I’m in the Art Show

Last night I went to a German artist’s show at the contemporary art museum.

I knew nothing of the artist, Sigmar Polke. I went because it was free and on the way to a free jazz show. The art was an interesting blend of painting with printing and stamping. The images were intriguing, but, for me, the titles were the arresting element. One painting was named something along the lines of:  an old man and a punk rock young man are sitting in a dark living room full of antique furniture and the father says to the young punk, “someday all of this will be yours.”
At the Saturday intercambio, I am sitting with Julio, Valentina, Mariela, and Gabriel. I mention the show and the vast titles to Gabriel who wants to learn German. Valentina says my description of the title reminds her of a truck commercial in which a man says to his son, someday all of this will be yours, referring an expanse of property. And the son asks: and the truck?
I am walking along the pedestrian corridor planning what I will say to the woman at the bakery as I request a sandwich. I walk and negotiate with myself, and then I am interrupted. An elder with coin purses yells at me in English to buy what he’s selling. I pretend I cannot hear him though my ears are open for any suggestion of English.
It strikes me that my entire month here is the art show and each post I can offer is perhaps a long title to accompany the piece.
  • Of course, this experience of being a painting makes me think of Linda Pastan’s incredible “Ethics.” http://shenandoahliterary.org/blog/2011/09/linda-pastan-ethics/ I’m not suggesting you should elect the same question (a Rembrandt painting/or an old woman who hadn’t many/ years left anyhow?) for your writing. Maybe you ought to increase the stakes?



Though my first instinct is to label the artist in the park a con artist, I admit there are far worse ways to trick or swindle the public. And, I wonder, what’s the real harm?

I am not a naturally cynical creature, but I spied him affably permitting a young boy to add strokes to this same portrait.

Maybe I just don’t understand his art.  Maybe what he is doing is more like collage. Or sampling. Perhaps it is teaching. Or sales.

In the poem below, Elizabeth Bishop uses her art, poetry, to address the art of losing. Still trying to figure out what his art form is exactly, I try to imagine what he might be thinking: When they ask whether I painted her, if she’s my greatest muse, if I still love her, I whisper yes, yes. (This is largely true.) She is mine—for now, but she might be yours, could deliver you the radiant joy I discovered as I encountered her (at a yard sale).

When you first inquire how much I might want for her, I listen for how desperate your voice becomes as I confess fear of being without her, of giving her up—without a fight.

His art is embellishment.

One Art

–Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

  • Bishop’s poem is a villanelle. Whether you enjoy using form, the advantages to experimenting with form are worth the effort, particularly in the invention stages of the writing process. Form is not only for poets. You can set limits: word, syllable, etc. Make up some rules and make something from them. Here’s more about the villanelle: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/villanelle-poetic-form



Saúl and Alma Aragón Ramírez  (http://blogs.sjsu.edu/casa/tag/alebrije-artisans-saul-aragon-ramirez/) are artisans from the town of Arrazola, Oaxaca.  They create alebrijes.  Alebrijes are elaborately decorated wood carvings that are made from the wood of copal trees.  They typically are constructed out of one piece of the wood that most carvers will explain inspires them to draw the creature out of the wood.

When Saul was in Sacramento last fall presenting his art form for my college, some of the people who viewed and purchased his work wanted to have a hawk, our campus mascot.

Saul, Alma, one of their daughters, and I met for dinner one evening, and Alma and Saul presented me with this hawk to bring back to my college to share with the campus president and my colleagues. They told me they had been working on the piece since we last met: carving, sanding, curing, and painting it.  And, they wanted me to carry it back as a gift, a symbol of our friendship.  I accepted the treasure, the time and distance and camaraderie this stunning figure represents.


Hecho a Mano


Oftentimes, salespeople are really artisans. Part of their pitch is that the items are handmade. In the market, you can see people embroidering, weaving, beading, and sometimes even painting pieces.

The prices are ridiculously low for the amount of time it takes to make each piece — even more ridiculous when I consider how long even a small project would take me. 

Nail Art


Anybody remember the commercials for Lee Press On Nails, the instant fingernail extenders? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3amCM8_JeMY

Some Oaxacan alebrijes artists have taken this example and created fine, wooden fingernails in myriad designs. They are quite lovely and a good example of creativity with the art form moving beyond figurines. (I don’t know about you; I cringed at the idea of these pushed up against a cuticle.)


San Martin Tilcajete

San Martin

On Saturday, after intercambio at the library, I decided to go to San Martin Tilcajete, one of the pueblos dedicated to carving and painting alebrijes (magical animals made of the wood of the copal tree). It is a short walk through farmland to the center of the town. My companion on this adventure, S., commented that it was a refreshing break from the traffic and noise of the city. S. had never seen San Martin Tilcajete and had never seen how the villages are organized around the production of a particular artistic or other type of product.

I was happy to introduce S. to some of the artists I know in the community, but the two families I have spent the most time with seemed wrapped up in other business including fighting tour companies entering their village, the ones that take tourists to only one or two families. While I was interested in hearing about their work, I also wanted to say that it was likely to be as successful as one of the marches I had seen earlier in the day.

I had the difficult task of picking out alebrijes for people who wanted them back home; this was difficult, so if you’re one of the people waiting for your treasure, S. picked it out!

In one of the shops, S. convinced the couple to turn over their brushes and paints to him. He was overcome with the urge to paint: the wood pieces, the walls, the senora’s hair! They laughed and said they are also inspired by their artform.

On the way out of town, we saw a tractor on one side of the road and two young men with two bulls and a plow on the other side. They were straining hard under the sun. We inquired whether we might take a photo of them. One guy asked: Los toros o los bueys (a slang term that is bull but is used like dude)? He asked it rhetorically. But I responded, “Los dos.” (Both.) And, he said to his friend, “Ella entiende.” (She understands.) They let us not only take their picture, but they invited us to pretend to drive the bulls. S jumped at the chance to pretend wield the stick (just as he had the paintbrush), and one of the dudes even plopped his sweaty sombrero on S’s head!