Thursday, April 16, 2015

Development of Style & Self

Detail shot of "Mother Matrix" in process
I was recently asked "Has your work always looked like this?"

Last week "Principia Alchemica" opened at True Love Art Gallery, which included three brand new pieces by me. Brand-new as in completed within days of the show opening. Not that I needed new work or lacked work that would fit the theme (since it was because of my portfolio that I was invited to participate), but because as an artist, I tend to be focused and most excited about new work - especially in the last few years.

I have been determined to back on track, as I still can't shake the feeling that my fine art suffered as I pursued dance and other areas. Those three pieces felt more me, more on track than any of my other recent work - even though I know it's all an ongoing process that will continue as long as I am live and can make art.  (Hopefully the end for one will come at the same time as the other...)

So that question gave me pause, and in my mind, I stepped back to view the last 30 years of my art life, and in particular, how my drawing style and overall look developed. And there were definitely several points that stand out.

1) In first grade (age 5-6), I attended my first formal art school - which was Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, NJ.  The particular moment from this time was the task of drawing a tall candle in a brass holder - and the instructor explained in order to get the correct shape and perspective of a 3D circle onto a 2D surface was to gentle sketch multiple ovals, circles - then choose the one that was the best and make it darker. I also received a book on how to draw horses, and that book showed you how to break everything down into circles and other simple shapes.  These two techniques merged in my brain, overrode the "trace the object/outline" approach, and firmly entrenched itself into my hand/eye.

2) After Perkins, I started to attend Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia every Saturday - where I took classes in drawing, painting, mixed media, sculpture, and ceramics until I was 14.  Being located in South Philadelphia, Fleisher was an amazing opportunity to learn about diversity - students of all colors and walks of life attended the school - and I'm very grateful to have been immersed in it that young in life.  I only remember a few of my instructor's names from those years, but one of the most influential was mixed media artist Fran Gallun.  From her, I learned important design concepts while mastering bringing together diverse media to make a cohesive message.  Considering that I mainly do mixed media now, those lessons were very deeply etched in my brain!

3) When I was 15, we moved from NJ to South Carolina, and I was very lucky that my new high school had incredible fine art facilities for 2D, 3D, and photography. But it was the process of applying to the SC Governor's School for the Arts that really pushed me as an artist.  At that time, the program wasn't full year - only during the summer. The application process involved having a live portfolio staff review and a studio class. The first year I applied (for my rising Junior year), the result of drawing exercise had the instructors talking in an excited whispers. My use of multiple lines and shapes reminded them of Alberto Giacometti (who I had not previously been familiar with). But at the portfolio review, with the consideration that I also had one more year to apply, when the staff asked me what I thought my portfolio would look like next year, I honestly answered "better." So I applied again the following year and was accepted. Two influential instructors stand out in my memory - Stephen Nevitt (2D) and Bob Chance (Ceramics) - and they also happened to be the staff who had reviewed my portfolio both years. Stephen not only fostered my awareness of my drawing style and further developed how I worked in 2D, but introduced me to printmaking (which I went on to get my BFA in at RISD). What I remember about Bob is his ease of self, a comfortable approach to teaching and to making art - a mixture of solid dedication mixed with a sense of experimentation and problem-solving.

4) And then there was RISD. As I mentioned in this post, the instructors I had my first semester of my foundation year were highly influential. Wendy Seller's keen eye for color and design continued to shape my mixed media style.  But in reference to my drawing, it was Tom Mill's fierce dedication to creating layers and depth that furthered the journey of my linework. To this day, much of my work is built through multiple layers - and not being afraid to obliterate the earlier ones in the process. And much akin to what I learned from Bob, 3D instructor Ed Oates taught me to look at the world a bit differently/embrace my weirdness, have fun with it, and always find passion in problem solving. Nearly everything that followed after at RISD that was about furthering and solidifying the concept process and/or mastering technique.

When I look at my work now, and compare it to the work I have created over the last 3 decades, I can see the similarities and the influences.  The subject matter really hasn't changed that much in the last twenty years -  spirituality, Witchcraft, folklore, spellcraft, deity have all been common themes all of this time.  I can see the many roots that helped make the proverbial tree of me into the artist I am today - building the trunk and branches - making it strong.  What's different is that now that life has shifted so it's the now finally the season to bloom and having the resources so that it actually produce and bear that fruit.  It's not the art that's changed, it's the artist.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Revealing the Hidden Image

Michelangelo is said to have remarked that when sculpting marble, he viewed as a matter of simply freeing the image he saw from the stone.

I feel similarly when I'm approaching my 2D work. Whether it's a panel of wood, a scrap of mat board, or a piece of watercolor paper, there is something subliminal leaking out, in several layers of discovery.

It may surprise many, but I rarely have a definitive plan for what I'm going to do when I sit down at my desk to make art. Instead, I keep a running list of ideas: my "stock" arsenal of creatures and concepts, new inspirations, suggestions, and anything else that runs across my brain. And then I consider the potential of the "canvases" before me.

My wooden panels are cut down from a single larger sheet - which is carefully selected for its grain, texture, and overall "feel."  I'm sure I confuse the heck out of the hardware store staff as I'm pulling out sheet after sheet (most as big as I am, or bigger), and looking over each sheet, front and back. (I always put them back after I've chosen the winner.)  Then after they are cut down, I select which side to gesso (paint primer).  Depending on how many layers of gesso I use, the grain may still be slightly visible or totally obliterated - so even the coolest grain patterns get hidden.

My "tiny originals" are rescued mat drop-outs. (When you cut a picture mat, the drop-out is the beveled center left from the newly created picture window). Picture framers are notorious for saving mat board, especially if it's still big enough to be re-cut - because good mat board is expensive and it's important to both minimize waste and save money.  These pieces, at 3.125"x 4.625" were too tiny to be machine cut into anything else, but they were so damn cute (and acid-free) that I collected them. They don't need to be prepped like the wood panels do, but whenever I have leftover acrylic paint that is going to go to waste, I wash it over the faces of these little mat boards to give them an interesting surface.

Anyway, so when I sit down to make some work, I have a small pile of prepped panels in front of me.  And I carefully go through each of them and see what they "say" to me. I wouldn't compare it to trying to figure out what shape or image an inkblot or cloud is, as "asking" them what they want to be. If I do have a general idea I want to paint (like an owl, or a custom portrait) it's a similar process - which panel works best?  Is that the face of a cat peeking out at me? A swish of a tail or the shape of wings in flight? Then I work to bring that image to the surface.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Doing it wrong, doing it right.

I've been producing enough work lately that I should be blogging about each piece on a daily basis...we shall see how that goes next week.

What I want to write about NOW is something that has been circulating in my brain for the last several months - the meaning and purpose of art.

When you go to art school, particularly a very good one like RISD, you learn a lot of things - provided you luck out and get the right teachers.  I certainly did have such luck my very first semester of freshman foundation with instructors Wendy Seller for 2D, Ed Oates for 3D, and Tom Mills for Drawing. From Wendy, I learned to really push color in new directions, regardless of the media - and as her teacher assistant in the later years, I got an in-depth look at artists of especially the 19th and 20th centuries - pulling slides for presentations. From Ed, I learned how to make something out of nothing, and to have a sense of humor about it - including constructing a violin out a single piece of cardboard, without using tape or glue - and it had to remain one piece. From Tom, I stretched my drawing abilities to new heights and discovered the value of layers, as well as a few other life lessons.  All three instructors especially excelled at pushing you to make your work stronger, more developed, better technique and construction. (Second semester with a different group of instructors was unfortunately more about what not to do (by example of teaching) but the optimist says there is value in that as well...)

Looking back, if life had only afforded me that first semester at RISD, it would have served me exceedingly well, as those lessons I learned are still things I utilize now and have sculpted the look of my work. Sophomore and junior years were more focused on learning a specific craft/area (Printmaking for me), and an introduction to the never-ending struggle to justify your work, which seemed the majority of the focus for senior year. Important for sure, yes, but I think it also tends to put the brain into a state of mind-fuck for the fine artist.  What does my work mean? How does it relate to others? What does it need to say?

And now, as I peruse listings for various grants, awards for artists, and calls for work, I get the feeling that unless my work has some sort of deep political or social message, I need not apply. Even if I suspect the majority of the words surrounding such work is mainly lip service (and the fine art of bullshitting).

To which my brain responses with "OMG! I should be creating work with Meaning." Capital "m" implies that art should have a greater "intellectual" purpose to pique the social conscious of society.   Despair! Angst! I'm doing it wrong!

Meanwhile as I'm working on getting back on track to doing fine art again, I'm making these little drawings, paintings, and works of mixed media. Each one focuses on a different personality/icon.  I have a list of ideas, and a sea of small panels in front of me.  I select one panel, examine it, and whatever speaks to me from it, gets pulled out of it. They happen quickly, with broad strokes and tiny details. And I'm amazed by the response from people as I post the in-progress shots.

Revelation. I finally get it.  These little images - they touch people.  There's a connection, a sense of conversation and engagement from each. They talk of sacred spaces, familiar memories, and shared experiences. Somewhere between the viewer and the work, a merger of ideas happens that excites the brain, evoking joy, bliss, and inspiration.

So when I pull back and think about it all, I'm more than happy (thrilled even) to make work that touches the psyche and makes people feel good. It is a form of magic. I am plenty fine with leaving the socially and politically-soaked activism to other artists.

And my undying thanks to Wendy, Ed, and Tom for truly developing in me the skills to put me on the path of being an artist - nearly 20 years ago.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Truth of Myth Series: Getting Started

 Last Fall, I was selected to have a solo show at Pioneer Square Saloon for April 2014.  For those of you not familiar with Seattle, Pioneer Square is known to be one of the major areas for fine art in the city.  So OMG! 

I got to choose the month, and April seemed like a nice long ways away - plenty of time to work on lots of paintings.  I had a stack of 1 foot by 1 foot birch panels, and months to work on them...

Which of course meant that suddenly it was March, and I had 16 paintings to get done.  Anxiety and deadlines are great motivators, so I actually managed to get all 16 paintings done (plus some additional work) in 
10 days.

So I would like to talk about the overall process and each of the resulting paintings in turn.  

First the panels themselves started off as a massive sheet of birch plywood, nearly 1" thick, which was then cut down into 1 foot squares. I sanded them, gave them each several layers of gesso, sanded them again, then started to lay down fields and washes of color on some of them.  

Then I stared at them.  I moved them around the studio.  I added some more color, moved them around some more, and then....stared at them more.  Then, as I mentioned in the previous entry, I got inspired - actually it was a sort of anti-inspiration - it's what I knew I did NOT to do with my work that got me moving.

I generated a list of about 30+ deities, archetypes, and women from myth who have been "done wrong", and then asked the internet for their favorites.  From that, I selected about 18 of them, created a post-it note with each name, and paired up panels with names.  The pairing process wasn't random, but was a rather involved process where I considered each panel, the color it was (if any), and what I "saw" in it.

It's a bit hard to explain the "seeing-without-seeing"'s more in my mind's eye, rather than something I physically see.  The color of the panel, possible shapes in the brushstrokes or grain of the wood - these all have a feeling to them. The same is true for every personality/persona I had selected, so they needed to match up.

However, not every panel stayed paired with its initial designation.  By the time I was done, at least two panels switched, and another two wanted to be completely different concepts, so they went to my other two remaining selections.

I also worked on several pieces at a time - not at the same moment, but working on one panel, setting it aside to dry, and using my remaining paint to work on another piece, and so forth.  I chose to use acrylic paint for these - which is both a blessing in that it dries quickly, and a curse that you waste paint if you don't use what you've squeezed out right then and there.  So working on several pieces per session allowed me to not only switch gears mentally and not overwork any one piece, but to also make good use of my paint.

The paintings "lived" on the floor of my studio when I wasn't working on them, so I could easily look at all of them at once.  This placement allowed me to make stylistic adjustments, and evaluate the strength of each piece.  When I was satisfied with the entire collection, I used a high gloss varnish on them, which brought all of the colors and detail to life.  
I tend to use acrylics unconventionally, alternating between watercolor and oil techniques - so the varnish transformed the pieces, giving both translucence and depth. 
In the upcoming posts, I will discuss the story and symbolism behind each piece on its own.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Beautiful floating heads....

A little while ago on facebook, I remarked on what I thought was one specific artist's work, actually was a whole bunch of different artists creating similar-looking work - the depressed/sad, big-eyed gothic dolly paintings.  Learned that a lot of it was possibly influenced by the "Big Eyes" art of the 60's-70's, but I was specifically referring to modern-day work I was seeing at festivals, stores, etc.  Not my particular cup of tea, I didn't really retain who did it, I just noted the style/look - so my surprise when I'm at a show and I see a table of it, and then another, and then another, and realizing they all have different names attached.  And well, that's nothing new in the art world - subject matter and styles tend to mushroom in certain peer groups (think about the Cubists or the Impressionists, etc) and with the internet, it can spread even more.

Another similar group I've been noticing more and more in alternative circle as well is what I will call "the beautiful floating heads."  The subject matter tends to be some sort of beautiful woman's head, against a mostly empty background, with decorative and natural elements.  There was a show of these sorts of paintings at a cafe my husband and I stopped at the other day.  I found the paintings beautiful, but something bugged me.  And it felt like the same thing that bugged me about the big-eyed dollies.  

I came to the conclusion that it's the emptiness of the figures...that the eyes are empty, and that the female bodies seem to be just vehicles for beauty.  That they seem plastic, without power.

Maybe that's the point? I don't know, I'd have to ask each artist to find out why they do what they do - but then again, shouldn't the art tell me that?  And what it makes it different from all of the nudes and figure drawings from the last few centuries, or any part in any culture's artwork?Again, I don't know.

But I'm pretty sure I don't want it in my work. I want my figures to address the viewer, and to have something to share of their experience.   I want them to have power. I don't want them to be just pretty design elements.

Yes, I see the irony of me being a big fan of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, but I also strongly feel that Mucha especially breathed life into his figures - that they had something to say beyond selling a product...especially his mural work and other paintings.

I think, in the bigger picture regarding the dollies and the floating heads - it's not the trend or similarities behind all of the works that bugs me, or the crafting of the work, which is usually very good to very high quality - amazing execution - which could be a big root of their popularity.  So my intent is not to dis the makers of these works in any way.  But rather to address the way they make me feel, and inspired my work. 

So the inspiration/plan for this series of paintings I'm working on - is taking at least 16 women from myths/history who have been reduced or flattened into a stereotype, and give them back their power.  We shall see how it goes. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Floodgates Have Opened

Some people would argue that I never stopped making art in the decade following my graduation from RISD.

That creating digital collages, the occasional small drawing/painting, designing websites, cards, costumes, patterns - and DANCING, that's all art. I made over 1000 corset belts, hundreds of bras, vests, and other costume items, from hair pieces to headdresses.  I definitely produced a lot of items. Definitely a lot of stuff people would define as wearable art.

So I can see the truth in that argument.

But compared to now? It feels different.

In the last year, I finally managed to create my first arts-only space, separate from my dance space.  Where I can paint, draw, design, craft, sew, etc - and that is all that space is for.  Combined with the idea of letting go that everything I make, must somehow make money -while also acknowledging that art is a major part of my income - this is new territory.

From my earliest memories, I have always made art.  There is something that happens in the art-making process that accesses and appeases a part of my brain in such a way that no activity - not even dance- can.  The procedure of making art is a trial and a conflict - I am simultaneously at peace, in a wrap of silence and solitude, all the while the voices in my head discuss/argue/comment every step of the way. And it's also about the way I can be totally immersed in some unrelated activity (watching a movie, dancing, making love, creating a meal) and suddenly have a vision of something I must draw or paint.  Then being able to just acknowledge whatever that vision is, sketch it, and come back to it later without questioning the how, what, or why.  That I can be out somewhere, and wish I had my sketchbook with.  (So I need to start bringing it with me everywhere.)

That, for me, is true art-making. I think the last few months, I have been warming up.  That I have awoken the beast - the one that lay dormant, hibernating, perhaps starving a bit (or a lot), and now is ready to create, that MUST create.  And the universe has seemed to have responded with a variety of open doors and windows.

Has it been waiting all this time? 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Raven: Memory & Dream

A few weeks ago I found a bunch of my old sketch books, particularly from RISD (my college years). So I got lost going down that rabbit hole, finding sketches and ideas I hadn't explored in over 12-15 years.

But I actually on a quest to find a particular sketch that's been at the back of my brain for a while.  It was a quick sketch I had done of some ancient Celtic art - that either was on exhibition at the RISD Museum or some other place I had visited - of a raven holding on to a circle. And I found it.

I have long been fascinated with crows and ravens - and their roles in myths across the world.  These ideas had blended in my head with the more modern interpretations of author Charles de Lint in his work. One of the key connecting threads is that the Raven is a keeper of memory and dream - or a transporter of such.

In the last 8-10 years, I have explored the subject more through dance than visual art, so it was time to get back to that drawing and see where the painting would take me.  I worked on it over the course of several days, on a 5" x 5" panel of clayboard with a mixture of first ink, then acrylic.  I'm pretty pleased with the result, but I'm going to explore it again on a larger scale with more mixed media soon.

This piece has already found a new home in a private collection.