Saturday, October 18, 2014

2014 Dia de los Muertos Show at Walker's Point Center for the Arts, Milwaukee

I am proud to say that I am one of the artists included in The Walker's Point Center for the Arts 22nd Annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition in Milwaukee.

The exhibition was curated by Juan J. Lopez and when he invited the artist into the exhibition he said, "For the artwork, the approach is to display a subject matter that addresses the issues of death and identity. In other words, the artwork does not have to be strict on specifics figures of "identity", such as portraits  (unless you prefer to do so). Instead, the art pieces are more free to abstract the concepts of death and identity, based on your own interpretation."

I decided to submit the following art for the exhibition:

I Was a Camera with My Shudder Wide Open Recording

About Alice

Mictlantecuhtli Lord of the Dead

A Sublime Man

Pat July 15 1862


The opening of the exhibition was Friday, October 17th.  I was happy with the way Juan displayed my art.

Next to my art was my artist statement:

I am not comfortable writing this essay.  Thinking about my own mortality.  I would rather think about someone else’s mortality.  The excuse I use is that I am an “artist” and my themes are often the consequences of living life.  The inevitability of death.  The reality is that I never practiced the witchcraft of art until after the passing of my father.  I often wonder if his death was a freeing experience or if it is the shadow of guilt that follows me.  I do know that I am not a religious person yet over time my art is filled with symbolism that can be related to the practice of religious belief.  Perhaps the reality of my art is that I am a wanderer without purpose who uses religion, symbolism, cynicism and art to delay answering the very questions that are raised by the art I create.  Or—maybe—in creating these pieces that call into question many belief systems, someday, I will discover the belief system that is right for me.  And find peace.  

Walker's Point was filled with ofrendas, or altar dedicated to the memory of a particular family. Here is the Wikipedia definition of an ofrenda:

An ofrenda (Spanish: "offering") is a collection of objects placed on a ritual altar during the annual and traditionally Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration. An ofrenda, which may be quite large and elaborate, is usually created for an individual person who has died and is intended to welcome him/her to the altar setting. Most ofrendas contain three levels or tiers: on the topmost tier are placed photographs of the deceased and/or images of various saints which are positioned in a retablo which forms the back of the altar; on the second tier are placed food items including such things as mole, candy, pan dulce, and especially a sweetbread called pan de muerto, as well as bottles or poured shot glasses of tequila or mezcal; on the bottom-most tier are placed item such as lit candles, a washbasin, mirror, soap, and a towel so that the supposed spirit of the deceased see themselves and can refresh themselves upon arrival at the altar. Ofrendas are constructed in the home as well as in village cemeteries and churches.

During the opening reception, there was a performance by the dancers from the Dance Academy of Mexico in Milwaukee.

I am very honored to appear in this show for the second straight year.  Juan makes an important point in his exhibition to state the Dia de los Muertos is a holiday that can incorporate all people and all cultures.  I hope my art honors the tradition of the holiday and the people who are to be remembered.
Walker's Point Center for the Arts
839 S 5th St, Milwaukee, WI 53204

Gallery Hours:
Tuesday – Saturday, Noon – 5pm

Exhibition Dates:
October 17 — November 22, 2014

Friday, October 3, 2014

About Alice

I am on a mission right now to create some works for an upcoming show at the Walker's Point Center for the Arts.  The show is their 2014 Dia de los Muertos exhibition and I have been asked to create some works that deal with identity and death.

Not a stretch for me.

The starting point for this project is a book called About Alice by Calvin Trillin.

This piece is about abortion.  So at this point, if this bothers you (and I fully understand if it does) look away.

Part of my theme comes from the alliteration:  About, Alice, Abortion.  My works are always about the story so here is an opportunity to write your own story.  One way to look at this piece is that Alice died in a botched abortion and so did her child.  That is the horror of abortion.  Or, you could be upset that the abortion was botched.  That is the horror of abortion when it is not legalized.  Because of the religious symbols, you could argue that Alice, because of the addition of have an abortion, she is not worthy of salvation.  But if you knew she was a victim of rape, would that change your opinion?

What if my vision of the story does not even reach the viewer?  I think it is possible to see this as a piece just about childbirth.  Did Alice die in childbirth?  Did the child survive?

Ultimately, it is not my job to explain all this to the viewer.  It is the viewer's job to take the elements I present and decide to themselves.  I think anyone who looks at this piece will be both disturbed and moved.  That is the goal of this piece:  engagement.  

Whew!  Enough of the theme already, let's get to the construction.

After attaching the book together and getting the hanging hardware on the back, I found a cabinet card that would work for an image of Alice.  Then it was time to do one of my favorite painting techniques:  ghostly glow as taught by Michael deMeng.

Once the image was painted, I glued it onto the book cover.  Over the image I wanted to put something like would look "female."  I think the metal piece I found does the job.  Then I found the womb I needed and to it I added the lost soul of the child.  I also added a decorative piece to the top for aesthetic value.

Then it was time to texture the book so it would be ready to paint.

At first I decided to paint wings on Alice.  That lasted a few days as I was distracted by other projects, but...the more I looked at the wings the less I liked them as a 2D addition.  I dug around in my wing stash and settled on these butterfly wings.

After taking the butterfly apart and laying it on the image, I realized they did not work for two reasons.  One, they were too big.  Two, they were too fragile for as I hacked them apart to try to make them smaller, they just disintegrated.  

I did not expect the struggle these wings were going to create.  I first used the large gold paper wings shown above but they were too big as well.  Ultimately, I split the little metal wings and they were perfect.  

Then is was on to the final details, mostly with paint.

And, so, after much emotional struggle and a few construction issues, we have About Alice.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I Was a Camera with its Shutter Wide Open Recording

This book structure did not start with the book or its title which is contrary to the way I have been working lately.  Instead, I was cleaning my basement storage place (i.e.:  attempting to not look like a hoarder) when I came upon this:

This cool little Brownie Starflash Camera, which was manufactured from 1957 to 1965, was calling out to be a part of the process.  Now, all I really needed was a book that fit the size of the camera so I selected

Why Climb the Corporate Ladder When You Can Take the Elevator by John M. Capozzi.  Every once in awhile I love to alter books that have an internal arrogance I do not appreciate.  So, in this case, the title and author are all going to disappear as the book just becomes a platform for the assemblage.  

I started with my constant mantra:  first step is to drill holes for the hanging device and to hold the book together.  The central core was cut on the drill press with a hole saw which also allowed a bolt to come through the back, past the flash basin, and let me affix my next assemblage in place.  

Onto the bolt I was able to attach an arm.  From my stash of eyeballs I selected a cat's eye (in part because it was the perfect fit over the lens of the camera).  Then it was time to do some painting, painting, painting.  

For me, titles imbue the theme of any piece.  For this one, as it was coming together, I remembered a Christopher Isherwood quote from The Berlin Stories (the work that would become the source material for the Broadway show and feature film, Cabaret):  "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking."  Because this piece is about identity and is retrospective in nature, I decided to paraphrase the quote and go with:  I Was a Camera With My Shutter Wide Open, Recording.  I decided to go with the theme painted on tin in the style of Mexican votive art.

Here is an example of that:

Mine ended up like this.

So I glued it onto the front of the assemblage and pretty much hated it from the moment the glue dried.  The reason was it looked like a billboard instead of part of the art.  I decided to remove the tin but then discovered that E6000 does its job.  So, plan B was to create text in a smaller font and paste that on the tin.  

Then it was time to detail paint the assemblage.

And so, we have, I Was a Camera With My Shutter Open, Recording.

Or, do we?

The more I looked at this piece the more the new lettering still look to dominate on the piece.  It bugged me, it bugged me, it bugged me... I ripped off the text again.

This time I decided that I wanted to feature the camera operator as well as the camera.  I went through my pile of cabinet cards and found an image that would work.  It is a Brownie Camera after all so why not go with the idea that this might have been a photographer's first camera.

When I do flea markets with Denice she spends a lot of time looking at jewelry.  She was the one who spotted this little bezel frame and she bought it for me.  I thought is circular nature echoed the flash and the lens so I painted it up.  

I added a leading line down the spine of the book and then created my third attempt at getting the text on the assemblage.  This time I went with an additional word in the paraphrase of Isherwood as I felt it added a sense of wonder to the statement.  

And so, after much creative altering, we have I Was a Camera With My Shutter Wide Open Recording.