Thursday, May 9, 2019

Emilie, The Tenth Muse…heads to the Tenth Annual May Show at Lakeland!

Emilie, The Tenth Muse…The One Who Sees
Emilie is a rare gem at an art opening. 

She doesn’t have a dog in the fight.

By that I mean she’s pure patron, appreciator, creative spirit, lover and follower of art… without being an actual maker of art herself.  

In the Northeast Ohio world of gallery openings, museum shows and juried competitions…literally everyone…from Part-time Volunteer Gallery Assistant to Museum Director…is also an artist, or has been at some point in their life. This is why Emilie is so rare, and I told her so the moment I found this out.

Since then, I have seen her at every art opening I attend, and she has attended many that I do not. Usually she pops in to one, and then has two more on her dance card for the same night.

At one such art opening, I talked to her about how I’m transitioning my Chicks with Balls project to my Goddess project, where I view the mythology of all religions through a feminist lens and reinterpret images and stories that have shaped our collective thinking.

Emilie’s portrait is one of a few that stands at the threshold of the Goddess project. 

In Greek Mythology, there were nine muses; Godesses who inspired great achievement.  These eternally beautiful and youthful daughters of Zeus had names like Thalia: The Cheerful One, Erato: The Lovely One and Melpomene: She Who Sings. There were even specific muses for flute-playing, astronomy and remembering things (TUM PECCET… find out the rest when you click it). 

The glaring omission in this glowing line-up is a muse for the Visual Arts!

In the world of figurative art, the concept of the artist’s muse is as old as art itself. 

The artist’s muse, however, isn’t an ethereal 22 year old goddess whispering in your ear, it is a mortal human whom you find fascinating to paint because of physical, intellectual or emotional attributes…or an exciting combination of all three! As Picasso once said, “Let inspiration find you working.” An artist’s muse shows up and poses for you, thereby enabling the actual “working” part of inspiration. 

For me, a muse often falls in line with the kind of lines I like to make. And, for those who haven’t noticed, I love painting glorious age! The fact that Emilie is such a great appreciator of art just made her mythological title that much easier to come up with: Emilie, The Tenth Muse…the One Who Sees.

But, I’m not the only one inspired by Emilie. If you talk to her for a bit (at one of the many art openings where you’ll see her), you’ll find out that she is the proud mother of two-time Academy Award Winning Director for Pixar films, Lee Unkrich. Among a host of other movies, he directed Toy Story 3 and Cocoboth of which won Oscars for Best Animated Feature Film. 

Yes, THE Toy Story 3 and THE Coco…I shit you not.

I don’t want to end my blog with the words, “I shit you not…,” so I’m going to throw a little love in the direction of my own “ethereal, whispering in your ear” muse; John Singer Sargent.

Isabella Stewart Gardner
(1888) John Singer Sargent

The pose and composition of my portrait of Emilie was inspired by Sargent’s portrait of iconic collector and museum founder, Isabella Stewart Gardner.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum catalog says, Sargent’s painting of Mrs. Gardner presents her as a “pagan deity.” Art critic and author, Henry James called Sargent’s depiction a “Byzantine Madonna.” Both descriptions speak to me.

Mrs. Gardner's head is surrounded by a mandorla 
patterned after a tapestry in the Gardner museum collection. In keeping with this regal addition, I re-imagined Emilie's mandorla as a halo of brushes, befitting the muse of the visual arts. 

Emilie’s sari is an exotic fabric from an exotic land purchased at an exotic fair-trade store in Lakewood, Ohio. The primary colors and patterns made me think of Toy Story and Coco. And, Emilie wears the red-striped admission bracelet for Front International, Cleveland’s first-ever summer-long adventure as an international contemporary Art Mecca. 

Front International is a triennial festival to be repeated in the summer of 2021, so mark your calendars!

And, if you find yourself in Boston, make a point to head to The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Around the turn of the last century, Mrs. Gardner amassed a major collection that included Sargents, Zorns, Manets and Bonheurs along with some Rembrandts, a Vermeer and even a Michelangelo drawing.

During her lifetime, these works were beautifully displayed in her private home…really a mansion… which she bequeathed as her legacy, to become the magnificent Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It ranks among the best private museums in the world and is a “must-see” even in Boston, the land of “must-sees!” Its just around the corner from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, but don't plan to make a day of it…make at least two days of it. 

In the meantime, if you want to be inspired by The Tenth Muse.
head to the Tenth Annual Lakeland May Show to which I’m thrilled to find out she was accepted!

I won’t be at the opening, since I’ll be in Chicago for the opening of Secondary Meanings…(damn the laws of time, space and physics!) but if you go, you may just meet Emilie, the inspiration for The Tenth Muse and maybe you’ll be inspired by her too!

Tenth Annual Lakeland May Show
Lakeland Community College
Opening Reception: Thursday May 16th, 6:00 to 9:00

Through July 12, 2019

7700 Clocktower Drive
Kirtland, Ohio

Monday, April 29, 2019

Arachne: The Spider and the Queen Bee

Arachne: Predator and Prey…left panel
Available through Zhou B Gallery on

Arachne: Predator and Prey. The Arachne story from Greek Mythology, is a little known one, so I shall tell it here.

In the ancient world of the Greek Gods, Arachne was a mortal woman and an extraordinary weaver. She boasted of her skill, declaring that she was better at weaving than the Goddess Athena.

Pride in her accomplishments was Arachne’s first crime.

It is the crime that has disempowered many talented and intelligent women since…well, since women could speak. She knew she was good and told people so. In a man, this is respected as confidence in one’s own abilities. For a woman, however it is seen as undesirable bragging. Even contemporary women of great skill tend to hide their light lest they be seen as too cocky.

Athena, Goddess of Arts and Crafts (among other things) also demanded that Arachne declare her weaving prowess to be a gift from the Gods.

Arachne wouldn’t hear of it. She had built her skill through hard work and persistence, not magical divine intervention. For me, as an artist, this really hits home. I always bristle when someone tells me I’m “blessed” or “gifted” with the skill to paint…when in fact I am consistently working very hard to master it as a lifelong goal in progress.

Athena took umbrage at these perceived insults and challenged Arachne to a weaving duel…if only all disagreements were settled this way.

In this competition, both woman and goddess chose to weave complex scenes of figurative art…a detail I adore.

Athena’s weaving was predictably grand: a scene of Olympus and a tribute to the glory of the Gods.

Arachne’s weaving, however was profoundly moving, truthful, beautiful, realistic and earthly…and far more skillful than Athena’s. Arachne depicted the Gods as carnal beings whose whims, passions, and petty jealousies create suffering in the lives of mortals.

With predictable pettiness, Athena was disgraced that her own work could not best that of a mortal. She became enraged with the very jealousy that Arachne’s vision of the Gods depicted. She tore Arachne’s beautiful weaving to shreds.

Thinking this was only the beginning of Athena’s godly wrath, Arachne attempted suicide by hanging herself right there on the spot.

Athena thwarted the suicide and removed Arachne from the rope she tried to hang herself with.

Then, in classic vengeful-God style, Athena declared (I imagine with great sarcasm and false fanfare) that since Arachne was such a superior weaver, she should hang from a rope forever and weave for all of eternity.

Arachne: Predator and Prey…center panel
Available through Zhou B Gallery on
Athena* summoned her almighty Goddess powers to turn Arachne into a spider…for the crime of beating her at a weaving competition…nooo, the gods weren’t petty…

My triptych casts Arachne as the beautiful and diligent weaver of her spider web. She is also prisoner of it; wrapped with the same silken webbing she uses to create it… even as she sprouts the multiple arms of an arachnid to complete her metamorphosis.

The Arachne Triptych…measuring almost 10 feet when seen together…it made its debut at the Zhou B Gallery in Chicago as part of Secondary Meanings, a Poets/Artists Exhibition and Catalog curated by Steven Alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt, sponsors of The Bennett Prize.

And, since it’s a triptych, there’s also a third panel…but, because she’s been in hiding for so long, I’m going to keep her a secret for a while longer. You can see her though, if you snoop around on the Zhou B Gallery site on!

Order the stunning Poets/Artists Secondary Meanings catalog here.

The Arachne triptych is available…as a set or as individual paintings…
check her out on…leftcenter…and right!

*Future paintings in this series will address the other cultural myth implicit to the Arachne story: the “Queen Bee” concept, as personified by Athena.

As I examine mythology, I often find powerful Goddesses, Queens, Sorceresses, and Witches smiting young women who have angered them simply by being beautiful, talented and clever and intelligent. The capable young women in these stories are punished, persecuted, thwarted, enchanted, manipulated and murdered by the very women who should be their mentors.

The concept that there is only room for one powerful woman at the top has repeated itself in mythology, religion, literature, fairy tales and also in the corporate and political world. It affects how women view and treat each other and validates the humiliations and injustices women have suffered from society as well.

The world has also suffered greatly for the “queen bee” concept as well. If you look at how history is riddled with testosterone-induced wars, conquests, pillages and enslavements…you’ll notice a distinct absence of women leading these charges. And also how women in positions of power often seek to emulate this swagger in order to be seen as strong…when in fact, strength also lies in setting ego aside and seeking peaceful solutions; a skill that wives, mothers, sisters, teachers, nuns, nurses, nannies and all unsung female heroes have practiced for millennia.

This “queen bee” myth…and practice… needs shattering and future paintings will attempt to do just that with my paintbrush.  I will also write about them…because I want to make sure you all get the point! J