Corona Chronicles: July 4, 2021

Corona Chronicles XXXIII

Artist Think
Leslie Woods

At an art opening I explained to my husband how an artist had created her painting–placement of color, use of line, etc. A man had remained behind us and he later approached us in the parking lot. He said, “I never understood what my wife was doing in her paintings until you explained how an artist thinks.” I realized that Artist Think was often unclear.

Here I explain how I thought to create “Olice, Oh Lease on Life.” As a painter of sports, I filed in my memory a concept of Colin Kapernick kneeling. The number of Black Americans killed by police piled up in my mind as entire teams avoided the national anthem’s playing. Owners, politicians and fans argued. What does the Star Spangled Banner have to do with basketball? LeBron James wore a tee shirt with the message, “I can’t breathe.”

Assorted images were not enough without a key to express my own feelings. For many artists an idea or emotion comes first and I made thumbnail sketches for my idea file. Finally I saw yet another news story about shootings and protests with the police turned just enough that their shields showed “OLICE.” I found my key. Police are the front line but the issue is our society as we are the Olice. Usually meaning “a fresh start,” I felt the lease-on-life could instantly be cancelled for some citizens.

Like most visual artists, I studied perspective and the basics of line, value, shapes, sizes or proportions, rhythm and pattern. We learn to create movement and to move the viewer’s gaze throughout the work and we all begin with realism. But I had been dissatisfied with producing work that looked like everybody else’s. Fortunately I visited the Phillips Museum in Washington DC and saw the Jacob Lawrence Migration series. My first reaction was “Oh, I don’t have to paint normal.”

I felt as Picasso said, “there is no abstract art” yet I have no desire to recreate reality. As Shirley Trevena wrote, “I decided long ago that I would include more than one viewpoint in a single painting if it meant I could make the most of every object.” While we can admire all sorts of styles of art, an artist has personal preferences in color and shape and often a philosophy about the work.

To begin Olice, since I don’t paint sports heroes, I needed to represent the idea of my own anger and frustration. I placed a tall, slender teenage boy facing the larger Olice. To include my sports images, he is backed by a kneeling football player on a bit of green, to keep color near the focal point.

I draw all my figures although I study photographs and must interpret vague images with ones in my anatomy books. Some people are against using photographs, but David Hockney even projected them onto his canvases before painting them in his own style. An artist reorganizes what is seen into a personal interpretation. The focus on the teenager is through size, line and the innocent gesture of pushing back his hoodie. He is a vertical line opposing the vertical lines of police. The roads divide as do the shields. The roads are on angles to add tension and movement as do the bent police knees.

The shapes of the dead bodies and hoodie people are rounded while the police and shields have more lines and angles. Pattern is repeated through the “Greek chorus” of hoodie wearers. The city buildings in back are rhythmic vertical lines, brighter on the Olice side and used to add color contrast. The car blends in with the road but is a symbol for Driving While Black. The colors of the football player and teenager are red, white and blue. The player’s white shirt offsets the police shields. The hoodie wearers have color on their shoulders to indicate separate people who wear similar clothes. The two opposite masses enclose the conflict area around the teenager where colors and lines cross.

This painting accomplished what I needed. If I wanted to paint it again, I already know what I’d change, but I learn and move on, even painting over works I’ve outgrown. And I did not think specifically about the art items stated above because they are now an automatic part of my functioning. When a piece works, I get a little thrill in my chest telling me I got what I wanted. When that doesn’t happen, I use other strategies including checking my list like “Is there sufficient value contrast?” This thinking helps me evaluate buildings, gardens, movies, and all daily life. As Kris Engman, who teaches art at UMO, says, “…all exist because they pass through the hands of a skilled, trained artist or artisan. Our civilizations are rich because of these creative energies. Our very aesthetic is born in the Arts.”

Her statement came from a show of work by 16 artists in the Belfast, Mid-Coast area and Olice is in that show. “Art Matters” will run from June 29-July 30 at the Union of Maine Visual Artists Gallery at PMC, 516 Congress St, Portland. Opening July 2, 5pm-8pm and then exhibit hours are Monday, noon to 5pm; Tuesday-Thursday, 10am-5pm; and Friday and Saturday, 1pm-4pm.

Kristin Frangoulis

Our father, a soldier, went to war,
Leaving behind a wife,
A six year old girl, a four year old boy,
And a baby in the belly.

Dad settled us in Quincy near his Swedish sisters,
In a townhouse development by the bay, SnugHarbor.
We hadn’t a car,
Feet, our transportation.
We walked everywhere, to school, to the mom and pop grocery,
And for a treat to House Neck to share fish and chips.

A milkman came every day,
One day Hoods, the other Oakhurst.
Glass bottles with cream on the top clinked together.
We learned to like cottage cheese
So Mom could collect the Hoods aluminum tumblers in jewel tones,
Emerald green, sapphire blue, ruby red and gold.

The old fish man, his wagon pulled by his look- a- like horse
Clip clopped through the neighborhood every Friday.
He carefully weighed our oysters or sword fish on his scales,
The bread man in his blue van made the rounds too.
Mom only bought molasses doughnuts from him.
As she made all of our bread.

Before school began we did our clothes shopping for the year.
We drove with Aunt Olive to the Carter’s factory store
For underwear, and socks,
I got lollypop panties in rainbow colors and anklets only in white.
We took the train to Boston to buy school shoes,
Sensible, brown oxfords, always the same. I hated them,
But liked looking at my feet skeletons in the x-ray machine.

My favorite, the fabric and yarn store
To buy my mother’s art supplies.
She would buy one pattern to make 6 dresses.
Wonderful bolts and bolts of fabric were crammed into bins:
Plain cotton, dotted Swiss, gingham, calico, a plaid wool, and a corduroy.
Velvet for best and organdy and lace for collars and pinafores.
Always 3 yards for a skirt, with a generous sash to tie in the back
And buttons: shell, brass, silver, covered or shaped like animals and flowers.
The needle her paintbrush, the fabric her canvas,

Then came the yarn, skeins and skeins, stacked in a carnival of colors,
And complicated Norwegian patterns,
Sweaters, caps and mittens knitted for each of us each year
Until the winter chill demanded the prison of heavy coats.
She had an eye for daring designs and combinations.
I remember my favorite, a navy and cotton candy confection.

The war over,
Our father summoned us to Japan.
All our worldly goods to be stored,
Except for clothing to be packed, carried or shipped.
Passports to be made.
Shot after shot to be had: diphtheria, typhoid, tetanus, malaria.

An army of green Samsonite luggage ready,
A train from Boston too Seattle, with a change in Chicago….
Then a no frills military ship to Yokahama,
A two week voyage across the Pacific,
A rough crossing in August.
Mom, a woman alone with a 7 year old, a 5 year old, and a year and a half old baby.

Human Navigation
Leslie Woods

For five years a neighbor and I walked together four miles a day and joked that in a few decades we’d need to add some GPS gadget to our walkers. That might be a mistake.

Older age has a natural decline in location cognition, so we should use a GPS less often and observe more. My husband once said, “They live on that sharp corner with the old red tractor in the field.” I said, “The only sharp corner was the house with four giant lilac bushes.” Same corner but different markers. Wouldn’t GPS be better?

I just read Super Navigators, Exploring the Wonders of How Animals Find Their Way by David Barrie. Full of stories about bugs, birds and a few other mammals, the chapter on humans brought up cognitive neuroscience and the hippocampus, the seahorse shaped part of our brains that holds a key role in memory. Humans depend on the hippocampus along with special navigational cells to create cognitive maps. The first kind of map relates to physical space.

Once we lived on a dead end road and drolly began all directions with “At the end of the driveway, turn left.” Haven’t most of us given an address to someone from away who arrives at our door after carefully following roads we would never take. “Your GPS sent you on route 105 instead of route 3?” Mainers treasure tattered DeLorme map books while the GPS admonishes, “In 200 feet, turn right.” As we whiz past that right turn, don’t we all mock the voice with “If you don’t turn right, you won’t get any supper.”

GPS has affected human navigation more than by sending people along the slow roads. It is in a line of devices that actually reduce our native abilities and even our brain function. From the compass and sextant to GPS, we have traded our natural functions for reliance on machines, which began on and made sense while applied to ships and planes.

London cab drivers must pass a test called “the Knowledge” consisting of thousands of different routes in the city that take two or three years to learn. Those taxi drivers have a much larger rear part of the hippocampus than other people. Yet London bus drivers, presumably driving unchanging routes, show no enlargement of the hippocampus.

Tests show a difference in male and female navigational ability which has direct links to social position and inequality. Women were assumed to be less capable of driving from a team of horses to a car, which led to men driving while women cultivated a socially encouraged manner of helplessness. Military service required men to read maps and learn survival skills which were enhanced by off-road hunting, fishing and hiking.

Surprisingly, the second kind of map related to navigation and the hippocampus is social space and our position in a social world, behavior often associated with women. We map relationships from close friends to distant relations as electrical signals in our brains place others physically and allow us to predict their future behavior.

As Barrie writes, “Such diverse activities as conducting a conversation, managing social relationships, making sensible decisions, manipulating ideas, making plans for the future, and even exercising our creativity are impossible without a healthy hippocampus.”

City dwellers lose navigation faster than those in the country since they do not need to closely observe their surroundings or keep track of their whereabouts. After I exited the subway in New York, I walked less than a block to spot a street sign indicating if I needed to change direction. Generally humans flow in currents along sidewalks and require little navigation.

A recent newspaper article on hiking listed things to take: map, water, snacks, windbreaker, extra clothes and a fully charged cell phone. Seriously? Sadly Geraldine Largay, a 66-year-old nurse hiking the Appalachian trail in Maine alone, died alone. She left the trail to “relieve herself” and ended up two miles away with enough food and water to spend three weeks texting messages that were never received.

How often have people hiked and felt instant panic when they missed a trail marker? We no longer rely on even basic observational skills, audio signals as the terrain changes or the scents of certain locations. All hikers and walkers need to stop and look behind them or a return trip may appear bewildering. Maybe with more cell phone towers, old skills won’t matter, but I am reminded with a sense of wonder that my body has capabilities I can still enhance.

Thoughts for the Day

In nature there is no alienation. Everything belongs.

Acceptance anchors us so that we might focus on the present rather than endlessly drift in a sea of wishing, dreaming, and pining for anything other than what is.

No one who has ever touched liberation could possibly want anything other than liberation for everyone.

Courtesy of