November 25, 2013

Zen in Black and White with Shades of Gray

My most recent mosaic began with an interest in origami. I had watched a documentary film about this art form with its applications in mathematics and science. If slabs of clay were rolled out very thin and allowed to stiffen up to hold a shape yet not break, could they too, not be folded to look like origami? I wondered. I wasn’t certain how to do this but I started by scratching a design on a thin slab of clay that looked similar to the ones I had seen in the film. I was almost more fascinated by the geometric patterns on the flat piece of paper than the finished folded project. They were exquisite designs with diamonds, squares and rectangles in various configurations.

Needless to say, my clay, when folded either broke against the creases if it was too hardened, or undulated to look more like the folds of fabric than stiff paper if bent when too wet. But since I usually allow the medium to speak for itself in my work, I went with the flow of the folds and created something that looked like a rectangular piece of fabric.

Although there was no origami, I retained a Japanese aesthetic for the completion of the mosaic. The palette of colors for the mosaic was black and white with shades of grey throughout. The small tiles of seal script could be Japanese as well as Chinese so I incorporated them. They read “the breath of life,” “having a home,” and “enlightenment.” I encased the mysterious piece of cloth in a bamboo shrine. For this I happened to have a cast that I took of an old bamboo handle from a brush that was no longer usable. The crown for this shrine to the cloth was simply a large piece of flint which I obtained a few years ago from a course in making neolithic style arrow heads and knives.

This small mosaic was another milestone. It was the last mosaic for my upcoming exhibition of small works. For the duration of this month and well in to the next I’ll be returning to small acrylic paintings on paper, and my ongoing illustrations for the Small Book of Marvelous Cats.

November 24, 2013

Lost in the Laundry

Pete Seeger once said that music does more than get people through rough times. Music helps us, and I am paraphrasing here, understand pain and begin to do something about it. One could easily substitute the more general word “art” for music to incorporate all art forms that may have this capacity.

I recently thought of the possible healing power (or I suppose coping through understanding power) of art on the occasion of a dream recently and one from the past. If any dream could be a portent of things to come, a dream I had a few years ago about meeting a Zen monk most assuredly would be. In that dream I was walking along a path in the countryside and came across a zen monk with long black hair and a long black beard. He had his arms and legs neatly folded in a meditative pose. When I asked him for a bit of advice on my art he replied that I should paint the terrible and paint the ugly but make every mark beautiful. I asked him if this meant that I should be detached from the subject matter or if I should be confronting it in an attached way. The monk looked serenely off into the distance and replied, “It is difficult to say.” That last phrase was something I often heard while in China so it was not surprising that it was imbedded somewhere in my unconscious ripe and at the ready for dream pickings.

I thought about that first dream after I had a decidedly unpleasant nightmare due most likely to the bouts of vertigo and headaches from my illness. I had a sick dream to match. In this unwelcome nightmare I lifted the lid on a washing machine and saw my own head spinning around in the laundry. Dream logic being what it is, there was no problem with how, being without a head, I was able to see this apparition. Nevertheless the image stuck with me and I decided to make an art work out of it based upon the advice of my dreamland Zen monk. But how to make something hideous beautiful? I decided to make a mosaic that kept with the laundry and the floating head theme only creating something ambiguous and gem like rather than ghoulish. The head I used in the mosaic was made from a cast that I taken earlier from a porcelain doll. I painted this with underglaze colors and a clear shiny overglaze. I then created thin folded pieces out of earthenware clay and painted them to look like towels or other fabrics. The small fragments of very colorful fabric designs with gold enameling were the remains of a ceramic dress that I broken a few years ago when I dropped the mosaic that it was embedded in. I was happy to have an opportunity to recycle this. For the background of this mosaic I felt that should use washing machine watery substances. The strings of pearls and glass beads function as bubbles and the iridized green glass as detergent waters. I put everything together and named the piece “Lost in the Laundry.” Anything can be lost in this laundry....a sock, a dress, towels, a head or two. But can they be found again and made sense of now that the dream is a concrete reality?

November 21, 2013

A Tangle of Colors and Textures in a Fallow Field

Late in the Fall, my husband and I visited a fallow field in the South Carolina countryside. Uncultivated areas of wild and wooly growth abound in this state and particularly in Orangeburg County. Finding them is a joy of botanical and wildlife discoveries. These are the sites where we stumble across old farmsteads, sharecropper’s homes, and abandoned vestiges of gardens where old varieties of flowers still sprout and bloom. Sometimes we’ll find the rare bobcat, or a larger than believable fox squirrel. On this particular trip we found a ten foot high wall of wild flowers growing next to a cotton field. The flowers were small but in a rainbow of colors ranging from white, violet red, blue, and splashes of yellow and orange. They seemed like exotic things that one would come across in a rainforest. I took many close-up photos of these as well as the interesting cotton pods which I had not fully noticed before. I used a few of these in paintings earlier but today decided to paint not from photographs but from the memory of these spots of color within the chaos of underbrush. The result was a miniature painting that was an impression of what I had seen earlier, an untamed uncultivated expression of textures and colors.

November 20, 2013

Meaning in Clouds of Paint

There is something very satisfying about painting while the parts for other art works are being processed. It makes creative life feel like the cottage industry it used to be when I was a professional artist. Today as parts for mixed media works are cooking in the kiln I am doing small paintings for my miniature art exhibition. I am completing them as stream of consciousness art works, without a set plan or design. For some, I am using bits and pieces of collage material, others are just paint. It helps to execute these on a surface that is already painted with a textured surface, the swirls and scratches in the paint holding the beginnings of images.

I recall reading that Michelangelo used to envision images in the cracks of his ceiling or in the patterns of wood grain in doorways. There must be something in the human consciousness that seeks meaning in forms like that - a need to connect the dots and make a visual language out of otherwise senseless marks. That is why it feels right and peaceful to see forms in the clouds.

In my latest work, I am making the clouds in which to tease out a meaning. The one posted here I call “Rooms in a Stream of Consciousness.” It is so named for the collage pieces embedded in the composition that are prints from stone seals that say alternatively “a small room” or “One’s own room.” I have tucked these in between the swirling forms to which I have added structure and color to create a visual narrative.

November 19, 2013

When art comes back to haunt

When the decades roll by in the career of an artist, a curious thing happens. Art from the past can return to bring back warm fuzzy memories, embarrass with reminders of what one was willing to do for cash, or haunt the artist with life changes that have a ripple effect on art from times past.

Times change and with that comes the departure of loved ones, moving of households, new marriages and the ending of old ones. Sometimes these changes have resulted in my art work finding a better home, like in a museum where it is well cared for. Other times these changes have meant the loss of my art - the once cherished paintings and mosaics given away or relegated to a closet. At least the closet, if it is indoors, is better than a storage space that is not temperature or humidity controlled. I’ve had the experience of moldy art returning to me from southern storage facilities.

Some years ago I made a pair of mosaic masks in celebration of a marriage that recently ended. The masks were made in ceramic from casts of the then happy couple. They were decorated with glazes, fused glass and a healthy helping of gold tesserae. The golden masks were lovingly made and nicely displayed for a number of years. But with the end of that relationship I was recently contacted about selling these. I replied that even in good times it is very hard to sell art. I posted them on my website...there were few lookers no takers. I posted them on my Etsy shop as a sale item...there were more lookers no takers. So here is one posted on my last on-line venue - the blog. The golden mosaic mask, once a proud part of a household, now feels a bit like a once noble but now stray cat. “Won’t someone give me a loving home?” She seems to say. Or one could hope that although relationships are fleeting, whether by divorce or demise, the art that commemorated these relationships can rise eternal above and beyond an original purpose. This is certainly the case, I would like to think, of these art masks that aren’t really portraits but decorated impressions that supercede the ephemeral lives that brought them in to being. And since they are built of hearty materials they won’t go moldy in storage.

November 18, 2013

Getting a Wee Bit Too Hasty?

Sometimes the end result of an art work doesn’t quite come up to the level of the vision. I imagined a cat in a cart for the poem "Cargo Cat" from the now nearing completion "Small Book of Marvelous Cats." I perused the internet for images of carts and images of seated cats that I could combine and alter. I settled on a large eared Bengal Cat for his wiry, animated and eager look. Definitely fodder for a restless road loving cat. The combination worked well, as did the cobblestone garden path. But the bamboo grove and birch trees looked a little hasty. The exotic flora of my imagination were replaced by mundane garden cabbages. Have I become too eager to finish this project? Or had I peaked out with the exotic image of Shaman Cat with all subsequent illustrations now paling in comparison? I’ve decided to correct my hastiness by including an exotic carpet design for the next illustration.

November 13, 2013

More Better Whiskers on Pirate Cat

I had set a goal to finish the illustrations for my cat poetry book by the end of November. With my slow pace of drawing along with other projects to finish I may have to revise this deadline to the end of the year. No matter. There is no publisher chomping on the bit to have it at the ready - only a sentimental desire to make some prints available for Christmas presents.

With the completion of this latest illustration, there are four more to go to make the cat book ready, maybe five if I do one over. The above illustration is for the poem, Pirate Cat. In keeping with the theme of the last drawing, this cat also has very prominent whiskers. I adapted this cat from an old photograph of the beautiful cat we shared our home with for fourteen years. The background was inspired by my husband’s photograph of a wharf in Charleston. The poem for Pirate Cat:

Pirate Cat wears a patch on his eye

He swills down beer and eats fish fry

He hoists up the jibboom and fixes the rig

Then leans over to starboard and dances a jig

November 12, 2013

Never Pick a Lady's Slipper

“You shouldn’t pick Lady’s Slippers” my mother told me about this unusual pink orchid we had growing in our woods. We didn’t often see these flowers and it was a rare treat when one grew out of the forest floor and blossomed. My mother and I loved those woods and all the amazing flora and fauna that could be found there. It was the perfect respite after coming home from Princeton High School.

Recently the memory of the woods and the flower came back to me when an old friend from Princeton High School sent me a photograph of a painting that I had made almost forty years ago of a Lady’s Slipper. It was amazing how an image could bring me back so vividly to a different time, a different place. I almost felt like a teenager again for a moment. I recalled how I had first made a sketch of the plant (Not sure what ever happened to that drawing) then set up an easel and painted it in acrylic on location. Generally I used to pick flowers to study them closely but the Lady’s Slipper was not one that could be harvested for closer scrutiny. You can’t pick Lady’s Slippers. Although then as now I didn’t paint on location much I recall that doing so was a quiet and peaceful exercise.

The painting and the memory that it evokes is interesting in that although it was probably my earliest work on record and has a decidedly untutored look it still embodies ideas and artistic proclivities that remained consistent throughout the decades. It recalls a love for nature, textures and details. It reminds me that I am tied to this love of the woods and the need to get my hands in dirt and paint. It also reminds me of the miracles of personal ties to family and friends that remain strong despite the passage of so much time.

November 9, 2013

Do Design Cats Go with Everything?

Do words sometimes get in the way of pictures? In my last illustration for my ongoing Book of Marvelous Cats, I was stumped while trying to come up with an image for the poem “Designer Cats.” I think what tripped me up was the last line of the poem...”Designer Cats go with everything.” I just could not come up with a design that worked because I kept designing an environment then trying to fit the cats into it. Things became easier one day when I drew the cats first then worked in an environment to suit them. So the forms and patterns on the cushions and vase were determined by the fur and the tails of cats rather than vice versa.

So many cat illustrations! I’ll be taking a break from these to work on some ceramics for a short while. That usually helps freshen up ideas.

November 7, 2013

So Its Whiskers You Want? Try a Shaman Cat

The illustration for my poem about the “Culinary Cat” that I had posted earlier had been making its rounds to cat lovers on line. One very discriminating aficionado of cat illustrations noted that she could not see the whiskers on that cat. The comment touched a nerve of consternation in me because I do sometimes leave out obvious whiskers on my cat drawings. The reasons for this are that the drawings are small and detailed. Whiskers are very fine and often white. Not really possible to make a white line in a pencil drawing without the use of a pencil eraser - which I kept finding was too thick. Black lines either got lost in the cat body or were too thick when enlarged.

But to satisfy the audience desire for whiskers on a cat, for my next illustration, I gave the cat very long, animated whiskers.

The cat pictured above is for the poem “Shaman Cat.” It was inspired by a Romanian homeopathic doctor with rather dubious practices. One technique of hers was ostensibly a method for determining radiation contamination in her patients. She apparently did this by seeing if a gold chain she held in her right hand would swing around in circles as she held the left of her patient while the patient held a bottle of “radialgen” in his or her right hand. That was indirectly was influenced my drawing of the cat spinning a mouse around in circles above her patient’s head. Everything else is pure maniacal imagination except for Shaman Cat’s basket of herbal goods. I really do have a woven African basket which I drew into this composition.

Now comes the superstitious part of my Shaman Cat illustration story. After spending a few days on this drawing, I turned it over to write the catalogue number on the back and noticed that what I had drawn this on was not a piece of acid free drawing paper but the reverse side of a hotel menu. For some reason it had gotten into my mix and was the same dimensions of the other pieces of paper. Now Shaman Cat will have to be done completely over again on proper paper. Did a witch doctor sense what I was doing and put a hex on me and my drawing? Oh well.

The poem for Shaman Cat does indeed poke fun at the plethora of alternative medical practices that seem on the wild side. There may be validity to some of them. I’ve had Chinese herbs and acupuncture with some success in the past. Crystals, auras, and swinging chains go a bit beyond my comfort zone of rational thinking. But if it works for you........

The Shaman Cat Poem:

Forget about your exercise

Shaman Cat will exorcize

your evil spirits and bad blood

They’ll leave your body with a thud

Shaman Cat can see your aura

and change its color with fauna and flora

And he can fix a broken bone

just by warming up a stone

He’ll cure the swelling in your eye socket

with magnets from his mystery pocket

He’ll place kitty moss between your toes

and blow healing crystals out his nose

Shaman Cat knows that pussy willow

will help you sleep well upon your pillow

He’ll clean your liver and kidneys too

Do you believe all this is true

If you do then Shaman you.

November 3, 2013

Old Works New Venue: The Homecoming Two Exhibition at the I.P. Stanback Museum

Quite recently I wrote about the bugbear that artists face in the two-year rule for competitive exhibitions and how it sometimes rules out suitable work that was done before the “cut off” date. Fortunately exhibitions in specialized museums are one exception to this rule. I will now have an opportunity to share some older art work with the public that was completed two to six years ago that never really did get much exposure - two mosaics and a painting series. The I.P. Stanback Museum here in Orangeburg will be holding its second annual Homecoming celebration with an exhibition of art on the theme of civil rights by Southern artists. The three pieces of mine that the curator selected are all on the theme of women; “Foolish Women,” “Woman in an Oven Fixture,” and “Dreaming of Better Outfits.” There is a lot of text to “Foolish Women,” and a lot of thought to “Dreaming of Better Outfits.” Hopefully this will generate some good conversations. A lot of nudity in the “Foolish Women” series, which is political as well as gender satire, made for a bold selection on the part of the curator. Orangeburg swings a bit with this one. I was told that there was such a large quantity of fine and diverse work for this exhibition that there will be a catalogue of the exhibition. How nice! One more thing for my scrap book. The exhibition will open 6 pm Thursday Evening on November 7. Details are on my Upcoming Exhibitions tab.