K and A Ranch, Meadowbrook CA 2010, 2010 Oil on linen 36 × 48 inches
K and A Ranch, Meadowbrook CA 2010, 2010
Oil on linen 36 × 48 inches

In 1999 we had to opportunity to purchase my husband Andrew’s grandfather’s cabin in the unincorporated township of Meadowbrook, CA, near Lake Elsinore in Riverside California. We had a tumultuous year in New York, where our puppy had died, the mob was running a bordello underneath us (that the cops were in on), and Andrew fell into a deep depression. I had my NYC debut at Jay Gorney with roughly hewn abstract next to figurative works that was beloved by artists but misunderstood by some of the art going public, and although I was still doing well in the art world, decided, as I was becoming disillusioned with the rarified world of fine art, that I would officially "retire" from the art world, pull all my work out of the galleries, and like my heroes Arthur Rimbaud, Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin, move with Andrew, saving him from his Gotham despair and paint in the provinces in our blighted Giverny. When we got to California, Andrew’s mom, who was a truant landlord of this place she won in a divorce settlement from Andrew’s deadbeat dad, hadn’t successfully been able to get the current tenants out—a single mother and her two children, who hadn’t paid rent in months, and who had literally thrown over nine tons of their garbage all around the property in years living there. It was sad, but this was a feral family in a blighted area that was the epicenter of the recession a few years later. Surrounded by trailer homes with retirees and crystal meth labs, it is also the home of some poor man’s castles, who raise ostriches, peacocks, and goats, in addition to undercover marijuana growing facilities and more. Andrew’s grandfather had the place since the ’50’s, when it was quite beautiful and remote, a village of similar homes that were weekend getaways for the working class. Andrew and his family would pack their groceries and drive in on the weekends, and he had many fond memories of his childhood visiting the monkeys that were being raised by a kind family next door, and having wonderful adventures with his siblings and cousins with their pater familias grandfather and clan, and it was always his hope to live there as an adult, so in many ways it was our escape from New York and entrance into Andrew’s dream.

There was a lot of work to be done, however. Once the mother found a job, she was able to move, and we moved in, removing all the garbage—diapers, cans, tires, and other garbage amongst half buried swing sets, an old bus—-and the son had a habit of burying all kinds of broken toys and silverware, etc., in the once beautiful landscape. We repaired broken windows and walls, repainted the place and the sturdied the roof and more, much of the work done with our own hands. I was able to get teaching at UC Irvine, where I had gone to graduate school, and we planted many trees, literally and figuratively. I began to paint en pleine air, and like Monet and my other heroes, tried to converge the works I had been creating—both abstract and figurative, into one, using the map of the vision of our place, which became quite beautiful and recovered, as a way to project my memories and feelings, while also trying to harness the complicated matter of all there was to see into painting. It was bucolic and nice, but also we realized that this was a rural, conservative area, the heart of Amendment 8 and other homophobic and otherwise conservative peoples. Andrew, who is Latino and part Native American and I don’t look like brothers, and when we went to restaurants at night, literally all would stop talking and stare. I realized that if the people at Walmart knew what we were about, they would club us or worse, and the limitations of the area culturally speaking began to unnerve me—all screens would show the same film of Deuce Bigelow, and there wasn’t much to do at night or for cultural edification, unless you wanted to drive into Los Angeles, a few hours away. We did and do love it though, but I realized that if I was "wired to do this"—to create fine art and have a career; I needed to go back to New York and begin to have a career again. The artworld wasn’t perfect, sure, but most people involved in fine art really have a passion for what it is they believe in and work for, and although it was a rarified world, it wasn’t just about "rich white people," it was about bringing up ideas aesthetically, on the highest level, in galleries that were free for all to see and to ponder, at museums that the public could hopefully visit and feel they had access to, and that I really enjoyed not just the process of creating art, but also to exhibit and express myself visually via my work to a larger public. So I came back to NYC, got my teaching back at SVA and NYU, and began the long, slow process of trying to put myself back on the map I had so intensely, in the hubris of my romantic youth, took myself off. This took years—over seven years of humbly working in our tiny place, teaching at some points at my peak of thirteen classes a week at various schools, and inviting people in to see my work with the hope that I would get a second chance. Eventually this happened, and I haven’t looked back since, and ultimately am glad we did most of what we did—I certainly am glad we got the cabin, which continues to be our "fortress of solitude" that we escape to whenever we can, and we have the long term goal of moving there eventually where I grow my beard really long and have it be once again my blighted Giverny.

For now, I have my time there when I paint, and the many pictures of our place that I have created from photos, such as this one, perhaps one of the best cabin pictures I have painted, entitled after the name we bequeathed it—"K and A Ranch." The neat thing about working from contemporary technology is in a high resolution image, there is an amazing amount of detail the camera and the printer capture, and unlike the impressionists, or even the artists like Bonnard and Vuillard that used photography as a source for their imagery, there is a lot of information to riff on. Da Vinci and many of the old masters have said if you want to do something new, "turn to nature" as it can give us more visual information that our mind can make up on its own, and its not dependent on any art historical or otherwise language when you are creating work from it. I think one’s style comes about from using reference and painting something "the best way you can." Van Gogh was of course inspired by Dutch art, Japanese woodblock prints, the impressionists and more, but at the end of the day, at the end of his life, he was just painting the land the best way he could because it rose up within him those emotions and thoughts as he was projecting onto the landscape. I think the secret of the sublime is "micromanaging to the macromanged whole" and in my old age, have begun regarding not just Van Gogh and the Impressionists but the Old Masters, who were able, in their fine rendering of things be able to recognize and cognitize each element of what they saw—for Da Vinci, he was able to paint every Golden Ratio of every leaf in every tree in every landscape and touch upon how all elements worked with and against one another to create and exciting harmony of Nature. Kant would mention that his ideal of beauty was to recreate nature, but the sublime would be something, if an artist could even approach it, the overwhelming feeling of nature—something in contemporary terms you "couldn’t put a frame around." I think when we are little, we feel these sublime moments in nature as we recognize how everything is alive and working together and against each other in a way we don’t have the necessary capabilities to filter out and focus on what is most important. For Van Gogh, in his wicker-like weave of his sinewy forms coalescing with one another I think he activates this feeling once again, for Da Vinci he also does this, but in a much more subtle matter in his sfumato. With many of these painters, like Da Vinci says, you can’t help but "paint yourself" into the picture. As you are thinking your thoughts, in the obsessive way one can paint, your conscious mind is rendering what it sees, but your unconscious mind is also wielding the brush, and the result is you paint your inner mind as well as your critical consciousness. In Cézannes, there is something I always call a "Cézanne hole" in the middle of most of his works—where it seems more recessed in the optical space where his head must have been positioned, and you can make out unconsciously realized teeth, beard, eyes, moustaches and more—his inner mind projected onto the landscape. In Van Goghs, look for his visage hidden in the cypress trees and the rocks, and you can make out his own subliminal, unconsciously realized profile embedded into the picture. The great painters usually exceed in their rendering what it is that they are painting—there is something "extra" in the mix, that gives the work life, emotion, that makes it transcendent beyond the subject matter, and time, and that is the very thing that gives them their qualities that we now recognize them for today (and for some of them, the "excesses" of their rendering, how it didn’t look "right" or like a photo, is the very thing the public of their time might have rejected them for in their day—whereas the hack artist, or the Meissonier’s of their time who received accolades because they could make things look "real," but not much more than that, seem like hacks to our contemporary eyes).

In this work, I tried my best to make it look "real," but also open my eyes to all that I was perceiving and thinking about. I thought about all the history I had with this special place, how we were able to alchemize it from a heap into something incredibly beautiful for us, and how it really represented our lives together, our souls onto one, and a place of healing, love and spirit. I found listening to Roxy Music was perfect for rendering by, as they are so perfect in their stylization, their form carries with it an incredible amount of feeling and passion with precision of their instruments and sound. Especially Avalon, one of their last great records, seemed perfect as this is Andrew and I’s Avalon. For me, my favorite passages are those that fall into abstraction, the flower beds to the left of the palm trees especially conjure into dream like flights of fancy, as the elements are so small my unconscious would take over. I loved painting this picture, which really reminds me of all we feel about the place, and hopefully transcend from a Thomas Cole-like details to something more like Monet or a more three dimensional Cézanne. If you would turn the camera to the left or to the right you might see something more of the blight I mentioned, but if you look towards this direction, or over the blight, you will see the amazing wonderland that is our home.