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New works

New works, small paintings done in Caran d’Ache (wax crayons)
with gloss finish, images © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




I love ‘em and hate ‘em. If it weren’t for art shows, I don’t think I’d ever make art. In fact, making art in the midst of living the rest of my life is the pits. There’s got to be a better way to be consistent.

But the good news is, I love making art again. How did I last however many months I did without it? My friend Laurence turned me on to these wonderful waxy crayons, and I happened to have a bunch of small (3″x 3″ — that small!) wooden canvasses, so I played around with collage and color.  And I did my usual pendants and bracelets.


hand-with-eye-(new)My dilemma: How to make art every day? Or every week, or even every other week?

I love the tedium of it. It’s technical and minute, and even when I’m coloring outside the lines I’m still focused on one canvas. I love how my mind goes from being a net to being a funnel whenever I make art.

There’s a sound associated with that feeling. It goes something like Ffvooom.

That’s my lesson for today. Shows are hard, but shows are good. They make me show up for my art. And if I limit myself to two a year, then I can’t complain. I just got to stop procrastinating.


 

♥ ♣ ♥


Tomorrow I’ll be the featured artist at a wonderful little bakehouse called Cravin’ Cookies. It’s one of those best-kept-secret type places, inside an old house. Barb, the owner, makes the tastiest baked goods. I love her flour-less chocolate torte. And her Key Lime pie. And peanut butter cookies. Yum!

Hope to see my Albuquerque friends tomorrow!



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The first weekend of May is a special time in the sleepy village where I live.

(A side note on villages: Aren’t they always sleepy? That’s what makes them villages. Not cities; not even towns. Ours truly is a village, incorporated as such in 1971. Hence, it is known as The Village of Corrales, and there has been since I can recall a sign that says something to the effect of “Drive slow and see our animals, drive fast and see our judge.” I know, it’s not the most grammatically correct sign. But what do you expect from a village?)

May 1 and 2 are the days when many of the artists and craftspeople who call Corrales “home” open up their studios and galleries and invite the public to visit.


Corrales Art Studio Tour, poster © 2010 by Krysteen Wazask. All rights reserved.




I am participating in the Corrales Art Studio Tour with two other artists, in a centuries-old former dance hall — now a creative space called Movement Studios — that sits in the center of Corrales.

(A side note on the center of Corrales: You know you’re there when you see a road sign warning Congested Area. Whenever Jim and I approach the sign he coughs and sniffles, at which point I, having forgotten that he does this every time we drive through the village, ask, “Something wrong?” He points to the sign, clears his throat, and says, “Congested Area.”)

Although I am quietly panicking over the fact that I’m behind on making art, I am deeply grateful to be spending the weekend with two talented artists who are also kind and lovely individuals. I’ve known them for only a short while yet I am honored to share this experience with them both.

(A side note on artists: I stand in awe of most simply because I’m blown away by their talent. But not all artists are likable, and there are some I probably wouldn’t choose to get to know. Well, these two artists are people I want to know better. Seeing their art and learning what moves them makes me want to know more about their lives, past and present. They are creative and authentic. Buena gente, as we say in Spanish.)

Here is a bit about them, starting with the one I met first.



_________________________________________________________________________________________________

john toomey





Working Memory-Resurrection-Fern and Working Memory-Hymn-Recording, 30″ x 24″ mixed media paintings, images © 2010 by John Toomey. All rights reserved.



My art is communion with natural form. My imagery, which stems from both observation and improvisation, is born from dreaming upon the horizon, both drifting towards sky and descending into soil. My work is a contemplation of forces that shape, veil, reveal, and reshape forms of nature. It is a dialogue between abstraction and representation, cause and effect, growth and decay.


WORKING MEMORY


I am an artist, arts educator, and twenty-year resident of New Mexico. I teach art to pre-school and elementary aged children at Cottonwood School in Corrales. I make landscape-based abstractions, mostly mixed media paintings on paper. And although I have a profound love for my New Mexico home, it is the landscape of rural west Tennessee that set me on a path towards becoming an artist.

I spent most of my childhood outdoors, roaming and exploring the fields and woods that surrounded my home. As a teen I began to realize an interest for drawing and painting, finding my primary source of inspiration and imagery out in those familiar places. In those fields I dug a well that continues to provide, regardless of where I put down roots.

This is especially true with respect to my current body of work entitled “Working Memory,” a series of paintings in progress that return me to home and deal with the loss of that home. These are mixed-media works on paper, made with acrylic, pastel, watercolor, and bits of organic debris, pressed flowers, leaves, and soil. Most importantly though, this series deals with the ever so gradual loss of my mother as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.

My mom’s greatest love was taking care of our home, gardening and tending to the flowers, trees, and birds. I know her greatest desire was to live out her days in that beautiful place, but sadly she no longer recognizes her family or remembers her flowers.

“Working Memory” is about a boy paying homage to his mother, remembering the gifts that she instilled within him — a deep love of nature and a purposeful connection to place.

I dedicate this work to my mom but also to all who have experienced loss as a result of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.



_________________________________________________________________________________________________

mary hobbs




Bahamas, photo © 2010 by Mary Hobbs. All rights reserved.





I carry my camera with me all the time, photographing my young children and their friends at the grocery store, dentist’s office, just before bed. Watching them at play or in repose, I am compelled to take pictures. This practice is a way for me to discover something profound in everyday mundaneness, to recall events from my own past and explore a child’s emotional landscapes.

I am especially intrigued by how our psychological world can be so different from the physical space we inhabit, how different each child’s experience can be in the same moment — one joyful, the other stressed, another bored.

In a poolside snapshot of a little girl, the traditional touchstones of a carefree childhood — a Popsicle on a sunny day, being wrapped in a warm towel after exiting the pool — are missing. Instead she is surrounded by oversized sneakers, a barrel trash can and rough blades of brass. This image is not so much a photograph of a happy child at the pool, but something more complicated. It is this complication, this juxtaposition of objects in a child’s physical space and the child’s response to this juxtaposition that fascinates me.



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I hope you will come and visit with us on May 1 and 2, in the center of the sleepy village of Corrales. Our address is 4605 Corrales Road (#25, #26, and #27 on the studio tour map). You can see more of John’s and Mary’s art, and my own. You can learn about Movement Studios and the classes that happen there when we’re not inhabiting the space.

We’d love to see friends and strangers, talk about coyotes and snakes and the trials and tribulations of making art and making a living. And just hang. And, well, maybe sell a piece or two.

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A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experience meaning, the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you to experience that meaning more fully.

~Flannery O’Connor, from “Writing Short Stories”


I’ve always been a fan of short stories. I subscribe to The New Yorker just to get a new one each week to read.

Short stories are magical. So compact and full of emotion. The good ones draw you in immediately without you realizing it. They’re a mystery, really. I’ve wondered what it takes to make a good short story work ever since the first time I tried writing one, over 20 years ago.

I can still remember the ancient-seeming Sabine Ulíbarri, one of my favorite Literature professors in college, raising a crooked forefinger into the air and saying that the short story began when something extraordinary happened in an otherwise ordinary life. Professor Ulíbarri’s seminar was held in a dim room—he didn’t like florescent lights—where a dozen or so students sat around a conference table and were so rapt by this physically small yet intellectually giant man’s charms that we endured his chain smoking.

He took his shaky hand and drew on the chalkboard an X in the straight-line trajectory of the life of a typical protagonist. Then he drew a bolt of lightening coming from the heavens above and hitting the X. “This,” he said in his booming voice, “is where the story begins.”


∞ ∞




Loving to read short stories and figuring out how to write them are two different things. The short story is a masterful art form, one that Alice Sebold in her stint as editor of The Best American Short Stories 2009 said provides

…endless access into another world, brought forth by an infinite number of gifted minds. A story about grief can comfort; a story about arrogance can shock and yet confirm; a story populated largely by landscape, whether lush or industrial, can expand the realm that we as individuals inhabit.

The dilemma for someone like me, who would love to comfort, shock, confirm, or expand a reader’s realm, is how to make my stories do exactly that. I don’t have an answer. I haven’t succeeded yet, although, if the truth be known I haven’t tried to hard enough either. However, all that is about to change.



If at First You Don’t Succeed…


I just refused to die as a person who had 30 pages of a novel in her drawer.

~Elizabeth Gilbert, answering a question during an Albuquerque appearance



The rest of this post is targeted to people like me who write and write and write yet rarely venture to send our works out into the world where those who’ve succeeded in the literary arena might judge them. I can understand the resistance. Writing is hard enough. Getting our work published is a whole ‘nother matter. But if like me you want to accept yourself as a writer, you may want to consider seriously pursuing getting your writing published in literary magazines.

Right now I’m focused on the short story, but editors of literary magazines care about all kinds of writing. Literary magazines contain fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry, and some even publish haiku, photography, the graphic narrative, and other art.

Why should we try to get our writing published in literary magazines? According to Poets & Writers, “most writers get the attention of editors, agents, and other writers by publishing first in literary magazines.” Not to mention, many of these venues offer great motivation in the form of cash awards. In fact, this is one of the best times of year to compete in writing contests—the stakes can be anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to one or two or four thousand.

I just spent a large chunk of this past three-day weekend submitting a short story to several contests. I wrote the story a few years ago and even though I wasn’t happy with it then, I sent it out back then to a half dozen literary magazines for consideration. Not surprisingly, it didn’t get picked up, so I stuck it into a drawer where it sat for a few years.

Well, as often happens when you step back and stop thinking about a piece for a while (be it art or writing), I could see the weaknesses in the story when I looked at it anew. I spent several hours rewriting and editing until finally I had a piece I could be proud of. The next step was to send it out in to the world.



…Try, Try Again


I take writing and competition very seriously. I believe that all writers should compete—even if I now know this to be a quixotic quests—on a level playing field.

~Alice Sebold, Introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2009


The Poets & Writers website is an amazing place, well laid out and chock full of excellent information for figuring out where to send your work. The site has a “Tools for Writers” tab that shows deadlines for Writing Contests, Grants & Awards in both a Submission Calendar format and in a searchable database where you can filter by genre, entry fee, and timing. There’s also the Contest Blog, with frequently posted gems, including interviews with authors who have won contests in the past.

NewPages.com—a website that touts the goodness of independent bookstores—also carries a list of Writing Contests categorized by monthly deadline. It has a list of hundreds of literary magazines—aptly named “Big List of Literary Magazines”—so that you can get a feel for those that fit your writing style and vice versa.

A source I didn’t find in either Poets & Writers nor NewPages.com is A Room of Her Own (AROHO) Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps women achieve their artistic goals by providing prize and grants, including a $50,000 biennial grant “to an American woman writer of merit working under financial hardship.”

It should be said, contests are not the be-all end-all of writing. Most important is getting your work published, which these sources provide just as much information about as they do contests and awards. But in the event you need that extra boost, now is an excellent time to vie for prizes.



Your Countrymen (and Women) Need You


It’s tough for writers to write (and editors to edit) when faced with a shrinking audience. Once, in the days of the old Saturday Evening Post, short fiction was a stadium act; now it can barely fill a coffeehouse and often performs in the company of nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ.

~Stephen King, “What Ails the Short Story,” in The New York Times, 9/30/2007



When he was editor of The Best American Short Stories 2007, Stephen King declared that short stories were alive but not well. Literary magazines have over time been relegated to the bottom shelves of magazine sections in most big bookstores, and even there only a few titles can be found.

So do your part. Read, write, edit, and submit. Then do it again and again.



Hints & Tips



Poets & Writers offers these common sense tips for submitting to literary journals and/or vying for writing contests:

  • Do research to determine which publications are right for you. In other words, know your market.
  • Each literary magazine has “a unique editorial voice, tone, viewpoint, mission.” Make sure that you read any literary magazine before you submit your work to it. (Many literary magazines have websites with archives where you can read past winning stories or other published pieces.)
  • Read about the contributors to compare their backgrounds and interests to yours.
  • Make sure to read the Submission Guidelines for each magazine. They differ. Some will accept only online; others only accept hard copies sent by mail. Some want 12pt. font with one-inch margins. One might have a word count, another a page count.
  • Specifically look for guidance on simultaneous submissions, meaning submissions of a single work to more than one journal or contest at a time. Most of the literary journals that I submitted to allowed for simultaneous submissions but asked to be informed immediately if the submission gets picked up by or wins somewhere else.
  • Some literary journals request cover letters and others do not. Some contests are done as a “blind review,” meaning that any identifying information about the author is stripped off during the actual reading/review. Poets & Writers suggested that where a cover letter is requested, try not to “discuss the merits or themes of the work you are submitting” but use the cover letter instead to provide a short bio and any past publication accomplishments.

Finally, beware of Writing Contest scams. My advice, and mind you this is only my advice, is to use a source that you trust (the way I trust, for example, Poets & Writers) to identify true literary journals and the contests they run. Others may be designed to simply get your dollars for a submission or reading fee.



Special Bonus: Sabine Ulíbarri


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These are my intentions for 2010. They seem both like a lot and not enough. Some of it’s plain common sense. Some is just living better. At any rate, I’m saying it here. This is what I have.

Let the fun begin!



first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010
first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010


body~mind

  • Heal my body. I’m still plagued by bouts of lower back pain, am starting to feel stiff in the knees. Want to be limber and energetic. Water, exercise, stretching. Would love to take yoga. More walks.
  • Slow down. Be present to what I do. Don’t hurry. Take at least one retreat. Maybe two if Jim wants to do one. But one alone for sure.
  • Early rise. Get my sunrise on.








family

  • Take care of them. It’s OK to be a wife and mom. Love them to pieces.
  • Take my girls abroad. Stop saying it, do it.
  • Be present for their development. These are heavy times. Make them light.
  • Get up and go. Movies, hikes, day trips. Be active together.




first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010
first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010


art~writing

  • Get serious about Angels & Demons. Finish Axis of Evil. Plan other works. It’s a long-term series. Go as far as I can.
  • Have fun with the other stuff. Pendants, bracelets, what else? Experiment.
  • Doodle a day. Easy stuff. Keep doing complex doodles but let doodle-a-day be a scribble, if that’s all I can get to.
  • Writing Group. Keep it up. Three times a week. Other writing? Nurture the books percolating. Leap on opportunities that come.








business

  • I have a number in my head. It’s not huge. It’s a start. (Or, rather, last fall was the start. This is the first lap.)
  • Figure out what I want to do and where I want to be. New shows? Get into a gallery? New websites? Don’t rush it. Slow and steady wins the race. And just the right amount of pressure keeps it doable.
  • Stay organized. Get taxes done early. Keep my space to where I can work every day. Lists. I loves them!




first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010
first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010 first doodle of 2010


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This post is the Intention portion of the exercise laid out in WRITING TOPIC — REFLECTION & INTENTION. Unlike resolutions, intentions are put out to the universe. (At least for me they are.) I log ‘em in my noggin’. They have a way of coming to fruition. I can’t say exactly why it is that they work for me while resolutions don’t, but they do. I trust the process.

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get your resin on (three)

get your resin on (three), new resin bracelets by Roma Arellano (aka ybonesy), all photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
I heard a news report yesterday that said something to the effect of, The average shopper has only finished about half of his or her Christmas gift-buying thus far. Wow. That’s a lot of shopping to get in before Christmas. And only five days left to do it.
 
But guess what? We’re doing our part to help procrastinators in the Albuquerque area. Our resin group decided that this month, instead of holding our standard resin meeting, we’d throw ourselves a holiday art house party. We’re getting together tomorrow at the home of one of our members (thank you, Cecilia!) and inviting everyone we know to come and buy art at great prices. And visit, eat, and have fun!

So, in the spirit of getting the word out…
 

out with the old


I’d been fretting about not having enough time to build up inventory of late, but then it dawned on me that I have a lot of “seconds” I could sell at the art party. Resin is a persnickety material; it often leaves waves or bubbles. I had set aside all the pendants that I didn’t think were up to snuff for selling, intent on fixing them some day (since resin is also a forgiving substance; items can be re-resin’d). Yet the mistakes are the kinds that I notice more than the average bear. So instead of keeping all these seconds on my work table for eventual perfecting, I’ll be selling them at half off. Woo hoo!

I’m also going to sell off a few images that I have since decided to close out. In my first round of building inventory, I threw in everything but the kitchen sink; the truth is, I have more designs than I can keep up with. All those close-out pendants will also go for half off, which means you can buy items for as low as $6. Now, that’s what I call good and cheap.



tower of resin   get your resin on (one)

get your resin on (two)   tower of resin (two)





in with the new


Pictured throughout this post are new bracelets I’ve been making, many to give away as gifts for the women in my family (sorry to ruin the surprise if you’re one of those women). And speaking of women, the highly creative mujeres from the monthly resin group taught us all how to make these stretchy bracelets using small tiles in multiples.

Aren’t they cool? The bracelets are reminiscent of jewelry my sisters used to wear in the 60s and 70s. I love how you can mix and mingle found images with your own doodles to make new and wondrous designs.

Now that I know how to make them, I will continue to use more my own images and less found ones. I’ll have some bracelets for sale, mostly to see how people respond to them.

I also found a source for small wood mounts for making mini-wall hangings. I hope to have at least a few of those at the party.




          get your resin on (four)
                                                       get your resin on (five)





come on down



We’ll be putting up signs and balloons to lead folks to the art party, which is tomorrow, Sunday, the 21st of December, 10 am to 4 pm. I’ve invited Facebook friends in the area and will pester them and others with another email reminder.

I hope to see you there. You won’t be disappointed by the selection. (I mean it—these women are such great artists!)

By the way, QM, this flyer contains some of the fun public domain fonts I’ve downloaded of late. Reminds me of your post on Runes.









Oh, and next year, I know. We’re all going to try to have our shopping done at least two weeks before Christmas. Right? Right.



resin arm






-Related to posts Hey, You Got Your Doodles On My Scrabble Tiles!, When You Get Tired Of Scrabble, Take Up Dominoes, and Pendants And Charms And Milagros, Oh My!

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Ms. Kiev: She Who Rules The Roost, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s been a long week. Except for the house noises, it’s quiet as the wind. Liz went to the hardware store to buy a new shower head. For the first time this week, I’m alone. It was a hard week. I felt sick on Tuesday but went to work anyway. After becoming a national statistic earlier this year, for the last few months I’ve been driving a truck, delivering parts to machinists to be electropolished, drilled, deburred, picking them up again. It’s Saturday morning, a sacred time when I can actually catch up on reading my own blog.

Weekend hours are sweet. I promised Kiev during her morning ritual with Liz that I’d post a photo of her. She’s the only cat in our family who hasn’t made it to the cover of red Ravine. (Mr. Stripeypants was published for his support of Obama; we lost sweet boy Chaco this year.) I was sitting on the couch, writing. Liz called me on the BlackBerry from the bedroom; I picked up to hear her whispering that I should come and see the cats. I tiptoed in and took these camera shots. Family time.

The first photograph is alpha cat Kiev in her favorite position. Liz places her arm just so; Kiev curls up in the crook, same position every time. I have discovered that Kiev is difficult to photograph. She is jet black and her catty panther features all blend into night. I guess I need one of those umbrella reflectors. I do the best I can.

How do you spend your days and nights? What are your weekends like? Do you take any downtime, time to do things you can’t get to during the week? Or are you retired, off of work, and every day is the weekend for you. It seems like when I have time, I have less money. More money, less time. Where’s the balance?

In catching up on red Ravine, I see that Bob was moved by Anna Deavere Smith in our Writing Topic — 3 Questions. Our guest Buzz explained some of the nuances of basketball banter in his poetry post Hoops. ybonesy wrote about art as play, community art, something dear to our hearts on red Ravine. The renga has heated up in the Daily Haiku. And we made April plans to go to Lake Pepin in the Midwest writing group I am a part of.

I’m relieved to know that even though I feel dead beat at the end of my truck driving day, the creative world goes on around me. And sweeps me along with it. I’m grateful for that.

For Christmas, I may ask Liz for a pocket protector and a few cotton work shirts with my first name stitched above the pocket, but I’m still a writer, a photographer, an artist. Still full of wonder at the animal track flannel sheets in the photo behind Kiev. Making a living as writers and artists isn’t easy. All of you make it easier. Thank you for that.


Morning Rituals, Mr. Stripeypants: Paw Over Hand, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, December 5th, 2009 with gratitude to Liz who holds up the other half of the sky, my family and friends who check up on me, and Roma, the best blog partner a woman could ever have

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Me, By Pham Luc, portrait of Roma, 26×36 inches, August 2009, image
© 2009 by Pham Luc, photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
In a small travel agency that sits just around the corner from the Hanoi Cathedral, I wait as the owner, Tony Pham, fills out paperwork for my weekend tour. It is hot, unbearably hot in August in Hanoi, and in spite of the fan, I mop sweat from my neck.
 
On the wall behind Tony I see a painting of a red horse against a black background. It’s a small painting but it stands out. The horse wears a cinch around its barrel chest and sloping neck. It is regal, a dancing, prancing stallion.
 
“Who painted the horse,” I want to know.

Tony looks up from his papers. “Ah, he is a famous painter, mentor to my painting teacher.”

“You paint?” I interrupt.

“No, not really.”
 
He brushes off my question and points to the artist’s several other paintings hanging in the office. They are bold. Thick black lines contrast with deep, sometimes bright colors. Each piece moves with energy.

Tony tells me he has many more paintings in his home, that he’ll take me to meet the artist.

“Tomorrow afternoon,” he says.

“Tomorrow afternoon,” I repeat, and as I walk through the crowded streets back to my hotel, it dawns on me that Tony is an artist living as a businessman. No wonder his tours are so beautiful and magical.
 
 
 
 

* * *

 
 
 
Pham Luc’s home is built in the typical Vietnamese style. Narrow and tall, like a shoebox turned on its end. The bottom floor is a one-car garage, then three floors of living space above. It is the first Vietnamese home I’ve been in that hasn’t been converted to a restaurant or shop. I have a feeling it’s a lot nicer than most Vietnamese homes, yet it’s also simple. Some furniture and a lot of art. Besides the bed and sitting area, plus a kitchen and bathroom, the rest of the house, it seems, is dedicated to Pham Luc’s paintings. Making them and storing them.
 
Pham Luc is having tea when we arrive. He is a compact man, not so much small as solid, as if he is accustomed to physical labor. His hair is black-black, just a hint of gray at the temples, and he has thick eyebrows and a thick mustache that seem to go together. I have no idea how old he is. Later, when asked to guess, I put him at about 55. I am way off.

A Vietnamese collector of his works is also there, drinking tea with Pham Luc. After introductions, Tony and I walk up the two flights of stairs to rooms filled with paintings. One small room holds nothing but works on framed canvas. Tony flips through them, occasionally pulling out ones he especially admires. A young Vietnamese woman who speaks no English appears at the door. She helps Tony move the paintings around so we can get a better look.

Another room is filled with even bigger pieces, some almost as tall and wide as the walls themselves. These are painted with lacquer on black board. They seem massive and wet, as if dripping still with layers of gold and red and black.

We spend a good amount of time upstairs, looking at the paintings, talking about themes. Pham Luc paints rural scenes, festivals, women and babies, old women, nudes reclining. There is no air-conditioning and by now I am sweating so much that I have used up the tissues I brought with me. Pham Luc’s assistant notices that my face and neck are wet; she leaves and returns with a napkin. Her skin is dry. The Vietnamese, I have concluded, do not sweat.
 
 
 
 

* * *

 
 
 
I could have spent a century in those rooms, looking from one painting to the next, trying to see how they change. If not for the heat, I could have spent forever trying to guess what his emotional state was when he went from yellows, pinks, and lime greens (elated) to browns and grays and navy blue (depressed).

I gather that he paints his moods, that, yes, he has a fundamental style (in fact, the book he gave me of pieces spanning three decades of his work shows as much) but that nothing about him is static.
 
We drink green tea, strong and bitter, and I try to keep up with the men, as if the tea were bourbon. Pham Luc mentions that he does not drink beer, and I get the feeling that it was a decision he was forced to make—beer or art?, art or beer?—at some point in his career.

But hot tea comes in pot-fulls, brought out by the assistant who doesn’t sweat, always in the same small teapot that looks like it’s made of jade.
 
Somewhere along the line, Pham Luc tells me he would like to paint me. Tony translates: “He wants to paint you and give you the painting to take home.” A small photo album is produced, and in it I see images of beaming Westerners standing next to their Pham Luc portraits. It is something he sometimes does, I later learn from watching a CD he sends home with me, in order to delight his visitors.

I’m game. (Isn’t it game, after all, that got me here?) I stay where I’m sitting, still dressed in the black blouse and white linen slacks that I wore to my day’s appointments. I look away from Tony and the collector, towards a flat screen TV and more paintings leaning against walls. The assistant comes in with paints and a large canvas stapled to a wooden easel, which Pham Luc props against a chair. He squats in front of the canvas, paints by his side, and he works quietly and quickly.

I don’t look at what he’s doing, partly for the same reason I hate looking at photos of myself and partly to not break the pose. Every now and then I turn to Tony and the collector so that I can ask them questions. They speak in Vietnamese, but Tony translates.

I learn that there is a Pham Luc Collectors Club, that some collectors have thousands of Pham Luc paintings, that his works are owned by ambassadors and dignitaries and people all over the world, and that he has had exhibitions in France, Italy, The Netherlands, Canada. They tell me he will come to Boston in 2010 and, maybe could I go?

If I stay facing Tony and the collector too long, Pham Luc asks me to turn my head back the other way.
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
My lips are fuller, cheekbones higher. I look French. I look beautiful, and it makes me feel beautiful to know he saw that in me. And for that I immediately love this compact man with the black mustache, and I love Vietnam even more than before, the North especially—erudite, intellectual, lovers of art.

He completed the painting in maybe 30 minutes, although now I can’t be sure. Looking back, time passed and I lost track of time. For example, I have no recollection of him smoking, although I have a photo of his pack of Camel cigarettes, the words SMOKING KILLS in block letters on the front. He must have lit up while I was there, I am sure of it, but I don’t recall being bothered by the smoke.

I do remember that after he finished the portrait and turned the canvas for us to see, we let out a collective gasp. Then Pham Luc walked to us, pointing to his arms and gesturing excitedly. The hair on his forearms stood on end; confused, I looked to Tony for translation.

“It’s good, it’s good,” Tony assured me, “it means the painting is great.”

For the moment, Pham Luc is pure energy.
 
Later, when I ask Tony in the taxi why Pham Luc would give me a painting, even after I pleaded to purchase it instead, he says it is because of the gift that I gave to Pham Luc. “He knows that now, after his visitors are gone, he will be able to paint.”
 
 
 

Pham Luc paints at night, during daytime, when awake at night, or even if he has just recovered between sicknesses and can sit up. The motivation behind his creation is like a karma, a curse of fate. If he can’t paint he will get sick and will be like a flu-infested chicken. Many times I saw him grubby in a mess of colors and lacquer as if haunted.
 
                    ~Dr. Nguyen Si Dung, from Painter Fạm Lực

 
 
 

* * *

 
 
 
It takes an hour, maybe two, for the painting to dry. We continue to sit and talk. At one point I look across to Pham Luc; he is holding a large white envelope close to his face, sketching a doodle of me. When he is done, he shows it to me. Another gift to take home. 

Later still, he walks over to a dresser and picks up a small piece of art done in lacquer on wood. I admire it, hand it back, and then Tony translates. “No, it’s for you.”

Then Pham Luc goes and gets two more and asks me to choose from among the three. They are nudes done in simple black lines on gold leaf. I like them all, but Tony and the collector have a strong opinion that I take one in particular, so I choose it.
 
We talk, drink more tea. Pham Luc gets up and again rummages around the room, notices behind one of the larger paintings a small, colorful portrait of himself on canvas. In the painting, he wears no shirt and holds a cigarette between his fingers. Again, he hands me the painting. A gift.

“Please,” I tell him, “please, it’s too much.”

He says something in Vietnamese, which Tony translates. “You are my friend, and I am his friend, so now you are his friend.”
 
I glance at the beautiful Roma on the large canvas that is still drying, and I marvel at my luck. Yes, luck! Karma, good fortune, call it whatever you want, but here I am sitting, talking, laughing, drinking tea, being painted, being feted with generosity and brilliance. I am a small thing basking in the light of a huge thing. Someone ordinary touched by someone extraordinary.
 
 
 

I am disabled but crazy about Pham Luc’s paintings. Many Vietnamese and foreign friends coming to my home to see my collection were amazed at the creations of Pham Luc. Many asked me why I collected so many paintings. I replied, “Each painting is a support for me to overcome handicap and integrate into life. His paintings give me confidence in life and aspiration to rise up. In my difficult times and in pain, I come to his paintings to seek consolation, sympathy and often find in them peace amidst the storms of life.”
 
                    ~Ngo Quang Tuan, from Painter Fạm Lực

 
 
 

* * *

 
 
 
Pham Luc was born in 1943 in the village of Hue. He was a soldier and painter in Vietnam’s People’s Army, documenting the scenes he saw. From the books and brochures I have about him, I understand he became a major in the army, but always he was a painter. He told me that the reason he is not married—he’s been divorced twice—is that his wives did not understand his need to constantly paint.
 
There is a painting upstairs in one of the rooms, of a woman with a rifle, behind her a water buffalo. The colors are muted but the overall effect is of activism. Pham Luc painted the piece in 1986, and Tony and I found it behind other, more recent works. Before I leave Pham Luc’s home, I ask the assistant to bring it down so that I might look at it again. There are many beautiful paintings here, but always my eyes go back to the woman with the rifle.

I buy the painting from Pham Luc. For a song.
 
 
 

He doesn’t need money. He spends all his money on charities, his children, and buying gold, silver, lacquer and colors. So what does he need? To build his fame? May be, but may be not. In fact, he is already very famous. Many people know him and admire him. Ambassadors in Hanoi buy his paintings and make friends with him. So the answer to his efforts lies in his passion. Because he can’t do otherwise.
 
                     ~Dr. Nguyen Si Dung, from Painter Fạm Lực

 
 
 

* * *

 
 
 

Sòn d âù, (I hope that spelling is correct), 32×24 inches, 1986, image © 1986-2009
by Pham Luc, photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
I am deeply grateful to Tony Pham and to Pham Luc. The three hours I spent with the two of them that day in early August are among the best memories I have of Vietnam, of travel abroad, and of life experiences, period. In Tony, I found a kindred spirit, an artist inside his heart, and someone whose love of art infuses his daily work. In Pham Luc, I found kindness, happiness, and what it means to give of oneself.
 
 
 

He was born in a poor countryside in a deprived village in the Central region of Vietnam and used to be a soldier fighting in the wars. He lives and paints with qualities of a farmer and Uncle Ho soldier. These qualities have become his humane belongings. No wonder many people sympathize with, love, and are crazy for his art. He is so happy!
 
                    ~An Chuong, from Painter Fạm Lực

 
 
 
 

* * *

 
 
 
 

GALLERY 

 
These are works that I photographed during my visit. They are my favorites among the many that I saw that day. I do not have names, dates, nor sizes for any of the paintings. They all appear to be oil on canvas, and almost all of them are fairly large. They are reprinted here with the artist’s permission.

 
 
 
 
     
 
 
                                     
 
 
   
 
 
                                                           


                    


                            
 
 
 

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