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Tag Archives: painting

found poem: five clouds

found poem: evenings

found poem: I was


1954 DAK portraitShe was not someone I knew — her hair red, her lips redder, her earrings stilled from some distant flamenco rhythm. She was a model, captured by my mother in a single long sitting during an art class.

The portrait was small, and stood among five or six dozen paintings — some framed, some not — in the tall cupboard above the closet in her studio. The closet and its high shelf were off limits to me, but now and then Dorothy would recruit me to assist as she stood on the step-stool and handed down paintings, each one transferred to my hands with cautions about where I put my fingers and where and how I propped the painting against the wall in the hallway just outside her studio.

This ritual had some purpose, now lost to me. Perhaps Dorothy was looking for a canvas she could recycle, an image she recalled, an application of color or texture she wanted to revisit. The woman in the small oil painting was like a cousin I saw only occasionally, her story unknown, her beauty unchanging.


DAK color study - backThe shelves and file drawers still bulge with my mother’s small paintings, drawings, handmade paper, collages and other ephemera. I consider these one by one, as I do the photographs, hoping for insight.

A rejected portrait of a pear occupies the back of an undated, unsigned 6 x 9-inch abstract color study on Arches paper. Dorothy applied the paint — perhaps acrylic — in translucent glazes, considering the colors, the roundness, the gloss of the fruit. But in the end, it was not the pear she wanted and before using the other side, she scribed a firm X through her effort.

She often painted on top of previous paintings, preserving some elements or obliterating the original entirely. But something about this pear was evidently beyond redemption — perhaps its bulging shoulder or pinched waist — and could only remain a haunting substratum to any future image. Still, she loved pears as both food and objects and painted them summer after summer.

Whether with brushes or words, we keep trying to get it right, every poem or essay (the very word!) a sketch, an underlayer to something better — or not. We pick away at vision and understanding, archaeologists with dental tools, miniaturists peering through the magnifying lens, hoping some part of the image will resolve, make sense, escape, for a while, the banishing X.
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more on sketches


1961 - DAK priming canvasIn this photo, my mother is priming a canvas. Straw-hatted and gloved, she’s just outside the garage, dipping her wide brush in an old Yuban coffee can. She loved that hat and wore it until it fell apart, dropping flakes of straw everywhere. Loops of garden hose hang on the wall behind the larger canvas. The driveway, dappled with shade, slopes up toward the street.

My father would have stretched the canvas for her or mounted a plank of Masonite on a frame he had built, perhaps pulling the screws or nails from another of those metal cans — Yuban, Folger’s, MJB. They were everywhere in his shop, filled with bolts and chalk, rubber bands, cup hooks and small pieces of doweling that might be useful sometime.

Dorothy is not quite fully smiling, with an oh-no-are-you-really-going-to-take-my-picture-right-now look on her face, happy to be seen but already in the middle of the possibility of what this painting might become.

found poem: in the Blue


DAK untitled 1965 - egg cartonMy mother’s primary medium was paint, but of course she drew in pencil, charcoal, chalk, pastels and ink, and did collage. She made paper, did some printmaking and, for a while, created dense thread “drawings” on the sewing machine. She made some constructions, often humorous, with common objects — an egg carton, rubber bands, a piece of toast. She was tremendously creative, never seemed to lack for ideas, and readily identified herself as an artist.

Throughout my childhood, people had looked at Dorothy’s artwork and asked me, Are you going to be an artist, too? I fought determinedly against it, needing a sharp line of demarcation, afraid that if I did what she did, I would become her.

I went off to college at 17, resolved to save the world. It took me a year as a sociology major and another year of confusion and depression before I changed cities, colleges and majors. Yielding to the artistic urge that had, in my sophomore year, risen up in me like a tide, I transferred to Berkeley, started working in fiber and found my creative medium.

Over the course of several years, I worked my way through the gamut of fiber techniques — weaving on and off loom, basketry, knotting, netting, etc. I taught myself to crochet; there was an ah-ha moment and crochet became my method and then my career. I made and sold my work, did commissions, had shows, taught various fiber arts, and so on.

When my mother asked me to teach her to crochet, I was happy to do so. I had a minimal-technique, no-rules approach that appealed to her. Like her other artwork, her crochet was quirky and colorful.

After a while, she stopped painting and was crocheting exclusively. Some time later, I learned that the art classes she had told me she was teaching were in fact crochet classes. This was a little disturbing. She was blurring a boundary that I had worked most of my life to maintain.

When I was home for a visit, my parents had a few friends over for dinner. I was clearing the table when I heard Dorothy accept a compliment for a basket that was sitting on the sculpture shelf in the dining room. I had made the basket.

I didn’t say anything at the moment, but the next day I said we had to talk, and we did. I told her what I was seeing, what I had heard. She seemed innocent of bad intent, entirely oblivious to her own actions or their effects. As profoundly as I had wanted to avoid becoming her, she seemed unconsciously to want to be me.

To her credit, once she was shown, once we had talked about it with each other, and then with my father, she did not protest, and over the next few months returned gradually and then entirely to her painting.

Saying those things, standing up for myself, was perhaps the hardest thing I ever did.
. . . . .
Photo: Untitled by DAK, 1965, egg carton, watercolor, wood, 10″ x 6″ x 2″


garage wallMy parents were both prolific in their art-making. In addition to pieces on display, closets were crowded with paintings and sculpture, and, in the basement, my father constructed special storage shelves that held hundreds more.

Dorothy was not averse to reworking a canvas, transforming an earlier image, perhaps preserving some aspect of it, perhaps not. She often worked on several paintings concurrently, one taking its place on the easel, others standing to the side. Arranged by size, unfinished paintings leaned lightly against one another, five or more deep, faces turned to the studio wall.

Sometimes, for reasons known only to her, Dorothy would give up on a painting, finding it toxic or irretrievable. Then she would take it out to the trash bin, stuffing it inside if possible, or leaning it against the can as it had leaned against the studio wall. My father, who built perhaps thousands of stretcher bars and frames for her, otherwise interfered little with Dorothy’s artmaking impulses. But occasionally, smack in the face of her objections, he would rescue one of these discards, pull it from the trash heap and hang it on the wall of the garage, where he could see it from his workshop.

This wall. Dorothy’s rejects. That’s a picture of me on the far left.
. . . . .
There’s a larger view of the painting on the upper right here.


DAK self-portraitIn the long division of schoolgirl popularity, I never came out even. I had the wrong face, the wrong hair, the wrong personality and the wrong shoes. For all of these deficits I faulted my parents, whose rules and one-off lifestyle seemed increasingly onerous the closer I got to adolescence.

I was incapable of appreciating my mother’s arty ways. I wanted a mother out of The Saturday Evening Post. A mother who was pretty and wore twin-sets and who blended in at the grocery store and the assemblies and the mother-daughter Girl Scout meetings. I wanted every irregular thing about myself to vanish, including her.

Perhaps it is true of all girls, that no matter our attributes, at some point we want nothing more than to fit in. Perhaps not.

My mother painted this self-portrait when I was 15. As she explained at the time, she’s the one on the left — the outsider, the one who’s alone and small and boyish, turned away from the group, the beautiful, the womanly, by that extended hand that says Keep Out.

It was an exclusion she reinforced in many ways and never really outgrew. Whatever her hopes for me — and I’m not sure she expressed them in any concrete way — this painting was what she modeled. It was her perspective on the world.

It took me a very long time to figure out it didn’t have to be mine.

have you?

launching April…

A card by j.i. kleinbergAnticipate. Accelerate. Alight. Ascend. Attune. Await. April.
Foolish to write seriously on this day of antics, but it’s National Poetry Month and the first day of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo), in which people make a commitment to write a poem a day, and morning finds me contemplating the possibility. Art. Avid. Artichoke. Azimuth. Amour.

Though it’s not necessary to use the day’s prompt, Day One is seize the day.

found poem by j.i. kleinberg ~ seize the day
found poem © j.i. kleinberg
plenty more at wordages


jik by DAKI suppose I was about 5 or 6 when I posed for the portrait. There was a little platform in the corner of my mother’s studio, and on it a chair that I wasn’t allowed to touch except when I was sitting in it. We did quite a few sessions, which blur onto one, and I have no memory of the doll; she might have been a treasure, but she could as easily have been a prop. Holding still was hard, but I was so rarely invited into the studio that, even then, I understood it was the price of admittance.

Finished, the painting hung on the wall for some years and then it disappeared onto one of the art-storage racks my father had built in the basement. But after a while he retrieved it and hung it in the garage on the wall across from his workshop, where it remained as long as they had the house.

As a likeness, the portrait is only modestly successful. But it’s a wonderful painting, with deft control of color and surface. And, in the expression, Dorothy captured something that I indeed recognize as my self.

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