Sometimes friends move away, and life goes on — but not quite the same.
And art goes on with new grout for the cracks. Here is a book that finally finished itself. Chris’s vibraphone inserted itself on the left where you see the rising steps of the metal bars and the fluorescent mallets that turned themselves into roses. And on the right you find Chris and Colleen in a new environment with flowers from someone really appreciated the neighborly pot of chicken soup. And in the center, the cello and the vibes swirl all around in memory.
Last week Oola and I did a road trip and spent some time camping with California’s biggest and hungriest mosquitoes. Also shared coffee next to some old guys in bicycle spandex. Happily we arrived in the Bay Area itchy but not with too much psychological damage to visit family and friends.
One highlight of the trip was to visit the Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley to catch the tail end of the 13th annual Art of the Book show. This was always a special treat for us when we lived in the Bay Area.
Ascension is a kind of work I mentally associate with the gallery: mythical, magical, meditative, lyrical, both in and out of time, contemporary and ancient all at once. And I was not disappointed.
But, as in any Artist Book related show, there were a wide variety of approaches.
You can click on any image to see an enlargement.
World Books, Brian Dettmer
World Books (detail), Brian Dettmer
From this angle, Brian Dettmer’sWorld Books reminds Oola of the curiosity and affection of a baby pangolin focusing its gaze on Suzanne Grey at the desk. But when observed closely, the delicacy and intricacy of Brian’s cutting can only be called amazing. Still, this brings up an issue in the Artist Book world: a book is something that one interacts with physically, intellectually, and emotionally page by page to absorb its content. Brian’s work, from what I have observed, lives more in the camp of the artist book as pure sculpture, not to be touched, only to be admired from a distance.
Another artist, Andrew Hayes, lives in the same camp. He is not interested in conveying story or the content of the book so much as the play of iron with paper. The gestural action of the two Pulp Discourse pieces is something one feels viscerally. They certainly are beautiful and noteworthy forms, but not to be touched.
Once, while I was working as an artist in California Prisons, I brought some clay to the AIDS ward. I put lumps out on the table for the guys who gathered around and seemed interested. Naive as I was, I said “show me the inner man” and they got all poetic with their clay because that is what they thought I wanted. One fellow, however, was having none of my foolishness. At the end of the hour he presented me with his “Intestine Man”.
Valérie Buess‘s works in this show reminded me of that incident, of the hardshell-covered vulnerability of the men, and their humor even in that musty place. At least, I want to believe that her work Prescious Capsule is about vulnerability. Here is a case where the tactile wants to tell truth to the hand.
Valérie’s work Regulations is hilarious. It is spun from books documenting changes in the law. In the words of the artist, they “hold/hide their meaning very tightly, shut in the words…twirled, spiky and barbed”.
Inheritance, Jaz Graf
Inheritance, Jaz Graf
Jaz Graf‘s piece, Inheritance, consists of letterpress on porcelain pages spread out on the wall by means of steel hangers. Each pages says “nous sommes simplement de passage”, or “we are only here for a moment’s time”. This is a reminder of the intimacy of a book in a public place. I love the artist’s statement that a book is “the ghost limb of an author, but more importantly it becomes an extension of the reader’s body and experience.”
Shpilkes, Lisa Kokin
Fragment, Lisa Kokin
Traditional books by their definition need words to convey content. Artist Books, not so much. Lisa Kokin‘s work in this show uses words that have no semantic content. Just thread and recycled objects and, like she says, “shpilkes” or nervous energy.
Durer’s Deer, Renée Bott
Durer’s Deer (detail), Renée Bott
Renée Bott works to paint out the words from narratives about human cruelty. She paints the beauty of the natural world seeking to discover a future where humans live in harmony with it.
But I Didn’t Sleep Much, Tamar Stone
But I Didn’t Sleep Much (detail), Tamar Stone
Tamar Stone tells stories of women in their own words as they travel alone in troubled times. Her use of traditional text in low contrast or on distracting background makes the words seem camouflaged. The reader has to become intensely involved with unmaking, reading, then remaking the layers of the bed. These secret stories require effort to enjoy.
Meanwhile (opened on table), Macy Chadwick
Meanwhile (detail), Macy Chadwick
In Macy Chadwick‘s Meanwhile words from A Thousand and One Nights swirl through the book like a murmuration of starlings.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy from the Assassinations series, Brian Singer
Martin Luther King, Jr. from the assassination series (detail), Brian Singer
While in the gallery I heard another visitor ask “What’s with all the guns?”. Our society and culture is in the grips of a huge gun struggle and with ever-increasing frequency we convulse under the weight of a new outrage. It is on everyone’s mind. I think it necessary for artists to deal with the subject.
This show presents two artists who talk about this obsession in two different ways. The first is Brian Singer (above) who presents the guns of historical assassinations. He prints images of the guns of specific events on pages of books about the event. He cuts the paper into blocks which he turns on their sides. The images of guns appear as delicate drawings on obscured lines of text (as in the detail image above). I did not see it, but evidently with each image comes an indexing of the name of the person killed, the type of gun, and the name of the shooter. I have a couple of thoughts on this series. I think the artist misses the mark here. The “how” outweighs the “what”. I am not a fan of ambiguity in social/historical art like this. I am disappointed in this series in that it does not address the horror and helplessness we felt when we heard that the President or Martin or Bobby was shot.
Further, having worked (as an artist) in California prisons, I have learned that there is a social ranking among criminals as to who is the baddest outlaw of all. There are people who do terrible things with the goal of fame in mind. I have met them, made art in the same room as them. Other prisoners cluster around them as though they were movie stars from whom some of the fame might rub off. So I take issue with the parts of this series that names the shooter — thus, inadvertently we hope, glorifying them. The best (worst) thing that can happen to these individuals is that they, as persons, become utterly forgotten and unnamed in the world.
The second artist in the show to speak of shootings is Audrey Wilson. Shooting Range is about the Columbine slaughter. She puts her emphasis on the deaths of young people in school where we should be able to expect that they are as safe as anyone can be on this planet. Shooting Range is as different as it can be from the assassination series. It is neon, hard edged, political, urgent — and personal.
This show is closed now and I couldn’t write about all the wonderful work. You can see the show catalog on line.
But, if you are in the area, take heart!
Chris Gwaltney: And Another Thing…
June 1 – July 1, 2018
Reception for the artist:
Saturday, June 9, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
It looks like a show well worth seeing.
108 Throckmorton Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
Tuesday through Saturday,
11am – 5:00pm, Sunday 12 – 5pm
Oola and I traveled East from Seattle to the town of Sammamish which was holding an art fair. We joined up with Mark Hoppmann and Pat Chupa of the Puget Sound Book Artists at the town library where we hosted a meet-and-greet table to gently educate the public about Artist Books.
I borrow this photo from Mark’s page on Vamp and Tramp booksellers. Each extraordinary page is meticulously drawn and printed. Each volume is individually sewn and boxed so that no two are exactly the same.
Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crows
Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crows
Pat Chupa showed her Wonderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities. I borrowed this image from her website because it explains her book so much better than any of my photographic attempts.
Pat Chupa with some of her books
I showed my Book of Bon Bons, but it was hard to get most people to play with it.
The most popular aspect of our presentation was the take-away table where people could make a small accordion book to take home or to donate to the worlds longest accordion book being put together by PSBA.
This table moved out into the aisle and got messier and deliciously messier as the afternoon progressed. Sunny was one of our champion collager/stampers.
The table next to us was a little quieter (not that we were noisy in the library!)
Anne Shannon makes paper the old way. At her take-away table she invited the children (and Oola) to make collages with her handmade paper. We shared our amazement at the intensity of concentration at both tables, and a quality of inevitability in their collages.
One work was left on the table, and a cloud came over Anne when she explained to me that the boy who made it said he would “donate” it. When Anne pressed him to take it home he explained that his father would only make fun of him for making art.
I think this is one of the saddest things I have seen in a long time; call it Portrait of a Spirit Being Crushed.
Tod gave a mini writer’s workshop which probably could have been advertised better. I wish that I could have attended, but felt obligated to my spot at the PSBA presentation. Read about his newest book, “Bugle”.
Meanwhile, in another part of the city center there were more artists showing and talking about their work. Two that captured me were:
Linda told me a story which I quote here from her website —
I began creating bead work pieces as a result of a dream. In this dream, a wise old grandmother lizard promised me a necklace as a gift, and to teach me the craft. Upon awakening, I excitedly began to explore this media. A few months after having this dream, I went home to visit my parents. After hearing I was now doing bead embroidery, my mother offered to give me a drawer full of seeds beads she had been saving. In response, to my surprise, she told me about how my great grandmother made bead embroidery handbags. I feel this deep connection with my ancestors through this craft.
When I got to her booth I was immediately thrown way back into a memory of my Father coming home from sea with the present of a porcelain doll in a silk Kimono in a glass case. We got to look at it and we were warned this was no ordinary doll. The beautiful doll from far away land was exhibited high up beyond our reach in her glass case. The red of her kimono and the black of her hair and the gold hinges of the case became lodged somewhere DEEP in my psyche.
Misako’s dolls are made of Japanese paper (wa-shi). She showed us how she wraps the paper around a cylinder and crushes it to give both texture and strength. She called this “shrinking” the paper.
Love the energy of this dancer who is planted in rectangular strength but in whom everything is delicious movement.
In the soft rain Oola and I are getting an early start on our first solo trip to Seattle. The deciduous trees are letting go of the last of the light that they stored during long summer days.
Being very careful to follow directions from Oola’s cousin in the black box we reach the Bainbridge Island ferry just in time to see it leave the dock. No biggie; we gave ourselves plenty of time for the trip. The wind is blowing over here on the Sound of Puget but we are warm and comfy while we wait. It is going to be a good trip.
Images can be enlarged with a click.
I won’t bore you with the details of circling round and round in Seattle to the maddeningly patient tone of Oola’s cousin in the black box. Luckily traffic is so slow we don’t have to worry about making split-second decisions. We finally get to our destination, the parking lot of some sports arena, and Oola takes the obligatory picture of the iconic Space Needle.
A short walk in the rain (Oola left the umbrellas in the car) then we stop, saying
There is a cast of characters out front and they appear graphic novel ready, but, hey, no problem.
When we get inside, it is a wonderful world full of booth after booth after booth of old, delightful, and very expensive books, maps, prints, and probably more.
Oola and I have a free pass because we are volunteers at the Book Arts Guild table so we go there first.
Already in place are artist Mare Blocker (left) and that force-of-nature and cat-herder Selene Fisher (right) who organized our part in this book fair. A few of my books are for sale. More on that later.
Our neighbor is Carl Montford of Seattle with his tiny, functioning letterpress machine. On which he prints his tiny, incredibly precise wood engravings. Exactly the right size for Oola! But wa-a-ay beyond her skill set.
There is time before my shift to do the walk around. And here are only a few of the magical things I saw.
This time the journey was to Dove Studio in Port Angeles where a group of us played around with marbleizing paper and cloth. This is a technique I learned from Joan Flasch (the best) in art school years ago. This technique is like the Fourth of July, full of oohs and aahs.
Marbleizing is a way to put pattern on paper, or fabric (or fingernails or car parts or tennis raquets…). We limited ourselves to paper and fabric. What you do is get yourself some thick water and float some paints on the surface. Mess with it and then drop your item on top of it – gently.
Here is Pamela placing drops of acrylic paint on the surface.
Then she makes patterns in the paint.
The room sucks in its collective breath.
You can see the images enlarged by clicking on them.
Diana and Katie experiment with ways to drop fabric on the paint to avoid the dreaded air bubble.
After a couple of hours of too much fun:
Everything a girl (or a cat) could want (notice the wine which Diane thought we might need) in the Wildcard’s Picking Parlour.
When everybody went home, Oola and I gathered up the leftover materials and played into the very small hours.