I Love to Paint (Even Walls)
I arrived back in SoCal from being away in Sweden and France, and within two days was driving back out to our desert property to see what had survived the first month of real heat. And although Ted said we now have water, we do not. The well is fixed, the bacteria in the water shocked, the electricity flowing. But we have a broken pipe between the well and the house (probably caused by the trash pickers). Our contractor can't convince any of his workers to return to work in 107 degree temperatures, in a house with no water or AC.
So... I bought a portable AC to keep at least one room cool. And it worked! Kid .02 and I were able to work and sleep in that one room. And what to do when you can't go outside? Paint!
Here's my beautiful lad pulling hardware from the bedroom walls, which used to be a dusky pink and now will be bright white (for the time being). As I work in the house, a picture forms of the previous owner as a woman who was once happy, but later lost control of her life. She had three locks on the bedroom door, very sad.
Saturday night we went out to an opening at JTAG and a Pride show at Art Queen. Also popped into La Matadora, great embroidery show, very smart.
Next morning I got up early (yay for jet lag!) and painted part of the living room, white and green. Ted hates green paint, but was willing to do it if we can eventually make a cactus wallpaper here. Fine with me--patterns will help hide all the large holes that must have held up a mirror.
By 1pm it got too hot to work. A friend brought out 100 gallon tanks to water the two olive trees that are looking bad (like on their last leaf). It was definitely old school, hooking hoses up to the tanks in the back of his truck, and sucking the water into the hose with his mouth.
Next weekend will return, and have appointments with the electrician to start to update the house, a solar company, an AC company, and a couple friends who will come by to view the disaster. AND a handyman to dig a trench to fix the broken pipe. I hope, I hope, I hope.
I'm at a residency in Northern France called the Centre Pompadour Laboratory of Neo Feminism. My main goal is to paint a series of work for a show in November at Blue Azul Gallery in San Diego, but I'm also doing research on residencies, getting ideas for the Desert Dairy. I will eventually write about both this French residency and my Irish residency last year in detail, but first I want to think about residencies in general.
When I was an undergrad in the 1980s, and a grad student 15 years later, the topic of residencies rarely came up. I thought they were only for famous or successful artists, and that they were difficult to get, both of which were probably true at the time. Now, every good academic art program promotes residencies, and there are hundreds all over the world. A young woman here in France, who just finished her undergrad, told me her professors constantly pushed the ambitious students to apply. Read any bios of artists with galleries lately? They are stacked with residency awards. It's both fantastic and a racket. And a business.
I've been asking fellow residents about expectations, and about the reality, of this suddenly widespread rite of passage. Some, like me, arrive with a specific plan, materials and vision of a project, either new or continuing. Then it's just a matter of spending time making the work. Other artists come to a residency to experience the specific place (the architecture, the natural setting, the vibe, the fellow artists, even the weather...) and then they make work based on reactions and inspiration. In my opinion this is the riskier option, but that's perhaps because it's not a natural way for me to make art.
The biggest anticipation when preparing for a residency is that you'll have time to yourself. This is also the biggest shock. Most artists are so busy with their lives/jobs/responsibilities, that carving out large amounts of time to think about, and make, work seems an unimaginable luxury. We crave what we don't have. Personally, I almost never have a continuous time block of more than two hours in a day to paint. So we all can't wait for the hours/days/weeks in front of us with only our work.
Then comes the reality. It's not a vacation. Although you may do a bit of tourism, you basically stay in one place and work. All that time is scary. After a few days, when the excitement of the new place wears off, you begin to be a bit afraid that you've committed too much time--you can feel guilt, or boredom, or even drudgery in your work. Then a routine forms and you get used to it. Some days are great, and you work for 12 hours feeling fantastic. Or you work a bit and then have inspiring conversations with the other artists. Or you take long walks and solve the problems you're grappling with. Other days are not so good. You feel blocked. You paint/sculpt/write/compose/work badly. You fail. You take naps.
In the end, some artists accomplish completed projects, or at least gain new focus or energy. Some come away with nothing concrete, but hope the residency will affect future work. I supposed some simply have another line on their resume, or connections in other cities/countries. Our networks expand, but more importantly, our artwork becomes bigger. We understand the world a bit better.
What do you think? What have you experienced? What would you like an artist residency to be?
As you all might assume, water is somewhat important out in the desert. There is the drinking, and the watering of plants, and the house cleaning, the flushing, and cat hydration. All of those are things we have not been able to do since almost the day we got this place. It is a funny story…..
So, the woman that owned our place was stealing electricity from Edison. She had jumped power from the electric pole into her fuse box, bypassing the meter with car jumper cables. Besides a possible fire hazard we didn’t want to get tagged for being electric thieves, so as soon as we got the house we called Edison and they cut the power. Good citizens us.
Being city folk we didn’t realize that our honesty and fear of fire would come back to bite us in the ass... like a scorpion hiding in your shoe, which would actually bite your toe and not your ass, but anyway... it seems that that power line worked the well pump and that there were two fuse boxes. One for the house and one for the barn/pump. So by doing the right thing we cut our water supply and sealed our non-watery fate.
The guy who cut the power told us it would take about two weeks to get a new electric panel, but he assured us this was simple and we could have things up and running after that. That was 10 weeks ago. Since the house is so old and pre-records, there is no paperwork showing that we had a legal meter and Edison doesn’t like having two meters on a single property anymore. Well, that took seven weeks to get sorted out. Still no water.
Each time Anna and I went up to the property we had to drive to the JT tourist center in 29, fill up our single and 5 gallon water bottles, bring them all back to the house and then water plants, flush toilets, put out water for the two cats that live in the crawl space below the roof. Then we would drive back and do it all again before they closed. Two trips a day for water just for the basics, like pioneers. I actually had to drive out to the desert once just to make sure the cats had water. A five hour round trip.
Last week we were told that the power was fixed, so we had the well guy come and update the well. Once that was done we flipped the switch only to find that the meter was never turned on and we still had no power. So our weekend was once again filled with trips to get water and no way to wash the dishes that have been piled up in the sink, or anything else. We were getting tired of driving to the tourist center for a working toilet.
Yesterday, after calling Edison again (I've called every 2 days for a month), begging for someone to come deal with things, some guy came out and said, “Oh, no one turned on the meter. They could have done that from the office. I'll turn it on." He flipped a switch on his tablet and amazingly, power was on. Finally.
So now we have water. The cats have a four gallon tank on the patio just for them for when we are gone. All is right with the world, except for the scorpions and the remaining trash. But that will be gone soon. The trash, not the scorpions, I mean. Oh, and the snakes. We're waiting for them to show up.
Below are photos of the old well, and the new well. Neither of which look very well-like. Ideas to improve?
Anna does most of the writing. Ted does most of the photos. But sometimes we switch. We are repairing a distressed property in 29 Palms, California, and eventually hope to run an artist residency there.