Separate Ennui

collage of man sitting in chair with "all he wanted was to be" spray painted in yellow

Set my phone alarm this time so I posted on the right day! Take that, lockdown induced time blindness! For Kick-About #7 on Red’s Kingdom Blog, the prompt was the 1914 painting by Walter Sickert, titled “Ennui.”

Oftentimes, the prompt sends my mind shooting off in some wild meandering direction. But this time, I really couldn’t get away from the couple in the painting. After doing a little reading about it, this is clearly part of the genius of this artwork: it’s devastating “normality.” I kept saying to myself, “they really need their own space.” I fought that notion for about a week, tried a couple of collages of the whole painting I wasn’t happy with, and then finally gave in and made them their own collages.

collage with woman sitting at a table and "all she wanted was to be" spray painted in yellow

The whole Kick-About 7 will be up tomorrow! I’m excited to see where everyone took this prompt. (While you wait for that goodness to drop, check out Kick-About 6, Kick-About 5, and Kick-About 4 – you’ll be glad you did!)

Highway Haiku 1

black and white and silver reverse transfer image with haiku

silver + slick
legless mannequin
a flash on the highway
shoulder

Like most residents of Southern California, I spend a fair bit of my time commuting (although the pandemic lockdowns have cut traffic by at least half). My drive to and from work often takes me by the exit for the local landfill and it is not unusual to see items on the highway shoulder that didn’t quite make it there…

I’ve been working with small pieces of paper and doing repeated layers of transfers, glues, and textures. I’m not going for perfection in the transfer – I find it to be a meditation in accepting whatever comes as I pull the backing off.

Recycled art for Marine Week

black and white image of wandering albatross on plastic trash
black and white image of wandering albatross printed on plastic trash

I’ve always loved recycled art and art that uses household or industrial discards as a medium. I credit one of my high school art teachers – she was passionate about recycling as art and petitioned our school district to allow her to teach it as a stand alone elective. They did not approve her petition, but she was undaunted and incorporated almost all of the projects and curriculum into her “regular” art class.

Fast forward to today and Paul at Wombwell’s Rainbow had a post over the weekend about National Marine Week in the UK, asking for art and poems to celebrate the different themes each day (not too late to join in, I think!). It inspired me to try some monoprint transfers of old sea-themed drawings onto trash and plastic waste to highlight the strange tension of how we revere and utterly trash our oceans simultaneously.

The first transfer was of a 1809 wandering albatross engraving by George Shaw onto plastic pipet inserts. These are for reloading pipet tips into boxes for micropipettes (which are devices used to measure tiny volumes very precisely in labs). They are used once and thrown away. The next one I tried was of 19th century etching of narwhals onto a used plastic food storage bag.

plastic food bag with black and white narwhal etching on front
close up of plastic food bag with black and white narwhal transfered on the front

It turns out all trash is not created equal for this technique! I also tried to transfer onto some tin cans but that didn’t work at all. My last successful print was of a 1921 etching of an oarfish by W.B. Robinson onto a foil cracker bag.

Guide to Loss

In a testament to this time of lockdown, I didn’t realize what day it was and completely missed the deadline for submitting art to the latest Kick-About on Red’s Kingdom Blog! Kick-About #6 is officially up today, please do check it out – it is another stunning set of entries. I shall set an alert on my phone for the next one!

These are my art responses to this round’s prompt – which was the book by Rebecca Solnit titled “A Field Guide to Getting Lost.” I haven’t read the book and wasn’t going to attempt it – so I worked with the title. My initial thoughts really hovered over the “Lost” part. I recently read a Reddit post about the Vietnam draft lotteries and how there appeared to be heavy bias in the initial lottery towards birthdays at the end of the calendar year. No one knows why – presumably the number draws were random – but there are explanations proposed of simple human error. Birthdays at the end of the year were added to the hopper last and then the whole thing was not properly mixed. These men, born at the end of the year in the years 1946-1950, “lost” that lottery.

My father was drafted in a different round, but the outcome was the same. The top picture is a reverse transfer monoprint I made from a photo of him and my mother shortly after he returned from bootcamp – he’s leaning on his beloved car from high school. The lower print was made from the first photo I could find of him after his first deployment to Vietnam. His face is different. He is different. Which is so strange to me, because I was born after he got out of the service and I’ve never known him any other way but after Vietnam. But making these transfer prints, it had never been more clear to me. It was shocking – and full of loss.

But then Kerfe Roig posted her response to the prompt and it was about labyrinths and journeys and paths. I found it very helpful and comforting. So I made one more transfer print for her poem.

Cummings – Politician

A comment about the texture of my drawings in my last post (thank you, Jilanne!), sent me in search of more “textured” ink drawings I’ve done. I found this one in the archive and so it’s back! By the end of his life, E.E. Cummings’ political views had tracked radically rightward. This has always been out of step with his avant-garde image as a poet – even when he was alive – and his political poetry has not had the lasting popular appeal of his love poems. But this two-liner of his is pretty priceless. While I stridently disagree with his politics, I choose to pluck this political poem out of obscurity; it has a universal feel about it and a sentiment most everyone has shared.

When I dug the drawing out to scan it again, I made the discovery of a B-side I had completely forgotten about! It goes with the texture theme of this week so here it is:

I first posted the Cummings-inspired drawing in early 2016: the original post is here. Have a great (and safe) weekend!

Phage Medallions

Viruses are pretty much all anyone can think about right now, with one specific virus dominating our waking moments (and maybe our dreams? I haven’t had any dreams featuring Covid yet, but I’m sure that will come). This is with good reason, of course.

I used to do research on viruses many years ago – but my viruses didn’t require me to wear “moonsuits” or need special facilities to work on them – they were bacteriophages (or phages, for short) and they only infected and killed bacteria. Phages were discovered during the First World War, typically co-credited to two scientists, one British and one French, working separately. This was the pre-antibiotic era, and so phages were hailed as the miracle that was going to save thousands of soldiers from dying from bacterial infections.

Phage treatment suffered from a number of problems and setbacks during WWI and afterwards, although it was successfully used. But antibiotics quickly eclipsed phages for treatment of infections in the 1930s and 40s, and phages were all but forgotten in the medical community.

Humans have a short memory when it comes to viruses, it seems – both good and bad. But viruses don’t forget us. As a former phage scientist, it has been heartening to see the renewed interest in phages as a potential treatment for antibiotic resistant infections. And see what happens when you get me talking about phages…a longer than normal blog post!

I did these two drawings to celebrate phages in the world around us. We used to go out behind the lab building and smear some dirt on a petri plate to find them – it was just that easy. Figured we could use something positive about viruses these days!

Mail art I didn’t send

First off, I am excited to see the group post of all the art responses to the Kick-About #5 is up on Red’s Kingdom Blog and it is a fantastic collection of work. I am proud to be a part of it and look forward to the next Kick-About! I had posted my monoprints on Friday (scroll down or click here), but I encourage you to check out the whole show and see the work of all the artists together.

I love sending postcards and mail art is one way I try to let friends know I am thinking of them. I figure anything is better than another bill or advertisement in your mail box. I often work on several postcards at once – letting them come together slowly, sometimes waiting for the right picture or words to complete them.

These are three that came together but then turned out a bit more ominous than I intended.

I still have the first two – if anyone would like them, they are up for grabs (just fill out a contact me form). Just know they were made with good intentions and no specific event in mind! I did send the last one below, it had so much texture, I used a molding paste under the finish, and I thought its recipient would appreciate that about it.

Alice Neel Home Lithography

The prompt for the Kick-About #5 on Red’s Kingdom blog was the early Alice Neel painting, Symbols (see below). I decided to do some monoprints and had several tries where the prints just weren’t matching the vision in my head for this challenge. Finally, in frustration, I mixed some fabric ink I had with the printing ink on a small metal rolling plate and had that moment of excitement when I pulled the paper off the plate. The two inks weren’t really compatible (even says so on the bottles!) and the effect was much closer to what I was looking for – much closer to Alice’s experience, I think. Alice Neel’s biography is fascinating and she lived a difficult life as a woman artist, receiving popular recognition only later in life. She painted unvarnished, unflinching portraits of her subjects and from what I read, never compromised on that.

Symbols by Alice Neel, 1932

Thank you, Kerfe for the Kick-About inspiration! (And you are right – I had seen some of Alice Neel’s portraits – although it was the one of a heavily pregnant woman in bed. It was in a larger show about less-often-portrayed nude figures). The entire collection of responses to the Kick-About #5 goes up next week on Phil’s blog – so stay tuned!

Live, Die: A Ghazal – Muske-Dukes

About two weeks ago, my grandmother passed away of natural causes (not Covid-related) at 102 years old. Her funeral was held last week amongst continuing coronavirus restrictions and the pastor noted that she was born during one pandemic (the 1918 Spanish Flu) and died during another – but that this isn’t what defines her, or anyone’s life.

Since she died, I keep coming back to this poem by Carol Muske-Dukes – maybe because my grandmother lingered in a semi-conscious state for almost a week before she died, maybe because it describes so accurately how we didn’t know how to let her go. I had done this drawing as a response to the poem 4 years ago – and when I went back and looked at it last week, it felt unfinished. Now that I had a face to go with the poem, I added the details and shadows it needed. I also added the final words of the poem onto the drawing directly, to fix them there permanently.

If you’d like to read the whole poem, which was part of a series of art-poem collaborations at The New York Times Style Magazine, you can go here.

My original post is here.

The Sound of Waves – Williams

ASoundofWaves_WCW

Since Monday’s post had a science themed collage for Phil’s Kick-About Number #4, I visited the archive to see about another science themed collage. I came across this one, for a William Carlos William’s poem. I laughed because I got the background image for this one – you can see the “heat” and “cold” peaking out from the lady’s shoulder – from the same source as the center image in “Mirror Neurons.” It was a science textbook from the early 60’s I got for free out of the discard pile at the library. The science in it was outdated and often overtly sexist and racist – so I cut out the best of the illustrations and art and consigned the rest to the dustbin of history.

The entirety of the poem is posted after the read more tag, along with the text of the original post and a link (which is still good, I checked) to an online archive of Williams reading his own poems.

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