Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I am going to need a bigger plate.

It’s Easter dinner and I look over the table admiring the abundance of food and beverages. I pile the ham on my plate, drizzle the orange fig glaze. Next, I place a generous helping of scalloped potatoes made with three cheeses that ooze across the plate. Can’t forget the veggies, so I add the roasted asparagus and continue adding different food groups to my menagerie. I can’t help but think that because I am offered so much, I take so much. It’s not gluttony; it’s opportunity!

As in life, the more you do, the more opportunities you have. It seems like common sense or a convoluted mathematical problem. It’s exponential. The more you do, the more people you meet. The more people you meet, the more opportunities you have. The caveat here is to ask someone that is also busy. If you need something done ask a busy person. They will more than likely find room on their plate to accommodate your request. 

Interview with Rhoda Kahler @ Jazmine-Authentic Thai Cuisine

I sat down with ceramic artist Rhoda Kahler at Jazmine – Authentic Thai Cuisine in West Chester for a wonderful and long conversation about art, about life and specifically about her life. Let me preface this by stating that “long” is not a bad word here. The end of a meal is usually signaled by the finishing of the bottle of wine. We did just that and an hour later we were still there despite the lunch crowd leaving and the early dinner crowd beginning to arrive.

Here is a glimpse of Rhoda’s history; she grew up on a chicken farm on a road named “Hatchery.” There are no fast food joints or traffic lights in her town. Her family didn’t have much money growing up so she used anything and everything she could find to quench her thirst for making art. She met her future husband at a sixth grade dance. Fast forward to college, she attended WCU as an art major and stayed and fell in love with the town. Her high school boyfriend followed suit and not long after they decided to marry. Fast forward another 13 years still happily married, she teaches clay at CCAA, has a successful career making ceramics and she can’t walk around town or attend an opening without a past student coming up to say “Hi.”Once our appetizers arrived I started with the questions. We chatted while eating tom yum soup and golden spring rolls.

How did you get started making art?
When I was a kid all I thought about was making stuff, because we grew up on a farm and it was one hour away from the nearest store. I had a Barbie doll and the JCpenny catalog had this awesome wardrobe for all the Barbies. We couldn’t buy them so I made them. I crocheted and knitted and then I got so good I was selling them on the school bus.

Did you receive any formal art training? Where and what did you major in?
I went to York College for two years and went to West Chester for two more years. And got my BFA in fine art.

I could never do 3D sculpture, what do you enjoy about sculpture?
Holding it in your hands. Squeezing it, touching it, wrapping my hands around it.

What inspires you in your work?
Mostly nature. Tree roots, things like that that you come upon. It could even be a dying flower where the stem kind of curves, or a fern frawn that comes out of the ground and it’s all spiraled before it opens up. The human form, especially the female form. It could be the sky or how the clouds form.

What was your inspiration behind the “Alphabet Cities?”
We were in Spain. We rented a car and we wanted to see the white hill towns in southern Spain. It’s mostly farmland, cork trees, olive trees, and winding roads.  Everyone in the city just packed into the side of a mountain. It was awe inspiring when you come around the corner and you see the cork trees and olive trees and all the beautiful scenery and then you turn the bend and you see this whole city vertical down the hill. It reminded me of blocks that I collected years ago at a flea market with printing press letters and I had a friend in college who lived in Alphabet City in New York. I had a notebook that I just started filling it with ideas. Clay is a master impersonator of anything you put into it so I use all the things I collect, like if I find an old washer, or bolt or old roller skate, I’d save it.

You are building a new studio, where is it?
My new studio is 1212 Hall Road and we just put a ceiling and skylights and insulation and walled it off and we have heat, now I just have to name it.  We are working on it. I still have to paint it. So yeah, Hall Road just outside of West Chester in between West Chester and Downingtown.

Rumor has it you are an awesome teacher. What is it about teaching that you love?
I love working with kids and adults, you give a lot but you get a lot of ideas too. You get inspired. You see something, and you think about things, and you verbalize things, and it makes you stronger.

What is your favorite food?
I love cheeses, goat cheeses.

What is your favorite color?
Green. All my glazes are green, different shades of green. It’s just… I love green.

What are you eating right now?
Tai food green curry.

What does home mean to you?
It is shelter, it’s what contains you, it is your environment, it’s what inspires you, having your friends’ paintings on the wall around you. Mike and I are starting our collection of friends’ paintings hanging on the wall and remembering the friendship and good times. Home is a place to be surrounded by everything that makes you happy.

Your proudest moment?
So far, the WCU show.

What was your father right about? 
My father would always say, “laziness is a sin.”

Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about. What is it about?
Being happy and enjoying who you are.

We had finished the bottle of Norton wine and all the questions yet we continued to discuss our art experiences. I really got to know Rhoda when last year I invited her to my open studio tour and later worked with her at our group show at WCU just this past November.  I enjoyed our conversation over lunch and could relate to the feeling of being the black sheep in a family of non-artists.

We soon found out that we were surrounded by other artists when our waiter/part-owner, Josh, informed us he was in fact an artist and that his paintings graced the walls around us. The presentation and flavors of the authentic Thai food found in our $9.99 lunch special were excellent and kudos to Josh for serving it up while displaying his other artistic passion. 

I couldn't let Rhoda leave with out hitting her up for a round of speed questions.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The A-HA Moment

Have you ever had those moments that make you go “A‑HA?” Sometimes I successfully pull that off in my paintings, other times it flies over the viewers’ head. Usually these deep A-HA thoughts come to me in the shower. I don’t know…maybe I shouldn’t ask myself. I can’t even blame the coffee because routine calls for me to shower first. Maybe it is the thought of 24 hours ahead of me to do what I want that frees my mind into random association.

My A-HA moment yesterday came when I reached for the shampoo and didn’t have to turn the bottle over to get the shampoo out. Really! Think about it, all my life I had grabbed the shampoo and turned it over to squeeze out some shampoo. Over the course of many showers and many epiphanies the shampoo would slowly get used up. Finally, you would try to balance the shampoo on the edge of the tub for the next morning, hoping the bottle maintained it’s perfect balance so all the shampoo slid down to the bottom (which was the top then). How many times have I had to wait or shake a bottle hoping the little remnants would slide down and make it out of the bottle?

It’s so simple. Why did it take so long? Really it’s a brilliant idea! Then I thought about it. This upside down bottle is all around me. The ketchup and mustard sits upside down in my fridge. The laundry detergent drains from a spout at the bottom of the container. This concept is revolutionary!

Then I grabbed the soap to scrub down and to continue with this new enlightenment. The soap had changed. No longer was it a square bar but it was curved. As I washed it “fit” over my arms and legs. OMG! When did this happen? At what board meeting did someone stand up and say, “I think we should make the bar curved.”

Fast forward past the shower and past the coffee. The day has started and I’m in the studio at the easel ready to paint. I ask myself what small change can I embrace to make a big difference. I paint with a bigger stroke and less understanding. It is this small change and a step in a new direction. Hoping this new path will lead me to an all-new A-HA moment.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I (Heart) Tomorrow

I have this quote written on my wall by Ernest Hemmingway “I always worked until I had something done, and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. I was free then to go anywhere in Paris to exercise, to become physically tired. Then it is also good to make love to the one you love.” I have a bunch of inspirational quotes written on my wall right next to my easel. I particularly like this one and relate to it everyday. No, not walking the streets of Paris, it is too far away. Nor the second part about “making love.” This isn’t that kind of blog. I love the idea about leaving enough to finish tomorrow.

The thought of not finishing something could drive one crazy. When I leave something to finish up the next day it isn’t because of laziness. Actually, it helps with the procrastination I would find waiting for me tomorrow. Knowing I have something to finish when I stand in front of the easel is like a double shot of caffeine. I don’t have to think, I just have to do. Everything is already planned out. How sweet is that?

Having something planned out for tomorrow is relatively easy. Working hard all day and placing those perfect accumulations of brush strokes is the hardest part. Watching the clock and knowing when to stop is the dilemma. If the day plays out well and doesn’t become a Greek tragedy, I am all set. When I get to that point towards the end of the day when I know where I’m going, I try to stop. The operative word is “stop.”

I can put everything down, turn off the griddles that melt the wax, shut off the lights and close the studio door behind me. I can continue with the evening in luxury, sipping a cocktail and enjoying the company of friends and family. My mind is at ease, free of worries and concerns about what is going to happen tomorrow.

I got to the studio in the morning and read another quote from my wall. “The hardest day was yesterday.” This is a motto from the US Navy Seals. I didn’t write it. My Uncle a retired Sea Bee stole a pencil and vandalized my wall with thoughts of yesterday. I kept it because I thought I could relate…to writing on other peoples’ walls. Which reminds me, next step is to publish on FB

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Artist, Painter, Director, Filmmaker…Dad

“We” had known about this project since the beginning of the school year. You can see where I am going with this by starting off with “we.” In all reality my daughter, Mia, had a project assigned to her at the beginning of the year. Daughter like father, she waited until the last minute to start and complete the project.

The project: visit a historical landmark in Pennsylvania and write a report which consists of one paragraph at least four sentences in each paragraph, 12pt type, double-spaced…blah blah blah. You must also do an oral presentation, present a slide show, or do a video. This is where I come in and take over, I mean, help out with creative input.

Armed with my iphone 4 with high def video capabilities, we visit the Brandywine Battlefield. But before we go I assign the tasks. First daughter in charge of beverage and snacks for the main actress, son in charge of props, guns and little army dudes, mom limo service to and from film site, and me filming, directing and creative process. Daughter actually doing the project in charge of script, acting out all scenes and allowing me to do my job.

Now I must comment my daughter has a great sense of humor and wrote out a wonderful script; A story about a blue team, us as she refers to them, and a red team meeting on a field in the Brandywine Valley. She stated all the facts, used all her props, and hit all her marks. I transferred all the video takes onto the computer and now face the daunting task of editing and figuring out imovie. It is like giving a six-year-old girl a bedazzler, everything is going to be shiny and sparkle. I’ll work on the editing between my other projects and at night just in time for “our” deadline.

As I worked on this project I thought about how I want my kids to do their best, and how I can do my best, and most of all how we all have different talents and nothing really gets accomplished by one person’s efforts. I am hoping my daughter’s efforts get me an “A” or I’m going to have to schedule a parent teacher conference and let the teacher know how hard my daughter worked for me.