Saturday, September 6, 2014

It’s always better to leave when you want to stay…

Friday August 8th,

My last morning at Altos, I gave Cheese, who was sitting outside my door, a bowl of milk and decided I didn’t need to pack until after I had my morning Caffeine. I knocked on Lily’s door and we walked over to the boulangerie.  Happily, we ran into Alfonso and joined him. I would miss the fact that in Altos you did not have to plan to meet, simply being in a small enough place you would accidentally find people you knew.  We talked about the art world (god, we are such New Yorkers) over our espressos as I inched away from the pigeons who were flapping on the ledge behind me.  After, I went to the classroom to pack up some things and say goodbye to my former students in the fashion class.

Under the mindful watch of Cheese, who had followed me into my room, I threw everything haphazardly in my bags while listening to Buena Vista Social Club.  I looked around my room to see if I had left anything and reminisced.  Remembering the night I woke up at six am and had to catch a scared tiny bat, who kept flying around the fan above me and then straight at my head. I thought about how every morning, after my woodpecker friend woke me by knocking outside my window, I would make espresso on the stove, lighting it with a match.  Then I would sit on my bed in the sun to write, no technology to distract me.  I had my last lunch with everyone, soaking it all in.  The dappled sun patterns on the floral tablecloth and one of the cats grazing my leg under the table. I said my goodbyes, took one last look at the river below and after a fast van ride to the airport I waited outside the stairs of the plane. I waited there as long as possible, while other passengers boarded, watching cloud after cloud pass over.  There are such remarkable clouds down here. 

Late nights in the print shop

Saturday August 2nd...

One of my students stayed on another week to take a fashion illustration class and he would come into the print shop at night with his friend who had been in my friend’s stop animation class. I know that one of the best ways to further commit a process to your memory is by teaching it to others, and this made me so happy to see.  I was in there making prints with Lily, and they would come in on their class break, or at the end of the day and show me the beautiful prints they had made the evening before.

One evening I had promised Aimée we would have a printmaking lesson, and finally, with her busy schedule, one night it happened. But word had spread, and along with her a class full of students trickled in. I’m pretty sure the entire summer class that didn’t sign up for my class ended up in the print shop that night. At that point in my trip I didn’t have paper to give them and it was chaos.  With students using my brushes that had never painted before, printing on un archival dry paper, some prints turning out and some not…everything opposite of print shop etiquette, but oh so much fun.

The last night in the print shop was the night before I left and Aimee and Carmen came in. We did watercolor monotypes, playing with gum arabic and cheese cloth, experimenting with the amount of soap in the water.  Leaving Aimee to print her dry plate the next day, I walked over to the cantina for my last fish and guava dinner with the professors.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The arrivals

Tuesday August 5th, and Wednesday, August 6th

My last few days are here and as I ready myself to depart, the other NYAA alumni, Lily Koto Olive and Alfonso Gosálbez Berenguer, who will be staying at Altos for the next month, arrive. The overlapping gives us the opportunity to exchange experience for excitement anew.  What better way to say hello and goodbye to the people coming and going this week than the go to the beach at sunset and eat some fried fish.  Carmen, her husband, and their little dog took all the professors in the van for dinner at Bayahíbe.  I finally drank from a coconut and we swam as our dinner cooked.  We were setting up a game of dominos when it started to pour, so we moved into the restaurant's adjoining gift shop and ate our fish and tostones among wooden parrots and colorful shirts.       

Being done with my class, my goal is to go to the beach as much as possible these last few days. Although I find that in my evenings I can’t tear myself away from the print shop.  The three Academy alums that are not teaching this week hop the van to Minitas beach, we get there and it downpour five minutes after we arrive.  We wait it out, getting rained on as we sip our espressos under our towels, under the edge of the bar.  It is worth it, the skies clear and we spend our day sketching under the beach umbrellas and watching the tourists play with their kids.  I walked down the beach and found a tide pool I had not seen the whole month I’d been down here and watched the stealthy crabs move in the rocks.  I took my time walking back letting the warm sea pull around my feet as I stood there sinking into the sand.

In my last week…a day rediscovering Altos

Monday, August 4th

My favorite women, the Argentineans who came to teach stop motion, got stuck in town for a day due to the hurricane off shore.  What luck for me.  We walked around Altos de Chavón like fresh-eyed visitors, peeking into labyrinths of hanging flowers and ending up at an unmarked door.  We had found out was where the local ceramicists did their work.  The artisans here make all of the ceramics for the neighboring resort and homes at Casa de Campo.  Stacks of unpainted red clay light fixtures with cut diamonds sit on the floor and nearby smiling men sit cutting away.

Then we popped our heads into classrooms to see what was going on at the school that day.  Ian was teaching his class on Anatomy.  When we walked in, a large group of students were peering over his shoulder in silence as he explained the structure of the human head.  I had nostalgia for my days at NYAA.  A few days later I peaked into the fashion design class to see what some of my former students were up to.  There were such beautiful things being created in Carol’s class-- color and texture and even figures with animal heads

Flamboyán seed, inspired

Saturday August 2,

Inspired by my students, I spent much of the weekend in the print shop. Painting my surroundings and experimenting with the materials more than I have in some time.  Flamboyán tree seed pods are so strange, they seem to not quite fit with the brightly colored trees.

The Argentinians came in one night and I taught them how to make a monotype, so much fun to share with my friends. The ghost print (second print) trend that started in my class continues...

Teaching, or why I came here

Friday, August 1st,

When plans change you go with them.  Instead of teaching my planned for week long monotype course I would be teaching a three day intensive workshop.  Last minute, Carmen worked her magic and I ended up teaching the most wonderful group of students.  I was lucky enough to have a few current students of the design school, going into their second year, and a handful of alumni who lived locally and wanted to be at Altos learning art again. I had painters, drawers, and installation artists.  I had the most engaged and engaging students a non-Spanish speaking nervous teacher could ask for. I had assisted teachers all through the past year in various community collages around New York but it was my first class to teach all on my own.

I had to restructure my class the night before, but with the level of artists I had in my class I was able to teach them just as much information in the intense short time we had together. Painting, scraping, drawing with sticks and q-tips--a whirl of monochromatic prints, watercolor, Japanese paper handprints and experiments in viscosity.  My students ventured outside to paint from life, using the beauty of their surroundings. They used themselves and each other, still life, found images, and their imagination.  I drilled image after image by Degas (an avid maker of monotypes and a favorite of mine) into their heads. I spoke about the importance of contrast, wiping out the lights, and about negative vs. positive. I showed them current working artists as well, showing them how varied monotypes can be.  They showed me, that even with a language barrier, I can show a class what I know and in return they will show me their voices as artists.  The students worked very hard and the amount of prints they made revealed their excitement for the process, leaving time to joke, listen to music and experiment with accidental prints of course.

The smile on everyone’s face as they lifted the paper from their plate, the moths diving into the water baths where the paper was soaking outside, the tables covered with an increasing number of prints--then suddenly the students hugging me and running to catch a bus, it was Friday and the workshop was already at an end.  I left feeling the students were as excited about the monotype process as I am…success! Everyone had helped everyone else, sharing paper and translating and critiquing each other’s work.  By the end they were helping each other print on their own and they didn’t need me anymore. They were self-sufficient printmakers. A far cry from the first morning when at the very beginning of my lesson on how the monotype evolved throughout history, I was interrupted repeatedly in the middle of trying to say the inventor’s name, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, by the local cat Cheese’s loud meowing.


Tuesday, July 22nd 

In the heat of the day I stepped out of the sun into the Museo Arqueológico Regional.  I looked past the glass cases at the Taino ceramics.  Everything the natives made served a purpose, some known, some guessed at, but all their objects were also works of art. The great care they took to decorate the every day reminded me of the native art I have seen since a child in the southwest. It reminded me of the closeness of a world even before technology, people have always been traders of things and of knowledge and have always taken care to make things of beauty.  In the center of the museo grows a fruit tree and nearby is one of my favorite objects down here, hanging water drains that look like a chain of tulips.  

Lunches at the director’s home

Monday, July 21st

With the second week came the start of the communal lunches at the director’s apartment.  For the remainder of my stay, there was a revolving door of artists from all over the place, who did all sorts of amazing things with their lives, who had come to teach at Altos.  And I got to swap stories over a cup of espresso with all of them.  We would sit in the dappled shade, under the wisteria, passing our delicious family style meal around the long table.  Briefly removed from the heat of the day, we looked down into the sometimes tourist laden courtyard and out and over into the hills along the river.  We would share stories half in English, half in Spanish.  About our students and the classes we were teaching, about where we came from and what we did as artists.  There were music videographers and stop animation makers, sculptors, photographers, street artists, typographers, fashion designers and painters. From the Dominican Republic, New York and South America.  This was, I think, one of the best parts of my experience on this residency.  The food was served with care every day by Feliciano who, also the resident model, could be found on the absent director’s walls, which were plastered from top to bottom with past students’ work. We listened to a Tito Rodriguez album playing faintly in the background, over the sound of purring lap cats while we sipped our lemonade. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Daytrip to Punta Cana

Saturday, July 19th

We decided to go on an adventure for the day. Ian, Glenn (our fast friend and the fashion professor for the week), and I piled into a little white rental, “Picanto.”  I drove east with abandonment.  I don’t know how many miles an hour in kilometers down the two-lane highway of endless green I was going, because I do not know the conversion, but with slow moving motor-bikes on the road’s side, it felt quite fast.  The tourist town of Bávaro, with its bobbing boats anchored practically on the beach and its beckoning salesmen, has the best fried fish and tostones I will probably ever have.  It took some effort and a conversation with a fisherman to find the place, away from the beach and up the stairs.  It is always a good sign you are with the locals when you don’t need a menu and there are family photos on the wall. Glenn is a former local and alum of the design school turned New Yorker, so on the drive back we stopped at a private beach in Cap Cana he knew of and enjoyed a nice swim in the Caribbean Sea.

A walk to the river

Friday July 18th

One morning, I decided to take the foretold long trek down the stone steps to the river.  It wasn’t actually that far but I had started too late and the sun beat down and my shoes started to rub. I could hear an impending large group of tourists behind me.  I quickened my pace and got to the bottom to find some men, boat guides, sitting in the shade offering me bottled water or coke.  There was an anchored ferry with a bar and German speaking tourists.  I could not walk very far because the little footpath quickly ended in dense woods full of trash.  I did not stay long, but I snapped a photo at the brown river’s edge that I would use later in the print shop. I walked back up, stopping to hide in the trees’ shade and look at the vegetation.  There was a terrible drought this year, even for the dry season.  I felt a tinge of guilt over my excitement for the many colors of dry leaves around me. I watched the vultures soar across the ball of sun, wiped sweat from my nose, and climbed back onto the path and back up to the village. Back to the view from way up high on the hill.

Daytrip to Santo Domingo

Thursday, July 17th,

A few days after arriving my fellow NYAA alum, Ian Factor, and I hopped the van for a journey to the capitol.  We breezed by sugar cane fields and drove beside the ocean as we approached the modern city.  Our first stop was the opposite of modern however.  We were dropped off in Ciudad Colonial with Aimée the RA, who I had bonded with a few days before at the local grocery over a mutual love of cooking and art. She was happily our tour guide for the day, and we three quickly embraced the title tourist in the oldest part of the “new world.” We walked down the cobblestone streets through the Parque Colon with its resident pigeons, passing the admission only cathedral to the castle once lived in by the family of Columbus. While wondering through the recreated rooms of carved wood and elaborate tapestries, we learned the conquering family was ousted by a pirate and that seemed somehow fitting to me.

Santo Domingo has a long history of being ruled with an iron fist. When later we ducked into a shady entryway to escape the day’s heat, we found a little hallway of a museum that was there in remembrance of the Mirabal sisters.  Speaking against the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo they were brutally murdered and many years after his assassination they were finally able to be celebrated as the public heros that they were.  Immortalized on the 200 peso bill, I fell under the spell of their gaze.

Walking further down the narrow cobbled streets in search of a taxi, we came across a huge building that had a ghostly façade.  The first floor was taken over by some shabby discount stores but a historical marker told us that the massive structure had once been a club shut down by Trujillo, who, when rejected admittance by the owners shuttered it.  Ian tried to find a way in to no avail.  I looked up into the harsh sun at the rooftop columns, an unused garden hanging over and could almost hear the murmur of music and clank of glasses from long ago.

We ended our day at the city campus of La Escuela de Diseño Altos de Chavón and were shown around and introduced to the entire staff there, who seemed more like a tight nit family.  I was impressed by the work of the recent graduates that was hung all around the school.  Upon closer investigation I realized that the fashion designs in the corner of the room were made entirely out of everyday recycled materials.  I was getting excited to teach my class not wanting to wait another week.

Teaching Residency: Monotype in the DR

Monday, July 14th

After sipping a questionable but needed cup of coffee, while easing into Spanish by eavesdropping at my Miami airport layover… I am on a skinny jet flying over the ocean. The water seems to turn more the color of sea glass as we fly south.  There are little solitary worlds of jewel-like coral reef islands below and from the plane I feel I can see all the way to the bottom of the sea.  I am on my way to the Dominican Republic for a whole month to teach Monotype printmaking to the summer students at La Escuela de Diseño Altos de Chavón.  I do not know what to expect once I get there.  But I did not hesitate and was grateful when I received an email from my former professor at the New York Academy of Art asking me if I was free and interested in a last minute adventure.  Nearing La Romana, I see miles and miles of green cut fields, farmland stretching out, and fading into the hazy blue mountains of the distance.  A sprinkling of houses with zigzags of trees indicating rivers below. At the tiniest airport that I have been to yet in life, I breeze through customs with my giant duffle, aka portable print shop full of plexiglass, paper, and bottles of liquids cautiously labeled for TSA. 

I got in late, early evening and wandered around in the fading light and quiet.  I found myself in a place far from medieval, built in the late 70’s and conceived by a former movie set designer, but a place magically strange all the same.   Removed from my world, up on a hill that looks down on a river is a village made of coral stone and covered in bougainvillea.  I found the local bar and ate and drank a white frosted bottle of Presidente, “vestida de novia". Walking back in the dark, looking up at the trees, I ran into Carmen, my hard working host who makes this place run.  I crawled into bed sprayed from head to toe with mosquito repellant, and looking up at the high lofted wooden ceiling I closed my eyes under the cool of the fan.