January 2011


This past weekend was the LA Art Show. I try to go every other year, and this was an “on” year. I was curious to see some of the new galleries, all of the Chinese galleries and the work in general. My friend Maite Agahnia went with me, it’s always more fun to be astounded with a friend.

First stop was Chase Langford‘s studio. I’m curating a show in New York, more on that later but I wanted to see his work.   Amazing work, check it out, and you’ll be hearing and seeing more as the show gets closer. It was a highlight of the day to be sure.

We arrived at the Convention Center, grabbed a bite, and headed into the show. The crowds were large. It was hard to see some of the art, I felt herded through some of the aisles, taking on the pace of the crowd because everyone was so packed in. The crowd was mixed, some collectors, general public curious, the occasional art student and the artists dressed so as to be sure to be spotted as the creatives in the crowd.

Maite and I made one round, chatted with Sue Greenwood and Maria O’Malley with Sue Greenwood Fine Art and then decided it was time to have a drink and a seat. We grabbed a beer and found a small spot in the lounge to hang out and chat. We sat down next to a young woman who was having her ear chatted off by a man in a UCLA track suit, talking about college and tuition and such. I over heard her mention that she wanted to go to UCLA art school, that she had just sent in her application and was waiting to hear. He proceeded to pontificate on all of the perils of the art world, apparently he was a biochemist at UCLA and knew all about how hard it was to make it in the art world. Call me a skeptic but I didn’t think he knew his ass from his elbow when it came to being an artist. I asked Maite, “Do you think I should interrupt?”  “Good luck, it doesn’t look like he’s going to quit anytime soon,” she said.

I made a break for it, tapped her on the knee and told her that I overheard where she wanted to go to school and that I went to school there. You’d think I told her I was Santa in the off season. Instantly the old man glared at me, how dare I break his trance over the young impressionable! She had numerous questions for me, and so I answered them honestly. She wanted to know was I glad that I went there? Was it worth it? What am I doing now?

All of a sudden felt like I was seeing myself as a 17 year old girl, curious and scared and unsure but charging forward anyway. It was like I went back to give myself advice I so wished I’d had then. Check out the faculty, know what you want to learn and see if they are going to teach it to you, be true to who you are and find the school that fits you. I assured her that she could make it, not to listen to people who tell you all the reasons why it’s not practical to be an artist, why they should just do it on the side and be responsible and get a proper degree. Gratefully, this is when the man got up and left.

I probably should have given her my card, but I was so in the moment that I didn’t think about it. I suppose it’ll be one of those instances we’ll both look back on later, a coincidental passing, a momentary connection. And I wonder if she’s telling the story today, about how a woman who went to UCLA sat down next to her and answered a bunch of her questions about art school. What are the odds? Indeed, what are the odds.

There. I said it. Grief is a sneaky bastard and I feel like I have the right to call it like I see it. The last two years have been full of loss for me. Not looking for sympathy here, just stating the facts. The most significant was the passing of both of my grandfathers and my teaching mentor Karin Baker.

Grief is tricky. I cried and cried, and I guess I thought that while I’d be sad the active part of grieving would be done and I ‘d get on with it. Somehow like I’d get to cross it off my to do list. Turns out, grief is a bit more persistent and sneaky than that.  Some of you may know this already, but I guess I just hadn’t experienced so many losses so close together to feel like before I had healed from one another happened.

So yesterday I was finishing up my lesson plans for summer camp at the New Children’s Museum. I haven’t taught camp in a couple of summers, mostly because San Diego Museum of Art closed down their program in 2009 and that was the primary place I taught, plus I had stopped teaching most programs so I could paint more.

As I was writing my lessons and coming up with the game plan, grief knocked hard on the door. “Who would you most like to call right now?” it asked. Karin Baker. She would know the best plaster recipe, the best place to buy the electrical wire and probably know how much it would cost, plus tax of course, and she would loan me her hard to find Calder Circus video.  But unless I can get AT&T to place a call to heaven, it isn’t going to happen.  And that’s when it hit me, teaching kids brings back the grief of losing Karin.  She was like a mother and a mentor to all of us who taught at one time or another at SDMA and her loss hit all of us really hard. Most of my colleagues have continued to teach kids, and in fact most are classroom teachers and do it every day. I had left that behind to pursue painting full time and don’t think I realized how closely teaching kids was woven together with my love for Karin.

Thinking about what to teach, materials to use, making sure I have a good mix of media, that women artists are represented, looking through the art supply catalog, all reminds me of Karin. I remember the first time I placed an order for materials to teach 4-6 year olds. I wanted googly eyes for a puppet project. I got a brief email back from Karin, who I hadn’t met yet, which just said, “no googly eyes, and by the way don’t order glitter either. Ever.” Classic Karin, and I can hear her giggle as she hit the send button. Turns out, we had glitter, but it was called “dreaded glitter” and was brought out in only the most dire of teaching situations. And that’s the part that makes me laugh, remembering Karin and her wicked sense of humor, her calm ability to deal with any classroom catastrophe, and her forever generous mentoring. And then comes the grief, the missing. So I sit with it, just as I am doing now as I write this.

I’ll be processing through this more in the days and months to come. I’ve got a new adventure ahead, not quite ready to reveal it yet, but let’s just say it’s a dream job and I’d love to call Karin and tell her all about it.