From Cardboard to Steel

I once told someone that I viewed my life like I was casting out a huge net and whatever came in the net was where I was led. In many ways it was exciting and sometimes really hard.


I have this drawing series that I did where I drew a floor map of every place I have ever lived and also drew in what I could remember of my belongings and furniture. At one point a blue duffle bag appeared that had been my fathers from when he was in the military. The bag was almost as big as me and durable as hell. It was in so many of the floor plan drawings. I lived in 23 places at the time I had drawn that series when I was 38 years old. The duffle bag was significant because I always made sure I could pack up my life into a bag and leave. I had one foot in and one foot out at all times. I was totally transient and in fear of needing to leave unexpectedly. It lasted for years. In some ways I was really proud of being able to completely upend my life and start over. But after a few times, I realized I was just going in circles. At each new place, I found me scrambling just like the last new place.


This same quality has a life in my artwork too. I have been working totally transiently, making things that are collapsable, can be packed into small spaces and most importantly can be transported completely by me alone in my car. I have been limited by the scale of my body and my physical strength. I also have a tendency to make things that are made out of disposable materials. I have no problem spending weeks on an artwork and then throwing it away. The materials like cardboard and tempera paint allow for temporality. I think, yes, I can just remake it if I need to out of better material.


The thing is that now things are more settled. I do have permanent things in my life, I do live and learn from things that last longer than the temporary nature of my previous life. With these things seeping into my consciousness and my nervous system, I am wanting to make things more permanent. I am moving from cardboard to steel in my mind. This shift is in so many aspects of my artmaking now. I spend the time to do things right, use a better material, research a better embroidery stitch, frame a drawing.


This is a whole new world for me. I am sitting on a goldmine of ideas and they are taking me forever to do. I think this incubation is going to require a new set up for me to do it. 

Spring
Opening the Trap

I was sitting having dinner with my family the other day and my amazing Aunt was talking about how well her grandkids were doing at school and they they have maintained a 4.0 average all along. It was so impressive and then my son asked what that is. So we told him it is like the top grade at school that you get when you do all your work and all your homework really well. And he thought for a minute and asked, "Well why would you want to do that? I mean why is that the goal." He wasn't asking because he didn't know why people strive to achieve this, he was asking because he wondered about the purpose of this choice in terms of the meaning of our lives. I know this because there are no grades or achievements at his school so he has a very different take on school. I was really surprised by this insight and thought about it for a long time.

I think about our conditioning as human beings. We all have ideas of ourselves and who we think we should be. We all do things to achieve this idea of ourself. But where does the idea of ourselves come from? Did someone tell us? 


There are endless amounts of ways to be in the world, so many benchmarks to live by. It can be incredibly frightening break out of predetermined expectations to allow space for something to bloom. It is also frightening to allow others the space to become something.

I am thinking so much about this today because I am coming out of the doldrums, I am just beginning to accept the total fog that I have been in throughout March. I am such a disciplined person that fog is very hard for me. But now I am just allowing myself to roll along, to keep on keeping on and that will bring me to the next thing. But I am holding onto the question of why I am doing what I do rather than just plugging away to get there. The pandemic has had us all question this, why are we rushing around so much?

To allow yourself to be where you are will open up the block. I just keep thinking about that conversation and think about how things can look different, imagine a new way of moving forward. To ask yourself, why do I have to do that? Maybe I don't....

The Wolf You Feed
The Wolf You Feed
"My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all. One is evil and one is good."

"Which wolf wins?"
"The one you feed."


I have been thinking about attention. A subject that is very reoccurring in my life. In some ways I have crafted my own attention because of observing the students I work with and seeing the vast differences in attention. With very difficult students, maybe due to behavior or apathy, I will spend time trying to figure out what it is they are paying attention to. It may be so far from what I am paying attention to or what I think is even going on. Often times I am amazed. From this little piece of knowledge you can connect and start to build on so many levels; relationship, work, play, and consciousness. I think it is the consciousness that is what interests me. Knowing the workings of the mind. Yesterday I went to my studio for the day and did not bring along my phone. It was hard to imagine a day without it. But it turned out to be the most amazing relief. No one could contact me! There were no notifications. My phone guides so much of my day and my attention. As I drove to my studio in the Brooklyn Army Terminal I did not use a GPS so I intuitively decided on another route.

 I automatically made the turns I would have normally taken if I were using my GPS. I went on auto pilot. I forced myself to turn around and take my chosen route. I was amazed at my shifting attention to where I was, what I was seeing. Then I decided to skip the parking lot and park by the water so I could look out into the river and see all the ships, ferries and piers and watch the water and birds. Again I skipped the turn into the pier because I was on autopilot. I made myself turn around and park in the pier. The few minutes of basking in the presence of the mighty river and the seagulls sent immediate relief. I took control of my attention. The thing that was so revealing in this short trip was how much these routines and my self imposed discipline can wear away attention. The routine can cause me to stop paying attention, to auto pilot and just follow along in a blur. The consciousness of our attention allows us to re-live. This brings intentionality to what we do and lets us choose which wolf to feed.
The Doldrums
When I was about 20, I lived in this small rural place called Shariani in Kenya. It was right on the Indian Ocean. We rented a little shed to live in but it was so overrun with bats we actually just lived outside and kept our bag in the the shed. We cooked on a jiko, which is basically a little cylinder that you put coal in the bottom and cook on top. I was a master at starting the fires and cooking on it. All you had to do was face the coal opening toward the beach and the wind would blast it and the coal would catch fire. Then one day, I could not start the fire, it would just go out on the match. There was no wind, like none. It was stifling hot. I couldn't figure it out. So I asked my friend Jesse who I was living with, and he said, "Oh it's the the doldrums." "The doldrums??'" " Yes when the winds are colliding and the air rises and there is no wind in this part of the ocean for a couple weeks." "A couple weeks??" The thought of no air for a couple weeks felt like hell. Anyway sure enough it did last a couple weeks until the wind started to pick up again.


I spent my days with jiko in hand running around trying to create wind, or fanning with all my might. It was like being in a vaccuum. Hard as I tried I could hardly create air flow. It felt endless, this airless existence and trying to cook.

Well I feel like we are in the doldrums right now but a different kind of airlessness. The winter cover and the understanding that we still have a long way to go before we can sit in our friends living rooms and invite people to stay with us has been making me feel airless.

But luckily, the small signs of spring ahead, like the melting snow, the doves cooing outside the window and the occasional blasts of sunshine have given an end in sight to at least a season. A season I love no less, but one that has been tougher than usual. So I am thinking spring! The end of the Doldrums!

The doldrums are real! Sailors get stuck in sea in the doldrums and it happens between 5 degrees north and south of the equator.

Love is an Action
Love is an action is my all time favorite quote about love. I grew up with a very romanticized view of love. It got me into a lot of trouble! When I was in Kenya, one of my teachers named Paula Paula told me about his view of love. I remember we were standing in his shamba (personal small farm plot) and he was teaching us about organic gardening and we got onto the topic of love. I literally could not compute. He found Americans ideas of romantic love to be so ridiculous. To him love was so much more functional, at least that is how I saw it. But what I came to learn was he saw love as a whole. Love was the relationship, the action, the time, the place the people. My young self could not understand. But now I get it, "Love in an action."


Around the same time period, I saw the movie the English Patient. I remember I loved it and the love story in it. My Aunt asked me what I liked about it. And I told her the love story, she became very serious and said, "Ianthe, that is not love, that is a movie showing a romanticized version of love! I want you to pick the scene showing love." I picked the part where he was carrying his dead lover through the desert and crying. She said, "OK now I want you to picture that scene without the music playing. " And it hit me like a train, I was duped! It was movie magic. It was one of my first introductions to learn about how conditioned we are by our culture, our upbringing and so many other things. But now I live the love in my life! Love is the action!

The Myths of Artists
I have always been interested in myths about artists. I think because I grew up on them, my father studied sculpture and was an art teacher and identified as an artist. He really gave me a solid foundation in art, but woven within that was all the myths of artists, they were conveyed through stories of artists like Van Gogh and they were told through romanticized notions of being an artist. I heard them all, the poverty, the inspiration, the practically divine call to be an artist, the dysfunction, the clutter an the requirement of being unorganized. Basically a whole lot of magic. I see people recreating these myths so concretely all the time. Especially in education.

Now I am an artist and an art educator and I tell you, I find the best way to stay creative is through routine. When you are involved in a process or body of work, the work is always in process in your mind it is totally enmeshed. But the routine and schedule and plans are what makes it all come to life. It took me a good part of my younger life to learn this and let go (if not actively resist) the myths that hold you down. Set up the time and show up!

How can we change perception to create a more just reality?

When I watch the footage and interviews from the attach on the capital I think what amazed me the most was how much people believed that this election was stolen. I was not surprised something like this happened and I am not someone who feels this is not us. It is most definitely us. We were founded on genocide and slavery. I heard someone say recently that the north won the civil war but the south won the culture. So it wasn't surprising the hatred and racism that drove this, but what was surprising is how much people believed the reality they created. How can so many groups of people believe totally opposite things, how does it happen? Even on things that are on a smaller scale than this.

One year I taught high school students who were getting out of Rikers Island and to put it mildly, it was pretty traumatic. The culture of prison was the culture of the school, through that year I thought a lot about how these young people who live in the same city as me and literally live in a totally different reality.


One night I took some of them snowboarding and I was taking them part way back to Harlem on the subway, even though they were twice my size and could take care of themselves better than me! Anyway, I got off the train and as we stepped out onto the sidewalk they were immediately surrounded by police and the energy got hot really fast. I stepped in and told the cops that I was their teacher taking them on the train after a night of snowboarding. They looked at me like I was nuts, and a liar. But because of my being white they let them all go and we all went our separate ways.

There were a million experiences I had that year that made me really think about perception, how we are perceived and how we perceive others. And in this perception we create realities. Those cops perceived the kids as thugs and pounced on them. And in criminalizing them they see themselves this way too. It just goes on and on in a cycle. It is imbedded in everything. The fact that we can literally create the realty we want is a conundrum

The Space between 2 Thoughts

Happy New Year! And thank you for being part of my world!

New Years has become one of my favorite times of the year especially since my son has grown to this great age of 10. I really like to take stock on the year before and think about where next year is headed. This particular New Year has been a great turn of the page and a real moment of hope.

I have stumbled on what to write in the newsletters going forward, trying to find ways to tie in the larger world. I have loads of ideas but thought I would write about my vision as an artist (as of this moment) for the first writing of the year.

My art is about the unseen. We create who we are in language, style, interest, and personality but the core of who we are is not that… it is the invisible us. I started meditating regularly and in listening to a guided meditation one day the speaker said,

“…Between any two thoughts there is a space…that is both silent and in a field of possibilities. We are not our thoughts but the one who thinks them, that means that space is who we are…silence and infinite possibility.”

I immediately thought of a drawing I was recently commissioned to do and the collector called and said she feels the tremendous isolation in the work. The idea of isolation feels so sad and so lonesome; these are two feelings I don't really identify with. I realized this quality of ‘isolation’ in my work is the space between the thoughts. That is what the work is after. In every way I am in the space between thoughts when working, I am in the space between thoughts when observing and coming up with the ideas. This is my drive to make work.

There is a feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself when making art. There is nothing so fulfilling as when someone wants to buy your work for their home. It is a true connection, and that is my vision for this year, to create these connections through my work. I want to create work that we can interact with, create spaces that bring minds together, and raise new ways of seeing. I want anyone who supports my work to feel they are a part of it. Art is the medium of the relationship.

Attention

I have been thinking a lot about attention. Attention comes up a lot in my life. What we attend to and how it literally creates our life. At 48 years old, I feel like I am learning to hone my attention.

Through distraction, or a nicer way of saying it, curiosity, I have learned a lot of things, a Jill of all trades so to speak. I am someone who says yes to most things and then find myself on some path that I didn't intend to be on. Luckily, I have enough sense of myself to come back to center. The pros are that I have had tremendous experiences and insight into myself and this world. The con is loosing my way and wondering where I would be had I attended to a vision. I couldn't help it, there are so many interesting things to investigate!

Again, a silver lining of this pandemic is the ability to slow down and see and feel what is happening, allowing for more thoughtful choice, more decision making capabilities. My attraction to nature is its slowness and cycles. This is what is needed to continue in a thoughtful way. Our attention is so strained with the internet calling for us constantly. We loose our awareness of what is happening and who we are.

I am working toward a more consistent practice of art and awareness. Not only consistency in making but in thought, process, routine, and language as a way to formulate and reflect.

The Mind at Rest...

Time is so much about perception. We have all experienced this together since March. I have become fluid and in no rush. There are no outside forces telling me what to be and how fast to go. The mind is at rest. I always think that this leaves room for the next 'thing' the next Shabang! And now I am thinking this is such an American conundrum. Maybe being fine with not much is what is happening.


The end of the summer can often feel heavy, like a quiet anxiety creeping in. That fluid time of summer will end, the outside forces will return. My mind will again race. 


I always thought that there are so many ways to go through life. People always think there is this route we are supposed to take. Like school.. who says we have to learn the things 'they' say we do? Things can look different and it is so evident watching the country struggle through all the things it has over the past few months, a pandemic, school closing, Black Lives Matter, Police Brutality a botched election and now reopening schools. There are so many solutions, and none are being taken. Instead there is this incredible drive to force things into the way they were before. School must continue... work must continue.... didn't we learn anything from all this downtime? Didn't we learn that there was no room in our minds before because we were racing through our lives but not actually absorbing anything? Didn't we learn from our countries upheaval that there needs to be systemic change? And yet we continue to drive ourselves back into the way we were. 


I have taken to trampoline jumping. Really it has only been a few days. But the lightness it brings me is remarkable. I look forward to it each day. In one way it is daunting, it isn't easy, I try to do a variety of things but amazingly I am learning quickly. For the rest of the day I feel upright, stable and energetic. I am using this practice to move forward. The lightness of my physical body can transform my mind. Onward!

Remaining Flexible

Everything changes on a dime.  I have gotten so used to the incredible looseness this lifestyle has brought. It has almost been directionless. I of course impose my own work on myself, but there are no outside forces. It reminds me of my son, he went to public school and felt completely suffocated by the structure, routines, and repetition of the work. Now he is at a free school which is guided by the students, democratically run in many ways and he loves it, but his internal discipline has eroded too. He is fine doing not much. He is slow to transition, he takes his time and could care less about a lot of things. I am wondering when all this will sprout into who he is. All this space, time and lack of pressure must lead to the next thing. Although maybe 'the next thing' is an American conundrum... maybe this is it. Being fine with not doing much. 


I walked through the area where my sculpture park is to someday be. In March I could see it, taste it. Today it felt like the season past, maybe this season was the season to really imagine it rather than finish it. In order to do it, there are a million steps before it can happen, Each step is a day's work and days float by, and days are used for other things, other works. This is the process of making art, and as we age these timeline of the processes slows down. Even if it isn't actually any slower, in your mind it all seems like slow motion. Time is relative and truly a perception. 


Fear is also relative and a perception. I decided I am trying to live the way that I make automatic drawings. I start with an image, (object) line or shape and just work off of it. Like a train of thought. Keep on keeping on...

Why I Won't Fly the 'American' Flag

I wrote this near the 4th of July, as I looked around my neighbors homes in the Catskills flying the flag. Even on a trip to Buffalo NY, I saw flags everywhere. It has always made me feel uncomfortable. To me the flag is a sign of exclusion. As well as the history of genocide, slavery and racism I imagine so many people here now who feel the exclusion of being ‘American.’

  • People who work and pay taxes with no sign of ever becoming a citizen

  • People who cannot speak the dominant language of English

  • People who came here as children and have no place to return to in their birth country but are never granted access to the benefits of citizenship.

Looking back on this writing after a flood of ideas I drew last night, I am happy to begin working on a quilted 'flag' filled with many colors and patterns in an interconnected design to hang high among the trees in the front area of the house. 


I am also working on so many new ideas for the sculpture garden here. It has taken me this long to get started. I learned how to use a chain saw today and trimmed down an edge off of a tree stump. I only wish I could work as fast as my thoughts. 

Pine Mountain - a large mountain of pine needles

The Weave! The Top Trees

I have been thinking a lot about materials and craft. It is amazing how we can be a product of our circumstances. I now have the time and mental space to think about such things. For some time I felt as though I were getting the job done and now I am thinking, what would it be like if I made it like this....or like that...  the meaning can change, the feel can change. It is pushing the work around and making it be in its best form

Why Trees

I crave stillness and quiet. There is something unsettling about not having so many distractions. I have always seen life in motion, moving to what you want to be; talking, and going places. Seeking out the world constantly. Looking for new experiences to thrill myself.

Now I seek stillness. I want to bath in it, sit in it and absorb the subtlest change and movement. The sound of an unseen creature moving, the wind, a pinecone dropping, Water lapping. I want to see the slow change of the seasons and notice each aspect of the cycle of things growing, changing.

I have submitted to my place on earth. Standing in a forest of giant trees, walking on a mountain and seeing how the scale of everything changes as I walk about. I am always trying to understand this aspect; my perception of the space I am in and when I am in it. A tree is in one place for hundreds of years and sees the landscape change. I am not physically connected to the earth but depend on it.

The work I make is slow in this way, coloring something in, drawing in repetition. The imagery is of my perception of this land as space and time.

What is Drawing?

In a workshop this weekend the presenter asked us what drawing is. Everyone responded with things like, it is really learning to look and observe.. it is representing something... creating images etc. And she said what it really is, is a record of yourself at the moment of drawing.


Looking at the drawing I did during that workshop was a record I could not stand to look at! As mesmerized as I was during the process of drawing them, I look at them as being lost, disconnected and a filler for when the real work comes. It is the part of making art that is the hardest. The in between of when things come together and start to flow. These phases always seem so long. I keep drawing, knitting making things until I see the connections, the meanings and the work starts to develop. Even though it is painful I have to trust the process and keep it moving.

Creating the New Studio... A cloud of BATs....

Working with Mike Estabrook and Vandana Jain has been a great experience! Here is the before and after picture of our space. We made mobile walls so we can keep the space flexible and we are planning what events, and work we will do here! So exciting to start fresh!

Preparing for Lithuania

In preparing for Lithuania, I made a slide show of my work to present to the community. The work spans about 13 years and it was a great moment to realize that the whole 13 years has a conceptual thread. I began when I was making Black McLean in search of an identity based on stories of my heritage. I always looked to other cultures and other people in search of a sense of place. Then I began to Make work incorporating house imagery and imagery of waterways. Looking back, alot of the work during this time was almost like a search for home. A search for belonging. I did the floating picnic with Pauline Marcel in NYC. We were exploring ideas around connections through waterways. I also made House Truck which was driven to Miami and open to the public during the art fairs. It was shown in Grendal an exhibit put on by Jack the Pelican Presents and I also showed Tunnel an animation installation in an old walk in freezer in which we cut out the walls to view the animation. It is an animation of me digging a tunnel to a house off in the distance. There is a real sense of searching during this time.


At this point I began to make work drawing from experiences of my own history rather than drawing from stories I heard or imagined heritages. I began to draw the floor map of every house I ever lived in from memory and created an installation of the street I grew up on and how the events on the street contributed to who I am and how and it impacted my understanding of the world.


From there my work became more present. I started making work that related to our relationship to landscape as seen in projects such as black mountain and sky dome. The most recent piece still incorporating a house is Hammock House which is held up by a quilt made from family clothes. It is my most recent version of home.