Artist’s Dozen

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So when I create art I have this thing about crafting a dozen pieces in a series.  It has to be twelve for some reason and when it’s not I feel a little bit like the the TV detective Monk – a little OCD-ish about it.  You can imagine what this is like for me when I sell only one out of a series and I’m left with stupid eleven.  It is, I don’t know – I’m weird, let’s just put that out there right now.

If you watch New Girl on Fox, you would have caught the last episode where Jessie explains about how we all have stupid stuff wrong with us – we’re all weird.  It’s a wonder anyone ever finds anyone to love, really. (Or am I the only one who identified with that episode?)

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These pieces are meant to be purchased together, so they are technically one work of art even though I signed each one for some reason.  They are 12″ x 12″ canvases, layered with thick canvas and painted with latex paint.

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I traced a heart stencil I hand-made and cut up all sorts of textures to attach resulting in individually unique hearts.  I added playing cards, suede and other fabric, and photographs from old calendars – Pre-Raphaelite imagery as well as Harry Potter film photos and international pictures from Paris, Greece, Scotland, Venice…and maps.

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I don’t travel at all but I feel like a traveler in a way because my artwork can go anywhere in the world and I can feel transported by it. I almost can’t believe how many people from different countries have viewed this website, by the way.  People from every continent.  I assure you that I have no cousins in South America or Africa.  I really need to get a passport and put myself out there for real, but then I would probably want all my pages stamped in the united colors of the over fifty countries represented here.

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The finished hearts are stitched with embroidery floss then I added collage items – checkers, Scrabble pieces, wooden spools, tinker toys, buttons, sea glass and coins.  Each is a separate entity but when together they tell a story, like always, a puzzle of my life or yours, or whoever embodies them/buys them and adds their own interpretation.

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The one above now resides in a friend’s house and I can’t tell you in words what that means to me because it is poetically emotional in a way I just cannot express.  It’s supercalifragilistically amazing when someone else cares for my work as much as I do.  If you want one of these sets, let me know.  I think I have five of them ($600 for a set of twelve).

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Cards in the Corner

Here are pictures from my art exhibit last week!

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I sell the 5″ x 7″ cards for $5 each.  They can be framed or used as  greeting cards and mailed.  (They are blank inside).

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They take hours to make so in terms of being paid what I’m worth?  Lol.  People seem to equate time with money.  Non-artists frequently ask me how long it takes me to make an abstract painting, as though it should cost a lot less than realism even though there are a million Bob Ross types who sell “realistic” landscape paintings made without reference materials.

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The answer, naturally, is it took me my whole life.  My whole life to figure out that I had a style, a body of work that represents me as an artist and as a person.

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The cards contain stitched fabric and paper – some watercolors, some oils, and all of my favorite collage items – coins, stamps, sea shells, sea glass, playing cards, leather bits.  I love the smell of leather or as my colleague at work and I call it, leathaaaaaaaaaaa!

They are among my favorites of my body of work because they engage all the senses.

These types of art shows are mainly for the experience, the social aspect, the putting yourself out there business of being an artist and rarely about sales.  My mother generously spent the day with me so it was more about hanging out with her and laughing and eating roast beef sandwiches.

 

Grape Art Expectations

Now that school is in full swing, I’ve become a blog slacker.  I feel bad about that because I had made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t be a quitter and then, you know how that goes, life happens, and all sorts of junk takes up the space of what was supposed to be art time.

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I’m in a full stop pattern with regard to creating new artwork with the exception of art samples of lessons I create for my students.  This is such a weird thing.  Like a music teacher who doesn’t sing or a gym teacher who doesn’t exercise.  Drawing becomes this foreign language that has the magical capacity to come back to me (like riding a bike) when I do a demonstration in class and that is always a little weirdly wizard-like.

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It’s not that I no longer believe in myself as an artist.  Last night I finally watched that movie filmed here in Syracuse – Adult World, about a girl who thinks she is going to be the next great poet and I have to say I found myself identifying with John Cusak’s professor character so much.  Yes, it’s great to believe in yourself but not everyone is going to be great on the first try was his mantra even though he had become a well-known poet in his youth.  I’ve been making art for many years but I am certainly no financial role model, no great business woman, and so I mostly give away my artwork, art that truth-be-told was made for myself as another character in that movie stated about his own, and not with the intent that someone else would get it and in the process get me, despite what I may have said in previous blog posts, lol.  So I guess that makes me both the successful and the emerging artist simultaneously.

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I’ve had many art shows in the past, peddling my paintings all over the place, wherever opportunity smiled at me.  My watercolors were particularly of interest outside of this area possibly due to their formal principles-led abstract expressionist style.  I sold four to one person visiting Syracuse from NYC several years ago when they were on exhibit at Pastabilities Restaurant here in Armory Square, four or five to a friend from Connecticut, many to my patrons in South Florida, several during a stint with a gallery in Rockville, Maryland and this one in Boston.  For a year about ten years ago or so, I was the house artist for a hair salon (known as the Best of Boston according to Vogue magazine at the time) James Joseph Salon. http://www.jamesjosephsalon.com/

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As I reflect on these photographs, I can’t even remember which pieces I’ve sold or given away as gifts and which are still in my possession.  They are all currently wrapped in brown paper and stored away in a hidey-hole.  Such is the way of the world for an artist with a lot of inventory who, for a self-professed organized person, keeps lousy records.

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My www.linkedin.com activity has summoned another opportunity though, and many of these pieces will see the light of day and maybe even get a chance to live on the walls of strangers’ homes instead of cluttering up my limited storage space.  I was invited to participate in an event called Grape Expectations, a wine tasting benefit to raise money for Catholic Charities of Oswego, NY.  It’s happening Sunday, September 28th, 2014 from 3-6 pm at the River Vista in Fulton, New York.  Kathy’s Cakes will cater and Canvas Moon’s going to perform.  Tickets are $25.

http://www.ccoswego.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Catholic-Charities-Fundraiser2014.pdf

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It will probably blow my mind if someone comes up to me and says, “I read your blog” or something to the effect that acknowledges I am in some way successfully navigating a marketing strategy that will catapult me from rock bottom to someplace else.  But of course, you can only go up once you hit bottom and that is the kind of optimistic course I choose to plot while wearing my Dorothy costume and humming Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

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Heart of the Matter

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After cleaning the house – vacuuming, dusting, Windex, etc., I sat back on the sofa to admire my work.  You know the feeling, when the house is camera ready and you fantasize it looks good enough for the pages of an interior decorating magazine.

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When you live in a small space, even though everything has a place, it will still read cluttered to a minimalist.  But to me at that moment in my little corner of the world, that  feeling of pride for my place filled me with a kind of home-sweet-home bliss.

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I worked with this science teacher who had animal bones and carcasses, and taxidermied things all around his classroom, many dangling from the ceiling, like something out of a horror movie.  I had to substitute for him once and in my mind, I could hear the screechingly haunting scream-music from the movie Psycho as I turned and locked my eyes on the individual grossness of each object.

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So there I was staring at my own artwork covering literally every wall of my home and I noticed that my art is virtually littered with hearts.  I didn’t realize, you know what I mean?  Evidently, I am obsessed with hearts and consequently, with the idea of love in all forms.  I’m in love with love.  I love to love.  I love things, fashion, foods, exercise, art.  I love  friendship, intimacy…and  romance too, of course; who doesn’t?  I say I love you a lot.  Or I love this or that or I’m in love with stuff pretty much all the time to the point that some of my students have labelled me a creeper.  And some say I love you back.

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I can imagine what adults who don’t easily love would think of the overabundance of heart motif on every wall of my home.  I’m like a love psycho.

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Paper collage, oil paintings, encaustic….it’s really all about the heart in here!

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Artists see beauty all around them.  There is beauty in symmetry and in rhythm, and texture.  My perception of the world is that it is a beautiful place.  I’m lucky that I get paid to color all day.  It might seem frivolous to people who are close-minded to aesthetics, and I have to say I feel sad for them.  Because life is a lot more fun with love in your heart and with hearts all around you to remind you of it.  To remind you to love. ❤

Good Fortune, 11" x 14", 2012, $100
Good Fortune, 11″ x 14″, 2012, $100

Go To Your Happy Place, Ms. Tash

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I’ve been thinking about this paint landscapes thing, which led me to bring my camera on my last “walk about”.  Here are some pictures I took at Green Lakes.  It is a New York State park not far from my home.  I’m there nearly every day because I ❤ it there.  There are two lakes:  Green Lake and Round Lake.  They are meromictic, which means the water on top doesn’t mix with the water on the bottom or something.  Formed by glaciers and seemingly mysterious.  Very, very deep.  I’ve heard that Round Lake is bottomless or maybe just so super deep that it can’t be measured easily.  Something like that.

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It takes about an hour to walk around both lakes, about 3 1/2 miles of time to think, meditate, clear your head, enjoy nature, etc.  The other day as I walked this little kid stopped me and asked me if there were coyotes in the woods, and I said probably.  That was mean.  I don’t know why I scared that kid like that.  I’ve never seen a coyote.  Doesn’t it just look like a dog?  How scary can it be to humans? I don’t know.  I’ve seen other critters – turtles, snakes, owls, deer, fox, groundhogs, and lots of squirrels and chipmunks….

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It’s really beautiful there.  The water is more turquoise than green I think, and it is probably my favorite color even though I don’t particularly use it in my paintings, in home decor or wear it in a garment.   I don’t think pictures do the place justice to tell you the truth, but at the same time, I can’t see myself ever doing a literal translation of these photographs and the fifteen or twenty more I took that day.  Maybe as an art project for school, but I think that it would be better if students used their own compositions and probably more amazing if there was a way to do a plein-air field trip.

But that is just a fantasy because when you teach eighteen or more students at once, things take way longer than you think they would if you were doing it yourself.  For example, it takes me about 20 minutes to capture someone’s essence in a portrait drawing – pencil only or crayons only, which is fun to do at parties until it gets too weird and you end up feeling like a hired clown.  It takes middle school students about three weeks to do the same work.  You kind of learn how to organize your class lessons after a while of teaching, learn how much they can accomplish in a given period of time – just saying if there are any Art Ed students reading this.

I went to high school with Syracuse artist Michael Cody.  He is known for his Green Lakes paintings, which he has done in both oil and acrylics.  He showed them in the library art gallery at my school and did a talk that illustrated the fact that George Benedict was a great art teacher, because a lot of what he talked about regarding composition and mixing paint was information I have taught to my students that came from the horse’s mouth (Mr. B.), and so he really kind of reinforced what I had been teaching.  Of course, that does not always happen with other artists who have spoken to my students.  Sometimes there is a giant difference of opinion regarding the vernacular of art.

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I have this thing about figure and ground vs. negative and positive space.  I only use  negative and positive to describe form in a work of sculpture (the negative space is the void) and refer to figure and ground when discussing two-dimensional works.  A lot of art education has to do with how you were taught, as though all of the college stuff goes out the window for some reason when you teach.  This isn’t just me talking, I read it in a bunch of research papers when I took a graduate course two years ago and again when I worked on my papers for National Board Certification this past year.  I feel lucky I had great art teachers when I was growing up, but then again, someone else in the art world would be more than willing to dispute my knowledge and share their knowledge/expertise/opinions when given a platform.

So here are some paintings by Michael Cody.

Green Lake Point by Michael J. Cody

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It would have been so cool if I had photos of the exact same locations – like in a perfect world I would be the super blogger of the universe, but, oh well.  I think you can see that it is the same place only so much better in Michael’s work.  Aren’t they so good?

I don’t know if he is represented in a gallery.  I will have to let him know I shared these here and he can give out the details of how you can contact him.  He is the real deal.

As for me?  My abstract landscapes are still hanging in the Sullivan Library in Chittenango, NY.  They will be there until the end of August.  I was lucky that their August person cancelled because as I told you before, I just think one month shows seem too short.  So there are a couple more weeks if you want to see them.

I’ve booked the next person for the school library show and it is Karen Kozicki.  She’s a photographer.  I’m so excited to work with her.  Booked the show a year ago!  We are meeting at the end of August to install.  There’s still plenty of summer left before then and plenty of days to enjoy the lake.

It’s definitely my happy place.  Hands down.

 

Creating Links

I joined www.linkedin.com.  It’s like Facebook, but without all the personal stuff.  People only post things regarding their jobs.  I connected with a lot of people I don’t really know because it tells you that someone is a shared connection with someone else so you just press connect and they usually accept.   There are groups you can join so I joined a bunch of art and art marketing ones.

What I learned is that for every opinion about how to do something, from making art to selling it, there is a counter opinion and factions of people who start arguing opinions, and soon we have an occupation with no concrete way to assess it.  It reminds me of the family that airs their dirty laundry in public.  Art and artists seem to make other people uncomfortable.  I get the sense that people don’t respect art as a profession.  Mainly because they don’t understand it.

Non-artists need concrete information to understand things and the truth is, there is concrete information, but some people, including artists, just don’t know it.  A woman had asked one group to share how they know a work of art is a quality work.  I said I use the art criticism format – description/detail, formal principles of art, and emotional content.  She replied that she was surprised (read appalled) that details should go first.  I’m all, what?  The order is just the format used in the textbook I use at school called Art Talk.  I am surprised that more professional artists don’t know how to criticize art properly – how do they know if their own art is good?

The problem is that some people do not give equal weight to the three components (ultimately four because using the other three you determine if the artwork is successful, the fourth component being judgment).  This woman felt that emotion was the key to art and should have top billing.  (Later she revealed that she was, in fact, a self-taught artist).  Naturally, people in mathematics or the sciences, or any kind of non-art related business don’t think highly of emotionalism.  These are the people who call artists artsy-fartsy.  It’s all just very frustrating.

I connected with a gallery owner through Linkedin who viewed this website then asked me to bring a few things to the gallery so he could see them in person.  Naturally, I was very excited that it took only a day to receive an opportunity and I felt like the universe was finally cutting me a break.  When I did meet with him with a bin of paper collage pieces and two 18” x 18” paintings in tow lugged through the rain, he proceeded to share his opinion of why he didn’t think my artwork would sell in his gallery or this town for that matter, which was to do with price-point, materials, subject matter and pretty much my entire aesthetic.  His advice was I should find out what the customer wants and make that.  Landscapes would be a good choice, he said.

Funny that, because a few months ago, one of my students told me she was going to have a booth at the Ozstravaganza Fest in Chittenango, NY.  I asked her what she was going to sell.  She said she planned to take some fantasy drawings and make them into prints.  I told her she should draw Dorothy and the other Wizard of Oz characters.  That’s what people will be looking for – because locals tend to forget that this festival is international.  People do find their way to that yellow brick road from all over the US and Canada and I think there were even people from the UK there this year!  After the event, she told me she’d taken my advice, made the Oz art and ended up making over $500!  Not bad for a thirteen-year-old, right?

So, I understand the gallery owner’s advice.  I’d given the exact same advice myself to successful results.  When I told the Oz/student story to my dad he said, “Why didn’t you do that?”

I think you know the answer to that.  I can’t do that.  I can’t make art that satisfies a need.  Not now, not ever.  I’m peddling the art I’ve already made, not trashing it in favor of a fickle customer’s whim.  My whole belief system regarding art is that you put a piece of yourself in everything you make, kind of like a Horcrux in Harry Potter but without the negative part.  You educate the potential customer about who you are…and they see you.  They understand you, connect with you and believe in you.  I feel like I am speaking a visual language, one you may or may not understand fully, but you might walk away feeling like you know enough and fill in the rest with your own context.

Yesterday at my sister’s garage sale, I sold four paintings.  (Needless to say, I proved that gallery owner wrong – I can sell work in this town!)  I sold one of my encaustic horse paintings to an elementary school-aged boy.   I explained to him my decision to mount the work onto chalkboard painted masonite.  The intent is that the new owner could write on the board with chalk, maybe draw horses themselves or name the horse – really anything.  And in this way, he would be contributing to the meaning of the work and we would essentially be making art together.  I feel that art makes that transformation even without an actual physical change – once it leaves the artist, it takes on new meaning, the one its new owner attributes to it. For example, a playing card can mean gambling or it can have something to do with fortune telling.  Most likely it is a symbol of the spirit of gaming, which may be a nod to childhood, bringing along with it happy memories.  And a horse is a horse, of course, of course.

I want to believe that I am right about all of this.  Well, I am right.  I’m just not making hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove it.  But this woman is.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/04/story_n_5440513.html

She was a music teacher but something possessed her to start painting.  An empty wall in her house provoked her to think she could paint well enough to fill the space.  This led to her quitting her job and painting full time.  She then kept going to see a Manhattan art dealer for critiques.  The dealer’s advice was to paint something that no one else paints.  Be unique.  She kept at it for months until she happened upon a cityscape idea that the dealer liked and now she’s selling paintings for $100,000 each.

When I told my dad, he asked, “Is this a real story?”

I’m like, “Yeah.”

So he said, “Why don’t you do that?”

I don’t watch Glee and I’ve never actually seen the High School Musical trilogy, but I am forever breaking out in song at work.  I don’t seem to care that I am not a trained singer and never participated in chorus once I hit middle school.  Someone will say something that triggers the first lines of a song I know the words to, and off I go in what I believe to be the same perfect pitch Mrs. Firth said I had at Tecumseh Elementary circa the early 1970s.  I like the idea that life could be a musical, so maybe I will find success in music.  Wouldn’t that be funny if me and this lady criss-crossed and I became an unlikely pop star?

But that would mean that no one should go to school for art or music.  And that’s the other debate I’m finding on social media.  The factions of self taught artists are against formal training because they think it’s hokum while the educated artists virtually roll their eyes.  I think you know where I stand on this matter, being that I teach art and believe in the creative process, as well as a strong need to develop creative thinkers for all career professionals.  The time-traveler in me doesn’t plan to go back and reverse my decision to become a trained artist any time soon.

 

Jasper’s Legacy

There is this book called Why Cats Paint.

http://www.amazon.com/Why-Cats-Paint-Theory-Aesthetics/dp/0898156122

In it, the author presents a number of cats throughout the world who put their paws in paint and create abstract art.  I bought the book as a joke.  I had it for several years before I sat down and read the text.  What’s great about it is it’s written in a serious manner, like a master’s thesis, with various theories and evidence of proof to support them.  It’s hilarious but also brilliant, especially the part where the author convincingly suggests the cats are actually painting representationally.  That if you turn it all upside down you can spot clear contour line imagery much like they do on that show Ancient Aliens when they are trying to convince you that some stone mountain in South America is really an Egyptian sphinx.

Sometimes the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park’s animals make art that they auction off to raise money and there is a tiger who is an abstract expressionist master.  Her name is either Tanya or Tatiana – huge paw prints with the perfect juxtaposition of complementary colors.  Crazy, really.

Sunday was Jasper’s birthday and next Tuesday is his death day.  He was fourteen when he died.  I grew up with cats as pets but Jasper was the first pet I took care of all on my own.  He represented almost my entire career at work at that time (save the first year) and as well, he was the same age as the students I had just taught that school year.

He had cancer and I had to put him down, something I thought I would never ever do to an animal.  Never wanted to do.  It still haunts me.  He was alive in my arms when I kissed him good-bye and then I had him killed.  Everyone said I had done the right thing.  I saw the MRI.  Cancer appears as white spots on it and his whole body was pretty much snowflakes.  He was very ill.  He’d stopped eating and although the specialist said he was not in pain, I knew that pain was imminent.  I didn’t want him to suffer.

I just loved him so much.

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I found him at the Humane Association on Taft Road in Liverpool, NY.  I had called ahead looking for a tiger tabby.  I already knew I would call him Jasper after Jasper Johns.  He had been brought there one day prior and was sitting inside a milk crate.  If you have ever been there, at least it was like this in the ’90s, you would know that the cat area is one large room with cats of all ages roaming freely.  Smaller kittens were in cages.  Jasper was a kitten too but he was fifteen weeks old and about four pounds.

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I didn’t see him at first because I was busy trying to get a giant monkey-like black cat off my back.  It was clinging to my wool coat with monster claws.  I managed to escape and walked up to Jasper.  I picked him up and said, “Are you my kitty?”  I put him down and waited to see what he’d do.  I kind of walked away and he approached  me.  When other kittens his size did the same (I believe they were his brothers because I was told he came in with four others from his litter), Jasper hissed at them forcing them to scatter.

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I walked to the exit and checked to see if he would follow me.  He did and that was that.  Because I noticed that he had target markings on his fur!  Definitely a sign that we were meant to be.

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Karen Tashkovski, Roi, 30" x 30", 2000, oil, latex & collage, $675
Karen Tashkovski, Roi, 30″ x 30″, 2000, oil, latex & collage, $675

I made the bulk of my artwork during the Jasper years.  The cat paintings from the Echo/Rune series and Dream Time series were obviously peppered with Jasper references, both Jasper the man and Jasper the cat.  Lots of target markings and neutral colors, as well as stenciling and found object additions.

Rune-11, 18" x 18", 2005, mixed media
Rune-11, 18″ x 18″, 2005, mixed media, $200

I created hundreds of watercolors too.  Growing up I had a cat named Tiny who planted his foot in a watercolor painting I did in college, but Jasper never once wanted to paint.

Echo-3, 18" x 18", 2005, mixed media
Echo-3, 18″ x 18″, 2005, mixed media, $200

He was extremely feisty.  That hissing incident when we first met was not an isolated one.  He used to hiss at everyone except me.  Once he jumped on my sister’s friend (as she sat on my sofa) and bit her on the head.  The technician at the vet’s told me that she and Jasper were “blood-brothers”.  Yep, he did bite a lot too.  A lot a lot, and I was not the exception.  I still have scars on my arms to prove it.  Scarification, it turns out, was his art form.

Touch, 9" x 12", 2001, mixed media
Touch, 9″ x 12″, 2001, mixed media, $75

I have two cats now.  They are very cuddly and loving.  They do not hiss or bite.  More docile than feisty for sure.  I don’t know if they will turn out to be artists.  They are polydactyls, Georges (named for Georges Braque) with six toes on one foot and seven on the other and Pablo (Picasso, naturally) with five on each and both with nails intact; so with those giant tootsie paws they could well become the stars of the next Why Cats Paint if there is another edition planned.  They are already turning the wicker baskets into deconstructed confetti heaps, so, maybe sculpture is their thing.

Karen Tashkovski, Ruby, 11" x  7 1/2", 2001, mixed media paper collage, $50
Karen Tashkovski, Ruby, 11″ x 7 1/2″, 2001, mixed media paper collage, $50

 

Karen Tashkovski, Play, 18" x 24", 2000, oil, latex & collage, $500
Karen Tashkovski, Play, 18″ x 24″, 2000, oil, latex & collage, $500

 

 

 

 

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