Processing Faces

Face drawing process

I’m going to open this by repeating the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and then pump the breaks. I pause because I cannot remember if the number was a thousand or ten thousand words now. I get confused as I say it. I do understand the meaning behind it and how the phrase blew up in the 1920’s. Wait was it the 1914 and was it “a look?” My mind said to me once “A look” referred to real estate advertisement or was an ancient Chinese or Japanese proverb. Fred Bernard pops into my mind as I wonder what his face looked like as well as the faces of the proverb writers. Due to the proud fact that I have never written a ten thousand, a thousand, or even five hundred words about a picture that I was fond of I have issues relating. What did their faces look like? 

Fully confused by the connect the dots picture gone wrong now in my mind, I would like to add a new phrase into this world of knowledge. 

I would like to add a “A look,” wait scratch that, “The face is worth ten thousand written pages of a false history if one cannot remember the face that represents its culture”. 

drawing in progress

“Your welcome and if someone has already stated my quote then that means they were at least as smart as me,” is how I would follow my new phrase. This, to you that do not know me well, is how my brain thinks. Always rapid and most of the time lots of imaginary nonsense  presented as fact to myself. Yes but how does this fit in with the body of work Weighting to Rise your asking yourself?  Creating the faces fell into a couple of categories in my mind. 

For starters the look of Weighting to Rise in Kate’s mind and in my mind had to be set. Yes our work would respond to each other’s and physically change a little but the basic structure was hashed out before I ever started a face for the show. The faces to me are just as important as the vessels or the wall hanging that they are mounted on. The feeling of the cultural belonging is more important than the individual always runs through my mind as I am painting or drawing a face.

clay painting process

 Secondly, the faces should not dominate the space that surround it. A little bit of emotion in the face is ok but the eyes can not reveal to much. I need the work to feel coveted to the point that if you were to polish it one more time the face will be lost forever. The faces have rules just like every other artistic project I work on. The ideas of loss is not only in the content but also in the firing proses. When drawing onto green ware or bisque with my underglaze pencil I always expect to loose atleast %30 of the rich black. I have a couple secrets about that pencil and that’s why the loss is only %30. Sadly, muhahaha, I will not speak of such secrets. When it come to loss of the underglaze pencil work when the low fire glaze is happening, the ideas of predicting what I will get out is very bothersome.

finished wall hanging

    Then Gwaby, then with tears running down his cheeks into his beard, put his hands into the air and shook them passionately while shouting, “why glaze, why must you eat all of my work!!!” The glaze bucket, in response then said to Gwaby, “wow… tantrum much? Dude your the one who made me.”

Gwaby taken back by this experience wiped his tears and said back to the glaze bucket, “word.”

Underglaze- and mason stains

clay painting process

Thirdly the face needs to be a basic face. Let’s say you did know the person whose face is depicted. You  could write ten thousand pages about that persons face and in the end it could be summarized and he or she had a very average face. I find it very difficult to create this work. Fighting the impulses to make each face as tricky and visually dynamic as possible is so hard. Working in slips and mason stains is an art and props to he artist of the world that can do it perfectly. One of the way i can work through compulsive perfectionist issues has been to do a three step deconstructive process. I work on paper as loose as I can let my self. I’ll render a face in my favorite lighting, hair styles, and value changes. From there I will make a reverse transfer that will go onto the clay. This transfer is a very stripped back version of the drawing. This process helps me to to get to just the basics of a face versus sitting down with a brush and a slab and going nuts with it by doing all the detail I could possibly think up. I put myself in the head space of and artisan of their time. The essence needs to be captured and nothing more. 

transfer process

In my mind Weighting to Rise deals with the passing of life and how Kate and I choose to depict an imaginary version to be. The faces are a way for those people to simply remember their dead. The face, to them, implies that the after life journey is not done yet for them.  If these people could not remember the faces then some how the culture and history would be lost. 

Making The Bull

As we move forward into the work of Weighting to Rise the work seems to need a larger purpose, an aspect of the culture that would give rise to such elaborate and lasting funeral ritual. We needed some belief beyond the honor of the ancestor, a god or possibly a sacrificial ritual to honor the god or the dead or both to give the culture a greater depth and the mystery of antiquity.

Looking for a solution to what the show was needing coincided to my coming across a passage in Stephen Karcher’s translation of the I Ching. In figure 26, Great Accumulates there is mention of a pure red bull, sacrificed by the king with arrows on behalf of the ancestors that renews the year and opens the fields for planting. The bull seemed to fit beautifully, bulls as gods, animals sacred to gods and as sacrifices to gods are nearly universal in old religions and their stories.

Once we had a concept we needed a technique and build procedure. To begin we sought the right bull. Looking at old Minoan mosaic and painted pottery and Picasso’s treatment of the animal we knew we wanted the animal clearly recognizable but just as clearly symbolic.

Graffiti and its process is important to nearly every project we undertake to one degree or another. Graffiti is public, you don’t need to be chosen by a gallery or representative to have the work seen, and it has a fierce sort of beauty that is not easily put into a critiquable box. Those qualities give it a sacred and living quality that layers nicely with the fusion of history and technology that we tune into. We really wanted this ancient, sacred image to have that feel. That lead to imagining some of the techniques Gabe has worked with before the Foxy-Wolff, primarily stencils. To reduce an image in all its complexity to blocks of shape and color seemed to distill the animal into a concept, an object and an ideal.

Gabe discusses the drawing process in this way:

Kate and I had a conversation about the need of "the bull" to this body of work. I looked up pictures of bulls and eventually wound up trying to remember my Myspace account pass word. Luckily Kate came to the studio the next day with pictures of bulls that she had found. The printouts were little 5x7 inch on printer paper. I think I said "cool I can work with that. So how big are we doing it?" So taking the printouts to 3x5 foot seamed like a no brainer to me. I would get out the projector and boom done.

Kate had that look and I knew that I was wrong. She said to me" I want it like that work", as she pointed to The Crazy Aunt tryptic that hangs in the studio. So The Crazy Aunt is in essence a black and white drawing and it relies on the shadow I love. Needed line vs implied, fine art vs illustration, imagery shapes vs the shapes that should be in place, and so on and so on. Yup, I have a lot.
Kate was just so happy about the plan I took it as a personal challenge to see it through. So no projector and no trace paper. Trace paper is how I do versions of The Crazy Aunt and so now what. I guess I'll just have to draw it out. The Bull became three main tasks. Finding the look, life studies, and transferring the image.

I did a 8x10 inch cow head drawing in the stenciled look of The Crazy Aunt and we decided that it needed to simplify a lot. The shapes of the cow head got five colors in very specific areas. Picture in your mind a black and white cow head. Now assign a grey scale to just the most important parts (eyes, nose, etc.) and the light the cows picture was taken in. Then I make up shapes that work best fit the drawing versus what's really there.

Second step is life study applications. Like in any sketch of a flower arrangement from across the room or the architecture of a building, proportion is the name of the game. I can think in step one and two at the same time and so I just started drawing The Bull.  I taped butcher paper down to Kate's desk and started my crazy process.
When the drawing was finished and we both liked it I had my wife come over to the studio and color up The Bull. Black was black, white was white, and browns and reds filled in the rest.

After completion of the drawing, Gabe prepared a butcher paper trace of it, sort of a paint by numbers thing with all the shapes clearly defined and each of the colors assigned a number value. After some discussion on the depth of the back ground we settled on a total of seven colors, two separate colors on layer two so that areas that touch would not be the same color for different objects.

After the complex generation of the image, the build was fairly straight forward, if not simple. The trace was used as a layer guide. After cutting out a layer, it was cut off the parchment and used again to trace the next layer and so on. The parchment was a genius innovation, trace goes to crap the second it touches wet clay, it can handle no water at all. The parchment, because it’s design for food preparation, it held up beautifully throughout creation of all 6 layers to a tile.

Our first step of the build was to make the slabs. Layer one was 3/8″ deep and all succeeding layers were 1/4″ slabs. This took a good deal of forethought as we tried to estimate the number of whole square inches each layer of the 10 tiles would need. It also began to indicate just how massive the project was going to be.

While I prepped slabs, Gabe prepared the drywall. Four new full sheets  were purchased that week and all would be used in both the easel and the build.

Breaking the bull down into manageable chunks was another discussion that we gave much time. The debate focused on the joins of the tiles. Each of the four or five possible options we discussed had merits and drawbacks, in the end we chose the one that would make the initial build more simple but the assembly on tile board more complex. A basic grid was layer overtop of the parchment drawing with the horizon line at greater than 50% to help keep the heavier tiles to the top smaller.

Gabe built a heavy oak frame from old hard wood flooring that both kept the build as precise as we could make it and to slow drying from the side of the tiles. The easel has two drywall layers, also to prevent too speedy a dry time. The bottom layer is a full sheet and the top cut into the exact size of each tile so they could be assembled on the tables and placed back into the frame exactly where needed.

Finally we were ready to begin. We chose the Fourth of July weekend for the build because we wanted it done with no large gaps in making process, we both work outside the studio. Aside from a Gabe having to do some small maintenance for the farm, we had four full days to get it done and we needed every minute of it, with very little time even for sleep while we were at it.

The actual tiles are deceptively simple. We assigned each color to a layer, where that color shows in the drawing the layering stops and that color shows through. Where white (the background color) shows, the tile is only one layer thick, where white for highlight shows, on the horns and the nose, the tile is 6 layers thick. Where a higher numbered color will show, all layers but be beneath to build the correct strata for the overall piece. As mentioned above we mapped this out by cutting each color from the parchment map on the tile, allowing only the areas where we would continue to build presence on the growing tiles.

Tile 4, by far the most complex as it held both the horns and the face took 8 hours to complete. The average time per tile was about 5 hours.

First tiles are cut out and assembled, then taken back apart and the slips added to the pieces where needed.

After some dry time we reassembled them with slip to bind them together and placed into the easel.

After completing all ten tiles we wrapped them heavily for a week so the attachments could solidify and the slips could set.

At the end of the week we opened it up and touched up color where we made mistakes and where the slips were not as crisp as we intended.

Now fully complete the bull will rest under plastic 6 to 8 weeks to dry slowly to prevent the tiles warping. Once dry, we will place the tiles on wasters and fired to 01 to fully develop the terra-cotta color that is the primary color of the finished bull.

Beginning A New Installation

The Magic Box was an enormous and all-consuming project that took up huge portions of our lives over the past three years. Its ben very difficult to nail down the next installation project for Foxy-Wolff. We have been kicking around several ideas since before completing the last, and while there were elements of each idea that we found compelling, not one of them really cried out for making.

Initially we played around with a few possible sequels to the Magic Box, focused on Bob the Unicorn’s childhood, but the rigid control of the rules of that world were too constraining. Also being able to complete an entire installation in a year or less seems an interesting challenge with the potential to dramatically impact its over-all outcome. We were hoping for a work that might be less text dependent, allowing its visceral, emotional content to come to the surface.

An entirely new work seemed in order, so then it was time to begin sifting through ideas.

As one might guess, actually getting to work in the studio brought the best of these to the surface. The last post outlined the evolution of the structure and aesthetics of the upcoming work.

Process and Inspiration

Over the weeks the clay shaped up Gabe and I were refining the overall direction and intent of the installation, with Gabe providing drawings to aid in the conversation.

The concept of the show engages our fascination with ancient funerary art, and religious practices directed toward the dead. Each individual element in the gallery represents a families remembrance and the living process of creation that is the natural product of such a process. We concern ourselves  with the boundaries between worlds, feeling that riding that edge is the place where creativity rises.

Funerary art is also some of the most readily available records of extinct cultures. The pseudo-historical potential of work like this allows construction of a narrative without having to outline a specific “story”. The show marks a significant transformation of both the project (Foxy-Wolff) and our personal lives and so thinking of burial to mark that transition makes a weird kind of sense.

Elemental transformation is also a key concept for this work. the geological transformation of the rock cycle referenced through the clay mirrors the transformations of life and death; family member to ancestor. The technological aspect of the show will emphasize these by allowing us to light the gallery with fire and water  without having to work with building rules and insurance policies.

With this show we are making an offering to those who come to experience the work. In turn we give those an opportunity to offer something back to the work. By giving sand to the images and objects in the gallery, the viewer brings soul from the earth and allows it to rise, much like the fire and water of the videos.

Weighting To Rise gives us an opportunity to share our passion for the strange and beautiful, to mine the great well of myth and belief that surround death and to invite the viewer to share in the process of making the space and the installation live via their participation through action. The finely rendered paintings, made from the same material as the rest of the work  are the center piece of the show and add precision and emotion to the elemental presentation.

 

Freestyle Video at KACA

We were super fortunate to get to teach our Freestyle Video class this year at the Kansas Artist Craftsman Association conference this year. The 2016 KACA conference was held at Heston College in Newton Kansas. The small campus wreathed in autumn leaves was an ideal setting for the weekend.

The workshop is a one day project in which we planned, shot and edited  a video by student participants and ourselves. To accommodate this abbreviated production schedule Gabe and I came in to the weekend with both a concept and a song for the video being produced. The song, called  Steppin, builds on a simple beat that moves the action of the video, movement then became the focus of the project. Gabe wrote the song on his iPhone using the Garage Band app. The song was originally 250 bars but with only 142 used. He used 18 different digital instruments and his crafty thumbs to create the song.

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The first half of the session focused on storyboarding and capturing video. Walking in the context of the campus and conference was to unite with the beat of the music to create the content. With Gabe blasting the song from the back of the car, we walked in groups and singles with cell phones used as primary tools to offer what would be the foundation footage for the project. People then went through campus and the conference to add to this base. The clips, shot in 30 to 45 second blocks so they could be emailed into a single account would make sharing that data possible, so that footage could be shared.

We had a long lunch break which we used to prepare for editing. The day was in two blocks and participants were not required to do both to participate so we lost a few from the morning but gained more for the afternoon. the great challenge here was to help each person with the tools they either already had or would have access to in the future. With patience and tutorials from YouTube we were able help everyone to transfer the files and to use all the footage captured.

Drawing clips from the email account where they were stored, each artist edited their own version of the project using iMovie. Again there was a range of experience in each participant. For some it was their first time turning on a Mac and for others it was more a matter of small assistance with app details. Once all the videos were complete they were uploaded to a drop box so Gabe could use pieces from their videos for a final edit of all the material into our version of the project.

Our goal for the workshop was to help facilitate participants ability to make and  video using the tools at hand and to demystify the process of digital art. We are thrilled with some of the results. thanks to all the students who participated in the project.

Here then is our video and those of some of the participants.

Maddie Stutzman

Janet Lewis

Ceramics as Theater and the Necessity of Video

Either by question or comment, people are often curious about the blending of ceramic and video that is at the heart of the Foxy-Wolff collaboration.  Partly, it is a simple matter of blending Gabe’s and my skill sets, this is just what would naturally come about from a collaboration of a  ceramist and a film maker, but after reading a wonderful essay in Ceramics Art and Perception (issue 92) titled “Is Ceramics a Genre in Theater”, I am compelled to think more deeply.

In the article, the author, Orly Nezer points to a definition of minimalist art that came out of the 1960’s.  Theorist Michael Fried identifies minimalist art as “neither paintings nor sculpture, but rather a situation that takes into account the actions of its manufacture, the activities that have preceded it and to great extent, the presence of the spectator”.  The author goes on to develop a thesis based on this quote that put the viewer in the center of a work of art for the context that is given through that act, and another from Eric Bentley on the nature of theater, “A impersonates to B while C is watching”  This quote establishes the necessity of time in the idea.  So we are left with an audience and a measured time of action.

edmund de wall 3

Orly then identifies several ceramic installations that meet this criteria.  My favorite is Titled “Signs and Wonders” by Edmund de Waal, it was installed in the Victoria and Albert Museum  in 2009.  For tis installation, de Waal honors the ceramic collection of the V&A through recreating them in porcelain from memory.  The works were then placed on a circular aluminum shelf suspended high above the gallery floor.  This placement distorts and blurs the work for the viewer.  Orly claims that this placement requires the imagination of the viewer to complete the work.

In each of the works discussed, the audience must participate, and that participation can only occur while in contact with the work.  From this keen observation, Orly goes on to include functional pots into this definition, because their use gives them context and meaning and their value is in a collection of gestures that goes into their making.  A pitcher is not really a pitcher until its poured.

So then how does this pertain to Foxy-Wolff and our toys and videos?  I think it’s an easy jump to view the handmade toys and houses as functional objects that are not really complete until they are played with.  It’s true that ceramic is an absurd material for toys but that is, in a way, the point. We act out these strange adult scenarios with toys too fragile for a child.  The play is closely regulated with firm rules so that the video has the look and feel that we need, but none of it has any meaning until they are watched.

It is true that the recording of the play removes the necessity of the ephemeral, but perhaps this is not the play of the script that is really being recorded.  I begin to wonder if the play that we are really interested in is the continuous dialog of the collaboration itself.  Sometimes light and funny and at times a battle with immovable opinions, but always compelling as we continually push for more and more from the work and each other.  Maybe that question; why ceramic and video? is at the heart of the entire project. Though for me at least, its one that I don’t really need to answer.

Graffiti Pots

One of my favorite aspects of the work of Foxy-Wolff is the way that the large project can contain so many splinters and still remain whole.  The intent, scope and heart of all the projects lead to the interior of the next project and are connected back to projects that are many years past, even before the beginning of our collaboration. The graffiti pots are especially one of these projects.  Gabe and I began working together rather later in our artistic lives.  For myself, I was focused on ceramic entirely.  Especially working as a studio potter and sometime sculptor for almost 20 years prior to Foxy-Wolff.  For Gabe about the same number of years have been given to the study of drawing and painting.  Within those time spans we each developed interests.  For me, the history of human culture through clay sculpture and pottery, for Gabe, Graffiti and street art have been important influences.  For this group of vases we unite those years of experience and differing interests into a unified group of pots that are setting the tone for the work we intend to make for the next year at least.IMG_4614I threw the pots off the hump with the clay that we made this winter.  The influence for the form comes from the arts and crafts movement.  Not that these pots are intended to copy work from the period, but their forms and handle attachments reflect fashionable conventions from the time.   This period has had the strongest influence over my sense of beauty in thrown forms and they are shapes I make often.

once the pots were trimmed, handled and bisqued, they were ready for surface treatment and their first firing.  The first step in this process is to spray paint the surface of the work.  We use a lead free industrial grade aerosol primer for this.

After the paint dries the pots are glazed.  The paint acts as a resist and an uneven glaze surface over the paint is encouraged.IMG_4593

IMG_4592Following the glaze application the pots are ready for firing

While I was focused on design and execution of the pots, Gabe was working on the tags for the decals.  Concerning the work Gabe said “I want the work to look as if it was taken from the unknown origins collection in a Museum and used like a wall is used by a graffiti artist”.    Here is a group of photos that reveal his process in designing1324Once a design is ready on paper it can be moved to the computer for extensive preparation in photoshop for becoming a decal.  These were printed by the sheet and then cut out.  Gabe chose a repeating order for all the pots.  Even though some of the small pieces could only hold 3 of the tags, the order was held throughout the decaling process to prevent overuse of an image56Once the pots were fired, they were ready to receive their decals

IMG_47798Decaled, they were ready for their third firing to set the decals into the glaze.910The completed pots exceeded our expectations and have set the tone for future work.  These are for sale through the studio, reach us through our “About” page.cropped-graffiti-pots1-copy-21.jpg

Collaboration is King

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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.

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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.

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The play set also got some play.  I am leaning toward an insurance agency play set.  It seems the most absurd choice.