At the end of last year, I was offered a solo exhibition at a cute little cafe in Washington Heights. The opportunity couldn’t have come at a worse time. Christmas and New Years were quickly approaching, my in-laws were due to arrive from England for a 10 day visit, and my mother was in the hospital. Despite all of this, I said yes and got down to work. It was a stressful, sleepless, and ultimately joyous month preparing my show, “Beyond the Sea”. When it was finally hung and living in the space, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and a sense of accomplishment washed over me. I did it. I made the deadline with some time to spare. I broke the tape crossing the finish line and the theme from Rocky played in my head. This contentment lasted a few days and then I thought:
Those two words sent shivers down my spine. Trying to ride the wave of creativity and on an emotional high, I got back on that horse. But looking at my camera in my hands, seeing that corner in my living room where I do my work, I thought my ideas would flow like a river. Instead I heard the sound of drip……drip…………….drip.
Where did my mojo go? Where is my creative spark and how do I get it back? I’m frozen. Feet stuck in thick mud that’s been mixed with quicksand and concrete. It’s the dreaded ”dry spell ”. I’ve gone through this before. When inspiration is replaced by doubt. It’s like learning to walk again after you’ve run a marathon. Legs collapsing under you, arms motionless, the will to move is there but the body is telling you, “No way, José”. So you lay there, like a wad of chewed gum on the sidewalk and you wait to gain your strength. Wait until the ideas start flowing. Until you find your center again. Wait until the desire to make art is like a lightening bolt buzzing through your body. But you wait…..and wait…..and wait. No buzz, no yearning. Just uncertainty. Everything becomes day old oatmeal. Bland and colorless. Where is Cher when you need her to slap your face and yell “SNAPOUTOFIT!”
I take walks to get out of my own head, watch documentaries about artists, or read quotes by other creatives looking for some insight or wisdom. I work on other projects that need less brain power. All to no avail. I think I really just need Cher or at least some sort of metaphysical version of her in that famous scene. I’ve gotten over the block before and I’ll get over it again. Until that happens, I will read, work, grumble, walk, rip up ideas, and come up with new ones.
As we enter into the holiday season, I wanted to talk a little bit about….what else….food. In recent years, I have found myself drawn to photographing food, people that make it and the surroundings they fill. From picking fresh veg at the farmers market, prepping, plating, serving, and eating. There is a method and purpose to it all. Cooking can be basic or complicated. It is an art and a gesture of giving love. How many of us have a fond memory of a mother, grandmother, spouse, or friend making homemade sauce or baking a birthday cake and how it tasted but more importantly how it made you feel. A simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich can take on more meaning when it’s made with love.
From simple street food to home cooking to high end gourmet meals, the feeling is still the same. It’s the art of creating a dish that is intended to be consumed, to nourish the body and, when done right, the soul. I love the visual flavor of a dish well plated. The color of a grapefruit, the curve of a pepper, the way cheese can crumbles to mimic a tiny mountain range or black olives glistening in a vintage dish. It’s the art of creating with food and the pride when these tasty morsels are set down in front of you. Cooking is edible affection.
My appreciation for the art of cooking is nothing new. But it’s expanded greatly since I met my husband. He loves food. He loves shopping for it, reading recipes, planning meals, finding strange ingredients from other parts of the world to experiment with. He loves cooking. It is his way of expressing himself, his way of giving to others. It’s his moment of zen, his yoga, if you will. When guests come over for dinner, he pulls out spice mixtures and urges them to smell and taste these strange powders. When we travel, we search for out of the way markets and spice shops. I watch as his eyes light up like a child at Christmas at the prospect of a new flavor. He loves to cook and cooking is love.
Last summer I had the pleasure of spending some time with artist Halima Cassell. She is a British sculpture working in clay, marble, wood, and even glass.
To quoteWikipedia: “Her work is described as having “strong geometric elements and recurrent patterns that are often inspired by the repetitive motifs found in Islamic architecture and North African surface design”
The plan was to spend a few days with her and to photograph her sculpting. To capture the artist in the moment of creation. I envisioned detailed, tight shots of her hands on the blade while chips of stone flew haphazardly to the studio floor. Sweat on her brow as the forms took shape. The passion in her expression. The artist at work.
However, the visions in my head didn’t end up in my lens. I observed her making phone calls to gallery owners and private collectors, writing up proposals for art grants, meeting with museum curators to talk about her current show, and making connections for future ones. I helped stuff cards with photos of her work into envelopes to be sold at her various exhibitions. I went to a school play, ate dinner with the family, and read chapters of Charlotte’s Web before Izak’s bedtime. Picked heaps of ripe berries from their vines as the boys played in the front yard between the sculptures in the garden. This was not at all what I had pictured. In fact, it was better.
I witnessed a real, working and living artist. A woman who put in 12-13 hours a day on the business while making sure there was time for the family. I witnessed a home that was hectic, but full of life. A place where being an artist, a mother, a family was as seamless as living and breathing. Works from previous exhibitions sat next to soccer balls and bikes. Sleepy cats curled up on the stone structures to sun themselves. Even though this was nothing like I had imagined, I learned something valuable.
For Halima and her family, art is life and life is an art.
Thank you Halima, Martin, Izak, and Hannas for allowing me to be part of your lives. I was an honor and a gift.