Monday, July 26, 2021

Beverly "Guitar" Watkins, a portrait by Susan Lenz

(Above:  Beverly "Guitar" Watkins.  Framed: 32" x 31".  Image transfer and paint on a section of a vintage blue-and-white needlepoint rug with black beer caps and beads, tacks, and a name plate.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Sometimes I just can't help myself when attending Bill Mishoe's auction.  I will leave a six-dollar/minimum "mercy bid" for items I don't need and for which I have no use and no brilliant ideas.  Such was the situation with a very large, extremely heavy, well worn blue-and-white needlepoint rug.

(Above:  The blue-and-white needlepoint rug on top of my dry mount press.)

Some one stitched it ... BEAUTIFULLY.   I don't know who. I don't know why the family consigned it to the auction house.  It was as if this rug came from Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer's Island of Misfit Toys ... neglected, unloved, cast away, holding stories of an anonymous family and a once perfect living room, almost begging for "someone" to take it home and give it a "second life".  How could I help myself?  Of course I left a six-dollar bid.  The rug was then mine.

(Above:  Ernie the Cat and the rug.)

Even Ernie the Cat seemed to know that the rug was in a "better place" ... though he had no helpful ideas for how I might incorporate it into my studio practice.  The rug sat around for more than two months before I finally cut it into the twelve, nearly square sections that made up its design.  I took the twelve pieces to my two-week art residency at the Rensing Center where I used an entire gallon of GAC 400 Fabric Stiffener on the twelve pieces.  Sure ... I was mentally chastising myself for the expenditure.  I'd just poured over $80 of an acrylic medium over a six-dollar mercy bid and still had no idea how I was going to use any of it. I had to trust my "bleeding heart".  Something would come along to make sense out of all this!  

(Above:  Photo of Beverly Watkins by Bill Blizard.)

Well ... something did happen! When it did, I knew in an instant exactly what to do and how to do it!  My friend Dolly Patton, the new executive director of the Arts Center of Kershaw County, contacted me for a solo show!  It seems that the visual arts exhibition space needed a show to coordinate with the annual and upcoming Carolina Downhome Blues Festival in Camden, South Carolina.  Dolly asked if I would bring one of my first installations, Blues Chapel, to the Arts Center.   Of course I would!  

(Above:  Two steps in the Photoshop manipulation of the image.)

There was a caveat: The show needed to pay homage to one of the festival's most important, previous performers ... Beverly "Guitar" Watkins.  Thankfully, Dolly had already secured permission and a high resolution image from photographer Bill Blizard.  I went to work immediately ... eliminating the background ... sizing the image for the needlepoint rug, applying the "cutout" filter, and flipping the result so that it would appear correctly when transferred to the needlepoint surface.

(Above:  The black-and-white photocopy lathered with matte medium and positioned onto the needlepoint rug ... which was also coated with additional matte medium.)

Even though the Photoshop work took less than an hour, the preparation of the rug took a week.  Every day, I brushed on a new layer of acrylic medium.  Some days, I managed two coats.  In all, at least nine layers of matte medium went onto the stiffened section of rug.  The layers of matte medium built up the surface into a nice, flat, evenly spread plane ... perfect for an acrylic-to-acrylic photocopy transfer.  Both the over-sized print and the rug were finally covered with matte medium and pressed together.  When totally dry, I also flattened it in my dry mount press.  This made sure that there were no bubbles between the layers.  The ink was fused into the acrylic.

(Above:  Starting to rub off the excess paper.)

Then the fun began!  All the excess paper was rubbed off.  While this might sound ideal, the results rarely are perfect.  Some of the ink does come away with the paper.  Some of the gray tones didn't show up well against the needlepoint.  Yet, it was enough of a transfer to allow me to over-paint the entire figure in black and shades of gray.  Then, I added the gold metallic halo.  This halo was also part of the Arts Center's request because all twenty-four of my Blues singers in Blues Chapel do have gold halos.  To me, the halo is a symbol for the disadvantages faced by female blues singers:  racism, sexism, and a once disreputable music industry.  Yet ... they kept singing and sharing and making a better future for the next generation.

(Above:  Beverly "Guitar" Watkins, in progress.)

After applying the halo, I beaded the rim and added accents, black beer caps on which I placed silver star sequins and another bead.  Finally, the piece was ready for its unique presentation.  I painted a wide stretcher bar black and filled it with acid-free foam-centered board.  The artwork was glued in place ...

... and literally tacked to the wooden stretcher bar.  

 (Above:  Detail of Beverly "Guitar" Watkins.)

I am very, very pleased about this piece.  It fulfilled the unknown reason for buying the needlepoint rug in the first place.  It is honoring a Blues icon.  It will be in a show this coming October!  I still have no idea what will become of the other eleven pieces of the rug.  Perhaps nothing ... but at least "second life" did happen in a beautiful Bluesy way!



Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

a wonderful portrait of a blues woman guitarist - and nice to see Ernie, he's looking bigger - and as for the needlepoint rug, it's time will come again...

Anne Godwin said...

Perfect! Blue rug. Blues player. I think you could make anything play well together. Love the halo. You did it again...

Linda Laird said...

Absolutely MAHVELOUS! You should see how many bearded iris rhizomes I took home from our annual iris sale today, because I couldn't bear for them to be thrown away! I understand your "mercy bids" completely. Linda Laird

Pam Noble said...

I'm obsessed with mixed media & image transfer and this is one of the coolest pieces I've seen! Even the story behind the components you used and the theme of the exhibition beautifully honor Beverly. Well done!