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Channeling Eric Fischl

I have been trying to piece an image together from photos on the internet of 1950s furniture, clothing, and young girls in a seated pose. As I have no photographs of myself after the age of 9, much less any of the places I’ve lived, I have to find other ways of creating the images. Because the piece I am thinking through is fraught with emotional baggage, I don’t want to use children I know as models. But as I have been thinking about it some more, the idea of the image is gradually changing and possibly starting to take shape so that I’m starting to believe I can capture the emotional load of the original experience. I am less self-critical of my recent work in the Fairy Tale Series than I was feeling on Wednesday, which makes me feel better, not to mention more competent. But I’m still channeling Eric Fischl and trying to secure the confidence to work more transparently, and I’m still wishing for white walls and more space to work larger!


Reading Eric Fischl’s Bad Boy

I am reluctant to finish this book, which has captivated, inspired and challenged me over the last several days. I am fascinated by Fischl’s ability to transcend social, personal, and art market obstacles to adhere to a conviction about his work that seems nearly heroic to me. It helps, of course, that almost from the beginning of his study at CalArts in the early 70s, he had the support and confidence of others whom he respected, even when they thought his work was not the direction art was going. He persevered and the work he produced since that time has a unity which he understands and intelligently articulates.

Fischl’s adherence to his singular vision makes me aware of the ways I have found to conceal the rawness of my own experiences instead of showing their naked truth in my  images. I am able to be fully exposed in my poetry, but I have not had the courage to make similarly honest images.

Meanwhile, my dreams are intense right now in response to Fischl’s book, calling up events and images that are demanding that I find a way to create them. Besides the courage, which I hope I will find, I need materials, space, and time. Is it time to apply for a grant again? Is there any point? Somehow, I know I will find a way to do this work. I know because I always have.

The Frog King

The Frog King

Her promise means nothing

a child crying for a lost

plaything crying

as children do coming face to

face with the world.

She would have promised anything.

An older girl

a young woman, though

the golden ball alone

a plaything

makes unlikely that possibility

might have laughed

abandoned the ball walked away


A promise is

a promise Father commands.

So he ate from her plate

drank from her cup slept

that’s what he called it

in her bed.

Now everyone says the naked

man in her bedroom is

a king, even though

the girl

the child insists he is just a frog.

Rapunzel, After

I’ve been working on writings in a new journal specifically set aside for the Fairy Tale Series (I tend to have to do that when a new series begins to seriously coalesce).  With the new journal, a sewn binding with lots of pages printed with a 4-square graph, I feel more free. I scribble over what I’ve written, test words, move things around, throw stuff out. The painting that goes with this one isn’t done yet, but I did know when I began it what it was about.

Rapunzel, After


It’s hard to piece the story together

from a handful of photos

half-truths, evasions

outright lies.


It’s true about the long-haired girl

and the prince, though he didn’t act

the way princes are supposed to.

He rescued her, he said, but she

was just looking for fun

a little wild maybe

just a girl.


The witch

if she really was one

died. Stroked out on the kitchen floor

while the girl was out shopping

about the same time the prince left

for good though he’d been leaving

all along

over and over and the girl with

first one baby then two

no one to comb her long hair

forgive her, soothe her when she was tired or

rock the babies so she could sleep.


After that it was years wandering in the woods

searching for a prince finding

one after another just like the first

or worse.

Gretel’s Tale

Forty-five years later I can still

smell her stink, indistinguishable

from sour cabbage in the halls, carpets

too old to clean.


Mother laughed at the old woman’s shapeless

black dresses, her shrunken shoulders, the mottled

skin beneath her thin black hair. She was

never home to see her chase


us up dark stairwells, shrieking

imprecations until, breathless, we

slammed the apartment door behind us.

The dog was young then and


the fourth violent husband

still a few years away. The third appeared

amiable as long as he was drunk, and in California

1955, before Las Vegas, Boulder City, Reno


Apple Valley, Albuquerque, before

sitting on the kitchen floor, a cold beer open

between her legs, weeping and talking about

suicide to her 13-year old


Mother was on the way up.


But even then, when

it looked like, in a year or two, we might

have enough to go around, she

and the woodcutter husband


planned one day to lose us

in the woods. If we hadn’t been

so hungry, we would have saved up crumbs for

the trip, because we already knew


the old witch was out there

firing up the stove

bringing the water to boil

eager to pinch the meat on our bones.

Working on new series

What began as the Fairy Tale Series earlier this year is occupying my mind. With the upcoming show at Banfill-Locke in March (March 7-April 10), I have a lot of work to finish.

I feel a bit uncertain about showing work that is so different from what I have been doing for the last 20 plus years. Though my nature-driven work has always been about a few other things besides nature (as some viewers and collectors have noticed), this is still a major step in a different, more obviously autobiographical, direction.

Each of the fairy tales I’ve worked with so far plunges me into contemplation of my own history, both as a child and as an adult. They are all stories of survival against monumental odds, but I also find myself wondering what kind of survival? Does the young woman whose drunken father brags to a greedy king that his daughter can spin straw into gold have much of a future, even after Rumplestiltskin “rescues” her from the king’s promise of certain death if she cannot do this truly impossible task? What if, at some later date and after the goblin has been dispatched and the child she bore the king is saved, the king’s coffers run out? Thinking about this possibility makes me think about my own struggles, and those of my sister, to survive our childhood. The piece I am working on right now, “Straw into Gold,” is based on this tale.

The second piece I worked on tonight is “The Frog King.” The story, which is one of manipulation, lies, and betrayal, features a princess at its center, though mostly as a pawn, which is pretty typical of fairy tales. I keep writing about it, trying to figure out exactly why I am certain I need to work with it and what kinds of imagery will convey my sense of what the story means. It’s a struggle!

The painting above is one I finished a few months ago, the second of those I began. It is based on a dream I had about events in my life, and my reading of the story “The Armless Maiden.”

Play date today

Maybe all I really need is someone I like coming over to work with me in my studio for a couple of hours. Bouncing ideas off each other, listening to music, painting, cutting things up and pasting them down with acrylic medium, talking about our lives, taking a break for lunch and going back to work.

Susan F. came over today and we did just that, holding up our work for one another occasionally for comment or praise, while Sammy followed us around begging for attention (or food – bad dog!).

Even Sammy had a good day. He got to go to the dog park and run, sniff, slobber and be slobbered on. We both came home tired and happy. I’ll try to get some photos up soon of what turned out to be a very productive day in the studio.

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