Saturday, March 28, 2009

Work in Progress

I have started painting the new work and polishing some of the work that I started a couple of months ago. I'm pretty happy with how the fault piece (below) is coming along although I'm probably going to tone down the colors a little more as I polish it (adding some brown tones).

And I really like how the circle pieces are looking. I'm going to keep the circle sections clear on both of them.

With this striped piece I'm experimenting with two black stripes. Not sure about it yet. There is a fine line between making it identifiably black and completely covering the grain. I want the viewer to still see the curls and grain pattern. It might work, not sure yet.

And I've painted the hole piece (cut from the one above) as I said earlier, with a gradation of color. I think it is coming along but could be darker red in the middle and a little more orange gradation needed. The figure in this wood is just spectacular.
I was struggling with this piece until I decided to add a red rectangle. I like it now.

And I like how these two "Mondrian-esque" pieces are evolving. I like the balance of beautiful with hideous colors. I'm finding that a good level of hideousness is good for a painting. A hideous color isn't really hideous next to a beautiful color, and a beautiful color becomes more interesting next to a hideous one. Together they are definitely better than on their own.

And even if people do mention Mondrian too much when seeing these pieces, at least they have different colors than he used and they include interesting grain patterns/coloration.

But these two I'm still struggling with. This small one has an imbalance of hideous colors but I'm not sure how to make it better yet.

And this one just isn't very interesting yet. There might just be too much color in both of them. I would consider adding a couple of black rectangles, but there are already a lot of black in them. I might remove color from some sections. Not sure yet.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jessica Straus @ Boston Sculptors Gallery

When I was in Boston last week I was lucky to happen across Jessica Straus's show, Fittings and Findings, at the Boston Sculptors Gallery just as she was finishing the installation (she was mopping the floor and was kind enough to let me dirty it up again before it dried).

The show was a complete surprise because I hadn't heard of her before and didn't have any expectations. I was immediately taken with her combination of found objects and painted wood (basswood) carvings.

I really love her "Industrial Widget" series where she integrates these hand-carved spheres with objects of mysterious history to create an entirely new (and believable) object.

"Yoke Red Spiral"

©Jessica Straus

"Red Spiral" (30 spheres!)

©Jessica Straus

"Boing" (29 spheres!)

©Jessica Straus

"Boing" close-up

©Jessica Straus

I find these spheres fascinating, especially because of the hand carved aspect, hundreds of carving marks included. How many cuts does it take to carve a sphere? How do you carve a sphere? How long does it take to carve a sphere? I suppose it is a very meditative process, especially when you have hundreds of these things to carve (I didn't have time to count them all, but there were probably over 300 spheres in the show). You just have to love them (as the Jessica must).

And then there is the "Red Dress" series, a story-book like series of Jessica's basswood painted alter ego(?) encountering and conquering a world of dangerous found objects (often old kitchen tools).


©Jessica Straus

"Surveying the Yard"

©Jessica Straus


©Jessica Straus

She is gets herself in trouble a lot but with "daring-do" she seems to have the confidence to get herself out of any mess she may find herself in. There is a story in each piece, and you really want to cheer for her. I think a series of them would make for a great children's book, or better yet, a picture book where you can write your own story.

She also had Game Boards, Ball Organizers, and Jointed Segment series on display. All of them are a healthy combination of whimsy and controlled lunacy. Her work is successful in doing what art should do, helping the viewer to see the world differently and taking the viewer to a different place.
Not surprisingly, Jessica has an impressive resume. She has shown her in a number of museums, including the
DeCordova and the Fuller Craft, and is also represented by the Clark Gallery in Lincoln, MA; so it was a little disappointing to see such "reasonable" prices on the work. Boy, it must be hard to make a living as an artist.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Focus on Wood @ Society of Arts and Crafts: Bizarre, Beautiful, and Dangerous

I was in Boston on Wednesday and got a chance to see the Focus on Wood show at the Society of Arts and Crafts. The show is a really great chance to get a survey of some of the most interesting and inventive artists currently working with wood. I think the stars of the show are Leah Woods' two furniture/sculptures "For Rose Bertin"

©Leah Woods

(for info on Rose Bertin, check here)

and "Undraped"
©Leah Woods

Both are such original designs, and as I've said before, so identifiably feminine. What surprised me the most about "For Rose Bertin" is how large it looks in person. The "skirt/dress" really takes over a room, much more than you would imagine looking at a picture.

Equally unique, and much more bizarre, is this installation piece by Christine Lee.
©Christine Lee

The piece is titled "Shims:Thousands of Uses - Use #21". I'm sure she is correct, there must be thousands of uses for shims and it seems she is making it her life's mission to find them all. Clearly, there is an element of tongue in cheek irony to her work, using one of smallest elements of a construction project to create the subject of construction - walls, buildings, windows. Check out her website and get some design ideas for your next kitchen renovation. A lot of her work focuses on making furniture from recycled, unexpected objects. The shims in this installation will be donated to a home construction charity; Habitat for Humanity?, I don't remember.

Equally bizarre are Matthias Pliessnig's "ad lib" sculptures.

©Matthias Pliessnig
©Matthias Pliessnig
©Matthias Pliessnig

In isolation these small sculptures could be easily dismissed as the strange, unsophisticated ramblings of a madman; but put in context with his breath-taking series of sculpture and furniture, these small pieces can be understood as creating balance in the universe - in artistic form - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. My theory is that with these sculptures, Matthies is mentally balancing his exquisite, refined, easily appreciated work with things that are more difficult and less "beautiful." It takes a lot of mental energy to create his "beautiful" work; with these "ad lib" pieces, there must be a mental release of tension, a time to relax and use a different part of his brain.

Perhaps the most dangerous piece in the show is this longboard by California furniture maker and architect by Miki Iwasaki. Made with bamboo and various hardwood highlights, but, please note, it is lacking breaks and a seat belt. There should be a warning posted on the underside (perhaps there is) saying (as if one were needed) that one shouldn't race down the side of a mountain a top one of these. You'd think this was self-evident, but apparently not. As much as I've thought about it, I can only think of one way that you can stop this thing once you get going down hill. Great work, but it gives me the willys just looking at it.

©Miki Iwasaki

Jason Schneider's sculptures are the only ones in the show that are both beautiful and bizarre. He calls these "Plungers" although they look an awful lot like his "Wobbly Tops." Maybe he got tired of seeing people try to spin them; with as much time as they take to make, I'm sure it isn't fun having to touch up the paint all the time.

©Jason Schneider

I was also enthralled with Michael de Forest's constructed/deconstructed/sutured/painted vessels. They are very folk arty with none of the simplicity or ease of construction. The two pieces are "Cat Skull Bowl: messenger, stopper of time" and "Storyteller: New Beginning, Teacher, Hoarder".

©Michael De Forest

©Michael De Forest

There is much more to the show than I can describe here; more work that is bizarre, beautiful, and challenging (but, thankfully, no other dangerous work). You can see a portion of these on SOAC's current exhibit page.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

New Work - Faults and Circles

While waiting for my Industrial Alcohol Use Permit to come through, I started a few new pieces. The first one is inspired by geological faults, where the fault has occurred because the earth has pulled apart and the middle section has slipped down, like the Rift Valley situation or the Basin and Range out west. The problem with this series though, is that you loose a lot of wood cleaning it up, an inch on top and bottom.

These two below are part of a circle series that I've thought about for a while. I first thought of it before the stripped work but I'm glad I waited because I think combining it with the strips works much better than without. I'm going to leave these pieces as they are but next time I'll bisect and off-set the circles (combining the fault series with the circles).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Wood Artist Profile: David Hurwitz (Part I)

Of all the artist/craft careers, studio furniture maker has to be the hardest. The combined struggles of mastering the craft of woodworking, developing original designs, maintaining a fully equipped studio, and marketing a product that will cost many times other similarly functioning objects are at least as great than any other discipline. Having made furniture as a hobbyist, I have a good sense of what goes into making furniture with traditional joinery and I know that the artists are lucky to be making a living wage. There just isn't any way around the fact that making fine furniture takes an enormous amount of time. On top of this, just about every schmuck with a table saw has a romantic dream of living in the woods and making furniture for a living; as a result, the competition is extremely stiff.

With the knowledge of these difficulties, I always appreciate seeing someone getting recognition and being on the cusp of making a name for themselves, perhaps even being able to make a reasonable income. Randolph, Vermont artist David Hurwitz is just such a person. As a professional furniture maker since 1988 and self-employed since 1993, David recently had two of his solo piece, along with two collaborations with stone sculptor Kerry Furlani, featured in Lark Books new publication "500 Tables":

©David Hurwitz 2009
(this little table - bird's-eye maple top, maple legs- actually looks to be dancing)
©David Hurwitz 2009
(Kerry made the top and told David to make a table with it, I think he did a great job of integrating the two components together)

©David Hurwitz 2009
(this one they designed the components together)

and a writing desk that is also featured in Fine Woodworking's Design Book Eight:

©David Hurwitz 2009
(I really like the use of ash for the legs on this one. The bold lines really work well with the strong curved legs; and the asymmetry of the legs really gives it a sense of being alive. It looks like a bull ready to charge.)

With the occasion of these accolades, and with the thought that I (and perhaps others) would be a lot more interested in this blog if it covered other wood artists, I interviewed David last week in order to get some insights about his work. For space considerations, I'll divide the profile into three posts.

As you can see from the above images, as well as this one, a wine cabinet that was published in Fine Woodworking a few years ago,

©David Hurwitz 2009
(It seems appropriate that waves/ripples would be a key element of a wine cabinet.)
David has a knack for creating lightness and movement with big, thick pieces of wood. He has developed a style that is unique and identifiable as his own -- an important trait in trying to make a name for oneself. The work also seems to be as much sculpture as it is furniture.

Here is David -- I suppose most photographers would take a picture of him pretending to make something but I think this impromptu image may be more insightful:
And this is where he works, one of the more upscale industrial parks scattered around Randolph, VT:

Interestingly, as I was wandering around his shop he told me about scoring some mighty fine lumber from the estate of Hugh Townley. Hugh's son was recently looking to sell his remaining inventory of very rare mahogany and other mysterious woods and the rumor of the impending sale made its way to David by chance. Look at this stuff! wormy mahogany that looks like it was devoured by a small snake!

Neither of us could identify the lump of wood on the bottom left, David just thought it was interesting and is planning to polish one side for a small sculptural table.

And a plank of mahogany that is about 24 inches wide! They aren't cutting trees like this any more.

The HT below was labeled by Hugh himself!

David says he hasn't bought or used mahogany since the mid-90's, partly due to its endangered status, but since this stuff was cut long ago there didn't seem to be much harm by indulging. In addition, David was told that the next day someone was coming to buy the lot for trim molding! What a waste that would have been.

All designs and images Copyright 2009, David Hurwitz

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sad Day: Woodwork (magazine) Update

A few weeks ago I was surprised and happy to find a new edition of Woodwork (magazine) in my mail box. Yesterday I was disappointed to receive the following email from Tom Caspar, the editor of the magazine:

Dear friends of Woodwork,

Thank you for your thoughtful letters.

When my parent company, New Track Media, bought Woodwork last year, I was one happy guy. With the help of a small but dedicated staff, I was all set to continue a great tradition in publishing a unique magazine.

I’m writing you to let you know that Woodwork is going through another major change. Not in its content, appearance, or attitude, though. Due to a major and completely unexpected disruption in the newsstand distribution business, Woodwork will not continue as a quarterly this year. Instead, we will be publishing an annual issue this fall.

Chalk this up to the weak economy. Our publisher just made this call the other day, and it wasn’t easy.

I’m not exactly sure what will happen to subscriptions. I’ll let you know as soon as I get the word. The annual issue we’ll be publishing will not go out to subscribers, as I understand it, but will only appear on newsstands.

If you have been in contact with me about writing for the magazine, please send me an e-mail so we can continue our conversation. I’ll still be looking for a wide variety of stories to include in the fall issue. Your contributions, after all, are the heart of the magazine.

Now for some good news: we’re launching a new Woodwork website May 1st. It will host blogs, forums, and galleries of photos, plus stories that have already appeared in recent issues of Woodwork. This site is our way of helping the Woodwork community grow even larger and stay connected.

In the meantime, we’ve started a forum about Woodwork on the new American Woodworker website, I predict that there will be a pretty lively discussion on the magazine’s past, present and future, and I welcome your contributions. You can access the forum through this link: First, though, you’ll have to sign in and become a member. I’d like to publish part or all of your letter on the forum, to get the ball rolling, but only with your permission. Please write back if that’s OK with you. I won’t publish your email address, just the gist of what you wrote.

Be assured that the whole team here is eager to publish the next issue of Woodwork. We bought a business, but we also inherited a trust. I hope that the first issue we put out, Spring 2009, shows that we all want Woodwork to continue in the same spirit, and for that, we’ll need your understanding and help.

Talk to you soon,

Tom Caspar
Woodwork magazine

So, look for the next issue on the newsstands in the fall and buy it so that this great magazine can continue!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

You Can't Get There From Here! (LED Update)

After finishing the latest experiment with LED lighting powered with batteries, I've come to the conclusion it just isn't possible to meet my requirements of back lighting the epoxy sections and have enough battery power to last a reasonable amount of time. With these two setups, 2 1.5v AA batteries powering a 10mm 3v 100ma LED and a 9v lithium battery powering 3 3v 20ma superflux LEDs, I was only able to power the lights for 48 hours. In addition, I would need at least 2 more 10mm LEDs or 3 more of the superflux ones.

So it looks like the only way to really back light the sculptures is to plug it in. Although I still don't like the idea of having to plug the sculpture in, Paula McCullough suggested that I make the sculptures stand alone pieces (like a standing lamp) so that the power cord comes out of the bottom and isn't so much a distraction. I think this a good idea, I just don't like the idea of having to design this extra element to the sculpture - not sure how I can do something that will look good and still be priced at a level that I can get paid for my level of effort. I'll put it aside and think about it for a while.