Friday, February 28, 2014

A small accomplishment

Some weeks you accomplish a lot.  Some weeks you accomplish almost nothing.

This week has been the latter.  Not that I'm a terrible slug but I've had a bunch of other commitments -- a lecture, dinner with friends, the orchestra, meeting our son at lunch -- and not much has happened in the art department.

But this evening I roped my husband into helping me with a task that needs to be done every several months: redoing the quilt storage area, aka the third guest bedroom.  The bed has clean sheets on it, and if we ever needed three bedrooms for company I could theoretically convert this room into service, but it would require three or four trips to the storage locker with all the quilts that live on the bed and elsewhere in this room.

Most of my old quilts are rolled up on swim noodles and wrapped in sheets, but those still in the rotation -- likely to be sent out to a show or taken with me for demonstrations -- are stacked on the bed in the third guest bedroom.  As time passes, the stack gets messier and messier, as I pull out quilts from the bottom layers or dump newly arrived quilts on top of the pile.

Since I last organized the pile, several quilts have returned from two- or three-year tours or recent shows, and things were getting pretty messy.  I couldn't find a quilt I needed to photograph for my new book, although I had searched and thought I had looked everywhere, including the pile on the bed.  And a few quilts that had come home from shows hadn't made it out of their shipping boxes.

So yesterday we pulled everything off the bed and proceeded to remake the pile, with the biggest quilts on the bottom, everything face down to prevent fading.  We opened the shipping boxes, undid the rolls of quilts that had been taken to a workshop, pulled out quilts that needed to be rolled up and put into "permanent storage" and incidentally but happily, found the missing quilt.

I could theoretically do this task myself, except that my back starts hurting very quickly.  Like making the bed, spreading the quilts out is best done by two people.

Today I'll finish up the job, rolling up the older quilts for "permanent storage," putting the smallest quilts into under-the-bed storage boxes.  But meanwhile it makes me happy to contemplate this small area of my art domain that is perfectly organized and put together.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sign of the week

winter in Maine

thanks to guest photographer Kathy McCarten

Monday, February 24, 2014

TV while sewing

Back in the olden days before video recorders, before streaming online live action or multiple channels, the Olympics was a special event.  I would move into the TV room, prepared to watch nonstop for two weeks, but also prepared to sew or crochet or do a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle.  There were so many commercials, so many up-close-and-personal sob features, so much pontificating by the commentators, that you had plenty of time to work on your side project in between the action.

But technology has changed everything. I have been taping the broadcasts and zipping through all the commercials and pontificating.  Rather than the old norm of three minutes of fluff for every one minute of actual sports, now it's one minute of fast-forwarding for every ten or fifteen minutes of sports.

You would think this would be viewers' paradise!  I'm having trouble, though, because my attention keeps straying from the action on the screen to the embroidery in my hand.  

I'll tell myself to watch closely, and fix my eyes on the skater or skier... and then I've taken a couple of stitches and hear the announcers say "OH that was terrible" and then I have to rewind to see the crash or fall that I missed.  You wouldn't think it would be stretching my attention span that much to keep watching four minutes worth of figure skating or a minute and a half of slalom without being distracted.  But such is the lure of the needle in the cloth.

My usual TV diet while working in my studio is any show that requires listening but not much actual watching.  Shows that are long on talking are excellent; Law & Order is my favorite, because there's surprisingly little action.  I know the voices of all the regular characters, and I can quickly learn which new voice belongs to the victim's wife, which belongs to the evil brother-in-law, which belongs to the bystander/witness.  On the rare occasion when we get to watch a cop chase or the courtroom denouement, the music will signal me to look up in time.

So I've trained myself to be much more aware of what's said than what's shown, and while I'm missing a lot of the Olympic scenery I do keep a sharp ear out for the commentary:  "Look at her head, locked in between her shoulders...."   or "I'm sure he's used to skiing in snowy conditions...."

So I'm failing as a spectator, but succeeding as a stitcher.  I'm still working on my "words of advice" series, loving the opportunity to make crude letters, without having to be fussy about whether they're all the same height or width or letterspacing.  I am aiming for an entry deadline later this week, and still have to get the pieces mounted and ready for photography.  Guess the Olympics will have to wait till I'm finished.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Collage post mortem 13 -- the last word

Sometimes it's hard to find inspiration for a collage, especially if it's late at night and you know you can't go to bed till you finish cutting and pasting.  All collage artists share this dirty secret: when all else fails, give somebody a funny hat.

I was especially happy with the funny hat I gave my senator.  His photo had been on the envelope of a fundraising letter, with the red and blue stripe extending across the image.  I cut the hat out of the stripe, so the hat and the face are all from the same piece of paper.

And that's all, folks, on the collage post mortems.  You can look at all my 2013 daily collages, and keep up with my current daily collages, here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Collage post mortem 12 -- music, maestro, please

Apparently many of my collage scenarios needed sound effects, because musicians started coming in around the edges to provide accompaniment.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sign of the week

(fortunately, a slight exaggeration)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Collage post mortem 11 -- pointing the finger

One of the loudest, most insistent images you can add to your art work is a pointing finger.  Who can resist looking where the finger points?

My finger-pointing image repertoire got a big boost in the fall when the movie "Salinger" came out, its ads featuring a hand-drawn illustration of the famous author with a finger to his lips.  The ad ran frequently, in different sizes, sometimes in color, sometimes in black-and-white.  Salinger's finger showed up several times in the collages.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Collage post mortem 10 -- angel voices

I found a clip art book of Victorian angels, some of whom were the perfect small size to hover over my collage scenarios.  I realized that the angels would appear in scenes of destruction or madness, speaking commentary which we can't read.  But we can easily infer it to be disapproval.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Not having fun yet

Our washing machine died, after 15 years of faithful service, and the new one arrived over the weekend.  We bought the highly recommended model, using the new high efficiency/low water technology.  Now I've run a couple of loads, and I'm still dubious about this whole machine.

Everything is automated.  You do get to choose water temperature (after figuring out how to bypass the default programs) and spin speed (what's to choose?  who cares whether it spins fast or only sort of fast?) but not water level (it senses how big your load is and gives you only what you need -- or rather, only what it thinks you need).  The lid locks when you hit the start button; you have to know the secret workaround to open the lid and throw in that last sock that stayed behind in the basket while you were loading.

Part of my frustration is just that I hate to have to learn new routines and new operating systems.  If I could have bought a machine identical to the one that just died, I would be a happy camper.  And while I was feeling uncomfortable about the new washing machine, I recalled that I felt the same way about my new car a year ago, and every new computer operating system, and the new GPS device, and the DVR player.

I don't think it's because I'm getting old and crabby and unable to learn new tricks.  I think it's because new stuff these days seems to work with the same premise: don't bother your pretty little head over how this works, just tell us what you want and we will deliver it.  Tell us what temperature you want your car to be (no, you don't get to just turn the heat up or down).  Choose one of ten different kinds of laundry load you have (no, you can't just ask for hot wash, warm rinse, low water).

We were away on a 1600-mile trip earlier this month in the year-old car and an unfamiliar icon lit up on the dashboard.  Turns out it was a warning that we needed to change the oil.  As we drove, the car sent us messages saying, ominously, that our oil had reached 15% of its life, then several hundred miles later, 10% of its life, then 5%.  We couldn't tell how urgent this message was -- when we hit 0% would the car explode?  Could we get back home before dealing with it?

My husband, the vice-president in charge of auto maintenance, was mad at himself because he hadn't thought to check the oil before we left home.  He'd never changed the oil in the year we'd owned the car.  We read the owner's manual to try to find out how often you were supposed to do that -- and there was no answer.  Just wait till your dashboard tells you.  And if it happens to tell you while you're driving through rural Tennessee, instead of yesterday at home when you could have easily gone to the jiffy lube, well, tough luck, sucker.

We ended up spending an hour getting the oil changed in Birmingham because we didn't know if we should take a chance on getting home.  It was probably an overreaction; we probably could have driven for weeks and weeks with no problem.  But how do you know?  We googled "Honda oil change" and got a sanctimonious message to the effect that the car computer is constantly monitoring your mileage and the conditions in which you're driving, and therefore they won't say change the oil at 10,000 miles.  Instead the dashboard message will come on whenever the time is right and you must obey.  No such thing as planning ahead, no such thing as individual responsibility, just do what the machine tells you.

So the new washing machine knows how much water I want in the tub without me telling it.  Is that comforting or not?  What if I want to dye a bedspread?  Will it know whether I want low-water (mottled) or high-water (uniform)?  Will it let me stop the cycle with the tub full and go away till tomorrow while the dye strikes?  Guess I'll have to wait and find out.

I read once that one of the reasons why we won World War II was that almost all the American GIs had lots of experience fixing cars (or in the case of the farm boys, not just cars but tractors, combines, pumps and a bazillion other kinds of machines).  So when a tank broke down halfway across the Rheinland, the men could get it going again with a minimum of lost time.  What happens today, when a tank breaks down halfway across Afghanistan?  Do they have to wait for the computer diagnostician to arrive from Kabul?  Or do they just abandon it by the side of the road?

I remember when sewing machines lasted forever (and a lot of people are still sewing on those decades-old Featherweights and Berninas).  Routine maintenance, and even minor repairs, were within the purview of the owner; a little screwdriver came with the machine, and you could open it up and clear thread jams all by yourself.  If you couldn't fix it, Roy at the sew-and-vac shop could get it up and running in no time.  The new computerized models may sew fancy embroidery designs and automatically make all your quilting stitches the same length, but when the motherboard has a nervous breakdown you're up the creek without a paddle, and probably Roy is too.

In many ways, new technology is wonderful.  But in other ways, is it turning us into a nation of zombies?  Don't bother knowing how to read a map or get directions in advance, just do what the GPS tells you.  (And if it loses the satellite signal while you're somewhere in the wilds of western Alabama, then..... what?)

I'm glad that new washing machines apparently do a better job of cleaning with less water and less electricity.  But I want my machines to take orders from me, not the other way around.  I want my machines to do the working, and I want me to do the thinking.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Art reader's digest

From Conceptual Art, by Tony Godfrey:

Art & Language, one of the most important collaborative groups of artists in the late 1960s, characterized Conceptual art as Modernism's nervous breakdown.  A nervous breakdown happens when we can no longer believe in all we have based our lives on: friends, family, job, beliefs.  Conceptual artists could no longer believe in what art, or Modernist art, claimed to be, nor in the social institution it had become.  Modernism as it developed from the mid-nineteenth century had sought to represent the new world of industrialization and mass media in new and more appropriate forms and styles.  But by the 1960s the dominant strand of Modernism had become Formalism where attention was focused solely on these forms and styles.  Progress in Formalism had nothing to do with explaining life in a rapidly changing world but everything to do with refining and purifying the medium as an end in itself.  Conceptual art was a violent reaction against such Modernist notions of progress in the arts and against the art object's status as a special kind of commodity.  The purely retinal or visual nature of art, especially painting, was extolled by theorists and promoters of Modernism.  This was anathema to Conceptual artists who emphasized instead the crucial role of language in all visual experience and understanding.  Modernist art had become a refined and hermetic discourse.  Conceptual art opened it up to philosophy, linguistics, the social sciences and popular culture.

from one of the pioneers of Conceptual Art:

John Baldessari, Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell, 1966-68

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I can still sew

Just because I haven't posted anything about sewing projects in a long time doesn't mean I have forgotten how to thread a needle.  Part of this is due to the fact that I've been doing other things, including a week-long abortive attempt to escape the nasty winter weather by driving south.  We made the mistake of driving to New Orleans, which arranged to welcome us with an ice storm.

Part is due to the fact that it's Quilt National year again -- not the show but the entry deadline -- and I want to avoid the frenzy of last-minute sewing that kept me chained to the machine for the entire months of July and August two years ago.  I'm almost done piecing Entry #1, which of course I can't show you lest my quilt be disqualified for having been out on the Internet.

But not to worry.  Here's something I finished yesterday that I am delighted to show off.

It's going to have to be mounted in some way, and I haven't yet figured that out.  But the stitching is done.

One Word of Advice, 2014, 7" x 7"

It's stitched onto an old cocktail napkin, which I acquired at a grab bag at my local fiber and textile artists group.  I admit to being mystified about why the hemstitched cutwork detail has been seemingly mended over with gray thread.  The napkin doesn't look to have been used much, so why would it need mending?

There were eight napkins in the set.  I plan to use three of them for a companion piece, Three Words of Advice, and the last four for another one, Four Words of Advice.  Two Words of Advice will have to go on some other found textile.  I'll show you them soon, I hope.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sign of the week

On the interstate, somewhere in Alabama, I didn't get a photo as we whizzed by but it has to be sign of the week:

     Buy her a diamond

     Get a free shotgun

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Collage post mortem 9 -- something fishy

When you work in collage there's something appealing about a fish.  It has an enigmatic expression on its face, and when you paste it into a scene there's that surrealistic fish-out-of-water disconnect.  But more important, perhaps, is that a fish is easy to cut out, with smooth edges and few appendages (and if you have a picture of a fish with complicated serrations on its fins, you can always round them off with your scissors).  And there are plenty of fish images available, especially if you're willing to cannibalize your old encyclopedias.

So I found that fish would frequently swim (fly?) into my collages.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Collage post mortem 8 -- tear it apart

One of the techniques that proved surprisingly powerful in my daily collages last year was the simple step of cutting or tearing an image apart, then pasting it down slightly apart and out of alignment.  I liked the torn edge much better than the straight cut edge.

It was often nice to flip the card catalog card face up so its text was visible between the torn edges.