Styrofoam Head With Beads

I don’t often stray away from painting but sometimes life decrees a temporary shift in course. I had to vacate the studio to accommodate guests, but a chance dumpster find of a Styrofoam head put a spring in my step and made the situation a bit less ouchy.

It’s always satisfying to make art out of things which would normally end up in the landfill, and many of my frames and painting surfaces are gathered this way. It’s unusual to do entire sculptural works based on such finds, however. It’s nice to be reminded that I can do something unexpected and new.

I began with a Styrofoam head abandoned in the alley behind our house.

Styrofoam Head

These inexpensive forms are designed for wigs and are readily available in craft stores. Other than a few dents here and there, my example was in pretty good shape. I left it outside as a lawn ornament for a week before commencing work and even that didn’t seem to faze it. I learned some things the hard way on this project so here are some tips which might be useful to others.

First, the head must be sealed before painting. I used ordinary latex house primer but have since learned that smearing the outside with Elmer’s Glue works too. Don’t use spray paint or oils or anything with a solvent in it. Doing so results in a melted head, which might be appealing but I was going for something else. After giving the surface a good priming, I covered the surface with three coats of red acrylic paint diluted with acrylic glazing medium. When you’ve been an artist a while, the supplies mount up. It’s common for a piece to be determined pretty much solely by what’s on hand and I had an overabundance of both.

Styrofoam Head With Acrylic Paint

It soon became clear that the project was influenced by ancient art.

Clay Goddesses From the Pottery Workshops of Kumartuli, India

India is one of the few places where contemporary pieces have changed little from those of thousands of years ago and I often go to that tradition for inspiration. My head clearly owes a lot to the clay goddess statues still being made today by the potters of Kumartuli, India.

Red Styrofoam Head

As I painted my own version, it was interesting to see how differently the face would appear after the tiniest adjustments of a line. We are so attuned to the human face that changing the shape of an eye or a lip by even a millimeter can entirely change the way we interpret an expression. In art, as in life, it’s reassuring to know that small steps can lead to such big things.

I could have stopped at this stage but the project seemed a little too close to this-is-just-a-fancy-wig-holder. I needed something more to turn it into art, or at least a bolder and stranger wig holder. Here is the result.

“Red Styrofoam Head With Beads” by Lynda McClanahan

Some fake hair, buttons, a quantity of floral corsage pins and many beads later, I’m left with this vaguely Hindu goddess. Object of devotion or over-sized knick knack, this is one of the few recent projects which I would put in the category of sheer, unadulterated, joyful play. I feel refreshed, re-invigorated and ready for whatever comes next.


When a Project Gets You Down

Some people use art as personal therapy, a strategy for purifying the psyche of troublesome memories or ideas. I usually try to stay away from this sort of thing but sometimes a project wants up and out so badly all you can do is step out of the way and hope for the best. “Romulus and Reema With Octopus” is an example.

It all started with this tiny bas relief sculpture spotted in the background of a news photo from Jerusalem.

Romulus & Remus Ornamental Detail: Building in Jerusalem

I’ve done pieces on this theme before but something about this particular design just wouldn’t let go. I interpret feelings such as these as commands from the subconscious mind, an assignment from one portion of the personality to another, but this one seemed like so much work, I almost didn’t do it at all. If it hadn’t been for a suggestion planted by A.J. Vanderelli over the Summer, I might not have persevered. As it is, even just the possibility of having a place to show such a work proved a substantial lure. The power we have to influence one another should never be underestimated.

Sketch for “Romulus & Reema With Octopus” by Lynda McClanahan

I continued in the recent multi-paneled style. This has the advantage of allowing for various “takes” on the subject matter, variously softening and sharpening the main point as it comes in and out of focus. Visually, I like the tension of a scary Creature From the Black Lagoon flanked by cartoonish, absurd sharks. Maybe it’s just me, but when the world breaks your heart, absurdity can be your only friend.

Creature From the Black Lagoon With Sea Lampreys

Panel by panel, a long, slow slog of labor ensued, broken up only by holiday duties and gigs.

Statue of Liberty detail: “Romulus and Reema” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

The Statue of Liberty panel was a source of anxiety but turned out to be one of the easiest of the project.

Red Octopus Detail from “Romulus & Reema” by Lynda McClanahan

The ocean scene, by contrast, took a lot of fussing, with many mistakes and missteps along the way.

“Romulus & Reema” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

I mask off completed portions of these multi-paneled layouts as I work my way through the board so it’s almost impossible to know whether the project will hold together as a whole until the very end. This creates both excitement and anxiety which doesn’t always lessen after the masking is removed. Sometimes it even makes it worse. Every artist knows that each road taken always infers another which was not.

“Romulus & Reema With Octopus” by Lynda McClanahan in Process

I could have handled the latticework dividing the panels any number of ways, each one no better or worse than the other, just different. In the end, I opted for more detail, which seemed safer. Whatever else it is, a painting is also just a visual record of decisions made.

Now that the project is done, I’m struck by the effect it had on mood as I chugged toward completion. Rather than relief at getting something out of my system, depression, anger, sorrow and a touch of nihilistic despair have dogged me the entire time I’ve labored over this thing. I was taught that the truth would set me free, but this particular truth seems to have only set me free to mourn. When asked what this piece means, I’ve hemmed and hawed a bit but, really, it’s a visual interpretation of current cultural trends vis a vis climate change. Whatever my personal feelings about our reaction as people to this situation, the earth-witness of the octopus looks us square in the face and declares it’s seen it all before. Each time, the ocean won. Perhaps I’ll take comfort in that.


When Things Fall apart

After weeks of manic God’s-eye-craft-making and an unwelcome spate of back trouble, it’s back to the drafting table and fine art. Continuing in the spirit of revisiting older work, I’d already sketched out a new version of this long ago sold painting a few months ago.

“Ohio River” by Lynda McClanahan

“Ohio River” was a smaller piece on plywood trimmed out with bright yellow wooden molding. I remember being not quite satisfied with the shape of the water, but size constraints of a surface left over from a home building project dictated just doing the best I could.

“River Goddess” in Process

The new piece was sketched out onto a larger hunk of commercial cradled board. I like these sorts of surfaces but don’t use them very often due to cost. I thought I was being clever by taping a copy of the old piece as a guide and masking the background to prevent smudges. If only I’d known what lay ahead, I might not have bothered.

“River Goddess” in Process

I chose another treatment for the water and widened the streams, but the initial idea to form a confluence over the figure’s crotch was abandoned. Masking the entire background with painter’s tape was tedious but I was taking my time and thought it was worth it. Best laid plans….

Stream Detail: “River Goddess”

I was carefully adding the delicate wave detail when all Hell broke loose. Somehow, a can of white paint had hurled itself across the entire surface without my noticing! How it happened, only the art Gods know. Chalk it up to inattention, clumsy arthritic hands or just plain bad luck, but if running away had been an option, I surely would have done it. I quickly wiped the piece down with mineral spirits, hoping for the best but, alas, the best was not in the cards. Many hours of cleaning, wiping and over-painting have pulled the painting back from the abyss, but it will never be the smooth, finished product it might have been.

“River Goddess” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

Working with your hands is the opposite of the digital realm. When things fall apart they can’t be undone with a click or just by thinking about them. In the real world, the same effort which goes into digging a hole is required to fill it up again. I’ve learned the hard way that humility in the face of factors which can never be completely controlled is a must in this endeavor. If you spend enough time in the studio, eventually disasters appear along with the victories. Some pieces fall into line with no effort at all and others seem designed to knock the ego straight out of you. If at first you don’t succeed, do it over and over and over again.


White Spy vs. Black Spy

I’ve been waiting to hear back from Wild Goose Creative Gallery regarding a dual show in July of 2020. I’ve been accepted as one half of a joint exhibit but confirmation by the other artist is yet to come. In the meantime, I’ve worked up two small things in anticipation of a Mad Magazine show curated by Jay Mueller to be held at the Vanderelli Room in December.

There is no formal call for submissions as yet and no guarantee my work will be included, but based on the intuition that I will shortly be very busy indeed, I plowed ahead. The worst that could happen is I’ll have two more sweetly funny pieces available for use in the future.

“Spy vs. Spy” was a cold-war-inspired cartoon drawn by Cuban expat artist Antonio Prohias which ran in Mad Magazine for many years. The idea seemed to be two identical combatants, one dressed entirely in white and the other in black, locked in eternal conflict. This was a fitting metaphor for the anti-communist anxieties of the 1950’s and ’60’s but also suits current rage-filled statecraft absurdities. I began to visually riff on what might have become of Black Spy and White Spy now that their Mad Magazine platform is fast receding into the past.

The first order of the day was to peruse the internet for traditional images of the characters. The most popular iteration was this view of the two ostensibly shaking hands while secretly menacing one another with dynamite and bombs held behind their backs.

“White Spy vs. Black Spy” by Antonio Prohias

It would have been fine to just copy this image, color it up a bit and be done with it, but I needed something more. When viewers think they know what they’re going to see even before they’ve seen it, you’ve wasted your time. I wanted to retain the spirit of the original but somehow turn it on its head and make it surprising.

I let myself imagine what became of the contentious spies once the curtain came down on all their aggression. Did they finish each other off? Or did they finally hold hands and declare the whole former enterprise just a closeted exercise in erotic action? I chose the latter.

“White Spy With Cat” by Lynda McClanahan

“Black Spy With Rabbit” by Lynda McClanahan

My version of these two adversaries affirms them as frustrated lovers. The menace remains but the gifts have been transformed into what they’ve secretly always been. In my imagination the spies are finally free to openly pursue their love affair. Who knows? Maybe they are quietly living in an assisted care facility, comfortably ensconced together on the couch, watching TV. Perhaps they learned that when rage, fear and competition have been completely expelled and used up, there is nothing left but love.


The Joy of Small Things

When the impulse to do large and ambitious projects appears but ideas do not, I turn to creating small things. This has the advantage of keeping the creative motor running while waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s never a mistake to have a quantity of small, modestly priced pieces to fill out hoped-for future shows. Such things move quickly, provide a bit of cash and reaffirm that the world supports what I do. I’ve just finished two such projects begun last week.

“Hand of Fatima” is pulled from one of the 100 images I used for “Snakes & Ladders.” This hand-and-eye symbol is from the ancient Middle East but is now popular in both Islam and Judaism as a good luck charm. There is some speculation that it is connected to various goddesses of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia but who knows about these things? I see it as a literal representation of the connecting point between human consciousness and the more general consciousness of Nature; Mother Earth placing her creative, shakti-infused hand directly against the foggy, obscuring windowpane of ordinary human perception.

“Child’s Pose” by Lynda McClanahan

The second piece to tumble from the drafting table is “Child’s Pose.” This work is basically a copy of a graphic seen in a yoga pamphlet put out by “Hinduism Today Magazine.” I changed the patterns on the rug and clothing and put the lady in white hair and braids but, other than that, the image is pretty much the same.

There is a positive joy in turning one’s hand to small things while waiting for “the big one.” I follow visual impulses without hesitation or censorship. I’m in the flow.


Ohio Art League 2019 Fall Juried Show

The Ohio Art League holds two juried shows a year, in Fall and Spring. Both exhibits are highly competitive so it’s always a thrill to be included. Art making is a lonely and often unrewarding enterprise, so opportunities like these are always received as reassuring victories.

I was out of town and missed the opening but it’s better to see the art on your own anyway. Receptions are for schmoozing and making the scene, not for savoring what’s on view. Today was my day to do the latter.

An amazing range of styles are on view in this show. Here are just a few of them.

Roger Williams, a local art luminary, dependably delivers top-of-the-line, accomplished work. I have little to no art history background and don’t really know what deconstructionism is, but anyone with eyes can see a tension between delight and confusion in this work. When I reverse-engineer the consciousness underlying his ouvre, I see a brave and honest acknowledgment of a world which is constantly spinning away from our ability to understand it. There’s a subtle humility to Roger’s work which isn’t immediately obvious but which is there nevertheless.

“After the Funeral” by Tim Murphy

This medium-sized piece won first prize, which strikes me as notable. Ohio is such a populous state, with literally thousands upon thousands of art school graduates of considerable skill and experience. Folk-inspired work can get lost in such a crowded field and often goes unrecognized. The addition of the three-dimensional heads in the foreground of this piece pushes it away from the usual flattened planes of most naive art. A triangular design draws the eye toward the center, yet leads it outward at the same time. I prize psychological resonance and this piece has it in spades.

“Blue Mood” by Ronald Mlicki

Bright color is what first drew me to this one, but there’s more here than meets the eye. The standard model-like pose works to negate the central figure, turning it away from a real person into more of cypher, a theme reinforced by the flowers on the skirt and the wallpaper-like design behind it. The addition of a black shadow gives the piece visual punch but it also seems slightly sad. The overall effect seems to be a portrait of someone with no access to herself, only patterns and shadows constructed by someone else. There’s either no one on the line of the phone or no one present enough to answer it.

“Red Sea, Silent Sea” by Robert James

Color is also the most obvious attractant in this piece as well, but what really calls out to the viewer is a visual rhythm enhanced by restricted color palate. A lovely, insistent drumbeat rises all the way from the bottom to the top. I gravitate to art which is superficially attractive but strange and unsettling underneath. It’s a mistake to think we’re capable of really understanding this life and the art I like always reflects this.

Evangelia Phillipidus

Evangelia Phillipidus displays technical brilliance served up with equal parts of pleasure and mystery. I admire the armature of delta-like triangle forms crowned by the saucily feminine castle and gate. If you look closely, there are actually two interlocking triangles in this work, like a Star of David or the Sanskrit symbol for the heart chakra. There’s a nice visual confusion between feather and wave in the lower part which is in harmony with Evangelia’s usual densely-packed pieces, but the design is somewhat simplified in this one. I adore it.

I always note how curators handle the wall space between the public restrooms at the Cultural Arts Center. This pairing strikes me as interesting and a bit provocative. A pistol for men and candy colors for the ladies? I await interpretation by others.

Large shows are always a crap shoot when it comes to placement but I find this grouping particularly advantageous. My work always benefits from loads of light and time for contemplation so the addition of a bench is most welcome. The colors of these four works hang together beautifully and the conversation between them is funny and sweet. Note the X-like form which ties all of these paintings together. A green plane with subtle reference to nose cone art, boats, an over-the-shoulder backward feminine gaze, a green clad bathing beauty on the beach…yikes! It doesn’t get much better than this. Thanks to everyone who had a hand in hanging this show. What a treat!


Fun With Beasts: Riding Your Vahana

I’ve been painting steadily for months, often for hours at a time. The hands are stiff and weary but the mind remains open and reflective as ever. I’m continuing with the theme of women riding animals. The latest, “Virgin With Alligator,” is an example.

Ganga, Hindu Goddess of the Ganges

I began by returning to this little image of Ganga Ma, the Hindu Goddess of the sacred river Ganges. I’ve used this image before, most notably on the Hindu Map of Europe which graced the cover of Hinduism Today Magazine years ago.

Goddess detail “Hindu Map of Europe” by Lynda McClanahan

The addition of Ganga Ma to the magazine project was unasked for and formed the tiniest part of the project, but how I enjoyed its inclusion!

“Hindu Map of Europe” by Lynda McClanahan Cover Art for Hinduism Today

The new piece was at least partly inspired by a couple of small sturdy frames recently collected from thrift stores. Frames often determine the work which goes inside them. In this case, a compact image was required and the water goddess seemed not only interesting but doable.

“Virgin With Alligator” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

Once I’d decided on the general idea of a figure riding an alligator, one thing led to another and the piece pretty much designed itself. Since alligators live in Florida, I began researching what a native American Floridian lady might look like. To my surprise there were probably over 40 different pre-conquest groups in our southernmost state, some culturally related and some not. Many seem to have sported intricate tattoos and worn skirts made of Spanish moss. With the addition of crops grown by the more settled groups (sunflowers, pumpkins, beans and corn), it was off to the races. Here is the final result.

“Virgin With Alligator” by Lynda McClanahan

This painting is small, 7″Hx9″W, and almost broke my hands. It also has provoked a huge amount of unforeseen interest, inspiring the idea to do another, much larger version.

I’ve thought quite a bit about why these female/animal pairings have such resonance for myself and others. Perhaps we intuit that the animal nature which forms the foundation of everything else we are is also somehow holy.

Just like Hindu goddesses, we are all riding our own private mounts or “vahanas.” And just like them, every inch of us is sacred, from the very bottom of our lizard brain to the very top of cosmic consciousness. The animal nature deserves love, not amnesia. It is worthy of contemplation and neglected to our peril. Ride on!


Gabinetto Segreto III & More

Gabinetto Segreto III, the third iteration of an annual erotic art show at the Vanderelli Room, has been up and running for most of the month.

“Nude with Horn” by Lynda McClanahan

As expected, “Nude With Horn” sold right away. All of my nude ladies are on the smallish side, priced to sell and move fast.

“Club LaRouge” by Lynda McClanahan

“Club LaRouge” is larger, more ambitious and carries a higher price tag but to my surprise it has sold as well. The gallery benefited from the foot traffic generated during “Urban Scrawl,” an arts and music event held in Franklinton over the weekend. The only piece left is “Little Sister.” At $975.00 it’s a bargain, but anything over $400.00 sells very slowly in this town. Oh well. Two out of three isn’t bad.

“Nipple Chair:” Gabinetto Segreto, Vanderelli Room

The exhibit is wider ranging and sweeter than I expected.

Gabinetto Segreto III: Vanderelli Room

The “Dong Show” came at a mid-point in Gabinetto Segreto’s run and generated foot traffic as well. Joel and I did our best to perform “Homo Erectus,” a naughty polka written by Kinky Friedman, but our act was the weakest of the evening I fear. Can’t be good at everything I guess.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Post-Gabinetto, I’m continuing to comb through the old art catalog for favorite things which have sold and drifted off into the art-ethers. “Girl With Lotus” is an example.

The original was 6″x6″and probably done for the Ohio Art League’s annual Thumb Box holiday show. It’s graphically strong, mostly thanks to the wealth of black hair framing the figure’s face. I’ve always gravitated to long, dark, veil-like hair.

“Girl With Lotus” by Lynda McClanahan

The new version is larger and more carefully done but, as always, I’ve gained some things and lost others. The hand position is more rational in this version and the lotus is nicely done. The original had a freshness and immediacy reminiscent of ancient Roman frescoes which is no longer present however. Even when you copy your own work, no two pieces are ever the same.

The stockpiling of small, decorative things continues as I enter more and more shows. I’m ready.


Running With animals

I’m continuing to turn out smaller, sellable things for the featured artist gig at 3060 Gallery on the West side in 2020. “Nude With Kangaroo,” finished just today probably isn’t one of them.

“Nude With Kangaroo” by Lynda McClanahan

I’ve been obsessed with the theme of naked ladies riding animals for some time. It began with observing depictions of Goddesses atop their “vahanas,” (animal mounts). I’ve obviously been influenced by a God-niece who married a Malaysian Tamil Hindu from Australia and, yes, there is a baby involved.

The skin color of the human figure came slowly and caused some anxiety. The first impulse was to make the lady’s skin dark, but that would have made her disappear too much vis a vis the kangaroo. There was also a desire to avoid depicting anyone of African descent in relationship to an animal. Once the lady became light skinned, I had to decide how much the piece would be a literal reference to my young friend and how much it would not. In the end I nixed portraiture in favor of something with more universal appeal. The result is quirky, funny and probably only showable at hipster venues like the Vanderelli Room. Thank God for the Vanderelli Room!

Two other pieces destined for 3060 Gallery are also complete. Both are re-dos first done in the mid-aughts.

“Lady With Buckeyes” by Lynda McClanahan

The original of this work was smaller and technically less accomplished but it DID sport a spray of vegetation which looked more like a marijuana leaf than a Buckeye tree. Oh well. You get some things and lose others when you revisit old ideas.

“Red Flower” by Lynda McClanahan

“Red Flower” is another copy of an old work. I first started painting again as medicine for a deeply disappointed and troubled emotional nature. At that time lower impulses were edging out higher ones and I was at wits end. Since getting rid of my animal nature was impossible, I decided to honor and make love to it instead via painting. Unlike repression, this actually worked.

We are all riding our own “vahanas” through this life. Just as in gardening, everything starts from the ground up. I celebrate the animal which takes me everywhere, from the lowest low to the highest height.


Step, Pause, Step

The stairs leading to our attic are being replaced, necessitating nearly a full week away from the studio. I’m always surprised by the hole left in my life when these forced time outs occur. Art has become a daily practice and a pre-condition for mental and spiritual health. Without access to art, I find myself at loose ends, roaming the house like a ghost and waiting for its return. Now that I have the drafting table back again, all sorts of things have been spilling from its surface.

I’ve been stockpiling small pieces for a while: some for shows I know I’ll be entering later in the year and some for the upcoming featured artist slot slated for February of 2020 at 3060 Gallery.

“St. Uke” by Lynda McClanahan

Two things are already completed for the Ohio Art League’s Thumb Box show which occurs every November. Thumbox is the only Art League show into which members are automatically accepted and I enter every year.

“Virgin With Ukelele” by Lynda McClanahan

I hate to be rushed and nearly always do these ahead but this year seems particularly early. I’ve had the intuition that I’ll need the space to do other things when the deadline rolls around.

I’ve also been re-visiting images from long ago sold paintings which retain psychological resonance or are just plain easy to sell.

“Heart Hand” by Lynda McClanahan

I’ve done at least six versions of this henna-inspired hand over the years and they always fly off the wall. The sign painters enamel I use really lends itself to fine lines and shows its strength in paintings like these. I’ve always been attracted to making things which act as a good luck charm or house blessing. It’s like praying for people you don’t even know.

“Lady With Buckeyes” In Process

“Lady With Buckeyes” is another example of an old image which has bubbled up to the surface. One of my visual preoccupations is affirming the broad range of people who make up our citizenry. This painting is a timely reminder that not all of us who belong to this land look the same. Who would even want it to be?

“Nude With Kangaroo” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

The other piece on the drafting table is a continuation of the naked-ladies-on-animals series. Sharon Weiss of Sharon Weiss Gallery once counseled that success in art depends on finding what works and then doing it. These ladies often sell even before the opening of a show so I’m following Sharon’s advice. I sketched it out months ago but hadn’t started due to a neuroto-doubt-attack (this is too weird, everyone’s laughing at me, people will be offended, blah, blah, blah). Now that the project is actually under weigh however, I find the whole idea delightful. Go figure.

There’s a rhythm to life and there’s a rhythm to the way art projects present and unfold. Step, pause, step, pause might feel jerky and uneven, but viewed as a whole, it’s just another way of walking.