Monday, November 12, 2012

Back in Time: Bolivian Shoeshiners

In October I collaborated with Edgar Endress again, creating a set of pen and ink drawings and an acrylic painting on wood panel.

Drawings in progress. Note the book of toile de jouy open for inspiration.

In 2007, Edgar was working as one of the members of the ASCHOY Collective, conducting artistic research and social engagements in La Paz, Bolivia. The collective created a series of pieces exploring the social-political significance of the ski mask worn by the young boys working as shoeshiners on the streets of La Paz. One of the collective's actions was to create a ski mask embroidered with Bolivian religious imagery. The embroidered mask was used in public performances during which local shoeshiners were invited to wear the mask while walking the streets of La Paz followed by a musical band. The project was called "The Mask of the Shoe Shiner" and the photos of the performances are at once funny and poignant (be sure to scroll down the pdf for a look).

Recently, the ASCHOY Collective was invited to participate in a group show entitled "Ripple Effect: Currents of Socially Engaged Art", co-presented by the Art Museum of the Americas and the Washington Project for the Arts.  Edgar invited me to create new artwork to accompany an installation of the photographic documentation and the embroidered ski mask from "The Mask of the Shoe Shiner".

The completed set of drawings ready to be scanned and printed as wallpaper.  

I made pen drawings using the aesthetic language of toile de jouy, substituting shoeshiners wearing ski masks, cholitas, and llamas instead of mythical figures and aristocrats at their leisure.  The drawings were scanned and then arranged into a pattern that was printed as wall paper.

Acrylic painting on found wood to be used as a kind of altar piece.

I also painted a kind of altar piece on found wood.  The figures are inspired by the angelic figures of Michelangelo's "Last Judgement" on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, except, in my painting, the angels are wearing ski masks and carrying the tools of the shoeshiner.  More photos of the work in progress can be seen on my Tumblr page. While researching the kinds of tools and clothing used by the Bolivian shoeshiners, I came across a short documentary entitled "Shoe Shiners in Bolivia" that quickly gave me a sense of the daily life of a shoeshiner.

The completed acrylic painting ready for installation.

"The Mask of the Shoe Shiner" is on view at the Art Museum of the Americas October 25, 2012 to January 13, 2013.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Back in Time: A Dream at the Maier Museum

"The Shrine of the American Dream", 2012, installed at the Maier Museum.

Panorama of "The Shrine of the American Dream" with Brooke, Edgar, and me.

I spent the summer painting images of US patent designs onto panels made from found wood.  I describe the project in more detail in a previous blog post. The project is entitled "The Shrine of the American Dream" and is the brainchild of Edgar Endress who invited Brooke Marcy, Marco Moreno Navarro, and I to contribute to the installation.

"The Shrine of the American Dream" is on view until December 7, 2012 at the Maier Museum of Art, Lynchburg, VA as part of the museum's annual exhibition of contemporary art. The show includes work by artists Sook Jin JoAssaf EvronMuriel HasbunJiha Moon, and Kukuli Velarde.

Me looking as though I did the whole project myself.

 One of my contributions to the installation: US Patent No. 232,233, helmet from a fireman's suit, 1880.

Detail showing one of Marcus Moreno Navarro's exquisite sculptures.  

Back in Time: New Digs

New studio.  Plastic covers the existing carpet.
Since moving out of the studio I used as a graduate student at GMU in August, 2012, I have been using a spare bedroom as a studio. The floor is covered with heavy plastic followed by a layer of cheap carpet on top, hopefully preventing any paint from leaking onto the permanent carpet underneath. Although the footprint of my new studio is smaller than the space I used for the past three years, I am able to fit in all of the essentials: the taboret, the drafting table, a work table, and an easel for large paintings. Of course, as soon as all my supplies were moved in, and the room filled with the smell of linseed oil, I felt right at home in the new space.

New studio.  The taboret appreciates the window view.

Back in Time: The Last Painting

Patching holes, sanding bumps, and painting walls at my old studio, GMU, August 2012.

My last act of painting as a graduate student at GMU was to paint the walls of the studio I occupied. Three years of stray marks from drawings and paintings, splattered gesso and graphite dust covered every surface. The walls were also riddled with holes made by push pins, nails, and screws. All of the marks and punctures captured by the walls revealed a brief history of personal artistic struggle (or maybe just general goofing off).

Watching the marks on the walls disappear as I applied the final coat of paint was like watching a heavy snowfall slowly covering the Fall's debris of brown, skeletal leaves and grass, making the landscape new and fresh, and filling the air with a welcome stillness.   

Lights out.  Final view of the window in the studio I used as a graduate student at GMU.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Opening Reception at Open Space Gallery

Walk-in Crater as seen from the camera's point of view.

One of my contraptions, Walk-in Crater, will be exhibited beside the work of seven other artists at Open Space Gallery in Baltimore, MD. The show is titled Future Daze and an opening reception starting at 8:00 pm will be held Saturday, September 8th at Open Space Gallery.

"Walkin Crater" installed at Open Space Gallery

As the press release states, the work in the show examines contemporary reality by presenting investigations into and experiments with possible alternate realities or imagined future worlds.  

All is quiet in the crater, for now . . . .

Walk-in Crater is part of a series of contraptions that I have been making as an investigation into the nature of reality. For me, each piece in the series is a little reality experiment. I borrow heavily from the techniques developed by special effects artists to create fictional landscapes imagined on alien planets. I use that language of illusion-making to explore the connection between everyday reality and the fundamental structures behind reality as described by the physics of quantum mechanics and relativity.  In July 2012, I did a Q&A with Whitney Dail on her blog Jumpsuits & Teleporters (which, by the way, is an excellent resource for the overlap of science and art) and I talked a bit more about my interest in physics.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Painting Patents on Panels

US Patent No. 163,422, Life-Preserver.
During the summer I worked on a collaborative project entitled "The Shrine of the American Dream".  The project, conceived by artist Edgar Endress, takes a critical approach to narratives of prosperity for all, the so-called "American dream".  Schematic diagrams culled from U.S. patent files are painted on wood panels extracted from demolished, repaired, or abandoned houses.  The patent images and the wood from old houses are seen as visual manifestations of failed attempts at individual success and self-sufficiency, in other words, failures of the American dream.

Panels ready for installation.

At the beginning of the summer, Edgar invited painter Brooke Marcy and I to help complete the 200 panel pantings needed for the project. Sculptor Marco Moreno Navarro was also invited by Edgar to participate in the project, contributing two exquisitely detailed sculptures inspired by patent designs for protective suits.

The patents were chosen for their ability to protect the body or to extend the body's ability to endure dangerous environments. Many of the images are designs (or re-designs) for fire-protection suits or underwater suits. We also looked for patents intended to re-shape the human body--often taking the form of women's undergarments resembling medieval torture devices.   Overall, the patents chosen present attempts to increase self-sufficiency and to re-invent the self.

Panels clamped, waiting for glue to dry.

"The Shrine of the American Dream" will be installed at the Maier Museum of Art as part of their annual exhibition of contemporary art. This year, the show is entitled "Bridges Not Walls" and is open August, 31 to December 7, 2012. 

Panel painted and ready for pen.

This life preserver from 1883 (US Patent No. 281,824) might have worked better as a "CamelBak" for coffee.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Protons Explode in Head-on Collision, Investigators Uncertain Whether Higgs Made it Out Alive

An uncertain cat enjoying a few light-night bosons.
I have titled this blog post with the headline I might use if I were writing a newspaper article covering today's announcement of the discovery of a new particle.  For me, the significance of CERN's update today on the search for the Higgs boson is that the universe is still full of mysteries.  I get the sense that human understanding of the fundamental nature of the universe is at a beginning rather than an end.  It seems that physicists are more excited about the possible questions the LHC collision data raises than in the questions the data potentially answers.  At a press conference in Geneva, CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer said, "We have discovered a new particle: a boson.  Most probably a Higgs boson, but we have to find out which kind of Higgs boson it is.  Does it have the properties which we expect from the Standard Model?  If not, what are its properties?  And where do they point to?"

As a layman, it is a challenge to understand what particle physicists are saying about the recent analysis of data collected by the LHC detectors, but here's my attempt:  Evidence of a new boson has been detected, but its characteristics are unknown.  It is not yet certain that this boson matches any of the predictions made using the theoretical models that describe matter and forces at the smallest scales; in fact, this boson may be something entirely new.  In any case, many more experiments will need to be conducted. 

I am reminded that the cosmos is full of unexplored territory.  CERN's announcement today evokes the wonder I experienced as a kid watching Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock gaze into the Enterprise's viewing screen looking for uncharted worlds.  After today, I hope that words like "boson" and "lepton" seep into everyday conversation at least as deeply as "phaser" and "warp speed".   

Thursday, April 19, 2012


"Long Voyage" under construction.

There are only two weeks left until the end of my time as a graduate student.  As always, the end of the semester is a busy time.  I am working long hours to finish the written requirement for my Masters of Fine Arts.  Although the educational experiences for a graduate student in art culminate in the thesis exhibition (a display of the art work the student has been developing for two and a half years) written documentation about the work is expected.  Writing provides an opportunity for me to look at my work at a distance and to reflect on the strange, often confusing path I wended to my thesis show.

It is a challenge to use a linear structure to describe my fragmented creative process.  The work I created for my thesis show was not the result of singular thoughts leading directly to finished work.  Instead, the pieces in  the show came together around a collection of ideas and interests in a process similar to the way planets form.  My interests in physics, math, philosophy, and science fiction exerted a sort of gravitational pull on a variety of media, techniques, and methods.  A landscape painting would emerge next to a pile of electronics slowly coalescing into a mechanism aspiring to give life to a foam planet.  Nearby a cone made of corrugated cardboard would be scrutinized by a video camera looking for the point of view that would transform the scale of the cardboard cone into a large, empty corridor.  In a corner a few wooden boards have been cut, sanded, and screwed together forming a vertical frame to hold a sheet of glass ready for Pepper's ghost.  And there books lying on the floor: a small book of poems by Kay Ryan, a textbook on modern physics, a history of matte paintings, a collection of Jorge Luis Borges stories.  And what is that?  A TI-81 graphing calculator?

Bits and pieces coalescing into "Latecomers to the Universe".
Because several pieces are forming simultaneously, they influence one another.  The landscape painting learns from the baking soda poured over crumpled paper, the gears driving the foam planet make suggestions to the mechanism spinning the galaxy, and a camera tells the space ship that there is such a thing as too many greebles.

As with my thesis show, I am crafting my written documentation by working on many chapters at one time.  I hope that something good will come together by the deadline on May 4.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What's New

Detail from "Behind the Sky"
A couple of my pieces will hang in a group show entitled "Elevator to the Moon: Retro-Future Visions of Space" that will be on display at Artisphere, April 4 to June 9, 2012.  The exhibition is part of Countdown to Yuri's Night, the fifth annual celebration in DC of the first human spaceflight.

Empty gallery after my MFA thesis exhibition.
The last two months since my MFA thesis exhibition have been chaotic because I moved into a new apartment closer to DC.  I had thought that moving out of my old apartment would make me sad, instead, it felt like an opportunity to begin again.  My experience of de-installing my thesis show was similar.  The collection of work on display represented two and a half years of labor.  I thought that seeing the bare gallery after I had removed my artwork would leave me with a feeling of emptiness.  Instead I left feeling confident that I could continue to create new work and put together another show.

For now, I am focusing my efforts on completing the written component of my MFA thesis that will document the meandering process of thought I traveled to arrive at my exhibition.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Last of the Televisions

I purchased the last television that I need for my show.

The last television is a flat screen, which was an advanced technology for cathode ray tube monitors not too long ago. Now this machine is cheaper than a cappuccino at any coffee shop.

I must say that once I had all of the televisions gathered together in the gallery, I was sort of hoping they would combine powers and do something awesome. I'm still waiting for the awesome.