Friday, April 30, 2010

Idrissa ~

I started work on a painting of Idrissa today. I've been thinking about this one ever since he was here in dandyland. I haven't applied oil paint this thickly since my teens!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yellow Ladyslipper ~

Kim has been collecting images of yellowness, as part of the work on her role as The Ancestress in "You'll Always Come Back." I was looking at her series on facebook, talking to Jason on the phone about a light design in blue lightbulbs of a black sun, just having chatted with Burley about his crimson gender change tonight, amongst other things, (the butoh dancers in YACB are also the primary colors) when my own lightbulb went off and I remembered the yellow ladyslipper. It's perfect for The Ancestress.

Many years ago the herbalist father of a friend, a very reclusive and, according to my friend, not especially friendly to other people sort of man, whose herbal knowledge came from his Amer-Indian roots, took me out into the woods to a remote hillside where many of these yellow ladyslippers were growing.

On the way, he pointed out certain plants to me, and asked me what their names were. I knew the so-called "common names" of all of them, and the "latin names" of most, & being eager to show off my (ridiculously slight, as it was) knowledge, I named them one after another, just like Adam. I assumed he didn't know, though there was something funny about the way he asked the question, so I was a little on guard. Of one particular plant he asked "Do you know its name?" So I gave the common name I usually used. Then he came back with "But it has another name - do you know it?" I gave another common name. He looked at me in a penetrating way & said, "It has another name - do you know it?" So I figured I'd be definitive, (and a show off) & gave him the Latin name. Sure enough, he looked even more piercingly at me and said, "It has another name. Do you know that one." I confessed I didn't. He didn't offer what that name might be - I assumed (again) that it was the one the plant answered to, and I started paying closer attention.

Anyway, when we arrived at the hillside, deep in the woods, he told me to dig one of the ladyslippers up and take it, giving me very detailed instructions as to the sort of place to replant it - a South-East facing slope, the amount of shade, what kind of earth - I knew of no such place on our farm. And silently, I was distressed at the idea - yellow ladyslippers are rare, and it is illegal to dig them up. I knew, vaguely, that the roots were used in Arabic herbal medicine, and called "jalap," but I didn't know the Indian usage. I didn't have a spot that fit his description, and all conservationist-y I felt it was a crime to dig one of these beautiful flowers up, but I did as I was told, certain that the ladyslipper I dug up was doomed.

I planted it in the backyard. It wasn't really a slope (tho on a hill) and the soil wasn't the deep loam, and the shade not quite like the place he had taken me, plus it was too dry. That was back in the 80s. It was years before it bloomed again, after being moved. Occasionally I would add some mulch around it to help moderate the dryness, but really I left it to its fate, which I assumed, again, was a malingering decline to extinction. After maybe ten years, it apparently sent out a rhizome a foot away and another stem emerged. Eventually they both bloomed. Then visiting children picked the blooms, and a botanist friend who saw it informed me that if the flower was ever picked it would never bloom again.

For a very long time, years, neither stem bloomed. But this year one came back. It's odd not telling my mom to come & see it, but it makes me hopeful too. So much has happened.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Beech ~

A study for the ceiling of the installation of You'll Always Come Back.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Temporary Platform ~ A Map for Idrissa

10' x 16' ~ work in progress. This is the first time I've done an improvisational painting. I couldn't get up high enough to take a pic of the entire canvas - these are bits and pieces.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Horse ~

("The Horse" text is by my grandmother, Sarah Belle Dutton, a little essay written when she was a schoolgirl. Maybe it's just me, but when I read it, I felt like she was writing about herself as much as about horses. I set the text into the form of a prose poem. The horse is a reoccurring motif in You'll Always Come Back - much to my surprise. I didn't realize it until all the source texts were assembled and all the songs were composed. If this text had one meaning to a woman in the 19th century, it has another, related but different meaning, to a slave.)

The Horse:

The horse is a fine animal
about five feet high and of various colors
He is a proud-looking creature,
when he gets loose from his keepers
he prances up and down as if stepping on air.

The horse is not only the most noble of brutes
he is also one of the most useful
He carries people on his back, draws a heavy load,
a plow, or a carriage.
He thus lends to man his great speed and his
powerful strength.

He can swim as well as most other animals
although he is not very fond of water.

In South America and some other countries
there are troops of wild horses, which grow up in the forests
When wild they are very quick-witted
in everything necessary to their support and safety;
but when these creatures are rendered tame
and live under the protection of man,
they seem to lose their faculties for want of
exercise and become stupid.

They are not called upon to use their wits
and by disuse almost lose them;
but it is this change in their natures
that renders them useful and manageable
If they retained their fierceness and cunning
that belongs to them when wild,
they would not patiently submit to be the helpers of man.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Adire Eleko

It took some doing to get it here, but on Tuesday this beautiful piece of cloth arrived from Nigeria. My friend Oyeniyi made this piece of Adire Eleko, traditional Yoruba indigo dyed batik, that I'm planning to use in You'll Always Come Back. Most people are aware of the connection between cotton and slavery in the Southern US., but not so many are aware of the important role that indigo played in the slave trade. Slaves were brought from Yorubaland especially because of their expertise in growing and processing indigo. One result of that infamous history appears in many a wardrobe ~ blue jeans.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Idrissa in dandyland ~

So much has happened in the last few days! My new friend and collaborator, Butoh dancer Idrissa Ekundayo, came to dandyland so that we could begin work together on You'll Always Come Back. We talked about the piece, about our lives and work, and about the image of the crossroads being that we hope to evoke. These photos are are first work together, and so exciting (to me!) as indicators of what we will accomplish in the performance. The convergence of our thoughts and time to work together connected with the arrival of a beautiful piece of cloth, a traditional Yoruba batik made with indigo dye, created in Osogbo, Nigeria, by my artist friend Oyeniyi. I'll post more about that soon, but for now, here's Idrissa (and Kim).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Petals ~


April Fool’s, but really
There is a corpse in the fencerow,
Where he crawled, one would imagine,
To escape the battlefield.

Angled under the tangled
Thicket of honeysuckle and briars,
Eyes glaucous, wide open, empty, staring
At the blank, overcast sky.

Frost bit the hillside hard
And hit the newly-opened peach buds
Such a gnash they loosed at dawn and fell, pink, slowly -
Darker mirrored in the dead man’s eye.

The proud will not endure -
they’re like dream on a spring night.
The mighty fall -
Like petals on frost.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cobalt in Cincinnati ~

I spent a good part of today tying knots in baling twine. The net I'm making is the super-structure for a tree-like shape that will be part of the You'll Always Come Back installation at Bromwell's Gallery, opening May 29th. I was planning just to perform the music, a few extracts from the dance, some video projection, and mainly have the show be the watercolor paintings of YACB images. But that all changed when Brent pointed out the very problematic acoustics of the room. The choice was simple - the music required that the room be altered, and that means a complete installed environment. The solution came from the body of Idrissa, a butoh-trained dancer who has agreed to work on YACB ~ once I met him, and saw his body language, I realized that the space which surrounds him is a fantastical hybrid world, part outdoor, part indoor; part dream, part substance. The substance is blue, meaning in this case, indigo for cloth (Africa) and cobalt for other objects (Germany). The term cobalt is derived from the German "Kobold" - a supernatural being that indwells in a particular space, like a mine. Miners in the old days heard them knocking, deep under the earth, and the dermatitis caused by contact with cobalt ore was only one of the dangers such creatures could cause. Cobalt was declared a basic element (weight 27) in the 1700s ~ it is toxic, but also, in the form of B 12, essential for mammalian life. It may be essential to life itself, as algae and fungus both require it. And it can be blue ~ an opaque blue with a greenish to purplish bronze haze on the surface, as though the light reflected from its surface is broken into a lustrous intensity, like the sky, only deeper. I thought it would be nice to see a lot of it, so I'm planning to paint every surface with a nice thick coat of cobalt and see what happens. It will be a deal darker, more monochromatic, and more intense, than this sketch can show.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A new suit ~

A couple of months ago I ran into my old friend Jo at the library & told her that I was working on a new piece that involved Yoruba mythology (we have a common interest in myths). The other day when I went by the library to pick up an interlibrary loan book I'd ordered on that very subject, the librarian said "Someone left a package here for you." In the package were 3 books on African art, and this suit, which I think is Nigerian. I love it. My friends are the best.