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All the world as seen through the lens of a crystalline polythene grid of air pockets

“Of course one always has the same theme. Everyone has her theme. She should move around in that theme.”

So claims Austrian author Thomas Bernhard. Similarly, artist Lucian Freud was reported to have said, “Everything is autobiographical, everything is a portrait, even if it’s only a chair.”

One last example, and a memorable one: Willem de Kooning, suffering from dementia at the end of his life, continued to paint in that de Kooning signatory style. Brain dysfunction be damned, his work was coming up from somewhere deeper. Or different.

Be like me. See the world through my eyes. It is an elemental aspect of an artist’s consciousness. And the edge between objective and subjective is often an invisible boundary. Can we ever see it, that line where our own proclivities end?

After all, there is a long list of behavorial biases that can alter our ability to see/understand/perceive/comprehend with clarity. Here’s just a few from Psy-Fi’s much longer list:

Ambiguity Aversion: we don’t mind risk but we hate uncertainty
Babe Ruth Effect: winning big but rarely beats winning often and small
Bias Blind Spot: we agree that everyone else is biased, but not ourselves
Confirmation Bias: we interpret evidence to support our prior beliefs and, if all else fails, we ignore evidence that contradicts it
Familiarity Effect: being familiar with something makes you favour it
Fundamental Attribution Error: we attribute success to our own skill and failure to everyone else’s lack of it
Galatea Effect: some people succeed simply because they think they should
Hindsight Bias: we’re unable to stop ourselves thinking we predicted events, even though we’re woefully bad at predicting the future
Inter-group Bias: we evaluate people within our own group more favorably than those outside of it
Introspection Illusion: we value information gleaned from introspection more than we value our actions
Sharpshooter Effect: beware experts painting targets around bullet holes
Survivorship Bias: this is an error that comes from focusing only on the examples that survive some particular situation
Titanic Effect: if it can’t sink you don’t need lifeboats
Tragedy of the Commons: we overuse common resources because it not in any individual’s interests to conserve them

During the last few months I have been tunneling deeply through a massive project. An intensity of focus has been needed to get it done, but it comes at a cost. During times like these, my ability to parse the world in general becomes impaired.

I’ve been in that place before. When I had my first child, the world outside my home ceased to exist. If you didn’t wear a diaper and weren’t sleeping in the crib in the room next door, you just didn’t get any air time. I am grateful for the remembrance—and reassurance—that normalcy does return. Eventually.


Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground. With slight modifications and changes, his original design is still the lingua franca of transporation mapping.

Our minds create maps of every place we go. Apparently all animals do this, not just us. And those cognitive maps are not necessarily accurate or drawn to scale. Like the iconic map of the London Tube designed in 1933 by an electrical draughtsman named Harry Beck, the best maps make a complex system comprehensible by eliminating information that isn’t essential and simplifying the schemata to mostly straight lines. Beck’s map is conceptual, not accurate, but it is the most famous and most emulated transportation map in the world.

There are emotional maps too. These are more complex charts than a transit system schemata or a topographic map of the terrain. For one thing they include the additional coordinate of time. The past is constantly linking and looping back into our present, and our memories of how things used to be are constantly being stretched taut by how those places change. The map of a life is layered, dense and highly specialized. Some friends share a layer or two, but this complex of overlays and connections ends up being a map only comprehensible to one person.

Visiting California is the inevitable return to the deep foundational grid of my personal map as well, the one formed by a childhood in the Bay Area and college years in Santa Cruz. As richly engaging as present tense California is, it is still for me just a glass floor atop the isometrics of the deep past.

I spent time with some extraordinary art and artists while I was there—Holly Downing, Ramah Commanday, Tim Rice, Jorg Schmeisser, Theodora Varnay Jones, Laura Corallo-Titus, Marsha Cottrell, Howard Hersh, Kathy Greenwald, Shelby Graham, Norman Locks. Landscapes that continue to take your breath away. Exquisite food. And of course the wedding of dear pals Sally and Meehan. I’m in a kind of sensory overload so it may take a few days for all the cognitive systems to fire up again.

Sunrise from Marin County

Kevin Simmers and Holly Downing in her studio in Sebastopol

Holly’s current show at Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at Cowell College, UCSC

Oversized platter by Ramah Commanday in St. Helena

Ramah’s “Every Day a Pinched Pot” project from 2011 (these are from February)

Richard Carter’s pottery studio and Japanese kilns in Pope Valley

Tomatillos and grapes from Ramah’s garden

Tim Rice in his North Berkeley studio

The view of Marin County from Tim’s old studio in Hercules

Sunset through the fog in San Francisco

Printmaker extraordinaire Jorg Schmeisser who passed away in June

Theodora Varnay Jones at Don Soker Gallery

Howard Hersh in his studio in the Shipyard in San Francisco

New encaustic work by Howard

The Shipyard

Thriving hydrangeas at Mission Ranch

Norman Locks and Monica Grant in the UCSC printmaking facility

Drawing studio with northern exposure, UCSC (we had nothing like this back in the day!)

Carmel River where it meets the sea

Sheep meadow in Carmel

Meehan and Sally, post ceremony

Carmel River Beach looking towards Point Lobos

Sally and Meehan

I am back home in Northern California for the wedding of my beloved friend, documentarian extraordinaire Sally Rubin, with her partner Meehan Rasch.

I will also be spending time with several artist friends including Holly Downing* and Tim Rice**.

I am back on Slow Muse after October 1.

Laos III, by Holly Downing

*Holly Downing, based in Sebastopol, is having a show of her paintings, drawings and mezzotints on display at Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at Cowell College, UCSC, September 30 through December 2.

Thread series #22, by Tim Rice

**I met the fabulous Oakland based painter Tim Rice
here, through Slow Muse. (An earlier post featured his work, Resonance is Real.)

Sunrise over Small Point Beach, Maine

I’m off the grid until August 29th. Enjoy the week everyone. I’ll be back after after 10 days, washed clean and deep by this glorious coastline.

George Wingate viewing “Candara” at the show in Providence (photo by Robert Hanlon)

George Wingate, artist and life long friend made a trip down from Wenham to see the show at Rhode Island College, “Acquire/Inquire.” He sent me the photograph above with these simple words:

standing before the moon.

Oh that I could evoke that haunting landscape, that I might capture some of that earthiness that is not Earth, that landscape that does not carry a drop of our DNA in its dust.

The show comes down today. This was an important exhibit for me, the first public showing of a very new and different body of work. Thank you to the wizardry and resourcefulness of curator James Montford, the accompaniment of three extraordinary women—Marcia Goodwin, Doris Weiner and Denyse Wilhelm—and the universally welcoming faculty and staff at Rhode Island College.

Here are highlights from three reviews of the show:

Barlow’s paintings are sensual…she paints handsome, crusty, glistening abstractions like Golasule, which resembles frosty white-blue ice. Others look like lichen or, in the case of Gola, a turquoise and milky white tropical tide pool.
Greg Cook
The Boston Phoenix

The paintings of Deborah Barlow are ethereal and light, mixing multiple forms of paint and technique. While the other artists focused on a search and discovery form of style, Barlow is more scientific and alchemic.
Kyle Grant
The Anchor

Deborah Barlow is represented by a series of lushly luminous abstractions that look a bit like Minimalist cloudscapes. (Look long enough and you may feel like you’re floating inside the world’s most tasteful lava lamp.)
Bill Van Siclen
The Providence Journal

I am always grateful for fresh words that help describe a new body of work. “Standing before the moon” feels good, as do a few other words that came from these writers—“handsome,” “crusty,” “glistening,” “scientific,” “alchemic.” Even the lava lamp reference is growing on me after my very with it daughter gave it a thumbs up.

One wall of the “Acquire/Inquire” installation

To see more images from the show, click here.

Two women stroll among the walls of Halebid, built in the 9th century

Sharing experiences from travels is a bit like sharing dreams: The iconography and narrative are personal and not well suited for public discourse. So other than sharing the rudimentaries, my report on my time in India will be succinct.

A phrase or two from Mira Schor‘s juicy and very personal book, A Decade of Negative Thinking, captures much of what I am feeling now that I am back home: “I’ve wished that I could give my students and myself the gift of time, time to work or not work in the studio, and, more importantly, to forget about ART; time to just take a walk…”

That is what this trip to southern India was for me: time away from the studio, a hiatus in thinking about art making and the world we have created around that rarefied activity. Yes I took 2600 photographs which serve as a kind of quick capture sketchbook/scrapbook. But making art was not on my mind at all. In a culture that old and that confoundingly complex, stepping away from my life was a much better way to offer up an open, fertile, receptive spirit. The resonance is outside of language and still echoing.

Hindu shrine at the top of the Fort hill in Hyderabad

Hampi’s Vittala temple, known as the musical temple because striking the columnns produces musical tones

Inscription at Hampi

The exquisite Chitrangini Mahal (or Lotus Mahal) in the Zenana Enclosure, Hampi

Figures from the 12th century goparum at Belur which effortlessly incorporate images from the Kama Sutra

The lacey Chola temples at Thanjavur

Entrance to the Ekambaranathar temple in Kanchipuram

Enchanting and sacred Madurai, pilgrim site

Rajasthani pilgrims at Chidambaram

Meal time at the Children’s Aid Society in Hyderabad

Lord Gommateshwara, the world’s largest monolithic stone statue, at the Jain temple in Shravanabelagola

Students at Tiruchchirappalli (Trichy)

Hampi, from a distance

Sign to the pilgrimage site, Chamundi Hill in Mysore

Altar for Saraswati

The many faces of India: A street in Mamallapuram in Southern India, 2008

The heart loves what it loves, and mine keeps coming back to India. So how grateful I am that after four years I am returning again.

I could try to explain my attraction but that seems unnecessary given the land’s long history of beguiling, enchanting and mystifying its guests. This quote by Apollonius of Tyana dates back before the Common Era and yet it could have been written by any of us today: “In India, I found a race of mortals living upon the Earth, but not adhering to it, inhabiting cities, but not being fixed to them, possessing everything, but possessed by nothing.”

This trip we are spending all our time in the South. Our intention is to veer, explore and wander as far from beaten paths as we can.

I will be back here after March 27th.

Home altar near Chennai

Here are a few shots from last night’s opening for Inquire/Acquire* at the Bannister Gallery. Kudos to curator James Montford for bringing cohesion to four very different bodies of work. And thanks to all those who braved the snow in Boston (just as we were beginning to think we’d slide past this winter without any) to drive to Providence. Great evening all ’round.

Deborah Barlow

Denyse Wilhelm

Marcia Goodwin

Doris Weiner

*Show info:
March 1- 29, 2012

Bannister Gallery
Rhode Island College
600 Mt Pleasant Ave
Providence, RI 02908
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 12 to 8pm

Gola, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 54″, included in the show, “Acquire/Inquire” at Rhode Island College, March 2012

I will be showing my latest body of work at an upcoming exhibition at Rhode Island College next month. I am looking forward to seeing these pieces outside of my studio and all the visual clutter that comes with it. The shift in seeing can sometimes be surprisingly revelatory. I hope it helps me deepen my understanding of the new territory I am exploring.

That’s the show part of the heading. The sojourn part starts tonight when I head to England. I’ll spend time in the Lakes as well as in London.

I am still perplexed by how deeply I am affected by a change in venue, something that works on others just as powerfully as it does on me. In a recent interview with the writer John Logan (his play, Red, is reviewed here), he describes how he travels to Death Valley every year by himself, going at the height of the summer so he can “scorch everything away. It cleanses the palate of my imagination. Writing is a hard job and it takes a lot out of you, so you need to take the time to replenish it.’’

England is no Death Valley. But the verdant green and the abundance of ancient sites (Britain has more than 1000 stone circles alone) seep in me and do some quiet rewiring of my insides. It is one of my ways of cleansing the palate of imagination. The desert can bring a powerful reset as well, but it works on me in a very different manner. I long for regular exposure to both.

I will be back to Slow Muse on February 22.

Show info:

March 1- 29, 2012
Artist reception: March 1, 5-8pm

Bannister Gallery
Rhode Island College
600 Mt Pleasant Ave
Providence, RI 02908


To inquire—to engage in the intentional act of discovery—is the vital cord that connects the work of Deborah Barlow, Marcia Goodwin, Doris Weiner, and Denyse Wilhelm.

The objects, books, and memories they have acquired are the results of lives lived in purposeful inquiry, provoking and sustaining their work. Walk into any one of their studios and see possessions that are intensely personal: a Chinese wedding basket, peridot tinted vintage glass, Javanese puppets, or shards of pottery. In the work of these four artists, elements of nature, culture, mysticism, choreography, and music are transformed into visual ideographs that are dimensional, vibrant, ambient, and atmospheric.

This exhibition is curated by James Montford, director of Bannister Gallery.

Curator Stephanie Hobart hanging my show, Apparent Glimmerings

Apparent Glimmerings, a show of my paintings in Cape Elizabeth Maine, has been installed and is ready for the opening reception on January 13. Curator Stephanie Hobart did the vetting in my studio two weeks ago and ended up picking out 31 pieces that span about six years.

As fiercely independent and self-resourced as I am as an artist, I have come to appreciate the value of another set of trusted eyes. I need the point of view of an intelligent viewer to help me evaluate the work I have lovingly and endlessly coddled and coaxed into existence. (A reviewer in Art News once referred to me as an “obsessive technician”, a description that delighted me.) The inherent subjectivity of the art making venture is not unlike the parent who cannot see a glaring personality flaw in their beloved child. Let’s face it, objectivity isn’t what shows up in the studio day to day. It has its place—but as a guest, not a resident.

So here is a high five to those who have been my best vetters (and hopefully will continue to play that role):

James Lyman, my gallerist of 12 years, who always finds connections and relationships in my work I would never have found on my own
Kellin Nelson, my daughter who can identify my best pieces in one quick sweep through the studio
Kevin Simmers, my longest running art partnership. It began at age 11.
Kate Fleming, curator at 38 Cameron Gallery and ongoing advisor
David Wilcox, my partner who has consistently advocated for those pieces I wasn’t sure about (and which usually end up being the ones that sell first)
Bryce Aragon, my son whose narrow gauge aesthetics is the ultimate screen of worthiness. You please him, and you have arrived.
Stephanie Hobart, a curator and friend of over 20 years

For anyone in the Portland Maine area, here are the particulars:

Thomas Memorial Library Gallery
6 Scott Dyer Road
Cape Elizabeth ME 04107

Opening reception and artist talk: January 13, 5:30-7:30PM