February 26, 2015

The Dance of the Gar Fish at SCSU

South Carolina State University has seen troubles. But this February the state legislature upped the anti by voting to close the institution for two years, opening again only if its fiscal house is ordered. My own personal reaction to this was to first wonder at the timing of this pronouncement in Black History Month. Coincidence? Or just bad manners?

For now, the enforced closing appears to be on hold in the face of administrative shake-ups. I do hope that SCSU will be able, somehow, to get its fiscal house in order. There is much about the university that is worth preserving. The I.P. Stanback Museum, the theatre, music and arts departments come to mind first, albeit on account of my artist’s bias. There are great holdings of African and African American art at the Stanback. The music department does incredible work, with graduates often moving on to international careers in performance. The best dance performance I ever saw, and I’ve been around the world, was at South Carolina State University.

Some of the dancers I knew some years ago at South Carolina State University posed for me when I was creating a visual arts project involving the gar fish. The recent debacle with SCSU’s precarious fiscal position made me think of those dancers once again. I wanted to post a drawing or two of them. I searched my archive, however, and only found photographs and a previously posted ceramic piece. So conjured up a new drawing based upon my photographs. An original photo is at right.

Won’t a Deus Ex Machina, a Sugar Daddy, or a Sugar Mother arrive on the scene and help set things right for this beleaguered university? Creative ingenuity needs to continue to grow and thrive.

February 18, 2015

An Experimental Udu Drum

The wild purple clay from Congaree, South Carolina yielded some unexpected results. I had expected the purple clay to fire dark - almost black. I suppose I expected a dark color because the purple clay in its raw state reminded me of the dark purple yixing teapots from China. But what emerged from the bisque firing was a light pink color. This can be seen at the base of the vessel above. The top part of this vessel was painted with pink and blue terra sigillata. I then brushed some iron oxide on it to see how what effect that would have. Ordinarily I would smoke fire the vessel in a pit fire but I decided to leave this unsmoked due to the fragility of the glaze, which was delaminating in parts. To save this work, I sanded down the parts where the glaze puckered and buffed the whole surface with a microcrystalline wax.

This was an experimental vessel in many ways. The clay was a new and unknown entitity. Harvested straight from the ground, its composition was a mystery. I used a painting terra sigillata with some old underglaze colors, not knowing what the effect would be. The shape of the vessel was a departure from my usual symmetry in making functional musical instruments from clay. This vessel was fashioned as an udu drum. I purposely made the form lopsided to see if that would affect the sound. It did not. It sounded the same as my symmetrical vessels. I was pleased with the off-center form though.

February 10, 2015

A Figure and a Lee Bontecou Collage

For the last three days, I have been working on one of my slow, detailed pencil drawings. The original sketch was from a model dating way back to graduate school at Parsons School of Design. Like most of my sketches from that time, the composition was spare. The figure rested in front of a blank square on the wall. It was originally a backdrop that consisted of a wild and wooly painting by one of my classmates. In other drawings from that time, I sketched in the painting - a strange imaginary scene replete with floating figures and mythical horned beasts.

Time has made the memory of my reasons for leaving the painting out fuzzy. In looking at the sketch again, the blank space behind the figure beckoned for content. For this content I chose to pencil in a mixed media collage by the artist Lee Bontecou. Lee Bontecou’s collage of canvas and metal dates from 1961. I chanced upon it when I rediscovered an anthology of American Women Artists by Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein. At the book’s publication in 1982 the collage was in the Whitney Museum and I suppose it is still there.

In most of my new drawings from old sketches, I include an homage to another art work in the composition. I have used primitive art, folk art, old master paintings, and even some of my own art work. I chose a women artist from the 1960's this time because I realized that I had not used the work of women artists much and decided to remedy the situation. The 1961 art work is there on account of a memory I had of the man who posed for the painting. He liked to watch old films, in particular films from the early sixties. The model was especially fond of the 1963 film, Bye Bye Birdie.

My choice of the art of Lee Bontecou was apt, for I felt that there was a evolution in her art from relief sculpture to drawing that I could relate to, as it paralleled my own development in recent years. Bontecou was a star of the 1960's who selected, or perhaps was consigned to, a quieter life for the next few decades before bursting on the scene again in the 21st century with a retropective at the Smithsonian in 2004 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/arts-culture/lee-bontecous-brave-new-world-180940 I like the ovoid shapes in Bontecou’s work. They seem to serve both as solid egg-like structures as well as voids. The saw blade that she incorporated in her "Untitled" work from 1961 that serves as the backdrop in my drawing adds a disarming note of aggression.

In a final stroke of kitsch in juxtaposition with serious art, I added a small heart by the model’s left side. After all, Valentine’s day will soon be upon us.