Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Scrappy Valentine's Day

Here's some love for you. Small sachet hearts made from my Seraph: the Holy Quilt scraps. The quilt just has black and white and silver, but I had printed some with pink. They are filled with cotton batting trimmings and lavender.

Stitched up with pink embroidery thread, kinda like a football.
Little punky, wabi-sabi hearts.

If you would like one and you are one of the first three people to comment and are willing to send me your paper mail address (U.S. delivery only) by email, I'll send you one!
Thanks for reading.

Scrappy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 12, 2018

New Art Quilt: What Are We Becoming

New quilt-of-the-month is the second in a series for the "metamorphosis" theme. It was an offshoot of   the quilt, Becoming (process posted here). 

This one blows up the concept of gears and ears and the merging of the biological with the mechanical or the organic with technology. The letterpress printed text from wood type is: Becoming / What Are We Becoming / You Look Becoming / Becoming. I also carved one large linoleum block and printed it in various colors, then cut it up and rearranged it and pinned it into place.

I cut up the text to disrupt the reading.

After piecing one full panel of the print, I started reworking the design.

And layering the print pieces again. The rust red was just too bright.

It finally calmed down and settled into place.

I pieced it, then ironed hems in the print pieces and sewed them down as patches.

My socks seemed to match that day.

I embroidered details in the top panel and spirals, eyes, squiggles, tiny screws, and springs to quilt and unify it. The eyes were inspired by the Klimt exhibit; I noticed he used spiral and eyes. My spirals are both a reference to the inner ear and to a watch part.

It turned out to be the perfect size to fit on a door. I feel a metaphor coming on.

I enjoy the process of traditional binding.

I've been working on my corners.


We have amazing new technology that helps someone function, that can augment their body in some way (hearing aids, cochlear implants, artificial limbs, eyeglasses that can enable the blind to "see" ). But at the same time our technology is changing our social fabric: how we relate to each other and to our environment  It's going to take a conscious effort to retain empathy, anticipation, compassion, tolerance, intimacy, and patience. What Are We Becoming? And what do we want to become?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Proficiency and Identity

I was recently talking with a colleague who had worked with Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. and the colleague reiterated how Amos says he's "not an artist." The colleague also mentioned they like to write but when people ask if they are a writer they say not really. I asked my question of why people feel compelled to say they are or are not something. My colleague immediately said, "I think it is about proficiency and identity." We both stopped and thought for a minute, surprised at how clear that seemed.

Let's look at that idea, because I think that is the answer to my previous post, "Talking about Art."

Proficiency is defined as "a high degree of competence or skill; expertise." Asking someone if they are proficient at something gets complicated when you look at all the underlying questions: Are you competent or skilled at this thing? How does it show? Do you believe you are? Do others believe you are? Do others have to believe you are good at it in order for you to actually be deemed proficient? Which others have to believe this? Why is their opinion valid or more valid than another person's?

All those underlying questions can be positively off-putting! Here's an example: I used to practice calligraphy (high school and a little in college). I would get paid to make place-cards, address envelopes, make signs. Those who did not do calligraphy themselves would say I was very good, proficient. But when I compared my work to professional calligraphers, masters in the field, I knew that I was not. I could see that my strokes weren't parallel, this o wasn't the same as that o. Did I call myself a calligrapher? At the time, yes, and did until I realized I was not going to become a master of it. It's possible I could have, if I had solely done calligraphy, but I did not. Those outside the field would say I was proficient (and they would ask me to continue even after I quit). Those inside the field probably would have said not so much. Outside, inside. Judgments. Curious to think about.

Self-confidence about what you are doing and commitment to the work are just as important as how others view what you are doing. Even if you aren't as skilled as you would like to be, believing you are at least somewhat skilled or have a little talent or aptitude for the task will keep you moving forward, learning, and becoming more proficient.

Identity is a popular word right now. It is defined as: "the fact of being who or what a thing is; the characteristics of determining this; a close similarity or affinity." I think identity gets tricky when we are talking about groups or characteristics of people. Because, what are we doing? We are creating stereotypes of that group. Sometimes those stereotypes are accurate; sometimes those stereotypes, or generalizations are true sometimes and for some people. Perhaps they are the median characteristics: many people are like this, but not all. 

I identify as a writer and as an artist. Within those broad terms, I identify as a writer of short stories and poems. I often say, "I am not a novelist." Within art I say I am a printmaker, printer, book artist. I have said, "I am not a painter," although I do paint on paper. When I think of painters I think of painting on canvas. Because I do not paint on canvas, I do not identify with the group I generalize as painters, who, in my mind, also have shows in galleries. My paintings stay in a drawer or become books. I don't identify with painters as a group. Calling myself a printmaker or printer, I identify with ink on one's hands, a mellow and friendly working style, a sharing culture, and a geeking out on certain kinds of marks.

It seems, then, that having both proficiency with the medium and identifying with the group of makers would allow a person to call oneself a writer, artist, calligrapher, painter, novelist, etc.. Being confident about who you are and what you do definitely helps you accept the title(s). (I wrote about this from a slightly different angle back in 2012: "Success = Self-Confidence + Humility.")

These days, I'm working on accepting a new term for myself: quilter. I still feel more comfortable as a printmaker working with fabric and as a bookmaker working in large-scale, open books. I suspect this allows me to skirt around my insecurities. But I am definitely making quilts, which is also what quilters do.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Neighborhood Project: the Urns and Public Art

The impulse behind public art is a good one, I think. I like the idea of bringing art out into the community, making it part of everyday life and free to experience. And I'm all for paying artists and craftspeople to create their works. But from what I've seen, the process becomes politicized fairly quickly. The call goes out; the artists apply. The committee judges, basing their decision on the object itself, the artist's experience, cost, the durability (sometimes) of the work, and the impact to the community (sometimes). It gets installed. Those who chose it, love it. Those who are surprised to find it have mixed reactions. And there are always disagreements and always a group full of criticism, right or wrong. If it's out in public, that's fair. Occasionally, a neighborhood group takes on a project, to mixed results.

I had a feeling this was coming: a new urn at the triangle park, which is on my daily walking route. At least two were already installed seven years ago. Not exactly public art, but in public and meant to be viewed and enjoyed. It is more like a call-back to history, renovation, and repair, symbolizing everything the original historical project represented.

August 31, 2011, I stumbled across the neighborhood project first being installed. One of several new urns, modeled after one legacy urn. A concrete pedestal had been cast. A crew must have hoisted this person-size urn into place. And a group dedicated it. There was a second one down the street on a traffic island.

The urns surprised me. I thought perhaps they were to honor the Ohlone people, who lived here hundreds of years ago and were displaced by the Spanish and the missionaries in the 1700s. It's easy to think this might be so because the oldest original urn is left standing at the foot of a path called "Indian Trail." I took this photo in 2011, but shortly thereafter, the elderly urn was repaired and given a new collar to match historical photos.

legacy urn, 2011

legacy urn, 2018

But it's not about the Indians at all. Not a tribute to those who were here first. According to the website and the plaque that was installed, this area in the Berkeley hills did not become a public park, which some desired, but was subdivided and developed in 1909 with winding roads and paths and natural elements. "About 20 monumental urns, in the style of Maxfield Parrish, were placed by developers along streets and walking paths," says the sign. So they are random, perhaps of their time. 

One Parrish painting with urns from 1908 is The Garden of Allah based on an "idealized interpretation of a scene from Islamic mythology." How confusing! I think the word "idealized" is probably the key. Idealized nature. Idealized homes. Idealized art. For those who could afford it. If we are to understand the context the urns become a symbol of idealized wealth and perhaps idealized lifestyle. What is so strange about the addition of the urns is that the area is already beautiful. It features abundant and twisty old Live Oaks, Camphor, Magnolia, and other trees, as well as monumental boulders pushed up out of the earth and transported to the area (I wrote about the rocks in this 2016 post). To see the natural beauty is one of the reasons I go walking up there.

One morning recently, I found the urn at Great Stoneface Park had been vandalized. (I think this was related to the legalization of marijuana more than any other statement.)

It has since been cleaned, with no trace of the graffiti left behind.

The 2018 urn at the triangle park should be getting its collar soon.

(Photo addendum: February 11, 2018)

And I just found another, at the top of Thousand Oaks Blvd.

On an aesthetic level, I don't mind the urns. They're pleasant and noncontroversial as objects. But it seems like we are going backward. To me, the concept and meaning behind them don't feel appropriate to life today. What, exactly, do we want to restore when we reach back to history? What are we saying? I think the deeper questions of the art we choose and why we choose it continue to be relevant. It is particularly important now as we are faced with and explore the other question of whether an artist has to be both a good artist and a good person for us to enjoy the works.