Monday, February 23, 2009

An Artistic Weekend

I had such an inspiring, artistic weekend. On Saturday, Michael, Alexandra, and I attended the gallery show at STUDIO2315. The building houses many artist studios, but we were there particularly to support friends Carol Watson and Luisa Duarte-Green.

Carol works in the fiber arts, primarily constructing wearable art clothing. More recently, she has added beautiful paintings and drawings, fiber collages, and other visual arts to her creative oeuvre. Carol's studio itself is a work of art, thoughtfully and exquisitely adorned with her art, where beautifully clothed mannequins interact visually with watercolor and ink drawings. Her studio has both a small gallery space and a workshop space, but the inviting workshop is artful, too.

Walking into the building's main gallery, Carol's 10-foot high, fabric collage banner immediately commands your eye and makes a stunning impact. The complexity of the banner is not apparent until you come close and see the variety of stitches, fabrics, and assemblage it contains. The surprise is that behind this huge piece of art is more of Carol's work. She has two enrobed mannequins in the big gallery along with the collage banner.

Luisa primarily paints in watercolor, but is by no means limited to that medium. An architect by training and an ex-pat of Maracaibo, Venezuela, Luisa's work is imbued with hot, tropical colors and well-defined structural elements, often stacked on each other into tall building-like constructs. Luisa's watercolors are mostly vivid and deep-hued with rich colors, although she has also painted a somber and moving series in shades of gray that reflect her mourning after the untimely death of her husband Peter last year. The power of this muted series does not surprise me because I have also seen Luisa's Stations of the Cross collage series which is equally dramatic and powerfully engaging.

Aside: When I commented on her dazzling palette, Luisa told me, "These are the colors of my city." Then she showed me photographs of houses in Maracaibo and I immediately recognized her inspiration.

In addition to the mourning series, the STUDIO2315 gallery features three new works Luisa completed in 2009. They are large and exuberant versions of the smaller works in her studio in which mere towers become skyscrapers filled with iconic elements to surprise and intrigue the viewer. Luisa's work embodies a lightness that makes the objects seem to float while her structural elements anchor them firmly to the ground.

As if Carol and Luisa's art works were not prize enough for our long trek from the burbs, we found wonderful work in studio after studio of the STUDIO2315 artists. Anne Delpine's delicately colored collage/paintings intrigued and seduced me into looking closer and closer to discover the building blocks she had used to create them, including dictionary pages with words and illustrations. My favorite piece was inspired by a tiny dictionary drawing of a sea urchin, and I felt so pleased with myself that I actually recognized the sea urchin as a "real thing" even through Anne's complex and intricate stylizing. See if you can identify this piece on Anne's website.

Next door to Anne's studio, I discovered Charles Jones, a master print maker and bookbinder who teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Charles had a table full of his exquisitely bound books which he generously shared with us. Each book had compelling content, including reflections on the war in Vietnam by two artists who fought on opposite sides in the same area at the same time (Charles and a Vietnamese artist friend). Another book paid homage to great artists of the 19th and 20th centuries with poetry and prints. Yet another memorialized the life and works of a young German woman whose death would otherwise have silenced. I could go on, because I love hand bound books, but I must restrain myself. Charles also had wonderful, nearly life-sized prints of literary figures displayed around the studio he shares with his wife, Corinne Jones.

At the last stop of our pilgrimage around STUDIO2315, we met Kia Gardner, who makes lovely crystal and gemstone jewelry. Her space is tucked in the back, down a hallway, and might easily be missed. Be sure to look for her behind the red door at the end of a beautifully painted red and white faux carpet.

To cap our weekend of artistic adventure, Michael and I attended a performance at the Alley Theatre of Eurydice by Susan Ruhl, who also wrote The Clean House, which we saw (and loved) last year. In Eurydice, Ruhl created, from the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a stirring and poignant tale of love, loss, and regret. Although the story seems to be about the young lovers, Orpheus and Eurydice, I found myself most affected by the bonds of father and daughter in this retelling. The staging wowed me - shower heads streaming water, extensive walkways, an old-fashioned water pump (with running water, of course), and an elevator (probably not a working model, but the illusion held up well) - Eurydice was a visual cornucopia. Michael and I have season tickets to the Alley and our seats for the Neuhaus Stage (their smaller, more flexible venue) are in the front row south. We are quite often practically members of the cast because of this. With a walkway just inches from our seats, this performance felt very intimate.

Aside: This worked to our disadvantage last year in the famously gory, gross, and gruesome play The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh that featured a man hanging upside down being tortured. His "rig" - with him hanging from it - rolled by me about 6 inches from my right elbow. It did not delight me in the least.

We topped our weekend of artistic pursuits off with the Academy Awards. It may not be art, but at least now we have some idea which of the movies we missed last year are worth the effort to see this year, even if we have to view them on the small screen.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Trying to be Laid Back about being Laid Off

I frequently think about blog topics in the middle of the night, or when I'm driving, or sitting in a waiting room - times when actually writing the blog would be very inconvenient or impossible. Now that I am sitting at my actual computer, I find that my mind is a blank and all the interesting items I thought about mere wisps in the ether. So I will meander through several current topics by way of update and see if, perhaps, one of them prompts a lost memory to return.

Michael lost his job in January. We had premonitions as early as October when, after an initial round of lay-offs, a senior manager said something to the effect that everyone left was safe until after Christmas. Michael came home that evening and told me he had 55 days of guaranteed employment. It cast a bit of a pall over our preparations for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. On December 22, his boss confirmed that the lay-offs were going to happen in January and that Michael would be one of the hundreds affected. We did not want to put the kibosh on anyone else's Christmas fun, so we kept that news to ourselves and even after Christmas only told a few people. I suppose we hoped it wouldn't really happen, but it did.

We have been through this before and know how to batten down the hatches and live lean, but it is discouraging to have to do so again so late in Michael's work life. Another five years and he could actually retire, but those five years of work between now and then are important to our plans for retirement. Everyday we read in the paper about thousands of additional layoffs in companies all over the US, but in this case, misery particularly does not love company. The more layoffs, the more competition for jobs that are already scarce.

It has prompted us to discuss alternative income sources. What could we do to make money? That is a challenging topic and one that we will be giving a lot of attention to if Michael's job search is not quickly productive. I have also thought about attempting to work part-time despite my health problems, but I am really at loss about what I could do. The telecommunications career I left behind 17 years ago is prehistoric by today's technology standards. My skills in sales and marketing would polish up pretty quickly, but I don't have any good ideas about who would like to hire a part-time sales and marketing person whose health is fragile. I can't stay on my feet for more than 15 or 20 minutes without serious pain, so retail jobs are pretty much off the list, as well as substitute teaching. Since necessity is the mother of invention, I'm hoping that, if our situation gets really dire, I will figure something out.

Meantime, I have to get my medicare updated to include prescription drugs and perhaps a more comprehensive medical plan than traditional medicare. I am so thankful to have medicare. Michael's company offered us coverage through COBRA for a mere $900+ per month. Not happening. Doesn't it seem strange that the insurance options for people who have been laid off are so expensive that you need a job to afford it? Another similar conundrum is that uninsured people get charged the highest price for medical services when they are the ones least able to pay it. I really don't get why people object to a single-payer insurance system for this country. Obviously, the medical/insurance industries object because they might not have so much cream to skim off the top of the milk bottle, but why do ordinary people object? They obviously have never had a medical or insurance crisis to deal with.

Someone quoted scripture to me today to the effect that God chose the smallest to carry the biggest load. What was she thinking???