Wednesday, October 27, 2010
This oil on canvas (18"x24") depicts agricultural workers in a local greenhouse. Yesterday on NPR I heard a story discussing the impact of immigration policy on (specifically) apple picking in the U.S. It seems that even a weak economy and scads of unemployed Americans will not entice the American worker to 'go down on the farm'. A Washington state apple farmer says that he prefers immigrant labor because they will work 7 days a week/ 14 hour days if he asks them to, with no bitching, happy to do it". He does not want American labor because in his words, "they just won't do it". An American woman, unemployed, said she won't work there because there is a social barrier, then she paused and added, "it's hard work". (Incidently, this woman is married to a Latino and speaks fluent Spanish!) The grower pays $15/bin (a bin is 900 lbs.) and a fast worker can make $120/day. The crew boss introduced a worker named Martina from Oaxaca who picks 8 bins/day and proudly boasted that she is a "mujer" (woman)! The Latino crew boss says that he, " understands that the grower cannot pay more than he makes...if Americans want low prices at the supermarket, the growers can't pay higher wages in the orchard. American growers are under pressure due to cheaper apples coming in from Chile and China." (Personally, with China's toxic track record, I would not want to eat an apple shipped from China.) With wages $15-$20/bin, work orders for 150 American workers have gone unanswered.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
This is another oil sketch on canvas (15"x 21") of plant nursery workers in the Northwest. One of my children is visiting this weekend from college, and tells of a recent discussion in her English class. Her professor is positing the idea that everything we do, choose, wear AND say, is rhetoric. Beyond words, all of our choices and actions are seeking to communicate our life hopes and desires in a powerful way. I often think that immigrants, especially those who don't speak English, cannot speak for themselves. But in the context of 'life rhetoric' their choices speak loudly and clearly. The act of leaving a life, family, and culture behind, traveling to a foreign place (on foot!), taking almost nothing with them, argues forcefully for the economic necessity and desperation driving our Mexican and Central American neighbors.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Today I was painting, and heard a story on the radio about "space tourism". Apparently, Richard Branson has gotten one step closer to his goal of operating his new commercial space travel business. He is doing tests at his new space station and hopes to soon begin offering flights to 8 people at a time, with fares STARTING at $200,000. He has 200 people signed up already. The flight will include 5 minutes of weightlessness at the edge of space, and then return to earth. Where is this very expensive airport located? It is in New Mexico, right next to the border with Mexico! Wow, many people say that we cannot afford to welcome our poor neighbors to the south. There is always trouble when there is great economic disparity between neighbors; and even more so when the rich neighbor flaunts his wealth in the face of the poor neighbor. Our Central American neighbors are sacrificing greatly to provide bread for their children...and we are flying into space...for fun.
This is an oil sketch on canvas (15"x 21") of 3 workers at a wholesale nursery in the Northwest. I asked permission to talk to the workers. The owner at first stated that all immigrant workers are documented...but then admitted that the agriculture business could not exist without the pool of immigrant labor (documented or otherwise). As is often the case, there was understandable hesitancy and resistance to answering my questions. But as I bumbled along in my rudimentary Spanish, and promised not to use names, the men told me why they came to the U.S. and where they came from. This group came from the states of Oaxaca and Yucatan. All came for the same reason: economic necessity. Even though these men are short in stature and the particular plants are about knee high, the day's work involves bending over all day long. These men are thankful for the work. There is dignity in work and the ability to care for one's family.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
This 24"x36" oil on canvas image is of a man who I met in Nogales. His story is a good news/bad news. The bad news is: this husband, father, and agricultural worker was deported and cannot rejoin his U.S. citizen wife and child. His family has had to move in with relatives in California, as they wait and hope for his return. The good news is: He is alive. He is not one of the 200+ people who die in the desert each year. He is deported, but alive. There is still 'possibility' in his future. Re-unifiction of families and economic well-being are the two main reasons for immigration.
Monday, October 18, 2010
This woman from El Salvador is receiving a simple nourishing meal at a refugee shelter in Nogales. A young woman from my church observed that, "serving others in the context of hospitality is a powerful act, and a beautiful 'welcoming of all' at the table of our society".
Friday, October 15, 2010
Yesterday I saw a staggeringly beautiful film. I was spellbound by the lighting, the images and the themes. The film is "Never Let Me Go" and was adapted from the book by Kazuo Ishiguro. I cannot recommend the book and the film highly enough. It explores themes of technology, ethics, human worth and dignity, and the place of art as an indicator of our intrinsic humanity. Oh, and it re-visits the concept of 'duty and service' that was so beautifully rendered in Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day". Interestingly, Ishiguro is an immigrant, raised in England by his Japanese parents. He finds the concept of duty very similar in Japan and England and except for his Japanese name, the reader would never question his English lineage.
This asphaltum under-painting is a study in light, medium and dark values. I am trying to get to the heart of the image, just as I am trying to understand the immigration debate. I am trying to understand why a wealthy, diverse nation of immigrants no longer wants to welcome tired, oppressed, huddled masses. We are a 'stone soup' nation. Many of us came to this country with so few material resources, such that we can name them in only one short sentence. The man in this image, with his back to us, showed me his deportation document. He has gotten the maximum time, ( 20 years), before he can re-apply to join his wife and child (both U.S. citizens). He had been working for many years picking melons and other crops in the U.S. He told me that a policeman had asked to see his papers and the deportation had ensued. I have since learned that the INS is backlogged by at least 18 yrs. in processing applications for family unification...so this man is potentially elgible to legally re-join his family in 38 years.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
What could be more quotidian than doing dishes...a ritual cleansing of vessels. I worked on this for several days before I really noticed that everyone is doing dishes in big plastic bowls, not plumbed sinks. Plumbing is not necessary for cleansing; it is the water that is vital.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Okay, here is the next stage of the same 'Doing Dishes/Washing Holy Vessels' painting. And here is another thought I have about staying open for as long as possible: When we remain open, we can continue to gather information freely, and not get too committed to the position of things. Once we commit to a position, we tend to hang on to it, EVEN WHEN WE REALIZE IT IS WRONG! What's up with that? It sounds so ridiculous, but we do it in our lives and in our work.
This is the beginning of a large painting where I am combining three different people who are doing the dishes after one of the two daily meals provided at the Kino Border Initiative shelter for refugees. I realize, more and more all the time, how important it is to stay VERY open for as long as possible. Painting and drawing teachers try to teach this, but we all want to "go in for the kill", make some kind of recognizable image, and show we have some competence. Let's face it...it is just so uncomfortable to dwell for any length of time in uncertainty, but that place, sometimes that dark place, is where possibility and beginnings exist.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
I kept trying to paint this Nogales Mary exactly as I had photographed her, and it just wasn't working. Then I stumbled on the Bonnard painting of a little girl at the table...the one where the canvas is almost totally filled with a white breakfast table littered with all manner of foodstuffs. I realized that if I put "my contemporary Mary" (the immigrant who is 4 mos. pregnant and trying to travel with her husband to the United States) into this composition it would be redolent with meaning, as well as working as a painting composition. Thankyou Pierre Bonnard! Now my painting makes me think of the 'Table of Plenty' song we sing at church, especially the line, "God will provide for all that we need, here at the table of plenty".
Friday, October 8, 2010
Yesterday I painted another 40x60" of the two women who are waiting in the refuge. I let the mother/older women be all drippy and enigmatic because I just read that Simone de Bouvier said, "If a woman gives herself 'consent' to growing older, she is changed into a 'different being', one who is more herself, one who is complete". Unlike their first world sisters, these women are not fighting the aging process, or trying to stay forever young, they are fighting to stay alive and help their loved ones.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
This is a mother & daughter who have been deported and are waiting in the women's refuge, trying to decide their next move. I was fortunate to see a few real Gauguin paintings of his big, solid Tahitian women this past weekend; and I realized that these two women have the same strong peaceful bearing. I will be trying to do them justice this next week. Oh and I decided to paint these brave women BIG, so their dimension is 40x60".
Monday, October 4, 2010
On Sept. 29th I heard from a dear friend, who along with her husband and 4 children, is an immigrant in the U.K. On the surface you might wonder what this has to do with the American immigration "problem". Turns out, this suspicion and mistrust of "outsiders" is a timeless and worldwide phenomenon. My friend and her family are gainfully employed, fully involved and integrated in their village and only wish to do good in their adopted homeland. But this universal suspicion and penalizing of outsiders persists in the face of the obvious goodwill of specific people. People move around the globe, impelled by various social, intellectual and economic circumstances...and the native born instinctively re-act to repel "foreign invaders". It occurred to me that we are socially recapitulating what our physical bodies are programmed to do. Our bodies are programmed to 'reject' anything that is not immediately recognized as belonging to them. In fact, the term for the is "foreign bodies". The physical response to a foreign body is: 1) alert the body that a foreign agent is present, 2) surround it with white cells (at this point it often gets ugly and festers), and 3) expel/reject it.
I worked on this image in asphaltum, which is a dark transparent paint that I often use for underpaintings. It is larger than I have been working recently: 20x30 in. I was planning to keep working on it but now think I will start a new one. I deliberately set up the composition of three people but like how the main person (the mother of sorrow) is the only one clearly rendered. She is, in fact, very alone at this point in her life.
Friday, October 1, 2010
This Guatemalan woman is weeding. The man who is working with her is working on the ladder. She is willing to clean the ground in this new country...just knowing that the ladder of opportunity exists for her.