Friday, August 26, 2016

Bluegrass Biennial 1 -- best in show

The Bluegrass Biennial, a juried, all-medium art show, is held every other year at the Claypool-Young Gallery at Morehead State University.  It's open to any artist living in Kentucky and always has a great diversity of mediums and techniques, especially "materials-based," "craft" kinds of work that are sometimes scarce among the paintings in mainstream art shows.  This week I went to the closing reception and was pleased to find that eight of the 37 pieces were fiber, including the best in show!

Best in show was this series of five embossed paper sheets by Deborah Levine (full disclosure: she's my close friend and art pal).

Deborah Levine, Destruct/Reconstruct (details) 

Each sheet is embossed with a swatch of knitting.  In sheet one, the swatch sits at top left.  In sheet two, a bit of the the swatch has been unraveled and the free end has been used to cast on and start knitting a new swatch at bottom right.

In  sheets three and four, the original swatch loses more and more yarn, while the new swatch gets bigger; finally in the last sheet, there's only the new swatch at bottom right.

I was struck by how well the paper took the imprint of the knitting (she used a nylon cord that didn't get waterlogged during the casting process) and how the story was so engrossing.  A beautiful piece.

Deborah has another piece in the show, also made from fiber.  This one had a bunch of cylinders made from wrapped and tied strips of fabric, made rigid with an industrial-strength plastic medium and mounted on a found board.

Deborah Levine, Huddled Masses 1 (detail below)

Her urge to narrative surfaces again in this piece, with the abstract wrapped forms taking on life -- tilt your head 90 degrees and they might be boat people heading for refuge on a tiny raft.

I'll show you more of the fiber works in the show in subsequent posts.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Steal this book idea!

Readers of a certain age may recall Abbie Hoffman, the 1960s counterculture and antiwar provocateur who wrote a book titled "Steal This Book."  I am going to steal his title and encourage all of you to steal this book idea.

Last week I wrote about a little book that I made from selectively reading the newspaper for two weeks, clipping all the words "early," "late," "earlier," "later," "earliest" and "latest."  Then I arranged them into lists and theme groupings, some of which started to feel like poems.  Several people left comments that they were intrigued by this approach, and one even said "I am fighting hard against the idea of stealing this idea."

Well, I'm here to tell you STEAL IT!!  I think this concept, which I'm going to call "newspaper poetry," is a neat idea and I would love it if other people would take it up too.  This is not the first newspaper poetry project I've done.  In past years I did several collections of haiku clipped from the newspaper (read about all my found poetry projects here).

I'm no stranger to reading the paper with a scissors at hand/  I've learned several practical things, such as keep a scissors right there, put your clippings immediately into a little envelope, and wait till after your husband has read it before you start cutting.  I've also learned that your subconscious mind starts arranging the bits into coherent piles long before you actually get around to pasting up the bok.

I love this artistic approach so much that I've already started clipping for two more books.  One is about questions (and after a couple of days I'm already amazed at how many times questions appear in the hearline, not just in the story) and the other is about explanations of how to pronounce something.

I'd like to put out a challenge to any readers who like text, and like making little books, or even to those who like only one of the two.  Find a theme, and make a little book!  Then send me a picture and I'll show it to everybody.

If you can't think of a theme, here are some that might strike your fancy or lead you to your own idea:

- the words "cat" and "dog" (or any animal at all)
- the words "better" and "worse" (or any other set of opposites)
- the words "bride" and "groom"
- the names of colors
-spelled-out numbers (this will  be easy up to "ten" but more challenging beyond that)
- pictures of animals, if the captions mention them (cut out the captions too)
- pictures and/or references to babies
- really stupid remarks (that wouldn't be hard in my local newspaper...)
- people with your own name or the names of your family members
- words that rhyme

Just cut out clippings for a week or so and see how it's going.  Worry about making the little book later.  Have fun!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Love will find a way

My son sent me an email the other morning -- "Do you have fiberfill?"

What on earth could this be about?  He said it was for a secret project and he would come over and show me.

He pulled this out of his bag:

It  was about five inches long and four inches across.  This required further explanation.

The occasion was his first anniversary, and after some discussion with his wife about what she would like him to do for her, she tossed out an off-hand remark -- "what I really want is a crocheted Oddish but you'd never be able to do that."  (She has been bribing herself with Pokemon Go to walk 20 miles a week, and the Oddish is her favorite character.)

My son being the kind of guy he is, filed away that remark and said to himself, "that couldn't be too hard."  So he found directions on the internet, bought some yarn and a crochet hook and went to work.  As you can see, there were a few glitches in this first segment, including that protuberance on the right-hand end which we think was supposed to be a flat base.

Fortunately he lives only two miles away so he could come over for consultation several times.  His purchased crochet hook went MIA and he had to come by for a replacement.  We stuffed the segments and figured out how to sew them together.  We found the perfect hemispherical red eyes in my button box and embroidered a blue smile.

The directions had said to put a stitch marker at the beginning of the row.  I was pleased to see his improvised device, straight out of the Lego box:

Here's the surprised recipient with her new toy.  I bet next year she will think carefully before she says what she really wants for her anniversary.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A little book

I belong to an art book club that hardly ever reads books.  We used to, hence the name, but stopped some time ago and now we do "whatever" according to each month's theme or subject.  Some people might report on what they or other artists have done on that subject or bring in relevant books, others might put together slide shows or photo suites on the subject, still others might make a piece of original art.

If you choose that last response, of course, it usually turns into a big project -- often a bigger one than you had intended at the start.  And that's what happened to me over the last month.

Our theme was "early and late" -- ambiguous, yes, but that sometimes makes for the most interesting discussions.  I stewed for a while over what to do, but then came up with the idea to look for the words "early" and "late" in the newspaper, cut them out, and do some kind of compilation.  I did that for two weeks or so, and then it was time to start actually compiling.

Last week I claimed the kitchen table for my workplace, and spread out, cutting the words more neatly out of the clippings and sorting them into theme piles, such as minutes (a few minutes later, ten minutes earlier, twenty minutes later...) and centuries (the late 18th century, the early 20th century). That took two days.  Then started pasting them into a little accordion book.  Fortunately the design of the book was such that it was easy to add four new pages at the end if I decided I wasn't finished yet.  This occurred several times.

An  experiment: go to your newspaper and find a single word or perhaps a two-word phrase that you want to put into a little book.  Cut it out -- pretty little, isn't it?  Did you find it hard to even hold onto the paper when you got to the last cut?  Did you drop the little piece after that last cut?  Can you find it again?

Now paste it into your little book.  Still pretty little, isn't it, and now it's covered with glue!  How are you even going to peel it up off the scrap paper?  How are you going to position it perfectly in your little book?  (Answer: needle-nose tweezers.)  Wash your hands frequently, because they're getting all black with ink and sticky with glue.  All this is time-consuming.

If you love fiddly little projects like this, as I do, you will find yourself slipping into a zen state, happily cutting and sorting and pasting as the hours and days tick by.  I found myself contemplating the subtle differences in meaning between "late in 2014" and "in late 2014," between "fifty years earlier" and "fifty years ago," between "her latest husband" and "her late husband."

Many of the pages resembled poetry, such as this one:

    Waiting until later
    delayed until later
    And later,

    later than usual

    A moment later
    moments later,
    Seconds later,                   even hours later,
    Minutes later,                   several hours later, 

    days later                          Years later,
    Weeks later,
    Months later,                    Some years later,
    So many years later,       Later in life,

    Decades later,

                                             at a later date.

All told, it took a week of working time to get the book finished.  And then, a couple of hours later, I found a phrase in the newspaper that I just had to cut out and put in the book... and then the next morning, two more....

The whole book has 29 pages.  Here's a look at some of them:

It's going to take me a while before I can read a newspaper without those words leaping out at me.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The last gasp

I hung what I'm calling "Quilt National entry #1" on the wall in my front hallway in mid-April and it does make a dramatic statement.  Actually two dramatic statements: first, "I'm knocking your socks off!!!!" and second, "I sure don't hang straight."

Ever since, I have been hearing both those statements every time I walk by, and avoiding the issue of the second one.  Meanwhile I sewed Quilt National #2 and Quilt National #3.  Then to further postpone the inevitable, I sewed some workshop samples, and dove into my back storage room to go through boxes.  I found at least a cubic yard of stuff to give away or throw away; I unpacked, sorted, catalogued and repacked a half dozen boxes of stuff; I piled stuff all over my worktable for subsequent sorting, cataloguing and repacking.  I watched some Olympics.  I mended some pants.  I read books.

But yesterday I couldn't avoid it any longer.  I scheduled my date with the photographer for next week, took #1 off the wall and tried to figure out how to make it hang straight.

Laying it out flat on my worktable was out of the question; the table isn't really big enough, even if it hadn't by now been piled with stuff two feet thick.  Probably not having a big enough work surface was the reason why the quilt went together poorly the first time.  My living room floor turned out to be an excellent substitute, since its straight boards make a working grid. (No wonder it didn't hang straight -- notice all those ripples on the left-hand white stripe?)

Unfortunately then I had to get down there on the floor to work, which I probably could have done gracefully, easily and painlessly twenty years ago but sure can't any more.  I got a little stool to sit on, in lieu of kneeling or sitting on the floor.  And I got a chair to lean on to help me get onto and off of the stool. I didn't know whether to feel pathetically helpless or extraordinarily comical.  Probably should have had somebody shoot video and go viral on YouTube.

Simply cutting the threads that held the white stripes to the red stripes made a huge difference, and cutting some slits into the white to hike up the right side was even better.  But how to pin them together securely enough to hold up for the sewing machine without crawling all over the quilt?

Aha -- an idea.  I decided to take the quilt to the photographer without totally sewing it back together first along the verticals.  It will hang straight from its rod for the shoot, and then I will leave it up on his wall while I pin the bejesus out of it and take it home for its final stitches.  I'll let you know how it turns out.