Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Week 14: Guideposts

Over the past few weeks I have moved in several different directions at one time, which is always very frustrating for me. When there are too many voices in the studio, story lines get muddled and start to bleed into one another.  I eventually had to wrap up everything else and focus on one path: Internal Guideposts.

Interestingly, during the exploration of light and shadow I have found myself focusing on the themes that may characterize our life, such as ambition, secrecy, balance, grace, etc.  It is how we deal with these themes that shapes our journey.  Rather than examine the ideas through the context of a story, I have instead found myself creating individual characters that embody and symbolize these themes, but in a way that identifies the benefits and pitfalls inherent in each.  I see these figures as internal guides that we can reach out to as needed.

Ambition, you are a constant shadowy figure in my world. You allow me to see my goals clearly and move towards them but you also warn me to do so with compassion, understanding and patience.

Grace, you are forever on the horizon and yet remind me that you are also inside.

Secrecy's chains can hold me back and keep me from others, but they are also the wishes and prayers I send out for myself and others and those secrets are magical.

And the perfect reliquary for each guide is an old clock case. Time plays a large roll in a lot of my work. I am always fighting time. There is never enough of it and it is usually not until it has passed that I truly appreciate what I had. It is precisely that reason I don't wear a watch: I don't want time to have power. But of course, I am kidding myself.  It will always have the last word.  So eventually each Guidepost will be lovingly housed in its own clock case, reminding us that time is the context of all.

Also this week:

  • replicated horse skull to pair with antique rocking horse.
  • finished 1/2 scale crouched figure
  • finished 5 small heads
  • starting full figure examining "limitation" theme

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Week 15: "Cavatina"

So far I have focused on bits and pieces of my process and work leading up to the Shadow Circus Exhibition at the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art. This week I would like to demonstrate the creation of one of my new pieces from start to finish.

As with many of my pieces, the inspiration for "Cavatina" started with the object itself.  To say that my friend, Darrell Ezekiel, and I love to scavenge is a bit of an understatement. Perhaps it is closer to an obsession. So, one unseasonably warm day in December found us at a local antique market, Scott's, looking for interesting objects to add to our collection or use in our work. It is there I saw this old, dusty, wooden violin case that immediately sang to me. After learning that the case was 150 years old from a Paris estate, I was hooked.  How could I pass on a piece whose beautiful patina hinted at its rich history?

I immediately knew the story would revolve around finding the contentment and ecstasy along life's journey and for me those moments of grace have always been shared.  I started working on two figures simultaneously.  As with all my work, I build the figures piece by piece.  I start building the torso and head separately and then attaching them.

I then add and define the upper arms while working on the forearm and hands.  After the lower arms are attached I then further refine and add definition.  This process is continued with the legs: attaching the upper legs first and then working the calf and foot separately and attaching.

The challenge in particular for this piece was working with the body construction to create a position that evoked the emotion I wanted the figures to relate and that would work with the violin case.  Since clay shrinks as it dries and in the kiln,  I had to take that into account during construction.

To finish the pieces, I applied multiple layers of slips, underglazes, and stains. As mentioned in previous posts, I tried to contrast the defined structure of the figure with mark making and a loser application of color.  I wanted to make each character distinct but seeming to belong to the same melody.

After these figures were fired in the kiln, the assembly process begins.  I love this part!  Much of the building process I need to focus on the technical aspects of proportion, expression and collaboration with the mixed media.  However, during the assembly process I can have fun working with the different media in my studio to further build the narrative of the piece.

A reoccurring theme in my work is how we are all tethered to a terrestrial journey.  Wheels are a symbol of this--so I added vintage wheels (another pickin' find).  I also cleaned and varnished the case, being careful to bring forth the patinas in the woodwork and hardware.  However, my favorite little creative adventure was creating the string instrument held by one of the figures.  As serendipity would have it, when I cleaned out the case I found an old bridge.  This became the body of the instrument in combination with small bits and pieces of scrap I have lovingly stored in my studio.

And the result became "Cavatina."  A simple, sometimes brilliant aria in an opera. A small melodic piece in a larger body of work.  And for me that is grace.  It is fleeting and never repeated in the same way, but when achieved it is a brilliant moment in the melody of our life's journey.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Week 16: No Rest For the Wicked

This week's post is a little late because..... I'm on vacation.

"What?!?!?" my slavedriver-self demands.  "How can you take a break NOW when you have a whole new collection to put together?!  You should be working around the clock, not resting on your laurels!"

Well, trust me, I will be working around the clock.  I've never been someone who waits until the deadline crunch to produce work.  Neither my personality nor the nature of the medium will allow me to do that.  But one of the many, many gifts my family has given me is the gift of balance.  It is so easy for me to get so absorbed in my work that I lose perspective on the other aspects of my life.  My family reminds me to stop and take a look to appreciate what I have.

Unfortunately, my slavedriver-self will not take a break with me. Nag, nag, nag! As a compromise I have brought some things to work/play with.  Recently an artist friend and I lamented that we just don't allow ourselves time in the studio to just play without an end result in mind.  So, I've packed up some antique doll bodies, buttons, thread, tags, metal and other ephemera to simply create.  Will these creations end up in a piece or simply decorate the studio I don't yet know.  But the more I work with these items, the more my imagination is stretched.  I'm enjoying the process, not the product.  But most of all, I'm having fun AND keeping the slavedriver-self least for now!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Week 17: Below the Surface

Enhancing my finishes is one of the goals I set for myself this summer. While I'm not inherently unhappy with how my pieces are finished, I wanted to see if the direction of my new collection could be reflected visually as well as conceptually.

Before going forward I think I should provide an explanation of my current process. Bear with me, I'll keep it quick. All my finishes are ceramic, which means that I do not use paint, pencil, or any other substance after the clay has been fired to decorate the surface.  Rather, I apply multiple layers of slips (liquid clay), stains, and underglazes to the texturized surface of the clay to build up a depth of color.  Usually the average piece will have 10-20 layers of color before I am done. Then the piece is fired in the kiln and all the finishes are fired on the piece.

The only exception to this process is the skin of the figure. I have always preferred to keep the skin of the figure the raw, smooth finish of the naked clay. Whether I worked in terra cotta, porcelain, or black clay the skin is always left alone. To me raw clay symbolizes the idea that as humans we are clay to be molded to our fullest potential.

However, as I have begun to work on the contrasting shadows and light in life's journey these finishes have begun to change.  I doubt I will ever be able to change the manner in which I sculpt--my figures are tight and articulated because there is a side of me that is controlling and wants to express the emotional story of the piece.

But this "tightness" as I call it is starting to be contrasted with a looser application of color and mark making.  I am starting to bleed the areas where the skin and costume meet.  How much of what we cover ourselves is an expression of who we truly are or want to be?  Don't we all carry the scars and marks of our experiences, even if they can't be seen?  And, the unblemished skin of my figures are becoming tarnished with stains and washes dripped and splashed on the surface.

As I write this, these changes seem trivial or inevitable, but the to achieve them has been a battle of wills in my studio.  My desire for control has been waging war with my ambition to express the inner complications of each figure.  With each drip I release on the face I agonize about where it is falling and how it will change the piece. I keep telling myself "Let it go!" but that is not my strongest quality.

To declare a truce with myself, I am slightly covering up the drips with a light application of slip and underglaze--because I really can't just let it go. But it turns out that this finish might be just what I am searching for.  Since I have a theater background I like how it creates the impression of pancake makeup that doesn't cover the truth beneath. And, most importantly, it is this compromise of stains and camouflage that reflects the conceptual direction of my new work.  

Also this week:

  • Skull cleaning and bleaching (horse, beaver, and ram)--not for the faint of heart.
  • Starting shadow guardian series.
  • Building, cutting, and reattaching big sitting figure to achieve the desired body position.
  • Finishing 34 candles for The Slow Burn.