Sunday, December 31, 2017

Painting, writing & my new book

Hope all is well in your world. 2017 was an exciting year for me - traveling through the UAE and Spain, learning some Arabic and improving my Spanish. And now I am back in one of my favorite places on earth, London, doing an MA course in modern literature.

Although I continue painting, I am primarily writing these days. And I’m pleased to announce that my first novel will be published this January, Green Water Gray Skies, about an artist in Prague searching for her lost lover. Inspired by my travels through Mexico and Prague, it is as ready as it will ever be. I’ll keep in touch with the launch date. The ebook will be available with all major ebook retailers in early January, and print book to follow soon.

Wishing you all the best in 2018 – great health, inspiration, love, kindness and compassion.

xx Julianne

Friday, July 21, 2017

Picasso, and why his paintings went downhill after 1940

I'm in Madrid now, and yesterday made a trip to Reina Sofia museum to see Pity and Terror: Picasso’s Path to Guernica, an exhibition running until 4 September. Highly recommended. The paintings begin around 1925, lead up to Guernica (1937), and also include some from the 1940's.

As I entered the exhibit, confronted by a chunky, distorted bronze figure, I pulled out my phone to snap a few pics. To my shock and dismay the security guard stopped me. There are no photos allowed in this exhibit. In all other places in the museum photos are allowed (without flash), but not here. And so I found myself looking at paintings like I did in the old days - really looking and absorbing rather than thinking of the pictures I would take and look at later. So, overall not a horrible thing, although odd. The only photo I got was on the way out of the exhibit, a view of the corridor revealing the graceful vaulted ceilings of the Reina Sofia.

Picasso's paintings, from 1925 up to 1937, displayed a shocking level of artistic perfection. He nailed one after another, conjuring emotion effortlessly. Guernica was the same as ever (I've seen it many times before) - riveting, spellbinding, disturbing, and above all deeply moving. I paced from left to right taking in the imagery, imagery that inhabits the voice of war, does not glamorize it, but gives the viewer the straight facts, leaving us awed and bewildered.

There were a number of Picasso's paintings I had never before seen. Some were sketches or preliminary paintings for Guernica. Others, like those from 1920's, showed Picasso's exploration of Cubism at its height. One after another grabs the viewer and does not let go, simply leaving one to say, 'For God's sake the man actually was a genius, this thing is perfect, absolutely fucking perfect.'

But after Guernica, I was somewhat let down.
Woman Dressing Her Hair

Although many of the same elements of Picasso's paintings remained - cubist influences, heavy outlines, distorted and deformed figures, something was missing. I no longer sensed an emotional connection in the work. With the exception of Woman Dressing Her Hair from 1940.

What was it? Is there only X amount of extremely excellent work in an artist? Or was it the explosion of this man's ego, catapulting him into unheard of levels of notoriety, was this the cause of his demise? Was it simply his attitude, that he didn't even try to produce his best work? For me it seemed his subjects after late 1930's were no longer sacred. No longer was he bowing down to them, but that they were bowing down to him.

This leaves me with these thoughts: Humility is an essential component in art. Taking risks is an essential component in art. Without these we are not human, without these we might as well hand over our tasks to a machine. Perhaps such a downfall is an inevitable part of fame, the not often spoken of downside. Or perhaps it was just Picasso, and his enormous personality, that caused his slide into artistic complacency. Yet I keep wondering, wishing he had done what Duchamp had - found a streak of rebellion that pushed him into new forms of art.

At any rate, what a fantastic exhibition. I would go to see it again in a heartbeat, yet tomorrow I am leaving Madrid. More soon. xx jai.

Guernica, Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 11.5 x 25.5 ft

Friday, March 24, 2017

10 Intensely awesome things about having a backache

Last week I pinched a nerve in my back -
Marks from cupping - traditional Chinese medicine
doing yoga of all things. Day one not bad. Day two slightly worse. Day three could barely walk, although made it to the acupuncturist for treatment. Day four could not get out of bed.

At day seven I am now on the mend and thinking about how to turn this around, make what seemed to be a meaningless disaster into something else entirely.

Ten intensely awesome things about having a backache:

1. You don't have to go to work, and your coworkers & boss will be incredibly sympathetic. You don't even have to check email. Because you can't.

2. You get to take medication that makes you loopy.

3. While loopy on medication you can lie in bed and contemplate your life, the direction you're going in, if it is way off track or otherwise, and why your back has decided to give out on you at precisely this moment in time.

4. Each and every meaningless worry that you deemed to be supremely important will evaporate as your priorities shift towards how to get in and out of bed without a searing spasm of pain shooting through your back.

5. When you go to see a Chinese doctor, a lovely and kind man who does not speak English, you will be delighted with the communication technique he has developed which entails him speaking Chinese into his phone, clicking for translation, then holding the phone to your ear as you lie face down on the treatment table with dozens of needles in your back and a voice emerges saying: You will rest for a while now.

6. After the needles are removed the doctor will then begin a treatment called cupping which will feel like supersonic leeches sucking the marrow out of your bones and when you are finished your back will look like a post modern painting.

7. After that you will crawl into a taxi and make your way back home, climb into bed and sleep, wake up, eat potato chips, sleep again, and repeat for days and days letting the memory of the usual five hours of sleep per night drift away like some horrible nightmare that has finally subsided.

8. On the sixth day, after your second visit to the Chinese doctor, a miraculous transformation will occur. The pinched nerve will be released allowing you to walk somewhat normally again. You the reborn, you the resurrected, you the superhuman will find yourself in a state of euphoria.

9. And then you will make dinner, and it will be chicken soup, and into this chicken soup you will put all of the wisdom you have gained through your hours and days of endless contemplation. And then you will sit in a chair and be in awe that you are able to sit for more than five minutes while eating this awesomeness, drinking the broth of liberation, as you begin counting down the days until you submit your letter of resignation and book your flight to Spain thereby filling you with hope and divine inspiration - that you can do this, that you are almost there, that you are stronger than you ever thought you were.

10. Somehow this will make it all seem worthwhile.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Liberty's Flame ON

After seeing last week's New Yorker cover, I
Liberty's Flameout, John W Tomac
have a few things to say. Yes, the country is on a slippery slope right now, I think we all know that. But, I have never felt more proud of the activism in the US. Glad to see everyone pulling together. This tweet from Bernie Sanders says it all: President Trump, you made a big mistake. By trying to divide us up by race, religion, gender and nationality you actually brought us closer.

No matter what the end result of this American disaster we are living in now, I remain firmly seated in optimism. I love it that my friends on FB are speaking their minds - people I haven't seen posting in a year, or people who are normally ultra pc but have finally hit the wall. I love it that we are more engaged in human rights and protecting the environment than ever before. I love it that all of this is on the table.

My apologies to artist John Tomac (and New Yorker) for snagging your image without permission. I could not help myself. It is so powerful and moving, I want to remember this, always. It's a dark vision. A wake up call. Not tomorrow, not next month. Unity is needed now more than ever. My vision: This is not the end. Not at all. This is just the beginning. Light that fucking flame again!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Beware Hate Speech

What a moving day it has been. After reading an article on the BBC website about Holocaust Remembrance Day (today), Beware hate speech, says Auschwitz Holocaust survivor, I posted a link on my Facebook page. I doubt if there will be more than a few likes, even with my dozens of Jewish friends. It is one thing about Facebook that I find annoying - the unspoken rules of etiquette that exclude such heavy topics. Although I understand this, this happy, feel-good world of Facebook, I have the need to share a story and so have decided to do it here.

While teaching at a university in Saudi Arabia during 2014-15, I heard more than one student say they thought Hitler had the right idea by killing so many Jews. I shuddered each time I heard this, yet did not reply. It was impossible to reply with any degree of honesty and still hope to keep my job. Now that I am no longer there, I feel it is important to address these words of hatred. To these former students I have to say to you: The people who were exterminated during WWII were not only Jews, they were real human beings, with real lives, real families and real emotions. Just like you.

After living in the mid-east for over two years I have a better understanding of where these hateful words come from. The existence of the state of Israel is perhaps one of the biggest reasons. Yet it is a fact, the place does exist, and no matter how much hate-propaganda is taught, I do not think that Israel will cease to exist.

My question: What does teaching hate accomplish?

Underlying all of this is the most difficult thing of all - the global merging of cultures. It does not seem likely this going to end, the internet will make sure of that. We are in such a difficult phase of world history. On some primitive level there is the need to defend our tribes and expel foreigners. Although I understand this, it seems this is what has created the dangerous hate-propaganda that I heard in Saudi Arabia, and that I hear now in the US with the new administration.

With all of this in mind, I find this day of incredible importance. The Beware Hate Speech article sheds some much needed light on our present day dilemmas:

"As the UK marks Holocaust Memorial Day, Mrs Pollack issues a stark warning about the importance of learning the lessons from history. 'We're not talking about barbarians,' says Mrs Pollack. 'We're not talking about primitive society. The Germans were well-advanced, educated, progressive. Maybe civilization is just veneer-thin. We all need to be very careful about any hate-propaganda.'"

Another moving moment today was on youtube: BBC Antiques Roadshow (15th January 2017) - a powerful and emotional Holocaust Memorial with survivors sharing their keepsakes and stories, incredibly moving stories.

Hope you enjoy it. Keep the faith. We are all one.

xx jai

Monday, December 26, 2016

The UAE does Christmas

What a surprise to see this here in the UAE: a polar bear in the mall just like you would see Santa in a mall in the US. People were lining up for photos and just before I snapped this shot an Arab man and his son posed in front of this polar bear. I wanted (so badly) to ask him if I could take his picture, but seemed that would've been just a bit over the top.

Why is this so shocking? I suppose because I lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for a year (where I wasn't allowed to utter the words Merry Christmas in public) and thought that all Arab countries would be the same. How wrong I was! This is a truly multi-cultural country, with a truly open heart.

When I arrived here in March I found out that the locals, the Emiratis, make up just 15% of the UAE population. The rest is a mix of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Filipinos, and many more, including Americans and Brits. Perhaps this is the UAE's version of the American experiment. And of course there are differences. This isn't a democratic society, but then again, is the US? How is it that Hillary won the popular vote yet will not be our president? Hey, how's that democracy thing working out?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defecting. I'm still American, and still love that country. What I don't love is the ignorance towards the Arab countries and the religion of Islam. This country I'm living in respects the right to freedom of religion. Period. Well, for the most part. Unless you are Jewish. To which I have no choice but to clamp my mouth shut because no matter what I would say it would probably offend someone or be taken the wrong way. What I can say is that there are Jewish people living in the UAE and as far as I know they don't have any problems here. There is even information online that claims there is a secret Jewish synagogue in Dubai.

After my encounter with the polar bear I walked out of the shopping mall and ran into a teacher I'd worked with, an Emirati woman. I'd forgotten her name but remembered her face clearly. We looked at each other and smiled, then she said, 'Happy Christmas!' I just about died from happiness. So often it feels I am so far away from home, so far away from the traditions I grew up with, so lonely without those things around, and then something like that happens.

Merry Christmas & Happy Hanukkah.

xx jai

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dubai, a place of illusions

It was Wednesday, 7:18am, the morning drive into Dubai. I'd been sitting in traffic for twenty minutes, crawling along, when it struck me that we were moving so slowly I could practically pull out my notebook and write. In fact, that is exactly what I did:

To my left the sun is rising, a glow of bright white behind the horizon. To my right a short row of beige cement buildings with shops: Al Panoroma, Al Ghazlan, Orient Palace. A quarter block ahead is Enoc service center. In front of me is a silver Mitsubishi Mirage, identical to the one I am driving. I feel fairly confident that I could walk to work faster. The silver Mitsubishi changes to the left lane and a black Mitsubishi Pajero cuts in. I brake, stop, scribble, move forward three feet then stop again.

I approach an underpass with a billboard, the flow of traffic increases slightly but I can still write and steer with my knee. It's an ad for the local phone company, five Emirate children holding out bright green gift boxes with red bows. In the center is a plump 8 or 9 year old boy, smiling. I see this billboard every morning. It has always bothered me. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because it is so not aligned, so not a reflection of what I am in, what we are all in, a traffic jam, eight lanes of cars churning out fumes. And of course it's fake, it's an advertisement, it's not supposed to be real, it's supposed to transport us, to allure us, draw us into another world. Yet it doesn't.

A copper colored Renault Duster cuts in front of me, then a Ford Explorer the size of an army tank. The size, the staggering size of these vehicles blows me away. The petrol consumption freakish. Back to that boy. I try to imagine what he was thinking when that photo was snapped, what the photographer was saying, what the other four children around him were saying. Then I think of what Stephen Hawking said last week about our 1000 year deadline, that our human race will not be able to sustain, at our current rate of resource depletion, life as we know it on this planet.

And the children continue to smile, looking down on the the 311 in Dubai, watching hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks chugging along, trapped within these systems, archaic unsustainable systems that get us to work and back. I am tired of being in this contraption. Three and a half hours a day in this thing.

I try to think of solutions, but it is too massive, too much. I remember a conversation with some new friends when I first arrived in the UAE. We were driving, of course, and looking out the windows at the scenery, looking for a place to eat. It wasn't actually a conversation, it was more of a thinking out loud thing. 'It's not sustainable,' I had said, reflecting on my first impressions of this country, 'It'll be too hot here one day and too expensive for people to live here.'

The car was silent. Uncomfortably silent. And it's not that I'm full of doom and gloom, it just popped into my head, a reality that needed to be acknowledged. Because there are plenty of things that could be done to at least try to conserve resources and live in a more environmentally conscious way. And perhaps some are being done. But I quickly realized this was a place to embrace illusions, illusions that nothing will ever change, illusions that resources will not be depleted, that our lives and the systems we function within, are just fine.

The flow of traffic picks up and I close my notebook. The sun pulls itself up higher in the sky. And I wonder what this world will be like for that plump eight year old boy when he's fifty-eight.