A trip to Santa Cruz

The copy for today’s upload had been almost finished when I decided to set it aside in favor of sharing with you some tidbits from a trip to Santa Cruz for my daughter’s orientation at the University of Santa Cruz.

Originally the plans had not included my joining her and her mother, but the day before the departure I packed my things, made sure the batteries for the camera were all charged and tagged along for the adventure.

After dropping off our daughter on campus, the wife and I took a short drive around the vicinity before heading south on the freeway towards Watsonville. I wanted to check out the area because I remember from my childhood that it was mostly agricultural land and I desired to capture a few photographic studies for a possible painting.

Upon arriving in Watsonville it felt like any other place, there where the usual major gasoline companies with their stations welcoming us back into civilization, followed by OSH on one side of the shopping center, Firestone, an assortment of smaller businesses and a major super market chain on the other side. Even Verizon has a spot on the corner next to a major intersection.

The cabbage patch, Watsonville

I had to look very hard to find access to the open agricultural fields, to see the workers in the fields, but by accident I did find one road that lead me past a local high school and what appeared to be a dead-end, was a dirt road leading one down a row of parked old cars and trucks. It was by all means limited exposure at best, and feeling out of ones own element, we continued a short distance along a huge strawberry field and patches of freshly tilted earth before turning around.

A smaller section of land that was protected by one side of a natural grove of indigenes trees, where a few laborers at harvesting red cabbages, while others packed the heads into cardboard shipping containers and loaded them onto a flatbed truck.

Unfortunately I found myself being ill prepared because of the failure to study any maps prior to coming here and know my way around ahead of time. Even after finding a California Automobile Association facility where I did obtain maps of the vicinity, but the decision was made to leave Watsonville for another time and return to Santa Cruz along the coast.

In order to do this we had to travel a short distance on the Cabrillo Highway until we reached Park, there we exited. Traveling on a winding two-way road, descending through a grove of Eucalyptus until the road way doubled and we reached the beginning of a residential neighborhood.

Each community with their own characteristics has a unique charm but today we were just passing through, in order to get to the shoreline, which we finally spotted before leaving Capitola and entering into Live Oak. After about ten minutes or so we reached Schwan Lake, from there it was only a brief moment before I spotted public access to a beach with one parking space available.

Anyone confused yet?, Twin Lake State Beach, Live Oak

After parking the vehicle I looked up at the sign before us. We looked at each other, read the sign repeatedly, deciphering the cryptic meaning before realizing that we did need a permit since Labor Day was in September. So she stayed with the car, while I quickly took a few pictures of the lighthouse and lifeguard station before gathered some extra fine sand and continuing our journey.

Apart from parking along the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk is very restricted, even several blocks away; I was not keen on staying. Wanting something quieter and less crowded we started to check out the area a little further north along Cowell Beach where the surfers hang out riding the incoming waves.

Finding another lone and empty parking spot that just seemed to beckon, I pulled right in.
There was a staircase leading down the cliff to the water which I descended almost right up to the water, only stopping so not to get wet from the incoming waves exploding like fireworks against the rocks.

We continued our walk along West Cliff Drive towards the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, all the time checking out the surfers catching the small waves, while we were dogging now and then the oncoming bicycle riders.

The Pelican Sentinel, Natural Bridges State Beach

Our time flew by way too fast and pretty soon it would be time to return to campus and pick up our daughter, but not before one more stop at Natural Bridges State Beach. The place has two entrances, the first takes one to a large parking lot with a twenty-minute limit in order to view the scenery, while the other road let to a rangers station that collected the days fee from those who wanted to enter the beach.

The point was very windy and the current considerable stronger as waves struck with greater force, pounding against the cliff protruding from the beaches shoreline. There on the very top of the cliff, the cormorants and pelicans stood watch over the coming and goings of the ocean. Several digital exposures later I headed back to the car, besides we needed to return to the campus.

Those attending the orientation were required to park in designated lots and take the shuttle to campus #8, where we meet up with our daughter but not after first running into an old friend Sherry who was there with her son Christopher. Her son and our daughter have known each other since first grade when going to Olinda Elementary more than ten years ago.

USC bus stop billboard, USC Campus

The five of us decided to head back into town and just walk about looking at the shops but first we needed to get back to where our cars were parked. When we exited the bus I had another look at the bus stop billboard which reminded me very much of the telephone poles I had been photographing in Berkeley since 2005.

Though I felt being rushed, I certainly could have spent the next twenty to thirty minutes setting up a tripod, composing a number of different arrangements and capturing several versions, I had to do with the three exposures I did get. All I could do was hope that despite the low shutter speed, I had something worthwhile.

The ride back home went relatively smooth, considering we did get into some rush hour traffic. Our daughter was exhausted and went to sleep, missing some of the scenery. Though I felt I had not accomplished every thing I wanted to do, the trip at least provided some mental stimulation and a few ideas for when I would return.

A favorite place of mine

At one point or another we all have a favorite place, it can be one that we have all to our own or a place we share with others. Since childhood I always had always a place I called mine, from the one under the staircase I claimed as a child, to the 120 square foot cottage that I had build in the backyard of our first house and which served as my graphic design studio. When we sold our home and I lost my cottage, we had moved into a larger house, one with a downstairs guest bedroom and its private bathroom became my new office space, the one the wife refers to as the dungeon because it is located at the lower level of our house.

Yet there is also place I feel in love with when I took a drive to discover what was there on the back roads where we now live. The location is less then two miles away and in these past eleven years I have watched closely the changing seasons upon this geographical location.

There is really nothing special about this section of land that is surrounded by rolling hills and where a two-way road cuts through its right side and runs along the base of several hills, a road that is traveled by those seeking a short cut to Martinez or Pleasant Hill.

Spring 2009

Earlier this year I drove by this magical field every Friday in order to attend my history of modern art class and depending on when I left the house, I would usually stop off, park the car, and take a number of photographs to record the weekly progress of the land reacting to the changing months and the weather.

In the previous years the field would be covered by the end of May in a sea of tall rich golden yellow muster flowers but this year, due to an unusual heat wave in January and February, along with a sever case of a drought, the plants rose to no more than two feet and never really matured into that ocean of yellow.

My Favorite Field in Spring
O/C, March 2002, 11 x 14 (27.94 x 35.56 cm)

Throughout the years I have painted this spot from various viewpoints. Either in early spring just as the ground broke open with the year’s new growth, to when the area was covered in full-grown muster flower, as well as when the plants were cut down and only dried bleach yellow stubbles remained.

Even when the land revealed its darker side after it had been plowed under; there was a beauty I found just as irresistible when the muster plants in all there flowering glory, stood tall.

My Favorite Field Turned to Gold by the Summers Sun
O/C, August 2008, 8 x 10 (20.32 x 25.40 cm)

However anytime I wish to cover another vantage point of this field I must locate an entrée area, since all the land along the road is sealed off with barbwire. When I do jump over a fence at a firebreak line, I need to keep my eyes open for any roaming cattle grazing, which includes possible snakes and depending upon the season, the blood sucking ticks.

Still I will return when ever the mood strikes and the light is right for more photographs from which I can draw upon for another painting, considering I can never stay long enough as I am trespassing on land owned by the water department and leased to the local cattlemen. It is rather a sad statement because I remove nothing from the land and I leave nothing behind, all I wish to do is enjoy its beauty and paint what I am experiencing so that others might enjoy what I have seen when they look at my paintings.

August 2009

As we near the end of summer and are closing in on late autumn, when the land will have been scorched brutally by the sun, I can only hope that with mid winter and the coming of spring, the clouds will return to darken the sky and unleash the angel’s tears upon the soil so that we can see once more the earth covered in an ocean of yellow.


Letting go and setting adrift

Though I had started more than a week ago to develop the story line for my next post, the last several days and with the passing of each additional hour, I was taken further away from seeing my narrative completed. During this transition of impasse the original storyline shifted from a discussion about collecting to the editorial selection process of a photograph, only to be suddenly faced with writers block.

No matter how hard I tried to focus, distractions and obligations left me with only a handful of false starts, a few good sentences, but nothing more. So now what?

I have eight photographs and all I need is one. I have just as many paragraphs written about the day I went to the beach and started collecting seashells and sand dollars, a day whose memory would have been lost if it were not for these items of incidental findings that have no intrinsic value or purpose.

No matter what I tried, the threads whose loose ends dangle before me, I am unable to connect. Not even looking at any of the photographs, which were taken a few days ago for this post, would ignite into a ragging fire of inspiration, not even a spark for that smoldering ember lingering in anguish.

I am letting go, setting adrift an idea to which I shall return to when Polyhymnia grants me her touch of creativity, so that once again I can find the words that fail me now, and so the truth be told.


A keeper of memories

The last couple of days I have been feeling nostalgic, along with a good dosage of melancholy. Thought I should be excited for having come into the possession of a large number of Black & White including sepia-toned photographs dating from about 1890’s through the late 60’s, including a number of negative, several receipts from a trip to Europe, a letter from a father to his son in camp and plenty of ephemeral material; I cannot help but feel sad.

There are school portraits commemorating graduation of ones fourth or fifth year from an elementary school in the late forties and early fifties, Boy Scouts of America merit badges, even a driving citation for speeding in a school zone with a comment by the police officer that the ticket holder is to bring his parents to court.

As I look at all the items, carefully separating them into different stacks, I cannot help but begin to wonder about these people who’s ‘bits and pieces’ I now hold in my hand, asking why all this and more was it being discarded? Even though my ‘treasure throve’ came from a number of different sources, the thought of so many previous lives having been tossed into oblivion, to be forgotten, erased as if they never existed in the first place, pains me, despite receiving a reprieve from the garbage dump.

Some of the photographs clearly date back to the depression era and even earlier, while others show men in uniforms serving as a police officer or the armed forces during World War Two, there are pictures of a child riding his first tricycle and looking back at mom or the few other ones of grandma holding her first grandchild, while beaming with joy.

So what happened to all these people? Was the previous owner the last survivor of the family line? What causes these individuals, the keepers of these last memories to be themselves the lost souls whose death brings to an end a rich and complex life?

Like most other artists, I too am a collector, but when it comes to letters and photographs it is not about collecting, rather I see myself as gathering the memories of previous lives, a ‘keeper of a fragmented unknown history’ if you will, whose own survival is uncertain with each passing year.

Over the last several years the number of photographs have grown to over one hundred and eighty or more, and among these I do have my favorites, in particular those of a families spanning a couple of years or decades, revealing a glimpse into their daily activities, their relations with one another.

In their silence each photograph weaves a story that beckons to be told and whether you come across an entire album or a single photograph, do not look at it as a possession to be had, but rather to cherish the honour of being a keeper of memories.


Stalemate comes to an end

With Industrial Wall, version #2 painting completed and version #1 a week earlier, I was itching to start another painting but then there was one leaning against the family living room wall that I had hoped to have completed by now, especially this last weekend since the painting is of the American flag and this nation just had celebrated Fourth of July.

For more than a year I thought of doing a series of paintings involving the American flag and what it had become to represent under the former Bushes Administration. Great thought was taken as to the idea of defacing the American flag, for that matter, any sovereign nations flag and how one might feel about. The idea of adding paint, various acrylic mediums, an oil glaze, and eventually text from the American Constitution or other text was all carefully analyze, along with my own personal feelings about America, my host country.

Over time the project began to visually materialize, then in January of this year I had that creative itch which remained persistent over a number of days. Without much planning I proceeded to paint, only to find myself later in a long stalemate that has lasted almost five months.

A number of solutions were contemplated during those months and I even came close to implementing one, but every time I proceeded to try and leave a mark, that long awaited change, I stopped. Though frustrated with myself, I promised myself this painting would not be abandoned!

Sometimes a spontaneous attempt towards a blank canvas can work. In the beginning this painting had everything going for it until I realized that if wanted to add handwritten text, portions of a shredded copy of the American Constitution, and possible some anti war graffiti, the sequence I had so far undertaken, now had a few wrinkles.

This holiday weekend provided a breakthrough, as I took on the attitude of ‘What have I to lose?’ when the first pencil marks were laid the words ‘defending democracy, defending identity’, progress was finally being made and more words were now being written on the painting.

Though there were numerous interruptions this Sunday, work on the painting slowly continued, carefully selecting an area where to leave a word, a thought, or a sentence and though considerable progress had been made, the painting still remained unfinished. Only now did I begin to see that with a few more words or couple of lines the painting would not only be completed, it would reflect the feeling I had so long wished to express.


The industrial wall – part two

One never knows how a painting is going to turn out until it has been completed, especially when it is of an abstract genre and painted over a period of weeks.
No matter how much careful planning one does, there is always the unknown or the voice of intuition that changes the direction of what was originally intended. Of course there is also the unintentional accident that can have a major influence in the direction that one is heading, including the final outcome of the paintings appearance. Another element one must to take into account is the fear of failure for it is a powerful distraction, even with my previous found confidence in which I succeeded in accomplishing what was mentally envisioned.

What I have learned technically from this painting can now be apply towards the next one, with the understanding there are no guarantees that the results will be as before. Painting is not a formula of steps with predictable results and in many ways this makes multi-medium painting a challenge as well as an exciting undertaking.
Each abstract painting I ever painted had its unique challenges and Industrial Wall — Flint Ink, version two, certainly was no different. Mixing a variety of acrylic products in order to achieve certain textures was new territory. When working as a multi-medium artist, I feel like an alchemist of the Middle Ages trying to turn iron into gold and in many ways today’s multi-medium processes are no different from when artists had to grind their own colours.

As the painting Industrial Wall — Flint Ink passed the half way mark, I took a chance of using a household spray paint containing a foreign element that gave it a fine raised surface texture. I was very apprehensive using this product but after spraying a single burst on the canvas, I was delighted, for it had provided the very thing I desired but had not attained until that moment.
The next step was to make sure to apply the spray sparsely and give it the unintentional accident look that gives it the appearance I saw the day I visited the Flint Ink plant. Because of that one burst from a spray can, the painting had taken another turn, allowing further applications of acrylic materials for a greater depth of texture and detail.
Last Wednesday the painting was finished off with a three layers Manganese Blue Nova colour with Liquin glaze, with the last two glazes being only over portions of the painting so that it resembles an external light source.

Industrial Wall — Flint Ink, version #2
Multi-medium combine on canvas, 36 x 48 inch (91.44 x 121.92 cm)

Yesterday I added the final touches, the shipping label, as it was previously tucked in under the wood temporarily and since it was rather fragile, an index card was added to the back with an additional layer of extra heavy gel medium for support and giving it a slight curvature in a permanent hold. The original nail was returned to its previous location and some twine saved from a package was secured to it along with a Sharpie pen.

In the end the painting came into its own, different from the photograph it was based upon, even though numerous elements in its makeup are also found in the photograph, the canvas underwent several evolutions to arrive at its final state. A little planned, a dash of the unexpected, a pinch of the unintentional accident, a twist of fear, and a good dosage of trust in ones own vision and ability.

In the end you have to trust in yourself, your ability and your intuition.