Thursday, January 15, 2015

Brrr...


view, 2015
    January is now cold. One thing I've learned since moving to Kentucky is that real winter doesn't arrive until January so even if November and December seem to fluctuate between warm or cold, the real season comes about after Christmas and sticks around for about three months. It would be nice if it could be short and done with by the end of February but it always seems to linger well into March and April. And by "real season" I mean the consistently cold, gray and dreary Winter with a capital 'W'. Maybe it isn't the SooperWinters of the New England and Canadian varieties but it's what we have to work with here in Central and Eastern Kentucky. We had more snow last year which made things look somewhat festive and pretty but this year, it seems, we're back to gray, gray, gray. Even grey, grey, grey. And little, spitting, frozen drizzle from time to time, no snow of any worth but when major precipitation does come, it inevitably warms up just over the freezing mark to be torrential rain. Cold, miserable, rain and 33-40°F. Or a skiff of slick ice or freezing fog that just makes it treacherous enough to prohibit driving. It's... so inspiring.
     The cold makes the studio difficult to heat in the mornings so I tend not to throw that much since the water and clay are both quite cold. Not only is that not conducive to putting your hands in clay all day to throw but the temperature also hinders the clay's desire to join properly when hand-building. Instead I shift my time priorities to sketching and planning for the coming year. I use the term "planning" loosely since my life changes trajectory from time to time but at least I set out some basic goals. I did manage to take images of two new sculptures but two sculptures were all I could handle in 27°F weather. My mind is still on menopause and the transition from mid-life fertility to un-fertility, the emotion surrounding it and so on. It also draws on our basic biological connection to evolved forms now and in the past. Plus they're kinda naughty.
Inner Reptile,
2015,
Stoneware, underglaze, acrylic, raw wool
Inner Reptile,  (detail)
2015,
Stoneware, underglaze, acrylic, raw wool
Atrophy,
2015,
Stoneware, underglaze, acrylic 
Atrophy,
2015,
Stoneware, underglaze, acrylic
     Last year at this time the hot water pipes under the house had frozen and burst due to the age of our plumbing and the Polar Vortex™. We only had cold water running and were reduced to washing ourselves with a washcloth from a 5-gallon bucket filled with water heated on the stove. That went on for a month until the frigid temps abated and we could coerce someone to help fix the plumbing. At least that nightmare is over. This January the pipes froze again but only for 2 hours one day and since it's all new PEX piping, no breakage! Yay! I did manage to come down with a horrible flu on that same morning that lasted a few days until the weekend when the truck blew up. It's awaiting repair. But all in all, the water is running. Don't underestimate the luxury of indoor plumbing. We have no idea how good we have it when we turn on our taps and potable water comes out. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Expression interrupting obsessive thought

Ernst Haeckel illustration
Artistically, I swing like a pendulum when I express myself between the visual and the written. Others do so through acting, dance, music, poetry, prose and so on. I think about the relationship between what goes on inside your head and what transpires, not so much on the paper, canvas or stage but in the process of the expression.
     I think each one of us as a function of being a human being contains the capacity for varying degrees of insular, circular, obsessive thinking. Our private thoughts, our private world where our fears, insecurities, dreams, fetishes and desires are located. For some, it's not a consideration at all or so minimal as to be unremarkable. For others, this obsessive, repetitive thinking becomes so heavy a burden that it can overtake and interfere with a balanced identity and healthy functioning [one example being obsessive-compulsive disorder]  which can cause tremendous anxiety and stress and lead to depression and additional unwanted behaviors in an attempt to gain some relief.
The American Scholar, "The Art of Obsession" by Paula Marantz Cohen
Psych Central, "Creative Obsession" by Douglas Eby
     I have contemplated the role artistic expression plays in the human condition and experience. Why do human beings feel compelled to express abstract thought, even if it is simply an attempt to recreate the reality in front of them? So I've thought quite a bit about not just the art that I create but the process and my mind's activity as I create it. What is happening there? I'm wondering if the very act of expressing one's self can sometimes be a gateway to breaking that pattern of obsessive thought. I've heard it explained that part of the reason psychotherapy can be beneficial and sought after is because talking about a problem or issue is one of the best ways to alleviate stress. If not a therapist, we seek out friends, a bar, a stranger, and for some of us, the studio. We need to unload the pattern of neuron firing in our brain about the things that occupy our innermost selves. I feel when we interrupt that thinking pattern in our brains with the neuron-firing needed to translate that into action via writing, fine art, performance, what have you, we may temporarily break that proverbial chain and for a moment, can experience some relief. [or not, depending on the intensity of the obsessive thinking.]
     I like to think of it as akin to chaos theory's butterfly effect.  The idea that the act of creating, trying to translate and express inner thoughts, is a way of causing a change in your brain. By doing that, you increase the likelihood that you are no longer stuck in a pattern because you have set out on a new path of thinking and insight that has altered your perception. Sometimes it makes a difference right away, sometimes you need a whole lifetime's accumulation of tiny changes to make that difference. Like the effort, time and space needed to turn a battleship. Or a comet. And sometimes, you run out of time spent living on this planet to realize that difference. 
     Regardless of the impact and how long it takes to materialize, I think it speaks to just how important artistic expression is in whatever way it manifests itself in an individual's life and why we cannot and should not abandon it or teaching it or even teaching the value of it to people of all ages. There is a priority shift within the last few decades to spend money in education on science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] at the expense of artistic endeavors, visual, dance, music and so on but I think that's a mistake. You hobble the ability of insight in the STEM fields when you weaken human's ability to think artistically. One compliments the other, it doesn't replace it.
SciLogs, "What artists and scientists have in common" by Paige Brown Jarreau
PLOS Blogs, "Why scientists should care about art" by Johanna Kieniewicz

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tea Horse Studio - New! Electric-fired listings on Etsy

Part 2 of the new items listed on my Etsy shop. These are fresh out of my electric kiln. Click on the image and it will take you directly to that listing or feel free to browse at teahorsestudio.etsy.com.
Mug, Carved oblong shield shapes, $30
Mug, Layered slips, Standing Horse, $30
Small incense holder, Lines and dots, $14
Buddha cereal bowl, $30 
Buddha Mug, $30
Small mug, Layered slips with standing horse, $26
Cracker Basket in pink and green, $42
Set of 2 horse napkin rings, $10
Set of 4 horse napkin/placemat rings, $24
Set of 4 walking Darwin fish napkin/placemat rings, $24

Tea Horse Studio - New wood-fired listings on Etsy

Monday, November 17, 2014

The act of not thinking

Autumn, Estill County, Kentucky
     In the evenings, after dinner is made and eaten and I'm winding down from the buzz and activity of the afternoon, I get to thinking about people and what makes them tick. I think the pondering is provoked in large part by scrolling through my Facebook feed. My feed is a mix of people I know very well and people I don't know well at all plus people, mostly artists, that I follow just to keep up with their work. Sometimes, some aspects of human behavior stick out for me. Apart from the truly maniacally, self-absorbed narcissist, I imagine most people think of their lives as average or "normal," whatever constitutes normal. When we persist in comparing our lives to others, however, the differences, minor and major, jostle our self-perception and can prompt the question, "Am I normal?" accompanied with feelings of insecurity and smallness, or conversely, "I'm normal but they (person or group being compared) are not." The rationalization often used to comfort yourself being that whatever the idiosyncrasies of life, yours are "OK" but others are not. The reality I see when I step back is that this is simply an illusion we create to keep ourselves safe and secure in our ignorance about our inner nature, the inner nature that resides in every one of us, the capacity for loving-kindness.
Unfortunately, the yin-yang nature of things is that we also contain the capacity to do horrible things. This is where cultivating empathy is crucial, in my mind. Occasionally I've run into the phrase "I could never _______" as if any certain act or acts is impossible in the lifetime of any one individual. But I think the truth is that given the right set of circumstances, any one of us can achieve great accomplishments or submit to terrible failings. In other words, "There before the grace of God go I." Which simply underscores for me the need for compassion for other living beings, particularly at others who lash out in anger. Often I've found that when someone lashes out at another person in anger, they are drawing on old, inner pain not related to the immediate situation. I know when I become angry disproportionate to whatever has triggered it or obsessively angry, I dig within to figure out, "What am I trying to resolve in the present that which injured me in the past?" Repetition of behavior, words, phrases, odd choices of words and context are clues for me to get to know myself and get closer to my true nature. Those same things encountered in other people give me insight and a heads-up about what's really motivating them. What's considered normal these days, culturally, is that it is perfectly okay to judge and ridicule others in comparison to your own life if only to comfort yourself that "Phew! at least I'm not like THAT!" Particularly online in social media forums, free rein is given to lambast, ridicule and tear apart total strangers. The vitriol, to me, however, will always say more about the commenter than the subject.
     There was recently a post on my FB feed about Taylor Swift, singer/celebrity , responding to a fan about mean, nasty people. The statement she made to the fan that resonated with me is the observation that people who spend their time doing this do it for reasons of jealousy and envy and because they have nothing else to do with their lives. They abhor a person just being themselves and instead of working on being their own selves, they spend needless energy being, well, an asshole to others. This post popped up about the same time as another Facebook artist friend speaking about difficulties exposing vulnerabilities in acting when she doesn't allow herself to be vulnerable in real life. Since one of art's main facets, in my opinion, is fearlessly exposing vulnerabilities, can you ever truly immerse yourself in your art if you insist on building a walled-in room for yourself all the time?
     Anytime I create something, be it sculpture, pottery, drawing, I try not to interfere with the act of making. Often in my life I have heard the comment, "You think too much," from many, many people. As if I can control it. My brain does what it does, it thinks, analyzes, mulls over, makes connections and analogies, critiques, concludes, deduces then destroys and starts over again. Aside from sleep or my daily meditation, be it forty minutes or five, the only time I don't think for extended periods of time is when I am in the studio working. I used to be deluded into believing that artists had to have a preconceived reason for every millimeter of mark they put on paper or carved into  form before they translated thought into action. And then later in life, very late, probably out of sheer defeat and exhaustion that it wasn't and would never work for me, I quit doing that. I quit thinking and I simply did. I touched, carved, painted, drew. In fact to this day, when I think before I make a mark, drawing or carving, it paralyzes me and I can't draw anything or put a dent in a sculpture. Making art allows me not to think. The art simply captures the unspoken within me. It's as if it becomes a way for me to speak to myself by making,  then sitting back and analyzing what it is I just created. Somewhere in that creation are my vulnerabilities creeping out. And while not everyone gets where I'm coming from, I have many more people who do, who connect with the lines and forms I create, either because they directly resonate with my experience (as in "Hey! Me, too!") or because it triggers a familiarity and emotion that unlocks a deeper memory or a deeper unresolved issue that my work just happened to stumble upon. Serendipitous! The thoughtful comments are appreciated. The vitriol and remarks of being offended I simply put down to the viewer's own unresolved issues they desperately want to ignore, the unpleasant baggage that bumps behind them.
 
     I read an article the other day about comment sections online and how they devolve into vitriolic rants. The author called for more moderation. Back in the old days of newspapers, letters to the editor were heavily moderated, chosen and then viciously edited. The same can be done online, he postulated. While it is possible for humans to create cesspools of thought on the internet, it doesn't mean it's a good or socially acceptable thing. 
There are enough hate-filled, petty, nasty people out there as it is. We have acceptable rules of conduct in society when we walk real streets, we should strive to do the same on the "streets" of the internet. Are there shitty people in this world? In my view, as inherent beings, no, there are no inherently shitty beings. But as inherent beings people can certainly express shitty behavior in minor and major ways, intermittently or obsessively. To them I can only imagine that some kind of primal pain visited them in their childhood, issues that they cannot begin to identify or find the courage to resolve. Sadly, until they uncover what those issues are from within, they will continue to lash out blindly, venting their rage at themselves onto others. In response, we can create acceptable boundaries of behavior in our own lives so we can find the safe spaces for our true nature. And we can strive not to perpetuate the circle of hate but break the chain and replace it with kindness of heart. And as artists, we should continue to examine and reveal our vulnerabilities, if only to give others a bridge to their own inner struggles so that they, too, can break their chains.

Forest stewardship and chipotle peppers

Work Horse.
     I feel somewhat absent, digitally. Work in the studio has been interrupted, well, what's a nicer word? "enhanced" by the end of the gardening season. Time not spent in clay has been spent in the dirt in the raised bed garden and that, plus work on a small structure for my elderly mother, keeping up with Medicaid guidelines, discussions with lawyers about all sorts of issues including internet-related activities (state vs. federal statutes), personal bookkeeping, broken water lines that needed to be repaired – twice– and all the fun that goes with destructive dogs has kept me from updating blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Etsy listings and the like. In the garden, we ended up with a boatload of peppers – jalapeƱo, basilla and cayenne, from plants grown from seeds that I swore were never going to produce much earlier in the year since they didn't even flower until mid-summer despite the fact that they were the first plants in the ground last Spring. Eventually they did flower and wham! Peppers everywhere. 
     And then... the tomatillos took over. They are magical plants. They grow like weeds. The fruits seem to get large and ripen when you're not looking. Quite a number of them fall off the plant on the ground and you'd swear you're about to pick up a rotted one but instead, you've found the juiciest, largest fruit. Much salsa was made. I tried tomatillo salsa with and without cooking the tomatillos. The major difference is in the moisture content and more subtle flavor of the cooked tomatillo salsa. I think I prefer the fresh salsa. After harvesting the peppers and tomatillos, we prepared the beds, added more compost and planted some kale, spinach, shallots and garlic. We're curious to see how well the shallots do. We're considering some alternative produce and value-added products in the future such as shallots, asparagus and tomatillos plus pickled beets, dilly beans and chipotle peppers. (Just say yes to pickled beets! Oh my god, I made the most awesome batch with my herbs.) And we finally fixed the deer fencing around the perimeter of the garden. I will say having a tractor makes some tasks easier although this year's gardening has been limited to the raised beds. Next year, we may scout out locations on the farm to plant in larger quantities in the future. 

     We are embarking on a new plan of action on the farm. We recently contacted the state forestry service to draw up a plan to manage our property that makes the most of the mix of the pastures and the forested areas. In addition to micro-farming some alternative crops like shallots, asparagus, beets and peppers for smoking, we're also looking to manage this property as a natural sanctuary that maintains a balance of healthy forest and efficient pastures. We want to encourage growth of good woods like walnut, oak, maples, ash and as it turns out, persimmon, along with native understory trees like flowering dogwoods, for aesthetic value and for the benefit of wildlife. With that, we will be culling trees that are actually prohibiting healthy forest growth by crowding other trees light and or promoting rot at their base. By cutting trees that have base rot from earlier broken growth called "rain catchers" we can get some benefits out them: some can become firewood for us (or we can sell it), some oak logs can become useful for growing and harvesting mushrooms and some trees can be purposely killed without taking them down so as they die, the bark separates from the heartwood and allows other animals to use the dying tree as habitat.
     The pastures will be slowly reclaimed after being neglected for so long. We'll be re-fencing several areas and re-partitioning sections for more efficient rotation of grazing. We'll be trimming back the edges of each pasture over time. This is where the tractor will be utilized and appreciated the most. At some point, I'd like to reintroduce the milkweed that has gone missing since farmers around here have gone herbicide happy. Maybe we can make this little spot an oasis for bees and butterflies again.
     Suffice to say, all the pasture, wood and garden work adds to the work I do in the studio and cuts into my digital time. Sometimes I worry that I'm not making enough noise on the internet but not really. Life is so much more than what transpires on a glowing screen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bobtown Art October Wood/Soda firing

     Another gathering at the soda kiln for the Bobtown Arts wood firing last weekend. Beautiful fall weather if a bit cold and blustery on the day of loading. Color is just starting to turn everything in the hills near Berea, KY. The firing went well, flattened cone 10 up top and bent it on the bottom. We added 5.5# of soda at about 2100°F and then soaked it for some time with wood and an oil drip. Some great results firing with Clarence Hayes, Bruce and Kelley Hoefer or Turning Wheel Pottery and Philip Wiggs. Looking forward to another firing. I've also been busy making work for local sales in galleries in Midway and Berea, plus it looks like I'll be doing a demonstration at the Kentucky Artisan Center in December. Busy, busy busy.
Peeking in.
Open door.
Top toasty shelf with Phillip Wiggs coffee pots.
Leaning tower of bagwall...
All gone!





Creep crawly slips and shinos...










Love the colors on the sugar maples!