Food, Culture, and Assumptions

Book open flat
Assumptions, 2020, Artist book, Ink & paper 7.5″ x 10.5″ open

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)

When Your Artwork Finds You Again

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Every once in awhile, I hear from former customers regarding work they purchased and it is always lots of fun to hear how they have lived with the work through the years.  I had such an experience last week when a customer from the early 1990s contacted me to ask if the piece he purchased could be used for a virtual art exhibition.  He then explained that he and his wife run an art and cultural center in an under served community in Nicosia, Cyprus.  The piece they own is called By Night and they want to feature it as a homage to healthcare workers in their community.

This was very meaningful to me on a variety of levels.  First, that the piece is being used to honor such an important sector of the population.  In addition, artists often wonder if what they do has any long term benefit.  Also, in this case, the idea that something I made in 1993 has not only been enjoyed all these years but has managed to make its home in Cyprus, where it has been displayed off and on and viewed by the local community.

I have thought of this piece and other similar ones recently because I have considered returning to work in this method, as it is very similar to many of the artist books I currently make. At that time, instead of making prints to be viewed as prints, I made them to be cut up and used as collage elements because I mainly worked in the medium of collage.  So the idea that this piece showed up to me at this time, is somewhat of a nudge to possibly work like that again.  

Though I have posted the piece above, I would encourage you to check out the organization’s Facebook page to see other works and events they have featured. It is a great way to “travel” while we are all home.   Check out:  Kuruçeşme Projekt.
https://www.facebook.com/kurucesmeprojekt/

Redoing an Unsuccessful Print

A few posts back I wrote about a print I felt was unsuccessful. I had some wonderful feedback and decided to redo the print.  The first thing I did was change the position of the girl. So unfortunately for the idea of a new working title she is no longer holding a “broken golf club” as per my friend Julie. Sorry Julie!   Many people commented they liked the sky.  I liked the sky too but I needed to adjust the color. My friend Claudia offered that she liked how the girl sort of blended with the background and also suggested I make the head a bit smaller. I did initially make the head smaller but then decided to give her hair a bit more volume which, in combination with the change in position, makes her appear at a three quarter pose which I liked more. The print is also 6 x 8 rectangle rather than a long thin rectangle.

So here is the final piece

Big Dreams
Big Dreams, 2020, Reduction Linocut. Ed. 9 Image: 6″ x 8″

And here is the original

A Poor print
Girl with a Broken Golf Club, First attempt, 3″ x 8″

What was a bonus with redoing this print was the the key block is very good and can be printed on its own and hand colored. A key block is the last color printed (generally black) and gives definition to the image.   Here is the key block and a printed image of the block.

Big Dreams and plate
Carved key block and printed image

Notice the image is reversed from the block. They is how block prints are. I used to tell my student that if they were going to write anything on their blocks, they had better figure out how to write it backwards!

An Unsuccessful Print

It is important that I share my work that does not come out as planned as well as the work I am happy with. Let’s face it, for every good piece of work, artists (I know this is true for myself) make a few crappy ones.  Sometimes I just rework the same thing and other times I abandon the idea altogether or just put it on pause.    Below is a print that did not come out the way I had planned and I will talk about how it came to be and why I think it basically is not so hot.

A Poor print
Example of a print that did not come out as planned

The original idea for this is pretty much as pictured, a girl sitting on a hill over a stream looking at a big starry sky. The other things this work originally was going to include were a full moon, then a crescent moon, and a cat.  But for some reason, I removed the cat and made a different piece of work with a cat.  But that is another story.   So I decided the focus should be on the girl.

I also wanted to do a reduction linocut, which is a way to print in color. It has been a long time since I have made one and I wanted to see if I could still register my blocks properly.  So what is wrong with this print?  Basically, it is too dark. The one I photographed is a bit lighter but in the majority of them the ink is even darker than the one pictured.  So I decided to add some hand coloring to see if that perked it up.

A poor print 2
Same print with some added hand coloring, but it is still not working for me

It did perk it up a bit but not enough to my liking. So now what?  Basically, I love problems like this.  I will probably make this piece again as a drawing but I may also cut it again and print it in lighter colors.

The point is this:  failure is a great thing. Making art is problem solving.  My thoughts are lighter colors but if this was your work, what would you change?

New Work: Diary of a Vegetable Farmer

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This is a piece I have worked on off and on since last summer.  For those of you who do not know me, I work as a vegetable farmer for a small commercial farm. The above work is an artist book consisting of four parts.  Each part folds out into a section of three pages. I have not yet made the slip case for this book but will post it when it is complete.  This work was printed by hand using black ink on Rives BFK and backed with a cream color Unryu paper.  Each section, folded, measures 5 x 7 inches.