Mural Stories

Recently I picked up several rectangular shaped canvases – wider than they were tall.  The format feels like a mural, one that invites the viewer to “read” the finished piece from left to right.  Sure, it’s smaller than what we think of as a mural, it is fun for me to try to tell a story on these canvases.

Murals have been around for thousands of years.  Think cave paintings.  Our early ancestors tell us about how they lived in the paintings they left behind.

Chauvet Cave Paintings

Fresco of bull jumping in Knossos

Many murals throughout history were frescos.  Fresco comes from the latin affresco which means “fresh.”  In frescos, the paint is applied on plaster on walls or ceilings.  The frescos of the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods told biblical stories and mythic tales.  They were stories about the way people viewed their relationship with the world and its cosmic forces.

Giotto, Kiss of Judas from the Scenes from the Life of Christ fresco, Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padova.

The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, Annibale Carracc, 1597

In the 1930s, the Mexican muralism movement gave us stories of social issues by artists like Diego Rivera and Jorge Gonzalez Camarena.

Precencia de America Latina by Jorge Golzales Camarena

These artists drew on stories from their ancient past to reflect on social and political ideas.  In Diego Rivera’s mural of the Market in Tlatelolco, you can lose yourself in the ancient streets.

Diego Riveres’ Murales Rivera Market in Tlatelolco
Murals bring art to the public.  They are costly and outsized projects that generally require financing from a sponsor, like a local government or business as in Chemainus.  Throughout history, murals were financed by wealthy patrons of the arts.  Murals reflect a symbiotic relationship between artist, public, and our collective “story of the world.”   A mural brings exposure for an artist.  They bring exposure to the arts for the public.  Murals are a way of expressing the beauty and the heartache of world in which we live.
The west side of the Berlin Wall was poignant outcry against living in a world without freedom.
1986 view of the West side of the Berlin Wall
The Bardia Mural in Lybia by John Frederick Brill.
The Bardia Mural, created during World War II in Libya by artist John Frederick Brill shows images of war mixed in with beautiful images of the culture of his home.  Unfortunately, though the mural still exists, it has been defaced.  In 2009, Italian artists began renovating the mural.

Last year, Colquitt, Georgia was proclaimed Georgia’s First Mural City by its state legislature.  It will be the host of the 2010 Global Mural Conference.

Poster for the 2010 Global Mural Conference

The goal of the organization that sponsors the Global Mural Conference is to promote the wealth of artistic and creative talent available world-wide.  The Global Mural Conference was born in the Vancouver Island town of Chemainus.  Chemainus was a dying town, with closed factories and a sagging economy.  Then, in 1983, backed by the Ottawan government and local businesspeople, Chemainus commissioned 7 murals, plus 20 more over the next nine years.  The themes for the murals were mostly based on old photos from a book about the history of Chemainus.  Artists faced the challenge of painting directly on buildings, working around roof overhangs, windows, and door.  The tallest mural was 33 feet.  The longest was 120 feet.  The changed Chemainus into a cultural attraction.

Mural by Carl Marcano of Hong Hing's old store

One wonders sometimes how a person can remain committed to a project that is too big, too expansive, too unwieldy.  I believe the commitment comes from the deep need to tell our stories.

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Spring

"Faerie" by Ruthsartsandletters on etsy

Although it’s still February, this past weekend gave us a glimpse of Spring.  Going out the door without a coat felt reckless and the white skin of my arms was blinding.  I looked through the jeweled-tones of the art I created this past fall and winter.  The colors that seemed rich and festive in the winter, seem shabby by the light of the Spring(ish) day.  It’s time to rethink the color pallet.

The first spring color that comes to mind is a color midway between yellow and orange.  It’s that hard-to-name peachy color.  Not the sherbert color that older women wear to church, but the kind of peach that boils beneath the surface and will transform by summer into a color so vivid it aches.  That’s the color of a ripening peach in the open market in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Spring Collage on Microscope Slide

A Voice in the Crowd

Geography: Acrylic paints with vintage paper and wax

Being a late-blooming and unschooled artist,  I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with new techniques lately.  Browsing through Jerry’s Artorama catalogue spurs some experimentation.  Who can resist the rich colors and intriguing possibilities presented there?   The talents and  techniques of  all the fabulous Melange Team Etsy artists spur experimentation, too.  I want to try everything.

But, like all experiments, some of mine haven’t turned out so well.  For instance, I’ve experimented with encaustic techniques, without investing serious money for the necessary tools.  There is no way I can get a nice, smooth encaustic surface with a little heat gun and a soldering tool.

I experimented with representational drawing and painting and managed to work out a watercolor of a barn that I have to my father-in-law.  He loved it.  But, he’s my father-in-law.  I tried a second piece – a trite and hackneyed landscape scene in a truly freaky pink/green color scheme.  (I tried diffusing it with wax, but couldn’t get it smooth — see above).

I’ve experimented with a high-gloss, thick resin finish on a couple of collages on wood panels.  The look is stunning – it looks almost like a ceramic tile.  But, it was  difficult to get a flawless finish.  I sanded and added coats until my husband finally told me that he had given me “old” resin and that’s why the piece had flecks in them that I couldn’t sand out.  Thanks, dear!  There goes three pieces right there. 

For the past few years, learning new things has been my mission in life.  I’ve learned I’m capable of doing things at which I thought I stank.  Exposing your brain with new experiences keeps your brain in top working order; it really does keep you young.  At the same time, one struggles to find one’s voice.  Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.   The struggle is to listen for your own voice amidst the clamor of everything else.

Another Too Cool Artist — Lana Rabinovich of Fine Embroidery on Etsy

Golden Venice - A piece from a series by Lana Rabinovich from Fine Embroidery on Etsy

Lana Rabinovich’s award-winning embroidery is a feast for the eyes and the imagination.  Rabinovich is the owner of Fine Embroidery, with two shops on Etsy and a website http://www.embroideryny.com/index.html.    She works closely with individual clients, fashion designers, and interior designers to create unique pieces.  Her work has been featured in Elle and Stitches magazines. 

Close up detail of the amazing embroidery in Golden Venice

Rabinovich is inspired by romantic historical images, in particular the unique masks of Venetian carnival.   She used Dupioni silk as the canvas and also incorporated pieces of velvet, satin, organza, tulle, silk, suede, lace and irridescent fabric in the finely detailed work.Embroidered details placed on hand painted “Dupioni” silk.

Too Cool Artist: The creative eye of lucybones

Browsing through Etsy on a dull post-Christmas morning, I came across lucybones.  (http://www.etsy.com/shop/lucybones).  Lucybones incorporates nature into the art in a unique way.  For instance, “Stem” is an original oil painting and photomicrograph on Hahnemuhle William Turner 310 gsm paper.  The subject of this piece is bamboo.

Stem by lucybones on Etsy

“Warmth” is another oil painting and photomicrograph.

Warmth by lucybones on Etsy

 The subject of “Warmth” is a silicone breast implant.  Lucybones draws on her appreciation of “the unseen world of minerals, plants, and animals” in her art.

Before Christmas, I was thinking about creativity and analogy.  I’ve read that very creative people are those who can think in analogies.  The Private Eye is an education program based on encouraging just such thinking. Creativity is fostered by looking at common objects through a jeweler’s loupe and asking questions like, “this reminds me of…” or “When I see this it makes me think of…”  When I see lucybones’s art, it makes me think she is a master of analogy, for it’s not just anyone who can find warmth and beauty in a silicone breast implant!

As artists, we should all make a New Year’s resolution  to look at the things around us with fresh eyes.

The Filigree–A World of its Own

Cromora Nicholson, Tightrope Walker Extraordinaire by the Filigree

ScareCrow Moni by thefiligree

     

Imagine a world where mermaidens sink ships, scarecrows compete to see who is scariest, and the clouds dance in the red glow of October’s Blood Moon.  Just such a world exists.  Last weekend at the Dickens Christmas Festival in Franklin, Tennessee I was bored by the usual jewelry and pottery vendors and tempted by the fried pie booth (which, oddly enough, was right next door to a booth extolling the benefits of cosmetic surgery)  when I was captured by an odd creature about two feet tall offering me a maggot on a serving tray.  The creature–a candy troll – was warty and wrinkly and strangely endearing.       

Candy Trolls Confectionary

 I had stumbled into the world of The Filigree.    

    

    

The Filigree is actually a newspaper, brilliantly edited by Celena Cavala, that is published four times a year.    Articles like Summer solstice in Sangamon Forest – Butterfield Sisters Host Fancy Dress Ball, and State of the Art Haunting – Old School Style at Vic’s Meatatorium,  cover the exploits and tragedies of the  imaginary population of the Filigree world.  Cleverly illustrated advertisements tout the benefit of fantasy products like Never Die Life Elixir and Ligeria Formula stain remover.    There are even classifieds, like this one from the Autumn 09 Issue:    

“Gorgeous assorted colored glass bottles Empty but very large capacity.  Maybe even bottomless as my sister fit a very small storm in one of the blue ones.”    

This is no flimsy, gimmacky tabloid.  The newspaper is substantial and well done.  The writing is engagingly whimsical and original  and the artwork (drawings and photos) is excellent.   But the best thing about this newspaper is that it “covers” the exploits and tragedies of the  imaginary population of the filigree world.    

This is where Martin Obakke, Artistic Director of the Filigree, struts his stuff.  Obakke brings to life these fascinating creatures, dubbed  Filigreetures, with a variety of mediums including resin and polymer clay.  Filagreetures are lifelike and etherial at the same time.  I would not have been surprised if one of the Filigreetures at the festival drifted up with a gentle breeze and landed on my shoulder.  The latent movement contained in these creatures is so powerful, you can’t help suspected they change position in the blink of an eye.  Even the clothes in which they are dressed – whispy clouds of thin cotton – take on life, draping  the creatures like  a gown on a Greek statue.     

The marriage of  the art and the word enhances the power of each form.  It creates a launch pad for the imagination.  Subscriptions to the newspaper are only six dollars for one year.  The Filigreetures aren’t cheap, but it would be worth it to have one of Obakke’s creations join your household.   A selection of black and white photographic prints – filigraphy -are also available.   Be sure to look through the Gallery on the Filigry website.  ( http://www.thefiligree.com/?content=gallery)   The mermaidens escaping from underwater after causing a shipwreck in The Sinking of the Concordia  is heart-wrenchingly elegant.   But, be warned!  A tour through the Filigree’s gallery and newspaper will make you want to lay aside your grown-up things and BELIEVE.    

    

Cromora Nicholson once again claims Crown by the Filigree 

     

Altering Photographs

Collage tile
My altered photograph collage, “Love is Blind” available on ruthsartsandletters.etsy.com

In the process of moving, I ran across a box of photos from my younger days, including lots of the beautiful cliffs and canyons of New Mexico.  I decided to use the photos to practice altered photography techniques.  First, I read a book by Karen Michel, The Complete Guide to Altered Imagery.  The book explains several methods for altering photographs.  One of the easiest ways is to alter 35mm photographs with sandpaper and and awl.    Dip the photo in water for about thirty seconds.  While it is wet, you can sand away the emulsion with sandpaper.  You can start at the edges or sand away particular areas.  You can use an awl or other sharp tool to scratch away finer areas or to create borders or words. 

 
Once you’re satisfied with the sanding, you can add back in or accentuate color with watercolors, paints, and markers.  Watercolor pencils dipped in water work beautifully.
 
The experiments with my photos yielded more failures than successes, but it’s such an easy and fun technique to use.  If you have photos you don’t mind mutilating, give it a try.
 
The image in the collage above, Love is Blind, was originally an interesting rock formation — two long thin rocks that rose side by side from the canyon floor.  The couple in an embrace just kind of emerged as I used an awl to scratch a border of sorts around the rocks.  Unfortunately, I learned a hard lesson.  I forgot to make a copy of the photo first, so I can’t show a before and after image.