The Brickbottom Artists Association exhibition, “Construction/Deconstruction,” is now up in full online. Please enjoy!
The Brickbottom Gallery here in Somerville was forced to close to the public due to the pandemic, but my fellow artists did a fantastic job establishing our first virtual gallery. Our annual spring show is extended into the summer.
I started my experimental new photography project by improvising a room. I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be. It turns out to be a small living room. No one is in the room at the moment. Can you spot the clues of personalities and lifestyle of the residents?
I think they are travelers who cannot travel at the moment, but the world is at home with them.
COVID-19 has people all over the world confronting the idea of being at home in ways that we may never have before. Many are chafing at the restriction imposed by the virus, but why? Isn’t “home” supposed to have a good connotation? It’s where the heart is, right?
I’ve always felt a vague fascination with interior spaces. The light through a window, illuminating floating dust. The clues hinted at by personal possessions, by people’s neatness or their mess. The sense of place and time we get from furniture, decor, organization, tools and appliances. Our homes express much about us, more than we plan or may realize.
One of my pandemic pleasures has been sneaking glimpses into the homes of TV people – reporters, politicians, various kinds of experts broadcasting the news from their houses. I’m forever peering over their shoulders. Are their bookshelves serious or for show? What about their color choices, their window treatments? Is this room lived in, or has it been turned into a stage set? Some of the newspeople superimpose their shows’ regular studio backgrounds over wherever they really are. I guess it promotes professionalism and normalcy, but I wish they wouldn’t do it so much. When they share their personal space, even if it’s just the guest room they never use or a cleaned-up corner of the garage, it humanizes this crisis we’re living through. It highlights that we are all sharing the same experience together.
Yet the idea of “home” in this common experience has become fraught with tension. What does it mean that so many of us are uncomfortable being where we live?
I’ve mentioned my in-development project, “Orchid Beach.” It’s a story – probably a digital graphic novel – that uses the idea of home, but it’s a crime thriller, quite dark and intended to disturb. And I’m just not feeling it. I don’t want to subvert the idea of home right now.
So I looked at other works, and I realized to my surprise that, despite my personal interest, I don’t have a lot of home-focused art or stories. The ones I do have are, well, quite dark and intended to disturb.
The collage “House of Hours” brings us into an Escheresque hall populated by shadows where time and faces float away from us and inner space dissolves into outer space.
My mini picture book “The Doll’s House” is a gothic melodrama of undefined family conflict which ends with an invasion by an overwhelming natural force. Oops, heheh, that one might be a little too on point at the moment.
These works are meaningful to me, but they don’t reflect my relationship with my real home at all. Naturally reclusive, I love being at home, and I love this home in particular. I’ve been in it for twenty years on purpose. We have our issues. It reveals maybe more of what I wish wasn’t true about myself (lazy slob me) and not enough of what I believe is true about myself (creative, organized, professional me who has great taste). It has too few electrical outlets and you can’t put a nail in the walls, but it’s warm and comfortable, the light is fantastic, and the vibes are happy.
And yet, I tell dark, disturbing stories about home. Why the disconnect? What am I trying to uncover, what do I want people to confront when I work with the concept of “home”? Privacy. Secrets. Personal history. Relationships and solitude. Memories. So much of my work focuses on the world outside, on distant landscapes and tall city buildings, but there are stories to be found indoors as well, in those inner spaces where we sleep and dream.
So I’m starting a new project to get my thinking on this a little less vague. Because of the pandemic, I can’t access the printing services I normally use for collages, so it will be a photography-focused online series. Should be amusing since I just have just a doddering old point-and-click Canon, no studio lights, and only the picture-editing program that came with my Mac’s antique operating system. But these are trying times and needs must, so I shall MacGyver something.
I played around a few years ago with photographing miniatures. I’ll start with that experiment and see where it takes me. I can’t guarantee we won’t end up back at dark and disturbing. But since I’m staying home, I’m free to explore. 😉
Please enjoy some small domestic scenes and views from the outside looking in.
The exhibition “Construction/Deconstruction” at the Brickbottom Gallery in Somerville is moving ahead, and so am I. With the kind help of some fellow artists with a car, my new piece, “Pink Yarrow,” made it to the gallery with proper physical distancing observed at all times.
The show will be presented online, so watch this site for further updates.
A new project starts tomorrow. For now, please enjoy a sneak peak at “Pink Yarrow,” part of the Botanicals series, made with actual pink yarrows from last year’s garden, restored to their summer colors.
Staying at home, maintaining physical distance, and working on a new piece for spring.
This is for the “Construction/Deconstruction” group show at the Brickbottom Gallery, scheduled for April 16 – May 16. Details may change due to coronavirus, so watch this site for updates.
My experiment: “Painting” dried flowers with thin skins of dyed tissue paper. The flowers were collected last fall, after they had gone to seed and dried naturally on the plants. I am trying to restore their summer colors. I like the effect – it kind of looks like paintings rendered in 3D. This work-table still life shows pink yarrow and hydrangea in progress. Far in the background, blurry behind my coffee cup are more yarrow, seaside goldenrod, and white pine, waiting their turn. The yarrow are from my own garden. The rest were collected from roadsides, and the hydrangea I actually found in a parking lot where it had been dropped by the wind. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the broken china and egg shell yet.
I’d been tinkering with this technique for a while, but the disruption we’re all going through with the coronavirus pandemic has inspired me. “Construction” and “deconstruction” are classic Art Words, more or less abstract concepts we creatives often dance around with. But as things kind of come off the rails around us, it occurred to me that “reconstruction” is what art really does. Artists see things, and take them apart, and then we put them back together, a little altered, interpreted, understood in some way, and made part of the human conversation. Our work isn’t done until we’ve got it all together again somehow.
Right now, a lot of us feel like we’re watching things fall apart, but we’ll get through these times. Nothing will be the same, but we can rely on the continuity of construction, deconstruction, reconstruction. The artists, writers, poets, musicians, etc., will tell the stories of how it all went down, and each of us will add our memories to it. We’ll reconstruct our world, with a little more weight of experience and a little more light of understanding.
This process is slow and delicate, perfect for being under a stay-at-home order. And sometime after I’m done building my memories of last year’s flowers, this year’s flowers will be blooming everywhere.
Wow. You wander off for a month and look what happens.
I’ll start by hoping everyone out there is okay and comfortable at home with lots of soap and disinfectants and everything they need. We’re all doing fine here at the apartment attached to the studio in charming, scenic Somerville.
I was going to tell you all about why I vanished again, but it was just the usual February lost-in-the-weeds stuff. The seasonal joys of taxes, insurance, and bureaucracy. That melting of the brain and spirit and knee joints that comes with the melting of winter. All my favorite creatives were posting stories about taking stock and starting over, and I was all set to jump on the bandwagon. World events intervened, however. Boy, did they ever.
So quick catch-up: February sucked the way February does. I did finally finish that damned dollhouse roof that had threatened to derail the whole ambitious project the dollhouse belongs to. Trust me, you didn’t want to watch me do it. The project, by the way will be either a graphic novel or visual story, a suspense thriller set in and around this dollhouse. Working title: Orchid Beach.
I am committed to three public events with the Brickbottom Artists Association this year. Details will be posted separately. First up will be the Spring group show, “Construction/Deconstruction,” in mid-April. I’ll be showing a new experimental project.
Right now, I’m listening to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and settling into preventative semi-self-quarantine – doing my part to flatten the curve on COVID-19. For the foreseeable short-term future, I’m going to be listening to a lot of music. Doing a lot of art and writing. Reading books. Binging tv with my sainted mother. Planning my garden and starting seeds. Desperately trying to train myself not to touch my face. (Aagh! I can’t do it!!) Writing blog posts. No really this time. I promise.
I spent these first few days painting colored tissue paper onto dried flowers for that experimental project because, you know, when you’ve just gotten loose from an endless hell of miniature roof shingles, you want to dive right into the most delicate, fragile, slow, difficult, tetchy-fussy project you can think of. It looks amazing, though. I’m really excited about it. Just wait till you see.
This coronavirus thing – I’m not going to sugarcoat or skip lightly over it. It’s pretty heavy. I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little nervous, mostly for my mom’s sake. But we’re prepared, and we have each other and our friends. We’re about as on top of this game as anyone can be, I think.
Plus, it’s Spring. The birds are courting. The flowers are coming up, the trees are budding. It’s hard not to have faith in the future.
Life carries on, and so shall we all. We’re going to wash our hands, maintain polite distance, be considerate of our neighbors, and get through this latest challenge. I decree it.
So jump on the comments or Facebook page and let me know how you plan to ride out the pandemic. What’s on your play- and binge-lists? What projects will you finish? Where will you go for solitary walks, or will you write your play, or learn to bake bread, or work on the problem of human-powered flight?
For now, please enjoy some photos of the Orchid Beach dollhouse under construction, the first of several sets of teaser images to come.
Today, I launch an informal, irregular series about my inspirations in life and work. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone a little. I don’t like to “explain” art, but I hope to share the interests and ideas that make my work what it is.
I have an absolute passion for planet Earth, and of course, I have strong feelings about climate change and humanity’s role in both driving and stopping it. As an artist and as a person, I feel a duty to speak on this issue in the ways that the arts can, that the arts are supposed to speak. So what am I saying about it?
Nature is the omnipresent context of everything humans do, and my work pushes back against the idea that humans and nature are somehow alien and distant from each other. You can find nature in almost all my work. The street scenes of the Cities series include birds, weather, plants. Even a toy like the Interphase Multiversal Observatory references the infinite night sky.
I want to lure people into seeing nature differently, feeling differently about their relationship to it. I show them what is in front of them every day. This is Earth. Yes, it’s polar bears, but it’s also right here, right now, next to you.
The Mystic River Project
The Mystic River Project will be a long journey examining this relationship of humanity and the natural world via the Mystic River watershed here in the Boston area. It’s a dramatic tale of human impact, of US history, the Industrial Revolution, politics and cultural attitudes, environmental degradation and recovery, and the persistence of nature.
The story will be told in collages, objects, books, maybe some videos (not sure about that yet), and in chapters focusing on different parts of the river, using my own photographs as well as made and found materials.
The first few species portraits of the Estuary Birds chapter set the mood. My photos of the birds and the Tobin Bridge are cut apart and reconstructed to capture moments as I saw them at the Schrafft’s City Center in Charlestown. Anyone can go there and see for themselves. That’s what I want people to do.
We see these birds every day, but maybe the problem is that we don’t see them. We should. They are our neighbors. They have survived all our bullshit and stupidity, and they are still here. They are the nature we struggle with and long for, staring us right in the face. They are every bit as much the natural world as the legendary, romanticized whales, which, by the way, also happen to be right here among us, just outside the river, passing through Massachusetts Bay.
Estuary Birds may end up with as many as twenty species portraits. Just last week, I saw two birds I’d never seen before, a male surf scoter and another I’m still trying to identify. Then there’s the rest of this micro-ecosystem – the life under the water and on the streets. And later, chapters on the upper river, the lakes, the tributaries.
In every part of it, there is the struggle, the presence of human beings, and the question of what we will do with our living world. Which brings me to the other side of my inspiration. The shadow side, as it were. There are always shadows when you deal with me.
In 2014, I made an assemblage titled Judgment in response to an article in Smithsonian Magazine online. It was about climate change melting the glaciers of the Italian Alps. As the ice melts, it uncovers the remains of soldiers killed in World War I. The campaign there was called the White War and included a vicious and environmentally allegorical tactic. Apparently, each side used artillery to deliberately trigger avalanches to destroy each other’s encampments on the mountainsides. Thousands of soldiers were killed this way, their bodies and belongings encased in miles of ice, lost – until now. The report said that every day brings another discovery of human bones washed down the melt-swollen mountain streams into the villages below. I found the Biblical reference apt indeed.
Nature in my work expresses what I love most about life. It is beauty and continuity and hope. It is the seamless connection of every person to the whole of creation. It is what really matters.
And it is the choice we face. Humanity is at a crossroads, brought here by our past choices. In one direction awaits judgment for our mistakes. In the other, a new way of thinking, an adjusted set of priorities. One, payment for the past. The other, a future based on love and connectedness.
As I try to sort it all out, I find myself celebrating the natural world in the city. I hope to raise people’s consciousness of their immediate surroundings. The world worth saving, the one where each of us makes a difference, is the one we happen to be standing in.
A Selection of Recent and Older Works Inspired by the Natural World
This week’s post takes us out of the studio for an impromptu hike along the Mystic River. It was 70 degrees F in Massachusetts yesterday – not entirely reassuring re climate change – and I took advantage of it to stroll the river walk from Assembly Row to the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse here in Somerville to refresh my lungs and my spirit and refill my creative reserves .
It was a red-letter day for water fowl. I saw hundreds of herring and black-backed gulls, at least 80 by my count mute swans, the same or more of Canada geese, and the flocks of bufflehead and mallard ducks, and red-breasted mergansers. The real stars of the day were the swans, who were everywhere one looked. These are the inspirations for my Mystic River Project, of which the Estuary Birds are part.
I thought I’d share a glimpse into my creative process today.
I did some monotype practice, making black and white dendritic prints. Those are the ones where you squish paint or ink between two panes of glass or sheets of metal – two impermeable flat surfaces – then pry them apart, leaving a pattern of branching forms on each surface made by the physics of fluids. You then pick up the patterns on your paper, producing two mirrored images.
There are a lot of tutorials on Youtube, so I’m not going to teach you how to do it. Just go squish some paint and see what you get.
No, I want to talk about the process of designing a collage. The thing with dendritic prints, similar to inkblots, is you will see in them whatever your mind creates. I typically see landscapes, so go psychoanalyze that. The point is images emerge, and the artist will build upon them.
So I focused on this print and thought, “It’s a forest. A deep, dark forest. Who will I meet there? What action will I witness?”
Scenes began to coalesce in my imagination, and I hit my clippings files to find figures and objects to play the parts.
Unfortunately, all the images that would work are also black and white and tend to disappear on this background. Adding color masks didn’t work.
I need an image in color or which can be colored. Something in the right mood. I have this one image from a Victorian Christmas decoration. It’s about two inches high, a little girl holding a miniature Christmas tree that would be perfect for what’s in my head.
This kid has been haunting my studio for nearly ten years. Clipped ages ago but never quite fitting into a scene, she’s constantly fluttering about, in the way, falling out of every stack of papers I pick up.
Wouldn’t you know, today I can’t find her.
Obviously, I went first to where I thought I’d last seen her.
Then I checked a succession of places she could likely be.
Then I went back into the files on the off chance I had inadvertently put her away where she belongs.
By that point, I was pretty well cursing her, her damned tree, and the entire Victorian era straight to the Devil, and considering stopping everything to completely reorganize all my collage clippings. Maybe my whole studio into the bargain.
Then I got called for tea, and I realized it will soon be dinner time, and I have other things to do.
Still haven’t found the papery little pest. The cat better have eaten her, that’s all I can say.
This is the life of a creative. The prints came out well, though.
Tomorrow dawns the 2020s, and I realized that exactly 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment became part of the US Constitution, and American women got the vote.
The parallels between then and now are uncanny. We were talking it over at dinner this evening. In addition to giving women the vote, the 1920s saw the rise of extreme political and religious beliefs, overweening morality laws and backlashes against them, social and political grassroots organization, massive advances in science and technology with accompanying benefits and abuses, domestic and international terrorism, a great flowering of arts and intellectualism, and fundamental, permanent changes in the ways people lived day to day. In the wake of WW1, it was a decade of no going back to the old conformist pantomimes of class and propriety of the 1890s and 1910s. We can debate whether it was good or bad, but it was truly a revolutionary decade.
I’m pretty sure our 20s will be revolutionary too, with climate change crashing into us, the return of extreme ideologies, science racing forward, and all of us facing the challenges of a shifting world. One way or another, I think we are all going to change our lives forever. I think there will be a lot of ideas to express. Who knows, but we might even finally settle some of the fights we started way back then.
It’s scary but also exciting. Maybe I’m just itching to mix it up with the world. Maybe I’m tired of the same old same-old. I can’t help it – I’m an Aquarius. We like new things. We live for tomorrow.
But tonight, I say farewell to the 2010s. Here is the last of my final project of the decade, the East Somerville Trees collages – preserved memories of autumn under our urban canopy, part of the Botanicals and Cities series. It’s about the things that really matter in the midst of all the changes.
These are destined for a book, so be on the lookout for updates on that.