Thursday, February 10, 2011

Means and Ends and Sharing the Love

It seems as if I see a new campaign on Kickstarter every couple of days, for everything from individual projects promoted by my friends to Robocop statues, people trying to finance getting their photo exhibits to the Smithsonian, the Monumental Kitty, cool book projects, just about anything you can think of. All worthy proects, I'm sure, some more worthy than others perhaps, depending on who you ask. My heart sinks a little every time I see a new one, in part because I don't have a red cent to donate to anybody's project. I barely have the werewithal to get my own work made and documented and promoted and shipped and exhibited. I keep asking myself, is this really the new paradigm? Are we all really supposed to walk around with our hands out, nickel and diming our peers and colleagues and Facebook friends in order to get our pet projects off the ground?

Please don't misunderstand - I'm not being critical of Kickstarter as a method for bankrolling artistic endeavors. I'm happy to see anybody make a success of it. I don't begrudge anybody whatever they can raise for their projects. But if this is the New Way We Get Things Done, I'm not sure I'm cut out for it. I've always considered it up to me to make things happen for myself. If there's a grant to apply for, I'm happy to do that and take my chances. I've found that the payoff for me is more or less equal to the effort and ambition I'm willing to put into promoting myself. If I had more of a killer instinct I'd be mining the contacts and maneuvering through the network with the smoothest of operators.

Now let me try to connect this thread with that tug I feel in my stomach every time I see another artist trying to get their personal project funded. There are a number of non-profit art centers in the Detroit area. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, there are the Detroit Artists Market, Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, Anton Art Center, Paint Creek Center for the Arts, The Scarab Club, Starkweather Arts Center, Ann Arbor Art Center, Woods Gallery in the Huntington Woods Library, Grosse Pointe Art Center, Downriver Council for the Arts, and I'm probably missing some. They all have different facilities and boards and exhibition directors and committees and goals and missions. Some have educational programs or offer scholarships or sponsor art fairs and other events in addition to their exhibitions. What they all have in common are hard working staff members and boards and volunteers who work long hours for low pay or nothing at all, to provide exhibition and sales opportunities for artists all over Michigan. The best of them have longevity and excellent track records and proud histories and a desire to keep showing and promoting the best work that they can find. They're doing this in the face of the same financial pressures felt by everyone in the region, and have to work constantly to raise the money it takes to keep buildings open and the galleries lit.

While I can't speak for all non-profits, I can say that with the exception of three gallery shows in the last two years that have had nominal entry fees to cover expenses, PCCA does not charge artists anything up front to review submissions or exhibit work. We take a commission on works sold, to pay the costs of mounting and lighting and promoting shows. We work hard to get your work seen by as many new eyes as possible. We earn every penny we take in commissions. Some shows sell better than others, but we've had a pretty decent track record in the last couple of years. We've shown a variety of work, from straightforward representational painting to a group ceramics show to amazing collages and sculptures to the current baffler by Chris Samuels and Ian Swanson. Everything gets the same energy and promotion and effort. I just had the privilege of discussing Chris and Ian's show with a group of area realtors and business professionals, and had fun watching them respond as I talked about what they were seeing. I love seeing the nickel drop.

Okay, bit of a tangent, but it's all in the service of my larger point. Here's my challenge: The next time you see an appeal on Kickstarter for your friend's cool art project or publication or a crazy Robot statue that some people think is really stupid and other people think is the coolest idea ever, consider writing a check to one of the many excellent non-profits in the area. Any one of them would be thrilled and delighted to receive a donation of any size. And stop in to see their shows. Hundreds of Detroit artists have gotten their starts with these organizations. Hundreds more will get their first exposure through them. Most of them have simple, no cost procedures for submitting your work for review by their exhibition committees, and would be happy to consider your work. They're all worth a little love and attention. I've made it easy for you. Go ahead, click on the links. See what they're all up to, and consider sending them a couple of bucks. They're at least as cool as a giant fictional Robot.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Beautiful Creatures

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Greats

I just remembered the time when I was in junior high and we studied about some of the Russian czars. I was really taken by Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. Somehow I got it in my head that they were married - not all THAT stupid, as Peter was married to a woman named Catherine - and that their last name was The Great. Or something like that. Anyway, I was so fascinated by these two that I made a doll of each of them. I don't remember exactly how I did it. I think I used some kind of wire for armatures, and wrapped them with some fabric. I don't know how I made the heads, but I remember using white cotton snitched from aspirin bottles to make the hair. For their royal purple clothes, I had this wide satin ribbon in a deep purple color. Not the easiest thing to sew, but somehow I managed. I got hold of some pearls and gold thread and other fancy stuff and really dressed them up. I took them to school and showed them to my teacher, and she put them in the display case for a couple of weeks. I sure wish I had a picture of Peter and Catherine The Great.

If you haven't read Robert K. Massie's "Peter the Great," you owe it to yourself. He was an astonishing character who dragged Russia kicking and screaming from the middle ages to the beginning of the modern era. It's one of my favorite biographies. I even got all interested in detailed descriptions of his many battles. It might be time for me to pick that up again. It might also be time to re-read Massie's "The Romanovs: The Final Chapter." Must be winter coming on, I want to read about the Russians.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Mira's Class

Above image: Clown with Trumpet, from Alexander Calder's Circus

I've been having fun tonight getting ready for a talk with Mira Burack's soft sculpture class at CCS. Mira asked me to show them some of my work, some works in progress, some tools and materials. She asked me to talk a little about my process and methods, about collection and consumption (that's one of the things her students are working on right now.) Best of all, she suggested I bring in some pictures of some of the things that inspire and influence me. Oh, boy. This is where it gets really fun. In my head, I keep a running love letter to all the artists, known and unknown, who have made all the stuff that has fired my imagination and made me want to make things for as long as I can remember. This is a list that is never the same, and is always growing, but there are some artists who are always there.

Annette Messager

Christian Boltanski

Eduardo Paolozzi
I especially love the show he did at The Museum of Mankind in London, called Lost Magic Kingdoms. He worked with their collections and responded to all sorts of amazing objects with a series of collage/prints. I was immensely flattered when a beloved friend talked about Paolozzi in relation to my work.

H C Westerman

Jimmie Durham

Alexander Calder
I'm especially in love with Calder for the little circus he made out of all sorts of scraps and objects. Don't miss an opportunity to watch the movie of him playing with the circus, performing for artist friends.

Paul Klee
I was lucky enough to see some of Klee's puppets at the Neuemuseum in Berlin a couple of years ago. They really turned my head inside out.

Nek Chand


Gregory Van Maanen

Haida mask makers and carvers

Inuit mask makers

This game goes on and on. I never come to the end of artists who get me excited about picking up some material and having at it. Others always on my running list, who I didn't include for this particular talk (since it's supposed to be directed to a soft sculpture class) include Ray Johnson, Louise Bourgeoise, Martin Puryear, Henry Darger, Joseph Cornell, Betye Saar, Raymond Saunders, Jean Michel Basquiat, Kiki Smith and so many more. It never ends. I could be up all night thinking about artists and particular objects who make me want to work.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010


I was up late the other night, doing some beads and other details on a doll. This is why I like having my studio at home - well, in my case, pretty much all over the house. I've had bouts of insomnia all my life, and the only way I know to deal with it is to make something. This wouldn't work if I had to get in my car and drive somewhere to a studio.

I've done this since I was a little kid. I have vivid memories of waking up in the middle of the night and going downstairs to sit in my dad's chair and work on stringing beads or crocheting or sewing something, any kind of hand work I could get absorbed in. I'd nod off eventually, sometimes after hours of work. My mom was smart enough to realize that as long as I got up for school and didn't fall behind, there was no real reason to worry about me being up late. This is the only way I know to turn off the internal chatter.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nek Chand

I haven't posted anything here in ages, maybe I'll try to pick this up and do something with it.


Dave Fragale came over the other night to fix something for me and eat pie and catch up a little. We looked at some of the dolls I'm working on and talked about how I make them, and why, and what they're all about. I happened to have a pile of books out that I refer to often -

I'm always flipping through these, and showing them to friends and anyone I can get to sit still long enough. All of this stuff gets me excited and feeds my own ideas. So we're paging through the Nek Chand book, and we come to the photos of the soft sculpture installation I saw at Kohler a couple of years ago:

I looked again at the hands on the figures, with all the fingers stitched down, and I was transported to my mom's dining room when we were growing up. In the bottom drawer of the big dining room chest, mom kept her beautiful fabric Indian doll. I wasn't supposed to play with her, but I couldn't resist opening the drawer and pulling out that doll wrapped up in a cloth and examining everything about her, trying to figure out how she was made so I could do it myself. She was about 20" tall, dressed in a beautiful red sari, with beads and sequins and jewelry and fine embroidery. Her face was all appliqued fabric. Her hands were flat, little thumbs stitched on, four fingers indicated with lines of tiny stitches. I don't remember if she had a name, and I don't know what happened to her. I never remember actually playing with her, just sitting on the dining room floor next to the open drawer, lifting up her clothes and staring at every seam and joint, trying to puzzle the whole thing out. How could somebody take a handful of fabric scraps and stuffing and beads and turn them into this exquisite being?

The odd thing is, I've been making dolls and soft sculpture for years, and this is the first conscious memory I have of that amazing doll. Dave must have thought I was nuts, I got all excited and babbled on and on about the fingers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tree of Life

Here's a little slideshow of a sculpture installation I did at Zeitgeist Gallery in Detroit, September - October 2007. It will be shown again at Bohemian National Home, as part of the latest Slippery Weasel extravaganza, in May 2008. It's called Tree of Life, and includes a "tree" made of found wood; populated with various animals, birds, insects, fruits and flowers; the whole thing guarded by a 20' long felt snake. I'll post some background/inspiration info and linkage to Zeitgeist, BoHouse and Slippery Weasel when I get a free moment.