Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Fellow Travelers of another kind, these Priests are secular clerics, our comrades.

Liz Nelson came this afternoon and took all the Priests that are finished to exhibit at The Parker Pie Co. in West Glover, Vermont. She said she'd try to take some photos of the work when it's up, so I'll post images if I get them.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fellow Travelers

As I’ve walked the Art Road (so to speak) I’ve discovered the occasional person whom I think of as a Fellow Traveler. This was a term used by Joseph McCarthy and his ilk to denote people who were Communist sympathizers, but not actual “card-carrying” Communists. Only instead of Communists, I’m meaning Artists. Whatever that is. Hmmm, and what would the card look like, anyway? And who keeps the minutes and makes the agenda?

I’m not sure what makes you a member of the Artist Party. I’ve often resisted calling myself an artist. It seems a lot like calling yourself a guru. If you appropriate the title (or confer it upon yourself), are you really entitled to it?

Sower, R.L. Croft
Sower is a subtle homage to van Gogh’s paintings of the same title in the form of an 11-foot-long maple seed (winged seed or “helicopter”) built in the manner of an airfoil. It features handles, an access panel and a view port. Sower rests on its own dolly, or on the floor propped by a short pole. It also carries long poles and guy wires for temporary, fair weather outdoor display in an oblique upright stance that abstractly mimics the painting’s striding figure.

Anyway, when I say Fellow Traveler, I mean someone who is “plowing the same field,” who seems drawn to similar materials, motifs, shapes, or icons. It’s not that he or she is a better artist (whatever that means) than other artists you know and love – just that they’re like you, like a clone of some kind, like someone who’s making art that could be your own.

Perpetual notion machine, R.L. Croft
Perpetual notion machine (Sisyphus machine) is an absurdly low-tech comment on the fascination and trust we place in technology. Idealism found in promises of a better future are frustrated by the reality of mankind’s tendency to settle for significantly less. Included in its construction are a whisper/ball tube, a malfunctioning solar powered thermometer and dead switches. Its main feature is a hidden ball track. The viewer can insert a ball bearing into an opening and listen to its clanking progress until it emerges at the bottom, beckoning for perpetual performance of a meaningless task.

Such a person, named Robin Croft, popped into my life recently. The wheeled pieces on his website (under Floorwork) are wonderful, and the piece called Platform, Madrid on the Wallwork page dramatically conveys the bomb-blast in the metro, as well as the injured and killed, represented (amazingly and accurately) by bottles of nail polish!

Platform, Madrid, R.L. Croft

Robin says, “My intention is to create the effect of two conflicting forces, that which touches on the depths of despair, unsteadily balanced against anxious humor and simple joy in work. Idealism found in promises of a better future are frustrated by the reality of mankind’s tendency to settle for significantly less. These sculptures are abandoned visual props left at the end of an absurd solitary performance, susceptible to decay and multiple interpretations. Nothing can be taken for granted. Constant change proves to be the only reliable point of reference. Equilibrium being evanescent, one tries to fuse an array of thought fragments into a drawing of graphite or metal. By doing so, the artist builds a fragile mental world of metaphor that lends meaning to his largely unnoticed visit in society.”

Platform, Madrid (detail), R.L. Croft

Why do artists clump together? Sometimes it’s for more or less venal (or at least self-promotional) reasons: Making contacts with others puts us in the way of opportunities, and gets us out in the world through “friending” people (that irritating expression). Sometimes it’s just a need for the companionship of others who are in the life (of art). But I think it can also be a genuine recognition of an artistic doppelganger, a person whose work (and, possibly, aesthetic motivations) are continuous with your own.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sliding on Down the Line

I've been thinking about this blog, and my aspiration to find ways to think about, create work partly motivated by, and talk about how our experience in the world as citizens connects with the life of art and aesthetics.

I've found myself, in my last several posts, blabbing on about the paintings I've been making and what I'm going to do next, and all the mechanics of making work. I try to make it interesting, and try to bring you along on what the process and experience is like, but ultimately I don't think that's what you and I want to be doing. I'm not really sure what we do want to be doing, but I will keep trying to find out. Writing, I suppose, is a lot like painting or making other kinds of art: you just have to keep puddling around until you feel you've got it right.

Sometimes painting is a heady, exhilarating experience, sometimes it's painful and frustrating. When it's boring, you just have to stop and do something else. Sometimes you make mistakes. No, that's not right: sometimes you experience the gift of making something wonderful happen that you didn't know you could do, didn't know where it came from, and you accept this gift gratefully.

When mistakes happen, it's because you aren't acting selflessly. You are imagining what you might do, where it might go, and forcing it to go there. I think that's what happened with the Priest of Schooling, at the top of this post. I put the gold foil in ("well, they're all supposed to have gold foil"...) and took away the wonderful watery blue.

I watched an interview with President Obama on Sixty Minutes this evening. He said he is constantly making decisions. Of course, he must make decisions based on evidence, facts, and assumptions about what's good for the country and what's bad for the country. I keep making decisions too, pressing forward, moving down the line. I wanted to do a Priest of Inflated Assets. It turned out to be even grosser than I imagined, like a horrible cancer. But then that is sort of what this whole economic thing has been about -- acting in ethically reprehensible ways and pretending it's great. I think he looks sort of like the Mona Lisa. That mysterious smile; those mysterious actions.

The new work on the blog this week is all in progress. It will certainly have more painting, and (like those guys on Wall Street) may even get some gold!

Finally, I want to let you know that I've decided to eliminate the FOLLOWERS widget on the sidebar. It feels weird to be soliciting "fans;" It came with the package when I was a young and green blogger, but now it seems wrong. I'll add the people who signed up there to my email list for notification when I put out a new post. And if anybody else wants to be on that list (or off that list), let me know by email at: janetvanfleet@fairpoint.net

Thank you for your interest. I'm glad you like to read this blog, and welcome your input. If you want to comment, I'd be interested in hearing about whether you like the gold leaf or not, and why.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Energy for Everything

Priest of Priests
, oil and gold foil on board, 16 x 16", 2009

So here are the last two Priests in this group. Today I framed up four large and one small piece, and here are the last two that I painted on today. The one at left, the Priest of Priests, I like very much. It's mysterious. After the white paint dries, I'll varnish the gold foil and frame it.

Below is the Priest of Schooling. An old lady (such as I am becoming), schoolmarm-ish. And fish. With her fish-net, hair-net / hat.

After the Priest of Schooling dries, I will put gold leaf in the background around her head. I think the piece will feel quite different after that, with the gold background and silver fish swimming through the picture plane.

I've already had two offers to exhibit this body of work, in Glover in April and in Castleton in May, so they'll soon be going out into the world. This body of work seems quite engaging to people; today I got a call from someone who saw them on this blog and wanted to buy The Priest of Unexpected Developments. I am still finding painting very exciting and challenging, and hope to have a few more pieces in the works soon.

Priest of Schooling, oil (and soon gold foil) on board,
16 x 16", 2009

On another topic, several different people have said to me recently, "People who have a job aren't really feeling the recession." Well, I have just gotten a part-time job, so that is a great relief to me, and exciting too. I will be curating an exhibit of the ten artists selected for the Art of Action project that Lyman Orton and the Vermont Arts Council have created. I will have time to work in the studio, but also have some much-needed predictable income. Plus I'll get to work with some interesting people and hone my curatorial skills. I am lucky.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

All that glitters...

... is not gold. It’s gold FOIL (leaf), but it still looks pretty spiffy. Here are the paintings you saw a few posts back, and it's now clear to me that they are a continuation of the Priests series. Here are the ones that I think are finished.

What do I mean by “priests”? I mean they are secular clerics, fellow travelers on the road into the future, ordinary exemplars, comrades. What does THAT mean? Well, we are all examples to each other of how to be human, how to be Americans, how to be painters, how to be wives, lovers, runners, writers, caretakers, and friends. So the people in these paintings are icons of their particular states, their tasks, their confusions.

As always, you can click for a larger image.

Priest of Beasts, oil and gold foil on board, 16 x 16 in., 2009Janet Van Fleet: Priest of Beasts
The Priest of Unexpected Developments, oil and gold foil on board,
16 x 16 in., 2009Janet Van Fleet: The Priest of Unexpected Developments
The Priest of Science and Art, oil, enamel, and gold foil on board,
16 x 16 in., 2009Janet Van Fleet: The Priest of Science and Art
The Priest of Hot Things, oil and gold foil on board, 16 x 16 in., 2009
Janet Van Fleet: The Priest of Hot Things
There are two more in the pipeline. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Put your mouth where your money is

I am one of 19 artists doing a project at the Sullivan Museum at Norwich University in Northfield VT called Inspired by Stories: Artists Respond to the Historical Collection of the Sullivan Museum.

The museum assembled miscellaneous artifacts from their collection, and each artist chose one to respond to. I chose a roll of bills called a “Short Snorter” (see below, unrolled a bit). You can see some websites that have information about these artifacts here and here and, if you're interested, you can probably find lots more if you search the web.

I found this artifact compelling because it seemed like the male/military version of the friendship/signature quilt. These men collected signatures of their buddies on paper money, sometimes the names of places they had passed through (along with their currencies), sometimes short messages of solidarity or humor.

I would like to create an Art Community Long Snorter (or maybe it will be called Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is) – a long streamer of bills taped together that will be suspended from the ceiling. I'm asking artists and art-community folks to send me a piece of currency with their name(s) and/or signature(s) written directly on the bill, along with a short (snorting?) message you may wish to convey to the world and visitors to the Sullivan Museum. Write it all on the bill; you can include as many people's signatures and/or messages on the bill as you can fit!

It would be wonderful to have currencies from other parts of the world if you have something (not too valuable) you’d like to contribute to this effort (hanging around from a trip to an exotic locale?), but a regular old dollar bill would be fine too. If you don’t want to send money, cut-to-size (about the size of a dollar bill or slightly larger) fragments of maps, two-sided images from magazines or other sources that are meaningful to you, or pieces of travel brochures would also be great.

Please feel free to forward a link to this post to artists you think may be interested in contributing to this artwork.

If you are interested in participating, please send your piece by April 1, 2009 to me at:

Janet Van Fleet
32 Thistle Hill Road
Cabot, VT 05647