Thursday, November 14, 2019

Starting in the fog and finishing in the tropics

La Selva, mixed media on board, 48"x67"

During the last few months I have worked on a new piece in my Post-Folk Art Series.   The finished piece is a large (48”x67) site specific work for my friends’ home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  To avoid the complexities involved with shipping large artwork to Mexico, the piece needed to be finished on site.  I have just spent about three weeks in a luxurious villa, making art, gazing at the Pacific and being fed incredible food.  Sometimes an artist needs to make sacrifices.  
The project began in San Francisco.  First, I estimated the quantity for each different size of squares and circles of painted paper that would be required.  I always over-estimate to give me added flexibility.   The scale of this piece required a spreadsheet to track all the quantities needed.
With a set of numbers, I was ready to begin painting paper.  The palette reflects the setting.  In Puerto Vallarta, hills shrouded in tropical jungle come right down to the edge of the city.   That jungle was my inspiration.
After all the paper was painted, it was time to start cutting squares in sizes from an half inch to 3 inches.  To cut perfect circles, I use a series of punches.   I needed nearly 2,400 three-quarter inch circles, as well as quantities of circles that were 1.5, 2 and 2.5 inches, plus thousands of small dots made with hole punches.   I am greatly indebted to the artist Dorothy Yuki.  Dorothy came over one afternoon with her Provo Craft cutters and helped me punch out most of the circles.

When I was packing up art supplies for my trip, I realized the paper circles and squares would need to stay with me in my carry-on luggage.  Those thousands of pieces represented more than 100 hours’ worth of effort.  I could not allow them to be lost in transit.
Arriving in Mexico I found the large the board waiting for me.  The next step was to find a paint store and then get a few coats of color on the edges and surface.  I always use a basic, interior latex house paint. There is no need for expensive acrylics.
With the board now prepped, it was time to set up my workspace.  A large table was protected with plastic and drop cloths and the big board was laid out.  It was time to draw a grid for a guide and get to work.
Over the next ten days I spent many hours gluing and fitting the squares, and then adding the layers of the circles.  Fans kept me cool with temperatures in the 90s.  The humidity is intense, but it slowed the drying down just enough to give me a bit more flexibility.  The climate does make a difference.  In San Francisco, I typically need to wash caked glue off my hands about every 15 minutes, where in Puerto Vallarta I could go for half-an-hour.  It really is that humid.
As I was working, an Important holiday was approaching.  Día de los Muertos was on my mind.  In the evenings I would go down in to town to see the ofrendas that were being installed as the day drew near.  Even Puerto Vallarta’s Halloween celebration has most kids in Day of the Dead-themed costumes, and if not that, a costume with a scary theme.  Imagine two year old little girls dressed as vampires instead of princesses.  The night of November 2nd included a parade and dance performance by youth groups in folk costumes with a Día de los Muertos twist.   
Back home in San Francisco, I always set up my own more elaborate ofrenda. In Mexico, I stuck to some simple candles and some rather pungent marigolds in the tropical heat.  As I sat at the table with the big piece of art spread out in front of me, I began to recall memories of my great-grandmother and her sisters around a similar big piece of art.  For them it was one of the many quilts they worked on.  Patterns from quilts and other textiles have influenced my work for more than 20 years.  Assembling a large, colorful, patterned piece felt like I was coming full circle — all the more appropriate at a time we remember our ancestors.  
As I got towards the end of the project, I realized that I had underestimated the amount of glue I would need.  My preferred choice, GAC 100, was not available.  I found one small shop in Puerto Vallarta with art supplies.  Their best option is a glue called Resistol 850.  Fortunately, it worked well for my purposes.  I liked it so much, I returned to buy an additional bottle to bring home to California.
There was one other complication.  A harsh Mexican art critic forced me to cover up the piece each night with a drop cloth.  It was one of the resident geckos who had a tendency to climb up in the rafters and aim gecko poo at my art.  Tempting as it might be to make a nod to Chris Ofili and include a bit of gecko poo, none ended up in the final artwork.  But the tropics being the tropics, there are a few small insects embedded for all time in the acrylic varnish that coats the artwork.   The insects can only add authenticity to a piece titled La Selva (The Jungle).

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