Monday, May 31, 2010

May Workshop

Yesterday I finished a three-day workshop (Saturday and Sunday of last weekend, Saturday of this weekend) and wound up with four new mixed-media collages in various stages of completion. The three square ones are about two feet across, which represents a step up in scale for me.

This first one is a study in browns and blue and gold. I started with a plywood panel I had gessoed and braced. The first thing I did was sketch in some basic lines and shaded areas using charcoal. That black and white area in the upper left is the visible remnant of that first move. Then I laid down the various torn-paper fragments, most of which I had prepared previously by impressing or painting loose geometrical figures on each one. I tried for a loose kind of linkage, which resulted in the largish triangular shape that dominates the left hand side of the image. There were a lot of hard lines on the lower right hand side, and I tried to soften them by rolling some thin white paints over that area, which created another sort of eco-zone when the over there. I tried to stay loose and not get too fussy. Now when I look at it it feels a little like an imaginative exercise in plate tectonics.

The second one is the least finished of the three big panels. I had it in mind that it was going to be multilayered from the start, and was mostly going to  be about experimenting with surface effects. This is where it is now. I don't know where it's going to end up. It's a little angry and unsettled right now; but maybe that's okay. I began it by using gel medium to glue down aluminum foil over the whole surface of the panel, and then tried various ways of applying color, including paint, paper, oil pastels, and regular pastels. The honeycomb pattern of white over red was George's idea: to use some lacy paper I had brought along as a kind of stencil: laying it down, painting over it, and then peeling it back. The idea for the thin red lines also came from George. It was toward the end of the day and he was challenging me to make a move that would bring it toward completion. He suggested I look back through my materials to find something that could make a difference. By way of demonstrating, he began picking up and discarding stuff that I had on the table. He picked up a flexible plastic ruler I had there, bent it back and forth, and then pressed the curved edge against the red area, more or less where the line is now, saying, "You could use this as a stamp." Kristen had some red paint mixed on her palette behind me, so I tried that and it really helped pull the piece together.

This is the workshop piece that I was most happy with. I've had trouble working with yellow so I decided to just start out by laying out a lot of yellow on the panel, and I placed three large torn-paper elements on top. Then during the week, knowing I was going to be working with warm colors, I gathered up all the brown and orange and red and yellow paper and cloth I could find, and stamped a lot of the pieces with geometrical forms. Yesterday I just started laying them down and trying to link them together, making this more or less massive landscapy from I wound up with. The last thing I did, taking advice from the group, was to cover up some of the remaining pure yellow areas and softening some of the rest of them with darker paint. I like the overall effect, especially the way the light seems to pushing in from behind.

This last one is a smaller panel I did at home with some of the leftover pieces of paper that were on my desk from preparing stuff for the previous panel. It did it fast, and I had a very clear sense of how I wanted the pieces to link up, moving from left to right. The two yellow pieces went on next to last, and the brown-and-black torn paper, as a sort of exclamation point. Nothing fancy, nothing very daring, but I like it. More than most of what I've done, it feels complete to me.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Pizza. Or perhaps
pizzicato. A place,
(piazza), a pie, a bit
of percussive play.
Purse your lips,
and push the air out:
poof. Like that.
What does that feel
like? Not like love,
not like languor.
More like impatience,
like petulance, like
disdain. Pfff. Yeah,
right. As if. Give
me a break.

Then what? We're still
here. Waiting. Like
a play, right? This is
the first speech.
A soliloquy. Perhaps.
An overture. A prelude.
To what we are waiting
for. The purpose. The
point. The purported
punch line. But

suppose there is no
payoff. Suppose it
simply is what it is.
Like life. Like waking
up every day and thinking,
maybe today it will all
become clear. When I
asked my mom, way back
when, for a palomino,
she said, "When my ship
comes in." She said,
"When I win the Irish
Sweepstakes." She said,
"Maybe someday."

I thought a lot about
that ship. I wondered
where on the ocean
it might be, how soon
it might come sailing
into port. How little
I knew of metaphor.
How much I've learned:
Pffft. Yeah right.
As if.

Process Reflection:

It's been a long time now since I just sat down to play with words. I seem to have become burdened with the self-imposed expectation that I ought to have something to say. That's as sure a road to writer's block as I know. Today I stopped in for a few minutes to visit with Tim's Writer's Club, and since it was there last meeting of the year they had pizza. Maybe because that seed had been planted in my mind, I felt like writing tonight.

I needed a place to begin. So I began with that: pizza. The word, the sound, the feel of the syllables. I just started playing with it, pushing it. After the first four lines I had a sense of the emerging structure and the possibilities posed by the syllables. (As you can hear, once you go down that road it's hard to turn off it.) Then I just tried to follow the thoughts that the syllables pushed up at me. Funny that my mom showed up. Not for the first time, of course.

Funny too: I did get that palomino, some years later. Two actually. I rode them for two years. Between the two of them they about killed my dream of horses. Be careful what you wish for.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Variations on a Theme

Process Reflection:

I was working here within two self-imposed constraints: first that I would use exactly the same materials in each of the four collages; second that I would work on the concept of linkage, connecting one part to the next in a way that would make the development of each piece more organic and internally consistent. Two relevant quotations from my mentor:

Anyway, there’s an idea that I’m trying to develop here, which is that the forms work best when you tie them together. We call it linkage. Where it’s like you’re growing a form. So you always have to connect it, you don’t just pop it out there. The forms are always like branches on a tree, they’re always tied together. And it’s one thing you can do to help your compositions, is to link one form to the next, because it gives a sense of solidity to it, a feeling of connection. The biggest problem people have with composition is unity, is keeping the composition unified. If you just start plopping things out there, here and there, thinking that you’re balancing the composition, you may be balancing it in some way, you may be offsetting one thing with another thing in a way, but you’re also building into it opposition, and you can bring this kind of competition into the composition where the forms are fighting each other, and if you start juggling things all over the place, if you’re putting one thing over here and another thing over here, you’re going to have the real possibility that you’re going to get yourself into a bind. You’re composition is going to be caught and you’re not going to know where to go because you’ve got one thing over here and another thing over here and another thing over there and another thing over here and you’re not going to be able to connect them all, you see, it’s the connection that’s important.

I’m just trying to come up with some rules. Now these are my rules. They’re not your rules, they’re my rules. You can make your own rules. But the idea of having rules is that they give you a framework, they give you a structure to hang the composition on, to build with, so that in a way what you’re doing is you’re developing a system. And that system can be returned to, you can have some confidence in it because it works. It worked once, you can do it again.