Silk Road Construction
ceramic, found objects (bicycle cart, reproduction Tang dynasty camel, sand)
approximately 9 feet tall
installed at Lanzhou City University
This is by far the most ambitious, and as I like to say the "dumbest" ceramic construction I've ever made. It's "dumb" in that it is a technical nightmare; there are a thousand ways this piece could have gone wrong and any one of them would have caused collapse. So you have to not think about that when your making it. I am really excited about the scale of this piece and how it turned out. The layered glazes are much richer than I hoped for!
The ceramic and sculpture assistants were a huge help in construction, firing, and installation of this piece, as well as Sam Hendley, my "roomie" in Lanzhou who helped me load the beast into the kiln (no small task!). My thanks to all of them!
Pictured are Siu Hi Lin, Qi Zi, and Xie Zhe, not pictured are Zhao Yan and Sam Hendley)
Badminton Garden (Mao Pao Tong)
ceramic and found objects
installed at Lanzhou City University
This piece was inspired by the flower bud of the Mao Pao Tong Tree. When we arrived in Lanzhou the buds had just fallen from the trees and were scattered everywhere. They were quite lovely and delicate.
With the aid of several students and faculty at the university we created over 200 ceramic Mao Pao Tong Buds and installed them in a full sized Badminton court recreated in the gallery. Badminton is a very popular sport in China and courts are ubiquitous.
The installation is intended as a kind of meditation garden. As you move through the space you have to be very aware of your body and the ceramic flower buds. It raises questions about one's relationship to nature.
An enormous thank you to all the people who helped me make this piece a reality. I couldn't have done it without their help! Here are a few of the people who helped, pictured below:
Su Hi Lin
Su Yan Chi
Su Fian Ching
Monkey with Nimbus
ceramic and found objects (doors, cable spool)
approx. 9' tall
This piece is inspired in part by the magnificent work at the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, and in part by all the images I saw of Julius, the Paul Frank Monkey. Julius is extremely popular in China, a symbol of the West which is also reminiscent of Sun WuKong, the monkey king.
Mugs with creamy "SB" glaze. Cone 6 Oxidation. Lanzhou clay has remarkable depth of color- especially for an electric kiln!
I plan to begin posting images of works from the Dunhuang Ceramic Residency I just completed this summer. Hopefully one a day. Here's the first one:
Construction with Shou Xing Number 3.
Ceramic. Approximately 18" tall.
This and all of the work I made during the residency was made of local Lanzhou clay. The glazes are also predominantly made of the same clay.
Wow, where to begin? It is certainly great to be back home after two months in China. And it certainly was an amazing experience- I return with new friends, memories, perspective, and a desire to return! I have only been back for a day, and while there is still a lot of the experience to process, photos to share, and acclimating to do, I already have some initial thoughts about the residency and ways I think it will shape the next few years.
1. I am feeling incredibly reenergized! After a long and somewhat bumpy flight from Beijing, I was planning to take the day off yesterday to recuperate from jet-lag. After a normal night's sleep, however, I awoke refreshed an eager to play tennis! Afterwards all I really wanted to do was go to the studio. Having spent two months of near constant 10-12 hour work days in the studio has only made me want more.
2. I have a clearer vision of my work. How I want to make work, why I want to make work, and how I want to share that journey with others all came into clearer focus during my trip. I am excited to share more details about this soon.
3. I have more enthusiasm and determination to create a better working environment for myself and for my students. I also have more determination to improve my living space at home. I have always understood the value of well designed space, but fixing the problems around me have seemed bogged down by lack of time and money. I see more clearly now that they were more bogged down by lack of creative problem solving and no small amount of laziness on my part. This enthusiasm I know can be easily eroded. I am really hoping I can hold onto this knowledge.
4. I have renewed enthusiasm for teaching. The connection between making my best work and sharing knowledge is more clear, as well as ways in which they can feed each other. I am looking forward to being able to share much of what I learned!
5. I plan to make more residencies a significant part of my artistic practice. It has been too long since I have had an experience like this, and I have let my artistic "reserves" become too depleted. I am resolved not to let that happen again.
6. I want to invest more deeply into another place. I am increasingly aware that having amazing experiences isn't enough, that I want to find ways to give back to a community that is very different than mine. That will take years of investment of time and energy.
Maybe that place is Lanzhou. It is pretty incredible what they are doing there and the ways in which my skills might help. Time will tell.
It's been on of THOSE weeks, in the middle of one of THOSE months, just after one of THOSE semesters at my college. You know what I mean?
When there's too much going on, too much to think about, and too many deadlines, I tend to do some really stupid things. Like forget about the importance of rhythm, ritual, and rest. No, actually, that's not quite accurate. As bad as that would be I do something far worse- I begin to actively seek ways to deny myself rhythm, ritual and rest! Too much to do? I'll find ways to waste time. Too many deadlines? I'll find other things that aren't urgent and make them urgent? Too much to think about? I'll obsess about one thing, usually something completely out of my control.
Is it just me?
There is a kind of knowledge I have- a knowledge accumulated in my body, that tells me this kind of chaos, this weird reliance on the anxiety and adrenaline of urgency is dehumanizing. It is probably killing me. It is probably killing all of us. It tells me that what I need is not more time (which is what I think) to be less busy, to make room for moments of stillness, for slowness, for contemplation. I need to "do" less. And that those moments have to be set into a daily/weekly/monthly calendar and that they are not just a priority, they are non-negotiable.
Part of that time for me is related to my studio practice. I am trying to find ways of creating that call for slowing down, both as a maker and as a viewer. That also means following a lot of "rabbit trails" that may not lead anywhere, and not just being ok with that, but celebrating it.
So for now I am painting. And thinking. And thinking about painting. It is both everything and nothing. And it feels right. Later I will work on something more "important," or something more in my discipline; something that promotes my career, adds to the dialog. And I will do it because I will want to, because it feels right, the right time. Maybe even it will be informed by these little feeble paintings. Or not. Who can say? I guess I'm trying to tell myself that isn't really the point. Does art have a point? Does it have to have a point? Is it pointless? Is it's pointlessness the thing that makes it of such great value?
I wish I could say this self-taught lesson will stick with me, but it probably won't. Perhaps it sticks a little better each time. Maybe that's enough.
(This is a repost from my old blog in which I talked about a series of works I made for the Epiphany season back in 2011. The works went together to form a kind of book which was displayed for the season at my church, AllSouls in Wheaton. For images of the rest of the work and a link to the rest of the articles go to my archives page and look for Epiphany Book.)
For the opening pages of the book, I used resin and gold leaf. I discovered that frankincense and myrrh are both tree resins, so my choice of materials are meant to recall the gifts of the Magi.
The images are are created from two crossword puzzles, the initial one the first one ever published in the New York Times, the second one from the December 26th, 2010 issue, or the first Sunday in Christmas for this liturgical year. Crossword puzzles are, to me, a good metaphor for the idea of manifestation. The words are, in a sense, there to be made manifest. You just have to put in the work.
It has been a tough week. As many of you know already my dear friend Brett Foster died last Monday after roughly a year-long bout with cancer. I may write a small tribute to him later in this blog, when I have the strength to do it.
In the meantime there have many moments of grace throughout the week, both big and small. I wanted to share this one with you all. I was surprised to come into Adams Hall, where I work, to discover this intervention done to a series of my paintings which are installed in one of the landings. The Mario-themed work was done by a student, as part of an assignment in which students created vinyl cut-outs for site specific installations throughout the building. I was not asked beforehand if this was "ok," and I am so thankful for that.
In spite of my grief I've just had to smile every time I pass this. In fact I confess I have changed my normal routes at times just so I would go up this staircase. It is both playful and surprising. An ekphrastic artwork responding to, or conversing with, my work. It is a reminder that my work is a living thing, that it continues to speak to others, and that an anonymous student felt some compulsion (even grade/deadline induced compulsion) to respond.
I thank you, whoever you are.
the studio chair
A place for me to ramble on when I need to take a break.