Monday, May 25, 2009

Garden Party

No doubt the hardest thing to be in Berkeley is a Republican, but I'd say lawn gnomes are a close second. How could a mass-produced, garden variety lawn gnome not feel upstaged by Buldan Seka's hand-crafted, exuberant, outsized ceramics? Ms. Seka, an artist-in-residence at the California College of Arts and Crafts, lives in a large, rose-colored home on Spruce Street. That's number 707, should you decide to walk by, which I highly recommend you do.

A perpetual party spills out of that big, pink house. Fantastical figurative sculptures gather around the ground floor, perch on the second story terrace, and gaze out at the vast bay view from a third floor balcony. Busty queens, muscular macho men, giant terra cotta lingams, toddler-friendly zoo animals and strange creatures from the artist's personal mythology all vie for the passerby's attention. They're fun, loud, wildly decorative, strangely alive and just a wee bit creepy. I suspect the only way they'd tolerate a lawn gnome is at the end of a leash.

To read about Ms. Seka, click here.

Or here.

Wanna see some more Berkeley garden ornaments?
Come take a walk with me.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pencils and Tassels

Unless you're a workaholic, or battle chronic depression, you can probably think of an activity that pushes your reset button. Perhaps you play golf - or the violin. Or you put on the glitz and go ballroom dancing. You might be a daredevil with a skydiving habit. You surf, ride horses, practice yoga or bake a cake for every occasion. Maybe you just sit in your yard and see what the trees are up to.

Obviously, I like to write. But for me, one of the most centering, rewarding activities is life drawing. As corny as it sounds, I feel an existential, humanist bond with the people I sketch. If they are young and comely, I think of the promising life before them. If they are older, I try to read their laugh lines. The more you stare at your models, and this is true for both portraits and nudes, the more vulnerable they become, the more real, the more they matter. The act of drawing becomes an act of compassion. You may never learn the models' names, or anything about them, but somehow, they are no longer strangers to you.

Since I moved out to the Bay Area, I have been preoccupied with generating income, getting my teenage son straightened out and counseling my daughter about her future. I did attempt to locate a life drawing venue but found nothing convenient. Eventually, I joined The San Francisco Life Drawing Group on and waited in vain for notice of a sketch-in. Six or eight months went by, and then today, an email:

"Come out on Tuesday, May 26th 2009 for the sexiest workshop in town! HAPPY HOUR drink specials! Why stop the Memorial Day fun on Monday? Come out on Tuesday to sketch the amazingly talented Burlesque superstar, Dottie Lux! The Burlesque Times just voted her The Best Burlesque Performer of the Month of May! This month we are inviting everyone who participates in the workshop to put their favorite drawings on display for the evening with the option to sell them if you want. We will be putting display walls up for everyone to see, so please invite your non-sketcher friends to come and check out the art and hang at the bar! As always our sponsor Baby Tattoo Books is providing beautifully printed books which we will give away as prizes for each month's drawing contest."

Apparently, this is a great opportunity to hang out with a bunch of people my daughter's age, drink mojitos and draw some heavily made-up chick in tassels, a G-string and a come-hither expression. San Francisco strikes again. I think I'm going to pass.

There's a place, and a market for erotica, and there always will be. It's just never interested me. Even Rodin's most erotic works are about more than sex. Love, youth, desire, fragility. Time stopping and time slipping away. Life emerging from paper and stone. The human condition, for God sakes. Nudity has a dignity and an eloquence that no tassel can touch.

I haven't drawn in nearly five years, but I remember all my favorite models. The lovely, flaming-haired dancer, nicknamed "the burning bush" by the younger art students. Her toes were gnarly and twisted from years of dancing en-pointe, and her coloring was made for chalk pastels. The handsome gay man with the chiseled German face and flawless male physique. The wiry Peruvian engineering student with the pre-columbian profile, whose dark skin I turned a vivid red when I sketched him in oil pastels on brown wrapping paper. The dreadlocked African American teacher who was a dead ringer for Forrest Whitaker, right down to the lazy eye. The earthy Russian girl with the face of a Slavic angel and the body of a paleolithic fertility goddess.

Only the dancer could have pulled off burlesque, but they were all beautiful to me.