Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Sound of snow shovels....

I ran out of oil late one night last week. And the next day the (new) tank (oh, was that expensive, that Christmas present of a leaking oil tank) over $700 worth of oil was delivered. I'd used that much in less than a month. I hate to think about it.

The sound of snow shovels, of the snow blower that the folks across the street bought this year and the occasional plow. It's remarkable. If I felt more comfortable driving in it, I'd be out taking more photographs as they pile up more mounds today. On Sunday, loaders were clearing old piles for the snow predicted today and tomorrow....moving them from the street onto walls. There's no where to put it.
On Saturday I saw an old friend -- well, I'm not sure how friendship is defined if you haven't seen a person for years, but she is responsible for my job at UMass. Somehow, after the MIT contract ran out and I was like a seal begging for any tiny fish to be thrown my way so that I could keep my daughter in a good public school in an expensive neighborhood, I was given her address and sent her several articles I'd written. We met and talked and then she recommended me to teach at UMass and I was hired for a night class of Photo I.

I've always been dependent on hands-from-the-side-of-the-stage like hers. At any rate, she retired early and I'd only seen her once in many years, at a party for the slide curator who had been a student. So, I was completely surprised when she called after New Years and wanted to go to lunch.

She's a painter and video artist and the only woman I know who has had a long marriage with another artist who not only supported her work, but joined forces during their early careers. That happened before I met her, so I missed their performance pieces and exhibits. A couple of years ago, there was an afternoon retrospective of her videos at the Museum of Fine Arts, but for some reason I wasn't able to go. Right now they're working on a website which both say seems like creating an obituary. Though they don't have that New York fame, they've been innovative and productive, as well as recognized and have left their mark in many ways.

But what all this is about -- other than remarking about a marriage and partnership of almost 60 years -- was how happy she looked on Saturday when she showed me the flowers she's painting now. This is a woman whose work has always had a philosophical and intellectual bent with a serious touch of surrealism added to the videos and also in her paintings. I would not have imagined opening the door to their house and finding her so delighted about a little painting of pansies.

She does have comforts -- two cases of mechanical toys that she enjoys looking at and thinking about (she wound up a tin dog who did back flips on the kitchen floor), a table of plants, nicely ordered space -- and is extremely serious and very thoughtful. And she looked so sparkly because of those painting.    

Of course I thought -- oh, what can I do to give me such pleasure?

I liked making prints with the butter soft rectangles from the art store that are so easy to cut. My subject is usually some aspect of a fat nude woman, though I've carved images of pill bottles and plants. That's the only activity that might, in any way, match her enthusiasm for and focus on these paintings.

Most work, and this applies equally to hers, has a small percentage of pleasure attached to a great deal of slogging. That bit of pleasure is the seduction, probably. And the slogging is the necessity. But she seemed to be enjoying the demand of 'finding the right color,' as she said, that easy phrase that covers up so much effort.

I've been slogging to put together a video of the Empty Spools Quilters at the Senior Center. I go there on Friday mornings....to video tape, now photograph, and to start a quilt myself. They are spunky women in the eighties who have been doing this since 1989 or 1990, small quilts for babies in Intensive Care. "It's relaxing," they tell me, to put pieces together, "You don't have to think about it." Evidentially there's no right and wrong in their eyes, though I managed to suffer last Friday when I started working on one. I wanted to use red squares, only red squares, or pink, maybe a bit of purple if I had to...having totally ignored the fact that it would belong to a baby...I was gently reminded of my error....

So, I like Friday mornings. A lot. I wish I'd been part of a gathering working on some beneficial project. Maybe a book club could function in the same way, but I particularly like that these women have had this type of goal.

But I suffer over the video. Not that I don't like it. Or that I'm not pleased with the interviews. But besides it being a hell of a lot of work, I'm not trained in Finalcut Express to do fine editing. In the last month or so, working on two rough cuts of different projects, I've managed to loose what i'd

Which leads me to the next problem.

Any videos that are 'my work' are edited by Liz Hesik. I can't afford to have these final edited by her. Are they 'my work'? I've done countless interviews with people who worked for "Spare Change," a newspaper sold by people who are homeless. They were published with photographs I took. I was on the Board, active at the paper, productive. But I never thought those interviews were part of 'my work' though I considered them as part of a wider definition of 'Service' for the university.

I've always been interested in alternative venues, but perhaps adopted the standards of the university which allowed me to include the portraits/interviews with women for "Streets Are For Nobody," as 'my work....   but not consider community work as 'mine.'   Curious....

What was also interesting and probably what lead to me thinking about all this is that my benefactor wanted to invite a former student to have lunch with us...I know her, too, an activist in her 'art' and in her actions...she's responsible for any legislative actions and has built up a strong core of art advocates. So, I got to hear what she's doing -- a new job with a grassroots organization as well as her regular job. And when we had a cup of coffee together after lunch, she told me about her experience at school where she felt grounded in the necessity for action, that many of her courses promoted that bent of thinking. I was quite surprised, having thought that much of her direction came from her life before college, from direct social concerns.        That talk really got me thinking....


  1. so nice to have this thoughtful glimpse into your world, melissa. i love how you think about work; your drive to be productive, your yearning to make joyful art. so much of your work is joyful. it's about life as it is lived. what you dont do is make decorative art. but that's not your world.
    i think about this, your approach to life & art, every time i pass the photograph of yours that i own, in my hallway, of you & krissy musing about having a 'collecting' hobby & the two of you finally deciding your hobby could be collecting snapshots of people's mussed-up room service trays stuck outside their hotel room in the hotel corridor...well, there you have it. art, but not decorative art. thank god. xxoo

  2. Ditto! Your work is not decorative, as Susan says, but it is beautiful. Since I've seen one of your videos, I believe this one on the Empty Spoolers will be a strong piece of work.

  3. thank you so much, Susan and Mim....I appreciate your time and thought and energy...
    my worry is whether 'grassroots' work, done for community television is the same as 'my work' which, I have to say, doesn't really get a showing!!! which is the basic laugh of the whole thing, these serious things that doesn't get shown...
    again, thank you......

  4. My son works at an art college in Pasadena and has been to a number of home-showings by colleagues, video, photography, painting. I don't know if this even touches your question, but I know these, too, are serious artists who wish for their work to be seen. Perhaps because I have been looking at the obstacles to my own process rather than jumping in and letting things sort themselves out, I am in a place where it seems so many answers are missing. It has become uncomfortable for me to give the questions so much power. Now I have to figure out what is the next step. (if this is miles off topic, I apologize...it is where I jumped from your post)

  5. thank you so much Marylinn...I was slopping around, thinking about the way I'd divided a certain type of work (that which might be shown in galleries) from community work that I've always done (interviews for a newspaper printed by homeless people...a video for a very small cable TV station.)
    I'm glad you jumped off and thought about your own work...sorting different ideas out. thank you