As I am in the midst of a fallow period of making art, it seems a good time to pursue in earnest a book project that I have been thinking about for some time. It is very tentatively titled “WORD AND IMAGE”. In this book I will look at how writing or text, language, books, and book forms, intersect with my other methods of making art. I have decided to approach the book by organizing my thoughts in a series of blog posts.
As I look over years of work, I am surprised at how often the visual art and the written word are connected. And as I begin to analyze and choose the pieces to include in the book questions arise. What was the impetus for each piece? Does the work relate not only to aspects of my personal life but to the culture of the time? There is a kind of timeline which follows my life as an artist, but also, unexpectedly, as a writer as well. The book gives me the opportunity to see the larger picture of the journey as both visual artist and writer.
Some of the works I have decided to include in the book have appeared on this blog in the past, beginning with what I believe is the one of the first combining text and image, “The Male Audience”, 1980. (see “Works On Paper: A Feminist Aspect”).
THE MALE AUDIENCE 1980 Colored pencil, collage on Xerox text 8.5 x 11 inches
This piece reflects time and place in society at large and in my own personal life. I was in the midst of my last year of returning to school as a “mature” student to finish my undergraduate degree. It had to be in teaching. No studio specialty existed. It was a time of ferment, especially among female students. We were influenced and mentored by great faculty who brought to our small-town school people like Miriam Schapiro, exhibits from New York by people like the Conceptual artist Arakawa, a show of watercolors by “the” Turner, and more. It was a fortuitous gathering and an exciting environment in which we were encouraged to break out of old thinking and explore ideas that were happening in the faraway realm of “real art” in places like New York.
That year had a profound influence on my future as an artist and this influence is reflected in “The Male Audience”, created a few years later in 1980.
The text is from spirited feminist writing published in a 1975 journal about the value of women and women’s work in the arts in contemporary time as well as in history. The collaged figure is from a page in a Playboy magazine, commonly found in the Seventies and Eighties. Figures from this magazine provided me with collage and template material for figurative drawings and works on paper that expressed my feminist interests as I struggled to find my way as an artist.
The text in “The Male Audience” is meant to be read. The image of the woman calls up the male point of view, one that seems not to have changed much since the naked female picnicked among fully-clothed male artists in the famous Nineteenth-Century painting by Manet, “Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe”.
As mentioned in the earlier post on this piece, using a collaged image taken from a realistic photograph printed in Playboy serves the work better than if I had used one of my own figurative drawings. Knowing the source as a magazine that objectified the female body supports more succinctly my intention for this piece.
THREEFOLD 1980 colored pencil on folded paper 14 x 12 5/8 inches
A drawing which remains in my own collection is titled “Threefold”. It was done in 1980 as part of a series of folded paper pieces with impressions made by marking heavily on a separate sheet of paper on top of the intended drawing and then rubbing with soft pencil to make the lines emerge. I don’t remember the motivation to begin the series of drawings of which “Threefold” was one or why I decided to abandon figurative work. But I do remember that in childhood I was fascinated by discovering I could make “magic writing” appear by rubbing a pencil over the impression left on a sheet of paper beneath one upon which a message had been written. So perhaps that childhood experience, lodged deep in memory, forgotten even as it emerged in the art, was the inspiration for the method used in “Threefold”.
Another childhood experience, this by my four-year old son, could also be designated as having some influence in the creation of the series of “magic writing” pieces. Kevin was in the university library with me in 1974 as I studied. I gave him a notebook page and pencil so he could “write” as well.
The child’s imitative marks try to capture the act of writing but of course cannot convey a meaning. Years after making it I am amazed at how similar the marks in “Threefold” of 1980 are to the child’s “writing”. In “Threefold” the marks are intentionally meaningless. The “writing” is seen as object instead of understandable text.
Recently have I learned that “writing” or marks such as those in “Threefold” may be described as “Asemic writing”, or one with no semantic meaning. Asemic writing can span the practices of both visual art and writing. It can be done by children, as in my son’s “pretend writing”, as calligraphy, as code, or decorative marks. Perhaps we can assign the name to work by painters such as Cy Twombly or Jackson Pollack and others whose work is reminiscent of handwriting or captures the gestures of the hand in writing.
I remember also my interest in texts written in a language of which I have no understanding. To observe a Persian love poem or a lovely Chinese scroll or ancient clay tablets inscribed with a long-lost language remains mysterious and beautiful to me. A book page written in an incomprehensible language removes the words from literature to something else entirely. With no reference to meaning, what is found is simply pattern, or perhaps the illusion of secret messages. The viewer can only bring association to such images in much the same way that one would with abstract art of any kind.
As I always have considered myself a visual artist it was a great surprise to find myself beginning to write poems in the mid-Seventies. This was begun quite spontaneously and without forethought. I took that opportunity and continued to write. The writing continued for more than twenty years, up to about the time when a new challenge presented itself, what became “The Threads Project”.
A poem written in the Eighties seems now to provide some insight and a link from the writing to the visual images I was making, beginning in the late Seventies, into the Eighties. It was then that I became immersed in dreams and the metaphysical. This poem seemed to transport me to a place out of time.
I remember airless rooms
Where letters grow
From falling sand
As sturdy as the Pyramids.
I touch dry pages
And from ancient blood
Spring the sounds
Of sheaves long-stacked
There, on smoke-etched walls,
I see the dance,
The scripture of desire.
On faintest silk I recall
A blossom’s clear repose,
The unadorned and lucid word.
What delight is found in warm red wax,
Inviting the memory of lovers lost,
Their sweet despair.
The scent, heavy now,
Gathers in this dark-
The ashen breath of branded oaks,
The perfume of the sky.
How chaste the message of the sea.
Foamy fingers clutch at sand forever smooth.
Remember most wise scratches of the child.
They are the Myth of Innocence retold.
I am pleased to announce a solo exhibition of work from “The Threads Project (2001-2007)”. “Threads of Time” will open on the evening of Friday, September 18, 2015 at The World Trade Center’s Offsite Gallery in downtown Norfolk, Virginia and continue until October 16.
After showing many of the pieces from this project since its inception in 2001 in juried and solo exhibitions across the United States, I am happy to be able to have a fairly comprehensive selection of pieces on view. Visitors will be able to see approximately sixty of the several hundred works completed over the years 2001-to about 2007. Included will be textile pieces, drawings, works on paper, unique prints and works on paper derived from prints made at Crown Point Press in San Francisco, paintings, and a sculpture.
The blog covers in detail the history of “The Threads Project” and is a good resource for those planning to visit.
The Offsite Gallery is run under the auspices of The City of Norfolk through their Office of Cultural Affairs. It’s temporary gallery space is in The World Trade Center as its usual space was severely damaged by an explosion earlier this year.
This exhibition is a bit of a homecoming as I showed my work long ago in 1980 for the First Anniversary Exhibit in the original damaged gallery, The Selden Gallery in the historic Selden Arcade.
Of course I never imagined then that I would one day return to Norfolk. Some of the pieces in the exhibition have roots going back to that time. The technique of frottage or rubbing began after one of my first trips to Europe, to London, where I made tombstone rubbings at Westminster Cathedral. I enjoyed experimenting with it over time and when “The Threads Project” began several decades later it proved to be one of the important methods in my work.
“Threads of Time”~an appropriate title for a long journey.
This new post comes after a long hiatus indeed. Leaving the West Coast for the East, a long renovation on a new home, all conspired to keep me away from my blog activities.
I’ve returned to Virginia after leaving in 1983 for San Francisco. Norfolk was my home from 1977 to 1983. I am happy to mark my return with an exhibition at The Art Works Gallery, sharing the exhibition with Lawrence (Skip) Hollingsworth, a painter, and Zach McKiernan, an historian who brought the work of a collective of printmakers from Chile.
I chose to hang a selection of works from “The Threads Project”, a large body of work which has been extensively documented in this blog. This project marked a great change from the primarily figurative work that I was making in the years I lived in Virginia and has informed the work which evolved and developed since.
The pieces in the exhibition were selected to illustrate important ideas from “The Threads Project” such as pairs and analogies, “lab pieces”, thread drawing, the “stitch-mark”, and using thread as both subject and medium, all of which may be read about in this blog’s Posts and Pages. Among the works were pieces which have been previously exhibited such as two triptychs, “Three In Red” and “Elements”. Works chosen included paintings, works on paper such as the announcement piece “Pages II (Red)”, and textile pieces.
Also included was “Mind’s Eye”, one of my most recent works. This is a work on paper which is descended from the ideas and relationships in “The Threads Project” that link my fine art to my textile work. I used fluid acrylic in a kind of staining method on paper much in the way that I once used dyes on fabric.
Sometimes ideas float around for quite a while before the opportunity or impetus for acting on it comes along.
While doing some websearching for exhibition opportunities I came across one for a gallery in London. The timeline was short but the topic was intriguing~”Gold”. A “match” came to mind, the thumbnail from some time back for the shaped drawing for which I already had the title in mind, “Mind’s Eye”. I would use a simple but dramatic palette of black and metallic gold.
Using the familiar and favored Okawara paper, I decided to use a roughly roundish shape with the staining process of recent work. But the addition of gold to the mix caused me to consider my options. I decided to use a metallic acrylic with a thicker, adhesive quality normally used on fabric but perfectly at home on paper. Although it came with a tip that allowed me to “draw” lines with the paint, I used a brush as well.
This is the result~A second work with the same palette on Okawara is in progress.
A BIT OF GOOD NEWS THIS WEEK~”Four Maps For Karibib-Interior” has been selected to be included in the spring exhibition “Mapping” at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois. The exhibition will take place March 19 to May 24, 2013.
This piece is one of four in a suite titled “Four Maps For Karibib”. They were created in 2005 on the occasion of an invitation to exhibit for the first international exhibition in the town of Karibib, located a few hours from the capital of Nambia, Windhoek. Nambibia is a sparsely-populated country just west of South Africa. With an land area twice the size of California but with less than two million people, this exhibition was a big event to its citizens. A German colony until the early Twentieth Century, then aligned with South Africa, Namibia is now an independant republic since 1990. It is still a rough and tumble place that attracts people from many countries. Our exhibition was held at a compound in Karibib owned by a Russian ex-pat Leonid Stupenkov. The event was not only an opportunity to show work of artists but a celebration that included bonfires, fireworks, roasted goat, music and dancing. It was truly an international event! In attendance were members of the media, including radio and newspaper, as well as the Russian consul and his wife. Some traveled, I was told, two hundred kilometers to join the festivities.
I wrote about the exhibition in an earlier Page on Webs And Threads. Here is a partial excerpt:
“ART ACTION-SEVEN FIRES” ~NAMIBIA 2005
I received an unexpected email one day in June, 2005, inviting me to exhibit my art in Namibia where a dear old friend, Armand has lived for many years. We met in Virginia in 1979 as he was ending a long journey across America and Canada. He was about to return home to Nuremberg, Germany to continue his studies in architectural restoration and art.
Although we knew each other just a short time, it seemed like the right thing to do when I accepted his family’s invitation to visit Germany for a Bavarian Christmas and what was to be my first trip to Europe. It was to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. We have all stayed in touch since then, in spite of far-flung locations and busy lives.
Armand’s adventurous spirit took him to Africa, where he finally settled in Namibia in the small town of Karibib. There he has worked as a sculptor as well as created amazing mosaics and stonework. Although the digital age means that we now stay in touch more often, the email invitation came out of the blue!. After all the years of thinking about a visit to Africa, the time was right!
There were only a few weeks to prepare my work for the exhibition. I came up with the idea of folded works on paper when I noticed a folded map of California. This turned out to be the ideal solution to transporting art more than eleven thousand miles.
I simply folded the suite of four “Maps For Karibib” and put them into the zippered side pocket of my luggage. On arrival and the installation of our work, Armand strung a stainless steel wire in the stone building where our work was located. I use stainless steel spring clips to hang them like laundry. The beautiful Okawara paper did resemble fabric and visitors enjoyed walking around to see both sides of the four works.
Staining and dripping fluid acrylic on the reverse side of a roughly cut piece of Okawara paper were the beginning of “My Country”. Misting the red paint with water allowed the pigment to achieve a matt surface as it stained and was absorbed into the receptive, cloth-like Okawara paper. The very thick drops of pigment retained the original gloss of the paint.
After some initial work it soon became clear that the image was failing to meet my expectations. Flipping the paper over I continued by working from the stained image that had bled through from the original side. As with earlier pieces, I decided to use a wrinkling method to add interesting texture. An attempt to accentuate the ridges and valleys of the relatively soft wrinkles with Nupastel was not a fruitful path. But the wonderful texture of the wrinkles created a kind of “landscape” on the paper and the large red stained central image evoked a map and thus the title “My Country”. And as with the previous works, dots continue to create fields of color.
I love the possibilities that wrinkling paper gives and have used it on crisper drawing papers with dry media like Nupastel where I could follow the “geography” of the crushed and wrinkled paper easily.
The qualities of paper and canvas have long been the subjects of investigation and relate to my work using dyes and pigments in textile design as well. (Working with dyes on fabric results in the same elements of staining that appear in these recent pieces.)
Okawara paper has a dual-sided ability to accept both wet and dry media and its durability allows physical manipulation like crushing and wrinkling as well as folding and creasing. (Four Maps For Karibib)
“My Country” continues the investigation of properties and process of materials and media that was more formally begun more than a decade ago.
In this triptych, “Three In Red”, from“The Threads Project” I used red and white to create analogous images using different materials. The section on the left is wrinkled drawing paper and Nupastel. The center work consists of loosely-sewn red thread on tulle, while the right work uses shades of red and pink thread on cotton sateen. Each is approximately 17 x 17 inches.
THE THREADS PROJECT contains a large proportion of work which relates to my first love in life, drawing. Although I didn’t realize it when this “series” began in 2001, (developing into an enormous body of work over more than six years), the questions I set for myself and the means I used to answer them helped me to expand my definitions of drawing on a very personal level.
I owned my first computer at the time that this experimentation began. Installed in it was the basic Paint program. I stumbled upon it and began to play a bit with the idea of drawing digitally. Immediately I began to see the linear relationship to my threads pieces and began to work with this in color and black and white.
BEATRICE’S THREADS 2002
THREAD LACE 2002
THREAD LACE II 2002
As “The Threads Project” progressed the idea of using actual thread and layers came into the work. This 2003 piece used thick thread sewn to tulle. Beneath the cream thread lies a single black thread. The earlier digital drawing, along with others, explored the idea of layers.
SINGULAR 2003 Thread, machine-sewn to tulle, hand-sewn to Okawara paper 14 x 11.75″
The digital drawings provided yet another method of using the idea of analagous images, but in a way entirely unanticipated. The linear quality of these digital drawings echoed that of thread of course, but also changed my ideas of what exactly constituted a drawing in my previous experience. The need for paper or any other physical support was unnecessary. The images remained “virtual” until printed in some way. Until then no boundaries existed except the frame of a monitor or computer screen. These images could be understood as thumbnails or “sketches” for other work such as an installation or sculpture. They could be fully-realized works on paper or fabric using a printing method of some kind. They certainly bore evidence of the maker’s hand yet not in any way I had ever before used.
One other element of the digital drawings was the use of inverting the images. This experiment provided a method that again, proved fertile much later when I began to work with digital photographs.
INVERTED THREADS I 2003
Black and white digital drawings as well as more digital drawings in color can be seen in the Page -DIGITAL DRAWINGS FROM THE THREADS PROJECT.
LINEAR STRATEGY BLACK VI 2002