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May 21, 2011 / lornanakell

First Year Studio Practice Wrap-up

In the fall of 2010 I came into this program spring boarding off of two exhibitions.  While fine-tuning my skills in watercolor and gouache I was creating very illustrative paintings inspired by poetry.  My exhibition at Beppu Wiarda Gallery was a collection of paintings based on selected poems of Ted Kooser.  The second exhibition, at the Grants Pass Museum of Art, was what I called a loose-leaf book.  It consisted of eleven watercolor and gouache paintings depicting sections of a poem I wrote titled Camping Alongside a River.  After these projects I became interested in the idea of memory. This was spurred on by hearing an episode of Radiolab in which Eric Kandel spoke about memory recollection.  This led me to want to explore the concept of memory making and retrieval.  I also wanted to get back into working three-dimensionally (something I had only dabbled in before).  So, the summer before I started school I knew that I wanted to work on memory projects (possibly incorporating autobiographical information), a narrative of some sort using figurative imagery and sculptural materials.

Over the summer, while still planning on entering the program with the before mentioned strategy, I began writing.  The first thing that became clear to me about what I was writing was that I wanted it to be about a woman who was afraid of her reflection.  Soon one sentence written before falling asleep in bed became a couple pages.  Inspired by my love of horror movies I decided to contextualize it in the genre of “supernatural thriller.”  I wrote all summer.  By the end of summer I was in love with writing and not sure how I was going to go back to art school where I would have to switch over to painting and sculpting.

During my first term I focused on the concept of memory and pushed myself to think three dimensionally.  I was still trying to resolve unfinished pieces I brought into the studio, a large oil painting and a watercolor painting of my grandmother.  Then the house image started to solidify in my work.  I created a design for a small wooden house that was intended to be incorporated into an installation with sound – a story I told about one of the many houses I lived in as a child.  The written story I had started was still stuck in my head, and I worked on it on weekends and evenings.

I worked on my story all winter break.  By the time winter term began I had conceived of a way to make my story into an art project – it would be a conceptual book.  The protagonist would be the one who had created the story as a memoir.  As an artist, she would actually create the paintings from the story.  I would hire an actor to play the protagonist and do a book reading (preferably at Powell’s) to accompany her art exhibition.  The book would be published by me as a limited edition art book with original loose leaf pages as well as a cheap soft cover.  The one problem I faced was that although I had a few passionate supporters for this project, there were also detractors who believed that it simply wasn’t written very well.  It was dry.  And according to Laylah Ali, was like a first draft done by someone who hadn’t written in a VERY long time.  My story seemed destined to not be a literary classic.  I didn’t fear.

Enter Steven King and his book On Writing.  To the chagrin of some folks, I read this book and enjoyed it very much.  Mr. King gave me the permission I needed to write my first draft with the “door shut.”  I’m still doing that.

Spurred by concern that I was not working on the art component of this writing project and would therefore end up just “illustrating” the book, I spent spring term creating small gouache paintings inspired by the Josef Albers book Interaction of Color and Bauhaus aesthetics to accompany the text.  The paintings were based on the house icon, simplifying it in form and color as well as deconstructing it.  I liked the idea of such stark geometric abstractions complimenting the more fantastical text.  The paintings also help to perpetuate the lie of this conceptual work.

Moving on: Thrilled to be accepted into the much touted PSU Publishing Department I began by taking two classes in the program, Intro to Publishing and Archeology of the Book.  While my spring academic workload has been substantial, I have fully enjoyed both of these classes.  I look forward to becoming entrenched in the world of publishing as well as being part of the future of books.

The last art piece I’ve been working on while in the art program stems from an idea I’ve been rolling around in my head all year.  A two-piece miniature sculpture combining visual and auditory narrative about a place I lived as a child.  It’s a collaboration with my mom – by nature an emotionally challenging piece to work on.  The finished sculpture will consist of two facing “green,” roughly formed, porcelain houses mounted on a long, black shelf.  Each house will contain an IPod playing our voices, two versions of this particular time in our joint history.  They will be intimate pieces that require the viewer to engage closely with each house in order to hear the stories.

Even as I leave the art program, I plan on continuing to write conceptual books and have a new project I’m starting to do research for.  It’s a fiction book of letters between surrealist artist Remedios Varo and Renaissance alchemist Sophie Brahe.  It will be a mystery, collapsing time to bring these two women from distant eras and countries together.

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