Friday, April 30, 2010

On Nesting

{A Very Basic Reflection on Birds and Husbands}

Two nights ago I found a nest made of horsehair, cotton string, baling twine, and grass. There were two eggs in it. Last night I raced home from the studio before it was completely dark and checked again: *three* eggs. Six years ago I met my best friend on a plane to Mongolia. We were both rabble-rousing, man-hating, pony-racing blondes in an Eastern country that often felt like the Wild West. There was the drinking of black market whiskey and a ninja-like evasion from the Ulaanbaatar police when certain people broke into the Mormon tabernacle in the middle of the night to play the piano, but that's neither here nor there. This weekend, the Cowgirl Bride is coming to visit me and my beloved husband with her brand-shiny-new beloved husband, and although we won't be screaming like banshees as we gallop across the desert, we will, I'm sure, be drinking whiskey. This is all to say that one day, everything can change. Birds lay more eggs. Cowgirls get married. And it can be a really, really marvelous thing.

Pictures from the past two nights, from top to bottom: finch's nest, wild larkspur, an exploratory Biscuit, the most kick-ass wild succulent (canyon dudleya), a bouquet for P. because he's my favorite.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's a Show

{And You're Invited!}

True World Gallery Presents:

Brian Leatart and Lily Stockman

Artists' Reception - Saturday, May 8th 7pm to 10pm
With music by The Sibleys in the Starlite Courtyard

61740 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree 

Our last show before summer hiatus features new work by two local artists which explores the ephemeral nature of structures, memories and life in the desert.

Brian Leatart is a professional photographer specializing in food and travel. His work has appeared on more than 120 covers of Bon Appetit, and numerous publications including Los Angeles Magazine, Esquire, In Style, Time Inc., and books such as Wolfgang Puck's Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen, Julia Childs', The Way to Cook, The Bel-Air Book of Southern California Food and Entertaining, Elegantly Easy Crème Brulèe, The California Pizza Kitchen Cookbook, The California Pizza Kitchen Pasta Cookbook, Nestlè Holiday Entertaining, The Quick Grill Artist, and numerous editions of Best of Bon Appetit. In this show, he explores the theme of disintegration through vision and memory in haunting black and white double exposure prints.

Lily Stockman graduated from Harvard's Visual and Environmental Studies Department with a summa cum laude thesis in painting. In 2004 she spent five months studying traditional Buddhist thangka painting in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and returned after graduation with a grant from the National Geographic Expeditions Council to mount a cross-country horse trek documenting nomadic steppe culture. This adventure led to a position on the assignment desk of ABC news in New York City. She now lives and paints in Joshua Tree, CA with her husband and two dogs. A painting residency will take her to India in the coming year.

The abandoned homesteads which are the subject of this collection of paintings have become a metaphor for her experience as an outsider in a strange land. They are also emblems of the mythology of the West, Manifest Destiny, and the strange melding of physical and psychological landscape that happens in the desert. The homesteads are appealing subjects not only for their simple geometric forms, but also because of the stories implied by their vacancy.

Finally, The Tortoise Post

{Look Carefully. Under That Rock}

Some facts we should know about the desert tortoise:
1. They live to be 80 to 100 years old
2. They survive in places where the ground temperature reaches 140 degrees F
3. The bottom shell of a tortoise is called a plastron, a word we should all be using more often
4. They spend 95% of their lives in subterranean burrows
5. The she-tortoise lays a clutch of 3-5 hard-shelled eggs the color and shape of ping-pong balls

I know, the picture doesn't really give us a whole lot to go on, but you can't blame an endangered she-tortoise for being shy. Judging from the scuff marks on her back she's been busy romancing some nearby he-tortoise, which is miraculous considering there's been a 90% decline in desert tortoise populations in this part of the Mojave since the 1980s, mostly due to habitat loss, car wheels, dogs and the influx of ravens which prey on tiny soft-shelled baby tortoises. So I shot a few quick pictures of her hindquarters and whisked the dogs away, hoping we didn't disturb the dinner plate-sized reptile that could be as old as my grandmother.

P.S. thanks for all the advice about wacky uploading problems; Flickr seems to be the solution.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Paint, Pixels

{New Approach to a Familiar Subject}

I've made dozens of homestead paintings by now, and so preparing a new batch for two upcoming shows has been a good exercise in reevaluating a familiar subject and approaching it in a fresh way. In this series I'm using the marks made by my brites (square-headed brushes) to create a pixelated but ultra-painterly surface. I like using an ancient medium to achieve a new media treatment. (Perhaps a reflection of being woefully old-fashioned but willingly participating in the digital world.)

The shows go up in less than two weeks. Naturally, I am not done and still painting up a storm. Because that's how we do it in the Stockman family. *Sigh*

Monday, April 26, 2010

What I Learned

{Three Lessons from the Weekend}

Exoskeletons Are Hard to Crack:
Time it takes a grown woman to bludgeon a shoe-sized scorpion to death with a wooden walking stick: three minutes. Time it takes to clean up the carnage: ten. (Emotional scars from entire experience presumably last a lifetime.)

Desert Love Triangles Always End in Stabbings:
A complicated love triangle between a local couple and a skinhead escalated into a brawl at our favorite infamous Wonder Valley watering holeand resulted in two people getting stabbed in the neck. IN THE NECK.

De-upholstering Trailers from the 1970s Requires Patience, Respirator Mask:
There were *three* layers of heinous 70s carpeting on the floor of the Scamp. The removal of which resulted in an extra inch of headroom for tall husbands. Win-win.

Hope you had a good weekend. I'm turning into a studio monster this week in the final push before two upcoming shows. Also, there are desert dandelions everywhere, and few things make my heart flutter like a corgi in a patch of wildflowers.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Desert Triptych

{Storm in Section Six}

Lynchian stills from my drive home from the studio last night, in three parts: 1. abandoned trailer, 2. albino horse, 3. road to Section Six. For the record, if I make the shortlist for the four horsemen of the apocalypse I call dibs on that horse. You can have the trailer.

Have a good weekend, muggles.
I'll be working in the studio and tearing the upholstery out of the Scamp.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sunrise with Biscuit: Snow

{Part I}

P. woke me up just before sunrise begging me to come outside and look at the mountains. Snow. In April. In the desert. I loaded up the dogs, kissed P. goodbye (some people have to be at work before 7am), and drove up into the mountains in the old Jeep with Biscuit riding shotgun. Sure enough, at five thousand feet there was a dusting of snow. And tiny, frozen wildflowers. And freezer-burned cholla.

Sunrise with Biscuit: Bloom

{Part II}

Down below, the sun rose over a different desert. Here and there claret cup cactus showed off their first scarlet blossoms. Cactus wrens busied themselves weaving nests into fortresses of prickly cholla. If I looked carefully, there was life everywhere.

Back inside the Jeep the heater rattled and Biscuit uttered little porcine grunts of contentment.  It should be reported that nagging anxieties about The Future can be temporarily mollified by spring snow, blooming cactus, and corgyn chortles.

Especially corgyn chortles.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Six Pound Retrospective

{A Look at Painting Today}

I'm usually leery of slick coffee table books on contemporary painting (like the disappointingly faddish Vitamin P), but a few weeks ago while I was in LA I came upon a beautiful Phaidon edition on contemporary painting that actually had some substance, aptly named Painting Today. I was in good company when I saw it because it landed on my doorstep for my birthday. And I can't get enough of it.

My art books are probably what I'm going to try to rescue if our house ever goes up in flames. When my studio flooded in February my first reaction was "OHNOMYBOOKS!" when perhaps I should have been more concerned about my paintings

The opening chapter of the book runs the postwar gamut of art history as a reference and foundation for what's being painted today. Including, above, David Hockney's cool Southern California aesthetic and Willem de Kooning's ground-breaking Woman I. I imagine Hockey has a pretty good sense of humor (the man has Dachshunds, for heaven's sake). But de Kooning? Homeboy had some *issues.*

The rest of the book is broken up into thematic chapters. Above, details from master scribbler Cy Twombly, an artist I've always loved intensely. Below, a detail from a psychological history painting by Neo Rauch, the prolific German painter whose scenes of social malaise and industrial alienation work as somber narratives to the recent economic collapse. Heavy stuff, that Neo Rauch.

And then, somewhere in the chapter on Post-Feminism, I recognized a familiar face painted by a familiar hand. Maureen Gallace, a contemporary New York painter mostly known for her quiet, minimalist landscapes, was a visiting professor my senior year in college and an adviser on my thesis.  She has had an enormous influence on me. Not one for artspeak hyperbole, she must have been amused to be considered Post-Feminist, capital P capital F.

A recent New Yorker article on Ethiopian-American painter Julie Mehretu's installation at Goldman Sachs highlighted the uneasy but symbiotic relationship between the art world and the finance world. I'd never heard of Mehretu before and was fascinated by her articulate take on the experience of the Goldman commission. Below, that very painting, Black City, 120 x 192 inches, which can be enjoyed by dogs as well as by investment bankers.

Happy hump day. If you know an artist or someone who digs contemporary painting and you have $75 to spend on luxuries like this six-pounder, get them this book.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spring Smørrebrød

{An American Take on a Danish Tradition, with Nothing Scary & Pickled Involved}

When my friend Nora was living in LA many years ago there was a hole-in-the-wall Danish sandwich shop in Santa Monica that made, in her words, "the most unusual, delicious open-face sandwich I've ever had in my life." The Danish cafe has long since closed, but on Friday night Nora recreated their open-faced opus in the form of a pre-dinner appetizer and it pretty much blew my mind. Chilled dill-mayonnaise and sweet shrimp are delicious on their own, but a razor-thin slice of lemon (rind and all!) really makes the whole thing ziiing. Perfect for these warmer evenings in the desert.

Spring Smørrebrød
traditional Smørrebrød means "bread and butter" in Danish and is usually served on a dense dark bread. This light, delicious version is the creation of Joshua Tree gourmand Nora Lousignont.

1 cup fancy mayonnaise (or, if you have an aversion to the stuff, plain yogurt)
up to 1 cup fresh dill, chopped
2 organic lemons, washed and patted dry
1 lb. chilled cooked shrimp, naked
1 loaf French bread, cut into half-inch slices

Add chopped dill to mayo and mix until it has a discernible dilly flavor (can be made several hours in advance and chilled in the refrigerator). If needed, add a pinch of salt. Slice lemons as thin as possible, removing seeds as you go. Spread entire slice of bread with dill-mayo, layer on a sliver of lemon, and top with one whole shrimp. Easy, unpretentious but elegant, and *so* delicious.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pelicans in the Desert

{And Other Birthday Surprises}

It was a marvelous weekend full of hot sauce, migrating birds, and a triple-decker carrot cake (never mind that it didn't rise) baked by one very ambitious, devoted husband.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The weekend began when we finally picked up our Scamp, and you know how excited this household has been for that moment to arrive.

Then desert friends arrived with vases of wildflowers and Surprise Dinner No. 1, which concluded with individual meyer lemon coconut tarts with PASSION FRUIT-LEMON ZEST MASCARPONE CREAM. It was, as P. says, a Peak Life Experience.

The next morning over breakfast something truly spectacular happened. Even more spectacular than jalapeño scrambled eggs and kumquat mimosas.

Directly above us a squadron of American white pelicans some hundred-strong swept across the desert sky in their migration north from Panama. With nine-foot wingspans they were truly something to behold.  Certainly there is no birthday present greater than a really kick-ass migration sighting.

Surprise Dinner No. 2 involved unexpected guests from near and far, including one very sneaky sister who came down from San Fransisco armed with parlor games to be played over lime and mango grilled swordfish. (If you're going to boost your mercury level you might as well do it with panache.)

The game is called Blind Ignorance. Without peeking, each person draws from a bowl a famous person's name and affixes it to their forehead so that the rest of the party can read it. Each person gets twenty questions to figure out who they are. Mayhem usually ensues; a misreading of Cookie Monster led one farsighted birthday girl to think that her sister was in fact Chuck Norris, which resulted in racous confusion.

It was pretty fantastic when certain husbands realized they were Bella Swan.  (How on earth he knows who Bella Swan is I have no idea.)

The grand finale was the aforementioned three-tiered carrot cake, oozing with rum, covered in cream cheese frosting and baked by the love of my life. Never mind if it had collapsed in the middle; scrawled across the top was the word "we" a heart and a creature resembling a sheep: We love ewe. There may or may not have been tears of gratitude and a polite request for a requisite glass of milk.

I'm a lucky ewe indeed. And one so very sated and happy and faintly hungover that this week will no doubt include leafy greens, early bedtimes, and the writing of many thank you notes.  And thank ewe for all the kind wishes; it was truly the best birthday EVER.

Friday, April 16, 2010


{A Respectable Age to Be}

Today is my birthday. 27 was the best year yet, albeit one with a steep learning curve (wifehood, self-employment, bangs). But 28 sounds like a very respectable age to be, so I might as well try it. 28 sounds like graduate school, seeing more of the world, and generally becoming a more productive member of society. Which sounds pretty good to me. So hello, 28; I hope it's a good year.

That whirling dirvish dancing across the mesa under a full moon? That's my beautiful sister who is in full cahoots with P. regarding birthday surprises, or so I suspect. Together they are veritable birthday ninjas, so I can't wait for this weekend to unfold. Will report back on Monday.

Hope you have a marvelous spring weekend.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This Time Last Year

{Bike Trip with Dad}

My dad is on the West Coast for business and made a quick excursion out to Joshua Tree to visit P. and me late last night. Over midnight dinner we remembered that this time last year we were somewhere in the Arizona desert on our father-daughter bike trip. We have this quasi-annual tradition in our family where my dad takes one of us four knucklehead daughters on a motorcycle trip to some place we've never been. And I had never been to the Grand Canyon.
It's a pretty swell way to get some QT with the pops. 


My dad wore khaki pants the entire time, which amused me to no end. Khakis don't win you much street cred when you roll into an Indian reservation on a Harley, but that's how my dad rolls, and I love him for it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Update from the Studio

{A New Batch of Homesteads}

Listening to Nosaj Thing and cranking out work for two upcoming shows. But let's be honest, all I can think about is the Scampalamp and this paint job we found last night on Flickr.