After another break from the studio, this time due to a trip to North Carolina, I got back into the studio today and started work on another artist's book. This time, the "pages" are going to be 12" x 9" canvas panels, which I will eventually bind in an accordion fold by gluing them to a long strip of canvas or something of similar strength. I began building up the surfaces of the panels today with heavy layers of modelling paste, and gel medium tinted with a little iridescent gold, into which I pressed pieces of cut up scrim. I also used a piece of stiff card to create a window in the modelling paste, into which I can glue a contrasting object/texture at a later stage. The image content of this book will be more abstract than the paintings I've been doing lately, but they will still be related to the themes of my current exhibition, A History of Coal.
My latest exhibition, A History of Coal (Corner, 2912 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago), just got a Recommended rating and highly complimentary review from Art New City in Chicago. New City was basically Time Out before Time Out came to town, and is still standing now that Time Out gave up its print edition and disappeared into cyberspace. In other words, around here it's considered a nice thing to get a decent review from New City. Click here to read the review.
The idea for the show came about when artist Lynn Basa and I swapped studio visits last summer after being merely Facebook friends for a number of years. I liked Lynn's work, Lynn liked mine, particularly the stop motion animations and paintings related to my memories of growing up in a mining town in England. Lynn mentioned that she was going to run a new exhibition space out of the studio building she owns near Chicago's Logan Square, and she invite me to do an installation there. That's how the idea for the show started.
I wanted to do something specific to the space, related to my existing work, but consisting of mainly new pieces. After I got back from Paris at the end of January, I shot a new 7 minute stop motion animation, playing around with my grandfather being in a mining accident in the 1930s. The gallery space, which is called Corner, has two street-facing windows, so I decided to make a diorama with moving parts in one window, and install some long accordion books in the other window. Curator Teresa SIlva agreed to write a catalogue essay for the show, a first for me, and one great thing that came out of that was the chance to listen to Teresa's responses to the work in progress and to adapt the work a little, here and there, to take account of some of her excellent suggestions.
I knew that the thing that would give me the most trouble was the diorama. My original plan was to take the materials from the sets I'd created for the film, and make a two-level diorama with spinning machinery, whirling angels, and a model of a miner swinging an axe or a pick. As the time until the opening night started to race closer, I realised that I might have to change that idea. Then, with a week to go, I came down with a heavy dose of flu. It was bad enough to have the sweats, and the chills, and the aches and fatigue, but it was worse to be forced to spend precious days in bed, and to be wracked with anxiety about even finishing the show, never mind being well enough to attend the opening. At one point, I even considered scrapping the idea of a diorama altogether, and just placing a few of the stop-motion models in that window space. But somehow I managed to drag myself to the gallery on the day before the opening, and spend a day putting a scaled down version of the diorama together. I was still ill on the opening night itself, so that I had to abandon my plan to sing some mining songs. But I had been telling myself, all through that last worrying week, something that I have found from long experience to be true: don't worry too much, because the project always gets finished somehow.
And then, when the review came out, it turned out that it was the diorama that the reviewer had the strongest response to, even considering it the real heart of the show. Something that I thought was compromised, and that I thought at one point might not even have been made. There's a lesson in here, I suppose: not that it's great to be ill when you're finalizing an installation, but that putting it together using the unconscious mind, and largely improvising on the spot, might be a good part of the creative process.
This is my studio blog. I also have another blog, Praeterita, which contains more general art-related posts.