September 30, 2011

It's been one month since I visited the Gallery.  Incredible.  I can't believe how quickly the time passed.  I've managed to finish my second four-piece series.  I think for the most part I'm happy with what I've achieved so far.  They're pretty personal works and Dave questions their sale-ability given their personal nature - which gives me pause.  But what else could I do?  I'm drawing from my own experiences and I know there's probably a way to make the themes more universal, but this is where the journey had to begin for me.  I'm starting to realize how much an artist can develop by working regularly in their studio.  It's been a great experience for me, even if it is rather lonely.  I wonder if I was born to be a loner?  Seems to be a consistent theme in my life.  Anyway - I worked outside again today.  It's just so amazing - to feel the breeze, hear the animals rustling around frantic to stockpile food and make a shelter to get them through the winter, listen to the leaves gently fall to the ground.  It makes me think of Ernest Hemingway - I visited his house in Key West, Florida several years ago and one of the most memorable things about his house was this plank of wood he set up between his bedroom window and his studio, which was situated over an old carriage house.  According to the tour guide, Hemingway used to walk each morning from his bedroom to his studio so as not to have to go downstairs and back up again.  I love that. 

For the last two days I've been working on a piece that features a picture of my Grandparents when they were young and in love.  In the photograph they are embraced in a kiss.  While transferring the image I noticed something about the picture I hadn't noticed before: there's something on the bed - could be money or cigarettes.  It's hard to read, but looks as though it's something that's been removed from my Grandfather's pocket and tossed carelessly on the bed.  Despite its ambiguity (or perhaps because of it), it makes me wonder about their lives.  Was my Grandfather a smoker?  A drinker?  Did my Grandmother drink back then also or did that come later?  I wonder what kind of parents they were.   A heavy hand of authority was much more common back in those days and I wonder if my Grandfather ever rose his hand to my mother's face or took a stick to my uncles' backsides, like my parents did with my sisters and me.  Or maybe things were more peaceful because they were happily married with a purpose of giving their children a better life than they had.   

I don't know much about my Grandfather's life because he died so long before I was born and my family isn't much for talking about the more difficult things in life - it's far easier to shove tough issues deep under the carpet.  I know much more about my Grandmother's life: her mother died when she was about two years old and she was subsequently raised by her sisters who were, for the most part, first generation Americans of Norwegian descent.  I don't know much about my Great-Aunts who raised my Gramma Willie, but I can't recall a single story about them being heavy-handed or drinkers.  Which leads me to believe that my Gramma's abusive tendencies came in the aftermath of my Grandfather's death. 

My Gramma was a drinker and a gambler.  She wasn't into big-time gambling, but she loved the race track and scratch-offs.  I wonder how much she spent and how much she used that vice as another form of escape.  All of these questions so difficult to answer now that she's gone, too.

In this series I've been drawn to using old bingo cards and as I was working today I asked myself why.  I think it's becuase to me they're symbolic of life.  Everyone gets one - full of promise, like a clean slate.  When the game starts there is the possibility you could be a big winner, a slight winner or a loser.  It's all a matter of chance.  The person next to you gets handed a card - same size, same color, same paper, same weight but with different numbers.  And it's all about those numbers.  I guess my Gramma got dealt an unlucky card.  As children, my mother and her brothers inherited the same card.  I guess my sisters and I played from those same cards for awhile, too.  Untl we were old enough to get our own fresh cards.  I hope they're winners. 

September 29, 2011

It's far too nice to work inside today.  So instead of playing hookie, I've set up a make-shift studio outside.  Great for inspiration - I'm just praying there won't be any sudden wind-gusts.  That would be disastrous.  If you can believe it, I've had to coax the dog from his bed in the studio to come outside.  Like a kid, I had to force him to play outside!

I've managed to complete two new pieces of work - just working on the 3rd now with one more to finish out the set.  Then on to 4 new pieces.  Hopefully I'll be able to pick 4 successful pieces to take to the gallery!!


September 27, 2011

I've always hated instant coffee. Turned my nose up at it. It tastes like burnt coffee. I mean, who would willingly put a cup of mud to their lips when they KNOW it's going to taste like it's been sitting in one of those bulbous, round carafes on its warmer in an old gas station for for something like 4 days so that it's been reduced to dark, brown goo? Sanka comes to mind. I think my Gramma had a jar of that in her cupboard. I'm pretty sure it sat there through my childhood and into my early adulthood - its longevity challenged only by the jar of Kosher pickles sitting lonely in its spot in the fridge door.

But I seemed to have turned a corner over the last couple of days.  Dave and I were away last week at a wedding and we stayed in a beautiful cottage in the Peak District with some friends.  Someone left a jar of instant coffee behind.  I can’t stand the idea of waste, even if it’s something I don’t really like. 
So I brought it home.  And it came in quite handy because when I got back into the studio yesterday I was in manic mode – I felt like time was slipping away from me like a snake floating down an oily river.  I felt far too rushed to make a proper coffee so I had the instant.  And you know what?  When you add enough milk it’s really not so bad.  And it’s ready so quick – in an instant, really.
I think it might have helped my work process
actually, because I feel that I’ve turned a corner with my art as well.  I’ve started to work in more of an assemblage style.  I made a sort of hollow box, with a picture in the background of me with my mom when I was about 4.  We were standing somewhere out west in America.  Orange ranges of scratched dirt provide a gorgeous backdrop.  The top of the box has an old map of Americaand has a
definition of the word “home.” It was a surprisingly emotional piece for me to make.  It made me think of all of the many times we moved when I was a kid and
in this picture I realize that this was about the time we started moving.  It was before my sisters were born, but I felt I was already starting to loose my mother – it was the summer she got married.  I was devastated.  I look at this picture now through my adult eyes and my heart feels as if it’s being crushed. Because nothing would ever be the same again.  Life as I knew it was over.  And it was probably at this time that I developed my independence.  I had to in order to survive. 

But I digress.  Today, I’m continuing with this assemblage style of working and am in the process of creating another hollow box with two window openings, and this time I’m using an image of my mom and uncles when they were kids.  There’s also a bit of Fisher Price imagery in a suggestion of childhood.  I want it to hint at a childhood lost, but I’m struggling to make it come together. So far now I’m just going to go with what I’ve got and see what happens.  
I have to say, though, that this whole idea of approaching my art-making process as if I’m making it for someone wealthy has had an influence on my work.  I find that I’m paying closer attention to details that I otherwise would shrug off. Not even shrug off exactly – it more like I just thought it wouldn’t matter.  ‘Cuz whatever we make as an artist is to be revered, right?  And this whole thing has got me wondering if what I was doing before was more like instant coffee and I’m now doing the real thing?

I just typed up an entire blog and lost it.  How?  I don't know.  I pushed all of the right buttons.  So I'm a bit frustrated....
Just a quick glimpse at my works in progress before I get too far along.  Can't wait to get back to the studio!


September 23, 2011

Today I did a bit of browsing on the internet for contemporary mixed media artists, just to get an idea of what's going on out there.  Finally, my faith in the artworld has been restore - at least for now.  I came across the work of American artist Dolan Geiman (  His work is just fantastic - I love everything about it.  It has inspired me to work on some digital thumbnails for pieces to start once I return to my studio in the next couple of days.  For the last week or so I've been thinking about creating an American piece prominently featuring the US flag.  I didn't spend a lot of time on the sketch because I don't want to get too tied to an idea - once I start a piece there's sort of an automatic response that kicks in and takes the work to its finished state.  I think I want to explore assemblage with a lot of layering and relief. 

I've also had another idea using a pic of my Gramma and Grandpa holding my Uncle
Rodney when he was a baby - it's a pic that I've mentioned before in this blog and which has featured in another piece of work.  For this piece I think I'm going to, again, use a bit of relief and assemblage with some distressing for a vintage look.  I also have a little note my Grandpa wrote to my Gramma that I'm going to somehow incorporate into the piece. I picked up some off-cuts of wood from a local lumber shop today - I'm eager to get back in the studio and get started!!

September 19, 2011
Over the weekend I went to Woodstock to visit the Tube Gallery upon a suggestion from a family member that they might worth tapping up about carrying my stuff.  What a lovely town!  We walked along a road in the town that led straight to the gates of Blenheim Palace - which is amazingly large!  I can only imagine the stories held inside those walls.  Anyway, we found the gallery and went in for a peek - and I was really impressed.  It was a bit small, but the work they carried was really cool.  It totally resonated with me.  But then I got really upset - I just had this overwhelming feeling that I was worthless as an artist.  I just thought "I'll never make it as an artist.  What am I doing anyway?  I should pack it in."  So I had a bit of a cry. And spent the rest of the day feeling like I'd wasted a great part of my life on something that was a complete waste of time.

I'm not a depressed person by nature so after a night of sleeping on it and waking up the in morning to a blue sky full of sun I felt much better - more positive.   And I came to the conclusion that it isn't that what I do is bad - I just need to work on my craftsmanship.  I need to spend more time giving my work a finished look...that's all.  So we went to the shops to get supplies (found my Mod Podge!!!) and I'm back at it.  I'm on a bit of a hiatus of creating work for the gallery because I'm making some gifts for friends of ours who are getting married.  And the wedding is this week, so it's going to be a quiet week in terms of getting things done.  But I'll be back at it full force next week! 
I've just been researching artists residencies to get a sense of what's available to apply for and what kind of work artists engaged in residencies are doing.  I can't help but wonder: how much of the artworld is bullshit?

It seems like art is a gimick.  It's like a game of who can be the most suave salesman.  Slippery.  Used car salesman comes to mind. 

Is it more about strange ideas than the actual work itself?  Some days I feel like I should just sit a shoebox on a pedestal and declare, "ladies and gentlemen, behold!  My new masterpiece!"  All I'd have to do is develop an elaborate, surreal story and bam!  It's art. 

But maybe these people are geniuses.  They know how to play a I've never been very good at playing because I find it too hard to be an actress.  Plus I'm no good at lying. 

Maybe I should start making work that basically says "fuck it and fuck you."  Maybe people like that sort of thing.

Take the artist Riikka Makikoskela, for example.  She completed an artist residency at Aberystwyth Arts Centre in 2010.  I was interested in the identifying image used on the website so I looked up more of her work.  I found this.  What is it?  Yup, you've got it - a sugar angel. 
And this is what she says about it:   
"I make this piece all  over again into every exhibition space of loose, granulated sugar. First I  shape about an oval sugar heap, then I do a snow angel on it by my own  body. The snow angel is upside down, because I want to emphasize my feminity and  also to get the feeling of material being all over me. In my opinion, the dual meaning of sugar is very interesting. For example, it presents the good and the bad, it's not healthy but very tempting. The same kind of dualisms can be found in sex and religions."

Seriously, Riikka?  Bullshit alert!  It's a snow angel.  Apologies - sugar angel.  What a waste of perfectly good sugar!  Do you have any idea the number of delicious, wonderful desserts I could have made with that sugar?  I hope you used Fair Trade Certified sugar, Missy! 

OK.  So maybe I'm a bit jealous.  It also makes me think that maybe I don't apply myself as much as I could (should).  Still.  I mean, come on!  Yes you are right: sugar is tempting.  But it's only bad for you if you have too much of it - and I would say the amount it takes to make a sugar angel is enough to be considered unhealthy.  Sex or not.   


September 16, 2011

Gramma and Grandpa holding Rodney
When I first started this gallery project, I had a bit of an epiphany.  I had just created a new piece of work which included a picture of my Gramma with my Grandpa and my Uncle Rodney when he was a baby.  This picture was poignant to me because it comes across as a happy picture.  Knowing what would happen to the family several years later, it's also strikingly heavy.  This picture seems to encapsulate a sense of hope - everything is new, the future full of promise.  I knew then that I could create a whole series of work that explores my family's history - one of alcholism and abuse.

Several years after this idyllic snapshot was taken, my Grandpa died.  And Gramma was left as a widow and single mother of four (in the 1960s when such things were not as socially acceptable).  Needing to provide for her family, she was forced to find work which she did as a bartender.  I don't know the details - perhaps this was something she'd done when Grandpa was still alive; maybe she meant to take the work on temporarily.  Whatever the case, she ended up working that job until she retired.

I don't know if she'd always been a drinker, but I know that she was certainly drunk much of the time when my mom and her brothers were growing up (and indeed when I was growing up).  The kids sort of raised themselves and must have been left on their own quite a lot.  I've heard many stories from my mom and uncles over the years of my Gramma coming home drunk and beating them over some insigificant transgression.  In her grief over my Grandfather's death, she turned to one of his friends for comfort.  And then my Uncle Joe was born.  This friend of my Grandfather was married and had a family of his own.  My uncle grew up not knowing his father and not wanting to.  I wonder what that must have been like for him - having grown up now knowing my own biological father, I can make a guess that he - in the very least - felt like an outsider.  A bit of a loner.  And I try to imagine what it was like for my Gramma - a widow, single mother and new mother to an illegitimate child.  The anger she must have felt to have lost her husband - who, from what I can puzzle together, was the love of her life - must have been immobilizing at times. 

Left to Right: Rodney, Gramma, Mike, Ronnie, Mom & Joe.
Tragedy and abuse seemed to hang over my family like an oppressive storm cloud.  When I was five, my Uncle Ronnie died in a car accident.  He had been living in Chicago and rarely saw or spoke to the family.  He had come home for the holidays, in part to tell Gramma he was gay.  On his way home from a night out with friends, his car skid on the ice and the car flipped in a neighbor's front lawn just two blocks from my Gramma's house.  When the cops knocked at the door, my Gramma knew immediately that her son had died.  I don't remember much about the days that followed except that they were very dark and heavy.  Adults spoke in hushed tones.  The excitement and lightness normally associated with Christmas were crushed like a cigarette under the heal of a boot.  It felt like a void.

The abuse my Grandmother doled out was difficult for me to reconcile as I was growing up because I had always seen a different side of her.  As a kid I loved going to her house; all of the cousins did - it was exciting and fun.  We knew we could eat Rice Crispies with ice cream for breakfast and count on the cookie jar being full of chocolate chip cookies and Oreos.  Sometimes - and this was a special treat - we'd go with Gramma to the VFW Hall and we'd get to sit up at the bar and order our own special cocktail - ususally a Dr. Pepper or A&W Rootbeer - which we'd sip through a tiny, red straw.  We'd also get a whole candybar to ourselves - I always opted for a Whatchamacallit or Butterfinger.  It was a thrilling day out.  It was only when I got older that I realized that this wasn't a special outing for the sake of our entertainment; it was so Gramma could have a drink (or two, three, four).  As an early adult when I was working as a bartender I recall thinking "wow, this smells like Gramma!" as I poured my first bourbon and water.

Gramma and Joe
Not all of the memories of Gramma were bad.  She could be a lot of fun.  But in her last years she seemed to drag the family through a mire of guilt and anger.  She left a wake of sadness and hurt for all of us to suffer - even the cousins who had idolized her in their youth.  In a way, this project will be a way of telling that story - of making sense of this inherited history.  It's also a way of addressing tough issues and, hopefully, bringing a sense of healing to my family.  I've asked my family to get involved by providing me with memories of my Grandmother - the good and the bad.  One of the first responses came from my Aunt Becky, my Uncle Joe's wife.  She told me that once when Joe was 12 he'd spilled some red hot peppers on the kitchen floor.   Gramma came home from work, drunk, and proceeded to beat him into a corner.  This is a new story to me.  It occurs to me that no matter how many stories I hear (which are in some ways all the same story), it's always upsetting and ever-surprising. 

The piece I'm currently working on predominantlyfeatures Fisher Price toys imagery.  I want to somehow frame this against a backdrop of broken childhood.  I think my uncle's memory might be just the one to use.