Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Embarking on the Dissertation

I went back to school 3+ years ago to get a Ph.D in this new, quirky realm – art, aesthetics and the novel Ph.D for artists. While there is much controversy at the heart of this whole concept, I have been greatly opened by my work in this realm. Having devoured almost 100 books of dense philosophy in the past 3 years, I stand poised at the virgin realm of my own forest. I have a trillion idea swirling around in my brain and it is the work ahead that carries weight and the daunting task of clarifying my position, my commitment and, shall I say it? The argument. I am tasked at present with the job of writing 8,000 words by November 1st in advance of being assigned a dissertation 'director'. So, the next couple of months I bear the privilege of sitting at the computer and working not to procrastinate too much around this most arduous task. Hence, the revitalization of this blog. This year has been so full of studies and getting through the orals (I passed, thank you!) that I haven't made a lot of "art". I put art in quotes as I produce and oversee the production of a fairly brisk porcelain business in upstate NY. I have developed a fair amount of new work at davistudio, but it remains not really "art", at least to me. Completely silly, I know, because it is art, and it does what I believe art ought to do and that is to inspire life and joy and a sense of play. My problem seeing it as art, per se, is the result of my own misplaced sense of what art is. Hence, the dissertation. Perhaps this potentially public forum (audience remains to be determined :) will serve to help allay my ambivalence.

So, I am writing here again. Maybe you will read this, maybe you won't. If you don't that's OK. But if you do and have interest in chatting, please comment below. I will also post images of new "art" as I begin anew to produce that sort of time consuming and rarified practice. So, my criteria for calling an object of my attention art vs. commodity is that it is-
1. Experimental and exploratory
2. Not economically motivated
There may be greater categorization down the road but those are two pretty good criteria to get me started. While I create this differential in my practice, I am seeking to break down those differences in my writing. Perhaps I need to reconsider Ranciere's notion of dissensus or Derrida's differance in my impulse to 'flatten' the hierarchy between art and commodity. Ah, much more digestion and iterative work ahead. Thanks for taking the time to read. No guarantees about how often I write, but I do hope to use this forum to get me rolling in my writing, to fly ideas up the flag pole and to consider my writing in relation to my practice. It is nice to know that someone somewhere might take an interest.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Through the Mirror: Utopia Revisited

Backyard Gaze : Tablecloth Box #1
This week marks the first ever installation of this new body of work at the Montserrat Gallery in Beverly, MA. Leonie Bradbury curated this exhibition of art that walks the line between and immersed in the utopian/dystopian dialogue. At least I hope it will be a dialogue and not a shouting match. As I have matured I have taken a stronger and more committed stance toward a utopic vision. Recent work demonstrates this tendency. As such, this installation includes a dining room table with 12 plates and a tea set on it as well as examples form the Backyard Gaze Project. More pictures will be posted here next week after the installation.

Here is the text I wrote as a companion to the exhibit.

Through the Mirror: Utopia Revisited
Enter the dining room

An installation at Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, Massachusetts
by Mary Anne Davis
August 24th – December 14th, 2013

A dining room table is set with twelve plates – each impressed with a line from the opening page of Thomas Moore’s novel. The table is flanked with two benches for sitting. The room includes selected books for related reading and study. Framed photographs of heroes, influential thinkers, and artists are hung on the wall along with a range of quotes that imply utopia. I have installed a series of windows in the form of boxes from the “Backyard Gaze Project,” which are observations of idyllic nature. I have installed a kiosk of souvenirs, an assembly of tokens and small artworks all reflecting some aspect of the utopian ideal. The original Utopia, first published in 1516, describes an island organized for the best life possible for the most people, like life in this dining room.
Utopia, or utopia, might be considered an ideal – a thing or state worth striving toward, like a light to a dining room plant. It may never be achieved but as a vision or beacon, it can inspire better behavior. As a non-religious idea, utopia has its appeal as a condition of life that is without external authority but instead relies upon a true community, perhaps even democracy, not a representative democracy but an actual democracy, where everyone has a voice. Is the opposite of utopia, dystopia? I argue that complete annihilation actually better represents utopia’s opposite. Dystopia has romantic undertones, which complete destruction does not and may even have a place within a utopic mentality.
davistudio is the foil from which I practice my utopian ideals and pursue an optimistic philosophy.  davistudio sustains an active practice that includes paid internships for young artists as a training ground toward independent studio practice. davistudio sells items and artwork through stores and Etsy as a means of supporting the studio and those employed, seeking to further develop ideals hinted at in the economic ideals set forth in Plato’s Republic and More’s famous novel.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Works on Paper

Works on paper, while a medium I use throughout my work, are a particular area of practice in the studio. I just uploaded some preparatory studies for my new Flora and Fauna Investigations, the body of work I have been working on since the fall. Here is an example on the right. You can see more images from this series here.

Sketches or preparatory works can help develop a kind of rhythm in the work, which is how I use them. I create a space for the development of a back and forth, a habitual or practice of mark making. The dots and squares painted here began as these simple sketches and evolved into the more complex works I am referring to as Flora and Fauna Investigations, formerly known as Rhizomatic Foam.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Pink and Yellow Foam

This Foam Series has been occupying a lot of my mind and studio time lately. I had been calling the series Rhizomatic Foam, but as a title have decided to bench the term Rhizomatic. A little too obscure to be friendly and I am opting for friendly. I had thought this piece finished but am in new cycle of sending work around and needed to fully resolve some outstanding issues the piece still had before I felt OK about submitting it to a particular show I am interested in.  

So, I pulled the piece out of the box it had been stored in for the past couple of months and first cut a piece of foamboard a few inches smaller than the drawing/sculpture. I have been covering the foam board with patterned fabric that creates an added layer under the structure of the drawing. This layer is actually a kind of pedestal, a way of asserting the piece forward slightly from behind, thrusting it out into space a bit. The fabric is patterned with dots or in this case stripes. The black and white pattern add another dimension of information, texture and zip that I like under the white paper.

The ceramic and paper-clay balls on top further articulates the objectness I am after. Instead of a drawing, the piece has been transformed into an object or a thing through the added layer of balls and the foamboard. A piece of paper, working through the identity of drawing, then painting and finally becoming sculpture brings the whole affair into new territory.

Drawing as sculpture, sculpture as contemplative moment in time and space, playing with notions of human-ness in the form of bubble, foam or balls of ceramic, paper-clay painted and hanging on the piece, engaged with symbols of nature iterate the impression of nature, standing in reserve, set aside yet participating in the totality of the object, drawing as sculpture, beautiful, mysterious, affectionate and entertaining, adding to the general dialogue about being and time. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rhizomatic Foam Boxes

I have been working on a new group of Rhizomatic Foam dimensional collages. Reading Heidegger of late has inspired me to think about enframing and a particular concept in Heidegger, destining. "Enframing is “destining”, from which "the essence of all history is determined" (The Question Concerning Technology. 329).

Boxes have figured into my work for over 20 years. I looked at slides (remember slides??) of earlier work today and showed Tatiana work I had done in the early 90's. I made boxes out of wood back then, very sturdy and permanent. Now I am making boxes out of refuse, old cardboard and strengthening them with pages from an old encyclopedia. The layering of images over images, revealing and concealing, excites me and also makes me curious about what is emerging.

This piece, as yet untitled beyond Rhizomatic Foam Box, includes several ideas I have been working with for a long time and a few new ones. As I mentioned, I used to make boxes years ago, so that is something not entirely new, but given the time lapse between then and now, is a recycling of an old idea, and certainly new in my use of recycled cardboard and old encyclopedia pages. Cutting birds out of the pages of an encyclopedia, new. The totally novel addition to this piece is the little clamp light on top of the box. They felt a little dark, all boxy and layered so I decided to try adding a small lamp to this piece. I am somewhat happy with the affect, we'll see how that pans out in future iterations.

 Also new is the mounting of the drawing on a square behind the pieces that juts out into space. This makes the drawing, or collage, that much more dimensional and physical, a quality I am also intrigued by. The drawing becomes more assertive in this way. Drawings can be sort of lesser selves of their older kindred -- paintings, sculpture or whatever else the 'sketch' might be preparing for. These are not so much sketches as actual objects, taking up space, more so with their little wall mounted pedestals.

Hopefully the work is not just an assertion but an emergence of a poetic grammar that brings into focus images and objects that ultimately make me happy to make. That is the reason I make art -- to make me happy. It is also a pursuit, a journey, the unraveling of some sort of mystery. Yet, the more I do, the larger the mystery becomes. It isn't so much revealed as the revelation becomes wow! that is so hidden! Maybe if I do this... Sort of a never ending circling around, encircling and enframing, revealing and concealing, a dialectical back and forth over time that inspires, me at least and hopefully another. Art allows us to be with another, sharing the experience of a moment in front of a mutual object.

So, I am back into making boxes. I am making a tutorial, the first of its kind, let's see how it goes. Part one to be published later this week.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dialectical Revival

This week has been another full week. Since the fall I have been developing a new body of work based on the idea of Rhizomatic Foam. Inspired by the idea of rhizome theory in Deleuze and Guattari's classic, A Thousand Plateaus, the image has fed me with countless lines of possible expression. As a maker, I am driven, almost obsessed with the desire to make. As a contemporary artist, I want to participate in the current dialogue and that is strongly conceptual. But, things evolve and art evolves in an amazing and most complex manner making it a very special place to call home.

Last week I had the privilege to participate in a conversation in Chelsea at the Gasser and Grunert Gallery. Artist Alyce Santoro, whose works are on view there through February 16, held a series of talks, no, actual conversations called a Dialectical Revival. As a matriculating student, bona fide PhD candidate, I have been reading my fair share of Hegel. His ideas still compel us because they are so powerful? Perhaps they really touch on a depth of thought that inclines to higher being.

Anyway, it was an exciting afternoon and inspired my week in the studio. I resolved several issues in the Rhizomatic Foam pieces although I still have a ways to go. I bought a box of 1/2 inch foam core and started cutting it up and covering it with fabric. The drawings can then be affixed to the foam core instead of the wall. Hammering nails into walls was a violent act I used 20 years ago in an early work(s) but today I am much less inclined to advocate the destruction of private property, i.e walls––Gallery walls, museum walls or the walls in a collector's home. I think it changes the pieces dramatically to reflect a friendlier me, a friendlier resolution to the issue of how to hang a semi-sculptural drawing/collage.

On another note, yesterday I got my study ready for the new semester. I need to stay focused for the academic work I am engulfed in or I can get really lost. We are reading Heidegger on technology and Neitzche and Junger on Pain this week. I am also making some headway on this semester's paper which will discuss fluid economies vs. static economies and artists whose work I feel reflect a proclivity toward the former. I'll try and post more about that in coming weeks.

So, my goal for 2013 is post something here weekly. Saying that out loud deepens my challenge so forgive me for engaging in such an obvious ploy, but, I think it will help my thinking all around. I hope you will stay tuned. Thanks for reading. :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012


This week begins the arduous task of going through work, starting early on, photographing it, categorizing it, measuring it and putting it into a data system. My art practice is life long and I have accumulated quite a lot of flotsam and jetsom from that daily ritual. As a some time lone practitioner, I have developed whole bodies of work that have not seen the light of day in many a moon and therefore haven't been engaged in a critical, relational back and forth about their meaning. These critical discussions are essential components in an artist's development. I am looking forward to reviewing the work with the new addition to my studio, the very talented Tatiana Klacsmann, a skilled professional and begin getting back into a more robust interaction with a broader world in terms of some intimate work I have made over the past 20 years. Here is the beginning.

Jacobs Ladder, 1992, 6" x 6",
pencil and watercolor on paper, private collection 
Part of the inspiration for this project stems from a resurgence in interest in this early work. This summer, Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY showed a selection of these drawings in the group show, The Mysteries of Love and Life. I am honored to have part of this exhibition and glad to show these pieces, some for the first time ever.

Flock of Dots Skipping Rope, 1992, 6" x 6"
pencil and watercolor on paper

Form and Line Collision, 1992, 6" x 6"
pencil and watercolor

Lyrical Line Gesture #2, 1992, 6" x 6"
watercolor and pencil on paper

Lyrical Line Drawing #3, 1992, 6" x 6"
watercolor and pencil on paper

Lyrical Line Drawing, 1992, 6" x 6"
watercolor and pencil on paper
So, there is a bit of history. Next, will be more the current work, this year, this fall and also last fall. Working with ideas being generated in my studies of philosophy. Reading Hegel and thinkers writing about Hegel. Today, Lacan.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Soul of Art

Yesterday two articles appeared online. One by Seth Godin is a blog post titled Art fears business fears art. He is right. Or is he? Is it fear? Or is it measured caution? The other article printed in the Times is about organic food and its sublation by big food in its efforts to grow and keep up with supply. Agri-food steps up when it realizes it can capitalize on the public's trust in the organic label. Organic is safe, it is free of harmful additives because government regulation prevents business from monkeying with its purity. The Times article cautions that when big business gets hold of the idea of organic it becomes compromised by its own success. Big becomes the problem. Homogeneity is inherent in the over scaling of profits and production.

Art, on the other hand, is made by the independent thinking artist working alone in the studio. Hmmm, tell me again about Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst? Wait, what about Andy Warhol oh and Titian! That renaissance painter that had a factory? These artists example how embracing business can be profitable and powerful for the artists and the world. So, what's the problem? I guess my concern, like the organic label in food, is that when art becomes part of something over scaled, it loses what makes it art. Not its purity, because I for one don't believe in purity in the first place. But maybe it loses a little bit of its soul. 

Art, like food, feeds us, nourishes us. Food feeds the body, art feeds the soul. If you don't believe in the soul, then there is not problem. But, I just think a little caution is in order. Art is powerful. When aligned with philosophy it is the single most powerful thing we have in moving people in a direction or inspiring a shift, a change, an evolutionary leap. Art embracing business, I concur, is a great idea. BUT, the artist must maintain control over the product and the message as long as possible. Eventually, it will have a life of its own but in the meantime, Pandora, be conscious.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Aesthetic Economy

Aesthetics and economics are inextricably linked. According to current research by Americans for the Arts, $166 billion is generated annually through arts and cultural activity. Film, theater, museum going, dance, all of the things most of us like to participate in given time. We are already living in an an aesthetic economy.

But, if art and culture are already so entrenched, why is a career in an arts related industry considered, well, not the favorite choice of a parent of a teenager? Being the mother of a 16 year old, I am particularly sensitive to how this unfolds. My son is in no danger of such a decision, at least not at this point. His aptitude is strong in math and science and I suspect he will go after a more ‘solid’ career choice. But I am an artist! Why do I have that less than arts supportive attitude? There two streams of thought at work here. One, the most obvious in my mind is my sons aptitude and interests. His father has a Ph.D in botany and writes school curriculum in the sciences. I, on the other hand, am an artist and so he has been raised with both ends of that particular spectrum. I would never try and influence his decision making process although exposing him to possibilities certainly ranks as part of my job description. The second thought stream here is that it IS a difficult career choice and part of me is relieved he isn’t, at this point, taking that tougher road.

That said, I am interested in the evolution of art as a viable means of making a living and of its healing power in society; economically as well as spiritually. I believe art has the capacity and may well be the exact remedy to many of the ills of our day. I continue to watch the Occupy movement gain speed. I agree with many that we are at a pivotal, if not volatile moment, again, in our history. There are many ways this story can continue to unfold. Egypt and Wisconsin, unlikely revolutionary partners, yet both communities stand at the beginning of this new wrinkle in the everlasting human uprising. Today, Egypt is struggling to turn over the rule of their nation to the civilian population because the former regime destroyed the institutions that would make that possible. The Old Order Stifles the Birth of New Egypt.

Pepper Sprayed Seurat
Occupy Wall Street is an opportunity to continue a long road that rests, putters, is stifled but never dies. It is the cry of freedom. It is the need of people to feel they, we, I have a voice. There is much to concern myself with today. Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I we have much to do. But, in the wrinkles of time in our day, remember that art is there. To inspire. To guide. And to fully participate in the re-evolution of the human spirit. A revitalizing force, guided by beauty, it can and will help define the new era dawning.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

Line and Color

Thompson Giroux Gallery
September 17-October 30
Hours: Thursday - Monday: 11-5PM
57 Main Street
Chatham, NY

Jean Feinburg, Splitsville, 2009, 16" x 10", oil on wood

Jean Feinburg's work is constructed from repurposed wood, possibly from crumbling barn structures or other scarred effigies. She constructs simple configurations that are then carefully painted with muted tones, earthy and calm. Shapes are masked, edges are crisp. There is comfort in the work in spite of the rough hewn materials. These are objects of quiet beauty, well crafted and cared for. The works date from 2002-2011 indicating commitment to a process and style. Feinburg employs very simple and specific modes of conveying a refreshing arithmetic of squares and rectangles. One piece that gives a sense of spiritual essence is "Splitsville" 2009 16" x 10" -- a cross painted on a piece of wood that has a crack down the center. The title belies the shape of the geometric figure on the wood structure. A cross. Iconic and unmistakable.

Emiliy Cheng, Canopy, 2002, 50" x 48"

Emily Cheng is an artist who has embraced the beautiful without apology. Her paintings "Spin" and "Flutter" both from 2005, resemble lengths of fabric tied into a knot and fluttering in the breeze. Their red border serves to differentiate the edge in a striking separation between the object and the ground of the painting. "Canopy" takes the shape of an umbrella and turns it into a mandala, rotating around a ground of arabesques with detailed surprises around the edges of the canvas. Paint drips dry in different directions, suggesting the canvas was worked on in rotation . The texture of the paint is left as evidence of the making. "Protecting Three Graces" is an earlier work, a monotype of layered imagery -- Botticelli's "Primavera" and eastern thangka images with Cheng's own shapes. A curious juxtaposition of Asian and European art history.

David Paulson, Homage to Masson, 2010, 25" x 42", oil on board

David Paulson's painting has the heroic quality of a demonic nature. The visceral work is thickly painted in oils or acrylic and pays homage to modernist artists such as Andre Masson and early Jackson Pollock. Paulson uses paint to build up a surface that emboldens his graphic abstractions and layers color in ways that repel while drawing the viewer in. Painting with such physical quality is difficult to fathom in its purely formal elements. "Startled Figure" 2009 is an emotive, anxious response of the startled figure. A nervous agitation beckons the viewer to reflect on her own irritable volatility. Black scumbling and raw oozing acrylic, hardened and caked on the surface exhibit an organic, primitive quality. Brutish and dark. "Homage to Masson" 2010 is expressive, emoting the pure joy of laying paint down on a surface. An homage to the early surrealist Masson suggests Paulson uses automatic drawing in his work and the composition certainly supports this assumption. Automatic mark making creates a completely non-objective picture in a manner used by the surrealists, but in the hands of Paulson, renders a romantic possibility of immediacy.

Tom Hope, Down to the Waters Edge, 1996, 66" x 46", oil on canvas

Tom Hope's one picture in the show, "Down to the Waters Edge" 1996 is the most narrative piece in the exhibit. Mythic in scope and large, 66" high x 46" wide, the painting seems to evoke a dream. Fishermen surround nets of fish laying in a boat that becomes a stairway leading up to a door where a nude woman floats above them all. Watching men stand a bit back from the fisher men, taking stock, perhaps to bid on the fish or take their cut. The entire picture is floating in the night sky with stars in the background. Much more illustrative than the other works on the show, Hope's work has a surrealistic quality. The dream evokes a mystery and captivates the viewer in its puzzling allure.
Michael Tong, Ben Franklin, 2003, 20" x 14", welded bronze on steel

Michael Tong has several different types of pieces in the show. His works on paper are reminiscent of Chinese landscape painting. "The Big Pink" 2007, 60" x 82" is a watercolor/guache on paper. To begin with, the color itself is a surprise. Pink monochrome sets the stage for the rest of the picture which includes tiny humorous tableau in the distance. Trucks and unexpected figures clamor up the hillside in a quietly anomalous mise en scene amidst the grandeur of this pink mountain scape. "Lakeside" 2007 also calls to mind Chinese landscapes, but again, the quirky inclusion of a modern home on stilts in the water and a two story american cabin complete with brick chimney and motor boats harboring next to their fantasy domiciles leaves one smiling if not outright laughing. Humor is clearly an aspect of this artists intention. His jewelry is also pretty funny. In particular "Ben Franklin" 2003, welded bronze on steel is an impossible golden chain with the symbol of an American hundred dollar bill on it. A wry wink at the golden chain culture.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Laura Sharp Wilson


Acrylic and graphite on Unryu paper mounted on wood

27 ¼ x 26 ¾ inches

Yelling at Strangers, 2010

Acrylic and graphite on Unryu paper mounted on wood, 12 x 12 inches

McKenzie Fine Art

511 West 25th St. NYC

I was fortunate to see this show before it closed on April 30th. Working on a small scale, Wilson's work is very dense and intricate. She applies rice paper to the surface of prepared wooden panels and creates these fantastic worlds of densely patterned string like meanderings. Binding and fencing are recurring themes. There is a beautiful prison stuck here. These are precious works of art with a tortured and meticulously rendered surface that synthesizes multiple decorative elements. These compositions are fascinating to look at. They hold the eye and do not disappoint. Botanical references are insinuated, all of the linear elements seem to bind themselves up in a carefully contained composition just this side of chaos. These little lovelies are obsessive and lyrical in their layered and nearly cacophonous resolve.