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

Are You Feeling The Energy?

The Great Big Aloe Eye in the Sky is one of my more energetic pieces. The bright orange of the aloe bloom vibrates against the brisk blue sky. 

The Great Big Aloe Eye In The Sky Animation from Karen Hochman Brown on Vimeo.

I took the photograph used to create this work at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. It had rained only hours before I arrived. I usually focus in on the flower for my pieces, but the combination of the orange spikes and clear blue sky were irresistible.

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Base Image for “The Great Big Aloe Eye in the Sky”

The Great Big Aloe Eye in the Sky is featured as the cover of my 2017 calendar. I only have a limited number and they will sell out quickly. 

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Click here to purchase the 2017 Wall Calendar

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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Adorn Your World With My 2017 Calendar

This is the sixth year of my self-published calendar/portfolio. Before I started specializing in my current form of art, I was a graphic designer. I guess I still am. The calendar gives me a chance to revisit my prior occupation. Putting the calendar together also gives me an opportunity to look back on the art I have created this year and relive what was going on with my life for each piece. The creations are very personal for me. Each photograph is a reminder of my travels or my mother’s garden or whatever was going on the day I took the picture. Each finished work is a memento that relays clues for what was going on in my life.

 

I included the four kaleidoscope pictures I created early in the year as Artist-In-Residence at the Los Angeles Arboretum. I wandered the grounds early in the morning to take photographs I would work with throughout the day, ending in the afternoon, and these pieces were done. This was an exciting challenge, creating a piece of art in a single day, in front of an audience. You can find these artworks in the calendar in February, April, November and December.

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Pieces I created for the Sanchez Art Center’s 50|50 Show in Pacifica, CA

 

The other big project I had this year is represented in the months of January, June and July. These artworks were part of an installation at Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica, California. In this project, I created 50 small artworks in 50 days over the summer. I decided to use this as an opportunity to incorporate a technique I have been toying with for years, even before the kaleidoscopes. The basic form continues with the use of a single photograph that I have distorted and reflected. But for these small works, I made the backgrounds with a technique I developed that brushstrokes to paint the image based on texture, shape and luminescence of a photograph.

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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.

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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.

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Finding Focus in the Calm Places

It was January of 2011 and I was struggling with where I wanted to take my art and my art career. I had been making Judaic artwork using some powerful graphic synthesizer programs. The goal was to print images to silk to make prayer shawls. The technology was new and expensive, and over the course of a year and a half, I found the whole process too frustrating to continue.

 

So now I find myself lost and unfocused. I am at the end of that journey. I’m out of a job, a job that I invented. I feel betrayed by the very thing that feeds my soul and gives me great comfort. For many months, I tinkered with various software programs looking for something new to do. I revisited prior projects to see if new insight would advance them to the front.

 

Base image (center) and two "foundlings" for "Erythrina On Fire."
Base image (center) and two “foundlings” for “Erythrina On Fire.”

One day, I made the inspirational leap to use photographs with the math-based software that landed me in a place where I was able to regain my focus. So much so, that I have been concentrating on this series for almost six years, creating more than one hundred, forty pieces.

In the artwork Erythrina On Fire, I have constructed a large swath of smooth cream color against the very busy orange structure of the reflected flower. You can see in the animation of the piece how I altered the colors to give the viewer a place to rest comfortably in a calm place amid the surrounding chaos.

 

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Cochlear Calla Lily Spin

It has long been a goal of mine to make my artworks move. I get a chance to go deeper into the trance-inducing nature of my kaleidoscopes. I also have the opportunity to show the audience how my work is constructed.

Cochlear Calla Lily is constructed in very few parts. I was taken by the simplicity in form of the subject blossom and wanted to reflect that feeling in the work. There is a simple background layer and a central hub. There is a large wreath-like motif and four corner doodads.

Base image (center) and two “foundlings” for Cochlear Calla Lily

The most complex part of the piece is that main motif—a twelve-layered repetition of a single image. When I give my artwork movement, I can show how these distorted and reflected calla blossom dances into place around the wheel.

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