Snakes and Ladders: The Game of Life

I’ve been laboring away on a 36″x36″ adult version of the ancient game, “Snakes and Ladders.”

Many people might be familiar with a mass-produced 1950’s version called “Chutes and Ladders” (presumably re-named to avoid pietistic sensibilities regarding snakes), but there are many other, older versions kicking around.

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Snakes and Ladders: 1950’s version

The basic idea of the game is to progress through the board by shooting up a ladder or down a chute depending on a roll of the dice.  Images at the bottom and top of a ladder tend to demonstrate reward for good behavior.  Images at the bottom and top of a snake generally teach the results of being bad.

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Snakes and Ladders: Turn of the Century Moralistic Version

Cultural assumptions abound in all versions.  Obedience takes one very far indeed in this Victorian effort, while slander literally takes the player back to square one.  This particular board doesn’t indicate direct cause and effect, only a line of travel.  A ladder may take one up from a named good quality, but doesn’t land on a specific good one.  Ditto for the snakes:  we know exactly what takes us down, but not exactly to what.

Typically, the Hindu version is visually busy and over-the-top.  I adore the way the snakes are now all cobras twisting and twining over one another in one big creepy mass.  I can’t read the script and don’t know how moralistic this one is, but the gist seems to be a methodical elevation of consciousness (the top row consists of divine beings).  I have heard that some Hindu temples use the game to teach karma to children and have read that there are Buddhist and Jain versions as well.

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Snakes and Ladders: Traditional Hindu Version

The impulse to do a version of my own remains mysterious but  I’m well into the project.  Here is the progress so far.

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There are 100 3″x3″ squares in all, making this one of the most labor-intensive projects I’ve ever undertaken.  I’ve retained the moralistic element of the Victorian effort, but have taken care to sprinkle the board with generous helpings of humor, irony, anger and grief.  Although the piece is meant to be hung on a wall, my hope is to get a number of card-table-sized ones printed up so people can actually play.  It pleases me to think of viewers enticed and tricked into making their way through each image in turn at a slow pace (art usually gets up to eight seconds or less of viewing time).   The whole project is an invitation to meditation on the larger questions we all wrestle with.  What qualities elevate the human condition and which send us tumbling down again?  What is the tension between the vagaries of chance and the more quasi-predictable results of positive and negative effort?  Is there a knowable, noble end-game, or is human existence nothing more than a mirage of logic overlaying a more fundamentally true and terrifyingly ferocious chaotic state?  I like art which thinks big.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Loving Things Just as They Are

There is no shortage of ideas when it comes to art.  Sometimes I work from dreams and fantasies, sometimes from something seen and appreciated (that girl deserves a painting!) and sometimes from an emotional need to manifest, cleanse and move things along.  The latest project, “Little Sister,” is in the latter category.

Kathy McClanahan died a few years ago after a prolonged struggle with lupus.  No one knows why people contract these things, but a good guess in this case is an immune system weakened by not enough love.   To describe Kathy is like describing a character in a book:  an opera singer, an adventuress, a religious ecstatic, an unapologetically transgressive sexual being and a brilliant intellectual.  She was a real Tantric Goddess, a lusty pursuer of forbidden pleasures as a tool for self knowledge.

Like many theatrical personalities Kathy was often easier to accept in the abstract than in reality, but I admired and loved her dearly.   This painting is a tribute and an expression of love for exactly who she was, as she was.   It’s a visual obituary for a person who was a saint, a sinner, a drug addict, a church girl, a masochistic lover, a gifted meditator, a knowledgeable practitioner of all the major world’s religions and a vigorous intellectual.   She was a riddle and a complicated conglomeration of opposites:  an in-your-face provocateur with a sweet, devotional nature who flaunted all societal norms with as much ease as she flicked ashes off her cigarette.

I laid out the painting using the same panel system I developed for “Motet.”  Perhaps someone might enjoy accompanying me on a tour through the imagery.

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Red Parrot Detail:  “Little Sister”

Kathy raised birds and was especially fond of parrots which she rescued from many a clueless pet owner.  Parrots are intelligent and suffer greatly in captivity.  Kathy knew they shouldn’t be kept at all but seemed to have a knack for attracting psychologically damaged birds into her orbit.  I wanted images of freedom and release at the top corners of the painting, so adding a red parrot was a natural.

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Red Dakini:  Upper Right Detail “Little Sister”

So was this little portrait of a red dakini from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.  Kathy was a serious Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and even learned a bit of Tibetan as a way of deepening her studies.  I’m not exactly sure what a Dakini is:  maybe like an angel, but with bigger breasts.  Putting the Sun behind the parrot and the Moon behind the flying red lady reinforces the sense of opposites I wanted to cultivate throughout the piece.

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Top Center Panel Detail:  “Little Sister”

Kathy lived many places, once even coming back to Cincinnati as she got sicker and sicker.  She couldn’t bear being hemmed in by anything, especially family, and eventually moved West to Grants Pass Oregon, where she died.   Grants Pass is an old cowboy town which used to be full of hippies and now seems mostly full of budget minded back-to-the-country retirees from Los Angeles.  Kathy was mostly too ill to take advantage of its natural beauty, but she fully appreciated the fact that it was there (and that it wasn’t Cincinnati).

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Ninja With Alligator Detail:  “Little Sister”

Along both sides of the board I added little scenes which exemplified something of Kathy’s life and my relationship with her.  We used to play a game of “alligators” when we were young.  People didn’t use babysitters much back then, so we had the run of the house when the parents were gone.   The “Alligator game” consisted of leaping from stools placed around the perimeter of the living room, the object being not to fall and get eaten.   Sometimes we’d use the couch like a trampoline and yell “Dick Van Dyke” as we landed on the cushions.   Who knows why?  When the cat’s away, the mice will play I guess.  I’ve used this image before and enjoy a bit of self-referential joking.

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Choir Girl Kathy

Kathy was a great singer.  Like many girls in our community, we learned to sing in the Junior Choir at the Greenhills Presbyterian Church.   It was the first time we were exposed to harmony and was a great training ground for both of us.  There wasn’t much gospel music in those days.  It was all anthems, hymns and Lutheran chorales, which I adored.  I think this sort of music is under-appreciated these days.  There’s nothing more solid or reassuring than a beautifully arranged old hymn.

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Tibetan Buddhist Kathy Detail:  “Little Sister”

To say Kathy was a student of world religions is an understatement.  Not content to simply study, she formally converted to Catholicism, Islam and Tibetan Buddhism in turn over the course of many years.  A major draw in each tradition were the outfits which she wore with great grace, aplomb and utter unselfconsciousness.

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Sunwood Court Cincinnati Detail:  “Little Sister”

For the lower center panel, just beneath the main image, I included this slightly creepy portrait of the house we grew up in.  It was a $12,000 Masonite board-and-batten beauty painted pink and bought with a GI loan.  Most of the families in the neighborhood worked in factories, chain restaurants and construction.   It was a working class subdivision of first-time homeowners with scads of children who still played jump rope and “war. ”  I think I was mostly a nurse, but Kathy needed something more vigorous.

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Green Tara Detail:  “Little Sister”

I placed some of the deities of Kathy’s various religious conversions along the bottom of the piece.  This is “Green Tara,” a Tibetan goddess who acts as a sort of entry into the tradition for newly-minted practitioners.  Tibetan Buddhism is highly ritualized and liturgical, something Kathy and I both value and love.

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Virgin Mary With Poppies Detail:  “Little Sister”

We both shared a strange devotion to the Virgin Mary as children.  I built an altar to her in the garage early on and continued with some do-it-yourself devotions as an adult.   As always, Kathy dove deeper than I, formally converting to Catholicism and buying up as many rosaries and chapel veils as she could.   What good is a religion if you can’t have the outfits?

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Shiva and Shakti Detail:  “Little Sister”

Kathy was deeply interested in the Tantric sexual imagery of the union of Shiva and Shakti, God and Nature, lover and beloved.    She didn’t believe in the usual concepts of transgression or perversion, seeing all expressions of sexuality as good and right in their own way.

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Mirabai Detail:  “Little Sister”

Kathy never formally converted to Hinduism, but was an enthusiastic practitioner of kirtan, Hindu devotional singing.  As always, she had the requisite accouterments and outfits.   When she died, I found heaps of expensive punjabis, sarees and gopi dresses, all in different sizes.  She’d even bought a harmonium, which I promptly shipped back to Ohio.  I like the way these four forms work at the bottom of the painting.  Like the arched heating system at the bottom of an ancient Roman bath, these little figures seem like the supportive heating elements of Kathy’s life.  She may have appeared as a pill-popping, wine-swilling, cigarette-smoking bar fly on the outside, but inside she was worlds and worlds more.

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Nun Detail:  “Little Sister”

Kathy lived for many years in San Francisco and vigorously pursued Catholicism there.  A Carmelite nunnery at the top of the hill was a favorite stopping off place.  She was a bit too much into the maladaptive sides of convent life for my taste (they put them all inside and never let them out!) but the devotional impulse was real.  Kathy went to mass faithfully whenever she was able and was pretty much the best Catholic I ever met.

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Cigarettes With Mala Detail:  “Little Sister”

Little sister smoked like a chimney and had an addictive personality in general.   Stale smoke, dirty bird cages, jars of pills, rosaries, Tibetan deities and sentimental Catholic art prints came into a surprising balance wherever she lived.

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One of the strangest episodes of Kathy’s spiritual adventuring came during the Muslim phase.  She often said this was the easiest religion to get into (declare Mohammed three times and you’re in) and one of the easiest to leave.  She gave it a good go for a while, even traipsing around San Francisco in full niqab and burka regalia.  As usual, her reports of the experience were unconventional.  She hated the sexism she found in her Islamic community but loved the anonymity of the outfits.  “You can see people but they can’t see you!” she’d crow.  There wasn’t any alcohol but plenty of dancing at the private ladies’ parties she attended.  In the end, there was too much emphasis on rote learning and not enough intellectual stimulation for her.  Of all the religions she practiced, this is the only one she ever left completely.  For those with a sharp eye, I referenced her addiction to opioids in the patterning of the hijab.

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Center Panel:  “Little Sister”

The center panel was the hardest to design.  It was tempting to white-wash Kathy’s life, but that would have belittled what I’ve come to regard as her greatest achievement.   Her whole life was a work of art.  She lived it exactly as she wanted to and was utterly unapologetic about it.   This included a stint in the San Francisco sex club scene, a venue in which I later learned she was something of a minor star.   Completely giving herself to another was part of a larger pattern in which masochistic theatrics and spiritual surrender were seen as one and the same.  “Some people are just wired differently” she’d tell me, and I guess she was right.

I set out to work through contradictory feelings about Kathy’s life and my part in it but, as it turns out, there was no peace to be had.  I’ve decided that the light and dark of her passage through this world,  the pleasure and pain of it, the ignorance and the bliss…..the whole mixed up shebang is absolutely perfect exactly as it is.  That girl deserves a painting.

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Hypnotide Cover Art

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Surf band Hypnotide’s new casette release, “The Ninja and the Sea Monster”

Hypnotide’s  “The Ninja and the Sea Monster” is finished and released into the world via cassette tape.  I’m a bit out of the mainstream and not much of a hipster these days, but using this format strikes me as bold, arty, eccentric and right up my alley.   Band leader and drummer Joe Nelson bought the painting, used it for the cover art and generously gifted me a copy.   We never got rid of our old tape machine and were able to spend the entire morning listening to this delightful mash-up of Venture’s-style-surf and sonic-performance-art.  Well done, Mr. Nelson and crew!

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Hypnotide’s “The Ninja and the Sea Monster” Cassette Tape

It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen anything new in this format.  The nostalgic sweetness it evokes is notable and surprising.  Best of luck to Hypnotide and thanks to Joe Nelson and the band for using the art.

 

 

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Ohio Art League Thumb Box Show

The Ohio Art League always holds an exhibit of small works aimed at holiday shoppers this time of year.  The venue this season is the Franklin Park Conservatory at 1777 E Broad street from November 18th – January 3, 2018.

I’ve tried just about every approach there is for this show, from dashed-off trifles to labor-intensive miniatures.  Neither is predictive of sales so I do whatever I want and let the chips fall where they may.    The pieces must be no bigger than 6″x6″, which isn’t a lot of image-space.  My surfaces are a couple of pieces of plywood blocked on the back to lift them off the wall a bit, all compliments of hipster hubby Joel.

"Red Beast" by Lynda McClanahan

“Red Beast” by Lynda McClanahan

First up is this mash-up of the Hindu goddess of the Ganges and the Whore of Babylon found in Revelations.   Some of the iconography comes straight from the Whore and some of it would be recognized by devotees as belonging to Ganga-ma.  True to the Bible, the figure rides a red beast and is dressed in scarlet and purple.  The position of the feet and the surplus of arms is strictly Hindu, as is the idea of symbolic signifiers held in each hand.  The objects themselves have been nudged closer to the naughty lady dreamed up by John the Revelator however.  A Venus flytrap is held aloft instead of a lotus, a purse dangles from a wrist, a knife protrudes menacingly from a lower hand and a pot of spurting blood is palmed by another.   It’s a hybrid image pretty much guaranteed to offend those who really look and mystify those who don’t.

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“Red Bird” by Lynda McClanahan

The other painting is the other side of the coin.  A benign queenly figure, also in purple, holds a flowering staff in one hand and a little red bird in the other.    I’ve used similar colors and constructed the same crown for each figure to suggest a relationship between them, but what that relationship might be is left to the viewer.  Here’s hoping the pieces are hung together.

 

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Ohio Art league 2017 Fall Juried Show

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“Pink Slip With Wallpaper” and “Made in Sri Lanka” by Lynda McClanahan.   Photo by Paula Lambert

The dry period of no juried shows seems to have ended.   “Pink Slip With Wallpaper” and “Made in Sri Lanka” were both accepted into the Ohio Art League’s Fall show.

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Carnegie Gallery Hallway, Columbus Metropolitan Library

The venue is the Carnegie Gallery on the 2nd floor of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.  This lovely old building was recently renovated, adding more wall space for artists and better lighting.  My things always benefit from bright light so I couldn’t be more pleased.

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Juror Sarah Fairchild (left)

Juror Sarah Fairchild couldn’t have been more welcoming and gracious.  She was also instrumental in straightening out a kerfuffle regarding my entries.  She has a keen eye and offered insights into the work which were true and slightly uncomfortable.  If you can’t endure another’s gaze, you shouldn’t be in this business.

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Participating in the art world is inherently risky and often lonely.  If it weren’t a true compulsion, almost no one would do it.

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Acme Art Company Reunion

One of the first places I used to show in the 1990’s was Acme Art Company near Fourth and High next to the Caravan Bar.  It was the early days of the Short North and Acme was full of angry young men, late stage psychedelia, edgy “happenings” and fragile mental states.    It seemed a slightly dangerous place to me at the time, a tangle of rebellion, sexuality and provocation.   It couldn’t last forever but it was fun while it lasted.  A reunion show was held last weekend at the Vanderelli Room and I was a part of it.

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AJ Vanderelli in Red Boots

AJ Vanderelli hosted the event at her Franklinton gallery.  There are a lot of similarities between the old Short North and Franklinton and  I foresee a similar fate for the near Westside.  An explosion of condos and mixed-use-what-nots is currently rolling through the area but right now it’s occupying that sweet spot between I’m-afraid-I’m-gonna-get-shot and hand-me-my-latte.  Galleries are as ephemeral as cherry blossoms.

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“Empty Bowl” by Lynda McClanahan

Former Acme members were asked to submit two old works and two new.  Most of my stuff from the ’90’s is long gone, but I have plenty of edgier pieces which are hard to show elsewhere.  It was nice to see “Empty Bowl” on a wall again.

 

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Charles Wince Piece

It was a great show and I enjoyed the art a lot more than I usually do.   There were no sterile philosophical pieces or mathematical color tables to be seen but there was plenty of neo-psychedelia like this piece by Charles Wince.

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Acme’s patron saint,  the artist known as “Goblinhood,” died a few years ago but was well represented.  I miss his muscular,  human-scale, fever-dream art.   So much of what I see today seems bloodless by comparison, favoring a machine-like purity which leaves the personal behind.   Goblinhood was a character and always worked from the center of a frankly confused mind, but there was so much honesty in him, it made you want to cry.

006The Vanderelli Room always provides plenty of seating, which creates a community feel and fosters conversation.  You wouldn’t know it from this photo though.  Unfortunately, the insidious “palm masters” were not checked at the door.

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People dressed up for the event, which I appreciated.   We were all pretty young during our Acme days and sex was always in the air.   These boots are right in line with the spirit of the old days.

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There were also lots of not-so-sexy get ups which I greatly admired.  Way to go, Fez-man!

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Eccentric music punctuated the night.  First there was a hillbilly punk guy in overalls who yelled a lot.  Then there was this couple who did a digital mash up act.  Two folks from the room were asked to come forward and spin the wheels and the guy would somehow mash together the two bands indicated.   It was Michael Jackson meets ELO.  I don’t know how they did it but the results were delightfully goofy.  The lady in the frilly undies danced the whole time.   Joel and I did a bit of dancing too.

There were lots of videos and still shots from the old days.  Acme used to hold some pretty strange events in the basement.  I was too shy to attend most of them but, looking back, I wish I’d been a bit bolder.    The event above looks like it must have been interesting.

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It was instructive to revisit Acme’s art at this remove of time.  The political was everywhere and  much of the work seemed highly influenced by graffiti and street art.  The work held up well.  It was a sentimental night of good-humored mayhem and I was glad to be a part of it.

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Sight of Music Cultural Arts Center Opening

“Motet” was accepted into the Sight of Music show, much to my pleasure and relief.   The opening was well-attended and jolly, thanks to much wine and cheese.  Well done, Cultural Arts Center!

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I received no prizes, but the piece attracted a lot of attention from the room, much to my delight.  I rattled on about medieval choral music to a number of people but was too shy to break through the circle of admirers surrounding Mr. Purdy.    He was spared this time but perhaps there will be another opportunity.

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Steve Harper and Judi Moseley with “Motet”

The show was well-lit, artfully arranged and full of interesting takes on what music is and does.   I was surprised by the number of people who knew about motets and who took the time to tell me so.   One of the artists, Rich Bitting, had studied composition at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, the same school I attended, and had even done another piece with the same title which hadn’t been accepted.  His work was one of the more well-developed and interesting efforts:  a copper-leafed sonogram of wind rustling through red bud trees.  How do people think of these things?

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Joel Knepp With Tablet

There were several inter-active things which depended on tablets, ear phones and the like.  I liked this painting a lot but felt a bit regretful of the tablet.  I wondered whether the screen was an entry into the work or just another barrier to the direct transference of energy which is so important in visual art.  I think of paintings not as objects, but as live, performative theater condensed into a single, freeze-frame event.   Even when I fail in this endeavor, it’s always the aim.

A highlight of the evening was meeting local poet, Paula Lambert.  Writers were invited to create spoken-word pieces based on the paintings of their choice and she sweetly chose mine (performances will occur later in the month).  It was clear that something had flowed into her from the painting.  This means more to me than any prize or award.   I have succeeded.  “Motet” is alive and working exactly as it should.

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