The Wheel in the Studio Goes Round and Round

Work coming full circle in the studio this winter

If you’ve been keeping up with my previous posts since November 2016, you’ll know that I’ve been in a bit of a creative funk.  The results of the election knocked the stuffing out of me and it took awhile to find my creative footing.  When I’m stuck like this I find what I need to do is just shut up and make and let the reasons why take care of themselves.  The act of making with my hands seems to plug my brain into some sort of electrical outlet that ignites the spark that jumpstarts the creative juices into flowing.

For those of you who know my work, I’m not much of a thrower.  There are several reasons both ergonomic and creative.  Ergonomically I seem to have freakishly small hands.  Add to that my lower back is always an issue.  I keep toying with teaching a clay class called Throwing with Tiny Hands and a Bad Back.  Creatively, round forms make me very nervous.  They’re just so- circular!  Circles have so many connotations:  they have no beginning or end; they have a sense of completion; and there’s always that pressure of repetition.  I’m not a production potter by any stretch of the imagination.

But this winter I hunkered down in my studio every day and threw.  There was something very soothing about getting up in the morning, making a pot of tea, putting on an audio book, shutting the door and sitting down at the wheel.  Life at the time seemed so out of kilter, and  I needed the structure of repetitive routine.  I craved the calming influence and hypnotic effect of watching the wheel go round while clay squeezed between my hands.  I began to look forward to my days at the wheel like I never have.  I decided to challenge myself and throw plates, platters, bowls and cups to fill the kitchen cabinets in our new vacation home in the mountains of Colorado.  I may be out of creative gas but I could at least trick out my ride so that when the tank refilled I had more power under the hood and bells and whistles on my dashboard  to go more places than ever before.

I decided to stop being a wimp and to finally learn how to throw plates on hump molds and plaster bats and to make cup handles with an extruder.  I also challenged myself to throw series of bowls and forms the same size, and to nest.

Things started happening.  I found myself adding textures and elements making these round static forms more interesting, more mine.

From there I started thinking about colors, glazes, firing ranges and applications.  In the spirit of adventure I decided to revisit some old glaze recipes requiring spray-on application as well as some I’ve never done before, even using commercial glazes in combination with others.  Spraying involved figuring out the correct thickness, even which air compressor to use.

While all this was happening, the creative current began to trickle in.  I had a bag of glass nuggets incompatible for fusing and a glass lidded jar from a defunct terrarium.  All of a sudden the jar was on its side with the bag of nuggets next to it, and every time I walked by I glued one on.  What began as form of wheel avoidance and procrastination became an Ex-Voto urn for the sculpture Good Friends.

It was such a relief to make a glass sculpture by simple cold working.  But then it made me miss fusing.  I found myself getting emboldened.  While I was doing all these new things, and to a certain amount of success and satisfaction, why not finally get around to finishing some sculptures that have been percolating way too long in my noggin?  Time to fuse some glass and make bases for sculptures and lamps, and while I was at it, how bout some coasters and trays for spring!

Before I knew it, I had completed my goals.  That wheel work paid off in spades.  Not only do I have the dishes, bowls, and mugs made, but I seem to have launched myself into a better place creatively.

Being a Light for The Ghostlight Project at The Public Theater

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It takes a long time for me to process momentous issues. I do not leap into action easily, and when I do it’s usually to jump to the wrong conclusions or put my foot where it does not belong. I’m over feeling guilty about not going to Saturday’s Womens March in Washington. I am not a large herd animal. I would be a liability. I would be the one suffering from a panic attack who has to be given oxygen and carried off in an ambulance from getting extreme claustrophobia standing shoulder to shoulder with a million people. I prefer to hide in my studio and throw clay around and pray for the safety and strength of my sisters on the front line doing the dirty work. Yes I am a coward in this regard.

But my small still voice told me to go to The Public Theater to Be A Light and participate in The Ghostlight Project.

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I downloaded my sign, printed it out and pondered what I am and what I fight for. In this regard I am an American Patriot, someone willing to defend their country. I really don’t want to fight. I’d rather work with, but for the purpose of this exercise I decided I’d fight for dialogue and compromise.

The way I see it, we as the great nation of The United States of America have steered off course and are headed for very dangerous waters. We’ve stopped listening to each other. We only surround ourselves with people who agree with us. We have no desire or energy to have a dialogue, find the common ground then work to arrive at it, i.e. compromise. These days we are all or nothing. We are no longer united. The only way we’re going to turn this ship around is to grab the wheel and pull together.

Call me a dreamer. Accuse me of hallucinating, but this is what the small still voice is telling me.

And that’s why I took my little sign and my flashlight and stood on the steps of the Public Theater, and sang a song and wiped my eyes and left my sign pinned to a board along with the hopes and dreams of strangers.

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And sang a song

And listened to a speech

And hung up my sign

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What is Your Dream?

MLK mug by Roberto Lugo

MLK mug by Roberto Lugo, necklace by Jean Belanger, sweater by Grandma

Today we honor Martin Luther King Jr.  As I contemplate his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on this day of remembrance, this is my dream:

I have a dream that instead of fighting for justice, equality and liberty for all Americans; we work together for it, peacefully, and in the spirit of compromise.  We must re-learn what compromise is; we must re-learn how to respectfully listen to opinions opposite of ours; we must re-learn the art of creating dialogue to find the common ground.

What is your dream fellow Americans?

OUTRAGE: Artists Respond to Trump

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GO AWAY

 

In 2012 I began making ex-voto tokens.  Little hearts with messages on both sides.  The front had the title of the category of the message, the back, the individual message.  Each message is a prayer for something I wanted or something I got and was grateful for.  Mainly, the prayers covered issues that weighed heavily on my heart that were too big for me to solve.  In creating them and their containers, I hoped to take their burden off me and kiss them up to God.

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One very unexpected category that came up almost on its own was GO AWAY.  The tokens practically made themselves.  I figured, what or who is on Earth right now, that if they only went away, the world would be a much better place?  I banged out the messages then set out to envision the urn to put them in.  Unfortunately that urn took an awful lot of time to execute.  I had to figure out the design, the engineering, the science and the lighting.  It took 2 years.  I made the urn in 2014.  I thought that by then those issues going into that urn would be stale and irrelevant and even better resolved by that time.

Little did I know!  Inside the GO AWAY URN, from 2012 are:

Newt Gingrich, Election campaign super pacs, Church in politics politics in church, Obama Birthers, Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Julian Asange, Dominique Strauss Kahn, Anonymous Hackers, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Suicide Bombers, Christian Conservatives, Ultra Liberals, Violent Video Games, Facebook as a replacement for social interaction, Peta, Israeli Palestinian conflict, E.L.F., Tea Partiers, N.R.A., Political obstructionists, Radical Muslim Extremists, Health insurance companies, Snooki and Religious Extremists

Aside from Snooki, not much has gone away, and not only are not much in the jar are resolved, those in bold are not only still around but about to run our country.  Sigh.

That same year (2014,) I decided to comment on how social media was influencing people, especially politicians, especially the governor of my fair state, Chris Christie.  I made ECHO CHAMBER.

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This piece is an illustration of how certain politicians can surround themselves only with people who agree with them.  They hold “town hall meetings” where the audience is hand picked in advance, and if anyone else attends and expresses an alternate point of view they are rudely heckled and shouted down, if allowed to stay and speak at all.  It also is a reflection of how social media has put us into gorgeous little boxes of our own points of view; where algorithms hand pick what we see and digest as “news.”  All of our values are constantly reverberated back at us.  That was disturbing to me back then and now that hacking and fake news has been revealed as influencing this last election it is more relevant than ever.

I have had the extreme privilege of having these 2 pieces included in an on-line show, OUTRAGE: Artists Respond to Trump, curated by artist/activist Patricia Dahlman.  When I reviewed the works in the show I wondered how mine wound up among such amazing and provocative artwork by such incredible artists.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks my style is a little out of place, bordering on the side of elegance.  But like writer Flannery O’Conner, I try to bring weighty and distateful subjects to my viewer gently through beauty or humor.  Once they approach my work I then clobber them with the message.

Please take a look a the works in the show.  They truly are amazing.  They express my every anger and every fear.  I am astounded and beyond impressed that these artists were able to turn out this phenomenal work in such a short time.  Me?  I’m still processing my feelings, unable to express most of them.  I’m abashed, grateful and very dismayed that my 2 pieces, made years ago are relevant to this tragic turn of events in our collective history.

 

An Artist’s Role in Troubled Times

MeinmystudioThere is the idea that art is not a ‘legitimate’ type of work; that it is a frivolity best saved for spare time, etc; or a luxury for the wealthy. But for artists who have a vision that they are compelled to share, art isn’t a frivolity or luxury- it’s a necessity. And for society, art is also a necessity, although this may not be realized by many. We are the spirit keepers, the mirrors, the candles. And we need to become our own best friends- to believe in ourselves and what we do. And stick together, rather than compete with one another.  – Agnes Martin

For those of you who do not make art full time, Agnes is right, it isn’t a frivolity or luxury, making art for an artist is a necessity, a bodily function if you will, like breathing.  When tragedy occurs , especially on a global scale,  artists respond.  It’s what we do.  We make art to express collective sentiment, or to mark the event, or to raise money for those impacted.  Artists are active participants in change.

For some of us American citizens, the results of the recent presidential election is a tragedy of serious magnitude.  People are afraid- of deportation; of destruction to the environment; of violence caused by racial, gender and sexual prejudice; of certain rights in place being repealed; and of having all that our country has done to progress dismantled.

It is a time for us artists to hunker down and figure out a way to respond.  Usually when faced with a catastrophe, my creativity goes out the window for a good long while.  It’s as if all my creative energy goes elsewhere.  Within me is an ominous radio silence, like the quiet before a tornado when all the birds stop singing and the air is completely still.

The day after the election had me metaphorically face down on my shield.  I was devastated.  I felt all the fight drain from me.  Meanwhile on social media I watch all my artist friends spring into action.   There are calls to action, conferences, symposiums, calls for entry for themed shows, calendars for organized protests, all within a week after the election.  I seem paralyzed.  I feel as if I’ve been through so much that it’s taking me longer and longer to bounce back.  What can I do to help support those willing to be on the front lines?

I thus retreat into contemplative mode.  By quiet contemplation and prayer I seek out the small still voice that will lead me where I need to go and tell me what to do once I get there.  And that small voice is telling me right now that alot of healing and peace making is needed right now.  Comfort and healing is a major thread in my work, has been for  years.  This I can do.  As I pray for healing and comfort to those suffering, and for wisdom and peaceful hearts for those now in charge, I leave you with who I am as an artist and how I respond to times like this through my work:  come inside my work and rest.

 

Springtime in One Artist’s Life

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If you think my desk is a mess you should see the studio

Ever see The Wizard of OzYou know that scene where Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and Toto come upon the Scarecrow after he’d been marauded by the flying monkeys, where he says something like:  “my legs are over there, my arms are over there and my stomach’s over there?”  Well that’s what it’s been like for me since I last wrote.  I’ve been a little busy- too busy to post, sorry.  But it’s all good: a demo here, work in a show over there, a few pieces to drop off and a few to pick up; an annual event to orchestrate, teaching one class, getting ready to teach 2 more, firing away, even sales and a commission thrown in the mix.  These are the times where all the recharging of batteries an artist does by going to museums and galleries and communing with nature for inspiration comes in handy, we need that fuel the same way our bodies need fuel to get us through all this creative activity.

Not in any particular order (though I’ll try) allow me to let you behind the wizard’s curtain:

The Fundraiser:

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Lots of thank you cards to write! Everyone was so generous!!!

For the past several years Bill and I have supported an effort to fund summer camp scholarships at the Montclair Art Museum where I teach.  It means alot to us that as many children from diverse backgrounds are able to attend the camp to ensure a rich mixture of ideas, cultures, energy and creativity.  This year we sent out a call to friends and family for contributions in honor of our 25th (!!!) wedding anniversary and my 55th (gasp!) birthday.  The results exceeded expectations and were quite humbling.  In about a blink of an eye we had enough contributions for 3 full scholarships.  At this point we have enough for 9.  There is still more coming in.  To say we are thrilled is an understatement.

The Priest Project:

Every year since 2008 I orchestrate an event between The Restoration Workshop of Our Lady of Lourdes Church (my parish) and the Archdiocesan Offices of Clergy Personnel in the Archdiocese of Newark.  We call it The Priest Project.  In essence, with the help of clergy we restore and distribute the effects of deceased and retired priests to the candidates for ordination each year.  We obtain biographies of the deceased and retired priests and try to pass along to the candidates as much information as we can.

This event requires acquiring effects, identifying and executing repairs, meetings to figure out who restores what and gives them to whom, compiling spreadsheets, the logistics of going to and from the event, taking pictures, adding subtitles, printing out and compiling records of the event into a book.  Alot of work, but all done joyfully.

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The Demo:

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I had the good fortune of being asked to perform a raku firing demonstration at Peters Valley on May 1 as part of their open studios.  Please read my previous blog post all about that, it was really really fun!

Teaching Glass and Clay:

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Student work in about to go in the kiln

Can I tell you how much I love my students that I teach at the Montclair Art Museum?  I teach them glass primarily.  When I wanted to teach clay they happily all signed on board for that adventure.  So we are having a split spring session:  4 weeks of fused glass, 4 weeks of clay with a raku firing on the last day.  My students are so cheerful and easy going.  They get along well with each other and make my experience pure joy.  I really enjoy firing their glass work.  In a way it’s how I get to collaborate with them- to try to fire their work to the best of it’s ability by me being at the best of my abilities as I load and program the kiln.

Clay class will be a bit like the candy manufacturing scene of The Lucy Show, as 4 once-a-week classes really isn’t alot of time to teach several students who have never worked in clay before to make enough work to then bisque, glaze and raku fire.  But I tell my students the object of the class is to relax, have fun, learn something new and be creative in a supportive environment.  If we follow those tenets we’ll be fine.

Filling the Kiln:

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Not enough for a second load, ack!

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Got to make some of my own to fill up the space…

Firing glass in a clay kiln can be tricky as glass is finicky and a vertical kiln with no elements in the lid means the temperatures within are uneven for that purpose.  I have found that glass does not like to have a lot of open space around it.  If there is not enough work to fill the kiln, that means to stay on schedule I need to add some stuff of my own.  Add one more thing to do to the list.  Also add the finish work, photographing and uploading to the Etsy shop in an attempt to sell it to the work load too.

The Sales:

Throw into this mix the happy delirium involved with packaging up sales on my Etsy shop and finally finishing a commission that took way longer than I would have liked to. Ca-Ching!

Preparing for the Big Workshop:

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“The Peters Valley Pile” keeps growing exponentially

Like the light of an oncoming train, the 3 day Raku Rodeo workshop at Peters Valley is fast approaching.  I’m trying not to think about it too much so I don’t make a run for it.  I just make my lists of things to do to prepare and chip away at it every day.  So far I’ve created all the hand outs, glaze recipes, slide show and am now in the process of gathering materials and creating “the pile” of stuff to pack and bring.  I like to itemize all that stuff onto a spreadsheet to minimize forgetting some key component or leaving something valuable to me behind.

The Shows:

Last Sunday I picked up work from Sacred Spaces Holy Places in Metuchen and prepped and dropped off work for Visions of the Vanguard, a show of work by the faculty of the museum.   The Montclair 10 Returns show will be on the Montclair Gallery Walk tomorrow, so block out time for that.  The show closes that weekend so block out time to pick up the work on Sunday.  There’s my piece Echo Chamber to pack and drop off for the SMI VIewpoints show at Aljira in Newark (they put my piece on their promo, OMG!!!) Oh and look- the opening reception for Visions of the Vanguard is June 2nd as part of their Free First Thursday Nights, on the same day we depart for Peters Valley!  Since it’s in the evening that means I’ll be dropping off and settling in at Peters Valley that morning then driving back here for the evening’s reception then departing again to Peters Valley to hide under that bed until morning when the workshop begins.

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Echo Chamber made the cover of the gallery announcement! So pleased!

Like I said it’s ALL GOOD.  One thing that keeps niggling the back of my mind is that in addition to having enormous gratitude for all these great things happening in my more than full time artistic career, I am extremely grateful that my art career is not my sole source of income.  Those who know me know this is my second career and through my previous career and other good fortunes I can live an amazing life without worry of supporting myself only by teaching and selling art, because I can’t.  I don’t get paid a living wage from either.  Even though I began this pursuit in 2008 I am still what one would charitably refer to as an “emerging artist,” which sometimes feels like a breach birth.  I have no idea when or if indeed I will emerge and emerge into what and where I have no clue.  All I know is that I am an artist, working full time.  For me, creating does not feel like a choice, it’s like a mandate, or a function to sustain life that has to be done, like breathing.  I worry constantly about other artists out there like me who need to make art but unlike me need to make a living at the same time.  Please help these artists survive.  Support your local artists!

Turn Milestones into Stepping Stones: SEND A KID TO SUMMER ART CAMP!!!

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Won’t you enrich the lives of a deserving child by giving them and their families the gift of art and culture?

It has come to my attention that on April 4th I will turn 55.  Even more shocking is the fact that on April 6th, Bill and I will have been married 25 years!  Do you know what this means?  This means something grand must occur to mark these tremendous milestones.  What do two people  whose lives are so full and blessed with an embarrassment of riches beyond our wildest dreams need?

WE NEED TO SEND KIDS TO SUMMER ART CAMP AT THE MONTCLAIR ART MUSEUM!!!

In 2012, I taught pre-teens a 2- week clay class at MAM SummerArt Camp.  What I learned is that I am not the best teacher for anyone less than 20 years of age.  I also learned that the camp was in desperate need of economic and cultural diversity within the student body.  Minimalism is a great genre, but not when it comes to filling a class with students.  Creativity begins when cultures, races and others of diverse life experiences collide.

Bill and I have created a scholarship fund to accomplish this mission.  A gift of $900 will send 1 child to camp for 2 weeks.  To make things even more fun for them they will also get a lunch box, a gift certificate to a local art supply store and a 1 year family membership to the museum.

Imagine  if 90 people sent $10-  BINGO, a child’s life is changed!

The folks at MAM have made it really easy to donate.  All you need to do is click on a link:

montclairartmuseum.org/donate

Enter the donation amount on the first page (under the donation amount you can check a box in case you want to make the donation in honor or memory of someone, pretty cool..)  Just after entering your credit card info enter the coupon code SUMMERCAMP at the bottom and it will earmark your donation for the camp.  DON’T FORGET TO ENTER TO COUPON CODE!  Please do not delay, as the selection process for student applications is fast approaching. Please help turn our milestones into stepping stones for a budding artist.  Give them a chance to grow and create in a spectacular, nurturing, fantastic place.  Help add “let’s all go to the museum!” to their list of fun things to do.

Please share this post with as many like minded people you can think of, help SummerArtCamp go viral!

Session II Session I Exploring Pottery

 

Gallery Crawls Fall 2015/Winter 2016

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November 12, 2015, inside the Grand Palais for the Paris Photo 2015 exposition

This posting will continue my reporting on what I saw and did in Paris last November as well as catch you up on what I’ve seen lately.  To review, the purpose of the Paris trip was for my husband, photographer Bill Westheimer to attend Paris Photo 2015 at the Grand Palais.  I was along for the ride.  I love looking at art.  I love critiquing art.  I love learning about art.  I love meeting fellow artists and when it comes to international creative events such as these, I love the people watching.  Its where art, fashion and artists collide.

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View from the stairs to the mezzanine. It’s as if Paris Photo is inside an enormous jewel box!

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So much to see, where do I begin?

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As night fell the venues glowed

In my opinion, there was no better location than Paris, no better venue than the Grand Palais to hold this event.  It was as if all the images displayed were slides tucked inside an enormous glass and green steel jewel box.  The structure itself was worth the visit.  I have been told, more than once by Bill, that the purpose of the visit was reconnaissance- for him to see what is out there and who is representing it; to make lists for future reference.  It was NOT the time and place to shop work.  Ok.  Got it.  Message received.  I would keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut.  We went twice:  once to breeze through, say hello to a few friends working in the booths and get a lay of the land.  The second trip would be a longer more day long affair, going from booth to booth, taking notes and gathering info.

To execute this feat I realized I needed something to do, some sort of individual purpose other than being the supportive spouse to keep me occupied, engaged and quiet.  So I bought a notebook and a pen and I set about reviewing the work,  the space, the food and what people were wearing, like an undercover reporter for a lets pretend magazine.  In addition to planning the activity it was also necessary to plan attire.  My very first entry in my Paris Photo notebook was:

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How to attend an all day exposition:

-Dress in layers:  wear comfortable shoes & clothing; carry a light weight shoulder bag to put things in and hang things from, like jackets and scarves;

Immediately locate and use the bathroom;

-Put some cash in your pockets (wear clothing with lots and lots of pockets)

-Carry a cellphone, pen and little notebook.

-Keep your mouth shut if the reason you are here is for someone else;

-Carry lots of business cards in case you are here for YOU;

-Eat a good breakfast that will give you energy and not slow you down;

-Dress stylishly; to be noticed, in case you get separated from your party; (it pays to be tall by birth but alas I am not)

-Pick a meeting point and a time to meet your friends in case you get separated (meet you by the food every hour;)

-find a place to sit the minute you get cranky (this is important;)

-Don’t try to make dinner plans with every person you run into that you know;

-Try not to get jealous of the success of others on exhibit and don’t come from a place of low self esteem;

Don’t monopolize the time of your friends working the booths;

-Network over lunch;

-Drink alot of caffeine;

-Don’t start drinking until early evening;

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Some hand outs I picked up at the booths and my ever present notebook.

Thus dressed, fortified, informed and debriefed I made my way around the exhibits.  Here are comments I made in my notebook:  NOTE:  My comments will appear in italics

Yves Marchand & Roman Meffre, “Rivoli Theater, Berkley USA, 2013:

Jacob Aoe Sobol, “Boy in Novosibirsk, Russia, 2014;

Polka Gallery, Paris, booth A52

 It’s hard for me to view photos like these because I want to know the story behind each one and they aren’t there, they’re just works of art;

Gitterman Gallery:  Herbert Matter, “Untitled” 1939-43William Larsonsending images and text through telephone lines in the 1970’s!!!

Grids of photos:  Bruno Roels (A palm tree is a palm tree is a palm tree)

Appropriation:  Sherrie Levine: “After Man Ray Man and a Woman 2005”

Man Ray’s photo of a nude descending a staircase by DuChamp, 1920.

Delphine Balley- staged murder scenes “Les Choses de la Vie” at Suzanne Tarasiere booth C37

My favorite and I don’t know why:

Garry Fabian Miller

Winged Hawthorn- The Hedgerows of Homeland & Haying Down, Dartmoor Spring & Late Autumn, 2011″ at Ingelby Gallery

Katarzyna Mircsak (Polish) “Tools of the Crime Series, 2012″ at Eric Franck Fine Art booth C40

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Amazing people watching. I just loved her hair and her whole look.

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These women won the hair category of the people watching awards.

It was an amazing couple of days and we were so glad we went.  Going to Paris for Paris Photo has always been a dream, and all of a sudden it was a wonderful reality.  Ironically, we were there on November 12, 2015, the day before the shootings and bombings in the Bataclan and in the cafes, where many young spirited fun loving people had their lives cut short for no better reason than they were out living their lives in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Ironically even more, since I remember feeling so free and so spirited at the event, thinking to myself, “isn’t it wonderful that we can be out in large venues again without fear of terrorism?”  Oh my.  Like all other public venues in Paris that terrible day, Paris Photo was shuttered and closed early.

February, 2016- my first visit to the new Whitney Museum of Art, New York City

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Yes, can you please tell me, why was art in the 1990’s so bad?

If you know me you know I am not really a fan of the Whitney.  I never liked the architecture of its original location on Madison Avenue.  I tried, I really tried to like the artwork they have presented over the years.  I give them points for exhibiting works by Marilyn Minter, and I never tire of seeing Calder’s Circus, but everything else usually annoys or confuses me, and it’s one of those deals where they actually want you to feel that way.  Whatever.  The Whitney is one of the few museums in New York City where I don’t have an annual membership.  I rather choose to get in free by flashing my museum employee id from the Montclair Art Museum where I teach.  This magical perk is a thrill.  So far I’ve gotten in everywhere except The National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY (the nerve!) and the Denver Botanic Garden (even though the employees thought I should as they sadly made me pay.)

So when the Whitney moved downtown into a new light and airy structure with outdoor terraces on every floor with a killer view in all directions, designed by Renzo Piano, while flashing my employee id I gave going there another chance.

Oh well.

At least Calder’s Circus was still there, this time given a place of pride front and center instead of being tucked into a hard to access mezzanine like at the old location.

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Calder’s Circus

We started at the top floor and worked our way down, beginning with an exhibition of works by Laura Poitras: Astro Noise.  To preface, I try to be as objective as possible in consuming another artist’s work.  I realize that a strong negative reaction is just as successful as a positive one; artwork is not made with the sole purpose of making the viewer smile or feel loved.  Rather, a very important part of making art is to bring difficult subjects often swept under rugs out into the open and visible to the masses.  A critique of the exhibit by me would not be fair as my reaction to it is strongly subjective as the artist is delving into the surveillance, interrogation and wrenching cultural shifts brought about by the attacks on September 11, 2001.  Having seen the second plane slam into the World Trade Center from my seat on the commuter train then being in lower Manhattan as the towers fell, smelling the burning, hearing the screams, seeing people covered with ash running for their lives, then being evacuated to New Jersey are forever seared into my psyche.  They are now part of my DNA, like it or  not. Anytime I view or experience video footage, audio clips, photographic montage of that day bring on horrific nightmares, so I need to consciously avoid venues like this.  So, after viewing a couple light boxes in Disposition Matrix, I waited for Bill in the hall.

I must say that most works on the lower floors blurred one into another, except for a fabulous abstract film I enjoyed enormously entitled, Synchromy #4 Escape by Mary Ellen Bute which she made in the 1930’s.  It is an abstract cartoon set to classical music.  Just a few squiggles, lines and a few geometric shapes in primary colors on a black background dancing to the music.  I loved it.  Having been raised on Disney’s Fantasia it’s just what I see in my head when I hear classical music.  The rest of the floors were kind of a bust for me.  There’s just so many times I want to see a Jeff Koons. Don’t even get me started on the art of the 1990’s.  I just don’t see the point of it, other than the fact that is coincided with the commodification of art and the market was suddenly driven by investors looking to make a buck rather than a collector wanting something of aesthetic value.  But hope springs eternal, I like DuChamp’s Fountain don’t I?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Breakthrough and A New Assistant

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Not a bad weekend shut in the studio, for a change!

As the saying goes, “don’t give up just before the miracle.”  All the clay I touched for the past month wound up in that endless cycle of wedge, throw, reclaim, wedge, throw, reclaim.  Sigh.  Whether my efforts made the clay just a boring blank cylinder with no spirit, or a structural failure, everything just kept going into the damn bucket.  In bygone days, when I was young and had more ego than brains or skill, I thought every single time I touched clay had to be a masterpiece.  Runs like this would be crushing and I’d leave the studio and walk away from clay for a good long while.  Now I just persevere.  I realize that nothing worth creating comes easy.  There is no antidote to this situation but hard work.  I also realize that my absolute worst day in my studio as a full time artist equals my best day when I was stuck in an office driving a desk for 23 years at a job I had grown to loathe.  Audio books and a new puppy helped too.

Enter Mel.  Our teenage Treeing Walker Coon Hound who we adopted on February 2, 2016.  Mel was rescued from a neglect situation in West Virginia, fostered while he got shots and neutered then sent to a kennel in southern Pennsylvania to adopt out.  We managed one week without our dear Petey who died with us here at home then we realized the house was too empty and clean, the studios too quiet and our lives without that happy canine chaos that gives us our energy.   He’s a big white warm soft bundle of love requiring us to change his name from Boomer to Mel, short of Marshmallow Pie.  He’s very good in the studios, he even has his own cubicle.

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Mel , our new studio assistant, in his studio cubicle reporting for duty.

After about a month of fruitless labor, things started happening.  More shapes were coming off the wheel to be put in the wet box instead of the reclaim bucket.  I wasn’t happy with them as is, but no matter.  I kept throwing.  All of a sudden I could see shapes for my commission project that had me baffled and clueless for months;  I could see sculptural infrastructure that could be assembled from forms coming off the wheel.  Suddenly these cylindrical forms, so lifeless and lackluster were blank canvasses for me to alter and add texture to make them come alive and sing.  Hmmm!  All of a sudden I’m dragging out my Haeckel books and hunting for ideas, making slip and filling my decorating bag.

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My current treasure troves of ideas and inspirations

 

And suddenly, here I am, breaking through to the other side, busting out from craft into art.

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Functional forms given spirit and life

 

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3 plain bowls demanded to be assembled and turned into a sculpture

Glass was happening in the studio too.  My students are wonderful.  They make thoughtful, deliberate, creative work.  They are putting alot of care and effort into making elaborate creations so output is slow.  I took advantage of the empty kiln space and made some work of my own.  Aside from incorporating it into sculpture I don’t work with glass as a primary medium, but every now and then it’s fun to make a tray.  It’s straight forward “what you see is what you get” manner helps clear and calm my mind in between elaborate clay projects or when working in clay is more of a wrestling match than a productive, fun pursuit.

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Jewelry bits, trays and coasters are nice palate cleansers in between clay projects

Now when I sit at the wheel I feel more back in the saddle.  Glazing here we come, yee hah!

Waiting Any Minute for the Big Breakthrough and an Exciting Opening Reception

Every once in awhile I go on a downhill slide in the studio.  I hate to refer to it as a losing streak, but sometimes that’s how it feels.  It’s the time where I’m the studio on a daily basis working away fervently with visions of cranking out lots and lots of great work, but in reality all I have to show for my efforts are clay spattered clothes and a full reclaim bucket.  Sigh.

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After an entire day of throwing, all I got out of the deal was 1 anemic bottle and a meh bowl….Sigh.

Used to be that I’d get really down on myself and discouraged. What the hell is wrong with me?  Why can’t I make great work like everyone else?  I’m a terrible potter, what was I thinking?! And on and on.  Now I just shrug and keep going.  What else am I going to do?  Besides, usually when I hit the creative skids like this, it’s usually before some sort of big breakthrough, either with an ongoing series or a new technique or new depth of range to my artistic voice.  So here I sit, behind the wheel, covered in clay, listening to my audio books (humor to keep my spirits up) like Charlie Brown stepping up to the mound.

Another factor in this creative trough is that sadly, we said good-bye to my most beloved studio assistant, Petey Pie Westheimer, who died of cancer at home last Wednesday.  Good bye my sweet clay dog!

Petey in his final week in the studio. God speed my dear sweet boy!

Petey in his final week in the studio. God speed my dear sweet boy!

But then I attend an opening reception of my work and all is forgiven.  In this regard, the opening reception of Sacred Spaces Holy Places at the Nails in the Wall Gallery in Metuchen, NJ did not disappoint.  Nails in the Wall is a bit of second home to me and my artwork.  The gallery is a very good fit for my work as their themes slant towards the sacred with components of social justice.  Linda Vonderschmidt-LaStella, who runs the gallery is an amazing soul.  She is a huge supporter of every artist she takes under her wing and a big booster of the art scene in the town of Metuchen.  She creates a lovely vibe for the receptions with wonderful food, music and talks by the artists, even some via Skype or video.  The gallery is located on the campus of the church of St Lukes, so there is lots of foot traffic.  I particularly enjoy that many of the people who come into the gallery do not consider themselves art collectors or art appreciators.  Interacting with these folks allows me to see my work and the work in the show with fresh eyes.  I love answering questions and explaining the motivation of my work to them.

Posing with "Holy Innocents" a the opening reception

Posing with my 3 sculptures a the opening reception. L-R: “Holy Innocents,” “Hotei Hideaway,” and “Hotei Hideout.”

I had the good fortune of having 3 of my works in the show, Holy Innocents*, a multi fired stoneware sculpture with 14K gold, Murano glass and acrylic inclusions, Hotei Hideaway**, a raku fired stoneware sculpture with resin inclusions, and Hotei Hideout,**, a wood fired stoneware sculpture on a carved cherry wood base with glass and resin inclusions.  I enjoyed spending the afternoon at the reception, catching up with Linda, her wonderful husband Nino and the other artists in the show, many of whom I have been in shows with previously.

*statement for Holy Innocents

**statement for Hotei Hideaway and Hotei Hideout