Things have been quite busy in the studio and I realize I have not posted since November of 2018!  (Again, best laid plans – I am beginning to see pattern here (wince)!)  However, after this little update, I have some natural dye reflections I initiated back in March and never got around to publishing, among other things.  As “archaic” as this format sometimes seems, it still has relevance across the spectrum. For me, it serves a real purpose, which I had lost track of for a spell but now reclaim: writing as process-witness.

My practice continues to evolve.  Two full years after a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, I never thought I would find myself in a hopeful place around my studio work…but I do again.  I finally found my way back to the heart of the work, to my true flow, and that feels pretty fabulous.  The work begins to look and feel different to me although clearly on the continuum of a process begun so many years ago.  And while I have never been one to rest too long on one technique – I am sure that is my Aries nature – I am still working with cloth and fiber because there is still so much there to explore!     

So, before I resume essay-esque pursuits, I thought I might just provide an update for the record – a brief flashback to the first several months of 2019 as a way of clearing the way for whatever is to come. 

January: Lots of natural dye experimentation – mostly direct application and immersion variations with indigo, madder, tannins and ferrous after-baths.  Began working on my new wearable collection for the April open studio.   I also began experimenting with alternate hand-stitch processes which have now been incorporated into some of my wearable work.  In the midst of the studio experimentation, I was immersed in preparations for a presentation on Sustainable Making at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance.

February:  I continued working with natural dyes, mostly direct application with gum thickeners, exploring layering of color and assistants in various floating (unregistered) patterns on a wide range of cloth surfaces.  The process of working with natural dyes is much more labor- and time-intensive than working with their synthetic alternatives and because of this, the work feels almost contemplative.  I want to explore this entire complex topic in future posts.  But for now, suffice it to say that natural dye print processes are now a solid part of my studio practice.  Also ever-present now is my organic indigo vat, and I did get around to making some new pieces for a local craft pop-up and the first installment of the 2019 wearables.

March 2019:   My time in March was largely spent preparing for the April open studio, although I did take some time to facilitate an indigo-dyeing mini-workshop at the studio one fortuitously-gorgeous Spring morning.  I also received my copy of The Art and Science of Natural Dyes (yay!) and reflected on my early exposure to natural dyes with Catharine Ellis which work has so thoroughly enriched my current studio practice.

In April – I hosted an open studio and continued to develop more work, including a new collection of totes, as well as naturally dyed cloth, and stitched appliqué detailing.   All of my wearable work is presented under the label Petal-una Collection.  This line has been an active focus of my creative energy since 2012.   If you want to learn more about it and see more looks follow this link.

All of which brings me to the present moment.  I will save that for next time!  Meanwhile for fairly regular and consistent check-ins, I am on Instagram and FB – the links are scattered throughout this website.   If you would prefer to keep up via this blog, that is awesome too!

Thank you for following along.

Part I: Gush.

Sometimes all it takes for an artist is a show – it arrives at the perfect moment and can serve as a fuel for future creative reflection extending well beyond the original encounter.  Such has been my experience peering into the world of Yayoi Kusama.*  The inspiration derived from seeing the diverse body of work (and media) of an artist insistent on asserting an authentic, personal vision (one which not so paradoxically turns out to be deeply resonant for the many), is unparalleled.   I was overwhelmed by this artist’s impressive body of work, her years of dogged pursuit, dedication, and perseverance, not to mention her non-binary, multifaceted defiance of any outside attempt to categorize or pigeon-hole her work and life.  There was something very pointed and powerful for me in this individual’s career and life, in spite of her struggles along the way.  And she continues to create in the face of it all, including, surely, an acute awareness of her own mortality as she transitions into her 10th decade. 

I feel certain art-making is Yayoi Kusama’s way of transmuting her suffering (chaos, confusion, pain, alienation, etc.).  This must be, in part, why her work and life are so interesting to inhabitants of the chaotic early 21st century.  It really speaks to the entire spectrum of the human condition across time and place but which finds its most unrestrained expression in the digital era:  self-indulgence, self-transcendence, hopes, fears, failure, success, struggle, resistance, outrage, protest, surrender, highs, lows, light, dark, expansion,  contraction, contradiction, loud, quiet, hard, soft, contemplative, monkish, introspective, riding the continuum of an life through successive waves of profound confusion and self-doubt as well as profound insight and self-acceptance.

 I was and still am enveloped.

Part II.  Layers, Siftings and Further Musings in a Transitional Era.

Yayoi Kusama’s work will continue to stimulate my thinking in a variety of ways for months to come, but as I am now constantly grappling with art/craft/making in an era of increasing resource limits and crisis-level climate alterations, I also wanted to look at her work through a more narrow lens.  Regardless of what we all personally “believe”/accept about climate change, we are approaching the Earth’s carrying capacity (i.e., its capacity to carry humans in our current configuration) on many resource fronts.  This has implications for every aspect of human life, but in the context of creative endeavor generates many deep and serious questions, not the least of which are:  Is it possible to, and how can we, develop a sensibility in our making that can integrate and nurture humanity, other species, as well as the environment we share? And what does an “aesthetic of sustainability” look like and, importantly, can that become as universally embraced as the fossil-fuel driven aesthetic seems to be today?   One might ask if these questions and their answers even matter at all, but I think the do.  It is my belief that their answers can contribute to how successfully we collectively respond to our many current and future challenges.

We don’t need to look too far into the past to find a time when sustainable making was the only kind of making.  Today many draw attention to, for example, wabi-sabi and related aesthetic concerns as antithetical rescue remedies for the excesses of the industrially created artifact: something rustic, direct, uncomplicated, salvaged, organic, entropy-embracing.  As I reflect on Kusama-world, I am struck by how much our expectations and aesthetic values are outgrowths of the instant-gratification, fossil-fuel -driven world we all inhabit, and how her work is quite possibly this waning era’s most vivid and exuberant expression.

From a materials standpoint alone, Kusama’s work is saturated with acrylic paint, a wide range of plastics and other petroleum-derived components, as well as vast arrays of electric light. These are the materials for the vast majority of 20th and early 21st century artists/designers/makers.   These are also peak fossil-fuel-consumption-era materials, by-products of processes contributing to habitat-degrading greenhouse gas emissions.  Include the energy and resources embedded in manufacturing these materials and components, the embedded and operational energy of a large scale exhibition of this type and its mass-manufactured “swag” (which, as a child of this space/time I will admit to being attracted), and the energy embedded in the cloud-dependent mass social-media feeds (to which I am also a steady contributor and participant), and we have a completely unsustainable model …unless of course we can very quickly (like, yesterday) develop an energy source dense enough to match the miracle of fossil-fueled energy, one that doesn’t destroy the habitability of our planet!

It is a poignant moment.  I am clearer than ever as an artist/designer/maker as to my own purpose and vision and how to manifest it; I am also increasingly aware that I need to find new (or return to earlier) ways of creating to reduce my ecological footprint.  Rhetorical question:  Are the imperative to create and the imperative to reduce my footprint mutually exclusive?

We live in an era of dissonance at many levels of our lives.  We attempt to hold many truths which are ultimately mutually exclusive.  So it is for fossil fuels: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. This fact is one source of a host of misunderstandings and conflicts, of mis- and mal- investment, of alienation from wealth and power on one end of the spectrum and the dense consolidation of wealth and power on the other.  In an era of transition, we will be looking for ways to hold on to whatever we can of the by-products of this energy system, even if to do so endangers our core support system.  We hope something will come along to save us before we are forced to make hard choices.  This dissonance can be paralyzing, and it shows no signs of abating as new generations come of age.  It suggests a repeating “error” code firing in our brains coupled with an increasingly dysfunctional “reset” switch.

And so it is, at the likely twilight of fossil-fuel driven exuberance, that Yayoi Kusama’s work is a beautiful, joyous, riotous, inspiring symbol of life. Her work and being are also about persistence and resilience.  I think we flock to its material abundance and ebullience for comfort and affirmation in an uncertain age.  I love the show for this but I am also sobered by it because it reminds me of the hard work ahead.  We artists and makers especially must work to realize a new, unified, resilient vision of person and planet and stay the course in the same way that Kusama has continued to work her entire life to realize her unique vision – it’s demanding, arduous and on-going.  That is the nature of making/creating, of life and work….And it’s all-hands-on-deck now.  K.C.

Images: My own, taken during the show (except from the large composite above: a friend captured the frequently elusive shot from the Dots Obsession viewer): some composites of highlights; my digital montage of Kusama’s celluloid montage, and mash-up selfies from The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away and Phalli’s Field.

*Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors! is showing now at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta – I received a gift invitation to the show or I would not have made it at all as tickets are, alas, sold out. However, there are numerous windows into this show and her work on YouTube and elsewhere on the fabulous Internet.  Check it out!

I recently visited a friend in the fair city of Guanajuato, GTO Mexico – I have been there before and in fact posted in this blog about that trip as well.  This visit was a bit different as life-altering experiences had emerged in my recent past, as well as that of my friend.  As a result, we both set out with the intention of sewing the seeds of rejuvenation.  It really became a launch of the essence of “re” – a return, revisiting, renewal,  reinvigoration, revitalization, restoration, revisiting and review on the way toward a new point of beginning.  Signs and signals, resources and connections began and continue to be revealed to both of us as we progress through this new terrain.

My images from this trip varied but seemed to have a decidedly architectural focus, especially where roof/facade and sky meet.  I was also understandably attracted to the many templos (churches and cathedrals) which populate the religious landscape of Guanajuato (Gto).  The architectural residue of a bye-gone colonial era is enriched with structural and superficial decay, but these buildings endure – maybe that was a metaphor taking hold.  Even in cases where the buildings have been renovated or “restored” with a nod to another era’s sensibilities, their original presence does not fade.  I realize in retrospect that this was a profound symbol of solidity and grounding after a year of standing on shaky ground.  In any case, these buildings are essential landmarks which give the entire State of Guanajuato its character, along with the many-colored domiciles stacked on the slopes surrounding the city’s natural structural essence – that of river valley.  Indeed, when I arrived, the rainy season had just begun and the imperative of the geographic low point repeatedly asserted itself during my trip as flooding from recurring thunderstorms regularly inundated parts of the city.  Of course, the rain also brought a renewal of a green, lush landscape latent during months of seasonal drought in this high desert region.

Rain notwithstanding, I was pleased that we were able to make it outside to see art and eat excellent food, including the most moist and delicious tamal I have ever tasted (thanks to, my sincere apologies to vegetarians, lard).  ¡Nos veremos en el futuro, sin duda, Guanajuato!  For a slightly different perspective on the trip, visit my wearable site’s journal.

Image: Mine; Ice storm “castings” in the garden (from a few years ago)

I am pleased to be writing from other side, more or less, of the health “challenge” I alluded to in a post last year.  I am back on my feet and have begun to reengage with my studio practice, which is already pulling me in various directions.  Some things I now know for sure: I am more in love than ever with this Work in its myriad facets.  I am more relaxed than ever about it, too.  Fear was at the root of so much of what I did before; fearlessness has moved in to take its place.

There’s nothing like a major illness (or other significant life change) to shake loose habitual patterns and force a reexamination of one’s motivations.  In that spirit, I am compelled to dive back down into my creative soul and explore my roots – teasing out the fundamental tendrils, breaking up the dense, knotty scar tissue blocking the flow, and loosening the soil a bit to unlock the deep nutrients .  (Nothing like a good botanical metaphor.)  I want to expand the on-going conversation I have with myself about what inspires, enhances flow.  I also want to understand more fully what expires, inhibits flow by taking a look at the influence of preparation and planning on finished product.  That is, look at, not for the first time but in a specific way, the tension that exists between process and product.  For example, is it really possible to fully let go of the planning, the pre-visualizing, and the expectations and just make art?  What does that look and feel like?  To what extent am I doing that already?  How much does it matter?  What is the nature of the resultant work?  Etc.  These are just a few of the ideas I want to investigate this year – both in this blog and through the work itself.

I thank you for following/reading.  This is not the first time I have relayed my struggles the blogging process – I love writing but I am hopelessly inconsistent.  Yet, something within values it and will not let it go… so I continue.  Maybe this year I will actually post more frequently and with regularity – stranger things have happened!

K.C.

 

 

It is in my nature to seek metaphysical roots and metaphorical tendrils in much of what transpires/crosses my path in life.  Through that process I unearth grounded, practical symbols and solutions to aid in resolution/transmutation/evolution.  Life is change – sometimes subtle and easily integrated; sometimes profound and world-rocking.  I am living change of the latter sort: I was recently shaken by a health setback, one which has necessitated quick, unequivocal, and fundamental shifts in personal priorities, beliefs, values.  Adversity has a way of shaking one’s foundations and, at minimum, calls into question one’s habitual responses to life’s little challenges, especially those in the creative realm – which is just about everything for me.

Coincident with my diagnosis, a very old, large oak tree fell in my yard.  This long-lived tree had been a fixture in my life for over 20 years.  It had a seemingly solid presence, and I was attached to it.  Although it continued to grow (and was over 100’ tall), the tree lacked vital root structure to support its crown; eventually it fell over under its own weight (with a bit of aid from weeks of ground-saturating rainfall).  It was inevitable but I didn’t see it coming.  Just like this little health set-back – didn’t see that coming either.   But I am not one for dwelling or wringing my hands over statistical probabilities/possibilities.  Don’t we all just cope with whatever arises when it arises anyway?

But back to trees: for me, they have always been powerful symbols of strength, endurance, aspiration, inspiration, and mastery in the moment.  They come as they are, and if they are lucky, grow up in and around others like them.  In being held up by each other at their roots, they are a bit more resilient to some external pressures and shocks.  (Not unlike us humans, as Rumi observed: “Every forest branch moves differently in the breeze, but as they sway they connect at the roots.”*) The glorious oak in my front yard lived a long, lush life but it didn’t have the good fortune of community.  However, in falling it did create light for the understory.  And as my friend Lori pointed out, it has created symbolic illumination for my own life situation.  Areas of my life which have heretofore been covered in shadow can be potentially cleansed by that light.  This is the kind of light I will need as I journey through recovery.  A bitter-sweet recognition.

I did briefly go through a period of fear that I would not be able (or have the desire) to create again – everything was so turned on its head.  However, a good deal of light has been cast upon all aspects of my making/creating as well, leading me to bring a more balanced practice on-line – something more receptive, in which my expansive, project-orientation, end-product fixation yields some ground to a quiet, plodding, more directly  process-oriented, work.  There is always tension between these two dynamics, the resolution of which makes way for completion.  Moving effortlessly between being (receptive, mindful, process-oriented making), and doing (action-oriented, planning, product-focused making) can yield the most interesting results (whether they are marketable or not).  The joy is in the flow and embrace of both, as they come.

*from Birdsong, Rumi (fifty-three short poems translated by Coleman Barks); Maypop Press, Athens, Georgia. 1993:

Spring overall.  But inside us
there is another unity.

Behind each eye yere,
one glowing weather.

Every forest branch moves differently
in the breeze, but as they sway
they connect at the roots.