Monday, November 16, 2009

The Rising

The rising sun

The rising moon

These are two images I made a little over a year ago for a series I was tentatively calling "the rising."  The visual look of the series was developing from what I was seeing in Japanese ehon [1] and watercolor. The structure of the series, I was hoping, would loosely represent a lifespan. The first image, besides evoking the Japanese flag (as a nod to the Japanese artistic traditions I was drawing from), was intended to be an image of birth generally, while referencing the mythical birth of Amaterasu Omikami [2], the Shinto sun goddess.  As well, it borrows from western symbolism the comparison of two types of human creativity—expression and birth.  I find this metaphor particularly interesting—both telling and compelling—and my use of it here is in part my working through one of my favorite sections from Whitman's "Song of Myself" [3].  I intended the second image, to represent in part a passage into death, but also, as the moon functions symbolically in Western tradition, a form of rebirth. I had it in mind that the images would be viewed cyclically, so that one could start again at the rising sun.

Overall, I was hoping the work would flaunt the divide between “eastern” and “western” pre-globized culture that has persisted for both practical and political reasons. The images would be sort of be an irreverent mingling of the two, for the joy of it.

These two images and that general outline above was as far as I got before being derailed by other things—life. I'm not sure if I'll ever pick up the project again or not. So, I figured I'd bring them back to mind and see what would happen.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Something along it's way

This is something I've been working on in my living room, for over the couch. When I made the initial sketch I had a particular interest in the challenges of these two materials—leaves and watercolor—with which I have very little experience. The leaves, I figured, would be an unique challenge since their shape (2- and 3-dimensionally), color, texture, and sturdiness are constantly shifting not only while I produce the work, but also for a long time afterward. I figured they'd fade, crinkle, crack, and crumble over weeks—which would provide an interesting juxtaposition to the watercolor materially and narratively. Possibly, after a few months, it would look like the leaves were being squeezed so all the color was being drained slowly out of them down the wall. It's not there yet, and I still can't anticipate if it'll ever look like that.

It doesn't have to. Principally, this was going to be a sort of experiment—an exercise in learning how to recognize and respond to new materials. While the watercolor worked out very well, even better than I anticipated, the leaves have surprised and frustrated me in a number of ways that would make me handle them differently if I ever use them again. Establishing the outline and adding depth to the cloud was particularly difficult and in the end, those aspects didn't match up exactly to the first or any of the revised sketches I made. Originally, I wanted the leaves to have the exact shape of a thunderhead—just a simple representation of a cloud. Later, I wanted it to look more like a pile of leaves that the viewer was raking up when at this frozen moment in the chore, looking down on the pile, it resembles something like a thunderhead. The dripping watercolor, I was hoping, would evoke the lines a rake leaves behind in the cleared grass—as well as the obvious tie-in to the imagined thunderhead. I think in the end, it's not too far off from the second sketch, but the pile of leaves really needs more depth. However, besides these materials being unpredictable, they are finite. I hadn't gathered enough and there were no more to be had by the time I and the leaves got to this current state.

As far as using the two materials together, I was wondering what sort of productive tensions they would establish, in particular in the representation of a cloudburst. The differences in the way they convey depth, their materiality, gravity, moisture and shape seem to be the most relevant ways in which the two materials disagree. On another hand, they are joined imaginatively, beyond the simple representations of a cloudburst or a raked pile of leaves, by the image of blood and flesh—a sense of mortality. At best, I would hope these three impression would run together for the viewer—allow him or her to create a little narrative in their imagination about raking leaves and the moment in which we recognize a shape in something seemingly random (like finding a face in a carpet). And then hopefully, the sense of mortality could leak into whatever other resonances that symbol of a cloudburst might have for the viewer. So I guess the piece would be about that moment of recognition and the imaginative and emotional flight that follows.

Maybe someone would see that, but I'm having my doubts. The thing that bothers me most about the work so far, is actually the visual relationship between the watercolor and the leaves. For a lack of a better word, it feels “gimmicky” to me. I guess the disparity between the two materials is too great. They are too different. They lack the sense of one material needing the other. There's probably some other material out there, beside watercolor, that would accomplished everything I described above, more poignantly. I don't know what that material is, but I've just got a gut feeling these two don't quite work together.

So, at this point, I'm looking at this piece like it's in a middle stage. I'm needing to add something to it, but I'm not sure what yet. Maybe it needs a third material to somehow “join” the watercolor and leaves. Maybe the whole leaf pile narrative/idea needs to be dropped and I should re-imagine the representation as a full blown child's fable or something. Not sure. I just have a feeling what ever I add, I will be adding blue—a rich cobalt blue...


I designed and installed this piece back in September for a music professor's office at the University of Alabama.   The office serves as both her individual, professional space and a place for her to teach students and small classes.  Despite it's present state of collapse, it's a fully functional shelf .

I was a little rushed to finish it and would like to go back to tweak a few things I think aren't just right.  I'd jostle a few records and I'd probably add a little life to the books and picture frames on the bottom shelf--changing the narrative  so the top shelf collides with the bottom. Right now, it's the instant before the top shelf slams into the bottom.  But generally, I think the piece has got what I was driving at.

Also, I'd like to take some photographs of the shelves in the beautiful natural light of her office.  These were taken at about 3am, when--even as far south as Tuscaloosa--there is surprisingly no sunlight. 


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Body Eclectic

{Images to mull over}

André Kertész
American, born Hungary, 1894 - 1985
Satyric Dancer, 1926
Gelatin Silver Print

El Lissitzky
Russian, 1890 - 1941

The Constructor, 1925
 Gelatin Silver Print

Hans Bellmer
German, 1902 - 1975

Untitled, 1936
Brush and white gouache on black paper tipped on pink paper

all from Art Institute of Chicago's exhibit, "Photography on Display: Modern Treasures"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Our buildings will rise, poke out our own eyes.

Charles Sheeler
American, 1883 - 1965
Industry, 1932
Gelatin silver collage (triptych)

from Art Institute of Chicago's exhibit, "Photography on Display: Modern Treasures"


Mess. Occasions drew me early to this City,
And as the gates I enter'd with Sun-rise,
The morning Trumpets Festival proclaim'd
Through each high street: little I had dispatch't
When all abroad was rumour'd that this day [ 1600 ]
Samson should be brought forth to shew the people
Proof of his mighty strength in feats and games;
I sorrow'd at his captive state, but minded
Not to be absent at that spectacle.
The building was a spacious Theatre [ 1605 ]
Half round on two main Pillars vaulted high,
With seats where all the Lords and each degree
Of sort, might sit in order to behold,
The other side was op'n, where the throng
On banks and scaffolds under Skie might stand; [ 1610 ]
I among these aloof obscurely stood.
The Feast and noon grew high, and Sacrifice
Had fill'd thir hearts with mirth, high cheare, & wine,
When to thir sports they turn'd. Immediately
Was Samson as a public servant brought, [ 1615 ]
In thir state Livery clad; before him Pipes
And Timbrels, on each side went armed guards,
Both horse and foot before him and behind
Archers, and Slingers, Cataphracts and Spears.
At sight of him the people with a shout [ 1620 ]
Rifted the Air clamouring thir god with praise,
Who had made thir dreadful enemy thir thrall.
He patient but undaunted where they led him,
Came to the place, and what was set before him
Which without help of eye, might be assay'd, [ 1625 ]
To heave, pull, draw, or break, he still perform'd
All with incredible, stupendious force,
None daring to appear Antagonist.
At length for intermission sake they led him
Between the pillars; he his guide requested [ 1630 ]
(For so from such as nearer stood we heard)
As over-tir'd to let him lean a while
With both his arms on those two massie Pillars
That to the arched roof gave main support.
He unsuspitious led him; which when Samson [ 1635 ]
Felt in his arms, with head a while enclin'd,
And eyes fast fixt he stood, as one who pray'd,
Or some great matter in his mind revolv'd.
At last with head erect thus cryed aloud,
Hitherto, Lords, what your commands impos'd [ 1640 ]
I have perform'd, as reason was, obeying,
Not without wonder or delight beheld.
Now of my own accord such other tryal
I mean to shew you of my strength, yet greater;
As with amaze shall strike all who behold. [ 1645 ]
This utter'd, straining all his nerves he bow'd,
As with the force of winds and waters pent,
When Mountains tremble, those two massie Pillars
With horrible convulsion to and fro,
He tugg'd, he shook, till down thy came and drew [ 1650 ]
The whole roof after them, with burst of thunder
Upon the heads of all who sate beneath,
Lords, Ladies, Captains, Councellors, or Priests,
Thir choice nobility and flower, not only
Of this but each Philistian City round [ 1655 ]
Met from all parts to solemnize this Feast.
Samson with these immixt, inevitably
Pulld down the same destruction on himself;
The vulgar only scap'd who stood without.

from John Milton's Samson Agonistes, "The Argument" [1]

July 8, 1932 – The Dow Jones Industrial Average reaches its lowest level of the Great Depression, bottoming out at 41.22. 

November 21, 1932 – German president Hindenburg begins negotiations with Adolf Hitler about the formation of a new government.