First Commonwealth Bank Show and Adventures With Pinups

The shows are coming so fast and thick, I hardly know if I’m coming or going. The latest opening was on Saturday, March 2nd at the First Commonwealth Bank in the Short North.

Conference Room: First Commonweath Bank

This is the first solo show I’ve had in some time. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing my work hanging and playing together nicely since 2014.

Teller Stephanie, Manager Dee Kates & Lynda McClanahan

Bank staff was extremely friendly and helpful at the opening, offering up punch, cucumber water, ginger cookies and homemade popcorn. Many businesses open their doors to artists in our area, but First Commonwealth Bank is perhaps one of the best locations. The large, street-facing windows let in loads of light, giving any show hung there great visibility and a visual crispness not easily found elsewhere. I feel lucky to have landed such a nice venue.

I played a memorial service for a departed friend on the same day as the opening so the nervous system was chugging toward exhaustion by the end of the night. Musical and show-prep duties have precluded the restorative balm which art always provides, so it’s a relief to get back to the drafting table.

“Farrah” by Jenny DeBier: Inspiration for “Lucky Cat With Pinups” by Lynda McClanahan

I have now turned my complete attention to “Lucky Cat With Pinups.” There is nothing I like better than focusing on one project at a time, so I am temporarily in heaven.

“Lucky Cat” is part of an upcoming show at the Open Door Studio entitled “This Inspired That.” Artists were invited to choose a work by a resident artist and then respond with a work of their own. Once I chose Jenny DeBrier’s “Farrah,” it was off to the races.

Sketch for “Lucky Cat With Pinups”by Lynda McClanahan

Ms. DeBier’s “Farrah” is an interpretation of the famous Farrah Fawcett pinup poster of the 1970’s, which led to a contemplation of exactly what a pinup is and who gets to be depicted in one.

I settled on the multipaneled lay out I’ve been using of late and got to work arranging as many images in as great a variety as I could manage.

Reclining Lady Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I looked at literally hundreds of pinups and found some interesting recurring themes. Many of them look directly at the viewer with a “come-hither” expression.

Girl at her Toilet Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

Others exhibit a voyeuristic look into what the viewer imagines as the secret life of young girls.

Reclining Lady Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I referenced the Indian blanket background of the original poster in this image.

Mexican Beauty Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

Per usual, I’m drawn to humor. Sombrero-wearing Mexican lass with an erupting volcano? What’s not to like?

Vintage Burlesque Queen With Fan Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I’ve used the source photo for this image at least twice. There’s a sweet and sexy good clean fun aura to the figure which I like.

Dark skinned Bathing Beauty Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

Some panels came easy, others came hard. This image is in the latter category. In general, the paint I use doesn’t lend itself easily to modeling. If I had it to do over again, I would make the background contrast more with the model’s skin tone, but too late now.

Cow Girl With Pistols Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

Some of the pinups are fetchingly strange yet sweet. Who would have thought a pistol-waving cow girl says “sex?”

Aphrodite With Cupid Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I’m always aware that people don’t give art much viewing time. If you get four seconds, you’re doing better than most. I always try to subvert this tendency by including visual rewards for those who do look carefully. This panel of the Greek goddess Aphrodite with Cupid shakes the piece away from I-know-where-this-is-going-without-actually-looking into what-the-heck-is-this territory. It calls out for an interpretation, building a bridge between the artist, the work and the person doing the looking.

Smart Phone Asian Girl Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I took care to include a broad spectrum of pinup genres. This one is inspired by the wonderful girlie photo calendars given out by Chinese restaurants when I lived in Chicago. The images were almost always sweet school-girl types with beautifully innocent smiles.

Sad Asian Girl Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I tried to do something similar with this panel but didn’t succeed. No matter how hard I tried, this model looks more like a victim of sex trafficing than a wholesome tease. I finally gave up and let her be what she wanted to be. I did manage to hide a cheeky “finger” in the middle of the panel. Sometimes when a figure goes its own way, all you can do is wave as it goes by.

Redhead With Boa Detail, “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

I rounded out the assembly with a luscious redhead. If people can’t find a pretty girl they like in this painting, they’re just not looking.

Lucky Cat from “Lucky Cat With Pinups”

The last image is perhaps the most confounding, but I wanted to throw in a bit more visual disonance. In Japanese restaurants, there is often a Lucky Cat sitting on the counter right next to plates of plastic food which are visually identical to what’s on the menu. Maybe pinups are the plastic food of the sex world: they are what is on offer, or should be on offer if only the world bent to our desires. They are a promise and a menu from which we can order absolutely anything we want.


Vanderelli Room “Let There Be Light” Show

The shows are coming so fast, I hardly know whether I’m coming or going. The idea of struggling with well-deserved obscurity may have to be released

The latest show, “Let There Be Light” is curated by A.J. Vanderelli of the Vanderelli Room.

Catherine Bell-Smith’s Leaf Mandala

It’s nice to show with other former members of the now defunct Creative Arts of Women (CAW) again. Catherine Bell-Smith contributed this huge mandala made from magnolia leaves with holes cut out of them. Sweetly, the holes were available for viewing in an offering-like pot on a pillar.

Ceramics by Kate Morgan

There is much variety in the exhibit, including some really nice ceramic pieces by Kate Morgan tucked into a chapel-like alcove close to the door. This position had the added benefit of being directly across from the bar.

Jay Mueller, Artist Wrestling League Maven and Yoeman Bartender

I brought some homemade wine to the reception and Jay Mueller efficiently put together a mysterious punch with vodka and various juices. Jay is the manager of the local Blick Art shop which is being forced to move due to a 40 percent increase in rent. This is the way things have been going in the neighborhood for some time, but it’s still dispiriting. I used to walk to the grocer, the dry cleaners and the art supply shop, but now I must drive to get to all three.

Piano Rolls with Dictators

The show has some performative elements which spice things up.

There was literally jazz at the opening. This trio may have had a solid plan or maybe not. To an unschooled ear, it sounded like they were bringing up stuff straight from the subconscious. Joel said he thought the drummer looked like he was in a trance, but then, I think most drummers look that way.

Altar Piece by April Sunami

April Sunami’s altar assemblage shares the same alcove my piece occupies. Her work is consistent, always effective and lends just the right amount of mystery and longing to the show.

“Waikiki” With Sculpture by Sandra Aska

My painting seems especially well placed next to Sandra Aska’s sculpture and the exploding golden apple in the upper right. A.J. has a talent for creating visual rhythm and spends time making sure the sight lines work. The harmony of rhythm, form and color in this show is really remarkable.

I am working on a new work and preparing for another opening on the weekend. There are more shows lined up later this month and on into March. I hardly know what to think.


Theme & Variations

The longer I paint, the more I become interested in how a work changes over time throughout the process. Sometimes things get better as one goes along, sometimes they tank and sometimes each stage is just a different choice, whole and complete in its own way. An example is the latest piece, “The River of Forgetfulness.”

The work is in response to a call for entries by the Cultural Arts Center for a show centered on the opioid epidemic in Ohio. I was fairly certain there would be lots of butterflies and other transformational imagery submitted, but not so much on the subject of attraction. What is it about opioids which initially draws and captures so many people?

Source Material: Ancient Greek Goddess Coloring Page

Per usual, I began by poking around the internet looking for inspiration. As I often do, I found a suitable illustration in a printable coloring page designed for children. These usually are composed of simple lines and are a great starting point. The above page depicts the goddess Lethe, the presiding deity over one of the rivers of Ancient Greek Hell. One drink from her bowl and the soul forgot all about its former life, presumably sinking into oblivion thereafter. I retained the idea of a figure holding up a bowl, but the rest is my own invention.

In Process: “River of Forgetfulness” by Lynda McClanahan

You can see other echos of the initial graphic in the folds of the blouse and the substitution of hair for a veil.

The above photo was taken at a point in the process in which I could have stopped and still had a perfectly good painting. It’s a simpler version and graphically stronger. It even veers into magazine cover territory with plenty of room left on the bottom for text. I continued adding details only because I’m competing for entrance into a specific show.

“River of Forgetfulness” by Lynda McClanahan

To this end, many details were added. A poppy flower crown tops the figure’s head and poppy seeds sprout from her pocket. Buckeye earrings refer to Ohio and the various tattoos suggest power, danger and some of the reported slang for heroin (Auntie). A pocket watch set to midnight communicates that “time is running out.” I’ve ended up with a nice painting and a decent entry for the show, but I wonder if I’ve veered uncomfortably close to a polemic. Too late now.

Each version of a work has something to recommend it. Only the artist remembers and cherishes each one.


2019: Balancing the Bitter and the Sweet

2018 ended with the completion of “Tana of Waikiki” (or “Devi” or “Witch” or however I end up naming the thing) and three little paintings of harpies. I’m letting “Tana” rest, either as a test of resolution or just plain old possessiveness, who can tell? In contrast, the harpies are about as done as I can make them.

“Rainbow Harpy” by Lynda McClanahan

These are small works, 4 1/2″ x 5 1/2″, an unusual size required by three frames found in a thrift store. Friend and master carpenter Dave Barnes generously cut the surfaces from leftover birch plywood in his garage.

“Blue Harpy” by Lynda McClanahan

The subject came as a surprise, to myself and others too, I suspect. In a world in which being pretty is the prime directive, it feels profoundly risky to display female rage for public view. Frankly, I wish I’d given myself more cover by not including the white braids on this one but there must have been a psychic imperative to do so. For women, being brave can mean not much more than affirming that you’re a full human being.

“Green Harpy” by Lynda McClanahan

2018 was a year of doing the best work of my life. It also marked a change in the way I curate the ideas which continually bubble up to the surface. Perhaps watching my mother-in-law progress slowly toward death has ignited a more visceral reaction to the prospect of my own demise. In any event, the impulse to dive deeply into the bitter as well as the sweet has become more and more insistent.

This year’s motto: I am brave, industrious and clear-eyed.

I contemplate life as it is.


Making Holiday Ornaments From Aluminum Cookie Sheets

I like to make my own gifts for the holidays.   This year I made elephant ornaments out of old pie plates and inexpensive aluminum cookie sheets.

Any flat-bottomed piece of aluminum will do, but these cookie sheets from the Dollar Store worked out great.   I got lucky this time and paid only .50 per pan.  The ornaments ended up literally costing only a few pennies per piece.

Gather your tools.   You’ll need to cut, hammer, poke, smooth and punch, so improvise accordingly.

Elephant Fabric Stamp Source Pattern

Next, secure a pattern.  I used an elephant fabric stamp from the internet for inspiration but anything would do.  Make sure the outline is relatively simple and you’ll be spared some headaches.   I used an old manila folder to make my pattern.

Elephant Pattern Drawn on Aluminum Cookie Sheet

Trace the pattern onto the cookie sheet (cut away the sides of the sheet for easier working).  I used an enamel painter’s pen which worked better than a regular sharpie.  Cut each piece out by hand.  This is where a simplified outline comes in handy.

Prepare the work surface with something spongy (like a towel) overlain with something disposable and flat (like a manila folder).  This protects your furniture and gives you something to push against when adding details to your pattern.

Place your blank on the work surface and use a blunted awl, a crochet hook or even an old nail to press details into your piece.   The cookie sheet is fragile and easy to poke through but you’ll quickly figure out how much pressure is required.   Inscribing a line around the outer edge strengthens and stabilizes the ornament.  It might be counter intuitive, but the more details you add, the stronger your piece will become.  

Once you’ve added the details, gently press the ornament flat.  I used a printer’s roller but, again, anything which gets the job done is fine.  

Aluminum Pie Plate Holiday Ornament

To finish, punch a hole in the top and add a ribbon hanger.  Voila!  A sweet little holiday ornament which is so light and flat, it can be sent through the mail!

I chose to make elephants because they are beloved by everyone and widely accepted whether recipients follow a spiritual tradition or not.    In the past, I’ve used this same aluminum pie plate technique to add pizzazz  to paintings (a halo for a folk art Virgin Mary comes to mind) and to tart up wooden frames.    To artists, the whole world is an arts supply store, available to all.


Joanna and the Whale

I try to work on two things at the same time:  one large, ambitious work and one smaller,  more immediately satisfying piece.  This strategy keeps the juices flowing and lends courage during prolonged periods of what often seems like pointless labor.   I like to keep the inventory balanced between big, theatrical statements and quieter,  more sellable things.  It seems unwise to over invest time and materials in things which are hard to show, so I often save the edgier, more challenging subjects for these smaller, more modest efforts.   “Joanna and the Whale” is an example. 

“Joanna and the Whale” by Lynda McClanahan

The idea for the title came first.  The resulting image is a mash-up of an anime cartoon and a tourist photo of an amusement park ride. 

Anime Source Photo

Amusement Park Tourist Source Photo
“Devi of Waikiki” in Process by Lynda McClanahan

“Joanna” has been a welcome diversion from “The Devi of Waikiki” which is crawling toward completion.  There’s always a point in a project when the work leaves your hand and goes its own way and “Devi” has finally graduated.  Sometimes things get better when this milestone is reached and sometimes they don’t.  But it’s always a welcome relief when a piece is finally making you, and not the other way around.    Pairing this attractive painting with “Joanna” pleases me no end.  Like a well-seasoned meal, I aim to balance the bitter with the sweet.


Working Big, Working Hard

I’ve started another large piece provisionally entitled “The Witch of Waikiki.”  The current motto is “if it fits onto the drafting table, do it.”

The image is based on an experience Joel and I had in Hawaii years ago. We were traveling with friends but had decided to go our own way for the evening.  After ambling around old Honolulu for a bit we ended up on the beach at Waikiki for the music and hula which many hotels offer for free. The band played the old-style “Hapa Haole” music we loved, the cocktails flowed freely and the sun was just beginning to set behind Diamond Head when a dancer named Tana began to sway on a little platform next to the band. As longtime Hawaii devotees, we were in heaven!


Hula Dancer Source Photo

In the beginning, Tana seemed like any other hula dancer, beautiful and seductive in a good-clean-fun sort of way. But as we continued to watch, something deeper began to happen. I had the uncanny feeling that Tana was drawing energy directly up from the earth and throwing it out to the crowd in blessing.  Discrete explosions of “joy bombs” sweetly hit my chest,causing almost unbearable happiness.  I thought it was my imagination (there were Mai Tais involved after all) but when I leaned over to say something to Joel, he was clutching his chest and grinning from ear to ear.

Even though no one else seemed to feel what we were feeling, we immediately realized we were both experiencing the same thing at the same time.  It was real! At that exact moment Tana turned her attention to us and began to really rev things up.  Ever stronger rotating balls of energy emanated from both of her hands and shot our way in swirling, scintillating streams of light.  She seemed to be playing with us.  We dissolved into happy tears, just as we might in a Pentacostal church or a Hindu Temple. We were wide open, drunk in the spirit, in awe and drowning in absolute joy. Eventually the Sun set behind Diamond Head, the evening drew to a close and Tana left the stage.  I don’t know how we made it back to our condo but somehow we did.   Those reading this may believe it or not, but I’m here to say it really happened.
I’ve looked for a dancer named “Tana” over the years to ask if what we experienced is a known part of hula but she is nowhere to be found.  All I know is, she was channeling the goddess that night and doing it just for us.  That girl deserves a painting!

“Witch of Waikiki” in Process by Lynda McClanahan

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