Tuesday, December 23, 2008


The Curious Case of the Bathtub Barbies
(c) Francine Russelle, 2008
8" x 15" x 4", mixed media in cigar box

My granddaughters inspired this piece, although they've yet to see it. I'm certain they'll be furious, then they'll laugh. It is pretty sick.

When they were small I noticed that each time they received a new doll, the first thing they did was take the clothes off. Over the years I've learned that nearly all little girls do this, hence boxes and boxes of naked Barbies. What did I know? I'm the mother of sons.

I'd been collecting discarded dolls for a while and La Luz contributed some of her daughter's discarded dolls as well. But it wasn't until I saw an ad for a high-end faucet featuring Barbie dolls in a soap filled kitchen sink that it came together in my head. As I began to construct the piece I realized I had extra doll parts, which I put to use. The piece began to take on a macabre life of its own when I added a leftover skeleton (Anorexic Ken), a bottle of poison, soap, bubbles, marbles and some "attitude".


Disconnected Letters: Alef, Lam, Mim
(c) Francine Russelle, 2008
8" x 16", mixed media on slashed canvas
with Arabic calligraphy, using Golden Mean

Disconnected Letters: Saad
(c) Francine Russelle, 2008
10" x 10", mixed media on canvas with drywall mud
and Arabic calligraphy, using Golden Mean

I've had a fascination with Arabic calligraphy for decades, especially the so-called "disconnected letters" which appear before about a quarter of the surahs (verses) of the Holy Qur'an. They are never connected and are always pronounced individually. Fourteen of the 28 Arabic letters are used in this way. There is no "correct" reason for this; minds much finer than mine have attempted to explain them. They just are.

In Arabic each letter (consonant) has a numerical value. The system of reckoning or numerology is called Abjad (which are the first four letters of the alphabet (alef, bet, jim, dal.)) In Hebrew a similar system exists; it is called Gematria and is used extensively in Kabbalah.

But I rather like the idea that there is no reason that wo/man can understand for their being. I've seen these shapes in clouds, in flowers, in nature -- perhaps a kind of fractal. I dream them as I write them, read them, doodle them. But I can't explain them. They just are.

There is a Quwwali song recorded by the Sabri Brothers which says, in translation: And Gabriel told me at the Dawn of Creation, Trust not the Heart that is Slave to Reason. I think it applies in this case. They just are.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Exorcising Demons

Sticks and Stones
(c) Francine Russelle, 2007
5" x 7" x 1", Mixed Media in mint tins

I found a photo of myself taken sometime before age two. It was taken on the beach in Venice, California. It's the only photo with both my parents that I've ever seen; I have no clear memories which pre-date the photo nor do I remember the day it was taken.

This was a real case of exorcising demons. Found chicken bones, nails, barbed wire, rocks, milagros, broken glass and other assorted ephemera. Scanned the faded black and white photo, blew it up and cropped out my mother and father, then printed it in sepia tone. Wired the two tins together, side by side, and added text, paint and tea bags.

Used old fashioned typewriter font to write: Sticks and stones and broken bones, from these I can recover. Nasty names and cruelty games, these scars can last forever.

Studio Buddy

Curio Cabinet
(c) La Luz, 2008
22" x 18" x 10" opened, Mixed Media

It's such fun having a studio buddy. Mine is La Luz, who is also my caregiver. I would not be able to get out there and work without her help. (I would not be able to take a bath without her help either, but that's another story.) I'm doubly blessed because La Luz is an artist in her own right.

Watching the birth of "Curio Cabinet" was truly amazing. La Luz bought the cabinet at a flea market. Originally, she painted it white and attempted a crackle finish. She hated the look and put it aside for nearly a year while working on other projects and helping me. She was finally inspired by some of her children's old toys and then the project just took off. Dolls and other ephemera were painted in differing shades of white and silver, "exhibits" were numbered and catalogued, and when it was complete I was blown away.

I love it!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Frida Fan
(c) Francine Russelle, 2008
6" x 4" x 2", mixed media on canvas and canvas board with barbed wire and milagros

I was privileged to see an "original" Frida Kahlo painting/collage at the Albuquerque Museum in 2006. I was amazed at the third dimension of this work. Photographs never did it justice.

Then earlier this year I found a deck of "Frida (playing) Cards" in the gift shop at the Hispanic Cultural Center. Once I opened the deck, the piece just came together on its own. It was inspired ...

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Poor Tooth

The End of Wisdom: Last Pearl
(c) 2008 Francine Russelle
4" x 6" x 1", mixed media on canvas and canvas board

This piece was like pulling teeth, literally.

I needed to have my last wisdom tooth extracted a few months ago. I asked for the tooth and, apparently, that's not such a strange request because the nurse put it inside this cute little plastic case and handed it to me along with the instructions on how to care for my mouth once the anesthesia wore off.

I knew I wanted to do something with it, to enshrine it somehow. I like using mini-matchboxes. The gold calligraphy, pearls, tea bags, a scrabble tile and roses just appeared in the studio. I'm quite pleased with the result.

Working Small

Ransom Note
(c) 2007 Francine Russelle
3 1/2" x 5" x 1", Mixed Media on canvas

This piece began as a poem; it just popped into my head late at night more than a year ago. I wrote it down on a post-it, thinking it could become a short story. I had no idea it would be an art piece.

The letters cut from magazines read: He's holding my heart for ransom. The rolled up paper in manual typewriter font reads: I don't think I want it back.

The challenge was to work in as small an area as possible (within reason -- it's not an "inchie".) Using the mini-matchbox to hold the second line and a foreign postage stamp seemed to be a natural. What I did not expect was to use the Virgin Mary in a 35 mm slide mount or the image of the sacred heart. And the upholstery tacks surprised me entirely -- they just sort of happened on their own.

After the piece was finished I realized this wasn't about a lover. It was about The Lover, The Beloved. He has my heart and I do not want it back...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Political Art

Winning Hearts and Minds
(c) Francine Russelle 2007
7" x 16" x 1", Mixed media on canvases and canvas board with barbed wire, slide mounts and Arabic calligraphy

So much angst over Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine. When I grew tired of ranting on Belenistan Blog I was inspired to visualize the rage, make it tangible in some way. One canvas was not enough; it took three to bring it to life. These are not "pretty images", but they're very real.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Blogging Art

With President-elect Obama in the wings, I realized 2008 was my first national election without a major health exacerbation, a nervous breakdown or even just screaming at the TV with my hair on fire. We did it! Il-hamdul'Allah.

I'm attributing much of my new, peaceful and hopeful state of mind to my ability to get out into the studio once again. La Luz, my caregiver for the past 18 months, has enabled me to work. (May God protect and keep her always.) And it feels fabulous to know that there is life after politics -- I'm not condemned to live my last days as a news junky. So I've started an art blog.

The Last Shrine to Our Ladies of the Orange Barrel
(c) Francine Russelle 2007
20" x 14" x 7" crate, mixed media

I created six smaller versions of the Orange Barrel shrines when I first moved to New Mexico in 1995. Five were sold and one was given to then Governor Gary Johnson after showing at the juried "Vehicle" exhibit at Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos in 1998.

Last year I sold the Geo Metro. I'd come to grips with the fact that I would never drive again. The little car had served me well but was sitting in the driveway for three years, insured, registered and unused. There was three-year old gas in the tank and I was still paying for Auto Club membership! Removing the license plate inspired this piece ... an homage to my driving days rather than a shrine to the loss of a piece of my independence.