The Ed Bradley Extension Cord Story

Years ago when I was starting out as an artist I lived in a coal shed behind Su Lum’s Cooper Street house, which I had turned into a little apartment, albeit without plumbing. It was tiny and I had no room to make art. Finding studio space on an hourly worker’s budget seemed nearly impossible. I had cleaned years of debris out an old unheated barn on Cooper street to use as a studio for awhile but it was slated for development and I had to clear out. So I mustered my courage and drove around Aspen knocking on the doors of houses that had outbuildings or separate garages that I thought could be used as a studio, and putting the word out to everyone I knew. Someone connected me with Harry Teague, the well known architect, who had moved a little cabin from Aspen to his riverside lot on Twining Flats Road, ten miles out of town. Harry agreed to let me use the cabin and said he intended to eventually bring electricity to the lot. The house next door was a second home owned by the 60 Minutes news anchor Ed Bradley. A construction project was going on at Ed’s house, and since I had been working as a carpenter I knew a couple of guys on the job, who let me plug in an extension cord on the outside deck to power the work on my cabin. I hooked a couple of cords together, taped the joint with electrical tape and got to work, so excited to be fixing up my own art studio. Eventually those carpenters finished their job and left, but there was still no electrical service on the lot so I just kept using the extension cord. One day Ed came back, of course. I was really uncomfortable when I went over and knocked on his door to introduce myself and explain that I was stealing his electricity. He invited me in and went about focusing on making a cappuccino while I stammered on about my situation, and when I had finished explaining he went over to the back window and looked out to see the extension cord going from his deck through the woods. He said something along the lines of, “so you are stealing my electricity, and you want to do it for how long?” He didn’t want to make it too easy for me, but it didn’t seem like he was going to shut me down either.
So the extension cord became normalized. Memories of the cabin feel like a fairy tale now. It was very Swiss Family Robinson with a bucket on a pulley to get water from the river and a wood stove and a little loft with a mattress. Marisa Silverman was a good friend at the time and often hung out with me there. We would sunbathe naked in the deep brush next to the cabin. Burnie Arndt came by a lot too, leaving funny notes for us or hanging out or trying to catch us sunbathing. I even had an art opening in that cabin. At a fancy party in Aspen years later a man was telling me about “old Aspen” and recounted a cool art opening by the river in a little cabin, and I exclaimed it was mine.
Ed continued to let me use his electricity for the duration of my stay in that cabin. I would make baked items for him as a “thank you” and leave them in a bag on his doorstep, with notes like “eat me” written on the outside. Occasionally he would joke that I better get the pans rattling. When he wanted to talk to me he would unplug the cord and I’d go over and knock on the door to see what was up. Sometimes he would unplug me for no apparent reason, and we’d talk awhile, then he’d say something like, “I guess you want me to plug you back in now.” He unplugged me when the Neville Brothers were there for a party, and he unplugged me when he was bringing Hunter Thompson to my studio. When Ed’s longtime ski instructor Tommy Waltner was busy Ed would book me as a substitute, as I was still teaching skiing then. Ed also came to my very first art opening, catered by my friends, hung by my visiting family and held in a muddy alley on Bleeker Street on a rainy night, and bought the very first painting I ever sold at a show, which he hung in his Twining Flats house. I was thrilled.
I don’t know if something like that could happen in Aspen now. Things seem to have become so rule-bound, standardized and litigation-proof. I am grateful to those like Harry Teague and Ed Bradley. Harry never even took any money from me. Who would do that now? Harry and Ed were okay with an outside of the box situation, and gave me a channel for moving my career forward. They also gave me a great story.

Ed Bradley and Tania Dibbs
Ed Bradley at Tania’s first opening
Cabin on Twining Flats
Cabin on Twining Flats
Cabin on Twining Flats
Front of Cabin on Twining Flats
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Defaulted

Defaulted:

I was driving by the frozen river on a winding road on my way to cross country ski with my dogs last Sunday. The sun was shining and flakes of snow were falling off of the trees and catching the sunlight. Some high, echoing piano notes were repeating on the radio. I used the Shazam app on my iPhone to find that the song was “Wash.” by Bon Iver. The notes sounded poignant and lilting and like a memory. They sounded to me like light green, and the sound matched the feeling of the flakes of snow catching the sun, and described the heartache of loss. I knew then exactly where to go with the canvas that had been sitting unfinished in my studio.

The painting, a 6’ x 9’ panel, was faintly sky blue covered by layers of dark drips. While listening to the song I got the idea to cover the blue with a spare, transparent wash of light spring green, turning the painting into a fresh forest, but one that is melting and dissolving and haunted by a few out of season snowflakes flying amidst the greenery. The snow over full green represents the sad fact of our climate turned upside down: snow in summer, heat in the winter, freezes in the tropics, heat at the poles, tornadoes and storms and all of the upheavals of a pained planet. I want the piece to be sensuously beautiful but to also give the viewer a jab, like the feeling you get when a beautiful bird smacks your window and falls. I want the piece to look delicate but slightly wrong, and to be evocative of loss. I want the piece to be eloquent and poignant. (more…)

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Damaged Artwork or Garbage?

How do you know when to stop working on a piece? Sometimes it is obvious, like when the thing you are going for has been achieved. Sometimes it is open to interpretation. Then you just have to live with the piece awhile to see if the need for more work becomes apparent or not. Other times you just don’t have a choice but to go past the end point. (more…)

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Colossal Failure – the Upside

Tania Dibbs, contemporary art, art
Life, 72″ x 48″, oil, (Sold)

What is the death of a good piece of art in the making? Loving it too much. Once you start to become attached to the outcome of the work you are in the process of creating you run the risk of becoming too careful to work with freshness and spontaneity. If you are thinking, “This thing is great! I don’t want to make the wrong move and mess it up now!” then you are doomed. Mess it up and get on with it already. Edith Wharton, the American writer, said, “Art is freedom of the spirit.” There is no freedom in worrying about how well you are performing.

 

Lots of my favorite pieces were at one point colossal failures. The fall from the excitement of possibility down to the realization of mediocrity and wasted hours and wasted materials is a long one but doesn’t really hurt once you get used to the feeling. Put that piece aside, and when it has been sitting around long enough that you have no feeling towards it, put it back on the easel and see what you can do. If you don’t need time to “heal” then start reworking it right away. Discipline doesn’t just mean getting into the studio – it means staying there. Be patient and keep working until your piece starts to have a direction. There doesn’t have to be an “end.” There is no place where you have “failed” and have to stop there. You are just not done yet! Keep going! The marks of your struggle are part of the piece. Stay with it until you can look at it critically but not judgmentally, which might take a lot of banging your head against the wall first, but that is the place from which you can be engaged and detached at the same time and therefore  truly creative.

If you have a regular art practice then you are probably accustomed to this cycle. By now I can recognize the pattern so easily. When I do fall into it I try not to pay it any more mind than I would a fart. Just move on. Besides, I love the feeling of freedom you get when you don’t care about your piece anymore. And remember, you are learning the most from the struggles, not from the cakewalks …. Just like life!

To see my own example of a painting that was taken to the brink and back, click on the pics below. This piece is my current favorite. It is a 72″ x 48″ oil called “Life.” Just like the real thing- full of colors and messes and scrape marks and contrast and layers and history.

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