Another August is passing. This one has been very productive in that I’ve designed a two new series of boats, The Hanging Boats and The Flying Boats. I expect to have three Hanging Boats completed to show at The Philadelphia Museum Show in November. One of them is an ode to youth lost too soon. It will hang by silk threads and butterflies. An artist doesn’t escape from their life experience. Our lives get intertwined with our art making and so our art, our personal life and our business is forged together.
Working in clay has its own mystery and nothing about it is more exhilarating than opening the kiln. The kiln gods have always smiled upon me thus far. Sometimes a ceramist opens the kiln to find that something has blown up from having a trapped air bubble somewhere in the clay, or the sculpture or pottery has been fired while it was still green, a term for describing clay before it has dried out sufficiently. I fired the ‘garden goddess’ this week along with a ceramic boat and a bunch of calla lily flowers I made for some of our wooden boats as well as the centerpiece of her garden which I’m keeping secret for the moment. It was with much anticipation that we opened the kiln this morning to find this:
Success! I’m anxious to begin the finishing of this goddess with acrylic paint, oil glazes and possibly prismacolor to create a reminder of the Earth Mother Goddess, the symbol of The Gaia Theory.
When it comes to making art, not all pieces are equal. No matter how long you’ve been creating, the process is never the same, the results are not predictable. Copying something is one thing, creating something new is entirely different. So Robin and I have been working on a series of sculptures around the theme of books. Books and art are full of meaning and it seems natural to us to combine the two to play off of each other. Back in June I made a backplate in a crackled finish that I painted to resemble a gaseous star galaxy, not unexpected from me since much of my work the past 15 years or so has been inspired at least partially by our place in the cosmos. Resting on it I placed three “tablets” with copper books on them. As soon as Robin saw the finished piece he immediately said, “Oh, it’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!” I loved it and thus it was signed an named so.
We took it to Ann Arbor and it was well received, but it didn’t find a home. However, on Labor Day weekend in Chicago a lady asked permission to take a photo to show her husband. She later called and asked us to bring it by. The house was full of people celebrating a birthday. There were oohs and ahs over the piece, not only because it is beautiful, but the home it found was perfect in every way. The lines, the colors and the materials meshed with and complimented those in the beautiful room it now resides in. We couldn’t be happier with the results. But people make a story and this couple is very special. He is in hospice, and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is his metaphorical roadmap.
I’ve a penchant for symbolism and “The Crow’s Nest” is full of it. Aside from the boat being a symbol of the journey of the soul and the nest symbolizing the home and security, this sculpture has a more personal story. Robin is fond of telling the story of how I proposed to him on our first date when I found out he had a 17′ Old Town canoe. We’re also very aware of the significance in the adage “don’t miss the boat”. This sculpture is a marriage of our lives. The shape of this boat is entirely Robin’s design and I love the sleek lines. He carved it and gave it to me to texture and paint. Together we designed the pedestal upon which the boat rests. It’s structure is a pleasing arc but massive enough to create a stable foundation. On the boat rests a copper crow’s nest–a metaphor for not only a sailing ship’s lookout, but the home for Robin’s old crow, namely me. And when the nest came to rest there, is when the boat became a vessel.
Back in the late 90’s I returned to my fascination with the circular format. I had visited it before in a series of landscapes. They were largely a romantic homage to Mother Earth, usually with a surreal feeling. These two I still own. The first is “Cactus, Crystals & Cries” and the purple one is an “Homage to Mother Earth”. But by the late 90’s the round paintings had morphed into round relief sculpture, devoid of objects, but not devoid of subject matter. Not for me anyway. They looked like large brooches and thus the name Jewelry for the Wall was catchy for a web-site, despite the fact that in art world terms, jewelry is ordinarily purely ornamental (code for not fine art) and thus personally political. Political in that it is a personal statement of who the wearer is. It can reveal rank, personality, mood, identity, etc.
For myself, I saw these sculptures as symbolic designs and meditative icons. They spoke of cosmic awareness, cosmic connection, sacred space, sacred ground. All of this was revealed in the shapes and movements, and titles. The circle inspires the concept of one. We are one. We are not separate, not really. We are connected to each to each other and to everything else in the universe. That is the basis for life and until that is understood and accepted, we continue to destroy everyone and everything. So I started these pieces on a round format and then intersected it with lines and shapes and textures. It was in my mind connecting the ideas of sacred space, sacred geometry and myth and science into a beautiful mandala of sorts.
This piece, shown here on my kitchen wall before it was shipped to the patron, is a sculpture from my Cosmic Lullaby series. The 4 pieces cartwheeling down the ladder are shapes that I repeated on many pieces and I called them nebula’s, a term describing an interstellar cloud of gas and dust. The long straight bars form a ladder, another motif I’ve used often. The crackle on the round backplate has a spiraling pattern like the galaxies in our universe.
Another motif I’ve returned to often is the horizon, which plays major importance in our vision of landscape,seascape and in our understanding of the theoretical boundary of a black hole in space. It separates light and darkness. Here it is on a piece called “Distance”
The circular orbit is another cosmic motif I’ve returned to time and again. Here it is shown in a piece called “Lunar Orbit”.I’ve also used the motif of the wave often. The wave refers to the movement of energy whether it is sound, light, water or particles. Here it can be seen on “Jazz Nights”. On this piece and others as well, I combined symbols that evoke messages of rhythm, the cosmic round, the ladder to heaven and the cubes are a symbol of Earth.
I introduced a variety of cultural influences in this body of work also. I refer to these loosely as the East Meets West series because they invariably have subtle shapes that evoke cross-cultural ideas such as eastern architecture with latin rhythms. Examples shown below are “Window to the World” from the Samurai sub-series, and “Flamenco” which combines an eastern roof-line feel with the nebulas and a hot Latin painting.
I was never good at communicating face to face with people about my work in anything other than how it was made, the materials and tools used, or the color. Anything else and I always reverted to that childhood mindset that I couldn’t make myself understood to those around me, or that they would disapprove. The closest I came to explaining my relief sculpture was in the WSIU Expressions with Najar in which I told that The Queen of the Night was inspired by the book of photographs taken by Cosmonauts and Astronauts and that was true, but it was just a small part of the story. Queen has those classic elements that I use to convey the spirit of the Universe. That’s her meaning. We are one with the Earth and the Earth is one with the Cosmos. It’s our sacred duty to respect that.
I finished a round piece recently. That’s a rarity anymore. The year my mom died, 2006, was a difficult transition in my personal life and for an artist that means there’s going to be some kind of impact on your work. The result is not easily predicted, especially the long-term effect. But the short-term effect is often a disruption in the flow of ideas or in the creative urge. For me it not only slowed down my production, but caused me to re-evaluate why I make what I make.
By 2006 my signature pieces were usually round disks counterpoised by lines, ladders and flowing waves, punctuated with richly colored, textured surfaces. They indeed looked like giant brooches and years before I had named them Jewelry For the Wall after having been asked so many times if I had once been a jeweler. It was a catchy name that people could easily remember. However, I had been about the last person to recognize them as jewelry pieces. To me they were signs and symbols. They were cosmic bodies interrupted by event horizons. They were stars spinning on an axis. They were about energy flows and they were symbols pointing us to the heavens in order to understand what lies beneath our feet.
I don’t know what the casual viewer thinks they are other than giant eye-candy. But I can tell you that circular format is powerful and for me and many of my patron’s my suns, stars and moons are meditative icons.
Since mom died I’ve only made a fraction of the number of round pieces that I had done in the previous 7 years. Each is now more personal. Before she died I made a horizon piece . The heavy atmospheric dark top half of the painting hangs over the lower white half. Thick and textural, the white is almost claustrophobic. I titled it “Distance”. I hated to see it go, but alas I can’t keep making them if I don’t sell the babies.
Several years later I thought of making a sister piece to “Distance”, but after working on it for several weeks, I abandoned it when I realized that it was merely a shell of the original. That’s how it came to be standing in a dusty corner for several years when I decided recently to clean it up and rework it. With a new clarity I could still feel the power inherent in that symbol and I let the energy flow. Instead of being impenetrable doors that wouldn’t/couldn’t open, the carved blocks feel now like energized gates that could swing open giving access to the power on the event horizon. The energy flowing through that edge, spills upward into the dark, powerful atmosphere above as well as into the more delicate entangled veins below. Such is the complexity of life in the cosmos. Welcome to “Heaven’s Gate”.
Financially, we excelled in the art fair world, that is until the economy was crushed. The ironic part is that as discretionary income has shrunk, our work has expanded in scope and depth. A mind that is quick to judge might mistakenly dismiss our objects for the wall as merely decorative. Those that lead with their instincts respond to the stable symbolism of the geometry, the delicious color, the depth of the texture. These are metaphors for life. Our art is loved by many, but in this upside down world we’ve now encountered, there are fewer that can enjoy living with it. That’s a shame. Art should be for everyone.