Saturday, July 2, 2022

Passengers

 "Passengers"   32" x44"

Detail

another detail

Separated layers

  More separated layers
Even more separated layers
I experimented with combining the layers in differing configurations

As you can see from this example, there are a few possibilities to choose from
or this example...

“Passengers”

Who doesn’t look at the kings, queens, and jacks in a deck of playing cards and wonder about their design? Well, I certainly did from the moment I saw them! Later, I came to recognize their Gothic origins—mainly from looking at the page in Owen Jones’ “Grammar of Ornament” and recognizing the distinct stylistic tendency to put a recognizable, readable human face and hands into a very diagrammatic abstract setting.  This is something I have been interested in…forever.

Also, intriguing was their topsy turvy nature and the repeating motif holding a flower.

So, that’s one of the origins of the piece.  Last winter, I finished a large piece, “Flight Patterns” and knew I was facing a rigorous teaching schedule (three classes, three different schools) so I thought I ought to design a piece that worked in that time frame.  “Flight Patterns” required sustained focus and a global perspective—meaning I had to constantly be concerned with how each part worked with its neighboring part and with the entire composition.  For me, I cannot just dip into a piece like that when I have time.  It’s in for a penny, in for a pound.  I need to keep it foremost in my concentration until it is done with no breaks.  And I was able to do that.  But spring semester was going to be the opposite.

I needed a piece I could engage with in small intense increments, then leave, totally break concentration, and reconnect with easily and do more intense small increments.  That means working with a component that has tight parameters yet allows for total improvisation within those parameters. I wanted an element of chance.  The layering technique I use most of the time allows for this—one can design the layers to tightly correspond to each other, or you can design them “devil may care” and just see what happens.  I chose the latter for this piece. I more or less randomly chose faces from my sketch files and added some designy stuff, like the face cards and also a hand holding a flower.  And I was off…

The idea was to make about 50 oval components. Each oval was to be treated as its own world with no concern to how it might relate as a layer or in the entire piece.Then, I would match them up (layer them) with a partner creating a “face card” look, with one oval right-side up and the other upside down, so they could face either direction (and I intend to have the lightbox to hang either way as well). 


One of the things with this framework is that the oval components can combine in almost infinite ways.  You can pair up an oval with any other oval and each pair offers a lot of possible conformations, upside down, (so if you include which direction it is facing, there are up to 16 possibilities for each pairing.  But what constitutes an obviously a visible difference creates more like 8 options.  Of course, the possibilities are almost infinite when you cross pollinate ovals. 

In terms of experimenting with the possible final, “winning” pairings, I sought a certain amount of intrigue as well as a certain amount of legibility. I hoped to be delighted and surprised by some of what arose with images, patterns, colors, and designs that are made by the chance pairings.  Then I would pick the best ones for the final piece.  This is more or less how it played out. I should say that of course, some of the combinations were just flat out terrible!  That happens!

I had a lot of thoughts as to what it all added up to meaning-wise and although I know you are all perfectly capable of coming up with your own story for my piece, I will tell you some of the stuff that floated around in my noggin.  First and foremost, they looked to me a lot like what one might encounter if they were scuba diving near a fresh shipwreck (hence the title). 

Second of all I thought about myths wherein one is seeking the lost parts of their soul in order to feel a sense of wholeness (like that of Aristophanes, the idea of “soulmates” in popular culture, etc).  I mean, we all have a nagging sense that its possible to find someone or something that resolves us completely, understands us and heals us…why do we imagine we need this?  Are we all the walking wounded?  I imagine yes we are—that to be born and to grow up involves a human sacrifice—mainly we sacrifice the idea of our own perfection and on some level that causes us to grieve the loss and/or always be seeking to address it.  And I thought about how impossible it is to heal that wound and probably not even a desirable thing to do—I mean, to come to terms with life on its own terms is ultimately better, no?

Those who are spiritual seekers may grapple with this better than I. Unless one is very zen, one will always feel a sense of yearning for that thing which completes us.  Death, maybe, marks the end of that journey.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Guest Editorial for The Journal of Stained Glass


Dear Readers,

I post this editorial which I wrote last spring for the Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters in memory of Caroline Benyon.  For more than two decades Caroline served as Chairman, leading the Society through challenging times and resolutely championing the art and craft of stained glass with selfless commitment. Her sudden death is a devastating loss to the stained glass community in the U.K. and elsewhere.  

I did not know her well, but I do know she championed my work and was a kind person and beloved friend to many.  I wish I had had the chance to know her better. Please check out some of her work at her website  or or at the BSMGP website!


Guest editorial: Hands ON! Inspiration and empathy                                      

 

If you wish to buy a hard copy of the lovely journal you can do so here.  It is an informative, scholarly and overall beautiful publication!

 

I – Inspiration

The word inspiration, when taken literally, means to breath in. What happens to a metaphor like that in the days of a potentially fatal airborne respiratory contagion?  Bad times for inspiration, I guess. But that’s OK because art needn’t be ‘inspired’, right?  I have heard it said that ‘inspiration is for amateurs’ and I do believe this was meant as a put-down; a way of distinguishing the hard-core artists from the hobby crowd, who are just amusing themselves, killing time.

 

It’s really hard to find scholarly readings about inspiration for my Creativity and Inspiration Master’s level seminar class at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Apparently, it is too far into the realm of the metaphorical or mystical to be of much use as a topic of rigorous study. And inspiration is emphatically not a science or even a liberal art! You either got it or you don’t, it simply can’t be taught.

 

Presumably the word ‘inspired’ also has something to do with ‘spirit’. To be inspired isn’t to be the subject of artificial respiration – it is something ‘communicated by divine or supernatural powers’, according to the online Etymology Dictionary. To be inspired, then, is to be penetrated within from the outside by something alien, but alive. No wonder it’s not taught in school – this is the realm of the supernatural or religious as well as possibly the erotic.

 

So, this inspiration is a (metaphorical) puff of life force.  Does art need this?  Of course it does – otherwise it is just material, technique and its own maker’s ego bouncing around referring back to itself. Just a husk carrying an imitation of life, like a zombie. Without that metaphysical moment, nothing is transferred to the viewer’s experience other than the exact sum of its parts.

 

Regarding my own definition of inspiration, allow me to throw some description at it:

‘a feeling of enthusiasm, a sense of wonderment and/or transcendence regarding an idea (or array of ideas), a form of energy that feels sudden, positive and involves insight, a brain orgasm that leads to the birth of a creative endeavor that will mature and, in turn, pass its inspiration on to the next person which will, in turn pass its inspiration on to the next person… and so on and so forth.’ When people imagine art to be a form of communication, I imagine this chain of telepathic inspiration. Inspiration is the secret special sauce! Inherent in most of what defines inspiration is unknowability and uncontrollability. So, when I get asked about inspiration – as artists inevitably are – it’s tempting to say: ‘I am inspired by GOD!’. Of course, I am an atheist, so there is that.

 

Stained glass is a mystical art form and not just because it’s been associated with the Christian church for centuries. What hasn’t been said already?  Stained glass is mostly experienced as transmitted coloured light, generally seen in darkened, often quiet spaces.  Its modulation of shining light hearkens to time as well as space – something that the art of a reflected surface cannot do.  It is perceived by the eyes, but also by the skin. Stained glass is absorbed as much as seen.  It comes as no surprise that it is useful for drawing associations to gods. If inspiration means to be filled by life force, then stained glass enacts that process by filling us with light and colour (which is really a form of light deprivation). And, if there’s one thing I know about stained glass, it’s that even the worst pieces have an appreciative audience that finds them inspiring!

 

II – Empathy

I like to read ‘neurology for the layman’ type-science books in my spare time and I just finished The Tell-Tale Brain by neurologist V. S. Ramachandran.  I will resist the urge to use this platform as a review – but he includes two chapters on the burgeoning field of neuro-aesthetics. The punchline of them, for me, was his assertion that he imagines crowds of worried artists and unfortunately, no: neurologists won’t ever be able to fully explain the mystery of art and provide us with a recipe. Actually, V. S., we aren’t that worried!  But this wasn’t the aspect of the book that interested me as an artist.

 

Ramachandran is known primarily for his research into ‘mirror neurons’.  If you don’t know, mirror neurons are the cells in your brain associated with empathy.  Not necessarily compassion, but the basic ability to imagine what another might be thinking or doing, which is a prerequisite for compassion.  In order to learn, we must first be able to imitate and in order to imitate, there must be a part of our brain that watches the actions of another and sets forth to do the same.

 

A friend of mine who is a real, honest-to-goodness professor of philosophy was not impressed by my excitement over mirror neurons.  Basically, he believes empathy is the miracle, not the neurons themselves.  Calling them ‘mirror neurons’ tells us exactly nothing more about it.  Ramachandran might disagree, as in his book; he is big on saying that locating these things in the brain means we have a shot at fixing them when they go wrong. But, as my friend explains, a mechanical understanding is not the same as a philosophic one and ‘fixing’ empathy can be addressed many ways, depending on the pathology. Art is one way, but I get ahead of myself. By the way, I once asked my philosopher friend if he was worried about conceptual artists impinging on their field.  He felt about as worried as I did regarding all those neurologists figuring out how art works.

 

I have been interested in art and empathy for a while now.  I think we all have, as we watch the world around us with all its cruelty – the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer and in the USA: gun violence, the crisis at the US southern border with Mexico, Black Lives Matter, the destruction of our environment…. Most of us think ‘a little empathy is called for’.  And how can art help?  The most obvious answer is to create what is essentially propaganda for one’s enlightened point of view.  But does that really help to change minds? Or does it just preach to the choir? 

 

When Trump was elected, I felt an incredible urge to become a ‘political’ artist myself and I know I was hardly alone in that impulse. It felt like the only responsible thing to do – bring resistance and protest into our work.  I really didn’t want to… but I felt it was a moral responsibility. I felt the need to be ugly because the truth, the reality I was suddenly submerged in was so hideous and hateful that making anything ‘pretty’ felt like a lie, it felt like denial and the epitome of privilege and luxury.

 

Another thing that Donald Trump and his ilk ‘accomplished’ was putting everyone in the position of having to choose between mythos and logos1 for our definition of reality. 

We had to rally behind scientific and rational facts to combat his ‘alternative facts’.

We should be very skeptical of situations which force us to pick one and not both.  Donald Trump did nothing less than devalue the human imagination – to turn alternative, fantastical realities into suspicious lies. Donald Trump put artifice in the gap where art should be. And with that, the option to explore personal reality, re-emerged as identity politics (instead of, say, as visionary experience) and artists sought desperately to create compassion by making this literally the subject of their work. All of which is perfectly logical and understandable but again, it made me wonder: how does art best encourage or enable empathy?  By moral lecture or by attraction?

 

Then Covid happened.  And all around me (meaning, on social media), I saw people utterly desperate for bread recipes.  For beautiful photos of sunsets. For knitting patterns! People were soliciting friends for suggestions for movies and books.  People, in short, were craving inspiration in the form of the arts, in particular, art that was aesthetically pleasing.  People wanted beauty. It was so obvious why.  We were scared. We were overwhelmed. And we were incredibly depressed.

 

We didn’t need this beauty – all these arts and crafts – entirely as an escapist anodyne or solely as a form of sugar-coated denial. No! We needed reasons to remember life is worth living, because we were alone and scared and to live life without inspiration is a terrible thing to contemplate.  Inspiration, it would seem, isn’t just life force, but love itself or maybe love of life itself. In isolation, many felt like their lives were deprived of its most meaningful transactions with loved ones, with anyone.

 

Of course, Covid meant we had to isolate.  As for me?  I was born Covid-ready.  My studio is in my home, I love solitude, I am not a hugger.  But I can see that isolating is not good for empathy, which is learned and needs continual practice (ask a neurologist or philosopher!). No chances to see distant loved ones, no chances to share our lives in person.  No hugging! And definitely NO EXCHANGING BREATH! Covid has tested our compassion. On the one hand, people have done heroic things to keep people alive, to keep society going and to help with mass morale. If we didn’t know this already, we all found out during Covid how much we want/need/love to be within breathing distance of each other! 

 

III – Apraxia

Attributed to Kant: ‘theory without practice is empty; practice without theory is blind’.

Me: Art without craft is blind, craft without art is empty.

 

Inspiration without empathy is empty and empathy without inspiration is blind and vice versa.  The take-home message should be that these seeming polarities need each other to be meaningful.

 

While breathing and inspiration are ethereal and have a metaphorical dimension, what about hands?  During Covid, I found out there was such thing as ‘skin hunger’.  We require some physical contact, some actual material touching and connecting.

 

And indeed, during Trump things seemed to really fall apart.  The divisiveness wasn’t just Covid, but also how society seemed to be collapsing and shattering around individual opinions on civil rights, human rights and the environment, to name a few things brought to the fore during the Pandemic.

 

Is it possible to see this as related to the decades-old de-materialisation of crafts (and art) in academia?  I do think so. I won’t go into this too much here, but de-skilling is one of those things that seemed, on the surface, to be a good idea – it seemed democratic, practical. It seemed a remedy for Craft that was nothing but technical chops and shiny material glitz. In short, it seemed to bring some crucially needed brains to the brawn. But what’s with all the Cartesian mind/body duality stuff?  Can we say – now that Covid has taught us – that we can have ‘skin hunger’ in our art too?

 

In his book, Ramachandran brought up a rare neurological condition called ‘apraxia’.2  In a case study, he described it thusly: ‘…her hand and arm muscles are fine: she can untie a knot. Her thinking and language are unaffected and so is her motor coordination, but she cannot translate thought into action’.  The next time I hear someone who should know better separating ideas from materials, design and process – as though hands-on process and design are somehow not integral to the subject of an artwork unto itself – I am going to refer them to this book. And then I shall resolutely describe my practice as ‘handcraft’! So there! De-skilling does not equal conceptual art, or even barely intelligent art, so much as it encourages apraxia.  As neurologists, and I presume some philosophers, are eager to tell us, our brains don’t exist in a vacuum and they don’t end at the neck.  Consciousness is in a dynamic feedback relationship with its environment.  Our bodies are synonymous with our selves – not just our brains.

 

Ramachandran talks about how mirror neurons are the agent which makes learning skills possible. That made me think about how much, especially in Covid, we enjoy what I call ‘craft porn’. You know what I am talking about: all those short videos of disembodied hands making things – from cooking, to mixing paint to using a lathe – these short videos are just about everywhere.  People love watching people make stuff!  And I think the disembodied hands are crucial because we can more easily insert our own selves into the video and imagine it is us making whatever’s being made. Clearly the experience is a form of empathy.

 

Covid forced me to figure out how to teach stained glass remotely – something I initially fought bitterly against.  But in the end, I had to give in, and I had to learn how to video myself making instructional demos for YouTube. I am glad I did this, because, as a teacher of stained glass, I dearly hope to pass on my knowledge (arcane and ever-more obsolete every day) to others.  And if they get off on watching my hands in these demos, well, great!!  I would say that in-person teaching is still preferable – but I am hoping that disseminating these videos will reach people who are interested in my techniques but can’t afford a workshop.

 

And so, I have a question for Dr Ramachandran: given that people have a ‘monkey see/monkey do function’ when watching a person make or do something: is this then transferable to merely beholding the handmade object?  When I look at a thrown pot or a stained glass window, something obviously handmade and not manufactured, is part of me (my mirror neurons!) enacting the making process?  Even if I have never thrown a pot in my life?  If watching people creating craft objects, or even just looking at the objects themselves, piques this brain function, can we say that we are closer to touching? That we are closer to understanding each other? That we are closer to compassion? I mean, why not, right?

 

If one does a brief survey of English near-synonyms for beauty, we find a lot of words implying connection, cohesion and harmony.  In short, to describe something as ‘attractive’ one must use words that mean attachment. Likewise, we tend to find things that are falling apart, chaos, and ruination to be either repellant, repulsive or a type of anti-beauty.  This is a deep concern of craft. Craft is, after all, wholly about getting stuff to stay together that does not necessarily want to stick. Trump-era art required ugliness, the art of chaos, discontent.  Art that reflected our inability to use glue, solder and stitching to hold together our culture, our families, our lives.  Burn it to the ground and start over.

 

Then Covid taught us how desperately we wanted to try to stay together after all, so we craved art of coherence and ‘beauty’. We learned inspiration is more than a luxury, it is required for us to thrive.  We learned touch is more than a ‘feel good’ routine. We struggled to hold on to the idea that our imaginations aren’t ‘alternative facts’, but mythic visions that sustain us when we need hope, beauty and meaning. We discovered that our minds were actually attached to our hands, our respiratory system and the rest of what makes us people.

 

We remembered these things are essential to life and not to take them for granted.

 

IV – Impathy-emspiration

It’s easy to see how stained glass windows are inspiring but are they empathic too?

Well, light is sensed by the skin, so there is that. But stained glass is also often employed as a story-telling medium.

 

People occasionally have the courage to ask me why my work is so ‘depressing’. And while my true answer would be ‘speak for yourself, I don’t find it so!’, I usually make the effort to address their concern a little more deeply than that.

 

There is a reason why we are compelled towards the art forms of tragedy, the sad song, the miserable play or heartrending novel, and other types of art that might be considered negative.  And it’s not just masochism, or schadenfreude or some weird need to be morose. I believe there is a real connection between beauty and grief. So, no, I don’t do ‘depressing’ work to add to gross national per capita misery.  Nor do I do it because I need to express my own personal sorrow. I do it because this is the very best way I can demonstrate empathy (I told you I wasn’t a hugger!).

 

When I was young, and found myself depressed, I was told to ‘cheer up’ and given many good reasons why I shouldn’t be unhappy: I wasn’t mistreated or starving!  I lived in a nice, safe suburb, not a war zone or a slum. This was true of course, but all those rational arguments ever did was make me feel guilty. What made me feel better was sad, sad songs and pictures of martyrs!

 

Do you know what no one needs to learn how to cope with?  Happiness.  People need to understand how to deal with their messy feelings and to make their suffering meaningful. People want to understand that all this isn’t a terrible joke at their expense. Who hasn’t experienced comfort and understanding in the company of a good sad song or painting or story, seemingly created just for you? If this analogy does not explain the empathic power of art, nothing will.

 

Paintings, stories and songs are a low-risk opportunity to rehearse real-life situations. When engaging with art, you only contemplate sorrow – you don’t experience a real loss (although you may re-live some).  It’s a ‘safer space’ where the tragedy isn’t real. Art gives you a chance to confront the unbearable, the intolerable, the unendurable in a way that helps you feel the feelings deeper than you might risk otherwise.3

 

As for the connection of beauty to grief, well, that’s simple. The reason we experience attraction at all is because we are not immortal, and we must reproduce. The reason we experience attraction is because we are a social species, and we feel the imperative to take care of the sick and the weaker so that they don’t die or suffer. Attraction is a call to care.

Glass objects can’t be thrown around the room like plastic ones can, because apparently, glass is mortal, and plastic isn’t. Or so it seems.

 

Stained glass windows were originally employed to speak to the glory of god, to create a sense of wonder and awe.  Above all, in the face of what can seem like endless trials and meaningless suffering, art creates ‘alternative facts’ in the form of suggesting a meaning to life. It is nothing less than that. What is spirituality if not the alchemic process of transforming despair into hope?

 

No one needs advice on how to change a nice day.  No one requires input on how to improve happiness.  But we are delusional if we imagine that we can handle despair or grief without consolation, understanding and love.  You know… those things you just can’t affect all by yourself. 

 

On my many Covid walks, I have noticed something that made it into one of my pieces (FIG. 1, SEE FRONT COVER). And it was so silly I was afraid people would take it as a joke. Everywhere around me people were walking around with little bags of poop. (Never mind this practical aspect of dog walking, I literally saw it completely afresh as if I were an alien on their first visit to earth: ‘Oh, look at the humans with their little icky bags!’).  It may sound amusing, but I truly found it to be a poignant human thing.  For starters, don’t we all walk around, metaphorically speaking, with a little bag of… well, something?  Just a small one, one we seek to dispose of so others don’t have to step in it. What a decent thing to do!

 

That is inspiration and empathy in a nutshell – the enthusiasm for love and life that makes the willingness to dispose of our own little bag of poo not a chore, but an honour and even a pleasure.

 

 

NOTES

1 Roughly, subconscious, intuitive vs rational thinking.

 

2 ‘Apraxia is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to perform learned (familiar) movements on command, even though the command is understood and there is a willingness to perform the movement. Both the desire and the capacity to move are present but the person simply cannot execute the act’ <https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/apraxia/>.

 

3 ‘Other studies have shown that people report being highly moved by art with negative content, and the experience of feeling moved combines negative affect with an equal level of positive affect. In short, we can allow ourselves to be moved by tragedy and horror in art because it is not about us; we have entered a fictional world of virtual reality. And the experience of being moved by such works is not only pleasurable, but can also be highly meaningful as we reflect on the nature of our feelings.’ Psychologist Ellen Winner, <https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/04/harvard-researcher-on-psychology-of-art/>.

 

 

FRONT COVER/FIG. 1: Judith Schaechter FMGP, Dirty Snow (2020).

 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Ax Wielding Maniacs

Click for bigness!



 

“Ax Wielding Maniacs” is 32" x 32" stained glass: engraved and painted (but mostly engraved)

 

This piece is supposed to be funny…. I mean, a real ax wielding maniac would be anything but funny, but c’mon…sometimes you just gotta laugh or you’ll perish from the godforsaken horror of it all, right?

I should know, I have seen every episode of Forensic Files…more than once!  I own a Ring doorbell…I have known fear of the monsters that lurch in the human soul (including my own).  So, this time out, I choose to laugh a bit and I hope you do too.

 

It all began innocently enough. How to depict something about deforestation that would speak to the issue in such a way that people wouldn’t nod their heads in robotic liberal agreement or send them running to their climate change denial pals for e-vilidation before they even considered the nuances of the message.

I figured I would draw a sad lumberjack.  I would draw a person who regretted being sucked into and trapped in a system that was perfectly acceptable until it wasn’t.  I drew a lumberjack…and then another…and another…all in all I drew a bunch of lumberjacks.  Please see my previous post about the drawings here.  In it, I discuss my Pennsylvania family history (Wood hicks, the lot!) and other things that I won’t go into again but may explain some of the motivation further.  Ultimately, I decided to use all the lumberjacks in a single image.  Probably the single most clever thing I did was trade the stumps in that last "final version" for logs.

 

The stumps just were NOT working.


Logs.  Logs are so…long and cylindrical…. How did a piece about climate change come to be about toxic masculinity?  A few words before I get into that.  I hope the humor of the piece functions like this: I hope it makes the piece, instead of preachy, into a loving ribbing.  I have no desire to lecture anyone on the odious consequences of “toxic masculinity” of which, I assume you are already intimately familiar.  I have no desire to paint all males with the same brush. I LOVE MEN, OK?  YOU ARE NOT ALL THE SAME, OK? MEN AREN'T NECESSARILY EVIL, OK? For the record, I deeply believe malefolk are amongst the deeply damaged and are every bit as much persecuted by rigid ideas of gender as anyone. The patriarchy perpetuates a system potentially fatal to all persons, although some get more swag before they die of stress related diseases like broken hearts.

 

Who in class doesn’t see a connection between deforestation and systems of male dominance?  Anyone….anyone?  Bueller?  Ok, good, so I won't spell that one out for you, despite the fact that it is absolutely central to the piece, in my mind.

 

Another thing I will only mention superficially is the creative struggle. Whenever someone looks at a finished art work, it appears as a fait accompli, but each one comes with its very own mid-life identity crisis! Of all my pieces (239 at this point) maybe five did not come with a crisis.   I assume this is common amongst artists and I think it results from two contrary things I  "learned" (more like absorbed) in art school: 1. that inspiration is an unnecessary luxury strictly for amateurs and 2. artists should always be incredibly inspired. OY VEY! Which is it? Both and neither perhaps? What do I do when my idea, which was so rapturously excellent one day becomes a vile and pestilent congregation of vapors the next? I have learned the following.  The issue is not with the idea or the piece!  The issue is with my vision--and I can sometimes regain that vision if I try.  Yes, sometimes an idea has a shelf life.  But more often, I am just imposing my mood on an innocent set of starting points.  Learn from my mis-steps, grasshoppers! Learn to identify when you are intruding upon your own creative process! And yes, this piece was no different.


The struggle is real!

Back to maniac with axes. The design, like many of my pieces lately, is close to being a repeating pattern, like wallpaper or fabric. 

I like the idea that is only implies a repeat while failing to do so perfectly. Its like a little secret between you and I.  I could make it repeat perfectly if I felt like it.  Many fabrics and wallpapers have imperfect seams, and contemplating those mis-registrations gave me much angsty joy as a weird little kid.  It was like finding out Santa was actually my dad or that the Wizard of Oz was a snake-oil salesman and yet: happy endings abound! Comforting to know that the world doesn't spin off its axis when the prints don't register right and I, in turn, offer that up to you.


(In this sketch, it does repeat perfectly, perfect for little children's rooms)  

Why imply a repeat at all then?  Well, in this case I feel I am on solid conceptual ground. One way we learn societal gender roles is by our environment.  Some years ago, a friend of mine (a gay man, for what it worth) papered his spare room in 1960’s cowboy wallpaper intended for use in little boy's bedrooms. I was impressed by this multivalent act of irony, tenderness and nostalgia; this nod to a time when one could innocently assume this wallpaper was somehow not going to possibly perpetrate violent brain scrubbing on human souls.  I am serious here….People learn a LOT MORE from wallpaper and fabric and dishes than they do paintings!  Right?  Because they live with that stuff!  They see it day in and day out…its damned inescapable! The art museum only holds sway on special field trip occasions…wallpaper is your nanny; fabric is your babysitter, you literally see it more than TV (if you have wallpaper or printed fabric or any pictorial domestic goods)…. all the time spreading its pervasive pernicious, subterranean messages of darkness and assumption.  When people say things like “white privilege is the veritable air we breathe” (to give but one example) this is what they mean.  Long live the ALL-POWERFUL crafts!!!  Influencing your children a thousand times more than art can ever dream of! No wonder artists are so jealous! So yeah, check out the unintentionally political but vastly influential 50’s and 60’s wallpaper!  They had cowboys, policemen, spacemen (and spacegirls too, yay--it wasn't all dreadful!) etc.  So why not ax wielding maniacs??? It seems only appropriate to include them in the canon of male role models. In fact, they seemed conspicuously absent.


More adorbs role models for U!

So, this piece, oddly enough is really a proposal for wallpaper disguised as art. In fact, lately all my art is a proposal for wallpaper disguised as art. How have we come to such a place in the culture? Maybe its just me.

Nods to Virgil Marti who did it first. (And William Morris who, in his way, was also subversive with wallpaper).

 

A little housekeeping: yes, yes, a thousand times yes, I know they are not using the axes properly.  Thank you, social media!  I wasn’t trying to produce a treatise on proper tree chopping posture.

 

Finally: I am begging you to read this book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Raft of the Medusa

This is what happens when an artist publicly declares they are moving away from human figure

The journey towards making this piece began way before Covid and I did a previous post about it.  In painstaking detail the post describes the journey of the drawing from cradle to grave.  If you want to call the resolution of an artwork “the grave” and I find that I do. This piece is heavy on drawing so if you want to know more, please read the post here.

I also made a short video introducing the piece which you can watch if you would prefer.  It will be based on the text below plus that previous post so you don’t need to read a single more word if you'd rather watch. Plus it will have even MORE info and pictures as its easier to talk than write.

Some context:

·      I have always been fascinated by the following works of art:

“Raft of the Medusa” by Theodore Gericault, “Battle of the NakedMen”, 1465–1475 Antonio del Pollaiuolo.

·      I have done “battle scenes” since I was a painting major in 1981.  

 

·      I have an urge to depict “piles of things” or interlocking things. 

·      Perhaps related to that urge, is a strong urge to do repeating, tessellated patterns. 

·      I think Escher is an under-rated artist. Seriously.

·      Swearing off figures makes it into an irresistible forbidden fruit.

·      The summer of 2020. 

 

 That’s the brain brew that grew “Raft of the Medusa”.

As for the narrative content…i.e. “subject matter”: First off, a caveat. In discussing, analyzing or critiquing art, the urge to understand “subject matter” or “narrative content” as somehow separate from design and material concerns HAS GOT TO STOP……she said, possibly rushing forward right into that very trap…. Subject matter alone is not “Concept”.  “Concept” is not a synonym for meaning…just stop it people, would you?? The meaning of a work of art is in its gestalt—the experience of its subject/design/material all play integral parts, and all generate aspects of meaning. 

“Raft of the Medusa” was a very direct attempt to come to terms with the very traumatic summer of 2020. This time period, I know you haven’t forgotten and won’t for a long time, was marked by social isolation from covid and social unrest from Black Lives Matter protests.  To crowd or not to crowd...that was the question or for many, it became worth it to demonstrate that some issues are worth risking death for, so demonstrate some people did.  


 

 Donald Trump and his policies, administration etc. filled me (and many, many artists) with the urge to say something. Why is it so hard to get along?  I think we do want to love one another, but it’s so very, very difficult. Even loving a single other person is a difficult task that involves facing one’s own shadow self, let alone trying to love human-kind as a clump. And loving neighbors…well loving thy neighbor is probably the hardest thing to ask in the whole world! How can I possibly when they are hoarders who smoke? Or vote differently or have different beliefs? 

I have always thought that disapproving of one’s “neighbors” (i.e. “others”) is not really about them anyway, but about coming to terms with the parts of ourselves that are most hard to reconcile, to love. Being angry with your “neighbor” is the single most effective strategy to avoid recognizing the parts of yourself you hate!  But that’s because it’s easy: they are, almost by definition, strange and alien and you can consolidate your love for your family and friends at their expense, without threat. I mean that without a ton of judgment—it’s kind of our default setting and hard to change.

Last summer, even die-hard soft-hearted liberals were unfriending their neighbors and families on Facebook over social policy disagreements. And all this played out with a deadly pandemic urging us to ISOLATE!  HIDE!  Duck and cover…. We have met the enemy and he is virus-us.

Covid brought all this out, it’s not a coincidence it all happened at once.

I hope this isn’t too moralistic and preachy—I don’t want to tell people how to think.  Just, perhaps make mild suggestions.

 

SO, I made a picture, which, I hope, expresses and externalizes the all-too-human struggle to deal with our fear and aggression towards others, our loved ones and ultimately our own selves. It’s all the same fear. That which I imagine to be outside of myself is always within and to come to terms with that is the essence of love.

In the image, I included a lot of people struggling and writhing in discomfort and dis-ease, together and alone and there all stuck together on this tiny “raft” (not pictured!) and there are even some moments of tenderness if you look for them.

 

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Painting in progress

Design Concerns:

I have an urge to depict “piles of things” or interlocking things.  What is this about?

Despite the contemporary pressure for an artist to analyze themselves to death I am going to attempt to reclaim the following: “my work is an attempt to know myself and by extension to understand other and the entire world outside of my brain.  Any claims of a-priori conclusion would be absurdly premature. In other words, I work intuitively and am utterly in service to my subconscious.  And although they (i.e. neurologists) will never locate a “collective subconscious” in the brain, its metaphorically true enough. Suck it up, buttercup!”  I hope you enjoyed that bit of art-speak for “no clue.”


Perhaps related to that urge, is a strong urge to do repeating, tessellated patterns.  Also “no clue”—but I would suggest that much of what a brain wants to do is draw pictures of itself and often that self is strangely mathematical.  I read somewhere (and I deeply regret I can’t remember where) that many of their abstract doodlings a person is compelled to do resemble nothing so much as biological phenomena such as phosphenes.  Who knows what we will figure out in terms of how the brain encodes self-generated images in the future.  I look forward to whatever it is.

 

Super bonus! I also made a tiny version of this for Shelter in Place Gallery:

tiny!

 

The gallery is a perfect scale model and my piece appears to be gigantic!