Art for “Just Imagine” exhibit

I made this piece for the recent online exhibit, Just Imagine, that Cooperation Humboldt’s Arts and Cultural team (based in California) debuted during the Arts Dismantling Capitalism Symposium, “to bring together our local community and beyond to collectively create a more just, regenerative economy and society.”  

Blog 5: Poetic Language

Gallery view, Sound the Climate Alarm, 2020

This is the fifth and last in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. Here are links to the first four:

Blog 1: Artist Statement: Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 2: Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 3: Symbols and Themes

Blog 4: Making Art in Covid-times

Fire (detail)
Cranes Over Fence (detail)

Poetic Language

Sound the Climate Alarm is, in broad terms, my response to climate change, animal extinction, barriers, border walls, and the pandemic. I was happy to discover the writer and poet Mathew Zapruder’s description of how he views the language of poetry, because I think it is a helpful way to think about the images in my exhibit, too.

Dee Dee Dee (detail)

Zapruder talks about poetry as “language freed from utility.” He says poetry is how we “get to the truth that is beyond our ability to articulate.” So where, in my drawings, chickadees sing razor wire, there’s a cardinal honking, or a paper boat is lit on fire, I think these are the kinds of images Zapruder was talking about, intended to “produce an effect in us, rather than to communicate information.”

Red Arch (detail)
Skateboard (detail)

So, while I am working with specific themes in my art, my images are intended less to communicate information than to evoke impressions, inspire imagination, and spark concern.

Installation of paper crane drawings, Lawrence Arts Center, 2020

Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.

Artist prints are on sale in the gallery

Blog 3: Symbols and Themes

This is the third in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. Here are links for the first two:

Blog 1: Artist Statement: Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 2: Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

 

Symbols and Themes

Installation view, Sound the Climate Alarm, 2020

In my last blog, Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm, I described the sources and background of the first ideas for this exhibit. In this blog, I’d like to share about some of the symbols and themes that have emerged in my newer work for this show. 

Cardinal Spring, 2019
Death with Cardinals (detail), 2019

While I have included images of birds in my artwork for many years, more recently I have focused on cardinals. Everybody’s familiar with cardinals and, because of this, images of cardinals have a shared resonance. Four drawings in my show include cardinals. For me, cardinals are versatile characters, sometimes messengers, and sometimes harbingers of joy and Spring. I also include other birds in my artwork, too, often generic-looking birds that represent an assortment of ideas including freedom, the kind of freedom that I imagine goes along with flight, such as the ability to traverse barriers like walls and fences. In two small drawings I exaggerated the wings of a bird in flight to represent a mixture of effort and joy, and in another I exaggerated the wings of a sitting bird (right) to represent a mixture of exhaustion and rest.

Fire, 2016
Thrown, 2019

I have included images of paper boats and paper cranes in my artwork for several years. I view the paper boats as both fragile and resilient. I’ve used the boats in two pieces that signify the effects of extreme weather; in one a paper boat is on fire (above left), and in another the paper boats are rocked around by a storm or flood. I have a few more weather-related pieces in the show, too, one that includes wind blowing a bird nest from a tree (above right), one of rain in the presence of a curiously yellow rainbow, and one showing a windchime whipping around in the midst of a microburst. 

Paper Cranes Installation (drawings from 2017)

I made a small installation of drawings of paper cranes for this show, too (left). Many of us grew up learning one or another version of the story of Sadako and the paper cranes. Sadako, a Japanese girl, was a victim of radiation sickness from the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima. She tried to fold a thousand paper cranes for good luck and long life, but she did eventually die from leukemia. Over time, the paper cranes have become a symbol for international peace, and that is how I use them in my art. 

 

In the drawings that comprise the installation, I was experimenting with drawing a paper crane every day as a ritual. I began the drawings when President Trump was threatening airstrikes on Syria, which he later ordered. As I drew, I was thinking about the meaning of the cranes and, on some days, drawing became a kind of meditation. The daily drawings were also a way for me to practice drawing and become more fluid with drawing. So, the paper-crane installation is a documentation of that process 

 

Ice, 2019
Cranes over Fence, 2018

Several pieces in the show include images of fences and razor wire (above left and right). These pieces reference prisons, the border wall, detention centers, Guantanamo Bay and, in one, titled ICE (above right), immigration policies like family separation that violate human rights. Naomi Klein recently tweeted, “there is no such thing as a singular disaster anymore – if there ever was. From Covid to climate, every disaster contains every other disaster within it. Every fire is a conflagration of all the other fires.” In my show, I try to make a similar point, that climate change-induced extreme weather events contribute to people’s need to migrate, and inhumane immigration policies deepen the crisis: fires within fires, disasters within disasters. 

Black Arch, 2018

I also use arches or archways as symbols. In the exhibit, I use arches in three small mosaics (above), several drawings and a collage. Arches can symbolize doorways, or openings, or passageways. I think of them as a symbol for life and hope. They also symbolize safe passage through barriers, maybe even mental barriers. Some of my arches also appear as rainbows, a symbol of promise or hope in some religious traditions. 

Two Birds, 2020

 

In my next blog, I’ll share about the art that I have made most recently for this show, made during the pandemic, and how the pandemic has affected my creative process.

 

Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link , courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.

Blog 2: Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

This is the second in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. The first blog in this series is available at this link:

Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

Robin, Been and Gone in Animals exhibit, 2015

My exhibit Sound the Climate Alarm includes drawings, mosaics, and collages on themes related to climate change, animal extinction, barriers, border walls, and the pandemic. My focus on climate change and related themes goes back about six years, to 2014. That summer, I had a small exhibit at the Phoenix Gallery in Lawrence called Animals. I had just read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book called The Sixth Extinction, and in it she describes and explains the mass extinction of animals that is going on today and all of the ways that this process of mass extinction is caused by human activity, including killing animals for feathers and tusks, spreading invasive species, destroying habitats, and climate change.

(left) Death with Cardinals (detail), 2019, and (right) Death with Chicken, 2015

I began making mosaics and drawings in scratchboard and clayboard about extinction. One piece, a mosaic included in the Animals exhibit that is not in this show, focused on robins sitting in a tree (above). While one robin is in full color, the others are obscured or silhouetted to suggest that they had been here but now are gone. I also created some small black-and-white scratchboard drawings of animals in cartoon-like scenes, where the animals are leaving, or being disrupted and carried off by the character Death. I included one of these in my current exhibit, titled Death with Chicken (below), and the influence of Death appears in a more recent piece, too, Death with Cardinals (left).

People’s Climate March Maker Speaker Party, 2014

Another influence on the early work in this exhibit, also from 2014, was a local community event called The People’s Climate March Maker/Speaker Party (left). I served on a committee that helped produce this event, a solidarity event with The People’s Climate March in New York City. At the march in New York, as well as at solidarity events around the globe including ours, there was a moment, at noon eastern time, where the hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the march paused to make the loudest noise they possibly could as a way to “sound the climate alarm.” The folks at the march made a huge noise; they whooped and hollered and used everything from sirens and honking horns to instruments and party blowers, to make a very loud noise.

Sound the Climate Alarm, 2015

After this experience, I became interested in the phrase “sound the climate alarm,” and made some art based on these words (right). I may have latched on to this phrase because I enjoy visualizing sound in my art, similar to how a cartoonist might visualize sound, where marks and lines stand in for the plinks, pops, buzzing, music or anything else I want the audience to visually hear.

(left) Birdsongs, 2015, and (right) Party Blowers, 2015

More of those first “sound the climate alarm” pieces are in this show, too, including a mosaic with birds (below left) whose shapes are silhouetted to indicate presence and absence, with colored lines coming from their beaks to represent sound, and the sound then moves in and around human ears. If we really could hear the climate alarm, what would it sound like? Maybe the climate alarm sounds like birdsongs.

I included visual-sound in a few other “climate alarm” pieces too, including a couple small pieces with people disrupting birds with party blowers (above right), and in the piece Death with Chickens that I mentioned earlier, where Death chases a Prairie Chicken with a blaring-saxophone. The images of people blaring horns and instruments are a way to indicate the hapless disruption of animals by people unaware of their own destructive activity.

With Nature Sing, Bethel College Mennonite Church, 2018
Heating Up exhibit at the Lawrence Percolator, 2016

Additional influences on the work in this show include projects completed between 2014 and 2018 that are not a part of this show but share environmental themes, including two mosaic installations – a mosaic mural at the Free State Brewery in Lawrence, Kansas, and an installation of six small mosaics (above) at Bethel College Mennonite Church, in North Newton, Kansas. Also, in the Spring of 2016, I worked closely with a committee who facilitated a large-scale community project called Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change (right). It was a month-long series of cultural and educational events that involved more than fifty local artists, poets, and musicians, along with faculty and students from Lawrence’s two universities, and representatives from arts and environmental organizations. Heating Up was an exciting project and boosted my interest in responding to climate change in my own artwork, too.  

May You Be, 2019

In the process of looking back at my art over the past six years, I recognize that in our society and culture, value is often measured in monetary or financial terms. But artists can represent a different kind of value through the language of art – beauty, care, alarm, loss, grief, pathways, possibilities. In my next blog, I will share ideas about how I have used themes and symbols as part of this language in the more recent work that I have in this show.

 

Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.

Blog 1: Artist Statement: Sound the Climate Alarm

 

 

This is the first in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. My first blog, below, includes the artist statement that accompanies the show. In subsequent posts, I will share about the themes, symbols, and ideas in my work, and how I came to these through the creative process.

 

Artist Statement: Sound the Climate Alarm

 

In my drawings, cardinals honk and chickadees sing razor wire. Death chases a prairie chicken with a blaring saxophone. Animals drawn from memory reveal the loss we find when we are without them. Origami cranes, an international symbol for peace, fly over walls and meander through chain link fences. The cardinal’s song is visually amplified as a message of hope and renewal. A car with loudspeakers blasts an unusual wish for the world. Mosaics portray archways as a symbol for barriers with a way to pass through. Less an attempt to teach than an effort to explore the emotional states connected with an awareness of climate change, animal extinction, and related social stresses, these emotionally packed drawings, collages, and mosaics express alarm, despair, joy and possibility. With a sense of beauty and compassion, my art encourages the viewer to “listen” with a heart open to creating a future where there is enough to share and compassion for all.

 

Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.

 

Find all five of the blogs in this series at the following links:

Blog 2: Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 3: Symbols and Themes

Blog 4: Making Art in Covid-times

Blog 5: Poetic Language

Exhibit at the Lawrence Arts Center, Oct. 30 – Dec. 21, 2020

I am excited to announce the opening of my exhibit at the Lawrence Arts Center titled, Sound the Climate Alarm. The exhibit runs Friday, Oct. 30 – Monday, Dec. 21.

Visitors are welcome to come and see the exhibit in person. But sadly, in Covid-times, there will be no opening reception. There will be a virtual tour led by gallery director Ben Alvers, of my exhibit along with the exhibit of artist Lindy Chambers and an author interview with Marla Arna Jackson, at 6pm on Friday Oct. 30, from the arts center’s Facebook page or YouTube channel. The virtual tour will be archived at the YouTube link for later viewing as well.

I am also offering in-person artist talks, limited to ten people per talk, on 3 different dates that you can sign up for. The talks will be: Sunday, Nov. 8 at 2pm; Thursday, Nov. 19 at 6:30pm, and Saturday, Dec. 5 at 4pm. Here is the sign-up link.

The arts center is pretty low-key these days with limited in-person activities and social distancing, and masks are mandatory. So I really hope you all can find the time to come out and see the show.

Here is the announcement on the Lawrence Arts Center’s website.

Exhibit: Carriage Factory Gallery, Newton, KS

Carriage Factory Gallery exhibit

Exhibit announcement

I am excited to have an exhibit of mosaics, scratchboard, and drawings at the Carriage Factory Gallery in Newton, Kansas! The exhibit runs July 27 – September 20, and is located at 128 E. 6th St., near downtown Newton. Gallery hours: T-F  12-5pm,  Sa 10am-5pm.

 

I am exhibiting my art along with two others, Rachel Epp Buller and Emily Willis Schroeder. The title for our collective exhibit is, Our Lives. Past. Present. Future. My portion of the exhibit is called, “Sound the Climate Alarm,” and my artist statement follows:

 

Sound the Climate Alarm

In my exhibit of drawings and mosaics, cardinals honk and chickadees sing razor wire. Death chases a prairie chicken with a blaring saxophone. Animals, drawn from memory, reveal the loss we find when we are without them. Origami cranes, an international symbol for peace, fly over walls and meander through chain link fences. And yet, archways that imply the presence of barriers also show a way to pass through them. The cardinal’s song is visually amplified as a message of hope and renewal. A car with loudspeakers on top blasts an unusual wish for the world. With a sense of beauty and compassion, through images that visualize sounds that are both real and imagined, my work “sounds the alarm” on climate change, animal extinction, and other urgent concerns, encouraging the viewer to “listen” with an open heart towards creating a future where there is enough to share and compassion for all.

 

Links:

Exhibit announcement in The Newton Kansan

Facebook invitation to exhibit opening

Carriage Factory Gallery website

 

 

 

 

Mosaic Process: With Nature Sing

Mosaic process photo displayThese photos of my mosaic process are on display at the Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas, through March of 2018. The photos accompany a recently-installed permanent exhibit of 6 mosaics  titled, With Nature Sing

 

 

 

Working on a tile nipperMy Mosaic Process

Making mosaics is a complicated process with moments of magic. Fitting the tiles in place is like putting together a puzzle, except that I create the puzzle pieces as I go along. Although one can buy tiles for mosaic-making or use all manner of things like paper, macaroni, seeds or rocks, I chip my own tiles from secondhand ceramic plates and other dishes that I find in a range of colors and patterns at thrift stores. I have accumulated many dishes over the years, with occasional gifts from friends and acquaintances who sometimes leave their broken dishes on my front porch.

 

Because I work with dishes that need to be continually broken and shaped, my tile nipper is always close at hand. But before I cut and shape the tiles with my nipper, I use it to break the dishes first with a good solid whack, dividing each into smaller pieces that I can more easily work with. I look for broken pieces that are the right shape and size to fill spaces, and I also cut and clip them to fit more exactly. By the end of a project my work table and floor are covered with tiny discarded bits from this process.

 

Bee mosaic in processBefore the tiling begins, I develop an idea and then make a plan. I play around with images and ideas by drawing in my sketchbook, often little pictures that would only make sense to me, and then I change and expand on these. When I have played around enough and have settled on a concept, I make larger drawings of the key elements at scale, sometimes using reference pictures from my own photos or ones I find in books or on the internet. The last step in the design process is to map the images and key color choices onto a plywood work surface, also called a backer board, with simple outlined shapes in black marker.

 

Mosaic in processI enjoy the creative process more if I leave some design decisions and color choices to resolve in the making process. I have twenty dishpans in my studio filled with dishes in various stages of brokenness, sorted by color, accompanied by smaller containers of smaller pieces that are sorted too, to choose from. I try to create mosaics where the imagery can be read through distinct color-shape areas, and yet I bring color-variation into these areas too, for added interest. Sometimes I sneak other objects into my mosaics to surprise the viewer, among them fossils, rocks, shells, or specialty tiles. My mosaics have become more sophisticated over the years, and yet I continue to learn more and more through the process of making them.

 

Mosaic work tableFor small wall mosaics like the ones in this exhibition, I work directly on plywood. I scrape and mar the plywood surface first with a screwdriver, and then seal the surface with watered-down Weldbond glue, the same glue that I use to affix the tiles. (For largescale projects on walls or buildings, one would use different materials such as concrete backer board and mortar.)

 

Grouting a mosaicThe final stage is grouting. After I glue all of the tiles into place and the glue has dried, I vacuum the surface to sweep up bits of dust and debris before I begin to apply the grout, a cement-based material used to fill the cracks between the pieces. I use grey or tan grout which contrasts well with a range of colors, but colored pigments are available to mix into the grout, too. It is hard to judge what a mosaic will look like once grouted, so I usually go into the grouting process with some trepidation – how will it turn out? That said, grouting always brings a sense of unity to the work that is often pleasantly surprising. The grout is like magic that helps transform a pile of broken dishes into a pleasing cohesion.

 

With Nature SingThe grout must be removed from the face-surface of the tiles before it dries. Cleaning the tiles is a tactile process because my use of dishes creates an uneven surface, different from mosaics made from uniform commercial tiles. I use my hands and a rubber spatula to remove the bulk of the excess grout from the tiles before I begin wiping away the grout with a damp sponge and rags. The final stages of cleaning remind me of dental work. In fact, I use old dental tools that a friend gave to me to clean the smallest and shallowest pieces that I can’t wipe by hand. Finally, I buff the tiles with Windex, and then the piece is complete.

 

Click here for more photos of With Nature Sing.

“The Toll” at the Lawrence Arts Center through Oct 22, 2016

The Toll

 

“The Toll” is a ballpoint pen drawing, 22″ x 30″, that I made for the exhibit “Currently Nontraditional” at the Lawrence Arts Center through Oct. 22, 2016. The exhibit includes works on paper by 12 artists, each responding to some aspect of what 2016 has meant to them.

 

Artist Statement about “The Toll”

2016 has been a year of violence, mass shootings (including one in Hesston, Kansas, near my hometown), terrorism and war. To depict the pain of 2016, I drew many individual paper cranes as the overall pattern in my drawing. Most cranes are marked, wounded or shot, crumpling and falling to the ground. A few shots miss and a few cranes survive. The paper crane became a symbol for international peace after Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was a victim of radiation sickness from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, attempted to fold a thousand paper cranes before she died. My drawing is about the fragility of peace and the toll of violence, with an awareness that every person killed in a mass attack, is an individual who was loved and will be missed.