Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rain: Heading for a Record (February 15-22, 2017)

Heavy rain again on the night of February 15-16 left 1.05 inches of new rain in the rain gauge this morning. That brings our total to 42.55 inches for the 2016-2017 rain year--well above normal.

[Update: As of the evening of February 19, we'd had an additional 2.70 inches of rain. That puts us at 45.25 inches at my location in northeast Santa Rosa—and it's still raining, with rain forecast to continue tomorrow and the day after. Santa Rosa recorded 47.70 inches in 1981-1982, for the fifth-rainiest year on record since recording began, in 1888. The record is 56.06 inches, in 1889-1890. Average cumulative rainfall historically for this time of year is 24.79 inches, which means we are more than 20 inches above normal! (All historical data are from Kent's Weather Center)]

[Update: And, subsequently, another 1.95 inches (as of the morning of February 22). So, the total is now 47.20 inches at my location, by my reckoning. That would make this the sixth wettest year on record, although I don't know where the official Santa Rosa precipitation level is measured or what they are reporting. I've learned over the years that even within the city of Santa Rosa there can be a variation of a couple of inches or more. Suffice it to say that we've had A LOT of rain this year. Showers predicted for the end of the week, too.]

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Plants I'm Growing—First blooms: Pink Flowering Plum (February 13, 2017)

Our pink flowering plum with double flowers started blooming yesterday, February 13, 2017. This is Prunus blireiana. This tree always blooms in the first half of February, having bloomed on the 15th (2009), the 4th (2011), the 2nd (2012), the 15th (2013), the 3rd (2015), and the 5th (2016). I don't have dates for 2010 or 2014. This year the birds left the buds alone, so it looks like we'll have a tree full of flowers. In some past years, sparrows and House Finches have eaten the buds before they bloomed.

Books I'm Reading: The Blackwinged Night

Subtitled "Creativity in Nature and Mind," F. David Peat's The Blackwinged Night (Perseus Publishing, 2000) is a wide-ranging look at creativity, which, the author argues, is pervasive. As he is a physicist by training, much of Peat's discussion involves creativity from the perspective of that discipline. At the same time, the author appears to be conversant with the history of the arts, and much of the discussion seeks to establish parallels between the creativity of the universe and creativity that springs from the human mind. However, Peat argues that we are all creative (not just composers and painters and writers and filmmakers), or at least we all can be creative, in every conscious minute of every day, if we simply remain alert to our surroundings and aware of the world around us.

Memorably, he recounts a scene in Dostoyevzky's The Idiot in which a character describes how clearly and intensely he lives the moments leading up to what he believes will be his execution by firing squad (it turns out to be a mock execution; Dostoyevsky apparently based this on a real-life experience of his own) while the narrator points out that the character will nevertheless quickly revert to his habitual lack of attentiveness soon after the immediate threat of death has passed, a particularized example of the praying-in-a-foxhole phenomenon. Peat goes on to say:
We are always before the firing squad. Every conversation holds with in itself the promise of a new beginning. But no matter how vivid the potential for change, it is all too easy to slip back into old habits. The theme of this book is that the habitual way of looking at things is an illusion. It is not a true reflection of the world but a fallacy. All of the cosmos, from stars to elementary particles, is essentially creative, and each time we see or look or listen, we are being creative. The trick is to stay awake, to remember who we are, and to avoid the dulling drug of habit.
According to Peat, this ever-present potential for creativity is not an attribute only of life. It extends to all matter and even to the quantum void, where elementary particles are winking into and out of existence incessantly, and some of the best passages of the book are coherent explanations of the basic ideas of quantum physics. To take just one example, The Blackwinged Night contains an excellent treatment of the idea of "the collapse of the wave function" in a subchapter with that title. This is a familiar idea to anyone who has ever read about modern physics, but never before has it seemed so clear and obvious to me.

In discussing this collapse, Peat points out that concepts accurately describing events in the large-scale world do not apply in the quantum world, saying, for example, that, while the trajectory and landing point of a cannonball are absolutely certain given nothing more than the cannonball's initial position, vector, and speed (and taking wind into account), it is impossible to say that an electron has a position or trajectory at all—that it must be described using a wave function that expresses only the probability of finding an electron in a region of space. It is in this sense that we say light is both a wave and a particle. Yet, when an electron hits a screen of some kind, it reveals its position. Suddenly, it has location. The wave form of probability collapses at the instant the electron is manifest. I found the book worthwhile for this section alone and, in an insight that has surely been expressed by someone else before, I felt the idea of a wave function describing quantum uncertainty collapsing suddenly into something material aptly describes the process of artistic creation. The artist herself cannot describe the finished artwork until it is complete, until it is manifest. Until then, art is in a soup of creative potential that is impossible to pin down. Recommended.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Yellow Daffodils

The yellow daffodils in the front garden began to bloom today, February 10. This is a trifle late, probably owing to the rain, but not way out of line. This is one of the few plants in the garden I have a complete data set for since 2009, when they bloomed on February 5. They bloomed on February 5 also in 2010, calculating a 365-day year. They bloomed on February 2 in 2011, February 13 in 2012, February 4 in 2013, February 8 in 2014, February 3 in 2015, and January 31 in 2016.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rain: A Year's Worth of Rain

At the end of the day on February 7, there was yet another 3.1 inches of rain in the rain gauge. That brings the total so far to 38.65 inches at my location. A site I monitor elsewhere in Santa Rosa is reporting somewhat less, or 36.3 inches. In either case, we have now had more than our normal annual rainfall, which is a little over 36 inches, and we still have several months ahead of us in the 2016-2017 rain year (October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017). Rain is predicted for at least the next two days....

[Update: As of the afternoon of February 9, we've had another 2.85 inches of new rain. That brings our total so far to 41.50 inches at my location. And it's still raining....]

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Art I'm Making: One of my collages reproduced in Kolaj Magazine

I was pleased to see one of my collages reproduced in the current issue of Kolaj, an international quarterly dedicated to the art of collage (No. 18, page 34) in an article about "collage painting." While I don't normally think of my work as collage painting, the author of the article, Ric Kasini Kadour, argues that the term is useful in describing collage work that, when representational, subordinates the collaged fragments used to "the gestalt of the picture" to create a whole rather than juxtaposing relatively independent, distinctly different collage elements to set up tension between two or more picture segments, a technique common in Surrealist collage and among the Dadaists.

The author used my Untitled Collage No. 158 (Santa Rosa), as an example of a non-representational collage that emphasizes a compositional whole. Before concluding the article by saying "Wholeness, completeness is the magic of collage painting," he said I use paper elements like the sounds of violinists "in the pit orchestra of a grand opera," presumably to suggest that in my collages the whole composition is more important than any of the individual elements, and, as I work, I am always focused first on creating a stable yet dynamic compositional whole—so, I suppose he has a point. In any case, it was nice to see the work reproduced.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 167 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage, this one experimenting with somewhat more organic shapes than I usually use. This is Untitled Collage No. 167 (Santa Rosa), January 14, 2017, acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size 20.0 x 26.9cm (7.9 x 10.6 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Miscellaneous: Photographs in Birds of the Pacific Northwest

I'm pleased to announce that some of my bird photographs were chosen for use in a new field guide. Birds of the Pacific Northwest (Timber Press, authors John Shewey and Tim Blount) is scheduled for release in March 2017. It is part of the Timber Press Field Guide Series. In particular, a clear, diagnostic shot of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is hard to find, it seems. My photo of the bird that appeared at Shollenberger Park in October 2011 is among the dozen or so of my photos included in the new book.

Serendipitous Art: Black on Black (February 2, 2017)

Black paint on black boards in a window painted black with a black frame. Black on black. Unintended art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Rain: February off to a wet start (February 2, 2017)

We had the wettest January I can remember, and February is off to a wet start. We've had 0.95 inches of new precipitation this month (February) as of 5:00PM on February 2. That brings our total to 34.50 inches at my location in Santa Rosa—which is astounding, given that normal annual rainfall is about 36 inches for the entire rain year (which runs through the end of September). On top of that, rain is forecast for the next six days.

[Update: As of the afternoon of February 5, we've had another 1.05 inches of rain, bringing the total to 35.55 inches for the 2016-2017 rain year so far.]

Friday, January 27, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 166 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage. This one draws on a batch of new monoprints in warm tones ranging from cream to raspberry red.

This is Untitled Collage No. 166 (Santa Rosa), January 14, 2017, acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (handwritten music), collage. Image size 25.3 x 26.3cm (10.0 x 10.4 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tidbits—RIP: Mary Tyler Moore (January 25. 2017)

I was saddened to see that Mary Tyler Moore died today. She gets a lot of credit for the role model she became as Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I'll alway remember her as Laura Petrie.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Music I'm Listening To: San Francisco Symphony with James Gaffigan and Simone Lamsma (January 20, 2017)

I attended the January 20 performance of the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. James Gaffigan was back as a guest conductor (he served as the Symphony's Asseciate Conductor from 2006 to 2009). On the program was Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2, with Simone Lamsma as soloist, Mozart's Symphony No. 36, and Richard Strauss's "Dance of the Seven Veils", from Salome.

It was an oddly uneven evening. The Prokofiev seemed awkward, the soloist's playing a bit tentative, the whole not really gelled. I have never heard or even heard of Lamsma before. She was certainly competent, but seemed to lack fire, which was a disappointment as this concerto is among my favorites. According to the program notes, Lamsma plays the 1718 Mylnarski Stradivarius, on loan from an anonymous source. I thought it sounded rather dark and muddy as Stradivarius violins go, although 1718 is within the period usually said to have produced his best instruments (1700-1720).

It was fun to see Gaffigan again after several years. He's matured and gained some weight, which accentuates his short stature (something I hadn't noticed before), and that was exaggerated by Lamsma's presence; she is very tall and thin (standing on the podium he was only a trifle taller than her standing on the stage)--not that appearances really matter. Gaffigan and the Symphony handled the rest of the program very well, I thought, giving us spirited versions of the other three pieces, none of which had any of the awkwardness that seemed a problem with the Prokofiev.

Photo of James Gaffigan by the author. Photo of Simone Lamsma by Otto van den Toorn, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony website. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Rain: Still More Rain (January 23, 2017)

More rain last night left another 0.50 inches of rain in the rain gauge this morning, Monday, January 23, 2017. That brings our total for the 2016-2017 rain year to 33.45 inches at my location. Considering that average annual rainfall has historically been about 36 inches in Santa Rosa, that means we've had nearly a full year of rain now with another eight months left in the rain year and at least another two months during which we're likely to have more rain (the rain year runs from October 1 to September 30 of the following year, but most of our rain comes between the months of November and February).

[Another 0.1 inches fell after I wrote the above, so we are at 33.55 inches. The sky is clear now and no rain is forecast until early next week.]

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tidbits—RIP: Gene Cernan

I just saw that Gene Cernan died during the past week, apparently on January 16. The last man to have walked on the moon. I believe 12 people walked on the moon. I wonder how many are still alive?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 165 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage—a diptych of sorts that pairs a straight monoprint in pinks and orange with a blue-oval studded monoprint in streaky blue. The subtleties of the blues don't quite come through in the photograph, but this is a fair facsimile.

This is Untitled Collage No. 165 (Santa Rosa), January 5, 2017, acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size 25.5 x 15.6cm (10.0 x 6.1 inches). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Rain: Yet More Rain (January 19-22, 2017)

It began raining again late yesterday and it has been raining all night, it appears. This morning I found three new inches of precipitation in the rain gauge. It's still raining, but that raises our total for the 2016-2017 rain year so far to 30.00 inches, well ahead of normal for this time of year, and more rain already than we've had in some entire years lately. Normal annual rainfall in Santa Rosa has historically been about 36 inches. This morning the sky is blue and mostly cloudless, but rain is in the forecast for the next three days.

[As of the morning of January 20, there were 4.10 inches of rain in the rain gauge, which brings the total to 31.10 inches for the current rain year. More rain on the way....]

[As of the afternoon of January 22, we had had another 1.85 inches, bringing the total to 32.95 inches at my location—and it's started pouring again.]

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Art I'm Looking at: Marvelous!—An International Exhibition of Collage, Assemblage, and Construction at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts

Conversations with someone newly met nearly always get around to a question that means "what kind of work do you do?"—even if not worded precisely that way. When I tell people I'm an artist, I always feel a little guilty, because what they really want to know is "how do you make your living?" and it's my "real job" that I live on, not art. Next almost always comes "Oh, what kind of art do you do?" and I cringe inwardly. Then I cringe a little outwardly as I say I'm a "collage artist." I cringe not because of any shame. I cringe because I can see the image that pops into the questioner's mind as I speak: the collage they envision is messy and juvenile and made of torn-up pieces of glossy magazines or it's a mishmash of old magazine ads. To most people, collage is not serious art; collage is something you do in kindergarten with edible glue and scissors with no points. The truth is, a fair amount of collage is messy and juvenile and made of torn-up pieces of glossy magazines, but the Marvelous! show, now on at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, shows finer stuff. Marvelous! comprises more than 100 pieces of collage, assemblage, and construction chosen from over 600 entries (12 countries and as many US states are represented) by jurors Sherry Parker, Cecil Touchon, and John Hundt—accomplished collage artists themselves. None of the chosen works is anything but serious art.

Among the goals of the show's organizers was to suggest that collage, assemblage, and construction form a diverse and vibrant segment of the art world and to point out a recent resurgence of interest in these pursuits among artists around the world. The show is certainly diverse (and it's a challenge writing about such a big show: its scope can only be suggested; inevitably, worthwhile work gets left out). Artists from Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, the Netherlands, Turkey, South Africa, South Korea, and Uruguay are represented. Although the majority of the work is collage (both traditional and digital), the show includes free-standing construction, table-top assemblage and construction, and wall-mounted assemblage and construction, as well as pieces harder to characterize: among these are altered books, an electrified mannequin (Spenser Brewer's Tesla Man), and something I personally would call a sculpture that looks rather like an exotic Southeast Asian fruit (shown here—beautiful, however you categorize it). Materials include everything from the detritus of human activity to porcupine quills. It's a large show likely to reward more than one visit.
Above: Octopus Egg, Susan Danis (Albany, CA), purple glass light bulb sockets and terracotta.

Collage (and its three-dimensional siblings assemblage and construction), usually is considered to have been born from the early Cubist experiments of Picasso and Braque (who together coined the term "collage" from the French word coller, meaning "to glue"). Although there are precedents (as far back as Western Han Dynasty China), collage as we know it today is of the 20th century. It is quintessentially modern—both in the sense of being of comparatively recent origin and in the art historical sense of association with Modernism as a movement in art.
Above: River Triptych, Lynn Skordal (Mercer Island, WA), inkjet images, found paper, ribbon, old book covers. 

At the same time, collage artists are a nostalgic bunch; while one school of collagists relies heavily on artist-made materials, another and perhaps the dominant school in terms of numbers of artists at work, seeks to evoke the past or the exotic by using found materials that point to centuries recently past or even to ancient times or by using materials that pre-date the medium itself. Antique stores and junk shops, discarded books illustrated with engravings, Asian calligraphy, and long-defunct magazines are favorite sources of raw materials for these collage artists. When done badly, collage of the nostalgic school looks forced and it relies on fetishizing the past. It is often fussy and busy-looking; it's easy to create chaos and noise with bits of the past. (Even in good work, the fetishizing tendency sometimes sneaks through in the way artists describe their work—taking care to tell us a book cover used is from 1875, for example, or that a bit of photo used is not just from an old magazine but from LIFE magazine, as if age itself or the reputation of the source necessarily transfers merit to the work of art.) When done well, however, collage artists using found materials create plausible new worlds or they project us into imagined pasts that are coherent and seemingly inhabitable or they at least keep their work focused, simple enough on the surface to allow us room to question what these bits of the past might mean in their new context. While the answers to the questions raised are not always clear, at least the questions themselves seem coherent, and the best collage work, whether nostalgic or not, always exhibits a sophisticated sense of composition.
Above: Tesla Man, Spenser Brewer (Redwood Valley, CA), vintage 19th and 20th century parts.

A good example of the nostalgic work in the Marvelous! show is Jane Murphy's Boy, in which a found photo of a young boy has been transformed into a playing card. We see the front of the card, but the lower third of the card seems to simultaneously show a design on the reverse. Below the playing card (which is framed by a pale duck's egg green, a color itself evocative of the past) is a piece of ruled notebook paper with illegible writing and a yellowed cellophane tape stain. Off to the left of the notebook page are scraps of map, other paper, cloth, and labels, that, taken together, look map-like, echoing the bits of actual map. In another echo effect, smudges in the two upper corners of the piece act like numbers in the corners of a playing card. Boy is quiet and contemplative and much more complex than it seems at first—without being busy.
Above: Boy, Jane Murphy (Petaluma, CA), found photo and paper, house paint, and pencil on vintage band card.

Lita Kenyon's Aerodynamics 3 uses an old magazine photograph to evoke a past era. The yellowed fragment of an engineering diagram, too, is evocative of the past, but the collage is at the same time utterly modern, relying as it does on a hard-edged, geometric composition comprising only three elements—a study in simplicity. There are echo effects again; three strong elements in the center of the page divide the sheet into three segments. The diagram fragment, the red shape, and the white space between them form another unit built of three elements. The red, the strip of white at its left, and the flanking triangle of black that encroaches on the photo form another triad. When I say "modern" here, I mean in the art historical sense. But modern art itself is now nostalgic. Modernism was born more than 100 years ago. Modernism is antique.
Above: Aerodynamics 3, Lita Kenyon (Edmonds, WA), mid-century fashion magazine cut-outs, clippings from discarded engineering manuals. 

The absurd forms another strong current in collage, a current that has its source ultimately in Dada and Surrealism. Jenny Honnert Abell's Book Cover No. 115, for example, drops us into a parallel universe where birds have human heads and perch on branches in deep space. An old book cover with stains (that uncannily evoke stars and a spiral galaxy) creates that space while simultaneously drawing our attention to its independent existence as a real-life object—again an object evocative of the past, an old book cover. Collage of what I'm here calling the nostalgic school is particularly good at reminding us that we are looking at artifacts. Lynn Skordal's River Triptych (pictured above) uses book covers to create a triptych that suggests a Christian altarpiece. Religious imagery is evoked not only by the arrangement of the panels but by the glowing light on the hands and their cradling of the image on the central panel in a way that suggests veneration, but where we would expect to see a holy figure, we instead see a dissected head floating over a sun-washed riverscape, with a halo not of light but of smaller heads on pins. River Triptych creates a view into an absurd but plausible world, while exposed edges of the book covers tug as back into the real world at the same time.
Above: Book Cover No. 115, Jenny Honnert Abell (Santa Rosa, CA), boar's hair, glass eye, gouache, collage on book cover.

When collage is in a more abstract vein, it still relies mostly on found paper or cloth—on real-world artifacts. Pieces in the show by Mark Eanes, Louise Forbush, Susan Friedman, and Molly Perez are good examples of this approach. Perez's Throttle, for example, combines ripped paper fragments with pieces of cloth, the paper sometimes blank, sometimes with writing on it, the cloth sometimes plain, like blank canvas, sometimes printed. Perez creates an abstract "painting" with colored paper and cloth as her paints. Cheryl Dawdy's Sunrise, Snowy Field, a small but beautiful piece, is easy to miss but well worth more than a quick look. Here the artist takes the idea of painting with paper in a slightly different direction; Sunrise, Snowy Field is highly abstract, but here collage is used to reference reality directly by picturing a real-life scene, even if the scene depicted may be imagined. Dawdy uses subtly colored paper and tissue to suggest a snow-covered field at dawn, a bank of heavy clouds in the distance.
Above: Throttle, Molly Perez (Healdsburg, CA), mixed media collage on board. Below: Sunrise, Snowy Field, Cheryl Dawdy (Ann Arbor, MI), colored and printed papers, tissue. 

Less common is abstract collage made entirely or mostly from artist-made papers rather than found materials. This type of collage stands in contrast to the nostalgic type. Its approach is more cerebral, focused on composition for its own sake, less reliant on the inevitable associations that attach to artifacts. There is no attempt to evoke another time or place. Collage of this sort creates non-referential abstract spaces that resist dialog with the real world (although human minds stubbornly insist on finding "pictures" in even the purest abstraction). Liliana Zavaleta's Displaced 7 is such a work, constructed as it is from painted papers of the artists own making—although the title suggests the dark brown form split by the sky-like blue in the upper third may be the displaced (or at least interrupted) "7" of the title. Perhaps a clearer example is my own piece in the show, Untitled Collage No. 157, made almost wholly from monoprinted papers I create myself and entirely non-referential.
Above: Untitled Collage No. 157, Colin Talcroft (Santa Rosa, CA), acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper. Below: Displaced 7, Liliana Zavaleta (Milford, NY), mixed media collage on paper.

Diverse as it is, it's hard to say how representative the Marvelous! show is of collage, assemblage, and construction around the world today. The jurors had to pick from among the works submitted for entry. The sample was necessarily skewed toward the US and California simply because the show was best advertised close to home. That said, I noticed comparatively few pieces with any kind of political flavor (only three—the pieces by Serhan Turgut, Judy White, and Sally Briggs), although political commentary has been a prominent aspect of collage historically. The most overtly political piece in the show is by Turkish artist Turgut. In his Fear, we see a black and white photo of a man in a hat. On top of the hat, a workman builds a roof. A crew puts up walls in front of the man's mouth. Below the work crew, large white letters on a red ground spell FEAR. I noticed also that collage, assemblage, and construction appears to be a segment of the art world where women are conspicuously active. Of the 102 artists represented, 73 are women.
Above: Fear, Serhan Turgut (Ankara, Turkey), paper, collage.

There is not enough room to mention all the other interesting work in Marvelous! (although I especially liked the pieces by Olga Lupi, Barbara Wildenboer, Carol Dalton, Janet Jones, Koji Nagai, Peter Dowker, Deborah Salomon, Katie McCann, Antonia Rehnen, Rafael Bottino Pirez, Pål Misje, Michael Waraksa, Cynthia Collier, and Jef Arnold, among others—so many others). I've tried to give a sense of the diversity just within a small selection of the collage works presented, barely touching on the assemblage and construction in the show (with notable pieces by local artists Cat Kaufman and Rebecca Trevino), or on the altered books, or any of the pieces from the world of digital collage. Suffice it to say that the organizers have succeeded in bringing together a diverse body of high-quality work that achieves the goal of highlighting the creativity of artists working in collage, assemblage, and construction today. Highly recommended.
Above: Farewell, Antonia Rehnen (Groningen, the Netherlands), polymer print, collage. Below: Cutters, Peter Dowker (Lac Brome, Quebec, Canada), vintage papers, acrylic medium, collage.

Showing simultaneously at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts are Reflections Within—The Reliquary Series, a show of assemblage pieces by Valerie L. Winslow, in Gallery II, and Stranger Than Fiction, a show of exquisite collage work by two of the Marvelous! jurors, Sherry Parker and John Hundt, in Gallery III. Both shows deserve reviews of their own. In addition, two workshops associated with the Marvelous! show are planned. Cat Kaufman will lead an Assemblage Play Workshop on Saturday, January 28 from 10:00AM to 3:00PM. Jenny Honnert Abell will host a Wacky Portrait Collage Workshop for kids Sunday, January 22 from 1:30PM to 3:30PM.
Above: Mission Improbable, Sherry Parker, mixed media collage.

Marvelous!—An International Exhibition of Collage, Assemblage, and Construction is on view at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 252 S. High Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472 (707 829-4797) through February 12, 2017. Admission free. Tuesday through Friday 10:00AM–4:00PM, Saturday and Sunday 10:00AM–4:00PM. Closed Mondays.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Books I'm Reading: Machine Beauty

I've just read David Gelernter's Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Technology (Basic Books, 1998). I don't remember when or how I acquired the book. It was among those long unread on my bookshelves. It's quite out of date now in some respects, but not uninteresting because of that.

Gelernter makes one central point in his thin volume: that beauty is the essence of good design and good science. He defines beauty as the combination of simplicity and power. He has a lot to say about what is beautiful in computer software and about Apple Computer and the beauty of the Macintosh user interface—for example, arguing that Microsoft's theft of many of the Macintosh's features for Windows is proof of the superiority of the Macintosh interface. The book was written when Windows was comparatively new, when all computers were grey or beige plastic, and people made fun of the Macintosh because it was cute. This last irks Gelernter in particular, but we have made progress: Machine Beauty seems outdated precisely because much of the thinking he laments has receded. Today, few people think it strange that their phone is a slim, pretty slab of electronics with an attractive, intuitive, icon-based user interface. At least in the realm of computers and mobile devices, good design has largely prevailed.

Food I'm Eating: Curing Green Olives (January 2017)

I've cured ripe black olives in the past, olives from the tree in our yard and from a neighbor's tree, but never tried to cure green olives before. Usually olives are starting to ripen here as early as October, depending on variety, and nearly all are fully ripe by December. I had access this year to a number of trees at a winery tasting room where I work part-time. One of the trees has green fruit even now. I don't know what variety it is, but I decided to try green olives.

Recipes for curing black olives with brine always start with salt water from day one. Most green olive recipes, however, recommend soaking the olives in fresh water to start and then finishing them in brine. Recommended water soaks seem to range from four days to a month, with many recipes recommending 10 days. I'll probably seek a middle path and try waiting about two weeks before switching to brine. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, large ripe olives from another tree at the tasting room were already looking good in early November. Those olives are now finishing in brine with a touch of vinegar, lemon juice, rosemary and several crushed cloves of garlic. They are just about ready (below).

Friday, January 13, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 164 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage drawing on the results of a recent morning of making new monoprints.

This is Untitled Collage No. 164 (Santa Rosa). January 4, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper, collage. 25.8 x 17.5cm (10.1 x 6.9in). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse
Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Rain: Almost Three More Inches (January 10-11, 2017)

It's been raining hard all day. Checking the rain gauge at 4:30PM on the 10th, we have an additional 2.60 inches of rain. That brings our total so far to 26.45 inches. We've had flash flood warnings all day long, but everything in our immediate vicinity appears secure, with drainage working the way it's supposed to. Others haven't been so lucky. Normal cumulative rainfall for January 10 in Santa Rosa is 16.44 inches. We are thus now more than 10 inches ahead of normal at my location.

[Update: As of the morning of January 11, we had had another 0.55 inches, bringing the total to 27.00 inches at my location.]

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Books I'm Reading: Aaron's Code

Dr. Harold Cohen and his creation, a computer program/drawing machine named Aaron, seem to be virtually unknown today, even among my artist friends. From my first personal encounter with Aaron (in early 1985), however, I thought him an extraordinary creation. Having just read Pamela McCorduck's well written, deeply researched book about Cohen and his machine, Aaron's Code: Meta-art, Artificial Intelligence, and the Work of Harold Cohen (Freeman, 1991), my admiration for Aaron and his creator has only grown.

Before reading the book, I knew little about Cohen's background. I had assumed he was a computer scientist. To the contrary, Cohen was a successful abstract painter in his native Britain before he ever began to dabble in computer programming in the late 1960s, a time when computers were primitive. In 1968, dissatisfied with the life of a painter, he left the UK to accept a position at UC San Diego, where he met Jeff Raskin (later of Apple Computer), who taught him how to write code.

Cohen's initial motivation appears to have been creating a machine that would help him make his own art, but he quickly became fascinated by fundamental questions about the process of artistic creation, the very definition of art, and how art generates meaning—about the cognitive processes that underly art-making and the experience of art. He started down a decades-long road that resulted at first in a program that created crude drawings, based on a complex set of general rules about line and spatial organization, but eventually evolved into a vastly more sophisticated program with "knowledge" not only about the process of filling a sheet of paper with marks that are meaningful to human beings but with knowledge about objects in the real world, including plants and the human figure. In its initial, mark-making phase, Aaron drew in black ink on white paper. Later Cohen gave Aaron color.

Aaron is infinite. Run the program and Aaron will create a unique drawing based on his knowledge about what makes an image. While Aaron has a distinct style, no two of his drawings are ever the same. Now that his creator, Dr. Cohen has died (in April, 2016, at the age of 87), Aaron will learn nothing new, but he will forever be capable of creating art, so long as the platform he runs on remains viable and there are people interested in seeing a new drawing.  

The existence of Aaron raises interesting questions about art, about intelligence, and about the meaning of art and the meaning of making art. Is Aaron intelligent? In some sense, yes. Is Aaron self-aware? No. Is Aaron expressing anything when he draws? No: Aaron is a computer program with no feelings, no motivations, no memory even of what he has drawn before. Yet, what Aaron creates generates meaning in the minds of those who see his work. And this is, perhaps, the most interesting idea McCorduck's book conveys: that Dr. Cohen saw art as generating meaning in the viewer rather than communicating meaning from the artist. Aaron is an excellent argument for the idea that the meaning in a work of art is almost wholly in the mind of the viewer. The book and its subjects are rich beyond my ability to express them. Suffice it to say, this is likely to be an exciting read for anyone with an interest in the human activity we call art-making. Aaron's Code is out of print, but I easily found a copy for a few dollars on line, and good libraries may have a copy*. Recommended.

*I just did an online search: In the Bay Area, there are copies in the libraries of UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Stanford, and in the San Francisco Public Library system.

Rain: Stormy Weather (January 7-8, 2017)

In our first big storm in quite a long time, the wind is howling and it's been raining all night. A large branch has fallen from a coast live oak in our yard. So far, we've had 2.70 inches of new rain, as of the morning of January 8. That brings our total so far for the 2016-2017 rain year to 23.30 inches at my location. Normal for this date in Santa Rosa is 15.9 inches. It's supposed to rain for the next three days. Normal annual rainfall for Santa Rosa is a little over 36 inches. We're well on our way to having an above-average year for the first time in a long time.

[Update: As of the morning of January 9, we have had an additional 0.55 inches at my location, bringing the total so far this year to 23.85 inches.]

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 162 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage--small, layered, and blue. 

This is Untitled Collage No. 162 (Santa Rosa). December 31, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. 13 x 7.9cm (5.1 x 3.1in). Matted to 14 x 11 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Rain: A Week of Rain (Early January 2017)

Off to a rainy start to 2017. It started raining again on January 2 and rain is in the forecast through January 7. So far, this new episode has given us 2.85 inches of new precipitation at my location on top of 17.75 inches already. That brings our total so far to 20.60 inches as of January 6. I expect to be updating the total in the coming days, as heavy rain is in the forecast for the coming week. Normal for this time of year is about 14.5 inches, so we remain well above normal.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage N. 161 (Santa Rosa)

My latest piece is another diminutive one—just about three inches square. This one uses various leftover scraps from other work but also incorporates a piece of hand-written music with scribbles. Fellow collage artist Sherry Parker gave me a stack of old music that I've been going through. It's so visually appealing that it's hard the resist using it.

This is Untitled Collage No. 161 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (handwritten music), collage. December 18, 2016. 8.2 x 7.6cm (3.2 x 3in). Matted to 14 x 11 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Rain: More Rain (December 10-16, 2016)

More rain on December 10-11 added another 0.80 inches of precipitation to our total at my northeast Santa Rosa location. Our total for the 2016-2017 rain year now stands at 12.95 inches, which is well above normal for this time of year—and more rain is predicted in the coming days.

[Update: And indeed there was more rain. On December 14-15 we had a solid day of rain that added 3.25 inches to our total for the year, which now stands at 16.20 inches at my location—well ahead of normal, at least for the time being. Normal for this date is about 9.5 inches.]

[Update: More rain on the evening of December 22 and into December 23 added another 1.55 inches of precipitation. That brings our total for the year to 17.75 inches--still more than six inches above normal for this time of year.]

Books I'm Reading: The Black Swan

Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb frequently uses the publishing industry as an example of one prone to what he calls "blacks swans"—a black swan is a highly unpredictable event that has far-reaching consequences and one that we rationalize after the fact, making up explanations to reassure ourselves that what happened was not as random as it seemed. He mentions best-selling books that seem to come out of nowhere, like the Harry Potter series—books that become extraordinarily popular for reasons that are easy to come up with after they take off, but that few could have suggested beforehand. He mentions events such as the 9-11 attacks. Taleb's book, The Black Swan (Random House, 2007) is something of a black swan itself. It appears to have been a major bestseller when it was new, around 2007. I bought my copy at about that time on a business trip to Tokyo but have read it only now.

Detailed, far-ranging, and not a little bit arrogant, The Black Swan is entertaining, if hard to follow in places, and somewhat repetitive. It's the kind of book you immediately want to read again after you finish, wondering if you really absorbed all there was to be absorbed—although the repetition and the author's self-congratulatory asides can become a bit tedious. To be fair, though, Taleb considerately suggests that about half the book can be skipped by those already familiar with some of his ideas.

In a nutshell, Taleb argues that we are very bad at prediction but like to pretend that we are quite good at it—that we are far too often groping blindly in the dark, hoping to find our way safely through the minefield of life, victims of confirmation bias and narrative bias, in particular. He has especially pointed barbs to hurl at policy makers, economists, and investment advisors, marking their activities as those of people habitually making bad decisions because of these biases and because of a misguided belief that they are working on meaningful evidence from the past, which Taleb suggests is, in the vast majority of cases, useless information.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 160 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage, my first in several weeks. This one uses found Japanese paper and several subtly different shades of off-white monoprinted papers of my own creation. Together these were originally part of an abandoned monochrome experiment. I've coupled the pale overlapping lays with an abortive black and red juxtaposition from a few months back that I had abandoned as well. Paired, they finally began to make some kind of sense to me. The subtleties of the monochrome areas are lost in the photograph here, but it's a reasonable facsimile.

This is Untitled Collage No. 160 (Santa Rosa). December 11, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper, collage. Image size 19.9 x 27.2cm (7.8 x 10.7 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat, signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at
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