From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

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Transitions- continuing my art through illness

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empty studio

The corner of my empty studio

Since becoming sick with ME/CFS, I have had a lot to contend with and it has changed my practice.  I have limited energy, and I have to spend it wisely.  I have only minutes at a time of standing, walking, holding my head upright, etc. before I need to take a rest.  Then again, my practice changed a great deal when I became pregnant, and it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to my art (I did the first Identity Tapestry while pregnant and it brought me into Installation).  The main effect is that I have to pace myself, and think through everything many times before I make the effort of _making_.  I suspect it will generate more thoughtful new work. I also have new reserves of patience, and new understanding to feed my empathy.

Right before I got sick I had come to an inflection point in my work where I knew I would have to start hiring assistants to complete large projects, but I was dragging my feet.  For those not familiar with how art at a certain scale of production goes, this is pretty normal and has a long history reaching back to the studios of the famous Renaissance painters and before.  Even without being sick, I needed to accept that I now needed assistants.

For the three shows I did in the first year of my illness, I relied on the help of an awesome network of friends and my husband (who even learned how to dye wool!) to help me do my work.  They were my hands. They got me through the installations at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles and at the Marjory Barrack Museum.  Initially it was hard to conceive of hiring strangers to come into my home in the vulnerable state I was in, given that I had already resisted it before. I wasn’t ready then.

At the same time I became sick, we realized we had to do major repairs to the foundation of our house, and it became a huge remodel complete with moving out.  After I did the museum shows that year, I buckled down to the task of packing and purging the house… again with the help of my amazing friends.  My outside studio space was unreachable for me (and not wheelchair accessible even if I had the energy to work after driving there and parking) and essentially became expensive storage while I hoped I got better.  I turned down some shows and applied to nothing while I used all my energy to move house.

Today I am a little better overall.  The house is moved into a temporary space, and I finally let go of my studio of 14 years.  The new studio and shop space I will have in our house will be an absolute dream though, and I can’t wait.  In the meantime, I have use of our temporary garage and have set up the studio there, complete with a chair that supports my neck and torso so I can sit up longer.

Now that I have the moving hurdle done, I am back to exciting new projects!  This spring I will be doing a new participatory installation that I have been thinking about since 2014 and am super excited about: Access.  There is also another installation in another country coming up in the summer which I can’t wait to do.  Details will follow when everything is confirmed, dried and dusted.

In the meantime, it’s time to take the leap and hire some assistants.  Whatever my condition, my work will continue.

Filling Out

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spectrum5

The hard part with this kind of thing is knowing when to stop.  At this point I’m happy with the materials.  I could keep going forever, but right now there is enough material to fill the space I am using twice.   The idea is to provide the variety and let the participants determine the color balance of the piece in their selections.  This does make me think I want to do some themed work with dyes that do focus on a specific color range, but the project hasn’t presented itself yet.

The rest of the parts for the installation are coming along… but this is the fun part.

*note* There are more blues in the final set than are showing- arrangement of the curve was a little off so they are hiding under each other while the greens/teals are spread thin… but I am prioritizing making the piece over documenting the process perfectly.

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Spectrum

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silk spectrumHere’s a peek into my dyeing  in progress for the Living Guestbook installation.

When I’m dyeing for an installation I find it helpful to lay out the spectrum of color as I go.  In cases like this one where I want a fairly balanced spectrum this is especially helpful.  So far this is the spectrum the dyeing I’ve done yields.  Looking at this the holes become more obvious.  Also, different from dyeing for Identity Tapestry is that need to keep the spectrum lighter and not go too far into darks or the writing won’t show as well.

eggsThis prompted a return to the fabric store for a few lighter bases to start from. They really look easter-egg to me all together like this, but I’m using them for their potential for over-dyeing and the way they fit into the whole.

Yes, I could do everything starting at a base of white, but I find over-dyeing yields much richer colors.  Also in the case of many of these fabrics, the weave already had two different colors (the warp might be blue and the weft gold, giving it a color-change look).Tthat’s something I can’t do dyeing over plain white fabric, but if I over-dye it, changes in both colors come through.  That again adds a layer of depth to the colors I’m working with. I can also always go back and over-dye again as many times as I like, giving me even more layers of color coming through, especially when I use techniques that dye unevenly.

You can really see the depth in the colors when you look closely at a given strip of fabric.

***Update*** spectrum after today’s work:

spectrum2Still a bit to go, but loving it so far.

Written by Mary Corey March

September 25, 2014 at 11:56 pm

Living Guestbook- Materials

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MATERIALSThese are some of the materials for my next installation.  The swatches at the bottom are some dye, starch and ink tests.  Each of these base colors (including the white) will be over-dyed in small strips for the piece.  If I don’t get the color variety I want with these base colors in the first few rounds of dyeing, I’ll go  back into the process with more fabric.

The physical format will be similar to Dream Blanket and Transparency: a weaving with the empty warp, structured with a grid of weft, with the main weft made out of strips of this fabric.  Visitors to this collector’s home will be invited to respond to questions about memory, impressions and experience.  They will then get to write these on a strip of dyed dupioni silk that has been starched for structure and to better take the ink.

Visually I made the piece to fit the rustic quality of their vacation home in Vermont.  It will even include existing objects from the house and grounds.  I really love work like this.  Working to specific spaces like the theater and this home is wonderful.  I like making a piece in a way I might not have thought of without the constraints or benefits of a certain goal and space, or without the interaction of other people involved.  I enjoy collaborative work, and I consider working with a curator, institution or collector to be another form of collaboration.

I’m looking forward to this piece!

stopping points

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There are many times when if one has trail mix, water and caffeine on hand one can keep working for hours on end with only quick pit stops.

And then there are moments one needs the skill of catching… when the brushwork is getting too frantic, when you’re starting to get lazy about mixing new colors because you just want to press through, when the cuts are getting sloppy… or in the case of last night the blade on the dremel is starting to get out of your hands.  Tired, frustrated, too much adrenaline, not enough food or sleep, or just sensory overload.  You have to learn to step outside yourself and STOP.  Sometimes some deep breaths, a meal break or similar will give you a few more hours after that.  Sometimes you can ride the ragged edge and put the frenzied energy to work (though not with power tools I think, but a frenzied expressionist piece?  Absolutely).

Last night I quit cold-working the glass face an hour early.   Glass, power tools and sleep deprivation are not a good mix.   What’s more the intense energy of creation tends to drive one to work faster in such a moment, to push harder just to get through things.  That is the moment to catch oneself.  Thankfully I did and went home.  Otherwise I’m fairly sure I would have caused either my piece or myself harm in that last hour.  As it is we are both fine.

Stopping at the right point not just for the work, but for oneself  is one of the essential skills of an artist.  It’s not something that gets addressed by many teachers, but I doubt you’d find many successful artists who lack it.

Written by Mary Corey March

May 4, 2010 at 10:35 pm

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Kiln survival

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unmolding the glass head

I’ve just un-molded the head and thankfully things went more or less alright in the kiln.  The defects that happened are in places where they don’t matter (under the hair line).  No fractures, no breaks.  There are a few discolorations inside the face, possibly from stray material in the broken glass I used.  In future I’ll know not to use glass someone else has broken- unknowns are too likely.

A trace of carbon, probably from some wax trapped in a small corner caused some discoloration on the tip of the mask’s bird-tail (seen in the photo).

Still-= the parts that matter are clear.  I was expecting and even hoping for a little distortion in the image, so bubbles are fine.  I was actually planning to warp the images I projected.  I’m waiting to see how much the glass warps the image before I start though.

She came out well.

One thought I’m having is that even if I sandblast the areas besides the mask and eyes it may still be too transparent and too clear rather than white.  I might get a better effect if I used a thin layer of oil with wax medium worked into the skin.  Have to see how well (or if) it will hold though.  I imagine that once it’s sandblasted the surface will take wax nicely.  It would give it a little more opacity without going opaque and a more skin-like texture.

Written by Mary Corey March

April 23, 2010 at 9:28 pm

mask on, and now to the kiln…

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The project is coming along.  I used the shape of Simone’s mask almost exactly.

I added a little bit of detail on the top edge and over the eyes in the style of a Venetian mask to help distinguish it from some sort of super-hero mask (which I think the context, clothes and hair will do the rest of the way).  For some reason with the mask on she reminds me of Athena, who has no mask (but perhaps it is similar to the helmet she is often shown with).

The wax sculpture is now invested in the plaster and needs to be melted out and the plaster given time to cure before I can get the glass in and load it into the kiln.  The red parts in the picture are “sprews”- added bits that get removed in the cold-working process that help prevent bubbles forming in the glass.

I haven’t done anything with glass before, but firing a glass kiln is much like firing a ceramics kiln (which I have done lots of).  The most atheistic people will start praying to the kiln gods during this process- only half in jest.  When you put something into the kiln you just have to let it go and hope that everything works out as it should.  You can control many parts of the process, but ultimately you never know what can happen in there.  So… I will put it into the kiln next Wednesday and say my little prayers to the kiln gods… and hope that everything that I put into the sculpture comes out in the glass… and doesn’t pour all over the kiln, crack the mold, or do one of many other things that can happen in the kiln.

Then the long process of cold-working (removing sprews, detailing, adding texture, etc.).

In the meantime I’m figuring out how to do the hands, and I’ll have to see if I can find some mannequin arms that work.  If not, I’ll be building those as well.  The sewing continues and I plan to do the bustle next.

The structure of bustles is fascinating stuff.  I’m thinking of all kinds of things I can do for making a piece of clothing that shows the bustle structure itself… just for fun, when this project is done.

Written by Mary Corey March

April 2, 2010 at 3:27 am