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I have a hard time referring to the three dimensional artworks I create as sculpture. “Sculpture,” in my mind is synonymous with Bernini. Flesh and emotion expertly hewn out of marble. My work is more like building. Constructing.

No matter the designation, I find this three-dimensional creating immensely satisfying. My thought process is different, more expansive, than it is when I am drawing or painting. I have to think of all the angles the object can be viewed from. I think about physical voids and empty space. I get to figure out what raw materials will work best for what I am trying to build. I love that some materials submit gently to my manipulations, and that some resist. I also find the fact that the work takes up space, that it actively occupies, gratifying.

I finished my latest construction, Excerpt #11 Reactor, two weeks ago and brought it, along with two other pieces, to Toledo last week for Gallery Project’s upcoming exhibition, Re:Formation. The patterns on the sides of the base are derived from photos of the buttons and dials on the walls of nuclear reactor control rooms. I used glass beads to represent the beautiful cyan color of a nuclear reaction.

Excerpt 11 diag 1Following is what was involved in the building of this piece:

This structure is composed of birch plywood (1/4 inch for the top house-shaped part, and 1/2 inch for the base). I buy sheets of plywood at Lowes or Fingerlee Lumber. My husband, Matthew, cut the boards for me on his table saw.

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Assembly of various sculptures. Tops for both Reactor and Red Stag. The City is on the right. The City originally had an island associated with it, but I abandoned that idea.

 

I used Titebond III wood glue for plywood assembly. I sealed all the plywood with Golden GAC, then gessoed the sealed wood. (3 coats of regular gesso for the base and interior of the top, and 1 coat of regular gesso followed by 2 coats of sandable hard gesso for the top’s exterior. I used sandable hard gesso on the outside of the top to achieve a very smooth surface.) I painted the inside and outside of the top, and the outside of the base with 3 coats of black Speedball ink. I buy my inks at Blick and through Ziller. The roof is attached to its base via glued square dowels (hardware store purchase).

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Glues, ink, gesso and GAC

The top of the sculpture is completely separate from the base. The two pieces are held together with 4 aluminum cubes that have SETA Big Bumps on two sides – one side of the cubes stick to the top, the other to the base. I purchased the cubes at my local Alro Metals outlet store, which has a retail shop full of off cuts. I love to go there and look for materials.

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SETA Big Bumps, aluminum cubes, plywood

For this sculpture I used carbon steel wire and copper wire. I buy wire at various local hardware stores, building supply stores and The Bead Gallery. Carbon steel wire has a mind of its own and is very springy. I coiled it around itself to create the interior wire ball, then threaded dowels through the wire ball. I glued the dowels to both the roof and its cube. Then I wrapped more carbon steel wire around and through this top house shape. I drilled holes in the base, poked the carbon steel wire into the holes and bent the wire ends inside to anchor them. Then I wound the wire around the base. I wrapped copper wire around some of the carbon steel wire. This both held the carbon steel wire in place and evoked a less static feel to some of the wire. There are glass and brass beads (purchased at The Bead Gallery and on Etsy) threaded onto some of the wires, both the wire ball inside the top and outside the structure.

I created a paper pattern and used it as a guide for drilling divots into the sides of the base, then glued brass beads and inert brass primers into the divots with Weldbond.

For transporting, Matthew constructed cradles for the base. The base, along with the plinth for The City, rode in our car roof box. The top of Reactor, The City, and Excerpt #6 rode in the back of our car. As The City is too tall to sit upright in the car, Matthew constructed a surface for it so it could ride at an angle, clamped in place.

After delivering the sculptures to the gallery space in Toledo, I re-assembled Reactor and adjusted its wires.

The space Gallery Project has rented for Re:Formation is gigantic — an abandoned department store with super high ceilings and massive pillars. Gallery Project was still planning out the show when I delivered my artwork and nothing was placed or hung yet, so my sculptures looked a little forlorn. We will transport the sculptures to the exhibition’s second location in Ann Arbor after it closes in Toledo.

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The Toledo space for Re:Formation

Re:Formation
Toledo: August 1 – 30, 2016 Opening Reception August 5th, 2016, 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Ann Arbor: September 9 – October 16, 2016, Opening Reception September 9th,, 2016, 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Bloodline

I have to admit that I’m more excited than I thought I would be at having artwork in the background of a single scene in a TV series. And yes, I fast-forwarded through every episode of the second season of Netflix’s Bloodline to find my paintings.

My artworks’ five-second cameo came about when the set designer for the series licensed one-time use rights for three of my paintings through Box Heart, the gallery I work with in Pittsburgh. The artworks used on the set are digital reproductions as the filming was done in Florida. In my fast-forwarding I found two of the three. I could have missed the third, or it could be used in a later filming, or it may never be used.

One-time rights licensing isn’t terribly lucrative (Box Heart bases the fee on a percentage of the retail value of the artwork and I share the proceeds with the gallery), but it’s great to have my art out “working” for me. Is this a good thing? Does it make the original less valuable? More valuable? I don’t know. I do know that right now this managed licensing is one of the ways I can benefit from the art I create beyond selling the original.

And it’s really fun seeing my artwork on TV.

Image above: screen shot of Part 21, Season 2 of Netflix’s Original series, Bloodline. Artwork pictured: Station and Bloodlines.

Xi

Xi Wexin at the UMMA, from Instagram #umicharts

This past week I went to see the exhibition, Xu Weixin: Monumental Portraits, at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. All of Xu Weixin’s paintings at the UMMA are about 8 x 6 feet, hence the Monumental of the title. On exhibit are paintings from two of Xu Weixin’s series: Miner Portraits, and Chinese Historical Figures 1966-1976.

Some of the paintings from the Chinese Historical Figures series are hazy and out of focus, some sharply defined. The Miner paintings are a little more loose and painterly than the monotone Chinese Historical Figures paintings. All the paintings are devoid of background. At first blush all the artworks have the feeling of photography.

I have dismissed artwork that feels too much as though it is merely a copy of a photograph. I’ve also dismissed artwork that is big just to be big. I have to admit I was expecting both from Monumental Portraits. But the Miner Portraits and Chinese Historical Figures are neither. Close-up, with the brushstrokes and thickness of paint evident, the portraits begin to feel off-balance, reflecting the forgotten lives of the miners and the turbulence of the cultural revolution. This feeling of off-balance in Xu Weixin’s artworks, coupled with their size, seems to amplify the paintings and the stories they tell. It makes the subjects of the paintings and the lives they lived seem close and hugely real.

This exhibition is atScreen Shot 2016-05-07 at 4.01.36 PM the UMMA until May 29, 2016: Xu Weixin: Monumental Portraits, February 20–May 29, 2016

 

 

 

Village

Village, 28 x 46 inches, Acrylic Ink on 140 lb Fabriano HP, 2013

This spring a new Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse opened in Ann Arbor and their architecture/design firm purchased three of my Lost Empire artworks for one of the restaurant’s dining rooms. A couple dined there at the end of May, saw my artwork, and subsequently purchased two different paintings from the same series. This is all really wonderful, and I could write about the serendipity of these events all day, but this isn’t about serendipity. This is about the couple requesting more information about my artwork in general, and more details about the specific paintings they now owned. They were pleased when I told them I’d send them a written narrative to go along with the paintings.

I am always thrilled and flattered when someone wants to hear about my artwork, but I find talking about my art difficult. If the talking is impromptu I tend to ramble and repeat myself, and, although I’m OK at giving prepared talks, I find them daunting. Writing about my artwork is much easier for me. No rambling or forgetting a salient point. In this case it gave me a chance to think and write not only about my art in general, but also about two particular paintings, one being Village. Here’s a paragraph from the Village narrative:

At its core, Village is an imaginary portrait of a single hillside. A tightly built town nestles in the shadow of a walled fortress, itself in the shadow of a ghostly, ancient cathedral. Time progresses; rural houses and viaducts give way to apartment buildings, factories and urbanization. Skyscrapers reaching to the top of the picture plane are specters of a city far in the future. Wallpaper-like orange flowers from a past nobody remembers float carelessly by. On top of everything are the flora, fauna and citizens that inhabit this hillside, (now, in the past and in the future); alternately blissfully living together and aggressively attacking each other as they move from birth to death, transforming themselves and the environment on which they exist.

And so is Village as interpreted by me. But that’s my narrative of my artwork, and although I like when someone wants to know my thoughts, I’d rather my artwork not be tied solely to my interpretation of it. Sometimes what others see in my artwork surprises me, and is as interesting —if not more interesting — as what’s in my head. I love when someone finds my artwork intriguing and creates a meaning for it all their own. So even though I was thrilled to write about Village in detail for its new owners, I hope they let the painting inspire its own narrative for them as well. And I hope it inspires new interpretations and new meanings for anyone else who sees it hanging in its new home.

Photos of my artworks in Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse here(News from May 2015)

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I didn’t think I could be so enraptured by ordinary plastic bags.

I saw Compagnie Non Nova’s performance of Afternoon of a Foehn this past weekend at Skyline High School’s black box theatre as part of my UMS Residency. The performance is essentially a one-man show. The single performer, channeling a character akin to Dr. Frankenstein, or maybe Geppetto, creates, interacts with, and then destroys, a flock of graceful dancing puppets each constructed out of a single plastic bag. The creator is silent; the story is told with the sound of wind coming from from multiple silver floor fans and a soundtrack based on Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

The performance is mastered chaos — each fan controlled to create an airflow which allows the bag puppets to twirl, float and wrestle with each other and their creator in a confined space. Sometimes the puppets skate together along the floor; sometimes it seems as though they are tying to escape by floating up to the ceiling. Sometimes they seem to attack each other. Their creator moves with them, allowing them to dance and fight until they turn on him, using the wind that animates them to envelope and smother him with their bodies, making him so angry he destroys them all. The audio track ebbs and flows from sublime to sinister, the bag puppets go from charming to vindictive, the single, silent actor, ghost-like and imperious — all this in a home-made wind vortex.

The story itself is maybe a little too obvious and heavy handed, but not often do you see an audience of adults and children alike slack-jawed at something so seemingly simple (myself included). And when the creator makes all the puppets jump into an open umbrella…. that moment is truly magical.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Ann Arbor Michigan right now, there are more shows this coming weekend (February 19 – 21, 2015). Otherwise I hope this show comes to you someday!

Read more about the performance here. More about UMS here. 

This weekend I attended two very different performances as part of my UMS residency. The first, Companie Marie Chouinard, performed Gymnopedies and Henri Michaux: Mouvements. The second was a concert by the Mariinsky Orchestra led by Valery Gergiev, which played three different pieces, a Shchedrin Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in b-flat minor (with Denis Matsuev at the piano), and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Marie Chouinard was very modern and challenging, Maiinsky Orchestra was very easy to like with exceptional playing of traditional and very recognizable work. The Mariinsky Orchestra had both protestors, encores, and multiple standing ovations. The Marie Chouinard dancers provoked lots of Bravo!-ing, had a scattered standing ovation, and took several bows.

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Compagnie Marie Chouinard

Marie Chouinard’s Gymnopedies begins languidly, with the dancers emerging nymph-like and naked from canvas pods, then morphs into a seemingly non-stop riot of movement and role playing that was sometimes so sexy it was almost uncomfortable and sometimes so childishly silly that the audience didn’t quite know whether or not to laugh. The Henri Michaux piece brought movement up to another hyper level and was reminiscent of a dance contest gone too far. The dancers, mimicking the projected ink blots of Michaux’s Mouvements, expressed the drawings in broken, jagged lines, with an awkward jerkiness that was softened with a fluid, serpentine beauty. The otherworldliness of their emergence in the beginning gave way in the end to a sweaty, muscular humanity. Both pieces held my attention through a mix of different emotions and reactions. The music was both familiar and understated, in regards to the first piece, and difficult but magnetic and very present in regards to the second piece. The movements of the dancers were gracefully beautiful but their movements also sometime bordered on ugliness. The performances both challenged and enticed me.

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Valery Gergiev Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images, for The New York Times

Before entering the hall for Mariinsky, I was given a flyer by a person protesting the orchestra. Last weekend I read the New York Times’ interview with Gergiev. I know a little about the situation in Ukraine, but don’t know as much as I should. Reading neither the flyer or the Times interview really enlightened me as to Gergiev’s personal views or the views of anyone in the orchestra. But what I have heard and read about Ukraine was in my mind at the concert and I’m sure it tainted my experience that afternoon. I found myself easily distracted: by others’ coughing; by the sparkly purse under one of the musician’s chairs; by the patent leather shoes of one of the violinists; by the satin stripe on the tuxedoed leg next to me; etc., etc.; and I was distracted by own thoughts about Ukraine and Putin, and my wondering about how the musicians I was watching feel about Ukraine and Putin. I greatly appreciated the precision of all the musicians. The music they played are pieces that are easy to love; all very recognizable and traditional (although every time I hear the Tchaikovsky I am reminded of the pool scene from Harold and Maude). Matsuev’s piano playing was masterful, but I think his physicality while playing makes him seem more masterful than might be otherwise. He’s as much a performance artist as a pianist. They all played beautifully. They were solid, sturdy, and precise, exactly what I expect from a world-class orchestra and soloist, but not deserving of standing ovations, not at this time in history anyway.

I am not sure where I’ll go with own artwork, if I go anywhere, after seeing these two performances so close together in time and so far apart in every other way. I did some preliminary sketches after watching Compagnie Marie Chouinard. I’ve included one here. We’ll see.

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When I started trying to interpret superposition, the second performance I attended as art of the UMS Artist in Residence program, I knew I didn’t want to just draw depictions of the imagery I saw: sound waves, morse code dots and dashes, graph lines and tiny steel marbles; I wanted to try and draw the impressions, thoughts, and sound memories I went home with. It wasn’t easy; the first few drawings I worked on in the days right after the performance consisted of marbles and grids, and lines that played off each other like sounds waves. So I walked away from the whole thing for a while and came back to the project this week. After some distance I was able to abandon the stubborn visuals and think more abstractly about the concepts I’ve been contemplating since the performance: obscurity and chaotic precision. Unfortunately most of my sound memories are lost. The crystalline, bell-like tone is there, and the loud pulsations; the rest of the sounds I remember very vaguely. Some things are too fleeting to retain. But maybe that too is part of what Ryoji Ikeda has been trying to tell me.

Below are the drawings I worked on this week, Diffusional Complicity and Above Below.

The next performance I’ll attend isn’t until January. I wish it was sooner!

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Diffusional Complicity (ink on toned Strathmore paper)

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Above Below (ink on Fabriano 300 lb HP paper)

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