Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Inspired By a Master

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you are probably familiar with my Big Three - Leonardo Drew, El Anatsui and Lee Bontecou. Other masters, such as Joan Mitchell, Philip Guston and Richard Diebenkorn,  also inspire me, but the Big Three appeal more to my somewhat dark and grim natural aesthetic. Above all, materiality or physicality is what resonates with me.

So, as I think any artist must, I ask myself from time to time how much I should be influenced by my inspirations. Should I try to copy their work? How much of them should rub off on my own work? Is there a point where my work becomes more about what they want to say than what I do?

Thinking L.D., 2012, found and invented materials with tacks and encaustic
on two panels, 48"H x 60"W (click to enlarge)

Here is the first piece I've made that somewhat deliberately (in my mind at least) refers to work by one of my Big Three - Leonardo Drew. If I didn't tell you that, would you have guessed? (Of course that's provided you are familiar with his work.) What I was thinking of was his work with boxes put together into a grid, such as his No. 43 of 1994, image below:

Photo of Leonardo Drew's No. 43 taken from "Existed"
(For more about Leonardo Drew, see this blog link to his show
at the DeCordova Museum.)

Now, you can see that my piece looks nothing like his, really, but thinking about his piece is what got me going. His piece has 3-dimensional boxes with rags, found objects and all kinds of stuff in them. My "boxes" are just strips of painted cardboard that frame strips tacked inside them. And my piece is ever so neat, compared to his.

A detail from Thinking L.D.

The Creative Process - Try and Try Again
Just to let you in on how the creative process went for me, I first started with "boxes" the same size throughout the panels, made just with strips of natural cardboard painted with clear encaustic. I used them to frame strips of other materials that I tacked down as usual. I ended up with something that looked like a cardboard bookcase. So I scrubbed that.

Another detail from Thinking L.D.

The second version enlarged some of the "boxes" but continued them throughout the length of the panels. I thought it still looked like too much cardboard. Then I removed rows of the "boxes" at top and bottom of the panels and put in painted strips that extend the width of each panel. I liked that because they broke up the "box" look, and it turned out that these strips were what really interested me. (After coloring in the cardboard "boxes" with oilstick, I was happier with the overall piece.)

An Unexpected Bonus - A New Direction?

Half 'n' Half, 2012, found and invented materials with encaustic and tacks, 32"H x 40.5"W

In fact I liked those painted strips so much that I decided I should make another piece using the leftovers (plus a few more). I put them on a panel and then added that to a panel I had already made in Running Stitch mode. After tweaking the R.S. panel a bit to make the two halves come together more, I was happy. (The bottom panel is one I had made myself so its measurements are a bit off from the standard. However, it turns out that I like the little bit of difference in width between the top half and the bottom half. It gives it sort of an architectural look)

Detail of painted strips from Half 'n' Half

A Moral
Don't we expect a moral from any story - or at least a good ending? Well, the moral is that whatever pings your aesthetic brain cells and gets a piece started is a good thing, but being able to see what you've got and where you're going with it is a learned response, I think. And, who knows, a move made out of desperation may be that unexpected path that takes you to artistic nirvana - or not. You'll just have to try it and see.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Blues for Etta

The whole world seems to be mourning the death today of the great Etta James. She passed away much too young and after a hard life filled with both pain and ultimate success. I own probably 12 or 15 of her CDs and play them in the studio pretty much every day. I will miss knowing that she's out there still singing.

New Work
Back at the end of December when I was planning to make two pieces for my upcoming solo show, I had an idea based on a quilt from the 1930s that I had seen in a book  You know how two ideas floating around in your mind can sometimes coincide? Well, in this case, the quilt top idea came together with the news I heard about Etta James being very ill and expected to die soon. The result was Blues for Etta, mixed media with encaustic (including record albums, sheet music, tarpaper, copper, aluminum, and tacks) on two panels, 48"H x 60"W.

Blues for Etta, 2012, details in text above (click to enlarge)

I don't know how this looks on your monitor, but on mine it's disappointing because this image doesn't convey the vibrancy of the blues and resonance of the browns. And the reflectiveness of the copper really makes the whole piece shimmer.

Here's a detail showing one of several images from CDs that I incorporated .

Recently I read Etta's bio, Rage to Survive by Etta James with David Ritz and I recommend it - not too well written, but the tale of a great spirit who emerged into the world despite overwhelming odds. Here's a link I found on The Guardian to an obituary of Etta that reprises much of her bio. It tells much of what shaped her hard life and determined approach to life that was revealed so strongly in her singing. She was a tough cookie and that came across vividly. (Read a column by my e-friend Wendy Rodrigue in Gambit, the New Orleans paper, about Etta that includes an image of my Blues for Etta!)

Recommendations of Etta's CDs
I am not a fan of Etta's earlier recordings where she shouts instead of sings, but when she came into her own later in life, she became one of the very best blues singers. Here's a good article about her from The New Yorker with some Youtube links. Unfortunately, the links are mostly from her earlier work. If you want a really good, mellow CD that I think is one of her best, try The Right Time, an excellent recording with Steve Winwood on guitar. For an album that's more jazz than blues with lovely piano accompaniment, try Time After Time, some of her best. And Matriarch of the Blues is also a good one.

Etta on Youtube
There are many videos of Etta on Youtube, some better than others, but here's a good one from Matriarch of the Blues, Bob Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody.