Thursday, January 28, 2010

Proposal For A Better State of The Union Speech

Last night, in watching the State of the Union speech, my mind was fixated on the flag and how the ripples in the fabric look just like the figure in curly yellow birch.
Coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, I bought 2 twelve-foot boards of the stuff on Tuesday for just such a project.I propose that next year Barack Obama should make his speech with these behind him. I think we'd all be better off if the self-important blow-bags spent their time commenting on the art behind the President's head rather then their interpretation of what he said.

Monday, January 25, 2010

J.T. Kirkland @ Vermont Studio Center

One of my favorite blogs to follow is J.T. Kirkland's Thinking About My Art because he is a fellow traveler in the quest to find an aesthetic path that celebrates wood as art. So I was happy to hear he was going to be doing a one month residency at the Vermont Studio Center because it would give me a chance to meet him and see his work in person.

He recently started a new series that caused quite a bit of debate on his blog because of the difficulty in experiencing the effect of his technique through images. He has been playing with the subtle reflective qualities of finishes (gloss, semi-gloss, matte) and using it to "paint" designs on top of veneers he has glued to plywood. In the first series of images he posted, and many of the later ones as well, it was essentially impossible to see any effect from the finishes in the pictures. So with this visit, I would get to see for myself.

I can say that J.T. has been busy exploring his new series and starting some other ones as well. He has generated a lot of work in a short amount of time and it is interesting to see how it has progressed. With this veneer/finish painting series, you really do have to be in front of them to understand them. From some angles, often straight on, you don't see the effect of the finish, then when you move, it will suddenly appear. It is actually an interesting effect that surprises the viewer, taking a piece that is perhaps initially dismissed and causing both a visual and intellectual awakening.

The best example of this is the piece I have the worst picture of, his yellowheart/purpleheart piece with square on the far left of the wall below (most of these are 12" x 12"). I think the simplicity of the yellow and purple veneers work well with the subtlety of the square.

I needed to take the picture from this angle to show the effect of the finish, straight on it is unimpressive. You can also see how much the rosewood piece on the right changes between the two angles. Above, it just looks like veneer on wood, below ghost-like perpendicular lines appear.
I think this piece on the left is also very effective (yellowheart and padauk) With some of the pieces I think he left some of the lines unfinished, with just the raw wood and this might be one of them.

As you can see from the angles of the images, I struggled to find a position where I could capture the effect of the finish, often times that angle wasn't the best for showing the overall composition. The piece below, second from the left (purpleheart and black ash), was interesting in that from some angles you would just see vertical lines but from this angle you would suddenly see a checker board design. The piece on the left has diagonal lines going all the way through but you can only see it on the lighter stripes from this angle.
J.T. has also been playing with real paints during his residency. With these below, his shapes are more organic, reflective of the wood grain, and designed to highlight the grain patterns that he finds most interesting.
With these two below, the wood is used more as a canvas than as a part of the design. With the one on the left below, however, the colors and shapes of the paint are subtle complements to the grain.These paintings also integrate different types of finishes that add ghost lines to them, visible only from certain angles. I'm not sure that the technique is as effective with the paintings, however. The colors are so dominant and the finishes so subtle, that I don't find that it adds significantly to the work.

It was great seeing what J.T. is up to and talking to him about the work. I think the residency was a great opportunity for him to explore different directions of a new series. It is especially interesting to see the surprising directions that new work takes. I like where it is going and believe that the strongest of his pieces are the ones that really focus on subtlety. It is too easy to do too much and with this work, being caught by surprise is what sets it apart.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Images of New, Old, and Unfinished Work

I had Rick photograph new work last week before installing the sea shell. In addition to having a good camera and the right lights, his ability to get the colors right with photoshop are much better than I can do even with the right equipment so I think it is well worth the investment to get a decent portfolio together.
Epitonium apexaurum (Hitzig, 2010)
curly yellow birch, walnut, shellac, gold
82" x 48" x 1"

I had finished the piece below in September/October (I spent several weeks trying to get the shellac to crackle by taking it in and out of a meat freezer before giving up and calling it done) but, luckily, it hasn't sold yet, in spite of the unusual and spectacular figure, so I've been able to get a good image taken. I decided on the shape because the end of the board was cut at that angle at the lumber mill or forest and I thought it would look good at the other end as well.

Frozen Flame
shellac on blistered maple
30" x 19" x 1"
The title is partly a reference to the blue surrounding the flames and partly a reference to putting it in a freezer.

I finally finished my first flag. I wasn't happy with the coloring in the star section when I first had it imaged. This is what I was trying to do originally.
Untitled First Flag
shellac on curly maple, cherry, and bird's-eye maple

24" x 41" x 1"
The second flag isn't going so well and I think I'll need to completely redo the blue section. I've tried about 5 or 6 different combinations of blue, deep blue, purple, green so far and none of them work. I think I might try something more geometric next. At this pace I should have enough of these for a show in about 15 years.
Almost Square Flag Draft
shellac on curly maple, cherry, bird's-eye maple
26 1/2" x 26 3/8" x 1"

Alternate orientation

I also had an image taken of an older piece that I didn't have a good picture of, again, luckily, it remained unsold.
Miocenean Memory
curly maple, moose antler, epoxy, shellac
52" x 14" x 4"
I thought the piece looked something like a bear, maybe a proto-bear from long ago, long since forgotten, hence the title (I think bears first started to appear in the Miocene). The figure in the wood really makes it look like it is covered with fur.

I haven't yet finished the piece below because I've been struggling with the overlay rectangle. Since I was having other pictures taken, I had it imaged also, hoping that having a good picture would help to see it better.

shellac on curly maple, cherry, and walnut

49" x 26" x 1"
I consider vertical striped section to be done but have been unable to find a color combination for the overlay stripes that work with the rest of it. So far I have been through the following combinations:
all clear
shades of blue (which looked great but didn't work with the rest of it)
various shades of black added to the above

Right now, I'm liking this combination the best but think that it might be better to replace it with a solid black piece (with grain still going in the perpendicular direction). It is painful how the little things can take the longest time. It is also painful learning how to paint. You'd think it would be easy but it really isn't. Sculpture is much easier, painting sculpture is relatively easy, but figuring out color combinations and making colors work on their own, that is hard stuff.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Delivered and Installed

Yesterday I delivered and installed the seashell commission. Thankfully, everything when smoothly. No damage to the piece getting it down there. No car accidents. No major forgotten items. No installation iterations. It took a little over an hour to put it together, determine the exact location, and place it. I'm not totally surprised; I didn't think it would take long, but I was a little nervous that something would go wrong and I would have to drive back to Vermont without accomplishing the mission.
Epitonium apexaurum (Hitzig, 2010)
curly yellow birch, walnut, shellac, gold
82" x 48" x 1"
Unfortunately, the client had jury duty so she didn't get to see the installation, but her husband, sister, and interior designer(?) were all happy with the finished piece. I have to say I'm happy with the results as well. It looks better than I had envisioned in that the figure in the yellow birch is better than I could have hoped for and the scale of the piece is perfect for the space.
I named it Epitonium apexaurum (Hitzig, 2010) because the shape is based primarily on shells of the Epitoniidae family, which includes Epitonium. Here is a good example of a different genus in the same family, Amaea ferminiana (Dall, 1908):The apexaurum part of the name is just a reference to the fact that the tip is gilded, unlike any other species in the family. Fortunately, as an artist, I do not have to go through the same peer review process as a biologist or paleontologist in naming a new species. They would probably tell me, among other things, that I should have included it in the Amaea genus. However, I'm not sure how to pronounce that word and my nomenclature rules allow exceptions for such things (nothing more embarrassing then for an artist to go around mispronouncing the name of his own piece).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

I usually do not title a piece before starting it but I was recently thinking about making a piece that is based on the color TV test pattern:
And I thought of that great song/poem by Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. It will be a challenge in a number of ways, not least of which is making a piece that lives up to the title. I'm also not sure how well I can reproduce those colors, they are very intense, but I'm hoping that if I can just get close enough for people to recognize what it is, I will not have to replicate them exactly.

In tracking down the song and listening to it on YouTube, I was struck by the compelling blend of humor and anger. I also thought how relevant it is for today and how nice (what a relief) it is to know that trivialities are an obsessive part of all generations. For some reason, we tend to think the age we are living in is different or special but the reality is, it is always the same thing happening with just different names and technologies. It would be interesting to hear an updated version, perhaps entitled, The Revolution Will Not Be Streamed On YouTube. The irony is that, of course, it will be.

Open Letter to Iron Chef America

Although I try to keep the subject of this blog limited to wood and wood related art, it is my blog so I feel free to break my rules when ever I feel like it. Below is a letter I recently wrote to the Food Network asking for a chance to challenge Masaharu Morimoto on their show, Iron Chef America. As you will see below, I am more than adequately qualified.

Attn: Alton Brown
Iron Chef America
The Food Network
Atlanta, GA

Dear Mr. Brown,

I would like to be considered for an opportunity to challenge an Iron Chef on your program, Iron Chef America. Although I have not ever worked in a professional kitchen (unless you count washing dishes in a Miami University cafeteria), nor have I been to culinary school, I believe that the meals I cook at home are of a quality that qualify me for your program. For instance, I make a really good breakfast every morning that consists of oat meal, peanut butter, sugar, and raisins. Until recently I cooked them in the microwave for two minutes but after the microwave died, I discovered that toasting the oats on the stove prior to cooking them makes the meal Iron Chef worthy. If the secret ingredient is any of the above, I am sure I can sway the judges with that course alone.

Although, I generally keep a vegetarian kitchen, I believe that I have watched your shows enough to be able to pull together an impressive meal. As an example, if beef or pork is the secret ingredient, I could take the meat, pound it paper thin, then serve it with a small garnish and olive oil. I know, it sounds disgusting, but the judges always seem to like it and it does not appear to be either difficult or time consuming.

On the other hand, if the secret ingredient is some type of seafood, I would have several full-proof meals that I could, no doubt, impress the judges with. One of my favorite recipes is a Senegalese rice and fish meal called Ceebu Jen. It really is very good and uses a lot of vegetables, so there are a number of ways I could include it in my challenge. Everyone I have made it for seem to really like it even though I use less oil than the widely used recipe of one liter peanut oil per one kilo of rice. Also, I have been to Peru so I am sure I could make a pretty good ceviche.

Of course, if the secret ingredient is some kind of bean (including tofu) I would certainly make a meal that would be talked about for years. Granted, I will have to learn how to use a pressure cooker, but I think I can master it before we film the show. I have been slowly perfecting a refried bean recipe (both pinto and black) over the last 20 years and believe it is currently the best in the world. In addition, I make a number of very good stews with chick peas and I have found that panini pressed tofu in a soba noodle peanut butter salad is always a winner.

In case you are concerned that I would not be able to finish five courses in one hour, I can assure you that most of the time I complete dinner in under 35 minutes, so I figure, with a couple of sous-chefs, I could easily get the task completed on time. As for which Iron Chef I would challenge, I think Masaharu Morimoto would be the best match given my tofu/bean bias.

Thank you for taking the time to read my proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Rob Hitzig