Graduate Seminar Fall 2022
I am currently creating work that considers the question, are Americans who inhabit black bodies being relegated to second-class citizenry? My work is informed by my personal experiences and current events involving excessive police violence, as well as racist-oriented and divisive political diatribes.
My work illuminates experiences that reflect some of the dysfunction of our systems that are expected to protect and empower a citizen by confronting these social failings, oppressiveness, and media misrepresentations. I make sculptural works and installations integrating steel, wood, molded materials, 3D printing, video, and 2D prints. My design concept aims to pique my audience's curiosity through repetitious use of a familiar form in unusual and abstract ways.
Enter the Metahum (/meh-tah 'hume/)
The pyramid form and the inverted pyramid, are specific to my works. Specific in a way that essentially requires that I find a particular nomenclature for referring to the form when it is part of my works. The forms are a sort of metaphysical abstraction for humanity within my works. As surrogates for humans, they also have meaning representing the fundamental 'black' or 'people of color' and 'white' in socio-political discourse. For now, I'll be referring to the form as a metahum.
Spending time ruminating upon the many ways I could represent a human figure, I was listening to a talk about some of the work and studies done by Alberto Giacometti. And one thing that seemed important to me, also seemed important to him. It was important to me to simplify my narrative, and as I considered ways that I might accomplish that, I realized that I could also simplify how I referred o the human subject in my work. Giacometti seems to have spent a great deal of time attempting to find the most basic way to represent the subject in some of his works...His blockish sculptural portraits of his father were also somewhat geometric in that they had shape similar to that of a cube.
It occurred to me at that time that although I did not necessarily want to make abstract art, in the mathematical sense I was able to consider that I was trying to simplify representation of humanity. Mathematically, abstraction is the process of extracting the underlying structures, patterns or properties of a mathematical concept. Accordingly, I could apply that same approach and so I did. What I came up with was a fundamental concept of what each human represents in a hyper-generalized sense. A human representing a center of will or power could be abstracted as an object that has a perceived intrinsic will or power despite the world around it. Then, I eventually thought of the pyramid when I thought about what objects humanity has broadly considered as having intrinsic power. Hence, my choice to develop my art narrative around this form. When sitting on its base, the power it has is projected and apparent, if it is positioned such as to be attempting to stand on its apex, then that power seems to be defeated.
It is my goal to continue to develop a compelling expression built upon this simple but powerful form.
This semester, as a continuation of my summer, I intend to continue to grow my ability to make work that expresses more, in a visual and spacial sense, while understanding better how to connect materiality and the underlying narrative to the works. My work goals for this semester are to complete, and photograph some sculptural works began in the spring of this year. Along with that work, I also am working through an investigation I began around the summer of 2021. My work has a minimalist sense about it, and I am investigating various mediums and techniques that will allow me to express some of my ideas 2 dimensionally.
This semester I'm expecting to complete 3-4 prints, a video, and 4 sculptural artworks. My 3D works are part of a series which I plan to continue to extend, and the prints together with the video are a new aspect of the investigation I have been pursuing since the summer of 2021. Connecting the contemporary flavor of geometrical graphics to my 3D works seems like an interesting connection to make, along with a plan to explore a few printmaking ideas using ink and newspaper over the winter break. Here are some remnants of my investigation this fall...
Another way that I can build up the narrative is using a series of prints. These prints presented as a triptych or possibly in quad, will together do the job. Here below is one frame of the series of 24x36" prints I am currently calling Hope ... There is a scintilation sort of effect created by this geometric arrangement of metahums. There is also a visual compelling-ness that relates to the large number of repeating shapes, and the optical illusion of depth, which I think makes this piece successful.
During the semester, rather than focus on single executions of each piece, I've been exploring execution of some of the pieces in different materials. The concept for these pieces is that they are themselves part of a series of awards. The series is currently titled American Spirit Awards and consists of 4 pieces.
The pieces are minimalist visually, however, the textures and lines which make up the forms are what will be aesthetically most interesting. One piece will appear to be cast in bronze, another will be unclear and enigmatic to a degree as its texture will not be familiar. This is what I hope to entertain the viewer with, leading them then to discover at some later point what the narrative is.
For all but the table, the initial execution was in wood. The wood forms will be refined and finished. However, I decided to explore other methods and materials. Such as, a two part plastic that I will modify with additives such as colorants and other materials.
Aside from exploring materials which render different feelings, I am continuing to explore materiality as it relates to the narrative behind each piece.
Getting closer to completion, there are many more material options I can try, but will only try one more for now. And then work on photographing the pieces.
American Spirit Awards
I've left a spot above for the one missing piece that I am in the process of making. Playing Field is the 4th piece. I'll focus upon having 4 pieces, the prints, and the video ready for final critique. And if there is enough time, I've got the starting materials, I'll get started on my WINTER piece Free Market.
Visual Poetry in Geometry...
John Edmark is on staff at Stanford University as a Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Design.
John Edmark's work is well known. He creates kinetic 3D printed sculptural pieces that, when activated by strobe lighting and spinning, express themselves as these mesmerizing sculptural works that feel organic in nature. The works incorporate a repeating geometric shape in a specific placement pattern. Geometry is a potent specialized application of math concerning some fundamental forms. Edmark uses the power of geometric math and the Fibonacci series as the foundation for the design of some of his artworks.
One inspiring aspect of John Edmark’s works is his creations based upon phyllotactic spirals. In research, it has been learned that some structures in nature can be expressed in math. Examples include flower pedal arrangements, avocado layers, pineapple segments, and much more. Edmark incorporates this knowledge about nature's constructs into his works.
The inspiration for my summer investigations, however, is not primarily due to Edmark or Drew's work. The truth is that for as much of my life as I can recall, I have been intrigued by cases of a large number of things dynamically acting in synchronistic flow. I recall the first time that I saw 100 violinists playing simultaneously in New York City's Central Park; I was 6 years old. I remember the exhuberence that I felt. Repetition and pattern seems to be the part of Gestalt Psychology that has the tightest grip on me.
On the other hand, Drew and Edmark's works inspired me to answer a question. The question to myself is, in what ways can I bring a form to life? In particular, I am referring to the form I am calling an inpyha. John Edmark used patterns found in nature and math, and Leonardo Drew used spacial and scale references to urban topography, to tap into emotional responses. How can I use these examples to elevate my work.
As I continue my investigation, I am producing a video I've titled To Be Black, It is animated but changes at a slow and nearly imperceptible pace. The design takes in to account various principles of Gestalt Psychology theory. I'm also working on 3 distinct series print studies as well. The prints and video are somewhat represented by the images above, which are studies that I think will result in some interesting final pieces.
This special serves as a powerful introduction for mainstream audiences to a small subset of the countless brilliant Black visual artists working today, I gives a hint of the genius they bring, and that which came before them.
Most of the material is like a review for those who are studied in contemporary art. However, the documentary is refreshingly non-academic as it appears to be aimed at a general audience network. You could look at "Black Art: In the Absence of Light" as a crash course in Black art history.
The film offers a beautiful introduction to a large number of the current preeminent Black artists. For watchers acquainted with their names and accomplishments, it is an absolute delight.
Kerry James Marshall's presentation is smart, straightforward, and insightful. We meet Faith Ringold, and enjoy the rebel that she is; Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley, painters of the Obama’s presidential portraits, are featured. Both seem lit from the inside to shine onto the world. We get to consider Theaster Gates’ deep philosophy.
We are shown a rare view of Radcliff Bailey at work in his studio, and get to see Kara Walker’s cutouts and Domino Sugar Factory installation which remain as keystone, provocative and shocking as the day they were introduced.
All together, "Black Art..." provides us an compelling time capsule of creative genius.
Firstly, one of the most unexpected pieces of knowledge I have gained through my higher education experience is an understanding of the significance of art in civilization. Most importantly, the thing that I believe, the thing that I have come to understand, is that art is a powerful voice for those who seek change. I have always questioned why art has so much less presence in academic curriculum than I recall in my grade school days. I believe there is a power in art that is feared.
The Art of Protest from INDECLINE on Vimeo.
Watching this assignment was refreshing and inspiring for me, as protest/activism is the purpose of my artwork currently. The maker of this film, INDECLINE, suggests through The Art of Protest that it is essential we do something, when there is an apparent existential threat to humanity. They tell the viewer that art is effective, and why and how art can be used in defense against something that is such a threat.
I enjoyed the collection of vignettes which painted for us the notion that there are artists taking on the charge to defend. As they shared with us their motivations and their methods, we are left to take from it the idea that perhaps there is hope. I find myself encouraged to push harder to reach out beyond my fear of rocking the boat, and grab onto the idea that status quo acceptance of divisive politics = destruction.
We talked about some relevant and interesting works that are permanently installed out in the Marfa, TX area. Works that I probably would benefit from seeing. I took that as a suggestion that seeing these installations might help me understand how the pieces were working together, and perhaps help me figure out my perceived dilemmas
I did not have any work progress in hand to share with the professor at the time of our conversation...but he still understood enough to suggest that I look at an artist by the name of Charles Woodman...and he let me know that I could reach out to him whenever I needed to follow up.
Visiting Artist: Melissa Rebholtz
The moral of the story is that similarly for us in our studios, we can examine, explore, and investigate...however, there will always be some form of risk or challenge that we will likely have to leap into. Sometimes we will learn only what not to do, and other times we may even find that we are in a happy place, unexpectedly and would not have arrived there any other way.
About artist Wayne White, who is best known for his set design and puppet work on The Pee Wee Herman Show. We get a look at White’s more recent work: he paints-in text upon found cheap landscape paintings. Pithy statements such as “We Were Partyin At The Lake And This Girl Starts Freakin Out.” Many critics do not side with the idea that these works are worthy of White's talent, however, the film seems to be bent on suggesting that the works deserve to be looked at as some of White's best work. In fact, these paintings are compared to Ed Rusha's text paintings, and claim that White's are superior because of the level of witticism. However, many other artists who are known for their text-centered artworks go unmentioned.
It's an easy going chatty biography, narrated sui generis by the man himself. In general, the bulk of the film is your standard hagiographic glaze, in chronological order: none of the people he grew up around understood what art or artists were; success is neither sustainable nor easy; his wife avows her undying dedication, giving up her career in order to raise their kids. And in the end, well...see for yourself.
/cue "Rabbit Hole"
What does this mean to me?
Admittedly, this is a late post! I feel remiss but do not regret it. I could have looked at some websites and some images and written some words that would only refer to the academic or intellectual component of my discoveries and exposures. However, I don't think that this was the purpose of the exercise; more to the point, I don't think I would benefit from leaving it at that.
I spend a considerable amount of time in 'rabbit holes,' naturally. In other words, it is my nature to investigate a moment's inspiration and discovery to an unexpected place. Unfortunately, it makes me sort of odd amongst most of my friends and family. I am most likely to be the one to point out some esoteric aspect or 'fun fact' about something. But, I love raising questions about all of what we find generally accepted perspectives on various subjects. But I digress.
I had to first respond to the idea of where to find the 'rabbit holes' I would venture down. The worldwide web is not where I get most of my inspiration these days. But I did try to find some paths to wander down. Then, after trying for a few days to find some holes to drop into, I realized that what I do spend time doing does qualify as going down these paths of connection, reference, and discovery.
If I could review my YouTube and Vimeo time, it would be scary how much time I spent in there. As my vision condition has been significantly worsening over the past two to three years, I have been more inclined to listen to books and watch videos. However, this has not represented a significant inhibitor to my inspiration and knowledge growth. There is so much educational content on those platforms. And then there is also Art21 History, Kanopy, and many other resources when I need to find something specific. I have even dragged my wife into many a 'rabbit hole' with me. I'm not sure I know how to talk about the holes, however.
Professor Vaughn Wascovich is very consistent in his effort to get his students, be they, undergrad or graduate, to seek out inspiration. Looking at work is undoubtedly always encouraged by every faculty member I've ever met, but it's Wascovich's signature conversation. Indeed, I owe my confidence in creating successful works as an artist to all of the faculty who have suggested that exercise and to Vaughn for his insistence. I don't think that I've ever needed to be cajoled regarding looking at work...but sometimes other things seem to take priority.
My most recent experience was driven by my desire to labor more successfully with presenting my body in a sculptural form. I started with my face and wanted to dig deeper. However, I was stuck in the realm of realism. That is until one day while I was watching some teaching content on creating natural or realistic busts in clay.
Interestingly, when I looked at the suggested list of videos that popped up after the one I was watching ended, I saw something that reminded me of a piece that I made in undergrad school. I had created a piece I called 'Walking Man.' I saw a video thumbnail featuring a surrealistic image of what looked like my walking man, but with head and body. A stick figure of a man walking. I had to click on it. My introduction to that sculpture resonated with an aesthetic inside me that I was unaware was emerging. It was a video about the work of Alberto Giacometti.
As I looked at video after video about the man and his work, I recalled that I'd seen a trio of his pieces, these emaciated-looking figures, with a stoic expression and an odd sense of realism despite how surreal they were, at the Nasher. He suddenly came to life in my heart, his work or the passion in it seems so much a natural part of my sensibilities...the videos about Giacometti were typically connected to videos about Brancusi, Shutte, Calder, and many others from the first half of the 20th century.
I could go on talking about the discoveries...most of which were not really new names as much as they were somehow put into a different light before me. It seems that one must continue to go back to review works and artists that they may have seen before. What appears to be happening for me right now is that the pieces are encountering a different Robert. I see them differently in many ways.
I've been thinking about and seeking a greater degree of expressiveness since 2018, when I realized there was a part of me that was locked away. Many things were going on at that time that helped me to understand this about myself. I did not want to make art to make something that may qualify as art but to make something that is art. Not to open up the debate here, but I will go ahead and share that I believe that art intrinsically is inclusive of a voice on behalf of the artist. In this way, art speaks. What does it say, and is anyone going to listen? So I set out to discover what I have to say and make my works express on my behalf, hoping that all comes together and they say something others will be attracted toward. Along those lines, Giacometti's sculptures and his drawings have sparked a sense in me that I can allow gesture to appear in my work and that I should explore that more.
Art of Rule or Risk...
So the question has been posed, and after brief consideration I realized just how little I knew of myself in the context of understanding what are my rules, and what are the risks around the art I make. It makes sense to talk about the risks first, as I believe my rules are borne out of a consideration of the risks.
There is a risk that my works will be fall on deaf ears (pardon the metaphor);
my work may be too much for those who are tired of hearing about issues they do not understand;
my work may be perceived as playing the race card;
my work refers to issues that the audience believes are not real, or are over stated;
the works will not achieve the level of aesthetic expression I aim for;
I may lose my way, not be on message and get caught up in doing a thing;
I may run out of ideas or ways that I believe I can effectively express my narrative;
I may be in over my head in trying to address a certain aspect of my key narrative;
I may not be able to adequately explain a decision or a basis for an aspect of a piece of work;
a viewer may completely misinterpret my work or its narrative.
I need to pre-visualize the resulting work.
The work needs to express details of my narrative.
I need to understand the medium in a way that makes me believe that I can control the final.
Each piece needs to have an aesthetic I believe will draw in a general audience.
Each piece of work needs to have at least one dynamic characteristic.
Each piece must relate to at least one other in an exhibition of my works (no one-off).
Each piece needs to reflect reality, or have a strong connection to the general rules of reality.
Nothing is successful if it's not successful.
I need to produce what I set out to produce as opposed to what comes out of the effort.
I need to be able to explain every choice and result.
5 Inspiring Artists...
My artist inspirations were static for a long time. However, in this past year or so, I have come to realize that there will be many inspirations, and some will only connect for me when I am in a particular creative head-space. Given that basis, these are a few of my current inspirations.
Author Sarah Knight has written this book with an apparent intention of empowering a person to become more effective in their endeavors; take control of their life in general, and work toward what they envision for their life.
With abundant use of colorful language, Knight takes an irreverent approach in defining scenarios and circumstances that may exemplify a life with which she presumes her reader will likely identify. Commensurately, she spends a significant part of her book defining archetypes and allegorical circumstances with which someone somewhere will probably fit.
The archetypes are drawn from characters that a reader might be familiar with or easily reference. She uses those characters to talk about ways people can be ineffective or otherwise fail at controlling their success or failure in life. However, she focuses on classic issues and characteristics of ineffectiveness and oversight that are mostly common to youth and general immaturity. There is no new ground broken in her discussions.
The author gives the reader a constant flow of profane four-letter words and characterizes behaviors as simply personality traits of cartoon characters. This tone is somewhat monotonous besides, at times, deriding. I am not trying to imply that everything helpful has to be fed to a reader in a coddling fashion. However, Knight suggests succeeding at being productive in a way that substantively manifests one's vision of themselves is simply the act of growing up and flipping a switch. Unfortunately, while this strategy may be appropriate advice for the average young adult, it lacks depth for any broader use.
Visiting Artist: Dina Brodsky
Painter and Instagram influencer, Dina didn't spend a lot of time promoting or talking at all about her artwork but slammed the books down on the table when she launched into the list of benefits of understanding Instagram, what she does with it, and a short-list of things not to do on it.
It quickly became apparent that she was not going to give away the farm, as she informed us that this is a primary means of income for her, presenting "Instagram for Artists " workshops... However, she did offer a portion of her guidelines regarding the correct use of hashtags and a couple of other things not to do. In addition, she was unabashedly critical of using Instagram accounts for relating your intimate thoughts on the same account that you wish to present your professional work as an artist. "No cookies and puppies," she said!
After her presentation, I was ready to sign up for the one-day event. However, this would not be a good time since I would not have time to put the new knowledge to use immediately. Ironically, it didn't matter that I could not benefit from signing up right now since she had no openings in any planned upcoming workshops. Therefore, I have to wait for the next set of scheduled events and hope to get a place in one of them.
Since she didn't speak about anything else, there isn't much else to say. In fact, she diminished her work significantly and said she didn't sell much. Nevertheless, it was still worth meeting her.
Spring 2022 Academic Plan...
aThis semester is one that I hope to be extremely productive during. The concepts and ideas are flowing, and I know I cannot do it all, but I hope to do much more than others expect of me. Also, I am aiming for my works to be more intentionally loose or formal.
If a piece is supposed to be tight and formal, I want it to reach that goal, and vice-versa. Which means I have to consider and address what factors affect that goal. Joining Dallas Makerspace is one such addressing measure I have taken.
This spring I have a goal to begin producing a collection of smaller pieces, more videos, and more photography in order to have more works which will be more practical to submit to calls for art.
Work I have already begun will produce two large sculptural pieces, and two smaller sculptures, one video, and one graphic piece. There might be a couple of other smaller pieces, as I am allowing myself to occasionally be distracted toward something, some medium that seems to present itself as an opportunity. The graphic piece is an example of that. As I was sketching out ideas, one particular investigation of a tessellating pattern and the iconography that I am introducing came together in an unexpected way. And so I will attempt to create a formal piece of work based on that sketch. Then, in the summer, I have two paintings, another video and, some photographs I will complete.
Ultimately, I am pursuing this degree in order to develop the thinking that will result in my ability to create interesting and thought or conversation inspiring works. The degree is not the thing.
Experiences growing up predominantly in the complex urban environment of New York City while also having lived in D.C., Miami, Chicago, Denver, and Dallas, inform my work for the e/Mergence installation. Economic, social, and political disparities between so-called black and white communities are profound and apparent. The e/Mergence installation hopes to provoke questions about the status of African-Americans in the context of American society and politics to confront marginalization, civil and social injustice, and the absence of adequate economic or political power within a society that professes a foundation of egalitarianism.
My work for this exhibition includes abstraction and surrealism to express humanity. It also brings into question the mergence of perceptions about African-Americans with news and entertainment media propagated and perpetuated stereotypes and misrepresentations and the powerlessness embedded in American society's systems. I am using a fundamental form that carries with it some inherent perceptions about its stability and its power. The pyramid has a long history of conversation regarding its inherent power and the symbological power and structure that it lends when applied metaphorically in analysis and rhetoric.
In his article, Deconstructing the Pyramid of Prejudice, author David Light Shields defines that the pyramid has its power in its structure; the pyramid's base provides stability. The base of the pyramid represents the many in a group. Though they may perpetuate bigotry and intolerance, their acts are often minimized. On the other hand, their position in the scheme supports actors higher in the pyramid architecture (Shields 2014, 22). I am employing the form using a variety of material in sculptural design and combining it with video to represent the physical and intangible together.
Shields, David Light. “Deconstructing the Pyramid of Prejudice.” Phi Delta Kappan 95, no. 6 (2014): 20–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/003172171409500605.
Other Artist's Statements
As we grow in our ability as artists, we also work toward expanding our ability to speak about our work. Toward that goal, I've collected statements made by or on behalf of 5 of my favorite contemporary artists:
Elisabeth Charlotte Rist, better know as Pipilotti Rist is a Swiss visual artist who works with video, film, and moving images which are often displayed as projections. Since her childhood, she has been nicknamed Pipilotti after the character from the novel Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren. She believes that art should encourage the mind, destroys prejudices, and create positive energy. Her work is mostly related to gender, sexuality, and the human body. We can say she is a pioneer of moving-image art.
Carrie Mae Weems: Concerned with stepping out of the gallery and interested in reaching a broader public, what started as the naming of a flower for Du Bois has blossomed into A Proposal for The Du Bois Memorial Garden. For their project, visual artist Carrie Mae Weems and landscape architect Walter Hood have created a proposal for the design of a Du Bois Memorial Garden on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In this exhibition they consider the planned site, its surrounding landscape, and its meaning. Consisting of drawings, large-scale photographs, small floral studies, and a video projection, the project suggests the possible directions for the final garden and considers types of gardens: formal, casual, floral, sculptural, and even vertical gardens. While Weems made the photographs and crafted the video projection based on Du Bois’s trip to China, Hood produced a series of imaginative drawings invoking the possible aesthetic dimensions of a contemplative garden space. Working closely with Hollingsworth Farms and the American Peony Society, Weems has named a new variety of peony in honor of Du Bois. This flower, which she calls the Peony of Hope, will anchor the garden. It will become available to the general public in September 2013, thereby allowing thousands of garden enthusiasts to engage in a lasting and sustained memory of Du Bois.
Studio Hours Fall 2021
The contemplative part of what we do as artists, the thinking and considering part of our process, consists of many questions. In this post, I am considering some of those questions.
What kind of work do I look at?
While I find Contemporary artists and makers very interesting, and the artworks very exciting at times, I feel like I am still growing up and not fully ready for much of what I see. Of course, I do not mean that concerning my readiness to appreciate the art. However, my focus is upon discovering myself and letting that development happen in a way that feels natural. I think of it as similar to the way we might learn about building a residential structure.
It was not long ago that I 'decided' to develop as an artist, and even then, it took a couple to three years before I started to truly begin to 'see' and 'hear' the art part of artworks. I mean, I feel like I am moving at hyperspeed, trying to catch up with my cohorts who may have been involved or concerned with art since their 20's or 30's, maybe even earlier. I, myself, have not, so I've got so much catching up to do.
That being the case, my self-assessment is that I'm still absorbing and learning the language of art. I'm connecting with the foundational artists of the movements and period that is mostly the 1960's-1980's... Contemporary Art, but not contemporary art (although I do look at some more contemporary artists and artworks).
Again, I reiterate, I am moving at a hyperspeed, however. I spend a lot of time looking at works that speak to my aesthetic and my current spirit of expression. My aesthetic is emerging to appreciate the works by Paik, Viola, Oursler, and Rist...while considering the messaging behind works by artists such as Serra and Oldenburg, Adrian Piper, Howardina Pindel, and more contemporary artists such as Alexander Calder and Martin Puryear. However, more connected to the spirit of my expression are works from more contemporary artists such as Carrie Mae Weems, Zanele Muholi, architect Mario Gooden, and textile artist Amanda Williams...
Then there are these eternal questions: What is art? Does art have to have meaning?
I have had many conversations regarding these fundamentally philosophical questions. Conversations with cohorts of grad school, with educators, with people on the street as well. It never gets easier to come up with a convincing answer, principally because the values of the listener affect the argument.
One of my friends who is an MFA documentarian says, art is only something made by humans for purely emotional oe aesthetic experience as a purpose. I didn't disagree, but I did refine the thought by suggesting that art is anything and everything that is made with the purpose in mind at the moment of creation to bring a pleasure beyond the functional purpose. So then a chair can be a chair, but can be art as well when created with the purpose of connecting aesthetically.
There are many artists and critics who connect a qualitative measure to the answers to these questions. I believe that formal analysis as well as an analysis of the expressional aspect of a piece of work are relevant only to a particular audience. I do not believe that something that does not please me, or does not measure up to some academic or society of art critic, should be automatically disqualified as art.
Craft as a noun seems to be a thing that is made in a medium not currently considered a fine art medium or process (painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, etc). Craft as a process, the act of creating via a process that can be refined, and perhaps qualitatively analyzed objectively. Craft is definitively part of making an artwork, but if not being applied to the act of creating art, then its output is not inherently art. I would love to have a debate on that basis, and I presume that I should be doing some research to determine what some other artists have shared with the world in their opinion.
Summer II / 2021
Practices and Techniques in Studio Art - Professor Patricia Dye
This blog post will cover the entire period of Summer II. It includes some notes from the class, as well as ongoing work that I am making that is not part of any assignment other than that it is work I will present in the fall for critique. We have worked on the artist statements for our current work... Here is mine for the installation, e/Mergence, that I am making:
"My work is about the poorly understood effects of the many systems & structures that represent the hidden aspects of racism baked into our society; many of which have affected my life in post-Civil Rights Act America.
Still working on the actual ceramic face for the Ascendant, to replace the study piece. I am continuing to learn more about clay, with the help of my cohorts, and some really good books. Im reading The Craft and Art of Clay, by Susan Peterson; learning as best I can from a book, some of the fundamentals of working with clay.. The executed piece will compensate for shrinkage, color changes that will come in firing, and some changes that will capture more of a semblance of the subject in the video (the artist). I am not aiming for realism, but the form I've created is overly disparate from my own face. The face seen below is not the final face, it's a study, and my first clay work:
August 2, 2021
Continuing to work on Deferred Hopes (referred to in last month's post...as well as work on a new idea. The new idea centers upon exploring making wall hanging sculptures out of flat materials such as sheets of cast acrylic sheets, plywood, and others. I'd love to make this out of steel, however, I do not believe our Glowforge cuts through metal...I will investigate. These will be cut and then layered sort of the way that Marisol Escobar created her flat-faced sculptures in wood. This is the cutting template. Blue lines cut & red lines engraved. 24 white pyramids, and another smaller set of black pyramids which will be combined to create a piece I am titling Integration.
Summer I / 2021
Studio Hours II - Professor Marilyn Thompson
During the bulk of this class, I worked on completing the first piece of an installation project I have titled e/Mergence
This first piece is a notable progression of my work as I consider abstraction, and new materials.
Ascendant is the first piece in the installation and may liekly be seen as the center-piece of it, if I get to produce it in the scale I intended. What I am completing during this class is, more or less, a proof of concept.
During this class, aside from Ascendant, I worked on exploring a variety of concepts that would support the piece and express the conceptualizations through additional pieces that pull in key forms, hues, and details which speak into the subject. I worked on some acrylic and clay mixed media pieces, which for me did not feel successful. Principally due to my lack of familiarity with acrylic painting techniques. I will retry the concepts using spray painting and possibly some other types of paints.
However, I've also got to be sure not to get distracted. Professor Thompson was very understanding and provided great guidance for every direction that I was looking. In fact, even though we did not talk about metal much, her feedback regarding the form itself was encouraging.
The summer began with finishing up the metal work for Ascendant... There were many more sketches, and a couple of 3D CAD type works I made in order to aid my efforts.
The experimentation with combining painting and clay pieces is ongoing, but here is where I started. I made a bunch of backgrounds on canvas with acrylic paint, and planned to suspend (using some simple magic) a clay inverted pyramid in front of each.
The painting is not strong, as one would expect, and I want to explore other types of painting; such as spray painting. But I will still suspend the clay pieces in front of each background.
I took a little breather for a few days and started some work on one of the next pieces of the e/Mergence installation. These metal pieces will become a collection of inverted black pyramids, which will be suspended in mid-air. They will be varying in size from as small as 8 inches to 16 inches high. Here are some concept sketches and photos of the advance work.
In finality, during the Summer I session, I did create the clay face part of Ascendant. The piece has not been fired yet. I am letting it dry very slowly. I looked at quite a bit of other's work, and the first image was the best summation of what aesthetic I was drawn toward.
During Summer II, I will continue to work on the video component of Ascendant, but will be working on Deferred Hopes and Whispers (2.0)
Artists of Direct Inspiration...
This is a sublist of the artists that I would consider having a meaningful impact on my initial direction. I believe I'll likely post at least 2 or three of these brief notes on who and why.
These would be the foundational artists for me, though there were and are many other historic artists whose work gives me inspiration and direction. In fact, much of my work now is being driven by artists who work in the mediums I am focused upon, and writers who write and speak about the subject that is the content I am making work about. Those will be the subject of my future notes.
Here is my foundational short list:
Long time since last update... it can be found here: work-in-progress
The sculpture (a 3x normal face shaped form made of chicken wire, gaff tape, and papier-mache clay) has been made, needs a structure to be able to stand freely with solid stability. That is being made and a day or two from completion. The stand will hold the sculpture at slightly upward facing angle, and will have a feature that will imply a shadow. Also, a test video of the video that I wish to project onto the sculpted form is ready. The last part is to figure out how the iPhones will be mounted in the rear of the sculpture in order to present the videos, (a challenge considering the form is tilted and the phones need constant power. I believe I have a solution but have yet to implement it.
So Many Tiers
The video is completed. It is 8mins long. I am creating a the scoring myself...not sure how successful the audio portion will be. We will see.
The test seemed successful, remaking the video with some changes that get closer to what I wanted. Will be able to present it by March 1st
No progress since the test video shoot. This will need to be re-shot, due to technical factors that have affected my ability to implement the visual features I want to.
There has been no progress since the test video. This also needs to be re-shot, need a higher contrast image to work with rotoscoping.
Talking Art and Activism...
My experience this first semester was quite exciting, in that Professor Wascovich planned for a very diverse set of visitors. A veritable smorgasbord of artists and activism oriented talkers. So, what I'll do here is briefly express what I took away from the talks we got to enjoy.
Summer & LaMendez are a young couple living on a Navajo Nation reservation. They were recently written about in the NY Times because of their efforts to address food needs in what amounts to a food desert. The article titled For the Navajo Nation, a Fight for Better Food Gains New Urgency. The article illuminated the impact of the pandemic on a the Navajo nation's struggle for food sovereignty and highlighted this couple's efforts to address it with farming.
We had an opportunity to get, first hand, some idea of the struggle of living as a Navajo, on the reservation. They shared a bit of their story, regarding how difficult access to healthy food is, and how the difficulty is being addressed locally.
The couple shared how politics complicates getting support for their programs, and the conflict due to the need to maintain sovereignty as a nation. It seems that food, water, and land are sort of held as a control. The land and water are held in a trust by the government, and access or ownership have to be applied for. Then, these applications are saddled with arduous bureaucratic process, and sometimes local politics.
Ironically, and not unlike many of the 'ghetto' urban areas of many U.S. cities, they said that fast-food, such as Burger King and the like are readily available. Whereas in order to shop for nutritious items, such as fruit and vegetables, and water, must be reached by motor transportation, on the order of 45 minutes or more sometimes. Water is most frequently purchased on long distance drives, despite that wells could access ground water, principally because the bureaucratic process presents a hurdle for well digging, not to mention the staggering fees and costs to build one. So, effectively, not only is healthy food, but water is also practically unavailable locally.
Summer explained how she and LamMendez are finding the means to work on their garden. She explained that they work with other gardeners, and socialize methods and processes to make the gardens productive despite the arid and rocky soil. They also exchange and cooperate for the benefit of variety. Lastly, regarding means, LaMendez found a new hobby that they turned into a family business, which is selling handmade leather items by way of World Wide Web based commerce. They have a website, and are beginning to see a flow of sales.
Their sustainable agriculture efforts have a website: AJO Center for Sustainable Agriculture
An article about the food crisis: Navajo Nation Food Desert
The NY Times article can be found at: NYT Article
Their eCommerce website: Lotus & Layne Leather
Jeannoute is a private school teacher at Abington Friends School in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. He has been inspired to purse the work of mentoring low income and marginalized student in reading and writing classes, in Philadelphia, for free.
What might be considered the most significant aspect of this story is that his goal is to have students learn by meeting, and discussing protests that are happening in their communities. He said that “With the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement and the unfortunate murder of George Floyd, that just added to the conversation,” in a CNN interview. He expressed that these classes were likely to be the best way for him to leverage his experience, and help the students, and connect with them.
Jeannoute talked with us about his program and process, talking about how important it is to teach a class that would arm students with "context from history" so that they can have a better grasp of what is happening in movements today.
The humble and funny Bartley indicated that he understands that the big difference between the private school where he teaches, and public schools, is that some voices of the children in the public schools can get lost in the shuffle. He sees what he does as “an opportunity for me to give back to one of my principles of teaching, which is to give a voice to those who have been overlooked.”
Websites and articles: Abington Friends School
CNN article: 'Protest Writing' workshop gives students an outlet to fight racial injustice and bullying
New Yorker Magazine article: Summer School for Protest Writing
Parker, a classically trained musician, put on exhibition one of the most interesting shows that I can imagine. Unfortunately, I did not get to experience this live performance. However, Steve painted a very vivid picture of it for us to imagine, and then...he showed a video :)
Steve shared with us, his passion for sound and how it can be seen differently. In fact, despite his education, he does not spend his time these days working as a musician. Instead, he does teach music to help make a living, and he makes art out of classic instruments and sound devices. In many cases, he is doing a lot of his work for a non-profit, providing artwork and performances for the public.
One such work was called BAT//MAN. A very large production whose lead performer was a cauldron of 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed bats. These bats were something of a local feature as it were. The colony of bats live under the Congress Street bridge in Austin, Texas.
The work was, as he described it, a ritual-like performance. The performance explored how living creatures use sound to navigate, The bat's performance was accompanied by a conch shell ensemble, a local choir using megaphones, a garden hose consort, and some handmade echolocation devices, which were modeled after Alvin Lucier's SONDOLS.
Steve went on to share with us some images and videos of pieces he has on exhibition at a gallery in Austin. These artworks were clearly about sound, but the pieces also provided an interaction that could be said to have made the viewer participant a part of the artwork for a moment.
He was friendly and engaging, and briefly touched upon some insights he had gained over the years of how an artist can get supportive finance by working for the public good. Many people were interested but we seemed to get sidetracked before he could go any deeper. There was a book recommended, but that was the extent of the discussion.
Steve's website: Steve Parker
I have added a menu item, and a page for each project I have working. A synopsis of each of my works-in-progress can be navigated to from the MFA STUDIES menu, above, under Works In Progress. Or you can click on the links below:
So Many Tiers...
I am continuing to look at video art as the core medium of my work. So, as such it makes sense to look at artists who have done the same. I recalled names that educators such as Brian Weaver, Lee Merrill, Brandon Hudson, and others have shared with me. I am researching and seeking to understand expressing identity as an African-American, and inner turmoil that has brewed over decades, as an aspect of my self-portraiture. It is an even greater challenge because the processing of all of my experience has been affected by MPD, though I never knew until recent years.
On another note, for about a year or two I've been haunted by the memory of a work I'd seen, but cannot identify...I've also drawn a still of the video and asked at least a score of educators, MFA's, and MA's. No one could recall ever seeing anything like it. Perhaps it is a figment of my imagination, or a distorted memory.
Either way, I've looked at works from well-known video artists such asNam Jun Paik, Tony Oursler, and of course Bill Viola, and Carrie Mae Weems, to try and understand my own ideas and feelings. I am looking at how they can use symbology, as well as how they use performance effectively.
The research has influenced this piece, I started out calling 'Selfie'...For now I've moved to calling it 'So Many Tiers.' This work represents a view of my life cumulatively. Looking expressly at what that lifetime, principally what its thinking felts like.
The work is in progress, however, here is a preliminary view of what is very close to what the work will be like when completed. Things like timing, music, and the blended apparitional imagery will likely be adjusted or changed.
Social Product (update #2)...
On one hand, we as citizens want to be good citizens and address social and political issues in ways that make a difference. However, high-frequency, short timespan, highly sensationalized news cycles, we are probably inundated. But that is not the worst of the circumstance, it is also the case that we generally are overloaded with bad news, ill will, and fear-mongering. How bad it gets and the affect it has on our psyche are the core thoughts of 'Social Product.'
The video below is simply a capture of some work-in-progress.
This is my first sculpture that is not wood or metal sculpture, The work will combine poultry wire, tape and clay, with, projection video, and iPhones. It began with a chicken-wire structure for the head form. Somewhat of a caricature form of my own head, vertically long and narrow. I covered the wire form with gaffing tape, and then with papier-mâché, which I'll sand and then cover with gesso. Uncertain yet whether or not I will tint the piece, or rely on the projection video to provide the skintone.
The projection video is my face, of course, performatively expressing my feelings about many things we are all forced to deal with. What those things are specifically are unknown until on the other side, inside the form, there are a bunch of LCD screens (donated iPhones) which are playing video loops of various current events, and interview clips, press comments from leaders and influencers, and a variety of other emotionally impactful things.
I am scraping video clips from the internet, from news agencies, youtube, tiktok, whatsapp, 4Chan and other sites for the content of those videos that represent what we are exposed to hour after hour, day after day. The videos will be edited in to a loop that will be running from different starting points on six to eight screens inside the head shaped form.
10 days later..
Yes, it's been too long. Every day, I kept thinking...hmmm, I need to update my blog...but then I was actually working or making art work. So there! Then again, I also said to myself, no one is reading it...but I do need a trail of updates as I progress...ugh someone turn off my brain it's driving me crazy!
Honestly! Blogging?? I can barely keep up with my thoughts and ideas, and much less write them down. I cannot help editing them (the thoughts), as opposed to keeping it closer to
stream-of -conscious like...
I am guessing that one of the benefits, aside from documentation that can aid in communication between student and professor, is that from an academic perspective it can aid in slowing down the thoughts, or help in making some thoughts happen if you suffer from a dry spell (of thinking hahah).
I will be catching up, with pics and video here and there, on what has transpired in the past 10 days.I am spending the next few hours updating my notebooks, and this blog. So, please check it on Monday, the 9th, to see where I am regarding my current works right now.
Rob J Phillips