Friday, August 28, 2009

Shell Commission - Part I

A couple of weeks ago I received a request to design a custom piece for this space above a fireplace:With the following dimensions:The client had bought "Thrice in a Lifetime" at the Paradise City show in October for the space but it really didn't work, as I realized when I saw the image of the location. In addition to being a large, odd shaped wall, it also starts 10 feet above the floor, so a 3' x 3' piece would get totally lost. They wanted to know if they could exchange what they had for something that fit better and I told they they could. The specific request was to "draw up some ideas for a special order shellac painting piece (perhaps something shell-like)." Since the client had previously asked about doing something shell-like, I felt the emphasis was really on shell-like and not on a general abstract piece.

At first, I was confused about how I could apply what I do to make something that would be considered "shell-like." I didn't want to do any carving and all I could think of were scallops. Then I realized that gastropods, cephalopods, and the like, create sea-shells and that it might be possible to create a flat projection of something along those lines.

After spending a couple of days looking at thousands (no exaggeration) of shell images, primarily from this site, this one (94,199 shells for sale and I think I saw them all), and this one; I decided to go with something along the lines of this and this. The great thing about working in the parameters of something "shell-like" is that the diversity of shapes and colors are so great that there is an enormous amount of flexibility. Had they asked for a dog, whale, or some other figurative object, I probably would have refused, but shells, they seem to work with what I already do.

So I started drawing, and struggling with creating something that fit the space proportionally. Here are my series of drawing, in the approximate order they were created (I know it is a lot to post but I think it is interesting how they go from something rough and horrible to something that actually might work):

After I drove by a Shell station I realized that I could create an art deco stylized scallop-like shell but then realized it really wouldn't fit the space very well. I also didn't like its perfect symmetry, although shells like this and this are really captivating. Some shells are somewhat angular but I thought it would be too "hard" for the space. Finally, I was happy with a drawing. I just needed to recreate a clean version, which I did below:

I suggested that it might look best in flame yellow birch, which I picked up recently, because both the grain and the figure are larger than maple and could be seen better from a distance; and that the stripes could be made with walnut because it would contrast better with the yellow birch than cherry would. I also thought that the tip could be gilded in order to draw more attention to the top and make it more visible from a distance (about 17' high).
As shown in the cross-section drawings, the edges will be rounded, there will be a small gap between the sections (eight total), and the sections will be joined with a backing that will be screwed into each side.

I'm hoping to finish the piece by sometime in November. Luckily, the clients are flexible about the schedule so that I can have time to finish some new pieces for the shows I'm going to in September and October. I've started milling the wood that I have and the figure in the yellow birch should be perfect for this application, really big and dramatic. However, I'm a little short on what I need so I have an excuse to go to the lumber mill on Monday to pick up some more birch, walnut, and what ever else looks interesting. Always good to have an excuse to go to the mill.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Orientation Debates

I'm frequently amazed at how different a piece looks in different orientations and also amazed at how frequently I discover a better orientation after I've finished a piece, sometimes many months later. With this piece that I sold a couple of weeks ago --
Untitled (2008)
-- I had planned to hang it in the orientation on the right the entire time I was working on it. However, when I was done and hung it, I decided I liked it better in the orientation on the left. What makes one orientation of an abstract painting better than another? I think part of the issue is that, even though it is abstract, it is not so abstract that our minds can't create a figure or image within it. Our minds want to make sense of a piece, and the orientation that is more figurative, or at least implies a more pleasing figure, is the preferred one. With the piece above, the image on the right makes me think of aliens being beamed up to their space ship, or lobster claws; but the image on the left makes me think of a blue animal (a bird?) reaching for the sky, or the back of someones legs. When making the piece, I guess I must have thought that aliens being beamed up was interesting, but when I was finished, and saw them being beamed up, I found it disturbing. Luckily, there was something in the 180 orientation provided an alternative to the aliens.

Then, to my surprise, when the couple asked about purchasing it, they wanted to know if it could be hung horizontally. It had never crossed my mind to hang it horizontally so I was surprised to find that it works in that direction as well, becoming a landscape and implying a reflection on water. I can see now why someone would want it in this direction. I think it is even more abstract and peaceful horizontally.
I've been torn by how I feel about the orientation of a piece. On one level I think, as an artist, that I should care about the direction my work is hung; that I should decide what a piece is and how it should be viewed. But the reality is, and I have come to accept, that I really don't care. All I can and should do is find the orientation that I think it shows best in, and then leave it to the buyers to view it in the way that gives them the most pleasure. If a piece is abstract, then it is abstract and open for interpretation. There is nothing final about my interpretation and, in fact I might find that in six months I like it in another direction, as I did with the two piece below. Although they both work either horizontally or vertically, it took me six months to realize that viewing the figure in the wood was much more dynamic in the horizontal orientation. The figure is so intense, that you can see the piece change dramatically as you move across a room.
Yin/Yang (2008)
Thrice in a Lifetime (2008)
So, in the future, I'm planning on making sure that abstract work can be hung in multiple directions, unless I change my mind.