Swarthmore College Library is presenting Hyper Local: New Works in the Swarthmore College Libraries Collection. I am honored to be part of this collection and exhibition. Because of the current health situation, this exhibition is available online. Click here to view the 24 books included.
Since I have mainly lived in the same geographic area for most of my life, the cultural encounters I had with food tended to be more influenced by late 19th and early 20th century European immigrants from many countries.
Upon moving to the South, I realized that since the population was historically different, many of the foods I grew up with were not widely available. An example of this is a recent conversation I had with a local life long resident who told me she had never heard of a zucchini until she went to college. Oddly, it was something her father said to me a few years ago that prompted the artist book featured in this post.
The book is titled Assumptions, and it is about what we presume to be the foods that are part of other people’s lives. If you ever saw My Cousin Vinny, you are well aware of the scene in the restaurant where the main characters are confronted with grits for the first time. The question that my local friend posed to me one day was “How do you cook your okra?”. “Huh??” was my response. It was only shortly before I moved that I ever even saw okra at my local vegetable stand up North. My understanding of it was an ingredient you put in gumbo and that was pretty much it.
I have since become quite acquainted with okra, not only as a vegetable prepared different ways but also as a plant because I spent three summers harvesting lots of okra. I can add onto my knowledge of okra these facts and observations: that by the time you get to the end of the row picking it, more has grown at the beginning of the row. You could probably spend several hours a day picking and repicking the same row of okra (assuming you have lots of plants). You should always wear long sleeves when picking okra and gloves or your skin will be very irritated. Okra is part of the hibiscus family so even it you don’t like the fruit, it is a lovely and vigorous plant.
It is no accident that Okra is not included in the graphics of this book as it was something quite absent from my former life. For the curious I will tell you that the vegetables pictured are green beans and the diminished base of a bunch of celery (two vegetables that seem to be part of many cultures) And for the record, zucchini is now plentiful where I currently live. How do you cook your Okra??
Assumptions: Book Front (left), Book Open (right)
A week or two ago I had written about the process of making an artist book using my piece Bedtime Story picture above. The piece is now complete with the exception of a slipcase which I am in no hurry to make at the moment.
As mentioned before, the inspiration for this piece was a documentary I watched on paper folding as well as participating in my grandson’s bedtime routine. What I did not mention in that post was my longtime fascination depicting people of different ethnic and racial groups together. This manifested itself with multicolored circles that represented faces; this was one of those personal symbols that showed up in my work off and on over time. So the various color papers used above are my current way of representing the tradition of bedtime routines throughout the many cultures of the world. It also struck me after this piece was put together that the people also resemble houses, another long time symbol in my work. Hmmmm….
A slide show of the entire piece is shown below.
This piece is dedicated to my grandson ‘Oti’
Bedtime Story, 2020, Artist Book
Several months ago, I watched a wonderful video called Between the Folds which went into great and surprising detail on the art of paper folding, also known as origami. The video covers way beyond what we traditionally think of and even gets into how the art form is also being used by scientists to study complicated problems. So of course after the show was over, I got a piece of paper and started to fold it. The form that I liked the most is pictured below. It reminded me of a mother holding a baby.
I saw this video not long after visiting my grandson. One of the things I enjoy most about my visits is participating in his elaborate and nurturing bedtime routine. I started to think of lots of parents and their children and bedtime routines, remembering the one we had with our daughter. It quickly came to me that this was the making of a “bedtime story”. So I started to experiment with coloring papers and different types of papers thinking of a quilt like form to play with.
After deciding on the colors I would use and folding a number of the squares, I pieced things together as seen below.
While this may look nice, it was clearly not going to work. My overall idea was to have this structure fold up into one square that could be stored in a box, sort of like folding up a quilt and storing it and taking it out when you use it. The other problem was that I wanted to add stitching and it was very difficult to stitch in this form. So after wresting with this for several weeks, putting it away and taking it out to think about it some more, I decided it needed to come apart.
Maybe I am putting too much emphasis on the ‘quilt’ idea and not enough on the ‘story’ idea. Perhaps putting equal emphasis on both: the quilt and the story? I found some handmade paper I purchased a few years ago that spoke to me for no reason except that I knew they would be perfect for something someday. That day came today. So here is the current version of the Bedtime Story, though it is still far from finished. The smaller squares are not yet glued down so this is a layout pictured below. I will post the piece when it is finished. I am also documenting this via short (1 minute) videos on my Instagram account.
Postscript note: you can now see the finished project here.
Some where in the early 2000s, my imagery and the associated symbols in my work took a turn away from buildings and houses. When they did show up, they tended to be less of the main point and more part of an entire message. Around this time I became interested in book arts and installations. Installation art, which is what the Cookie Cutter Project will be, is an interesting art form and something you can read about here. Though the artwork is still a mixture of media, installation and book arts, by their nature, are three dimensional.
The first piece on this post, Tenement, can be called a sculpture, or three dimensional print, or a book depending on your definition of such work. It is made from three small boxes covered with etchings I made of (what else?) buildings! On the very top of this piece, a paper birds nest sits and is embellished by another ubiquitous personal symbol in my work, a TV antennae.