Happiness is having the right tools for the job.
I brought two small 12×18″ cutting mats to this residency. What I saved in shipping costs is lost in time and accuracy. I’m constantly re-positioning the mats and fabric, snipping threads in the gap between the mats, and can’t trust the mats’ printed grids to line up.
The uses and limitations of my sewing ruler is also clearer. It’s great for cutting seam allowances (always 5/8″ or 1/4″) and holds up very well to use and even dropping it! The density and hierarchy of information is just right (a principle that anyone whose used a tape measure with too much info can attest). But, while cutting ninety-six 6-7/8-inch squares for a checkerboard flag, I wished I had a square quilter’s ruler.
As I learned from my Portland Sewing lesson, you don’t adjust the shape as you’re sewing; when you sew, trust your cuts. Accurate cuts and tools means I get closer to actualizing things as I envisioned them.
You never know what you’ll use for art.
I’m working on a drawing with lots of little text. It’s big enough to be uncomfortable on a table, and I can’t work on a wall as my gel pens don’t defy gravity. So I get the best results working on the floor, with me kneeling on top of the drawing. It has been very helpful to have:
A yoga mat. Kneeling on the concrete floors would have been torturous. Folded over, the mat has been a secret weapon in my drawing endurance.
A 4″-roll of masking tape / homemade anti-ant moat. A previous artist-in-residence left this super wide tape. It was actually too wide for my needs until rainstorms pushed ants into the studio. I’m using inks that smudge easily; wayward, tiny feet traversing the paper would not do. I made an ant-repelling “moat” of sticky-side out masking tape, big enough to fit the drawing, yoga mat, and me. Non-toxic, effective, and free!
Hyperflexion. Only during a recent visit to the acupuncturist did I learn that what I assumed was a normal range of flexibility is not. (I have a particularly well-honed creativity for discounting physical merits; I’d figured that I could easily touch my toes because I have short legs.) It probably helps to be limber in long days spent curled over drawing 12-point text.
Some aesthetic impressions from a Portland-San Francisco tour:
Columbia River Gorge. The more I visit grand vistas, the more I understand Romanticism.
Landscape paintings don’t usually affect me—but imagine living in a crowded, dirty city in the Industrial age, then exploring such vast, stunning locales like the Columbia River Gorge, the Catskills, or the Lake District in the UK. Post-postcard, post-Ansel Adams, I might be desensitized to the images of these places, but I never fail to experience awe—smallness in light of something greater—when I visit these places. It seems natural to want to capture the grandeur and qualities of light, as much as preserve the environment for future generations. [Go Parks!]
Really happy to catch the solo show of my CCA MFA classmate. Ryan specializes in hard-edged, post-apocalyptic narrative painting over luminous Flashe washes. He constructed this show around weeds, with tight botanical renderings of thistles, milkweeds, etc., as well as giveaways of pesticide-resistant seeds. My favorite paintings were from a sequence featuring the sun and the moon. I sensed some Charles Burchfield-esque visionary heat.
Karl Blossfeldt’s New Objectivity photos of botanical geometry.
70 Years/70 Photographs
Portland Art Museum
Through September 9
My knowledge of photography is a bit anemic, but this means that I get to enjoy many discoveries in the repair process. Blossfeldt’s images were a delight. See more at karlblossfeldtphotos.com.
The short: Private lessons with Sharon Blair. Highly recommended.
The long: My sewing knowledge comprised making clothes for Puffy, my stuffed Crocker Spaniel, under the guidance of my mother. (Mom’s an excellent seamstress who made some of my favorite childhood dresses. She still uses a Montgomery Ward Singer dating from the late 1970s/early 1980s; to change stitches, she manually changes a baffling array of stamped metal gears.)
Remarkably, this experience, along with much experimentation, has girded me through sewn sculptures and ribbon projects over the past few years. In the same time though, I’d accumulated a battery of questions about fabrics and techniques. Sharon, the instructor, patiently answered them all. She has tons of industry experience, and started the lesson with a quick history of sewing machine manufacturers. <Tool nerd swoon>
I got a crash course in cutting and sewing, and practiced three of the six kinds of fell seams, which will be critical for an upcoming flag project.
The Marianas (Michael Arcega and Stephanie Syjuco)
Montalvo Historical Fabrications and Souvenirs (A Pop-up Shop)
Montalvo Project Space
Through July 20
Friends’ first collaboration. It’s good. Go see it, and bring cash!
Through October 28
Really good show in an amazing site. Go! I went on a foggy, chilly Monday (no crowds) and it was lovely.
My favorite was Allison Smith‘s Fort Point Bunting. Each of the 75 swags is accompanied by quotes from servicewomen printed on linen and framed in waxed canvas cording. The narratives were empowering. While military intervention is fraught, this insight in the battle for equal access to combat is pretty thrilling.
Stephanie Syjuco‘s International Orange Commemorative Store (A Proposition) establishes a standard of finish and level of production that is sublime, and should have most artists quaking in our boots. Anadamavi Arnold‘s crepe paper gowns were magnificent. I read Kate Pocrass‘ Average Magazine off-site, but found it to be the most entertaining and insightful look at the Golden Gate Bridge. I also loved Andy Freeberg‘s portraits of workers on the bridge, for the diverse, recognizable subjects, rarely-seen perspectives, and cool tools.
Fort Point’s history and vistas were great to explore. I enjoyed how the show engaged the site, so that viewers browsed historical/permanent displays in the course of visiting the exhibition. I expected a strong show due to the roster of international artists; I was pleased to find that the projects that resonated with me most form a collection of articulate, accomplished female artists.
State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970
Berkeley Art Museum
Through June 17
I’d heard rumors that this is the best show many locals had seen in a long time. Unfortunately, I had only one hour, so I didn’t have the quiet mind required for uncovering the historical significance of the performance documentation and historical ephemera that ran through the show.
I loved that the show brought the major West Coast art initiative Pacific Standard Time up to Bay Area. Also, it’s not often you get to see an major survey exhibition about California art that doesn’t have a Los Angeles bias. I enjoyed learning more about seminal artists like Gary Beydler, William Leavitt, Bas Jan Ader, and Guy de Cointet (these de Cointet text drawings are fantastic, backgrounding Tauba Auerbach’s text paintings). It’s always nice to see Bruce Nauman‘s video pieces installed—here, Come Piece, two closed-circuit televisions with different halves of their lenses taped off.
The only thing that struck me negatively was the way that political art (works by artists of color and feminist artists) was the last thematic section. The architecture of the last room especially made the agit-prop David Hammons seem like an afterthought. I can’t pinpoint it, but I suspect that the early earth and performance work relates to a spiritual quest in merging art and life, and I intuit a bit of a woo-woo factor there, reinforced by the fact that my contemporaries who are especially fond of these artists tend to make transcendental works themselves.
Bechtle is a perennial favorite of the SFMOMA’s, and mine too. This late, great painting—on view in the second floor galleries—is like five paintings in one. The JPG doesn’t do it justice. Bechtle’s understanding of reflected light and surfaces is phenomenal. This work was the highlight of my SFMOMA visit, along with Anthony Discenza’s The Effect in the contemporary language art show, Descriptive Acts.
I expected that The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area and Parra: Weirded Out shows would be more extensive. In fact, the Fuller show has two huge wall graphics that leads to a room of fantastic, large screenprint posters and transparencies. That’s followed by a group show by local, contemporary designers that is so un-related visually that my companion and I assumed that we’d drifted into the permanent design exhibit. The Parra exhibit is a massive mural, that is lovely and loads of fun, but I would have loved to see some works on paper, to get a little more intimate with the person behind these famous graphics.
I also would have loved to see more of Mark Bradford‘s video and performance works, especially documentation of his intervention at the San Diego-Tijuana border, though those could have been in the Bradford show I just missed at YBCA. The extensive selection of Bradford’s collages helped me understand the depth of his innovation with the materials (posters and curling papers) and tools (rope and power sander).
Can I just say, my dad had a roto-tiller?
That he built a play structure out of a barrel, a 2×6, and an old rotor he pulled off of a car?
That when I as 8, he gave me and my sister a huge saw and had us cut down a small tree?
I took it for granted that dads have workbenches. Of course, this is a dwindling phenomenon in the U.S., squeezed out by manufactured obsolescence and injection-molded everything (even car motors are socked away from view when you lift a hood of a new car).
In the face of disposable, virtual culture, I’d like to share some photos of my dad’s workbench and tools, and raise a wrench to tinkerers worldwide.
Just got back from Los Angeles, where I de-installed my work at Tarryn Teresa Gallery. A few notes from my mental scrapbook:
Packing tools? I’ll never doubt you again, needle-nose pliers and extension cords! I should expect map pin heads to come clean off by now. I should know better than to rely on the palm sander’s cord. Thankfully, I erred on the side of caution, and it paid off.
NPR and classic rock. Apparently there’s no public radio along the I-5 in Fresno and Merced Counties, or they’re all run by evangelicals. Sans audio books, my substitute of choice was a Bakersfield-based classic rock station. If you could forgive the gratuitous misogyny, you’d discover a playlist spanning Zep, GNR, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Metallica, and Journey. Those bands once inspired repulsion in me, but I think we can all agree now that hair bands made some pretty great pop music. Last week, I heard Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” on an early morning grocery run, and it instilled a good mood that lasted hours. So I’m reclaiming this music from the heshers/burnouts/metalheads/bullies who gave it a bad name in high school, and you’re welcome to join me. For those about to rock…
Charles Burchfield at the Hammer Museum. I couldn’t see what Robert Gober, the contemporary hyper-realist sculptor, would see in a mid-century painter of landscapes. The Hammer exhibition, however, is fantastic. It makes clear that Burchfield was vastly under-recognized and portentious. His interest in abstraction, background in Asian-influenced Art Nouveau wallpaper design, experience with social realist pictorialism, and probable mental illness (see Dave Harvey’s great write-up in the LA Weekly) led to an innovative body of paintings that manages to embody countless references (to traditional Chinese scroll painting, Japanese woodcuts, OCD doodling, Cubism, and modern-day fantasy art) while forging a distinct visual language — psychedelic, immersive. I also admire his sheer conviction — after a successful stint as a Regionalist painter, Burchfield wrote in his journal,
“It seems to me, more than ever, imperative that I somehow get these fantasies into finished concrete form even tho there is not sale for them. How we will live, I do not know.”
Burchfield’s final paintings are really tremendous pictures. Some of them are breathtaking. The show is accompanied by extensive notes which provide welcome keys to the artist’s process, thoughts, doubts and motivations.
Nic Hess’ Hammer Project. Pretty great too. Masking tape drawings, a ton of vinyl decals. The placement of imagery in the space was cheeky and unexpected.
Robert Crumb’s Book of Genesis at the Hammer. I always feel the same way after viewing Crumb’s drawings: slightly dirty and tawdry, like I’d stayed at a cheap motel and watched Entertainment Weekly. More of my base self and less of my ideal self. It’s brilliant for Crumb to do a literal interpretation of the first book of the Bible in all its wretched, meaty drama. Of course Crumb can draw like no other, and there’s something vaguely appropriate, like Chick Tracts, to visualize this content in a sensational manner. The curators took pains to point out Crumb’s attempts at historical accuracy in regards to robes and architecture, but his comically zaftig female figures seem excepted from revision.
The historical exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum. I went for the Giant Robot Biennale, but two items from the historical exhibit were like punches to the stomach. First: a small girl’s cape. An internee mother modified a disused Navy peacoat for her daughter. It makes tangible the completely deranged skewing of context (where giving old military coats to forcibly-relocated families is like compassion; where modifying said coat is an act of love and resilience). Second, a massive diorama reified the scope of the internment camp at Manzanar. It was conceived and created by Robert Hasuike, a Mattel Toys model maker. It was effective and, by extrapolation, nightmarish.
Exhibition in Pasadena featuring some high-profile artists from the past 20 years of the institution’s programming. Ambitious show, disappointing reality. Only a few works emerged unscathed from the poor presentation and compromised spaces. I think the less said about this exhibition, the better. So I’ll pose, then, a series of questions:
1. When you’re an artist, and have identified artists you admire who embody rigor, quality, thoughtfulness and professionalism, and you see their work suffer due to poor presentation, how does that make you feel? Do you have similar experiences in your own history so that you can relate to these established artist’s possible regrets? And does this make you hopeful (that you’re not alone) or sad (that even established artists can’t avoid partnerships with presenters who don’t deliver)?
2. Is it the artist’s burden to accept the limitations of a non-commercial presenter? Or is it the artist’s responsibility to push them to expand their capacity and raise the level of exhibition installation and management towards professionalism?
3. When you’re a viewer and your expectations of an exhibition are raised by professionally-produced promotional collateral, who is at fault when the actual show’s installation reads on a lower level of quality, like student-grade?
On Whinging. This post is a bit more critical than usual, but I do grapple with these questions and criticisms wholly. I’m invested—I drove all over LA on a beautiful holiday afternoon and selected a a few shows to focus my attention on. I don’t set out to be critical of these shows—I try to keep an open mind and hope to be surprised for the positive.