Jeff Woodbury has a shelf in his studio stuffed tightly with 117 sketchbooks (at least, as I write this). I’ve published columns, catalogs and articles about more than 1000 Maine artists over the years, but I don’t know of another artist whose sketchbooks contain more visual ideas than Woodbury’s. His current sketchbook is always with him, and he doesn’t shelve it until every page is stuffed completely with images and ideas. No blank pages. Idea after idea. Image after image. Note after note. Nothing wasted. No leaf unturned.
For Woodbury, a sketch is “getting an idea down to physical form.” Drawing and painting have been part of his artistic practice for 45 years, but at its core, his work is launched by concepts — visual, strategic practice, hypothetical or otherwise. Phrases and notes are part of his process, but the critical kernel is visual thinking. There is a critical difference in contemporary art between “conceptualism” and “concept-driven work,” and this is apparent in every branch of Woodbury’s art.
Woodbury’s sketchbook work comprises an unwieldy blend of physically present ideas with a range of brain pings that reaches to the irrationally other-worldly. He might shift a bean pod to 2D swirl. He might note a red-headed airline attendant as a potential crisis-moment superhero. He might gush over the swollen magenta pinks of a Texas berry pressed into inky service. In a bored moment on board a work-related flight, he might transmutate a pencil into a jet engine… and let it take off on its own path.
From the surface to the deepest depths of Woodbury’s quick-sketched images, we feel the heady brew of his love for historical visual culture as it (generally) dominates and devours imagery of the past as a percolator engulfs coffee grounds. Yet just as often we see the almost meditative pulse of systems art in his sketchbooks: symmetrical drawings made with both of his hands at once, a page filled with lines pulled and limited by the space and time of the process-driven work.
Woodbury is almost bizarrely caught between his reverence for the visual art pioneers before him and the inclination towards individual creativity. He knows them. He learns their lessons. And yet his own path is fundamentally forced by his own integrity-driven inclinations to shift away from where they have trod… onto new ground which he seems to find everywhere, well-seeded and fertile. The easy-ready reading is to see Woodbury as an iconoclast. But considering his consistently productive practice, it’s clear that Woodbury is far more geared towards finding and producing visual ideas than anything else. His personal practice is often ironical and sometimes salty, but through it we see Woodbury as an artist floating up on a sea of ideas – that rare person who can continually churn concepts into robust visual reality.
Below are additional images and comments by the artist. All of the images within this article are culled from Woodbury’s sketchbooks. –Daniel Kany
“I almost always have my sketchbook with me. A friend gave me a leather cover more than 30 years ago, and it’s been with me ever since – my most cherished possession. I’ve filled more than 117 sketchbooks since then, all the same small size that fit inside the cover, which also provides pockets to hold random maps, brochures, stamps, and notes. I rarely remove pages, unless they are finished works, and when I do, I mark the removal, because that’s part of the history, too.
My mind is always churning with ideas, and I need to write them down or I’ll lose them. My sketchbooks are filled with drawings, notes, diagrams, lists, names, plans, dates, collaged pictures, kids’ drawings, and more. The first page is always for names, numbers, and important information, and the last page is reserved for testing pens. It’s been that way for years. It’s a good system for me.
I see my row of sketchbooks as my extrasomatic memory bank, and each book is part of what Zappa called his “conceptual continuity”: ideas come and go, and are not bound by time, but become part of the overall matrix, and an idea written 20 years ago might influence or become part of the current work. Sometimes I’ll look into an old sketchbook to discover a forgotten note, and that might trigger a new arm of work. Other times ideas are written down only to be fulfilled years later – I drew the logo for “CRUD” in 1986, and it wasn’t until 2014 that circumstances came together to stamp that logo into bricks I made with local clay.
I don’t keep a journal or diary, but my sketchbooks serve as a record of my life. And that includes a record of unfinished works and unrealized ideas, and mistakes and poor choices and people lost to time and distance, and some pages are painful to see. But some pages shine with sketches or ideas that caught there first, and grew into decent works. My sketchbook is the garden where I plant those seeds.”
“Wanderer—there is no path…the path is made by walking…” Luigi Nono
Introduced By Kathy Weinberg
I recently took a ramble through Richard Iammarino’s selection of his works from his 60 years of making art, featuring sculpture, drawing, painting, woodcarving, travel journal writing, and a trove of sketchbooks.
I also saw a rendering of a room interior. It is a watercolor and pencil from 1990, just 16” x 20”, which shows an interior, elegant and atmospheric while being precise and fully realized. I saw delicate depictions of wood graining that mirror Iammarino’s own line drawings. Then an entry titled Unfinished Comic 1995-7 “Lots of unfinished projects…most of my time taken up with painting.”
Iammarino is present in every line, present in all of his work. His art is grounded in elements of the world, so we begin from a known place before heading out into unfamiliar territories. A journey narrated by Richard Iammarino while looking through his sketchbooks sounds like this:
“Spanish Sahara…now Morocco Western Sahara. 1963…The journey that set me off…just follow your nose…see where it takes you…covered a lot of ground…few regrets. (Picture a 1962 Land Rover 109.)”
“Cefalu, Sicily 1999…A wonderful spot on planet earth.”
“Entering Bangladesh (Why we travel, 2006) Eight weeks passing through this alone…just taking it in…again too many stories.”
“Sunderbons…out with the honey gatherers…most incredible people…a unique experience…a world cut off from our world…TIGERS…they deal with tigers…to gather honey…I went out with them…smoking the hives…the outsider…keep your head down…get out there guys…It’s a most amazing game world.”
We asked you to send us your sketchbooks, to share who you are, and how you got here. This issue of the Maine Arts Journal: UMVA Quarterly is full of the wisdom (and secrets) of 35 artists.
Many of you have shared pages from past and present sketchbooks, with both images and words, observed or imagined things, old ideas and experimental new ones, intimate wishes and regrets, rants, dreams, scribbles, portraits, life drawings, and landscapes. They are private, fresh, original, visionary.
Sketching, whether you have continued it or not, is an early, beloved, essential practice that helps form who you are. It’s how one learns to see both the thing and the spaces between, where abstraction is born. It’s where you play with an idea, experiment, create a storehouse of images to draw on, or record a scene. The sketchbook is an uncensored place to store or reveal your secrets, where you let your feelings come to the surface and recognize them on the page in front of you. There you can witness your progress, with growing awareness and confidence, the journey from first observations to finished work.
Some of us don’t take the time to sketch anymore, drawing directly on our canvases in hopes of retaining some of the spontaneity of our sketches. Some artists’ directions have led them away from the figurative, others find joy when drawing from life or in front of a subject. Some sketchbooks resemble journals, full of notes and quotes, lists and revelations.
We thank you for what you have taught us and for your trust.
We hope this issue of the Maine Arts Journal will re-ignite your passion for drawing and encourage you to pull out your old sketchbooks to see who you were and are now.
And now to the issue—Enjoy!
From the editors, Dan Kany, Natasha Mayers, Jessica Myer, Nora Tryon, Kathy Weinberg, and Betsy Sholl (poetry editor)
QUICK INTRODUCTION TO THE WINTER ISSUE
The inspiration for the SKETCHBOOK theme came from a CMCA exhibit, First Traces, in 2008, curated by Britta Konau, for which the CMCA has kindly provided the curatorial statement and images.
Our Featured Artists include Michael Boardman, Richard Iammarino, Judy LaBrasca,Stephen Petroff, Lewis Rossingol, Nikki Schumann, and Jeff Woodbury.
In our Members’ Showcase we welcome 22 UMVA member submissions (the most ever!), all sharing their art and stories: Kay Carter, Alan Crichton (and Crichton/Shahn sketchbook), Valera Crofoot, David Estey, Emma Geiger, Ellen Hodgkin, Nina Jerome, Suzanna Lasker, Lin Lisberger, Anne McGurk, Janice Moore, Leonard Meiselman, Wendy Newbold-Patterson, Don Mallow, Mark Nelsen, Marcus Parsons, Brian Reeves, Claire Seidl, Pam Smith, Bonnie Spiegel, Mary Becker Weiss, and Amy Peters Wood.
—Regular contributor Ed Beem compiles an extensive history of Portland murals. —Sarah Bouchard shares the horrors of having her work destroyed.
—Ari Solotoff, Esq. of Bernstein Shur provides some legal advice to Maine artists. —Tom Burkhardt’s installation at CMCA prompts an essay by Michael Torlen. —Poetry by Elizabeth Tibbetts and Kifah Abdulla is introduced by Betsy Sholl. —Our Insight/Incite feature is by Jason Morgan, Cony High School art teacher who works with New Mainers.
We have an exceptionally rich trove of UMVA features in this issue. Robert Shetterly, our inspired UMVA President for more than 20 years, is stepping down, and it seems a fitting moment to thank him publicly and remind us all what important work the UMVA is continuing to do.
–We have some work by old time UMVA members (Stephen Petroff, Carlo Pittore, Abby Shahn, Pat Owen, Pam Smith) because they drew together, incubated ideas, and made manifestos on the pages next to their drawings
—William Hessian, the new president of the UMVA, writes a letter to members and introduces the new Board members. —ARRT! and LumenARRT! share their most recent work. –-Maine Masters launches the upcoming film about Rob Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth. — Shetterly writes a stirring, not-to-be-missed piece about the current exhibit of his entire portrait series at Syracuse University. –UMVA sends out a fundraising letter. —UMVA Portland chapter lists its upcoming exhibitions. –UMVA sends out a state-wide call to artists to submit work to The Way Life Is – Maine Working Families And Communities. —UMVA Lewiston/Auburn issues a chapter report. —UMVA Archives is a new feature, a selection by Pat and Tony Owens, which includes their letter from Ireland
Look to the “submit” page for our SPRING issue’s theme invitation and guidelines for SANCTUARY.
We look forward to seeing what you are making and what you are doing.
From the editors, Dan Kany, Natasha Mayers, Jessica McCarthy, Nora Tryon, Kathy Weinberg, and Betsy Sholl (poetry editor)
Without question, Sarah Bouchard’s story recounting the
destruction of her sculpture is disheartening.
There is a natural feeling of injustice when something of value has been
damaged, in this case irreversibly. Whether
faced with physical damage to a piece of art or infringement of one’s
intellectual property rights, what remedies exist for artists? Where can a creative artist in Maine go to
find legal help? What rights are at
stake and how can they be enforced? Questions
like these are surfacing with greater frequency as Maine’s arts and
entertainment sector continues to grow and evolve.
Every artist’s situation is unique and highly dependent
on the nature of their creative discipline and the particular stage of their career. Within the visual arts, music, photography,
filmmaking, and the literary professions, there are entire industries devoted
to administering and optimizing an artist’s creative output. Art galleries, music publishers, record
labels, stock photo agencies, movie studios and literary publishers have
invested in developing the in-house expertise to help artists navigate the
commercial and legal world. As a result,
many creatives share the proceeds from their work as consideration for
outsourcing business and legal functions.
At the same time, many artists wish to remain independent,
or need assistance navigating issues that are specific to their artistic
goals. Alternatively, the costs of
working within an established structure may outweigh the benefits. Like many regions across the country, Maine
does not have formal access to pro bono legal aid for the arts, which is
limited to larger cities, such as Boston, New York, or Nashville. Maine, however, is a special place for its
size because of the widespread appreciation for the arts among Mainers. As a result, a number of lawyers within the Maine
bar have become well-acquainted with the types of questions that commonly arise
for artists, including the benefits of copyright registration, the process for
enforcing intellectual property rights, and approaches to negotiating contracts
involving creative work.
The list of names is not necessarily long, but the
experience exists and can be found at many Maine firms. In addition to my own practice, I would be
pleased to provide a list of names of others who have become familiar with this
unique and rewarding area of the law.
Just the idea that an individual would intentionally destroy
a large work of art — even taking the parts and disposing of them — is
It is also troubling that there were not sufficient legal or professional resources for the artist to develop an appropriately robust response. From there, the ultimate outcome failed the artist in terms of justice.
These are very serious issues. It is upsetting to bear
witness to a criminal episode with such an unsatisfying outcome. It is positive
that Ms. Bouchard has found she can move on and relate her story so eloquently,
but it’s not enough. This should never happen again! It is concerning that Volunteer
Lawyers for the Arts has disbanded, so the Editorial Board is asking that you
email us or post here in the comments section if you know of legal resources or
attorneys who have skills in areas such as VARA (Visual Artists Rights Act of
1990), copyright, destruction of property (i.e. art), First Amendment (free
speech), or other topics relating specifically to the visual arts. If we get a
sufficient response, we will add it to the MAJ. Thank you.
Art, in its various forms, helps to define an era. For many of a certain generation the opening chords to the song “Gimme Shelter” send a chill and recall the chaos of the 1960’s.
In childhood, sanctuary can come from a fort between two chairs and blanket, or a perch in a tree. Sanctuary implies a journey, something one seeks or finds within a family or a community. We now have sanctuary cities. One’s home, a special room, a library, a house of worship, a garden, a boat on a lake or the ocean, a nature preserve, a state, region or a country can all hold the promise of sanctuary. It can also be found in a cup of tea, in candle light, a plate of food, or a letter written or received, or a tent where the thin fabric provides shelter in an ethereal form of architecture.
Artists have long sought the sanctuary of a studio or the company of like-minded peers, or in the archives of art history. Art, whether it is a representation of the visible world or an exploration of an interior realm, becomes a sanctuary for both artists and for the audience. Art becomes a place where viewers in the distant future can behold our dreams and in them find sanctuary anew, like Cezanne’s apples and the mountains he painted.
Share with us your visions of sanctuary whether it is an actual place or an inner sanctum. Where do you seek it, where do you find it?
Journal Submission guidelines for Members Showcase:
Deadline: March 1st, 2019
We invite UMVA members to submit up to 4 JPEG or png images, (No TIFF files)
Include an image list and statement or essay in Word doc. Format, not a PDF.
Label each image file as follows: yourlast name_Number of Image_Title_
(if you are submitting for a group put your own last name in first.)
Label your document file names: Last Name_Title
Image list format: Artist’s Name, “Title of Work”, medium, size, date (optional), photo credit (if not included we assume it is courtesy of the artist).
—Please wait until all of your material is compiled to submit.
Size of images: Images should be JPEG files, (approximately 1000 pixels on long side, resolution 72dpi) between 500KB to 1.2MB.
Put “Sanctuary” in the subject line and submit by email to email@example.com by the March 1st deadline. MAJ will limit the “Members’ Showcase” section to UMVA members who have not been published in the past year.
Maine artists and arts community members can become members of the Union of Maine Visual Artists by clicking HERE. Membership helps support the UMVA’s advocacy and helps make this Maine Arts Journal: UMVA Quarterly possible. Or you can provide direct support to the MAJ via the link under “Support MAJ!” For a free subscription to the MAJ, enter your email on the side link under “Subscribe”and a link to this Journal will be mailed to your inbox.
It is the MAJ’s policy to request and then publish image credits. We will not publish images the submitter does not have the right to publish. However, it is to be assumed that any uncredited or unlabeled images are the author’s/submitter’s own images. By submitting to the MAJ, you are acknowledging respect for these policies.
MAJ Editorial Board
Natasha Mayers, Dan Kany, Jessica McCarthy, Nora Tryon, Kathy Weinberg, and Betsy Sholl (poetry editor)
The Artists’ Rapid Response Team! is a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists, and receives additional help from the Broad Reach Fund at the Maine Community Foundation. ARRT! works to give a visual voice to progressive organizations, schools and community groups to educate, confront, or to start a conversation about issues of importance.
ARRTists are UMVA members who communicate with organizations, listen to their goals, research their issues, and design images to visually express the essence of their message. It is an open group, always welcoming new members!
Below are some of the projects from this last quarter of 2018, including some shots of banners put to use by organizations throughout the state.
One project of the Restorative Justice Institute is working with a group of men who are incarcerated at Maine State Prison to improve the culture and potential for healing inside the Prison. ARRT! will be working with them in the coming month. The banner above was just completed in December.
The banner above was created for Portland’s Homeless Persons Annual Memorial Vigil On the Winter Solstice. The group states that:
The Longest Night of Homelessness is an event that belongs to the full community. This banner honors the event and the people we’ve lost.
Often groups will join ARRT! to paint the images with the help of ARRTists. At times they become so involved that they keep returning to work on other issues or work in their own communities to create images for change.
The Heart of Biddeford banner supports their mission highlighting the immigrant history of the city and the current focus on inclusion, equity and justice.
Maine AllCare works to educate Maine citizens and bring healthcare to all Mainers.
LumenARRT! is a branch of the Artists Rapid Response Team! that uses large-scale video projection to call attention to the work of progressive non-profits and highlight issues of concern to the people of Maine.
drawings always begin with the idea that they are my own personal visual
journal (which gives a great sense of freedom to create for the joy of
Traveling or walking with a small sketchbook allows me to easily record and remember my impressions of a day — light, color, season — by using succinct notation to record my visual experiences. The sketchbook offers an opportunity to experiment with new ideas, compositions or materials, and can later become a resource to inform or sometimes inspire other works or projects.
Sketchbook drawings remain a real time record of an artist’s visual thinking, and although intended as a personal diary, because of their authenticity, conciseness, or energy, they can often stand alone as works in their own right.
empowers an artist with the truth of creativity, it sets him or her upon a
path, and thrills him or her forever. LM
I am an oil painter and my
process is very slow. Forty-five minutes to
organize my palette, lay out colors, mix glazes, select appropriate brushes,
and assess the work in front of me before I touch paint to surface. This is
followed by hours of mark making and erasing in very small sections. Cleaning
up at the end of a painting session takes forty-five
minutes as well: reorganize salvageable mixes, clear and wipe down the
remaining palette, clean my brushes to carefully remove all traces of paint and
glaze. I’ve learned that I cannot skip or speed up any of the steps. It all
takes time and is a ritual that I love.
My sketchbook by contrast is
immediate, requiring no preparation and taking up very little room. It’s the
place for figuring out what needs adjustment for works in progress before I
commit with paint. It is my catchall for sudden impressions and visual
thoughts; an immediate place for pursuing ideas wherever I am. It’s also the
place for catching words and quotes that have meaning and influence for me.
Drawing involves a piece of
paper, a pencil, a tortillion and an eraser. I make marks. Light and shadow
only. Nothing is precious. Everything can be repaired and redone with one
swipe. Fully-formed concepts are not
necessary. Ideas that stray from current projects and series are fine. I
explore anything that moves me without full commitment or investment. I indulge
obsessions and techniques. I pursue why objects and places have meaning for me.
The ritual is unconstrained.
Draw. Smudge. Erase. Turn the page. Start again.
are from trip journals. Begun as a way
to process and archive ephemera collected while traveling, they developed into
a response to the blizzard of visual data many of us encounter daily. As I traveled, I found myself collecting more
and more paper. Pamphlets, tabloids,
tourist guides, posters, tickets. Credit
card slips, cigarette wrappers, food wrappers, toilet paper wrappers. Text in unfamiliar languages, symbols both
familiar and not, messages only machines can decipher. Over time, the journals became less overtly
diaristic and more abstract.
Subsequently, they began to inspire larger scale works.
These are four recent paintings that
I’ve created on my 12” iPad Pro using the Procreate app, an Apple Pencil, my
fingers, and other software (Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator). Using those
tools has been my primary artistic practice for several years. I do that for
many hours each day, creating a new artwork every day or two (more than 200 in
2018, so far).
Some works are little more than
sketches, and all begin that way, as a mark or two on the iPad that I then
develop in whatever ways they suggest. Many of my works evolve far beyond that
first mark or two, and take me days or longer to complete. The result is a
personal visual journal, a record of my ongoing artistic journey, a product of
my imagination and whatever skills I bring to expressing it.
I print some pieces that I exhibit
in juried shows and open studio events, post many of them on
Instagram, and all of them on my website. I send out a now-and-then newsletter to
friends and subscribers.
always carry a sketchbook, pencil, etc. Drawing is the meat of my work, the
protein, the substance. The drawings occur randomly, but there is a consistent
thread of “figure” content. I draw my family, my pets, trees, women standing
with their children at the lake, children playing, travelers waiting in
airports, train stations, library visitors who linger, trees, leaves, seeds.
the summer, when ventilation is accessible, I paint with hot wax encaustics. I
use drawings from my sketchbooks and make trace-prints on fragile rice papers
that pick up lots of useful irregularities.
third is of my grand-daughter on her 5th birthday. She is sensitive
and vulnerable, or a firestorm. Her choice.
Two of the sketchbook drawings included here were dancers from rehearsals for “The Twenty-Dance,” that was created as a response to my series, “The Twenty—an Elegy to the Children of Newtown, CT,” last November, 2017 at the Portland Ballet.
fourth is from a video of deportees that I saw on television.
images came together with others in the spring and summer of 2018, when we all
watched the children separated from their parents and put in cages with
metallic blankets for comfort.
I keep sketchbooks but tend to rip out their pages when they
have something to do with my painting. I hang them up around the studio. Once
in a while, a sketch will serve as a beginning to a painting. Other times,
sketches help me change direction in a painting so I can move forward.
Sometimes, I sketch during the process of painting to record what is there
temporarily, just before I cover it up, as a record which might direct me
later. I also make sketches to loosen up, not as a means to an end but as an end
in itself. Sometimes the sketches have color, sometimes they are stark black
and white. I might use pencil or charcoal or crayon or ink and watercolor with
When confusion visits me these
days, I tell myself it is the blur of growth.
Suggestion is too coy for the
real meaning of a painting. I struggle with whether my images are complete or
incomplete, not with what they might suggest.
It is color, color, color that
I am an ambassador for the
color green, a spy for the color red, and a surgeon sent to insert the color
In private life, I am white’s
lover. And gray’s.
Some days, I feel like I am a
dictionary in reverse, cataloguing all the possible meanings, and then coming
up with a word.
When I paint, my colors are a
shape and a placement. I paint their boundaries. Just this much I paint. Here.
Sometimes I enhance the
boundaries by painting them as lines. Sometimes I let the boundaries be where
two areas bump into each other.
The way to become an artist is to apprentice yourself
and make a thousand stupid mistakes from the heart.
When I paint, the world is
malleable. It is up to some definition the paint and I work out.
the 1980’s, when I was painting in my studio in Bath Maine, I wrote notes to
myself in my sketchbooks. The sketchbooks are long gone, but in the late
1980’s, I still had them, and I referred to them for a talk I gave at Bowdoin
College in 1988, on Creativity.
1990, The Georgia Review published a double volume “Women and the Arts,” and excerpts from my
studio notes were included as an essay titled, “Powerful Red Dogs.”
I’ve got a lot of good memories of Stan. I used to draw him a lot after those enervating TV programs put him to sleep. I would jump at the chance to draw him, whipping out my pen and sketchbook while he slept, so still and so cooperative. He might not appreciate my showing him at his best like this. Or maybe he’d be okay. After all he was used to my intrusions. Wherever he is, I hope he’ll forgive me.
impressed by the idea of maintaining a personal visual work board when I first
came across Whitefield artist Roger Majorowicz’s notes to himself pegged
outside on his barn wall, well beyond the concept and scale of a table-top
sketchbook. Among some indecipherable scribbles to himself and many
affirmations which I assume kept Mr. Majorowicz going through the years were,
“the man who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the man doing it” and
a quote by Emile Zola, “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is
nothing without the work.”
My own work
board is comprised of a number of elements which for all intents and purposes
resembles a disparate ransom note: quotes, titles, poetry, scraps of paper,
magazine articles, line drawings, postcards, vintage maps, cards and stamps (an
addiction), photographs of textures (another addiction) and travel keepsakes.
From this menagerie of elements I create my encaustic montages. By going back
to the beginning, I am able to affirm my direction and to stay focused ~ I
learn to see with a new perspective. As Lillian Hellman in Pentimento said, “perhaps it would be
well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of
seeing and then seeing again.”
Amy Peters Wood
When complete, my hand sewn
and bound sketchbooks contain private ruminations, rants, ideas, travel logs,
poems, scientific illustrations, architectural plans and inventions, and the
thumbnail sketches for my large format egg tempera panels. Starting out as sewn
signatures, and carried in a small leather satchel I made years ago, everything I need to do a quick watercolor,
carbon smudge, colored pencil, pen and ink or charcoal drawing is with me at
I have included some of the
The thing about Tourette syndrome that many people don’t know is
that it hardly ever presents itself as uncontrollable loud swearing. I wish I
knew this because I was especially well-read, and not as a result of nearly
three decades of first-hand experience, but that’s my reality. My Tourette’s
mostly presents itself as facial and finger tics, throat clearing, and
sniffing. While I’ve experimented with different prescribed medications,
nothing has helped control my tics as much as sketching. Drawing in my sketchbook
is the most therapeutic, or remedial, thing that I do in my studio practice.
My tics are cyclical, and can get really severe and
debilitating, especially when I feel anxious. It feels like there’s all kinds
of pressure built up inside of me, and the tics are my body’s natural way
of releasing the pressure. I’ve discovered that while I’m drawing, it’s as if
the pressure is being released through my pen instead of my face, and it’s such
a relief. My tics are embarrassing, and make me feel very self-conscious.
During periods of severe cycles I don’t even like leaving the house because I
know it’s only a matter of time before I see a small child in a store copying
my tics, until their parent catches them and tells them to knock it off. Kids
don’t know that pointing or mimicking is rude, but the fact that they notice my
tics assures me that everyone else is noticing too.
I am so thankful that through my sketchbook practice I have
managed to train my body to release pressure in a much less embarrassing
manner, and even though as soon as I stop sketching my tics come right back, I
am grateful for the short relief that drawing gives me each day. For this
reason I am constantly sketching, and have filled over 1,000 sketchbook pages
in the last 12 months alone.
Last month I released a
book called “Remedial Sketches” that is filled with some of my favorite pages
from the past year. This book is very personal because of how important
sketching has become to me. It’s also like revealing a part of myself that I’ve
never had a comfortable way of revealing before. The work within the book is
actually a pretty accurate artistic representation of Tourette syndrome. It
explores the boundaries between creative expression and an uncured neurological
condition. The jagged lines and sporadic marks embody my twitches, tics and
vocalizations perfectly. To me, these sketches seem as awkward and
self-conscious as I feel when my tics act up in public. If you were seeing my
work for the first time at an exhibit and the curator walked up to you and said
“this artist has Tourette syndrome,” you would think, “that makes total sense.”
In fact, I think the next time I have to write an artist statement to accompany
my exhibited work I may just simply quote this hypothetical curator and leave
it at that.
I know that if they come out with a cure for Tourette’s tomorrow
I’ll still draw, but I do wonder if it will affect my work. Will my lines
tighten? Will my marks become more constrained? Without the relief, will I
enjoy drawing as much? Will I even be the same artist, and if not should I even
bother with the cure?
North Yarmouth artist Michael Boardman grew up in Blue Hill. He graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with a degree in studio art in 1986. Since then, drawing and sketching have been critical to his art practice. And Boardman has only ever made his living working in the arts. Over the past decade or so, his art and naturalist inclinations have led him to lean more and more on his sketchbook practice. Currently, Boardman is working with the Maine Master Naturalist Program, a year long course that trains individuals to be able to speak and present about Maine’s flora, fauna and geological features. Boardman’s goal is to ultimately be able to lead sketching workshops to help fulfill the volunteer requirement of the class.
Boardman’s art practice has long focused on landscapes and wildlife that he paints in watercolor and shows throughout the state and region. As he has matured as a painter and attended residencies dedicated to education and environmental awareness, Boardman has come to see himself not only an artist, but a naturalist. During this time, his image-making has become less about executing an appealing painting than about collecting and learning from his experiences. His sketchbooks look more and more like the notes of a biologist or botanist than a landscape painter. But this fits what always drove his interest in the natural world: Boardman’s new sketches and drawings, labeled with notes and observations, are flowing towards a mode that his painting and graphic design experience seem to have made practically inevitable.
“For me,” he explains, “it’s about telling stories. A story could be why did that spruce tree’s trunk and bark turn and twist in that bizarre and aesthetically pleasing way? Or how that glacier carved a path through the mountains and left its remains piled at the edge. Or the story could be the vernal pool behind my house and the myriad forms of life that used it during the spring – that prolific spasm of life that blooms until it dries up and everything is then dead or gone.”
Boardman’s older sketchbooks contain mostly landscape images he came upon during his hikes and travels throughout Maine. While he long worked professionally as a designer and draftsman of images of animals, his painting leaned towards the approach to plein air watercolor long championed by the masters of Maine landscape painting like Church, Homer and Sargent. Sketching and his sketchbook practice now play a much larger role in his artistic activity. Boardman’s more recent sketchbooks are loaded with images of wildlife rendered with an artist’s eye but laid out with a biologist’s precision. Using art as a way to advocate for natural science has shifted his personal connection to his work, which now exudes a sense of ethical urgency.
“I feel a certain responsibility to advocate for the creatures that I draw,” he notes. “Over 50% of animal populations have been wiped out in the past three decades. Recently, for example, the snowy owl has been added to the IUCN red list of species of concern, and it’s a bird I often sketch in the Portland area. One of my sketches of a Portland snowy owl is with a show about urban wildlife that originated at the Rhode Island School of Design that is now traveling around the country. It’s a bird that brings a piece of the arctic to us every winter, and the arctic is already being brutally affected by climate change.”
Boardman has filled many sketchbooks and he is attached to each of them for various reasons. Many, after all, are the travelogues of residencies that have taken him from the islands and remote corners of Maine to the glaciers of Alaska. They aren’t just compilations of images, but entire chapters of his experiences distilled in drawings and notes.
Indicating a page from a sketchbook on which are three images — a foggy tree-lined shore scene, a bird in flight (a marbled murrelet) and a pair of humpback whales — Boardman recalls the trip: “This is from a residency in Glacier Bay, Alaska I did in 2015. It is a place where the glaciers melt into the bay. The fresh water in combination with the tides supports a huge array of life. It’s one of the most dramatic and exciting places within the entire national park system in terms of biodiversity.”
Boardman then presents a page from one of his Maine Master Naturalist sketchbooks. The first difference is obvious: Whereas the Alaska images were simply titled with the name of the animal or place, these watercolor and pencil sketches of lichen are accompanied by copious notes and comments including measurements, identifying features and taxonomic references. “I had always thought lichen were interesting, but when I had to get down and study them closely, it was an amazing experience – lichens are these weird and intense Lilliputian worlds of three or even four symbiotic organisms.”
“Tomorrow,” explains Boardman, “I am heading to Deering Oaks Park in Portland to field sketch a great black hawk that has been hanging out for the past few days. This non-migratory bird is native to Central and South America and has only been seen the U.S. — for the first time ever — this year in April of 2018 in Texas. This same individual bird was then sighted in Biddeford Pool in August. It disappeared for several months and then it just showed up a few days ago in Deering Oaks, where it is no doubt enjoying the abundant squirrel population. (Well, maybe a bit less abundant now.) That is definitely an animal with a story to tell.”
Michael will be exhibiting work at a group show opening in April 2019 at the Portland Public Library, ‘A Critical Balance’ on endangered species throughout the world. For more information about Michael Boardman, visit: www.mboardman.com
My sketchbook is always with me. It is my memory, my datebook, my therapist. I use it to plan future projects, record interesting things I see and hear and read, take notes at workshops and classes. It holds my doodles during meetings, finished drawings that I am not sure enough about to commit them to “real” paper, and helps me understand things more completely through drawing. It is a safe place to put anything that is making noise in my head, though and is self-care through tough times.
I spent the month of April 2017 in Virginia, and was attracted to the wild grape that wrapped and clung to trees along roadways and through the woods. Their invasive, chaotic, and complex structures made their way into my work and have engaged me since. Originally, I recorded their baroque movement through the surrounding space, eventually focusing on the knot of the vine, which will be formatted into a grid structure in a current project. In my preparatory sketches I enjoyed exploring the endless compositional variations with different materials. Many of my favorite studies were done with water-soluble graphite on paper.
My studio upstairs is draped with spiderwebs and clotted with storage boxes. What happened? Lost my inspiration? Doubt my creativity? Run out of material? No, I’ve gone digital. My Ipads are filled with pencil drawings, watercolors, and scribbled ideas. Almost any image that pops up in my imagination can be instantly sketched in pixels, any size, any color, any media. Can’t remember what a giraffe looks like? Hundreds of photos are available for research. Mistakes are erased completely by double taps. I carry my studio with me and it weights about a pound. The Ipad is also a camera and can record scenes to be later translated.
Of course there are negatives. The drag of an Ebony pencil on paper, the scent of turps, brushing a three foot slash of vermilion on canvas…all can be reproduced digitally, but it is like drinking a glass of water thinking it is coffee—-some experiences are lost. An original work of art can be sold with the understanding that no other tangible copy exists. However digital images are now art products for sale (which still have to be framed to be hung in some galleries).
Thousands of tutorials are available online. Other artists are colleagues for reachable conversations, typed or Skyped. And like tangible studios, digital sketchbooks can become just as cluttered as a studio. The clutter is unused apps, half-baked ideas and thousands of images.
All I need is an Ipad, Apple Pencil and available WiFi and electricity. Paper and pencil are kept for blackouts.
I have used sketchbooks in many different ways over the years, often just as writing journals to think about new sculptural ideas, but also as a way to look back at existing work. In late 2017 I needed more space in my studio and my head to find a place for new sculpture, so I parted with lots of pieces. As each piece went out the door I drew it in my sketchbook. In the beginning these were pretty highly rendered drawings, but in January 2018 I decided to loosen up my hand and brain and draw only right-handed (as I am a lefty). These are four of the right-handed drawings that I did at the time, some representing existing pieces, and others new ideas. Wonderfully, this created new room for new sculptures. Some of the new work will be in a show I have curated at the Portland Public Library in March 2019–ON BOOKS: Sculpture that References Literature.
I was born in Bangor, Maine in 1958, and began drawing and painting as a youth. My early influences were the seasonal moods of the wild coastline of Maine and the artists in my family and circle of friends. Growing up in a remote location with the absence of television, I reacted to my environment by painting. The ocean and sky were constant sources for observation and expression. I studied art at Colby College and with Maine painters Henry Isaacs, Philip Frey, and Judy Taylor.
My current influences are:Max Ernst, Kathe Kollwitz, Emily Carr, Max Ginsberg, Jim Carrey, Milton Avery,Waldo Pierce, Rockwell Kent and The Group of Seven. My goal as an oil painter is to move away from inanimate subjects that convey the comfort of nature’s beauty and to move towards human subjects that embody life’s tragedies.
I just started my 96th sketchbook. Fifty-eight years ago at RISD, most pages were filled with drawings of classmates, figures or anatomical studies.The images were quite realistic, as I came there self-taught, wanting to be Norman Rockwell.
Once I discovered primitive art, Picasso, de Kooning and other modern masters, I reflected their influence in the later sketchbooks of my growing family,vacations at the Maryland shore, lunchtime crowds in Philly, commuters on the train, etc. I later filled sketchbooks with stylized self-portraits and studies of admired masters or of primitive art, hoping they would influence my work through osmosis.
Figure drawings and portraits have always dominated my sketchbooks and still do, often transitioning from realism to abstraction. I have rarely considered them studies for other work. They are stand-alone pieces of art, with mark making and page design always on my mind.
Recently,after thousands of figure drawings, many of which are 19” x 24” semi-abstracts,I seem to have come full circle in my sketchbooks, back to more-academic figures. I’m not sure why, since my paintings have become almost-totally-improvisational abstractions. Perhaps the long poses each week at Waterfall Arts encourage detailed study – or perhaps it’s just a function of age.
Though from different times and places, it’s easy to draw connections between the entries in sketchbooks and journals, to find ways to understand the effects of our choices, the states of mind we’ve been in. I began keeping a journal in third grade, and have filled many since then, the content including daily accounts, poems,sketches, musings, and letters. They area place where my past selves gather, a place where I can always find inspiration, and trust.
The sketches “Wildfire Smoke in San Francisco” and “Palace of Fine Arts Theatre” were done from 35mm film photographs that I took on a road trip from Washington to Maine. “You are beautiful,” is from two 35mm photos I took while in college, and the words from a letter sent to me by a college friend and mentor. “Between Notebook Pages” is a journal entry that I keep tucked between pages, along with the feather, from Whidbey Island,Washington, where I was living when I wrote the entry. The poem refers to a day on the road trip back east from Washington, driving along the coast.
I use my sketchbooks as a place to look, study, be present, and free myself up. The pages of the sketchbooks are typically heavy, textured watercolor paper. I work on both the front and back of the page. This means that there are no wrong marks in the sketchbooks, only opportunities to integrate all marks and colors into a finished page and book. No page can be ripped out because there is something on its back which relates to another image. Therefore, the challenge becomes incorporating all marks and all media together.
The pages of my sketchbooks grow over time, ultimately to become a unique book which records visual images I have explored. I sometimes complete one page of a facing dyad and wait until an image which compliments the first is clear to me. An example: two facing pages in my sketchbook are labeled ‘The icons – Katahdin and Monhegan’. The sketch of the lighthouse on Monhegan was completed in July; the sketch of Katahdin was completed in September. For me the two together were a statement about Maine.
I use permanent ink, watercolor, colored pencils, and graphite in the sketchbooks, anything which encourages me to play. Some pages are doodles developed while listening to something in my environment. Some pages are intentional drawings. With the sketchbook, I take the opportunity to center myself, be present in a silent place, and focus on line, form, color, value, and energy. This later informs larger works, not as replicas, but as a way of being present in the work.
I have carried a sketchbook and a pen every day for many years. Frankly, I feel a little lost without them. I prefer pen, because graphite smears when pages rub, so pencils and charcoal are for sketch books that stay in the studio.
And every day, I take out my sketchbook and enter something: a name, address, portrait, landscape, invention, a to-do list, a scribble or a watercolor, a wish, a regret, a collage, a feather or butterfly wing.
My sketchbook is one of my intimate places, where I experiment, dream, observe,think, pretend, be free, fail, shape up, break it all down, remember, and forget. I keep stacks of them, often with an intention to return and dig into ideas that don’t exist anywhere else. Often, I do return to these ideas and they become something else; often the ideas stay right there and never see the light of day again. Any way it goes, each morning it’s keys, change and knife on one side, wallet on the other, with sketchbook and pen in their own pockets. Then I’m ready to face any wicked day.
“Gallimaufry” is a great old 1500’s word meaning, “a confused jumble or medley of things.” Often a stew or hash. My sketchbooks are my gallimaufry: a potato here, chunk of lamb there, carrot, onion, tomato in a sauce, spicy and savory, at least to me.
Alan Crichton and Abby Shahn collaborative sketchbook
This is a collaborative book, a kind of mutual sketchbook that Abby Shahn and I made a few years ago.
She and I describe our process and some thoughts about making this book.
Abby – I think that the thing I like most about this process
…. about making these folded books.. about collaboration … is the way that
one is forced to give up plans… to forget about intentions… because the
other artist will obliterate them with a single stroke.
I’ve made these books with several different artists …
it’s a nice way to visit a friend.
– A brand new open book, open door. Fresh, heavy paper,
accordion-folded and blank, ready for a conversation you can see. No rules.
Start anywhere with anything interesting and send it back, let the book and
friendship build, see what happens. Pages start distant, move towards each
other, then overlap and layer. Always a surprise, from one friend’s hand,
through many postmen’s, to the other. Real play in real time.
Abby – You got a new book coming this way? Hooray!
Al – Great idea! I’ll send a new start with the new year!
After 7 years at Cony High School in Augusta, Maine, I have seen many images in sketchbooks and studio projects that give unique perspectives into students’ personal lives. These images open discussions that go beyond technical skills and knowledge. It’s the humanistic side of teaching that helps to foster them and helps us to carefully listen. In the last five to six years, Middle Eastern refugee students have arrived in Augusta, which has helped globalize our classrooms and given a perspective on life beyond Maine, of students who have endured upheaval of their families’ lives beyond what we can imagine. Luckily I had two advisees who helped me navigate my understanding of Iraqi culture and customs, as well as the Muslim religion.
There were many opportunities to have these conversations with students whose families had to escape from war and terrorism in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, as well as families from Puerto Rico who suffered from the hands of Hurricane Maria.
My first insight came from a Syrian refugee brother and sister who migrated from Arizona to Augusta. Their lives shaped a story of hardship and sadness. They asked for a sketchbook for their talented older sister. Not only had the brother and sister proved themselves to be motivated and expressive art students in their own right, but it became apparent that it ran in their family. I was excited to see their sister’s work which they shared a few days later.
“Art is the gateway to help immerse English Language Learners (ELL) into the regular classrooms”, stated Helen Renko from Cony High School Guidance Department.
I support this statement. The “gateway” is in the form of a universal, visual language, which provides opportunities to learn about refugee students and their background– from the displacement from their homeland to arrival in Augusta, Maine. Their verbal language skills varied from limited conversation to a well-developed grasp of English. But most of the conversations and expressions came through their artwork.
Their pride and identity with their home country came through often in student sketchbook assignments. Iraqi and Syrian flags appeared frequently, along with drawings or symbols about their families left behind in the brutal wars and conflicts. In “I Am From”, a poetry/collage project, the aforementioned brother and sister poured out their emotions through few English words and images of a small boy washed ashore (Aylan Kurdi). This photographic image, sketched and photocopied from his sketchbook, is burned into our global mind.
A personal connection to these horrible tragedies in the conflicts in Iraq and Syrian Civil War becomes less about news we read or listen to in a desensitized way and more about the students in my own classroom that have been affected directly, who tell their stories of unspeakable deaths in their families and the severe beatings of neighbors.
The Resiliency Project is an idea that was spurred by my refugee students and students who have faced, or still face, adversity, but still arrive at school every day, participating and coping in a teenager’s daily life.
Despite experiencing the most extreme adverse conditions, refugee students have a very respectful demeanor and exude an excitement to be in a safe and accepting place.
The Resiliency Project’s intent is to put a face on our school community and develop sensitivity to these adverse conditions which refugee students and families have endured, and students who suffer from mental conditions that sometimes make the most mundane challenges monumental. To create a community identity for groups of people that may not have understood or heard their stories, a project was designed and developed by Susan Bickford from University of Maine and Maine College of Art, with the focus on the collaborative process between the subject, photographer, student artists, and the audience. Collaboration for the Resiliency Project began with refugee student volunteers and Doug Van Kampen, a local professional photographer from Brunswick who is “married into” our Cony community. He volunteered his time to this project that just recently made its first gallery debut in November, in the Harlow Gallery exhibition, Immigration: Home Lost, Home Found.
This past November four students joined me on a project with Artists’ Rapid Response Team! (ARRT!), a non-profit organization that collaborates on social-political issues such as immigration, to create a banner for Harlow Gallery’s Immigration: Home Lost, Home Found exhibition. The design process, led by Natasha Mayers and the team of ARRTists, explored the theme of “home lost, home found”. Two students, Rafeef and Zeina Ahmed, told their story of displacement and travels from one temporary home to another, to their settling in their new home of Augusta, Maine. Stories of escape from violence and oppression, and leaving family produced visual images of destruction of their homelands and the rebirth of a new life in the United States. One question Natasha posed was, “What did you carry with you when you left your home?” Answers ranged from the clothes on their back to a family heirloom– a teapot and cups. This process was powerful as these images appeared in their work, along with destroyed buildings, a bridge, and Maine’s Capitol. From start to finish, Zeina held fast to the ARRT! process and finished the banner. It hangs with pride in the Harlow Gallery.
This fall, I was able to visit an exhibition of Bassam Khabieh’s work at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He is a Syrian photojournalist who has captured the last 7 years of the Syrian Civil War and multiple acts of cruelty against humankind on the sensor of his camera. This exhibit brought my experience together, teaching a new course (UMA/ Cony dual-enrollment digital photography) and working with refugee students, telling stories first hand through the power of visual imagery. This re-sensitized me to situations in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Puerto Rico. I felt I needed to share Bassam’s work with the Augusta community to help visually reinforce the stories that our own community has been sharing for years.
In hindsight, I feel honored and privileged to have had the experience of working with refugee students (“New Mainers”, as the Capital Area New Mainers Project refers to our new families), and sharing conversations through broken English and the common language of visual art. It has helped me expand my cultural understanding of a culture so often under attack. We share many beliefs in common, and we must take care of each other with love and respect no matter our misunderstanding and construed truths. This is what art and art education continue to teach me everyday.
By Jason Morgan, Cony High School Art Department Head and ASD Art Coordinator
Pat and I have been pouring over early (very early) UMVA newsletters. This ephemera goes back to 1975 and UMVA’s first issue. What struck us was, not how much has changed, but how much has stayed the same. The struggle goes on. Artists continue to look for recognition, believing their work is of personal and or social importance. Bureaucracies control not only the purse strings, but how the artists must represent themselves in order to be taken seriously. Nothing much has changed.
Pat and I moved from Maine to the west of Ireland 12 years ago. We made the decision to shake our lives up, to turn things upside down, to get out of the comfort zone. We knew Ireland to be a country rich in artistic legacy, a country that supports the arts and its artists. The move turned out to be challenging, but it was the challenge we ultimately sought, a new horizon, but the closer you to get to that line, the more familiar things become.
For the past 4 years now we have curated exhibitions for a May Day festival here in Dingle (Feile na Bealtaine). Last year’s show was titled ‘AGE+less’. It was in response to the concept of ageism. We chose artists using a wide spectrum of age, from 10 years to approximately 80 years. We hoped those viewing the exhibition would find the art more important than the age of those who created it. We are currently looking to this year’s festival and incorporating an issue affecting Ireland today: homelessness. It is hoped that we, as artists can add our voices to a growing public outcry. But can art fix the problem? Can art change things socially for the better, or will it all remain the same?
In January 1990, 28 years ago,the UMVA mounted an exhibition in Portland entitled ‘Artists for the Homeless’ organized by Natasha Mayers. We vividly remember the exhibition, not so much because of our participation (we had a piece on Congress Street) but because of the controversy that followed. A few landlords whose buildings housed some of the art, removed the work that they deemed inappropriate, vulgar or distasteful. Because the artists were not told in advance of this action, the ‘shit’ hit the proverbial fan! The outcry rang across the pages of the Casco Bay Weekly and the Portland Press Herald…Censorship! Natasha Mayers believed that the topic of homelessness was a ‘non-controversial’ issue, the public thought otherwise. It ended with four of the artists’ works being removed. Today in America the word censorship is masked in new terminology: ‘Fake News’.
At present here in Ireland, there are roughly 4000 people homeless. Lots of talk and protest from arts groups, but the problem still looms large. Will art change it? Can art be the great influencer?
Back in July of this year we attended the opening of an exhibition in Galway, ‘The Art of Protest’. It showed works by artists who were influenced by political and or societal problems in Ireland. The works were graphic and in-your-face acts of passive protest. On one wall was a large color photograph of an older woman of indeterminate age. She was depicted in an orange prison jumpsuit. She sat in a comfortable looking chair in a room filled with books. The juxtaposition of the prison jumpsuit and the dignified room she sat in was striking. A little later during drinks at the reception, there she was… the woman in the orange prison suit! We discovered that she protested the refueling of American war planes at Shannon Airport. She did this by gaining access to the runway and throwing a brick at a US military transport plane. This got her 3 months and a new orange prison jumpsuit, compliments of the Irish Government. This was her drama, this was her art of protest. The military still refuels at Shannon Airport on their way to the Middle East, and the woman in the picture holds dear her orange prison jumpsuit. It is her personal talisman.
Will art ever be able to change societies’ problems? Can art influence those who refuse to look or be influenced? As artists we work for the most part in isolation. Those of us that create socio/political works, do so in the hopes that change will come about in some small way because of what we make, because of what we put forward. We hope that the art will express more than the sum of our parts and not become that jumpsuit, a personal orange talisman. We hope that what we create as artists will nudge us all forward, just a little, to a horizon. If that comes about, we might just drag along a few disbelievers.
Post script; In March of 1990 the UMVA issued a special news letter. It dealt solely with censorship and the NEA. The National Endowment for the Arts was being attacked by forces on the right for granting monies to arts organizations that purportedly were organizing pornographic exhibitions. They demanded the NEA be shut down and or suppressed. At stake was freedom of expression in general, whether it be the visual arts, or printed material. The NEA was seen as a threat to the American way of life. Arts organizations across America fought back. We continue to do so.
Tony and Pat Owen Live and Create in Co. Kerry, Ireland. Still Mainers in Our Soul.
Relentless flooding is the new normal. Hurricanes ravage the land, and rivers overflow, destroying property and infrastructure, killing people, wild animals, and livestock. Our government’s response through FEMA is a reactive one. We spend billions of dollars after the fact, but very little on preparation and prevention. The reality is, our climate has changed. Indeed, Hurricane Florence is the most recent devastating storm to hit the southern states, bringing winds and unprecedented quantities of water—in some places over 40 inches of rain. The floodwaters rise and rivers pour out, turning hundreds of square miles of America into a flood plain.
After the 2016 election, in “This Post-Election Pain Is Good, At Least for Art” (New York, November 14, 2016), Jerry Saltz wrote, “Trump’s victory is a crucible of possibility for a new generation, who will do what artists have always done in times like these: go back to work.” In Saltz’s imaginings of what might manifest from this “crucible of possibility,” he opines, “I can imagine the typical arty gestures of sparseness art giving way to another kind of organization, marked by extremes of gesture, things more homemade,unpredictable, vulnerable, bizarre.” This brings us to Tom Burckhardt’s Studio Flood, most recently on view at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland, Maine.
Studio Flood, comprised of brown corrugated cardboard and black paint, was a walk-in re-creation of a dimly lit studio, roughly 18’ x 24’, positioned at an angle in a large, rectangular exhibition space at CMCA. Ominous black shapes, like sharks’ fins, protruded from cardboard overhead, painted with black swirls, indicating water. The open windows revealed inverted buildings, trees,and upturned light sources.
Viewers entered a space that was literally and figuratively upside down. We walked on the “ceiling” and saw the corners of black canvases above our heads floating on a plane referencing the indifferent floodwater’s invasion. Black canvases filled upside down racks. The surface beneath our feet looked like the 19th century tin ceilings embossed with squares, so common in New York artists’ lofts. Tools and paint cans, postcards and brushes, books and a human skull, all deftly made of cardboard, sat on shelves or hung on the walls, upside down.
Studio Flood was disorienting. It was like walking into a cartoon or a fun house. Because we human beings are accustomed to viewing the world by standing on a ground plane and noticing spaces and objects converging away from us, Studio Flood’s inverted artist’s studio was confusing. Our brains wanted to get it right, according to all of our experiences, but the existential reality did not permit it. Here we have the crux of Burckhardt’s work—just as Studio Flood is upside down, so is the world. We expected everything to be familiar, the way it used to be, but it wasn’t.
The meanings of Burckhardt’s Studio Flood arise in its “crucible of possibilities,” its capacity to function as a complex metaphor. Studio Flood is at once personal and universal, humorous, and visually surprising; it is created with low-tech materials found in the unglamorous shipping world—cardboard, utility knives, hot glue, and black paint. It is a comment on the importance and value of labor and skill in an art world that favors deskilling. At the same time, Burckhardt’s project seems absurd, and as Saltz says about imagined art after Trump, “homemade, unpredictable, vulnerable, bizarre.”
Burckhardt’s installation is also a reflection on and about the origins and meanings of art and artists. When all the canvases are black as in Studio Flood, references to Art about Art, Ad Reinhardt, Malevich, Stella, and even Goya’s black paintings come to mind. “Is Painting Dead?” is also at issue. The black rectangles, in their horizontal and vertical, geometric grid-based form, may represent culture in collision with the fluid, organic, impersonal, floodwaters of nature. There is also a sense in which the black canvases signify, not only the flooded circumstance, but also the increasing threat of the death of painting and by extension, the death of art.
Burckhardt witnessed the flooded studios and damaged artwork in New York City during Hurricane Sandy, and knew many artists and galleries that lost valuable work. He became increasingly concerned about the planet’s ecological disasters. In response, he turned to personal experiences rather than attempt to express his concern in some obvious political critique. Nevertheless, Studio Floodis a political critique, its content prima facie evidence of our planet’s dire condition.
We bear witness to terrifying evidence of global warming in Burckhardt’s installation. Any of the natural elements—floods, fires, tornadoes, or mudslides—have the potential to destroy the evidence of an artist’s life. In our historical moment, the precarious status of our planet’s environment and upside down world are real and present dangers. The planet is getting warmer and with it comes all the hazards of an environment gone wacky. Everything is upside down, from politics to climate change.
According to an article in the Washington Post, on Wednesday, June 20,2018, President Trump ended an eight-year-old policy to protect the oceans. The policy, established under President Obama, responded to BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a vivid reminder of the planet’s vulnerable marine environment. Plastic waste is piling up after China made a decision to stop accepting it from other nations. The ice in the Antarctic region is melting faster than scientists predicted.
Burckhardt’s Studio Flood resides at the nexus of the deadly serious and the strange. He willfully undermines his substantial skill, invites the dangerous and the destructive into the conversation, and pulls apart the Art question. His work challenges our perceptions and assumptions about art and the world. Is this project a painting, sculpture, installation, performance, or are we witnessing absurd theatricality? Is it a joke, subversive or serious? Perhaps, all of the above.
Although the ultimate meaning of Studio Flood and its black canvases is up to the viewer, Burckhardt has said, “If the floating canvases symbolize the endlessly advertised ‘end of painting,’ the flood seems to answer, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’”
By creatively confronting the monsters that artists face, and making his own fear and anxiety his subject matter, he consumed the energy of the “enemy” and used it for his own creative purpose. In Studio Flood, Burckhardt also addressed pressing and timely political and global crises—universal monsters that all humans on our planet earth are facing. Burckhardt’s Studio Flood is prophetic and could not be timelier.
Tom Burckhardt’s Studio Flood was on view at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockland, Maine, from June 9 to October 7, 2018. Both Pierogi Gallery in New York in fall 2017 and The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi, Kerala, India, in 2016 exhibited iterations of Studio Flood.
About the Author:
I am a painter, printmaker, and writer, Professor Emeritus of Purchase College, State University New York, where I taught painting/drawing in the School of Art+Design. In 2015, I moved to Maine where I maintain a studio and live in Westbrook. I am currently writing a book about painting, drawing, and perception.
For quite a few years, I’ve been teaching a class called “Sketchbooks: Cultivating a Daily Practice”. The students who take this class are invariably interesting people. Each one has a particular reason for signing up, often including a desire to start drawing, or to get back to it, to make a daily practice, to find community. The class is a great place to share strategies. Some people are lucky to draw the way children do: naturally, uncritically, and all the time. The rest of us need strategies to get started and to keep going.
The thing that helps me most is to have my sketchbook handy: to keep it out where I’ll see it, and to have one in my bag or my pocket. Also, it helps to keep the tools simple: a pen or pencil and a small box with four watercolors. I use cyan, lemon yellow, a pinkish red, and ultramarine. From those, I can mix most colors, and I use a brush with water in the handle.
I’ve used sketchbooks as a journal, a place to take notes, a place to plan things, for lists, a place to work out design problems, and to help me figure out what I think, but the most important function for me is to experience something by drawing it.
When I was asked to write something for this issue, I looked at all of the sketchbooks in my studio. The earliest ones are from the 1980’s. That was when I lived in Portland on the end of the Western Promenade that overlooks the Fore River. I was amazed by the sunsets I saw there, so I did a series of paintings in my sketchbook, trying to capture the colors and cloud shapes as they changed. The view changed so fast that I had to find ways to simplify what I noticed, just so I could get something down. That was when I started to think about how different types of noticing require different tools and different kinds of drawings are suited to different kinds of noticing. For instance, if I have a pencil, I look for the kinds of things a pencil can do, and I look at the subject as if it were already a pencil drawing. If I’m using color, rather than looking at things as I know they are, I try to see areas of flat color, as if they were already in a painting.
Those sunset drawings are mixed in with figure drawings and studies of all kinds of things: our dog, the garden, bottle caps, people and birds on the beach, cloud shapes, geometric patterns and designs for things I wanted to make. Every thing is mixed up. The books are not strictly chronological. Sometimes I stopped in the middle of something and the next page is from years later. Still, looking at them reminds me of what it was like when I was drawing and concerned with those things. Actually, I’ve changed, but not that much, I think I’ll go back to some of the projects that stalled.
Most of the figure drawings in those years were done with a group at USM. Edie Tucker organized it and kept it going over many years. One time, when the model didn’t show up, she stepped in to pose for us in her street clothes. The drawings from that day are some of my favorites.
My husband, Jeff Kellar, and I moved to Falmouth just before my daughter, Anna, was born. We moved to a house where we each could have a studio. Our system was that the one who had the less pressing deadline got to play with Anna.
Making art with her affected my own drawings. Sometimes, when she was little, she drew along side me. One time, I asked her why she’d made our driveway look blue. She answered that it was blue. I looked again, and it did look bluish. I’d made it gray because I knew it was asphalt. When she was very young, one and two, she liked drawing in my sketchbook. I found some of my drawings followed by several of her colorful scribbles. When she began to talk, she’d tell me what to caption the drawings. Those are a lot of fun to read now.
She’s all grown up and doesn’t draw all the time anymore, but she still keeps a travel sketchbook, because she likes the kind of slow noticing that doing a drawing allows. She’s had some interesting interactions with people who want to know, for instance, why she’s spending the time to draw something they pass everyday and have never thought of stopping to look at… until they see her drawing of it.
I have older sketchbooks somewhere, probably in a box labeled “older sketchbooks”. I remember doing a drawing from my art school dorm room window of the view looking over the Philadelphia roof tops toward the giant electrified Schmidt’s Beer sign. I loved the shapes of the wooden water tanks silhouetted again the night sky. And I also remember, years later, tearing it out of the book because it didn’t capture the scene the way I still remembered it. I’m sorry for the streak of perfectionism that caused me to do it, because now both the scene and the drawing of it are vague memories.
My most recent sketchbooks include the assignments I give to my students. One of my favorites to do is a sound map. The prompt is to listen for one minute with eyes closed to everything that you can hear. Then to make a diagram of the sounds with yourself in the center. Another assignment is to pick a favorite object to draw all week. Each week has a different focus, a material to experiment with, a subject, or a point of view. I use the same exercises and assignments every semester because, although the questions are always the same, the answers are always different.
UMVA-LA has had an exciting few months! Our Annual Harvest Masquerade Ball was wonderful as always and the new owners of the Agora Grand Event Center offered a magnificent venue. We have hope that this event will continue to grow and be a staple for the community’s October events.
Many of us finished up the Art Walk LA season and are now planning For The Love Of Art event on Saturday February 9th. Follow us on FB to keep updated.
The Sunday Indie Market is still happening but has moved indoors for the winter. It is held at Quiet City Books and Bear Bones Brewery on the third Sunday of the month from 12-4pm. Soon the Curio will be an added venue, and we are excited for them to join our community.
UMVA-LA is now curating the Art and Ale window at Gritty’s in Auburn. This month is a winter wonderland theme by UMVA-LA chapter artists. For submissions email firstname.lastname@example.org
We are in the process of evaluating our capacity, what we want to continue doing, and what is not important to our mission, as well as sustainable without burnout for the current organizers. We are still holding monthly meetings on the first Wednesday of the month, but are also using the meetings as a way of sharing experiences, how we balance art, work, life, family, etc. It has been wonderful learning from one another and growing as a community of artists supporting one another. We believe this is an important and vital part of our work: honoring ourselves while we work to create, grow, support, and sustain our own artist community!
Highlighting the creative processes by exhibiting artists’ first drafts, thoughts, and inspirations, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) presented an exhibition of sketchbooks titled First Traces, curated by Britta Konau from October 31 – December 20, 2008. The term “sketchbook” remained loosely defined, as these initial expressions can take the form of maquettes, sketches, digital files, set-ups, etc., and may not even be visual at all. Work did not have to be in book format, and selected artists were invited to also exhibit completed artwork alongside their “sketches.”
“This exhibition presents a unique opportunity to learn about artists’ creative processes. It illuminates the journey many artists make from first observations and initial ideas to finished artworks. The focus is not on material process, but rather on mental process as it can be traced visually and verbally. When artists first explore ideas for future projects or quickly record a scene they encounter, some of the freshest, most uncensored work evolves. This exhibition of first conceptions represents 86 visual artists, craft artists, furniture and jewelry makers, and other creative people working in a wide range of media from traditional sketchbooks to digital drawings. The artists have generously agreed to allow visitors to glimpse these first traces of inspiration; in fact, many sketchbooks may be handled and perused by visitors.” (Britta Konau)
Artists included: Susan Amons, Josefina Auslender, Dyan Berk, Nina Bohlen, Rush Brown, Sam Cady, Cole Caswell, Peter Chamberlain, Kate Cheney Chappell, Megan Chase, Avy Claire, Kenny Cole, Maury Colton, Stoney Conley, Alan Crichton, Rebecca Daugherty, Cynthia Davis, Scott Davis, Lois Dodd, Charles DuBack, Evelyn Dunphy, Ingrid Ellison, David Estey, Joshua Ferry, Blair Folts, Nancy Freeman, Samuel Gelber, Shelia Geoffrion, Jessica George, Gregory Miguel Gomez, Susan Groce, Naushon Hale, Katherine Harman Harding, Connie Hayes, Jennifer Hodges, Frances Hodsdon, Gail Hollenbeck, Emily Hopkins, Matt Hutton, Phyllis Janto, Pamela Johnson, Marcy Kagan, Jeff Kellar, Mark Kelly, Sarah Knock, Anne Krinsky, Judith Krischik, Nick Lamia, Frederick Lynch, Alan Magee, William B. Martin, Phil McBride, Ed Nadeau, Tim Nihoff, Clyde Paton, Kit Pike, Victoria Pittman, Carlo Pittore, Amy Pollien, Jill Poyourow, Peter Precourt, Svetlana Prudovskaya, Abbie Read, Beverly Rhoads, Marguerite Robichaux, Bill Ronalds, Björn Runquist, Abby Sadauckas, Kris Sader, Lee Silverton, Owen F. Smith, Mara Sprafkin, Mike Stiler, Cheryle St Onge, Barbara Sullivan, Gwendolyn Tatro, Walter Tisdale,Lynn Travis, Jacques Vesery, Patricia Wheeler, Lucy White, Deborah Winship, Nancy Wissemann-Widrig, Henry Wolyniec, Victoria Woollen-Danner, and SharonYates.
There are no exceptions: without independence there can be no art.
The history of art tells us that all powerful artists broke with the past, and with their contemporaries, and created independently. Giotto broke with Cimabue and the Byzantine tradition and developed space. Michelangelo broke with classical norms, and created the anxiety forehead of a troubled David, in an otherwise ideal form. Caravaggio forsook the ideal of light, and worked his honest realism in the shadowy world of darks.
Cezanne said it: ‘If you admire me, do not imitate me’.
It is 1984 and I cannot pretend that I understand the contemporary art, in a world that is so diverse, so multifaceted, so large; one must make pronouncements with trepidation, and humility, and the knowledge that sloganeering is not adequate to art, nor are definitions that were useful previously. And then, who can really care about the opinions of a relatively undistinguished and youthful painter? Can my opinions really be pertinent, or provocative to the art minds of our day?
When I think of independence in art, I have several responses. Firstly, for me, independence is the pursuit of every artist. It is not a static concept, but a movement, like the verb of a painting. Independence is the process of becoming free of illusions, clichés, habits, routines, mundanities, formulas, gimmicks; of becoming free of history, the present and the future; of developing the courage and the conviction to advance in art areas that have been forsaken, overlooked, or neglected.
You may have heard a little song I composed a few years ago called” ‘There are only two seasons in Maine, Winter and the Fourth of July’, this sums up my view on independence (July 4th) in that everything that is NOT a celebration of freedom, of independence, is boring, snowbound, frigid, cold, unmovable, dead – like freezing grey skies of winter in Maine.
Secondly, for me, Painting is my art of independence. Although Painting is a long-standing and universal cultural tradition, it is still original and fresh – or can be. It is not the dead or outmoded art form that one hears about in our Post Modern Age, although a lot of painting today is dead or outmoded. For those who say that the tradition is antiquated, or used up, that the system of painting is irrelevant to our age, I can only respond with the example of my life, where I pursue painting not unaware of its limitations – it has always had limitations – but in hopes of my achieving a breakthrough, that will allow me to experience, exuberantly, my own independence, and afford me the opportunity of revitalizing, and enhancing this existence.
For me Painting is making love. It is not like making love, but it is making love.
Painting is emotional, instinctive, inspiring, and life enhancing. It is my raison d’etre, my backbone, and it provides me with the courage, and the will, to pursue forcefully. However slim the ‘hope’ of making eternal love to the universe.
Painting has strengthened my eyes, my mind, my coordination, my resolution for living and although I am already at an age when it would have been to my advantage to have achieved some forceful original vision, that I have not, has not overwhelmed me with discouragement.
Thirdly, painting is painting, and I am now independent in terms of pursuing painting for itself. There is no carrot outstretched in front of me. I am not seeking approval, fame, or fortune. I am pursuing powerful painting for its own sake.
My reward in painting is painting. I am, I can say, blessed, in that I have found what best motivates me. I am happily wedded to painting, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, and this UNION and this satisfaction provides me with the sustaining faith – of my eventual triumph, or, to carry the metaphor to its conclusion, that this UNION will produce, will give birth, will create.
Fourthly, I am able to sustain this tenuous hope, this belief in true creativity, because I am independent from reality and accountability. The belief in the realization of the impossible dream is difficult to relate, as any unrequited lover can tell you; but does any unrequited lover cease to love the loved one, even when spurned? Love is made of the finest stuff and is not based on preconceptions of reward, the convictions of success, or making this dead art of painting come alive, it is based on independence from experience, and on the transcending power of dream. It is the source of all art.
The external facts of encouragement are really non-existent. The world we live in is almost wholly commercial and run by philistine bourgeois interests, for profit. One sustains the writing of poetry, or pursues a disavowing lover because one hopes and believes against all odds, because the pursuit of this impossibility defies all sadness, and all the loneliness that is forever threatening to engulf all. The independent act of pursuing love must be the most beautiful, most sublime activity known to human kind. The joy of this pursuit, the very joy of life. Of course it is much easier to follow an action when guaranteed of success. How functional! How business-like! But this is not the situation in art.
Art is that game where there is no winning/losing, no profit no loss. Art is its own reward, it is a pursuit, and it is the sustenance of dream and the faith of achievement. Art is the independent religion; each artist the Independent Priest of Independence.The true believer is rewarded with the possibility of wholeness, health, happiness, and eternal life.
In an age when fashion and commercial interests have so overwhelmed the art world, the example of Michelangelo is still instructive.The great Michelangelo was not motivated by money or fame, but by the greatest motivating factor, in art, the quest to become free, and independent from loneliness and solitude. It is an ironic situation for one who labors long hours alone. When Michelangelo took his chisel and threw it at his marble sculpture of MOSES, he did so because Moses would not respond to him. Indeed, he had failed. Moses did not speak. And yet, didn’t God create the world because he was alone? If the art of poetry, sculpture, and painting cannot free one from solitude, the suggestion that it can and will, remain as the promise. And what one surely achieves from art and in the pursuit of art, is independence.
And so, in this spirit of independence, I salute my comrades-in-arms, and I look forward to the day in the future, when we will be united and in celebration on Mount Parnassus.
The entirety of Carlo’s estate is now being cared for by International Artists Manifest (IAM), a non-profit organization founded with the mission to ‘Remember the Artist.’ IAM takes on the collections of under-represented artists to ensure their work is cared for, preserved and made relevant for future generations. http://www.iammanifest.org. IAM encourages anyone who is interested in keeping current on happenings with the organization, or specifically with Carlo’s work to sign up for our mailing list.
The following three poems are by Elizabeth Tibbetts, from her new book, Say What You Can,to be published by Deerbrook Editions, Spring 2019. Elizabeth grew up in Camden and has worked as a nurse for many years. Her poetry is rich, in observation, stunning sensual detail, and the connections she makes between detail and insight, as when she describes the swifts going down a chimney as if they had been inhaled by the past. Tibbetts’ poems are also rich in feeling, in both celebration and grief, and in her respect for the people she has worked with as a visiting nurse.
These poems are more finished than what we normally think of as a sketch, but when I read of those swifts as “dark and feather-light as soot in the blue evening sky,” or as circling in a whirlpool, then funneling down that chimney, I imagine her outside with a notebook, writing down what exactly she sees with her accurate and wonder-filled eyes.
Each morning, in all weather, they gather
in the high white pines along the back line
and watch the window. And when she flickers
in the reflected trees they call loudly
until the porch door scrapes open and she
appears bearing a pan of crusts, cores, scraps
of fat, all but potato peels, which they
won’t eat. She tosses the orts to the lawn,
inspects the day, then caws the waiting flock
down: six crows, black and lit as the jet beads
in the box on her bureau. Each morning
she counts what is left of her backyard birds
(one pair of cardinals, chickadees, a mix
of finches, robins, summer’s ruby-throat,
and winter’s rare sweep of hungry waxwings
filling bare trees) now that weather’s fickle,
old fields and forests gone, and time has thinned
thick flocks to a trickle of song. She’s not
heard the rustle and cheep of nesting swifts
inside the cold stovepipe since she was young.
Once, she saw, heard, a swirl (was it bats?)—no,
it was swifts, dark and feather-light as soot
in the blue evening sky—arrive, circle,
whirlpool, then funnel by the hundreds
into a tall thin brick chimney. She thought
she’d watched broad day be inhaled by the past.
Now, if someone else would feed these crows, there
are things, yes, and birds, she would go back for.
Ghazal for the Winter Solstice
We approach the solstice, and daylight narrows
into an alleyway between the fortress walls of dawn and dusk.
A skin of ice granulates across the broad lake
where we swam rock to rock in a lavish season.
Those days I was as full of myself as a pomegranate
extravagantly packed with sacs of seeds and juice.
Now I wait for the blank page of snow-covered field
and the story written by turkey and fox, rabbit and deer.
Even at midday, the sun hangs just above the tree-line
and washes the lawn with thin light. Shadows come into season.
When it seemed there was little left but ice and bones,
I dreamed a river, blue-black moving water, from some unbidden source.
Wind rises in a cold breath between the lines—listen
it hisses. And it whistles through the crack beneath the door.
Kifah has translated his poem H.O.M.E. into English from the Arabic. In English it shows the influence of the ghazal, a Persian poetic form, which involves couplets that repeat the same word at the end of each couplet. You can hear the influence of that pattern here as the word “home” recurs, moving from the most intimate and micro experiences to the largest possible embrace, as exile teaches the poet to see home everywhere and to develop a generous spirit. And then, of course, there’s the beauty of the script in Arabic and the beauty of his drawings.
H. O. M. E.
My mother’s womb
Her breasts, her lap
Her heart was my home
My father’s arms
His perfumed skin
Was my home
My childhood hometown
Where orchards were full
Of vines, pomegranate
Apricot, quince, fig
Date-Palm and lemon tree
Was my home
Soon I grew
An old divination predicted
My long departure
A rotten bunker in fierce war
Was my home
In a big desert
Where I was astray
I found myself without a shelter
My body was my home
A perilous journey left me
In a prison of war
Its walls were dank
I learned not to lose freedom
I defeated nightmares
My mind was a free bird
Dreams rose from ashes
I dreamt of a home
Its surroundings a garden
A size of the sky
My imagination grows
My soul is mystified
Wherever I go I find home
The wind is my home
It takes me onward
The cloud is my home
I ramble in a blue dome
My home is petals of marigold
Words of a poem are my home
Sixty-two years of travel,
Escape, prison, exile,
Migration and refuge
I found a home in the
Last station of a tortuous route
It contains: my dreams, hope
Play, and love
A home full of peace
The blue sky and the blue ocean
Meet beyond its Windows
My home is Portland
قلبها كان لي وطن.
جلده المعطر بالأريج
كان لي وطن.
والتين وَالنَّخْل وشجر الليمون
كانت لي وطن
حين كبرت، عرّافة
تنبأت سفري الطويل
ملجأ عفن في حرب ضروس
كان لي وطن.
في صحراء على مدِّ البصر
وجدت نفسي بدون ملجأ
جسدي كان لي وطن.
في رحلة محفوفة بالمخاطر
في سجن حرب
خلف جدرانه الرطبة العفنة الصدئة
تعلَّمت أن لا أفقد لحن الحرية
دحرت وكسّرت مخالب كوابيس شرسة
خيالي كان طائرا حرا
وأحلامي أزهرت من رماد
حدوده حديقة بعرض السماء.
حيثما أذهب، أجد وطنا
تتنزه في قبة زرقاء
تكون لي وطن
تكون لي وطن
تكون لي وطن.
اثنان وستون عاما من
الترحال والهروب والسجن
والنفي والهجرة واللجوء
بعد رحلة عذاب،
محطة أخيرة، أمارس فيها
طقوس فرحي وأحلامي
وطن مليء بالسلام
السماء والبحر يلتقيان
Kifah Abdulla is a poet, artist, writer and teacher born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. He published his first book of poetry ( Dead Still Dream ) in 2016. He is the Arabic calligraphy instructor at MECA, Arabic instructor at SMCC and Language Exchange. Kifah is involved in many cultural and artistic projects in Portland and other places in Maine: a member of Portland Public Art Committee, a member of WMPG which broadcasts his monthly show ( Words and Music ), and the founder of the International Arabic Language Festival in Portland. Kifah lives and works in Portland.
The first snow of the season fell on a Saturday evening, December 10th, 2017. The weather was mild, and it was an easy and eagerly awaited start to the coming winter.
That night, I received images of SELF TCELFER (pronounced “self self-er”), an outdoor sculpture I had created that summer for a seaside installation at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. The piece was now situated amongst trees in a land-trust managed forest as part of an alternative arts event in rural Maine. Although the event had taken place in the fall, the work had remained installed so images could be taken after the first snow.
Our family had just finished a celebratory meal of vegetarian meatballs and pasta with garlic bread (heavy on the garlic) to mark what would have been my father’s 67th birthday. The snowfall felt like an acknowledgment of his passing. The images of my work, situated within woods my father would have walked during his time at college, in the small town where he and my mother fell in love, felt like the completion of yet another circle. Life expanding outward and then circling back to pull us in under the same sky.
Two days earlier, I had met with the director of a small museum to discuss placing SELF TCELFER on their grounds for a two-year period. It would be my first long-term placement of a work at a museum, and my first significant commitment outside the state of Maine.
In order to feel confident about situating the work outdoors for a full two-year period, I needed to transport the piece back to my home studio, to study it through the winter and make any necessary alterations before its journey to the museum in August of 2018.
On December 11th, the day after the first snowfall, I made arrangements to move the work, scheduling a 26-foot truck, and coordinating with the curator to wrangle interns to assist with takedown. SELF TCELFER was a large work, comprised of seven 7’ x 7’ modular panels that could be joined together to form an open-ended octagon. I hired an engineer to help design the work so that two people could easily transport it without compromising the presence of the fully-installed piece. The surface was sculpted from mirrored Mylar, bent and formed to create psychedelic reflections that moved and breathed with the wind.
There is no simple way to describe the work and investment that went into creating the piece. Anyone who makes anything as part of a core practice will understand. I can rattle off the numbers – the monetary cost of making the work, and talk about the grants I wrote (and won) to help fund the piece. I can tally up the hours spent envisioning the piece, researching, sketching, creating mock-ups, and then designing and constructing the work.
What are more difficult to quantify are the moments and expanses of time that imbued the work with deeper meaning and greater significance. Watching my daughter walk across sheets of mirrored Mylar outdoors on our deck on a gorgeous summer day, looking down into the Mylar to see a crystal clear reflection of the sky, and then seeing herself bending that perfect reflection into fractal-like manipulations of sky, trees, cloud and flesh. That is harder to account for.
Or the time my daughter, my mother and I spent crouched around panel after panel, hammering hundreds of tiny nails into the surface, working together to ensure the aluminum sheeting wouldn’t buckle, cut anyone, or shift out of alignment with the frame. A multi-generational investment peppered with laughter, frustration and sore muscles in the strangest places. Or the effort my best friend of 30 years expended, driving eight hours to help with the installation, arriving to find me in those final hours of working 18+ hour days for weeks with no clear idea of how the hell we were actually going to transport the piece without damaging it. How she figured it out. A crazy, impossible scenario that worked. Brilliantly.
The path of creation and those unquantifiable moments give the work a meaning and value beyond any number on a sheet of paper. The knowledge that the work would travel, as originally intended, actually finding a new home and marking my first significant placement in a museum. The physical incarnation of a concept that had been slowly and carefully mined from serious, long work tuning in to that quiet inner voice and coaxing it to speak louder and louder until something worth making emerged. The soul investment.
It was Saturday, December 16th when I received the phone call. I was driving to attend my daughter’s winter dance recital. A cold, wind-whipped rain was making it difficult to drive. The curator of the alternative arts event where SELF TCELFER was situated, a phenomenal friend and my first gallery mentor, was on the other end of the line. She was concerned. She had something important to tell me, and thought I should pull over. I did.
At first, I had a hard time understanding what she was saying. She couldn’t get the words out clearly without choking into a mix of speech and incomprehensible sound. SELF TCELFER had been destroyed. It was gone. I remember sitting in the car, dressed up (which annoyed me), staring out the window at a Burger King sign as the wipers continued to shift water around the windshield. I watched the lights as they played off the streaks left behind. Trails. I kind of blipped out into shock and disbelief.
“What do you mean?” I remember saying. It was clear that the curator couldn’t quite comprehend what had happened, herself. An individual who should have known better had taken it upon himself to take his tractor, attach it to SELF TCELFER, and drag the sculpture out through the woods to a clearing where he then broke it apart, took the pieces home and subsequently destroyed them, dumping all remnants at the local recycling center where they were then pulverized. The destruction began on December 11th, the day after the first snow. The curator was not notified until days later. By the time I learned of any of it, the work was literally non-existent.
In the moment, I couldn’t feel the gravity of the destruction. I was blocked. I went logical. I remember I kept asking about materials. They were valuable. Thousands of dollars. No. Nothing. Gone. “But … I can use those materials, even if they’re partially destroyed,” I kept saying. No. Nothing. Gone.
I spent much of that initial phone call wanting to comfort the curator. She was so clearly in a state of shock. She felt responsible, even though it was not her fault. This was an incomprehensible act. I remember saying I would have to press charges against the man, simply because of the cost of materials. I recall mentioning that it was supposed to go on to a museum. My first long-term placement.
I got off the phone and drove to my daughter’s concert. I sat, stunned, as girls in elf costumes danced to something. And then watched my daughter … her beautiful lines and evolving ability in dance. I watched. I did not cry. I was numb and grateful to be amidst a crowd of strangers, all focused straight ahead.
At this point, I have to be very careful of what is communicated in print. As part of the settlement I came to with the man who should have known better (TMWSHKB), I cannot reference him or the details in any way that “an intelligent person” might be able to figure out his identity. So, some details will remain tucked away.
I spoke with the curator regularly. I cancelled the truck and she notified the interns (scheduled for December 18th, two days after I received the call). And I drank. Wine. Whiskey. More wine. More whiskey. I was admittedly a wreck.
I moved through a series of motions each day. I put down the wine and whiskey, for the most part, and returned to yoga. I sought out a counselor. I called around to see if anyone could recommend a good lawyer. I spoke with a few close confidants to try to make sense of the senseless. Violence. It felt violent. And I was raw.
With the help of the curator, I filed a police report in the local town. She gave a lengthy statement. I submitted a statement. The police did no notable follow-up investigative work (the man had admitted, in print, to destroying the work), but weeks later I received a letter stating there was insufficient evidence to charge TMWSHKB with a crime.
I hired a lawyer. I remember sitting outside “the British store” in Freeport on a freezing cold bench, talking to my new lawyer via cell phone, just before Christmas, while my daughter shopped inside. I recall trying to explain what had happened. Like every other person I would tell the story to, I found myself having to reiterate that he would not be able to make sense of what had happened, that logic just didn’t apply. Don’t bother. Just accept the facts we have and help me. Please. Can you help me?
He agreed to take the case on contingency. He was an insurance lawyer (try finding a lawyer for the arts in Maine). He wanted to argue the case as if I had left my car in the woods and someone had destroyed it. He wanted to go after the insurance companies. Conceptually and emotionally, this was incredibly difficult for me to take in. I told him about the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), established in 1990, which essentially makes it a federal crime to destroy a work of art. He hadn’t heard of it. He said he would look into it. I found myself feeling further depleted.
We spent hours conversing. Going over the details. I was sensitive to the hundreds of dollars each conversation cost. He reached out to TMWSHKB to no avail. He contacted insurance companies. I waited. Stewed. I had a meeting with the director of the small museum who was anticipating receiving SELF TCELFER in August. I tried to pitch the idea of another work for their grounds. She wanted SELF TCELFER.
I figured out the finances I would need to remake the work in time to study it through the winter so I would not lose the museum opportunity. My lawyer shared that figure with TMWSHKB. Nothing.
I lost the museum opportunity.
By this time, I felt the continuous physical presence of a vast, dark emptiness growing inside me. It could have swallowed up planets. It was like an inner galaxy of pain and longing. I shit you not. And, it was swallowing me. Each day.
My lawyer was very clear that I should discuss the case with no one, not even my fiancé. So, as this galaxy attempted to absorb me, I needed to remain silent. I managed this most of the time, but found (like anything repressed) the story shoving itself out of me at inopportune times. Once the first few words were spoken, I was on an hour-long descent. Usually, the listeners were stunned. Confused. Again, I would have to explain that logic should be discarded. There simply was none. “Was the work offensive?” people would ask.
I am grateful for every person who witnessed my movement through this time without deciding to forever walk away. I was admittedly unhealthy. Emotionally rocked. Mentally rough.
I stopped making work.
Well … I did make one small 7” diameter mirrored Mylar puzzle that TMWSHKB’s lawyer attempted to cite as proof that my studio practice hadn’t suffered. I have finished no other work since the destruction. My heart constricts and it becomes hard to breathe just thinking about this.
I let my first lawyer go when the insurance path appeared fruitless and found another, a woman with experience in copyright law and a basic familiarity with VARA. I went through the story again. And again. We embarked on a legal process that felt disgusting. Difficult. I wanted to take the case to federal court. To set a precedent for other artists. I wanted to win, on principle. Every other person wanted me to focus on finances.
The gallery season began. As the co-director and curator of the Corey Daniels Gallery, I am enmeshed in the business of art, regardless of my own productivity. Once the season began, my inability to produce new work became even more painful. My winter (usually intense studio time) had passed without a single new work. Now, summer arrived with nothing of my own to show or sell. The previous year, half of my income came from the sale of my own work. Not this year.
In August of 2018, I agreed to a mediation session with TMWSHKB, his lawyer, his lawyer’s assistant and three insurance company representatives. It seemed TMWSHKB’s lawyer liked the idea of going after the insurance companies, as well. We convened in a tiny conference room that barely fit the table we were seated around, let alone seven or eight additional bodies. One insurance representative was projected on a large screen at the end of the table, joining us via Skype.
TMWSHKB’s lawyer was slick. Measured. Sharp. My lawyer was comparatively not. A bit scattered. She had made it clear she was not a litigator. I wish I had understood the implications of what that meant at the time. In her opening remarks, she read from a series of notes she had taken while we chatted, ten minutes earlier. As I sat beside her, in a room with TMWSHKB for the first time, surrounded by people in pressed suits with shuttered souls, I felt mortified by how my voice was represented.
I had fucked up. I should have sat down with my lawyer, in person, before this moment. (We had never met face-to-face.) I should have listened to myself every time a tiny red flag went up during our phone conversations. I should have been more strategic about vetting people, instead of just choosing the only lawyer in Maine who seemed to have any visual arts experience. I had settled. And now, I would have to settle. There was no way I could bring this to trial.
Essentially, mediation was a series of negotiations that revolved around a set of numbers written on a tiny slip of paper. These numbers shifted dramatically depending on who was suggesting them. We went back and forth, each side situated in separate rooms, with a very kind mediator moving between. The mediator opened our first private conversation by telling me how much he liked the work, and that he was sorry to hear of its destruction. I broke into tears.
After four hours, it became quite clear we were not going to reach the figure I felt comfortable walking away with. It was also clear I did not have the legal representation I would need to win my case. I had spent nine months in the throes of this experience, and it was eroding something within me. Before turning down their final offer, and steeling myself for one to two years of additional legal battles, taking the case to trial, I asked to clear the room and “phone a friend.” I called my fiancé. He had witnessed the process up close, day in and day out, whether I was openly talking about it, or not.
“Take the offer,” he said. “You need to heal. It’s time.”
I did. I thought about my daughter, with two more years of high school left before she heads off to college. Those two years would be spent with me enmeshed in a legal battle? No. I thought of my son, at home for just a short time before striking out on his own. Did I want to be caught up in this shit during the last months he’d still be living at home? No.
I took the offer.
I demanded a formal apology. I also demanded the right to write about the experience. Sadly, it did not help to see TMWSHKB stand there, with his lawyer and assistant, hands wringing, saying he wished he could turn back time. I wish it had. But, it didn’t.
Weeks would follow with more ups and downs. Problems with the settlement agreement. Bullshit loop holes and issues TMWSHKB’s lawyer needed cleared before we could proceed, including bringing in third parties and requiring releases from people who weren’t even present at the mediation.
So. Much. Bullshit.
I received a settlement check and paid my lawyers October 2018. A celebration would have seemed misplaced. I have yet to make work, but on December 11th, I intend to start.