For sometime now I have been struggling to get myself in the studio on a daily basis. Recently I came across Keri Smith's morning collage experiment which I'll guess may have been inspired by Julia Cameron's morning pages, and it struck a chord with me, so jumped on the band wagon and began my own collage series, just to make sure I am working on something daily. Just moving, trying not to get too attached to the outcome and that freedom has been a good thing, I wondered if I shouldn't keep it hidden for a while longer, but so far I really like it and I can see progression with in it already. Generally I use whatever is in arm's reach or little bits I've collected during the day: newspaper clippings candy wrappers, street debris. I'm prepping an altered book and the waxed paper separating wet sheets are making an appearance too. Here's the first batch beginning November 28:
Here's where I started the pastel self-portraits
This experiment is a direct result of the two above, but I find it to be more of a painting.
In other news:
With my altered books, I like to glue 3 or 4 pages together and then gesso them, insert wax paper in between and press overnight, when I return then I peel off the waxed paper, sometimes the waxed paper peels away without protest other times it peels off the first layer of words, which I happily encourage.
These are some of the pages of a book I kept specifically for bed drawings and collages. I began with the first collage below on Valentines day, and continued on. There are two books bound dos-a-dos, with about 80 something drawings. The pages are 7" x 9". Click on them if you'd like to see them larger.
This week I've been doing a little bit of figure drawing in my sketchbook. It has been ages and I am sorely out of practice. It is an odd sort of fumble when I begin to draw figures again, looking for shapes and my hand trying to remember the feel of it. I practiced a bit of guerrilla drawing while Tommy was sleeping, which is fairly safe except the drawing ends abruptly when he moves. So eventually I moved on to drawing portraits. My first few attempts were either timid, fussy or impatient, the third self portrait is rather comical, tight facial features and huge jaw. I pretty much grasped it by the fourth attempt.
(re)calling, graphite and gesso, 15" x 6"
This past weekend I heard a radio program that touched me very deeply. The segment was about a Ukrainian songcatcher who records the stories women tell her through song. Some of the songs can be very old or the singers may tell their own personal stories into song weaving in metaphor, myth, and magic to relate the depth of their feelings. The periods of singing could last for hours and hours. Over time some of the spirits that dwell within the culture were sung about, one kind were the domovi house spirits, and another being the Rusalka, the spirits of women who died unjustly or very young, perhaps, unmarried women, women who died in childbirth or drowned. They are sort of nature spirits which can be benevolent or malicious, and one week a year women conduct rituals to appease the rusalki and to avoid natural disasters. Part of the week includes visiting the graves of family members and singing songs to them giving news of the present and and reminiscing about the past. Each woman in the procession has her own melody so the sound becomes a crowd of individual stories some filled with the poignant new grief of recent loss, or occasionally with the bitter words of a widow married to a long dead abusive husband.
As the Ukraine modernizes and the new generation turns to the radio for it's music, this practice is swiftly disappearing. It doesn't help that some of the some of the women interviewed were survivors of Chernobyl, a place that had a history rich with stories of rusulka and as a result these women are unable to perform the rusalki rituals in the place of their ancestors. The loss of a place once again marks the beginning of a loss of the culture.
Mariana the songcatcher also mentions that in the Ukraine the best singers are witches or fortunetellers. The word for witch meaning "the one who knows" how to heal and protect. She tells how at the age of nineteen when she traveled about listening to the songs of women, and one woman sang about Mariana, capturing her essence in song.
I am deeply interested the the ideas of women's personal stories told through song, and then mixed with ideas about reading one's essence, magic, and spirits, I am giddy. This tradition has such resonance for me as I used to sing in the woods that I explored as a child, sometimes my own heartaches, sometimes in nonsensical words, and then it has a connection to the work I've been making all along but especially to the drawings I made after my mom died. The drawing at the top is one of a series of bird drawings I began after my mom died. They all sing telling the stories I couldn't find the words for.
The program is about an hour long, but I highly recommend you to listen to it at thestory.org. The research led to a group based in San Francisco Kitka to make a CD based on these musical traditions. You can listen to two songs here. I am still absorbing the information, researching Russian folk spirits and trying to figure out what it means to me today.
A little note about process- this piece is hand built (as opposed to cast) with plaster. I started out making small plaster sketches, using wire, threaded rod, cheesecloth and plaster. The wire was shaped before mixing the plaster, and then the sketch worked with the initial batch of plaster until the plaster hardened. These sketches became Daughters. There are some detail shots of Daughters here.
For the large sculpture, I welded together an armature with steel rebar, then built up layers with styrofoam, burlap and plaster. Once a bucket of plaster was mixed, the session lasted until the plaster completely hardened, about 45 min to an hour. Usually the process began with a bucket of plaster freshly mixed into which burlap would be dipped, and wrapped around the form. As the plaster thickened it could be used to glue" pieces of styrofoam together, and then smeared around to fill in gaps or build up certain areas, as the plaster hardened further and began to cure some areas could be scraped smooth or filed away. If there was any time in between sessions I'd have to soak the piece down with water so the new plaster would adhere to the old without cracking off.
This method of building is one of my favorites because an element of spontaneity is retained even working so large, plus it's fairly affordable. A one hundred pound bag of plaster costs less than forty dollars at a building contractors supply store, the styrofoam blocks were free, and the rebar was pretty cheap as well. One of the down sides is the sculpture is not outdoor hardy, if I coated it in resin, or an polyurathane it may be okay, but I haven't tested it because I like the surface of raw plaster. The other problem is Bone Mother is quite heavy, probably 135 pounds fully cured and dried, which means it was much heavier as it was made. I spent weeks putting one sculpture together, and right at the very end it collapsed because my armature couldn't hold up the weight, it wasn't rebar and I didn't use much styrofoam. So I had to start from scratch, such heartbreak. . . except the reincarnation is so much better than the predecessor.
After a number of years, owning my scanner it wasn't until today that I finally figured out how to scan slides, I just assumed it was an awful, horrible scanner that lied on the box, but in fact it does quite an nice job, sorry scanner. Sometimes I wonder about my intelligence. It still takes awhile because I have to correct them in Photoshop, but anyway I've been scanning old work. Here is an old drawing from my first year in college. This drawing made my mom cry with pride, so it holds a special place in my heart. . .
I have always collected natural artifacts, from the moment I discovered pockets as a toddler to just this past weekend when I added a fist full of acorns from Georgia to my dad's old tool box turned cabinet of curiosities. I think as a result I have always found Joseph Cornell's work interesting in part at least because he too was a collector. I imagine his little basement studio filled to the brim with his curiosites and notes on life, celebrities and nature, and oh I wish I could poke around a bit.
Someone brought to my attention that the SFMOMA is having an exhibit of Joseph Cornell's work. Unfortunately it's much too far away to visit, and I am rather disappointed about it, but to tide me over while I mope, they have a great (if slightly slow) interactive website for the show! I am very excited to be able to see some of one of his early altered books. Check it out here. If you wish to see the book, go to the site and click on the bottles and then on the orange.
The site mentions the concept of curiosity cabinets as well:
From the 1500's to the 1700's, European royalty and affluent individuals often gathered an array of art, illustrated texts and maps, coins, scientific devices and natural specimens to create"cabinets of curiosities." Dense arrangements in drawers, chests, and glass fronted cases in private chambers suggested a collector's highly personal view of the cosmos in miniature.
How does one define the "highly personal view of the cosmos" as evidenced by collections? What do my collections say about me? At certain times in my life when I feel most lost, I attempt to find my bearings through the impossible and somewhat ridiculous task of mapping out my life. Elaborate lists, statements and mind maps fill pages and pages. I mine sketchbooks and childhood memories. Searching. Where is the thread? What are the themes? How am I, I? Eventually the chatter exhausts me and I stop. Usually I pull valuable reminders from it, but mostly it is overwhelming. Later I laugh at myself. "Personal view of the cosmos" is such a neat and tidy phrase. Yet the deeper one looks a tangled mess it becomes. When I am not looking to lists and maps to find my center or the way forward, I find a partial maps sit on my shelves in in my drawers, in the form on my little collections of objects. If I sit still and admire them they reveal themselves to me such quiet little whispers I barely hear and yet they speak, softly, calming, here listening isn't so tiresome.