Thursday, August 13, 2015

An Update of Sorts -- or What You Will

I've been engaged elsewhere and otherwise for the past few weeks. It's been sort of a hiatus, and also not so much of one.

There are a number of moving parts:

1) Joint inflammation issues. I've been experiencing some severe joint inflammation issues lately that can make it difficult for me to type -- or walk or raise my arms or do any number of normal activities. I thought it was "just" arthritis, but my doctor thinks it might be some kind of auto-immune issue depending on how it progresses. For a couple of months it was an episodic thing, but now it seems to be chronic. So far, Motrin controls the pain fairly well, but even now, I'm experiencing pretty bad pain in my right hand even with the Motrin. So, there's that.

2) I've been doing a lot of sketching lately, something I haven't done for years and years. I think the urge to sketch -- eventually to paint -- is driven partly by those joint issues ("better do it now before you're not able to!") and partly by a desire to make an artistic record of phenomena we see in our little valley here in New Mexico that I have not seen anywhere else, and which I have not seen depicted by any other artist. I call them "glories" but they're actually segments of rainbows, sometimes very short segments that hang in the air almost magically and then fade away. Sometimes they return much brighter than before, too. There have been occasions when segments of double rainbows have occurred as well.

Full rainbows are relatively rare here, I think it because of the mountains that limit sunlight falling on rain squalls, but I could be wrong.

I've also been doing "icon-like" images of St. Francis. I've long had an interest in St. Francis and have considered him to be my patron saint, though in reality St. Ambrose is, but that's another issue.

Francis appeals to me for a whole range of reasons, including his rebelliousness and his devotion to a version of Christianity that is almost Buddhist. At any rate, I discovered some time  back that finding images of St. Francis, especially retablos, in New Mexico was difficult, indeed almost impossible at various times and places. One finds images of San Isidro and San Pasquale far more often than San Francisco. San Antonio and San Jose are depicted more frequently than San Francisco. And I thought it was odd because the Cathedral in Santa Fe is dedicated to St. Francis; it's on San Francisco St., the Franciscans were the initial missionaries in New Mexico; their martyrdom (so to speak) in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 is commemorated annually, and yet it can be very difficult to find images of St. Francis in New Mexico. I don't know why.

A couple of Sundays ago, we went to Spanish Market in Santa Fe. One of the artists there was Nick Otero, a very highly regarded santero and a casual acquaintance/friend of ours. He said he had brought a couple of dozen items to market and sold almost all of them within an hour or so of opening on Saturday. I was there on Sunday, and he had only a few items left, so I looked through his photo albums and found a couple of St. Francis retablos he'd done in previous years. He said he he didn't bring any St. Francis santos this year, though he usually does. Well, I had already decided that if he had any this year -- and he had any left on Sunday -- I'd be willing to pay a pretty penny for one. But no, he didn't, so that was not an option. I could commission a St. Francis retablo from him and might do so in the by and bye, but that day, I decided to look through the market and see what I could find.

As usual, St. Francis was rarely depicted by the santeros displaying their works, San Pasquale and San Isidro far outnumbering the St. Francis santos. Then I came upon Adam M. Romero's booth. He's a santero from Espanola, and his work was very appealing, though it is much simpler than Nick Otero's. He had perhaps three St. Francis retablos among the dozens on his table, and one of them (with blue birds) appealed to me greatly, but I wanted to look around a little more and asked that he hold on to that one until my return. He agreed, and I went on through the market -- finding no other St. Francis that was so appealing.

When I got back to his booth, that St. Francis was still there, though he said a couple of people had wanted to buy it in my absence, but he'd held it for me. I thought that was awfully nice, whether it was true or not. We chatted for a bit, and I found him to be quite an interesting santero whose work I will be paying much more attention to in the future.

So now that St. Francis retablo graces our entry hall,

along with all sorts of Native American, Anglo and "other" art. He seems right at home. We have perhaps a half dozen or so St. Francis images in the shrine in the Jesus Room and two statues out front, one in the pyracantha (which I believe is a plant associated with St. Francis) and one by the front door as a protector of sorts. He scares away the Mormons and Witnesses (heh.)

But the overall rarity of St. Francis images in New Mexico is still striking (it was not always so; at one time, he was the third most often depicted devotional image, but no more). I thought if there were so few St. Francis images, maybe I should try to create some of my own. It's something I've been approaching gradually, trying out various methods and imagery so far without reaching the kind of imagery I'm looking for, but experimenting with a variety of "looks" if you will. My own sense of St. Francis includes images of the sun and the moon, birds, the San Damiano Cross and what I call a "stairway to heaven." In some of the images I've done, there are also skulls, though I'm not sure I'll keep them in later images.

An artist I greatly admire, Harry Fonseca, did a whole series of St. Francis images that were essentially silhouettes of the saint together with the "attributes" he found important/intriguing, and Fonseca's approach, though not that of a santero, is one I really like. So I did one silhouette version that may turn into the basis of future images. Except for being a silhouette, it's not like Fonseca's at all. For example, all of my St. Francis images so far are in the tau pose, something very rarely depicted by artists, but according to the stories and some of the Church's iconography, very important to understanding St. Francis and his mission. Fonseca never used it that I know of, and I've never seen a retablo with that pose, though bultos (small sculptures, often out of willow or other tree branches) are often in tau-like poses.

We'll see where it goes...

3) Ms Ché has decided to return to college at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe to get a BFA degree in Creative Writing. In fact, she just left for orientation (a little late as it happened, so I'm sure she'll make an entrance when she gets there!) She'll probably have to do two years of regular classes. She has an AA acquired long ago and a paralegal certificate, but she never got a BA or BFA -- because at the time she might have gone to UC Berkeley where she was accepted, she couldn't afford it, and a BA or higher degree wasn't needed either for her theater work or for the legal work she later did.

But now she says she wants a degree in Creative Writing and she wants it from IAIA, the institute she was encouraged to apply to -- but didn't -- decades ago. We've been supporters and donors to IAIA since we moved to New Mexico in 2012, and we've become quite close to the institution and some of its students and faculty since then. So it seemed natural for her to apply this past spring. She was accepted and applied for scholarships. Lo and behold, yesterday she was informed that she's been approved for three scholarships which will essentially provide her with a full-ride, tuition and most fees paid. Wow. She had no idea and didn't expect it.

So, she's been preparing since her acceptance, and left a few minutes ago for her initial orientation. The campus is about 50 miles away, and it will be an interesting commute -- especially in the winter. She's been looking forward to it -- to say the least.

She will be an "elder." Quite likely the oldest student in the Creative Writing program, if not the oldest student on campus, and by the time she graduates in a couple of years will be one of the oldest graduates the Institute has ever had, certainly older than the oldest graduate this past spring.

That event -- the May IAIA graduation ceremony we attended that started in a snow-storm! -- was the trigger for her determination to go back to college. It was an inspirational event, and she felt strongly that it was a call to her to return for her own degree. So. There it is.

[It turns out that a lot of the college credits Ms Ché has earned over the years aren't transferable to the  Creative Writing BFA program, so she's not able to start IAIA as a Junior. They are anticipating that she'll have to attend three years rather than two years of classes. So... she's applying for another scholarship "just in case."]

In the meantime, the killing spree the police have been on in this country seems to have increased alarmingly. The rate is now around 4 a day, far too often for any civilized society, and given the details of many killings, the police appear to be out of control, determined simply to kill at will with no accountability or consequence, defying the calls from protesters and much of the public to desist.

I'm hopeful that the spike is temporary and is the prelude to a significant reduction in police killings, but I can't be sure. There are so many forces at work to enable rather than restrict police killings.

So far, no politician with a national presence has made the simple call to stop the killing. Not one. Not Bernie, not Hillary, not Martin, and not one of the many Rs in the contest for the White House. No Senator has said stop the killing. Nor has any House member I'm aware of. The DoJ has not done so, either.

To me, this is a shameful indictment of the so-called System.

It's time to change it.


  1. I really like your partial rainbow sketch. That vaporous sky and land and the spot of colored light, so beautiful.

  2. I was just going to say what lea-p said. Lovely. Do keep at it, Che!

    Sorry to hear about the pains. Not sure what to offer but sympathy, lots of it, and the hope that you can continue to write and draw for ages and ages to come.


  3. Gracias. I like playing with color and light but right now it's just sketching on a fairly small scale. Sometimes the realities of color and light in the area where we live can be overwhelming tho!

    As for those pains... well, all I can say is "one copes." Learning to live with it.

    Good wishes to you both!