Sunday, April 10, 2011

All the Same, All Different: Pets, Pancakes, Persimmons, and other Projects

I have my children to thank for bringing to my attention a principle which underlies some of my art projects and continues to suggest new directions--the principle of "the same only different." When they reached the mid-childhood stage of clamouring for little creatures in cages, my son and daughter had a reluctant and unreceptive mother who had no desire to share her home with smelly creatures that would eat and breed prodigiously and always need cleaning. My objections, however, were overruled, and over the years we accommodated hamsters, gerbils, budgies, guinea pigs, and a deformed fish which we babysat, and which its rightful owners (very sensibly) never got around to reclaiming. I was not a total neophyte when it came to pets. I'd lived with various cats, and was well aware of each one's individuality, and accepted that dogs too had unique personalities; but the idiosyncrasies demonstrated by all the diminutive fauna (even the fish, which once jumped out of its tank and was later rescued, still alive, from the dust bunnies under the bed)) came as a complete surprise to me. The gerbils, particularly, covered a whole range of personality traits, from the bold one who teased the cat through the bars of its cage until it got its face ripped off, to the dogged perseverer who learned to run in the exercise wheel in spite of having no front feet. These mouse-sized rodents were as different from each other as you are from me.

The first time this principle cropped up in an art project was during an intensive summer course in paper-making. We made batches of pulp and were then expected to create something with it. I don't think I had any idea what I was going to do, but I started to produce, at an increasingly frenetic pace, two kinds of object. I twisted strips of nylon stockings and dipped them in the pulp, hanging them up to dry in the sun; and I slapped handfuls of the pulp on to inflated balloons, producing leaf-shaped objects. I had never worked so obsessively in my life. And what fascinated me was that I kept doing the same thing, yet the results were all different. I continued dipping and moulding until time ran short, and then I assembled my whole inventory on a frame. I remember thinking that the pieces were metaphors for human beings--all the same, all different.

Pancake 2 - white china marker - 19" x 21"
In January 2005, while casting around for a theme for my last-but-one term at Emily Carr, I happened to cook up a batch of thin pancakes (crepes.) Watching them  solidify and change colour in the pan, I was once again struck by how each one, though made in the same way, was unique. For the next two months I cooked, drew, photographed, and occasionally even ate pancakes. I began with a series of detailed drawings of the flat discs, showing their ridges, grooves and craters as accurately as possible.

Fish nor Fowl - oil sticks - 15" x 29"

Out of the Frying Pan - oil sticks - 21" x 29"
Next I concentrated on segments and edges, and as I enlarged the markings, concentrating on rendering them accurately, whimsical life forms emerged, as in the examples on the left.

After that I let some of the crepes dry out for a week or so, and documented the distorted shapes that they made as they curled up. These I did not eat. To my surprise they turned into bizarre skull- and mask-like forms.
Crepe-Mask 1 - conte crayon - 30" x 23"

Crepe-World - oil sticks on canvas on board - 36" x 42"
The last step in the Pancake Project was Crepe-World, a large drawing on canvas.

Did you guess what the images I included last week represented? I've found in the past that people's suggestions have ranged from the microscopic to the cosmic--single cells to heavenly bodies!

In 2006 I had a commission to paint something for a newly renovated kitchen. The clients wanted something about 24" x 36" and they liked some of the oversized still life subjects I'd worked on. Since the wife said she was particularly fond of persimmons, I suggested that instead of one painting I should do six small ones, 10" x 10" square, each one of a different persimmon. I discovered, as with the hamsters and gerbils, that each one was unique, with its own rosette of leaves. I also learned how to enjoy eating persimmons, avoiding the astringent fibres that come with some varieties. 

Six Persimmons - acrylic on panels, each 10" x 10"

Jan. 1
Feb. 1
I have same-only-different projects in progress now, as well. As with the paper-making enterprise, I'm assembling things without knowing what I'll do with them all. For example, a new ritual for this year is taking the same photo every morning as soon as I get up. I'm not rigid about the timing, or about exactly how much of the scene I include, and there will be times when I'm away and there will be gaps in my record; but by the end of the year I should have three hundred and something versions of the view from my living-room window. I point my camera towards the spot where on a clear day I can glimpse Mt. Baker, the 10,000 ft. volcano just over the border in Washington State. I include a bit of the magnolia tree just outside, which is just, belatedly, coming into bloom. The sun, clouds, weather and tree are all variables which ensure that I never get exactly the same picture twice. All the same, all different.

April 10


Next time (around April 17): Spotlight on Gastropods: "Van Huysum's Snails 1 and 2"

1 comment:

Louisa said...

I adore my persimmons and admire them daily. Thanks, Judith!