Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith is an artist who I totally get. An American artist, born in Germany in 1954,  Smith occupies a unique place in the art world. Her work is varied, versatile, powerful, weird and wonderful. There is no artist I have found who works as she does, except myself, and I am a mere fledgling.

Kiki Smith works in several different media and her exhibitions bring together etchings, painting, textile art, sculpture, book art and photography. The glue for these works is a central theme for each exhibition. In the late 1980s  and early 1990s Smith worked with themes surrounding body issues, effluvia, and taboo. Her work has often featured female iconography and more recently the female icons have been plucked from the world of the fairy tale.

In the sculpture below we see a different take on Little Red Riding Hood.

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Image sourced on 4/9/14 from: http://tinyurl.com/m723ljx

This time a drawing entitled, ‘Wearing the Skin’, this image reflects how I portray the Red and the wolf in my own art.

Wearing-the-Skin-Kiki-Smith-2002Image sourced on 4/9/14 from: http://tinyurl.com/l8pjrqc

In an interview with Psychology Today,  Smith said:

Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn’t, do your work anyway. You can have fantasies about having control over the world, but I know I can barely control my kitchen sink. That is the grace I’m given. Because when one can control things, one is limited to one’s own vision. As a child I prayed that my calling be revealed—but not with expectation and not with a destination. I became an artist because I didn’t know what to do and I thought it was really fun to make things.

I like her words as much as I like her art. Making art, being creative because you have to, is the difference I think between being an artist and being anyone else. I am amazed that not everyone has this burning need to create, that not everyone obsesses over colours, shapes, light, shadows, the way I do, that not everyone regularly takes a hundred photos on a morning walk.

I was also very excited to discover that Kiki Smith worked with fairy tales, and that we had much in common in our media and themes, if not expertise. I had already planned that my personal work would be a collection of various different media and techniques around my theme. Finding out that an artist whose work I admire and respect, both creates and exhibits her work in this way, strengthened my concept for me personally.

More about Kiki and her work soon. I discovered her fairy tale work through a cover on one of my Jack Zipes books. The cover art was created by Kiki Smith in 2002, it is entitled Born

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Image sourced on 4/9/14 from: http://tinyurl.com/o7qatwa

 

 

The Alchemy of Black White & Red

The Brothers Grimm version of the fairytale of Snow White opens thus:

Once upon a time in midwinter, when the snowflakes were falling like feathers from heaven, a queen sat sewing at her window, which had a frame of black ebony wood. As she sewed she looked up at the snow and pricked her finger with her needle. Three drops of blood fell into the snow. The red on the white looked so beautiful that she thought to herself, “If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood in this frame.

My current work has so far all been in red, white black and grey, I am instinctively drawn to these colours, especially as I like winter which is very much the grey white and red season in nature, at least if you are lucky enough to get a decent winter.  I have been thinking about why I use these colours, and how predominant they are in some fairytales, like Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood. I found an article by English professor and author John Patrick Pazdziora about the alchemical symbolism of colours, particularly black, white and red, and they seem to fit the fairy tale narrative very well. This article by Pazdziora explains it very well:

The queen’s wish is for a child that’s black, white, red. That’s the classic color spectrum in literary alchemy.

If you’ve read Harry Potter, you’ve encountered a great example of literary alchemy, though the tradition is hundreds of years old. Here’s a crash introduction.* Each color represents a different phase of the alchemical process, or Great Work as the alchemists called it. Black signifies the nigredo stage, where the lead or base metal is burned, to remove its impurities. White is the second stage, albedo, where the purified matter is washed repeatedly to transmute it into the final stage, rubedo, signified by (you guessed it) red and gold. The beginning of the rubedo is signified by the blossoming of streak of red on the white metal; the metal is put into a container, symbolised by burial or interment in a coffin, until the transmutation is complete. The elements in the metal that were in opposition—fluid and solid, female and male, life and death, and so on—become reconciled; this is called the alchemical marriage.

What if  “Snow White” is an alchemical tale? The argument would go something like this.

   Snow White is the philosophical orphan, traveling through the three stages. The nigredo is her loss of home and self-identification in the forest, that labyrinthine fairy tale symbol for peril, liminal space, and the transmigration between worlds.The albedo is her time with the seven dwarf’s (and the number seven has so much symbolism surrounding it, there’s not enough space to even mention it here). She’s reached an equilibrium, and can be herself without the threat and shadow of the forest. The end of the calm albedo is signified by the arrival of the queen-crone, and specifically an apple that’s half white, half red. Snow White bites the red half and becomes as if dead. So she’s put into a coffin that’s decorated with gold lettering. The philosophical orphan is buried to wait for the completion of the rubedo. Enter a prince—the union of opposites and the alchemical wedding, and the completion of the Great Work.

Fascinating stuff, I can see I have years of inspiration and research from this fairy tale theme. I am going to apply the theory to Red Riding Hood and see how it works.Here is a doodle I was playing with earlier in my theme colours… I am taking photographs of local woods and adding red threads and playing in Photoshop. I think I am going to have a book of photographs as part of my work, photos of my work and stuff I have set up in the woods, my little house models etc.

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The Map is not the Territory

The following post is by blogger Andy Parkinson

I found it fascinating, how he connects the mapping and NLP theories with abstract art. I was initially reminded of René Magritte’s painting, Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

…according to John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St, Clair the territory isn’t even the territory, (Whispering in the Wind page 25). They use the term First Access (FA) for the point where we gain access to information about the world through our sensory systems. The information received at FA is already a map, though we are accustomed to think of it as the territory. The vast majority of what is out there never reaches our senses, and the information that does reach us is also transformed. FA is the product of these transforms or mappings. Grinder/St Clair use the abbreviation F1 to refer to the set of mappings that occur before FA.

Then there are the linguistic transforms that take place after FA, the mappings that we usually refer to when, with Alfred Korzybski, we say “the map is not the territory”. Grinder/St Clair use the term F2 to refer to these transforms, our linguistically mediated mental maps.

It seems to me that abstract painting is particularly well placed to explore the pre-linguistic, F1 transforms or mappings or representations, that occur between the events of the real world and our visual perceptions (It can and does also explore F2 mappings as does figurative painting).

The coloured discs you really see in this painting are not out there in the external world, they are not on the surface of the painting. Neither are the 49 bright white discs that appear in the centres of the squares (especially when you look slightly sideways). They are part of the F1 transforms, mappings or representations that take place between the world out there and FA. I suggest that whilst that’s so for everything you see including the canvas, knowing that these colour/shapes exist only in our  F1 mappings shows us something about that mapping process. I think the painting is helping us to model colour.

Something else about these subjective/colour shapes that intrigues me is that we see the discs as perfect circles. Although the drawing is inaccurate we see the discs as if they were accurately rendered… your eye is more accurate than my hand. Your representation or map is, in this respect, more accurate than the territory.

The Old and the New

The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood by Jack Zipes, is an old favourite of mine… although it is a few years since I read it last. A Little Red Riding Hood Casebook, by Alan Dundes, is a recent find. Good reading for the obsessed.

I am currently reading both works and comparing the two.  The Zipes book cover many versions of the tale, from it’s folk tale origins as an oral narrative, right through to contemporary tellings. He criticises Freudian interpretations of the symbolism in the story and points out several ironies in it’s interpretation over the years.

Alan Dundes book concentrates on two versions of the story; the most well known, by Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm. He has collected together a series of essays by respected scholars to give a variety of theoretical approaches to the tales. I have only just begun reading this book so will report back at a later date.

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Go for witchy…

We had an APA referencing session in the library this morning. It was good to find some of the sites available in the depths of the NMIT library website. Can’t help but wonder why this was not given to us right at the beginning of the course though, it would have made a lot of sense, especially when I was doing the writing diploma! Anyway it was useful.

Yesterday, I had a wee tutorial with Jose, one of our tutors, about my work, and that gave me confidence in what I am doing. Jose said she can see how all of the things I said in our first tutorial have come together, and that made me happy. Although the path I am currently treading feels right to me, it is good to know that it feels right to someone else too. I have been having many more ideas since then now I feel that I have a license almost to carry on, it seems to have opened the floodgates.

Some of the things I learned today:

I want to carry on my theme of forests, trees and shadows in this current work, especially in the final presentation. I am going to present my work in a forest-like setting, hopefully I can have shadows on the white walls of the Refinery Gallery where the exhibition is to be held. I would like to use one of the white painted brick walls, and I will need a corner. I have already been looking for suitable tree branches to use in my setup!

There is a lot of art in this world that concentrates on the darker less attractive side of life, and the abject. While I can appreciate the meaning behind latex shower curtains with embedded pubic hair, or unmade beds surrounded by the daily mess of a depressed human being, this is not what I want to do.  I can admire those who spend their artistic talents in making shocking  statements about society, and how we live,  but my way is more subtle. I have seen the dark side of life, I have experienced rape, violence, abuse and madness, and maybe because of this, I want to make something beautiful from the darkness, rather than focus on the murky detritus.

When you are caught up in a project, and then start thinking about your audience, anxiety can set in and you wonder if they will get it, and because of this you can be trapped into becoming too literal to get the point across, this is something Jose helped me to see, and something I want to avoid. So I am going to make my art without worrying too much about whether anyone gets it or not, and that is extremely freeing.

I can get witchy… I am witchy but it is ok to let it come out… woohoo!!

My current wall display… I do like the antlers a lot… the dark murky image near the bottom is a work in progress which went wrong due to an overdose of gel medium, but it is still useful a template.

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The view from my studio window :)

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Discovering the Joys of Baklava…

This morning was one of the best Studio experiences to date imho. We were asked to critique the Level 7 Studio students work, and I had some great students in my group.

I saw a very cool video about the absurdity of everyday life, which I totally get, it was cool to see someone create a film that is a reflection of exactly how I see daily life myself. One big splash of fast moving colours, shapes, light and shadow.

The movie that followed was the antithesis of the previous one. We were treated to a journey across a mellow sea, followed by the most gorgeous filming of baklava being made. Layer after layer of filo, butter and honey poured and brushed over and over. The green of the pistachio’s crumbled on. It was like watching a bed being made in some ways with the billowing of the sheets. But best of all, we got to sit on a rug of mixed origins and eat the most incredible baklava. I have tasted this very sweet dish before, in several countries in Europe, and have never liked it, but the baklava that Jesse made… oh my it was perfect and not too sweet at all.

Sadly I had to forego the rest of the critique for a lecture, but what a treat it was to spend time with the year 7 guys n gals. It was very inspiring and also comforting to know that they too struggle with theory etc. But I loved their confidence, their faith in themselves and their work. We can all have that, we are all human, and we are artists.

The critique session was very valuable for me. It was purely student led without tutor input, and I feel this was the best critique I have had so far. Critique is about the students and what they need from it, and today that worked very well. Timing was great, everyone  who wanted got to have their say and best of all we got to hear the artist speak about their work which there is often not time for. I just love being with other artists or writers, more than anything I think!

Now I need to get Jesse’s baklava recipe! Apparently there are 40 sheets of filo in some recipes… can’t see me making one of those, I am not much of a baker, but this well, it is a form of meditation.

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Image retrieved on 25/8/14 from:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/michael-symon/baklava-recipe.html

 

As I was saying…

Every time I have a lecture in Visual Culture I get new ideas… and I feel like I could just do this forever… but then none of the ideas would eventuate, so I am sticking to my path. Happily the recent lectures on the feminists kind of tie in with what I am doing. Except I am more into the power of the matriarchy than in the feminist movement.

Somehow nature seems to fare better than political movements, no matter what the cause. But that’s just me, I sometimes think that life is far simpler than we are led to believe, but then I have been spared many of the atrocities of human existence, by way of being born in the Western world, and not during a world war.

So anyway… more reading… and what joy it brings…

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Reading Pile

Just a few of the books I am currently reading. I sometimes thing research is one of my favourite things of any project. So many pathways that twist and wind away from the main track, and then you meet the wolf, in the guise of having to make a decision!

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Twists and turns on the forest path…

As I read and continue to make art my project is taking on a life of its own.

I have recently been influenced by the study of feminism in our visual culture classes. I find this difficult, because much of what has been written is dated, and although very relevant at the time I cannot help but find some of it as crazy sounding as the fifties housewife ads that we laugh at today. The Bitch calendars that subvert those advertisements say it all. Another reason I find it difficult is because I believe in the power of women goes far deeper than politics or any of the ism’s, and it always has. I believe that men as a race are fully aware of this although it may be in an unconscious way. This is what drives them to try and subvert women, although few men I know have ever tried to do this. I have had far more experience of women subverting men, treating men as objects of ridicule. I do like that Simone de Beauvoir was not a feminist, but wanted equality, as tis is what I believe in. Equality for all genders, and it is not so simple as male and female.

I have never seen women as the innocent scapegoat, more the Goddess, the one who holds the secrets and the wisdom. Angela Carter’s books are very refreshing because they accept that women too is bestial and it is by admitting this side of her that she claims her power. Paula Rego has something to say about this too, notably in her large and powerful drawing of Dog Woman. To quote the Saatchi gallery:

Inspired by a story a friend had written for her, Paula Rego draws her Dog Woman in pastels, referencing the raw physicality of Degas’ drawings. “To be a dog woman is not necessarily to be downtrodden; that has very little to do with it,” She explained, “In these pictures every woman’s a dog woman, not downtrodden, but powerful. To be bestial is good. It’s physical. Eating, snarling, all activities to do with sensation are positive. To picture a woman as a dog is utterly believable.

Dog Woman by Paula Rego 1994, Pastel on canvas. 120 x 160cm

Paula Rego DW

I love this work, and I want my project to have a similar nature. I want to show the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood for example, as the wild inner desire within all of us. I feel the biggest problem with life today is that we may have come too far from the cave. I love Rego’s Dog Woman as it says this so perfectly. I doubt pre-paleolithic women were sensitive about hiding their animal desires, and they probably gave as good as they got.

If you want to be a wolf, be one, if you want to be  model 50’s housewife, do that too, just be happy in your skin. As for me, for all my wolf talk I will probably end up as the cat lady…or the goat lady… I have been the witch for a few years now…

Image sourced from: http://culturoid.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/paula-rego-dog-woman.jpg

& so the wolves keep a coming…

I started painting another book right away, trying to get more abstract, but again I am going with the flow. I like how this has taken on the look of the wolf becoming more of a playful puppy. I am taking up wolves as a cause, in all of their guises. Watch out for the begging letter at Christmas for my new charity. My daughter said that some of my wolves remind her of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things, and *that* is a very good thing.

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