I just submitted to a locally famous, heavily juried open studio tour that I will call Art Paths. Continue reading
What It Took for “Upside Down”
Artists are often asked how long it took to make a painting. Less often are they asked about materials, techniques, theme, and concept. I’ve decided to tell you what it took. My story is not unique; every artist has hundreds of these stories. Most artists are polite enough not to bore you with them. Here goes!
Materials: Golden liquids. Flourescent Nova colors. White acrylic ink and gesso. Huge to tiny brushes. Canvas prepped in 2010-2011 with gesso, lightweight spackle, and hand-carved forms. Masking tape to establish horizon consistent with previous series of 10 paintings. Then swaths of translucent red, then swipes of flourescent red-orange. Allow canvas to sit for 14 months to mature, and because you don’t quite know what it wants to be. 5 books on Hindu motifs, 2 books on symbols, 2 hours of research to establish authentic Warli painting examples. Notebook with notes. Film called “Upside Down”, an Indian movie not yet released in the US. Brushes borrowed from Karina Nishi Marcus. One glass of cognac drunk in her studio.
Techniques: pouring, stamping. Gesso applied with gloved hand, no brushes, for smooth yet organic texture. Mixing of whites to achieve varying translucencies for folk painting. Wiping back with variety of materials. Acrylic inks applied with brush and pen, water-soluble wax crayon scribbles, and 2 different varnishes, one spray and one applied by brush.
Experiential and conceptual development: one marriage, 1991-1998, in which I lived in Bangalore, India for several years and collected both fine and folk art. Conversation with Indian woman who decorated the threshold with gorgeous rice flour designs daily at 4 AM so that her husband could step through this blessing on his way to work at dawn, her paintings destroyed and rebuilt day after day. Color vocabulary from photographs and memories of India. Conscious decision to paint naively. Memories of circus and thoughts of Ganesha, a major presence in South India. Wanted to use a sort of ‘tumbling down the rabbit hole” theme used in previous paintings, where animals float and turn in a metaphorical world, Chagall-like. Mythic theme for paintings and series size established in the Terra Incognita series, 2011. A sadness over a recent death and a desire to use forms drifting up and away, or birds to symbolize soul in release and in captivity. Threw out color balance and let the colors blend randomly, as in India.Memories of elephant festivals and ecstatic dancing.
Studio Note: You can see “Upside Down”, both my painting and the film, at the Santa Rosa International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 12-21. Visit http://www.sriff.org/ for more information.
Metaphoracard Collage Play at Camp Winnarainbow for so-called Adults
What the heck is a Metaphoracard? Laura Foster Corben and I invented these small (5″ x 7″)collage paintings on matboard to provide art play for Wavy Gravy’s Adult Camp Winnarainbow. I’m the Metaphoracard Girl and Amuse Grove Reader.
In the tradition of side amusements for The Players– the musicians, clowns, dancers, arialists, stiltwalkers, magicians, storytellers and poets of the cosmic, comic Circus– the cards provide diverse diversions, a little taste of trickster mind at play.
As in my Saltworkstudio classes, we work in series, doing three at one time, and follow one of the Almost Unbreakable Cardinal Rules–Paint First. Getting the mark of the hand, paint, brush or ink down before applying images is vital. I’m not sure why, but it seems to transform the cards from stiff constructions to flowing, “wavy,” spontaneous combustions of dreamy image.
They are meant to be entertainments, in the way that some novels are called “An Entertainment.” There is no number to the deck. The deck is temporal and temporary, created in time by a group, played with, and dismantled after. Because they call forth a certain bubbly synchronicity, their accuracy can be astonishing, but unrepeatable. Like an appearance of a Loch Ness Monster, they leave splashy traces, but can’t really be nailed down or captured in a net of a single meaning. And they dissolve after the week at camp, each player claiming their own trading cards of vision, dream, and just plain weird stuff.
Since Camp Winnarainbow emphasizes fun, play, and performance, we wanted to create a recreational visual art form that would give satisfaction in the both in the making and in active use after. The cards were read by a raggle-taggle Amuse group in the temporary Amuse Grove you see below. There’s a Cosmic Phone for when we get stuck. We just dial up the Demigods to get an anwer. The chairs are decorated with old wedding gowns from the Costume Tent.
Metaphoracards require a community. You need a group to get a deck, and you need someone else to read your card. It’s the rule of the Cosmic Trickster that you can’t know what your image might say. I puzzled over my image of Faulkner, doggies, and a flower, until my husband Scott said, “That’s easy. It’s Power: dog power for the body, Faulkner power for the intellent, and the flower is pure vegetative power, an idea bursting out.” Huh, and wow. Flower power?
But… are they serious ART? I absolutely hope not.
My thanks to Wavy Gravy, Jahanara Romney, and Laura Foster Corben for sponsoring me as a Guest Artist at Camp Winnarainbow. Take a look at the cards the talented Susan Cornelis made. Towards the fun!
Art Collage Box Cleanout
As I was going through my overcrowded art storage area, I came upon my nemesis– the art collage box. It was full of things I collected at one time. I was sure I would use them some day.
I won’t tell you everything I found, but there was Monopoly money from a broken antique set, German fortune-telling cards, a work on rice paper by an artist from Bangalore, India, and Mexican loteria cards. Out fell ancient notes and antique photos, a Virgin of Guadalupe print and a Holga photo of Spidermen, and a paranormal magazine I got in Prague in the 90’s.
I thought I might tell you what I kept and what I discarded, but I found I was reluctant to list things I threw away. Hey, it felt like a taboo. Why?
I’ve always said that collage itself had some connection with destruction and death, the dark side. Things are dismembered and removed from their original space, time and context, often by cutting or tearing, actions that have an air of violence. There’s an air of secrecy about them. That box felt like a coffin for dead ideas combined with a treaure box, a graveyard for things that had once compelled me.
Someone would be sure to ask, “Why did you throw that out?” Even worse, they might say, “You could have given that to me. I would have liked that.” I would be responsible for disappointing someone. Another person would become implicated and entangled in my decision. I’ve encountered this a lot. People really do not like it when one simply disposes of things. A taboo has been broken. Improper burial? Disrespect for objects? Then the discarded object comes back to haunt you through the remonstrations of others. And now, with the advent of eBay, all junk has been acquired a false patina of consumer value.
Each item is really the representation of a certain dream, experience, or longing. An object then has become a literalized metaphor, carrying meaning far beyond itself. If I discard the object, do I discard the idea? Or does the object become a substitute for fresh experience? Each item becomes a love letter from a past idea-affair.
Nowadays I use only two kinds of collage: text and black and white non-copyright photocopies of drawings or my own photos. Often the collage vanishes completely, or is torn to become an area of texture that may have figurative associations for me, but not for the viewer. I’ve never liked using “old” or “failed” paintings as collage parts. It seems disrespectful to the original impulse, a Frankenstein construction that I am forcing to life.
I think I’m just as happy putting this flotsam on the floor and photographing them, and then letting them drift back to the strange ether of discarded objects, or the garbage. But then, again…
There, I’ve revealed my collage underbelly. What’s in your boxes?
Mirror Neurons and Painting Neurons: Reflections on Four Hands Painting
Susan Cornelis and I have been passing paintings back and forth in our collaboration, getting our mirror neurons working. “Mirror neurons” are really highly speculative, as far as hard science goes, but are a seductive concept. We are made to imitate and to share knowledge, to mimic. Our brains recreate what we see as our own experience. When we see someone pick up a lemon, our taste buds start. In our case, we have at times in the collaboration consciously tried to mimic the other: to use a Suzanne color or make a Susan shape. Some of these paintings are turning out to be the “best” ones.
It makes me wonder if paintings– and all art– actually encode the experience of the painter, or, in our case, painters plural, into the paint itself. When we look at the Mona Lisa, do we start to resonate with da Vinci’s beautiful brain? He wrote all his notes in mirror writing, so maybe he cracked the code centuries ago, as he did with flying machines and submarines. Why are some of the collaborative paintings powerful? Here’s a question for the ego to gnaw on, and one we’ve discussed. Are the collaborative paintings “better” than our individual ones?
You can come to our show and find out. The painting shown here, “Four Elements”, is a good mirror painting example: Suzanne paints with Susan’s cool palette, Susan tries Suzanne’s odd forms. Let us know what you see in this work.
5 Tips for Painting with Collage
What’s collage painting, mixed media painting, or combined media painting? How does it differ from collage?
How can you use collage elements in painting without being highjacked or overwhelmed by the collage image?
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: A collage painting is more paint than collage elements. The paint is 60% or more of the painting. The collaged parts merge and meld seamlessly into the whole.
How to do it? Here are 5 tips. All paintings shown here are acrylic paint on paper or canvas. I affix collage pieces to the surface with glossy acrylic gel medium.
1. Use only your own images whenever possible, including photographs, text, and your own sketches and handwriting. You can also use copyright-free black and white images. Copy and recopy the same images in larger and smaller sizes at a copy store or using a laser printer. Black and white is easier to incorporate, and leaves the color elements to the painter and paints. I prefer to avoid colored magazine images, as tempting as they are. The more you play with a single image by altering size, color, dimension, the more freedom you will gain in painting. You’ll own the image, rather than the image “owning” you.
2. Choose a theme. I used non-copyrighted Dover deer. Avoid themes that are intensely personal, like pictures of your dog, your mom, or your child. You need to have a bit of distance to use images effectively, or to rip one up. Eventually you’ll develop image banks of differing themes that become your private visual language.
3. Paint first. Put color on the surface, or paint a very sketchy painting, then affix images, then paint some more. Painting first, before applying images, establishes that it is more a painting than a collage. For all of these I chose a crucifix composition and applied paint first. Then I put down ripped black and white collage images. A warm background is good, as it can glow up through layers of paint.
4.Be willing to sacrifice the image. Let go of the image you love and let it disappear, if the painting demands it. Show only a part of it. If you want to keep it perfect, do regular collage, not collage painting. This is one of the hardest parts of using collage elements in paintings.
5. Cover your images with glossy gel medium or UVLS varnish as you apply them. Then you can pile on coats of paint and still wipe back to find them.
Toss the collage boxes and go back to only a few images. Use them thoughtfully in series of paintings. And have fun!
Please use the comment section for questions on the collages or techniques. I’m happy to share what I know. If you’re one of my student who gets the blog, please share something about your experience with collage painting.
Mythic news: Deer are symbols of sacrifice and purity, often used in Christian iconography. It was said that deer gathered at the foot of the cross where Jesus hung. I used them here in these three works floating up and down through a penetrable horizon of birth and death, ancestor souls. Collage itself belongs to the realm of Kali: dismembering of paper , appropriation of image, rebirth of pieces into a new whole. The goddess of Necessity wields the scissors and snips the thread of life– or the image.
Ira Glass, Semiotics, Studios, and Salamanders
Last night I closed my open studio after an impromptu party with three muses , one rather hairy, in which the absinthe bottle of La Muse Verte was emptied. Scott, Ed, and I ended up at the Ira Glass show at the Santa Rosa Wells Fargo Center. Ira Glass, a semiotics major made good as creator and host of NPR’s This American Life, spent a long time giving out his trade secrets of storytelling, or story cultivating, or story minding, or whatever it is he does so well.
I felt like I was watching– or rather, hearing, as the show celebrated the audial life of the radio– an alchemist giving out his “secret” recipes for turning lead into gold. Open secrets: everyone can hear them, but only a few can use them. Storytelling, he said, is a semiotic pattern. One thing happens, then another thing happens, then another thing– an Ariadne’s thread out of the labyrinth– and it doesn’t matter a bit what the story is or who’s telling it. At the end there’s a bump, a pause, and a moral. The elements of the story are the abstract bones. If the substructure is strong, any story propels us into the other world. Anyone and anything might work in these stories. And you can tell thousands of them, like Scheherazade. Or Ira Glass.
This reminded me of abstract painting. We move away from the subject, and into bones of pure visual action. The structure of the painting carries us along even without subject matter or explanation. First one painting element happens, then another, then another…. it’s fashionable to avoid the word “narrative” with abstract or non-objective painting. But there’s a story embedded in every piece, if we know how to read it. The composition rocks and rockets us toward meaning.
Glass paced the stage, IPAD in hand glowing like magic tablet of a new Moses, as he expounded on the world’s oldest art form, storytelling. In the story of the painting Salamander Winter, you may find Scott building salamander “houses” in our back yard. We lay down boards on the damp winter ground on purpose to be salamander homes. You can find two kinds of California salamanders in our yard, little wormlike Slender Salamanders and classically newty Arboreals. We encourage them to raise their tiny, slimy, cute babies there, and we lift the check their progress. We identified them through this wonderful site, Identifying California Salamanders.
My Ariadne’s thread is tangling here, so I have to quit. The Open Studios went well. Paintings bumped their way to new homes: I’ve posted one here. My thanks to all who visited and to my collectors. The semiotic form of the blog requires that I ask you a question or two, to encourage socializing. So I have some: did you like my studio? huh? huh? and, hey, did I invent the worst blog title ever, or not? And the moral: Know Thy Salamanders. Do you?
Mythic News: Theseus dumped Ariadne after she saved his sorry self from the Minotaur, but a god (Dionysius) ended up marrying her, so it all worked out. She traded up. The Alchemical Salamanders in my painting go through fire unscathed, faith enduring after earthly passions smolder.
Studio news: the Open Studios were successful. The Barracks Artists, in the old Finley Barracks in Santa Rosa, are emerging from the mist. Guerilla artists in the mist. Come visit me by appointment.