Monday, March 30, 2015

phase 6 - each art-thing is a responsibility, new collage

Brand New!
I'm super excited about this new piece :), so showing it first then looping  back around to try to explain where is came from....

Last post, I was working on a full scale figure. I'm excited to be working at full-scale again and testing new technical ideas. The work was moving along well (note to self to remember to never, ever think this -doh!). I thought this week, I'd have the full figure ready to what happened??

It has to do with the gloves.  Even though it's a full scale figure, there aren't that many components - two gloves, two boots, head with crown, and body silhouette. Because there aren't that many elements, each one has to do some compositional heavy lifting in order for the piece to work as a whole. I thought I had double and triple checked all the elements before starting to sew them down (...uh oh - can we guess where this is going? ;p).  

The more I thought about it, the more something about the gloves bothered me. Working on phase 6, I decided it doesn't help to complete it if it isn't right, so I took a step back. My first thought - maybe I just drew or carved them wrong? Nope - not inaccurate, just not for this piece... 

...just because they're accurate, doesn't mean they're right 
 (at least not for this piece...)
 So then I went in two different directions. 1) finding the right thing for this piece and 2) finding the right piece for the gloves.

The first part gave me a chance to appreciate fully one element of constructing the collage with sewing instead of adhesive - it's easy to undo [snip. snip]. While it makes sense that I started with my actual winter gloves, the time has come to broaden the margins. The universe gave me a present (confirmation that I'm on the right track?) when I found these gorgeous vintage gloves in a local thrift shop - and (and, and!) they cost less than two fancy coffees [:D] Even though I draw the designs on the blocks, I like to photograph and work with the images as a way of spending time seeing and analyzing what I'm looking at; so, the first part of the week went to undoing, finding new source material and re-photographing. Well- worth it, I think, because I love the button on the back and the design element on the front of the new gloves - can't wait to carve them!

The second part was to find what piece the the gloves do belong with...The part that led to reconsidering them is that they're bulky. And what are bulky gloves for...falconry.  

This piece from last year, The Yellow Wallpaper
has been on my mind...
So I got to thinking - as much as I'm happy continuing to move the full-scale figure forward, is there something else I also want to be making? [spoiler: asking the question = yes! haha]

The full-scale figure it a personification of Death. But looking back at art history, Death has a twin, Sleep. [Fair warning - I'm about to go full-force-art-history-nerd. ;)] 

Not coincidentally, the persistence of iconography of Sleep and Death from Antiquity through the Medieval period and into the early Renaissance was the focus of my studies in art history [Yes, I'm a huge, huge nerd.]

Can't pass up the opportunity to show  this gorgeous object
 - Sleep and Death carrying the body of Sarpedon
on the Euphronius Crater -  an Attic  red-figure krater by Euphronios
from c. 515 BC 
There are a few aspects of this topic that intrigue me - the wings, the idea of twins that are sometimes identical and sometimes not - a repetition with variation. Most of all, one of the things that drew me to this topic (and to the subject of death iconography in general) is how incredibly persistant it is. Not just the iconography, but the meaning is incredibly consistent across over 2500 years.

30th Street Station Angel of the Resurrection.jpg
World War II memorial sculpture in
Pennsylvania Station, Philadelphia
by Walker Hancock, 1952


This is a sculpture by Walker Hancock in Philadelpia's Penn Station unveiled in 1952. The iconography of the winged figure removing a dead soldier from the battlefield is consistent with the Ancient Greek scene (which is described in Homer's Iliad, bk 9).

In this sculpture, there's one figure instead of two, but I would argue that this is because the twins have been conflated and the idea of Sleep remains as demonstrated in ritual. Every Remembrance Day, a wreath of poppies is given to the tomb of the unknown soldier; likewise it's the flower worn on Memorial Day. In Classical iconography - poppies are an attribute of Sleep. (Lots of examples, but I particularly like this one - a nice grave relief sculpture in which the winged figure of Sleep is helpfully labeled and has poppies in hand: - Interesting, right?)
Another favorite depiction of
Sleep in the British Museum.
A 1st - 2nd Century AD copy 

of a Hellenistic Original
So...I wanted to create a Sleep to go with Death and I've also been thinking about twins. I decided to carve and inverse of the portrait block.

Older block on left and new block this week on right.

close up of both blocks - I think my carving is improving :)


I've started accessorizing the bird prints - o my

The idea of falconry goes well with a depiction of Sleep because especially in Medieval depictions (but also in Classical scenes, particularly those from the play Alcestis) Death is shown as a hunter who always catches his quarry. It's less conventional, but the same is equally true of Sleep - no one can escape Sleep forever.

So, I had the new face block, the gloves, the falcon, the idea of hunting...smooth sailing, right...(haha).

It still needed something more to read as "hunting"...

I drew in symbols of map in the background that gradually face into the marbling as a way of showing a nonsensical place -  logical features that don't add up to a real place - appropriate for the landscape of sleep :)

I worked a poppy design into the sleeves - thumbs up!
I think it's all coming together and this week I'll spend time sewing things down and permanently attaching the parts.

Funny further proof that this view has definitely been on my mind :) While uploading the photos, I noticed how the pattern in Sleep's dress just happens to look like curtains at the window next to the desk - haha!
In para-art - the trails of the local conservation area are starting to clear of snow and I can't wait to get back to photographing in the park! 
Saw a raptor on the first walk of the spring -auspicious :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

phase 6 - update

A very busy week here in Artlandia! I am so excited to show the progress on this new piece :)

First, I carved some new full-scale blocks:


Then, I printed all the blocks I would need (2 hands, 2 boots, head, 3 crowns, and scissors) to build the figure on color papers. Next, I added the darkest and lightest tones to the prints.

The boot on the right is heightened with gouache and color pencil 

I like the way the crown turned out - I printed three crowns in gold, red and maroon, then cut out the flowers from the red and maroon and sewed them over the corresponding flowers on the gold print.
Once all the parts were ready, I started to assemble them and here's where I'm trying something new - I'm going to sew all the parts down onto a vinyl coated polyester mesh. It's fabric, so once it's together, I "should" be able to cut it to conform to the shape of the figure with scissors. Because it's a polymer, it shouldn't expand or contract much, making it a stable support. It's rigid enough to hold the form, but can be rolled up for transport if necessary (two thumbs way up! It seems like it should work...fingers crossed!)

How I got to this is sort of a convoluted process. I've been re-reading to Benedict Carey's "How We Learn" (on audio this time - the first time I read it in hard copy). One thing he discusses is the Zeigarnik Effect - the tendency to dwell on or mentally return to unfinished projects. Haha - ah yes, I didn't know it had a name, but I recognize it.

This piece has been living in the studio for a year. It's complete with the exception of the right foot. Realistically, it would take about 20 minutes to make a passable foot, and yet, here it sits...still...

As much as I like the way the piece looks, there are some problems with it structurally in terms of how the parts connect to one another. It brings me all the way back to  Eros et Thanatos and issues that arose with the relationship of the pieces to the wall. For that piece, I cut foam core backing for everything. On the one had, this solution worked, but there were ways in which it was less than ideal (Foam core wants straight cuts and the paper is complex curves, so there were areas of unsupported overhangs, as well as the problem of attaching the paper to the foamcore...) Plus, it was very time-consuming. If it were the perfect solution, that would be one thing, but... 

It makes me wonder if there's something more than aesthetics behind the choices of which pieces to keep up on the wall. This piece, the Yellow Wallpaper hangs next to my desk.  I like it, true, but from my desk chair, I see it at an extreme angle - one that highlights the way the parts pulls away from each other and the background. (blasted adhesive!) I wonder if this is a not-so-subtle note-to-self that this is a topic that needs attention?

Foamcore was the solution I needed to get it done at the time, but now that I have a chance to re-think things I want to try to come up with something else. Even if the sewing and mesh is a more complicated way to go - I'm much better with sewing, scissors and fabric than adhesive, an exacto and foam core. Fingers crossed that it's a step in the right direction...

My beautiful feline assistant checking it out :)
"Oooo - what is this?"
Me, once again matching the art to my clothes,
which match the art,
(and a new hair color - it's spring; time for a change)

Monday, March 16, 2015

phase 6 - each art-thing is a responsibility, on-going

The theme for this post is magic. If it seems odd, working on phase 6 concerning art-responsibility to be bringing up the importance of magic - bear with me :)...

Let's start with this fabulous creation -  one of my favorites, Albrecht Durer's Hare,  (also called Young Hare, and Wild Hair) from 1502:

This piece has been on my mind as I've been thinking about this year's Christmas prints - collages of individualized linocuts of animals. The pieces turned out well, and I'm proud of them.... but there's an issue having to do with phase 6 and magic.  

Making these pieces is a labor intensive process (no surprise there) - I hand printed the blocks, drew on them, cut them out, and collaged them. Even after cutting the block, each piece takes about 5-8 hours (not counting the time it has to sit under weights and depending how complex cutting it out is, how much drawing, and how many elements there are).

Therefore, a group of 5 or 6 easily takes a big chunk out of a week. I'm happy to do this once a year out of love for family and friends, but working on phase 6, I've been realizing that I don't think it's going to work for me as a model on a broader scale. 

At first, I blamed myself for being inefficient, because, of course, I know ways to streamline the process; for example - if I did the same step for all the pieces at the same time. But to me, each piece is an individual, so I only work on as many as I can physically keep track of at once (usually 2, 3 at most), and move them through steps in small groups (2 printed and set aside, 2 being cut out, 2 under weights while the glue dries, 2 packed and signed, etc)

Looking at Durer's Hare, it occurred to me that the problem isn't that I couldn't make the process faster, because I could, it's that I wouldn't want what an expedited process would produce. The Hare  is magical. Even in the millionth reproduction on screen or badly printed on crappy paper, it brings to mind the beauty of the original. It resists being reduced to efficient adequacy, and I love it for that. 

Even if it's not possible, I want to try to make work that has magic like that. (Dumb as it seems, I'm not kidding about this -Walter Benjamin uses the more academically respectable term "aura" for the transference of geist/spirit from the artist onto the artwork, in "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and maybe I'd be taken more seriously if I said [lifts chin and takes on academic accent:] "I want to retain the aura of the original" (Hahaha!) But really, it's all about magic - so let's call a spade a spade ;).

If magic is the goal, then greater efficiency is not helpful - even if it results in something that looks similar because it's not the same in this intangible way. I only want to make things that have the magic of something that was loved and cared for and had my full devotion while I was making it. 

This is not particularly convenient. 

It's been in the background of my mind since December - what can I do so that the large pieces lead to descendants without compromising the level of magic in the offspring or sacrificing too much time toward making new large scale pieces?

It came to me as a picture (like most good ideas - I woke up at like 5 am, and wrote it down - please excuse the pre-coffee messy handwriting).

The upper right is what I was doing with the Christmas edition - using the blocks that are part of the large pieces, but breaking with the process very early on. - I was not benefitting from the magic of the large pieces, only the labor that went into the raw materials of process (the blocks). But what if I broke off much later, so that I can start off building from the magic of the primary process? (ding, ding, ding!)
Thinking about the history of maps (that I've been reading about in "Grand Scale: Monumental Prints in the Age of Dürer and Titian, ed. by Larry Silver and Elizabeth Wyckoff, 2008,) and how these pieces are about places, I think I have an idea for how to do this! It relates to the updated techniques chart from January, and the way the digital bubble changed - I think I can take digital photos of the finished piece, transfer them onto photopolymer plates, and then possibly hand color the resulting etchings (just like Late Gothic and Renaissance maps and playing cards!) Peeerfect!!

On the one hand, I feel like I may be going off on a tangent and getting over-art-excited, but on the other, this could be important if it frees me from needing to (try to) make the large scale pieces efficient/commercial (For the record - collages sewn together from multiple, intricately-carved linocuts do not lend themselves to efficiency - at all. I've tried, and no, just no. ;) ). If they could have descendants though....that would change things. The large pieces can be whatever they need to be, and then I can use digital photography and photopolymer etching to turn the photos into beautiful, unique, process-laden, finished pieces. 

I am so excited (!) 

I'm headed to Zea Mays this summer to work on photopolymer plates (going for it!) The mission until then will be to build things worthy of having plates made of them!

The question of how to turn finished things into new things or incorporate secondary processes wasn't all theory, I put it to the test right away and made these by carving a secondary window into the animal plates:

Then, why wait to get started? - going for a full-scale human, piece by piece...

A little teaser for how it might start to come together (and [not?] coincidentally, it includes a bunny - haha)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

New Collage!

:) (!!)

New piece! 22 x 30" mixed media collage


wings and petals sewn on with gold silk thread - pretty and effective
(beauty over efficiency ;) )
loving the bees -
added blue to make the wings look transparent :)

A busy week here in Artlandia. I put the finishing touches on this, and I'm happy with the way it turned out. And best of all...I broke my "adhesive dependency"(!) - the flowers and wings are all sewn on with gold silk thread. It was more work, but I like the way the gold looks, and the pieces can't fall off now (not without a serious mishap).

New blocks:
um... so I may have gotten it backwards the first time (oops.)
I find certain moments of it funny - the tiger hungrily noticing the ants, the elephant not caring about the giant mouse, and the lion catching sight of the snail. Overall, I find it both beautiful and sad.

I've been thinking about why those articles (and more articles) from a few weeks ago bothered me so much even though much of the information isn't new to me (and I've been rationing my news consumption, at least until post-taxes.)  An answer occurred to me as I was reading more psychology/animal studies articles.

I spread my science reading out because I find the experiments really upsetting (don't get me started about the one with the baby monkeys and the soft vs. non-naturalistic mom monkey dolls - long story short - the baby monkeys died of despair while humans took notes [shudder].)

Another experiment I find particularly troubling concerns the concept of "learned helplessness." The idea is that if a creature is conditioned to believe that they can't alleviate their suffering through effort, they stop trying and don't re-try even if external conditions change. The destructive power of conditioning.

I think I worry when reading articles about the hopelessness of any given situation not only because the information itself is upsetting, but also because I'm concerned that the repetition inspires a response of learned helplessness.

This tangent does relate to this week's piece (promise!)

One thing I like about this piece is the way I think the darkness of the content unfolds slowly - the animals all have wings, but they're sewn on (an experiment?) Despite the presumed ability to fly, they're on the ground going round and round and round in a circle, as if they can't escape the conditioning of a vanished merry-go round. I sewed in the cables of the power lines to visually (and physically) create a sort of net over the creatures.

Considering disaster/learned helplessness, I've been thinking about some of the artwork that inspires me and why I'm drawn to certain things. After finishing this, it was looking kind of familiar...I pulled out my much loved Schongauer book:

The Ox of St. Luke (L), Griffin (Lower L) and the Lion of St. Mark (R)
all engravings by Martin Schongauer, late 15th century.

File:Giotto- The Seven Vices - Foolishness.JPG
Giotto, Foolishness, Scrovegni Chapel,
c. 1305
Giotto di Bondone - Scenes with decorative bands - WGA09284.jpg
Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, c. 1305
(Haha, and I thought I was coming up with a "new" idea to add wings...) The solid blue with grisaille is partly inspired by Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel. 

Why these artists? It seems random - different times, different places - but I think it comes back to the idea of learned helplessness/
hopelessness in a way.

Both of these artist worked during periods of transition, while their society's way of life collapsed. I think that's part of why I'm drawn to them - even though everything was falling apart, they still made art that survived them. Maybe their work gives me hope that "an" end is not "the" end, but then I still wonder about creatures... [hmmmmmmm.]

Random photos of the week:
Feline Assistant Jr inspecting the progress
(and rubbing her face on the corner):
 "mine, mine, also mine - no other kitty can have this artwork"
Starting to feel a little "always Winter but never Christmas-y" (oy.)