Archive for February, 2012

More from Ricardo Breceda

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Ricardo Breceda's Grasshopper

If the twenty-seven sculptures on the private lands of Galleta Meadows in Borrego Springs were not enough for you, Ricardo Breceda has added a grasshopper and a scorpion.  These two join a giant sloth, camels, saber tooth cat, gold miner, farm workers, a dragon, and various prehistoric creatures in the sand surrounding the small town of Borrego Springs.  (See my two previous posts.)

They are interesting. But the project seems now over the top. There is no glue holding the variety together except maybe the “now I think I’ll make this” philosophy of the artist. Not that children and adults don’t seek out the sculptures or enjoy walking across sand to see the giant creations up close.  But this is a town which fought the erecting of the towers for electricity transport, the Sunrise Power Link,  and it is home to Anza-Borrego State Park which preserves the natural beauty of the desert. And spring brings the colors of wild flowers.

There is nothing natural in metal sculpture–not a problem in itself. Public art exists all over the world.  If you have land to put up large welded metal pieces and a creative impulse to populate the desert with the good, the bad, and the ugly to silhouette the skyline, no one will stop you.  But the “more is more” attitude goes against the subtle beauty of the desert.  I can’t find a good answer to the question, “Why?”

Of all the creatures from horses to scorpions, I found the saguaro cactus the least admirable. So we have a dragon which never existed, a World War II jeep to remind us of destruction, and a cactus which does not grow in this desert.

Ricardo Breceda's Scorpion

Isn’t that enough?


Plum Blossoms

Monday, February 13th, 2012

plum blossom

Plum Blossom

It’s plum blossom time again in San Diego.  The bare branches of plum trees are filling with pink or white blossoms.  I have three trees just outside my studio window.

Of course, it’s not exactly winter here. Well, it is winter, but it is a warm and sunny California winter. But in Chinese brush painting tradition, the plum blossom represents winter and fortitude.  The delicate flowers bloom in the midst of cold and snow and signal that spring will come.

To draw them in the traditional manner of the The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, the definitive early work (1679) of Chinese brush painting, requires a steady hand and a rather stylistic approach.

Mustard Seed Garden Plum Blossoms

Plum blossoms appear on fans, silk, rice paper, scrolls–everywhere. You will see them discussed in almost every current “how-to” book of Chinese brush painting.  With orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum they represent the four seasons and celebrate nature.

It’s a pleasure to drive down a busy street and see the blossoms.

Mustard Seed Garden Plum

I find painting them extremely difficult.  To get the delicate flowers and the strong trunk takes a lot of practice.  If you get them right, you demonstrate a significant mastery of brush and paint. I think that is why they appear on the covers of many books attempting to teach us how to paint.  Authors want to show that they have mastered a difficult subject. One of my favorite books is Leslie Tseng-Tseng Yu’s Chinese Watercolor Painting: The Four Seasons.  It is a beautiful book with good text. She tells us that each “of the five petals represents a beneficence: longevity, happiness, health, prosperity, and the natural passing of life.” The plum blossom is not just a pretty flower. It symbolizes deep human desires.

Next time you see bare branches covered with tiny pink flowers, know that even the very delicate blooms of nature survive a harsh winter.

Plum Blossom

Plum Blossom


Book Review, Valerie Stocking’s The Promised Land

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Valerie Stocking has been a writer all her life, keeping journals, writing eighteen plays and a mystery novel. Her latest novel, The Promised Land, is the story she had to tell. In fact, she dedicates this book to one who “helped me get through the dark days of my childhood.”

The Promised Land reveals the very dark days of the 1960’s in a racially segregated American town. Autobiographically based, it is an account of a small town determined to maintain white supremacy, a town which considers “associating with coloreds unnatural.”

But the heroine, Joy, is on a different course.  Joy is a twelve year old girl caught between the racial hatred spewed by the adults in her world and her friendship with a mixed-race classmate, Clay. It is a world of white sheets and burning crosses seen very close up.

From the beginning of the story Joy is an outsider. She is ungainly, unfashionable, chunky. She is bored in school, invisible in social situations. She often feels the “icy clamp of fear. Her mother is paranoid, haunted by voices, and unpredictably violent towards her.

Stocking tells Joy’s story with vivid action-filled incidents, full of dialogue that does not shy away from words we no longer consider politically correct. But those words were absolutely deemed appropriate by white society. Her mother’s reaction when she finds out about Joy’s friendship with Clay reflects the novel’s theme: “He’s a half-breed. . . .The niggers won’t accept him and no decent, law-abiding white person would accept him, either.”

Her descriptions point us exactly where she wants us to go: “As they headed south, the air changed. To Jessica it smelled like poverty: the ripe, fetid stink of decay clinging to thick, unmoving air.”  We see clearly what she wants us to see: “Occasionally, she would cough as the smoke from her mother’s cigarette filtered around her in grey clouds.”

The Promised Land is well plotted on two fronts. First, each episode lays the groundwork for the final climax. We see a crowd become a mob. We see the mob kill. Second, each time Joy defends herself against her mother’s attacks we see the blossoming of courage which she needs for her final defense of her friend Clay. She faces death in the blazing light of the Klan’s burning cross.

Throughout the book we are right there with Joy struggling to decide where her loyalties lie.  Should she stay with her mother or move north to her father? Should she admit her bond with Clay? Only when she finally makes these choices does Joy leave childhood behind.

The Promised Land is excellent storytelling.  Highly recommended.