Whirlwind weekend

Wowsers! What a week that was, the unveiling of the Chautauqua Prize would have been enough for one week, but hot on the heels of that came the grand reopening of the gallery where I am the curator, 3rd on 3rd, part of the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts. It was jam packed as this coincided with Lucyfest and the opening of the new national comedy center. The exhibition is a fun one, images curated from an Instagram contest of images of Jamestown, NY.

Then on Saturday night I finally got to share this Summer’s studio work with my guests at the Crary as I opened my own show. Here’s a picture of me taken during my artist’s talk

That’s the work of Paige Kleinfelder behind me on the wall.

Then on Monday there was a rededication for mural I have been relocating and restoring since last summer. Here I am looking scholarly in discussion with some of the family and friends who helped in the campaign to save it

Then Monday night I taught a workshop at the Springville Center for the Arts where we made these adorable little chunky journals

Then today I taught a blackout meditation group, here’s some student work from that

It’s exhausting just making that list! Tomorrow I am going to clean my house and studio!

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Cat’s out of the bag, finally!

So in addition to getting new work ready for my new solo exhibition, opening tonight at the Crary Gallery in Warren, PA, I have also been working on a top secret project.

I live near Chautauqua Institution, and each year they commission a local artist to make a unique art object in response to a book which has been awarded the Chautauqua Prize. This year I was chosen to create something in response to the winning book, The Fact of a Body. If you haven’t read it I think it’s a must read.

I don’t want to give away the whole book, but it involves two stories, a murder and a memoir, which overlap and diverge. Along the way the reader has time to consider their own opinions about some very deep difficult issues, among them, the death penalty. For me though the overwhelming theme is the individual humanity and the unique narrative of each person touched by the story(s).
The structure of the narrative in the book immediately suggested a flag book. The overlapping elements of the narrative in the book seemed ideally suited to the interleaved flags of this book structure. As regular readers of the blog know much of my work involves redacting and altering existing texts, and as a core idea of the narrative is the elusiveness of a single truth, I really hoped the author wasn’t going to e distressed by my hacking her fine book apart and constructing yet another version.

When selecting the passages to include I was drawn to those which left a vivid picture in my mind, passages that evoked in me a lasting retinal impression or a strong emotional connection. My selections were personal and perhaps not indicative of the arc of the authors narrative. The use of translucent vellum to create the flags allows for the text to be experienced in layers and for the various elements of the story to literally overlap visually.

I used sewing as a form of mark making, to emphasize elements of the text, primarily names, and the various physical bodies contained in the original work. I also edited out some elements of text using Boro type stitching, the words are still partially visible beneath the sewing. Boro is a tradition Japanese mending technique. The word itself means rags or scraps of cloth. I chose boro because it seemed that all the characters in the work are patching themselves together, layering new versions of themselves over the old, and also, because the make- do and mend aesthetic seemed appropriate to the tenacity of many people in the narrative.

I hope the finished book reflects the fragility of the stories and bodies in the original text, and that the author forgives me for rummaging about in her ideas this way.

It really was a singular honor to be a part of celebrating this amazing book. I’m glad to say that Alexandria was pleased with the book. Here we are together at the awards dinner.

Congratulations Alexandria on the well deserved honor. And if you are still reading, for yourself a favor and read her book!

Okay back to the studio, I need to find my bench, it’s a mess in there, well the whole house really!

Experiments with mordants

So I’ve been boiling things up for a while now, and reading a lot, hi and trying out different things, but I’m not terribly methodical. Recently I read a blog post about using soy milk as a mordant on cotton fabric, so I figured I would give it a go. I mostly just dye fabrics as a by product, using them as a carrier for delicate papers like kozo, sometimes I get a good print on the fabric, other times not so much.

I decided to do a little experiment and I mordanted one batch of paper and fabrics in soy milk and one in alum. Then I bundled each with leaves from the same plants gathered at the same time, and steamed them in the same pot. I had a head of red cabbage going soft in the fridge, so I threw that in too. I didn’t use any iron or vinegar in with the bundles, as I wanted to see if I could get prints without them. I know I can get prints with them!!

So a pretty small and not terribly controlled experiment. I layered cotton, then sheets of kozo, then a sheet of watercolor paper, followed by a layer of cotton, leaves in between each layer of course. I used sumac, Japanese maple, and some random bush trimmings as I had just done some hedges in the garden. I steamed everything for a few hours.

The kozo printed pretty much the same in both bundles. The colors were a little more intense in the alum bundle and the edges of the leaves we’re more defined. On the water color paper the difference was striking. The milk mordant produced beautiful soft pastels, although I had a really hard time getting the leaves off the paper.

The alum mordant produced vivid greens and blues and much brighter pinks.

These are not great pictures but I think you can see the difference.

Results on the fabric were interesting too. On the alum fabric you can clearly see where the paper was, and it resulted in more intense prints.

But the milk mordant produced all over pastel colors, I can’t get a good picture but I can clearly see the leaf structure in pale greens against a soft pink and purple from the cabbage.

So a mixed bag, but worth repeating I think.

Okay back to the studio.

An aha moment

Last week I was teaching a blackout meditation class in a hilltop pavillion at the Pfieffer Nature Center. It was about as blissful a situation as one could hope for, which is probably why it happened.

The participants were busy making their blackout meditations, and we were talking about using stencils to add images if you are intimidated by drawing pictures. I grabbed a leaf from a nearby tree to illustrate my point, resulting in this

As I was driving home it occurred to me that maybe I could do some botanical contact prints on found text and use them for meditations. And I love them! The botanical print adds a random element to the page and narrows down the amount of page for meditating on.

I decided to use coloured pencils to do the “blackout” part of the process, and then I added in some slow stitch. (I’ve used stitching to make blackouts before).

Here’s the result

Serendipity at work.

Back to the studio!

Struggling

This morning I am really struggling. Some days you just do.

I had been feeling pretty confident and accomplished lately, I had a great time at PBI this year. I was awarded a couple of small, local grants to help offset the cost of going to study with India Flint in the Orkneys in November. I have two solo exhibitions coming up in the next couple of months. Thanks to a broken toe I’ve been stuck in the house, so I am getting a lot of new work done. All this is good. But.

In the past week several artists I know have won major grants. These are all great people whose work I admire. I’m really excited for them, really I am. But it has made my accomplishments feel small by comparison. I KNOW comparison is the thief of joy. I know this.

What is really making me sad is seeing how committed they are to their work. Most of them are not hedging their bets with a multitude of day jobs, cobbling together a living, they are all in. Again, by comparison, I feel I am letting my creative self down, I am spread so thin juggling all the plates that pay my bills. I’m feeling stuck and afraid. There are some plates I really want to let smash to the ground, but I’m keeping them spinning, just in case.

All this is I suspect normal background turmoil for creatives. Thank heavens that at least in the studio some great stuff is happening. Here’s some art to cheer this post up

Full moon in Capricorn, rust and black walnut on abaca with hand sewing

Cordage made from daffodil leaves

Summer Solstice, onion dye on abaca with hand sewing

New Moon in Cancer, botanical contact print on kozo with hand sewing

Ill be okay. I have so much to be thankful for. These are first world problems and I’ll get over myself, but these are the fears that eat up our creativity, saying them out loud makes them smaller and easier to handle. If anyone reading wants to share their tactics for handling the creative monsters of fear and comparison please add you thoughts in the comments!

Okay back to work.

Smocked vessels

I’m pretty happy with how these are progressing. These three are currently part of pulp/fictions at WNYBAC in Buffalo if you’d like to see them in person. The vessel in the back is varnished, inspired by laquered Korean hanji. I apologise for the background check or in the next image but I was really struck by the way the light illuminated the varnished vessel.

Looking forward to getting into the studio and trying some more related ideas, glad there are only 2 more weeks if classes.

Confluence

So. I’ve been trying to write a new artist’s statement. I am finding it very tricky. I hope this is because I am sort of between things right now and not because my brain has evaporated. I have been thinking about the idea of geometry and the tether of history/the past. These ideas are flowing out of a response by a math student to my piece women hold up half the sky. I’m also drawn to the metaphors of stitch as a way of giving flat materials a shape. It always comes back around to a needle and thread.

I mention this about the writing because it seems relevant to my current studio project. The kozo group is working on a new exhibition of sculptural paper. I decided to try shaping paper with only stitch. Taking flat sheets of kozo as a starting point I have been trying to coax some interesting form from them.

Of course I started by sewing in circles. Here’s a sample of that exploration.

I tried multiple circles, but it is really chaotic, I need to think about it some more

So last night I started thinking, just as I was falling asleep, (which stopped me from getting to sleep for ages) about straight lines and smocking. So tonight I decided to try a little trial

This is easier to control, but is that a good thing? Pushing on. Stay tuned to see if I arrive anywhere at all.