Archives for posts with tag: Kathleen Clark

“Departure,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

My mother died a few days before Christmas last year.  She had a long period of the kind of limbo dementia causes and in the last couple of years dialogue wasn’t really possible except between my brothers and I as we recalled every bit of family nostalgia.  Since our father had passed away in 1996, thoughts of them both along with other relatives, living and dead, began to swirl around in my head. My youngest brother had dreams filled with dead relatives.  We’re not religious people so we processed the partings with reminiscence and appreciation and wine.

I began the series, “The Living,” as something of a tribute or reliquary to essential things learned from my parents and family.  In searching for family icons, I quickly realized much of what was most meaningful was botanical.   Both sides of our family evolved from farmers. Our grandparents grew huge gardens with strawberries, raspberries, and cherries, and my Father followed suit with impressive gardens of his own, even though he wore a suit and tie to his job every day.   Mom channeled her considerable creative energy into an ever evolving array of complex craft projects and wonderful cooking and I spent much of my childhood staring at the sky, mowing the lawn, listening to the leaves rustle and pruning lemon trees.

Constructing sets or tableaux of some type has long been a part of my art practice and I chose to both construct as well as alter environments. The sets were then combined with found and organic elements, which I then photographed.  The concept evolved from what I considered to be a very personal insular project to one that embraced larger, more universal gifts of living.  In visually exploring my simple surroundings and playing with gravity and stillness and shadow and light, I experienced a profound appreciation of the esthetic magic of nature and its immediate ties to home and memory.  I expect I’ll continue working on this series at least through the end of this year.

“Inheritance,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Guardian” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Aloft,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“The Cream,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“February,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Seascape,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Sweet on You,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Lemon Blossom,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Easy Going,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Sun Dress,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Sweet Thing,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“The Right Tool,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“The Importance of Pie,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Cherries,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Rolling Pin,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Straight Off The Vine,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Flight Lesson,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“A Perfect Peach,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“The Dandy,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Satin Doll,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Thanksgiving,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Denouemont,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Three,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Persimmon Leaf,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Lifespan of Citrus,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Lit from Within,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Natural Magic,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

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Ed and Tina's Farmhouse, Los Angeles, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Many things in Los Angeles are reminiscent of the classic Western movie façade.  A willing suspension of disbelief allows us to imagine all sorts of fictions.  No stranger to a rapid pace lifestyle, intense work pressures and mind-numbing gridlock, longtime residents know the importance of finding their spot: a place to take shelter, to make a little green, to calm down.  It’s important.  We live in something of an illusion if we can find it.  On one side, our particular oasis borders a strip of tired old apartment buildings and newer, shoddily constructed condominiums.  The area was once low farmland fed by the runoff from the Hollywood Hills.  It had moisture the rest of the city didn’t have.  Plants were meant to grow here.

A Screen Door Sounds Like Summer, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

The neighborhood’s south and west sides have lovely 1920s homes with ample yards, protected by zoning that is dedicated to the single family home.  Sadly, to the north and east, the buffer of homes that stand between opportunistic development and us, is getting smaller.  As it turned out, our side of the street is zoned for both single family and multiple units. A multiple tenant building in the 1920s meant a quaint Spanish duplex, whereas now it can easily refer to a 20-unit complex of dubious design with twice that number of cars owned by its inhabitants.  When we fell in love with this house, the fluttering leaves out each and every window seduced us away from concerns about the clutter to the north.  The zoning wasn’t something we focused on, although for years we’ve directed visitors to drive here through the prettier route.  Unfortunately, growth is now encroaching and it’s not the growth of gardens, but of more cement, rebar, and lots and lots of stucco.

Up until now we sat in our house and faced away from it all.  We were able to maintain something of an illusion of spaciousness, of a natural world – the mirage of a better reality, right in the middle of the city.

The land where our house now rests is located just below the bottom left corner of this 1923 photograph of Los Angeles. Farmland covered the middle of the photograph with oil rigs dotting the fields at the Gilmore Ranch a couple of miles north and the closest developed neighborhoods nestling the Hollywood Hills at the top of the frame.

It’s amazing how a sense of calm can be immediately altered with a single phone call.  It’s not as though someone died or was harmed, thankfully, but for a household whose members have each moved enough for a lifetime, our sense of feeling settled down was tremendously altered.

The voice on the telephone said he was with a development company.  He spoke of other projects his company constructed, but wasn’t specific.  The website for the company showed grandiose condominiums – shiny steel and glass.  He offered to buy our house and would pay in cash.  First came the carrot and then, the stick.  His plan was to demolish and build a condominium of unspecified size, upon our lot.  When we recovered from the shock at the thought, we asked if keeping the house and moving it to a new location was an option.  He had no objection, yet there is so little available vacant land in the city, that the proposition of moving it would be unrealistic.

One Hundred Years, Kathleen Clark (c) 2011

How ironic to think of the house moving once again.  Ed and Tina, our 90-year-old neighbors across the street tell us of hearing an incredible rumbling one day 32 years ago.  Walking out onto their lawn they saw our little old house rolling down the street on the bed of a truck.  Their home is the first on the street, built in the early 20s when only a few farmhouses sat near Ballona Creek (now a paved viaduct).  They compliment us on the new green we used to paint the house and tell us how fond they are of looking out to the sycamore trees as they go out to fetch their newspaper each day.  I can’t imagine inflicting their last days with the unsightly view of an enormous condominium complex, not to mention the cutting down of the trees and demolition that would accompany it.

Pepper Tree, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Since that phone call, we’ve gained some information but remain confused.  Not having the heart to sell our wonderful home to developers, it took no time at all to decide it wasn’t an option.  We could not willingly subject our surrounding neighborhood to the monstrosity that would surely be built and we couldn’t live with ourselves if we destroyed the spirit of this sweet house.  It’s also not possible to replace this kind of ambiance, within our means, in the city.

Apparently, the owners of the rental house next door got the call as well, and the fact that they haven’t returned our calls has us spooked.  We don’t know if any of the other five houses left on the block received calls and consequently, we don’t know if people in them have made decisions.  The chance to sell out in a diminished housing market may be tempting to some, while the potential to weaken the value of our investment is something we can’t afford to ignore, even if the light is pretty and the trees are tall.  We may find ourselves forced to offer the house for a regular sale to a person who wants the house in spite of the potential for a 3-story condo next door.  Even writing that makes me feel like a traitor.

Australian Tea Tree, Kathleen Clark (2011)

Not wanting to leave, we research options for trees that grow quickly, that won’t spread too widely and have non-invasive root systems.  We think of planting in strategic locations and staying put.  Then we remember all the cars and all the sounds and all the smells that would accompany a multi-unit building next door.  The sounds of construction and later of arguments and loud music where there have never been any.  The smell of cigarettes and bacon that would surely find their way into our windows make me want to bolt.  I don’t know the answer yet.  It may be that another home would be as inspirational as this one.  Staying or leaving – it’s a gamble either way.  Ultimately it’s difficult to imagine finding another place with such a long glistening throw of light as this one offers.

Above the Table, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

I was photographing the house, its grounds and light long before the developer’s call and continuing to do so feels empowering.  The work was shifting along the way, becoming more abstract.  I’m not sure what role that telephone call played in making the black and white images – possibly a need to isolate an essential element of this place.  The botanical shadows were included in many of the color photos, but the emphasis on shadows rather than on the light itself was a subtle change.  I don’t consider them darker or more sinister but perhaps they are in certain images.  Maybe it’s just seeing the whole picture this time.  I’ve always had a tendency, when others are admiring a sunset, to look the other way.  It’s my contrary nature I suppose, but I just really love the way everything looks when it’s bathed in the light falling at the end of the day.

Hummingbird's Rest, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

If, in the end, we decide to move on, I want a full recording of what happened here in September and December and April and July.  The light and all its changes of angle allow for different photographs every day.  Most of them I do not take.  Generally, I think the camera gets in the way of a lot of experience and I think taking it in is important in life.  For every image I grasp with my camera, a hundred more are embedded in my mind, generally the place where the best photographs live.

Summer Fruit, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Uplift, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Spring in the World, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

January Silhouette, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Sycamore, The Crow's Perch, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

While I set out to write about urban development, I could not get there without writing about home, art, and working process.   Part 2 will address issues I could not cover in this writing;  issues dealing with photography, development and environment, but first things first.

Part 1:

It was love at first sight.  The little old house had our names all over it.  I did a double take as I drove past, in disbelief over the depth of the lot.  The giant flat yard had dozens of shade trees and I recall writing the word “perfect” in the margins of my newspaper clipping from the real estate section.

The house has served us well over the last seven years and we have done our best to shore up her tired spots, keeping true to the spirit of the house’s design.  When the painters were stripping off the old exterior paint a year ago to repaint, they coincidentally found the same cheerful green we had just purchased, already there on the bottom layer – the house’s original color.  In our city, a house built in 1919 is a rare survivor.   In fact, it was spared the wrecking ball some 30 odd years ago and moved from a neighborhood a few miles away when that neighborhood faced development.  It’s not the only old house in Los Angeles, but it’s ours.

Evening Porch, Kathleen Clark (c)2011

Blue Porcelain & Crape Myrtle

Entry with Sycamore, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

In the last few years, working from home, I began to feel this house saved me.  After years of working in large creative groups, the shift to working in solitude was a bit of a shocker.  I had worked so much, that I often wasn’t home long enough or in daylight hours to really experience the pleasures of what  92 years of good craftsmanship had to offer.  Los Angeles is known for it’s harsh angular light.  In fact, exterior photographs taken in LA. often have little graphically in common with photos from New England, for example.  In Southern California, there is more contrast, more extremity.  In New England, there are more middle values.  Ironically, that relates as much to the culture and nature of the two places as to their photogenic character.

After living in ten different L.A. locations over the last 22 years, the light in this house, and around it, is special.  It made working on the photo gallery more pleasurable.  The house itself takes up only a third of the corner property so the land accommodates some thirty trees – sycamore, birch, apricot, grapefruit, persimmon, crape myrtle, lemon, avocado, pepper, eucalyptus, all of which allow the most flickery, gentle light.  If the sun is out, it feels like everyone’s idea of California here.  Minus the surfers and ocean view.  The inside of the house has pretty much the same quality of light with an abundance of original 9×11 blown glass windowpanes.  Old, rattling panes are anything but energy efficient, but for one, who apparently lives for light, it is heavenly.

Sitting Room, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Honeycrisp at Sundown, Kathleen Clark (c) 2011

In my years of editing photography in journalism, I stopped making art.  My last exhibition closed a month before I took my first publication job and as a result, art died on the spot.  I’m not saying that I stopped taking pictures, but as my primary task was assignment editing and concept development, making photographs was secondary.  While I took many in service of my publications, they were made specifically to fill editorial orders.  It was fun and it was creative, but it wasn’t art.

It’s amazing how things start to come back as soon as there’s a little space.  I had new ideas within weeks away from the job.  I started one series and left it midway, doubting its efficacy, but I know now that it’s something I’ll get back to.  I began to see things at home that I found myself isolating in new ways.  The magic of this place is worth noting largely because it allowed me to find my way back to the love of making images.  It took a year and a half to take picture making seriously and actually consider it a body of work.  Rust takes a long while to chip off.  I’ve only mentioned it to a few people, only shown it to two of my closest friends, and still I have little desire to jump into the fray of struggling for outward attention or reward.  Although here I am, writing about it.

Rose Colored Glass, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Slats and Beams, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

I mentioned the fact that I was making new photographic work to Chris Rauschenberg as we walked across Santa Fe during the recent photo reviews.  I’m not sure why.  He’s someone I knew only peripherally when I lived in Portland, but I think perhaps, because we knew each other as young artists, I felt at ease in sharing it with him.  I’d kept the art making pretty private until then.  Somehow speaking of it seemed like a big deal.  When I said it was good to be working but I had no plans of showing work, he asked why not?  I realized I didn’t have a reason, but maybe I’d have to work a while and see what comes.

Black Bird of Paradise, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

I used to believe that making art without audience was narcissistic. But that was in the ‘80s and ’90s and much of the most exciting art was based in activism.  Activism is nothing without audience.  Years later, I find I need beauty and nature to take the edge off a rough, exacting world.  My hesitance or indifference, until now, to expose myself to the rigors of public scrutiny has as much to do with a belief the work is in progress and needs to find its way as it does in the simple fact that I’ve spent so much energy putting others into the spotlight rather than myself.  Ultimately though, the pleasure of making art may well surpass anything it’s outward presentation could hope to achieve.  The process really does matter and I’m not sure I care to mess that up, yet I am sharing a few images here, as it’s only right.

Japanese Maple and Birch, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

People often ask what I’m doing.  Even when we opened the gallery, they asked what else I was working on, as if it wasn’t enough to organize exhibitions.  Money is the great legitimacy, I suppose.  I try to think of it as necessity not legitimacy, but I live in the world and it is more challenging now to feel legitimate without earning a good deal.  I do find writing gratifying and while I write about myself now, I will continue writing about the work of others later on. I’m certain that at some point I’ll find another outlet for larger interests and presentation of work by other artists. Now that my gallery is closed and assignment editing is in the past, I search to find that next thing.  It often occurs to me, however, that the new thing may well be the old thing – the illusive making of art.

Blenheim Apricot, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Meanwhile, the light at my house keeps teaching me new lessons.  One body of work seems to lead to another and even though it’s far from the conceptual work I did in the ’80s and ’90s, it has visual links to both those periods and most importantly to my family and its collective love of gardens.  My son once asked me how I could possibly know the identity and names of so many trees.  I replied that I certainly don’t know the names of most trees but that the ones I do know came from having heard my parents and grandparents as they looked fondly upon a pink blooming Mimosa or the screaming red fruit of a Sour Cherry tree.  It’s one of the best things I inherited, which gives me the most pleasure.  I try to point out to him that the amazing fragrance he loves in the summer night air is Orange blossom, that the sweet scent will soon be sweet fruit.  Even as I say it, I realize I am repeating my mother’s words and I see in my mind the still photo memory of the grove across the street as my family moved into another old house in another old California town when I was fifteen.

Eucalyptus, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Memory, photographs and gardens are inexorably linked for me and while the new work will run its course at some point, this muse, this old house has allowed me to find an inroad to art and a connection to the past and present.  It has reminded me of important things, deeply rooted familial history and the simple pleasure of lying on the grass, looking skyward or watching a beam of light move across a room, spotlighting the most mundane of things as they become objects of reverence.

Apricot, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Our House, Part 2, will follow