Cuban love song

I loved exploring the joy of Cuban artist Jose Rodriguez Fuster‘s mosaic-covered “Fusterlandia”, a home, studio, and community in Havana

Cuba is a land of creativity, contradictions, and complexity. After eight days there, I’m still processing the experience, and probably will for a very long time. (Cuba is a photographer’s dream. To go directly to the photos in my Cuba Journal, take this link.)

Our small group tour included “people to people” interaction with many local artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, ecologists, schoolchildren and more during our travels four areas across the island.

Dance students in training at a no-cost government-supported arts school

We spent several days in Havana, which is celebrating its 500th birthday this spring. The city is a time capsule of transportation and architecture. Cuba is a country still deeply entrenched in a complex political situation. Nevertheless, innovation and invention are everywhere and the spirit of the Cuban people is inspiring.

On the street near Ernest Hemingway’s house

There are many helpful guides for Americans who want to travel to Cuba, and it’s important to read them before you plan a visit there. For over 50 years Cuba was essentially off limits to Americans thanks to a 1962 trade embargo that made spending money on the island tantamount to treason.

This all changed in 2014, when the Obama administration announced a reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. However, to quote travel guide Andrew Scott, “This opportunity will not last forever. The influx of foreigners is rapidly transforming Cuba’s economic and social realities. Meanwhile, political uncertainties in the U.S. make it impossible to know if the borders will remain open.”

I am so grateful that I visited Cuba when I did. For artists, it is rich with visual imagery – and Cuban artists are prolific and skilled, particularly in printmaking. I spoke to several of them about their processes and vision.

Two artist/educators discuss their work as professional artists

One thing we didn’t talk about was Decreto 349, a new decree by the Cuban government that criminalizes independent artists and places severe restrictions on cultural activity not authorized by the Ministry of Culture. You can read more about that here.

The Internet just become available in Cuba two months ago, and vendors were selling WiFi cards everywhere we went. It is going to be extremely interesting to see what effect that kind of global access produces.

I have a lot more reading to do about Cuba, but in the meantime, the photos from the trip continue to inspire me. Here are some of my favorites, presented in a photojournal on my website. I hope these digital snapshots express all the reasons why it’s easy to fall in love with Cuba and its people.

 

 

 

 

Screens and shelters as art

archaeological excavation shelter

screen panels of heavy paper and sticks

As part of my work with the “Unearthed” series, I’ve been working with panels of paper, wax, sticks and silk to construct three-dimensional sculptural objects that can be configured in different ways.

This has become a very exciting project for me, informed and inspired by shelters and screens for archaeological excavations as well as the idea of versatile art panels that can be viewed from many perspectives to conceal and reveal.

Here’s one that is almost finished. It is large, about four feet long and two feet high.

Lyn Belisle, Shelter Screen #1, 48″ x 36″ Paper, wax, silk, pigment, and sticks

This is a close-up of the surface of one of the panels – torn silk is adhered with beeswax to squares of archeological symbols printed on paper. It’s multilayered and complex. The surface is meant to suggest ancient shards and scraps that have been collected and stuck to experimental surfaces for further study.

Detail, “Shelter Screen #2”

Another great thing about working with these kinds of panels is that each panel has two sides. Here is the reverse side of that piece.

“Shelter Screen #2”, reverse side

The artwork can be displayed on a wall as a four-panel work, or it can be configured on a pedestal or table as a three-dimensional object.

Here is another Shelter Screen in the series that also has two different-sided surfaces. This one is slightly smaller, about 3.5′ long.

Lyn Belisle, “Shelter Screen #3”, Paper, wax, sticks, acrylic, pigment

The back of this screen features photos of one of my earthenware face shards in a series of altered photographs.

“Shelter Screen #3”, reverse side

And it can be hung, or folded or tied into a square with either side out!

Because I have very limited studio time these days with all of the Art League duties, I find that working with these shelter panels is like meditation. Each one that I construct is slightly different, and when they are stitched or hinged together, their possibilities are endless.

I love the way this process grounds me back to the basics of building. And the fact that they are inspired by archeological screen and shelters gives them a deeper meaning.

Here is my second “Unearthed” sculpture displayed in front of a Shelter Screen – they were obviously meant to be together!

It’s as if the past is reaching out into the present, giving me guidance. Maybe “Nine Antlers” has a hand in all of this!

“I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…” ~ Mary Oliver

RIP

 

Nine Antlers

“Nine Antlers” (detail)
Lyn Belisle 2018
Clay, plaster, gauze, fiber, found objects
14×28″

This mixed media work on canvas, titled “Nine Antlers” is my second entry for the Fiber Artists juried show. It has a compelling back story…….

In 1988, a team of archaeologists from the University of Texas in San Antonio excavated a burial site less than half a mile from where I live now. This is from the abstract of the study:

“The burials, identified as a Late Archaic component, were associated with two radiocarbon dates of 1920 B.P. and 2200 B.P. The burial practices of this time period as documented at this site include flexed burials of adults and children interred with a variety of grave offerings, including deer antlers, deer skull fragments, marine and freshwater shell ornaments, worked bone, ocher, a ground stone slab, and unaltered cobbles.”

One of the bodies was a young woman – here is her description:

It’s impossible not to wonder what kind of life this young woman had in prehistoric Texas, just north of the Olmos Dam. I wanted to honor her by putting together clay shards with pieces of fiber and found objects that represented both her burial and her discovery. I named her “Nine Antlers” because of this description:

“Nine antler racks (18 bases and associated deer skull fragments) were covering Burial 10. All are identified as from white-tailed deer. These were carefully placed atop one another with the base or cap of the skull placed towards or near the chest area.”

Someone must have loved her a great deal to adorn her body with these ritually placed antlers.

I stared by looking through my clay components for a good match – not too pretty or defined. And actual antlers would be out-of-scale, so I did not choose them.

These terra cotta pieces, below, almost worked, but they were not “deconstructed” enough to fit the concept.

I settled on white clay for the head and body and added bone-white branches. I wrapped them together with plaster and gauze, rather like a bindings of a mummy.

This is the first stage, below, with wire, wax and walnut ink added to the mix.

I covered a stretched canvas with linen drop-cloth strips, laid the figure on it, then partially covered the side with the fabric.

I kept adding linen strips and gauze, wire and plaster, wanting to both conceal and reveal the figure. The mixture of clay and sticks and fiber worked well.

Here is the finished piece:

“Nine Antlers” Lyn Belisle 2018 Clay, plaster, gauze, fiber, found objects 14×28″

“Nine Antlers” may be finished, but I want to continue working with this scientific narrative and perhaps do a series honoring the thirteen people who were buried and discovered here so close to my home. The materials I love – clay, fiber, bone, wax and pigment – lend themselves to this exploration.

I invite you to read this archaeological study, especially the details about adornments, traces of ochre pigments, and all of the other small gestures that connect us as humans across time. You can read the entire 1988 report about Nine Antlers and her people here.

 

Marfa – and wax on black exploration

In the 1970s, minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa, Texas, where he created giant works of art beneath vast desert skies

I’m back from a week in West Texas and the beautiful Davis Mountains. One of the best parts of the trip was visiting Marfa and connecting with minimalist artist Donald Judd’s vision. There’s a great NPR article about this – click here. I love the quote by sculptor Campbell Bosworth“You just come out here and you feel like, I want to make something; I want to do something!”

Maybe it’s the minimalist influence, but it must be true. The Marfa getaway ignited my creative curiosity, and as soon as I got back, I went into the studio and started working in black and white on an experiment with black substrates and beeswax.

I wondered what would happen to the translucent layers of beeswax when they were applied over a dark background.

I used an absorbent black paper and added some white markings with different kinds of media – crayon, stamps, paint:

I added a layer of beeswax – it made it kind of glossy, and did penetrate into the paper, which had been a concern. You don’t want it to just sit on the surface of the substrate:

More experiments – black and white (and a bit of walnut ink):

Like all experiments, some of the techniques worked well, and some were definitely “learning opportunities.” But there is a certain potential for interesting effects that are both chalk-like and smokey. I am going to push these ideas a little further and see what develops (like old black and white film).

Now that I’ve been “Marfa-ized” and infected with some new ideas, it looks like I may be spending more time at the studio, perhaps even developing a wax on black workshop!

 

Creative collaborations

Earlier this month I got several emails from mixed-medial artist and tarot maker Dawn Zichko, whose work I’ve known and liked for quite some time. I wrote another SHARDS post about her about five years ago.

Dawn has a great blog called Mental Mohair which often features a daily card from her Everyday Tarot deck, which you can find in her Etsy Shop.

Four cards from Dawn Zichko’s Everyday Tarot deck

In her first email, Dawn sent a photo with a short note that said,

“Lyn, I thought you might enjoy seeing progress on a collaborative piece.”

Here was the photo (below) – very intriguing – and some of my faces were part of the collaborative design. I asked her if I could share the photo, and she requested that I wait until they had worked a bit more on it.

I’m including that unfinished version so you can see the structure of the body.

The following week she sent photos of the completed collaborative piece along with this description of the process:

Lyn, we created the Earth Protectress in ritual space. In brainstorming at earlier gatherings, the creation of a goddess was included in the list. So we all thought of creating her. In the sacred space we chose the parts we wanted to work on by chakra.

Essie (not her real name as she would like to remain anonymous) created the head/Third Eye/Crown, Patricia created the torso/Heart/Solar Plexus, and I created the base/Root and neck/Throat (this is the part that needed reconstruction — oh, the analogies!).”

The other women let me take her home and run with the additions. The clay faces, hair, pouch, and skirt were all done by me, but the additions were discussed with Essie and Patricia before working on them. I am blessed they trusted my creative ramblings. It was truly a touching experience to create this being in togetherness and sacred space.”

I think it’s just glorious – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and yet each part is amazing.

Artist collaborations can be tricky – sometimes it’s obvious which person did what part, but in this case, there is a seamless sense of sacred purpose. Thanks, Dawn, for sharing this work!
_________________________________________________________________________

Have you ever gotten involved with a collaborative project? How’d it work for you?

I have to admit, it’s something I’ve rarely tried, certainly not recently. But a lot of my artist friends, particularly fiber artists, love the collaborative process.

Surprisingly, there’s not a whole lot written about collaborative visual artwork, but I did find this thoughtful post called Cloth, Creativity & Collaborating with fiber artists Cas Holmes and Anne Kelly.

And I also found an engaging article about a mother’s painting with her five-year-old daughter called Making a Masterpiece Together.  Here were their guidelines:

1. We would each add one color to the canvas everyday.

2. We would do our painting while the other one was out of the room, so they would be surprised.

3. We would try not to paint completely over the other persons art work.

Those are great rules! They would work for any kind of collaboration, whether the artwork is done for a sacred and serious purpose like Dawn’s was with her friends, or with an informal group and just for fun.

The trick is always going to be keeping an open mind. No fair thinking “You messed up the part I did!”  Instead, you gotta think “Look how you enhanced my work.” Right??

Photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash

 

A visit with artists Virginia and Andre Bally

Hedera helix, Andre and Virginia Bally

Andy and Virginia Bally are pretty amazing. I am a huge fan of their work. Their etched glass piece, above, was my birthday present from Bill this year and is one of my very favorite pieces of art.

I met this remarkable husband-and-wife team several years ago during a Potters Guild meeting at the old studio.We’ve stayed in touch, and today Bill and I drove out to their Hill Country studio near Canyon Lake. It was a perfect Summer Solstice day trip. Look what greeted us in the driveway (besides Andy and Virginia) as we arrived!

This mobile masterpiece is a work in progress that has been featured in the Houston Art Car parade. The Ballys just keep adding to it, detail after fantastic detail.

Their home is a masterpiece of design, as well. I love places that make you feel like you’re inside a collage, and this is one of those places. There are collections everywhere.

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The Ballys’ shared studio is where the magic happens in clay and glass and assemblage. I took a lot of photos there, and put them together in a video (below) to give you a feel for the scope of their collaborative work. They share the process, although Andy says that Virginia specializes in design concepts and he is often the engineering guy.

A visit to the Hill Country studio of Andre and Virginia Bally from Lyn Belisle on Vimeo.

Andy and Virginia share a love of folk-art inspired constructions. Andy showed us some of their “pocket shrines” in progress.

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They also create contemporary versions of traditional painted tin retablos:

Can you tell why I love their work so much? Their use of faces, their sense of play – it’s very engaging!

You can read more about Andy and Virginia here, and while you are at it, check out the face casting slide show on their website. You can see their work at Texcetera in Johnson City, and in collections in Canada, Europe, Northern Africa and the United States. Oh, yeah – and at my house, too! Lucky me to have a Bally original.

Virginia Bally’s face cast in glass

 

Thank goodness it’s over – NOW what??

I have been working on writing a major grant request for the San Antonio Art League for two weeks – and that means no art for TOO LONG! But it’s finished and submitted and fingers are crossed. Hopefully, this will all be worth it, but I’m feeling rusty and stale and need some inspiration, a kick in the creative backside.

Coincidentally, an email just came in from Stampington publications about their upcoming challenges. My friends Lesta Frank and Lisa Stamper Meyer are often published in those magazines, and I am so proud of them! But I don’t want to jump back in to work too fast by trying to come up with an article. This challenge, however, caught my eye:

  • Miscellany
    Sometimes, an image of something lovely is all we need to feel inspired. Have you taken a photo of something that makes you feel inspired? Perhaps it is a photo of your collection of vintage handkerchiefs. Or an old stack of books. Or your treasured stash of ribbons. Please submit your favorite digital images (5″ x 7″ @ 300 dpi) to be considered for Somerset Life’s special Miscellany department to the Editor-in-Chief at somersetlife@stampington.com.
    Deadline: Ongoing.

So this morning on my first day of freedom from grant writing, I took my phone and went around the house finding little shards of collections, tools, ideas – well, “miscellany.” Not sure whether I’ll submit any of these photos to Somerset, but it sure was fun reaffirming the things that make me feel creative. Here’s a photocollage of nine of the pictures I took while wandering around my spaces.

Little shards of stuff around my house and studio

I found this to be a really good exercise for several reasons:

  • It makes you really look at stuff you walk by every day and take for granted
  • It makes you think about what you like – and why
  • It helps you revisit old ideas that have new potential
  • You don’t actually have to make something – you’re curating what you have with a fresh eye.
  • You can think of it as homework, and you feel like you’re accomplishing something –  plus, it’s fun

I encourage you (especially if something has kept you away from your creative self for a while) to try this. Heck, go ahead and submit those photos to Somerset – what’s to lose?! A kick in the creative backside is a good thing.

Some other challenges from Somerset:

Somerset Life aims to demonstrate how easy it is to add a touch of beauty to our daily lives, whether it is through a simple craft project, or an inspiring essay that shares how to find the beauty that already exists. Our mission is simple: make the ordinary extraordinary. For those looking to be a part of this bestselling publication, we have a number of ways to do so. We are currently looking for artwork submissions in the following categories:

  • Life Creative Spaces
    Where do you create? Whether it’s a small table or breakfast nook, cleared-out closet, or an actual room dedicated as your creative studio, we want to peek inside. If you think your creative space is something that Somerset Life readers would like to learn more about, please submit digital images of your space with a brief written query to the Editor-in-Chief at somersetlife@stampington.com. If the submission is accepted, you will be asked to furnish professional hi-resolution images (300 dpi at 8″ x 10″).
    Deadline: Ongoing.
  • Artful Kits
    We all love to collect papers, ribbons, embellishments, and other bits and bobs. More fun than collecting specific elements is finding creative ways to juxtapose the pieces together to create unique kits. Whether you create them to give away or to sell or offer to students in a workshop setting, we’d like to see your favorite kits. Please send in kit samples directly to the Editor-in-Chief as outlined in the Submission Guidelines.
    Deadline: Ongoing.
  • Creative Living Ideas
    In each issue of Somerset Life we share 10 Creative Living Ideas, and we show quick and easy ways to add a touch of beauty or creativity to your life, or perhaps someone else’s. Maybe you have a clever way of packing a sack lunch, or you have a developed a creative way of saying “Thank You” to a friend. Please send in samples directly to the Editor-in-Chief as outlined in the Submission Guidelines.
    Deadline: Ongoing.

Click here to download our guide for submitting photographs. It will also show you how to convert images to the correct size and resolution for this publication.

 

 

Another road trip – Hill Country spirit dolls with orchid-cousin hair

The Hill country Arts Foundation in Ingram, Texas is a magical place. Located at the  crossroads where Johnson Creek merges with the Guadalupe River, it’s a venue for the education of the arts, visual art exhibitions and  theatrical performances.

On Saturday, I went to HCAF to teach a Spirit Doll workshop. My friend Lynn Luukinen who lives in nearby Kerrville, helped me set up by gathering sticks and twigs from the riverbank – and also ball moss (which almost became the star of the show).

Choosing and assembling spirit doll body parts 🙂

Ball moss has a bad rep, but in fact, it’s not a parasite. It’s an an epiphyte (non-parasitic plant living on other plants) and is a cousin to bromeliads and orchids.

A spirit doll in her underwear with a ball moss hairdo

Besides using the native branches and moss, participating artists brought their own stash of great materials to add to their mystical spirit dolls, and they wrote a purposeful intention to wrap inside each one.

Here are some of our spirit dolls – we had a whole day to play and create at HCAF!

Some people call ball moss, which is rampant everywhere in South Texas, a &%$$%##!! nuisance and pay a fortune to get rid of it. We call it “Spirit Doll Hair” 🙂

If you want to create your own Hill Country spirit doll, here’s a link to the materials list we used. Don’t forget the ball moss!

The amazing Shannon Weber: an authentic life in art

Shannon Weber

When I met Shannon Weber in Santa Fe last fall, I gushed shamelessly,proclaiming that I was her biggest fan and that images of her work had been on my computer desktop for a decade. I said that her three-dimensional assemblages resonated so deeply within my artistic soul that it was almost scary. Poor Shannon, she probably thought I was slightly nuts.

After spending five days with her, I am even more in awe of her work and her process. Shannon was invited by the Fiber Artists of San Antonio to come to San Antonio for a workshop and a presentation. And she stayed with me for the five-day visit! We had a really good time taking about art and creativity. Here’s a wonderful quote about her relationship with her materials:

“Intellectually, humans own this genetic history, “we are makers”, and are known to use what we have.  My choice in materials would be Pacific sea kelps, and coastal debris of which I have a long lasting affair and bring their own mythologies of place. The benefits of working with raw organic materials, is that they provide a rich dialog to every design.”

Shannon Weber

For our two-day workshop, Shannon shipped three huge boxes of found materials and dried sea kelp to San Antonio for us to experience in our pieces. She is a tireless teacher, and we all worked without downtime for two days.

I was so frustrated at first because I could not random-weave a long piece of reed into a structure that would hold together. Shannon patiently went over the process again and again until I finally got it.

This was one of my structures – actually, both of the main ones I completed looked remarkably like teapots!

Please watch the workshop video, below – it is an amazing thing to see the variety of structures that emerged from essentially the same materials over a two-day period. Shannon encouraged us to go our own way.

SHANNON WEBER Workshop for the Fiber Artists of San Antonio from Lyn Belisle on Vimeo.

Shannon lives in an isolated region near the coast of Oregon without television or technology. She and her husband ran a fishing lodge for many years when she was first beginning to make things for found materials. Her stories are priceless. She is astonishingly down-to-earth for an artist whose works are found in museums and galleries from California to New York and beyond.

The last afternoon that she stayed with me, she went for a walk in the woods near my house and came back with a gift – three beautifully arranged found objects – twine and rusty bits, just what I love – I now have my very own Shannon Weber work!

Found object altar – Shannon Weber

Shannon says, “It’s all the in magic and mystery of talking to rocks, rusty bits, and piles of gathered sticks that keeps me inspired.” And the magic and mystery in her work keeps us ALL inspired.