Solo show at the Fairmount House November 2018
For my birthday this year, I took a fall climbing trip. October is recognized for its ideal temperatures and being that a year had gone by since I last climbed outside, it was time. I have only been down to the Red River Gorge on two other occasions and its appeal lingered in my memory. Located in Kentucky, the gorge provides an enormous amount of climbing surrounded by rolling fields, woods and farmland. There are around 38 people who live in Slade and approximately 13,237 who live in surrounding Powell County. The rock of the Red River Gorge draws both a national and international climbing crowd. I’m interested in how a place as random and seemingly isolated as Slade, KY can provide opportunity for these disparate populations to intersect. At a gas station stop on the drive down, I apologized to a man for my truck door that was open and blocking his way, and his response was “I a’int in no hurry.”
Beyond the embrace of a slower pace, I felt nourished by spending 8+ hours a day outside, surrounded by trees and rock. My 14 year old dog Dooey got to join us this time and cheered us on as we all took turns getting exhilarated on juggy, thuggy climbing as well as scared on tiny and thin delicate slab. When it was quiet, you could hear the faint sound of the oil drills among the brushing leaves and bird calls.
For some reason, perhaps because there isn’t much industry nearby, the development at the RRG has been slow, especially in contrast to the speed I witness here in Philadelphia. The wild and seemingly untouched land is not without its human influence, but there is the sense that the natural part still outweighs the human part, that the rock has been the quiet bystander while all these climbers have come and gone, while different geologic periods have come and gone. Thank you Kentucky, for sharing your bounty with me, a northern, impatient city slicker.
In July, I visited a Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Fort Pierce, called Save the Chimps. All the individuals that reside there are from captive situations; some labs, some pets, even a minor league baseball team mascot. The woman who kindly gave me a tour of the sanctuary referred to the chimpanzees as people. I noticed this because I wasn't used to that definition of people, I understood the word to be limited to human beings.
On the drive home, I listened to a radio program called "On Being" with Krista Tidbit. Her guest was Robin Kimmerer. An expert in moss — a bryologist — she describes mosses as the “coral reefs of the forest.” Her work opens a sense of wonder and humility for the intelligence in all kinds of life we are used to naming and imagining as “inanimate.” She says that as our knowledge about plant life unfolds, human vocabulary and imaginations must adapt. And she too, in the program, referred to plants as persons!
This got me thinking about language; how we use it and how it shapes our experiences.
....The connection language has to empathy
I finally completed the back gate for the studio. The new gate includes a passenger door for ease of entry when not driving in. This is the main entrance for the downstairs studio. The two gates also swing open to allow a truck/vehicle to drive through if loading or unloading.
I have welded in the past, but this was the heaviest functional piece I’ve ever put together. At times I felt overwhelmed, and the fact that I couldn’t move any of it on my own made working on it difficult. But, I stuck with it and hired help for the installation and I’m pleased with the outcome.
I had to add some diagonals, as the weight of each panel causes even the tightest weld to shift. The overall dimensions are 15’ wide x 8’ tall.
I made it down to Boynton Beach, Florida Wednesday night. After a two day drive with a stop to see good friends in Durham, NC, the familiar cul de sac welcomed me, as did the air conditioning. Dooey and I stretched our legs and were both relieved to be out of the truck.
I've been traveling down to Florida throughout my life, my father's parents lived down here and we visited at least once a year as I grew up. When I told people that I was traveling down south in July, I was met with raised eyebrows and disbelief. And I too, wondered about my choice, it's just so hot in Florida in July. But Dooey likes an adventure, I could stop and see friends, visit with my family, and I would spend as much time by the water as possible.
I am always struck by the plant life here, there are Birds of paradise, philodendrons, palm trees, mango trees, avocado trees and pine trees in abundance. It is so lush with greenery, and I love that about it.
The very first morning in FL, after spilling my coffee, I walked into a chair leg and severely injured my little toe. It is black and blue, painful, and has limited my mobility. Luckily, it seems to be healing and this morning I was able to walk with Dooey a little farther. As I hobbled down the road, Dooey kindly slowed down his gait and I worked to accept my situation and enjoy myself anyway. It's a quiet community with lizards, and iguanas! a lake, ducks and skinny squirrels, except for the constant landscaping activity. There are sprinkler systems, lawnmowers and leaf blowers. And I thought about how much effort goes into maintaining this lush but manicured natural setting, and about a recent Ted talk where environmental writer Emma Marris asks "How do you define 'nature'?"
"If we define it as that which is untouched by humans, then we won't have any left." She urges us to consider a new definition of nature -- one that includes not only pristine wilderness but also the untended patches of plants growing in urban spaces. You can listen to that talk here.
For now, I will continue to enjoy the natural splendor that surrounds me and feel grateful for the gift of time to appreciate.
I consider my studio a sanctuary. It is a safe space that I run to, a space to make a mess and to work through challenges, a space that shelters me and echoes me. I have things arranged just so, to suit the manner in which I work. The longer I work in it, the richer its flavor. Last week, I was dealing with some personal stuff, and it was very tricky to get my mind to work with me and not against me. But I went to the studio and hoped for the best.
I sat down and felt pretty lifeless, staring off, feeling very heavy and unmotivated. I made it to the studio, but what should I work on? I was at a standstill, waiting on various components with a couple of freelance projects, and therefore left with the valuable and coveted time to work on my own work. But, I was cursed with a mind that was stuck. And it just got worse as I sat there, wondering what I should do.
So finally I got up and took out some nice paper and just began drawing lines, allowing myself to enjoy the subtle gradations that the brush made. It was repetitive and there wasn't a way that I could mess it up. It was simple, just making a mark that got my mind off of what had been occupying it previously and onto something else. And then I broke free, and I made another page applying a similar method. And then I pinned it to the wall next to a drawing of a leopard I've been working on. And I liked the pattern, so I made the image above.
Is it good?
I have no idea. But it got me moving and realizing that life goes on, and I felt a little better.
I've always been in awe of a really ornately carved frame for a painting. Many of this type can be found in the Pennsylvania of Fine Art's museum collection (see above). The appeal for me lies in the fact that making them took time, possibly as much time as it did to make the painting. This feels significant to me, a way of honoring the art. What ingredient is so powerful a measure of care and consideration other than the gift of our time?
Framing is occasionally discussed as something to be aware of as an artist. Oftentimes, it is viewed as a means to an end: how do I get this piece of art on the wall? There are also aspects of conservation: a frame can offer protection from harmful UV rays or protect a delicate edge of paper from being dented or torn. Additionally, there is the factor of cost (we all have that piece of work that cost more to frame than to buy, right?) But ultimately, a frame is how we complete a presentation, and I would argue that all of our best ideas deserve thoughtful packaging.
It's hard to find makers of museum quality carved frames these days. Even in American frame shops, the common samples are usually milled and just are not as exquisite. In 2011 on a road trip back from PLAYA residency in Summer Lake, OR, I stopped at several different antique and estate sales across the country, hoping to discover some buried frame treasure at a reduced cost. My intent was to present a series of shelter dog portraits with frames that communicated value (work from this series is currently on view at Norther Liberties Vet Center). There was a limited supply, so after encountering this difficulty, I began to think more seriously about making my own frames. I am currently working on another series which I hope to share later on this year. I have also included in the gallery above some examples of frame experiments I made in graduate school.
I love it when a frame feels crafted, an equal player in the whole that is the artwork. It's a space to add additional layers of context. I have nothing against simple frames, or frames that disappear, or no frame at all, but I'm wondering if too often the frame choice is an afterthought, determined by convenience? And is that communicated when we look at the art? Are most audience members able to detect a difference? Do other people care about frames? How do you approach choosing a frame?
This phrase, jack of all trades, master of none haunts me.
I am generally not a fearful person, I do get scared on exposed rock climbs when my last piece of protection is below me and I don't know what's ahead and whether I'll be able to hold on...but in daily life, and in my art practice, I generally jump right in. I've been able to take risks and explore the unknown without any crippling fear. Sometimes, I make a mess; sometimes, things break or they don't work but this doesn't cause me extreme stress. I attribute this to my wholehearted belief that failure is a critical ingredient to growth. Theodore Roosevelt puts it elegantly in his speech "Citizenship In A Republic" which was delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910. Here is an excerpt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Recently I've felt a new fear crop up. Sustained by self doubt, I worry: does this wide net of interests actually hinder me? Is it a fear of commitment that keeps me jumping from project to project? Should I have more discipline when it comes to focus? What is the best balance between following my impulses and forcing myself to stay with one? Malcolm Gladwell proposed that it takes 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" to become world class at something. This would mean that I'm going to be quite old before I can feel confident in my abilities in the variety of activities I pursue.
The creative life is not without its challenges. With the experience of pure bliss comes hours of torment. Am I doing this right? Does anyone care? The feedback isn't always clear. I am totally committed, I don't know how to be anyone else. And when I stall out on one project, it can feel entirely useful to begin something totally different, to keep myself engaged, to continue working my brain and hands until there's an apex of all parts coming together. But what if that conflation never comes? What if showing up is just not enough?---this is the fear I must put away as it is unproductive. But I'm going to challenge myself for the next week to finish projects, just to switch it up.
"A talisman is an object that someone believes holds magical properties that bring good luck to the possessor or protect the possessor from evil or harm."
A couple of years ago, I started sculpting on a significantly smaller scale. Most of my work is created with reverence to its subject, and it felt like making a piece that could be carried with you was a way to maintain that connection and respect throughout the day.
At first I tried imposing fashion on the work, turning the pieces into heavy and bold belt buckles, pendants and earrings. Some time after, I followed an impulse to add structural elements that included color and different materials to the mix.
After recently experiencing a sound bath and discussion about crystals, I thought about how small hand held items are able to take on meaning for their owners. Whether or not the crystal has absorbed the energy is not as significant as whether or not you believe it has. This is how objects start to take on meaning, and I believe art functions in a similar way. I cannot separate these small sculptures from the intention that I had while making them; that is, to honor and to hold these creatures sacred. Perhaps this is why their use as adornment fell short for me. As an accessory, they are simply decorative. As small relief sculptures, they begin to stand on their own.
"According to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical order active in the United Kingdom during the late 19th and early 20th century, a talisman is 'a magical figure charged with the force which it is intended to represent.' The Order also cautions that one must take great care in creating a talisman and ensure that the physical item's symbolism closely represents the intended purpose of the talisman. The Order notes that the forces depicted by the item 'should be in exact harmony with those you wish to attract, and the more exact the symbolism, the easier it is to attract said force.' "
Whether or not you (or I) believe in magic, I want to believe that these small sculptures could attract forces that help spread and protect the spirit of the wild. I promise, I have taken great care in creating each one of these pieces.
Encounter currently resides at the Wolf Conservation Center.
From their website "The WCC’s mission is to promote wolf conservation by teaching about wolves, their relationship to the environment, and the human role in protecting their future. The WCC accomplishes this mission through onsite and offsite education programs emphasizing wolf biology, the ecological benefits of wolves and other large predators, and the current status of wolf recovery in the United States. "
The piece is currently for sale, with 20% going back to the wolf conservation center.
I've been working with a student who wanted to learn how to sculpt a head. Today we worked on getting the basic planes and shape down. Next session, we will begin to add specificity.
It has been an exciting assignment to photograph for Tufas Boulder Lounge. They are a new bouldering only gym opening in Kensington, so close to my studio! Here are some highlights from our shoots so far. Photography has been a consistent part of my artistic practice for over 15 years. I am happy to have it take the front seat for a bit. Also working in video using my canon lenses and learning all about Adobe Premier. Good to make waves sometimes.
On September 26th, 2017 I got to shake Jane Goodall's hand and thank her for her work. The event was a benefit dinner for Save the Chimps a non-profit organization dedicated to providing permanent sanctuary for the lifelong care of chimpanzees rescued from research laboratories, the entertainment industry, and the pet trade. Established in 1997, the org provides care for more than 248 chimpanzees and is located in Fort Pierce, Florida. It is my hope to visit one day.
Temple Grandin is another one of my heroes. Her work to shift the way we think about animals, specifically those creatures commonly found in the USA's agricultural industry, is revolutionary. Listen to this talk I found on Ted.com