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

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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.

The Art of a Happy Anniversary

It’s October 1st, the humidity is gone and it’s Sunday – time to go up to the attic which hasn’t been cleaned since we moved in during the summer. This 1870  house was owned previously by one family for nearly all of its existence, and there are piles of photographs, tarnished silver-plated spoons and forks, and other detritus that people can’t bear to throw away scattered across the attic floor. It is always the sentimental Christmas greetings, graduation cards, death notices clipped out of brown newspapers that are hard to put in the trash. But what I found today was weirdly coincidental, a handwritten wedding invitation for Victory Milano and James Scott for October 1, 1950.

There are only a few facts I can relate about this invitation – it was mailed for a mere three cents one week before the wedding. Kingston was so small at that time that the sender only needed to list the addressee, street, and city for it to arrive. The church where the wedding was held was founded in 1845 and attended by a strong Irish immigrant population and continues to operate today.

Initially, I was puzzled over the name Victory, but that is a Latin derivative for the woman’s name, Laura, stemming from the laurel branches placed on the victor’s heads during Roman times. I wondered if Victory went by Laura or Victoria as she lived her life.

The place where they planned the reception did make me pause – the Kozy Tavern operated one block from this house for decades. After closing, the place is now operating as The Beverly, a place where I frequently hold artist meetings. The current owner kept the old wooden bar, painted murals above and tin ceilings when he reopened. Now I am imagining how Victory and James came here after their wedding on October 1, 1950, and were congratulated by family and friends.

 

Vagabond Time Killers

The annual summer exhibit at The Wassaic Project was inspired by a 1901 photo discovered by Wassaic Project co-founder Jeff Barnett-Winsby. The photo shows young adults posing holding a banner that reads, “VTK.” Handwritten on the back of the photo were the words, “Vagabond Time Killers, 1901, Wassaic NY.” The photo inspired the name of the exhibit, Vagabond Time Killers and this photo is on display at the entry of the 7-story grain elevator/gallery. The faces of the young adults in the photo show delight in the forest setting – allowing us to imagine the story we could weave about how this merry group met upstate at Wassaic every summer for summer fun.

The exhibit riffed off the feeling of freedom, the great outdoors, and the adventure of imagining something new. The first floor included Margeaux Walter’s Digital C-prints. Walter described the process as originating from large-scale installations inspired by consumer culture and domestic scenes. The patterning created by staging a floral printed tablecloth with plates filled with pastries and four diners posed in a four-cornered directional map created an embellished, balanced universe. In Bloom

Visitors could follow the music and sound coming from the back of the gallery, where Minhee Bae’s silk organza artworks hung like welcome banners to a world of experiential art. Haley Lauw and Erik Pedersen’s installation of “Junk Mouthpieces” paired with a loop of samples from the Music Masters basement created an environment inviting visitors to proceed upstairs. The installation of musical instruments continued on each floor and was viewable through cutouts seen as you climb the stairs.

Eleanor Sabin’s neon work “Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” was installed a few levels above – the neon flame burned from logs placed in typical campfire fashion – the burned wood is a fitting melding of contemporary and historical. VTK-neonFLAMEContinuing upward, Jen Hitchings’ work is all about interpreting the summer camp out. “Red Forest” shows a camping scene with a dangerous sloping geography painted in neon blues and oranges. VTK-RedForest

Continuing up to the next level, Matthew Gamber’s images are inspired by “transcendentalist thought in the New England Landscape.” The artist created the images with a large format camera, printed as three-dimensional anaglyph prints that could be viewed with the 3-D glasses available in the gallery.

Upwards on level 6, see Tatiana Arocha’s captivating installation, “Impending Beauty.” TatianaArocha5The artist has reimagined the entire small floor as a parlor, perhaps inspired by the 1901 photo when parlors were a means of civil discourse. The walls have been papered in a moody dark forest scene with birds and forest plants – the settee has an elaborate snake coiled, ready to strike. The table has been set for tea with a tea set that has also been elaborately decorated with the dark, flora, and fauna of the jungle. The artists’ work is influenced by her native country, Columbia, along with the symbolism of 19th Century opulence and what it took from nature.

For the hardiest visitor reaching the top floor, Elias Hansen’s installation, “Looking Down the Tunnel for the Way Out” VTK-Elias-Hansentook over the entire space. The glass viewers placed in front of the windows invited viewers to look down over the scenery below – the glass created a funhouse viewpoint of the scenery below, reinforcing the idea of being in another world. VTK-glass-lens

Traveling back downstairs through eight floors of the grain elevator, visitors could appreciate the works placed on each landing by collaborative artists, Ghost of a Dream, where they used several iterations of romantic travel posters with cut out words, Forever. GhostofaDream03The artists shared this additional information about this work in their interview: “The stairwell allows for a slow and intimate reading of the work as the viewer ascends or descends the stairway. Repetition is a thread that runs through all our work, from drawings to installation. We feel that when you are dreaming about something you think about it over and over, sometimes for years.”


This essay is an expanded version of the original publication for the Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy section Friday, August 25, 2017. Vagabond Time Travelers is up through Sunday, September 24, 2017. The Wassaic Project is located at 37 Furnace Bank Road, Wassaic, NY.

 

The Revolution Will Be Live

This past week I heard an article on NPR that discussed the new use of flute in hip hop music and other more contemporary music made and performed today.

My mind immediately went flying back to 1970 when Gil Scott Heron produced many of the works that defined the groundbreaking work of merging spoken word poetry, music, and popular culture. If you listen to The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, you will hear the flute weaving throughout this performative piece that referenced the popular slogan among the 1960’s Black Power Movements in the United States. Mentioning popular culture references from television series and ad slogans from that time, talking about what the “Revolution will not” be or do, many listeners today may not understand the popular cultural references that are mentioned: white lightening, white tornado, Natalie Wood, Steve McQueen, Bullwinkle, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and
Hooterville Junction.

If you are of a certain age, you’ll remember the difficult times when Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and other political miscreants were causing angst in our country.  Gil Scott-Heron really put his finger on the reason why life was out of control for those that were forced into the margins of the American life at that time, drawing comparisons to the hijinks of elected officials and contrasting it with popular culture amassed in 1970’s ads and programming on television and radio.

quote-you-will-not-be-able-to-stay-home-brother-you-will-not-be-able-to-plug-in-turn-on-and-gil-scott-heron-44-42-14Today, over 47 years after this song first broadcast on the airwaves, we see the same situation where we can insert different names into the spoken word poetry. Gil Scott Heron was a groundbreaking artist creating the voice of truth for the artists and citizens that had no voice.

“The revolution will not be televised

WILL not be televised, WILL NOT BE TELEVISED

The revolution will be no re-run brothers

The revolution will be live.”

~  Gill Scott Heron     1949-2011

 

Art & Catalytics

In science, catalytics speed up a chemical reaction while undergoing no permanent change. Recently this premise is actively being tested at the Arts Mid-Hudson gallery – two Hudson Valley curators Emilie Houssart and Xuewu Zheng are launching a series of artistic dialogues through group art exhibitions. Houssart explained that this is facilitated “by getting artists together so that we might ‘collide’ with each other in interesting ways.”

LMRblogJinkookAltogether, eight artists are exhibiting work that could be wildly diverse without this premise. For instance, in Jinkook Hwang’s “Sushi Nam Yeo” series, rice is seen as the object of happiness and love, stemming from his cultural background. In “Couple Sushi,” the artist draws a man and woman resting on a bed of rice that has been magnified to signify its importance in his life.

 

Hayoon Jay Lee, Silent Witness (detail)
Silent Witness I, (detail) Hayoon Jay Lee

Hayoon Jay Lee also creates work responding to food, which can be seen in many of her performance pieces and artworks. Hayoon said, “I try to communicate the tension points surrounding personal conflicts and social inequities. However, a central core and a function my work is an active collaboration by artists to inform and support underserved communities.” Hayoon exhibits “Silent Witness I,” where viewers can consider the artist’s rendition of a beautifully rounded spoon, filled to the brim with rice and contemplate the idea of what is enough.

 

Emilie Houssart and Xuewu Zheng both use their artistic practice to make sense of contemporary culture. With Zheng’s practice of rolling and tying newspapers, the work reflects his fascination with history and the idea that we create a new history as we live our lives. Zheng’s practice can be summed up in his succinct statement about his work: “My goal is to take the treasures of the people in my left hand and the masters of yesterday in my right hand and to clasp them together. I then want to blend them to create the Zheng Xuewu of today.” His installation “Century Text” placed in the center of the gallery features thousands of pages rolled and tied, reminding us that history is made up of thousands of tiny details from each day.Xuewu Zheng, Century Text

Emilie Houssart, Spaces
Spaces – Emilie Houssart

 

Houssart’s work “Spaces” responds to the different perceptions of value in society. Similar to Zheng, Houssart has a darkly humorous approach to contemporary culture, adding it all into the mix and allowing everything to exist side by side in a vaguely chaotic presentation.

Marieken Cochius exhibits her recent ink and shellac drawings on paper. The artist may be influenced by the natural world: her abstraction of color and bold line stands out as a direct emotional response articulated with paper and inks. While Cochius presents ethereal line and shading, Leigh Williams exhibits “Vessels,” two forms that can be viewed as positive and negative space. The hand-built wood-fired clay has delicate colorations that defy their dark, organic shapes.

Joe Radoccia’s larger than life portraits show a dignity and gravitas in each face. Each portrait features underpainting in the background that adds to the depth and nuance of each face. Radoccia places the soul of each person on display using a grand scale and the direct gaze of the subject.Joe Radoccia, 'Joe Weber'

Sumi Pak examines human emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, and curiosity through his daily portraits of his cat, Kopi. Pak’s gestural line and colorations describe the ordinary life of his cat, and perhaps our own lives as we go about our daily business.


This essay was originally published in print:  the Poughkeepsie Journal – March 10, 2017 Sumi Pak, Getting to Know You