The art of escape

My memory of the relentless winter of 2018 will be that it continued on and on, vengefully adding that one little ice storm the second week of April. However, I was on a countdown to leaving for a week-long escape to Mexico. The weather may have been hard to ignore but I was dreaming of not being weighed down by layers of coats and sweaters and feeling the sun on my skin.

My husband Scott and I have been traveling to Mexico since 1992, which means 26 years of exploring the interior through public transportation such as bus, collectivo, and train. We will never forget that first trip when we took the train through the states of Michoacán and Leon, stopping in Morelia, Patzcuaro, and Guanajuato, then traveling back to Mexico City where we caught the train to Oaxaca, meeting lifelong friends Robert Forman and Robin Schwartz. There are so many stories about these years of travel and changes within Mexico, such as the discontinued train service and increased flights to outlying regions, but I’m getting caught up in the past – what I am writing about today is escaping to a place that is filled with art and communities that engage with art that focus on enjoying a good life.

This time, we had initially planned a trip to Mexico City, but hearing that our friends Rick and Oscar had never been to Oaxaca, we all booked an extra flight to Oaxaca to share travel experiences of Oaxaca.

When I remember our travels, the best discoveries, most delicious food, and stunning art comes to mind. However, I am no romantic. I also remember the difficulties and challenges, like navigating one of the largest airports in the world with poor directional signage. Departing from Mexico City that morning, there were several lines filled with epic switchbacks of humanity pushing huge, bulging suitcases. We made our way into the right line creeping along for 40 minutes and just as we made our way to the fourth set of switchbacks into the bag check area, we were pulled from the line by an airline employee announcing, Oaxaca! As the lines re-organized themselves into those traveling to Oaxaca and those going elsewhere, we realized another 30 minutes had passed and the boarding time was 30 minutes away. No worries, we thought, all we have to do is check this suitcase and go through security.

After checking the suitcase, we were told to go through the security line directly next to us – we were stunned to see the line snaking down to the end of the terminal. We gamely walked to the end of the line when we heard a shout, “Oaxaca” and an airline employee ran up the ramp leading 25 persons at a brisk trot. We ran after them for around ten minutes and saw that we had been led to the International boarding security gate with fewer people in line. We made it through security and looked around – all of our fellow runners for Oaxaca were gone and we now nervously looked for our boarding gate called “T1.”

At the Mexico City airport, all the gates are numbered – we asked airport employees where gate T1 was, they thought there was a language error and checked the reader board – yes, T1. Some of the airport staff pointed in a direction trying to be helpful, others pointed in the opposite direction – we ran and ran, back and forth, and my step tracker recorded over two miles in that terminal. Finally, we found gate T1, upstairs one-half floor next to a pizza franchise – the gate had closed two minutes prior – we had missed our flight.

That was when we discovered there were not many flights to Oaxaca, at least not that day. We could have bought a one-way ticket for four times the price on a major airline, but that didn’t seem like a real option. All of our past travel experience had given us the tools to get to Oaxaca today – we took a taxi to the TAPO bus station and boarded an ADO bus to Oaxaca at 11:00 a.m. The seven and a half hour bus trip seemed somewhat bitter, but we thought at least we’d be in Oaxaca tonight in time for dinner.IMG_20180427_150307.jpg

The ADO Executivo bus service is clean and rather spacious, with reclining seats, restroom, and drop down screens with fascinating movies on them. As we traveled further south from Mexico City, we enjoyed the scenery of the high desert near the area of Tehuacán, seeing Joshua Trees and desert flowers similar to the area of Southern California where we all spent our childhoods.

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Mountains with cactus on the way to Oaxaca.

The final few hours of the bus ride takes you over a windy mountainous road – about 30 minutes into this road our bus driver pulls the bus over, stops and gets out of the bus. Sitting at the back of the bus, I see him open an engine cover and have a discussion with another man – I thought, this can’t be good. The driver gets back on the bus and tells us that the bus cannot go onward due to mechanical difficulties. He will try to contact ADO bus company to have everyone picked up.

One thing I have noticed as a traveler in Mexico is when news like this happens, people may be disappointed, but there is a communal sense that we’ll all get through this just fine. People got up out of their seat and strolled about outside, unpacked snacks, and we admired the moonflower bushes and rock cliffs on the roadside. We watched our bus driver try to scramble up a rock cliff in a valiant attempt to get a signal on his cell phone to make that phone call.

Another thing I have noticed as a traveler in Mexico is that everyone will work together: the bus driver flagged down passing buses and everyone stopped to find out if they could help, take some passengers, or promise to call someone when they got to Oaxaca. The remaining passengers began to diminish as they got seated on each passing bus. After several buses stopped we were finally squeezed into a bus that delivered us to a station in Oaxaca a couple of hours later.

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Thought this looked like an Edvard Munch-inspired face, but it is simply waterdrops when it began to rain.

While this was not the adventure we had planned, we met some new people and had good conversations, like Quetzalcoatl (just call him Quetzal) who is studying to be a medical technologist and was going home for a holiday, or Sara, the young Australian woman traveling to Oaxaca for the first time by herself. When we finally arrived at our lodgings, we felt fortunate and looked forward to dinner that night in Oaxaca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The art of Full Circle – a one-person exhibit

ARTBAR Gallery presented “Full Circle,” a one-person exhibit featuring Laura Gurton’s artworks inspired by the genesis of nature in all forms. The exhibit includes paintings, digital works on paper, reliefs, and sculpture relating to the continued exploration of her series, “Unknown Species.” Gurton focuses her vision on examining nature at the microscopic level using her signature circular forms. The artworks contain the common thread of concentric circular lines and colors that mimic pieces of agate, rings inside of trees, mold and other patterns in nature.

“Full Circle” is a perfect example of the value of a one-person exhibit, allowing viewers an opportunity to fully appreciate the artist’s vision. Gurton’s signature style comes through in all her artwork, echoing naturally occurring shapes that provide the rhythms of existence and life. For instance, Gurton’s paintings from the “Unknown Species” feature shimmering concentric circles with complex colors with organically shaped interiors. As in nature, all designs begin with the genome but manifest themselves in unique forms. These shapes and designs respond to artworks in three dimensions as the artist begins to expand the designs with dimensionality, recently expanding into sculptural objects and paintings.

ENJOY_In Three Dimensions.no.3, 300dpi (1)For instance, in “Three Dimensions, No. 3,” Gurton creates patterns that appear to be floating in space. The shapes have grown off the surface of the painting and could be a pearlescent colony of dwellings in another universe. Looking closer, viewers could see an influence of the traditional Australian Aborigine artwork with patterns of dots. In the “Mandala” series on paper, the artist has selected designs from her works to create a new circular form on paper, and similarly, created new compositions in the “Bits and Pieces” series using sections and details from previous paintings, creating artworks reminiscent of African trade cloth.

Visitors to the show could get lost in the dreamy paintings, some which seem like a vision of another universe. Enjoy_Unknown Species #198, Laura Gurton, 30_ x 60_ Oil. Alkyd, Ink on Linen,3oodpi“Unknown Species, No. 198” could be an unexplored galaxy or a microcosm under a slide. The lavender and blue in the background make the centered design in warm colors pop out of the painting. In “Unknown Species, No. 247,” shades of green, the horizontal composition, and elegant patterning bring to mind Gustav Klimt.Enjoy_Gurton, Unknown Species no. 247, Oil, Alkyd, Ink on Panel 36_ x 48_, 2018, 300DPI (1)

In “Unknown Species, No. 269” Gurton paints a mandala in more somber tones of black, white, and touches of brown, showing her artistic sense goes beyond color. The hypnotic design is painted on a 36” canvas with a larger than life presence. Viewers may have their own interpretation of the image, but the artist commented that she “sees the shapes with their concentric circles as a representative for time itself, displaying their growth like the rings in a tree which comes with age. When they overlap each other, they display the passage of time in layers.”Enjoy_Gurtron, Unknown Species no. 269, 36_ diameter, Oil, Alkyd, Ink on Canvas 300dpi (1)

Ultimately, “Full Circle” demonstrates that Laura Gurton has hit her stride. She continues to enlarge her vision using a highly expressive representation of nature’s beauty and captures the primary essence of these elements.

Full Circle: works by Laura Gurton was on exhibit at ARTBAR Gallery May 5 through May 26, 2018. ARTBAR Gallery is located at 674 Broadway, Kingston, New York

This article appeared originally in the May 4, 2018, Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy! edition. 

Photo Credits: Unknown Species #198, Debra DeGraffenreid, Photographer; Unknown Species #247,  Robert Hansen-Sturm, Storm Photo Inc., Unknown Species #269, Robert Hansen-Sturm, Storm Photo Inc.

 

 

The Art of Sacred Places

Kenro Izu is looking back at a successful photographic career that has spanned more than 40 years and acknowledged that it was a fellowship at the Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) that launched his career. Izu reflected on the opportunity and admitted it wasn’t just the money, but the importance of the professional encouragement of CPW’s founder, Howard Greenberg, and connecting him to opportunities to develop his photographic practice.

During January 2018, Izu displays a selection of his photography series “Sacred Places,” which has been internationally exhibited. The exhibit is up at Aaron Rezny Gallery in Kingston and is organized by CPW, with a portion of sales to benefit the photography center’s programming.

Izu uses a large-format camera favored by 19th-century photographers, stating that, “It captures air and the subtle nuances of tonality in platinum printing.” The 14-inch by 20-inch custom-made camera was purchased with funding he received from an NEA grant in 1984. Despite weighing 300 pounds, the camera has traveled with him during his photographic explorations, creating the platinum palladium contact prints that are included in this exhibit.

The photographer has traveled the world seeking out the places that are sacred to people, including areas of Tibet, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and India. Izu explained that he first traveled to Egypt in the 1970s and discovered he was especially drawn to the stone monuments. This has led to his photographing a number of places most would call the “Seven Wonders of the World,” including Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and Chichén Itzá.

While traveling in Hampi, India, Izu came upon a sight that he captured in “Vijayanager #15.” The elaborate shrine-like structure was built on a massive stone, designating a sacred place reachable by rock climbing. The contrast between the giant rock and the detailed architectural structure is surprising. In another human touch, the base of the stone has been patched to ensure its continued stability.

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Kenro Izu captured “Vijayanager #15” in Hampi, India. 

 

In the image “Kanchipuram #638,” the photographer has placed himself within a sacred space on a pathway with the deity directly ahead. In the shrine’s low interior light, viewers can observe carved stone columns receding into the distance along a pathway alight with devotional fires.

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“Kanchipuram #638,” by Kenro Izu, depicts the interior of a sacred space in India.

 

In “Ladakh #49,” captured in Ramayuru Gompa, India, the photographer uses the light across the mountains to highlight the sacred temple built on a hill surrounded by a small village. Capturing the last light of the day, the spectacular shadows encircle the sacred place in a series of gradations, creating an abstracted composition of darks and lights.

Izu travels to and focuses on a region, becoming familiar with the local customs from there; he awaits inspiration to discover the sacred places. As his travels took him to the far reaches within Cambodia and Laos, he was moved by the children’s dire health conditions. On his return to New York Izu founded a charitable foundation, Friends Without a Border, that built a free pediatric hospital in Cambodia in order to give back to the people who have inspired his photographic journey.


All photos included in this entry are copyright Kenro Izu. More information on the photographer: http://www.kenroizu.com/

Link to the Friends Without a Border foundation: https://fwab.org/

This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal, Friday, January 12, 2018: http://pojonews.co/2EGRY7Z

 

Desert Beauty

Marking the first day of winter, I walked up a Palm Springs trailhead passing by barrel cactus, creosote bushes and rock formations framed against a brilliant blue sky.

Looking over the valley certainly puts a perspective on life equalizing all the political intrigue and petty issues of everyday matters.

I am so thankful that my family led me to another place of incredible desert beauty. The Tahquitz Canyon was a lovely, quiet walk through the desert that ended with a 60-foot waterfall, through rocks and native plants. Home to the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, it is indeed a cultural treasure.

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This is the walking that feeds the soul. Today with one day left in 2017, I am contemplating not only what 2018 will bring, but what I will seek during this new year.

 

The Art of Cooking

Cooking is a creative endeavor – beginning with the selection of foods to prepare. Coming home from the farmer’s market with perfect vegetables, herbs, and fruits is so satisfying.


This means that my kitchen is a sacred space that although simple, it has the basics to cook all the fresh food everything we bring home: a stove, sink, pans and cooking utensils. It has always seemed satisfactory, but today I was inspired to think more about the kitchen after touring the Museo Robert Brady in Cuernavaca.

Brady was an American artist and designer who had a home in Cuernavaca. He was a painter and world traveler who had an unerring eye and strong appetite for collecting.  After his death in 1986, he left his home and art collections to the State of Morelos.

His home is the colonial style, with many levels and gardens. They are all exquisite, but the kitchen made me stop and stay awhile.

A modest gas stove is flanked by the traditional wood-fired stove (on the right). I could imagine beans being slowly cooked in the ceramic pot. Brady selected Talavera tiles for the walls and counters and painted the walls a rich blue and cheery yellow. There are sweet little garlands decorating the central cooking area, almost like a shrine to the cook.

In the “less is more” philosophy, there is not a lot of kitchen stuff, but there is vibrant color as a background to the collections of Talavera plates and glassware.

I could imagine making large feasts in this kitchen.


Feeling grateful and inspired!

#Mexico

#artand cooking

The Art of Remembrance

Here in Mexico there is a beautiful tradition on November first to remember departed  loved ones. The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) allows families and friends to recount tales of the dearly departed, bring their favorite earthly pleasures to their gravesite and gather to remember.

For instance, if Uncle Ricardo loved tequila and Pall Mall cigarettes, his altar would have those items, as well as some bread of the Dead (Pan de Muerte), flowers, candles, and other little delights. Copal incense would be burned in hopes that the smell of the flowers and incense would draw him back for that one night to be with the family again. 

For anyone seeing these customs for the first time, the skulls and images of skeletons used in decorating might seem scary at first – but as a Mexican way to laugh at death, it seems fitting. Candy skulls made of sugar and chocolate make perfect decorations. In some stores you can get your sugar skull customized with names.

Most homes have personal altars, and the deceased’s gravesite would be cleaned up and decorated as well. Entire families gather at the cemetery on this night of remembrance, bringing food to share along with the memories.

Sharing remembrances and even funny stories is one way to bring the departed back for one night, until next years’ Dia de los Muertos.

The Art of Advertising

Growing up in Southern California, nearly every summer vacation included a family trip in the station wagon to visit relatives in Missouri and Arkansas. The route we traveled on was always the old Route 66, another story all by itself. The drive was mercilessly boring so the least little thing would amuse me and my six siblings as we made our way eastward.

Jack rabbitLooking out the car window for something to entertain us was a good way to pass the hours. The giant jackrabbit signs perched on hills above Route 66 for Jack Rabbit Trading Post were a spectacular sight. They taunted us for miles while we imagined all the wonderful curiosities that the Jack Rabbit Trading Post held – I mean, arts and crafts – I was THERE! And then finally, we would spot the one that read, Here it is! Oh, the pain as we sped by each and every one.Here-It-Is21

But the absolute best sighting was the Burma-Shave signs. These were a brilliant ad campaign for shaving cream featuring six sequential signs that passengers in cars could read as they passed  – they were spaced far enough apart that the sentence was read naturally. Here is one message from 1963, the last year Burma-Shave used this promotion:

Our fortune / Is your / Shaven face / It’s our best / Advertising space / Burma-Shave

burma-shave flickrThis has been so woven into our collective culture that artist Norman B. Colp created a public art installation inspired by the Burma-Shave signs installed in the 42nd Street subway tunnel. Called The Commuter’s Lament, or A Close Shave, the installation is a series of signs attached to the roof of the passageway, with the following text:

Overslept, / So tired. / If late, / Get fired. / Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home / Do it again.

At this point, you realize that I am fascinated by popular culture and how the influence spreads into art, collective memory, and history. So imagine my delight when walking down the street today and spotting a series of painted rocks with little hand-lettered messages. Each one was carefully placed to make sure pedestrians would see them. While these did not have the clever poetics of the Burma Shave signs, they spoke with a more gentle and encouraging voice:

Live, Love, Laugh / Breathe / Be humble / Keep Going

 

It might be a child’s project, or perhaps a creative release for someone who wanted to have some fun. I was delighted and will continue to be on the lookout for more signs of encouragement.