From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Archive for the ‘pieta’ Category

Graduate Open Studios

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studioGraduate Open Studios at SFAI is just around the corner.  Come see what me and everyone else is working on.

April 20, 12:00–5:00 pm

Map (you want to take the entrance on 22nd St, not 3rd St.)  It’s on the Second floor and includes all bays with orange doors.  I am in studio C7.  It’s in bay C (one of the nearer bays on the left, studio is in the back right corner).

If you come visit you may well find yourself incorporated into an artwork.  I usually use Open Studios events for their steady stream of people who can feed into my work, so I am often alternating between hosting my studio and actually working.  Also, I can’t stand being in my workspace looking at anything unfinished without working on something!


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Yesterday’s studio work on the Pieta, that and building a small hand-loom for weaving the tests for the binary drawing/weaving project.

Written by Mary Corey March

October 5, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Posted in art, pieta, work in progress

Pieta, odd projects and talking to strangers.

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She’s coming along.  The glaring thing at the moment is the sparse hair- it’s coming.  The figure in her arms effectively doesn’t have hair yet and hers has only just begun.  I need to leave space for the light to come through and I need to finish her shirt and face before any hair goes on top of it.  She’s almost done- Ia little adjusting the smile, softening the face a bit… we’ll see.

…and no, he will not be green when I’m done.  Sickly perhaps, but not actually blue or green.  I went back into the building and windows, deepened the drapery, etc.  From here in I’ll be working on getting the transition from detailed around the triangle of her arms and face to gestural farther out and adding in more trash, graffiti and wires.  I’m getting pretty happy with this piece. (if you are new here, the concept for this piece is discussed earlier).

Running parallel to this are other experiments and ideas.  I’ve built a sort of cross between a very deep panel and stretchers out of poplar.  Instead of using the panel side of the panel for the next painting I’ve beveled the edges of what is usually the back the way you would for stretcher bars.  I then did a layer of black inside and today I stretched canvas over the opening.  Tomorrow I’ll start painting that one.

When I am done it will be both a painting and reactive light sculpture.  You’ll see.   I expect an awkward stage or two in the process (I’m almost positive I’ll have to take off and re-stretch the canvas at some point).

Also in the works is a tech/art/light tapestry weaving at 3′ 5′ scale.  I just ordered parts to experiment with now that I’ve narrowed things down.  Research, now testing.  The concept, and visuals are all set- it’s just making it.

And finally, I’m still thinking through the design of my next interactive installation.  Now I have enough of it figured out that I’m at the talking-to-strangers stage.  I need to go ride the bus or accost people in cafes and ask them questions.  It’s what worked so well for Identity Tapestry and it needs to be done again.  I can accost other artist any time of the day now.  Definitely helpful, but I don’t want to lose the outside perspective.  Creating at that navel-gazes totally within the art community doesn’t interest me.  That means talking to strangers.


**later note. In looking at this onscreen I noticed that the left-side shoulder has crept up, making her look more tense than serene.  Also the hair getting more filled out on top will balance her out a bit.  I sketched the changes in on photoshop to see and it looks much better.  Sometime the computer is a great tool for getting a different perspective on paintings.


Written by Mary Corey March

September 28, 2012 at 9:22 am

Feet on the ground, starting to run

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It has been a awhile since the last update.  The first jumble of moving in and starting to find my connections to SFAI has settled.

Today was spectacular. Last night I attended a visiting artist lecture by Raashad Newsome.  He’s awesome.  Intelligent, open, collaborative, exploring interesting cultural and artistic juxtapositions… just fantastic.   Using cultural gestures and conversational exclamations to score music in the style of chamber music in live performance pieces.  He conducts the pieces, and at the same time uses a wii and his own programming to mix video live into the performance!  Genius.  Exploring conceptions of “high” and “low” society and mixing them up, abstracting them together… then taking them around the world to see how they inhabit other cultures.  Brilliant.

So- I loved his work, immediately liked him, and then I got to have him come over for a studio visit in my studio today!  I just wish we’d had longer to talk, but it was a good talk and he liked my work.  He immediately struck me as the kind of person I would be great friends with.

I also had my first session with my tutorial class professor.  She’s really a great fit for me.  She asked good questions and gave me new things to look at, but she also really got my work and appreciated it.  I have no doubt she will push me harder  in the future and I look forward to it.  I love being challenged by someone who’s really good and who is really in proper communication with me.  She can also handle my whole range, which is impressive- tech things, installation, painting… she’s very versatile and has a well of knowledge and experience worth tapping for it all.

When people miss most of what I’m doing or saying and give me less than useful feedback on my work based on not understanding me or my work there is little to get from it.  There’s always something to get though.  For example:  “this is a lesson in how to manage discussions with certain kinds of people”, or “your work will be read in this way sometimes by certain people: how do you deal with that and to what extent is it them, to what extent is it you and does it matter enough to shift your work?”.  Everything is potentially useful, but some much more so than others.

Following studio visits I got a load of lumber for a new project I’m experimenting on.  I’m also convinced that it’s time to order materials for another one I’ve been planning for a few months.  More tech in both.

In the meantime I’m chipping away at the Pieta- there are many layers to go.   I also (finally!) found what I think will be a great hair photo source for the Mother.  I dragged an art history MA student from my Critical Race Theory class and took photos of her hair the other day.  People are often bewildered, but generally willing  thankfully.

Looking at the image of the painting  on the screen I see I let the left side of her face get too light and I definitely lost something in the left side of the smile.  I knew I was losing it but it was getting forced so I had to stop and return to it later.  The smile is hands-down the most delicate part of creating this piece.  Fortunately I get to go back into it tomorrow.

Last Friday I did a bit more with my quick painting of the woman in the B52 bomber.  It doesn’t fit into my body of work, but I really love the image- love the juxtaposition of the woman and the machine.

So… work is picking up and I’m very happy with my decision to do this MFA program.  The people it is putting me in contact with are an incredibly rich resource.  The access to visiting artists and artist/curator/critic faculty is great, but the connections with other students are not to be underestimated.  I’ve been meeting some wonderful fellow students and having some great conversations.  I’m pleased, and the art path continues.

In the meantime, Identity Tapestry in LA came down last Tuesday and more photos will follow.

Written by Mary Corey March

September 21, 2012 at 9:53 am

new studio

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A lot has happened in the last week or so.  I am now in the second week of my second master’s degree, this one an MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute.

I got an incredible studio space for a second year and an unheard of one for a first year.  It’s one of the largest, featuring long walls to build large installation projects on and an actual opening window!  A coveted space.  Yesterday after a week of scheduled-juggling and moving in I popped the cherry.  It was really hard to start.  Really hard.  I had to sit down and take deep breaths- I’ve had much easier times convincing myself to plunge into water that still had ice floating on it.  Something about a new space where it was also other people’s business what I did and not just my own, with the added pressure of being given such a great space I felt compelled to instantly justify it.

I started simply, working through the ground on the pieta painting and gradually warming up and digging into it more.

This one has been a trick.  I constantly fight down my training to make a representational piece accurate.  For me this one should be out of proportion.  It’s unreal space. Yesterday’s distortions were a telephone line which is much more curved than it would be in reality, but it needed to bend towards the mother’s head for the composition.  The graffiti is floating a bit.  When I add other objects- crack pipes, bits of trash… some of them will float too.  I went back and took the detail out of the recumbent figure’s right foot.  The detail needs to fade as it moves from the triangle of her arms and face.  Little touches here and there.  Reality is getting sacrificed to the composition and a subtle dream-feeling and the extra presence of the figures.
Next week Debbie (the inspiration for “Deborah’s Story“) is coming to the studio to model the correct skin tone for the woman.  I only put the first thin layer over the under-painting (which had matched the man) when I realized I must have a live model for that.  Previously she was too pale, but I saw her after a trip to Italy in the summer and her color was exactly what I needed for this piece- less yellow, more reds.

She is the first life model that I have ever painted my own self-driven work from.  Normally I would have a hard time painting something like this with someone there, but we connect so well and she appreciates what I do enough and is such great company that I’m really looking forward to it.

Once I get the Mother figure in I think this painting will start to fly.  Everything revolves around her and I can’t tighten it without her more in place.

I’m so happy to have such a fine studio.  Classes are proving exciting and interesting too, but they are not mine alone so I’ll mostly leave them off of this I think.  I have most of the day to work tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it: painting and planing a new woven piece.

Written by Mary Corey March

September 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Color holes

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This is my yarn so far for the upcoming installation of Identity Tapestry at the TEXT: Message show in LA next month.  I lay it out this way to tell me what holes I have in the color spectrum and to see how everything looks together.

I consciously bias a little towards the blues and greens because we perceive more variation in those shades (especially greens) and they are also most often cited as people’s favorite colors (especially blues).

The unconscious bias this particular run is clear now that I’ve laid it out:  Purples- from blue-purples to rich burgundys they just aren’t represented enough.   I attribute this to the fact that purple is currently my favorite color.  In trying not to overdo purple because I love it so much I under-did it.

Well, that’s why I lay them out like this.

Just seeing this picture makes me want to rearrange a few of the balls- but then I would be at it all night.  This is enough to show me what I need.  Pretty as it is it isn’t the actual installation.

As you see not all of them are wound yet.  Thanks to the help of some very good friends last night nearly all these were done at once without anyone having to suffer from RSI.  I have done three iterations winding every single one myself and I’m happy not to repeat it.

One more day of dyeing should finish this easily.

The other thing this laying-out process does for me besides looking pretty and letting me gloat over all the gorgeous colors (most of which don’t show to justice onscreen because they are richly layered) is that it gives me a better sense of the volume.  I began sculpting the nest/basket/womb to hold them and realized almost right away that the scale is off.  Time to re-work that as well.

Tomorrow begins at Techshop running more tests on the laser cutter/engraver to see if there is a better, tighter, smoother way to make the statement plaques.  Then I get to go back to dyeing.  One month to go before the show as so far there is time for accidents to happen without damage.

Written by Mary Corey March

July 17, 2012 at 10:07 am

Pieta- pain and acceptance

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Pieta in Progress (3-15-2012)

The proper title for this painting is "Everyone was once somebody's baby... or should have been"

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.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 18, 2012 at 3:08 am

Pieta- blanket

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Today I finished part of the most recent skin painting and worked the blanket on the Pieta.

I also had to go back into her eye and redo the under-painting.  Something got warped in the translation from Krys’ face to a more universal face and I needed to rework it before I went any farther with the warmer skin layers.

It’s often hard to do paintings in stages because things look so weird in progress.  For example- hair goes last so that it truly lays on top and shows what is behind between strands.  So only a hint of hair where it is most dense gets painted in early.  This also means no eyebrows or lashes.

I’m thinking that there won’t be much more than finishing touches on the blanket.  I don’t want it too detailed.  I might zoom in on a few sections across the painting as a whole and make them hyper-detailed, but this is basically it for the blanket.   Today’s work was adjusting it and adding hints of the blue and rust-colored lines running through it, doing the ragged edges, etc.

I can’t really go any farther with the Mother’s skin without a model who has the right skin tone.  My large skin painting that has every human skin color I could find (including the same-person variations in lips, veins, knees, palms, etc.) has shown me that the absolute color middle color tends to be on tanned Latinos.  Sadly all my Latino friends in town are on the pale side.  I want the most middle, average tone and I haven’t yet found a model for it.

The prone figure is actually something harder.  I want him/her to be racially more neutral, but I want a different color from the Mother.  Paler as if ill, and also dirtier.  I guess I need to hunt down pictures of more ill people.  I think the key will be those sharp transitions- less a smooth skin tone and more bruising/reddening/yellowing where possible.  I need to look at some dirty hands and elbows too- the lines shown in a patina of dirt.

Right now the first light glaze of color over the blue under-painting looks on the yellow side and is simply flat color.  Building up I need to see a real person so I can get all the subtle color variations.  The model I used for the prone figure might actually have the basic color I need without having to fill in from another person.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 9, 2012 at 9:47 am

first blush

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I’ve added the first flesh-tone layer to the Mother.  She’s looking a little sallow and pale at present, but I have several layers to go.  One thing I am now certain of though- I must have a live model with the correct skin color in the studio before I go farther.  Since the original model is far too pale for what I want I’ll have to find someone else.

In the meantime I’ll be working out the rest of the painting.  I started in on the real colors for the blanket and I’m loving how that is coming along.  I love the blue showing through.  The blanket I’m using is a plaid pattern, mainly grey with rust and blue threads running through it.  The strips will be coming along soon.  The palette for almost the entire painting is browns and greys and blues.  The exception is going to be the Mother.  She’ll have a properly red shirt and also much more warmth and color to her face, and even a warmer blue on her pants.  I’m afraid the other figure will be a bit on the washed-out side.

If anyone is wondering about her hair, this is a placeholder.  She’ll have rich dark-brown slightly curly hair with a little redness to it and it will take up more space.  It’s best to do hair much later on in a painting like this so that it can lay on top of the background.

The objects in the alley are presenting interesting problems.  What I want visually, as it turns out is not what would be strictly true in terms of scale.  The mother especially is dwarfing all other objects.  Part of me wrestles against a logical part that wants to make everything in proper perspective and scale (something I’ve taught a course on!).  Every time I try out proper scale though, it takes too much away from the figures.  I do want them a little unnatural.  They should be larger than life.  So I’m now relaxing into that.  It means that the general scale of things in the background is not consistent, but that objects are the size that makes visual and symbolic sense for the piece.  I suppose in that I’m going a little bit Medieval (a time in art where figures were sized by importance and perspective jumped around wildly).

What I wanted out of the alleyway besides the reference to homelessness was both a triangle shape and a trap… but with a possibility for exit.

I’m not actually ready to show you the painting as a whole.  At this moment it is imbalanced. I’ll show you a slice of it…

Written by Mary Corey March

March 1, 2012 at 12:04 am

Posted in art, painting, pieta

Universal Mother

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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’m looking forward to getting the next layers on.

Written by Mary Corey March

February 1, 2012 at 11:19 pm