Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change

 

Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change — to feature art exhibit, month-long series of educational and cultural events

 

FBphotoExhibitThe exhibit is posted as a Facebook event: http://on.fb.me/1T6XHsn.

All project events are posted on the LETUS website: http://bit.ly/1ngBiuv

 

 

 

 

LAWRENCE — “Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change” is an art exhibit and month-long series of cultural and educational events scheduled for March and April in Lawrence, Kansas. The project brings together dozens of local and regional artists, poets, educators and performers working on climate change. A panel discussion in April includes a combination of nationally active and prominent local voices.

 

The exhibit “Heating up: Artists Respond to Climate Change,” opens on Final Friday, March 25, 2016, 5 – 10pm, at the Lawrence Percolator located in the alley east of New Hampshire St. between 9th St. and 10th St., behind the Lawrence Arts Center. The opening will feature three brief performances. At 7 and 9 pm, Robert Baker will read poetry by Langston Hughes and the band Ovaries-eez will perform. At 8 pm, local poets Dennis Etzel, Sandy Hazlett, Denise Low, Topher Enneking, Nancy Hubble, and Mary Wharff will read from their poetry, and Doug Hitt will briefly speak about his co-authored book A Kansas Bestiary. The exhibit runs March 25 – April 23 and is open Saturdays and Sundays, noon – 5pm.

 

“We hope that the exhibit bolsters a community conversation about climate change and what we can do about it,” said committee co-chair Lora Jost.

 

The exhibit includes the work of 42 local and regional artists with diverse viewpoints, some working in teams. The exhibit includes art by professionals and non-professionals, among them professors and students alike.

 

“We wanted to exhibit the work of artists who are already working on climate change as well as to activate others to engage climate change as a new theme in their work,” said committee co-chair Sara Taliaferro.

 

Art in the exhibit includes paintings, prints, drawings, an artist book, sculptures, and installations. Some of the art pieces concern the roots of climate change and the effects of fossil fuel consumption on the weather, animals, and people. Some of the art pieces convey deep despair. One artist’s work is a metaphor for creativity born from crisis. Additional art pieces offer hope, visualizing ways to work together toward solutions.

 

Justin Marable’s prints, for example, with images of coal smoke, dinosaur bones, birds and buffalo, illustrate how fossil fuel use and consumerism affect the earth and animals. Damia Smith’s colorful, intricate, enameled copper images reveal how burning coal in the United States brings drought and famine to north Africa. A painting by Haskell Indian Nations University student Geraldine Walsey shows a woman looking to the past through winged eyes, “searching for the beauty of what nature once was, and now is rarely seen today.”

 

Laura Ramberg’s ceramic cloud vessels evoke sharing food and other resources as a way to reduce the need and greed arising from our reliance on fossil fuels. A team of artists (KU Professor Matthew Burke and then students Samuel Balbuena, Cameron Pratte, Vi Stenzel, and Cortney Wise) contributed a functional beehive that, once launched, offers a home for the dwindling honeybee population. Marin Abell’s whimsical 9-foot long flat-bottomed trolling motorboat, complete with serpent heads, is made with Eurasian Milfoil (an invasive aquatic plant that threatens lakes) and runs on distilled Milfoil ethanol.

 

Jill Ensley’s interactive board game playfully asks serious questions about our future: “Will the last iceberg melt?  Will the pollinators die off?  Will you opt to take in those climate refugees?  Do you believe we can step back from the edge, or that it’s too late?”

 

Exhibiting artists include: Marin Abell, Angie Babbit, Rena Detrixhe, Jill Ensley, Neil Goss, Lisa Grossman, Eleanor Heimbaugh, Nancy Hubble, Lora Jost, Dave Loewenstein, Justin Marable, Nancy Marshall, Kaylyn Munro, Molly Murphy, Laura Ramberg, Hirsuta Pilosa, Michelle Rogne, Kent Smith, Damia Smith, Sara Taliaferro, Garret Tufte, David Titterington, Nicholas Ward, Ethan Candyfire, Georgia Kennidee Rikie Boyer, Kyuss Hala, Kayla Kent, Cleta LaBrie, Lori Hasselman, Alyx Stephenson, Geraldine Emily Walsey, Katie Manuelito, and KT Walsh. Three teams of the following artists have created collaborative works: Samuel Balbuena, Matthew Burke, Cameron Pratte, Vi Stenzel, and Cortney Wise; Amanda Monaghan and Pablo Cerca; and Amanda Maciuba, Tim O’brien and Mary Wharff.

 

The exhibit and related events are sponsored by two Lawrence community groups, the USDAC-Lawrence Field Office and Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability (LETUS), in collaboration with Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU) and the Lawrence Percolator. (See USDAC-Lawrence Field Office at http://on.fb.me/20riNAM, the USDAC national office at http://www.usdac.us, and LETUS at https://lawrenceecologyteams.wordpress.com/about/.)

 

The “Heating Up” project grew out of a local event in 2014 that brought together these sponsoring groups with leaders from the Haskell Indian Nations University community, on a march and art event against climate change. The success of the 2014 event helped inspire the current collaboration.. (See link for 2014 collaboration http://usdac.us/news-long/2014/10/16/the-peoples-climate-march-makerspeaker-party-lawrence-ks).

 

“How Can We Work Together on Climate Change?” is a panel discussion that is free and open to the public on Sunday April 10, 3-5pm, Parker Hall, Room 110, at Haskell Indian Nations University. The event includes five prestigious panelists, all local, with an exciting combination of experiences and expertise on climate change, arts and culture, community organizing, and practical steps to a sustainable future. Panelists include Saralyn Reece Hardy, Director of the Spencer Museum of Art; Thad Holcombe, retired Ecumenical Christian Ministries Campus Minister at KU and Moderator for Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability; Eileen Horn, Sustainability Coordinator for Douglas County and the City of Lawrence and formerly with the Climate and Energy Project and Interfaith Power and Light; Jay T. Johnson, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Geography and Atmospheric Science at KU and directs KU’s Center for Indigenous Research, Science, and Technology; Dan Wildcat, professor at Haskell Indian Nations University, Director of the Haskell Environmental Research Studies Center, and Convener of the American Indian/Alaska Native Climate Change Working Group. The panel will be facilitated by Sara Taliaferro with music by Alex Williams and art by Haskell students. The panel discussion is listed as a Facebook event: http://on.fb.me/1L6z6l8

 

“Mrs. Noah in Poetry and Dance” is a collaborative performance by poet Elizabeth Schultz and dancer Joan Stone, on Friday April 15, 2016, at the Lawrence Percolator, with performances at 7 and 9pm.  The collaboration includes Stone’s insightful dance interpretations of Schultz’s poems that reflect on the relationships among humans and animals, examining how catastrophes disturb these relationships, how the resulting tremors connect us, and how we survive together, learning from one another. Elizabeth Schultz, retired from KU’s English Department, has published a large body of scholarly writings, books of poetry, short stories, essays, and a memoir, and is a dedicated advocate for the arts and the environment. Joan Stone taught dance history and choreography at the University of Kansas from 1982 to 2010, and through dance explores nature, dance and politics, women as history makers, and the relationship between gesture and word. The performance is listed as a Facebook event: http://on.fb.me/1njVj3i

 

“A Change in the Weather: Writing From Climate Change Art,” is a free all-ages writing workshop on Sunday April 17, 2-4pm at the Lawrence Percolator. Please plan to attend the whole workshop to help create a circle of deep sharing and reflecting. Led by former poet laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and naturalist and writer Ken Lassman, participants will consider their own “internal and external weather” in relation to climate change by dwelling among the art exhibit as a key writing prompt. The writing workshop is listed as a Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1Qr1led

 

Hang12 “Effecting Change” includes art made from repurposed materials by teens, coordinated by the Lawrence Art Center’s youth curatorial board Hang12. The public is invited to the exhibit’s Final Friday opening on March 25, 5-8pm, Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St. The exhibit runs for a month and is open Tuesday – Friday, 10am-4pm (and on Thursdays in April from 10am – 8pm). “Climate Change is an issue that impacts all of us. To bring awareness to this subject we asked artists to use repurposed materials within their artwork to take a stand on Climate Change and environmental issues.” Watkins website: http://bit.ly/1Rsh4X7

 

Eco Ambassadors “Haskell Wetlands Restoration Day” invites the public to join this Haskell student-led workday of seeding and planting to help restore the Haskell Wetlands, on Saturday April 16, 2016, 10am-2pm. Bring gloves and gardening/landscaping tools. Directions: Come straight on Massachusetts St. heading S., continue S. past Indian Health Service. Massachusetts St. turns into W. Perimeter Rd. so keep going and follow road around campus until you get to the intersection of W. Perimeter Rd. and Barker Ave. Dr. Then turn right onto Barker Ave. Dr. (you are going south), go straight and you will run right into the wetlands access gate. The workday is listed as a Facebook event: http://bit.ly/1ZtKmuh

Newly Illustrated Beer Carriers for the Free State Brewery

Front Porch SeriesThe Free State Brewery’s “Front Porch Series” is here! I had a great time collaborating on the design for this new six-pack carrier with the Free State and Grandstand Creative Services.

 

The first beer in this series, the Dirty Kanza Kolsch, celebrates the Dirty Kanza 200, a 200-mile-long bicycling endurance challenge on the gravel and dirt roads of the Flint Hills.

Phoenix Underground Exhibit, Opening June 27, 2014

Animals

 

SteamedAnimals–mostly birds but other critters too–have taken up residence in my art for many years. I didn’t exactly invite them. Like squirrels drawn to my bird feeder, I don’t recall intending to focus on critters but they have been drawn into my art. And yet I did put up the feeder, and I did create these images, Stirand so of course I invited them. Birds, frogs, cats, cicadas, squirrels and other critters are with us in life and so too in my art. In Steamed (2011), a squirrel chatters noisily like so many colicky babies (or whistling teakettles), clamoring for attention. In Stir (2010), birds with human legs spring forth to dance or fly. And in Composition With Goose (2009), a calm cat and a very wound-up goose hold forth and argue.

 

Frog, My FriendBut more recently, in the past half-year or so, I’ve changed a little. I am thinking more intentionally about critters, my relationship to them, and the impact of human activity and climate change on them. I think of my pictures as a stage and the animals and people in them as characters playing a part. But instead of using birds or squirrels to tell stories that are really about people, the critters I’m drawing now are playing the part of themselves and are part of the story. In Frog, My Friend, for example, a frog, a casualty of the 600.deathwithchickenSouth Lawrence Trafficway, is carried off by “Death.” Or maybe the frog is our pet frog that died because we just couldn’t take care of him right. Either way, the frog in this story is a frog. In Run!, a Prairie Chicken plays its own part, too, on the run from Death due to habitat destruction and Kansas politics. In Passenger Pigeon: Abstract Memory, a cloud of extinct Passenger Pigeons becomes abstract and fades from memory. In Robin, Been and Gone, a robin is depicted along with several robin-silhouettes, symbolizing presence and absence, a reminder of what pesticides can do to birds. These are of course my images for my very human purposes, too. But I hope that by thinking more about the role of animals in my work, I can remind viewers that we have a relationship with animals, and that this relationship is fragile.

 

Robin, Been and GoneMaking work about the negative impact of humans on critters is a new direction in my art, the beginning of a
Never Coming Back
larger body of work. I was moved to think more about animals in the broadest sense of the word after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. Her book includes story after story of scientists worldwide documenting the process of animals becoming extinct because of human-caused global warming. Animals are leaving us now, and they are never coming back.

 


In my new work I am guided too by collaborating with my composer-friend Lynn Gumert, of Hightstown, NJ.  Lynn and I have talked on the phone and we have exchanged emails, images, and sound. We are working together on loosely-related themes in our work, themes that include the impact of climate change on weather, animals, and us.  Lynn is working on a series of related short saxophone quartet pieces, and eventually our work will be presented together.  Her first notes to me depicted a river. Building on her compositions I am also playing with images of saxophones and literally drawing their “sound,” as in River Song. In this piece, a Mourning Dove plays a saxophone-river. This, too, is another experiment in visual storytelling.

 

Please join Karen Matheis and me for our two-person show at the Phoenix Underground, opening Final Friday, June 27, 2014, 5 – 9 pm, from June 27 – July 23 at the Phoenix Underground (825 Massachusetts, Lawrence, KS). I’ll show these works and others too, and almost all of them include animals.

 

What’s in a Doodle?

doodle drawing

Note: The flying squirrel-doodle to the left (12″ x 20″) is the subject of this blog and is the doodle that I refer to throughout. Other images are from my sketchbooks.

 

What’s in a doodle? Curly do-dads, texture, funny wings, big long tails, emotion, practice, improvisation, new ideas, new media, spilled tea. Even the sound of the word doodle suggests spontaneity and flow. Doodling is the quintessential imaginative drawing, and imaginative drawing is the theme of a new drawing class I’m planning for adult learners this Spring at the Lawrence Arts Center. This class is the reason I’m thinking about doodling at all and about the place of doodling in my own creative process.

 

toy horse sketchI keep sketchbooks but often begin my explorations with writing.  So when writing gives way to sketching, doodling, and drawing, a ballpoint pen is in my hand and is often what I use. I learned recently that ballpoint pens are the medium of choice for entire on-line communities of artists. And the January 2014 cover of ARTnews shows the work of ballpoint pen artist  Toyin Odutola and inside the magazine is the work of other ballpoint pen artists, too. Inspired by these, I decided to explore this medium in a large-scale doodle-drawing to gain a better understanding of it not just for sketching but for “finished” work as well.

So already through the pen, art and life are connected in a doodle. Or maybe life itself is a doodle because in a doodle, everything feels connected. For example, the first time I saw a  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was at the soccer fields in Overland Park, Kansas, and that little piece of history is in this doodle. It isn’t in it literally, but that experience led Scissor-tailed Flycatcher sketchto something that led to something that is in it. When we returned from Overland Park that day, I looked for this beautiful grey-blue bird with the extravagant tail  in my Kansas bird book and found it, “one of the most well-known birds in Kansas.” Ha! I was surprised and wondered what else I have never heard of. And perhaps more interestingly, what might be all around me that I have never seen?

 

birds sketchThe Scissor-tailed Flycatcher eventually led me to backyard birdwatching. When I was scribble-writing some ideas for this blog, I looked out the window at a zillion Starlings at my suet feeder and seconds later two Downy Woodpeckers were there, and then two Goldfinches and then a slew of Cardinals. The feeder is constantly churning with comings and goings and then, of course, there are squirrels. And there are squirrels in my doodle. It was several months after seeing the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers that I decided to get 600squirrelsketchsome bird feeders. I got the cheapest feeders I could get — small, plastic and ugly — and a waterer too, and hung one at the side of the house and one in front. And the birds came! And the squirrels came too, lots and lots of squirrels. My husband gave me bigger and better bird feeders as gifts but also grumbled about the cost of feeding a whole neighborhood’s worth of squirrels. But he was the one to notice the littlest and cutest squirrels on the coldest of days saying, “We gotta keep those little guys alive!”

 

SquirdsI began reading Bert Dodson’s book, Keys to Drawing with Imagination, and drank in his encouragement to doodle, to stretch your doodles in new directions, to noodle the doodles, and to mix them up. I joked about getting a bird-proof squirrel-feeder. Or how about a Squird feeder! Of course there are Flying Squirrels. But what if flying squirrels had actual wings? What if they had cicada wings?

 

 

Doodling odd flying squirrels made me think of those strange prehistoric creatures that surely should not be able to fly but surely did. Amidst my listening to jazz and “All Things Considered” on the radio as I doodled,  I heard Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” interview author Elizabeth Kolbert. Kolbert talked about her new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. In it she explores the fact that species are dying off so quickly due to the impact of humans, that it is a time of mass extinction, and is considered the sixth mass extinction on earth.

 


My flying squirrels will never exist but imagining that they could provided a moment of levity as I listened to Kolbert’s dark accounting of the extinctions of species now taking place as I doodled. I wrestled with the ugliness of it all in the vigorous marks I made in the tails of my flying squirrels. And that’s not all the bad news I was hearing as I worked. At this same time the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill to preserve “religious rights,” a bill really intended to take away the rights of gay and lesbian people should they ever be allowed marriage equality in Kansas. I explored the absurdity of it all as I doodled.

 

Flying squirrel sketchI went to KU’s Natural History Museum on the day I took my computer in for repairs. Little squirrels had been nesting in there, slowing it down and giving me that interminable spinning pie wheel. It had been a long while since I’d been to the museum, and I wanted to scope it out as a possible destination for my drawing students. There were old bones and taxidermied creatures. I came across a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and a flying squirrel (a dead but real one) and made a quick sketch of the squirrel. And I decided that I would like to make some art about animals that are gone.

 

doodle detailAnd then the doodle was done. I liked some of the things that were going on in it, especially the bottom-most squirrel. The shape and pattern of it had a visual integrity that the more cartoon-like squirrels seemed to lack. I liked working with a Bic ballpoint but wasn’t fully satisfied with it either. I couldn’t get the darks dark enough. I figured out that the basic Bic crystal has a twin, the Bic crystal pens found in the pack of 12 colors, and with these I could eke out a slightly better black and darker blue. I wondered how this image would look in scratchboard, a medium I’ve used a lot. But in scratchboard, how could I  keep the sense of spontaneity that I liked here, when I find the application of lines in Scratchboard to be more cumbersome?

 

The doodle helped me ask questions and forge other kinds of professional connections, too. I wanted a better-than-Bic pen for a blacker black and went on-line to find out how I could un-clog my old Rapidograph technical pens. Happily I found an on-line community to help me. When I posted my doodle on my Facebook page, a friend shared about an interesting  on-line doodling community. And the doodle may have suggested a path forward on an illustration job that I’m working on. It even helped me process the beginnings of a collaboration with  a composer-friend in New Jersey.  We hope to explore a music/visual art collaboration and our point of departure will be nature, climate change, and extinction. For her part she will begin composing about a river. I will start with birds or frogs. Then we’ll trade our work and see how the other person’s art inspires a second round and hopefully many more.

 

never coming back doodleBert Dodson’s book, including his chapter on doodling, has helped me to push my work in small but significant ways. One key to drawing creatively is to simply draw at all, and through the process of making and working, ideas come. “We tend to think of imagination and creativity as qualities that people have. But in reality these qualities show up only in action–as something you do. Simply put, imagining is what you do in your head; creating is what you do on paper.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to all who helped with the Free State Brewery mosaic!

Nearly Spring is complete! It is a seven-foot mosaic mural installed on New Year’s Day at the Free State Brewery in downtown Lawrence, Kansas.  The mosaic was a wonderful project and I am writing to give thanks to all of the people who were in one way or another a part of its creation.

 

Foremost I want to thank Chuck Magerl, proprietor of the Free State Brewery. He was wonderfully supportive throughout this project. He invited me to discuss the possibility of creating a mosaic for a particular spot in the brewery. Our first meeting was in December of 2012 and, while I was hesitant to take on a large-scale mural and had never even used mortar before, I left the meeting excited about the possibility and hoped to get the job.

 

The ideas for the mosaic grew out of several conversations with Chuck that meandered through broad topics, among them birds, water, and the Lawrence area’s landscape. These themes became core elements in the mosaic. Once we finished the design work I worked intensively on the mosaic for about five months. Chuck provided a place for me to work at the Free State’s eastside brewery, and also hosted an open house there so that friends and brewery patrons could see the mosaic’s development. Thousands-of-tiles-cut-from-ceramic-plates-and-adhered-to-panels later, I am grateful to Chuck for trusting me with the project and for his kindness, generosity, encouragement and help throughout the entire process.

 

A number of people greatly helped, too. Conrad Snider, a ceramic artist and friend in Newton, Kansas, provided extensive and detailed advice on everything from concrete board, mortar, and grout to how to build sturdy panels that would hold heavy tiles and yet be light enough to move and install.

 

Todd Pederson and Jim Lewis of Independent Woodcraft in Lawrence built panels for the mosaic that would fit exactly right in that stairwell spot. Todd and Jim also installed the finished panels with what struck me as remarkable ease.

 

Brit Kring of Kring’s Interiors in Lawrence contributed tiles for the mosaic and in his good-natured way, advice on mortar, grout, and how best to use them in a somewhat unorthodox application. Jana Flory of Krings Interiors also provided information and assistance.

 

When I first moved into my brewery-studio I felt like an interloper in this industrial setting. But the folks who run the brewery and the brewers and bottlers who work there were friendly and welcoming and soon I felt at home. They helped me in ways large and small with things like holding the door open while I hauled stuff in, raising my work tables onto blocks so that I could work standing up, tidying the place for the open house, designing and building a brace for the largest of my panels so that it would travel in the van safely, and on. So thank you Steve Bradt, Brad Scott, Eric McClelland, Lucas Hachmeister, Matt Luna,  TJ Campsey,  Rick Berger-Munson, Luke Otter, Patrick Raasch, Steve Rold and anyone else from the crew who might have assisted with the mosaic even without me knowing it.

 

600IMG_6053Carolyn Coleman, also of the Free State Brewing Company, made a lovely display about the forthcoming mosaic that was posted in the entryway of the downtown brewery.

 

Thanks to you friends for your conversations with me about the mosaic and for your support (especially Sara Stalling who got the first peek at my design ideas and Lokelani Braisted who sent all kinds of interesting mosaic process information my way), for your social media “likes,” comments, and encouragement, and for attending the mosaic process open house and making it a fun and successful event.

 

Thanks to Catherine Bolton, Nicholai Jost-Epp, Kathi and Randy Masten, Kristi Neufeld, Kamala Platt, Christy Dersch Schneider and David Schneider for giving me ceramic dishes, pottery, glass, porcelain shards and other special things to incorporate into the mosaic. In addition, Eric McClelland gave me a mussel shell and access to the Brewery’s hardware drawer for me to pick out a few small things to include, and TJ Campsey gave me a bottle with the Free State’s Prairie Falcon beer logo on it — so be sure to look for that little glass piece.

 

Lastly, I would like to thank my family. My parents, father-in-law, and brother never failed to ask me about how things were going on the mosaic and always expressed their excitement about it. And to my husband Chuck and son Nicholai, thanks for all your support and for picking up the slack especially after school, and for keeping me laughing during a few tough times — you two are the best.

 

For photos of the entire mosaic process, go to Free State Mosaic Process Pics on my Artist Facebook page

 
UPDATE: Please see Dave Loewenstein’s blog about the recent comings and goings of murals in Lawrence, KS, including murals by Stan Herd at the former Tellers Restaurant, KT Walsh at the Poehler Building, and me at the Free State Brewery.

The Sketchbook Project

In my first spread for the Sketchbook Project, one of my "better angels" is launching a paper boat through waters that I anticipate will remain anything but calm.

For the first time I am participating in The Sketchbook Project,  an annual project wherein thousands of people from across the world make a sketchbook to be included in a traveling exhibit of artist books, coordinated by the Brooklyn Art Library, a branch of the Art House Co-op based in Brooklyn, NY.

 

Participants pay a fee to the library for inclusion and are then mailed a small sketchbook to use during the year prior to the project’s ending date which this year is January 15, 2013.  An additional fee allows participants to have their books digitized and included in an on-line display. Sketchbooks are the main attraction for this project, but all kinds of handmade books are welcome as long as they conform to a few basic guidelines.

 

I am planning to use this book as a way to loosen up a bit with my drawing.  I anticipate that it will be a place where I will work more personally and spontaneously than I usually do, and yet in a way that is refined enough for me to feel comfortable with its public display.  I plan to doodle, ramble and play, and to explore themes that  I am working on in my daily art making process but that are not worked out yet. In my first spread I drew over a newspaper article that I glued down.  The article is about the new healthcare law that was recently upheld by the Supreme Court yet still condemned by my state’s governor. I’m interested in making relationships and connections between personal experiences and the bigger world of politics and culture as seen through the media, particularly my daily newspaper, and especially during this year’s presidential campaign.

“Art Lives!” in “Art Lives!” at CityArts of Wichita

Here is the story of Art Lives!, one of two pieces that I co-created with Erika Nelson for the collaborative exhibit Art Lives!, coordinated by Rachel Epp Buller of the Feminist Art Project.  Women artists from across Kansas were paired for this project to make both individual and collaborative artwork addressing the theme “Art Lives!” in light of the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission a year ago.

 

Here is the process of how Erika and I made Art Lives!  We wrote an artist statement together, trading our writing back and forth to work on in the same way that we worked on the piece itself.  I begin:

 

Stage 1 -  Lora:

 

Erika and I began collaborating on two art pieces after exchanging a couple of emails and talking on the phone. Because we live hundreds of miles apart and still to this day have never met, we decided on a process in which we would each begin making a piece that we would then mail to the other for additional work.  We would mail the pieces back and forth until our deadline — one focused loosely on “politics” and the other on “art lives.” The process would be a conversation, a slow-moving, visual-heavy conversation about the state of the arts in Kansas.

 

I began our piece, that we eventually titled Art Lives!, by painting a baby bird held in someone’s hand. I had toyed with using this image in some of my own art ever since seeing a photo of a baby bird in a National Geographic magazine a couple of years ago that I had made sketches from. I think of the baby bird here as a stand-in for babies of all kinds who are both fragile and yet are amazingly strong and resilient. Was this bird dead or alive? Maybe that would be a good way to start a piece about the state of the arts in Kansas.

 

Stage 2 – Erika:

 

I saw the beginning of Art Lives! and thought about some of the conversations that had been occurring throughout the past year regarding the arts – when is it endangered?  When is it cared for?  Whose hand is that?  It brought to mind a Christmas visit to an area racked by the same issues, but with dire results.  On the banks of an inland sea, two shores exist.  On one shore, bird hatcheries and aviaries, on the other, a mass of death where the wildlife of the sea washes up to become a part of the beach – a beach made only of the remnants of the life that grows just on the other shore.  The bird image that makes up the second layer came from this second shore.

 

Stage 3 – Lora:

 

I had been curious how Erika would respond to my baby bird image, and getting the package in the mail with her visual response was akin to birthday mail. I immediately liked her overlay of the adult bird image, and read her note about where the image came from. While I hadn’t viewed this bird as death absolutely, the image did remind me of a photography project that had made its way around the internet a couple of years ago with photos of dead sea birds whose decaying bodies revealed all kinds of crazy human-made junk that the birds had eaten.

 

Already our image was complicated and I didn’t want another layer to visually clutter the piece. So I decided to include simply the outlines of two sets of embracing hands bordered in yellow, an image I had used in some past work to represent interpersonal support. Bringing women artists from across the state together to support each other as artists was one of the goals of the entire “Art Lives!” project. I felt that this goal had taken hold in our collaboration and I wanted to show this with the image of embracing hands.

 

Stage 4 – Erika:

 

As with the partner exchange being mailed back and forth, weekly, seeing the slip of paper in the PO box alerting me to a package became an exciting part of the process. This time, in seeing the interlocking and overlapping hands, seeming to strengthen and surround the lil’ bird in the center of the image, I thought about the cycles, the circles of life and death, inspiration and struggle, that were recurring themes in the process.

 

I added a swirling, emerging set of forms, derived from the same Christmas exploration as the Salton Sea bird.  Leonard Knight, a visionary artist working in a destitute and desperate area of the California desert, has created a colorful, playful, powerful mountain in the midst of this hard place – a multicolored mountain of adobe and castoffs and paint. The bird forms used in Art Lives! come from the millions of soaring birds that pepper the mountain, appearing in every surface of Leonard’s work.  Their simple innocence of flight, and the marriage of bird-yet-human form seemed to be a connector for the hands and birds in the collaboration, as well as bringing the life/death cycle to the desiccated bird form from Stage 2.

 

Stage 5 – Lora:

 

At this point we evaluated our project over the phone and decided that it was at a comfortable stopping point. And our time was up. I liked the way that Erika’s energetic birds-in-robes (maybe even in bathrobes) seemed to come from death and encircle the baby bird giving the whole piece a sense of regeneration. I added some light blue marks into these robed beings to make a visual connection to the original baby bird. It was also time now to glue down “little guy,” a dead baby bird that Erika had found somewhere and painted blue, that we had mailed back and forth a couple of times for contemplation. The real baby bird added something visceral and tangible to the work.

 

We agreed that I would mount this piece and that Erika would bring our Brownback- collaboration to its conclusion.  After casting about for how to mount it (frame it? stretch it?), I decided to simply paint a solid piece of plywood and glue the canvas to the board with acrylic gel medium.  I’ll spare you the details of my various mounting missteps and simply note that I am pleased with how the piece came out, and I like the way the canvas is set off visually by the black and stippled background.

 

(Also read about Brownback Puppeteer, a second piece that I made in collaboration with Erika Nelson for Art Lives!, and On With the Show, a scratchboard piece I made for the exhibit.)

“Brownback Puppeteer” collaboration for “Art Lives!”

Here is the story of Brownback Puppeteer, a piece I created in collaboration with Erika Nelson for the exhibit Art Lives!, coordinated by Rachel Epp Buller of the Feminist Art Project.  The exhibit opens on March 30, 2012, at CityArts in Wichita.

 

Women artists from across Kansas were paired with each other to make both individual and collaborative artwork addressing the theme “Art Lives!” in light of the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission.

 

Here is the process of how Erika and I made Brownback Puppeteer.  We wrote an artist statement about the piece, trading our writing back and forth to work on in the same way that we worked on the piece itself.  Erika begins:

 

 

 

 

Stage 1 – Erika:

In the collaborative project and exhibition “Art Lives!,” created in response to the cut in Arts funding in the state of Kansas and the elimination of a nationally recognized arts organization, Lora Jost and I have been exchanging two pieces via mail to work on together. These two pieces, Art Lives! and Brownback Puppeteer, reflect two sides to the concept – the politics behind the frustration of the arts community, and the resilience of Art itself.

 

Brownback Puppeteer started as a simple set of portraits of Gov. Sam Brownback, gleaned from publicly available press photos.  The original thought was one of political cartooning, akin to the sort of editorial cartoons that have peppered the conversation on the media front.  This was a new realm for both Lora and me, and the collaborative voice changed and evolved through the discussion, reflecting both the urban(ish) and rural impact of Brownback’s policies and actions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stage 2 – Lora:

When I received the two portraits of Governor Brownback from Erika, I was perplexed about what to add next. Artists have been satirizing political figures since classical Greece if not since the earliest cave paintings, and given these portraits in this context I had a feeling that our collaboration would go in the direction of satire as well.

 

I wasn’t a political cartoonist but still I decided to add a cartoon bubble to the governor on the left (that’s how I oriented the two pieces) with him asking, “Art?! What is it good for?!” Maybe the question would read as incredulous on his part but also as a real question I was putting out there to be answered; a question for Erika.

 

The text that I added to the second portrait is based on a refrigerator magnet that my artist-brother gave to me many years ago that read, “Art can’t hurt you.” I had always read this statement with a certain irony, and it seemed an interesting backdrop from which to view Governor Brownback’s elimination of the KAC. I have always assumed that Governor Brownback was comfortable eliminating arts funding because he didn’t think that the arts community could hurt him politically. So I changed the text in this piece to read, “Art Can’t Hurt Me,” to represent Governor Brownback’s arrogance towards the arts community, first firing the entire staff of the KAC and then line-item-vetoing the organization’s entire budget.

 

Stage 3 – Erika:

When I got the Brownbacks back with text, I was happy to see the pointed, yet upbeat turn.  I didn’t want to demonize BB, but create some sort of commentary on the policies enacted and their effects on the art world in Kansas.  Since there were two panels, with two possibilities for related yet complimentary messages, I decided to add both the activist reaction to policies, as well as the continued growth of the Arts in Kansas.

 

For one, I added a painted paper silhouette scene from one of the Arts rallies held at the Capitol.  It was such a powerful coming together of the arts, pleading and empowering the Arts community, I chose some of the messages from the many voices represented.  A John Brown that would give hugs for arts, a “Here’s My 29 Cents” illustrating the cost to taxpayers for supporting the Kansas Arts Commission, and an Arts = Business were just a few of the sentiments of the day.  I also added string images to Brownback’s hands, opening the question of “who pulls the strings?”  For the other panel, I originally envisioned a massive swirl of arts coming up to confront the BB image, but downscaled the addition to a Meadowlark, elevated via tornado to BB’s eye level, singing out for the Arts of Kansas.

 

Stage 4 – Lora:

As a response to the question “what is art good for,” Erika had painted such a nice protest scene around one of the images of Brownback that I felt that this image was almost complete.  And yet there were those silly strings to contend with, and so I decided to do something with them.  I tried to use them to illustrate the idea that Brownback appears to be responding not to what ordinary Kansans want but to particular interest groups that are far more ideologically extreme than most Kansans.  The Governor’s elimination of the KAC is but one example; rather than responding to ordinary Kansans, many of whom support the KAC, Brownback’s decision to eliminate the agency reflected more the kind of views of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing interest group.  I decided to include the logos of five of these sorts of organizations that have ties to Governor Brownback, and to illustrate these connections I attached real strings stretching from the organizations’ logos to Brownback’s hands.  As I considered these organizations, I was struck that many of them are considered secretive: ALEC, the Koch brothers, the Fellowship, and Opus Dei. Perhaps the Tea Party, that I also included, is less so. I was curious what Erika would think of these additions.

 

I didn’t know what to do with the other Brownback image. Erika’s little tornado headed up by a meadowlark was curious indeed, and beyond imagining it kicking dirt into the Governor’s face — which seemed a little mean and not something that nice Kansas meadowlarks would do — I didn’t know what to do with the image. So I added something silly.  I shrunk Erika’s drawing of Brownback and gave him the outfit of a stereotypical French artist along with a bad French accent.  This was a response to an interview that I had heard in which Governor Brownback was asked, in light of the elimination of the KAC, what he would do to help artists. He said that he’d like to promote art that is based on the Flint Hills in relation to tourism.  As an artist who doesn’t paint landscapes, my response was, “Are you kidding?”  Without knocking Flint Hills Art (which I greatly enjoy), it seemed to me that this was a pretty narrow range of art.  Governor Brownback as a French “arteest” who “lervs the Fleent Heels” evolved into a paper doll. With it I was thinking about what happens when art is subsumed into the commercial realm, which is where I fear that art is headed in Kansas if Brownback has his way. (Brownback paper dolls available for $9.99, outfits sold separately!)

 

Stage 5 – Erika:

At this point, the artists received an email regarding the show.  The gist was that overtly political works may be pulled, which sorta’ threw both of us for a loop.  However, in a phone conversation discussing how the pieces should wrap up, we decided not to censor ourselves.  When I saw the whimsical additions from Stage 4, I felt pretty good about the collaboration, and the gentle poking that resulted from the exchange.  Yes, they are important issues, and yes, the pieces were coming from a place of frustration, but the work evolved into a piece of questioning, rather than demonizing.

 

Lora added logos to the strings on one hand, leaving the others open to my input.  I agreed with the choices, so simply mounted the pieces so that the operators could act on both hands.  Suddenly, everything clicked – the paper doll, the puppet, even the puppet-like or paper-doll-like cutouts of the protestors.  I composed a set of questions, mounting them with the two Brownback boards, on a background of a Kansas roadmap.  The strings, the roadways, the cutouts, the acts on paper, coalesced.

 

Finally, I thought it’d be a nice gesture to include an Artist Approved Self-Censoring shade, if the piece was still deemed too controversial or pointed for display.  I mounted a pull-down shade on the top of the piece, which can be pulled down over the imagery, revealing a large red “CENSORED” stamp applied to the shade.

 

Note – Lora: While the threat of censorship caused quite a kerfuffle among the participating artists, we are pleased that CityArts of Wichita (a publicly-funded arts center) made no real attempt to take any work out of the show, ultimately honoring their First Amendment obligation not to censor the works on the basis of content or viewpoint.