Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Something New: Dinosaurs

My sabbatical was about taking a break from teaching to focus on research. It allowed me to delve into my new work in greater depth, build more work than I can finish in a normal year, and get into a flow state with my work. By the time the sabbatical officially began in September, I had prepared my space and finished leftover pieces and had already begun to test ideas so that I entered the sabbatical at a running start. The months of September, October and December were particularly productive. (In November I had to underglaze so I didn't feel productive.)
argh! underglaze layers
I ended the sabbatical at a sprint, installed my show and have been talking about the show incessantly ever since. Part of the reason for talking about the show incessantly is that I haven't been into the studio since I installed the show except to fold packing material in preparation for picking up the work in February.

professional grade packing material (aka old towels and bubble wrap)

The other reason for the reiterative focus is that I came back to teaching at a full sprint as well. After focusing almost non-stop on my studio work for 6 months, I suddenly have five classes to teach (that's close to 130 new students) as well as new art program head responsibilities in the wake of my colleague's retirement and new requirements as I begin the tenure process. It is a bit jarring for the brain to go from one extreme (studio work and show installation) to another (teaching and school duties) and I can't seem to hold complex thoughts about things other than my current show, my past sabbatical and tomorrow's lesson plan.

I can't get you outta my head
At least in part because of the sabbatical, I find myself refreshed and energetic about the new challenges at work. I just don't find they necessarily lend themselves to discussion on my blog. I've been considering what to put in this space as I transition out of production/sabbatical/studio mode into teaching-and-never-seeing-my-home-studio mode.


And now for something completely different
What to put in this space? Dinosaurs.

fossil textures so pretty

For Christmas I got my brother this book, "My Beloved Brontosaurus" because he used to be into dinosaurs as a kid. But after I gave it to him, I realized that I just really wanted to read the book, so I got it for myself, too.

In the book, science writer and apparent dinosaur expert Brian Switek basically updates grown-up dinosaur fans (those who went on to do things distinctly unrelated to dinosaurs) on what has changed in paleontologists' understanding of dinosaurs since we were kids. The book is fascinating, but also rather dense for someone who hasn't really paid attention to dinosaurs since Jurassic Park came out. I keep having to stop and look things up or go back and reread a section.

prehistoric texture
I'm actually feeling pretty expert, since I was just looking at dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History in New York last month. I watched the video, I saw the family tree. I kinda remember some stuff about, um... (I don't really.)

fossil turtles, so interesting

The book is very interesting and an enjoyable read, but I'm really impressed with the illustrations by Jeff Martz. As one can see by the photos I chose to take in the crowded AMNH halls, I am attracted to visual textures and interesting repetition, both of which show up in the book's illustrations. This book's illustrations are pretty but also help me understand what the author is trying to explain. I regularly listen to science audiobooks while I work in the studio, but the topic of dinosaurs and prehistoric life greatly benefits from visual support.

Unfortunately the illustrations are small and I have trouble seeing them in the detail I would prefer. This past weekend, I looked up the images online. In doing so I stumbled across the same illustrations by Jeff Martz on a blog about Archosaurs with a special focus on palaeoart. Not only did I discover a source of interesting information, beautiful diagrams and fascinating illustrations of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, but I also learned that there is such a thing as palaeoart. You have to love a new art term with four vowels in a row.

bike parts!
This all may seem exceedingly random to discuss on my blog. After all, this has nothing to do with bike parts or ceramics, but after an extensive period of intense personal focus on one thing, it feels particularly refreshing to happen upon something almost entirely new to me that is both fascinating and completely unrelated to what I have been focusing on for so long. I wanted to share. Click through my palaeoart links and enjoy.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Upcoming Exhibition: Monika Lemmon & Jacob Commodore at Oak Hollow Gallery

Last spring my home and studio were featured on the Larson Gallery's Tour of Artists' Homes and Studios. I also featured work by Monika Lemmon at my home. Her paintings are beautiful and surreal, very interesting stuff. 

one of Monika Lemmon's paintings from the Tour of Artists' Homes and Studios

Starting this week her new work will be featured at Oak Hollow Gallery in Yakima. Her work will be sharing the gallery with ceramics by Jacob Commodore. The show runs from January 28 to April 5, 2014 with a reception on February 8 from 2-4pm. 

I haven't seen much of Monika's most recent work as she's now in graduate school in Idaho. She has worked in a wide variety of media. I love her paintings and have the privilege of living with one of them at my home since the Tour last spring.

the Monika Lemmon painting in my living room

My current and upcoming shows:

My show, Biomorph is up for another two weeks at Esvelt Gallery in Pasco. The show's last day is February 6. The gallery is open Monday - Thursday from 8am - 8:30pm and Friday from 8am - noon. Admission to the gallery is free.
gallery view of "Biomorph"

In April I will be bringing much of sculpture from Biomorph and my sabbatical to Oak Hollow Gallery for a local exhibition. I will not be hanging the wall installations, however, so you'll have to get to Pasco in the next two weeks to see them.

"Biomorph" sculptures

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Esvelt Gallery (Biomorph Show)

The Fred Esvelt Gallery at Columbia Basin College is a strange space. Try looking up the map for the campus and you should be able to find the art building just from its top view. The exterior view of the windowless building would be forbidding if it weren't for large "Art" and "Drama" signs. I believe the architectural style is Brutalist, like the Humanities Building on UW-Madison's campus.

The art building is on the far left, notice the open space inside the exterior walls.

The view from the exterior is grim, but bravely walk into the building space and what appeared to be one windowless box becomes three separate buildings with their windows and entryways facing each other. The walking space between the buildings can't really be termed a courtyard, maybe a breezeway. The cement floored space is more protected and less green than those terms suggest. But the space is oddly pleasant. And weird--the space is definitely weird.

View of the gallery and exterior courtyard during the reception for "Biomorph."

The Fred Esvelt Gallery does double or triple duty as the entryway and both upstairs and downstairs lobbies. The main space is on view directly as one enters the building. To reach the clay and sculpture studio, one crosses one side of the gallery space. A short length of wall separates the gallery space visually from the hall space. In Biomorph my wall installation sculptures wrap around this wall and Laura Ahola-Young's paintings are hung on the side of the stairway across this "hall."

The short wall (left) perpendicular to the entry doors visually separates the gallery space from the hall space.

Large windows line one side of the gallery, parallel to the staircase/hall space. The windows allow an exterior view into the gallery. From inside one looks out onto a small, brutal cement courtyard area. The reflections and external gallery lighting change considerably depending on the weather conditions and time of day outside.

Reflections in the window (view from top floor)

During the reception in the middle of the afternoon, the reflections on the glass were quite clear. The reflected images made taking straight photographs difficult, but interesting. I kept noticing the doubling of my installation and my pedestal pieces when I stood along that side of the gallery. 

Window reflections (view from top floor)
The gallery is visible from the stairs on the way up to the faculty office area. A second level of stairs is blocked from view of the gallery but leads up to the second or third floor lobby (I'm confused about floors because the office area comes off the side of the studio/gallery space like a split level house. The top level studios appear to be directly above the bottom floor studios.) The upstairs lobby/gallery space is small, leading to upstairs classrooms and an exterior balcony area. Most of the upstairs lobby space is open, providing a view down to the gallery below.

Sculpture Pedestals (view from top floor)

The open space is surrounded by high cement walls and appears to be visible from outside the large windows that look out on the balcony. The view down into the gallery is interrupted by lighting on rails. I am afraid of heights or I would perhaps have enjoyed the bird's eye view of the show more.

"Pedal/Petal" (view from top floor)

As it is, the foreshortened (and distant) view of the show is at least an unusual one. I am unlikely to see most shows from this perspective again.

"Kekino" (view from top floor)

I was intentional about installing pieces on the top of the short wall near the doorway specifically because of this view. The space is pretty big, allowing a great deal of work to be swallowed up by the gallery without seeming crowded. Given more time, I think it would be lots of fun to take advantage of more of the strange architecture of the space, having pieces hiding in spots only visible from above.

Two levels of windows and reflections (view from top floor)

"Biomorph" is up at the Esvelt Gallery through Feb 6, 2014. Hours are M - Th 8am - 8:30pm and Friday 8am - noon.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Final Audiobook Reviews of my Sabbatical

Earlier in the fall, during the boring process of applying underglaze to my pieces, I wrote about the audiobooks that kept me company in the studio for the past six months of my sabbatical. Later, while I was putting the work together and installing my show, I had more interesting things to write about (and more pictures to share), but I still have quite a few audiobooks I never got to review. Since some of the later books were some of the best (and one of the worst), I thought I'd get around to reviewing them today.

"Biomorph" from the stairway at the end of the reception

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
This was a terrible book. Horrible. Basically, Holden Caulfield is a teenage wizard. He goes to a nihilistic school for wizards. The listener's depression sets in. I am supposed to compare this book to Harry Potter, but I don't feel like insulting J. K. Rowling. The audiobook was due before I finished the last CD. I returned it anyway.

Longbourn by Jo Baker
I liked this book but the reviews I've read have been mixed. The story follows the original story of Pride and Prejudice without changes in events. We hear little of the goings on of the Bennett family, instead Baker's focus is on the servants. Unsurprisingly the servants have interesting lives apart from the family and their concerns are not directly the concerns of the family. I appreciated Baker's description of the more mundane aspects of work performed by the servants. Some readers were offended by a past relationship that involved a member of the Bennett family. I thought it seemed possible, even plausible, and didn't contradict anything written by Austen, though I don't suspect Austen intended it to be.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
This book was lots of fun. It is set, at least most of the time, in Seattle. I thought the characters were likable (even if you might not want to actually try to work or live with them) and the way the story was put together from e-mails, notes, articles and other written documents was surprisingly fun to read. Especially if you're a bit familiar with Seattle, you should read this. However, if you've never been to Seattle, I still think you should read this.

Into the Beautiful North by Jose Alberto Urrea
This was the Big Read for Yakima this year. I am glad I read it, though I'm not sure I entirely enjoyed listening to the story. I sometimes have trouble with books that start out realistic then veer into highly improbable situations. That said, I didn't dislike it. I might even recommend it, but warn people to "willfully suspend their disbelief" when the characters seem to have an incredible run of lucky coincidences.

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
This was a book. It was a daily deal on Audible. I read it and it didn't make me mad.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This one was excellent, but I feel like to tell too much would be to take away from future readers' enjoyment. I went into it knowing it was about two British women in WW2, one of them a pilot. I might have known the other was a spy. I expected great sadness and pain, but I didn't expect the excellent storytelling and wonderful characters. My favorite aspect of the book was the puzzle of how everything fit together. Oh, go read it before I spoil it!

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
Another great book with interesting characters who develop and react to events like real people (flaws and all), a complex situation with a range of possible interpretations, some science fiction, some political/social commentary (subtle, but still), and excellent storytelling and surprises. Put this on your list. Also, the audiobook is read by Will Wheaton. This was the second book I listened to in 2013 read by him; I'll look for more.

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore
The requisite art book for November, this book was sorta about painters and color but more about monsters. Ok, monsters might be a little excessive, but weird stuff happens. As a weird supernatural Christopher Moore book, it was decent. The art references were a nice addition. As an art book, it was lame. I guess I like my art books steeped in realistic history and complete accurate--that is to say, non-fiction.

Blackout by Connie Willis
Connie Willis is my new favorite author. I loved this book--not quite as hard as I loved The Doomsday Book, but it was pretty great. Fortunately or unfortunately, the book is only really half the story, so I had to read All Clear, the sequel, immediately. Both start with time traveling historians in 2060 but spend most of their time in London during the blitz. Lots of characters, lots of action, misunderstandings, history... Love it.

All Clear by Connie Willis
My main problem with Connie Willis' Oxford historians books is that there aren't enough of them. Willis has written other stuff, but I want to spend more time with these characters. Immediately.

Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl
The book is subtitled "choosing boys over girls and the consequences of a world full of men." The focus is not just on China's one child policy, but also on other countries (many of them is Asia, but not all) where sex selective abortion is allowing families with few children to choose boys and abort female fetuses. This trend stems from the traditionally higher value placed on men and boys. Contrary to what one might expect, fewer women in a society can actually put women in danger of sex slavery, violence and abduction. This book was fascinating. I thought I knew what to expect when I began to read but I was surprised over and over again. I highly recommend this book.

Bellwether by Connie Willis
After a brief Connie Willis hiatus, I needed to find more. This story does not involve time travel but it does involve science, sheep, fads and undercover administrative assistants. What's not to love?

Shakespeare's Local by Pete Brown
This sounded cooler than it was. If you're going to be in London, or if you are more familiar with London than I am, it is a neat, narrowly focused history. I would have enjoyed it at half the length, or on vacation in London.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Eugenides is the author of The Virgin Suicides which I watched, but I don't really remember. I wanted the book to be Middlemarch and in some ways the sprawling epic story of three generations of a family had something in common with the George Eliot tome. The focus, as the author reminded us frequently, was on the youngest of the protagonists, a hermaphrodite raises as female Callie, later telling us the story as adult male Cal. The topic was interesting, the history too, but the whole didn't quite come together for me as an enjoyable read. It's one of those books with nothing wrong, exactly, but nothing quite good enough to make me like it. The one exception was descriptions of Detroit, which I enjoyed.

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
The book is well written but dated. It was published in 1986 and the author frequently compares his evolutionary data to computer technology that seems laughably limited by today's standards. I still liked the book a lot, but I found myself wanting an updated version--and not just to provide more appropriate analogies. I was especially curious to know what Dawkins would say to more recent articles and studies that seem to support a version of inherited acquired characteristics or Lamarckism. Dawkins completely refutes the concept with examples of how people used to believe that blacksmith's children inherited their fathers' upper body strength. I remember, however, reading about the possibility of inheriting acquired characteristics on a small scale in Discover or Smithsonian. The magazine's study came much later than Dawkin's book and I can only find minimal discussion of the idea in his contemporary writing. I'd love to hear him strongly refute the idea or adjust his explanations to account for the possibility of inheriting acquired characteristics.

view of the Esvelt Gallery from the third floor

You can still see my show, "Biomorph" at Esvelt Gallery on the Columbia Basic College campus in Pasco, WA through February 6, 2014. Gallery hours are M-Th 8am - 8:30pm and Friday 8am - noon. Admission is free. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Packing the Car for Biomorph

Biomorph is still up at Esvelt Gallery in Pasco. Hours are are M-Th 8am - 8:30 pm and Friday 8am - noon. The show continues through February 6, 2014.

Packing the car to drive my work down to Biomorph in Pasco was a bit of a challenge. Most of the ceramic-only pieces and all the wall-installation pieces were able to be boxed up in little more than three Sterilite bins and two laundry baskets. The rest of the work was "loose packed" in the seats. 

work packed into the back seat for transport
I've always heard this method called "loose packing" but the goal with fragile ceramic sculpture is not really to be loose. I don't want to allow for any movement in the car. Some pieces had their bases boxed for stability, all were wrapped in bubble wrap, towels or blankets and most had boxes, pillows, foam, and/or other materials keeping them from rocking forward or sideways in the car. On the backseat I laid down some boards so the flat bottomed pieces weren't stressed by leaning in the contoured seat.

The bike fork pieces were so tall, I had to angle them to get through the doorway.
I usually strap my pieces in with seat belts but with the boards on the seat, I couldn't reach the belts. In the front I belted in the front two and hoped nothing would set off the airbag on the top of the piece packed on the floor. (Honestly, if I had gotten into a crash bad enough to set off the airbags, the show would have been over.)

two pieces belted into the passenger seat
Loading the car was like playing Tetris. I am sharing the pictures here, but I took them so I could repack the car the same way on the way home. Usually taking down a show is faster, but I had all night and a room full of packing supplies to choose from when packing the car before the show. On the way back I will have to be more efficient.

three pieces in the passenger seat and floor

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Finished Sculpture for Biomorph

This is my third post of finished work from my show at Esvelt Gallery. The show, Biomorph, features work by just two artists, meaning I have more work in this show than in group shows and juried shows I have done recently. I was able to have control over what I showed and how much I showed. I have already posted about the two installations, today's post focuses on my free-standing sculpture in the exhibition.
last minute epoxy (blue tape holding the pieces on as the epoxy sets)
The main reason I have so much new work in the show is that I haven't taught classes at YVCC for six months. The work in this show is representative of the work I created during my sabbatical. I have some pieces in the show that pre-date the sabbatical and I have a handful of pieces in my studio that didn't quite get finished before the installation deadline for Biomorph.

three pieces finished
My sabbatical work focused on incorporating bike parts and other mechanical parts into my sculpture. I explored both the logistics of the integration of these non-ceramic materials and the conceptual and inspirational influence of the bike parts on the form of the sculptures. I began my sabbatical work in the summer and I focused intensely on it during the fall quarter. I hope to finish up some of the sculptures during the next six months, though my teaching schedule is heavier than usual this quarter.

five pieces finished
During my sabbatical I also wrote about my process on this blog (and was recognized for my efforts). I have drafted an article that I plan to revise and submit for publication. The Biomorph show and an upcoming two-person show at Oak Hollow Gallery in Yakima (as well as this blog) will be the main venues (so far) for viewing the sculpture created for the sabbatical.

asymmetrical sculpture
As of the installation of this exhibition, I have seven free-standing mechanical parts sculptures. In the studio I have one more piece that is close to complete and another that hasn't been glazed yet, as well as a few odds and ends.

squid backside
Besides these larger works, several of the wall installation pieces with mechanical parts can be shown as individual pieces. In all, counting bike part pieces, ceramic only pieces, not-quite finished pieces, and all the wall installation pieces, I built about 125 pieces this summer (that hundred-piece wall installation ups my count pretty quickly).

small bike part pieces for the wall installation
The multi-part bike pieces are the ones that were really the focus of my sabbatical research. Because I incorporated large bike parts, including wheel forks, the pieces are relatively large compared to my recent work.
Nepentha Prosthesia
Since I finished some of the pieces in the first two days of 2014, installation day was the first time I had gotten a good look at some of the pieces. I didn't have time for professional level images after the installations were complete (a girl's gotta have time to eat) but I was able to get photos of everything new.
Cephalotus Prosthesia
The bike fork pieces ended up very tall compared to their component parts. It's a bit odd to work with these relatively small pieces all quarter only to put them together in a week and discover a whole new identity for the elements as one sculpture. In the gallery they no longer look like the giants they appeared to be in my crowded studio.

Petal / Petal
During installation the gallery director and assistants indicated they liked the pieces. Mary Dryburg, the gallery director, mentioned she didn't know what to expect way back when I first proposed the idea for these mixed media works. For me, I'm a little too close to the building of these pieces to view them objectively. I still see them as pieces that required a particular glaze or sections that were hard to put together. When the show concludes in a month, maybe I will be able to see them as whole sculptures and a body of work.

Scylla Bionica

I am planning to go down and see the show for the reception on January 14 (at 1pm, join me). Perhaps in that context I can see them with some perspective. Or perhaps I will just stand next to the wall installation worrying that someone might bump something.

Charybdis Bionica
The pieces I am most happy with now are the ones that most closely resembled the original sketches. This is a bit of a surprise to me because these pieces were the easiest to plan and make and because the look of my work often drifts away from original sketches during the building process.

The asymmetrical piece I have worried over in previous posts is an interesting case of something that closely resembles the original sketch but required a significant amount of problem solving during the building process. In the end, this piece sits strangely on the pedestal. The tail section of chains needs to hang off the edge for a completely solid footing. The pedestals at Esvelt Gallery were set up beautifully for this piece and allow it to look like it is stretching or moving away from its original location.

I didn't get the best lighting for this shot, but I like the silhouette of the piece and the bulb installation in the back.
I would love to hear what you think about the pieces I have shown here. If you are in the Pasco, WA area, stop by and see the works in person. Esvelt Gallery hours are M-Th 8am - 8:30 pm and Friday 8am - noon. The gallery is free and open to the public. The gallery is well marked and is housed in the art and drama building on the Columbia Basin College campus. 

a line of sculptures in the gallery
Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kekino Wall Installation

The most difficult part of installing my work for Biomorph (up now at Esvelt Gallery on the Columbia Basin College campus) was the irregular wall installation, "Kekino Bionica". The grouping consists of ~35 previously shown pieces and ~13 new pieces made this year. To save time, I laid out the installation on paper on the kitchen floor the day before going to the gallery to install.

paper plan taped up as I begin to drill holes for screws

I taped up the papers on either side of this small wall next to the building entrance and drilled holes and put in screws and nails through the paper. At home I had marked and color coded all the screw sizes, so I knew which pieces needed smaller or larger screws. Unfortunately, I am evidently not very good at counting. Though I kept a tally of the screws I needed, then bought 5-10 more of each size, I still ran out of at least two sizes. Something to work on, I guess. I also ended up with more bulbs than I needed for the Ericano installation and two oranges for a snack when I though I only packed one.

screws and nails (but no other marks) after I tore down the paper plan

After the screws were all in, I peeled the paper off the wall, over the screws and nails and laid the papers on the floor because they were marked with sketches of each piece while the wall was blank. I then started to place work. I didn't take pictures during the installation because I was concentrating. I am afraid of heights, so all during the hanging of the high works and even drilling the holes, I am in panic mode. I step up the ladder, place a piece and then step down to relax, breathe and wipe my sweaty hands on my pants. I suspect the process would go more quickly and more smoothly if I could eliminate the panic phase. To add to the panic phase this time around, I knocked a piece off the wall while working on the other side. I have dropped pieces before but I can't remember a piece dropping after it was already hung--at least not since graduate school.

the installation near the door and viewed from the end of the wall

This particular installation wraps around this short wall and into the gallery. I wanted to take advantage of the irregular shape of the gallery walls and the exposed top, which can be seen from the stairs and from the third floor overlook. I had built a couple pieces this summer specifically to bend over the top, but I think I would make the angles more dramatic if I were to do it again. I might also make pieces to bend around the end of the wall.

top view of the installation wall

Because of my aforementioned fear of heights, I asked one of the gallery assistants to drill the holes for the pieces on top of the wall. He is taller, so perhaps her doesn't have to go as high on it as I do. Or other people don't have such a fear of ladders. I placed the two works on the top (held in place with screws), and this was by far the scariest part of the installation for me. Based on the pictures, no one dusted the top of the wall, but I didn't get high enough to see the top in person and, anyway, I wasn't going to volunteer to dust it myself.

interior of gallery view of my installation and Laura's painting

In this show, I am sharing the gallery with Laura Ahola-Young. Laura's paintings are abstract and represent biological forms, similar to my work, though her color choices and medium are obviously different than mine. We tried to arrange the show so that our works relate to one another in the space. I didn't take many pictures of her work, so you'll just have to get down to Pasco to see the show.

first floor gallery view (the brown tables will be moved

The gallery space is unusual. It is both a gallery and the lobby and stairway area for the art building. The gallery features irregular spaces, large windows and overlooks from the second and third floor into the main gallery space on the first floor. Several classrooms open onto the gallery on the first and third floors and the gallery lighting is visible between floors.