Monday, March 31, 2008

thoroughly modern mildred

In the midst of all my heavy pondering about the nature of the female artist, I made a bunny for Froggy. It gave me an odd feeling, like I should've been going downtown to Skid Row and finding some homeless drug addicts to paint instead. I stuck with the bunny, though. Maybe this weekend I'll write an essay about my deep, dark childhood and how I sometimes secretly wished that my mother would slip on a banana peel.

Meanwhile, here's Mildred the Dream Bunny.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

heart of darkness

I'm thinking quite a bit about the nature of the artist, the woman artist in particular. It's true that Anne Lamott wasn't nice the other night. She wasn't likable; she didn't give off an air of sweetness. I've been considering this while also thinking about photographer Diane Arbus. Yesterday I watched Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, in which Nicole Kidman, as Arbus (and outfitted in a killer '50s wardrobe), becomes intrigued by a Robert Downey, Jr. afflicted with a condition that makes him look like a lot like Chewbacca. I found the film rather wretched, in that typical overwrought Hollywood drivel kind of way, but it set me on a course to learn more about the life Arbus led, and the kind of person she was.

Accounts vary, but by most she was an empathetic person. Likable? It's hard to say. I think her work remains controversial not because of its subject matter, but because of her way of portraying people. Look here here at her portrait of Anderson Cooper in his infancy. Most photographers would wait for a smile, an open-eyed stare, anything that doesn't say "funeral," as this image does. Here's another one, titled "Two Young Women with Down Syndrome." Something less than compassion seems to be going on here. Partly we're laughing with them. Partly, at them. Lastly, one of her most famous photographs, "Identical Twins". The image has an inexplicable darkness. Maybe it's the girls' expressions, which offer up the gamut of human emotion.

I found a fascinating piece in The Washington Post that features interviews with several of Arbus's subjects. Here's an excerpt:

The great recurring theme of Arbus's work is a sense of otherness, and if you talk to a few of her subjects you realize that in some cases she discovered that otherness in people and then committed it to film, and in other cases she somehow imposed it.

If she was "nice" or "sweet," it certainly didn't come out in her work. The twin girls are profiled in the article, and one of the most revealing comments comes from their father:

We thought it was the worst likeness of the twins we'd ever seen....
I mean it resembles them. But we've always been baffled that she made them look ghostly. None of the other pictures we have of them looks anything like this.

So then, it's the age-old question, Do we require our artists to be kind, likable people? Particularly our women artists? Is a little blackness okay in the essay or the photograph, but not in the artist herself? Does the bitch inside contribute to the depth of the art?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

eat, pray, smackdown

I told you Anne Lamott is my friend. Now I have proof. Look at us in the first picture below, both wearing our hair in locks and sporting headbands. Look at how we're leaning into each other. Best pals, we are. We share so much.

The only thing we don't share is that I am a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne, apparently, is not.

Last night I had the good fortune of attending a talk/reading by the two writers at Royce Hall, thanks to my friend V, who took me as her guest. It was a great evening; both women were hysterically funny and poignant. Excellent entertainment for the audience, but up on the stage there was tension.

They'd met for the first time only an hour before the discussion, and from what we could tell, Anne didn't appreciate Liz's introduction of her, which offered proper genuflection, but according to Anne was not a part of the original plan. That plan was for them to read from their work, then have a little chat, open the floor for questions, sign a few books, and go home. Instead, Liz bowed out of reading, and talked about Anne's impact on her as a writer, and how if it wasn't for the trail Anne had blazed, she never could have published Eat, Pray, Love. In a funny story about drinking and throwing up in celebration, she told how grateful she was that Anne had written a blurb for her book.

We in the audience thought this was quite lovely, but when it was Anne's turn at the mike, one of the first things she said was, I feel like I'm at a roast. She complained that Liz had thrown them off schedule by going on so long. From there, it went downhill. She went on to admit that she'd sent a Blackberry text to her agent earlier in the day, asking about Eat, Pray, Love, How many copies of that fucking book has she sold now? She acknowledged that her behavior was stink, but failed to do anything about it. Instead, she took jabs at Liz whenever she could, was corrective of her and dismissive of the event itself, and took it upon herself to set the agenda and moderate.

Liz, meanwhile, handled herself like a champ. She was clearly flummoxed by some of the things Anne said, but she remained composed and respectful, of both Anne and herself. I'll add that she's personable one on one, too. We're pretty doofless in the picture above -- we'll, I'm pretty doofless, I should say -- because while we were getting ready for the shot I admired her dress, and right before the flash she said, eBay. I said, I love eBay, and we started to laugh. There we are, captured in our mutal eBay admiration society.

I concluded the only thing I could, that Anne had a little chip on her shoulder that goes by the name jealousy.

I still love her; that will never change. Her struggle for grace is more of a struggle than I'd realized, but in spite of last night, I think she keeps trying (it's there on the page). It wasn't a delight for me to see that the emotional conflicts she's written about for 15 years haven't ebbed. But I continue to believe that the kind of intensely personal work that Anne Lamott does can be cathartic, and therefore capable of rendering the writer more kind. Call me naive in that. I certainly want this to be true for me, the same as when I read books like A New Earth. It's not just to say I've read them, but so that I can walk through the world with more peace, and grace, toward myself and everyone.

Friday, March 28, 2008

friday round-up

Have I taken the time to thank you guys for the compliments on my new banner? I've been so busy with skirts and museums and such, but have been meaning to say, Thank you, thank you. :) With the coming of spring, I got to thinking that it was time for a little more fun around here, and Pee Vee was bound to wind up in the middle of it. Plus, my tagline -- the fabulous rowing toward knitting and words -- called for a change. The word "knitting" seemed too exclusive, seeing as I've been dating other kinds of handwork so much. (But knitting and I are getting along fine, too. You'll see.)

Comment of the week: Ellen on yesterday's post -- "You look like America's Next Top Model (senior edition)." Ellen! That's the funniest dose of reality ever. I love it!

I have to give a shout out to Heather. Hey, Heather! I do believe today is Day 10 on the Master Cleanse for you. Yay! You go girl! (Try as I might never to use this phrase, sometimes nothing else will do -- so YOU GO!)

I'm glad you guys like my skirt! It's such a simple, fast project. My garments are pretty humble, but I aspire to this:

This just blows me away. There is nothing about it that I don't worship. I saw it on A Dress A Day, clicked on over to the site of its maker, Trista of Sugardale, and have been gaga over it ever since. I love how clean and crisp it is, its vintage flair, its gorgeous shape, and its unparalleled fit. I'm crazy for it, crazy I tell ya. (Please, God, let me sew like this some day. Please, please, please, please.)

I also want to share these gorgeous bags. They feature incredible attention to detail and truly inspired fabric choices. I'd hock a lung to get my hands on one. Her Etsy shop is empty right now, but I'm stalking it.

Finally, judging by how many of us are on it, many people already know about the Big List of Sewing Blogs. I love clicking through and finding new blogs and seeing new projects. I'll issue an unnecessary warning (because this is so obvious): It's a time sucker. A Black Hole of stitching goodness, to which I just added Purly V. The list's creator is very efficient at adding new blogs, so if you sew and have a blog, drop her a line and join the list. The bigger the better.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

my but i do love a skirt

I want to sew more garments, but until things settle a bit for me, I'll be doing them here and there, and salivating over Adrienne's creations.

To get me sewing on it now, a garment has to be easy peasy, and I have to be able to envision myself wearing it until it's threadbare, because that's what I like to do.

Several projects in my much adored Sew Everything Workshop meet these criteria. If you don't own this book, please don't tell me about it, unless you're some kind of sewing savant and could write such a thing yourself.

Around the time I decided to live free and like what I like, I acknowledged to myself that two things I like are skirts and dresses. I like them so much that I wear them a lot more than pants. Of the two, I find skirts more wearable, because there are fewer fit issues. (Especially for someone with childbearing hips and the chest circumference of a squirrel.) I dream of sewing up a passel of skirts in oodles of colors and fabrics I love (mostly corduroy and denim -- y'all know). Having taken inventory of my closet, I see that this dream isn't frivolity, I am actually suffering a dearth of skirts these days.

I mentioned easy peasy, right? Well that excludes zippers more than it possibly should. But it includes this wonderful classic -- the wrap skirt.

Wrap skirt patterns aren't hard to come by. I'm sure I own at least one more, but the one in Sew Everything epitomizes simplicity because of author Diana Rupp's great instructions. (The book comes with ten paper patterns.) Last year I made this skirt in the brown corduroy fabric that I seem to want to eat for dinner. With my hips in mind I made the large. I wear it all the time, but could definitely have made the medium, so this time I did. Wrap skirts have a lot of room for growth and shrinkage, which is what a girl needs. Plus, do I even need to mention the deliciousness of the A-line shape, which is flattering on everyone and good for really bad dancing?

For my next skirt, I am planning to fly solo. No pattern. I'm going to take an old favorite, trace around it, and sew up a new version.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

the pop in pop art

You should go to the established parts of LACMA first, even (especially) if you've toured the museum a hundred times, then head to the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM).

I had only cursory knowledge of what Eli Broad's vision for the museum was, and only because he and his ilk made my life a living hell for 18 months. Okay, okay. That's an exaggeration. What it is is that I worked at UCLA's School of the Arts and Architecture as a development assistant during the period when the Broads, Eli and Edye, had just given the shitload of money to build the Broad Art Center, where Arts and Architecture is now housed. This meant when Eli or Edye called and said jump, our office had to say, How high? What time? Where? These people are filthy dirty rich, and I don't recall them being major assholes or anything (Edye was regarded as quite nice, in fact), but the very idea that I had to cater to them when they already owned the planet got under my skin.

Christmastime meant having to come up with a "creative" gift to give them and other major donors. There was nothing we could give them that they didn't already have or that they could actually want, so we always went for an element of whimsy. The Christmas I was there, someone got the novel idea of having all the major donors' names engraved on grains of rice, and then having those grains encased in resin to make paperweights. So cute! Right? Not when you're the one who has to track down the crazy rice lady who is headquartered at Venice Beach. Not when you have to get her to understand that these 30 or so grains of rice must have names on them by a strict deadline and there is to be no misspelling or general fucking up because your ass is on the line. Important People, people who build art museums and stock them with their own collection of Warhols and Koonses and Lichtensteins must have personalized grains of rice post-haste! Not when you're the one who has to call around town and try to find someone who understands why on God's green grassy earth you'd want to encase a grain of rice in a paperweight, and at a discounted price at that. Not when you're the one faced with the choice of either waiting for the Broad Art Center to be completed so you can hurl yourself off of it, or finding some way to believe that it's important to spend your working hours trying to keep the uber rich happy so that they can keep the big bucks flowing to the privileged class of students who mostly populate the school you work for.

I shouldn't be writing this post so late.

Point is, I worked for Eli Broad, once removed. So I follow his doings from time to time. He's a huge arts philanthropist, and the dude's got a soft spot for contemporary art and a burning need to further its legitimization.

I wasn't so sure about the worthiness of his cause. Then I walked into BCAM. I walked in after having seen "art" that I am more accustomed to. Things most of us accept and acknowledge as art, and that we therefore feel a proper distance, a comforting separation, from. I suggest you walk into BCAM under the same circumstance, because the moment you enter you will be hit with a sense that the usual rules have been discarded, and you've stumbled into a dimension where meaning and description and sense have all exploded. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world. There's a humongous pop in pop art, and I'd never heard it like I did at BCAM. There is such a shift there that once inside, I found myself walking in a circle near the entrance, trying to figure out where I should go, where my mind and my eyes could settle next.

It's quite an experience. Some of the art is unsettling. Some confusing. Some transformative. There's a piece by an artist named Robert Therrien. It's a gigantic dining set -- a wooden table and chairs. I mean this thing is massive. Schmin, Rob, and I reached it before Froggy did, and we stood underneath it for a while, talking about how much we felt like small children. We waited near a doorway for Froggy, and when she approached the table, we could see how awed she was. There is an army of security guards going on at BCAM, and one was stationed under the table to prevent people from trying any funny business like taking pictures. Froggy saw the table, then she saw the guard, and she said to him, excitedly, Can I come under there too? When he answered yes, she exclaimed, Yay! We laughed, because the piece had made us all 4 years old, and Froggy had verbalized what we felt.

The only downside to BCAM, as I see it, is that the photo policy is so strictly enforced. Christie mentioned in yesterday's comments that when she saw the Mona Lisa, photography was allowed. When I saw it last year it certainly wasn't. The guards even called hardcore security because this woman kept screaming that because she'd come all the way from America (she had a questionable accent, though) she should be allowed to snap away at the painting. They were fully prepared to show her the door. I think I read someplace about flash photography hastening the painting's deterioration, so maybe that's what the ban is about. (People are about as likely to remember to turn off a flash as we are to turn off our cell phones at the theater.) And maybe it's the same with BCAM. That, and the whole counterfeit thing. Anyway. Perhaps it's for the best, because knowing you can't take a picture means you have to practice more presence. Still, with my obnoxiously stubborn self, I did spy a surly guard, and I managed to get my favorite shots of the day:

Schmin and the Frogster trying the moves in Andy Warhol's Dance Diagram [3] ["The Lindy Tuck-In Turn-Man"]. Please enlarge to see Schmin's expression in the first photo. I think he might be convinced that he knows what he's doing.

Must-sees at BCAM include the Warhols, Damien Hirst's astonishing stained glass butterfly works, John Baldessari's Buildings=Guns=People: Desire, Knowledge, and Hope (With Smog), and anything at all by Jeff Koons, who has to be out of his mind. For real. Oh, and Cindy Sherman's work. And... oh, just go!

If you're planning on it, don't click on the link below unless you don't mind spoilers (sorry, Ellen, I should have warned you). The dining set is included here, and so is Jeff Koons's Michael Jackson and Bubbles, a piece that most completely trips me out. If you don't think you'll find yourself in this neck of the LA woods anytime soon, click away.

BCAM Image Sheet

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

what about the art?

Someone out there may be thinking, So, you had a great Easter with your son. It was sunshine and puppy butts. But you went to an art museum. What about the art?

I'll tell you what about the art. The art was historic, ridiculous, sublime, subliminal -- it was, well, art. But with a capital A. It was Art.

I'm close to making it my life's mission to stand in front of iconic works of art. My pinnacle is the Mona Lisa. I was braced for disappointment because the painting that is arguably the most famous on the planet is a lot smaller than its ubiquitous nature would have one believe, but seeing it in person was a momentous experience -- size, French guards yelling No photo! No photo! and tourists trying to sneak pictures anyway notwithstanding.

Where to go after the Mona Lisa? The Pyramids? Though they were built to serve a purpose, who can argue that they're not art?

LACMA is a lot closer to where I live than Egypt is. While I work on getting myself to the Pyramids, there is plenty of awe inspiring art to be found there. On Sunday, I ticked some crazy famous Andy Warhol's off my list. Two Marilyns and his Campbell's Soup Can paintings are part of the collection shown at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM), the splashy new addition to LACMA.

If you're planning a trip to BCAM (and I mightily suggest you do), take a stroll through the established/traditional collections at LACMA first. (I'll explain why tomorrow.)

We started in the Ahmanson building, where we saw works by Picasso, Monet, Klee, and a favorite of mine, Kandinsky. We also saw the Africa avant-garde exhibition. On the outside wall of the room where it is set up hangs a large piece made from discarded metal, cans and things. It cascades from the wall to the floor. Schmin thought it looked like a quilt. (My kid speaks my language.)

Speaking of quilts, here are some other things that drew me in because of pattern.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the exuberant experience that is BCAM. (You betcha I'm going to milk this museum thing for three posts.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

the best easter ever

Last week I got a phone call from Schmin. He wanted to know what I was planning to do yesterday. My plan, as usual for a Sunday, was to play it by ear, which is a plan I really like because I dread few things more than over-scheduled Sundays (by over-scheduled I mean having more than one thing to do). But it had been so long since the two of us had spent a day together that I told him I was open and asked what he had in mind. He wanted to take the lot of us -- me, his girlfriend, and his boss/roommate Rob -- to LACMA to have brunch and to walk around and see the sights.
I live so close to LACMA that I hit it every time I holler west, yet I'd never gone inside. I've been to other museums in LA, and I loved going to museums in New York, but LACMA I took for granted because of proximity. (I even slept on the Diane Arbus exhibit a few years ago, for which I should be arrested.)

I have to hand it to ol' Schmin, sometimes the young man is touched by genius. When I accepted his invitation, it didn't cross my mind that it would be Easter, since I had no plans for church like I have in the past. I think the news finally sunk in on Saturday, and I wondered how LACMA would be. Just about any occasion brings people out of the woodwork in Los Angeles, and while Easter doesn't scream "art museum," one just never knows around these here parts. I'm happy to announce that LACMA was All Good. Schmin said he was sure it would be, and he was right. It wasn't deserted; there were just enough people to give the place a mellow hum, a sense of life and movement -- but not too much.

We had the absolute best time. The museum was fantastic, but the best part was being with Schmin and people he loves. I'd met his girlfriend, Froggy (that's her nickname because she loves green and used to have green hair, I am told), numerous times, but always when they've stopped by my place. (Note: Froggy is not Naiomi. Naiomi's been a done deal since last year, which is fine, because Froggy comes with a lot less drama.)

Rob I'd heard a lot about but hadn't met before. I liked him a lot. He's been in LA a long, long time, but although you can take the hippie intellectual out of San Fransisco -- you know the rest. Rob's next move is India, because he's drawn to the "party culture" that is Hinduism. Rob is warm and chatty, and he's also good at wandering off to explore on his own. We got along great.

The best part of the loveliest day was that being with Schmin, my dear boy Andre, was the lightest it's been in a while. He and I have been butting heads since he was 15, when he went to bed mostly sweet and loving and woke up a monster. I kid, of course, but that's how it seemed to me. And the older he got the less I recognized him as the child I raised. If I've been anywhere in my adult life, it's been somebody's university. Schmin barely completed high school, not because he isn't intelligent, but because he never liked school. He was always that way, and it was always a disappointment to me. Over the years, he peppered in some momentous feats of epic stupidity and ingratitude -- I say this knowing he likely has his own special words to describe my actions toward him -- and our relationship became fractured. He is my only child. I have loved him since the day he was born. But these last years have been difficult.

The miracle of yesterday is that we had our own resurrection, giving the beauty of Easter more personal meaning.

There is a section in A New Earth about parenting and how it is hindered by the lack of authenticity from parent to child. When I read it, I saw my relationship with Schmin in an entirely different light, and what had seemed unlikely -- that I would ever be able to have an exchange with him that wasn't tinged with disappointment, expectation, or fear that he wasn't making the right life choices -- suddenly seemed like the only possibility. Not once did I think about what I had read while we were together yesterday. I didn't think about it, but it colored the day, and the result was freedom. Even when we haven't been our best, Schmin and I have worked to show each other love. We've had lots of good times together, but yesterday was different. It held only freedom and presence, not a hint of worry or judgment. It was the opening of the friendship I've always wanted for us.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

one from the best easter ever

Which I will tell about tomorrow.

I hope you had a happy Easter, a fine Sunday, or just a great Ordinary Day.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

a wolf in bird clothing

Before I got up the nerve to buy fabric for my first quilt -- I'll call it the Elephants' Party Quilt -- I bought a couple of those Cuddly Quilt Kits at JoAnn's. Natalie had started one that was really cute, and the kits were on sale. I figured making one would be a good introduction to quilting, because all you have to do is cut strips down to size, piece them, and sew the back and front together. Optionally, you can quilt it by stitching in the ditch.

I have a real love/hate thing for JoAnn's. I'm not mad at them when they're dishing out the 40% off coupons. But so many of the stores are like dungeons, and the help is often no help at all. What should be a bright, fun, and inspiring shopping experience is often drudgery. I really wish someone would start up another chain. A place that's beautiful and well lit, staffed by people who know how to make things and don't mind telling you, and that's stocked with quality merchandise, some inexpensive, some higher end. Is that too much to ask? Who wants to start this chain with me?

Anyways, while we're getting our investors together, more on the Cuddly Quilt.

Sweet design. Adorable prints. The center panel features a birdie playing with a dandelion and a snail -- just stop it. (I love dandelions. Blowing them away once they've dried out is so reminiscent of an Ohio childhood. ) But if the little birdie could talk, what would he say? He'd say, Cheap, cheap, cheap. Scandalously chintzy fabrics comprise these kits, particularly the flannel backing. It's flimsy business. And the stretchy orange whatever it is gave me fits. It sewed unevenly, even with a zigzag stitch, and kept coming out shorter than required to match up with the cotton pieces. Even sewing it to the backing was problematic, because one side was initially longer than the other, causing the whole affair to take on a lopsided shape. I had to rip and re-sew several times to make it passable. I probably would have worked it one more time, but the flannel wasn't likely to hold up. It shouldn't have taken me more than a casual day of sewing to complete this. Because of the materials, it took me hours longer. I was so relieved to finally have it together that I skipped the quilting part.

In the end, I can't recommend these kits (I still intend to cuss my way through the other one I bought) except for the instructions that come with them, which are pretty good. Now that I know the measurements of the strips and how to put them together, I'll use my own fabrics to make more. With good fabrics, these quilts are doable in a short amount of time. As they come, I think they'd be frustrating for someone with no quilting experience, and I'm glad I had the Elephants' Party Quilt under my belt.

I'm so busy giving Cuddly Quilts the thumbs down (Don't fall for the cuteness! You'll be sorry!) that I almost forgot to mention why I made this one. It went to my co-worker's new niece, Amanda Grace. She was born on March 3rd, but she won't be leaving the hospital for a while. She was premature, and she has Down syndrome, but she's a strong girl and according to the people who know about these things, she's doing very well.

I embroidered her name and birthday on the flannel, and reinforced the embroidery by ironing-on a piece of backing, because I feared the embroidery would pull through the thin fabric. Stitching on it was like walking a tightrope.

I went ahead and gifted this as intended, because although it was a pain for me, it does live up to its cuddly name, and is bound to provide softness and comfort to baby Amanda.

Friday, March 21, 2008

go ahead. keep makin' my day.

Lilia over at Sew Little Time has gone and done the nicest thing. She's given me the You Make My Day Award.

She wrote a wonderful, generous entry to accompany the award, and when I read it, I got a little teary. It feels good to be appreciated in such a way.

I love that Lilia gangstered the award and gave it to me! She didn't wait for it to come to her through the traditional route. Inspired by her brassiness, I am going to buck the trend of passing the award on to 5 - 10 other bloggers and do what I really want to do, which is to give it to the people who make my day -- those of you who come here, read my blog, and take the time to encourage and support me by leaving comments nearly every day, or even once in a while. I really can't thank you all enough, and I want you to know I am so grateful to have you visit my little corner of the Internet when there are so many other stops to make. You make me feel connected, and that feeling carries over from this virtual experience into my everyday life.

So, Lilia, right back at you! And on to all of you who make this blogging experience so fun, rich, and worthwhile for me. You make my day, every single day. Yes indeed you do.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

wee things for a wee boy

While we're on the subject of babies, I made this set for Frank's new baby boy, Oliver. The star of the show is Hillary Lang's Wee Bunny, a simple, fun pattern. Wee Bunny's tail is a fabric flower, made from this tutorial. The bib pattern is one I bought as a PDF from an eBay seller. (If you have a baby handy, you can easily measure him/her and figure this one out for yourself. The hardest part is the bias binding, which just takes futzing.) I used this tutorial for the cleverly shaped burp cloth (I had spied some over at Natalie's). The onesie, which was way too small although it's a 6 - 9 months and Oliver is only 4 months, just has an appliquéd rectangle.

I had the chance to meet Oliver a couple of Saturdays ago, and as you can see, he's a little lump of pure sugar.
(Thanks for this one, Natalie.)

It's a wonder I didn't steal him.