May 30, 2012

Rhubarb Pie!

Since I haven't posted a recipe in a while, I decided to make a rhubarb pie this morning for my online friends. Of course for me too; I think it's my favorite pie of all, and something I treat myself to at least once each spring. Just look at that gorgeous pink tangy goodness, surrounded by a flaky, buttery crust...mmmm! When I first moved to this house, there was a rhubarb plant in the backyard, but it was of the green stalked variety and very very tart. I bought a plant with pink stalks, which is so much prettier when cooked, and more flavorful. I've since divided it several times and now have 5 plants, enough for three batches of jam (my mother loves rhubarb jam, recipe here), pies, cake (here's a recipe for rhubarb sour cream cake), and a couple of gallon bags of frozen pieces for winter cooking.

I'm sure that those of you who make pies have your favorite crust recipes. Mine uses 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 stick of butter plus 3 tablespoons of solid vegetable shortening aka Crisco, 1/3 cup cold water (approximately). I have a charming old pastry blender that does a great job at cutting the butter into the flour, a tool I highly recommend. A secret of good pie dough is to handle the dough lightly, without over mixing. I roll out the dough using a pastry cloth and covered rolling pin.

For the filling for a 9 inch pie:
4 generous cups of rhubarb, in one inch slices
1 1/3 cups sugar. (my original recipe had 1 2/3 cups sugar, but I don't like the pie to be too sweet, but add more sugar if you like or if your rhubarb is very tart)
1/3 cup flour

Mix together and let stand for 15 minutes while you prepare the crust. Turn the mixture from time to time.
Put the filling in the bottom crust and dot with a tablespoon of butter. Cover with top crust. Brush with beaten egg for a golden, shiny appearance.

Preheat oven to 450º.
Bake at 450º for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350º and cook for an additional 40-45 minutes.

May 29, 2012

Looking and Seeing

Each spring and summer I return to many of the same farms to gather images for the upcoming year's painting. Each year I look at the many of the same machines, but see them differently. From the online dictionary:
look: direct one's gaze toward someone or something or in a specified direction.
see: perceive with the eyes; discern visually
Seeing involves a more active participation of the mind. Casually looking over at this John Deere tractor, I didn't think there would be anything to engage my interest.

When I walked up close to the tractor and looked more intently I began to see, almost as though I was on a treasure hunt, searching for gems hidden in plain sight, something that took more effort than a casual look. I am fascinated by this process as each year I seem to be a bystander in my eye's work; I never know what kinds of things I will find.

Because I have been painting details, seen simply and closeup, one machine can yield many different images, as the two above.

Another machine I looked at, a manure spreader, drew me because of its color and large gear wheels.

Sure enough, I think I may have found an interesting idea here.

I have clear evidence that I am seeing differently from one year to the next. This machine looked familiar, then I recognized a motif that I used last year:

The curious thing is that this grouping of pipes, though exciting to me last year, meant nothing to me yesterday. They no longer provided an "ah-hah!" moment, a compelling sense of pleasure.

Instead, I found this

and this. There are other adjustments in store: as I printed these images this morning, I made them larger than I would have last year, though still small; I felt that they needed more breathing room. Each year there are changes in my motifs, slight but real, which keep me on my toes, and happy.

May 28, 2012

Richard Tuttle's Clay Multiples

 Tile, I, 2011; Durango earthenware clay with black slip, silicon and painted white wooden frame, 6 5/8 x 6 5/8 x 1 3/4 in. Series of 12 unique works.

When we think of an edition of sculpture, or of prints, we imagine a group of works that are exactly the same. In sculpture the artist makes a mold and from that a number of copies are made; in printmaking there's a plate which is reproduced. When I used to make drypoint prints, the master printer I worked with, Anthony Kirk, was very careful that each print in an edition of 30 was perfect and perfectly alike.

 Tile, VI, 2011; Durango low fire clay with black slip, Nichrome wire and painted white wooden frame, 13 5/8 x 13 3/4 x 3 in. Series of 11 unique works.

In his usual inimitable fashion, Richard Tuttle achieved something different with these clay tiles, which were recently on exhibit at Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Weyl. Working with ceramist Stephanie Wagner, who provided him with 1/2 inch tiles, Tuttle developed six different compositions.

 Tile, VI, variation from the catalog.

Because each piece was worked and painted by hand, there are variations from one to another in a series. I photographed the first image of Tile, VI, above at the gallery, and you can see how it's a little different from the one I photographed from the catalog. Within the parameters of each idea is room for play.

 Tile, II, 2011; Durango earthenware clay with black slip and painted white wooden frame, 7 5/8 x 7 5/8 in. Series of 20 unique works.

As with all of Tuttle's small works, these clay pieces have a vitality and freshness that is very appealing,  which is enhanced by their intimate size.

Tile, IV, 2011; Durango earthenware clay with black slip, copper wire and painted white wooden frame, 8 5/8 x 8 5/8 x 2 1/4 in. Series of 17 unique works.

The shapes lead the imagination onward, as here with little raised flecks on a crescent moon, and a wire leaping from it. I always feel inspired by Tuttle's work; he shows me a way forward with modest art that is surprising and deep.

May 25, 2012

Transplanting Tomatoes

Is there a happier chore in the garden than setting out transplants? especially tomatoes? The thought of that tasty, juicy summer treat, with the special satisfaction that only a home grown fruit can bring, makes me thrill with anticipation. Memorial Day weekend is the traditional planting weekend around here, as it is in many places, and the weather was perfect this morning––gray and damp and mild––though not so good for the laundry that I hung outside. Earlier in the week I had laid out the rows with a special black plastic, IRT mulch, that I get from Fedco Seeds. It makes a big difference for growing warm weather crops in this short season area.

I have several favorite tomato varieties that I grow each year: Sungold, Cosmonaut Volkov, Pruden's Purple, Rose de Berne, and a new plum tomato favorite, Juliet. I'm giving Cherokee Purple a try this year for the first time on a strong recommendation from someone, but I can't remember who.

Tomato plants are stronger with a large root system, so I plant them sideways in the hole, covering up much of the stem, which will sprout roots. The plants end up looking like tiny little things with a fluff of green hair.

Unless the weather is hot, I then place plastic milk jugs, whose bottoms I've cut out, on top of the plants, which act as a mini greenhouse.

The plants will grow there happily for a few days or more, depending on the weather.

Lastly, I put up metal U posts. I will string wire through them as the tomato plants grow, tying the plants to the wire to hold them up. I tried this system last year instead of the 4 pole teepees I used to use because there is more air circulation for the leaves. This didn't prevent the usual onslaught of early blight, but I think it made things a little better. Today I also set out the winter squashes, zucchini, and cucumbers. In the next couple of days I'll plant the peppers, eggplants, and melons. The corn seeds went in a few days ago. Summer here we come!

May 24, 2012

A New Textile: "Empty Center: Brick Red/Blue-Green

 Empty Center: Brick Red/Blue-Green, hand dyed wool on linen, 9 x 9 in.

After doing the study for this textile, I thought I must have been subliminally influenced by the work of Dan Walsh, which I wrote about here. In this addition to my Empty Center series (See the four previous works in the series below) the lozenge-like shapes enter as though testing the waters, tentatively licking at the "empty" swirl of colors between them. The shapes and their placement invite metaphors, mostly amusing, such as the red tongue. The softness of the wool makes even strict geometric shapes more organic.

I dyed the wool for the background using a dilute mixed red and blue-green. I thought that the blue-green color might be too blue, but went ahead and hooked it anyway. Colors change in relationships, so I expected that when it was seen with the lozenge shape, it might take on a greener coloring. When I look at this detail alongside the red, the color looks quite blue, but above, in the entire piece, it seems to work well enough with the greener shape.

Four previous works in the Empty Center series.

May 22, 2012

Brice Marden, On Marble

 Swirl, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 10 5/8 x 9 3/4 in.

Thinking about this beautiful show of Brice Marden's new paintings on marble at Matthew Marks Gallery, I went searching for a Michelangelo quote about finding a figure in a marble block, and I found two:
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.
In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it. 
In a similar way, Marden uses the shapes and natural color and patterning in pieces of marble to find his paintings. His interventions are modest, sensitive, and respectful of the material. He uses simple geometric form to converse with its black swirls and variegated surface.

 Swirl, detail.

At times the paint is so subtle, as in the white rectangle on this painting's left, as to make me wonder if it is indeed paint.

 #3, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 19 3/4 x 8 in.

So minimal, so perfectly balanced. Writing this, I wondered if Marden chose where to cut the marble, in control of the shapes and edges, or did he simply choose from the pieces on offer, where he painted them on the Greek Island of Hydra.

 #3, detail.

 #3, detail.

In #3, the line of paint, which has been allowed to drip at its lower edge, introduces a straight horizon to the dark, irregular curve of the marble's black vein. 

 Joined, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 26 3/4 x 6 5/8 in.

The soft green and pink of Joined create a feeling of two parts put together. The tall, narrow format is held together by the wandering blacks of veining. We might be reminded of a Chinese landscape painting scroll....

 Chinese Landscape, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 41 1/2 x 7 7/8 in.

and in this work Marden makes the reference explicit, as we imagine row upon row of receding mountains, disappearing in mist.

 For Blinky, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 29 3/4 x 11 5/8 in. 

This must be for Blinky Palermo (there's a slide show at the link), and since I too am a fan I included this piece. The bands of yellow and the black square are likely a reference to Palermo's large multipart work To the People of the City of New York.

First Square, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 15 3/4 x 9 7/8 in. 

First Square, detail.

The square in First Square is bounded by the upper edge of the yellow triangle. The geometry of triangle and rectangles is softened by the flowing black, and by the jutting edge of the marble at the top, whose angle is opposite to that of the triangle below, and which seems like the prow of a moving ship. This small painting, like the others in the show, is very satisfying to contemplate as a reserved and quiet search for beauty. 

May 21, 2012

The Lilac's Insect Admirers

When I returned home yesterday afternoon, the weather was very warm and sunny, and the air was scented with lilac. I went out to cut some flowers for the house and saw fluttering and buzzing activity around the huge shrub. The most gorgeous and dramatic of the flying visitors were the swallowtail butterflies, which love lilacs.

There were other butterflies sipping from the flowers, including a gray-brown one and this black creature with bright orange stripes.

Some of the little insects were hard to capture, being too small or too quick and shy. I saw my first hummingbird moth buzzing about, with two yellow stripes at the end of its body. I did manage to capture this pretty one with variegated brownish-orange wings. 

 This was the strangest creature I captured yesterday. At first I thought it was a fuzzy bee, but look at those long legs! It might be some kind of odd moth. Life is a marvel: there I was, standing in one spot at my own home, and seeing species of insects that were entirely new to me. Discoveries never cease.

May 16, 2012

My Tulip Tradition

Princess Irene

Does doing something three times make it a tradition? if so, my spring tulip posts have become one. You can see my 2011 post here, and 2010 here. Each fall I plant a variety of tulips in my vegetable garden, so I can have cut flowers in the house when they bloom. I love the way tulips look in a vase: their strong, clear forms are a pleasure to arrange and to photograph, and are very different from the informal daffodils.  I reorder some favorites, and try new ones each year. Princess Irene is new for me, and was the first tulip to bloom on short stems. Its saturated orange with the purply flame was gorgeous.

Mystery Tulip

Sometimes I get a surprise with a bulb order. This was supposed to be Apricot Beauty, which is a salmon pink, but instead I got this rich red-orange. It had the most luscious scent, something between vanilla and citrus.


I love the delicate frothiness of this tulip, that almost masquerades as a peony.


Ballerina, a lily-flowered tulip, has become one of my favorites. Its outward spreading, pointed petals are so sprightly.

Golden Artist

What a spectacular tulip! Golden Artist is sure to become a favorite. This is a viridiflora tulip, meaning that it has a green flame on the petals. I've never seen one so beautiful, where the balance of green with the orange and gold is so perfect, and the petals so expressive.


The season ends with a quiet and restrained tulip, classic in form and a golden white in early bloom. As the flowers have matured and opened, they have become a pure bright white. Another pleasure of having tulips in the house is watching their changes, from young bud to drooping death, a lesson in beauty found in all stages of life.

*ps: I'll be away for a few days, so see you next week!

May 15, 2012

Adventures in Printmaking

It is a lot of fun, and very exciting, to start on something new. After seeing the Print/Out show at MoMA, which had some prints using unusual materials, I had a yen to try a different kind of printmaking than I'd done in the past. Years ago I did many drypoints, some of which I hand colored. You can see a selection of the prints I did with Ken Tyler's master printer Tony Kirk on the National Gallery of Australia's website. But I'm not doing landscape anymore and have no desire to make precisely realistic prints based on my paintings. I was thinking of something much simpler and more abstract, something closer to my textile work. What could be easier than cutting cardboard, which comes with a built-in texture in its corrugations. Full of enthusiasm, I made some gouache sketches, one of which I translated into the two arched shapes above. I also just started cutting shapes directly, which resulted in the diptych at top and the four part piece at the bottom left. They are small, from 4 x 4 inches up to 8 x 9.

After cutting the plates, I anxiously awaited my new supplies; I had to purchase inks and brayer and baren and paper. When they arrived, I made proofs of each image on newsprint. I liked the funky quality of them, the irregular edges and ink coverage. It seemed to me that imperfection was part of their character.

There's got to be a steep learning curve while doing something new. For me the biggest difficulty has been figuring out the paper: what paper to use, and what size to print on. I ordered some nice Japanese papers from McClain's Printmaking Supplies and tore them down to a size that looked good, with a two inch border around the printed area. One problem for me, which you might not believe, is that I'm technically sloppy and find it hard to get everything straight, so tearing paper to size at the beginning might not work for me. After printing my three plates, I wasn't quite happy with the results: the images looked constrained, things were crooked, I wasn't crazy about the papers I was trying. So, I went rummaging in my flat files to find the Japanese paper I'd bought 20 years ago for a monoprint project. And I loved it! and I have no idea what it is!

What was very clear to me was that the work needed a lot of space around it to breathe, maybe to compensate for its irregular nature (not quite as much as the space above, but a 4 to 6 inch border). Do you agree?

It's hard to believe that it would make such a difference, but it does to me. Unfortunately, along with my current sloppiness comes the fact that the paper was badly creased in the drawer. I'm going to try to find a similar paper at NY Central Supply where I originally bought this paper. Maybe it'll be something simple like kitikata.

In this closeup you can see the way the different papers take the ink. The white paper on the right is a very beautiful hand made paper, but I wasn't happy with its coverage, while the thin paper at left takes the ink beautifully.

There is also something very suitable in the thin, translucent paper to the forms of the print. They seem provisional, subject to change, not solidly present. I'm not sure where this new work will take me, or how I'll feel about it in the near future (never mind judging its quality), but for now I'm completely enjoying myself.