Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Tidbits: Radu Lupu

I was very sorry to hear that pianist Radu Lupu died yesterday. He's long been a favorite. His recording of the Schubert Sonata in A Minor (D.959) is still the best in my view. 

His Brahms is great, too, but it was the Schubert D.959 recording that first brought him to my attention. Years ago, I had the unexpected privilege of being invited to dine with with Kyung-wha Chung and her entourage after a concert in Ueno, in Tokyo (another story altogether). For some reason we got on the subject of Radu Lupu. They recorded Franck and Debussy sonatas together.  I remember her calling him "a crazy man." It was something about putting his fist through a glass door—which seems a very odd thing for a pianist to do. I don't know. He may have been crazy, but he will always remain among my favorites. I heard him in recital in Tokyo sometime around 1988. He was wonderful. I was surprised, however, by his virtual baldness even then. His photos on recordings were always of him as a younger man and with more hair. Funny the things you remember...

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Rain: A Little More Rain (March 14-15, 2022 and March 27)

We had a little rain in the early morning hours of March 14-15. We got 0.45 inches of new precipitation at my location in northeastern Santa Rosa. That brings our total for the 2021-2022 rain year to 22.45 inches. Every little bit helps, but we are woefully behind normal rainfall levels. By this time of year, we should have had about 34 inches. We got off to an excellent start early in the season, but have had almost no rain (until last night) since early in January save for a couple of tenths of an inch on one day in February. Rain is in the forecast again for Thursday, March 17. Let it rain....

[Edit: The rain predicted for the 17th failed to materialize, but a small storm passed through on March 27. It dropped 0.9 inches of rain at my location, bringing our total now to 23.35 inches--still very low, but better.]

[Edit: On 13 April we got about 0.5 inches of new rain and then it rained overnight and into the early morning or 15-16 April, adding another 0.9inches, for a total of about 1.4 inches since last reporting. That brings our total for the current rain year to 24.75 inches. That's a help, and there is rain in the forecast again for the coming week.]

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Art I'm Making: Unintentional Political Commentary

My art is not and never has been political. Most of the art I create is entirely abstract. Composition has always been my focus. It is the formal relationships between compositional elements that interests me. I think of my abstract collage pieces as silent "conversations" between the shapes and lines and patches of color they are made of. 

Yesterday, I finished a new collage. Untitled Collage No. 242 (Santa Rosa). This is a large piece for me, 33.2 x 41.4cm, or 12.7 x 16.3 inches. Like most of my work recently, it is a collage of acrylic monotyped papers that I make myself.

When I looked at it this morning, I saw in it something unintended. Suddenly it looked to me like a field of ripe grain with a backdrop of a dark, threatening sky and I realized that I had created a sort of dark version of the Ukrainian flag that we have seen so often since the start of Russia's war on Ukraine. I stress that this was entirely unintentional and unconscious. Yet, there it is.

For the record, art aside, I stand with the people of Ukraine—and all oppressed people, foreign and domestic. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Wines I'm Making: 2021 Sangiovese Rosé Bottled

Finally got around to bottling our 2021 backyard rosé today. I bottled three gallons, or 15 bottles, from the nine Sangiovese vines behind the house. Normally I do this before Christmas, but it's been a busy year. Now it's time to design a label.

[Edit: Label done—see below.]



Saturday, February 19, 2022

Miscellaneous: Random Saturday morning observations

Opera can be hard to take seriously at the best of times. Opera sung in English is impossible to take seriously ever. 

Cats love to sit in boxes. Despite that, they rarely show any interest in entering refrigerators.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 235 (Santa Rosa)

Untitled Collage No. 235 (Santa Rosa). This is another very small  piece, measuring only 6.8 x 6.0cm (2.7 x 2.4 inches). September 10, 2021. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Matted to 8 x 10 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. 

For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website at: https://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site 

Miscellaneous: Quintessentially American

Quintessentially American is Jiffy brand corn muffin mix. Somehow, Jiffy corn muffin mix in six packs is even more quintessentially American. First sighting.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 235 (Santa Rosa)

This is a fairly recent collage, Untitled Collage No. 235 (Santa Rosa)—a diminutive piece, measuring only 6.7 x 6.0cm (2.6 x 2.4 inches). September 10, 2021. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper, collage. Matted to 8 x 10 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. 

For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website at: https://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Birds I'm Watching: California Thrasher (January 22, 2022)

Doing a bird survey on private property last weekend, I came upon a California Thrasher (Toxostoma redivivum) along the Russian River, near Healdsburg. Not a truly rare bird, but unusual and always fun to see. They have some distinctive calls and sometimes mimic other birds. Notable for the long, decurved bill.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Plants I'm growing: First blooms (2022)—Cyclamen Coum

I note here a little belatedly that Cyclamen coum was the first plant in the garden to bloom this year, as it is in most years. The first couple of flowers opened this year on January 7, which is typical. Cyclamen coum normally blooms in the first week of January, occasionally in the last week of December. Also blooming in the garden right now is the pink flowering plum at the front of the house. The first flowers opened on January 10 or so, although, strictly speaking, I missed their first day.  

Friday, January 7, 2022

Rain: More Rain (January 7, 2022)

Since last reporting, there has been rain on and off on a number of days—mostly quite light—but we have had an additional 0.65 inches, which brings our total for the current rain year to 22.00 inches. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Words I'm Writing: An Autumn Haiku

I meant to post this here back in October when I wrote it. Here belatedly is an autumn haiku.


Sun-warmed paper bag

Damp after first autumn rain

But my sleeping cat snores 



Thursday, December 23, 2021

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 233 (Santa Rosa)

Another relatively recent collage—forgot to post this one.... This is Untitled Collage No. 233 (Santa Rosa). July 3, 2021

Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 19.1 x 11.3cm (7.5 x 4.5 inches). Matted to 14 x 11 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. A quiet, contemplative piece. 
 
For more of my abstract monotype collages, visit my website at: https://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Rain: More Rain—Rain expected on and off all week

It rained overnight (December 21-22) and rain is in the forecast every day into next week. We'll see what materializes, but, so far, as of the morning of December 22, we've had 0.70 inches of new rain since last reporting. That brings our total for the year so far to 17.75 inches.  

[Edit: As predicted, we've had more rain. As of of the morning of December 24, we've had another 2.15 inches of precipitation. That brings our total to 19.90 inches--and it's supposed to rain again on Christmas Day and the day after.]

[Edit: We've had another 1.45 inches since last reporting, so our total now stands at 21.35 inches as of the afternoon of December 28.]

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 234 (Santa Rosa)


A fairly recent collage.
This is Untitled Collage No. 234 (Santa Rosa). August 25, 2021. Acrylic on paper. acrylic monotype collage. Image size: 20.2 x 21.6cm (8.0 x 8.5 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website at

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Birds I'm Watching: 2021 Santa Rosa Christmas Bird Count (December 19, 2021)

I participated in the Santa Rosa Christmas Bird Count this year, as I do most years. I hiked with the group that covers the area that includes Spring Lake, Howarth Park, and also Strawberry School Park. It's a small area, really, but we managed to see 75 species despite missing a few birds we normally see, such as Wild Turkeys, White-throated Sparrows, Pileated Woodpeckers, and House Sparrows. We saw nothing rare, but most of the usual suspects. A Western Tanager was perhaps the most unexpected bird--rare at this time of year. We did, however, see three Pacific Wrens, which is fairly unusual. Shown above is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Below is a Hermit Thrush. 



Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Rain: New Storms in the Second Week of December

 A storm that rolled through mostly on December 14 gave us 2.6 inches of new precipitation. Another storm, supposed to hit in a few hours, will likely give us at least another inch or so. At present, however, as of the morning of December 15, our total for the current rain year is now 15.55 inches. 

[On the evening of December 15, the predicted storm moved through, dropping an additional 1.6 inches of new precipitation. That brings our total for this rain year to 17.05 inches. More rain is in the forecast for next week, but today, December 16 is a sunny day in Santa Rosa.]

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Art I’m Looking At: "Sentido: New Paintings by Bob Nugent" at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara

Dominio da agua negra, Na Clareira (The Black Water
Domain, into the Clearing), 2021
I recently made the trip to the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara to see “Sentido: New Paintings by Bob Nugent.” Let me say at the outset that I think this is both a beautiful and an important show, but I found a few aspects of the presentation confusing.  From the publicity materials, it is a bit hard to understand whether it is formally part of “Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss,” described as a “multimedia, multi-venue, cross-border art intervention which seeks to provoke societal change by exposing and interrogating the negative social and environmental consequences of industrialized natural resource extraction” (from the extraction.org website), and, contradictorily, the extraction.org website describes this show of “new paintings” as a “35-year retrospective.” The majority of the work has been completed in the past few years (mostly since around 2015), with a few pieces older and many newer than that, including several dating from 2021*. Perhaps these things don’t matter. New or old, formally part of Extraction or not, there is a great deal of art here that deserves to be widely seen. It was well worth the two-hour drive from Santa Rosa. I may even go back for a second viewing. 

Nugent has been visiting the Amazon almost yearly since 1984. Since that time, his experiences in the Amazon Basin of Brazil have been the wellspring of his art and it’s hard to avoid the fact that Nugent’s Amazon-inspired art is heavy with message. It’s a now-familiar message and it comes in two parts: 1) the Amazon is a fabulously fertile, complex, and important part of the Earth’s environment, unique and worth preserving; and 2) we are failing at the task of protecting the Amazon, which is disappearing. Baldly stated this way, the message is easily condensed into just another desperate slogan—“Save the Amazon”—already banal. The rise of Amazon, the retailer, has degraded the word “Amazon” itself.

Mostly, I find art with a political edge trite, self-indulgent, or simply boring. Too often, it is crudely presented and attempting to carry weighty ideas—desperate slogans—on art with legs too spindly to provide the necessary support. We are simply slapped in the face with an outraged cry that seems incongruously delivered in paint—a message that would have been more effective elaborated in writing (some of the work of Ed Ruscha comes to mind). Yet, I am strongly drawn to Nugent’s work, and I have to ask myself, why? How does this work escape being trite?

Jardim Inhotim 42
(Inhotim Garden 42), 2019
Nugent’s art is weighty with message, but the message is integral—and that is key. I am reminded of the music of Bela Bartók. Bartók was deeply interested in the folk music of his native Hungary. He sought out peasant musicians, had them perform for him and he wrote down their music to preserve it. He is known not only for his own compositions but also for the research he did as a musicologist. Initially he focused on Hungarian music but his interest extended to the folk music of Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Serbia, and even to the music of Turkey and some of the Arabic-speaking countries. Bartók’s own music very rarely quotes any of this music, however. He seems to have absorbed it—to have completely internalized it. His music is entirely original, yet infused with the essence of the music he studied. Folk traditions were integral to his music, never set out on a shelf for display with a label pinned on. And I get that feeling from looking at Bob Nugent’s painting. The Amazon is in his bones. He has become infused with its essence and the paintings express his familiarity with the Amazon in a way that seems analogous to me with Bartók’s familiarity with Eastern European musical traditions as expressed in his compositions. The Portuguese word "sentido" in the show title is appropriate here: It means "to experience fully, with all one's senses."

Sometimes Nugent’s paintings seem alive with complexity; there is life force here. It’s not hard to imagine some of these canvases as virtual terraria. At times, the surfaces seem in motion. I look at some pieces and get the feeling I’m looking down at the rain forest floor, alive with insects, worms, perhaps unnamed, yet-undiscovered terrestrial invertebrates consuming and processing detritus under foot, or that I am peering through tangled vines or lush stands of broad-leafed vegetation under a canopy of overhead foliage. Brightly colored flowers bloom. This is Nugent giving us back in abstracted form the Amazon he has absorbed over the years. 

Occasionally, there are literal quotes—a sketch of a seed pod, a leaf, a tangled stem—often in works on unprimed linen and with grids or implied grids showing through, pieces that look unfinished**, but the bulk of the new paintings in the Triton show are not these but unabashedly painterly abstracts that draw on internalized experience rather than literal representation. When I spoke with him recently, he mentioned, doing 10, 20, sometimes 50 to 100 sketches of a detail observed in the forest that later emerges subconsciously in abstracted form. From my own experience, drawing architecturally arresting houses in the Victorian Village section of Columbus, Ohio in my college days, I would say that drawing is perhaps the best way to know an object or scene intimately. Drawing forces observation, attention to the details, and to relationships between formal elements. Drawing enhances internalization and cements memory. Again, Nugent, seems to have the Amazon in his bones and he gives it back to us concentrated, subtly distilled. 

Tawadi (Night Hawk), 2017
Other paintings are darker, more overtly reflective of the destruction going on in the wild places of Brazil. Sometimes it’s the use of heavy, ragged patches of black laid over brighter colors evocative of vegetation that hints at the taint of human activity. These black layers can have the effect of making the jungle seem jailed, set apart, and beyond our reach, lost to us—yet there. Some paintings suggest destroyed rain forest landscapes burned and laid bare. 

Yet another group of paintings references mining in Brazil. These are often grid-like. While abstract, they evoke strip-mined landscapes, or cut-away views of soil strata, and, through the use of contrasting colors or a variation in the size or shape of the “cells” in the grid, in many cases they are disturbed vertically by patterns suggestive of human intrusions into the Earth—suggestive of mine shafts.

Dominio da agua negra, Maura
(Black water domain, Maura), 2021

 So, I’m arguing that the message in Nugent’s painting is so expertly integrated with their visual content that we are not left feeling preached at, and in none of these works is the message making up for anything lacking in the art itself. However, no knowledge of Nugent’s history with Brazil is required to appreciate them. They command attention purely as abstract paintings. 

They are painterly paintings. You can see the brushwork. Sometimes it is thick and dark, vaguely reminiscent of work by Clyfford Still or Pierre Soulages. In other places you can see where thinner splashes of paint have been applied and dripped. In some pieces semi-transparent washes of brightly colored paint are laid over sections of the canvas. These washes put me in mind of some of Rauschenberg’s large collage work, but Nugent’s painterly effects never become an end in themselves, and by seeing these affinities I in no way mean to suggest imitation. This is strong, starkly original, and, yes, meaningful work. Highly recommended. The show is accompanied by a musical score composed by Richard Derwingson and orchestrated by Scot Derwingson-Peacock inspired by Nugent's paintings. 

The show will run through January 2, 2022 at the Triton Museum of Art, at 1505 Warburton Avenue, Santa Clara, CA 95050. Phone: (408) 247-3754. Admission and parking free. 

*A few days after seeing the show, I ran into Bob and spoke with him a little about the background. He said emphatically that the show is not a retrospective in the sense of being a survey of an artist’s entire career. He suggested the curator may have been trying to say the show is in some ways a summation of Nugent’s work so far that has been inspired by his experience in the Amazon. While the Amazon-inspired work may have become the most substantial phase of Nugent’s work, it is only one phase in a long, varied, and ongoing career. 

**Here is a link to an interesting video about the show. In it the narrator suggests that some of these unfinished pieces can be interpreted as expressive of the voids that habitat destruction in the Amazon has created. I suppose that is fairly obvious once pointed out, but it hadn't occurred to me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeYeqDCn75Y

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Music I'm Listening To: San Francisco Symphony, November 12, 2021—MTT back on the podium

Michael Tilson Thomas underwent surgery for a brain tumor in early August. I guess it wasn't too bad as brain tumors go, as he was back last night for the first time since the surgery (and the pandemic break) after only three months. He got a prolonged standing ovation as he first walked on stage. I've never particularly liked him as a conductor and so have usually avoided seeing him by choosing the subscription options that are mostly guest conductors, but he is loved by San Francisco and clearly everyone was glad to see him back again, perhaps particularly because the pandemic made it impossible to give him a formal public send-off as he handed over direction of the Symphony to Esa-Pekka Salonen. He appeared moved by the reception. He looked a bit frail and has gained weight since last time I saw him, but he seemed reasonably well. He conducted a set of Mozart German dances, a piece of his own composition featuring flutist DeMarre McGill (I didn't know that he composed), and, after intermission, Schumann's Symphony No. 1.

When you subscribe, you have to buy a block of at least six concerts that come in a series. Once they've sent you your tickets, you can call in and swap out ones you don't like for something you prefer, then they send you the new tickets and you destroy the replaced ones. I've been a subscriber for about 12 years and never had any trouble doing this, but last night when they scanned our tickets they were rejected. I had to go to the box office to enquire. It turns out we had swapped out last night's tickets (avoiding MTT!) and replaced them with something else but I hadn't destroyed the old tickets. So, in fact, we did NOT have tickets to the concert last night. I was prepared to buy a pair (as we had driven an hour to get to the concert hall and were prepared for an evening of music) but the box office guy just laughed it off and gave us a free pair, which was very nice of him. With the pandemic situation, the concerts are only about two-thirds full, so there were plenty of seats and, as I say, we're long-time subscribers, but he didn't have to do that.

At dinner, after the concert, we went to Monsieur Benjamin, a French restaurant near Davies Symphony Hall (good, but expensive). Because it's expensive, it has never been our usual after-concert restaurant, but, because of the pandemic situation, many restaurants are closing their kitchens too early to get to after a concert and there are fewer choices now. Last time I was there was several years ago after a recital with Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Gautier Capuçon. Just before we left that night, we noticed that Thibaudet and Capuçon had been in the restaurant the whole time. We didn't bother them. We were reminiscing about that last night and just after talking about it we realized that McGill was sitting three tables down from us. I guess it's the place musicians go after the concerts. This time, we DID bother the performer. We greeted him and told him we enjoyed the concert. He was very friendly and seemed genuinely pleased that we had come over to say hello. Very gracious--enthusiastic even. Despite the ticket mistake, everything turned out well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Rain: A little more rain (November 8-9)

Overnight on November 8-9, we had another storm pass through. It added 1.45 inches of welcome new precipitation to our total for the 2021-2022 rain year. That brings our total to 12.95 inches. The forecasters continue to say this is likely to be a dry winter again, but, so far, we're doing pretty well. Let's hope it continues. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Wines I'm Making: 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc pressed

Spent much of yesterday and today (October 31) pressing this year's wine (Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc) from the backyard vines. I made two batches this year, one using French Red yeast, one using Rockpile yeast, just for variety. I pressed about 10 gallons of must each, 20 gallons in total, which yielded seven gallons of new wine from each of the two batches. Fourteen gallons of wine will make about 70 bottles. As the grapes were harvested on October 5 and the yeast went in on October 7, fermentation took 24 days--which is about the longest it's ever gone. That reflects the fact that it has been consistently cool and mostly overcast since harvest. The wine was in a cool garage the whole time. In a typical year fermentation takes from 10 to 16 days. The rosé (from our Sangiovese vines) has been even slower. I probably won't rack and sulfite the Sangiovese for a couple of more days still. Next step for the red wines, malolactic fermentation.*

I learned a new way to test for total acidity this season--a test I've never bothered with in the past because titrating using phenolphthalein solution and trying to judge the color change as it goes from acid to basic (remember your high school chemistry?) is really, really hard because of the color of the wine. This method uses a pH meter (which I already had) and a sodium hydroxide solution to find the TA value--no need to judge a tricky color change in a highly pigmented solution. You just read values off the meter as they change. The French Red batch had a pH of 3.37 and a TA of .75. The Rockpile batch had a pH of 3.45 and a TA of .765. The total acidity value is on the high side for a red wine, but, having never tested our wine for TA before (this is our 18th vintage), I have no idea whether that's normal for us or not. According to the textbooks, it should be adjusted down slightly, but I may leave it. Time to do some further research....

[Edit: *I racked and sulfited the Sangiovese rosé on November 4, as the hydrometer showed a specific gravity of 1.000. That means the rosé fermentation took 28 days, which is longer than it ever has before by a wide margin. I tested the TA and it was quite low—.585, which would be more appropriate for a red wine. I've never had to adjust the acidity of any of the wines I've made before, but this year was different for at least two reasons. First, because of the drought, I did not water the vines at all this year. Dry farming the vines has always been my goal and I was going to attempt it this year anyway. The Sangiovese suffered a little. There were more raisins than usual and the grapes probably should have been picked a little sooner. Second, the brix was notably higher than usual. In the past I've had to chaptalize the must (adding corn sugar to bump up the sweetness of the juice and hence the alcohol level in the finished wine), but this year the grapes did not need a boost. The result was low acidity. I added 20g of tartaric acid dissolved in distilled water to three gallons of racked wine, which, assuming my calculations are correct, should raise the TA to .785, which is just right for a rosé. It takes 3.4g of tartaric acid/gallon to raise TA 0.1%. 

I inoculated the red wines with the malolactic starter on November 2. Malolactic fermentation can take anywhere from about three weeks to about three months. It can be a bit mysterious. The only reliable way to tell whether it's finished is to do a paper chromatography test, which involves the use of very smelly chemicals, so I usually just let it go and hope for the best.]

Rain: A little more after the "atmospheric river"

Last night (October 30) we had 0.35 inches of new rain following the more than 10 inches we got recently in an "atmospheric river" event. That brings our total for the current rain year to 10.80 inches. Tomorrow rain is in the forecast again. 

[Edit: Last night, the night of November 3, we got another 0.70 inches of new precipitation. That brings our total to 11.50 inches for the current rain year.] 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Matteucci's in San Anselmo

It's been more than two years since I last posted an example of a neon cocktail glass I've seen. With the pandemic, I've hardly been out anywhere far from home. 

Recently, however, I saw this one in the window of a bar in San Anselmo. This is at Matteucci's, at 114 Greenfield Ave. 

For more, click the "Cocktail Glass Collection" label at right toward the top of the page.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Rain: Rain!

Rain is on my mind. We've had 7.75 inches of rain so far since the rain we had last week (last Sunday, October 17 we had about half an inch, which was the first rain this rainy season). All the drainage channels in the garden are actively flowing with run-off this afternoon, which I haven't seen here for several years. As  historical annual average rainfall in Santa Rosa is just over 36 inches, we've already had more than 20% of our annual precipitation in the past week (although mostly last night and today). A steady, spread-out pattern of winter precipitation is ideal (because flooding is less likely and we need water as late in the rainy season as possible), but I hope this will go some way toward restoring historically low reservoir levels. At Lake Ralphine recently here in Santa Rosa, you've been able to walk over to the little island by the boathouse—which I've never seen before. I'm guessing the island is already an island again. And it's still coming down.  

[Edit: Checking the rain gauge this morning (Monday, October 25), we appear to have received a total of 9.95 inches in the storm of yesterday and the night before. With that and the rain last week, our total so far for the current rain year (October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022) is 10.45 inches--which is nearly a third of our annual average rainfall in the past week. Let's hope it continues.]

Art I'm Looking At: Joan Mitchell at SF MOMA

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting an art museum for the first time in many months. I went to see the Joan Mitchell show now on view at SF MOMA. Masks were required, but showing vaccination status was not. I had my card ready to go, just in case. Much of the space is shut down, especially on the second floor near the photography galleries where the little coffee shop always has been a cozy spot to take a break in. The only photogrphy on view was a set of four panoramic photos of San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake. No matter. I had come to see Joan Mitchell, whose work I have noted before here and there but I really knew little about the trajectory of her career. She seems to have spent most of her life bouncing back and forth between New York and France, sometimes in Paris, sometimes on a large estate in the south. She is often considered an Abstract Expressionist, but doesn't seem to have cared much about the label. Apparently she spent much more time with like-minded painters in France (including Sam Francis and Pierre Soulages) than with the painters in New York most closely associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement.  

I enjoyed the show. I'm glad I went, but I had mixed feelings about the work (as I always have had). Some of the paintings I liked very much, others left me rather cold. A great deal of her work has an unfinished, messy feel to it. For me at least, the thick, discrete strokes of paint don't always come together into a whole greater than the parts. Rarely are there open planes of color that give the eye a quiet place to dwell.  

The wall notes kept referring to views of the spaces that she lived in (particularly her gardens and the local landscape) and memories of experience as the wellsprings of her compositions but also to Monet, Cezanne, and Van Gogh as sources of inspiration. That was a bit puzzling to me. Monet, yes—in the brush strokes and the garden-inspired abstractions. Van Gogh, maybe—perhaps in one image that put me in mind of his crows over a wheat field, but Cezanne was nowhere to be seen. I was frequently reminded of Pierre Bonnard, actually. Both Mitchell and Bonnard seem to have been fond of cadmium yellows and oranges. 

The garden-inspired pieces seemed most successful to me, but I particularly liked the very large "Salut Tom" of 1979, on loan from the Corcoran Gallery, in Washington D.C. (bottom photo). It is monumental in scale, like Monet's largest water lily paintings, and similarly requires time and space to stand back in to appreciate. Some of her drawings I enjoyed as well and it was interesting to see a case full of  paints, brushes, palette knives, and other tools from her Studio. Worth a visit. The show runs through January 17, 2022 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.



Music I'm Listening to: The San Francisco Symphony, with Pekka Kuusisto

I attended a live San Francisco Symphony concert Friday night (October 22)—the first live performance I've been to since February of 2020. Vaccination card and ID checked at the entrance. I was happy to comply. It was good to know that everyone in the building was vaccinated. Generally, the orchestra members did not wear masks (there were one or two exceptions), neither did conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen or the soloist in the US premiere of Bryce Dressner's Violin Concerto, Pekka Kuusisto, a Finn like Salonen. 

The concert opened with Beethoven's Second Leonore overture, which was both familiar and unfamiliar. It's not the one (of the four, I think) that we most commonly hear.

According to the program notes, the Dressner Violin Concerto got its world premiere on October 1 this year, in Frankfurt. The performances in San Francisco this weekend have been the first in the United States. It's hard to put into words the feelings that music evokes—which is why writers of notes to recordings and concerts frequently resort to descriptions relying heavily on music theory that I suspect goes over the heads of most readers, including me. Suffice it to say that it was a gripping performance. The Dressner concerto grabs you by the throat and rarely loosens its grip until the very end. The soloist gets a real workout. The score involves a lot of extended technique such as bowing very close to the bridge or rubbing the bow along the strings the long way to produces novel sounds (which is not to say the piece is gimmicky). Despite a few lyrical passages and an extended cadenza toward the end (that appeared to be improvised; Kuusisto played from the score on a tablet with a foot switch to turn the pages and during the cadenza he was no longer looking at the screen), the general impression was one of driving forward movement based on extended near-repetitions that evolve through continuous small variations. Percussion plays a large role. At the pre-concert talk, the composer said "You could almost call it a concerto for violin and percussion." He also said that he thought the San Francisco Symphony percussion section "the best in the world." He seemed to mean it, saying that he'd worked with orchestras all over the world and that the SF section was the best he'd ever worked with. Very enjoyable. I hope Kuusisto records this soon. It's music that will bear repeat listening. 

As an encore, Kuusisto played a sarabande from one of the Bach solo partitas/sonatas—very familiar, but out of context I can't say which one it was from. Kuusisto played it in a rather tender, fluid way that was a sharp contrast to what preceded it. He relied heavily on rubato, which some people think has no place in the music of Bach, but it was a persuasive interpretation. About a third of the way through, someone's phone rang. He took it in stride. He stopped playing momentarily and said "That's the wrong key", laughed (and the audience laughed with him), and went back to playing. 

After intermission, the orchestra gave us Schubert's Symphony No. 5, my favorite (everyone's favorite?) of the Schubert Symphonies. After the concert, finding good food was a challenge. Because of pandemic restrictions, our go-to place, Absinthe, is now closing its kitchen at 9:00PM, even on Friday and Saturday. Ended up at a Mexican–French place that sounded much better than it tasted. Some research will be required ahead of the next SF Symphony concert—to which I'm looking forward. It was a real pleasure to hear live music again.




Saturday, October 16, 2021

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No.230 (Santa Rosa)

Still catching up with posting comparatively recent collage work. This was the first collage I completed in 2021. Untitled Collage No. 230 (Santa Rosa). January 30, 2021. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, fragment of doodling robot drawing, collage. Image size: 37.5 x 26.9cm (14.8 x 10.6 inches). Matted to 24 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 abstract monotype collage work, visit my collage website at https://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site/

Serendipitous Art: Truck Paint

Paint on the side of an old truck apparently under restoration looked like art to me. Unintended art, serendipitous art. 

For more serendipitous art, see my Serendipitous Art blog at http://serendipitousart.blogspot.com 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Wines I'm Making: 2021 Harvest

Harvest time. Yesterday and today, we harvested the backyard vineyard (about 26% Sangiovese, 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc) of 34 vines, which have now been in the ground for going on 21 years (this was our 18th harvest).


We took in 20.6kg (45.4lbs) of Sangiovese and 108.3kg of Cabernet (238.8lbs). That yielded five gallons of Sangiovese must (the juice with all the skins and seeds still in it) and 22 gallons of Cabernet must. The Sangiovese tested at 23.5 degrees brix (a measure of the sweetness of the juice and therefore its potential alcohol). This is perfect for the rosé I usually make from the Sangiovese. The Cabernet must tested at 25.8 degrees brix, fine for making a red wine, although a little on the high side.


I usually harvest closer to 24 brix. This was the first year the grapes were completely dry farmed (that is, they received no supplemental watering at all). Despite the drought, they fare pretty well as I have always watered them very infrequently (no more than three times a year) and always very deeply to encourage deep rooting. There were more raisins than usual, though, which probably accounts for the higher-than-usual sugar reading. All the fruit was clean, with no mildew and we lost very little to critters either.


Assuming the ratio of unfermented must to finished wine is about 60% (typical), we should get about 15 bottles of rosé and about 66 bottles of finished Cabernet around this time next year, which is a pretty normal yield from the vines behind the house. 


Monday, September 6, 2021

Miscellaneous: Things we need words for

Things we need words for: The little bit of accumulated stale cereal under the wax paper liner that we find at the bottom of the cereal box when the box is otherwise empty.

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