Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



January 2008

"Art doesn't solve anything, it just leads you to trying to understand what's bothering you."


James Rosenquist, ARTnews, October 2003.

Foreign Policy: An Unintended Portrait

Dear Reader,

It is hard for me to believe that this is my forty-first Judy's Journal. When I decided a monthly blog would become part of my website, I knew the commitment would be both a joy and a pain in the neck.

I have learned new things by writing this monthly journal, but the pressure of coming up with a subject each month hasn't always been a pleasure. Donald M. Murray was my teacher and model (February 2007 - A Tribute to Donald M. Murray). "Writers write," he used to say. He was also notoriously impatient with people who whined: "If it's too hard, go sell junk bonds." Happily, this month's subject arrived and demanded to be written about. It is the story of a recent painting, "Foreign Policy."

The war in Iraq has been on my mind, and as James Rosenquist suggested in the opening quotation, it has surfaced in my work. For example, last month's journal was about a recent poem that took shape around Minerva, the goddess of war.

In February, I began a painting and typically, I did not plan ahead. The ground color was a medium tone blue, and as the first phase got under way, large land masses emerged. It was as if I were viewing them from a satellite. Flames edged one of the shapes, and I knew then that I was painting Iraq. No, it is not geographically correct, but it was Iraq. The flames of destruction equaled war, and the painting continued.

I reached for grays and three rocks appeared, sailing through the air. One was small and claw-like, another somewhat larger with skull-like shapes, and a third immense rock was poised and ready to crash into the flaming land. If this painting had a time frame, it would show that moment before complete destruction. I did not struggle long for a title. "Foreign Policy" came to me while I was painting it.

In September, I was organizing a solo exhibition "Kinship with Rocks" and of course, "Foreign Policy" was one of the twenty-six paintings that made up the exhibit (June 2005). A few days before the reception, I received a call from Gertrude Halstead, the newly-named Poet Laureate of Worcester, Massachusetts, who is also a friend. Since she could not make it to the reception, she wondered if we could go see the exhibit together. We set a date.

We drove to Gardner on a bright fall day and went into the gallery. Gertrude looked at each painting and made comments: "I see…" "I feel…" "I notice…" The wall labels were small, so I read her the titles. When we came to "Foreign Policy," she studied it and asked, "What is this one called?" When I told her, she said, "Ah, yes, interference. Destruction." Then she paused. "I find it interesting that you painted George W. Bush's face into the largest rock." I gasped. Without consciously planning or even recognizing what I had done, there it was.

"Foreign Policy"

"Foreign Policy"

Next month, I plan to take a look at 2007's creative leaps, flights and tumbles. The overview was supposed to be the subject of this month's journal, but the "Foreign Policy" story bumped it. Contact me if you'd like to talk art, poetry or both: Happy New Year!