Australian rock art: my magical mystery tour

I went to Australia having predetermined how I was going to experience aboriginal rock art. It would be magical, shamanic, transformative, and would somehow single me out as connected to this ancient form of identity and communication.

My experience couldn't have been farther from my assumption. While absolutely transformative, I saw the human and historic meaning of these images for what they were: expressive recordkeeping, meant to record the story of a tribe and their creation. It's a temporary medium and at risk historic decay through wear and natural damage (like rock fungus). And it tells a human story of how a people interacted with and interpreted their world.

These images are from the Rainbow Serpant caves at Wangaar-Wuri near Cooktown, which I toured with Gurrbi Tours. Willie Brown is a Nugal-warra Elder and the storyteller for his people. With Willie we hiked over a ridge to his ancestral birthing site, where women would prepare for months in a tended cave then give birth under the sacred serpant rock. The placenta would be buried near the birth site, and after death the tribal bones would be returned to the area and reburied to complete the circle of life. The tribe tended to each other and recorded their creation stories, particularly that of the rainbow serpant from which all life is born (I believe this is the birthing cave shown in the top photo--the upper serpant was painted by Willie's grandfather and the lower serpant was painted by an unknown ancestor. Dingos, handprints and other images also adorn the cave). 


Willie's tribe is dwindling in numbers and there's concern that the stories depicted in the rock art won't endure. (Indeed, there is concern that the Nugal-warra language, Guugu Yimithirr will soon be extinct.)  Preservation efforts are under discussion and the rock art has been digitially captured, but I can tell you first hand images don't compare to experiencing the art first-hand.

I had a chat with Willie at the start of our hike and told him why I was there and how important it was to me to experience the rock art. He assured me I'd find what I was looking for and with a wink promised he had something special in store for me. As we reached the birthing cave, Willie called me up and handed me a rock, inviting me to use a reed to paint my own image from the watery ochre pot he'd prepared. I was thrilled to partiicpate in this honored tradition. After painting my rock, Willie invited me to walk around the corner and leave my rock under his guardianship. I was stunned to see hundreds of personal rocks lining the ledge! Wilie said this had become one of the most moving activities of his tours and he felt priviledged that people were willing to leave a piece of themselves under his protection.

In my search for mystical answers, I'd neglected the most elemental and powerful force behind the rock paintings--human artists expressing their beliefs and their feelings. I am part of this tradition, every time I step up to the canvas or put my pen to paper. It is the same creative force that drove Willie's ancestors to preserve their stories on the rocks that compels me to tell my story, to leave my mark for future generations and document these moments in time. The artist is society's storyteller, charged with reflecting back the community's history and beliefs for closer examination. With reflection comes growth and change, for the artist and the community. This is where the transformative, magical qualities of art reside.


Open Studios 2013

I hope you'll join us for Silicon Valley Open Studios, May 11 and 12. I'll be at Pigs Wings and Promises, 247 Velarde Street Mountain View from 11-5. We have 16 great artists displaying their craft and we look forward to seeing you. 

I'll be showing paintings from my new Family series, along with some classic Monsters. And, my new necklaces will make their debut just in time for Mother's Day.



My mother's father

I don't remember him well enough to refer to him as Grandpa. I think he was a gruff man who had no patience for children and preferred his own company. There aren't many photos of him in the family albums and the ones we have are usually of him alone.

He was a carpet layer in his prime years, ran his own business in Chicago. Decades later in my Grandma's effects I found handwritten IOUs from customers who arranged his services on credit. It's a scrap of generosity and trust that I never witnessed in him. Maybe those open IOUs were why he was aloof in middle age and beyond, why he held back from his family and pushed people away.



Allergic to Spring

Greetings gentle readers,

I hope you're enjoying the colors of Spring and there's sunshine in your backyard. It's been a sneezy/drippy/sleepy season for me, with allergies in full swing. As usual, the inflamation has kicked up my MS a bit so I'm moving slower than usual. Prep work continues for Open Studios (May 11-12, will post more info soon) and on my altered book for the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit. I'm pacing myself for another couple months of fatigue and looking forward to full-powered Felty!

What are your upcoming plans? How do you treat your allergies?



Pura Vida

I'm back from ten days in beautiful Costa Rica, where the coffee is strong and the monkeys are swinging. It was my first trip South of our border (I don't count Cabo, that's like going to San Diego during Spring Break) and I loved the wild green rain forests and amazing wildlife. 

I went with a tour group but I was travelling solo. The group was quick to take me in and were a friendly, funny bunch of people. Our tour director was smart and experienced and led us on an entertaining and educational journey. We started in San Jose--yes my local friends, I travelled from San Jose to San Jose--and went to Tortuguero Park (my favorite stop) on the Carribean coast. You can only reach the park by boat and our lodge was sandwiched between the river and the sea, very nice and rustic. From there we went to Fortuna at the foot of the Arenal volcano and home of the hot springs, then on to the Pacific coast to the JW Marriot resort for a couple days. Lots of side trips from our base hotels, with many river cruises for critter viewings. And the coffee, O the coffee...

The best thing I did was kayaking on our off-day. I signed up for a trip through the hotel and went out with a couple from Southern California and a guide. The four of us paddled quietly through the tributaries looking for birds and crocodiles, it was very cool. No croc sightings --thankfully, I realized, after seeing this 15 foot croc the following day--but I loved being on the water and a (temporary) part of the ecosystem. 

Turns out though that I'm really not the tour type. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I saw and heard things I never would have experienced off tour, but my feet itched with envy when the woman flying home in the next seat told me she and her husband spent 3 weeks hiking trails all around the country. I feel like I missed out on a great opportunity. Touring was too passive for me, I like the spontaniety of blazing my own trail and some of my best adventures (drinking wine with hobos on a French train; a tattoo in Kauai…) were things you can't plan out. I'd go back to Costa Rica in a minute, but either to go deep into a specific region on an eco-tour or on a self-guided hiking program. And I'd take a tour to see other countries where I'm not so comfortable travelling independently, but I'd go into it now looking for the opportunity to stretch my legs a bit.

The time away cleared my head and gave me space to reflect on some of the decisions coming up for me this year. It's the highest compliment to say that I came back feeling focused and refreshed, better connected to the environment and my world. I'm rested and ready to go.