I’ve been working at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse (PCCR) for over a year now, as a part of our Creative Education team. A super exciting development has happened in our center: PCCR has a new gallery space! Our second show ever is a staff show called Changes. I have two pieces in the show (above). In this post, I’ll show a little bit about how I made them!
My first piece is titled How Old Would You Be if You Didn’t Know How Old You Are. As part of being in the show, all of the materials are sourced from Creative Reuse. I started with a 4″ x 4″ black wooden keepsake box with Satchel Paige’s popular quote on the back of it in big block letters. My next piece of inspiration was a snapshot I found from 1984…
I am always inspired by the photographs people donate to us. I especially liked this photo because of the ghostliness of the girl. I wondered how old she turned in this photo. How does she feel about this birthday? Who did her beautiful hair? Is her dress white or pink? Is she smoking? (note what I think is an ash tray.) What’s in the basket? Did she get any birthday gifts?
I knew I wanted to recreate this photo in the “How Old” box. So I started with the background. I used fabric, plastic film, wood, mat board, and parts of the photo to make a miniature scene.
I drew the girl on illustration board with pencil. Then I painted over her with gouache and colored pencil. I drew her chair and glued it behind her. I made a decision to break conventional space and make her table a bird’s eye. I made her cake from two slices of cork, which I glued together and frosted with thick acrylic paint. Her candles are fun striped paperclips, cut and dipped in yellow paint for the flame. Her ash tray was sliced from a clear plastic cap. I painted it orange and made tiny cigarette butts from pieces of paper clip wrapped in masking tape and colored with markers and charcoal dust. Her gift is a Scrabble tile wrapped in stationary paper.
My second piece is titled The History of Liberalism (Mather Point). Again, it began with the substrate. My wheels started turning was when I discovered that a hardback book cover could fit perfectly in a wooden frame I had. I’ve long loved painting on book covers. Give them a few coats of gesso, and it’s quite like canvas.
Here was the assemblage I envisioned. I knew I wanted to attached a glasses case to the frame. I did not yet know the content to come in this piece, until I fell in love with a page from an old magazine with a beautiful photo of a snowy, alien landscape. Where is this misty, crystalline place, I wondered? South America? Mongolia? Mercury?
And then I looked at the flip side of the tree photo and read that it was a winter view of Mather Point, in the Grand Canyon! And the people on the rim were looking at this view. I couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was. I must pay homage to these photographs. They struck me very deeply.
I started by decoupaging my frame with pieces of halftone paper, harvested from a giant print of Daisies. I liked how they tied my two pieces together. I gave the frame a coat of gesso to soften the pattern. Then I painted the top half of the book cover with the scene of the tree, with loyalty to the picture. For the bottom half, I had the idea to cut pieces of book jackets and stitch them together to look like the dessert shrubs. I also cut up some of my old palettes. (Pro Tip: Use old binders as paint palettes!) I pulled them all together with some embroidery…
For the glasses case, I painted the scene of the onlookers. I made it dimensional by taking pieces of foam core and gluing sandpaper to them, to look like canyon rocks. I added details with colored pencil. The bit of green shrub is a piece from my binder paint palette (the clear plastic pocket).
The title of the piece comes from the book cover spine, which at first read The History of Liberalsim in Russia [sic]. This piece was of the Grand Canyon, so I stitched over Russia (sorry, Russia!). The spine was not the original spine of the cover I gessoed. Instead, it was a scrap I picked up from one of our creative programs. I was about to throw it away, but I held on to it. This piece of cover was way too intriguing. And it’s even cooler because Nora G. pointed out that Liberalism is misspelled (publisher oops!).
I have been asked if there is a deeper connection between the title and the imagery. I believe there is. Artwork is not always easy for me to describe, especially my own. I put it in visuals because I can’t express it in words. But it does mean something very deep to me. It tells me about people’s relations to nature, eclipsed vision of the world, the failure of political movements, idealism… the deathly cold but beautiful world out there, so vast. And it’s a statement about how people visiting the Grand Canyon often see the very tip of the iceberg. Down in the basin, where’s it’s wild, there is so much more…
If you are in the Pittsburgh area, please see this show at Creative Reuse! It is up until July 27, 2016. All of the work is for sale. You must also see the gorgeous work produced by my dear fellow talented, inventive, environmentally-concerned artists: Nora Gilchrist, Katy DeMent, Daniel Shapiro, Emily Herschl, Valerie Herrero, Cammie Brady and Ashley Andrews.