Last summer Brenda at J.B. Knacker gave me some bones that her dog had found in the woods and brought home. I used a couple of what I'm assuming are leg bones in two previous pieces--"Wither" and "Tick Tock"--but I hadn't been able to figure out a place for the skull...until now. Yesterday I completed what I'm calling "Shrine to King Lotor." Before finishing this project, I did a little research and determined the bones are from a raccoon (Procyon lotor); lotor, by the way, is Latin for "washer." Below's a picture of this assemblage; please go to my New Work page for more photos. Okay, now I can finally (unless I get distracted by something else) get back to my on-going nichos project.
As per my previous blog posts, my plan--I don't know why I still use that word--was to continue working on my group of nichos. Well...I got sidetracked. (My work as an artist is basically a series of meandering sidetracks--but that's what makes it fun and different from the drudgery of my real job.) Over the last couple of years I've been collecting vintage photos. Some are posed, studio shots; some are random, slice-of-life, black-and-whites from the 1950s and 1960s; some are what were called "cabinet photos"; and some are postcards (Can you believe that? Some people used to turn photos of themselves into postcards and actually mail them to others. Seems weird to me). Anyway, this postcard photo of an old, dour-looking woman sitting in a rocking chair on her front porch has been gracing my workspace for quite some time now. Part of my process is imagining the real stories behind the subjects of these old photos. For this particular woman, I figured the persona from the photo (hair pinned up; long, drab dress; rocking away on the front porch) was just window dressing for her real life when the sun goes down: town party girl. Yeah, I know, I need to get professional help. Here's a photo of the old gal in my latest piece entitled--what else?--PARTY GIRL. If you'd like to see more images, please visit my New Work page.
While waiting for plaster and paint to dry, I took a break Tuesday and visited my favorite junk shop, JB Knacker. (I always feel guilty calling it a "junk" shop because it's so much more than that--but I'm hobbled by my limited vocabulary.) Anyway, Brenda at JB Knacker showed me a couple of neat, old pieces of metal (brass?, tin?) that she hadn't yet put out on display. The story she told me--and the story someone told her--was that they used to hang in a county jail. Initials ("FT," "ER," "HS," etc.) that apparently corresponded to locations in the jail were stamped into the metal, and pins (think heavy-duty safety pins) that were also stamped with initials were hooked into the holes around the edges. I don't fully understand the concept of their role as jail-house organizational system, but there's one thing I do understand--they're really cool!
At first I didn't have any idea what to do with them, so I bought one because, yes, it was/is COOL looking. Then yesterday it hit me--duh! I'll cut rectangular holes in them and use them to "frame" some of my nichos; the great patina, stamped initials, and rough holes exude folk art, and they should fit well with the texture and color-scheme I'm currently planning for my nicho bases. So I went back yesterday and bought the second chunk of metal. Time to slap on a cutting wheel and fire-up the Dremel.
The better part of today was spent on step two of my Nichos project. For this step I added 1 3/4" wide pieces of lattice around the perimeters of the plywood faces. Notice in the picture below how the lattice gives the pieces more dimension (which I like), kind of like a cradled canvas. Also notice that I chopped up an old yard stick to use on one of my nicho-boards; I'm liking that particular affect, so I may head down to my local junk shop and buy some more yard sticks.
In the meantime, the next few steps will involve prepping the boards for paint: filling in gaps in the lattice edges, sanding, throwing on some gesso, sanding more, using plaster and/or modeling paste to create texture, probably more sanding, and so on. I'll post some pics when all that rigamarole is completed.
At this point my "plan" (the best laid plans of mice and men) is to not even worry about the actual nichos--mint tins and whatever contents I can dream up--until AFTER the frameworks are completed. Often when I work on a project I'll have an idea from the get-go as to how everything will fit together, both construction-wise and design-wise. However, for this project I'm purposefully laying this tendency of mine to the side; I'm hoping the challenge will take this project in a new creative direction. In addition, when I do finally get to filling the little nichos, I'm going to strive for simplicity and try and use just ONE object or image in each nicho. An artist friend of mine calls this "single concept" art, which flies in the face of my assemblages--where I often cram every square inch with something--but I'm going to make a concerted effort to make it happen. If I may co-opt the K.I.S.S. acronym: Keep It Simple, Steve.
I discovered a small collection of mint tins the other day. (Making a "discovery" in a workspace as small as mine can mean only one thing: I REALLY need to clean my "studio.") So I came to the realization that I either need to do something with them or toss 'em. What to do, what to do? I thought about simply making little boxes--but where's the fun in that? After all, they're designed as boxes to hold mints--why not re-purpose them? Then I remembered the concept of "Nichos," which I read about in Michael DeMeng's book DUSTY DIABLOS. Popular in Mexican folk art, a nicho is, according to Mr. DeMeng, "a tiny shrine that is shadow box-ish--a little place to put something sacred or devotional." So for the time being, that's my plan--to make nichos. However, given my tendencies, the terms "sacred" and/or "devotional" will probably be turned on their heads--but you get the idea. Below are some shots from the beginning stages: the tins and blank pieces of plywood in the first picture, and the plywood with tin-sized holes in the second picture. Stay tuned to see my progress--or lack thereof.
Believe it or not, but there really aren't that many things about today's children that bother me. However, and I realize this is going to make me sound like an old fogey, there's one trait that today's youth possess that bugs the $&!# out of me. Namely, they seem to be afraid to--gasp!--GO OUTSIDE AND EXPLORE. Granted, much of the blame can be placed at the feet of overly-paranoid parents--but still, what's the deal with today's youth? To these automatons adventure is restricted to whatever they can see within the framework of their various screens: iPods, TVs, computers, and so on. "Hey, I got to level 6 gazillion on [insert computer game name]!" Big deal. Get outside and explore the REAL world. That said, my nephew Joe is the opposite of today's typical kids. He loves to be outside, exploring, capturing frogs, examining bugs, playing football, sleeping in tents, so on and so forth--you know, doing stuff kids are SUPPOSED to do. Over the span of last summer, Joe collected a jar full of cicada "shells" (I know that's probably not the scientifically-correct term, but you get the idea). Anyway, I guarantee you Joe had more fun hunting for cicada shells out in the fresh air than he would have had sitting in front of a computer. And Joe, knowing I like "creepy" stuff in my art, graciously offered me some of his insecty treasure. Naturally, I accepted. Thanks, Joe, for being a kid! For more pics of my latest piece that includes the above cicada shells, please visit my New Works page.
I found the image of this devious-looking girl many months ago and filed it away, forgetting about it. Recently, I dredged her up and created this assemblage around her image. In real life she was probably a perfectly pleasant little girl, but to me she looks like trouble, a bob-haired, playground mafioso. "Give me your crayons--or you'll swim with the fishes." More images can be seen on my New Work page.
The (sometimes mad) ramblings of a mixed media artist.