Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Busting Through A Life in Art

"Dance Suite Monoprint, Oil Stick, Absorbent Ground, Graphite, 30"x110", 2004
The tired artist RISD undergraduate at off campus studio in Providence, RI

Me (in the middle), first oil painting of a map of US from imagination

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Before I begin my post this week, I wish to acknowledge how my mothers death, on May1st, has given me an awareness of how the the life and loss of someone dear and close reorients one's thinking and motivations.  Reading through my mother's writings after her death, I discovered how her struggles and joys helped direct her navigation through her life.  As I move towards regaining my own  emotional equilibrium, I feel a solid kinship with my mothers efforts to balance her goals, family, and the world around her.   The experience of losing my mother has made me feel more fierce and empowered about living a full and honest life that fully encompasses; kindness, spirit, curiosity, artmaking, the wonder of nature, family and friends. 

Sifting through old photo albums looking for the photo of my first oil painting (a map of the US painted at age 8), taken at an old firehouse where classes were held for kids, began a journey backward that moved forward as I thought about the decisions I have made that have led me to this point in my life.  Art and animals were part of my environment growing up in and around New York City.  My aunt took me to Miss Effie's Riding Academy on Long Island when I was 3 or 4 years old for lessons, giving me a life long love of horses.  At home we had 13 turtles, iguanas, chameleons, frogs, seahorses, fish, and birds.  Early memories of my grandmother and I at the Metropolitan Museum are very vivid:  I remember looking up into a very large Jackson Pollack seeing immense worlds of swirling movement; feeling amazed viewing the intense colors of Van Gogh's Sunflowers; charmed by the Degas dancer cast in bronze with her lovely tutu; and in awe of Soleri's gold-threaded sun.   

My mother was a horticulturist, flower arranger, and judge for flower shows.  Our basement was full of fantastic objects and mediums such as driftwood, shells, odd shaped forms of wood, clay, paint, and various colored materials, to name a few.  I was always drawing, painting, taking photos or making some small sculptural object.  Later my parents built me a darkroom when I became interested in printing my own photographs.  An early drawing that I repeatedly recreated was a horse in a large corral backed by mountains or mesa land.  I made many versions of this vision.  When I moved to Hernandez, New Mexico years later, I realized that my drawing was a "blueprint" of my life there.  My corral faced west and was just below the mesa and my horse was a reddish brown color with a light mane and tail that emulated the drawing.   I had "drawn" myself into my life.
At Miss Effie's Riding Academy, at age 4

 My life from ages 8-16 also included intensive ballet training.  My teachers were the stars of The New York City Ballet and mainly Russian.  I was a member of The Andre Eglevsky Ballet Company by age 13. At the time I thought that dance would be my career, but my body could not handle the physical stress.  I turned my focus back to fine art and never looked back.  

After receiving my BFA in painting from Rhode Island School of Design in Italy, where I spent my senior year as a European Honors Student, I stayed another year, living and painting in Northern Italy.  I worked for an American family as an au pair in the tiny hamlet of Ortonovo, just above the port of   Carrara. Returning to the States, I moved to Philadelphia and then Boston.   Waitressing became my main occupation as I struggled with my art work making paintings, drawings, and mixed-media works.
My child drawing of my imagined home

The Lisa Series, Ink, Oil Stick, MM, 60"x40"

After briefly returning to RISD to earn my Masters in Art Teaching, I moved to Hoboken, NJ, across the river from Manhattan.  It was in Hoboken that my "art muscles" really kicked in after years of personal study, effort, time in the studio, and, perseverance.

For about 10 years I worked with abstraction on canvas and paper using oil paint and mixed media.  My interests began to move towards figurative structure and I became very  involved in the story of a 6 year old girl who was beaten to death by her illegally adopted father.  The girl's name was Lisa and her father was the lawyer, Joel Steinberg.  Lisa's face peering out at the viewer on the front page of "The New York Post" touched my heart with sadness.  I found the photographer who had taken Lisa's pictures and traded some art works for a number of photographs.  During the next 9 years I developed 3 series of work under the title "Children in Peril": The Lisa Series, The Nightmare Series, and The Throw-A-Ways. As I worked I began to incorporate stuffed animals, dolls, and various media that created what I call "fat paintings", that moved out into space towards the viewer.  At this time I do not have this work on my web site. If anyone is interested in viewing the work, I can send images through E-Mail or set it up on my website for limited viewing. 

Just about the time I concluded my "Children in Peril" body of work, I moved to New Mexico.  I was tired of the cut-throat New York life as an artist and wanted to live in a place of beauty, space, and quiet.  Moving to New Mexico has been wonderful for my soul and heart.  I did have to re-start my art career, but it was worth the price of living a life surrounded by my animals, land, and light. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Losing Anita

My mother at 5 with flowers
Anita Appel marries David Rolnick

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On May 1, 2012 I lost my mother to bone cancer.  As I write this sentence I am aware that my emotions have not yet caught up with the reality of my loss, as I reside in a cocooned zone that protects me from a deep inner knowledge that my mother no longer walks this earth.  I am not comfortable in this state because it is an all consuming feeling of disconnect.  As time moves me towards her memorial next week, I know living in this strange twilight space will progress toward the realization of her loss.  I am dedicating this week's post to my mother as I reflect about her life and the qualities that made her a unique and special individual to her two daughters, son-in-law, grandson, extended family of cousins, nephews,  nieces and the many people who met and admired her feistiness, intelligence, and sense of humor.  I especially want to thank Ray who cared for her with all his heart, and Ruth, Paul, Ann, and everyone at Avery Crossing who saw her through her last years and gave her comfort.

Anita Georgia Rolnick, born in 1920 in New York City, was a horticulturalist, botanist, avid gardener, and amateur photographer.  Her parents were Ottalie Popper Appel and George Appel.  She had a younger sister, Barbara, called Bobby, who she adored.  Anita went to Chapel Hill University and studied botany.  Plants, flowers, and flower arranging were her lifelong passions as she studied numerous varieties of all kinds of vegetation.  My mother liked digging in the garden better than any other activity except walking trails, discovering new or interesting plants, trees or flowers.   She was also a bit of a "firecracker" and told me often that she joined the army during WWII to "get away" from her mother.  She was a WAC and served Stateside, taking histories of the wounded soldiers at various bases. 

My mother met my father, David Rolnick, on a blind date set up by my Uncle Bernie, Dad's brother.
My father had also been in the war serving as a bombardier in the Air Force. He was shot down over Germany and survived a German POW camp.  My parents became engaged and planned their wedding.  During that era in the late 1940's, engaged couples had chaperones when they went away together.  My mother used to joke that the chaperones were more "naughty" than she and my father and were actually quite useless.  

The married couple settled on Long Island, outside of New York City, in the town of Valley Stream with an infant daughter - me.  My sister, Lynn, arrived 2 years later and we became the somewhat typical nuclear post WWII family.  Except my mother was not exactly the typical mother of that period.  Early on in their marriage, my mother had all her new in-laws over for a turkey dinner.  At this time she did not know much about cooking.  Unfortunately something "happened" to the turkey and everyone became violently ill.  The family story blames the fact that my mother covered the turkey with aluminum foil and that "poisoned" the turkey. My mother later became an excellent and inventive cook and baker.   I am sure this "incident" helped spur her beginning ventures into cooking.

 My mother was a small person, just under 5 feet.  One day I was looking out the window and noticed her working in the garden.  Something seemed familiar and then I noticed she was wearing my old green jeans and pink ski jacket.  My mom was wearing my hand-me-downs!  She coordinated the outfit with her green rubber garden boots.  A similar situation occurred with my little red wagon.  When I was very young, my parents brought me a bright red wagon to pull.  I used it for quite a while until it was time to learn how to ride a bicycle.  The little red wagon did not stay in the garage for long as my mother began using it to move her plants around the property.  She used that wagon until it gave out and then bought another more sturdy style.  

During the winter there were certain activities that the family enjoyed every year when my sister and I were young.  Our house was a block away from a park and small lake and we would have skating parties most weekends with my mothers's sister, Bobby, and her family and various friends.  Both sisters loved to skate. Years later when I was in high school, located across the lake, I sat day-dreaming in English class one day and turned my head to glance out the window.  A singular figure was gliding across the ice.  I looked closer and saw it was my mother in her special Dutch outfit, a blue wool fitted jacket and pants with her pointy hat on her head, moving in her own world by herself.  She seemed so contained and peaceful.   My mother also insisted we go to the beach every winter to collect the conch shells that only washed up during the colder months.  She bundled us all up and out we went to Jones Beach.  We were the only people on the beach since it was windy, damp, and freezing cold.  But we also had plenty of conch shells.  My mother used them in her flower arrangements and kept a "stash" in a box under her work table in the basement.

One of the main heartaches of my mother's life was the loss of her sister, Bobby, at age 34 from cancer.   She was devastated for a very long time.  Our very tight family was changed forever when my Aunt Bobbie died. 

After my college years I moved to Philadelphia and worked as an artist and waitressed in a variety of restaurants.  One morning I was woken up early by a phone call from my mother on Long Island.  She told me she needed to take a break from my father and sister (who was living at home at the time) and was coming right away to stay with me.  I was completely taken by surprise by this sudden act of flight by my mother who was not prone to rash acts. Two hours later she was at my door.  At this time I lived in a 4th floor walk-up in Center City.  I had a mattress on the floor and no real furniture.   Since I was working that evening, I took my mother to the restaurant and sat her at my station in a comfortable booth and had all my fellow workers stop by and say hello.  She loved the attention and the dinner.  I slept on the floor that night and gave her the bed.  The next morning she was out the door as fast as she had entered. 

Years later when my parents moved to Needham, MA to be near my sister's family, they began to spend four months of the year in Tuscon, AZ.  My mother loved the West and quickly learned where all the wonderful hiking trails were located.  She was especially fond of Sabino Canyon where my parents walked almost everyday.  My mother became very familiar with the vegetation and terrain of Sabino, noticing changes every year to her favorite Saguaro's.  She was always ready to head up the trail and keep walking and it was often hard to keep up with her.   My father and mother also became very interested in photography and showed their landscapes in many venues including the Audubon Society.  On the trip home from Tuscon to Needham, my parents would stop and visit me in New Mexico.  My mother loved my home here in Edgewood and was always amazed at the number of animals that lived on my land.  During one of their last visits here, my mother insisted on helping me muck up my horse arena.  It is a large pen-at least an acre.  I gave her one of my manure rakes and she gave it her all.  She was slightly awkward at the task and I found that very touching as she worked with me until the corral was clean. 

During her years in Needham, my mother began to design and plant my sister's garden.  The garden today is a testament to her skills and knowledge of plants, pattern, and color.  When she and my father moved to Avery Crossing Assisted Living near-by, she began a campaign to develop a raised garden on the property.  The garden club of Needham helped build the garden and my mother worked on that project until she was too frail to work outdoors.  Her design and garden can be seen today in a beautiful spot that stands as a tribute and dedication to a woman who loved digging in the earth to bring forth the beauty and science of nature.  Her mind, wit, and strength of character remained strong to the end of her life.  I will miss her everyday and I was fortunate to learn and be guided by her independent mind, love of nature, and strong sense of humanity and care of others.
David and Anita in Tuscon
Bobby and Anita
Clemitis taken by Anita