Sunday, April 26, 2015

Recovering productivity junkie

After a long hiatus from making studio work, I've been able to manage at least about 10 hours a week over the last few months - throw a full time job and a child into the mix and that requires a lot of organization and determination. For the last ten days, extra appointments and spring cleaning kept me from working in the studio.  The detachment from the so-called zone was palpable yesterday, when I finally claimed a day to reacquaint myself with the many works in progress I have spread across the dining room table. I lamented (yet again) the loss of the glorious studio spaces I enjoyed in my last 3 homes.

I was reminded of an article by sculptor Carol Bove's self-help guide for artists on Artspace.

Bove encourages artists to have a space designated for artistic discovery,
'a non-purposive, free space in which to play and have fun...'. 

Having always balanced another job and then motherhood with the need to make art, I have often imposed a pressure on myself for product when I find time to work in the studio.  

This brings me to another key point in Bove's guide. She meditates on the fact that we refer to art - and the making of it - as 'work'. Here is an excerpt:

I started to adjust my thinking about productivity so that it was no longer valued in and of itself. It strikes me as vulgar always to have to apply a cost/benefit analysis to days lived; it’s like understanding an exchange of gifts only as barter. The work exercise made me feel as if I was awakening from one of the spells of capitalism. And there was more to it than that: I was able to begin the process of withdrawal from my culture’s ideology around the instrumentality of time, i.e. that you can use time. I think the ability to withdraw from consensus reality is one of the most important skills for an artist to learn because it helps her to recognize invisible forces.

So, at the dining table, not in a spacious studio, I just got to doing something, anything, to take all pressure off of finishing a piece of art. While exploring new methods and materials feels 'low-risk' when I've been away from the project for a while, I'm coming to accept that it's actually a requirement that enables me to slow down and allow for days in the 'studio' (or wherever my creative space happens to be), that are free of pressure.

The images I included in this post are of some experiments I did for framing some works in progress. Aluminum plumbers tape + adhesive plastic window lace + oil paint = a texture somewhere between old tooled leather and an old tin roof tile with a patina.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Relevance: Choosing symbols

There are fleeting moments when I fantasize about being satisfied painting still-lives or landscapes from observation...then I remember who I am and what drives me as an artist. I piece things together, whether it be collage, assemblage or a conglomeration of symbols, trying to find a delightfully puzzling way to tell a story - for those who can take the time to look at it long enough. 

As I embarked on my current series a few months ago, I felt a longing for RELEVANCE, more than I ever have before. I've always been a bit 'old school' in my choice of materials and exhibition venues because I want folks who may not regularly look at art to feel comfortable to check it out and have an individual response without feeling irritated that they don't 'get' it. That's the educator in me.

This time around the message was clear first, so the conundrum was...what symbols and imagery should I use? JUST START said my intuition. Adjust it as you go along and learn from the process. 

Then I read something helpful. I really dig maps and the process of mapping things out, from statistics to ocean currents. While reading Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information by Manuela Lima (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011), I was particularly impressed by the advice on starting out a new line of work. We are urged to consider the individual or universal relevance in advance and throughout the process. The greater the processing effort, the lower the relevance. 'Spare the viewer the gratuitous effort'.  Check this book out, both the imagery and the commentary on changing world behaviors are captivating.

I winced as I remembered a critique at the Boston Drawing Project years ago, when the coordinator told me not to dump everything I had to say in each piece. Ok, so I'm working on this issue in this new series. It's hard for someone with a voracious appetite for making connections.

I knew I wanted to design some tile designs. I chose black swallows for their status as migrant creatures that mate for life, and that frequented my line of sight during my first few years in Spain. You will see other shapes emerge in upcoming posts, like this one... Can you tell what it is?

The continued challenge for me is to leave well enough alone, edit and simplify the final images. I hope for an immediate visual impact followed by a slow understanding that only comes from having seen a hybrid.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Done with the decay

I had the great fortune to spend 4 days in Toulouse France over the Easter holiday. It's been a while since I have had the time to wander the streets of a new city, absorbing the new surroundings. I decided to share this shot of a friend's home wine cellar.

For the first time in many years, I realized that I had no desire to document buildings in ruins, nor collect souvenirs of the neglect to incorporate into my art work. I found myself standing next to this old fire house (shown below), next to the mortuary of l'Hôpital de la Grave, in the Saint Cyprien quarter of Toulouse.  I had a languid impulse to shimmy a brick free to take home. After all, there was no one around to scold me and I had plenty of room in my bag for a true touch of the sun-burnt brick that gave La Ville en Rose it's name... but I thought, 'nah, - leave the decay just where it is, just where it belongs.'

This is a new sentiment.

My works of art have often incorporated relics of buildings in various stages of decay. My aesthetic sensibilities are changing because I am changing. All eloquent explanations aside, my work is always biographical - whether I like it or not, whether I recognize it immediately or not.

More than once have I heard at an exhibition of my paintings that it looked as though it were a collective, not a solo show. Some called my toying with a variety of media as schizophrenic, unfocused.

Now, particularly after dedicating 10 years to one cohesive body of work, and knowing that I must make a shift in order to make honest work, I feel comfortable doing what I need to do in this moment. It's refreshing to accept that sometimes the artist knows best what muse they must follow.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


 Detail of Break-away, graphite ink, colored pencil and gold leaf on paper. 2015

Break-away, full view.

A study of black swallows detaching from tile pattern, off of the floor and into the open space.

The Dark-winged Swallows will Return

The other day I was looking for some notebook paper and came across a poem that my daughter had transcribed for her Castellano class. It's Volverán las oscuras golondrinas 
by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-1870). These little discoveries are what keep me on track with my work, even when I am filled with doubt.

The first two stanzas talk about the seasonal visit of these creatures, who supposedly mate for life. Spanish and English excerpts below...


  Volverán las oscuras golondrinas
en tu balcón sus nidos a colgar,
y, otra vez, con el ala a sus cristales
      jugando llamarán;

pero aquéllas que el vuelo refrenaban            
tu hermosura y mi dicha al contemplar,
aquéllas que aprendieron nuestros nombres...
      ésas... ¡no volverán!

As of yet untitled, Ink on paper. 
First approach at capturing the affects of cut-paper shapes 
layered on top of a light box, as seen in the post  Gestation period.

The dark-winged swallows will return

The dark-winged swallows will return
to hang their nests beneath your eaves,
and before your windows once again
beckon with their wings;

but those whose flight restrained
your beauty and my joy to learn,
those who came to know our names...
those...will not return!