A Visual Journal for The Sketchbook Project

My sketchbook for The Sketchbook Project is done! News, Boats, Better Angels: A Visual Journal, along with thousands of other sketchbooks from around the world, will be included in a traveling exhibit of artist books made this year. The project is coordinated by the Brooklyn Art Library, a branch of the Art House Co-op based in Brooklyn, NY. An on-line catalog of this year’s books will be coming soon.

 

I have long kept sketchbooks to examine my life and creative process, but this is the first time I’ve made one for public view.  It is still a process-oriented book like my other sketchbooks, but in this one I focused on several ongoing themes: better angels (a theme I can’t quite explain but it has to do with grappling with what is the right thing to do), paper boats (a symbol for the flow of life), and news (my response to newspaper stories that struck me especially in an election year). I enjoyed the project because it has enabled me to share a looser, more personal kind of art with others, and I’m excited that I will be able to see other people’s sketchbooks, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the Stars Through Difficulties

I am excited that a mosaic of mine will be on the cover of the forthcoming book To the Stars Through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices.  The book will be available sometime in December, so stay tuned!

 

This collection of 150 poems, each one written as part of a collaborative whole, was edited by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Kansas Poet Laureate 2009-13.

 

To the Stars Through Difficulties takes the form of a renga, a collaborative poem in which each participant writes in response to the one or two parts of the poem that came before. Each portion of the poem has been highlighted throughout the year (2012) on the blog 150 Kansas Poems.


(To the Stars Through Difficulties was edited by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg; cover design by Leah Sewell; cover art by Lora Jost; interior design by Denise Low-Weso, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-2009; poems by 150 writers who have a unique relationship to Kansas — its landscape and culture.)

 

Exhibit opening Oct. 26, Final Friday, at Do’s Deluxe

Detail of

The Deer of Mesa Verde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please join me for an exhibit opening reception!

I’ve been working hard since I wrote my last blog entry called Beginnings, about the early stages of my creative process and about several new pieces that I was just getting started on. And now that work is complete! I would love for you to see it, the endings, the finished work, and more than just the “details” that I’m showing here, at my exhibit at Do’s Deluxe:

 

Better Angels, a Deer, and a Boat
Collages, mosaics and scratchboard by Lora Jost
Opening Reception on “Final Friday,” October 26, 2012, 6 – 8 pm
At Do’s Deluxe, 416 E. 9th St., Lawrence, KS
Runs Oct. 23 – Nov. 23, 2012,  T-F 11 am -6 pm; Sat 10 am -1 pm

(also see Better angels, a deer, and a boat)

 

Detail of Microburst

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Process detail of Blue Moon

 

 

Beginnings

I wish I had a new art piece to post every day or even every week.  But making art is not an instant process. So instead of showing pictures of new work, in this blog I’ll tell you about my current work as it is unfolding right now in my studio.

 

Here is the start of a new piece: plywood. I just painted a sealer on it. Beginnings are hard, even just that much. I like to avoid beginnings. Instead I make lists, do errands, clean my studio, surf the web. But the drudgery and uncertainty I like to avoid in the beginning is no less a part of the creative process. So I begin. Choreographer Twyla Tharp writes, “If you’re at a dead end, take a deep breath, stamp your foot, and shout “Begin!”

 

I have a vision of what this piece will be in my mind, and I selected some green cloth from my trove to cover the wood. I envision this piece as a collage with a light green background, a landscape that is barren and shiny with textures made of cloth and gold thread. Small painted silhouettes of mule deer dot the scene, some hiding behind shrubs. The deer are painted and lacquered, black and white, positive and negative, present and absent.  I won’t be able to fully translate these ideas into a tangible form.  There is an airiness and movement to the piece in my mind that I’ll never achieve in a collage. I enjoy what my college design professor called this kind of beginning, this intention that would inevitably turn into something else: a point of departure.

 

While the image in my mind feels like the beginning of the piece, my mind started working on it long before I ever thought of making it.  So where did this idea — these appearing and disappearing mule deer — come from?  The deer came from Mesa Verde National Park, where my family and I camped for two days this summer.  We were excited to see deer off to the side of the camp road on our first day there.  Later we saw deer a couple of times more, clusters of three or six.  On our second day there I stayed at our campsite for most of the day.  I sat quietly and sketched.  A buck wandered through our tent’s back yard. He didn’t see me at first.  When he did, he froze.  And when I turned to leave, he left too.  Later I opened my mind and my peripheral vision to the whole scene, the whole campground, as I wandered through it towards the camp store looking for a cup of tea. I noticed that there were deer all over the grounds.  When I became aware of the whole, I felt the slow churning of the place; mule deer wandering everywhere, some in the open and others hiding, slow motion, looking, watching.

 

A week later back in Lawrence I put a bit of that experience into my Sketchbook Project sketchbook.  I remembered my family and the other campers at Mesa Verde watching the deer and photographing them, and the deer watching us back. Earlier this summer I also saw a deer that struck me, a lone deer running through my Lawrence neighborhood, confused. I made a collage about that experience, too.  But unlike the deer in Lawrence, in Mesa Verde the campers  were in the deer’s neighborhood and not the other way around. Or that’s how it seemed.

 

I have other pieces in the works in my studio that are at various stages of completion. One is a mosaic that lies on a table, ready to grout. I like taking pictures of my mosaics just after I’ve completed tiling them and just before grouting, with bits of broken dishes all around and my trusty red-handled tile nipper to the side.  It is a familiar scene and I like the way the shards fall, a chance arrangement like wind shaping sand dunes.

 

 

 

And there’s more.  Here’s another page from my Sketchbook Project sketchbook. I have been pasting newspaper clippings into my book as the news unfolds, with stories that strike me as significant in some way. Along with the clippings, I am creating relationships between spreads by drawing pictures of a paper boat in each, from different angles and perspectives. Drawing over the news becomes a response to it. This two-page spread includes a clipping about the mass shooting that occurred in Colorado this summer.   I drew the boat at around midnight one night when I couldn’t sleep.  The shooting in Colorado was horrifying and senseless.  And yet to make sense of it I had to think about guns. Why must we have them?  And so many? And yet so many think we must.  [A second horrific shooting occurred this summer in Wisconsin a couple of weeks later.]

 

Here is another piece in progress.  This is a background that I made to accompany my planned foreground, a wind chime caught in a violent gust.  And yet the background doesn’t seem quite right for the foreground, nor does my plan for how to make the chime seem right anymore. So I don’t know what I’ll do to make it right.  But I like the idea of it; a beautiful object transformed by the weather into something that is clanking like a warning bell. It accords with  themes I’m exploring for my upcoming exhibit at Do’s Deluxe.

 

 

 

More projects: My sister-in-law mailed a set of broken dishes to me; toy dishes sent from a relative to her for my niece, which crashed to the floor in a freak accident.  Could I make a mosaic with them?  I have some ideas and sketchbook scribbles.  And what else? I’ll make an illustration for a book of limericks for my college alma mater come November, focus on mosaics come spring, and soon teach a class on “field sketching” at the Lawrence Arts Center if I get enough enrollment.

 

What else? The mule deer piece is currently in idea form and I’ll soon start putting the pieces together to turn that idea into a collage.  But I also have a work in progress that is on the verge of being an idea, another scratchboard piece in a small series about our “better angels.” I don’t know what the next piece will look like yet, but I have been visited by those angels in my sketchbook, so I suspect that a more tangible idea is soon to follow. But what comes before something is even almost an idea? Maybe experiences? I have experiences in the hopper too from the summer, captured in photos and journal-writing. There had been fires at Mesa Verde, and I was struck by the other-worldliness of the burned landscape against the sky. All of the barren landscapes that we drove through this summer, in Arizona, Utah and Wyoming, were hauntingly beautiful.  We saw other fires too, active ones exacerbated by the drought, and the drought exacerbated by global warming.

 

There was a little bird at Mesa Verde that made quite an impression. It hopped around looking for bugs, shuffling the leaves with such gusto that it made quite a racket.  At first I thought there was one bird doing this but I realized that it was a kind of bird and there were many. But I never saw more than one at a time. The bird had a dark head and tail feathers, tan on its sides, a white belly and speckled back.  What was it — that earnest little bird?

 

 

 

Having new experiences, like seeing different  birds or unfamiliar landscapes, makes creative work seem possible. Spending too much time in my studio makes me feel dull. And bored. And lonely. Getting out helps. But when travel isn’t possible (and it isn’t much of the time), I read. I just finished reading a book called Biggest Elvis.  My brother recommended it. When I asked him what it was about he said, “It’s complicated.” The book is about three Elvis impersonators in the Philippines who work at a club where bar girls service in every way imaginable, servicemen affiliated with a nearby US Naval base.  I took Biggest Elvis on vacation and it was good company because it provided images of beauty and desolation at the same time I was experiencing a similar contrast of beauty and desolation through the car window. The book raised moral questions about the characters it portrayed.  But in the end they were almost too complex to judge.  And that’s what struck me the most about this book. Biggest Elvis was about US imperialism, too, but again the portrayals were not simplistic.

 

I’m throwing Biggest Elvis out there as an example of one of many small but notable experiences to draw on in my work.  I don’t know if I’ll ever draw on it in any kind of direct or meaningful way.  But as Corita Kent and Jan Steward put it in their book Learning by Heart, “Everything  is a source.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Better angels, a deer, and a boat

One evening I went on a walk with my family around our neighborhood. Storms were in the area, and the weather was overcast and very still. Suddenly out of nowhere a deer came running down the street. She was out of place and confused and was heading for a busy intersection. Neighbors grouped together and watched, but no one knew what to do. The deer was like a symbol (or an omen) for our world out of whack.

Lately I’ve been investigating ideas towards a theme for a show at Marty Olson’s “Do’s Deluxe” in Lawrence, in November. The process is like making a collage; images and ideas come from almost everywhere as I respond to experiences, memories, and the world around me.

 

At the core of this exploration, though, is the feeling that I along with many others are standing on a precipice – or facing an impending storm. The storm is literal (wildfires, massive thunderstorms, and blinding heat) and a metaphor too — how the rage of intolerance, war, corporate power, anti-science extremism and climate change threaten our neighborhoods, environment, civil rights, voting rights, human rights.

 

"Better Angels," 5" x 5", Ambersand Scratchbord

But the change that is in the air is also seasonal and sensual and filled with preparation. While we teeter on a precipice in a worrisome sort of waiting game with many people not responding quickly enough, some people are feeling the weight and see the risks and the hard times ahead. Some will roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done even though it will be hard to turn things around. They’ll try.

 

People know what to do with a storm. Memories of my mom and dad canning peaches in the heat of summer for the winter ahead come to mind. I think of the transition to fall’s bitter-sweetness and time passing, when wood is stacked in preparation for the looming winter. But more than that, people come together in the storms of winter and through their collective work and actions actually become the spring.

 

The seasons are like history repeating itself with a comforting regularity. I can hope for a more reasonable day because more reasonable days have come. Public schools, social services, healthcare and the arts have enjoyed broad public support, even in Kansas.  And a conservative supreme court (however cynically) can surprise us by upholding the healthcare law.  Maybe it is too much to hope.  But isn’t that a good role for an artist?

 

"Boat," 6" x 8", mixed-media collage

Foreboding and illumination. Churning and solace. Despair and reverie. Images as they develop in my mind and find their way into my sketchbooks, drawings, mosaics, and collages, are about storms real and political.  But more than that they are about the feeling that comes before the storm; the stillness, the headwind, the first clinks of hail. This work is about seeking the “better angels of our nature” and finding the comforting reverberations of possibility.

 

 

“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.)

“On With the Show” in “Art Lives!” at CityArts of Wichita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On With the Show celebrates the creative expression of children, and is part of the exhibit Art Lives!, a statewide collaborative project coordinated by the Feminist Art Project as a response to Governor Brownback’s elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission (KAC) a year ago.

 

The Kansas Arts Commission worked hard to support the making of art by children in schools and community centers across the state. When the KAC was cut, these programs were cut too. In addition, the state has cut funding to the public schools and this also means cuts to the arts. What happens when our state decides that we no longer need to nurture the imagination and creative spirit of young people?

 

Art Lives! opens tonight, March 30, 2012, from 5:30 – 7:30 pm at CityArts of Wichita.

“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.