Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Mermaid Piece part 9

Recently had an unusual dream.  Odd dreams and nightmares are pretty normal for me- it goes along with the artist thing.  Sometimes I can even put them to use.  Probably not it this case, but it relates in a way.

In the dream I'm in my parents' car, a family road trip to somewhere.  Along the way we stop at tourist attraction of some kind.  It's an old very large house that has been converted to a museum, no longer set up like a home, but the interior opened up to create a large central space.  No normal household furniture, but lots of museum style display cases around the perimeter of the room.  Lights were very dim, making it difficult to see things on display or to read the posted information.  But the thing I noticed the most was that spaces between cases, angles in walls, etc were filled with cigar store indians.  No wall labels explained why they were there.

In my youth such things were still sometimes around.  Not so common these days.  For those not familiar, these were usually standing wooden figures, carved fully in the round, generally shown clutching a handful of cigars.  They were made to look like Native Americans, or at least what many people expected them to look like, sometimes just with stereotypical facial figures, but also with clothing, and sometimes with depictions of feathered headdresses.  The statues could be monochromatic carved wood, or hand painted to be more decorative and noticeable.  (the ones in my dream were all very dark wood)  Generally carved in a naturalistic style- some quite realistic, some more cartoonish.  Some quick research tells me that such things were originally deployed to make clear the locations of shops that sold tobacco products (like a striped barber pole), but they are far more rare these days.  Partly because of changes in the tobacco industry, partly in changes to how stores advertise, and partly because some consider them to be racially offensive.  An episode of the 90's show Seinfeld dealt with that last part as plot point.  No longer really used to advertise tobacco, the vintage figures are more likely to be seen as folk art.

So why are they in my dream?  I suppose it's possible that the racial tensions stirred up by our president this past week brought them to the fore in my subconscious.  but I think the most likely answer is this mermaid sculpture I've been working on.  I've been carving wood since long before I was an art major, decades before making my first print.  Back then I used a pocket knife, not the special gouges I have now, and my wood was usually found sticks, but I did work to represent objects in three dimensions.  For the past few decades my carving has been devoted to relief, and those relief pieces being used to print images, not as objects in themselves.  (I have occasionally shown those blocks, but more as a demonstration than as a final art piece)  This mermaid is a very different process than what I usually do.

Yesterday I stopped by my brother's house to show them the progress on the mermaid, as well as to get feedback to a few questions I had for the person who commissioned it.  Although Karen had originally said she was fine with just natural wood coloring, I explained why I feel that some color would clarify the shapes better and she agreed.  I also proposed putting some kind of top on the mermaid, thinking some might not approve of a bare breasted mermaid hanging on her daughter's wall.  She agreed, and approved my idea of a sea shell.

So I used my Tuesday Studio visit to get back to work.  I started by drawing the shell, going with a scallop style design.  Normally I'm a black line guy, but I fought that urge and showed the fluted texture of the shell by incising the lines.  Then I took off a layer of wood from the rest of the torso, all the way to the neck.  Results are shown above.

And that's probably the last of the major carving on this project.  The next phase will be done with sanding, which will require better sandpaper than what I have been carrying around lately.  I may have it in my woodcut supplies- if not, it's available.  Color will come from water based relief inks (currently stored in my Belmar class supplies) applied with brayers, brushes, or whatever make sense as I work it out.

On my way out, I stopped on the first floor to use the restroom and noticed that my contribution to the  current show in the studio building was no longer hanging on wall where it was.  All the art that had been in that hall was missing.  So I asked what happened.  If they had decided to take down the show a few weeks ahead of schedule, fine, and if they are done with it I can take my piece home.  The one person I found said that pieces were moved to protect them from construction going on, but my piece may have been relocated to another floor.  Also fine, as long as I eventually learn where it is.  I've been advised to inquire by e-mail.


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