Before this photo, they were all caterpillars!
Dancing tulips, after a storm.
After living in New York City for years, I started to feel like I was living in a box. Like I was some pet hamster running from one box to another, every now and then escaping to Central Park before I was caught and placed back inside.
I love New York City. I like its weirdness and efficiency. I like how you sometimes walk past a person with 14 dogs strapped to their body, or that time I saw a man walking his 2 turtles on leashes in Central Park. Also, the time a man walked into this pub with his dog - the dog hopped up on a stool and they stared at each other while he drank a beer. But at some point over the past two years, I just missed being near nature. It’s something I grew up with, something I need to feel good. So I made some changes to my hamster lifestyle.
At first, I bought this window bird feeder. It had a 2-way mirror so you could see the birds up close, within your home. I loved it. I placed it in my mattress-sized bedroom, at the foot of my bed, overlooking a giant maple tree that is always full of birds. Every morning I would wake up to the sound of mourning doves cooing, literally at my feet, sometimes even a blue jay or a cardinal. But over time, as many people warned me, it became a chaotic mess. Mourning doves and blue jays battling each other over food. The final straw was when I woke up at 3 am to the sound of two mice digging through the leftover seeds, at the foot of my bed.
During that time, I had also decided to move my work out of my apartment. I had been working from home for the past 7 years and just needed to get out. I spent forever searching for a studio; the key being, it needed to have outdoor space. Eventually, I found it.
I moved into the studio space in November 2017. I knew once Spring came I was going to turn that space into my personal jungle, or at least try. I’ve killed my fair share of house plants.
So when April came around, I got to work and started building this little garden.
One of the most incredible things is placing a seed in some soil and watching it grow into a plant. It’s exciting. I grew dahlias the size of my face! Strawberries, honeysuckle, jasmine, petunias, forget-me-nots, anemones, eggplant, tomatoes, beets, peppers, etc. I bought a bunch of bulbs, seeds, and small plants and threw them out there and watched them grow. I honestly didn’t really know what I was doing. I did a little googling and went for it. I probably do most things that way. But, watching plants grow really just feels like magic. When I was little, we had chickens, and I had that same feeling the day I woke up to 6 new baby chicks that our hen had just hatched. It kind of all feels like a dream.
As soon as I began my tiny garden, I can’t tell you how happy it made me. It inspired me and crept into my work. It gave me more of a routine. Every morning I would go to my studio and check each plant and water them. It was fascinating to watch them grow, and how quickly things changed. Half the time I didn’t even know what I had planted where, so it was a nice surprise to see what sort of flower bloomed from each plant. Just being out there with the plants felt nice.
What made it even better is that creatures started showing up. This place, in the middle of Manhattan, 5 stories high… I started to see Katydids, ladybugs, snails, slugs, lacewings, caterpillars, birds, bees, wasps, butterflies, ants, etc. It was like this whole universe showed up all because of the plants. My tiny garden.
As they say, one thing leads to another, and that small garden led me to my snails. It has been so refreshing. I miss the plants now that it is winter, and I can’t wait to bring them to life again soon…
Maybe it all started with my newfound love of gardening last summer. Every morning I would arrive at my studio and go out onto the small terrace to water my plants. They slowly began to multiply and sprout new layers of leaves one after another. To be honest, it surprised me how much I started to care about the plants (and the fact that they flourished under my once black thumb), and how much they became a part of my life. I missed them when I had to travel, and I especially miss them now that it is winter.
Somewhere in that time, they inspired me to create artwork that felt like this little garden of mine. Something unkempt but peaceful. Something that could bloom and grow. So I began painting my gardens layered with pastels… using color to give them life.
A little more than five years ago, I sat down at my drafting table and painted the first “Shadow Dancers”. They came to be sort of as an accident. I was painting and the dancers just turned out to look like shadows, and I loved them that way. They also make me think of this scene in the 1960 version of Peter Pan played by Mary Martin (the shadow and how they just made Tinker Bell with a light reflection were the best!).
The Shadow Dancers became a theme for me. I started trying to find them everywhere, in everything.
Last week, Uber invited me to the Guggenheim Museum to see a new exhibition on the Swedish female artist, Hilma af Klint.
To be honest, I hadn’t heard of her (only 5% of United States and European Museum collections are comprised of female artists’ work). But beyond that, there’s more to the story. So, I went to stand in front of her paintings and find out about this woman’s life.
Her work was wonderful, I mean, I really genuinely was fascinated by it. When I first walked in, my immediate reaction was to feel some sort of optimism in response to her shapes and color usage. It’s playful and nice, but has a calmness to it. They felt sort of botanical and mathematical… like whimsical colorful universes floating inside jars that were in the form of frames. See for yourself.
When I go to museums, I look first, then I read. It makes more sense for me to process it that way (I also really prefer to go to museums alone). So after viewing the exhibit, I started reading about all of the pieces I had just seen (there are a ton) and was pretty intrigued by her story.
Klint lived in a very different time than we do. She painted these abstract pieces in private because she thought they were ahead of her time. That thought made me think… whoa, how do you decide something is ahead of it’s time? But then in thinking more, it was obviously indicative of the time period she lived in. Our world is much more open minded than hers was. She began making these abstract paintings in 1906, well before the Abstract movement even began, which means they would’ve been pretty controversial then (especially from a woman, I’m guessing). She began her career creating less controversial paintings such as landscapes and botanicals which she made a living off of - but in secret, she was creating an entire abstract world hidden away from the public eye. She created them as visual representations of complex spiritual ideas as she believed in trying to make contact with the spiritual “high masters” during her life. What I found really cool, was that she said:
Pretty wild. Nice to think she just sat down and started creating and let it flow out of her. She painted more than 1200 pieces.
So, after she died, she had left all of these secretive paintings to her nephew with a stipulation that the boxes could not be opened until 20 years after her death. After 20 years went by, the boxes were opened in the 1960s. Keep in mind, the Abstract Expressionism movement didn’t begin until the 1940s and 1950s… well after she had painted these. The paintings were offered as a gift to the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm in the 70s, but they were declined! It wasn’t until the 80s that they were shown to an international audience.
Anyway, her story is pretty fascinating and her work is just beginning to spread throughout the world - her first solo exhibition in the United States opened on Oct 12th, 2018 at the Guggenheim (this one).
Thank you Uber for sponsoring and giving me a ride to your ‘Instant Opportunity’ in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum. #RethinkTheRatio #OpinionsAreMyOwn!