Today we are pleased to feature author Sunny Nestler as our Authors Talk series contributor. The artist takes the time to discuss their recently self-published artist book Undergrowth in which five drawings previously published in SR are featured. They consider the creation of the book with their collaborator, A A Spencer, as they talk about the artistic and creative choices that went into developing it.
Accompanied by audio meant to elaborate on the drawings, Sunny describes the “imagined parallel universe” which the art illustrates, representing a “journey through the hairy underbelly of desert”. The imagery of the book is uniquely interspersed with text by other creative minds in collaboration with the art. In speaking of his own relation to the artwork, Spencer considers the presence of “a lot of time and a lot of space” which seemed particularly “immeasurable”. This contributed to the work of “visionary fiction” which he produces as a companion to Sunny’s art. Sunny also discusses the drawing Tectonic Microgrowth which shows “various snapshots of growth”, speaking to the overall theme and purpose of the artistic work.
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:
My aunt finished in a few minutes. This was her snake:
“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.
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.
Figure 1: Gridded satellite photographs composed by placing Pluto in the center of mirrored sections of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Figure 2: Here, I am using the numbered grid to draw each section from the satellite image.
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.”
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.
Figure 5: An enlarged example of the botanical elements in figure 4
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SR conducted this interview with Issue 9 contributor Monica Aissa Martinez.
Superstition Review: If you could give your past self any advice what would it be?
Monica Martinez: I would tell my past self to get out of her comfort zone more readily and as often as possible where art is concerned.
SR: How did you first get involved in your field?
MM: I made the decision to attend college and headed right to art school. It was the only thing I thought I could really do. One thing led to another and here I am. Continuing to make art is probably my greatest achievement continuing to exhibit follows. But I am also pleased that private and public collectors have purchased my work, as it continues to be seen and experienced. That means a lot to me. I want my work out in the world. And it is.
élan vital, my first solo was a hugely important experience for me. It was a beautiful space, with a professional organization. The brochure was well written. The show ran six months; many, including foreign visitors, saw it. I sold numerous works. It stands out as a turning point because I solicited them and they accepted my proposal. I had that wonderful experience as an initiation exhibit, which lead to many more opportunities, and solidified the idea that I could work as an artist.
SR: Have you ever tried to work in other creative areas?
MM: I have a knack for illustration but I’ve not thought of going into that area. I enjoy photography, and photograph people now and again. Not for exhibition, but yes, professionally. I did do stage design. I have been a teaching artist for a number of years now. I used to go into the schools around the valley and teach mask making, story telling through art making. Currently I am an adjunct at Phoenix College. I teach Drawing. I enjoy the work very much. And with all my years of experience it allows me to pass on what I have learned, and what I know.
SR: Please give us some background biographical information.
I am originally from El Paso, Texas. I come from a large family. Education, arts and culture are a priority in my family. I am currently living in Phoenix with my husband and cat.
I received a BFA in Ceramics and Metals, at the University of Texas at El Paso.
I received my Masters of Fine Arts at New Mexico State University. Area of emphasis was Drawing and Printmaking. I covered 2D AND 3D both before I settled into my current areas of work: drawing, painting and printmaking. I also make masks. Though I don’t exhibit my masks.
I have been awarded solo exhibitions. That’s pretty valuable for development and growth as an artist.
My work has exhibited in the Phoenix Art Museum (Local’s Only), the Tucson Museum of Art (AZ biennial ’09), the ASU Art Museum (Here and Now), and Tempe Center for the Arts, Mesa Arts Center, and the Scottsdale Center for the Arts (solo). My work has been seen internationally, and is part of numerous private and public collections including: New Mexico State University, Mesa Arts Center, Phoenix Municipal Court House, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary of Art, Arizona State University, and Brigham Young University.
My drawing, paintings and prints are featured in three publications through the Hispanic Research Center and Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue of Arizona State University. Both ASU and the University of Norte Dame have commissioned me to create limited edition prints. My alma mater, New Mexico State University has purchased four of my works, three of those purchases were more recent. They invited me to come back as a visiting artist and lecture. It was a bit out of body. I also exhibited and lectured at the University of Texas (my other alma mater).
My work has been published in a number of books put out by the Hispanic Research Center on the ASU campus a number of years ago. Since then I have received emails from students across the country, and including an MFA student in Monterrey Mexico connecting with me only to discuss my artwork. The latter included my work and commentary in her thesis. All of that means a lot to me.
SR: Do you have any projects or pieces you’re currently working on?
MM: Right now I am preparing for a 3-person exhibit scheduled to open January 25 and run thru May 5, 2013, at the Mesa Center for the Arts. The artwork in Superstition Review will be featured.
SR: What inspired you to create your piece for Issue 9 of Superstition Review?
MM: That particular drawing is influenced by a book I am reading titled New Self – New World by Philip Shepherd. It deals with planet earth, man and animal, the connection between them. It also deals with the need for balance of the masculine and the feminine / matriarchy / patriarchy, in current times.
It’s my very current direction, all new artwork. A new direction. I am working out new ideas. The one main piece is the largest I’ve ever worked on, and it took such a long time to complete. I am glad to have a photo for you. This image I am including with this text, is the second large work of the series.
SR: Do you have a website or is your work linked to any other websites, blog posts, or news stories?
Rebecca Glenn is looking forward to the challenge of contributing to the publishing process at Superstition Review. Her experiences in upper-division class work have inspired and encouraged her to consider a career in publishing. She is thrilled to have an opportunity to experience the field first-hand through Superstition Review.
Superstition Review: What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?
Rebecca Glenn: I am an Art Editor and I am responsible for soliciting art submissions from local and national artists. I also make decisions on art to include in the issue and then I correspond with artists to facilitate its publication.
SR: Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?
RG: I took a class on publishing in literary magazines with Trish Murphy and my interests stemmed from that experience. I have always been drawn to the publishing process, but it wasn’t until I took the class that I was educated on what exactly literary magazines are.
SR: Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?
RG: I’m a homebody with a traveling streak. I love to cook and goof around with my two girls. We do a lot of drawing, art projects and impromptu dance parties.
SR: What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?
RG: Nonfiction is my passion. It would be exciting to be the nonfiction editor. I also really like the idea of being a reader.
SR: Describe one of your favorite literary works.
RG: Madelene L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is a personal favorite. There are certain creations, like A Wrinkle in Time, that are beyond category and that is part of the appeal to me. Most would say it is a children’s novel and yet I read it again a couple weeks ago and was entranced.
SR: What are you currently reading?
RG: I like to spend summers re-reading books from my childhood. I was addicted to reading in my youth and my summer days were almost always monopolized by a book and a cool spot in the shade. Since we are just coming out of the summer months now, I most recently finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
SR: Creatively, what are you currently working on?
RG: I paint sporadically and also dabble in charcoal. I am constantly drawing. I just finished a charcoal portrait of my mother for her 50th birthday. It is such a momentous celebration and I spent a lot of time trying to capture the years of her life in a single expression; it was tough. As far as writing goes, most of it is academic these days due to my school schedule.
SR: Where do you see yourself in 10years?
RG: That is the big question…I’m not so concerned with knowing. I can say with all confidence I have no idea; maybe a pig farmer in Peru.