August 31, 2010

The Count Down Begins

Sold out. It is a phrase that every artist would love to hear. No. It is not the metaphorical “sold out” to imply artistic compromise. It is the literal “sold out” of having an entire or almost entire collection of work purchased. Ideally this should occur when one is about to leave for a trip or when a bill is due. But good news can come at awkward times as well and the best of plans can go awry.

I had the end of summer planned very well. I didn’t think I would have to work exceptionally hard on creating new work for my upcoming exhibition because I had a collection of paintings that had not sold in one gallery that I would simply transport to the new exhibition venue. Planning exhibitions of the same or similar work back to back is living life a little dangerously. What if the work is all sold at the first venue? Then what? But only a small percentage of my work is ever purchased from my exhibitions and sometimes nothing at all so I figured that it was perfectly safe to come back from Maryland at the beginning of August and work at a leisurely pace here, then pick up my work in Beaufort for a show that hangs on September 1 here in Orangeburg and opens on September 9. The collection of landscape paintings of rural South Carolina had been sitting in Beaufort for over a year so I figured that they would naturally still be there. But when I announced my plans to come down and pick up the work by the end of August I noticed some hesitation in my agent’s voice as she asked me to wait on a few phone calls to clients first.

Just two weeks ago, I got the news that the entire collection, save two pieces, had been acquired by a collector. Since two paintings do not an exhibition make I had about ten days to paint ten replacement paintings. Being a slow working painter, this was a challenge (I’m still working on it). But despite the good yet daunting news, I have been making almost a painting a day.

The first challenge was to do the paintings on the invitations and other publicity over again. So the painting above is very similar to, but not the same painting, as the one on the invitation. Revisiting a previously painted landscape brush stroke by brush stroke is not something most artists would do. But I did it because visitors might be expecting to see the work that they have been invited to see and I wanted there to be at least some truth in advertising. So for the next ten days up to the opening of our three-person exhibition, this will be a painting a day blog.

The ten day countdown to the opening of our exhibition, “Locations/Dislocations: Abandoned Houses and Unsheltered Souls,” begins with another countdown of much greater magnitude and seriousness. Today the drilling started towards the trapped miners in Chile. When I first read about the incident I was mortified like I’m certain everyone else who read about their plight was. I even lost a night’s sleep over it. The thing about reading stories about people trapped is that it occupies a place in the mind that seems to hold its breath and not exhale until the people are freed. Four months is an unthinkable amount of time to be trapped in a mine. Although it may never directly help the miners, I am creating a small painting every afternoon to mark the days until they can be released . I’ve divided them into four groups of thirty-three paintings - one for each miner. Each group depicts various visual interpretations of four animals from Chile, the puma, the wolf or alpaca (haven’t decided yet), birds, and butterflies - one for each month. I’ve attached the first one to the right - a blue puma breaking free and soaring.

August 30, 2010

Janet Goes to Chicken Farm

In an amusing moment of synchronicity, while I was waiting with my husband for our meal to arrive at the local Cracker Barrel, my eyes lighted upon an old book propped up on a fake mantel. It was there not to be actually read I found out by noticing hardened glue on the bottom pages where it was affixed to the mantel piece. It was, rather, an attempt at maintaining the hallmark Cracker Barrel nineteenth century rustic look. Just for show though it may have been the 1908 book’s title, Peggy Goes to Spinster Farm was so intriguing that I pried it loose and took it back to our table to read it (It didn’t really take much prying, the glue was not really adhered properly anyway). What caught my eye was Helen Winslow’s opening line, “Everyone should be alone for a year, not to find himself, but to discover the storm at the center of one’s being.” (I am paraphrasing here)

I asked my husband, a devoted English Professor to read a few pages and give me an evaluation. I cannot quote him exactly because I have forgotten the verbatim commentary but it went something like “It is merely a Victorian piece of lightweight fluff literature.” Naturally that just made me want to read it even more in order to judge for myself. Fortunately I found the book on line and began reading the adventures of Peggy and her Aunt Janet. They were Boston ladies of means who decided that they were weary of city life with its many social commitments of the kind the author tells us through her characters, seem to beleaguer women. What these women’s groups were or the nature of their obligations remained obscure. But I was intrigued and amused because the women were leaving Boston behind along with what was described somewhat obliquely as academic and art careers. Having just taken myself and my art business off of social networking sites I felt a sudden kinship with these pioneering ladies. The relationship of the women is purportedly one of blood but it seems reminiscent of the “Boston Marriage.”

There seems to be very little known about this book and its author and I cannot ascertain how much is fiction and how much is autobiography. Stylistically it is, as my husband says, somewhat lightweight, yet reading it in small snippets of time away from my easel has been fun. The prose is not as magical as another author who may have overlapped Helen Winslow’s time, Sarah Orne Jewett, yet it still has some of Jewett’s charm and love of nature. The book chronicles the women’s slow release from Boston society and their discovery of good health by abandoning corsets and taking long walks in the country. There are minute descriptions of the colonial farm house they purchase for their new lives as chicken farmers - with latches in place of “the modern invention of doorknobs.” The hens themselves are described in anthropomorphic details which are entertaining in their silliness.

While perhaps not being great literature, this little book is still a small gem of social history. And its modest writing is the perfect antidote to present day gloomy news and tea party ranters. I may comment on such things later but for now I’m being chicken with the media.
The acrylic painting at the top of the page is my quirky interpretation of a self-actualized chicken. It was painted from an old folk paper cut in my collection.

August 27, 2010

Pink Mosque with a Home

While putting together part two of the exhibition, “Locations/Dislocations: Abandoned Houses and Unsheltered Souls” I reviewed the previously exhibited collage works to determine which, if any, I would select to show with my new paintings. I paused at the collage, “Rose Mosque with a Home” Would I even be able to exhibit this now that in light of current events it perhaps has taken on a new meaning? Who knew that it would be prescient?

The title for the work is essentially named for the small print on the lower left which reads “having a home” in ancient Chinese seal script. The architectural form was something of an afterthought. And I called it a mosque out of a desire to be inclusive. The current debate over the proposed construction of an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero is both interesting yet sad. Once again I see the pro-arguments not fully taking into account the sorrow of victims of 9/11 and their families and the negative arguments often put forward by people who would exploit that sorrow for their own selfish political agenda.

Is there no compromise? Moving the mosque to a less emotionally volatile area? Or perhaps having the proposed center could stay near ground zero and offer itself as a place of healing where a memorial to victims of 9/11 is included in the structure and free services devoted to their care and welfare.

Perhaps the collage “Rose Mosque with a Home” will be included in the upcoming exhibition to see what kind of response and dialogue it engenders.

August 25, 2010

Facebook Purgatory

Face book Purgatory
“Totus liber faciei in tres partes divisa est: cupiditas, victoria, servitus.” Jewel Ceasar

The painting above is a study for a collage that I’m calling “Facebook Purgatory.” It is being worked on while I am in my two-week waiting period for my release from Facebook. The image is based for the most part on my readings about Facebook because I wasn’t on it frequently enough for firsthand experience. The profiles of two women to one man at the bottom of the painting, for instance, comes from my reading a number of studies that claim that women outnumber men in social networking, especially on Facebook. The prints of pumpkins deteriorating on a vine are there to indicate games such as Farmville and the intertwining relationships of “players.”

I have been clearing out e-mail subscriptions and internet groups that I don’t keep up with to free up more time to get my other work done and found some interesting results from my fall clearance adventures thus far. I found that most social networking groups and businesses have a convenient “unsubscribe” button. But sometimes they don’t work and phone calls are necessary.
Generally there is a polite response to ending the e-mail solicitations but one company actually sent me a return e-mail that I was now on their “blacklist.” They seem to be taking a departing potential customer rather seriously. Others are perhaps a tad too sentimental for the circumstances. “We will miss you,” they tell me like a departing friend - people who don’t know me nor I them

But what I found truly amazing, and somewhat disconcerting, was the trouble it took to leave Facebook. When pressing the “delete profile” button, I first got an option to delete only temporarily, keeping a profile intact so that I could come back anytime. That option did cross my mind but my curiosity about what it took to clear out completely got the better of me and I pressed “permanently delete.” After some importunate “are you really really sure?” messages I firmly sealed my commitment to drop out. I was surprised to get an e-mail from Facebook some time later to tell me that my profile was only in the “process” of being deleted and that it would take two weeks - during which time I could continue to log on and reactivate my account should I change my mind. It seemed like coercion cloaked in good manners so I started reading up on the history of Facebook, the current research on social networking and articles both pro and con on the use of Facebook as a communications tool. I did this to see just what it was I was getting out of and how it came to be that I, along with so many others, took an unthinking leap into cyberspace networking.

Generally I read up on something before I become involved but as I mentioned in my previous writing, there was social and business pressure that came to bear upon my joining chat group networks. To condense my experience here as well as the promises and expectations, I was told that Facebook would grow my business. One year after joining I can say with assurance that it did not - in fact I could say that it was actually detrimental for it took time away from productive studio work as well as more conventional modes ( and in the long run more effective methods) of keeping up with clients. And the final push to leave came this summer. When interfacing with successful artists, I found that many of them eschewed Facebook and other forms of on-line networking. One of these artists had a thriving business even in the recession and had put two children through college - all without a web presence.

Now from my “holding cell pattern” with Facebook, I can wonder about their need to put people on a two-week probationary period before allowing them to leave. Two weeks is a significant block of time. It has an interesting correlation, for instance, with the outer reaches of the time it takes for withdrawal symptoms from an addiction to subside. This could perhaps have a bearing upon people with the social networking addictions that seem to proliferate these days. Someone getting off their fix on Farmville would have to resist the dying calls to farms from pumpkins rotting on a vine - with their accruing farm cash evaporating by the minute. From what I read about Farmville, a person can only cash in points for their virtual vegetables if they are harvested promptly. Considering the fact that the program accelerates growth so that everything ripens by the hour I don’t see how it would actually be possible to win at such a game without being tethered to a PC all of one’s waking hours. But I suppose that is the point - to keep people plugged in to Facebook as much as possible.

So what is it that makes millions of people abrogate privacy and creative ownership to an on-line corporation? From a practical standpoint, Facebook doesn’t seem like a user friendly place for anyone to promote a business that involves original creative design work. If I read my fine print correctly, Facebook maintains ownership to everything posted on the site. For people who need to advertise their wares then, how does giving away a design or idea help them? And what will happen to all their data once Facebook closes?

When I started expressing my misgivings about Facebook and thought of leaving it, colleagues who were favorable to the site told me that I just “didn’t know how to use it.” That could very well be. I found the site confusing to navigate and too cluttered to make sense of. Perhaps if I had better on-line skills I could have networked more effectively, but I gradually came to understand that the time required to learn those skills might be more efficiently spent on keeping up with my regular e-mail and web sites.

Problems with Facebook had started almost immediately upon my entry. For the first few months I received Facebook messages from friends and colleagues but could not reply because I couldn’t log on to the site. It took a few months for Facebook to solve the problem. In the meantime I missed announcements and appointments. Then there were the viruses that got into people’s Facebook accounts which caused them to spew out assorted rapid fire spam and pornography to my e-mail. Praise for the networking possibilities of Facebook started to sound cloying and I began to resent having to log on in order to retrieve or respond to information that would have been more appropriately sent via regular e-mail. So what possible allure did Facebook have for people and considering the fact that I was not overly enamored of the site, why did it take so long to drop it?

Perhaps there is something that Facebook taps into with regard to psychic needs that draws people in and keeps them once they are there. After I left the site, I was listening to a program on NPR about a music performer extolling the virtues of Facebook as a way to build an audience. She had thirty thousand “friends” on Facebook. During the course of her interview she explained that these “friends” could get to know her personally through the site and have a real “connection” to her as a performer. Well, first of all, in this context, the term “friends” is something of a misnomer. One does not have a personal relationship with thirty thousand people. This “relationship” of familiarity is only going one way. A large audience becomes aware of the details of the life of someone they admire. They are fans, not friends. And I think that here is where the illusion of intimacy is so attractive. Even though we may have some real “friends” on Facebook, mostly it is an information sharing network. But the latter is not a particularly engaging phrase so Facebook uses the term “friends” to sell the site better. Most rational people understand that you cannot maintain a personal alliance on the level of “friendship” to thousands of people. Yet the term “friend” still resonates in the consciousness so that on some psychic level, a person does believe that he or she can collect and maintain an ever growing entourage of admiring friends. And the rush to do so becomes something like an attention getting information dispensing arms race.

Most of the critics of Facebook argue that it is a colossal waste of time. By steady increment s I began to edge towards that sentiment but in retrospect must admit that what is or is not a “waste of time” is relative and subjective. If some people are sharing information that is useful and valuable to their personal or professional growth then the time spent doing so is not wasted. And even if there is nothing to social networking but entertainment then that has its value as well in keeping people happy. I would argue that it becomes time wasted when Facebook becomes an unpleasant or coerced obligation that takes time away from what is really important to maintaining a productive and happy life. For myself, as soon as my presence began to edge towards the latter scenario I felt that it was best not to devote time to it.

Having made my peace with the social networking scene, I will say that there were some interesting moments on Facebook - one that actually yielded a short poetry chapbook which I will discuss later. But for the most part, making use of on-line social networking for me was like looking for a pearl in an ocean.

If you have read up to this point, you might wonder at the Latin quote at the beginning of this essay. While reading up on the history of Facebook I found that although we are apparently worlds apart, I actually do have something in common with the founder of Facebook. We both studied Latin in secondary school. Every school boy or girl begins the study of Latin by reading the works of Julius Caesar. I recall the beginning of Caesar’s description of Gaul: “Totus Gallia in tres partes divisa est...” All of Gaul is divided into three parts. The tongue-in-cheek (and I hope grammatically sound) feminized Caesar says in the beginning of this essay: “All of Facebook is divided into three parts: desire, conquest, servitude.” Or perhaps I should just summarize by saying “veni, vici, proficisci.”

Facebook Purgatory

The essay for this image is on its way. Blogger no longer allows me to cut and paste documents in any form and the suggested solutions: ctrl C plus ctrl V don't work.

August 20, 2010

The Art of Reconstitution

Recycling time in the artist's studio is restorative to body, soul and budget. Much of this, however, requires some tedious labor - especially when it comes to recycling clay. I had been wanting to acquire some stoneware and porcelain clay with which to create stronger sculptures and musical instruments but had put off purchasing it because I didn't have an appropriate kiln for the higher temperatures required to fire those fine clays.

As is often the case, however, that wish sent out into the metaphysical space of yearning yeilded a cache of clay - but for a price in time and effort. I found that I was not the only one doing end of the season studio cleaning. A fellow artist was getting rid of hardened stoneware and porcelain that she decided was not really worth the effort to reconstitute. So I eagerly I accepted her offer of the "free" clay - thus reducing the clutter in her studio and adding to mine - at least until I managed to reconstitute and repackage the stuff.

Reconstituting clay is a time-consuming process and must be weighed against the cost of purchasing new material outright. After the time it took to pulverize the hardened blocks, soak them, mix the slurry, spread the slurry on to drying bats, knead it, and then package it (yes into newly purchased buckets) it was probably not what one would call cost effective. But the process of recycling materials has a benefit beyond material cost. It is this physical work that settles the mind and soothes the spirit.

Coincidentally, as I was doing the recycling work, I was reading about some interesting research on the positive effects of vacations in the wilderness far away from internet connections. It appeared that downsizing the amount of information bombardment on the brain actually stimulated and enhanced creative problem solving. Who, of course, has not perhaps already noticed this during long distance driving with the car radio turned off? Processing materials for me is my wilderness, the vats of soaking porcelain my Walden Pond.

While pulverizing the blocks of clay I mentally wrote two or more essays. Soaking the clay in trays and buckets of water yielded thoughts for a painting design. The slurry spreading across bats of plaster drained the distractions from my mind and paved the way for another collage design. While folding the drying clay slab into a coil, then a shell, then a cone, I realized that I had recently made a small judgement error during a telephone conversation. Kneading the clay like bread dough I was able to work out a plan for a diplomatic solution. While the relaxed mind wedged clay and packaged it neatly, ideas for how the clay might be used in the future flowed seamlessly. I recalled the meditation of Chinese painting masters as they ground their ink onto a stone. (I recalled as well with some amusement a lecture given by a young American artist that began with a display of such an ink stone to illustrate the point that a felt tip pen is cheaper, easier and more efficient). Paul Resika, a painter in New York, once told me that what he enjoyed the most about grinding his own pigments into paint was not the cost saving but the sheer joy of meditation upon a luxurious color and imagining all the paintings that the color would fill.

The sections of reconstituted clay were wrapped in plastic bags then sealed in plastic tubs to ensure workability. The processing of this clay brought to mind the stories I had read about Japanese ceramic artists who would work clay then bury it in the ground - not to be touched in their lifetimes. The clay stayed in the ground until their sons inherited it - just as they had inherited their clay from their fathers. The best reserves of porcelain clay were purportedly worth more than gold. Recalling this story made me wonder if our American culture of immediate gratification has lost a sense of patience and the concept of planning for the long term. It is sometimes difficult to imagine us making materials for our own future use let alone for the use of a following generation.

I should explain here perhaps that clay becomes more plastic the longer it is aged by bacteria - something like cheese I suppose. I have experienced a definite difference in aged clay slips that slide onto a vessel like butter on a hot pancake versus the freshly made stuff that pulls and leaves brush streaks. Needless to say, the reconstituted clay is now aging gracefully in containers and awaiting the arrival of winter. Blessed winter after the harvest of ideas.

August 19, 2010

Fall Clearance and About Face

The shortening of days and the hint of coolness in the air is a time for sweeping, harvesting and storing. It is as if a certain circadian rhythm clicks in and with it a desire to prepare resources for the winter months ahead. Winter. When days are dark, creatures move more slowly or hibernate. The time to have a reserve of strength and material resources.

Perhaps there is some logic to cleaning out the studio and processing supplies in the late summer/early autumn. It is preparation for a time when commitments are many and available hours to complete them are few. So it is better to have the parts for an art work ready for assembly then to slog through inhospitable weather to create something new on a deadline while nursing a cold. Just the facts of life. Fall is the time to repair, restore and re-evaluate. The overriding order of the season is to let go of what is not being used well and therefore not contributing to an artist's productive life. The alternative is to fix it into something viable. Use it or lose it.

In terms of material good, this means letting go of an inherited kiln I have that sports a four pronged outlet not usable in my present studio electrical system. It means jettisoning any broken equipment that cleaning ferrets out, sharpening the dull stuff, and cleaning off the rusted tools.

This year my sweeping hs been extended into cyberspace. The "delete" and "unsubscribe" buttons there have been seeing a lot of action as of late. There were the networking sites I rarely used, too many newsletters that I don't have time to read, companies that I rarely purchase materials from and surveys that I never take. Clearing out cyber clutter was a necessary part of staying focused for me. I do have a particularly low tolerance for this kind of clutter because while veteran multi-taskers might be capable of selecting their focus, I can easily be distracted by information that obscures or hides more salient or urgent messages. I find it somewhat discombobulating, for instance, to find a grant application deadline or a reminder about where and when I might need to show up for a job sandwiched between an importunate call to take dietary supplements I don't want or a notice that so-and-so is now connected to so-and-so and that I should know that they are now happily exchanging virtual vegetables.

In the midst of my exhilarating clean up of the e-universe I found that everything but Facebook was easy to eliminate. Facebook seemed decidedly obstinate when it came time for the recycle bin. Indeed, they put me on a two-week waiting period for the "processing" of my request to delete my profile (Since they apparently feel that they are considerably more necessary to existance than all the other networks that allow immediate deletion I have decided to honor them as a subject for an upcoming blog). So I've marked the date of my release from Facebook on my claendar and calling it Facebook Liberation Day. As part of my independence day celebration maybe I should through open the gates and liberate the rest of the millions that still reside in Facebook Detention - something like the storming of the Bastille perhaps?

It is amazing what an institution looks like depending upon which face you see it from. Heads when you are a part of it and Tails when you exit. Being on the outside looking in, Facebook users do look like they are incarcerated. What would hapen if they were "released" en masse?

Go down Moses, let my facebook friends go. Free them from their tethers to Farmville plantations where they labor without compensation. Release them from service to market research without pay. The gates are open! Run away! Run! Go!

Seriously though, I am certain that many people find social networking sites such as Facebook enjoyable and entertaining and that some might actually find it useful. But I have often heard people tell me that they felt "pressured" to join and then "pressured" to stay. For this latter group I would say that feeling pressured is not a good sign. As a brief public service upon which I will expound later I would like to remind the reluctant participants that they do not have to join Facebook and that they won't really lose much by not staying. In fact there is much to gain from not being there with improved focus and more time to devote to better things.

For myself, it is enough to keep my real space swept up and organized without having to sweep up the virtual world as well.

August 4, 2010

Carrot Flowers

"Who cares to notice carrot flowers, when the plum trees burst into bloom"
-Japanese Haiku

This was a hot summer made hotter still by all the outdoor work I passionately but foolishly took part in. After months of creating musical instruments out of difficult, unyielding volcanic ash clay, along with collecting manure to dry and sticks to burn, my friend and colleague Jeri Burdick and I were ready to do a reduction outdoor kiln firing. I had learned the technique a year ago from Wanpovi and Gilbert Sanchez and had been eager to see if we could reproduce the blackware here in Orangeburg County. Only being maverick Americans, we had to add a new twist even before our first firing by applying sage and white colored slips to our ware in addition to the traditional earthen-red-that-turns-black-when-the-oxygen-is-sucked-out. I also added some pieces made with a clay that I mined locally in Orangeburg that would, of course, yield untested results. In fact I made a large bass ocarina with the stuff even though it was untried. I guess that I like to pot dangerously.
The clay recipe we used was 50% volcanic ash, 45% ball clay and 5% yellow art. Working this clay was like working wet sand. It was not very plastic but did sculpt nicely in the greenware stage when it had a quality like stone. As someone who like to sculpt, however, I found the lack of plasticity so frustrating that I kept muttering to myself, I hate this clay, as I kept trying to coach a form out of its soggy resistance. I stuck with the recipe however, because Wanpovi had told us that the volcanic ash content needed to be that high in order for the clay to survive the rapid rise to a high temperature. Unlike other clays in pit-firing, this clay purportedly vitrifies to a very hard state.
After finishing up my portion of objects made with this clay, I called Jeri to see if she had finished her portion. "I hate this clay," were her first words. I advised her to be patient with it and give it a chance to yield its own unique qualities, while thinking It really is disgusting.
We made two firings of objects in our metal "pit" with cedar chips and other woods mixed in (the Sanchez’s use only cedar but we ran out, and being experimental from the start we absolutely needed to see what other woods would do). One hour into the firing we heard a loud blast followed by numerous smaller pops. It was not a good sign. We clicked off the number of pops in our heads, knowing that each one signified a lost object. We pretended not to be personally hurt by the losses. But it was hard from that point to keep feeding wood into the kiln and tending the fire thinking of so many still born pots that would likely emerge. The air was smokey and hot and we had to take many breaks to drink cold ice tea and douse ourselves with cold water. We were greasy smokey sweaty messes.
At the end of the day, I tried not to think of a month’s hard work literally going down in flames. Instead I went berry picking and told myself that it was all a learning experience and that life was good. We pretended that we could wait for two days before opening the kiln. The following morning I got a call from an ecstatic Jeri informing me that she had to take a look into the kiln and found to her surprise that only one piece had broken - my large bass ocarina made with Orangeburg clay. It served me right I suppose, but I was still a little dis appointed as I was unable to reproduce a bass player with an equally good sound. It appears that the errant bass player was the initially blast we heard and that the subsequent pops had emanated from the same piece continuing to explode into smaller and smaller fragments.
Not learning from my first experiment doing a pit firing outdoors in the hot summer air, I agreed to do another one with my second batch of goods. This time the temperature was in the triple digits yet we kept the fire vigorously stoked. The results were excellent. There was just one casualty in the fire - a clacking instrument with a nice curvilinear design.
I took my pit-fired instruments last month to the arts and crafts festival at Carroll County Farm
in Westminster Maryland. I put a price on them that I hoped reflected the physical sacrifice that went into making them. I found, however, that the audience favored my multi-colored gilded ocarinas over the pit-fired pieces. In fact I was unable to sell even one. I noticed that the intensely colored pieces tended to make the smokey black ware look a little dirty in comparison. Even my mentor, Wanpovi, who taught me the black pottery technique, purchased my brightest gold and yellow ocarina.
Back home again in Orangeburg, I mentioned to Jeri that my pit-fired pieces were not favored. She said that the same thing happened to her pit-fired pieces in previous years when she tried to market them alongside her color work. A Japanese haiku I had heard years ago suddenly popped back into my mind:
"Who cares to notice carrot flowers when plum trees burst into bloom?" It occurred to me that those subtle smokey works of art were like carrot flowers among pink plum blossoms. It would take a great effort to even notice them under the circumstance. Undaunted, however, I took a second look at my pit-fired ware and decided that they could use some refinement and that if I showed them more love than eventually others would as well.
The first dose of kindness to my new instruments was a good washing. Many of them had been packed so hastily that they had not even been dusted off or had the ash rinsed out of them. (I was afraid of scratching the still vulnerable surface) As a consequence black smoke emanated from them when they were played or struck - not exactly a good selling point. So my cleaned ocarinas and rattles looked a bit better - yet still dull. I had found through internet research that many ceramic artists who do pit firing finish their wares by polishing them with butcher’s wax. I did that as well (it was not as easy a product to find as I thought and I ended up having to purchase it online from the Butcher’s Wax company). After much experimentation I discovered that more than one shine and buffing was recommended and that a small shoe polish brush helped get the wax into small crevices to even out the texture of the surface.
Even with the polishing many of the vessels still looked plain. This was especially true of vessels that were significantly reduced (blackened by lack of oxygen) and turned almost entirely smokey grey. I recalled the subtle etching that Wanpovi had made on her vessels and how that helped to add shape and differentiation to otherwise plain surfaces. I made a makeshift etching tool with the tip of an exacto blade and used it to carefully outlined discrete areas of the vessels by carving into the surface. This not only helped create some interest and variation in the surface design but served to hide awkward edges where two different slip coatings retracted or overlapped..
The completed pieces now looked more professionally finished and the next step was to find a better context for their viewing. Using various background colors I found that the smokey greys blacks and earth pinks were best served by setting them against a warm white, almost almond color. This next stage - finding a proper display - is still in the works for I will now have to locate a display shelf to paint the appropriate color. But when I do it will hopefully bring attention to my small carrot flowers.

August 3, 2010

Faces of Flint and Osidian

Last month, when I taught a class on three dimensional mosaics, I proposed that my students incorporate materials at their immediate disposal in addition to the items that were purchased. In this way their time, location and what happened there could be commemorated.. Needless to say this had pragmatic goals as well - keeping green by recycling resources. To this end I demonstrated by creating a three dimensional face consisting of parts that were the byproducts of other arts and crafts classes.
There was a jewelry class upstairs, a woodworking class next door, and a blacksmithing class outdoors. In a small grove just outside our studio was an unusual class on flint napping. The instructor in the latter class had brought with him a plethora of obsidian and flint for napping into arrowheads, knives and spears. The painstaking process was fascinating and were it not for having to teach at the time, I might have taken this course. Fortunately for us, there was significant "waste" of flint and obsidian pieces from the napping process and discards of material which had fault lines inconsistent with making a good tool. The instructors were very generous with cast off materials and I used them to create the face of flint and obsidian to the right. I found that these materials could be nipped down and fitted fairly well with a rotary glass cutter.
My student followed suit with a more carefully arranged mosaic made with flint pictured above.
Unpacking today, I came across my own cache of flint and obsidian. It will rest in my studio until it finds the right place for something with swirling white and grey.

August 2, 2010

Musical Mosaic Masks

The Mosaics That Sing
For years I have made mosaic masks. Yet they always seemed incomplete to me. There was that empty hollow space behind the face that was overlooked. True, when hung on a wall, no one would see the obverse side anyway. Yet the unfinished nature of that empty, heartless space always nagged me.
At one point I thought that I had found a solution to the back side. I simply made another concave mosaic in the interior. It was a good solution except that it was not feasible to display that side because the mask would only hang one way. It is possible that I still may to return to that idea and make the mask a free-standing object. Or I may simply engineer it to hang either front or back. But in the mean time a different solution has come about that incorporates my love for hand-made musical instruments.
This last year I have been working on making ceramic ocarinas with increasing complexity from simple whistles to double flutes. When I returned to my ceramic masks I decided to experiment with closing the back , adding a fipple (mouthpiece) and holes to make an ocarina. I finally finished my first three last month and not only displayed them but played them as well for the faculty lecture recently at Common Ground on the Hill in Westminster, MD. Unlike the double front and back mosaic masks, these can be hung either way - one way for the mosaic, the other to display the decorated musical instrument. The mosaic mask pictured above and to the right is cast from a friend’s face. Harriet would be pleased to know that she now sings a tune.