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My Mind This Week

We are having some beautiful skies this week. It is the Summer Solstice here, Winter Solstice down under where I see they too have exquisite sunsets happening. It seems I am more in touch with what is going on down there than here according to my facebook feeds. It is the shared frustration with our politics as well as our interest in the arts that keep us in touch. The fears of “otherness” has put deep scars in not just our two countries but the world as well.

Ever since the seventies in the time of “free love” I honestly thought that we were headed toward a more enlightened way of seeing. Naive at best. And maybe it is being an artist, caught up in my own passions to visualize an awareness and then wanting to share.

It was sad to see an article by the BBC about how the truly American expression of quilt making has become so divisive here in this country. Conservatives squaring up against those who use the quilt form as expressions of opposition to our present government. How can that be justified? Objects, large objects made from the very medium that covers our bodies and “protects” us has always been one of the most expressive materials to make us think. Just think the Aids Quilt to start, then the narrative quilts of Faith Ringgold and others like her. I remember being so impressed to meet the young woman who was making quilts depicting the threatened owls of the Northwest through deforestation.

It is the responsibility of artists to use whatever medium is at our disposal to make a point. Whether the viewer likes it or not is hardly the point. I made this one after one President Bush left office and we were in the middle of another one. It is titled, “Lost Peaces”. The base cloth scraps were from canvases I had painted and collaged about the peace and calm of tai chi movements. Onto them I shaped fragile paper birds starting with the dove of peace coming in from the top right only to be shot down and added to specimen drawers full of his predecessors. Each of them tagged on the leg with a small excerpt from a gardening book why certain plants need to be kept away from other ones so as to avoid contamination of species. It is also filled with rusted nails lined up like armaments. It hangs behind me here in the office right now and only had one public showing. A textile show in Asheville where it was kept off to one end away from those that were more about cloth and surface design.

I will probably take it to the landfill after removing all those wonderful rusty nails….but not yet. It seems more important this week after reading the BBC article.

On another subject this week I just want to give a nod to the women who have touched me in ways few have. I am thinking of only three right now. One who is always there at the end of the phone or in person to remind me to laugh. She is always there before I knew I needed her to be here to listen, just listen with a scotch in hand. Another called last night, again with scotch in hand. She lives in Canada and we have known each other since graduate school twenty years ago. Her call was to commiserate about our pitiful state of politics in this country and how we have allowed ourselves to become so fearful and easily manipulated. Of course they have what most of us would consider the ideal leader sitting in their capitol while we have whatever this is…a combination of all the worst when there is such an absence of integrity.

And another who my thoughts are with as she struggles with perhaps the final stages of cancer. I never knew her well but I wanted her to know just how much I needed to hear her answer to a question I had asked myself for years, “Am I doing enough and am I doing it right?”. I would ask every older woman artist that I respected if they were constantly nagged by that question. Most said they never gave it a thought. One time a friend and I asked an online ouija board the same question and after several minutes…it spelled out “maybe”. How silly was that! But this woman who I spent little time with and so admired her artwork told me, “Sandy, it doesn’t matter.” I stopped asking the question after that and wanted to thank her for her simple bit of insight that had escaped me.

My art group meets here this weekend and I am forever grateful for their willingness to talk and listen to the things that matter. This week they will see all the specimens framed and the journal I am working on. And they will also understand the deep importance of the Land of Lethe map still tucked into its blank journal waiting for words.

So finally in this rather rambling blog are more of the specimen journal pages.

One signature is finished and I am well into the next one. It has been a great distraction working on this, an imaginary place to go. It works like tai chi and some yoga stretches. You come away from it refreshed and ready to tackle whatever is next.

The next few days I will be sewing clothes. Taking two shirts or more to make one I would wear. Sewing up fabrics I just had to have from Dairings in Australia and throwing out scraps that at one time seemed important and now have no reason for being here.

Til next week. And if you have a friend who drinks single malt scotch, you have a good listener, a good friend.

 

The Specimen Journal – Signature One

I did work on the Specimen Journal this week. Here is the title page when the wooden cover is turned back. There is a language to it but I have no idea what it is. It is doodling “letters and words” to look right in places one would expect to read information. I could not resist and used a bit of metallic watercolors for the title. I also figured that it would be the most handled page of the book, so lots of smudges. Next is the first page of the first signature in the book. There are three folios to each signature and therefore twelve pages to illustrate in one way or another.

Here is the title page turned.

There will certainly be something in that large blank space because I suspect the author/illustrator/discoverer had a minor case of kenophobia or in art terms, horror a vacuii.  Both translate to a fear of empty spaces.

Now the next two pages:

On these pages we are introduced to the dragonfly like specimen. And admittedly I am influenced by Australia in my choice of trees and blooms. There is a close-up of the mating ritual to the left side of the right hand page and an explanation in something we cannot read.

I actually remember seeing dragonflies do this. It was one of those Annie Dillard moments where you feel compelled to look closely at what Nature is showing for a brief moment only. Otherwise I think she would be disappointed that I squandered the opportunity. Annie Proulx makes me feel that way when I don’t watch people closely enough. Both of them make me feel like a gawker.

And that center fold that I started with. Now there is a bit more to it. I added a butterfly and some more green to a bothersome empty space. The female is laying her eggs.

And then the page after that is where I have gotten to date. Before I introduce the life of another specimen I think I will return to location where the discoverer is. Some plants and rocks to finish off this signature. Maybe even a fetus look inside the dragonfly’s egg.

A predator would be nice. Something that might go for dragonfly eggs since once they have hatched, like in this illustration, they are as safe as their parents.

There is one thing I am noticing while doing this. My illustrating skills are just about the same as they were twenty years ago. If I was doing this on a daily basis I would expect some improvement. So maybe by the end of the journal it will look like the discoverer improved or he just handed the whole thing over to someone more competent.

It also really does remind me of the Voynich Manuscript, full of rather naive little drawings. I will keep at it and promise not to devote endless blogs to this project. There are lots of other things I could be doing and talking about and next week I can maybe show something else.

Til then.

 

Journals

Busy week outside of the studio but there have been some accomplishments based on last week’s blog. The Specimen Series now has the beginnings of a journal. On a shelf for a few years were two old pieces of wormy chestnut that had been cut into what could someday be book covers. They looked just right for some very old book that had been recently discovered. Also in the closet with some book board I found three pages, very large pages, of a paper I bought from the often elusive paper store in Asheville that has been out of business for more than a few years now. They were some sort of book page paper, creamy in color and smooth in texture. I tore them into folios and found they were perfectly sized for the covers with no waste. But I did have to shape them to fit the covers slanted corners in the upper right.

See the papers here folded onto the covers and then the close up of the corner.

The pages look all rumply because I soaked each folio and hung them to dry. I wanted them to look more the part of an old field journal.  After they were stacked and fitted between the covers I could see how much had to be chewed away to make the text block fit the worn down corner. So I marked how far to sand them down on my small belt sander and then further hacked away at them with a tool used for texturing clay work. Potters tools can be quite handy in a studio that uses paper as a main medium. A rough cheese grater might have done the same thing but that was in the kitchen….not the studio.

So I went to the first full page of eight three folio signatures and made this first drawing/painting for the Specimen Journal. I want this book to show the specimens in a more natural habitat…more like what the discoverer would have seen while out in the bush poking about. Here is the dragonfly laying eggs in a quickly assembled nest.

I am tempted to fill this page up with other observations he might have made while watching. There is a language along some of the grasses and flowing on the page. A language of marks that would only mean something to the writer or journal keeper in this case. I rather like how the dragonfly folds his wings back and extends  the lower body to drop eggs. On the sequential page I will have them hatching and then move onto another insect’s life. The empty space on this page bothers me and maybe one of the butterflies should be resting somewhere…maybe not. If there are twenty four folios with four sides each that is ninety-two pages to fill with whatever occurs out there in the bush. I likely will have to do a coptic binding as the wood won’t take much sawing and cutting to use some sort of strap binding. But binding it all together will be the last step. The pages need to be painted first just for ease of handling.

And the other journal for holding thoughts and the map of Lethe is here. It is made of a thinnish pig skin with a simple stitched binding. The map is folded per the instructions I found on folding topography maps. Each section is numbered in case that might be important for referencing notes in the journal.

Here is the book:

One quarter of the map:

And the title corner:

I can put whatever I want on the map and so far of all things there is just two tall mountains drawn rather simply to represent our trip to China. Those tall old looking mountains that just appear rising from the Yangtze River. Funny how shapes of memories matter more than what might have happened there are more relevant.

Well that is where this week is. Tai chi, some yoga stretches, bit of treadmill with a rather dumb story on cd before wine and game hen later.

Specimens Are Finished – I Think

I have used up all the gessoed boards, so I must be finished with this series. Here are the moth, snail and water bug being silverpointed onto the gesso.

And each one painted in watercolors.

Then it was down to the last two boards and two more specimens had to be conjured up on a white board and drawn in on the gesso.

And finished…well almost…bit more fiddling I think might be necessary.

But it is hard to stop with these.

My goal is to have a place to exhibit them. Each of the boards will be in matted frames on a wall. Then the specimens themselves are placed into a large flat file wooden drawer among leaf litter on a table in front of them. It would only take up about six feet of wall and table space six feet by three feet. It would be fun to “find” the bugs in the drawer. Also in there would be some of the bits of Nature that are in the first few pieces that are parts of my collection. Remember these?

There would be about twelve to fifteen pieces on the wall and a similar number in the drawer.

Anyway, it is hard to stop. So I was thinking maybe a field sketchbook of them in their natural habitat. Being hatched, eating leaves, whatever the discoverer saw them doing when he found them. It could be interesting with notes in some other language. Like the Voynich Journal….something strange but familiar at the same time.

Then I thought what about one of those children’s books where the upper and lower body can be changed with the flip of a page.

I think there is more to do with these little critters. But for now some touch up and putting them all into the frames that arrived this week.

I will see what comes up next. And of course there is always the Land of Lethe that needs to be considered.

Later.