. My father had introduced me to Puccini, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach on 78 records. We would dance around the diningroom, I standing on the tops of his feet. We visited the San Francisco Opera House where I saw Madame Butterfly and The Merry Widow. Music now became incorporated into the times I was writing, drawing or painting.

College was where I really blossumed. I enrolled in Technical College and took Graphic Arts. Here I learned to commercial art and graphic design. Freeform, photography, stripping, paste-up, camera ready art. I loved the smell of developers and acid etch. There was the huge light tables and pots of India Black Ink in the Drafting Room.

I let hormones get in the way, throwing a road block in my path with a baby and a husband. Both required all my time and little for art. Though my desire for art never disappeared. I began drawing and playing with my old fishing tackle box full of tools. I did "Crafty" things. I detested that term and still do. I was an Artist.

After the divorce in 1987, I was more driven and determined than ever to regain my Artist Self. I began venturing out, something my ex-husband had not encouraged. My dress became extravagent and colorful. I wore full, long-flowing dresses and wraps, laces and boots. I wrote short stories and poetry and got published. I went to museums and saw many of the other sculptures and drawings of Rodin, the dreamy paintings of Maxfield Parrish, the posters of Mucha.

My cousin, Jan and I would talk for hours of painting and sculpture. I sat for her. She sculpted me as an angel with Celtic dress and again as the angel with the lion and lamb. We would go out to the clubs and sip wine and dance until dawn with other artists and musicians. We lived, breathed and ate art...there was nothing else.

Pain came in the form of cancer. As in all things, we drown ourselves in the emotions, throwing ourselves into the colors of the most excruciating torments. When I lost my cousin to it, I lost a piece of my soul. I surrendered myself to cocaine and alcohol, depriving myself of food, sleep, and friends. Then my lover left me for another. I was devastated, becoming suicidal. I didn't care. I functioned enough to go to work in the morning, eating nothing until noon...maybe one meal a day. Nothing mattered.

One night I sat out under the stars, beneath the oaks on the huge patio area of our apartment complex. It was a bad neighborhood and you were nuts to be out after dark, alone, unless you were going to your car. It was silent that evening, and the warmth of summer made the oak leaves smell sweet. Small bats were diving through the driveway lights and I felt the eyes of an old friend watching from his window from the apartment above. The evening sky that night was the richest blue, velveteen and impossible in hue. My friend came down and spread out a blanket by the pool. We laid down and watched for ufo's until two.

I was hearing bits of poetry running through my head....blending with the shadows and pinpoints of starlight. Pieces of music floated in an out of memory. The night swallowed me whole. The artist was still there...a silent revelation.

We see things in colors, rich and deep. Emotions bleed out of everything onto everywhere. We play in light and darkness and gray scales in between and never come away prestine and unscathed. The butterfly gently flexes her wings and the storm begins. Life being the ultra dominatrix intermixes pain and pleasure. We would have it no other way.