A Painting A Day: Days 40-58

Days 40-46: August 12th-18th 2012: "Welcome to the Neighborhood" and "Angels on Dekalb Ave"

 Day 40: August 12 2012
"Welcome to the neighborhood"

After a week in the new neighborhood, I still adjusting. Adjusting to the myriad of races and religions, churches lining the block: a Meninite Hatian church around the corner; a Spanish-speaking church literally next door filling our Sundays with off-key singing and shouts to Jesus; a monolithic stone church a block away with boarded up stained glass windows, inhabited by an orange tabby (stripped, does it resemble St.John the Divine?). Painfully, I face my notions of race, racism and cultural biases. Growing up in San Francisco, I attended countless school meetings and clubs about racial diversity, but clutch my purse while walking through the Tenderloin district. This hyper-liberalism created a schism in my mind. I believe I'm fine until I encounter fear walking through my new neighborhood. Granted, it's not as sharp as before, but it's there and it bothers me. I realize I want to be part of this community, even though I am in the racial minority. People here are just like me, with similar preoccupations, joys and sadness. Why are we born looking one way and not the another? 

With these questions in mind, I head home late one night in the subway. A few drunk and rowdy youths crowd the subway. They light cigarettes and take off shirts. Passengers curl lips and move away. I smile: they are funny! "What are we doing on this f*ing subway?" one yells. Stuck in a subway, drunk and not knowing how to get off. One boy is asleep and a friend gives a good smack to wake him up. His hat falls off his head and I replace it. I wonder: if these boys were white, wearing nice clothes, how would this be different?

Walking home from the subway, I feel an intense desire to belong here, to be a part of this community. Will they accept me? I encounter another group of youths walking in my direction. They have long braids and amazing curls. Any girl would be jealous of their waves. One comes up to me: "How are you doing tonight?" I answer: "Tired and happy." We walk a little ways and he makes note that I am not afraid. I bring up the incident on the train and laugh. It was funny, not scary. I like this neighborhood: people up at all hours, the kids running around, playing in water pouring from hydrants on hot days. "Yes," he continues. "I want to make sure people are welcome in my community. Don't be scared because my face looks like this and his face looks like that. This is a great neighborhood. I want you to feel at home." We exchange names and I leave, happy and grateful. It's as if these kids heard my silent question.

 Day 41: August 13, 2012
"Matt and Tiggs"

Matt and his parents arrive the next night. After a day of moving, we pass out. Due to a recent injury, Matt has to sleep in a chair. I place Tigger beside him for company.

 Day 42: August 14, 2012
"Angels on DeKalb Avenue"

Matt's parents arrived around 4am on Sunday morning. I couldn't sleep all night, waiting for them to arrive. The all-night party across the street made it even harder to relax. Curious, I peer over the balcony to see a bouncer let people in and out of the restaurant that I've never seen anyone eat in. Later we find out that it is a space people rent for parties. When Matt's parents first arrive, they sleep in the truck, scared that someone will steal the belongings. "Who would want this stuff?" I ask angrily. This is only one night after my encounter with the young men nearby. But to people unfamiliar with the city, everything must seem dangerous. Around 6am, we wake up. The bouncer offers to park the truck at a better angle so the u-haul doesn't stick out. For a second, fear shoots through me: what if he drives away? But he doesn't. After several tries, he gets it in. We talk: he is a bouncer at a club in Brooklyn, we must stop by. And did you know that in New York, clubs go until 1 in the afternoon? He was also a bike messenger in San Francisco. Now that's impressive. 

We open the trailer to boxes and furniture stacked to the ceiling. I wish that Matt was able-bodied but all he can do is watch from the balcony. How frustrating that must be for him. A group of young men stand by the club. They watch us fumble with boxes for a while then one approaches Matt's mom: "Do you need help?" Matt's mom says yes but she can't pay them. "You don't need to pay us!" he answers, and he and his friends get to work. They unload the trailer box by box and hoist the queen-sized mattress above their heads. Everything is in front of the building. I wonder: do we have to carry it up all those stairs? No! They just don't know where to go! Up two flights of stairs. We are all sweaty and worn out after the multiple trips. They always offer to carry Matt's mom's boxes. The boys egg each other on. "This one's not heavy enough!" one notes, and stacks more boxes on his load. One of their big friends is hiding in the trailer. We tease him. We laugh and laugh, even when a sleepy neighbor complains. At the end of the long-haul, we drink water. We exchange information. I'd like to thank them somehow. So this watercolor is a start. 

Thank you, Oauriel, Jose, Argeny and I forget your friend and the bouncer's name. Please remind me! You changed Matt's parents, who had the idea that all New Yorkers were rude. You changed all of us. Would people in Oxford, Ohio help strangers move at 6 in the morning? Or San Francisco? For no pay??  For the next few days we are thunderstruck: what are the odds that an all-night party is going on the night of our move, and five able bodied, helpful gents are standing around willing to help move a truck-load of boxes up two flights of stairs? In the words of Matt's mom: "If you don't believe in God, this will make you believe." 

 Day 43: August 15, 2012
"Plants on the balcony"

Rosemary, parsley, basil and baby carrots on our balcony overlooking the street.

 Day 44: August 16 2012
Transcription of "Yogi and his disciples with ritual objects" 
Kangra, c. 18th century, Goache on paper
From "Yoga Art" by Ajit Mookerjee
An interesting image in Ajit Mookerjee's "Yoga Art," The big guy, whom I suspect is the yogi, reminds me of Ram Dass' Maharaji. Also a big yogi, his only possession was a blanket. This big guy only wears a thin red undergarment. Funny how we associate India with skeletal yogis in the mountains. Some of these guys are huge! And they never eat! I am looking forward to the reversal of the impossible standards placed upon men and women to have the body of a ten-year-old boy. Be who you are! Big or small. Take care of your body and love it.

Day 45: August 17, 2012
"Diagram of expanding and enclosing functions of time cycles" 
Rajasthan, c. 17th century, Gouache on paper
from Ajit Mookerjee's "Yoga Art"

Another interesting image from Mookerjee's "Yoga Art." According to the book: "time acts on space and incorporates space into itself. The two together constitute a single progression in which space represents a momentary section of the flow which is endowed with depth and cohesion by time. The three verticals end in tridents, emblems of Shiva, who is called Mahakala." (Mookerjee, Ajit, "Yoga Art," New York Graphic Society, 1975, pp.125)

The faces are memories of the men outside of Home Depot waiting for someone to pick them up for a job. These same men wait in Graton, California, Santa Fe, New Mexico and wherever they can find jobs without work permits. As I approach, they crowd around, as if to swallow me. Am I looking to hire them? No, I want to know why they are here. They explain that people shopping at Home Depot often look for help installing things in their homes. So they wait for work. One lady, like me, hooked them up with work at her office. Unfortunately, I just started my job and they seem to have more than enough help, so there is nothing I can do. But I will pray for them and we exchange names and cards. "Ariel, like the angel?" one asks. I can't believe he knows that. His name is Pablo. I tell them I hope that I won't see them there again (as in, they will have work). And if I do hear of someone looking for help with construction, I know where to look.

Day 46: August 18, 2012
"Diagram for use in astronomical computation"
Rajasthan, c. 18th century, Gouache on paper
From Ajit Mookerjee's "Yoga Art"

"The interpenetrating triangles and rectangles symbolize the interrelation of time and space. Such a diagram can be used as a yantra a focus for meditation." 
(Mookerjee, Ajit, "Yoga Art," New York Graphic Society, 1975, pp.66)
Days 47 and 48: August 19-20th 2012: "Derek and Shirdi Sai" and "Matt in the Kitchen"

 Day 47: August 19, 2012
"Derek and Shirdi Sai"
watercolor on paper, 5.5" x 5.5"

Day 48: August 20th, 2012
"Matt in the Kitchen"
watercolor on paper 5.5" x 5.5"

Days 49-52: August 21st-24th 2012: "Access-A-Ride" and "Transcription of Peter Ruta Painting" 

 Day 49: August 21, 2012
"Waiting for Access-A-Ride"
watercolor on paper 5.5" x 5.5"

On the 21st, Matt and I take a cab down to Coney Island to sign up for Access-A-Ride services, a mini-bus that shuttles handicapped people around the city. The driver on the way is a polite and curious lady, asking questions about Matt and his story.  The Access-A-Ride lobby is pretty grim. Several elderly people, a gentleman with a cast on his leg and a huge, well-decorated lady in a black motorized chair accompanied by a young girl in a neon red wig are our companions. This lady is anything but courteous when entering the building. I watched as she yells at another handicapped lady to get out of the way as she exited the elevator. She then careens her huge motorized wheelchair around the waiting room until she is properly situated. I think to myself: Hey lady, everyone's handicapped here. There is no trump card. 

This past week of attending social services meetings, waiting in line and more lines and more lines until Matt secured the services he needs has been beyond exhausting. A phrase repeas itself in my mind: Why would anyone choose to do this? But there are many people who do choose this lifestyle. Sure it takes days to get social services, but then you don't have to work! Then, how can I judge someone based on appearance. There are many physical jobs that Matt cannot do, which is why he is taking steps to become a teacher. So when we see a room full of able bodied people, it is easy to judge. I wonder what people's stories really are. How much is this costing the government to pay for all this, all these workers, all these claims, all these stories.

On the way back, we learn that the gentleman with the cast injured himself as a bike messenger on a bridge when his brakes failed. He fractured his fibula. I cannot imagine the pain. The taxi driver is curious to hear his story, but as soon as the injured gentleman hops out, only a few blocks from our home, the driver addresses us in the back seat, asking why we couldn't have found a better neighborhood to live in. Interesting how he waits until the black man had left the car to ask this pointed question.

 Day 49: August 21, 2012
"Self Portrait with Swollen Eye"
watercolor on paper 5.5" x 5.5"

A few days ago, my eye and neck blew up. Now I believe it's from an IKEA pillow but for a while I accredit the swelling and itching to an old mango allergy (I've been eating them lately). As luck should have it, the eye swelling coincides with an appointment at the DMV to secure my New York State ID. Smile for the camera! What a great way to banish self-consciousness. I remember a teenage summer when I contracted poison oak so badly that I resembled the elephant man. We take a family vacation to Monterey where I spend evenings soaking in oatmeal baths. The crippling shame and embarrassment I feel nearly prevents me from visiting the aquarium and Cannery Row. But my family insists, so I go. As we ride through the town on a four-person bike, the wind hits my face and I forget about my condition. I feel happy. A curious glance from a passerby reminds me of my hideousness and I feel briefly like crying. But my family loves me and they don't care what I look like. Same with my New York State ID. It will be with me for the next five years.

 Day 50: August 22nd, 2012
"Matthew's Dreams"
watercolor on paper 5.5" x 5.5"

This is Matt talking to my mom. And these are his dreams.

 Day 51: August 23rd, 2012
Transcription of "Sulla Terraza" by Peter Ruta (1957)
watercolor on paper 5.5" x 5.5"

Today I met Peter Ruta and his wife, Suzanne Ruta. Peter has been painting for as long as I have been alive, my dad has been alive, and then some. Born in Germany in 1918, relocated to Italy and then immigrated to the United States in 1936, Ruta studied at the Art Students League and in Mexico with the famous mural artists. In World War II, he was wounded at the retaking of Bataan while serving in the Pacific Theater US infantry. A Fulbright Grant landed him in Italy after the war, where he secured his degree at the Venice Accademia in 1948. Since then, Peter has lived in Italy and New York, while painting in New Mexico, France, Spain, Mexico and New England. He was painting views of Manhattan until August 2001 at the World Trade Center, when a fortuitous trip took him out of the city. Recently, he has been working on a series of "indoor landscapes" in his studio at Westbeth, New York City. I have enjoyed getting to know Peter and his wife Suzanne and hope spend more time with them in the future. Visit Peter's website to see his work and learn about his life. This watercolor is a transcription of one of his paintings from 1950's Italy. While painting, I felt as if I knew exactly where each line would go. It was bizarre to feel so in sync with a work created so long ago.

Peter's wife Suzanne is an author who recently published To Algeria With Love, which I hope to read. She will be giving a reading at Westbeth on October 16, 2012 at 7pm. 
This October, Peter showing a selection of his work at the Westbeth Gallery from October 6-21. 

Westbeth is located at 55 Bethune Street between West and Washington. 
I hope you can make both of these events!

Day 52: August 24, 2012
"My Life So Far"
watercolor on paper 5.5" x 5.5"

Taking stock of my life on the last page of my watercolor book!

Days 53-54: August 25th-26th 2012: "Power Animal" and "Anger"

 Day 53: August 25, 2012
"Power Animal"
watercolor on paper 6" x 7.5"

Day 54: August 26, 2012
watercolor on paper 6" x 7.5" 
(edited on Photoshop)

Today I am angry with someone. I am royally pissed and here I depict my anger, transforming myself into the Hindu goddess Kali, destroying this person with a devilish grin. Using Photoshop, I duplicate the image to compound my fury. Mind you, in a past life or whatever, I could have done the same thing to this person. So this incident could be a balancing of karma. So for this I say thank you. Now I can tell you, with love, to shove off.

Days 55-58: August 27-29 2012: "Demeter," "Dionysus," "Castor and Pollux"

 Day 55: August 27
watercolor on paper 6" x 7.5"

Tonight I watch Joseph Campbell lecture on the "Mythos" DVD series. He speaks about Demeter and Persephone, the death and rebirth of spring and the pre-Christian references to resurrection. I love this image of whom I believe is Demeter (or could be Persephone) being lifted from the underworld by her female companions, much in the way I am lifted from darkness by wonderful friends.

 Day 55: August 27
watercolor on paper 7.5" x 6"

Continuing to watch Joseph Campbell: Dionysus and the mystery cults of ancient Greece. The connection between Dionysian worship of grape (wine) and wheat directly correlates with modern practices of mass ("blood and body of Christ").

  Day 56: August 28
"Door Guardian"
watercolor on paper 7.5" x 6"
An image used in Joseph Campbell's "Mythos." This female figure holds a column that supports a door. Doesn't it feel as if she has the weight of the world on her head? Yet she smiles.

 Day 57: August 29
"Castor and Pollux"
watercolor on paper 7.5" x 6"
 Also appears in Joseph Campbell's "Mythos."

Day 58: August 30, 2012
watercolor on paper 6" x 7.5"


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