Monday, October 16, 2017

January Workshop: Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker

Sunday, January 28 at the San Francisco Center for the Book, from 10am to 4pm, I will be teaching a six-hour workshop, "Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker." I hope you will be in town to join us!

In 2012, I taught a six-week course, "Writing and the Creative Process," at JFK University. It featured a series of guided explorations linking writing to a hands-on, physical process and incorporated the use of art materials. In this workshop, we will sample many of those exercises and projects as well as new ones I've successfully taught in my bookmaking classes at CCA and during my guest semester at Cal State East Bay. We start by sewing a Zen or grunge notebook. (Instructions are here for those who cannot be at the workshop. Variations of some of the explorations may be found in the Creative Arts Process Cards.)

Course Description
Have you always wanted to write but were unsure how to begin? Interested in including words in your visual work? This gentle workshop will shine light on how words can be used like other art media to describe an object, to capture a mood, to tell a story, and to transform how we see the world. We will first make a Zen or grunge notebook, then move through a series of guided writing explorations to loosen up. Through examples we will also look at short forms of writing that lend themselves well to book art. Students will emerge with their notebook full of visual approaches, ideas, tips, tricks, and several short pieces that have the potential to kickstart a writing practice, to inspire a book project, or to be just for fun. Beginners warmly welcome. $130 (materials included).

Friday, October 13, 2017

New Art Quilt/Open Book: Where Is My Passport?

I am not sure where these quilts are coming from, but I am really happy working larger. and being able to write, sew, embroider, use color, and make use of my photographs. I'm starting to see quilts everywhere. I went back to look at Kenneth Patchen's painted poems in What Shall We Do Without Us? (2011 blog post here), wondering how they might become quilts. I see paintings in the museums and think of them on a grid and how they might be interpreted in fabric. How long this way of thinking will last, I do not know, but I am finding a little corner of  joy despite the floods, fires, and wrong thinkers in charge create social and economic chaos and distress. It isn't easy.

In a recent dream, I am trying to explain that the concept originates from your head, but the content should spring from your heart. A question I ask myself (and which I asked myself here) after thinking, wouldn't this be (neat, cool, interesting, curious—insert adjective here), is what does this mean to me/what emotions does it conjure and what do I want to communicate to others?

This quilt began with thoughts about immigrants and immigration. I took out my expired passport and scanned the patterns inside with the visa stamps, using the photos for the background pattern, which I then created on cotton cloth with Solarfast dyes. I remembered taking a photo of some graffiti on a door in New York City that said "Where Is My Passport?"  so I dyed that image, too. I carved a fictitious visa stamp from a linoleum block. I letterpress printed "Where Is My Passport?" and "Arrival/Departure" in wood type. With the piecing I included some jeans pocket pieces I had leftover from other quilts; sometimes we hold passports in our pants pockets. For texture I quilted faces all over, all connected with one machine stitched threadline, as we are all connected somehow. But the text content had to come from something I knew. Immigration suggests choice or the lack of choice. Some of us have choices whether we wish to leave or stay, travel or flee. This also relates to the idea of family and whom you choose (partner, children) versus whom you don't choose to be in it. Those concepts became the basis for the poem I embroidered on the quilt. So many layers. It felt natural to me.

You can see a larger image on my website
Some details:

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Centering with Textures and Words: Martin Wong's Paintings

In her book, Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, M.C. Richards writes "The experience of centering was one I  particularly sought because I thought of myself as dispersed, interested in too many things" (20-21). She writes how she wished to just focus on one thing like other people she knew. After becoming disillusioned with academia, she turned to pottery, but she never stopped writing. She learned to finally accept herself, that it was okay if she did more than one thing.

Centering is an interesting concept. Imagine the clay on the wheel as ourselves, spinning. We reach out toward the new, then bring it back in toward the familiar. Gather, then evaluate. Learn, then synthesize. Each willingness to reach out and learn brings new potential for the art and writing practices we already have. The new knowledge doesn't overwrite or erase; it enhances, enriches, deepens, and shapes. We grow.

Martin Wong's work at Berkeley Art Museum,  with a catalogue of the same name: Martin Wong: Human Instamatic is an exhibition that keeps centering itself. It reaches out to American finger spelling and graphics, urban textures and human isolation, his experience and interests as a gay man, as someone of Chinese heritage, and as an artist immersed in the world around him. Then it brings it all back together, synthesized. Not all of these interests are present in every work, but you can see both the outward looking and inward looking spirit in every piece. He began as someone who liked to draw, who drew people as "The Human Instamatic," and he studied ceramics in college. He designed sets and installations. But as the video of his life shows, he once wrote to Santa asking for an oil paint set "with no lines or numbers," so it is clear he always wanted to paint as well. The paintings in the exhibition are in both oils and acrylics. There is no hierarchy of oil over acrylic for him. Each medium fulfills its function.

The wall text history says that in 1978, he began his new life in New York City as a night porter and felt isolated as if he were deaf and mute. This overwhelming feeling led him to incorporate finger spelling into his work. The merging of words as signs of the hand in a visual work is something I hadn't seen before. It's quite distinctive.

This work includes lettering and textures with urban surfaces: brick, wood, metal, and people. He created many paintings with brick-like surfaces.
Exile--This Night Without Seeing Her Passes Like an Eternity, 1987-88
acrylic on canvas

Text, lettering, books, and the writing in the sky: constellations.
Orion, 1984

Text, finger spelling, urban textures
Lower East Side Valentine, 1983
oil on canvas

Signage, portrait of his parents, urban textures
Chinese Laundry--Portrait of the Artist's Parents, 1984
acrylic on canvas

Books, lettering, bricks, urban textures
Voices, 1981
acrylic on canvas

Wong was not imprisoned, himself, but he had friends who had been.
He was interested in the experience, and was able to create emotionally moving paintings from the stories he gathered.
Cell Door Slot, 1986
acrylic on canvas

an early work, with finger spelling as the sole imagery
Silence, 1982
acrylic on canvas

it reads:
of a lost embrace
of another place
of an afternoon
of an empty room

One of the earliest in the exhibition: lettering as texture
Left: Meeting of the Bored of Education, 1971
ink on vellum

R above and detail: Untitled (The Stone Steps Fall), 1967
ink on vellum

M.C. Richards also writes, "One does not decide between craft and art, pottery and sculpture, tradition and the individual talent. One is in a perpetual dialogue and performs the act one performs" (23). "Perpetual dialogue" is the perfect phrase for creative practice. Our curiosity keeps us constantly in motion, looking, sensing, trying on new approaches. We adjust to fit, alter to make useful to us.

Martin Wong's "perpetual dialogue" shines through in this exhibition as a wonderful example. Through the works you experience the repeated journeys of reaching out, gathering, and returning to weave the new threads back into the artist's nest, incorporating them, and making them his own.

The exhibition is on view at Berkeley Art Museum until December 10, 2017.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Autumn Sunset on the Ospreys

When we think of Fall, the word brings with it various associations: some obvious, some not so much. California urban dwellers, of which I am one, tend to see Fall marked more by stores and businesses and schools rather than by nature. But we do have trees that lose their leaves! My Japanese Maple, for one. The sycamores down the street, for another. But we don't have the skeletal silhouette skyline of, say, New York or Boston. We do have "pumpkin spice" flavored everything, which is almost always spice and not pumpkin. And weird cottony stuff people put on bushes to look like spiderwebs. We do have spiders that spin broad webs in Fall, too, though. Our hottest weather is in Fall. Every year I would make a Halloween costume for my daughter out of fleece, thinking it would be cold by the end of October, and every year I was wrong.

What has been less obvious to me are bird migration patterns. I've been aware of the Black Phoebes that are sometimes here, sometimes not. I've seen sparrows, hummingbirds, chickadees, house finches, American robbins in Winter. Our crows are year round these days. 

But I've started watching birds more carefully since I became intrigued and then addicted to watching the osprey nest camera, posted by the Golden Gate Audubon Society last March. I began my viewing in May, wanting to see the eggs hatch. Apparently there were three eggs, but I came late to the party, and there were only two. I wrote a post in June, "Stories that Fly and the Osprey Web Cam." Since that time, sadly, one of the chicks fledged, was injured, was rescued out of the bay, went to WildCare for treatment, but then did not make it. That story is here. There are some great videos of dramatic little stories of the family (Richmond, Rosie, Whirley, and Rivet) here. You can watch the chicks hatch as well as see Richmond bringing a hat to the nest.

And then, it was the Autumnal Equinox, and there was just one. We believe that Richmond hangs out at Brooks Island or the spit connected to it, the channel markers, and on the dolphin (a platform in the bay, not an animal) out there. Rivet was last seen mid-August, Rosie, mid-September. Juveniles and adult females migrate south. Why migrate? After watching the ospreys bring fish after fish to the nest it is clear that there are plenty of fish in the bay. The weather is pretty temperate. But that is how it is. If you ever see an osprey with a little blue anklet that says R/Z, it is Rivet.

Watching birds leave the nest, well, that's a bit melancholy, but exciting, too. New adventures ahead. And a few osprey-inspired projects in mind. Stay tuned.

The Live Chat will be turned off shortly. But the camera remains on for a look at some beautiful sunsets over San Francisco and Marin County, and occasional glimpses of an osprey far away. All images below are screenshots from GGAS webcam.

The ospreys don't use the nest other than for raising a family, and the nest has been in use since 2012 (I think), so we'll find out if Richmond and Rosie (or others?) are back for a reprise next March, 2018. The whole life cycle, in detail, Reality Show with Ospreys. It's a great one.

Rosie with Whirley and Rivet

Rosie feeding Whirley morsels of striped bass

Whirley and Rivet

Rosie in mid-air

Whirley's first flight

Rivet flying with partial fish that parents brought her

Rivet on the nest

Rivet on the nest, mantling

Richmond with flapping fish

Rosie and Richmond on the Red Oak Victory ship rigging.
One of their last evenings together (we think)

sunset over the bay looking toward Marin county

Autumn migration
New birds will be arriving
I must go find them