Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Water Spots

Water colors are tricky and with students the frustration fuse can be short. They can easily test both the experienced and inexperienced. I am by no means an expert in the field but am competent enough do some simple exercises using water color. Typically we do a number of exercises that involve blending and bleeding colors and no matter how much I reassure the students that we are not creating works of art but technical experiments and that they should not give up and persevere, I will still find work in the garbage at the end of the class session. My mantra is that no matter how discouraging or hopeless the situation may appear, there is still room for transformation. These ‘Water Spot’ Portrait collages are cases in point. They were all created from discarded water color exercises that I retrieved from the trash.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Judy's Photos

I came across some photos that my sister had taken of some of her college friends from many years ago. I enjoyed the sense of serenity that the figures imbued. But it was how the subjects formed the composition that most resonated with me. With her permission I used paint to fill and flatten much of the space to not only define the figures but also enhance their presence. Maybe one day I’ll actually take the leap and turn the photos into paintings.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I visited an wonderful show at the Chicago Cultural Center called 'Write Now' where artists were invited to submit works related to written words and texts as well as actual letters (from the alphabet) as points of departure to create conceptual interpretations. I was inspired too and attempted to create my own abstract compositions. In two of the pieces I cut out shapes from the the word ART and collaged them into compositions. The third piece was composed from the word inspires. It was an interesting challenge and I'm looking forward to doing more of these soon.

Monday, November 7, 2011

These began with an old water color pad that I found in the 1980’s. I like to stay busy and productive while I am watching TV and frequently find my self doing some art .

The portrait is so revealing and nuanced that I frequently refer to it when I am in the mood to experiment.

I folded two pieces of paper in half and painted four similar portraits with acrylic paint and then added pen and ink for definition. I then cut the portraits into 8 squares and b ‘mixed and matched’ them back together.

The second series is a revisit of some of the first Four Squares that I made in September. I need to add more edge and contrast so I collaged new features and gave them new identities.

The results are always surprising and mesmerizing.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Maurice Sendak in Egypt

As a child I adored Maurice Sendak and devoured his books. They were a combination of mystery and absurdity with an edge of danger that percolated throughout. Chicken Soup With Rice, In the Night Kitchen, and of course the iconic Where the Wild Things Are were staples on my bookshelf.

But something changed for me and my feelings about Maurice Sendak and his books shortly after I turned twenty. By then, my father , a civil engineer who traveled around the world building roads was living in Khartoum, Sudan, situated at the junction of the Blue and White Nile. At the time I was a young college student studying archeology and was so taken by the place that I had to pinch myself to remind me that I was not dreaming. During the period of the Pharoahs, this area was known as the Southern Region. It was like I had been dropped into the midst of living history. I could not get enough of it. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I was invited to join my father and a team of engineers and archeologists who were making a trip 80 miles north up the Nile to prepare a preliminary study for a huge hydroelectric dam that was being planned.

Outside of Khartoum there were no paved roads so we had to follow the tracks of criss-crossing camel caravans and the trails of rickety trucks precariously overloaded with bundles and people. The trip was slow and arduous and took 10 hours. After we set up the station we began to explore the site and one of the archeologists made an unexpected discovery----a cave which turned out to be according to one of the experts, the tomb of an Egyptian noble. He guessed that it dated back to the time of the Middle Kingdom, approximately 3,500 years. Unfortunately it appeared to have already been stripped by tomb robbers but fortunately some of the walls in the tomb were still intact. And they were full of hieroglyphics. If and when the dam was built, this entire site was to be inundated by the flooding waters. So it was decided that either the entire tomb would have to be moved stone by stone or if not that, at least there should be an attempt to save the hieroglyphics.

Shortly after I arrived in Khartoum I visited a small museum that housed a number of exquisite frescoes that were removed from the ruins of an abandoned Coptic Church in northern Sudan. To save them a specialized team of Polish conservators used a system where by using a layer of mesh coated with beeswax they were able to peel off the images after making a series of shallow incisions along the edges of the frescoes. This is the same technique that the experts decided to use on the walls of this newly rediscovered tomb.

I spent the better part of three weeks assisting as best I could digging trenches and carting away debris. All the work went exceedingly well except for one wall that disintegrated and broke into pieces as it was being removed. It was unfortunate but compared to how many of the walls were saved it was relatively inconsequential. As a token of appreciation for all my hard work I was allowed to keep one of the fragments of the broken wall. I was ecstatic and could not wait to decipher what was written on it. What secrets would it reveal? But it would all just have to wait until I got home. And that is when my love for Maurice Sendak changed.

It seems that for all of his gifts for quirky originality, for mischievous fun, and his uncanny ability to see the world through the eyes of a child, he was in fact ….a fraud. For as I deciphered the inscriptions on the fragment, the true source of Sendak’s voice and vision began to dissolve before my eyes. It showed that his ideas and images did not sprout fully formed from his imagination. In fact, there is a brief account of Sendak in Egypt during WWII as a young intelligence officer who participated in a secret operation that involved remapping the region in anticipation of the surrender of Germany. Very little is known about this particular event but it is obvious that he somehow visited this tomb and must have deciphered the inscriptions as well. But he did not just decipher them or lift stories from them, he appropriated, some would say, actually plagiarized them word for word. He knew he could do it because after all, what was the likelihood that this secret would ever be known?

Unfortunately I cannot irrefutably make this claim because other than this one fragment from the wall, the only one that did not crumble into dust as it was removed, there are no other, more incriminating texts that exist.

I loved Maurice Sendak. Still, the coincidences are just too great to dismiss. And knowing and seeing what I know now, the case against him, to expose him, is compelling enough to challenge his unique legacy. I therefore feel a new look at Maurice Sendak and his prodigious work is in order.

To decipher the inscriptions on the fragment and appreciate my charges, please refer to the original Higgins Crypto-Guide. I came across it quite by accident in a resale shop a few years back. At the time I did not make the connection between M. Sendak scribbled on top and the Maurice Sendak we have all come to know and love.


This puppet is based on Vinnie, one of the original Monsters who auditioned for a part in ‘Where the Wild Things Are. ’ Maurice Sendak rightly or wrongly decided that Vinnie was just not right for the part.

But his story did not end there. Vinnie left acting and took to writing music. Probably one of his most memorable hits was a quaint little piece called ‘Wild Thingaling’. With his ukulele in hand he a criss-crossed the country performing in small hotel bars and venues until he one day he was discovered by Johnny Carson. Shortly after that a young upstart British rock group called the Troggs looking for a hit latched onto ‘Wild Thingaling’ and the song took off, with a cult like following across the globe. The song became the unforgettable ‘Wild Thing.’

What is little known is the rift that grew between Vinnie and the Troggs over their interpretation of the song. He felt that they ‘perverted’ his perky little love song into a rock n’ roll grinder. Never mind that it shot to number one and remained at the top of the hit parade for six straight weeks, Vinnie and the Troggs never reconciled.

Below are Vinnie’s original lyrics.

Oh, Wild Thing a-ding a-ling

You make heart sing a-ling-a-ling

You make everything a-ling

So (gosh darn) groovy be-doo-be-doo

Wild Thing I think I love you

You really move me

I want to know for sure---poo-poo-pee-doo

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Four Corners

These pieces started off as a quick exercise. I was looking at a recent etching collage called ‘Profiles’ and attempted to decipher one of the three overlapping faces. I drew four different versions with pen and ink. They were interesting exercises but I was more curious as to how they might be reinvented if I realigned them in my typical fashion. At first I cut the face in half laterally. They were similar to another series of portraits called ‘Bipolars.’ I decided to cut them into halves again so that each portrait would be separated into four square sections and then reassembled and completed with pen and ink. This series is called ‘Four Corners.’

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I thought my etching collage days were over. But like every other time I say 'no' it turns out that there's always room for 'yes'. In this case I found a number of older etchings that were buried away and recently rediscovered. Typical of me is my tendency to see my past work with a contemporary eye. I saw the potential to once again build on the past and reinvent the pieces in the present.

I decided to create portraits because the human face is both universal and immediate. As in all of my collages I organize seemingly incompatible scraps and remnants into recognizable arrangements. I used pen and ink, water color, or acrylic as a means to an end and played with elements of improvisation and spontaneity to make all the pieces fit together. As in all of my work, the results were a surprise.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hard Edges

Portraits, self and selfless, present questions that may both reveal and conceal. They may be literal in their interpretations or ambiguous in nature. They may capture a likeness or merely approximate it in abstraction. Sometimes they bare little or no recognizable relationship to the subject and yet are imbued with an innate spirit. Some portraits are complex in their detail while others can capture the essence of a subject with a few strokes of a pen.

Almost all of my portraits, whether on canvas or paper, are imaginary and evolve gradually in a nonlinear process. I intentionally cut the work into incongruous parts and then reassemble unrelated bits and pieces into entirely new assemblages. Sometimes the results are representational. Other times they are more abstract.

Like the portraits, we as a people are the sum of many disparate parts, amalgams of those who preceded us. We are the results of unintentional confluences and unexpected social interactions. As an immigrant society we are a potpourri: a multi-ethnic, mutli-racial society whose strength is built on its dynamism and diversity. It is social cubism. There are so many different ways to see and evaluate how we perceive, identify, and define ourselves.

These are issues that color my point of view and my work:

How to take so many disconnected pieces and fit them together to create entirely

new identities.’

How to take so many different and sometimes incompatible parts and make them


And finally, how to make order from chaos and create something entirely new.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Portrait Parts


Portrait Parts, a set on Flickr.

The sum of many parts make up the whole. These drawings were created as different facial features were randomly organized to create some surprising results.