Here and Now (Taxes), Art (Questions, Malvina Reynolds), Isamu Noguchi, "Gather," Art Makes Us (Richmond & Forman), Infinite Journeys, Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah, and Walk Off the Earth.
HERE AND NOW
Finished taxes today, which I found emotionally exhausting, for reasons I’m not going to get into. Suffice to say, next year I’m going to pay someone to do my taxes for me.
In any case, I’m launching a new question/answer section for this newsletter. I have a feeling that these questions will morph over time, but you have to start somewhere. First, I’ll answer my own questions (in the ART section below). Yes, I will attempt to do this right now—right after taxes. (Could’ve done this earlier, but—of course not!) Should be interesting.
Then next week, I’ll have a new set of answers from another artist (I’m using “artist” in the broad sense of anyone involved, creatively, in the humanities—visual arts, film, writing, sculpture, etc.). If you’re interested in contributing, please contact me at email@example.com
Here’s an older work, which is also now available for purchase through my website shop. I’ll add another available work tomorrow (Sundays).
• Where did you grow up and how did that (or any other significant experience) influence your art?
My first home was in San Francisco’s Chinatown, but several years later, my parents moved to Santa Cruz—also known, unofficially, as “Surf City” because of its hotshot surfer culture—and that’s where I grew up. We lived in 1950s post-war housing; all the homes in our development looked pretty much the same (the “little boxes” Malvina Reynolds sang about) except not everyone in those little boxes were actually able to go to university, get degrees, and play on fancy golf courses.
I knew of one other Filipino family in the neighborhood, and they lived right next door. As far as I could tell, everyone else in the area was white. Because (I suspect), the Philippines had been an ally to the U.S. during WWII, we were treated decently, meaning that nobody ever, ever mentioned or accused us of looking “different” or of eating “strange” food, or doing weird things. Not that I never got teased, but it was just the run-of-the-mill “nyah nyah” kind of stuff.
It was a sunny, but kind of bland, upbringing. All my mother’s relatives were far away in the Philippines, so I wasn’t much affected by family or Filipino cultural traditions (until later in my teens, when mom started finding her Filipino friends in town—then things got interesting). My father was (unusually for a Filipino) either agnostic or atheist. So, although my mom put me through my Catholic communion paces, it did not feel imposed; religion felt like a choice. Generally, life was like a blank canvas to me. One day, my dad brought home from his travels a box, full of oil paints with brushes, and handed it to me. He never told me what or how I should paint; he was always overseas, anyway, so I could do what I wanted with those tools. And that has always been my approach to art. Growing up without siblings or relatives I was lucky enough, during childhood, to have space in which listen to my inner voice.
However, one thing I’ve learned about “bland” upbringings and seemingly “blank” canvases: there’s always something beneath the surface. Blandness has a dark side. Now that I look back on that time, I realize that opportunities, especially around jobs, and where we were to live, were circumscribed. My mother had a college education, but the jobs open to her were in canneries, shirt-factories, and laundries. My father worked in the merchant marines, but his place on a ship was usually in a kitchen as a cook and dishwasher. Things were going on that remained unspoken. My parents believed wholeheartedly in the “American Dream” but there were frustrations beneath the surface. They never talked to me in Tagalog or Cebuano, because they were afraid that I—and maybe they—wouldn’t “fit in.” That time in my life is something I am still “unpacking” through art and writing.
• What’s your creative process like? (Could include processes, objects around you, timing, spatial needs, etc.)
I always feel like my creative process is bounded by 1) money or (mostly) the lack of it, and 2) work and its demands on my time, my thought processes, and physical capacity. I’ve learned to be flexible. If I don’t have enough space, or if I’m too tired to work large— I work small. If I don’t have enough money, I reuse materials, including cardboard backing from paper pads and opened packages. Collage is great for recycling materials, well-suited to my experimental process.
When I was a mom raising a toddler, I reserved late evenings (after everyone was asleep) to write or make art. Recently, when I realized that Instagram and Facebook scrolling was taking up too much of my time, I resorted to the “bedtime tactic” again. To counter the impulse to scroll through social media on my phone at night, I started drawing in bed (with a non-messy gel pen), while listening to some calming music through my ear buds. I created a lot of small drawings. Sometimes, while working as a freelance copyeditor at home, I’ll also take short breaks and draw at my worktable for 10 or 15 minutes.
• What puts a damper on your creativity? What do you do—if anything—to remedy that?
As mentioned previously, anything that “demands on my time, my thought processes, and physical capacity,” to the extent that it leaves me emptied out or too tired to extend myself creatively. I suspect that the only really good “remedy” for that is a complete change of lifestyle, a change in one’s economic fortunes, or a revolution that results in systemic change. While taking short breaks to draw or write can help let off some steam—maybe even help to keep the creative “thread” going—realistically such tactics don’t give you the time and space to focus on art or writing projects in-depth.
• How does age factor into your creative process?
The older I get, the more I understand what’s really important to me. But it’s taken a long time for that understanding to develop, and to recognize what was behind the blandness and the silences of my childhood. In retrospect, you see patterns, you think—"oh fuck that; not doing that again.” You’d think all the little pains of aging would seemingly get in the way of being creative—but not as much as I thought. And sometimes the workarounds that I develop end up being good for my art. So, I have to say that aging, itself, has been really good for my creativity.
• What are you working on, currently, and what’s inspiring it?
I’m continuing to work on a series of ink drawings (the “Unmapping”) including one that’s inspired by the Okir/Okkil design motifs of the Philippines. There’s also a writing project to read and write about my parents’ letters (see “Those Letters” in #58) from the time when they were immigrating and adjusting to life in the U.S. and turn that into a memoir—not poetry this time!
• What’s your favorite imperfection? (…could be yours or someone else’s that you admire):
“Procrastination” is always a big favorite. I even wrote a poem about it, called “Catatonia.” I always seem to have time for procrastination; it’s a signal to me that I’m resisting something and should probably pay attention to that. Here’s the poem from my book, Prau (Meritage Press, 2007):
often in the act of procrastination there is nothing to do but wait while you hurry along doing nothing. yet at the same time you are watching and listening while a story gets repeated again and again. it is digging your heels in like this that seems so satisfying and so endlessly fascinating in a boring and anxious way. to forget the details of the last 3 hours while following the migration routes of an extinct species of nightjar. i know what i'm up against and i try to thwart it in every way possible. i will slow down the clock or flee to the state of catatonia. somewhere in between clicks there are larger caverns to mine and darkness that will forestall moments of precision and progress. later on i realize it's not precision at all, or at least not my precision. and progress doesn't exist. to throw oneself against the walls. to throw words and become a blur an insect a superhero.
“I Become a Nisei” a typewritten reflection by the great artist/sculptor (one of my favorites) Isamu Noguchi. Born in Los Angeles in 1904, but raised in Japan until 1918, Noguchi joined the Nisei during WWII when they were incarcerated in the Poston camp in Arizona. And here’s a short film on Noguchi: “The Life of a Sculptor”:
“Gather” is a film about the food sovereignty movement among Native Americans, by Illumine and Ager Mellier films with First Nations Development Institute. Found this mentioned in Artflex newsletter by Wided Rihana Khadraoui. Here’s the trailer:
Art Makes Us is a new art workshop and mentoring project that two friends from art school, Paul Richmond and Melissa Forman, are starting up locally, and it looks like a good one! Art workshops and mentoring:
This is really more visual than aural: In 2022, Clinton Jones challenged 3D animation artists to design art around the theme “Infinite Journeys.” This resulted in a series of amazingly detailed and fun-to-watch animations. Sometimes you just want to pause the video to get another look: “Wait - what was that?” Some of the best of these are strung together in this montage video:
Christian Scott a Tunda Adjuah brings his Afro-Native American roots to soulful jazz that he calls “Stretch Music.” Echoes of Coltrane, Miles—all the great ones—especially in the last piece, K.K.P.D.:
Here’s another version of Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes” by Canadian group Walk Off the Earth:
More next weekend . . .
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