Being a part of CAW has opened me to many things, the foremost is being part of a collective & what that looks like. This got my brain going on what this dynamic might look like for other female identified collectives or groups… enter the rabbit hole we call the internet. Upon a recent search I stumbled upon Coalition Zine and my cotton socks were knocked clean off.
Their about page reads
“The Coalition is dedicated to telling stories and making space via literature and visual work. We want to do more than introduce diversity to the world of publishing: we want to give it heart. We only accept and publish work from female and femme identifying writers and artists of color and we pride ourselves in bringing you content that is honest and passionate.”
And by god do they deliver. Published Quarterly (both online and print), the Coalition Zine is so many things, but the one, the one that sticks with me is its delivery of words. Whether it’s a short story, poem or an interview of a young artist, the writers dig deep. The entire zine feels immensely personal. Souls being bared in the same way you share thoughts on life with a close friend. Here are two reads that grabbed me, got me thinking outside of my little self imposed bubble.
Let’s talk about Truth, for a moment. There are those who believe that “The Truth is out there-” that truth is something objective and quantifiable. There are others, who have a more fluid concept of truth, that it’s subjective and slippery, or that there are many Truths. As the founder of the North American Pseudohistorical Society, it’s probably no surprise that I fall into the latter camp. You may be surprised, however, to learn that the man widely regarded as “the Father of History,” Herodotus, was totally in that camp as well. He would record all the different versions of a story, ending with ‘Well, this sounds like the best version, so let’s say that’s what happened.’
“Cat, why are you telling us about a man- isn’t this supposed to be a herstory?”
Oh yeah, and this month’s featured woman is a real doozy. I did, though, want to preface by saying that while this woman definitely existed, was definitely bad-ass and definitely is deceased, that’s about as far as the definites go. All primary sources we have about her stem from Herodotus’s account of her life, and even that was written nearly a hundred years after she died. Normally, this would send me looking for a more well-researched/documented lady, however when I heard this story, I felt like I imagine Herodotus must’ve felt- that whether the story was TRUE or “true” or ‘somewhat (?) true?’, the picture it paints is too vivid not to retell. So this month, I’m going to tell you about Tomyris*
Tomyris lived in the 6th century BCE, in the area that spans from present day Kazakhstan to Iran and possibly farther east. By the time she appears in Herodotus’s account, she is already the widowed ruler of the Massagetae, a fierce nomadic confederation that occupied the Great Steppe. The Steppe was a harsh place to live, and the people who lived there grew up tough. (500 years after Tomyris, another nomadic group of hard-core folks roamed the Steppes. You might know them as the Huns). Sadly, not much is known about the Massagetae (or Tomyris’s early life), beyond their location, the fact that they were a nomadic group, and that this lifestyle made them a real pain to their neighbors in the West who wanted to collect them in an empire. In fact, it’s because of their resistance to the ancient Greek nemesis, Persia, that we know about them. Tomyris defeated Cyrus the Great,*** the famed Persian ruler.
Persia in the 6th century BCE was the largest and arguably most powerful empire at the time. They expanded and expanded, seemingly unstoppable, until they got to the steppe and met the Massagetae. When your primary method of subjugation is to storm cities and subdue the people en masse, that method sort of falls apart when you come up against a people who don’t have cities. Being unwilling to give up, as I imagine many other supreme leaders of empires might be, Cyrus tried a different approach. He sent a message to Tomyris, praising her beauty and intelligence and offering her a proposal of marriage. Tomyris saw it immediately for the thinly veiled attempt at her lands that it was. She laughed it off. Taking a different track, Cyrus began to amass warships and had his people start to build a bridge over the Jaxartes River which separated the two nations. Tomyris was not having it, saying:
“…Be content to rule in peace your own kingdom, and bear to see us reign over the countries that are ours to govern. As, however, I know you will not choose to hearken to this counsel, since there is nothing you less desirest than peace and quietness, come now, if you are so mightily desirous of meeting the Massagetai in arms, leave your useless toil of bridge-making; let us retire three days’ march from the river bank, and do you come across with your soldiers; or, if you like better to give us battle on your side the stream, retire yourself an equal distance.”
…or, in other words, ‘You leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone. But mess with us and it’s your place or mine, buddy?’ At this point, it’s generally agreed upon that Cyrus should’ve walked away, and he was about to- when he chose that moment to listen to some very bad advice from his brother and adviser, Caesus. Arguing that giving up to a woman would be a huge loss of face, Caesus proposed a new plan: They would leave a camp seemingly abandoned and stocked with an overabundance of food and wine, and attack when the Massagetae were good and full and sleepy. This worked even better than expected- as a nomadic people without the agricultural system needed to grow grapes, the Massagetae were unused to wine and totally unequipped to handle it. They became thoroughly intoxicated , the Persians swept in and attacked, killing or taking prisoner nearly a third of the Massagetaen forces. One of these prisoners was Tomyris’s son Sparagapises. Needless to say, Tomyris was pissed. Not only was she upset at the loss of troops, she also felt that Cyrus and his people had played dirty. That her son was captured further enraged her, but rather than go on a massive killing spree to get him back, she tried one more time to appeal to reason, and sent a message to Cyrus, saying:
“… Restore my son to me and get you from the land unharmed, triumphant over a third part of the host of the Massagetai. Refuse, and I swear by the sun, the sovereign lord of the Massagetai, bloodthirsty as you are, I will give you your fill of blood.”
Meanwhile, back in the Persian camp, in a twist of fate straight out of Shakespeare, Sparagapises was sobering up and becoming aware of his position as a bargaining chip. He convinced his captors to temporarily remove his bonds and quickly killed himself, to keep from being used as a tool to manipulate his mother. When Tomyris heard, she rallied her forces and brought battle to the Persians, in what was described as “the fiercest” combat seen at the time. The Persians, and their leader Cyrus the Great, were destroyed. This, though, wasn’t enough for Tomyris. When the battle was over, she had his body brought to her, along with an empty wine skin. Amidst the gore of the battleground, she filled the wineskin with blood, cut off the head of Cyrus and either dipped it into the wineskin or poured the wineskin out over it (depending on the source), saying:
“I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood and so I shall.”
Tomyris is famous for defeating the ruler of the greatest empire in the world. History is full of upsets and bad-ass women in positions of military leadership. What really makes this story for me, is how many times Tomyris sought peace and the extent to which she kept her word when these efforts didn’t work. Hell hath no fury like a woman who told you she was going to have fury if you did A and then you did A anyway, you dummy.
As cool and bad-ass as Tomyris was, I think we can all agree that defeating and decapitating those who cross you is not an ideal or sustainable method for solving disagreements, so this month we’re going to learn how to use “I-statements.”
How to Construct an “I-statement” to Deescalate a Situation So You Don’t Have to Dip the Heads of Your Enemies Into Buckets of Blood.
In her book How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable, Dr. Suzette Haden Elgin shares a variety of tools which can be used to have a disagreement which is constructive, rather than hostile. One such tool, is the “I-statement”. Constructing an i-statement is simple, and allows you to state your feelings and concerns in a neutral way.
Start with a specific, objective action which you want the person you’re talking to to stop.
For example: “When you swing that stick around like that”
Follow that with a description of how you feel (using the phrase “I feel” rather than “you make me feel” or “it makes me feel”:
“…I feel nervous…”
End with the reason for that feeling “…because I worry you might hit another friend in the face and hurt them”
So now, instead of yelling “Quit swinging that damn stick around!!” you say “When you swing that stick around like that, I feel nervous because I worry you might hit another friend in the face and hurt them.” (I should probably mention I use i-statements frequently when working with preschoolers) It may take a bit longer to say, but having used it with children and adults, in both silly and serious situations, I can honestly say it does help- I haven’t had to dip a single head in a bucket of blood.
Scottsdale Contemporary Art Museum, Jan 30 – May 1, 2016, Scottsdale, Arizona
By Sandra Aska
“I am intrigued with combining the remnant of memories,
fragments or relics and ordinary objects, with the components of technology.
It’s a way of delving into the past and reaching into the future simultaneously.”
“You know, you can make art out of anything!”
Those were the words Betye Saar said to me when I told her I had been in awe of her work since the 1960s.
We met at the opening of her exhibit at the Scottsdale Contemporary Art Museum. This exhibit is a fascinating journey through the fictional biographies of transplanted Africans and the transformation and assimilation of slaves into contemporary identities and the creation of a constantly evolving culture. A sweet and petite grandmotherly figure today, Betye Saar, an educator, print maker and installation artist, was born in Los Angeles in 1926, and, at age 90, is still making art and visualizing change.
She had an important early influence that set her path. Her grandmother lived in Watts and as a child Betye watched Simon Rodia building his Watts Towers, which to her, was an amazing, mystical, and magical place and the beginning of her life long interest in metaphysics and the occult. Also, she said, where she lived in Pasadena, they had gypsy conventions and her father would drive them to this big park where all these caravans and things were. She spoke about always having an interest in things outside of life as she knew it; and the difficulty of finding information on mysticism, magic, and witchcraft. Because it was the ‘60s, fascination with those ideas were just beginning and images she finally found in books were incorporated into her early work.
The Rosebowl Fleamarket and thrift shops in Pasadena were a source for items that spoke to her- bits and pieces of dolls, clocks, African masks, Tarot cards, bird cages, old photographs, crockadile skins and other ephemera started piling up in her studio. Photographs of family members, old linen handkerchiefs, personal letters, gloves, clothing and family memorabilia became part of her assembled art.
Some weeks after seeing the exhibit, I was in a contemporary Scottsdale gallery, and still excited about the show, and I asked the gallery owner in Scottsdale if she had seen the Saar’s exhibit and explained what it was about. The gallery owner replied with an emphasis that bore no challenge, “There should be no politics in art. ART is just art, if politics are involved it holds absolutely no interest for me.” Somewhat taken aback, I was not ready to debate the definition and philosophy of art with her, and simply made a polite retreat. Her idea of art had so many limitations that at least 95% of art through the ages would, to her mind, not be considered art as we see it today.
Bette Saar is an example of making art based on who she is, was, and is still becoming. Her way is a thoughtful and intuitive process based on things she knows to be true and important to her. She is telling her story.
The concept of what art is has changed with every generation and by the innovative artists in that generation. Betye Saar lived in a culturally rich and exciting time. This was a time of politics, action, and radical social change; a time charged with emotions and turmoil, tempored by art and intellect and the act of trying to make sense of things. Looking at her work today not only tells us her story, but keeps alive the stories of our shared history, be they harsh, cruel, sentimental, mysterious, beautiful, or loving. That is why Betye’s work and possibly your work will be important to future generations regardless of how art is defined. It matters not how or what we make in terms of art, or if we will be famous, but rather the brave and true act of recording our stories and leaving a message for future generations that can be informative, edifying, healing, and awe inspiring.
The Scottsdale Contemporary Art Center is gracious about photography, so all photographs are by the author. There are no titles. Betye did not want titles listed on the work and she prevailed.
January 4, 2012 interview with Juvenio L. Guerra in the Getty newsletter iris
At a CAW meeting early in the year, we were asked how CAW has affected our artistic lives. Kate Menke bravely stood and intimated that circumstances had kept her from making her art for some time, and she wanted to do ceramics but did not have the appropriate space in which to do it. This blocked her. She spoke of how a CAW member encouraged her to move forward, and so she did. She made one ceramic bowl in her dining room. She was so charged by this she made a daily practice of making one ceramic bowl in her dining room for a year. She amassed 365 bowls, and I was impressed by her story. She had dedication to purpose as well as a need, but she needed a shove to begin and got it from our group. I have added Kate to my list of muses and heroes and she is in company with the likes of painter Agnes Martin.
Agnes Martin is on my list because she chose a difficult path early on in her life. She considered herself to be an abstract expressionist painter, but her work was thought by critics to be minimal, descreet, inward, and, to my way of thinking, silent. Her paintings reflected an interest in Eastern philosophy and religion. Born in 1912 in Canada, she died in 2004 in Taos, New Mexico, where she settled in 1967. She moved away from the New York art world, built her own simple adobe studio, isolated herself by choice, and died at 92. It is said she did not read a newspaper for 50 years. She took a seven year hiatus from painting and distanced herself from the social events that make a typical artist’s life. Agnes bravely chose her road and continued down it making significant use of its ups and downs. In a documentary of her work Agnes said, “Nothing happens in the studio unless you show up.”
Periodically I can be a slacker about going to the studio; I think this can be said of all of us. When this happens, Agnes’ words come to mind…..it ain’t gonna happen if you are not there… and I go empty-minded into a space that calls out for action, any action. So in blank-mindedness I start cleaning, piddling, picking up bits of this and that and, it never fails, something begins to happen. Sometimes just the studio gets cleaned, but at least I gave it a shot. Showing up is proactive and practice is proactive.
That brings me to Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers, who has brought us the concept of putting in 10,000 hours of work to become great. WHAAAT?
The idea is that 10,000 hours of deliberate pratice will make you world-class in any field. To Gladwell, greatness takes an enormous amount of time. There is no doubt that when you put 10,000 hours into anything you become a master from a technical and skill level, but is that all that matters? Does 10,000 hours really bring you fame and fortune? Does 10,000 hours allow you to make something good or important or interesting? Does 10,000 hours dig deep into your psyche or your soul? Gladwell doesn’t talk about imagination as part of the process; we can only infer that it rises when you work for 10,000 hours at the same thing. Is it possible for all of us to imagine something and then create it? Of course it is. John Lennon instructs us to imagine. Do we have to show up and put in 10,000 hours to make something that exemplifies our imagination or even our lack of one? I don’t think so.
Agnes Martin and the Nike Corporation had the right idea about the importance of being present and just doing it. So did Kate as she practiced in her dining room, making a mess on the dining room table.
Certainly one must practice one’s art or craft, but beyond mastery of a skill set, what else is there? What else does one learn from hours of practice? What draws us to a painting or a bowl? What drives us to make things, and if mastery is a matter of practice, then what is it about art that compels a reaction in the viewer aside from the fact there is an object before her? In her own words, here are a few things Kate learned from her practice:
The daily habit of creating a bowl for a year actually transformed me into an artist. Before, I was an art teacher who sometimes made art but I really had no drive or vision for my creation. Establishing this discipline, making the time every day and having an attainable goal awakened the artist in me. Now, I don’t feel complete if I haven’t worked on some aspect of my art every day. It has made me a better artist and I feel less afraid to create and to share with the world. I posted each bowl on Facebook and Instagram and many of my bowls are less than perfect (They we’re made in 15 minutes or less!). I opened up my imperfections to criticism and found that people loved them more for it. Finally, it forced me to seek people and places to encourage my work. If you value your art, dedicate a time and a place for it and don’t let anything get in the way. Working 30 minutes a day adds up quickly and can change your life. Going through the motions of creating allows your brain to expand into really creative places. If you can’t come up with new ideas just keep making something simple things. Eventually your brain will relax and the ideas will flow. Paying attention deliberately for a year and having a physical manifestation of each day allowed me to be thankful in a whole new way. There are a lot of people out there that will encourage your making but you have to put yourself out there.
Art like life is a journey; you pick a road and follow it moving off onto branches as suits your whim. You get older, wiser, and more experienced. As Bette Davis said, “You have to be brave to get old.” She may have been refering to changes in the body, but I think she was implying you must be brave to keep moving forward, making mistakes, and having successes and failures as you go. In doing so, you begin to make work that has imagination, feeling, depth, and intellect, the qualities that make a truly interesting and great work of art when applied with skill and knowledge of the tools.
My hat is off to Kate who dared to show up and make one clay bowl a day for 356 days in her dining room, no less. Clay everywhere, perhaps kids and animals making demands, significant others wanting dinner, and the general interuptions of a busy life. One bowl a day. I cannot say I have done that. Whether or not you get your 10,000 hours in, practice moves you forward and that is what it takes to get it done.
One last thing. We all know Nike is a giant corporation and when you Google Nike, involvement in atheltics and corporate information is all that comes up. However, if you Google Nike goddess you will find she was a goddess in ancient Greek religion personifying victory. How interesting Nike chose a woman of power to brand themselves.
So, women of CAW, women of power, go forth in your practice, piddle and muddle, make mistakes in your studios; show up, do it, and become victorious; become Agnes, become Nike, become Kate!
I love beer. Love it. So a brewery tour without a tasting might sound ludicrous. However, the promise of crawling around abandoned lagering caves set into Cincinnati’s seven hills more than makes up for a dry tour.
I used to work at the Ohio History Connection as a coordinator of teacher professional development. As a part of that job I was often tasked with organizing fieldtrips to historically significant parts of Ohio. Beer and brewing, drinking and temperance are deeply intertwined in Ohio’s history and uniquely so in Cincinnati with its German heritage. Cut to me and twenty or so social studies teachers taking in the view of Over the Rhine from the third story window of an abandoned brewery.
View of Over the Rhine from Sohn Brewery, Photograph by Molly Uline-Olmstead
Bits and pieces of these breweries are left all over the Over the Rhine neighborhood and include remnants of ice-houses, bottling buildings, offices, and stables. By its heyday in the late 1890s Cincinnati produced four barrels of beer per resident – almost twice as much beer as any other city in the United States.
These buildings are beautiful, even if they are in rough shape. They feature details that highlight the rich history and symbols of brewing including hops flowers and beer sipping cherubs carved into the brickwork and ironwork beer barrels capping the interior banisters.
Sohn Brewery Brickwork, Photograph by Molly Uline-Olmstead
Sohn Brewery banister, Photograph by Molly Uline-Olmstead
Each one is another example of the Italianate Revival Architecture that made Over the Rhine one of the largest historical districts in the country and one of the most neglected. It is this combination of historical significance and dereliction that makes Over the Rhine so fascinating. The neighborhood follows a common demographic pattern repeated around the Midwest in which European immigrants build and industry and then move out to nicer neighborhoods to be followed by Appalachian immigrants and African Americans coming north in the Great Migration. Two wars, a Great Depression, and a highway system later and the neighborhood is gutted.
In the late 90s and early 00s Cincinnati artists began to move into the area setting up studio spaces and exhibition spaces and in some cases, squatting. Artists know great space. There is a lot of energy around the area now and debates that will be familiar to anyone who has lived in a city where neighborhoods have experienced the irresistible story of boom, bust, and, revitalization, perhaps gentrification. Each of the places we visited with the teachers had the tell-tale signs of art making and the clash of past and present that a thoroughly current white walled gallery or site specific installation placed in a building from the early 1800s can cause.
So Over the Rhine is equal parts raw material for one’s own work and inspiration from one’s contemporaries. To get a taste of what this former brewing mecca has to offer (pun so intended) try visiting during one of their Final Friday Gallery Hops. If you are interested in seeing the breweries first hand check out one of the Cincinnati Brewery Tours.
Morgan, Michael D. Over-the-Rhine: When Beer Was King. Charleston: History, 2010. Print.
“OTR History.” Over The Rhine Foundation. Over the Rhine Foundation, n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2016.
“Tours of Cincinnati’s Historic Breweries – Part of the Brewing Heritage Trail.” Tours of Cincinnati’s Historic Breweries – Part of the Brewing Heritage Trail. Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2016.
Part One: Joan Jonas, Fiona Hall, and Chibaru Shiota
Observations by Paula Nees; September, 2015-Venice, Italy
Paula Nees is an artist living in Columbus, OH
I have traveled to Italy a number of times in the last 15 years, but this was only the second time my trip coincided with the Venice Biennale. This is one of the oldest international art exhibitions dating back to 1895 and occurs every two years on odd numbered years with an international architecture exhibition on view during even numbered years. The major exhibitions are situated in two areas in the Castello Sestiere just east of San Marco. The Giardini is the original exhibition site and consists of a main pavilion along with 29 national pavilions scattered throughout this park like space. The other site, the Arsenale, consists of large repurposed industrial spaces once used for Venetian shipbuilding. Along with these two main areas there are numerous collateral exhibitions throughout Venice which include national exhibits from countries not situated in the Giardini plus special groups and individual artists presenting work during the Biennale – May through November.
My observations are focused on six women artists who are connected through installation as art form. Beyond that though they differ dramatically in theme, approach and materials. This is not a critique as much as a response and personal observations I recalled during my visit to this exhibition viewing artwork, sites and people. Along with these observations I have included photos taken while viewing these installations plus links to video segments which provide interviews of each artist.
Joan Jonas “They Come to Us Without a Word” – United States Pavilion
The United States Pavilion is one of the oldest structures in the Giardini. Neoclassical in design it looks more mausoleum than exhibition space. Representing the US this year is artist Joan Jonas. Long known for her performance and video art she created an installation titled “They Come to Us Without a Word”. Each room of the pavilion had video screens –some installed as freestanding structures in the center of the room along with the actual objects and props seen in the videos. Other walls were lined with simple line drawings. Each room was devoted to a particular visual element – bees, fish, Jonas’s dog running on a beach, children in costume and a figure walking through a forest. This installation encouraged wandering – not the “please sit down now and watch the video”. The rooms referred to sensations of being in the world – no evident narrative, but rather a layering of images. This was a spirited approach to the environment – not spiritual. Perhaps because children were involved with the video imagery the effect was one of fragileness and innocence.
The newly inaugurated Australian Pavilion contained Fiona Hall’s installation “Wrong Way Time”. There was a dark and foreboding quality to the space; walls painted a dark gray with glass cabinets situated in the center of the room creating a smaller space within its interior. The perimeter of the room contained an arrangement of altered clocks – cuckoo clocks, grandfather clocks – all with moving pendulums and each set at a different time. Along with the clocks were more innocuous displays of driftwood that resembled animals or reptiles. The one display that I spent time investigating was a collection of quirky animals created out of grasses, cloth and colored raffia all situated on stacks of charred books (Kuka Irititja– Animals from Another Time, 2014). Hall’s connection to the environmental crisis in Australia has brought her to work with the Tjanpi Desert Weavers an Aboriginal women’s collective.
The glass cases were a Cabinet of Curiosities – delicate, bizarre, and puzzling objects made from humble materials like bread, collections of vintage glassware, and bird nests made of shredded dollar bills. In the interior space hung large humanoid mask-like shapes made from shredded camouflage clothing and grasses. Ultimately this reflected the Biennale theme of this year’s curator Nigerian born Okwui Enwezor titled “All the World’s Futures. “ In part he states “… through which to explore the current “state of things,” namely the pervasive structure of disorder in global geopolitics, environment and economics.”
Chiharu Shiota “The Key in the Hand” – Japanese Pavilion
Before arriving in Venice I had read a review of the Biennale that mentioned Shiota’s installation, so I was intrigued with how one would see these elements in space. There were thousands of old rusted keys strung and woven into a mass of red thread – all suspended over decrepit wooden boats. This wasn’t a net as much as it was a miasma of red color – so dense it obscured the walls and ceiling of the rooms. By themselves keys and boats are loaded with symbolism, but with the addition of red threads linking them I thought of nerves and connecting synapses. Shiota specifically used old keys – skeleton keys – for their connection to the human form.
The keys are old technology now out dated but had once kept something safe and secured.
Another aspect to this exhibition was located in the lower level outside of the pavilion. There was a photo of a child holding keys along with videos of children talking about memories from before and right after they were born (!?). Perhaps we all manufacture memories based not in reality but what we wish to be true.
Exhibit: February 29 – April 15, 2016 Opening Reception: Thursday, March 3, 6-8pm
Curators: Catherine Bell Smith, Stephanie Rond, Mollie Hannon
Location: Fort Hayes Shot Tower Gallery | 546 Jack Gibbs Blvd, Columbus, OH 43215
Landmark is primarily an exhibition about place – its history and importance. Members of CAW briefly toured Fort Hayes, experiencing the hundreds year old buildings and foundations, uncovering myths and legends, and collecting inspiration to create the many works included in the show. Excavating for inspiration may lead some to consider other aspects of the word landmark, bringing depth and breadth to this benchmark exhibition. Landmark challenges you to consider what serves as a guide or beacon in your life; what is the watershed moment after which everything changed; what stands out in your landscape or marks your boundary; where is your place.
We are looking for substantial pieces to fill the gallery. Please submit artwork that is no smaller than 30”x30”, (or, if working in a series, add-up to at least 30”x30” when they are grouped together)
We would love to have some images of in-progress and finished work for postcard and on-line promotion. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “LANDMARK Photos” in the subject line
Tour of site: November 16, 5:30pm (arrive at the Shot Tower Gallery by 5:15)
Barbara Vogel is a champion for others, so it is no surprise that the faces that fill her portraits are close friends and family. Her artistic evolution is firmly rooted in photography, but her willingness to experiment with photographic processes and incorporate other media result in entirely original works. Barb’s studio is filled with these visual tangents, as well as a solid coat of wax encaustic. Most recently she has been “scanning” faces and flora, with a document wand and then coating the prints with encaustic. The results are ghostly images that cast their subjects in a whole new light. She was recently awarded an Ohio Arts Council Award at the Ohio State Fair’s Fine Arts Exhibition for her portrait, Ursula Dazing, made with this process.
When I visited her studio, Barb had just sent off a large body of work for her solo exhibition, Preserved, at the Southern Ohio Museum & Cultural Center in Portsmouth, Ohio. The exhibition runs from September 26 to December 5, 2015 and the opening reception will be September 26, 3:00-5:00 pm.
You studied painting for your BFA, fine art photography for your MFA, as well as working as a photographer for OSU’s Medical Center. Can you describe your career and creative trajectory?
I had to earn a living. I went to commercial photography school after my BFA and got a job at OSU. Technique and technical tied it all together – and a certain confidence with material. I combine both painting and photography in my work now.
You are attracted to mediums (photography and encaustic) that are very process –oriented. What about the rhythm or cycle of the processes draws you to these mediums?
I miss the photo co-op that a group of us started when I taught at Columbus State. Nothing was better than to turn on music in the dark room and think you’re productive as you just go through the motions of printing. It is the same with a process of fusing the wax. And if you like the process, art evolves.
After focusing on photography and painting, how did you come to encaustic?
Ellen Bazzoli has a studio downstairs from me and she was working in encaustic. She offered to do a mini workshop for me. When you are working in photography people say, if you’re stuck you should change formats. I liked the wax and I liked what Ellen was doing. She said, “Come down. I’ll show you some basics.” She spent a day with me – how to use photographs and paper with the encaustic. I started experimenting and I was doing everything wrong, until a recent workshop at the Cultural Arts Center. I had a lot of waste since I was using the wrong tools. I would scorch prints, but my new little pink heat gun is great!
You worked closely with a team at OSU and have shared a studio for over two decades with the artist Marti Steffy. How did those communities shape your work?
The writers that I worked for at OSU gave me words or thoughts. If you don’t say something in your own language it isn’t as obvious. It helped to be with writers and talk about things. We still get together. I also worked closely with the photographer, Kojo Kamau. We shared a darkroom, as opposed to being behind a computer, so we could hide and talk. I learned so much from our darkroom conversations. Working closely in the studio with Marti, we both have had visual training and when we are stuck we both know where we’ve been. Rather than spending a week trying to solve a problem, she can see it for me and I can see it for her! It helps to be with other people for another eye. And it helps if you have a history with them. Studio mates and CAW members, Betsy DeFusco and Sandra Aska, have been helpful too. Our history is a bit newer, but they are wonderful sounding boards.
People familiar with your work might know you for your altered photographs on wood. Can you describe the process for your high school class series?
I take a picture of a picture on film. After processing the film, I expose the image with an enlarger in my darkroom onto an emulsion-covered piece of wood. I then carve and paint. When I have multiple wood images like my high school classes, then the compositional nightmare begins trying to arrange wooden squares.
You are comfortable with both film and digital cameras. Within the past few years you began utilizing a document scanner in your work. How did you come to use this office supply scanning wand as a tool for fine art?
I bought the document scanner for $69.95, to experiment with for a Vermont residency. I thought, oh I might try some flat things. Prior to Vermont, I stopped at my sister’s house in Maine and started scanning dogs and hair and other seemingly flat things, but kept getting error messages. I thought, I could put glass in front of this, it would be smooth. With the glass, I started scanning people.
What about faces seemed to be so striking?
I have done many portraits for and outside the hospital. What makes a portrait dynamic is a certain unmasking – when you capture that person. Using the wand is a slower process. They have this eerie lighting quality that shocked me at first. I printed them as wide as the scanner, so it is full frame so to speak. There’s a haunting quality about them.
When you printed the scans, what necessitated the encaustic coating?
Before the wand scanner, I did a series where everything was out of focus, using my Hasselblad camera. I took images of people out of focus, because everything in my life was out of focus. Everything didn’t sync. I was stressed, tired, and depressed. I then scanned the color negatives, printed them, and covered them with wax. Once again I was in the studio, working on multiple projects and I was waxing up a painting and I waxed the photograph and I liked it. They were strange to begin with, but the wax added that other worldly quality. My work now is a little more in focus perhaps because my life is a little more in focus.
Do you think of your work more as documentary or commentary? Or some combination thereof?
Perhaps they are one in the same. I do bodies of work. Right now I am studying botanicals and the way the hand-held wand lights the plant. Whether you focus on feet or abandoned buildings, you explore that subject. So maybe the word should be exploratory. Good question, sometimes I just do, but need to be more reflective and verbal as to why.
When I think of botanicals I think of small, scientific renderings. How are you approaching the subject?
I photograph or scan my own little garden plot – tomatoes, cosmos and long-stem zinnias. Each process is interesting. The lighting is so strange with the scanner – I have to wait until sunset otherwise the image is so overexposed. The shooting process is also interesting. With the plants you don’t have to meet with anybody at a certain time. The plants aren’t demanding. They don’t talk to you.
When you were at OSU you studied folk art and material culture and you have a great collection of folk and outsider art. What attracts you to this work?
When I went to graduate school in the 90’s there was this whole movement against the mainstream acceptance of different things in our material culture. I’d always had traditional training in my undergraduate years by male artists and I never had any female instructors. In the 70’s art was about painting and all about abstract expressionism. So folk art was the antithesis of what you were supposed to produce – of what was accepted. Traditional art school had certain formulas and you didn’t do personal work. When I quoted “The personal is political.” some guy laughed at me. Folk art opened up this different view of what we made and why we made it. Leslie Constable, a writer, and I were going to grad school at the same time. We collaborated – I did portraits and she wrote about folk artists around Ohio for a book project. This project taught me there was more art outside of academic art programs.
Larissa Boiwka (pronounced Boy-eve-kah), a recent recipient of the Greater Columbus Art Council’s grants, and her Wilde Hunt Corsetry came to my attention through a Facebook post on the Art and Artists of 614. I was totally enthralled by her artistry and amazingly detailed work. I’ve never had a corset before but her work has sure made me think about that twice! I asked her if she would be interested in being interviewed and, happily, she said yes.
Not only did I interview her, but I got to take a great 3D embroidery class from her near the end of April. First, the interview and then a little bit about the class.
Originally from Amherst Ohio, she is both a first and second generation here in the USA…her dad immigrated from the Ukraine and her mother’s family immigrated (great grandparents on her mother’s side) from Germany and England…THAT is an interesting bloodline and could explain her love for history.
Creating came to her through her genes as her mother is an artist and raised Larissa in an environment that fostered creativity, artistry and creation. While her mom doesn’t enjoy sewing much, she taught Larissa the basics at an early age. ‘As far as corsetry is involved, I am 100% self-taught through a lot of expensive mistakes!’
Like so many other artists I have interviewed, she states:
Yes, I have always been drawn to creating. I have thought about this a lot over the years, and I don’t think that you really get to choose. If you are an artist, you simply are. You can try to defer it, stifle it, but it will always surface. I feel that generally when an artist tries to forego art for another occupation, they end up pretty miserable. Ask me how I know…ha ha!
Having a degree in anthropology from OSU, she has a passion for historic clothing, ancient cultures, cultural adornments and ethnic costumes that have inspired a lot of her work. ‘Towards the end of my degree I realized that while I am very interested in and inspired by ancient cultures, I did not want to spend my life in academia. I worked as a retail buyer for an art and jewelry gallery after college. It was during that time that I established Wilde Hunt Corsetry in 2007. ‘ She calls her work ‘art corsetry’ since it is a mix of fine art, traditional craft and fashion. Nature, Art Nouveau, antique furniture, ethnic textiles and jewelry, extreme contrasts and beautiful and distinctive women serve as inspiration for her gorgeous creations.
In addition to her own creations, she teaches couture embroidery and beading. She sometimes teaches Couture Embroidery and Beading at the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) or at her home studio. Since she believes that it is kind of a dying art form, she thinks it is important to pass on the techniques. Recently, she taught a course in am obscure medieval style of embroidery called Or Nue’ (nuance in gold). It is like painting with silk upon densely laid threads of gold. ‘The detail and subtlety possible in this medium is incredible.’ Unfortuntately, the best artisans in this style died without passing on their skills and so now, just a handful of them internationally practice this form of embroidery, having taught themselves through studying extant examples and trial and error. Fortunate for the Columbus art and fashion scene that Larissa is among them! Read more
I enjoy planning vacations – the research and dreaming are a big part of the fun for me. When I’m planning a trip, I like to listen to music that originates from the countries on my itinerary. It’s a great way to enter into a culture and build excitement. Once I’m on the road, I always purchase music recommended by locals; I find it’s a wonderful way to relive a trip. The exercise below is a variation on this theme of music and trip planning and remembering. It invites you to bring all of these ideas together and enhance your own creative process while focusing in on the idea of texture.
Choose a piece of music that reminds you of a trip that you’ve taken. This trip can be from your distant past – perhaps a family trip from when you were a kid. Or it could be something recent – maybe a lavish safari you took last year or a weekend road trip. Tip: If you can’t find the right piece in your own music collection, your local library is a great (and free!) resource.
Find a comfortable spot to sit or lie down. Be sure to have paper and pen nearby in case you feel inspired to write down memories or ideas.
Once you’re comfortable, take a few deep-yoga-belly breaths and relax.
Hit play and listen to the piece once through with your eyes closed. What memories does the music revive? What images pop into your mind?
Listen to the piece again and focus on the texture of the music. What words would you use to describe the texture of the music? How does the texture of the music relate to the culture or region that created it?
Choose a single, specific memory from your trip and then listen to the piece for a third time. Imagine that you are transported back to the place and time of this specific memory. You have a camera bag full of high-quality equipment with you. What texture-related images do you take?
You can easily vary this exercise to become a part of your trip-planning rituals. It’s also an excellent way to pass time in the car or plane ride on your way to your destination! Remember – just as visualization exercises strengthen marathon runners on race day, visualization exercises related to travel photography will have a powerful effect on the images you create and capture on your next trip.
Proust writes, he remembers, physically. He depends on his body to give him the information that will bring him to the past. His book is called ‘In Search of Lost Time,’ and he does it through the senses. He does it through smell. He does it through feeling. He does it through texture. It is all physically driven, that language.
Melinda Eliza Sabo is a an Artist, Creativity Coach, and Lecturer who believes that life should be an artistic journey: truly well-seen and well-lived. Visit www.MelindaEliza.com for more inspiration. This article was originally published on the Wanderlust and Lipstick website.
I love to travel. I Love, luv, lurrrv it. I don’t particularly treasure the actual travelling part of travel, as I tend to puke everywhere and get super constipated. That part aside, I like to get away as much as possible.
Puke City, USA
I think that travelling is good for me and the creative part of my brain. Primarily, it’s the ONLY way I can truly clear my mind. If I take a week off of work and stay at home, I’ll probably get some stuff done, but I won’t feel too different upon my return. If I go somewhere far away (the farther, the better), the more I can become detached from my day-to-day existence.
Now, I don’t have a horrible life at all. Au contraire, I have an awesome life, full of good people and a cat and a fiancé and CAW and all that kind of stuff. But, as you all know, the day-to-day grind can get old. Work, billz, laundry, repeat. Travel helps clear it all away. Seriously, if I’m gone for over a week, I can’t remember why I let all those little things invade my brain. And once that crap has vacated the premises, I have more room to be creative. It feels so good.
Brain-eating amoebas. I’m not making this shit up.
I also believe that travel can help you to see the big picture. Little things you took for granted are different, and it makes you rethink the whole scenario in the first place. For instance, did you know that in Europe (Copenhagen and Warsaw, in my experience), you can get hot dogs in baguettes??? They actually squirt the sauce (garlic mayo, wut?) into the hole. My world will never be the same.
How does this make you feel?
Or did you know that in Eastern Europe, NOBODY SMILES?! I’m joking. People smile, but I find it refreshing that the American ideal of “customer service” hasn’t saturated the globe. I don’t need to feel like I’m in a Starbucks every time I’m in a friggin’ store or restaurant.
“I live to serve you. Without you, my life would be a meaningless void.”
I just read a book on Vietnamese street food, cuz I’m going there on my honeymoon next month (AWW YEEAH). I guess they smile a lot there, so it’s not just us. Also, they have this cool shrimp paste stuff called Mam Tom that I’m excited to try… uh, wait, I’m going down a food spiral! What I’m trying to say is that travelling is a great way to have new experiences that you never knew you were missing.
But that brings me to my next point. You don’t have to travel to have new experiences. Travelling can be really expensive. Some of my trips were funded by my mom, who was living in weird places for a while and wanted me to visit (free loading is optimal). Sometimes I took out extra school loans (oops). Sometimes I ran out of money and used my credit card for the rest of the trip (oops, again).
My mom in New Zealand. My last name is Underwood. Do you get it? I’M A HOBBIT.
No regrets! However, if you don’t want to add to your massive student debt or you make no money because you are an artist, there is still hope. There are many countries occupying this one little city known as Columbus. By this I mean that there are a lot of amazing restaurants run by people from other countries. and I’m going to give you an exclusive tip on my all-time favorite restaurant. Huong. There, I said it. Now you know. Tell no one.
There are also a lot of weirdo things to do in Columbus. Ever heard of the Early Television Museum in Hilliard? It rules. I recommend going after a massive brunch at Starliner Diner. Go outside the outer belt and you can find all kinds of treasure. Unofficial Lego Museum in an old school? Yep. A tour of ventriloquist dummies by a math teacher? Check. A park called Big Bone Lick? Oh, yeah. You don’t have to go far to discover new things.
Dinosaur World, in Cave City, KY
So, how is travelling and gaining new experience helpful to creativity? Well, to make a long story short, I believe that it makes my thinking more flexible, leaves me more open-minded and willing to take risks, gives me all kinds of fodder for my imagination, and most importantly, it helps me to remember what matters. And that’s big, when making art a priority.
So, go forth, ye wandering nymphs, and populate thee globe with creativity and enlightenment.
Are you interested in learning mixed media techniques? Would you rather learn them in person rather than online or through reading books? I have got the instructor for you!!! In March, I was fortunate enough to partake in a wonderful workshop with 10 other lovely ladies under the tutelage of the immensely creative and talented Christine Guillot Ryan at the McConnell Arts Center.
We started the two day workshop with an overview of what Christine wanted to teach us with lots of examples of how she incorporates these techniques into her own work. We were able to see some of her finished pieces on display at the arts center for the Brave exhibition and, wow, was I inspired! I couldn’t wait to get to work!
Christine first shared some books that she has found helpful to explore a variety of techniques. We introduced ourselves, shared our experience in creating mixed media and indicated what we hoped to learn during the workshop. Each of us were given 2 – 16 x 24 canvas boards and were provided with materials and equipment to experiment with…a very relaxed and intimate atmosphere.
From there, Christine set up a palette of acrylic paints that she typically uses in her pieces and then she discussed the benefits of using acrylics vs. oils. She explained the need for background, middle ground and foreground for our pieces to give them depth and texture before demonstrating painting the background. At that point we learned about using bubble wrap, plastic wrap and various other textiles with paint to give the illusion of texture.
While the paint on those canvases dried, she discussed manipulation of xeroxing and gave a demonstration of the methods she used for this, particularly when manipulating text. Everyone got into that! She had a ton of xeroxed images that we could use but we were encouraged to bring items like this to the class when given our materials list.
Time flew by that first day! Just when I was beginning to really get into it, it was time to pack up for the day but what we learned certainly was fodder for the evening. I gathered images from magazines, my stash of images, text and more for the next day’s adventures.
Sunday was spectacular particularly because the winter dreariness seemed to have broken; the day was warm and sunny…perfect for our foray into spray painting. Xeroxing was fun but it couldn’t compare to spray paint for me. Christine demonstrated the techniques and showed us the materials and paints (mostly, Montana Gold but also paints from Lowe’s and Home Depot) she uses in her work. Then she left us to play, play, play! We sprayed on our canvases as well as on tracing paper that could then be used to create layers and more texture on our work. Attaching these pieces and others using gel medium was also part of the instructions for both days. She had tons of materials she shared with us like stencils, lace, plastic flowers, 3-d glasses, so much stuff I can’t even begin to describe it all.
Image transfer was also taught that day and she showed us two different methods for accomplishing this. Fascinating and, although not extremely difficult, somewhat tricky. I attempted this but think that I will have to have lots of trials before I’m happy with my results! We also got to play with pan pastels, again to add depth and texture to our pieces. Oh, my bank account is gonna be hurting!!! I fell in love with these too!
During the last 90 minutes of class, Christine showed us how to finish our pieces to make them more permanent with a variety of gel mediums. Once this demonstration was completed, she asked each of us to share our work the class, explain what we liked best about the class, took pics of our work and gave us feedback on what we had created.
The majority of the ladies in the class stated that they loved the environment mainly because Christine was so supportive, non-judgmental and just plain fun! I think that everyone there felt that they had learned a lot about mixed media even if they expressed that the were not sure if the would use the techniques in the future.
For me, the instructor (yay, Christine!) made the workshop enjoyable and encouraged movement around the class to talk to other participants, supported and encouraged but didn’t tell us what to do. She was fun and funny as well as honest and forthright. I am so very glad that I took this because it was just what I needed to get myself out of a creative funk after recovering from surgery. I would highly recommend taking classes from her and hope to do so again some time in the near future.
Not only did Christine inspire me that weekend, the things I learned have carried over into the trio of pieces that I am creating for CAW’s upcoming show at Urban Arts Space in May entitled “Remnants”. As you can see, I incorporated many of the techniques I learned but if you want to see the finished pieces, you will have to make your way downtown in May!
If you are interested in taking a class from Christine, she is hoping to offer another one at McConnell in the fall. Check their upcoming schedules for dates and times.