April 2011

With Opa and Safta

Joey’s first passover was a tremendous success.  I’m not sure if he was more excited about his grandfather’s singing or about his grandmother’s cooking.  He didn’t mind having seven adults doting on him at all times either.


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In the abstract

Myrna asked in a comment a few weeks ago if I preferred realism to abstraction.

My first thought was “Well, my training was all in realism.”  My second thought was “When I was small, I used to watch my mother sketching, and I always wanted to be able to draw like her.”  And my third thought was that in some ways, what I want from art has changed, and in some ways it has not changed at all.

There are people who make things as a form of self-expression.  For me, it has always been about capturing something real.

Maybe that thing is the structure of the human hand, or maybe it is the way the light looks at four o-clock, or maybe it is the way a rainy afternoon makes me feel.

Recently, I’ve found myself wanting to make things that are more “abstract.”  I’m not quite sure why this is.  Maybe I’m bored with traditional landscapes.  Maybe it comes from looking at garments and thinking about color and proportion.  Maybe I just want to paint something *colorful* for a change.

But I find that abstraction is hard.  When I try to go think of abstract shapes I end up thinking of the things I know.  About shapes from science, or sewing, or places around Cambridge.

I also find that there are some I like more than others.  And that it is hard for me to articulate why some work and some don’t.  With a representational painting I can say well, the perspective is wrong or the color of the sky isn’t quite right.  Here what works or doesn’t is something more…abstract.

Maybe these little paintings are not so much abstractions as distillations.  And the thing I am trying to capture is what makes a visual scene appeal to me.

Or maybe I’m just looking for something I can finish during one of Joey’s naps.


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I’m finding this jacket to be very stressful.

It’s the details, I think.  I spent a lovely afternoon fitting and assembling the lining.  I worked slowly, pinching out a bit here, trimming the fabric from the lining, then making the same alterations to the shell pieces.  I find fitting to be very satisfying for some reason— the 3D form emerging from 2D pieces, recognizing my own shape in the space left by the pinches.  It feels like sculpture.  And since it was the lining, I didn’t stress the sewing too much.

But the outside is a different story.  All those pockets and flaps and topstitching!  A little wobble in my stitch is so much more obvious on an inch-wide flap than on a large side panel.  I remade the top pocket flaps once already, because my first attempt seemed so glaringly asymmetric.  And only after I had taken the picture at the top did I realize I had (a) topstitched the pocket and (b) sewn up the top of the flap, and that I need both of these to attach these pieces to the front of the jacket.

Maybe it’s an expression of how I’m feeling these days.  When I got back from maternity leave I started a new project at work.  For the past few months I’ve been doing “exploratory” experiments: trying something new every couple of days, testing out vague hypotheses, goofing around with stimuli.  Then a few weeks ago I decided it was time to get data.  Promptly, a critical piece of equipment failed.  My dissections disintegrated.  My stimuli proved to be out of my control.

Is that why I am so fixated on getting these flaps just right?  Do I think that if I can make my topstitching even, my cells will start to behave?  In grad school I learned to be wary of perfect.  If the goal of science is to learn something then I had to just leap in there and do the experiment.  I had to talk about my data before I understood it completely.  I had to share it with all its bumps and faults and artifacts.

I took that lesson back to art and used it to teach myself oil painting and sewing in what seems like a few short years.  But maybe (a part of me wonders) I am just being lazy.  Maybe if I were just a bit more dedicated I’d be further along in my experiments now.

So should I remake the flaps yet again or should I just pick apart the top seams and sew them down?

Maybe it will depend on how the next set of experiments goes…


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