Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Doubting Artist #6

Two nights ago I was painting and DID NOT have a satisfying/successful (by my very subjective standards) painting session. I had been wrangling with a canvas for days, and though sometimes it got "better", I always managed to keep on going and make it worse. I was scheduled to teach a painting class the next day. I went to bed, thinking that the last thing I should do was try to teach someone else how to paint. The next day I woke up with a big idea for the class. We would talk about 'what to do when a painting is NOT working'. It was a very 'successful' session. As I reviewed approaches and methodology for resolving problems, my own tangled 'brain palette' got straightened out. I regained a modicum of confidence and felt a sense of possibility as I re-approached my own work. I was reminded again that the most effective teaching in my own life has been the "sharing the journey" sort...not the long-winded expert sort.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

People With No Names - The Undocumented #20

This mother and daughter,( two of only a few women among many males) were very serene in the midst of great uncertainty. They do not know if they are going back to an untenable economic past or forward to a completely unknown future. As they dwell temporarily in a women's refuge and eat at a shelter, I thought about how real the New Testament passage in Matthew 8:20 is: foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Works In Progress #4

A friend sent me this e-mail titled something like "Check Out All The Wildlife!" and I scrolled down to see all the animals that this rancher in Texas catches on a camera that is located above a cattle trough. There was a cougar, a bobcat, an owl, a couple of javelinas and then, 3 immigrants stopping for water at 4:34 AM. (the camera prints the time on each picture it snaps.) At first I was marveling at all the wildlife he caught in only one night...but then erk!!! Was he equating human beings, forced to drink dirty trough water, with wild animals? Does he know how sick it will make them?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

People With No Names - The Undocumented #19

This is a very loose oil sketch of a table of immigrant men right before they are served breakfast/lunch. (one of two meals a day). They are looking at a piece of paper on which their stories have been typed up. Every few days a visiting student hands these two-sided/ one sheet of paper, accounts to the immigrants to read. They have evidence in their hands that their lives, their journeys, matter. Isn't this what we all want?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

People With No Names - The Undocumented #18

These 4 women and about 75 men are eating the first of two meals a day at the Centro para Atencion a los Migrantes Deportados in Nogales, Mexico a few hundred yards from where Mexico borders Arizona. There, volunteers serve two hearty meals a day and provide basic medical care and clothes or shoes to those who need them. Many people tell the same story: namely they had been living and working in the U. S. for years, went home to visit a dying relative or some other equally important family event and then could not return 'home' to family and a longtime work situation in the U.S. One man even owned his own blacksmithing business near Seattle (having come to th U.S. as a small child), spoke fluent English, and now found himself in the no-man's land of the immigration debacle. He was eager to get 'home' because he has employees who work for him.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Monk Librarian #5

On Sunday our first reading in mass was from the book of Amos8:4-7. "Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! Sounds so timely. The poor are still being abused and exploited. Today on NPR's Fresh Air the author David Rakoff was talking about being in the trenches when his friends were first dying of aids, and sometimes going to multiple hospitals in one day to visit them. And he said that it was odd because there was a war going on, but it was a particular and private war that many people around him on the street had no knowledge of. Now David Rakoff has an aggressive cancer that may claim his arm and shoulder and maybe his life. And he thinks back to those friends he has lost...and along with his own fervent will to remains in his mind that all the people that he knew, that did die, didn't die because they wanted to live less than he does. They did not die because their desire to continue existing was found wanting, in ways that his desire is not. He says that has been tremendously instructive to him. (It is instructive to me too as I think about the poor and the immigrants.) He also said that as he faces disfigurement and possible death he still feels great gratitude, he says, "I am so far ahead of the game, I have great medical care, I live in a country where I don't have to make sneakers for a living, I don't live in a toxic waste dump..." and here's the main thing..."you can't win at all the contests and then not win at one and say, 'why am I not winning ALL the time'.

People With No Names - The Undocumented #17

This is Caesar, hand clipping each of the 30 Italian Cypress bushes around the perimeter of a property so that the skinny shrubs will fatten up. (Everything fattens up in America, right?) Again he is up on the ladder. In our life journey we all want to climb up, BUT ESPECIALLY we want our kids to climb up. Who doesn't want to boost his/her kids up on his shoulders to give him a bigger view of the world. It is a mini glimpse of the future. Ladders, shoulders, and feet are the only means at hand. Immigrants are certainly not flying up here on airplanes...although we DO deport many of them on airplanes (see the photo on page 8A of the Sept 10, 2010 USA TODAY), which always strikes me as funny, because even though they are shackled, they REALLY get an up close glimpse of what an incredibly muy rico country this is! And then they are probably doubly motivated to try again, just for an opportunity to climb the ladder, to boost their kids up on their shoulders.

Monday, September 20, 2010

People With No Names - The Undocumented #16

This is another of my "ladder paintings". I have noticed that ladders are a recurrent image in many of my paintings, due to the fact that many jobs such as gardenwork, painting houses, cleaning houses require the use of a ladder. The ladder is a metaphor for the journey. I will walk step by step up, from down in Central America to El Norte to find opportunity and work for my family. I will leave the comfort and safety of terra firma (my culture, my family, my language). If I am short in stature (as are many indigenous people) I will take more steps. I will start at the bottom of the ladder: walking, weeding and waiting. I will prop my ladder against a wall of opportunity, possibility and hope. (Note that I painted this in squares, merely focusing on the beautiful colors in each quadrant of the image, because many pieces have to come together for these people to gain a chance at a new life. Also I purposely decided not to let the ladder come all the way to the ground to indicate the precarious position that the immigrant is always in.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Works In Progress #3

Here I am just reducing the Nogales Mary to its basic geometry. I don't know why but the simplest elements are always the most powerful...probably a good metaphor for our lives.

Works In Progress #2.

This is a preliminary sketch for a painting of a young woman, pregnant, deported, doing the dishes in a refugee center. She is a modern day Mary, the mother of Jesus. Father Gregory Boyle says, "to embrace the strategy of Jesus is to be engaged in downward mobility".

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

People With No Names - The Undocumented #15

This is "Nogales Trinity". The two women in the back are some of the deportees who all help clean up after they finish the meal that the volunteers at the Kino Border Initiative have fed them. This woman in the front is talking about her family...her five children that she left with her parents in Guatemala. She has just learned that while she was walking across the desert to find work and care for her family, her oldest child died of Denge fever. Her parents did not want to tell her (lest she become even more disheartened) but her 10 year old daughter blurted it out to her over the phone. She began to weep as she told me.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Monk Librarian #4

Yesterday I went to Nogales, Mexico to meet with Immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. As I heard their stories, I kept hoping that I could, in some small way do them justice as I depict them visually. Their lives are characterized by: uncertainty, loss and physical hardship...things that can befall all of us...but in their case are pretty much a constant. By my accident of birth, I live in the illusion that I can prevent many of these things. I marveled at the ease with which I waltzed back and forth across the border...twice in one day!! I had no fear of the border patrol's guns and dogs; but trust me , they DID look very scary.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

People With No Names - The Undocumented #13

This is just a quick brushy underpainting/first pass I made at an image of Caesar on the big ladder. As I looked at it, I realized that this image is a true picture of an undocumented immigrant's life here. Nothing is clearly delineated, articulated or certain. A person on a ladder is potentially in a precarious position; a person on the margins of society is always in a precarious position.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

People With No Names - The Undocumented #12

This man came to my door early one morning in July 2010 asking for work in my garden. Actually my son awoke me saying a man named Caesar Chavez was at the door and, well, I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs to the door! I mean, his name is so iconic! Anyway, he and his helper are from Guatemala and spent an entire day on ladders removing thorny branches from the roses. They are small statured people but so tireless and hardworking. I realized that the ladders, they have to use are very apt. They just need a little assistance getting up...and then they will work. They are very motivated.