Thursday, January 29, 2009

Progress Being Made

I started priming about six of the new pieces over the weekend but then realized that my very expensive moonshine was going to run out too soon so I decided to concentrate on just three of them.

I'm often asked how many coats of shellac I put on a piece but I've never been able to find a good way to answer the question for a number of reasons. One being that the question can easily require a thirty minute lecture on what shellac is and how it is applied, the other being I just can't keep track. With these three, there are probably 3 to 5 coats of heavy shellac on the back, and already between 6 and 12 coats (depending on how and where you count) of much lighter viscosity shellac on the front. Sanding out of the fine scratches after starting the applications and point specific applications makes the difference. In addition, the number of coats doesn't really have any meaning when new layers are continually being removed (rubbed out) and the concentration of shellac in alcohol varies greatly between applications.

With the piece above, you can see that I've added a couple of vertical lines of black epoxy since the earlier post. The back side of this piece is also great and I wanted to be able to show both sides but, unfortunately, the epoxy is too dark to see without back lighting so I'm in the process of designing a light box and learning about wiring LEDs.

I started adding red shellac to the pieces below. I'm trying to create an effect of different shades of the red/blue continuum in each of the rectangles, playing off the same effect in the tinted epoxy. I'm struggling with the issue of whether to fill in all the rectangles with color, or to leave some of them clear. I'm a little worried that there is too much color or that the red is too dominant. In the images below, I have added several coats of red, rubbed it out, added some more blue, rubbed, and then some more red. I think I'll go back and do some serious color removal next. I'd like to see some of the rectangles to have deep color but I'd like others to have much more subtlety.

With the one below, I've added a few more coats of blue. My plan is to add some yellow and to create some green/greenish rectangles but I'm now out of my moonshine so I have been trying to find a source of ethanol before I mix up some more shellac. I'll probably leave more of these rectangles clear to compare the effect. It is really hard for me to visualize the best outcome when I haven't done anything like this before.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Art Market Refugee

On Sunday we went to Burlington to say goodbye to friend, artist, and collaborator, Cristine Cambrea. She has had an amazing run as an emerging artist, quickly gaining recognition when she started selling her work in 2004 and maintaining sales large enough to live on on with art alone. However, with the downturn in the art market, the well has run, at least temporarily, dry. As a result, she has left Vermont for less expensive living digs in Florida. Of course, this is probably a great career move in the long run being that the art market in FL is light years beyond what it is in VT, and I know she was getting more than a little tired of the cold (-16 on Sunday morning), but her decision to move was a bit of a shock - coming very suddenly.

Before she left I also wanted to split up the remaining collaborations that we did a year and a half ago. She had been going to Home Depot and drawing on pine planks and plywood, using the grain pattern as a starting point for her art, as I do but in a much different way - so I thought it would be interesting to see what happened when she had some really nice wood to play with. There was a bit of a learning curve to figure out how best to work together so these were in a way, experimental. Hopefully, we will get a chance to do some much better work in the future.

Here she is repairing one of the pieces we did on beech. A gap opened up in the middle so I needed to fill it and then have her redraw over what I sanded off. Behind her is her first (and not to be sold) canvas painting from 2004 - very Hundertwasser-esque - which is interesting because she had never heard of him until people started making the comparison.

The two above are the ones that Cristine was taking, "Double Vision" and "Pondering the Options/Dreamscape"
These are the two that I am keeping, "Parallel Universes," and "Old Soul", plus the one she was repairing, "Head of the Family."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leah Woods at Gallery NAGA

I was in Boston yesterday and was surprised to see Leah Woods work at Gallery NAGA. She designs and builds beautiful, elegant, and feminine sculptural furniture using a lot of elaborate wood bending. She won a Niche Award last year for her wood furniture and I've seen pieces in several magazines. She will also be showing at the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston next month. I find these two pieces at Gallery NAGA interesting in how it takes items (shoes) that are usually hidden in a closet and takes them out for display as part of a sculpture. I don't think too many men would have thought to do this. It is also a great idea in that shoes that don't get used very often can still be enjoyed as art.
This top one is obviously the woman's shoe version, the one below is the man's version.

Although I can see women's shoes working as art and being on display, I'm not thinking that it works so well for men's shoes. Men just have boring shoes. I think men's shoes start becoming art when they get so over used and worn out that going barefoot is an improvement -- like this (below) Janet Van Fleet sculpture with my old shoes (although I don't think Leah's sculpture would be an appropriate display for it). When I finally stopped wearing them, barefoot was definitely more comfortable. But then, I'm not really the best person to ask about men's or women's fashion. There probably are very nice men's shoes out there that are worthy of display, I would have no idea.

Below is an image of Leah's piece that is featured for the Society of Arts and Craft show. In addition to being very well designed and constructed, I find her work interesting in how feminine it is. I just don't think you could ask a man to design something that would do the same function as that and get something that is so "girlie." Right down to the fine point feet, it just gives you the sense that it was designed by a woman for a woman.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Got My Booze

Monday was MLK day so I thought it would be a good chance to go to Plattsburgh, NY, check it out, and pick up some booze. Specifically, I was looking for "Everclear" - 190 proof ethanol as a solvent for shellac. 250 miles later I was home with a $22 bottle of Canadian liquid fire.

When I started working with shellac it took me a while to learn the risks of using denatured alcohol and figuring out the best/safest brand. The problem is that the Feds require that alcohol sold outside of the beverage industry regulations be mixed with poison (denature it) so that it will kill you if you decide to drink it. Most commercial brands mix ethanol (beverage grade alcohol) with methanol -- which may make you go blind and/or slowly destroys your nervous system. It is cheap (approx. $5/quart) but should never be used in confined spaces or on a regular basis. They also tend to mix methanol at a rate of around 50%. I use it for cleaning my shellac brushes and I don't leave it open in the shop. My favorite shellac solvent alcohol is Belhen's Behkol (about $7/quart) because it uses a very high concentration of ethanol along with butynol, isopropenol (rubbing alcohol), and propyl acetate (in addition to being a solvent it is a common pear flavor additive). I still need to ventilate the shop when I use it but I'm sure it is much safer than the common hardware store varieties.

The problem is that with an 8 month heating season here in Montpelier, VT, it is hard to ventilate for most of the year. So, to be safe, I've been searching for a source of pure ethanol and I had heard that grain alcohol was still available in New York (it has slowly been banned in one state after another as people continue to die from alcohol poisoning - about 1200 college students die every year!) Unfortunately, when we got to Plattsburgh, we learned that it had been banned 6 months earlier (we also learned there was absolutely no reason to go to Plattsburgh, but that is another story). However, after stopping in a second liquor store hoping for an old stash, I was told that they still sold it in Canada. Since we were going close to the boarder on the way back we gave it a shot. Having not planned on going to Canada, however, we only had driver's licenses. The Canadian boarder agent wasn't too happy about it but, ironically, after explaining that I was looking for some grain alcohol, he let us in.

We were quickly able to find the goods and head back to the boarder. Had it been time to eat we might have also sought out some poutine, but we had gotten our fill in P-town and were ready to get back. The US boarder agent wasn't happy with our driver's licenses either but let us in with a warning that we may end up in Guantanamo if we try it again.

The bottom line is that I need to find a better source of pure ethanol. $60/quart is more than I'd like to spend when retail rate - outside of the fed/state beverage tax scheme - should be closer to $7. I figure I might be able to apply for a license with the state but I assume that the quantities I need a so low that it wouldn't be worth it. I'll look into it but if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.



Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hugh Townley at the Fleming Museum

It has been too cold this week to work in the shop (morning temperatures have been -2, -8, -19, -27, and -17) so I went to the Fleming Museum in Burlington on Wednesday to see the Hugh Townley show. Hugh taught art at Brown for many years and retired to Bethel, VT in the late 90's. He died last year and the Fleming was kind enough to put together a retrospective show. I had seen his work a couple of years ago at the (VT) Governor's Office and was very impressed so I'm glad to get to a chance see more of it now.

His work is influenced by his many trips to India as well as other world travels and by native american culture. I'm not sure what all the symbols mean or what they represent, I just think they look cool. I also like how his work is simultaneously both primitive and refined. For the most part, he leaves saw marks on the wood, not bothering to sand and smooth the surfaces, and his shapes often look rough as well, like he was just winging it as he made them; but he combines a complicated series of shapes together and everything fits perfectly. It gives you the sense that there was a grand plan before he started but at the same time it is very playful, designed like a child's puzzles but with texture. They look like he had a lot of fun making them.

Upon entering the museum there is a sign that asks visitors to ask permission to take photographs, which I dutifully did. The permission giver wasn't available and I was told that someone would get back to me, which they never did, but since I followed the instructions (the sign didn't say I needed to receive permission) I figured it was okay to take some images. Here are a few, better images are on his website.

This one, above, is unusual in that it is made with obiche, an african wood. Most of his sculptures are made with mahogony, often with very large boards that you would have a very hard time getting these days. This one is also unusual in being pretty small, about 18 inches wide. I think it is one of the early ones of this style so it was probably a bit of an experiment. It is titled, "Dark Night - Tuba City." Why did he use a light wood if it represents a dark night? Don't know. What do the pieces mean? Don't know. He seemed to use arrows a lot, they must have meant something to him but I don't have a clue what it is.

These 3 are early pieces (1950's?). The one in the middle has the same "rounds" on the back side of the opposite half. They remind me of the two piece recliner chairs that are made in West Africa, only without the seat part. He did travel to Africa at some point but not sure when or how often; maybe he was familiar with those chairs.

This one was made after the death of Willem de Kooning and is named after him, "deK is Dead." There is a paint brush in the lower left corner, you can also make out a table and maybe a can of paint. It is an interesting 3-d monotonal painting made with wood rather than paint. Definitely more painterly than sculptural.
This one, "A Brief History of Haley's Comet," was completed in 1984, around the time of Haley's last visit to our section of the solar system. I like his use of wormy mahogany in the lower section.

The piece in the middle is also one of his early sculptures. A fun use for a big block of oak. Maybe it was designed as a handy storage space for salad forks? I especially like the plywood pieces seen in the background. They were part of a series done most recently. As he carved through the plywood you see the bold grain patterns and black glue lines. It gives you a new perspective on construction grade plywood. The painted wood piece to the right is also a relatively new piece. I wonder why he started experimenting with color, most of his work is very monotonal, maybe grandchildren?

If anybody has more information or thoughts about the work, please share.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Don't Listen To The Artist!

In the latest issue of Smithsonian Magazine there is an article about Van Gogh and his night paintings. One point that stood out for me was where it mentioned how horribly disappointed he was with his painting, Starry Night. He thought it was a total failure. It reminded me of my own experiences with my art and dealing with other artists. I find, pretty consistently, that the public reacts much differently to art than the artists would predict. Often my least favorite piece is the one that people tend to react to and like the best. I have to hold my tongue. I'd like to say, "What? You like that one!?! But it really isn't any good." I don't know why this is. I haven't found that it has to do with how much experience a viewer has with art, they could be a seasoned collector or a novice. It might have to do with the extra work that goes into the failures. I can spend twice as long working on a piece that I don't like in order to try and save it and then finally give up when I realize there is nothing left I can do. I think it may also have to do with how artist will fixate on one minor part of a piece that doesn't feel right where as the viewer never notices or cares about the details, they react to the piece as a whole. As a gallery owner, I see the same thing with other artists. It isn't unusual to see someone's least favorite piece be the first to sell. The bottom line is that artists are often the worst judges of their own work.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Next Great Idea - A Baye Fall Series

The idea of connecting pieces together that are different thicknesses has me thinking of creating a Baye Fall (info here and image here) series. The Baye Fall are a subsect the mourides, a Senegalese sect of islam. They are famous for, and most recognizable because of, their really cool patchwork cloths. Now I just need to figure out how I would connect all the pieces, and how I would paint and polish small pieces. Not sure how I'll do it but it will look real cool when I do.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Next New Series -- "Stars" and Stripes

Here is an image of the roughed out first in a series of stars and stripes. I'd like to eventually do 50 of them, all different but all with thirteen stripes. Some round, some domed, some with the "stars" in the middle, or all four corners. Different colors as well, no reason they have to be red, white, and blue. I've also already bought some copper roofing nails that I may use for "stars". I also might just use the bird's-eye maple, leaving the bird's-eyes alone to imply stars. I like the idea of making them multi-level so that the star section sits above the rest. With this first one, the bird's-eye maple section is about 3/16th of an inch proud.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

In Praise of Mistakes and Piet Mondrian

I welcome mistakes in my work because I often find that mistakes force me to find creative solutions that result in designs much better than I originally envision. With the piece below, I had originally glued it up in the wrong order. After recutting and reglueing it the lines between the old and new cherry pieces was too visible so I inlaid the black opaque epoxy over it. The result is something that reminds me of Piet Mondrian's work. I had been thinking that it would be interesting to do a Piet Mondrianesque piece but wasn't planning on doing it in the immediate future - but then it just showed up anyway. Not that I'm a fan of his art, I just think it would look better if it were done in wood. My distaste for his paintings derive from seeing his retrospective at the Smithsonian. I thought his early work was interesting but then it looked like he slowly went insane and he was trying to draw the view down with him. Oh the monotony! They just got bigger and bigger, painting after painting, room after room, the same thing over and over. By the end, I couldn't look any more. Definitely a Mondrian overload. If only he had worked in wood he might have been able to continue making something interesting.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Going Beyond Stripes - New Work

Ever since going to a retrospective exhibit of Sean Scully's at Dartmouth's Hood Museum in the spring, I've had a growing respect for stripes. I wasn't as enthralled with his work as I was enthralled with the idea of making something similar in wood, especially curly maple -- with curls perpendicular to the stripes adding another dimension to the work. So my recent work has all been stripes.

With the new new work, however, I've started cutting the stripes into smaller sections and filling the gaps with either opaque black epoxy or clear tinted epoxy. With the clear epoxy pieces I'm thinking of either building a metal stand around the piece so that it can sit in the middle of a room, or back-lighting them with an LED light box. The metal stand idea would require figuring out a way to polish the front and back - I'm not sure that I can polish one side without ruining the polish on the opposite side; and the light box idea will require finding supplies, box designs, and materials (metal?, wood?). Not sure which way to go yet.

Here are some examples. The first one is made from the same board that I made Silk Ribbons and Cherry; the second one is the same board as "641" (earlier post); the rest (a total of 10 - not all shown) are made from the same board of curly/wormy maple (originally 2 inches thick so I was able to get 2 pieces by resawing them once they were glued up).

This one above, and the one below are the front and back of the same piece, I think it is the best candidate for getting a metal stand for middle of room display because the grain patterns are great on both sides.

This one is the other half of the one above it. The pattern of cuts is almost the same but it is filled with opaque black epoxy because they aren't through cuts.

Friday, January 2, 2009

In Praise of the Nikon D-90

My sister-in-law recently came by the gallery and took some pictures of my work with her new Nikon D-90. I was very impressed with the quality of the pictures and the accuracy of the colors. Amazingly, it balances the light and can even take great pictures with just ambient light (we turned the gallery lights off for one of them). With virtually no effort, just point and shoot, we got very good images. I can't complain about the Canon Power Shot, 4-Meg, point and shoot camera that I've been using. Images are good for what it is and I can get the right colors as well, but it is impossible to take pictures of large objects without getting too much distortion. When I've used Canon's SLR (Rebel), I haven't been happy with the colors and usually go back to the images I've taken with the Powershot.

Here are some examples, I'll add them to my website soon:

"Five by Ten" - 27" x 26" x 1"

Yin/Yang - 33" x 20" x 0.75"
"641" - 33"x 24" x 0.75"
"Three-of-a-Kind" - 36" x 36" x 1"
"Untitled" - 56" x 20 x 0.5"

Art Finds A Home

The recent purchasers of this painting, "Sunflowers and Sky," sent me an image of its installation in their home. I think it looks great, like they had the nook made specifically for the piece. In fact, they had a couple of nooks built into their home specifically for art. They then painted the background to go with the painting. It is a honor to have the work so prominently placed.

This was my second shellac painting. It was an interesting process of having to start thinking about color and composition. Besides learning about primary and secondary colors in elementary school, I don't know much about color. Luckily, at the same time I was beginning the piece I heard (or read) about Vincent Van Gogh writing in a letter describing his color theory and how much he loved yellow and orange and that whenever painting it, he liked to paint blue next to it. I figured, if it is good enough for Vincent . . .

In sending the work to the Phoenix area, I also got an education in shipping shellac paintings to deserts in the heat of the summer. The first time I sent it, I wrapped it in tissue paper and, although FedEx did crush the box a bit, the bigger problem was that it arrived in Phoenix on a Friday but it didn't get delivered until Monday, leaving it the weekend to bake the tissue paper into the shellac.

After repairing it I repacked it with an added layer of plywood that I used to attach to the back so that it would float in the box without touching anything. Unfortunately, FedEx was again unable to deliver it on the Friday and they crushed the box, slightly but significantly, baking some cardboard into the painting. Luckily, the buyers gave me a third chance and this time I added wooden laths on the front and sides, inside a second box.

I submitted a damage claim to FedEx for the second crushing and they reimbursed me enough to pay for the multiple shipping costs, so at least it only cost me time. Now I know, crate all work going to deserts in the summer.