Wednesday, October 30, 2013
(Above: The back of our cargo van!)
It's before noon and the rental cargo van is packed and ready for departure ... more than two hours ahead of schedule. Steve and I are waiting to leave ... as soon as our weekly framing order from a supplier is delivered (and, yes, he is "running late".)
Washington Craft Show (November 1 - 3) and Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show (Nov. 8 - 11), HERE WE COME!
Posted by Susan Lenz at 10:36 AM
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
(Above: In Box CXXIV. Unframed: 14" x 10. Framed: 19 1/4" x 15 1/4". Polyester stretch velvets, metallic foil, chiffon scarves with self-guided free-motion machine embroidery on recycled, black acrylic felt. CLICK on any image to enlarge.)
Yesterday was spent hauling all the artwork to the Tapps Art Center for my upcoming solo show, I Am Not Invisible. Our car is a Scion hatchback. It carries plenty but not nearly enough when trying to transport this much work, especially considering some of the sizes. Not only did I have to provide the artwork, but there's always an inventory list, labels, and the display instructions for some of the more complicated installations. It took most of the day.
Today was spent in "hunter-gather" mode ... getting everything ready and in one place. Tomorrow my husband Steve and I will pick up the rental cargo van, load it, and depart for the Washington Craft Show. I'm in booth 314 ... excited and also a bit nervous. It will be an adventure! We might even sneak over to the Kennedy Center to watch one of our son's friend, Brooklyn Mack, dance the role of Albrecht in National Ballet's production of Giselle. (Depends on how our set-up goes!)
(Above: In Box CXXV.)
From Washington, DC, we travel on to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, Nov. 8 - 11. There's a formal preview party on the evening of the 7th. It promises to be lots of fun ... though, again, I'm a little nervous. Why? Well, I've never quite done anything like this. I don't really know if I have "too many" or "too few" pieces. We will be using a PayPal swiper on my smart phone Pepto. (Yes, my phone has a name! The only available case when we bought it was the only color I didn't want ... Girlie Hot Pink. Hence, I named the phone something that at least sounds a little less feminine! LOL!)
(Above: In Box CXXVI.)
These three pieces were the last ones finished for this great adventure! They were put into their frames just yesterday. I'll be blogging from the road ... Yes! The laptop is packed! I think we are totally ready!
Posted by Susan Lenz at 5:33 PM
Sunday, October 27, 2013
(Above: Eight framed journal entries with vintage photos and other ephemera. Click on image to enlarge.)
I've been writing and sharing images of work for my upcoming solo show, I Am Not Invisible, for some time. Yesterday it all came together. It is now finished. Good thing! Tomorrow I start transporting it all to the Tapps Art Center on Main Street here in Columbia. The show opens during the monthly "First Thursday" art crawl, November 7th from 5:30 - 8:30. I, however, will not be in attendance. I'll be on my way from the Washington Craft Show (Nov. 1 - 3) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show (Nov. 8 - 11). Not only will I not be at my own opening (though I will be at the second reception during December's "First Thursday") BUT I'M NOT EVEN HANGING IT! Yesterday was important. It gave me a chance to set up and photograph some of the work so that Brenda Schwarz Miller, the executive director at Tapps, can get it on the Tapps Art Center Walls.
She'll have plenty of creative license ... which excites me! Brenda is also an artist and a good friend. I'm so looking forward to how she places the individual pieces and how she decides what to do with these journal entries!
From the beginning, I hoped to make a body of work investigating HOW WE REMEMBER THINGS and HOW WE WANT TO BE REMEMBERED ... in the face of the fact that all these memories are constantly and inevitably slipping into a forgotten past. As an artist, I hope to create at least one thing that survives me for more than a few generations, but it will be hard to do and impossible to gauge whether I've succeeded or not.
For me, this is just the beginning. I'm not done with the work. I've already got seven or eight art quilts basted and waiting for stitch. They were originally suppose to hang with this show. Now, they'll hang "later" ... whenever that is. I am happy, however, that I did manage to accomplish one of the other goals I set for myself. I wanted to take a few snippets from my "Morning Pages", a devotion from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, that deal with my thoughts about this exhibit and its concepts. I did get this done! There are eight of them.
Below is an article I wrote for the upcoming issue of Carolina Arts. It is my statement for the show. Further below are the journal entries. (Okay, I admit it. I "cleaned" them up a bit ... you know the sort of editing that eliminates misspellings and inserts needed grammar, etc. Otherwise, these are my thoughts ... some from as early as last January when I first contacted Brenda with my idea for an exhibit!)
I Am Not Invisible is a defiant mantra and the exhibition title for new work by Susan Lenz. Opening at the Tapps Art Center, 1644 Main Street in Columbia during the monthly “First Thursday” art crawl on November 7th, the work investigates the nature of memory, the tendency to forget over time, and the artist’s fervent hope to create art with a lasting impression. “The last thing any of us will ever do is die”, says Lenz. “Like everyone, I have so many ideas, too many things to do and objects to make and not enough days in which to accomplish half of it. What really worries me is the possibility that none of it will matter in the years to come. I might not be remembered; my work might not be kept by future generations. With time, I might fade away, become invisible. I’m working to avoid this fate.”
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a stitched grid of anonymous vintage photographs. At fifteen feet in length and over five feet in height, it is easy for viewers to get sucked into the lives and times of the unknown families and the days they sought to remember through snapshots. Related work includes a collection of framed, antique portraits displayed as if a family’s wall of ancestors. Each image includes a collaged phrase, such as “I Was Someone’s Mother”, “Once a Pillar of the Community”, and “The Stories We Could Tell”. Other work repurposes scraps of crazy quilts, rusted nails, celluloid buttons, plastic greenery off discarded artificial cemetery flowers, and a plethora of vintage ephemera.
Susan put herself into her time-capsule concepts by posing nude atop sprays of funeral flowers and in barren landscapes. She also used her own life-sized silhouettes as a stitched outline on sheer chiffon and suspended this floating material in front of densely collaged canvases. The resulting images make obvious the shortness of life on earth and the inevitable blur of slipping into history.
While most of Susan’s extensive stash of materials is vintage and scavenged at estate auctions, she has also incorporated more modern items. Connected, Shared, Saved is a triptych of assorted cords, cables, Internet connectors and electrical devices. The individual words have dual meanings, half suggesting a network of human relationships and half suggesting similar computer functions. Gathering My Thoughts, a mass of unwound thread in suspended baskets, also draws on word associations. “Thread” is fundamental to fiber arts but is also a word used to describe conversations, common bonds, and Internet correspondence.
Collectively, the work uses every day, found materials and explores the way people try to remember and attempt to be remembered. The exhibit is the artist’s effort to do both while admitting the likelihood of failure. Journal entries are scattered through the exhibit and include: These truths are always with me: I am a female lacking an academic arts education in a male dominated world bent on high-brow approaches to art-making underscored with critical words written by trained professionals. I am a postmenopausal woman with years of experience and mountains of visual expressions waiting to take form. I work and will continue to work because I have something to say in spite of the many obstacles. I work with the faint hope that “something”, perhaps just one little work of art, might be kept through coming generations, cherished … admired … remembered … regarded for its quality… something to mark my existence on this planet. I work because I AM NOT INVISIBLE.
Journal entry # 1
I am old … middle aged … past the days of turning heads … past days of fertility … past the days when my art might raise eyebrows in the circles of those looking for tomorrow's new, great, up-and-coming artist, the one who might shake up the world with cutting-edge work. I just work.
I ply an age-old needle pulling timeworn thread through layers of vintage fabric. I work like so many women all over the world from every century since the dawn of time. There's nothing new about a straight stitch. Repetitive … pierce and pull … hour after hour … day after day … year after year. My sewing machine hums with near constant activity. My fingers are nimble and quick. Productivity is in my blood. Finished pieces stack up on out-of-the-way shelves, begging to be noticed, ready for the vague chance to hang on an exhibition wall. I don't hold my breath. I just work.
These truths are always with me: I am a female lacking an academic arts education in a male dominated world bent on high-brow approaches to art-making underscored with critical words written by trained professionals. I am a postmenopausal woman with years of experience and mountains of visual expressions. I work and will continue to work because I have something to say in spite of the many obstacles. I work with the faint hope that “something”, perhaps just one little work of art, might be kept through coming generations, cherished … admired … remembered … regarded as “quality” … something to mark my existence on this planet. I work because
Journal Entry # 2
I'm thinking about the art I want to make, the thoughts I want to share, the anonymous nature of every day invisibility … how our earthly lives are already quietly morphing into oblivion … how we are so quickly forgotten and our possession scattered to estate auctions and yard sales.
I've collected so many old photos of people I don't know … their birthday parties, christenings, weddings, and family vacations. One big box came from a gravestone carver's family. They lived less than two blocks from my house. A few scribbled notes on the backs of the images revealed a fact or two but left me with more questions than answers. Who were these people? Why didn't the scrapbooks stay in the family?
Just last night I bought a hand-tint of four … Mom and Dad … brother and sister. There's fresh green background and hand tinted sepia faces in an old burled frame with nice, wavy antique glass. The frame has never been opened. It holds captive an anonymous family that once could afford such a pretty picture. It represents the desire to capture a memory, create a keepsake, serve as an heirloom but it ended up on the auction block. Now, for just $7.50 plus a 10% buyers commission, it is mine.
Journal Entry #3
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
The notion of anonymously going back to the earth, an invisible soul winging its way to an unseeable sky where human memory doesn't exist. All that is left is a grave marker, a feeble attempt to record a name and dates as if a lasting impression. How do we make sense of the shortness of days? How do I make art to counterbalance nature? At what point does today become invisible?
Journal Entry # 4
There are times to embrace invisibility … to walk through a crowd unnoticed … to listen and see those passing by unaware of your watchful eyes … for it is during those moments that an artist finds the creative resolve to make work with a lasting impression. I might be invisible but my work will not be.
I don't want a moment in the limelight. I don't want a weekend of visibility. I'm not looking to compare my domestic stitching skills to the DIY world of making nostalgic, artsy fluff called “craft” despite how well it might express the virtues of femininity and family legacy.
I want more.
I want to shine with a unique light from within. I want my work to stretch beyond the drivel and the ordinary day-to-day life of being a middle-aged woman. Don't get me wrong! I want to keep the very human quality of a knitting circle, a quilting bee, the after church gossip hour. I like the hands-on approachability, the tender heart, and soft touch of fabric. After all, I am a middle-aged woman. My stitches literally are “women's work” but they are so much more. They are mine.
Journal Entry # 6
I overheard a conversation or two, drifting in space over my studio wall. A talented local artist expressed her frustrations. Galleries aren't returning her inquiries for representation. Sales are off despite the fact that she's more gifted than her friends who are selling well. She has talent, a strong work ethic, good looks, money, and is promoting her work. She uses top quality materials, excellent presentation, and is professional in all matters. She's got plenty of friends and everyone likes her. She's got everything I think should guarantee success … but it isn't happening. Generally, I'd be jealous but ease dropping has its advantages. Instead of thinking, “If I had what she has, I'd have MORE and BETTER and be VISIBLE in the art world,”
I feel for her. I understand on an innate level.
Journal Entry # 7
Bums are invisible to most of us. We try to ignore them on the streets. We walk a wide berth when we expect them to beg for money. We shake our heads at public meetings dealing with the problems of the derelict and homeless populations. Bums aren't real people. They are INVISIBLE.
Yesterday I passed the library on my way back from the studio. I saw another artist walking up Assembly Street. He wore a tan overcoat and a knit cap. I thought about how he looked as if he could have come from any walk of life … a banker, an electrician, or even someone serving flipping burgers at MacDonalds. Along the same street walked the homeless from the Oliver Gospel Mission. They all looked pretty much the same. I whispered to myself, Don't judge a book by its covers.
Journal Entry # 8
Visions lurk in the recesses of my mind … at my fingertips … on the edge of dreams … just beyond reach … blurred in semi-foggy mist. There's my nude corpse atop a funeral mound surrounded by cut and withered blossoms. Impending Death wafts in an eerie atmosphere of fading beauty, ready for a descent into oblivion. I am waiting. I am anxious. The vision simmers and I'm trying to grasp it from the clutches of invisibility.
Posted by Susan Lenz at 4:11 PM
(Above: I Am Not Invisible III, detail.)
Yesterday was wonderful. I spent the entire day in the atrium at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios finishing up work for my upcoming solo show, I Am Not Invisible. The exhibit opens at the Tapps Art Center during the monthly "First Thursday" art crawl, November 7th from 5:30 - 8:30. I, however, will not be in attendance. I'll be on my way from the Washington Craft Show (Nov. 1 - 3) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show (Nov. 8 - 11). Not only will I not be at my own opening (though I will be at the second reception during December's "First Thursday"), I'm not even hanging the show. So it was important that I make sure everything was READY FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO HANG. First, I took down The Grid of Photos and installed Gathering My Thoughts. That's in "Part One". Click HERE to access. This, however, is "Part Two" ... or what I did next!
(Above: I Am Not Invisible II, I, and III hanging in the atrium at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios.)
I've been working on these three pieces for quite some time. Yesterday was the day for all the parts to come together ... for me to see my vision and plans come to life. I'm quite happy with the results. Below is how these works were made.
(Above: I Am Not Invisible I, in progress.)
First, I had my husband Steve cut and build heavy-duty stretcher bars, 72" x 36". Primed canvas was stapled into place and the collaging began. I used all sorts of ephemera. Some of these randomly selected papers came from box lots purchased at Bill Mishoe's auction house, including letters from the 1860s through the 1970s, canceled checks from the turn-of-the-twentieth century, war ration stamps, small calendar pages from 1944, achievement and government certificates, and more. Some were pages torn from my Grandma Lenz's handwritten finance books from the early 1960s. Some were ticket stubs from family trips to England and Africa in the mid-1970s. I also used old passports, anonymous vintage photos, and a wide assortment of items that could be from just about anyone's life. I bought a gallon of matte medium for the adhesive.
The results were almost perfect. This was a surface covered in time but the clarity wasn't in keeping with the concept.
It all needed several coats of semi-transparent white-washing. Watered down acrylic paint was brushed and poured over the surface several times in order to symbolically mimic the way memories fade into a distant past.
Everything is both legible and illegible ... remembered but half forgotten. Now this was perfect! Of course, it wasn't done yet. I generally work in fiber after all. I had a plan!
I wanted my silhouette to float in front of these canvases, a stitched outline ... personal but also universal ... a layer to hang between the "real time/present" of "real viewers"/the current public and the vestiges of past lives represented in the collage of ephemera. To do this, I needed my silhouette. I wanted it life sized and raw. I wanted it hand drawn. This meant going to the studio at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios and using the main gallery early one weekend morning before any of the other artists came to work! I hung a large piece of white paper on the wall. The ladder held the clip-on lamp. I had to stand on two paint cans in order to get my feet into the projected shadow. My husband Steve took a few photos (and this is the only one I'll show!) and traced my shadow, my silhouette.
We did four poses. I used three of them.
Later, in the atrium at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, I transferred the silhouettes onto sheer chiffon. I used an ordinary pencil. Each panel was stitched ... just a running stitch. Yet, I did the running stitch so that almost all the indigo perle cotton thread was on one side of the fabric ... just tiny pricks between each long stitch. The "ends" were almost a problem. The solution was to squeeze a drop of Golden's GAC 400, a clear polymer emulsion concocted as a fabric stiffener, onto the two ends ... right where they came out of the fabric. Once dry, I cut off the rest of the thread ... the ends are bond in the clear dry acrylic and can't unravel.
I stitched a strip of recycled white, acrylic felt to the top of each panel. (I cherish this white felt. Most of my recycled felt is black. It all used to be the packaging material for a canoe or kayak being shipped from a North Carolina manufacturer to River Runner, my local outdoors shop!)
Why felt? Well, in order to attach each panel to the frames around the canvases, I planned on using velcro. Even my velcro came from Bill Mishoe's auction house. I bought a load of it years ago. No one wanted it because it was only the "male" side of the velcro ... which is the only side a custom picture framer ever needs to attach moulding corner samples to carpeted display wall ... and, in this instant, the only side an artist needs to attach a chiffon banner to the top of three frames!
So ... I hung the three pieces on the atrium wall. The banner are on the floor.
I used a stool to attach the white felt to the velcro ... and PRESTO ... they are done!
(Above: I Am Not Invisible II.)
From left to right, I hung the second piece ... at least it is the second silhouette stitched. Frankly, any one of the banners can hang on any one of the canvases but I had to number them somehow! I went with the stitching, of course!
(Above: I Am Not Invisible I.)
(Above: I Am Not Invisible III.)
The collage on this piece includes my own passport photo ... from when I was just twelve years old. It is right behind the silhouette of my own head! (See the first photo in this blog post for an enlargement.) There's something very fitting about this ... about how I envision the present as a physical space in front of the artwork with the past fading further through the layers of the work. Literally, I am dissolving into time.
(Above: Detail of I Am Not Invisible II.)
There's something ghostly about these three pieces. I like it. I like how it translates all the things this exhibition is about, how it make it real, makes it ART!
(Above: I Am Not Invisible II and I, detail.)
Next, they'll be hanging at the Tapps Art Center!
(Above: Detail of I Am Not Invisible I.)
Posted by Susan Lenz at 3:34 PM
(Above: The Nature of Memory on left and Gathering My Thoughts on right. Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)
Tomorrow I'll start transporting all the work created for my solo show, I Am Not Invisible, to the Tapps Art Center on Main Street here in Columbia. The exhibit opens during the monthly "First Thursday" art crawl, November 7th from 5:30 - 8:30. I, however, will not be in attendance. I'll be on my way from the Washington Craft Show (Nov. 1 - 3) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show (Nov. 8 - 11). Not only will I not be at my own opening (though I will be at the second reception during December's "First Thursday"), I'm not even hanging the show. Thus, I've got to provide good photos and instructions for some of the more complicated hanging arrangement ... like Gathering My Thoughts. Yesterday was spent creating this installation, snapping photos, and finishing up another grouping of work.
(Above: Gathering My Thoughts ... or how it looked before I decided to expand it!)
It all started back in September. I just had to make this little piece. It was included in another blog post (Click HERE to access) and I wrote:
While working on The Nature of Memory, I realized that I still had plenty of unwound sewing thread. They are so pretty. Threads have such symbolic meaning ... from on-line correspondence or parts of discussions to the fabric of life to the many ways we are connected ... and I couldn't help myself. This little piece was totally created due to a phrase that stuck in my head while looking at my threads ... Gathering My Thoughts.
Something was wrong though. Something bothered me about it and it didn't get much feedback on my blog or on Facebook. Something was simply "off" and I finally realized that it just wasn't BIG enough. It didn't manage to capture the mass of information in our minds, the bombardment of connections, the millions of visual imagery that pass through our heads, and the complexity of memory. It was just a cute little basket with a tangle of thread. Since that time, I've been unwinding LOTS of thread ... all the old thread from anonymous stitchers whose "stash" ended up at auction ... hundreds of spools. Even my husband Steve helped while watching television. I had a plan, the materials, and an installation coming together. I needed, however, to mount it and photograph it before dropping it all off at the Tapps Art Center. How else could anyone other than me recreate this vision? Yesterday was the day.
(Above: Yesterday in the atrium outside my studio ... getting ready to assemble Gathering My Thoughts on the wall where my Grid of Photos was hanging.)
I am fortunate to have a perfect location in which to mount such work. Just outside my studio door is the public space at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios. As long as this area isn't being rented by an outside artist or art group, the resident artists hang their own work. My work, The Grid of Photos (and yes, I finally decided to just go with my "working title" ... The Grid of Photos) has been hanging on the atrium's back wall. If I took it down, I'd have an empty wall to mount the new idea. (To read more about The Grid of Photos ... and all the wonderful title suggestions I received ... many of which will likely be used for other work, CLICK HERE.)
On the floor I laid out a king bed flat sheet and two pieces of vintage damask.
Then I took down the white dowels, letting The Grid of Photos collapse onto the floor.
I unfolded the grid onto the fabric ...
... and rolled it all up!
The Grid of Photos is now ready to be transported to the Tapps Art Center. Fortunately, the executive director has seen it ... up close and very personal ... while I explained how it was installed ... because she'll be hanging it at Tapps!
Next, I placed The Nature of Memory in front of the empty wall and attached wires to three baskets ... which were then hung. The wicker laundry basket was placed below on the floor. In my mind, these two works will be positioned together in the upcoming solo show. Thus, I figured I'd take the photos with this arrangement. (To read more about The Nature of Memory, CLICK HERE.)
I'm lucky to have wonderful friends who serendipitously seem to donate wonderful fibers from the past at just the most perfect time! Carole Rothstein is one of these great friends. A couple of years ago she gave me an enormous amount of wool thread. Ever since then, I've been using this amazing stash to wrap wooden spools. I LOVE DOING THIS. Well, a couple of weeks ago, she dropped off two Olive Garden take-out paper bags full of vintage silk floss ... piles of it. I dumped the contents of one bag into the laundry basket.
Now, who can resist the sheer beauty of all these shiny threads? Just gorgeous!
The other paper bag was different. It was filled with silk floss ... but in the most wonderful vintage paper wrappers with a patent date of August 16, 1904. I googled the Belding Brothers and learned that the business began in 1860 and merged with Heminway Silk in 1925 ... so these packages had to date from 1904 - 25. This was undoubtedly some anonymous woman's stash of the finest silk threads. It seemed totally a shame to open them.
The wannabe curator in me protested, wanted me to "save" them ... just as they were ... but to "save" them would deny them from their intention, from their very purpose, from all the dreams someone had to USE THEM. They'd already been saved for around one hundred years. Almost reluctantly, I decided it was time to FREE THEM ... USE THEM ... OPEN UP THE PAPER WRAPPERS.
Believe it or not, it took three hours! The little pile on the right are the packages that easily released the floss, leaving the paper wrappers almost perfect. I did save these. I also saved several just as they were. Most, however all in the beautiful, colorful pile between the rest of the damaged paper wrappers and the laundry basket. The more I worked, the more I knew I was doing the right thing ... making ART ... resurrecting materials from the past for a new creative expression. It was a lovely three hours! The laundry basket was filled and all the fibers were mixed together ... beautiful!
Then, it was time to bring out the box into which I'd been putting all the rest of the unwound thread ... the spun fibers from hundreds of old spools!
It was great dumping them onto the floor!
It took time to tangle, untangle, stretch, and arrange all these threads into the hanging baskets but every minute was so much fun!
Now this is A LOT OF THREAD! The piece was transformed from a "cute little basket" into a full installation, a manifestation of all the zillions of things rattling around in our heads, the tangle of thoughts, the way we try so hard to remember everything but the way so many things slip away. I love this piece from ...
... the top basket ...
... to the original little basket ...
... the lowest hanging basket ...
... and into the laundry basket.
(Above: Gathering My Thoughts.)
So here it is ... without the other piece ...
(Above: The Nature of Memory and Gathering My Thoughts.)
... and here it is with the other piece ... the way it should hang in the exhibit at the Tapps Art Center during November and December!
Finally, here it is all packed up and ready to be transported! Believe it or not, this was only the first part of "my day as an installation artist"!
Posted by Susan Lenz at 2:30 PM