Sometimes great art depends on great partnerships. Gabe Wolff pushed this project into the realm of greatness today with his design and build of the internal skeleton of the life size free standing horse we are building in the coral outside our studio. In my mind I imagined some lashed together twig construction as I have very little wood working skill and was thinking that the clay would provide most of the structure of the piece. Realizing I was out of my depth with the project I asked for help. The best move all day for sure. Gabe spent most of the morning designing and then piecing the structure together and all of the afternoon on the build.
Here he is testing the designs ability to bear weight. This is half of the structure. The other half is mostly built and will be tied together tomorrow and then I will use my twig idea to build a rib cage and hips to hold the volume of the body, it will then be covered in chicken wire and then covered with the brick clay.
The play set also got some play. I am leaning toward an insurance agency play set. It seems the most absurd choice.
Today was a busy day that had me focused on all three installations for the workshop. I started this morning with fresh documentation of the horses on the iron panels. We had some rain last evening and the south side of the coral changed significantly. The first pic was taken when the clay was still wet from the rain and the full shot was from this morning after it had a chance to dry out. I love the changes to the images. The rain drops have given the piece a feeling of great age that I would love to preserve. I have considered many possible techniques but may also just let the rain have its way. i do want the images to be a part of the documentation for the next work and so do not want to loose them entirely, I will continue to look at the issue through the coming week.
I did begin the next piece, by taking delivery of a couple hundred pounds of unrefined brick clay. For the second installation of the workshop I will stay in my coral for a simulacra. I am planning to use the environment that already exists and build a large free standing horse. I pan to build an internal frame and cover that in wire and cobb the surface with a mix of the brick clay and straw. The piece is a complete unknown as I have never done several of the proposed steps for the piece. Likely this means it will evolve a great deal as I get into the work and find my limits, time being chief among them. I hope to have this piece finished this week.
Finally I moved my main work of the workshop off the drawing board and into clay sketch mode. This piece is based off the Snake Mountain toy that was part of the He-Man Masters of the Universe toys form the 1980’s and 90’s. I have been obsessed with making play sets since May and am finally ready to give this a try. I lack almost every critical element to this including the all important narrative rules for the world but I am willing to let them evolve as the piece does. I have the scale, which is driven by my tiny kiln and I understand my plans for installation which will be 30 second commercials for you tube. Stay tuned…this might be fun.
an injury to my shoulder during the studio move delayed the start of the install until yesterday, but as usual with forced delay, it gave the project a couple days to mature in my mind and became richer for the extra time. My initial plan for the work was to paint free hand directly on to the panel using the pics of the previous days as rough guides, but most important to my vision of the way I wanted the piece to look was that the panel itself provide the “dark” of the drawing. After much deliberation and discussion I decided to go with a lesson from Gabe in stencil making and apply a single horse using a hand drawn and cut plastic stencil.
The next step was to prep the clay and practice. Fortunately I have been playing with making my own casting slip and so had some grolleg kaolin porcelain slip already slaked down. I only had to thin it further and mix it silky for the “paint” consistency that I wanted. Practice was inside the studio. I wanted to understand hanging the stencil and how much clay would be enough without flooding under the plastic and ruining the image.
The plan continued to change as I worked. After deciding to use the single horse stencil I still planned to paint accent on the panel to accompany the horses. I found the texture of the brush stroke in clay on the iron so beautiful however that I scrapped that plan in favor of fully painting the fence except where the shadows of the horses held the original color. Working out the details of the project took most of the day and I would up painting these into the night. It rained on and off while I worked so there is some water marking on the clay. I was concerned that It would really rain and I would not be able to document the work in the day as I had planned but no rain at the farm was for once a good thing.
Today was all about preparing the corral for the work. The last horses moved out of the barn late last week so the spaces need much attention to be people ready. For the out door spaces we level, spread lime, then cover that with sand then wet the whole thing down to keep down the dust and seal the lime in a bit. The lime can burn skin and eyes but is important in killing bacteria and virus in the soil that may be living on the the horse poops. This has the added benefit of keeping the smell in check. After just 8 days on the barn makeover, the horse smell is barely detectable.
The other part of today was to begin to prepare the images for the installation. My plan is to paint horses on the iron panels of our corral in porcelain slip. The horse pictured here are in mare motel further east on the farm. All the enclosures were made in the same style of welded iron panels, that enclose the studio as well. My intention is to leave the heavy shadows created by the bars in the images of the horses on the panels. This will serve to abstract the images further and connect the current and previous uses of the space, threading the space together further.
Its true that when things begin to change there is an adjustment period, as ideas and possibilities are explored. It feels like I have been chasing a series of dead ends as I have been seeking a new studio space with my studio/business partner Gabe Wolff. We finally feel like we have settled into a space that will work. Thanks to the generosity of my mom and step dad we have been “put up” in a barn on my parents horse farm. The barn has been used primarily for foaling mares which my mom no longer does for her clients so she was willing to give up a couple stalls to our cause. We have been cleaning and moving with great energy for the past week and today I really could feel the work space beginning to come together. The total move in will take many more weeks but the essentials are in.
Corresponding almost perfectly to this happy event is the beginning of the summer installation class with my professor Linda Ganstrom. The new location has suggested many wonderful opportunities for work but for my first I will be working on a Rapprochment installation in the corral outside our main stall.
i may work on two of the three pieces for the workshop in this space. Since installation is an art of space and time, being able to make art in this space at this time would be a bit magical, it is an intersection of many rich threads of our lives.
The Own Your Own Art Show has is in its 45th year at the Sangre de Cristo art Center. This is my 13th year in the show. The show features affordable fine art pieces meant for gift giving. There is a general limit of three hundred dollars to all the work in the show which keeps it very shopper friendly. The show has earned a wonderful following among the local and regional community.
In all my past years I have been in the show with my former husband, so for this year I wanted to bring a representation of my newer sculptural work, including the paint surface that has come to identify my work. To fit this I chose the birds that have been the other body of work I have focused on for the past year.
The making process for these was simplified to accommodate the price limits. The bodies are simple coil built forms with slabs added for wings and beaks. Decoration is incised marks and a pierced heart on the chest. There were 11 made for the show, with the large ones priced at $250.00, medium at $135.00 and small birds at $95.00.
Opening night was November 16th and was quite successful. I sold one large and two medium pieces. Being a gallery show I will take the typical 60% of the sales.
On the down side of the gallery arrangement was the loss of my favorite pieces due to breakage. Rather than make a claim to the insurance I chose to pull the piece from the inventory sheet and see if it could be successfully repaired.
The other major down side of gallery work for me is the deadline pressure that has been a solid sprint since March. In the chaos of the delivery deadline I failed to get any photos of the group until many had been sold. A lesson I hope I inly have to learn once.
The most recent work for the Monsters and the last for the show was the Keeper of the Dead. This is a piece, like the Lion, that waited for its purpose as the story evolved. This piece features asymmetrical horns, a detail that troubled me when I finished with the piece.
The original plan was to make three dead monsters for grouping of the Dead Ones, each at a different stage of exoskeletal growth. I unfortunately ran out of time to make the third dead one for the series before the show. I still wanted a grouping of three since the other monsters are centered around groups of two. I chose to bring the piece that came to be known as Keeper of the Dead to hold the number three in the grouping.
Unlike the Singer and the Hunter, the Keeper of the dead is chosen rather than born into a particular family. The deformity of the horns indicated a particular talent that is required for the duties of the keeper. The Bugs activity makes a particular sound in the bodies of the Dead Ones. This sound causes the keeper to have a type of hallucination, and this is how the will of the ancestors is interpreted.
The singer, with his roll as historian, the Hunter as person primarily responsible for the physical welfare of the clan and the Keeper who interprets the will of the ancestors, comprise the government of the Monsters. Decisions about location and movement, interaction with other clans and other factors impacting daily life of the clan are decided by this group.
The Dead Ones were planned from the first conception of the monster work. In considering biological rules for anything, an understanding of the processes of death is primary. The project changed a great deal however after the invention of the Bugs. As ancestor worshipers, the bodies of the dead monsters needed to retain an interest that would transcend a body on the ground, partly due to the monsters inability to make the art and monuments that surround the deaths of modern human ancestor worshipers.
The bugs provided the perfect vehicle for this idea. The bugs are in the bodies of the monsters from the time of their birth. During their lifetime the monsters secrete a chemical that suppresses the growth of the bugs. The bugs activity still is enough to create the exoskeleton of the monsters, which grows throughout their lifetime. In fact the exoskeleton is a common cause of death in aging monsters, having grown to large to allow breathing and eating. At the time of death the suppression of the bugs ceases and the bugs leave their microscopic state and move into their developing stage, becoming more Queen like the longer the host monster has been dead.
In addition to the growth of the bugs, the growth of the exoskeleton accelerates to create a hatchery of sorts for the next generation of the bugs, creating the floral quality of the bodies of the Dead Ones
The most recent work in the monster series began with the resolution of the loss of the Lion’s original partner. Rather than a victim, I wanted a partner that could match the direct gaze and strong stance of that sculpture. I chose for that roll a hunting partner.
Several questions were presented with this potential solution. First was the look of monster, how much of the original partner would carry forward into this one? The only element from that piece I lost that I felt was really too powerful to loose was the element I was unable to resolve, the bone arms. To resolve this in the clay I first began with an anatomy study. While I was not interested in super realism I wanted the bones to be clearly and immediately recognizable. As always I worked with Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck. Working out the bones and the attachment points plus managing dryness of the individual elements was the main challenge of the monster. After several lost attempts, I learned that both construction and attachment needed to happen at a stage dryer that I like to work. This meant that there was a small amount of post firing repair required before the piece could be painted.
This decision brought the next question immediately to the fore. Why the bones? What is the history of the piece or the necessity of the manipulation? To best answer this question a discussion of what the monsters hunt was necessary. As always this began with a chat with my collaborator and BFF, Gabe. How would the bone arm figure in to the hunt was the primary question. To solve this the prey animal had to be invented. The rules of the world dictated it be an exoskeletal animal that would move at a slower pace than the already slow monsters. Rather than designing an animal to fit the criteria of the world and the monster, the method of the kill and the food source was decided and the bug was designed around those rules.
The bone arm is the only tool in the monster world. She is the inheritor of one of the oldest families in the monster world. This family has been responsible for securing the food for the entire tribe and making marks on important individuals for many generations. Her father began to break the growing exoskeleton from the arm as it began to grow when she was a child. She was also paired with her lion at that time. The lion and hunter comprise a lifetime relationship which can be quite short. The spikes of the queen bugs are very poisonous and most hunting pairs only hunt for a limited time. Due to this mortality females are always chosen as hunters because they do not bear children.
The claw is used in the hunt as a pry tool. The hunt begins with the pair hidden along a game trail. Because of the limitations of speed in the world the pair rely on ambush. The Lion attacks first and breaks the poisonous spikes from the Queen Bug’s body. The Hunter then comes forward and pries the segments apart on the bugs body. The edible part is between the two layers of the bugs bodies. “Slip bugs” was the first title for them as I used gobs of the material, oozing from the joints of their bodies. A queen is killed by breaking her body open and then she is turned to reveal her bright yellow underside, to indicate to the rest of the tribe where there next meal will be found.
The Hunter holds a primary position in her tribe. With the Keeper of the dead and the Singer, she makes all important decisions of the monster tribe.
Another aspect to having a show in the Hoag studio is the opportunity to work in the space. This was both fun and challenging. I worked in the gallery during its open hours, except fridays and saturdays which are taken up with teaching.
The studio was well put together, consisting of a super sturdy salvaged table, the small slab roller from my permanent studio and lots of clay and tools. October was the shortest month in the cycle so far (from first Friday to last Monday) so my time for producing work was limited but I was diligent in being there and using my time so I actually produced quite a bit.
Originally I thought I would make a new pair of monsters to display at the second opening on the third Friday of the month, but I chose instead to work on Tengus, the crow demons that are the other consistent body of work I am involved with now. This choice had two purposes, first, I wanted to let the monsters rest a bit and take the opportunity to listen to the work and to what people said about it. Seeing it installed, in sequence both with the story and the time of making was a wonderful chance to review the work of the past year and take stock, consider more deeply the direction I would like the work to take in the future. Next I wanted to play a bit with suggestions from my school critique, seeing if I could make sense of ideas I felt were compelling.This is difficult to do with the monsters them selves as the rules for their world are in some ways set. Its not that rules cant be changed but I need a good reason to do so and also a solid direction, neither of which I felt I had.
The first piece I made was not a success. From build to paint surface the bird is forced and stilted, Primarily I think from the pressure of making work for an audience. Concentrated stretches of time were few and conversations were many, while this works while I am teaching, I found it much harder to produce my own work under these conditions. That being said, the Tengu (the largest and most complex of the series) led me to the series I made for the Own Your Own show that opens Friday. Informed by the problems I felt the large piece had, I made a series of much lighter and smaller birds for that show that turned out very well. Those were also produced primarily in the Hoag Studio.
Here he is before paint.