Vermont Studio Center residency – Part III

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The area surrounding Johnson and the VSC consists of forested hillsides which are lovely to walk in. One day at lunch, my new friend Rosa mentioned a beautiful “golden” tree she had seen on a walk. We thought she was talking about foliage, but she said no, it had bark that truly looked like gold. I didn’t believe this was possible, and I wanted to see it for myself. So four of us went out to see the golden tree, and I can now say that it really does exist. So cool! (It’s actually a Yellow Birch.)

On another excursion, my friend Sarah and I went up to the Johnson State College campus to have a look at their library. As luck would have it, there was a cart outside the door full of free books. Score! A good variety of technical things, with lots of interesting charts, maps, and other illustrations. I thought this was a gift from the gods for my Excavations pieces, and rightly so.

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Another benefit of the Vermont Studio Centers is the visiting artists program. Any resident who wishes to do so can receive a half-hour visit from the visiting artist, which is rather open-ended, but can take the form of just a chat session, or a full-on critique, depending on how the artist wants it to go. I had visits by Katherine Bradford, Bruce Gagnier, and Chris Brown, with what I would describe as varying degrees of success. However, I did receive a suggestion to look up Mark Bradford, which was a great idea. I realized I’d seen him before from Art:21. He uses ad posters collected from the fences in his neighborhood to make work that is both visually fascinating and conceptually compelling – so inspiring. I watched another couple of videos of him on YouTube that afternoon.

 

Thus armed with new ideas and inspiration, I decided to take this canvas drop cloth I’d acquired from the rummage sale and put it on the floor. Yet another great feature of the studio – a large area of floor that I could make a mess on – something new and very liberating! I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to do with it, but having a surface to work on that didn’t cost a lot of money meant I could just experiment and see what would happen. Using tar gel & matte medium, I drew some script straight onto the canvas and let it dry to use as a resist, then brushed on thin washes of paint. I drew swirling shapes on pages torn from my trove of materials and glued them down. I used washes of Payne’s Gray & white acrylic over the pages, then when they were dry, I tore away the parts that weren’t stuck down.

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This work went on for several days after that. It reached a stage, which virtually all of my work goes through, where I totally hated it and despaired of ever getting anything good out of it. At that point, the only thing to do is take some risks by adding more kinds of marks that are totally different from anything currently on the surface. Fast forward a little:

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This is how it looked when I decided to call it finished:

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I still need to come up with a name, and suggestions are welcome. A couple of detail shots:Adams-VSC-paperwork-8

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Here’s how my studio looked at the end:Adams-VSC-paperwork-10

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 One last thing: We all got a studio portrait from the VSC residency photographer, Howard Romero. I love mine!

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There’s a group photo too, but it came on CD and I don’t have a CD reader in my MacBook Air. I’ll have to wait until I get home to post that.

2017-10-15T16:15:01+00:00 October 31st, 2013|Art|7 Comments

Vermont Studio Center residency – Part II

Vermont Studio Center is located in the town of Johnson – population 3446 as of the 2010 U.S. Census – one of many small towns that dot Route 15. There are only a couple of restaurants/bars – The Hub, for pizza, pool, and karaoke on Saturday nights, and Wicked Wings, with a somewhat more extensive menu of bar-type food, plus Wok’n House, which I never did make it to. There’s a brand-new grocery store, quite nice, and two laundromats. Most of the houses are older, and the VSC owns several of these for housing the residents. I stayed in Mason House, which is one of the nicer ones, or so I’m told.


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Mason house
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My room
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Besides the time and space to work in a creative atmosphere among other artists, Vermont Studio Center offers a number of additional opportunities. My favorite of these was open studios night, which took place twice while I was there. Most of the time, people work behind closed doors and are rather private about what’s going on in their respective sanctuaries, or lairs. But after dinner on these special nights, those who wish to do so open their studio doors and then everyone walks among the various studio buildings to see what their compatriots have been up to. It is quite the festive affair, and a good time is had by all. I was extremely impressed by the amount of talent and creativity gathered in one place and quite honored to be counted among them.

Another sharing opportunity came in the form of “slide nights” for the visual artists, or “resident readings” for the writers. These were spread out over the weeks so that a particular session lasted about an hour. Each artist who chose to participate had 5 minutes to show digital images and talk about themselves and their work. Writers had 10 minutes to read whatever they chose. Most read something they were working on while at the residency.

My work during this time consisted of some new paintings and experimental work as well as a continuation of my Excavations series. I’ve been collecting various types of “found” papers like bills and financial reports, books in foreign languages, sheet music, maps, bingo score sheets, and many other things. The first weekend I was here, there was a fantastic church rummage sale where I picked up a dictionary, a church hymnal, and a collection of patriotic document reproductions. These, along with the wrappers from some chocolate bars I ate while here and some outer wrappers from the toilet tissue here all provided great material for these pieces.

 

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As I work on these, I’ve started to picture them from the point of view of a sort of archaeologist from the future, perhaps from a faraway planet, who comes to Earth after we’ve destroyed our society and tries to make sense of all the many and varied materials we left behind, perhaps in an attempt to learn what happened to us. I’m thinking about the incredible amount of knowledge and information available in the world, but at the same time how it is not available to everyone. Access to information is carefully controlled and messages are manipulated for the benefit of some and to the detriment of others. How do we sort out what’s really important?

And now for your enjoyment, more photos of ridiculously photogenic Vermont.

2017-10-15T16:15:03+00:00 October 29th, 2013|Art|3 Comments

Vermont Studio Center residency – Part I

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Have you ever had the luxury of being able to do pretty much whatever you want, all day and every day, with no demands or interruptions whatsoever? Well, I myself have not, but for an artist, this is about as close as it gets. A huge studio, 3 great meals a day prepared by other people, and the ability to come and go as you please without worrying about the time of day all combine to make this an incredible environment for creativity and productivity.

One of the VSC co-founders, Jon Gregg, stood up during dinner the first night to welcome all the new residents and had some advice for us. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but he basically said, “All you people (artists and writers) have come here and have put all kinds of pressure on yourself about what you’re going to do while you’re here. Well, there are 7 billion people in the world, many of them just struggling to survive, and when you think about that, you realize that no one cares.” Way to put things in perspective! We were thus freed from the self-imposed responsibility to do great things.

Why then, did it take me so long to get into the groove? Having brought a great variety of materials and supplies, I was at first in a quandary as to what to make. I guess it’s that idea again that constraints and limits are, paradoxically, rather freeing. Also, the working environment here took some getting used to for me. There are lots of people in this particular studio building, and the walls are thin. So we all have to be really quiet. Everyone goes into their studio and closes the door, and we’re all very hush-hush. You can hear people walking around because the floors creak, and sometimes there are tiny scratching sounds when people are drawing or painting. The rest of the sounds are intermittent, as people go in and out, drag their chairs across the floor, hammer on things, or use hair dryers, etc. I need to have something to listen to in order to engage my left brain while I’m working on art, but I hate in-the-ear headphones, and that’s all I have. So I’m still getting used to that.

And most importantly, I’ve never been to New England before, much less in the fall, so I had to spend some time just taking in the glorious scenery.

 

Once that’s out of the way, how to proceed? First, get everything hauled into the studio and get set up. Spend some time thinking about where to put things. Ponder. Look out the window at the fall foliage and the gorgeous rusty rooftops of the structures next door. Ponder some more.

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There is a wonderful art supply store here, so the next order of business was to have a look there. I found some inexpensive large rolls of paper and a variety of new pens and other marking tools to experiment with. Whenever I feel stuck in the studio, I have to trick myself by just playing around for awhile to get around that mindset of taking myself too seriously. I decided to put up some  big pieces of paper and just see what I might do with those.

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Here I’m just testing the waters and trying to think a little differently. I don’t normal draw on paper. The piece to the right is one of the treasures I found on one of my walks.

 

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More work in progress. Playing with some black marking tools, which turned out to be water soluble and smear when you paint over them. Kind of fun and uncontrollable.

Then, since I’d brought my portable sewing machine, I had to make sure I used it for something. I played with repurposing some cast-off strips from prior work.

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Then I started making some more of my stitched paper pieces that I’m calling “Excavations.”  I first wrote about these here. I was rather nervous about doing this at first, because the stitching on paper is super loud, but I asked the people around me about it and they all assured me it wasn’t bothering them. I told them to pound on the wall if they needed me to knock it off, but so far it’s been OK. I have a lot more to say about the excavations pieces because working on them here has helped me clarify my thoughts about them, but this post is already getting rather long, so I’ll save that for another day.

Here’s how the studio looked after two weeks.

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Limited progress on this one. More found treasures at right.

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2017-10-15T16:15:05+00:00 October 15th, 2013|Art|6 Comments