Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Acrylic Paint Is Not Exactly My Friend

I'm learning that when a ceramic piece I have made decides not to speak to me then it is time to throw it in the trash. But because we have a big woodsy backyard with windows overlooking it Susan urges me to put the pieces out in the yard. The squirrels and birds jump around them and sometimes the pieces get broken but it doesn't matter because I was going to toss them out anyway.   

One of my semi-repressed urges is to PAINT. I like to put color down and fuss at the details. Sometimes. This is not a quality that works well with my preference for ceramics. So these bisque-fired but unglazed ceramic pieces that were slated for the backyard got painted with acrylic paints. The paint might wear off easily, maybe not, but it won't matter anyway because these pieces were one toss away from the trashcan.

Here is what I know now: The acrylic paint on these ceramic pieces looks .... plastic. Acrylic. Not right. But good enought for the squirrels and birds.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Remembering: Barry Lynn Brown and James Clifford McKittrick

Arlington National Cemetery

Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again:
You will lose the ones you love.
They will all go.
But even the earth will go, someday.
Heart feels better, then.
But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart.
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head. Help heart.

Head, Heart, by Lydia Davis

Memorial Day is a Federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May to honor U.S. soldiers who died while in military service. On this long Memorial Day weekend enjoy your picnic, your barbeque, your family gathering and maybe a long break from work.

But before you do, please go here to see why it is so important for me that you take a few moments to remember two men who gave their lives defending our country and the freedoms we have.

 Captain Barry Lynn Brown, Killed In Action, Vietnam, 1968

Major James Clifford McKittrick, Missing In Action, Vietnam, 1967

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Art, Museums, Friends Old and New

Continuing our visit to New York City:

On Saturday we went to The Center for Book Arts (a favorite of ours). Barbara Page's Book Marks seemed deceptively simple at first - library cards for each book she had read. Closer examination showed that each card had been altered to depict the book it was representing. For example, a book about birds of New Zealand had bird postage stamps on it, a book about architecture showed a floor plan, or as she puts it, "remnants from the library of the mind." The vaguely sad part of the work was the fact that library book cards are now considered ephemera. As we proceed into the Kindle Era, perhaps physical books themselves will become ephemera. Take a look at Barbara's website for more info and other art (the map paintings are especially intriguing).

At the Museum of Arts and Design there was an exhibit of ceramics jewelry and this strange arrangement by Christoph Zellweger was Susan's favorite, even though the descriptive statement was "His 'seeds', which look vaguely like functional objects found in hospitals, can be worn around the neck or stored on hooks like other work apparatus."

We met up with some very special friends here and had a easy-going afternoon looking at art and talking about art, New York City, Italy, family, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a multitude of other topics. All topped off with a stop for some beer. Our original connection was via the internet and it continues to amaze me that perfect strangers can so easily become immediate friends. I guess it's because there are no questions asked, no emotional baggage toted and no strings pulled - just good conversation, always leaving us wishing for more time together.

Spirit of Fi Yi I, Victor Harris

We had hoped to meet up with some other friends in the city but schedules become complex and it didn't work out this time. When we travel we always let people know we are coming but we never expect them to drop what they are doing just for the "tourists". But when we do connect, it is always good.

Speaking of friends, Susan-Who-Talks-To-Everyone made new friends at the MOMA (unfortunately no pictures). It started with a short, casual chat about the exhibit with a woman sitting next to her on a bench in an exhibit room. About an hour later we were taking another break in a different area and, as if by magic, there she was, taking a break with her two daughters. Half an hour later she and Susan were still yakking away, covering Austin, politics, travel, museums, .... you name it, they were talking about it, as if they'd known each other forever.

The nicest, best thing about it all was that the entire time they were talking, the two daughters (ages 6 and 14)  never once interrupted them, they just sat there quietly, listening or looking at their sketchbooks. And we are talking about a 6 year old and a 14 year old. Unfortunately, we are used to having conversations interrupted by "Mom, Mom, Moooommmmy!" followed by "Just a minute, Mommy's talking" (repeated numerous times). When it doesn't happen that way we often guess the children are home-schooled, as those children seem to have learned that listening to adults means they learn something.

Debbie, thanks for all your advice about sights in NYC. We've checked the subway maps and have learned that next time we can easily make it to the Brooklyn Museum via the subway. Thanks for doing such as good job with the girls. Gabriella, your sketches were great and we'd love to see them with some color. Can you bring colored pencils to the museums when you sketch? Amber, you're only 14 but you can hold your own in conversations with any adult and we loved the fact that you never once said "Like" or looked bored. Good luck with your horseback riding. And thanks for reminding us about the Rockwell show, we enjoyed it when we saw it in Washington DC.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Here Kitty, Kitty

On Friday at breakfast in New York City my Blog Wrangler, Cultural Advisor and Tour Guide, Susan, stated we were going to the Japan Society to see an exhibit called ByeBye Kitty. I know about Hello Kitty and there was absolutely no reason I would go see that dumb exhibit. Half an hour later we were in front of the building. It was a beautiful day and across the street at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza workmen were putting up some sort of statue. Actually, they were just re-installing some statues that had already been placed there. At first I thought it was... yuck (my apologies and pity to you if you are one)....mimes.

Go here to see what Steinunn Thorarinsdottir's work looks like. You will be impressed. Even more impressive is the feeling and aura surrounding the statues. We sat in the park for about an hour, watching people interact with the statues and just enjoyed the fresh, cool air. As long as we sat out there I could avoid going in to see the dumb ByeByeKitty exhibit.

Finally, I had to bite the bullet and go in. Not only would I have to look at the exhibit, I would have to pay to get in and worse than that, Susan timed it so we would get a docent's tour. Pure torture - give me waterboarding anytime but not that Kitty stuff.

Hear that munching sound? I'm eating my words. A fascinating exhibit with some work I really liked. Thanks to the docent's direction I "got" most of the art and could understand the what, why and how of the pieces. One of the most amazing ones was a huge sheet of cut paper, go here to see it.  
Other pieces were just as fascinating. If you can make it to New York City be sure to take the time to see this exhibit. The Japan Society is a little out of the usual museum area but make the effort, especially since you'll get the added benefit of see the statues in the plaza.

Monday, May 16, 2011

She Never Met A Stranger

This I have told you before: Susan will talk to anyone.

She used to be pretty quiet in public until she went to a business conference in Orlando with a friend of mine, Bob Dye. During a break in the conference they decided to go to Epcot Center and, as this was before the days of getting advance tickets, they did a lot of standing in line.

As Susan tells it, Bob would just start talking to the people in front of him or behind him, and by the time they got to the head of the line Bob was on their Christmas card list. He told her this: "Just start talking to someone by asking a question, as simple as 'Where are you from?' Most people will be so surprised a stranger wants to talk to them that they'll answer you back and there's the beginning of a conversation. Everyone has a story to tell and if you are lucky, you'll get to hear it."

We flew in to New York City early on a Thursday, checked in to our hotel and headed out to the MOMA, as it had late hours that day. First stop was for a late lunch in their Cafe (yes, good food) where you sit at long tables with lots of other people.

No surprise here -- Susan started talking to the woman across from her. By the time lunch was finished we knew that France (her name) had grandchildren in southern France, lived in Australia where she taught French, had come to NYC by herself because her husband didn't like museums, was staying in Chelsea, had been at a performance in Harlem, to the ballet (she loved it and was going to go again), and had already toured a lot of the city. She and Susan compared notes over what to see over the next few days and when they started talking about the ByeBye Kitty show the people at another table entered the conversation. Never a dull moment with Susan. Stay tuned for the next few posts, it gets better. Worse?

Here's some of what we saw at the MOMA on Thursday:

German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, artists who were working from about 1905 through the 1920s, with a number of works focusing on World War I. Otto Dix had a series of over 50 etchings he did in just one year about his war experiences. If you want to know what can cause PTSD, he's nailed it.

Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914 included some pieces that didn't really seem like guitars but who cares, it's Picasso. This exhibit reinforced the concept that you need to do something over and over and over again if you want to move forward successfully with your art.

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception was a little confusing for me because, although I understand the concept of Performance Art, I don't quite get the idea of pushing a block of ice down the street. His ideas and themes were very creative and the videos were hypnotic to watch but his sketches were ho-hum.

León Ferrari has said his drawings are "an imitation of writing, like a taunt, or like a series of codes of an unknown language".

Sometimes at the MOMA I just look out the windows.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Little Dudes Again (Dude-ettes?)

These two pieces went over to Austin Art Garage last week. The one below is Abby, named after the Goth character on NCIS, and she probably looks familiar, as I've posted her picture before.  The one above is Agatha.

Coming soon (stay tuned!) will be highlights from our trip to New York City. Were you wondering why we flew out twice within 30 days to two different cities? Good question. The other question might be wondering what happened to our spring BRT (Big Road Trip).

The BRT, a good 20-26 day trip (with only about 5 days of staying with family), was carefully calculated. We didn't go to Hampton Art and Soul this year  because I took most of the classes I wanted at AdornMe. Hotels continue to increase their costs. Gas costs more. A lot more.  Do the math. We came out ahead by planning ahead and buying cheap airline tickets and doing the best we could on room rates. Museums in New York City are expensive. Museums in Washington DC are free. Do the math again.  We still came out ahead. But we do miss having that slow unfolding vista of our country as we drove east.

Susan says Blogger is still acting funky. Yeah, right. Like I would know.

Friday, May 13, 2011

JoAnne Russo, Akiko Sugiyama, Jody Williams and Teresa Maria Widuch

Susan speaks:
Enough with the mud and clay. On to some stuff that caught my eye.

JoAnne Russo's work was beautiful and so carefully and neatly crafted it was amazing. She explained how she dyes her bead buttons to get the colors she wants, decides on a design and then on an armature. From there she does all that inticate knotting and wrapping, adding the beads as she goes. I loved the hook and eyes she used.

Akiko Sugiyama is an artist we've seen before but I'm a real paper and fiber fan so it was good to see her again. She used rice paper, banana paper and some other kinds I can't remember. Her forms are so well-made that you know if you hung them on a wall they would move if there was a breeze. Yet they held up to being poked and prodded for the show. For more on her work ... no website, you're on your own here. But trust me, the pieces are fantastic.

Jody Williams makes art in a world I don't live in -- she talks about measurements in 1/64" increments. If a ruler has more than 1/8" increments I don't use it. Check out her website, her books are tiny, some barely 2" square. She prints them herself from her woodcuts and engravings and they are all beautifully made.

Teresa Maria Widuch makes unique garments from wool and ultrasuede. Her colors are stunning and the sculptural pieces are beautifully made; each piece is one of a kind.

Late edit: Google's Blogger is having some serious online issues. This particular entry should have shown up on Thursday morning. Somebody at Blogger is not having a good week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Aaron Kramer

Aaron Kramer has long been an idol of mine. His quote "Trash is the failure of imagination" has always served me well as a mantra. This year when we found him at the Smithsonian Craft Show it was (relatively) uncrowded at his booth and we were able to spend quite a bit of time with him.

We had the incredible pleasure of seeing on his iPad some artwork he'll be incorporating into a book in the future. I don't think I should tell you too much about it, just read this and watch for it to come out. In the meantime, ponder these points:

How in the world can you be in your 20's and be savvy enough to decide to travel around for a year, on a bicycle no less, and be smart enough to send back to yourself art collage cards you make that depict everything you see and do?
This was over 20 years ago.
How can you be so astute as to know that those collages would resonate with people today?
How could you have know to save them all this time for a book?
How can one person have so much energy?

Go here and here to see Aaron's work. Try not to go to his Flickr or YouTube sites unless you have a ton of time and promise not to weep with envy.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day. I hope you were lucky enough to have a Mother who thought you were special. If you did, make her feel special and let her take a nice long nap while you make dinner for her by ordering  in pizza. Hey, it's the thought that counts!

Image by Charley Harper, go here for more info.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Karyn Debrasky, Barbara Sebastian and Heather Allen-Swarttouw

I wouldn't want you to think Washington DC is a stuffy town. This is a wall we spotted just about 2 blocks from the White House. It is the alley where the dumpsters are stored but give them credit - it's art.

After a day of walking and talking to artists at the Smithsonian Craft show, we decamped to Ella's Wood Fired Pizza place. My contentment shown here probably has more to do with fact that I'm finally sitting down rather than the beer I was drinking.

Karyn Debrasky had quiet, detailed work that intrigued us. Susan was fascinated with the fact that she "stitched" wire through some of her paper works without creasing or bending the paper and with the detail of her quilling (whatever that is). She had some of her work used for background in the movie How Do You Know, which I never saw but it has Reese Witherspoon in it and I thought she was great in Walk The Line. Go here to see more of Karyn's work.

Barbara Sebastian took the time to tell me how she created her bird teapots and also gave me advice about making lids for small jars. She does a lot of large wall pieces but she also makes beautiful small pieces. She was just another one of many artists who were enthusiastic about their art and just as enthusiastic about talking to you about your efforts.

Heather Allen-Swarttouw had interesting wall tiles that were layed with different glaze treatments and she also had some fiber art. I had seen images of her work before from Novie Trump's blog and found them just as interesting in person. The small boats were made with hog gut. Yes, that's right, hog gut that her butcher cleans for her. Fascinating work. Hers, not the butcher.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's My Story and I'm Sticking To It

In January 1970 I came home from hot and steamy Vietnam and headed directly to Pease AFB in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I spent long hours on the runways counting the days (471) until I would be a civilian again. Susan describes that entire time as "The longest winter I've ever lived through."  

We lived in a quadplex, next door to Rick and Marie, their adorable toddler, Rebecca, and their beautifully trained German Shepherd, Angel. Rick was a pilot and Marie was a quasi-hippie, which was the best you could be when you were an officer's wife, but she definitely had earned her credentials by being at the real Woodstock.  

When Rick wanted to have some cheap amusement he would convince me to put on a padded jacket and then work on training Angel to attack on command. You don't know fun until you've had a snarling German  Shepherd leap at you with all 376 pointed teeth on display.  

One of the interesting things we learned about snow was that as it piles up it buries everything in layers as each snowfall comes down. It looks beautiful until it starts to melt in the spring and then everything it had covered up melts down into the ground at once. This results in an incredible amount of fertilizer for the earth; that's why Spring is so vibrant up north.   But in between snowfalls you see frozen on the 4' snowbanks the reminders of might have been there.

You may not have known it but I'm also a poet.  One morning I wrote a poem for Susan to see when she woke up.

Ode To A Dog Turd
There is a frozen dog turd
Outside my kitchen window
Surrounded by a sea
Of soft virgin snow.
Good morning.
I love you.

In a desperate attempt to shed the trappings of being a maintenance officer, I took pottery lessons in Exeter at night, in an old building by a river. I kept the first one (top photo above) as it proves that yes, I can make wheel-thrown pieces. It is about 5" high. The second one is also about 5" high, Susan calls it "Nuclear Reactor" and it and the bowl were sold at the Student sale. Skip over more than 32 years -- everything I do now is hand-built.