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The Sparkling Salish Sea

I didn’t want to talk about this until I could show you, and short of standing with you on the shore and demonstrating, this is the next best thing.

Apparently the waters surrounding the San Juan islands (which we visited recently) are filled with noctiluca scintillans (also known as sea sparkle!) a microscopic organism. (Not a plankton itself for it eats plankton, but just as small.) Agitation of the water’s surface causes a chemical reaction within their little organelles, and they glow for a brief moment with a fascinating blue-greenish tinge that you have to really pay attention to at first, because it seems unreal. (It reminded me of the table-cloth we were “seeing” at the blind cafe.)

Once you do finally accept that what you are seeing is real, it becomes captivating. I was particularly mesmerized by the waves crashing onto the pebbly shore, and the sparks of light that would dance of the surface of the bouncing pebbles — the bright hiss of the peebles tumbling in the surf registered as a sizzle, coupled with the dance of light so quick it seemed like electric sparks.

These guys are dinoflagellateflagellate meaning they travel via flagellum (like sperm — they have sperm tails) and dinos meaning they are tiny dinosaurs. (Just kidding. It is latin for “whirling.” They spin!)

(…whirling-lizard?) *checks Wikipedia and the OED via the local library website* No, we’re good: the Greek root “dinos” means whirling, whereas the Greek root “deinos” means terrible, potent, or “fearfully great”.

Back to our creatures. They feed on plankton, which is apt to bloom in the nutrient-rich waters surrounding the San Juan islands, and evidently this bloom is reliable enough that bioluminescent tours exist. We knew nothing of this phenomenon before we went out to the shoreline at night, so in our case the discovery was as serendipitous as it was delightful.

You know now, so I’ve spoiled the surprise for you, but I don’t think I’ve diminished the wonder, because there really is no picture I can show you that will replace seeing the thing for yourself with your own eyes. So get to it, will you?

The Sparkling Salish Sea 2017-03-06T08:39:30+00:00

Explorations down the aural canal

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT THE EAR CANAL IN THE PAST 26 HOURS OR SO

You are apparently not supposed to clean them with Q-tips, not even a little bit, despite the fact that Q-tips look and feel expressly designed for that purpose. (What…are they for then? Can anybody tell me?) My mother did not teach me to clean my ears in any fashion, but neither did she teach me not to, so alas, I do from time to time. What can I say? I have gunky ears, and once had the magical if alarming experience of getting them sort of…douched via turkey baster by a medical professional, and the great wads of sediment that came out of my ears were unlike anything I had ever seen. And I heard clearly for what felt like the first time in my life.

– Speaking of douching: Ears, like vaginas, are self-cleaning organs. No cleaning necessary. Wow! Who knew? And color me surprised and ashamed a little, for not trusting my own body and the nonsense it produces. These things happen for a reason.

What is one to do about the gunk, then, if one has that ears-filled-with-cotton feeling? Place a warm washcloth against your head, over your ear, to allow it to sort of “melt” and “drain” the proper amount. (Which is different for everybody, and depends on how good your system is at fighting disease.)

You can drip in a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water, but it should be applied via dropper (not Q-tip!) and the solution should be warmed to body temperature, as cold fluid dripped without preamble into the ear canal can cause pain and dizziness. (I had my doubts, but then I thought about Neti Pots, and the various false starts I’ve had with water not QUITE the right temperature, and realized it makes perfect sense. Your tubes. They are not acclimated to climate change.)

You can also just chew your food. According to an article cited by wikipedia: “Cleaning of the ear canal occurs as a result of the “conveyor belt” process of epithelial migration, aided by jaw movement. ” So, just go about your business.

Your eardrums recover if you puncture them, in about a week or two, which I guess makes perfect sense, but to confirm this on WebMD was interesting. I’ve held one of those a since-childhood misconceptions that seem absurd when you examine them with your adult mind but that sticks with you because of the purity of feeling (be that joy or terror) (usually terror) in the original question that led to the formation of the hypothesis. One of these misconceptions was that if you touched the electric cables that go into the ground from a telephone pole, you’ll get a nasty electric shock and probably will die. (This is…almost certainly not true, since the object that inspired this theory was on a playground we would visit on a weekly basis, and the wires were between a distant swing set and a popular slide, and it seems unlikely that EVEN IN TEXAS IN THE 80s a person would build a large playground for children around something so casually lethal. But still to this day I have no idea if its true or not. Touching something to answer the question, “will I die if I touch this?” is not something even my four year old self would have dreamed of doing, and I’m certainly not going to start now. I can live with the uncertainty.)

Another one of these theories? You Only Get One Pair Of Eardrums, And If You Puncture Them, That’s It. Gone Forever. Deafness.

While the body can fail us in many ways, a fit body has a delightful way of healing superficial abrasions, and so it’s neat to learn that “perforation of eardrums” — as it is officially called —  is fairly trivial so long as you don’t, I guess, try for a morsel of inner ear at the same time.

That there are several kinds of “ear infection”. They are impossible to accurately diagnose without a visit to the doctor. I haven’t done that yet, because the folk treatment of warm garlic oil and the washcloth thing helped enough — far better than even ibuprofen. I remain keenly aware of my ear canal, but I can chew food again and can look over my shoulder without needing to fight the urge to meltdown like a toddler with the same affliction.

Q-tips (or cotton swabs to use the non-branded name, though not nearly as vivid to the North American mind,) were originally called “Baby Gays”. They were invented provisionally in 1920 by a woman named Ziuta Gerstenzang, who wrapped cotton wool around the end of a toothpick for what purpose? CLEANING THE BABY’S EARS.

Leo Z. Gerstenzang, her husband, is the man who witnessed this miracle and who took the idea, manufactured an object, and produced it for mass consumption, so his name credited for “inventing” them, but really, isn’t he just the production guy? Who was dealing with the baby’s nooks and crannies, who was fretting over filth lurking deep in the baby’s dark crevices, who saw the toothpick and had the flash of inspiration to use it in a way that would confound doctors many decades later? That would be Ziuta Gerstenzang, and not her husband, thank you very much.

(Note: even the “official” version of this origin story is apocryphal, but L.Z. Gerstenzang IS credited with inventing Baby Gays, that much we know. There are numerous anecdotes, and all of the ones I read were along the lines of “he got the idea from his wife”. PRETTY SURE THAT MEANS THE WIFE IS THE INVENTOR, but thanks for the Assertion of Patriarchy, o authors of history.)

Improper use of Q-tips is one of the chief causes of impacted earwax, which leads to one of the various ear infections, and is suspected to be the reason children get so many.  Nervous parents, like the good Ms. Gerstenzang, wanting the best for their off-spring and in so doing causing them more harm.

– Again according to Wikipedia, anthropologists have used earwax to track human migratory patterns! Apparently east Asians and native Americans tend to have “dry type”, which is grey and flaky, and very different from what Africans and Europeans often have, which is the brownish wet stuff. Wet-wax peoples also tend to have more sweat production and body oder, yay us. May or may not have to do with the grey-wax folks historically living in very cold places, where sweat is fairly moot. And I suspect frozen earwax would be intolerable.

NOW YOU KNOW

Explorations down the aural canal 2017-03-06T17:21:08+00:00

What’s in a user image?

I have been using Mr. Stargazer as my user image for a long time. I couldn’t remember how long until I had to dig around for the original file in my archive-drive, and found him in the folder labeled…2010. Good God.

It’s not that I feel a particularly VISUAL affinity to the guy, it’s just that at the time I didn’t have a lot of featured faces in my work aside from him, and I liked his wistfulness, his gazing upward towards the heavens seemed hopeful to me. He was also one of the first finished paintings that I sold immediately upon unveiling him to the internet, so that felt like a sign of good luck.

I am also the sort of person that only changes their user image once every five years or so — at least on Facebook, which is the only place I use a picture of my own face. (It feels weird to use a photograph on my “official illustration business” social media things, as an illustrator).  I have so few pictures of my face — I don’t have a particularly photo-happy group of friends — and I’m not big on “selfies”.  

I never really gave my choice of the Official Face Of Simply Kumquat much thought until that Newsweek thing happened, and I started talking more with my fellow civic minded lady-illustrators. The topic of user images came up in many of these discussions. Does a person “present” as male or female, and why? Do you use a user-image that represents you, or an entity that the industry wants to hire?

There’s a lot of stories about authors using initials, because J. K. Rowling sounds less telling than Joanne Rowling, I guess. Did you know her pen name for adults is currently “Robert Galbraith”? Not Rose, Rachel, Rebecca, or even Robin, which could maybe go either way. Robert

On the one hand, I get it, because she’s not in the business of Changing The Knee-Jerk Reaction Of The Masses, she’s in the business of selling books. And the name “J. K. Rowling” is inextricably bound to the writing of children’s fiction, just like the name Lemony Snicket. The difference here is David Handler can use his own name when writing books for grownups, whereas Ms. Rowling has opted to adopt a pseudonym that will hide her inconvenient gender from the eyes of people who think women can’t write serious books.

This idea was further brought to my attention by this Op-Ed in the New York Times, which influenced this self-portrait of mine very heavily. 

I am kind of straddling both worlds here, according to that article. My limbs, rather than being entwined like supple vines, are pointy and stick out at angles. But I suppose am looking dreamily into space — partly because of the real logistic difficulty of eyeballs through refracted eyeglasses as I was exploring a bit in those sketches there, and partly because it isn’t about YOU, it’s about what’s out there. 

I am somewhat androgynous as far as humans go — so I realize this picture isn’t really all that gender-y anyway, and may not even warrant this entire conversation. But I wanted to mention it because I was thinking about all this as I was painting it, and all the placements here are intentional (just like any painting). 

At least my user image no longer sports a beard, so it’s more clear who we’re dealing with when you get emails from me. That’s the hope, anyhow.

What’s in a user image? 2015-09-03T14:23:00+00:00

Reflections

It was roughly 11 years ago today that I sat next to the weird guy in Art History class, to save my shy friend the trouble. A few weeks later I took this picture of him. (Well, mainly of the scenery, let’s be real.) (And eight years after that, we tied the knot.)

People would always ask me where that picture was taken, and would be astounded when I told them — along the drainage ditch off one of the very quiet main streets in our very sleepy agrarian college town. This town is not really known for its picturesque pockets, but rather is known for being one of the least desirable places to get your bachelor’s degree in Colorado, of the mainstream choices. (It is also known for being home to a meat packaging plant mentioned in the book “Fast Food Nation”, and one of the places targeted in the ICE raids.)

My memories of that town include these things, but they also include the small-town downtown, with its fine park and pagoda, that would be lit up by lights every December and make a veritable Winter Wonderland to wander in. There was the excellent Mexican food — made by immigrant laborers — at taquerias where English was barely spoken and the telenovelas would be blaring, and the portions were as generous as they were delicious. The enormous cottonwood trees, not just limited to campus but sprinkled throughout the district, which would turn golden in October and filter the sunlight. The majesty of the sparse farmland to the north, where I would drive on lonely roads for hours in the crystalline frost of late autumn, before the ice of winter came in earnest.  

I really don’t think it was JUST because I was falling deeply in love — though doubtless that was part of it. That first picture really epitomizes something we both feel strongly about: that there is something impressive, surprising, magical, or just plain nice looking everywhere, so long as you’re patient enough to look. You don’t have to spend lots of money or time to find it. And it doesn’t have to be that far away.

Most recent picture I took of him. 2015. (Similarity to the first picture is purely coincidental.)

Most recent picture I took of him. 2015. (Similarity to the first picture is purely coincidental.)

Reflections 2015-08-25T15:08:58+00:00

Monster Drawing Rally.

On Friday I sat with about 80 other artists and illustrators before a bustling crowd to drew monsters, for the first (but hopefully not only,) Monster Drawing Rally

I have Kate Bingaman-Burt to thank for my inclusion, as she suggested my name to the organizers. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d suggested most of the people on the roster. She’s that most rare of creatures — an extroverted illustrator.

I ended up downtown long before the event started and warmed up by drawing people in the park. And I was glad I did, because by the time I had to sit down in front of the throng of people I was very calm and unconcerned about the whole thing. My job wasn’t to do “good work” or “impress” anybody, it was just to have fun and make monsters. 

It seemed like I ran into almost every single illustrator or designer I know in town was all super fun

Paper and provisional supplies were provided — though most people had brought their own materials (including me). Wet media was allowed so long as it dried (relatively) quickly, so although I warmed up with sharpie line drawings, I switched to paint once I sat down once I saw what good results some of my colleagues were achieving in the first round. 

Once you finished a picture you’d raise your hand, and a volunteer would come by. You would hand them your picture, one of the stickers with your name on it from the long page of stickers provided in your welcome packet. They would whisk both away. Picture into plastic sleeve, sticker onto sleeve, and the product thus readied handed to another volunteer who would clip it to the buying wall. All pictures: $35. No more, no less.

100% of the proceeds were to go to the art museum, which initially gave me pause, as it’s a lot to ask of an artist. (Be the main attraction in a big event (1), perform your work (2) in front of a live audience (3), and bring in revenue for an institution (4) — an institution that I’d imagine has an event budget (5).) However, in addition to the two free drink tickets and a free slice of pizza, the museum gave each of the participants free membership to the museum for a year, which is certainly nothing to be sneezed at. (Indeed, that’s why I worked for free at the Opera, to get free tickets.)

And it really was such fun. There was a boozy camaraderie afterwards, but I had old friends in from out of town and we needed a little camaraderie of our own. I hope they’ll do another one in the future. 

Monster Drawing Rally. 2015-08-24T20:42:00+00:00

Glasses

Since about April I have rejoined the ranks of full-time glasses-wearers, after fifteen years of religious contact wearing. 

To back up: I have lived in corrective lenses since the second grade, and went to contacts as soon as they would let me. Before that I had worn godawful metal 1980s frames that were the crowning jewel at the height of my awkward phase. 

Look! We all have the same glasses. 

Look! We all have the same glasses. 

he switch from these frames (i.e., horrifying bug-eyed goofball,) to contacts (i.e., super-stud,) was, to me, as transformative as cutting my hair to a pixie cut in high school. Finally! I look like ME! I’ll never look back, I thought. I will wear contacts for the rest of my life. 

A year or so ago my eyes started to reject my contacts with a suddenness and ferocity that I found astonishing. Before this I could wear my lenses for 14 straight hours without incident. Now I could barely keep them in for three before my eyes would cloud over, tear profusely, itch, and generally be useless to me. A few times it was nearly impossible to GET THE LENSES OFF MY EYEBALLS, which is the stuff of nightmares. Once it happened while I was trying a new brand at the eye doctor’s, and she had to get them out for me. The suction achieved by these lenses — and sound they made as they let go — was a real eye-opener. So to speak. 

Added to this, contacts are just an unnecessary periodic expense, especially when you’re hopping around trying different brands and getting special eyedrops from the eye doctor. I took it all as a sign that my eyes no longer wanted to wear contact lenses, and not without a great feeling a defeat and resignation, I acquiesced. Glasses it would be. 

The severity of my myopia is presumably inherited from my father, who, when told he had “gone beyond the top drawer” at his eye doctor’s opted to get laser surgery back when it was in its somewhat experimental (and risky). They didn’t set out to completely cure him, they merely wanted to push his vision back down into the realm of correctability. So he wears glasses to this day, but they are but thin whispers of what once was. 

I am not currently acquainted with anyone whose vision is worse than mine. (Except for a friend who is blind.) When I purchase frames online I am subject to additional “high prescription” fees which I assume pays the giants who have to use their giant hands and giant muscles to press the lenses down into a thin enough shape so I don’t end up looking like Professor Farnsworth. 

This whole thing is a major downer for a person who SEES things for a living, and one of the reasons I was so drawn to contacts — aside for vain aesthetic reasons — was the total correction of the entire field of vision. I use all of it, and I detest having a border of illegibility surrounding my world, as many interesting things in life are seen by chance, at random, out of the corner of one’s eye. I don’t have corners — anything outside of the frame is a colorful blur.

Because glasses are so in vogue — I think American Apparel actually sells empty frames now, which kills me — it is at least fairly easy to order them online, which is great because most of the shops these days exclusively carry the giant 1980s era throwbacks, and I just can’t bring myself to go there just yet. I don’t hang out with anyone regularly from my contacts-only days, so nobody has made a big deal about my quiet shift to Always Glasses. I suppose I just look like yet another bespectacled young person in plaid. Fashionable on accident. When glasses go out of style it will just be me and the actually afflicted, our eyes a refracted mess to the people we’re talking to, our worlds framed in tiny parenthesis of clarity. 

Glasses 2015-08-19T14:26:49+00:00

Neighbors

I live right around the corner from Scout Books and got to tour their facilities on Wednesday. (Thanks to the good people at AIGA Portland, who arranged everything.)

Our local AIGA chapter is an active one. In addition to their monthly mixers they’ve evidently started doing studio/facility tours. I need to make a point of going to more events because I always have a good time, though I wish there were more illustrators. Most of the folks I meet seem to self-identify as designers and wear complicated blouses. 

Scout Books started as Pinball Publishing, and I used to include them in my who-will-print-my-business-cards calculations back in 2005. They transitioned to focusing on Scout Books somewhere in 2009 and seem to be edging towards becoming a vanity press. The customization of their notebooks can include page content as well as cover variety. 

The notebooks I cram into my pockets endure long hours of hard labor, rubbing against handkerchiefs, weird rocks I find, and God knows what else, and so unless they are made of something truly substantial they really have no use in my battalion. For the longest time I have been using nothing but hardbound moleskine journals, which worked well until a few years ago, when their distribution model changed and subsequently the paper quality went downhill. It is thin and prone to bleeding now, much more than they used to be, and while I love the structure of these notebooks and the little pocket that comes with them, I am unsure of my future with them.

Scout Books are bound in chipboard, which is laughably inadequate for my purposes, but are made of a surprisingly hearty paperstock that is 100% recycled and sourced locally, which is much better than ‘whatever we found in China’. And now I have something like five little notebooks gratis, including one that I rounded the corners off myself. (!) So I guess for a while I will be putting these books to the test. 

And very soon I hope to visit Scout Books again, with a pen and larger paper, to try and capture some of the delightful people and machines working together. 

Neighbors 2015-08-14T15:13:00+00:00

On or about the San Juan Islands

I drew this picture as a bit of wishful thinking last year, long before we’d ever actually done anything like look for orcas of a rocky coast north of Seattle. Last weekend we finally did just that, and many other classic summer vacation things up in the San Juan islands.

We met up with a group of friends who had already set up camp, and then for the next four days explored the island.

We didn’t manage to see any whales, (I suspect they hang around the Haro Straight more than they venture into the smaller sounds,) but one member of our party did see porpoises playing in the water just off the coast of our tiny pebbly beach. And there was lots of other marine life to admire.

It was a glorious trip. Filled with happy surprises.

( Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was that Hugh made it there and back with no trouble.)

For the journey home, rather than retracing our steps, I cajoled my brother-in-law into helping us drive around the Olympic peninsula, and visit some of the Hoh Rainforest, where we spent not nearly enough time on a trail called the Hall of Mosses.

The thing that struck me most about this trip was how lovely is was to come home. It was probably one of the best trips I’ve had in a long time — very simple, filled with natural wonders, and weather nice enough to sleep under the stars as I did the first night, all moss and deer creeping through the underbrush.

And to sink into a bed after four days on the ground (and six hours propped up against bedding and tents in the hatchback,) was just the crowning jewel of it all. To come back to plumbing and ice cubes and running water.

The best kind of vacation is the sort of vacation that really makes you appreciate what you already have.

On or about the San Juan Islands 2017-03-06T12:17:47+00:00

#ShellNo

Yesterday morning I put on my big sun hat and went up to St. John’s to watch the Greenpeace protest. It was with an equal blend of civic duty and curiosity. I brought a big jug of ice water and finished my morning coffee there as I marveled at the people’s pluck. All of this was going down — fittingly — in front of the Water Pollution Control Laboratory.

From where I sat on the bank it was impossible to really see the climbers, though variation in their set up was apparent. Some clearly had platforms, much to my relief (the scant coverage I had glanced at led one to believe they were just free-floating up there, dangling bodily in space).

Luke Strandquist, a Greenpeace activist interviewed by our local CBS affiliate (from his cell phone, whilst dangling from the bridge,) indicated everyone involved was an experienced climber. Some of them had hammocks, some had platforms and some were just on chairs.

I’m not entirely sure how their resupply-ing was accomplished — I know they themselves had supplies in their gear, but there was also talk on Twitter of their being resupplied in some mysterious capacity. Which is a good thing, because while you can compact calories to a certain extent, water is very heavy, and goes very quickly on a hot day like that.

From afar of course, they just looked like beautiful flags, flapping silently in the wind. Hues nicely contrasting with the pale green of the bridge, yet catching the light to offset the dark underside of the bridge, forest park, and the petroleum industry. Honestly during this quiet morning it felt not like a protest but like a Jean-Claude and Cristo installation, all silky fabric reacting to the wind. Mimicking the hypnotic movement of the water.

I was particularly interested in the network of safety cables (and, of course, the big boat-deterring cable). All support cables were attached to the underside of the bridge, so removal from the upper deck was impossible. (You couldn’t just “cut them down”, as many counter-protesters frothily demanded). I watched the climbers raise this cable many times to accommodate tugboats and barges, lowering it again once the boats passed under.  All watercraft gave a toot of their horn — either in solidarity or merely indicating they wished to pass by.  Of course by and large the dangling protesters were far too high up to interfere with most water traffic — there was only one boat they wanted to stop, and it was too tall to pass below.

I was there morning to late afternoon — arriving after the boat had been turned around the first time, and leaving just before the police really started to exert force to make way for the boat’s eventual departure. The bridge was still open, and traffic was relatively light on highway 30 opposite, and every so often a car or truck would blare its horn as it passed overhead. The people on shore would cheer and clap. The kayakers would whoop in salute.

Kayak numbers varied wildly while I was there. Visitor numbers varied wildly as well. It was a relatively quiet time down at the bridge. Every so often a chant would start from somewhere, and it would ring out weakly over the water, and then die out.

If anything it really brought home the drudgery that can be holding out. Waiting for the inevitable.

I was only there for five hours, and of course got to leave once I felt uncomfortable — when my water ran out and my shade disappeared. The protesters held out for just about forty hours, in direct sunlight, during the hottest day Portland has seen this year.

That's in the shade, mind you. That’s in the shade, mind you.

It is, of course, futile to attempt to stop something so vast as a federally sanctioned multinational oil conglomerate with thirteen brave mountaineers, but I don’t think that was the point of this protest. Delaying the ship was, of course, intensely gratifying — and it was incredible to see the sort of ferocity that people express themselves out here. But the larger point was to get attention for the cause, and to once again call upon that most effective symbolism for environmental destruction — the human wall.

It was with a feeling of inevitability that, just in time for the prime time news block (so cynical!) Portland Police closed the St. John’s bridge to all traffic and successfully removed two protestors — lowering them like spiders into the waiting arms of the coastguard flotilla.

These two had dangled above the deepest part of the channel, and their removal cleared a tiny space for Fennica to squeeze under. It was at this point that the kayakers redoubled their efforts, launching into the river faster than the coastguard motorboats could arrest them. I know at least three personally who were in boats, out there in the fray, and countless others watching live from shore, or from the floating fishing docks out in the water.

The rest of Portland watched from home — both via live footage from our local television stations and via Twitter, in my case following both the #shellno hashtag and the unofficial PDX police scanner.

Fennica was escorted out to the Columbia river with what looked like 11 coast guard boats. One for each of the remaining Greenpeace activists.

Later, on Facebook, I saw something posted by Travis Wittwer, a scoutmaster with the 55th Cascadia Scout Group . It was getting passed around on Twitter, and is something I relate to very strongly:

Took my sons to St. Johns bridge to witness the #shellno protest. I wanted my sons to see of what people are capable. 

On way there, I briefed them on the situation and the sides. They had emotional opinions, but are neither educated enough in this area, nor mature from years of experience to make a decision that is sustainable. I suggested that they go and witness and watch. They did not need to come to an opinion on the protest. 

I wanted them to see the people. Think about how much planning and personal conviction is needed. And to be in awe of people. 

While there, we would find a spot and sit and just watch and listen. Sometimes nothing seem to happen, and that is good–I want my sons to experience the pause and length of what the activists are doing. To hear it relayed or to see a photo is not the same as to be there, watching the banners wave in the wind, wondering what is going through the minds of the men and women hanging from the bridge, in the water, or lending support. 

I wanted my sons to see a polite and peaceful protest that displays passion for an idea, a belief. This is something different than blasting a hole in the ship.

#ShellNo 2017-03-06T17:36:23+00:00

Day 6: The Getty

The last notable thing I did in LA was visit the Getty Center, which was something a friend of mine had insisted I do. It is a Great Big Free Place Filled With Art.

It is named for J. Paul Getty, an oilman named by Fortune magazine in 1957 as “the richest living American”. The bulk of his estate went towards a trust he had set up for the arts, called — what else — the Getty Trust. The vast number of artifacts within the museums began as J. Paul Getty’s own personal collection, as he was avid collector of both art and antiques.

His life was a checkered one. He was a brilliant businessman — did well during the Great Depression and learned Arabic so he could expand oil operations in the middle east, and no doubt made lasting connections there and in Europe where he lived out the remainder of his days. Yet he was also a miser, famously installing pay phones throughout his stately home in England. Additionally he seems a bit barren of human emotions. There is a chilling story of his grandson’s kidnapping by Italian gangsters — and the relative lack of humanity regarding the ransom. The grandson did badly after this ordeal — traumatized no doubt both by his relations’ businesslike calculations and by the physical mutilations he’d endured. 

So one has mixed emotions, standing before the bust of J. Paul Getty in the foyer of the Getty Center visitor center. Why he created the J. Paul Getty Museum Trust I am not sure. I am grateful for it though, because I had a lovely day reaping the benefits. It is the wealthiest art institution in the world, and includes this Getty Center as well as another museum complex called “the Villa,” (which Getty himself had built up around his home stateside, to better house his art collection), as well as the Getty Foundation, the Getty Research Institute, and the Getty Conservation Institute. 

The Center is unreal. Everything is well organized and calculated, like a clock. It is placed atop a hill, and from the parking garage you enter what I had called a tram but what I have since learned is a HOVERTRAIN FUNICULAR, which is much better. They should print both words on their brochures and all signage throughout the grounds, for I regret riding a hovertrain and not being aware of it. 

HOVERTRAIN FUNICULAR!

HOVERTRAIN FUNICULAR!

The buildings are made of an eye-aching white stone called Travertine, sourced from the same quarry in Rome that gave us the colosseum.  

Along the walkways the stone is polished smooth, but it is left rough on most of the outer wall facings, as well as along the stairway down to the gardens. The rough stone has a fascinating texture, featuring tons of little surprises.

The whole place is like something from another planet. All columns and staircases. It is not the most intuitive of spaces but it sort of doesn’t matter, because it is pretty clear that no matter where you wander you’ll be rewarded. 

I only ended up with half a day here, which is no where near enough time for such a huge place, so I stuck with just one exhibit: the visiting Turner exhibition.

This day I was struck chiefly by the compositions, and I spent a great deal of time making studies.

Turner’s watercolor and gouache studies were new to me (I think? I don’t remember seeing them) and were particularly electrifying because they were usually done while he was traveling. As studies for bigger paintings. 

Just like me! I wrote in my sketchbook. 

Day 6: The Getty 2015-07-06T14:57:00+00:00