“On the Bias” and “Postpartum”

UPDATE:  Photos from the exhibit Working on the Bias

 

My artwork will be included in two forthcoming exhibits opening in February and March: Working on the Bias in Salina, Kansas, and Postpartum in El Dorado, Kansas. Both are projects of the Kansas branch of the Feminist Art Project.

 

Working on the Bias

Watson Gallery

151 S. Santa Fe, Salina, KS

Feb. 22 – Apr. 21, 2013

 

I decided to make a banner for this exhibit after re-visiting a book I found years ago at a library book-sale called Banners and Hangings: Design and Construction, by Norman Laliberte and Sterling McIlhany, published in 1966.  The book was musty and plain with no dustcover, but the banners in it by renowned artist Norman Laliberte, and his banner-making process, were exciting and of their time in a good way.

 

I remember banners as a child growing up in the 1960′s and 70′s, some political and others religious.  My mother taught me rudimentary embroidery and sewing skills back then too, and these were the basic skills that I brought to my banner project.  The passing on of sewing skills from mother to daughter is relevant for Working on the Bias because the exhibit is framed as a feminist art show intended to link needlework and “identity”.

 

My banner’s themes also relate to my memory of the banners I saw in my youth because the words and images fall somewhere between  political and spiritual, calling for action on climate change. The angel in my banner is both a mother and a farmer, and a blazing sun and cracked earth of a drought surround her. The text is a plea, but not to a spiritual being for help. Instead the plea is directed to our own better selves or better angels and reads: “It’s too hot!” and “It feels wrong.”  And then, “Listen to our better angels, heed the warnings, and act!”

 

I learned from working on this banner that needlework, at least for a novice like me, takes time.  After working on the piece for several hours a day for numberswiki.com

a number of weeks, I began to develop a repetitive motion injury and a badly strained back.  It seemed a bit ridiculous to become injured by simply hand-sewing and yet why not? A friend whose mother is a quilter told me that this kind of injury is common among quilters. Think of our grandmother’s gnarled hands.

 

Rachel Epp Buller, regional coordinator of the Feminist Art Project, and Carolyn Wedel, director of the Watson Gallery in Salina, KS, are curating the exhibit. They will include artwork that explores gender and identity by either physically or conceptually incorporating stitched, embroidered, or woven elements. The exhibit will serve as an accompaniment to the nationally touring exhibit, A Complex Weave: Women and Identity in Contemporary Art, opening this month (February 2013) at the Salina Arts Center.

 

Postpartum

Erman B. White Gallery, Butler County Community College

901 S. Haverhill, El Dorado, KS

Mar. 1 – Apr. 5, 2013

 

Postpartum explores the postpartum experience of women through art, including such themes as the postpartum body and mind, the lactating body, maternal loss and grief, the reevaluation of family gender roles, and more. I will have two small scratchboard pieces in the exhibit: Steamed and Blessing.

 

I sometimes joke that even ten years after giving birth to my beautiful boy, I’m still processing his colic! Trying to console an inconsolable baby every evening for three months was stressful indeed, but in this piece I was considering a different kind of noise and stress. In Steamed (2011) the screaming baby, chattering squirrel, and steaming tea-pot are metaphors for what sometimes feel like a clamorous, confusing, out-of-control world crying out for attention and comfort — with a bit of whimsy thrown in, too.

 

When my son was a baby, I carried him around in a sling. When I was walking downtown on one of those days, a Native American man who seemed to be experiencing hard times or was maybe even homeless called out to me and said, “Don’t let those angel’s wings get scraped nowhere.” These words were a blessing for me, a reminder of the great responsibility that I was taking on as a new mother and a reminder that raising children really is the work of an entire community.  I call the piece Blessing (2003).

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.