Tag: art

Abstractions

I realize that my animal sculptures are the most popular of my works. They bring smiles to peoples faces which is my main goal. But quite honestly, my abstract work is my favorite stuff to make. I can really dig down inside of me and create feelings and stories that resonate in a purely non-verbal way.

It is difficult, though, to be an abstract artist these days without having an ulterior motive for creating something. It seems there has to be a deeper meaning, an underlying reason for making something. Environmentalism, sexual identity, politics, family values…the list is endless. I get so frustrated because, while I have subjects that are close to my heart, I don’t always think about them when I am creating. My focus tends to be more simple, a shape, a color, a pattern, a texture, an emotion, a story. I sometimes feel that the art world has forgotten about these words, has declared them too easy, too “surfacey” to talk about.

I ran across this quote in a book called “Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists” by Donna Seaman. The first chapter is about Louise Nevelson, a Grand Dame of Abstract Collage. One paragraph caught my eye and caused an “AHA!” moment for me. I felt vindicated, that perhaps there is, after all, an ulterior motive for what I do. It just doesn’t always have to be put into words.

“Abstract art is an invitation to imagine, to interpret, to reflect. Abstract art induces reverie. It liberates us from the literal and the everyday, and provides a bridge to the realm of the collective unconscious. Like jazz musicians–who begin with a deep knowledge of song and traditional composition, then venture out into new territory, making fresh connections and creating unforeseen variations on a theme–abstract artists improvise on line and form, light and dark, emptiness and presence. Abstract art is about mass and energy, being and nothingness, moods and correspondences. We absorb its emotional valence, its action or stillness, cacophony or silence. Our busy minds instinctively seek patterns and images in abstract art, just as we do when we gaze at clouds fire, rain, and falling, whirling snow.”

EXACTLY!!!

Photos taken at two different junkyards in the past couple of weeks. I am still having so much fun with this photography stuff!!!

Photography class

I am taking an online photography class with the International Center of Photography (ICP) in NYC. Photography  has always been a wonderful outlet for me, it provides me with a serenity that I don’t see in the rest of my life. When I’m behind the camera, time stops. No that’s not right, it doesn’t stop, it just doesn’t matter.

However, I have always had a difficult time learning about f-stops and ISO and all of that technical stuff. The mechanics of a camera remain a mystery to me…they make absolutely no sense to my brain. For some reason, though, during my trip to Namibia, something started to creep through the fog and I started to figure out a way to understand it. This class is cementing that understanding and I feel like I have stepped into a new area of my photographic life. I hope that photography will always be a part of my creativity.

Here are the eight pictures I chose for our first assignment. It was a basic assignment, taking pictures with various shutter speeds and apertures, at various times of the day and of various subjects. We have not gotten to the post production editing section of the course but I am pretty pleased with how these came out without even changing anything.

Click on an image to start a slide show…Enjoy!

rocks…or maybe bread.

Yesterday I spent six hours doing three different installations of the paper-cast rocks that I have been making for the past four months (see previous post). The idea was to take something that I have been working on in my studio and find a venue to place it in so that I could see a) what the reaction was and b) how the objects changed when placed within the context of a public space. There was just so much information that I could ascertain stuck in my studio so I ventured forth to the Horowitz Center at the Howard County Community College in Columbia, MD. (Thanks to Becky Bafford and Janelle Broderick for giving me the opportunity to do this.)

I arrived at the college at around 10 a.m. and started emptying the box of rocks soon after. I really had no idea what I was going to make but I immediately had some very interested people checking the whole thing out. It was quickly apparent that the best moments of the day were going to when I put a “rock” into someone’s hand. The surprise was immediate, their eyes telling them that this object should be heavy and their hand telling them that it was lighter than air. Sometime during the day I started to ask people “Which do you believe, your eyes or your hand?”

I had several wonderful conversations and met some really interesting people. The place I had chosen was one of the major throughways from the parking garage to the rest of the college. Howard Community College has an incredibly diverse student population and I was talking to people of all ethnic backgrounds. I was also intrigued by the amount of older students as well. I was not the oldest person in the building by any means.

Here are pix of the three installations that I worked on during the day.

I learned a lot during this process. Most of it was fascinating to me only, but I will share a few things that really intrigued me.

  1. This was less about an installation than about a performance art piece. The finished product was great but my interactions with the public were more important to me as an artist. Especially when I was able to start a deeper, more philosophical conversation.
  2. It is very difficult to create and record at the same time. In the future, I will look into finding someone to visually record the experience. (It also helps to have someone to go get lunch and give me time to eat it.)
  3. This experience was very different than a gallery show or a craft show. It was not about me only, but about my interactions with the surrounding environment. Because I was not looking to sell the piece, I was able to concentrate on talking to people in a more relaxed way.
  4. Some people didn’t see rocks they saw shells or even bread. This last one threw me a bit as I didn’t see that at all. But I went with it anyway. One man’s rock is another’s bread roll. Of course it meant I better understood the gentleman who thought the last installation reminded him of Hansel and Gretel. Mmmmmm…food for thought???
  5. Daylight, time of day, placement of objects is of the utmost importance. I was located in a very well,travelled corridor, although enough out of the way that no one tried to walk on them. The light changed drastically throughout the day which then changed the success of taking pictures. I need to take this into consideration.
  6. It’s better to do this when I am in good gardening shape. I hurt today.

I am sure there will be more of these experiences, I just have to figure out when and where. But with so much else going on, I don’t know when that will be.


Update on the Great Blue Heron…I was featured on the front page of the local rag…there is something to be said for social media…

Click here to read the article and watch the video…

good stuff

Yippeeeeeee!!! The Maryland State Arts Council has approved a grant given to the Carroll County Arts Council (thank you Sandy Oxx!) and the Carroll County Recreation and Parks Department to commission a sculpture from…wait for it…ME!!! I will be spending the next year making a Great Blue Heron to be installed at Piney Run Park, which is literally five miles from my house. I am so honored that all of the above people thought well enough of my work to trust me with this project. If you were looking for a reason to support the NEA, look no further. This is the trickle down effect of the federal office for the arts.

Here is what I included in my part of the grant proposal…

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I have to put the heron aside momentarily because I have a fun event happening next week that I have to prepare for. I will be experimenting with an installation of paper cast rocks at the Horowitz Center at Howard Community College. I have made dozens and dozens of these rocks over the past few months. They are super cool. I begin with rust stained paper towels. Each  has been molded around a rock while wet. After drying, the rock is taken out. The resulting form resembles a river rock, but is surprisingly light and fragile feeling.

I am hoping that during my time of installing the project, I will get some good dialogue going with the students, faculty and staff of HCC. The Horowitz Center is the college’s arts center so there is a lot of traffic that flows through each day. At the end of the day, I will pack the rocks back into a box, clean up and go home.

Here are pictures of the rock-making process:

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Paper towels are sprayed with vinegar and rubbed in steel dust
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An hour later the dust oxidizes and the towels dry
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I line them with a clean paper towel for strength then cut each sheet into four sections
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Adding water I wrap the sheets around a river rock
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I lay the rocks on a grid to air dry
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After peeling the paper off the rock, it is added to the ever-growing pile

I think this is going to be soon much fun and I can’t wait to see how it all comes out.

water water everywhere…

My husband and I are taking an eight week course put out by the Foreign Policy Institute. It is designed to increase our awareness of what is really happening in the world and how it affects our country (and vice versa). Our teacher is an amazing guy who knows a lot of things about a lot of different stuff, especially the middle east. He is the kind of guy who reads an interesting fact and then follows it on the internet back to the source. Needless to say, I have a greater appreciation for what our past and future presidents are up against when it comes to world politics.

I mention this because last week’s class was on geo-politics. It was not a happy, Disney-esque type of class. Our teacher’s background happens to be in dinosaur studies and so he is well versed in the history of extinctions. And based on what we learned, we are headed to yet another drastic extinction…that of humans and many other animals.

I have been working hard on not feeling panicked, but it is difficult. I look back on my environmental awareness and wonder what happened to the happy days of the 70’s and 80’s where we celebrated Earth Day once a year and cleaned up a few streams in order to assuage our guilt at what we were doing to the earth. I believed at the time that the ultimate moment of reckoning would not happen until I was long gone, ashes under the earth’s surface. I was thinking of sending notes to the next generation telling them how sorry I was that I had left them this planet that needed so much fixing. And, if I am honest, I felt a bit glad I wasn’t going to be around to see the devastation that the last 100+ years have caused on this earth of ours.

When I was growing up, our water came from a spring that started up the hill from our house. The water was pure and cold…the best water ever as far as I was concerned. Sure, there were cows in the field above us but it never occurred to me what they could do to a deep water source like ours. The water was plentiful and cold and I never bothered to wonder what would happen when it ran out.

Now once again, I live in (rapidly diminishing) farm country. I have a well that has barely survived through a bad drought right after we moved in. Since then, there have been two new housing developments, one medium sized one and one large one, that have gone up down the road. We have not had a drought for a while but I am already worrying about whether the water table can handle all the extra car washing, lawn watering and pool filling that will undoubtedly happen. I drink the water that comes from the well, but only after it has gone through the filter in the refrigerator. We have to check the well every few years to make sure that there are no nasty bugs that have developed down there.

And yet…I am supremely lucky. I turn on a tap and presto…there is my water for cooking, cleaning and watering the dogs. In seconds I get scorching hot water for my shower and I can flush the toilet. (Unless the power goes out…that’s another story). I know that my water will not make me sick, it will not cause skin rashes, digestive problems or worse.

It is easy to think that climate change is happening but it is not affecting me so it can’t be that bad. Yes, there are polar bears dying, yes the seas are warming, yes there are chemicals and pollutants and nuclear tests and manufacturing detritus and genetically modified this and that and people who can’t get enough protein because life in the oceans is dying at an alarming rate and plastic is in everybody’s system and…oh, wait a minute. All of a sudden it seems that we have crossed the line where the effects of climate change are actually happening RIGHT NOW.

Did you know that there are people in Washington who, instead of doing something about this, are actually debating about WHAT TO CALL IT? The title does not matter. Who is responsible does not matter. It needs to be fixed and I can’t do it by planting tress by my little stream to help with erosion.

So what does this have to do with me and art and my message?

Good question.

Some days I have no idea.

But other days I figure that art is the only way I have of expressing what it is like for me to come to terms with climate change. I want to show the feelings of panic, anger, sadness and grief over the changes that have happened since I was a child. I look at what my impact is as an artist. I even researched how paper towels are made for a project that I’m working on right now. (Did you know that companies use chemicals like urea-formaldehyde to make paper towels strong even when they are wet?) It can, quite frankly, make me even more crazy and depressed. But it can also show how wide-spread and ingrained the issues are.

So be on the lookout for some installations and sculptures that address this issue in the future. I have started to show a few but I think there will be more projects down the road that will address my fascination/revulsion with decomposition, decay and destruction, both man-made and natural. (Can you tell I am not a Norman Rockwell kinda person?)

In the meantime, I will leave you with some beauty…in an odd form. Here is some rust that I found on my work table one day as I sat down to grind some metal. I find rust so very fascinating. I hope you do too.

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bottom

I just finished a piece that has been percolating for a while. When I finally began to make it, it appeared in three days. I love projects that take such little manufacturing but mean so much to me personally.

The impetus for this piece was seeing pictures of war torn cities and villages around the world. It doesn’t really matter what century, what country or what religion you choose, the destruction looks remarkably similar.Mankind can build some awesome stuff and then in moments, it can be transformed into a pile of rubble and lost lives.

I am also intrigued by the similar destruction caused by natural disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes…the instantaneous metamorphosis is mind-blowing. A town that I used to live near and work in recently suffered a flash flood of biblical proportions. Watching the videos of the flood by people trapped on upper floors of the town stunned me into stillness, punctuated by an intermittent Oh. My. God. and Holy S*%t. I then was swamped with sadness for the owners, renters and families that were immediately homeless for an unknown amount of time.

Along with all of these thoughts (and forgive me if this seems like a downer of a post) were the empathic thoughts of knowing what it feels like to have the bottom drop out of your life. To wake up and go to school and by the time you get home, your mother is in the hospital in a coma after having suffered a severe stroke. Or to answer the phone to hear that your best friend died in a bicycle accident. Or to go through a life-changing bout with mental illness. Life has this way of literally crumbling so fast that your head is still spinning days and months later.

So when I began to play with handmade paper, rust and the forming of three-dimensional shapes, the following piece appeared. I call it “When the Bottom Dropped Out”. It is about my feelings of shock and helplessness when either personal or community/world events have changed my life in an instant. The size of it is somewhat misleading in these pictures, the “buildings” are only two to three inches high and the whole thing is 25″ wide. It was made from steel, handmade paper, pages from an art history book, rust and Japanese ink.

on being successful

I have always been attracted to fairytales, magic and metaphor. I relate much better to Jung than Freud, Joseph Campbell is my hero and I prefer to see myself as a greek goddess than a child of one God. I am trying to get over being a product of the 80’s and 90’s psychological mantra that says that the subconscious (and by extension and relation, the conscious) drives all the bad things that happen to you. Self sabotage, unconscious desires of failure and sickness ruled my view on life, even when I was given proof that it was a false supposition. I used it daily to castigate myself, to remind myself that even if I consciously thought I could succeed, there was a part of me that would take care of that and lead me to failure or worse. If something went wrong, I could say that I had subconsciously willed it. In a way it meant I didn’t have to take responsibility for my actions. In a weird way it meant that all negative stuff happened to me because deep down I wanted it to.

I am slowly letting go of this philosophy. I now work harder on my conscious thoughts, my conscious actions and conscious relationships with people. Ironically, this requires much more introspection and identification than I am used to. In order to succeed it is imperative to know what your limitations are and to ask for help when you need it. Not so easy for the stoic person who was taught (by my amazing mother) that showing your vulnerabilities and your weaknesses opens you up to a plethora of possible negative encounters. Hide it, take care of it yourself and you will become stronger. Make it look like you know what you are doing, don’t ask questions, learn by observing…those were my mantras. You can probably see how this led to a series of failures on my part, not to mention huge anxieties and panic attacks when I thought someone would see through my veneer. Now I can see that these thoughts, and not my subconscious, were responsible for my lack of success.

One thing I have learned from this personal transformation is that magic doesn’t work by itself. Magic works with a degree of collusion from the audience. You can only make someone believe you are better, talented, successful if they want to believe it. It is easy to create the smoke and mirrors that can make something look amazing. Ask anyone in theater about that. All you need is the set, the costumes and the lighting to transform a person into a character in a story. But if the audience member is not willing to go along with the magic, they will understand that the set is one sided, the costumes are put together with tape and stitches and the lighting is ephemeral. I grew up in the theater and was trained in how to put on the face of a happy, successful person. But I always knew better.

Now, funnily enough, I can say I am successful. I am able define my abilities, limitations and goals in a different light. I can say that, while my definition of success is much different than the traditional American one, I am successful. I am mastering the ability to create form, emotion and story using steel, fibers and (sometimes) polymer clay. I have found a way to share my talents and my stories with my community in a way that brings me pleasure. Of course I still have my mother’s voice in my head saying “tooting your own horn is vulgar” to which I would respond (if she were still here) “Tooting my own horn is a part of claiming myself as a person, a woman and an artist.”

So here I am, a middle aged woman who is finally coming into her own. It’s been painfully hard work sometimes but surprising, exhilarating and rewarding in the end. I think how different my life could have been if I had known how to stand up for myself, how to admit my lack of knowledge and how to ask for help when I was younger. But those years are over and I am grateful that I am learning these things now. I still have a ways to go, old lessons die a difficult death, but I am still young, I have time to perfect myself.

Besides, I just helped my dad celebrate his 95th birthday. That gives me 40 more years to figure out how the hell to play this game of life. And if this selfie is right, the lesson is that it is more important to be excited about chocolate cake that got put in front of you than it is to smile at the camera…

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