Friday, April 29, 2011

More from "Exodus"

Image from Extraordinary Intelligence
I've been working pretty steadily on the new sci-fi story, since my deadline is Sunday night....been consumed by that, so some more substantial postings will appear here as soon as I am done. In the meantime, an excerpt from the developing story...just a shorty for now, since I don't want to steal the thunder of what will eventually appear in the magazine:

"A strange red light seemed to rise over the rubble, and at first, the trio thought the Leviathans had found them. They all ran for cover, even Walter, who had previously wanted to die. Inside the spider-webbed glass front of a boutique, they stumbled over toppled shoe boxes and scattered boots and heels. They did not sit on the cushioned bench once intended for customers, but hunkered down on either side of the entrance, in case they had to move again. Once they caught their breath, Walter said, “I haven’t seen a living soul for the last four days. I was afraid I was the last one.” He paused when his voice cracked. “I tried to know…kill myself, but I…I just didn’t have the guts.” He pulled back his sweater sleeve to show four or five light parallel cuts he’d made across his pale wrist.

Tina, crouched beside Rayray in a way that indicated she still looked to him for physical protection, said nothing. She glanced at the wrist and then shifted her eyes to the black and white floor tiles, where the sun’s light waned. The group could hear thunder, distant at first and then suddenly louder, until it seemed as if it were right overhead. Tina began to shake. Rayray looked through the windows, calmly, as if he already knew what was coming. The old Rayray would have gotten up, kicked the boxes around, raged against whatever was overhead, vainly challenging it. Now, however, he was composed. As the building shook with the percussive impact of the thunder, Rayray said, loud enough for them to still hear, “Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.”

Within moments, a heavy burst of yellow-colored rain fell from the sky, striking the ground with the force of tiny hammers.  Walter, kept his place in the doorway, holding the lapels of his cardigan closed. He rolled his eyes around and wrinkled his nose, exposing his teeth, while he tried to see the sky beyond the boundaries of the doorway. The smell of sulfur suddenly rose from the pavement, along with a thick steam." -- from "Exodus"

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Beginning of Exodus

I'm working on a new story for the Winter '11 issue of the online sci-fi and fantasy magazine Strange Weird and Wonderful. Here are the first three paragraphs of a story with the working title, "Exodus":

The sun came up red and angry. It glowered through the gauzy fog, washing with a frail pink light the collapsing bridges and broken, graying asphalt that lay in chunks where highways had once been. While three of the small travel party still slept, protected from immediate sight by an overpass, Tina was awake, and so was Bible. She watched him sitting on the ledge some twenty yards away, looking east and staring with calm concentration into the sun. His braids, grown fuzzy at the roots, filtered the light around his skull so that it looked like a nimbus. Tina shuddered and turned over on her side, looking away from Bible.

Tina had known Bible before the apocalypse. That’s what they all called the invasion. It had come at the end of a very grim economic time. Even the Americans, who were fighting an endless war with sand colored tanks and ground harrowing missiles, were unable to muster the resources necessary to produce suitable weapons. But it did not matter, American science was not yet a match for the baffling nuclear arsenal the invaders had arrived with. Nearly everything around them had been either heavily irradiated or vaporized. In fact, at least two of the people lying near Tina snored quietly in front of human-shaped shadows burned into the concrete.

Tina again turned to look at Bible’s thin back. The sun had shifted. The red halo had disappeared. She could see his vertebrae, his humanity. Her nausea passed, and she remembered the man she had known. His birth name had been Leonard, and once, she and his other girls called him ‘Rayray’. As Rayray, he sat deep in his Cadillac Fleetwood, like it was a velveteen throne, and slowly wet his thumb and forefinger while he counted out twenties, fifties, hundreds. His girls took turns visiting him, went with their money to the Fleetwood at different times. Tina remembered how she drank in the air conditioning while she sat there and he counted, the motor humming beneath them.  Most of his girls hadn’t survived the apocalypse.  When the invaders landed, incinerating most of the inhabitants of buildings that burned and fell, the population in the Metro area fell by three-quarters. The survivors, before dying of radiation sickness or other equally fatal wounds, moved like cockroaches in the darkness, finding shelter for the daytime. Now, most of the city lay in quiet ruins that gently phosphoresced by night.   -- from "Exodus" (in progress)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On La Cigale by Chekov

Stories of Anton Chekhov
Some time ago, Michael and I got into a bidding war with an antiques dealer for a set of 1920s classics, published by Black's Readers Service. We got them for $30, which, in my opinion, is a fairly low price for nearly 60 beautifully preserved books.
I suspect they were part of a subscription series, much like the Literary Guild books my mother got at regular intervals when I was a child. They are published in a variety of different years within the 1920s. And each is a beautiful fabric-bound red with spines sun-bleached pink and covered in lovely goldtone caligraphic swirls, now slightly worn from use and age. I can tell that the previous owner liked the Shakespeare volume the best because the spine is well worn, as if it had been pulled off the shelf many times. I even found a partial grocery list in nearly incomprehensible script marking a spot in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Slowly, I've been working my way through each volume (sadly, there is no Proust), but I've read through Zola and Flaubert, stalled somewhere deep in Wilde, but consumed almost all of The World's Greatest Detective Stories (well, 'world's greatest' up to the mid-1920s, of course). Right now, I'm reading through Chekov, having finished "The Kiss," which is a wonderful character study of a antisocial military man, a virtual ascetic who has a high opinion of himself, but very little engagement with the real world. I then moved through "The Chorus Girl" and am just past "La Cigale," (spelled, "La Giglae" in this 1929 edition).

 Writer and Actress Ada Clare
(looking like my conception of Olga Ivanova)
photo credit
According to Babelfish, "La Cigale" means cicada, which is a perfect appelation for the main character, Olga Ivanova, who essentially descends on her husband's life like a plague and destroys it. The story begins with a defining statement: "To Olga Ivanova's wedding came all her friends and aquaintances. 'Look at him! Isn't it true that there is something in him?' She said to them, nodding to her husband, as if to justify her marriage to this simple, commonplace, in no way remarkable man."

She, who circulates within circles of small-time artistic, literary and musical celebrities, fancies herself to have great potential, a potential she never really builds on. She marginalizes her husband's work, feeling that he is somehow a flunky (echoing the way Anna thinks of her own husband in Chekov's Lady with a Pet Dog.) Olga goes about feeling she and her friends are far superior to her husband, who works at a hospital during the morning and moves to dissecting bodies in the afternoon. She has no genuine understanding of his work, and because the third-person narrator follows her line of thinking so closely, we also do not have a concrete understanding of the husband, only of Olga and her motivations. She does not seem to appreciate the fact that he keeps her very comfortable until later, when she's gone off 'on holiday' (again like Anna) without him and begins an affair with one of her artist friends.

All along, she racks up little debts, which her husband, Dymov, sends her money to settle, along with a monthly allowance she runs through very quickly. Each time he sends money, he begs her to come home, but she ignores his requests. Yet, it's interesting that, when the shine goes off her relationship with the artist, faced as they both are with the bohemian squalor of their domestic circumstances during this hot summer in the provinces (read: Olga gets tired of slumming it), she fantasizes about her life with her husband: how clean it is, how he dotes on her, how she will visit her dressmaker, and attend evening concerts. Her life with Dymov becomes the dream.

Yet, when she and her lover quarrel and she finally returns home, she falls into old patterns. Eventually, she takes up with her artist friend again. He belittles her, takes up with another woman, and causes Olga to become consumed with the fractured relationship. She threatens to drink poison more than once.  Finally, her husband, Dymov, begins to suspect that she is having an affair, and he can no longer look her in the eyes. He merely tolerates her escapades, demanding nothing of her. She boasts to others of his "magnanimity." Finally, when he himself makes a great achievement, a professorship, she does not appreciate its significance to him. Instead, she is more concerned about the delay his news has caused her in getting to the theatre. Her indifference crushes him.

When he becomes ill with diptheria, and finally dies, only then does she learn through his friends what a great loss he was to the scientific world, how her demands for money shackled him to jobs that hampered his ground-breaking research. In the end, she was the one with little talent, and he, modest, unassuming, and supportive of her whims as he was, had the superior ability. Perhaps even more crushing to learn is that he infected himself with diptheria by siphoning a sample of the pestulance out of a patient's throat by using his own mouth, something he would have known not to do. In effect, Dymov commits suicide in a horrible way.

I wonder why this story is so overshadowed by "Lady with a Pet Dog". Perhaps it is because "Lady with a Pet Dog" has a hopeful ending: there may be a chance that Dmitri and Anna have a future together (although I wager it is unlikely because what kind of person is Anna really? Her life always seems to be one giant ending, while Dmitri has generally regarded life as an adventure of beginnings, new chapters. His obsession with Anna is based on a short period of time spent with her amid ideal circumstances, rather than the daily challenges of everyday living) Of course, Dymov's death in "La Cigale," extinguishes any sense of hope.

Olga, too, seems made from a template used again and again, a symbol of the problematic woman, the human shackle impeding a man's progress. She is much like Zola's Nana and Flaubert's Madame Bovary, or like T.H. White's Guinevere, who is called a "ruiner of good knights." But the story is so much more than this: it is a parable and an effective character study. Here is a lesson on egoism, its dangers, the outcome of an inability to look beyond one's own ambition and thwarted desires. Olga, darling, it is not all about you.

And so, I wonder, why has this story--so didactic in  its reminders to humanity--been more or less buried among Chekov's oeuvre? Why has this not been a story elevated to the level of "Lady with the Pet Dog" or "The Bishop"? Many people could learn a great deal from this, particularly now, in the age of obsession with fame.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Enter James Frey through the High Art Door

James Frey (Photo Credit)
  I learned today that James Frey is coming out with a new novel, which Gagosian Gallery will publish in a limited run of 11,000 copies (A purposefully small run. Let's create demand, kids! But you know, on the other hand, just in case it doesn't sell, we aren't out so awful much.)

And while I call it a new novel, it had been part of the two-book deal (later abandoned by Riverhead Books) that followed publication of A Million Little Pieces. Perhaps not surprisingly, the book, titled Final Testament, has a central character who is reputed to be a contemporary messiah with a multitude of issues, including regular epileptic seizures. Here again, Frey revels in controversy...perhaps the ultimate controversy: religion. This only seems natural since it might be tough to trump his previous performance. The title alone, which indicates (1) the work's elevation to the level of holy text, (2) that it is the 'final' word on the subject, and (3) alludes to a person's enduring legacy, is in itself highly polemic. According to Art in America, the novel has already garnered the author threats in the UK. You can read a chapter segment, called "Matthew" here. (Also, kids, note the name of Frey's website: "Big Jim Industries"....has this always been his goal? The writing was not an end in itself, but instead he would like to turn creative production, even the creative production of others into an industrial-sized, money-making enterprise?)

What am I afraid of here? That James is writing about himself. Let me explain: Frey's main character, Ben, is "flattened by a piece of plate glass" that falls on him at a construction site early in the story. He survives and wakes from a coma to find that he has become a miracle worker. Could the plate glass be a metaphor for the anvil of wrath that fell on him after A Million Little Pieces was exposed as largely fictional? Apparently, he was so hounded by photographers and class-action lawsuits following his harrowing dress-down by Oprah that he was forced to take refuge in France. Now, let's look at his 'post-crucifixion' experience: he's still part of the literary world because people still write articles about his production. I would say his status as literary outcast (a title that frequently preceeds his name) is--if not always, then frequently--in air quotes. Sure, it's used as often for him as Mr. or Ms. is for others, but it's what perpetuates his bad-boy caché. Didn't he previously color himself as an outcast--a recovered outlaw, who saw the light and cleaned himself up?

Remember, the man refers to himself as Big Jim. Yes, yes, this may be an attempt to heal the wounded soul and to project an image of vital importance, but still....outcast? I'm skeptical. In 2007, Harper Collins published Bright Shiny Morning. In 2010, he co-produced (again, involving controversy over the exploitation of MFA candidates seeking publication) the movie I Am Number Four.

Well, let's take a look at Frey's description of Final Testament. Specifically, try out this explanatory line from Frey's site:

"[Ben] proceeds to roam the city and surrounding areas, reuniting with estranged family members, shooting buckets of miracle cum into the orifices of a wide variety of women and men who afterward will be happy forever, denounces the Bible and other organized religion, speaks to the entity humans understand to be God and tells them that He isn’t going to save them, warns that the end is nigh, generally has a good time doing whatever he fancies, and advises others to do so as long as nobody gets hurt." (Frey)

Really, the scary thing is--even if this is a veiled self-portrait of Frey and his virtual resurrection in the literary world (by entering through the high art door propped open for him at Gagosian)--it also points to the tacit message that devalues the notion of the future. Even though it's been positively reviewed by The Financial Times, the book's message seems filled with overwrought millenial angst and appears entirely devoid of hope. It's a message all too familiar, too overplayed in the popular media, which can be every bit as scurrilous and venal as Frey himself has been accused of. So then--what more can we really learn from this book that hasn't already been communicated by other means? Is there something to the book's theme and aura besides controversy?

It brings me right back to a question I often ask myself: what is the role of the writer in society? Do books like Final Testament contribute to constructive dialogue, or is it just another product on the conveyor belts at Big Jim Industries?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sandow Birk's American Qur'an at City Paper

"Sura 67: The Kingdom" from Sandow Birk's American Qur'an,
now on view at The Warhol Museum

A review of Sandow Birk's American Qu'ran, currently on view at The Warhol Museum, appears in the 4/13/11 edition of Pittsburgh City Paper.
Here's a small excerpt:
"Could it be that here he is using the Koran not as way to promote understanding, but as a tool for sociopolitical commentary? While this activity certainly has its value and place, operating under the guise of interfaith understanding would make it just as guilty of exploitation as the nation it criticizes." Read the review here.

I noticed the Warhol hasn't linked the review to their site, as they did with Kurt Shaw's article. This is very likely because I question the artist's goal, especially as it relates to the Warhol's mission with its larger series, Word of God. This series, which will feature at least two other theme-relevant shows, is supposed to foster interfaith understanding. Still, what the series' inaugural exhibition does do is foster discussion and constructive debate, and if this is its chief outcome, then I consider it a success, even though I read more dire and limiting implications into Birk's illustrations of the Muslim Holy Book. Overall, I am excited by the fact that The Warhol is organizing symposia. This is a vital part of engaging the community by making connections both personal and educational. This makes the works more than just framed illustrations on the wall. It makes them live and breathe meaning.

Because of the Saturday literature class I teach, I can't make it to this symposium (titled "Dis[locating] Culture") that's supposed to take place tomorrow, beginning at 1 p.m.. Resa Aslan of The Daily Beast is supposed to be the keynote speaker. There's actually another related panel on contemporary Islamic art that is scheduled for tonight at the Michael Berger Gallery. All this is very promising. It means that art is out there doing what it does when it's at its best conceptual potential (and I say 'conceptual' because I don't mean aesthetic, which often has a different impact).

But definitely check out the symposium description in the meantime.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sold, Baby and Other Good Stuff

"The Sassy Carrot" (2011)
from the Naughty Veggie Series
sold in yesterday's BnR. w00t!
 Okay, I know, I know....I should be finishing my book review column. I've got two more books (The Historical Dictionary of Polynesia and a book about comet classification). The large, snarling dogs employed by my Type A personality are nipping at my ankles. Back, boys. I'll be getting back to that work in a moment. Really.

Ow! Cool it.

Some good things have been happening. I shall enumerate:

1) I'll be interviewing Absurdistan author Gary Shteyngart for City Paper. Shteyngart is coming to Pittsburgh to read at a City of Asylum event, so we're helping to spread the word. More details on this to come!

2) My review of Sandow Birk's American Qur'an, now on view at The Warhol, appears in this week's City Paper. It will be released in print today and will appear online tomorrow. Link to to come! There will be a symposium related to the exhibition held at the Warhol on April 16th from 1p.m. to 4 p.m., with a reception to follow. Read more details on the event here. I'm grateful to have been able to weigh in on this exhibition, which has tremendous potential for opening discussion and inspiring debate.

3) I posted a story, "Zurich, 1989"--which originally appearing at LitSnack in shorter form--on Fictionaut. I'm very grateful for the good feedback from everyone. (Believe me, I need that.) The story is semi-autobiographical, as the date in the title probably reveals. In 1989, I was indeed 14 and truly did pass through Zurich from first Milan and then Rappallo, Italy with my Mom and Dad and a bunch of hardware salesman....these trips we took when I was young helped to shape my world view in ways I never imagined at the time.

4) Yesterday, I sold my "Sassy Carrot" art pin (pictured above) to a wonderful shop owner in Florida. Our lady of root vegetable sassification is packed in bubble wrap and ready for the post office this morning.

More to come tomorrow....

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bad Words, BnR Beauty, some Etsy love, and Small Press Librarian!

So, I've gotten involved in something new: BnRs. Yeah, I had to look up what that meant, too. Just in case.... you know?

See, in junior high, I was going around saying a rather nasty expression that sounded funny in phonic terms, but whose definition I did not know. When I happened to use it to punctuate a sentence, as I was standing within earshot of my Dad's office manager, he said: "Savannah, do you know what that word means?" I admitted I didn't, and asked him for an explanation. He turned bright red and declined to tell me, suggesting I go ask my father.

Um, yeah. I stopped saying that word immediately around polite company. I won't tell you what that word is now, only because this a family friendly blog. (Really, it is!) Let's just say it's not a word that sounds anything like what it is intended to allude to. So....long story short, I had to Google what "BnR" meant....'cause little Savannah is not taking any more chances, especially now that I'm nearly 37, and gaffes like the one from junior high are no longer cute or endearing. Right! Perhaps they never were. Anyway....

BnR stands for "Buy and Replace," and while I initially thought it sounded suspiciously like a pyramid scheme, I've found that it's actually pretty excellent. The concept is this: you buy something from an open Etsy BnR Treasury, list the transaction number among the comments, add your shop to the list of purchases, and you're automatically in the next Treasury. Of course, one must operate with caution. There is no guarantee of a sale for your own shop, and as yet, I haven't made one in my art store, although I'm in two BnR Treasuries (both pictured here as screen shots). Still, with revenue I made from my Suite 101 articles, I bought into two more. 

 Now, really, I'm not in it for the sales, necessarily. There are other perks. As of this morning, one Treasury is on the first page of Etsy's Treasury listings, since it's gotten so many clicks and comments. And precisely because my painting "Rocket Bees" is one of the first four items in the Treasury itself, its little avatar appears on that first Treasury page. I call that some awesome exposure. Maybe even more importantly, I've met some really excellent people, who have amazing shops. In this sense, Etsy is a fantastic online community and resource. Lately, I spend much more time there than I do on Facebook because it's become a great place to connect with other craftspeople.

Thanks, Etsy founders, for democratizing the art and craft world. No gallery is necessary now for an artist to promote his or her own work. No bricks and mortar shops, rents, untilities or staffing costs are necessary to put work out into the wider world. And while there are certainly factors beyond the artist's control that impact how often a person's shop surfaces in search results, it is much easier now than ever to turn one's creative inclinations into profit...profit which Etsy and Paypal only take a little of--unlike galleries that take a large percentage. I hope Etsy stays as cool and accessible as it is now, although I know success might encourage the eventual change of fee structures. But, we'll see. Things are in a good place now. I plan to enjoy it. :-)

In other excellent news, Poet and Typewriter Girls Founder Margaret Bashaar currently has a review of Stefanie Wielkopolan's poetry collection, Border Theory, live at Writer Karen Lillis' blog, Small Press Librarian. Margaret makes some incisive observations on the book, and it's a really interesting read. Check it out here!

I'm headed into the city today to lunch with Karen at Red Oak Cafe, where we'll be planning a Seasonal Shorts reading for the summer (very likely July). Stay tuned for details! Over and out....for now. Happy Friday, all!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

It's Wednesday, Kids

My studio mess with a shaved Jasper
So, I'm in the studio this morning, although earlier, I was working on my review column for Library Journal. Very happily, I have a new story to write for Strange, Weird, and Wonderful as well. And while I'm moving the brush around the canvas you see on my easel, I've been developing scene images, which is always a good thing--a sign of mental progress as the ideas percolate through my brain.

I've sent an entirely different story, "Buses from Bridgeport" out to many journals, and I've gotten very positive feedback. One editor even told me that she could sympathize so much with the main character (a straight-laced employee, who works for a crooked company and gets killed by a mob of people at the end). Yet, consistently, the journals say "it's not for them", although I really don't know what that might mean. The story deals with contemporary issues, so I guess maybe it's not a politically correct thing to publish...but I can't interpret the true definition of "not for us". There seems to be something beyond its face-value meaning. I realized yesterday that it's been "in progress" at the Nashville Review for months now, and I expect a rejection any old day now, especially since they just released a new issue. It's out at a few other places as well. Go ahead, folks, just reject it. I'm used to it now. No need to deliberate for so long. I'd withdraw it, but there's always the slender chance that a 7K-word story whose sole focus isn't violent sex or dysfunctional relationships might actually get published somewhere. No, I know. I won't get my hopes up.
Ooooo...girl is bitter, isn't she? Yes I have been, about the writing world anyway. There are two nice companies that call me once a month (yes, call), trying to publish my book. I have a short story collection that's ready to go and a novel that needs editing. I should be hopping up and down with excitement, yes? I thought so, too, until I found out they want $4K to produce the book and market it (and that's the basic package). Now, understand, I operate under no illusions. When someone actually contacted me to see if they could publish my book, I was skeptical immediately. I did not see only the pretty feathers of the fly. I knew there had to be a lip-piercing hook somewhere, too.

The usual macabre: this time, necklaces
Now, folks, 4K is just under the price of a new roof, which we badly need on our little abode. Therefore, I believe I will be handing over my cash to the roofer this year, and to the bathroom remodelor next year even though these publishing companies look entirely reputable and my contacts there are very personable. I wonder, though, how it is that the writing world has gotten to be this way: how, exactly, has the writer become a consumer of his own printed words and not the producer of words that others buy.

I think the intermediary step has been that we've long provided free content. You can't support a family on writing anymore as John Updike once did. It is expected that you won't receive a dime for your literary labor. (Now, horror, sci-fi, and erotica are another matter. They pay! And thank goodness for them.) But someone saw this free digital content and said: Writers want books, don't they? Let them pay! There's a demand there, people! Let's take advantage of that.

And so it goes.

In progress: "Aunt Ann Does the Dishes"

It's much like the vanity galleries I encountered in NYC in the mid-1990s. One gallerist called me at Juniata (in my dorm room!), having seen slides of the dresser's dummy sculptures I had submited in response to an ad at the back of Art Forum. She wanted to put them in her gallery. I was totally over the moon, until I got the contract, which said I would be paying $100 per square foot along with the cost of marketing and catering the opening reception. Say what?!

Get this: she also took 60% of any sales, and I got 40%. Wait, wait, did I accidently include in the slide package my purple neon sign that says "I'M A RUBE!"?

Obviously, as a college student with meagre funds--and as a reasonably intelligent human being--I didn't go for it. Perhaps it was my loss. I still don't think so.

Anyway, I've more or less come to terms with the way the literary world is right now, and I'll just chug along, continuing to create stories without expecting too much in return. Frankly, this is why I went back to painting. When I hit a wall with one, I can spend a delightful afternoon with the other. And so it goes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hive Work, New Writing, and Painted Furniture

My new foray into furniture painting.
I've been a busy girl these past few days, hence the delay in posting. Yesterday, Glenn, Michael, and I cleaned up the area around which we plan to place the top bar hive, so no branches fall on our little pollinators. The hive itself is painted and ready to go. We just have to wait on the package of bees to arrive at the post office. Now, that should make for an interesting drive home the day they arrive.

My article "Carnegie and Craft: The Next Chapter" appears in American Craft this month. You can read the article by clicking on the link, which will take you right to the magazine's blogpost page.

Soon, soon, I should be getting edits back from City Paper for the review I did of Sandow Birk's American Qu'ran, which I turned in on March 22.

Also, excitingly, I'll be contributing something to the winter issue of Strange, Weird, and Wonderful. I'm so glad to see that the magazine is back! The magazine's excellent editor, D.L. Russell, sent me three writing prompts to choose from this morning, so I'll soon be working on what I really enjoy: fiction.

What's in the picture above? My 'new-ish' foray into painted furniture. What, the daughter of a cabinetmaker has never before painted furniture? Oh yes, I definitely have. In fact, in our 2003 York Builder's Show booth, there was a black credenza with cherry blosom branches painted across the raised panel doors (to go with our 19th-century, Asian-themed kitchen display). However, I've never taken auction furniture and started to spray paint it. I guess, though, it's not totally unfamiliar work: anyone who drives past our house has seen our yellow garden gate with the blue and purple butterfly stencils and the marshmallow peep shapes stenciled on our brown garden shed. Now, I'm just taking old furniture and stenciling the willies out of it.
(Yes, furniture has willies you can stencil right out. I whacked two in the yard as they tried to run away.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Cigar Box Assemblages

I'm working on something new, while I stretch and gesso some canvases for paintings. This new work will be completed in cigar boxes Michael got for me at a smoke shop, where he buys lottery tickets. Inside the boxes will be scenes somewhat like those Joseph Cornell made, but they'll be much more like narrative tableaux. Below are pictures of the first one, which is still in progress.

Work in Progress: "Aunt Anne Does the Dishes"
Who's the lady with the gun, you ask? My husband's aunt, a twin whom we all called "Aunt Anne" passed away in February. She is very much missed because she was a warm spirit, always willing to help people. While her niece and twin were keeping vigil at her bedside in the hospital, my husband went to visit. They pulled out pictures of Anne in her thirties. One of the pictures showed her shooting a target with a handgun. This was a side of Aunt Anne I had never before seen. To me, she had always been reserved, artistic (she made beautiful quilts), and spiritual.

After seeing the picture, I absolutely had to do something with it, and so I scanned it, enlarged it, printed it, and begun using it as the principal part of this work. I'll follow with additional pictures as it progresses. The other photos below are of the collaged images on the outside of the box (the source of which are stacks of 20s, 30s, and 40s sheet music I got at auction). Eventually, I'll epoxy .22 bullet casings around the box sides, like rays of light.

In the patch of the Guz land, where Michael and I  hill and harvest 50lbs of potatoes every year, we regularly find broken pottery shards, flow blue, oxidized glass, sometimes broken milk glass canning lids (once, we even found a rusty iron stove door, likely from the late 19th century). Our potato patch happens to be in a 19th-century homesteader's garbage pile--the homesteaders who owned the land before Dziadek (pronounced: Juh-jie, Polish for grandfather) and Babcia (pronounced, at least in the Guz family: Bub-she, for grandmother) purchased the land in the late 19-teens/early 1920s . I plan to use these pottery shards, too.  Using the shards was Michael's excellent idea. Pics to to come....
"Aunt Anne Does the Dishes" (outside front)

"Aunt Anne Does the Dishes" (outside front)

Last night, Michael and I met with a very dear friend of mine from high school, Sheldon Yeager, who has begun his own business, working with Brooklyn artists (but in the summers, he also manages Skipper Dipper with his husband Dave, who edits the show "Say yes to the Dress." Sheldon's Christmas letter was really inspiring, since it described his new adventures after leaving MTV, where he managed the big MTV screen that appears in Times Square. He's had a really exciting life, and it's getting even more so with his new ventures. It's fantastic hearing his stories, which, as a bonus, boosts my creative energy, too. I also got to meet his wonderful friend Julie Simon, who works in New York City's urban planning department. She and Sheldon are taking a roadtrip through the 'Rustbelt' to look at the cities and take in some of the local art scene. More to come on Sheldon's new project, Municipal Print Company, when his new site goes live!