This week I have been redoing my website in a new – and supposedly easier – software program incorporating images of my latest work. Sometimes this feels like something outside of my “real work” although it is documentation that allows my work to be known by a wider audience through exhibits, galleries, teaching, etc.
When I first started documenting my work back in high school, the process began with having slides and sometimes prints shot by a professional photographer. Each piece would have full shot and at least one detail. For sculpture, alternate views were necessary. Dupes were expensive and often of lower quality so I would have as many copies shot as I could imagine ever using. Then all these slides had to be labeled and organized into sheets or slide boxes.
Now I still get my work photographed by a professional but he gives me digital images all loaded onto one disk and just a few slides. The slides might not even be necessary but I’m not ready to trust the record of my work to digital media alone.
I love having a website. It is one of the easiest ways to let people see images of my work - simple for me and simple for the viewers.
But of course the site only contains reproductions and reproductions are not the real thing. For a few years, I was part of a program through Seamark Community Arts to introduce K-5 students to famous works of art (the program still goes on just with different volunteers). It was some time before I realized I had to explain how the poster representing the painting was different from the actual painting and how many copies of the poster could exist but only one original. I think most of the kids really didn’t understand why this distinction was so important to me. We are so used to seeing reproductions everywhere from high-end giclée prints to mouse pads.
Reproductions are not only influenced by the quality of the image but also by the method of viewing. I’ll tweak the images on my computer to represent the actual pieces accurately only to have them seem washed out on another monitor or in another program. I tell myself that this is not unlike poorly printed reproductions in books or magazines or slides projected in a light-filled room or merely held up to a window but I still don’t like it.
And there are other compromises. I can choose to build each element of the site myself and have more graphic options or to use the fonts and spacing that my web design software supports. It is similar with this blog - graphic options are limited to certain templates but it is very easy to use.
So I try to tread the path between attention to detail and obsession, to put my time into the aspects that matter the most to me. I try to remember all the wonderful art I know only through reproduction and the joy of seeing it person when I can. We have a wonderful ability to discern the essence of even poorly reproduced images.
So visit my updated website, love my new work and find a way to see it in the flesh someday.
Friday, February 15, 2008
I clipped this photo from a magazine years ago. I didn't write any information on it so I'm not sure whose hands these are. I have a book of photographs of Georgia O'Keefe taken by her husband Alfred Stieglitz between 1917 and 1930 (they married in 1924). Many of them feature her hands either alone or in relationship to her face. This photo reminds me of them but seems too cute for that pairing.
I admit I was totally gaga about Georgia O'Keefe when I was in high school and college probably because she was the only contemporary woman artist familiar to the mass public and I was definitely part of that mass. Later I felt overexposed to her work and preferred other women artists as role models but she was my introduction to the idea that a woman's work could be as sought after as a man's.
I think I saved this photo because it shows hands as form rather than as tools. Our hands are such incredible instruments that we use everyday in a range of strong and delicate ways, from mundane to sublime, taking in the world through touch and sending our response back out. And in that give and take we find comfort, strength and understanding.
I work closely with my materials and even when using tools my hands are usually in direct contact. I feel lucky to have chosen media that allow me this intimacy. I like that I have built my hand skills over the years so certain motions seem to reside in my hands seemingly independent of my thinking mind. I like how the rhythm of these motions can be seen in the subtle variation of mark and surface. I also like bold unexpected moves - ones where I have to trust my hands and their memories to make the right mark, cut. tear or stain.
Work that I like often has a tactile sense, evidence of the hand of the maker. If sight is the sense that encompasses a breadth of information and smell is the sense that evokes the strongest memories, touch is the sense that makes the general specific and grounds us in the particular.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Friday I was listening to a radio program with a developmental psychologist who did some pioneering research in the "nature vs. nurture" debate. One study monitored infants reactions to new, non-threatening stimulus. Infants were grouped into three groups, 20% were high reactive, becoming agitated with any change, 40% were low reactive, barely noticing new things and 40% were in the middle. These babies were tracked for 15 years and as teens still held true to their groups. Many had developed skills to ameliorate their tendencies but their underlying personalities were still most comfortable with either routine or change.
My first college roommate arrived from Connecticut with stacks of Shetland sweaters and cords in a limited, tasteful range of pastels and neutrals. I was fascinated by the columns of stacked clothing, much repetition, small variation. It implied an ability to impose order that I could not even inspire to. I don't know if this meant she was a high reactive personality or her mother was but by Christmas break she had gone punk and her hair was dyed more colors than her stacks of sweaters. Still for all the mismatched pieces in her new wardrobe she limited herself to one color - black.
Variation on a theme is a common compositional device used in poetry, music, dance and visual arts. The combination of the meditative quality of repetition and the introduction of unexpected elements is interesting to both the artist and the audience. The question becomes - how much repetition vs. how much change? Some will be able to study an Agnes Martin painting for hours, delighting in the small range of variation of each mark and the overall sense of order. Others need the disparate components of a Robert Rauschenberg Combine to fascinate.
I love pattern both structural and surface and especially when the pattern is created by repetitive actions - folding, stitching, cutting, curling, hammering, etc. - but it is the introduction of the odd variation which make it work for me. I already use repetition within my pieces and at have times have worked in series as a way to use repetition over the course of several pieces. It is something I want to explore more especially in terms of duplicating the size and shape of pieces to intensify the contrast of content within each piece. It is not a natural constraint for me as my compositions often evolve intuitively and grow and shrink to their eventual "right" size and shape. But just think of the order and ease of display--
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
I use hand and machine stitching in almost all my work. Machine stitches to join pieces and build textures, hand stitches to create line and define edges. I love working with a variety of stitches - zigzag and blanket on the machine, chain, stem, running and french knots by hand. Each stitch is a marker of time.
One of the things I am often asked about heavily stitched pieces is "how long did it take to make." It is a question I can never answer since each piece evolves over weeks or months of intermittent work often beginning with materials that I have already invested hours in transforming. Do I count only the time my hands are touching and changing surfaces? Do I count the false starts, wrong paths and dead ends? They are there embedded in the memory of the piece even if no longer visible. Do I count staring time, dreaming time? Every moment of my history that created the story I now convey?
Textiles tend to deal with steady accumulation, fiber into cloth, pieces into a whole, beads on a strand, stacked layers. You can see the growth stitch by stitch. Different media and techniques have different relationships to time. Watercolor or brush painting can take years of practice to acquire the ability to make the perfect stroke, executed in a moment. Clay has a time of transformation during firing, out of the hands of the artist.
I think as makers and visual artists we each are attracted to ways of working that resonant with our own stories, adding depth while making them visible.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Today is Groundhog Day, a day for looking for shadows and predicting the number of days until spring. It is a cross quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The day in Maine to worry if your woodpile is more that half gone. I was always a little confused by the groundhog indicator. A bright shadow-causing sky like the one we have in Deer Isle today is a predictor of six more weeks of winter. Seen as bad news in much of the country but here and where I grew up near Niagara Falls, we would be glad to have only six weeks to wait until spring.
A shadow is a darkened shape on a surface that falls behind something blocking the light. The shadow is determined by the shape of the object, the intensity and angle of the light and the quality of the surface upon which it is being cast.
I have used silhouettes in some of my work and like the strength of the contrast between object and ground. Shadows and silhouettes both emphasize form by removing the distraction of interior detail. Finding forms that read well without modulation of color, tone and line is tricky but the botanical imagery I like often lends itself to this use.
I have been thinking about how to use shadow in my pieces. It seems so natural to try to work with shadows as I hold samples in front of light and admire the shadows they cast. Actually figuring out what part the shadows will play, how I will control the light source, how to create panels that will cast interesting shadows and also allow visual access to the surface where the shadows will be cast and what the color and quality of that surface should be make the process more complex. Shadows read most clearly against white or light-colored grounds and my palette tends toward darker and more intense colors.
But it is a good day to contemplate such questions - a cross quarter day.