Thursday’s Tile: A Small But Symbolic Effort

This week’s tile remains a permanent testament to the era of its making. It’s located on the vertical back right of the Taste area of the Five Senses Bench, next to the long tongue licking the fire, which is another interesting story to be told another time.

Do you remember “Freedom Fries” from early 2003? When our ally France refused to support US intentions to invade Iraq, the elected legislators in charge of the US House of Representatives restaurants, cafeterias and snack bars, following the lead of some uber-patriotic restaurant owners, renamed French Fries and French Toast on all the House menus, removing the word French and substituting Freedom.

Oh la la, that must have stung those recalcitrant Frenchies and made them reconsider! Nothing like petty playground bickering to foster important international alliances and aid in war-mongering. Those were the times, though, lest we forget.

I remember some TV and online news squawkings about it, and on SNL’s Weekend Update Tina Fey reported, “In a related story, in France, American Cheese is now referred to as “Idiot Cheese.” Indeed.

You can read all you never knew about Freedom Fries in this fascinating Wikipedia entry. I especially enjoyed learning that the renaming was (quietly) reversed in 2006. Oh, and the Historical Parallels are enlightening: Apparently, if we human tribes refuse to name something, then it doesn’t exist, or at least we give it no additional energy, just like in Harry Potter.

But, let’s get back to this super-sized clutch of turmeric-colored beauties in their tricolor container. The Bench had its guardians, folks who took a special interest in its progress, and GN was one of them. He was in on many spontaneous brainstorming sessions, proudly explained all about it to passersby, yet never seemed too keen on actually decorating a tile of his own. I goaded him! When he finally came up with this personal French twist, he was chuckling and whistling the whole time he worked.

There are other versions of fries on the Bench, but these were the first and they reflect the artist in an oddly subtle yet garish way. He declared freedom from Freedom, made the fries and their container French again, and his “small but symbolic effort” (which is the exact phrase those menu legislators used) provides an everlasting foil to the follies of governments and their battles.

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Local Talkers: Third Quarter Gathering

Quick now, how many weeks in a quarter of a year? How many playing cards in a suit? How many donuts in a Baker’s Dozen? Yep, thirteen and thirteen and thirteen!

And, now, how many columns in the photo above? Oooooh, twelve! Looks like, after hitting the half year mark last June in my year-long one-a-week small face jug project based on the question man-type column called “Local Talk” in the Santa Cruz entertainment rag the Good Times, I just might have gotten one done in the Third Quarter.

But, oh, what a good one! And oh, what a great lesson in the creative process! Am I bothered and beating up on myself over not working The Plan? Absolutely not. Did I earlier? Maybe, although I was so busy I don’t recall.

Basically this project is going like this:

Last January, Week One, I tremblingly cut out the column on that first crystalline Thursday, went to my studio and made a small jug. I sweetly imagined myself doing this each Thursday the entire year.

Might have done that for the first five weeks.

From February to April I wound up making jugs every 2-3 weeks, a more economical use of time! I bisque-fired the first thirteen from Quarter One and wrote a few blog postings about it.

The blog photos and the writing gave an accountability to the project like I had never experienced and I created the jugs for the Second Quarter with anticipation. It was great fun to introduce them.

So then here came the busy summer, the busier fall. I have made lots of ceramic pieces, just not my Local Talkers.

Of course, I still collect the Thursday paper and date and number each column. If I start to fuss over the backlog, I breathe and take a much longer view. How do you take care of your dreams? Gently. Lovingly. Determinedly. With humor!

Look at all that potential up there! I scan those faces, absorbing them and conceptualizing. This apparent pause is rather normal and not a cause for any flustering doubt or flapping guilt. It is a time of Gathering: ideas, columns, steam, right intention and focus. When I get back to the making, addressing each week in order, I will make one lovely face jug at a time with all my heart, just as I imagined.

I will still bisque the whole lot of them before I add the colors. I did research and test some of my color ideas over the summer: more Gathering! When I have the whole year, the full deck, the Baker’s Dozen times four, they will begin to become the body of work I intend. In the meantime, I take it bird by bird.

So that’s what’s happened in Quarter Three. That and this:

All my gentle, loving, determined, funny and irreverent wishes for the rest of the year!

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Thursday’s Tile: Cupid’s Bow Lips

For most of the semester KB was unable to work on her ceramics assignments. She’d try to stay focused inside at her table, but most days she soon found herself outside talking to me while I worked on the Five Senses Bench. It was the perfect combination of her undeniable need to process several huge and heavy curve balls in a young life and a willing and safe non-family adult to absorb and mirror back perspective and existential hope.
Over the months, as the season turned and it was harder and harder to work outside, she revealed her tale of illness, cruelty, death and losses. I admired her intelligence and sensitivity and told her why in specific detail.
Many times we both were weeping, right there in a major campus passageway, but we would soon catch ourselves up and start laughing over our helplessness in the face of all she described.
Eventually, irony and humor began to dance with us more often than not. We made lots of other observations about people and friends, plans for the future or good food to eat and many times she’d suggest a bench tile idea or two, which, as was my practice, I immediately wrote in my Five Senses brainstorms lists.
I can’t recall if she finished that semester, probably not; but in the Spring, when she returned (to finish her Incomplete?) she added one more sweepingly magical tale of disappearance and reappearance which included all of the players from the Fall and a ceramic object she had created. I wish I could tell it to you all, but I just wouldn’t feel good doing it. The intimacy and trust she showed me still resonates.
What I can tell you is that those Cupid’s Bow lips are her lips, life-size and sculpted from life. Her tile image suggestions had a lot to do with increasing the scope of  the Touch area beyond concrete, physical touch. She wanted to see emotional touching and several tiles reflect this; even the tiny spacer tiles in this area are purple hearts for feelings.
KB’s lips are on the back of the Touch area, waiting to kiss anyone who sits there. To kiss and help feel better, to kiss and make-up, to kiss and give love. I see and feel the kisses and  I also see and feel those lips telling me a life story.

 

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Thursday’s Tile: Triple Stack

I hereby inaugurate Thursday’s Tile, in which I intend to feature specific tiles or tile groupings and the fun observations I know about them, all from the Cabrillo College “Come to Our 5 Senses Bench,” which I blogged about way extensively last posting. Some weeks Thursday’s Tile might be the only thing I write about, but, boy, does it have heart…as everything about this bench seems to have. So (drumroll) here goes.

Here’s a beefy pancake triple stack, nearly life size, swimming in syrup with a polite pat of butter for garnish. And you just KNOW more butter is coming. These are so thick as to make me think they have chunky whole grain additives and maybe some berries in between the layers. I particularly love the way the syrup drools and pools.

Sometimes just looking at all the food tiles brings on the eatin’ urge and my own drools. You can find this mouth-waterer low down in the overhanging foot area of, where else? – Taste!

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Come to Our Senses Bench: A Group Art Saga

What you’re seeing in the photo above is the result of a powerful public art odyssey. It’s a free-form handmade mosaic bench that I ended up coordinating the tile work for. I am so thrilled to see it in position to be permanently installed in the new Visual and Performing Arts Complex at Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA, that all the descriptions of its making and meaning want to come tumbling out of me together.

What if I start with the inscription tile: “Come to our 5 Senses Bench, Created by over 375 students and staff of Cabrillo College between 2003 and 2007.”

Yes, you read right: 375+ artists contributed to this major oeuvre! And yes, it took four years to complete. And yes, it took 2+ years to move it to its ultimate site this week. Gather close, kiddies, and I’ll tell you the tale.

Early Years: Inspiration/Collaboration
In the Spring Semester of 2003, Sculpture instructor Jamie Abbott and Ceramics instructor Kathryn McBride cooked up a plan for their students to design, build and make tiles for what was originally a three-piece bench grouping with the theme of The Five Senses. The framework and smooth coating for one main part was what actually got built by the Sculpture students and then passed to Ceramics students.

The semester ended soon after, and this gray baby elephant of a bench still needed lots of continuing effort to design, make, glaze, fire and attach tiles, not to mention to sort, store and edit the tiles in all stages of completion. Many a summer work party that year spent most of its time attempting to define and refine the Five Senses theme and to reconcile specific tile images and shapes with the curves of the bench surface. The project seem to loom larger and become more complicated the more it was worked on.

In time, the original bench enthusiasts took different classes, graduated, transferred to other schools, got jobs, moved on. Work on The Bench languished. By 2005 the tarp we had carefully kept over it had gone away and the palette it sat on was showing signs of sagging. The work “parties” had dwindled to me and Kathryn applying a tile or two and wringing our hands over the vastness and confusion of it all. Here’s an early shot in which the bench looks more like the granite expansiveness of Half Dome and the tiles look like lichen growths.

Car Crash Epiphany
This is where the plot takes an unexpected turn, pun intended. One early morning in July, 2005, my 20-year-old son Roger crashed our Honda Civic sideways into a tree on Highway 1 near downtown Santa Cruz. No drugs or alcohol, just a bit too much downhill speed, some faulty brake work done only a day or two before, and a lot of OC donut spinning because of losing traction crossing the railroad tracks. He was mildly scratched; the car was clearly totaled. Gives me the willies to think of it even now because there was a bit of a Sleeping-Beauty-pricks-her-finger-on-a-spindle curse fulfillment surrounding that crash. Sleeping Beauty did not die, because the original spell was amended, she just fell into a deep sleep…and Roger just got a wake up call from the Universe.

And so did I. I was moved to eliminate all extraneous activities from my life. The idle-chatter coffees, the stray civic involvements, the leftover obligations: all gone! I told Kathryn I only wanted to do what had the most heart for me: ceramics and finishing that bench. She said yes! and thereby graciously provided the conduit to the willing hands of her three classes of students for what turned out to be a couple of years.

The Middle Mash-Up Years
Over the next four semesters I introduced the bench project to 13 Beginning Handbuilding Ceramics classes and invited enthusiastic students to brainstorm image ideas and to make tiles for each of the Five Senses. The inventiveness of such a large, changing group of all ages and sensibilities contributed mightily to the wonderful wildness evident in the whole piece. There are stories to go with each one. Some of them I know: that realistic cigarette in the Smell area? The maker, a former smoker, told me he would always know where his last smoke was.

This one, also from the Smell section, is by a repeat ceramic student who prided herself on having a tile in each Sense, all involving fingers. And it was only after her hand image tile was placed in Touch did we all discover it had six fingers!

While the first crowds worked, I set about clarifying the imagery on the bench and found myself reluctantly chipping off and patching up some irrelevant and damaged tiles from the very early time when we were applying every tile we could get our hands on regardless of whether it served the overall themes in any way. Man, I hated creating MORE gray places to fill, but I can send up a silent thank you prayer for that now as it completely aided in the clarification of the project.

Bringing it Into the Station
After all those semesters of massive tile production by so many willing hands, including addressing the dividers between the Senses areas (what I call the River Tiles) and groveling around on our sides tiling the bottom edge in what I think is a rather orderly and upholstery-like border, it finally seemed to be getting covered. There were more tiles than grayness!

In the final semester, a whole new level of tile generation arose. Up until this point, all the tiles made fit somewhere in the correct area, but this was no longer so. What was needed now were tiles of very specific shapes and curvatures. It was also clear that in lots of places the gaps between tiles were too large, so we began to make and sprinkle in repetitive filler tiles: tiny candies for Taste, musical notes for Hearing and so on. At this point we were bringing the wet clay out to the bench and cutting and shaping all the tiles to fit a custom location, including allowing for shrinkage! The last gaps were closed by some special luster-fired tiles and finally I attached what was clearly the last one. It was grouted and sealed the week after Spring ’07 finals.

The Behemoth Stays Behind
The whole time the bench was being created, so was the grand new Visual and Performing Arts Complex. We knew we would wait for The Move, scheduled for sometime in 2008, in order to place it in the new digs somewhere. Well, moves are tough, calling up major doses of the unexpected as they do. We were 30 years in the old location and the new location was not quite done, so you might begin to imagine what came up in transition. Selecting a place for The Bench was ‘way down on the To Do list for a long, long time. Occasionally someone would ask me about it; occasionally I would go back to that part of campus, sit on it and pat it and thank it for its patience (and gather my own up again.)

But, now that The 5 Senses Bench is right here in our Art Village, around us again in our day-to-day, it is particularly fun to watch new crops of students discovering this very wild mosaic sculpture because these are the folks who never saw it under construction and never saw it sitting around, uninstalled. They are encountering it as it was always intended to be encountered: as a wondrous, marvelous, engaging, the-more-you-look-the-more-you-see piece of public art. That is so true, that I plan to post a Tile Of the Week here on the blog for awhile, to let me get to know it anew. A Tile and A Story, should keep me busy all over again.

Coda
In order to write this very l-o-n-g blog post, I have been looking at all the photos taken from the beginning in 2003 to this week. This last one, posted below, I had utterly forgotten. It’s me on the left and Kathryn’s hands holding the tool, in the first Ceramics Department Bench Work Party. We are placing the first tiles, which also happened to be mine. What I love about this photo is the group’s intensity of focus and the active working hands, because those two things symbolize the whole wonderful mess.

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Fairy God Cub

Here’s the bookend to my last post about Ratty Got Her Wings, a second sculpture of mine accepted into the Santa Cruz Art League’s upcoming exhibit entitled Beasts on Broadway: Animals Galore. (The SCAL is located on Broadway in Santa Cruz, hence the show title.)
Introducing the Fairy God Cub! It’s another animal sculpture “with a twist” completed under the tutelage of Tiffany Schmierer of Skyline College last summer.
What I love about this one is the vulnerable (sheepish?) expression of the baby lion and of course those strap-on costume fairy wings. All fantasy protectors should engage us like this. Here’s another shot of the wings:
The interesting thing about wings  is,  as far as I can tell, angels have feathered bird wings and fairies have diaphanous insect wings. So, am I right? Any of you out there really informed about this? It’s the sort of detail that makes a huge difference between a general interpretation and getting a sculpture that reads in all the right ways.
What ever did we do before Google Image searches? I remember using picture encyclopedias, but even they could fall short at times. Or maybe I am just a lot more specific and picky than I used to be. Yeah, that’s it!
All I wanted today was a short and sweet post about the short and sweet Fairy God Cub.
May you glimpse your own inner kid-self playing dress-up and donning, along with the wings or the cape or the mask, magical powers in spite of very real doubts… and for the time being becoming protected and fantastic.
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"Dear Artist, Congratulations…"

Thus began the letter from the Santa Cruz Art League. It said that my work was accepted into their upcoming Beasts On Broadway, Animals Galore exhibit, which was juried by George Rivera, Executive Director of the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara, CA.

Well, triple yippee to that! This letter is also heaps sweeter in ways beyond its YES! to my art and my efforts to take it into the world for Show and Sell. It says YES! to rats and YES! to pertinacity.

Here’s one piece that will soon be a Beast on Broadway. It’s titled Ratty Got Her Wings. I made it this past summer while studying at Skyline College in San Bruno, CA with the inspiring and wise Tiffany Schmierer. (I put 2,500 worthwhile miles on my car in order to receive her inspiration, guidance and feedback! I can’t wait to share this good news with her.)

Rats are one animal that get a bad rap over their historically, and admittedly not undeserved, bad rep. Yet to categorically reject all rats is, well, Rattism. You can find lots of positive action websites dedicated to easing that prejudice. Look, there goes one now.

My piece is more personal than political, though. Rats, even pet ones, just don’t live very long. Two-three years. This life-size rat sculpture is for all the gentle females that came to be cared for and then leave my sons: Zelda, Kiwi, Latte, GL (short for Greased Lightning,) the One-Who-We-Can’t-Quite-Remember-Her-Name-Right-Now, and dear Moose. They are buried in a group in our redwood grove with a sign, RaT pAcK, posted on a nearby trunk.

Ratty Got Her Wings is my way of saying a heartfelt thank you to those animals. I’m certain that the intimate knowledge of their bodies and movements allowed me to fold that love into the sculptural form I had in mind. Here are two more detail shots of the piece: Oh my, that dreaded snaky tail and a perky face because a rat knows you,just like a dog does.

So, what about that acceptance letter’s ratification of pertinacity (a $2 word for doggedness)?

Like Weight Watchers, I have joined the Santa Cruz Art League at least four times since I moved here in 1989. I’d join for a year, desultorily put something in the everyone’s-included Annual Members’ Exhibit, never quite figure out what else I could do to become involved there, feel awful artistic angst and let the membership lapse. In a common case of sour grapes, I mentally thought of it as The Fart League, which surely is neither clever NOR original. Last year, however, I joined with some goals in mind and I knew that if I did not see them realized, I would understand why, not feel bad and move on to other venues for my work.

I think that a more professional grade of doggedness led me to both better art and better ways to present it and it is what ultimately got me into the animal show at SCAL. To my way of thinking, it is decidedly all connected

In one way or another, though, I have been perfecting my art my whole adult life. But I have been effectively perfecting how I package and present that art less than a year. (Read my last post about my business card saga, just to hear one story about this.) One of my undeniable artbiz mentors is Alyson Stanfield. And now, as I wind up an online blogging class with her and Cynthia Morris, I can say a personal but public thank you to them. And to the other students I have struggled alongside, who I have come to know through their questions, humor and writing: Dear Artists, Congratulations!

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