Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Understated Beauty @ Society of Arts and Crafts

In visiting the Society of Arts and Crafts to see their 2012 Artist Awards Exhibit, I was captivated by Abigail Anne Newbold's work, particularly her excavation tools.
Homemaker Series, Transportation with Excavation Tools
Bike and panier with accompanying tools
Paniers: leather, sheepskin, and linen
Tools: walnut with found steel tool heads, brass
©Abigail Anne Newbold
Her combination of finely crafted but old, forgotten (and reclaimed) steel tool heads with gorgeous hand-made wooden handles is simple in concept and understated in execution but stunning to experience. If you get a chance to look at them up close or, better yet, get to touch them, they really are memorable.
steel and walnut
Pickax (closeup)
These textured surfaces that she has uncovered from what must have been discarded and rusty tools are just wonderful. In most circumstances, they would probably be overlooked, but she has brought new life into them by celebrating their years of neglect and combining them with beautiful new handles (you can feel their hand-made facets as you hold them).
steel, walnut, and brass
pitch-rake? (closeup)
She has also added some fine brass elements to the pitch-forkish rake-like tool (pitch-rake?) above as well as the shovel below. Along with the walnut lumber, it provides an interesting contrast of impractical elegance against utilitarian design.
shovel (closeup)
shovel and mini-hoe(?)
steel, walnut, and brass
 I like how the steel raps around the handle on this hoe. I think it reminds me of some kind of old-fashioned candy but I'm having trouble remembering exactly what it is, hard candy? taffy? toffee? I'm not sure, but the style definitely indicates care and fine craft in its making. I think it is wonderful that Abigail could combine it with something impractical so that the work could finally (after so many years of toil and abuse) be appreciated for what it is rather than what it can do.
mini-hoe(?) (closeup)
Whether intended or not, I read her work as a metaphor for life. How scars and toil can be transformed into beauty and how people (not just tools) can and should be appreciated beyond their "practical" value. It is subtle work but I read a real powerful message behind it. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Residency at Vermont Studio Center

I was at the Vermont Studio Center last week for a one week residency with 59 other Vermont artists. One week isn't really enough time to get a significant amount of work done, but it was a good opportunity to focus on work for a week and meet other Vermont artists.

I've decided to dedicate this year to working on my Flag Proposal Series so I had prepared three of them to work on during my stay at VSC. After a couple of days I realized my goals for what I was going to accomplish were completely unreasonable. I've always known that my process was slow but I thought that if I had a week to just focus without having to worry about cooking and shopping or any of the other various distractions I normally have, that I would get a lot done. I learned that the work is just slow, regardless of how many other things I have to do.

By way of background, this series is part of my efforts to get the American flag replaced with one of my designs. I've completed three already and I hope to get enough of them done by the end of the year for a show. After last week I think this goal may be unreasonable but I'm trying to focus to see how far I can get. I'll be real happy if I can finish six this year.

This first one, a nine-sided flag, has been the biggest struggle design-wise. The middle section is the second I've made for it and I'm still not happy, though I need to look at the images more to decide what to do. I'm also not sure about the orientation either -- horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. 

I'm happy with the direction and progress of this one, trapezoid flag. I still need to paint the center but I'm not worried about it at this point. I think the salamander-shaped, epoxy-filled, knot in the future blue-ish section is a great addition.  

This final one, double-star or double-sun flag, I am worried about because I know how difficult it will be for construct. I need to fit all the pieces together so they overlap but are still offset by about an eighth of an inch. I'm not looking forward to the assembly but at least I have the excuse of having to fix my router and finishing the others before getting back to it. I thought I would finish the other two and get well into this one during my time at VSC but I still have a ways to go on the others and I never touched this one, other than to arrange it. 
The overlapping circles are constructed, and will be painted, like this older piece, Forever Holiday, except with variations of blue rather than red, yellow blue:
To see the direction of the work, here are images of the first ones:
First Flag
shellac on curly maple, cherry, and bird's-eye maple
24" x 41" x 1"
 Starry Night Flag
shellac on curly maple, cherry, and bird's-eye maple
26.5" x 26.5" x 1
  Inverted Chevron Flag
shellac on curly maple, curly birch, and bird's-eye maple
53" x 34" x 1.5"

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Casting Convention Aside: Bart Niswonger @ Gallery NAGA

Having seen Bart Niswonger's work a number of times, I've known he was an innovative furniture maker, but his first solo show at Gallery NAGA is surprising in just how dramatically he has been able to innovate. Bart is clearly the type of artist that can't repeat himself. Though his previous work is good enough that he could spend a lifetime turning out variations of his existing designs, and I wouldn't begrudge him at all for doing it - any reasonable person would, instead he has used his previous work as just a starting point.

In this first piece, he has cast urethane in his trademark carved ash molds for the base, and created an ash top that he also used as a mold for two other pieces in the show. Though not over-powering in scale or design, I consider it, and its sister piece below, two of the most unconventional and innovative pieces of furniture I've ever seen. Conventionally, one would expect a table top to be flat (I don't remember ever seeing one that wasn't -- or at least wasn't supposed to be), but these have obstacles on them, creators that create a risk for someone placing a drink down on them without paying attention, it may spill. Though I have no idea what Bart's intention with this design was, I think the result is brilliant. It forces the user to pay attention to their actions. With these, you can't just blindly proceed through life, out of habit, not knowing what you are doing, rather, you are forced to think and be aware of your surroundings. The result is a mindful piece that I believe the Buddha would be appreciate. Though using them may not lead to enlightenment, I'm sure they can help move the user in that direction. Perhaps the world would be a better place if all tables came with such features. Maybe this will start a movement that Ikea will eventually catch on to -- we can only hope.

Black Side Table
ash, cast urethane, paint
Black Side Table (closeup)
The simple base on this piece along with its understated opaque white top is in complete contrast to the radically unconventional design. 
Coffee Table
ash, cast urethane
In this image you can see that the cast urethane picks up the ash grain pattern perfectly.
Coffee Table (closeup)
Given the pattern of the mounds in this medicine cabinet, I'm pretty certain it was also cast from the first piece. I like how the addition of yellow in the circles creates a complementary color that, along with the circle grain pattern, results in a nice, unique, polka dot effect. 
Medicine Cabinet
ash, cast urethane, paint
Though Bart envisioned it as a medicine cabinet, I noticed on his website that he has a very broad understanding of "medicine" such that I wouldn't be surprised to see it holding Scotch in his own household. 
Medicine Cabinet (inside)
I'm not sure how the Buddha would feel about Bart's Ball Side Table but, aesthetically, it is my favorite piece in the show. I've seen him use this wave pattern (on the carcass) a number of times before but this time he decorated the peaks with random sized spheres, creating a very playful effect. But the really great thing he did with the piece is in casting a urethane (removable) top to provide a beautiful and interesting flat surface.
Ball Side Table
ash, maple, cast urethane, paint
Aside from the obvious aesthetics, the reason I think this piece is so interesting is that he first cast the urethane on ash (you can see the grain pattern below, the imprint is on the underside) then, before the urethane fully hardened, he was able to imprint the spheres into it so that there is a perfect alignment between the two. 
Ball Side Table (closeup)
Remarkably, he was able to maintain the ash grain pattern in the urethane even as it was distorted by the spheres (you can barely see this below).
Ball Side Table (closeup)
In this final piece, Bart appears to have decorated the cabinet with cast flowers, but he actually used winter squash to create the molds.
Red Yellow Cabinet
ash, cherry, cast urethane, paint
With the door open, you can see that though his work is conceptually radical, he still uses the finest traditional craftsmanship in his construction. 
Red Yellow Cabinet (inside)
By the way, in case you are interested in how Bart cuts the circle/holes in these pieces, as I learned in writing an earlier post, he uses a custom build vertical mill (a tool typically used for drilling in metal) that he modified for woodworking. A reasonable person would never consider going to the trouble but, thankfully, Bart is completely unreasonable.