Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Norwegian Wood triptych

"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" triptych, 24 x 48" charcoal and pastel on Mylar

This ended up a much more difficult project than expected and was on the easel for a full month. Finally finished my "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" triptych today. It's the next in the ongoing White Album series.

I used three photos of my daughter for the work, cropped and manipulated in the computer until I found the composition I liked. I decided to do a triptych because I liked all three photos and thought they looked well together. I took the photos 2 years ago in the cemetery down the block from our home. My model was fascinated by a fallen mature oak, and was sitting on the trunk in the second view photo. She chose the clothing for the shoot, but I changed the t-shirt design to work with the theme for my piece, which is bird extinction.

The triptych is charcoal on a heavy weight mylar drafting film, and was worked on the frosted side. There is a backing of Canson pastel paper in moonstone (a pink gray) because the translucent paper needs some backing, and white was too stark for the effect I was attempting to achieve. There are small touches of "white charcoal" - white pastel pencil for highlights, I also used a gray pastel pencil in some of the tree areas.

The mylar is a very slick surface and fun to work on, and has more of a sensation of painting because of the "oiliness" of the charcoal on the mylar. Delicate areas are quite difficult to achieve. If you rub your finger over a fairly lightly covered area, the paper wipes clean, so soft gradations are troublesome. You can build up dark layers of charcoal and lighten it to gray by rubbing with your fingers, or erase back down to the surface with a kneaded eraser. I purposely left much of the work rough because the surface works so well for that. The finished work has a very interesting glow in person that doesn't photograph well. The frosted finish is quite lovely - almost like human skin in sheen.

I plan one or two more of these larger drawings on mylar for the January show.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Saatchi Showdown! Wild Ride!

What a ride! I've been in a love/hate relationship with Saatchi these past 5 months. I entered the competition on a whim. I was new to myspace, and some artist friends had entered round one. I voted for them and decided to try it out and enter.

When round one ended, I checked out the winner: the fabulous Laurie Lipton! So unexpected to see a graphite drawing (near to my heart) win such a competition against thousands of enteries. I found her here on myspace and friended her to congratulate her on her success.

Round two began, and no one could have been more surprised than I was to end up in the head to head a week later! I only sent a bulletin out to my 200 or so myspace friends and 300 or so personal contacts. I do have a large family and many friends in my neighborhood and in the art world. What I found was that people I didn't even know were sending the link on to friends, and those friends were voting and sending it on. My photorealist sweet subject matter appeals to the general public. They get it. No trying to figure out the meaning behind the piece. A pop contest. It was the round with the highest entry rate, over 6000! Most other rounds were in the 4000 range. Yet against the odds, "Chains" was one of two chosen works! I don't kid myself that I deserved it because I saw entries that blew my piece away! I give all the credit to my cute quirky model. A Fox some have said. Check out her art work in my last blog.

I Got By With A Little Help From My Friends!

The head to head against installation artist Albo Jeavons was a gut wrencher and I went to bed Sunday night thinking I'd lost, although I'd been in the lead the whole week. His score had been rising all day Sunday and mine was going lower, til we were neck and neck. With the trend as it was, I thought for sure I was out of it. Albo and I chatted online, we both agreed it was a wild ride and neither of us knew what was going to happen. I was so surprised to see I was the winner, and my inbox was loaded.

I Got By With A Little Help From My Friends!

It wasn't too long before the nasty Saatchi blogs started with my "insipid" work being the easy target for artists doing, shall we say, edgier work. Hard to see people bashing you and your work in a public format. It was an eye opener because in my idealistic view I thought most artists were basically supportive of one another. Also saw threads here and elsewhere suggesting any winners were cheating. If I cheated it must have been in my sleep. It was then that I decided Fame, even just a drop of it, was not all it's cracked up to be.

I Got By With A Little Help From My Friends!

A long stretch of waiting and watching other winners come along. 10 more! 5 months of watching and friends asking, so when can I vote? Three more months, thanks, I'll let you know! We're rooting for you Alice!

I Got By With A Little Help From My Friends!

And then, it was here! The day I needed to get my butt in gear and ask for votes against my usual slightly shy and introverted nature. A grueling week of long days, short nights, and some tears of frustration. But honestly there have been more tears of joy, because of the new friend requests, messages, offers of help, bulletins sent out on my behalf, and the love, friendship and support from all of you! I've pushed myself to get my work shown, and the rewards have been enormous!

I Got By With A Little Help From My Friends!

So, tomorrow will be a huge relief! No more begging, no more pushing, no more anxiety. I most likely will finish somewhere in the middle of the field. Thanks to all of you who have said I should be on top. That I don't believe. There are some really fantastic artists in the mix, I'm honored to have had the opportunity to be up there with them! I've spoken with quite a few, and they've been gracious, supportive and funny. They all are as disconcerted as I to be in this position. A wild ride indeed. It's a silly thing, surely not a true judge of exceptional talent. A popularity contest for sure! Pop art. Nothing wrong with that. Will I be disappointed not going to London? Why sure! But I did ok, didn't stoop to nasty behavior in the sake of winning, and got more exposure in the past few months than I ever could have imagined, or had a right to hope for!

I Got By With A Little Help From My Friends!

So, would I recommend you to enter the next Saatchi Showdown! Sure! But be careful what you wish for. Enter to be seen. Winning is tough work. I'm seriously wiped and stressed and generally DONE!!! Frankly, if I by some odd quirk in the stats suddenly leap to the top of the heap overnight, I might seriously go jump in a lake. My sympathies to those two lucky souls!!! Another week of this right now might do me in.

So, thanks for the support and love. Know I appreciate every gesture and I apologize if I didn't say thanks directly. I truly spent as much time saying thanks this week as I did politicking. But I know I missed some of you. Please forgive me, and drop by to say hi soon, ok? (And won't you seriously be glad to stop seeing all of those begging bulletins lined up every morning?)

I Got By With A Little Help From My Friends. THANKS TO YOU ALL!

Love, Alice xx

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Fine Arts Building Chicago in the news

We made the Chicago papers!

I was interviewed in my Fine Arts Building studio several weeks ago for the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The article finally made it to print yesterday. The interviewer asked questions for twenty minutes and many photos were taken while I was working, but my mention is brief and the only photo from my studio was my courtyard view. Ah well, can't win 'em all! So, here's a short intro to my real-life artistic community. More photos can be seen at the Tribune website. Click the hyperlink below.

Artists thrive in friendly confines

City's Fine Arts Building offers a historic sanctuary for all manner of creative trades

By Emma Graves Fitzsimmons

Tribune staff reporter

7:06 AM CDT, July 30, 2007

The rapid notes of a Bach sinfonia spill into a hall of Chicago's legendary home of the arts, an enchanting building still haunted by a century of artists whose creativity has been inspired in its maze of hallways.

Behind one door on the fourth floor, a bassist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is seated at the same piano his grandfather played when he worked as a composer in the historic building almost 70 years ago.

"I'd known about the building for years," said Stephen Lester, who began renting a studio there last year. "When you walk through the halls, you can hear all kinds of things, people teaching and practicing. That's part of the pleasure of being in a building like this."

A floor below him, the stomping of flamenco dancers on hardwood floors bursts through the doors of a Russian ballet company. The neighbors of a voice instructor on the ninth floor listen to her student belt a classic opera piece in preparation for a big audition.

It would be easy to walk right past the Fine Arts Building along Grant Park and miss the beautiful sounds of a new generation of performers working within the building's cubby holes.

Designed by Solon Beman, the building at 410 S. Michigan Ave. was built as a Studebaker Carriage Co. factory in 1885 and was converted to a home for Chicago's artists in 1898. It housed the studios of sculptor Lorado Taft, and author L. Frank Baum, who wrote The Wizard of Oz book series. At the turn of the century, architect Frank Lloyd Wright had a gallery on the top floor of the building, which also was home to Poetry magazine and a popular social club Hull House founder Jane Addams attended to discuss books and current events.

Today, the building's halls appear untouched by time, with the same murals, stained-glass windows and dim lighting. One of the elevators is hand-operated by Thomas Durkin, who has worked there for more than 50 years.

The cavernous building now features a wide range of tenants, including Oscar-nominated filmmaker David McGowan, and Al Gates, a photographer who moonlights as a tango instructor.

Many studios enjoy sweeping views of Lake Michigan. The splendid backdrop, the bustle of the city below and the summer breeze off the lakefront all add to the building's charm. Most of all, there is a sense that the new generation is keeping the sanctuary's rich history alive with art and music.

"This is a love affair, this building," said owner Robert Berger, who carries a harmonica in his pocket for an impromptu melody. "This is a giant wine cellar. It's a performance cellar."

The 72-year-old real estate investor bought the urban arts colony for $10.4 million two years ago, promising to keep its physical beauty in tact, along with its storied mission. Berger, who also owns the art-focused Flat Iron Building in Wicker Park, says he has big plans for the future of the 10-story historic building, which currently houses 164 tenants.

The first major addition has been a high-tech recording studio that airs video of performances on the building's Web site. The staff say the site,, has received as many as 1,000 visitors daily in the last year and hopes to attract even more with archived clips of violin recitals and poetry readings. Recent performing guests featured on the Web site have included a local actor reading Jack Kerouac's works and a drummer expressing his thoughts on existentialism.

His next big project will be the restoration of the building's two dilapidated theaters. Both were converted to movie theaters but are now empty, but Berger said he hopes to bring them back in the next five years as a venue for big shows and maybe even a boxing match or two.

In the meantime, he plans to keep rent "modest" at the building, which costs about $2.5 million a year to run. A flier on one small studio advertises monthly rent at just $390.

Inside Curtiss Hall on the top floor, nine dancers with nooses around their necks gasp for air and writhe on the floor in a performance called "Nine Witches Cold" about the Salem Witch Trials. The backdrop for their rehearsal is a bright panorama of the lake.

The dance company is lucky to meet there three days a week, said Van Collins, founder and artistic director of Rasa Dance Chicago. Beyond the building's beauty, he said, it is stimulating to be around so many other artists under one roof.

"It's the most inspiring thing on the planet," Collins said. "It's completely tweaking my creativity. Some photography on the sixth floor gave me an idea for a dance. I walked past it, and all these ideas came to me."

Alice McMahon White's fifth floor studio has a view that overlooks a quiet courtyard lined with pillars and planted flowers. The Beverly artist's specialty is Irish landscapes, but lately, she has started a series of pastel drawings based on photographs of her children.

Her studio is near a yoga studio and a piano teacher's office. "When they're practicing, it sounds great," she said.

Russian dancer Elizabeth Boitsov is one of the veteran tenants. Her ballet school has occupied a slice of the third floor for 27 years.

One summer afternoon, two dancers learning the flamenco are clapping and stomping their heels while waving ruffled blue skirts. The women, who are classically trained ballerinas, are trying to loosen up to the fast-paced, rhythmic music.

Their instructor Carolina Xavier, a Brazilian ballerina, is teaching them to thrust their shoulders forward as part of the choreography.

"Your body is going to be like a board going forward," Xavier said. "It is an improvisation. Inside the structure of the dance, you can create something new. You can express yourself creatively."

Cello music drifts out of the Machold Rare Violins store on the ninth floor. Colin Clark is playing cello after cello in search of the perfect one.

The 16-year-old from Elgin is hoping to buy one that will last him through college and beyond. He plays a concerto by composer Franz Joseph Haydn on several cellos until he finds one that feels just right.

"It has a powerful sound," Clark said. "It's very loud and punchy. I had to find a cello that will work to my strengths."

Sales clerk Elizabeth Stein says she helps musicians find the "love of their life" from an international collection of string instruments ranging in price from $12,000 to $6 million.

The store also holds performances and benefits in its large studio, which is filled with antique furniture and rugs. Currently, the store is borrowing a beautiful old piano from another shop on the floor for an event. Stein pauses and smiles: "We have great neighbors."


Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds

"Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", pastel on sanded paper 24 x 36"

I've been getting some questions about this piece, I suppose because it's a bit of a departure for me. More surreal or psychedelic than my usual work. Part of that is intentional as a reflection of the nature of the Beatles tune which influenced the work. John Lennon always denied that the song referred to LSD, and was really inspired by Julian's childish drawing of a girl flying in the sky. Appropriate that this pastel is inspired by my daughter's personality. It shows her progression toward adulthood, which is the underlying theme of my White Album series.

This work began as a candid snapshot of my artsy daughter at 16. We were visiting my son at Kent State U, Ohio, for Homecoming. She was really wearing the cheap top hat around campus that day, she had gotten it for her Halloween costume. The Kent Homecoming committee were passing out the balloons and she took one, and for some reason decided to name it "Tuesday" and wrote that on the balloon with a sharpie. It was a windy day with large puffy white clouds, and she was standing on the hill where the Kent State Massacre had occured. This is an important detail about my thought process for the piece, as the tragic event happened in May 1970 - the year the Beatles broke up, and around the time John Lennon began his life with Yoko and did the Baggism, Bed-In and "War Is Over" song and campaign.

I saw the shot that day as she stood on the hill, and my daughter held the pose for just a moment. She hates when I take her photo - but she's so damn quirky and cute I can't resist! I got down low to have only the sky for a backdrop. Her expression is actually more resigned exasperation with me than anything deeper. Somehow her signature stoicism works.

I played with the image in photoshop and liked the sky reversed, with darks where the whites had been. The blue sky turned the opposite on the color wheel, "marmalade" colored. The white outline is a remnant from the photoshop effect I was using, and since she was backlit in the original photo, I thought it was cool, and again, a bit surreal. The balloon was really blue, but the effect reversed that, too. It's not meant to be realistic. I had just watched "John Lennon vs. the US" at the time and thought I'd add the words "War Is Over" to the balloon, as a flashback to the 1970's and a hopeful premonition for today. "War is over Tuesday" may have worked as well ;) My daughter is an activist against the war and while she doesn't like her likeness here, she does like the message.

The flowers on the balloon could be a reference to "cellophane flowers of yellow and green towering over your head" but that didn't occur to me til today :)

My friends have been interpreting this piece in different ways. One wondered if the balloon is her hallucination. Another says the clouds are post-war colors. I like that.

~ A