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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

HulaOnBeach

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.

TanaHead
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.
DiamondHead
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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Club LaRouge Complete

ClubLaRouge

“Club LaRouge” by Lynda McClanahan

Club LaRouge is finally done and back from the scanner. There is a comfortable rhythm to completing a painting: idea, sketch, transferring to board, painting, scanning, framing, wiring up, uploading to the website, finding a place in the house to hang the thing and, usually, a bit of retrospective thinking.

RedHeadedDancer

Red-headed exotic dancer detail, “Club LaRouge” by Lynda McClanahan

I like the way perspective shifts around in this work. The outlines of the dancers are based on photos and superficially read as realistic. There is an implied viewer in front and slightly below…..
LadyErnestine

Exotic dancer detail from “Club LaRouge” by Lynda McClanahan

…but the floor upon which the ladies dance can only be seen from above.
ClubLaRougeEntrance

Club La Rouge Entrance

The club’s entrance is also in correct perspective, giving that viewing option more weight, but nothing can overcome that pesky floor.
I like this sort of visual tension. In the accordions I play, there is usually something called a “musette” setting which produces a specific sound favored by French players. To achieve a “musette,” the accordion reeds must be tuned just slightly apart: far enough away from each other to be at odds but close enough to give an aural impression of one note. The result is a delightful quivering vibrato or beat. Maintaining different viewpoints in one painting does the same thing. In all of my work, images may seem to be standing still, but just underneath, everything is fluttering and alive.

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