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Art Mimics Life



Can you tell I’m hiding out on the peaceful shores of Lake Michigan? Here is Clay Cliffs, a Leelanau Conservancy-protected land. 18 x 18 oil painting

The most fascinating thing about art history is the context.

Artists respond to current events. The Renaissance literally means “rebirth”; artists were responding to the Dark Ages, saying “no more” and looking towards enlightenment. And so it goes throughout the history of art: Impressionists were responding to years of constraint in art. The invention of tube paint and the camera gave a newfound freedom to get outside and paint plein air, leaving literal interpretation to the camera. With such freedom, they made bolder, freer art. The establishment hated it. The Post Impressionist took that even further.


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park is another treasure of Michigan, and a favorite resting place. 18 x 18 oil painting

In America right now, current events are blowing up all over every day. Movements are forming and the “unprecedented” is happening everyday. So how are artists responding? I don’t know quite yet. I only know that they are, and they will.

I am wrestling with this issue almost daily in the studio. I don’t know how to respond with art. Almost a decade ago, I made a choice to keep art as my happy place, to make art that brings about a smile. To make art that celebrates the landscapes I love so deeply. And to save the issues that matter most to me for writing and personal exploration. I have long been an activist, a philanthropist, championing for children’s rights for a quality education in Ethiopia. Equality and justice matter deeply to me. Now this struggle is on my own front door … that is more complex to share than boarding a plane to Ethiopia. When it came to Ethiopia, I choose to celebrate the beauty and dignity of the culture in my art. That was what was truest to my heart. It remains truest to my heart to keep art a riotous, joyous celebration.


More Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park goodness. Here, the view overlooks the Glen Lakes. 18 x 18 oil painting

I’ve heard it said, “Leave it to the artist to explain the why.” I cannot explain to you the why, or tell you why life is simultaneously hard and unfair and beautiful and resilient. But I can share with you the struggle: You’re not alone, and neither am I. And I can tell you that this American struggle is deeply on my mind; as a private citizen, I am extremely active and engaged, and I think we are all called upon right now to be so. Even if it’s just putting more kindness into the world — do that!

As for my art, for now I rest, steady in the knowledge that the mere act of making art is enough. The celebration of art is a rebellion. And I promise you this, I will keep making and celebrating art at the top of my lungs, though the words of Nina Simone haunt me: “You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”

What do you think? As always I love when you join in the conversation on Facebook and Instagram. I’ll see you there!


The skies over Lake Michigan are as glorious as the shore, and never overlooked by my artist’s eye. 14 x 14 oil painting

Roots vs. Wings: How Art Gave Me Both


IMG_5538Art saved me. It has that power. Not that I was in trouble — I wasn’t. I got in enough trouble in my youth, true enough, but it’s not that kind of saving I needed. I needed to be saved from the mundane, to have a outlet and a language in which to express myself. I needed the language I call art.

As I was thinking about my beloved road paintings that I’ve been writing about recently, I got to thinking about “the roads not taken.” We all have plenty of those, I think.

I was brought up in West Michigan, in a wonderful but conservative, Dutch Reformed family that I love with all my heart. But my soul — my soul is Brazilian, like Carmen Miranda at Carnival. (But with much fewer people, because at heart, I get my energy by being alone. You get the idea.) Still, my little soul was not conservative, Dutch Reformed at all.


West Michigan is a great place, because I believe you blossom where you are, but Carmen Miranda isn’t a really a beloved figure here. It is a place that values conformity and following the rules quite a bit. This was always confusing for me. At 16, I broke into tears — I mean a full-on ugly cry. When my mom (and also my favorite person on planet Earth) asked me what was wrong, I sobbed, “I love you and Dad so much, Mom, but I don’t want to grow up to be like you, with kids, church on Sunday and, well, so traditional. It’s just not for me.” My infinitely wise and calm Mom said, “So, don’t. You get to choose. Choose what fits you; choose something different.” I remember all the dramatic wind of my teenage sails falling away and thinking, “I can do that?” Which became, “I can do that!”

But much as I might not like it, that darn Midwestern Dutch DNA was deeply ingrained in who I am, and it reminds me of roads NOT taken. The time I went to Mexico to study art, secretly hoping I would end up moving there, but no, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around not having a steady job and being that far away from my roots. That anxiety that came as part of my DNA package. Couldn’t do it, and worse, I found I didn’t really want to. After my six-week study program was over, I came home.

There was the dream I had to spend a year traveling Europe picking grapes in October and finding odd jobs here and there. My longest trip there was 10 weeks and prepaid; no finding work along the way for me.

There was the invitation to hop on the back of a bike in Ethiopia and travel on that bike to Cape Town with a very handsome man. I wanted to be the type of person that could do that, to sleep under the stars in Africa, but all I could think was black mambas also sleep under those stars and god knows what else — oh, there’s that anxiety again. But I was in Ethiopia. I was there for two months that year and have returned eight times. In that way I have always been true to myself.


So I choose a life my mom has always described as roots and wings. But the roots have never interested me to paint; it is the wings I always turn to. I paint what that road from the back of a bike might have looked like, but I view it from the safety of a truck. In my Goddess of Wine series, I paint the absolute carefree spirit. That series was greatly influenced by Josephine Baker, who just looked so damn celebratory and free of any anxiety. Yes, I want to paint that. My inner Carmen Miranda. I paint from the perspective of being always barefoot with the wind in my hair.


I am so very at peace with who I am and the roads I have taken that have been far greater than I could ever imagine. But in my art — well, there I get to explore any world I wish to create, and then you, my viewer, in turn get to bring your inner world, secret fantasies, roads traveled or not, to my art and let it remind you of whatever it is that makes you smile, whatever floats your boat.

In that way, the art collector gets to have as much fun as the artist herself. Note: I am also a art collector. Art can save you, too, help keep the mundane at bay, even if only as an art owner. Go enjoy art today, go smile at the roads not taken and the roads you have taken. Insert yourself into that piece of art and have a flipping ball. In fact, be the belle of that ball. Own it, my friends, and I’ll keep creating!