This weekend was the annual library sale at the York Public Library, where I am currently having my first solo show in 12 years. It was either the summer of 1995 or 1996 when I went crazy at the Altadena Library sale and loaded my cherry red Mazda van to the roof (seats removed) with sets of old encyclopedias in the last half hour of the sale, receiving the entire lot for only ten dollars. I had already purchased an extensive collection of about 500 cookbooks from Geroge Izumi who ran a thriving bakery in downtown Los Angeles for many years – Grace Pastries (named for his wife).
After painting from the cookbooks for a couple of years, I began working on The Cooking of Germany series. Some of the previous works (included in the Cookbook Paintings) were painted from a German book titled Das Konditorbuch, and I began to be seduced by and interested in the foods of my German predecessors. So I began to paint from a 1969 Time-Life book titled The Cooking of Germany, one of a set of books that focused on various national cuisines and part of one of the incomplete book and encyclopedia sets I had come home with on that very successful Altadena library sale haul. The series, when finished, contained works of various media and from several sources including embroideries of yeasts from an antique book about the science of bread-baking.
Several years earlier I had completed a series of studied portraits of cabbages grown in my backyard garden titled Ancestral Cabbages. Mostly I was seduced by the light that came into my Altadena garage studio through a “people” door that faced north towards the Angeles Forest. But also I was able to explore green, my favorite color for many years. At the time, I was frequenting the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and was concerned about developing good painting technique, so the paintings functioned as studies – united as a group by their mugshot quality and rich gray backgrounds. Some people who would visit my studio brought up the subject of cabbage patch kids, as they were popular dolls at the time. And for good reason, I was just at the point of beginning to try to conceive my first child. I remember thinking at the time that the northern European colors that I was painting somehow connected me to my ancestors, but if not that, then when I cut up the cabbages and ate them, that surely would. Maybe this would function as some kind of strange fertility ritual? I already had a practice as a painter of working from photographic images of dead relatives, believing in some sort of spiritual bond by doing so, and believed that cherishing family snapshots and other precious images of loved ones is a form of ancestor worship. (I would soon design and teach my first course at Art Center based upon some of these beliefs.) After my first miscarriage I was laying in bed in a listless state and the newspaper classifieds were within my sight, left there earlier in the day by my husband Todd (folded parts of the LA Times and NY Times would be all over the house all the time, we were both totally into newspapers). I did not even have to lift my head (I did not have the energy to lift my head) and right within eye-view the words COOKBOOKS FOR SALE jumped out at me. This pleased and heartened me. Soon after, I picked up the phone and dialed the number listed and made arrangements to go to the home of George Izumi to look at these COOKBOOKS FOR SALE.
One of a series of seven Ancestral Cabbages painted between 1993 and 1994.
One of the Cookbook Paintings, a 36 x 48 inch pastel on linen, Betty Crocker Centerfold from 1995.
From The Cooking of Germany, oil on canvas, 48 x 60 inches, 1998.
Right after my Cooking of Germany series I began to work from a series of old encyclopedias named Lands and Peoples. Yes, that original van haul of books also contained these. That got me started on what would become a more than decade long fascination with the documentary images contained within these volumes.
To be continued…..
You can view some installation shots of the York Public Library show by visiting my website (under renovation):