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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.