Friday, March 8, 2024



Dear Readers: in the interest of posting anything at all I am declaring a stoppage on editing the text of this post.  Lets just say, it was kinda getting away from me and the words felt wordy etc.  So here it is, just like it was last time I opened the document, for better or worse.

Panel #6 of 7 is done! :)


 I now have a name for the dome: "Super/Natural"*.

*subject to change.

I'm sure you already know that the most disliked word in English is "Moist". The second most must be "spirituality", amirite?

I know someone who used the word spirituality in her artist's statement in college and her professor said she would fail her for the course unless she changed it.  I believe she kept it in.  Willing to die on that hill—I admire that!  But I understand the professor who was picturing some new age hellscape replete with the purplest of purple crystals.

 I was raised by two materialist atheists. My dad was a scientist. Not just any type of science mind you, but a microbiologist.  I have heard it said that physicists scan skew towards the mystical, but not biologists!  All that goo really reinforces the material side of reality! But wait!  There’s more….My mother was the director of a school for severely autistic children—the type that make any thought of a just and loving god, or even a practical one, near impossible. So, they abandoned the religions of their upbringings, along with all other religions as well as any notions of spirituality.  Fair enough!


 As a teenager I wanted nothing more than to rebel against them somehow…. They are lucky I didn’t run off with a doomsday cult. Suffice it to say, having atheism presented as the only reasonable option for structuring one’s thinking had its downside. Recently, I was participating in a discussion with friends about matters spiritual.  No surprise, most came down on the secular side. And some were very staunchly materialistic, characterizing spirituality as superstition or belief in the supernatural (as did my parents).  And I always end up wondering if science and spirituality completely incompatible (cue Einstein quote.) Why does spirituality necessarily imply an anthropomorphic deity? Can’t one believe in the divine without Sky Jesus or some such? Am I being obtuse here?


 For a long time, I have thought that art always wants to ally itself to the truth of its times.  Back in the day in Europe, that meant the Christian church. It must be interesting to live in a time when science, religion and art are all serving the same seamless “truth”.  I can barely imagine what that’s like.  Is it nice?  Limiting?  It certainly couldn’t work now.


 Around 1500 CE, along comes a burgeoning humanism and an increasing trend towards separation of church and state (and a separation of the individual person from a “source”, I imagine it like a big bang-like expanding universe, ever traveling away from the center) ...and it all seems to make room for science.  So gradually art became interested in science, or at least allying itself with science in the name of TRUTH.  This is not good news for stained glass, which has always been “spiritual”.  And that is because… because…….because…because why? Well, I am guessing because radiant colored light coming into an Official Sacred Space makes believers jiggy and feels like what we might imagine divine inspiration feels like.  Warm! Beautiful! Incandescent! Lucid! Ethereal! Or something like that. Where’s the good Abbot Suger (“stained glass is enlightenment embodied”) when you need him?

 I think setting up a dichotomy between a scientific truthand a mythologic truth is to miss something important.  For one thing, I really, really, REALLY don’t want to have to pick between the two.  But hey: at least in equating spirituality with the supernatural, materialists acknowledge spirituality is both super and natural!  Super-duper!


   The problem for me arises when you must pick between science and mythos for The Truth. Because any sensible person will choose moon landings and vaccines for the win every time, including me. I very much believe in the facts of science but is it The Truth?  Consciousness being what it is, The Truth is always going to be a human construct. As such, it’s on par with subjective reality. (I feel really brave for saying that out loud because I can already hear my parents screaming at me at how idiotic that is!) And yet but still, part of me is waiting to find out reality is all in my head. Maybe I read too much sci-fi as a kid, but as long as reality is mediated by our brains and senses, there’s room for doubt. After all, how can one study that which is extraneous to our own minds without employing our mediated, reality constructing brains to do it?


 One of many ginormous problems I had with Trump was the whole “alternative facts” thing. It forced people to side with science facts or his lies. But alternative realities are my bread and butter in the studio. I mean, what in the heck is art if not big honking displays of alternative facts? Especially art that derives from the imagination, like the flowers and birds in my dome. I didn’t appreciate their sudden demotion to the irrelevancy department. In the end I want to believe that The Truth is not knowable, therefore the best we might manage is a reunion between subjective and objective…or mind and body. IF. YOU. WILL.

Some of the stated intentions for the dome are underscoring the intersection of art and science.  But maybe…just maybe, part of this project is to “attempt” a reunion of science and spiritual via art.  Not that this is the only recent attempt—in fact, I think it happens all the time. I think maybe that’s the whole project of art all the time. But the last time we all agreed on that in Western culture was around 1499! 

In my original proposal I said this:

“Spirituality is not typically the realm of science (and from my personal experience, it is absolutely taboo in academia in general unless one is in a Religious Studies program). As such, I am assuming biophilic spaces are studied from a practical and material point of view. But I think, without getting too mystical about it, biophilic spaces offer an opportunity to reconcile a human consciousness with an environmental context. They can demonstrate that what appears to be a mind/body split, or a mental classification of interior vs exterior (self vs “not-self”) is a perceptual illusion and while it may have an important practical heuristic function, it also ensures a sense of a sense of loneliness and enables eco disasters, etc. Therefore, I conclude that if reuniting these seemingly separate things is not the essence of “spirituality” then nothing is. I would say that from a neurological or psychological perspective, this has some value.” 


 Fancy proposal language for: If I am gonna build a little mini-church, it’s going to have to reference spirituality. Or, shall I say, that aspect of consciousness that connects us to life, reconciles our mind and body and feels meaningful and inspiring? I may not believe in anything supernatural or any type of god, but I certainly believe things can be super and natural...sometimes even simultaneously! 


My choice to make a little church comes from the fact that ever since I became a stained glass artist, the CHURCH THING has loomed large. Enlightenment indeed—who doesn’t want a smidge of that in their art?  Being an official atheist, I think making a window for a religious space, be it a church, synagogue, mosque, or something else, would be weird for me. Plus, none of those places have never asked me. But I can relate to the idea of a space dedicated to sacred contemplation and felt a real urge, a real big urge, actually, to make one.  


One thing that differs about my dome is that stained glass in churches is that is all about a group experience and the buildings tend to be really large and therefore the windows are seen from a long distance.  My dome will be intimate.  Really intimate—maybe a wee bit claustrophobic, even. My art, my idea of spiritual experience is that its best one-on-one.



When I was a not-so-rebellious teenager, my dad was reallyinto mushrooms.  (No, not that kind!)

He collected old books—some as old at the 1700’s.  I remember being struck by the beauty of their hand-colored print illustrations.  Flash forward to now.  For some years I have been really getting into botanical and various natural history prints., perhaps inspired by this early exposure.


I remember reading a Dover (remember them?) reprint of a Medieval Bestiary.  I bought it for the images—but one day checked out the text.  I will include some examples. 

A Spicy Example


They were unintentionally hilarious.  For one thing, it seemed that the descriptions were not based on much in the way of observable reality. And this really got me—imagine that!! It was stunning to me to think that they could be understood as somehow a reflection of reality. And yet, they were. That was a first inkling that one needn’t always prioritize observable, external reality as real. Surely the imagination is also real.


 From a pernicious tendency towards anthropomorphism to an insistence on arranging them in mise-en-scenes to flat-out-decorative arrangements, old “science” illustrations manage to distort and manipulate “reality” in wild and crazy ways.  Even Audubon’s work seems hyper real rather than real-real.  Of course, the invention of the photograph co-opted our understanding of the observable, and now only photos seem real to us, which is a whole weird thing unto itself.  Photos never look even remotely real to me.


Really, these old illustrations could ultimately be seen as images of the artist’s brain, as self-portraits.  Pardon me, but your subjectivity is showing. Obviously, they lack a certain amount of what you might call scientific objectivity.  I found this rather amusing until I remembered that there was no such thing as “science” as we understand it now back then.


 Which got me on a long trip wherein I reveled at the doomed nature of attempts at “objective truth”.  She scienced me with blindness, indeed.

It seemed to me that the more the artist tried to depict something ocularly objective, the more they only managed to depict their own conception of it.  As it turns out there’s a whole book on this which I read.  I am highly recommending “Objectivity” by Lorraine Daston if this topic intrigues you like it does me.  She is a far better person at explaining all the paradoxes and twists and turns it takes to make a stab at objectivity.


 As an artist, I refuse to choose between objective and subjective truth.  I think “spiritual truth” could be a place where they become one.  And that is how I am defining the “super/natural”. At least today I am.

Saturday, February 3, 2024


. hit me with a flower


All five completed panels so far (there will be 9 altogether). Click to enlarge!!!



Please refer to my previous post for information on what inspired the dome and what my aims are here. Nota bene: I balked at saying “my aims” …I feel like the aims of the dome belong to the dome, not me.  But yeah.


Here’s short, silent video of the project.  I don’t know how to film things well, so please forgive the production values. Things I would have put in the soundtrack if I had been motivated to do one:

1.     The Lou Reed song “Vicious”

2.     The wooden dome structure is a mock-up.  The final dome will be NICER! 

3.     In the video you will notice there are two vertical wooden beans flanking the dome—they are my easel and have nothing whatsoever to do with dome.  Ignore them. 

    4. Ultimately, there will be glass in the dome part of the dome.


Nature isn’t Natural Any More
How many times have you heard an artist say they are inspired by nature?  I’ll bet it’s a lot.  Well, I’m not.  I am inspired by a lack of nature.  I live in the city, and I like it. A lot. Plus, I have never had a car.  That means I don’t get out into nature hardly ever.  Maybe a handful of times per year and I am even including Heinz!  I have experienced actual wildness...exactly never.

To say the dome is inspired by nature would be to ignore that to arrive at nature I have to physically travel.  My ideas of nature are 100% cultural constructs.  We tend to think of nature as plants, animals, wilderness, the stuff that we are in the process of destroying…all true enough.  But for the most part we carry on our lives in entirely human manipulated environments.  Even a garden is a human creation and while it contains elements of “nature”, they have been highly manipulated.

That’s why biophilia as a principle makes me a little crazy.  Its nature alright—but not the parts with E.coli, cockroaches, flesh eating bacteria and storms that send tree branches into your property.   


Biophilia is actually a human fantasy about benign nature.  If one is putting forth the idea that the desire for biophilic spaces in our office buildings somehow proves humans crave nature, then I would question how natural is it when it has been tamed and sanitized? How natural is it when we, the same people who are engaged elsewhere in deforestation etc, still insist upon domination?  It would be a poor idea to  suggest biophilia as a strategy to promote green policies.  

...Which is why my dome has plenty of ants, beetles, snakes and one rotting opossum. Also, I am hoping the flowers seem to have consciousness....  I don't want my imaginary nature to be claiming to be a representation of anything natural outside my own brain.




Deep Context

Once upon a time I was mining a vein of inspiration that lasted about 20 plus years.  Broadly speaking I would describe that work as “writhing women with highly decorative backgrounds.”...or something like that.

"Murder and Child" 1993

If you know my work, I probably don’t need to explain that. During this once upon a time, it was common for people, usually male non-arts people, to advise me to do something more palatable. Like flowers. Ya know?  So I could sell more?  For those people I say, well it turns out there’s a market for writhing women. So there. Or maybe it was the decorative background, and they were all able to ignore the writhing woman, front and center.


Creative journeys aren’t static, and I would say the seeds of my shift in subject matter have been present since “Tiny Eva”, 1993. Or even earlier pieces such as “Cast”  from 1986 or “Primavera” from 1985.  Those are the first post-graduation works I made.

"Primavera" 1985
"Cast", 1987                             "Tiny Eva", 1993,

  What I want to call attention to is the decorative, usually floral, background which was purely support material for the figure at first but slowly, over the course of over 25 years assumed more and more prominence until it took over the entire image and the figure was squeezed out.


Why did this happen?  So many reasons!

1.  I just plain got bored of figures.

2.  I no longer needed to create human proxies for myself. They “why” here is very personal. Let’s just say, I gotten over myself.

3. And this is a far distant third as it really isn’t a reason for me at all, but I shall mention it: it’s not a good time to do figures.  In fact, it’s almost never a good time to do figures (unless the king is paying you).  In a nutshell, if you make a convincing figure, you are in the valley of the uncanny and/or stealing souls and if you make a crappy figure, well, you made a crappy figure.  Uh oh on all accounts.  As many times in human history can attest, when it comes to representing human being, there is NO WAY not to upset someone unless you do nothing but self-portraits (and then you just look self-indulgent.)

But if I was still inspired by figures I would still make them and damn the torpedoes.



So why did flowers and birds take over…should I just cop to losing my edginess?

I am thinking about the song “Vicious” by Lou Reed. Which, the internet tells me “…is a cautionary tale about the dangers of loving someone who is deeply flawed.”  Hey wait!  Isn’t everybody deeply flawed?  Moving on…

Apparently, I am stuck at line one. “Vicious. You hit me with a flower. You do it every hour. Oh, baby, you're so vicious.”


How does one imbue that tamest of tame subjects, flowers, with something edgy?  I was always suspicious of flower painting.  It always seemed such an anodyne.  Like the kind of hobby someone seriously invested in avoiding the truth about their own dark side might do.  I could see the most devious, cruel and sadistic minds might want to do flower paintings.  I learned to be deeply suspicious of them.  But I always liked a few.  No, not Georgia O’Keeffe.  God knows I tried to like them, but I just can’t. They are just plain stingy.

I do love the flowers of Martin Johnson Heade, Joseph Stella, and Inka Essenhigh.  All three make mystical flowers.  Flowers as  grand and complex characters, not just props.  This is what I am trying to do.

They all manage to make flowers into something to be reckoned with, not something pleasing and simple.  And not just sexy.  Sexy flowers are good, but in the end, I need love.  These artists flowers respect me the next morning. They love me and since I am myself vicious and deeply flawed, I savor their impact.  That’s where I am trying to go in the dome.


Friday, September 1, 2023

Biophilic Dome Project

 Hello Gentle Readers:

I am making the largest project of my life and I really, really wanna share it with you! Wheeee!

First two panels complete

I am an artist in residence at the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics (PCfN).  What is neuroaesthetics you say? You can read some definitions here and check out the lab at Penn here.  I am really, really enjoying my experiences there and I can say with full confidence my mind is blown.  Down to matters more prosaic. As an AIR I need to do a project and I decided my project would be to build a dome based on biophilic design.  Biophilic design is this.

WHY THIS PROJECT? My goals (possibly lofty), intentions etc--

  1. To create a space inspired by biophilic principles (but not based on them!) that encourages a "spiritual experience" that (maybe) centers one's consciousness at the center of ("the") universe (Doesn't ALL art do that, really?) In other words, to attempt a "unification" of scientific and spiritual "truth".
  2. To create a space that encourages reflecting on the 'blue marble" from the inside. (Hopefully reflecting on climate change, habitat destruction and the interdependence of all life on earth)
  3. To underscore the primacy of imagination and to call attention to the futility of objectivity in a good way! :)
  4. To honor the history of architectural and ecclesiastical stained glass (specifically creating an intimate environment in which to view a stained glass piece)
  5. to make my largest project ever (and possibly one of my last if my arthritis is RA or gets a lot worse)
  6. To prove I can do this
  7. Detail of panel 2
    Another detail of panel 2
That was my elevator pitch.  Here it is in a little more detail going backwards towards the most important stuff:
6 and 5 The me stuff:  As Cormac McCarthy once said:"I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing."  'Nuff said.
4. Architecture: As a stained glass artist, I am constantly being taken to task by my colleagues in the field for not working in architectural space (my work is exhibited in lightboxes) and thus, I have always had in the back of my mind thoughts like “what is the ideal viewing space for my work?” and have thought for years to make a “personal shrine” for a single viewer.  This goes against the convention of thinking in monumental architectural terms.  Many wish to make imposingly scaled projects, which presume the viewer will be at quite a far distance from the stained glass itself.  That distance registers both physically and psychologically and I want to collapse that distance.  In addition, stained glass in churches and public spaces is almost always designed for an audience of several or more people at once. It is not a private experience, which the dome will be.  In the modernist age, there has been a disparaging of the small, the intimate and the domestic in favor of the grand and the sublime.  In the age of mass media, it is tempting to assume that reaching the largest number of people at once is somehow optimal. My project is, in some ways, intended to challenge that assumption. (Never mind this dome will actually be the largest project I have ever undertaken!  It will still be relatively tiny by architectural stained glass standards).  Because I am interested in how art, in particular visual art, acts on a single person at a time, I am interested specifically in creating an intimate environment. 
Proposal sketch
Actual dome in progress
3.Imagination:  I have this proto-theory that imagination is the most important, radical thing we can do as conscious beings. Think about it?  How would you define "imagination" anyway? How is it different or the same as "creativity"? Imagination has been condemned as fantasy and a solipsistic waste of time. But is it fair to marginalize imagination and not take it seriously?  Spoiler alert: NO.  For one thing: our entire understanding of anything is predicated on making sense of our senses and we must do that by encoding things in our heads somehow. If you want to know more read this book.  Go on, I double dare you!

I need to write and think more on this topic but enough for now or this blog post will never happen.  Suffice it to say, the imagery in this dome is being generated by all my doodles at PCfN and I am on a mission to redesign nature all myself. You know, in case we kill it all?  Someday we will need nature designers to make all our fake plants and animals.
Detail of panel 1
Another detail of panel 1
As for objectivity I dare you to read this. I am obsessed with natural history illustration.  Here's a factoid: women of the hilariously misnamed "Enlightenment" were permitted to be botanical illustrators.  Can you imagine funneling ALL your urgent artsy creativity into that?  That must explain Maria Sibylla Merian (another MSM link here) and Barbara Dietzsch's genius.  But that's not all!  Ernst Haeckel and John James Audubon also are big influences.  Yes, I know Audubon is evil, but have you seen one of his prints in the flesh?  They move me almost to tears.  And they prove my point that every artwork is the encoding of a human soul first and foremost and a repsonse to the external world secondly.  And I want my dome to hearken to that paradox as well.
2. Blue marble:  In addition to being inspired by the work of PCfN, it is my hope that the piece creates a venue for contemplation—of both inner space, how we experience spaces neurologically and psychologically as well as outer space, how we extend ourselves into our surroundings.  For me, this would include an environmental message.
The earth is our home, and it can be a welcoming home and perhaps if we thought of it as such, we might be less inclined to sit by while we destroy it.
1. Yeah, you got that right: its kinda supposed to be a sacred space inspired by science: Spirituality is not typically the realm of science (and from my personal experience, it is absolutely taboo in academia in general unless one is in a Religious Studies program). As such, I am assuming biophilic spaces are studied from a practical and material point of view. But I think, without getting too mystical about it, biophilic spaces offer an opportunity to reconcile a human consciousness with an environmental context. They can demonstrate that what appears to be a mind/body split, or a mental classification of interior vs exterior (self vs “not-self”) is a perceptual illusion and while it may have an important practical heuristic function, it also ensures a sense of a sense of loneliness and enables eco disasters, etc. Therefore, I conclude that if reuniting these seemingly separate things is not the essence of “spirituality” then nothing is.  I would say that from a neurological or psychological perspective, this has some value.
Ultimately, I see the project as a model of a three tiered cosmos, centering a single person inside a model of the “blue marble” that we humans inhabit externally—but perhaps experience as a bubble surrounding us.  At worst, we see ourselves as the center of the universe, but at best, we could say we are centered in the cosmos.
FINALLY! Stay tuned more to come.  What going in the dome itself?  BIRDIES.  That's what.
Yet another detail of panel 1
Yet another detail of panel 2

Monday, May 29, 2023

Facial Anomalies

One of the things they study at the Penn Center forNeuroasthetics where I am an artist in residence, is facial anomalies. These include the obvious, such as cleft palate but the spectrum continues into the more typical such as scars, or other so called “disfiguring” conditions that leave a face “distorted”.  All in quotes because the stakes are high.  Check these out.

 It is fair to say that we as humans assess each other’s and our own faces and if there is anything that deviates a little too far from what we expect, we notice.

Unfortunately, biases against facial anomalies do exist in society. People with facial anomalies may face prejudice, discrimination, or negative judgments based on their appearance. Yes—even by persons who claim they don’t. This bias can stem from societal beauty standards, cultural influences, lack of understanding, fear, or ignorance about these conditions.  This is what they study at PCfN. The good news is that the bias seems changeable.

Facial anomalies interest me personally for a few reasons.  One is from the POV of self-image.  How does it affect a person if they feel like a freak—even if they aren’t, say, in the case of body dysmorphia?  Second: a zillion times I have been asked about why I distort faces when I draw them.  What’s it all about????  I wish I knew.  All I can say is that it’s a very strong, irresistible compulsion.  Until they look like that, I am massively unsatisfied and will destroy or alter them until they do.  They are to me, extremely gorgeous.  To others, I can’t say.  But to me, they are right, and all other faces are not-right.

Another factor in this piece was relating facial anomalies to “glass anomalies”. What constitutes an assault on our assumptions about health, integrity and wholeness in glass and stained glass design itself?

One thing about being a stained glass artist is dealing with broken glass.  In fact, all glass is broken in that that’s how you get it to be the desired shape.  Intention matters, but only so much.  Basically, you break it into shape.  And of course, it breaks on its own sometimes. I have had many a call an email from someone really panicking because something has quote-unquote broken.  Not that it matters in the grand scheme of human affairs, but people are really biased against broken glass, as if there was something wrong with it!  But…not all breaks signify damaged goods and sometimes it just adds to the story and look of the piece in a positive way. However, usually its seen as disfiguring and a very bad thing indeed.  Suddenly its no longer perfect!! (as if it ever was!)


But of course, the breaks often add to the content in significant ways, actually improving it: Check out these cool historical examples: (AND THESE TOO!)

Take that, Rene Descartes!
Silence! Its golden.
Upside down peace sign on the pope, what could it mean?
Bisected cupid (a vast improvement)

Most breaks in a window do not cause any issue with the structure.  Virtually ALL stained glass windows have breaks in them and plenty of them if the window is old.  The only time I worry is if they are prominent enough that they interfere with the design.  Like if they are right through the face.......I think you see where I am going with this!

In this piece, I wanted to address my own preciousness with the people I draw. I wanted to challenge the notion that breakage=damage. I wanted to see if I could intentionally break the faces right where it would matter.  Although, what I found was that in many cases, I couldn’t go through with it.  For one thing, in order to up the ante, I made sure the painting was some of my very best.  Much harder to make myself intentionally break it! 

It is said that ugliness, dirt, weeds etc are things that are perceived as being “out of place”, things that might be perfectly acceptable...somewhere else, thank you very much..... Breaks in glass fall into this category.

All this reminds me of how our aesthetic sense works: we are on the lookout for certain things.  We tend to have a preference for the “normal du jour”, we really like beauty (which could be said to be normal du jour that’s exaggerated in such a way that we are turned on rather than off) and we are destabilized by things that are anomalous. To put it really bluntly, we tend to find them un-attractive aka UGLY.   

And yes, I am more than familiar with the fact that some DO see them as attractive. I am one of them and that’s why I wanted to make the piece—to create an opportunity to reconsider that what upsets the apple cart is actually an opportunity to expand our definition of the beautiful.


Technical deets:

My windows was painted with Reusche stencil black enamel mixed with the awkwardly named "red for flesh".  I paint on a sandblasted surface.  Each roundel has about 4-5 firings at 1225F.

Assembling with lead