Friday, January 11, 2013

Flag Proposal Series Update

After four years of thinking and working on my flag proposal series, I've finally finished six pieces. To celebrate, I took them to RLPhoto Studio in Burlington to get high quality, professional images. I think they did a fantastic job. It is nice to see what really professional studio can do -- great lighting, great shadows, no glare!, great detail and clarity, great color balance -- they are true professionals.

Though the series is obviously influenced by Jasper Johns' flag paintings, I consider Claes Oldenberg's proposal series to be equally influential. I love his absurdist proposals to replace landmarks, like the Washington Monument, with things like scissors, cloths pins, or electric fans. I want this work to be viewed as proposals for replacing the US flag with my designs, including materials, techniques, and dimensions. 

Reference Flag is the first of the series. Though everything else is a variation on the theme of the American Flag, I wanted the first to be clearly identifiable as a US flag. Technically, it isn't an exact replica, the blue section should extend down one more stripe, but I decided replication of the actual flag was less important than the aesthetics of the lumber and dimensions I wanted to work with.
Reference Flag
shellac on maple and cherry
24" x 41" x 1"
Reference Flag (closeup)

Almost Square Flag was the second. I remember I started the blue section after seeing a Rebecca Purdum show at Dartmouth College and was inspired by her style, but got very frustrated after a number of attempts. I had given up and started to sand it down when I noticed that the bird's-eyes had become bumps that I was preferentially cleaning off. I liked the look, seeming to reference stars, so just polished it and was happily surprised with the results.
Almost Square Flag
shellac on maple, cherry, and epoxy
26 1/2" x 26 3/8" x 3/4"
Almost Square Flag (closeup)
Thirty-Nine Piece Flag was the third in the series until I recently took it apart and reworked it. So now it might be considered the sixth. I think it is be the only piece I've signed and dated three times (each one being a documentation of thinking I was done). I'm sure it is finished now.
Thirty-Nine Piece Flag
shellac on maple and birch
34" x 53" x 1.5"
Thirty-Nine Piece Flag (closeup)
Here is an earlier version.
Thirty-Nine Piece Flag (September 2010 version)
When I thought of the design for Double Star Flag, I cursed my imagination because I had no idea how I was going to do it. In fact, as I was making it I still had no idea if I would be able to pull it off. Much to my surprise, it worked out. I was especially happy when getting it photographed because that was the first time I had seen it as a finished piece. I was a bit nervous as to whether it would all fit together (I don't have a good place to store it assembled and it is too large for me to fit in my truck as well) but, thankfully (or miraculously), even with the wood movement since summer (the last time I had assembled it) it came together without a hitch.
Double Star Flag
shellac on maple, birch, walnut, and epoxy
71" x 62" x 1.5"
Double Star Flag (closeup)
Perhaps I shouldn't say it, but Trapezoid Flag is my favorite. Maybe it isn't coincidental, but it also gave me the fewest problems, among all six, in terms of design and implementation - no rework, no second thoughts, no mistakes. Plus, that black salamander is a really great feature. 
Trapezoid Flag
shellac on maple, birch, epoxy
39" x 49" x 1.5"
Trapezoid Flag (closeup)
Of all these pieces, Nine-Sided Flag was the most frustrating. I reworked the middle section four times before I came up with something that I liked. I also trimmed some of the left side off after I thought it was done in order to shift the center piece more to the left. I easily put more work into this one than any of the others and, though it is still isn't my favorite, I am finally happy with it. To my surprise, my photographer said it was his favorite, perhaps not coincidentally, because of how much work I put into it.
Nine-Sided Flag
shellac on maple, birch, ash, walnut, epoxy, acrylic paint, and gesso
35.5" x 47' x 1.5"
The thin black lines in the middle section is walnut veneer.
Nine-Sided Flag (closeup)
Here is the version of Nine-Sided Flag from May 2012 (at Vermont Studio Center).

And here is the version from October 2012.
Both of these versions made me very unhappy so I'm thrilled that it is no longer a headache.

None of these pieces is for sale until I have enough for a show of the series. I would like to have thirteen of them but I know I need at least ten. I'm planning on continuing to focus on them for the next year or two in the hopes that I can make the requisite amount in the near future. I think the long time frame of their assemblage makes for an interesting look at the evolution of my work. I'm in the beginning stages of creating a Baye Fall Flag (identifiable by their colorful, patchwork clothing) and would like to make a larger version of something like Three Triangles for an eighth.
Three Triangles
shellac on ash, walnut, and acrylic paint
19" x 17" x 1"


  1. Nine-Sided Flag is my favorite as well.

  2. Thanks JT, that's interesting to hear.

  3. The two forms (blue center and striped outer) are dynamic together. They are related, but not identical. They work together but there's still a tension. Vertical grain (center) versus horizontal grain (outer). Rigidity of outer versus organic randomness of center. Can draw conceptual intrigue about "the flag" from the form. But as a piece of abstract art, it's successful on its own.

    My 2 cents...

  4. Thanks for the analysis. It is a little more complex than some of the others. There is a fine line between complex interesting and complex confusing, I think one of the earlier versions was definitely on the wrong side of the divide.