Guest Post, Hannah Brown: Laughter, Not Zero, at the Bone

The spring after my father died, a large bull garter snake undulated across the floor of what had been my father’s office in the basement. “The Old Boy’s gone,” my brother said, “so the snake must have figured it was finally safe.”

*  * *

I had learned to walk in the dewy grass outside the back door of our farmhouse in Hastings County. I have a dim memory of snatching something moving. My hands were always quick. I headed back to the house and knocked on the door. I don’t remember what happened next, but I do remember my father outside, his face red, fiercely chopping with the axe. My mother said I had entered the kitchen with a small garter snake spiraling around my forearm, its head licking the air by my hand.

My father’s horror of snakes was a weakness my mother enjoyed. When he took her and her mother to Florida the first time, they bought a papier-mâché snake, a little piece of string between each of its sections. If you pinched one of the sections between thumb and forefinger, both its head and its tail sections writhed. The conspirators placed it on the dashboard, and my father studiously ignored it all the way to Tampa.

When they parked at the motel, my grandmother picked it up. “Why, what’s this, Bill?” He ignored her question, which sent my mother and her mother into gales of laughter— then, and every time they told the story.

I was fifteen and about to graduate from high school, and had read some mischievous information about interpreting symbols. I decided to make another open foray in my ongoing battle with all adults. My father, who had gone out with my mother’s older sister before he went out with my mother, was sitting with my aunt at the kitchen table.
It was large enough for eight of us at every meal: breakfast, lunch, and supper, every day, no breaks, no ceasefires. There were eight of us, six children and my mother, and him. Unlike city children, or children who lived a happy distance from the local school, we went home for lunch—and so did he. He was a fierce man, tall and well-built, with an inclination for the fancy. When he went away to university, one of his first purchases was a suit of tails.

There he sat, smoking a cigarette with my aunt. She was also fierce, an accomplished artist, who could kick her foot up over her head on a moment’s notice. She smoked without cease, but my father only smoked one cigarette, and only with her when she visited.

“I have a personality test, “I announced. “If you’re not too chicken.”

Neither was. They both willingly took the pencils and pieces of paper. My instructions were to draw a snake. My father was finished first. His snake looked like this:

 

Father's Snake Drawing

 

 

My aunt finished in a few minutes. This was her snake:

 

Aunt's Snake Drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

“So, what’s your interpretation, Hannah?” My aunt was pleased with what she had drawn, but not for long.

“The more coils your snake has, the more sexually frustrated you are.”

My father laughed out loud.

* * *

My mother picked up the garter snake with the bacon tongs and threw him in the ditch across the road. She looked aghast when she said a little bit of tail had broken off, and then smiled and coyly asked me if I wanted it.

 

Guest Post, Mary Shindell: Inflection Point ll

My working process is influenced by my experience and interaction with the world around me.

In my studio, I produce layered, linear works that relate the terrains of the desert and outer space. I use botanical imagery of plants collected around my studio in Phoenix and also from the Herbarium at ASU, where I photograph pressed plant specimens from the locations in Arizona where the planetary discoveries were made. In drawing the satellite images of Earth and Pluto, my focus is on the similarities of surface and texture between images of Earth and the dwarf planet Pluto. Pluto was discovered at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and I have selected imagery from the Grand Canyon to represent the place of that discovery. After I combined the images, I placed a numbered grid on the surface, as pictured in the sequence of images that follow.

 

Detailed grid artwork, featuring stellar body laid over topographical map

Figure 1: Gridded satellite photographs composed by placing Pluto in the center of mirrored sections of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

 

In process photo of transferring grid information from map to drawing

Figure 2: Here, I am using the numbered grid to draw each section from the satellite image.

Drawn piece, prepared for photograph.

Figure 3: In the above image, the hand-drawn piece is finished and digitally photographed. It will be printed as an archival Ink Jet print titled “Inflection Point II.”

Hand drawing with cacti digitally added to parts of the map and stellar body.

Figure 4: The digital drawing is then created using a combination of photographed and hand-drawn botanical images from the herbarium specimen pages. Pictured above is an early look at the process.

Close up picture of cactus

Figure 5: An enlarged example of the botanical elements in figure 4

Close up of cacti near both the Earth elements of the Grand Canyon and the map of Pluto

Figure 6: Finally, the analog drawing will be layered with drawings of plant specimens from the Grand Canyon. In this image, the plains of Pluto are on the right, the Grand Canyon’s rim is on the left, and plants from the North Rim region are suspended above the terrain.

 

As the above images illustrate, I will use the botanical elements to connect the experience of the planetary researcher with the sense of physical place from which the scientific research originated and to the physical world of the viewer. As a part of my ongoing concern for the relationship between space and detail in the environment, I am creating a connection between conventional landscape formats in art and the perspectives offered by the study of planets and outer space. By combining the two perspectives with detailed observations of plants, I am creating holistic landscapes that encompass the intimate and the vast. This connects information that we know but cannot see with the reality of the things we can see and touch.

Guest Post, Dmitry Borshch: Ways of Drawing

Loaded Kiss

Loaded Kiss

Ways of drawing: philosopher Patrick Maynard and artist Dmitry Borshch in conversation on art

 

Patrick Maynard describes his work thus: “Most of my publications and talks concern the nature, function, and perception of pictorial representations and similar expressive forms. They are theoretical, but argued from ‘real world’ engagement with things that matter to people, from the prehistoric to our own times. These discussions not only feature a broad variety of illustrations, but, as ‘substantive’ philosophy, are typically based on them. They are of interest not only to philosophers but also to artists, art critics and historians.” Dr. Maynard is the author of Drawing Distinctions (Cornell University Press, 2005), The Engine of Visualization (Cornell University Press, 1997), and other works.

Here is an excerpt from his conversation with Dmitry Borshch, a contributor to the twelfth issue of Superstition Review:

PM: To set some questions, may I begin by congratulating you on your work: that is, you have found a successful way of working. I think what we mean by “self-expression,” a term closely related to art, is one’s own way of making things which can somehow deal with unlimited ranges of life experience. That provides a basic freedom, one we associate with composers, poets, novelists. It is good to see it in drawing these days where you seem to have found a distinctive style.

Wildbirds Among Branches

Wildbirds Among Branches

DB: About finding one’s way… Many children are fearless drawers but they encounter professional illustrators in children’s books, become intimidated, and abandon drawing. I remember this intimidation; it drew me to writing and acting as a substitute for those illustrations – I was a teenage writer and tweenage actor. Frustrated with not being able to publish my writings, in English or Russian, I resumed drawing at twenty-seven. About four years later my first independent styles emerged – a drawing style first, then a sculpting one. They were both abstract, as I mentioned before, and influenced by Russian Constructivism, De Stijl, and Soviet Nonconformists. I was able to develop a style in two photographic series that followed those abstractions. Then another graphic series, closer to representational way of depicting but still abstract. While not monochromatic, its palette was restricted to three (a primary and two non-primary) colors. Maybe in 2006 I finally reached my current blue-ink style: “Will it contain you, this house I have built?” and “Wildbirds Among Branches” were the first to be drawn in it. So I moved from pure abstraction to balancing between the abstract and figurative, representational. For what period this balance will continue is unclear but in 20 years I may abandon figuration and return to geometric designs I started with.

PM: In contrast with traditional artists just mentioned, contemporary visual artists rarely work from direct assignments which provide specific context (and sustenance): jobs to do. Also they exist in an extremely heterogeneous sea of visual forms, including much marketing – the like of which had never been encountered – a daunting situation. Do you have advice for young artists, notably those who draw, regarding their finding their own ways, as you have done?

DB: The first advice to an artist who draws is to clarify his relationship to drawing: is he using it to record, visualize ideas that may later be translated into painting – as many painters do – or is he primarily a draftsman, someone for whom drawing is a “terminal” activity, no progress beyond which is anticipated? The second and final advice is to strive for coherence of his drawings’ message, style, geometry, lines’ phrasing, interaction among lines. That will enhance their presence: if a drawing is coherently drawn, it becomes present and available to the viewer for extended contemplation, but not yet as an artwork unless coherent matter is united with poetry. So, to younger and older artists, draftsmen or not, I wish many a contemplative viewer – who will be gained only if he perceives aesthetic, intellectual, sentimental or some other value in their drawing.

 

More of Dmitry’s drawings can be found here.

Guest Post, Rodney Rigby: THE FABULOUS FINCH BROTHERS, or Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Siamese Twins

Photo by Rodney Rigby

One of the first drawings I ever exhibited was titled Siamese Twins Jogging. It was, according to the gallery at the time, ‘modest in scale, and modestly priced.’ It sold for the princely sum of £25 and looked much like this (see photo on left).

It was one of six drawings I had in the show, all of which would later become the inspiration for my first book, There’s a Building on Sixth Avenue. A collection of humorous drawings and verse, though alas, the Siamese Twins did not make the final cut. Proving too sensitive a subject for younger readers and older editors.

Fast forward to more recent times.

I was playing around with an idea for a drawing, repeating the image of a bird, over and over. Then one bird became two. Goldfinches to be specific.

We have feeders and coconuts outside the window that I sit at to work. On any given day I can see Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Woodpecker (Woody), Blackbird, Goldfinch (constantly squabbling), Pigeon ( Common and Wood), Starling, Collared Dove, Thrush and all manner of Tits. A constant ebb and flow feasting on sunflower hearts and mealworm. Yum.

Occasionally, we even get Parrots. Apparently they escaped from their cages years ago, settled in the park just a stone’s throw away, and bred. Now there’s a whole company of them, living quite happily with the wind and the rain and cold.

Oh, and come spring we get the ducks visiting. They stay about 6 to 8 weeks while the female decides which of her many suitors she prefers. At least she can rely on a good meal until she makes up her mind. We’ve been feeding them for years, and not the popping candy as I once suggested. That was a joke. Just for a second though, I’d love to see their faces.

Where was I?

After some time playing around with the bird drawings, I had the thought to recycle the Siamese Twins idea. And so, the Finch Brothers were born, or hatched to be more precise. Soon after they would become the Fabulous Finch Brothers. They too were joined at the head, but would not be joggers, a term I always took to be an invention of the 1970s and the keep fit fad, but Richard Jefferies, a 19th century English naturalist, wrote of ‘joggers,’ describing them as quickly moving people who brushed others aside as they passed. Sounds about right.

The Finch Brothers, I decided, would amaze audiences with their magic and trickery.

I’ve always been fascinated by the world of Circuses and Sideshows, in particular the antique posters, handbills and pamphlets, produced to advertise such attractions as Albinos, Bearded Girl 7 Years Old, the Two-Headed Lady, the Skeleton Woman and Balloon-Headed Baby. Images that today are about as politically incorrect as one might imagine, but more often than not, wonderful examples of early graphic art.

Now they read more like a list of Charles Burns’s graphic novels.

Such Sideshows, or Freak Shows, as they were more often called, were a popular pastime as far back as the mid 16th century. One example was the exhibition at the court of Charles I, in England, of Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Colloredo, conjoined twins from Genoa, Italy. By accounts, Lazarus was handsome and functioning, while his brother dangled before him from his chest. Lazarus, when not exhibiting himself, would cover his brother with a cloak to avoid attention.

In the 18th century, Matthias Buchinger, born without arms or legs and only 29 inches tall, astonished crowds with his many talents. Known as “The Little Man of Nuremberg,” Buchinger was an expert musician, artist, calligrapher, inventor, and magician.

Chang and Eng, the original Siamese Twins, born in 1811 in Siam, now Thailand, were no doubt the most famous attraction of their day. They were joined at the torso. Encouraged to exercise by their mother, they would run and swim. Today they could easily be separated, but in the 1800s it was a risky operation. Though as one surgeon of the time remarked, they were worth more together than apart. Chang and Eng were astute businessmen, and with 21 children between them to support, they needed to be.

After three years with Abel Coffin as their manager, they took over their own careers as a touring curiosity. Admission to view them was 50 cents, or one shilling in England. Posters clearly stated: ‘No readmission to the room on one ticket.’ Books could be purchased, some featuring a full length portrait.

P.T. Barnum and the Finch Brothers

Photo by Rodney Rigby

P.T. Barnum, that genius of self-promotion, displayed a wax figure of the twins in his American Museum in the 1840s, published a pamphlet of their lives in 1853, and hired them for a 6-week engagement in 1860. They even embarked on a European tour, sponsored by Barnum, in 1868. Barnum purchased Scudder’s American Museum in 1841, re-opening as Barnum’s American Museum on Jan. 1, 1842, a museum that was part zoo, lecture hall, theatre, and freak shows. It also displayed a hat worn by Ulysses S. Grant for good measure. Admission was 25 cents and attracted as many as 15,000 visitors a day. When Barnum noticed people were lingering too long at the exhibits, he posted signs indicating, This way to the Egress. Not realising it was another word for Exit, they quickly found their way outside.

Like Chang and Eng, the Finches were worth more together than apart, to me at least.

After further reading about P.T. Barnum and his ventures, which included meeting Queen Victoria and visiting Lincoln at the White House, I thought it prudent to introduce him to the Finch Brothers. I gave them names, Felix and Cornelius, and changed them from Goldfinch to Greenfinch, for no other reason than the single use of colour seemed more aesthetically pleasing. Posters were printed, or rather drawn. As too, was P.T. Barnum, standing before a packed house.

Gently, he removes his top hat to reveal the Conjoined Twins, Felix and Cornelius Finch perched atop his balding head. He puts his finger to his lips as a sign of ‘quiet.’ To his left another sign reads, ‘Please Applaud With Hands Only.’

INTERMISSION (Already!? Hucksters!).

I actually saw a picture of just such a sign when researching old theatre photographs. It reminded me of being a kid at Saturday cinema club. Every week without fail, as soon as the cavalry charged to the rescue, 300 of us would kick and clap so loud, the building shook. As did the theatre manager’s nerves. He would immediately stop the picture until everyone was quiet and he, and the building, had stopped shaking.

I’m sure some weeks we registered on the Richter scale. A nine at least.

Finch Brothers Show

Photo by Rodney Rigby

END of INTERMISSION.

Barnum positions the brothers on the red velvet-covered table before him, then proceeds to blindfold them. As he steps away they begin their act. Starting with the Blindfolded Juggling.

Knives!..

One. Two. Then three. Two more, five! Seven! The audience can barely watch. Not nine surely? No, not nine…10! Keeping them in the air with consummate ease, until at the given moment, the knives fall with a thud. Landing point down into the table, forming a perfect circle around Felix and Cornelius.

The audience react with respectful applause.

Next, the Ball of Ribbon (Good for the digestion).

Followed by the Water Tank (Do not try this at home).

And, for one night only, the Pit of Cats (Not for those with a fear of heights, or cats).

The finale, and most dangerous of all, the Sawing in Half (Definitely not for the squeamish).

The curtain falls. The show is over.

Though, as with any work in progress, there is more to come. There is even, in true Hollywood style, a love interest and a good twist at the end, though obviously I cannot say what because that would spoil the surprise.

And that is where this was to end, with me telling you, that I cannot tell you the ending.

That is, until a recent serendipitous encounter.

An hour’s drive from where I live now, there sits a typical English seaside town, Southport, which is neither in the south or a port. My father was born there. A Sandgrounder. The town boasts a fine Victorian art gallery and museum, The Atkinson, and it was here, while strolling through the newly refurbished galleries, that I chanced upon a small, dimly lit display case. Inside was an old, rather faded, top hat.

I glanced at the caption. Top Hat belonging to P.T. Barnum.

P T Barnum's hat

Photo courtesy of the Atkinson

I was like a kid at christmas. My wife came over to see what the fuss was about, and together we read on. It seems P.T.Barnum was an advisor to the Botanic Gardens Mueum, which opened in Southport in 1876. He liked the museum so much, he donated his hat to it. Following the death of his first wife, Barnum had married Nancy Fish two years previously. She was born in 1850 in Southport. Another Sandgrounder.

And now here we were, in true Barnum’s American Museum style, staring at his top hat. The very same hat that was removed to reveal the Fabulous Finch Brothers, Felix and Cornelius.

My wife walked on while I stood a while longer, nose to the glass, trying desperately to see beneath the top hat. I tried every which way, without success. I was still trying when the gallery assistant politely asked if I would care to see the Egress.

“It’s this way,” she said.

 

 

Guest Post, Mary Shindell: Inflection Point

Inflection Point

There is always the inflection point in a drawing–the point at which it takes on its own presence and becomes more than its content. There is also the point where others view it and it becomes their image. I know that if I create art, these points will occur, and I can work to control part of the process leading up to these points.  Ultimately, however, not all of it is mine to control.

Today in my studio, I am establishing another inflection point–a point at which everything changes and the art acts in a new way. I want to isolate this point in an attempt to describe it visually. At this point, the conventional tools and techniques of drawing will meet the new digital tools of drawing. They will meet in the scan of an intricately hand-drawn image that was created specifically for this point. Then, they will part ways like the lines flanking an inflection point on a mathematician’s graph. From this point on, the scan will only exist in the computer because it will become part of a digital drawing; the original paper drawing will be continued from this point by adding layers of ink and graphite–it will no longer exist as it did at the inflection point.

I want the intimacy and precious nature of drawing to meet the new order. At that meeting point, the scan of the drawing will become an enduring memory, a snapshot of the original curve ending and a new one beginning.

ASU’s Art Fest: A Success

Art Fest PosterOn February 12, the ASU Tempe campus played host to the annual ASU School of Art: Student Art Fest at the Neeb Plaza. The promotional poster was inviting—”Tickle all your senses,” it read—a colorful display of art students practicing their crafts with utter concentration. I arrived to Neeb Plaza, excited to take a look at what the School of Art has been doing this semester, and was greeted by a Volkswagen Beetle, charmingly vandalized by other passersby. It was the perfect introduction into the art scene here at ASU. The Beetle was decorated with all sorts of designs and messages, a piece of art contributed to by any ASU student that had something to add.

Fourteen student art clubs from metal, wood and fibers, painting, printmaking and drawing to ceramics, photography and foundry presented their work at the Art Fest. The students proudly invited interested peers to sign up for club newsletters and offered samples of their work. The Wood and Fibers Club displayed elegant bracelets printed with their club logo of a tree, while the Ceramics Club provided kiln-fired bowls and painted statues, and the Printmaking Club handed out Valentine’s Day-themed postcards.

Ceramics ClubEach club had a few students demonstrating their trades. The ASU Metal Club demonstrated the process of burning simple patterns onto metal through the use of stencils. A Ceramics Club member slowly crafted a pot on the spinning wheel. The Photography Club took pictures of volunteers with a Polaroid camera and invited people to view their gallery showings at Gallery 100 and Step Gallery, just off of the ASU Tempe campus. A table was set aside for Utrecht, the student-friendly art store found at the corner of Rural and University, where they offered art advice and free student discount cards to be used for any artist’s next purchase. They also had a display board where an enterprising artist could splash a bit of paint on the increasingly messy collage.

The Art Fest ran from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., after which students were invited to attend a gallery crawl. Galleries attended include Gallery 100, Harry Wood Gallery, Northlight Gallery, and Step Gallery, all of which are within walking distance of the Tempe campus.

utrecht

An Interview with Artist John Sonsini

John and BritneyOn Saturday, February 9, artist John Sonsini presented his artwork at the opening of his exhibition at Phoenix’s Bentley Gallery. Upon walking into the gallery, the size alone of the paintings commanded attention. The life-size portraits made an instant impression. While I stopped to view the paintings, I came to realize a commonality that I am rarely able to see in most artwork: the voice of the subject.

We often see art as a discourse for political and social statements. The opinions of artists can often overshadow the person that is being painted; the subject is a tool to express a particular belief. In Sonsini’s portraits, however, he embraces the simplicity of focusing on a particular person, and allows us to see the complexities that are hidden in the faces and gestures of everyday people. To him, this is what his art is all about.

Viewing the Work

In the following interview Sonsoni states, “I have always been interested in painting faces, figures. That always interested me. But, of course, for many years I’ve been painting portraits only, painting from life. I usually am interested to paint someone who has strong features, a commanding presence.”

These presences were obvious to me as I viewed the portraits, as I was able to sense the appreciation that Sonsini has for the men he paints. By creating a scene on his canvas that is relatable, real, and unblemished by any silent statement, the audience is exposed to a kind of art that goes beyond the norm.

Because of this simplistic approach to the meaning of his art, I was curious to know how Sonsini decided he was ready to expose his craft to the public.

Sonsini’s desire to exhibit his work is definitely to the advantage of all who are able to view his portraits. By letting the characteristics of his subjects speak for themselves, we are able to admire a portrait of raw emotion and qualities.

Thank you, John Sonsini, for answering Superstition Review’s questions.

1. Q: Who/what gave you the idea to become a public artist?

A: Well, of course, there are artists who don’t view exhibiting (which is a public experience) as all that important. But, in my case, I had always intended that exhibiting my work was an important continuum of the process of making art.

2. Q: Are there any artists in your family? What do they think of your career and work?

A: Actually my father was very gifted, in particular when it came to drawing. He had a natural ability. He really could draw anything. My family was very set on my being an artist. They always encouraged me to go in that direction when I was young. And, I believe they’ve enjoyed seeing me develop a career in the arts.

3. Q: How do you decide who/what to paint?

A: I have always been interested in painting faces, figures. That always interested me. But, of course, for many years I’ve been painting portraits only, painting from life. I usually am interested to paint someone who has strong features, a commanding presence. It’s quite difficult to sit for a painting. It takes a great deal of concentration and focus. Not everyone I’d like to paint is interested in modeling, or even has the time available. I ask each prospective model to work five hours each day until the painting is completed. So that does take quite some time. So, you see, ‘who’ I want to paint is all tied up in ‘who’ really can commit to that sort of focus and daily sessions.

4. Q: Do you believe that skilled painting can be taught and learned? Or is it a natural talent?

A: Well, you refer to the ‘skill’ of painting. You’re asking IF someone can be taught the skill of painting, as in a classroom. Well there are all sorts of technical issues that can be passed along, taught. But, really how one uses those things…I think that has to be just learned from doing, working, and of course, the best lesson is probably just…trial and error. But, sure, there are certain technical skills that could be taught and learned.

5. Q: Why do you use oil paints to create your art? Do you use any other mediums? Why or why not?

A: Yes, I work with oils. I like the fluidness of the medium. Because oil remains wet for quite some time, it is very suitable for working and reworking from day to day. And, of course, the color, the pigment in oil I find to have a saturation that I haven’t found in other mediums.

6. Q: What have your sitters thought of the process and your finished portrayal of them? Are you able to cultivate a kinship with them? How long does a piece usually take to complete?

A: Before I set out to do a large painting of someone, I always ask that we work for a few days drawing or a small painting. In this way it allows a new model to kind of test out the work before we launch into a large project. Most sitters seem to like the process. It’s very organized. We take a break about every half hour, then a long lunch break mid day. Most sitters seem to enjoy the finished painting. And, especially after so many days working on a painting, and getting to see the process, and understanding that the painting is a handcrafted object. In other words, anyone who’s expecting a photographic likeness well, I think, after a few days working, it would be obvious that my painting will be a far more painterly portrayal. A full figure portrait usually takes about 10 – 14 days to complete.

7. Q: Do you have any hopes or plans for your future in the art world?

A: A new painting I’m working on at the moment for an exhibition at the Autry National Center of the American West, here in Los Angeles. I’m painting a large portrait of two vaqueros/cowboys as part of a new installation at the museum, organized by Museum Curator Amy Scott. And then a group show in NYC at Salomon Contemporary in the Spring. And, of course, I’m very pleased to be showing my most current group of paintings here in Phoenix at Bentley Gallery.

John Sonsini’s paintings are on display at Bentley Gallery in Phoenix until tomorrow, February 28.