So it’s been awhile….

When He Died

When my husband died, my mouth wasn’t big enough for the scream.

Life can be a real rollercoaster ride. Seriously. I typically love rollercoasters, but not this one.

My beloved husband of fifteen years passed away from airway obstruction.  The saddest part was that his death was unnecessary; we live in a trailer park, due to finances.  The EMT”s decided that because we live in a trailer park, that he was a drug addict and treated choking as an OD, which killed him.

The lesson here is that assumptions can kill. Yes, they sure can.  The war on drugs has turned us into a society that lacks empathy.  The bias these EMT’s had proved to be deadly, and according to the autopsy, incorrect. He had no drugs in his system other than his prescribed bipolar meds.

So, as in all things, art is the medium of my expression.  I can’t do this any other way.

Justine Olivier, Work in Progress

20150311_164547[1]Justine is coming along nicely; the last of her little flowers were put in place today. Maybe. I reserve the right to add to them, if it looks like they need them, come morning.

Now it’s the leaves to do. Those are also going to be a project, in and of themselves.  Lots of leaves, in different shades of green, all over her.

The front is doing fine; the map is almost done, the sea is left as well as her hair and hands. Those hands have been the very devil to cast! Who knew?!

More pics to follow, as she progresses.

Secrets and Lies, GearCon 2015 PDX

GearCon is here again, and I got an invitation! I had fun at the last GearCon exhibition, so this one ought to be a good time, too.

The theme of the art show this year is “Secrets and Lies”. How appropriate, I thought. I’ve been finding out all of these family secrets that were deliberately lied about.  That goes right along, in my mind, with the secrets and lies that underpin most of secrets_lies2015-02-11 12.43.41 civilization_done_tile

the civilizations that we humans have come up with.  There’s a lot of bodies that are buried, no matter where one looks. In this case, I’ve used a Western woman, one that is French, to symbolize the West.  We see this symbol in the statue of Liberty, in the famous painting of Liberty overrunning the walls, in Revolutionary  France.

The French were the worst of the lot, when it came to slavery.  The estimates are that they enslaved approximately 1.5 million people.  The United States came nowhere near those numbers, in the total of people enslaved.

Now the piece is sitting, curing. In about two days, after the cure, she gets her grout. I’m using a charcoal colored grout; I could have used a white, but that is not the blood and bone that has created the foundations of our society. Nope. Black bodies, Chinese bodies, Native bodies (lots of Native bodies), all watered the roots of American prosperity, often without getting to share in that prosperity.

This piece is about that, as well as the secrets and lies in my own family, and the many other families that are out there, with ancestors they can’t find.

Busy day!

justines_faceToday has been a pretty productive day! this is Justine’s face, with mica pigments fused in the kiln on her lips and eye lids.

Justine got her final sanding, and I glued her face onto the form. It came out really well; the face is better than expected, I just have the hands to do.

justine_form

Those hands! What a challenge those have been! I’ve cast them twice now; there will be a third time!  This time, I’m going to drop the temp and keep the hold time the same. Maybe this will be the winning combo!

I’m working on another mosaic, for the 2015 Gearcon, themed Secrets and Lies. I think that’s a great title for the mosaic, especially considering the things I’ve learned about my family, these last few weeks.

secrets_lies What you can’t see, at this time, are the skulls that are in the lower right hand corner. Those are about the bodies buried beneath not just my family history, but the blood, bone and flesh that most civilizations are founded upon. I used a white woman, because of my family history.  The Chesse family  is deep in the history of Louisiana and New Orleans, in particular.

The French were deep into the slave trade, far more than the American south.  The French enslaved approximately 1.5 million souls. My family has both the slave, and the slaver, in our veins. My branch was officially “Black” until my great grandparents figured out how to game the system, so to speak.  When they got pregnant with my grandmother, they moved out of NoLa, and to Providence, Rhode Island, until after the birth.

Since my Nanan was passe blanc, and her husband was all white, they were able to pull it off, thereby ensuring that their daughter was not bound by the Jim Crow laws. I get it, I totally do, but I sure wish I were able to have known some of the family that was left in Louisiana.

Now, about another one of those famous relatives….

Peter Albin, of Big Brother and the Holding Company, is one of those talented people in my family tree. Just a couple of days ago, he and his band lost a friend and fellow member. I feel bad for them; it hurts like Hell to lose a life partner, whether that partner was a friend, a colleague or a lover, it’s never easy.

As a kid, I had all of their work on vinyl. ALL of it. In fact, my neighbors hated “Summertime”. Really, really hated it, because I played ruts in that disc!

I’ve had this album on vinyl, 8 track, cassette, CD and now, I have it digitally as well as on my Spotify playlists. When that guitar plays, those notes always gave me goosebumps! It’s in my will, that that’s the song they send my ashes off to the next adventure with.

Who knows what’s after this life; I’m in no hurry to find out, but I will say, I am in, and always have been, in love with that song. It just says freedom, but a bittersweet freedom to me.

Here’s Justine’s face:

More on Justine’s progress

More of Ralph’s work. Jacob and the Angel 1950

This post today will talk about more of the process for Justine, and some more about those relatives!

First I’m going to start with cousin Ralph Chesse. He was not just a Creole, but an artist of great talent.  He is also another direct descendent of Justine, the mother of a large part of this family tree. He was her great grandson ( I may have that screwed up but I don’t think so).

Here is a link to a site that deals in his work, I’ve met one of his art dealers and he was a very nice man, committed to his work and his artists. Disclaimer, I’m not 100% sure that the link and the man I met, are the same.

http://www.annexgalleries.com/artists/biography/409/Chesse/Ralph

There is a whole lot of important information that has been expertly compressed into one regular sized web page.

Here’s more of Ralph’s work and more of his history.  http://chesseartsltd.com/

Ralph Chesse was a pleasant surprise. He is deceased, he died in 1990, but  his work speaks to the man, in many ways.  He was also a WPA artist, with a mural at the Coit Tower in Sand Francisco.

Part of the mural that Ralph did for the WPA at the Coit Tower in San Francisco

I was so surprised to find out that my family was instrumental in the founding of New Orleans, as well as fighting in the Battle of New Orleans against the British. It was the last attempt of the British to retake the colonies; many free men of color fought in that battle, a point they made sure that President Lincoln knew when they sent that petition for civil rights to him.

My Nanan, my great grand’mere, is listed as “Black” on her birth records in the city of New Orleans.  Let me tell you! There has been some serious denial regarding this particular bit o’ history!

I get my information from government records, whilst some of my relatives are totally not good with this. I will say, I do have a gift for researching records and topics; knowing how to cross reference is a talent, much like art.

I get it, I do. At my age, I understand why my granddad did not tell me the whole story. He told me I wasn’t all white and had some black (his words) in me, but he sure left a lot out. He was part Native and that had been a problem for him; he also saw the crap one of my schoolmates and a neighbor had to deal with, as a mixed race.  She was called some pretty bad names and treated pretty badly.  She was a lot nicer than me; my fists were fast and unpredictable.  I do understand why granddad was cagey about it.

I also get that to be able to pass was to be able to sit at the lunch counter; it was access to privileges and to status that is automatically afforded to those of us of the very light persuasion, whether we realize that or not. So I understand the upset. I won’t pander to it, though. I have been looking at the records, at pictures from very long ago, and we Creoles have, to me, some distinctive features; our face shape, our cheekbones, with skin running the gamut from my fish belly white to rather dark.

It has been a rabbit hole for me.  A good one, but still a rabbit hole.

So, onto Justine!

Here are images of the fiberglassing:

10885191_10153503683897977_1031187226838478127_n10931004_10153503683822977_6754573808877402352_n10933975_10153520807092977_8227684107466335413_n10933760_10153503684007977_9199385537676604216_n; This is the fiberglass over the resin soaked canvas, like making a canvas canoe.  The plastic wrap, in the third picture, causes the fiberglass to cure quickly.
At this point, I’ve just done the dress; her neck, head and hands come later.

More on that next post.

It’s been awhile, but MAN! has it been interesting!!

I started grad school, for psychology, last September. Part of that was a family of origin project. My knowledge of my family has always been kinda sketchy. I knew I had some African American, but I had no idea how much, and exactly how it got there.

So I signs myself up for an account on Ancestry.com, to fill in the blanks; this project had to go back at least three generations, I went back four.

WOW! I was floored at what I found! First, that I have a lot of African in my heritage and I am actually a Creole. My third great grandmother came into the USA as a slave, from Cuba. I found out that I come from a long line of people “of color” as the records from Louisiana say.

I found out that I have some pretty talented relatives; Peter Albin from Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Matt Chesse, a very talented film editor; Ralph Chesse, a painter, and his son, Bruce, a powerful creative force in his own right, with puppetry.

I also have made contact with Bruce, who I have come to love, very much. All of it was worth it just to meet him! We have a connection; we both love art, puppets and life.
I haven’t met the other relatives, but I would like to sometime.
I also have found out that my family has been intimately involved in the fight for civil rights, from a petition signed by many of them, that was sent to President Lincoln, in order to get the vote for African Americans and Creole peoples. I had relatives marching with Dr. King. I’m pretty proud of them.

I’ve been working on a new piece about my third great grandmother, Justine Olivier. I’m doing a mosaic, a dress that is shaped to reflect the three sails of the ship that most likely brought her to New Orleans. It was very powerful to see her name on a slave manifest. I’m very light; almost fish belly white, sadly. This part of my heritage was really a taboo subject in my family.

This piece is 3D, and will be lit from within, with the light concentrated in the center, and directed towards her face. Her face will light the topsails.
Here are images of the piece’s progress:

10174809_10153474582807977_6548053395551359673_n    These images are of the draping process. I used canvas in order to get the folds and the drape that I wanted. I used canvas because it was easier to work with initially than glass cloth.

10896955_10153474580242977_2528717267204771554_n10891585_10153474870327977_6283707308058986807_n

10891429_10153474870082977_7541540835200778158_n  After the canvas was draped, I then coated the canvas in fiberglass resin. That gave me a workable surface that takes a bit of time to harden, even with curing agent. That is the point, though, because it gives me a chance to soak the canvas, then to work it into what I want.

Next is the glass cloth and the fiberglass resin.

More on that tomorrow!

Back to working on an orca.

It’s not the big orca, that one is going to require a scaffolding to fiberglass the form.

Nope. This is a little orca,  one of five, for a piece with a pod, that will hang from a ceiling. I’m also going to use this little form, about 24″, to make an art piece that incorporates water, somehow.

There is an idea, amorphous at this point, kinda roaming around in my brain. I’ll let it swim for awhile and then try to corral it.

Here’s an image of the first orca. It’s wrapped in plastic because that cuts it off from oxygen, which makes the fiberglass cure faster and if one has too little catalyst in the resin, it also helps it harden.

It’s a good idea to have a sheet of plastic around. Nice thing, is one can reuse that sheet over and over again.

The resin doesn’t stick to it after it hardens. I usually take a scraper to the forms after they dry, because the resin will harden in the shape of the creases of the plastic it’s wrapped in. A clay scraper, the one with the wooden handle and the double edged scraping blade, is the best. I also use a hooked knife for linoleum, as a scraper and to cut away rough edges. It does a great job!

Orca form

Orca form, wrapped in plastic

I present to you, Her Majesty, Elizabeth Tudor, in illuminated glass…

This piece is to pay homage to a woman I’ve always admired, Elizabeth I. The only good thing to come out of Henry IIIV, in my opinion.

She was a woman that had to survive in a minefield. It was a wonder that she made it to the throne. I can completely understand her frustration with her gender and with the role that being female forced on her. I totally understand why she didn’t marry. In her position, I wouldn’t have either.

So, here we go. The name of the piece is Glorianna.

“Gloriana was the name given by the 16th-century poet Edmund Spenser to his character representing Queen Elizabeth I in his poem The Faerie Queene. It became the popular name given to Elizabeth I. It is recorded that the troops at Tilbury hailed her with cries of “Gloriana, Gloriana, Gloriana”, after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. “

Wikipedia, reference.

 She is illuminated, like all of my mosaics, with LED lights, that are supposed to last a very long time.

Her ruff is made of lace, satin, silk and cotton. She has a green brocade back, hand sewn with gold metallic thread, and silk. Her lace is made of wide cotton, in the style of the era. All is hand-sewn with silk thread.

For reasons known only to WordPress, the two images below won’t sit next to one another, not like the bottom images. I have no idea, and after a very long time fooling around with this, I give up!

Front view, Tudor roses in honor of Elizabeth I.

Rear view of Glorianna

Side viewSide view 2, Glorianna

Elizabeth was a fascinating character. She was a survivor, no doubt. She was raised in a metaphorical piranha pool that was called the English royal court. She survived to rule for over 44 years.
She managed to remain unmarried, and therefore, the sole power on the throne. This is really not surprising. She had many reasons to not want a man in power over her.

Her own mother was beheaded by her father, her sister, Mary, had seen her mother put aside, as well. Because Elizabeth was a woman, she had to endure a daily life that required hypervigilance. It was very easy to lose one’s head, literally, in Mary’s court.
In fact, it was no picnic to have been under her brother, either. When he died, leaving the throne to Lady Jane Grey, who ended up beheaded, that most likely reinforced to Elizabeth that the status of women was fluid and totally up to the men in power over those women.

So no, I can completely understand why Elizabeth, after having achieved the stability as queen, would be determined to not share that power. To share was to lose her stability. To be sole ruler was to be in control of her own destiny.

I would have acted the same way. In fact, I have. I grew up during the Sixties and Seventies. At that time, it wasn’t easy to be a woman. We still have pay inequality, we still have laws that favor men in many domains, from employment to domestic to civil law.

Our culture, in many ways, would be very recognizable to the Elizabethan. We are bawdy, as were they. We are vain, and like our costume, as did they. Women are still not equal to men and that also is the same. In many ways, we are going backwards.

The current political climate has reduced women in many states, to being nothing more than a vessel. We see a religious push that is not biblically based, that opposes birth control. In the Old Testament, God gives a recipe to induce abortion. I suspect that means that God is down with abortion AND birth control. Where they get the idea that God worships the fetus is beyond me. God actually is pretty good with infanticide. I point to the order to Joshua to bash out the brains of infants.

This is the kind of thing that has stuck with us. That is the kind of thing that shaped Elizabeth. In her place, I suspect I would have done the same, refused marriage and kept the power to myself.

It was then and now, the best way for a woman to stay safe.

The artist, FREED!!!

I am a newer person. I had surgery on July 1, to free the nerves that control my arms, from the bony prison they were encased in. I had lost a lot of function and the pain, well, I was ready to chew my arms off to stop it.

No MORE! That wonderful surgeon, Dr. Soldevilla, has freed them from their prison! I can PAINT AGAIN!!

I have oils, encaustics and torches, awaiting my attentions. Oh YEAH.

I can play with fire again. I LOVE my torches, and I have some visions of melding mosaics with encaustics….

I am one happy little artist. 🙂

Moving right along…

I have all of the mosaic work done, except for the rest of the little faces. Once those are done, then I can mount it in a frame, I’m leaning towards oak, as oak is tough, sturdy stuff that grows all over the place, like people.

Oak is a beautiful wood, one that is fine grained, which is what makes it a hardwood, and that makes it tough.

Today I spent working on the little faces. I have all of the male faces done, now I just need to finish the female faces.

I do each one separately, each is about an inch and a half high. I like to do them in clay, because the wax is hard to detail like the clay.

The clay lovingly accepts the strokes from my tools, my fingertips. The clay takes one twist to completely change the entire face; a twisted lip, an eyebrow raised, all of these change the little faces and make them individual.

After each is done in the cast glass, then I’ll glue them to their spot on the tree. Someday I’m going to fire these little clay heads, in my ceramic kiln, to keep them safer.

For now, here’s images of today’s little faces. Clay female faces for the Tree

Some of the little clay female faces for the Tree.

The next step is to wait for these to dry out a bit, then to cover them in latex mold material. After the mold is made, then I’ll fill them with the brown casting wax. Then those go into the glass casting mold material.

Once the plaster hardens, I put these in a convection oven and melt out the wax, leaving the mold for the glass. The glass, in big chunks, goes into the space and at the end of all of this, we get glass heads, like so, see pic below.

Tomorrow I have three of these little ladies left to do, as well as the latex on the clay faces from today.

After that, then the braces across the back. I’ll be putting three across and one long down, to remove a slight bow from the glass. Glass is pretty heavy; it accumulates weight as we go and with the addition of the grout, it gets really heavy.

I’m looking forward to getting it in a frame, so I can get the backlighting done. These look pretty without light, but it’s the light through the glass, making the little flaws as part of the design, that sends these into the realm of art. The backlighting makes it or breaks it.

I’ll post the pics of it lit as soon as I get the piece with lights behind it. I’m a real fan of the LED lights. I like the pure blue quality of the light, the way it illuminates the glass without influencing the glass.

The color of the back lighting affects the color of the glass. A yellow light, the warm light, is useful for some glass, but for the mosaics with a lot of different colors and ranges of warm and cool color, the cool, white light LED’s are best.

They are more of a sun type light, which is really the best light, for color clarity, as long as its not too bright.

I also like the fact that the LED’s are dimmable, they are compact, and they last for years. I also like that they stay cool, so I don’t have to worry about heat. The pieces don’t get hot, so they stay safe, as well.

Safety means a lot to me, because people see these, and they are often compelled to touch them. They often extend their arms, with wide eyes and one finger outstretched to touch the piece. It’s like they just can’t help themselves, the light and the glass call to be touched. I feel that since I know that, it’s my responsibility to make the piece as safe as one can make a piece of art made out of broken glass.