Notes on this Project /
Arkadelphia, Arkansas 1997
While on assignment for magazine work or for teaching on site painting courses, I wrote my own text or ‘back story’ to illustrate the pictures I was making. Some of these ‘chapters’ were commissioned paintings to illustrate another writer’s text: the Masters Tournament for Sports Illustrated and Route 9 the Molly Stark trail for Yankee Magazine. In the case of Oklahoma City, The New Yorker commissioned me to originally do the piece and it ended up being used in Print magazine and again with the original unedited journal entries in Oklahoma Today Magazine.
A few notes about this project:
It is listed by month in which the paintings were executed. For example the words and pictures about the World Trade Center represent September, while October is full fall foliage season on Route 9 in Southern Vermont.
10-20 paintings for each ‘chapter’ have not been included in this presentation.
4 sites no longer exist; The World Trade Center and The Murrah Federal Building which were both destroyed in bombings Love, Peace and Ice Cream Stand which went out of business andMain Street, Arkadelphia, Arkansas which was leveled by a fluke Spring tornado.
I see this project as an intimate slice of various corners of America that I happened to be privy to view by luck, chance or assignment.
I am an average American woman who was thrust to chronicle the ordinary, and in some cases extraordinary events, of the latter and earlier parts of this century.
I made these pictures by hand. From life. In hotel rooms, by the side of the road, in my car. Daily, I wrote my observations by hand in a journal recording the events as they happened to me. Filtered by my age, upbringing, gender and education. I tried to make the small, day to day ordinary events lasting and universal.
The Schedule /
Orlando, Florida November 1996
The schedule; every morning I paint from reference photos in my hotel room. Clean up and go to breakfast so the cleaning ladies can clean the room.
Which entails hiding all the paint, paper and brushes so they wouldn’t catch on to what I was doing. The reward is I return from the Florida heat to a clean-vacuumed air-conditioned room to paint in all evening. There is a mini refrigerator in the room and I stoke it with chips and onion dip and Diet Pepsi. I turn on the World Series and pray the games would go long, extra innings so I could keep on painting.
Sporting events are always easier to paint to then movies, especially baseball because you don’t have to watch. It’s like listening to the game on the radio. I don’t have to look up from the paint I can hear it. They are comforting voices in the background, voices from childhood, voices I know. The Yankees lose the first two at home and then losing 6-0 come back and take it. And I paint the alligator and think yeah, yeah, yeah keep going guys. I’m with you painting here getting after it in yet another hotel room on the road.
Dinners are always eaten out and alone or grabbing something quick at the convenience store. Eat chips and dip sandwiches from the 7Eleven Right off the plane I head to a McDonald’s. My room isn’t ready. A little girl in her Halloween costume asks me “are you alone?” Going back to my car I know I am alone. I feel it.
Dinner is spent at another convenience store “Am I a tourist?” the two Indian guys ask me after I successfully get money from their ATM. “Hello,” they say cheerfully. And again,” Are you on vacation?”
I’m halfway out the door with my bright yellow Alamo rent- a -car key ring and I wonder how they could possibly know. “No, I always eat dinner at a 7Eleven, a banana, A Diet Pepsi and a blueberry muffin.” I shout at them in my head. I get in my white car with the brand new Florida plates, no tan. Yeah, I guess I am a tourist.
Later at Seaworld the first site of the trip, I look up at the fireworks in the twilight and know I am that independent woman on the road a woman that an inquisitive kid from Ridley Park, Pennsylvania grew up to be.
A Certain Truth /
Seattle, Washington August, 1992
In August of 1992, I flew to Seattle, Washington and for one week I painted and drew images that would eventually become the finished paintings for the children’s book In the Children’s Garden. Every day Carole Schaefer, the author, would drop me off in her blue 1964 Mustang. I filled two l4”x l7” sketchbooks with drawings of watering cans, rakes and child size spades. Sunflowers towered over me and all around me was laughter and screams of delight from the kids attending the Perkins Day School. I drew and drew oblivious to the time and at 6 o’clock Carole would swing by to pick me up. Over dinner, exhausted, I’d show her family my progress for the day.
There is a certain truth about working on location, to finding and actually going on site. The warm colors of the day, the brilliant blue sky, heat on my sunburned neck and shoulders, the coolness of a bench in the shade. Green, lush leaves, thistle and lambs ear grew next to Rosa rugosa tomatoes while long trains of apple trees lined the walkways. Gershwin’s, ‘Embraceable you’ wafted from plinking pianos through large open windows of Pacific Ballet classes. These are moments that I could not invent on my own. These are the moments that enriched and added emotional impact to the final paintings for the book.
My last day working in the Garden I spoke to a woman who also felt it was a special place. “It is the only place in Seattle that reminds me of Southern France.” I finished the pear tree I was working on with caran d’ache crayons as she was talking to me.
Around six it got cooler than it had been on previous nights. You could smell fall in the air. “Michael, Michael can I go in now?” ‘‘10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3, 2,1 the outside is closed! Last one in is a rotten egg!” I shivered with the sliver of six o’clock summer leaving for fall. It was time to pack up the paints and pencils and return to New York City. Outside is closed. Outside is closed.
Belief & Technique for Modern Prose /
List of Essentials Jack Keroac
1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with your life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as your want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You’re a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
Making the Ordinary Extraordinary /
New York City, 1997
I love great words, I love to travel, I love to draw and paint. My job as an artist and an illustrator is to visually tell the truth about the people and the places I am assigned to cover. For me it is not enough to fulfill the art director’s instructions; inside I am urged to dig deeper, become a detective, and find my own answers to the problem.
Each assignment is a puzzle. The pieces I start with are the manuscript, ideas, words, sometimes not even that. I have a process that I follow, a premixed set of acrylic paints, usually 8B, 9B Derwent pencils, brushes, water, and a variety of different sized sketchbooks. I look for the ordinary, the day-to-day mundane stuff, coffee shops, gestures people, signs, cars things you walk by every day and forget to see. This is what I look for; one moment that says it all. And I make that ordinary moment extraordinary. To me dishes in the sink, something simple is usually the most honest and direct, honest answer to the problem. I never add a heavy personal or political spin to it. I don’t think you need it. To me great, gutsy drawing and painting is always the right answer. Its’ always enough.
There have been hotel rooms in Orlando, Florida with the World Series on in the background and rainy days driving Route 66 covering the Oklahoma City bombing for The New Yorker. Houses in Arkadelphia, Arkansas and muggy nights listening to the S.I. reporters in the next room laugh at Letterman at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. The deadlines are almost always short, the longest being 14 days to having to turn the drawing in the next day in the case of the New York Times. And yes my age and my gender (female) even my height, upbringing and art education, bare on what I bring back. These facts conglomerate into my personal point of view. And being a woman has never hurt me; I think in many ways it has helped. I have been privy to experiences most men won’t witness and I have had access to some incredible stories. From my work you can see that it has been an exhilarating and passionate way to live. With pictures that live on to tell the tale.