Monday, February 27, 2017
pretty, interesting things
Poetry, I usually get. It's not like I've always gotten it, and in fact, there were many, many years of NOT getting it before I got it, but I move about in the poetry world with a fair amount confidence mostly in my practices, tastes, and abilities. Feel I can somehow articulate and speak with authority when it comes to other poets. Art, however, is a different beast altogether, and sometimes, I feel most our of my element within in, no matter what medium I'm working in.
I was always the girl who tried really hard in grade school art class, but for whom things always went slightly awry. I would carefully craft my tiny clay pinch pot only to have one of the sides cave in before firing. I once made a wire sculpture of a cheerleader whose one arm was slightly shorter than the other. Was a disaster when it came to messy things..glue, paint glitter. (this is still true.) My artist vision was always sound, always brimming with ideas and thoughts about how things SHOULD turn out. I was very creative, but lacked a certain amount of skill or hand eye coordination or making magic. I still cannot draw to save my life.
My sister was an art class kid--one of the malcontents who felt most comfortable among the turpentine soaking brushes of the art classroom in highschool and worked mostly in oils. I was probably a newspaper kid. Or maybe a drama kid. But I never took an art class in the 6 odd years after elementary school. In college, I did paint sets though, during my bout with the theatre bug, and was actually pretty decent at faux techniques--fake stone, fake wood, the shadowing required to make 2-D look 3-D, but always thought that while my skills looked adequate from a few rows back, up close, there was always a certain amount of imperfection.
I learned early on I was pretty good with words--could write papers and essays and stories without battling an eyelash, so I didn't feel too bad about my lack of art skills--after all, there are many things I am horrible at--math, cooking. Making small talk. I moved about in the world not even mourning the lack of those skills throughout most of my teens and twenties. But maybe there were yearnings and inclinations that I didn't even notice until afterwards. I did spend long hours hand coding my websites (which I had taught myself on a super-basic levl) until they looked just right (the right colors, the right amount of white space, balance, fonts, etc.).
A couple of things coalesced around the time I turned 30 that sent me off in a direction hadn't even considered. and one was the emergence of a library arts series, whereupon we were urged, as staff members, to submit and display our work. As a writer, I wasn't sure if that request even pertained to me, but my first stab, at a co-workers urging, was an unrolling roll of text that spanned the first floor and went up the stairs to the 3rd Floor and around the gallery space. Another was sheets of muslin hung museum banner style and covered in text. I was trying, but felt limited in just working with text, almost as if there was a certain visually-oriented desire itching in my fingers and about to be born. Those installations, however, gave me a little confidence, and in 2004 I wound up taking a summer workshop down at the Book and Paper Center on collage techniques. By that fall, you couldn't stop me. Drawing I sucked at, but I could cut and paste like a pro. Mostly I just made things for either the art shows or myself, but in 2007, I started selling a lot of the originals pretty successfully on Etsy. It was of course the early days of the venue, when getting seen was a lot easier than it would become later.
The other factor was the press. When I started dgp in 2004, I was initially mostly using readymade artwork for covers, either photos or artwork the poet had arranged for us to use, or simple vintage images and graphics. My design skills were pretty much limited, and only in the next few years, did I actually start designing pieces, either digitally or manually for the books we publish. We still use a mix of approaches--sometimes other artists/designers, sometimes me, sometimes even the author themselves, but I do get to work on a lot of covers every publications season, which is one of my favorites parts of running the press. Over time, I've graduated from paper and digital collage to other things--printmaking, book sculptures, painting. I'm still learning when it comes to most of these and still very uncertain. Tomorrow night, I get to learn silk screening for the first time for an AofR workshop, which I am excited about.
Art has always seemed a more satisfyingly tangible thing than poetry. Whenever I sell collages or prints or even paper foods,..it's simple..I make a piece, someone gives me money. I make another. Very, very different from writing, where I write a piece. maybe someone reads it, maybe not, and no one pretty much ever gives you money for it. In fact, if you enter a lot of contests, you lose money on the whole endeavor. But then there seems to be much more demand for pretty, interesting things to put on your walls than there ever is for pretty, interesting words on your shelves.
In recent years, I've been working more to merge these two identities--working on more visual/text projects where they were always mostly separate before. Collage series that become poems, or poems that inspire visual exploits. Sometimes the stars align and things are created in tandem (like with my recent florographia project.) The zine series has done a lot to get me thinking in these directions, in both directions simultaneously, a foot planted in both worlds. I'm still unsteady in my visual practices, but fusing them with the words sometimes helps immensely (and this could probably be said for my cover design exploits for the press as well.)