Saved from Chaos

When I was a college student at Brandeis, I took a class in abstract painting. Often, in addition to working on our paintings, our professor would  take us to the Rose Art Museum which was next door to the studio building. The Rose has a spectacular collection of post WWII art. It rivals the collections at big name museums, including the Met here in New York.

Our wise painting professor wanted us to be inspired by what we saw. We were. I would get back to the studio all fired up to get to work on something spare and pure, like a Rothko. Inevitably, when I attempted spare and pure, about half way through the process, my canvas would begin to get busy. At that point in my life, that felt like some sort of a moral failure.

Now when I work, I know that although my tendancy is towards chaos I also like to have that chaos confined within a structure. That way you have the lively look and energy of chaos. The structure around it makes it possible to live with that wild energy.  By skirting chaos, it keeps my work from being boring to look at.

Achieving that balance is not always easy. I have been working on the "Not-Mets" orange and blue tallit.  Let me restate that a bit more honestly. I had put in a big burst of energy on the tallit and then avoided working on it because I was afraid that I had painted myself into a corner that I didn't see my way out of. If you make a piece that is technically perfect, it can be beautiful.  Because a tallit is worn daily and is seen daily, if you simply do perfect it can start to, visually, go dead after a few wearings.

The artist who had a huge influence on me is David Holleman. He did much of the work in the synagogue where I grew up. His primary medium was mosaic. Each time he has a field of color, he intentionally breaks it up . A field of gold would have a few squares of orange or black thrown in. As a kid, it drove me crazy. I wanted those surfaces perfect. But I realize now, that those variations kept me looking hard at Holleman's work week after week. There was somethig new to see each time I looked at his work.By creating variations in the pattern your brain never fully takes  in what it is seeing. You keep looking again and again . The piece stays fresh and compelling.

I had made a pieced stripe out of two shades of orange. I was nearly out of fabric. The stripe, I hated to admit, was looking, not energetic and fun , but a little psychotic. I ordered more silk in similar, but not identical shades of orange. For a few days I just couldn't  look at my work. Today I realized that if I added a more rational looking border it would tame the wild stripe into charming quirkyness.

A few more rows of border later, I see that my fix was a good one. I realized that my struggle is very much the same struggle the Rabbis had with prayer. Ought it be fixed and unchangeable, keva or filled with kavanah- deep meaning and intentionality? Ideally you have a balance of both. The reality is, that it isn't that easy to have either and both and the same time is pretty amazing.

Yes, I do think of a tallit as gateway into prayer. As such it needs to address some of the struggles we all have with the act of prayer. This stripe begins to address some of that struggle.

And now for something completely different....

My son skirts the edge of offensive all of the time. He is, needless to say, very funny. Today, I had to take him to the doctor to get a huge splinter removed from his foot, The waiting room had large trays filled with condoms for the taking. My son who is nearly 14, asked in a loud voice if he could take five and put one on each finer like gloves. Like a good mom , I replied "No".

My son got the splinter removed and took a condom home like a party favor.  As soon as we got home, he unwrapped it and showed me that he could blow it up wth his nose.

So for the viewing pleasure of the unsqueamish.

The condom burst right after this photo was taken.


  1. Oh my gosh, that's hysterical. My son, who turns 14 tomorrow, goes beyond the edge of offensive on a regular basis.

  2. Oh Ann-

    and I know how much you hate orange!!!

  3. such a talent with the nose...just like double nasal recorder. I won't ask if he can inflate two at a time.


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