En Plein Air
Words of Home
"When dealing with horses, sometimes you have to zigzag."
-Cody "Slim" Wallace, Team Roper
My title-and my friend Slim's comment-points to odd moments of conjunction: to the zigs and zags of contemporary culture and the beauty in familiar moments of everyday life. As a third-generation Italian-American and a native Texan, I paint images that point out the mixed culture that stands at the base of our society.
A series of paintings taken from that daily vernacular, the paintings in Spaghetti Western highlight what we see everyday, and act as invitations to remember, to think, to focus. The paintings depict scenes we pass by without acknowledging: the beauty in a gesture, the fluidity of light, the humanity in a café. Cowboys chase wild things which try to escape confinement. These wild things (not the cowboys) are slightly in or out of reach depending on one single moment when a rope bounces off the ground. Cowboys, lariats, horses, work as a team. It is the gesture, the essence of a place or a person, I work to capture.
Art historically, my work recalls the ideas of Diego Rivera and the Dallas Nine (depression era painters who depicted energized, memorable themes of harsh landscapes and people). During the Depression, their monumental forms of humanity embodied Labor, Commerce, or Progress. Taking a cue from these and other painters, I use cultural ideals as subject matter. I also look to Diebenkorn and his California contemporaries as sources for figurative art. The common subjects and narratives are important iconographic features in these works. I use the same types of images in the contemporary world.
Likewise, I draw from painters who noticed the small acts that make humanity human, such as the post-impressionists made their images completely personal and completely universal. Bonnard and his cat at the table,his bath tubs, his still-life lunches; Vuillard and his child's crib, toys, his wife. Whistler painted his mother, his stove, his kitchen, his favorite sweet shop, a child in a high chair. Things full of consideration and meaning.
En Plein Air
is outdoor painting or painting from life, such as still life, portraiture, and figure drawing using a live model. For the past several years, I have painted en plein air in South American, Europe, Asia and the American West. These images are done on location to create a body of work describing daily life in Sicily, Portugal, or Yellowstone.
One facet of drawing from life, is the still life. It has been said that still lifes, not only provided a poor artist an actual meal, but the experience of seeing solid forms and values.
My still lifes, rich in color, full of half tones and reflected light are a pleasure to paint. Often these pieces are done alla prima, incorporate nontraditional objects and are often painted outdoors.
From the Greek word enkaiein, encaustic means "to burn in." Encaustic uses hot wax as a binder suspending the pigment in beeswax. The wax and pigment are melted and applied to a surface (usually board) with brush or palette knife. Encaustic paintings have a durable, hard finish with a glowing enamel like quality. Encaustic is the most permanent of media. Moisture resistant because of the wax, encaustic will not yellow or darken with age. Since the images are usually painted on board, they avoid the inevitable restretching of canvas that most oil paintings require.
Encaustic dates back as far as the 5th century B.C. By comparison, oil painting is fairly recent, emerging in northern Italy during the Renaissance. The Roman historian Pliny, writing in the 1st century A.D., discusses encaustic portrait and genre scenes, commenting on centuries-old ancestor votives still in the possession of their families. The most famous encaustic is the Faiyum burial portrait of a young man, dating to the Roman occupation of Egypt.
In the Classical world, encaustics were frequently used to color architecture, statuary, and terracottas. While we think of classical sculpture as white marbles, in fact they were brightly painted. The Parthenon, Doric facades, Trajans' column, and the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great were all painted with encaustic. Praxiteles, who crafted the sculpture of Athena in the Parthenon, preferred his sculptures to be painted with encaustic. The Greeks, as mentioned by Homer, also used encaustics to decorate their painted warships. As a form of interior decoration, Encaustics were a precursor to mosaic.
Though vital to the Classical world, encaustic was no longer economically feasible during the political and social turmoil after the fall of the Roman Empire. By the end the Middle Ages, it was a lost process. In the 18th century, however, increasing interest in the Classical world led to experimentation with this wax medium again. Further increasing interest in this ancient medium, was the 1847 discovery at St. Medard Des Pres of a 12th century French woman found buried with her encaustic tools.
In the 20th century, the availability of electricity for melting the wax made encaustic viable and more convenient. 20th century artists Jasper Johns, Diego Rivera, Arthur Dove, Nancy Graves all worked in encaustic.
Instructed in sculpture by my mentor and friend Luis Sanchez Valderamma (1914-2007), I have grown increasingly interested in bas relief and cast sculptures using different materials. I try to create fresh, interesting work while using traditional casting methods. Through sculpture, I continue the quotidian theme of enjoying daily things. To explore a harmony between man and nature, my most recent work uses found materials.
Bas relief is low relief and usually done in panels.
Bas relief Cast Glass "Family"
Sculpture in the Round or Full Relief
Bronze "Saint of Tears"
Bisque rattle "Frog King"
Wooden Maquette "MIgration"
"Pastimes" Decorative Iron Entry Gate for the Esperanza Orphanage, Mexico
"Firebrand" Monumental brand registered with Coryell County
Corten Entry Gate, Firebrand Ranc
This series looks at love and lovers in different cultures and in different stages of love.
Things from Daily Life:
When we share our stories we restore life to the whole community. Whether tall tales or our own personal myths, spoken or written stories bring us together: they give us an understanding of the human condition and heal us of ignorance. In times of increasing cultural dissension, my work explores the links between us and the common values of our cultures. With a sense of the Jungian collective consciousness, I use these images to express our universal connectedness as people living in the world.
I also use my work to tell stories: to point out the mixed culture that stands at the base of our society. My own background makes me part of this larger cultural blending. In this way I am typical of many native Texans. My father, from Fort Worth, very Western in temperament, told us the tall tales of Texas by names like Rip Ford,"Big Foot" Wallace, and J. Frank Dobie. My East Dallas mother was born into an Italian-American family of small businessmen. My blending of cultures continues today. My husband's mother is Japanese, making my children even more a mix than I. Perhaps my images, whether painted or sculpted, can protect and guide them and others by telling stories of community.
Words of Home
The notion of home grounds this exhibition, incorporating soldiers both past and present. Some images are images of my great uncles and cousin who served in the Great War.
For other images, I was fortunate to meet and paint contemporary soldiers, the men and women of Fort Hood. I created quick studies on location at Fort Hood, which served as models for later studio work. From these working soldiers, I found the common focus on home.
I painted soldiers returning from 16 months of active duty overseas - what has become the most dramatic and anticipated of events in American military life. It was during this "homecoming" that I saw the magic of the word home. When the soldiers crossed a field, they searched for the people they loved.
A hug is the first thing we do when we come home. The hugs might have been short or long, but all were filled with the power of home, holding on to another person as if home were physically present in them.
Monumental soldiers stand guard in this exhibition. Standing 8 feet tall, these mixed-media images combine photos and paint. Each soldier wrote several words that meant home to them. Some wrote ideals. Some wrote specific words of places and things. Some simply wrote the names of their children. These words of home are the pillars of the exhibit - the structure of it.
Artist On Location
At Fort Hood, I was captivated by the grey neutrality of the color. In the gold toned dining hall, the desert camo clad soldiers blended in to the background even while they ate. The only startling colors were the brightness of their drinks, the pinks and reds of juice and lemonade and soda. Unique for its traditional 1850's horse detachment, Fort Hood retains a yellow suspendered, Stetson wearing mounted unit. Looking as if they stepped out of a John Wayne Cavalry movie, this ceremonial unit retired the colors (flags) of the soldiers coming home. Amazingly, all of their equipment, from saddles to boots, is still handmade by the unit
Home is a magic word. It has the power to evoke instant visions in the imagination of anyone who hears it. Regardless of our age or experience, home is something that awakens all the senses. I can smell my mother's sausage and peppers. I can hear the radio in the kitchen tuned to country music. I can feel the soft green wooly carpet and see the sunlight cross the walls of my favorite childhood room. The home I pictured was forever Easter in the Texas of my imagination; a home, full of red rockers, Bluebell ice cream, bluebonnets and spring water.
Home is something that shapes us. A place we preserve in memory. Home is where we return in our dreams, in our work a day worlds, in our routines. It is a place where we hold our loved ones. It contains the things we have collected in our lives, our personal symbols for living. But it's a collective concept as well as a personal one. when it's all said and done, it's a symbol for who we are and what we have become, both personally and culturally.
Collectively, we have phrases for home. "Come home to me." "Home is where the heart is." "There is no place like home." Our poets celbrate home:
"You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right." Maya Angelou
"Home is a place not only of strong affections, but of entire unreserved; it is life's undress rehearsal, its backroom, its dressing room." Harriet Beecher Stowe
"Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." Robert Frost
We may have mixed feelings about a physical home, but all of us have a home we preserve in our hearts; the perfect, safe place full of love and acceptance Home means friends, family, God, country. That is our connectedness to each other. That is the home we share, our cultural bond. Our personal home, the one where we list the names of our children; the one full of symbols of our selves. In all of these images, old, new, personal or public, we all share home.
My deepest thanks and regards for the PR staff at Fort Hood who granted me access, who escorted me patiently, and who graciously allowed me insight into a soldier's heart. To Dalena, Sergeant Strain and Sergeant Cox. To my great uncle Nunzie and all of my beloved Dingrandos, whose snapshots and letters during WWII provided the inspiration for Love Letters and the seed for this exhibition.