Actress? Impersonator? Multiple Personality? Story-Teller?  Cindy Sherman grew up in the 70’s and is one of my favorites from The Pictures Generation.  She is an artist whose subject is herself portrayed as a variety of people from fairy tales, to clowns, to high society women, to historical figures, to feminine stereotypes, to men and more. While these images are photographs of herself, she is the photographer who takes them. She builds the characters through dress and becomes them in a single photograph. She takes thousands of photos before she finds the right one that says it all.



Empathy refers to the capacity of understanding, perceiving and/or feeling another from their frame of reference. Cindy Sherman isn’t living these characters she personifies in these portraits, but she is imagining a relationship of herself and them in what it must be like. This is an act of empathy that comes with story-telling. The viewer too empathizes with these characters. Is it like  ‘dress up’ at home while alone with the TV? Yes and deeper. She gives these characters a chance in their ‘moment’ to live on, to be seen as human, to see ourselves in them and our differences from them. She has admitted to feeling  compassion for these characters and when you see them here you begin to understand why. It is like watching a tragedy and a comedy at the same time.

Let’s step out of this universe for a sec…don’t humans try and try after endless defeat after defeat? Living is a constant heroic act, is it not?. How we carry our trials and tribulations comes through in the way we dress and prep ourselves for the next new day. The breasts drop, the face gets tucked and mulled by make-up, the hair gets bleached young and perfected according to cultural norms of ‘beauty’. We work hard on ourselves despite the enemy of time. Living a long life of careful grooming or a fast, robust and furious one is still a tremendous achievement.



Back to reality.

Her work is mostly untitled because she wants the viewer to create their own narratives of these individuals. This feels like a Baroque oil portrait of a woman distraught by something that has just happened. We don’t know what happened but we can invent a story from the exposed clues of her body, her beautiful lace on the shoulders, the secrecy of the closed off curtain, she is half naked, was she desired or not treated right?… She is broken, vulnerable and appears to not know what to do next. I feel sorry for her. As a feminist artist Sherman hits the nail on the head with this one. She probes tragic realities that some women face all the time.



Rock on, love it, this woman is powerful, she rules. I know those shorts, the hair, make-up, the tattoo, the nails and rings, the perked lips, the way she sits, right? I bet she doesn’t have much to call her own, but her pride is there, she knows how to survive.

Despite the criticism around her work as ‘mockery’ of typing people, to place herself as these subjects isn’t a form of mockery at all.  It is as much about Cindy Sherman as those she portrays. She is a master of transformation, of sharing the world of people through trickery and artifice. The number of wigs, noses nails and eyes not to mention clothes and accessories stored in her studio is intriguing in itself. If you get a chance watch the video below and see more.

What makes her work profound for me is the fact that I feel I have seen or know these people somehow before, even though I obviously haven’t met them in real life. Do you? a little surreal, a deja vu perhaps… This makes sense to have seen these characters before because many of us grew up inundated with media and saw all walks of life through TV, film, the news… We travel and see this variety, we live in neighborhoods with other people who are different from and similar to us, we read about human cultures in books, we see them at the beach, strip bars, dance clubs, we walk our city streets and live next to the wild and crazy person up the road, or we know someone who knows someone who introduced us to someone who looks like this etc. It is easy to recognize ourselves but it is hard to empathize with those who are different from us. Our inner judge is a strong magistrate.




These characters are utterances of human culture regardless of era. They are iconic. We grow up with each other and ‘know’ people who could be close to a century older than us. For Cindy Sherman how the history of human life has been presented is of equal value to current mass-media representations of human culture, she researches her sources from everywhere.

Behind the furs, and silks isn’t a cool critic that manufactures identity, she sees and feels the human in everyone.

CINDY SHERMAN ON ART 21 roughly 25 mins

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Film Costumes to never forget

Period costume of Queens

Period Costume ‘Elizabeth’- Cate Blanchett


Cate Blanchett- gorgeous yellow

Fashion is often set by the costume designers in the film industry which influences a culture’s style.  Sometimes ‘Film’ hires fashion designers like Jean Paul Gautier. Here is a list of extraordinary styles that don’t fit current fashion but at the time they were made bear iconic status.

The following is worth the watch, do you agree with the pickings?

C’mon The Wizard of Oz? Really? Don’t think so people!

What’s your favorite of all time costume in film?

I might have to go with ‘to die for’ Brando’s sweaty tee…

Artist: Jordon Wolfson


 This is mesmerizing, creepy, both male and female, looks at you and knows you are looking back. A little too real. Watch the whole thing, it is unforgettable.


Do you find it attractive in a dark kind of way? Do you have a voyeur in you? What secrets does it share with you?



Natural hair


Which of these hairdos would suit you?

We all have a dialogue with our hair. Every morning we wake up and have to deal, short hair has its problems as does long. ‘No hair’ has its pros and cons as well. So we either fight its condition at the hour, or make concessions of various kinds. We often wake up with easy solutions of products and accessories or we put a hat on or make a hair appointment, or henna our hair if the crisis is on a weekend or like I often do just ‘surrender’… Now I am not a hairdresser but I have collected a few options for you try and bear with me because you have to expand and dig a little deeper. It is time to get creative and really explore the wonderful possibilities.

hair confusion


What I love about these hairdo’s is that none of them feel like a ‘costume’ or just physical extensions which they could very well be.  I see them more like extensions of the self. ‘Coral’ is feeling particular. Zany detail, finery of the Rococo, and technical exuberance is what the above option can provide.  You could wear ‘Coral’ fancy in couture or flow ordinary in a pair of jeans, these days that ‘in between’ fusion is quite popular.

hair extension

Twisted Sister

If you are at the computer all day ‘Twisted Sister’ might be your best bet. Hair is out of the way, full facial attention towards the screen, get the job done, no distractions, hair is light and airborne, we are talking  pure focus potential. You might start to grow Spak ears and that too can work for you, like they show us in the mags the more distinctive you look the more valuable you become.

hair armor


Sorry for the poor image quality)

This hair is like “wrap me in a cocoon after a skin makeover”, love it. Perfect for Lady Gaga. Maybe the Spa can do this for you, a little suggestion might be in order, it is entirely possible this could don a new age of therapy.


royal hair


Ok ROYAL is me. I could travel the world wearing this, I would feel like a star. Even though my heart is with ROOT- the first hairdo and I am soooo natural, I think this one would put me in a total state of calm and equanimity. Right? you can’t go dancing with this hair, one would have to walk up straight and slowly move through the day, all the drama in your head is non-existent, a perfect state of being.

which animal hair?


Ironically Giraffe would have us in a more casual, don’t mind me, smooth talking mood. Can’t you just picture waiting to cross traffic on 5th and 52nd and Giraffe was there opposite you?  A brunette like everyone else, no spots or blemishes, just the right amount of the artificial and feral you need. Cher could spruce this up more. Now this might be a way to really feel like you ‘belong’ with the masses. NOT! and that might be the relief you need, so think again, having really understated hair might be that foray you are ultimately looking for.

is it there hair


Lastly ‘Cinderella’, oh the poor thing. When the chips are down, love is lost, confusion reigns, god only knows, you can long for that miraculous change, for that wild spell and feeling to come or just do what you can and let it fly…


























BIRD’S EYE VIEW- birds in fashion


 Alexander McQueen Fall 2006 RTW, photos by Don Ashby/

Alexander McQueen Fall 2006 RTW, photos by Don Ashby/

Birds live all over the world, and have been around for millions of years. We go birding, pick up on their songs, they meet us somewhere on a hike, they pop by our house and hang out in our trees, they nest like us, live near or on the water, some hunt, dive, some feed on seeds, nectar, meat or fish. They soar, hide, lurk in the depths we most fear. Their razor sharp eyesight and sonar intelligence make them a remarkable part of the animal kingdom on this earth. And while we continue to learn about the diversity of species and their adaptive systems what impresses me most of all is that they know the skies like no other animal, or human. They are our link to a larger universe dark or bright.


Alexander McQueen

Let’s take flight for a sec…

In terms of adaptive systems, the owl’s feathering allows them to camouflage in their environments for catching prey. In image of the dress of owl feathers, the models braided hair and light skin tones would camouflage similarly against the bark of trees. ‘Dress’ acts an intermediary between human and animal.

So why am I connecting fashion with birds? Because fashion reflects human desires, and the longing for a meaningful identity. Some of us turn to religion for example to meet a larger truth of that meaning we so desperately crave, while some turn to Nature for similar understanding and connection to a larger whole of who we are. To my mind birds by nature have a ‘birds eye view’ and fly around that ‘whole’ we seek. They mediate between earth and the unknown of the sky. Fashion designers and artists alike think deeply and act on that connectivity humans need for individual security. The imagery I have chosen to share here is visibly about ‘dress’  but dress that connects us to something larger than ourselves.

Owl illustration

Extinct birds wearing fashions from the year they went extinct- Laughing Owl, 1914, Brian Williams

I am not a fan of anthropomorphism because humans often fail to see animals as they are, we imbue them with aspects of ourselves rather than seeing the animal kingdom composed of distinct species of equal valuable to us. Sometimes we don’t get the message of atrocities like ‘extinction’ unless we imagine being in the same shoes as the defeated like in this illustration above. Is extinction a natural cause in evolution? The image is wonderfully ambiguous with multiple meanings. Is the owl living in our apparel or are we sporting an owl ‘head’ a marker of acute awareness?  Perhaps ‘Empathy gap’ between bird and human might be another way to put it, but the intention I think is to connect humans to a palpable loss of freedom and the constraints of living. The paradox between freedom (the symbolic nature of a bird ) and order (wearing a suit) is indeed standing proudly here.  Oh, too often human needs impose order of many kinds dictating our precedence over the impressive beauty such as the species of ‘Laughing Owl’ and that which surrounds us.

Bird's Eye View

Bizarre Bird- fashion editorial. The dead has plumage

For fashion designers the clothes carry the narrative, the story is in the clothes, and could go something like this: A dark princess went out hunting one day and comes face to face with the death of a bird. “Is she equipped?” and “what would you do in the same scenario?”. “Would its death have any impact on you? how so?”

owl headwear

owl taxidermy

This image is priceless. Taxidermy on the head. Me thinks she is hooting.


The photo above pertains to some of my research as art director for an OWLMAN design I am creating for a movie called Joan in Owl Land. The film is directed by Martin Castaneda with cinematographer Carlos Diaz Feathers, long black hairy furs, dark leathers, and barks are some of my materials to inspire me.


Woman in Photography- unknown photographer

Birds connect us to the heavens, however the following designs show a subtler current in Nature and one that revolves around human’s affliction with our psychological underworld. Our feathered friends act as messengers between our unconscious and conscious selves. Nature and humans are inextricably linked.




Clothing that circulates and expands into web and trap.


Alexander McQueen



Anglomania at the Met- John Galliano

Birds that take us into mourning



Alexander McQueen- Birds of Paradise

Feathers that keep us protected, cool and detached.


Alexander McQueen – Savage Beauty

And feathers that make us bleed in our wounds.

To an ancient Chinese proverb:

          A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.


Mischief with Chris Burden


Chris Burden has a diverse range of art that taps into architecture, vintage collecting, TV commercials, extreme performances to name a few and as an artistic and influential figure he won’t be swinging by again in my lifetime. So I thought I would honor him here, as he passed recently. His thinking around boundaries of what he could and couldn’t do, his poetic engineering strategies in building structures and his full immersion into his art that perhaps came from his early performances in the 70’s, some of which you can see here  are remarkable as much as they were bizarre. He was humble, funny and he confirms for me that an artist has the resources to  ‘make’ from any stage in their careers. Below is a video that reveals his thinking behind the commercials he made. What I love about him is his intuitive honesty about himself as an artist and how a career that marries idea and living turns into a satisfying reality.

He will be an inspiration for so many of us in our years to come!



Street Performer Statue

Street Performer Statue

Street Magic

Dolly Mix

Dolly Mix

 Street fashion as performance

Elena Perminova

Elena Perminova

Street fashion as… the beautiful shawl (wear yours this summer ladies)

 Os Gêmeos GRAFFITI, Dewey Square, Boston, 2010

Os Gêmeos GRAFFITI, Dewey Square, Boston, 2010

street art as play and feeling

Brazilian graffiti artists

OSGEMEOS- twin brothers

…as…street culture that kinda feels like one can get squeezed out by people, and compressed into places and spaces never considered before (like the concrete silos on Granville Island in Vancouver)

London faces

London faces

 and street theater releasing the emotional intensity of living.

Street life heals the spirit. Thank god we can get wonderfully crazy.



WHAT IS A DRESS?  must it surprise? must it make you confident? must it re-configure the mundane? Rei Kawakubo knows.



When you think you know what a dress is, Rei Kawakubo and her brand Commes des Garçons makes you re-think about dresses that are “beautiful”, “kool”, “interesting”, and “weird” and in a twisted wonderful way she is all of that ‘personified’…


Love love love her work. Totally unexpected, she tears down typical garment construction.

White dresses you have never seen before

White dresses you might not have known were invented



I would say a dress when interpreting Kawakubo is experimental, refreshing, abstract, colorful, and an artificial independent world. Dresses aren’t about female sexuality or pleasing the desires of your man.


The body isn’t important. Ok it is for health reasons, but the chic of Commes des Garçons is also healthy. Never mind how young or old we look, let’s make sure we are draped, sculpted by garments and perceived as a walking canvas of self-expression. She reminds us we are ideas not cultural stereotypes, nor do we have to dress like our biological sex or gender.

What is a dress?

Color, risk and feeling. I would like to step into that, and you?



I love everything about Kippen: her work, her thoughtfulness, her wisdom and the integrity around her pursuit. She can draw white to feel sunny, gloomy or icey, she makes the intangible tactile, and I feel as though she takes us to these individual worlds as if we were non-human creatures. The visuals below are complex studies; each recorded moment on paper is different to the next and yet we feel space without a sense of time, interiors meet exteriors and the paths of the eye keep continuing and returning. A remarkable delicate treat. Thank you for being in my life!


 Where do you begin on paper? Is there a particular mark you rely on in a particular space that starts you off? or is it different every time?

By the time I’ve cut the paper (I use watercolor paper that comes in 10 yard rolls) and stuck on 8 linen tape tabs so I can pin the paper on the studio wall, I’ve wrestled with that paper enough so I can  just grab a piece of charcoal and start randomly making gesture marks, any marks.  It is a physical act above all else.  Even if I’ve cut and tabbed three or four large pieces to have a supply of prepared paper, I still feel entitled to start any and every where I want on a new piece of paper, even if it has taken me a few months to get to the last piece I’ve prepared.

 There is an absence of color in some works, how come? what draws you to your uncomplicated palette?

Untitled 2013 I-2

drawing on paper, 42″ x 52″,  2013,


I’m inclined to say it’s because I had  my formative art making experiences in sculpture, working in raw plastilene, plaster and then steel.  I think I’m more interested in form, in general, and that doesn’t require much color – more a question of tonal variation.  Also, my work is increasingly tied to a sense of place. I have been living in the same exact location for almost 20 years now, walking these woods and dirt roads, and four years ago I moved my studio into this building as well. For much of the year it is the blue tone of the sky that appears intermittently, and the rest is earth tones and tonal variations of white.  I appreciate color when I see it, but left to my own devices in the green months, I’d rather be down by the brook looking at the water and the rocks.  So it is simply a matter of what I see around me that determines my palette.

 Your work feels like a form of pre-language, a state of what we know before we learn the language of our culture. I am so curious are you working from memories? narratives that form and go? tangents of conversations that take you elsewhere?  imagery to no imagery? or are you in a free-floating empty and contemplative state? elaborate if you can.


Drawing on paper, 42″x 52″ , 2014,

 As I have kept working, I have become increasingly aware that what engages me most in this place is the constant shifting of the pattern of water in all of its states;  liquid, snow and cloud.  There are also the more subtle shifting in patterns apparent in the woods including, for instance, tree falls that allow more light to enter the forest floor.  Over time, these patterns seem to form a process.  I suspect that what you are calling “pre-language” might refer to these on-going patterns and processes that are apparent not only to us humans, but to all living creatures. What I am trying to do is to describe the processes by depicting the patterns.  In the case of describing the shifting shapes of snow in the landscape, I can work from the visual information I get by looking out the window in the front door.  When it is warmer, I take some paper and charcoal outside and  sketch forms that catch my eye, whatever they are.  How these images become part of my drawings is in fact more intuitive.  It often seems that the next right form suggests itself in the context of the drawing itself, arrived at from some internal library I have amassed by the act of sketching.

 Whenever I look at your work I feel like I am journeying through landscapes of tracks, holes, shrubs over and between crevices, cliffs and rocks. How would you describe the presence of landscape in your work? How do you see your continuous fields?

Untitled 2013 IV-3

drawing on paper, 42″ by 52 “, 2014,


A neighbor and fellow artist, Michael Sacca, recently told me that he thought of my work as mindscapes that are rooted in our common landscape.  To follow your lead, the sense of journeying in the drawings might spring from my spending time tromping around the woods behind the homestead. The cliffs and rocks and the continuous fields, now that I think of it, could be a result of what our conservation biologists call “windshield surveys”.  As I drive our northbound stretch of VT Interstate 89, the cliffs and rocks are the result of blasting required to create the highway, and the view of distant farmed landscape appears now and again giving the illusion of continuous fields.  Last August, while I was working on a nearly finished drawing mostly in blue tones, a smallish triangular shape began to emerge in the drawing and I went for an ochre pastel to mark it, for no apparent reason.  That afternoon, driving on the interstate, something caught my eye down in the valley to the left, and there it was;  a field of mown hay. My ochre shape.

 How would you describe your state of mind before you begin? Is it different with every drawing?

Kippen II

drawing on paper, 42″ by 52 “, 2015,



Untitled 2013 I-2

drawing on paper, 42″ by 52 “, 2013,


Mostly I’m curious as to what the drawing will be like by the time I’m finished with it.  These drawings go through so many stages that I’ve become accustomed to begin with a kind of give and take:  I draw some gestural marks with charcoal, those marks lead to so something else.  Maybe they get wiped off  but another form starts taking shape.  Or maybe I get really interested in some clump of snow on a tree branch or a rock I pick up that is in some way relevant to the work.

I sense your work articulates the fragility of boundaries and edges with clusters of organic shapes that appear and disappear intangibly rather than a focus on one particular area of one kind of motif or shape. Does living in Vermont have anything to do with this kind of ‘geography’ or visual construction you reveal on paper?


At this time, the single most compelling reason for my stubborn insistence on living as I do in rural Vermont is that I am able here, as I hope I’ve described, to get a fleeting, intermittent yet real sense of a process that has all to do with appearances but somehow alludes to more than appearances.  If the resulting work has echoes of fragility and intangibility as you say, that is the “hard won line” I’m after.  It is, after all, my attempt to answer the question that attracted me to philosophy as a college student:  “what’s really going on here?”  I am not taking a naive or nostalgic stance here, but rather, eyes wide open.


What are some of the drawing materials you use on paper?

I start with vine charcoal because it is so forgiving.  After I’ve been working a while I might start erasing back in some areas and then use conte crayon to make more definite marks in those areas.  Then perhaps a little earth tone in the form of pigment saturated soft pastel. As I begin to make more articulated forms, eventually I will need  to make some real changes that often entail eliminating a form that no longer works in the drawing. That’s where the erasing, the white pastel and the gesso get applied.  Again, as I discover areas that I think work well, I use the liquid gel medium to protect them from being rubbed out.  There often comes a time  after much work that the drawing seems to flounder.  At that point it is often helpful to rub the drawing over its entire surface, revealing intricate patterns which emerge as by-products of the initial layers of charcoal, gesso and gel medium.

Kippen I

drawing on paper, 2015,


 What is the difference in your creative process between working large scale to small? Is there another kind of feeling and thinking going on moving between scale of works?


I like what I heard (was it Guston who said this?) that when you are working large, the work engulfs you.  When you work small, you engulf the work.  There is so much give and take in my work and moving forms around and getting suggestions of new forms from the hints from already drawn forms that I like to have room to move around within the drawing. The 42”x52” format is as small as I can get while still feeling that I have the space I need.  For now, I have stopped making small work except as series of charcoal gesture drawings.

 I love how I can feel all the seasons and a variety of temperatures in your work even though I am seeing roughly a similar palette in each of them. At times I am looking at frozen ground, and cloudy smoggy impenetrable skies to hot spring day to the end of fall, does weather play a part in your work? If not what do you make of the remarkable subtleties in each work with such a clearly distinct style that is yours alone?


Perhaps what you are seeing is the result of my working on each of these drawings over an extended period of time – several seasons.  In the course of working on any given drawing I will be responding to the environmental cues around me at that point in time.  In the most recent work completed this winter, the influence of snow shapes is obvious. The subtlety is the result of having learned to erase, then draw, then save what I like, then erase and then to be willing to erase the “best” part so as to make the drawing work on its own terms.  I had a teacher once who said that erasing something fabulous is never a waste; it will come back later in another drawing. While this may not literally be true, it is certainly a comforting thought.

 Do you think your palette will change to another monochromatic range of harmonies and dissonances?

Sure, if I move to New Mexico, for instance, to that area with the amazing red landscape. But I suspect as long as I remain here working in this manner, I will retain this palette more or less.


Who influences you and moves you and makes you think in this world we live in?

Lisa Kippen 2014 #10-2

drawing on paper, 42″ by 52 “, 2014,

Kippen 6

drawing on paper, 42″ by 52 “, 2012,

Right now I am reading The Shape of a Pocket  by John Berger.  He has a great ability to describe what artmaking is about.  I am taken especially by his assertion that artists are not creators, per se, but receivers.  We are in collaboration with that which we see in order to make our work. That is certainly congruent with my experience.  Another recent influence is the poet Jean Valentine; her Lucy poems. “Lucy” is the 3 million-year-old skeleton of the earliest known hominid discovered, and the poems fuel my determination to see and receive and respond with my work in the most rigorous manner possible.


All images are the intellectual property of Lisa Kippen. If you want more info about her work please contact her at