From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Posts Tagged ‘artistic process

Chance and Excellence

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Inspector (first stage from chance)

So Wednesday night I learned that not getting my piece into last week’s firing was actually a blessing in disguise.  The temperature regulator on the kiln broke, and so what was supposed to be 500 degrees became over 1200.  Oops.  I never did like electric kilns.  I like to see the cones.  Everything in there died, including the flower pots used to hold the glass that flows into the molds.

An element of chance indeed.

I have what many people would consider diametrically opposed methods of being.  Anyone who knows me outside of any work I do knows me as a bit forgetful, messy, whimsical, bizarre, playful… while people who know me from any work I do or classes I take (same thing really) will tell you that I’m a perfectionist, always planning, exacting to a degree, always double-checking, assessing, always on time, etc.   Except when I’m experimenting… and then the feathers (or wax or dye) tend to fly and one had best stand back.

On the one hand I want things to work the best way possible.  I want to know how everything works and make it work better.  I want to do the best job I can… and I take it all VERY seriously.  Doing anything by halves?  Forget it.   …and so generally most people look at me like I’m insane when I describe an idea I haven’t yet done or they are watching a piece in progress.  In the case of some pieces, if they are looking at a finished work and they understand what went into it, doubly so.  “Do you torture yourself on purpose?”  I feel that one must always pursue excellence as much as possible.  People of similar mind seem to be the only ones who don’t look at me like I’m mad.

At the same time, I’m a believer in riding chaos, and that one must let go of the work as one is working.  Holding on too tight to work either stunts it or kills it.  As precise as one can be nothing is certain and the flexibility to allow the unexpected creates space for new things.  There are things one can learn from chance that one can learn no other way.   Letting go, getting messy, throwing things at the wall to see if they stick.  How else to expand oneself but to explore the unknown?  If the entirety of one’s work and process is too safe, too understood I feel that it dies.

I best love work that is a response to something outside myself- it becomes an exploration of understanding.  I best love processes that I am discovering as I go.  I love the challenge in not knowing what is coming next and knowing that I will have to deal with changes.  I do love visceral work, but it almost feels too easy no matter how lovely the result- like singing or improvisational dancing  (most of the Sculpted Canvas series are very much that).  I could do many such pieces in the time it takes me to do one of the other sort of piece… but I somehow I am most caught by the work that really pushes me.

At the same time, I do tons of tests in discovering a new process, try to think of how things can go wrong, and overbuild on the careful side.  In the case of the face that is now in the kiln (and may never come out of alive) I did a backup mold weeks ago (not a complete copy, but a good start) because my ceramics experience taught me just how fickle kilns can be.  Experimentation is perhaps the line between chance and excellence.  In experimentation we are exploring the unknown, but also cataloging what we learn in order to pursue new levels of excellence (as well as all kinds of other new things).

Again- I best like the combination.  The Scales piece included over a thousand small, fast paintings as part of a larger, more methodical work.  The Identity Tapestry involved experimenting with color- dying several hundred different colors of yarn and learning as I went how to produce specific color variations.  Both pieces also involved the viewers as participants in creating the work; which took whatever order I have laid out and submitted it to the changes of the audience.  It is amazing to watch your artwork finished by hundreds of people.  The entirety of the Exquisite Corps Project was a study in chance, response and interaction.  And since Dada “Starting From Chance” is nearly an official process… one I make a point to do when I feel too methodical.

As always, I believe in a fine line between seeming contradictions- tightrope-walking a paradoxical line between methodical order, experimentation and chance.

Written by Mary Corey March

April 10, 2010 at 1:23 am

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

Face sculpted

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Well, aside from the inevitable thousand tiny touch-ups, the face is done.  I’m going to make a mold of her before I start trying out the mask options or put her in the kiln.  I could easily destroy her with a mask that I decide doesn’t work, and accidents happen in the kiln.

It’s nice to sculpt again.  I just realized it’s been at least 8 years!  I’ve been doing more painting, drawing and other mediums for installation.

I think sometimes one gets better at things in the time between the actual doing of it.  My eye has gotten better and I haven’t forgotten how to use my hands.

On another note I loved working at the Crucible.  It’s a wonderful space, and so nice to know I have access to all sorts of great equipment for working with metal, glass, wood, and clay.  In other good news, Techshop is opening a branch in SF, so I won’t have far to drive to have access to laser cutters, milling machines, 3D printers and other more high-tech tools when I need them.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 16, 2010 at 3:18 am

A face

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I’ve been sculpting the face in wax for the figure.  I’m looking at photos and paintings of women who were considered beauties in the 1880s (the period of the clothing) as my models.  The idea is an ideal and austere form- like a Greek statue, but offset with the intense imagery being projected through the mask.

So I’ve gotten the face roughed-out in wax.  It still needs ears as well as detail work, but so far so good.  Then I add the mask.  I’ve got some flat sheets of wax somewhere and can’t seem to find them yet.  Those will be ideal for getting a nice perfectly-smooth surface on the mask.  All I have to do is cut out the shape and sort out the attachment.

As much as I’m not looking forward to ears not including them would be too much of a cheat.  The hairstyles of the day clearly showed the ears, so I cannot fairly cover them, and while I will transition to a different material for the rest of the head, the seam is better hidden under clothes and in the hair where possible, so the ears must also be in glass.

I will have access to the glass casting facilities starting this Wednesday.  I don’t know if she’ll be ready by then, but I can have a test piece ready.  Anyway- I should make a mold of her before casting in case the cast comes out badly.

It feels good to be sculpting again.  It’s been donkeys.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 8, 2010 at 12:23 am

Technical Torso

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In making the figure for the current sculpture I foolishly thought I could take a mannequin or dress form and make some adjustments.  No such luck.


dress forms aren’t sturdy enough if they are hollow and the arms aren’t developed enough if they have them, and not right materials to attach arms.

modern mannequins not only have entirely the wrong poses (shoulders thrown back), dimensions, shape (corsets shape the bust differently) but they are apparently built to withstand artillery assault and therefore are too difficult to modify to be worth it.

So… I pondered various solutions.  The best seems to be getting the form in foam, then surfacing it with fiberglass or carbon-fiber and epoxy, then hollowing the foam out to make a ventilated space for the projector.  This will make it extremely light (and therefore shippable), sturdy and hollow.

At first I thought I’d carve the foam form… but working with casting and fabric gave me what I hope is a better idea.  I’m going to sew a slightly smaller version of the top the figure will be wearing in latex (at least the torso part of it).  Then spray the seams with latex to seal them, put mold release on the whole thing, turn it inside-out, seal the arm-holes and neck-hole and fill it with expanding foam.   This should create the exact form I need, and the expansion effect should keep the fabric from collapsing.  I may have to hang the whole thing from the ceiling while it sets, but I think it will work.  I can also add on more expanding foam if I need to at any point and carve into the existing foam for alterations.  Once it has got the carbon fiber on I should be able to attach anything to it. I only need the torso to the hip to achieve the form, and the rest can be a simple stand.

Ideally I want to make at least the arms and stand all detachable.  I’m thinking that plumbing parts will serve me best there- all the pieces are threaded and it’s all very sturdy.  There is a mannequin warehouse nearby where I will look for arms.  Sadly I already have the suspicion that they won’t be in the correct poses.   I may end up using some combination of mannequin arms and hands which I cast and finish myself.  Hands are so expressive that the pose needs proper attention.

I am delighted by the diversity of even the materials shopping.  The art store of course, but the hardware store, the plastics store, the fabric stores, the wig shops, costumers (for the gloves if I don’t end up making those too), Radioshack…. it’s exciting.

Once again I feel that I am finally seeing the fruit of all my diverse use of mediums and all the odd hobbies and interests.   When a project like this one comes together it is very visible.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 8, 2010 at 12:05 am

Creating Form

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I’ve been working on the form for the sculpture with the glass face which is part of the collaborative project.

I decided to go with a 1880-1890’s silhouette for the figure. It does all the right things for me. The time period was one where women were on the horizon of equal rights (some countries had just granted hem the right to vote, others soon followed), but they were also in many ways more restricted and confined than ever.

Physically I like the form- it stands out as different, but if I keep the lines and detail simple it can have an almost classical element. I considered the Rocco period (because it fit the mask so well- carnivale associations) but the form was too powerful- too wide and face-on imposing. Also the mask on the 1880’s figure will stand out as more symbolic than costume.

I like the way the 1880’s form is rather demure and simple from the front and has more weight as you move around it.

I decided to use this overskirt pattern- the folds are simple, but have a classical sculpture feel. I think the association will come through when it’s all done in white.

I think the tricky part will be having the whole thing in white and have it not read as “bride” but I think I can do that. I decided to do a more serious bustle under-structure partly for that reason- a small drapey thing would look like a bridal train, but a large bustle is unmistakably it’s own thing.

Otherwise I’ve been collecting images for sculpting the face in wax. Demure, idealized faces that have a hint of an edge to them.

I’ve also been working out the structure- how to assemble everything so that it goes together and comes apart easily, and getting the projector in there properly.

So far I only have colors and hazy images of what will be projected through the mask, but it’s coming along.

It’s nice to finally put some of my sewing/costuming into my artwork. I find that any serious interests and hobbies I have eventually make themselves useful.

On the flipside, I’ve avoided certain new media/hobbies (like anything to do with glass) because I am wary of them taking time away from my art. I’ve been wanting to work with glass for years, and have had access to a place for a good 6 years, but I wouldn’t allow myself to touch it until I had a real art project that demanded it. I know my propensity for distraction and have systems to counter it and keep some discipline. It keeps me productive.

Written by Mary Corey March

February 26, 2010 at 2:31 am

Duly Stimulated

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The collaborative project I organized is doing its work.  I have been duly stimulated and have already come up with a new piece a step outside my recent thinking.

Both Annysa Ng’s and Sophie Menuet’s figurative work have given me a little desire to do an austere sculptural figure.   Katharina Fritsch’s “Monk” 1999) has stuck in my head for a long time too, and it is similarly austere- matte-black, simple.

In this case the project is to combine the concept submitted by one artist(s) with the iconic image from another.  Sophie’s mask/bird image got me.  The freedom of a mask, the idea of revealing something internal through veiling.  And Annysa’s concept was the invisible concept made visible.  On Friday I was admiring some cast glass work at the DeYoung and I had an itch to try it.  Last night everything came together in my mind… along with my hobby of costuming and sewing.

I picture a cast-glass face (which is generally a frosty white if the glass is clear).  The figure in matte-white, austere, feminine and restrained.  After looking through my costume books and resources, pinpointing my historical time-lines, 1890 seemed like the perfect period- a time when women had suffrage on the horizon (or if you were from New Zealand you had just gotten it), but were in some ways more socially constrained than they ever had been.  The clothes are restrictive, defined, and yet more simple in some ways than the clothing just before or after.

So I picture her, this figure, in white, with a face of cast glass… but in the shape of a mask, the face is clear, and in the clear, colorful images move inside.

In a way it also fits into Simone Stoll’s “unquiet mind” concept as well.

I can do it with a short-throw projector and a single-surface mirror or two.  I think I have the patterns I want for the dress.   I’ll be taking a glass-casting workshop, and there are details to work out, but I’m  very excited about the piece.  The images themselves will take some thought… but they must be colorful, intense and passionate.

Written by Mary Corey March

January 27, 2010 at 11:34 am

New materials

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I have just took delivery of two big beautiful aluminum honeycomb-core panels!   One is for the Pieta piece- the other we shall see. The company (Pacific Panels) is absolutely great- family run, sweet, friendly… the  owner’s daughter even delivered this tiny order personally in this hideous rain.

Anyways, it’s a wonderful material and a great painting surface:  light-weight, archival, very tough, smooth… and it has the modern industrial look I wanted- it offsets the classical imagery of the Pieta well. I had originally thought I would use wood for this piece, but it makes it too classical.  I may incorporate wood into it (in a frame perhaps) but I really want to show some part of the metal in this.  I think it will really help achieve that bridge from classical to contemporary.

I am also tempted to pull it out into 3D- to use pieces of scrap metal attached to the surface as part of the debris around the central figures… but I am already suspecting that may constitute overkill.  I need to see it and sketch it and possibly even mock it up in photoshop before I go there… because attaching things towards the end will be much more difficult (and less archival) than attaching them in the beginning.   I think that possibly scraping into the surface post-painting, perhaps with a sander or dremel will be the way to get some of the effects I want without resorting to 3d- then I could varnish over the whole.

I love exploring new materials.  I could certainly be much more productive if I were to just keep outputting a single style or material that I discovered worked well… but that feels more like Craft and less art to me- and much less interesting and challenging.  I am always exploring new mediums, or new takes on old ones.  In the process I have become very good and confident at the experimentation process itself.  I like to think that this is one of the most telling skills of the contemporary artist.

I could use it in future for things I want reflections coming through the paint. Exciting.

I should be able to start prepping them Saturday. Yay!

Written by Mary Corey March

January 22, 2010 at 2:56 am