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

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

An Ozymandias Kind of Evening

I’ve decided that drunken blogging is somewhat akin to balancing a spoon on the end of your nose in public – you rarely succeed and look like a bit of a jackass in the process. Nevertheless, it is 11:38 pm and I find myself blogging while playing a game called Jigsaw World. The purpose of the game is…yes, assembling jigsaw puzzles on your computer. This could only be slightly less numbing than assembling jigsaw puzzles in real life. The only benefit I can see is that I can do the game jigsaw puzzle without taking up space on my already cluttered dining room table. Also, Jigsaw World provides me with lovely pictures, such as an arrangement of berries and cream on fine china.

I now desire delicious berries and cream on fine china.

I find it also entertaining that my typing skills are markedly degraded, but that I still go back and correct all my typos as I type. Once a copyediot, always a copyediot. And, no, that’s not a typo.

On the bright side(hi-yah, cliche), alcohol seems to cure me of my Jane Austen complex, the one that doesn’t let me publish anything unless it’s a shimmering gem of obscure and inexorable beauty. I’m fairly sure this entry will rank low in my Greatest Blog Entries list (if anyone is counting). But that’s okay – I still rank above people who blog when they are out of toothpaste (my pardons if this is you – I promise that I’m captivated by your choice of spearmint).

My father has the journal-ing habit, but he does his on pen and paper, mostly. When he does type them, he still doesn’t publish them online. They are for his eyes alone and maybe sometimes my mom. He shares them with my brothers and me if he thinks we’ll find them interesting. I think sometimes of what it will be like when I have to go through his papers and effects, when he’s gone.

Fifty plus years of journal-ing – a life captured in its complexities and frivolities, its pettiness and its beauties. I’m sure I’ll read of things I’d rather not know, but all in all I will probably find it moving how a human being reaches out to leave a record of its existence.

It only takes a handful of generations to efface all direct memory of a person. It makes me sad that anyone whom I meet now will never know my grandmothers, either of them. They will never know my grandfather, whom I called ‘Pa’. They will listen as I explain how he used to tug on my pigtails and said “Ding, ding, off at Shelby”. I would then have to explain how he rode a streetcar when he was young and they would ring the bell when they reached the ‘Shelby’ stop and say those exact words.

I got to sleep over sometimes and would tuck in with him. Before he fell asleep, he would tell me stories: Once, he and his brother bought a piece of candy. This candy made them fly. He would describe it so realistically, all the people so tiny below, pointing up at them, and I would believe it. To this day, I still sometimes look for that piece of candy that will make me fly.

I will explain these things to people, but they will only ever be abstract. One day, I will be gone, and if I am both memorable and lucky, people will maybe tell stories of their grandmother who had a grandfather who had a piece of candy that made him fly.

[Repost from 12/11/08 -ed]

On the Eve of Fireworks

I wrote this post the night before my first Fourth of July in St. Augustine. It was like my own personal renaissance; everything was new and unfamiliar. I had only been living in Florida since the August before and I was still trying to make sense of who and what I was. Everything had changed and I wasn’t really sure who “Anna” was any more. Five years later, I still relish defining who she is.

Annahome

 07/03/06
I step out of my door and inhale Florida – all the musty warmth, the tropically gaudy smells mingling of dead and growing flowers. I imagine I smell salt on the air, even though the ocean is almost a mile away. The same ocean that I have dreamt of living near my whole life. I am here at last. I feel like I ought to celebrate, though there are no fireworks tonight.

I step out in my oldest, washed to thinness t-shirt, in a vivid red that I know clashes with my hair. The same hair that is pulled back in an untidy ponytail. Flip-flops and jeans that are cut, really, for smaller hips than mine – more Venus Williams than Venus de Milo. And yet, despite my awareness that this is hardly a shining moment of attractiveness, I feel more me than I have in awhile. Not in pearls and suit to impress a client. Not in little black dress and heels to please a boy. I shed my skins of elegance and sexiness, cleverness and intellect. Tonight, I only have to please me.

I step out and return with a sack of Krystals (the fairly subpar White Castle alternative in Florida), the grease soaking softly through the bottom of the sack. I eat them while perched on my stool, likely chewing with my mouth open, barefoot and reading Transmetropolitan. My favorite opera aria is playing on the stereo. Sometimes I forget what it’s like to hang out with me; I spend so much time with others. I am blissfully boring tonight. For a bare handful of hours, I am not a punchline or a sexpot or a muse or a saleswoman. I am not a girlfriend or a daughter or a friend or an employee.

I am just me and, thankfully, there are no fireworks tonight.

3 Question View – Sarah Jamila Stevenson

This post is the second 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.

Sarah Jamila Stevenson

3 Question View – Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Writer & Artist, Author of The Latte Rebellion (Flux, 2011), Co-Author of Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog



Anna:
The Latte Rebellion deals with some sophisticated themes, including racism, bullying and complex adult choices. The main character, Asha, is referred to as a “towel head”. What do you hope your book can offer young readers, multi-racial and otherwise, who might be experiencing similar challenges?

Sarah:
There are rarely easy answers to such challenges, are there? I suppose I hope that my book successfully conveys that while some situations can be tough, and there aren’t many easy answers, it’s still possible to survive and even thrive despite (and even because of) life’s challenges. That you can make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. That being yourself is a complicated endeavor, and every person’s journey is different. That having a sense of humor is an important survival tool. That friendships may change, and plans usually do change, and life goes on. That, even if high school is disheartening, (to borrow some words of wisdom from Dan Savage) it gets better.

Anna:
Your writing and blog focus on Young Adult literature. Why were you drawn to YA literature? What has been your favorite experience with a younger reader?


 
Sarah: 

I’ve always enjoyed coming-of-age stories, and stories in which the characters continue to grow and learn and change, and explore who they are. YA literature seems to specialize in that, for sure. And because of that, I’ve never stopped reading YA books–in fact, the range, depth, and quality of the YA field has only increased since I was a teen reader. It’s a very exciting time to be a YA writer, and some of the most thoughtful, honest, tightly-written, and pretension-free fiction I can think of is being produced by YA writers.

My favorite experience with a younger reader happened this past February, at a visit to Balboa High School in San Francisco. I was invited to speak to their lunchtime book club, which was great because it meant the group of students I spoke to had already read my book! After I gave my reading and answered some questions, one girl came up to me to say how glad she was that there was a book out there for kids of mixed race, that talked about their experiences, and said “thank you for writing this book.” I was thrilled! That one moment confirmed for me beyond a doubt that this endeavor has been worth it. :)
Anna:
You are also an artist. One of my favorite features on the ‘Finding Wonderland’ blog is your “Toon Thursday”, a humorous take on the pitfalls of writing
.

 

The Latte Rebellion features your artwork as well. How do you divide your time between your art and your writing? Do you ‘rotate the crops’ artistically? Does sketching lead to story ideas or vice versa? Can you tell us more about your new printmaking/collage project in the works?

 
Sarah:
I’m so glad you like Toon Thursday! It’s a labor of love, so my primary reward is when people let me know they enjoy it. With respect to my art and writing, it’s definitely a challenge to juggle them both. I’m usually focusing more on one than the other–lately it’s been mostly writing, but the artwork is never far from my mind. I try to take as many opportunities as I can to stay in drawing practice. Fortunately, my husband is a college art professor, and I have a standing invitation to come into his class and draw! That helps a lot.
Sometimes sketching does lead to story ideas, and vice versa, but usually the ideas are separate. I do have a strong interest in graphic novels, though, and would love to write and draw one sometime. Also, the project I currently have in the works combines elements of text and image. The plan is to carve an image into a linoleum block, print it several times, and then collage text and maybe images–different ones–onto each print. I want each print to have the same basic underlying image, but be distinctly different visually and tell a different “story” using found text. This idea got started after I worked on a collaborative print project with 9 other artist friends (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=36097397321). I used various collage techniques on my contributions for the project, and wanted to pursue that line of inquiry further. I’m excited about it, but so far I haven’t had as much time to work on it as I would like.

Thanks so much for interviewing me and asking such great questions!

The Latte Rebellion Manifesto

If you are reading this, you are clearly sympathetic to the cause!
What cause, you ask?
The cause of brown people everywhere—
whether you have espresso-colored hair,
a perfect latte tan, or you’re as light as a mocha bianca!
The world must acknowledge you!
The world will appreciate you!
Our philosophy is simple:
Promote a latte-colored world!
Forget bananas and coconuts!
Go for the seamless blend! You can’t un-latte the latte!
It doesn’t matter if you are only coffee on the inside.
If you’re a latte at heart, you are welcome.
Iced or hot, raise your cup to the cause!
Lattes of the World, Unite!

See Sarah’s very clever website for the book here: http://www.latte-rebellion.com/index.html

You can order your own copy of The Latte Rebellion at: http://www.fluxnow.com/product.php?ean=9780738722788

Synopsis:
When high school senior Asha Jamison gets called a “towel head” at a pool party, the racist insult gives Asha and her best friend Carey a great money-making idea for a post-graduation trip. They’ll sell T-shirts promoting the Latte Rebellion, a club that raises awareness of mixed-race students.

Seemingly overnight, their “cause” goes viral and the T-shirts become a nationwide fad. As new chapters spring up from coast to coast, Asha realizes that her simple marketing plan has taken on a life of its own-and it’s starting to ruin hers. Asha’s once-stellar grades begin to slip, threatening her Ivy League dreams, and her friendship with Carey is hanging by a thread. And when the peaceful underground movement turns militant, Asha’s school launches a disciplinary hearing. Facing expulsion, Asha must decide how much she’s willing to risk for something she truly believes in.

Visit Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog, the excellent writing blog Sarah co-authors: http://writingya.blogspot.com

See Sarah’s website: www.sarahjamilastevenson.com

Letter from my Mother – Libraries and Dream ‘Spanses

My mother wrote this in response to my post: The Library’s Whispers . It was so beautifully written, I could not relegate it to a mere comments page; it deserves a post of its own. 
And though she says I was ‘forcibly deposited’, I cannot consider my soul misspent when it’s clear that mine was attracted to this century by a shining soul such as hers.
~~~
My darling daughter was somehow abducted by aliens and forcibly deposited in the late twentieth century.  For that I willingly apologize, as who was to know that her soul was to be misspent here? Alas, how could I not also traverse this century?
Anna has a “blithe spirit”, a heightened “sense and sensibility”, often misspent on the hordes of common creatures of earth. I should rather like to put her in a library such as she has described and have her close…not only to visit that vast ‘spanse of library knowledge and dream works, but to daily visit that soul and spirit that is Anna.
My wish for her is to break the boundaries of common understanding and discover a life where she is free to write and enchant generations of young women who share the same aching desire to escape some of the harsh mundanity of this world.
She has so much to offer and it is her “obligation, nay, her duty” (finger pointed in the air) to interpret the goodness of the world and to discover the romantics of the 21st Century that exist in us all.
~~~