Sunday, June 28, 2020

Raft/Ship of the Medusa/Fools

If  I decide to output this as a digital print, it could possibly resemble this jpeg.


 I had this idea last August to make a pile of people like I had made a pile of snakes. So I generated a quickie "collage" in photoshop using old figure drawings and let it sit there until about two weeks ago.

This is the quickie collage.
Two weeks ago I finished my large piece and thought I would take a look at some of my ideas which sit in waiting on my hard drive in a mislabeled file called "Current".  I had an urgent need to work on this idea--even though lately I have been less figurative. You know what I think?  I think that when an artist has an "urgent need" to make something, they should listen to that voice.

The original painting "Raft of the Medusa" by Theodore Gericault, depicts the survivors of the wreck of the ship Meduse.  Read about it here!  It's a painting I have adored for a long time and I do not wish for anyone to compare my piece to that one as I am not capable (nor all that interested, to be honest) of that type of painting.  BUT, I did think I could contribute to the genre somehow.  (Of which genre do I speak?  Why the "shipwrecked on a life raft as a metaphor for life" genre.  That one.)

First: I did an actual pencil drawing with PENCILS.  I am sure you remember them. At this point, I have, like ten ways of drawing.  I doodle in ballpoint.  I mess around in Photoshop.  And I do the occasional meticulous pencil drawing. Please note: meticulous pencil drawings are NOT a necessary step in the stained glass design process.  You can make windows out of scrawlings on napkins if you so desire.
The pencil drawing looked like this:

Real pencil drawing!
Then I input that drawing into Photoshop by scanning it which was a P.I.T.A. because my scanner is 12" x 14" or something.  So I had to seam the thing together, but no matter--its not that hard.
And yes, Virginia, this will be a stained glass window someday, or that's the plan. I am thinking a black and white grissaile, assembled with lead, my favorite metal.  However, I tweaked it an that might end up looking something more like this:

(do me a big favor and picture a raft below them)
Apropos of burning urges, I wanted to do it in color too.  That entails separating each figure into a single Pshop document and "painting" it--in Pshop.
Which looked like this (once they were compiled):

Yes, I did love paper dolls as a child!
But that's not all! I should mention that when I first drew it, lightning struck and I had the sudden desire (and yes, this too felt urgent) to make it an endlessly repeating block.  This is not something that one can have a digital platform just do for you with the click of a button (or if there is an app for this, I don't know about it!) So, first I needed to make more figures:
The new figures were drawn on a separate page and put together in Pshop.

A note on the figures.  Yes indeed, if you are some sort of compulsive follower of my work you will recognize almost all of these characters from older stained glass pieces.  It amuses me to pretend they are real people who left my pieces, continued with their lives and perhaps at some point planned a reunion on a cruise ship where they could reminisce and relive the trauma of my having exploited their non-existent lives in one of my "Perils of Pauline"-style artworks.  Only to all get shipwrecked together and to re-appear in another window.  Cue evil laughter on my part: MUUHAHAHA!.  There's "Child Bride", "Persephone", "Sin Eater", "Andromeda" (who is now a POC) and some of the characters from "The Battle of Carnival and Lent".

As for the subject matter and why it might resonate for me at this moment?  I will let you decide if it does and how and why it does that.  Suffice it to say, I was pretty concerned with any attempt by ME to represent "HUMANITY"....but, I decided to try anyway. Its one of the more presumptuous parts of the artist's job description.  Plus, there's this irony about figurative art that ensures that it will always upset, offend, outrage people (which I think explains a lot about iconoclasm, a topic I would like to take a deep dive into at some point). Why is this?  Because figurative artists only have two choices and they both kind of suck.  Represent one's own self or represent The Other (any and everyone else who is not them).  I have always tried to dodge this catch-22 with what is a semi-viable third option: imaginary people!  But this piece is supposed to be human-kind.  So I had to depict people other than my own proxies.  I will sum this topic up by pointing out that humanity seems currently to be a writhing mass of fear, despair, confusion, rage and discontent.  As an artist, I hope, actually to present a venue for contemplation which is safe, "nice" to look at (or perhaps better stated that I deliberately provide aesthetic incentives for looking) and maybe a little humorous.  Not that there's ANYTHING funny about what we are contending with right now--because there  really isn't.  But art hides behind its fourth wall and the artifice is one of its best strategies to sneak into your consciousness and give people a platform to make actual change.  And aesthetics, including beauty and humor encourage active and sustained engagement with a subject that can be otherwise unbearable.

So, back to the technical hoohah: making it repeat sounds simple but its not--it took days on end actually.  So finally,  here it is: the perfect wall paper for your powder room or home abattoir.

Color version repeated four times

Black and white version repeated four times

Some details of my favorite sections

The Stockholm Syndrome section of the piece.

Character in this section include "Persephone", "Icarus" and the wresting guys from the lower left panel of "Battle of Carnival and Lent"

Monday, June 15, 2020

New piece

 Scroll down for written stuff.  Or just enjoy the pictures!

Title: “Over Our Dead Bodies”, Size 40" x 60" (approx)
Stained glass

So, this is an image of all the glass parts but its not actually assembled yet as I need a rebar frame made before it gets soldered together. But this is what it will look like.

I started working on this piece several years ago (that is true for all of them--there's a long lage between inception, conception and ejection)   I wanted to work with the "tree of life" idea. Who doesn’t enjoy a good “tree of life” image?  Apparently close to everyone!!

In the past few years, my work has been drifting inevitably towards something.  I am less interested in the female character which I am known for and the “decorative motifs” which occupied the background are coming into the foreground.  Now I feel I could have predicted this as for years the background was equally important to me as the foreground and as time goes on, its pressing the human figure out entirely. 
Why has this shift in my work happened?  Does anyone care?  Well, I am only speculating here but 1. Change is inevitable in any artists oeuvre.  Narrative, figurative, realist artists might get less so and vice versa.  2.  I am less interested in talking about me personally.  Those female characters were never ME, but boy, did I identify with them!  Now, I am older, and I have had time to grow weary of my own drama.

So, for the past few years, I have become increasingly interested in pushing the flora and fauna forward.  I made a black and white rough draft of the “tree of life” idea a while back, alongside pieces such as “Wild Life”, “Sky Life”, “Cross Pollination” (and these pieces grew out of “Anchoress” and others).  A “tree of life” seemed a logical extension of the idea and something worth exploring.
But what of the preponderance of excellent cultural examples?  What was I going to bring to the conversation?  Ugh, I hate artistic accountability!

Ever since the election in 2016, many artists shifted their focus to a more activist stance, for obvious and righteous reasons.  Although I would never claim to be a political artist, my work began to subtly address environmental issues.  “Beached Whale”, “Immigration Policy”, “Murdered Animal”, “Cross Pollination” for example.  As I worked on the tree of life image, it rapidly became about climate change.

I began calling the piece “Over Our Dead Bodies”.  That was intended to suggest what life on this planet will be like after humans die off.  Even though I feel a certain ambivalence towards my species, I have nightmares about the end of human-kind.  The upside is that our catastrophic meddling with the ecosystem will stop.  One way to see “Over Our Dead Bodies” is of a spectacularly vivid, lush resurgence of animal and plant life.

Then, along came the pandemic to provide the perfect frame of made in which to contemplate these ideas whilst the piece was actually being created. Taking long walks around the city I could see how fast nature begins to reassert itself!  It was pretty amazing and this in only a few weeks!  I saw a Downy Woodpecker!  An Ovenbird!  Kestrels! A Common Yellowthroat (not common in the city!)  There was noticeably less bus exhaust, clear azure skies, etc.  Will we take this lesson home after the pandemic? I sincerely doubt it.  But the respite was profound.  And it informed my piece.

I decided any tree of life worth its salt would most assuredly reflect its origins in the soil.  Although it’s pretty hard to discern, the underworld section has a “branch” pattern which is similar to the tree above.
A tree of LIFE must be predicated on the entire life cycle, not just the living part. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Ladies of the Pandemic

A few weeks ago, I wanted to say something profound about art and hope in the time of the pandemic.  I wanted to say how in times of fear and uncertainty we prefer a "certain type of art" (call it "beautiful", I do!) over images of chaos and rage, which we are getting enough of from real life, thank you very much. I wanted to say something interesting about how we are refocusing our time and creativity.  I wanted to say a lot of snarky things about how much pressure there is to even be creative and how hard that is when one is frightened...etc etc...but?  The feeling has mercifully passed!  I changed my mind about writing all that stuff--too much work!

I have been taking a lot of walks. Often I am really paying attention to birds and nature.  I saw a Downy Woodpecker and an Ovenbird!  I see a lot of lovely spring plants.  Sometimes it looks and sounds (no smell with that damned mask on) almost like being in the woods.

But I also see evidence of human artistic activity.  In South Philly, there are a lot of homes with displays of objects in the front windows.   There are potted plants, vases of live flowers, even more vases of fake flowers. There are just plain vases and ewers all by themselves. There are children's drawings. There are lots of Marys and Jesuses and angels and cherubs.  And lotsa lotsa  figurines: wild animals, domestic animals, gnomes, cute animals and humans.  I got particularly interested in the regular females.
As I took pics and as I did so, some parameters arose.  For example, I wanted them to look enclosed behind glass, so the reflections were important (I AM a glass artist after all!).   I broke my own rule and included a Madonna because the way the refection cut off her head was just too good.
I'm no photographer, but it was fun.  And the top photo was hard to take because she's behind plexi, not actual glass, so apologies for the poor quality.

So here's my photo essay I call; "Ladies of the Pandemic"


Saturday, August 31, 2019

The New York Times Declares Stained Glass Ressurected. Rejoice. Or Don't.

Uh, it appears we are saved at last. Prepare to celebrate.  Or not.

Last week an article appeared in the “Style Magazine” section of the esteemed New York Times.
Under the rubric of the “Traditions” column, the headline read: “The Divine Resurrection of Stained Glass.”

Before I write another word, I need to issue an enormous caveat.  Here goes: I was really ticked off that the article didn’t mention me.  Yup—it insulted my big ol’ ego. Now, whining and moaning because a writer hasn’t heard the good news about how fabulous I am is pretty obnoxious.  So, I will say I have another horse in this race. I am someone who has devoted their adult life to working in the medium.  I have 35+ years’ experience as a maker and educator in the field. And while grand mission statements always seem ex post facto to me, I would say I had several intentions all along my journey, one being to exhibit stained glass as an art form and another to innovate the medium technically,  and yet another to create awareness of ancient media as perfectly viable vehicles for contemporary messages.

So: what about the article? Fasten your seat belts, here comes a rant.  First off, I like Nancy Hass’ writing style (with the exception of naming colors like the R and D department of a lipstick factory. What’s with that?) She has a way with words.  It was her “facts” that got me.
What a strange take on stained glass history!  It felt more than a little bizarre.  For such a short piece, Hass takes a deep dive right back to the Medieval, but really only to set up a lineage which is inaccurate and bizarre, to say the least.  Yeah, she probably got paid bupkis but just a little research might be nice.

“Though ubiquitous in churches since the High Middle Ages, when stained-glass windows taught the congregation Bible stories through imagery, it waned with the rise of unadorned Protestantism in the late 17th century. Morris made panes fashionable in the houses of the Victorian era, in shades of aquamarine, Kelly green and tangerine, to filter whatever sun could be found — a literal and figurative embodiment of enlightenment and, too, a canvas for his medieval motifs.”

There is increasing scholarship that disputes the “learning Bible stories” as the purported function of stained glass  (Thank you Rona Moody who cites Madeline Caviness).  As someone who has been to more than a few cathedrals, I will say, the impact of stained glass is far more than its narrative.  It’s more like a gut punch from the impact (abstract) of streaming colored light into a dark space. I know I can’t speak from a Medieval point of view, but it seems like common, human, bodily sense. And while it is true that stained glass waned with the rise of Protestantism, there was a lively secular tradition from the 16th c. onward. 
Did William Morris bring it back from the dead?  Ya know…I know Morris and Co. did a lot of stained glass, but I don’t really think of him as spearheading some kind of stained glass movement specifically. He didn’t really innovate the medium so much as apply his personal style to the same ol’-same ol’ execution.  It’s nice stuff, but hardly radical. It is true however, that the Arts and Crafts Movement revived stained glass.  Christopher Whall, Charles Rennie MacIntosh and Charles Connick might be more appropriately credited, although Morris is important cuz he’s an Arts and Crafts bigshot.
Hass goes on to cite Tiffany (but not LaFarge!!! And most definitely not Harry Clarke) and Albers and Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. Another set of odd choices.  Not wrong exactly, but it feels like cherry picking. Where is Chagall? Or Matisse? One of the weirdest thinks about her history is that it’s sort of global, sort of USA.  (Her later case for her weird roster of revivers would make more sense if she just ignored Europe altogether!)  Hass’ history ends right there with the declaration: “but by the next decade [1960’s], stained glass came to be regarded as nostalgic Victoriana or hippie-ish kitsch. Contemporary art and architecture, wary of ornament and beguiled by monochromatic minimalism, had no use for it.”  Well…..let's see about that.

That history ignores what I think is the most important period of stained glass history since the medieval, and that is the post- world war European works by such giants as Schaffrath, Schreiter, Meistermann in Germany (check out this wonderful video by Sam Halstead!). The tradition I arise from was founded by Hans Gottfried von Stockhausen in Stuttgart and continued by many including my teacher Ursula Huth. It wasn’t nuthin’! Then there’s the UK…the amazing John Hutton and John Hayward and John Piper )…there are so many fantastic post war artists from the UK. Some even not named “John”!

I know what you’re thinking!!!  “But the author is right—who are those people, Judith?  If they were so significant why didn’t they make a splash in the art world?”  I do not disagree with the author’s subtext that stained glass became less important over the centuries. It has and for a variety of interesting reasons—none of which are that the work itself became crappier (although in every single art medium ever, there is plenty of crap if you are looking for it and stained glass seems to have produced a lot.  I have said in print before, it’s a medium that promises a lot in terms of message, transcendent experience and beauty and when it disappoints?  Man, does it disappoint!  It seems to “kischify” easier than oil paint for some reason.) 
I think it might be an interesting Masters thesis to write about why art, which we see as “sacred-ish” and “profoundly meaningful” and “intellectual” is deeply tied to the latest technologies (as opposed to ideologies) of its age.  Because in the age of microprocessors, the internet and space travel, I think stained glass damn well should be understood as yesterday’s news.  Yes, I SAID THAT.  I didn’t say it was irrelevant for that reason, or shittier or less worthy of respect…. it’s just old, technology-wise.  And that’s a solid fact.  If you are going to love stained glass, don’t pretend it’s something it’s not…it’s not nice to love someone for who you want them to be.  You must love them for who they are!  As it happened when stained glass first came to prominence it was the wildest, most advanced technology of its time.  As Nancy Hass says about William Morris’ work “a literal and figurative embodiment of enlightenment”—yes Nancy Hass, the Abbot Suger supposedly said in the 12th c.  “Stained glass is enlightenment embodied” and in 1100 it WAS just that!
It makes sense that if enlightenment is in disrepute, stained glass is going to suffer and morph into kitsch.

Anyway, Hass, has set up the scene for a “resurrection” …a word I always hear as “res-erection” because to me, seeing an old art form as somehow irrelevant or dead, further, to understand art at PROGRESSING to ever more avant garde forms of  avant gardishness  is to have a concept of time, art and progress that is very OEDIPAL and yes, phallic.  Its big and tall…not very wide.  It’s all  y axis, no x axis. Its all expansion economics, no contraction.
(Aside: technology progresses.  We have vaccines, computers, space missions now.  We didn’t have those before now.  But art?  It has not improved a single iota since 20,000 BCE.  Nope.  Not a bit.  But ya know what?  That’s an awesome fact.  Think about it and rejoice!  Art has illustrated Einstein’s theories of time. Again I eagerly await the thesis on the relationship of technology to art's "progress".)

Hass’ list of res-erectors are, like the rest of the article, truly strange choices.  We have the famous contemporary artists who have made (dabbled in) windows.  Kehinde Wiley and Amir H. Fallah.  This list ignores such luminaries as Kiki Smith, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polk, Judy Chicago, Wim Delvoye, David Hockney, James Jean and probably some more I am forgetting.  Never mind the implications of not fabricating the work (and how you can’t innovate a material if you’re not touching it--you can only apply modern thoughts to it), I like some of these folk’s work but I will say, as someone with a horse in this race: for the most part, like Morris and co. they just apply their jawn to the medium without “revolutionizing” it.  Take Wiley:  his work, to my mind, uses the trope of stained glass as a signifier of “the sacred (in European culture)” and does this with a Jedi-mind trick of replacing the expected characters with new, unexpected ones. Fine idea, but the glass was fabricated in the Czech Republic in the most pedestrian way possible. I think it sucks, personally, as stained glass.  Presumably, he doesn’t care about that so take what you will from what I say.  I love Amir H. Fallah’s work though—fabricated by the artists at Judson Studios (who also worked with James Jean).

Then there is the truly bizarre inclusion in the article of what I can only guess are her Instagram friends.  Not terrible work but hardly exemplars of revivalists, innovators or res-erectors.  A mobile made of beveled prisms?  Not the worst thing in the world but puh-leeeze…its hardly 360 joules to the heart of stained glass.  Hass seemed to focus on designers—but hey: she missed the stained glass car guy, Dominic Wilcox!  And the stained glass water tower guy, Tom Fruin!
Here’s something the AGG or the SGAA could and should write an article about: the insurgent DIY stained glass movement which has its main venue as Instagram.
You know: I think most of that work isn’t quite ready for prime time—but I love that young people are loving stained glass and it seems they are doing it in droves.  This is an awesome thing!!  And it is a thing!  Its even trendy!

So, what’s missing from the article?  Artists who work in stained glass themselves and work in such a way as to innovate the technology and the message simultaneously and in concert with each other.  And my burning question: is Brian Clarke really “the lone voice for stained glass in the art world” for the past 40 years?  WELL, KILL ME NOW!!!  I have one thing to say and that is the word NO.  No, he’s not. 

Love 'em or hate em'  a brief list of stained glass movers and shakers off the top of my head would include JeffZimmer, Glenn Carter, Sasha Zhitneva, Rick Prigg, Marie Foucault Phipps, MaryClerkin Higgins, Troy Moody, Angela Steele, Pinkie Maclure, Tim Carey, Narcissus Quagliata, Helen Whittaker, and I know I am forgetting a bunch.  I am trying to get into my studio so I am rushing this off.

Nancy Hass, I wanted to love your article but all the above notwithstanding, how can you end with the Clarke quote that compares glass to plastic (even if he does mean the celluloid of movie film)?

And now I am going to take a few deep breaths and go back to my studio.  Thanks for listening!!


Monday, July 15, 2019


"Efflorescence", 31" x 41"
Looking at this as a finished piece, it looks like I just blorted it out effortlessly. But what a pain this one was!  And that's true for lots of human made stuff in this world--it looks easy peasy fait accompli-eezy once its done, but actually what appears to be a graceful gesture is more of a chaotic, inelegant rasslin' match. So here's a peek into the sausage factory.

First of all, I had the figure completed in glass about two years ago and it was sitting awaiting resolution.  As I am wont to do, I was hoping something would just dawn on me and I was hoping that this something would: 1. be fantastic to contemplate 2. be fantastic to look at  3. be above and beyond anything I have ever done before 4. Do justice, complement and otherwise work with the existing figure in terms of "stylistic execution" (for lack of a better term.)

Of course, despite all these grand intentions and conditions, I had NO CLUE WHATSOEVER what form any of them would take.  And that, in a nutshell, is why I think intentions in art are wack. Intentions, ideas...we all have them and they are all just wonderful until the rubber hits the road...and then, suddenly POOF!
I forget, remind me what the Buddhists say about expectations? (No, seriously, I remember!)

The face that launched a thousand snits
The source of all this agita was that I actually liked the figure I had made. This is always a recipe for disaster.  If I had felt more neutral or if I had even disliked the figure, I would have felt freer to be daring and experimental, after all there's nothing to lose and nothing to live up to.  The problem with achieving good results is that they demand more good results and the instant that becomes a condition of art making the whole process becomes very difficult psychologically speaking because now risk is dangerous instead of fun.
One of the weirdest things I had to do to make this piece happen was make a SECOND head. The reason for this is that I was convinced I would not do right by the first one....anyway, you may see her again, in other words.

So, while I said above that I hoped the "perfect" solution would just spring wholly formed into my brain complete with Ikea instructions, that isn't what happened.  What happened was I swam a lot of laps at my dad's apartment in San Diego.  Every lap I swam I thought about how to resolve the piece.  Is she falling out of bed?  Being attacked by a bear?  A wolf? Next to a pile of snakes?  In an abstract background?  What is she thinking about?  Is she an "annunciation"?  Is she falling?  Cringing?  Fearful?  Waking up? Just sitting there?

I tried really hard to have her be in a boat.

Here's an idea...or maybe not
As I swam, my brain trotted out all the known possibilities.  And that's the problem.  I already knew them...because I had, for the most part, already done them before!
Of course, if I knew the unknown possibilities, I would be psychic, such is the nature of unknown-ness.  But that's the whole game in creativity isn't it?  How to generate something new and different out of the ether into material form.

Well, I have said a lot about how I didn't resolve the piece and here's a sad but lucky and awesome fact: I can't tell you how I did resolve it either, because I was, indeed, blessed with an "aha"moment.  It was so brief I have no clue how to analyze it.  All I know is that I was, in fact, drawing and working on the piece (in Photoshop) when it happened. I wasn't swimming...all those laps for nothing!!!!  Please take note, creative types: I waited over two years for this to happen and was basically constantly on the lookout.  Dunno if that helped or sabotaged me,  but its a fact.

Despite what I said about newness being important this idea is not new-new.  I have dealt with barf many times before. That's probably because I am terribly phobic of vomiting.  I have also dealt with flower barf before.  I have certainly done a LOT with birds!  But there's all sorts of standards for newness and originality and this fits my "new enough so I can sleep at night" criteria. 

So, when I had my epiphany, I had been following the lead of  having the figure in a dark space reacting to a visitation of a large bird, like of some sort of "annunciation" (of what I do not know).  I have a lot of terrible thumbnail sketches most of which don't exist anymore. My last piece, "Sky Life" had the motif of birds carrying flowers in their mouths, so, being lost in the realm of "what I know" I considered repeating that motif, when BAM!  Instead of holding the flowers in order to transport them, I  thought, the bird should be crapping the flowers!  And then BAM!  No!  Not crapping but barfing! 
And I saw the sine curve that defined the trajectory of the spew.  Such a NICE LINE!  And that was that. Except, yes, I could use some Ikea instructions.  I always feel like a rank beginner when I make this stuff!

Ultimately, I can say that when I look at this piece as an observer myself, it is an image of a bird vomiting a really nice looking post Renaissance bouquet on a female figure in such a way as to somehow anoint her.  The vomit has an "ejaculatory" quality...its a come shot of sorts and all that might imply, so yes, its true to the idea of an annunciation!  What it means to me is to be showered in something beautiful that should be per usual, if your meaning differs that is a delightful thing.

Yes, I DO love Dutch still lives of the 17th c!
Three more things:
1.  A friend inform me that when a bird really, really likes you, it regurgitates on you in the manner of a mother bird feeding its chicks.  I did not know that when I designed the piece, but boy, does it ever fit the them for me, so I am claiming it as part of my inspiration, retroactively.
2. I named it "Efflorescence" because efflorescence refers to both a disgusting, frothy excrescence that erupts from dank basements but also implies some kind of flowering action.
3.  The cut line, (or solder line, if you prefer) that spans the upper third was something crucial to my excitement in making this resolution.  To me, it feels like an audacious stained glass design thing to put a honking big, obvious sine curve RIGHT THROUGH the area of interest!  I found that oddly satisfying.

Technical notes: as per usual, the image is carved into the flash glass using hand tools, some plugged in and some not. There is also black vitreous paint fired on and silver stain and some pink. 
Three layers of glass comprise the background.  Lambert's Red on Clear 1001 r/clb, St Just 221 blue flash and Lambert's Au/cl.  On the red layer we have stencil black vitreous paint and silverstain. There is some pink cold paint--some of which I believe I actually removed from the blue layer as why bother?  I have the aurora!
Layers comprising the head.  See the other caption for glass used.