Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Persistent Plastic

Persistence, mixed media on paper, 55½ x 36 in. 2014 
The plastic bag has become the most important element in this large format drawing.  Transparent plastic is the new still life drapery.  The blue bag is designed for the collection of recyclables. Here it has blown into the corner of an abandoned lot.

The drawing is a lamentation for the dying plants as plastic refuse overtakes them.  The irregular growths on the thistle stems indicate that the plants are highly stressed. The plants resist as much as they can, but time is against them.  

The weeds in the drawing are are 'invasive species' brought to the soil by human agency,  primarily Cirsium Arvense (Canada Thistle) and some kind of Rudbeckia gone native.  (It's stems are tall and spindly and its flowers have brown, bulbous centers surrounded by yellow, daisy-like petals.)   My 'models' deteriorated into dry shreds in my studio as I studied them.  Not so for the plastic trash bags!

Plastic is such an integral part of our daily activities that we don't necessarily stop to think about it.  I use plastic bags, plastic wrap and plastic household items.  What worries me is what happens to all of it once I am finished using it.  I re-use what I can, but is this enough?  

Persistence, detail, mixed media on paper, 55½ x 36 in. 2014 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Art Across the Marsh Studio Tour

This weekend we took time from our normal activities to drive to Port Elgin, Jolicure, Sackville and Dorchester, NB to visit some of our friends who had opened their studios for the Art Across the Marsh Studio Tour.  Take a look at their work by visiting their web sites if you can't visit them in their studios!

Rachel Marouney of Hidden House Pottery, Port Elgin, NB.

Hidden House afternoon tea

Some of Rachel's work
Rachel and Bob Marouney together have Hidden House Pottery and Press.  Take a drive down Moore Road to find this hidden treasure!

Dorchester, NB - Dennis A. Reid with two recent paintings from his Newfoundland series.
Dennis' studio is located in the former Royal Bank building in Dorchester. It is a great space, dating back to the nineteenth century when Dorchester was the county seat and a busy town.

Ghita Levin with some of her one-of-a-kind wood-fired sculpture and ceramics, Baie Verte, NB.
Ghita's home and studio is located near the marsh by Baie Verte. This weekend, the reeds were golden and orange against a blue sky - a striking sight!

Thaddeua Holownia with his large-format camera in his studio in Jolicure, NB.
Thaddeus' studio and home in Jolicure are near my old stomping grounds in rural New Brunswick.  My aunt and uncle, as well as my parents, owned old farmhouses overlooking the Tantramar Marshes in this area. Thaddeus records the ever-changing conditions directly in front of his studio with the large-format camera. Check it out on Facebook!

After our studio stops, we finished off the afternoon with a delicious meal at the Bell Inn, Dorchester, NB.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Working Title a Struggle

Drawing in Progress, 55½ x 36 inches, graphite on paper 2014
I began this drawing in June, before leaving for Boston, Western Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vancouver and Victoria, BC (but not all in that order). I am back at work on it after it sat idle in my studio for the summer.  I plan to draw more of the stems, dried leaves and dead-head flower remains before using watercolours and inks. I plan to colour the plastic garbage bag an electric blue (which it is in reality) and continue the dead, dried plants with sepia and black inks.

The plants seem to be struggling with the plastic bag, but I fear that the bag is winning. I am trying to think of a strong title for the piece . . . .

During the summer, I bought a new camera and I have several thousand photos to upload to an external drive. I was fortunate to visit some spectacular botanical gardens as well as my favourite art museums and galleries in Boston and the Berkshires. I have a new series of panels in mind to work on as well.

Today I dropped off my low relief sculpture "Potential" at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, for the Alumni Exhibition opening the new Purdy Crawford Center for the Arts. The building is spectacular! I'm looking forward to seeing the art on display!

Next week I am hanging my third of a show at the Maison Tait in Shediac, New Brunswick. This will consist of my low relief panels and several paintings.

Drawing classes are going well. I am instructing ARVI 1304 Dessin-Introduction Groupe 1 (introduction to drawing) at the Université de Moncton as well as a small group at the New Brunswick Community College night school.

Monday, June 2, 2014

"Bouquet" at the Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Center

BOUQUET at the Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Center, May 05-17, 2014
Photo courtesy of Cynthia Naggar

Bouquet,  wall installation, mixed media, 140 cm  x 340 cm x 10 cm, 2013-14
May has been a very busy month for me! For the first two weeks, I was fortunate to install my Bouquet project in the Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Center in Sackville, NB.  At the same time, I worked on new low relief thistle forms to add to the large format drawings and I finished my Bouquet for Butterflies mixed media drawing.  My studio is too small for me to see the work in this context, so I appreciate the large white walls and open space of the gallery that much more.  (The yellowish cast to the photograph above seems to be due to the temperature of the spotlight bulbs.  I will have some better photos soon.)

Garden panels, acrylic and paper on panels and plywood,  25  x 20  x 4 cm to 58 x 36 x 10cm, 2013
Potential, based on lupine pods, adds interest to the line up of 10 x 8 in. panels. The set seems more successful than single pieces exhibited individually. 

Thistle Forms, plywood, 2014
I discovered that my new low reliefs based on thistle drawings were successful as a new wall sculpture.  I am planning to make more pieces to fill the wall and extend across the floor towards the viewer.  I have been cutting the forms on a scroll saw and assembling them with doweling. No two forms are the same.  It's fairly labor intensive, but the result is worth the effort.

Thistle Forms, wall installation, plywood, 2014
Thistle Forms will spread across the wall and floor and possibly acquire a better title in the process!

Bouquet for Butterflies, mixed media on paper,140 x 91 cm, 2014
 One viewer commented that you have to really look at this work to find the butterflies. I have noticed that viewers become engaged with this series and offer interesting reflections on it. I was glad to spend so much time in the gallery where I interacted with many visitors.

Installation at the Struts & Faucet, photo courtesy of Cynthia Naggar
My large format drawings install onto thin wooden brackets with "Velcro" fasteners.  The system works well, but the brackets have to follow the irregular placement of burned holes in the drawings. This means that each drawing has to be measured separately in order to coordinate its brackets and to keep them invisible once the work is on the wall.  Installation took me longer than I had anticipated.  It's something to keep in mind for the next time.  Another consideration is the fragility of the paper's surface.  

If this work were exhibited in a museum or a busy gallery, I would cover it with large sheets of thin Plexiglass, screwed to the wall.  I'm not really up for framing at this point.  It's expensive and difficult to transport.  The drawings roll up and fit inside a large tube.  I pack the low reliefs in bubble wrap in two suitcases.  The "Garden" panels also fit in one of the suitcases.

Once it was all taken down and I finished filling in holes in the wall and touching up paint, I went back to working on my submissions again!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Shock Hazard Assemblage/ Let's Get VCR Event, Struts Gallery

Barbara Safran de Niverville, Shock Hazard 1 detail, Assemblage, approx. 36 x 22 in. 2014

Barbara Safran de Niverville, Shock Hazard 1 detail, Assemblage, approx. 36 x 22 in. 2014

Barbara Safran de Niverville, Shock Hazard 2, Assemblage, approx. 36 x 12 in. 2014
This past weekend I participated in the "Let's Get VCR: Electronics Recycling Project" at the Struts Gallery in Sackville, NB.  I assembled Shock Hazard 1 & 2  on site from parts of obsolete electronics donated by members of the community for repurposing as art works. This technology was the ultimate of "cool" when I was a teen.  At that time, I was envious of expensive stereo systems with all the bells and whistles that I couldn't afford. This weekend I was taking it apart as old junk!

Although all the electronics collected in the gallery will be taken to a recycling facility following the project, I intend to suggest what could happen if these components were left in an abandoned field. The exposed circuit board of an old stereo amplifier inspired me to use its colorful wiring and arrangement of components in contrast with dried thistle weeds.  The broken, tangled tape and the reversed cassette unit seemed to be necessary as break-down elements. The picture frame and plywood rectangle reference the way we tend to frame "nature" and locate it within our technology as a kind of "hybrid."  These two assemblage pieces go back to my research on entropy as well, in reference to machines breaking down and to organic cycles of decline and resurgence.

When I examined the circuit boards I had removed, I was reminded of Peter Halley's abstract paintings inspired by similar pieces.  I can understand his fascination with purely functional patterns that possess a certain technological aesthetic of their own. Along with capacitors, wiring and other pieces attached, each circuit board has its own sculptural forms.

View Peter Halley's work here

Hubbard Hall printed circuit board
I was also reminded of Tim Hawkinson's sculptures composed of electronic pieces and organic forms.  His sculptures often produce sound and feature moving pieces. I haven't progressed to that point yet, but adding sound to some my work is one of my goals for the coming year.

View Tim Hawkinson's work here

Both Halley and Hawkinson work with ideas about the relationship between humanity and what is commonly thought of as the "natural world."

I watched several how to videos on how to safely remove pieces from electronic equipment before jumping in.  Don't try this at home could be good advice! It can be dangerous, so be very careful if you decide to do this!  Some electronics store powerful jolts of electricity in their components as well as toxic chemicals. Perhaps I will buy new electronic pieces that are empty and inert for my next assemblage experiments.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cut Pieces - Bouquet of Thistles

Sincere thanks to Edna and George Kay of Kay's Custom Framing for lending me their time, equipment and space to work on expanding my Bouquet project.  I now have forty thistle-inspired pieces individually cut and ready for assembly and painting.  Today Edna patiently cut doweling into small segments for about eighteen low relief panels.  Some of the thistle pieces will be layered using sections of doweling. Others will act as brackets to hold the pieces to the wall. A third group will be single layer relief panels. I have plans to create new drawings that will showcase this new series of panels.

My latest mixed media drawing is underway, featuring a few butterflies visiting thistle blossoms. The White Cabbage Butterfly is considered as much of a pest as the common thistle, but it can be quite lovely flitting between the mauve tufts.  The caterpillars are the problem for gardeners and farmers. Once the butterflies hatch out, they busy themselves collecting nectar and laying their eggs on unsuspecting leaves. The White Cabbage Butterfly and the Creeping Thistle seem to be made for each other! They are active in my favourite, local abandoned lot. Come back in a few days to see a photo of this drawing in progress.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fireweed Drawing 1

Fireweed 1, detail, mixed media on paper, 55½ x 36 inches  2014

Fireweed 1, detail, mixed media on paper, 55½ x 36 inches  2014
The fireweed, like the thistle, provides an interesting metaphor for the degradation of the environment. This plant prefers transformed and burnt habitats.  It declines as a forest ecosystem recovers its health. Fireweed seeds remain viable in the ground for many years, waiting for an opportunity when the ground has been opened up to light. The fireweed rapidly colonizes disturbed sites and is considered by some too aggressive to grow as an ornamental plant.

Fireweed 1, mixed media on paper, 55½ x 36 inches  2014

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Burning at 6 below or -21

Fireweed 1 in progress, graphite and burns on watercolor paper 55½ x 36 inches
The -21 C (6 below 0 F) temperature outdoors discouraged us from continuing the burn process yesterday.  I managed to keep a candle lit long enough to set fire to the paper is strategic places.  My assistant held the paper above the snow while I applied the candle flame.  We lasted through two half-hour stints outside in our driveway before abandoning the project for another day. The weather is supposed to warm up a bit in a couple of days, so I hope to finish this stage of the burning then. If I wait for spring, I could be waiting another 6 weeks!

The next phase of the work will go faster than the initial graphite drawing.  After burning around the edges and the remaining holes, I will apply ink washes around the plants and emphasize details in ink over the graphite.  Burned tree trunks and branches will be added in the background.

This morning I went back to my camera manual for instructions on setting the white balance. This is basic to photography, so you would think I would know how to do it on this camera! The automatic balance works fine for most things, just not pictures of white paper!  I am beginning to realize that the failings of this camera are really my own. It has its limitations, but so do I!

Friday, February 28, 2014

First Lessons in Botany and 18 hours of drawing

This is a page from Asa Gray's botany textbook published in 1857, First Lessons in Botany and Vegetable Physiology, illustrated by over 360 wood engravings from original drawings by Isaac Sprague. I found this dried flower pressed between the pages. Could it be as old as the book?  This sample was pressed between the pages devoted to the snapdragon family. It seems to be a variety of the wildflower beardstongue.  

This book belonged to the Mt. Allison Ladies College Library, 1854-1958 and was sitting in the stacks of the Mount Allison University library when I found it. I had read about Asa Gray in Barbara Novak's book, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825-75.  He is considered by many to be the most important American botanist of the nineteenth century.

The illustrations in First Lessons have helped me interpret my somewhat fuzzy photographs of fireweed in Banff National Park. When I took the pictures, I was hiking with a group that was moving quickly. I had no idea at the time that I would be using the photos several years later as a reference for a large-scale drawing.

Below is a very dark photo of my initial drawing in graphite on 55½ x 36 inch watercolor paper. The drawing is done with an HB pencil on bright white paper.  This stage of the work has taken me about 18 hours of free-hand drawing.  Scroll down for a detailed photo.  I will try re-setting the white balance in my camera and perhaps I will have a better result with the next photograph.

55½ 36 inches, graphite on watercolor paper, in progress

Detail of the above work

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Starting with a Blank White Page

The blank white page can be daunting, in visual art as well as in creative writing.  It's been a few weeks since I worked consistently in the studio as I have been busy with submissions for residencies and exhibitions.  After cutting and sanding seven thin plywood templates for thistle-like installations, I have had to clean my vacuum cleaner (!!) and tidy the studio.  I work in a small space, so every new project requires another overhaul of the room and its contents.  Thankfully I have a big closet with shelves to store my supplies.

This time, I have saved the fallen thistle remnants that have potential before vacuuming the layer of detritus under the remaining stems.  It's going to be a while before I can gather new samples!  

Next, I wrestle with my roll of 55½ inch Artistico watercolor paper (300gm) on the floor to cut off a 36 inch wide swath.  My art books work as weights to keep the paper flat while I measure and cut it.  I always use a heavy piece of cardboard underneath anything I am cutting with an Exacto knife.  Voilà!  Clipped to a piece of plywood and waiting to be made into Art!  My waterproof tarp goes down over the carpet next.  

February in Canada is not a good time to collect plants, so I am reduced to using my photographs.  I have decided to create a drawing for a new project proposal (for a specific exhibition submission), in order to have a sample to include with my Bouquet series.  I will write about the concept behind this new project in future posts.  Below, my guide to wildflowers is somewhat helpful.  There are other botanical books in the university library that I will look at this week.

After trying several thumbnail compositions yesterday, I went back to my catch-all sketchbook.  I plan to do several more sketches.  The challenge is to animate a visually static subject.  I have come back to the draping plastic wrap as a metaphor and a compositional element that introduces dynamic lines and contrasts with the organic shapes of burned wood and fireweed.  This drawing will be shaped by tearing and burning, similar to the Bouquet project.  The sketch below is fairly light in tone, but the next one will explore the full range of greys to soot black.  The magenta-pink is quite awful!  I will try watering it down much more or eliminating it entirely.  I would only add it near the end of the large drawing as it will be impossible to remove once it is there!

Sketch 10 x 8 inches  graphite, charcoal, acrylic, and ink washes
This sketch is not where I want it to be, but it points in a direction at least.  I intend to have a compositional plan before beginning the large drawing.  This way I won't have to make major adjustments once I begin my detailed renderings of plants on the final paper.

I will also work on expanding my Bouquet project into a larger installation in the near future.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Bouquet, wall installation, mixed media, 90 x 130 x 3 in., 2013, photo courtesy of Lisa Sibley.

Bouquet 2 & 3, wall installation, mixed media, 90 x 130 x 3 in., 2013, photo courtesy of Lisa Sibley. 

Bouquet, detail, wall installation, mixed media, 2013, photo courtesy of Lisa Sibley. 
Our MFA Graduate Exhibition at the Lesley University College of Art and Design, Boston, MA took place from January 6 - 11, 2014. The brown color on the walls dramatized and animated my work! I was prepared for white or grey, but the brown enhanced the work. My photos of the same project on white are lackluster!  Many thanks to Lisa Sibley who took these photos for me.