INSPIRED BY MATERIALS

 

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Ronald Reagan’s Egg, 1987        Lee Malerich, 2016

The making of a work of art involves searching in many ways:  searching your soul, your opinion, your surroundings.  And then organizing this information in the way it must be.  The best work takes advantage of an expressive shape, and sometimes moves it into a foreign context.  This is what I want to do.  Connect unlike things.  Connection is powerful; I watch my 22 month old grandson connect and sort and arrange often.  It is his work.

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Lots of materials are given to me.  Some I buy, but won’t pay too much.  It’s a game.  I always wanted to do this while still teaching, but never did.  Give each student the exact same group of materials, and have them put them together.  Set the compositions up in a gallery and view the relationships and connections between the finished works.  There, the artist exists.  In that indefinable space.

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My search for materials is always exciting.  It is with the odd inspirational shape that the pieces begin.  My windows are the canvas, only they have more than two dimensions.  See the blue legs above?  A great find from last Sunday.  Have to hold myself back from cutting in to them.  Must live with them for a while to make sure they end up in the correct piece.

Not many of the shapes in the works have I actually owned beyond as art materials.  The piece above, Ronald Reagan’s Egg 1987, contains an exception and a story.

 

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Ronald Reagan was in office at the time when he sent 249 other artists and me wooden eggs.  Five from each state.  We were to use the egg and work in our characteristic way to embellish it.  We were given two.  The exhibit was to accompany the annual egg roll which was celebrated each Monday after Easter on the White House lawn with children.

I was a stitcher at the time, and you can imagine my terror of having to do something with this surface.  Spray painting them both black first seemed to be a smart thing as a stitching frenzy began.

Ended up stitching on my typical surface, cutting the stitched part off the frame and gluing it in a certain area of the egg.  Then over and over again.  A satin-stitched egg.  Don’t even have a picture of the thing except in a flashy newspaper article done in “The State” on the five  artists in SC that contributed.  That was worth the trouble.

On a rampage through my studio for some elusive thing last week, I found the black egg that (laid) unused in a drawer.   A yellow sticker on the flat bottom read “1987”.  Raw material!

And an egg was currently a symbol/shape that I had been using, only the black egg was bigger.

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F. Scott, 2015

This piece featuring the wooden roadster sinking into a surface has two eggs in it: one representing East Egg from “The Great Gatsby” and one representing West Egg.  Just love it when the Universe provides the correct materials.

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A PERFECT STORM

We have a new baby in our family; he came more than two weeks early. Planners, we were shocked. A FIRST baby?

We also have a new computer (my old one which understood me used now unsupported XP) which is angry with our hot spot.

We tried to engage a satellite service instead of using the hot spot, but after many holes with poles, we have too many trees.

It is raining, and no work can be done on my new commission, 60 miles from here.

One week late with two textiles, my eyes are crossing.

I miss you guys!

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A LEAN AND HUNGRY LOOK

Went to a meet and greet  “all the arts”  interface at a private home recently.  It functions as a way for people working in the arts to kind of cross pollinate with other artists whose projects they may have not known about.  Some simply advertise as to what they are doing and invite others.   This took place the night before most of the Columbia, SC artists open up their studios for a well advertised self-guided tour and sale.  This event has been building for the past few years, and we cannot participate because we don’t live in Richland County.  Some in our situation rent spaces in downtown Columbia for the weekend so that they can cash in on the possibilities.

We met a dancer there that looked exactly like Selma Hayek  when playing Frida Kahlo.

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There was a tiny opera singer there, a very fancy person.

There were magazine publishers there, and wives, and many “assistants” who ran the event and tried to sell the art on the walls.  I was able to meet and thank the publisher who just included an article on my recycling in his magazine as an Earth Day story.  There were journalists, filmmakers;  my raison d’etre.

It felt false.  I put some postcards in my purse, but did not give any to anyone.  I have two jobs right now and do not feel pushed in any way.  What about finishing my pool, my gardens, laying brick, sanding old windows?  We just created a gallery on the top floor of the barn and cannot find time to paint it.  What about my upcoming hike on the AT?

The life comes first, not the art.  If the life is artful, then the art will come.  Do not confuse the two.  The visual artists from last night looked lean and hungry.  Darting eyes.  I have been in that place and it is an uncomfortable and heavy place to reside.

I had a dream last night.  A good friend, not an artist, was making MY art and doing it better.  I tore off the fabric which made up my art from its stretchers, and found that the structure supporting the work was interesting.  I decided that the support structure would be the art instead.

It looked very much like this, only all the lines and shapes were contained within a square perimeter.

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One of my current projects is to create two new embroideries,  something I have not done in years.  One is finished, and it was easy to slip into that old obsession.  It is my only thing where the expertise is unchallenged.

LAYERS

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It would be so easy to start with a blank canvas and create a work of art.  Many do.  I have to sneak in the back door and react to some product or pattern made by another and then make it my own.

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What interests me is the spaces between things, how they relate or how they merge.

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This sculpture is very new for me.  I have always respected artists who make statements in a thinly orchestrated way.  These are the beginning of my effort to do that.

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The work above is more what one would expect from me, but looser and including no female figures.  There are those damn eggs though.  Here I am trying to use a very anal method to create an atmosphere.  I use color and value to position shapes in their correct space.  Some wool is used to contrast in texture.  Two elements,  printed fabric and stitches are layered together to arrive at a visual statement.

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The same is true in the above.  These works contain only machine stitches on the surface, and they are simply decorative.  The piece was made by merging very different fabrics physically together with a special machine, strangely called an “embellisher”.

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I am going to talk about all this stuff on Tuesday, March 18, and bring some works in progress.  Hope to see you there.

THINKING ABOUT GRAVITY

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Looking at a piece of art, we view it through the lens of what we know.  One thing we know about is the physical world in which we live.  We understand subconsciously what gravity means in our world.  We know how some things should look and interact because we live in ever changing compositions in a world dominated by gravity.

Since about 1980, my work relates to this idea about gravity.  The compositions are always heavier feeling at the bottom because of color choice or number and size of shapes.   It lives up to an expectation, when thinking about balance in a composition, and the piece does not have to fight a battle to stay alive.

That is not to say that a piece where the opposite is true cannot be equally satisfying.  That’s the thing about art.  There are often bad solutions to true questions that can be the most amazing visually.  Or the opposite. The deeper one gets into any discipline, the expansion of those gray areas as opposed to the black and white ones can create insanity in the most superficial of workers.

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Since teaching design in the last decade, I have wanted to make thinly orchestrated compositions.  The move is also due to the extreme amount of work necessary when stitching work in the past.  I am past that!  Below is a piece which adheres to my “darker shapes at the bottom” rule.

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In spare work, the elements are all very important because there are so few of them.

Comparing the two views of the sculptural piece above, I have questions.  Which composition is better, the first where the front window is parallel to the floor, or the second, where the back window is?

POOL DECK VS EMBROIDERIES?

About the same in terms of work.  But different in terms of impact.

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This piece was done in the late nineties, and it relates to my cancer years in that decade.  All of these figures are me, and they are adorned with surgical scars, of which I have many.  Much of the work from this time was an effort to discuss the problem, and jettison it from my reality.  Not healthy to hide it.

The picture plane is about eight inches by ten inches.  The figures are made by satin stitch mostly,  on a fabric plane pieced together by machine.  Most of the fabric has pattern on it so two systems of pattern must work together, that constructed by me with the fabrics, and the pattern of the symbols stitched onto the fabrics.

I cannot paint.  It is too direct.  My shapes have to be put together in bits.  Like in single stitches in the above case.  They cast a slight shadow, rise subtly above the fabric picture plane.  This phenomenon enriches the color and shapes.

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On the pool deck, shapes are made also of bits, and color moves along by darkening or lightening the bits (pieces of tile), or doing the same with grout.  Or both.  The language is always concerned with pattern, and along with the interlocking pattern of the tile, there is layered upon a secondary pattern of, in this case, square brown shapes which are actual tile to be used for a pool, or open curves made of glass.

As with the embroideries, I like to build in as much detail as possible without breaking up the composition and making it unreadable.  Above, within a big neutral shape, it lightens and darkens, contains screen printed tile of beige and white, creating a busier area, and white rectangles here and there and in a line add interest.

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Terra cotta grout has been used in the area of the shadows of the pots.  This picture was taken when the actual shadows and constructed shadows met.

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I like for grids, or a kind of “organization” to coalesce in places among all the frenzy.

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Another area of organization among chaos.

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This darker shape has a pattern of bigger lighter square tiles, and dark orange actual pool tile appearing in organized squares.  The grout in this area will slowly darken.  White can kill color.

CANCER, HE SAID

My doc asked me what patients thought about when they had a pain, knowing that he would solicit the answer from me.  What?, I said when we were in the examining room.  My mind froze trying to think of any answer.  Focusing on my running injury which was why I was there;  I did not get the game.

Cancer, he said.  Anybody with your history would think of that first.  I did not.  I wanted to run again and not be dealing with sciatica, which was what I thought was my problem.  How long ago was your cancer, anyway?
18 years ago.  Oh, I did not realize it was that long ago.  Of course, a return could happen after that interval of time, but….ok then.  Never mind.

I was looking for a referral to a sports doctor.  He obviously was looking for something else.  We did x-rays.  We looked at them in the hallway.  Most of my patients have not the good reason you do for your back pain.  Look at these vertebrae.  The bottom two were out of line about an inch.  It was rather dramatic.

I always knew my back was of a bad design.  I am not supposed to do this, but you should see a chiropractor.

I had seen one 26 years ago.  In the office, he provided me with a technique to deal with my back up to now.  He put blocks under my hips while I lay on my stomach, and I was a quick study.  I put a pillow under my hips for sleep for the next 26 years.  It worked until now.

I was trying to be smart.  We pay two thirds of our base income for health insurance and it does not allow for chiropractors.  Why do these docs occupy such a questionable part of the medical world?  Why aren’t their offices built of pink marble like everyone else’s?  It could be because they don’t have a strong lobby in Washington.  That would be a good thing.

I am not sure I can trust.  Remembering vividly my first visit,  there were two old scales, the kind from the fifties or sixties, placed side to side.  You know the ones with the bump up in the middle and the magnification of the number of pounds that you were?  And they had little black ribbed mats glued on the surface?  He had me step one foot on each scale.  Yep.  Your body is all screwed up.  Why does a device like this make me doubt?  FYI, the two scales are still there in the office.  He did not use them on me this time.  They are now probably part of  his collection of antique devices.

He took x-rays too.  They looked like the others, except he did my neck as well.  Are you sure that you don’t have any neck pain?  Look at these deposits of bone where there should be none.  No, but I have a strong will.  I believe you do, he said.

Just patch me up so I can run, please.

I had metastatic colon cancer in the early nineties.  I should not be alive.  Most who have had this problem are not.  My dad is not.  He died at 47, and I have the gene for colon cancer.  As I proceeded through my cancer years, there was one primal scream that came from deep within:  I am not doing this.

And I did not.  My will prevailed after four operations.  It was very simple.  I would not entertain the idea of having cancer, and took great pains to always think of it in the past tense.  I had other techniques as well.  Having found two pairs of beautiful dark lavender suede loafers, I wore these cancer cell stomping shoes until they wore out.  My art at the time was all about claiming and then exorcizing cancer.

So I have not run for six weeks, trying to be smart, and not trying the chiropractor.  I have attended two high school cross country meets where students with lithe bodies, streaming hair and red faces crossed the finish line in droves, boys and girls.  It was hard to take.

The day after the last meet, three days ago, and still in pain, I ran.  Did my entire four miles, and also picked up 34 cans.  Strange pains were shooting around, and I knew that this was because I was favoring my left side and carrying 34 cans in a grocery bag.  But I did it.

And I did it yesterday and today.  The pain is not like it was.  Should have depended upon my will first off.  That’s my best characteristic, not trying to be “smart” about anything.  Being smart feels foreign.

ART AS A MOVABLE FEAST

Living with another visual artist is an exercise in comparison and contrast, influence and independence.  It can be a three legged race.  You can be more sure of your partner’s work than of your own.

I am not sure of my own work at all now.  But I have seen my husband, very talented, move like the wind in the past four years.  He has more talent; I have more credentials.

At the beginning of our relationship, my interest in textiles was on the wane.  Had been for some years.  As a student, my interest did not lay in exploring two dimensions with pure shapes. Later when teaching this material, I saw that giving students limited options in composition and limited tools with which to create enabled me to see in each student their humanity and creativity.  My secret desire was to fulfill all the projects given to my students.  I was tired of symbolism.  I wanted to be Chinese or Japanese and make minimal compositions.  Content, puns, text—all these things were still important to me.

On the other hand, Glenn was a sculptural impressionist using metal lines.  He moves through the world noticing parts of figures.  Where I have to see something, he can pull up a mental sketchbook and draw six thumbnails relating to the idea under discussion.  I have the words, he has the ammunition.

Before either one of us knew it, we were both pulling towards some kind of common middle.

One huge part of our lives which was not revealed in our work was our love of flea markets and all the potential for making art it can deliver.  For many years, I had tried to incorporate some kind of “found ” objects into my embroideries, (as above), but the stitched work was just too fine.  Nothing else could survive with it, even beads.  Maybe I did not try long enough.

What you choose to live with, or what you choose to buy at a flea market reflects your style in an elementary sense.  Choice is style.  What you have around you will have common denominators in characteristics.  Just like an art student might get the best design results using a triangle and therefore often uses one in a design solution, one might feel most comfortable living with a wall of planters that look like tree trunks.  Or whatever.

Glenn loves old trucks and tractors.

Here are two old ones that he uses regularly.  His soul is mingled with old parts like this.  Slowly in the past summer, and then much faster as the summer passed, he began to buy old tractor and implement parts.  Then his work turned, and it made a whole lot of sense to me.  Isn’t the following sculpture a much less conventional way to create personal expression, and a more unusual solution to a design problem?

Content is also creeping into the work, as opposed to simple (or not so simple) representation.

These final two examples are about “cleavage”.  All elements either cleave, or have been cleaved.

HOW LONG IS THE CONVERSATION

Before your work of art tells you what it is about?  And is it really “work” if the artist keeps rejecting and rejecting ideas?  What about that work day when all you have to show for your time is eight ideas that were no good?

I may be finally growing up.  Or maybe old old habits take a long time to break.  I would think the most successful of persons would be the ones who observe what they are doing, and if not the best idea, never do it again.  Go on.  Examine something else.  To hell with what once worked at one time.  I wonder if business people are able to let go quicker than visual artists.

In my former medium, embroidery on pieced fabrics, intense labor was required as the symbols on the picture plane were all hand stitched.  I would start with a line drawing, and start stitching, but the theme of the work always changed as the stitching got further and further along.  We were having a conversation, my work and myself.

What you see here is satin stitch and seed stitches on patterned fabric and everything about this takes a lot of time.  This is a detail from a larger piece called “Speculate”.

This entire piece is about nine by nine inches and involves comparing prickly pear “leaves” with my truncated lung after about one third had been removed because of a metastasis of colon cancer.

What I am creating now could not be more different, although the longer I work on this stuff, the more in common it has with the stitched work.  The new work reflects an entire side of life that was never addressed in the stitched work. A side that was often tried WITH the stitched work, but never successfully.

I have just sold the first of these pieces.  It is scary to put yourself  “out there” with an unfamiliar medium.  What does feel comfortable about it however are the objects being used in these “reliefs”, and the process of creating them, with my years of teaching design students about the never ending dance of shifting compositions.  I am finding the camera on my cell phone very helpful with this.

I have always wanted to work in a series, as well.  Never could with stitching.  The intervals working on a piece were so long, everything was inward looking, fine-tuned to get that one idea to stand.  Now, where there is more thinking and less labor, series can emerge, which brings about the question?  What is worth more, labor or ideas?