YET SOMETHING DEEPLY FAMILIAR Photographs by Natalie Christensen
Photographer Natalie Christensen has an inimitable, and enchanting, focus on the exploration of the more banal peripheral landscapes that often go unnoticed by the casual observer. “I quickly became aware that these isolated moments in the suburban landscape were rich with metaphor. Closed and open doors, empty parking lots and forgotten swimming pools draw me to a scene; yet it was my reactions to these objects and spaces that elicited interpretation and projection.”
Christensen had worked as a psychotherapist for over twenty-five years and was particularly influenced by the theories of depth psychologist Carl Jung. This influence is evident in her photographs, as shadows and psychological metaphors are favored subjects.
“The symbols and spaces in my images are an invitation to explore a rich world that is concealed from consciousness, and an enticement to contemplate narratives that have no remarkable life yet tap into something deeply familiar to our experience; often disturbing, sometimes amusing…unquestionably present.”
In Santa Fe, where Christensen is based, her work is inspired by commonplace architecture and streetscapes. She realizes that the places she frequents for her images are probably not what people visualize when they think of Santa Fe, a major tourist destination with a carefully cultivated image. “I don’t have to go anywhere special to make my photography; instead I find my images around shopping centers, apartment complexes and office parks.” Choosing to shoot in locations that may be viewed as uninteresting or even visually off-putting, Christensen finds this challenging, to “see” something hidden in plain sight, noting “it is our nature to ignore what is unpleasant, but sometimes I get a glimpse of the sublime in these ordinary places. When I find it, it feels like I have discovered gold.”
Christensen is repeatedly drawn to the swimming pool as a metaphor for the unconscious. In American culture, pools symbolize the luxury of leisure. Yet she also sees a darker interpretation — evoking repressed desires, unexplained tension and looming disaster. “These photographs of a manufactured oasis suggest a binary connection between the world above and the world below, linking submersion in water with the workings of the subconscious.”
She dismantles all of these scenes to color fields, geometry and shadow. She shoots every day and is almost never without a camera. Enjoy some of her work below!
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gestalt at Monument Valley
she had an idea
untitled – window with cloud
you can’t get there from here
are these chairs taken
Christensen has exhibited in noted museums and galleries in the U.S. and internationally, was a UAE Embassy invitee for a UAE Architecture Delegation tour, has been invited as Artist-in-Residence to Chateau d’Orquevaux, France, and a photobook, 007 – Natalie Christensen, has recently been published by Setanta Books, London. She has guest lectured at the Royal College of Art and led photography workshops at The Royal Photographic Society, London, and Meow Wolf, Santa Fe.
Named one of the Los Angeles Center of Digital Art’s “Ten Photographers to Watch,” Christensen is the recipient of several prestigious photography awards, has work in permanent collections, and publications include The Guardian, Creative Boom, The British Journal of Photography, LandEscape Art Review, Art Reveal Magazine, Aesthetica Magazine, and Magazine 43. Christensen is represented by Catherine et Andre Hug Galerie, Paris; Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe; Nordic Art Agency, Malmo; and Susan Spiritus Gallery, Newport Beach. Visit her website at nataliechristensenphoto.com
All of these works are part of an ongoing series of paper collages, collectively called Weird, Weird West.
The Weird West series of collages began with a ménage à trois that I found immediately menacing and whimsical: Cowboys, Seashore and Life Patterns and a King Penguin 1947 history of the greeting card called “Compliments of the Season.” The host book on cowboys was hungry for a more disparate diet: WW2 pilot manuals, Albers, Düsseldorf skylines and British executions. It was this menace and whimsy of out-of-season dolls in the desert, crustaceous-faced hangmen, Hyde Park pigeon feeders launching Spitfires over wagon trails, runaway girls remembering cities from an East German future and Folkstone’s seaside disturbing frozen Wyoming that kept me cutting and discovering new, skewed tales of the Weird West.
It’s important to me that materials are, as near as possible, found images, uninfluenced by my own tastes and aesthetic prejudices. That’s why I hunt books and magazines in places that generate randomness – bric-a-brac shops, charity book corners (constantly replenished with unimaginably eccentric juxtapositions: books on Japanese flower arrangement, English gardens, Marilyn Monroe, corn snakes, climbing in Kent, a soiled Grey’s Anatomy, postcards from Guernsey), off shelves of the unwanted, old-hat picture books put out to pasture in the dust. Ordinarily I’m a skeptic, but when collaging I’ve an unflappable faith in a strange combination of synchronicity and reincarnation. There are few things more satisfying to me than resurrecting images, concocting live pictures out of what’s been left for dead.
—Chris Vaughan, September 2021
Chris Vaughan is a writer and artist from Whitstable, currently living a short jog from “The End of Europe” in the South District of Gibraltar. His work has previously appeared in Ambit, The Lifted Brow, Philosophy Now, Epiphany Magazine, The Rumpus, Bright Lights Film Journal, Bookslut, and The Warwick Review.
FROM THE HEART OF OLD MAGAZINES Collages by Sherry Shahan
Feeling shipwrecked in 2020, I began ripping words from the heart of old magazines. My scissors were like me, rusty and dull. The glue, too thick. My collages resembled drawings found in a kindergarten classroom. I like that about them; it frees me from ideas of what art should be. Decades ago I approached photography much the same way. I rarely considered myself a professional even after my photos appeared in national magazines and newspapers. My collages seem to spill into two categories: those that pick at the scabs of humanity and those that reflect promise and possibility. Both styles express my purpose, passion, and personal truths.
—Sherry Shahan, September 2021
You Are Not Alone
Sherry Shahan has wandered the globe as a travel journalist, often watching the world and its people from behind: whether in the hub of London, a backstreet in Havana, or alone from a window in a squat hotel room in Paris; whether with a 35 mm camera or an iPhone. Over the past many months, she’s begun looking inward, living more fully inside her own skin. She is no longer too old or too slow. She moves at her own pace, eschewing imperfections and embracing her authentic female self. Her art and photography have appeared in Los Angeles Times, Gargoyle, december, Backpacker, Country Living, Lemon Sprouting, Open Minds and elsewhere. She earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and taught a creative writing course for UCLA for 10 years. www.SherryShahan.com
These works are from two distinct series of digital paintings, Framework and Dark Oddities. I enjoy the clash of the man-made and the organic, the grids contrasting with the shape-shifting blobs.
The Framework series asks one of those short questions that begs a long answer: Am I inside or outside? The pictures offer seemingly objective experiences that turn uncomfortably subjective on the viewer. Does being on the “inside” mean being trapped or incarcerated, or does it mean being in the know and accepted?
The drops and splotches in the Dark Oddities are likewise objectively/subjectively charged. Alluding to specimens on microscope slides, they suggest things observed—scrutinized—and then make a U-turn on the viewer. The question they pose to me is whether their seemingly bloody forms are healthy or diseased. I find that my response depends on the size of the blotch or drop, and especially its shape. The simple fact that they’re red is a clincher for my recoiling nearly every time. The experience always hits me as a form of bigotry.
All art is contrast—light/dark, high note/low note, wide/narrow—but objective/subjective is the contrast with which all art begins. The artist adopts a point of view and works from that angle. These two series were made independently but they share that objective/subjective polarity. They lure with curious shapes and then ask discomfiting questions.
My abstract digital paintings are made from either new blank Photoshop files or from poor quality photographs that I’ve taken that I call, unimaginatively, “source photos”. The subjects of the source photos are as irrelevant as their quality. In the process of “painting” them with the software, they become entirely different from what they were. It’s a painterly approach, not a photographic one.
I’ll occasionally leave a trace of the source photo, if it adds something special to the work, but my goal is to generate a new image. I want the pieces to be otherworldly, a bit out of the realm of photography.
Dark Oddities Series
Joe Lugara took up painting and photography as a boy after his father discarded them as hobbies. His works depict odd forms and objects, inexplicable phenomena, and fantastic dreamscapes, taking as their basis horror and science fiction films produced from the 1930s through the late 1960s. He began creating digital paintings in the 2010s; they debuted in a 2018 solo exhibition at the Noyes Museum of Art in his home state of New Jersey.
Lugara’s work has been featured in several publications and has appeared in more than 40 exhibitions in museums and galleries in the New York metropolitan area, including the New Jersey State Museum and 80 Washington Square East Galleries at New York University. You can visit his website at joelugara.com
“Everyone wants to have an illusion of themselves, that they’re a bit attractive, but the older I get it seems more important to be absolutely honest and direct.” – Chantal Joffe
When I was a kid I discovered Seventeen Magazine and it really messed me up. I recently googled it and was shocked to see that it debuted in 1944. I always had the impression that it began in the ‘60s or ‘70s when I was a subscriber. From Wikipedia: “It began as a publication geared toward inspiring teen girls to become model workers and citizens. Soon after its debut, Seventeen took a more fashion and romance oriented approach in presenting its material while promoting self-confidence in young women.” I have to disagree with this idea of promoting self-confidence in young women.
What I think it really did was cause many young women to angst about their faces and their bodies; something I did for a very long time. That and having a beautiful mother led me to focus on the topic of aging in a youth obsessed culture when I began my art practice.
I use clay (a medium historically excluded from the fine art world) to investigate the aging process, a notion rejected by many and specifically linked to failure as it relates to women. Through unidealized female faces and figures, I explore themes of identity and memory; referencing my own body to claim agency as the subject and owner of my work. I hand build my pieces with stoneware and paper clay. Colorants including under glazes, stains, oxides and graphite are applied to a figure’s surface to further magnify a countenance of grace and wisdom seen in senescent women.
I create my work through a lens of empowerment to address contemporary issues faced by women.
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Lonely Girl Room 315
Lonely Girl Room 315, detail
Lonely Girl Room 315, back view
Truth from Within
Truth from Within, front view
Between Two Worlds
Between Two Worlds, detail
Whisperers, back view
Time’s Relentless Melt
Lonely Girl Room 315
Ceramic, Under Glaze, Iron Oxide, Pastel, Wire
14″ x 10″ x 6″
(photographer – Mike Healy)
Lonely Girl Room 315-detail
Lonely Girl Room 122-back view
(photographer – Sean Deckert)
Truth from Within
Ceramic, Copper Carbonate, Wax, Wire
20″ x 36″ x 14″
(Photo courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum)
Truth from Within – front view
(Photographer – Amy Weaver)
Between Two Worlds
Ceramic, Copper Carbonate, Wax, Wire, Desert Debris
21″ x 57″ x 9″ (figure)
(Photographer – Joshua Steffy)
Between Two Worlds 3
10″ x 13″ x 11″
(Photographer- Chris Loomis)
Whisperers – back view
Time’s Relentless Melt
8″ x 18″ x 7″
(Photograper – Aaron
HEAVY BREATHING IN NIGHT: Paintings by Morgan Motes
Morgan Motes’ work is a visual representation of the feeling of being alone in nature. It is an expressionistic attempt to return to a sublime and nuanced world often left out of our technologically mediated lives. His method is conversational and meditative, letting paint speak for itself, leading to compositions that are as organic and living as they are fragmented and foreign. His paintings are abstract, without temporal beginning or ending, and present a moment in its full affective force. Landscapes are not landscapes, but heavy breathing in night.
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Ring Park / Acrylic on canvas / 2019 / 30×36
A few years ago, I spent a day hunting shark teeth in Gainesville, Florida’s Ring Park. It was very strange to un-bury shark teeth from a creek, miles away from any beach, from when Florida was underwater. The place felt ancient, I wanted to explore it with paint.
Black Water Sound / Acrylic on canvas / 2019 / 28×30
I was standing in the woods at night hearing the world undress.
Nocturne: Noontootla Creek / Acrylic on canvas / 2019 / 24×36
Noontootla Creek is a place I frequently camp at in north Georgia, I feel a kind of connection to it. My interest in this spot, in the way it makes me feel when I’m there, is what made me initially explore landscape painting.
Black Water Feeling / Acrylic and oil on canvas / 2019 / 30×30
A kind of chest of ground, imagining a heartbeat beneath a pond. This is what it feels like to be calmly held by earth.
Black Water / Acrylic on canvas / 2019 / 20×24
My initial study of water, thinking about the retention pond my apartment lives with.
Black Water In Weather / Acrylic and oil on canvas / 2020 / 36×36
A process piece, painted over and over again until it was nearly fully black, and then carved and washed away with turpentine, until a composition revealed. Then touched up to feel more water-like.
Self-Portrait In the Retention Pond / Acrylic and oil on canvas / 2019 / 24×36
If I see myself in the retention pond, then I am the retention pond, at least for that moment. This piece is about the inseparation of us and what’s outside of us, like becoming nature, the world itself. Also, retention ponds are cool and are not loved enough.
Motes was born in 1997, in the small town Palatka, Florida. He previously attended Florida School of the Arts in 2018, and is working on his BA in painting, drawing and printmaking, with a minor in creative writing, at the University of North Florida. Motes has shown his work in numerous juried group shows and in multiple solo shows in small galleries throughout Florida. Motes’s paintings have appeared in The Talon Review, and TheFine Print Magazine’s “Prairie” collection. His poems have appeared in West Trade Review. Learn more on his blog www.morganmotes.com/blog
REPARATIONS WINE LABEL
Text by J’nai Gaither
Illustrated by Phoebe Funderburg-Moore
Click on images for full-size.
Full Text of Label:
Blacks in Wine Matter
Reparations Red Wine
United Colors of America
401mL 16.19% by volume
To be acknowledged and included in this White wine industry is all people of color have ever wanted. Though wine is as global as industries come, it has never been welcoming to people of color. Even in South Africa, on the Mother Continent, most wineries are owned by White South Africans, though there has been a push to put the economic opportunities of winemaking into the hands of Black people. After 401 years, time is up. Drink and protest responsibly.
Reparations is made from Petite Sirah and Tannat, two thick-skinned black grapes that offer a hearty and savory liquid meal to the adventurous imbiber. With hints of espresso, blackberry and cocoa, Reparations gives back to the drinker what’s been stolen from them: the freedom to enjoy wine uninhibited. Aged in oak for only six months since we have already waited long enough.
Government Warning: (1) According to people of color, wine should be more accessible and less pretentious. It should not divide, and consumers and hiring managers should get used to seeing people of color in the wine space or risk losing a significant portion of the $1.2 trillion that is Black buying power. (2) Consumption of this alcoholic beverage may wake up the world to a bitter racism that has persisted in the industry for decades.
401mL Contains Anger & Indignation
J’nai Gaither is the hungriest of storytellers, always foraging for the next, excellent food and beverage story, or the most delicious of ad campaigns. When not consuming copious amounts of champagne and burgundy, she’s usually planning her next meal while listening to opera. Her work has appeared in Plate Magazine, New York Magazine’s Grub Street, Eater, Dining Out Chicago, Vinepair,From Napa With Love and other books and publications. You can see her work on Amy’s Kitchen website and packaging, as well as on current Sargento Cheese commercials. She has also been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.
Phoebe Funderburg-Moore is a Philadelphia-based illustrator, screen printer, and graphic designer. Her work is focused around self-discovery, love of nature, and observational humor. Recently Phoebe has been teaching herself animation and digital illustration. To view more of her work, visit phoebefm.com and follow along on Instagram at @phoebemakesart.
TERRA IN FLUX An Ekphrastic Collaboration
by Mark Danowsky and John Singletary
The word ekphrasis comes from the Greek for the description of a work of art produced as a rhetorical exercise, often used in the adjectival form ekphrastic. It is a vivid, often dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined. In ancient times, it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek ἐκ ek and φράσις phrásis, ‘out’ and ‘speak’ respectively, and the verb ἐκφράζειν ekphrázein, “to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name”.
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Terra in Flux
The bathroom mirror breaks my face
no, my face breaks the mirror
nose, a Picasso—
all comes down to energy
In Tai Chi, you create
an imaginary ball
then pass, smooth
sculptor at the wheel
passing it, passing it
back to yourself
blurs the line
we choose to walk against
You touch yourself touching
the face of love
closeness by another name
proximity one boon companion
Tell me when it is you feel
& I’ll go cold as fate
comet without gamble
your unholy geist
The Rockefeller Center
zamboni operator down with flu
still can smooth & smooth
Faces of a masquerade
play at Janus
when lean Judas
free at least
vagrant on the rocks
Mother of God
Sister of Heartbreak
Daughter of Chaos
the beauty line
ties humanity to grace
by way of athleticism—
what it means to be perfect
between naked & nude—
that begins in innocence
& ends in Babylon
There is nothing inherently wrong with Cypress trees.
Or apocryphal texts.
The believer tells you it’s a mistake not to believe.
The nonbeliever can’t tell you anything for sure.
I fall asleep & dream about a ball of light
passed from generation to generation.
I wake & stretch—
In Tai Chi, you take an open stance. Take an imaginary ball in your hands.
Circle the sphere. It can be crystal. You can call it an orb. You cannot drop this ball.
We know pareidolia—seeing
faces in things. We make
some just so we can walk around
being another, feeling safe.
Forget the self, sun
in Elizabethan world view
the great chain of being
we inhabit the middle
above all common earthly things
below the heavens, angels, divinity
Mark Danowsky is author of the poetry collection As Falls Trees (NightBallet Press, 2018). His poems have appeared in Gargoyle, Kestrel, North Dakota Quarterly, and elsewhere. He’s managing editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
John Singletary is a photographer and multimedia artist based in Philadelphia, PA. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from The University of the Arts. His work has been collected by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Center for Fine Art Photography as well as other institutional and private collections. He has exhibited at the LG Tripp Gallery, The Pennsylvania State Museum, The James Oliver Gallery, Sol Mednick and The Delaware Contemporary Museum. He is also a contributing writer for The Photo Review Journal. Photo credit: Stephen Perloff.
Many artists have the ability to verbalize their thoughts with great clarity and eloquence—sadly, I’m not one of those. This must be a great source of frustration for my wife Beth, who is an extremely accomplished writer and well versed in the art of verbal communication. But she does not complain; she smiles and lets me babble aimlessly until I get distracted by a squirrel or something. Oh well. As I used to say to my mother when she was yelling at me for something I did (or didn’t do): That’s just the way God made me.
In any case, I should stop rambling and get to the point which is to write a few words about this image. I decided to make a series of drawings that chronicle the pure and unadulterated stupidity perpetrated by the current occupant of the White House. I really didn’t want to spend too much time staring at reference photos of Trump so I picked a character that visually had similar characteristics: bottom-heavy, awkward, graceless, has difficulty drinking water with one hand, etc. And so I landed on a duck, even though I am fully aware that even the dumbest of ducks is far more capable than Trump.
And so I draw and then I print those drawings on t-shirts, and when I sell the t-shirts I donate 20% of the profits to The Lincoln Project, sort of like a bake sale. The material is endless so I plan to continue drawing, perhaps until the duck is finally wearing an orange suit.
—Bill Sulit, September 2020
William Sulit is an award-winning illustrator, ceramicist, and designer. Born in El Salvador, he studied design at North Carolina State and received his Masters of Architecture degree from Yale University. He is the co-founder of Juncture Workshops and frequently collaborates with his wife, the writer Beth Kephart, on book projects.
Glass Wind Instruments for Intimacy and Vulnerability
by Madeline Rile Smith
Growing up, I never imagined I would become a visual artist, let alone an artist working in hot glass. In high school, I was required to take an art class, so I signed up for a glass elective, with no idea what I was getting into. At first, I was terrified of burning my fingers, but after a few sessions, the hypnotic presence of melting glass in a flame lured me in. Hot glass is always moving; it has rhythm. The artist must respond with her own movements. You cannot control glass on your own terms; the glass will always be the one to set the terms of engagement. When you work with glass you must be humble and accept that you will fail over and over. A day’s work might shatter into a hundred pieces if you get cocky or overconfident. Glass demands a zen mind. When your piece is destroyed in an instant, you accept it and keep working.
Flameworking in my studio in the glass department at Rochester Institute of Technology
I’ve been playing violin and viola since I was a toddler. By the time I was in high school I was prepared to have a professional career in music but was sidetracked due to a serious chronic pain condition. When I began working with glass, I realized it was like playing an instrument: your body and hands work together to produce something delicate and ethereal—and often ephemeral.
Like music, glassblowing is a collaborative art form.
Like music, glassblowing is a collaborative art form. In the hot shop, artists need a partner to breathe air into the blowpipe as they manipulate the 2300-degree blob of molten glass. The collaborative nature of glassmaking is similar to that of chamber music, where bodies are coordinated and orchestrated in space toward the group effort of a shared goal. My strongest memories from childhood involve practicing with my classical string quartet—with me on viola, two violinists, and a cellist. We spent untold hours in collaborative rehearsal, detailing the minutiae of musical expression in order to create a unified sound that would transcend the sum of each of our solo instruments. In an ideal ensemble, each member approaches the group with a sense of generosity, putting forth an effort that extends beyond each individual, toward the shared goal of collective expression. The tender and dynamic tension of music can be broken at any moment if one member of the group falters. The act relies on a delicate state of interdependence. The music is not complete when a member of the group is missing, and a single person cannot carry the experience alone, much like the communal act of creation in the glass studio.
A trumpet for two simultaneous players. When my partner finds his note, I attempt to push him off of it to create mine. Our breaths compete and combat inside the instrument to create a tone. The backpressure of another person blowing into the trumpet creates a significant challenge. Part shared effort, part battle of breaths. We both end up winded.
To me, the communal aspects of glass and chamber music require the kind of trust that is necessary for strong collaboration. Music and glass both rely on mutual understanding of subtle, non-verbal gestures—a moment’s eye contact or a punctuated breath can be used to synchronize coordinated movement or a pause.
Flameworking a glass instrument. I use a torch powered by a mix of propane and oxygen. The flame is about 3600 degrees Fahrenheit.
This spring, I began a series called “Instruments of Connection and Compromise,” a collection of glass wind instruments that require multiple players. There is something squeamishly intimate about sharing a mouth-activated instrument with another person. You and your partner must stand shoulder to shoulder, simultaneously blowing into a hollow vessel to create a tone. As you exhale, you can feel the back pressure of your partner’s breath on yours, like your mouths are touching, but from a distance. Your breaths intermingle, creating a sound while simultaneously knocking one another off the note as soon as you establish it. Blowing into a glass trumpet makes the entire instrument buzz. When your partner buzzes into their mouthpiece, it causes your lips to tingle, as if you were kissing, by proxy, through a curving glass tube.
“Duel Duet” in action.
There is a humorous absurdity that I love about the glass trumpets. I craft them through a meticulous flameworking process, using techniques similar to scientific glassblowing. The end result is a long winding trumpet, like a device from a Dr. Seuss story.
The charge of my work has changed, eliciting visceral reactions of repulsion, echoed by a longing for the connection we were once allowed. In the age of Covid-19, the act of breathing can no longer be taken for granted; a healthy unencumbered breath is revealed to be a gift.
“Close Enough to Tickle,” 2020. A glass instrument for three wind players.
As the instruments are played, the performers’ bodies awkwardly huddle around one another. Spittle accumulates inside the trumpet body, while shrill honking noises are produced. To me, the ridiculousness of the performance creates friction against the precise technique required to create the glass trumpet.
“Duel Duet,” 2020. A glass trumpet for two players.
These instruments were conceived and created only weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic spread to the United States. A week after this series was completed for my MFA show, my studio was padlocked by the university, all thesis shows were canceled, and the meaning of my work changed overnight. What began as a humorous and awkward gesture became terrifying. The thought of standing close to someone, let alone breathing into the same glass tube while swapping saliva, was horrifying. The charge of my work has changed, eliciting visceral reactions of repulsion, echoed by a longing for the connection we were once allowed. In the age of Covid-19, the act of breathing can no longer be taken for granted; a healthy unencumbered breath is revealed to be a gift.
Madeline Rile Smith is an American artist working in glass. She earned an MFA in glass at Rochester Institute of Technology and a BFA in glass from Tyler School of Art. Madeline draws upon her musical background to create glass musical instruments that explore the physical connection between players. She utilizes hot glass as a performative medium to consider notions of intimacy and compromise. Madeline’s sculptural glasswork has been exhibited in venues throughout the US and featured in New Glass Review 41 and 35. She has instructed glassworking in schools and institutions throughout the East Coast, including UrbanGlass in Brooklyn, Salem Community College, and Rochester Institute of Technology. More at her website, MadHotGlass.com or follow her on Instagram @MadHotGlass.
Performance photos by Elizabeth Lamark. Gallery photos by Scott Semler. Special thanks to Ethan Townsend, Ying Chiun Lee, and Jensen McConnell for performing on these instruments with me.
THE MYTH OF THE ARAN FISHERMAN
The Art of Jan Powell
by Melanie Carden
[click images to enlarge]
Knitting transcends time and is a dominant theme in Jan Powell’s life and work as an artist. Through her use and creative exploration of this craft, Jan has produced—over the past four decades—a tangible amalgam of heritage, feminism, and memory.
While working towards her master’s degree, another artist told Jan the legend of the Aran fishermen, whose intricately hand-woven sweaters have long been the topic of myth and symbolism. Though proven untrue over the years, the sweaters were long believed to help identify the Irish fishermen if they died at sea and washed ashore.
It was 2004. The tragic tsunami of Indonesia was still in the headlines, and the artist found herself in sincere sympathy for the families of those killed. The story of the Irish fishermen so profoundly resonated with Powell—whose mother and grandmother taught her to knit—she shifted her art to focus on the exploration of and use of knitting, so steeped in symbolism of identity, heritage, femininity, time, and memory.
What began as a conversation with the artist’s brothers, Parallel Perceptions is a monotype print created from deconstructed garments. While reminiscing, each sibling had such dissimilar memories of the same childhood story. It struck Jan as remarkable that though the basic structure of the memory was intact for each of them, the details—the fibers—had been uniquely distorted within each sibling’s mind over time.
Similarly, in Worn Out, Powell draws on her childhood. Just as her mom would unravel old sweaters to repurpose the yarn, Jan deconstructed children’s garments similar to the jumpers (sweaters) she and her brothers wore to create this piece. The symbolism of dismantling, through distortion, unraveling, and deconstruction, are as evident here as in her other works. Over time, our memories diminish, fade, and tatter—just like the sweaters.
The Fabric of Memory
Jan Powell’s artistic journey following the connective themes of fiber is also inspired by the work of the artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010). Bourgeois worked in a variety of media, including textiles, and believed that clothing is a metaphor for times past. Makers both, Jan’s mother and grandmother were avid knitters and dressmakers. The Fabric of Memory is a tribute to and celebration of this heritage. Inspired by Bourgeois’ metaphors and the feminine, lacy styles her grandmother wore, Powell built up layers of old, knitted garments to convey the passing of ages and the progression of time. Charcoal and graphite create intensity while the grey, monochromatic palette steeps the piece in the idea of faded diminishment.
Matriarchy reverberates through Powell’s textile work; the mother creates life, childhood memories—even, at times, the clothing. All of these strung together speak to one’s identity. Bourgeois once said, “You can retell your life and remember your life by the shape, weight, color and smell of those clothes in your closet. They are like weather, the ocean—changing all the time.”¹
Temporal Fossil #1
Temporal Fossil #2
It is in these ephemeral earthly elements that Powell draws inspiration for Temporal Fossils #1 and #2. These pieces—photographs of hand-knit shapes, frozen in ice—are designed to convey a sense of archeology and the fragility of the planet. Exhibited in HOT: Artists Respond to Global Warming at the Depot Square Gallery (Lexington, MA), the breadth of Powell’s storytelling is obvious. She has captured the ultimate power of matriarch, Mother Earth, as well as the juxtaposition of strength and fragility. Though not intended by the artist, a case can also be made that the effeminately cast Temporal Fossil #1 is a poignant snapshot of the complexities of the isolation of a woman’s infertility. The unattached string evokes a separation, a truncation in the ability to sustain life in the womb and here on earth as climate change erodes Mother Nature’s cycles.
Powell layers her temporal theme not just in the creation of this piece, but in its literal dissolve; the original has, of course, since melted. What appears cast in eternity is impermanent and fluid, like time itself.
Most recently, Jan’s work in Art on Science: 26 Etudes, is an installation in which a scientist is paired with and reacts to an artist’s work. The inspiration for her print Something Vanished was dementia, and it is a collaged monoprint involving photo transfer, intaglio, and hand-coloring.
Both her mother and grandmother, honored in the piece, suffered from dementia. The artist’s love of these women and fear of the disease are represented in the piece. Powell’s piece was paired with David Kaplan, a biomedical professor whose work involves using silkworm cocoons to build neuroscience medical applications. Now sixty-nine years old, Powell says, “As I am getting older, I’m sort of thinking, ‘oh my God, when am I going to get dementia?’ I hadn’t realized it was going to be that emotional.”
Jan describes how emotion is a catalyst in the creation—but also the resolution—of a project. There is no failure in art she says, only the idea of resolution. She will ask herself, “Is it resolved?” Her philosophy of resolution has many components, and it changes with each work of art she produces. It may be texture, color, mastery of technique, or, of course, emotion. She has six unresolved versions of Something Vanished in her studio.
As in many of her works, Something Vanished offers layers of transparency, begging the question, what has been lost? Though the idea of hereditary dementia may be daunting to Powell, it is clear there is still so much left to be done—created—resolved. Just as the artist’s mother would unravel an old sweater to create a new one, Powell’s deconstructed textile tells the story of renewed purpose, even as threads fray and time plays trickster. The fibers may be worn thin from life’s elements, but Powell’s work lends proof that the myth of the Aran fishermen was, in fact, true. The weave of your sweater is your identity.
¹Morris, F. Herkenhoff. “P & Bernadec M. 2007 Louise Bourgeois: Tate Modern, London, 10 October 2007-20 January 2008.” London: Tate
Melanie Carden is a Boston-based writer and editor. Formerly a newspaper columnist, she writes about food sovereignty, cooking, culture, and social justice. She earned her BA in food and culture journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is a passionate advocate for lifelong learning—the traditional, immersive, and online classrooms alike—and remains an active alumnus for the University Without Walls department of her alma mater. Visit her website at www.melaniecarden.com
UMBRELLAS COULD HAVE BRAINS
Paintings by Serge Lecomte
The real world for me is a mix of images where two realities or more cross. Take two known objects and connect them in some other way. As a teen I saw the paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and was taken by the surreal world he envisioned. The world was never the same for me after that. Images were no longer meant to stagnate in their inert state. Rocks weren’t simply rocks. They could become loaves of bread. And fish could turn into young maidens. Leaves on a tree could turn into birds and vice versa. And umbrellas could have brains. After all, they have to open and close.
Words have always inspired images to me. I began my career as a poet and novelist. Then one day, I quit writing because I thought painting would be a better way of expressing ideas. But the words I paint become transformed into images that may not represent a definition for the words. It’s all about connections in my mind, although I hope I can connect with my viewer.
I love loud colors and adore the Fauvists because of their use of bright and pure (unmixed) colors. Color, shape and space are very important for me.
I don’t see myself repeating what others have done. I don’t believe in smearing paint and calling it abstract art. That movement is gone. I paint because I am addicted to painting and enjoy the creative process, even in gardening or making jam. Ever had papaya preserves with walnuts? Pretty surreal. Enjoy.
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Balancing Act I recalled Charlie Chaplin in the movie The Circus where he was on a high wire while several monkeys are jumping on him. I imagined him flipping upside down. The picture stuck in my mind. And so, I painted a man walking upside down helped in the air by butterflies.
Barrier This picture is the story of war about to begin. Barriers, walls, frontiers prevent people from coming together.
Free as a Bird Everything in this painting is free, except the man’s head in the cage. But I’m sure he thinks he’s as free as a bird in spite of the cage.
Gott mit uns (God is on our side) It was originally inspired by a WWI belt buckle I saw when I met a German soldier in Philadelphia in 1960. The inscription “Gott mit uns” also appears on Nazi belt buckles. The words make no sense to me, but neither did the Crusades. And then there’s Mark Twain’s short story, “The War Prayer.” My painting came into being from words.
Little Man This painting was born from Alfonsina Storni’s poem, Hombre pequeñito.
Hombre pequeñito, hombre pequeñito, Suelta a tu canario que quiere volar… Yo soy el canario, hombre pequeñito, déjame saltar.
Estuve en tu jaula, hombre pequeñito, hombre pequeñito que jaula me das. Digo pequeñito porque no me entiendes, ni me entenderás.
Tampoco te entiendo, pero mientras tanto ábreme la jaula que quiero escapar; hombre pequeñito, te amé media hora, no me pidas más.
Little little man, little little man, set free your canary that wants to fly. I am that canary, little little man, leave me to fly.
I was in your cage, little little man, little little man who gave me my cage. I say “little little” because you don’t understand me, nor will you understand.
Nor do I understand you, but meanwhile, open for me the cage from which I want to escape. Little little man, I loved you half an hour, don’t ask me again.
It’s Raining Salmon Having lived in Alaska for almost 40 years, salmon was on my table on a daily basis. The image recurs in my works in different fashions, sometimes as a head on a human body. Painting salmon in different poses is as if I were changing recipes. In Haruki Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore there is a downpour of fish.
Salt of the Earth This picture was inspired by Toni Morisson’s The Beloved in which Sethe murders her child so that it would not know slavery. I embedded the face on the shore of the river.
The Waiting Room The coffin is a waiting room, perhaps a place where the soul will one day awaken or not. In spite of death as a theme, there is also life in the tree fed by our decay. I remember Madame Bovary in which Lestiboudois, the cemetery caretaker, plants potatoes in the graveyard. Nothing like having fresh compost to nourish the spuds.
Zizi et Kiki au Café (Cute names for male and female sexual appendages in French) First date over coffee isn’t about a cup of Java. Zizi obviously has the hots for Kiki, but her mouth is a Venus flytrap. I leave that one to your imagination.
I was born in Belgium. We came to the States where I spent my teens in South Philly. I went to Wagner Jr. High and attended Olney and Roxborough High Schools. I then moved to Brooklyn. After graduating from Tilden High School I worked for New York Life Insurance Company, then joined the Medical Corps in the Air Force and was sent to Selma, AL, during the Civil Rights Movement. There I was a crew member on helicopter rescue. I earned a BA in Russian Studies from the University of Alabama and an MA and PhD from Vanderbilt University in Russian Literature with a minor in French Literature. I worked as a Green Beret language instructor at Fort Bragg, NC, from 1975-78. In 1988 I earned a BA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Spanish Literature and went on to work as a language teacher at the University of Alaska (1978-1997).
I was the poetry editor for Paper Radio for several years. I have worked as a house builder, pipe-fitter, orderly in a hospital, gardener, landscaper, driller for an assaying company, bartender in one of Fairbanks’ worst bars, and other jobs. I resided on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska for 15 years and recently moved to Bellingham, WA.
A HISTORY OF ANYWAY Intermedia
by Nance Van Winckel
Sad lad of the far north, you with no means and no true lassie, with no way home and no home anyway, you voyage on.
And yes, as per usual, just when the key to all seems within reach, the dreaded forever descends.
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Nance Van Winckel is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently Our Foreigner, winner of the Pacific Coast Poetry Series Prize (Beyond Baroque Press, 2017), Book of No Ledge (Pleiades Press Visual Poetry Series, 2016), and Pacific Walkers (U. of Washington Press, 2014). She’s also published five books of fiction, including Ever Yrs, a novel in the form of a scrapbook (Twisted Road Publications, 2014), and Boneland: Linked Stories (U. of Oklahoma Press, 2013). She teaches in the MFA programs at Eastern Washington University and Vermont College of Fine Arts. Read more at her website.
Born in Philadelphia, Richard Kagan is a photographer and former furniture maker whose artistic career took a curiously circuitous path. He began as a self-taught street photographer while a student at Temple University. However, after leaving college to practice Buddhism under a visiting Japanese Zen Master in New York, Kagan became impassioned with the silent eloquence of handmade objects and pawned his camera to buy woodworking tools.
Following several years of apprenticeships, Kagan opened his own furniture workshop and founded the Richard Kagan Gallery—the first nationally recognized gallery for contemporary furniture artists. He taught at the Philadelphia College of Art (University of the Arts) for 10 years and exhibited furniture in museums and art institutions throughout the U.S. A back injury put an unexpected end to his woodworking career and opened the possibility to return to photography, thus bringing him back to where he began.
Beginning photography again in 1988, with academic studies and assisting other photographers, Kagan went on to have solo photography exhibitions in the United States, Great Britain, and South America. He taught photography at Drexel University in the mid-1990s. An early grant from the Arts Council of Wales enabled an extended project in the U.K. and Europe, culminating in an exhibition at the Royal National Eisteddfod. That project solidified a love of landscape photography first begun in Italy some years before.
Not surprisingly Kagan brought to photography some of the same aesthetic concerns with which he made furniture—a quest for quiet, understated, and elegant forms. His main bodies of work include Land/Spirit/Sky, landscapes photographed primarily in Europe; Iron Portraits, a series of austere yet sensuous portraits of antique tools and objects; and Blurred Time: Sacred Places In Kyoto, nighttime photographs taken on the grounds of temples and shrines in Japan (and on exhibit at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral).
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EXHAUST MUFFLER No. 1 (2008) | Floating in a black space, a fallen-off and run over, rusty automobile exhaust muffler. How ordinary and how humble in its sensuous skin of iron. And, like us, how vulnerable and how precious. I picked this up on the street as a 21-year-old living in New York’s East Village. Some 40 years later I photographed it.
EXHAUST MUFFLER No. 2 (2008) | Another muffler which, after I photographed it, I realized was influenced by a single still life painting that I also discovered at 21, and which had a profound influence on everything I’ve ever done. (Dali, Basket of Bread, 1945 — the year I was born. Not to be confused with his earlier version.) So many of my photographs have been about making something so absolutely still and yet possessed of an internal icon-like energy. Stillness is a major link between the objects and the landscapes, I think.
OIL CAN WITH LONG NECK (2004) | How could I not photograph this proud, elegant, oil can?
RECUMBENT SHEARS (1992) | About 14 inches long, this rusty pair of shears, like all of the objects I photograph, are just things that are part of my life. They live on shelves or stands throughout my home and studio.
DANCING PLIERS (2005) | For 20 years, prior to my career as a photographer, I worked with hand tools on a daily basis as a furniture maker. Working with wood was an expression of reverence and sensuality and I gave it up only as the result of a back injury. The silver lining in that dark cloud was that I got to pursue an earlier love, photography. Nonetheless, I am still inspired by the gentle grace and beauty of handheld tools.
SUGAR NIPPERS (2008) | Two centuries ago, sugar nippers were used by the wealthy, for table or kitchen use, to cut small pieces of sugar from conical shaped sugar loaves.
NEAR SIENA Tuscany, Italy (1990) | A clump of Italian cypress trees amidst a farmer’s land. This was the first of my landscape images. It spawned a decade of landscape photographs throughout Europe, the U.K., and Ireland.
CHAPEL OF THE MADONNA Tuscany, Italy (2001) | I knew I wanted to photograph this little family chapel with its two cypress trees, but it took a long afternoon of searching for the perfect point of view. In the actual (print) photograph, the chapel is bright white, while the rest of the image is a warm pink — a laborious technique of chemical split toning that affects the various tones of a black and white photo differently. In Photoshop it would only take two minutes.
RETURN TO GRANADA Andalusia, Spain (2000) | I like to photograph at night, though it has its own problems. During the 8-minute exposure that produced this photo, I covered the lens with a hat when cars were approaching. Somehow, I didn’t hear this car and thought the headlights had ruined the photo, but actually it’s what made it. Drawn to this image, but not happy with what I was getting, I worked on it in the darkroom for several days. Ultimately, I eliminated a house, tree, and other extraneous information.
PARQUE DE DOÑANA Andalusia, Spain (2000) | To make this photograph, I remember standing on a rental car roof with the 2 legs of the tripod astride my own and the 3rd tripod leg precariously perched on the top rail of a chain-link fence. A strong wind threatened to throw the camera, tripod and me over the fence. Stillness is a balm for the confusion of my life.
MONTURQUE Andalusia, Spain (2000) | What a joy when after days of fruitless searching, a horse, a building, and a hole in the clouds came together for the camera’s delight!
CAMPO DE SAN JUAN La Mancha, Spain (2000) | In Spain, I followed the route of Don Quixote along the path of Cervantes’ near-mythical hero.
The photographs in the Iron Portraits series were taken with a view camera — the old-style camera with a 4 x 5″ negative. The prints were made in a traditional wet darkroom in sizes ranging from 16 x 20″ to 36 x 46″.
The photographs in the Land/Spirit/Sky series were taken with Kodak 2475 Recording Film, a special purpose film with a very grainy, soft-focus quality that at times can resemble a drawing or mezzotint. They are 8 x 10″ and were also made in a darkroom.
Photo by James Blocker.
A native of Philadelphia and a former furniture maker, Richard Kagan has been teaching, traveling, and photographing for over thirty years. When he is not in his darkroom hand crafting the fine nuances of black and white prints, or on the computer making color ones, he enjoys reading (Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous), meditating (on the mysteries of importing his AOL contacts into Gmail), and his cat (Takuhatsu). “I take relatively few photographs, compared to some photographers, but I spend a lot of time making work prints and thinking about each image on the contact sheet. I look for trends, I look for what’s happening that is consistently running through the contacts as well as for new directions. And from that I discover something about how I see.” Visit Richard’s website at richardkaganphoto.com for more photos and interviews.
PASSAGES: An Installation in Progress by Cheryl Harper
I am one of those artists who thinks my work has to say something. I have nothing against paintings that bring together a disparate room décor or just make one feel good, but that’s not what I want to do. If you happen to like my work for any of those reasons, that’s fine, but if you are intrigued and compelled to think about bigger issues, that is my goal.
Since 2006 I’ve been making small statues of politicians, particularly of women in the national spotlight, in addition to works that address issues like anti-Semitism, terrorism, and gun violence. But in the last few years, I’ve been thinking about how I came to where I am now, a Jewish woman who lost extended family in the Holocaust and who married a direct descendant of a Southern plantation family that owned other people. I am a descendant of the oppressed who married into a family who oppressed.
I used to think of this in terms of predator/prey imagery but I’ve become more immersed in the complex history of both families, especially through the lens of today’s rising intolerance. We now live at a time to witness the last generation of Holocaust survivors, the rise of white nationalists, and the progeny of many generations of African slaves who are struggling with the past — and we see how these histories intersect. For example, American Jews were helping achieve civil rights legislation for African Americans in the 1960s, after half of the world population of Jewry was enslaved and mass murdered in Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, many whites in America are descendants of those who escaped persecution in Europe during the years of the Atlantic slave trade.
• • •
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Passages dress in progress, 2017, at James Oliver Gallery, Philadelphia
My current project, Passages, is a proposed traveling installation to American colleges. I am hoping to create dialog about who was privileged, who was enslaved, and how to approach a better understanding of our generational histories in order for all to move forward.
The point of view is female. There are original family wedding dresses overlaid with other clothing and accessories owned by mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers.
There are hangings and floor objects related to their standard of living and aspirations. Hand-printed wallpaper brings together imagery culled from family photographs and objects that refer to immigration, plantation life, and slavery.
My mother was a daughter of immigrants from the Pale, an area that straddles Poland and Russia. Her parents were first cousins, often the case in Europe, who scrabbled for a living in tiny villages, ironically similar to the practice of cousin marriage in royal families who sought to keep their families blue-blooded. My new-to-America grandparents were considered a match even in their teens, perhaps earlier; it was not a matter of love. My zayde (Yiddish for grandfather) had the responsibility of bringing over siblings to America. He was a man of very modest means, a cantor of Jewish Orthodox tradition, moving his family of four daughters and a housewife with poor English skills to a small town in New York State.
My European family in the 1930s
Here is a photograph of the other family members he was obligated to bring to America. The man in the oval, the father, was deceased. The two daughters died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In this photograph, the girls hold proof they are educated as one holds a book and the other a scroll. Had my zayde and bubbe not emigrated, this likely would have been the fate of their four daughters, including my mother. I always had a sense of being hunted and unsafe, probably because of family stories that in childhood I overheard between adults. Post-war was a very confusing time for Jewish children in America. We knew everyone was sad but we didn’t know anything specific. It was only as teenagers when we read the Diary of Anne Frank that we began to understand what was lost. That was the beginning of our awakening.
• • •
A slave auction advertisement placed by my husband’s ancestor
My husband’s family came to the Colonies in the late 17th century. Isaac Lesesne was Huguenot, one of the French Protestants who suffered severe persecution at the hands of the Catholic majority and who emigrated for religious freedom and opportunity. It didn’t take him long to establish a rice plantation, then an indigo plantation for dyestuff. He settled in the wetlands near Charleston, known as Daniel Island, eventually expanding to several plantations and a dry goods store in Charleston. Lesesne had many slaves, the majority of whom were likely from Sierra Leone and knew how to grow rice and indigo. We found evidence of his family ancestors, particularly the Laurens, who marketed slaves, and an early runaway slave advertisement by the Lesesnes in the main regional newspaper.
A branch of my husband’s Southern family in the late 1920s
My husband and I researched objects that came down through his family through the centuries, studied the permanent exhibit of an archaeological excavation of the Daniel Island Lesesne plantation at the Charleston Museum, and visited the 18th century Lesesne family cemetery. We know who married whom and how the Lesesne branch of our family migrated to New Jersey through family fortune based on slave labor.
In this project, I am taking inspiration from Lesesne family objects dating back to the plantation, never sold, as the family was still wealthy during the Depression. In fact, this branch of the family was still collecting sterling silver service, Chinese snuff bottles, and semi-precious necklaces well into the 20th century.
• • •
Detail of an 1878 mizrah paper cutting, still in the extended family
Family heirlooms, augmented, passed down from my husband’s family
My family had no trappings of wealth, only entering the middle class in the mid 20th century. Among the very few objects passed down in my mother’s family was a brass plate, brought over in 1913. My father’s family, one generation ahead in America, had a few more objects of value such as cut glass and a pair of English brass candlesticks dating back to the 19th century. By sheer chance, we discovered a wonderful paper cutting dating to 1878, made by my great-grandfather’s brother as a going-away gift. In fact, it turns out to be a very important example of an artistic tradition in Galicia, Poland. Called a mizrah (Hebrew for “east”), it was mounted in the Brooklyn family home in the direction of Jerusalem. I used elements from this image, still owned by a branch of my family, as a part of my installation’s wallpaper. The lions, gazelles, birds, and snakes all had spiritual meaning to the maker and the recipient.
Wallpaper patterns made for Passages using block prints, stencils, and woodcuts
I saw similarities between the photos in families, such as little girls wearing matching dresses. I also saw differences. In my family, the clothing was the product of my great-grandfather’s home sweatshop, probably sewn by him, his wife, and older daughters. In my husband’s family, the picture I used was of my mother-in-law and her sister, who lived in a charming mansion in Northern New Jersey; their dresses were certainly not homemade. I also looked to the industry of the plantation, where the product alternated between indigo, then rice, then back to indigo.
Studio study of ads for runaway slaves
In this installation, I plan to use Isaac Lesesne’s own words in an ad he placed for his runaway slaves, whom he considered lost property. As a culture, we need to acknowledge how black slaves were monetized, and the sorrow of Jewish slavery in recent history. If loss and misery can be shared and understood beyond our singular point of view, I think it will be helpful. The enslaved never leave this trauma behind completely.
I want to share these family histories through my art to create an experience and a vehicle for dialog. I envision a forest of dresses and collected objects and photos surrounded by wallpapers for an immersive experience. Beneath and above the dresses and perhaps in the floor spaces are collected objects that refer to the lopsided domesticity of the families, evidence that reflects privilege, hardship, ownership, and aspiration. Depending on the size of the space, the installation — as does history — can expand or contract.
Cheryl Harper is an artist and independent curator in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. She holds a BFA and an MFA in printmaking (Tyler School of Art and The University of Delaware) and an MA in art history (Temple University). Harper has received numerous awards and honors including a residency in 2018 at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Fleisher Challenge (2008) and first prize in sculpture in Pennsylvania Art of the State (2008). She has had two solo shows at the James Oliver Gallery in Philadelphia, was a juried artist in ArtShip Olympia (2016) and many other exhibitions. Her curatorial projects include the upcoming Seamless: Craft media and Performance (spring 2020) at Rutgers-Camden. Visit Cheryl’s website at www.cherylharper.com
A visual narrative by Emily Steinberg
Emily Steinberg is a painter and graphic novelist. She has shown her work in the United States and Europe. Most recently she was named Artist in Residence at Drexel College of Medicine. Her memoir, Graphic Therapy, was published serially in Smith Magazine and her short comic Blogging Towards Oblivion, was included in The Moment (HarperCollins: 2012). She earned her M.F.A. and B.F.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a lecturer in Fine Art at Penn State Abington. You can see more of her work at emilysteinberg.com
Panel 1: It’s been quite a year. Last June I went under the knife. And got a new hip. 6.5 years ago dancing like a 20-something freak at my niece’s wedding, my left hip snapped.
Panel 2: Yeah, I know, brilliant move. This led to bursitis, joint trauma, bone-on-bone, and physical therapy. Then guided steroid injections, to limping badly. Every step excruciating, and, finally, walking with a cane.
Panel 3: Doc said I would know when I was ready for hip replacement surgery. What? But I’m only 48…. March 2018, age 53, I knew. Complete physical breakdown.
Panel 4: Couldn’t walk. Became immobile. Blew up round as a full balloon.
Panel 5: The night before surgery was a stunningly beautiful June evening. The last night with my old, crumbly, irregular, jagged hip joint. I was scared.
Panel 6: I saw this commercial: If you had hip surgery between 2009 and 2016 and it went BAD, call this number! Very reassuring. And I took a shower with weird special orange antibacterial soap… Remember! Don’t get it in your eyes or genitals.
Panel 7: I needed to pack a bag. Looked at the moon. Can’t sleep. Heart racing. Wake up 4:30. Hospital 5:30. Surgery 7:30.
Panel 8: Surgery is otherworldly, from the disinfection shower the night before to the mysterious phone call the day before surgery telling you when to show up to the hospital.
Panel 9: The reception desk was quiet. But once they wheeled me back to pre-op there was a buzz of professional gaiety.
Panel 10: The chipper drug nurse waived her giant syringe with a grin and assured me all would be fine. Then, like at a pit stop, enrobed docs swarmed me, cut me open, sawed out my gnarly old hip, and put a new part in.
Panel 11: I woke up. Swam out of the anesthesia on the verge of rebirth, like Lazarus crawling out of the dark tomb and back on the road.
Panel 12: Day one. Don’t remember much. Fainted on the way to the bathroom. Alarm went out. 30 people rushed in to help.
Panel 13: First night. Slept on my back, not allowed to move. Legs in compression hose and wrapped in compression sleeves that palpitate your calves to keep them from clotting. Giant yellow foam-cheese wedge-like thing strapped between my legs.
Panel 14: Bathroom 5:00 am. Nauseous, clammy, sweaty, anesthesia mucking up the works.
Panel 15: June days, long and gorgeous, pass. Peering out from my swanky private room it looked like the lavender fields of Provence through my Oxycontin haze.
Panel 16: Day 3 Post-op. Friday, 3:00 pm I went home with all of my gear. Walker, compression hose…
Panel 18: Hip replacement precautions: No twists! No bends! Don’t cross legs! Knee can’t be higher than hip or it might dislocated!
Panel 19: Day 4 Post op. Obsessed that I haven’t pooped in 5 days. Monday morning, 6 days out, fixated on lack of poopage. Amazing, how it all comes down to poop. Tuesday morning, 7 days out, still not a sliver of poop in sight. No one tells you that Oxy equals constipation. Finally, late Tuesday… redemption, deliverances, joy. When the machinery works, it’s a beautiful thing.
Panel 20: 8 days post-op. Feeling better; still sleeping on my back. Can’t bend. Limited movement. Went outside for the first time in 5 days. One week and three days post-op. Sleeping better… exercises… more exercises… bridge… lift butt….
Panel 21: Weaning off pain meds. More exercises. The clam! Progress, progress, progress.
Panel 22: Walker, 3 weeks, roughly. Used a cane through the fall. Now, a year later, walking 10,000 steps a day. Humbled and grateful for each pain-free step.
gathered in sun
made into honey,
—Paul Joseph Stankard, 2019
When I entered middle age, I hit a glass wall.
I felt that I was losing my creative mojo—the work was not evolving and I felt the need for more spontaneity. Feeling frustrated, I started to write poetry, seeing it as a medium to satisfy my creative need.
I was no stranger to poetry. As a child, I was a poor reader; I’m a dyslexic, a term that was barely known at that time. But my mother, who didn’t understand why I was such a poor reader, tutored me daily through my middle-school years. Books were a struggle for my tutoring sessions, but when Mom switched to poetry it was fun. She would read the poem first, and with my good memorization skills the words, rhythms and meter clicked with me, and I—for perhaps the first time—felt that I was comprehending written expression, an idea compressed into words.
Suddenly, the words were not my enemy. They were images of an expressed idea!
Three decades later, those boyhood lessons floated back into my creative consciousness as I was struggling to advance my artistic vision and interpret nature with new allusions.
So, feeling stymied with the glass, I decided to write a poem, which led to a series of poems paying homage to native plants.
Fertile decay nourishes
arched stems, green
growth; blossoms soften
thickets hooked thorns;
showy stamens satisfy
June insects; hairy
drupelets swell to juicy
The challenge of painting a word-picture paying homage to a flowering plant had an appeal to me. Interestingly enough, my verbal interpretation of the plant paralleled my interpretation of a crafted plant in glass—even though I had no idea at the time how to articulate this mode of expression in my art.
As an adult, I was self-taught. While enduring the stigma of being a poor student, I discovered I was not stupid, which motivated me to teach myself. Traditional education, including art school, would have just produced more frustration. I wanted to learn about art, so I began a journey of self-education by visiting museums and galleries. I wanted to acquire a broad education that would enable me to become more than a pair of hands; I wanted to become a well-rounded person in ways that would bring artistic maturity to my work, so I began listening to books on tape.
One of those tapes was Walt Whitman: A Life, by Justin Kaplan. I was introduced to an unusual person of heroic stature—someone who was largely self-taught. Whitman, I realized, to my delight, expressed nature in an intimate way that would come to influence my work.
After I read the line from “Spontaneous Me,” from Leaves of Grass…
Honeybee Swarming a Floral Hive Cluster d. 8.0 ” (2010) Photo: Ron Farina
The hairy wild-bee that murmurs and hankers up and down…
…I went outside in the hot summer sun and captured a honeybee in a jelly jar—and was surprised to notice how hairy it actually was. That led me to experiment with the hairy allusion in glass. This made the bee a credible component that was a focal point of my floral interpretations.
But there was more to it than just reproducing the hairy aspect of the honeybee: the influence of Whitman, exemplified by his poetry, led me to interpret nature referentially. As a result, I began to learn from the process.
As I re-read my favorite Whitman poems, I noted in many instances he went beyond realism, along a journey leading to an almost spiritual realm. His words challenged me to attempt the same journey: to go beyond crafting realistic botanical models.
Like most, I didn’t connect with Whitman’s genius on the first read, and began to revisit the poems in ways that eventually allowed me to absorb the insightful intimacy of the words as they formed pictures in my mind.
The influence of Whitman’s words, coupled with my respect for his genius, led me to display excerpts of his poetry on the walls in my studio and exhibitions. Whitman was my guide through walks in the woods and Leaves of Grass became my textbook. I wanted to articulate the same depth of feeling on a visual level in glass as Walt did in words.
I was touched by the abstract idea of how Whitman portrayed a morning glory in “Song of Myself.” He elevates a simple flower to a spiritual level:
A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the meta- physics of books
My poem about blackberries, as well as my later glass interpretations, were complemented by Whitman’s unusual word choices, enhanced by the spiritual force relating to all living things. He expressed this in another line from “Song of Myself”:
…the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven
As a craftsperson who worked with his hands for four decades, I was heartened with Whitman’s intuitive insight into hand skills when I read this line from “Song of Myself”:
Flowers and Fruit Bouquet with Swarming Honeybees d. 6″ (2014) Photo: Ron Farina
…the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery
Whitman’s poetry led me to pursue a convergence of writing, teaching, and glass art-making. I hadn’t been to art school and didn’t share the often-exotic influences referenced by my contemporaries. But Whitman infused me with confidence. His celebration of the ordinary as extraordinary gave me pride in my celebration of the familiar things into crafted glass components: blossoms, bees, roots and leaves encased in glass.
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Honeybee Swarm with Flowers and Fruit, d. 6″ (2012) Chicago Art Institute Rubloff Collection; Photo: Ron Farina
Tea Rose Bouquet Botanical with Mask h. 5.5″ (2004) Photo: Douglas Schaible
During his time, Whitman thought that his poetry was under-appreciated and that his worth would only be understood by future generations. Similarly, this idea of spiritually connecting to the future, long after I die, motivated me to write this poem, which I offer as homage to Walt Whitman:
Walt Whitman’s Garden Bouquet d. 4″ (2018)
Receive this glass
it holds my memories
suspended in stillness
to be pollinated by your sight
anticipating your touch
Happy 200th Birthday, Walt Whitman.
Internationally acclaimed artist and pioneer in the studio glass movement, Paul J. Stankard is considered a living master who translates nature in glass. His work is represented in over 80 museums around the world. Stankard is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary doctorate degrees. He most recently received the Masters of the Medium award from Smithsonian’s The James Renwick Alliance and the Lifetime Achievement award from the Glass Art Society. He is an Artist-in-Residence and Honorary Professor at Salem Community College. Stankard authored three books: an autobiography in 2007 titled No Green Berries or Leaves, an educational resource in 2014 titled Spark the Creative Flame, and most recently, Studio Craft as Career: A Guide to Achieving Excellence in Art-making. Visit Paul and his works at paulstankard.com
I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. Since the age of four I have been exposed to art, thanks to my Uncle Roberto, who religiously picked me up every Sunday morning to bring me to a museum to contemplate art. At the age of fourteen, I bought my first oil painting set with my savings, and I painted on my own for the next eight years. From 1978 to 1980, I studied at the Scuola Libera del Nudo (Free School for Drawing and Painting sponsored by the Academy of Fine Arts of Rome) under the instruction of the Armenian artist, Alfonso Avanessian. From 1980 to 1981, I was enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, then from 1981 to 1983, studied further under Alfonso Avanessian, during which I experimented with drawing, oil pastels, dry pastels, tempera, watercolor, acrylic, and oil paintings. It was a very productive, creative, and formative period for me.
On December 1, 1983, I arrived in Philadelphia. At the age of twenty-seven, I was beginning the biggest adventure of my life—to be an artist.
When I first arrived in Philadelphia, I worked as a house painter by day and as an artist by night. In 1988 I enrolled in a four-year certificate program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where I studied under Seymour Remenick, who became my mentor and friend for the last ten years of his life. Seymour gave me the support to make my own mistakes and to learn from them. His love for art, painting, and people was contagious. This love is an integral part of my vision as an artist. Seymour reinforced my belief in following my heart and what I love in life.
Since 1997 I have been teaching painting at various art centers in the Philadelphia area. I enjoy teaching and sharing my knowledge and experiences from my studio and as an en plein air painter with my students. I have found teaching to be inspiring, challenging, and creative. My approach to painting is to communicate to the viewer my love for life and humankind. I strive to capture in the act of painting a moment that exists in me, inspired by the light and colors that nature offers us every moment.
I am and always was inspired by light.
I have been painting for forty-eight years and I still remember my fascination for the light in Caravaggio’s paintings when I was six years old, and when I was a young adult I would spend hours watching the changing light from the crest of the Gianicolo over the rooftops of Rome. I would say that light is the subject matter of my paintings, and I still carry the nostalgic experience of light from Rome now in my work.
I paint from life, going on location to paint landscapes and seascapes in the Alla Prima Technique (resolving them in one sitting), or staying in my studio to paint still lifes in the Multiple Sitting Technique. I always paint from direct observation, and this is because I want to have the experience of seeing more than reproducing an exact copy of nature.
I want to describe the experience of seeing that comes to me as the feelings and intuitions I get in the act of painting. I want to express, with a kind of shorthand application of paint, the unspoken aspects of Nature as it is revealed by the ever-changing light. Light transforms objects; light transcends concepts. Light creates space.
As light breaks down forms into masses of illumination and shadow, and as light drains or saturates colors into spaces of moving intensities, the experience of seeing is endlessly changing, infinitely fluid and changeable. I have been painting landscapes and still lifes for such a long time because I see the world with new eyes every time I paint.
Communicating this spontaneity and the immediacy of nature through my process of painting, I hope to inspire others to consider the beauty of everyday life. To be present in the moment is what makes our lives richer.
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Ocean City, Big Clouds. Oil on panel, 12.5 x 13.5″
Ocean City, 14th St. Fishing Pier. Oil on panel.
Sunny and Windy Day at the Beach. Oil on panel, 8 x 12″
The Music Pier and the Ferris Wheel. Oil on panel, 10.5 x 13″
Approaching Sunset. Oil on panel, 9 x 14″
Light and Dark. Oil on panel, 7.25 x 11.75″
Cloudy Day on the Delaware. Oil on panel, 12 x 12″
Strawberry Mansion Bridge. Oil on panel, 12 x 14″
The Columbia Bridge. Oil on panel, 12.5 x 14″
Giovanni Casadei was born and raised in Rome, Italy where he studied at the Scuola Libera del Nudo and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, as well as under the instruction of the Armenian artist, Alfonso Avanessian. In December 1983 he arrived in Philadelphia, where he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts under his mentor Seymour Remenick. He has been showing and selling his work in Philadelphia and other major cities for the last twenty years. More at www.giocasadei.com.
Everyman Gazes into the Future. Rovinj, Croatia 2017
MINDSCAPES Photographs by Denise Gallagher
I consider myself a painter who photographs. I had given up on painting about ten years ago since I didn’t feel I could authentically express what was mine to express. Then, about eight years ago, I fell into photographing what I came to call my “magical landscapes.” These images came almost effortlessly and opened up worlds I never imagined. I credit this experience with giving me the courage to explore the real world. During the last five years, I have traveled around the world twice for extended periods of time. I tend to perceive now that most every landscape has the potential to be a magical landscape, given the right lighting and composition.
When I travel, I love to simply wander, to experience a place with no agenda, simply to be available to receive the beauty of the moment. It is an open and receptive state and, in a way, capturing the image is just part of the process of relaxing and seeing 180 degrees. I’ve heard there are books on the zen of photography. I would say I fell into it naturally.
I’m from Philadelphia but I currently live in Fairfield, Iowa. When I return to Iowa after traveling, I create “Ritual Art Events” which I show at our local art gallery. At these evenings, I interweave short films I have created with my images, using transitions and movement (à la Ken Burns), spoken word, and soundscapes. One of my latest films combines the real with the imaginary magical landscapes. Having the imagery projected large, merging with other images and set to music, feels closest to what I consider my authentic voice.
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Magical Morning in Val D’Orcia. Tuscany, Italy 2016
Walking In the Shire Near Bishop’s Castle. Shropshire, England 2017
Fall Magic Near Lake Pukaki. Canterbury, New Zealand 2013
Morning Comes Over Me. Glass House Mountains, Australia 2017
Solitary Woman. Lembongan, Bali 2017
Lightly Tethered in Lembongan. Lembongan, Bali 2017
Arabian Sunset. My Kitchen, Fairfield, Iowa 2015
Holding the Fallen Angel. My Kitchen, Fairfield, Iowa 2017
You Never Can Tell. My Kitchen, Fairfield, Iowa 2014
Denise Gallagher is a photographer/painter, occupational therapist, and world traveler, currently living in Fairfield, Iowa. She has exhibited her paintings and photography extensively in one-woman and group shows, and has produced ritual art events at ICON Contemporary Art Gallery in Fairfield and also, on a smaller scale, as she travels. She believes her therapy work and art work are intimately connected, one informing the other. Denise received a BS in Art Ed from Temple in 1979, including a year at Tyler Rome, and went on to receive an OT degree from Jefferson College of Allied Health in 1986. Denise has traveled around the world twice during the last five years, photographing daily. This past year she did volunteer work with Syrian refugees in Greece and taught Tai Chi in Bali. Visit her website at www.denise-healer-artist.com
My visual and textual work tends to be palimpsestic; layered, erased, meaning bleeding between frames and lines. I am interested in what is left unseen or unsaid, hidden in the density of image and language. I am also interested in construction and deconstruction as methods of visual and textual composition. I build from found audio, video, objects, and texts; disassembling and recontextualizing them, often using appropriation to resist or subvert asymmetrical power structures.
Active Conflict Zones is one such project, a series of visual poems constructed with language appropriated from Executive Order 13780, Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States, and screen captures of digital video compression artifacts found between frames in Battle Beyond the Sun, an Americanized, English-dubbed, version of the 1959 Soviet science fiction film Nebo Zovyot.
I found hidden within the language of security in Executive Order 13780 the underpinnings of a xenophobic worldview that simultaneously aspires toward empire. In the text of the poems I sought to lay bare the underlying mechanics of power inherent such colonial impulses, and in the visuals I sought to subvert the legitimacy of claims to security from an administration compromised by foreign power. In attempting to hide the Soviet origins of the film Nebo Zovyot the American director of the retitled Battle Beyond the Sun replaced Soviet spacecraft with U.S. ones, obscured all text that appeared in Russian, and replaced the names of Soviet actors with those of English voiceover actors in the film’s credits; the screen-captured compression artifacts, the bleed through of data between the video’s keyframes and the P and B frames (usually hidden and containing only partial information from the surrounding frames), for me served as visual metaphor. —Francesco Levato, June 2018
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Francesco Levato is a poet, a literary translator, and a new media artist. Recent books include Arsenal/Sin Documentos (forthcoming 2018, Clash Books); Endless, Beautiful, Exact; Elegy for Dead Languages; War Rug, a book length documentary poem; Creaturing (as translator); and the chapbooks A Continuum of Force and jettison/collapse. He has collaborated and performed with various composers, including Philip Glass, and his cinépoetry has been exhibited in galleries and featured at film festivals in Berlin, Chicago, New York, and elsewhere. He founded the Chicago School of Poetics, holds an MFA in Poetry and a PhD in English Studies, and is currently an Assistant Professor of Literature & Writing Studies at California State University San Marcos.
Welcome to Cleaver’s brand new genre, INTERMEDIA, where word and image intersect to create newly mediated spaces between the literal and the figurative—part word, part image, and deviantly part-way! And what better way to start off than with “Brownies,” those there-but-not-there creations that inhabit the virtual terrains and ordinary realms of our creative lives. —Ed.
Nance Van Winckel is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently Our Foreigner, winner of the Pacific Coast Poetry Series Prize (Beyond Baroque Press, 2017), Book of No Ledge (Pleiades Press Visual Poetry Series, 2016), and Pacific Walkers (U. of Washington Press, 2014). She’s also published five books of fiction, including Ever Yrs, a novel in the form of a scrapbook (Twisted Road Publications, 2014), and Boneland: Linked Stories (U. of Oklahoma Press, 2013). She teaches in the MFA programs at Eastern Washington University and Vermont College of Fine Arts. Read more at her website.
Frances had skipped two periods before she realized what was going on. “I’m lucky,” she bragged to Sarah over milkshakes at the corner store. “I haven’t had my period in eight weeks, no tampons for me, I beat the system.” Sarah’s mouth dropped, and that’s when Frances became aware of the extent of her self-deceit. Now, she sits cross-legged on the floor in Jack’s bedroom shuffling a deck of cards while Jack moves laundry from the washer to the dryer in the basement, his parents in the city at a hospital benefit.
She remembers decorating the basement in her own home two years earlier for her sixteenth birthday party. Her mother had been in one of her moods, so her father had picked up Sarah and taken the two of them to CVS to buy twenty-seven feet of multi-colored streamers and a bag of medium-sized balloons. “I think we should make a giant stethoscope,” Frances said to Sarah while climbing an old step-ladder, “like the one my grandmother has.” “Why not a heart?” Sarah replied. She remembers thinking Sarah lacked ambition.
Still in Jack’s bedroom, Frances puts down the cards and lies on her back on the floor. Spreading her fingers so her palms press into the wood, she can hear Jack banging around the basement and wonders whether or not he uses fabric softener. She knows fabric softener contains toxic chemicals like ethanol and camphor that deteriorate a person’s neuropathways, and others that cause pancreatic cancer or fatal edema, and she berates herself for knowing this but not putting two and two together about her missing periods.
She thinks again about that night two years earlier, about trying to make that stethoscope, wrapping her fingers around the streamers, twisting them into lines and curves, then asking Sarah for her opinion. “It looks like a glazed doughnut,” Sarah said. Later, at the party, Jack gave Frances a present wrapped in old newspaper. She had invited him because he offered unusual anecdotes about medical breakthroughs in Mr. Elwise’s Biology class. “Did Elwise ever get back to you about that monkey neurogenesis study?” she asked when he handed her the present, the overhead lights making his nose look slightly larger than it was. “Nah, he’s useless,” Jack replied. After ripping open the newspaper and finding a used copy of Gray’s Anatomy like the one her grandmother had on the bookshelf in her living room, Frances felt her stomach flutter. That night, right before the ambulance came, she kissed Jack for the first time while Sarah cheered them on from the corner.
“Hey,” Jack says, laundry basket in his arms, Frances lying on his bedroom floor. “What are you thinking about?”
“Do you use fabric softener?”
“Of course not, fabric softener contains neurotoxins,” Jack replies. He watches while Frances sits cross-legged again and while she picks up the deck of cards. “You wanna play Strip Poker?” he asks.
“Then what?” He sits next to her on the floor, his hand resting casually on her bare knee.
“I thought maybe we could tell fortunes,” Frances says. “Sarah taught me last week.”
“Sure, and then we can drive to the beach.”
Frances pushes his hand off her knee, but she misses him when he crosses the room to open a window. She finds the four Queens and turns them face-up on the floor. “Okay,” she says, “now you have to ask a question.”
“How bad will traffic be on the bridge?”
“It has to be a yes/no question.”
“Will traffic be bad on the bridge?”
She’s impressed that he doesn’t miss a beat, that he can rephrase his question so expertly. She wants to tell him this but instead asks him to concentrate and to choose a card from the deck, so he chooses the Three of Diamonds, and she places his card above the matching Queen of Diamonds. “Diamonds mean maybe,” she explains. “Traffic might be bad, might not.”
“That’s playing it kind of safe, don’t you think?”
“My turn,” Frances says. She squeezes her eyes tight until small tears begin to form, then chooses a card. It’s the Nine of Diamonds.
The night of her party, two years earlier, her father collapsed while making homemade popcorn over the stove. Frances heard the crash, then her mother’s screams. She rushed upstairs and saw her father lying stiff on the floor. She flung herself across his torso and felt her mother pulling her shoulders, trying to get her off him, but she knew blood wasn’t moving through his body, which meant no oxygen was getting to his heart, which meant his heart’s cells were dying rapidly and she didn’t know what kind of monkey tests had been done to shed light on the regeneration of a left ventricle.
She places the Nine of Diamonds above Jack’s Three of Diamonds and remembers thinking months after the funeral that her father would never have a conversation with Jack, would never know that Jack’s nose in fact was lovely, would never know that two days after the party, when she was sick with grief, Jack had quizzed her on the cellular make-up of bone marrow, would never know that she didn’t mind when Jack found out she used to think Gray’s Anatomy had been named after the television drama and not the other way around, would never know that Jack had figured out the streamers at her party were supposed to look like a stethoscope and not like a glazed doughnut or unambitious heart.
“No fair,” Jack says. “You need to ask your question out loud, that’s what I did.” His hand rests on her knee again.
“Well? What did you ask?”
“Give me a minute,” Frances says and breathes more heavily than she would like. “Will you and I have a baby?”
Jack squeezes her knee and sort of lies on top of her. “I hope so, Frannie girl,” he whispers while shifting his weight, “I hope so.”
“No,” Frances says, “I meant will we have a baby now.”
“Well, in seven months,” she says with finality.
Years ago, Frances’s parents took her and Sarah to the beach. They drove over the bridge, then parked the old station wagon in Field Three and carried chairs and a cooler up wooden stairs and over dunes to a spot near the lifeguard. Her parents spread a blanket over the sand and Frances watched while her mother touched the back of her father’s neck and whispered something in his ear. “What’s up?” Frances asked, but her mother took out a magazine and leaned into her chair. Later, Frances watched while her mother offered her father a sandwich. “Can I have one?” she asked, but her mother closed the cooler and looked to the waves. In the silence following her proclamation in Jack’s bedroom, Frances wonders if her mother wished that day that Frances would get sucked into those waves, or discreetly swallow enough neurotoxin to reduce her brain-energy metabolism, or do anything to disappear so her mother could make popcorn alone with her father every night before climbing into their great big bed.
“A baby in seven months,” Jack repeats. “Teeth are forming right now, an inner ear, even sex organs.” He pauses, then moves his hand to her belly. “May I?”
“You’re being awfully formal,” Frances says, but she lets his fingers make small circles on the skin under her t-shirt.
“What now?” Jack asks.
“What do you mean?”
His fingers linger on her belly and he slides closer so her head can rest against his shoulder. “My grandmother left me her ring,” he says. “Frannie girl, that ring is yours.”
Earlier that week, when Frances was doing her own laundry, her mother and grandmother were making grilled-cheese sandwiches upstairs in the kitchen. “I miss him,” she heard her mother say. “You need to take care of Frances,” her grandmother replied. “You always think of her, never of me,” her mother said. Frances opened a new box of fabric softener and thought about putting a sheet in with her mother’s underwear. Instead, she closed the box and hid it behind some old pipes.
“That ring is yours,” Jack repeats. She holds his hand and looks into his eyes, which remind her of her father’s eyes, brown like dirt overturned to dig a hole deep enough for a coffin. She remembers that shortly after she watched that coffin go into the ground, her grandmother pushed her stethoscope across the kitchen table. “It’s yours now,” she said to Frances, “I was alone, but I used this every day in my practice, it kept me company.” Frances remembers thinking her grandmother wasn’t alone, not really, because she had Frances’s mother, just like Frances’s mother wasn’t alone because she had Frances.
“Your eyes are like dirt,” she says to Jack, then regrets it, but he smiles.
“Freshly-turned dirt,” he says, “earthworms expanding and contracting their bodies to burrow and make things grow.”
Frances wonders how she got so lucky, how she found someone who understands her so well. “Yes,” she says.
“Yes to earthworms?”
“Yes to the ring.”
Later that afternoon Sarah braids her hair. “You really said yes?” Sarah asks while placing her hands firmly on Frances’ scalp. “What about college? What about med school? Why didn’t you use the cards, do more fortunes, don’t you think that would have been wise?”
“I’m serious. Diamonds mean maybe, Hearts mean yes, Spades mean no, Clubs mean probably, you just match your cards, they make the decision for you, it’s easy, you can’t go wrong.”
“I said yes.”
“Did you mean it?”
Frances looks down at her hands. “I don’t know,” she says. A year after her father died, she overhead her mother talking on the phone with her grandmother. “It’s hard for me, it’s hard for all women,” she heard her mother say. “Not you, you became a doctor, you beat the system, but—” Her mother stopped talking, and Frances wondered what system she might have meant, or what she might have realized that shut her up. Later that night, Frances decided to beat the system herself. She took off Jack’s jeans for the first time, let him take off her underwear, told him she loved him and that she wanted to experience penetrative sexual intercourse.
“I think I meant yes,” Frances continues while Sarah still braids her hair, “but I don’t know.”
“Why not?” Sarah asks.
“What if I’m like my grandma?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if I become a doctor and stop loving Jack, or care so much about being a doctor that I don’t pay attention to it? Or if I’m like my mom and love my husband but don’t ever really love it?”
Sarah’s eyes get all misty. “That’s a baby, Frannie,” she says, “not an it.”
“It’s a fetus, maybe even an embryo, but not a baby, and I can get an abortion.” Sarah pulls hard on Frances’s newly-braided hair and Frances welcomes the pain.
The next day, she sits at her grandmother’s kitchen table and looks out the window while her grandmother boils water. She watches a squirrel circle up a black locust and thinks about the locust’s trunk, wide and sturdy, almost threatening with its weight. By the time her grandmother brews two cups of chamomile, Frances is kneeling outside on the patio studying a pile of dirt. “Frannie,” her grandmother says, “what’s wrong?”
“It’s these earthworms,” Frances says through tears, the black locust looming over her head. “I think they’re copulating.”
“No, look, they’re lined up with their backs against each other, facing different directions, that means they’re copulating,” Frances continues. “Did you know earthworms are hermaphrodites? Did you know they have both male and female sex organs?”
“I know, Frannie.”
“And they make this thing called a slime tube, kind of like mucous, and they each ejaculate into the slime tube, sending sperm into the other earthworm’s sperm receptacle?”
“Frannie, what’s wrong?” Frannie leans back into her heels and starts making small noises. Her grandmother puts down the tea cups and kneels beside her, holding Frances’s damp face and rubbing her cool fingers into the back of Frances’s shoulder. “What is it?”
“Why did you have mom?”
“Is she at you again?”
“No, I want to know why you had her, you didn’t want her, you know you didn’t want her, that she would get in your way, but you had her anyway, why?”
Her grandmother pulls back and brushes some of Frances’s hair from her face. “Frannie, I did want your mother, I love your mother, what’s this all about?”
“Do you remember when I was younger and used to work with you?” Frances says. “You used to let me take your patients’ blood pressure, you taught me how to find their pulses and how to hold the stethoscope over their arteries, the same stethoscope you gave me after Dad died?”
“I’d listen until I could hear the first pulse beat and then listen until I couldn’t hear anything at all, that’s how I read their systolic and their diastolic pressures, how I read the way their blood moved through their bodies, everything was so precise, everything was so clear.”
“That’s when I realized, even though I didn’t have the words,” Frances says, then looks again at the black locust, and at the maple just beyond, its branches fanning out from its trunk.
“That I wanted to be a doctor, like you.” Her grandmother rises and carries a steaming cup of chamomile to where Frances still sits huddled on the patio. “Why can’t we be like earthworms?” Frances says. “Why can’t we share slime tubes so everyone has eggs and everyone’s eggs get fertilized?”
That night, Frances and Sarah make popcorn over the stove. Sarah rambles on about the Ten of Clubs she drew after asking if some boy in their U.S. History class last year would break her heart, about how thin the card was, its paper face already bent with time, while Frances thinks about her father and his heart, cracked open like paper, like a broken kernel of corn. “It’s not fair,” Frances whispers.
“No kidding it’s not fair, why can’t boys step up? I don’t mean Jack, he’s one in a million, I mean normal boys, boys who don’t know how many bones are in their feet.”
While Frances melts butter for the popcorn, she wonders if her mother only had room to love her father, and if her grandmother only had room to love her work, and if traits like the capacity to love a child have a genetic component. She puts the popcorn bowl on the coffee table and goes into the bathroom to throw up.
In the morning, she notices the veins in her breasts and that she has gained two pounds. She takes out a deck of cards and pulls a Six of Spades which means abortion is no longer an option, which means she needs a new idea. Her grandmother’s car isn’t in the driveway when she arrives, so she sneaks around back. In the yard, she touches the black locust as if listening for that first pulse, that first marker of systolic pressure, but she keeps her eyes focused on the maple and its outstretched branches.
Getting to the first branch is easy. From there, she holds onto the trunk with one hand and feels for the next branch with the other, then pulls her body up again, then again, then again, until she’s sixteen-and-a-half feet from the ground, three times her body height. She makes sure soft grass is below before pressing her back into the trunk. Eyes closed, she pretends she’s an earthworm sending sperm into her mate’s receptacle, sending her uterus into her mate’s receptacle, sending her embryo, her fetus, her baby into her mate’s receptacle. She imagines the dirt and the slime and the release. Then, positioning her body so she doesn’t land on her neck or head, she jumps.
When Jack finds her, ten minutes after she texts him, she’s lying on her side in the grass, unable to move. “The cards didn’t work so I needed to figure out another way to beat the system,” she says, “and I might have killed our baby.” Jack moves to cradle her in his arms. “No,” she says, “lie next to me, but behind me, and face the other direction.”
“Like earthworms?” he asks. “When they copulate?”
Her back pressed against his back, she takes his hand and pulls it around to her slightly swelled belly while the locust, tall and forbidding, reaches for the sky.
Maria Brandt has published plays, fiction, and nonfiction in several literary magazines, including InDigest, Rock & Sling, Arts & Letters, Prime Number Magazine, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, VIDA, and upstreet. Most recently, her collection New York Plays was produced by Out of Pocket Productions and published by Heartland Plays, and her novella All the Words won the Grassic Short Novel Prize. Maria teaches Creative Writing at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY and is a founding member of Straw Mat Writers. She lives just outside Highland Park with her son William.
To be in the presence of Matt Courtney’s ceramic art is to be embraced by a feeling at once familiar and unanticipated — a sensation that comes not only by directly looking, but also sensed, unsolicited, out of the corner of the eye. It’s a kind of well-being and heightened awareness that can happen while sitting outdoors, perhaps beside a percolating stream or a mile-wide river: small wonders, big sky. It’s all good.
Almost instinctively, Courtney’s ceramic pieces bring that palpable sensation indoors, where they acquire something domestic, grounded in a place that feels like home. That hits home.
Our connection with ceramic objects has always been like this. For millennia we humans have lived with objects made of clay. Fashioned with purpose and imagination, they have accumulated in our living spaces around needs of food and shelter, desire and memory. To live by the possibilities of clay is, really, to live by the possibilities of art: clay objects take the shape of our lives while shaping the course of our lives, and ultimately become the tangible signifiers of the art of living.
How fortunate, then, to encounter Courtney’s ceramic works at a place called the House Gallery — a gallery that’s actually the real-life home of Henry Bermudez and Michelle Marcuse. Located at 1816 Frankford Avenue, it’s in the heart of Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.
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Inside the living room at House Gallery
Knock on the door, enter a tile-lined foyer, and step inside. You’re now in the wide-open living room of a typical Philly row house, with an antique fireplace and Grotrian-Steinweg grand piano at one end, and a renovated eat-in kitchen at the other. The morning sun pours through windows while a white cat (“Bobby”) spies from the top of the stairs (there are, in all, three cats living here, it turns out). Meanwhile, one of Courtney’s three-headed camels peers out the window; there’s construction going on down the block.
This is the House Gallery, a non-commercial gallery in a private residence where established Philadelphia artists have the opportunity to show their work as “house guests,” and where First Friday openings are just like house parties. It’s a work of love — and vision. Henry, who’s from Venezuela, and his wife Michelle, from South Africa, are both artists (Henry represented Venezuela in the 1986 Venice Biennale and met Michelle at his first solo show in Philadelphia). Seven years ago Henry and Michelle had the idea of re-imagining their living space, not just for themselves, but as a shared “open salon” for artists, an everyday, comfortable meeting place where neighbors and artists could rub shoulders. Today, original details of the house — the faux marble of the fireplace, carved chestnut staircase railings, and worn hardwood floors — blend in seamlessly with the scrubbed white walls and sleek modernist kitchen. It all feels “lived in,” just as Courtney’s work feels “lived with.” A perfect match.
“Four Spires” at the House Gallery at 1816 Frankford Avenue
Stepping back, the House Gallery is also a refreshing assertion about how to experience art in our daily lives. It’s not an entirely new idea — think of the princely collectors centuries ago whose sumptuous palazzi became the museums and galleries of today — but it’s perhaps a more nobly aspirational one, presenting art and artists in a more intimate, immediately accessible way.
Accessibility is absolutely central to Courtney’s artworks. First off, they’re made of clay, a timeless, universal material with a long, built-in history of familiar human connections. Then, his objects are always immediately recognizable: game balls from various sports, human figures, animals, vessel forms. Additionally, he makes work at scales meant to inhabit living spaces as gracefully as gallery spaces. Ultimately, there’s an underlying human authenticity at work here: artworks sprouted from daily life, planted in real-life contexts, and holding their own among the overgrown artifices of the art market’s gallery scene.
Minoan Octopus Urn With Skydivers
Courtney’s subjects are firmly rooted in real life, specifically his childhood, where he spent his time at home drawing, playing sports, and exploring the nearby woods. An important part of his art practice is about maintaining that innocence, a sense of wonder and play while making art, even after years of formal education, teaching, and residencies abroad. One technique is to use molds — industrial molds, molds he makes of everyday objects, molds he makes of his own pieces — to create multiple parts which are then assembled in seemingly random ways. The results: improvised replications and reconstructions of memory and instinct. Another technique involves creating large clay tubular cylinders, and allowing them to slump naturally while still wet; these can be assembled to become deformed rockets, statements about power and its contradictions (and a nod to his childhood hobby with model rockets). Another is to “raw fire” his pieces, a process that’s risky because moisture trapped inside the clay may not have time to burn off, resulting in mini explosions inside the kiln. Life happens, his pieces insist.
While many artists look to art for inspiration, Courtney is most informed by the lives of people he knows — friends, fellow teachers, or former college roommates, such as Susie Brandt, a fiber artist whose commitment to art is about investigating her family history and her mother’s dedication to the household. “Susie Brandt was my roommate for a year when I was at Philadelphia College of Art,” Courtney remembers. “She taught me about the importance of making art, that it was a serious thing, not a frivolous thing. The beginnings of my art making and thinking began with me trying to find a connection to my past that was at the foundation of the person I had become, similar to Susie’s connection to her mother’s skill at running a household.”
Early on, then, the domestic, lived-with vibe was there. It’s the human connection that matters, the conversation in the room.
“Another big influence was Kirk Mangus,” Courtney continues. “Kirk was my graduate school professor at Kent State and was hugely influential. I had an odd relationship with Kirk. I really admired him as an artist and teacher but it seemed as though he was always disappointed in me. He was very hesitant to tell any of us that he thought we were making good stuff. It wasn’t until much later that I heard from Eva (his wife) that he thought we (Monica Zimmerman, Keaton Wynn, and I) were the best students to come through Kent. His main teaching method was to come into the graduate studios where he also had a studio and talk about things like poetry, Greek history, or Korean folk pottery.” (Kirk Mangus passed away in 2013; read Matt’s moving — and funny — tribute here.)
“Another person is John Parris. He’s a high school friend with whom I do collaborations. John came with me down to Georgia to do a residency at Keaton’s school. We are currently brainstorming ideas for a new collaboration. John works like Keaton: idea, then drawing, then art. I seem to just start with clay and then the ideas develop.”
Courtney’s conscious decisions around intention, material, and process allow for the incidental and the accidental — the non-scripted, the unplanned — and this in turn allows for a sly, playful ambiguity in his works because they can never quite be taken literally. Layered and metaphoric, while emphatically real, they tease our curiosity, tacitly prompting multiple reactions and interpretations. In a medium in which “everything has been said and done before,” Courtney thinks of it as jazz improvisation, letting himself and others have their own spin. (His late father was a musician who played upright bass in the Philadelphia Orchestra.)
“The not knowing is part of what excites me about making my work,” says Courtney. “It’s also a source of anxiety. I get very very bored when I know what it’s about. But, not knowing puts me in a bind when people ask me about my work, because I’m not sure. Not knowing makes the work alive for me but I feel uneasy not being able to give a quick and clear answer when I’m asked.”
“I’m most comfortable when I’m making art,” he confesses. “My studio’s in my basement, where I have four kilns. Plus, my side yard, where many of my pieces live outdoors.” One such piece, a massive series of chains, dominates an entire wall at the House Gallery. Each link is handmade, weighty and weathered, splotched here and there with a green mossy coating that naturally thrives on terra cotta that’s been left outside through summers and winters.
Small wonders, big sky. It’s all good.
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During this holiday season, you may find yourself sitting in front of a cozy fire, or wanting some company while sitting in front of a computer screen. If so, grab your headphones and settle into this lively, free-wheeling living-room conversation between artist Matt Courtney and DJ Ed Feldman on The Morning Feed show on G-Town Radio, where they share insights and commentary on everything from Chinese politics and Western aesthetics to Philly football and Czech beer. Enjoy!
Matthew Courtney lives and works in Philadelphia as a sculptor and teacher. He received his BS at the University of the Arts and his MFA at Kent State University. A recipient of several fellowships and residencies, he currently teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of the Arts, and Drexel University. Courtney’s recent exhibitions in Philadelphia include New Work (House Gallery) and Divergences (Cerulean Gallery). In 2015 and 2017 he was selected as artist-in-residence at Lanzhou City University in Lanzhou, China, where his work was exhibited in Post Painted Pottery. View Courtney’s complete works at matthewcourtneyart.com/home.html
List of Works:
1. Antarctic Moon, ceramic, 36 x 60 x 9″ (2014)
2. All World Camel, ceramic, 20 x 15 x 10″ (2015)
3. Four Spires, terracotta, each rocket approximately 60 x 20 x 20″ (2016)
4. Minoan Octopus Urn With Skydivers, ceramic, 24 x 8 x 8″ (2012-2017)
5. Camel Triptych, ceramic, 10 x 26 x 7″ (2017)
6. Six Pin, mixed media (clay, wood, glass), 12 x 26 x 8″ (2017)
7. Ship Chain, ceramic, 96 x 120 x 24″ (1994-2016)
Like fresh snow covering over a messy urban landscape, there’s a kind of concealing but also unifying quality to the fourteen central images of Emily Steinberg’s “Berlin Story.” Following a four-panel introduction, in which our narrator introduces herself as having grown up an anxious, fearful depressive, lost in the grip of, among other things, the “images of death, murder and gratuitous Nazi sadism” shown to her in Hebrew school, we are presented with still portrayals of an uninhabited, idyllic setting.
Each drawing, contained in an unframed rectangle, presents its viewers with a narrowed angle, or point of view, proximate to or regarding the famous Wannsee Villa, a mansion located in the suburbs of Berlin. The drawings are in black and white, cramped with details composed from demarcated lines, some of them even slightly wobbly marks. From four cherubs adorning the villa’s rooftops to two tree trunks gracefully tilting somewhere in the vicinity of the house grounds, we glimpse this locale as either a deliberately or unintentionally naive visitor might; this is a structure embodying decadence and wealth, good taste and fine craftsmanship. Here is a sculpture to admire, swaddled in a bouquet of well-groomed foliage. Here is a fine urn, hefty, ornamented, inviting contemplation. We walk its grounds, invited to by our guide. We revel in its beauty.
Still, none of this history seems teachable, transmittable. Steinberg’s sequence reveals how, despite all efforts to the contrary, despite all inclinations to conceal, the horror nonetheless lives on.
The handwritten dispatches, scrawled sometimes beneath and sometimes beside these postcard pictures, interrupt our reverie. “On Tuesday, 20 January 1942 at noon, Reinhard Heydrich, S.S., unveiled the extermination policy for Europe’s Jewish population, euphemistically known as the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, to leaders of the Nazi Party, over a pleasant lunch.”
What’s startling is that with these words, the images don’t suddenly transform; no visible traces of that exchange, or its consequences, are apparent in the pictures here, even in the intimate and exhaustively rendered tiny lines, the single- and cross-hatches of our once-depressive guide, who has “never completely” let go of those horrifying images presented to her in her youth, part of her Jewish heritage. The words tell us not only, or simply, of the terribleness, but instead fill us in on details presumably meant to help us picture what is, in fact, impossible to conjure up. Thirteen men, officials, ranging from thirty-two to fifty-two years old, gathered for a ninety-minute meeting dedicated, in part, to discussing the eradication of Jews. A thirty-six year-old Adolph Eichmann was charged with taking minutes. “There is no record of what was served for lunch that day,” another narrative accompaniment tells us. “The waiters served cognac, butlers and adjutants gave out liquor.” Ultimately, neither images nor words, here or elsewhere, can fully convey to us what took place, can help us imagine what is unimaginable.
On the fiftieth anniversary of the conference, the Wannsee Villa was finally made into an educational and memorial site. Another quarter of a century has now passed. Still, none of this history seems teachable, transmittable. Steinberg’s sequence reveals how, despite all efforts to the contrary, despite all inclinations to conceal, the horror nonetheless lives on.