Monday, October 16, 2017

January Workshop: Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker

Sunday, January 28 at the San Francisco Center for the Book, from 10am to 4pm, I will be teaching a six-hour workshop, "Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker." I hope you will be in town to join us!

In 2012, I taught a six-week course, "Writing and the Creative Process," at JFK University. It featured a series of guided explorations linking writing to a hands-on, physical process and incorporated the use of art materials. In this workshop, we will sample many of those exercises and projects as well as new ones I've successfully taught in my bookmaking classes at CCA and during my guest semester at Cal State East Bay. We start by sewing a Zen or grunge notebook. (Instructions are here for those who cannot be at the workshop. Variations of some of the explorations may be found in the Creative Arts Process Cards.)

Course Description
Have you always wanted to write but were unsure how to begin? Interested in including words in your visual work? This gentle workshop will shine light on how words can be used like other art media to describe an object, to capture a mood, to tell a story, and to transform how we see the world. We will first make a Zen or grunge notebook, then move through a series of guided writing explorations to loosen up. Through examples we will also look at short forms of writing that lend themselves well to book art. Students will emerge with their notebook full of visual approaches, ideas, tips, tricks, and several short pieces that have the potential to kickstart a writing practice, to inspire a book project, or to be just for fun. Beginners warmly welcome. $130 (materials included).







Addendum 12.11.17: the January workshop is full, but I will be teaching two more that will warmly welcome both new and repeating students. Watch for them in the SFCB workshop listing for Sunday, May 20, 2018 and Sunday, August 26, 2018.

Friday, October 13, 2017

New Art Quilt/Open Book: Where Is My Passport?

I am not sure where these quilts are coming from, but I am really happy working larger. and being able to write, sew, embroider, use color, and make use of my photographs. I'm starting to see quilts everywhere. I went back to look at Kenneth Patchen's painted poems in What Shall We Do Without Us? (2011 blog post here), wondering how they might become quilts. I see paintings in the museums and think of them on a grid and how they might be interpreted in fabric. How long this way of thinking will last, I do not know, but I am finding a little corner of  joy despite the floods, fires, and wrong thinkers in charge create social and economic chaos and distress. It isn't easy.

In a recent dream, I am trying to explain that the concept originates from your head, but the content should spring from your heart. A question I ask myself (and which I asked myself here) after thinking, wouldn't this be (neat, cool, interesting, curious—insert adjective here), is what does this mean to me/what emotions does it conjure and what do I want to communicate to others?

This quilt began with thoughts about immigrants and immigration. I took out my expired passport and scanned the patterns inside with the visa stamps, using the photos for the background pattern, which I then created on cotton cloth with Solarfast dyes. I remembered taking a photo of some graffiti on a door in New York City that said "Where Is My Passport?"  so I dyed that image, too. I carved a fictitious visa stamp from a linoleum block. I letterpress printed "Where Is My Passport?" and "Arrival/Departure" in wood type. With the piecing I included some jeans pocket pieces I had leftover from other quilts; sometimes we hold passports in our pants pockets. For texture I quilted faces all over, all connected with one machine stitched threadline, as we are all connected somehow. But the text content had to come from something I knew. Immigration suggests choice or the lack of choice. Some of us have choices whether we wish to leave or stay, travel or flee. This also relates to the idea of family and whom you choose (partner, children) versus whom you don't choose to be in it. Those concepts became the basis for the poem I embroidered on the quilt. So many layers. It felt natural to me.



You can see a larger image on my website
Some details:





Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Centering with Textures and Words: Martin Wong's Paintings

In her book, Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, M.C. Richards writes "The experience of centering was one I  particularly sought because I thought of myself as dispersed, interested in too many things" (20-21). She writes how she wished to just focus on one thing like other people she knew. After becoming disillusioned with academia, she turned to pottery, but she never stopped writing. She learned to finally accept herself, that it was okay if she did more than one thing.

Centering is an interesting concept. Imagine the clay on the wheel as ourselves, spinning. We reach out toward the new, then bring it back in toward the familiar. Gather, then evaluate. Learn, then synthesize. Each willingness to reach out and learn brings new potential for the art and writing practices we already have. The new knowledge doesn't overwrite or erase; it enhances, enriches, deepens, and shapes. We grow.

Martin Wong's work at Berkeley Art Museum,  with a catalogue of the same name: Martin Wong: Human Instamatic is an exhibition that keeps centering itself. It reaches out to American finger spelling and graphics, urban textures and human isolation, his experience and interests as a gay man, as someone of Chinese heritage, and as an artist immersed in the world around him. Then it brings it all back together, synthesized. Not all of these interests are present in every work, but you can see both the outward looking and inward looking spirit in every piece. He began as someone who liked to draw, who drew people as "The Human Instamatic," and he studied ceramics in college. He designed sets and installations. But as the video of his life shows, he once wrote to Santa asking for an oil paint set "with no lines or numbers," so it is clear he always wanted to paint as well. The paintings in the exhibition are in both oils and acrylics. There is no hierarchy of oil over acrylic for him. Each medium fulfills its function.

The wall text history says that in 1978, he began his new life in New York City as a night porter and felt isolated as if he were deaf and mute. This overwhelming feeling led him to incorporate finger spelling into his work. The merging of words as signs of the hand in a visual work is something I hadn't seen before. It's quite distinctive.



This work includes lettering and textures with urban surfaces: brick, wood, metal, and people. He created many paintings with brick-like surfaces.
Exile--This Night Without Seeing Her Passes Like an Eternity, 1987-88
acrylic on canvas

Text, lettering, books, and the writing in the sky: constellations.
Orion, 1984


Text, finger spelling, urban textures
Lower East Side Valentine, 1983
oil on canvas

Signage, portrait of his parents, urban textures
Chinese Laundry--Portrait of the Artist's Parents, 1984
acrylic on canvas

Books, lettering, bricks, urban textures
Voices, 1981
acrylic on canvas


Wong was not imprisoned, himself, but he had friends who had been.
He was interested in the experience, and was able to create emotionally moving paintings from the stories he gathered.
Cell Door Slot, 1986
acrylic on canvas

an early work, with finger spelling as the sole imagery
Silence, 1982
acrylic on canvas

it reads:
Silence
of a lost embrace
W(h)lispers
of another place
Dronings
of an afternoon
Sunlight
of an empty room

One of the earliest in the exhibition: lettering as texture
Left: Meeting of the Bored of Education, 1971
ink on vellum

R above and detail: Untitled (The Stone Steps Fall), 1967
ink on vellum

M.C. Richards also writes, "One does not decide between craft and art, pottery and sculpture, tradition and the individual talent. One is in a perpetual dialogue and performs the act one performs" (23). "Perpetual dialogue" is the perfect phrase for creative practice. Our curiosity keeps us constantly in motion, looking, sensing, trying on new approaches. We adjust to fit, alter to make useful to us.

Martin Wong's "perpetual dialogue" shines through in this exhibition as a wonderful example. Through the works you experience the repeated journeys of reaching out, gathering, and returning to weave the new threads back into the artist's nest, incorporating them, and making them his own.


The exhibition is on view at Berkeley Art Museum until December 10, 2017.