Found a stack of old Thomas Guide Map books in my father’s garage a few years ago and didn’t have the heart to throw them out (or in the recycling). They represent a less intrusive, analog type of way-finding. At least in my family, it was also a rite of passage to receive your first Thomas Guide Map book of Los Angeles County when you got your driver’s license. I fondly remember sitting in the car with high school friends and looking up a street in the massive index and having to note down the page number and grid location (“…okay, La Cienega and Centinela is page 234, G6”). My nostalgia means I now have a stack of outdated Thomas Guides weighing down the bottom of my bookshelf. I figured at least I could try to make some art with them…perfect for a highway haiku!
I didn’t grow up with cicadas or the sounds of cicadas. There are apparently 30 species of cicada found in California (and 3,000 worldwide), but almost none of them are commonly found or heard in the Los Angeles metro area. I remember hearing my first true ear-ringing buzz-saw worthy cicada at a private campground in Arizona as an adult in my early-twenties. True story: I turned to my friend and asked why the campground would play a recording of such demented cricket noises so loud on the PA system. My friend, who also grew up in suburban Los Angeles, shrugged and said she didn’t know. Rest assured, I have now heard the infamous cicada mating calls many times and have been made to understand how much a part of summer they are for many people around the world.
So when the theme for the Kick-About #8 was announced on Red’s Kingdom blog as simply the word “Cicada,” I knew I wanted to lean towards the absurd a little. What is a cicada to someone who has never heard or seen one? Insects are as vulnerable to climate change and extinction as any other creature – what happens when we start asking after cicadas when they don’t emerge as reliably? Or at all?
I wish to emphasize that no bugs were harmed in the making of this art. I went in search of local insects that had met their demise naturally. I was lucky in finding the Swallowtail butterfly wings right away, but then the supply of large naturally-deceased insects dried up. As they say, the fastest way to make something disappear is to go looking for it on a schedule. I finally found a mostly intact green june beetle. I’m looking forward to seeing what “Cicadas” meant to the other Kick-About participants!
A man wheels the plastic cow inside for the night.
True story – the specialty butcher near my house has a life-size plastic cow on wheels that is rolled out when they open and rolled inside at night when they close. The transfer print of the words was, well – let’s just say it was not what I had in mind. But somehow the piece felt complete anyway and so I am releasing it into the wild.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!