Art Encounters in Hawaii and Kauai

When travel and art collide, my cup runneth over.

Two of my all-time favorite pursuits are travel and art. When those two interests collide, as they so often do, my cup runneth over. Standing in a town square in an exotic country, while gazing at a sculpture that I’ve never seen before, is heaven on earth to me. Bliss. Nirvana. Everything, all at once.

I’ve already written about the gorgeous murals I was lucky enough to see on the islands of Kauai and Hawaii. And I all but raved about the work on display at the Volcano Art Center. So, without further ado, here are some photos of the many forms of art that we encountered on our Hawaiian sojourn that I have yet to share with you. (I always use the term encounter when looking at art because it is so often unexpected, and I usually walk away feeling changed by the experience.) Enjoy!

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Public Art Can Unite or Divide

People who wish to control the narrative tend to hate public art.

Public art is a subject near and dear to my heart. So much so that I administer a Public Art Lovers group on Facebook. If you join the group, you’ll be treated to the murals, statues, sculptures, fountains, and creative works that refuse to be pigeonholed, from around the world.

Public Art adds beauty to urban sprawl. It reminds us to take a moment out of our hectic and stressful routine to stop and look and think and smile. Art touches us emotionally. In fact, this study, conducted in Norway, suggests that viewing art actually makes you healthier. (Not that I ever needed an excuse.)

Make no mistake: Public art can be controversial. It is the most creative way to send a message to the masses. It is egalitarian. Anyone who happens to pass by it can enjoy it and perhaps be influenced by it. That’s pretty powerful. People who wish to control the narrative tend to hate public art.

Others take exception to the expense of public art. They feel that it is an unnecessary drain on the public coffers. But I tend to agree with this article, which states that “investments in public art can improve street safety, provide tourism and new jobs, and combat social isolation and anxiety.” That sounds like a wise investment to me.

Public art can unite us in that it makes us want to cross boundaries to look closer. It enriches culture and exposes that culture to a wider world. It reminds us that people can have a variety of perspectives, and that’s okay. In a polarized world, it gets people talking, and it serves as a point of reference. It brings us together.

But perhaps the thing I enjoy most about public art is that it comforts me. We are living in an overcrowded, polluted, corrupt world. It’s nice to see, in the midst of all that, that there are people who take the time to make things more beautiful. If you listen closely to any mural, you can hear it whisper, “You are not alone. I’m here because someone wanted to make this world a better place, just as you wish to do. Here’s a gift of beauty for you. Spread the word.”

What follows are images of public art from all over the globe that I’ve enjoyed receiving via my Pokemon Go app. Seeing these images every day makes me want to travel more to experience these things firsthand. Enjoy!

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Exploring DC: Modern Art and Sculpture Gardens

Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.

We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.

It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here, and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.

True confession: I used to be really intimidated by art. I worried that I wouldn’t be capable of understanding what I was seeing. What if I didn’t interpret it the right way? I felt a huge responsibility to artists to “get it right”. I also didn’t want to be perceived as a fool.

With age, I stopped caring about what people thought of me and my opinions. I focused on the fact that I loved art and I was delighted that humans were capable of creating such a variety of lenses through which to view the world. What I chose to see through those lenses should not matter to anyone but me. I also learned that my appreciation of an artist’s work could be greatly expanded by reading about his or her vision for the project, but even if I saw things that the artist hadn’t intended for me to see, I still took pleasure in my observations. Finally, I concluded that, as an overarching definition of what art is meant to be, I had somehow gotten it right after all.

Now when I see a pool of art, I jump right into it without even testing the water, because I know that I’ll enjoy it come what may. It’s rather liberating. I’m able to emotionally skinny-dip in the art world without any shame. (Just please don’t steal my clothes on the shoreline.)

I woke up smiling, because this day in Washington DC we planned to dedicate to art. We would visit the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and then check out another sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Art.

I happen to love modern and contemporary art, and the Hirshhorn Museum is one of the most visited museums of this type in the United States. I was looking forward to seeing the works of many groundbreaking artists. I was not disappointed.

First, a bit about the building itself. When it’s not being renovated, it looks to me like a giant concrete snare drum. It’s basically an elevated cylinder that’s hollow in the center. Many people consider it a sculpture in and of itself, but I’ll be honest. It’s not exactly my favorite architecture in our Nation’s Capital.

Well, I should say that it isn’t usually. But right now, it’s being extensively renovated to increase its energy efficiency and their ability to control the humidity levels in the galleries. To hide the unsightly renovation work, the whole building has been draped in an amazing piece of art called Draw the Curtain by Nicholas Party.

This curtain is a series of women, depicted in Greco-Roman style, peeking from behind a variety of lush curtains. Backlit at night, it positively glows. And it does make you want to go into the building, despite the construction, to see what’s hidden behind those curtains. And enter we did.

The first exhibit we saw was called The Weather by the artist Laurie Anderson.

She has an eclectic body of work. The first thing you see is a video of a mesmerizing performance piece by the artist herself. It makes you realize that you’re in for a treat.

In another room is an installation called Salute. You walk into blackness, and then see two rows of silky red flags waving at each other. They’re moving mechanically, but the implication is that there are people who you cannot see who are waving the flags. The music is ominous. Sometimes the flags are imitating each other, or at least moving in harmony. Other times they are working at cross purposes. Sometimes even the ones on the same side don’t agree with each other. What a simple, elegant way to depict the precarious state of international relations. It gave me goose bumps.

Some brief footage I took, but the movement was constantly changing.

Much of Anderson’s work is based on stories. She’s an amazing writer. Her words transport you to another reality. Sometimes they make you question reality. In one room, once again black, you enter a word of chaotic white graffiti. You never want to stop reading the fascinating vignettes that are interspersed with odd sculptures. I won’t even pretend to describe this place. Pictures will have to suffice. I did, though, look at the guard that was standing in the midst of all this fascinating chaos and said to him, “You must have really weird dreams.” He laughed.

Here are a few of Anderson’s stories on display.

The last room in the Anderson exhibit was entitled Habeas Corpus. She does love her black rooms. This one had lights shining on a disco ball chandelier, and in the corner is a gigantic pillow in the shape of a man sitting on a recliner, and projected on that pillow is a video of Mohammed el Gharani, talking about his life.

He was captured by our government when still a child, and was accused of being a terrorist. He was sent to Guantanamo Bay and was tortured for seven years. Finally a judge ordered him returned to Chad as we had no legitimate evidence against him. He is now in Chad, but still has no identity papers and is essentially stateless. Google him for more information, and ask yourself, “How dare we?”

The next exhibit was called Pickett’s Charge, by Mark Bradford. These were very large textured works. They were 400 linear feet long, so they were displayed in a circle. The work is based on an 1883 painting of this particular civil war battle. He used colored paper, what appears to be twine, and ripped up reproductions of that painting to create a body of work that really made me feel the true chaos of war. Here are a few pictures.

Next, we enjoyed the work of Marcel Duchamp, a French artist. He believed that an artist’s ideas are more important than craft or aesthetics. I was particularly fascinated by his work called Hat Rack. Seeing it floating in mid air with no visible support was surreal, and the shadow cast on the wall was as beautiful as the rack itself. There were also a steady stream of quotes from Duchamp that made me stop and think, as did the semi-transparent chessboard that you were invited to sit at, and take photos from below.

The whole museum was absolutely mind blowing, even the linoleum floors and walls by the gift shop. We didn’t want to leave. Dear husband and I agree that it was one of our favorite places in DC.

It was a beautiful Autumn day, so from there, we headed outside to the Hirshhorn’s sunken sculpture garden. I love how sculptures can be seen from various angles, and the time of day, the lighting, and even the weather can make them look different, as if these things have lives that you’d love to know more about. My words won’t do this place justice, so here are some photos.

After that, we walked across the National Mall to the sculpture garden in the National Gallery of Art. It’s a lovely place full of winding paths and plenty of benches. It’s the kind of place that begs for a picnic lunch. Again, words aren’t sufficient. Enjoy the photos below, but I also urge you to visit their excellent website to see every single one of the sculptures, complete with detailed descriptions.

I would have loved to have seen the National Gallery itself, along with the Freer Sackler Galleries, the African Art Museum, and the Portrait Gallery, just to name a few of the other amazing art venues that are on offer in Washington DC, but unfortunately our time was limited. Even so, I must say that I ended the day feeling that my cravings for art had been satisfied, indeed.

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Celebrating the Human Form

We’re all different, one from another.

One of the things in life that brings me the most comfort is the fact that, even if we all had the exact same diet and exercise regimen, we would still all be different, one from another. Tall or short, curvy or angular, dark or light, with different hair types, eye color and hair color. Even our body hair distribution is unique to each one of us.

No one should shame someone else regarding any aspect of their appearance. It truly is a roll of the dice. I love that we come in infinite varieties. If we all were remarkably similar, like bottle-nosed dolphins, for example, this would be a boring world, indeed.

Sculptures of the human form bear this out. They are also unique. Some are so abstract they barely suggest humanity. Others tell a compelling story. Some are whimsical or humorous. Some turn us into mythical creatures.

All of them, though, make me stop and think. I often wish that they could talk. I think I’d be friends with some statues. I can imagine the sound of their laughter and the taste of their tears. Some kind of give me the creeps, but I’d like to ask them questions. I want to know more.

What follows are some photos of sculptures that I’ve received from all over the world via my Pokemon Go app. Enjoy!

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Bears, Bears Everywhere

They even started entering my dreams.

Idaho. Nevada. Arizona. California. Oregon. Washington.

In every state I drove through last month, there was a recurring theme: Bears. I saw evidence of them everywhere I looked. Bear boxes. Warning signs. But mostly, sculptures.

Bears carved from wood. Bears made of bronze. Humorous bears. Ferocious bears. Abstract Bears. Bears standing on their hind legs for all eternity. Bears holding signs, and most likely grateful to have a job in this economy. Here a bear, there a bear, everywhere a bear, bear. They even started entering my dreams.

The only thing I didn’t see was an actual bear. That’s probably a good thing. The only bears I’ve ever seen in the wild were in Alaska, and I was grateful to be able to observe them with awe from the safety of a vehicle. Bears are amazing and worthy of respect. I’m glad they’re out there. I’m also glad none have ever tapped me on the shoulder.

What follows are some of the postcards I collected from my Pokemon Go application while passing by all these bear statues. Enjoy!

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Public Art Lovers

I love the concept of group whimsy and delight!

I genuinely believe that public art makes a city more livable. I’ve written about this before. I think murals and sculptures add a certain whimsy to a community, and that’s a joy to behold.

While going through my many photo albums, I suddenly realized that a recurring theme therein is public art. If I see a beautiful or funny bit of creativity, I’m compelled to stop and take a picture of it. These things make me smile. I suspect this is the case for others as well.

So, glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to start yet another Facebook group. Hopefully you are aware of and/or have joined my other two groups already.

The View from a Drawbridge is a group for readers of this blog, and every day I add a link to that day’s post. Many people are more comfortable leaving comments there than they are at the foot of the actual post, so you often get a more in-depth discussion of the topic du jour.

Drawbridge Lovers, on the other hand, is a group about all things drawbridge. People post some amazing photos of movable spans throughout the world in that forum. They also include links to drawbridge related news, which can be quite fascinating.

So this new group is called Public Art Lovers, and I’m hoping that it will get just as much participation as the other two groups. I’m really looking forward to seeing murals, sculptures and the like from all over the world. I wish I could be everywhere at once and see all these things with my own eyes, but of course, that would be impossible. So much art, so little time…

So, here’s hoping you’ll join my newest Facebook group and share your public art encounters with the world. I love the concept of group whimsy and delight! I think we all could use a little more of that in our lives. Join us!

Mural Seattle

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Public Art as a Yardstick

I love the fact that I’m now living in a city where public art is the norm. I often pass by sculptures and murals here in Seattle, and they never fail to make me smile. It’s always a pleasure to have a bit of beauty and humor or a dash of whimsy injected into one’s day. I love having my thoughts provoked and my perspectives challenged. And some of these sculptures kind of feel like a part of my family now.

I used to live in Jacksonville, Florida, where public art was rather thin on the ground. It was often viewed as too controversial, or not in keeping with family values. (Though I wonder if their statue of Andrew Jackson astride a stallion still stands? I bet it does.)

Some artists in Jacksonville have been known to go rogue, I think, out of sheer frustration. They’d paint any flat surface they could find. Sadly, they always seemed to be quickly shut down and/or painted over.

Allowing art in one’s city takes a certain level of political courage. (And I’m not talking about historical monuments and statues, here. That’s another debate entirely.) There will always be people who don’t like a particular piece, or they will misinterpret it. It is easier to offend than to delight or inspire, it seems. It’s a confident city council that allows self-deprecation and social commentary to be out in the open, for all to see. It’s a brave mayor that doesn’t see creativity as a threat.

I think one of the many factors one should consider when deciding where to live is the amount of public art in the city in question. That will tell you much about the quality of life that you will experience in that community. It will tell you a great deal about the maturity and emotional health of the municipality as well. These are considerations you should never overlook. The ability to express oneself is the hallmark of civilization.


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Exploring Seattle — Olympic Sculpture Park

It’s a rare thing in life when everything comes together just right to create a perfect day. I had one of those recently. It was my day off. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was 70 degrees out. No humidity. It was almost as if there were no atmosphere to contend with at all. I felt neither hot nor cold. And I had the opportunity to spend the day out of doors. Bliss.

I had an errand to run in downtown Seattle, and rather than grouse about the outrageous cost of parking, I decided to combine that errand with a visit to the Olympic Sculpture Park. As with many of the parks in this city, this one comes with a spectacular view. It overlooks Puget Sound, and across the water you can see Bainbridge Island with the stunning, snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the background. This view alone would have been enough to satisfy me. I could have watched the ferries and container ships passing by all day long. But to add to the beauty, there are also sculptures and wildflowers.

My photos don’t do this park justice, but here they are:

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After wandering amongst the sculptures for about an hour, I simply sat down on a bench and gazed at the mountains with a stupid grin on my face. I’d probably still be there except that eventually I got hungry. So I wandered down the street to the docks and had lunch at Paddy Coyne’s Irish Pub.

I love it when I ask for ginger ale at a pub and they say they don’t have it, but they can make it. Make it they did, and it was the best ginger ale I’ve had in a long time. I sat outside and savored it while I waited for my Irish Style Potato Skins, which were filled with “savory Shepherd’s pie meat, Tillamook white cheddar cheese, sour cream and green onion.” My mouth is watering just thinking about it. And because this is Seattle, after all, I was told that it was gluten-free.

If there is ever a massive epidemic and I’m one of the few who survive, I am moving into that pub and claiming the sculpture park as my front yard. I think that’s one of my more brilliant ideas. Then I could look out the window and remember a perfect day I had once in 2015, and smile.

Cosmic Pinball

I am always amazed at how the most random encounters can change the trajectory of one’s life. It’s as if we are all pinballs in a great machine, bouncing off this or that obstacle, and being propelled to greater and more dizzying heights. You never know when you wake up in the morning if your life is going to change for good or ill by the people you meet. In a strange way, I love this about the universe.

Here’s an example. I used to be very active in the art community in the virtual world called Second Life. This gave me the confidence to become a fractal artist. You can see my work here. Because of this, I met a young man who lives on the other side of the world in Viet Nam. I helped him get his first art show in Second Life, and we became good friends. I am very impressed by this young man’s talent. Not only does he do drawings and photography and 3D virtual sculptures, but he also writes quite well. you can see his work at his deviantart page.

He’s 19, and wants to study abroad. One night while we were chatting on facebook, I mentioned the Savannah College of Art and Design, because I had always wanted to go there. He looked into it, and is now applying. So there you have it. A random and improbable encounter between a 48 year old in America and a 19 year old in Viet Nam has sent him in the direction of Savannah, Georgia, a place he had never heard of before this. I hope it works out, because my young friend has an amazing talent and a bright future.

So, without further ado, here is some of the amazing art of my dear friend Cong Le Nguyen. I’m proud to know him, and I’m glad our paths intersected. Enjoy!