Wednesday, November 12, 2014

make it mighty ugly

I've been noticing lately that I've been falling back into workaholic habits: long hours at the studio, sneaking over there on the weekends to finish pieces, cutting lunch short so I can get back to work, and feeling agitated when things come up that take me out of the studio. Like last week, I woke up Tuesday morning to an eye that was swollen almost shut. I was diagnosed with preseptal cellulitis and given an antibiotic. The next day I woke up with both eyes swollen and an ugly rash on my face, neck, arms, and legs. Allergic reaction to the antibiotic. My left eye was so swollen I could barely see out of it, so I slapped a bandage over it and went to work. With no depth perception. I realized at the time that was not the right thing to do for myself, and I should be home resting. But really, I am so into what I am making these days that I am indulging the workaholic for now. Frankly, I'm just happy to know that I can still be this excited about clay again.

Something broke open for me about 6 weeks ago or so. I listened to an interview with Kim Werker, who wrote a book called Make It Mighty Ugly. Apparently, it's a book she wrote just for me, all aimed toward my personal demons: perfectionism, fear of failure, stopping before I start because of the voices in my head, blah blah blah. I've had several people tell me that I need to make something ugly, to get past that shit, and I resist that idea so much. But the way Kim talked about it made me realize that it's not about making something ugly on purpose, it's about making something and not being afraid that it will be ugly.

I've been drawing and making designs on pots for a while, and I know I can make something really beautiful and nice to look at. But there is something about these designs that bore me to death. It started when I was working on my grandma's urn last year: I made the urn with a perfectly designed trillium flower all around, and I hated how it looked. So perfectly boring. My hand, almost on its own, scratched it up. I liked it much better, and left it at that.

This year, I've been working on mishima concepts, and I really love the process. It's insanely labor-intensive, but the results are lovely and I'm having fun re-interpreting my work through this new design process. But, I'm running into that same wall of things looking perfectly boring. The work, though enjoyable and beautiful, feels like a dead end design-wise.

I had a couple of pieces in the studio that I had reserved for "fun". Meaning I could do whatever I wanted with them and they didn't need to fit into any category of work that I've made before. I kept pulling the pieces out, and just staring at them. Nothing was happening. Weeks went by. It wasn't until I listened to Kim that I was able to pull those pieces out and do the work. I still struggled with the voice telling me to not screw it up, but I worked through the first wall and made some work that was kinda ugly, and it helped push me to a different level.

The main thing I got out of it was to not judge the process or the work-- not before, during, or after. Judging is a preclude to letting the voices take over and shutting down the creative process. A couple of weeks ago I had an idea to make some small dishes carved out like Art Deco roses. Immediately the voices started in on how the concept was too simple, too obvious. Judge judge judge. I was able to override the voices and make the pieces anyway, and it is their very simplicity that makes them so awesome. I finished some other pieces last night and I was having that anxiety around feeling like they were not the way they "should" be. I caught myself judging, and stopped. The work is just what it is. It has no intrinsic value one way or the other other than to teach me about what I want to do next.

And fuck it anyway. I have Open Studio this weekend and the work is going to be finished and shown no matter what. Come see me if you can!

Monday, November 03, 2014

caterpillar wrangler

I have not posted the past couple of weeks because I have a new obsession, and I think you all are going to be as fascinated by it as I am. My new obsession is caterpillars. Specifically, monarch butterfly caterpillars.

I've been into the Monarch migration for a long time, and I'm extra immersed in the Monarchs this year. The Monarch migration is on right now, and if you follow me at all, you know I did a paper cut Monarch butterfly installation in the window of Marion and Rose's Workshop a month ago.  I've been fixated on translating the peculiar overwintering habits of Monarchs into art for years. The overwintering habitat is an art installation in itself, and trying to express it in art has been an ongoing challenge for me. Butterflies have a certain quality that can be read superficially as merely decorative, the most extreme feminine side of nature. When I see butterflies used in art or craft, it often comes off as cute, pretty. It's rare to fine interesting art created with butterflies. It's a problem that I perhaps created in my own mind, and have been trying to puzzle out for years.

Recently, I was visiting a popular destination for overwintering West Coast Monarchs at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz. I've visited many times, especially back when I actually lived about 5 minutes away. For the first time, I went into the educational center there, and as I was looking at different breeds of milkweed flower (the ONLY food Monarch caterpillars eat), shitty t-shirts and baseball caps with Monarchs on them (I get that people buy this stuff and the money goes to supporting Monarch habitat and education, but could someone please create something that is actually wearable?) and little books and pamphlets on Monarchs, I was drawn to a live milkweed plant that was in the Center, and to my surprise, I saw a live Monarch chrysalis hanging on branch, along with a live caterpillar.

The feeling I had in that moment was both a feeling of recognition-- I knew immediately what I was looking at-- along with shock at how beautiful it was. The Monarch chrysalis looks like plastic. It's smooth, with a sheen that you don't often see in nature. And the most amazing part is that it HAS GOLD ON IT. A line of golden beads, and then flecks of gold around the base, just to totally blow your mind.

After that visit, it took a couple of days to sink in, but one day as I was walking to my studio, I realized that the milkweed plants that are scattered all over my neighborhood-- thanks to one neighbor on our street who planted a butterfly friendly native habitat in their front yard-- may have some Monarch caterpillars on them.

Let's just say that my morning was hijacked by caterpillar collecting, and I now have a full indoor habitat for Monarch caterpillars. I am currently hosting 15 caterpillars in various stages of development, from just hatched babies to big fatties ready to pupate to chrysalis pods that will be hatching butterflies in a few days. I hunt them everyday on my block and it's rare that I don't find at least one.

You may ask why I have this going on in my house. Because I can. It's safe and easy to raise butterflies indoors. Going from a caterpillar to a butterfly is a dangerous and tenuous business, and in an urban environment like mine with lots of predators raising them inside can help with their survival rate. I'm doing my part to make sure the butterflies survive. Mind you, I can't be bothered with a human baby or anything. But the butterflies, I can get behind that.

Watching the caterpillars go about their daily business is better than any TV or facebook feed. I find myself standing around in the kitchen, just watching them for 20 straight minutes. There are times when they all seem to be sleeping, and other times when they are all eating. Keeping them supplied with fresh milkweed leaves is a twice a day chore, it's like trying to supply a Roman banquet.

If you want to keep up with my 'pillars, I've been posting images on Twitter with the hash tag #MonarchCircus. If you live in coastal California,  you may want to think about looking around your own neighborhood for caterpillars and hosting a few of your own. Just don't go on vacation without hiring someone to bring them daily batches of fresh milkweed.