Compassionem (Pieta) (2017)

Oil on Canvas

40 x 60″

My decision to paint the ‘Pietà’ came after reading a piece by George Saunders on the role of artists at times like these:

“…the people making a lot of these Trump initiatives don’t seem able to imagine the actual victims of their programs….So those of us who are in the arts or in journalism can do some work to put real people on the other end of this thing.”  *

The war in Syria and the effect it is having on a whole generation of children was calling to my artistic mind. I too found it incredibly difficult to look at the images of suffering children. Hearing about them wandering unaccompanied around Europe, having escaped the horrors of war in Syria without their parents, was devastating. The feeling of helplessness at not being able to do anything apart from donate money with my daughter made me want to turn away from the pictures.

It was then that I started to understand what I needed to do. I needed to connect with one individual, instead of millions. Then, maybe I could start to move. As a parent, I can’t fly into war zones to physically be there to connect with the people I want to paint, so I have to use the internet instead. This window on the world has revolutionized the information we have access to now, but I feel it has also desensitized us. We are bombarded with terrifying and traumatic images so often, that we have to emotionally detach to an extent. Sadly, this has led to a cold attitude to refugees, compounded by fear.

I contacted the photojournalist, Manu Brabo, to see if I could use one of his photographs for a painting.  He said yes, please do anything to help these people. As a direct witness to the atrocities of war, photographers like Manu are doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world. As heartbreaking as it was for me to paint the Pietà, the reality is that I was working in my lovely studio in California. No bombs were likely to rip apart my house. No militia was likely to beat down my door.

‘Pietà’ is Latin for ‘Pity’, and is the traditional name for a representation in art of the Virgin Mary mourning over the body of the dead Christ, usually shown held on her lap. Michelangelo famously carved a Pietà from marble in his early career. I am not a religious person, but I am a passionate art historian. The moment I saw Manu’s image, I knew this was my way to honor the suffering of this Syrian man who I had never met.  Perhaps then, even one person who is hostile to refugees entering their community might see things differently.

By painting him, holding the body of his dead son, I felt connected to him in a way that was beyond witnessing. I felt like I was channeling his pain through my own body. I had to keep wiping tears away because I couldn’t see what I was doing.

8% of the profit from the sale of this painting will be donated to the International Rescue Committee.

Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, the IRC delivers lifesaving care to people fleeing conflict and natural disaster. Year after year, the IRC is one of the highest-ranking nonprofits for accountability, transparency, and efficient use of contributions.

*Vox.com, interview with Alexander Bisley

Lost Property (2018)

Oil on Canvas

30 x 40″

This is one of the most difficult pieces I’ve ever painted.

 

I organized and curated an art exhibition with my group, the Tahoe Activist Artists last year, entitled ‘We the People: Visualize a World of Conversation and Connection’. One of the venue hosts is a board member of our local women’s shelter, Live Violence Free. She told me about the shocking prevalence of human trafficking in our community. I have lived in South Lake Tahoe for 14 years, and was not aware of it. As a parent and teacher, I felt compelled to act.

This image of a young girl bearing a barcode tattoo on her neck reflects a common way for traffickers to brand their victims. They mark them as their property, a dehumanizing act which dates back to Roman times, maybe even earlier. Human Trafficking is modern slavery, and happens with devastating regularity in our culture, and globally.

The arrangement of the model’s limbs echoes a Swastika, symbolizing the mass dehumanization of the Holocaust. As a descendant of a Holocaust survivor, this felt particularly poignant.  The Swastika was better known as an ancient spiritual symbol before it was appropriated by the Nazis, and so the subtext of the pose is a message of hope and transcendence.

Tahoe Activist Artists conducted a poster campaign during the Superbowl this year, the busiest time for human trafficking in the US. We used “Lost Property” on two of a series of poster designed to raise awareness, directed at victims, the public and people paying for sex. We were sponsored by Tahoe Douglas Rotary club, and Whittel High School INTERACT program.

8% of the profit from this painting will be donated to 3 Strands Global Foundation, who work towards a world free of Human Trafficking.

John Muir (2018)

Oil on Canvas

40 x 40″

“When we try to pick out anything by itself,

we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe” 

 – John Muir

This painting is done in one colour – raw umber (with a little black). It is essentially an extended underpainting – this is how all of my works look before I add colour. I used a grainy old photograph of John Muir to capture his likeness. This spiritual adventurer had the weathered skin and the thoughtful expression of one who spends a lot of time contemplating the natural world. I wanted to capture that with an uncomplicated palette and a quick brush. The surface of this painting has warmth, depth and energy, like the man who inspired it. 

8% of the profit of the sale of this painting will be donated to The Sierra Club.

“John Muir was a Scottish-born American naturalist, whose writings contributed to the preservation of Yosemite and other natural parks, and helped spark the modern environmental movement. He is the founder of the Sierra Club, which numbers hundreds of thousands of members.

Muir was perhaps this country’s most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist. He taught the people of his time and ours the importance of experiencing and protecting our natural heritage. His words have heightened our perception of nature. His personal and determined involvement in the great conservation questions of the day was and remains an inspiration for environmental activists everywhere.

In 1871, Muir found living glaciers in the Sierra and conceived his then-controversial theory of the glaciation of Yosemite Valley. He began to be known throughout the country. Famous men of the time – Joseph LeConte, Asa Gray and Ralph Waldo Emerson – made their way to the door of his pine cabin.

Founded by legendary conservationist John Muir in 1892, the Sierra Club is now the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization — with three million members and supporters. Our successes range from protecting millions of acres of wilderness to helping pass the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. More recently, we’ve made history by leading the charge to move away from the dirty fossil fuels that cause climate disruption and toward a clean energy economy. For more information, see our Mission Statement.” -The Sierra Club

Sources: vault.sierraclub.org, sierracollege.edu

Harriet Tubman (2017)

Oil on Canvas

40 x 40″

This larger-than-life portrait of Harriet Tubman is painted in oils on canvas, gallery wrapped on a 1.5″ heavy-duty frame. The textures underneath the paint lend the portrait a symbolic quality only visible on close inspection. From a distance, the image seems flawless, unscarred. The closer you get, more dimension becomes evident, reflecting the tumultuous life of this heroic woman.

“Born into slavery in Maryland, Harriet Tubman (c. 1820 to March 10, 1913) escaped to freedom in the North in 1849 to become the most famous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Tubman risked her life to lead hundreds of family members and other slaves from the plantation system to freedom on this elaborate secret network of safe houses. A leading abolitionist before the American Civil War, Tubman also helped the Union Army during the war, working as a spy among other roles. 

After the Civil War ended, Tubman dedicated her life to helping impoverished former slaves and the elderly. In honor of her life and by popular demand, in 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the center of a new $20 bill.”

8% of the profits from the sale of this painting will go our local Tahoe Women’s Center, Live Violence Free.

Source: https://www.biography.com/people/harriet-tubman-9511430

Marie Curie (2017)

Oil on Canvas

40 x 40″

Marie Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

She was born in Warsaw, in what was then the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. She studied at Warsaw’s clandestine Flying University and began her practical scientific training in Warsaw. In 1891, aged 24, she followed her older sister Bronisława to study in Paris, where she earned her higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and with physicist Henri Becquerel. She won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Her achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined, techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world’s first studies into the treatment of neoplasms were conducted using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centres of medical research today. During World War I, she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals.

Albert Einstein (2017)

Oil on Canvas

40 x 40″

Since the 2017 Presidential Election, I have felt compelled to contribute in some way to the growing voice of protest. We are in the midst of a great societal and global paradigm shift, and I feel that the role of artists is to use this negative energy as a catalyst for creativity. The tremendous upsurge in artistic expression related to current events has been something of a consolation for me, amid the chaos and trauma brought to us by news agencies and social media at a dizzying pace since January.

The helplessness and shock I experienced after the election triggered a cycle of creativity I haven’t experienced since I was a student. I picked up an old canvas, and started to paint with no clear intention, just an energy. Two hours later, a larger than life Albert Einstein was looking down at me, his eyes expressing a knowing sadness and concern.  In an age of ‘Alternative facts’, and denial of science, I felt it was important to honor the individuals without whom our society would look very different – such as humanitarians, scientists, suffragettes, and civil rights campaigners.

I knew then that I needed to gather together a community of artists to speak out with the skills that we have, to contribute in the only way we know how. We called ourselves the Tahoe Activist Artists, and began to meet every month to discuss how we were processing our responses to current events.  We wanted our art to contribute to a wider circle of compassion, instead of feeding the divisiveness that is tearing apart our society, both here in the US, and abroad. A decision was made: In order to connect with the wider world and our community, we needed to organize a public event. “We the People: Tahoe Artists Visualize a World of Conversation and Connection” was our first project, and was held at the Tahoe Mountain Lab in South Lake Tahoe on September 9th 2017.

Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics). His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He is best known by the general public for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2 (which has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”). He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”, a pivotal step in the evolution of quantum theory.

Einstein was also a pacifist and civil rights activist later in life. The International Rescue Committee was founded at the call of physicist, humanitarian — and refugee — Albert Einstein. 10% of the sale of this painting was donated to the IRC to help refugees. Read more about Einstein’s connection to the IRC here.