Saturday, May 26, 2007

What You Need to Grow Old Gracefully

So we've been thinking a lot about what it takes to grow old gracefully. We know people who have, so it can be done. (Despite what Nora Ephron says. In an interview with Deborah Solomon for the New York Times, the author of I Feel Bad About My Neck responded to Solomon's comment "If nothing else, the aging process has furnished you with some good 'material' " with "Any catastrophe is good material for a writer." Don't break our hearts, Nora. We know it can be better than that.)

Our godmother, Rosemary, herself a glowing example of the beauty of old age, introduced us to Colette, who wrote the following passage:


You ask me to come and spend a week with you, which means I would be near my daughter, whom I adore. You who live with her know how rarely I see her, how much her presence delights me and I am touched that you should ask me to come and see her. All the same I am not going to accept your kind invitation, for the time being at any rate. The reason is that my pink cactus is probably going to flower. It's a very rare plant I've been given, and I'm told that in our climate it flowers only once every four years. Now, I am already a very old woman, and if I went away when my pink cactus is about to flower, I am certain I shouldn't see it flower again.

So I beg you, sir, to accept my sincere thanks and my regrets, together with my kind regards.

This note, signed 'Sidonie Colette, née Landoy,' was written my mother to one of my husbands, the second. A year later she died, at the age of seventy-seven.

Whenever I feel myself inferior to everything about me, threatened by my own mediocrity, frightened by the discovery that a muscle is losing its strength, a desire its power or a pain the keen edge of its bite, I can still hold up my head and say to myself: 'I am the daughter of the woman who wrote that letter—that letter and so many more that I have kept. This one tells me in ten lines that at the age of seventy-six she was planning journeys and undertaking them but that waiting for the possible bursting into bloom of a tropical flower held everything up and silenced even her heart, made for love ... Let me not forget that I am the daughter of a woman who bent her head, trembling, between the blades of a cactus, her wrinkled face full of ecstasy over the promise of a flower, a woman who herself never ceased to flower, untiringly, during three quarters of a century.' "

Here's our list.

Things to help us grow old gracefully:

Kiehl's sunscreen, maybe other kinds too (Vichy)
Colette's Earthly Paradise
beet, carrot, ginger juice (or any other combination)
subscriptions to Vogue

Regular river/pond/ocean swims
M. Minnaert (he wrote the book about light physics.)
vintage acid in your freezer

homemade ice cream
cool water
midnight hot tubs
toenail polish
fresh flowers
temporary tattoos
the mens (particularly their bums)

lots of music
dinner with friends (particularly at a long table out of doors)
candlelit baths
beer gardens
bulbs, and other flowers
basil seeds and other vegetables
small vases
nice textiles
books, lots of them
canes not walkers

Friday, May 25, 2007

Paper Cuts

I've lately been falling in love with a new generation of art works on paper. While drawing is clearly some part of the process, Peter Callesen and Kako Ueda are using the fragility and clean lines of paper to create works that are half drawing and half sculpture.

Peter Callesen's technical mastery and delicate hand take my breath away, but his utter fearlessness as he marches through some seriously sentimental topics, coming out largely unscathed, gets a nod of respect. I wouldn't touch fairy tale castles, caged angels, or hummingbirds and flowers with a 10-foot pole, but I mostly love it when he does. I'm also tickled by his dedication to process; most works proudly display just how each work was crafted. A skeleton rises from the silhouette of its former body, a fairy-tale castle looms over the shores of its own floor plan, and colorful flowers droop from white outlines. While he seems to relish the whiteness of plain paper, he also loves the shock of mixing the two (check out those flowers, which seem to literally bleed color). Callesen plays with the border between two- and three-dimensional space, and creates a surprisingly sturdy magic from the flatness of paper.

Kako Ueda, on the other hand, loves white as the background, the wall serving to highlight the dramatic red, black, or multi-colored silhouettes. Taking a page from 's book, she (he?) plays off of the exaggeratedness of old cartoons, but pulls in imagery from botanical illustrations as well, fusing them into a joyous but sometimes uneasy relationship. Ueda, too, plays with the fairly serious themes of nature, death, monsters, and beauty, proving that you don't need a pen to tackle the world. Paper and Scissors Rock.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Harry Smith Anthology Re-mixed

I recently contributed to my first art show, a visual tribute to the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. The show opened on Tuesday in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, and features the work of 84 different musicians and artists who were each asked to illustrate a track from the Anthology.

For those of you that aren't familiar with Harry Smith's Anthology, it is truly a staggering collection of folk songs recorded in the 1920's, and compiled by Smith, an avid collector, in the 1950s. Many musicians in the collection, such as Mississippi John Hurt, experienced a resurgence of interest in their music in the years after it was released, and went on to have successful careers on the folk circuit. (Not surprisingly, Smith collected other things as well! He believed himself to be a leading authority on string figures from all over the world, and his extensive personal collection of paper airplanes can now be seen at the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space museum.)

For my contribution to the show I chose Hurt's Spike Driver Blues, track NO. 80, and this is some of the information that I gathered about it in the process of drawing:

Spike Driver Blues is part of a roster of songs about the working
man's hero, John Henry. These songs are often traced back to an event that purportedly occurred about ten years after the emancipation proclamation, in which a man challenged a steam engine to a race, and won, only to die of exhaustion. In a bittersweet twist of fate, just as freed slaves began to enter the work force, (often labouring in conditions little better than
slavery), their jobs began to be usurped by new forces of technology.

The significance of Mississippi John Hurt's dignified and intimate version of the story lies partially in this balance: refusing to die like John Henry, a hero, he lays down his hammer and walks away from the mountain.

P.S. FYI, there was a mix-up, and the original tracks that my band-mate Kyle and I chose to illustrate were switched! (I am shown and justified as having illustrated K.C. Moan.) The mistake is corrected online, but alas, not in the booklet accompanying the show. You can see both versions of the commentary and works here. (It's actually kind of funny seeing each of the drawings justified as two different things!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Old ladies are beautiful

My grandmother and her sister came to visit a few weeks ago, and I took them to their favorite clothing store, the Goodwill. (Actually, we went to the Goodwill outlet, which is really taking it to the next level.) Grandma couldn't decide about a shirt, and then said: "Well, not that it matters what I wear anyway!"

I wanted to tell her how beautiful I think she is, but I knew she wouldn't believe me. So I took this photograph of her a few days later, breathing in the scent of some huge pale pink rhododendrons (her favorite shade of her favorite color). I think old ladies are just as beautiful as young ones, or maybe even more: their translucent skin, and halo of white hair, and everything they know hidden in their eyes. There's something particularly ravishing about old ladies in spring, still full of rapture, the soft pink of their faces up against the soft pink of blossoms, neither here on this earth for that much longer.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Greening the Desert

My father is a man of the earth; that is, he knows how to analyze soil by sight and what to add to make it soft and rich and fertile. When I was young he would brag that he could turn the Sahara into arable soil if he were given a chance (his plan involved some B-52 bombers that would spread compost and rock powder over vast tracts of land). Obviously it was a little impractical but I always liked to imagine it anyway, since desertification is such a seemingly unsolvable problem. This video, however, makes me think that perhaps my father wasn't so far from having a solution as I thought he was. Hearing about a land that was salty and dry that is now producing dates and figs is a good antidote to all the other stories I've been hearing lately about dying honeybees and global warming.

Pelayo in Andamarca

A very short video clip from Andamarca, in the Andes.