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

The Repose of Autumn

My husband and I are members of a Community Theater company and we have been rehearsing feverishly to put on our first drama, Twelve Angry Jurors. We opened this weekend and close the next. I play the role of the Foreman. It is my job to keep the jury room in order, to take and tally votes and, so it would seem, tell a lot of people to calm down and sit down, including my husband. The opening went well. Whew! When we got home from the performances we sat down to watch the Second Presidential Debate. I am hit with how relevant the highly charged characters in this 1950s play reflect what I see on my TV today.

LateAutumnLeaves_animation from Karen Hochman Brown on Vimeo.

More than being a courtroom drama, this play shows us the dynamics of a small group of individuals and how they come to be of a like mind. In this drama, and hopefully in real life, those who speak their mind in the name of truth do influence the way others act. Poisonous diatribe is stopped while sane and rational discourse has a chance to triumph.

late-autumn-leaves_triptych
Base image (center) and two “foundling” images for “Late Autumn Leaves.”

I chose Late Autumn Leaves to share this week because I just need to calm down after opening night jitters and the social politics of 2016. This work reminds me the days are getting longer and time is slowing down as we head into Fall. Green leaves are turning color. The sky is bright blue and can be seen peeking through arched cathedral windows near the center of the piece.

late-autumn-leaves_merch

 

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.

 

Naming A Piece

In the Court of the Crimson Queen

When I go to a gallery or museum, I first scan the piece for its visual impact. I might look at composition and color or acknowledge the artist’s cleverness. I then go in close to look at the details and technique. And before I take a step back to review and enjoy the art, I will glance at the title. This can give me an additional glimpse into the artist’s thoughts and expand my understanding of the work. In some cases, the title is the only thing remaining in an artwork, as in Lawrence Weiner’s 1969 conceptual piece A wall pitted by a single air rifle shot.

In The Court Of The Crimson Queen art & base
In The Court Of The Crimson Queen art & base

I find that naming art draws upon my creativity just as much as making it. I want to give my viewers a hint to what they are looking at. In most cases, I will use the botanical or common name of the plant that is my subject matter. But rather than leaving it at an identification, I try to spice it up with a bit of wit. This piece could have easily been titled Pink Rose No. 1; that would help people look for things like rose petals and structure. But using the title In the Court of the Crimson Queen adds even another dimension.

King and the Color Crimson
King and the Color Crimson

The title of this artwork is taken from the seminal Progressive Rock number “In the Court of the Crimson King” (King Crimson)—with a gender change. The piece was not created with that in mind. While working with this rose image, I found shapes that reminded me of very feminine slippers and of a fierce guard, maybe from the palace. Without the yellow dot embellishment, this piece is almost monochromatic in the red and pink area. I’m thinking that the word “red” isn’t very feminine or fierce. A quick trip to the Thesaurus gives me “Crimson.” The regal slippers and royal guard say “Queen.” A quick flash to my rock-n-roll past gets me to my very clever title!

Crimson Queen merchandise
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Beach Walks

I grew up in Santa Barbara. There are many popular beaches with vast stretches of white sand. But I prefer to stay away from the crowd and find the stretches that are a more moody and desolate. The scene here is a small walk north from the lifeguard station at Arroyo Burro State Beach.  I figure the surrounding cliffs have collapse and left these sheets of layered rock down at sea level. Time has worn the edges. Oil seepage from deposits in the Santa Barbara channel give the scene a luminescence, even on an overcast day.

RockNSurf-levels_base
Base image for Rock-N-Surf

 

The resulting artwork is the first piece I created that wasn’t based on flowers. I had been working on this project for two years and had produced about 30 layered kaleidoscopes. It was my birthday and I was feeling like working on something different. The base image seemed to fit my mood for the day and I ended up with this dark yet glowing altered seascape.

Rock-N-Surf
Rock-N-Surf

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A More Literal Translation

TheForecastIsFern_base
Base image for The Forecast Is Fern

The photograph shown here was taken in the spectacular gardens of the Spalding House, which is part of the Honolulu Museum of Art. Unlike the lush surrounding gardens, this scene is a moss covered branch with some rather ordinary ferns. They are part of some plantings at the base of a building, not really exotic at all, at least not in comparison with the rest of the grounds. The composition of the photo is not spectacular either. But I liked the crisp focus of the fern and thought it was worth playing around with it in my workspace.

The-Forecast-Is-Fern
The Forecast Is Fern

In much of my work, the subject matter is not always readily apparent. Not so in this piece. Rather than blending and bending the base image beyond recognition, I chose to keep the structure of the fern’s leaves as the highlight the piece. I wanted a feeling of dense tropical jungle created by the fingered leaves of the plant. The central motifs are more typical of the majority of my kaleidoscopes. The base is detectable, but more obscured by various manipulations. But as you move outward, the structure of the fern is readily apparent and at the border, the piece is very literal. As a balance, I warped the center into a heavily distorted glass bubble, a crystal ball if you will. Look in to the sphere to see if there is fern in your forecast.

 

Shake Your Tail Feathers

Pumped-Up Peacock_base2
Peacock at the LA Arboretum

My term as Artist-In-Residence at the Los Angeles County Arboretum was during prime peafowl mating season. When I hung the show, the males had yet to grow in their signature tail feathers. They still had their striking blue neck and head feathers to easily distinguish themselves from the less flamboyant females–but the trains were yet to come.

By the time I began creating art onsite at the Arboretum, the transformation occurred; mating season had begun. And so had the unrelenting mating call, reminiscent of a small child in distress. Of course, the highlight of the ritual is the display of the colorful tail feathers, spread out like so many iridescent eyes. I began to notice hearing a rattling sound when a female was around. It seems the peacock is able to vibrate his train in such a way that the long hair-like feathers attached to the main quill flutter while the eyes stay pretty much in place. This must be very attractive and mesmerizing for the peahen. It was for me!

Pumped-Up Peacock

Quite fittingly for the surroundings, the subject of my first piece at the Arboretum was “Pumped-up Peacock,” a celebration of very showy fertility.

Here’s an interesting article about peacock “train rattling.”

 

 

 

http://www.arboretum.org/library-spotlight-peacocks-at-the-arboretum/

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Inspiration in the sky

I love spending time with the sky. That’s where the sunsets live. It’s where the stars are. I am always fascinated by rainbows and will stop in my tracks to marvel at their beauty. I sometimes find them in clouds when there is no rain. I even see them circling a slightly misty full moon.

In Surf And Rainbow Clouds, Arching And Uplifting Five I made reflections from a wispy sky and lined them up in formation. I had the sky breach the horizon line here, adding an extra bit of surrealism to the seascape and its rainbow overlay.

Surf and Rainbow Clouds – Arching and Uplifting Five_artwork

 

 

 

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Arboretum Artist-in-Residence

The Forecast Is Fern
The Forecast Is Fern

My kaleidoscopic artworks are still on display at the Gallery at The Los Angeles County Arboretum. The show, Reflections In The Garden runs through the end of June, and is housed in the Arboretum’s newly renovated Library.

I’m happy to announce that I will be demonstrating my creation process on four separate occasions, onsite at the gallery. I’m taking my camera and computer and will create a new piece, from start to finish over a five hour period. In each session, I will begin by taking photographs around the Arboretum grounds. I will select an image to work with and then make several layers of the image, reflected in many ways. I will continue with my process until I (hopefully) finish an artwork. Come watch me work.

Join me at the Arboretum!

To get to the Gallery at The Los Angeles County Arboretum, go to the main entrance and the Library is immediately to the left, through the double doors. Admission or membership are required to tour the grounds, however it is not required to visit the Library.

301 North Baldwin Avenue • Arcadia, CA  91007

11:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Reflections In The Garden at the LA County Arboretum

I am very happy to announce that I am to be the inaugural artist of the newly renovated Library at the Arboretum. The interior space has been designed with the intent to show local artists whose work complements its surrounding botanical collection. I am installing my kaleidoscopic artwork in early January with the show running through the end of June.
Reflections In The Garden notice