July 29, 2010

Distressed Mosaics

Fuel and Fodder: Using Grief and Anger to Put Passion into Art
The mosaic work above and the detail to the right was created out of necessity as a cathartic tool for releasing excessive grief and anger. The title of the work, "Three Intruding Fanatics: One Throwing a Rock," aptly reflects both personal and, hopefully, universal fears. The piece was recently a part of the faculty exhibition at McDaniel College held in conjunction with the Common Ground on the Hill Summer Arts and Music program. Before that it was part of the group exhibition, "Locations/Dislocations: Abandoned Houses and Unsheltered Souls."
Like most of my mosaic art, this work grew slowly, piece by piece and was built as a bas relief sculpture working from the bottom up. I started with the central figure - a man with hands over his ears to shut out excess noise. The doorway to his right was made from a rusted break pad and bears two small tiles which read, in Chinese seal script "Without a Home" and "With a Home." The mosaic started out as a message about circumstances beyond one’s control and the theme of Homes and Homelessness that I was working on for the first exhibition. But midway through making this piece, I lost a loved one who had been a large part of my life for the past thirty years and another family member became seriously ill. Although there is never a particularly good time for these things, at that time I was also dealing with some rather aggressively vocal people with dogmatic religious views. Not wanting to deal with them directly any longer for fear of saying something that I could never take back, I put the raw feelings about three of them into this mosaic in the form of the three "intruders." Interestingly, for viewers of this piece the three fanatics came to take on the more universal three great religious teachings, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and the grief associated with fanatical manifestations of these.
Ironically, after finishing this piece, I found that my anger significantly dissipated and even started myself laughing at the central figure throwing a rock three times her size.
Perhaps strong emotion is in fact good fuel for creativity. At that time two months ago, my poetry strengthened as well - so much so that I was able to finish a chapbook. And all this was accomplished without severed relationships, broken ties, or bad memories. Indeed, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of art sometimes is to maintain humanity within conflict and adversity.

July 28, 2010

The Art of Dislocations

The Art of Dislocations
Once again, it has been a long time since I have updated this blog. It has not been on account of having nothing to write about. Quite the contrary, I’ve been very busy with exhibitions and teaching - perhaps too involved to write about it. So I am writing a short synopsis for late spring to mid-summer in three parts to bring my on-line art writing up to date.
The Exhibition "Locations/Dislocations: Abandoned Houses and Unsheltered Souls." was created and exhibited with much soul searching and wrangling about the meaning of the art and the direction it would take. The Gallery 80808 portion of the exhibition ended on June 1 and was featured on the television program "Hello Columbia." The opening was well attended and the crowd seemed receptive to the thought-provoking art.
As the title suggests, the art featured portraits of homeless people by Khaldoune Bencheikh and photographs by Nathaniel Wallace of abandoned or semi-abandoned homes around the southeast.
A portion of the proceeds was given to a local charity in Columbia to provide for the homeless population. I like to think that in some small way, my contribution changed a life for the better. My own work went through a pronounced change during the preparations for this group show. I started out making paintings of abandoned homes - many of them at the same sites where my husband, Nathaniel shot his photographs.
During the course of painting for this exhibition I began to speak with representatives who either were homeless or worked with the homeless population. I reflected on the meaning of the word home and the significance of being without one or having one. I looked at my work and felt it wanting. It seemed that the paintings were my husband’s photographs interpreted in a different media. I became confused. But moving forward in art I find often begins with fighting through confusion. I no longer knew whether the subject of the exhibition no longer interested me - or if it was too difficult to understand the meaning of an exhibition with such a long meandering title: Locations/Dislocations: Abandoned Houses and Unsheltered Souls. So I did what I always do when meaning becomes elusive - I started reading and writing ancient Chinese. I carved a series of stone stamps of Chinese zhuan calligraphy (regular readers of my blog will know that I trained in Chinese art) many of which read either "Without a Home" or "Having a Home" and made several prints of these. I became interested once again in the words.
The word "Jia" in Chinese calligraphy can mean "home" or "house" but it can also mean "school" as in a school of thought. So my prints of "without a home" could also be interpreted to mean not adhering to any particular school of thought or dogma. After printing these onto several scraps of white and buff colored paper, I printed them into clay to make miniature tiles of the words for use in my mosaics, three of which were shown at the May exhibition. My favorite of the mosaics was "Three Intruding Fanatics: One Throwing a Rock." which I will discuss later.
Satisfied at having reconnected to the exhibition through the back door of ancient language I examined the theme again and decided that since my husband’s work was described by "abandoned houses" and "locations" and Khaldoune Bencheikh’s portraits of the homeless were "unsheltered souls" my niche in this exhibition would be under the word "dislocations." Consulting the modern day Oracle at Delphi that google is, I typed in "dislocations" to see what the cyber gods would tell me. I was surprised to find the term firmly planted in geometry and the study of crystals. A dislocation, if I understand it correctly, is essentially a fault in a crystal that causes a shift in its alignment which is not apparent in the surface form. It is sometimes compared to a stack of paper hiding a half sheet in the middle. A hidden instability causing the world to shift askew. Perfect to describe my art as well as the vagaries of fortune that changes a life circumstance. So for the last month before the exhibition I made a series of collages on painted boards. I affixed my stone prints onto painted papers, then pasted these cut outs onto the boards. In all of these I thought of the architecture as a faulted crystal - opened up and laid out in all its syncopated beauty. The collages I have displayed above and to the right are some examples of these. They are: "A Belief in Zen" and a detail from "Old Dormitory."