Farewell Thin White Duke…

My heart seized a little this morning at the news of David Bowie’s passing.  It’s kind of silly how you can miss someone you’ve never known and haven’t even really thought of in a while. Suddenly every Bowie song of my adolescence was replaying in my head. I was there, floating in my tin can with Major Tom at the launch of Apollo 11.  I saw Mary Lou Parkinson and myself in her bedroom belting out “Rebel, Rebel you tore your dress!” before we even knew what a quaalude was.  My melancholic teenage heart resonated with “Turn and face the strange, ch-ch-changes!”  Strange fascination, fascinating me was right up my alley.  Old songs are bittersweet things, aren’t they?

I think there must be something deeper, more personally existential that we feel when a pop icon dies.  Some part of us dies also.  It’s a swift, unwelcome reminder of the transience of all human life. When I was about eighteen, I recall my dad in his green brocade recliner in our living room, quietly mourning the passing of a movie personality.  I didn’t get why he even cared.  I get it now.

I’m back studying art history this fall, taking a class on Gender, Art and Society.  It always amazes me how much I don’t know that I don’t know.  I hadn’t really even considered questions of gender upon art, besides the obvious historical lack of attention to female artists.  But gender in art is a big topic, one that Bowie was among the first to challenge. His flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust paved the way not only for performance art, but also for more wide-spread acceptance of sexual fluidity.

My kids don’t know who Bowie is or the impact he’s had on music, performance art and culture. He’s been called a genius and a visionary and perhaps rightly so.  We can thank him for glam rock, New Romanticismfor pioneering rock video, for marrying theater and popular music, for ushering in punk, for making androgyny acceptable.  I can’t help but think that music might look very different without his influence.

UK artist Helen Green paid creative homage to five decades of Bowie’s chameleon like transformations in her beautiful animated gif.  I always appreciate when art inspires art. It helps us all live on.


Mini Art Conservators…

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in the UK held a Festival of Archaeology this week.  They invited some young visitors in to learn conservation skills and help clean up some “treasure.”  How cute are these mini art conservators with their white lab coats and microscopes?

blog 1Art conservation focuses on the restoration, preservation and analysis of art and artifacts. It requires a unique combination of knowledge in art history, science and artistic practices. And of course, good eyesight, concentration and manual dexterity.

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I think it’s awesome that the Birmingham Museum is introducing kids to the variety of career possibilities in the art field.  I have a secret ambition to become an art conservator too.  I don’t know if it’s a practical dream, but it keeps me going.  In the meantime, I’m living vicariously through these little guys and girls.

Oh, for a treasure, a white lab coat and a microscope…

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Of Fairy Tales and French Chateaus…

light drizzle fell over the valley yesterday morning.  I knew it before even looking outside; the welcome scent of wet concrete and earth drifted in through my open window. I have a friend who thinks I’m imagining this scent and mocks me good-naturedly about it. But turns out it’s real, and even has a technical name, ‘Petrichor’.  Who’d have thought? There’s an oil that plants give off during arid periods to delay germination and dry earth and concrete absorb it.  When the rain finally hits, the oils are released into the atmosphere and viola – that scent! Now we know.

The cool day inspired me to pick up a project I’ve had on hold on quite a while.  I’m taking a paper mache class with the lovely (and oh, so patient) paper artist, Laetitia Mieral of Merveilles En Papier from Lyon, France.  Laetitia makes fantastical paper mache chateaus and palaces based on French architecture, storybook inspired characters in royal robes, beautiful paper dresses and other fancies of imagination.

I chanced upon her work on Pinterest and was instantly captivated by the artful fusion of fairy tale and French history. I went on to make my own paper mache castle and frog character which I used as part of my portfolio to get in to art school. Earlier this year, Laetitia launched an online experimental version of the character workshop she hosts in her atelier in Lyon and held a little contest to join in.  I was over the moon to be invited to take part. We’re making a cat, in court costume, which I’m sadly quite behind on.

But better late than never.  Here are a few shots of a lovely afternoon in the garden, painting the watercolour ‘fabric’ that le chat’s gown will be made of. And my first attempt at a paper mache fairy tale castle, with a bandanna’ed, cigar smoking frog perched on the eave.

I’ve been so happily lost in art history world, I’d forgotten just how much fun it is to do creative things.  If you have a chance, hop over and check out Laetitia’s work, it’s so whimsical and enchanting. And if you’re bored today, pop over to my house, I’ll be in garden, lost in dreamland.

Advice from the French Emperor

May 26, 1807

Napoleon, in a letter to his brother Jerome:

“I hear you have hemorrhoids. The simplest way to get rid of them is to apply three or four leeches. Since I first employed this remedy, ten years ago, I have been no more troubled.”

I’ll be reminded of this every time I see the proud Corsican on his white stallion now.  I spent a couple of hours last night reading up on Napoleon’s medical conditions and death. I know, interesting, right?  Actually it was fascinating.  And useful.  Now if I just knew where to find some leeches…

Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Leonardo’s Wings

I’ve been trying to settle into an ancient history paper this weekend, but my brain keeps taking off on me.  Across my living room, the Mona Lisa, the Vitruvian Man and The Lady of the Dishevelled Hair are all vying for my attention.  Seems I’m on a bit of a Leonardo kick.  Over the past couple years, I’ve been taking art history courses spanning from prehistory to the twenty-first century.  I’ve been running back and forth along that timeline ever since.  Every time I think ‘the Renaissance is definitely my fave!’, I get swept up in compelling stories of yet another century, another country or continent.  Maybe there’s no such thing as settling on a favourite point of history.

A few days ago I returned to the Renaissance and watched a fascinating dramatized documentary, ‘Inside the Mind of Leonardo.’   What a mind. Painter of the immortal Mona Lisa and The Last Supper,  inventor, architect, physicist, geologist, civil and military engineer, botanist, anatomist, map maker, musician. I’m awestruck by the genius of the original Renaissance man.  Wouldn’t it be incredible to poke around in the diary of someone like that?

Actually, if you go to the Pinocoteca Ambrosiano and the Bramante Sacristy in Milan, you can.  That’s where a portion of the Codex Atlanticus, Leonardo’s diary is housed.  Of course, you’d have to learn to read Italian backwards and probably get some sort of security clearance to see it all.  But part of the collection of writings and drawings are on public display.  While you’re there, you can also see the white gloves that Napoleon wore at the Battle of Waterloo. History is such a magnificent goose chase, isn’t it?  From ancient Egypt to the Renaissance to the Napoleonic Wars in just three paragraphs.

The Bramante Sacristy

But back to Leonardo.  How do you even begin to consider his artistic, scientific, philosophical and engineering innovations without filling a library?  Or at the very least, writing a paper?  I won’t subject you to that, but can I ramble a bit about wings? Leonardo’s wings specifically.  Until last week, I didn’t know that twenty-first century flight traces its beginnings to fifteenth century Europe.  I missed acquiring this apparently common piece of knowledge as a kid, which makes it all the more exciting to discover now.

Leonardo was perhaps the first European to envision the aerodynamics of modern flight. It became a lifelong preoccupation, though his efforts wouldn’t be realized for another four centuries. As a youth in Florence, nature was the foundation for Leonardo’s ideas, including flight. He examined birds, bats and insects;  analyzing and sketching their internal anatomy.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Wing Study
Leonardo Da Vinci, Wing Study

I was briefly put off, imagining young Leonardo killing and dissecting living things in his experimentation.  But this apparently isn’t true.  Historians seem to agree on Leonardo’s refusal to consume animals and his recognition of the cruelty of mistreating them. This wasn’t at all common practice at the time.  Here’s some interesting info on Leonardo’s vegetarianism. Strange, I’m considering this myself now also, not something I was expecting to address via art history.

Fifteenth century Europe didn’t look favourably on Leonardo’s investigations into flight. The church viewed much of science as magic, a pursuit that could get you hung or beheaded for heresy. Galileo, Leonardo’s contemporary, spent the last ten years of his life on house arrest for his views on heliocentrism, a view Leonardo supported also.  But I’m off on another chase into the Copernican Revolution. How can anyone study history without getting hopelessly side tracked?

My point in this meandering reflection, is that advancement of flight wasn’t based on the wings of birds, but rather on the wings of bats.  The above left illustration is a bat wing, which later was implemented in the design of the glider, which eventually led to modern flight.  I spent quite a while perusing this here.   I’m not sure why this all strikes me as so significant, other than that I hadn’t considered it before.  I didn’t know last January when I traveled to Europe, that I was figuratively flying on Leonardo’s wings.

As I was saying, art history is taking me to many uncharted places.  I’ve lost roughly thirty-six hours to this pleasant diversion and my ancient history paper is still waiting. But before I try to focus on that, let me leave you with this picture of Napoleon’s white gloves.  I’m sure before long, they’ll be wrapping their white fingertips around my shifting attentions also.

napoleon's gloves


almost done…

so you know that little ‘divergent‘ art portfolio project i’ve been talking about?  almost done.  and good thing since  i’m so covered in flour and water paper mache paste that with a little seasoning salt,  i could pass as battered and ready for the deep fat fryer.

bad ass frog

it’s a typically soggy march morning here on the west coast.   but i’ve been noticing little bits of oh so welcome green sprouting up everywhere.   it might just be new moss rooting itself in my front lawn but i’m ok with that.  spring is my favourite season.  i love the slow anticipation of watching things bud and swell,  bursting out of their old colours and into their new.

today, i’m making a paper frog.  these are not words i’ve ever put together in a sentence to describe my day before.  i’m not even really into frogs. but i’m imagining a cocky green one reclining on the roof of this oh so sweet fantasy paper mache castle i’m building for my art portfolio.   when i described the project to my admissions advisor, she responded, ‘well, that will add a divergent element to your portfolio.’  i’m not sure how i feel about the word divergent…

one of the things i noticed about the art displayed along the hallways of  the university is that it’s almost all ‘edgy’.  i get that.  i appreciate edgy,  in fact have spent years chasing edgy and still revisit it often.  nothing beats the chain-smoking, hell blazing cool of john constantine, the irish swag of the boon dock saints or the shrewd, swash buckling charm of captain jack sparrow.   i’m all over that kind of cool.  philosophically speaking, of course.

and yet here i am, spinning fairy tales out of shredded bits of cellulose.

i’ve  been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be who we are.   the older i get, the more i realize being who i am doesn’t mean being defined by just one thing. i spent my 20’s as the punk rock girlfriend of a chinese gang leader.  by 30,  i’d married a devoutly dedicated evangelical and was well on the way to’ 5 kids.  in my 40’s,  much to the dismay of the devout evangelical,  i enjoyed a whole lot of good vodka and live music at the little restaurant i owned with some friends.   but now at 50, i’m a bit confused.   who is this strange cross breed building whimsical golden vined fairy castles, learning about string theory and physics and for the first time in 5 decades, appreciating the elegance and creative power of math?

and the best i can conclude is that i am the sum of all the above.  the good, the bad and ugly – the rebel, idealist and dreamer.   authenticity is not a single digit number but an equation made up of all our variables.   it’s tempting sometimes to edit out pieces of ourselves, to pretend that we are or we aren’t,  trying to cover our embarrassingly insistent divergences.  but they force themselves out, unapologetic and naked,  pressing us into  our own unique and glorious definition of ‘real’.

it’s evening now, and i’m writing from the quiet of my room.  acrosss the hall there’s a not quite finished, chain smoking, bad ass toad with a gold tooth and celtic tattoo perched on the edge of my sugar sweet castle.

it’s been a very good day in fairyland.