January 31, 2014

Hanging the Exhibition of Small Works

My exhibition, “Small Works,” has been hung and is now ready for viewing. The show was hung by Lee Malerich and her husband, Glenn. I was truly grateful to these two for taking the time to hang this exhibition. It was still not physically possible for me to hang an exhibition - unless of course I could have taken about a half hour a day every day for a week or more. But I did have enough strength to help with hanging one half of one wall. I was happy to have made that small contribution.

But preserving myself from bodily injury was just one benefit of having someone else hang my exhibition. Lee had exceptionally great vision about how to hang the exhibition - how to cluster art works in the right way. She found arrangements of pieces to make smaller themes within the general context that I would not have thought of. Lee kept pieces that became pivotal within the group that I may not have even included - like the relief sculpture of the gilded shaman figure in the center of small paintings of troll dolls. In a strange way it worked to unify the entourage.

I had envisioned placing the paintings of snuff bottles with messages in them all in one group. Glenn and Lee filled one long wall with them, yet saved a few others to judiciously place in other spots. During the hanging process, Lee would often interject, “You’re the boss.” I know better, though. I just made the work. Better minds organized it and rightly so. During the creating process, it was easy to get caught up with time lines, choice of medium, and subject matter. The temptation, therefore, would be to hang everything in that order rather than mix and match to create a story line for each wall of works. Kudos to the hangers.

The image above is from my series of oil paintings of old store fronts. These were hung at the entrance of the exhibition, just above the stairwell. As a group they became a statement. They established a sense of time and place, as if to say, “This is the where the artist works and what she sees every day.” Then the very next wall exhibited works of vision turning inward. What followed was an interesting mix of art from the observed object, art transformed from the observed object, and art of inner vision. The small sculptural objects were interspersed between the paintings. I liked that because it reminded me of the way medieval locks and hinges were hung between paintings at the Barnes Foundation before it was transferred to Philadelphia.

Some work still remains to be done. The good thing about hanging an exhibition a few days prior to the official opening is that small glitches can be worked out - missing labels, prices not marked etc. I may still be adding one group of small paintings (they are all connected so it will only require one nail). The final touch will be to paint some paper backgrounds in light colors so that the dark pieces will show up against the brown rug on the wall. Lee had suggested that. Another good idea.

January 28, 2014

A Butterfly of Reason

There was a shop in the small town of Elloree, South Carolina, that was a masterpiece of folk art. Painted boards of greens and blues were nailed to the exterior in a haphazard yet sensitive way. One of these boards sported a lovingly rendered black and yellow butterfly. Below the image of the butterfly a phrase was painted in all upper case letters that ended with a portly exclamation point. “HE IS RISEN!” the sign proclaimed.

I photographed this building with the bright summer light bouncing off the facade. The image was a favorite of mine and I eagerly anticipated the day that I would paint in oils again so I could render these glorious shapes and colors on a panel or canvas. I finally got around to it this winter.

This small art work almost painted itself. There was not much that needed to be modified from the original photograph. I kept most of the shapes and colors true to the original but did change the brick texture to a smooth stucco one. Then, on a sudden impulse, I made one very obvious change in the message on the facade of the building. In the painting I replaced the words “He is risen!” with the single word “Reason!”

So why the dramatic change of words? Was it sacrilegious to change the sign? I confess that I felt a twinge of guilt about changing the message on the building, even though it was my painting to do with what I would. The change of words came about perhaps due to my recent reading and film watching. I had just watched Julia Sweeney’s monologue, “Letting Go of God,” and had also finished reading the monograph, “Against All Gods,” by the British philosopher and former acquaintance Professor Anthony Grayling.

Julia Sweeney’s monologue was a humorous take on her rather Woody Allen style angst ridden personal search for a meaningful and acceptable concept of God. At the end of her search, she decides to let go of a belief in God altogether - as all faiths, both modern and ancient, fell short. In contrast, Professor Grayling’s monograph was a polemic proclaiming humanism and rationalism as the only sensible alternatives to faith. No soul searching or trying on of various belief systems required. Two very different routes to the same conclusion. Julia Sweeney’s account was the more entertaining of the two but A.C. Grayling’s monograph was more engaging. This was in large part due to the fact that I found myself in disagreement with a few key points, one being his faith that humankind would have produced just as voluminous great art without the help of religion, and the other that atheism was not a belief but rather a proclamation against belief. I had my doubts about both points. Some of the greatest art ever produced was created out of veneration or as a means to venerate. And this corpus is just too massive to dismiss. And it would seem to me that the belief in God as well as the belief that God does not exist are simply equal but opposite answers to the same question. Both claim that something ineffable is knowable.

My brief foray into the writings and performance of two atheists may have had an influence in the making of this small painting of the butterfly on the store front. Perhaps I am testing out A.C. Grayling’s contention that art need not be based on faith to still be illuminating. I wouldn’t call it great art but a butterfly of reason does seem to shine as brightly as a butterfly of faith.

January 24, 2014

Pink House

For the last year, after a two-year hiatus, I began once again to go on photo shoots with my husband. We were in search of abandoned homesteads and interesting landscapes mostly in Orangeburg and Calhoun Counties. Not everything was abandoned. Some of the domiciles were still maintained and I photographed them because of their light and color. Others were works of art, like the old store front in Elloree with creatively painted folk art on the exterior.

Despite my experimentation with both abstract and conceptual art, my studies of pastoral scenes in South Carolina have become “signature” pieces. I believe that to a large extent, those, as well as my mosaics, are what I’m known for. I had thought to leave these studies out of my small works exhibition for the sake of consistency, but then I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to include four paintings in oils in a subject that people might expect to see.

The painting above is of a typical structure for South Carolina and environs. The family of a rectangle, a triangle and another triangle. I had photographed the scene late in the afternoon light - in that mysterious hour in which edifices are illuminated against a dark sky and shadows grow long. The pastel colors of the house worked well with the rosy glow of sunset. I recall that there was a storm brewing which made the light house even more dramatic. I liked the fact that there was a rose bush in delicate bloom in front of the house. We often see that on our rides around the state - a modest home with a well tended garden.

January 23, 2014

The Joker and the Bearded Man with the White Hand

The small paintings of imaginary faces I included with my mini installation for my upcoming exhibition challenged me to come up with titles. The other paintings in this group, the cotton flowers and landscapes, were rather self-explanatory and therefore easy to name. They were painted from observed materials and easily recognizable. Giving them self explanatory titles was natural. But what of the fantasy faces exuding from the dark depths of dreams? The man in profile reminiscent of some of the highly decorated Balinese shadow puppets I’ve admired I named "Joker." He smiles to please the crowd and dispels displeasure. I could not fathom what I was up to when I painted the man with the voluminous hair and beard with a white hand across his mouth. So I simply named him "Bearded Man." I originally painted him in dark shadows to highlight his hand across his mouth. But the hand was painted so white that it almost looked like a power apart from himself who silences the bearded man. A friend of mine did not even recognize bearded man as a person but thought that he was a lion and the white hand that of a lion tamer. Perhaps she was right, something of animal instinct was being silenced or repressed in this image of the hand across the mouth - causing the face to retreat into the shadows. He will remain one of the mysteries in the oeuvre.

January 22, 2014

A Narrative of Miniature Southern Paintings

I had cut down a number of gesso panels to a standard size. These gesso panels were labor intensive to make - several coats of marble dust gesso over rabbit skin glue, sanding between coats. The surface was then seals with a ruby shellac that I made from scratch. The standard 9" x 12" and 8" and 10" would be easy to find frames for. But there was this long strip of panel two inches wide for which any kind of standard frame would be impossible to find. Not wanting to throw away such a thing of lovely surface beauty, I decided to cut the strip down into small sections to make my most miniature paintings yet. These miniature panels stayed in a stack on my desk for a few months until I figured out a unique way to frame and present them. I made a series of hand sculpted ceramic frames for each piece - the frame determining the style and subject matter of the painting. The ceramic frame with the house on it that projects from the frame of course has a landscape painting inside with a shed. The frames that have a botanical feel house paintings of cotton pods and cotton flowers. The three frames that are made from red earthenware clay were oriented vertically instead of horizontally like the others. For these I painted imaginary portraits.

These paintings started out as individual pieces, then seemed to fall into three distinct groups - two botanical paintings, three portraits, and two landscapes. Yet playing at various groupings of these, a narrative seemed to emerge; a medley of southern paintings. Cotton comprises the top group, from which the second tier of portraits seem to follow in an almost historical fashion. The last two paintings below the portraits are the landscapes - one with a structure. I do think that even on an unconscious level, people tend to make connections between objects in a group. Perhaps in creating these oil paintings there was some subconscious order or an unconscious dream story that prodded individual images to align themselves into a narrative. I will be displaying the paintings as a miniature installation - which should hopefully inspire viewers to create their own stories. Below I have displayed some close ups.

January 19, 2014

Palette Scrapings and a Calico Cat

After finishing my series of messages in imaginary bottles and other vessels, I packed up my acrylic paints to get my studio table set for oils. As usual, there was unused acrylic paint left on the palette. What to do with it? Often I use the extra paint as a ground color on a sized piece of canvas or paper. But this palette had some nice expensive colors on it. Too nice to be an undercoat I thought. Besides, after going through my collection of recycled frames I had come across one last tiny scrap of a homemade frame. The molding was only about a quarter of an inch wide and looked like it would be more suitable for a dollhouse than a gallery wall. Perhaps it did have a dollhouse painting in it at one time. I wouldn’t know. I had acquired it as a gratuitous gift from the Portfolio Gallery in Columbia.

I cut a piece of painted matt board to fit the odd size of this frame. Then I found a stencil of a cat that I had previously used for my illustrated book of cats. It was the stencil for Magic Cat. He performed one more feat of artistic magic for me before I disposed of his shape. I put the stencil of Magic Cat over the exuberantly painted matt board. I smeared the colors from my palette over the stencil, let them dry, then peeled off the cat. An instant painting emerged. Of course, after touching it up for a few hours it became not so instant after all. And as is often the case, the intense colors of the painting were too heavy for the frame. So now the painting is being equipped with a much more substantial frame - rather undermining my original purpose but at least the painting will fit the frame. I still have the thin frame. I may have to discard it lest I be inspired to paint something else for it that probably won’t suit.

This small painting is a veritable smorgasbord of colors, textures and patterns. I’m calling it “Calico Cat” and including it in my exhibition as one of my many light-hearted interludes among the denser paintings.

January 18, 2014

The Internal Person in a Teapot

Open the store! Turn on the lights! Turn up the heat! Spread out the paint and start to create!

I’m back at home and creating the final works for my February exhibition of Small Works. About 95 % of the work is done. What remains is to put the final touches on everything and to type out labels. If this is completed this week, then I may in fact make some last minute small hanging ceramic pieces.

Some of my favorite works for this exhibition are the very smallest ones. The acrylic painted and printed teapot above is only about three inches across. Enlarging the work creates interesting hills and valleys in the paint. The texture of the teapot was created by cutting out sections of Styrofoam, poking textural holes into it, then printing the pieces with acrylic paint into acrylic paint. The center stamp is the ancient Chinese word for “the person inside.” This phrase resonates with me on a number of levels and perhaps why this is one of my favorite paintings in my series of vessels.

In ancient China and possibly into the early twentieth century women of a certain means were not allowed to leave the home. In wealthier households this meant the family compound, which would have had a complex of buildings, courtyards and gardens - an upscale prison. Hence an old fashioned name for a woman in China was “Nei Ren,” or “Inside Person.” I made this stamp because for two years, my illness kept me housebound much of the time and therefore I felt an unwelcome but sympathetic kinship with Chinese women of yore. Even when I was well enough to sit up and draw and finally to sit up more than five minutes at a time at the computer, the actions seemed to mimic the “Inside Person’s” home generated outpourings of domestic craft - like small feminine embroideries.

After listening to some taped lectures of Joseph Campbell, I chanced upon another way to interpret the “Inside Person.” In his lectures, Joseph Campbell discussed the human search for meaning through myth and the search for truth by getting in touch with one’s inner self. I must paraphrase here but Professor Campbell exhorted his students and other listeners to carve out quiet time - especially away from news media and to place oneself in a solitary space. It is only by this means that one can remember who he really is. And this must be effected by cutting out the exterior noise and distractions for just the right amount of time it takes to become acquainted once again with one’s inner person. In this regard, the words on the small teapot are apropos for me because I generally spend such quiet time drinking tea - sometimes literally from a single serving teapot. Perhaps all the works in this exhibition, because of their size, are single serving art works meant for individual meditation.

January 17, 2014

Ice, Eyeglasses and a Djembe Drum

The trip to the northeast was in many respects a sojourn into a very different world. A temporary hold was put on life as we know it in Orangeburg, South Carolina. I put my Etsy shop on vacation. I decided not to try to write blog posts for two weeks as I could not upload illustrations. Before our departure, the house was cleaned more thoroughly than usual ( no one likes returning tired and hungry to a messy abode). Bills were paid up and a hold put on the mail Arrangements were made for plant watering and house checking.

Art making had to be readjusted as well. Although I was in painter mode, I did not want the bother and inconvenience of packing paints. So I packed folios of drawings and illustrations to complete on my trip. I did make two small oil paintings in the days close to our departure, however, so that they could dry and be set into frames upon my return. Packing and preparations for a two week trip almost made me too weak to travel but I did it. Fortunately my role as passenger helped me rest and restore some strength while my husband navigated our way up north.

The purpose of our trip officially was for my January appointment at Johns Hopkins Hospital. But my health was stable enough this time to add on visits with friend and relatives and a few museum tours as well. Everything was exceptional, memorable, was more than we had anticipated in both beautiful and unusual ways.

As usual we got a late start but managed to sight see in North Carolina. But by the time we got to Virginia we got stuck in a snowstorm. At first the snow was beautiful and it was nice to see icicles on buildings and white dusted snow in fields and on trees. But it soon became dangerous. We literally got stuck in the snow in someone’s driveway and had to spend an extra night in Virginia. But we ended up in the quaint historic town of Winchester, where I used to stop on my way back from my summer teaching job at McDaniel College in Maryland. Winchester has a truly delightful pedestrian zone full of shops and excellent restaurants. My favorite was the Thai Restaurant because of the large art prints of paintings from the Emerald Buddha Temple on each table top. Food and art - the best combination that a traveler can hope for.

The picture that I have taken for this post, however, has nothing to do with the visits to museums and with old friends and relatives. It is a picture of my eyeglasses leaning against one of my pit-fired vases. These are my distance glasses that I am having to constantly switch out with my close up reading glasses because I did not have the wherewithal to get bifocals. The doctor who saw me at Johns Hopkins noted that he also does the same thing with his reading and distance glasses and he saw me take off my reading glasses and switch out for distance so I could navigate myself down a hallway. It was those distance eyeglasses that became the focal point of one of my more humorous experiences on the winter vacation. It was during my intake interview at Johns Hopkins that I noticed my doctor wearing a pair that looked exactly like them. That did not become an issue until I was leaving his office. I had taken my glasses off so that my eyes could be examined and unfortunately could not find them to put them on again. It didn’t help that I frequently misplace the glasses and was therefore talked into looking for them in numerous places that they were not to be found - several times in my bags, my purse, in waiting rooms and lobbies. My husband returned to the doctor’s office when I insisted that I had left them there. He came back empty handed. I then sent in three other persons to try to retrieve my glasses but they too came back without them. Finally I asked the doctor myself, after an hour and a half of fruitless searching elsewhere, for permission to go back into the examining room to retrieve my glasses.

When I was finally able to get back into the examining room, I saw my glasses resting on a counter top next to the examining table. As I rushed towards them, the doctor let out a rather strident sounding comment, “Those are mine.” (I was later to learn that was the same comment given to everyone else who tried to retrieve my glasses). I could have done the polite thing and pointed out to the doctor that he was wearing his own glasses on his face, but, being essentially territorial I went straight for the glasses, snatched them up and put them on my face lest someone else grab them first. The doctor came within inches of my face with a decidedly unhappy expression on his own. After a moment’s pause and some closer scrutiny I told him that our glasses were identical.

To be certain of this, we both took our glasses off and put them side by side. They were identical in every way. My reaction was slack jawed disbelief. The doctor’s expression changed from annoyance to recognition to amusement within seconds. Then I became uncertain as to whose glasses I was really wearing. I couldn’t really test their efficacy at this point because my eyesight had been changing so rapidly they didn’t fully work anymore. I put them on and off a few times then asked my doctor if he could see out of the ones he was wearing. He assured me that he could and that he could identify his own by a tiny crack in the upper right lens. Thank goodness for that distinction.

It was a bizarre feeling to look at someone wearing the same apparel that I possessed myself - even if they were just eyeglasses. (I wondered what the odds were of two people meeting who had chosen the same eyeglass frames and I resolved to put this question to an optometrist friend. later). I suppose it has something to do with identity and territory. It is probably why in war conquerors would sometimes dress in the clothing remnants of the conquered. It is why the movie “Single White Female,” reaches its most unsettling climax when the antagonist saunters down a stairway having dyed and cut her hair and changed her clothes so that she is an exact match with her roommate. And that is most likely why two people with the same eyeglasses fought to claim their territory without careful examination of the phenomenon.

Yet curiously, when the identical glasses were discovered, I can say that my focus changed from property claimant to someone who recognized a kindred spirit. As I looked at his bemused expression, my doctor became a member of my clan - the brotherhood and sisterhood of black, thin framed angular glasses. Or perhaps it was all just an amusing coincidence. We had a good laugh over the coincidence.

But stranger still, as I was leaving his examining room, I noticed an open eyeglass glass underneath the doctor’s computer screen. Same place I keep my reading glasses. His reading glasses were in the case. They looked identical to my reading glasses. I left without pointing that out.

Further on down the road, after a trip to see the Byzantine Exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington DC, my husband and I took a side trip to Westminster, MD to visit old friends from my former summer teaching career at McDaniel College. The Prechts were very patient with my newly acquired vocal and motor tics associated with my protracted illness. It is always a relief to be among warm-hearted tolerant friends. We were visiting the Prechts not only to reconnect, but to pick up a Djembe drum that Tom had so artistically and skillfully restored for me. (Pictured below). Tom happens to be an optometrist so my husband Nat and I told him the story of the identical glasses. When I asked him what the odds were of two people meeting who had picked out the same frames he said that there are so many frames and that they change so frequently the odds might be a million to one. After reflecting upon that being almost like a lottery win, I remembered the second pair of reading glasses as well. “What about two people picking out the same glasses twice?” I added. “Maybe, ten million to one.” came his reply. How funny to share ten million to one odds with a fellow human being!