My treehouse

I briefly researched the number 60, which means I skimmed Wikipedia in preparation for my 60th post. I felt I had to justify the undeniable pride I am feeling about making it to this somewhat arbitrary number. To my surprise, when I recently printed out my posts–many of them quite wordy– I had a veritable tome! But the only interesting association with the number 60 is that Jean-Luc Godard’s sci-fi movie Alphaville had a sentient computer character named Alpha 60 that sought to eliminate human emotions, poetry and love from the movie’s fictional universe. Godard’s movie that I have not seen, is supposedly about the “potentially catastrophic uses of computers to enslave rather than liberate humanity.” What a perfect association for this post that celebrates my blog and computer usage!

Playing a role in enslaving humanity is a small price to pay for the joy I’ve received sharing my post with you.Though I hope Godard was wrong about computers destroying us.

New goal for this blog: prove Godard wrong! Blog to spread more emotion, poetry and love! (Hey, as K-dramas are all about emotion, poetry(hmm?) and love–watch more K-dramas!) I like that. (It’s clear I’ve been living under a rock as I am not familiar with Alphaville (but I do remember that band with that name and their song “Forever Young.”) I think i’ll watch it as it’s spawned a lot of discussion and i like Godard).

Since I set up this blog in November 2021, my best friend from middle school Michelle, a busy artist in San Francisco has been my pro bono creative coach/supporter. Michelle is someone who in her spare time not only dreams up theme parties but executes them enviably well. When the song “99 luftballoons” was a radio hit long ago, Michelle created a website for a related theme party, bought 99 red balloons, blew them up with friends and stuffed each one with the website information so people who found the balloons could contact her via the site. On an impossibly photogenic day, her friends and her partied on a rooftop and took photos of the balloons’ glorious release into the sky. For some time after the party, she received enthused messages from finders of these balloons. The list of her creative projects and ideas is endless. An adoptee like me, Michelle once silk-screened the images of the pages from her adoption file onto a baby blanket–an evocative, beautifully done art project. After years of advising artist friends and inspiring them for free, she’s begun her job as a creativity coach; her first client: me. I know she will brilliantly define this position and will totally shred.

My need for her service is immense.Michelle affirms that I am an artist and writer despite my self-publishing and lack of renumeration. As someone who understands the struggles of having ADHD and sticking to long-term projects, she is the perfect coach. She and I love to discuss what is inspiring us lately.

In this post, I’d love to delve into THINGS THAT INSPIRE ME:

  1. Art: Among Michelle’s first assignments: a) see a live art exhibit at least once a month and b) buy Art Forum every month, tear out images that excite me and hang them on a board. When it comes to the first assignment, not to brag but I’m an Honors Student or more like Valedictorian. In the past two months I’ve seen at least six art exhibits: Virgil Abdou etc at the Brooklyn Museum, Faith Ringgold at the New Museum, Frieze art fair, Met costume exhibit, Scenes from the Collection at the Jewish Museum and The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do at the Jewish Heritage Museum. Though I have scant credentials other than a lifetime love of art and an art history class or two under my belt. let me be your wacky docent today.

I always knew Jean-Francois Millet was a punk artist for his times–depicting rural life and people as heroic when most deemed them unworthy subject matter. But this painting Shepherd Tending his Flock at the Brooklyn Museum stopped me in my tracks. This master gives us his usual rigmarole–beautiful rendering of light and shadow and yummy, thick brushwork. But check out my crappy photo above, which zooms up close to his cloak and what lies beneath. What’s with the quirky undergarments? How does one explain the unexpected jolt of pastel colors in the midst of all this realism! I’m imagining that an art restorer’s son snuck into his dad’s studio, got his hands on this painting and took some liberties with some colored Sharpies. That scamp! Alternatively, perhaps the artist, bored of realism but unwilling to court more controversy, shyly picked a shadowy spot to test out a new style. Third hypothesis: yours truly, your novice docent, may have read the signage next to the piece too fast and this could be the artist’s rough study, not a final painting. You pick!

PP

Behold Philip Guston’s Red Cloth painting at the Brooklyn Museum. I am imagining those responsible for acquiring art for the Brooklyn museum slapping a conference table and shouting “Sold!” in unison to enthusiastically land this one over the artist’s more controversial paintings that have white hooded KKK-like figures in them. (This docent clearly has no knowledge of how museums buy art). As a non-Black person, I don’t want to comment on whether his work with the white hooded cartoon images is offensive but I hope the verdict is not guilty as I’m a fan. I like that his art incites conversations about race in America and I love his humorous style/vibe. I’m glad the Philip Guston Now exhibit is no longer being delayed as it was for some time due to controversy following the murder of George Floyd and the protests. Join me friends to see this show at the Fine Arts Museum in Boston before it closes. It will not be dull.

Another KKK-related painting? My daughter and I admired this work at the Jewish museum by Black artist Trenton Doyle Hancock (TDH. He's written that it involves an imagined meeting of Philip Guston's avatar (the cartoonish KKK figure) and TDH's avatar Torpedo Boy. TDH is, by the way, a fan of Guston's and similar to Guston, seeks to use humor to diminish white supremacy and create dialogue about race.  My daughter and I were struck by the fun materials on this painting like cut up pieces of black fur and medicine bottle caps. This made me want to forage through my recycling bin and glue that shit down! The painting also reminds me of the charming children's book, Lookalikes Junior, in which every day objects are used but cleverly concealed in scenes.
Finding

Finding Under the Cloud, the above painting by American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder ( one favorite artist of mine) at the Met museum was a boon. His more iconic work, The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse) has been one of my favorite paintings for years. It’s moody, mysterious majesty! (The fact that The Race Track is at the Cleveland Museum of Art, in my mind, elevates Cleveland, a city I associate with bad politics, hyper-segregated neighborhoods and grim winters.)

As I’ve only ever seen one of his paintings in person, I was tickled to find this one as I impatiently barreled through a curious set of rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (rooms in which lesser known holdings are unceremoniously displayed in rows of dimly lit glass cabinets). A total pearl!

This above work appeals to me as someone who never went to art school and is deficient in techniques such as perspective drawing. I like the gaze here–focused downward on the shoes of this group and I appreciate the cool leaf-like patterns. I know that placing patterns like this, without the talent/know how, more times than not will destroy a perfectly awesome piece of art so I give this a standing O and wish i could own it.

dolls, glorious dolls!
I can’t even start here. It’s just too much incredible-ness.

The mind-altering Faith Ringgold exhibit at the New Museum surprised me. Check out her life-sized, expressive dolls I never knew she made. She worked with so many different materials and had so many styles, not just the awesome folky paintings and textile art I associated with her. She also made these hilarious quilts where she roasts famous artists like Picasso (see below) and highlights how artists appropriated African art without much or any credit. I bow down to you Faith.

Picasso looks so silly in this quilt. Love it.

I love this painting. Kind of unexpected for me. I love how she could do any style so well.

Thi

This large painting, Self-portrait-tears, by Korean artist Dae-Won Yang delights me. I love the shapes and colors he uses to depict his Donggeulin (round man)– the artist’s avatar. He explores themes of isolation, inequity, evil and the search for the meaning of life. Sounds like my cup of tea. Plus his paintings use “interventions with textiles and iron clothed transfers.” Without seeing his art up close, I do not understand what I’m dealing with fully but I want to know more. And I want it in my house please.

A drawing that shows I’m improving but still have a long way to go to please myself

2)Korean pop culture-kdramas and music.

You get it by now. I like Kdramas.

treehouse drawing
Sweet scene from the Extraordinary Attorney Woo Kdrama on Netflix that inspired my drawing.
My Sculpie of Attorney Woo who loves whales and kimbap. The whale cracked in the oven but the kimbap survived!

My tree house drawing (top image above) was inspired by scenes from my favorite new Kdrama, The Extraordinary Attorney Woo on Netflix. Attorney Woo, a brilliant autistic attorney hangs out in a treehouse and admires scenery with a woman whom she later learns is her birth mom. Watching this scene as an adoptee, I felt mopey and I hate to admit it, a tad teary. The drawing I completed ridiculously late that same night, turned out to be about what inspires me. My sad head on the branch is me when I watch shows/movies that deal with abandonment and/or reunions with birth parents. It also represents me when I can’t finish projects and get frustrated with myself. (The cartoonish character writing with a quill pen is the frustrated writer brain cell from the Kdrama Yumi ‘s Cells). I drew baby me on her own under the prickly looking blanket. (Note my crazy curly hair that I can’t believe I once had). I also added my kids who inspire me and my husband who is supportive of my odd projects. Finally, I drew some images representing Korean culture-Kpop (BTS) and Kdramas (man holding umbrella for woman).

3) Min Jin Lee’s Instagram feed. The Pachinko author turned unofficial Korean-American ambassador is a powerhouse who hobnobs with every Korean-American luminary and up-and-coming creator but does so with the humble, wide-eyed charm of a school girl (who happens to be worldly and erudite with off-the-chart communication skills). She’s forever raising awareness about anti-Asian bias and violence in an un-whiny way that feels palatable and introduces us to a torrent of amazing Asians. Her feed is like a jolt of always needed Asian self-esteem. Long live MJL!

4) My offspring. (I can’t include my son as he’s a private teenager wary of my blog and the multitude of ways I could embarrass him but my daughter on the other hand…

My seven year old daughter’s drawing from a year ago. Made me smile. I am not showing off her technical abilities here but I do like her idea! it’s silly but somehow makes perfect sense: Hair bed, well of course!
kid cracking me up at the Brooklyn Museum

5) My Jewish family/Judaism.

Recently, my friend Aidah asked me why I don’t delve into my Jewish roots more on this blog. There’s so much to love much about Jewish culture. I’d hate to think I don’t focus on my Jewish connection (the fact I was adopted from Korea by a white, Jewish woman and was raised as a Reform Jew) because Jewish culture is not “trendy” in the way Korean culture is now. Egads that’d be despicable. Let me change course starting now.

When my teen son heard I had a distant cousin who was a Nazi hunter, he perked up in his seat–all eyes on me. My Cousin Basia/Bessy–distantly related to my mother– was a Nazi hunter who lived on West End Avenue. She wasn’t the Inglorious Bastards, gun-slinging sort but worked for decades behind a desk to locate the scummiest Nazis after the war had ended. When I knew her best, I was a bit of a mess–a mildly depressed teenager hiding beneath thick bangs. Bessy was in her mid to late eighties, retired and suffice it say, always happy to see me at her door.

During high school, I’d visit her most Sundays and read the actual hard copy of the NY Times to her for she had dim vision and a sharp mind. The spacious, art-filled pre-war apartment in which she lived stood in contrast to the small apartments mom and inhabited. I liked all the spaces for idle sitting-so many chairs and couches, which seemed like the ultimate sign of wealth to me. My mother once informed me that the somewhat gloomy small paintings in the foyer were done by famous Jewish artists who were distantly related–though now I can’t recall any of their names. I hadn’t been impressed.

When I’d enter her apartment, Basia’s Polish caregiver would warmly greet me in smiles and indecipherable Polish chatter. She’d direct me to a doily-clad table with homemade steaming Pierogi’s that I dearly loved. (Those mushroom/sauerkraut ones were solid). Then Bessy would inevitably amble into the room and in that one moment, standing at arms-length, would look up at me and glow; this woman of stooped shoulders, petite frame and brusque manner, never told me in so many words that she loved me, but with one of her wide, closed-lip smiles, I knew she accepted me and even cherished me.

I had no idea she was a badass though. I was after all just a self-absorbed teenager. How I wish I’d been more curious about her and asked her to regale me with Nazi hunting tales but I was often too busy planning a swift, graceful exit. Bessy would sit at the dining room table across from me, her spectacles drawn down to the tip of her nose, and roll the beads of the wooden necklaces she often wore in her fingers as she listened to me read. Yes, she’d sometimes drive me batty with her exacting manner–continually correcting my pronunciation of long, unfamiliar words but I’d smile at her sweetly and carry on. The worst part was that she would often make me repeat the word I mispronounced and then the entire sentence to boot. I’m not sure why she thought perfect pronunciation would give me a leg up. (Given all the time I spent on elocution, I’m unclear why I often still mispronounce words that are commonly understood). Nor did I emerge particularly well-informed, as I don’t recall absorbing any of the information I read. The news bored me back then, (though who am I kidding; today, it’s sometimes a gruesome chore to stay well-informed). I hope I read to her with some inflection and drama, though I was soft spoken and self-conscious, so I’m skeptical.

Some days, there were no Pierogies awaiting me. Those days, I had to make do with day- old pastries that Bessy would buy from the UWS bakery that offered half off after 5 pm each day. I’d sit and chew at them slowly and internally decry that someone with money could be so cheap. Or I’d go to the bathroom and wrinkle my nose at the fact that she was saving water by not flushing after each use. (In her defense, there was some kind of city-wide drought/shortage at the time so Bessy was the hero). If I was in a pissy mood, something de rigeur given my immediate family’s oft unstable financial state, the fact of adolescence and the incessant dirge of self-loathing that was hard to quiet, the trip to Bessy’s was particular gruesome. I remember carrying on some Sundays, pleading with my mother to be excused from my visit, but to mom’s credit, she never let me shirk my duty. For this, I’m grateful now.

Looking back now from where I am comfortably seated, I am awash in a haze of affection for this lady who was responsible for bringing many Nazi war criminals to trial and to consequence. Her eccentric habits that I once decried, in retrospect, made perfect sense given her family’s experiences in pre-war Europe, the Holocaust and afterwards. (See below re my Cousin Abrasha who was related to Basia. He was a Holocaust survivor). Recently, recounting memories of Basia to my son, I felt my loss again. For every stale croissant I endured, was a lady who rescued my mother and I from doom more than once (e.g., giving mom overdue tuition money for the many private schools I attended over my childhood—schools often beyond my mother’s means). Perhaps more than that, she was squarely on my team– bragging to her immediate family who were actually blood-related about my accomplishments-no matter how trivial; in my senior year of high school at Trinity, I handed Basia My Spiritual Journey, an essay I’d written for class about spirituality, adoption and being Korean and Jewish. I knew she’d be proud of the A my teacher gave me.

One Sunday, Basia returned my essay to me.She’d placed it a long yellow envelope and rest it on the table where we sat facing each other as usual. She charmingly dissected each and every page of my twenty-page essay as if she’d memorized each line–one hand on top of the envelope the whole time. When she was done, she took the essay out of the envelope and pressed it down with her palms. (My papers were always wrinkly then and are so now). Then, she stood up abruptly and without explanation, left the room. When she returned, she unearthed a felt pen from a deep cardigan pocket (uncharacteristically silent)and bent down comically close to my essay. Next to my teacher’s handwritten A, she wrote a wobbly plus symbol and handed my paper back to me, quite pleased. I still have my essay with that wobbly plus. Love you, Bessy!

A recent view of the new Holocaust exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC led me to find the above fork. My Cousin Abrasha (related to my Cousin Basia) was a concentration camp survivor who I was blessed to know for much of my adult life before he passed away.I’d heard about how dashing he’d been as a young man, but I had never seen a photo of him.
This painting, part of the Jewish Museum’s permanent exhibit is fun but most importantly to me, feels like I could one day paint something like this. Maybe I’m self-aggrandizing but those cartoon hands are just my speed and I might be able to carry off the mix of macabre and mundane.

Thank you for reading my 60th post (and thereby being complicit in my enslavement of humanity). I hope you stay with me until we reach 100 and beyond. Is that greedy?

One thought on “60th post: What inspires: Alphaville, Hairbeds,NYC art shows and Basia the Nazi hunter

  1. Cheers to being 60 posts strong! Your blog is filled with humor, love, art, history, family and sometime friends❤ thank you for the shout out.🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈 The curiosity to which you approach all of your subjects is infectious. I love learning about what your are passionate about at any given moment. Congratulations to you and your brilliant blog! Full disclosure I may be the unofficial president of your fan club…

    Like

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