Thursday, December 30, 2010

For you Dad

My Dad's book

The last couple weeks have been filled with holidays; the brilliant candles of Hanukkah and the pungent sell of the spruce Christmas tree; the combined sensory experiences of an interfaith household. But, as Dickens noted in The Tale of Two Cities, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Sometime between the eight nights of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, my father was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and began chemotherapy two days later.
A hale 78 year old writer, survivor of a triple by pass, my dad had just had his latest book, The Made-Up Self published in last October. Following its publication, it was reviewed in the New York Times and my father was thrilled. I got to thinking about voice and wrote this post which I never published, but came back to since his diagnosis. I offer it here as a tribute to my dad and his love of voice.

Birds 3, Sara Post ©2009
Voice. The singular thing that beckons us into and sustains us in a piece of writing. Voice tells the story, plays on our emotions, evokes our sympathies. What does this in a piece of visual art?

I struck out one night with my sister Amelia to visit the opening of a show at our local cooperative gallery, The Artery, and find out. I was a bit overexposed from a week of presentations at the hospital, so I didn't expect to be seeing clearly.

You know how it is when you've been teaching and lecturing too much and not writing enough? That's how it was. Fatigue doesn't seem to matter for Amelia. Put her in a gallery and she is immediately absorbed by color and form. I flit from one piece to the next searching for something that calls to me--could it be a"voice" I'm looking for?

Since voice must be embodied to be heard, which piece will speak to me? How will I know when I   see it--what will it look like? Will it be clothed in quiet tones of umber, terracotta or ochre? Or, sparkling with brilliant patterns in red, black and gold? I'm on a blind date arranged by the gallery but I think somehow I'll recognize it when I see it.

And I do. The piece is located in a corner of the gallery and is made out of clay. Clay that is rolled thin like cookie dough and cut into irregular tile forms mounted on a birchwood panel and connected with thin lines of grout. On the tiles, in dark indigo, so dark that  its almost black, are intertwining mandalas, circles with interconnecting lines that form the stamens and pistils of plants and reach towards crows who've alighted on these "circles" of plants.

Here is my friend. I stand for a long time, reading the artist's description and wondering how I can scrape together enough money to take my friend home so we can keep talking? Provocative isn't it?  

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Year's Collaboration

Often, when we think about the end of the year, we simultaneously think ahead to a new year and what we might want to create in the future.

At the beginning of 2010, I took a class with Alyson Stanfield, of The Blast Off course was a fabulous way to begin the new year and led me in a variety of new directions, the likes of which I never imagined. My classmates and I created plans which spanned the entire year and during the last week, I've been going over them to see which intentions came to fruition and which shriveled on the vine.

This process got me thinking. I liked the concreteness of goals and dates, but it occurred to me that I was missing another piece. It came to me when I was reading Gretchen Miller's fantastic post on her altered New Year books. You can check them out here.

Gretchen focused on qualities she wanted to bring into her life in the course of 2010. Words like "balance," "transition," and "sustain" called out to me.

These words spoke to the qualities that often underlay my resolutions; aspects I miss while hurrying to get to the results (e.g.: exercise more,  communicate more carefully, spend more time in the studio...)I forget to savor the experience, which eventually leads to my feeling of accomplishment, once I achieve my goals.

If, however, I focus on the underlying feeling of my goal, I may find that there is more than one way to get there.
In that spirit, I decided to cut to the quick and locate some words for myself. Not hard to do, because they were the feelings I most often find myself lacking.
I decided to start the process while I was at work and pitched the idea to a teen, who had been moved off the pediatric floor and was feeling bored and lonely.

Her disease causes her a great deal of pain and she has a reputation for being a bit ornery.I went in with the sheer enthusiasm I felt for the project, but was still surprised when she agreed.We worked on our pages side by side, giving each other suggestions and checking in on the progress of the television program she enjoyed watching.

We met each day this week and by the end, I'd compiled the six qualities I want to focus on.

My favorite one so far is "forgive." There are
many ways in which I "miss the mark." But most of the time, I haven't--its me wanting more of me than I can give. Thus, forgiveness.

Today, my teenage patient was asleep. It's raining hard outside and the dark gloom is conducive to sleep. We didn't have a chance to put our books together. It's o.k. We'll try again Monday.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear some words that you might be thinking of for the New Year. What are your favorites?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Seed in Winter

I walked up to the playroom door yesterday morning only to find it locked and empty. Unusual, but so was my being there first thing in the morning. After opening up, I set to work, laying out materials for an ad hoc art group; metallic watercolors, paintbrushes, lots of white paper. Soon enough several patients found their way there too. Andrea, a tall, lovely 14 year old with an endearing smile, announced that she loved winter. She told us it was the bare trees that charmed her. "I think you're channeling the East Coast, Andrea. Many of the trees here still have their leaves," I told her. "Yes," she agreed, "that's what I'm channeling." As I later thought about it, however, as she had checked in for her last in-house chemo, perhaps she was reflecting on the nascent possibility that she could be cancer free. Her body had stored up all the infusions over the last year or so and now having lost her own "leaves," she was there waiting for that inevitable spring.

In an odd way she was exactly right: this is what winter does-strips us of our leaves, our illusions and leaves us with the bare outlines of our inner and outer landscape. We have a chance to reflect on the structure of our lives. Do we want to prune them, encourage growth in a new direction? (Which one of us doesn't want to do that with the alternative being stagnation?)

That means it's time for an accounting, a consideration of the past year; what I've been able to achieve and what was left wanting. And where, after all this looking, do I want to go in my life? Usually, I start this process with a list, but after combing through my iphoto file this morning, I thought it might be fun to select some of my favorite 2010 pieces and share them in a slideshow.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Postcard Assemblage!

I set aside a day over Thanksgiving weekend to try something new--constructing a series of 25 postcards, destined to be sent to 25 different places around the world. Art Therapy Without Borders had set up a world-wide exchange, asking people to sign up in order to create and send postcards about how each of us practices art therapy in our neck of the woods. The goal of this collaborative art project is to allow community members from the Art Therapy Alliance, International Art Therapy Organization and Art Therapy Without Borders to create a greater sense of connectedness throughout the world, as well as, to see how practices differ from country to country or even state to state.

I wondered where to begin. I could collect medical packaging for collage. That would give people a good clue about where my art therapy is located. (I didn't get too far with this because the wrappers are routinely tossed.) I also considered taking some of the drawings that children leave behind and adding them to the collage mix. The truth is, in the back of my mind, I knew that I would end up utilizing my "everything but the kitchen sink" method, where I grab papers and cloth and treasures from every part of the studio. I just wanted to pretend that I might be a more thematic and organized this time. But wait--there could be an organizing principle: the baby press.

I had received a baby press for the hospital during the last holiday season (courtesy of those good people who ask us for wish lists.) It had been sitting captive in its crate for the better part of the year. Never enough time or tools during the day to unpack it.

What better activity for Thanksgiving break than to get my sister and her big red truck to help me haul it to my studio and put it together? I could test it with these postcards. She was game for the adventure, and we wrestled the crate up my studio stairs and began to unpack it. Before long, with the help of various hex wrenches, we assembled it. Fabulous!

Filled with anticipation, I laid out 25 cards in rows and got to work. I cut up leftover postcards from earlier shows, a rice paper kite and slivers of the book that I had been altering. Throughout the process, I tried to suspend my own sense of judgment, that nemesis on alert, whenever I'm in artist mode. Instead I intended to follow the direction of my fingers and eyes, inviting in the critic only after the composition was basically there.

I wanted my images to allude to the art therapy work I do--not to spell it out in words and images (enough about that was written on the back)--but rather create a riddle for the viewer to solve. I've created a slide show of the postcards which you can see below:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Keeping Our Selves Warm

Multiple Passages, ©2010, H. Hunter, Multimedia
At this time of the year in most parts of our country, the task is to stay warm, but even more that that, to keep our souls warm. As it becomes darker and colder outside, it's easy to find ourselves in similar inner spaces.

Instead, I'm seeking to turn up my inner heat and discover more of what lies within. With that in mind and my early morning warm-up shower behind me, I wanted to share a few things that have warmed my soul lately...

Multiple Passages was created in memory of a vibrant young woman with whom I worked; she was Fijian, by way of India and she had a spark in her soul that could heat up any room she found herself in during her time at our hospital.

In particular, I appreciated her fierce love of Bob Marley and the Jamaican flag which decorated her room. One day near the end of her life, I entered to find her choosing just the right shade of magenta that she and her nurse planned to dye her hair that weekend. Although she died a year and a few months ago, her presence continues to permeate my work.

Grandma Caroline, ©2006 H. Hunter, SoulCollage®
This morning, in honor of Thanksgiving, I decided to excavate my bedside reading collection. In the pile, I found a sheaf of typewritten letters from my grandmother Caroline. She died at the age of 33 in 1938, years before I was born. I happened to turn to a letter I hadn't yet read, dated a few weeks before the Thanksgiving of 1937. At that time, she was for the most part, confined to her bed with the cancer that took her life. In this letter, she shares with her sister Leah her delight and humor over a Friday night Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) dinner:

Friday night we had such dandy broiled white bass for supper how I wished you could share it with broccoli with drawn butter and lemon sauce. As if that were'nt enough fish in came Maurice with a jar of Gafilta fish. Of course I raved and raved about it, but it was so white and flat tasting. Maurice said see it was made with frozen haddock and you could'nt tell the difference. But I did'nt say so but just raved about it. Your really need fresh fish to make a jelly like stock to cook the balls in. You can't tamper with that good old fashioned gafilta recipe. (The underlinings are all hers.)

I love her exuberance and her kindness. And, while I have never liked gefilte fish, her excitement over good food helps me understand my own global enthusiasm for food and I am grateful that she lives on in me through our shared devotion to food, words and family.

Last, but not least, to see a video clip from an interview NBC Today show host, Matt Lauer did at St. Jude's Hospital this Monday, click here

You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What You Bring Forth

What You Bring Forth, ©1999, H. Hunter, Mixed Media
"Honey, why is it that your memory is so good about unpleasant topics?" my husband asked me this morning. He was speaking about our upcoming biweekly housecleaning, but I think that my habit could be an occupational hazard, the cost of doing business so to speak.

This week however, began with a very pleasant ending, the last meeting of our 8 week Young Adult Bereavement Art Group. I've come to love the kids in the group. Although I stop short of wanting to adopt them all, in the process of following their stories I came to care for them immensely.

My co-facilitator and I sat at the table with group members as they worked on their last project; a memory box. He had inherited a file cabinet filled with wooden boxes similar to a cigar box and they seemed to suggest the perfect container for memories. I was thinking of the traditional art therapy "inside/outside box" where you can put the feelings you share with others on the outside of the box and the feelings you hold close to yourself on the inside. I also thought the boxes could become altars, or, simply a decorated box in which they could place objects reminding them of their loved ones.

Of course the kids surprised me with their own ideas-blew me out of the water in fact. As I sat there observing them, an idea occurred to me: I could take my i-phone and shoot process pictures. I had all their consent forms and if I shot below their faces I could capture some of the magic that was taking place in front of me.

I made my rounds about the table and and saw a confluence of images that I could not have anticipated. One young woman had written "wash away 2010" Another had a found a picture of a heart formed by the thumbs and forefingers of two hands coming together (try that yourself!). Yet another person had glued the traditional "corners" used to hold photographs in an album, back in the days when you would glue these tiny corners in an album and hope that you'd done it right so you could easily slip in the photograph.

I wondered whether this young man would be adding any of his photographs that he'd found of his mother. This would be progress indeed because several weeks before he told us he had them in a box, but could not look at them.

As our time together ended, we went around the table, each sharing a word that expressed our feeling of the moment. I heard words like "blessed",  "understood" and "comforted"--and when they left, they asked us about the reunion in the spring. Unthinkable that two years ago at this time, we were putting together figures and ideas, hoping to get a grant. Today, I am immensely grateful for these young people who have shared their lives with us and for the support of our hospital and hospice, the UC Davis Children's Hospital and the UC Davis Hospice.

Friday, November 5, 2010

ATx á la carte speaks to this heart

A Flock of Hands
What happens when you put hundreds of art therapists together in a convention center? I found out when the American Art Therapy Association convened their annual meeting this week in Sacramento. I'd been wondering what it would be like to enter a space filled with people who believe that making images and guiding others in the creation of images is a sacred, healing and deeply passionate practice.

One among the flock of hands
Riding up an escalator, I discovered a flock of hands covering vast areas of the lobby. Winding my way through, I found this one, whose message channeled the words of a 12th century saint, Julian of Norwich:"And all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Filled with anticipation, I landed in a room in which several therapists were discussing grief and loss, my sphere of interest.

Elizabeth Stone, an art therapist who lives in France, works with cancer patients. Her presentation told the poignant story of a mother who had died of cancer and her daughter, who was grieving the loss of her mother. While showing us a series of images of both the mother and the daughter's artwork, she described the healing of wounds that reached back through 3 generations.
Art That Speaks, An Exhibition of Art Therapy in Oncology

Following her talk, another panelist noted: "You broke all the right rules." (Elizabeth had made several unconventional decisions in her treatment.)

Breaking the rules became my own theme for the conference. When I'm engaging in art therapy,  I often find myself of two minds. One part of me is working from the "rules;" the theories and philosophies one studies in school. By the book, as it were.  At the same time, the intuitive part of me is receiving ideas and images of what to do next in the session. Over the years, I've learned to weigh what I call my right and left brain options and then go with my gut. Some part of me knows then to trust my heart over the rules and understands that it is more important to nurture the relationship, whatever that is at the moment, than to stick by the book. Nevertheless, I've always been a bit embarrassed about advertising this because I work in an academic institution.

But today I let go of my qualms. A well known art therapist, Linda Chapman, got up and gave a talk on neurobiology in the clinical setting. After explaining the way that the brain receives and processes information, she told us about the case of a violent young man she had as a client. She described her process of "receiving images" as she worked with this teen. During the sessions, she found herself doing a number of unconventional things, including playing peek-a-boo with him. (Part of her developmental repairative work.) Many were amazed and stunned and I walked out of the session feeling validated for my sometimes out of the ordinary approach.

Break the Rules, 9" x 12," ©2010, Hannah Hunter
It's easy to get overloaded with all the "clini-speak" and I was. Fortunately, for we art therapists at a conference, there's a solution: an entire part of an exhibition hall devoted to art making. I headed down there and made this collage.

This week, I heard the first verse of a poem by Galway Kinnell, which speaks of this necessity:

St Francis and the Sow
The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing...

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Paradoxical Experience

Writing a blog can be a paradoxical experience. On the one hand, you feel a bit like someone's watching you dress in front of a mirror, and on the other hand, you are by yourself (in your studio, office, cafe, fill in the blank...) and no none, even if they are sitting at the table next to you, can see what you're writing.

I'm often reluctant to write about process, because I'm superstitious. Superstitious. As if I write about art before it's made, it will be jinxed, or or more accurately, I'll feel bound to carry out what I said, rather than follow the ideas that come to me in the moment.

I'm breaking with that belief, because I'm playing with an idea. After listening to some of my friends talk about their grandchildren, I've begun to feel a sense of longing for my own grandchild, similar to what I felt when my friends began to have children some twenty years ago. The fact is though (much to my delight) my two kids in their early twenties show no signs of settling down and creating grandchildren anytime soon. 

I've decided instead to create a piece for an imaginary grandchild, someone yet unborn, someone who in fact may never be born. (I told this to my daughter Lizzie last night and she wrinkled up her face as if to say, "Are you kidding Mom? That's just weird.") Weird or not, I'm pursuing it.

A Young Hannah, Age 1
I've been collecting fabrics; my daughter's old organdy curtain flecked with sequins, some pink polka dot pajama pants (passed on to me when Lizzie got bored with them), and pieces of cloth that are shimmery, and remind me of Lizzie, who's a dancer. Why not my son's castoffs? Honestly, he and I would both agree that polo shirts and wind jackets (he's a golfer) don't make for great quilt material.

Remember Where We Moored the Boats, Jill Ault, River Gallery, Chelsea MI
Jill Ault, Remember Where We Moored the Boats
I began working with the fabrics I'd selected, putting up the organdy curtain on my studio wall, sewing quilted squares, and tacking them on, only to discover when I stepped back, that I'd left my own tastes out of the equation. I thought of an Aikido class I'd taken many years ago from  Wendy Palmer, who helps people examine their lives from a variety of different perspectives using Aikido. She says that Aikido, a martial art, "is the perfect structure in which to learn how build powerful connections...and live life with an open heart." She also spoke frequently about the moment when you grasp your opponent's hand and how that moment becomes a blending of energies--"feel the blend and move from that point" she would say.

"Feel the blend." These words spoke to me. How could I blend my energy, the energies of my children and someone imaginary? I discovered an answer when I found the work of artist, Jill Ault. Ethereal and otherworldly, her work seemed to suggest the presence of something beyond what we can see with our eyes. It reminded me of the obvious: to trust the art making process, to return to my own intuitive way of cutting, painting, pasting and connecting all the pieces. To create connections between myself and others beyond what I can see on the surface, the invisible openings of the hearts and minds. Stay posted.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Healer, Heal Thyself

Mask for a Young Person, ©2005, H. Hunter

I was determined to try and make this week's post about something other than the bereavement group but I underestimated the power of the group to affect me. I thought I'd learned how to leave the group behind me when it was over for the evening, ready to absorb myself in whatever awaited me next. We're such forgetful creatures, we humans.

Forgetful perhaps, but I think something else is at work here. The longer one does this work, the more one tunes in. You learn when to speak, when to wait in silence, when to make eye contact, and when to lay down your tools and acknowledge the force of the wave crashing over you.

This week we made clay grief masks. I love introducing this process. We pound the clay, tear it to bits, reassemble it and poke holes in it. By this time, I'm sure you've guessed we're not following the orthodox method of kneading clay to remove the air bubbles. No matter. People love it. Permission to pound the clay to bits has had tables absolutely vibrating.

Watching their faces last night as they worked affected me deeply;  eye sockets became deeper,  eyebrows arched higher and tears were etched into the clay.

The next day I had a headache of monster proportions. "What's up with this?" I wondered,  checking off my mental "self care" list: eating--check, sleeping--check, exercising--yeah. Nevertheless, cracking a smile seemed like just that. An impossibility.

Halfway into the day, I felt tears stinging my eyes. I sought the refuge of my office and called my husband, wondering between snuffles what was wrong with me. After some probing, oh yeah, the group. That little thing about being gentle, going easy with myself. Permission to cry was what I needed and what I received.

But that was only half of the equation. Today in art group, I found the other half. As we sketched large ghosts on white paper with oil pastels, we drew small things inside the ghosts that move us or scare us. Besides bright purple pigtails, my own ghost had a broken heart and dragged a long set of chains. As heavy as the chains appeared, their acknowledgment lightened my load considerably. Putting the burden of that grief that I was carrying onto paper, gave me comfort in a way I often espouse though perhaps too rarely allow myself to experience.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mapping the Trail of Grief

After the Fall, H.Hunter ©2007
Last night was the third meeting of our young adult bereavement group. It's an evening where we spend time thinking, talking and drawing out how grief manifests in our bodies. It is one of the most fascinating and potentially powerful nights of the group.

It's typical after the death of someone you love to experience a variety of physical symptoms; lethargy, stomach aches, headaches, exhaustion, lack of appetite, sleeplessness, the list goes on. For me, a particularly powerful moment is when I pass out a list of words, "feeling words", we call them and I ask group members to circle all the words that apply for them at the time. I caution them that many of the feelings may be contradictory and that's o.k.

This circling of the words is a cognitive exercise--it's not too hard, the words are provided, they just have to circle them. Then we take it a step further. I ask them to mark the 4 or 5 strongest feelings. That takes some consideration, but it's somewhat of a relief to circle them. Putting words to feelings makes them more concrete, less nebulous.  I take it one step deeper then, handing them a page with an body outline drawn on it, asking them to chose a color to correspond with each of the feelings--as if they were making the key of a map. Here's where it picks up emotional speed.

After people have selected colors for their feelings, I begin to explain what a metaphor is and how we can use symbols to express feelings. Everyone knows about butterflies in the stomach, how a headache can feel like a hammer and how a heart can be broken. With these simple suggestions, the group takes off.

I never cease to be amazed by the variety of symbols that people come up with; locks on mouths, fire streaming red and hot from out of a pair of hands, gray clouds that encompass the whole body. I become silent in the face of these symbols, which open up doors soundlessly so that people can speak about their grief in a way that would not otherwise be possible.

I have a tendency to want to talk and help. Drawing does the work instead.

"The body weeps the tears the eyes refuse to shed." William Osler

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Quilt Road or, Taking the Long Way 'Round

Untitled (as of yet), ©2010, Hannah Hunter, Collage
 I'm setting out on a year long journey. In November of 2011, I'll be participating in a group art quilt exhibit at the Davis Art Center along with seven other wonderful women artists and quilters. It's been awhile since I've been part of a group exhibit in which there is such a long lead time. While short notice provides the challenge of creating under a deadline, this longer advance notice affords an opportunity for a luxurious thought process.

My first reaction to being invited was me, "Me? I know how to quilt, but I've never been one for large scale pieces." One of the seven other quilters, Diana Connolly, creates lively geometric works and doubles as an ER social worker at our hospital. She's used to much tougher cases than my soft skepticism. When I voiced my doubts, she looked at me with an expression which could only mean something like: "Get over it and get on with it!"

So I have, backing into it in my own way. I'm connecting 12" x 12" Ampersand panels (which happen to have gone on sale today at Daniel Smith) and creating large collage pieces with allover patterning and funky quilted borders (I'm having fun stitching together border pieces which play on the idea of the traditional quilt border).  Quilts often tell stories and one of the works in process is an homage to a patient, whom I became close to before she died last year. I spent a lot of time learning her family history, a classic story of immigration from the Far East to America. 


         Composition V11, Deidre Adams, ©2007, Cotton fabrics, rayon and polyester thread, acrylic paint

I also decided to immerse myself in another way. Opening tomorrow at the Pence Gallery in Davis, Ca is a fabulous show entitled: 12 Voices, a collection of art quilts traveling the country and organized by the Studio Art Quilter's Associates. I volunteered to lead some docent tours so that I could learn about the quilts in detail. What a great decision! I was treated to a tour by Pence director, Natalie Nelson, and found my way into pieces that would have remained strangers, without her well informed descriptions of process and extensive information about the artists.


 Truth and Fiction, Joan Schulz ©2008, (48" x 98") Glue transfer process. Pieced, machine quilted

Over the next year, I'll be writing posts about my progress with my "quilts", their inspirations and mediums as well as descriptions of the artists' work (sneak peeks from our monthly meetings...) Hopefully, in the process, we'll be able to engage in a dialogue celebrating creativity of all kinds.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Walking into Autumn

The Visitor, ©2005, Hannah Hunter, SoulCollage®, 8" x 5"

It's Fall again. The students have flowed into our town like salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Its 99 degrees and rising. I drive downtown in search of a icey treat. The frozen yogurt shops have lines streaming backwards all the way to the "tart original." In order to slake my hunger, I grab a couple of the tiny pleated paper cups, fill them up with pecan praline and french vanilla and slurp. 

I'm preparing myself. The next day is the beginning of a group that I help to facilitate each fall and winter, our hospital's "Young Adult Bereavement Group." Tucked into that title and invisible to all except myself and the other facilitator is the word "art." 

When we first conceived of this group back in 2008, we wanted to create a space for people who didn't quite fit into a childrens' bereavement group, nor on the other hand, in an adult group. 

Because the alternating need for privacy and sharing in this age group, 17 to 24, switches on and off like a strobe light, art bridges the gap--literally between silence and speech and figuratively, between childhood and adulthood. 

I approach the group with caution, knowing that for the next 8 weeks, I'm immersing myself in the multiple worlds of these losses--attending to nuances so subtle that they could easily pass unnoticed. It's a prolonged meditation on attachment and the slow, inevitable letting go.

It's exactly this sort of attention to detail, as if we were all creating an exquisite painting, that allows me to follow the thread of each individual story, pulling here, tweaking there, hoping that in some way, the unfolding of their stories slowly, almost imperceptibly, leads to healing. The process reminds me of a biblical quote that I read many years ago in a yoga publication, "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

These words conjure in a haunting way, the reality of loss--that as we make our way through--or perhaps more accurately, fumble our way through, we can only cling to something we cannot see--the hope that there is something on the other side of loss. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stitched Identities

Self-Portrait Praying #1
©2008, Jane Zweibel
Oil on sewn and stuffed canvas
40 x 24 x 12
The other week, I received an e-mail with a subject line that was strange to me: "B & B blog tour." A bed and breakfast tour on blogs? I was tempted to delete it right away, but somehow, the name of the person sending the note rang a bell: Kesha Bruce.

As a somewhat suspicious person, I'm inclined to ditch things first and get curious later, but in this case, I'm glad I didn't. It turned out that Kesha, a young artist living in New York City, was organizing a rather unusual series of artist exhibitions and she wanted to know if I'd write something about the artist.

"I don’t if you’ve stopped by my blog lately, but if so, you already know that I’m working on a really exciting project called Baang and Burne Contemporary We’re hosting a series of one-night-only art events where, unlike at a traditional art gallery opening, artists, art collectors, and members of our mailing list are invited to attend a small intimate exhibition event in a private home or a hotel suite. We have events planned for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Portland."

Self-Portrait Praying #2
©2008, Jane Zweibel
Oil on sewn and stuffed canvas
40 x 28 x 12”
"Small and intimate," that got my interest. Now to check out the artist--Stitched Identities by Jane Zweibel is the first in a series of Baang and Burne’s one-night-only art events.

Zweibel's "stuffed paintings" are sewn, stuffed, and lusciously painted sculptural objects that challenge and blur the boundaries of sculpture and painting. The resulting soft sculptures allude to childhood stuffed animals and dolls, while suggesting cartoon figures, spiritual icons, and effigies.

When I looked at Jane's work, I was struck by the strength of the painting countered by the fragility of the pillow form. (How many pillows have you  seen coming unstitched at the edges?) My second sensation was that of discomfort--if I were to lie upon these stuffed sculptures, the surface would be hard, repelling.

Jane speaks to this, saying "these pieces are paradoxical, in that they both invite and repel touch...My hybrid personas embody the conflicts, losses and connections between childhood and adult lives."

Self-Portrait Praying #3
©2008, Jane Zweibel
Oil on sewn and stuffed canvas
48 x 26 x12

Zweibel's work appears to point to harsh and painful truths that we are faced with in urban life; abandoned, decaying buildings (which we can guess house similarly forgotten people) right next to beautifully painted spring flowers, alluding perhaps to flowers planted in a thriving suburb outside of the city where services are alive and tended to--or perhaps an allusion to spring and hope and all that flowers springing up out of the ground suggest.

I was fascinated to find as I read Jane's interview to find out that she works as an creative arts therapist.

"The materials and concepts I develop in my studio transforms into what I do with my clients as an art therapist. Conversely, my creative process is strongly influenced by my work as a mental health professional."

Her work suggests a direction that promises the flowers of hope that she depicts in her paintings; the blending of art and healing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An assemblage of diverse elements

I've been thinking about what it means to create a collage; to take papers, cloth, diverse scraps from the mind's eye and bring them all together in order to create something new and heretofore undiscovered. In other words, to create new territory where there was none.

During this time, I've been listening to Divisidero, by Michael Ondaatje, in the studio and as I drive to work. The novel is a pastiche of exquisitely drawn characters, connected to each other in inextricable but mysterious ways. He uses the metaphor of collage to describe their connections:

"Everything is collage, even genetics. There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross."

It makes sense to me, this notion. As I make my way across the collage I'm working on, I encounter shadows of several patients I've worked with,  a memory of filtered autumn light through studio windows and my earnest musing about appropriate titles. The name of a former piece echoes through several years, to me, this Virgo and I glue layer after layer of myself and my history onto a large and heavy panel. I listen to Ondaatje's words:

"Only the rereading counts, Nabokov said...For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the occurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell. "

What a pleasure it is to be back in the studio again, cutting and pasting cloth and words.

Friday, September 3, 2010

When Finger Painting Becomes a Rorschach Blot

Trace monoprint, ©2010, Hannah Hunter
Sometimes, you just know it's time for a break. I'd been planning to take some time off when suddenly, the vortex of life began to whirl around me.

A child on our hospital floor who had been hanging on to life for months, died. My son, who'd appeared to be settled nearby, seized an opportunity and drove off to Florida to pursue his career. With characteristic decisiveness, he totally relocated his life within three days.

It all left me a bit breathless and teary. Sad for the patient, happy for my son, sad because after a great run of years, my active role as a mom is coming to a close.

As I stared down at a finger painting I'd done in our pediatric art group, I saw the proverbial writing on the wall. Time for a change. Time for a break.

Time to pick the figs off our tree and dry them, appreciating the slowness of time passing when it's not being calibrated by a Kronos time clock.

figs ready to dry
Time to enjoy these early days of fall with a book in my lap instead of a keyboard beneath my fingers.

 What I'm going to read

Time, most of all, to discover where my intuition has been hiding.  

For much of my life I've operated from that "still small voice within." Working in a hospital run on a 24 hour clock, punctuated by electronic medical record keeping, tends to dull that inner voice over time.

Dream time--quiet time--is exactly what I plan to give myself during the next 10 days. I want to see if by taking some time to listen, I can find that hidden voice.

Last night I dreamed of ocean waves crashing in the distance while I floated in nearby still waters, gray pebbles beneath me and the beach just a short distance away.

I'll be taking a break from my blog for the next week and look forward to checking in with all of you very soon, renewed and refreshed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

10 Things to Love at a Gallery

Object would Not Stand Still, detail, HKH ©2010
I was taken with this recent review of Lessons from Things in our newspaper, the Davis Enterprise and asked Melissa Hiatt, the author, if I could repost it for you to enjoy. It's not every art review that includes lines from William Blake together with a pancake spatula! I was grateful for her comment about my work, and, I think you'll get a kick out of the metaphors she uses to introduce the show.
I also included photographs of pieces I love, but were not included in the review.

By Melissa Hiatt
Enterprise art critic
August 19, 2010

The little things can really get under your skin: the gummed-up, crusted-over toothpaste that slowly oozed out of its hole in a desperate attempt to reach for its lid; the milk left out on the counter, which clearly establishes a horridly sour smell ... and the simple fact that another trip to the market will be necessary, in order to facilitate morning coffee and continued existence.

Underwater Drama, Marcia Cary ©2007
They say that we shouldn't sweat the small stuff.

I think they might be wrong.

Just who are 'they' anyway ... and what do they want?                  

Who would knowingly prescribe 'failure to pay attention' as a life philosophy? After all, a great deal of spiritual counseling advises noticing all things.

Entire practices can be devoted to the art of present observation.

Shell, Sara Post ©2010
And there's William Blake, and this passage from Auguries of
Innocence, which says it all:

To see the world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Everyday, ordinary things cannot only be transformative; they are, by their very nature, formative. The things we use daily offer cadence to our movements, rhythm to our methods.

Imagine flipping pancakes without a spatula.

Code, Tomas Post ©2010
While this last reflection might be received with a tone of triteness, rest assured, that isn't my intention. Pancakes are covetable and highly prized in our house.

Little things can become so much a part of our lives that we fail to notice their significance: whether they serve to annoy, dole out convenience, or provide the placebo of peace of mind.

Artist and curator Sara Post is determined that we stand up and take note. This month's Davis Art Center Tsao Gallery exhibit is filled with art centered on everyday things. Post's concept refers to a lost curriculum practice from French primary school, regarding the study of objects: their history, their evolution and their uses.

Dark Freesia 1, StaceyVetter ©2010
'Lessons from Things' houses the works of 16 artists who've approached both natural and manmade objects, and transformed their imagery into works of art through painting, collage, ceramic, printmaking, encaustic, fiber and mixed media.

According to Post, 'this exhibit offers an opportunity to slow down, to focus, to be with and perhaps to add to our understanding and enjoyment of objects that surround us.'

The participating artists are Chris Beer, Marcia Cary, Magdelena Crivelli, Barbara DeWein, Julie Haney, Hannah Hunter, Diana Jahns, Jose Moreno, Sondra Olson, Sara Post, Tom Post, Laura Reyes, Adele Shaw, Alison Smith, Stacey Vetter and Stacey White.

Sara Post is a nationally exhibited artist, and she shares a studio with her husband and fellow artist, Tom. While she has one piece in the show, 'Les Animaux d'Ivoire,' which bears her brush and hot wax signature of encaustic, she also shows three companion pieces that are a clear departure.

Jar, Sara Post ©2010
While her work of late has reflected lines fluidly carved out of deep layers of wax, she now brings the form of lines and edges to a flat surface with a collage of pencil, paint, wax and digital prints.

'Jar,' 'Umbrella' and 'Shell' depict these singular objects within a surreal environment and rest them ethereally, without the force of gravity. Their suspension creates both tension and intrigue. By removing the object from a traditional setting, the viewer is forced to consider
it solely on its own.

Jose Moreno's 'Bell' rings from his found object series. Moreno sees 'the object as a tool for expanding one's understanding of surface and light.' His tremendous skill shines through. Moreno's definitive realism
is imbued with a rich, warm light and tender sense of antiquity.

Coffee Container, Jose Moreno ©2010
His works are a singularly dramatic highlight. The juxtaposition of 'Coffee Container' with 'Praying Figurine' and 'Toy Dog' works seamlessly to inspire reverence for Moreno and his choices.

The list of things to love is long. Christopher Beer's pill-popping pieces are both witty and intriguing. Hannah Klaus Hunter's collages
consistently radiate a vitality and evolution that are intensely emotional. Julie Haney's 'Pie Spatulas' are a surprising favorite. Her choice of monotype led to an extraordinary representation, wherein the
purpose of the object fades completely when faced with its design.

The message is clear: It's time to consider the things we so often dismiss.

Lessons from Things, on view at the Tsao Gallery in the Davis Art Center through September 3rd.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Elul, Or, "Back to Our Senses"

Identity Seeker, H.Hunter ©2000
It's that time of year again, the month of Elul. In the Jewish calendar, Elul is the month that comes before Rosh Hoshanah, the Jewish New Year. During Elul, a shofar (an elegantly shaped ram's horn) is blown in synagogues all around the world  announcing the beginning of this time. Its otherworldly sound is said to call us back to our senses--in other words, it's a wake up call.

These next 40 days through Yom Kippur are the season of t'shuvah (or return), of returning to our essential selves by fearlessly examining our lives and choices. In the Jewish mystical tradition, the senses are the gateways to the soul.

...How better to begin the practice of t'shuvah than to mindfully observe our responses to the input of our senses: noticing the bombarding array of sights, sounds, fragrances, touches and thoughts, discerning which ones to attend to and consciously choosing our reactions.  --Rabbi SaraLeya Schley

My approach to practicing Judaism is a spiritual one. I spent many years as an active seeker and my road to Judaism, the religion of my father's family, took me on a journey not unlike that in the movie, Eat, Pray, Love.
Flood, H. Hunter, ©2009

When one takes a roundabout route, it inspires questioning and re-examining everything, which is exactly what Elul is all about. This time of soul searching coincides (in this hemisphere) with the end of summer,  harvest time, when we gather in the yield of all that we've sown and tended over the previous year; whether it is plants in the garden (harvest that basil girl!) or the relationships in our lives, our work or art that we've created. 

Most of my reflections have to do with being an artist. I'm sitting here in the studio of my good friend, Linda Clark Johnson. It's a friendship that's come to fruition over the last year after taking Alyson Stanfield's Blastoff class. After that class, I got out of my studio more often and got to know other artists- meeting for coffee, doing trades, talking about work and exhibits. It is a rich and ongoing process.

Also as result of Alyson's classes (I took both the Blastoff and the Blog class), I've nurtured a regular partnership with an artist in Florida, Beth Rommel, a mutual support system made possible by a handy combo of e-mail, internet and good old fashioned phone talks. We've seen each other through good shows and bad shows, as well as times, also good and bad.

Many Chambered House, H. Hunter, ©2004
A special gift is my blog and my blog friendships with all of you. I've been introduced to artists from around the world and seen a variety of work I could previously only dream of, not to mention having actual conversations with some of you. It's all very exciting to me, a person, who as a five year-old, could not walk across a school stage without bursting into tears of anxiety.

When I began this post, I thought that I was going to write about the process of self-inquiry, looking at where I'd missed the mark. But I do that every day of my life and maybe there is a wider definition for this time of t'shuvah. Perhaps a more generous approach is to appreciate how we did it right, where we were right on target.

The other day in art group I had just one patient, a young boy wearing a leg cast up to his hip. He could move, but just barely. We created a target a la Jasper Johns, with many different, colored concentric circles. Once finished, we put the target on the wall, blindfolded him with a bright bandanna and played "hit the target." The first go around, he missed, placing all the arrows on the outer perimeter. On the second try, he touched the center two out of three times. It strikes me that most of the time, we get second chances to get it right. This is the season to try again...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Plant Dreaming Deep"

"Plant Dreaming Deep" is the title of a journal by the poet, May Sarton. In it, she details her restoration of a house in New Hampshire where she began planting what turned out to be a series of spectacular gardens.

I read over the lists of flowers and trees she chose, my lips moving silently, as if I was reading over a mouth watering menu. When I first read Plant Dreaming Deep many years ago, it was my safe place to go, my retreat when it seemed like the critiques and sharp barbs of graduate school threatened to tip over my craft.

I'm closer now to May's age when she began her journal and I've turned my mind to a dream of my own planted those many years ago; botanical drawing.

I'd heard of botanical illustration and wanted to take a class, but never did. 30 years later, flipping through our art center catalogue, I read a description for a botanical drawing class. It noted that  "The emphasis will be on careful observation of our subjects with a playful, open-minded approach."

The words playful and joyful hooked me (because who doesn't need more of that?) and I arrived at the first class, my DeYoung tote bag filled with bright and shiny art supplies including sumi ink brushes, bamboo pens, waterproof black ink and a thick black bound journal of creamy watercolor paper.

Our first class began with a blind contour drawing of a flower--a multi-floral rose. Now you need to know that drawing is not my strongest suit. I studied it, took classes in it, but its finer points have always eluded me.

Stacey, my friend and instructor, advised us that we should approach the flower as if we were taking a trip with our pencil, curious about each bend in the road. I gulped, began--and loved it.

Stacey emphasized the practice of non-attachment to the results, straight out of Yoga and Buddhism. I could relate to this. I found my pencil slowly wandering along the petals, getting lost in the contours and subtle serrations of the leaves.

I was surprised how quickly the time passed and surprised too by the result, the wavering lines which overlapped and crossed each other, nonetheless conveying the feeling of a rose.

As my pencil continued to explore, I felt extremely relaxed and peaceful, a kind of peacefulness I hadn't experienced for some time and to which I connect the feeling of meditating. Meditation--one of those activities that I know is "good for me" but is hard to get to. The way my mind can spin! But with this drawing, there was none of that, no swirl of thoughts that accompanied my sitting meditations.

Could it be that I had found my own form of meditation? I'll find out as the class continues, but for now I'm resting my mind in the luxurious feeling of my sumi brush as I slowly brush the ink onto the paper. I've found a retreat. And I think I'm going to go back and reread Plant Dreaming Deep.

Happy the man who can long roaming reap,
Like old Ulysses when he shaped his course
Homeward at last toward the native source,
Seasoned and stretched to plant his dreaming deep.

-May Sarton, after Du Bellay