Friday, April 19, 2019

Where Did the Week GO? Oh yes, it went into ART!

(Above:  Cigar boxes collaged with decorative papers, vintage ephemera, antique prints, and cancelled stamps.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

When I came to the Osage Arts Community (OAC) in Belle, Missouri, part of my plan was to sort through some of my stash of found objects and assorted paper.  At nearly sixty years of age, it is high time I make some decisions about what I am really going to use, what ought to be thrown away, and what would be better off in the hands of another artist.  All this stuff had POTENTIAL, but for me, the word 'potential' is almost a stigma.  'Potential' in and of itself is not art!  Materials never used waste any potential.  They might as well be thrown away.  So, I've been sorting through boxes of decorative papers, vintage ephemera, antique prints, and cancelled stamps ... collaging them onto a collection of old cigar boxes.  I have forty-five of them in progress.  (More about this ... just scroll down!)

(Above:  A foreign exchange student from Cordoba, Argentina who visited OAC and volunteered for the first fitting of The Red Carpet Dress.)

Although I'm quite capable of spending every waking hour making art, I often need to switch from one project to the next.  This week found me doing several things, including a fitting for The Red Carpet Dress.  This recycled red floor covering from last November's Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft show is a work-in-progress. It is headed to an August 31st runway fashion show with ecoFAB Trash Couture.  I am relieved that the dress actually fits a person. I now have a workable plan to replace the problematic back zipper and ideas for finishing the back. 

 (Above:  Altered Cross Stitch. The Route to an Enemy's Door.)

Every evening I've been stitching on another, altered cross stitch.  This vintage embroidery was donated by a friend.  She back it with cotton batting and added seed stitches to the original border.  I placed it on linen, added my twisted phrase, and densely quilted the two together ...

  (Above:  Altered Cross Stitch. The Route to an Enemy's Door.  Detail.)

... with hundreds and hundreds of running stitches over the entire surface.  This work integrates old to new, creates great texture, and unifies the hand of three different people!  I am already working on the next piece.

(Above:  Painted Wonder Under drying on the studio floor.)

In anticipation of two Wisconsin workshops, I painted almost an entire bolt of Wonder Under. 

(Above:  Using the paint dregs.)

I even pulled a print-on-fabric from the ceramic plate used as a palette, let the rim of the plate dribble onto watercolor paper, and pull the brush into a few gestural marks.

But now to return to the cigar boxes! I am not finished with any of them.  There's still more to do while mentally thinking about containment and containers, about potential and waste, about working outside my comfort zone, and about my own TEDx talk, Precious: Making Plans for Your Precious Possessions.

In my TEDx talk, I tell a short story of a lady who gave me her grandmother's doilies.  I tried to refuse but the lady said, "If I give them to you, they might become art and I won't be guilty for never using them and having no one to leave them to."  I then suggest that some things are better off with someone else ... that by giving away your precious possession, you might actually be saving them from the fate of being forgotten, wasted, unused.
 (Above:  My OAC studio table covered in vintage and antique images ... all clicked and ready to be used!)

This is so true ... but it also got me thinking about my own stash of "potential".  I have saved so many things while thinking, "I could use this for art some day."

Yet ... when is that day?  What is the plan?  When will "potential" turn into the promise of reality?  During these past weeks, quite a lot of it happened.  I've given away pads of pre-primed canvas paper, images I deemed to large to use, and some of the cigar boxes.  I've thrown away more paper than could fill an industrial sized trash bag.  I'm putting into action some of the potential I've stored untapped for years.  It's been as rewarding as it has been both mentally and creatively challenging.

It was hard to start.  It was hard to be a rank amateur at collage techniques and figure out the best ways to cover so many surfaces.  It was hard to keep personal demons at bay ... the voices heckling from the back of my mind trying to say this entire project was folly.

Every day gets easier.  Every day sees fewer and fewer items on the studio table and more complexity and joy on the boxes.  Every day I am caring less and less what anybody else might think about the results of this activity.  Below are more photos along with some quote that relate to "potential" and the need to act on it.

“Potential has a shelf life.”
― Margaret Atwood

“But as long as something is never even started, you never have to worry about it ending. It has endless potential.”
― Sarah Dessen

  “Potential," I said, "doesn't mean a thing. You've got to do it."
― Charles Bukowski

  “You know what talent is? The curse of expectation.”
― Stephen King

  “Potential doesn’t mean shit if you don’t get off your ass and start working.”
― Rishank Jhavar

“There is nothing sadder in this world than the waste of human potential. The purpose of evolution is to raise us out of the mud, not have us grovelling in it”
― Andrew Schneider

  “It takes drive and focus to move from potential to reality.”
― Amy Leigh Mercree  (I really like this one!  Just google for the antonym of 'potential'.  You'll find words like 'actual', 'existent', 'factual', and 'real'.) 

"Creation is bringing potential into being, bringing inspiration into action. Inspiration and action are nothing when they are apart. Inspiration feels like a great a wondrous thing, but if it is not manifested, it is as if it never existed." ― Kristi Bowman

  “Dreams become regrets when left in the mind, never planted in the soil of action.”
― Auliq-Ice
“One of the most terrifying things I fear is not my potential, but how much regret I’ll die with should I never use it.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

“You are given the potential to excel, whether you do or not is entirely up to you.”
― Steven Redhead

“Anyone who has ever achieved anything has been a steward of his potential.”
― Chris Matakas

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Virgin of Guadalupe Triptych

 (Above: The Virgin of Guadalupe Triptych.  21" x 22" x 5". Free motion embroidered and hand beaded digital image on fabric in a collaged wooden triptych.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

This was once an inexpensive, Made in China, wooden triptych mirror, perhaps meant to assist a girl in applying make-up.  I bought it over a year ago at Bill Mishoe's auction despite the fact that it was so obviously new merchandise from a low-end, big box store, something without much character or any suggestion that it had ever been used much less treasured.  I bought it because it was a triptych.  All triptychs attract me.  I see in them the basic structure of so many beloved Renaissance paintings.  I couldn't resist this one but then never used it ... until now.

 (Above:  The Virgin of Guadalupe Triptych, detail.)

Thinking back, I don't know why I grabbed the triptych and put it in the cargo van while packing for this art residency at Osage Arts Community.  I just did.  I had no plan for it beyond the vague idea that these two months in Missouri were supposed to function as a time to sort through boxes of ephemera and determine what I was going to keep, use, give away, or throw away.  Perhaps, I brought the triptych for the simple reason that a decision needed to be made ... and I made the decision last week to use it.

  (Above:  The Virgin of Guadalupe Triptych, detail.)

Also, I didn't realize that this image of the Virgin of Guadalupe got packed.  It was simply among other digital-images-printed-on-fabric that I needed.  After unpacking my supplies for this art residency, the image and the triptych happened to be put side-by-side ... almost as if begging for me to put them together.  Once the decision was made, the work went very easily.  It took several days to collage the wooden structure, allowing different surfaces to dry in order to move on to other parts.  The machine stitching went very quickly.  The beading only required a day.  The words are always with me, parts of Hail Mary, a traditional Catholic prayer for intercession. 

  (Above:  The Virgin of Guadalupe Triptych, reverse.)

I'm not entirely sure the reverse is finished.  Perhaps another prayer? But if so, which one?  I don't know yet and I don't have to know.  The important thing is that the triptych was transformed from an unused, unloved, ordinary, cheap item into a work of art.  That's one less item in my stash of "found objects" that went from "potential" to "promise".

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Puebloan Architecture

(Above:  Puebloan Architecture.  12" x 12".  Digital images on fabric with self-guided, free motion embroidery and hand stitched/blanket stitched binding.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Late last August my husband Steve and I went on a "Western Adventure" to explore Puebloan ruins in various National Parks and Monuments in the four-corners area.  I blogged about it HERE. I took hundreds and hundreds of photos, including many details of textural architectural elements.  Later, I had several printed on standard cotton by Spoonflower, a company specializing in this service.  I intended to make two quilts, but only made one.  (CLICK HERE to see Leaving the Pueblo.) Until yesterday, I did nothing with the cross-section tree and masonry images.  Then, I got another email reminder about the upcoming SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) annual charity auction.  It did not take me long to design a pleasing arrangement.  Within two hours, I had the piece stitched.  Before going to bed, I had the blanket stitch around the perimeter and the sleeve attached.  This morning, I photographed the work, submitted the information, and received my confirmation email. This afternoon, it will go into the mail.  Some things take a long time; this didn't.  Perhaps this was because I so loved being on ancient grounds under wide open summer sky and surrounded by the aura of a wild landscape!

Friday, April 05, 2019

Zophia and the Boa

 (Above:  Zophia McDougal and The Red Carpet Boa.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

It's not really like me to wait more than a week before posting on my blog, especially when I'm at an art residency where all day, every day is "studio day".  There are reasons.  One is the fact that I have spent over twenty-four full hours using the Alliance of Museum's website to research potential places to exhibit my Feminist To Do List.  Alphabetically by state, I visited more than nine hundred museum websites, reading mission statements (to see if my work fit the venue), looking for submission guidelines (or a sentence reading, "We do not accept unsolicited proposals"), and trying to locate contact information for a curator.  If successful, I sent my cover email with the PDF attachment.

This was a tremendous amount of work.  My reasoning is simple: I cannot expect a curator to pick my work for a show if he/she has never heard my name or seen anything I've ever made.  An unsolicited proposals is a long shot, but occasionally it works out.  For all I know, several curators might have opened my PDF. For all I know, one of them might remember my work in the future.  A friend of mine whose job is non-profit fund-raising said that the national average return on unsolicited fund-raising efforts is only 1% ... but it is still done because occasionally it pays off big.  Amazingly, my results are already there! I'm expecting a contract from a museum in Iowa!  I'll announce the show as soon as I sign the paperwork!

 (Above:  Red and The Red Boa, arranged in circles in the Osage Arts Community Gallery.)

The other reason for not posting sooner is that much of my time has been spent making a boa for The Red Carpet Dress.  This spun polyester material is like a thick, very stiff, non-woven interfacing.  It was used at last November's Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show to line all the aisles and the entire entryway.  After the show, maintenance crews were hauling it off as trash.  I rescued a small section (roughly the size of my parking lot!)   

Last month, I spent a total of four days making what was supposed to be a boa but ended up too large, too heavy, and much more like a biomorphic abstraction than anything anyone would ever wear.  I decided to call it Red.  I blogged about it HERE.  Because I still had so much of the material left, last week I decided to make another attempt at a boa.  This time, it worked!  (Plus, I managed to use all the remaining red carpet material!)

 (Above:  Red and The Red Carpet Boa, lying side-by-side in the Osage Arts Community gallery.)

When arranged in circles, they don't look too different, but when elongated, it is easy to see that one is smaller and more manageable to wear.  Luckily, one of the other Osage Arts Community resident artists was willing to pose for me.  

Zophia McDougal is a talented visual artist with a degree from the Kansas City Art Institute and a poet whose poetry zine, What We Face Walking Out the Front Door, is available on Amazon.  We took the photos yesterday and almost everyone of them turned out well.  Zophia is very photogenic!
 (Above:  The Red Carpet Boa in progress.  Half the strips are cut into quarter-inch widths.  Half are not yet cut.)

Although The Red Carpet Boa is technically smaller, it actually took more time than Red to make.  They are about the same length.  Thus, they have close to the same number of individually cut-and-folded strips stitched to an interior red rope.  What makes the boa smaller is the length of these strips.  After attaching the strips (three connecting stitches and one slip stitch around the three to "bundle" the group and allow the strip to move in any direction), I cut the strips length-wise into approximately quarter inch widths.  It took just over six hours to do this final cutting.     

So ... I finally made a boa!  It will be part of my recycled fashion ensemble at the ecoFAB Trash Couture runway show on August 31st at the Tapps Art Center in Columbia, SC.  I haven't yet finished the dress, but I've got time.

 (Above:  The Red Carpet Boa in progress, a detail of the strips.  Half have been cut length-wise into quarter inch widths.  Half are waiting to be cut.)

I'm really happy with the way this piece turned out!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Gift of Time

 (Above:  Cigar boxes in progress.  Key contact areas have been sanded away using a dremel and then painted ... to allow the lids to close after collage elements have been added.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I absolutely love art residencies.  They are a Gift of Time.  Every morning after I get up, make coffee, check email messages, and write my "Morning Pages" (a eleven+ year habit developed by following Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way), I have one thing on my "To Do" list:  MAKE ART.

This two month residency with Osage Arts Community has provided time to explore.  I have no idea whether altering all these cigar boxes will amount to anything or not.  I'm pushing through the struggle to collage so many surfaces.  (They are cubes, after all ... with six interior sides and six exterior sides!) I'd like to instantly be a "master" at collage techniques but I'm really only a beginner.  Being at an art residency almost means forcing myself to practice what doesn't come perfectly naturally.  I have the time to learn.  I have the time to think about potential concepts: Confinement but now also the notion of a secret place inside or even an inviting safe harbor.  The more I work, the more gets accomplished ... inside and out ... of me and the boxes.

I also had the time to start and finish an art quilt for an upcoming invitational show.  Unfortunately, the requirements include "not sharing" the work until later this summer.  Let's just say that this project would have taken more than a month if I were at home.  At an art residency, it took only a week.

 (Above:  Altered Cross Stitch: Some Things Never Change.)

This past week, I've spent all day, every day with the cigar boxes and art quilt.  But, the evenings are different.  I've been altering vintage cross stitch pieces.  Last winter I bought several at Bill Mishoe's auction.  They were all in cheap, skinny black frames ... a typical presentation for works made from pre-printed fabric kits dating to the late 1950s to 1960s.  I removed and washed them but then set them aside.  Why?  Well, there's a story!

In April 2014 I had the honor of presenting a workshop Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One of the participants had a selection of these vintage cross stitches and asked how she might use them.  A thought immediately occurred to me and I made that suggestion:  Cover them with your own stitches!  Make the work about then & now; past & present; old & new ... a collaboration with an anonymous maker in hopes that both are remembered in the future.

As soon as I voiced my encouragement, I also felt a tinge of regret.  I had just given away an idea that would have liked to do. I answered honestly with an action plan coming straight from my heart ... and appropriately for a workshop called "Second Life".  I know that a good teacher really should give generously.  I did.  I also thought that once I had given away an idea, I couldn't act on it myself.  I had GIVEN IT AWAY.  I rationalized, "Susan, there's not enough time in a single life to do all your ideas anyway ... just think up another idea".  

 (Above:  Altered Cross Stitch: From Dusk to Dawn.)

I resisted the idea until last winter.  At the auction, no one else wanted the sad stack of pieces.  I bought them for a total of six dollars.  Still, I couldn't bring myself to use them until this art residency approached. I knew that I would need a hand-stitching project (or two or three or more) for every evening.  These were perfect.  I stitched Some Things Never Change even before I left ... to make sure it was something I would like to really spent time doing.  I loved it!

Of course, I had to change the idea I gave away ... a little bit!  I decided to mount the pieces on a larger piece of linen and add a contemporary phrase.  My original idea expanded to include new comments on the old sayings or even a twist on the original intention.  Time allowed my idea to germinate, to expand into this approach.  Time is also necessary to accomplish this much handwork on this small amount of fabric!  Thankfully, an art residency is "the gift of time".

 (Above:  Altered Cross Stitch:  I Love Everything.)

After couching my phrase, I started dense running stitches with a tan wool thread.  To highlight the center, I added off white perle cotton to the outer edge of the vintage piece.  It's been so much fun.  Every night here at Osage Arts Community, I've been stitching and streaming episodes of Nurse Jackie on Netflix (a show I had never seen).   

 (Above:  Altered Cross Stitch: I Love Everything, detail.)

And now the rest of the story!

I am still in contact with the lovely lady from Arrowmont, the one who owned a collection of these vintage cross stitches, the one to whom I gave away my idea!  She took my suggestion and added batting to the backs of a few and rice stitches to the edges ... but did nothing more.  Like me, she set them aside.  Then amazingly, she sent me part of her collection!  I'm guessing the time was needed for the project to germinate into this series. I can't wait to add my work to hers.  This is going to be so much fun. 

(Above:  The gift from a friend ... given at the perfect time ... during a gift of time.)

Moral of the story:  What you give away might come back in ways even better than what was released!  THANK YOU my friend for a little miracle!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Dremel Saves the Day

(Above:  Selfie with a dremel tool and wearing my carbon filtering ventilator mask.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Well over a year ago when I first applied to the Osage Arts Community, I sent a proposal to transform my giant collection of vintage household linens into a soft enclosure called The Cocoon.  I sent the same proposal to the Rensing Center, got the opportunity last summer, and created the installation.  (To view the South Carolina ETV segment covering this project, CLICK HERE.) Then, I got accepted at OAC.  I notified the director that I had already accomplished my proposal.  Thankfully, this didn't matter.  OAC considers an art residency a pure and unrestricted "gift of time".  For these two months, I can do anything ... or nothing ... just relax, think, rejuvenate, dream up new ideas for latter, eat well, and sleep late into the morning. 

 (Above:  The back of my cargo van ... as it was packed for this adventure.)

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I don't "do nothing" very well.  I am trying though!  I'm trying to "slow down", take walks, listen to soothing music, read, write longer stream-of-consciousness journal entries (already a daily practice ... but a relatively short one!), and actually cook pretty meals.  (I don't generally do "food preparation" at home!) I've opted for more hand stitching and less free motion embroidery.  I'm also trying something new.

Because I drive a cargo van, I decided to fill it up with all sorts of things collected in my studio and in other places all over the house.  Most of these boxes are filled with antique books and magazines, decorative paper, handwritten letters dating to the 1920s - 50s, antique scrap books and vintage photo albums.  I love this stuff.  I've always seen "potential" in them, the potential of being transformed into art, the potential for collage, the potential for renewal.  Yet this year marks my sixtieth birthday, a landmark occasion and time to realize that I might never use these precious material ... especially those stored in boxes for years without me even rummaging through them.  It seemed high time to deal with this stash of "potential"; use it or lose it!  This art residency has provided the time to sort through and make decisions about these things.

   (Above:  Four boxes filled with empty cigar boxes.)

Not only did I bring the paper goods, I brought four boxes of empty cigar boxes.  I bought them for less than $40 at Bill Mishoe's auction ... because they had POTENTIAL for collage ... because along with vintage paper, I adore boxes.  It seemed high time to address this idea even though I've never really been much of a collage artist (other than gluing clipped letters in "ransom note" style!)  So I started.

 (Above:  The first thirteen cigar boxes.)

The first few days found me sorting through the boxes, deciding on "what stays", "what is given away", and "what is to be thrown out". I'm happy to report that the cargo van will not be as full on the return trip as it was in getting here.  I gave away "potential" to another artist here.  I respectfully disposed of things I deemed no longer to have "potential".  I am now starting to use the "potential" I kept.  It's been more difficult than I imagined ... trying to figure out how to best approach to the number of sides on these assorted cigar boxes.  It's been hard not to be firmly planted in a larger concept, a solid reason for covering these boxes.  It's been difficult to "just making them pretty" without a good reason why.  Generally, I am driven by a statement not just the desire to engage in a process, a technique.  I'm trying to embrace the exploration, the random selection of materials, the slow pace, and an intuitive way to work. 

Of course, a problem occurred.  The boxes wouldn't close properly when paper and matte medium interferes with the tight fitting lids.  The solution was obvious:  a dremel tool.  Thankfully, Osage Arts Community has one.  I tackled all the boxes I'd started and then sanded away the key areas on all the remaining boxes.  It took almost a full day.  I wore my carbon filtering ventilator mask.  A dust mask would have worked but didn't have one of those!

 (Above:  Detail of the first thirteen collaged boxes.)

A little paint to a few areas without collage and a little wax over the acrylic medium, these will be done.  I'm already feeling much better about how to tackle the other boxes.  I hope some sort of concept comes to me if I just keep moving forward ... something about "containment" but much more likely something about "potential".  If "potential" isn't developed, it is doomed to remain a wasted opportunity.  My entire art residency seems like "potential".  So does the rest of my life.  At sixty, it is likely wise to evaluate the paths I can pursue in the days ahead ... because it is impossible to follow all the potential paths.  Hopefully, time to relax and a slower pace will help me decide what options to choose in my creative future.  As for now ... just the boxes.  Filling them will come later.

In the meantime, the first signs of spring are starting to pop up here in Belle, Missouri!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Red, a biomorphic abstraction

(Above:  Red, a biomorphic abstraction placed in a circular arrangement.  Flexible dimensions. As shown:  48" x 48".  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I started out to make a boa for The Red Carpet Dress. I've made a boa before (2013).  It was for the Pantyhose Dress, another garment made from recycled materials.  The earlier boa was made from recycled packaging felt.  The red carpet remnant from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show is similar to felt.  I thought it would work pretty much the same way.  It didn't.

(Above:  Red.  Approximately 78" x 16" x 16". Recycled red floor covering from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.)

This spun polyester material is much stiffer.  On one hand, it made is super simple to cut. I just had to rip a pair of scissors up 18" wide lengths ... hundreds of times. On the other hand, it made it harder to stitch because the mass wasn't particularly flexible like softer, thinner material would have been.  Once started, however, I couldn't stop.

(Above:  Me holding up Red beside The Red Carpet Dress, a work in progress, and the remaining roll of red carpet flooring.)

Each 1 - 1 1/2" strip was folded in half.  The fold was tapered to about 1/2".  Each piece was then stitched to a red rope ... three straight stitches for connection and one slip stitch around the grouping.  This process took time but allowed for every folded strip to move in any direction.  After stitching all the folded strips to the rope, I carefully cut the lengths into narrow sections ... each one about 1/2" wide.  Still, the material remained stiff.

 (Above:  Red, detail.)

If the model selected to wear the Red Carpet Dress is willing, it can still be an accessory.  Yet, it is heavy and not particularly "boa-like" ... fantastical, over-the-top, bigger-than-expectations, a show-stopper ... but not really a drapery piece clinging to the shoulders!  In my mind, I can see the impression this over-sized boa would make walking down a runway and being pulled back behind the model on her return.  Yet, this might not work!

 (Above:  Red, a biomorphic abstraction.)

I knew of this problem very quickly but I also saw potential for this work to be a stand-alone creation.  Within an hour of the start, I could sense that the piece was taking on a life form, not a particular creature but assuredly the suggestion of an abstract being.

 (Above:  Red, detail.)

It wasn't long before I was researching the word "biomorphic".  I've heard it often and thought I understood what it meant ... and I did!  Borrowing from the Tate Museums website: Biomorphic forms or images are ones that while abstract nevertheless refer to, or evoke, living forms such as plants and the human body.

 (Red, elongated.)

The word "biomorphism" come from the Greek word "bio" (meaning "life") and "morphe" (meaning form).  Yet, the art term doesn't actually mean "life form", as in a REAL life form. It means that the object exhibits the appearance or other qualities of a living thing.  The term was coined by Alfred H. Barr, an art historian the the first direction of NYC's Museum of Modern Art, in 1936 in an exhibition catalogue.  Barr defined biomorphism as, “Curvilinear rather than rectilinear, decorative rather than structural and romantic rather than classical in its exaltation of mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational.”  Well ... that's Red.

(Above:  Red, detail.)

Red took four full days to stitch but I think it was worth it.  I'm toying with the idea of submitting it to juried opportunities, not as a boa but as a biomorphic abstract work in and of itself.  (Although it is not lost on me that elegant, feather boas take their name from a snake, a definite life form!)