Thursday’s Tile: Taste on Hooves

It’s Thanksgiving Day with lots of family and food to enjoy, so here’s a short and sweet post about one of the most unusual tiles on the Five Senses Bench at Cabrillo College. Its source is an old drawing of a Native American horseback rider just about to shoot a wide-eyed and galloping buffalo with a fully drawn bow and arrow.

AB was a young man of tentative speech and Deep Thoughts and he went ‘way outside the box for a tile which is down low on the Taste area.

I have more questions about this tile than answers, but I am still glad it is there, evoking a separate reality in a sea of candy corn, pizza and gummi fish.

Did he mean to suggest a taste for blood?
Was he referencing food for pure survival instead of entertainment?
Did he want us to think of a more direct way to hunt and gather our sustenance?
Is he offering any chastisement of modern food gathering, especially of our meat?
Is this a nostalgic historical scenario?
Is there any political/cultural commentary here?
Did he just want a narrative verb-like tile instead of a static noun-like one?

I don’t know! I never got an opportunity to ask him because after he made the tile he dropped out – but not before he sweetly asked me to promise to finish the tile’s glazing and attaching.

Even though he still comes and goes on campus, I would never be so bold as to put him on the spot with all my unanswered questions. I would have to be very oblique and casual, and since so many years have gone by, he may not even remember what he intended.

Do you have other questions? Do you have some answers? I personally love the mysteriousness here and the fact that I don’t get it is just fine. Back to family and feast!

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Thursday’s Tile: Help, There’s an Octopus on My Knee!

The octopus is a highly intelligent eight-armed bag, capable of taking just about any shape it needs to. What a great choice it was for the rounded corner of the Five Senses Bench in the Touch area. I call these four places the “knees” of the bench and if you go to the FSB link you will be able to see this octo-tile on the closest corner in the whole-bench shot. Oh, and you can read the backstory too, if this is your first time encounter with it.

The woman who made this tile, NB, was quite a meticulous artist who was also studying for her single subject teaching credential in Art. (Which she later accomplished.) Of the time she spent at Cabrillo Ceramics, she made wonderful pieces, very realistic in both form and decoration. Lots of animals: cougars and giraffes, dogs and deer, all expertly executed.

She originally modeled this octo-tile in one curving piece, but clay has an interesting memory for how it has been handled, and when it necessarily shrinks – first in the initial drying and then later in the heat of the kiln – it can very easily curve more or crack apart, or both. Her damp one-piece tile fit so artfully in place, and, even allowing for shrinkage, it was nearly a certain-sure thing that it would NOT fit after a 2000+ degree firing. Too big, too oddly shaped, too site-specific.

What to do? The obvious: cut it apart thoughtfully and intentionally into true mosaic pieces which would give it the ease to round that knee curve. Let them warp and crack! We would still be able to make adjustments in how we attached the pieces in order to make it all fit in the area mapped out for it.

NB balked some because her vision was to have that tile be mind-blowingly whole. How much was she willing to risk the outcome in order to show off that skill? Did she have the time or resolve to re-make it if she failed? Or did she want the greater assurance of a successfully finished piece the first go?

There was some hand-wringing involved, such was her personal creative process, but you can see her choice, fitting like an orange suction cup around that knee, right next to the TOUCH label. This octopus is loud and proud, not hiding in the least bit, still showing off.

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Thursday’s Tile(s): Please Touch

There are really two tiles to explore today. The one above is on the back of Touch area of the Five Senses Bench. While it looks like those old-fashioned candy dots you would peel off of some paper, it is actually Braille, meant to be touched to be understood! And it spells out, “PLEASE TOUCH.” That alone makes it a wonderful addition to Touch, and it we could leave it right there.

But we won’t, because there is a similar tile on the Sight area of the bench, as you can see below.

More candy dots, spelling out something you need to touch to understand…unless of course you can sight read Braille. (Oh, and you can see a few other tiles nearby that all seem to be referencing Inner Sight, a wonderful adjunct in this section, similar to KB’s insistence on tiles expressing feelings in the Touch area.)

So this tile in the Sight area is a visual/touch/Braille prank, meant for the unsuspecting blind person. And I got to play it on my blind friend MJ!

It was several years after the tile was applied that MJ and I were exploring the unfinished bench at his request, because he is – besides being a great teacher, a runner, a musician and storyteller – a consummate ceramics artist.

He touched and I described. After a time, I directed his hands to the PLEASE TOUCH tile. Normally Braille is so tiny, he had a bit of trouble deciphering such Brobdingnagian dots, but he did and liked it a lot.

I had done the set-up….Tee Hee.

MJ likes to laugh and is achingly corny. I could not wait for my next move. I casually said something like, “Well, if you liked that one, try this…” and moved him and his hands around the corner…..

His long fingers carefully felt each letter in order. D…….O…………N….O…T……….T..O..U.C.H!!!!!!! He started giggling by the U in TOUCH. He knew it was a joke. It was a fine moment.

I wonder, because these tiles have such a special audience, who else has gotten this joke. And, for that matter, who else just thinks they are half-eaten candy dots. Either way.

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Thursday’s Tile: Can You Hear Me Now?

Sometimes the tiles on the Five Senses Bench were arranged on purpose (see the last Thursday’s Tile post) and sometimes they found each other. This particular arrangement is an opportunistic sight gag. It’s on the seat of the Hearing Area and includes the gold-lettered labeling tiles that were suggested for each section by the ever-dedicated bench supporter and worker,  DP. (DP, if you ever read this, know that you rock for eternity, and here’s why.)
DP has strong aesthetic and conceptual opinions and they are usually spot on. She said each area of the bench needed a word label and she even made the tiles and directed their placement. So, as a result, we have a “ringing” old school cell phone, next to the the Hearing Area title tiles, making a subtle visual ring-ring line-up, for those who noticed it. (And for those who didn’t, well, you see it now because I am pointing your head at it.)
This placement is funny because, first off, do cell phones even *RING* anymore, as in One RingyDingy? All the electronic beeps and tweets and downloaded ringtones suggest they do not. Any sound can be a cellphone’s alert now. We know that squawking parrot is just a cute call coming in and do not stir ourselves to find the wayward birdie.
Back in the day (five years ago) cell phones pretty much all warbled annoyingly. Yes, we call it ringing (just like we call it dialing) but it decidedly is not. That’s how old this cell phone tile is. And it does not even fold up or access the internet. Even has a broken antenna. Dang. Funny.
How OLD is that cell phone, you ask? So old, it has “RING” on it’s screen, fergoshsakes, spelling out its possible sound and not its GPS locationor your horoscope, or even that old Seinfeld episode.
HOW OLD? So old it only has the standard issue buttons and not a pantheon of things to press or swipe a finger across. And it isn’t hot pink and we know it can’t even take a photo.
OK, enough with the jokes at an old cell phone tile’s expense. There is another phone in Hearing: a super-super-super-old black one with a dial and a heavy receiver and cord….its sound is only inferred, not spelled out. We know for sure it could be nothing but a phone.
What is clear is that after an unspecified time, all these early 21st century objects will become like that corded dial phone: vintage and collectible and even Artsy. This old Can-You-Hear-Me-Now-Era cell phone is really only ahead of its time, and, as it sits permanently attached to the Hearing Area of the Five Senses Bench, it will attain a certain appeal and beauty all of its own. And we sense, too, that the ring-ring sight gag will continue to age well and provide its secret giggle, just as DP knew it would.
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Phrygian Phreedom

Here’s another work from my Tiffany Schmierer Skyline College 2009 Summer Session: Phrygian (the cap’s style) Phreedom (because it is based on the face of Statue of Freedom on top of the US Capitol Building.)

Anyhoo….I have a thing for these sorts of classical faces, both the originals from Ancient Greece and Rome and the Neo-classical interpretations down through the ages.  I have worked with the fearsome face of the Statue of Liberty, and while it is inspiring, it has a certain stern quality. Take a look at some close ups. There’s a straight-ahead no nonsense eagle-like stare to this statue.

Contrast this with the sweet face of the Statue of Freedom! Still inspiring, but perhaps more egalitarian than eagle-like. The more I looked at this face, the more I wanted to make a larger than life-sized head based on it. So, using the techniques I learned a few summers ago from Stan Welsh, I built the basic Big Head shape.  I so appreciated conferring with Tiffany over the technical and aesthetic fine points as sometimes it comes down to millimeters and the fine dance between darks and lights….it really does. We proved it.

What a nice face, but what to do about all that fancy headgear on the original statue? Yes, I suppose it could be made of clay, but it would not only be a dicey proposition to execute and forever vulnerable to breakage, it was also a complete aside to my inspiration: that face.

If one is making a 3D sculpture and is not working from a 3D model, live or otherwise, it is useful to have lots of resource photos, from as many angles as possible. I love the internet for that function alone. In my Statue of Freedom visual travels, I read this whole wiki article of its history, and simultaneously answered my question about what to do about the headdress: The Phrygian cap, aka the Freedom Cap! It was the sculptor’s original choice….and it would be mine because I loved it and it was a tiny way of thumbing my nose at Jefferson Davis’ wrong-headed policies. I would give her the headdress she was supposed to have.

Yes, this hat has appeared in many guises throughout history, and yes, it is a Smurf hat shape too. So???? I love all of it, the sacred and the profane. And, did I say I love this face? I imagine making other versions of it. In the meantime, some of you may recognize it from my Facebook and Twitter avatars.  As I said, I have a thing for this kind of face, so ultimately it is a reflection of me and I am comfortable with that. Phreedom, indeed.

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Thursday’s Tile: Petrichor

This intriguing array, one of the oldest intentional groupings of tiles on the Five Senses Bench, was not only a fantastic attempt to cover a lot of square footage, but also a fun way to play with word shapes enough to evoke their meaning visually. (A new kind of font, I guess.) Even though it’s huge and on the back area of SMELL, I truly wonder how many folks miss it, thinking it is just a fun pattern.

C (I’m not remembering his last initial right now) took a lot of pains to develop, cut, glaze and arrange his two words. Can you read them? Maybe you can make out “AFTER” pretty easily, but the word below it is harder to get because he changes to lower case and that third letter looks like a Y or a W. Those four “splashes” attached to its top create the diversion,  but it is the letter “I.” Now can you read it? AFTER RAIN! What a great smell that can be!

I have heard that smell is our most primal sense, brain-wise, bypassing everything and directly engaging the Lizard Brain, meaning there is strong emotion/memory tangled with it. See if you can recall your own version of After Rain right now. I get a wet asphalt playground smell, but I hope you get something more woodsy-earthy.

Did you know there is actually a name for what C wants us to olfactorially recall: petrichor. What a lovely ancient-sounding word, but apparently only coined in the late 20th century. When I ran into this word, months and months after C had moved on from Ceramics to his other transfer course requirements, I wrote it on a piece of paper, and kept it with all my bench-making supplies. C and his girlfriend happened by one afternoon to check on things and we had a sweet little petrichor party!

As a matter of fact, I now never smell the world After Rain without thinking “petrichor-C-bench” so I guess that is in my Lizard Brain now, too.

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Magic Backyard Incinerator Maquette

One of the most vital requirements in art-making, in my humble opinion, is bell-ringing authenticity. To that end, one of my favorite quotations is here on my blog’s sidebar from J. F. Stephens, “Originality does not consist is saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you yourself think.”

For me, in both 2D and 3D art, (and in writing about them) it has been a long haul to connect my personal impulses and my technical capabilities so that I get a result which comes dang near to what moved me to attempt it.

As if you did not know, we humans often tend to have ‘way more complicated ideas than we can bring forth. When I sewed all my own clothes in high school, my biggest mistake was in making conceptual errors which lead to technical difficulties: not matching the fabric to the pattern or vice versa. I would pick a coarse kettlecloth and ask it to drape in soft mini-folds….or I would attempt to tailor double-sewn pockets with button-down flaps out of whisper-thin silk. In the right hands, those choices could work, but not for me at my skill level. I could think it up, but not do it.

Pictured here is one ceramic sculpture that comes together better than my home-sewing. It’s about 18″ tall and its working title is Magic Backyard Incinerator Maquette, because someday I intend to make a life-sized one.

It’s one of the works I created in my Super Schmierer Skyline College 2009 Summer Session. I think I have mentioned that I put 2500 miles on my car in six weeks in order to study with someone I absolutely knew could help me connect Authentic Impulse with Technical Execution: Tiffany Schmierer.

What I enjoy about this piece, besides its wonderfully figurative presence, is the journey making it took me on. When I was quite young we lived in LA’s San Fernando Valley. In the backyard was this imposing Cycladic figure with fire in its belly and smoke coming out its noggin: our incinerator. Every house had one, because, amazingly, there was no garbage collection in all of Los Angeles County. That is, until folks noticed the rotten air quality and backyard incinerators were banned by Proposition A in 1957. Gone was my fire-breathing buddy. (Where? To the dump? Hrmmm.)

We moved to Northern California soon after and I never thought about it for years and years and years, until I began visiting the objects of my childhood in my art. I needed photos to make this maquette accurate. I got them here and here and here.

I also got news write-ups which explained what I had not known and even my mom could not recall: exactly what happened to make the incinerators disappear. And! I found this exquisite poem, “In the Days of Backyard Incineration,” by John Nimmo. It so moved me that I transferred the last part of it onto the back of the maquette, as you can see here, which really turns this piece into a sculpture by lifting it even beyond my intentions (but, for once, not my capabilities) to a supremely thoughtful place.

When I make the big one, I will be able to inscribe the entire poem which, (poetically) observes that waste is waste, however satisfactorily we think we are getting rid of it. No small point, considering the size of our planet and its population.

All that from authentic curiosity and technical exactitude. More magic. Hooray!

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