Like a scientist, research is part of the work of an artist. A special part of being an artist is that research is done through making.
Part of my work as a graduate student is to hone the practices that help me make in my own style and with productivity, to expand MY practice as a work habit; to do my work, because it is research. In addition to consistently practicing my physical making capabilities, research habits may include doing things which invite curiosity or perspective shifts, rumination and play, reading on special topics, going outside of routine, managing a routine, reflection through making, reflection through not making, and cultivating questions.
I do believe that, for our general American public, research is not associated with the work of being an artist because the emphasis on making art is usually associated with the value of expressing feelings, or, expression of feelings through the act of making. However, for a visual artist who is working as an artist, making is research. The people the hardest at work as artists are also often reading, writing, tracking down information, communicating with other artists across the globe, constantly increasing their skills and information about processes, ceaselessly searching for opportunities, and it’s exhausting.
That’s not even the half of what artists do and don’t get recognized for, but the most important part of our work is research.
For the visual artist, research is synonymous with making. Making is research. When exercised, the results of making are the complexity and content of our work over time, which can affect the fields and practices of design, science, and philosophy (to name a few), shift cultural expectations and morés and change the course of our history as a species. As you can see, artists’ research is pretty important.
This week has meant more research in my materials, specifically porcelain; and research with surface manipulation, particularly how to combine image-making with surface; and, research about the concepts of light and subject through considering the properties of light in photographic capture (what light means as a subject). I am considering how to best combine these materials for communication of a concept. I am considering the essential characteristics of these materials as well as their innate language and historical connotations to allow and communicate meaning in my work.
While I obviously enjoy thought-based research, these thoughts must become a material object which communicates to other viewers. In order to communicate, I make an object which has been considered, even if I do not know the answer to the question, and in making, I find more questions to approach through making.
Here’s some writing of mine in consideration of what light means as a subject. I am currently figuring out what this means, and who to look at (as far as artists and authors) in order to figure out what this means in my research:
“In considering light, I look at shadow. The shadow is an affirmation of matter, of form. In the relationship to light, the object finds its matter; with light, we see shape and form. Without light, we must trust our other senses to inform our understanding. This trust informs my work with light and shadow, form and unform, being and nothingness: with light, nothing and everything can be expressed. There is everything in a picture where nothing is the subject and the object is darkness or light; therein is the Object of Nighttime (an object where light is a medium and a subject).”
With that consideration of what light might mean, I work in my photography practice, my sculptural practice and my practice of painting or drawing. I go to the studio see what happens when I make using artistic research as a way to explore light and shadow. With these thoughts on one hand, I make movements using materials which have historical languages, connotations, and future considerations.
As I am working with the porcelain, I am working to combine consideration of what a form is in relation to an image, because for me, I am considering the connection of light in relation to how we receive and interpret form and image.
As I am considering form in porcelain and photography, I am also looking to painting as an historical combination of an object and an image. I am interested to take from an object bearing the history of painting (as the traditional bearer of image) and combine it with the material language of object. My current work is to create a canvas out of clay (porcelain) and to combine the languages of image and object. Below is an object which I am drawing inspiration from to research these ideas of the intersection of light and form with image and object.
In preparation to make from the interest to communicate an idea, the idea leads the movement of the hand, then the eye responds if the idea is present in the object. (Say what??! ;) Don’t worry, it’s just artistic research). Here is the a step in the research of repeating the form of an object (the canvas with folded corner) to research what happens in an object I make.
Another component to this week’s research has been considering the content of my photography, as a teacher who regarded this work (below) commented: “It is a picture of nothing.”
While this may seem like harsh criticism, it is actually a comment on the result of what is present within the photograph, the state of the information which is presented by the image, and insightful consideration of what is present in a photograph of light (or, light as a subject—remembering light as a proof of presence and absence). A “picture of nothing” is the information of a composition based on light. If light is the subject in this image, it is of course an image of nothing, as light allows form and unform.
Based on this feedback, I decided to consider what makes an image a picture of something…how to complicate the subject of light.
Below are some images I have been considering. These are images of figures (my family), which could give more emotional content than an image of the effects of light in a street without figures.
I am considering that the figure may always represent emotion, as we as a species automatically search for emotional communication when a figure is present (my phrasing, but an assertion which I feel can be supported with context from psychology and anthropology of non-verbal communication). Whether a viewer is aware of the context of the figure may change their interpretation of an emotional context but will not change whether they associate emotions with the figure. Therefore, this picture of my father may not mean the same thing to another viewer, but they will still associate some meaning and emotion with this image of a figure. Although both images would be made possible by light, this is a different type of image for a viewer than an image of a street at night.
What is interesting for me in terms of research on image is that 1) they are in black and white, and, 2) they are on a contact sheet. Black and white for me remains a way to visually communicate the most extreme vision of what we experience when we visually register light (contrast). This is important as I continue making images and objects.
In the second point, the contact offers the visual language of multiples.
The multiple is important because it signals meaning in a way that a non-repeated image does not. A serial image imparts a meaning which is not present when a figure or image is represented once. The meaning is something which I can investigate in sculpture and in image.
Moving back from the sympathetic response to figure (in any medium), I look again at what light means in a low-light situation like my photographs at night. A contemporary urban scene at night can actually include a lot of light because of electricity, and effects are heightened due to lack of an atmospheric light source (the sun). This makes the capture of light at night a potential exercise in regarding the behavior of light at a particle level. For instance, shadows become enhanced, and forms become even more or less defined because of your distance to the object (as usual but to an ever greater degree). Also, through a photographic lens, the distance to an object and the visual effect of a light particle becomes a function of filters (your eyeball lens, and the lens of the camera).
Because of this double lens, photography can make the nature of light visible in ways that the naked eye cannot (without the benefit of the shutter, lens and register present in a camera). This is interesting because if I can understand the physics of a scene lit at night, I as a maker can more effectively make decisions about what I make as an image and an object. This study of light effects is also a form of research called observation.
For instance, the following photographs display my observations of the effects of light and shadow in making an object appear to have three dimensions. These effects become important in mold-making, when considering the dimensions of an object and the orientation a piece will have as the product of a mold. This is part of why I make a practice of studying the light and form in objects and environments: for realistic rendering in plastic form (drawing, painting, sculpture).
In this photograph, I am looking at the triangular shadow which exists and defines to my eye the interior of the railing (as well as its exterior). If I were to replicate this railing in object or image, by hand, I would need to replicate its contours, volume, measurements and proportions to make it appear as this “railing” to the human eye (if I want it to represent “this railing.”)
However, if I wish to emphasize the light as a subject, I might focus on emphasizing brightness and contrast in a field of vision.
If I want to work with both our sense of object and the atmospheric, I can incorporate elements which capitalize on our sense of the three dimensions of solid form as well as our understanding of visual fields (fade, gradient)…
When looking at these photographs, I am looking at how the light behaves, how the camera has captured it, and whether the contrast or field of vision communicates a sense of something or of nothing (what is the subject of the photographs). If the intention of a photograph is as a document of moment in time, is it a condition that lighting must match the perception of the human eye?
In the photographs which follow, I am still questioning what the subject becomes, when light is a formidable aspect of the composition.
Is this an image of specific information? Is it a capture of a moment in human cultural history? Is it an image of technology? Does that match what I was capturing with porcelain pressings from buildings? Is an image the same as an object if they both capture a specific quality in human cultural history?
The only way to really understand what images and objects are doing is to continue making them. I return to press-molding to make a capture of something which is an object into an object. Here is an image capture of that capture. I think this says something about the act of making and I think I am making work about the act of making as image and object.
So then, what happens to an object when it becomes fragments (if it is fragmented, does its operation become different?)? The objects above and below were made using one mold-making method: press molding from an original (above) and press-molding using a tile (bottom of photo, below).
What happens, also, when an object is created to replicate the conditions of another object? (For instance, when a sculpture is carved out of marble to imitate fabric or human flesh). When an object is allowed aspects (shape, form, color, shadow, value) that mimic characteristics of another object, how does communication to the viewer (from the object) become different? These are questions I am working in as I explore how we perceive images and objects. To make images of nothing is to communicate something and nothing at the same time.
It is my work as an artist to communicate with a viewer (whether that viewer is myself or another person) whether that communication is about a narrative, sympathy in forms, process, expression of internal questions, or how we perceive light, objects or form. With a twofold process of examination of materials and research, I commit myself to making something. What it says depends on how I use the tools available to me as a visual artist: image, object, shape, form, color, contrast, light, shadow, presence, absence, dimension, scale, repetition, reference, theme, narrative, abstraction, expression, attention, observation, replication, concept, content, context…
Only through thorough and consistent making will I have research. Only through research can I arrive to a question.
Below are some questions in process. As an artist, I perceive that they present both conditions and questions within their form and structure. I’m hoping to develop them into fully-grown questions (using image, and changing their surface), over the next few weeks.
What type of method do you use to develop questions (how are you asking)? How can a practice help you approach asking? Do you understand how practice can be a method of asking and a question?
Go Make Something,
I’m gaining ground in the research department.
Moldmaking at OCAC
November 18, 2018
I finished Film Noir class, found two new exciting texts for research and had failures in the Studio.
This week’s post is going to be research-based—the kind that’s done with texts and reading, because that’s the type of Research week it’s been.
Ever since beginning Grad School, I’ve found that research comes in different flavors or waves. Sometimes it’s a week or more of exploration and development in Studio-based work, during which problems are resolved, observations are made, trials done, work made. However, there also seem to be periods in which new, exciting resources for research come to me in the form of texts or conversation, which then take me into the library or a phase of reading, a mind-stuffing form of literate research.
I am happy to say that I was able to find two excellent critical resources regarding Photography and Light & Shadow, which have become important parts of my recent work using photographs, high-light contrast environments, and exploration/consideration of the reasons for use of (1) objects or (2) surface treatment methods (prints, photographs or paintings). I have been investigating each of these in the media I am using, what each is used for and why. These texts offer great context to help me ground ideas about my use of form, object, image and light, and what context they have in the greater sense of art and art-making.
The first of these is the film critic’s seminal work, The Ontology of the Photographic Image, by Andre Bazin. This is not a text we had in any of my courses, but it is one which informed Barthes, Truffaut, Godard, and other philosophers, artists and critics whom have informed texts we read. So, it is giving me context for work we have read in our program and it offers excellent perspective on the world’s reactions encountering the effects of the still frame photo, cinema and what that has done to our understanding of ourselves, our interactions with the physical and relational world, and every literal and philosophical definition for “ways we see/our vision.” Quite stimulating and relevant for my exploration of light and shadow. I will continue to update as this text unfolds!
The other is Camera Lucida, by Roland Barthes. Both of these books are giving me novel frameworks from which to consider my work.
I experienced some failures, on the note of work, this week—mostly material, which I continue to consider and resolve. I tried a technique I had not used before and ran into some obstacles; luckily, I had already read a number of pages in both Bazin and Barthes so I had a lot to think about while I pursued the craft I was looking for. :) Also, luckily, I know whom to ask on campus for help with this technique and I think it will take only minor tweaking to get it to work out, straight.
I will revisit and revise my approaches as I continue this work on ceramic and in photo, over the next two weeks, one of which will be GLORIOUS HOLIDAY BREAK on campus—an uninterrupted period of working when no one else is on campus (ha!—I’m not the only one with the idea! The reason I know I’m on a real arts campus is because of how many students I’ve talked to whom have expressed that they’re not going home so they can work). :)
Here’s another project I started work on, in the meantime:
I’ve also been looking at a good deal of other artists’ work and reading about them, when I can find information. Here are some new ones, from this and the past two weeks, whom I either see a connection with formally or in the content of their work:
I hope you have a happy holiday break and get lots of what you love to do, done. I know where I’ll be the day after eating dinner with friends…IN THE STUDIO WITH NO ONE. :D Until then…
Go Make Something,
Finishing the Residency with Eutectic Gallery & Mudshark, and tying some threads together in my practice to take back into the school studio.
Moldmaking at OCAC
October 29, 2018
This week is my last in residency at Mudshark Studios, and it started with pulling some work from the kiln at OCAC.
I’ll be sad to leave the residency space at Eutectic/Mudshark, as it’s been ultimately inspiring and helped me tie together a lot of the concepts in the work I have been making—both, what I had already started at school and what I’ve discovered while making in residency. Being in this space has been very beneficial both for the distance it’s allowed me from what I have previously made (which helped with considering what I’m making) and in the work that was inspired while at residency, including some of the newer pressings in porcelain and things I drew and painted. It allowed me the chance to see my work in a new light and consider the connections with content—for example, making impressions from building faces became complimentary to the paintings, or the paintings became complimentary to a pressing, and those originals became records of time and place. I also arrived at the question of making pressings that become molds or resting with just originals, and what both of those mean when making impressions of buildings that start to be torn down—the relic, the documentation, whether an impression becomes an artifact, what an object is if it is art or artifact…these questions became very real in the residency environment and its neighborhood.
As you know, I took impressions from familiar street objects and fired them in my process of making tiles or impressions (below). The process of making these in residency helped me to consider them and form a grouping of textured objects that became a symbolic grouping, or code, for the themes I am thinking about (of the street, structures of our urban environment). I will take this code and use it in my work, to continue to inform my work from original content and origins of inspiration (being on the street).
As you may remember, a few of these objects/symbols were loaded into the BLAAUW, last week. Here, they are coming out of that firing:
You can see there was a loss with the first piece on the top shelf, which developed a long crack right down the middle. I will experiment with how that edge looks if I chisel or otherwise reform it, to get some information about how a piece looks with that type of edge. As mentioned, I plan to make more of this same pattern as it is one of the symbol-marker objects that I will return to in the studio.
You can see how well the porcelain picked up the textures from surfaces it was pressed into. The pitted texture of this safety surface is going to feature in more work and I may be manipulating it on other surfaces to keep a consistent aesthetic language.
In the last few days at Mudshark, I had the mission to make more impressions from buildings in the area. Being able to press and then store these pieces at Mudshark helped me with a place to keep them before moving to the school, drying to avoid destroying them when moving (or, just switching one problem for another). However, with the pressing below, I pushed this process one step further and actually left the impression on the original (the building) to harden overnight instead of moving it back into the shop. I had wanted to do this with a few other pieces over the course of the residency, to see if it would affect how they formed. There was, indeed, another effect in leaving the porcelain upon the surface to dry—it was visible on the building, during the day. This piece actually stayed on its building for two days, drying and even pulling away from its wall over the last few hours. However, noone seemed to notice it there.
This building is the Janzten Building, formerly Jantzen Knitting Mills Company Building, built in Portland in 1929. It is a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, which is the US government’s official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance. I find this stimulating and complex on so many levels, although I originally identified the building as one I would like to do a pressing from before I knew its exact historical significance—you see, it has a wonderful presence and Art Deco panels which indicated to me instinctively that this was a site to preserve a piece from. This opens up the complex information I am thinking about when making these pieces: disappearance and presence, awareness of the history of an area vs. ignorance of that history. In fact, it was quite shocking to me that so many people would walk by something so queer as a piece of porcelain peeling off the face of a building without seeming to notice it, as did—but that was a poignant note to my explorations of this historical area of industry in Portland; it seems perfectly normal for most people to walk by without taking note of either what they are seeing or what is around them. Of course, I can’t speak for each person who did seem to walk past this public porcelain pressing without taking notice—but I think it feeds into the narrative of isolation in public spaces, and our ability to lose buildings, neighborhoods, people and entire eras of history without a second glance—if there is no-one making special notice of these things. These are notions I will explore further in my work in the studio at OCAC, after having gathered plenty of raw information to deal with during these two-and-a-half weeks in the industrial neighborhood area.
Another note of interest is that this building (below), the one across the street from Mudshark and the very one I was painting for two weeks, began being demolished on the very last day of my residency. It had been an in-use, active dairy company until that last day. Noone in my residency knew it was going to be closed, until that day.
This information inspired me to deeply consider why I am making these pieces—if the theme of loss might be what I am countering with my work; why is loss so poignant for me? Does a ceramic reproduction of something become an artifact, and does an artifact counter loss? Is loss something others wish to stall with their work? Is making artwork a method of stalling loss? I know that loss and mortality are big themes to swallow, and they seem especially poignant for most people, but could this possibly be what I am making about? Maybe it is what I am coming up against, wishing to slow time down; to record things in effort to stop them from ending. Perhaps I am seeking a means to stop an ending.
Who knows how long it will continue to stand, but I will have a painting of it, made in the last two-and-a-half weeks of October 2018.
Farewell, Sunshine Dairy Foods.
I will miss the the neighborhood and residency spaces of Eutectic and Mudshark when I’m done, the enchanting night scenes with high contrasting electric street lamps illuminating the industrial city spaces.
I will miss the shadows and light of the Mudshark production floor, dim and twilight as it appeared with light filtering between the upper and lower spaces, and magic apparent in every angled corner.
I’ll miss the engagement of my eye with myriad materials and shapes, which turns even a stairwell into a memorable moment.
I’ll miss the forms which impelled me to think about the difference between negatives and positives, stacks of materials and the angles which rendered them more fabulous, engaging my imagination to abstract and consider them more beautifully. It was a playground for a visual artist with a hopeless predilection for chiaroscuro.
Most of all, I’ll miss the exploration which has inspired so many connections and insights into who I am as a maker. Being in this space crystallized my love for the industrial aesthetic, the multiple, and light and shadow and forced me to consider why I am looking at specific things—what it was I was looking at was amplified within this ultra-industrial space. Ambiguity was nullified and I am left with a stronger point of view. Furthermore, I will be able to look back at the drawings and paintings I made in this space to inform my memory of this time and place. The reasons for making drawings, paintings, photo and sculpture seem to have moved forward in their prominence, as ways of marking time and place. The documentation becomes important. From this space, I move forward in making.
Lived experience, memory, interpreted experience, remembered experience. How do we inform that memory?
So many thanks to Eutectic Gallery and Mudshark Studios, LLC. for the unforgettable experience and opportunity. I can’t thank them enough!
My next post will find me working in these ideas, in the studio at OCAC.
Go Make Something,
The Importance of Noir in My Work: Photography, Painting and Ceramics - In-House Residency at Eutectic Gallery & Mudshark, LLC. Portland, Ore.
Moldmaking at OCAC
October 28, 2018
A Neo-Noir Day…
This week, I loaded the biggest BLAAUW I’ve ever loaded with ceramics I’ve been making from the street, continued painting in residency at a small industry site in Portland, OR (Eutectics Gallery & Mudshark Studios) and made some major discoveries about the content of my work linking to concepts from the roots of Noir film and German Expressionism…
…it’s the light.
That’s right! Thanks to a class on Film Noir that I am taking through OSU at Cinema 21 in Portland, I started researching this “vague” of cinema, Film Noir. It led me to make a lucky discovery that links concepts from this cinematic movement and its roots to the mood and content of my recent photography and paintings, and it’s all tied to light.
The fact that there IS a study of this language of light and darkness (in film, photography, and in painting) is extremely relieving in that I feel my work finally has “a home,” or something I can recognize as “same—” that it exists in Film Noir and what I’ve been channeling in the works I’ve been making in ceramics and 2d media, looking at the street and city as a type of feeling. It turns out that there is a word for this, used in the study of artistic expression developed in the era of German Expressionism and early German film:
…or, visually generated mood through light. (Dickos 17)
I have been exploring this mood in a certain area of Portland at night with paintings, photography and ceramic captures of that same area. I’m grateful that these concepts are articulated with terminology from scholars of art and film, so that I too may communicate more deeply and with more authority about this mood and the work I’ve been making in attempt to research and capture it. I’m learning the words to say just what I mean and nothing more, or how to push what I’m saying about my work when reflecting on the work I’m making, and how I’m making it.
According to “Street With No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir” by Andrew Dickos, Noir film is not solely defined by the visual aesthetics usually associated with “Noir” (dramatic lighting, chiaroscuro effect, street scenes and environments). In fact, he writes, the grouping of movies referred to as Noir are actually genre-defying—it is, instead, the artwork of mood which defines Noir. He says the mood that informs American Noir films of the 40’s-50’s does of course take inspiration from the malaise, depression, panic and hopelessness which pervaded American society during the WWII era—but it is not defined by this historical era:
“The growth of such a cinema cannot be regarded only as a historical development, although it surely is that. Rather, it must be seen as a specific aesthetic response to the way we have come to see our human condition, shaped by the world and the movies expressing it.”
So this means that the mood which inspires the art both forms and informs the artwork—it is as if the captured mood is the art, and this is displayed through the use of lighting and milieu. I have also been looking at this in the photography of Brassai, Paris de Nuit and thinking about the links between clarity, obscurity and light. It seems that when things are clear, they do not have the same mood as when they are obscure, and I think this has a lot to do with why I like to look at things at night (under the streetlight).
I always loved the aesthetic of 40’s art, fashion and industry which informs and is reflected in American Noir movies of the century…but, it turns out that the roots of this aesthetic relate a world much earlier than that, and they go further than simply cinema circuits. It turns out that the roots of exploration in early German photography and cinema that informed German Expressionism also informed French cinema of the early to mid-1900’s, which greatly informed American cinema—and all these moods informed an aesthetic that related the cultural and social moods of these countries through film, in turn informing the society which saw these movies—our grandparents and parents. The visual impact of Noir, from German to French to American, has set a tone for aesthetics in our country for decades and, I propose, continues to inform our aesthetic because it draws from the powerful and timeless effects of aesthetics tinged with stimmung. We can even look back to historical art references as evidence of the use of light affecting emotion—works from Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya and Kollwitz to name a few—to describe the intense power of lighting in eliciting visual mood. However, what the Expressionists and film noir contain in addition to light effects is the melancholy and despair of living in modern times—”a kind of film …that embodied in its narrative concerns the disruptive, dark forces that drive and deplete modern, urban man” (Dickos Introduction)—and these are elements of the content I also attempt to express in my work, using light, milieu and documentation as indicators of mood: the isolation, dread, alienation, tinge of melancholy and uncertainty of modern living. The big difference is that I am also laughing about these feelings because I know they are all products of our own shortsighted aims of industrialization, and because it seems the most beautiful sights in our modern life come about where there is only the remainder of man’s impressions but no man in it—when the low light obscures what is otherwise too crystal clear. There is beauty in light bouncing off a building in an isolated part of town, and it’s funny to me as a legacy—a life of shouting against the dark by looking at what creates the shadows with appreciation for their obscurity.
I have certainly seen a Noir aesthetic affecting my “eye” in the work I am making and this has translated to how I am using photography, painting and sculpture. I agree that it is a mood (stimmung) that I am channeling and pointing out in my work, based on lighting and the architecture of areas of Portland that have a feeling, leftover, of the 40’s and a sense of the fringes of human drama in their alleyways and urban environments. This solidification of conceptual framework and particularly this book (Street With No Name) are giving me excellent touchpoints for explaining what I am looking at in my work and aesthetic explorations of the world. Phew. I’m so glad that this week resulted in some of this thesis-level defining and discovering, so that I can again dive into the work with a renewed sense of understanding. Phew, phew, phew.
Following are some shots of the collection of impression fragments in porcelain from buildings of that area in Portland this week. I hope that they will turn out and be exactly what I wanted, although they have already become something more. I will execute another round of these impressions once I have reviewed the product from this firing.
Here they are drying in the studio and then going into the kiln...LaCroix included for scale.
I’ll use what I learn from making and firing these to continue the path with porcelain impression fragments that will inform the collection or “suite” of street-inspired stimmung I am creating. These pieces were loaded into the BLAAUW kiln at OCAC in order to start working in combination with painting and photographs. I hope these pieces will exude the stimmung I’m looking for. In this last part of photos, I feature the work I’m making in studio (OCAC) and in residence at Eutectic Gallery & Mudshark. Working on these pieces in sketch and painting allows me to research stimmung further, investigate composition and the effects of light, and to continue to feel inspired in the way I’m looking into content, research and making.
Engaging with the environment at Eutectic in drawing and painting has given me further insight into the graphic elements of what inspires my mind, heart and hand. I can’t wait to make more work there for one more week—I only wish I could have more time. At OCAC, the combinations of painting and ceramic are next. Wish me luck, and…until next time,
Go Make Something,
Making in situ, In-House Residency at Eutectic Gallery & Mudshark, LLC
Moldmaking at OCAC
October 21, 2018
I’ve been making (photographing, sketching in oils, sketching in ceramics) since setting up an in-house space at Mudshark LLC, this week.
With the opportunity to work in a production house in downtown Portland, I’ve realized how primary being close to the objects of my inspiration—alleyways, sidewalks, the detritus of movement on a sidewalk, and change of light on surfaces across a day—is in a sense of connection to the world I am making work about. I am deeply appreciating this opportunity to gather and make in this situation, particularly visual information, and most particularly through the open garage door of Mudshark which allows me to work in a space of transition with a sense of inside and outside at the same time. Not to mention, the inside of the building offers its own elements of inspiration and visual poetry.
This intersection of spaces and atmospheres feeds the thought process and affects the choices that inform how I handle materials. I am finding a lot of inspiration as well as connection in this environment, which I think are key elements to making in a state of “flow.” I feel extremely lucky for this opportunity to be close to what is inspiring my work at this crucial moment in my thesis body of work.
I am inspired to capture effects of light on the surfaces of buildings while realizing I have identified a core grouping of objects which relate “the city/the street.” These are objects that are mostly municipal and I have made some casts from them. The movement of traffic and work around me also contributes to a sense of energy of place as I seek out the elements of buildings I will make some pressings and pieces from. There is a sense of connection through being in the midst of this environment and activity that helps me isolate what I am sensing as crucial to making work which rings true as a reflection of this city space—what I am desiring to communicate about this space is becoming more clear through working in context with it.
I am pulling small impressions in porcelain to stay active while I also size up the places and surfaces I want to make larger impressions from. For example, after considering the Mudshark building, this unique detail captured my attention. I pressed a small piece in preparation for making a larger square or rectangular piece from this part of the building on Monday (Oct 22).
I made a suite of pressings of sidewalk details and decided one of the core “street objects” I am making into larger square or rectangular panels (in addition to building pressings) will be this pedestrian safety surface. I have recognized its ubiquitous nature, it is part of every sidewalk crossing zone across Portland and has become obvious for me as an object that relates the aesthetic of “city street.” This surface will be complementary to parts of a building “figure” in composing a portrait of a part of a town. I had made pressings from this surface in stoneware, before, and the porcelain makes a more finely detailed impression.
I also decided to research this surface as it appears everywhere across the city and I realized it must have some sort of coding for making city streets, legally. In fact, I learned that this surface is more common to the aesthetic of a city street in America than I knew:
“[T]runcated domes and detectible warning pavers,” are a part of “tactile paving” (meaning: paving that can be felt). It helps the visually impaired detect when they are about to leave the sidewalk and enter the street.
These ground indicators are also sometimes known as braille paving. These textured tiles make it easier for people to feel changes in patterns and textures. These changes signal changes in a path, including a curb or a change in direction.” (https://www.simplemost.com/sidewalk-bumps/. October 2018)
This discovery has elevated the meaning of this surface for my work: as a transitional phase signal, it seems appropriately symbolic for what I am looking at and observing and thinking about with spaces of transition and change in a cityscape. Although it is an aspect of the modern American street aesthetic and I have been looking at reproducing elements that relate historical eras, this gives me an opportunity to relate to the modern viewer’s sense of “street environment” while also commenting on the aspect of design as relating a particular moment in time or history.
As my sense of the opportunities of working in this space crystallizes, I only hope I can make with the vigor and speed I will need to make full use of every moment of this opportunity—the two weeks I have remaining seem hardly enough for the moments of discovery I have had in such a short time working in situ.
Here are a few more shots of this week of research, gathering, and choices on what to focus on for the next two weeks to come:
I have also been working out how to edge these pieces, based on response to what I have made in studio at OCAC. I am working out how a “proper” or “manhandled” edge reads compared to a torn, ripped or slumped edge and which adds to the vocabulary of my work.
A Residency for Thesis Work
Moldmaking at OCAC
September 24-October 14, 2018
Remember when I went to Eutectic with my mold-making class?
Well, a great opportunity came out of that!
I interviewed with the directors and owners of Eutectic and Mudshark Studios LLC. and resulted in a two-week, in-house residency. I’m excited for this opportunity to make work on-site that informs my thesis research. I have been prepping materials this weekend for the work I will potentially make starting on Wednesday.
From Oct 17-Nov 5, I will make work on-site in response to the activity and buildings that comprise Eutectic Gallery & Mudshark Studios LLC.
I will have access to an area of the production floor and will make plein air drawings and paintings in response to the activity, the structure of the building and the views outside of Eutectic/Mudhshark. I will also bring porcelain and stoneware to make molds from the gallery front and neighborhood buildings, as they relate to the historical area I have been photographing and making impressions from in ceramic media. This is a perfect opportunity to go deeper with my material studies in both painting and sculpture as the location is adjacent to the area I have studied with pictures and ceramic reproductions, and ties to my thesis content.
This experience will allow me to make work that expands the work I have made so far. It shares roots in the industrial history of Portland, an area of content I have been focused on in inquiry. I have collected vistas of the historical buildings at night, photographing the dated structures which hearken to Portland’s early industrial past. As I have been developing the process of collecting surface information with slab impressions, the opportunity to make work in the same area of town is a priceless opportunity to deepen the content of my work.
I will be able to spend more time with the area, observing it through painting and hope to discover answers about the aesthetic and process questions I have about using my reference photography and resulting drawings and paintings to create an impression of an area. Whew! I’ve got work my cut out for me, that’s for sure. And I’m hoping to have some fun while I do it.
The owners of Mudshark are fun, easy to work with and have unique perspective on being a living part of business in this historical area of Portland. I hope to interview these business owners as a way of gathering additional information about the atmosphere of the area.
I want to know what they think of its history, present, and future as real users of the industrial area of Portland. I’d like to know what they think the future of this area will be and look like—all which tie to the content of my work—investigating an area between what is past and the present.
On the note of content in my work, I did some thinking and development through writing in preparation for the time at Mudshark.
I am including my notes here as I will look back on this writing over the next three weeks and hope to make connections between what I am thinking about and investigating while making, thoughts about how artwork functions as documentation of place and time; reality as reflected in presence and absence, nostalgia for a certain history; how making and objects mark and bear our past and present.
These notes are a sort of index of themes that relate to what I’m looking at in my work, and I’ll reflect on them as I make work.
As I am writing this, there are pieces of porcelain in the test kiln which will be finished tomorrow and ready for me to draw and experiment on…masonite is drying and will be ready to sand and re-finish, to take with me on Wednesday. My workflow has become a more regular process of preparation of materials; then, making. I am looking forward, with eager anticipation to this period of making, and the abundance and lights of insight it will no doubt bring. Only through making will I know what I’m looking at. I will have updates of residency work all three weeks, October 17-Nov 5, on Sundays.
Go Make Something,
In Which You see Some Results of My Molds, and Learn of New Beginnings…
Moldmaking at OCAC
September 16 - 24, 2018
A lot has happened since my last post!
Last week, I posted about learning to make a one-part mold. Since then, our class visited Eutectic Gallery, a critical art/contemporary ceramics space in Portland and toured the mold-making business of the same owners, Mudshark. I was so inspired that I started making my pre-planned molds of the streets of Portland the same day. I also started to frost (or, ”glaze,” to the initiated) my first casts of the Monkey Skull and got some interesting findings…both of these events have resulted in pretty fantastic directions, into which I will go in this post!
Eutectic Gallery & Making Molds of the Streets:
Thanks to our instructor’s connections with the business owners, we were able to meet the owner, Brett Binford and tour the production floor of Mudshark, also their sister company, Eutectic Gallery, which highlights contemporary ceramics artists. We viewed the current exhibition, About Water from clay artist Susan Thayer (not pictured). This was a most educational and awesome field trip.
From Eutectic’s website:
“Founded in 2012, Eutectic Gallery plays a vital role in the development of the contemporary ceramics market and takes a diverse approach to work that intersects the fields of design, craft, and art. Through 24 exhibitions per year, a standing retail space featuring the best in contemporary studio pottery, and a blossoming online presence, Eutectic promotes both established and emerging local, national, and international artists.”
Let me reiterate: this was an amazing field trip. Not only were we able to see a working craft business in action and the real-life application of the mold-making techniques we have learned in class, but Brett Binford was the epitome of generous and took time with our class to share Mudshark’s history and explain some of the ins-and-outs of building a small-batch craft business from the ground up. It was truly a great educational experience for Craft students who may some day aspire to such successes as what Eutectic + Mudshark have created!
I was so inspired by the small business vibes that I daydreamed up a pretty cool idea which I will touch on more, later. I wouldn’t have had the inspiration if I hadn’t toured this Portland-based company with my class. Then I pressed molds on the streets.
Part of my Independent Study has been development of the idea to use mold-making to enable me to capture part of the streets that have inspired my study of urban Portland areas.
Side-Note: I have a love of the manufacturing district around Water Ave. I have already made a study of this area using photo-documentation. I have plans to use these photos, and to interpret the area using ceramics and painting, too.
The inspiration is one part element of documentation of an area of the city which has history and is rapidly changing, one part interpretation of the feelings I have when walking through this area.
Well, one of the big ideas behind this Independent Study is to learn techniques in mold-making which will increase my abilities to capture this area, to imbue my artwork with the characteristics of the area of downtown Portland.
Building on the techniques of tile-making and one-part molds, inspired by the ethic and industry of Mudshark Studios, I have started to apply what I absorbed in mold-making class and had planned as my first iteration in work: making molds from the streets.
Yes, I looked like a crazy person,
laying on the ground and pressing clay into the sidewalks.
In fact, a crazy person even stopped and shouted, “THIS IS GENIUS,” enamored that I was surrounded with clay tiles and he could see me and what I was doing and thought it was wonderful. It made me want to not stop, having that effect on a stranger with my art-making.
This was an unexpected element of this project: that making art in public came with people who would engage me as I did it! They asked me about what I was doing and why, and I had to express my thoughts and tell them what I was doing and why—the singular most complicated part of writing a thesis about my work. I couldn’t have asked for a more compelling way to fully consider what I was doing and why than engaging with people who were really interested by what I was doing, and I am thankful for that.
There were many who stopped and watched, then moved along but three people in specific who changed my experience and made me feel like I was following the path down the rabbit hole to doing something right, and potentially amazing.
These strangers, although they were just curious, really helped me consider and articulate why I was doing what I was doing.
Some of them made observations that helped me answer questions about the nature of my work, like why I was interested to capture elements of the street and why I wanted to share parts of Portland through my work. Some just shared enthusiasm for what I was doing, what I told them I wanted to do with this work, and that it was important to them—to save and remember, too—to capture a part of time and place.
I wrote a poem about the experience I had that day. It accompanies these photos as part of the process of pressing clay into the sidewalks to capture impressions as pieces of what I thought could portray the character of an urban space and Portland streets. Some even bear the name of the street.
Practice—Jessica Rehfield, September 2018
Made a new friend called Mary.
Mary is in pain something fierce, she tells me about Armando then busts out singing a Billy Holiday cover song of her life, her style. I tell her is it something else, the way
Her words made sense and that
She sounds like she has a higher calling.
A bird with an angelic sound of pain
We Made a Wednesday plan to go to the Waterfront
We made a different plan upon calling that we both had shit to do but I’ll see you tomorrow, tomorrow
Tomorrow is calling.
Email Peter Siracusa - the Sicilian guy cycling past who stopped, raised his arms and exclaims, “ this is genius!” asked me if I have a blog. jessicarehfield.com/blog
Sam brought me water
I composed this list:
Things to take with me
Tiny water Spray bottle
Brushes- dry & wet
Tool belt must make my belt use the apron from the kitchen.
Tracing or waxed paper squares
Stool, a Sitting Seat
A seat to sit in
Slip contained in film canister to undo some things done.
A Wire cutting tool
Sponges, fine and soft
Water bottle-change my painting box into a toolbox Do It.
Water for my throat.
A Bigger dry box,
Bigger slabs. Better tools
A Better Practice.
Express to impress,
Part 2: Glazing Monkey Skulls fr. the One-Part Mold:
Will be…cont. :)
Go Make Something,
Moldmaking at OCAC
September 16, 2018
This week, I learned how to make a 1-part mold. This type of mold is usually used to make creamers or other functional wares. Because this is an objects class and I am not making functional wares, I will be casting from my hand-sculpted object and make three unique, iterated objects from those casts. How exciting!
Because I am a weirdo artist person, here is the object I sculpted for my mold: of course, it looks like a demented monkey skull. I say of course because I tend to favor skulls when I am free-sculpting or sketching, and this thing just came out of my hands like this. Here I am putting the cottle boards ‘round its monkey skull, so as to pour the plaster for a mould (as they would say in Britain):
When pouring the plaster, this clay will form the space that will make the mould.
I have already experienced how to mix plaster when pouring the tile molds for our first assignment, I know to coat the clay with mold soap so it will not stick to the plaster, and how to pour the plaster and then tap the mold against the table so it loses any extraneous bubbles. These cottle boards are a more sturdy process than what we used when making the tile molds (tar paper)—and let me tell you, cottle boards make moldmaking feel much more official.
Below is the result: plaster setting and forming for just about 45 mins within its sweet container of cottle boards, to a firmer surface that can be engraved and then pulled from the cottle as it is fully set.
After checking that the plaster is cool and firm, I remove the cottle boards and layer of clay to reveal the plaster mold. I now have to do the work of refining the mold while it is still damp (from the water it has absorbed).
Look at all the COOL TOOLS you get to use when refining a plaster mold!!!
This is the most diverse rasp collection I’ve ever seen and that’s because you want to be able to form your plaster with finesse and precisely fine-tune its surface.
It’s great to get to use them to really contour the edges of the mold. A sponge, as well as some light, plastic scrubby action can be used in combination with the rasps to smooth the plaster while it is still moist. This will result in a silky-smooth surface that makes you want to say, “WOW!” Here is my first 1-part mold after doing just that! Rasping, I mean…
I obviously need some more smoothing to take out the uneven areas from the edges of the mold, like near the top of the skull to avoid difficulty when pressing clay and removing it from this mold.
Here, you can see some of the edges are more smooth, and I will continue to smooth them until there is no undercut, no overhang and close to no imperfections in the mold’s surface that could be picked up by clay, in the form.
I continue to rough out the mold until I run my fingers along its surface and have decided its contours and inside are smooth enough to try a press.
I am using the porcelain available to our studio, pressed into a 1/2” slab which can then be pressed into the mold.
A pouncer is used to tap the slab into the mold, making a more even surface than if I were to use my pokey little fingers. This is the way that real professionals make a cast from a slump mold: THEY POUNCE IT OUT.
You can see I have achieved a depth of about 2-3 inches through pouncing, and the surface is generally even.
This is the depth of this mold and the pouncing technique has resulted in an even thickness across the slump. Time to turn it over and hopefully the cast will pop out with no difficulty!
My mold has produced one skeleton monkey face! It has some superficial parting in the clay, which I believe has to do with that the plaster is still drawing wetness out of the clay body, and because I may have worked the porcelain to a too-dry point in the slab-roller or with my hands, when I prepared it to be put in the mold.
These superficial cracks can be easily smoothed and the internal structure of the cast is quite secure, I just need to let this one dry to a bit more solid so that I won’t poke my fingers through its clay as I make smoothing motions with a clay tool, or sponge.
I will make multiple other casts to be used and manipulated into three, complete different objects—one of which I plan to glaze with a metallic luster for an extra pirate-y effect. I would say this mold is a success—All hail Skull-y Head!!!
Onto the next post, which will share these continued objects…and some more on the prelude to my in situ casting processes. Thanks for tuning in!
Go Make Something,
September 16, 2018
Tile Molds. Pt 2
Moldmaking at OCAC
September 12, 2018
This post continues my moldmaking explorations in an Independent Study at OCAC in the Fall semester of 2018.
My first post was centered on the making of tile molds, pressing objects into clay and pouring plaster. This first round came out looking like this:
I had some good success learning from these tile molds which objects to use and how to use them to make a good impression, when pouring plaster over a composition. I also learned which objects and orientations have a problem causing “undercuts” as they are covered in plaster. This was a good thing to explore and witness, as undercutting is explained in concept during the orientation to plaster, but seeing it happen really gets the idea set into your brain.
As you can see, some objects like the ball of tape project with too many layers into the plaster and cause an “undercut,” where the plaster settles too far into layers of surfaces and can’t be retrieved. In the picture below, you can see where the plaster couldn’t be retrieved (the plaster still set into clay in the middle of the tape impression). These are helpful lessons to use when visualizing for future originals and to know what the plaster needs to make a successful mold for an object in the round.
I also observed helpful findings about how to treat a text or word when making an original for a mold, to get the word to come out in the desired direction. For instance, I was thinking about the text I chose (“SIGNALS”) as I would in printmaking and rendered it backwards for the text to come out with a forward, and legible orientation. However, it turns out that the word impression in a tile is the same as it would be if using a stamp rather than an intaglio impression and did not have to be made in reverse. Lesson learned, if not considered, beforehand. All part of the process of getting more familiar with these processes so that I can make some great pieces.
In lessons of surface, the metal of the nut and bottlecap I used did not want to come out of the plaster body despite being doused with mold soap.
This will be helpful in the future as I am reckoning with what material to use for molds in an in situ process, and so far it seems the easiest yet most versatile material will be clay (I will make impressions in slabs and bring them back to pour from as opposed to possibly using plaster in situ).
(There will be more on this idea at a later date, as I perform in situ moldmaking; but, as a PREVIEW: I have considered silicon or resin pouring for in situ moldmaking, but after researching the different processes it seems that making an original in clay may still be the easiest and most precise for molds. I will continue further research on these possible materials but if the end result is still that clay is the most precise, cost-effective, and versatile, I will be happy because the processes I’m learning have each started out in clay and I’m feeling comfortable and happy. I will be doing some practice runs with in situ moldmaking in clay, next week, prior to making larger and more complicated molds based on my first trials.)
In the next post, I’ll be venturing into the world of 1-piece molds cast from a form I have hand-sculpted. That will be the process which leads up to making 2-part molds…
Until next time!
Go Make Something,
September 12 2018
These blog posts will highlight my progress through a mold-making course, including making 1-part, 2-pt and gang molds using plaster and plasticine and casting in porcelain.Read More