Why Make Art During A Global Crisis?

Watching New York City’s creative sector navigate through the closures caused by COVID-19 has triggered a deeply embedded story of mine.

In ten weeks of shutdowns two of my favourite galleries and a beloved local theater have announced permanent closures. I expect many more announcements like this in the weeks to come as NYC remains in PAUSE. Witnessing cities in other states planning to pull government funding from the arts sector to redistribute elsewhere (Philadelphia) I start to wonder if this will happen in New York, too. Without funding many smaller, artist-run venues can’t sustain themselves. If the arts aren’t considered valuable enough to be saved by society, what is the value, by association, of art itself?

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A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing

I wrote this post several weeks ago, before Covid-19 was a worldwide pandemic. The topic parallels the spirit of Spring regeneration, so I was waiting for my March newsletter to publish it. Over the past week, as the threat of the virus loomed large, I questioned the timing of publishing a post like this when so many other matters at hand seem more pressing.

I have decided that a little “business as usual” on a topic that is not tied to overwhelmed hospitals, quarantines, and food/supply shortages in stores may be a welcome distraction. It’s not meant to dismiss the seriousness of our collective situation, but to offer some lighter mental fare amid the sobering news and social media updates. Please enjoy and stay safe and healthy.

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When A “NO” Turns Into a “YES”

I recently had a conversation with one of my dear artist friends about rejection and how it can be particularly difficult to receive a “no thanks” letter during the harsh days of winter. The probability of being rejected this time of year when spirits are knocked low makes her not want to apply to opportunities, even ones that seem a good fit for her practice.

Hearing her say this broke my heart and prompted me to reflect on my own – quite long – history of rejection. I thought it would be timely to share some of the ideas that came up in our resulting conversation.

If you need a pep talk on why you might want to push through the pain of rejection, here it is.

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Gallery Talk: Freaks, Geeks, and Strange Girls

For logistical reasons (and, if I’m honest, to keep my nerves at bay), I decided to not capture the December 6th artist and curator talk for my solo show at Radiator Gallery on video. I was happy that curator Peter Gynd (who leads an excellent conversation, BTW) caught the audio on his phone and kindly shared it with me.

There were 30 or so attendees who enjoyed the talk immensely. I thought I would transcribe it and share here for those of you who are keen to learn more about my practice, process, and, in particular, this intensely detailed series.

Confession: Transcribing the audio was a bit of a harsh reality check ;-).

There’s nothing quite like hearing yourself consistently substituting “and, so…” for sentence breaks instead of ending a thought and then starting a new one after a clean pause. As it turns out that my comfort words are, “actually”, “sort of”, “kind of”, “like”, “um, so”, and “and”. I also have a habit of starting a sentence, then changing my mind part way through and heading in a completely different direction. Quite natural and acceptable in conversation, but a mess to read.

To make your experience of the transcript more pleasant, I’ve polished up the text, omitted many of these personal verbal idiosyncrasies, and added images for reference throughout.

Enjoy!

FYI, it was a 30 minute conversation followed by a 15 minute Q & A. Get yourself a beverage (we had wine!) and then sit down to read. It’s the next best thing to having been there. And don’t feel sad about about not being able to participate in the Q&A – feel free to ask a question in the comments!

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How to Conquer Fear (Presented by a Preschooler)

I wouldn’t say that I’m superstitious or that I believe in luck, but I do agree with Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic) and Steven Pressfield (The War of Art, Turning Pro) that ideas and inspiration come from some divine realm and that I am essentially just a conduit that the Muse decides to visit because they’ve noticed that I’m serious about what I do and that no matter how I’m feeling (tired, scared, discouraged) I show up and do the work. Every day.

On a slight tangent, do you remember the film Like Water for Chocolate (1992), where the female protagonist’s stifled emotions – rage, despair, joy, passion – were transferred to the dishes she prepared and elicited the same reaction in the people who ate them?

I love that film and I believe that objects and matter can embody, carry, and transfer positive and negative energy.

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Freaks, Geeks, and Strange Girls

I have a confession.

I’ve been using my ramped up studio hours as an excuse to let the admin side of my practice slide. It’s reasonable considering I’m on a very tight production deadline, but I also know when I’m starting to use studio time to avoid other tasks.

The time is drawing near for me to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) and work out word-wise what the current series is about; soon the gallery will need to have images and a statement for promotional purposes on their website. I’ve had this task on my to-do list for two months. Not surprising, my studio production in the last two months has been AHHH-MAZING.

So, because I haven’t written a blog post in a while, and because I love me some efficiency, I thought I’d combine tasks and write down some thoughts about the One of Us series and share them in an article here.

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2019 Armory Week Recap

Normally in March I’d write a massive blog post recapping all of the art fairs that I went to, highlighting pieces I was amazed, delighted, and inspired by. Traditionally it’s been a long, labor-intensive article where I share my top picks from each fair and explain what it was that drew me to each piece.

This year I couldn’t stomach giving up a week’s worth of creating time so I put myself on an art fair diet and chose to not go to the Armory at all and instead chose to only go to two fairs: Art on Paper and Spring/Break. I enjoyed both and found multiple artists that satisfied my craving to see great art. I thought I’d share a few here with you.

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Tips for Surviving T.O.D. (Thoughts of Despair)

Folks who are familiar with my regimented and productive studio practice might be shocked to learn that it wasn’t always this way.

 In 2010, a few years after I started exhibiting regularly, I hit a hard wall. A dark visitor, who I came to affectionately name TOD (Thoughts of Despair), arrived at the start of winter and completely crippled my practice.
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Protect Me From What I Want

I’ve been thinking lately about how much my art has benefitted from me NOT getting what I want.

Often I’ll start with an idea that I want to go a certain way, but then I’ll be unable to source the supplies (or whatever else it may be) for the idea to materialize in the way I had planned. That’s when the creative problem-solving engine kicks in and tangents happen. Following an artist’s train of thought can be like, to quote from one of my favourite Veda Hille songs, “a story told by a kid” – not at all linear.
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Leaping in the Absence of a Net

I’ve been playing it too safe lately.

I haven’t spent enough nights racing against a deadline, pushing to get a piece finished, or leaning into territory that is well past my comfort zone.

Complacency is a manhole that many self-employed folks are prone to falling into and while I haven’t exactly fallen in I do have one foot hovering over the abyss. I’m usually a hard-driving boss but I feel that lately my motivation has slipped. Not having regular, hard-edged deadlines and an external superior that I must report to can have that effect.

That’s why sometimes it’s a good idea to do something a bit drastic, to leap without having a net and create a situation for yourself where you MUST make things happen.
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How To Start Collecting Art

The only thing I adore more than making art is buying it. It’s such a joy to me to cohabitate with original work that inspires and delights.

While collecting works-on-paper is my jam – partly for size restrictions, partly for financial restrictions – my husband and I have a little bit of everything in our collection: drawings, mixed media and collage work, paintings, sculpture in various media, and ceramics (both decorative and utilitarian – I swear coffee tastes better out of a beautiful, artist-made mug).

My most recent acquisition was found at Trestle Gallery’s Small Works show. I felt an immediate, deep connection to Katelyn Patton’s mixed media canvas, Sad Girl on a Bed of Roses, and was so happy it was within my price limit.

L: Sad Girl on a Bed of Roses (full canvas); R: Sad Girl on a Bed of Roses (detail)

Making the decision to create a pleasing living environment while supporting artists was easy for me, but many folks are overwhelmed when it comes to buying art for the first time. Knowing how and where to start makes it less daunting.
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Crate Training the Perfectionist Monster

A few weeks ago a call for submissions prompted me to start playing around with a new works-on-paper series based on some draft sketches I made in 2011.

I’d always imagined that the RYG drafts would be translated into rather large works, 72”x48” and built up using several layers of plywood in the manner of 3D découpage.

However, when the call for Tiger Strikes Asteroid Gallery’s Flat File came out I decided I would make a couple pieces especially for the submission and re-create some 24″x18” drafts into 14″x11” works.
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Saying “Enough” to Good Enough

When a situation is good enough you can be tempted to just continue holding status quo in that comfortable, not-quite-perfect space.

The trouble with doing the things you’re used to, in a space that is familiar and a routine that you might be able to do with your eyes closed, is that it is a breeding ground for inertia. Being comfortable can stifle you.

It’s beneficial to shake things up. Insert some Strange that will perk up your ears and heighten your senses. But when do you say “enough!” to good enough?
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Sweet Summer Reading

I’ve loved books and been an avid reader from a young age – I inherited that trait from my father.

He was a keen reader, too, and many Saturday afternoons I would accompany my dad to the library where we would go our separate ways – him to the adult fiction, me to the young readers section. He liked books featuring metaphysical phenomenon and I liked books about animals. When our arms were full he would come find me, or I would go find him, and together we’d check out the materials that would occupy our attention over the next two weeks. My dad passed away when I was 17. It makes me smile to be fondly remembering our shared library practice so close to Father’s Day.
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Hamster Wheels and Buddhist Nuns

I often write, or share on social media, about how another artist’s work or practice inspires me. Sometimes, though, inspiration comes from unexpected places.

A few weeks ago I was slapped with an a-ha! moment while watching a food documentary series. I love escapist visual media (ooh, Netflix, you are the perfect accomplice to my obsessive binge watching tendencies). Even when I’m watching so-called empty calorie TV I’m tuned in to catch sparks that might set flame to an epiphany.

Let me set the stage, or shall I say table, for you…
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Unfair Art Fair Appraisal?

Oh, Armory Week Art Fairs (sigh).

Maybe I was particularly discerning this season. Maybe the art presented wasn’t as good as other years. Or maybe, just maybe, living in New York has turned me into an big ol’ Art Snob.
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The “C” Word

More and more often my work has been eliciting the response, “Cute!”

This is bizarre to me because I feel like the art has become sharper and more political than it ever has been with lots of weapons, penises, and some rather overt violence.
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My Mutty Valentine

A true and timely tale about love, socks, and fate.

From the time I was a wee bairn I loved to create. A box of assorted odds and ends and glue or tape was absolute heaven to me. I knew even then that the purest version of myself emerged when I was in the act of making.

When I was around seven years old I made a puppet out of an old, navy sock that had been my father’s. Using scraps of felt, buttons and glue I transformed a utilitarian accessory into a wily dragon, capable of expressing itself with a myriad of emotions.
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The Making Of…Tourist Attraction, Kahlo, Little Deer

This particular piece is at the forefront of my mind as I’ve just submitted it to an Art From Art call where the criteria is artwork that has been inspired by existing works of art created by other artists. I thought it would be fun to share the back story on this older but seminal piece of mine.

Tourist Attraction, Kahlo, Little Deer (1946) is the result of a mental mash-up of a vintage family vacation photo and one of my all time favourite Frida Kahlo paintings, Little Deer, painted in 1946.

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When Molehills Are Actually Mountains

This month I have been considering small things that have had a big impact.

We’ve all had them – those seemingly unimportant encounters that ended up making such an impression that they influence the way we move in the world.

For me, there is one particular encounter that vastly shaped the way I work and create art – a molehill that was mountainous in its effect.
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Clown Parade: A Summer Studio Break

The past few months have been dominated by back-end tasks that ate away at my studio time in a big way. So big, in fact, they even squeezed my monthly blog post out of the schedule!

I know, I know – it’s all part of my practice. The admin counts as much as the creating.

Unfortunately, the admin doesn’t feel as good as the creating. Making art energizes me. After a good, solid day in the studio I feel inspired. Completing admin tasks, on the other hand, has quite the opposite affect.

Although I feel a satisfying sense of accomplishment when I check those essential admin tasks off my list (I love having an updated website that features ALL of my finished work to date and I’m excited to have an online store that I’m on the brink of launching), a schedule heavy on admininstration leaves me feeling depleted, uninspired, and more than a little grumpy.

The remedy, of course, is to immerse myself in some intensive studio play.
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Armory Week Debrief

I have a pathological hatred for winter but I always look forward to the first weekend in March – Armory Week.

While the goal of the galleries might be to sell as much work as possible, the fairs are a useful resource for artists. The shows are an efficient way to information gather on pricing, display tactics, and the subtle sussing out of potential galleries that one might want to approach later regarding representation.

The fairs are also useful for pure inspiration’s sake.
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“It Takes Forever If You Go By Inertia”

I am the type of person who picks a theme word in January to help keep focused and on task for the year.

Most years the theme is obvious to me and the word comes easy. Not this year. This year I struggled. I think it’s because I’m anticipating a milestone year ahead and I assigned a great weight to the outcome of my word choice. I was feeling so much pressure to choose the “right” word that I paralyzed myself – I couldn’t’ choose any theme at all.

I convinced myself to stop trying to force it, and, in the paradoxical way of the universe, once I stopped looking for it my theme word came to find me.
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Get Out of Goal, Free

I’m a Virgo and in typical Virgo nature I LOVE structure.

To-do lists, goals, annual plans, quarterly reviews – any kind of system or tool that takes all the stuff swirling around my brain and puts it in an efficient holding place is super sexy to me.

This level of organization might come off as a bit incongruent for an artist type person but it’s key to my success.
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Sponge vs. Knife

Addendum: I found the unpublished draft of this post in a folder on my laptop.  I wrote it in April and then squirreled it away to use in the not-too-distant future. Then, like many a squirrel, I forgot where I buried the nut (truthfully, I forgot I even had the nut at all).

Much has evolved since I first penned this, both in my personal life and the world at large. I publish it now, as it seems that a reminder to keep an open and expansive mindset might be welcome at this time.

I love our Long Island City apartment.

Part of that fondness is a result of the fact that my husband and I are the first people to live in the unit; brand new floors, new walls, new sinks, and new appliances. Everything is shiny and perfect. Well…almost.
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Process Is A Road Trip

When you work at your vocation intensely, you develop a deep understanding of your process.

Recognizable habits start to surface and cycles become apparent. You begin to note things, like how you approach and actualize your ideas.

You begin to know what kind of creator you are and how you drive your creativity.
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Persistence Is Fertile

Today I arrived at the studio and felt like I’d hit a wall. I didn’t know how I was going to proceed with the new series.

I was brutally uninspired.

Which flabbergasted me because I’ve been having a crackin’ good time in the studio lately, highly motivated, productive and busting out work that I’m super happy with.

Not today. Today my flow hit a road bump.
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