Into 1988 I continued with my upper level art classes. I painted abstractly. I worked through a lot of ideas. When they didn’t work out to my satisfaction, I changed and tried something else. I never had any instruction in how to use oil paints, and they SMELL so bad that I can’t use them anyway, so I always worked in acrylic. It is fast-drying and easy to clean up. It can also be used in ways that mimic either oil painting or watercolor. When they came out with the water-soluble oil paints I tried them (in Misery) but they still had that SMELL and it gave me a headache. So I stayed with acrylic. However, I do love the smell of art school studios. Once in Seattle I went to an open house in the art studios at University of Washington and the moment I walked through the doors I had to stop and just enjoy that art studio smell.
Winter of 1988 we were assigned a paper by Professor M. to write about our personal definition of drawing. I claimed to have no interest in working realistically or looking at art done realistically and drafted a long explanation and rationalization.
The main point I was trying to make in my Definition of Drawing paper is that drawing is spontaneous and involves ideas and thinking while painting is more about finished thoughts. I know I could say ‘conclusions’ but I like that phrase ‘finished thoughts’ even though Professor M. drew a question mark by it. I wrote about an obligation to learn to draw objects realistically and be able to do it well in order to call myself an artist, because most people think drawing equals copying things so any drawing should be something recognizable. I mention that many times when people see me drawing they ask, “What’s that going to be?”
I wrote that I am not good at rendering because I don’t practice it because I don’t enjoy it and don’t feel a need for it – I have begun to explore other possibilities of drawing without having to draw a recognizable object which is boring and pointless – now I am beginning to develop some different ways of drawing as well as some personal viewpoints about drawing. Professor M. drew a line along that paragraph and wrote: “I really hope you mean every word of this!” I was clearly still seeking approval, which is hard not to do when people hold your degree in their hands.
Also in Winter of 1988 J.’s grandfather died. There was a snow/ice storm heading our way the day we were going to drive down. We got up at three in the morning and headed out, hoping to beat the storm. It hit about half-way there. We were already off the major highways and onto the small rural roads. At one point the windshield wiper froze in place so we pulled over into someone’s driveway and realized we had been driving on solid ice. We made it without incident but had to tell J.’s sister not to drive down from Atlanta. We assisted J.’s Mom where needed. I stayed at the house to receive food and flowers. This is why J.’s Mom made sure to come to the viewing in Indy after my Mom died.
I painted big geometric shapes – you can see a painting in the background in this photo of the cats on the dining room table. The black shape in the painting is Button.
I did a painting of several mechanical men, inspired by Pink Floyd’s Welcome to the Machine. This was after my Composition classes, so I did a stereotypical ‘leading-the-eye-around-the-canvas’ composition. I had a painted sketch of it in a sketchbook, but I didn’t save it. Nor do I have a photo of it. Seems like it was gray and blue with some purple. J. hung it in her bedroom for awhile.
I started to draw farmland, those big hayrolls you see in fields, barns on fire. I was painting on sheets of newspaper. Professor L. tells me to “Keep it raw.”
I worked in charcoal, rubbing it into 6” squares of mat board until it was black and velvety, then scribbling on top with white Conte crayon (like a hard pastel). Professor M. put some of these in a display cabinet outside the painting studios. These are the only pieces of mine ever displayed at GSU. I said that the scribbling was a way to capitalize on a bad habit where I draw myself into a corner and work all scrunched up in the same place. My scribbles began to look like abstract maps.
We had a critique where we discussed: Is it important for the viewer to know your meaning or not? This is a classic art school trap. If you paint for yourself, you are not painting for the viewer. And vice versa. (Well, duh.) They love to catch students in this trap. If the viewer can get the meaning in your work, it is too obvious and there is nothing left for the viewer to imagine and fill in. If not, then you haven’t given the viewer anything to grab onto. If you paint for the audience, you are not being true to your personal vision. If you paint for yourself, why should the audience care?
I wrote in a sketchbook: “I have always wanted to make big bold statements because I can’t shake my reputation for being a quiet person.” But, really, it wasn’t being quiet but rather my inability to speak out.
From the maps came imaginary flags from imaginary countries. I am told to “take them further.’ Professor M. says that many artists give up before they have taken an idea far enough. How? “Just keep pushing it further.” Uh, okay.
I start adding symbols that I made up.
I put the flags and the symbols together and start calling them game boards. I talk about making political statements, but not too obvious.
(These are from 2002 The Journaling Project.)
Professor L. writes on my artist’s statement that she is impressed with my focus, energy and constant probing. But now I need to “intensify” my surface. She was very anti-traditional painting. She recommended I try more varied materials, like oil pastel or paper towels. Paper towels? “A lot of great art has been made with paper towels.” Uh, okay.
Professor M. writes that I need to “inform the paint more fully.” But he says to stay on canvas – “it makes a real difference.” Yes, it does. Also: “You need to continue to flush experiences through the system of trial and error – as your visual language increases your imagery will mature.” Uh, okay.
Summer of 1988 the Democratic National Convention was in Atlanta. I went over to watch The Today Show live in the park. This guy held up a hand-drawn sign on a big piece of cardboard that read: LICK BUSH IN ’88 (and he called this out periodically). I had a photo of him for a long while but it didn’t survive the Purge.
Fall of 1988 I took a clay class, Wheelthrowing. The wheels were not electric so we had to kick the lower part to get it spinning. I did not have enough upper body strength to ‘center’ the clay so my professor always had to come do it for me. If not properly centered, when you bring up a vessel it goes wobbly and really can collapse suddenly like in the movie Ghost. The clay students were all very nice and helpful, always assisting us or advising us. I still have a fondness for working in clay, even though I am not good at it. I did some work in clay while in grad school and took a hand-building class at a clay studio in Seattle so I could make some small pieces for sister L.