It isn’t a widely acknowledged fact, but Vincent Van Gogh was a prolific drug user. His mental health battle with depression is well documented, but less so was his battle with addictions to absinthe and the prescription drug Digitalis (used to ease his epilepsy).
In fact, the overuse of the color yellow in his work can be attributed to these addictions: one of the side affects of the overuse of both absinthe and Digitalis is seeing in yellow, or seeing yellow spots in front of your eyes.
Artistic drug use wasn’t just limited to Van Gogh. Jean-Michel Basquiat used several different drugs when he was painting, and he died of a heroin overdose when he was just 27 years old.
Gustave Doré, who created the illustrations for some of Charles Dickens’ works, enjoyed opium and created detailed illustrations depicting opium dens.
And in more recent years, promising artist Dash Snow, whose works were exhibited in the Saatchi Gallery, also died at the age of 27 of a drug overdose in Lafayette House, a hotel in Manhattan. His death was described as a “junkie’s end”.
Creative people do tend to turn to drug and alcohol addictions and so these problems are quite common in artists. Much like cancer or depression, recent scientific research has shown that addiction is a disease: and much like those other illnesses, it is one that needs treatment and recovery.
The Addiction and Art Project
Because of this new research, the Addiction and Art Project was started by the former Innovators Combating Substance Abuse, a National Program Office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The aim of the project is to use art to get people talking about addiction.
Because people enjoy and feel comfortable about discussing art, it can be used to start a dialogue about something that people feel considerably less comfortable talking about: addiction. Since the project began, Addiction and Art exhibitions have been held both in local communities and at professional substance abuse conferences.
There is also an Addiction and Art book which discusses the project more extensively. Via the Addiction and Art Project’s website, artists are sharing their work so that anyone can access it, view it, think about and discuss it. The artists then share their personal stories or inspiration for the artwork they have created.
This image of a crow and serpent, entitled “The Hand that Feeds”, is by artist Carrie Napora. She shares that: “This image’s meaning parallels Vendizotti”s “The Crow and the Serpent” fable. The crow, driven by hunger, seized a serpent, who twisted around, sinking venomous fangs into the crows’ leg. The bird shrieked in pain, for the food he hoped would sustain his life had instead caused his death.
My own experience of watching a loved one craze over what he thought he couldn’t live without reminds me of this story, The moral is that when acting in one’s own interest, consider the harm one’s action may cause others, or risk coming to a miserable end…in his case, a suicidal death.
As well as encouraging people to talk about addiction and share their stories of how addiction has touched their lives, there is a new school of thought that art can actually help overcome addiction.
Art Therapy for Recovery Addicts
In local recovery programs across the United States and worldwide, art therapy is being used as a technique to help drug and alcohol addicts overcome their addictions. Art therapy is a recognized form of therapy that encourages people to express themselves through painting and drawing.
Sessions are led by a trained therapist, and often creative sessions are followed by one-on-one counseling sessions. Art therapy is the perfect tool for those who have difficulty expressing how they feel, or feel too ashamed to talk about the negative activity their drug taking has caused. Instead they can express their feelings and vent their frustrations through their art work, and discuss this work with their therapist instead.
The American Art Therapy Association represents more than 5,000 professional art therapists in more than 40 chapters around the world. So it seems that as well as well as being more susceptible to substance abuse in its many forms, artists can also help other addicts to overcome their problems and re-enter society.
Anyone who has had to kill time between connecting flights or has been marooned in an airport has cause to celebrate art in airports. This post will be devoted to some of the more memorable permanent pieces I have seen on my way from here to there.
Although I used to travel frequently for various jobs – particularly wearing a groove between San Francisco and San Diego – I don’t fly much anymore. These days, most of my travel takes off from Sardy Field in Aspen, Colorado, a sweet little one-runway airport so small that they wheel mobile staircases up to planes to allow you to disembark. No jetways here. (For direct flights, I usually drive to Denver, home of the big blue horse at left. More about that later.)
Because of lessening travel, my memories of airport art tend to be a bit dated, and I asked friends on Facebook to nominate some of their favorite pieces to be featured in this post. My thanks to all of them.
Hot Stuff at O’Hare
With a tip of the hat to my friend Alexei Folger, the Travel Oracle, I will begin my tour of memorable airport art with an installation of neon spaghetti that I remembered, but was unable to place.
Alexei, who provides tech support to Filemaker databases all across the US and who has a permanently-packed overnight kit always at the ready, reminded me that this art lights up the ceiling of a tunnel connecting concourses in the United Airlines terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
My Facebook friend Alexander DeWolfe also loves this kinetic display. To really appreciate this installation, which is by Michael Hayden and is called “The Sky’s the Limit,” go check it out on YouTube. Alex reminded me that as the waves of light travel along the tunnel with you, changing to reflect a spectrum of colors, they are accompanied by Brian Eno’s music.
Another surprise awaiting the weary traveler just beyond the neon tunnel is a 72-foot long brachiosaurus.
Although he’s there more in the service of science than art, this Jurassic vegetarian looms upward in a gesture that I find both startling and artistic. I usually think of a concourse as a long, horizontal box, but I find myself staring at the space between my head and the skylights silhouetting the dino’s head, impressed with the verticality of the space. The brachiosaurus comes from Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and s/he stands beside the museum’s store at O’Hare.
I Am Afraid of the Big Blue Horse
These days, if I need to travel far, I usually fly out of Denver International Airport. Which brings me to the blue horse pictured at the top of this post.
This horse rears up along Pena Avenue on the way into DIA, and he’s inspired a kind of a cult following. There’s actually a Facebook group called I Am Afraid of the Big Blue Horse at DIA! At one point, before Facebook changed formats and confused things, the group had roughly 10,000 members.
Nicknamed “Blucifer,” DIA’s 32-foot-high sculpture is officially named the “Blue Mustang.” He is listed as one of the Top 5 Bizarre Art Displays on Yahoo and has also been cited by CNN as one of the nation’s top pieces of airport art.
This very anatomically-correct (!) stallion was commissioned two years before DIA opened, and he was created by New Mexico artist Luis Jimenez in 1993.
But here’s a spooky fact: Blucifer killed his creator.
On June 13, 2006 a large section of Blue Mustang fell onto Jimenez and severed an artery in the artist’s leg. The sculpture was finished by studio assistants and family members.
Perpetual Motion in Boston
I’m captivated by this art work every time I see it, no matter how much time I have spent tracking little balls making their way through this kinetic sculpture. Located at Logan International Airport, the sculpture was created by George Rhoads and is called “Exercise in Fugality.”
At a time when I was making repeated trips to Boston, I actually looked forward to having to kill time in the airport because it gave me time to stare at what must be the killer app of Rube Goldberg variety.
Clearly, I’m not the only person to have this response.
Below one of several YouTube videos of this sculpture – a medium that communicates the wonder of this artwork far better than the still photo at right – Darealfiberoptix has written:
“When I was a kid, my mom lost me at an airport somehow. It took a couple hours to find me and I was just standing in a trance watching the mechanical complexity. I had never seen anything like that before. I was blown away.”
Kicking Calder Around in Philadelphia
“As far as permanent installations go, I think the Calder mobile at Pittsburgh International Airport will always be my favorite,” writes my interior designer friend Wendy Hoechstetter.
“I’ve always been a Calder fan, in part precisely because of this very piece, which figures prominently in my early memories, when my father used to take us out to the airport on weekends to watch the planes. It doesn’t stand out as much in the current newer terminal as it did in the smaller original one, but it’s always a sign that I’m home once I see it.”
Turns out that Calder did call Pittsburgh home – but the city and the airport weren’t always respectful of his sculpture, which is named “Pittsburgh.” The Pittsburgh City Paper comments, “We’ve treated the sculpture rather shoddily since Calder, a Philadelphia native and one of the foremost American sculptors of the 20th century, exhibited the 28-by-28-foot sculpture in the 1958 Carnegie International. To all appearances, Calder’s black-and-white mobile of aluminum and iron – two distinctly Pittsburgh metals – was a huge success. ‘Pittsburgh’ won the first prize for sculpture at the 1958 International, and it was purchased at the exhibition by one G. David Thompson.”
“County Officials, in their finite wisdom, decided it would be ‘nice’ if the mobile were painted to match the Allegheny County color scheme of green and yellow. This was promptly done.
“Then, in a flash of brilliance, they decided it hung too low, so they hung some weights on it to shift the pieces. This immobilized the mobile, so to solve that problem, they attached it to a motor. All of course without ever consulting the artist.
“Calder, oddly enough, was incensed. At that time in history, however, an artist had very little recourse for such actions. So in a compromise, it was agreed to paint the mobile in a ‘Calder Red’. It wasn’t so easy. When the paint job was finished, the paint had been too thin, and it turned out to be pink.
“It wasn’t until 1979 that the mobile was taken down, repainted, and the weights removed. For a number of years then it was hung in the Carnegie Museum, where it had originally hung in 1958. In 1992, it was back at the airport, looking just like it did before all that nonsense.”
Old Friends & New in San Francisco
The course of public art, like love, never has run smooth. For years, I loved passing by the Benny Bufano sculpture that stood near the entrance to SFO. It has since been moved to near Lake Merced. Bufano’s Peace sculpture was controversial in its time. It was rejected by the patron who first commissioned it. After seeing it completed, decided that he liked Bufano’s bunnies and bears better than this rocket-like political statement.
Beniamino Bufano was a great proponent of public art. He offered his services to any community that could pay him day wages and supply materials. Of “Peace,” he wrote that he sculpted it “in the form of a projectile to express the idea that if peace is to be preserved today it must be enforced peace – enforced by the democracies against Fascist barbarism. Modern warfare, which involves the bombing of women and children, has no counterpart in a peace interpreted by the conventional motif of olive branches and doves.”
SFO still has plenty of art, including fine changing exhibits. Among those that are installed permanently, my friend Sonnie Willis, a wonderful photographer, nominates as her favorite, “The mural in the Mexicana Terminal at San Francisco Airport.”
As Juana Alicia’s website describes it, “The concepts central to our design are the themes of: migration and permanence; movement and stillness; and intimacy within a public space. The airport is often the setting for some of the most dramatic moments and milestones in our lives. In our design we honor the wonderful and significant meetings and partings that happen in the airport, to bring to the foreground and freeze those moments in time, while creating a light-filled context of movement, flow of life and the energy of travel.”
Please share your favorite examples of memorable airport art by leaving a comment on this blog.
Perhaps because of the early darkness and cold outside, I have embarked on quest for color.
I have been wanting a focal piece of art in my living room, and decided to find something that Mason and I could give each other as a holiday gift. Something energetic like the Zapotec rug to the left.
As I mentioned some posts back, my house feels Latin-American or American Indian. The cobalt blue Talavera tile set into the saltillo floor of dining room – not to mention a big New Mexican sun cut into the kitchen tile – give the open kitchen/dining room a Southwestern flavor, and the south light is as warm and golden as honeyed sopapillas.
The living room doesn’t have great light, nor any Latin touches. Initially, I set it up using things I already owned, figuring to improve on it later. And later is now.
That’s the room on the right — a little drab for my tastes. That rug above the TV chest, a Zapotec with a bird pattern, looks awfully washed out against the ivory walls.
I do have the good fortune to have inherited a genuine, vintage Navajo rug from my step-father, Bill Devine. You can see it on the floor in the foreground.
Bill was encouraged to buy this rug in the early 1960’s when he was a surveyor for the Nevada highway department.
Bill’s rod man, a Navajo, took Bill to a local trading post and encouraged him to buy some good Navajo weaving. Bill had a tough time selecting the rug. Each time that Bill wood choose something, his rod man – a man of few words – would cross his arms over his chest, shake his head in disapproval and say, “Not Navajo.”
What he meant was that Bill was choosing things that strayed from Navajo weaving tradition.
My rug is definitely Navajo. You can see it on the floor in the foreground. Like many — perhaps most — classic Navajo weavings, it’s not brightly colored.
Prior to the introduction of aniline dyes around the time of the Civil War, Navajos primarily used wool in the colors their sheep grew it: grey, white, brown, black. A few other colors, chiefly red and yellow, were added from plant-based dyes, but these were not very bright.
I have included a few classic Navajo rug patterns in this post by way of illustration; most of these pattern types are named for the areas in which they have been traditionally woven: Two Grey Hills, Ganado and Teec Nos are all famous rug patterns and place names. (In my recent internet rug search, I discovered that “Navajo” rugs are being manufactured in Arabia and Hong Kong — a long way from Tuba City!)
A deeply saturated red in a rug — or the inclusion of any color out of the range I mentioned above — should be a tip-off that the rug is “Not Navajo” or at least not historic. (Modern Navajo rugs, and Navajo Yei and sandpainting rugs don’t follow these classic rules.)
Some rather-nice, vibrantly colored rugs are being sold on E-Bay by folks who have described them as Navajo, even though a trained eye will quickly see that they are Zapotec weavings. Zapotec rugs are not rare or expensive, but they are a genuine folk art. Hand woven by Indians in Oaxaca, Mexico, they are part of a weaving tradition that reaches back more than 500 years.
Local Color Wanted
My house already contains a number of brightly-colored Guatemalan textiles and Zapotec rugs — souvenirs of my travels — and this house is the perfect place to indulge my long-time love for American Indian and Southwest art.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the sort to adorn my space with Kokopelli figures, which have, to my way of thinking, become about as cliche as Hello Kitty. Nor am I enamored of coyotes wearing kerchiefs. That’s too kitschy for me.
I did want to echo the patterns in my Navajo rug, while warming up the room, which does have wine-red leather furniture.
So I went searching for another Zapotec. But the choices are many, and I had almost as much trouble making a selection as Bill did!
Although my choice didn’t have to pass muster with a critical rod man, I did want my husband to pleased. To help him visualize the choices, I Photoshopped the rugs that I liked, dropping them into the photo of the living room that you see above.
I thought that my readers might be also interested in that process, so I have included a few of the Photoshop images to the left.
The Test of Time
Years ago, I bought about a dozen Zapotec rugs in Tijuana. I still have most of them. They have stood up to years of wear on both floors and walls. (The gray and white bird pattern rug that’s currently on the wall was part of that initial purchase. It’s in good shape, but too understated for that spot.)
Zapotecs come in an amazing range of colors, and I tried quite a few before discovering the right combination of color and pattern. I created a dozen Photoshopped pictures, not just the three you see here!
I highly recommend this photo-visualization process; I have used it with my interior design clients, and it always helps them to get a feel for color.
After revising my focal wall a dozen times, I think I finally found the look that I was seeking: Vibrant, yet harmonious.
My email has been abuzz recently with notes between me and accomplished nature photographer Warren Krupsaw. I’m pleased to share some of Warren’s photos here. They speak for themselves far more eloquently than any praise I can heap on them. I encourage you to check out both the photos here and the links below. Warren’s nature photos are simply stunning.
Warren, who was a student – and also a houseguest – of Ansel Adams, suddenly appeared in my life via the magic of the internet. (Yes, it’s absolutely amazing who I have met through my website, blog and other online presences.)
Warren and I share an interest in passion vines. I have planted and painted them, and he has photographed them extensively.
Warren’s first note to me arrived out of the blue. He complimented me on one of my paintings and let me know that he too is interested in bees:
“I’m not much on honeybees (much more a bumblebee kind of guy), but after seeing your Passion of the Honeybee, along with your rendering of a passion flower, it occurred to me that you might be interested in checking out my passion flower gallery (as well as my ‘pet’ bumblebee in ‘Selected Animals’).”
My comment to Warren after seeing this photo of a bee perched upon his thumb: “Hats off to you for getting this photo – not to mention the one with the hornet! If a bee was perched on my thumb, I would be trembling so hard I would be wholly unable to hold a camera, much less snap a photo.”
Turns out that Warren has a secret trick when it comes to dealing with stinging insects.
The story is fascinating, so I am going to reproduce “Buzzy #423 or The Plight of the Bumblebee” here exactly as he wrote it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
The Plight of the Bumblebee
“It may not have actually been 423, but certainly after almost a half century, there have been a lot of bumblebees I’ve operated on. Naming each and every one of them “Buzzy” seemed the simplest way to go (only confusing when you kept more than one at a time).
“As the inventor (originator) of the ‘Stingerectomy’ (or more precisely ‘Stingerotomy’), here’s how it began: When I was a junior in high school biology class (1960), one of our assignments was to make an insect collection: capturing, mounting, and identifying butterflies, and other insects on stick pins. I noticed that the gas caused all kinds of muscle contractions in the insects upon being placed in the killing jar.
“In the case of wasps, bees and hornets this included their stingers which would stay out longer and longer as they approached unconsciousness (and death). In those days one of the commonly available gassing solvents was something used in the dry cleaning business, carbon tetrachloride (‘carbon tet’), no longer used.
“Now I use diethyl ether (only available by prescription). At some point, the light dawned and it occurred to me: Why not clip off the sharp end? Maybe, given enough fresh air, they’d revive. After some experimentation on how long to leave them in the jar, low and behold, I discovered that they did survive! And if the gas exposure was just right, there was also enough time to tie a thread around their ‘waist’ (pedicel).
“Now I had a bumblebee on a ‘leash’ and by attaching a small safety pin to the loose end, I could wear it on my shirt. As you might expect, these became a big hit with my fellow male students (great for scaring girls). I did a brisk business selling them for 25 cents each — a fair sum in those days.
“Most of the bees learned to drink a sugar-water solution through an eye-dropper and a few survived as long as three weeks. It was fascinating to be able to handle them safely without fear of being stung and to study them up close: they cleaned themselves practically like cats, their buzzing became slower as ‘bedtime’ approached, you could fly them like a kite, etc.
“Some of the larger ones became especially tame after a while and didn’t seem to mind being handled. A few of the more enterprising ones chewed through their tethers and freed themselves. Each one was different.
“Along the way, I learned which flowers attracted them, and by holding a jar in one hand and the lid in my other, I became proficient in catching them. Sometimes, the occasional bee would find its way into my house on its own — down the chimney I presume.
“Of course, as the objective science kid, I also operated on wasps and hornets. (Honeybees were just too small and delicate). But their ‘personalities’ were quite different. They were much more flighty and aggressive, besides being more ‘intelligent’ as evidenced by their freeing themselves with more regularity.
“So recently, when I heard that characteristic buzzing sound (another chimney visitor) I looked around and sure enough, there was a good-sized bumblebee knocking against our sliding glass door.
“Having a jar at the ready, I quickly captured my next pet-to-‘bee’ and prepared for surgery. Buzzy #423 seemed OK, but the first night was off his feed.
“By the next day however, Buzzy’s appetite was back and he consumed one whole drop! Normally, when not ‘wearing’ a bee, I keep them pinned to a curtain.
“The day after that, Buzzy was up to two drops. Things were looking good and I had big plans for showing Buzzy off and then letting him go (cutting the leash next to his body). But on Day Three, when I went to check, Buzzy #423 was gone! Apparently, with not much else to do, he had wised-up and freed himself. I looked all around, but couldn’t find him.
“I came to the unhappy conclusion that he could have flown virtually anywhere in the house.
“In an attempt to distract myself from this sad state of affairs, I settled into the couch for a good read. A couple hours later,there was that sound again. Buzzy! There he was, amidst our house plants.
“Without too much of a struggle, I captured him by hand. Sure enough, he was still wearing his ‘belt.’ Normally, I would have used a jar, but I was pretty sure it was Buzzy. (Actually there is one type of bumblebee that can be caught by hand; the yellow-spot-on-its face drone has no stinger.)
“Not wanting to knock him out again to re-attach a leash, I decided he had ‘served his time.’ I told him what a good and clever bee he was, opened the door (and my hand), and off he flew with an amazing tale to tell.
“Good bye and fly high!”
A Bit More About Warren Krupsaw
Nature photographer Warren Krupsaw was a one-time student (and house guest) of Ansel Adams. He earned his M.F.A. in photography under Harry Callahan at the Rhode Island school of Design and was also one of the first students in the graduate photography program at MIT with Minor White.
Warren has exhibited his work at numerous venues including the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Academy of Sciences, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and New York City’s Underground Gallery.
His photographs have been published in several books including On the Ice, Investigating the Earth and the Polaroid Book. His work has appeared in Smithsonian, Popular Photography, Modern Photography,Camera, Mineral Digest and Garden Design.
Living in Comfort and Joy is honored to be able to reprise some of Warren’s photos here.