Thursday, June 30, 2011

Al Sharpton, my motivator

I slept like a rock...heavy and unmoving.  In spite of that I still woke on as if on cue, like I do every morning, at 6:30.  My arms feel like they weigh a gazzilion pounds and the muscles are inflammed.  Still, I wouldn't take yesterday back for anything and I'm still going to forge ahead (although much slower) and head to the gym.  I'm up to 20 minutes on the treadmill and get in over half a mile and burn about 100 calories.  On three upper body weight machines I'm still doing 1 set of 12 reps.  I'm going to add lower body weight machines next week.  

Some months ago the thought of "what if I'm physically unable to create like I want to?"  "what if I had to give it up?"  I tried to give this slow, serious thought but answers were not solid.  It was before leaving for Ohio that I decided I would join the gym with Mo, my daughter, after I returned with the goal of improving my strength and stamina.  My main motivation was to never have to answer these questions beyond pondering and refocus to turn them around (and I hear Al Sharpton's voice in my head saying "ride this art thing on out, ride it to the very end"...I know, I know...but whatever floats my boat)

Yesterday I started placing free hand cut pieces of contact paper on this...


The plan for this is to block out and go over with dye paint, etc. and then do in again.  I want this piece of fabric to take on an archaeological feel if the writing appears embedded in a wall of rock.  My plan for today is to finish cutting out slivers of contact paper.

Also, today, Negotiating Territory or Cilium, will hang in a group exhibit in the Pigment Gallery at Mellwood.  I'm not sure which she'll select.  The Pigment Gallery is reserved for tenant artists but also shows non-tenant artists.  This exhibit is a combination and will be up for about a month.

Another bump on the road is losing The Basement Workshop, my sewing space.  My mother is moving into a senior living apartment in about a month.  My options are either placing my stuff in storage or either we move into a larger space...but in looking, the prices of rental property has increased very significantly in light of the decline in home ownership.  The apartments we are in  have increased by 30% for new tenants.  And housing for rent, pffff, a suitable house, forget about it!  Creating visual art requires space and I'm not doing the type of work that can be made all in the corner of a bedroom.  I'm not at a panic stage yet as I'm believing that "something" will work out.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Out of the mouth of babes...

WHEW!  Let me tell you!!!!!  I was be-bopping and hip-hopping in the stu-dee-o to-day!  This morning while my two and half year old grandson was saying grace over his pancakes he also threw in a request to bless my strength.  We kinda chuckled as it seemed like an odd afterthought.  While in the studio I didn't even think about his prayer.  It wasn't until I was driving home that I remembered it and I got so tickled.  His request was granted because I just couldn't stop!  I amazed myself and couldn't explain the energy.  But her are peeks to give you some idea...


If you use dyes to paint, scrape, on fabric or do break down printing then you have some idea of the processes involved.  If this is foreign to you and you have questions about what the pictures represent, feel free to pose your questions in comments.  

I got there today around 2 and it wasn't until 7 that my body began to crash and it took me another hour to straighten up and I hobbled on out but I'm telling ya I feel great and I am looking forward to turning in soon and getting a good night's sleep!


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Let the Work I've Done Speak for Me.

I've been rolling along since coming back from The Crow Barn.  I've joined the Y with Mo, my daughter, and am exercising 3 times a week.  Remember last summer it was me and Adrian, my oldest son going to the gym at the Family Life Center (affiliated with the church where my name is on the roll but my seat is vacant).  We did that for 4 or 5 months...well I'm back at it again and trying my semi-best (working up to my very best) to deal with diabetes as well.  


Dye painting has been my focus with the exception of a week spent to make traditional quilt blocks in felt to be used at the Speed Museum in their children's area to coincide with an exhibit of traditional quilts.  That was sweet to be able to do for them on commission.  


Now I'm back to the fabric.  The next piece in the Crowbonics will be The Sperichil (The Spiritual).  I'm listening to an interview with Joe Carter as part of my research for the piece.  The 2nd piece that I had going morphed into a study instead and where I'm at now is working with the image of the crow, a trumpet, an adinkra symbol and marks from African alphabets/syllabaries and my own writing and symbols to go into the sheer lamination and on the background fabric.  I'm still on search for a local source of very very sheer silk or polyester organza.  Claire and Leslie bring some from the UK that is amazingly sheer and now that we only have the chain fabric stores, I've been disappointed in what is available.  But I have one source to check in Shelbyville, up the road from Louisville.

I'm going to make a transition in the train of thought here due to my mother just calling me to tell me a beloved Great Aunt passed away yesterday.  Aunt Doll was married to my Grandmother's brother.  She was a well spoken, well coordinated, soft toned voice, strong opinionated woman with proper leanings (somewhat of an exception in my rather loud leaning, shut your mouth, sarcastic bent family).  The last time I saw her was last summer when she sang at my father's funeral.  

Directly related is that Crowbonics is about my ancestors and how we communicate.  I'm really trying to express the nuances of communication between and across generations.  It really isn't tangible and sometimes isn't valued and sometimes is suppressed to the point of invisibility.  Aunt Doll is apart of my cultural transmissions as a woman and artist struggling to abstract, cultivate, and manifest, (like some archaeologist digging in dirt 1000s of years old), these phenomenon.  I just want the work I've doing to speak for me.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dennis Shaffner, Artist Interview

Shaffner_2913-1 BUTTONbowl , woven rattan embellished with buttons, knotted Irish waxed linen  14" wide, Dennis Shaffner.

Karen:  Describe your childhood as it relates to your art making and creativity?  What were your influences and how do you think growing up in Pennsylvania influenced you as an artist?

Dennis:  Although my earliest mentor was my photographer uncle, while I was still a child, who made the chemistry of the old school dark room lab magical as he developed his prints from negatives, I had supportive grandparents who allowed me free reign to play creatively.  I remember most summers painting with a brush all concrete porch surfaces with clear water. The color change beneath the wet brush was as beautiful as paint.  A major flood in 1957 impressed my drawing subject matter by endlessly drawing the washed out bridge on graph paper supplied by my father, who worked as a turbine engineer in a very math based world of numbers. 

Karen:  Share more of your memories growing up with art?  When did the interest become a engaging one?

Dennis:  In elementary school, taught by nuns, we had 'picture study' every Friday.  The best day of the week, it was, because we had a small art reproduction school book illustrating classic European oil paintings from Vermeer to Van Gogh and DaVinci to Rembrandt.  The Madonna and Child paintings always seemed dynamic and different in composition, some square, some round...triptychs.

The paintings gave me an urge to want to paint.  By age 12 my father gave me an oil paint set he couldn't do anything with when he realized I could make a still life of fruit look 3-D while his were flat color shapes.

Karen:  What led you to your choice of medium(s)?  And what/who were your influences in those mediums?  And how do they relate one to another, if so?  What other mediums have you attempted?

Dennis:  Painting in watercolor came naturally to me (decades later dye on fabrics blossomed) but in Pennsylvania every child "artist" was compared to Andrew Wyeth and my instinct was to flee (like Mary Cassatt from Pittsburgh to Europe!).   I ended up in Kentucky!  In 1967 eastern Kentucky seemed like a foreign country to me landing in college at Morehead State Univ.  in the Daniel Boone National Forest (which was heaven to me).  Watercolors flowed easily in college for me but I wanted to weave.  Imagine, there was NO textile department in Appalachia where I had landed in Morehead (back in the late 60s).

Karen:   Describe your daily art making practices.  Include your approach to design and ideas.

Dennis:  Bird's nests always inspire me and with three active nests hatched at my back door (3 different birds breeding) I love this reminder from nature where WEAVING really evolved into a human industry.  Most of my ideas, especially in my basket forms and fabric constructions come from the realizations that always occur during the making of the LAST object.

Now I smell the honeysuckle blossoms which means vines are waiting to be cut, boiled and woven. During the manual harvest I will always get new ideas for possible shapes and forms of the new work.  I won't even mention the possibilities in using my overgrown BAMBOO!  I am blessed by my environment which once was the private world of Alma Lesch.


Sallie, 24"x36" vintage clothing collage with button embellishments, 1996, Alma Lesch.

Karen:  Artistically speaking, what challenges do you face and how do you (if you plan to) overcome them?

Dennis:  Avoiding the (local) attitude toward fine art (art as interior decorating) is ongoing.  How people in this world economy will spend over a thousand dollars for a worthless Thomas Kincade factory machine printed and churned out "painting" from Asia; then ignore a hand made one-of-a-kind work of art at half the price?  Education hasn't helped since art is the first program dropped from 'schools'.  Art is treated as an accessory in US society.  Educating the eye is the greatest challenge in our culture.

I try to ignore the usual challenge when asked to "explain" what it is I make. "What do you do with these?" one person asked about my BIRDnest sculptures recently at a public display and I almost am always speechless.  I lack salesmanship and marketing skills, selling little but making more artwork.  Art marketing locally often ignores our home-based creative people by bringing in a "SPECIAL TALENT" from half a world away (as in the Derby Festival artists for instance) the commissioned sculpture, a wire horse, at the airport is from Tennessee, and the French artist for Derby could easily come from a Kentucky based person...seems astonishing no one is using HORSES as their subject matter in the Bluegrass State!


BIRDnest, woven rattan with recycled plastic strips, 13" wide, Dennis Shaffner

Karen:   Do you work in series?  Or does each piece stand alone?  Share your reasons for either approach.

Dennis:  Both,  I think each piece I make stands alone yet they may be grouped in what I have labeled BASKETbowl, birdNEST and intentionally love to call (my spheres) BASKETball forms (an intentional poke in the ribs at Kentucky's state religion....$ports).  What coaches are paid compared to what any college ART teacher ISN'T....always disturbs me when college sports seldom recognizes the GRAPHIC DESIGN used to sell their industry.  Imagine a billboard depicting the exemplary Art Student who updated the LOGO for the TEAM?  That never happens. 

Karen:  Share the milestones that mean the most to you as an artist.

Dennis:  Getting work in a permanent collection is a moment of affirmation.  Evansville Museum in INDIANA has been good for me both through Surface Design Association awards; a painting selected by a juror from England (London Sunday Times critic) was one of those 'objective' out of the network moments for me in Evansville.  

Studying with Japanese master basketmaker Hisako Sekijima in Connecticut one summer changed the direction of my fiber art.  She and I shared an appreciation for our natural environment for materials, wherever we may live on earth.

Karen:  Whether it is the intent of an artist to become an entrepreneur, artists are thrown into the role the first time someone wants to purchase something they’ve created. What advice can you share that speaks to the business side of art?

Dennis:  Try to gain gallery representation that speaks for the art and the artist it promotes. Never mix fine art with commercial imports and consider barter when approached by an admiring soul.  I saved a salesman's commission once when the contractor admired a basket in my studio which he wanted for his wife offering to delete his $200 commission on the work I needed.

BASKETbowl, woven, rattan, three layers, 16" wide, Dennis Shaffner

Karen:  What advice do you have to share with emerging artists, whether they are 10 or 80?

Dennis:  Ignore rejection slips for juried shows but enter national competition to show your work. Digital photos of your work are a must for starting the conversations but trust the actual detail and quality in your work to sell the art, always.  Produce work for YOU rather than trends. 

Karen:  What are your future goals and what should we be on the look out for you in 2011/12?

Dennis:  My most recent basket sculptures are available at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft Gallery on West Main Street. 

If Bernheim accepts, I plan to return to teach a BIRDnest sculpture workshop at Bernheim Forest in 2012 during a scheduled visit of a guest artist's commissioned installation on site at Clermont's Bernheim Arboretum and Reseach Forest!  This will place Bullitt County on the national map when Patrick Dougherty finishes his natural sculpture.

More info on Alma Lesch: here and here.  Dennis Shaffner's website here and photo gallery here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Anything is possible

with dye and fabric!  

 The joy of having the "best me" back can't not be expressed fully in words...words are just failing me, but I can tell you it occurs at the cellular level.  I had been holding in a lot of stress and what the week of being surrounded by creative people and being focused on my own thoughts around my art practice with guidance by Claire and Leslie coupled with being pampered by wonderful meals prepared by Margaret Wolff did for me was to allow that stress to dissipate right out of my body!

The goals I settled on were to obtain a specific palette that I want to work in for awhile.  I came close with this piece ...


I will go back into it but I don't want to lose the colors so I've selected an ecru dye that I think is unifying to the cools and warms.

My current short term goal is to completely saturate cloth with dye.  It seems the dyeing and repeated over-dyeing is the answer versus a heavy measure of dye powder with one use.  


These represent my other goal for the workshop which was to work with the same motifs.  Below are two more.



The intent for the cloth is to end up in quilts, but I must admit the confusion comes about when I just want to sit and hold the cloth or stare at it from across the room.  I haven't really constructed a quilt this year, so I question if I'm going for whole cloth, art cloth, or what???  If its whole cloth, I'm great at creating backgrounds but need to get better at focal points.  Art Cloth?  Maybe on occassion, but I really love stitch and layers.  The only stitching I'm doing is slow, slow hand work...if I charged by the hour on the piece it would be out of range for the ordinary art textile buyer. (is there such a thing?)

Primordial Womb in progress.


Friday, June 3, 2011

WOW! will have to be sufficient.

This is the part where I'm suppose to write something coherent about my week with Claire and Leslie at The Crow Barn.  A very rare occasion that words seem insufficient.  

I have to acknowledge that all my fears and anxieties proved unnecessary!  I stayed well and am still well!  My stamina held until about Thursday when I began to slow down but still it was a full and amazing week for me! And every personal snafu that presented itself worked out smoothly for me which added to the joy and productivity.

I really don't even have adequate photos to convey the week I had because stopping to take photos was an inconvenience and using the camera rarely entered my mine but here are a few:

Crow Barn 2011
This is the beginning of a new cloth and a picture of my print table. The bottom photo on the right is me presenting my review to the rest of the group on closing day.  My 2 goals where to create a palette inspired by a painting of Barbara Earl Thomas and end the week with paper lamination.  I came very close to the palette and will continue to work with it here at home.  One of the paper laminations didn't turn out. I used too much medium and I think my print table was too least it was softer then my own.  The other is destined for greatness!  

I have to give a shout out to my girl Bev, who came to my rescue.  Over an hour from home and close to Cincy, Mo calls to tell me I left my silk screens.  Bev lives just east of Cincy so I called her to ask where I could pick up some screens...and Bev, being Bev, had a friend, etc.  She met me off the highway with 3 screens that she cleaned up for me!  Thank you for the blessing Bev!

Later in the week Bev, and Kel who lives 15 minutes from the Barn, came up Thursday after dinner and I gave them a quick tour of the Barn and then on Saturday Bev (an artist but not textiles (YET)) went to Athens to view Quilt National!  The treats within the treat was seeing Olga Norris' and Judy Martin's work in person.  I think Olga captures bodily gestures like nobody's business and Judy meshes hand work and philosophy so gracefully. I identify with it somewhat but moreso, am mesmerized by it.  However the one quilt that I would have taken home with me if I could was Vera Loves Her Gun by B. Michele Maynard.  The sole factor was it's ability to make me laugh out loud and the strong narrative it held.  I stood there in front of this quilt trying to concoct a story and laughing in between.

I've almost got everything put back in place in the studio but I'm also not waiting.  I've made up 8 quarts  of print paste,different recipes and varying thicknesses.  Soda soaked fabric was left on the line to dry yesterday and I'm going in later today to over-paint with thickened dyes.  My aha moment was being able to see where already dyed and over-dyed cloth still has room to take more dye.  It was most apparent to me while ironing the cloth.

In addition to painting, I'm hand stitching Primordial. The base is silk paper to felt.

Crow Barn 2011-1