Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

Afternoon on a Hill – Edna St. Vincent Millay

Afternoon on a Hill
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I will be the gladdest thing  
    Under the sun!  
I will touch a hundred flowers  
    And not pick one.  
I will look at cliffs and clouds
    With quiet eyes,  
Watch the wind bow down the grass,  
    And the grass rise.  

And when lights begin to show  
    Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,  
    And then start down!

Maxfield Parrish, Ecstasy

 

3 Question View – Cynthia Cusick

*Please note: this 3QV features mature work and themes by a very talented artist. Please do not click through if this is something you do not wish to see or read*

This post is the seventh of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.


Cynthia Cusick
3 Question View – Cynthia Cusick 
Sculptor and Ceramicist, www.cynthiacusick.com
Anna: 
You describe your work as introspective, with a focus on sexuality and maturity. As an art historian, I’ve been trained to see “girl parts” in every flower and fruit, so it’s relieving to see it as clearly intentional. Why do these themes inspire you? How has living in Manhattan and now Kentucky brought different influences to your work?

Cynthia:
Being raised Catholic initially helped shape my views on sexuality as something to be hidden, confined, and separated from the self. The lip service was, ‘Yes, sexuality is a natural thing.” The unspoken message was that it was dirty, to be shunned and private to the point of being completely denied. This conflicting message made sex and sexuality an uncomfortable experience for me. I learned to avoid any sexual references, intellectually and emotionally, personally and collectively. As I grew older, I finally reached a place in my life where I assumed I had everything figured out. Instead, my marriage fell apart; I initiated the process without realizing it. I was out there alone and became acutely aware that I knew nothing.  I avoided things of which I was fearful, that scared me or made me uncomfortable. So I made the choice to face head on all of my fears and ask, “Why does this scare me?”

Making tangible objects out of intangible fears makes my fears approachable. Being alone was the biggest fear of mine at the time but it forced me to reconcile myself without outside feedback and approval. Sexuality and sexual identity elicited an uncomfortable response within me; it made me intensely curious. In current American culture, we view it as a power element rather than what it truly is: a biological construct that exists everywhere. I combine sexual elements or references with ambiguous, natural elements as a reminder of our most natural part of ourselves, that keeps us connected to the rest of the world. Some of the reactions to the genitalia-like parts of my work are thoughtful, some are repulsed, some reactions are funny. All are part of the mix. I respond to the quirky, unexpected and humor aspect. Humor eases the discomfort and make the scary less scary. 
The Incidental Observer

The Incidental Observer (Detail)

Living in Manhattan for over 15 years allowed me an environment rich with diversity of culture and points of view, the importance of being true to yourself in a sea of humanity. When I came to Kentucky, I came to fulfill my childhood dreams in an environment that inspired me. NYC has some amazing green spaces and parks, but nature is experienced in a controlled setting. I love the uninhibited quality of my rural setting; it’s never quite clear who or what has the upper advantage. I love that sense of the unexpected. It keeps me focused on the moment at hand and my relationship with the natural world. I find a sense of humility in that paradox. 

Anna: 
One of my favorite series is “The 35 Symptoms”, an exploration of the common symptoms of Peri-Menopause. How did creating these works express your feelings about this transition in your life? How do you think your work has developed and matured?

Cynthia: 
The 35 Symptoms is a cathartic work for me. Knowing ahead of time as much information as possible gives me the illusion of having control over uncontrollable things. When I first made The 35 Symptoms, I placed the little icons around this womb-like sculpture. It made a nice presentation but became static for me – menopause frozen in a metaphor. This phase of peri-menopause, the 2-9 years before actual menopause (yes, that’s right, sometimes it’s nine years, folks!) is anything but static. And the process doesn’t just affect me, it affects those around me. I need to give some warning and acknowledgement to the most problematic symptoms so I’ve created a kind of a shrine to display them. I use this small stage to contemplate my most prominent symptoms of the day and, in doing so, the little icons help me keep perspective. They keep me aware of what’s going on within me, but with a sense of humor about the whole process. 
When I was younger, my art was paintings, drawings, photography, two-dimensional pieces that tended to focus on solitude, stillness and isolation. Now that I’ve moved into three-dimensional work, there is more literal and metaphorical depth. Because my work in clay and other sculptural media is relatively new, I have a ways to go to feel as if my work has matured. Yet my perspective is that of a mature woman so I think I am able to use my experience to reflect and ponder some deeper experiences and questions that confront us. 


Feeling of Doom
Disturbing Memory Loss, in situ, in Adaptation Exhibit

See the whole series here: http://www.cynthiacusick.com/Portfolio/35_Symptoms.html

 

Anna: 
Now for a little whimsy – you create personality by putting little feet on most of your pottery mugs and cups, which are historically utilitarian. It’s endearing and yet simultaneously earthy and organic. How did you come up with the idea of foot-ing your drinking vessels? What about the idea of usable art appeals to you?

Cynthia:
Many terms in pottery are derived from the human body so it’s a natural extension to turn a utilitarian object into something more human-like. Terms used to describe parts of cups, bowls, and bottles are things like “foot,” “lip,” “belly,” “body,” “neck.” Moving from pure utility to personality feels natural. I find that I enjoy making functional work that behaves more like an evolved creature as opposed to making very traditional utilitarian work. My talent lies in the clumsy dent, the falling handle, the bowed-out edge and then seeing what that flaw inspires. Nature, itself, is not perfect. Nature contains many flaws, mistakes and bumps in the road but it has this wonderful capacity to adapt and evolve from those points into something even more exciting. 
I find my passion lies in seeing the form and then letting myself go back to being a kid again and using my imagination to ask: what does this look like to me? Is is a little monster? A queen? A slithery underground creature? A twisted plant? Carving, pinching and sculpting things I can still use for everyday functions transports me into those imaginary worlds and moments. For me, it makes drinking a cup of tea a much more expressive act.

Chubby Cup

You can order Cynthia’s work on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/teahorsestudio

Cynthia’s portfolio website: http://www.cynthiacusick.com

You can visit Cynthia’s blog, reflections on art and life: http://cynthiacusick.blogspot.com

A Very Few Moments

I’m sort of a sensitive person (attention: understatement). I cherish the evanescence of beauty – the fragility of a wildflower or the shimmering high note of an aria. I cry easily at happy things and sad things and beautiful things and memorable things. There have been very few moments in my life, however, which have combined all of these things. This post is about one of those moments.

Royo

One of my very favorite (living) artists is Royo, the master Spanish Impressionist. I had collected several of his serigraphs, but was longing to own an original. One day the owner of the gallery where I worked came in with two sketches under his arm, then set them against the far wall. I identified them immediately as Royo original sketches (despite the fact that we carried 40 artists and I was ten feet away) and actually -vaulted- over the massive wooden desk and snatched it up in my hot little hands.

“What is this??” I asked. Actually, I’m pretty sure I screeched.

“New sketches from Royo. They just sent them over from Spain,” he said, “Nice, aren’t they?”

Al Aire (In the Air), Royo, Original Colored Pencil on Paper

“Nice”, dear reader, did not even begin to describe the sketch in my hands. I was devastatingly heels-over-head besotted with this gorgeously nuanced sketch done in colored pencils. Only Royo could do such a magnificent scribbling on brown paper and make it look half-Da Vinci. My throat was mostly closed-up at this point, but I managed to croak, “How much?” He named the price and I ruefully hooked the sketch on the wall and stepped away.

I spent the rest of the day casting furtive glances at “my sketch”, as I now considered it. Cleverly, I had positioned it behind a door, so almost none of the foot traffic coming into the gallery could see it, unless the door was closed. When someone did pause to look at it, I hurriedly called their attention elsewhere – to a landscape, a floral, anything to prevent them from glomming on to “my sketch” and realizing they could acquire a Royo original for less than $2,000. Royo’s oils started at $9,750, to give you a sense of the futility of my task.

I made it through the better part of the day and even managed to leave the gallery for a few minutes and head to one of our other locations. When I stepped back in the door, my gallery director said, “Oh, your sketch sold.” My heart plummeted through my pancreas and I stopped dead. It turned out that it was the -other- sketch that sold, but that was all it took.

I practically tackled the owner when he re-entered the building: “I’m buying that sketch.”

He laughed, until he realized I wasn’t joking, “You can’t.” He then explained that new works had a 30 day hold on them before they were available for employee purchase. This was a bogus rule, as I knew I was the first employee threatening to buy an original off the floor.

I didn’t have 30 days. In fact, I knew I likely didn’t have 30 hours. All of my coworkers were merrily emailing the new bargain originals off to their client list. Royo sketches are both rare and in demand, due to their affordability.

So I stormed, I cried, I threatened and charmed and, in the end, I think I just wore him down. I ended up paying wall price, of course, but it felt like the best money I’d spent. Al Aire was mine. The title means In the Air and that’s pretty much where I existed. My little heels weren’t touching the ground, my head was sky-high and I floated about, probably annoying everyone in my vicinity.

Fast forward to the Royo show.

Royo was coming to our gallery. I was going to see him and meet him and maybe, if I was lucky, speak to him. I was in the throes of a giant art-history nerd crush. I felt like I was meeting John William Waterhouse or W.A. Bouguereau.

When Royo entered, he was the personification of the charming, small-boned Spanish gentleman. His charisma was unmistakable. His voice was soft, but everyone hushed when he spoke. He kissed my hand when he met me and I’m pretty sure I tilted.

I wasn’t able to approach him about my sketch until the next day. I was deeply nervous and had over-prepared. I had typed my request in Spanish, because I didn’t trust my nerves or pronunciation. It read like this:

Estimado Señor, estaría muy honrado si podría firmar mi esbozo “Al Aire”. Ella es muy hermosa y me gustaría saber nada que me puede decir acerca de ella. Esta es mi primera original y la quiero mucho. Sinceramente, Anna

Which means, roughly:

Dear sir, I would be very honored if you would sign my sketch, “Al Aire”. She is very beautiful and I would like to know anything you can tell me about her. This is my first original and I love her very much. Sincerely, Anna 

I’m fairly certain that the sheet of paper was damp with palm sweat by the time I was able to hand it to him. He read it and smiled a half-pleased smile. He picked up the sketch and looked at her, made a small noise of recognition, almost an “Ah”. He spoke rapidly in Spanish to his translator, “He remembers this, he says. It is Maria, you know.” Maria is Royo’s daughter’s best friend and one of his favorite subjects, “It was effortless, he says, she is very free.” We then posed for this picture.

Royo, Anna, and Al Aire

He dedicated the back to me with several florid strokes of the marker. When he handed it to me, I was somewhere between bliss and dismay that I was tearing up. A lot. He smiled at me again and gave me a hug. Royo hugged me; that’s something to tell the grandkids, like “Oh, yeah, I bumped elbows with Monet.”

I walked back to the front desk and set the sketch against the wall, working to regain a modicum of composure. My friend and coworker Leslie had the camera in her hands. She impulsively lifted it and snapped off a candid shot. I demurred, “Oh, don’t take a picture; I look a mess.”

She lowered the camera and told me earnestly, “You want a picture of this. You only feel this way a very few moments in life.”

And she was right.

A “Very Few” Moment

3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali

This post is the third of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali
Writer and Poet,
Lupus in Flight www.lupusinflight.com

Shaista Tayabali

 
Anna:
I’m quite envious of your delicate touch with words. You conjure evocative imagery with just a stanza. What brought you to poetry as a way of expressing yourself? In your writing, how do you feel about the economy of poetry versus the expansiveness of prose?

Shaista:
The art of economy is a discipline I learned at university. Up until then, I had been a fairly indulgent prose and poetry writer. My composition of language was often deeply emotive, highly subjective and heavy with the influence of romance and Keatsian turns of phrase. Often, but not always. There has also been a trend in my writing, since childhood, towards describing a snapshot visual, and towards epiphany. I began university with the shadow of a complex illness already threatening to obscure me, so I was determined to excel. 

This proved difficult for two reasons – I liked to answer questions in my own merry, meandering way, and I did not know how to edit myself. My Professor, Simon Featherstone, taught me this: “The line that you are most attached to, is the line that has to go!”  In learning precision, I learned economy. And I think, perhaps, my poetry has begun to adapt to my rather fragile body. These quick brushstrokes of poems serve me well in and out of hospital.

Delicacy aside, though, sometimes I yearn to write a tome in the style of Tolstoy; an epic blockbuster of a novel packed with 108 Dickensian characters. Yearning is what we artists and writers do best! 

The Names of Things

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes

gazes out at me
behind the window frame;
Half content to be
in Billy Collins’ world,
half wishing to be me –
Cross legged in the evening sun
drinking rose petal tea.

I can name the Yellow Rose,
the frilly Poppy, the Bee
longing for that same tea;
the half-eaten bruised cherries,
the guzzling, drunken, blackbird feast.

Deep in the shadows,
lazy snakes of ivy curl
and the wind is a Tempest again –

I walk among the unnamed things
the secret, hidden lives,
I pronounce the names of Latinate things
and trip on the words
and smile –

Cerastium tomentosum,
snow in summer,
Galium odoratum,
stars in spring,
Lavandula angustifolia
where the herb garden sings.

 Anna:
When you begin writing a poem, do you focus on an image? A phrase? A song? What inspires the act of picking up the pen?
Shaista:
A line comes to me. I focus on a few words, a phrase, that forms the first line of the poem-to-be. Blog posts require titles, which  I often enjoy for their brevity, but my poems never used to have titles. Do poets think of titles first? When do the titles come? I prefer the idea of that first line being the clue to the poem. My inspiration as a poet is simultaneously influenced by the subtle and the obvious. Hospitals are waiting rooms filled with both. 
Two artists who have influenced my work are my parents; they paint their lives in very different ways. Father’s watercolours are mysterious, floating worlds, echoes of Turner and Monet; impressionistic – my Mother’s work is magnified detail, bright, strong, clear – O’Keefe comes to mind. Father talks in riddles, Mother is incredibly literal – I flit between worlds in my life, and make sense of it all when I write. 
Crocuses
My father knows
when the crocuses 
are out
And when the snowdrops
And when the bluebells
And how to listen, carefully,
to the nesting birds,
trilling
between our rooms.
Daisies will come
And roses will grow
And perhaps we shall walk
And reminisce about the snow
And kick up some leaves
And weave up some dreams
While the world passes by
My father and I.

Anna: 
I love ‘The Year of Yes’; it’s deeply inspirational. It speaks of great positivity, despite the challenges you face with lupus. How has keeping your positive energy and happiness been instrumental to your life and your writing? 

Shaista:

Have you read Victor E. Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’? He says, “Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.” I marry this idea with the engaged Buddhism teachings of mindfulness, and try to achieve ‘Happen-ness’. Living in the now, the here and now, is not easy with a sneaky systemic illness like Lupus. Lupus is an embodiment of many human fears: the What-Ifs and the If-Onlys. So the secret to happiness is being present for the happen-ness, the saying Yes! in gratitude for our ability as humans to be present. 
My friend Dr. Ho tells me to embrace pain, particularly the physical manifestations of it, because feeling pain means you are alive! And he is right – physical pain does not exclude twinkling eyes, sparkly smiles and the playful impulse to tease and be teased. The act of writing is instant happen-ness for me. Just holding the pen, the feel of my book of poems, the moment of connection between the physical materials and my soul, my thoughts, my sight… yes! yes! yes! It is the best of me. 
  
The Year of Yes
I wish I had said Yes!
beloved
When you asked me out to walk
among the leaves
the turning leaves
You were offering me
the sound of dreams, 
And I turned you down 
politely.
Not today, I smiled
Perhaps,
Maybe, tomorrow?
But I wish I had said Yes!
beloved
I wish we had shared this light.
Next time don’t ask
Just take me!
Order me to dress!
I am going to need your help
beloved
To begin the Year of Yes.
Visit Lupus in Flight, the serene home of Shaista’s writings and poetry: http://www.lupusinflight.com

Raison D’Etre

This post has been on my list for awhile, yet I never seem to write it. To define a raison d’etre (or roughly, “reason to be”) is very final and permanent-feeling…as opposed to constantly evolving. But perhaps if I put it out there, it will prove a touchstone along the way.

I can’t really explain why I started Yearning for Wonderland. I wrote a blog before. For the gluttonously curious, it was here: ruanna3.livejournal.com. I resisted writing one for forever. Blogs seemed an odd combination of public and private, half-diary and half-who even cares? The really private entries were locked and the really public ones didn’t seem particularly interesting, even to me. After awhile, it became clear that only a handful of people ever read it or cared, so I lost interest (see last entry? 2009).

Then one night I wandered over to Blogger and tried out a few names. Yearning for Wonderland just felt right. I added a vintage photo from my own collection and a few paintings. But what to write?
*cue obligatory finger on chin*

No, this is not me. My picture looked identical, except my roots are visible.

It took a few weeks before I started shaping what I truly wanted to achieve for the blog. This goal was was two-fold:

1) To force myself to write. Regularly. And to let my writing go. I’m such a harsh critic of my own work that it often paralyzes me. I try to write an entry every day or two. Because I only really have a few hours of free time, it forces me to do my best in a set time and then set it free. No writing and endless revising, just write and post. If it’s not Jane Austen or Shakespeare, I’m probably the only one surprised.

This also keeps me from playing endless hours of Plants vs. Zombies…which, incidentally, is quite fun and may one day be reviewed here. Currently the zombies are winning.

2) To offer a platform (however small) to others whom I admire. I have already completed two “3 Question View” posts for Paul Ramey and Sarah J. Stevenson. I have several others in the works: a poet, a travel writer, and a documentarian, Plus, I have a very long shortlist of people for whom I would like to do a 3QV. I really didn’t realize how many amazing, clever, peculiar and talented people that I know…until I sat down and inventoried them.

I have enough 3QV prospects until we colonize Mars…at which point I am heading to Mars for Red Rock Margaritas. My computer (which is smarter than me) can post to my blog.

You’ll find me there ===  , playing Plants vs. Zombies.
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