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to the environment; of violence caused by racial, gender and sexual prejudice; of certain rights in place being repealed; and of having all that our country has done to progress dismantled.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.

 

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!

Gallery Crawls: Paris, France, November 9 – 13, 2015 Centre Pompidou

Bonjour!  The next several posts will center on the City of Light, Paris France.  I accompanied Bill on his journey to Paris Photo at the Grand Palais.  What started out as a wonderful week of sight seeing, art viewing and gallery crawling ended sadly and abruptly (with a little scary thrown in) but we did manage to feast our eyes on many many visual treasures before most public spaces were shut down for the duration of our trip.  In my opinion, Paris itself is one enormous work of art, but I will try to bring you into the experiences we had at several art institutions that we visited before all public venues were closed down in the aftermath of the horrible terrorist attacks that took place on the evening of Friday, November 13.

Our first stop on the agenda was Centre Pompidou, as we missed it the last time we were in Paris in 2001 and vowed to make it a priority to visit.  I can’t help but experience this structure as the world’s largest human habitrail.  Built with its inner workings on display like an enormous exoskeleton, the Pompidou houses a vast Modern and contemporary art collection.  Forgive me but I was never much of a fan of post modern architecture, but I did appreciate the building as an emblem of its time in architectural history as a wonder.  Going up escalators in glass tubes would be more of a thrill if the escalators did not have a horrific screech of metal on metal every now and then much like having an ice pick thrust into one’s temple, and if the glass were less cloudy.  But as a voyeur I had a wonderful time enjoying the view and looking at roof tops and at Mont St Michel in the distance.

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The World’s Largest Human Habitrail, Centre Pompidou

Vintage Hamster Habitrail, well???

 

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Up the escalator in a giant glass tube

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Enjoying the view on the escalator

The art works took me awhile to warm up to, but there was the most amazing show of an artist I previously had never heard of:  Wifredo Lam.  His paintings and ceramics spoke to me in ways I crave:  they contained raw emotion and energy in their intense imagery, color and texture.  The exhibition contained dozens of his works from small to monumental and I could have stayed in that one area the entire day just enjoying them.

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Vases, 1975

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“Chant des osmoses” 1965

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La Jungla, 1943

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The place is so big and has so many floors it’s hard not to get cross eyed looking at everything, and hard to not become desensitized by having so many masterworks together in one space, but there was my all time favorite

 

And a show of  works “Beyond the Vulnerability,” by artist Chen Zhen who died in 2000.

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“Beyond the Vulnerability” by Chen Zhen

I enjoyed their childlike poignancy as well as the surprise discovery of a 1913 Chagall painting in one of the corridors not too far away that had a particular resonance to it.

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“L’Homme dans la neige,” 1913, Marc Chagall

The Pompidou is enormous and vast, divided into large rooms with small dark corridors connecting them, all filled with art.  Some of the spaces did not exactly allow for enough distance to experience some of the larger works, and if I were an artist who had works hung in the corridors, with their narrow halls and dark tones, I would have felt like Charlie Brown.  But I did enjoy the outdoor spaces with sculptures in reflecting pools.  Between their serenity and the view it was a wonderful experience.  I also enjoyed this sign posted in one of the exhibition halls.

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I sometimes wish there were warnings in certain rooms that read, “caution, bad art ahead.”

 

One aspect of the museum that I found absolutely striking was the dearth of works by women artists.  I saw maybe one painting by a woman and she was married to another artist featured in the same room.  It boggled my mind that there were no works representing the feminist artists in the 1970’s, or any other female artists for that matter.  Upon exiting the  museum we were stopped by a very nice fellow working for the museum who asked if he could have a moment of our time to answer some questions regarding our visit.  It took more than 5 minutes, but he was nice and trying so hard that we tried to be on our best behavior and not be impatient Americans.  One of the questions posed (it was a written list) asked if we had any comments about the collections.  I did my best not to get on a tear or unleash a rant but did my best to convey my dismay that women artists were so poorly represented and the fact that no feminist art was represented at all.  The poor fellow’s eyes took on that blank look I’ve seen men engage when in the company of a woman on a mission (I get that look alot.)

 

 

 

Etsy Sale!!!!

Throughout the month of October, my entire Etsy shop is 15% off!

Head over to my Etsy shop and use coupon code FALL2015 at checkout to receive 15% off your entire order.

Discount expires 10/31/15. Discount doesn’t apply to tax or shipping.

Come browse, come shop!!

Choose from a wide variety of ceramics and glass ware, home decor objects and fused glass jewelry.  May I recommend…..

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Red and white shino glazed 6″ scalloped plates with matching matcha chawan cups

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Raku fired red stoneware sake bottles with gold glaze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upcycled maple syrup glass bottle tray with mica powder inclusion.

Upcycled maple syrup glass bottle tray with mica powder inclusion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1" diameter "Red flower" mille fiori fused glass necklace on black chord

1″ diameter “Red flower bouquet” mille fiori fused glass necklace on black chord