Uncategorized

The Artist’s Project from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

For the past couple weeks I have watched a web series titled The Artists Project. This series, put together by the Metropolitan Museum of Art is in its fourth season and continues to offer a fresh perspective on looking at art. Each of the short episodes features a contemporary artist looking at their favorite work in The Met’s collection. From masterworks by George Braque to objects made by unknown ancient craftsmen, the work discussed in the series covers the breadth of the vast collection, and the commentary provided by the artists brings a personal understanding of the work that often transcends the conventions of art criticism and history.

artistproject.metmuseum.org/4/jane-hammond/

One compelling look beyond what is traditionally considered art, is an examination of snapshots from the collection donated by Peter Cohen, by artist Jane Hamond. Hamond is examining images never intended as art, but she brings the expansive possibilities of Duchamp to contextualize the images into a sort of ready-made for her own work. The video encourages  the viewer to see these snapshots in a new context, clean and clear on a matted background in high res, transforms the images from scraps in grandmothers drawer to mid-century masterpieces. She notes that one of the things that make these images so compelling is the total lack of professionalism and artistic intent, rather seeing the photos as a sort of taxidermy to collect moments of significance in the lives of those represented. It is then for us to use our powers of observation to appreciate the bold narrative and sometimes revolutionary composition.

Accompanying each of the videos is a short bio of the artist and an image of their work. If they, like Hamond, have a piece in The Met, a link is provided to the museum page of the work where the viewer can more fully consider the work being discussed on the artists own work. Its ready-made connection making that links the topics discussed in the video directly to the viewer, combining all in a conceptual whole.

jane-hammond-String-Men-600x600

One of the things I especially love about the series are the diverse voices represented. One such voice, is that of Paul Tazewell, an American costume designer for dance, theater and opera. Tazewell discusses the portraits of Anthony van Dyck.

artistproject.metmuseum.org/4/paul-tazewell/

Here Tazewell focuses on the precise rendering of the images, especially that of the clothing as the basis of his appreciation and inspiration. This rendering, notes the designer, supports a character and their narrative within the work. He notes the idealized and feminized garments express a different sort of masculine power than that of contemporary culture and sees affectation and character in the portraits themselves that feels very much like theater. He then offers a very frank appreciation of a self-portrait of the artist for its sensual qualities.

anthony van dyck

Through Tazewells eyes I see van Dyck’s work afresh. Rather that the stifling formality I have long associated with this type of painting, I can sense the vibrant world that the precision reflects and the designers joy in regarding the images is somewhat contagious.

Dia Batal is a Palestinian multidisciplinary artists who uses traditional text and formats in contemporary context. Her examination of a Syrian tile panel with a calligraphic inscription in another opportunity to see art outside of my own cultural context.

artistproject.metmuseum.org/4/dia-batal/

Originally born in Beirut and now living and working in London, she didn’t like seeing these objects removed from their homes and taken out of context in a museum. With the recent war in Syria however she has come to value their presence there so that they might be preserved.

Syrian Tile

The panel is not a work that would have attracted my attention without Batal’s introduction. I think this is likely because of its reliance on a message that I can not decode. Her reading the inscription aloud in the video opens the ear to the poetry contained in it in a way that a translation on a wall just couldn’t do. It opens the doors of a cultural context in a way that travel does, allowing a more intimate view of the words contained in the work.

The editing of the video is that of a slide show of portraits of the artist looking and photos of the art being considered, including closeups. As she discusses color composition on the piece, the closeup allows me to see the oxide cracking over the tin glaze of the tile and provides an entry for my appreciation of ceramic craft and history. This window gives me a genuine insight and appreciation for a work that before Batal’s discussion I found opaque.

Production is part of the reason this works so well. The slide show format combined with the voice over provided by the artist hold the cathedral-like space of the museum intact. As she imagines the tile in context of the mosque, imagining the dome and the light, we are given the open clean lines of the display, that echo the sacred intent of the  space. This allows the viewer to contact the art in a fresh unhurried way that mimics actually being in front of the work.

One of the things I found most fascinating about the videos is to compare the work they make to the work they appreciate. My favorite example of this was Wilfredo Prieto’s discussion of the sculpture of Rodin.

Rodin's Hand

artistproject.metmuseum.org/4/wilfredo-prieto/

Prieto is a Cuban conceptual artist, and he uses his time in The Met to study. In the work of Rodin he finds inspiration in gesture. His careful examination of the studies on view share not only his understanding of the great artists technique but also the qualities he is looking for in his own work. He notes that Rodin believed to find expression in the material he had to dominate the material. Prieto takes this maxim into the conceptual realm with his work Yes No. Rather than dominating clay or plaster as Rodin did, he dominates objects, in this case fans, to replicate human gesture. His discussion of the masters work provides great insight into his intention with his own work. The static movement of Rodin’s figures informs the literal movement of the inferred figures in the fans.

I was not familiar with many of the artists in the series, one notable exception is Swoon. I’ve been a fan of her work for many years, yet I was initially surprised by her choice of art work to discuss. Swoon is a street artist working in some of the most non art venues in the world. Her choice of The Third Class Coach by Daumier struck me as inconsistent, being a heavily framed oil painting from over one hundred years ago.

artistproject.metmuseum.org/4/swoon/

In hearing the discussion however this choice becomes understandable. Swoon has looked closely at this work since she was 15. In it she finds its depiction of daily life speaking directly to her as she stands before the canvas, person to people and artist to artist.

Daumier

Her discussion of the brush work in the face of the mother looking at her child really brings a painting I’ve seen many times into fresh focus, and her knowledge of Daumier’s biography and training gives insight into the choice of subject and motivation behind it.

It is in this motivation that we can clearly see this work as having a strong influence on Swoon. Both she and Daumier being passionate observers of cultural inequality and injustice. The two artists presentation seems so radically different when first considered, when taken in the context of the compassion that both artists base their view of the world on, the similarities become obvious, despite one hanging in one of the premier museums in the world and the other being wheat pasted to a wall in Brooklyn.

3_Swoon

 

ceramic art

Building the Black Church

The design of the last set piece of the Magic Box project was immensely important to the look and feel of the entire project.  This element and accompanying video is the culmination of our learning and focus on a project over two years in the making.  While the piece must work well with all those that came before, It must also reflect the inevitable learning that accompanies work of so much duration and focus.

As with the building for “The Empty Room”,  “The Black Church” was based on a building in our home town Pueblo, Colorado, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. While we considered many church designs for the project, we went with the cathedral because of its classical anatomy and ties to art history, which is an important element of the last video.

IMG_8777 IMG_8704 IMG_8693

We began by photographing the building.  The main challenge in “sampling” a building like this is discovering how much of the original to stay true to and how much to simplify and modify. To help make these determinations I did an extensive series of drawings, to both see the building fully and to determine the essential elements. In the initial planning stage, before the drawings, I imagined holding a large amount of the detail, feeling that was an essential part of the beauty of the building.

IMG_8855 IMG_8831 IMG_8938

The slow and deliberate process of drawing the church again and again over a period of weeks helped me to understand the soul of the building, the essential nature of the proportion and what that communicates to those on the sidewalk or inside the structure. By the end of the drawing process I was stripping away the detail and focused on the classical structure.

IMG_8947

From the drawing step, our building was designed, rather than the lengthy process of constructing plaster molds for each section, a heavy watercolor paper was used. This step cut at least 4 weeks from the build which allowed the full project to be completed within the semester.

For the build I broke the structure into four sections, the front section, or Facade and narthex, was built first. This allowed the rules for construction to be set on a relatively small and simple piece and to test the scale of the building against the existing works in the series and to ensure continuity of the installation. Rather than the Laguna’s whitestone that we built the empty room house with, we returned to Laguna’s soldate, a body that we have used for years with success. This decision completely solved the major mid slab cracking issues that had been such a problem with so much of the early construction. Another modification of the build  was to  let the slabs set up several days before assembly. This let the individual units do most of their drying and shrinking before they came together which reduced the amount of stress placed on each piece.

IMG_8974

The second section built was the naive, this section was modified from its proportion in the original building so that we could focus the filming in this section.  Because of the size modification, the roof became problematic, columns were set into the mid center of the hall to hold a sort of half ceiling. This would serve the dual purpose of holding a multi media roof that would be constructed post firing and hide the lighting system for the enclosed structure. The decision to go without decoration or windows on the building affirmed itself as the structure grew.  The exterior and the interior were beginning to be understood as separate realms.  the exterior was to exude imposing darkness and mystery in addition to be immediately recognizable as a holy or sacred place. The interior was to evoke a cave, a hidden space not easily accessible from the outside.

IMG_9008

The third piece was the transept. For the long roof section of this unit a sort of joist was constructed from the side wall panel pieces.

IMG_9113

The last piece was the choir. This was the both the smallest and most complex of the sections.

IMG_9135

Once all the sections were complete, they could be placed together to make decisions about the placement and shape of the passage that would span the whole interior.

IMG_9151

Once the interior was opened it was coated in whitestone slip, to tie it to the earlier buildings and to enhance the cave feeling for the interior shots for filming. During construction of each section a waster slab was placed beneath to limit drying and firing stress. The building was then covered and allowed to dry over several weeks.

IMG_9159 IMG_9004IMG_9161

Once the units were dried and fired to cone 06 they were again assembled to assess the warping that took place through the long process of clay to ceramic. While we did have markedly better results with this building, each section did move throughout this time, a solution was then sought to fill the gaps between the sections that would allow light to penetrate into the building. Several solutions were considered for this but in the end we decided on vinyl  joint compound, this substance starts very soft and plastic like clay and would dry very hard to allow the building to be handled as it moves from show to show.  The first step for this was to shrink-wrap the first and third sections so that the compound would only go on  section two and four, minimizing both handling stress and cleanup. Each section was then masked for spray paint.

IMG_9512IMG_9514IMG_9513

The process of application and sanding back the material had to be done through several  times before we were satisfied with the fit. The visible sides were then textured to match the ceramic.

Painting was two coats of semi-gloss black spray paint with an additional two coats of a matte clear finish, this had to be tuned up several times through the finishing as the joint compound was very messy when it had to be manipulated. The interior was largely left alone, but some of the ground bisque clay used on the interior was mixed with acrylic to cover epoxy fill and to allow the heavy texture to be picked up by the camera during filming.

IMG_9515

Once the surface was finished, it was then time to install the lights. small battery-powered LED’s were used, hot glued into position in the roof sections using the joint compound to hide the cord running through the walls and down through the joints into a pedestal built to house them. Initially my intent was to light the interior with fire, but having ruled this impractical from a build and display standpoint,  we opted for half flashing lights.  Though labeled as the same light, we found the flashing lights had a very different temperature from the non blinkers so I applied an acrylic wash to warm up the cooler toned lights.

IMG_9557 IMG_9564

Following the placement of the lights, the god tiles were epoxyed into place since their shape and the texture of the walls would not allow them to be simply placed and stay where they needed to be.

IMG_9567

Gabe supplied the finishing touches to the piece, first the multi media roof was constructed of similar materials as the additions to the ceramic. His intent for the addition was that it not draw attention to itself yet compliment the overall feeling of the exterior of the building.

IMG_9593 IMG_9594

All these elements unite to form what we believe is an incredibly strong piece that will anchor the gallery presence of the entire installation. The last element added was subtle decoration to the exterior of the church. Gabe executed to scale, tags in black marker around the back and sides of the building. These additions tie the piece into the overall intent and work of the studio and also reward the careful viewer looking for the details that are present throughout the installation.church tag 2church tags 1

Detail and subtlety become the focus of this object, the only one in the group with no magic boxes and aside from lights no dependence on technology. This piece becomes a resting place in the work to contemplate the various layers of meaning in the Magic Box installation and video series.

IMG_9578

 

installation

Building the Bear Cave

The third video in  the “Magic Box” series is nearly finished, so to prepare for its release we are going back and giving a look at some of the aspects that have gone into its making. As Gabe was the lead on the cave and did the majority of the work, it seemd important for him to tell its story. Since video is his mode of expression, he put this together to detail the process of its making.

Myownian Ship Wreck

Pots for Beautiful Grotesque

We’ve been back in the studio again after a long absence for the breeding season on the farm and are starting right back in with work for an upcoming show.  We have been invited to the upcoming Beautiful Grotesque show at the Sangre de Cristo arts center in Pueblo. The show opens in October and runs through mid January. Stay tuned for information about the opening and sales.

For this body of work we chose to start with a functional form, since we worked with vases for the graffiti show covered jars seemed like the logical choice.  The jars allow for another layer of narrative to work with the content we are working with in this series. The jars are collage, using molds from several of our previous projects and from salvaged doll molds.  These images are reconfigured to suggest meanings that might relate to an ancient cultures fertility rituals.  Many of the pieces were then textured to reference deep sea salvage, creating a false timeline for the objects. They will be finished to reflect the layers of ideas.

IMG_8901 gabesbabypot2 IMG_8914

We used a combination of techniques for decorating the pieces, including sprigging, slip casting, buttoning, incising and sculpting.

IMG_8920 IMG_8887

Though not recommended by clay makers or professionals, we are using two different bodies on pieces that incorporate slip casting.  The throwing/spriging body used is Laguna’s White Stone and the casting slip is Cashmere from New Mexico Clay. These fit together remarkably well and gave us almost no problems with attachments during shrinkage to bone-dry.

IMG_8918

The work as usual was very collaborative, some pieces we both touched while others were one or the other, and will be decorated as a team as well. We deliver to the gallery in late September, watch for finished pieces soon.

ceramic art

Filming The Empty Room

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 10.00.17 PM

Filming for this project always includes elements of what we know and have done before, and things we have never done or seen.  This project fell inline with that completely.  There is always the cramped spaces and the need to be very careful with the ceramic.  The camera angles are always tricky and there is a carefully crafted technique for using the camera, both in first person shots and in third person that adds movement to the static ceramic.

IMG_7309

This film added elements as well.  For the first time we used the device of the flash back.  This adds to the story telling and also breaks up long views of ceramics in conversation.  Earlier posts discussed the extra requirements in building that these required, but they were also time-consuming in terms of filming.  Many of them had separate small films for the magic boxes that had to be made before the scene could be set and filmed.  Once this was complete, they could be filmed, but they continued to add challenged to the musical composition and to the editing because they break up the space and time that are sometimes required to edit or compose something cohesive.

Another addition to this film was a second camera.  We acquired a Go-Pro this fall and used it for the first time in this production.  It was especially effective in some of those flashbacks, where the extreme wide-angle added an interesting element to the memory aspect of Terry the Squirrel.  The size of the Go-Pro was also useful in allowing us to go inside with the figurines and get shots that were impossible before.

IMG_7223

 

The camera was not the only new piece of tech we used for this production.  Video splitters and tiny TV’s replaced the cell phone tech that we have relied on in the past.  This excellent innovation cuts cost significantly for the overall project and gives the houses a permanent solution to the video requirements.  The splitter allowed us to run all 3 TV’s of the new house off the computer for the filming.  This was huge as it allowed us to eliminate the constant pulling the phones out of their cases and trying to sync videos by pushing go at the same time.  We will convert to inexpensive DVD players for the show in 2016.

Rather than recording the audio first as we have in the past, the voice audio came in about mid-project.  In terms of filming and editing this was not ideal, but it did allow us to be more agile as the project developed. We made some late stage edits to the script that really made for a better film.

IMG_7365

No matter how many tricks we employ, the real work of the film comes down to capturing the images and threading them together with script and music to create a cohesive art piece.  This film satisfies our needs as artists to deliver a piece with integrity and direction that is watchable and entertaining.  Stay tuned, we will release it quite soon.

 

ceramic art

Making Characters for The Empty Room

Not even a weekend passed between finishing the house and starting the furniture and characters for the film.  I began with the furniture because its size would dictate the moveable space within the rooms and so the size of the animals inside.  The Cafe was the most important space as this is where the bulk of the film takes place.  I laid out and built the objects in place and was much more flexible with shrinkage size for this project, just setting a maximum size and working below that.IMG_7017I did have one piece that required precise shrinkage for a screen, but there I only fussed with the opening.  Being less absolute with measurement cut the build time on the furniture by weeks,  it was such a great compromise.  Here you can see that the opening is slightly too big.  There is a formula that I use that allows pretty precise measurement of clay body shrinkage after firing.  For some things this is essential.IMG_7044After the furniture was complete, I moved on to characters.  I have a pretty tried and true method for devising a build for an animal that I have never tried.  First I search google images for poses and colors that I am interested in, then I draw those images.  This allows me to get careful about certain details that are important to quickly identifying the type of animal.IMG_7041As I move to the sculpting process, I use techniques I developed teaching children, this keeps the figurines looking like toys.  This relies in shedding non-essential detail, but holding on to the things that are most important, usually ear and snout shape and limb attachment.  I also usually make multiples of a each character so we can show a range of movement in the film.  The first piece gets to be an exploration, but the second must follow the size and detail rules of the first.IMG_7121I sculpted the figurines by group so that I could develop some speed with a form.  I started with squirrels and then moved to squid, rabbits, fish and bears.IMG_7071 IMG_7113 IMG_7134

James the lizard was the last of the figurines that was made.  He was built at my home since there was just not enough time in a day to get them all done.  He was built for a very specific scene in a very particular space in the cafe, which I did not have with me.  The consequence of this was significant post firing revision to get him to work in the space.  I hope not to repeat this mistake as I had to mutilate the ceramic to get him to sit.

IMG_2780

 

All the figures and furniture were fired together, though they were finished in various ways.

While I worked on the clay bits, Gabe was focused on the special effects portion.  One of the greatest things about collaboration is watching an idea expand as it meets other ideas.  This film features several flashbacks, all of which needed additional building to pull off convincingly.  Gabe took one of these flashback scenes and built a fantastic set, based on the first house, but expanded and edited to allow the scene to convey the emotion that we wanted to communicate.  In the scene we wanted to convey the  horror of greed and grasping,  The project became incredibly detailed because Gabe was so committed to pulling off the illusion to carry off that emotional impact.  He also made the character for that scene.  He chose an ape, to further illustrate the concept of the clip.

IMG_7168IMG_7300

 

Finishing began after firing. The furniture followed the rules of the first film, and any character that was coming from a previous film had to be finished in their style.  After that, we could be creative about finish.  Most pieces were glaze fired, but a few were painted with acrylic.  For us, that process always begins with spray paint.

IMG_7231

When they were complete, filming began immediately.  The characters always look best in place

IMG_7260 IMG_7271 IMG_7281 IMG_7285 IMG_7293

ceramic art

Surfacing the House for The Empty Room

painting4

Once the house was constructed for the upcoming film “The Empty Room”, it was time to surface it.  Our initial plan was to glaze fire the piece, starting with a coat of the iron oxide bearing spray paint that we use on the pots.  We wanted to use this product because it has a very dry finish and would feel like brick.  The material was applied to the bone dry clay and fired in during the bisqueing.  These tiles are tests of application times relative to internal clay moisture content.

The first firing turned out to be the last on these.  there were several reasons for this, but our primary concern were the cracks that had developed in the kiln.  We pushed the white stone body too far with this construction and we felt that another firing was risking too much, so we opted for a cold finish.

IMG_6754

The first step was to mend cracks and to apply a base coat of acrylic to the surface.  We waxed the cutouts and stair rails during drying to protect delicate features which meant that the first spray coat did not stick everywhere, so we had to fill those places that flaked off.  Another issue was that the color was inconsistent from top to bottom and so color matching was also required.

IMG_2295

Once the basic exterior was complete we focused on window treatments and the interior.  For the interior surfaces, we wanted to reference our original plan and allow the acrylic to look as ceramic as possible.  To achieve this we layered thin washes of paint with layers of clear spray paint to give the surface the luminosity of glaze.

painting2 IMG_2319

After getting the piece this far, we let it rest while we focused on making the figurines.  We wanted to leave the options open to change in case we came across new ideas regarding the furniture or other details of the interior.

paintingIn the end, we opted for a light dry brushed coat on the details of the exterior to set of the features and left the rest to reflect our original intent.

IMG_7311

 

 

ceramic art

Building the House for “The Empty Room”

Construction of the house for the film “The Empty Room” began in early September.  Or original plan was to space the build out over several weeks and fire stories as they dried, but after a test build we determined that the box construction would require more dry time than anticipated so we opted to push the build into one very intense week.IMG_6476As with all projects we began with prepping clay and pressing the molds, one story at a time.  Each story needed about 100 lbs of clay wedged and weighed out into specific slugs to accommodate each mold.  Each floor was about 3 days, clay prep was the first.

IMG_6353 IMG_6351The second day was focused on pressing the molds and preparing the wall for assembly.  This was a huge job, as the pieces are very complex and have many details that needed to be prepped on the same day.  Not only did we make molds for the build, but also many of the tools were custom-made for the project.   This tool was designed to give us perfect cuts on the edges of the walls and floor so we could more precisely control fit.

IMG_6349The day following pressing was assembly.  The floor was put in place first and the corner with the stairs was attached to the floor.  This is the second floor.  The cut outs pictured here will be for the staircase on the floor beneath.

IMG_2067 IMG_2068Once the corner was reinforced and secure, the staircase was attached.  We began with the landing and the bottom half and built up from there.  These pics are also of the second floor and so include a handrail that is not present on the first floor.

IMG_2069 IMG_2073 IMG_2074 IMG_2077 IMG_2031IMG_2083The windows were cut earlier on this story to give us access to the underside as the entire stair well is likely to be shown in the film and needed to fe completely finished.

After the stairs we put on the remaining two walls were applied.  With each wall the corners and other details from the molds had to be tuned back up as handling was somewhat damaging.

IMG_2021Once all four walls were in place, the flange was attached to the top and cutting windows and clean up and finish work could be done.

IMG_2033 IMG_2042 Another thing we learned from the test build was that the walls wanted to move quite a bit during the drying process.  To control this to some degree Gabe devised a cap to fit into the flange and stay with the floor throughout its shrinking and firing process.  This was a fairly last-minute addition to the group of molds and had to be resolved quickly, so the original was made from a combination of wood and clay.

IMG_6442 IMG_6454The first two floors were very similar and so we could build a skill set from one two the next and refine the process.  The third floor was another matter, There are far more windows on this floor and another wall inside the structure.  It also has a large facade and a roof.  Mold prep was the same in many ways, but with molds we had not yet used in an order that we had not tested, this was the greatest challenge of the project.

IMG_6481 IMG_6482 IMG_6485 IMG_6489 IMG_6490 IMG_6496 IMG_6499 IMG_6504Because they were made so close to one another we were able to see them wet all at once, which made a great group.

IMG_2154

Uncategorized

Wall-Paper: An Installation by Aurora Hughes Villa

Wall-paper has a pretty bad reputation among contemporary house proud decorators, yet it has so much appeal for artists.  Being passé and completely decorative is just one of the reason to use it for inspiration.  Another wonderful feature is that its broken symmetry and patterning work so well in backgrounds.  Additionally,  wall-paper is loaded with symbolism, both within its own images and culturally as metaphor for the times it has been popular.

AHV5

The installation “Wall-Paper” by Aurora Hughes Villa that was displayed in conjunction with the 2012 NCECA in Seattle WA and reviewed in issue 92 of Ceramics Art and Perception, picks up on all these universal themes,  but manages to be a work that is intimate and personal. Part of its ease of communication is in the meticulous craftsmanship of each of the pieces.  They are created using a mixture of new tech and reliable technique.  The vintage wall-paper designs are scanned into Photoshop, where they are manipulated, and then turned into screens for silkscreen, which is applied using colored slips and underglazes.  The surface of the clay is formed using a combination of carving, stencils and free painting.  The medallions are then fired several times.  Each medallion is unique and features cameo images of women, medical drawings of body parts and architectural drawings of Victorian houses.

AHV4

The overall effect of these well placed, well-organized images is controlled and possibly a bit predictable, as  is expected of wall-paper, until considering the strong shadows cast on the wall by the heavily top lit medallions onto the dark painted wall.  Those shadows blur the edges of the entire piece and break up the uniformity and control.  The metaphor for shadow in a calm and ordered environment brings this work out of the Victorian, where the ideals of domesticity created a prison for women, into the contemporary mind, and suddenly the colors are reminiscent of a Martha Stewart Living magazine, also proclaiming the joys of quiet and controlled domestic living.   On the opposite wall from the medallions are two strips of wall-paper, tacked up, with the edges loose and bulges by the tacks.  These pieces of paper stand in stark contrast to the well placed order on the other side of the room.

Hughes Villa is a wife and a mother, and I do not believe she is making a statement that rejects either of those occupations, but rather acknowledges what all wives and mothers sometimes feel in the quest to create well-organized lives.

Her Website:

http://aurorahughesvilla.com/Artist.asp?ArtistID=28980&Akey=MND4MRXE