Saturday, February 23, 2013

River People, River Art

What kind of water person are you?  Years ago an artist I knew decided to leave his small river town residence and business in order to move to the ocean.  He said "I hate river people.  River people are just slow and dull."  I'd never heard anyone before stereotype people's personalities according to what kind of water they resided near, so his pronouncement surprised me and stuck in my memory.  I love living near the river.  I think I must certainly be  "a river person" by now, having lived by the Delaware River for many years. It wasn't always so.
I grew up in the land-locked Midwest where the sky is the main event due to the flatness of the land.  Trees and tall buildings seem to just perch on the land while they grapple with the sky.  The uninterrupted acres of cornstalks in my home state had plenty of sky to rustle against.  When I moved from suburban Chicago, Illinois, to New York City, I definitely noticed a difference in people's personalities.  A Midwesterner was not so likely to have a public quarrel.  Arguing was saved for the privacy of your home.  Politeness was valued and practiced much more amidst the land-locked.  In NYC I was amazed to hear people unselfconsciously shouting, arguing, or expressing all sorts of emotions in front of whatever public surrounded them.  Without the sense of pressure from all that sky bearing down, people seemed to spark with an electric energy.  "Please" and "thank you" were not a main staple of interactions or words to be thrown out from habit, but were more selectively doled out.  I've barely been back to the Midwest since moving east decades ago; certainly much has changed now, but back then people from the two environments acted significantly different.  Undoubtedly some of the difference was because the population in the Midwest was so much more homogenized than that on the East Coast, but was any of it caused by features of the landscape? How much does the landscape affect a person's personality?

Having lived on the East Coast, close to the Delaware River for years now, I've grown very fond of the river landscape and it's surrounding environment.  Admittedly, I haven't spent enough time near the ocean to conclude anything about "ocean personalities," but I surely must be among the ranks of the "river people" my friend detested!  The water that flows in earth's rivers is mirrored in the blood running in our veins.   Although I am far from a traditional artist, living near the Delaware River has definitely influenced my creative thinking so that many of my artworks involve water somehow.  I truly understand why so many  painters have flocked to this area and found it a rich source of inspiration for their landscape paintings.

I, however, am inspired by the river in a different way.  The river flows, and along the way the water collects stories and builds history.  You can never see an entire river at once except perhaps from space, so you have to experience a river one section at a time.  This is how you view a hand scroll, also.  You wouldn't expect to take in the entire scroll painting at once.  I've been thinking about this aspect of rivers and hand scrolls for several years and have been interested in creating artworks that unfold in a cinematic time.  

I finished two such works this past week.  Because I wanted to make artworks that imply a continuation beyond their immediate boundaries, I decided to make ceramic scroll stands with paper art that one could either scroll through or experience in a non-participatory way. 

ON TALKING, graphite & colored pencil on mylar on stoneware scroll stand, ©Joy Kreves
In "ON TALKING" I wrote a narrative about talking in my family.  Because I hear conversations as sound weavings, I wrote as if on a loom's warp and weft.  In the center of the scroll the writing almost forms a kind of plaid.  The resulting words can be read with some focus, but also function in a purely visual way.  This piece can be viewed in the juried "MERCER COUNTY ARTISTS 2013" exhibition opening at Mercer Community College Art Gallery, Communications Bldg, 2nd fl, 1200 Old Trenton Rd., Trenton, NJ, beginning on Wednesday, March 5th, the reception on Wed. March 13th from 5-7pm.  The show runs through April 4, 2013.

ON PRACTICING RESTRAINT, ©Joy Kreves '13, mixed media.
I left the pure beauty of the paper unmarked in the second scroll sculpture, "ON PRACTICING RESTRAINT."  You can scroll beyond the title writing, but all you will find is the lovely translucent mylar paper hanging above the textured and glazed slab base.  I'm working on more of these scrolls, intending to paint and write on them.  I love the format.  It is the format of a walk along the river.  Perhaps I just see it that way because I am "a river person."  What kind of water person are you?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Lacking The Sounds of Silence

Climate change has certainly emerged as a strong contender for the top spot on a list of contemporary crises.  You've probably received those questionnaires sent out by political parties, asking you to rate topics of concern according to which you think needs the most attention.  Issues including climate change, overpopulation, water purity, nuclear disarmament, human trafficking, child abuse, food safety, the economy, human rights,  freedom of expression, etc., are all very important and in need of our immediate attention.   For many artists, these issues influence, inspire, or are reflected in our work.  EARTH/BRAIN EVENTS, my own recent series of twelve small collaged "Lamentations" addresses the physical and psychological distress from climate change's extreme weather:
Oil Spill Lamentation, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
Fury, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
Flood Lamentation, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
Hurry! (Evacuate), ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
HOT, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
Arctic Melt Lamentation, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
Washed Away Lamentation, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
Survival Instincts, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
Desert Brain, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
Ocean Cry, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
Green Submergence, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"
Forgotten, ©Joy Kreves, 8 1/2" X 8 1/2"

Another kind of crisis you may not have given much thought to is the lack of silence.  Now this does not mean a lack of sound, and certainly not a lack of noise.   Silence is something else.  In ONE SQUARE INCH OF SILENCE, Gordon Hempton writes, "Today silence has become an endangered species.  Our cities, our suburbs, our farm communities, even our most expansive and remote national parks are not free from human noise intrusions.  We've reached a time in human history when our global environmental crisis requires that we make permanent life-style changes.  More than ever before, we need to fall back in love with the land.  Silence is our meeting place."  He states, "Our typical anti-noise strategies - earplugs, noise cancellation headphones, even noise abatement laws - offer no real solution because they do nothing to help us reconnect and listen to the land.  And the land is speaking."  Hempton has recorded a variety of examples of what we can hear when there is only the land speaking, with no noise.  What does this have to do with visual art?  Plenty!

In my own artwork I decided somewhere along the line not to pursue the narrow purity of minimalism's "less is more," and "it's all space and light" (in spite of my love for Robert Ryman's white on white paintings).  For me, a busier visual palette is a more realistic reflection of our times.  But Hempton's ideas have gotten me re-evaluating my own attitudes again.  Where this will lead I do not know.  I have a tendency to throw an awful lot at the viewer, who may not be up to being still enough to sort all those visual stimuli out in a meaningful way.  Is it really my job to sort it all for them?  I don't want to feel that I am "dumbing it down" for anyone.  Would my ideas be better emphasized against a backdrop of visual silence? What would my increased visual silence look like?  Stay tuned...

Monet Pink Dogwood Platter, ©Joy Kreves, ceramic
For a complete artistic non sequitur, consider the DANIELS CLAY WORKS 4-person show, in which I'll exhibit my best functional ceramic wares like this Monet Pink Dogwood Platter, opening January 26th, 11-1pm at The Bank of Princeton, 10 Bridge Street, Lambertville, New Jersey.  Every spring I try to catch the dogwood blossoms at their best to impress into a clay piece.  This platter was colored with multiple layers of glazes and ceramic stains.  No crisis here, just the sound of nature quietly smiling.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Getting to Utopia

RIVER LIFE, mixed media drawing ©Joy Kreves, 12"X36"
When was the last time you thought about Utopia?  What does Utopia mean to you?  It's an idea that comes to roost on my shoulder now and then.  In the birthing class I attended years ago as preparation for our daughter's arrival participants were instructed to visualize and thus create in our imaginations a Utopia to go to, in order to ease the pain of childbirth.  I'll bet you that a pure, sparkling river was a common feature in all of our imagined refuges.  Rivers have long been part of our collective vision for a Utopian landscape.  How Utopian are our rivers really now though?  Most of their clear waters have been contaminated to some degree by all sorts of organic and industrial wastes, plastic garbage and now, increasingly with fracking poisons.

Olana with Views, photo ©Joy Kreves
Olana exterior details, photo ©Joy Kreves
Painter of large, magnificent landscapes, Frederic Edwin Church (1826 - 1900) built his mountaintop Persian style mansion, Olana, overlooking the beautiful Hudson river. He charged entry fees whenever he (literally) unveiled a new painting in his home studio. According to the docent at the now historic museum site, he made sure the viewers got their money's worth by incorporating a multitude of visual intrigues in each painting to hold and reward their gaze.  I'd already been rejecting the less is more path to creating an aesthetic experience in favor of much more is even more ideal. The docent's comment about Church's attitude appealed to me!

I was visiting Olana for the Artist's Talk of a friend, contemporary painter Dan Ford.  Dan has studied the Hudson Valley School of landscape artists (in which Frederic Church was a key player) and has evolved a body of work that matches their lushness while incorporating witty, contemporary references in the scenes.  Therefore, this was the perfect venue for him in which to reveal his connections to and departures from the Hudson Valley School of painting.

Both Ford's and Church's paintings have things in them just waiting to be discovered.  You look at Church's painting and your eyes keep finding things to alight on that are an unexpected delight to behold; in Ford's idyllic landscapes your admiration of the beauty of nature is suddenly interrupted when you spot the little gas station or fast food joint that has cropped up along the mountain stream.  Whose idea of Utopia includes a view of the Golden Arches?  Our culture and conveniences extract a huge cost from our dreams!  I wonder, if Frederic Edwin Church were painting today, would he paint the idealized, Utopian version of whatever landscape he was working from, or would he include any of the contaminants of contemporary civilization?  The docent had reported that Frederic Church had done lots of nature editing (cleaning up, rearranging trees, etc.) to enhance the breathtaking vistas surrounding his magnificent house. Getting to Utopia requires lots of editing!

As I completed my mixed media drawing, RIVER LIFE, this week (photo at top of page) I kept thinking back to those ideas that Olana had brought up for me: themes of Utopia vs. of the Here and Now; More CAN be More, and Prolonging and Rewarding the Viewer's Gaze.  I added another turtle, a ceramic one, and I felt compelled to add some bits of plastic wrap to the composition; it's a more realistic portrayal of the condition of our contemporary waters. Yes, there is purity and beauty there, but there is also pollution and garbage.  The sparkle of the plastic related to the gloss on the collaged photographic area anyway.  Pollution isn't always ugly!
Tiny Quarter-Sized Smashed Turtle, photo ©Joy Kreves

Maybe getting to Utopia is actually less interesting to me now than the actual journey there.  Currently I'm less interested in creating a sublime vision (in spite of my past exhibition title!) than in creating a time-released experience of little discoveries and multiple focal points.  That's why Japanese hand-scrolls are so appealing though it's a format I haven't tried yet.

It's amazing, the little discoveries one simple walk can hold.  Once there was what appeared to be a smashed  coin on the road ahead of me but when I got there it was a tiny smashed turtle no bigger than a quarter.  Although saddened, I was amazed to see that such a small creature had been trying to cross the wide road probably en route to the creek yet another street downhill from there.  I wondered how many of these tiny turtles make that journey successfully each year, and where it was coming from.  Had my car been the one to end it's journey?  How many lives do we obliterate without even realizing it?  Later in the same walk I heard some creature calling from a tree.  It almost sounded like a kitten, but maybe not quite.  I could not locate the exact place it came from, but it was regular and persistent.  Perhaps it was a baby squirrel.  I couldn't see anything moving in the treetops.  A bit later I witnessed the canal-side take-off of a large heron.  If you've never seen a heron alight you've missed one of the most sublime visions there is!  The emotional keys touched on in this one walk included sadness and wonder, concern, and awe!

The unfolding of that walk is the way I'm currently thinking about my artworks.  I want to create multiple interests that are there to seize and ponder and simply to relish, in a time-released fashion. Instead of painting one show-stopping moment in time, I am combining several moments that reveal themselves over a little span of time.  The cinematic ribbon-like journey of a walk or of a river is the model that continues to inspire my compositions.  Does that lead to Utopia?  Who knows?  It seems the Realist in me is most interested now in what's on that journey. What ideal is steering you?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Needing Old MacDonald's Forest Song

Autumn Fog on the Delaware River, photo ©Joy Kreves

A sudden duet of animal call and electronic alarm pierced the otherwise still night.  I'd forgotten to take the house alarm off before I ran downstairs to open the sliding glass door to better hear the strange animal noises from the back yard. They'd started around midnight, and it must have been around 2am by the time I finally decided to get up for a better listen, since they were keeping me awake anyway.

It's hard to tell where sounds are coming from at night; they seem to echo off the river that isn't far away, and bounce off the mountains and were probably not coming from our back yard.  My first impression was of lowing cows, but the nearest cows that I know of would probably not sound this close or we'd hear them often.  Wouldn't we?   There seemed to be more than one and I judged the noise as having to come from a large mammal.  We do have the occasional bear come around, and way too many deer.  I decided it was most likely a deer mating call.

When I googled deer rutting sounds, the first video that came up was of a red-tailed deer in Scotland.
That did sound very much like what I heard, but audios of the white-tailed deer we have here in New Jersey, did not come close to the sound at all!  How odd that the two kinds of deer would have such different "roars."  Days later, I don't really think the sounds could have been from our deer.  The next day neighbors confirmed hearing the noises also and they were equally confused.   Maybe it was cows after all; it's still a mystery.  
In further pursuing an answer I came across this audio track of Shakuhachi, traditional Japanese bamboo flute, used for meditation and traditional Japanese music.  This audio is part of a traditional piece that evokes the calls of deer in the autumn forest.  The music sounds nothing like what I'd heard, of course, but is very lovely and appropriate for this season.  "Distant Cry of the Deer":

According to the International Shakuhachi Society website   the "Distant Cry of the Deer" was composed by Ueda Hodo who began the Ueda Ryu School with his brother around 1917.
What an image this music creates for me!  I see the two deer standing in the midst of a forest of trees that are clothed in brilliant autumnal reds and oranges.  A misty fog lingers between the mountains, hovering over a small creek that separates the deer. As they call to each other, leaves slightly quiver on the trees before they release to gently float down through the fog.  It is a love scene full of longing, and the breathy bamboo flute sound aligns in my mind with this misty image.

Music can be so much like painting!  In high school I had a wonderful violin teacher at The Chicago Conservatory of Music, Ki Joo Lee.  I was having a bit of trouble with a passage in some concerto I was playing.  Mr. Lee finally stopped me and described a scene...I wish I could remember exactly what he said now, but maybe it was something about walking through a shadowed forest, going around some turn, and then suddenly seeing a mountain range...perhaps there was a sunrise there, too... with a feeling of freedom at hand.  Mr. Lee clearly related to the passage in the music in a personal, emotional and visual way, and I immediately played the passage much better, having realized on many levels, what it was (or could be) all about.  Of course the best visual art touches us in those same ways.

The incident with the unidentified animal noises has brought home how little I know about my surroundings.  In this way I am like so many American suburbanites, living amidst many plants I can't name and many animals whose cries I can't identify.  We don't know our own environment!  This year it took a more nature-aware friend to point out to me that our usually brilliant red and yellow autumn leaves are all dotted and disfigured by the drought we had last summer.  There is a new term for our condition of ignorance about our environment, called "Nature Deficit Disorder," caused by living too much of our lives indoors.  I am sad to find myself afflicted.  Maybe we need a new version of the song every child is taught to learn farm animal identification - a version for city dwellers and suburbanites:

Old McDonald had a forest / EIEIO / and in that forest he had some deer /  EIEIO /  With a ? ? here and a ? ? there .... everywhere a ? ? ...

How many American adults can sing what the deer, the bear, the bobcat, the opossum....the raccoon....the squirrel....the skunk... the coyote...the tree frogs...say ?

Shame on us!  We Americans should know all of these and more!  The composer of "The Distant Cry of the Deer" knew what deer sound like before taking artistic liberties with that sound.  I am saying that creativity comes from everything the artist has experienced as well as everything the artist knows.  To be deeply touching, abstract art also must stem from an understanding of the environment the artist lives in.  I've seen a lot of superficial abstract work!  People often think it is easy to create abstract work because it doesn't have to conform to the visual rules of realism, but actually it does have to stem from that same realism or it rings false.  My violin teacher understood that and the bamboo flute composer and player in the track above understood it.  I am beginning to understand it in a much deeper way.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I Am My Car and Other Terrifying Ideas

"Whooo!  Whooo!  Whooo!"  The owl outside my window was echoing the question ringing inside my head.  Self-doubts again!  Don't people ever get too old for those?  This time they are about ...well, self-doubts are always essentially about the same thing aren't they?  What is my place in the universe, who will I be in the future; how will I be remembered?  Somehow that owl just knew I was grappling with all the hairpin curves of that question, "Who, exactly, am I?"
TRANSPORTED, mixed media, ©Joy Kreves '12
This particular bout of doubting was instigated by my stupid old car that called it quits. Living in the suburbs as I do a car is a necessity.  Ugh.  I don't enjoy paying this much attention to cars.  I'd rather be transported on a magic settee; I suppose TRANSPORTED, above, is kind of a self-portrait. That's a new revelation for me.  The fact is, artists need cars to transport not only finished works, but supplies.  I've spent hours looking up safety records, cargo space dimensions, finding pictures of how much the wheel wells stick out into the cargo space, and the now all important mpg for various models.  I've interviewed friends about their own Art Car solutions.  I had a hard time making a decision whether to base my choice on mostly practical needs or to leave room for some fantasy.  In other words, choosing a vehicle turned into a marathon self-assessment.  "Am I really going to make any big pieces in the future that would need a truck/van/large SUV, or could I commit to a future of modest-sized (and more ecological) artworks?  What kind of artist will I be from now on?  How much do traction and safety matter to me?" 

Years ago my self-hypnosis teacher asserted that in dreams, one's car represented one's Self.  Here I've found myself, not dreaming, having to re-assess who I am, just in order to replace what one friend aptly described as "a container to move oneself from one place to another"!

As a kid I devoured biographies.  Reading about other people's lives made me wonder if my own would be half as interesting.  I hoped for an interesting life, though perhaps with less drama than those I read about. After all, I could see that dramatic excitement came with a hefty price tag of personal trauma.  Who wishes for that?  Well, I suppose some people do but I'm more risk-adverse.  I'm pretty practical. 

I suppose I have thus far gotten the life I wished up:  a fairly comfortable but not flashy or extravagant life, an interesting life without an excess of sorrows.  An examined life.  Luckily, I married someone intelligent but not unbalanced or bizarre the way it seems so many super-intelligent people are. We talk about The Big Questions over breakfast and dinner often enough that I don't feel swallowed up by the necessary but mundane activities of life.  My daughter is a "good kid" who didn't drag us through arguments over theft or drugs or any of the typical pitfalls of teen years.  I've led/am leading a pretty stable life.  It occurs to me that this is just not very good biographical material!  What an attention turn-off stability is! If my car choice reflects my life, well then, I suppose safety, reliability, and practicality must be part of the equation.  Apologies to my readers for the unexciting biographical material.

I'm feeling extra sensitive to labels of UNADVENTUROUS, or BORING lately, because I have found myself doing...gasp... needlepoint!  (Actually, I'm not sure if what I'm doing is needlepoint or cross-stitch, having embarqued upon the activity with no lessons whatsoever but I'll continue to call it that).  Needlepoint, that craft (still a dirty word in high art circles), that your grandmother or maybe even your great-grandmother did as a creative outlet after all her chores.  And that's not all:  I REALLY LIKE doing needlepoint!  There is something profoundly soothing about stitching little Xs over and over again to build up an image.  That's right, I'm not even doing needlepoint in a modern, abstract way!  I've been making needlepoint CHICKENS, for God's sake, and I'm not really young or hip enough to be making them ironically!

Work in progress, photo ©Joy Kreves '12

The artwork the chickens are meant to be part of began as an abstraction of a waterfall.  The natural shapes on the wood grain panel suggested water, but also the ragged shapes in the work of  painter Clyfford Still.  I planned to follow those ragged shapes, but to coat them out with smooth, slick colors suggestive of water, and leave it like that.  Raw wood contrasted with glossy blue.  I like abstract art.  I do.  It's just that Images keeps knocking at the door and I'm loathe to turn them away, loathe to rudely send them back out into the vast netherland of untethered signs and symbols.
Detail, right upper side of work in progress ©Joy Kreves '12
I cut the "window" hole out of the panel to penetrate the upper right surface space. That caused the main square panel to take on a house-like feel, and the "water"  to pour over and through it.  Something about a watershed?  Sorrows?  Looks like a drenching.  I'm not sure yet what the water is doing.  I spotted a tiny needlepoint rooster on some old napkins in my studio.  The colorful rooster feathers had an affinity for the brilliantly colored autumn leaves already pressed into one of my ceramic elements in the lower edge.  The rooster was tiny, and visually and conceptually lonely, however, so I "needed" to make another.  Well, you know two roosters would be unlikely to share a roost, and so two roosters suggested a tension I didn't want.  Therefore, I am making the 2nd bird a hen.   
Detail, top of work in progress ©Joy Kreves '12
The rooster and the hen are how this artwork informed me that its content is something about the empty nest that my husband and I are experiencing, our only daughter having gone back to college.  The poultry parents seem to be confronting the sudden space between them!  Great!  Now I see I am a chicken!  What a self-portrait!  This kind of thing is what makes creating art so terrifying.  You always are what you create, somehow, even though you might not know it consciously at the time.  Artists are always standing naked in front of the viewers and themselves.  So far, this unfinished artwork has shown me that I am a chicken experiencing an empty nest.  I can hardly wait for the next revelation.  No wonder so many artists talk technique in public.  At least that is wearing underwear.

Oh, this art is not finished yet, and could change drastically; I need to integrate the needlepoint textures into the main body of the piece and haven't resolved the position of the yarn/twines yet. I haven't resolved the edges at all, etc. etc. etc.  Creating artwork is a dialogue, and the dialogue often turns very personal.  Here I am in the flood of time, as a chicken, confronting my empty nest and all the self-doubts that situation inspires.  What now?  Where am I at in my life?  Am I ... BORING? What kind of car best represents and serves all that I am?  Assessment time seems to have arrived, courtesy of this particular flood of visiting images, alighting associations, and via my stupid old car. Magic Settee- -  get me out of here! 
Figurine Detail from TRANSPORTED, ©Joy Kreves

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Relationship With Rocks

This week I've realized that people have many ways of conversing with stones, not always involving sound. Rock walls were the first art surface, and modern people still enjoy looking at cave art and wondering what those image-filled surfaces are saying. We have a rich relationship with all kinds of rocks.
TAIHU ROCK, Chinese, Qing dynasty, 1644-1912, Gift of the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art, and museum purchase, Asian Art Department Fund [2008-65], Princeton Unversity Art Museum.

Recently I visited The Princeton University Art Museum in Princeton, New Jersey.  After viewing the brilliant special exhibit, "The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art, and Society",  I went downstairs to the Asian art collection.  At the bottom of the stairway there is a magnificent decorative garden rock, riddled with holes.  Of course I've seen these rocks before in Chinese gardens but I was surprised to learn that that these limestone "Taihu Rocks", were formed by collaboration between man and nature.  This rock would have been drilled with holes and then immersed under water in Lake Tai in Jiangsu province for perhaps hundreds of years until nature carved, smoothed, eroded and shaped it into its present form.  The resulting "Chinese scholars' rock" was probably displayed in a garden where one could ponder the fascinating shapes it presents.  Surely these rocks must speak as the wind whistles through their holes? Surely they tell stories from their water years?

When I was a kid my parents always planted a huge vegetable garden in our Illinois backyard.  One day they found a rock that looked exactly like the potatoes my mother was digging up for dinner.  In what was an out-of-character mischevious mood, she heated it up with the other spuds and served it to my sister who promptly burned herself with it and did NOT laugh.  A long string of apologies did not allay her offense at having received a stone instead of a potato on her plate.  My mother had no comic talent and felt terrible at her misjudgement.  Whenever I see a "potato rock" I think of that prank gone awry.  Perhaps this story has something to do with my enjoyment of making ceramic "rocks" and mixing them in with real rocks as I did in my Solastalgia installation:
Rocks detail, SOLASTALGIA, ©Joy Kreves 2010
One of my in-laws was buried this week.  At the graveyard  a woman with a green emerald-ringed hand (emeralds symbolize harmony, wisdom, love, reason, and prophecy) placed little rough stones on top of the smooth tombstones of other family members.  I'd forgotten what that meant, and asked.  "It says we've been here, visited..."  Of course!  That is simple enough.  No obscure symbolism there.  The stones speak for people, these with their rough surfaces in contrast to the polished granite headstones, saying "I was here". 
I was at Ringing Rocks Park in Eastern Pennsylvania again this past week. The land there is riddled with boulders large and small, deposited by glaciers so long ago... In the middle of a boulder-filled forest
Boulder field at Ringing Rocks Park, Pa, photo ©Joy Kreves
you come to a clearing, a field of boulders where nothing grows.  These rocks hold their own mystery.  When hit with a hammer, some of the rocks ring like a bell, others do not.  Many of them are riddled with dents from the number of times people have tried them, hammer to stone.  The ringers and non-ringers have been
Rocks pitted from hammer hits. Photo ©Joy Kreves
scientifically analyzed and found to contain the same elements.  It does not matter what size or shape they are.  It doesn't matter where or how they rest.  One theory is that it depends on the stresses inside of the rocks.  Basically, it is a still a mystery why the ones that ring do so.  There have been performances there, incorporating sounds of the rocks, but when humans aren't there striking them and forcing sounds I have to wonder, what are the ringing rocks saying?  What histories do they speak of?  What is their role in this unique environment?

I have a large heart shaped rock that came to my attention shortly before my mother died.  For me, this rock symbolizes her presence and I placed it beneath a tree that I can see out my kitchen window.  Once when I did an internet search I found that there are lots of people who have whole collections of heart rocks. That isn't my goal, but I appreciate the one that seemingly found me.

At our grave sites we ask the carved and polished headstones to mark where we lie, and the pebbles to tell we came to visit. We throw them in anger.  We skip them on water and live in houses built from them or have counters topped with polished slabs of them; we value their sculptural forms and we find "special" ones. We wear polished, faceted gemstones if we can afford them, for their symbolism.  The Taihu rocks were eroded by natural lake water in a gentle conversation between man and nature.  Here in the United States our bedrock is now being fractured with a man-made toxic stew in our desperate grab for more natural gas.  I don't know what our energy solution is but surely it cannot rely on this method that too easily poisons us and our environment! 

Rocks are holders of meaning.  It seems all people are attracted to them and we each have our own relationship with them.  I am thankful for the continual evolution of my own relationship with rocks. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Art as Armor

With summer vacations taking people away, I've been thinking a lot lately about my friends and how much they impact my life.  I know I don't tell them enough how much they are appreciated.  Besides their absence while vacationing, nothing makes one appreciate a friend more deeply than when that person has been somehow threatened.  Suddenly you think, "What could I have done?  What can I do to protect this friend?"
Running wild dog drawing, ©Joy Kreves

I have a number of female friends who live alone.  Some have dog companions; some do not.  When a house repair is needed, they know that they are fairly vulnerable to the workmen who come in.  Women are simply vulnerable at any age.  One female friend recently made sure to say "we" whenever talking about herself in front of the repairman who showed up at her door, but in doing so realized that her house shows no evidence of a man's presence at all.  This particular repairman acted just odd enough that her personal radar went on high alert.  Nothing was overtly wrong, but something about him wasn't quite right, either.  She stayed on the phone with a family member, then me, for most of his time there. This particular woman has a lot of skill at reading people, having had job experience working with disturbed people.  She has been a great friend to me, and a huge help during some pinches in recent years, and it distressed me that some creep could so easily be her undoing. We agreed to be physically present for each other during future "situations";  I am gathering some of my husbands extra belongings for her to put out on display and I have an idea to arm her with my art:  I remembered how it seemed my sculptures had once helped to deter some criminals.  Perhaps drawings of those same images might have some power also?
Snarling Wild Dog drawing, ©Joy Kreves

In the 1980's I lived in NYC where a composer friend, Larry Simon, called on me to play the violin part in some music he had written to accompany the reading of a poem by Frederico Garcia Lorca.  We performed this in some galleries in SoHo.  The poem (which I sadly can't find now) had a chilling line about snarling wolves that inspired me to make "stage sets" for our performance.  I drew some fierce-looking wolves, making them as menacing as I could with curled lips and spike collars, and then cut them out of foam core, life-sized, to stand up around us as we played.  An artist in New York needs friends with vehicles, and a couple of my friends had a big old van.  Graciously, they transported my ferocious canine sculptures to the gallery for the night's performance.  At the end of it we loaded them back in and agreed to leave them in the van overnight before driving them back to my place the next day. 
Growling, Collared Wild Dog drawing, ©Joy Kreves

Two Wolves, drawing, ©Joy Kreves

That night the old van was stolen.  I was horrified for my friends, whose livelihood depended on having that vehicle, and also for myself, having lost 5 or 6 sculptures in one blow.  A police detective told them it wasn't likely to be found since usually the thieves strip the vehicles for parts very quickly.  So everyone was extremely surprised when a few days later the van was found intact, having been abandoned somewhere in Brooklyn, down by the river, my sculptures still inside!  One was badly bent, but the others were fine.  The police speculated that the thieves had intended to use the van to abduct or mug somebody in, but did not have any such reports. 

Of course I immediately thought of what part my menacing sculptures might have played in deterring the muggers.  Perhaps, in the dark of the night, as they drove, they glanced into the back of the van they had just stolen and saw many shadowy guard dogs.  Real or not, surely those would have made anyone do a double-take, especially someone with bad intentions and likely high on who knows what drugs! In an alternate scenario, I imagined the thieves dragging a victim into the back of their newly stolen van, intent on mugging and robbing, but suddenly confronted with a whole collection of life-sized, snarling wolf sculptures.  It would have to have been a bit jarring, wouldn't it?  Maybe it was jarring enough to stop them in their tracks before they ran away?  I know it's possible that my sculptures had no effect at all and that the crime was nipped in the bud by something else, but as an artist, I need to believe that my work had some impact in that scene.  It certainly had some adventure, with scars on the one to prove it!
Leaping Wild Dog drawing ©Joy Kreves

Artists all believe in the life power of their work, don't they?  Why would you create a material entity if you didn't also think that you were creating some sort of a life?  When a work of art is destroyed it feels as if a life has been damaged.  I do believe that material objects, especially human-made objects, are imbued with some of the character of their creator and they have some sort of an impact on people even if a subtle impact.  And so I've decided to make my friend a guard wolf dog tee to wear when she has her next odd repairman come visiting.  It will be her talisman tee.  You are what you wear... if you come to the door wearing pretty soft flowers it sends a different message than if you wear a collection of strange, hopefully slightly menacing canines, does it not?

I am an artist, so those are the skills I have with which to appreciate and protect my friends.  I will make her an art armor tee.  Oh, I know my tee is not likely to cleanse a criminal mind!  In the best scenario, my friend will never have needed to wear the shirt; in another, it might be just the littlest thing to flip the balance towards her being more invulnerable.  That, my additional presence, her own good sensors, and the man's clothes that will not quite inconspicuously adorn her rooms on days when strange men must come fix things. She will be fine!

Now in Brooklyn by the river I have more recent art, hung with much intention.  My installation, ELECTRON MADNESS, is part of the juried COLOR show at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists' Coalition's  massive old warehouse space at 499 Van Brunt Street on the waterfront.  The reception is Saturday, July 28th, 1-6pm and the show runs through August 19th. I transported it there in my own trusty old SUV and the installation's porcelain "electrons" have nothing to do with armor...except, perhaps,...the power that the color red has...
View of Installation wall for ELECTRON MADNESS, mixed media, ©Joy Kreves