Sunday, February 15, 2009

You can never tell...

I haven't painted for three or four years, so I am surprised to find myself returning to painting intensively over the last few weeks. The work I'm doing is clearly an extension of previous work in two series, the oldest of which I did over ten years ago, when I had my studio in St. Johnsbury.

That was a series of 14 paintings responding to a group of drawings my mother did as part of a manuscript she had written called Promethea. Here are some of the early ones in that series, shown mounted with a copy of her drawing, and excerpts from the book's text. When I exhibited them (at AVA in New Hampshire and at the Woodenhead Gallery in Key West, Florida) the show was called Jungian Journey: A Mother-Daughter Collaboration.

Next came the the Priests series I was making the last time I was painting (below). (L-R): The Priest of Moisture, The Priest of Red Dresses and The Priest of Closure.

This time there seem to be two rules for the portraits
  1. Something is coming out of (or going into -- I can't tell which) their mouths (or the mouths of someone or something in the painting) and
  2. There is a pattern or decoration on the face (this is less important).
I have been calling this series Afflatus as a working title, as it seems to have something to do with the movement of wind, breath, or inspiration into or out of the figures.Here is a look at one piece that I've been working over a great deal in my current fling with painting; it started a long time back as a bird sitting on the figure's shoulder, but I didn't like it and put it away.

It's been through quite a few changes, and at the end of the day today I shortened the tail on the big bird at the left and painted in the rest of the shirt. I may wind up putting gold foil leaf on it (like two of the priests above) instead of the yellow ochre. I don't like this painting yet, but it may wind up being a keeper. Right now, not.

Here is another one (right), painted on a smaller board (8x8"; the ones above and below are 16x16") that had been put away long ago and actually used as a palette, so it had globs of dried paint on it. You can click on it to enlarge and see the paint globs.I think it will need some more work, but I rather like it.

And finally, two more below, with a large image and a detail shot that shows you more of what the surface is like. An interesting thing is about gender and how we know which of these figures is male and which female. In the figures below, I think the second figure is a woman, but someone who was in my studio was surprised to hear that. Remember, these are all in progress. They will all change.

Sorry for the long trip down memory lane that I started this post with, but somehow it seems good to put it all in context.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Computer Artist?

Why haven’t I posted recently? I have hardly been at the studio, except for an excursion into Barre to participate in last weekend’s snow sculpting festival as part of a team from SPA headed by Georgia Landau, who rustled us into making a giant frog that won third place. It was cold, very cold. Do you realize that the temperature hasn’t been above freezing all year? But once we got going, we warmed up.

Instead of making art, I have been at my computer, working on two worthy projects. First, for many years I’ve been wanting to do a project that has many different people make small sculptures, then brings them all together in a big collective parade or throng of figures. What I wanted to do with this idea came into focus for me when I decided to apply for the Kip Tiernan Social Justice Fellowship last October, which asks women to propose projects “promoting social justice and empowering poor and homeless women.” I proposed to travel to each of the New England states, working with women at homeless shelters to create 18-24" sculptures out of materials found in the local natural and personal environment. These figures would be self-portraits, with each participant representing herself in a way that references her inner life or life experience. At the end of the Creation phase of the project, all the pieces from all the workshops I had conducted would be assembled into a large installation called WE ARE AN ARMY, marching together on raised platforms and tabletops. During this Exhibition phase of the project, I would bring this installation back to the communities where the workshops were held for exhibit, celebration, and discussion.

Well, I wasn’t chosen as one of the finalists, but by then I was really excited about this project, and wanted to do it no matter what. So I’ve been working on applications to other grantmakers, and am planning a much larger project that will involve women in countries all over the world. Perhaps this is grandiose, but I am so compelled by this idea of the poor women’s art army that I can’t rest until I make it happen. Or, I guess, until it becomes truly clear that I can’t find enough money to make it happen. At left is a figure I made to give a notion of what you can make out of found objects, and how it can speak about the person who made it. I used an old sock and other found materials. The flower is about joy and humor, the paintbrush arms are about my work as an artist, the vacuum leg says “Suck it up,” and the plastic knife says “Cut the crap.” The maniacal face is because I embroidered it with some string I found and then used paint from a squeeze tube. The figures will be mounted on discrete stands so that they can stand upright and march!

Anyway, I’m test-driving this at the end of the month in Barre (thanks to Sue for letting me use the classroom at SPA) with women from the homeless shelter there (which Good Neighbors has been kind enough to help me recruit), and I hope I’ll get a videographer from the public access channel in Barre to document the first few workshops so I can make a dvd to send out to other potential sites to let them know what I’m doing so they can decide if they would like to participate.

The second project that has glued me to the computer is a statewide visual arts publication called Vermont Art Zine that Marc Awodey and I have put together to get more talk, writing, and images online about the visual arts. We’ll be putting up reviews, essays, studio visits, interviews, and whatever else people can offer, well written and full of energy, joy, passion, and humor. We think there’s not enough coverage of the hundreds of installations of interesting artwork that dot the state, and we need a vehicle that can connect us. So, this has been the first week it’s up, and it’s not quite ready for prime time, but go have a look and see what you think.