Naive American Artist

Artist’s statments for artworks

This painting contains many references to other cultures. I enjoy mixing cultural icons and images together; in this case the woman in the foreground is African. She is crossing a river, and behind her is the other bank with African dogs. African dogs are quite different than regular domestic dogs in this country. Also to the right of the African is an American woman sitting drinking a cup of coffee, looking at a bust of an Egyptian Queen. I wanted this to be a night scene, with a canopy of leaves and delicate light from lanterns. I like to include items that you’d find on the inside of a dwelling, in an outside scene, adding to the mixed jumble of references. Quite often I’ll include an artistic pot with plants, and books. I’ve always enjoyed reading books and have found my thinking to be broadened by literature.


This painting is meant to represent the inherent chaos and order that exists in nature and in man made objects.
Chaos is usually thought of as negative, yet at the same time it’s a crucial and beautiful element.
When I go hiking I’m looking around and discovering the patterns in nature, for example, the abstract quality of streams. You can see the pattern of strips of sunlight going through to the bottom, and then you can see the shadows. I am very intrigued and challenged by the transparent quality of water and of the patterning in different layers as it appears, disappears, and reappears very quickly. I focus on the different levels of light and shadow: at the surface, in the middle of the water, and the bottom, integrating them with their patterning on plants, boulders, muddy ripples, coarse pebbles, sodden leaves, fine sand, moss, and organic debris. It’s tricky stuff but that’s what’s challenging to me. It’s totally thrilling and challenging, because it’s like, IMPOSSIBLE! Most people think it’s impossible, but I think, ‘Yes, I can!’, and I will!” I have become absorbed in thinking over the puzzles of patterns in the apparent chaos and order in nature.
This painting has a ballet dancer with a tutu made of clouds and mist. She embodies the contained chaos in ballet and also in nature. Chaos and order are synergistic when combined and both are necessary. If you have only chaos, everything breaks down and pandemonium ensues. If you have only order, life becomes static, predictable and boring. They both compliment each other.


This painting is about my job as a house cleaner, and how rhythms are established while cleaning, and how it’s rather like a ballet.
In the windows in this image, I put the background area of where we are each from. The woman to the right is Martha, and to her right in the window is a scene of her childhood, from the hot springs in Missouri. Martha used to tell me about being from a dirt poor background in Missouri, about her father trying to entertain all of his six kids with no radio or television. People told stories then.
The windows representing my past are to the left of me, and display scenes of Arizona, where I was born, and a scene of Santa Cruz, where I live to this day.
I was a housecleaner with Martha till she slid over the edge into the kingdom of mental illness.
It started insidiously, like a snake sliding silently towards it victim; First her personality changed, and she seemed more hostile, aggressive, and even threatening. Martha told me that I was at risk of being shot, just by being in her presence in the car. I no longer felt safe and decided to stop working with her. Then she was hospitalized after hacking up her electrical outlets with a hatchet, and hurling her television out of her second story window. She thought aliens were trying to invade her through her outlets and television. She sailed over the edge into psychosis. She wasn’t really the same after that, was on various medications and moved to Watsonville where she died.
I’m still a housecleaner and I’m grateful to have a way to support myself which allows me the time to do my artwork as well.


Jungel Madona
This painting is meant to portray different aspects of the jungle, where a Madonna resides as icon and figure head. The rooster is included as symbol of power and fertility, as well as other principles.
In many of my paintings I include “funky” articles of clothing, or accessories, in this case an older fedora hat on the head of the horse.Two holes are filled with the horse ears.
The horse character is holding a church, there being strong ties between the symbolism of the Madonna and the Church.
The rooster basically represents fertility and strength, and power. In East Timor, one of the two predominately Christian nations in southeast Asia, the roof of the house is reserved for gods and spirits of ancestors, the lower portion remains for the nature spirit, and is usually occupied by animals. The rooster is admired because of courage and perseverance. The rooster is also used as a weather vane, It is known that Pope Leo IV had the figure of the cock placed on the Old St. Peter’s Basilica or old Constantinian basilica and has served as a religious icon and reminder of Peter’s denial of Christ, since that time, with some churches still having the rooster on the steeple today. Alternative theories about the origin of weathercocks on church steeples are that it was an emblem of the vigilance of the clergy calling the people to prayer, that it was derived from the Goths and is only possibly a Christian symbol, and that it is an emblem of the sun.
I have also used colors in an experimental way, using green to stain the breast of the Madonna. I like to distort the size of things, her little son is almost a full grown man, yet has the statute of a child. I like to mix and contrast size ratio with objects, using distortion to skewer reality. Hence the small church on the palm of the horse figure is almost a miniature doll house size.
The colors chosen are fertile colors, rich with saturation, and using stains to alter texture and patterns of the rich and fertile earth.


Out of the Mouth
This is a painting about the word of Jesus coming out of a person’s mouth and becoming flesh. It is similar to the nature of intent. The intent of a person makes words come out of his or her mouth, and the intent becomes flesh. I have the background with red mesa plateaus . While I was driving through the desert country of New Mexico I saw the painted desert, and included it in this image.
At this time I was reading the bible and struggling with it.
I was thinking a lot about the claims of this historic person named Jesus. I was grappling and having a hard time understanding the bible.
I put more than one Jesus coming out of this person’s mouth, similar to how people interpret Jesus! So I have it appear as if there are more than one Jesus.
I have a swan in the lower left, I wanted to have a plain, simple, beautiful creature in the painting, to make something beautiful that was not complicated like religion and spiritual belief systems.


This painting is about the fleeting magic and splendor of a parade. In this case the parade is made up of improbable creatures. The winged Pegasus is of Greek Origin. When I was a child I saw one of those Aladdin movies, and one of my favorites involved a winged Pegasus. I was utterly and completely swept away with enchantment. That experience stayed with me, so I made this image to recreate that feeling. I have characters behind the Pegasus with bird heads, to add to the mythical element. The river is loosely based on Soquel Creek; a river close to where I live. I see Soquel Creek almost every day on my walks through Capitola Village. The nature and character of Soquel Creek changes with the weather, the painting has the Creek on a sunny day when the colors are most vibrant.


Poet is a painting I did while thinking about poetry and the nature of the written word. When I think of poetry I think of flowers, because flowers are about beauty, and giving something special to someone. Poetry is giving by its nature and can be a beautiful gesture. Poetry can make the soul soar with inspiration and meaning. One can use glittering analogies and metaphors to describe the indescribable, and on to the sublime. I have birds coming out of each side of the Poet’s head, a metaphor for whimsy and flight. This poet is standing on the cliffs above Capitola, and you can see a cypress tree on the left. My mother lived on the cliffs above Capitola, and we’d walk her dog, Allen through the area. Allen was a Wire Fox Terrier and Poodle mix. He was utterly adorable. He became old, deaf and blind, incontinent and had seizures as well. He could barely walk. When we took him in to be “put down” he was so trusting, and as he was standing his legs splayed out on all fours till he was lying on the floor. That’s how I remember him.


The Flood
The flood of 1982 killed 22 people, more than the quake of 1989. I was there and witnessed all the damage. FIrst started the relentless rains for days and days. On January 4th the banks of the San Lorenzo were flooded over, a crack appeared in the Soquel Avenue bridge from tons of dislodged trees swept down the San Lorenzo, striking the bridge over and over. Reports of damage and calls for help poured in, dispatchers answered over 3,500 calls that day.
The worst event was in Love Creek by Boulder Creek. People in the houses on the shallow slopes were abruptly swept off their foundations into mud and debris. Over ten people lost their lives in a flash, no way of knowing their houses were going to be swept into the mud.
I lived on 47th Ave, near Capitola. I walked over to the bridge in Soquel and saw it broken in half, jagged edges sticking out and logs crammed up against the base.
I saw photos in the paper of emergency evacuations, one stuck in my mind: An elderly woman was placed into a little boat by a fireman. Her mobile home was flooded by the Soquel Creek.
I had to make a painting about these events. I designed two people drowning in the mud slides, houses being swept into the river. I have the river and the two bridges that were broken. And lastly the elderly woman placed into a boat by a fireman.
In this painting I wanted to re create the fight to try and stay alive in a catastrophe. And also I wanted to convey the down home feeling of the homes around Soquel, which is very much a village.


Pills to Make me Calm
Is a painting about the time I lived in North Hollywood. I had escaped from my boyfriend, who used to beat me, and verbally berate me. I wasn’t working, and didn’t know how to plan my escape, but I knew I had to get away. I was having terrible anxiety attacks and, was using valium and alcohol to help me cope with anxiety and panic. I couldn’t go outside for very long or I’d have an anxiety attack. I was around 22 or so and knew very little about assertive techniques, or how to desensitize myself from panic attacks. I was like a slave to my own panic, and had to live by the capricious rules of panic and anxiety. On the left are aggressive red and orange colors. I have demons spitting out hostile noises. On the right is a valium induced state of calm. Those were not fun times and I’m so grateful to have learned to grow past those panic attacks. I was able to leave after I had tranquilizers, and fled to Hollywood.

Queen with Slaves
This painting was made with the idea of slaves and a Queen. I’ve often thought about the nature of servitude, and ponder the seeming lack of power that slaves (and our modern counter part) hold. Technically there are no longer slaves, and yet there are.
House servants, low level workers are doing pretty much the same kind of work, but with slightly better working conditions.
But a ruler type is also part of the metaphors I’m using in this image, and is typified by a Queen with red hair. In this painting I have her on a cat, which is an improbable fantasy .
But I wanted her to portray a commanding, queenly attitude. Many women I’ve known have this attitude. How does such a thing happen? It is still a mystery that I have not solved.


Torch Runner


Torch Runner is a painting about the experience of being stricken down with despair, and yet at the same time, knowing there is always hope somewhere near. The woman laying down is in a state of hopelessness and despair; The red rooster-man in front of her is the torch bearer, bearing hope. The rooster in back of her is blue because it is in the same state of mind as the woman laying down.
The red rooster-man is also holding a book. For me, books always bring hope, in the form of information, or of fictional stories. I’ve always loved reading, and receive so much enjoyment from this pastime. Reading is one of the finer joys in life for me. Reading has conjured forth the inner imagination to live, grow and dwell in my mind’s eye. I do believe this is how my imagination came to be, through reading so many books.
By Vanessa Stafford .
Spirit Guides
This painting is about our invisible spirit guides, which are trying to help us and influence us. They might be called our “higher selves” There have been times when I’m motivated by revenge, or something similar, and I hear the “other voice” or higher self. Such occurrences are all invisible! And is what makes such influences so interesting. I wanted to show what  our higher selves might look like, if they were visible.
This painting is about a man that I was involved with (many years ago). I call him Bluebeard, but his real name was Bruce. He was from New York and used to own a gallery. He told me he was a millionaire, and I thought that was funny because he didn’t live like one. He told me that he liked to have a lot of women, and explained his philosophy: Women are like fruit, there’s such a variety and he wanted to taste them all. I argued in favor of monogamy. We ended in a stalemate. He went on to become married, started using heroin, and moved to Australia.

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