Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Adventures in Making Art

Last Friday I received notice that I had been awarded a good-size grant by the Artist's Resource Trust, a fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. I applied seven (count 'em, 7) times for this grant without getting anywhere until this year. The grant is not contingent on my completing a project, but I did describe a project on the application that I hope to complete. It involves building a wall of works on 24 panels in an 8' x 12' configuration. The works would be in my Running Stitch series and I would like to show the wall in a small museum.

The Bing at night, photo by Chris Marion Photography, from The Bing's website

Money Changes Everything
Remember that song by Cyndi Lauper? Well, here's how the grant influenced me and changed my plans. I am having a solo show beginning February 3rd at the Bing Arts Center in Springfield. (I posted about this in more detail on my Art of Bricolage blog, link here.)  Although I have known about this show for a while, I had planned to show oil paintings because the space is quite large and I didn't think I had enough bricolage on panel works to fill the space. But when I learned that I got the grant and might be able to complete the project I envisioned, I was jostled out of my complacency. My thinking was that if I planned to contact some museums and other exhibition spaces about showing my uncompleted project, I had better have some big work to show them.

The Black One, 2011, tarpaper, book parts, patinated metal, oilstick,
tacks, encaustic on panel, 36"x36" (click to enlarge)

I've been gradually increasing the size of works that I'm making from 36" x 36", as above, to two just-completed Running Stitch pieces on 30" x 60" single panels. Waiting in the wings were four panels ready to make two diptychs, each 48" x 60", but I've been stalling on them. The grant has now motivated me to get cracking and get building. I have changed the title of the Bing show to GEOMETRIC BRICOLAGE: Found Materials Transformed and I've planned out the two 48" x 60" pieces so that I can complete them in time to show.

Discoveries of Scale
It's a good thing I've never had to work in a widget factory because I really don't like and can't do multiples of the same thing. Every time I make a piece, I do something a little different. As I've proceeded piece by piece with the Running Stitch and RS variants, the overall size has increased as well as the size of the elements. I have discovered that as the works get bigger, they need more structural elements to carry visually from the greater viewing distance their size requires. This is probably like reinventing the wheel but it's been a slowly evolving Aha for me to realize this.

Look At America, 2011, 30" x 60", painted paper and cardboard, book parts,
patinated metal, record album parts, tarpaper, tacks, encaustic on panel.
(click to enlarge)

The work above is constructed/painted on one panel, but I divided it up vertically and put in those black horizontal bands to give it more structure.

This American Time, 2011, 30" x 60", painted paper and cardboard, book parts,
patinated metal, record album parts, advertising posters, record album parts, tacks
encaustic on panel. (click to enlarge)

In this work, I used the solid red book cover pieces to add structure and unify the various colors, marks and printing.

You wouldn't believe how much looking, reconstruction and time it took me in working on these two pieces to figure this out.

Plan Ahead
So now with the next larger size, I am beginning with a strong structural plan for each of them. The challenge is to add variety and irregularities while maintaining the structure. (As you see with The Black One above, if the structure becomes too regular, it can get dull. However, in defense of this piece, I enjoy the simplicity as a change of pace, and in person, many more irregularities present themselves.)

When I remind myself that I only began making this work at the end of 2010 and of how many pieces I've made this year alone, I find it surprising. It's been very absorbing - I would even say entertaining. Keeping myself interested and entertained in the studio has become my mission in life, so I guess things are going well. And this year, not even counting the grant, for the first year in many years I have made enough from art to pretty much cover my art expenses. I'd call that a successful year for me. I hope it went well for you!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Out, Damned Spot! Out, I say!

This is the time of year when it's pretty hard to stay on course in the studio. There are just too many things happening in the outside world - parties, shopping, grant applications, studio visits and other distractions. I am feeling all that interference with the normal course of non-events in my private world, and to top it off, I am moving into a different kind of work.

Having just completed two large works in the Running Stitch series, my mind's eye is sort of fixated on that mode. I've been making notes and sketches for future projects and want to get started on them for the solo show I have coming up in February. But, I'm also interested in submitting works to Supria Karmakar's call for submissions for The Wax Book, a juried exhibition at Castle Hill Center for the Arts in Truro to be shown during the Sixth International Encaustic Conference in June.

Back in the 1990s I made a lot of artist's books - and pretty much drove myself crazy, by the way. My personality is not one that cleaves to the neat and tidy, plan-ahead world in which I made my artist's books. I'm a little more rough and ready and felt I was boxing myself in. I'm a lot more comfortable with either a paintbrush or a hammer in hand, so I gave up artist's books and went back to the messy, hands-on world of painting. (Here are some images of books I made in the 1990s - complicated, all handwritten and I made them in small editions of four or six books the same. Ugh!) (click images to see larger)

Visiting Nature - open

Beach Music - open

On The Road - open midway

The fact is that I could just have changed the type of artist's book I made and not gone for the intricate dimensional pieces I was doing, but when I'm done with something, I'm flat-out done - that is, until I get back to it at a later date.

So, this past week has been a bust in the studio. Between visitors, working, shopping, driving to Boston and partying, I barely got in there. Today I finally came face to face with myself and started trying to come up with some ideas. I couldn't make my usual mess because I'm having visitors on Monday, so that meant I couldn't do what I usually do - pull everything out and try some things. Coming up with ideas under pressure is probably my least favorite part of being an artist. I just get squirmy and do anything to avoid that blank spot between my ears - email, Facebook, magazines, newspapers, trips to the trashroom, anything, anything to get me out of that nasty blank spot. Today I even tried sitting quietly in my chair and visualizing something I would like to see but that didn't work either.

Finally my eye lit on three objects that I've had kicking around the studio for a couple of months and have planned to use one of these days. I brought them to my table and started fooling around with them. Wonder of wonders, I got ideas (or "idears" as I would say)! I believe I have a solution for my book making problem! (In fact, three solutions.) As soon as I had a few preliminary plans in mind, I got the hell out of there before I acted too soon and screwed things up.

No, I'm not going to tell. You'll just have to wait and see - along with me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Work All About America

Never have I felt as American as when I have traveled outside America, and I don't think that is a unique experience. Our native country is such a part of our psyches that it just becomes reflexive, so natural that our Americanisms are unrecognized for what they are. However, I rarely use the word "America" to refer to this country, preferring "U.S." instead. "America" seems a little outdated or a word used only by politicians or advertisers. So that makes it a little surprising (to me) that my two newest works both refer in their titles to America.

Look At America

Look At America, 2011, 30" x 60", painted paper and cardboard, book parts,
patinated metal, record album pieces,  tacks, encaustic on birch panel (click to enlarge)

The title Look At America is the name of a book used in the piece and getting my titles from books used like this is a becoming a common practice for me. I posted several details from this piece last month and here's the link, but the photo above was taken by a pro who has it correctly lit and containing many more pixels than my earlier amateur shot.

Here's what I said about the piece in my post last month:

My intention with this work was to reference landscape but not really depict it. There are pieces of maps in there and the combination of green, brown and blue could be earth, trees and sky. But I didn't want it to be a literal representation of place. After all, the Running Stitch series is about memory, so perhaps this is about memory of landscape rather than landscape itself. The black sections could be roads or they could be gaps in memory (or they could just be formal elements in the painting).

I think this piece has a very complex organization but that the rhythmic black elements in the center section hold it together. As a loosely metaphorical representation of America, the piece had to represent the complexity of this country--the physical beauty and vast spaces combined with the crowding, crumbling and abusive use of so many resources (and people). On the other hand, it's not a literal representation so making it complex just allows the viewer more opportunity for discovery as well as giving me more to juggle.

This American Time

This American Time, 2011, 30" x 60", painted paper and cardboard, book parts,
patinated metal, record album pieces, tacks, encaustic on birch panel (click to enlarge)

The title for this piece came about by accident in a sense. I have begun to use advertising posters for performances along with other found cards and printed materials. From somewhere, I cut out the words "This American" and partially obscured them by cutting off the bottom of the letters. At the other side of the piece, I had put in the word "Time" in an upright position so that it could be read. When I saw these words together, they made sense as a title to me because there are a number of references to time in this piece--dates, words, texts, pieces of things that relate to specific annual events or time elapsing.

Although the emphasis on time is certainly not specifically American, I'm not alone in recognizing that we Americans are increasingly under pressure of time these days as we try to fit more and more into our lives. The burden of a busted economy and necessity to struggle financially adds to a feeling of frantic movement and spinning our wheels. Technology has eased many things but also made it more difficult to escape its siren call. How frequently do we check our email or Facebook? Can we fit in another call or text message while we are doing something else? Multi-tasking is a way of life and concentrating on the here and now has become a goal toward which we must strive rather than the expected way of dealing with life. I speak for myself in this because I find now that if I am not doing at least a couple of tasks at once, I feel a sort of emptiness along with a beckoning from other things calling for my attention.

In thinking (after the fact) about the meaning of formal elements in this work, I could envision the solid red horizontals and verticals as depicting paths through the maze of printed and painted elements. Dividing the whole into parts is a representation of time as well as space and I think these elements perform both functions. The extreme red so present everywhere is a call to action and attention. Everything is on high alert, not only according to the Bush terrorism scale, but just the way red functions psychologically for us, urging us to "Look Here Now."

But, conversely, if everything is urgent, then nothing is. That sounds like American time to me.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Coming Soon

The new red piece in the Running Stitch series.

A detail

I just took this to the photographer's tonight along with the new green piece - red and green, get it? I hope to post full views of them both later this week.