Tag: CAW

Herstories and How-to’s: Tomyris

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*

illustration of what Tomyris might have looked like based on what we know of clothing at the time.** (via)

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.”

DAY-UM. (via)

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.

  1. 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”
  2. 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…”
  3. 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.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomyris

http://www.advantour.com/uzbekistan/legends/tomyris.htm
http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/tomyris.asp

 

*I’ve seen multiple spellings and variations including Thomyris, Tomris, Tomiride, or Queen Tomiri. To keep things simple, I’m sticking with the one I first heard/have seen the most.

**Also, one of the few drawings that doesn’t portray her as improbably white and/or blonde.

***In all fairness to Cyrus, he seems like a pretty okay dude. Especially for the times, he was remarkably tolerant and just as a ruler.

Herstories and How-To’s: The DIY version

Hello friends.

Writing the Herstories and How-To’s column for over a year now, I’ve learned a lot about the bad-ass women who came before us. If there’s one constant thread, though, it’s that every woman, no matter how bad-ass or impressive a life they lead, is human. This means that from time to time, even with the best intentions, they mess up.

All of which is to say, I did not get my act together this month to share with you a fully fleshed out biographical sketch and accompanying tutorial, and for that I’m sorry. I promise that in May I’ll be back to our regularly scheduled posting (I’ve even got a few things already in the works).

In the meantime, however, here are a few herstorical tidbits from the internet to peruse and enjoy (and if you see someone you want profiled in a future Herstories and How-To’s, let me know!)

And finally, in the spirit of admitting that we are all human (no matter what our gender-identity), here’s a short video about how to apologize from youtuber/my new best friend Franchesca Ramsey:

10,000 Hours 365 Bowls: Thoughts on Making and Creating

 

 

Nothing happens unless you showup – Agnes Martin
Imagine – John Lennon
You have to be brave to get older – Bette Davis
Just Do It! – Nike

 

 

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.”

 

Gratitude, Painting, Agnes Martin
Gratitude, Painting, Agnes Martin

 

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.

 

Kate Menke, Watch Me
Kate Menke, Watch Me

 

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.

 

 

Kate Menke, Ceramic Bowls
Kate Menke, Ceramic Bowls

 

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!

 

Goddess Nike
Goddess Nike

 

 

Herstories and How-to’s: Amarita Sher-Gil

Happy New Year!

For me, (and many others) the New Year is a time of reflection and planning. While this process starts by reflecting over the past, ultimately the fun part is looking forward and asking myself the important question- How can I better kick this year’s ass?  And if you’re looking for inspiration, the annals of Herstory have plenty of examples of people who basically won at life. For those times when I need a real kick in the pants, I look at those ladies who crammed as much life into the short time they had- ladies like the artist Amrita Sher-Gil.

Amrita Sher-Gil, looking slightly pissed that you interrupted her brief but influential career to take a photo of her. (via)

Amrita Sher-Gil was born in 1913, in Budapest, Hungary to Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia, a Sikh aristocrat and scholar, and Marie Antoinette Gottesman. Almost from the very beginning, Amrita’s life seems full of interesting portmanteaus and romantic touches fit for a Wes Anderson movie. Not only were her parents from two different worlds, but both seemed to delight in art and experimentation of all kinds. Their house was filled with diplomats and music, and her father, Umrao, was fascinated by photography. In addition to their own artistic pursuits, Amrita’s parents were also supportive of her growing interest in art. She began painting informally at age 5, and at age 8, when the family moved from Budapest to Summer Hill Shimla in India, she began formal training.

Amrita (right) with her sister Indira, as photographed by their father Umrao. (via)

At age sixteen, she and her mother moved briefly to Italy so that she could study at an art school in Florence (pause to appreciate the likely badass that was her mother Marie.). Although the move lasted less than a year, it was Amrita’s first exposure to European-style painting. Her interest in this style continued through her early teens. At age 16, she left home to train as a painter in Paris. After three years of study, she painted Young Girls, considered by many to be her first “important work.” (Note: how the powers that be (read: dudes) determine the importance of a work is a discussion for another day…) The painting earned her an election as an Associate of the Grande Salon in Paris in 1933, simultaneously making her the youngest, and only person from Asia, to receive the award.

Young Girls, by Amrita Sher-Gil. What were you doing when you were 19? If you’re anything like me, it probably involved the Internet and thinking about how to get free food. (via)

But, and here’s why Amrita is awesome- Just as she was poised to become the darling of the Western Art world, she “…began to be haunted by an intense longing to return to India,” which she did in 1934. When she returned, she began a quest to rediscover for herself the traditions of Indian art. Her aims were lofty- she didn’t want to just become a part of the establishment there either, but instead sought to create “a new technique, my own technique…this technique though not technically Indian, in the traditional sense of the word, will yet be fundamentally Indian in spirit.” Let’s pause to appreciate this moment, the chutzpah required to walk away from being good at something to invent something that feels more true to you. This, more than the accolades, is why Amrita wins at all the things.

Not just two girls now, but Three Girls, painted in 1935. These colors kill me. (via)

For nearly four years, Amrita toured Southern India, studying not only the Mughal and Pahari schools of painting, but also the poverty and the people she saw. Her subjects began to shift to depict the daily lives and struggles she saw. While a woman of some means and familial ties to the British Raj, she was a vocal Congress sympathizer. In other words, she was a painter of and for the people. She charmed the first Prime Minister of India, Nehru and was said to be attracted to Gandhi’s lifestyle. But lest you start to build an image of a saintly, humble artist, in her own words, she said “I can only paint in India. Europe belongs to Picasso, Matisse, Braque.. India belongs only to me.” Not only does this declaration carry some pretty strong “MINE!”ness, it also speaks of an interest in comparing herself with the big greats in the Western world she left behind. Like our friend Walt, or the inscrutable bride in her 1937 painting, Amrita contained multitudes.

The Bride’s Toilet, 1937. (via)

In 1938, Amrita married her Hungarian cousin and childhood friend, Victor Egan. In 1941, the two moved to a house in Lahore. Days before opening her first solo show in Lahore, she became suddenly ill, slipping first into a coma and then into death. To this day, the cause is unknown (though hemorrhage as a result of a failed abortion has been suggested). At the time of her death, she was 28.

Hill Women. Again, I love how each woman seems a universe to herself, full of thoughts, ideas and absolutely uninterested in being an object for your gaze. (via)

Although her public career barely filled a decade, within that time, Amrita managed to become a master of the current styles, invent her own style and cast ripples of influence that continue to affect not just the world of art, but also literature. (Contemporary novelist, Salman Rushdie based the character, Aurora Zogoiby, off of Amrita in his book The Moor’s Last Sigh). Her approach to not just how she painted but also who inspired social justice for women in India and abroad for years after her death. Like my absolute home-girl Frida, Amrita was a fully-human with contradictions, and while people with all kinds of agendas have tried to claim her or define her, she continues to elude them. You go Amrita.

Get it. (via)

Okay, so changing the world by 28 might be a bit ambitious. Still, it’s never too late to start making a better use of one’s time. While there are as many different ways to organize and keep track of the things you need to get done, today I want to introduce you to my personal favorite method: the bullet journal. Bullet Journaling was invented by genius, Ryder Carroll. It’s totally analog, completely customizable to your needs AND you don’t have to buy anything to get started.*

How to Start Bullet Journaling to Get More S*** Done And Feel Like a Boss for Almost Zero Dollars

  1. Find a notebook you already have/like. Find a writing instrument.
  2. Watch the original video here to get the gist.
  3. Set aside an evening or afternoon to search #bulletjournal and #bulletjournalhacks on tumblr, pinterest or google. Know that at this stage of the journey, you will fall down the rabbithole of the internet and actually lose time, briefly. This is part of the process. Trust it.
  4. Get started! See what works for you and what doesn’t. Just like yoga, ‘keep that which you need, let go of what no longer serves you’. I, for example, have found the daily log to be a temptation to cram more things into a day than is actually possible and have switched to a weekly planning log:
    (Each day has a square, weekends have smaller rectangles and the big spaces at the top are for tasks/things to know about the week which don't have a specific daily deadline.)
    (Each day has a square, weekends have smaller rectangles and the big spaces at the top are for tasks/things to know about the week which don’t have a specific daily deadline.)
  5. Periodically check back in with the internet and fellow bullet journalists to see if there’s anything interesting or useful you might adopt in this week’s/month’s journal. The beauty of this method is you’re literally making it as you go. You are the master of your own destiny!!

* I am not sponsored by Bullet Journal, I am just a believer. HAIL BULLET JOURNAL!

Sources

  • sihk-heritage.co.uk
  • telegraph.co.uk
  • wikipedia.com
  • ngmaindia.gov.in
  • bulletjournal.com

Talking about a love of portraiture with CAW member Kate Morgan

IMG_4346Kate Morgan exudes enthusiasm. Her studio at The Columbus Idea Foundry is the incubator for her mixed media portraits. Not confined to one medium, she utilizes painting, printmaking, collage and many other methods to articulate her figures. Elongated limbs, ethereal washes, and emotional tones signify her work. Kate is a relatively new member of CAW, but she is no stranger to art-making, nor the Columbus arts scene. She has been drawing since childhood and never abandoned that practice, even while studying fashion photography at CCAD. Since going full time as an artist, she couldn’t be happier. She is quick to mention the “fierce support” that has helped her get to this point in her career, from both family and friends, as well as other artists in Columbus and beyond. She is compelled to keep painting, drawing, and experimenting – constantly striving to discover the next thing on her artistic horizon.

Bound to You, Vintage map, enamel paint, acrylic paint, gold leaf paint, pencil & gouache on board 18 3/4 inches tall x 43 inches wide | ©2015 Kate Morgan
Bound to You, Vintage map, enamel paint, acrylic paint, gold leaf paint, pencil & gouache on board
18 3/4 inches tall x 43 inches wide | ©2015 Kate Morgan


Have you always drawn figures?

Originally, I was going to school for fashion photography. I would draw out little plans for shoots. Once I got an education about where the bones and muscles are in the body, I very quickly realized the models couldn’t pose like my drawings – it wasn’t humanly possible. So I let the drawings become one thing and the photography became another thing. Even though I studied photography, I have always drawn. A few friends from my high school history class have little drawings from me. It is fun to see those, before my formal education. Now I just let the drawing go free.


What part of the figure have you struggled to draw?

I hate feet. I don’t like them in person and I don’t like to draw them. I’ve always loved portraits, which are traditionally not feet. I accept that as a challenge that I need feet in some works. I try to make them cute to compensate. Like in this painting for example, I made round, little, berry toes. I have to make them not look like feet to trick myself into drawing them.


Your work brings to mind so many different references – Egyptian sculpture, Renaissance paintings, Modigliani’s eyes. What are some favorites of yours?

I run really hot and cold, not just between artists, but also within an artists’ body of work. I will love one piece, but not another. Egon Schiele was my first art guy love. There are things that he does, that just aren’t for me. That’s true for me too. There are some things that I make and it is an immediate no. Right now everyone is saying that I am channeling Gustav Klimt, and I can totally see that.

 

IMG_4348
IMG_4339
IMG_4325
IMG_4329
IMG_4320
IMG_4323


What influences might surprise people?

Folklore and history are both inspiring me lately. I’ve been listening to history and old time radio mystery podcasts. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History goes in depth and is outstanding. Usually I listen to music while at my studio. Since I need to pause podcasts when I get a studio visitor and more often than not, my hands are dripping wet or messy, music is easier in the studio.


How do you approach the gaze of the figures?

I am obsessed with profiles, which I think comes from my love of Egyptian and Greek historical figures. One of my teachers a long time ago pointed out that the figures don’t look at you. That it seemed like they were hiding something. Her words felt like a challenge. It took a couple years to turn their heads. Now I have done some that are directly straight on. I don’t find it challenging any more, but it really did take awhile. For the longest time, I didn’t put pupils in the eyes. Since the eyes are the windows to the souls – if there was nothing there, the figure was just the shell vessel that contained the soul. I have somewhat abandoned this, in part because it really creeped a lot of people out. I now add pupils. To me it makes it look more traditional, which is where most of my references are coming from anyway.

Informer | Right: Madiera Lingers Mixed Media Mono Prints, Editions of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan
Informer, Mixed Media Mono Print, Edition of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan
Informer | Right: Madiera Lingers Mixed Media Mono Prints, Editions of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan
Informer, Mixed Media Mono Print, Edition of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan

You obviously embrace experimentation. It helps you stay engaged in your studio practice. When did you begin incorporating found paper?

I started out making acrylic paintings with light washes and several coats of resin or polyurethane. Quite frankly, I was broke due to student loans right after school. I couldn’t afford a color printer, so I started experimenting with mixed media monoprints. I couldn’t print with color, but I could add color as a layer underneath a black and white print. It was at this time that I was getting into incorporating old paper. The historical aspect of it was also really appealing. I have always been into art history. I minored in art history because I had a great teacher who taught all of the surrounding history to explain the relevance of the art. The paper is a textural element, but it also has more to offer – different points of conversation that you can engage someone in. I like the way old things like maps and old wallpaper look. It’s a piece of history in your art. The next step has become collaging more and giving the works more depth. It has been really fun to see people interact with these new works.


What was the impetus to go back to school?

I was working at the photo lab at Wal-Mart. I had fallen down on ebad decisions and some hard times. When you’re not feeling good about yourself, you make little decisions instead of big, good decisions. It took about four years to pick myself up emotionally and financially from that. It also took the courage and self-awareness to know that it was not where I belonged. At the same time, my friend went back to school to CCAD. She got a scholarship and I didn’t realize you could do that as an adult. So I tried too, and I got a scholarship that helped push me.

 

IMG_4333
IMG_4327

 

At what time after school did you realize that you should pursue drawing full time?

Not until a few years ago. The very first show I did was Independents’ Day Festival. I prepared like crazy and brought all my college work and some of those new monoprints I had been making. I think I made $800 and I was thrilled. I initially started doing festivals to pay back my student loans. I had photography in there too, but I only sold three photographs and the rest were paintings and drawings. The more I did it, the more I realized the photography was not fulfilling my need to get dirty and make things with my hands. It was a different level of connection with the work when I was drawing or painting. I was working full time and it took about a year or two for me to quit my job and pursue art. I have been very happy ever since. I’m a giant dork. I make lots of lots of mistakes with my artwork. There are lots of rejects and things go wrong. Sometimes things just don’t work, and I am ok with that. I just want to be happy all the time, making stuff.

 

Ginger Float, Mixed Media Mono Print, Editions of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan
Ginger Float, Mixed Media Mono Print, Editions of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan

 

Visit KateMorganImageDesign.com to view more of Kate’s portfolio. 

Herstories & How-tos: Janet, Nelly and Naomi

I wish I could be cool enough to say that Halloween is my favorite holiday, but if I’m REAL honest with myself, Thanksgiving wins, hands down, every time. Despite it’s complicated and troublesome origin stories (best depicted through modern cinema), Thanksgiving wins for me, because of what it means today. Today, it’s a holiday, free from the pressures of gift giving, where one’s only obligation is to cook and eat with what you define as ‘family.’ In the case of my family, this also means lots of sitting around and, eventually, tall-tale-telling.

One of the (many) revelations I’ve had as an adult is realizing that what we call ‘History’ and what we call ‘Life’, aren’t two separate buckets, into which some old timey dudes with long beards cleanly sort discreet Moments from some bygone era. Life is history. “History” is nothing (and everything) but stories heard and remembered and passed on. As conscious human beings we have the gift to live and to listen to one another. So today, rather than share a story about some badass lady who lived a world away, I want to take a moment to share a few stories from some of the remarkable women I’ve had the privileged to know personally:

Janet

  • Janet Carrie née Lynch née Simendinger was my paternal grandmother. Born in 1928, in Winchester Massachusetts, by the time I met her, she was barely 5 ft tall with a voice marinated in years of smoking and half a life lived around Boston. She got tongue-tied calling out grandkids’ names and often simply referred to us as “little shits.” To those on the outside, she looked like a small, delicate elderly lady, with a tasteful pouf of white hair, classy jewelry and muted sweater sets. She was all of that. She was also a survivor of two husbands, the mother (and undisputed BOSS) of five sons and though she had a lot of health problems, including breast cancer and pancreatic cancer (!), she brushed them all off like the tough bird she was. She was also brutally honest in a way that was completely motivated by love. “Your hair looks like crap.” was said, not because she wanted you to feel bad about your hair, but so you had a chance to un-crap it before going out in public. From her, I’d like to think I inherited not just my small bones, but also a love of beer and pizza, the capacity to be swear a blue streak and a commitment to truth. The last words she said to me, when I visited her was “Well, thanks for coming. I love you, now get the hell out.”

Nelly

  • Nelly Studebaker (Or “Nelly Jean” as we all called her) was the perfect example of the family we choose. In 5th grade, when we moved to Indiana from the town in which my parents were born and raised, Nelly Jean, our new next door neighbor, was one of the first people we met and almost immediately we called her family. Nelly was retired from guidance counseling, which really just meant that she now gave guidance from her living room, rather than a school desk. Like Janet, Nelly was one of those sweet-looking elderly ladies who had a real gift for expletives. She got a tattoo at 70, and at 80 would mow her lawn in her favorite tube top. She was a shameless flirt who knew how to work a system. One day, my dad came home to find Nelly struggling to haul ladder out of the garage with the stated purpose of “Oh, Handsome, just cleaning out the gutters.” Given that Nelly had recently suffered a broken hip and was a bit unsteady, my dad grumblingly pulled out our ladder, shooed her away and proceeded to clean the gutters for her. Later, when my mom asked, “Nelly, what the hell were you thinking- you know you shouldn’t be up on a ladder?” Nelly giggled, “Well SHIT honey, I wasn’t going to get up there! I just knew if I said I was, he’d jump up to help without me asking.” If I am lucky enough to grow old, I want to do it like Nelly.

Naomi

  • My husband’s grandmother Naomi (pronounced “nay-oh-mah” and don’t you forget it) lived just shy of 100 years and raised hell for most of them. She wasn’t afraid of the hard work that came from being a the wife of a farmer. Of the many wonderful photographs we have of Naomi, my favorite is of her as a younger woman, standing tall (at 4′ 10″) and smiling proudly as she holds at arms-length a dead raccoon nearly as long as she is. She was honest and she was a trickster. She handed us our asses in games of ‘greedy,’ and hid under her bed from the staff in the assisted living home. (They only found her because she was giggling to herself). Though I didn’t get to know Naomi long, as a person, and in her presence in the lives of her family, she made a big impression. A woman who also loved thrift, and plants and coffee, she and I got along fine (when she wasn’t scolding me about my tattoos).

In keeping with the tradition of Herstories and How-to’s, I’ve chosen to share and celebrate three women who are no longer with us to share stories. While writing, I kept thinking- I wish I had taken more time and asked more questions while I could. This month, I encourage you to take a moment and listen to the women in your family. Thanksgiving break is the perfect time to begin your career as an herstorian. What better time for conversation than sitting around in a post-pie coma, or crammed in a vehicle traveling across the country? Because every person and every family is different, I can’t tell you how to talk with your family, but I can give you a few tips to help make sure your weekend’s full of history, rather than hysteria.

How to Begin Recording History in Your Own Terms:

  1. Define Family however the heck you want. Don’t have a positive relationship with your biological mom, grandma, sister, etc? No problem. What about the women you do want to spend time with- maybe a neighbor, best friend or the barista at your favorite coffee shop? Like Edna Buchanan (and Grey’s Anatomy) say, “Friends are the family we chose for ourselves.”
  2. Set aside time and space that’s appropriate. For some people in some families, the thought of sitting down to a formal interview in a quiet, private space with a family member to talk about REAL LIFE sounds mortifying. For others, it might be just what they need to feel comfortable. Whether your person of historical interest belong in the first camp, the second or somewhere in the middle, be sure to consider where and when might be more comfortable for them and you. Not sure? Just ask!
  3. Speaking of asking, ask for permission to begin and leave “outs,” specially if you’re taking notes and especiallyespecially if you decide to share this history with other. It may feel silly and overly formal, but it’s the polite and kind thing to do. Even if initially the person agrees, be sure to check-in again at the end- conversations are slippery and can quickly go to unexpected and intensely personal places. And don’t forget about yourself! Even as the initiator of this project, if you start to wander into territory, you’re not comfortable with, feel empowered to change your mind and bring the conversation to a close. Here are a few possible conversation starters and enders:
    1. Hey aunt B, I’m doing a project about personal histories. Would you mind telling me about what it was like growing up with Mom as a little sister? Or about that time you fought a bear in the Rockies?
    2. …It seems like this is a tough thing to talk about. Do you want to take a break?
    3. …I’m feeling uncomfortable. Let’s take a break and see if J needs help in the kitchen.
    4. …This was wonderful- I had no idea that you spent time as a professional yak hair braider in the 70s! Are you comfortable with me sharing this story with others?
  4. Record the conversation in some way. Even if you don’t plan on publicly sharing, take a moment after your conversation to write, type or sketch afterwards. Try to capture what you talked about, and also your own thoughts about it. While right now you might think “Why would I need to record a 20 min. phone call with my grandmother in which she dithered on about nothing?,” later, when she’s not here to dither, or you have even less time to listen, you’ll appreciate having some kind of artifact from this time.
  5. Share the stories you collect. Maybe you post the stories you hear in the comments below (please do!)? Maybe you publish them on your own blog? Maybe you just mention them in passing to a coworker on Monday. Whatever you do, don’t keep them to your self (unless, of course, the story-teller has requested that you do). History is full of stories about real women that never get told. Let’s change that starting now.

Happy Thanksgiving! May yours be as stuffed with Her-stories as a squash is stuffed with quinoa and tempeh sausage!*

*(vegetarian thanksgiving analogies are weird.)

Herstories and How-tos: Louise Bourgeois

I love this time of year- the leaves are changing, pumpkin beer abounds and as it get’s colder my cats get increasingly snugglier. The one snag I always run into, though, is how to really make a statement with my Halloween decorations? In the past, we’ve always been in apartments, but now that we’re in a house in a neighborhood that takes Halloween RRRL serious, it’s time to up our game. That’s why I’m thinking of combining my love of creepies, arachnids and bad ass women from history to create a tribute to Louise Bourgeois- something like this little number:

coming soon to the westside… (via)

Louise Bourgeois, nicknamed the spider woman for her giant installations, lived for nearly 100 years. She saw, participated in and outlived the Modern Art Movement. She founded confessional art as a serious task worthy of notice. She raised a family and generously shared her time and wisdom with the next generation of artists.She was a woman who bravely faced her own demons, which feels especially timely during this time of year when many of us turn to thoughts of dark and endings.

Louise was born on Christmas day, in Paris, 1911. Her family, which included a mother, a father and three other siblings, grew up above the tapestry repair shop which they owned. Like most people, Louise’s childhood was complicated. When she was 13, her father had an extended affair with her nanny, which her mother knew about but found easier to ignore. That the affair happened was upsetting enough, but that happened out in the open was infuriating to the young Louise’s sense of justice. She feared and loathed and pitied and loved them both in that way that only family can. These complex and big emotions would come out later in her work.

The subtly named, ‘Destruction of the Father,’ installation. (via) “My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, it has never lost its drama’ -LB.

In 1930, she entered the prestigious Sorbonne to study geometry and math. When asked why she chose math, she responded, “I got peace of mind only through the study of rules nobody could change.” The stability which Louise sought through mathematics was upended in 1932 with the death of her mother. Though a rigorous-ish internet search didn’t yield much about Louise’s thoughts at the time, her actions speak loudly: She left the Sorbonne with artistic ambitions, her father (like many concerned and practical parents from time immemorial) said “Hail no, not paying for that” and Louise (like many dreamy kids from time immemorial) said “tough titties.” She continued to study art at the Sorbonne, where she signed up for classes which needed translators for English students (since, translators were not charged tuition, that smart cookie.) Though she graduated in 1935, Louise never stopped learning- she attended classes in other schools, visited artists’ studios and assisted in exhibitions throughout the city with the intention of learning everything she could. During this time, she met the man who was to be her husband, Robert Goldwater. Goldwater was an art historian and “in between talks about surrealism and the latest trends [we] got married.” If that isn’t the sweetest ‘artnerd meets artnerd’ story, I don’t know what is. The three went on to adopt a child, and have two biological children between 1939 and 1941.

Louise with her three boys. I love the mischevious grin on the eldest and especially adore Louise’s game-for-anything-smile that I see so often on mother of boys. Dear ArtWorld: can we celebrate all parts of artists and their complicated lives as children,parents,friends,etc? (via)

In 1945, Louise had her first solo show (no small feat with 4, 5, and 6 year old boys underfoot), though it would be nearly 40 years before getting major recognition and accolades from the Art world. LB, like a total boss, continued to make work, refine her style and make friends with the American Abstract Artists group.

‘Femme Maison.” Though these are not from that first show (they came a year or so after) I just love these drawings. While known primarily for her sculptures, I came to know and love LB through her drawings. (via)

Louise was expansive in her materials- small intimate watercolors, soft sculpture, installation, big macho bronze and stone creations, towering public art made out of tubing- she was a woman who did not feel tied down to one material or another. Like any artist with a long life and career, her work changed greatly over time. There are a few themes and motifs, though, which stand out (and which warm my heart.) First and foremost was the way in which her work dealt, not with abstract theories about color or capital-P-painting (Clement Greebburg, I’m looking at you with a serious side-eye), but with the messy, gritty, stuff of life. Like my two other besties, Frida and Sylvia*, Louise managed to somehow use her own specific experience to get at bigger, universal Truths. She also frequently used bodily forms. Sometimes they were male, sometimes they were female, sometimes they were classically beautiful and sometimes they were grotesque. Through it all was her honest unflinching approach. This lady had balls.**

LITTERALLY! LB with her sculpture, ‘Fillette,’ photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe. (via)

In the 1970’s, Louise began teaching formally at many colleges in NYC, including Pratt, Cooper Union, Brooklyn College and in public schools throughout the city (Sidebar: How amazing would it be to have had LB as your middle school art teacher? “Your boyfriend dumped you in passing period? Oh dear, you can use that.”). She also began to hold informal, weekly salons in her home which she called “Sunday bloody Sundays.” These gatherings were open to all, the only rules being that you couldn’t have a cold and you had to bring work- work which she would mercilessly and honestly critique. Supposedly, she started holding these salons because Sunday was the one day her art-assistant took off and she, Louise, was restless. I feel it’s worth pointing out that at this point she was in her 60’s.

Louise in her studio. What about this is not totally charming and impressive? (via)

At the age when most of society tells us (and especially those of us who are women) to fade into quiet obscurity, Louise was just getting warmed up. She became a member of the Fight Censorship Group (a feminist anti-censorship collective) she was named an officer of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture and was awarded the USA’s National Medal of Arts by Bill Clinton. In 2010, she used her voice and her work to speak up for the LGBT community’s right to marry (proving that young people do not have a monopoly on open-mindedness). And, through it all, Louise continued to write, and to make art and to hold her famous salons (though she did concede to sitting on a pillow in her 90’s so she was high enough to see everyone).

 

“Tell your own story and you will be interesting.” -Louise Bourgeouis. (via)

 

Of all the many things to love about LB, it’s her hunger for knowledge and her generosity in sharing that knowledge with others that warms my educator heart. That’s why this month’s how-to is all about spreading not just love but also rigorous dialog that makes us all better.

How to hold your own Bourgeoisian Salon

  1. Find a place: To really get the comfy feeling described by those who attended Louise’s salons, meet in someone’s living room.
  2. Have snacks: Though snacks are never specifically mentioned, I think honesty sits best on a full belly.
  3. Invite friends (and tell them to bring work!): Whether you put out an open call, like our friend LB, or you invite a small intimate circle of close contacts, I think the key here is to have other people and to make sure everyone has work to share. It’s a way to make everyone feel both kinder to the person being critiqued and less nervous about it being their go (since everyone’s in the same boat).
  4. Mince no words and offer feedback that is useful to the creator:  Have you ever been in an in-progress critique or asked for someone’s opinion and they’re response was “Oh! I like it! It’s really neato!” While we all like to hear nice things, sharing honest and thoughtful critical feedback is not only helpful, it’s a sign of trust and respect. Of course, you don’t want to be negative, that’s just as unhelpful. If you’re not sure how to start, check out the Ladder of Feedback– it’s a protocol made by the fancy pants at Harvard’s Project Zero that helps to scaffold and structure critiques in a way that’s helpful for all parties involved.
via.

Louise Bourgeois was not always happy and she was never described as ‘nice.’ She was passionate, she was joyful, she was serious and she was silly. May you, like Louise find a way to make work (whatever your work is) that feeds your soul and gives you courage enough to tell your story.


 

Herstories and How-to’s Needs Your Help!

As brilliant and powerful unicorns who read this column, I’d like to know what you’d like to know. Is there a particular lady from history (art or otherwise) who you think everyone should get excited over, or who you want to know more about? My only criteria are threefold:

  1. The individual identify as a woman (sorry dudes, but you’ve got a little something called ‘nearly all of the Western Canon’ as a consolation prize)
  2. The particular woman be deceased (easier to research and also narrows things a bit)
  3. That she be badass in some way. (note: the term ‘bad-ass’ subjective and multifaceted much like ‘Art’ and ‘women.’ Feminism’s about choice.

Let me know! Either in the comments below or in an email to crlynch(at)gmail(dot)com.


 

Sources:

  • http://www.anothermag.com/
  • Wikipedia
  • Art 21
  • New York Times
  • cheimread.com

*OH HOLY COW how awesome and cathartic would a slumber party with the three of them be?
**Okay, okay, so I know that bravery is not determined by owning a set of outsized testicles. I acknowledge that to say that one ‘has balls’ is sexist and demeaning to us all. I also acknowledge that if there is a penis joke to be made I’m going to make it. Unflinchingly.

Talking about color, calm, and clouds with CAW member Betsy DeFusco

Edited_Betsy_IMG_3901Betsy DeFusco has called a studio on Spring Street in downtown Columbus her artistic headquarters for over twenty years. Her colorful paintings evolve one thin layer at a time. Across all of her series, light emanates from within each work. Her careful application of the paint achieves this goal, as well as a sense of calm and serenity. This is especially apparent in her Light Crossings series which feature overlapping stripes. In some paintings within this series, a calligraphic line cuts across the canvas in a playful gesture. This push and pull between planning and spontaneity mirrors how she approaches a new painting. I recently visited Betsy at her studio while she was preparing for an upcoming studio sale. This was cause to revisit past work, providing a road map of her artistic journey.

 

Palancar by Betsy DeFusco
Palancar by Betsy DeFusco

 

After studying art education at the University of Dayton, you didn’t teach, but rather worked in fashion illustration and then started a business drawing house portraits. Do any of those endeavors play a residual role in your work today?

The residual effect is that I used pen, ink and transparent watercolor for that early work, and I still prefer working on a white background. I work on a gessoed, white background and try to let the light come through. I also really like line, and I am always trying to figure out how to get more line into the work, harkening back to those pen and ink sketches. I learned the line drawing at my first job at a department store doing fashion art. That was so much fun. Party job!

What pushed you to make the leap from illustrative drawings to painting?

I knew I could probably have a bigger business if I kept going with the house portraits and prints I was doing, but I wanted to progress further and learn how to oil paint. So I went to CCAD and enrolled in painting classes. I loved it because it was a brand new medium. I had used acrylics, but I had never used oil and I liked it so much more. When my friend Marti invited me to share studio space at 55 E. Spring Street I jumped at the chance. I had always worked at home when my children were young, but I was ready to have a studio away from my house.

What was the first subject matter that you painted?

When I was about nine I painted a beautiful tree that stood alone in a field behind my house. I remember thinking I had to get it down on paper, it was so lovely! Fast forward many years to when I started in my studio, I painted landscapes and clouds followed by a bit of collage, always two-dimensional. The first time I did anything three-dimensional was in graduate school when I cut openings into my paintings. Some openings were closed off in the back, and some were open. I also experimented with different depths.

 

Edited_IMG_3922
Edited_IMG_3895
Edited_IMG_3917
Edited_IMG_3919

 

What was the significance of opening up the panels in that way?

I wanted another element in there since my work was getting very minimal. At graduate school, anything we put in our paintings was questioned to death. We had to answer every question about why each element was there. I could never do that, so my work became very minimal and still is, in a way. I believe in ‘less is more.’ The challenge comes in making works that still have a certain complexity. I got the idea for the openings in part because I was studying Asian Art. I was thinking a lot about Buddhism and Taoism. In Taoism, there is a quote about how it is not the jar that is important, but the empty space inside the jar. “We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.” Also, “We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable.” To me the opening represents our inner thoughts and dreams, and also refers to all the unanswered questions in our lives.

After you finished graduate school, you abandoned minimalism a little and returned to clouds. Why is that?

They had been forbidden in graduate school (”already done”) so I had to go back and do them. Which just shows you really have to do what you want to do. But then they became limiting. Any time I got too close to realism there was some structure I wanted to break out of. So I did the clouds in different colors, and then started my Pine Creek series that depicted reflections in water. Eventually I realized that it was more about the color than it was about the subject matter. That is when I started painting stripes and just playing with colors.

Yes, Yellow by Betsy DeFusco
Yes, Yellow by Betsy DeFusco
Crescent Beach by Betsy DeFusco
Crescent Beach by Betsy DeFusco

 

 

How would you define the category of painting your work adheres to most?

Landscape. Some of the big paintings in the Light Crossings series are more landscape-like. It is about the light in the sky and the earth. When I look at my painting I see sky, water and land, even if no one else does. I think many artists today try to straddle the line between abstraction and representation in an interesting way so that it’s not one or the other. That is kind of the big challenge for two-dimensional painters now. How do you refer to reality in a new and unique way that might be a little unexpected.

Your studio mates describe you as very orderly – with all of your brushes in a row. How would you describe your studio practice?

That is true! I cannot work if there is a mess around me. The ideal is that you come in every day and you put everything else out of your mind and just work with the paint. If things happen, they happen. I like to start early, but sometimes it is easier if I get things done at home first and come in with a clearer mind. I like to come in, put music on, fool around a bit, and just start working. I work on big things and little things at the same time. If I am getting ready for a show, I work on ten to twenty pieces at once. I find it helpful since I paint with oil. I like to use thin layers – so I do a thin layer, set it aside, and come back the following day and paint another thin layer.

 

Edited_IMG_3883
Edited_IMG_3887
Edited_IMG_3908
Edited_IMG_3915

 

How many layers do you think are on any given painting?

Probably at least forty to fifty. It seems like I work on some of them for a really long time, so it is hard to say exactly. I am a thin painter. I have tried to put the paint on thick, but I just can’t do it even though I love when other people do it. Maybe it is the whole minimalistic style of my work. I like calm and I don’t want that bumpiness. I also can’t paint fast. Just like the thick paint, I like it when people do, but I can’t seem to. I am reading a book called A Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. It about the painter Camille Pissarro and his mother and there is a quote I just love. “Jestine had told me never to rush something I was creating, but instead to let it come into being as if it had a soul of its own.” Not sure why the quote struck me so, except that I love to spend time with each piece, and take my time. And, I love looking at work where you know that time was spent making it.

What artists inspire you?

My favorite artist is Richard Diebenkorn. He had three distinct phases: abstraction with a lot of movement, figurative, and color fields. I was thinking I was getting tired of him, but then I saw his work again in Washington DC a few years ago and it was breathtaking. I find it very healing to see those large areas of color, and I love his use of line. There are a lot of grays in his work, like in the paintings of Matisse. I am just starting to learn about the different grays you can get by mixing oil paints. I still go back to him and look at the colors. His figurative and representational work is also really nice.

What makes you want to paint more?

Painting is always an unanswered question. It is an adventure.

Herstories and How-To’s: Marsha P. Johnson.

Thelma and Louise. Lucy and Ethl. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. The only thing more badass and powerful than one woman, is the power of lady-friends. Despite the frequent portrayal of women as ‘frenemies’ engaged in some kind of bizarro competition for MENZ, friendships between women have a long history of not only existing, but of changing the world. This was true especially for Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. As pioneers in the LGBT rights movement, Sylvia and Marsha risked their lives to be themselves and fought (sometimes literally) for basic human rights for the rest of their community. Because Sylvia seems to be the more well known (If you want to know Sylvia, a bit more, I highly suggest you check out ‘Stuff You Missed in History Class’s episode about her.), today I want to tell you a bit more about Marsha.

Before we get to know Marsha P. Johnson (or ‘MPJ’ as I say in my notes) a bit more, I want to offer this brief caveat about language: I always try my hardest to be sensitive and correct in the language I use, especially to describe a person and especially especially to describe a person who has already been marginalized. Looking back on Marsha’s life, many today would (and do!) use the word ‘transgender.’ That said, in the 60’s, where much of our story takes place, these terms had not been agreed upon and words like ‘drag,’ ‘queen’ and ‘transvestite’ were widely used and accepted by transwomen themselves. While I will default to what I know to be the preferred terms*, whenever quoting Marsha or other women from the past, I always try to use their exact words. Ultimately, my aim with H&H is to be true to each woman’s voice and words, not to offend you. /<caveat>

Sylvia Rivera (R) and Miss M. P. Johnson herself (L) wearing the hell out of some knit ponchos. (via)

Marsha was born in Elizabeth New Jersey, in 1945, assigned male at birth. At the age of 21, she moved to Greenwich Village, NYC and legally changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson. When asked what the P stood for, Marsha would say ‘Pay it No Mind!’. In addition to being completely awesome, this seems also to be her life’s philosophy and response to nosy, none-of-your-business questions in general. She responded in kind to a judge when asked to give her name in court. The judge was so charmed and disarmed by this response, he laughed and let her go. I love this story for two reasons: 1) the chutzpah required to answer this way in the midst of what we’ll soon talk about to be the generally crummy legal status of transgender individuals in the 1960’s, and 2) That it worked! Here is a woman saving herself through her own bravery and witticism. Words are powerful.

Marsha in one of her signature headdresses. (via)

By all accounts, Marsha was a force to be reckoned with. She became known for her elaborate hats and bright makeup.  While I always feel that fierce accessories deserve their own ticker-tape parade in any decade, this is doubly true when one is an African-American transwoman living through the den of institutional racism and misogyny that is mid-century America. Even in Greenwich Village- arguably one of the most liberal places in one of the most liberal cities in the United States at the time- gay and transgender men and women often found themselves discriminated against, prevented from finding legal employ or homes. Because of this many, especially trans individuals had to seek illegal means of supporting themselves including buying/selling drugs and prostitution. This compounded the danger for these individuals, both from the Johns they served and the police themselves, who frequently committed acts of violence, especially against transwomen and lesbians. Marsha told one interviewer that she carried a can of mace with her wherever she went. When asked if she’d had the chance to use it, she replied “Not yet. But I’m patient.”

I love that in every photo of Marsha, she’s either smiling a mile wide or she has this look on her face that just says ‘Do it. I DARE you.’ (via)

On June 28, 1969, Marsha’s 25th birthday, the police raided a known gay bar, the Stonewall Inn (Heart-breakingly, one source I read mentioned that “known gay bar” meant that same-sex couples could dance without police harassment. WTF America?!). Raids like this, unfortunately, were not unusua. Normally, a raid meant arrests, harassment, patrons fleeing and a general pooping on the party, but not this night. The patrons rebelled and a violent riot started. Marsha P., there to to celebrate  her birthday, was, according to one friend “in the middle of the whole thing, screaming and yelling and throwing rocks and almost like Molly Pitcher in the Revolution or something.” Many people say that it was either Marsha or Sylvia who threw the first bottle at the police. (Historically accurate or not, I like to imagine them exchanging knowing ‘give-em-hell’ smiles and throwing the first bottles together)

(via)

Stonewall wasn’t just a case of persecuted people standing up for themselves, it’s also often seen as “the spark that ignited the LGBT right movement.” But here’s the really lovely thing about Marsha (and Sylvia): it wasn’t enough for them to be themselves (in a world that wished otherwise), and it wasn’t enough for them to fight for their own individual lives. After striking the match and starting a movement, both spent the rest of their short lives working for other people who, at the time, felt like they were being pushed out of the movement they helped to start. In 1970, the two founded STAR (which stood for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). STAR was “for the street gay people, the street homeless people, and anyone that needed help” and focused especially on homeless LGBT kids. Both Marsha and Sylvia would work the streets, so the “children” as Marsha P. called anyone who came to STAR, would be safe and fed without having to do so themselves. Marsha was often called “Queen Mother,” a title in which she seemed to revel. The 70’s also saw Marsha pursuing her interest in art. Friends (of course) with Andy Warhol, she joined his ‘drag performance troupe,’ Hot Peaches. She also posed for his series Ladies and Gentlemen. Though the series has come under mixed criticism (Namely, that the models are nameless and the screen printing seen by some as grotesque), I have a hard time seeing it as an attack on the individuals portrayed for three reasons: 1) it seems way too easy of a read, given Warhol’s love of complicated things done simply, 2) Knowing what I do about Warhol, it’s hard to imagine him being that big of a turd and most importantly, 3) Even harder to imagine MPJ putting up with that kind of tomfoolery.

This is a woman who suffers no fools and minces no words. You don’t think she would’ve shut little Andy down if she wasn’t comfortable? (via)

In the 80s, Marsha joined AIDS activists, ACT UP. She and others marched on Wall Street to protest the incredibly expensive AIDS medication available at the time. Unfortunately for all of us, Marsha didn’t get to see much of the 90’s. In 1992, Marsha was found dead in the Hudson River. For many years, law enforcement ruled her (suspicious for many reasons) death a suicide and refused to look into it further. In 2012, however, after much lobbying, the case was reopened. Who was it who successfully lobbied for justice? American activist, Mariah Lopez– another lady so badass that were she no longer alive, I’d have to write a H&H about her too.

“But Cat- Marsha Pay-It-No-Mind Johnson is the bomb! What can I possibly ‘how-to’ to be just as cool?

Well, I’ve already done a headdress tutorial, last month, but one thing you can do, which would not only be in the spirit of MPJ, but would help spread her too-often unknown legacy, is to help throw her a birthday party!

How to Help Throw a Birthday Party for Marsha P Johnson:

 

And, because, again, what I really believe in is voice, and the power of voice, her’s MPJ herself with the last word:

 

 

*And heavens, if these are not the preferred terms, please let me know? Help me not to be an asshole?

Sources

  • outhistory.com
  • wikipedia.com
  • mic.com
  • towleroad.com
  • theradicalnotion.com

Talking about process and portraiture with CAW member Barb Vogel

Barb_15Barbara 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.

Barb_14

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!

Barb_11
Barb_05
Barb_02
Barb_08


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.

Esther by Barb Vogel
Esther by Barb Vogel
Cody by Barb Vogel
Cody by Barb Vogel

 

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.

Barb_06
Barb_12
Barb_09
Barb_01


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.

Visit www.barbvogel.net to view more of Barb’s portfolio.

Light Clematis by Barb Vogel
Light Clematis by Barb Vogel
Money Tree Plant
Money Tree Plant by Barb Vogel

Talking about the third dimension with CAW member Kristin Morris

KMorris_PortraitThe wheels are always turning in the artistic mind of Kristin Morris. Her studio is full of pieces and parts she has culled from garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores. These wooden parts may be the base for a sculpture or integrated into the spine of a skeleton. Working in three dimensions is primary to her practice, and she deftly experiments with different sculpting materials and assemblage. Kristin’s mother is a potter and her father is a geologist so it’s only natural that the process and rigor needed in both of those fields is apparent in her work. Her sculptures skirt the line between dark and light, as well as playful and more serious. Her home studio is full of inspiring projects all on the cusp of coming to life.

 

KMorris_Remnants
Installation for the exhibition Remnants by Kristin Morris (Photo credit: Caroline Kraus)


You created a school of fish that included found objects embedded within their ceramic bodies for Remnants. What was the most challenging part of that project?

The most challenging part of the Remnants project was figuring out the best way to hang the fish. I had some good ideas about the styles, types of fish, and found objects that I wanted to use – which I think worked out fairly well – but I’m still finding my way with ceramic techniques. I had some help with technical issues from Eric Raush, my ceramics teacher at the Cultural Arts Center.

How did you get your start in sculpture? What attracted you to working in three dimensions? 

I have been making things in clay since I was about 5 or 6 years old when I made little snakes to bring to art and craft shows. My mom is a potter who has done fairs my whole life, and I wanted something to sell, too. I have always loved clay because I grew up around it and I love the feel of it in my hands. It can be manipulated into any form or shape you desire – the possibilities are endless!  When I was little I had a sandbox in the backyard and I had more fun making “mud pies” in the dirt outside of the sandbox than in the sandbox!

KMorris_06
KMorris_03
KMorris_05

 

You created a school of fish that included found objects embedded within their ceramic bodies for Remnants. What was the most challenging part of that project?

The most challenging part of the Remnants project was figuring out the best way to hang the fish. I had some good ideas about the styles, types of fish, and found objects that I wanted to use – which I think worked out fairly well – but I’m still finding my way with ceramic techniques. I had some help with technical issues from Eric Raush, my ceramics teacher at the Cultural Arts Center.

How did you get your start in sculpture? What attracted you to working in three dimensions? 

I have been making things in clay since I was about 5 or 6 years old when I made little snakes to bring to art and craft shows. My mom is a potter who has done fairs my whole life, and I wanted something to sell, too. I have always loved clay because I grew up around it and I love the feel of it in my hands. It can be manipulated into any form or shape you desire – the possibilities are endless!  When I was little I had a sandbox in the backyard and I had more fun making “mud pies” in the dirt outside of the sandbox than in the sandbox!

After studying studio art, you continued your studies in 3D illustration at CCAD. How would you define that way of working?

After I graduated from college, I saw the annual Student Show at CCAD and was immediately drawn to the 3D Illustration work in the exhibit. I signed up for 3D Illustration and took it every semester that I was there. I learned to make molds, work in resins, foam and latex, and was invited to spend a summer working with my teacher – Mark Hazelrig – and 8 students sculpting characters for an amusement park haunted house. While in the class we also made a life size “chess set” of Alice In Wonderland vs. The Wizard Of Oz and sculptures of Roman gods on columns – all out of foam and latex. I had a great experience in that class and learned a lot of valuable skills that helped me later on working for a company making figures and props for haunted houses and an effects studio constructing a ride for a large water park out west.

KMorris_08
KMorris_07
KMorris_01

 

You are very prolific, working on several projects all at once. Is this always how you work? 

I’m always working on several things at once. I get bored doing the same thing for a long time if I don’t mix it up a little bit! I love to sculpt more than anything- but I also love to paint my sculptures. I go back and forth between these two things a lot!

You took a workshop with the sculptor, Janis Mars Wunderlich last year. What was your biggest takeaway from this experience? 

I learned some sculpting techniques from Janis, and she also talked a lot about glazes and underglazes.  Unfortunately I didn’t spend as much time listening to this part because I paint all of my sculptures with acrylics.  It was great to go in every day and see what everyone else was doing and most amazing to watch her sculpt and just see the way she approaches each piece. I’m in awe of her knowledge of clay and her active imagination!  I always thought her work was so strange but when I actually heard her talk about it – it really made a lot of sense. I could see where the stories and ideas found their way into her work! I also really enjoyed visiting her studio (at her house) and seeing where everything comes to life.

You have said that Walter Herrmann describes your work as “playfully macabre.” Why is this a fitting description? How do you describe your work? 

I think “playfully macabre” is a perfect description of my work! It is somewhat edgy, dark, scary, and weird, but it has a lighter side to it – a fun side. It’s not malicious or gruesome or mean-spirited in any way. I think one of the worst things to me is when someone walks up at a show and says “Oh, it’s so cute!”  That drives me crazy!  I admit, I have made some cute things, and I still do, but there is a time and place for that. The majority of my work is not on the cute side. More often than not people say to me it reminds them of Tim Burton – which I take as a compliment.

A sculpture of a tortoise created by Kristin Morris at a workshop led by Janis Mars Wunderlich at the Cultural Arts Center
A sculpture of a tortoise created by Kristin Morris at a workshop led by Janis Mars Wunderlich at the Cultural Arts Center

 

You work in a variety of 3D mediums, including clay, apoxie sculpt, latex and more. What determines the material for a given project? 

The given material for a project depends on what its use will be. I used to make latex hand puppets but there wasn’t a big market for those. Apoxie Sculpt is one of my favorite mediums to work with but it has a faster set-up time so sometimes I will use Super Sculpey instead. For instance, if I am working on a face that could take a while. Apoxie sculpt is heavier too, so if you’re doing something light it’s not the best option.  However, it’s really strong and it’s self-hardening – no oven or kiln needed – which is great!  It’s awesome for working with found objects and adhering things together when glues just won’t do. I love stoneware clay (pottery clay) – I am developing more skills as I continue working with it.

Since you work in so many materials, how do you organize your home studio spaces?

I have a downstairs studio in my basement for stoneware clay and painting; in my studio/computer room upstairs I have a large table I use for other types of clay sculpting such as Apoxie Sculpt, Super Sculpey, and materials that aren’t messy.

What project is next for you? 

Up next I will be in the Upper Arlington Labor Day Arts Festival in September. In October, I will be a featured artist at the Oakland Nursery Gift Shop in New Albany (Johnstown Rd.) during the Fall Festival weekend. In October of 2016 I will be in a show with Debbie Loffing and Kate Morgan at the Vanderelli Room.

Herstories and How-to’s: Wu Chien Shiung

So you know that kid in your 3rd grade class that everyone, randomly decided would be always found to be no fun,  boring and in general Someone To Be Avoided? And you go along because you think ‘Sure- I’m told I shouldn’t like this person so yup, check. I’ll steer clear’ – but then years later, you meet and think “Man. This person is interesting…This person can be downright beautiful and mysterious…Why didn’t I notice this sooner”…?

That ‘person,’ for me, is MATH.

I won’t go too far into personal history here, other than to say that until very recently, Math was a dirty word that made me instantly angry and sleepy. Ask me to do long division and I will first be forced to show my work (including carrying remainders) and then I will take a Rage Nap.

Recently, though, I’ve been looking at Math a bit differently. The benefit of being an adult isn’t that you’re done with school, it’s being able to pick and choose what you want to study, skipping all the boring parts in between.

In honor of this (new to me) beautiful side of math, this month I wanted to share with you a woman who is sometimes referred to as ‘the First Lady of Physics’, Wu Chien-Shiung.

via.

Wu Chien-Shiung was born in the town of Liuhe in Taicang, Jiangsu province, China in 1912. Her father founded an elementary school for girls, the Ming De school, which Wu attended. At home her father, to whom she was very close, continued to nurture her curiosity through encouraging her to pursue her interests and filling their home with newspapers, magazines and books. (Note: this is not to diminish her achievements by saying “oh, look she was helped by this MAAAAN, but rather to point to the power we all have to make an impact on a young child.  < /educatorsoapbox >)

Her high school, undergraduate and graduate studies took her across China, through Berkley and eventually to the East coast. Along the way Wu engaged in bouts of quiet political activism and a general WINNING streak. By her early 30’s she was a professor at Smith College, working/researching at Princeton and her work in nuclear fission attracted the interest of a little organization called the United States Government. This interest led to an invitation to work on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University in New York. I’ll be the first to admit extreme ambivalence in regards to the Manhattan Project and the ‘fallout’ (PUN INTENTED) from the research. Regardless of how you feel about the work, however, it’s worth noting that at the time the Manhattan Project was considered by many to be the pinnacle of Manly MidCentury Science Dreamz. To be a woman working in the top tiers of scientists (and to be a woman who was invited no less) is something worth cheering for.

also, look at that boss-level confidence. via.

After World War II, Wu Chien-Shiung remained at Columbia, where she continued to teach, research and generally kick ass. In 1957, she and two colleagues disproved “The Principal of Conservation of Parity,” which was up until then thought to be a “law” of nature. (To read more about what this meant/how they disproved it, as well as her other noteworthy work with ‘beta-decay,’ check out the Wikipedia article. Then, if you understand it, explain it to me so I can fall more in love with her wonderful brain.) Because the World of Science in 1957 was even more full of Boy-Clubean Duche-Baggery than it is today, both of Wu’s (male) colleagues won the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics. She did not.

“I know, right?” via.

Despite not getting credit immediately for her parity work in 1957, Wu did go on to receive a plethora of awards and titles, including The first woman to receive an honorary Doctorate from Princeton, the National Medal of Science, and became the first living scientist to have an asteroid named after him or her. As she aged, Wu continued to research and to, in general, become even more badass. She spoke out publicly against human rights violations in China, unequal pay for women professionals, at gender discrimination at large.

“I wonder, whether the tiny atoms and nuclei or the mathematical symbols, or the DNA molecules have any preference for masculine or feminine treatment?” -Wu Chien-Shiung, addressing an audience at MIT. via.

 

How to Learn Things About Physics Over Your Summer Vacation
Without Totally Ruining Your Summer Vacation.

So, admittedly, there is nothing I can authentically teach you to do with regards to math or physics. As I mentioned before, I am a total numerical late-in-lifer and even now hold only the most tenuous grip on either subject. What I can do is point you to a few resources that are fun, FREE! and which you can peruse at your own pace. Hooray self-guided learning!

  • Only have 3 minutes to learn something? Check out Minute Physics on youtube. With animations, stick figures and simple language they explain everything from ‘What is AntiMatter” to “How far can Legolas see?”. (I imagine Minute Physics would be great for those times when parties devolve into sharing youtube videos…)
  • If you prefer, instead to gather your physics knowledge through hilarious web comics that also tie in pop culture, dinosaurs and the occasional pondering of Big Questions, check out xkcd, a long running, weekly webcomic written by a literal rocket-scientist, Randall Munroe.
  • And finally, there aren’t enough words to express how much I’m enjoying Physics on the Fringe by Margret Wertheim. Wertheim (herself super fascinating) is trained as a physicist, works as a science writer and often collaborates with her artist twin sister. Physics on the Fringe is super approachable, funny and engaging enough that in the next couple of days, I’ll finish it and return it back to the Columbus Metropolitan Library, where you too could check it out for free.

 

Here’s to Wu Chien-Shiung, to getting to know our universe a little better and to you for boldly going where no (wo)man has gone before.

 

Sources.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chien-Shiung_Wu

https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/chien-shiung-wu/