Susan's "subject matter, context and medium...present a coherent artistic vision"
John Torreano, Clinical Professor of Studio Art, NYU

"Great stuff. Love your work."
Seymour Chwast

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Drawing in the Dark

Drawings done in the dark at Big Apple Circus, ink on paper,  8-1/2 x 11"

ANDRE MASSON  (1896-1987), the French surrealist painter, developed "automatic writing," which is spontaneous linear expression -- in his case of his personal mythology. Some believe that automatic writing is communication with the Other Side. But Masson reported that the figures which appeared in his automatic drawings were not the result of spiritual influence but rather came from his tapping into his own subconscious. The artists who followed his automatic drawing influence would draw with their non-dominant hand, or blindfolded, in order to create from a place deep within the inner self. To enhance this phenomenon, the artists would draw a swirling line with a pen rather than a pencil because ink flows more easily than graphite. They also used a pad rather than a single piece of paper so that they could keep going, thereby plumbing further their inner depths.

I am inspired by Masson's work and wanted to try automatic writing myself. Armed with a pad with slick paper and a very flowing, leaky fountain pen, I went to the Big Apple Circus. Although the circus ring was lit with spotlights, the seating area was pitch black - I could not see what I was drawing-- just had to feel the pad and pen (mimicking the blindfold requirement). Although I drew with my dominant hand, I was extremely uncomfortable in the crowded bleachers, with coats piled around and on top of me and with various parts of others' anatomies poking me. This crowding impaired my drawing ability (mimicking drawing with my non-dominant hand).

The circus acts came and went in the ring with lightning speed and often overlapped. This obscured my vision of my subjects. In trying to keep up with my subjects, I had to draw at a speed at which I was not competent. Most of the time, I could not see my subjects in their entirety. Sometimes, I could not even tell what they were and simply drew their motion, which was neither tangible nor visible. The flashes of strobe lights further compromised my vision.
Every time I draw, even in my studio in optimal conditions with well-lit, stationary signifiers, I believe the drawings come from deep within me. Considering the poor drawing conditions at the circus, compounded by the obstructed visibility of my subject matter, I believe that my drawings were in a strict sense automatic and thus comparable to Masson's automatic drawings. I definitely did not have time to think about content, and most of the time I was drawing only motion.

When the performance ended and the house lights came on, I cleaned up our popcorn, cotton candy, soda and coffee cup detritus. I was enchanted by what I found on the floor. All the time I was engaging in automatic writing, my coffee cup had been practicing it also. The cup managed to produce quite a nice work, which I call "Rings on Napkin."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Body and Soul

Full House, acrylic on linen, 40 x 30 inches
I RECENTLY PAINTED my best friend, Kenneth Feldman, who I call Feldy. At the first session: I sit him down in a possible pose, studying intently every feature of his face, body and posture. I take into account all of this physiognomy and store the information in my brain. But now I must mix it with the intangible "patina" of Feldy, such as his personality, wit, intelligence, background–indeed, his soul. If a painter attempts to portray a person by considering only the body without taking into account the soul, she is no different than a house painter.

While we are deciding on the right pose, Feldy mugs. He pulls his lapel, which sports a boutonniere, up to his nose and smells the flower. I love this pose and and tell him that this is the way I want to paint him. Curiously, Feldy says "Please don't paint me that way. I'll look too fey." I am not sure what he means, but choose another pose. Even though he is a delightfully lighthearted and amusing model, I choose to show his more serious side.

In my mind I have blended his "patina" with his physiognomy, so I feel I am ready to block in the paint on my canvas. This involves exploring the shapes of his face and body and constructing them with paint, running my brushes up, around and over the various facial forms to "flesh out" the paint rough. I round out the cheekbones and forehead, I build up the volume for his nose and lips, and I darken around his eye sockets so they will appear sunken–on a lower plane than the rest of his face.

I continue the block-out of all of Feldy - his neck, shoulders, torso, pelvis, legs, right down to his feet. All these anatomical parts are merely shapes. But through my exploration and manipulation of them I know that I will reveal Feldy's soul. His essence, not just his form, will be reflected in his portrait.

Feldy patiently subjects his body and being to my artist's gaze. The work on the paint rough progresses smoothly and quickly. For me, the purpose of a rough is simply to get the paint onto the canvas. At this point I do not concern myself with any likeness these embryonic paint splashes might have to my model. However, in this instance I am struck by the remarkable resemblance between the painting and Feldy.

After that first day, I could not work on the painting for ten months. Sadly, almost immediately after, Feldy was diagnosed with late-stage melanoma. I did try to help his body though, trying to restore or at least maintain what was left of his health, by escorting him to and from doctors, keeping him company while he was being treated, transporting him to and visiting with him in hospitals, bringing him meals, newspapers and clothing.

On one occasion, I even bathed him when a nurse was not available. I was struck by the similarity between running a warm washcloth over his physical face and running a brush over his painted face. Toward the end, Feldy had to be moved to a hospice. While he was there, I realized that I had been so concerned with his body that I had forgotten the importance of his soul. Sadly, I then had to watch his soul drain out of his body bit by bit until it was gone.

His rabbi told me that I shouldn't feel so sad about death. It is not the end. Our bodies are just temporary homes for our souls. Therefore, we should view our bodies as just short-term rentals. He assured me that the spirit of Feldy lived on.

Soon after the funeral I got back to finishing the painting. Although I usually use multiple layers of paint when finishing a painting, Feldy's required very little finish because the rough was so "right." While working on it, I remembered that Feldy didn't want me to use the pose with him smelling his boutonniere because it made him look too "fey." I finally looked the word up in a dictionary and learned that the first definition given is: "chiefly Scottish: fated to die, doomed; marked by a foreboding of death or calamity."

Still, the spirit of Feldy lives on.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Anti-Bridezilla

The Anti-Bridezilla, acrylic on linen, 36 x 36 inches
MY COUNTLESS PEN AND INK children have one flesh and blood sister–Nicole. She respects her brothers and sisters, finds them pleasant enough as siblings go, but nevertheless is rather standoffish and aloof. She would never think of reading about them, let alone telephoning them. You can't get around it, there is always rivalry among siblings. Because I frequently post about my pen and ink children, I had better write about the flesh and blood one as well.

Coli is a beautiful, smart, accomplished and successful young lady. She has always been industrious and enthusiastic about everything with one exception -- her own wedding plans.

After she became engaged, I could see that she was disinclined to do anything about actually planning a wedding. She was not looking into a reception hall, invitations, a photographer, a band, flowers, food--none of that. (In her defense, she was living in Chicago but wanted to get married in New York.) Seeing no alternative, her father and I took it upon ourselves to get her started. He looked at photographers' portfolios, I visited potential venues and together we started prowling around at night listening to bands. When we showed her the work of photographers we liked or brochures from reception halls that we thought perfect, or sent her CD's featuring fabulous bands, she would say, "Sure, they look OK, why don't you just go ahead and pick one of them."

I figured that with this casual attitude, she had probably not given any thought to a wedding dress. But I was wrong. She told me that she was definitely not going to wear one of those veil "thingees" on her head. Also, she would get a bridal gown, but she was planning on wearing boots with it. Upon hearing this, and worried about a potential fashion disaster, I made appointments for her at three bridal boutiques in Chicago and flew there to "advise" her (really to make sure she kept the appointments). At boutique number one, Nicole thought the first dress she tried on was fine and said that was the dress for her. I explained that it was unusual for a bride to buy the first wedding dress she saw–and besides we had two more boutiques to go to before she made any decisions. After reluctantly trying on a few more dresses, Coli told me she still wanted to buy the first one. She said, "Let's cancel the other appointments and go to lunch." Coli is a very persuasive person. Just say, "yes" to her, and nobody gets hurt. So we went to lunch.

While we were eating, I asked her what she thought about our exciting dress–buying experience. She replied, "The saleswoman could have had more teeth." At that point, I knew I was dealing with the anti-bridezilla. When we shopped for attendant's dresses, I found that Coli had chosen all anti-bridesmaidzillas as well. They had agreed among themselves to wear black dresses, but when we got to the boutique, they were shown petal pink dresses first. They thought the dresses were beautiful and selected them instantly, without looking at any others. As for the flowergirlzilla's dress? We bought that there as well. Guess how long that took and how many dresses we looked at–30 seconds and one! Then we went to lunch.

For the wedding and reception, her father and I selected the Snuff Mill at the Bronx Botanical Garden. We went there many times to fine-tune all the ceremonial, food, music and floral arrangements. Once, when Nicole was in town, she actually came along with us. The manager declared her the most relaxed bride he had encountered in his 30-year career. At one point while we were discussing the menu, he asked Nicole for her input. Yawning, she said it didn't really matter to her–anything would be fine. The manager had to ask her if he was boring her. "No," she replied. "I'm just tired."

My husband told Nicole and her fiance they should select a song that was meaningful to them for their first dance as Dr. and Mrs. Brandell. After some weeks passed, he said that if they didn't make a selection soon, he would pick one for them. They never got around to it, so my husband chose their wedding song for them. The experience was unforgettable and their song, as meaningfully picked out by my husband, was indeed Unforgettable.

For their first dance as a married couple, Nicole and Brian came onto the dance floor and started dancing in a graceful and dignified manner to "their" song, as my husband proudly told everyone that he had picked it. But then just a few bars into the song, something strange happened. Jayon, the lead singer, yelled, "Cut!" and the music stopped. The singer said "You know what? Brian and Nicole just do not look like an Unforgettable type of couple to me." And then the band started playing That's What I Like About You by the Romantics. Nicole and Brian, neither of whom was really a dancer, started to perform an ambitious, perfectly-choreographed, raucously funky dance. They had been secretly in touch with the band to arrange it and had a co-worker of Nicole's who had been a professional dancer work out the choreography in order to be able to do their Dancing with the Stars-quality routine. They and the band had conspired to keep it a secret from my husband, the grand inquisitor.

Other than showing up, the big dance fake-out was Nicole's sole contribution to the wedding. And it wasa great one. Everyone thought it was hysterical. It totally set the tone for the rest of the evening. Everyone, regardless of age or infirmity, was on the dance floor all evening, gyrating to a band that was in a delightfully deep funk groove. No tummlers needed that night.

About a week before the wedding, Nicole rang me up and said that she had just tried on her wedding dress for the first time. She said she looked OK in it but thought no one would even know that she was the bride because she wouldn't be wearing a veil. Upon hearing that, I sprang into action. I immediately went to Suzanne on Madison Avenue and had a veil designed and made up virtually overnight so that people would know that Coli was the bride. I did not concern myself in the least with such petty details as the exhorbatnt cost of the rush order because–

I am Bridezilla!

Saturday, January 16, 2016


Inside My Mind,  gouache on paper, 8 x 10"

Contents of my Mind Arranged,  gouache on paper , 8 x 10 "

JUST CALL ME KALEIDOMIND. I have chosen this name for myself because of my creative process, which is analogous to that of a kaleidoscope.

You've probably never looked inside a person's head unless you are a neurosurgeon or maybe a radiologist. But in this post you will be able to see inside one for the first time–my kaleidomind. When you view the top image  you are seeing a painting of the inside of my brain. All of the images, colors and starry shapes I have stuffed and sucked into it, store there, and carry around with me constantly are on display. They are not heavy, they're my images.

Notice you don't see any words in there. That's because I am an artist; I breathe, eat, sleep, walk and think images. I don't need words. I don't even assign names or meanings to my collected images. They are just shapes, colors and textures to me, with no more significance than anything else that comprises my palette. These images shift around in my mind, for years sometimes, depending on when I first acquired them. As they assume this or that juxtaposition, I imagine they are rehearsing for their debut in a painting. For the moment, though, they are merely biding their time in my mind–waiting until I let them out.

Although these nameless objets d'art residing in my head are highly conducive to painting, they wreak havoc with my civilian life. The unnamed objects are not so good for conversational purposes. I have on more occasions than I would like to recall had to use one of the few words that I can consistently remember–"thingee." I use it in much the same way as a universal solvent is used. I am reduced to describing anything and everything with my universal solvent. I will mention this "thingee" or that "thingee" when I am talking about an object which I could draw accurately and precisely in a heartbeat but the name of which I cannot recall for all the paint brushes in China. Strangers I regale with such fascinating repartee sometimes take my friends aside and ask in hushed tones if I am the village idiot. "No," my friends will reply, "she's the village artist." It's worth the humiliation, though, not to have words and meanings get in the way of my production of art.

In the second painting on you are viewing the very same contents of my mind that you have already seen in the first painting, only after said contents have been filtered through my creative process and disgorged onto a canvas. If you examine the two closely, you will see that the individual images are the same except for placement and size. Well, maybe they are slightly distorted. It's more crowded than a New York City rush hour subway in there and just as bumpy. You will also see that my visual language is not at all exotic. It is comprised of everyday objects, including lobsters, women, umbrellas, bottles, bikinis– words to you, but "thingees" to me.

I was born painting and since then I have created paintings in the same way. After capturing and storing numerous images in my mind, I use my mindoscope (located next to the medulla oblongata) to rotate and record, shuffle and re-record them many times over to create my work. Although I have repeated some of the same images throughout my painting life, they are never combined in exactly the same way, just as a kaleidoscope's pattern, even though using the same pieces of colored glass, is never repeated.

My kaleidomind differs from a kaleidoscope in one important way. The kaleidoscope's content of shards of glass is fixed, while my kaleidomind's shards of images are constantly increasing in number as I add new ones every day. (I have to paint; otherwise my overcrowded mind would explode!) It is virtually impossible for either me or my precursor, the kaleidoscope, to form the same pattern or composition twice, even were we to attempt to do so. And why would we want to? There is so much new ground–background and foreground–we have to cover. Through this process, images of ordinary, everyday objects (or bits of colored glass in the kaleidoscope) end up confronting each other in unexpected, sometimes jarring and always extraordinary juxtaposition.

At this very writing, there are two extremely pushy shapes bouncing around inside my cranium and giving me a headache. Ouch! That hurts! They are trying to split my head open and escape. One of the shapes thinks that it is a bird and is trying to peck its way out. The other believes itself to be a bottle, or perhaps, in its more Freudian analysis, a womb, leading it to so believe that it has an inherent right to be born. Excuse me momentarily while I disabuse those "thingees" of their escapist notions–the one in which they think they can exit my mind prematurely and the other in which they assume that they are something other than shapes. Until I am ready to crank up my kaleidomind and shake, rattle, and roll that "bird" and "bottle/womb" out of their compartment in my mindoscope, that is exactly where they'll stay. While they remain captive, I, a seasoned artist, will explain to them that they must stay put until they have acquired depth and perfection. Then and only then can they emerge as part of my personal vision, set free and spilled out onto a canvas as part of an enriched, painterly whole.

That "thingee" depicted in the second painting--the girl? She matured, developing a lovely patina, until it was her time to become part of the painting. She could just as well have been a spider on its web. (I especially like webs because what looks more like a kaleidoscopic image than the beautiful refracted shapes and lines of a spider's web?) The girl simply did her time in my mind and then suddenly emerged from an abyss in my memory. Then I twirled her around in my mindoscope until she landed in her place on my canvas. She fell into place without any psychological hoopla. After all, she's just a shape.

Fittingly, the analogy I draw between my creative process and a kaleidoscope is itself based on one of my earliest visual memories: looking at the living room of my childhood home through the multi-faceted cut-glass, decorative sphere atop the "thingee" (which I only much later learned was called a newel post). This vision, one of the most splendid refractions I have ever seen, was perhaps first in my visual vocabulary. I will carry it with me always, use it in my art, and pass it on to my viewers–whose visages I will simultaneously be storing in my kaleidomind.

And so it goes, on and on, around and around, back and forth, up and down, and finally . . .out!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Slow Ride

From my book of illustrated poems, Jellyfish Hash xxxxxxxxxx

MY MOUNT this post's a tortoise
Believed it would be fun
'Twas better in concept
Than the actual run.

His shell was rough and scratchy
Softened only by my bum
The pace so slow–he crept! I slept
And wished I'd brought some rum.

Should I modify my bluntness?
For when the ride was done
We beat a snail–no disrespect
 Arrivederci hon!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Out of Thin Air

Out of Thin Air, mixed media, 24 x 36 inches xxxxxxxxxx

2016 seems like it came out of thin air and, coincidentally, so does my first painting of the new year and first exhibition at The Guild 5 Forty five in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl., both named, Out of Thin Air.
Of course, the new years don’t really come out of thin air; they come out of the passage of time. But these mysterious things called my paintings, where do they come from? Out of thin air?  It seems like they do, because first there is nothing and then something starts to appear. My paintings come from the strata of my mind where I have stored all the images that I have encountered in life. These images are then transferred from mind to hand, erupting onto a canvas with the help of pigments, liquids, brushes, fingers and an occasional tantrum.
Not only did my new painting arise out of thin air, but within the painting itself a bear has appeared in the clouds out of thin air. I’ll bet all of you have seen things in clouds that resonate with you. The particular thin-air moment captured in this painting–the boy viewing the bear in the sky–is poignant and to me marks his transition from boyhood  to manhood.
I personally can remember my transition into the adult world.  It occurred when I didn’t play with my beloved, favorite doll, Lucy, any more. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, but because I was embarrassed to do so at my advanced age of 12.  I even asked my father to bring Lucy up to our summer house when he came for the weekend. Though conflicted, I was sort of happy when he forgot.  Similarly, the boy playing “Indians” with his teddy bear is now at the point in his life where he will soon have to leave his faithful and comforting teddy bear behind and face all the real life “bears” that adult life has to offer.
Fortunately, my model and favorite 12-year-old will have this painting as an aid to remember this exact moment in his life, along with other fragments from his surroundings. Maybe some day he’ll be able to utilize them in a painting or in some other creative way of his own.
And so the years, and life and painting, go round-and-round and up-and-down and finally emerge as paintings from out of thin air.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Accidental Art

Printer ink, and water on paper
Printer ink and water on paper
Printer ink and water on paper

 I LOVE ALL ART––high art, low art, and even accidental art such as my car's GPS screen when I'm driving along hill, dale and curvy river; decaying, termite-ridden wood; rust (my favorite); a NYC manhole cover of a certain vintage, a splattered spill of tomato soup; or shadows cast through a wrought iron railing.

While studying such accidental art as an undergraduate at Parsons, much to the dismay of passersby, I used to photograph the contents of garbage cans (giving the Ashcan School a whole new meaning). Mercifully, I obtained artistic results with no rearranging at all. Upon viewing my "ashcan art," Professor Kiokawa used to ask in sheer and utter bewilderment, "Ms. McLaughlin, your concept is garbage?" "No," I would reply, "My concept is accidental art." This brings me to the point of my query today: Can a Poland Spring water bottle make art?

Last night I was looking at some inkjet prints of my photographic images in bed before falling asleep. (I know ... exciting life, right?) When I finished with them, I placed them in a stack on my bedside table. Then I had a sip of water from my ubiquitous pacifier, a Poland Spring water bottle. Sans coaster and so as not to leave a ring on the marble-topped table, I placed the bottle on top of the stack of prints.

Overnight, while I was merely dreaming of art, that plastic bottle sweated out six colorful, well-composed abstract "works on paper." Its medium was condensation mixed with printer ink. I think the art it produced is exciting–for a neophyte bottle. The condensation bled out through the entire stack and left its artistic mark on the back of every one of the prints. It also improved the image of the top print, rendering it more dynamic.

The point, of course, is that art is all around us. Some of it needs to have the content/meaning removed, but much of the most excruciatingly exquisite art, such as rust or fungi, is naturally-occurring and untouched by human hands.

Because of the watery mishap with my computer prints, I no longer think of my pacifier as a mere water bottle. It is now my protege. So in answer to today's query: Yes, my protege, a Poland Spring water bottle can make art. See for yourself.

Come to think of it, an etched ring on marble might not have looked so bad either–kind of hard to hang, though.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Winged Hunters

Cormorant, Colored pencil and watercolor on paper xxxxxxx

Crow, colored pencils and watercolor on paper

Egret, colored pencils and watercolor on paper xxxx

 Some birds are classified as vultures;
Reliquiae enhances their culture.
Others dive in search of fish.
I too eat sushi--it's delish.

Though I fret, egret,
when you fly through the sky
with your prey, which will die,
I'll not have an impassioned snit.
At least you're dainty about it.

While the cormorant picks his bone,
I've certainly got my own
to pick---with his wings,
the silly inefficient things.
With wings, he swims and soars quite high
When wet, he holds them out to dry
And, yet, it's odd; you might ask, why?
Water-laden, he cannot fly.

Stealthily, the graceful heron fishes off my dock
Long pointed beak pinning bass to rock
A toss of his head sends his catch up high
but before you know it ... down the gullet!
Then off he flies to hunt for pullet.

But so do you and I.

Friday, December 25, 2015

I Wish You a French Chateau

Chateau, acrylic on linen, 36 x 24 inches

 A French chateau
in which to enjoy your escargot,
a gala with a festive floor show.

Or at least a Chateauneuf du Pape!

So off with your chapeau
2016 is pretty much a go
with art and life a striking tableau.

The ball in the Square's about to drop!

Friday, December 11, 2015

An Appointment with my Life

Sketchbook drawing, pencil and crayons

I RECENTLY DISCOVERED THE CHARMING FRENCH BLOG J'ai Rendezvous Avec Ma Vie, written by Murielle. I was so enchanted by its name, which, means "I have an appointment with my life," that I decided to do just that. I called my life to make a date.

That is not an easy thing to do because my life is very busy and thinks she is more important than I am. I thought I might get turned down–by my own life!–and I hate rejection. However, when I asked, my life said she thought she could fit me in! My life seemed at first relaxed, funny, smart, pleasant, good-looking and fun. My life looked like someone with whom I was going to have a blast. H-O-W-E-V-E-R ...

All my life wants to talk about is painting. Sure, that's fun for my life but what fun is it for me? I thought we'd go out ... have a couple of glasses of Sauvingon Blanc ... dinner, and then dance 'til dawn. That way, I thought we would get to really know each other. Well, I had a Sauvingnon Blanc. But my life ordered Pellegrino with a lime because in the morning she had to varnish some paintings, meet with her curator, design a colophon for her book and then write a post for her blog, all of which are about guess what? painting! I'm sorry to say, it was an awkward date, and we didn't bond. B-O-R-I-N-G.

OK . I can understand that my life has to take care of business, so I magnanimously said, "Mid, (That's her name. It's short for middle-life) after your varnishing and curatorial meeting, lets go shopping and buy some gorgeous spring clothes at BG." Middy replied that she'd love to, but she had to save her money for framing her artwork and paying a photographer to shoot it for her book, Depingo Ergo Sum. I had to go shopping alone. I guess my life is just not that into me.

I decided not to hang out with her again, but I still wanted another shot at my life. So I made another appointment-just not with Mid. This time I was smart about it. Instead of calling my present life, I called my pre-school life–Early. She is so precocious and cute. Early life said "Yes," and inquired if candy and a toy would be involved. Well that appointment didn't work out either. It is exhausting being around such a young life, not to mention that Early had tantrums if she didn't get her way, frequent crying jags for no reason at all and she even bit me. B-O-R-I-N-G and it hurt!

There's more than one way to date one's life, so as a last resort I called my future life. Her name is Late. I had never seen her before, but Late seemed quite elegant, erudite and even amusing over the phone. On our date though, it was a different story. It took her half an hour to walk a block. She limped and had a dowager's hump. All Late talked about was whether she would be getting a cost of living adjustment to her Social Security benefits and how much better everything had been when she was young. B-O-R--I-N-G and she was a little hard on the eyes because of all those wrinkles.

After that, I forgot all about meeting with my life. I don't want to have any more appointments with her at any age. Don't get me wrong. I still believe that having an appointment with your life is important for everybody. Just don't make one with mine. She is too busy, bratty and lame.

PS. Middy thinks it's always about her and wanted me to post a sketch that she did of the three of us. To keep on good terms with her, I've posted it above. I'm the one in the middle with bite marks.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Cadavre Exquis

"CADAVRE EXQUIS" IS A PARLOR GAME INVOLVING DRAWING or words. It relies on the chance encounter as a disruption of rationality and a product of the shared. Invented and played by Andre Breton and other 1920's Surrealist artists, "Cadavre Exquis" literally translates to "Exquisite Corpse."

To play, the first artist would begin by secretly drawing a head of a person or animal. He would then fold over the paper, hiding all but a small portion of the neck. The second artist would continue the drawing. From the neck lines of the first artist, he would draw the torso, including arms, wings, tentacles, or whatever struck his fancy. He would then again fold the paper so that only a small portion of the hips or thighs was showing and pass it along. The third artist would continue drawing the legs, feet or perhaps claws and a tail, springing off from the exposed tips of the hip lines.

This is one of many ways in which the Surrealists experimented with, and exploited, the mystique of accident and collaboration. Indeed, even the name is derived from a phrase that resulted when they first played the game: "Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau," meaning "The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine." This early game obviously was played with words rather than drawings.

An artist/curator friend recently asked me to paint a portion of a Cadavre Exquis on which he will be working with other artists. We haven't started yet, but I am eagerly looking forward to it. At the time he invited me, I was just beginning to learn Photoshop and the invitation gave me an idea. I could turn what might have been tedious Photoshop exercises into real fun by playing solitaire Cadavre Exquis. Thank you, Chuck!

I produced many collages, either from top to bottom or left to right (as in the one above) by dividing my Photoshop canvas into three parts. I took three random paintings and merged them together, continuing the lines from one image to the next with some strange and delightful results. At the time, I knew how to use the move tool, so I could move corresponding body parts of three different paintings into compositional alignment. But I had yet to learn image resizing, so the sections of the various paintings are not all the same image size. Though I was playing solitaire, it is still very much in the spirit of Cadavre Exquis.

One of the most beautiful and surprising accidents of the composite painting above is the strong lavender-suited forearm energetically jutting out of the background without a body of its own (left side center–leading to the hand with bluebird perched on it in the second mid-section.) I was stunned when I noticed it. At first I thought it must be magic because I did not actually ever draw a lavender forearm on any of the paintings which I combined. It seemingly emerged on its own from an abyss in the lavender background. In fact, it is the lavender background, re-articulated visually as a forearm by framing between the seat and the back of the chair. Chance had it that the defined space is the same shape and at the same angle as it would have been if I had actually drawn it there. Because it serendipitously leads to and connects with a hand in the next section, it strongly suggests "forearm" to the viewer. It is amazing to me because I had nothing to do with it. It is also haunting because it is echoes a remembered image of the government recruiting posters picturing Uncle Sam's pointing finger with the message, "Uncle Sam wants you"– in my case, to have more artistic accidents, I guess.

Well, accidents will happen! In additional to the magically-appearing forearm, the composite rendering of half my nephew's face on top of my best friend's face (right side of composite face) looks suspiciously like Keven Spacey. And to think I would have never known this, had I not entertained myself playing Cadave Exquis solitaire.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Postcard from the Sea of Life - The Laziest and the Best

Pool, digital painting

PARADOXICALLY, MY DIGITALLY PAINTED POOL was inspired by the laziest artist I know and the best artist I know.

The  laziest artist  is Paul W, who  was a classmate of mine in the NYU graduate painting program. Fortunately for Paul, his prodigious talent compensated for his prodigious laziness.  Being one who did not put himself out for painting (or for anything else for that matter) for the entire year he set a chair in front of his studio window and painted only that which he could view from the window. (Sometimes he included stuff on the windowsill.) Despite this rather limiting approach, he produced some  masterful  paintings. After all, it's not what you paint, it's the way that you paint it

The best artist (or at least one of them) is David Hockney. His mode of working is antithetical to Paul's for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that he travels the world while producing his art.

Pulling a Paul W. and a David Hockney:

Several years ago, inspired by Paul's laziness and Hockney's ipad paintings, I decided to paint  only what I could see from from my pool chair on my Ipad.

I had no supplies with me anyway and no inclination  to move from my chair, so, I decided to give digital painting a whirl. Usually a studio artist, I  am the first to admit I left my comfort zone. More like it, I was totally out of control but managed to paint my inaugural digital painting, Pool  and loved every minute of it.  To keep myself going,  throughout my technical bungling, I kept chanting a refrain I learned from Professor Torreano, my painting teacher  at NYU"

"If you know what you're doing it's craft; if you don't know what you're doing, it's art!"

 The above painting, Pool, definitely qualifies as art!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Modigliani's Model

From my book of poems, The Flying Unibrow

Searched  nook and cranny
Looking for the perfect model.
An  emotional wreck at full throttle.

He took his search
Through zoo and  church
On a very long trek
For an elongated neck.

Stifling an hysterical laugh
His feverish quest cut in half
Painted a giraffe.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Picasso's Model

Picasso's Model from my book, The Flyiing Unibrow

 saw things through a prism
confounding as astigmatism
producing a major schism
between what's real and painted.

 I saw a model passing through
who looked like Dora Maar–it's true!
 reflected in my mirror view.
Here's what we two had to do:

I screamed,
She wept,
I fainted.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Just What She Always Wanted

Vincent van Gogh
ran out of dough
Concomitantly he cut off his ear.
 How drear!

When the ladies scolded him,
 Their chides emboldened him
It was clear
Vincent could no longer hear!

He queried his escort while drying a tear,
"What do you think I besmear when I leer
 I've just got this lust for life. No fear!
My brother will take care of us, dear.

I assure you I'll be able to pay some day
After I paint Sunflowers...OK?
Then Starry Night, so we won't have to fight
 Besides, I love you. You're my delight.

Perhaps, dear one, it may seem queer
That I drink absinsthe rather than beer
So out of the ordinary I do want to veer
I'm giving you part of me... my ear!"

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Botero's Model

Botero's Model from "The Flying Unibrow," my book of illustrated poems

A veritable Botero 
whose waist's not too narrow 
installs herself in my chair 
with a permanence seldom seen there
 but  in Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower.

Her bra doesn't wow her.

She throws it up in the air
with an absence of flair
poses there, weighty and immovable.
Thong totally removable.

It swings off her toe like a bower.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Lovebirds, the Owl and the Alligator- A Mc FABLE

Water  color on paper 8 1/2 x 10 inhes

Once there was a handsome but not so smart young lovebird named Igno. He was content in his life, because he loved Oriole, a fluffy, colorful french songbird who sang sweetly to him every day. She loved him, too. He carried her with him everywhere in a gilded Hermes cage. Upon viewing these two lovebirds, the creatures of Foxglove would ask, " Igno, can't Oriole fly?" "Yes," Igno would reply, "she can, but thank God she doesn't have to." All laughed merrily. Oriole really didn't mind the cage because she was cagey and liked to be with Igno. "It's Hermes for chirp's sake!" she chirped.

Igno's and Oriole's best friend in all of Foxglove was a wise old owl. He accompanied them everywhere. The three of them were very happy. Sadly, one day the wise old owl sauteed his last mouse, hooted his last hoot, fell ill, and died. Igno and Oriole did everything they could to save him, but, alas, they could not. It was time for the wise old owl to cross peacefully over to the Other Side. He did so with grace and dignity, imparting wisdom upon them as he took his leave. "Never admire an alligator's teeth in the sun," he told them.

Igno and Oriole were contemplating the loss of their beloved Owl down by the lake one sunny afternoon when an alligator swam right up to them. Paradise lost. The alligator said, her pendulous pink tongue darting in and out between glittering white teeth, "Igno (and, of course, Oriole), my name is Minious and Owl and I were soulmates. I loved him so much, I never even tried to eat him. I won't try to eat you either because you loved Owl. That makes us soulmates." Igno, admiring the alligator's teeth, became blinded by the glare of the sun off of them, lost sight of Oriole and agreed enthusiastically. He was so addled by the glare, he thought that was just what he needed–a sharp-toothed predator to fill the void created by the demise of his beloved friend Owl. The alligator further confused Igno by keeping her smile fixed at a 45 degree angle to the sun for maximum reflection.

Oriole, winging it, warbled a warning into Igno's warped ear. "Minious is green, for chirp's sake, green, chirp chirp–green with envy." "Owl warned us about admiring an alligator's teeth in the sun," she warbled on. Igno said, "Oriole, you're spoiling my fun." She flew away still warbling, but her warning did not register on Igno. It was too late. The reflection from the alligator's teeth had blinded Igno to the truth, causing infidelity, mood swings, poor judgment and danger to him and his loved ones.

Minious allowed Igno to ride around on her slimy, green back so long as he kept on admiring her teeth. They were, indeed, soulmates now. Together, Igno and Minious became one–Ignominious. One cloudy day, Igno finally realized that he really had nothing in common with the uncommonly common alligator and indeed didn't even like her at all. Without the glare of the sun, he came to his senses, realized he loved only Oriole and told Minious he was leaving to look for Oriole. First, he was nearly drowned by large, soggy alligator tears. Then a blinding smile appeared on Minious's face as her big teeth caught the last rays of the setting sun peeking out from the clouds. Unfortunately for Igno, at that very moment a big hunger came over Minious as he leaned in to get a better view of her teeth. She lost control of her appetite, made Igno into a fillet of soulmate, and downed it in one bite. Then she burped, polished her teeth and waddled off, her sated belly dragging through the mud, looking for a new soulmate.

The only good that came of this ignominious affair was that Igno now resides on the Other Side and is having fun again with his old pal, Owl (even if Owl has replaced "hoots" with "told-ya-so's.") They both miss Oriole and are awaiting her arrival. But they know that it will not be anytime soon because Oriole is too smart to admire an alligator's teeth in the sun. She knows that– ...
alligators make better shoes than soulmates.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Sneaker Graveyard

Dr. Mac, acrylic on linen, 36 x 24 inches

SWIMMING UP FROM SEVEN FATHOMS UNDER Candleberry Lake* at a speed so fast he would leave Michael Phelps far behind and probably get the bends, a young diver, trembling with excitement, breaks the surface and sputters to his mates, "Hey, there must have been a sneaker factory here at one time; I found hundreds of sneakers in one spot." When I hear him say that, I breathe a sigh of relief. No one knows the truth–the real truth. The diver's assumption is plausible, but it is wrong.

It is plausible because Candleberry Lake was not always a body of water. It used to be farmland at the base of Candleberry Mountain. In 1926 Connecticut Light and Power Co., in order to create hydroelectric power from the Histrionic River, dammed the river, flooding the surrounding farmland. In doing this, the utility created the extremely deep, 18-mile long Candleberry Lake. Local legend has it that if you dive down to the bottom of the lake you will find old roads and farm houses with families preserved as they were at the time the land was flooded. Some say there are entire preserved families sitting at the dinner table with their food-laden forks poised halfway up to their mouths. Other unfortunates still sit in their easy chairs knitting. This is why our young diver thought he had found (and indeed might have found, had there been one located in the vicinity in 1926) a sneaker factory.

But that is not the case. No, there never was a sneaker factory there. What the diver found is much more sinister. It is the sneaker graveyard. I might add that this final resting place for sneakers was not there when the land was flooded. I am one of an elite group of five people in the entire world who know how that sneaker graveyard came to be. And only three of this select circle are alive today. I feel I must share what I know of the events leading to the creation of the sneaker graveyard before this knowledge is lost forever. Therefore, I have decided to reveal what I have been concealing for so many years right here on this blog. Depingo's readers deserve to know.

Although I cannot reveal his name, I can tell you that some years ago a good doctor and his family lived on the lake. He was a surgeon, scholar and gentlemen, loved by all who knew him. He worked hard in New York City healing patients 11 months out of every year. He saved many lives and made many patients whole again. But when he was on vacation for the month of August... well, that is a different story.

The good doctor, escaping civilization, would drive up to his manse on Candleberry in full doctor drag, including an F. Tripler suit, cashmere socks, pinstriped shirt punctuated with gold cufflinks and a Countess Mara tie, and highly polished Bass Weejuns. Upon arrival, though, he would divest himself of this costume with haste, as if wearing it were the final human indignity. He shed it faster than a snake sheds its skin. However, while snakes shed in order to grow and advance their form, the good doctor would shed his last remnants of domestication in order to return to a wild state. Upon doing so, he immediately became feral.

This formerly manicured doctor quickly donned his summer wardrobe, which he had designed and manufactured himself. It consisted of three items: cut-off, shredded khakis (not much better than a loin cloth really); a rope which he tied around his waist, belt-style, to hold up the cut-off khakis; and a pair of tennis shoes. He wore these items for the entire month while he toiled at landscaping, building stone walls, making furniture and various other projects. He also swam, ate and slept in these three items for all of August. (OK, some nights he took the sneakers off for sleeping,)

Quite frankly, the doctor's wife was beside herself. She didn't know what to do with her severely devolved husband. She knew, though, that she wouldn't allow his shorts to go into the wash with the rest of the family's clothing. This did not present a problem for the good doctor. The one time he felt his garment needed washing, this brilliant inventor of surgical implements and procedures designed an operation for cleaning shorts. He tied one end of his rope/belt to his khakis and the other end to the stone dock and let Candleberry do the work. The lake swirled them around in its waters and its whitecaps beat them up against the stone dock. When the doctor felt they were clean (which was not very long), he put them on wet. The morning sun dried them in conformity with his body and at least they were somewhat cleaner. They didn't look so great, but he didn't care.

One of the neighbors was a kindly grandmother from an extended Italian family that summered on the peninsula. She had a hammertoe that bothered her and asked the world-famous trauma doctor if he would take a look at it. He needed an office, so he set two canvas-covered folding chairs on the dock, washed his hands in the lake and examined her while dressed in his summer outfit. It was comical to see patient and doctor sitting on the dock, she with her hammertoed foot resting in his lap on top of the torn shorts. She didn't seem to mind; in fact she seemed very grateful. When she asked how much she owed for the visit. the doctor replied, "Do you make clams casino?" She did indeed; in fact the dish was her specialty. The following day she delivered a tray of homemade clams casino, hot from her oven, for the doctor's lunch. Good thing, for by this time, his wife had decreed that he was not to come to lunch without a shirt on. Because a shirt was not part of his summer wardrobe, he enjoyed his clams casino while sitting on his favorite tree stump, accompanied by Peter, and Taffy, his cocker spaniels.

Word spread throughout the Italian summer community and he saw many more patients on the dock. He never had to don a shirt because he had a steady stream of clams casino, lasagna and pasta fagioli coming in daily.

There came a day when the doctor's daughter, who was coming of age, requested that her father put on proper clothes (perhaps at least a shirt) to meet her date when he came to pick her up. The doctor said, "I'm not putting on clothes– just tell him I'm the handyman." She was quite concerned about this antisocial turn her father had taken. She hoped his behavior was within normal limits for vacationing surgeons. Maybe this is how surgeons relaxed ... or was it? Maybe ... it was something else ... something far worse! Then, on their last night at Candleberry before the family returned to New York for school and work, she followed him and saw what he was doing. She actually witnessed it with her own eyes!

Before the ceremony started, her father sat quietly on a willow twig bench he had made himself and stared across the lake. Then, he slowly rose and moved toward the end of the dock. Was he carrying something in his arms? No ... it couldn't be. Yes! She could see them clearly now, for unsuspecting that he was being watched, he had moved into the moonlight. There were two of them and they were both badly decayed. You could almost discern the souls separating from them. The odor was unbearable even in the fresh, pine-scented night air. With a hint of hesitation and what looked like regret, the doctor raised both hands high over his head and heaved his decomposing, moonlit burdens to their watery doom. They sunk promptly because he had filled their orifices with rocks and bound them with their own laces. Then he waved goodbye, went up the stone steps to the house, took a long, hot shower and carefully laid out his full doctor's drag for the next morning's ride back to New York. Through careful observation, I learned that he repeated this morbid ceremony annually.

In retrospect, I believe that the doctor actually was very fond of them. After all, they were his sneakers.

*About Candleberry Lake, Candleberry Mountain and the Histrionic River: I changed their names so as not to get my father ... er ... um ... that is, the unnamed doctor, into any trouble.PS. I wonder if anybody has discovered the cigarette "factory" adjacent to the sneaker graveyard yet?Paint on,

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Got a Bone in my Leg

Got a Bone in my Leg, digital painting

Bone Jour,

I'M SITTING IN MY PORCH drinking coffee out of a bone china coffee cup and thinking about bones. And, yes, bone china is actually made from bones. This moderately creepy component of china has inspired me to post some thoughts on bones. But wait a minute, I have to get a sweater first, because I'm chilled to the bone from the cool, early morning air. I know a lot about bones. I became familiar with them at an early age. My father was an orthopedic surgeon–yeah, an old sawbones.

Make no bones about it, bones have done a lot for me. In addition to their more prosaic raisons d' etre of supporting my body, allowing me to walk upright and protecting my brain (moderately successfully), while I was growing up my bones helped me in any number of ways:

As any not-so proper doctor's daughter would have done, I viewed a lot of scandalous, X-rated photos when snooping around in my father's medical library.

Because my father was the team's doctor, I often sat in a box seat right behind the New York Giants' dugout. In addition to watching players break their bones at close range, I got to talk to Willie Mays, Hank Sauer and Bobby Thomson. They waved to us when returning to the dugout and sent us home with autographed balls and gloves.

My wishes would be granted if, while breaking the wishbone at dinner with my brother, Tommy, I got the long end.
Bones also have their downside. I have a bone to pick over what we had to do as kids if we wanted our mothers to be safe from fractures. Remember hopping around avoiding cracks on the sidewalk so you wouldn't "Step on a crack, break your mother's back"? Nice! And the equally nice retort reminding us that bones break, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me."

Despite the breakage factor, boney though I was, I led an enchanted life.

For instance, when I went to visit my father at the hospital, I thought he was some kind of ghostly deity. He wore a long white coat which billowed out and fluttered behind him when he walked and sparkled when it caught the light. He was generally followed by a group of ghostlets in shorter white coats who stuck very close while listening attentively to his every humerus (pun intended) word. Soon the ghost and ghostlets became one–an amorphous, shifting form propelled down the hospital corridors above a flurry of locomotion created by the 16 or so shiny, loafer-clad feet beneath it.

I knew when I was going to get the brushoff. It was when we arrived at my father's office in the hospital. The brass nameplate next to the door read "Head Ghost." Actually it read "Harrison McLaughlin, M.D.," but I couldn't yet read then. Too busy floating around the hospital to enter, my father would stick his head in the office and say "Mrs. Graham, would you mind Suzie while the boys (those were the short-coated, adhered ghostlets) and I go take care of another one of these critters?" The "critters" apparently were the patients who were either waiting to get their bones sawed or those who had already had their bones sawed and were recuperating in various, slings, braces, and plaster casts, while hung from the ceiling in traction. I felt terribly sorry for all those critters because once they were seen by my father and his boys, they never walked again–they "ambulated."

I loved hanging out in the Head Ghost's office. A complete human skeleton hung from what looked like a meat hook in the ceiling. At first I thought it spooky, but then I made friends with it and danced with those merry, dangling bones in our private, ether-scented ballroom to the rhythmic clickety-clack of Mrs. Graham's typewriter. There was also a skull on the desk with whom I had many in depth conversations about, well, bones and other important matters (such as what had happened to the skull's teeth and what's it like to be dead) crucial to a 4-year old, while waiting for my ghost––I mean my father–to return.

When visiting my grandfather, Papa Bisgood, bones came up frequently. I would constantly invite Papa to come out and do things with me. Once in a while he would, but usually he said that he could not. When I asked him why, he never gave any reason other than "I've got a bone in my leg." Year's later I recounted Papa's excuse to my husband, and to this day he declines invitations with "I'd love to, but I've got a bone in my leg." It works; people just don't question such a regret.

My next encounter with bones occurred when I had an art-related accident (that's another post) and severed several of the tendons in my neck and shoulders. My doctor sent me to a radiologist for an X-ray of my head and torso. I entered the radiologist's office after the x-rays were taken, and noticed that literally hundreds of other x-rays were hanging on the office walls–sort of like art. Until then, I had always thought that skeletons were generic and would look pretty much alike. However, I was stunned and a little bit frightened to see that mine looked exactly like me. I could pick "me" out instantaneously–perhaps because my bones are petite and my face doesn't have much integument. I stared at the dark, empty eye sockets in that roentgenogram and my eyes itched to be cradled in them. Those bones claimed me. The skull, clavicle, sternum and all 24 ribs, some sort of grim, ersatz chorus, sang to me, "Yes, we are thee ! This is what you'll be sooner than you think."
For a while, I took solace in the fact that my bones will be around for a long time after the rest of me goes organic and returns to the earth. But they will not last forever. When I die, I will not have to say goodbye to them right away. Depending on soil conditions, it may take hundreds of years before they disintegrate and become one with the universe. But when they do, it's...

Bone voyage!

Paint on,

Friday, October 23, 2015

Post Modern Shark Attack*

Hirst's Shark attacking DuChamp's Urinal

Damien Hirst
Nearly burst
Trying to out-camp
Marcel Duchamp.
To top Marcel's conceptual urinal
Damien worked in an air force terminal.
Eventually something fishy did fit
For the iconoclastic, ditsy  Brit.
Executing his fame-obsessed wish
In formaldehyde he dipped a fish
The resultant preserved postmodern shark
Enclosed in glass,  made its mark.
Bought by a hedge fund guy... funny -
Only he could afford the money
No shrieks of envy pass my lips
I'd  rather have my fish with chips.

*My poem and painting above reflect my thinking on some of the art that's around today.  If you would like to read more on the topic, take a look at Simon Doonan's article, Why the Art World Is So Loathsome. In it he quotes Camille Paglia and lets us know why some critics are calling today's art the Post Skills Movement.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Uncatchable, detail, mixed media on linen, 36 x 24" (click image  to enlarge)xxxXXXxXXXXx

UNCATCHABLE is one of the "guests" attending my Garden Party, a body of work containing 15 or so paintings exploring the theme of harmony between  humanity and nature. While working on these paintings, I did not know I was painting a garden party. Upon completion, though, observing the finished paintings leaning against my studio wall, I knew just where I was–at a garden party among my “guests.” And who doesn’t like a party!

Despite its theme, Uncatchable, is translucent rather than transparent, raising many questions. For starters:  Is the model morphing into a butterfly since her forearms are comprised of emerging butterflies and she has a winged insect adorning her face?  Is the butterfly a mask or is it part of her face? The butterfly's thorax looks remarkably like a human  nose. Is she in danger of being caught in the nets of the lepidopterists behind her? Is that what's causing "butterflies in the stomach"? Or does her composure and confidence tell us that she is immune to being caught? Or, perhaps in a broader sense she is a stand-in for feminism.

As to the question of why she sports caterpillars as garters? I can answer that...

so her stockings don't fall down!