Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Centre Cannot Hold

      St. Paul's Cathedral Reflected in Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Building, Pittsburgh, 2013

I am on the verge of submitting my proposal for a photography fellowship.  The above image is from last year's failed submission, which included a Venn Diagram in the artist statement, with the overriding theme being heavily influenced by the Yeats poem, 'The Second Coming'.   And even though I wasn't awarded the fellowship, I was very proud of my work.
I will keep you posted on any and all future rejections as they become relevant.

Monday, September 29, 2014

An Open Letter To Chipmunks

Rare sighting of a chipmunk up a tree.  Not the chipmunk, necessarily, being addressed in this letter.

     At 9:14 am yesterday morning, while driving on Roosevelt Circle, I had to brake for a chipmunk.  I didn't want to kill it, and I'm still a little bitter about that.  The braking and the giving a damn.  A sham of caring on my part, my perimenopausal self ever quick to cry, a brittle exterior barely containing a fragile interior.  It's a conundrum, wrapped in a beach towel, surrounded by a nightmare.
     But, I daresay, Sir Chipmunk, that should we cross paths again, I will not be so kind.  I'm not saying that I will run you over, but I might wait longer to brake.  Yes, brake late to send the message that "I" am in control here!  That your lingering in the road could have most unfortunate consequences, and not by my design or intent!  Oh no.  You could find yourself ushered into Rodentia Eternity, a place teeming with lemmings desperately in search of a cliff...and the sea.  Oh, the crushing waves and cold caress of the North Atlantic.  Is that what you want?  Is it?  For that is what you shall have should you choose to challenge me in the open street again.  As God is my witness, my foot shall not budge from the accelerator, nor the pressure applied to the pedal ease!!!11!
You have been warned.

Yours in Christ,

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Man and Mermaid Man

The social significance of a cartoon character can either be grossly overblown, or discounted to the point of missing the obvious.  Those who have scrutinized the show Spongebob Squarepants in the past have focused so much on the titular character and his sidekick, Patrick, that they've missed what is surely  one of the strongest feminist statements ever to emerge from cartoonland:  Mermaid Man.  Not Merman, Mermaid Man.  Cast as a semi-retired superhero, Mermaid Man and his sidekick, Barnacle Boy, sometimes foist themselves out of their rocking chairs to fight crime and right wrongs in Bikini Bottom. 
When, if ever, has a male character, especially a hero male character, had such a female component attached to their name?  A mermaid is a mythical temptress of the sea, a creature of beauty and mystery, a seductress who lures unsuspecting sailors unable to resist her charms, to their doom in her watery Queendom.  To call Mermaid Man, Mermaid Man, is the equivalent of referring to Batman as Batgirl Man.  Can you imagine?  It's certainly exciting to ponder.  So, what was the creator of Spongebob, Stephen Hillenburg's, intention?  Many aspects of the show do turn norms on their head, was it nothing more than that?  Perhaps just a joke?  If it was meant as a joke it's a darned sly one because for all of the groups who railed against Spongebob because he was perceived as gay, along with Patrick, and the show was also accused of promoting a pro-climate change agenda, never has there been a peep of discord about Mermaid Man.  The internet is a huge, oftentimes angry place, you'd think that some crank would've spewed hate by now.  But no.  Mermaid Man in his teeny bra-top worn over his leotard remains unscathed, and a champion of gender identity, whatever form that may take.  He is both maid and man, now and forever.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Maxo Vanka Murals

Justice, Croatian Church of St. Nicholas, Millvale, PA, 2014

Atop a steep hill in a Pittsburgh neighborhood just north of the city, sits a small church built by immigrant steelworkers in 1900.  The church itself is unremarkable architecturally.  Your eye could sweep over the landscape and never come to rest upon it.  But inside the church there are murals painted by Maxo Vanka on every available bit of wall and ceiling space.  The most astounding murals I have ever seen in a place of worship.  The first part of the mural was painted in 1937, just as Hitler was preparing to lead the world into hell, again, and then the murals were finished in 1941, with the world at war. 
Vanka himself was an agnostic, which leads one to wonder how he was allowed, and encouraged, by this small church to create such shattering imagery in a place of worship.  Born in Croatia in 1889, he'd served in the Belgian Red Cross during WWI, witnessing firsthand the brutality and suffering of war.  While not a socialist, he definitely was not a capitalist either, wedding many religious and social themes together in these murals to highlight the plight of millworkers and miners, men perishing on the job the same as a soldier dies on the battlefield.  The common man losing his life for the will of forces and powers that he could never hope to influence.
The experience of viewing these murals is nothing short of visceral.  Whether it's the Mother Mary breaking bayonets with her bare hands, or an industrialist going over his ledgers at the dinner table while children beg for food, each scene demands your attention. 
There are guided tours of the murals every Saturday at 11am, noon, and 1pm.  Don't miss it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Best Alias Ever

Actual unadulterated advertisement.  O the humanity.

I belong to a secret society on facebook.  It's a group of women who post and share things that are most unfortunate, otherwise I doubt that I would've seen the above 1950s British ad.  If I had to profile the individual who cooked up this offensive campaign I would venture that he was probably a closeted gay man who harbored a deep horror of the female body while at the same time was insanely jealous of a woman's ability to attract (straight) male attention.  That would be my official guess on this one.
Despite the fact that this advert oozes misogyny like a festering wound, it does provide one of the greatest online identities in the history of the internet:  Mimsy Kipper, a name as brilliant as Anastasia Beaverhausen or Ida Blankenship.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I must tend to my mimsy lest it get kippered.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Weather Formerly Known As The Polar Vortex

                                           Connoquenessing Creek, January 2014

      As our relatively cool summer draws to a close, autumn awaits, and winter looms.  I am not one of those people who wishes she lived in the south.  Not at all.  It's not because I love winter and winter activities like skiing (falling) or ice skating (more falling), but I don't mind winter.  That stillness that can only be had when it's utterly frigid outside, the air like needles on any exposed skin, and perhaps best of all, the anticipation of spring.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Angels and Gender

                    Calvary United Methodist Church, North Side, Pittsburgh, PA 2014

     As of late I've been looking at a lot of stained glass windows and couldn't help but be struck by how almost always angels are portrayed as female.  Given how the Christian church has relegated women to a secondary, if not completely submissive role, for much of its history, I found this curious.  Indeed, others have asked this question as well, and there doesn't seem to be much of an answer, at least not a clear one.  But there it is, for all to see, in church after church, window after window, from the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany to that of Charles J. Connick, and everyone else in between.  It seems to have been a standard practice for artists creating these masterpieces to default to the female angel.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Where Tacky and Art Collide, To Make Tacky Art

Cat Manikin and Portrait of a Cat, Private Collection, My Dining Room, Pittsburgh, PA, 2014

A couple of years ago my mother-in-law, who took up painting in her retirement, painted this portrait of our cross-eyed cat, Peeps.  Then, the other day while I was at the art supply store, I came upon this life-like cat manikin and I thought, wow, this will serve as a wonderful companion piece to the Peep's Portrait!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Cave Dwellers

                      Myotis lucifugus, Little Brown Bat, 2014

    Despite my unreasonable fear of contracting rabies, I am fond of bats.  I even did field research two summers for a local university tracking a colony of little brown bats nearby my home.   In the gloaming they would swarm out of their roost, tilting and dipping over the sky, feasting on insects until dawn.  We are years removed from that now, where dozens or hundreds of bats might be seen exiting a roost to hunt through the Pennsylvania night.  White Nose Syndrome (WNS) has claimed 7 million bats in the eastern US and Canada, driving some species to the edge of extinction.  Now when I see a bat I actually make a note of it in my journal, so rare an occurrence has it  become. 

    Stopping the spread of the disease has proved to be difficult, as every year since its discovery in the winter of 2006, WNS has been confirmed further north, south, east and west from its epicenter of Schoharie County, New York.  Mortality rates for infected roosts are between 90-100%.  A statistic cannot get anymore stark than 100%.

    Pray this is not the end of the fledermaus.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Bloodsmoor Romance, of Sorts

                                         Teddy Roosevelt National Park, ND, 2009

This morning, like every morning, I called my mother.  She didn't have much to report, but she did mention that she wasn't too thrilled with the latest romance novel that my sister-in-law had downloaded for her on her Kindle.
"I don't know who this writer thinks she is, but she goes off on these long tangents of prose.  Just pages and pages of words that I don't even bother to look up because I would never use them out in the world.  And the book isn't even much of a romance," Mom declared.
"What's the title?" I asked.
"I don't even know."
"Who wrote it?"
"Oh, for pity's sake, let me go look it up....A Bloodsmoor Romance by Joyce Carol Oates," Mom said.
"Joyce Carol Oates!  Mom, haven't you ever heard of her?  She's a well-known writer of literature.  She's taught at Princeton forever."  I was flabbergasted, first that JCO wrote a romance, and second that my mom didn't seem to know who she was.  Is.
"Her name doesn't sound familiar, and I don't think she's a very good romance writer.  I mean, I'm not looking for smut, per se, but I want people's lives and their stories, so that I don't have to think about my own life.  You know what I mean."
"I think you want more near-smut than what this book is providing, and I don't think you want a narrative that's going to challenge your preferred easy romance reading experience."

We talked a few more minutes after that, but that's the gist of it.  I did go and look up A Bloodsmoor Romance and the typical response by readers is:  WTF did I just read?  And then they give 4 stars (out of 5).  I don't read a lot of JCO, the last of her books in my hands was We Were The Mulvaneys, but I may see if my local library has this so-called romance novel and see for myself WTF is going on.  Someone on Good Reads likened to what Little Women would've been like if Stephen King had written it.  My goodness.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Nude With A Bowl Of Fruit

While exploring the finer points of form and composition, I created this classic and eternal image.  Barbie, the doll, discovered naked at the bottom of the toy box, as is her wont, both compliments and contradicts the plastic bowl of fruit, augmenting the very crisis of identity that Barbie herself has evolved to represent.