Sunday, December 25, 2011

A True Story of Christmas

In 1964, when I was ten, I was attending my third different grade school within two years.  That Christmas, at Manitoba Grade School, I made what I now call my first assemblage.  This simple construction, made from Elmer's glue, wire, fingernail polish and broken glass, was the culminating Christmas class project completed just before school let out for the Christmas holiday.  Although still drying, we were allowed to take it home that day, wrapped in waxed paper, to present to our families as our Christmas ornament gift. 

That afternoon, as I walked home through high snow banks on the tree curb (what little boy is going to walk home on the actual sidewalk during a snow storm?), somehow--I dropped my Christmas ornament out of the waxed paper.  When I got home and all I had was the waxed paper and I could not show my mother my gift.

I cried.

My mother had the solution, though.  She got bundled up and we retraced my footprints back through the neighborhood until we discovered the Christmas ornament laying in a snow bank, waiting to be recovered, taken home and presented to the family as a Christmas gift. 

This ornament, known in the family as THE GHOST, has hung in our Christmas trees for 47 years--first in the family tree, then my parent's, than Denice and mine. 

While my family was big on Christmas, I am not sure when my Christmas obsessions started.  Denice and I always put up our tree (fake!) the day or two after Thanksgiving (my wish) and it stays up well into January (her wish). 

Over the years, our eclectic tastes have added ornaments that represent things to us, especially family vacations but also community theater plays we were in and long gone family pets.  Our tree has many personalities including some rather famous ones. 

Yes, our tree has a plastic Elvis, a tin Elvis, and Eelvis.  Oh, yeah--and a jukebox that plays Elvis' I'll Have a Blue Christmas Without You."

On our many trips, we find ourselves thanking the Spirit Ravens who guide our journeys.  I thought it would be fun to put a Spirit Raven in our tree but Denice refers to it as The Dead Bird. 

Disclaimer:  I have no idea what started my Santa collection.  At some point, I know that a lot of other people got involved so the collection consists of Santas I have purchased and Santas I have received as gifts.  Over the 32 years of marriage, I know Denice has given me multiple Santas for Christmas.  We now have a no Santa rule which only gets broken when we find a really unique one. 

We have so many Santa ornamnets that we have to have a second tree just for all the Santas.

We even get to mix religions with this Ganesha Santa ornament. 

People always ask me which Santa is my favorite.  It is the little two inch tall Hallmark ornament of one of my heroes.  So, I will let him say Merry Christmas to all who still say, "I Believe."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Shield

I had a little scare the other day with a close relative (everything is fine now--thank you for asking).  It left me with an afternoon on my hands where all I could do was wait.  I did not feel like reading, writing or even viewing anything.

So, I went to the one solace that always generates some brain activity:  I rummaged my own basement.

I just need to make something so when I went downstairs I grabbed the first toy figure I could find:  a monster of some sort, not unlike the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Then it was into my box of small metals for some random pieces (a round piece on a pole for the head, a tin candle reflector, and drawer handle for the shield), grab the Apoxy Clay and some acrylic paint, and back upstairs to the worktable.

Three hours later I got the phone call I was waiting for and could calm down.  I was also half way through this piece.  Next day, after another three hours, after adding one bead and a chain, it was done.

I call it The Shield.  Despite the fact that it is about 8" tall and has some weight to it, I like to think of this as an amulet, or a necklace worn to protect the wearer from evil. 

I know it worked for me. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

AFI's 100 YEARS...100 LAUGHS (2000)

Denice and I just finished watching every movie on the American Film Institutes's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIES (1998).  I am not really sure when we began this odyssey but I am sure it was not in 1998.  Denice and I decided to start by watching film 100 and working our way up to #1, Citizen Kane. 

One of the most impressive things about working our way through the list was that we had not seen all the films on the list prior to this adventure.  Plus, of course--this is a list of really great movies to watch.

At the same time we decided to use another set of lists, AFI's 100 YEARS...100 STARS (1999), to work our way through all the stars on this list.  So far we have watched all the films that we could get our hands on from the archives of Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney on the male side and Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis on the female side. 

Currently we are working our way through the films of Cary Grant

and Audrey Hepburn. 

Now we are starting our way through the next list, AFI's 100 YEARS...100 LAUGHS (2000). 

The first title on the list, again working from back to front, is #100, Good Morning, Vietnam.  As with all lists, there are always those who have issues and I have issues with this movie.

Having grown up through the period of Vietnam and having watched our nation sink all of its money into wars that lead nowhere, it is painful to me to watch this movie.  While watching this film, I could not help but be uncomfortable when the old pattern is repeated:  Americans arrive to solve what ever problem is perceived to be the issue in a foreign country, trample all over the customs and culture of that nation, make a hash of everything, insult all the women because we refuse to understand local rituals and customs, and then leave with our tails between our legs having made the nation worse off for our presence and better off after our absence. 

While I can see that the comedy is important to this movie, for me it cannot distract from the underlying issue which is that the character of Adrian Cronauer has no clue as to the affect he has on his environment.  While we laugh at the rigidity of the military and its inability to harness the raw energy escaping from the dj in his studio, I am not sure we should be laughing so hard at the same irreverent behavior in the English class he teaches in Saigon.  Certainly his Ugly American behavior towards the character of Trinh is disturbing in that he initially has no clue as to his bad behavior and in the end I am not sure he has really learned anything.  In the character's defense, he does begin by making fun of the local language and at the end he does speak a few words of the local language to his students which does show some progress forward from his initial arrogance. 

Now, with all that said, I do want to say that this is a very powerful film.  The cast is wonderful and includes Robert Wuhl and Bruno Kirby.  The hands down cast award goes to Forest Whitaker who manages to develop from a character with no clue to a major player in the game. 

The revelation that Robin Williams could be such a powerful performer in a major motion picture is not affected by time.  He is this move and it is hard to image someone else playing this role.  The weird thing is that the real Adrian Cronauer never did comedy on the air nor did he get kicked out of the military for his behavior despite there being some truth to the fact that he changed military radio broadcasts in Vietnam.  If you want a clue as to the difference between the character played by Robin Williams and the real man, Cronauer is a Republican who worked on the Bush campaign. 

So enjoy the movie for what it is, a powerful dramedy.  Whether it deserves to sit at #100 on this list, I am not sure. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Altar of Incense

There is nothing I like to do better than to go to Valley Ridge Art Studio and be taught by my favorite artist and teacher, Michael de Meng. I was there the last week of October to take two workshops. 

The first was called Trash to Treasure and was a master's class for those who have taken de Mengian workshops before.  This was my thirteenth workshop with the man I call Master, Oh My Master.  I made a cabinet that I will post about here later (as it is not yet done) but I was really pleased with the two days I had to noodle and be with all my friends who also enjoy Michael's ability to enable anyone to make assemblages. 

The next three days were spent in my fourteenth workshop with Michael called Grey Matter Meddling.  An added bonus to this workshop was that it was team-taught by Jane Ann Wynn.  Jane's part in this workshop was to help us take a head and saw off the top, reattach it, and attach all that to a mechanical device of some type that would move.  Michael's role was to help us unify the art work with his assemblage and painterly techniques.

I wanted my piece to trace a guy from birth to death.  My piece began with a big old drill that I attached to some wooden supports.  When you crank the handle of the vertically, it revolves the structure horizontally.  Pretty cool, eh?

This is me (thanks to Lisa Mann) horsing around with the (then) unfinished piece during the critique at Valley Ridge.

At the same time I began to saw open some doll heads in order to prepare a stack.  I decided to unify the heads with pages torn from a old bible. 

I used a feral cat skull (or at least the guy who sold it to me said it was feral) to begin the stack. Its wide open mouth is symbolic of the birthing process and the fact that we come out screaming.   It comes out of the smallest of the heads which represents the childhood years.  The eyes on the child are completely covered since we have no idea what is coming down the road. 

The heads are fun to read because of the random positioning of words from the text.  I did place one page title on the forehead of each face but someone forgot and put a cat skull over the top one.  The rest are visible and also give the piece its title.   Each head was adorned with various findings in the hopes of adding a ceremonial atmosphere to the piece. 

The next largest head is representative of his years as a young man.  One eye was left open because I think we are half-blind to our own faults at that age. 

The third head is representative of the mature years of his life.  Your life is over at this point but you have no idea even though your eyes are wide open.  Death approaches and we know that because the shells are pointed inward.  Grim, eh?

The skull, of course, is representative of the inevitable end of life.  Might as well stick your tongue out at it and laugh. 

Remember the feral cat that represented his birth?  Well, when you spin this piece around you get a little bit of a shock.  The feral cat who represented his birth doubles as a reminder of how his inevitable sins bind his whole life together.  After all, there was a snake in the Garden of Eden, wasn't there?

So, $55 dollars worth of supplies and 32 hours of work later, we have The Altar of Incense. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hymn 79: Jesus, That's A Scary Clown

Do you know anyone who is scared of clowns?  Coulrophobia is the psychological term for folks who fear clowns and the term is a relatively new word in the world of phobias.  It could be because of people like this guy:

Serial killers like Gacy have given clowns a bad name but really--there has always been something weird about clowns anyway.  On one of my pickin' journeys I scored a relatively cheap Horsman Emmett Kelly ventriloquist doll.  The doll I bought was in pretty rough shape but looked something like this:

Emmett Kelly was a clown who I remember showing up on shows like Ed Sullivan or other variety shows to do his gentle and quiet little skits dressed as Weary Willie, a iconic look for clowns that was based on the tramps of the Depression era.

On a different pickin' journey, I got some really cool buggy wheels still on the axle that reminded me of circus wagon wheels especially after I painted them. 

Now the idea began to coalesce into doing something with a scary clown.

I have been working on this piece since August and I showed it to Denice.  She said, "That is not a very scary clown."  So then I called it a sad clown.  Then I set it aside.  Finally, after two months I decided the issue was that I was too afraid to paint the face of the clown.  I had wanted to keep the Emmett Kelly colors on the face but it was just not working.

So, I painted it.

Then Denice said, "That is now a scary clown."

So, thirty-three dollars worth of supplies and twenty-one hours of work later, we have Hymn 79: Jesus, That's A Scary Clown!