There Be Dragons Here

In the winter, around the solstice, we would rejoice in my mother’s front garden, as the dragons would emerge from their spiky nests. For that is what we called the giant, arching flower spikes of the agave atenuata plants that populate the frontage of the property. They became famous. Really! Buses of tourists actually stop for pictures when the dragons are in bloom.

Base image for Agave Solstice
Base image for Agave Solstice

Something I find most fascinating about the agave is that the flowers don’t produce seeds per se. Each blossom in the giant cluster turns into a baby plant, a pup.  And sometimes, a few of the pups still attached to the base of the cluster, in a premature exuberance of growth hormones, will sprout their own blossoms, creating a brood of mini-dragon.

©Susan Shalbe
©Susan Shalbe

Upon blooming, the agave plant has fulfilled it’s mission and produced hundreds of pups that may or may not take root. It’s a numbers game. The plant will whither and die, only to rise again in the form of new growth that will continue the cycle some ten to fifteen years hence. Unfortunately, the small blooming minis suffer the same fate as the mother plant.

The base image for Agave Solstice is from a less explosive stage in the life of the plant.

Agave Solstice
Agave Solstice

It’s done when I say it’s done.

Over the past several months, I have been sharing animations of my work that take you through the process of constructing a piece as I build it up layer by layer. Today I am sharing a different aspect of the creative process. When is a piece done? It is easy to overwork in the quest for that moment when the artwork is finished. Working on the computer, I have the luxury (or is it a curse?) of being able to endlessly edit. I also have the ability to save stages of a piece. The animation I am presenting here goes through many stages in the creation of “Perito Moreno Glacier,” searching for that moment when it is done.

Perito Moreno Glacier_animation from Karen Hochman Brown on Vimeo.

The Perito Moreno Glacier in southern Patagonia was one of the highlights of our trip to Argentina. My husband and I take the standard package deal for most of our travels. No jeeps or helicopters, we do the pedestrian version of the tour. At Perito Moreno, that means a multi-storied catwalk that comes very close to the face of the glacier. Your base of operations is a vast tourist center/cafeteria atop an overlook to the giant glacier. And you walk down a metal path that keeps the hoards from trampling the earth and still get up close to the face.

perito-moreno-triptych
Bits and pieces from the artwork. Some used, some not.

The view is from a high vantage point. The jagged structure of the glacier surface is startling in its severity. I knew I must take many pictures of the amazing blues and patterns to use in a kaleidoscope. As I began to work on the piece, I was continually stymied. My work has been mainly of organic material. The form of giant ice structures and watery blues seem unfamiliar, and monochromatic is problematic. And so I fiddle with many different iterations in search of the point when the piece is done. I believe that creating “Perito Moreno Glacier” took more time than any other work of mine. The animation shows “only” 14 of the 31 versions I recorded. I printed out drafts at an alarming rate. I gave it a rest for two weeks—twice. But in the end, it was beautiful; it was dramatic; it was done. 

Share the Love

#LoveWins

I have always loved making things. As a child, I sold watercolor greeting cards and beaded jewelry in my father’s place of business. I made my own clothes. I painted and crochet and embroidered and set bezels and on and on and on. While reviewing an old diary, I see that at one point, I had wanted to be a world famous fashion designer. I did have a small stint at making playful fabric hats (Bell Hats Over The Pacific) and other children’s dress-up items, but I moved on to working completely on my computer. 

LoveWins Animation from Karen Hochman Brown on Vimeo.

And in the digital realm, there is no actual product. Yes, I can and do print on paper and aluminum substrates that can be used to dress up walls. But my earlier passion was to make garments and personal adornments. For this, I have had to wait for the technology to print designs on fabric. And it is quite an interesting world now that artwork can be translated into fashion on demand! The first manufacturer I used gave me a good looking garment, but the fabric was thin and I was worried about having a Lululemon moment. Fortunately, I have found a company that produces a fine product that I am proud to present.

Leggings and beanie design from "LoveWins."
Leggings and beanie designs based on the artwork “LoveWins.”

I decided to use my artwork “LoveWins” for my first foray into digital printing on fabric. The piece was made in support of marriage equality and I think using it for fashion is an expressive way to share the love. The leggings and beanies I started with are a fun and cool way to take my artwork off the walls and share the love with the world. You can find them and other designs I’ve been working on over on my Art of Where site here!

 

Keep Loving

Loving Day commemorates the 1967 Supreme Court decision of Loving v. Virginia, the case that legalized interracial marriage. Both the case and the holiday take their name from Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple that grew up and fell in love in Virginia. Although Loving v. Virginia was decided in 1967, the most reluctant southern states took until the year 2000 to repeal their miscegenation laws. This became pertinent in my life when our family became inter-racial when my son and his wife were married on Loving Day. The basis for this artwork is my beautiful daughter-in-law’s wedding bouquet.

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Feminine Rose Mystique

My husband has sub-titled this piece “Eggs and Orifices.” I think that is fitting for this powerfully feminine piece.

A bed of roses has been carefully arranged for a dance of fertility.

Base image (center) and two "foundlings" for "Victoria Rose."
Base image (center) and two “foundlings” for “Victoria Rose.”

Open petals of the pink rose are transformed into fleshy openings. Each corner holds an egg perched on the edge of a cliff, awaiting a synchronized dive into the welcoming folds. Corseted hourglass figures suspend a circular fixture above the bed, almost obscuring it from view. There is a hint of something lurid, maybe a bit nasty.

victoria-rose_merch

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Warrior In Paradise

The base image used to create Bird O'Paradise by Karen Hochman Brown.

I meditate on Bird OParadise when I am in need of powerful inspiration. There is nothing shy about this piece. The structure and boldness of the Bird of Paradise flower is apparent in the artwork.

Bird O’Paradise from Karen Hochman Brown on Vimeo.

The dominant motif is the vibrant orange square. Its double fortified walls are suspended from a blue perimeter above a featureless green field. Inside another blue boundary is a dynamic sun. The orb’s horned aggression is held in check, trapped inside crystal.

Base image (center) and two "foundlings" for "Bird O'Paradise

Base image (center) and two “foundlings” for “Bird O’Paradise.”

When creating this piece, I struggled with the warrior forms that were advancing. The orange is fierce and somewhat aggressive. It is from the “head” part of the bloom. The edges are hard and there are dangerously sharp points. But nature has balance. The flower itself provided relief from the forceful orange with its indigo petals that happen to be fused into the shape of a heart.

Blue is the complementary color of orange. They reside across each other in the color wheel. Nothing that is in orange is in blue and vice versa. Mix them together and you get mud. Keep them separate and they create tension. The hot orange does not overpower the cool blue, nor does the blue subdue the orange.

bird-oparadise_merch

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Erotic Lure of the Passion Flower

What is it about this passion flower that intrigues me so? Is it the fleshy petals and sepals that burst open with a violent pink. Maybe it’s the sturdy strands of the purple tiger-striped corona. This beautiful geometry is designed to attract and direct pollinators to the nectaries in the middle. The dressing of the bloom is erotic and frilly, showing off its need for reproduction.

 

I’m not as taken with the actual sex parts of the flower. It seems to me that the alien structure of the carpels and stamens needs to be dressed up in a fancy-pants target to attract the creatures required to help it reproduce.

passon-on-grass_triptych
Base image and two “foundlings” for “Passion On Grass.”

 

When I take pictures of passion flowers, I try to figure out how to capture a great image around this interior structure that I find so distracting. I found a solution in this case by capturing this freshly opened blossom in profile on my lawn.

passon-on-grass_merchandise

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Gaze Into The Crystal

I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what is in the future. But the world out there is looking a little bit scary. I open up my computer and am bombarded with news of a world gone crazy—politics, gun violence, climate issues, terrorism, race, greed, corruption and more. My Facebook feed will give me nice things to look at, even beyond cute kitten videos and baby’s first steps, but I still have to wade through the muck of frightening stories. The internet is a hard place to find peace.

Animation showing the base image and layers of Magnolia Focus

I create art on my computer. Each of my pieces represents hours spent in competition with Tweets and updates and news. My calendar reminds me to make blog posts (like this one). Banners flash across my screen letting me know I have a new communication. The whole world screams for my attention.

It takes steely self-control to actually make my art. But once I begin, once I have really dived into the crystal display, magic happens. The lights blinking for my attention melt away. I find total focus. Hours go by without me even thinking once about the latest poll numbers. Amid the noisy outside world, I am able to channel inner calm and create with abandon. I am transported into a state of total focus, of joyous celebration in the act of creating.

So now, you are reading this on your device desktop. I am begging to be the distraction in a small slice of your day. The irony is not lost on me. But it is my dearest hope that you find my artwork and animations more peaceful than the news and more relevant than puppies in flower pots.

Magnolia Focus_merch

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Yummy Vegetables

It’s been a little over half a year since I have started eating only plant based foods. Yes, that means I’m vegan. Most of my meals now start with fresh vegetables. So these pea pods were probably about to be be combined with some mushrooms for a tasty stir fry.

Base image for Sliced Pea Pods
Base image for Sliced Pea Pods

Look carefully and you will see my favorite santoku knife in the upper right corner. These snap peas were too beautiful to just eat, I wanted to make them into art too. So before they made it into the pan, they made it into my camera. Of course, from there, I spun them kaleidoscopically!

Sliced Pea Pod_animation from Karen Hochman Brown on Vimeo.

Sliced-Pea-Pod
Click on this image for more information on Sliced Pea Pods and how to purchase.