Sunday, March 18, 2012

why taking the time to test is a good idea

An artist's cautionary tale:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was invited to participate in an exhibition for which I would be paired with a local poet. The piece was to include the text of one of the poet's works. I was paired with Charles Trumbull, who is a well-respected and published haiku poet. He sent several to choose from, explaining that what he chose seemed to be related to Santa Fe and the landscape. Here are a few:

on the bronze pate
of Saint Francis of Assisi

snow-filled juniper:
a flock of mountain bluebirds …
such a commotion!

flashes of dark and light
through the piñon trunks:
a magpie

piñon smoke
the first snow lingers
on the wooden bridge

high plains dusk:
the blades of the windmill
churn through loneliness

The one I chose was this:
the aspens 
and the chamisa agree
on a shade of yellow

For a long time I pondered what to do with it, but I really loved the subject. Autumn here in New Mexico is the most beautiful time, and I've posted before about the exquisite aspens, so it felt like a good fit. At first I thought about using mylar, and cutting the letters out and having gold leaf show through. Then I saw something in a store in Williamsburg that was a ceramic tray, glazed with gold, and I thought about painting the letters on it and hanging it on the wall, or having it sit on a pedestal with a light above it. In hindsight, maybe I should have gone with one of those ideas. But then I got the idea of using old postcards of New Mexico in a large collage, and cutting the letters out from that. There is a woman here who sells all sorts of ephemera, old books, maps, tons of stuff. So I went to see her and sure enough she had some old postcards. Not that many, but I bought some more on ebay.

I certainly didn't want to ruin the precious postcards, which couldn't be replaced if I screwed up, and also wanted to repeat some. So I scanned them all in, and over a period of time taping them in different combinations onto heavy watercolor paper, I got a design that I liked. I used jade glue to glue them onto the paper, which worked fine. After creating the text in Photoshop and blowing it up large, I transferred it to the collage and very carefully cut the letters out of the top layer of the collage, so just the colored part was peeled off. It looked pretty good. But I wasn't quite happy with it and decided to use amber shellac in some places. More experimenting, more taping, more gluing. Now the whole thing was done, but I wanted it to be stiff enough to hang a bit away from the wall. And here is where things went awry.

Note to self: foam-core, no matter how thick, does not like water based glue. I found this out when I pasted the foam-core onto the back of my piece, cut so that the piece was still irregularly shaped, put heavy books on top, and waited till the morning to take the books off and view my masterpiece. And that's how I ended up with a buckled mess that resembled a wrinkled satellite dish.

Now, dear reader, you can only imagine what my state of mind was after all the work I had done. And quite frankly, I was not about to do it all over. I happened to have friends for dinner that night and showed it to them. Lots of ideas bandied about. Ultimately, I redid the arrangement in Photoshop and took it to a digital printer, who printed it and mounted it on Sintra. And though I feel somewhat removed from it, because it's not handmade, it's clean, it's crisp, it does the job. The printer put some furring strips on the back that he said I could attach wire to for hanging, so I did.

I hung it up in the studio. That night, a loud noise, which got the dog barking and me out of bed, but all seemed well. Next morning I discovered the piece on the floor with a bent corner and the furring strip torn off. Back to the printer, who attached more Sintra and the wire differently, and who said it would hold. And I hope it does. 

It will be on display at the Community Gallery, downtown Santa Fe, from March 23 to June 8.

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