Monday, June 29, 2009

You Put Your Whole Self In, You Take Your Whole Self Out...

The Grand Tetons, outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where I enjoyed visiting many art galleries.

The "artist paint pots" in Yellowstone, with their bubbling hot springs, offered alluring arrays of colors and patterns. put your whole self in... and you shake it all about. You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around...and that's what it's all about!

Take an artist who lives and breathes artistic process from morning to night. Pluck her "whole self out" of her studio and put her "whole self in" to a driving tour of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.

Twenty-four days and fifty six hundred miles give an artist a lot of time to consider things. Most of the places we were traveling through we could not even get Verizon cell phone coverage, let alone internet connections. The familiar social exchanges all dropped away.

Add to that driving cross-country in hot, sultry, ninety-degree weather with non-functioning air conditioning and an overheating engine. Combined, these can sure transform any experience into a page turner. Would the car make it through the steep winding mountain curves or break down in the middle of some mountainside "dead zone"? We did make it through, but not without hours of keeping our eyes glued to the thermostat needle, blasting the heater at 85 degrees when it climbed too high, even if the temps were 94 degrees outside.

I read a book throughout the trip that chronicled the western migration in the 1840's-60's through the diaries, letters and journals of women who made the crossing. That provided an interesting counterpoint to my twenty-first century travels, even in a malfunctioning car. Imagine muddy, rutted tracks on old Indian trails instead of paved roads and traveling only 12 -2o miles a day in a covered wagon rather than the hundreds of miles even a temperamental automobile can cover. Illness, accidents and deaths were daily occurrences for these thousands of migrating families in search of better lives. In contrast, an overheating radiator seemed tame.

Of course the expanses of space in the west are breathtaking and my camera shutter clicked continuously, each new vista offering inspiration.

But along with the stimulation, questions and doubts about my own body of work began to bubble to the surface, increasing proportionately with the days I spent away from my daily practice of making.

Here are the big questions that these three weeks away have distilled down to. Why do I make art and what does that process mean to me? What responses do I hope it will generate in viewers?

I've realized that I desire my work to have genuine POWER and PRESENCE, but how does an artist imbue that in their work? As I visited galleries, appreciated works in terms of color and composition but seldom felt strong emotional content, I wondered -- am I asking too much from myself and my work as an artist?

How does one create this elusive "presence" in one's work and why is it that I desire this so much? How is it that suddenly I respond so critically to other artists' work even though I recognize that most care as much as I do about excellence?

While the days sped by, my artistic mind, ever active, felt preoccupied. I even wondered as we headed home, HAVE I GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO BE AN ARTIST??...and that thought was both unsettling and somehow soothing. It would be so easy to NOT be an artist, to not work so hard to attain ideals certainly beyond my grasp.

Now that I'm home, I still haven't had much time to look carefully at my own work in process and begin to evaluate where I'm going.

My number one priority is to purchase a new vehicle, THEN I'll feel free to get back in my studio. I've driven numerous models since Saturday and still have a few more brands to test drive today. My goal is to be driving a new one by the end of the day, put a radiator in the old one and sell it. Then, STUDIO TIME!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Language of Cattle Ranching

We headed out from Sargent towards Valentine, Nebraska on Thursday. On our way up north we stopped at Johnstown where Hallmark filmed O Pioneers in 1991, based on the book by Willa Cather. Several of these empty buildings and a bar comprised downtown Johnstown.

We stopped for a quick one at the bar with Al and Ruth Smith, Bob's cousins, and Bob's sister Nancy. My eyes traveled immediately to the trim around the ceiling and the branding marks all around it.
The barkeep, sister of the owner, told me each brand represents the name of a cattle rancher in the area. They design a unique brand and file it with the state. In the state of Nebraska, all cattle must be branded.
She walked around the room pointing to all the different marks and telling me whose ranch each brand represented. For her they were a language that she could read and had meaning. For me they were intriguing marks burned into a surface.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Nebraska Notes

The hand lettering and sentiment on this sign caught my attention. The population of Sargent, Nebraska may be under 600, but the people who live there are proud of their rural community.

Our visit coincided with Sargent's Chokecherry Jamboree. We woke up on Tuesday and decided to make a float for that evening's parade. The theme was "reality shows", so we produced this "suitcase" with airplanes flying in from east and west in about seven hours (OK so it looks it, but there are no stores in Sargent to buy fancy supplies!). We won first place, a ribbon and $25 in our category! Here are most of Bob's cousins and spouses posing in it the next night at a family picnic.
The day after the parade we drove out to Greg and Jodie Smith's cattle ranch to see his Hangin Tree Cow Dogs in action. They love to run and herd and save Greg a huge amount of time. We had spent Sunday on Greg's farm with neighbors and family and friends watching them brand and geld about 180 calves. Confession, I did not really get close up to watch once I smelled the burning leather. The weather was cold and drizzly and we stayed in a van a bit away from the center of the action.
I now know more about how beef is raised in this country and particularly how important it is to these families livelihoods in Nebraska.

Ranch work seems to me, as an outsider, to be never ending. Because red cedar trees grow so rapidly and prolifically in the Nebraska sand hills and kill off grazing grass, many ranchers clear them out by burning them. The cedars in the canyon in the above picture have been burned so the canyon will eventually be cleared for cattle to graze.

The cedar's charred stumps can also inspire an artistic response. I took several photos of them. As we walked Greg's land in the Nebraska sand hills, where he has lived since the day he was born over half a century ago, I asked whether he looks around him and just sees all the work needing to be done or still appreciates the beauty. And I could tell by his reply and the look in his eyes that he loves his land and would not choose to be anywhere else on earth but right where he is living exactly the life that he does. How many of us can say the same?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Rain Over Omaha, Nebraska

Visitors at the Amana colonies Visitor Center can sign their names in the guest book and see examples of the many crafts these German settlers practiced as they built a community in their new country. Broom and basket making, hooked rugs, blankets and quilts, wooden furniture -- the community sounds like one that was both industrious and prosperous. The Iowa farmlands
surrounding the colonies are beautiful with their rolling hills of cornfields and large, well-kept farms.Traveling and signs go hand in hand. We are dependent even more on them when we leave our familiar routes and home base to travel through unfamiliar places. So this fallen sign in the center of a construction zone in Amana, Iowa, seemed to represent their omnipresence.

While we are traveling(and yesterday morning while we sat in the dealer's service waiting room for four hours), I am reading "The Everyday Work of Art" by Eric Booth. According to Eric, we still haven't improved on those original tools cave painters knew about -- "metaphor, improvisation, following impulses, making things that have personal meaning, exploring the worthwhile things others have made, creating rituals in a special place."

Driving 1,300 miles in the first leg of a cross country trip -- we will reach our first destination when we arrive in Sargeant, Nebraska this afternoon to visit Bob's cousins -- gives me a lot of time to consider the importance of art making in my life. Even the experiences of this trip are all observations that I feel will somehow translate into "making."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Road Trip! Heated Start to the Adventure

Instead of more profiles and images of art and artists at SDA's recent Off the Grid conference in Kansas City, here are links to several other blogger friends who did a great job summarizing more of the conference highlights. Check out Rebecca's Nest by Rebecca Howdeshell in Dallas, Texas and Crazy for Fiber by Gerrie Congdon in Portland, Oregon.

After heading out at 7 AM yesterday from Canandaigua, Bob and I stopped last night at a La Quinta Hotel in Moline, Illinois. We've traveled over 700 miles. Unfortunately for at least the past 200 miles the car started overheating. We had to turn off the air conditioning, open the windows and sun roof and drive with the heater on at 85 degrees to keep the temperature gauge normal. So our second day will start with a visit to a Nissan dealer in Davenport, Iowa -- that's just a hop, skip and jump over the Mississippi River.

Before we left, I decided to look for interesting language imagery to record in pictures throughout this trip. So I'm going to try and capture an image or two each day and post them h when I have internet access.

First vacation photo? A most unusual spot to place a religious message!

When I took this picture at an Ohio rest stop -- loved the missing S in SPECIAL and the irregular spacing between letters -- a man walked by and thought I was taking the picture because I couldn't believe how fast the price of gas is going up again. He obviously thought I was a bit odd but that made doing it all the more fun. This collecting and gathering is going to be an adventure in itself!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Off the Grid" Conference Highlights: Daniella Woolf

I traveled to Kansas City for "Off the Grid", the Surface Design Association Conference this past week, May 27-31st.

Off the Grid featured lectures, demonstrations and workshops at the Kansas City Art Institute -- and included exceptional displays of fiber art in the city's crossroads gallery district, where old commercial and industrial buildings house diverse gallery spaces, like the buildings pictured above.

Daniella Woolf taught encaustic for fiber artists as one of the conference workshops. She also gave a demo on encaustic during the conference and her exhibition, "Away with Words"is now on view at the Blue Gallery in the crossroads district May 25 - June 25.

Encaustic is a layering process using a special beeswax and dammar resin mixture and encaustic pigments. When papers or fabrics are dipped in just the mixture, they become transparent. Daniella first learned this process in 2000 and has been captivated by its possibilities ever since.

This was one of my favorite constructions in her exhibition. "The Tape Modern", 2006, is constructed of many elements that are precious to the artist; remembrances, shredded paintings, love notes, her mom's S&H green stamps, tea bags, leaves, petals of favorite flowers and to-do lists. These elements were sewn together and then dipped in encaustic medium.

"Spinetale" by Daniella Woolf, 2005, 10" x 10", encaustic, mixed media.

"Spinetale" gives you an idea of how the encaustic pigments can be combined on the substrate with collaged elements.

Here is Danella's artist statement for the exhibition:
"Integral to my practice is my ongoing ritual of handwritten journaling. I deconstruct this information, fragmenting and restructuring language. The secret contents are intact yet indecipherable. In merging these two disciplines I create a newly formed vocabulary. Within these structures I explore identity, privacy and memory. This amalgamation of processes allows me to transform remnants of time, personal history and the environment into a language of artifacts, creating a personal archeology."