Monday, September 6, 2010
Monday, August 2, 2010
Now, once upon a time there was a huge demand in 17th century French culture for any kind of dressed up monkey, and they even had a name for it: Singerie. Usually miniature in scale, and dressed in period costume, they were often depicted in clandestined little vignettes doing things naughty, frivolous, and generally human. In fact, i daresay that L. Frank Baum's minions for the Wicked Witch of the West could've flown right through some reference to them before flocking onto the pages of The Wizard of Oz --albeit no longer miniature in scale. They weren't blue in color in the French version; but their "blueness" was of a cultural hue that could've been a subconscious riff in Baum's turn-of-the-century moral psyche... in my humble opinion.
To further complicate matters, i became aware of a fable --perhaps from India or Tibet?-- i'm no longer sure of the provenance of the story, so if someone can illuminate, by all means, dig in! It goes something like this:
There was an old emperor who, in his isolated dotage, married a young bride whom he adored, but who died suddenly and mysteriously, leaving the emperor in a paroxysm of grief. He was inconsolable, and sought the counsel of his most trusted advisor, who simply said to him, "It matters not what you do, sire, as long as you do not pursue the blue monkeys." Astonishment gave way to curiosity, and then to obsession, and the emperor decided that he could not resist the very thought of such enigmatic creatures, and set off on journey after journey, discovering worlds of wonder and making alliances in every culture, in an attempt to learn what he could about the elusive blue monkeys, but no one knew where to find them.
Decades went by, and the now ancient emperor who, in the course of his searching had encountered many great things which enriched the lives of his subjects, finally lay dying, unfulfilled in his quest. Defeated and exhausted, he called his trusted advisor to his side to unburden himself of this final disappointment.
"You were right to advise me not to seek the blue monkeys," he said, "for i have failed most miserably in finding them even though it was my keenest objective over these last many years since my wife died." And the counselor smiled, "Ah, but sire, your disobedience has been my greatest achievement. For i knew you would go seeking them the moment i put the thought of blue monkeys into your head. Forgive me, but it matters not in the least whether or not you found them; i knew that the pursuit of them would save you from the grief that was consuming you when your young bride passed away from this life. --That you had more to accomplish in this world."
"And so you have," the counselor continued, "and so your 'failure' is the boon of your loyal subjects. See how our culture has blossomed in the wake of your diplomacy and courage! See how our children are educated about the worlds beyond our city walls!! See how people smile even at strangers, all because of blue monkeys that you could not find!! Sire, you are the greatest emperor this land has ever known."
But his praise fell on deaf ears: the emperor had slipped away in the midst of the counselor's absolution, to join his patient bride in Heaven, amid a sweeping, whooping crowd of eager blue monkeys.
I love that story. And so my dilemma remains as it was when i left off with these little faces a few years ago, which kind ARE they??? Are they naughty 'monkey tricks' or agents of divine guidance?
Monday, July 26, 2010
Maybe it's' just an engineering thing, but this paper puppet has taken me almost TWO WEEKS to complete!! I had to reconfigure her arms and legs from multiple shots, and i had to Photoshop her footbinding ribbons so they looked like ribbons, and yet possess a graphic interest, two-dimensionally. This proved trickier than i expected. But her she is. I hope all you Etsy fans who "hearted' her will try putting one together for yourself!! An exercise in doting for the intrepid soul, to be sure.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
my anthropomorphic figures are forthcoming, now that i've figured out a system for breaking down the images into parts. Next on the paper puppet stage will be several Humpty Dumpties and a full theatre of my avatar, Virginia Wool!! If there's something specific you'd like to purchase as a paper puppet/theatre, please drop me a message, Etsy convo, or Alchemy request!!
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Happy Birthday to YOU!!!!" (Love you Mom!!)
I happened to be reading something about traditional footbinding slippers somewhere at the time; i remember seeing some naìve posting on eBay: someone had these ornate footbinding slippers up for auction advertised as antique baby booties. The irony of such a perception was too poignant to disregard. Since i had 'chimp' on the brain and was even then trolling through my cultural lexicon trying to imagine how to costume a chimp for maximum effect, the footbinding slippers just hit me, because chimps, of course, have opposable thumbs on their feet. Who better to exemplify the dramatic hyperbole of a foot deprived of its primary function by the very embellishment which adorns it and elevates it to a fetish? As is usually the case with my more demanding sculptures, the matter had decided itself and we were off and running, so to speak.
Somehow that skit, from the 1950's --the same decade in which footbinding was declared illegal in China--brought home a connection that i could no longer question. A few days after my little Imogene came intact out of the kiln ready to wax and costume, the real Imogene passed away. Story of my creative life: a private, karmic 'baton' gets passed to me on a level too weird to be believed and too convoluted to explain without sounding... well... really weird. But there it is, consistently undeniable.
Ten months of researching and sewing, embroidering, and doting. My weird little Imogene crept pedantically into my world with no commissioner (lucratively speaking) and no real prospects. Too doll-like to be really conceptual, too laden with statement to just be a pretty little dolly-doll, with her scary puppets and her unflinching revolutionary earnestness. By the time she found her way into a gallery in SoHo (where she was priced at $11,000 by the gallery owner, a number calculated from the $4,500 i told him i needed for my end of the work) we were living in a post-9/11 world, and the collector market that i'd just been orbiting into suddenly seemed to dry up. She sat there in a glass case for two years, until i came and took her home, seven years ago. Even now, she waits in veils of tissue, to tell her puppet stories to someone.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Next post will document a rabbit head from slab-built cone to finished bust.
Any kind of ceramic clays will work; i prefer mid- to high-fire ranges (cone 05 to cone 6). My favorite source in TN is Midsouth Ceramic Supply, located in Nashville. My favorite source in NYC is New York Central Art Supply, in Manhattan (their range of ceramic clays is somewhat limited but they get extra points for comprehensiveness: their second floor full of exotic papers is my idea of heaven, but i digress). Shown here is a buff colored high-fire stoneware, at what i consider an ideal working state: in a room that's 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and 72% humidity. The drier and hotter the room is, the faster your clay dries out. The cooler and damper the room, the longer your clay's 'open time,' or time you can work it.
Shown here are an array of my favorite tools (from left to right): two small wooden knives (the first one i've had since i was about ten years old; you can see where i've had to whittle it sharp again), a red-handled stylus from the days when graphic design involved using sheets of transfer type; an empty mechanical pencil used to impress tiny circles, usually for the pupils of my Humpty Dumpties' eyes; two salvaged dental tools (get friendly with your dentist!); a standard ceramic 'scoring' needle used to 'score and slip' two pieces together; a handmade scoop utilizing a paper clip and a straight pin at opposite ends; a bamboo calligraphy pen; and a spare red-handled pattern-transfer wheel from my sewing basket, so the red-handled stylus wouldn't feel lonely.
Pure pigment, high-fire ceramic stains are expensive, but a little goes a long way. I'm still using the first tiny bags and jars that i bought 20 years ago for the most part: I keep a palette of dry stains in an old "Jelly Bellies" assortment box for easy access, and dry mix them as needed (except for copper carbonate, cobalt carbonate, and rutile, which alter chemically when mixed with other colors; everything else is pretty much 'what you see is what you get.' Pinks fade a bit with no overglaze while yellows and blues can deepen in high-fire, depending on what they're on or under, clay- and glaze-wise.
You can also buy pan sets of underglazes, which are mostly just ceramic stains suspended in gum arabic so they stay put on the greenware. Mine have been emptied and refilled with ceramic stains and filtered water so many times i've lost count. These basic eight colors here cover just about all my organic mammal needs, color-wise. Old pudding cups, sour cream containers, and baby food jars pinch-hit as pans for alternate colors. An assortment of decent brushes help with mixing and application, and a small pot of 'slip' (slurry of water plus whatever clay i'm sculpting with, if it's white) helps when i'm creating lighter tints of some colors.
Chunks of clay are sliced using a length of florist's wire anchored to a table-clamp (i think this one's actually a lamp-base, but whatever you have handy works). It helps to keep them an even thickness, but if you're a bit wobbly like i was here, no worries. You can even it out in a couple of different ways. Slices for a bust or cone that's about 5" high needs to start off about 3/4"to 1/2" thick (1 cm).
While the clay is still quite moist, you'll need to thin it down by about half, either by wedging it thin on a canvas-covered board (see diagram in the next post), or if they're relatively small, you can just hand-pinch them down. As with wedging, compressing the clay strengthens it, & drives out any air bubbles. Most clay that you can buy in stores has been run through a pug mill to de-air it, but when you're working on something that's going to take weeks or months to finish, you can't be too careful: one little air bubble in a piece and it'll explode in the kiln.
Once the slices have been pinched or wedged into slabs, i tear them into triangles, curling each triangle into a cone. For a narrow cone, i let the corner opposite the longest side be the point of the cone. For a medium-width cone, i pinch a fold into the middle of the longest side, and let that be the point of the cone. For a wide, saucer-like cone, i tear the slab into a circle and cut out a tiny wedge-shaped slice (like removing a skinny slice from a pizza, and the center of the circle becomes the point of the cone). I then 'score-and-slip' the two edges of the cone together.
Shown here are a few rough cones, before any refining was done.
None of these cones is more than four inches (10 cm) from base to tip. If you wanted to work bigger than this, i recommend thinning your slices by throwing them out on a wedging board, rather than pinching. (See next post). These cones became the busts of the various animals in the photos below. The narrowest cones became birds, some fish, and some mammals (such as a borzoi hound's head, and a deer's head). The medium-width cones became various mammal's heads for the most part (rabbits, some dogs, and a pony), while the wide, shallow cones became the faces of stouter faces, such as bears, owls, and cats.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Thanks for dropping by!! --connie