By default we think of drawing, both noun and verb, as dragging pencil across paper or the evidence of that action. That is not untrue. If we also consider drawing as anything that works in parallel to, or in preparation for, an artist’s primary practice, then these collages are also drawings. Using cut paper, and quickly assembled, these sketches allow me to record ideas for possible future sculptures. There are always so many more ideas than there is time to make them in sculpture. Some ideas are not worth pursuing further. Drawings are artworks and sometimes they are the only record of an artistic idea or impulse. What I find most interesting about drawing as a record is that it gives insight into an artist’s thought process, sometimes more than the resulting sculpture. These collages are part of an ongoing sketchbook. Some of these thoughts make their way into The Hankie Project, some into the Welcome to Oblivion or Stimulatorium series.
There was a time when a colonial hunter would keep fragments of the animals he killed mounted on wooden plaques and displayed in his trophy room. These mounted porcelain double-hand sculptures allude to that practice. There are six sets of severed female hands, bound by rope. Coupled with the series of photographs (one seen here) this body of work is about desire; the base, human desire to own, dominate, and control.
This series, entitled Cat’s Cradle, is rife with contrast. The hands are bound, yet they interact with the rope, complicit in their bondage. The thick, rough black rope juxtaposes the delicate, ghostly white porcelain of the hands. There are elements of femininity and masculinity, beauty and ugliness, attraction and repulsion.
It is not unusual for me to reference popular culture in my work, and the title of this blog post is a nod to that. As we are steeped in popular culture through our constant access to media, there is no denying its impact. I see pop culture references as an entry point into the artwork, adding to its accessibility. Using relevant and sometimes controversial imagery might compel someone to look at the artwork. It is my hope that the quality and resonance of the work compels them to linger and contemplate deeper meanings.
Every once in a while a friend will give me an object saying “I thought you could use this in your work.” Of course I am grateful for the gift. I am flattered by the thoughtfulness and validated that my friends acknowledge and support my work as an artist. That being said, I am usually completely baffled by the gift-object and my friend’s intention for it. What do they mean “use it in my work?” How? What, I wonder, are they thinking I should do with this thing? What is the image in their minds eye that links this object to me and my work? I will never know. It doesn’t matter, though, I am flattered and challenged and I accept.
Anyway, I love a challenge. The challenge is to take this foreign thing and somehow make it speak in my language. I use the gift-object as a word, expanding my vocabulary while still keeping the same tone and voice. The work must be meaningful, and the finished piece has to communicate something other than the gift-object’s original meaning. Finally, the artwork must communicate a point of view that is cohesive to the central conceptual issues of my ongoing practice.
But making meaning with stuff that already means something requires special skill. Gift-objects, especially vintage ones, must be transmuted very carefully. Found objects carry an aura of history and nostalgia. When used in assemblage, the gift-object could dominate the artwork with the power of its history.
This is the challenge and the fun of assemblage.
By default we think of drawing, both noun and verb, as dragging pencil across paper or the evidence of that action. That is not untrue. If we also consider drawing as anything that works in parallel to, or in preparation for, an artist’s primary practice, then these collages are also drawings. Using cut paper, and quickly assembled, these sketches allow me to record ideas for possible future sculptures. There are always so many more ideas than there is time to make them in sculpture. Some ideas are not worth pursuing further. Drawings are artworks and sometimes they are the only record of an artistic idea or impulse. What I find most interesting about drawing as a record is that it gives insight into an artist’s thought process, sometimes more than the resulting sculpture. These collages are part of an ongoing sketchbook. Some of these thoughts make their way into The Hankie Project, some into the Welcome to Oblivion or Stimulatorium series’. A few of these may be on exhibit at Intervention. You’ll have to go to A Ship in the Woods to find out.
I was asked to participate in a fundraiser for the Sugar Museum, which involved creating new work and donating it for an exhibition and sale. The work was to be enclosed in a jar, and artists were asked to use the idea of a jar as a point of departure for the concept and content of the work. This is how the Sugar Museum describes the exhibition:
“Sugar Museum is pleased to present JARS, an installation of hundreds of jars in the storefront Art Produce Gallery. The jars of art by local artists and jars of food donated by local vendors will be displayed on shelving with “art” and “food art” coexisting. They are both beautiful commodities in this situation. Will the buyer put the art in their cupboard next to the honey or frame the honey on the living room wall? All the work will be for sale throughout the exhibit and will benefit the community educational programs of the Sugar Museum and Art Produce Gallery.”
This sounded interesting so I agreed to participate. As artists, we are asked to donate our work constantly. I know of no other profession where services are expected for free so frequently, but that is a conversation for another day. The Sugar Museum was not asking for a donation, per se, because all of the work exhibited would be for sale with 50% of the proceeds going back to the artist. The 50/50 split is typical of commercial galleries. The Sugar Museum did ask that artists create original work specific to the exhibition, rather than curating a show from an artist’s existing body of work. Most of us find this sort of challenge refreshing and fun, albeit time consuming. It was in this gift of time and effort that we support the Sugar Museum’s fundraising.
The opening for the exhibition was crowded and fun. The artwork exhibited was amusing, varied and good. The usual suspects of the San Diego art and educational community were present in person and represented by the jars. Is this a pretty small town, or does it just feel that way?
In my research I discovered that the Sugar Museum is, more than anything else, an art project. In addition to the stated cause of sweetener awareness, the Sugar Museum appears to be the brainchild and creative product of one artist. For me, asking artists to donate art (or time) in order to raise money for an artist to make art is a bit like the snake eating its own tail. The self-referential nature of the event itself further reiterated this feeling.
I wonder if we could find a way to branch out a little more as a community. We could strive grow our influence and audience, especially with projects like the Sugar Museum, for whom outreach and education is a goal.
“Somebody told me that Bill de Kooning said that you could give that son-of-a-bitch (Leo Castelli) two beer cans and he could sell them. I thought, what a wonderful idea for a sculpture.”
Why do I continue to make things? It is a habit as much as anything else at this point, but do I enjoy the process. I love interacting with the physical world, manipulating materials, creating. My habit of making things is a compulsion, though. I’m not sure I have a choice. Making art has two important roles in my life, it is both my way of processing information and my way of making life feel meaningful.
By making art I am able to better understand the world around me. I see connections between events, object and ideas. Some of these connections are funny, sad or ironic. I am challenged to find a way to make these ideas into physical objects. In making the non-physical idea into a material object, I am forced to define and make permanent my feelings about the subject/object. Making sculpture is a brave thing to do. You are required to take a stand, present a point of view, and be specific.
An equally important reason for my practice is the making of meaning itself. Through art I hope to make an interesting object and in doing so, I am making my own life feel meaningful. I make evidence of my existence, recording time, places, and feelings, hoping to leave behind some document of my life and the lives of others like me. Read a quote recently by writer Dolen Perkins-Valdez , “it is the job of the artist to fill in the gaps left behind by historians”. I speak for those of us likely to be left out of the history books. Making art gives my life meaning because the manufacture of the art object feels like an important occupation to me.
But maybe I am wrong. Lately I’ve been struggling with hundreds of unsold sculptures in storage, and the futility of making more. My sculptures are labor intensive, the subject matter is challenging. The end result are objects very few people feel comfortable living with. I like my work, I am proud of what I have accomplished. But what of it?
Three sculptures from the “Duende” series have been chosen for exhibition at the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) next month as part of the Kilnopening.edu series. Kilnopening.edu showcases college ceramics instructors and their students. All four instructors from Palomar College Ceramics were chosen to exhibit, along with students we nominated from our program. The exhibiton runs April 12, 2014 through June 1, with an opening reception on April 12 in the evening.
Also representing Palomar College are professors Kelly Schnorr, Sasha Koozel Reibstein, and Michael Corney. I look forward to seeing the installation at AMOCA to see what other fine professors and students will be represented. They have yet to release a full list of exhibiting artists, so it will be a surprise.
As I mentioned, the work I am putting in the museum comes from a recent series, Duende. I discuss the inspiration and motivation behind this work in this earlier blog post.
See you at AMOCA.