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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bouquet Project

Bouquet 1 2013,  Mockup, 55½ x 36 in. to variable dimensions.
Mixed media on paper with low relief panels.

Bouquet 2 & 3, Diptych 2013, Mockup, 55½ x 72 in. to variable dimensions, with low relief panels.
Possible arrangement of low relief panels extending to the floor and towards the viewer.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mixed Media Drawing Almost Finished

Bouquet 1,  mixed media 55½ x 36 in. 2013
I am ready to move on to the next part of my "Bouquet" installation project.  Undoubtedly, there will be a few minor touch-ups on this drawing, but for the most part, it is finished.

I have begun a diptych with two paper panels the same size as the drawing above. I burned several holes into the interiors of the papers as well as around the edges.  I am planning to draw the thistles leaves much larger, more like the dimensions of the leaves in the foreground of "Bouquet 1." I want them to seems as if they are gesturing towards the viewer.

Today I began cutting thin plywood forms for the next thistle-like panel construction.  I intend to build it so that parts of the construction protrude four or five inches from the wall and cast a variety of interesting shadows.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Bouquet 1" in Progress

Bouquet 1, in progress, detail,  mixed media on paper, 55½ x 36 in.
As I finish working on this drawing, I am thinking about how it will work in installation with my low relief panels.  The next few thistle panels will have varying brown and grey tones as well as burned sections.

I have begun the next diptych drawing, two sections, each one measuring about 55½ x 36 in. My husband helped me singe the edges and burn a few holes through the central portions of the papers.   I am planning to work the thistle leaves much larger than they appear in Bouquet 1.  The way I am envisioning it, the installation will have the three drawings and thistle-like panels together.

The work of Otto Marseus van Schriek and Rachel Ruysch have encouraged me to use fine detail and dark tones.  Both artists are considered to be working in the Vanitas genre of Dutch seventeenth-century still life painting.  Marseus used thistle plants frequently in his "sottobosco" paintings of undergrowth and small creatures.

Otto Marseus van Schriek, Morning Glory, Toad and Insects, oil on canvas,
21.1 x 26.8 in. ,1660,  Staatliches Museum Schwerin

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thistle Progress

Bouquet in progress, mixed media on paper 2013

I am slowly drawing the thistle plants that will be highlighted in the final work.  I have begun to sketch plastic wrap around the stems in the lower part of the image. Once that is shaded, I will add clumps of dark leaves behind the lightly shadowed ones.  I am using a combination of graphite, charcoal and ink. The work needs to develop dark drama.  I plan to add brown-black ink in between and behind the graphite/charcoal renderings.  I will work on plastic encircling the lower stems today.  The plants are beginning to feel too small.  If I can't make this work, I will begin again with another large piece of paper.  The clock is ticking on this project and I have to make a lot of porgress quickly.

I think of this Bouquet as a Vanitas of human carelessness of the natural environment.  My intention is to capture the lovely and the terrible, the vigorous and the disturbed in the “middle landscape,” where nature and culture interweave, in a hybrid installation of drawing, painting and low relief sculpture.  I will present the thistle bouquet to the viewer as an ironic gift that portends decline.  Like the Dutch Vanitas paintings of the seventeenth century, Bouquet, suggests the transitory character of the natural environment.  The dark grey, brown and black tones hint at pollution, blight and decay.  The plants in the drawing form a strange bouquet encircled in plastic, a remnant of neighborhood litter blown into my garden. Produced from by-products of petroleum, plastic wrap in my work functions as a metaphor for the waste of natural resources.  The burned edges of the drawing allude to the diffusion of chemical pollutants in the air and the soil.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thistle Burns

Thistle Burns in progress  54 x 36 in. Mixed media.
I really burned the edges of this drawing! I want to suggest degradation of the environment in the burnt areas. Darkness will bleed into the image from the singed edges.  I will see where this leads me in this project.

The thistle plant has at least one interesting mythological connotation.  In biblical texts, the thistle first grew following the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.  The thistle was one of many unpleasant consequences for their disobedience in eating from the Tree of Knowledge.  I am researching other ideas linked to the thistle as well.

A simple emergency candle and a spray bottle, with a bucket of water for fire safety were all I needed to burn the edges of the drawing. This took place on the concrete blocks of our patio.  The soot and the irregular edges have given me the idea to darken the upper right-hand corner of the drawing, with thistle leaves and stems emerging from blackness.  I also plan to include thistle plants that are still blooming with greenish leaves, much the way that plants of different stages of growth thrive together in the same patch of poor soil.

Thistle Burns detail, in progress  54 x 36 in. Mixed media.
The thistle is definitely a plant that many people abhor!  In your field or garden, the thistle resists removal.  The only way to eliminate it from a field or garden seems to be to deprive it of light for several weeks.When you cut apart its roots, it makes a new individual plant for each segment of root.  I have observed that the thistle produces its own downy seeds like a dandelion, as well as small fruit containing seeds within its prickly stems.

Burning paper samples
The paper burns quickly, so I have to be adept at spraying the flame with water as soon as it has burned away enough of the drawing.  I experimented with paper samples before attempting this on my project. However, I have more paper on a roll, so I can make a new drawing if this one doesn't work out. I am more apt to experiment when I feel that I have an alternative plan!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

New York Art in September

During my recent visit to New York to confer with my artist-mentor, Patte Loper, I was fortunate to visit over twenty galleries in Chelsea. I saw some great art and came away with some fresh ideas as to how to improve my own work.  Susie MacMurray's show at the Danese Corey Gallery,  Walking on the Rim of Night was of particular interest to me because of the way the artist uses sharp and soft materials three dimensionally.  MacMurray took the idea of small, sharp fish hooks and ran with it, creating forms that seem to reference organic sources, but are made of wire and sharp materials.

Susie MacMurray

Susie MacMurray

Susie MacMurray

At the Mixed Greens Gallery,  I was interested in the wall-size drawing by Sonya Belofsky in her show  Renovation.  Parts of the drawing had been removed, exposing the wall beneath.  The left-hand edge of the paper had been torn and cut to follow the contours of the brick and mortar wall which was Belofsky's subject. She had used a variety of mark-making approaches and materials to represent the shapes and textures of the brickwork.

Sonya Belsofsky
At the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, I saw Hung Liu's Quin Shan: Grandfather's Mountain. What I appreciated most about these large paintings was their lack of sentimentality in their use of traditional Chinese imagery.  While flowers and temples were present, they were not exploited for decorative possibilities, but rather as a link to Liu's personal heritage.

I had discussed this approach to plant imagery with Patte during our discussion of my thistle projects and I was interested to see how another artist would hint at anxiety through this kind of imagery.  Liu used muted, grey tones and runs of paint to create a somber atmosphere in the work.

Hung Lui
I had thought about incorporating pieces of rusted metal into some of my low relief panels before entering the Mike Weiss Gallery.  Michael Brown's paintings with metalwork inserted into muted landscapes resonated for me.  

Michael Brown
Herb Jackson's work was already familiar to me and I recognized it immediately in the Claire Oliver Gallery.  Jackson's work and technique of scraping through layers of acrylic paint is featured in one of my books on acrylic painting. Powdered metal and clumps of pigment added iridecsence to the paintings with more subtlety and variety than the work in my book.

Herb Jackson

Other shows of special interest to me were The Great Tree of Water, by Miler Lagos and Rebecca Saylor Sack's  birds, beasts, flowers.  Miler Lagos' large drawings of tree-like water systems inspired me in my plans to create drawings of similar dimensions.  His sculptures of tree stumps with elements of traditional Asian woodblock prints layered over them were engaging.  

Rebecca Saylor Sack's paintings combine bone fragments and decay with luscious plants in bloom, like contemporary vanitas work.  I appreciate the combination of gorgeousness with decay as I am working with the arabesque leaves and stinging spines of the thistle plant in my current projects.

I also found time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I focussed on Dutch still life painters of the vanitas tradition, and the Museum of Modern Art, where I saw the American Masters show as well as many very familiar 20th century works.  My feet were sore, but I had used my time in the Big Apple wisely!

Kurt Schwitters

Jean Arp

Joan Miro

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe

Jacob Vosmaer


My work explores the complex relationship between the man-made and the organic within the built environment, where invasive plants thrive in disturbed ecosystems.  Using a combination of natural and synthetic materials, my drawings and low relief panels represent a metaphor for the hybrid quality of the natural world.

In particular, the thistle weed fascinates me as it flourishes in disturbed soil by the roadside, its arabesque leaves primed for defense with needle-sharp barbs.  An invasive and annoying plant, the thistle resists human control, yet depends on roadsides, vacant lots and fields as its habitat.  It represents nature’s defensive strategies with its stinging spines and its extensive root systems that self-propagate when cut apart.  Through my study of the thistle, I question our concept of the garden as a natural environment and reveal an undercurrent of anxiety within the shifting dialogue between nature and culture.

Monday, September 30, 2013

"Noxious Needles" Revisited and "Nettles Clump"

Noxious Needles, Graphite and Charcoal on Paper 24" x 16"  2013
I decided to further develop the mass of leaves in the bottom right-hand corner of this drawing.   with tonal contrast  and delineated veins on some of the leaves.  At this point, I chose to leave the drawing and move on to the next project, Nettles Clump, below.

Nettles Clump,  Birch Plywood 2013
I plan to produce at least five thistle-inspired, low relief panels for an installation that will include a large drawing similar to Noxious Needles. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Updated 'Nettles' and 'Noxious Needles'

Nettles  18 in. x 14 in. x 2 in. Acrylic on birch plywood 2013

Noxious Needles 24 in. x 16 in. x 3 in. Graphite and charcoal on paper 2013
Following my meeting with my artist mentor, Patte Loper, I decided to work on both projects again. Both projects needed more dramatic values.  Nettles relates more closely to the drawing in tones of grey than in soft greens.  This approach also expresses a combination of fascination and repulsion much better as well.  The drawing was delicate and lacked the darker side of nature now visible with the addition of more leaves in charcoal pencil. The plants are showing growth and decay at the same time.

When I collected more thistle stalks, I noticed how new growth is taking hold where I cut thistles a month ago to bring into the studio.  This plant is determined to reproduce itself, with flowers, pods and self propagating roots.  If you don't want it in your yard, you have to smother it under thick black plastic for weeks.

The thistle prefers disturbed land and poor soil in order to thrive.  Its presence indicates that the local environment has been drastically transformed through human activity.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Nettles & Lupini

Nettles,  Acrylic on Birch Plywood and Bamboo Points,  17 x 15 x 4 in.  2013
 Nettles received its final wash of paint a few days ago.  This thin application of paint, water and medium brings out the textures on the wood's surfaces. Brushstrokes and dripped paint contributed to the unevenness that suggests dust or even herbicide on the thistle leaves.  This piece is more three-dimensional and multi-layered than previous panels have been. The plant forms have become more integrated within the rectangular panel, alluding to the melding of culture and nature that is all around us.

Lupini,  Graphite on Paper,  24 x 16 in.  2013

My drawing Lupini looks like a study of pea pods, but these are actually lupin pods. The pods are downy with tiny hairs and are colored a purplish-grey.  When the pods are fully developed, they spring open and release little dark seeds.  I became interested in the voluptuous forms of the pods and their plentiful numbers. There are hundreds of lupin stalks near my favourite thistle patch.  I am working on a low relief panel inspired by this drawingof pods, as a companion piece to Nettles. 

I have also been working hard on my thesis.  Draft 2 is a big improvement over my first efforts.  I have a definite focus and I am able to discuss what my work is about, where it comes from and why I am doing it, with illustrations, of course!  I must say that the thesis is very time-consuming. I am glad that I have saved my panels from my third semester in case I decide to use some of them in the grad exhibition.  I have projects I would like to finish for it, but we will see how much I can accomplish in the studio.

In a few days I am going to New York to meet with my mentor. Our first meeting was through Skype, so I am looking forward to seeing her in person and visiting some galleries and museums.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Nettle" - Initial Phases

Nettle (in progress) Acrylic on Birch Plywood 17" x 15" x 4" 2013

This low relief sculpture is based on my previous drawings of thistles in a vacant lot near my home. Once I had cut the leaf shapes from 1/8" birch plywood, I tried different arrangements without joining the pieces. I found that I wanted to include the rectangular panel as a contrast to the intricate organic shapes of the leaves and also to suggest the presence of civilization. I aim to portray a certain ambiguity between the forms - the leaves seem to infiltrate the rectangle, yet the rectangle imposes its own format on the plant structure at the same time. 

Although it can be argued that the mathematical proportions of a rectangle can be found in organic, natural forms, known as the "Golden Mean", the rectangle itself functions as a human construct. This ties in with my theme of the integration of humanity with the natural environment, or the fusion of "culture" and "nature." 

I have decided to title this piece "Nettle" as a reference to the stinging spines of the thistle and also as a reference to the idea of an annoyance. As a weed, thistles are tenacious and troublesome for farmers and gardeners. Native to Eurasia, thistles were introduced (accidentally) to North America by European settlers and they have infiltrated diverse environments since then.

Nettle - Photoshop Sketch 17" x 15" x 4"  2013
I originally thought of using drips and pours over the forms, but I have begun with solid, painted tones followed by wet-in-wet paint applied with cotton swabs to create the soft dots. I will pour a thin, matte glaze over them later and proceed from there. I like the way the patterning suggests some kind of reptilian or amphibian life form combined with the obvious leaf shapes and the rectangular shape of the panel underneath, a form of "hybrid". If the patterning doesn't work, I can repaint the forms with the colors I used above. They are all saved in sealed plastic containers for such an occasion.

Here is the project before I painted it. I considered leaving it as is in the photo, but it seemed unfinished and did not communicate my theme very well. Some panels seem to work in raw wood; others seem to need painting!

Nettle in progress - birch plywood forms 17" x 15" x 4" 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sakahàn Exhibition and National Youth Orchestra; Ottawa,Canada

The National Gallery of Canada with Greenlandic by Inuk Silis Høegh
Under the iceberg 'wrapping,' the glass plates in this part of the gallery are being replaced.
The structure looks like a crystal prism when it is not wrapped. 
We were only in Ottawa for two full days, but we saw a great deal at the National Gallery. The Sakahàn show was spectacular, featuring contemporary international indigenous art, 150 works by over 80 artists from 16 countries. There was a tremendous variety of media and approaches, combining cultural traditions with contemporary art strategies. I bought the 286 page catalog and I will have to take time to read the 14 essays included within it. 

Water Song by Christi Belcourt, National Gallery of Art
Water Song by Christi Belcourt resonated for me. Based on Ms. Belcourt's knowledge of traditional medicinal plants and the traditional aboriginal use of beadwork, the canvas consists of tiny dots of acrylic paint on a black background. I like the way the artist has shown some of the roots in the soil.
cantchant 2009 Vernon Ah Kee, Kuku Yalandji, Waanji Yidindji
Cantchant  brought the world of surfing to the screen and the gallery, not as fun in the sun, but as a clash of cultures. The video made me want to find an unspoiled beach somewhere and plunge into the water. Just as you are enjoying the water with the surfers, a surfboard wrapped in barbed wire appears in the waves. I won't spoil the ending in case you have a chance to see it! Large drawings of members of the surfers' families grace the undersides of the boards, while on the other surface, they are painted in traditional patterns of red, orange, yellow and black.

Brett Graham & Rachel Rakena, Aniwaniwa, 2007

Aniwaniwa was captivating as an installation. The work references the flooding of a Maori town in New Zealand when a dam was built. The five round video screens suspended from the ceiling show us the Maori going about daily tasks under water in a fluid, poetic film with five viewpoints as a Maori singer accompanies the visuals. Lying on your back on a black mattress in a dark room enables you to become engrossed in the installation. I read the screens' frames as rubber tires for a huge truck, but apparently, they are embossed with traditional Maori symbols. This was our favourite part of the exhibit!

We also found Barnett Newman's Voice of Fire, which was purchased by the National Gallery in 1989 for $1.8 million. People are still talking about the controversy here! The painting was commissioned for Expo 67 in Montreal, for the US pavilion organized by art critic and historian Alan Soloman. The exhibition  American Painting Now featured 22 the work of 22 artists. Although the painting is huge, I must admit it was something of a let down for me. I have seen other Barnett Newman paintings that show incredible subtlety in blue-black, pink-black, green-black, etc. This painting is very bright and very flat. It would have dominated the geodesic dome where it hung.

Voice of Fire, by Barnett Newman 1967
acrylic on canvas, 540cm x 240 cm (213 in x 94 in)

Louise Bourgeois' Maman  welcomes visitors to the NGC.

Majestic by Michel de Broin, made of damaged lampposts
in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, 2011.

I remember this sculpture on the cover of Canadian Art magazine's special sculpture issue of December 2011. Michel de Broin selected damaged streetlights for his Majestic, named after a funeral home in new Orleans where he was born. The sculpture repurposed broken pieces into something new, giving hope to the New orleans as people rebuilt the city following Hurricane Katrina. It would be great to see this piece at night with its lamps fully lit! I am standing by one of the posts.
100 Foot Line by Roxy Paine, 2010.
This is not a tree or is it?

Ever skyward!

I am standing at the base of this sculpture!
As we sat down in the cafeteria of the National Gallery of Canada, I immediately recognized Roxy Paine's  One Hundred Foot Line sculpture. I had written about some of Paine's work, including this one, in an essay about nature, culture and technology during my second semester at AIB. Paine takes the forms of trees and represents them using industrial materials in a hybridization of the natural and the industrial. It was great to stand underneath the sculpture and realize its true dimensions. In addition, we viewed works by the Group of Seven, the Impressionists and early 20th century modernists. 


Canada's National Youth Orchestra

Our primary reason for visiting Ottawa was actually to see our daughter play with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada in the National Arts Center. ( She is in the photo in the bottom right-hand corner playing the viola!) What an amazing concert! The program featured Mahler's Symphony 9, D major as well as Leonore Overture #3 Opus 72b by Beethoven and Isomorphia by James O'Callaghan. They are playing in Vancouver this weekend.

There were also some tourist activities we took in, such as the Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill. The ceremony is accompanied by the Ceremonial Band of student musicians. We are aquainted with one of the trombonists and my musical daughters know a few other current members of the band.

The Changing of the Guard at Parliament Hill

The Ceremonial Band marches to the parade ground.

Locks on the Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal passes through downtown and features locks between waterways at different sea levels.
Parliament from the National Gallery. 

We toured Parliament during a morning of pouring rain. It was interesting to see the inside as we are used to seeing only small bits of it on television as politicians are being interviewed. Canadian government is based on the British system.
Parliament from Wellington St.

The proper neo-romanesque atmosphere for serious government-
inside Parliament in the foyer of the House of Commons.

The House of Commons that we see during "Question Period" on television.

Stained glass windows of the provincial and territorial official flowers in the Commons.
I can relate to the 'wildflowers' in the window panes.

In the foyer to the Senate, royalty are ever-present, if only in their portraits.

The Senate chamber.

Under the Peace Tower.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The flame burns in the middle of a fountain, seen from the Peace Tower.
Light show on Parliament Hill!