Archive for the ‘stream of conciousness’ Category
No. My interactive work always comes out of community. Last night four of my friends helped me to attach the skeins of yarn I’d dyed to rocks and wind them into balls for Identity Tapestry (see previous posts).
What you see to the left is roughly four hours of work done by five wonderful women. We sat and talked and drank tea and wine and wound, and tied and glued and wound. I still have many more skeins left to go, but it’s all in sight now. Yes, I did the first two iterations of Identity Tapestry alone (and pregnant!), but it’s not really a project that is made for that. I think I prefer this to a hired team or doing it alone. My friends are wonderful people.
For a rarer dash of the personal, even this small cross-section shows you what interesting people I have around me. They were respectively a Google engineer/manager who builds interactive experiences and used to do Science museum exhibits and does glass work and now welding as hobbies (and is a mean Swing Dancer), a vision scientist (which includes a share of neuroscience) who also designs knitting patters and is a professional and competitive dancer (including Cancan), a nurse who does nursing missions all over the world and has been my companion at Burning Man, and a lady who is a social cat-herder people-helper and coordinator.
A handful of my art school friends are more community and compassion oriented. We intend to consciously inject more of that into our art-world interactions as much as we can. It needs it.
The first few weeks of the MFA program I felt as though I’d landed on Mars. The culture was alien to me in many ways, especially after years separated into my own studio space, surrounded by programmers and anthropologists and neuroscientists and similar- compassionate creative ones. I was struck again by what a strange breed artists are. Since then I’ve gotten to know more of the place, and found people and ideas I connect with and have settled in.
The range is impressive though. One professor (with a career I respect) will tell me that if I don’t create the piece I’m planning she will. Another will tell me it’s not worth doing. Another will tell me it’s a breakthrough work. Subjectivity is still with us.
Last week I asked a professor a question to see how they would answer and was shocked when they replied that they couldn’t decide for me, that that was something I’d have to figure out for myself. I was shocked at the very idea that someone would even think I would take their answer as a given! I’ve never been one to go with any particular authority. My parents have told me many times that from earliest childhood I had no awe about parents, teachers, movie stars or anyone really. I see many things to respect in people, but I am always aware that they are human and form my own opinions.
I’ve always been a fan of this Walt Whitman passage from Song of Myself- it describes the listen-to-many sides-and-filter approach beautifully.
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems, You shall possess the good of the earth and sun.... there are millions of suns left, You shall no longer take things at second or third hand.... nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.
The whirl of ideas, reading and research, exposure to new artists and new art, the constant dialogue with other students, professors and visiting artists of all ages and backgrounds… it’s all wonderfully stirring. It’s fuel for ideas, it makes me want to work more and faster.
…the big catch is that with all that there isn’t much time for making actual artwork.
I’m looking forward to winter break as a time to totally immerse myself in my work five days a week! That’s something I haven’t been able to do since Elise was born four years ago. I have two new interactive projects in the works. One is now basically tested, finished and waiting for the right show to do it at. The other is still in sketch-phase. I may be doing another iteration of Identity Tapestry in the LA area in late January. Details still in discussion.
Tomorrow I’ll be receiving one of the head curators at NYC’s MOMA for a studio visit. Benefits of Grad School.
I’m taking a ground-up painting class this semester. There are certain holes in my painting (like how to build a good stretcher) that I want to fill. Today we kicked off the painting part of the course with a “show up with a photo to work from and a prepared surface, finish something by the end of class”. The studio part of the class is from 1-3:45 and we spent the last half hour (running over to 4) discussing them. The actual painting was pretty much free-painting with little commentary- basically the professor getting to see where we were all starting from. I took another half hour after class to touch up, and I’d like to touch up some more, but I like what came out of this.
I took the image from a library of congress photo by Alfred Palmer of a woman building a B52 bomber. I cropped it, desaturated it and mucked with contrast and shadows before using it as a source. The original photo is full color.
My thought was that if I was supposed to work from a photo was that I wanted to get some of the qualities of photography into the painting and black and white helped do that. At the same time I decided to use three blacks (warm, neutral, cold), so it’s not exactly a monochrome painting. Knowing I would have only 3 hours and have to cart it back wet to the studio I worked small.
It felt good to work wet-on wet on a neutral grey background. I’ve never done it before. With representational painting I have been working more in layers. I also really enjoyed diving into Flake White- much more silky and less chalky than titanium white, but more opaque than zinc white- a good match for the photo feel I thought. It’s not done but I’d like to finish this one. I like the circle of machine surrounding the woman- organic, mechanical… it was a good painting session.
I’m so often pushing the edge with new processes and materials that I forget how easily things come now when it’s just paint.
Today I got into the studio for some of the unseen parts of artwork. I worked on three paintings, but mostly this one. I like the surface skin of these paintings to have a smooth, almost leathery feel. At my last open studios people kept asking what I used for the previous one. “Is it leather?” No.
As usual I love messing with people’s expectations of conventional materials.
So… today was working the surface of this white layer you see. I had put on two layers of gesso (sanding between) already while it was stretched against the stitches. Today it was about working more layers it deep in, letting it dry hanging in the correct directions, smoothing and trimming the edges, getting the backs of the edges.
It is now buttery-smooth, supple and with only tiny intentional hints of canvas here and there.
I worked on other pieces, and at the end was rewards by getting to unwrap the paper protecting the red layer and reveal a bit of what the piece will look like.
I left the bottom layer more raw and rough, more texture in the canvas, the edges a little unraveled in places, the paint itself more textured. I want it to be all rawness.
Next time it will be the outside stitches and some more temporary center stitches. The final ones will be red like those in the background… more rawness, and I want them to stand out cleanly against the skin tones. If I don’t do temporary stitches first and put the red ones after the painting part is done they just won’t stand apart enough. When it’s done the gap will close, but with obvious tension and a little bunching.
This piece comes from one friend’s story of being a bi-racial girl visiting her white grandmother in the South in the early 80′s. It may ring true with other people caught between identities to do with skin color, but it was inspired by her particular story and is not meant to be a general statement.
I think the best way to approach the social issues I want to discuss is one person at a time. Different people’s stories as they are given to me. …or everyone equally at the same time without any narrative at all, completely open like this one. It is incredibly important to me to tell people’s stories, to include many different kinds of people in my work. With my participatory work this is more obvious, but it happens one way or another in all my work. I am trying to get at human things. Previous posts on this piece (1, 2, 3)
She’s close- at least the weaving part is. I think I may have to create an entire new loom/frame to balance things. We’ll see. The second pass with monofilament tightens everything up beautifully but it threw my thread-count measurements. I’m pleased with the weave, and working through the treatment for the edges and frame. I lost a couple of the hard-drive cables (white) so unfortunately I can’t weave the wire any farther until new ones arrive in the mail. Almost there…
And in random studio stories I managed to do a bizarre injury with that darning needle there yesterday. I got up from my seat quickly with the piece in hand and the thread with the needle dangling as I walked away, winding it. Somehow I managed to step on the blunt end of the needle and drove it nearly all the way into my foot. There was less than a quarter inch sticking out with the filament, leaving an inch and a quarter in my foot. Oddly it’s only a little sore today. I’ve had worse from using a stapler gun too long (which is why I customized my stapler grip with molded plastic fit to my hand).
I wonder how many of my pieces have some trace of my blood in them? A fair few. Believe it or not I’m not alone in this, but it does take talent to do a bizarre injury like that!
Still… pleased with how she’s coming along. I like how the weaving process lends an organic quality to the bitmap. I love playing with that boundary between organic and mechanical.
Today my work on this painting caused me pain. I’m at home looking for images of crack pipes and needles and spoons and similar drug items to have on the ground in this painting. It will not be littered with them, but they will be there. The visual research is painful. Mothers addicted to crack neglecting children. Children imitating their crack-addicted mothers by pretending to smoke crack with plastic tubes. People glorying in their ride, somehow not quite aware of the rabbit-hole they are swiftly falling down. It made me feel psychically ill.
One of the slippery slopes to homelessness is undeniably drug and alcohol addiction, so it has to be there in the painting. There are so many ways to end up fallen through the cracks into this state of utter societal rejection- rejection as a human being. Fleeing sexual abuse is the start for many, as is mental illness, costly debilitating disease and simply old age without money and family who will care for you. They are people without a net. That’s why I wanted this Mother there. Where is that person’s mother? Is there someone who could love unconditionally and simply embrace them? When did that person stop being someone’s baby and become human trash?
The person in the painting is not necessarily a drug addict, but that possibility and association has to be part of the piece. What they are is abandoned, and here they are taken up again. Yes. the religious imagery is loaded, but it’s not just Catholic. The Mother is a very, very old goddess found across the world. Something I never forgot from my Early Church History course in college was that Mary was very nearly canonized as part of the Trinity, but the “Holy Ghost” prevailed in her place. Even though she was not given that official status by the Church, if you go into a church you will notice that Mary’s altars often have more candles than Christ’s. Her role in prayer for Catholics is someone more forgiving to appeal to- Mother will forgive you or pity you even if God has bigger plans. Go ask Her to talk to Him for you. It’s interesting. For the record, I’m not Christian, let alone Catholic, but my academic undergrad was in History of Religions.
The important aspect for me of the classical Pieta image is the iconic image of a greater-than-life Mother symbol, and the sense of a possibility of a second life, a rebirth through some state of grace. It needn’t be religious Grace. It can be compassion. Such an archetypal Mother can be a symbol for that state of empathetic unconditional acceptance that one potentially can find in oneself for another human being. It is recognising another person as a precious human being despite the state they may be in. A person’s real mother might contain more baggage, real people being human and fallible, while symbols can be pure.
I work with iconic images because of their power to unpack into so many ideas of such depth. The pieta is a pervasive, loaded icon with a lot to offer. It need not belong only to the religious world. Like many images and stories within religions around the world throughout history it has the potential to speak to greater human experience.
I’ve had an injured right hand for the past last week (deep cat bites can be brutal and swell hugely even with immediate treatment and antibiotics). In this case my tendon on my index finger took the longest to heal. So… no painting lately.
In the meantime Icaught up on my Art History reading and visited SFMOMA for a member’s preview of Mark Bradford’s work. Two pieces caught me in particular- “Smokey” and “But You Better Not Get Old”. Sadly online photos of same were a let-down and just looked flat. These pieces had things that always attract me, things that dance between states- organic, but geometric, luminous, but with some intense, high-contrast edges, uniformity, but with spills and waves to them. Also they looked like weavings, which understandable attracts me. Uniform squares of perm-paper were singed at the edges, making their uniformity give way to a subtle organic sense. The rows weren’t straight, but gave way to gentle waving… I loved them and it drove me crazy not to be able to draw them. I couldn’t even take proper notes because I was limited to my left hand. His other work I enjoyed well enough and found interesting in concept, and but those were the ones that really moved me.
Being what I have been (a competitive gymnast, a martial artist, bouncer, climber, dancer, stilt walker, tightrope walker, and generally active person) I am used to being without one part of my body or other at intervals. You learn to work around them, knowing that they will pass. It always makes me wonder what it would be like to adapt to such an injury if it never went away.
How would I do work without my right index finger? What would I use instead and how? Which fingers would I give up first or last? Morbid thoughts for some, but there are people who have to think about this. My grandfather is 94 and has severe Dupuytren’s, but is still doing his life’s work, writing every night. Last year he was considering amputating his two smallest fingers to get them out of the way so he could continue to type, but fortunately voice recognition software came to his rescue and he uses that now instead. His Wikipedia entry barely scrapes the surface of his life’s work and awards (it neglected the Knighthood from the King of Thailand and his work there, for example).
Clearly there are people who make such choices. At least my Grandfather is in a position to make them for himself.
I have periodically deliberately handicapped myself for an hour or two here and there- walking around blind, not using one arm, etc. Even wearing certain kinds of clothes can create a severe social handicap in some places, and I’ve deliberately done that too. For me it’s part of understanding people. I think it’s important to know what it feels like to enter a room and have everyone look at you with suspicion, fear, disgust or disdain. Some people get that every day.
When something like this happens- a little injury, it brings all these things to mind. I use it as an opportunity for understanding some new perspective on things as best I can.
That said, I am grateful that my hand is now fine and I will be able to paint this week.
Today I went back into the mother’s face to make her more universal. I want her to potentially be anyone’s mother, or at least to have echos of anyone’s mother. So… source images from more people.
I was already tweaking Krys’ face to make her more like a particular DaVinci sketch for a Maddona which I thought had a very perfect mother-smile; gentle and calm and patient. I was also making her eyes slightly more Asian. Still, I wanted to make sure that the Mother was even more universal. My friend Amada is not a mother, but she is a nurse and has that serene, gentle patient quality.
Last Thursday I was able to get some images of her holding another friend’s baby. There was such a huge difference in her face when she was holding the baby as opposed to posing cold! I don’t know any African-descended women who have young children right now (at least none who live nearby), so I had to resort to the internet for those images.
I found a couple that had the element I wanted, even similar lighting…. but once you get into detail even small differences in lighting are suddenly HUGE issues! I already altered the lighting on Krys by ooking at another shot with a worse expression but better lighting. Trying to blend the different faces with different lighting conditions was a challenge. Eventually I was fiddling too much and had to work on the background and another piece instead.
The smile I want is an incredibly delicate thing. I call it the Buddha smile in my mind. Sublime, barely there, but infinitely tender. Tricky.
Funny. I showed my husband the face and he nailed what it was missing in one- a tiny place that should be darker on the right-hand corner of the mouth. I changed it in Photoshop to see how it would look, and here it is…
I got in a little time on Wednesday and more yesterday. The walls and alley floor are beginning to take shape. More layers required, but it goes. This painting is feeling good in its progression. It’s not fast (not with the amount of layers and detail it will get), but it’s going well. One of my many source images for alleyways already had a perfect solution to the perspective problem to work directly from. It was a larger alley opening onto a wide street with a building across the street at the correct scale. So the suggestion of the street at the end, given a few more cues should do the trick. I also wanted doorways that were shut. One source image had a doorway that was actually concreted over, and I ended up using that one.
The main thing that was important to me was the visuals rather than correct perspective, but I like doing both. I wanted the visual of the perspective being at the angle they are, the sense of possibly being in a dead-end, and possibly not, the size and shape of the windows behind reflecting the sky, and the sense that the mother figure is both possible but somehow detached and larger than life (and slightly scaled up from the figure she is holding).
I only had a small window today for the studio, but I am quickly learning not to disdain the small windows of time. Before I had a child I wouldn’t, for example sit down to a sewing project without at least a 2-hour window. When she was a newborn I learned to grab 2-minute windows to sew a seam or two.
Today I painted windows (and a building wall) in my small time window- half my previous “smallest painting-time” of 3 hours. It was productive and I like the look of it so far. The whole piece will be many-layered, and the figures are in a complete under-painting still (so for non- painters, no, they will not be blue! With a day between me and a hectic yesterday, I’m loving the rough strokes showing the under-painting.
It is an old teaching trick to give students a brush that is bigger than they are comfortable with to get their mark going (a trick I have used on students often). I use it on myself yesterday, but I took it up another notch after that and loved the result. Weirdly, I found that the spacing between the windows I sketched out before was the exact width of that brush. Interesting. I’m really enjoying this painting now.