Friday, April 4, 2014

Wishy Washy

Earlier in this blog I wrote about paying less attention to the meaning of my work while concerning myself strictly with the way my work looks. However, not too long ago, I received a second hand compliment from a gallery owner. It was my technical abilit that captured the attention of her customers. I wasn't at the opening so I don't know which piece it was or what else was said, but this got me to thinking. 

A few years ago, this compliment would have been very flattering, as I was quite invested in becoming an accomplished sculptor. This time, however, I was surprised at my disappointment with this compliment. The disappointment, I think,  has to do with my growing interest in successfully illustrating a narrative. To be sure, most of my time is spent on the technical i.e. smoothing, refining, attention to gravity, axes and tromp l'oeil. But the technical should be a supporting actor in the theatrical drama of the conceptual. I would hope that the strength of the piece is its narrative.

This makes me question my story telling and the use of historical references. If the piece below is the one that warranted the "compliment", does this mean that my use of the stirrup spout is too vague and out of context for the general public? When I made this, I was ready to accept that only ceramic geeks like me would understand the reference, but I also thought that it could be appreciated on any number of levels beyond the formal. Do I need to be more precise in my thinking? What responsibility as a maker do I have to provide more clues into possible meanings? Is it ok for viewers outside of "the know" to appreciate this work on its technical merits alone? 



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Get to Work

I wasn't raised in an academically friendly home, I took no art classes or even imagined life beyond High School. What I did do is consume a lot of alcohol and marijuana, I was the class clown. I also worked hard at manual labor jobs since a work ethic was my dad's solution to everything and work was a badge of honor. "If a man knows how to work, he'll never go hungry" he would often say. A work ethic is what has lead to my success.


Since I teach foundations, I get students from a wide range of talent and experience. I tell them that when I started taking art classes, including 3D design (which I now teach) I thought everyone else was more prepared than I was. 3D Design is an intimidating class. Students make objects that they have never made using material that they have never used in an art making context. I share with them some aspects of my "formative" background to hopefully put them at ease. I also tell them that where other students had innate talent, I had the ability to work, to stick with an idea long enough to determine whether it's workable and I worked harder than many of the more "prepared" students. 


 I've developed a significant amount of technical skill and conceptual insight over the years. I'm often complimented on my sculpture and my facility with clay. I'm asked, "How do you make clay look like that?" My joking reaction is, "brute strength and ignorance". There's some truth to that (minus the ignorant part) I work on a piece until it's right. I'm engaged and actively pursuing the next question and invested in the work so that I can respond when a new idea presents itself. "Inspiration finds me hard at work".

I want to convince my students that if they can transition from working on their assignments for a grade to working to make them great, those skills and habits will transfer to every aspect of their professional lives whether in the arts or some other path.


Friday, March 7, 2014

House and Studio/workshop for Sale

We're selling our place to move closer to Southern Utah University where I teach. This place has been magical. This studio is where I worked when I was awarded Emerging Artist at NCECA, I got into some great exhibitions and developed a body of work that I'm proud of. The house served us well with  parties, open houses and holiday sales. The kids grew as individuals and musicians. The landscape is spectacular with Utah's red rock desert all around and Zion National Park just up the road. We hate to leave but the commute is getting me down. You can take over and make your own magic. We reduced the price, now it's even more affordable.

http://www.trulia.com/property/3144610357-143-N-Toquerville-Blvd-Toquerville-UT-84774






Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Amphibiousness





Add caption


Awhile back, someone posted the piece below on Facebook, it got me to thinking and the piece above is a result of my musings.


Manual Conjuring


This piece will be on display at the Clay Studio National in Philadelphia. It has been years since I entered a "competition". Because I earn a salary now, I'm less motivated to sell, which means I have the work to exhibit. I like this piece and the direction my work is taking. Gravity, sex and tension. 

"Manual Conjuring"

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Elan Magazine Article


You can expand/zoom the article if you want to read. It's too small otherwise.





Friday, June 28, 2013

Frog

 This piece went through several iterations before I landed on this idea. There was always going to be something in the mouth and originally it was going to be a diner mug in some sort of bag. But the proportions were off and if a shrunk the cup, it wouldn't read as a diner mug and I didn't want to increase the scale of the frog. So I ended up with this non specific/open ended object. The stirrup spout is a nod to ceramic art history.  


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Untitled


"Untitled", Ceramic, Glaze, 18"x15"x11" 
This is my first attempt at the human head. In college and grad school I took life drawing as a requirement and found it quite helpful in seeing line and form which translated into better sculptural work but never thought about the figure beyond that.

My thinking changed about using the figure for artistic expression when developing a marionette assignment for my 3D Design class at Southern Utah University. When I create a new assignment I do the project at least once so I know how to help the student solve problems. Below is the marionette I made for class. It's OK, a one off but I really enjoyed making it.



I have a few more heads going in the studio. The meaning and purpose is unclear at this point. I have more questions than answers, but I'm engaged and interested.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Feed Bag

"Feed Bag" Ceramic, Glaze, 5"x5"x12" 2013
I have a new approach towards the way I work. It used to be that I would need a precise meaning for a piece to justify making it. If I couldn't come up with a viable concept I would abandon the project. Often the "meanings" that I came up with were contrived, but that was enough to keep me going.

Now when I begin a new sculpture, I turn off the conceptual part of my thinking and focus strictly on the formal aspects of a piece. That is, if it looks interesting and compelling, I will proceed.

The Red Hare has been a subject that I've been exploring for a few years now. I like to place them in various anthropomorphic positions while exploring personal and universal themes. Much like Aesop and Grimm do in their Fairy tales.

In the piece above, the instant the idea came to appropriate the Stirrup Spout I was quick to reject it as I have used the reference before and decided that it was redundant. Below is an example of a piece I made in grad school several years ago using the stirrup spout from the Moche Culture in Peru, 300ad. It was my nod to ceramic history while folding in contemporary imagery using pallets and bags of food. This is one example of the way I use art history and personal experience in my work to view the world with fresh eyes.
Wrankle Grad School Sculpture 1996
While coming up with reasons to not revisit the stirrup spout, I recalled visiting a retrospective of one of my art heros, Don Reitz, at the Belger Art Center in Kansas City, MO. The docent gave us a wonderful tour and pointed out some themes that have run through Mr. Reitz's work for his entire career. I realized that if he can use themes and ideas throughout his long career (he's in his 80's) then so can I.

I  made the grad school sculpture above more than a decade ago. In that time, we have moved to 3 different cities, had 2 kids, my dad died, I've read a few books and have enjoyed huge successes and debilitating failures.  I have changed as a result of living and this change can be reflected in old themes made new.
Don Reitz Retrospective Exhibition
The meaning of the "Feed Bag" above isn't clear in my mind. I only have vague ideas that only lead to more questions. But I am pleased with the way it looks. It's difficult to change my thinking habits and the way I work, from attributing meaning first to primarily focusing on the formal qualities of the work. If I am driven to return to the studio day after day, stay with a piece, change it, make it better and spend a hundred hours or so, that's reason enough to make it. There has to be some compelling reason that may or may not reveal itself to me if I am willing to put that kind of effort into a thing.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Floof

"Floof", Earthenware, Glaze, 11"x7"x11"
Over the past several months, my work has begun to evolve and change. This piece has been percolating for over 15 years, the actual making took just a few weeks.

When I was living in St Louis, my wife and I went camping along the Merimac river with friends. We had the camp fire, tents and hot dogs. It was hot and humid but that's the midwest in the summer. We took along our dog, Jake a 90 pound Chesapeake Bay Retriever. If you're familiar with this breed, you know they can be hard headed and stubborn and our dog was no exception.

Somehow he got off his leash, I looked first in the river because he lived for water yet he was no where to be seen. Then I heard him approach from the nearby bushes with an object in his mouth. I thought "here we go again" because he'd often return with chewing on something half decayed and smelly and it would be impossible to get it from him. When he approached I saw that he had a huge bull frog in his mouth and the closer he got to me the more vigorously he chewed.  I backed away because it was his habit that once I approached him he'd gobble whatever nefarious thing down with barely a chew as fast as he could. I figured the frog was dead by now but I didn't want him swallowing it and getting sick. (he already drained our bank account once with emergency surgery to remove a rubber duck from his intestine)

I backed away hoping he'd lose interest and drop it. He didn't and a few minutes later he returned to his humans, empty mouthed and happy. I went back to the place where he was last seen with the frog and found remnants of the bull frog scattered around the area. To my relief, the frog in question was just a rubber toy that some kid lost and my dog found. It was so realistic that it had me fooled and I then realized it was the squeaker in the toy that he was after. The same squeaker that was in the rubber duck that we had surgically removed a few years previous.

In the beginning, I didn't know that it was just a toy frog. I was tempted to grab the legs and body of the frog but that would have made him more aggressive and I didn't want be left holding frog parts. In the end, the frog was not real yet the experience remains after all these years.

The older I get the more I realize that I can't predict where ideas will come from and with a few years behind me I have a rich history to draw upon. The experiences from the past that leave long lasting impressions, from the books I read, to graduate school to relationships and the mundane, are the ones that I pay attention to and turn into a sculpture. The education of an artist consists of everything.

Over the next week or so, I'm going to highlight five more sculptures that make up the new direction my work is taking. I will also discuss the Stirrup Spout that's in the frog's mouth. An idea that I have visited from time to time in the past.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Red Hare White Hare

These two hares will be leaving for SOFA NY http://www.sofaexpo.com/ (The International Expositions of Sculpture Objects and Functional Art). They will be represented by the  Duane Reed Gallery,  http://www.duanereedgallery.com/  I am thrilled and honored to be a part of this prestigious exhibition.

I remember attending SOFA Chicago many years ago as a grad student at SIUE and being overwhelmed by all the amazing art. When I left the event my head was spinning with ideas and inspiration.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Butcher and the Brain

For the past year or so, most of the meat we consume is grown locally and processed by our local butcher. If I can, I'll show up to the kill site to watch the skinning and evisceration process. Recently, we purchased a goat to be roasted whole for our Thanksgiving dinner. I met a friend in Virgin (yes, this is a town in Utah) who joined us for Thanksgiving and who introduced me to the goat farmer just up the road. We purchased the goat and drove it back to my town and dropped it off at the butcher's.

Later that day I was in the studio working on a sculpture, when I had the idea to make a mold of the goat's brain, if possible. I called the butcher and asked him to give me a call when the goat was going to be killed and processed. Later that day the call came and I went over about the time he removed the last of the goat's skin. When I arrived, he hack sawed the top of the skull off just below the horns. We then scooped out the brain, but to my disappointment, he cut the brain in half and besides it was too mushy for mold making.

A day or so later, the idea persisted so I went on line to look up "brains for sale" and yes, they can be purchased. They are sold to schools where the brains are dissected for biology class. I ordered a sheep's brain for about $18 and a few days later it arrived at our door.

The preserved sheep's brain that came wasn't as visually interesting as I would have liked, the gyrus (lobe) and the sulcus (groove) were not defined, probably from the preservation process. I made a mold of it anyway and once the plaster hardened and dried, I pressed clay into the mold and the resulting positive had to be touched up to emphasize it's "brainyness". I then made a second generation mold and this is the result.

More brain sculptures are in the works. I'll be putting the brain through its paces adapting it to already existing imagery that I have in my quiver.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rabbit Fur Coat

When I was about twelve years old, I was trusted with a .22 caliber rifle. At first I sharpened my aim with bottles and cans. After a while, that grew boring so I sought moving targets. Where I grew up, jackrabbits and cottontails were plentiful.

 I remember the first rabbit I shot. It was down a long shallow draw in the shade of a creosote bush about 50 yards away, sitting on its honches. When the sun is low on the horizon and the rabbit is back lit, there's a distinct fleshy redness of the the jackrabbit's ears. In my  peripheral vision, that color caught my eye. The breeze must have been in my favor, because the rabbit just sat there. I stopped, dropped to a knee, drew a bead, pressed the trigger and shot. To my surprise the bullet found flesh, bone and hair, the rabbit squealed, leaped several feet in the air, and hobbled off. This was unexpected.

Up until this point in my adolescent development, the jackrabbit was this "thing" that lived in the desert. This was no longer the equivalent of an aluminum can, it was a living creature that felt pain. There I was with the rifle in my hand and an injured animal scrambling to safety. I knew that I couldn't allow the thing to suffer, so blinded by tears, I followed its tracks in the sand and the trail of blood to where it lye dying. When I found it, I put the barrel to it's head, its one eye staring up at me, but before I pulled the trigger, it quivered, spasmed and died.

It took a few days to recover from the experience but I soon went out again and began to shoot up the desert. I got pretty good with my aim and could kill a rabbit in a full run. To justify my useless killing, I brought the jackrabbits home and skinned them. In my naivety my plan was to sell the pelts to a "fur trader" because my sister had a rabbit fur coat that she loved.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gathering Influences


I make discoveries through the process of making. The crab claw, for example, has been an important image in my work for some time but recently it took on significant meaning. The first crab claw I ever made was the result of an 'all you can eat' dinner at a Chinese Buffet. The hot buttery crab claw in my hand demanded that it be clay. I wrapped the thing up in my napkin, brought it home and made one the next day. Over the past few years, I've made several sculptures and attached the crab claw in various ways with no special significance attached.

In his book The Emperor of all Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee says, "It was in the time of Hippocrates, around 400BC that a word for cancer first appeared in the medical literature: karkinos, from the Greek word for crab. The tumor, with its clutch of swollen blood vessels around it, reminded Hippocrates of a crab dug in the sand with its legs spread in a circle. The image was peculiar (few cancers truly resemble crabs), but also vivid."

After reading this I quickly made the connection to the Zodiac sign of Cancer and the image of the crab. As a result the crab claw no longer functions as "decoration", but is an important conceptual component to my work. Also, my dad recently died from skin cancer so I was primed for this new information. If you scroll down, you can see the different uses of the crab claw. The hare with the crab claw piercing the skin (below) is the most recent.

The frog holds no special meaning at this point. Sure there are words and snippets of phrases that emerge in my thinking but nothing substantial at this point. This is the first one made and like the crab, I expect it to take on meaning as my  hands work through ideas.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Student's Review of my Work

This is an excerpt by Rachel Indelicato, a young college student at St Louis Community College Meramec, whom I met this last week after my lecture/workshop there. She was required by her teacher, Jim Ibur, to write a review of a themed exhibit that he curated called "Death and Rebirth". I contributed with the two pieces that are shown in this blog. Rachel is quite the writer and I like her insight into my work. She has a bright future.


Death and Rebirth

There were two sculptures that especially caught my eye.  They were by a man named Russell Wrankle.  I was immediately drawn to their smooth, matte look.  The first was Cancer.  This piece depicted a sitting hare with a crab claw cutting through its skin.  The hare had a somewhat comical, yet still serious, look to it; the face had a humanistic startled expression and the body appeared tense.  The rabbit is a stout primary yellow and the crab claw is an eye catching, bright primary red.  To me, the hare symbolizes agility and longevity.  The crab claw, cancer, weakness, and death.  This makes me think of someone who may be fit and healthy, but had his or her life cut short by cancer, or is battling cancer.  

The piece next to it was called Leporidae.  Leporidae is the scientific family of hares and rabbits.  In this sculpture, the hare is standing on his neck and shoulders with his back straight and feet in the air.  In his feet he is holding the skull of what seems to be another hare.  The hare is in a silly position.  He is playing with death.  He has the same smooth look as the yellow hare, but he has a tame, light vermillion color to him.  The skull is stark white.  When I saw these pieces, I saw them as a pair playing off each other.  A force of death is overpowering the first hare, and the second is entertaining himself with it.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

New Tile Design


The rectangle idea has been brewing for several years and just recently I had my friend, Jim, make a new tile frame.


These tiles represent three of the first 11 that I recently made with Jim's new tile frame. To see the rest, go to my Etsy page and browse http://www.etsy.com/shop/toquervilleclay?view_type=gallery  And don't hesitate to buy one so that I can purchase more clay from my supplier.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Anything Is Possible

"Starry Starry Night" After School Art Club Mural 
I am writing as a guest writer about the importance of the arts in our children's lives. I am currently working as a visual art specialist at LaVerkin Elementary School in Southern Utah. I have been teaching there for a total of eight years. What began as a completely voluntary position turned into a part time position funded by Trust Lands money and then I applied for and was awarded a grant which has given me a full time position for the past three years.

When I began having my children I knew that I wanted them to have the arts as part of their education. Much to my chagrin, the local schools were completely void of the arts and I took it upon myself to teach them. At first, the principal put me in a closet and then I was moved from classrooms to portables, and now, finally a room of my own.  Perseverance, perspiration, vision and longevity made it happen. What was once a pipe dream has now become reality and one that will leave a lasting legacy at the school. All three of my children have had a complete visual arts education, from color theory to art history.

     In the past eight years I have grown and honed my skills as an educator. I have learned how to integrate the arts into the core curriculum being taught in each classroom.  By doing so, it is proven that children are able to make connections easier and therefore learn much quicker when they experience academic concepts through the visual arts. The grant that funds my position at the elementary school expects each specialist to integrate the arts in every lesson and involve the teacher in every session. Quite a tall order, but it is very successful when done correctly.
Ella and a friend at Arts Night Treasure Hunt
     In April of 2012, I will graduate with my Master's Degree of Education with an Art Emphasis. This will have taken me three long years to complete. It has taught me to raise the bar and make my lessons more academic with higher order thinking skills and core integration. It has given me the opportunity to interact with professors and professionals who teach with the end in mind. Teachers who know what the research says and align their teaching to meet those concepts.

Most importantly, over the past eight years that I have spent teaching art at LaVerkin Elementary, I have watched an amazing transformation overtake the students as individuals and as a whole. The students have an understanding of art concepts at an earlier age, their motor skills are more refined, they are making connections between the global world and their own. They have a joy in their eyes knowing they are part of something human and beautiful and their zest for life is evident when they walk through my classroom door!        

Art is not only therapeutic, but academic, and proven to help children's brains grow and develop and  make complex connections to their world. Art has brought the joy back to LaVerkin Elementary; the constant reminders are everywhere. The difference is evident in the faces of the special needs children who get their own special art class every week. It is evident in the quiet, private moments when a child is divulging that their parents are getting a divorce while their hands are busy making art. It is evident in the assemblies where children's art dots the stage as part of the set, and lastly, it is visually evident in our wonderful "Starry, Starry Night" mural that our after school club completed after two years of after school clubs.

Art is alive in LaVerkin. It is pervading the school and my hope now is that it will spill into the community with an outdoor children's project this summer. Art changes lives. It has changed mine, my children's and the 600 students at the elementary school. I hope the arts will continue and expand into more elementary schools and every child will receive a quality, thoughtful arts education.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I Quit

 My artistic path began at the potters wheel, the hypnotic rotation of the pot growing at my touch, the slathery clay in between my fingers. Not to mention the notion of a romantic life style of the quiet potter toiling away in his studio to create useful beauty. I was young when I considered pursuing art as a lifestyle. No longer does this mystique answer my creative drive.

The last time I made pottery was about a year ago. Since then I've been in a few invitational pottery exhibits and used pots that I had left over. The last invitation to exhibit a teapot was from a prestigious gallery that was attending SOFA(Sculpture Objects and Functional Art) in Chicago. I  made it as far as the trimming and seating of the lid and, for the first time, I made press molds for the handle and spout (knowing this is the point at which I lose interest). However, I gave up when it was time to attach the spout and handle. I didn't have the patience to follow through to the end.


I am not quitting sculpture, however. Interestingly,  the same additive and subtractive processes that I use for making a spout or handle I also employ for making a crab claw or the foot of a hare. In fact, the time consuming nature of the way I work increases with sculpture. I can stay with a hare for hours, days and months if necessary.


During my growing up years, there was no academic discipline in my home. Embarrassingly, I read my first book in the 11th or 12th grade, "The Old Man and the Sea". It was the first time that I experienced art in a way that transported me to another life and time. I can still conjure up mental images of the old man, a fisherman, Santiago, with cramped hands, his "dry spell" broken as he's pulled out to sea by the 18' Marlin, "What kind of hand is that," Santiago says, "Cramp then if you want. Make yourself into a claw. It will do you no good". Eventually the marlin dies of exhaustion, too large to bring on deck, the old man lashes it to the side of his skiff. He awaits night fall so the lights of Havana can guide him in his arduous return to shore. Then the the eventual degradation of his catch by predatory sharks. Hemingway created a character that "remained undefeated after losing his hard earned, most valuable possession",  a fictional character whose mind I was able to enter and a person I knew better than most people in real life. I left my reality and found empathy in a simulated world.


When I make pottery I think formally: form, function, surface, craftmanship and beauty. All noble pursuits and things that I value in the work of other potters. With sculpture I think formally and, additionally, I think about narrative. I think of visual metaphor, story and layers of meaning.

The advantage of discovering story later in life (if there is one) is that I know what it's like not to have my head filled with ideas. Sure, there was wild, hardscrabble adventure with nature (there was no nature deficit) that I draw upon in my sculpture, but no books. Once I read my first story, there was no returning.


We've held a holiday sale each year for the past 10 years. By now, I'd be elbow deep in turning crockery for our gallery shelves. This year however, I'm not interested in making pottery just for money. The clay's sensuality on the wheel that drove me years ago, no longer seduces me. There's fear and a sense of loss associated with this admission. My customers have come to expect my sale. My hope is that my audience will grow with me and evolve as I evolve. Hopefully new opportunities will emerge that would not otherwise had I continued to straddle both worlds.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What I Learned at Summer Art Camp

I arrived at Red Lodge Clay Center for the Artist Invite Artist Residency this summer with different expectations than what I accomplished. I wanted to complete at least three new pieces. Once I arrived and started working with the other artists, my idea shifted from making completed sculpture to making a mold of just one sculpture. Jason Hess and Brenda Lichman were making molds of teapot spouts and handles and I wanted in on the action.  I cut an almost completed sculpture into pieces to avoid undercuts and spent a day making  molds. The mold that produced the two pieces above is what I came home with.

Since I cut the sculpture into pieces to make the mold, it comes out of the mold in pieces as well that I then have to put together. I'm guessing that the piece is 3/4 closer to being finished with the mold process than if I started the piece from a bag of clay.
My reason for making the mold is so that I can focus more on the narrative of the piece. For example, I don't have to make a new hare if the impetus is to pierce the skin of the hare with a crab claw (above). I already have the hare as a "ready made" which frees me up to take more risks with the narrative since I have less time and hence less emotion invested in the piece.
        
I like to evolve within an existing aesthetic/formal framework with each new piece. Before molds this was accomplished by answering questions that arise from the making of the previous piece. My fear is that the mold disrupts artistic question and answer and commits me to a particular form. I have put off making molds for years for this very reason. We'll see if the ease of exploring narrative outweigh the inability to explore form.

I made the mold of the hare holding the monkey skull when I returned home with what I learned at RLCC. This is the second piece that I made with a hare holding an object with its hind feet but the first from a mold. The first one holds a human skull (see below). The next one will hold a human brain and a hammerhead shark is in the works. Here the time spent on narrative versus form works well. Instead of making a new hare each time so that I can place an object in its feet, I can now spend more time on narrative and the relationship between two seemingly disparate objects.




Friday, June 3, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Workshop at Mendocino Art Center

 I'll be teaching a workshop at Mendocino Art Center in 5 days and several months ago a potential workshop attendee inquired about the skill level necessary to participate. I responded, in essence by saying; "It matters more what you learn than where you start". Since then, I've had other experiences that confirm this belief.
Work in progress

This past semester at SUU where I teach 3D design as an adjunct professor,  I had an older, non-traditional student, who suffered from a degenerative disease. She came into this semester's class with  younger,  more traditional students. She and five of the younger students have attended studio classes together for the past 2 or three semesters and knew each other well. All her younger peers were very exceptional students and by contrast she really struggled, at first.

Fresh From the kiln
One afternoon she and I were working on one of her projects when she broke down because her hands weren't doing what her mind wanted and she found some simple concepts to be a challenge. She compared herself to the younger students by commenting on how everyone else in class is more prepared than her and wondered out loud if she should even be in college. Her insecurity lead to an interesting class discussion prefaced by a story from my background.

In high school I was the class clown and had no interest in academics. The first book I read was "Old Man and the Sea" and that was in 12th grade. Drugs, alcohol and chasing girls were my only interest.... and college? Well, I wasn't smart enough for that.  At this point in the story I asked the class, "How many of you in here think that all of your peers in this class are smarter and more prepared than you". Every hand raised without hesitation.

We then talked about the idea that art is made with limitations and that the artist needs to figure out a way to work within the parameters given. Chuck Close, who became confined to a wheel chair in his forties and has limited use of his arms, figured out a way to strap brushes to his wrists and use a pulley system to raise and lower his large canvases which allowed him to continue to paint. The assignments that I give are at times specific and require the student to figure out the limitations of the material and then exploit it.
I then told my non traditional student; "Based on my background I never imagined myself teaching". I thought for a long time that my undisciplined background stood in the way of anything academic, "Yet, here I am."

This pink will be red tomorrow
I've been lucky, circumstances opened up possibilities and I took  advantage of them despite the limiting parameters I began with. In the case of my non-traditional student she has her own physical parameters and with some effort and difficult work, she can learn to exploit who she is. "In the end", I told her, "It's not where you start in college. You don't get an education because you know it all, but rather it's what you learn along the way that matters."

So if you're interested in taking my workshop but not sure about your skill level, sign up anyway. We'll have some fun and grow together in the active pursuit of making art.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Stone Container Distraction

This is a welcome distraction from my usual artistic explorations. I was invited along with other ceramic artists to make work in response to an industrial complex called the "Stone Container" that closed down in Missoula, Montana. My knowledge of the industry is limited except for the name and some online images.

The show title is "Stone Container", curated by Danny Crump for the Clay Studio of Missoula. The images and title were the only parameters given. At first I tried to adapt my animals into the concept and realized quickly that I needed to make something entirely new. After looking at photos of the place, I zeroed in on the piping, specifically the flanges and elbow fittings. Originally, I was going to squeeze a hare through the fittings and decided that this idea was too contrived for my sensibilities. Instead, I chose to make bags or sacks while exploring the idea of hard and soft, contained weight and the tug of gravity on material.

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about a patron who wanted to buy his art. This "patron" was more interested in art that matched her sofa, curtains and the overall  decor of her home. This is not an unfamiliar complaint. Artists want their work to be valued on its own merits and I agree. But it occurred to me in the context of this "Stone Container" work that artists have a responsibility to help drive the conversation, to make work that's more than decoration and move into some other arena. Maybe the idea in their work isn't strong enough to override this need to match the color of a lampshade.

As artists, we often dismiss the public as not smart enough to "get it", but what is our responsibility? If you're making work that generates one kind of conversation, or it attracts a certain audience that you don't like or respect, then maybe you should explore some new ideas.

My tiles are an example of decorative work. I work within an aesthetic framework yet I am often asked to tweak the color and I don't mind. They are beautiful and decorative . My sculpture is another matter. As far as I know it has never been purchased to match a sofa. At least my patrons have never asked me to change the glaze color to suit their needs.  With this "Stone Container" work, I bet it will be purchased for a reason beyond decor.