Tom Wolfe and “The Painted Word “

by cheri sabraw

Years ago, I sat down on an ugly pink bench in a MOMA somewhere trying to figure out why a large canvas with a gum wrapper and a streak of chartreuse paint was hanging there. In truth, I was just resting my feet. An  alarm sounded and a  large museum worker dressed in a suit wearing a blank face told me to get off the bench, which was part of the installation. I leaped off as if I had been sitting on an original Gustav Stickley chair. That bench was by So and So and it was worth a great deal of money. In truth, it was crap. No design, nothing aesthetic. But it was constructed by You Know Who.

Let’s face it. We have been bamboozled. Come on. You know what I am talking about, right? You’ve been at the Tate in London or MOMA in NYC and looked at a canvas with three stripes and a dot hanging on the cement walls, masquerading as art and said to yourself, ” I could have done that.” The proverbial answer we have all heard is “….yes, but you didn’t,” to which I would answer, ” it shows no talent whatsoever. Which agent, which impresario, which collector trying to inflate the value of his art has deemed THIS canvas worth millions?

Obviously, I must not know what I am writing about. Jackson Pollock’s work is a work of art, right? Just like Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, right?



Thankfully, a real talent skewered the modern art world of New York City in 1975 for its  tofu masquerading as abalone by wielding his razor-sharp knife entitled  The Painted Word.

That writer was Tom Wolfe.

Saucy and provocative Wolfe died last week and with his death  a unique literary voice, one that today is not often heard, has left our airspace. I’m sure he is in Literary Heaven still wearing his three-piece white suit, colorful pocket hanky and spats on his shoes.

Tom Wolfe challenged convention which, for those of you who have not read his books, may seem that he was a typical novelist–a reformer like Frank Norris, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and the like who make their livings by bringing to the fore serious social flaws like political corruption, prejudice, and workers’ rights. In fact, “major” American novelists Norman Mailer and John Updike, two self-professed chroniclers of the American zeitgeist (but overrated from this author’s perspective) rejected Tom Wolfe’s book of business because he was a commercial success, something they resented and rejected. He got even for their elitism in a short story entitled, ” My Three Stooges.”

Wolfe challenged the conventional notions of pretentiousness. Think of the  Hollywood Elite.  Think Modern Art and architecture. Think of all of those institutions that we 60’s kids have elevated in status and importance which really have not much heft, depth, or loft. Think the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Tom Wolfe had no problem reminding his readership that modern art–abstract expressionism, post modern art, pop art, and the Bauhaus School of Architecture were, in fact, drummed up faddish trends that  the New York Elite eagerly bought and monetized.  They knew “something” that we unsophisticates outside of the epicenter of cultural beingness did not.

Here is Wolfe at his best in The Painted Word:

Today there is a peculiarly modern reward that the avant-garde artist can give his benefactor: namely, the feeling that he, like his mate the artist, is separate from and aloof from the bourgeoisie, the middle classes…the feeling that he may be from the middle class but he is no longer in it…the feeling that he is a fellow soldier, or at least  an aide-de-camp or an honorary cong guerrilla in the vanguard march through the land of the Philistines. This is a peculiarly modern need and a peculiarly modern kind of salvation (from the sin of Too Much Money) and something quite common among the well-to-do all over the West, in Rome and Milan as well as New York.



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Oy My God


I’ve  schmoozed with brisket sandwiches in NYC and Chicago and even in my own kitchen, but none compare with the one, or should I say half of one, that I ate last Thursday in Philly at Hershel’s East Side Deli.

As with most redirected eating plans upon which I embark ( with the diligence of a Border Collie), someone, like a husband, or something, like a brisket sandwich, derails me.

And so the derailing occurred in a perfect place: the Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia. Formerly a train station for the Reading Railroad, the space now bustles with hungry humans searching for pork, honey, ice cream, Whoopie cakes, and pastrami sandwiches on marbled rye or pumpernickel.

So much for a diminution of carbs and fat! So much for cutting back on cheese and special sauces! So much for a reduction in salty pickles!


I approached the counter with the anticipation one might experience when diet restrictions die by the side of the road, when all preconceived notions of triglycerides evaporate into heavy air, when the light turns a bright green and one is  behind the wheel of a high octane-burning race car—with the reckless abandon of a teenager.

The pastrami has been inhaled off the cutting board above. Pastrami  or brisket?

A short-circuiting began first in my brain and then in my salivary glands, much like my Labrador Dinah waiting for her meager meal each morning.

I asked the owner, Steve, to “ take care of me.”

When he returned with a marbled rye hot brisket sandwich with the Rachel—a layering of Russian dressing, cold slaw, cheese, and other family secrets—I descended into a culinary high rarely experienced.


To be honest, that sandwich put this old cracked bell to shame.

Liberty, Schmiberty!






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IMG_1455by cheri

I’m a sucker for any image, environment, conversation or person with whom I can begin to imagine something more than what meets the eye. I suppose this habit developed in my childhood when my imagination was as fertile as this Salinas field of lettuce being plowed under.

In those days, as a young girl, I was often Bill Hartack riding Northern Dancer in the 1964 Kentucky Derby or Elizabeth Taylor hurdling over Becher’s Brook in the Grand National Steeplechase (and winning without event).

These days, I am drawn to animal photography, horse and bison paintings, fields of tall grasses and water. As for people, I  am selfishly attracted to those who seem to like me and want to know what I think about things.

Have you ever been sharing something that has happened to you and the person to which you are sharing begins to tell you what happened to her/him? Or you send an email with events in your life and the person never responds? I do not understand this method of operation.


I love cut alfalfa fields. The crop is almost there. Almost. I suppose this is the time in which the farmer frets a bit, praying that his cut grasses dry appropriately so that they can be baled. This image reminds me of the contrast between sky and hill, ground and grass. I am the farmer with a blade of alfalfa in my mouth, walking the field, inspecting the territory. The smell is rich. The sound is quiet (with the exception of a tractor humming in the distance.) A cup of coffee awaits me back at the farmhouse.


The horizontal response to life is comforting. But what about the vertical?

IMG_1489You can tell that this scene is oh-so- close to the Pacific Ocean. Look at the foggy mists that envelop the hills. Two of the cattle spot me. I’m outed! There in the shade of a pine by the sea, I listen to the crash of waves on the rocks and I picture hiking country like this far away. Scotland? Ireland? England? Could I do it at my age?


I retreat up the hill where the elevation begins to force quads and hamstrings to work a bit. The cattle flatten out and the blues of the sky, fog, and sea make their statements. Again, back to the grasses where I find myself hiding, wondering if my parents will find me.


There on the road a purple plant reminds me that life is full of color despite the grey of the road. I’m taken back to one of my favorite books as a child–“Harold and the Purple Crayon.” 

Life is rich. Let your juices flow. Imagine what you will.


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A fresh start

by cheri sabraw

Light at the beginning or end of day is the best for photography and painting.

To that point, I arose early this morning to hike the road while the light was low in the eastern horizon.

I also wanted to loosen my back muscles, still sore after driving through the Central Valley and back in less than 24 hours to visit my sister, who has moved away from the Bay Area.

What better to get blood flow than a brisk walk up a hill?


Isn’t the light luscious on the grasses already turning brown? I would paint out that Scotch Broom on the left, an invasive species.

And how about this one?


If only there were deer heads peeking out cautiously from the protection of the grass! I suppose I can paint in a magnificent stag. If only moose lived here, I would have a moose bull stretching his neck and rack out of the grass. I’ll have to make that trip to Newfoundland that I keep talking about if I want to photograph moose.

I’ve been wanting to paint some bovine subjects but all of the cattle on our road are Angus without much contrast. Today, however, the ranchers moved the mothers and older offspring to the pasture by the road. Imagine my delight to see this white-faced, doe and slow-eyed  girl with a red tag and a mouthful of breakfast food. What a subject she will be for a painting!


One feisty little guy with red highlights in his coat became very concerned with my presence and that of a blond Labrador sporting a new collar. Love the way the light catches his shoulder and face.


By the time I was heading down the road, the herd had moved to a lush spot on the hill.


I love the greens in this photo and the focal point that the white face provides.



None of these photos are enhanced which goes to show you that early morning or evening light makes Nature’s colors as vibrant as a new filly.

Posted in My photography, Nature photography, plein air painting | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Over at cheri’s art blog, she visually demonstrates how overworking a painting ruins it.

If you are interested in following my other blog which concerns art, please visit and sign up as a follower.

Today’s entry is called KISS.


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IMG_1285 2

by cheri sabraw

Spring has begun to show her petticoats but Winter, well, he refuses to go away, hibernate, and return next November. Fall, my favorite friend, never does this. Oh sure, sometimes she flares up in late October like a bad hot flash but when her time is over, she leaves.

Winter is hanging on too long. His timing is off.  He’s not the most enlightened one but I love him anyway. We all hang on too long sometimes, don’t we?

I’m fine with fog and cold as long as hot soup, warm bread, and red wine are in front of me. A romantic fire crackling, authentic conversation, and laughter warm up any winter day. But the natural light is missing. We light-catchers await Spring, season of light and hope.

Spring is doing her best to hatch.


Every scene is a potential oil painting.

Since the art show, I have been focusing on the light. Where is it? And how does it contribute to the mood of a painting.  Instead of painting on a canvas, I have been painting in my mind.

Spring turns greens to yellows.


And browns to grey-greens.


When I drove into the garage today, the dog was on the front porch, waiting for her afternoon hike. So off we went, chasing the light.


This part of the hillside looks like the saddle of the hill. If you look carefully you will see a rock wall, constructed by who knows? many years ago. Rock walls such as these are all over the East Bay Hills. Anthropologists have all sorts of theories about their origins.

Notice the mustard on the right as it polishes the saddle with that cool blue light.


At the top of the road, the weather turned colder. I wished for more insulation around my limbs and face.

The wind picked up and blew through my clothes.

Winter! My, my.




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Good-bye Instagram!


by cheri sabraw

It’s been a bad week for technology what with a driverless car running over and killing a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. Add to that the massive privacy breach allowed by the boys at Facebook, whom I understand, sold quite a bit of their FB stock before the bad news came out. And I just read a report last month about the harmful and addictive nature of smart phone and adolescents’ FOMO.

I realize that we are never returning to answering the rotary phone or writing a letter on paper, but such news should be considered a warning.

I received such a warning from an unlikely source nine years ago.

When I owned my business, I was told that in order to promote our product (education) and to keep clients engaged, I should start a  Facebook page. So I did.

After a year or two, I had thousands of “friends,” usually former students; after all, by the time I left public education, I had taught about 3000 kids who wanted to get together for coffee. I could have died of a caffeine overdose had I agreed to meet them all.

It seemed as if I had a “friend” request 2-3 times a day. On my birthday, hundreds of people wished me “Happy Birthday.” Even at that time, it felt rather hollow and disconnected.

One day, while I was back in my private office at Mill Creek Academy, one of my 9th grade writing students–a shy Chinese boy who had said very little in the course of the year in which I had instructed him–knocked on my door.

“Come in!” I cheerfully suggested.

In walked Ryan, one of the last people I expected to see.

“Mrs. Sabraw, do you have a moment? ” he asked.

“Sure, Ryan, what’s up?

“I see you have a Facebook page, Mrs. Sabraw. I just wanna tell you that I think you should probably delete your account.”

“My god! Is there something gross or inappropriate on that page that would send you here to tell me this?” I asked, somewhat concerned.

“No, it’s just that after being in your class for a year, and listening to you teach and hearing your point of view about stuff, well, how do I say this? I think Facebook for a person like you could get addicting. Do you know what I mean?”

I knew exactly what he meant and viewed his entrance into my tent that day as prophetic.

“Thank you, Ryan. This conversation has been more meaningful than you will ever know.”

He nodded and walked out the door, shutting it behind him very quietly.

That night, nine years ago, on my status report I wrote...Mrs. Sabraw is signing off. Good-bye!

And with that, I was free to pursue other hobbies and culturally enriching activities.


One day, I had a relapse and signed up for Instagram because I was under the false impression it has something to do with photography, which I love.

In addition to some excellent photography from those I had allowed into my feed, there were also some low moments.

One person who had taken her son to college posted a picture of his room with a sign on the wall that said Fuck Trump. How her son felt about Trump wasn’t my problem. I just didn’t need to see the F-word.

After the recent March to change gun laws, one Instagram friend posted a sign from a marcher in L.A. (shock) with Fuck this and Fuck that on it. (paraphrased). This was a kids’ march, I understand.

It was at that moment, I wondered why I was on Instagram. Was there anything socially redeeming about it? Did it enhance my life? Could I have spent my valuable time doing something else other than checking my feed?

And though Instagram doesn’t have a place to say Good-bye, that night I quietly deleted my account without fanfare.

And I thought of Ryan’s words almost a decade ago.







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My first art show


IMG_0030by cheri sabraw

I did not win a ribbon.

I did not sell either of my two paintings.

However, one woman, perhaps in her early 80’s, chased me down the hall, as I began to load my art back into my car at closing time.

“Are you the artist who painted that enormous bison on a large canvas?”

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

“Well, I just have to tell you that my brother is an oil painter and is showing his work here too. I have spent a lot of time in art galleries. Last night, I walked by your painting at least five times and each time, I choked up with emotion,” and as she told me this story, she showed me her goosebumps today, there, as we stood back in front of “At Rest.”

“Thank you,” I replied. ” Not only have you made my day, but also you have reaffirmed for me what separates some paintings or sculptures from others. Thank you for taking the time to remind me that often, it is the emotional experience  we have that draws us to a work of art.

Another woman asked me if I could paint a Paso Fino horse, which would remind her of her father and her early life Puerto Rico. I told her I could do that and she took my card.

The judge of the show, during the critique, spent most of her time indicating why paintings “worked” for her.

“They must be stand-outs, unusual paintings that catch the judge’s eye, something different, a painting that adheres to the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, and something she called rhythm. ”

She criticized perfectly lovely pastel paintings because the focal point was just below the center of the painting or had a walkway that exited to the lower left of the canvas.

One of the winners in the oil painting category told me that composition was everything and while I agree to a point, I would add that sentimentality, pure joy or wonder, nostalgia and the like do more to sell paintings than all the Rules of Thirds and Odds in the world.

I have started a new blog so that I have a place for my thoughts about painting, art, and the like. You can visit at

Your thoughts are always welcome.





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The Man in the Red Slacks

Man in the red pants

Please note that I do NOT know the Man in the Red Slacks

by cheri

One may be older, now and then,

One may be younger, come again,

You! The man in the candy-apple red slacks

On the Eighth hole.

I see you there

Enjoying life,

I see you there

And bet your wife

the one in your life

Asks you to wear those red pants

Every now and then,









Posted in Life, My poetry | 21 Comments

March Miscellany

by cheri

Our friends Don and Donna came for an overnight visit last weekend in order that Don (a lifelong citrus nurseryman) could help the good judge to prune his 58 olive trees before they start to bud.

Donna and I spent our time washing our chicken and white bean chili down with rose wine, taking  an invigorating walk,  sharing our love of art, and then drinking hot coffee. Donna is one of my most eclectic friends–a landscape designer, tennis player, pastel artist, and serious reader (among many other hobbies). She even had the fortitude to work in my office years ago.

We wandered into the olive orchard but no husbands were working. We became suspicious. Then up on the hill, out of the orchard, we saw that they had escaped their labor and had shrunk with their pruning knives and shears on belts and in hands. They had become miniatures! What would Donna and I do with two tiny men, the size of gophers?



I suggested to Donna that we leave the property immediately and escape dinner preparation while the mini-men figured out how to enlarge themselves.

Besides, I wanted to show Donna a tree that I had discovered on my last walk up our road. In all of my writing on this blog, have I ever shared my love of dragons? When I was a young girl, I read every story I could get my claws and fangs on that concerned a fire-breathing dragon. ( I’m sure Jung would have something to say about this odd fascination).


Here is my dragon tree.

We walked up the road, our bodies warmed by pillow parkas, wool gloves and mufflers made of the softest wool.

I observed to Donna that the Escobars and Bettencourts (ranchers) had placed two outstanding bulls in their herds…Bull #301 and# 403. After all, that time was coming.

Here is Bull #403

IMG_0997And farther up the road is Bull #301.


I told Donna that by the time we returned for cocktails, our miniatures would have become bulls.

We reached the top of the hill and were rewarded with this view.


I showed Donna my finished piece titled ” A Penny for Your Thoughts,” a 16×20 oil painting of a Quarterhorse named Penny that I photographed in December.


Back to business. Where were our guys?


They were coming along.


At last, out among the herd, two men emerged ready for cocktails.

At the end of the weekend, the good judge and I settled back into a familiar routine.


To disabuse you of any notion that the good judge likes Dinah, she is there by his feet and easy chair only because he often drops crackers, nuts, and pretzels (accidentally of course) and someone must clean up the mess.

To think this is only March 1st!

Posted in dogs, Growing Olives, healthy eating, Life, My fiction, Nature photography, People, Places | Tagged , | 15 Comments