NEW WORK

Have been buying old chairs for several years now.  Luckily, we have enough space in the barn for the horde.  One just has to buy them when the price is right and for me, that price is two bucks or less.   For a while it seemed fun to dream about  mixing the parts of these chairs to make funky examples.  But the path of art can change things.  I knew chairs were in my future, but not this way. They are being layered into my windows.  Just noticed this diversion.

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Bought six of these chairs many years ago for five bucks apiece.  Two have been broken, four are still around our computer table.  Love the bentwood design.  They are from an old restaurant, and have a kind of bad habit, especially when it comes to teen aged boys.  If one is too rough, the support for the back rest breaks.  That happened, but nothing is wasted around here.  Notice the chair leg below.

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Up to this point, my typical 2-D orientation stuck.  I layered windows on the wall.  And chairs, as it turns out.

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It was making work for the “Envisioning O’Keeffe exhibition that got me thinking about working in the round.

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Above is my piece.  Called “College Bound” I intend to sift together my experience of teaching at Columbia College with that of Georgia O’Keeffe.  Neither of us lasted too long.  Anyway, it was fun to work on both sides of this dangerous piece.   A new game!

The piece is a smooth and shiny as it looks here.  Layers and layers of varnish have been applied. To me this surface suggests that this collection of shapes in intentional, not an accident of collection.  To make the objects work together better, they have been given the same “skin”.

Other pieces came later that have the same “feel” to me, and the same shiny varnish.

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“Thinly Orchestrated”  2015  This is the second side of the first image discussed.  It has a bent wood leg, and two armrests from another chair.

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The two images above represent both sides of “From Blackjack to Florissant:  Polly and Her Mantel”.  There are two pairs of chair legs in this piece.  The story behind this is as follows:  As a child, our family adopted a Siamese cat from the small town of Blackjack, near our home.  A couple of years later, my mother salvaged a mantel from the same house, to install in our family room. The chair legs here to me seemed like a mantel.  Again, layers and layers of shiny varnish to make all the parts of this composition seem intentional.

The following are just studio shots but you can see the idea keeps having legs.

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ESPECIALLY FOR FORMER STUDENTS

We said “hello” to the fabulous city of Detroit last weekend.  Reason for the journey was to visit the Detroit Institute of Art’s exhibition of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

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Not only could it be a quick trip with not a lot of driving, and a new place to visit, we wanted to support the city which has gone through a lot of pain lately.  We were not disappointed.  Most service people we encountered were very happy.  The city is starting to buzz again.  A lot of smart infrastructure building is under way.  The restaurants are full.

The exhibition was a figurative dance between Frida and Diego.  It was stated that their eleven months in residence while Diego manifested his design in fresco, was the beginning of the end of his career, and the jumping off point for hers.  It must have been so fine working together in the magnificent hall, he expressing his love for the worker and industry, she concentrating on her amazing little detailed symphonies (The detail in her work was more precise than I expected.  It was fully reminiscent of Northern Renaissance detail; think of Jan Van Eyck.).  Her “Henry Ford Hospital” was painted during this time, the spontaneous abortion happening while there.

Visitors to the Detroit Institute of Arts look at the four-wall mural by famed artist Diego Rivera in Detroit, Michigan June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Visitors to the Detroit Institute of Arts look at the four-wall mural by famed artist Diego Rivera in Detroit, Michigan June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

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Above is “Rivera Court” in the Detroit Institute of Art.  The many frescoes are separated by architectural members.  Entitled “Detroit Industry”, the work was paid for by Henry Ford.

Many of the cartoons for the frescoes were on display.  We could see Diego’s mind working as figures were approximated and finally spelled out in a darker line.

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Above he is working on the cartoon for one section of the hall.  This section was changed after the loss of the baby.  He commemorated the sad event by including a baby in the womb as the beginning of all of man’s wondrous achievements.

We entered the exhibition space and saw this:

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The exhibition space prior to entering the great hall alternated between Diego’s early panel paintings and cartoons, and Frida’s small works.  Detroit had a lot of the most famous works there.

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“Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair”

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“A Few Small Nips”  The blood from the murder of the wife by the husband is reflected on the frame.  I had not remembered this.

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“Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States”  1932

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“The Suicide of Dorothy Hale”.  Again, interesting treatment of the frame in regard to the content of the work.

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And, of course, “Henry Ford Hospital”.

There were many more, and also earlier panel paintings by Diego.

This exhibition is over, as of yesterday.  Something else will be shown in that space, but the DIA is full of wonderful stuff.  I realized before we left that we would see this:

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Pieter Brueghel’s “Wedding Dance”, one of my favorites, for pedagogical and sexual reasons!

MORE POOL

It seems like more than three summers I have been working on the cement surface around the pool.  Never full-time; this year sculpture is pulling me hard.  And there’s the heat.  Much of the time, laying the tile is the only option.  Composing is more fun than grouting anyway.  It has been so hot these last weeks that grouting is out of the question.  One could only treat a small bit since it “cures” so quickly and that is simply inefficient.

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Last summer it occurred to me to date areas of the pool with reference to when they were created.  I had been doing this for years in the big house.

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Not even sure if it was 2012 when started, the numbers started there.  Numbers don’t mean much to me anyway, whatever they represent.

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In this area, where around a hundred “century plants” live, they are reflected in the tile work.

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Not too easy to read, “Here I Sit” is ready for grout when it gets cooler.  Obviously, this is where I sit, on the steps.

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Lots of real estate has been finished in this area this spring.   Curvilinear lines make up most of the figure; various organized squares of tile picked up on the street present a small area of tight pattern to contrast with the otherwise pretty chaotic ground.

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Birds and serpents in the background, a yucca is being reflected in the pool surround next to where it is planted in the garden.

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The area up to the yucca was done in 2014.

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Love leaving messages in my work.  Did it all the time in my textiles.  I wonder what owners of this place in the future will think of this.  After all, what remains of me will be in the gardens.  Could be fun!

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This is part of a Lee + Glenn that is now partially covered by a bottle brush bush.

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Same is true for the master shower.  Waiting for a rainy day to finish this grouting on a project that has been at least three years in the making.  Might be today.

DESTROY ART

Destroying your art can be as important and productive as creating it.  And at any time in your career, for sure.  It is especially important as a student to pack away for later your old work, or failed work.  I have participated in many a critique where an artist feels that more talking and talking, and then more talking and talking will make her work a whole.  The work must speak for itself.  Always.  The work must ask a question in some way; it must never be simply an answer.  Simple answers are not art.

The truths in your life you will always remember.  Pay attention.  Ask any therapist about this.

(The following quote is from Teresita Fernandez, recipient of the 2005 MacArthur Genius Award, in a commencement address to her alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University’s School for the Arts.   http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/12/29/teresita-fernandez-commencement-address/

“This kind of amnesia is life’s built-in way of making sure you filter out what’s not very important. You graduate today after years of hard work, immersive years of learning, absorbing, processing, accumulating, cramming, finishing, focusing. There are no more reasons, really, to even make art unless you really truly want to. Of all you learned you probably don’t need to remember most of the technical or theoretical information, as that’s all easily accessible with a quick search. And what you will remember will have less to do with the past and more to do with how it triggers reactions for you in the present. Oddly enough, what we involuntarily do retain is meant to help us move forward. This forthcoming amnesia that awaits you is just another kind of graduation, another step in a lifetime of many graduations.”

When in undergraduate school, in a very early drawing class, my TA told us to get rid of our past work.  He said not to just turn it to the wall, not to pile it in a closet behind a door that you can still see:  GET TOTALLY RID OF IT.

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“Not every project will survive. Purge regularly, destroying is intimately connected to creating. This will save you time.”

My teacher was right.  This impedes growth.  It can remind the artist what a bad one they are indeed.  The artist does not need that kind of reminder constantly.  I have said many times in the past that having your old art around, work not up to par, work that is an answer and not a question, is like living with your high school graduation picture hanging on the living room wall.  It stunts you.

That school experience is not my first memory about problems with work.  As an elementary school student, I read a story about a little boy doing homework.  This fact stuck with me:  that when he put his finished arithmetic homework into his desk drawer, the incorrect answers struggled with being on the page.  They pulled and pushed.  They were not united with the page.  It would be so simple if we had these clues.  Considering this story involved math problems, it was ever pertinent to my school experience!

The following are two pieces recently destroyed.  It felt great to do this.  It was healing.  My spirit died when I walked past them, struggling with being on the gallery wall.

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This piece looked like a bad mullet hair cut from the 1980s.

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In this case, and also in the next shown, the initial mistake was not clearly identifying the perimeter of the sculpture.  The shape breaking the lower edge is confusing and draws the viewer away from the activity of the piece.  I also should have known that the piece should die due to the difficulty of placing the lines within the  “square” of the piece.  One good idea gleaned from the work is the sanding on the zig zag lines on the right.  The one at the top has been sanded on its edges the most making it visually lighter.  The middle line has some sanding, the lower one, almost no sanding.  You can always discover a good thing even within a piece that does not work.

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Again, wonky perimeter.  Weak lines.  The hangers perhaps do not lose their identity enough.  I have had portions of a window as seen here work, as in the piece below, but they do not work in this case.

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In terms of destroying work, because of my philosophy of re-using and re-purposing almost everything, the elements of destroyed works become raw material for new works.  Sometimes there is a shape that I cannot get off the glass or the wooden frame.  I leave it, respond to it, and have an interesting detail that needs to be considered, but something in a place I wouldn’t have thought of.  The element is “found”.

So.  Two destroyed pieces plus additional windows and additional work equals:

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And:

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THE STORY OF AN AESTHETIC

 

The following are some of the most loved things around here.  Stuff that shows its history is most meaningful.  Ghosts of things.  Things that have BEEN places and in others’ hands.  This little desk was in an old barn made of railroad car wood and was on the property Glenn bought in 1974.  It sat in that barn until my discovery in 2008.  I love it.  It has no drawer, but who cares?

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The little black hoof-like feet are original.  Just had to take a picture of it on the piazza we are laying.

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Some child, at some time, made stars.  We preserved them.

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Found this old aluminum lawn chair in a dumpster.  It had been painted many colors in its life.  Used a tool and dug into the last paint job, the black, and revealed other colors as I chose.  Then it was protected with a thick “varnish” for metal.  Where to put it?  The decision wasn’t difficult.  I have had this amazing ceramic piece for decades.  They were made for each other.

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The following two pictures are not very good, but they illustrate how I added color to the walls of my home when renovating, and how color is discovered in my sculptural work.  Above with the lawn chair, the same thing was done.  Scrape or sand away layers of color to reveal the color history of the thing.  This house was built in 1939 and a lot of life has taken place here.  I let it show.

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Below is the back of the house just after we moved it to our acreage.

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So, it makes sense that my aesthetic should one that celebrates the history of a thing.  The Japanese call it wabi.  Or sabi.

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UPDATE ON THE TREE-PEE DESIGN

All design work must be refined with repetition.  Less is most always more.  Better materials can be found and used, those more compatible with their function.  These are good choices for the planet, and help keep that money in your vacation fund.

I must say that it is amazing how little boundary one must construct to keep a deer from eating your bushes.  They seem not to need a whole lot of suggestion.  Tree-pees have solved the deer problem for me for years, even with bushes fairly enveloping the support.

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This tree-pee is three or four years old.  The snowball bush and the tree-pee have a sympathetic relationship.  They are one!  There is nandina, lilies: ginger and not, and a couple of other things planted in the space of the circle that the bush does not use.  Interestingly, every fall a couple of the snowballs bloom.  But in the fall, they are flat like little discs, rather than exhibiting their Seuss-like splendor in the spring.  You can see two blooms above.

At the farm down my running route, they simply put a small plastic ribbon on a wire about four feet off the ground and maybe every six to eight feet down the line.  That does it for a whole field planted with something deer love.  Amazing.

I use cedar from our woods as much as possible as that wood will last longer than any other around here.  The jagged protrusions I cannot help but think serve my purpose as well.

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This tree-pee rests on the side of the woods and protects an oak leaf hydrangea.  This was propagated by me, one of about 12 starts.  Only this one survived, and with the way the deer love this plant, I am interested in defending only one.

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This pyracantha is well protected by this heavy tree-pee.  The bush is doing all it can to attract bad visitors, but all that showiness is unsuccessful.  A Japanese climbing fern asserts itself on the rightmost piece of cedar.  There are also day lilies in this bed, and all to the left are tiny iris, purple; I call them Japanese, but that name is wrong.  They are however the iris one sees on Japanese byobu.

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So here is the new reduced-in-design tree-pee.  Again it houses a pyracantha, one propagated by me.  It was tiny when it was planted;  I fairly crocheted a little string net around it.  And as it grew,  bigger uprights were piled around it, and when my cat knocked the whole thing down last week, it had needed to go for months.

So what is different here?  Had my best idea in a year when looking  for three uprights.  Seeing one of the awful woods vines we have here that grow to a hundred feet and compete with almost any kind of tree, I realized that the cut vine would be flexible and would simply wind around the uprights, and wherever it crossed, it could be tied.  Simple.  And that is just what I did.  The tension created by the winding of that almost-live thing is quite extraordinary.  And the spiral extends beyond the uprights according to its own will.

Then the vine ended.  It was too short for the whole job.  Could not find another because a rampage was conducted (by me) last spring cutting all those vines in the front woods, and a fire ensued which provided much satisfaction.  So a very young tree, growing too close to another was clipped and it worked in the very same way!

BIRDZ: AN EVOLUTION TO CARYATIDS

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Among those who create, there are planners and there are followers of voices and processes.  Ideas come, and some are not good enough to be implemented.  It is important for an artist to reject the first idea, the second, the third to get into an area of innovation.  I know this.  When younger, much time was spent creating images that did not need to exist.  This is different than working only hard enough to create one solution, and going with that.  Students do that.  No more work than necessary.

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The cameras on our smart phones are wonderful for preserving ideas as we go forward.  With this record, no tiny inspiration is lost.   The first photo above is of the rough “sketch” of a piece that I had thought to make.  Its parts had to be glued and grouted in stages.  The tile for the back plane was installed and grouted, with bits of bird detail from a broken plate installed at junctions of tile.

The front structure is part of an old drawer.  It was placed symmetrically on the finished back plane, the window.  That may have been the first mistake.  Symmetry is too easy and too predictable for really innovative compositions.   Symmetry looks like old album covers from the sixties and seventies.

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The idea was to have warmer colors of old kitschy bird collectibles on the top section of the drawer, and cool on the bottom.  Wonderful use of color can carry a piece.  I re-glued and sanded this drawer.  The back was removed.  Varnish was applied to give it a little sheen and tile applied in some places to give it detail.

Then I thought about what in the hell this drawer had to do with birds.  What is the reason for this accumulation of stuff, then?  My goal is to use at least two windows in my current compositions, and to make them sculptural.  Is this really the best way to satisfy that goal?  No.  I am one window short.  And what do the birds have to do with the window?

I trashed the drawer.  It is important to know when to stop, and this can take years to learn.  Self talk can ensue, but reams of narrative cannot improve an image if it is not speaking itself.  Good images do not need words.  Less is more.

Left with one window plane (yes),  hanging device already installed, I started to play in the space for that at the back of the barn.  Some pieces of metal that Glenn took off a sculpture had intrigued me for a while, and I tried applying them to the symmetrical window to knock it off balance.

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This was beginning to make sense.  Glenn helped me to screw the rusty metal “lines” into place, but one thing had to be modified.  He took a torch and blasted off about a half inch of the metal re-bar at the upper right.  The second window needed to hover in a little wonkier way.  Above, it looks like it wants to be parallel to the base window, and I did not want that easy a relationship between the two.

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Looking at the bottom of the piece, you can see that we clearly do not have parallel lines now.  The front window “hovers” over the bottom at about three inches in places, and about four in others.  Now I am playing with the bird collectibles in the space between the two windows, making that space meaningful.  The composition will go through several incarnations.

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Confusing color.

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The sea birds are coming together.

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What are caryatids anyway?

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Outside.

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Inside.

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PAINT BY NUMBER

If you are a baby boomer, you know about these.  As a person who is now a visual artist, paint by number kits and coloring books were the things that stimulated me when very young.  Looking at a paint by number painting makes me think of Mr. Wizard and John Gnagy, meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  They are visual comfort food.

I have been buying them for years now, and around the boonies of South Carolina, they are not valued as in some big cities.  They are cheap, cheap, cheap.  Something is wrong with me and I cannot have one of anything, or even five of anything.  I have to have them ALL, it is that simple.

Yesterday we found two at the local flea market.  They were very nice but were in these gawd awful Chinese frames with pieces of barbed wire on the perimeter.  We bought just the paintings, and the dealer was thrilled because she loved the frames and wanted to “work on them ” a little bit to make them even better!

These paintings mostly came in pairs with frames and hanging devices included.  Paint came in tiny vessels with a brush, and the numbered cartoons for the paintings were printed on a range of supports from thick paper to hard canvas-like.

The frames that the paintings are shown in here are not their originals as we could not tolerate the barbed wire.  They were from a paint by number kit however, but the paintings were a little water damaged.  Below is what I do with those paintings.

There is a big plywood box covering the water heater in the bathroom of the studio.  Paintings that are not in good pairs, that are a little damaged, or that are less than pleasing subjects go here.  I staple them on, and will soon have the big garish but necessary thing covered.

For yesterday’s find,  mats were cut to make them fit the frames that were too big.  So they are in “real” paint by number kit frames, just not their originals.  Look at the hanging device for these:

A kind of sideways cup hook!  This device was used on both frames.

We have in the new bathroom a “water closet” by a strict definition.  It is here where the nicest examples of paint by number paintings are hung.

Also included here is a typical South Carolina sweetgrass basket.  The paint by number pairs are composed to refer to one another compositionally.  They are engaged in visual conversation, and balance each other when hung.  The pair above is framed in a typical 1950s hard wood frame with an abrupt profile we don’t see much of now.  On the web, I have seen this same pair with a different frame.  My cost was five dollars for the two.

These two have matching plastic frames, and one was under glass when purchased.  They are in great shape, and the subject matter is on the rarer side.  I paid a dollar for the two.

This composition in a strange neoclassic style is unusual in my experience.  I bought this from a dealer who has become a friend and so paid more than normally–six bucks.

This was us!  Check out charlesphoenix.com; this looks fun.

THOUGHTS ABOUT GROUT

Working at the pool for the last couple of days, I have been thinking about what grout can do for a mosaic image.

I am using bright white grout now.  It looks great around the pool at this point, but we will see how it ages and maybe curb our enthusiasm!   I decided that in all areas, the grout will either get whiter near the edge of the pool, or at least a lighter shade of what is being used in more intensely colored areas.  That has been done in the area of the horseshoes and the acuba plant forms in the image above.

Also at the very edge of the pool I will use white cement paint to continue the white up to the edge of the liner.  Not wanting to interfere with changing the liner in years to come, the grouted edge stops well short.

The tile in the ground area of the design is getting subtly darker as it migrates towards the foreground in the picture above.  Therefore, the grouted white lines will be more readable there than in the lighter areas.  I want that to happen: for me, color and value must always be changing.

Additionally, I am experimenting with using totally different grout colors within the prickly pear leaves.  They were grouted first, and the white grout added later.  I am looking for a kind of approximated painterly line where the two grouts merge and have not succeeded with that yet.

In the piece above, done a couple of years ago, my changing color and value philosophy gave me fits.  My idea was that in the center of this piece, the grout would be midnight blue.  As it worked towards each side, it would get yellower, finally being the yellow of the tile surrounding this rug (but before it would get yellow, it would be greenish, thanks to color theory).   I wanted the tile rug to have dark drama, but also wanted the lines in the big yellow area around the rug to disappear.  If midnight blue had been used for the area around the mosaic, the bold lines against the yellowy tile would fight with the mosaic image.

Looking at the central area of the piece when the grout application was first finished ( a rectangle bounded by two arrows),  it looks as though there is a haze caused by not wiping the grout well on either side of an area which has the  darkest grout.  The problem here was not my failure to wipe and therefore causing a haze on the tile, the problem was color theory!  The tile being on the yellow/gold side, and the midnight blue grout having a handful of yellow/ivory thrown in, created a complimentary color situation in that area that read as “haze”.  It was absolutely confounding!

The first of the three pictures above shows the ungrouted problematic rectangle.  The second is a detail of the rectangle after it has been grouted according to my plans.  You can see that the center of the shape is clear, the edges of the shape are clear, but between the two, where I was mixing the two colors, a strange effect is happening.  It looks hazy, but is not.

In the last of the three pictures, the problem has been solved by using only midnight blue throughout that entire rectangle.  It reads fine and is not confusing considering that the rest of the mosaic contains grout which is gradating from blue to yellowish.  Experience is a great teacher.