Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Artist's Touch: Art in the Family

Sarah, Theresa, Taylor and Craig Bush at Floriopolis
PANAMA CITY — Craig Bush described his family as “unconventional” during a recent conversation at Floriopolis gallery.

“We all tend to be nonconformist,” he said. “We don’t listen very well.”

What they do well is pursue their muses. Craig, 64, is a retired educator, novelist and painter. His wife, Theresa, 62, is a retired paralegal, jeweler and crafter. Their daughters — Sarah, 36, and Taylor, 29 — are artists working in acrylics, ink and other mediums.

All four gathered on the couch and chairs at Floriopolis to talk about the way art is part of their lives, both as a family and as individuals.

“I was poor growing up, so there wasn’t a whole lot I couldn’t do,” Theresa said. “I still feel that way. I was taught if you want it, then you do it. You make it. I made things because I needed to have them.”

Theresa in her workshop.
Theresa has sewed and made crafts all her life, but retirement gave her time to focus on creative pursuits. After taking an Education Encore class on jewelry design at Gulf Coast State College, she discovered a love of jewelry making — though she wears almost none herself. She also does stained glass art, baskets, felt figures and more.

Her work is for sale at Floriopolis, RTA Designs, and Shipwreck Ltd., but she hopes to do more online sales in the new year. Her Etsy.com store is Four Free Spirits.
“I don’t want to make a lot of money, I  just want to make stuff and get rid of it so I can make more stuff,” Theresa said. Sarah responded, “I want to make enough (money) to replace my low-level job.”

Art by Sarah Bush
Craig said Sarah was in middle school when they all recognized her artistic bent. Her successes encouraged the rest of the family to “kind of dabble” in art more. But Sarah recalls always having art in their home.

“That’s what you do in life. You make stuff,” Sarah said. “When I was little, Pop would write messages in symbols and have me decode it, and that’s a lot of what I do now with iconography, symbology and archetypes. ... My parents have always been creative, as long as I can remember. Even my grandmother was always making a quilt or sewing something.”

When Sarah was in daycare, Craig would walk her home in the afternoons. They collected pieces of colored glass on the roadside each day and glued them to a length of driftwood.

“It’s still hanging on our wall today,” he said. “It’s a little bit bizarre.”

Sarah received an art scholarship to Gulf Coast State College, but kept taking art labs instead of other core courses. After some time focusing on drawing and “building sturdy things,” Sarah said she’s trying to go back to “actually painting.” Her work is online at SarahBushArt.com

Art by Taylor Bush
Taylor said Sarah was her early inspiration, and she took the same classes with the same teachers Sarah had. Taylor creates black-and-white designs and is looking into making prints, fabric designs and possibly T-shirt images, mass producing some of her drawings.
Craig’s debut novel, “Hometown,” was released this autumn, and he’s just completed the first draft of his next novel, “The Ninth Rainbow,” which he hopes to publish in early 2015. “It’s somewhat apocalyptic, but it ends up with a lot of hope,” he said.

Of the creative process, Craig said he follows where the characters lead him: “I often don’t have a clue what they’re doing. When it’s best for me, I can’t type fast enough to keep up with it.”

Craig also paints impressionistic landscapes that he describes as “a little bit Van Gogh-ish.” He has never tried selling any of his paintings, adding that “none of us is great at marketing ourselves.”

As a child, Craig’s imagination was encouraged by a teacher who gave him a copy of “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein. But reading Herman Hesse in the 1960s made him want to be a writer. He studied journalism in college before shifting to education.

Craig at his writing desk.
“With the novel release, I think I had the right expectation, which was no expectations,” Craig said. “It’s shown me the importance of people in the arts being willing to help one another. It’s not a competition.”

The children have their own places now, but Theresa still had some trepidation about how Craig’s retirement could cut into her creative time. Over the years, each of them has learned to value a level of solitude, but she said it took “some adjustment” when he began staying home all day.

“I think we all appreciate our alone time a lot,” Taylor said, adding that the creative process requires solitude as well as preparation and openness. “Sometimes it’s sort of like a transmission from the universe, and you’re there to catch that. I think that’s the point of the whole thing. It’s super magical.”

Too early to tackle the tree?

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Say what you will about people who play Christmas music “too early” or put up their trees and other decorations before Thanksgiving. I’ve probably said something similar, myself, in the past.

But our Christmas tree was up last Sunday, which is early, even for us. Earlier, still, in context to the trees of my youth.

Once upon a time, my sister and I would accompany our parents to a tree farm somewhere outside of Century, Fla. , to walk rows of cedar and pick out a likely candidate. Once we got it chopped down, loaded onto the car, and lugged back home, Dad would trim low branches and prep the base for bringing it indoors.

Invariably, our cat or dog would drink from the water in the base. (These days, we only worry about a cat chewing an electric cord while climbing the metal limbs.) I remember Dad wrapped the lights, and Mom was in charge of icicles. I was in charge of dropping the fragile glass ornaments and then stepping on the slivers. It was a holiday tradition.

Once, I went with my uncle to pick up a pre-cut tree from one of many stores that had them leaning outside the entrance. On the drive home, he saw another store that had nicer trees, and stopped in to swap his out. Still trying to figure out how that worked.

These trees, already well on the way to dying by the time they came in the door, didn’t have a long window for use. At most, with a gas heater running 10 feet away, they’d last about a week. And even then, the last few days before Christmas would require wearing shoes in the living room to avoid getting prickly pine needles in your feet.

My pragmatic Grandma Simmons had an aluminum Christmas tree that she used for — I don’t know — decades? So I didn’t sneer at the advent (see what I did there?) of fake plastic trees some years later; it was just a tree of a different color.

Since establishing our own home(s), we have had several of these artificial firs over the years. We purchased our most recent tree from a friend’s garage sale. It’s about 7 feet tall and has built-in lights.

We put it together last Sunday, in part because we wanted to test the lights, but mostly because it will make our Thanksgiving Day (if we can wait that long) decorating party that much more fun — no wasting valuable decorating time having to lug the box out of the garage and putting it together when we’re ready.

Plus, we get to enjoy the lights a little longer.

Since moving into our current home, we’ve put up two Christmas trees each season. The one downstairs carries our collections of pop culture ornaments, and I have put up Grandma Simmons’ old tree in our bonus room at the top of the stairs, loading it with little handmade ornaments our kids brought home from school over the years.

This year, the upstairs will house our older fake plastic tree (the one that used to stand downstairs). We’ll decorate it with pink ornaments in memory of my sister-in-law, who died Sept. 12 of complications while under treatment for leukemia. My wife picked out the ornaments, and it was her idea to put up the second tree.

Our trees have always held objects of deep emotion and memory, from the faded plastic reindeer that Grandma Simmons gave me as a child (and that my father enjoyed as a child), to the Scarlet O’Hara ornaments we bought for Grandma Massey’s tree (and inherited upon her passing), to the “Joy” ornaments we hang in memory of our child-in-spirit, who died too young.

That’s the importance of these things, after all. Not when they go up or come down, but what you do with them while they’re here. The memories made by the light of the tree, the people recalled, the love never lost.

But then, that’s the important part of anything, isn’t it?


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Seeing, believing more closely related than you know

PANAMA CITY BEACH — I wasn’t winking at you, if that’s what you thought as we passed in the store this week. Honest.

I was just testing my vision. I thought something was wrong with my right eye.

It happened when I was helping my son locate the correct windshield wipers for his car, and pulled my glasses from my jacket pocket so I could read the guidebook attached to the store shelf. With my glasses on, nothing came into focus — in fact, my sight was worse with them on.

I closed my left eye, and my right seemed useless, just a blur. I closed my right eye — and suddenly I could see clearly with my left one. With both eyes open, though, everything once more became a blur.

“Something’s wrong with my eye,” I said, and I must admit to a kernel of worry; I read and write for a living and for fun, and the prospect of a vision issue unsettled me.

I closed the right eye and used the left one, aided by the glasses, to find the windshield wipers Nathan needed. Then I told him we should find his mom, who was wandering around elsewhere in the store, so I could tell her about my vision problem.

As we walked through the aisles, I kept putting on my glasses — all a blur — and taking them off again, trying to focus with and without them, closing one eye and then the other. Winking, blinking, and nodding. Yep, my right eye was definitely messed up.

Here’s the Zen question that occurred to me then: If seeing is believing, then what is not-seeing?

I found my wife and told her the story I just told you, and she gave me a blank look, like she suspected I was punking her. I put on the glasses to demonstrate, and did the right-eye-shut test again, and again, only my left eye could focus.

“I think I see the problem,” my wife said as she poked her finger through the empty frame where a lens should have been and touched the lid of my closed right eye.

Immediately, I reached into my jacket pocket and found the missing lens.

“You’re lucky I’m a medical professional,” she said. “I can say with some confidence that you are not having a stroke.”

She laughed, and added that she couldn’t wait to tell this story to everybody she works with. I won’t tell you which body part her sister laughed off when she heard the story.

In my defense, our son didn’t notice the missing lens either. But that’s just because I suspect he’s as oblivious as I am. Besides, just how was I supposed to know there was something wrong with my glasses if I couldn’t see them?

That’s got to be at least as understandable as the guy who thought his family was giving him the silent treatment when, in fact, his hearing aid battery had died. (For the record, that was not me.)

From this perspective, seeing and believing became synonymous. And believing I couldn’t see made me blinder than ever.

I’m pretty sure there’s a useful life lesson in there somewhere, but it’s probably so obvious that I’m overlooking it.


TBT: Something From The Nightside

(This originally ran in The News Herald on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2004) 

WHAT WE'RE READING: The Nightside novels

In Something from the Nightside, private detective John Taylor returned to the dark, magical heart of London where he was born to find a teenage girl who had been eaten by a house that was not really a house.

The 2003 Ace book introduced Taylor, his preternatural gift for finding things, and the strange segment of the city where it's always 3 a.m., the moon is always full and things are never what they seem.

In the second book (late 2003) of Simon R. Green's projected six-part Nightside series, Agents of Light and Darkness, Taylor found himself fighting angels from both Above and Below after he was hired by a rogue priest to recover the Unholy Grail — the cup from which Judas drank at the Last Supper. Seems both sides thought it would give them the edge they needed to win their eternal war; needless to say, Taylor didn't like the odds of the Nightside surviving Judgment Day.

Now the third book, The Nightingale's Lament (2004), finds Taylor trying to figure out why fans are dying at their own hands after listening to the songs of the Nightside's latest singing sensation, Rossingnol — and what unearthly power her spiderlike managers hold over her.

(In March 2005, Ace is scheduled to release the fourth book, Hex and the City.)

Green is perhaps best known for his science fiction and fantasy series — the Deathstalker books chief among them. But the Nightside novels promise to supplant these, both in depth and scope.

Taylor runs the razor's edge, trusting neither the light nor the darkness — and trusted by neither side. He's an anti-hero for the ages, one who can reference both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Merlin the Magician, for instance. One who is as at ease jousting with knights as with biker chicks hopped up on demonic steroids.

The books are quick reads, mixing pulp detective yarns with Lovecraft all wrapped in wicked British humor. They also tend to follow a pattern that sets their protagonist and his few surviving friends against overwhelming odds — to which they respond with a shrug, a pull on a cigarette, and begin rolling up their sleeves.

You know this is liable to hurt later, but it's better to just get to it.

Now, that's the guy I want at my back when the traffic gets hungry and the spiders come out of the rotted woodwork and the angels turn people to salt at the fast-food joint and the nightingale's song makes death seem like a good idea. Someone to watch over you — to whack you upside the head and kick you in the behind and cast a protective spell and find the hidden path out of this mess.

Someone from the Nightside.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Rebel, rebel: The artist as agent of chaos

PANAMA CITY — I spent some time last Friday drawing on a wall at Floriopolis, the Beck Avenue gallery operated by artist Heather Parker. I had her permission — in fact, she invited me to do so — but something about applying a pen to the white wall (even though it was inside an art gallery) seemed like an act of rebellion.

Maybe that says something about my comfort level as a rebel.

The day prior, I interviewed Olga Guy, an artist based at CityArts Cooperative, who told me a story about painting her bedroom walls and doors as a teenager, much to her mother’s chagrin. (See this story to learn how that worked out for her.)

Drawing on Heather’s wall didn’t feel like graffiti. I didn’t have a statement to make. And while convention was being flouted, authority was not. Still, I think that’s what art is, at least the way my mind interprets it: A fundamental act of rebellion.

Against the mundane, the routine. Against the merciless march of time. Sometimes afflicting the comfortable, sometimes comforting the afflicted.

Follow me, here, because art can be a lot of things. An attempt to express divinity. To faithfully capture and reproduce a moment. To reveal emotion or provoke social change. To find patterns and draw order out of chaos, or to express chaos. It can even be as simple as a “pretty picture.”

And yet, all of this is rebellious. The act of creation presupposes that transitory creatures like us — who live and die in such a short span — have something of lasting meaning to contribute. That we defy the universe and the mortal constrictions it places on us.

We leave a message — a thought, a sound, an image, a performance — to be read, or listened to, or viewed by a stranger in another place and time, interpreted and remembered. We break the laws of physics every time we make something — or maybe we prove the theories of quantum entanglement by having an impact across space and time.

It’s a conundrum.

Art can be the product of experimentation, the result of inspiration (and, in turn, it can be inspiring to others). It is forward thinking — I will not be here tomorrow, but this is what I had to offer today — and thus it becomes disruptive, transformative for the creator as well as the viewer.

It’s also like the definition of sound: Unless someone sees it, reads it, hears it, then it’s not really communication. For artists, who most often labor in private, the patron’s eye (or ear) keeps them from feeling like a tree falling in a forest when no one’s around.

In coming weeks, you’ll meet a parade of local artists — painters, jewelers, dancers, musicians, writers and more — on these pages and at PanamaCity.com, as we begin an ongoing series we’re calling “Artist’s Touch.” I hope you’ll join me us we get to know the area’s creative spirits, examine the forms their work takes, and celebrate the rebels in our midst.