A Foray into Sculpture: “The Air Loom”

Part 1 – The Idea, The Build, The Hiccup

It takes a lot of nerve for a guy who does 2-D art to suddenly try making a sculpture. I’m not sure I could just start by telling myself “How about making a sculpture Dave?” Instead I came at this project through my love of fiber arts (being a batik artist) and thinking about what would happen if…

I did a collaboration project with a  neighbor of mine as part of a local event focused on bringing artists in the area together to create something they never would have made on their own. The two of us came up with a sculpture we called “The Stream that Floats the Rock.” He made a hollow paper-mache “pod” using plant fiber insulation material (“eco-friendly insulation”) and I batiked a long silk ribbon with a continuous abstract pattern that changed and repeated elements. The ribbon was then weaved inside the pod (which had crevices that served as peep holes) and the whole contraption was lit with tiny led lights and hung from the ceiling.

“The Stream the Floats the Rock” (detail) Mixed Media by David Lucht and Michael Terra

Making it was an interesting experience, working out a method of building it in concert with another head-strong artist. But we never once threw objects at each other or let loose strings of expletives and there was no permanent damage. We are great friends still. So we succeeded at that anyway. The sculpture was interesting but less successful.

This is a view through one of the peep holes:

In the process, I overestimated the amount of batiked ribbon I would need and went home with 30 or 40 feet of the stuff which I stashed away for about a year and a half. The collaboration project got me thinking about some other thing I could make that sort of resembled it but was more like a lamp made completely out of the ribbon. I kept thinking about how I could make it out of this colored silk ribbon. How would it hold its shape?

I remembered hearing about this fabric stiffener stuff another fiber artist was experimenting with a few years ago… started with a “P”… Paverpol, that’s it (thank you Google.) I ordered some and spent several of my regular daydreaming sessions trying to work out the logistics of how I could build this thing. I wanted to make an armature that could be disassembled after the fabric was stretched across it, so that the cloth would retain the evidence of the structure but not actually need it any longer.

After running through several ideas in my head, I came up with this:

I used 3/8″ dowel rods and drilled holes into two blocks of wood to make caps for the top and bottom. The center was spread out using a disk of wood, creating the desired shape. I eventually learned that the shape I was after was called elipsoidal (I knew it was called something…). The disk in the center created a problem because I wanted the silk ribbon to weave through the middle so I came up with a ring and cable contraption to hold the dowel rods out while I removed the wood disk. This is it:

One other thing I noticed after I got this ring in place was that the dowel rods tended to pop out of the holes in the caps; there was pressure along the longitudinal axis which pushed up and down and made the whole thing ‘pop open.” So, I made a tension cable connecting the top and bottom caps attached with a quick release latch.

Now I was finally ready to “weave.” Well my first attempt was less than successful. I painted the colored ribbon with the Paverpol, let it dry, ironed it flat (that was a whole process I didn’t factor in!). The stiffened fabric worked great. I rolled it up and weaved it around and through. When I was done I excitedly removed the dowel rods by loosening the cable wire in the ring and sliding them through pre-drilled holes in the top cap (and also through another hole in a rotating block I screwed on top that kept them in place until removal time.) Worked like a charm but… the form was a disaster! It all kind of crumbled in on itself and stretched out from it own weight when hung. Not enough internal structure. And the weave pattern was too chaotic (no pictures… trust me, you don’t want to know.)

After a period of mourning I tossed the whole shebang in a utility sink full of warm water to see if I could soak off the Paverol and start again. Time to regroup.


“So… what is your art about?”

Good question: What am I after, after all.

I wouldn’t do it if I thought no one was interested. Those artists who say they do it for themselves have forgotten that the reason they started doing art in the first place was because someone encouraged them.

So it starts with that: communication.

I want to engage you emotionally. I want to make an image that teases you, makes you refocus, gets you interested. If it’s a realist piece I will use composition, color, value to demand that interest. Those formal qualities should support, give heft to, whatever narrative content might present itself.I say “present itself” because I have learned that the story part usually starts out pretty basic (ie: I “like” the image) and only later gains depth and resonance upon reflection.

If the piece is abstract I use these same same formal qualities but it’s the story it tells will really be more about the internal mental and emotional processes I experienced while making it and about the actual event that occurred in handling the media as the image was made.

But common to both is emotional communication. As an artist, I have as my greatest desire the need to come across to you. I want to speak to you with this visual language. If casual everyday conversation were fully satisfying, if just talking was really consummately rewarding, we probably wouldn’t feel the need to try some other way to communicate. Visual artists are those people who notice that imagery can have a powerful life enhancing effect on us. A piece of visual art acts as this extra channel of communication, one that passes by verbal and even intellectual constructs of our world. We make art because art talks in ways we can’t.

Yet really, it is conversation that I am after. It’s just that with art, this conversation sometimes begins as in silence: a quiet conversation between you and the art. So what about actual verbal conversation? Well it should happen as well. While definitive explanations leave me cold (like explaining a joke) I also disagree that “nothing needs to be said.”

Visual art gives us something of immediate value that shifts our focus away from thinking that life can be explained. An excellent piece of artwork creates an immediate positive response, becoming a sort of talisman from another world, one that informs us that a different kind of information is available. Not explanatory or discursive, but suggestive, sensual, even voluptuous. It causes us to witness a powerful truth that lies in our senses and their ability to inform and communicate something beyond words. Though art has no literal meaning, it should convey value. Though art is about non-verbal communication, it should get us talking in new ways.

Art communicates by inference and suggestion, not by explanation. We don’t get answers here, at least not in a logical or conclusive sense. If we’re lucky, a successful piece of art will give us a well asked question. And questions can get us talking.

All That Mystery Demands

 Our annual trip to our home near San Miguel de Allende is always part getaway and part project. Since the house is up for rent all year we can count on some upkeep or build out project to accomplish. But there is also the priceless studio time to enjoy and we found ample time for that. For us the “getaway” means “get in the studio!”

This particular trip gave me a sense that we are engaged in a project with mystery, a mystery that makes requests; I would call it an exacting mystery. By that I mean to suggest a mystery that isn’t simply confounding, or enchanting. But instead one that provokes you and turns into action. A mystery that demands something from you.

Each time we return to San Miguel I find the place that I remember. The light on the warmly colored buildings, the charm of their antiquity, the tight sidewalks that force you into the street when others come your way. The familiar landmark buildings of colonial Mexico that send a charge into you just to see them again. The energy that seems to come from the architecture and from those snug little streets passes into us all. It has drawn us all here and now it performs an animation of our spirits. I can see that others feel the same way. I am in a crowd of elevated emotions. Just by being there.

The crowds are bigger now. This town seems to have been rediscovered by the Mexicans from Mexico City and elsewhere. The weekend numbers are now weekday numbers and the weekends draw more. I don’t object though. I am part of the throng.

One night in San Miguel we caught a great documentary on aging (“Still Here” at the lovely Angela Peralta Theater) for free as part of the Guanajuato International Film Festival. Afterwards it was on to the Jardin to join the evening crowd and grab some great street food (hamberguesa with fried ham, bacon, cheese, tomato, onion, pickled jalapeño) then finally making it to a terrazzo restaurant where we sipped tequila sangritas and ate pollo con cacajuate and sopa de azteca. There was a mezcal cart parked next to our table but we just admired the bottles without getting more involved then laughing at the worms. Not tonight my little gusanos!

The film festival was new for us. In the mix of so much engaging festivity that is the ongoing pageant of San Miguel, some elements change from novelty to become familiar friends revisited. But a surprise or two always seems to pop out at you from the night and the town.

So each time we return we find what we remember but we also find something new. Something that we will someday remember.

And this irresistible thing, this thing that draws us here, this mysterious force that emanates from the buildings and rises from the streets reanimates me. It doesn’t just enfold me in reverie. It demands something from me. It makes me spark. It is an exacting mystery.

My creative life is my response. If I can make something from it then the art that may result should provide another challenging mystery to others. My response must be to serve it well.


La Vida Dulce

The Instituto Art  Fair - a lively, colorful happening

The Instituto Art Fair – a lively, colorful happening

We’re far from novices anymore at doing art fairs both here in San Miguel and the states. They still take a lot of preparation and forethought in ramping up to the actual event, but we’ve become accustomed to the routine of applying and the inevitable check lists to make sure we have all the aspects of the events under control. There’s a heightened sense of anticipation going into them plus the usual anxiety, but it’s all familiar territory.

I had a different sense, though, in August as we set up our display panels the first day of the Instituto Art Fair. We were in the same spot as the July event so no worries about whether or not we were in the right place. I looked around as we pulled paintings out and began figuring out the best configuration for displaying them. Little by little other artisans began toting their work to their spaces and started the tedious process of getting all in place. The man with the handmade paper wall luminaries was back as our neighbor next to us in the corner along with his wife selling beaded jewelry and embroidered tapestries cattycornered across the aisle. Others, now familiar to us after so many Instituto art fairs, also began arriving – the short, energetic woman from Oaxaca with a single gray braid and crooked smile selling rugs, the two ever-serious young women selling Mexican trinkets, the German lady selling straw hats and Guatemalan scarves, the young man from Veracruz selling his handmade leather-bound notebooks.

The inner courtyard where the fair is held had a sleepy air about it, people quietly going about putting their displays and tables in order. Not a lot of chatter, just some street noise and birds making their morning twitterings as they flitted about looking for their first food of the day. As I made several trips back and forth from the car to fetch things for our set-up I felt the energy of my fellow artists and craftsmen. Less than two years ago I viewed all of these people as part of the exotica that I saw as San Miguel. But with several Instituto fairs under our belt, and becoming part of the routine, I suddenly felt a real connection to the artisan community. Moreover, I felt privileged to be offering my art alongside them.

While a good deal of what is offered by the artisans is produced for the tourist market, there is still real craft evident in much of it. Creativity is part of the fabric of Mexico in general, and so the hand-woven rugs, the beaded bracelets, the sweet, brightly colored paintings on small wooden panels all are reminders of the arts in everyday life here. Some of it is decidedly humble, but nonetheless it offers up the expressions of its people as a small celebration of their lives. Tourists are drawn to the color, the whimsy, the craftsmanship of the items perhaps not in small part because they are made locally by hand. Art of the people which touches us because it is just that, not high or lofty or cerebral. A celebration of the sweets of life.

Buggering On

In a week we will begin our first real exhibition here in Mexico and the third joint show we’ve had together. We’ve busied ourselves over the past month with putting together all the promotional materials … postcards, posters, an article for the Atencion as well as an ad. We found a caterer to pour the wine and refrescas we’ve ordered to be delivered to the gallery from one of the local liquor stores, and we attached labels to our postcards with translations of their copy so that their message is appropriately bilingual. Did I mention we’ve also been painting since we got here in May?

It’s a different story doing the art thing on a full time basis. The show is just one of several balls we have in the air right now. We’re in the midst of applying to about 8 different art fairs in Florida for the months of February and March 2006. That has required us to make slides for most of our new paintings as well as slides and duplicates of our tent and displays of our art. Because we’d never taken slides of the tent with everything displayed, it meant that we had to put up the tent and some of our art work to take slides of both Dave’s and my work separately when we were in McAllen in late August. Texas summer heat made for an early morning start on the task and bucking a not-so-gentle breeze that started up soon after we got things in place. Our to-do lists have expanded and shrunk depending on what next big project has loomed on the horizon.

I don’t mind juggling multiple “balls.” All my past professional life has served me well in that regard. One learns to simultaneously manage a dazzling array of tasks as a nurse, that is if you’re to stay effective. But ferreting out the shows, designing promotional strategies, seeking grant funding all must happen alongside the act of inspiration, the thing that makes and keeps us doing the art in the first place.

I admitted to Dave not so long ago that I had come to realize I hadn’t anticipated that part of being an artist full time. The part that requires that in spite of show rejections, gallery rejections, grant rejections, and low sales I still need to find inspiration. Painting is a breeze when things are coming your way. All that positive feedback by way of sales, acceptance into shows, and other accolades serves as a magical lubricant to the creative juices. I’ve not had the happy experience of this phenomena regularly, but the sporadic sales and elation of getting into a show have always tantalized me with their heady possibilities. But when “no” is the more common phrase one hears it’s easy to get caught up in the questions that buzz around your brain attacking your intensions, your efforts, and finally the work itself. Is it good enough? Will it ever be? Am I up to this? Do I have what it takes?

Being successful as an artist is usually equated with regular sales and consistent acceptance into shows, and most times gallery representation on top of all that. While there may still be rejections from time to time they are fewer and less frequent. For now we’re still struggling to achieve that height. So until then, we keep buggering on, as Churchill and his fellow Englishman are famous for saying. Keeping up the good fight with faith that what we have is more than enough, and that with effort we’ll finally get to that happy place of recognition and all that it entails.

A New Year in an Old World

Okay, New Year’s Resolution: no more heavy, philosophical bullcrap. Just the facts as I see ’em ma’am. Though that may not work out too well since I can’t seem to resist those meanderings, at least every now and then. Then maybe… okay REVISED New Year’s Resolution #1B: not so much heavy, philosophical bullcrap. Keep it light and tight. No one wants to spend ten minutes of their valuable allotment of discretionary time reading someone else’s brain noise.

morning sky

Morning sky over San Miguel

The problem here is the same as Popeye?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s and everybody else?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s: I am what I am. Just bear with me and I promise to mix it up.

One promise I made myself for the new year was to get this weblog up to speed. Thanks to some new software you can now try to toss me a line when I go out dog-paddling in the deep end. Post your comments and save me from drowning in simile.

Welcome to the New Year! The ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnew?¢‚Ǩ¬ù thing is very big in this world, so no wonder this holiday is popular. Western Culture keeps us hungry for it. Keeping on top of it is our lifestyle and you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re some dotty old crank if you aren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t right there.

The sharp point of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe new?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is always staring us down as artists. While making a fresh instance in art is vital, there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s really nothing new under the sun, so finding a context and then developing a viewpoint seems to me more important. Or else you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll go around with a big, neon, self-conscious arrow pointing to your ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnew art?¢‚Ǩ¬ù; all shiny and new but trivial at last. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s like the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNew Toy at Christmas?¢‚Ǩ¬ù phenomena. The toy that gets twenty minutes of attention Christmas morning and then passes onto a heap of mediocre plastic.

morning sky

Stefanie in the campo

At some point as we age the opposite value makes its stand: Old is amazing! I see it as the ultimate test of value: been around the block a few times, still kicking and looking good! (well maybe just the first two parts). We met many great people at our art fair this week but some of our favorites were well up there on the chronological scale. One lady told us she painted watercolors for ten years but gave it up because ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI decided I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t know what the hell I was doing!?¢‚Ǩ¬ù. Another charming lady told us she decided not to buy land here thirty years ago. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI could shoot myself. In fact I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m surprised I haven?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t!?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

morning sky

Sunset blaze on templo edifice

These old beauties tell me the wonderful part about the age I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m entering. Its time to have fun with my foibles and weakenings, let go of the pride that is death to humor and the unflinching opinions about what is real quality that make me a snob and get on with opening my senses to this big fat juicy life.

morning sky

Smiles at the art fair

Sure we love our new things; new house, new car, The New Christie Minstrals. But god forbid we Americans learn a new language. Talking to a lady from San Luis Potosi (who spoke multiple languages), I lamented the lack of foreign language study in the States as well as my own inability to master Spanish. She asked me if I knew what a person who spoke three languages was called ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtrilingual?¢‚Ǩ¬ù, Two?, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbilingual?¢‚Ǩ¬ù One? ?¢‚Ǩ?ìgringo?¢‚Ǩ¬ù.

Happy New Year. May it bring you new ways to see growing older.