Red Organza Glock, 10 x 9 x 4”, organza, rubber, thread, beads, interfacing
Live Models, Sept. 21 at The Gun Show reception, ArtPrize venue: City Water Building, by the Richard App Gallery
The first week of ArtPrize is nearly over. I sit here, writing a much-needed update to my blog, readying for the first Sunday of ArtPrize. So far, it's been a great experience - my first at ArtPrize. Yes, it's been going on for 9 years now....better late than never, I guess.
I'm pleased to bring The Gun Show to another venue. Last fall was its debut at WSG gallery in Ann Arbor. The reception featured live models....my daughter and 4 of her friends wore the gowns and stood on pedestals for the duration of the reception. 500 people streamed through the gallery, engaged in intense, yet respectful conversation about all kinds of things, including mass shootings and all things gun-related.....yes, you read that right. My intent with this piece is to get viewers to engage in difficult, yet important conversation regarding the issues surrounding mass shootings in the U.S. (Some experts define a mass shooting as 3 or more victims, others define it as 4 or more.)
So one of the great things about ArtPrize is that many of the artists stay with their pieces and get to tell the public about their work, ideas, process and answer questions. The thing is....most of us artists work long, solitary hours in our studios and don't have to talk to the public about our work on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, we sweat it when it comes down to writing an artist's statement, saying that if we wanted to be writers, we would have studied something else, like English or composition. And I get that. But that IS a cop-out.
Yes, it is difficult to put visual ideas into verbal form, but other people don't live in our heads....so it is necessary to put those ideas into words. I decided to spend as much time as possible with my piece at ArtPrize so I could get over myself a bit and put myself in that quite uncomfortable position of interacting with the public FOR HOURS A DAY. I have to say it's getting easier and I'm getting better at honing down my spiel. Not quite at the 35 seconds my friend Janet Kelman is doing, but probably a minute!
Green Bottle I, above, is a little study I made preparing for a 'Painting Glass in Watercolor' class I taught this spring. I find that multiple studies, as I get ready to teach a specific class, help me clarify the problems and pitfalls in teaching the subject. This green bottle is a little antique I picked up specifically for still life studies. The color! Couldn't resist!
As I tell my students, painting glass is more about what you don't paint, than what you do....especially with watercolor.
I particularly love the place where the waterline is - the place where all the distortion and refraction happens. Look at the stem - wow! Painting glass is quite meditative. Like one of my professors said years ago, "you should be looking more than making marks on your paper".....or something like that.
Window Strike Series: Rose Breasted Grosbeak, 9 3/4 x 14", watercolor
So, I began a new series this week, inspired by a bird that a friend found. Window strikes are just what they sound like.....a dear, sweet bird has mistaken the reflection of the sky and trees for, well, sky and trees, and flown into the window. Some birds survive this, some don't. Of course it depends on speed and the angle of their necks at the time of impact.....and if a predator is nearby while the poor bird is regaining consciousness.
I hate for birds to die in vain - I'm a birder and love to bird watch and study behaviors, bird calls and identification techniques. So I've decided to immortalize these little beauties in paintings.
Window Strike Series: Rose Breasted Grosbeak III, 11 1/4 x 11", watercolor
I feel like it is an honor to study them up close......to notice the details of a stilled bird - it's a bit like figure drawing/painting - just a different shaped body than we're used to for such a thing.
Forgotten Cardinal, 8 x 10", watercolor
It happened quite by mistake....the cleaning of the studio at the new year....I was deeply obsessed with painting little feathers in watercolor, and had been for several months, when I looked up from my painting table at the wreck of a studio that surrounded me. I had a slight panic as I remembered a friend was coming over around the first of the year to shoot a photo of me 'in situ' for her upcoming show of photographs of artists and our muses. My 'in situ' was a dump!
So I took a break from doing what I loved and started doing what had needed to be done for a long while. After several days of purging, donating, recycling, moving and insulating, I can say that for the first time since I've been both an artist AND a mother, and that's been 21 years now, I have organized my studio, at least partially, in a way that makes sense. Book making tools and adhesives on 1 shelf, watercolors and brushes on 1 - okay, 2 shelves, etc.
I do a fair amount of teaching of watercolors and different techniques, so it's hard to part with things I think have potential (not quite as bad as Howard Finster...), but I think I'm on a good trajectory for continued progress. For instance, I teach in programs for at-risk youth and I teach classes for adults that might just be 1-time classes. I don't want purchasing art supplies to be a barrier, so I have amassed utility knives and needle-nosed pliers, to name a few. I helped a friend's son clean out her studio when she passed, and redistributed 12 SUV loads of art supplies. As I was cleaning (I kid you not) 200 paint brushes of years of acrylic and oil paint, I thought, 'yes, the high school can use these, but those kids are not going to clean these properly to get years of use out of them' and kept 20-30 decent brushes to use with my students. Most students don't get to use good quality brushes when they are starting out and I'm telling you, good tools make a difference with the student's experience.
So the supplies are a bit more organized, the place is a little cleaner and the year is off to a productive start. Here are a few of the little watercolors I made at the end of 2016 and so far this year. The cardinal skeleton was found by a friend and it had been sitting in the studio for about a year and a half, so painting that was the carrot at the end of the stick for cleaning the studio.
The watercolors have been a big healing /mind clearing exercise after August 2016's 'The Gun Show', but I will get back to working on that project again soon, because......
I spent a lot of time thinking about this project before I committed to making the work for it. It seemed much easier before I started the making process. I don’t mean the actual, physical making of the work was so taxing to figure out, I mean it has been psychologically difficult. It was easier when I was approaching the issue of mass shootings from a place of strong opinion and less knowledge. The project got much more difficult when I delved into researching mental illness, gun ownership, enforcement of current laws surrounding firearm purchasing and the details of each specific mass shooting.
I thought about the project in earnest for about a year and a half, but, if I wanted to be honest with myself, I’d have to go back to Columbine to find the source. Not that I had any intention of making art about such a thing back then, but that was one of the first shootings where children were the shooters AND the victims and when I first felt that the adults of society had really let down the next generations. We’ve let them down because of our unwillingness to talk about difficult things in a rational way or to compromise.
Each gown represents a specific mass shooting in the U.S. I don’t have enough exhibition space at WSG to have a gown for every shooting. I used my sewing machine as a drawing tool, creating a layering of line that describes the weapon (s) used during that shooting. I shocked myself when, after many drawings of guns, I admitted how sexy they were. The lines, the weight, the way they are designed to fit into one’s hand….
I can’t explain exactly where my ideas come from. I collect vintage handbags and appreciate them for their lines, use of material, the way they fit into my hand or over my arm. As I started designing and building the handbags with gun imagery, I realized how much I would want to own them if they weren’t already mine. The gold-leafed bullets as sequins, and gold- and silver-leafed guns on the handbags all seemed to make sense in a glorifying, distorted way.
I’ve continued my interest in using repurposed materials in this show. The acrylic is all repurposed, fabrics and materials in the purses are nearly all repurposed….even the evening gowns are repurposed. Initially I was going to sew the evening gowns from scratch, too, but it became important that the gowns had all ‘lived a little’, especially with the heavy messages they were being repurposed for.
It became clear that the evening of the reception needed to include live models for the gowns….young ladies at the beginning of their lives, full of potential.
As I prepare to write statements for artist residency applications, I am diligently looking for the thread that connects my sculptural work, whether it is sculpture from my bird body of work, collaborative or other sculpture. And looking for a connective thread from my sculptural work to my landscape watercolors is even more vexing! Certainly light and its play on surfaces is a common interest for me, whether it's 2-D or 3-D work I'm making. Materials and their possibilities are fascinating to me, as well. And I guess the common thing about materials and my approach to them is that balance between me forcing them to do what I want them to do and me recognizing what they need to do - what they're best at. For instance, watercolors....they're beautiful when they bleed and flow, beautiful when the pigment pools at the edge of a wet area and beautiful when the layers are allowed to dry between applications....but using those techniques to best describe a landscape/ object is the part where my decision making comes in.
So light and how it plays on 3-dimensional objects - the shadows and reflections is very interesting to me, as well. I find myself being almost more interested in the shadows than the objects I make. But there again, using materials to create a shape and then displaying/composing those shapes in a larger piece becomes a collaboration with the piece.
So the 'Great Marsh' is a place within Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that I have not been able to pull myself away from. I have seen well over 50 bird species in and around the area without even working for it! I'm finding painting scenes with water slightly intimidating, as I've not had much experience with it. I am, however, stepping into the painting with joy and appreciation for the artist residency, the National Parks system and the wild landscape surrounding me.
When the artist residency here at the National Lakeshore started, 2 weeks seemed to stretch out before me.....now with only a few days left, I'm feeling it slip away! Trying to stay in the moment.
Here, I'm posting 2 photos of a little (4x6") study of the Great Marsh. Lots of opportunities for mixing greens! My plein air studies while I'm here have been in watercolor and ink, on a variety of papers. This little piece is on Strathmore drawing paper, which allows for the finer lines and details. That said, I focus on staying loose in my approach to a landscape and in my brushwork.
I arrived at the National Park Monday afternoon and my ranger buddy, Jeff Manuszak gave me a car tour of the east side of the park, several pieces of property that have been put together over the years since the park became National status in 1966. There is such a varied habitat here! Not just sand and sand dunes, though that would be enough to feed your soul! There are wetlands, fens, upland oak Savannahs that have taken hold of old dunes left behind by glacial retreat, restored tall grass prairie - so much to explore!
A storm passed through the area Monday night, so I went into charming downtown Chesterton for some supper and this dramatic evening sky is what I saw on my way back to the car.
Following are a few photos of the lake and varied terrain.
gold-leafed sparrow on glazed terracotta, copyright Monica Wilson and Valerie Mann, 8 x 8 x 3"
Being an artist can be very solitary. Spending a lot of time alone, working on my own ideas - it can become a habit to take myself too seriously. Collaborating is a good antidote to that. In many other disciplines of the arts, collaboration happens on a daily basis - think dance, music composition and performance, film making, for example. One of the great things about collaboration is that I have to be able to explain clearly what I'm thinking - what my vision is.
I often think, when I watch a movie like 'The Incredibles' or a really funny comedy sketch by performers like Key and Peele, that it must be have been so fun to be a part of the writing or production team - to bounce all those ideas off one another, laughing and giving each other feedback. Well, collaboration can be really fun like that - invigorating. It's exciting to throw ideas out and problem-solve the logistics of making a piece together. I learn something or expand my idea of what's possible each time Monica and I work together.
One of the other great things about collaborating is that you can't be too attached to doing things one way - you have to be willing to give and take on projects. I think it's very healthy to have to negotiate and, when an idea seems too important to compromise, be able to verbalize exactly why..... and then be willing to let it all go.
I've admired Monica's work since I first saw it. The forms she fabricates in clay are unlikely and fresh - I could see them all as large-scale outdoor sculptures! The surfaces she makes in her pieces are so raw and delicious! The subtle things that happen because of the matte finish or the 'imperfect' surface of the clay are visually seductive and essential-feeling. I make work that deals in subtlety, as well. Subtle shifts in surface quality, sheen and color interest me. Many of my pieces play with the precarious balance between 2D and 3D, incorporating shadow and rewarding the careful viewer with little moments of delight and wonder.
detail, Variations within a Species
Mentions my piece in the right-hand column on the first page listed here. It is actually page 10 in the publication. You'll need to paste the address in your browser - the link's not working. Enjoy!
So, Martha's excellent painting not withstanding, and, for that matter, the fact that she was an excellent person and friend, as well, why is it so much easier for me, as an artist, to sell someone else's art and sing their praises than it is my own? I'll admit, I don't like being the center of attention - think being sung "Happy Birthday". If I liked performing, I wouldn't have just got up and left during my piano performance at Solo and Ensemble all those years ago.
But this past couple of weeks, I've coordinated a studio sale for my dear, late friend Martha Keller. Now, any museum would be lucky to have one of her paintings - especially one on Lake Michigan, or any Great Lake for that matter, but friends, admirers and collectors had a unique opportunity to come to her creative space on the third floor of a building, downtown Ann Arbor, and just be with hundreds of her gorgeous paintings and drawings. Honestly, it has been a lot of work, but it's been 100% enjoyable to be in her space again and to see and touch her work. It's been an honor.
How many times in our lives do we get to be with 700 or so pieces of art by the same person? There's not a word to describe - or do justice to describing - how prolific Martha was. I'll admit, I'm a huge fan of Martha's - have been since we first became friends. She kept her work so fresh! So unafraid!
I think, as an artist, it is easier to talk up a friend's work than my own. (Don't get me wrong, I am a long-time student of art and craftsmanship - I don't talk up for the sake of talking up!) I know Martha struggled with pieces in the same way I struggle with my work, but I was not emotionally involved with the struggle - I don't see the parts of the paintings she was less than happy with, so I am focused on the finished piece.
She was such a generous person with her encouragement and spirit! With Martha, it's the whole package that makes me such an enthusiastic disciple. I know many people who came to her open studio, and many who weren't able to make it, feel the same way. And really, her work sells itself. So I guess all I had to do was set it up and show up with fellow WSG gallery http://wsg-art.com/gallery/members to run the sale and take the payment.
But it was a lot easier than selling my own......
Isis, bronze, Belgian artist Auguste Puttmans
stage 2 of Braun Field, Maple Rd., Soybean Field, Early Fall
Waterworks Rd., Early Fall 1
So my artist's residency reminded me how much I love painting and ignited a love for plein air painting that I'd previously not had or made the time to do. Since I've been home, a week and a half, now, I've made about 8 paintings. Several from photos I snapped on the way home (it's hard to plein air paint while you're driving 80 on the interstate) and 3 on site.
Today I'm posting 2 that I made late morning and early afternoon, a few hours ago.
The next one is shown in stages, as I progress through it. Also shown is my set-up.
I sometimes have a hard time adding to the pieces, because I like the unfinished stages.
This week is bringing ramped-up heat. Had a thunderstorm Sunday night, so the humidity is off the hook! So I'm finding shady spots to paint from. This piece took 3 evenings, as the light faded fast and the shadows got too long.
Day 9 started with a nice, long bike ride to Pickrell, the town 7 miles north of Beatrice on an old Union Pacific rail bed. Then came back to make a painting of the tree line to the south of the restored prairie. Thought I'd post photos of it in progress again.
Day 8 was my day to give my public presentation. I didn't want to go the day without getting a painting in, so I decided to look out my bedroom window again and paint the hazy view first thing in the morning. This time, I've given you several views of the painting in progress. The presentation went well - met a couple of cool women from Lincoln, whom I'll visit on my way out of state, later in the week. We're going on either an art or nature field trip - maybe both!
So yesterday it rained until about 2:30/3pm here in SE Nebraska. I thought it might be a lost day for painting landscape and I might have to move indoors to some of the exhibits and draw from the objects there. I decided instead to check out Cedar Creek Pottery, east of town. It turns out the rainy day forced me to do something that was AWESOME! Ervin Dixon , the potter, graciously gave me a tour of his studio and I was allowed to just lose myself in his gallery of gorgeousness. His gallery/studio is in a refurbished, moved a couple of times, old Lutheran church east of Beatrice. http://www.heritagehighway136.com/pages/central_region/arts_music/gage-cedar-creek-pottery.php#sthash.0icBcMi3.dpbs Not to be missed! Bring cash or your check book!
I figured the day also called for Mexican brownies, which I made and partly consumed......
But then I looked out my bedroom window and thought, "You know, why not just give it a try?" and started a painting (the one above). As has been my experience, that is the best way to go out here. One of the great things about this artist residency is that, for the first time since, probably, I was a kid, I can just lose myself in making. So here's a little drawing that I lost myself in on a hike the other day: