Too Much of a Good Thing is a Good Start

Mixed media artwork: Everything but the Kitchen SinkI’ve mentioned before that I follow in my esteemed father’s footsteps when it comes to his motto that ‘anything worth doing is worth overdoing’; my approach to many ideas and creative processes tends toward the Baroque, if not the Rococo. It’s not that I adhere to the design precepts and concepts of either of those eras, but I do have leanings that reflect their love of what others might easily consider excess. It’s one of the reasons I so often end up working in mixed media—combining a variety of seemingly unrelated elements into my works enables me to take advantage of the strengths of each while not laboring overmuch to accomplish a number of disparate ends with the same piece.

It’s also a reason I get pleasure out of making found-object artworks. There’s a lot of both fun and challenge in working to see the possible relationships, whether visual, conceptual, or metaphorical between all of the parts I’m using and figuring out how to showcase those ideas by the way I combine the multitude of bits and bobs. Old or familiar objects, put into unexpected juxtaposition, can take on new meaning or bring surprising revelations of their possible connection and mutual influence when my proposed paradigm shift begins to provoke any change in a viewer’s expectations and experiences. But it’s not necessary to alter anybody’s thinking very radically to make these kinds of artworks fun, provocative, and entertaining to make, anyhow. So I just throw everything but the kitchen sink at the project of the moment and see what the combination inspires in me.

Looking for analogues in the world that make fitting ‘ingredients’ for mixed media art and found-object pieces can bring useful and sometimes quite surprising insights into myself no matter whether anyone else shares my sense of the connections’ logic or my pleasure in the linkage or not. And since, as you must know by now if you’ve visited here before, I have never been skilled at making money of any sort from my artworks, let alone making a living from it, the ability to fully and effectively communicate my delight in making these odd discoveries and building relationships between unlike elements through art is just plain icing on the cake. I feel lucky enough to have had the happy moment of recognition myself. If I get a little carried away, can you blame me?

Metallic Melange

As a shiny-object addict, I inevitably crave making artworks with shiny parts from time to time. It’s one of the reasons I started making found-object sculptures so many years ago: a way to make use of my stash of sparkly, quirky, and metallic Junk bits that I still spy and pick up on my walks out of that compulsion. No surprise that I would, in turn, be cheered by others’ fascination with the multitudinous curios and clockworks so embedded in the likes of Steampunk and Sci-Fi, Industrial interior styling, Grunge and Goth, and Cabinet of Curiosities interests.
Mixed media artwork: A Sort of a Wreath

So here’s one of my latest concoctions, a wall sculpture that plays on all of those themes. It means nothing at all, or perhaps, everything, depending upon your preferences and whimsies. I like to think of it as evoking a variety of hints and hyperbole, of the histories, mysteries, and fantastical foolishness that both underly and defy nature and invention. In that sense, I suppose it might be considered a reasonable facsimile of the contents of my cranium. All of you amateur psychiatrists out there, have at it. If you dare.

Enemies Within

Digital illustration from a mixed-media drawing: The Enemy WithinThe problem is not entirely what you have so keenly observed, my pretentiousness, my overblown supply of self-esteem; it’s not my ignorance, grand in scale yet constantly masked (I think) with all sorts of follies and falsehoods. It isn’t merely my innate streak of meanness or my cowardice or my determined inability to be truthful. All of these, I can’t deny it, appear so often as assets in unworthy hands these days that I’m drawn to them like a desert wanderer to a well of eternally cold water.

So little do I care for the consequences of any act that I never consider Whether or Not to do it, only How Much. What effects it may have on anyone else are as nothing to me, when after all, no one else exists on my plane. If this world can be a wicked place at times, full of sins and flaws that are rebranded as business acumen and charismatic charm, don’t blame me that they’re beginning to seem admirable.

What is nagging at you as the problem, really? That these iniquities have a certain appeal to you as well? That they might not be considered dangerous until there’s no civility left to compare them to, perhaps? Or that they may finally not even be considered at all?

When You Come to a Fork in the Road…

…as the old joke goes, ‘take it!’ Silly and facetious, yes, but that’s about as close to decision-making as most of us can get when it comes to choosing between two or more equally excellent, terrible and/or unknown paths. We often dither so long before even reaching an intersection, just worrying about when and what it might be, that by the time we’re there we’re no closer to real and reasoned decisions and end up tripping all over ourselves while we fumble onto one branch of the road or another, sometimes even going so far as to get scared enough to back up to the fork and try another route instead. Which rarely tells us any more than utterly random movement what would’ve been the genuinely best choice. Just another of life’s unfair conundrums, after all.

Mixed media: So Many Forks in the Road, So Little Time

So Many Forks in the Road, So Little Time. Detail from a mixed media sculpted window valance in a vaguely neo-Baroque style. Fun, pointless, and well worth the making.

In art-making, thankfully, the results of such choices needn’t be either so clear-cut or so exclusive. Art is one of the environments most hospitable to a constantly changing mind or, barring the ability to decide at all, a good mash-up where the chosen option is ‘All of the Above.’ So I happily pot around making mixed media works, assemblages and a veritable multitude of artworks that are nothing in the least like what I thought I was planning to make when I started them. I love being allowed to not make up my mind, or sometimes to let my art make my mine up for me. This is undoubtedly a contributing factor in my perpetual inability to make anything remotely resembling a commercial success with any of my art, this indecisive character of mine. But it sure makes for fun playtime in the studio, and that at least is a sure distraction from any unpleasant paths life threatens to lead me down, so I guess I can’t really complain.

The Icing on the…erm…Chair

Being Crafty is something other people do. I admire the feats of those who can crochet spectacular Afghan blankets seemingly out of thin air or decorate their homes for the holidays with recycled coat hangers and tuna tins and somehow make them look like a magazine cover. People who have the know-how, skill and patience to embroider babies’ bonnets, build palatial birdhouses out of scavenged fence pickets and carve perfect portraits of great historical figures out of turnips impress me greatly.

I, on the other hand, have been known to abandon ship mid-craft, or at the very least change directions radically when I feel I haven’t a hope of getting the hang of what my project was initially intended to be. My youthful embroidery days were ended when I spent a lengthy evening working on the details of some would-be floral tea towel‘s featured bouquet, stood up to gather my sewing and head off to bed, and discovered I’d embroidered through both the tea towel and the lap of my nightgown. My candle-making artistry had only its propensities for melting and burning (and thus, quickly, disappearing) to recommend it. Unlike those who are able to make fabulous sand mandalas with the grains arranged perfectly meditatively into millions of delicate otherworldly patterns would be, if not appalled, then at least mystified and probably saddened, by the strange mud-pies that would be the only produce of my efforts in that direction.

Pretty well any craft that takes any real focus and attention, let alone proficient control of the medium, is likely to remain out of my reach.

There are, however, certain tools, materials and proficiencies in the land of Craft that I can and do manage. One of the media I have enjoyed manipulating for playful, if not crafty, purposes at times is lightweight spackling compound. This stuff, made initially for repair of wounded wallboard and the filling of trim gaps by builders and handy-persons, resembles cheap bake-shop frosting so strongly in texture (and, I daresay, probably in taste, though that’s moot here) that it goes through an icing bag and tip wonderfully well. So it’s great for not only creating faux frosty baked goods but also all sorts of the same kind of detail work that plaster and woodcarving and metalworking artisans have used to create architectural accents and furniture details for eons, especially in combination with other small sculptural elements. Thinning the spackle just enough with water to go through a pastry icing tip and retain its proper density and texture and shape while drying is virtually the only difference. In fact, the spackle can be tinted in many of the same ways as frosting, too, though it may be painted and colored in many ways after the fact.photoIn any event, I’ve had fun with this magical past on occasion. I’ve made customized and personalized ceiling medallions with it. I made a nice big window valance that had all kinds of pieces and parts–food and cookery gadgets and the like–blending its own form and meaning with the rest of the dining room in which it hung. I’ve used it to create baroque picture frames and mirror frames. Probably the most fun project with it so far was making a couple of very rococo side chairs by upholstering them with tapestry-like fabrics and then building equally over-the-top sculptural frames and backs out of small objects, some pre-made and some of my own making from plasticine or wood, bone or clay or metal, and then faithfully infilled with spackle ‘frosting’ before I gilded it all with metallic montageWhat’s next? Who knows. But there are boxes full of fun waiting for me to make them into something new, and that little yet persistent itch returns from time to time, so undoubtedly there will be a next thing. Just you wait and see.

Super Chicken

mixed media artworkMy superpower, if I could be said to have any, is being supremely ordinary. Yeah, I’m really, really good at that. Now, you may think it’s not impressive that I’m good at being so-so, and you could be forgiven for thinking it. And yet . . .

Besides that it requires massive numbers of us mid-range sorts to keep nature in a sort of balance with the various human outliers at the top (and bottom) of the spectrum, there’s also the comfort and safety of being able to travel under the radar of scrutiny and pressure to which both kinds of exceptional people are exposed.

What on earth does this mean I am good at doing, at being? Why, I do what’s expected. I go to sleep; I wake up. I eat and I walk and I get dressed and undressed, and the world carries right on around me. And though I don’t at the moment have employment outside of our home, my current occupation being Homemaker, I spend myself and my efforts, rather, on doing the small and yet significant things that might not be essential to keeping the world operational but grease the gears, instead. And keeping the cogs working relatively smoothly is as useful in its own way as being the driver, the engineer or a cog myself. I go to meetings and do Projects, too, to be sure, but mostly what I do nowadays is fix a meal, repair a door-jamb, ferry my spouse and a student to a rehearsal. I do laundry; I prune the plantings near the window. Glamorous? Just exactly enough.

Because the luster of the day comes not from being admired and lauded but from being appreciated, even if it’s hardly necessary to hear that announced constantly–after all, the proof of its value is in plain view if the needful things get done. Any reward lies in the belief that I make life that one tiny iota smoother and pleasanter for that one brief instant, even if only for this one other person. It’s borne on the smile of relief worn by him whose sheaf of office paperwork got filed at last when he couldn’t get to it himself, or whose old slippers have been mended by the time he gets home from the office at the end of the day. It’s in the neighbor being glad to have the excess garden supplies or box of art materials I’ve collected to send to school with her. It’s with me when I arrange the chairs alongside the singers before a rehearsal when I come by to listen to their work. It’s mostly in knowing that the stuff needed to keep quotidian action on course is being looked after, bit by little bit. And that I’m the person for the job.

I don’t do this selflessly, of course, because I would hardly keep it up for long if it weren’t so simply and inherently rewarding. And it certainly bespeaks no genius or courage on my part that I do it, for clearly it takes greater skill and ingenuity and bravery to do all of the shiny, showy things for which I provide my atoms of encouragement from the periphery. Maybe a jot of courage only to admit to being a homemaker and loving it. So many who haven’t the privilege of the life seem to disdain it and misconstrue its meaning, especially if it doesn’t have either children or wealth as part of the equation. I am far more fearful of having no sense of purpose than of being thought unimportant by anyone else; I care more about feeling my own worth than having it validated by any outside agents.

So if I seem to anyone to be afraid of taking a larger role in the Real World as they see it, I suppose I ought to admit that in one sense I am. I know that having this Job for a few years has given me new strength and the ability to go out in the wider world for a so-called Real one again when the time comes, yet I do dread leaving this role that has given me a feeling of vocation more than anything else I’ve ever done and risking the dimming of any of the self-worth I’ve garnered or the value I’ve learned to impute to the tasks of being normal and simple and everyday, which I’ve learned to see as so much deeper and richer than they’d seemed until I tried on the role of their custodian myself. I do, at the end of it, think that if I’m a dull, bland or unimportant grease-monkey to the cogs of the world, I’m a damn good one, and if I’m scared of giving up that high honor, then I at least credit myself with being a superior variety of chicken.

Another Serenade

mixed media drawingEcstatic

A quenchless love, dreaming of fire,

In sparkling rain, still heart’s desire;

Still filled with stars and wind and joy

And graces formed without alloy—

A pretty hope, a shining night,

That place where blessings all alight—

Give breath and meaning to all things—

This is my love, and yes, it sings,

For in the center of it all

Into such ecstasy I fall

As cannot be divined or plumbed

When earthly spirits have benumbed

The finer senses made for this—

Stop here, and end it with a kiss!

Owl be Seeing You

I’m fond of the idea of animal companions and the way that various spiritual and philosophical schools of thought have incorporated the concept of human-animal affinities as talismans, symbols, totems and the like–never mind the opportunities presented for animal appreciation in contacts with pets, farm animals, zoo denizens and the serendipity of wild meetings. I simply find animals intriguing and appealing, and the chance to be in friendly contact with any of them pleasing and attractive. When they become boisterous, and especially when they are threatened or threatening, not so much of course, but even in those states they are compelling subjects of interest.

Animals are beautiful, mysterious, sometimes cuddly and affectionate, sometimes regal and dramatic, and always rather miraculous in my view. As I’ve lived much of my life in proximity, one way or another, to interesting animals but never had pets or been a caretaker of animals directly, there’s a tinge of the exotic even in the most common and frequently seen birds, bugs and beasts, fish or fowl, tame or terrifying, that perhaps people having more direct relationships with the creatures would not see. Somehow, despite the frequency with which I may see them sitting on the road-lining fenceposts, dead trees and light standards, hawks become not only the focus of my attention but messengers and comforters and guides that reassure me and inspire me simply by appearing where they do and catching my eye. When the call of a full moon brings out more of the neighborhood creatures to enjoy its bright benefits, I am moved to feel that the presence of more animals (the wild ones from our wooded ravine and even the neighbors’ straying house pets) has some meaning and purpose and must be meant to please me as well.

It’s not surprising, then, that animals appear in so many of my artworks, both in their expected forms as portraits of a kind or characters in my visual stories, and often in more abstract influences on the pieces. As a carnivore myself, I am not averse to eating animals as well, but my appreciation in this regard is enhanced the more when I can make complete use of the animal’s sacrifice, say, in using not only all of the meat but also cooking down the bones for delicious and healthful broths and then still having the beauty of the bones that have not been utterly disintegrated in that process as potential art materials too.mixed media mask

Some marvelous turkey bones, for example, not only supported the original bird that became the crowning glory of a roast-turkey feast (or, more accurately, two or three feasts at the least), but then became soup and sauce base in a long slow cooking and then, as the bones came out of the broth, beautiful and earthy and sculptural objects that in turn made me think not only of the turkey itself but also of all sorts of other creatures whose bones and skeletons and exoskeletons make them so remarkably lovely and strange. That is how a turkey breastbone became, in my mind, first a nose and then a beak, and finally, when the ‘beak’ was matched up with other bones having the right shamanic shapes, combined and decorated and gilt and otherwise conglomerated, the bones became the structure of a different bird altogether. In a turkey I found an owl–a Great Horned Owl, or to be even more precise, the Spirit of a great horned owl–and perhaps that reflects best of all how I see animals.mixed media mask

For I would include the human animal, naturally, in the list of perplexing and amazing and funny and marvelous creatures that capture my imagination and that, in its own way, is a species full of exotic mystery and charm. That makes my own life, presence and bones a collation of possibly only practical and ephemeral and biologically ordinary, yet even in those regards, mythic, parts that fit in their infinitesimal way quite neatly enough into the grand scheme of existence. I suppose it’s a reflection of that, after all, that I see and seek in admiring animals as I do. Perhaps it’s legitimate that I should make shamanic masks and look for meaningful appearances from the many winged and hoofed and spirited beings surrounding me daily and nightly, throughout my life.mixed media mask


Beware of Bad Luck & Worse Deeds

mixed media sculpture

If you can’t make a grand entrance, at least try to make a spectacular exit . . .

Talk about Relief!

The way my insurance is freighted

With small-print and guilt, and prorated,

I find that this chick

Who can’t risk being sick

Can afford to be


digital painting from photosCampfire Song for the Unwitting Centerpiece

Singing silly campfire songs, we sit at either side

Across the pit and toast marshmallows, making note how wide

And high the flames can leap at will, and thinking if they might

Be quite sufficiently stoked up by middle of the night

To throw something substantial in to roast before the dawn,

Perhaps a certain someone here we’ve finally settled on,

Whose camp-songs so annoy us; cook to ash before next day

Our deep-disliked camp counselor: our own auto-da-fé.

mixed media sculpture

Why, certainly, cabin-master, Sir, have another toasted marshmallow! Here, just lean over a teensy little bit closer . . .

Maybe not Captain of My Own Destiny, but at Least I’m on the Crew

mixed media on canvasboard + textWhen I was a young artist-in-the-making, it irritated me to no end that people who saw my interest in art and knew of my Norwegian roots often instantly assumed that I was a big fan if not acolyte of Edvard Munch, Norway’s best known artist. Besides that my knowledge of Munch’s work was pretty nearly limited to ‘Skrik‘ (‘The Scream’) and what little else I’d seen even in passing was not at all to my taste, I took it as an insult and a frightfully narrow-minded view of my potential. And that, my friends, was the capper, because it implied that I was not in charge of my own future but predestined by my ancestry to be a pale imitation of somebody I wasn’t particularly fond of or impressed by in the first place. I was jolly well going to go my own way and choose my own muses and inspirations and, most of all, I was absolutely not going to be told what to do and when and how to do it by some ghostly abstract borne in my bloodstream.

As a very fortunate young pilgrim, I did manage to get to the Old Country and spend a little time rooting around my ancestral stomping grounds during my undergraduate studies. I got to meet and spend time with my great-aunts and various other relations and visit the house my grandfather helped build for his elder sister, our Tante Anna, and the family farms–the sylvan Ovidsland property with its tidy white house and taller red barn set in among the slender birches, and the more remote summer pastures of Eitland, a smaller and more rustic place on land with a sweet little lake for fishing up dinner. I was able to see the headstones of relatives long-gone, outside the little church where many of the family had attended services for many an age, and walk paths and travel roads where many of them had trod and ridden for ages before that.

oil on panel

Eitland, painted by an unknown family member or friend in the early 20th century.

It was a rich and rare opportunity to both visit the places of my family’s past and to live among my Norwegian family in their current places and way of life, something that few people get the chance to do and that I will treasure for as long as I live. Because it did change me, and change my point of view. It may seem strange, but some of the greatest change happened in completely unexpected ways; I was not especially surprised, though quite pleased, that getting to know family I had not known before and see the world from which my grandfather in particular emerged to live in the States (my other three grandparentsancestors all came from other parts of Norway, where we had less constant and present contact). But I never imagined that simply setting foot in the country of my ancestors would move me as it did. I could never have begun to imagine that I would be so struck, feel such a palpable and somehow heart-wrenching connectedness on standing in front of the amazing Oseberg ship in the Viking Ship Museum of Oslo–but I was; I did.

And I was truly astounded to discover, when I–a little reluctantly, perhaps–went with my sister to visit the Munch Museum that I not only found Edvard Munch’s work much more technically impressive and more profound, his life story and the stories that gave life to and were expressed in his work more impressive and thought-provoking than I had ever dreamed I would allow, but indeed, there was a lot more that I found simply compelling and even, startlingly, appealing. First of all, the guy could draw. He could paint, make prints, tell stories. He was, dammit, gifted and actually worthy of the attention. How very annoying of him, really. Because then I had to come back and re-think what I was doing a little bit. Was it so terrible to reflect something of our however-peripherally-common ancestry in my own work?

I had, if anything, a new appreciation for how much I didn’t wish to emulate his life, with the illness and suffering that marked life for and around him. But to take, as he did, what life presented and put it through the same filters of self and vision and thoughtfulness and surrealist whimsy and passion–that might be precisely what could make me more, dare I say it, myself as an artist. Who knew.

So by the time I set about making the collection of artworks for my master’s degree exhibition, it was an amusing ‘closing of the loop’ to find quite a number of people observing the works in preparation and in the finally installed show coming back to that same old observation that had used to frustrate me so. ‘Has anybody ever mentioned how much your work is reminiscent of Munch’s?’ It was even amusing to me to realize that, though the subjects might stray from his, though the media were sometimes decidedly different and the techniques concomitantly skewed to fit them, and though most of these viewers had no inkling of my ancestry, apparently there was a little something making its way up from my roots to the surface of my art.

Somewhere along the way I had also started to grow up a bit and begun to figure out that we all, inevitably, have less control over our own destinies than we fancy we do, and that that’s not inherently a bad thing–that life will always surprise us and challenge our grand plans and hopeful dreams and carefully charted paths. That the very things we can’t predict or control help to guide and shape us into things we might never have imagined we could plan or wish to do or to be. I guess I just took a longer and more convoluted route to letting my little commonalities with my fellow Norwegian artist Edvard show through; being dead, he could spare the time to wait for me to catch up. And once I got comfortable with the idea of seeing a hint of him in the mirror, I didn’t feel like screaming anymore painting from an acrylic painted original