Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Happier Woman- A Potter In Winter

"When I do a December show, the mammal in me is furious.
She just wants to rest and hibernate. This year, I got the show up and just let myself do whatever she wanted. It's made me very happy."

Thus spoke my friend, artist Jan Edwards, on self care during the last two week of snow. Two of her ceramic tiles above, Bird in Hand, and Leaf show her love of drawing and design.

......Jan also gave me the classic summation of living as an artist: "Whenever artists live too long by themselves, they turn feral.... And it's very hard to get them back."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How Abstract Can It Get?

After carving the figure for "Still Thoughts", I'm starting work on the large papercut that will eventually be a screen behind him.What's wild is the thought process: Translating intersecting ripples and drops of water, first into a papercut, then into metal. I'm creating a static pattern that evokes the motion of water ripples to symbolize passing thoughts. How abstract can it get?

Only 20% of this design is working. It's too busy, but I need to complete it in order to evaluate it. Then Begin Again. Like any creative process, it needs to go through several iterations. Dorothy Parker on writing: "I hate writing. I love having written." I feel the same way, I love the finished result, just wish it weren't so tedious. There's no way to hurry this process along. Nothing else looks like a good papercut, but man it's a lot of work.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snow Adds to Sculpture's Bouquet

It's been hard getting to the studio with all the snow. With most of the garden greenery hidden by white, the relief "Bouquet for the City, stands out all the more with a light dusting of snow.
Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

History Lesson

I've got a good library. I've been fortunate to have been given several Japanese Museum catalogs. Can't read Japanese, but I soak up as much as I can from the photos. These Japanese National Treasure (11th Century) carvings seem to be carved in cedar and are from a group of statues of bodhisattvas soaring in the sky over the Pure Land and hovering about Amitabha Tathagata with reverence and admiration. Formerly mounted on the horizontal timber of the Phoenix Hall so that they could surround the larger statue fo Amitabha, they are displayed closer to eye level in individual cases. Of the 52 statues, 28 have their musical instruments. Some of the rest are dancing, while others are attired as priests. Many retain parts of their original polychrome paint. They are in the Hosokan Byodoin Musuem

Looking at the books again wasn't so much searching for inspiration as seeking confirmation that making spiritually inspired art is valid. These lovely Bodhisattvas prove it is. Valid to the point of lasting a thousand years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Recognition of the Wood

It's down to finishing work, further sanding where the wood has torn, filling some of the checks with beeswax, and deciding what to do with the 1/2 inch wide check all the way down his back. I couldn't wait any longer and put on a wash of oil paint and sealer.
It's a little harder to work the surface but so much easier to see the forms without the distraction of the light and dark rings and the knots.

He's shown with the initial cardboard cutout and the clay model I used to determine size and gesture. You can get a sense of how a sculpture evolves from the initial drawing on flat cardboard to fully dimensional. His robe changed a lot when I realized how perfectly the concentric rings could become the draping of his robe. Working in wood is a structured improvisation between what I envision and what I acknowledge in the material, a recognition of the living wood.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Frozen Pipes

Frozen Pipes in the studio, frozen thoughts in my head. The bus was a crowded example of smelly humanity. The best thing I did yesterday was walk home from the studio. It took 90 minutes in 24 degree weather. By the time I got there my body was as tired as my head. Physical acitivity is the best antidote to frozen thinking. Ready to work again in the studio.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Every sculptor begins as a god, and ends as a slave."

There's a great quote by Michangelo about a sculptor's role:"Every sculptor begins as a god, and ends as a slave." There's the initial great idea, then the excitement of beginning, and then the sheer work of actually making it. That is followed by all the detail work of finishing, smoothing, refining, checking for balance, fullness of form, etc. It's creative in that it's helping the art along but it's not exciting. You just keep showing up and working till everything is resolved.

It's rather like housekeeping.

Here is today's progress

Friday, December 12, 2008

Down to the Particle Level In Finishing New Carving

Starting a carving I want to remove as much material as quickly as possible. Once it is well under way, the art becomes to remove smaller and smaller pieces. It feels like down to the particle levels sometimes, but each miniscule bit gone contributes to his expression and form. This is a funny paradox in carving,- the more you remove, the more full the forms get......

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Peanut Gallery

I've never been tempted to make art about my studio mates, the birds, probably because they are so beautiful in the first place. Add a misting of water droplets and sunlight and Beauty Bird is breathtaking. What is always a surprise is that she is fragrant too. You don't think of a bird as smelling like hyacinths. All that color and a perfume too.

Every possible shade of blue, each blue feather with a yellow underside. Some of my favorite feathers are the tiny ones from her shoulder, each one is half yellow and half blue.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Blue Hour at The Friendship Bench

This photo, taken in late fall's evening light, makes a good thing even better. The raised bed behind the bench allows the asters envelope anyone sitting there in a cloud of blue violet. The bench's flaking surface was a happy accident of too thinned acrylic paint. I was trying to age the concrete bench, painted it dark, the paint flaked off, voila! aged bench. The wood fired ceramic water jar is by artist Richard Brandt.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

From This to This to This - Evolution of New Wood Sculpture

Carving wood is initially an act of pure will, fueled by the desperate hope that something will come out of attacking a log. The pile of chips and sawdust grows but it doesn't look like much for a long time. You can't be too aggressive or you'll hack off material you need. But being tentative doesn't work either. It isn't until I get an eye beginning to look back at me that I know a new sculpture is going to work.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Right Place Right Time

Over the weekend, I went to Richard Brandt's open house. Upstairs, in Paul's realm, fine teas were being savored. Being full of and a little buzzed by Richard's Oaxaca Mexican hot chocolate, I was looking at the sculpture and art and of course at his Asian art library.

I opened the book Circle of Bliss and was dazzled by the first image. The rainbow colored deity was vibrantly alive. I just sat there stunned watching the colors change and then put the book away..... Prisms on the window had bounced light exactly onto the page but an explanation is not the experience.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Shadow of Geppetto

Feeling miserable can be a very good thing. It's vastly overrated as a lifestyle, but a couple of days of down has let me focus on my work uninterrupted. It's has also been sunny, incredible southern light plays across my workbench all day long. I look up from my work and there is the shadow of Geppetto and his wooden friend. That's when I know it's just a mood and will pass.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Cheering Section

Drawings can only get you so far.

So I made a clay model for this carving, a quick gestural study, to help me understand the forms. I also brought out several carvings for reference. I'd look at them individually but it wasn't until this afternoon when I turned and saw them all together in the light that their other function dawned on me.

They're my cheerleaders.

I started collecting wood carvings about the same time I began carving. I needed encouragement (a lot!) in this difficult art. Some of the sculptures are folk art, many are religious images, a few commercial. I've bought them wherever I've been able to find and afford them, from Asian restaurants to galleries and from other collectors.

My collection of wood carvings is a dimensional reference library of answers and questions, a lineage of ideas, stories and work that continues to inspire me to tell stories in wood.

(From the left, small guilt Buddha is Japanese, on the stand is a Chinese votive deity, behind it is a polychromed Quan Yin.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

When is a Goat a Nutcracker??

When is a Goat a Nutcracker??
When it is part of my New Years Party.
Every year I make a sculpture of wood and cardboard and any thing else that serves, pack it with people's prayers and fireworks and set it on fire at midnight to welcome in the new year. This handsome fellow was 2008's offering. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches, he is holding a baby rat, the Chinese symbol for 2008.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Ugly Duckling All Grown Up

The Ugly Duckling all grown up, visiting on his own terms under a lemon yellow sky. I used duck, goose and swan shaped driftwood to frame it. I loved this painting from the minute I first saw it. It's funny and mysterious. Just hung it in a different room so I can see it anew.

My friend,Norm Johnson, a theatre arts professor at Ithaca College, NY, painted it. He is raising hybred peacocks and other exotic birds at Medicine Tree Farm.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Japanese Garden

The Portland Japanese Garden is a wonderful place in any weather. We got away on a grey Saturday morning for a quiet walk and some inspiraton.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Less is More

After finishing the little mother, I laid her down against a flat surface to see how much wood was removed.
Not much!.
That's the trick in carving, waste as little as possible,
conserving energy (Mine!) to get the most out of the mateial.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Musical response to "A Real Life Experience"

I'm busy devouring "The Rest is Noise- Listening to the Twentieth Century" by Alex Ross. It is brilliant, and needs multiple reading as well as listening to the musical links. Ross articulates what I've long distrusted in contemporary art - When suffering becomes it's own cliched genre. This is a great rebuttal to the mindset of A Real Life Experience.

Quoting from page 484 of The Rest is Noise: "After the war, composers took up what might be called catastrophe style with a vengeance, history having justified their instinctive attraction to the dreadful and the dire....

The twentieth century was unquestionably a terrible time in human history-"the century of death" Leonard Bernstein called it- but proximity to terror does not obligate the artist to make terror his subject. Theodor Adorno, who helped to write the musical passages in Doctor Faustus, saw modernism and kitsch as polar opposites, yet even he admitted that modernism can bring forth its own kind of kitsch- a melodrama of difficulty that easily degenerates into a sort of superannuated adolescent angst. Georg Lukacs, in a critique of Adorno, remarked that the philosopher resided in a "Grand Hotel Abyss," from whose aestheticized security he gazed on the agony of man as if it were an Alpine vista.

There is much to be said for the artwork that answers horror by rejecting or transcending it. Think of the halo-like aura of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, or the weightless profundity of Strauss's Four Last Songs, or the the sacred song of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday," As the fearful fifties gave way to the antic sixties, many European composers looked for a way out of the labyrinth of progress. One was Gyorgy Ligeti, who witnessed the century of death at close range, having lost most of his family in Hitler's death camps and then suffered further under Stalinism in his native Hungary. Ligeti nonetheless found it in him to write music of luminosity and wit."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Love Letter - A Harvest in Bronze

When I was in Kyoto, Japan, I asked my friend, Seth Yarden, if he missed anything about living in the US. His reply was a surprise," I miss Wilamette Valley produce". At the market I understood what he meant. A single peach was $8.00 US. That was the inspiration for wanting to create a modern cornucopia. Wreaths, garlands and cornucopias, traditional symbols of living wholeness remind us of Nature’s abundance, renewal, and of our connection to the land.

Back home, I'd been awarded a $5,000 grant, I went to the farmer's market and bought $60.00 worth of fresh produce and used the rest of the money to buy the time necessary to create uninterrupted. Love Letter is my interpretation of this classical tradition. Written in bronze instead of words, Love Letter is a thank you for the abundance and sharing of good food that sustains and nourishes us all. A small mouse, hidden on the wreath, is a reminder that we are not alone in this cycle, but share it with all creatures. Can you find the mouse?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More Animate Than Not. Unintentional Sculpture Transformation

Remember folks who said "I read Playboy for the articles."? I don't read the sports section, but I do look at the pictures. This caught my eye as I was cleaning the birdcages. Best to read things BEFORE putting under the birds......

Figurative sculpture has a unique power, regardless of how well it's done or if. Obviously less animate than a living thing, but because the sculpture is ABOUT life, we relate to it with some emotion.

This article by Billy Witz was in 11/22/08 New York Times "Officials at Brigham Young University shrink-wrap the statures on campus to prevent the fans of Utah State University from painting them red."

The sculpture becomes a hostage to the team rivalry.

Protective plastic transforms them into abstract sculpture. And raises many questions.
Are they a modern version of the dressed up saints and icons of Christianity? Or more like the covered versions, concealed images under deep purple cloth of Lent? The photos by George Fry make one sculpture, of Brigham Young, look as if its covered in a veil of ice. Are they covered for the entire football season? Is the temporary revision of the figures ignored by all or does it allow folks to actually see them, as fresh as when they were originally dedicated when the wrapping comes off? Do they have a ceremony to wrap/unwrap or is it janitorial work?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hunting in the Woods

Beginning a new peice is like hunting in the woods. It requires a lot of stillness and waiting for the concept to settle in. Lots of watercolor sketches. I explore nuance from drawing to drawing, listening for exactly what each new carving wants to be. Determining and then holding the emotional content of the art frees me to focus on its physical creation. Intention manifests.

The wood is Western Red Cedar. I start with a carcass, a dead tree, and work backwards to create something alive, stripping it of its skin, getting rid of all the non-sculpture fat as quickly as possible. I use some power tools like the Metabo angle grinder I got from Charles H. Day Co. , but I've found that power tools often make my mistakes happen faster. With mallet and chisel in hand, I can stop and think. That's much harder while doing thousands of cycles per minuite. "OOPS, too late...

Better the slower path.

Roughing out the figure, the hunt begins all over again, trying to locate where in the block the art is. So odd to take a round log, square it up and then carve a round figure. But when everything is round, it's impossible to find where the figure might be.

Carving is the hardest thing I know how to do.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"A Real Life Experience"

I haven't looked at Sculpture Magazine for a while. Now I know why.
This quote from the article on Michael Amy, Sculpture magazine, June 2008 is why I hate artspeak.The artist isn't just divorced from reality, it looks like a nasty divorce. His language and thinking are what is so dreadful about much contemporary art, seeing itself as above and apart from life.

Best if read out loud!

"It took me a while to understand my direction.
Artists try to separate themselves from society in order to offer a reflection upon the world in which they live.
I got in touch with the Dutch Army Museum in Delft Holland has a lot of war museums, and they still send artist out to war zones.This tradition goes back to the age before photography: you send an artist out with the troops to show people how it is out there. I read letters written by soldiers during the First World War l- they had a huge impact on me. I became interested in this war because it was the moment when traditional warfare made way for chemical weapons - the results were so much more dramatic. (That's one way of describing gas warfare...)
Anyhow, the Delft museum offered to send me to Eritrea in Africa to offer my perspective on war, and I thought, "This is an opportunity to have a real-life experience."However, I quickly realized that getting into the midst of a war would not allow me to keep the distance required to place it in a larger context. That is when I understood that I needed to keep a safe distance from war and death- that remove would allow me to make connections between those subjects and religion and culture.
I thanked the war museum's committee for its offer and returned to my studio. I believed that it was better for me to live these things in my head- in addition to reading about them and studying them -rather than be confronted with them in reality."

"Art for art's sake makes no more sense than gin for gin's sake." said Somerset Maugham.
"Amen," say I

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Taking a Moment

Living across the street from a church means we have quiet neighbors. What shouts for attention is the enormous cross. It is at least 20 feet tall. That's a powerful symbol to face everyday.

What is beautiful is that the evening sun illuminates its colored glass into fiery gold, orange and deep reds. Taking a moment to rest at sunset, in my view from the bench, everything in the garden is back lit. I notice that the glowing color of the schizostylis match the red glass in the large cross.. Only later do I remember that the cultivar is called "Oregon Sunset"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Take Back the Walls!

I painted the studio a conservative "bland tan" as we were remodeling it. Only after being here a year did I realize that the color needed to be the color of the river boulders and stones on the property. Finally found a deep rich color that matches the iron ochre of the rock when they're wet. (Half the year). The new paint makes the studio sit back into the lot and ties it to the land and the dark fir trees behind the studio.

Nature abhores a vacuum so I began to put some of my relief collection up on the walls. Another out of the drawer experience. Here is one grouping of architectural reliefs, Balinese tiles, a blue glazed tile I designed for the dance company UMO. The Mayan skull is from a facade I carved for a Portland restaurant.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wait Five Years

It's funny how we think about time. Saving time, Wasting Time, Killing Time.
In the garden we buy time when we pay more for a larger plant. Bigger has lived and grown and been cared for a longer time.

I was eager to help a friend who wanted to get rid of two mid sized Japanese maples. I offered to help him dig them up to save them. He pruned them before I got there.....

This is the result.

I made him promise to never become a landscape designer or arborist. It's a good thing maples are tough, we had to cut the roots as much as the branches. Repotted they can begin again, and will look fine- in five years.. More time as in patient waiting time. Tree time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Puppet's Gotta Move and Shout!

As an professional sculptor and studio artist I make many kinds of art. Close to my heart are dolls and puppets. I make them and collect them as examples of folk art and “blue collar sculpture”. A Henry Moore can just sit there, a puppet’s gotta move and shout!

That’s the magic of hand made puppets. Because of their scale and intimacy, people aren’t intimidated by them. Everyone has played with a doll. All it takes is intention and a voice to turn almost any small object into a puppet. Most folks just need permission, space and easily worked materials to begin to create their own. Puppets transform viewers into participants. That’s why dolls and puppets can be a gateway experience to all the arts, from painting and sculpture to dance and theatre.

I’ve volunteered bringing art to Portland schools. From 1999 to 2001, I worked with Merry Wingfield, director of the Portland Earth Day celebration, the Procession of the Species. I Designed and conducted several 2 hour puppet workshops for middle school students. Each student created an animated salmon rod puppet and could participate in the Procession of the Species Earth Day Parade. There was no budget for materials so we worked with simple materials: donated close celled foam, sticks, rocks, decorative buttons. Tools: Electric carving knife to cut fish blanks, scissors, magic markers, paint, needle and thread. It was a surprise to me to realize that most of these junior high kids had never used a needle and thread! So it wasn't just art but basic skills that were being learned.

Every year for the past 25 years I create a New Years Scape Goat. It’s a collaborative process of building a large figure of cardboard, fabric, wood and fireworks that is burned at midnight. While the object may be lovely, the process and involvement of non artists is the real art. People write wishes and prayers, adding and modifying the goat, enjoying both its creation and its destruction. It’s taught me that art does not have to be precious or lasting to be enjoyed by many people, it’s the ritual and shared creation that is important.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Fruits of November

The first persimmon tree I saw made me pull off the road, stop the car and walk back two blocks to take another look. Bare of leaves but branches heavy with enormous brilliant orange fruit. It looked like a fairy tale. Ever since I've celebrated late fall with them.

Here's this years offering of life and art imitating life. The four small squat Fuyu with a paper machie persimmon found at a thrift store, and the large fresh Hachiya along with my carving.