Visiting the Past

Looking forward to Juroring the Arnie Hart Student Exhibition at The Mattie Kelly Arts Center, located at my undergraduate college: Northwest Florida State College, Niceville, FL in March 2019 . . . where I took my 1st art class in 1997. Back then it was known as “Okaloosa-Walton Community College”. I was a young 27 art student and I still use those fundamentals art skills in every work of art I created.

Perspective Exercise at The OWCC Library, Drawing 1 with Professor David Owens, Fall 1997

Perspective Exercise at The OWCC Library, Drawing 1 with Professor David Owens, Fall 1997

I still use the Principles of Design Professor Owens taught me. I became so passionate about art and becoming an artist through him and, later, my Art History Classes with Dr. D. Anne Waters, deepened my artistic obsessions even further. My art advocacy started way back then, when - discontent with the ‘status quo’, I pioneered a new system for the student exhibition and even fought for it to be held in the fancy NEW galleries of the Mattie Kelly Arts Center. I didn’t know what I was doing - but I figured it out: demanding outside Jurors and even drumming up Cash Award Donors (who later left millions to the college to build a new art instruction building as our old one had, literally, DRIPPING ceilings).

Status: The American Dream, 1998, Painting I with Dr. D. Anne Waters, OWCC

Status: The American Dream, 1998, Painting I with Dr. D. Anne Waters, OWCC

It was a privilege to take Painting I & II as an Independent one-on-one course with Dr. Waters. Day one of the syllabus required focusing the entire semester on sketches from one item. I had recently the SW for my anniversary and choose a bovine skull as my subject. Each assignment required a different technique: from how to build and stretch my own canvases to full abstract (although referential) triptychs . . . I completed a series and I still use that theory to this day - developing a single item or thought or phrase into multiple works that stand alone or together.

Some people might deride community colleges, but as a woman who chose to get married young and start a family - those small, local doors opened my passion wide open. I hope that I have continued to build my techniques and I KNOW that the fundamentals I learned there have kept me in good stead all of these 20+ years.

It took me 7 years to finish my AA (I was raising 2 kids and had an additional ‘surprise’ baby), and only attended part-time and a total of 9 years to earn my Bachelor of Fine Art (1997 - 2006, first class to finishing). I was accepted into some prestigious graduate schools in 2006, but after already moving my entire family from NW Florida to the Nashville area in 2003, I decided NOT to continue my education. For me, the struggle between my responsibilities and having to choose between my family and art opportunities (such as moving to attend grad school), the stress was too much to ask of my own soul or to expect from my family.

I have had amazing avenues to expand my techniques and exhibition options, following a path of an internship with the amazing Adrienne Outlaw - leading to becoming a Studio Manager and eventually making work about the challenges of being an artist mother, such as Coping Skills and A Paxil A Day . . . one thing leads to another, and we learn and grow.

Life is full of obstacles and challenges (such as falling down the stairs of my new studio in 2009 and subsequent spinal surgeries in 2010 and 2015). It leads back to the beginning, though - doesn’t it? What drives you? What do you get excited about?

I hope I am regaining that eagerness and anticipation I had in August of 1997 when I walked through the doors of a decrepit building in Niceville, FL, sat down on a drawing horse and heard the words of David Owens: “Let me see where you are at”. We all drew an old, bent bicycle tire and I knew I had entered the gates of heaven. David Owens died less than a year later. I remember speaking at his memorial and vowing not to let his death stop us (the ragtag group of art students and himself) from making the art department better and we just formed a student art club (The Association of Visual Arts/AVA, now defunct).

I know I kept that promise . . . returning to Jury the Annual Student Exhibition, still held in those gorgeous new galleries and still based on the entry forms I made back in 1998 and knowing those art students aren’t sitting under a dripping ceiling. I may have moved away, but I did make a contribution to the arts; and, REALLY, isn’t that what matters? Making your mark (unbeknownst) and carrying forward all the foundations that have made you a stronger (hopefully, better) person.

Hibakusha (one of trio), Encaustic Mixed Media, Private Collection, Hiroshima, Japan

The Beautiful View of Perspective

It is unbelievable to me that I have not posted since September 8th!!!! What a naughty blogger I am!  Since that time I have: -  celebrated my 19th anniversary with my hunky hubby -  celebrated my 1st born and only son's 18th birthday -  celebrated my youngest daughter's 8th birthday (including redecorating her room from Princess to Zebra Stripe) and we had a blast making her Zebra Birthday Cake, memory we will keep in our hearts FOREVER Claire Designed her own Zebra Cake -  hosted a friend weekend with 5 overnight guests and a party for 20+
Singer/Songwriter, Larry Winslow, entertains our guests
www.larrywinslow.com  -  traveled to Indiana for the annual Covered Bridge Festival and spent 4 days with my sisters and extended family -  instigated the renovation of my website (to launch VERY SOON!) -  had several full studio days that are reaping many fantastic assemblage pieces (hoping to finish and photograph the new work tomorrow) So, WOW, I think I am not accomplishing, but then I look at the above check list of accomplishments (which doesn't even include daily things like hours of chats with my teens, or the hours of assisting the 3rd grader with homework and 'projects', or finally spending some quality time with my husband and friends . . . I can see, with that beautiful view of PERSPECTIVE . . . that my life is so FULL. It is not only FULL of activity, but with: LOVE, SACREDNESS, fulFILLMENT, BEAUTY and the richness of DISCOVERY. Once in a while I might feel sad, that maybe because of back pain, or general 'rushedness' - I might not have fully paid attention to a daughter's drawing or school story, or that I didn't take care of myself by taking my daily walks - but, all in all, I find that the choices I made several years ago - to quit work and stay home with the kids, to work from a home studio, to be available to them every hour they are not in school - I truly did the right thing - not just for them, but for me! I am not saying there aren't days I wish I could be in New York City hanging out with the other artists and networking, or attending EVERY SINGLE art opening in Middle Tennessee . . . but, really, I don't think  I miss much, and I for sure have gained A LOT.
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"Wrapped" by Rachel Bubis, seedSpace Curator

Wrapped By Rachel Bubis Notorious artist duo Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude deny that their large scale environmental work such as Wrapped Pont Neuf (1995) Christo's "Pont Neuf"  contain no deeper meaning than their immediate aesthetic. Within their work, however, art critic David Bourdon sees “revelation through concealment,” an apt insight not only into the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude but also in the wrappings of artist Sher Fick at Seed Space (Bourdon, David: "Christo", Harry N. Abrams Publishers, Inc., New York City, 1970).  Through the process of wrapping/concealing prescription pill bottles, Fick reveals her means of coping with the physical and emotional battles that accompany a life-long illness.  Fick's Coping Skills (2009) and A Paxil a Day (2009) together make up the inaugural show at Seed Space, an 11 X 8 ft area that exudes a church-like feel due to the strong vertical emphasis of the high ceiling studio, stark white walls, and natural light spilling in from the clerestory above. In keeping with the religious atmosphere, Fick’s Coping Skills, a waist-waist-high wooden table flush against the back wall, resembles an altar. Atop the table’s mirrored surface sit dozens of prescription bottles all covered in stitched-together patterned fabrics that contain religious imagery.  Installation View of "Coping Skills" at seedSpace  Traditional church altars display holy relics, and for Fick, these relics take the form of old pill containers—the contents of which ironically not only bring her life but also debilitating pain and suffering. By wrapping these bottles, Fick covers the ugly reality of her pill bottle graveyard by sewing them shut with nostalgic vintage fabrics.  After looking at Coping Skills, the viewer suddenly spots A Paxil a Day on the opposite wall. Whereas in Coping Skills Fick carefully wraps and conceals her old bottles, in A Paxil a Day she strips the drugs down for all to see-- a grid of naked pills covered only by clear cellophane bags. In Coping Skills, the viewer walks up to the table and looks down on his/her own terms. A Paxil a Day however aggressively greets viewers as they leave—reminiscent, perhaps, of a warning Detail View of "A Paxil A Day"  memento mori at a church exit.  Memento mori remind people of their own inevitable death and the punishment they will receive if they transgress the rules of their religion. Rather than fearing the objects of her daily worship, Fick comes to terms with her mortality and reclaims control through the wrapping process. As a result, a new clarity and confidence appears in A Paxil a Day, where she reduces her struggles to the repetitive grid of pills--still wrapped, but this time in transparent plastic. Although Fick does not wrap an entire bridge traversing the river Seine, she brings revelation to one’s own capacity to cope through a concrete process of concealing.
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Sher Fick: Worshiping at the Altar of Biomedicine by Chen Tamir

Sher Fick:  Worshiping at the Altar of Biomedicine By Chen Tamir Coping Skills (2008-9) A Paxil A Day… (2008-9)  Viewer experiencing "Coping Skills" at seedSpace If there were a thing that consistently made me happy – that allowed me to be well, feel good about myself, do the things I value, and be loved by those around me– I would worship it. I would create rituals, even daily ones, and give thanks to the higher powers who have made me its beneficiary. However, my dependency on this hallowed thing would also stir anxiety caused by being at its mercy, hoping it will always be available, and resenting its power over me. Such complexity is evident in Sher Fick’s work. This all-American wife and mother works around issues of bioethics, gender, and discrimination. Fick has suffered from clinical depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia, pregnancy complications, and migraines. Her cure is a daily cocktail of prescribed drugs, which she uses as inspiration and defies the taboo of being a mother on anti-depressants. Fick’s interest in bioethics melds with her strong socialization as a Southern woman and her exploration of gender borrows from artists who deal specifically with materiality, symbols and even craft, such as Kiki Smith and Louise Bourgeois. Coping Skills is a sculpture comprised of 45 pill bottles ensconced in girlish fabrics and stitched shut. The bottles are arranged in three long rows over a horizontal mirror with a wooden frame, erected on wooden legs. The scraps of fabric stitched over the bottles are comprised of vividly colored, irregular patterns, often scraps of hospital receiving blankets inspired by cloying pop culture imagery. Some of the patterns have bits of texts on them, such as “please stay with…,” “Our Wedding,” “Viva Frida” (over an image of Frida Kahlo), and “Brassier.” The wide variety of bottle shapes and sizes suggests Fick takes a plethora of drugs, or has experimented greatly to find the right ones. In fact, the 45 bottles total her yearly consumption. The simple structure of Coping Skills amounts to what looks like a strange altar. It is also reminiscent of a lady’s vanity table, with dainty bottles of cosmetics that, like drugs, augment us to perform the functions of womanhood as society prescribes (pun intended!). When approaching the work, I glimpse myself over the mirror, and think instantly of Narcissus admiring his reflection. The mirror is one of our culture’s most ubiquitous symbols whose meaning runs the gamut of narcissism to introspection to doubling. All of these interpretations are valid here: The doubled person who enjoys two versions, the given one, and the one improved by drugs; the introspection and lonely battle of coping with mental illness; and the love for oneself at triumphing over it. In Coping Skills the mirror also fulfills an aesthetic function: doubling the bottles turns them into short tubes that resemble candles, bringing us back to the notion of a devotional altar. The shadow cast by the pill boxes above the mirror creates light reflected onto the back wall which adds a beautiful touch. The cast shadows resemble the gates of a baby crib, alluding to the post-partum anxiety and depression amplified in Fick’s work, and the bottles themselves resemble toys. The colorful bottles are stitched shut, ornamented with the care that comes from valuing precious heirlooms. However, a double entendre complicates the imagery here too. Damien Hirst's "Lullaby Series"  The bottles, lovingly covered, are also sewn shut, mummified and ensconced forever. Fick’s exploration of modern medicine and its social stigmas falls in line with work by artists such as Damien Hirst, whose Lullaby General Idea's "One Day of AZT" series (2002) are giant mirrored cabinets filled with rows of colorful pills, and Canadian collective General Idea, whose One Day of AZT and One Year of AZT (1991) are clear predecessors to Fick. Fick's work, A Paxil A Day…, Fick's "A Paxil A Day"
is  a more personal and modest piece consisting simply of various pills in clear bags pinned to the wall in a small grid formation. The pills’ numbing repetition of daily doses creates a calendar that counts down the passing months. Neither chalk marks on a prison wall nor happy celebrations of life - this work creates a foreboding tension between a Minimalist aesthetic and its loaded content.
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Afterthoughts - ArtPrize 2009 - Take Care

Entrance to Gallery 114, KCAD- Annette Gates "Colony" Series on Right Entrance to Gallery 114, KCAD- Annette Gates "Colony" Series on Right
Sadie Ruben's "Alien Fetus"; Sher Fick's "Coping Skills"; and Kristina Arnold's "Drip"
Sadie Ruben's "Alien Fetus"; Sher Fick's "Coping Skills"; and Kristina Arnold's "Drip"
  By Golly I am back . . . I lost a few posts due to the hacking of my blog and the subsequent confusion it caused. Eventually I had to delete EVERY SINGLE image from the transferred Typepad posts and delete several new Wordpress posts . . . Therefore, I have a huge hole to dig out of! It will take me some time, of course. Here are few quick images of the installation which took place at Kendall College of Art & Design, Gallery 114 during Artprize 2009. Obviously, we didn't win any of the money, but our exhibition was seen by more than 10,000 people!!! Coping Skills by Sher Fick Coping Skills by Sher Fick With the great assistance of the Curator, Sarah Joseph, and her brilliant gallery assistants - we were able to unpack and install the 9 artists exhibition in 2 short days. www.kcad.edu After 3 weary days in Grand Rapids, MI (I adore that city), I limped home by way of Indiana and was able to enjoy two visits my sister Lisa in Indianapolis and a large family get together as well. Once home, I prepared 2 birthday parties: Claire's 7th, an American Girl Tea Party, and Dylan's 17th - Gaming/Pizza Party.  Lots of help from my sister Susan and Mom & Don's Mom as well! Adrienne Outlaw's "Fecund Series" Video Installation Adrienne Outlaw's "Fecund Series" Video Installation What was amazing to me was that the many years of work that Adrienne (www.adrienneoutlaw.com) and I did - actually came to pass.  To see our work hung in a professional location, in a professional manner (kudos to myself) - it was astounding and very gratifying. It stood up admirably against every high-end, contemporary work I saw at ArtPrize.  Although the process was very costly (think: printing for brochures, travel to and from, hotels, gas, food, rental car . . .) - I believe it was worth the expense and time involved.  Note: no money has been made by anyone - in fact, all we have encountered is expense and unpaid work time . . . we are doing this in the hope that someone, somewhere, will find the social and economical value of our work and become either future venues and/or collectors.  What a shot in the dark!!!!  Does this make us stupid? Libby Rowe's "Womb Worries" Libby Rowe's "Womb Worries" The experience, after 3 years of research and hard work was satisfactory for the most part.  I feel I know this work inside and out and have a good feel for the importance of our viewpoint.  What seems to be disappointing is the gender bias we are still facing at the dawn of the 21st century.  One would think that males in 'art' would have evolved with technologoy - but that is not the case.  Those males in 'mid-power' postions were 'not interested in what we [women] had to say.'  They looked over the fact that we are a group of 9 highly talented artists.  That we cover the gamut of craftsmanship and technique.  All that was obliterated and ignored because they felt our message was 'not interesting' to their testosterone brains nor to their students - both male and female.  Well guess what - that really chaps my ass!  Our exhibition is not only about reproduction (which includes both MALE and FEMALE to get that going - apparently they didn't have sex education in high school), but the scientific and ethical issues which are now facing 21st century parents.  The very generation which is bringing forth ground breaking therapies, 'growing' their very own children - that subject is unworthy and below them!  Lindsay Obermeyer's "Shadow Series: The Blues & Red Hot" Lindsay Obermeyer's "Shadow Series: The Blues & Red Hot" with Monica Bock's "Fluid/Sac/Cord" in foreground So, eh hum, I lose major respect for any sculpture male professor who judges an incoming artist on their gender.  Grow up Neanderthals! Open your eyes - you are outnumbered according to the world census records and you will not be pro-creating with anybody if you continue your male chauvinist pig attitudes.  Plus - you suck! I am so proud of each and every one of our artists included in "TAKE CARE" - we prove the addage - those that can DO -  Do. . .. finish that phrase on your own if you have the brain power. Left: Jeanette Mays "A.R.T. series" with Annette Gates "Colony" Series on Right Left: Jeanette Mays "A.R.T. series" with Annette Gates "Colony" Series on Right This crap makes me so tired.  There seems to be very little respect in America for artists' time and expenses that they 'in good faith' enact with very SLIM chances of success.  There are a few good apples out there - but the way we are treated in the USA is vastly different from artists in Europe.  On my recent travels in Europe, when I replied that I was an artist - the people practically bowed to me.  Yes - what we do - when it is done well - is sacred and deeply deserving of respect. Yes - I will make art no matter the price.  But does that mean I should be a pauper and GIVE AWAY for free what I have spent money studying to do - I pay for supplies - etc? It is all so very confusing as I also have many dreams for my children and their educations, which also cost money.  So - I'm back - I did receive a $1,000 grant to reimburse part of my expenses . . . so all in all, I am only about $2,000 in the hole for being part of Art Prize.  I am hoping this ends up being a marketing expense and that someone out there sees the value of Art In America - and can free themselves from any bias to art created by women.
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Yet Why Not Say What Happened? - Robert Lowell quote

Seriously, I am so sick of the oblique/obtuse comments on Facebook and elsewhere. WHY NOT SAY WHAT HAPPENED? I think obtuse people are just begging for attention like a whiny toddler. Conversely, you also hear and read people say TMI - too much information.  So I am walking that tightrope right now. Normally, I lean far to my right, almost falling off  from providing said TMI. This is me: 1) Open mouth; 2) Spill forth every synaptic thought that fires in my head; 3) Silence (from the requisite 'peanut gallery'). So then, if I hold a bit back, I hear this: 1) What's wrong? 2) Or You o.k.? The worst line I ever hear, because there are just too many ways to interpret it is:  HOW ARE YOU/YA? I get to choose between my normal - spill my guts mode or the very lame "I'm fine, how are you?" . . . which makes me want to just pass that 'hiya' person right by. I once had a former (not that I knew it at the time) friend ask me: "How are you - don't say anything about school or your art, how are the kids and Don?" That was the last time I had a conversation with her. I have another hysterical story about her, but I need to figure out how to do it anonymously because the story explains exactly the type of person I DON'T WANT FOR A FRIEND. So, get this - I decided that on MY BLOG, on MY WEBSITE, I get to . . . get ready - SPILL MY GUTS.  Because where else do people come directly to me wanting to hear exactly what I want to say!!!!????? This is amazingly freeing. I get to whine, or be insightful, or be obtuse (this is doubtful as I freaking hate OBTUSEness) . . . So . . . . I am coming out of my Manic Closet (note: I am 85 percent manic - which explains the sleeplessness and excess of creative energy - and only about 10-15 percent depressive). I can handle the depressive side most of the time (I am a self-declared CELEXA taker). I am a self-aware person, what really trips me up are a few triggers: - lack of funds to promote my art - having a serious 'discussion' with my husband about said funds (er, lack  thereof) - feeling like a failure as a mother - feeling like I just don't want to get out of bed -or,  if I get out of bed, feeling all day like I want to crawl back in there. So, one too many triggers last week sent me into an hysterical tailspin off the tightrope. I crashed with no safety net - I refused to let a few people give me a hand off the tarmac . . . I laid there a few days complaining about everything . . . then I woke this morning and decided I would do the 'fake it 'til you feel it' strategy. Be perky, put on makeup (I do this once a week if Don is lucky), take my little one for a Frosty, get dressed!!! and put on the pretty skirt Claire wanted me to wear, take my little one to see her new 2nd grade classroom (which, due to my depression I had conveniently 'forgot' last night), I EVEN smiled when I talked on the phone . . . Now, 14 hours later - I actually feel it. I faked my way back into a decent mood.

Looking back, what I realized is that ALL ALONG I had people underneath me, holding tightly to a trampoline hoping I would bounce back up.  Here is what some of you were screaming up at me while I fell and after I was lollygagging on the *what I thought was the sidewalk, but was really the* trampoline:

"I know it is hard to have a career and be a mom and wife.  It is a constant struggle.  But having a family is worth it.  I wouldn't want to not have a family.  Relationships are the most important thing about life!  That's what I believe anyway." - Aletha

And I even got my OWN WORDS quoted back to me from dear Carrie:

"I've been reading old blog posts lately, they make me so happy. You said this: Even When We Feel Static, Progress Is Occurring - our creativity is like unto the lunar tide - moments of fullness and moments of waning. The pull inward and the push outward. The unearthed debris visible one moment and submerged the next . . . So there you go. "

. . . Carrie goes on to say:   "Remember how you made everything else happen? I know you have it in you to make this happen, too . . . You know this is your Right Work. But our calling is our instructor, too. Don't be discouraged. You are an Artist. And SO few artists have the full package as you do. Allow a discouraging day, resistance is futile. Then put on your Invincible hat. Because you are, Sher, you ARE."

"You are wonderful, know that and be good to yourself." - Caryl

And here is Maureen (always Miss Sunshine to me), again, someone quoting me: Which, as you know – is my goal in life – to be the twisted soul that I am, but to be lovable (and, loving, of course).” That’s exactly why I love you, Sher!!!! and just a few days later this one from Maureen: "Oh Sher, beloved Sher . . . Hang on tight . . . Love ya, woman! We're behind you."

"You've been in my heart today, I can't explain why." - Amy R. (this was the day I melted down and BEFORE I had shared it with anybody)!  Amy R. also saved me a vintage advertisement and is sending it to me to alter - mailing it FOR FREE as a gift!

 Here is the MOST stunning which came the evening BEFORE my meltdown when I was 'holding on tight' to a modicum of 'sanity' -

from Kathleen:  "I have been on your pages many times and follow your blog.  One of these times, words will tumble to describe what gifts you give.  Here are a few...

About your vintage-ish pieces... You participate in acts of redemption with your art.  This is no small thing. You wrap, seam and embellish memory and truth in teal, pink, calico.  The result... reality comforted, nostalgia disturbed. And through it... your particular kind of shine persists. Your vision is shared (thus we join) yet singular (thus we marvel). Congratulations of the Grand Rapids Art Prize Show.  As a mother of three soul children, Nora, Morgan, Grace lost through miscarriage, I celebrate the all akimbo view of motherhood. So this night, know this... what you do matters and people notice.  Many people notice.   They do not all comment. Let my comments echo as many for you this night. Blessings for whatever in your life these days is pushing me to send this to you tonight." For God's Sake - Slay me NOW . . . as I said, ALL ALONG, you (all of you) were there holding onto the trampoline.  I may not have gotten it quickly this time, but I understand now.  That, for the first time in my life, I feel I have people/friends who will - CATCH ME IF I FALL -(altar niche creating in 2005-2006) Thanks - friends of my heart Thanks - friends of my heart  There are many more people, and here are some more short excerpts of love messages from my 'posse' - "Sher, your art is fabulous . . .  you are BEYOND fabulous . . . Hang in there!  It will all be okay.  I so love the little piece you made me.  It makes me smile."  - Mary Lou There are a few others that have the power to lighten my heart, even if I haven't quoted them here, I give a bow to:  George, Haven, Linda, GiGi, Vanessa, Kate and her Oreo Bon-Bon's and general pin-up girl fabulosity, Jim Shue, John M, Michael T., Brenda QuinkyDink (all the HK Talkers! and former BB's) basically, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND SUE ME IF I FORGOT YOUR NAME . . . Marshall, who THANKED me for being HIS friend . . . I may actually sleep tonight.  I, too, wish Gigi could send me some Ambien, darn those rules and regulations!  

 

 

 

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Dream in Color - in Honor of Shanna, Carrie, Maureen & Haven

In honor of Carrie’s Studio, Shanna's New Abode for Writing, Maureen's New Cottage for Writing, and after visiting Haven's Writing Barn, I am offering up this Dream I had: Background Information: I always loved art as a child and would study on my own, but I went to a tiny church school with no art class. At this time in my family/community no one mentioned even the possibility of college . . . I thought when you graduated and/or turned 18, you were on your own. So, after high School  I worked full-time, moved in with an aunt in Texas, and then ran off and got married at 19. I kept painting, mostly watercolor and some acrylic, but not really knowing what I was doing. Got into the New Age movement . . . began to believe in my ‘gift’ and that it was part of my tautology. After a divorce I enrolled in an Art Institute while still working full time. One week before classes started I was in an accident and badly injured my back. I met Donny (he was my physical therapist). We married and planned and started our family.  The deal was, I would have art as a hobby and go to school when the kids reached pre-school age.   Above, 30 second gesture drawings from Drawing 101. This dream (of returning to school) came true when I was 27/28. I started with a night drawing class . . . then before I started Painting 101 - I went shopping for art supplies. choosing every tube of Galleria acrylic paint and each paintbrush with exceeding care and love . . .     I then had this dream while being part of a dream interpretation group. FLOWER TRAIN.   I am on a swiftly moving SILVER BULLET train . . . we are flashing through landscapes and the train slows as we come around a bend. I peer out the window and see breathing, pulsing BRIGHT FLESH and CREAMY flowers of an unidentified species. They are singing and throbbing with color and life.   I reach down and pat the baby car seat which is sitting next to me on the train-bench. The 'baby' is wrapped in a beautiful crocheted (which I made) cobweb of rainbow beams . . . I lift the blanket to reveal -   the new glorious tubes of paint and carefully arranged paintbrushes. I cry in recognition. THE END   Above, "Unveiled Sorrow" created in Painting 101 with Professor D. Anne Waters. So - the point being that this dream is when I came to the realization that I needed to nurture and foster my ‘gift’ of creativity to the same extent that I nurtured and fostered my own children.   Our family, around the time of this dream . . . Art is a part of me. I cannot give it away or neglect it. I cannot tell you the all encompassing effect this realization/dream has had on my life. It was my license to be who I was born to be.  . . . and then came Claire.
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Another Art Review for TAKE CARE!!!

Art Review by Ellen Wright Clayton, MD, JD

Rosaline E. Franklin Professor of Genetics and Health Policy, Professor of Pediatrics, Professor of Law, Director of The Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center

 

Motherhood is about caring and connection. Recent developments present new challenges to this fundamental institution. Some of the developments are social. Women have always cared for other women’s children, especially since women until recently frequently died in childbirth.  Women historically confronted pregnancy, labor, and delivery with no small amount of fear.  Literature is full is stories about stepmothers, some of whom were wonderful, and a hopefully exaggerated proportion who were not. In today’s society, with divorce and remarriage, children often have two or more mothers at the same time, which can stress notions of the unitary family that characterize our society’s dominant discourse. Other developments are scientific. New technologies can enable pregnancies that otherwise would not occur.  Conception can be separated from carrying and birthing. The fetus can be visualized during pregnancy. Baby’s first picture is often a sonogram. And while blood ties have always had particular social salience, increased understanding of genetics has t ended to make them even more important. Not so long ago, efforts to establish paternity depended on whether the child looked like the father. Now the relationship can be established with certainty, using a blood sample or a simple swab of the inside of the cheek.

The artists in TAKE CARE explore the ways that social and scientific developments influence our understanding of motherhood, of connection and caring.  Sometimes, new knowledge of connection is beneficial. Take the case of mitochondrial DNA, the focus of Annette Gates’ work.  Unlike most of our DNA which comes from both parents, the DNA in mitochondria, the energy sources of our cells, comes entirely from our mothers. As a result, we are connected directly with our mothers, and their mothers, through generations. Maternal inheritance became important after hundreds of young professionals and dissidents were “disappeared” by the military regime in Argentina in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Their children were confiscated and placed in new homes, seemingly without a trace. But the grandmothers, the abuelas, enlisted the aid of Mary-Claire King who used the mitochondrial DNA to identify and return their grandchildren.

But the supremacy of genetic connection is not always so benign. New reproductive technologies allow many to overcome infertility, but often at a steep price. Some women experience the process of hyper ovulation, egg retrieval, and pharmacologic support of gestation as alienating, as transforming them into the objects of the medical gaze.  Jeanette May’s at times almost comical images of eggs serve as a counterpoint to quotidian pictures of women and sonograms. And yet women pursue these procedures specifically to create a family with children to whom they are biologically connected. Notably, while some women use donated eggs so that they can have the experience of gestation, it is far more common for women to implant and carry to term embryos created with their own eggs, evidencing the importance of genetic connectedness.

 

Our laws often enact the primacy of genetic connections. A number of courts have ruled that gestational surrogates, women who carry embryos created using the egg of another woman, usually the woman in the couple who commissioned the surrogacy, are not “mothers” of the resulting children and so have no basis on which to seek custody or contact. In these cases, the experience of pregnancy, with its risks,

discomforts, and obviousness, simply disappears as a matter of law.  Monica Bock’s inclusion of bits of umbilical cord, amniotic fluid, and the amniotic sac into dustpans perhaps symbolizes gestation as waste, of women as fetal containers. In our legal system, children are permitted to have only two parents no matter how many adults play a role in their lives, and those two parents have supremacy over all the others. In blended families, where the genetic parents separate from each other and then form new relationships, the new adults – the stepparents – can struggle to define their roles as parents, particularly as against the genetic parents whose claims once cemented by a modicum of nurture persist unless severed by abandonment or abuse. It is rage against the iconification of the genetic link that Kristina Arnold explores in her work. In her Drip installation, red glass pieces encased in hastily stitched plastic covers, protrude from the wall.

 

While behavior is almost surely the product of complex gene environment interactions, much effort has been devoted recently to dissecting the genetic contributions. Several years ago, for example, Caspi and his collaborators demonstrated that children with a particular genetic variant who were seriously abused during childhood were more likely to have serious behavior problems as adults. Such findings can be used in a variety of ways – to identify children who need special protection (although all children deserve a safe home), to identify druggable targets for treatment, to undermine the inadequate mothering explanation for children’s problems. Each of these uses raises its own ethical and policy challenges. As light dancing on Obermeyer’s beadwork shifts one’s perception of the work, so might new findings shift our understanding of behavior.

 

For millennia, women have worried that their children would be born with something visibly wrong. The ability to visualize the fetus using techniques such as ultrasonography and MRI has transformed pregnancy, providing the potential to make these fears concrete. These technologies can and often do provide reassurance, which is one reason ultrasound has become routine. At times, however, they reveal variations, some of which resolve but many of which are serious problems, leaving women with decisions about whether to continue the pregnancy, whether to undergo fetal therapy where possible, or whether simply to prepare for what may lie ahead. These concerns are represented in very different ways by Sadie Ruben and Libby Rowe.  Ruben represents the fetus as alien, strange, frightening, floating in liquid evoking amniotic fluid within the womb, taking over the woman’s body. Rowe’s malformed sock monkeys, by contrast, suggest that we are meant to accept and love children no matter what their challenges.

 

Finally, some of the artists comment on the technology itself. Sher Fick celebrates pharmaceuticals, which allow her to live. Her pill bottles are covered with fabrics, many of which show story book characters from our childhood.

 

Adrienne Outlaw intersperses colorful scientific videos of the embryonic heart and blood flow using such techniques as confocal microscopy with pictures of the dailyness of mothering and taking care – breastfeeding, snuggling, nurturing. The science is spectacular, but which is the more wonderful?

 

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TAKE CARE? Take Care!

 
 
 

Take Care? Take Care!

 
 
by Linda Weintraub www.lindaweintraub.com
  Motherhood is on trial. It is being tested by a dedicated and well-meaning corps of inventors, engineers, scientists, and doctors. Their technological achievements are designed to create and prolong life, but they are weighing upon "mother love," challenging "mother wit," and surpassing "mother instincts." Mutually loving relationships between mother and child are relegated to the background of the works of art in this exhibition. The emotional tenor that occupies their foregrounds is trepidation, anxiety, effort, and frustration. The triple meaning of the phrase that serves as this exhibition?s title reveals the nature of today?s disputed definitions of motherhood. Spoken softly, "take care" is an affectionate parting expression that conveys the desire to protect a loved one from harm. Uttered sternly, "take care" conveys the foreboding of danger. To actually "take care" of something or someone can either be burdensome or gratifying. The nine female artists in this exhibition apply the unresolved implications of this phrase to their personal experiences. Together they catalog a plethora of contemporary concerns.    
 
Annette Gates, Adrienne Outlaw, Sadie Ruben, and Jeanette May acknowledge the medical breakthroughs that offer women unprecedented options for fertility, prenatal screening, diagnostic testing, and extend fetal and infant survival. But they concentrate on the inadvertent and inevitable opportunities for anguish these technological advancements introduce. The ethical dilemmas they express in their works of art were unknown to previous generations of mothers.
Annette Gates returns to the instant of conception that has been occurring since the first multi-celled organisms arose on planet Earth. But her installation is a riveting reminder that unleashing this generative force may not be an occasion for celebration. Such concerns can be products of sophisticated technologies that make improbable outcomes appear like looming certainties. The harmless crocheting and knitting techniques that Gates employs to form her porcelain molecular sculptures are jarring contrasts to the dangers of tampering with life on the microscopic scale. Each component in her wall relief suggests irregularities in cell differentiation and unchecked multiplication during fetal development.   Adrienne Outlaw?s "Fecund Videos" require that the viewer peer into breast-like conical forms arranged across the wall in order to discover what fecund processes are referred to by the title. Alternative answers are presented in the form of tiny videos installed within each form. Some videos capture intimate scenes of babies suckling, fetal kicking, fingers fluttering, and a nursing mother?s breast draining. Others apply the word „fecund? to state-of-the-art microscopic imaging that probes the miniscule realms where new life stirs and takes form. The videos convey the complexity of reconciling advanced technological discoveries with the traditional role of mother as incubator, feeder, and nurturer of infants.   Sadie Ruben?s "Alien Fetus Series" presents a line-up of specimen jars containing in-uteri forms that resist objective scrutiny despite their sterile laboratory appearance. These curiosities elicit the squeamish apprehension that might accompany a collection of extraterrestrial creatures, not the research of an Earth-bound scientist. None of the sculptured fetus forms appear normal. They are either humanoid, mammaloid, reptile-oid, fungoid, or some other bizarre deviation from norms of life on Earth. The work confronts views with the strange and unsettling frontier of contemporary genetic manipulations.   Jeanette May practices art, however she introduces an alternative meaning for the letters „a?, „r?, and „t?. In her work "Fertility in the Age of A.R.T.," these letters stand for Assisted Reproductive Technology. May explores this theme by creating complex assemblages of found images paired with borrowed texts. The visual world she constructs is shiny, colorful, but disturbingly engineered. While viewers observe a pregnant woman proudly displaying her protruding torso, a healthy cow, and infant toys, they also observe eggs that have been forced to assume the shapes of squares. The accompanying quotations track evidence of such intrusive procreative manipulations to health books, government reports, and advertisements. Kristina Arnold, Sher Fick, Lindsay Obermeyer, Monica Bock, and Libby Rowe present full disclosure of the emotional toll of high-tech, commercially-supported, media-sponsored motherhood. They articulate the dread of bearing a malformed or malfunctioning infant, the concern of adopting a child damaged by a harsh life experience, and the anxiety of being loved by a child that is not a biological offspring. They present these forms of adversity as opportunities to honor motherly courage, resolve and achievement.   Kristina Arnold?s "Fragile" series includes a relief comprised of individual dark red droplets of molten glass that appear to have cooled so abruptly that they congealed mid-way as they fell. Dozens of these hardened glass drips protrude precariously from the wall. Protection is feeble. It takes the form of clear plastic coverlets hastily stitched around their bases. The drips that cluster into units seem no less fragile. A brittle material presented in a threatened position is a poignant manifestation of motherhood at the breaking point. Arnold places her work within the context of the guilt associated with a mother?s yearning to reclaim her independence, the destructive effects of custody battles, the futility of providing protection, but also the persistent hope for resolution.   Sher Fick?s "Coping Skills" discloses the dismantling of her pre and post partum psyche. The focus, however, is not on mental unraveling. Fick?s work celebrates the success of her determined efforts to stitch the fractured parts of her personality into a coherent persona. This internal struggle is conveyed through the use of prescription drug bottles that are encased in soft flannel fabrics, the kind that are used for baby clothes. Idealized and sentimentalized images of childhood are printed on these tiny swatches of fabric. Hastily stitched together, they suggest the disorderly spontaneity of crazy quilts and the emergency suturing of emotional ruptures. One means of overcoming such mental anguish comes packaged in pill bottles. In this work, Fick defies the stigma against the use of prescription drugs to assist women in becoming responsible and loving mothers.   Lindsay Obermeyer chooses a sumptuous medium associated with wealth and celebration. She uses it to address the challenge of bonding with a child whose short life was devoid of opportunities to develop trust in others and confidence in self. Obermeyer portrays her daughter?s silhouette as an impenetrable barricade dividing flat empty fields of color from dense patterns that are meticulously stitched with beads, sequence, and embroidery. The care and patience required of mothers is embodied in the stitching process that formed this artwork. In "Blues," the surrounding swirls and stars appear to assault the figure. In "Red Hot," searing flames surge within the figure. Both works evoke the psychological blockade built of scars from a child?s damaging upbringing, and the adoptive mother?s determination to breach this divide.   Monica Bock removes procreation from the two contexts where it is usually situated. On the one hand she reclaims procreation from advanced technologies that probe the development of a fetus from its single-cell, microscopic origins. By preserving bits of the umbilical cord, the amniotic sac, and the amniotic fluid that her body created to give life to her daughter, she reaffirms the body?s primacy over technology. At the same time, she removes these relics of birth from the sacred context that shrouds them in mystery. By inserting these visceral remnants into the handles of dust pans, the birth of a child is joined to mundane tasks of cleaning. Bock cast the dust pans in glycerin, a sweet-tasting fat that conveys the twin sides of mothering: as an ointment it soothes; as a solvent it bonds.   Libby Rowe?s "Womb Worries" takes the form of stuffed monkeys that cannot be purchased. They are only available for adoption. In this manner Rowe teases out the difference between three forms of money exchange - purchasing a commodity, paying to induce fertility, and adopting a child. She then intensifies the emotional stress of deciding among these alternatives by rejecting the cherub-like perfection of Gerber and Gap babies. Rowe?s handmade dolls are afflicted with abnormal quantities of limbs, misaligned backbones, and distorted faces. Yet they are endearing, not grotesque. An official decree of adoption accompanies each adoptee. The temptation to sign a certificate is instructive. It reveals that opportunities to delight in mother love can be attained by caring for a mal-formed child.   The artists participating in "Take Care" confirm a distressing truth – today?s mothers do not appear to be bolstered by the collective wisdom of our species. Despite the fact that Homo sapiens have been bearing and raising children for over 100,000 years, motherhood in the 21st century remains a lonely experiment racing to keep up with procreative advances at the outposts of human accomplishment.    
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