Monday, August 4, 2014

Fertile Grounds

The season's first Katydid is not a shy one -- she isn't one to fold herself into green blades of stiltgrass, no -- Two days now I've found her sunning, barely pretending to hide beneath a curl unfolding at the Dahlia's heart:

I love the way that carmine optically vibrates against her Granny Smith green, so suggestive of the crunchy waves of vibratory sound the katydids produce in August -- against the walnut trees' silently fading leaves, prematurely falling, thinning the shade.

It's been a remarkable summer in the Mid-Atlantic, more like New England summers, with sweaters and light quilts never entirely out of reach. I accomplished some replanting of my neglected gardens earlier in the season, and have not once had to water my plants!

My summer has folded some things away, and unfolded others. I had a fantastic studio visit with a friend who passed through; I enjoyed inspiring visits with a couple other artists -- all whom I met originally on Facebook, amazingly. I'm still hoping to manage a few more before the summer ends and there will be other demands on my time. 

I took a walk after one studio visit, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where we visited my grandmother often in my childhood, in the house where my mother grew up on Leonard Street. The street, when I was a child, would have been spilling with neighbors visiting on their stoops on such a fine day in June, children playing on the sidewalks. But when I was there some weeks ago, it was deserted. I walked on Manhattan Avenue and Greenpoint Avenue, remembering my solitary walks there when I got tired of hanging around with Grandma and Nana and my mother in the railroad flat, remembering coming up from the subway with Grandma, or going to the bank, or church. I could still see some vestiges of the Polish heritage of that neighborhood (though my mother's side was Irish), hyphenated by hipsters in their white "ear pods." I stared at the facade of my mother's home, and remembered the smell when we used to enter through the now-locked doors into the vestibule. One day I hope to be hanging there when someone emerges who might let me in to see if that smell is still there... 

Here's a photo between the church and school yard, which I found poignantly suggestive of changes that have altered the cityscape.

The first artist I visited, Gudrun Mertes-Frady, gave me a generous and breath-taking tour of her work, to which I link here -- but be advised that these oil paintings reward close attention in real life; the photo on a computer screen is a mere approximation of her impressive accomplishment. It was a delight to finally meet Gudrun and to see her work, which I love.

More recently, I visited a painter I've also admired for some time, in her new studio in the MANA Contemporary complex in Jersey City, a beautiful and rapidly-developing facility with big aspirations to match the big and mind-expanding spaces it offers! Fran Shalom and I had our first in-person visit, although we'd run into one another in the city at gallery openings a few times. I have long admired her paintings, which are of a vein of colorful and compositional abstraction that I relate to most of all, with references to other painters I enjoy and admire, among them Thomas Nozkowski, also from New Jersey, who now resides in New York.

I'm always shy about photographing artists in their studio, and usually regret that, as I do now. But here's a photo of the Mana complex as I was leaving. There are a few galleries open to the public there, by tour, and public open days are scheduled a few times a year -- it is well worth keeping that on your radar and visiting when you can. The experience of the approach through the clot of Highway 1 & 9, into the abandoned industrial zone, and through the doors to enter a space that reflects soaring ambitions and vision -- it is alone something to behold.

The artist who visited me in my Lambertville, NJ studio is Altoon Sultan, with whom I have developed a valued friendship, mostly online, with occasional rendezvous in the city, visiting art shows together. Altoon will have a show at McKenzie Fine Art in the Lower East Side this fall, and all of us who know her are very excited to see her diverse works presented in that beautiful (and well-attended) space! 
Altoon demonstrated a remarkable stamina in her visit to my studio, taking in my own diverse output, old work, new work, paintings, drawings and collages.
It was a wonderful way to embark on my current project this summer, which is to focus on starting things -- I'm still working on paper, the marvelous Arches Huile, while also preparing and gessoing new panels and canvasses for later. After finishing two new pieces in July, I decided to just work on starting a number of new pieces, to put them aside and just start some more.

I'm really enjoying this process -- more than I've ever enjoyed beginning new work before, I daresay -- and I expect it to serve me well when September arrives, with other commitments, including a pretty demanding season for my chorus and chamber chorus, Princeton Pro Musica. For now, instead of rehearsals on Tuesday nights, I am attending Princeton's US 1 Poets meetings this summer, and working on poems that I am currently writing or which have accumulated over the past year. 

It's been slow as usual for me, but productive. I'll be sharing more about all that in upcoming posts.
Thanks for your visit!


  1. A beautiful post, Ravenna. It was such a pleasure for me to see your work in person: so much of what is going on with the painting surface is lost in a photo, and so much of the work is about this touch, the way shapes relate to open space. I hope August is as fruitful for you as July has been.

    1. Altoon, thank you for your observations, for your visit, and your friendship!


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