Friday, April 27, 2018

Do Something

When asked for advice about art making we use the sage words from Jasper Johns 1964 sketch book:
Take an object/ Do something to it/ Do something else to it.

In February we were in The Woodlands just north of Houston for the Inspire Film Festival for the screening of One Beach Plastic the short film about our project. We were on stage for the Q&A and presented a hands-on workshop with the Arts Council. Read our blog report Out There.

Unbeknownst to us, in the audience was Dawn Caldwell, sixth grade science teacher, who took our story to heart and wrote: 

"I, like so many others,  am sure, was inspired by your story in One Plastic Beach and have shared the story with my students and our whole, Coulson Tough K-6, community.  We have taken your story to heart and and moved to action and are attempting to "curate" the lunchroom plastic. We are just getting started but hope to be able to create something in time for Earth Day, April 22nd.  We will have an opportunity to auction off our creative something on the 21st and donate that money to bring art therapy to children with cancer at Texas Children's Hospital here in The Woodlands.  I was wondering if as we get closer if you might be able to "consult" with us via Skype or something.  As a science teacher I am doing a great job teaching about the impact of plastic on our planet but... coaching the children to create something visually appealing is intimidating. Let me know and THANK YOU for the inspiration to make a difference and raise awareness for plastic responsibility."

We were thrilled to learn that Dawn was inspired by our film, who in turn, inspired her students to collect plastic from the school cafeteria, naming their project, One Plastic Lunchroom!  Hmmmmm…..we have beach plastic, street plastic, house plastic and now a whole new category — Lunchroom Plastic! 

We set a date/time for a Skype. Unfortunately, our desktop computer is so antiquated (circa 2004), after many fits and starts, after much fussing about with Skype and Facetime we settled into an old-fashioned, (circa 1874) phone conversation.

We told the students about our first category of collecting — lids of all kinds, colors and sizes and how we liked the look of the concentric circles. We explained that we use the pieces of plastic like brush strokes on the canvas — and described the wrangling that goes in to every artwork we make, the playful banter, the arguments going back and forth until we finally agree. 

We encouraged the students to just get started. 
"Take an object/ Do something to it/ Do something else to it."
— simply begin—the notion is that the human mind is miraculous and wants above all to express itself and to let the materials speak — as you work with the pieces of plastic they will find their own place.

There are no rules for making art except for the idea that the human being has been doing it for ±40,000 years. Imagine the bottle of the human genome with its content label: bone, muscle, fat, connective tissue, art, science & curiosity. We recommend The Origins of Creativity by E.O. Wilson's (Harvard biologist). 

Dawn wrote: "With your direction we set up a table right in the middle of our sixth grade hallway with two a white and a black canvas.  It is AWESOME watching the children and teachers and pretty much whoever passes by add a little bit of something."

Here's their creation station with bins of plastic. By letting passersby do something and then do something else, they reached some remarkable conclusions.

Their fund-raising efforts were a huge success. At the silent auction they raised over $850 that will be donated to the Periwinkle Foundation's Arts in Medicine Program at Texas Children's Hospital.

The students did something, then they really did something else.

They are champions!!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

No Drilling, No Way.

For the "Listening Session" hosted by Congresspeople Mike Thompson, Jackie Speier and Jared Huffman on Tuesday, March 27 at the Bay Model, Judith put together this "NEVER FORGET" poster.

Lest we forget, we begin every power point presentation with two photographs that have shaped our work as artists. Earthrise 1968 by Bill Anders and an oil-soaked bird from the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. 

Even though Kehoe Beach seems far way from oil-drilling we still find clumps of oil and tar balls on the beach. And what is plastic anyway but oil (albeit transformed) washing up on the beach? We remember the 2007 Cosco Busan heavy fuel oil spill and the 1971 collision of two oil tankers in the Bay that had a big impact on the birds of Bolinas.

We do not forget, the warm day at the beach in 2011, when Judith stepped on a tar ball. Such a distressing mess that we almost gave up.

As a friendly-reminder gift to the CongresspeopleJudith created souvenir statuettes, a piece of tar from Kehoe Beach mounted on a DVD base. An aide-mémoire that the problem of oil is not a distant pipe dream — it is here now.

The standing-room only crowd at the Bay Model was revved. Various stakeholders, invited speakers (lawyers, scientists) and the public expressed their views about the proposed drilling. Speakers included such luminaries as Frances Gulland senior scientist at the Marine Mammal Center and David Helvarg, executive director of Blue Frontier and youth from Heirs to the Ocean.

As chance would have it Judith sat next to Assemblyman John Dunlap (now 95) and his bride Mary Lu Kennelly (married in 2016). John was a regular customer at Judith's health food store Optimum Foods in Napa (1974-85). 

In the early Seventies John (D-Solano & Napa Counties) along with Assemblymen Alan Sieroty (D-Los Angeles County) helped form an alliance of coastal stewards. That set the stage for the launch in 1972 of Proposition 20, the California Coastal Initiative, aimed at regulating coastal development that resulted in the California Coastal Commission and the long term vision of protecting the coast. He never imagined some 45 years since the establishment of the Coastal Commission that there would even be a discussion of off-shore oil drilling, let alone a true threat by theTrump Administration. 

We were thrilled to stand with such stalwarts as John Dunlap who's vision for a healthy and accessible coast was good then and is good today. We added our voices to the message being sent to Washington, DC.

No drilling, no way.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Original Minds

When Elia Haworth calls - Richard answers. He is always at the ready to read on her Original Minds radio program that airs Saturday mornings on KMWR. Elia is an expert at the art of the interview and her lively banter brings out the best in her guests. Over the years her invitations have encouraged Richard on his writing path giving him the opportunity to test out stories that he posts on his website: 

We were in the middle of a 3-day, 2-night all inclusive overnight with grandkids Clem and Wishbone so we all were up and out early to make it to Point Reyes for the 9 AM show. On time, because, radio does not wait. The kids were intrigued by the studio, the microphones, the audio mixing board and the mystery of sound waves. It was a first, a thrill of the lifetime, when Elia let the kids introduce themselves to the listening audience.

Hear the story of Red Bull Storms the Gate on Original Minds

Richard read his tale of the Red Bull Storms the Gate, that illuminates the story of The Palace of Fine Arts. It's the story of witnessing a bizarre encounter of a 3-ton SUV with a retaining wall (no injuries). He began with a short teaser, Art Degree Zero, about his first public speaking gig to the Women's Club of his hometown of Kankakee, Ill. in 1972.

No trip to Point Reyes would be complete without a stop at the Bovine Bakery to fuel up with gluten-laden treats. Then we headed for Kule Loklo, a Coast Miwok Cultural exhibit, a re-creation of village community life that uses traditional methods and materials to explain the abundant lifestyle enjoyed by the coastal tribes. It was volunteer clean-up day to prepare for a gathering so Clem pitched in.

Bear Valley Visitor Center is park headquarters and education central with displays of wildlife and history and nurdles.  OH MY! 

Looks like "nurdling" is now an officially a verb. It's a suggested beach time activity, described as a treasure hunt for trash. The Park Service is even offering "Revenge of the Nurdles," an appropriately named ranger-led beach walk. Revenge, indeed! The number of nurdles in the marine environment has surpassed the number of stars in the Milky Way. Nurdles have been washing up on Kehoe Beach for years. We first became aware of nurdles in 2006 when a back injury put Richard on Injured Reserve, unable to perform the stoop labor motions of picking up. A quick web search of the little things we'd found opened a new world of astonishing facts about human impact on the world.

Two more grands joined the party the next day. What a great shape these kids bring to life. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Message in a Bottle 2018

Art show, science fair, film festival and reunion.
However you want to describe it, Message in a Bottle 2018 at the Palace of Fine Arts
was all of that and so much more—
a great confab of ocean-lovers and plastic pollution activists
and students with their families who were eager to show off their work on display.

The scale and scope — a tidal wave of hope for the oceans — a buoy of up-lift.

Although we keep up with the plastic people via social media, we love being in the real (not virtual) presence of friends and colleagues Science Programs Director from 5 Gyres Carolynn Box, artist Alicia Escott, and The Story of Stuff Stiv Wilson.
After years of knowing about Aaron Hazelwood, the plumber and beachcomber extraordinaire, we had never met. He has amassed quite a collection from Ocean Beach:

We were happy to compare notes and to see among the hundreds and hundreds of the red Kraft Handi-snack cheese spreaders he has collected that he too had one green one. Back in 2010, we had corresponded with Kraft about their efforts to go "green." His find validated our thesis.

Internationally renown photographer Mandy Barker, all the way from Great Britain, was in San Francisco at Fort Mason for the Photofairs/San Francisco and at the Palace for Surfrider's Message in the Bottle. 

Her latest project Beyond Drifting is a remarkable re-creation of microscopic views of plastic and plankton that are presented in large scale prints and as an old science book circa 1830.

Thanks to the Internet and email we have had a long collegial long-distance correspondence. In 2015 we contributed footballs to her World Cup series. This year when she called for Coke bottle caps we shipped her a box full.

We were thrilled to add the monumental Palace of Fine Arts to our growing list that we are calling, tongue in cheek, "Scenes of Triumph." When we began our project it was something of a hobby—even artists need a hobby, right? But in the 20+ years of our project, our notoriety has been on an ever-expanding trajectory. Are we glad about this? More than for some notion of fame and "fortune" we believe we've brought awareness of plastic pollution to venues all over the planet, from Cairo to Lincoln Center, from Alaska to Brazil and on this evening in the grand exhibit hall of The Palace of Fine Arts.

Originally built for the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition as a venue to showcase some 11,000 works of art — through the years The Palace went through a bad time of ruin then was restored in the 60's. The enormous space now hosts, corporate events, trade shows and even Message in a Bottle 2018. The scenic grounds are a popular tourist destination with the rotunda, colonnades and lagoon serving as popular sites for wedding photography. 

Richard's Red SUV unwinds a story about The Palace and his commute to San Francisco.

Our "Spiff "and "Bottles" hung in a prominent position just inside the front door of the exhibition hall. Such fun to watch visitors taking a long good look up close at our "Barrette Wreathe." 

Yes, "A Scene of Triumph."

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Out There

NASA's Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. In 1990 when it reached the farthest edge of our solar system, its camera looked back and snapped the first-ever picture of the Earth, the pale blue dot, and the planets from its vantage point beyond Neptune.

To be in the orbit of Frank Locatell and John Casini, pioneers who championed the project at Jet Propulsion Lab, and to see them in the film "The Farthest" was one of the highlights of the Inspire Film Festival. Voyager carries the notorious "Golden Record" of the sounds and pictures of our planet—it's still traveling at 38,000 miles an hour. Houston, can you hear me? JPL is still in contact with Voyager at this writing. Here is Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield covering David Bowie's Space Oddity.  Too bad we can't send Voyager this song but remarkably Dr. Casini said the computer on board has only the power of the computer we carry around in our pockets—not your smart phone, but your key fob.

Film festival founder and director Jane Minarovic with programming assistance from David Holbrooke brought together a stellar lineup of film makers and subjects who are inspiring exemplars of the human spirit. From ping pong whiz Wally Green in "The Tables" to Kevin Pearce in "The Crash Reel" it was a star-studded weekend. And our One Plastic Beach during the opening night festivities sparkled on the big screen to the accompaniment of cello player Ben Sollee "Ditch the Van" with film-inspired fashions by Mindy Fisher.

There is much to be said about the size of Texas and Southern hospitality. All weekend we were in the warm embrace of the festival team with old friend David and his able assistant Hayley Nenadal. Our "minder" Betty gave us a big howdy welcome with drawl so thick some of our cohort were asking for simultaneous translation. And everywhere we went there were people and paparazzi wanting to snap a pic. We could get used to this.

Wally and Kevin became our true inspirational heros. Wally as he said of growing up in Harlem "I should be either dead or in jail" but Ping Pong saved his life. Tables were set up at The Woodland's Market Street Central Park and he took on all comers spotting 15 points and using his cell phone as a paddle. The most fun was to hear his trash talking hip hop banter—infectious and joyous. Kevin's story goes from the highest peaks to death's doorstep. He was regularly beating current snowboard gold medalist Shawn White when a near fatal head injury brought him into a new life of generosity and wide arms of truly loving life. Do we want to be more open hearted? more embracing? Greater appreciators of every second? Yes, Please. Gimme some'o that.

We rolled into the The Woodlands Arts Council with a suitcase full of Kehoe Beach plastic for our hands-on workshop. Patricia Dillon from the Houston Chron filed this report.

We had folks making their own arrangements and photographing the results. Once again, the remarkable truth of every individual's "signature" came shining through. What is that signature? From the most humble materials, that lesson shines through.

Carl Sagan proclaimed, "There are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on Earth."

On Monday at Kehoe Beach we were sure the sand was winning the count when the northerly wind had blown away the fog and was whipping up a pelting sandstorm. Although the sand stung their faces, Judith with visionary artist Rebecca DiDomenico, remained undaunted. When the dust settled, they could see nurdles among the tiniest flecks of plastic and sand.

Counting the grains of sand and thinking about the number of galaxies and the number of stars and then the number of nurdles in the sandy firmament, reminds—  

Yes, we are here and we are here.
Come as you are — leave different.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Power to the Polls

First thing this morning we got word that the United States Senate had failed to reach a compromise deal with a short term spending bill so the US government is shutdown. 


Shutdown means that all government agencies are closed. The offices of the Point Reyes National Seashore are closed. Even Kehoe Beach is closed. They closed the beach? Yes, we know it's like saying, they closed the ocean… but those DC politicos do have audacious thoughts about power. They are talking AGAIN about off-shore oil drilling!!!

Today is THE WOMEN'S MARCH so we headed to the Power to the Polls March in Point Reyes Station to join with the contingent from the Mainstreet Moms and Indivisible West Marin on the corner as State Route 1 turns into Point Reyes Station.

With blue flags in hand and with Richard's sign,"Shutdown swindler, Don the con" and Judith's sign, "Stormy Daniels === no climate denier" with Richard's addendum, "cloudy with a chance of meatballs" we stood our ground with an enthusiastic crowd of West Marinites and folks who came "over-the-hill" to join in the gathering. We were happy to be in good company with the blue wave rallying cry to "get registered" and "VOTE."

Most trips to Point Reyes include a stop at Toby's Feed Barn to pick up a bale of straw or to check on what's showing in the art gallery.  Now on display, Toni Littlejohn's "The Paint of Paint" is an affirmation of why we fuss and fight for the freedom of expression and what can happen when we give sway to the powerful forces of gravity and geology. We like to say, "What would we do, if we fought the Revolution and won!" Here it is...

Along the way we did a bit of surreptitious guerrilla marketing. Think shop-lifting, only in reverse. It's called drop-shopping. As a tactic to subvert commercialism, artists add their own products to the shelves. Richard's Make Siberia Warm Again hats on the rack in Toby's gift shop are sure to be a "hot seller." A little cognitive dissonance is always ready in our artist's tool-kit.

Are we worried about the future for our grandkids? You bet. But we remember our favorite meme—"It wasn't B-52's that brought down the Berlin Wall—it was Rock n' Roll and blue jeans: joie de vivre and style." The Tao seeks balance.

Friday, December 29, 2017


Christine Kristen (aka LadyBee) has, for years, been a powerful force on the Playa, Black Rock City in Nevada and today she cut a fine silhouette on the trail to Beach Kehoe. We have admired her work as Burning Man's art curator and are so happy that during this last year our friendship has grown. It was a special thrill to spend a day at the beach where the conversation rolled in like the waves.

Back in 2003 Richard met up with LadyBee when she and Larry Harvey came to Richard's Trillium Press in Brisbane about doing prints of David Best's Temple of Honor as a fund raiser for the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF). Trillium had long been leveraging print projects to help pay for artworks, large and small. David Best officiated at our wedding in the Temple of Stars in 2004 (we like to say attended by 35,000 of our closest friends—the caterer never showed up but the band was awesome).

In the whoop-de-doo of Burning Man, Best's Temple functions as a somber memorial for the dearly departed. It is burned to ashes the last night of the event. Best wanders slowly around the gathered circle of 1000's and quietly says, over and over, "It's not your fault" while on this night, the thump of dance music blaring from giant speakers is replaced by the voice of Diva Marisa Lenhardt echoing across the otherwise silent desert. Anyone dry-eyed? Not a chance…give a listen to Marisa singing here at the Ghost Ship Elegy at Grace Cathedral. Get out your hankies. 

From 1999 to 2008 LadyBee helped to shape all things large and small of the Burning Man visual aesthetic. Today for the large — she continues as the archivist and manager for the Burning Man art collection. And for the small — she has the definitive collection of Burning Man jewelry and recently co-authored with Karen Christians and George Post The Jewelry of Burning Man. Selected pieces are included in "No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man"at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, in Washington DC, March 30, 2018 - January 21, 2019.

Although Burning Man is best known for the transitory, the ephemeral, the jewelry Lady Bee has collected are enduring artifacts of the creative and generous spirit of the event. When she talks about the artists who gifted her the pieces for the collection, her face shines with admiration of their skill in crafting rare and beautiful work but it is their generosity that touches her heart. In this gift economy, trade is not expected in return. The gift is the gift.

The ethos of Burning Man has been codified into ten guiding principles that include gifting, radical inclusivity, radical self-reliance, participation, and de-commodification and leave no trace. The costume play and jewelry are a way that people can freely explore and express who they want to be. 

It has been a bone-dry December, with below average precipitation for the season, so there was not much plastic on the beach. Even so, during our afternoon stroll, each of us brought back a bag full of trash and treasure.

Since any plastic on the beach, even one piece, is heartbreaking, Richard and I have developed fun categories that help turn the despair of our task into a game. We compete to find:
the most (candy wrappers)

Lady Bee's keen eye and curatorial skills made her a champion beach plastic collector. Not only did she find this toy car - almost exactly the color of the sand (the hardest to see) she also found the head of a soldier and a full figure of a solder (the rarest and the most - 2 in 1 day). 

Just before dusk we headed back, skirting the edge of the Kehoe Creek inlet - a place that often harbors lots of plastic. We stopped to chat with an intense young man, poised with his camera focused on a pile driftwood. He said that by 3 AM he leaves his home in Oakland, arriving at the beach before dawn where he spends the entire day, until sunset then dark. In the last three years he has made that trip at least 75 times describing his wife as "a Point Reyes widow." The beach offers respite from intensity of his life as a writer. Coming out in February his latest novel In the Cemetery of the Orange Trees.

Often serendipity is at play at Kehoe so it was not exactly a surprise to run into Annie Hallett on the trail, in a hurry to get out to the beach before sunset. Annie, a long time Burner, artist extraordinaire, crafts masks and performance pieces who along with Pepe Orzan staged elaborate operas. Including the Omphalos Ritual of 2003.

Lady Bee's panoramic picture sums up the day — full of expansive vision on Playa Kehoe and of Playa Black Rock City.