September 29, 2013

Golden Clay from the Pit Fire

The outdoor pit firing kiln was opened. Everything made it out intact - even the lid from one of the pots that fell outside the inside protected core and into the fire. This lid did get much more toasted than the rest of the pot but the dark black knob adds a nice counterbalance to the red pot. This lidded vessel, as well as the pinch bowl at the bottom right, were made from clay I found locally which appears to be a tributary creek from the Edisto River. The clay was naturally plastic and didn’t have much debris in it so it was easy to shape. I tried something new with a white terra sigillata inlay on the pinch bowl which yielded some interesting results in the reduction firing. Needless to say, I could not help but go back for a little more of this clay.

The white found clay didn’t do quite as well. One vessel chipped in the firing perhaps because of adulterants in the clay or too much sand. But another vessel made from the white clay came out of the kiln with lovely pink and grey smoke designs.

September 28, 2013

Monstrous Little Painting

This painting started out as a collage of a paper representing a creature which I could not identify. It looked bovine but could just as well have been a large dog. Such is naive art. Yet its very anonymity gave me free reign to paint over its shape without delineating any features. As I painted, however, the body seemed to sprout a man’s head sporting a blue beard. He looked familiar, like someone I knew when I was in high school. Amazing what subliminal memories come to the fore when doing stream of consciousness art.

Since the beast now had a human head I decided to replace the hooves with human feet, two left feet and two right feet. No longer bearing any resemblance to the gentle cow of Chinese folk art I was yet reminded of something in Chinese classical literature. Earlier last year I read the Shan Hai Jing, an ancient compendium of mythical monsters and their favorite haunts. I thought that it would be entertaining reading but found that it was instead a tedious laundry list of outrageous descriptions. I don’t even remember them save one - a creature described as having its anus above rather than below its tail. I considered adding this feature to the painting above but refrained myself. And here seemed to be the best place to close my short chapter on these folk paintings.

September 27, 2013

Dragon West Travelers East

Nearing the end of my Chinese Folk Art series of small paintings, I completed one thatlooks like an amalgam of Chinese and Russian Folk Art. I call this painting “Going Home,” so named for the red print in the lower right hand corner that was printed from a stone with those very words carved on it in ancient Chinese. The print now serves as an embellishment for the tail of a partially obscured dragon. With his head at the left side of the painting he appears to be moving westward, in a direction opposite the travelers with the goat cart and the red kid. West bound dragons and east bound travelers. Perhaps it is emblematic of my belief that for the last few decades China is becoming increasingly westernized as the west becomes more eastern. But perhaps that may be reading too much into a simple painting.

The yellow goat, although painted in western colors, is in a classic pose from Chinese painting, his head twisted backwards and upwards to look at birds flying overhead. His colors, as are all the other colors, are freely painted with no regard for the monochromatic paper cut from which they emerged. I painted the center of interest, the yelping kid, a bright red to highlight his terrified white eye. He obviously doesn’t want to be making this trip.

September 26, 2013

Stamping Out Folk Art

The paintings I’ve posted today are two versions of a folk paper cut depicting what appears to be a horned bovine creature. I used the paper cut directly as a collage in the larger work after first using it as a stencil on the small paper. For the small work, I basically painted over the form - making it into something else but still maintaining the folk art look. In the larger collage I almost completely obscured the subject by applying a stamped design across the entire surface. Then I carefully manipulated more colors around the center so that the subject would partially reappear. The addition of an eye especially brings the creature quality back to the collage. The red print from a stone stamp on the left side is a poem about an exile without a home. I had used this stamp in a series of handmade books and saw that I had an extra print. A very fragmented print of Chinese oracle bone characters is on the right. It reads, “the fisherman.”The paintings I’ve posted today are two versions of a folk paper cut depicting what appears to be a horned bovine creature. I used the paper cut directly as a collage in the larger work after first using it as a stencil on the small paper. For the small work, I basically painted over the form - making it into something else but still maintaining the folk art look. In the larger collage I almost completely obscured the subject by applying a stamped design across the entire surface. Then I carefully manipulated more colors around the center so that the subject would partially reappear. The addition of an eye especially brings the creature quality back to the collage. The red print from a stone stamp on the left side is a poem about an exile without a home. I had used this stamp in a series of handmade books and saw that I had an extra print. A very fragmented print of Chinese oracle bone characters is on the right. It reads, “the fisherman.”

I enjoyed working with the stamped design. It created a texture that a brush could never do.

Yesterday I made an arrangement for yet another one-woman show that this painting might make it into. At least the small one will as it will be an exhibition of small works. The show will be in March so it is a little early to advertise details. But I’ll probably post details on my website in a few days.

September 25, 2013

Painting While Other Art Cooks

I’ve been burning the proverbial candle from both ends, painting and making ceramics. The painting/collages from the Chinese paper cuts have been keeping me busy while I’ve been waiting for the pit fired ceramics to cook, then be cleaned, then polished. Then the pottery will need to be photographed and most likely corrected in photoshop as well. So in the mean time my small works are keeping me occupied.

Slowly, I’ve become more adventurous with the painting - straying further and further from the model. The painting posted today represents an entirely remade art work, with multiple layers of colors and patterns on the figures, oddly perched upon exotic birds. I wish I knew the meaning of that. The background of the painting is an invention that is reminiscent of the Buddhist grottoes I saw in China years ago. Only those caves were either empty or holding a stone Buddha. So even though I thought I was straying from east to west in this painting, the encapsulation of the figures harkens more towards eastern than western art. There is not much more that I can say about the piece. It is just an exercise.

September 21, 2013

White Bone Demon Maybe

In the next in my series of reworked Chinese folk, I’ve painted over a paper cut of a female figure holding a staff. I don’t know who she was but somehow imagine her to be the infamous white bone demon. This nemesis of the heroic monkey king struck my fancy as a good object to paint. The original paper cut of the figure characteristically sported a large head on a small body. I could have kept these proportions but instead reduced the head and expanded the body.

Demons/goddesses and other unearthly beings seemed to demand a diaphanous rendering. This was a challenge to a heavy handed artist such as myself who gravitates towards solid viscous pigments. But I tried for a ghostly deportment for the figure using washes and iridescent paints.

September 20, 2013

Shameless Stealing - or Clever Appropriations and Recycling?

The kiln is now loaded with relief sculptures, miniature vases and a cache of lidded pots. They’ll be fired over the next few days, then smoke fired next week. The corner of the room where I was working on these has been swept clean. Pottery tools have been washed and put away. My creative corner has been turned into a small painting studio once more. I begin again with mixed media acrylic paint and paper collages. The first one goes way back.

When I was a teenager, I used to draw and paint highly delineated botanical studies. Sometimes I would study amphibians and insects as well. I still possess a few examples of these naturalist renderings. While working on my reinterpretation of Chinese folk art I found an early study in acrylic on paper of a nasturtium. In an act of irreverent and shameless stealing from my youth I cut it out and pasted it on to a piece of primed paper and painted around it. Thank you fourteen year old Janet, I’ll take that.

It is probably the last time I’ll work with something that goes back that far into early artistic pursuits - although I know I have a page of studies of vegetables and insects somewhere that I am itching to do something with. Think I’ll leave it alone though. I have other stealing to do from Chinese folk artists who made innocent paper cuts.

September 18, 2013

A Gaze Upon Woman: Drawings by Janet Kozachek

This is the first exhibition I have done in over two years, having been sidelined by a protracted illness. It is good to be back in the saddle again, albeit with an enormous amount of help.  The curator, Michael Wessel, did all the framing and hanging for the show.  He even managed to find a willing reader for my poetry.  I am so very grateful.

September 16, 2013

Soundless Clay for a Day

My September month for finishing acrylic paintings has changed into pottery vessel month. I was working steadily on the paintings when my chance find of a wild clay pit evoked all my experimental spirits and I started making vessels with it. But I didn’t stop there. Since the clay was untested I decided to add stoneware vessels to the mix. Day by day my bucket of reconstituted stoneware diminished as ceramic ocarinas and lidded vessels came into being. With just the proverbial drop in the bucket of clay left I decided to break out my plaster casts of small shapes and make miniature ocarinas and clay whistle.

But as I started pushing the clay into the plaster casts I wondered to myself. Must everything ceramic that I make be a musical instrument? Had I carried this so far that I’m nearly unable to make a shape without holes for sounds? So I decided to see if I had the capacity to resist the noise makers for a change and started making miniature bottles out of the forms I used for clay whistles. It felt strange at first adding a neck and a lid where every instinct in my being knew that a mouthpiece is to go there. But I resisted. What if I could no longer make anything but musical instruments out of clay? Would I be considered obsessed? Compulsive? Even an addict?

Perhaps I would be sent to Ceramic Musical Makers Rehabilitation Camp for the cure. But what would such a camp look like and how would the patients be rehabilitated? My imagination ran into a flight of irreverent fancy. The camp counselors would have patients confront the clay in non-musical ways. I imagined rows of ceramic vessels being created by patients under the watchful eye of the counselors. Only pots, vases or small solid sculptures would be allowed. The really hard core cases however, would resist this treatment. They would cast furtive glances around, sneaking pellets that they had secretly dried in their pockets into vases so they would rattle around. Others would hide sound holes on the bottom of the vase, sneaking in a window late at night, their faces smeared with mud, to add a mouth piece to their day time creation. These recalcitrant resisters would have to have their camp stay extended and certain privileges rescinded. Extra counseling sessions and no visitors for a week.

At night there would be a bonding campfire for campers. Everyone would pitch in. The campers each would ritually throw in a ceramic musical instrument not quite having reached the greenware stage so that it would pop. This would be considered a cleansing ritual. Then the counselors would all have the campers join hands around the campfire and sing the ceramic music makers recovery song. They would be accompanied by a clean shaven short haired fresh faced young man strumming chords on a guitar with religious zeal. Then everyone would sing:

“We pinch and coil clay with poise

It doesn’t have to make a noise

We apply to clay a scraper and paddle

It needn’t have to shake and rattle

We made vases! Oh what beauts!

Even though they make no toots

We make pots as we are bidden

Carefully keeping a whistle hidden

Solid statues, wholesome bowls

And bottles no longer punched with holes

We sing our song of soundless clay

That doesn’t always have to play”

Yes. That’s how it would be in Ceramic Music Makers Rehabilitation camp, I imagined as I looked closely at one of my miniature vases. Rather like a snuff bottle this miniature vase. I looked at it closer, then even closer. I put it against my mouth and blew across the top empty coca cola bottle style. OOOOOOOOOO what a nice sound. Then I made a ten hole ocarina.

September 11, 2013

Edisto River and the Unknown Clay

A summer of incessant rain yielded a few interesting things in the nearby park where I take my morning walk. That is where I found an old Indian spearhead that had worked its way up to the surface of the sandy soil. More recently, I discovered a clay deposit underneath the bridge across a brook which became more obvious when the rain washed away the surface silt. I first discovered the clay when I scuttled down the bank to try to pick a Rose of Sharon flower. When I got to the bottom of the bank I saw that the flower was just too far out of reach. But I did notice some nice round yellow stones in the water. So I picked one up and to my surprise found that it yielded to my grasp like silly putty. It was very plastic clay. So I carried it home and made a little bowl out of it. The next day I carried some more home and made a little vessel out of that too.

Should I really be stealing from a park like this I wondered? It was on my next walk that I discovered a very large pit of clay underneath the bridge across the brook. The clay came in three colors; buff, blue white, and golden yellow. I decided that I just had to experiment with it so returned to the site with a trowel and a small bucket.

I had a little bit of a scare when I sank up to my shins in the part of the bank I was standing on - it was all soft clay. But I managed to extrude myself from the quicksand and make my small harvest. Problem was, I couldn’t scuttle back up the bank with a trowel and bucket of clay. Fortunately a passerby waking a dog helped me out here by taking the trowel and clay bucket up the bank so I could get back up.

Back home I began to process the clay. I started with the golden yellow ochre. I dried it, pulverized it, and put it through a colander. It appeared that tiny rocks still made it through. So I put it through a finer mesh. It took forever and I decided because of all the effort I would make a slip out of the fine powder and use the rougher grade that I had no longer the energy to powderize to make a small vessel with. I then made small lidded vessels out of the buff color clay and the bluish white. They were all a little gritty so I stopped my experiment after making nine little vessels. An untested clay could explode in the kiln or the pit fire. I imagined the effort of a pit fire (which often makes me even sicker than I usually am) yielding a bunch of broken shards. Add to that the fact that these were all made by the slow pinch and coil method and just too much time was being sunk into an unknown, untested future.

To flesh out my collection of pots with a known and tested clay, I made more vessels with a dependable stoneware clay so that I could be assured that something might make it through the firing and all would not be for naught.

I then thought to experiment with my river bank golden yellow ochre homemade slip. Terra sigillata it was not. The texture was horrible. Apparently sand got through the fine mesh and coated the pot with a rather rough texture that was hard to burnish. Perhaps I’ll stain it to emphasize the texture that nature has yielded.

The photo above are the unfired experimental Edisto River clay pots. It might be the last time they are seen intact but I’ll hope for the best.

September 9, 2013

The Gaze

I generally come across interesting finds when I’m looking for something else or generally straightening up and organizing. There were two works of art that emerged from the depths of time, and old suitcase, and a reorganized dresser. One dated from 1985 and the other from 1986. The one dated from 1985 was made in the final year of a life of study, work and play in China. I had made a series of watercolor and gouache paintings for a final thesis exhibition at the Beijing Central Art Academy that later became known as “Two into One” - a pun on a saying of Chairman Mao. Each one of these depicted primitive human forms that were derived from pictographic stone seal carvings from around the Han dynasty. They were each pairs of human beings generally in an unequal relationship. One of the paintings from the series was a man and a woman - the woman shrinking as the man’s eye grows frighteningly large. For some reason I painted a second version of that painting which surfaced again after I was hunting up some matt board. I’ve renamed the painting “The Gaze,” and although it is old, I may use it for an upcoming exhibition about Civil Rights and Women at the I.P. Stanback museum that I was invited to submit work for. “The Gaze”would probably fit the theme of the exhibition. Perhaps because it so graphically depicts the critical scrutiny and objectification of women.

My husband has been bitten by the organizing bug as well and recently went through an old suitcase. He found my old paint box, then an old notebook. I asked him to keep a lookout for a dream diary that I had kept in 1986 in Holland. I recall that I kept it because the long dark rainy days for some reason provoked, maybe as an antidote, rich and colorful dreams at night. When I started writing poetry a few years ago, it occurred to me that it would be a great resource for paintings and poetry. Sure enough, Nat found that book as well. So there will be more blasts from the past ahead. Just as Proust said, when an artist gets old, he plagiarizes from the resources of his youth.

September 8, 2013

Girl with a Red Bird on a Stick

For my second small painted collage from old Chinese folk paper cuts I used the cut out of a girl with a bird on a stick. Was she taking it to market? Or was she perhaps taking from a market and back to home? This girl carrying a bird also has the strange proportions of the previous paper cut of a girl holding a lantern - a large head on a small body. But this one sports tiny pointed shoes.

My last painting in this series was in an almost monochromatic pallet of grey tones so I decided to add bright colors to this one. I used a series of acrylic washes to build up a background and smeared heavier bodied pigments into that. The folk art paper cut was basically featureless so I painted in a rather classic looking face. I believe it transformed the girl from Chinese folk art to Russian folk art.

September 4, 2013

Illuminated Dwarf

Now I am becoming a painter once again. The second in my series of Chinese paper cut collage works looks less like a folk art piece and more like a Francis Bacon. A joyful paper cut of a girl holding a lantern became a mysterious dwarf illuminated on a city street at night. I dispensed with the linear quality that I had become accustomed to by so much drawing and boldly splashed on paint with brushes and fingers. The textural marks which I like to think of as remnants of printed matter on the side of buildings was made with a linoleum stamp.

September has launched the season of paintings. After I finish my acrylic on paper series, I will be switching to oils, God and health willing. But at the same time I’ll be slowly preparing pieces of pottery for an October or November pit firing. But more of that later.

September 3, 2013

Cat Walking on Foamy Waters

A few months ago, while doing some house cleaning, I came across a collection of Chinese folk paper cuts. They were cut from red paper twenty odd years ago by an independent Hebei province folk artist. The artist was a quiet girl with a big imagination and artists adored her work. When she came to visit the Beijing Central art academy where I was studying the teaching artists all vied for each other to acquire the folk artist’s work. She was almost as popular as the Mongolian rock seller who sold polish rocks flattened on one side for seal carving.

Unfortunately I had taken the folk artist’s paper cuts to a painting scroller to be glued sized and mounted on backing paper. The wet process caused the dye in the paper cuts to run. But I kept the ruined paper cuts all these years rolled up and not preserved in an archival fashion. I decided to make mixed media collage art out of this set of paper cuts like I had done previously with a set of faded commercial color paper cuts.

Using an exacto blade I carefully cut the red paper cuts out of their backing paper and used archival glue to adhere them to five by seven inch primed and painted paper. To preserve the paper cuts, I applied a coat of gesso to them as well. These sat undisturbed for a few months while I worked on my drawings and finished a group of small mosaics.

This week I set out my acrylic paints and began work on the paper cut collages. The first one I finished was the paper cut of the cat. I had originally decided to use these folk art remnants as a point of departure for a painting - essentially painting over them and creating something entirely new. But as I painted the cat I found that I not only retained his shape, but completed a painting that looks very much in keeping with his folk art origins. I account for this because I have only just started doing acrylic paintings on paper again after a hiatus of two years. My first works are usually a bit tenuous when I switch media. It will probably take a few more paintings before I get a little more adventurous. I’m already looking at the rest of the paper cut collages and seeing the potential for greater abstraction and reinterpretation. Over the next two weeks it will be interesting to see what develops as I ease into the paint and paper.