Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Altar of Incense

There is nothing I like to do better than to go to Valley Ridge Art Studio and be taught by my favorite artist and teacher, Michael de Meng. I was there the last week of October to take two workshops. 

The first was called Trash to Treasure and was a master's class for those who have taken de Mengian workshops before.  This was my thirteenth workshop with the man I call Master, Oh My Master.  I made a cabinet that I will post about here later (as it is not yet done) but I was really pleased with the two days I had to noodle and be with all my friends who also enjoy Michael's ability to enable anyone to make assemblages. 

The next three days were spent in my fourteenth workshop with Michael called Grey Matter Meddling.  An added bonus to this workshop was that it was team-taught by Jane Ann Wynn.  Jane's part in this workshop was to help us take a head and saw off the top, reattach it, and attach all that to a mechanical device of some type that would move.  Michael's role was to help us unify the art work with his assemblage and painterly techniques.

I wanted my piece to trace a guy from birth to death.  My piece began with a big old drill that I attached to some wooden supports.  When you crank the handle of the vertically, it revolves the structure horizontally.  Pretty cool, eh?

This is me (thanks to Lisa Mann) horsing around with the (then) unfinished piece during the critique at Valley Ridge.

At the same time I began to saw open some doll heads in order to prepare a stack.  I decided to unify the heads with pages torn from a old bible. 

I used a feral cat skull (or at least the guy who sold it to me said it was feral) to begin the stack. Its wide open mouth is symbolic of the birthing process and the fact that we come out screaming.   It comes out of the smallest of the heads which represents the childhood years.  The eyes on the child are completely covered since we have no idea what is coming down the road. 

The heads are fun to read because of the random positioning of words from the text.  I did place one page title on the forehead of each face but someone forgot and put a cat skull over the top one.  The rest are visible and also give the piece its title.   Each head was adorned with various findings in the hopes of adding a ceremonial atmosphere to the piece. 

The next largest head is representative of his years as a young man.  One eye was left open because I think we are half-blind to our own faults at that age. 

The third head is representative of the mature years of his life.  Your life is over at this point but you have no idea even though your eyes are wide open.  Death approaches and we know that because the shells are pointed inward.  Grim, eh?

The skull, of course, is representative of the inevitable end of life.  Might as well stick your tongue out at it and laugh. 

Remember the feral cat that represented his birth?  Well, when you spin this piece around you get a little bit of a shock.  The feral cat who represented his birth doubles as a reminder of how his inevitable sins bind his whole life together.  After all, there was a snake in the Garden of Eden, wasn't there?

So, $55 dollars worth of supplies and 32 hours of work later, we have The Altar of Incense. 


  1. Wow, powerful piece. I would love to try assemblage but have no idea where to start.

  2. Kathryn: I would start with just the playful aspect of the assemblage. Gather some stuff, find a theme (even if it just "these colors look real pretty together") and start. I know one of the things I really like about taking classes from Michael de Meng is that he brings the form so that the "I don't know" part is taking care of. Take care.