During the last 10 days, I did not have a chance to sit down to sketch/draw/paint/work properly - I had only odd ends of waiting here and there. The reasons do not matter as sometimes these things happen: life gets busy, something needs to be done right away. Or routines change, deadlines pile-up, people need you, and priorities seem to scatter all over the place. And the idea of taking proper time to draw looks like a luxury. It is not - and I am working on getting it back into my life. But I thought I would share what tiny bits I did get to put on paper. Just as a record that it was not, indeed, nothing. And a reminder.
After I wrote about the art exhibits that I want to see this fall I went down the rabbit hole of learning more about Ruth Asawa and checked out from the library all the books that I could find. The latest catalog - from the ongoing exhibit in Whitney Museum was not available (hopefully soon) but I got 6 others and spent an amazing time going through all of them - while listening to a new (for me) Jazz Pianist Mary Lou Williams which worked just perfectly with the visuals that I was drinking in! Below are some of my notes and some photos from the books - I picked ones where you can see Ruth Asawa working - by herself or with other people - there you can see the environment and concentration of her work.
This year the end of November was a super busy time for me and it spilled into December (expectedly) which means that my table is way more messy these days - accumulating tiny sketches, notes, and treasures that I am planning to draw. My date stamp and masking tape help me to keep track of what notes and sketches happened when. I managed to forget my drawing tools twice last week when I went on another errand run - but no more - I now carry 2 spares! I started a new project and look for the "perfect" textured pencil for it. And I finished a big project (which deserves a separate post but it will have to wait a bit). All in all - I am excited about the end of the year and looking forward to some travel in 2024 (see - I made a sketchbook for it already - with the help from wonderful Gay Kraeger!).
November 21-26, 2023. Days 634 - 640 of war.
This week my parents arrived in the United States.
This is a big and complicated step which was not an easy one for them but at this particular moment returning to their home in Kharkiv is not an option. Ukraine is being attacked daily on multiple fronts. Kharkiv, Kyiv, and other cities are being bombed almost daily and winter brings another layer of complexities to the situation. We are very fortunate that the United States continues to support Ukraine via the United For Ukraine program which allows my parents to apply for medical insurance and be close to us so that we can support them with other needs.
So we had a very unusual and happy Thanksgiving - with a larger family present, lots of tasty food, and great stories all at the same table instead of through the screens and video calls.
We all are very grateful to so many people who supported my parents through these complicated times and continue to do so. We are grateful to all who support Ukraine and its fight for freedom against barbaric aggression from russia. And we are grateful to all who are fighting on the front and those who help them in Ukraine.
The other day I felt very much disconnected when I realized that sounds of loud gardening equipment in my neighborhood are driving me nuts. No amount of noise-canceling headphones was helping my whining self and I resolved that the only way to deal with it was to take a walk and see what was going on and, perhaps, sketch this activity. However, by the time I got outside people were mostly gone. That is when I went foraging in the gardener's trash and found enough beauty for four bouquets! I am logging this as a win and a life hack :)
November 13-20, 2023. Days 626 - 633 of war.
This week my parents and I spoke about travel plans and about waves and wind. And about flowers that need repotting or plant food and how to tel when is what needed. There was a bunch of birthdays of friends and now Mom’s birthday is here. For over year and a half most of the birthday wishes I send begin with the wish for peace. I wish for the war to end - happy birthday, Mom!
I usually need a clean table to work with concentration. But within a few minutes of beginning work, I create an unbelievably layered mess and then I continue adding to it during the day: notes to myself, books, stickers, treasures, sketches done on stray pieces of paper, etc. Then next morning I sort through all sorts of things I find in my work area and add them to the story. Apparently I keep making these posts:
I started telling a story of my adventures with the large (A3) sketchbook during the summer but never finished posting all the sketches from it! I still may add more scans with stories to the blog - but for now, here is a video of a flip-through of the whole sketchbook (with some reduction for privacy as usual).
November 6 - 12, 2023. Days 619 - 625 of war.
This week I almost did not draw my parents - but then we got to some complicated topics and I grabbed the first paper that was near me and started drawing. It was still there when we spoke the next time so I continued working on it and added it to my sketchbook with some notes. So this is a collage-like portrait in the sense that it is made out of several layers of paper and several layers of conversations. The approach of winter and with it a fear of russian attacks on infrastructure in Ukraine were important topics. Different strategies of thinking about life during war were another. But, thankfully, there were dogs and plants to discuss too.
There is a certain change in bird activity in the area as migration season is in full swing. Some birds are just passing by, others are arriving to spend winter here. With the changes in weather throughout the world many birds are migrating less or skipping the whole ordeal altogether (for example some turkey vultures are no longer leaving during summer - our neighboring family still does though, and they are back).
I noticed how much more bird sounds we have by the end of September and since then it just continues to multiply and change. I am using an app to identify birds by call (Merlin Bird ID is my current choice - though there are many) - simply make my phone listen and then I get a list of birds with some additional information. Then I can look them up, find them in my photos of the trees, draw them, and wonder about their names too :)
But for some of the birds I do not need an app to identify them by sound or otherwise. And the other day there was a huge argument between two groups of them which lasted for several hours. I wish I knew what it was about!
For this year's Halloween festivities and decorations, I had a solid plan of checking out a whole bunch of famous places around the Bay Area. But little by little my plans had to be adjusted and my circle for sketching got to be very narrow - just in my neighborhood. It was less grandiose compared to my plans - but very personal and quite fun as all of these places are my neighbors!
October 31 - November 5, 2023. Days 613 - 618 of war.
This week after we went over status of all the friends and family spread through Ukraine and around the world my parents gave me a round-up of their opinion on some of the grandkids' and great-grandkids' educational progress. And then told me about some new movies that they decided to watch. They made their choices based on where the movie was made as they wanted "something not necessarily with the happy end - more like in real life - so no American movies". I told them that I need some happy end movies these days very much.
I am experimenting with kids' aerograph (aka blow pen) and some diatypia and oil pastels. My recycling bin is very well fed :) But some little wins find their way into my daily sketchbook. The world is crazy on so many levels - but looking at light and drinking tea helps me keep going.
Some time in late summer I checked out these two books from the library. I read one of them twice and did not finish the other but they both sent me in a spiral to seek all sorts of information and both resulted in some serious work in my life.
The first book is: "The Shabbat" by Abraham Joshua Heschel with an unexpected number of amazing and very appropriate illustrations by Ilya Schor. TThe art of Illya Schor was the very first thing that surprised me and that I went after. After an initial google search of his other works, I found his daughter - a contemporary artist Mira Schor - who has a tag with his works on her blog (https://ayearofpositivethinking.com/tag/ilya-schor/). The idea of having a space in time, a pause, a cathedral that is built throughout one's life - every week is an image I left with after reading this book. And every week one begins building a new cathedral and treats this cycle as a holy practice. That is what I am thinking about and working on.
The second book is "The Whole Picture: The colonial story of the art in our museums and why we need to talk about it" byAlice Procter. I was surprised because this book had no images of art inside it. It was very interesting to see how I went from complete surprise to confusion to researching if I got a defective book (I really thought so!) Then I went to find podcasts by the author (The Exhibitionist and Historical Friction). And then I got to collecting artworks mentioned in the book and I got eventually tired and overwhelmed and had to take a break from the book. The book talks about important subjects by looking at the art spaces as four concepts: The Palace, The Classroom, The Memorial, and The Playground. Each of these is illustrated by the history of particular artworks.
These are both books I will go back to.
October 23-30, 2023. Days 605 - 612 of war.
This week my parents and I talked about dogs and swimming. That's it for the safe subjects of this week. Wars, informational wars in particular, and who is winning them were not safe subjects. Some old fables, songs, poems and novels were quoted numerous times and then all went back to to the dogs (in the good sense). There is a large golden retriever that is friends with my Dad and comes over to "their bench" for a good scratch. It appears way before the owner. Later the owner makes it to the bench and walks further and soon the dog runs after him. There is no common language between humans so they just smile at each other. But I think Dad and the Dog are talking at length.
I posted about my dream art exhibits at the beginning of 2023 and recently realized that I've been saving information about more art events that I would love to visit, remember, and share.
Each of these giants of color, brushwork, composition and subject matter would bring me to a museum many times over. But to have both in the same space - is amazing! And the whole idea of juxtaposing these works of art, the idea of trying to parse their many years of artistic argument, rivalry, and dialogue is something that takes the work of the museums to a different level. And this is the first trip of Olympia to this side of the Atlantic!
Whether you could make it to the museum or not - there is a wonderful video put up by the Met that will give you a very interesting tour of the exhibit.
Maria Primachenko is one of my art heroes. I've seen her work since I was a kid - in my parent's home in Kharkiv we have several catalogs of her work, filled with clippings from newspapers and magazines - my parents collected all the reproductions that they could find. She was a self-taught artist with a brilliant imagination and the ability to bring joy of color and whimsy with every piece of work she created. She had a long and very hard life yet it was filled with art-making to the end.
This is the first exhibition of Maria Primachenko's works outside of Europe and has over 100 pieces including some 3D pieces. You can read more on the Ukrainian Museum's FaceBook page or Ukrainian Museum Instagram Page.
Ruth Asawa was an American sculptor best known for her hanging wire sculptures. I've borrowed Ruth Asawa's biography from the library so many times that I lost count - yet I could not finish reading it because every reproduction of her work sends me away to work on something or to look at the shadows of something and draw them. I recently saw her "The Faces" installation at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University and it blew me away with the infinite personal feeling that I got from looking at all the faces.
The exhibit the Whitney Museum of American Art is showing Ruth Asawa's line works. Here is a quote from the description of the exhibit: "For Ruth Asawa (1926–2013), drawing served as a center of gravity—the activity she described as her "greatest pleasure and the most difficult." Although now widely recognized for her wire sculptures, Asawa drew daily. Her exploratory approach to materials, line, surface, and space yielded an impressive range of drawings that speaks to her playful curiosity and technical dexterity as well as her interest in the aesthetic possibilities of the every day."
I also recommend reading an excerpt from the essay by Kim Conaty, Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawings and Prints - “Your Hand Is Already Flowing”: Ruth Asawa’s Daily Practice of Drawing". There are amazing examples of work there too.
October 16-22, 2023. Days 598 - 604 of war.
This week we talked quite a bit about the chemical properties of semi-solids - a topic interesting to both of my parents as they are both chemists (Mom is a biochemist and Dad is a physical chemist). It started with me explaining to them that I am experimenting with gel printing in my practice (in fact I used it to make these portraits - these were mostly blindly drawn layers of color which I overlayed with pencil lines). Talking about gels turned us to some cooking subjects and a topic of everyday schedules. We exchanged the news from all our relatives and friends: my aunt's birthday, the first snow in the Carpathian mountains melted, it is getting quite cold at night where my nephew is in the army and they don't have windows, there was a horrible attack on the post office in Kharkiv region. Some interesting books are being published despite the war, though they are about the war (I am looking for the next book to read in Ukrainian). People are preparing for the winter month in different ways - we talked about our plans a lot too.
There was a lot of excitement when I found another avocado tree in our neighborhood. Some plants have that effect on some people :) At some point squirrels started to try fruits to see if any were ready and I started finding them on the floor. This tiny avocado was quite smooth and had no teeth marks! So it went into my pocket and then onto the art table and then into my sketchbook. It was not actually ready to be eaten.Amaryllis belladonna are fascinating plants for me - I am always surprised by their naked stalks with abundant inflorescence of unapologetically pink flowers and absolute lack of leaves. I am confused by where they are hiding the rest of the year and I recently learned that some of them have an amazing fragrance! When I got this beauty on a flower knot as gift it took me some time to realize that this is indeed amaryllis!
I enjoyed layering several different techniques in these three versions of the same group of fruits: monoprinting with acrylics, gouache, ink, stencils, color pencils.
There was an annual solar eclipse that was visible near me on a lovely morning of October 14th (when the clouds parted enough). Some people celebrated an occasion with a family outing and were well-equipped, some did not even notice. Looking at the sun (even when it is covered by the moon) is bad for your eyes! There is an endless number of ways to make shadows which all turn into crescents one way and then another. I am so glad it was Saturday!
October 9-15, 2023. Days 591 - 597 of war.
Almost 600 days of the war. No matter what we talk about from time to time Mom gives statistics: days of the war, days away from her home of over 80 years in Kharkiv, and days away from Ukraine.
This week we spent quite a bit of time talking about my new Ukrainian words - some from the book that I am reading and some my parents collected for me. Dad was in a singing mood and completed several songs in between Mom's accounts of the plants near their new apartment. There is a large bougainvillea bush that covers the roof of one of the buildings nearby. There is a guy who comes to throw away trash at the empty land plot that they see from the balcony. Mom is looking at him disapprovingly and decided to take pictures in the hope that he would stop. There are no cat friends yet at this location but there are several dogs that my Dad already befriended. The stairs are hard. The sky in beautiful.
Little things from the everyday moments with our nonagenarian. A few maintenance visits to doctors though no fall vaccinations yet. She grew several cucumbers on a single cucumber plant (which was hoisted by the stalk left from the sunflower). There was a rogue tomato plant (she claims that it grew all by itself!) which gave 3 lovely fruits. The rose bloomed and required trimming which we performed. The more elaborate and colorful the dress she chooses to wear on any day the better she is feeling. She keeps a diary and is adored by the new and "too young" eye doctor.