Thoughts from The Road: Part 4

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts

New Mexico

New Mexico merges with Texas’s plains on the east. As you enter from the Texas Panhandle the grasses grow sparser and so do the people. Whatever road we were on, once we left the border town there were miles of ranch fences, but no houses and no other signs of habitation other than a few steer munching on the scant vegetation. In the distance some mesas popped up and disappeared.

We were greeted by an abandoned church in Taiban, New Mexico. A local landmark well documented on instagram by photographers and travelers. Inside people left prayers and messages on the walls alongside graffiti.

Bottomless Lakes State Park & Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge

Outside of the alien mecca of Roswell, New Mexico the landscape rolls into wetlands. Wetlands? New Mexico is full of wonderful surprises hidden in the crevasses of the treeless vistas. We drove into the park along lake littered roads on one side and grassy cliffs on the other. During our stay we walked the wetland boardwalk at sunset. We admired the hundreds of birds on the scenic of drive at the Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Unknown to us we would have to kennel our dogs at the park and provide proof of rabbies. As consolation prize we drove the scenic one-way gravel road (and had it all to ourselves). Maybe not the main event, but still breathtakingly beautiful.

Cloudcroft, New Mexico

One of New Mexico’s great surprises for us. We drove to Artesia and cut across New Mexico west on 82 (pro tip: fuel up first). First the land was desert and then it rose into swelling hills with spare vegetation. As we climbed in elevation the hills grew sharper and the vegetation turned to scrubby bushes and then spare trees. Then suddenly we were in full on pine forested mountains in the middle of southern New Mexico with snow. Complete with snowplow warnings, elk warnings, a ski hill, and an old west style town named Cloudcroft with stunning mountain vistas as you left town on the west end.

In Cloudcroft we found a small gallery just off of the main street. In the gallery Off the Beaten Path I met Rafferty, a silver classic long haired tabby they rescued from the streets (not for petting only greetings). At the time they were working on finding homes for fifteen other street cats. Because of course, I found the artists in town with a passion for not just saving cats, but breaking the cycle by spaying and neutering the cats. Check out the gallery web site.

White Sands National Monument

From Cloudcroft you can see White Sands in the distance, and to the unbeknownst traveler you think you are seeing clouds. White Sands is a people catcher like the Bean of Chicago is. Everywhere people lined up on the dunes to watch the sunset against the mountain backdrop. Sets of photographers with tripods. Couples on dune tops. Lone figures sitting atop crests. The great beauty of White sands defies words and will haunt my memory for all time as the Painted Desert does. As we left the sun set slowly in a notably colorful display. Setting off against the grey purple mountains in reds, oranges, yellows, plums and peaches. Just when I thought the show was over we crested a mountain and found the colors even more overwhelming. They lingered in deep hues of crimson and plum before succumbing to the horizon while the moon rose gold and moody among the wisps of clouds to the east.

Truth or Consequences

December Decorations, T or C, New Mexico

With little expectations or plans we headed into the town of Truth or Consequences for supplies. Shortly after hitting downtown I could tell that this town had a different vibe to it. Everywhere adobe buildings in southwestern colors. Murals (60+). Vibrant details. And a thriving art scene. We were able to stop into a few galleries, sadly not all that T or C had to offer! And we were lucky enough to show up on their Second Saturday Art Hop. The galleries we saw had quality art works at a broad range of price points, friendly to all art admirers. One artist (Sun Gallery) was hand painting stickers for just a few dollars each and said she “wanted art to be accessible to everyone.”

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Gila National Forest

Outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico we headed west across highway 152 into the Gila National Forest. The land crested from gentle desert hills to magnificent up-swelled rock formations. Sometime in the not too distant past a wildfire swept through this area. Distant enough for the mountaintop forest to be well into stages of healing. I was enchanted by the scrappy trees. Tenacious species of oak, juniper, and ponderosa pines hugging the steep rocky mountain roadsides.

Local species of tree adapted to survive forest fires

Poncho Villa State Park, Columbus, New Mexico & and The Border

Within three miles of the border the Poncho Villa State Park sits alongside the highway. Historical ruins from the 1916 raid by Poncho Villa reside within the park and throughout the small town of Columbus.

Ruins from Poncho Villa raid. Columbus, New Mexico

The other story is of a town divided by politics. During George W. Bush’s presidency the border went up there and divided a community. That’s not from newspaper reports, that’s from casual conversations with local people. People who visit their American friends that live across the border for economic reasons. People who shop across the border in Mexico for their medical needs and groceries because it is all more affordable. Mexican children and children with American citizenship cross the border every school day for their education.

My husband and I crossed the Border by foot. The wait by car was much longer and we were told its just easier. First we were diverted into a building by a man pointing, across the way I could see a Mexican official with a nasty gun set against the backdrop of the border fence and reals of extra razor wire. The officials just asked if we were visiting the Pink Store. The local tourist trap “with everything.” Then we walked out the other side into Mexico. There were people walking about everywhere. A man selling hats out of his van. And the giant complex Pink Store with a mature Indian woman opening the door for us, later she’ll hold her hand out for a tip when we leave.

Columbus, New Mexico
Pink Store, Pueto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico
Pink Store, Pueto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico
Pueto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

City of Rocks

Enormous. Vertical. Sculptural. Texture. Why would people create Stonehenge? This is why. The stones may be inanimate objects of nature brought to by time, volcanic action and erosion, but they still converse with the human spirit.

While there we climbed the neighboring Table Mountain. And this human felt mighty small under the open sky of New Mexico on top of a little mountain looking down at her little home on wheels dwarfed by rocks. It isn’t like the hikes back home where the trees obscure the journey and you just keep going until you get to the top. On this one you can see just what sort of madness your in for and all you can do is put one foot in front of the other while fighting for breath at the extra elevation you’re not accustomed to.

Thoughts from the Road: Self Reflection

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, process, Self Reflection, The Road, Thoughts

The question is does travel change you?

We were thrust into a situation where our options were all less than appetizing so we went all in on the idea of traveling. Go West to find some future, like so many people before us. In the beginning it felt like we were merely fleeing the brutal winters of home. Then it felt like an extended vacation. Now I’ve reached a tipping point.

I go West. I go West in search of something more than. At the crest of this tipping point I find my head and heart. The true being in my form sizzles at my skin longing for its release from the long prison. Somewhere in this life I put away my truer self. I put her away. I contained that wild artist child. I tried to be many different people. I put on different masks hoping to blend into environments I never quite understood.

As a child I was wild. And creative. I ran unsupervised in a pink dress and sparkly jelly shoes. I trashed clothes because my whims decided My-Little-Ponies needed outfits. I drew cats with long tails and white tips. But I hid that child away. I grew up in a home where alcoholism and anger reigned hand-in-hand. I took that wonderful wild child and hid her away because I wanted to fade into the background. Instead I quietly continued to grow stronger in my creative abilities.

Long term travel by truck and travel trailer is slow. Well, we (my husband, two dogs, a cat and I) are slow. We stop for the dogs. We stop for the sights. We stop for lunch. We stop because we want to spend a few days somewhere. We decide to see half of Texas when we didn’t even want to go there in the first place. Instead of a vast dangerous wilderness filled with indigenous tribes; I’ve found reservations marked on maps, old roads, weathered abandoned houses, rusted cars, forgotten towns, endless fences, rampaging cities, tourist holes, scenic campgrounds with all the modern conveniences and whispers of the wild and savage past trampled by docile tourists.

I also find myself with this time. Finally, the time to think. Throughout the years I always wanted to take time off of work to just think, if I could just take those days I could figure it out. IT. Whatever it was. What I wanted? What I was thinking? There was this something I needed time for. Hours, days and apparently even weeks were not enough for me. I needed to be removed entirely from my life.

Wherever you go there you are.

Finally…

There I am

A complex damaged resilient creature with a drive to create….

What have I learned about myself in these weeks?

I feel a budding inside of the artist. She’s almost ready. Almost done cooking. The elements are all there stewing. I’ve seen works in small galleries, big galleries, and museums. I’m feeling more confident that there is something particular to me. My artist voice is about to mature. This time of travel and reflection is a gift I cannot ignore.

Subjects/Themes/Topics coming into sharp focus:

  • Melancholy over what the earth has lost to human inhabitation and the perpetual growth economy
  • Celebration of nature reclaiming man’s work
  • Appreciation of nature: wonder, joy, awe
  • Sadness over human sprawl across the landscape and a yearning for freedom from modern human artifacts
  • Enjoyment of the living creatures around me plant and animal
  • Capturing the essence of my subject in medium/media available (photography, acrylic, ink, color pencil etc.)

The answer:

Everything changes us. I came West to be changed.

Cultural Appropriation: Mixed Thoughts from a Visual Artist

Art Journal, Thoughts

On good days I think I get the arguments around cultural appropriation. On others I throw in the towel and decide I am irrelevant to cultural debates at my ripe age of thirty-seven. I’ve had it explained to me by those in the “know” aka as a college age girl deeply into social issues. I’ve read articles and been subjected to the hostility of news reports. Just when my brain says yes that very much makes sense… it gets pushed too far and says “wait… what?!?”

The Beyonce Argument

I will admit that I was pulled into a Facebook battle about cultural appropriation with wits far exceeding mine. I was being schooled on cultural appropriation. Just as I was losing I asked if it was ok for Beyonce to do it.

Is it ok for Beyonce to do it?

That is how art gets created. Ideas and imagery are exchanged and woven together to create a new narrative. Artists look for new languages of symbolism to inform their work. We travel, frequent museums and galleries, and read obscure literature. We look for inspiration in every aspect of our world and beyond. If you have an interest, there is an artist out there making work about it.

In one answer it was ok for Beyonce to do it because she was a woman of color and it was somehow different. “It just was.”

In another answer it was not. Beyonce held the power as a western woman, the various groups she wore the costumes of did not.

I do cringe now when I see a pop star step out in the dress of another culture. The results are often beautiful and interesting see Iggy Izaelia, Beyonce, Nikki Minaj, and Gwen Stefani (note: probably all of them at one time or another).

And…

I’ll tell you.

While sitting through an informative video at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs Mississippi these thoughts crossed my mind. This white Ocean Springs’ male artist like many artists before was influenced by primitive cultures and their symbolism.

More well known was the influence of Japanese art on Western art starting with Impressionism. We are talking influence on artists from Klimt to Monet.

Should the way art history is taught in light of cultural appropriation change? I would say yes. (At least from how I was taught)

Should artists stop being influenced by other people and cultures. I don’t know what the right answer is. I am absolutely sure that there will be a richness among the arts lost if that give and take between diverse people is quashed.

Voodoo dolls in a gift shop. Many people pick up this mass produced keepsake in Louisiana. Voodoo is mixed up with Hoodoo in the common imagination. It is far richer and more interesting than a tourist shop doll.
Alligator Heads at a small town restaurant, Louisiana. They may be the most authentic thing I’ve ever seen for sale ever anywhere.

Here is my understanding as of November 30, 2019. (Warning I can and will change my mind as new arguments are presented to me).

  • If you visit another culture and (for example) take photographs of a ceremony. Then later exhibit them with an explanation and sensitive understanding, this would be of cultural value.
  • If you bring back an object of spiritual value from that same culture and use it in a photoshoot with a model and no context, this would be construed as offensive, even if the results were aesthetically pleasing.
  • Authenticity can be difficult to come by. We should try to support it. What do I mean? When you are out there in the world buy local. That could mean local artists and/or indigenous goods from indigenous people. (not an original thought, a mix of my beliefs and newly acquired learning from the inter-webs). Spend a little more for something handmade by the real deal. In some cases less, but whatever you do, please run as fast as you can from mass produced tourist junk shops imported from China. If you visit China find a local artist to buy from.
  • When minority groups ask for local school mascot to have a name change from say “Redmen” or “Redskins.” Instead of digging in our heels and saying its always been that way, may be listen to why. We’ll get used to a new name.
  • Halloween… sometimes we could let somethings be politically incorrect.
  • If art history surveys are still taught the same as they were approximately ten years ago when I went to a liberal arts college, some adjustments could be considered. Even at that time they were struggling even with how to talk about women in the world of art history, unless it was the great Frida. Seeing the history of Western art through the lens of cultural appropriation would be beneficial. Anyone taking a good course? Shout it out in the comments.

Writing about this topic has helped immensely in solidifying my understanding, but the term cultural appropriation is being tossed around the media like a hot potato. I just like to remind myself that I can be a kind person and a supreme jerk. People are people wherever you go, even when google maps takes you through the rougher sides of city.

Let’s have a dialog. Thoughts? Opinions? Corrections? Leave a message.

Thoughts from the Road: Part 1

Art Journal, The Road

Ohio

Ohio as I remembered and expected it is still farms and wayward old farmhouses, a very similar vista to southern Lower Michigan. I was able to stop and catch, what was for me the quintessential Ohio landscape, a lonely old abandoned farmhouse.

Abandoned Ohio Farm House

Southern Ohio was the surprise. Hills and what could be defined as mountains set back from the empty fall fields with morning fog rolling back. Winding narrow roads with old wood barns built up tight to them covered in vines and bereft of paint. Covered wood bridges heaving their last breath of life, or in some cases carefully conserved. Federal Style houses set neatly right up to the sidewalks in tiny towns or elsewhere abandoned to the woods. New builds up in the hills with winding driveways and gated across from the river. On the river little houses toggled together defying paint and right angles. Indian burial mounds both set aside in state parks to enjoy and popping up lonely in farmer’s fields.

Morning Fog Along the Ohio River
Serpent Mound, Peebles, Ohio

Kentucky

Fall Leaves with Frost in Kentucky

Kentucky and Tennessee are combined in my memory as one big green drive from before. On this trip we crossed into Northern Kentucky from over the Ohio River and drove along narrow winding tree covered roads hugging the side of a small mountain. Eventually this gave way to rolling green hills with little farms as far as the eye could see. My first thought was “this must be that Kentucky Blue Grass.” I felt like we were high up in elevation maybe we were, maybe it was my imagination. Each turn another perfect vista. Old barns with tobacco drying. Cows and horses and sheep in the fields. The horses. Tall delicate golden, brown, black, white, silver stately dancing horses. Huge horses. Running horses. Horses to make you weep they were so perfect.

1792 Barton Distillery

Tennessee

A building in German Town, Nashville, Tennessee

Tennessee sticks in my head as all mountains and huge valleys containing the roads and the houses. This human felt very small driving through those valleys trying to see all the rocky outcrops. The houses changed to a lot of tin roofs and front porches. The cities we saw were busy building and it all felt new. Brick paver sidewalks and the muted fall colors just starting at the beginning of November.

We took an unplanned lunch in Nashville and walked German town. Checked out the farmer’s market. There was a moving monument to Tennessee’s history from the geological formation of the area to the state’s part in the Civil War through when it the monument was constructed.

The Upper Peninsula was so untouched by the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement for example, that as we drive through towns and cities richer in American history for better or worse, I am not tempered to its realities emotionally. And there I am reading on a stone wall about the end of a nation. About Tennessee’s role in the downfall of the Cherokee, this thing I read about. This thing that I watched documentaries on. There. In stone in front of me, because this is one of the places the people should be.

It will not be the last time I will walk away feeling mixed up. And it wasn’t the first.

The view of Nashville from Germantown
Part of Monument Downtown Nashville, Tennessee. A collection of quotes and facts about Tennessee.
Monument to Tennessee History, downtown Nashville, Tennessee. A wall following Tennessee’s historical timeline

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