Last eve I went to the Diane Arbus walk through with the Walker Art Center exhibition curator, Elisabeth. I wasn’t paying much attention until she was attributing a quote from some lady named Judith Goldman, about how fascinating the gap between intent and effect is. I thought about all my flaws.
Along with the forty or so other guides on the walk through, I was enamored and drawn into the photographs that filled the galleries. We started in a room called the “Overture”. All the guides filled the little room of six photographs. Some sat on the floor, others with their fold out gallery chairs and a trickle of rest standing crowded. We got our introduction, then entered the first room which was painted white, photographs spaced along the walls of people at Coney Island and titles that say so. All the rooms are painted white or gray, anything framed has a white frame. There are also three libraries in the exhibit. The libraries have items from the artist’s estate; books, cameras, stones, journals. The libraries are darkroom feel, small with dimmed lights, they are tributes to her life. Along with the artifacts, unprocessed film prints specifically for this exhibit were printed. Double exposures, motifs and personal photographs with excerpts of her journal entries provide a story I was completely unaware of.
As the walk through progressed, I was amazed that the space I was in had a Kiki Smith installation last month. Just kept looking at the pictures. Each so telling, so free, yet such determination. Three weeks ago I barely knew who Diane Arbus was. I’m not into photography and I find it challenging as a medium for contemporary art. Folded emotion struck me and I realized that I was enjoying photography beyond Ansel Adams for the first time.
The other day I was fishing at my new spot on Lake of The Isles. It’s on the southern end where they mow out about a twenty five foot strip through the reeds and tall grass from the path to a bench and a shallow ease into the lake. It’s a Pre Restoration section and an old bench is still there. You can see little bluegills and pumpkinseeds darting among the reeds so I dropped a jig head with a little grub about ten feet from shore along the reed line. Sure enough, as soon as that jig splashed the water and sank a foot to the bottom, a little large mouth bass came darting out of the weeds. It looked like the sky before a storm with a blue banded tail. It quickly darted back into the weeds. I reeled in the lure and cast it back in the about same spot. Twelve times and then, I let it rest and jiggled my rod so I could see the tail of the grub and the glitter in it’s synthetic body twinkle in the light. I could see the small bass hovering around the lure. Then “SMACK” it hit with voracious appetite and I set the hook. It didn’t fight much and neither did I. I reeled it in near shore and reached in apprehensively to grab it’s bottom lip. It took three tries before I got a good grip. I pulled it out of the water and shining yellow green bands of scales emerged and I wriggled the hook out of the mouth. I took a good look and put it back in. My first Bass.
I cast a few more times and missed a bigger bass, but the elation I felt was brimming with a humble pride in self, knowing that all I would accomplish would only ever be my own.
Since I became an artist five months ago, I have only recently become aware of it.
I make ceramic fish. I take real fish and cast their dead, stinking bodies in industrial gypsum mixed with water. When the mold sets, I work the fish out and often cast the other side. Then, I take the mold and put clay in it; stoneware, fireclay, raku, porcelain, fireclay with iron, stoneware with ochre. I sculpt the gills, eyes and fins then I bisque it for eighteen hours. When it comes out I apply a bunch of brown or white chemical elements to the surface that will melt together at a high temperature and give it a glorious luster that makes everybody want to buy it. Then the art is high fired for another twelve hours so the chemical glaze will melt. Problem is that I don’t have a clue as to what I am doing. The artists in my studio say that the kiln unloading day is like Christmas, you don’t know what you’re going to get. IAs a kid, I was always dissapointed on Christmas.
It really isn’t a problem per se, rather an obstacle of learning. I don’t know how something will turn out until I get it out of fire. I walk to the kiln, hear the tinkling of cooling clay and find my fish. Then I stack them on a tray and bring them back to my studio space, then I wrap them in newspaper and pack them in a box. Done. Until I get home.
At home I look at each fish and spread them over the living room rug. I look at the glaze combinations and make a mental note in my mind as to what clay body they are on etc. Then I turn the fish over.
When it is over, I can see my emotion. I can see the feeling of when I made it in the fingerprints and bumps in the clay body. I can tell how I felt, how my verve was jumping, if I was crying or bleeding. Most people look at the front of my fish. I look at the back. I look at the back because I can always find flaws in my glaze technique, how the scales represent or how the glazes are too thin or too thick. The backs tell a different story. The backs are my true art. Art is inspiration and only in the tags of process may we discover inspiration. My inspiration is emotion and progress. It resides only here. Only in my flaws.