Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Doing the Rounds: Espresso on the Lower East Side

 Cup of the Day #37
Wheel cup by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Colored ink and white-out pen on brown cup

I stopped by Cheryl McGinnis Gallery on 8th Avenue and 38th Street the other night for the opening of Radial Patterning, an attractive show that appeals to my own off-beat patterning tastes. The Full Brew  recommends it.

While there I ran into W., a mom I see in the neighborhood and know from Preschool days 10 years ago, but who I have never seen in an art gallery before. She is a friend of April Vollmer, one of the exhibiting artists. W. and I had a friendly chat about life and public schools and then I went on my way.

Next stop was a couple of gallery openings on the Lower East Side, half of Manhattan away - A train to the F train to the Delancey Street stop. I went to support Mia Brownell and Judith Page, artist colleagues both having solo shows in that 'hood.

On the way down Orchard Street for Judith's show, I noticed the Tenement House Bookstore all lit up. A book reading had just finished and a crowd was milling about inside. Hm, I thought idly, I will step in for a minute. Maybe I will see someone I know? Not likely because I really don't know anyone in the booky set.
But as soon as I enter I see... W's identical twin sister! Literally.
"Oh," I say, "I just saw your sister at Cheryl McGinnis Gallery!"
"Yes," she said, "she went there tonight and I came here."
So what are the odds that in this city of 8 million I would run into both sisters on the same night, miles and a culture world apart?
It really is just a village.

After the openings I stopped at Orchard 88, a pleasant café which opens airily onto the corner of Orchard and Broome Street. There I was happy to see no one I knew. While sipping a pepperment tea, I fell into conversation with the manager about their coffee specials. Too late in the day for me, but I am going to go back soon to try their Frozen 88 - vanilla gelato, caramel and espresso, the coffee roasted locally at Irving Farms.

Orchard 88 has been there seven years. Big gentrification is afoot down on the LES. Back then, it was one café in a block of brassiere vendors.
Now that would have been a sight to see.

Kosha by April Vollmer
in Radial Patterning at the Cheryl McGinnis Gallery

From April: "this is woodblock and mixed media on washi, mounted on a 12 x 12 x 2 inch wood panel. Kosha refers to the layers of the self in Indian philosophy, and the work is made from multiple layers of slightly transparent Japanese paper.
It is a series of 12, some include drawing, some include offset printing on washi, but I tried to get some woodcut in all of them."
Click here to visit the exhibition website 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuba and a Latte To Go

OMG, my teen daughter has decided to take up the tuba! She is in a band class at Stuyvesant, her new high school, and trumpets being a dime a dozen, she and five boys have volunteered to be the tuba section.
"Do they teach you to play?" I ask, trying to imagine the first rehearsal.
Shrug of the shoulders.

Cup of the Day #36
Black and white cup by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Sumi ink and white-out pen on white and brown cup

We are walking across midtown on Saturday to buy her a mouthpiece. 48th Street right off Broadway is still the home of instrument stores: Sam Ash, Manny's, Rudy's Music Stop, 48th St. Custom Guitars chief among them. But we turn into the first open door - New York Woodwind and Brass Music Corp. A smooth trumpet sound greets us; a client is trying out a new instrument in the cramped aisle. A man called Bill leans relaxed at the counter, ready to answer our questions to the backdrop of the trumpet riffs. He has everything we could possibly want in tuba mouthpieces. I ruefully hand over $43 and Megan drops the hefty piece of metal into her purse.

While looking into the glass cases, flutes catch my eye, shining silver against the blue velvet linings of their black boxes. I used to play the flute, a lot - first there were years of lessons, then in marching bands with my dad (he on trombone), in community orchestras around Philadelphia, in the pit for shows at the University of Pennsylvania, even in Edinburgh community orchestras when I first moved to Scotland to study art.

Then I gave it up for singing and painting. But the instrument is still under my bed at home, pads and joints leaking after years of inattention. On an impulse I decide to go home and get it and bring it back for an overhaul. I am going to play again!

When I return to the store the trumpeter is gone, but behind the counter Bill is noodling sweetly on the sax. He pauses long enough to take my flute and give me a repair ticket.

I am feeling a little overcome by my two walks across Midtown and decide I need a latte to restore me. But where to go between here and home for an interesting cuppa?
47th and Broadway - Starbucks. No thanks
47th and 8th - Starbucks. Nope
49th and 8th - Starbucks, x two. No thanks, neither
47th and 9th - Starbucks. No!
OK, this is ridiculous.

Finally I detour to Nook on 9th and 50th. It is really a sit-down cafe, brunch underway. But they are sympathetic to my need. Phoenix coffee, latte foam just right. I take out, go sit in the Clinton Community Garden on 48th and listen to the fluting of birds while sipping my coffee and planning my instrumental come-back.

So, are there any duets out there for flute and tuba?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Remember to Buy Teabags

Twyla Tharp has some great things to say about memory (the Creative Habit, chapter 4). In the headlong never-stop culture of New York City, memory is something we forget all the time. I mean, we aren't looking back. People, events, movements, art forms, jobs are a rushing river carrying us along.

Cup of the day #35
Ice Coffee Cup by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Colored ink, Black Sharpie and Whiteout pen
on clear plastic cup.

Getting back to my studio after a summer hiatus I am initially adrift. Where the heck was I? The paintings are there on the wall, but somehow seem finished to me. I did a painting workshop at School of Visual Arts a few years ago. The teacher (whose name I forget) recommended that at the end of each painting session we write on a post-it what we intended to do next and stick it right on the painting. It is actually very useful as a kick start next time you come in. Of course, I don't remember to do it.

Today, other habits save the day. Art and Fear  by David Bayles and Ted Orland is another book that is right on about habit and memory. I do some things automatically without having to think about them. When I arrive I sit down at the table by the window, and pull out a fresh loose sheet of cream colored laid paper from a box. I pick up a Faber Castelli brush pen and I start to write scraps and lists of ideas in a large loopy handwriting, rather like drawing. A few sides of paper, my memory is jogged and I am on to cup drawings. This is an Artist's Way kind of approach - writing a few uncensored pages, every day. It works for me. And my sheets of paper and cup drawings contain the genesis of whole painting series and large scale projects.

From drawing to painting is one more difficult step. To get there I have an awful thing left to do - put on my painting clothes. This can be the hardest part of my entire day. With overwhelming languor, and much sighing I accomplish it - and then, excited I reach for the oil paints. The painting day is underway. As Twyla says, eventually you just have to stamp your feet and start.

Hours later, I remember that this is a still not a usual school week and I get to Grace's school just in time to meet her new 2nd grade teachers. Back home, I congratulate myself on a great start in the studio. Only thing is, I forgot to buy the teabags, again.

In the Studio, about to draw
September 210

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Build up your Tolerance for Solitude

In my last post I was ensconced on the couch at home, cup in hand, loathe to leave and start my creative work for the day. The longer I sat, the more comfortable and blank I felt.

Cup of the Day #34
Ebullient Cup #2 by Gwyneth Leech
White-out pen and colored ink on green cup, 2010

I finally got to my feet and out the door. As soon as I was walking the ideas and connections started to flow. Twyla Tharp (The Creative Habit, Simon and Schuster, 2003) is adamant that the root of the creative process is movement. Moving your body generates activity in the synapses of the brain, which I totally buy into. I keep thinking I should do that treadmill session at the gym first thing, or even an early morning dance class (last time at the ballet barre: 1974). Right now, a walk is all I can commit to.

I get my cuppa from Lenny's on 9th (I am in the mood for a dark blue cup) and make it to the studio with minimal distractions. Once inside the door I am filled with a blissful feeling. I am alone, and unplugged. No internet connection. Just the space, the art materials and the view out the window.

Twyla has interesting things to say about being alone. For some artists the fear of being by themselves is enough to keep them from going to the studio at all. When I was a university student studying academic subjects I felt that way. With paper and books in the library I was just plain lonely. As a younger artist I still experienced that loneliness intermittently. Now, with the escalating demands of children, ailing parents, neighbors, school committees, etc. being along is the best thing imaginable.

"Build up your Tolerance for Solitude" Twyla admonishes. For those afraid to be by themselves in the studio, Twyla suggest recalling things you do like to do on your own. It could be a soak in the tub, a hike in nature, or "the quiet moment of sinking into a chair with coffee when the kids have left for school" (p. 31). Yes, she did write this book just for me!

Anyway, here I am in the studio delighted to be alone, looking out the window and daydreaming. I take a swig of coffee. Now how am I going to actually get started?

In the 39th Street studio
Gwyneth Leech, 2009

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

the Art of Procrastnation: Caffeine on the Couch

The girls are finally back at school. The oldest took herself early by subway. When the door shut on my husband and younger daughter at 8AM, I grabbed my tea and sank down on the couch for the best hour of the day. Silence descends and I come to myself. First day of my Fall art making season!

Cup of the Day #33
Ebullient Cup by Gwyneth Leech, 2010
Colored ink and white-out pen on blue cup

For days, in free scraps of time, I have been cleaning out filing cabinet drawers, sorting through piles of papers and mail accumulated over the Spring and Summer, shredding, updating my e-mail address book, scrawling ideas and plans on the back of envelopes and looking longingly at my art materials and piles of blank cups. Now a whole day stretches in front of me. I am happy. I am excited.

Actually, I am terrified.

How will I get back in the groove? 

I start with a quick review of my current read: Twyla Tharp, the Creative Habit. (Simon and Schuster, 2003). I am only a few chapters in but this book speaks to me. I have read a lot of these sorts of books: the Artist's Way, Art and Fear, I Rather Be in the Studio. They all have something to offer the artist stumbling through a morass of life obligations that seem to keep us from our work. Why is it so hard to put art-making first?

Twyla is fierce and indomitable. I am absorbed in her first section on preparing to prepare, about the rites and rituals we put in place to get ourselves in front of our work habitually. She starts her days by working out from 6-8 AM. Her ritual is the getting into the cab to go to the gym. Too hard for me! I keep reading. Page 17, she describes a California author who can't write indoors, so his ritual is the carrying of a mug of coffee to an open porch where he works every day. I am so on board with that one! Once I am down the street and buying that cup of coffee in a paper cup, I know my feet will take me straight to the studio and the rest will happen.

Now all I have to do is get off this couch...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Taking Tea on the Train

It seems like the endless summer. September 8th and the heat keeps steaming on and on. From my art studio window in Midtown I see the city simmer below. The girls went back to their New York City public schools today - for just one day, then another four days off. The summer that wouldn't quit.

  Cup of the Day #32
Midtown Cup, Verso
Colored ink on white cup, 2010

I am remembering another summer, endless but in a good way. 1965. I was six. My dad was a university professor and my mother a painter. They took me and my sister on an ocean liner to Europe - the SS Rotterdam - and from June to September we did the Grand Tour: France, Italy, German, Holland, England and Ireland rolled along in succession. I still remember the churches and monuments, public parks and promenades, meals in outdoor restaurants, pigeons and cats in Venice and delightful train rides that sometimes, thrillingly, included a stop in the dining car. My mother documented it all in drawings and watercolors that have stayed in the family and which my sister organized into an exhibition last year.

Among my favorite paintings is Tea on the Train - the cool English countryside flashing by outside, the Brown Betty teapot sitting on the dining car table, my mother pouring out as my sister and I watch in happy anticipation. The height of civility. I also love the charm of Strawberry Afternoon Tea at Windsor, captured in a few deft strokes of a brush. Afternoon tea still makes me think of cool English summer, and it was a pleasure to be reminded all over again by my English friend Katherine whose cooking blog If you Can Make That You Can Make This is looking at afternoon tea recipes all this week.

Strawberry Cream Tea at Windsor
Water color and ink
Louise Leech, 1965

 Afternoon Tea on the Train
Watercolor and Ink
Louise Leech, 1965