April 29, 2003

High Art Could Be Just Around the Corner

Filed under: Art and About Me — admin @ 4:31 pm

I don’t come from a museum-going family. My husband and I were in London a couple of years ago within months of the opening of the New Tate, or as it is formally know, Tate Modern, Britain’s new national museum of modern art. We didn’t go in. Matt and I stood outside the funky former Bankside Power Station transformed into Tate Modern by the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architects Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron. We even made a few steps toward the entrance. But we knew that we would be much more emotionally and spiritually satisfied if we headed back to the West End to squeeze in another theater experience.

This information sends people reeling, and I am the object of a particularly horrific glare from those who know I am an arts reporter. For me to visit a great city without entering its great museums is not unusual. I have found this is not a fact people take lightly and so usually I downplay it. My poor sister-in-law keeps planning excursions to the Art Institute of Chicago when we visit and I keep coming up with alternative activities.

The truth is, I see a lot of art on my job, and much of it I really enjoy viewing. I’m not compelled to see the work of the masters. I have been to the Louvre, I have been to Florence. Intellectually, I appreciate the work but I have yet to get chills like I do from the downbeat of “Les Misérables.”

Our Lamorinda artists have expressed a recurring sentiment to me since I have been covering the arts for the Sun. They feel patrons don’t take the time to view local art and instead go rushing over to San Francisco, or across the world, to see the big names. It’s the opposite problem from mine.

In Lamorinda, the work of local artists is everywhere — in coffee shops, doctors’ offices, banks, storefronts. Moraga and Lafayette each are home to cooperative galleries run by Lamorinda Arts Alliance members. The Gold Coast Chamber Players’ concerts at the Town Hall Theater are often “accompanied” by original works of art. Young students from the Art Room in Lafayette have interpreted the youth theatrical productions at Town Hall. The Orinda Library has a fabulous gallery space dedicated to sharing the work of local artists. Lamorinda has become quite an artsy place. It’s hard not to let it all become scenery.

By the way, I have learned that local artists hate to be called “local” artists. They feel there is a stigma attached to the term that immediately causes people to regard their art as provincial, the product of a pastime, or at best, quaint, but certainly not anything one would see in a real gallery.

I have done compositional acrobatics worthy of Cirque du Soleil in order to avoid using the adjective “local” in my stories on Lamorinda artists so as not to perpetuate the stereotype. If you’re one of those people who brings a prejudice to the term, get over it. “Local,” in a community newspaper means they are from Lamorinda. We can claim them. They share the same good taste we do in their decision where to reside. We share the same air, we frequent the same shops. Perhaps something we said or did influenced them to create art because we happened to be in close proximity. We should feel honored that their souls receive creative nutrients right here, and that they haven’t chosen to share the gift of their existence with another community. I believe one of the reasons Lamorinda is a desirable area to live is that the ratio of artists who live among us is high. It is not a statistic that shows up in real estate reports, but I do believe it is an intangible that matters.

For whatever reason, Lamorinda isn’t referred to as an “artsy community” like Benicia or Greenwich Village. Don’t let the lack of moniker fool you. We do have a number of national and internationally recognized artists who live within our borders. Their artistic credentials come across my desk all the time. If you are a true art lover, you probably understand the prestige of some of their awards and publications better than I do.

If you don’t study art to that extent, then consider that such accolades shouldn’t matter. I once read a definition of art that said it is anything that causes you to think, feel or act differently. This definition agrees with my belief that we can encounter art any place, at any time, including around the corner from our very own homes. You hold the only opinion that matters, not some gallery owner in San Francisco, or the curator at the New Tate.

If you support the visual arts through your time, your wallet or even occasionally with a passing glance followed by a few profound synapses, consider taking another look at “local art.”

April 14, 2003

Big Brother Gives New Sister an Artistic Welcome

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 2:33 pm

A new baby arrived at our house earlier this month. That means Tyrian, our two-year-old, is now a big brother.

From the moment we found out I was pregnant, my husband and I kept Tyrian in the loop about the baby, telling him about my doctor appointments, showing him ultrasound pictures, and having him help set up the baby’s room. But we wanted Tyrian to have a chance to do something really special to help prepare for our new family member.

Both my husband and I are first-borns in our families, and we are particularly sensitive to how our little addition is going to change the world as Tyrian knows it. Although neither Matt nor I consciously remember the moment we were dethroned by our siblings, both of us are positive it was a life-changing experience that helped shape who we are today. Neither of us would trade our birth position, and we want to show Tyrian how special it is to be the oldest.

As usual, I turned to the arts for answers. I had an idea that Tyrian and I could paint a unique work of art for the baby’s room. The inspiration came from a mixture of nostalgia and practicality. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I still have the dresser my parents bought for me when I was a tot. It was an inexpensive purchase that Mom never intended for me to keep 30 years. But hey, the drawers are a perfect size to hold a large portion of my wardrobe, and why should I have to learn to fit my clothes into a new furniture unit when this one has served me so well? However, the dresser has been looking a little tired and outdated lately, and never matched the furniture I share with my husband. So recently, I decided to replace my dresser with a piece I inherited from my grandmother, and my old dresser was put into service as extra storage in an unused room.

Then I thought about how all those home decorating shows and magazines encourage us to buy furniture at thrift stores, flea markets and consignment shops and give them new life with a coat of paint. Tyrian and I love to paint, and what greater gift could he give his sibling than original art?

I decided that the body of the dresser would be white, and Tyrian would custom decorate the drawer fronts. Without Tyrian’s “help,” I covered up the vintage 1970s walnut stain with three coats of a nice, warm-tone white latex paint. Then I set the six drawers on some newspaper on the floor and stood back while Tyrian waited for his muse. He always tells me which painting tools he wants to use, and on this day he chose a fat brush, a tiny brush, a small roller and his ten digits. He also opted for all seven basic rainbow colors from the non-toxic finger paints I provided.

At first, the good behavior we have been drilling into Tyrian for two years backfired on me. He refused to paint the furniture. He set to work on the newspaper around the drawers, but was distinctly uncomfortable actually putting paint on the drawer fronts. Once I showed him it was O.K., the creativity started flowing.

I admit, I had a vision for how I hoped the project would turn out, but Tyrian surpassed my expectations. He approached each drawer as an individual canvas, using different colors and techniques on each. On two of the drawers, he insisted on using crayon as well as paint. On one crayon drawer, he drew squiggles and then as not to obscure them, he went over the red and green crayon with yellow paint. Quite minimalist. On the other crayon drawer, he mirrored the squiggle marks on the right side of the drawer with some finger-painted squiggles on the left. One drawer has only brush work, while two are primarily done with the roller. The last drawer is a combination of brush and roller, with a Tyrian hand print right in the center as his “signature.”

When Tyrian was done, which he announced by declaring it was time for a bath (and trust me, it was), I let the paint dry for a couple of days and then went over the entire dresser with two coats of a non-toxic varnish. Once I reassembled the dresser in the baby’s room, I got tears in my eyes as I stood back to observe the masterpiece.

The drawers had looked great individually, but collectively, the effect is stunningly whimsical, colorful and beautiful. I brought Tyrian into the room to see what he had made, and it took him a moment to realize what he was looking at. I knew he had made the connection when a huge smile curled the corners of his lips. He calls it the “baby’s dresser” and hasn’t made any efforts to use it for himself, so I think he might have a sense of the gift he has made. But I know it will be several years before he realizes the true gift he is sharing with his little sister. A part of Tyrian’s creative soul will live in Allyndreth’s room to greet her each morning and comfort her every night.