Monday, October 15, 2012

27 and counting…

27 pieces for the Millennia Mail Art Project have been completed and made it back to San Francisco so far.  See for project details and all the pieces including links to participating artists (over 100 so far).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

We hold these Truths….

As a collage artist you inevitable use other people’s stuff.  There are the old books and magazines that someone may have read or not.  When you get to old maps, there is often a greater amount of residual energy.  Was it a map that traveled around Europe in a backpack belonging to someone inspired by The Drifters 40 years ago?  Maybe it was a map that spent a life in a glove box and occasionally witnessed those stressful where-the-hell-are-we arguments on stressful car trips?  There are times I feel my dreams are influenced by materials I handle all day while making art.

Old postage stamps can have a whole other level of energy.  Mostly I use old, cancelled postage stamps.   The envelopes cut apart, the stamps soaked from the paper and dried.  All those steps, and there still may be the physical evidence of residual DNA from a long ago sender’s saliva.  And more significantly, the old stamps can contain the residual metaphysical energy from the letter’s contents. 

Today I was working on a new collage made with old postage stamps.  I started along the edge and used a batch of 10¢ Jefferson Memorial stamps from the 1970’s.  Each stamp was identical but with a different history.  I began to wonder what type of letter was each stamp affixed to.  Was it a bill that someone struggled to pay?  An application for college? A rejection letter from an employer?  A love letter?  A Dear John letter?  A birthday card?  Each stamp linked to it’s own story, now lost but yet somehow still attached to the individual stamp’s history.  Decades later that stamp, and in a way that story, becoming part of something else, a new piece of art.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Collage from Scratch

Pieces from the 2011 Project with Collage Fodder “made from scratch.”

Not that I wish to paint a dystopian picture for the future of collage, but we need to start thinking ahead.  We should be preparing for a world without collage — collage as we know it.

Like many mixed artists, I have at least one box with what I call collage fodder.  Over the years I’ve added things knowing I might use them some day. I use some of the contents and I even get rid of stuff as the direction of my work changes.  I am always on the look out for new material.  The problem is that there really is a finite amount of material.  Like fossil fuels, collage fodder won’t be around forever.

Yes, we still have years to go.  But I already see it happening.  As the world goes digital, the ticket stub, the postage stamp, the postcard, the map and even the printed photograph all seem to be vanishing.  I have pretty much just listed the contents of my collage fodder.

Last year, when I was working on the 2011 Project, most of the works were mixed media.  I was raiding my collage fodder boxes on a daily basis.  But I had instances where I did not have quite what I felt was needed.  I realized the easiest solution was to start making my own material, my own collage fodder.  The thought was to make art, with the idea it will be subsequently cut up and used in a collage.  Considering the labor-intensive nature of what I do, adding another step seemed a natural solution.

Earlier this year, as I was creating work for my installation Imagining Val Travel, I wanted to do a piece with the colorful luggage tags airlines used to use.  The ones that had airport codes in bold letters.  The problem was, I only had a handful of those tags.  The solution was to make 64 tags to be used in Frequent Flyer the piece shown below.

As things run out, we could scan and digitize material.  But I resist that “solution.” I really feel, for collage, the piece can be as much about the final texture as the images used.  Digital collages might be nice on a digital display, but for art in the real world, we have to get used to making collage fodder from scratch.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

In Today’s Mail

I stepped out for coffee today and decided to head up to post office and found the latest issue of Featuring Magazine had arrived from Europe.  Having an ice coffee at a café and reading about oneself, it feels a bit, dare I say, glamorous…

Art and Inspiration in Nevada

I have to begin with a disclaimer.  Here in the Bay Area, the title of this post might suggest this is yet another tome praising Burning Man.  But no, read on.  It’s easy to make that assumption.  It seems you can’t go to any social gathering without someone trying to convert you to the “experience.”  When I say I love going to the desert, I have lost count of the number of times someone has asked, “Do you go to Burning Man?”  The answer is always no!  I go on to explain that I love the desert for its solitude, it’s quiet, its beauty.  I’m not a big crowd or big party sort of person.  A party in the desert is just not my thing. 

The devotees of Burning Man can rarely just leave it.  The art they tell me, what about the art?  Yes, the “art” (quotes very intentional).  I have seen plenty of photos.  Last month a friend sent me a link with photos of this year’s event.  The nighttime photos were stylistically interesting, but frankly the skilled photographer could have made a strip mall parking lot look just as an intriguing.  The “art” at Burning Man had little to do with the quality of those photos.  I also see Burning Man art installed around San Francisco.  Never has it compelled me to spend the time, money and energy of going to Burning Man.  By contrast, I dream of a trip to Korea just based on a few exhibits at the Asian Art Museum.  Ten years ago, I first heard of Marfa, Texas and got there as quick as I could.  Now, that’s art in the desert.

Back to Nevada, I just completed what I’ll call a Great Basin Road Trip.  It was a week on the road that started by heading due East with a drive over the Tioga Pass. Nevada presents some challenges for a road trip.  There are vast expanses with few people.  You need to think about where you’ll fill the gas tank and where you’ll even find a motel.  I planned this trip to be one where I was in no particular hurry.  Allowing myself to stop when I found something that caught my interest.  I say “no particular hurry” but cruise control is your best friend.  Let’s just say that without cruise control, hypothetically, you find Perez Prado blasting on the car stereo and you look at the speedometer and you, hypothetically of course, are hitting 100 mph. 

The second day of the trip I woke up in Tonopah, Nevada.  Tonopah is a mining town that survived in a landscape that is dotted with ghost towns.  The mine is long closed, the population has grown smaller, but Tonopah still is a community.   Having frequently visited ghost towns like Bodie and Rhyolite, I find places like Tonopah fascinating.  In Rhyolite you have a few stone façades, in Tonopah many of the old stone buildings are still standing and occupied.  By visiting both the ghost towns and similar towns that are still in existence, you get a different perspective on both places.  It is a different experience from the visiting a restored historic town or district.  Nevada is probably one of the only places where this could happen.

Tonopah offers two museums, neither an art museum per se, but still definitely an art experience.  I began with the Tonopah Historic Mining Park.   Okay, I have a certain affinity for old rusty stuff.  It always makes me whip out my camera.  If an artist had come along and placed all these discarded pieces of machinery, we would call it an installation.  Either way, it still has that effect.  The Hoist House was my favorite spot.  Hoist houses were industrial buildings with an adjacent tower and the machinery needed to hoist the loads of heavy ore out of the ground.  And, if those towers remind you of that much-talked-about “man” in the Nevada Desert, well yes, so much art really is derivative.  The building is well preserved.  There is certain magic about the interior of a large wood frame, tin clad building in the desert.  The intense desert light is always “calmed” inside these structures.  It’s bright yet gentle.  But the real magic is the sound.  As the day heats up there is the pop and crackling of metal and hardware expanding and contracting.  It’s hard to really describe, but once you’ve experienced it, you know.  And if you’re like me, you always like to step inside those buildings.

On the way out of town I stopped by the Central Nevada Museum.   I learned that sun and magnesium turn glass purple and I fell in love with a map of mining claims.  Keep an eye out, this pattern might appear in my work soon.  The road took me onward with a stop at the ever-kitschy Little A’Le’Inn near mythical Area 51.  And before reaching Utah I stopped at Cathedral Gorge State Park.  Nevada has a few lesser-known state parks that are of national park caliber.  As I pretty much had the place to myself, I shouldn’t complain.  Nevada has tough competition in the West.  It’s quite beautiful, but when you’re stuck between California, Utah and Arizona, no one seems to notice Nevada.  If we moved Nevada between say, Kansas and Oklahoma, well, everyone would rave about Nevada. 

After a few days in Utah and it was time to head home.  This time a different route that included Great Basin National Park and an overnight in Ely, Nevada.  Downtown Ely boasts a sculpture park with works by Sarah Sweetwater that incorporate abandoned mining equipment.  The next challenge is Loneliest Road in America.  Route 50 is a segment of the old Lincoln Highway and actually follows the original Pony Express Trail across Nevada.  It’s a long, but rather beautiful drive that ended in Reno. 

In Reno I held to my rule about visiting museums in smaller cities.  The Nevada Museum of Art is always worth a look.  The highlight of this visit was Richard Ross’s photographs of children caught up in America’s juvenile “justice” system.  It’s a disturbing and unpleasant show, but the sort of important subject that museums need to address at times.  I kept thinking, could this show even happen in a San Francisco venue?  It would never be pretty enough for the de Young.  Perhaps the SFMOMA, but frankly Ross will need to be “validated” more by New York to get on their radar.  Even Yerba Buena would be unlikely to show his work.  There are limits to their edginess. 

People ask why I go on desert road trips, well now you might have a better idea.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

When Travel was Glamorous: SF Art Show Reimagines the Travel Agency

Jenn Yoo has written an article for Untapped Cities about my current installation Imagining Val Travel.  You can check it out here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Shopping in San Francisco

Starting today, San Franciscans need to bring their own shopping bags, or pay for one at the check out.  Wouldn't you like to have a cool one like this?  It's available from Society 6.