ceramic art

The Magic Box Complete

The Magic Box has been the central focus of Foxy-Wolff over the last three years. During that time the project evolved into more than we could have imagined when we conceived the idea in hotel room in Hays Kansas. To bring all that time and work together into a solid installation was the focus of nearly a year of that time.

The first step to bring the installation to completion was the show catalog. The size of the objects with their projections makes photography one of the most demanding aspects of a show like this. To get the images we felt we needed, we were fortunate to borrow the gallery at Colorado State University.

Magic Box Catalog (low res)

This was a dress rehearsal for installing the complete show and so required us to consider every aspect carefully. This meant pulling together and retesting all the tech, building the pedestals, and solving the problems set aside for later consideration. Once done, we were ready to set up and photograph the show.

Because projected video is such a crucial element of the installation, lighting the gallery was a central consideration every time it went up. For the catalog we lit the space far more than we did for the actual showings of the work, but even so the images were very challenging to work with.

One of the most incredible things about this project is how multifaceted it is, requiring us to extend all of our skill sets. This was especially true of the catalog. Most graduate students hire out this aspect of their MFA show, but because of my intermedia emphasis, I chose to do this myself. One of the long-term goals of my education was to become proficient in Photoshop and Illustrator. This was the first step on that road. Using some terrific online tutorials, I shut myself in the house for 6 weeks and got focused. In the end I had to learn Indesign as well, plus stay focused through repeated edits but it was a wonderful period of learning and we were really happy with the result. Here is a link to the tastytuts channel. It’s a fantastic resource.

https://www.youtube.com/user/TastyTuts

Once all these preliminaries were complete we were off to install the show at the Moss-Thornes gallery on the FHSU campus in Hays Kansas. Getting the work and equipment to the gallery was our next major hurdle. Our plan was to rent a truck but by the time we finished acquiring all the last-minute gear for the show we were way over budget on the project and so had to find another option. fortunately we were able to arrange the install with graduation weekend so my parents took it and us in their camper and we all stayed for the weekend.

We consider the blog and the website a central piece of The Magic Box. To bring those aspects into the gallery we used QR codes as gallery tags. We generated these through a Japanese company that allowed us to incorporate text and images into the codes design. Using these meant we could keep text and other distractions to a minimum in the space and worked beautifully with the overall content of the piece.  All the QR tags are shown in the catalog pdf above.

Once all the details came together the installation came down to the same effort and endurance required of all installation days. Though exhausting, this is one of our favorite aspects of working in the visual arts. With a couple of good hard days we had the show up and ready for visitors.

In addition to the show in Hays we were fortunate to be invited to show it at the Hoag Gallery at Colorado State University-Pueblo. It was wonderful to get to put it up and take it down so many times in a year, of course each gallery added new features and challenges to the work which really allowed us to understand the dynamics of the entire show.

 

It’s a thrill to see the installation complete and hear from so many people who appreciated the work. We have settled on our next large-scale project and will be developing clay bodies and concepts in the coming months, stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Foxy-Wolff and Rise at The Red Lady Gallery in Kansas City

Attending NCECA conference has been a goal of ours for several years. This year we finally make that happen In Kansas City. We were in town early to set up a graduate showcase titled Rise, at the Red Lady Gallery with the rest of the grads from FHSU.

We showed The Empty Room in this exhibit and the first step in getting to the show was to get the work pulled together and made ready to show.  We are already prepping the work for the show in May, this was an opportunity to push up the timeline and see one of the pieces fully wired and installed. We’ve finished most of the work  on each of the 5 pieces for the show, but each require some fine-tuning. For The Empty Room we needed to wire in the screens and build the pedestal as well as test all the tech together and ensure all electronic elements were ready to work together in the gallery. Gabe’s diverse skill set and exacting eye make him the go-to for most of this finish work.

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After detailing and finishing, we loaded up and headed to Kansas City. Gabe’s wife Walter came with us on this trip and so the borrowed truck bulged to the top. It was shocking to see how much gear each of these pieces need. It was a great test run to consider the amount of space we will need to bring out the entire show in May.

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The Red Lady Gallery is located at 1229 1/2 Union Ave in Kansas City, in The West Bottoms neighborhood. The show ran for the 4 days of the conference and was well attended considering this was a pop up show with no advertisement from the conference.

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The space reflects the neighborhood, classic with tons of character. I really can’t imagine a better venue in KC. When we landed we got straight to work unpacking and setting up. The entire set up took us about an hour, including hauling all the gear up the steps, no small feat.

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When the piece was up, we proceeded to tour the neighborhood, full of wonderful old warehouses and factories and some really excellent graffiti.

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While the neighborhood boasts several boutiques, galleries and antique shops, the activity there is usually limited to First Friday events in the city and so we had the neighborhood nearly to ourselves that afternoon, we took the opportunity as a private viewing and had a great time exploring the streets, alleys and parking lots.

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The best bit of the day though was finally seeing the Empty Room together with all its component pieces. Having seen it complete, gave us a good idea of the whole installation in place.

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Gabe put this video together to celebrate the show, as he says, you’re welcome. 🙂

 

 

 

ceramic art

Kuan Yin of The Magic Box

The last two months has seen a flurry of studio activity as we close in on the date to install the Magic Box show in the Moss-Thorns Gallery at Fort Hays State University.  The last major piece to be built for the show is a large-scale copy of the Kuan Yin that is featured in the fourth video, The Black Church. This piece will accompany the entire edited video in the last space in the installation and in many ways is the anchor for the show. I see it as an opportunity to flip the scale of the viewer in the gallery and reinforce the image of the viewer themselves within the context of the space, especially as it relates to the cell phone interaction that will be integral to the experience of the show. for this reason as well as my real and abiding love of the work it is based on we have been determined to do a good job on this piece.IMG_9701

The first step was to build the easel. Gabe accomplished this using an old solid core door, a 4×4 and some canvas we has in the studio from the Art Center days. The tech is really costing quite a bit for this show so keeping costs down in other areas has been important over the last year. The easel was heavy and difficult to move which was a good thing considering the amount of clay that would need to be stacked on it.

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The next step was for Gabe to use his observational super powers to scale up the figurine on the canvas so we would have a frame-work for stacking the clay.

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While Gabe worked on that, I prepped the clay for stacking. To build the piece I used a highbred technique of the brick sculpture I used to do with Jarrett Pottery and the large solid sculpture techniques learned during the Beth Cavener workshop in January of 2015. (see post here) The piece required about 550 lbs of clay, which I shaped roughly into bricks straight from the extruded blocks from the clay factory.  I used talc between the bricks to prevent sticking, which turned out to be mistake in a way as I changed my ideas for taking the piece apart to more reflect Cavener’s technique rather than the brick sculpture I had done in the past. The best choice would have been to work for solid attachment of the units to each other as I built the wall.  It would have saved valuable time in the disassembly and hollowing stage. For clay I chose the cost saving measure again. We were still sitting on about half a ton of Laguna’s Whitestone, which is really the last clay I would have chosen given the problems we’ve had in the past with it, but it’s what we had and the dates are approaching quickly so we went with it. Because of this choice we anticipate a good deal of epoxy after firing, with that in mind we will be using a fired and cold approach to the surface.

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Gabe, in the mean time, worked on a second outline, on paper this time, that could lay over the stacked clay and allow us to map in the essential elements.  After that it was a matter of stacking the clay, brick by brick.

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On this last image you can see the outline that was traced onto the clay using the second, paper drawing. The clay was very wet here and carving for detail was not possible, so for the first week or so only crude shaping and removal was possible.

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At this point the form was basically mapped and fine detail could be added. While the piece was based on the figurine, the scale shift required a greater attention to detail that the small piece could not support.  These changes are most apparent in the folds of the fabric.IMG_9774 IMG_9785

You can see in the above image that the clay was really pulling apart, which made finishing imperative. The last section to be tackled was the head.

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I did return later and add material to a few places, the knee and the nose, brow and chin most notably. This is the face before the additions.

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The additions to the face were made after the piece was cut away from the larger whole. In this image the “brick” separations are clearly visible. The first step in the deconstruction phase was to attach the bricks together.  Once this was complete and the attachments had time to set, the entire section was flipped on the foam and carved out from the back to make firing possible as the density of this clay will not allow solid firing as brick does.

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Once the pieces were attached and hollowed out they were sculpted and finished. The remaining sections stayed on the easel as I worked.  After a while the pieces became so dry on the canvas backing of the easel that the whole thing had to come down and be more thoroughly wrapped so they would last while I worked. It took about a month the finish the disassembly.

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After hollowing and attaching, part of the finishing process involved placing each section on a waster slab and then resurfacing with steel wool to remove the making texture from the forms.

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The last step was to wash the sections with a red iron oxide wash that will be sanded back a bit before these pieces are loaded into the kiln in a couple of weeks. Reassembly and cold finishing to follow.

ceramic art

Workshop with Beth Cavener

This January 2015 FHSU hosted a workshop with Beth Cavener, an artist that I have had a serious art crush on since first seeing her work years ago. That piece, titles A Rush of Blood to the Head is still tremendously influential to my work and aspiration as an artist.  It can be viewed here:

A Rush of Blood to the Head

I have continued following her work and she has been the standard both for success and quality for myself as an artist. The workshop was then something that I looked forward to tremendously.

Before I begin discussing my experience I must clarify that I was very sick the entire time I was in Kansas, falling ill with the flu a few days before leaving and staying ill the entire time, that surly impacted my feelings. Another caveat was a major mental health diagnosis I received  just before leaving that left me feeling terrified and deeply constrained. So it was through this filter that I went to meet my art hero/crush.

First I must say that it was truly the most expansive and informative workshop I’ve ever attended. Her technique is radical and her approach is methodical and meticulous, it is no surprise that she has been so successful. In addition to her tremendous skill the work she has put in to every aspect of her career is astounding. She told stories of how her first showing experience in New York that was so ballsy and brilliant that I could barely cover my awe.

Her style of working is doubtless detailed in other places but I will give a brief summary. Her process begins with a series of sketches in clay.  These small studies are usually done in large numbers as a way to work through ideas and solve problems.  For this workshop she could only make one based on suggestions from the group.  We were large and engaged and there were many suggestions that came down to a vote.  through a somewhat democratic process she agreed to work with a wolf twisted in a rope.

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These models are done in oil clay so that they might stay workable and salvageable.  She rarely keeps these.  They are built solid using bamboo skewers as armature. At this point she is considering composition and posture and formulating the procedure for the armature for the full size piece which range from life-size, to much larger.

The armature for the large sculpture is made from gas pipe relying on 1/2″ pipe and a variety of connectors.

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The pipe shown here is not galvanized, which she prefers because it prevents corrosion, so these were wrapped in electrical tape to prevent that. The frame-work is screwed down to the floor or table and the structure is built with special attention to removing it when the sculpture is built. The most important aspect of this process is to remember that the frame is a chair for the clay rather than bones for an animal.  The clay must be supported from underneath for the most part.

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This structure was tried and edited many times to be sure it would suffice for the entire piece, some of the sculptures weigh many hundreds of pounds when they are in process.

Once the armature is built the clay is applied, first wrapping the pipe and then building in layers until the basic size is achieved.

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The legs are supported by dowels wrapped in electrical tape and jointed so that the body can be manipulated as it is built.

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Things like tails and ears that can be relied on to create emotion are added last or even after firing so that they cannot be relied upon.

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Once the piece is relatively finished it is cut apart, piece by piece and hollowed out, then reattached in sections and fired.

The sculpting part of this technique is quick and expressive, the restructuring and hollowing is slow and meticulous.  In the end, every surface, including those impossible to see have been finished to her own anatomical perfection.

This process was detailed in slide shows that document many of her favorite pieces including A Rush of Blood to the Head which was wonderful to see.

As I mentioned earlier we were a very large group and asked a load of questions. She was very generous in answering all of these distractions and more revealing much about her self and her process as she worked. As a result she was not happy with the progress she was able to make on the piece.  By the end of the workshop she asked that we not share images of the work but especially not of her.  I have honored her wishes not be shown in the images but not her request not to have the work shown, partly because this is a post about my experience in this workshop and partly for reasons I will now elaborate.

Throughout the days of the workshop Beth was incredibly candid about herself, her process and her struggles both as a person and an artist.  She seemed to make great connection with many of the students and their work, not however with me.  Likely she was put off by my fan girl shimmer, that while i did try to restrain it, could only have been obvious and possibly for reasons I have mentioned before, I was ill and very caught up in my own mental health issues and so may not have been available for connection. So then in spite of my attempts I felt very much unacceptable to this person that I admired so much.

Because of this I was determined not to write about this experience. both to protect her and myself for I felt very much exposed and did not want to risk her displeasure, still fawning on some sad level, and so the experience ended.  I was left to wonder what the students who did connect had that I lacked and if there was something I was fundamentally lacking that would prevent me from ever achieving the success of my idol and those class mates that were acceptable to the higher power that an internationally known and hugely talented artist represented.

I did attempt the technique but as I work at such a small-scale for the animals of the Magic Box that it was largely inappropriate.  Still, I did manage a pose for Brittany the unicorn that I have not been able to pull off before. So then after so much anticipation I left the workshop drained and exhausted, feeling less able than I had in many years to achieve the moderate success that I have worked toward.

And so it remained, I would think of this post often but could not find a way to write about the experience in a way that would be meaningful to myself and my readers as well.  In fact, this dilemma seemed to halt the blog all together, as those of you who read regularly will have noticed. Yet I was confident that time would reveal a way to relate the experience and perhaps relieve many pressures of being correct and acceptable that is such a difficult part of life as an artist.

And so that opportunity finally came today through one of my many Facebook clay groups.  I found a video, an interview with Beth that I can’t imagine her having made when we met several months ago.  It is a beautiful film that describes her process, her work and her struggles in a way that was so very revealing.

An Interview With Artist Beth Cavener Who Captures Human Emotions Through Sculpted Stoneware Animals

I have no wish to detail my mental process at seeing her expose herself and her insecurities and her work for the camera, but it is sufficient to say that I was moved by her courage to do so and by the very similarities that seem to so distress me in January.

The experience did not produce a great patron or helper as I may have hoped in my fantasy before meeting, but a teacher, a true teacher, with the power to reveal one of the fundamental truths of life in the arts.  The truth of the constant self exposure that is required to survive the process of show entries and openings combined with a process of exposing ones self through work that digs into the soul every day.

I admire her more than ever, yet I no longer feel the art crush that I used to. This is obviously desirable, allowing her to be a person, complex and rich and myself also, with all of my great talents and imperfections.

I won’t try to assist her or do further workshops or any other absurd fantasy that occurred to me in the time of not being acceptable in January but she will always be held in great esteem and gratitude for showing me that even the greatest artists are people as myself, complex and conflicted.

Please look her up, her website is gorgeous and so is her work.

Beth Cavener – New Homepage

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Filling the Tank: Fuel for the Creative Life

This weekend Gabe and I had the good fortune to attend the Lawrence Art Center Ceramics Symposium in Lawrence KS as part of the midterm meeting for my graduate program at Fort Hays State University.  The Symposium featured 6 very well-respected ceramic artists working in a variety of techniques and approaches.  The artists that participated were: Sunshine Cobb, Gerit Grimm, Chris Gustin, Akio Takamori, Patti Warashina and Stan Welch.  The two days were divided between simultaneous demonstrations and artist talks.  We also had the great good fortune to visit the studio of Kris Kuksy.

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The slide lectures were an opportunity to become acquainted with the artists of the symposium through the history of their work.  Chris Gustin works primarily on the wheel, making large vessels and platter forms and then wood firing.   His inspiration comes largely from the geometry found in nature and art and architecture of the past.

http://www.gustinceramics.com

chris gustin

Akio Takamori creates simplified human figures and then paints  them with underglazes. These painted figures have the look and feel of dimensional sumi paintings.   The work explores his identity as a Japanese person living in America and his interest in the act of looking, at art, people and culture.

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http://akiotakamori.com

Patti Warashina also works with the figure.  Her slip cast pieces, inspired by surrealism, are complex narratives that examine human nature and culture.

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Stan Welch combines photographs, ceramic, installation and two-dimensional design to create large wall hanging pieces that feature ceramic figurines and the ocean.  These large works evoke both isolation and anticipation.

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The demonstrations took up most of the day at the symposium, and while we wanted to see everyone work, it made the most sense to drop in and focus on the work of a couple of artists and get the full benefit of what they had to offer.  We chose to watch the demonstrations of Sunshine Cobb and Gerit Grimm.

Gerit Grimm is a German born artist making figurative work on the wheel.  For the demonstration she made two works, a horse and rider and a woman with a flower-pot.  Her process began with throwing parts, torso, head, arms, legs and other bits.  Once the work had dried efficiently it was assembled into incredibly engaging sculptural forms that reference both the style of making and that which they are meant to portray.

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Gerit helped us deepen our understanding of complex form and multi piece attachment processes.  She was an engaging and funny presenter and we had a great time with her.

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http://www.geritgrimm.com

Sunshine Cobb is a functional potter who combines hand building and wheel techniques to create pots that have an incredible vitality and integrity.  The work is aggressively formed and there is no attempt to hide the means of their making.  The vigorous finger marks and pinching cracks add humanity to the handmade work that is for some artists has become indistinguishable from factory produced work.   Her methods were quick and confident and we came away feeling energized and motivated in our own work.  Another great thing about Sunshine’s presentation was her straight talk about the nature of ceramic business.  She offered tips and encouragement on a subject that is often neglected in these types of events.

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We had a great time getting to know her and feel really inspired by what she taught.

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http://www.sunshinecobb.com

The weekend offered other opportunities as well.  The first night of the conference the art center opened a show titled “Souvenirs from the Future: A Survey of Contemporary Ceramic”  It was a very good show.  Here are a few of our favorite works:

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Stephanie Craig, Raft Lake Fables: “Home Before Dark”

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Josh Zimmerman.  Stratified Construction #2

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Shalene Valenzuela.  Implements of Self Construction: Paint by Numbers

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Brett Kern.  Inflatable Astronaut

In addition, Russel Wrankle had a solo show up featuring dogs with things tied to them.  The idea he said came from the old trick of tying a dead bird to the neck of a dog that kills chickens.  Wearing the bird until it rots off was though to cure the dog of the chicken habit.  I don’t know about the practice, but the work was wonderful.  This piece titled “Frog Muzzle” was our favorite.

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We also had the outrageous good fortune to visit Kris Kuksy’s new studio and get to chat with him about his work, upcoming shows and the fine art of kit bashing.  We couldn’t photo any of his work as it’s for an upcoming show, but we did catch this sweet little vignette of roosters and death in a corner of the space.

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If you don’t know Kris’s work, you should.

http://kuksi.com

We also paid a great visit to Bracker’s Good Earth Clays.  They were super friendly and helpful and had soooo many lovely tools.  I’m afraid we got a bit carried away.  It was a good connection to make and I am sure we will be doing business with them in the future.

http://www.brackers.com

We learned a huge range of useful things this weekend, fundamental to our discoveries was the importance of clay body to technique.  That without exploring a range of bodies, it may not be possible to fully engage a personal technique.  Each change brings new challenges and as those are overcome a true vocabulary can be built and potential explored.

This was the bones of the weekend, the rest was inspiration to return to the studio with new perspectives and techniques to push our work into the next project and beyond.  Fuel for the creative life.

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This lovely pic is a bonus from the walls of The Java Bean Cafe in downtown Lawrence.