Sunday, November 30, 2008

Working the blog

I’ve been doing this blog for about a month now, and asking myself what I’m after. One thing for sure is that, in addition to sharing with folks I already know, I’m hoping to get my work out into the big world outside Vermont. To make a career in the fine arts, you’ve somehow got to get a slingshot that will propel you over the border.

Since I don’t have a counter on my site, I actually don’t have any idea how many people visit and what they think. I’ve said it’s like leaving your house open and going away for a few hours. When you get home, even if nothing has been moved or changed, you don’t know whether anybody’s been there while you’ve been gone. Sometimes people stop by your house and leave a note saying they’re sorry they missed you. (Or, heaven forfend, a note saying you had invited them for dinner and where the hell are you!) Here on the blog, only a few people have left comments in the comment section at the bottom of each post, though quite a few people have told me in person that they’ve visited and mentioned things they’ve seen here. Even my daughter sent me a comment by email instead of commenting on the blog, but she gave me permission to print her comment:

This blog is the best idea you have ever had. Seriously. It may take a while for it to spread around, but I'm pretty positive that this is going to get you noticed. And even if it doesn't, it's just so wonderful to allow a peek behind the curtain of art, not to demystify (because the mystery is still there: how does she think of these things?!) but to invite everyone to participate and invest instead of just being consumers.

I never thought before about how what is pretty much Standard Operating Procedure to me can be a peek behind the curtain to others. That’s wonderful! Later, she suggested that I ask some questions instead of just holding forth, which seems like a good idea. So after I tell you about last week’s frankly commercial (though heartfelt) effort to make a few bucks, I’ll do that.

I’ve been making ornaments at this season for the last 4-5 years, and this year I decided to go back to simple, inexpensive ones. Someone suggested last week that I make ornaments commemorating the big political victory this year, and it came to me that I DO feel good about the country and the direction I hope it’s moving in, so here’s the outcome (They’re $2 each, and have an optional, commemorative "08" sticker that you can affix to the center of the ornament. You can buy them at Studio Place Arts through the end of December.):

Tah Dah! And here are the questions: What do you think about patriotism? What does it mean to you? Is being a partisan for your country like being egocentric about yourself? What are the good (and bad) things about having aspirations and ambitions for yourself (and/or your country)? Don’t like those questions? Write some of your own!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Home again, home again, marketing’s done

Here's a partial installation shot of the Rolling Boil exhibit at the Lazy Pear Gallery in Montpelier, September 23 - November 16, 2008.

Another art lifecycle event this week: picking up and bringing back work after the conclusion of an exhibit. Making the work, loading it up and taking it somewhere, packing it up and bringing it back. Breathe in, breathe out. Jiggity-jig, jiggity-jog. A familiar ritual.

The Lazy Pear Gallery kept about a quarter of the work by volume to add to my other work on display at the gallery. There were two large pieces that came back, The Wall and Raising the Dead, as well as Rendition Vehicle. Rob, who owns the gallery (along with his wife Mary Jo), is a lovely guy. He always helps with the transportation. We packed the big work into Rob’s truck and the smaller pieces into my car and made the return trip to Barre, into the elevator, up to the third floor, and into the studio. It took about four hours with packing, transporting, and putting the work away.

One $350 piece sold during the exhibit, the turtle on wheels (see above, on the blog’s banner). It’s not uncommon, here in Vermont, to sell nothing during the run of an exhibit, so it’s interesting to think and talk about how art is priced and sold. Many people, when asking about a piece, want to know how long it took to make it, as though an hourly wage for the making (say, even a lawyer’s impressive hourly, $50 - $300, which seems extremely generous) would make sense.

In fact, it helps to think about the larger context of each individual piece to understand the business part of art. So, for example, I worked on this Rolling Boil body of work for two months and paid rent and insurance on the studio during that time. The materials were pretty much free, I’ll grant you! For this one exhibit, I spent about six hours just in packing and carting the work. Rob printed and mailed cards, hosted an opening reception and an artist talk, and kept his gallery open. He made $175 and I made $175.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Back to Business

Thanks to everybody who signed up as Followers and for email notification about new posts for this blog. I appreciate that people are interested!

The last week or so I’ve been mostly involved in helping put up the SPA Members Show and getting my work out for holiday shows at SPA and AVA in Lebanon, NH (thanks to Cindy Blakeslee for transporting the work down there!). Also, I update the SPA website, so that’s taken some time, with taking photos and changing all the pages. Navigate to the Gallery pages and click on Current to see the Members Show. And come on over to the Opening Reception on Saturday, November 22 from 4-6 PM!

On the first day of the show, Tuesday, SPA sold two of my pieces (amazing and wonderful!). One was a wooden head made with a very cool piece of firewood that had been pecked by woodpeckers to create a mouth-like aperture. I made the eyes with buttons, and it had a bird perched on the top. Alas, I didn’t take a picture of it, so it’s gone into the great out-there. But this brings up the reality that once something you make actually SELLS, you are highly-motivated to make another, similar piece. So that’s what I did. I didn’t have wood that was as unusual as the first one, but here’s Woodland Spirit/Sprite (whatever) number 2. You can see I am using some of the leftovers from the clay/hair pieces I talked about in my last post:

Another thing I had to do was to CLEAN THE STUDIO because the Opening Reception for the Members Show is on Saturday and there will be lots of people coming through. It was a horrible mess. I put things away and swept and mopped the floor. Woo woo! Here are photos of the fabulous result.

And here’s what it still looks like on my workbench, behind the magic screen. I’m going in today, and I’ll hoe it out.

Monday, November 17, 2008


How many times do I have to learn that you don’t know what’s supposed to happen until it happens? What I mean is, I keep on saying that I’M not the one making the work and calling the shots, it’s the MUSE, or whatever it is that wants to make art happen in the world. My job is to get my ego out of the way and let that force operate.

Case in point: I came into the studio this morning bringing materials I had stored in my barn and grabbed when I came in from jogging -- some fibers I had collected on the beach a few years ago, four wonderful stubby little easychair legs, some animals I’d made for an installation at the Firehouse in Burlington over ten years ago, and a wedge-shaped hunk of wood. I knew that I was going to make some Dogs! I had made some clay “hair” last week that Georgia Landau fired in her kiln. She’s straight out finishing work for the Vermont Handcrafters show this coming weekend, so it was really good of her to squeeze my stuff in.

So immediately I started work on the first dog. I used one of the old animals, cut the legs down, put some ears on, and started affixing the “hair”. It didn’t seem quite right, but I persevered. Got the top all covered with the clay pieces, and ... and... I took it down to Georgia’s studio and asked, “What’s this?” “A sheep,” says she. Sure enough, it was a sheep. I painted the legs black and accepted it as a sheep. Where does that fit into the Circus? Got me.

When I don't have any idea what I'm doing, I rummage through my materials (junk in my studio). I found a figure I had started a while back and abandoned. I remembered about making Sentinels. I thought it might stand on tall legs like the Bondage piece. Its old-nail arms were spread wide. I added a headdress, and knew it wanted to have wings, so I used some of the long “hair” pieces. It was an angel! A Herald Angel (as in Hark the Herald Angels Sing...)!

The bottom image shows the back of the figure. It has striped legs and dots under the wings, and it flies. It is a very odd piece, like an alien insect. It needs something coming out of its mouth, like music.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I am really enjoying the metaphor of the three-ring circus for my new work. All those different acts taking place simultaneously implies the world stage, with all the different hot spots, alliances, and diverse cultures, each confined to its own ring, seemingly apart, but really embedded in the same event.

It's funny how when you're on to a new direction, everything seems to be related. I look at my Rolling Boil pieces (above, on the banner) and think Circus Train!

I would especially like to make some dog acts, to be called Dogs of Peace.

Back in 2003 we had an evening of Peep Shows at Studio Place Arts during one of our annual Galas. The several dozen peep shows were on all kinds of funny topics, set up in cardboard boxes with a slit in the front for peeping through (see top image), and mounted in voting booths that we borrowed from the City of Barre. Lucinda Mason sat inside one of the booths and read love poems. Andrea Stander and I collaborated on a peep show called Dogs of War. She made the small clay Pups for Peace. Time to make a commitment to those little guys.

It would also be fun to make a circus band (Who calls the tune?!), a ringmaster (Decider or Collaborator?), and some Hoochie-Koochie dancers (a little erotic flavor always helps).

Friday, November 14, 2008

The whole world's a circus

I've been playing with some old pieces that I made at the Vermont Studio Center about ten years ago, during the War in Kosovo. The little wooden figures (12-14" high) were part of something I made called Ethnic Encampments, where groups made of the same materials were huddled together under the control of bad guys who looked kind of like Transformers (the toy). They are coming back in the context of the Circus. Each of the rings (thank you Axel Stohlberg for giving me the rings) has a drama unfolding in it, and the war context of the original pieces still seems to inform their activities.

Are these guys helping these women or not? Rescuing or raping? I don't know. In the center ring some kind of blessing seems to be happening. On the right the figures always make me think of middle eastern guys because of their headgear and beards. I don't know if I'll make a displayable piece out of these things, or just keep re-arranging them in the studio.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happiness is not a bad thing

A friend recently told me about an upcoming exhibit at the American Visionary Arts Museum (AVAM) called Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, which, of course, rang my political bell. The first thing that came into my mind was Death, Bondage (see below, in previous post) and the Happiness of Pursuit. So I said to myself, "Come on, you said you were going to lighten up."

Although I thought it might be kind of hard to make something cheerful about death and bondage, there were possibilities in The Happiness of Pursuit. So here it is, and actually it does make me smile.

I found the little tricycle at Recycle North in Burlington, Vermont. It's about 6 inches high and appears to be handmade (by someone else's hand, though). What a great find in a store for recycled housewares. It's pulling a tiny swan. Happiness! Not a bad thing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Here's what I'm thinking about

I am feeling more hopeful about the future, but there are still lots of problems to solve and we need to stay awake and vigilant. I'm thinking of a new series of standing figures called Sentinels. This is the first one (above), Bondage. It's made out of wood; the white things on the chest, possibly a kind of armor, are the tips of pork ribs I got from a pot of posole my mother made me. The arms are mostly chicken bones, the skirt is a bunch of old hacksaw blades, the head is the bowl of a clay pipe. It's standing on very long legs made of steel rods, welded to a steel base (that you can't see). I guess we're not out of the woods yet.

To put this work in context, I've made lots of different kinds of standing figures over the years, like Oracles, three of which are seen at right as a part of an exhibit I had called Gene Pool at 215 College Gallery in Burlington, VT about a year ago -- October 12 - November 4, 2007. This was, I think, one of the best exhibits I've ever mounted, and one of the first that was (in terms of my intent) about a political/social issue -- in this case, race and gender. The wooden trencher in front of the figures is the Gene Pool, with lots of buttons representing people, MOST of which are brown and black. Only a few are white. Who would have imagined then that we'd have a president-elect who's African-American? Hurrah!

The other early Political exhibit was my first solo show at the Lazy Pear, March 15 - May 14, 2007, titled Curious Lifeforms, including These two pieces, Homage to Cindy Sheehan (left) and Mother Earth (right).

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The election's over, time for new work

OK, here we are less than a week after the election, and I'm thinking about new work. The work I've been doing for the last year was called Rolling Boil, and it had to do with being REALLY PISSED (angry, boiling angry) about the direction in which my country was being railroaded. Everything in this body of work was on wheels, rolling along toward an indeterminate future. The piece that most powerfully spoke to this time in our history (and this time in my artmaking) was Rendition Vehicle. You can see a video about it here


Here are some photos of it. The eagle sits on top of the vehicle, piloting it, and the vehicle rolls very quietly, with only the sound of the leper's bell tinkling softly. Back in the middle ages when leprosy was a scary reality in the world, lepers were obliged to carry and ring a bell, calling out, "Unclean, unclean," to warn others. The vehicle rolls so quietly and unobtrusively, you'd almost not know it was happening. In fact, lots of Americans DIDN'T know it was happening, that our country was taking people to other countries to torture them in an effort to get information that was supposed to "keep America safe."

The bottom image shows the rendition victim inside the vehicle. It is shocking to open up the vehicle and see the victim inside -- it kind of takes people's breath away. It IS shocking.

This Rolling Boil work was on display during the election season, from September 23 - November 16, 2008 at the Lazy Pear Gallery in Montpelier, Vermont
(a great gallery) during which I gave a talk on Art and Politics on Saturday, October 25.