Nine years ago

Nine years ago today, at this time (it is now 8:46 am eastern time) I was fast asleep in my bed in South Pasadena, California, when the World Trade Centers were being attacked. My mother called and woke me up at around 8 am west coast time and I immediately turned on the television. I was overwhelmed with a sadness like I had never felt, and through my tears went out to my studio and worked on the following painting:


It is oil on un-stretched canvas, 58 x 120 inches. I had begun the piece a day or so earlier, in sanguine pencil – a goat-herder, his wife and a couple of goats. It was part of my Lands and Peoples series, and was at the time that I was just beginning to bring the abstract biomorphic patterns into the paintings. My feelings and thoughts on that day and the following days were consumed with the losses of so many, that overwhelming sadness, and a sure feeling that I, too, was to be devoured in flames. And at night as the fighter jets circled the city low overhead, I lay in bed drifting in and out of sleep, as all the thoughts, feelings and images flooded my consciousness (and most probably also my subconscious and unconscious). I thought about how we got here, how fragile and at the same time resilient it all is. I thought about primordial oceans.

From Books to Brains: Selected Works 1990-2010

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):

On the street, Miami design district, December 5, 2009

On the street near Fratelli-Lyon, Miami Design District

Vincent”s Hand

Dutch Seascapes, Part One


Yesterday was a very good day. I went to Salem, MA to the Peabody Essex Museum (or go directly to museum history to get a sense of the rich history of this amazing museum) for the first time. Easy to find off the I-95, only minutes from Boston, a little over a half hour from Portsmouth NH, which makes it just under an hour from the doorstep of my home and studio. Easy to park, and as you emerge from the covered parking garage, you are immediately greeted with an imposing and impressive, newish-looking National Park Service Visitor’s Center. The recognizable logo ( ) instantly gave me the sense that I have now stepped on a kind of sacred ground, soil as important and deep and meaningful as that of the Grand Canyon. Not to mention that on a hot and humid New England summer’s day, this is a very welcome sight, my spirits lifted by just the thought of the level of air conditioning inside. But I had other things on my mind (well, actually on my stomach, which was discernibly growling).

Immediately to the right of the visitor center is the grand entrance of the Peabody Essex Museum, and as I pulled the enormous brass handle of the Oz-sized glass door, a friendly gentleman inside greeted me with something he probably says quite often:  “Heavy doors, huh?”, to which I replied “Yeah, it’s as if you are opening the whole front of the building!” The combination of his welcoming presence, uplifting light-flooded space with beautifully designed soaring walls composed of elements of brick and granite and/or marble, and the much anticipated flood of air conditioned air, all whooshed me into a blissful state immediately. I am happy to say that my initial uplifted moments in the museum were matched by the rest my time there. Since it was already a little after noon, I was beyond hungry, I had risen early and ate only a light breakfast (for me). Now that I had paid my entry fee and obtained tickets for all the special events (most of them can only be participated in with a specific ticket), the first order of business was definitely to fuel my tank (after a quick visit to the women’s restroom, which I was happy to find right at the entrance to the café). The friendly girl that took my credit card when I paid, told me that the Atrium Café was one option, as well as the Garden Restaurant, which, although the pricier choice, was exquisite. This is the kind of place that writes out the prices in word form under the food description (sixteen, for example, see the menu here).  This time, being alone as I was, I chose the simpler, quicker, less expensive option. I did want to make the 1 pm gallery talk in the exhibition that had brought me into the museum in the first place. And since it was almost quarter after twelve, I had better eat and get on with it, possibly squeezing in a few first floor galleries before heading up to the third floor.

I was delighted to find two wonderful looking soups to choose from, although the salads in the display/self-serve fridge looked freshly-made and tasty as well.  I chose the New England Clam Chowder over the Split Pea with Ham. A basket of what appeared to be freshly baked sourdough rolls happily came into my field of vision after I had ladled myself a paper-bowl sized portion of the “chowdah” (that is how it is said in this part of the country). A nicely stocked large bowl of small metal wrapped butter pats was right there as well, and as I removed a few of them, my salivary juices began to flow, they were softly melted, eager to join that roll in as quick as I could pay and get to the table with my tray and my soup and my nicely chilled Nantucket Nectars half lemonade/ half iced-tea. I pondered the drink options, as this was something I would never usually have, trying to steer clear of any caffeine after breakfast, and not needing the sugar. But the nice gal who took my credit card told me that it was not too sweet, she did not like their lemonade usually since it was too sweet, but this she has had and liked and she swears it is less sweet. I felt a rush of excitement as I began to enjoy my lunch, attacking the soup with the plastic spoon like a cavewoman, oblivious to how I may be looked upon by the others in the atrium and at the other tables.

pem seascape lobby shot

pem atrium

-Jill Poyourow, August, 2009

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