From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Archive for the ‘skin’ Category

At College of the Redwoods

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img_1958Today Between the Lines (experience exchange) went up with the help of the head of the Black Student Union and the Professor heading the Book of the Year project. There are always hiccups, but now it looks exactly as it did in my mind and even though the official opening isn’t until Thursday it already had some participation.Some of the students who will get to participate are taking correspondence courses from prison, and I’m so glad I was able to get something of the piece to them, because having a place for their stories to be told is important.

My interview for the local NPR member station is here.  It doesn’t have the image and specific link yet, but it is the Feb, 21 one.

The piece works much like Scales did. Participants write a response to a writing prompt on a hand-painted paper and exchange it for someone else’s.  Then they read that person’s response and tie it to the frame which they feel it belongs most to (Repression, Expression, Privilege, Opportunity, Love, Hate (fear), Resistance, Compliance, Accepted, Suspected, Hardness, and Openness).  Being asked to place it not only gets them to read someone else’s experience, but it also gets them to think about it in the context of the themes in the book.

I wrestled a lot with the themes and questions.  I had to tailor the themes and questions for people who might not have read the book yet (half the students read it in the second semester), and also to make it approachable.  So much of what is wrong with the world that we need to change is things we cannot bring ourselves to engage with.  My job is to engage people, so I find myself walking the line of bringing up difficult issues in such a way that people can approach at their own speed, even in a way that seems fun and colorful.

I’ll show more about this new work later when I have more pictures of participation, but tonight I’m thinking about the screening of 13th at the college and the thoughtful, powerful discussion moderated by the Black Student Union afterwards.  The students I have met here have been wonderful and I am honored to be here.

mask painting in progress

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Here is the latest work on the new sculpted/stretched painting. The step you didn’t see here was where I worked on the back (blue/purple) layer and stitched up the middle (redish) layer. While I am dedicated to exposing process a little bit of mystery is in order from time to time.
Here you are seeing the freshly gessoed top layer I just attached with a temporary protective layer hiding the rest of the piece.

The gesso is lightly tinted to be similar to the under-skin color of the skin shade I will use (based on my own this time).  I will be painting the final layer in oil tomorrow, barring catastrophe and then I will go over the whole piece, bringing the layers together as a whole.
I’m really loving this body of work- loving the sculptural and fiber elements.
They have meanings for me as to body and apart from body but I prefer to let the viewer approach them on their own terms rather than explain each one in detail.

Funny, while this one is not about adversity per se, the Emily Dickinson poem that gripped me as a teenager and stayed with me for years came back to the surface and kept quoting itself over the painting and sewing process:

No Rack can torture me —
My Soul — at Liberty —
Behind this mortal Bone
There knits a bolder One —

You cannot prick with saw —
Nor pierce with Scimitar —
Two Bodies — therefore be —
Bind One — The Other fly —

The Eagle of his Nest
No easier divest —
And gain the Sky
Than mayest Thou —

Except Thyself may be
Thine Enemy —
Captivity is Consciousness —
So’s Liberty.

One thing that is true about this body of work though- it is about inner and outer selves and the tension within the body as a vessel of self in all its contradictions.  I love them being both tortured and exposed and beautiful at the same time, prisons of self and platforms for the self…

Written by Mary Corey March

August 22, 2012 at 11:47 am

Sculpting Canvas

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I’m getting deeper into sculpting canvas and I’m loving it.

Today I’m on my third piece in the Stretched Skin series and it’s starting to hit another level.

There are so many material and process things to consider when you are sculpting canvas using every trick you can find- tension, sewing, molding, manipulating.  I’m using the knowledge of how fabric moves from my experience sewing and weaving- the way a weave is more flexible in certain directions and how it does and does not want to move.  I even made a sort of hidden dart (a part of the fabric you take in, like on the waist of a dress) in the painting today to keep the visible fabric taut without losing the outline.  In addition to thinking about how fabric itself will work I need to take into account how the gesso and the shrinkage will effect the fabric. Then there are the things that you are never supposed to do when you stretch a canvas- things that cause wrinkles for example.  Those things are suddenly fair game… because sometimes I want wrinkles (like the top left corner of the second layer above) and so I break those rules too.

The tricky part is doing it all in a balanced enough way that the frame doesn’t warp.  This also involves putting in some working tension lines that I will re-do to fit better aesthetically later.  At this stage it’s about getting the tension right.  For example- the zig-zag in the center slit-thing will become roughly parallel lines.

Right now the top layer is not attached (and will not be until I paint the bottom two) but I could see the bones of the piece for the first time today and it was very exciting.

This piece is taking the sculpting to a new level by using the draped/cast mask form.  The new process could have gone more smoothly, but it’s looking exactly how I want it too now.  Next time it will.  Today the process of doing the two under-layers was fantastic.  I’m getting a real feel for how to make the canvas do what I want it to and it just flies now.  It’s a fantastic feeling.  I’m really enjoying this piece and can’t wait to paint it.

The very first sculpted canvas I did was also the first painting on canvas that I ever did- sometime in 10th grade (’92?).  I have never felt compelled by traditional rules for painting and was always interested in the space between painting and sculpture. Interestingly that same year a high school ceramics teacher bought a ceramics piece of mine because he thought it was a revolutionary way for painting to emerge in clay in 3D.  Now doubt ceramics will come back into my life soon. In art school a made a few pieces that pushed those boundaries in an experimental way.  Then I started to take it on in earnest in the Sculpted Canvas Series.

I have the feeling of my identity as an artist growing clearer and tighter (despite the many media and styles).  I feel everything getting easier and paradoxically more interesting and challenging at the same time- the challenges are on a different level now.  I’m looking forward to exploring them even farther in the upcoming MFA program.

Written by Mary Corey March

July 27, 2012 at 8:39 am

Wrestling in the studio.

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I started out with several strategies in mind for how on earth I would get the look I wanted.

Last post I was debating doing a plaster positive.  I ended up doing it as a backup, though it was too wet to use that day.  It turns out it’s a good thing I did because it was essential today!

Sculpturally the easiest material to use for get the effect I wanted would have been paper- I could simply create a large Venetian-technique mask over the stretcher bars.  But for me it had to be canvas.  I love subverting the traditional medium of oil-on-canvas to make it do new and interesting things.  I love it when people look at my sculpted canvases or skin painting and assume it must be other materials.  I love the idea of canvas becoming skin too- a surface face we show the world. I seem to like making things difficult.

The clothespin on the nose cracked me up. It worked though! I was amazed to find one in the studio.

So… it must be canvas.  In the end I did hours of elaborate propping, stretching, cutting, sewing, picking out stitches, weighing down, pinching etc.  I was having a rotten time of it until I remembered to think about canvas as fabric again with more of a seamstress brain on.  It needed to have some folds in the flat parts to make up volume for the raised mask part.  Interestingly that’s how I first sketched it.  Once I had that it was still a struggle to get the canvas to behave, but I got it there.

I did this time mix a small amount of plaster into my gesso, but that’s still not outside of classical painting anymore than wax is.

I had to run from the studio before I poked at it in some fatal way.

The edges and eye-holes will be re-cut, and after I reinforce the back of the mask I will be working the rest of the canvas a bit to stretch it into the frame.  I will need to remove the whole thing, re-work it, do the back painting and then stretch this one in front.  I ended up changing the diagonal at the last minute.  I like the idea of the background painting soaring up and to the right while the mask looks down a bit.  That was another tricky piece of this.  I did not want the mask dead-on.  It had to be turning slightly to the side.  Dead-on would have been easier, but more static and a bit more trite.  This one will have more intensity.

Written by Mary Corey March

July 13, 2012 at 4:14 am

Art in the Kitchen

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My art happens in many places: the studio, the cafe, the museum (including history and science museums), the wander, the train, the kitchen, the sewing area, the back yard, the industrial workspace, the standing desk, wherever I am watching my daughter and even the couch.  This is where I get my work done, and in about that order.

Today work is happening in the kitchen.

I’m going to use techniques I learned from a mask-maker in Venice a few years back to add a three-dimensional quality to my next stretched skin painting.  I’m using a copy of the wax positive I used for casting the glass part of “She reveals hidden color“.  I never trust kilns- anything can go wrong and frequently does, so I made a copy of the face I sculpted in wax before I added the mask and put it the wax positive in plaster for the glass kiln.  This means I have a life-sized wax head kicking around.

The way I would do this ideally would be to make another alginate mold (the squishy stuff they use in the dentist’s office to take impressions of your teeth) of the wax positive and then make a plaster positive from that, then do what I’m doing right now on the plaster one.

It will save me half a day and a lot of alginate to do it just on the wax… if it works.  I just molded a wet layer of blotting paper to the wax face and applied a layer of glue on top of that.  I will use several such layers, some with plaster mixed in.

The reason to use a plaster positive is that plaster absorbs moisture and the paper would dry more quickly.  I’ll give it an hour while I work on things for Identity Tapestry.  If this first layer hasn’t begun to dry I’ll make a plaster one.

So… art in the kitchen.  It has the added benefit of being able to make tea at the same time.

So… now over to making new laser-cutting test files for improving the plaques on Identity Tapestry.

Obviously I believe in using any materials at hand to make the work as I see it in my mind, from centuries-old craft techniques, to traditional fine-art mediums, to lasers.

Written by Mary Corey March

July 6, 2012 at 12:57 am

Finished and inspired

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As of yesterday “Deborah’s Story” is finished.

I was right- it did need just a little more intensity in the red stitching.

Today I set out with my friend Debbie (whose story inspired the painting) to the DeYoung museum’s Gautier exhibit.  It was wonderful to see the show, as fashion is an interest of mine, but all the better for the excellent company.  It was great to be able to talk over ideas of identity, gender, race, identity politics etc. (not to mention fashion, art vs. craft, etc).  with her.  It was also great to sketch out an ideas for coming projects with her input and ear.   Talking through ideas with other people is such an important part of my process and I have been spending far too little time doing it lately.

Debbie is excellent museum company.  I find it very hard to go to exhibits with most people.  Either they breeze through or there is an obligation to stick together for the entire thing.  This is the second time we’ve been to a show together and it’s effortless.  We leapfrog through.  I stop to sketch, she looks at what she likes to, we come together and discuss, part and look at different things… but still largely at a similar pace.  She’s similar enough to me that we completely connect at a deeper level and don’t need to explain very much to each other at that level, but we  are also different enough to have very different experiences and perspectives on things.  She’s awesome.

Better still I took her to the studio afterwards to see the painting she inspired.  She told me the story some four years ago, but I thought of the piece fairly recently. I finished it yesterday and I’m pleased.  I was thrilled that she liked it so much and got so much out of it.

She had associations with it that had not even occurred to me but which fit beautifully.  The halves did fit the coloring of her mother and father as I hoped they would.  I loved seeing her hand across the two sides.  It so clearly fit.  She was also able to see the more subtle layers of color and transparency in person that just don’t translate on the screen. I think I may try to do a version of that shot properly  sometime with a serious camera and better lighting.  Done right it’s another piece by itself.

I also discovered that when she is tan she is the perfect shade to model coloring on the Pieta piece!   Yes!  This means I can start back up on that when she gets back from Paris and I finish this iteration of Identity Tapestry for the LA show.

I had a wonderful day.  Museums and conversations feed my brain and I got that.  I’m also over the moon that everything between her and this piece was so good.  It meant a lot to me that she be happy with it. Her only request was that I use her birth name for the title rather than the shortened nickname-version, and so I have.

I love having other people become willing parts of and participants in my work- their thoughts, experiences… even parts of their physicality.  It’s wonderful.

Written by Mary Corey March

June 20, 2012 at 10:08 am

Posted in art, painting, personal, skin


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At least the painting part is

I’m thinking I may want to consider re-stitching the center.  I may want a little more visual impact at a distance, a little more obvious red.  We’ll see.  I usually like to let a new piece sit when I think it might be done.  Sometimes it asks for more when I next look at it, sometimes it doesn’t.  You need to distinguish the voice that tells you to overwork and pick at a piece from the one that genuinely asks for something more.

If you overwork a piece you tend to kill it.  You can of course push through even that and re-create after the destruction, but that usually creates another piece entirely.   When you feel that tendency, it’s time to take a walk out of the studio and possibly face the painting to the wall until you have fresh eyes.  Sometimes it’s just best to go home.I always try to have at least two pieces in progress in the studio so that if I’m stuck on one for whatever reason I can work on the other.  Otherwise I might avoid the studio altogether and that would be a mistake.

There is also that urge to poke at work when you ship it to a show or collector.  I don’t let myself really look at work when I’m preparing to send it.  It makes it harder to let go of and it makes me want to rework it.

It’s funny- you get these relationships with pieces.  You adore them and want to see them every day, you resent them at times, argue with them, revel in them, worry for their safety when they are sent away… sometimes they are like a child, sometimes a lover, sometimes a comfortable old friend and sometimes someone you love but don’t like very much at the moment.  It’s all there.

All of that said, I have a feeling this one needs the red stitching to be 3 times as thick.

Written by Mary Corey March

June 15, 2012 at 7:39 am

Posted in art, painting, skin

“_____’s Story” …so close!

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Getting closer.   It’s funny,  I have about fourteen different colors that I mixed to perfectly match different parts of her skin (cheek, lips, inside wrist, back of hand, veins, shoulders, neck, forehead…).   But they are only hints for me about the colors in the painting because she is somewhere in the middle of these two sides.  I tried to do the sides as she described her parents with reference to the particular tones in her skin, using the vast collection of skin-color samples I’ve collected for another painting.

I wanted it to feel strained and a little imbalanced, but it needs a little subtle re-working to not just feel off and make you want to just remove two inches of the right side.  I think a little shift in the bottom left curve of the surface layer will do it.

There is stitching to do once it’s dry, redoing the center stitches in red and finishing the bottom.  I’m looking forward to seeing the red cut through the front layer and unite it with the back.  Still, you can now see the proper texture of the surface- looking more like leather or skin than canvas.  I’m happy with the subtle layering of color.  It will take a proper professional photo to get true colors for this piece though.  The slightest change in light or glare and it just doesn’t look the same.  These are studio snap-shots taken with my phone.  You can see how different the colors get with the same camera in the same light (different automatic adjusting presumably) just looking at these two pictures.

More on this painting here.

Written by Mary Corey March

June 2, 2012 at 4:35 am

“______’s Story” nearly done

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The second painting in this series is coming along.  I was nearly done with stretching the top layer when my needle broke (the light lacing on the bottom is half done).  Still… enough to paint on.

I had to remind myself not to space the holes evenly so I would get a little bulge and tension.  I didn’t want the two sides to look comfortably knit or healed.  It’s working.

I even got the under-painting done today.  In the case of the pale-skinned side it’s several shades paler and more blue-toned than it will be when finished (though it looks almost white in this photo!).  This is so that I can build darker shades on top a little more translucently for the light to go through and bounce off the lighter ones in back.  Darker skin is a little more opaque, so less to worry about there, though looking at it now I think I need more blue and a shade paler in the under-layer on that side as well.

The connecting thread is a placeholder because as you see it will get paint on it. The final thread there will be deep red and will go on when the painting is done and dry.

Nearly done!  The next piece in this series is sketched out and I’m working through how to do certain parts technically- that one is going to be more sculptural.

For those of you just tuning in, this painting comes from a story a particular friend told me about growing up bi-racial and going to visit her white grandma in the south in the summer.  It’s not a general commentary, but a portrait of a person I know in a particular time and place.

Written by Mary Corey March

May 18, 2012 at 8:40 am

New Skin Painting cont…

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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)

Written by Mary Corey March

May 15, 2012 at 10:00 am