Friday, May 6, 2016

Caribou Migration - Mixed Media Painting

This mixed media painting celebrates one of the great mysteries and ecological treasures of the Arctic: caribou migration. It started with a small watercolor with an endless line of caribou depicted by masking.

This painting, one of several Arctic themed watercolors using masking of birds, mammals, and light, didn't quite satisfy me. It rested on a shelf until I began the Arctic climate series. Then it leapt up clamoring for a mixed media, mysterious treatment.

It's set in a shadow box made of a 1.5 inch deep frame turned backwards and painted deep blue. Ordinary aluminum window screen is stapled across the back. The watercolor is affixed to the screen. I handcut snowflakes from iridescent origami paper and glued them below the watercolor. Similar ready made stars are glued along the top of the frame. These express the beauty of cold, night, and navigating by starlight.

To tie the elements together in a story of seasonal migration, I added "curtains": black fabric screen to the left and white mesh fabric to the right. I flavored the winter-summer symbolism with blue beads on the left, yellow and white beads to the right.

Looks like the caribou are migrating from summer grazing to winter shelter.

I've always been fascinated by caribou. About three years ago I read the most amazing book about their migration, Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer. He and his new bride spent six months following a migrating caribou herd - on foot!

More than anything else, this painting is a prayer for the caribou and their continuing migration.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Arctic Fog: Mixed Media Painting

Arctic Fog, mixed media, 19 x 27"

This painting could be called a collage, since it's constructed of different parts. First, there's the black pet screen that was stapled to painted stretcher bars. Once there was a scene of river under night sky, including a number of stars cut from aluminum flashing. This was cut open, losing a few stars and a lot of painted water, clouds, and fish. Next, I painted the bird's eye view of the tundra in acrylic on paper. Then I gessoed a thin rectangle on a remnant of denim overalls leg, as a ground for five loons, painted in acrylic on an ambiguous, pinkish fog.

The denim was stitched to the pet screen, using red cotton embroidery perle. That looked ok, but when I held the tundra scene over it, I felt such a need for more red. I used a sheet of photo block, because it was the right color and also let light through, giving some luminosity. The bottom was then stitched to the denim using red French knots. The sides were stitched to the pet screen using linen warp, and to the top using waxed cord. It was finished with six small fringes of red, green, black, and blue cotton perle.

This kind of art piece makes me uncomfortable, which I think is a good process for an uncomfortable topic like climate change in the Arctic. Beginning with destruction, the cutting of the painted screen, sets the stage for expressing some positive possibilities. Yes, some things are broken. Yet loons, who want nothing more than to live their Arctic lives, are still swimming. The fog? Well, it suggests the fog we're in—we who are so much less innocent and more destructive than the loons. The view of the tundra contains the paradox between beauty and danger, and it implies the perspective we need to steer a different course.

This piece received a lot of attention when I hung it at Sebastopol Gallery. I appreciate all that people saw in it, and the emotion and care they expressed in its presence.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Thunder Woman in the Far North

As I continue to explore healing in the Arctic as a key to averting climate catastrophe, it's natural that a powerful spirit guide would appear. Thunder Woman in the Far North (watercolor, 20.3 x 15.5") stands on patchy ice at the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Snow flakes are falling from her outstretched arms. In the mystery of the aurora, she invokes cold, healing, and protection of Arctic species. Through invisible connections extending across the regions of the earth, she touches life everywhere.

She touches life everywhere because the conditions of the Arctic effect every place and every being.  Mysterious when she first appeared in my imagery, Thunder Woman soon revealed herself as the spirit of native uprising. Native uprising doesn't mean armed conflict,  but a return to sacred relationship with nature, as practiced by native people of all times and places. It is exactly this native spirit that can save the Arctic, the climate, and all beings.

Last night I attended a concert with Väsen, a trio of master musicians from Sweden. I don't know their personal beliefs about climate change, but the raw beauty and profound mystery of their music breathes the healing power that answers our longing and our prayers. 

The musicians of Väsen hail from Uppsala, only about 6° south of the Arctic Circle. I'm sure they've been touched by the Aurora all their lives, and that northern wildness runs in their veins. It certainly runs in their music, and it surged through me as I listened and witnessed the great love and humor they bring to the stage.

As news about climate change worsens, I struggle with the question of how to respond, as a person, a mother, an artist. In concert with Thunder Woman, these musicians help me understand that our answers lie in beauty and joy. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Polar Song

Polar Song

The 5th in my Arctic series is Polar Song, a watercolor, 8.5 x 11", completed in April. Like all sentient beings, polar bears have their own songs. This bear is singing a plea for her survival, the survival of her kind, the survival of her beautiful world. I have expressed it in the poetic form, tetractys: 5 lines, the first with 1 syllable, the second with 2, the third with 3, the fourth with 4, and the last with 10 syllables.

queen of cold
she sings, she pleads—
defeat progress for sanctity of life

I've begun to talk with scientists and others about the journey from the mess we're in to a viable way of understanding our world and our role. Lauren, a fluvial geomorphologist, told me of a trip to the Firth River in the Yukon, nearly 10 years ago. Even then "soil was hemorrhaging" out of the melting permafrost. Shuli, a strategy consultant, has studied how flood-devastated communities find a viable future amid chaos, as well as how they ignore hard choices. 

To avert climate catastrophe, fundamental changes to our economy and beliefs about knowledge are required. Some very unusual alliances need to emerge. Progress must be defeated in a way that tastes like a win. I hope Lauren, Shuli, I, polar bear spirit, and artistic process are all part of the healing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Praise Ice

The third in my Arctic series, completed in February, is Praise Ice, watercolor, 11 x 8.3". I set a rather pretty scene of ice drifting in a warming sea in a mandala of stars and snowflakes. Since Mount Saint Helens erupted in in 1980, I've painted passages of night sky to remind us of the vast mystery beyond our tiny world. The snowflakes are reverse painted in red, implying the heat that endangers them. I want the piece to hold a balance between alarm and love, tragedy and beauty. I want it to be bold enough to awake resolve and peaceful enough to support our strength to act.

Painted in light blue below the mandala is a poem written in the traditional lanterne form: 5 lines of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 syllables, resembling a lantern shape on the page.

methane threatens
quietly beauty melts
becoming deadly, so deadly
praise ice

In the poem too, I seek the balance between loving the world and calling action to protect it. These are challenging times, and I hope my images and poems contribute to finding solutions together.

I'm currently reading Hot by journalist Mark Hertsgaard. It contains much bad news about climate chaos, but the birth of Hertsgaard's daughter Chiara in 2005 spurred his commitment to a livable future. I'm inspired by all the collaborative and far-sighted measures he cites—such as those in Seattle, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. As I read, I'm gathering a sense of guidelines for how we can come together, globally in principle and locally in practice. He says, "I make a conscious effort to avoid despair, for despair only warps thought and paralyzes action."

I look forward to smoothing thought and energizing action. Meanwhile: Praise Ice.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Arctic Prayer

My second exploratory image in the Arctic series began almost as a doodle in my sketchbook: light, free, humorous. I liked it so well, though far from "serious," that I repeated and refined it on a sheet of Fabriano watercolor paper.

The result, Arctic Prayer, is 11 x 16". Yesterday I cut mat board for it, and will mat and frame it tomorrow. I begin to imagine a showing of these images at Sebastopol Gallery during our July or September rotation. They're adding up, along with my feelings about them. My dread of our climate situation is gradually tempered by excitement from events like the Greenpeace occupation of Shell's drilling rig, followed by Seattle's official and popular response to their presence in their harbor.

Meanwhile, I begin to find my way into dialog with other players. I received an encouraging email from Dahr Jamail. I discovered a photographer friend, Don Jackson, actually printed the banners Greenpeace used in their Shell action. Another photographer friend, Brian Cluer, is a fluvial geomorphologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And a third photographer, Mike Shoys, fellow member of Sebastopol Gallery, is increasingly interested in using his camera for ecological good. All of us are interested in creating an art-science collaboration.

In the whimsy of Arctic Prayer I see animal hope. We are not separate from the rhythm of caribou as they dance, feed, and migrate in harmony with currents of air, water, soil, and ice. Their longing for health and duration touches us across the great mystery. May they guide our thought and effort.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Another Dark Love

This is the second study in The Warning Song of the Arctic set loose by Dahr Jamail's article, "The Methane Monster Roars." It's a small watercolor, 4.5 x 7", called Methane Boils. It shows one of the places in the arctic where methane pools are bubbling through the melting permafrost.

One aspect of climate challenge that I feel strongly and haven't learned to navigate, is avoiding so much darkness that we seal a bad fate, while facing the darkness that must be brought to light and love if we're to transform ourselves and our habits. There must be light, there must be love, and there must be unwavering truth. 

Weeks earlier I attended a lecture by Naomi Klein, which inspired a lot of beautiful energy, hope, and the following poem:

another dark love

the climate is changing. seasons
rearranging. the specter of venus haunts
hydrocarbon dreams. no one believes
the disaster of 4-6 ° centigrade, the apocalypse
of a few drowned cities.

we all know how much worse.
the savviest liberal is hardly more realistic 
than the bible capitalist.
we scurry like denial ants, each with our
destined grain of sand.

& yet the breath of earth stirs us.
the winds of trees penetrate the gossamer
of unending connection. engineer to grub
to crab grass to salmon to bread mold to 
melting icicle to water rounded stone.

there is a voice singing inside every.
there is a hearing within the vast deafness.
aberrant cells in the sweet earth body,
we bend & shudder to some collective immune
response that calls us back, calls us.

greed is not the inner nature of any human being,
nor any kind of being. shark & wolverine
& kudzu vine are more complex, ambiguous.
even the corporate ceo fracking us to hell
is a patchwork story with unpredictable twists.

the sun doesn’t feel so warm now as threatening.
what happened to double hung windows & a thousand
clever passive devices lost to witless technology?
screw the supply side. whittle the demand to
so little even a chickadee is cradled.

she is calling, she is calling. maple winds &
supersized hurricane waves become symphonic. 
someday the dance teacher will no longer strike
the iridescent wings of a wandering fly. the oil magnate
will protect tars sands flora with his life.

all the things we have to have
become a joke, obscene but easily forgotten.
to touch lichen growing on bark brings us to our knees,
worshipping & awed. glaciers can grow again,
only one venus circling our sun.