Living Well Is the Best Revenge

All apologies to the late George Herbert for appropriating his title. But it’s an apt approach to weathering the crazy and noisy political zeitgeist of 2017. Of course it’s important to stay concerned, informed, and involved. But it’s also important to practice fierce self-care, to stop to smell the roses, and to remove oneself from the fray frequently, in order to recharge the batteries.

These photos I’ve taken remind and reassure me that the world is still a beautiful and incredible place.

Sunflower Tote Bags

A few years ago I set about to make a series of hand-painted canvas tote bags. I ordered a couple dozen plain canvas bags online. I drew up a simple, happy, graphic image that seemed like it would be easy to reproduce. I cut out a paper stencil so that I could transfer the drawing consistently from bag to bag. I cleared all the flat surfaces in my studio. Then I got busy making the acrylic paintings.

My original intention had been to put these on Etsy, sell a bunch of them, and fund my next art project. But they languished in my Etsy shop, and I never sold a single one. I ended up giving most of the bags away to friends and family members, and of course I’ve kept a couple for my own use. I may have one or two left; if you want one, please get in touch.

The photo gallery below shows the process I devised to make the paintings. Instead of painting each bag’s image from start to finish, I used the mass-production approach: I performed each step on all of the bags before proceeding to the next step. So for example, first I painted a rectangle of white primer (gesso) onto each of the bags and let it dry. Then I stenciled my sketch onto each of the bags. Then I painted the blue sky onto each of the bags. And so on. The later detail steps were a bit more improvisational, so there are minor differences among the paintings that hopefully add some character.

Bringing It All Back Home

In September of 2012 I moved out of the One Cottage Street art studio space that I had rented since 2004.

Big changes are afoot in my creative life: it is both the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. In September of 2012 I moved out of the One Cottage Street art studio space that I had rented for eight years—since 2004. I’ve set up a new workspace in my apartment, and little by little I’m getting adjusted to it. A few different factors motivated my decision:

  1. I’m trying to save money for an eventual house (with an on-site studio or barn).
  2. I want to be closer (both proximally and metaphorically) to my work.
  3. It will be nice to have all of my tools under the same roof. No more running to the studio during a snowstorm to get my drill/driver for a home project, and vice versa.
  4. In the near-term, I’m interested in exploring the influence that a darker, cozier, cave of a space will have upon my work. I’m also a little intimidated by this, but I reckon that bravely facing this challenge will improve the artist, if not the art. I’ve worked in basements before. This is a step up, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

I require a ton of quiet and solitude in order to focus my creative energy and recharge my emotional battery. In earlier phases of my life when such solitude was not easy to come by, having a remote studio apart from my living space was critical to my creative well-being. But now my apartment provides all of the solitude—and almost all of the space—that I need.

Over the years, I had produced satisfying bodies of work in my old One Cottage Street space. Not long after I’d set up shop there, I made a series of paintings entitled Place To Bee (envisioning a day in the life of a bee) that I exhibited at Northampton’s Woodstar Café (circa 2004). Eventually all of the paintings from that series found their way into private collections. Later, I made three big paintings for Northampton’s Bueno Y Sano restaurant. I made several more paintings that I installed in the Bueno Y Sano restaurant in Burlington, Vermont. And I produced a number of paintings that are now on semi-permanent display at Rao’s Café in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Turning over a new leaf

No doubt about it, my day job has demanded a lot of my energy over the past dozen years. While I love the profession, and the connections and opportunities that the Web facilitates, web design is a different window onto the world than the one made of paint. While I have tried to keep up a regular painting practice, there have been phases when my interest has flagged, and I wasn’t making adequate time to go to the studio. During those times, the studio was a costly storage space (and hockey equipment drying room). I needed to scale back; to downsize; to reevaluate my priorities. And I needed to get rid of a lot of the junk that I had accumulated over the years—junk that was literally getting in my way, and figuratively weighing me down.

I’ve spent the summer preparing the way: getting rid of nonessentials, cataloging (and in some cases, destroying) old work, photographing, sketching out the new space, and moving stuff. Now the work is right here, and there are no obstacles—apart from the mental ones—to keep me from engaging with it. I have just the right amount of equipment, and enough paint and supplies to last a couple of years. I’m no longer hoarding wood scraps for the bases of sculptures I’ll never make.

I will grieve the loss of the my old One Cottage Street space, and will always remember it fondly. But I’m also excited about my new “lean and mean” home studio space and the new era it represents. I look forward to sharing the work that comes forth from this arrangement. It will be different. But I am thrilled about it. Stay tuned.

Paintings of Flowers

Flowers are such rewarding subjects to paint. Not only do they hold relatively still, but they are full of color and intriguing form. Above, I tackled a blooming sunflower (and an aspiring one) standing proudly against a bright red barn wall. Oil on canvas. Private collection; not for sale.

She Loves Me

Below, I interpreted the spirit of daisies in a much more stylized way. I love how the north-south divisions in the background contrast with the radial divisions of the daisy petals. I donated this piece to the Second Annual Benefit Auction sponsored by 20things.org (website no longer active) to benefit Cancer Connection in Florence, Massachusetts. The painting was won by a wonderful person named Daisy. She loves me… She loves me not…

She Loves Me painting by Trace Meek

More Daisies

Have you had enough daisies yet? Below is an acrylic painting I made for the same family that commissioned the Belly Cast piece. It’s a bit more of a realistic rendering than the daisies in She Loves Me, but hopefully not too realistic.

Daisies painting by Trace Meek

Two Sunflowers

Two Sunflowers painting by Trace Meek

I painted these two happy sunflowers for a friend, as a wedding gift for her cousin. I used acrylic on canvas, and framed it in a black-stained, hand-carved wooden frame.

Bueno y Sano Paintings and Murals

An evolving public art project that started in 1995

In 1995 I began providing mural-painting services for the Bueno y Sano family of healthy burrito restaurants. I painted all of the interior walls of the flagship Amherst, Massachusetts store.

Later I created a similar treatment for the Northampton, Massachusetts store when it opened in 2006. Northampton has a different vibe from Amherst, and this is reflected in the art work I made for “Noho.”

Finally, I was invited to create the interior décor for the restaurant in Burlington, Vermont, which opened in 2007.

The Burlington, Vermont store

Bueno Burlington - daytime view of Lake Champlain

In each case, I tried to capture a bit of the essence of the town, and represent it in a “whimsical” and upbeat style. Additionally, I created imagery that harmonized with the food philosophy of the restaurants: healthy, fresh, California-style burrito cuisine. Consequently, I have painted many peppers, onions, eggplants, squashes, and the like.

This next image shows a stylized view of Lake Champlain as seen at night:

Bueno Burlington - night time view of Lake Champlain

Lastly, my signature “orange swirly” pattern has been a constant, unifying link appearing in all the stores. Recently the Northampton store renovated, and erased the funky pattern in favor of a more clean, contemporary look.

Orange swirly pattern

The Amherst, Massachusetts store

Bueno y Sano mural
This mural scene was inspired by the enchanted Mt. Pollux in South Amherst
Bueno y Sano mural
My fresh veggies mural has held up well over the years.
Me, in front of my Bueno y Sano mural
Me, in front of my Bueno y Sano mural. Photo by Rebecca Johnson

Steel Arch Bridge and Boats

A sculptural installation involving welded steel boats carrying symbolic cargoes, and a welded steel arch bridge.

Around the end of the 20th Century, I hatched an idea to build a sculptural installation involving 33 metal boats, each filled with a symbolic cargo and arranged so as to converge on a passage through a steel arch bridge.

The idea was somewhat informed by numerology, coincidence, our collective anticipation of the new millennium, and a vague interest in the mystique and lore surrounding Freemasonry. I was nearing my 33rd birthday, 33 happened to be my favorite number at the time, and 33 is the highest degree in the Scottish Rite.

But the larger metaphor was simply one of passage. The opening in the bridge represented a rite of passage from one part of life to another, or from life to death and whatever lay beyond. It also represented an intersection between the realities of what was going on in the water under the bridge, vs. the realities that were being connected by the platform of the bridge.

Midnight Freight

I first showed the installation at the Berkshire Artisans Gallery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1999, under the title of Midnight Freight. Freight in this sense represented the “baggage” that we all carry with us from our childhood throughout our lives. And the midnight aspect hinted at the subconscious, sub-rosa nature of these things. The materials that filled the boats were things that I associated in some way with my childhood: sweetgum pods, old pennies, acorns, bony-fingered twigs from a cottonwood tree, half-burned candles, red Georgia clay, etc.

Three Sisters

Later, I showed the installation again with significantly fewer boats, different cargo, and configured to speak to a different theme. Living With the River was a juried show that took place at the Canal Gallery in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 2001. Artists were asked to weigh in on the influence they felt by living in the vicinity of the mighty Connecticut River that cuts through our fertile Pioneer Valley.

Three Sisters is an expression symbolizing the corn, beans, and squash that are staples of various Native American groups, many of whom lived in this region in abundance before the appearance of European Settlers. In this installation, the boats carried dried corn kernels, dried beans, and squash seeds.

In this way, my piece spoke to the inescapable history that we shoulder in the course of our modern-day life with the river. Namely, that we must recognize and honor the other cultures that preceded us and—in their own ways—lived with the river.

Technical Details and Availability

While the diaspora of boats has mostly made its way out into the private collections of the world, the bridge itself remains in my private collection. The bridge is composed of brazed steel (meaning that brass—which has a lower melting point than steel—is used as the joining metal). It has rusted to a nice patina.

Steel Arch Bridge