Posting another mini-art experiment that turned out better than I expected – doing some ink washes and drawings before overlaying the transfer print. There is a part of me that feels I should also post some failed experiments – because that is the unvarnished truth: many don’t turn out. These days, because of all the transfer printing I’m doing, the transfer fails completely or pulls off the under-layers or dries really weird.
I think about the highly edited nature of social media and the illusion it gives of perfection – but then the other side of my brain is just so happy when something works that it says “No, but show that one! Blargh on the ones in the recycle bin!” So, just know that the truth is that experiments fail as often as they work (and if we shift to science, please know that 90% or more of experiments in the lab fail) and next week I’ll pluck up some courage to post some failures too!
dead center in the center of her flowers Georgia O’Keeffe
I was cleaning out a portfolio of old drawings the other day when I stumbled upon the ink lettering I did for a past post on Ann Atwood’s haiku “dead center.” Back then, I wound up using the lettering for an overlay in a digital collage (reposted at the end), but with the perspective of time, I’ve decided I really like the simplicity of the original. So I rescued it from potential recycling and was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a “B-side” drawing as well!
At the time of my original post, there was almost no information on Ann Atwood online. Her haiku were listed in numerous anthologies and the poems could be found on the internet, but the poet herself was a mystery. This seems to still be the case, as I found a post (click here) from the Haiku Foundation (featuring my collage – which was another pleasant surprise!) talking about the limited information we do know and calling for anyone with more to get in touch. The post also features many more of Ms. Atwood’s beautiful haiku.
To keep the pressure low, I always give myself a little pep talk as the deadline for the Kick-About on Red’s Kingdom blog nears, “don’t worry, if Phil announces the theme for the next Kick-About and you don’t have a single idea, that’s okay – it’s totally okay.” But when he announced that the theme for Kick-About #9 was a musical composition by John Adams entitled a “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” oh, I had ideas. Because there is an incredibly fast machine operating inside of you – countless times a day, taking you on a too short ride from the moment of conception until the day you die: your DNA replication machinery. This complex machine, made up of dozens of components, makes an exact copy of your DNA in preparation for your cells to divide.
First, the prompt:
Next, the connection: There are a lot of animations of what the DNA replication looks like inside of your cells, but this one is short (only 1 minute) and does a good job of showing how fast and complex this machine truly is:
I went back to an A4 paper sized collage, which I had done for the first Kick-About I’d participated in (Kick-About #4: Orphée). I like how this format lets a story form freely around the images. But it does present a challenge for me to photograph and/or scan. The top image was the best photograph I could capture and below are some close-ups.
The overlaid transfer print is of the DNA replication machinery (same as shown in the video) midway through making a copy of the genome. The imperfect transfer speaks to the fact that DNA replication does go awry sometimes – as we age, in certain diseases such as cancer, and in some inherited diseases. I was really inspired by Kerfe’s stitched Cicada wings in the last Kick-About and decided to continue the DNA helixes by stitching, letting the ends unravel. We are learning more about our genome all the time, but human heredity is extremely complex, and not all of it is written in the DNA code itself. We have much yet to discover and even more to understand.
In the end, it is always too short of a ride – but at least the journey is made, in part, on this very fast, very elegant, machine inside of you.
The host of one of the open figure drawing studio sessions I used to go to (back in the time before COVID when there were such things) would always say that the secret to “art success” is to make a lot of it and not get too hung up on any one piece. This is true, although I think this man did not also have small children! My time for art is after my kid is in bed and it is very finite. And so I totally get hung up on individual pieces, especially if there is a deadline involved – I’m unlikely to get a chance to redo it once I’m committed to an idea. The compromise I came up with recently is to do mini-tests for certain works to see if I want to proceed with my plan or if it’s going to fail miserably. And sometimes I like these mini-arts just as much as the finished product! The “tester” for Atomic Courtesy is above (the scale is about 2 inches by 3 inches).
Another one, testing out how the Thomas Guide maps transfer print:
This tester strategy has been working well for me and so I plan to keep it up! The bonus is that when the tester turns out, it becomes like a bite-sized preview and art in its own right!
If either of these pieces speaks to you, they are up for grabs: let me know in the comments and I’ll be in touch to send it to you. Remember, they are only 2 by 3 inches each, so not going to work over your mantelpiece (unless you have a miniature fireplace).
To smash the simple atom All mankind was intent. Now any day The atom may Return the compliment.
John Sapiro and I began our email correspondence about this little poem and the history of the atomic age a few months ago, before the early August anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but amidst the early chaos of the pandemic. It seemed almost ridiculous to be talking about yet another threat to worldwide health, peace, and humanity — and yet, it was the mood of the day. I couldn’t find an exact date for Ethel Jacobson’s poem, although it is in a book I have that has a copyright date of 1952. And so our conversation centered mostly around the cold war of the 1950s and 60s but veered around widely. We talked about the physicist Richard Feynman and his “One Sentence” — the sentence he composed that could be left behind to restart all of science and technology in the event of complete cataclysm (i.e. nuclear annihilation).
“…all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.” – Richard Feynman (1918-1988)
I had planned to print Feynman’s entire sentence on my collage, but as I set up the transfer print, it felt wrong. It was too optimistic, too clinical, too exact for what I was feeling. I kept pulling away words and phrases until I was left with this one word; then I was satisfied.
We worked on our pieces in parallel and this is the result! Please stop by his blog (click here!) to see more of his unique combinations and recombinations of music, art, poetry, and video.
Lastly, my tiny paragraph of self-promotion at the end here:
Have doggedly kept up with the writing exercises from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the craft — latest entry (here it is!) is on POV and my very very short story called “The Mountain Lion Killing.” Also, I have an IG, come on over to @merb02 to say hi and see different haiku and monoprints and some desert photography.
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.