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.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Beautiful Process

Wood carving is one of the few acts where the mess you make is as lovely as any object you produce. When something is as hard to do as wood carving, it's a good thing to really enjoy the process.

The cedar chips are softly fragrant. They sweep up easily and are good for starting a fire or adding them to my pile of wood chip paths in the garden. It's easier to focus on producing more chips than to keep noticing how far I am from finding the the figure hidden in this block.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Inspiration for Sale

New sculpture starts in many ways but how often can you just buy an inspiration?

I stopped at a yard sale and got this cedar bonsai training pot for $15.00. I'd never seen any wooden ones before, only glazed ceramic. It is a beautifully made object, all the more lovely for not being regarded as permanent.

In the series of carvings I'm working on, the base has been the last set of decisions. The inspiration and carving are done and the question is how to literally support the art and finish the sculpture. Beginning with this base solves that problem. It told me what it wants to be. Now the only thing is to create the rest of the art. Drawings next.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stumptown becomes Chipland

NE Portland is the land of chips. Big lots with a lot of folks interested in growing food not lawns. I've lost track how many truckloads of wood chips I've spread on this garden. Each truckload is 10 cubic yards. At least 60 cubic yards in 4 years. That's a small plywood factory in some places. Each truckload I swear will be the last I'll need.

Six months later I'm calling up Wind Thin Tree Service, asking for another truckload. If you see or hear someone chipping, check it out. It pays to know which companies do work in your area. Most arborists are happy do unload their trucks. That saves them the driving, dump fees and keeps it out of the land fills.

Wood chips work wonderfully for keeping the weeds down. To colonize a new area, I lay several layers of cardboard down and then cover with a thick 6 to 8 inch layer of chips. Only the dandelions can survive a year of smothering. No weeds. Even blackberries struggle to take root. The chips make for great paths in the garden. Soft and no mud.

The trick is to spread the pile as fast as possible. Aside from being in the street, steaming, the big pile can build up quite a bit of heat as it starts to decompose. It's not going to burst into spontaneous combustion, but there can be some really nasty mold in that big mass that you don't want to breathe. Spread around, it's not a problem.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saved by Tiny Boulders

Work is slow. Even the Las Vegas casino sculpture is dead in the water. What's a pro sculptor to do?

Ask around.

A friend's brother wanted a custom business card holder to give to his sales staff. I'm happy to create it for him...( I don't have to sign it.) Good thing the work was small because so was the budget.

The thing with tiny work is that it can take as much time as a far larger piece. My goal was to design and sculpt the entire job in three hours. To save time, I built it around an existing plastic card holder so the cards would fit. Working this small every mark has to count.

Talking with the manufacturer I learned that the wider bottom was necessary to allow a paintbrush easy access with the bronze face coat. I built the forms for the mountains and logo on an angle so that it will demold easily and allow for painting. The end material will be a cold cast bronze resin so I left some areas rough. The textures will add dimension on the very shallow relief, dark in the recesses and bright metal where polished.

No experience is wasted. All the stone walls I've built were there to help me shape the boulders. The client was pleased because one of the company's divisions is in landscape rock. Could the work it be better? Absolutely. 8 hours would have given a sweet relief but three was the deadline. Bang it out as skillfully as possible, and let it go.

Friday, November 7, 2008

How to move Heavy Stones

Wally Wallington demonstrates how to move heavy weights using only his body, simple tools and gravity. Amazing demonstration of how the original Stonehenge might have been created.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

249 Ornament

Designing a trellis for the garden, I had to reread the chapter on Ornament in A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. The following is a quote from that chapter.

"In order to understand the function of ornament, we must begin by understanding the nature of space in general. Space, when properly formed, is whole. Every part of it, every part of a town, a neighborhood, a building, a garden, or a room, is whole, in the sense that it is both an integral entity, in itself, and at the same time, joined to some other entities to form a larger whole. This process hinges largely on the boundaries. It is no accident that so many of the patterns in this pattern language concern the importance of the boundaries between things, as places that are as important as the things themselves."

"Pay attention to transitions" where ever/when ever they occur is mindfulness 101. Such good reminder. I know it when I'm creating a sculpture. I call it sewing the sculpture back to itself, making every aspect of it congruent, till I can neither add nor subtract a single thing. But the larger picture of seeing how that carving relates to the room and ultimately to the world takes it into a spiritual practice. All my relations and Tikkun Olam........................

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Allowed to be mysterious

Better neighboorhoods are like that Tolstoy quote
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Not that scrappy developments are unhappy, I just mean that they are not all groomed to a bland consensus. Quirky things happen.

I came upon this enigmatic structure by the curb. It is not at all cute. It's brutal. All the elements of a building, but why? Was it a fortress for a psychotic guinea pig? A Tower of London for a deposed chihuahua? Are those windows for defense? or for seeing a small patch of... car tires? It even has a moat!

Some things are best left unanswered and mysterious.

Monday, November 3, 2008

LASH Quality Molds and Sculpture Supplies aka the Candy Store

Even though I make most of my own sculpting tools there is something compelling about the display at LASH Quality Molds and Sculpture Supplies. The potential of finding the perfect tool, and the delight of seeing clean, orderly rows is so relaxing. Picking up and feeling how the tool fits your hand is worth a dozen Sculpture House catalogs.

Owner Leslie Bell has made molds for Portland's best sculptors. Her shop stocks hard to find hand forged spatulas and rifflers and different grades of oil clay. It's well worth a visit to 4702 NE 102nd Ave. Portland OR. The phone is 503 251 6959.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Thonet Chair Rescue - Before and After

I have a thing for chairs. Hate to see good ones abused. Out driving, I saw four Thonet upholstered bentwood chairs dumped by the side of the road. Had to stop.

A good sit is hard to find.

Judging by the turquoise Naugahyde, they were probably from the 1950's. Oooh, Mid Century! Tho' tired, they were still pretty solid, good support. I left the broken one, took three, one to cannibalize for parts if necessary. Did the reupholstery myself, these chairs were just the right amount of work. Not too much, but enough to feel satisfied and proud of the results.

With some sanding, polish, new cotton stuffing and smart retro fabric from the Whole 9 Yards they are ready for another 50 years. I love how the new material references both the 1950's and turn of the 19th Century's love of the irregular line and the peacock feather's eye, and even has the same turquoise blue.