Opening Up the Moment: Layers of Transformation

Today I want to share with you a bit of my process and a little story about one of my works from last year, the piece "Cassatt/Butterfly", a fantastic project that I took big risks in making, going bold with my own freehand gesture painting of a butterfly, blown-up to the size of a salvaged redwood window that I picked up at one of my favorite reuse depots in the Bay Area, Building Resources. The glass mosaic that I placed over the painted areas was also bold, made with quick decisions about material choices made because the silicone I use to attach the pieces to the glass sets up quickly. And, frankly, when you have an exhibition deadline, you get it done!

These photos show some of the process involved in creating the final piece:

As you can see, there are many steps, layers of material and process, in this kind of making. There is lots of room for accidents and mistakes. It feels like a risk when I put the paint to the glass. And when I slather that with silicone and glass pieces, And again, when the grout is placed over the beautifully placed mosaic pieces, it looks like a complete mess, and even as it's worked into the cracks and wiped off the glass pieces, it changes the final work considerably. In the end, the multiple layers of material and the interplay work together to actually create "flutter" in the piece. Each media tells part of the story: the metallic paints, the silicone, the varied glass mosaic pieces, and the painted grout all work together to give part of my "impression" of the subject.

In addition to the technical details, I want to share with you its story.

The story begins today, when my dear friend, Julio asked me if I'd seen his empty cigarette pack. "No," I told him. "Oh, here it is," he said. "I used it to store a dead butterfly that I found outside." My heart swooned. How could it be that he'd be collecting dead butterflies? I had just collected two in prior days myself, and rushed out to the studio-garage where I've been working and I'd stashed my butterflies for safe keeping. Only they were gone. Where were they? I panicked; I got angry at myself for not storing them better, having left them on the work table. Maybe they blew off the table in the breeze of a closing door, and Zipper, the dog, ate them.

Then, I stopped myself.

Stop. Just stop. This doesn't feel good. Its not necessary. What was I thinking? What was I worried about? Julio, someone very dear to my heart, had safely stored a butterfly; he'd taken care of it. There he was, taking care of something after my own heart. I readied myself for our drive to Boise today, and went on, happily.

In the car, I began to think about the butterflies again. I thanked Julio for saving the butterfly and told him that I'd been doing the same, and that I was glad to share this little idiosyncrasy with him.

"I'm so grateful for that butterfly!" I cried, surprising myself with a sudden rush of half crying and half laughter.

Yesterday, some friends came to see my work in McCall, where I've been working this summer and have my pop-up tent set up as I get it ready for my shows later this month. They're avid art collectors, owners of "real art" by Warhol and Rauchenberg, among many other modern greats. It was tremendously gratifying to listen to their comments, observations, likes, and interests. I became very enthused by their acknowledgement of some of the important themes in the work: its two-sidedness, its innovation, "something no one has ever seen". "They get it, and they like it," I thought. I was so thrilled to have those acknowledgements. Gratefulness filled my heart.

The piece they liked the most (and decided to purchase, hooray!) was this piece I have named "Cassatt" after the Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt. Mary Cassatt was the only woman I know of to be named among the great Impressionist painters like Monet and Renior. She was also the favorite artist of my stepmother, and I recall prints of her works in our home. My stepmother also owned a artwork--I think it was probably a serigraph--of a huge, luminous butterfly that I always liked as a teenager. When I went to create the "Cassatt/Butterfly", I based it on my memory of that image. I've always appreciated the butterfly's beauty--dead or alive--as well its spirit of transformation.

I learned a lot through the creating of this "Butterfly." I learned how to manipulate the paint on the glass, as well how to "paint" more with the mosaic pieces as well as the grout. I loved watching this piece evolve as it came into being, and I've enjoyed looking at it ever since.

"Cassatt/Butterfly" on display in Berkeley, CA

When I went to exhibit the painting in Berkely, CA, last summer, the piece was involved in a mysterious accident wherein another mosaic light painting named "Cezzanne" somehow fell into "Cassatt" throwing both mosaic windows onto the hard concrete patio below. The whole thing happened while I was in the garden nearby. It was incredible because there was no wind that day, not even a breeze.

It.

Was.

Perfectly.

Still.

I was crushed, of course, because I'd created what I felt to be a "masterpiece" and it had been broken. However, upon inspection, the piece was not completely destroyed. In fact, it was all still intact, shattered but whole, held together by the thin layer of silicone sandwiched between the window and the mosaic pieces. It held together well enough to transport home. There in the garage at 71 Scott Street in The City, I began to think about how to salvage it. The "Cassatt/Butterfly" was about to be transformed, once again!

It was, in fact, still very beautiful, as my friend who'd come to purchase another window covered with glass mosaic butterflies encouraged me when she saw it that day. "It's still beautiful! It's part of the process."

So, I got another piece of glass and glued it to over the shattered surface to stabilize it. It looked beautiful. I could repair all the cracked grout on the other side and, presto-change-o, it would be better than new.

My stepmother, Sue, died in 2000. Since then, I've felt her presence many times. When I made this piece, I thought about her. I thought about the things she taught me, and ways in which she loved me. I thought about her helping me through the anxieties and stresses of adolescence. I thought about how she talked about desensitization, and the way that violence in movies and television gradually reduce our sensitivity to senseless acts of destruction. I thought about how she showed everyone around her to enjoy life, to laugh at ourselves, to love ourselves as we are, and try not to take ourselves too seriously. I thought about how she told me to follow my heart, and just do what I wanted to do in life. I thought about one of her most important lessons (to me): try not to have expectations, not even of your spouse, the person you love most, because no one person can ever satisfy all of our needs.

And, I've learned from Sue to be still. I've recalled her feeling that Nature was her religion, the thing that made her whole, even when her body was deteriorating from cancer. When I make my paintings, and later add the mosaic pieces, I feel very much the way I do when I am simply being in nature, observing. For me, making these pieces is, like being in nature, my religion.

When her good friends came to see my yesterday, somehow it escaped me that the piece they liked the most was the one inspired by Sue! I was so excited that they liked the piece's aesthetic and material qualities, that I neglected to tell them the backstory of the piece. So, I called and told them the story. I think that sharing the story is part of what makes the piece so unique and interesting,

Now, Sue can go home with them to Florida and enjoy watching over them, and the view of the outdoors where the piece will hang.

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