I’ve exhausted the idea of continuing the Pink Houses for now. I am sure it will return and I did create two acrylic paintings that are located at the Serendiptiy Gallery in Pequot Lakes, MN. Over the summer months, I explored that and then managed to cross off a bucket list item, which was to enter the Crop Art competition at the Minnesota State Fair. I won the blue ribbon for the Novice category and now will I continue? Good question. I have an idea, but will have to start laying it out if I want to enter again.
The subject matter for the crop art was a beautiful white pine tree that is located between Menahga and Park Rapids along Highway 71 in Minnesota. I took a photo of the stately beauty a few years back and during the course of my adventures with the crop art, I found that is a favorite landmark among many locals and tourists of the area. It’s notable because it stands out as the sole pine in that section and has such a beautiful shape. Unfortunately, the top portion of the tree is stressed or diseased and may have completely died off.
The tree continues to be the subject matter of the various media I am playing with which includes acrylic, oil, and some printmaking methods. What I am finding interesting is the media and my hand respond so differently with each different ink or paint I explore that I am embracing the higher power of letting things emerge on their own. I am reminded that I too am always learning just like my students who teach me more than I will ever teach them.
Yesterday, was a prime example. I have students blog and draw weekly sketchbook assignments. As I was working with a student, I used his sketchbook to render a small sample of how they might approach the work. I noticed that they had two of the recent assignments completed in the sketchbook, but failed to turn them in. When I asked about that, they replied with, “I didn’t think they were good enough.” We had a long conversation related to that and I finally said, “if it’s your drawing it will always be good enough.” Now to heed my own words. The top image is an etching on a handmade paper using Akua inks, followed by an acrylic painting on paper. The rest are beginning stages of two oil paintings.
Three months ago I started the 100 Day Project. I decided to explore an idea that has been festering for well over 20 years based on John Mellancamp’s song Pink Houses. I printed, sewed, painted, drew and played. I used some of my starting points to use for demos for student projects I developed for an Experimental Drawing class for high school students. Their projects are fabulous, mine are still in the “discovery” phase. (Maybe I should impose hard deadlines?)
Regardless, I know that I want to explore the theme more and play with the marks I’ve been using for years and years which I deem as a controlled scribble. Sometimes it takes a long time to recognize and embrace what we thought to be useless. In addition to the scribble, the tornado has once again resurfaced and it’s time to embrace that. As a metaphor for chaos, it appears when I am confused and at a crossroads or lacking direction in personal matters. The pink houses (for you and me) reflect so much of the struggles people currently experience just with day to day living. Simple and small, the houses are what’s left of the American Dream that has all but vanished for so many.
The photos below are the closest to a finished product, but I know where I am headed now. Lucky for me, I have plenty of art supplies on hand to make a series of drawings that I will create soon.
As part of a demo for an experimental drawing class, I started layering marks and drawings of a propellor. After several hours and nearly tossing the work completely, I threw down some of the monoprints that I had sewn on to sort through them a bit. I had no idea the two would create the complex work that I do like.
I will continue to work on this, but it may be more of a test work vs. a final art work. The paper used as a support is weak and due to the weight and reaction of other materials, it is buckled and not to my liking.
I’ve been busy. I’m still playing with the Pink Houses but I took a commissioned job for a theater piece that apparently needed me to bring it to fruition. I recently finished the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and am embracing some of the wisdom she shared. It’s a philosophy I can easily sink into and lo and behold, this work came across my path.
The pictures show the 6′ x 8′ canvas which is a “poster” for the production The Elephant Man, performed soon in Bemidji, MN. It’s much further along than this but gives a snippet of how it will look. I took the job with not much time before the show goes live, so my learning curve on this one was huge! I also underestimated the time it would take and the challenges of not having a studio space to accommodate this type of work has been eye-opening as well.
Regardless, it’s been a blast watching this come to life.
The other photo is keeping my Pink Houses project alive. I recycled an old artwork to created a demo for a string art project to show some high schoolers. It’s a throwback to the 70’s, but fun to do something a kitsch.
A few days ago, I had a dream where a tornado wiped away my house, albeit a few wall studs. I attributed this to the decluttering that is needed for me to feel like I can create when in actuality it is probably just a signal to clean the house. Despite the middle of the night message, a little decluttering was done, but you wouldn’t know it.
Tornadoes also have made their appearances in previous artworks of mine, including the header image for this blog. The first two that I created (photos above) coincided with tornadoes in the region; one demolished much of the neighboring town, but thankfully without fatalities. I’ve become a little skeptical about using them since those first two storms hit the day following when they were rendered to paper and canvas. I’ve since let go of that idea and gave all credit to the well deserved Mother Nature. I do not have that much power. However, they are excellent metaphors for chaos and destruction which symbolically could define a few people I know or for times in my life where I feel unsettled. Regardless of the intent, the tornadic art form has returned to my hand. This time with by sewing on paper. I’ve sewn some small block prints onto other prints and there something inviting to the process. While relatively strong, the paper becomes fragile with each passing of the needle and mistakes can’t be ripped out with a seam ripper and re-sewn. But the process of making a mark on paper this way is intriguing if nothing else.
But maybe the dream was more of saying, “You have too many unfinished works laying around,” like my self-portrait which started out as a demonstration and then sat and sat and sat for several years until a few weeks ago. But as Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book, Big Magic, works of art are abandoned all the time. I don’t remember what she said about picking them up again, but yesterday and today I worked on that self-portrait. It’s a good project to fill in while I flounder with the Pink Houses. Speaking of…. I decided to apply some cold wax to the sheet of painted houses and cut them out. No revelation or “aha” moment there either. Nope. However, I was intrigued on how they look on a painting I thought I was nearly finished with. I may play with that more this week.
Over the holiday, I traveled to my parents home which is located in the Chippewa National Forest of Minnesota. I only brought a small sketchbook knowing that I wouldn’t have a great deal of time to do much more than a couple of doodles (see photos).
While I was there and working with the Pink Houses inspiration, led me to think about a more general theme of home and how I feel ungrounded to that particular word. The dark days of winter in Minnesota seem to get longer each year and the separation from family in terms of distance and visits are not often enough to fulfill the emptiness of living alone in a small town. While I do try to fill it with my creative endeavors and social engagements, the dynamics of living where I do, can be problematic. Despite living here for 20 years, I’m not sure if it feels like home in the sense that I imagine of what that should be. There is definitely a strong family ethic where I live, but if you don’t belong to that tribe, isolation becomes the norm. It also led me to further think about what family means and what will happen in our future given our current social and political divide which has already built some unwanted walls that may never be taken down.
I also realized that I have addressed this theme before when I was attending Bemidji State University (BSU). I was lucky enough to be a part of an all woman print portfolio exchange when I studied printmaking under Jauneth Skinner, the prof there at the time. The block print that I created for that exchange is titled, What’s Behind Door #23? which was a response to having lived in 22 different houses and knowing that I would be moving again once I completed my coursework at BSU.
Again, I am exploring during this project which much like my ungrounded feelings of home, I have a disconnect within my artwork. It varies greatly in style, media and subject matter. I like working with a variety of media, moving from one to the next and then returning almost as if the materials were seasonal. In the winter, I will draw and carve blocks, in the summer I will move to the screened porch and paint. Regardless of what media I am working with, I create in reaction to something I’ve seen, read or heard.
Recently I read a novel titled The Line Between by Beverly Knauer and I am currently reading The Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Both of those are influencing some of my inner thoughts and I have a feeling that those two books along with the lyrics from Pink Houses will be merging down the road.
The doodles: monoprints with graphite, blue colored pencil with ink, alcohol ink and marker.
I majored in printmaking at Bemidji State University and while I love the technical aspects of etching and block printing, the immediacy of monoprinting is rewarding. This is the first of some exploration into the Pink Houses project which is conjunction with the 100 day project. As I told some artist friends of mine, I am purging 20 years of lint off this idea. I may never use these, but sometimes you have to create a lot of ugly to get to the core of the matter.
For over 20 years I’ve been intrigued with an idea based on the song Pink Houses by John Mellencamp combined with the fact a good friend who is also an artist, lived in a pink house. It just never seemed to come to the forefront, but every time I hear the song, the lyrics nag at me to do something creative with that thought.
Recently, I did a demo for a project for one of the high school classes I teach and the little pink houses emerged. I have no idea where this will go, but the subdued inspiration that is driving this is pushing it’s way to the surface and begging to be explored. Since a friend tagged me to join this project, I feel that the time is right to see what emerges and bring this out of the darkness and into the light.
This week, I’m attending one of the Art Educator Workshops at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). The class is being taught by Val Jenkins (see her work here). To start with, we watched the John Cage documentary. I’m not a huge fan of the work, but I get it for the most part. It served as a springboard for the class; Experimental Drawing.
We did some individual work, some paired work and a group collaborative drawing.
The collaborative drawing about midway through being finished.
More developed version of the collaborative drawing.
Nearly finished work. I have a feeling we will be going back into this piece. We rearranged the panel to explore the composition and areas that needed to be edited.
This is a story I wrote for an English Composition class in 1995. The story is factual, with the exception of my “thought” interjections. I have been looking for this written work well over a decade and probably close to 15 years. Today, I found it stored among other important papers. The essay was turned upside down and stored carefully away apparently waiting for just the right moment to be found. As a preface, Helen is my grandmother. Betty Lou, is my mother and never knew Helen as her mother. Read the paper and then read my comments after the images.
I was extremely moved when I read the comments by the prof. I just re-read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins, less than three days ago. My daughter and I attended her father’s funeral 2 weeks ago. She never knew him. Life beyond what we know it has some forces that are so strong.