Friday, December 29, 2017

Sashiko Needles & Careful Attention

I probably could have tried a little harder to find sashiko needles locally, but I don't really like running errands, so I turned to the web. The big general store in the ether offers several varieties, lengths, makes, quantities, and I ended up choosing the Tulip Long Sashiko Needles Assorted Tube of 6, a little box with two each of three sizes: 66.7, 44.5 and 51.5 mm. I had no idea I was also buying mindfulness.

When it arrived, I was immediately taken with the packaging: a hand-sized, sage green, textured box with a peaked roof, red ribbon cord with tiny round label, cutouts for the attached ribbon, and a viewing area on the side so you can see the needles right away. The label is also printed so it can be perfectly aligned when affixed to the box.





Not wanting to disturb the ribbon, I opened from the bottom.



It contained a little clear plastic test tube with cork cap resting in a folded paper insert
and a pamphlet of information about the craft of needle making. "We have more than 30 processes to make sure that each of our needles is safe and high quality."


According to Tulip's website the needles were originally created more than 300 years ago to enable sewing "piecework for low-ranking samurai to support themselves."
A trade of sword for swordlet.

Speaking of low-ranking samurais, we recently saw a terrific film set in the mid-1800s, with both a thoughtful and emotional range and that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004: The Twilight Samurai. It also has an excellent female lead who questions social norms. A nice contrast all around as we think of sewing as stereotypically "women's work."

The pamphlet includes the suggestion, "We recommend wiping down the needle after use and storing it inside its case to maintain good performance."
Ah, like a sword.


The insert has an elegant design with the potential for three pop-up holders.
Only one was used.


The needles are sleek, polished, and very sharp.
The pamphlet says: "Tulip was founded in Hiroshima, a region known for its needle making, in 1948 and ever since then, we have always carried out our business based on the principle of 'Quality First.'"
I paused as I thought about what Hiroshima might have be like in 1948.


I'm assuming this is an "inspected by" label. If you can read it, please leave a comment!




The date they were made: 8/25/2016.

The packaging is the frame, a clue, a first impression, like the cover of a book. It situates the viewer and starts a mental process, conjuring a feeling. Every tiny piece of it had been carefully thought out and designed, materials chosen with care. The packaging set the stage of wonder for me, and that wonder continued. As I threaded one of the needles with a strand of embroidery thread, I found I was paying close attention to the feel of the silky smooth needle. Stitch after stitch, my fingers were still aware of the smoothness, and I started feeling both calm and delighted. From the needle outward, the work got better; I was inspired by the needle to pay even more attention to the stitches. It reminded me of the Hasidic practice of performing daily acts with intention and joyfulness to liberate holy sparks.

As our world spins and dizzies us, we need forms of sustenance. I hope you find joy and wonder in your daily tasks. Happy New Year.

*
My poem, "Everything Is Temporary" is up today at Eunoia Review.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

New Art Quilt: When Birds Sleep

When I first decided to make a quilt honoring the ospreys I'd been watching I had several ideas. I thought about the infrared camera that helped me see the birds at night and how our night vision is in black and white. I thought about how peaceful they looked. And when I realized they sleep while standing on one foot, it reminded me of a Talmudic story, Shabbat 31a, in which a man came to Hillel and asked to be told the whole Torah while standing on one leg. The triangles, top and bottom, represent an osprey's talons. The orange and yellow represent the light from the channel marker beacon. The embroidered poem, in metallic and plain threads:

the water flickers black
and white and gray like an
old movie but we know
color is there.
they balance on one
foot like hillel's student
the other pressed up for
warmth eyes closed.
words flash like the 
channel marker beacon
"what is hateful to you
do not do to another."
watching birds sleep i find
patience beneath the wings.




You can see a larger version here on my website.

This quilt contains all three of the original ideas. The third quilt will be primarily about the light on the water, memory, and our connections. As I mentioned for the "Sweet Osprey Dreams" quilt, I used sleeping Rosie, Richmond, and Rivet for the models, created drawings based on them, made photopolymer plates from the drawings, then printed on cloth. "When Birds Sleep" is really the first of the three, but was finished second, due to the labor intensive machine quilting of the wing, then all the hand embroidery of the text. Details, below.






If they sell, a portion of the proceeds from all three quilts will be donated to Golden Gate Audubon Society, which is responsible for the osprey cams. Looking forward to seeing "our birds" again in March. 

*

Meanwhile, we have been getting Western Bluebirds (small thrushes) in our trees and on our phone lines here in the bay area. Never seen them in the neighborhood before. The females are a soft dove gray with buff throat or chest; the males are incredibly blue, almost purpley. Five were in our Hawthorne tree the other day, eating the very last of the red berries. 

A little female with something in her beak. Cute profile, I think. Better photos at the Cornell link, above.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Pride and Humility: Quilts to Show in April

I make what I gotta make, but outside affirmation from time to time bolsters my practice. A little cheerleading now and then lifts the spirits. Receiving the acceptance that my quilt Hand Gun was accepted to the exhibit Guns: Loaded Conversations both thrilled me and caused me much relief. Yeah, okay, I'm really excited. Having fallen in love with this particular making process and down the rabbit hole of inspiration, I'm glad to see that my enthusiasm can travel. In this case, I can share other voices as well. Blog post about Hand Gun here. Larger image here.



A fellow book artist, Cathy DeForest, also had a quilt accepted to the show. But of course she did! She has been working with communities and directing an amazing quilt project against gun violence since August 2015. More info at Vision Quilt. Reading about it is humbling.

Our quilts, along with 31 other artists' quilts, will be at the San José Museum of Quilts and Textiles, April 22 through July 15, 2018.

Monday, December 18, 2017

"but in things" :: our (un)intentional collections

The series Mr. Robot quietly revolves around a poem that begins, "so much depends / upon // a red wheel / barrow." That's half of the poem right there. It's by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), a medical doctor turned poet, born of English and Caribbean descent. The poem has no title, but most people refer to it as "The Red Wheelbarrow," (46) which also turns out to be the name of an eatery in the alternative, apocalyptic New York City of Mr. Robot

I got curious. I had not read much William Carlos Williams before, so I checked out William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems (American Poets Project) edited by Robert Pinsky. The book features many spare poems with crystaline imagery and some longer ones that were fine but not as exciting to me. I also kept tripping delightedly over familiar lines. In the poem "A Sort of Song," which appears to be about the writing process, we find "(No ideas / but in things)" (103). A neat reading of it by Williams in 1954 is here.

Thinking about things and the ideas and stories in them: take a look around your room. Rummage through a drawer. You've got a collection in there—at least one, probably more—to which you actively add. Art. Socks. Books. Tea. Pens. Watches. For these active collections you may take pleasure in looking through and handling each object. For these active collections, you are probably also interested in the hunt. We may not realize it, but we are constantly collecting. Our own—shall I say "curated?"—collections can be expressive. They continuously express our ideas about the world: what we view as important, interesting, or funny. Active collections are an extension of ourselves that we may share with others. We may take joy in arranging them or in telling their origin stories. 

Sometimes we collect things, not because we take pleasure in them, but because they might be useful: carrot peelings for the compost, tin cans for recycling, rubber bands for whatever we might need a rubber band for. The story to come. By actively collecting potentially useful items we are attempting to predict or affect the future.

The inspiring and thoughtful documentary film, California Typewriter, embodies the idea of collecting and our connection with both the past and the future. While it tells the story of one typewriter shop here in Berkeley, it also touches on other people affected by typewriters: an obsessed collector, a passionate collector (Tom Hanks), an artist who makes sculptures scavenged from typewriters beyond repair, a poet who will create and type a poem for you in public, a playwright (Sam Shepard) a writer (David McCullough), and a songwriter (John Mayer) who only compose their works on the typewriter and the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, who compose and play typewriters as instruments. Interwoven are concepts of creative process, recycling, repair, and just slowing down. In the case of this film, so much depends upon, not a wheelbarrow, but a typewriter. (There's a red one, too.) All of the people in the film are active collectors of something: either the typewriters themselves or the words they create.

More ideas in things: what about passive collections? I don't mean the dust collecting under the windowsill or the shirts in the laundry basket. Both of those are ignored and waiting for action. I'm thinking about leftover objects that we don't immediately throw away. Some attractive, some less so. Unintentional collections, perhaps.

Quilt Trimmings.

Book Trimmings.


Soap Chips.


Spare Buttons in Baggies.

What are these bits about? Are they worth anything? (I don't even like buttons.)

I finally used a years-long, unintentional-but-compulsive collection of tickets and stamps torn off of envelopes to make collages for my book, What We Reuse in 2016. But I hadn't planned on making anything with the ephemera as I constantly clothespinned and bagged the items in bundles. (You can see one of these baggies in a 2011 post, "An Artist's Book Is Not a Taco," here.) Perhaps sorting and bundling is what we do (or at least what some of us do).

In 1997, Julie Chen used some of the trimmings from her books to create one book with envelopes, Leavings, to hold them. Leavings is a beautiful book that explores memory, baggage, and attachment. I asked her in an email about those leftovers, and she said that they were things she had just not gotten around to throwing out. They were corner roundings from (1993) Correspondence Course and tunnel book holes from (1996) Life Time, among other things. Regarding these unintentional collections she said that it's hard for her to throw anything away until "it becomes clear that I'm never going to use them for anything else." I imagine this means that at some point they lose their liveliness, connection, or spark. She also included bits of ribbon and shed snakeskin. She wrote:

Funny story about the snake sheds—I was cleaning out a drawer last year and found a plastic container that had some leftover snake sheds and some kind of insect had eaten every last bit. It was really weird. I love materials in general, so there's always plenty of stuff lying around.
She called it "more like accumulating," but I see an active collecting impulse to actively store it. It may not have meaning right now, but it may spark something new in the future. Unintentional, true, but it's a collection of potential sparks, whether or not the actual things are used. The shed snakeskin has gone, but it still leaves behind its story: the idea in the thing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Star 82 Review 5.4 is Live! Celebrating Our 5th Anniversary!

Read, accept, compile, write a poem, send out for print proofs, write code for the pages, announce, publicize. Every issue of Star 82 Review has this rhythm which has sustained it and me for five years (so far). I've learned more about writing from reading the submissions than from all the years before it. Many thanks to contributors: past, present, and future!

Here are the links to the newly released online and print issue 5.4 and to the 5th anniversary issue (print only). Issue 5.4, our twentieth, features a wonderfully eclectic collection of art and writing, some of which deals with different kinds of love, misunderstandings, confusion, tenderness, anger, and warmth.



The 5th Anniversary issue is a collection of all twenty regular issue erasure + photo covers (plus the Special Flash 50/50 word stories issue cover), a list of all the contributors, and the twenty found poems I created from either the first two or last two words of each written piece. An index, of sorts. For fun and fundraising. A little celebration.



5.4 Contributors
Geoff Anderson
Vincent Barry
Cristina Bresser de Campos
Leah Browning
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar
Jette Clover
Nicolette Daskalakis
Anne Walsh Donnelly
Matt Dube
Alex Ewing
Charles W. “Bud” Gibbons, III
Howie Good
Terek Hopkins
Ana Jovanovska
Carole Jeung
Denny Kolakowski
Joy Merritt Krystosek
L.L. Madrid
Arturo Magaña
Cleary Mallard
Brooke Middlebrook
Ray Scanlon
Darin Wahl
Jud Widing
Jasper Wirtshafter
Noga Wizansky
Clarence Wolfshohl
Sidney Wollmuth
Albert Zhang

5.4 online is here.
5.4 print is here.
5th Anniversary is here.

Or search for "star 82 review" and "alisa golden" on Amazon (CreateSpace has stopped selling directly through their store so you can bundle your *82s and get free shipping.) Thanks for your support!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Reaching Deep, Reaching Out, and Betty Reid Soskin

Betty Reid Soskin is a 96-year-old, African-American woman who became a park ranger in her older years and still gives many talks a week at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center today. She is calm, down to earth, and quietly amazing. I heard her last summer; she draws her listeners into her world as she speaks thoughtfully and matter of factly about her life. Since the talk I attended I've followed her blog, which touches me with every post. Her talk also inspired me to read To Place Our Deeds: The African American Community in Richmond, California, 1910-1963 (which I recommend). I was particularly interested in the WWII era because the history that is taught initially makes it seem as though all races worked together in harmony toward the building of the ships and participating in the war effort. If you read more carefully you see that black workers didn't get as good health care, there were separate black unions who had to pay dues but who had no votes, housing was built primarily for white workers, and the discriminatory list goes on.

All of this is important background and deserves volumes on its own. But one recent post that I feel I can comment on shone light on Betty Reid Soskin's creative spirit, a deepening that perhaps allowed/and allows her to continue moving forward. Her creativity is manifested in her talks, which are neither written nor rehearsed, but come from deep within herself. In her post, she shows how she needs time to situate herself, to respond to the people around her, and to gather her thoughts. A great teacher's work. 

I would say artist as well.

I've seen her only once. But I felt close to her as I read about her process: understanding the need for space, for quiet, for an opportunity to dive down into oneself in order to provide. Be it a talk, a book, a visual work, an experience. Each person has the potential to reach many others, even in daily acts; a calm tone and kindness in life and art can in ripple outward.

*

More about Betty Reid Soskin
Betty's blog
Support Betty and her family and pre-order her new memoir, Sign My Name to Freedom here.

If you are nearby, I recommend that you go hear Betty Reid Soskin yourself. Check the calendar for dates and times.



From birds to Betty to the wider world. Here is a bit of process info: watching the osprey web camera and visiting the osprey nest, which is next to the Red Oak Victory ship, got me interested in WWII shipyards, which is what brought me to Betty and a better understanding of history.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tool for a Line

While I like the look of freehand embroidered text, I found that keeping the lines somewhat straight, particularly with a large block of text, can become stressful. How do other people mark their fabric? In The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook (which auto correct insists is "sashimi"), Susan Briscoe, the author, lists a whole page of fabric marking tools. I've tried white pencils, white marking pens, even regular pencils and regular chalkboard chalk, but found they either don't show up or don't come out. She mentions a "Chaco liner," a tool that has a little wheel that picks up powdered chalk and lays it down on the fabric. I found the tool, the Clover Pen Style Chaco Liner Yellow, at my nearby Jo-Ann's, but it's also available through Amazon.

The chalk brushes out easily, which means I must reapply the line, but that's just fine. When I'm done I can quickly wipe it off. No need to wash!



It has a little duck-billed tip.

Clover Chaco Pen Refills, are also available. They come in white, blue, pink, yellow.
I found the yellow worked well on both dark and light colors.

Tiny dotted rotating wheel at the tip.

I'm happy with it.

Addendum 12.24.17: I had a little trouble getting the yellow chalk off of black cloth, but found that with an ordinary lint brush I was able to brush it right off.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

New Art Quilt/Open Book: Sweet Osprey Dreams

After spending the summer closely attending to the sfbayospreys.org web camera and finding myself a little obsessed, I found I needed an outlet. All this daily input of watching the chicks grow up, watching the parents feed and teach the babies, the loss of one of the chicks, the eventual seeming disappearance of the other—all of this input had to get stored somewhere, and my head was too full to contain it.

There's an upcoming call for art quilt entries on the theme of "Dusk to Dawn," an aspect of night. Since I had screenshots from the web camera of the birds sleeping, it seemed like a good way to sew my obsession into the theme. The web camera goes to infrared light at night, and I luckily had some black and white images to work with. I started two quilts: "When Birds Sleep" and "Sweet Osprey Dreams." I still have much embroidered text to do on the first, but I've finished "Sweet Osprey Dreams." Abbreviated as SOD, it is what the Live Chat folk (also known as WWOC) wish each other at the end of the day.

The large image is from a photograph I took of the whirley crane, the structure that holds the nest (see this post for details). Embroidered words point out the nest, the nest camera, and the "around the nest" camera. Pandion Heliaetus means osprey. My text says, strangers meet as friends / watching the birds sleep by the bay / sweet osprey dreams.



Sometimes all the things you've learned and all your interests align and combine into one project. Here, I've incorporated: photography, embroidery, drawing, letterpress printing from wood type and photopolymer plates, solar printing with colored dyes, and sashiko stitching for waves (seigaiha) and fish scales (urokozashi). More about sashiko here.






It's good that the ospreys only have family time from March until September, or I wouldn't get anything done. (See last osprey post here.)

Bald eagles, however, breed roughly October through January. I noticed that at night on the North East Florida Eagle camera they wish each other SED (Sweet Eagle Dreams). That's the camera I'm not watching. Really.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Getting Your Art & Writing Out There

At a certain point you may find yourself with a pile of files, albums of photographs, or boxes of artwork that need somewhere to go. What to do? If you want to get your work out there you have to do your own marketing, and that means devoting time to the business section of your process. Someone once advised, "Take one day a month and send work to magazines and enter calls for exhibitions." Opportunities on the web are astonishing, really. There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of calls for submissions. Where to start? For now, let's talk about preparing to submit to magazines.

1. Make sure your writing is formatted properly (more in this post). Each magazine has its idiosyncrasies, but the default position is: a simple 12-point font such as Times Roman; single-line space for poetry; double-line space for prose. The web doesn't like tabs, but some magazines will be able to accommodate your formatting. Many magazines read blind, others want your name and contact info on each page. Check each magazine for guidelines.

2. Research! You may have a list of recommended magazines, but plan to spend time with the magazine itself. Some things to look for if you are sending out writing:
  • Find the editor's name so you can address your cover letter to a human (there may be more than one).
  • See if the editor has an interview online, such as in Jim Harrington's Six Questions For…blog. Would you be happy or comfortable in a room with this editor?
  • Read at least five samples of the work to get a feel for tone and style; is the work lofty or gritty? playful or serious? hard emotional subjects? nature-oriented? absurd? confessional? witty? (More about reading the magazine in this post.)
  • Check the guidelines.
2a. If you are sending out art, make sure your images are of professional quality. Magazines these days are hungry for high-quality art. Always check the guidelines. Recommended:
  • High resolution, 300 ppi, approximately 1M file (check if they want .jpg, .png or .tif)
  • Good, natural lighting and/or crisp contrasts, in focus, even lighting, color corrected
  • File with recognizable name and title, such as: name-title_of_work
2b. Some magazines are looking for audio files. Follow the guidelines.

3. Have several third-person bios ready. Some magazines have a word or character limit. Write a 50-word bio, a three-sentence bio, a 75-word, and a 100-word bio to keep handy. Update as needed. Artists may need to create a combination bio/artist statement. See more about writing a bio in this post. Third-person biographies generally begin with your name and include who you are, what you do, any publications or items of note, and where you are located.

4. Submitting. Each magazine has a Submissions page. Follow the guidelines. You may need to set up a Submittable account if you don't have one. It is free, easy, and they are a good company that does not share your name.

5. Keep track of your submissions. A sample spread sheet that you can create in a word processing doc is here. If you send again to the same magazine, make sure you do not send the same piece. You can also note how long it takes to get a response and if you got any further encouragement.

Many magazines accept different types of work. Rattle, for instance, accepts a poem a week that responds to the news, accepts one photograph a month for poets to respond to (Ekphrastic Challenge) as well as many other categories for poetry. Blink-Ink is an always themed print zine that accepts lively, (approximately) 50-word stories. Split Rock Review is looking for creative, nature-inspired art and writing. Up the Staircase Quarterly looks for poetry, reviews, and art. Nanoism, published every Wednesday, takes Twitter-sized fiction (140 characters, max). Eastern Iowa Review looks for lyrical and experimental essays and fiction. Concis accepts short works: 25 lines or under 250 words and art. Diagram looks for schematics, labelings, and things disguised as other things in words and images. Star 82 Review looks for short prose, poetry, art, erasure texts, and word/image combinations.

You can find more listings at Poets & Writers, through your Submittable account, and many other places online. Just sending out to magazines one day a month can get you started.

Learn Things! Good luck! And Keep Sending!



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).







Addendum 12.11.17: the January workshop is full, but I will be teaching two more that will warmly welcome both new and repeating students. Watch for them in the SFCB workshop listing for Sunday, May 20, 2018 and Sunday, August 26, 2018.

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:
Silence
of a lost embrace
W(h)lispers
of another place
Dronings
of an afternoon
Sunlight
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.