Artist, Designer, Traveler, Writer, Photographer

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ART FROM ART

One of my favorite processes for making art is frottage, or rubbing. I first encountered this old process on a trip to London years ago when I visited Westminster Cathedral. It is still possible to make rubbings there of the brasses (which are actually like flat grave markers.)

The method used at Westminster involves a waxy crayon on paper over the brass which is rubbed to reveal the image of the brass beneath. Rather like using a soft pencil and paper over a coin to capture the raised image. This method is very old and has been used for recording images of old gravestones and carved stone monuments in many countries. Today people make rubbings of names on the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Quite coincidentally I got a job teaching people how to make rubbings of English and Flemish replica brasses for a holiday workshop in Virginia when I returned from my visit to England. Following that, the next spring I was invited to run a shop doing the same thing in Virginia Beach.

After a while I decided to adapt the rubbing method to using my favorite drawing tool, Prismacolor pencils. And now, many years later, making images with this method and colored pencil (or sometimes even crayon) still serves me well.

Frottage was something I used often in the large body of work, “The Threads Project” (documented in this blog). Using my favorite Japanese-style paper, Okawara, it is possible to make extremely sensitive images from even tiny threads beneath the paper as seen in the Threads piece “Thermal”.

THERMAL 2003 Prismacolor on Okawara paper- 38 x 26 inches-from The Threads Project

The idea of using “art from art” was also part of my thinking in The Threads Project. In “Add Color” I made first a sewn thread drawing and then using the frottage method “added color” with a thin sheet of drawing paper over the first image with the threads. So the second image is derived from the first with the addition of color. Pairs are an often-used method as well in the Project.

ADD COLOR 2002 from The Threads Project

Returning to the art again recently I discovered that I still had some sheets of the wonderful Okawara paper. I had been “warming up” by doing small frottage drawings in my notebook. This inspired me to tackle a larger scale piece with the Okawara. I used half a sheet (they are about forty by seventy-two inches in size). The “subject” I determined would be a painting also done on Okawara and mounted to yet another sheet of it to make it more substantial and to present the image as a pair. “Ocean Gates” has a lot of surface texture which was the factor that made frottage possible.

OCEAN GATES 2020-21 acrylic on Okawara paper 28.5 x 36 inches

Using Prismacolor pencils on such a large image was a big undertaking but I carried on. The linear imagery was the result of using a small bottle of gold fabric paint to draw along with Golden Fluid acrylics on “Ocean Gates”.

AFTER IMAGE 2022 Prismacolor pencil on Okawara paper 26 x 37 inches

Again, returning to a favorite use of pairs.


SOMETHING FROM NOTHING

The late summer has been a time of re-organization, of purging uneeded things, of going through items left in the boxes and containers packed when I moved to my new place in Chicago nearly three years ago. After a long period of recuperating from several ailments and disasters I finally sense the creative flow beginning again. As in past fallow periods these are followed by times of assessing what I have to work with. The state of painting and drawing supplies, papers, and in this case, containers with many remaining pieces of cloth from The Threads Project.

In one box I came across a leftover scrap of white gauze. The larger portion was used to make a scroll-shaped piece called “Tender Threads”. It is described elsewhere in the Posts. It was composed simply of gauze and unspooled black thread.

This small remnant called out to be transformed as well. Using another larger scrap of black cotton upon which to work I used thread fragments in black, snippets of black tulle along with larger pieces of white tulle to layer the image. Returning to the use of the “stitch-mark”, the triangular stitch so often employed in The Threads Project, I fastened all together.

NEW THREADS 2022 12 x 13.5 inches white gauze, thread, tulle on black cotton

These random scraps could have been overlooked or discounted as having no use, but something about the gauze suggested otherwise.

I am reminded of the textile piece, “Moon, Stream, Forest” (seen in the post “Old Tradition, New Art”) which I made from scraps of cloth when I had no scissors available. I used a nail clipper to cut thread and the piece could only use the shapes of existing fabric pieces carried in a ziplock bag (result of moving back to San Franciso and waiting for possessions to be shipped.) Again, “Something from nothing.”

Following “New Threads”, I rummaged through my stores of paper. My favorite paper is, hands down, the fabulous Japanese-style Okawara. it has a smooth, glazed surface on one side and a rather rough surface on the other. Its color is a lovely neutral, creamy off white or natural color.

I have used it for many pieces over the years with fluid acrylic, colored pencil, pastel. I have even sewn it. In many ways it is like fabric but with even more possibilities. Sources for the preferred size of about 40 x 72 inches are often not as plentiful as they once were so I save every precious scrap. I took out a little box of rolled trimmings from other work, found several larger pieces to use as the foundation and began.

The strange inspiration for “Structure” was a small label that fell off some item in my household recently. I kept it, thinking there might be some odd creative use for it. The rectangular label is a much darker version of the Okawara color, yet still in the same color range. Some faded red text in Spanish is barely discernible on one side while on the other a liberal coating of glossy glue no longer functioned in its purpose.

This little label became the center and organizing element of the collage. It is what I would call an “intimate” piece; one must approach it closely to observe the very minute marks, shapes, and other elements with which it was “built”. I do think of it, for that reason, as a kind of structure, with each tiny piece chosen to work with the others. (For example, the vertical piece to the right of the label has a slight red line that echoes the nearly invisible red text on the reverse of the label.)

STRUCTURE 2022 11.75 x 9.5 inches Found label, Okawara paper, acrylic

The diminutive size of these two pieces seems to fit the need for making work that is not overwhelming yet seems to open doors to further possibilities.

An update on October 29, 2022-

Further possibilities were realized after deciding to use some leftover pieces of my hand-dyed cotton from “The Threads Project”. With some snipping and arranging and the addition of slender pieces of commercially-dyed cotton I made two more “structure” pieces. These two are mounted to remaining pieces of black felt that I had used as a support for a series of small thread drawings. Those were then framed and exhibited at a quite large exhibition for “The Threads Project” in autumn of 2015 at The World Trade Center in Norfolk, Virginia called “Threads of Time”.

This is not the first time that I had used this particular dyed fabric. The cloth itself originated in the textile design studio I had years ago in San Francisco. In 2001 I participated in an etching workshop at the famed Crown Point Press, also in San Francisco. The work on the threads pieces was really developing at that time and working with the press and master printers helped ideas emerge.

At one point I noticed that this particular fabric really called to mind the quality of an aquatint etching. I decided to make an etching to echo the cloth and place the two same-size images side-by-side on a single sheet. The cloth was adhered using the chine colle’ process.

Using fabric and textile elements was the major theme in “The Threads Project” as I tried to blur the division between art and craft. Many such pieces came from that workshop as seen on other posts and pages on this blog.

RUST 2001 etching, right, dyed cotton left, Crown Point Press, San Francisco

The two new pieces are entirely cloth, using what was left of the “Rust” material and following the general idea of the paper piece “Structure”.

TURQUOISE STRUCTURE 2022 dyed cotton and purchased cotton, thread 11 x 9.25 inches on black felt
RED STRUCTURE 2022 dyed cotton and purchased cotton, thread 11 x 9.75 inches on black felt


A NEW EDEN

New paintings which continue the stain and dot work.

A NEW EDEN 2020 24 x 36 in acrylic on canvas
METAMORPHOSIS 2017 36 x 36 in acrylic on canvas


MORE OF THE TRAVELER

This earlier post has been updated on March 11, 2022 to include other pieces in The Traveler series.

Grieving is a kind of journey. There is no way of knowing its length or the events that will be encountered along the way. And this journey, meant to heal the pain of loss and heartbreak, often brings a kind of amnesia. In this state of forgetfulness one can recover from terrible things that may have crushed the spirit of both the living and the dead.

That has been so since the death of my love Scott. He was a force of nature, a brilliant, ambitious man who carried a terrible burden as he made his way on his earthly journey. At last he was unable to go on and made the decision to leave us.

After more than three years time has freed me from the deepest of the sorrow. My own journey continues and now I am able to find a way to complete a kind story that finds hope and joy in thinking of Scott and about the journey he has taken since leaving us.

I have begun a series of pieces that I call “The Traveler”. There are drawings, works on paper, and paintings. This one, and each of the others, was created using a template taken from a favorite photo of Scott. In the photo he is a young man, starting out in life. He stands in front of a campus building at university, carrying his bags and looking quite serious. I like to think of him in this photo as “a man on the way up”.

This painting has a small house, an earthly home that is left behind as he moves into a new sphere of existence. I like to think of this unknown as joyful.

TRAVELER  2019 acrylic on wood panel 36 x 24 in  

THE TRAVELER II 2019-2020 36 x 24 in acrylic on wood panel
THE TRAVELER-THE RAGGED EDGE OF MEMORY 2019 15 x 20 in acrylic on paper on board
THE TRAVELER-DREAM 2019 16 x 12 in colored pencil on paper

“NO CHANCE”

July 31, 2014-August 7, 2014

The 30 by 40-inch painting on canvas, “Origin”,  marked the first new work this year. It was a difficult painting, laden with starts and stops and  layers of decisions as I built up the surface searching for the final state.

ORIGIN 2014ORIGIN  2014    30 x 40 inches  acrylic on canvas

Even as I struggled with this work, I sensed a change. Questions come to mind. Have I finished with this series of dot and stain pieces? If not, where am I going? And significantly, what connections are there to my past work and  to contemporary art being created today?

As I mentioned recently, the creative well has been severely depleted. So it is wonderful to be working at all.  As in past times of such depletion, I am slowly emerging from the anaesthesia. I am looking at art again, art of all kinds. I am looking at what is happening in the capitals such as London where  The Tate Gallery is of course in the forefront of exciting contemporary art. A link from The Tate’s website to the iconic institution WhiteChapel Gallery has led me to their series of anthologies,Documents of Contemporary Art .  Historic and contemporary aesthetic ideas and issues are written about by artists, curators, and scholars.

My first two choices in the series are “Time”, edited by Amelia Groom, and “Chance”, edited by Margaret Iverson.

I chose the volume devoted to “Chance” because I had been thinking about the switch about a decade ago from work that was primarily figurative to non-representational work or abstract.  I had been thinking of conversations with a colleague who was struggling with her first attempts at abstract painting. I offered the advice to “search for the pattern” in the marks already made in her painting. This led me to analyze my own process, particularly in the ongoing series of stain/dot paintings. I had been thinking of the staining aspect in terms of “chance” and was considering a blog post on this process about a year ago. My tentative title, “The Game of Chance And The Search For Pattern” now seems flawed, at least in reference to my own work.

Now that I have begun to delve into the wider outlook presented in the Whitechapel book I can see that chance has little presence in these paintings. Considering some of the definitions of  “Chance” made this clear.
Chance
“A possibility of something happening. The occurrence and development of events in the absence of any obvious design.
Fortuitous. Accidental. Do something by accident or without design”.
 The more I read about the process of chance as used in past decades by people like John Cage and John Baldessari the more I realized that the only part of my process involving chance was the staining with which I began the paintings. Even here, I controlled the image by shifting the canvas to guide the flow of color. In the end I decided that chance was for all purposes, absent. In fact, the paintings are remarkably controlled from beginning to end.

Rather than chance, especially in this recent piece,  perhaps accretion would better describe the process.

The origin of the staining method began with the textile work decades ago. The application of fluid color onto the stretched canvas, a fabric after all, causes a similar result as my old dye processes on silk and cotton. There is a slight sense that the stain begins with no authority of mine,  But that’s where any possibility of chance ends. By tipping, blotting, spraying, I guide the flow of color as much as possible. I search for a pattern, yes, but one that fit my sense of composition on the surface.

photo4These photos give a bit of of the steps in the process of trying to work out this painting. As the top photo shows, it as a difficult process, with attempts covered over.

At some points, it seemed the solution was in hand. But no, the painting was far from the final state. I was tempted to resist the usual complexities of the dots, to leave the composition in a far more spare state of positive and negative.

photo7But there seemed to be in irresistable force at work. I felt driven to continue  finding “islands” of color and dots in the field of the canvas.

Untitled New Painting 2014This photo gives the “terrain” of the painting. From these “islands” developed the pattern that also sustained the stains from which the picture began.

Here are details of the finished painting~

2014-08-04 13.56.50Origin 1The process of naming this painting was just as difficult as making it. I really searched my associations for a title which would not be trite or overly suggestive and narrow. In the end, a television program on until now unseen formation of stars gave an idea. Photographs beamed from distant space showed what astronomers called a “natal environment”, a place where a new star might be born. This painting was actually a beginning in a sense. It did record, in the process of its making, the state of chaos that precedes solution or manifestation. So rather than the rather unpoetic “natal environment”, the title “Origin” seemed appropriate.

In answer to my question of whether these dot and stain paintings have come to an end, the answer is no. The blank canvases await.