Hold (My) “Place”–Don’t Box Me In

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My theme in printmaking this year has developed into a narrative about women bearing strength even as they feel vulnerable. It began with a simple figurine with her leg outstretched but her arms hugging her knee to her chest and the request, “hold me please?” I had created this image at a time of heightened confusion and loneliness in my own life, as a way to cope with several stressors that left me feeling isolated. As the semester went on, I came to see that faceless figure not as a woman isolated from others, yet standing alone and not realizing her power and vitality within herself.

For my book edition, I wished to demonstrate the process of women realizing their own being, expanding beyond the box that cultural “norms” and even negative thoughts from amongst themselves attempt to trap them in.

Hold (My) “Place”/Don’t Box Me In is an unbound accordion book, six pages of image and text featuring a woman stretching and developing beyond the confines of her “cage.”
I created this book by monoprinting a wooden texture with teal waterbased ink across a 9”x 40” stretch of Rives Heavyweight paper folded into 6 panels, each 6” x 9”, with tabs on each end 2”x 9”. I then silkscreened images of female figures in mulberry waterbased ink: some isolated, others with smaller mirrored figurines; some with hair, others bald, all bearing suggestions of facial shadows rather than definite features. Each of the silkscreened images is accompanied by a text label printed through Xerox transfer in green and neon yellow which indicates the woman’s stage in development, reflecting her personal thoughts about herself, her environment and her impact thereof.

The front cover features a closed and locked chest that reads “FRAGILE,” a smiling exotic dancer caged in a “sexy” yet uncomfortable position, and the title, Hold (My) “Place.” Syntax bears weight on the meaning of those words: “My” is in parentheses as a sort of fill-in-the-blank for whomever can categorize themselves as boxed in and also indicates that this book mirrors my personal struggles. “Place”  is in  quotation marks to imply that one’s current socioeconomic status and position in society is arbitrary; we are all “placed” in several different categories that supposedly make up our identities. The timid command from an encaged woman who asks and demands that her place, her “spot” be reserved, is reflected in the blending of the text into the page. The back cover, Don’t Box Me In, is a command from the woman after she has reached beyond what she expected herself capable of;  the title and the caged woman blends more with the background, and the box is now open and empty.  I continued this motif of blurred and blending text throughout the book.

Pages one through six describe a narrative of a woman growing and becoming. On page one, “In company yet Alone,” she sits up, hiding her face in her arms folded to hug her knees to her chest, yet accompanied by a smaller figure crouched in a fetal position nearby. I aimed to create a mood of  despair and resignation to whatever unjust and unfit labels, burdens, miserable experiences, curses, or precarious situations life throws at us. She recognizes her trap and its seemingly insurmountable limitations on page two, “Occupied by one,” where she holds the bars of her cage. “Displayed exposed,” page three, shows another side of her, literally: We only see her back illuminated by a spotlight, her position similar to an accused person being interrogated or on trial. She is yet still introverted, timid and distrustful, but growing in personal confidence and finding her voice (the small figurine she is facing on the left). “Displayed” is crossed out and replaced by “exposed”, her choice to more adequately describe her physical and mental state and to express frustration. “They call her_____.” (page four) marks a turning point in the book, as she comes to see that others attempt to define her, but their labels and appellations do not carry any more weight to her person than she allows. The figure is crouched yet preparing to stand. Page five, “I am becoming…” is an assertion of her growth and development; she is becoming too large for the box she was originally placed in. Her story concludes yet begins with page six, where she stands cropped in a pose of confidence, unable to fit wholly on the page. Blurred in a block of text next to her is a list of respectable titles that women hold, from royalty to community leaders to family roles and motherhood.

Part of the issue in creating two  accordion books with precision and as accurately replicated as possible is that book structure makes printing a bit difficult. Very few mistakes can be made without entirely altering the whole read of the images and text. I actually made three or four books with two final products, because after monoprinting both sides of my paper, it was much too heavy with ink and had not dried fully when I attempted to fold in for screenprinting. As a result, my first two books, which were most alike in terms of consistent wooden texture, stuck together and fell apart. The goof ups in monoprinting the second time, however, helped create visual interest in my backgrounds without distracting from the images. My struggle with Xerox transfer was not so much technical execution as it was color choice. The ink colors I choose often did not show up on the paper, which I found frustrating the most with the covers and with page six; I really wanted those titles to be clear to the reader, at first. Yet, since the heroine cannot be placed in a box, is it not better that the words are illegible? I encountered some difficulties in technical production of this book edition that worked out for the greater good of my theme.

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Raspberry T: My Self Portrait

final image After much reworking, she (I) am done!

Prior to this point, I have not been one for portraiture, simply because I have had past struggles with reconciling the detailed features of the face with their proportions and position within a particular expression. The goal of this project was go beyond the basic figure drawing in order to produce a work that captured the essence of your unique personality and style as an artist.  We were to achieve these results within a couple of weeks, working from a photograph as opposed to live modeling.

The overall mood I was creating was ultimately to be most affected by the photograph I selected and the materials I chose to work in. Having known about this assignment since the beginning of the semester, I had set up various short shoots over a month or so, randomly taking pictures in different outfits, poses, hairstyles, angles and lighting. Then came the selection process, where community amongst artists tied in: Erica Moorehead assisted me in filtering through 500 photos to find the one that   worked best in terms of my personality, the background, the angle of my head, the lighting and visual interest in the photo itself.  I used vine charcoal, graphite stick (9B), graphite pencil (8B, 5B and 6B), and hard charcoal pencil, with a kneaded eraser to erase out the highlights and certain contours of my face, including the cheekbones, lower eyelids, nose, and lips. Then, I scribbled my hair in with a charcoal stick and erased out the parts and the lighter areas. Last, I blind contoured my scarf, shirt and earring with a sanguine pastel. Later, after group critique, I erased out even more values in my chest and arms. I also added a light red-sepia ink wash to my background in order to ground my subject, tie in my scarf, and add my trademark pop of color.

I wanted to captivate a bubbliness in my person that I don’t always see in the mirror. I also really aimed to challenge myself in terms of nailing the positions and proportions of my facial features as accurately as possible. In my earlier self-portraits, I was either quite angry and very darkly toned, or you could not see any part of my face save my chin. The photograph I was working with posed both of these challenges immediately: In it, I am laughing at my own silliness. My face is tilted down towards the camera, with sunlight streaming from the right, illuminating the way my smile-giggle lightens up my features. A personal surprise came from my choice to use vine charcoal for the majority of this portrait. Even a semester ago, I would have simply wrinkled my nose into a pinched expression at the thought of using such a subtle, unstable material that disappears off the page-here, however, the softness was perfect for creating the multitude of values across my face. I was most successful at imitating the softness of skin, duplicating the relative lightness of my skintone, and in making the smile in my eyes and on my lips realistic. To rework the picture entirely, however, I would reduce the distance between my nose and my right eye and soften the angle between my right eye and my left one; I would also choose a stronger paper than Lennox, because it’s not very forgiving to ink wash and erasure.

I am a person of color; I enjoy mixing and adding hues, translating from multiple colors to black and white and vice versa. I also play with what’s realistic and representational (via one’s perspective) versus what’s suggested, invented or abstracted. Having the light sanguine background echo my zebra print scarf and my shirt helped demonstrate my ideas and contrast (but not compete) with my black and white portrait. Complements and completion versus competition: Completion held out and my piece holds its own, flaws and all.

oh and here’s the original photo:

Conscious Collective: Picture This!

What a fun night! I got invited to be a part of a live art competition and spoken word showcase by Georgia State University’s Conscious Collective!

Greetings! I Need Visual Artists To Participate In The Event “Picture This Poetry” Feb. 2nd In The Speaker’s Auditorium At Georgia State University. The Event Is Hosted By Conscious Collective. The Program Is From 7 PM – 9 PM.

The event pretty much followed its itinerary  to a T:

The 1st Hour Will Consist Of Different People Just Having The Opportunity To Freely Sketch/Draw/Paint Original Pieces & Present Them To The Group At The End Of The 1st Hour.

In The 2nd Hour, Three Visual Artists Will Be Competing Against Each Other During The Event. Each Visual Artist Will Be Assigned To A Group Of Three Poets Who They Will Need In Order To Complete The Painting. Each Group Is Assigned A Theme. The Poets Will Express The Selected Theme Through The Poem & The Visual Artist Must Visually Depict The Same Theme Within A 15-Minute Time Frame. The Visual Artist Who Does The Best Depicting The Theme Of Their Poetic Counterparts Will Win A Special Prize. This Will Be From 8 PM – 9 PM.

I was sooo nervous! Note: I had never done live art before. Always wanted to try it though, ever since I saw that one scene in Madea’s Family Reunion. You know, where Brian the bus driver takes Erica on a date to a spoken word jazz spot and while she recites her poem, he creates this fantastic portrait of her in MINUTES?! yeah, dope. Now I had the opportunity to do the same thing!!

There were 3 themes to choose from, upon which 3 poets would be speaking for about 3 minutes each: diversity, sisterhood, and religion. As I attend Agnes Scott and not Georgia State, I did not find out my theme until 30 minutes before the contest began: I was assigned religion and then diversity.

There were spoken word performances, singing, and a bot of standup comedy–super entertaining. All of the poetry itself was pretty amazing. The limitations in terms of time and space were a tad exasperating, but essence of the experience. Lessons learned:

  1. BRING EVERYTHING.  All of your art supplies, even that one obscure chalk pastel set you haven’t used since tenth grade. Even something as mundane as plastic cups for water, or paintbrushes, or newsprint, and DEFINITELY rag paper! You never know what your hosts are going to have readily available for you (or not). Oh and ALWAYS carry one of your best works from your portfolio to display, just in case.
  2. Choose your materials wisely. Depending on how much time and space you have to work in, you need to choose what materials you work with best and most quickly under pressure, or in regards to how large a space needs be covered in a short amount of time. Given a time limit of about 10 minutes maximum, I choose to use charcoal and chalk pastels on strathmore paper.
  3. Stand up and stand out. While of course you want to stick to your theme for clarity’s sake, the whole point of the contest is to create an original piece based on the poems you hear. You ARE presenting yourself to the world, making a testament to your skill/experience level and exposure to materials &methods. So, select your fave portable materials; pick out KEY words from the poems and scale them by importance.
  4. Pace yourself carefully. And thoughtfully. You only have until the poets stop reciting to work–a bit infuriating if their particular style is either quiet or super speedy [or both, as in my case. The first guy finshed a 2 page poem in 2 minutes or less!! I caught “homeless guy” out of the whole thing] In the midst of this type of exercise, its okay to not be such a perfectionist! I had started over halfway through the 2nd poem because I didnt like what I’d had thus far…
  5. Practice does make perfect. If it isn’t your turn to perform (for this IS performance art), you can always sketch ideas on your sketchpad. I made several doodles in marker while I watched the rest of the show.

Up first was sisterhood. I personally found myself drawn in by the first artist’s style. She worked in mixed media: some tempura, some watercolor, oil pastel, charcoal, and Sharpie on 11″x 14″ canvas that she’d brought with her. Her piece featured a clock face, a fierce, phoenix-esque figurine, and vibrant colors. She later revealed to me that she’d been able to hear her poems beforehand at CC meetings (that’s the ticket!!)

Next was religion. It was really clear that this artist already had a plan in her mind of what she’d depict regardless of the words in the poems. Her piece was a somber, simple crucifix with shades of violet, red, brown and black, oils on Strathmore paper. Her reduction of all that was said in honor of Christianity, uncertainty and prodigal son behavior down to a silhouette of Christ was so effective! and Moving!

I was last on the roster, diversity. And boy did I get a variety of perspectives on it, discussing class differences, being multilingual, the concept of multiculturalism centered around food, oneness…I enjoyed listening and zeroing in on what mattered to me from each poem. But first! To cover such a large surface in a short time so the final product could appear completed! Key to getting my piece done was intertwining representational with abstract more directly than ever–in fact, my piece resembled a series of symbols placed around a page! Both of the other women were stiff competition.

That being said, imagine my suprise when they announced I WAS THE WINNER!!

“It was really oh so close, all of the pieces were good and we thank all of our participants tonight. Each piece was judged on grounds of consistency with the theme, use of materials, and creativity. We selected the winning piece based on originality. And the winner is….DIVERSITY!!”

I was definitely betting on Religion to win, because her oil painting was so well-executed and marketable! My jaw dropped!

So I receive a $50 giftcard to Utrecht for art supplies!

Out in the fresh air, all the guys circled up for a good old-fashioned cypher, the improv nurseries of classic hiphop. A good night.