From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Posts Tagged ‘artistic process

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.

Dyeing wrap up

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Just some images of my yarn as I dye it and arrange it to see how my color balance for iteration #10 of Identity Tapestry for the Identity show at Vögele Cultural Center is going.

I’m nearly there!  I just need some more blues in the medium darkness range of all hues.  Here you can see on the white plastic sheeting some of the yarn I am dyeing over to create all the richness and depth of color in the yarn for the piece.

I am contemplating using a different size of plaque for the statements because of the nature of German (more text needs more space).  This would bring the format closer to “hello my name is” labels, which I like, but I need to be sure I can find the right sized stickers for the look I want.  I could physically do the text without stickers, but the label/name tag/address reference label stickers give is important to me for this piece.  I may end up ordering metric ones.

The Crucible of Deadlines and Constraints

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hand on fireMy problem as an artist has never been lack of ideas or even crafting skills.  The real skill is deciding what is most important and when, what not to do, what to sacrifice, what to put the most time and effort into.  Drawing itself is an act of selection- what line to place, what line to ignore, what line to emphasize, tweak, or ghost.

So right now I have a good problem for an artist- two shows at the same time.  One I committed to months ago, but without a specific piece.  Since I knew I could have more space for that show I prepared to spread out and create a larger installed environment.  Then I was invited to be in a show in a museum just outside Zurich, Switzerland.  They wanted a specific piece, and it is one I have to be there to put together.  And they open two days apart.

Now that the Switzerland one is confirmed I’m turning back to the first one.  Suddenly I have more constraints.  Something that can run itself.  Something smaller and easy to install.  Still something interactive.  In the case of this show, something both contemporary and Dada. I was intimately familiar with Dada before I left high school and I loved it then, but two more advanced art degrees have actually put me at more of a distance.  So I dove back to the source.  I re-read the manifestos, looked back at the beginnings and what motivated them.  Suddenly an entire new interactive, small, easy to set up artwork burst out of my head.  And it will work.  And it comes right out of the unconscious pool of all the ideas I am constantly exploring. Better still, because the process of Dada involves some randomness, it will be fun and surprising to make.  I’m excited.

When I have enough time and resources to do whatever I want without a burning idea starting in my mind and a place to put the result I do very little that gets finished.  Give me a place, a time, and a single constraint or direction and suddenly my mind is on fire and my hands itching to create.

Stepping Back (in)

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mirrorI’ve been away from being public about my art for a little while now.  I’ve only applied to a single program, I’ve written no blog posts, showed no work and even turned down a few shows.  I needed a break where I could think my thoughts without offering them to the world.

Years ago I might have pushed on, and possibly had a breakdown.  I’ve learned better.  During the course of my recently completed MFA program six people I love died.  Three of my four grandparents, one of whom was like a second mother to me.  Two mentors.  One friend and fellow artist to suicide.
Just on their own MFA programs are difficult, intense cauldrons of emotion and ego and challenge and intensity of ideas and beliefs.  They are the crucibles that forge us… those of us who don’t crack.  The ones that did crack were measured in the bulging mailboxes and empty studio spaces at the end of each year, and there were more than a few.  We put ourselves on the line, our ideas, our thoughts, our work, and those of us who are willing, our loves and lives and beliefs too.  Of course, the current fashion is cynicism and snarkyness (which doesn’t call on people to put themselves out so far) but for me being on the line it is what makes the art have a soul,  and while Soul doesn’t matter to some, and there is some good purely intellectual/aesthetic art, it matters very much to me.
After the thesis show I had immediate offers for shows and commissions- wonderful opportunities,  but not the breath of air I needed.  For a full year after it I was busy, during which there was another death, the final grandparent. They all lived full lives, all died over 94, but the loss is ours and never easy.  The situation of being in constant physical pain was one factor I had throughout all three years, as was being the main caretaker of my young daughter during a period where my husband was so busy he rarely even got weekends off.  There were other significant pressures I won’t list.  It was a hard three years.  It was also intensely productive and important.

At the same time I was incredibly fortunate.  I didn’t have to pull my hair out over money.  I had love and good friends and whether I wanted a break or not I those commissions and shows just dropped into my lap- nearly every vacation during the MFA program as well as after it.  I didn’t have to look for a single show after I graduated- I didn’t have time for any more, but when I saw the pause in the stream, I took the break instead of hunting for the next one.  I shut down the blog and set out to take care of everything in my life that had been held together with sealing wax for three years. I did things for the fun of them, I saw the people I love, I experienced new things and got new ideas.
Like many artists, I have depression.  I have anxiety and panic attacks.  It is almost a cliche that artists are tortured souls and some of us think we can’t work without that (I disagree, but it is different).  Chronic pain adds its own layer to one’s process.  Most people looking at me would have no idea about the first two and many would never know about the pain either.  There were many classes and critiques where I was clenching my fists not to scream from the physical pain in my back and concentrating hard on keeping a normal face.  I have many strategies for dealing with it all.  I kept on, put one foot in front of the other, did all the things I needed to do and held everything together and met every deadline, did my best work… and when I had an opening I did the sane thing I would not have done 10 years ago, and rested.

 

You see two other people died during that time, acquaintances, but each with a compelling message.  One was another suicide from depression- someone who worked himself into the ground and didn’t acknowledge the care he needed to take of himself, he pushed himself too far.  The other was a car crash, a terrible random thing that could take any of us at any moment.  When I resurfaced those deaths reminded me again not to take a moment for granted, and not to put taking care of myself last.  I even discovered something to help my back and for the first time in seven years I’m having multiple days without serious pain.  I’m breathing again.

 

So here I am, back at work.  My mind has been plotting new art, my hands have been busy, sketches and ideas form.  It’s time to step back in to show my work and share my thoughts again.    I leave you with this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on creative genius and depression.

 

***Addition:  Wonderfully, when I moved on to check my email I found an invitation to include a specific piece in an exciting museum show in another country waiting in my inbox.  A well-timed confirmation to stepping back in indeed.

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!

Art Hack

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In general language, a hack can mean someone who doesn’t know what they are doing (who hacks where they should cut skillfully).  A hack job is a roughly done one.  On the other hand we also say “she just couldn’t hack it” when we mean she could not do the job successfully… which implies that a hack is a kind of success- perhaps a marginal one.  Amidst the computer geeks who surround me now it means other things.

In common knowledge of computer geeks hacking is breaking into a system.  But among geeks, a hack can also be a brilliant and unorthodox solution.  Something outside the books that may be held together with the equivalent of duct-tape- rough but functional.  Sometimes it is something that cuts through pages of code and does the same thing with two lines in a way no one has thought of before.

In short, for geeks a hack is a surprising solution outside of conventional solutions that does the job. There is even a website called Lifehacker that offers such short cut ideas on everything from wiring to parenting (with a healthy dose of programming hacks).  I rather like the geek definition.

I’ve often thought of assembling a book of art hacks- favorite tricks from a variety of artists).  For today though, I can report that my art hack of creating a foam form using a fabric mold and expandable foam was a success.  There are things I would do differently (ex: the latex worked but stretched so next time I’ll do an outside layer in denim to hold the form true), but on the whole I have a basic form I can carve down a bit and shell with fiberglass and epoxy.

I ended up using safety pins, cord and clothes-hangers to hang the form upside-down in order to fill it.  I’ll have to do a second pour (the stretching took up some of the volume that would have brought the foam to the top of the mold), but the process is a good one.

I find that for every new type of piece I do I’m creating a new process somewhere along the line.  I think the readiness to do that is probably necessary to creating truly unique work.

For those of you just tuning in, this form is for a full-sized figure sculpture.  I will cover the finished foam form in fiberglass and epoxy, hollow it out, give it vents and house the projector in it.  The projector will project up through the neck, hit a single-surface mirror and shine out through the mask and eyes of the glass head.  The figure will be wearing a white 1880’s gown.  Pictures of the other parts in progress are up in previous posts.

Written by Mary Corey March

May 1, 2010 at 4:40 am

Coldworking Day One

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So far so good.  I’ve used a dremel on silver and brass before, but never glass.  Working around the constant flow of water is a new experience.  I can understand why people don’t tend to do detail work in this medium.  Seeing detail in a clear substance while water is running over it is a little tricky.

More casting flaws are visible now that I’m working the glass, but I think they are still ones I can work around.  I’ll know better once I do a light sandblast.

In the meantime the fabric mold for the body is ready for the foam pour on Thursday.

Written by Mary Corey March

April 28, 2010 at 5:16 am

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