“Process gets you through times of no ideas far better than ideas get you through times of no process,”so sayeth my favorite college prof., Paul Sparks. The quote is alleged to be from the Far Out Furry Freak Brothers. I really hope it is, because I have loved it for twenty plus years. Hearing it was an epic lightbulb moment when I was an art student lo these many years ago–and as an artist, that quote may be the truest thing I know.
Process. It may be more important than the initial idea behind a piece because when the race horse of ideas goes through the fence and runs for the barn, the mule of process is still putting one foot in front of the other and plowing all day long. Yes, I do have a sketchbook or six full of jottings, notes, remember to dos, and ideas, but they all depend on process. I can say unequivocally for me as a multi media artist,there is a deep and grounded pleasure in using a tool I have mastered and having it do what I want. That’s process. Process informs everything from cutting glass, grinding glass, mixing paint, gessoing a board, bending metal, using a colored pencil, twisting a wire or laying down a bead or seam of solder. Its all about the process.
I actually work very, very fast. I worry about that sometimes. Does it make me less of an artist because I don’t have to toil over six square inches of canvas for a month? Before I ever get to that canvas, or piece of wood or glass or whatever my hummingbird brain is enjoying today, I think. I think a lot. I think for days and weeks and months sometimes about a piece I want to make. I think about a lot of pieces a lot of the time, rather like Alice in Wonderland who worked on believing the impossible. To paraphrase her, “Sometimes I think about six impossible things before breakfast.” Yes. I write down what I think too. Sketch books, pieces of paper, sticky notes.
I try really hard to contain it all in one of about six sketchbooks I drag around with me. My poor books have grocery lists and what the kids want for their birthdays and the name of a plant I fell in love with yesterday, all jumbled up with websites I want to look at and things I want to hunt for and ideas for a new piece.
Which brings me to the process behind the series I call “Lost Childhoods.” These pieces may be my all time favorites and they take a lot of rumination before I ever start assembling them. The Lost Childhoods, so far there are four completed, are all about the imagined childhoods of cultural iconography in my life. Mother Nature, Father Time, Death, and King Neptune are finished. My starting point was to imagine what their early lives were like and then build cabinets which contained imagined memories and artifacts that defined who they were, although since they are not real, I guess I could say, who they weren’t. They are built with found and recycled objects. They all have in common: parts that open and close, words, photos, ideas, artifacts, hands, and heads. I am using doll heads and I have to tell you it feels pretty macabre dismantling baby dolls and stuffing their parts in a drawer. My youngest son is so creeped out he can hardly look at them which I find wonderful, it means I am connecting on some visceral level.
The latest piece on the worktable is Betty Crocker’s Lost Childhood. Betty has been on the list for over a year. I have hunted and hunted and hunted some more for the right body. Her head was selected last summer after I got it as a present from my friend Jaimie. Old and fantastic, it looks like Betty Crocker to me. I thought seriously about hollowing out a cookbook for her body.
I was actually contemplating the cookbook idea until…insert angelic chorus….I was in Space Oddity, a weirdly cool basement level store in Ballard, Washington, last week with my hipster child/son Tor. Insert beam of light…there it was! An ancient Magic Chef Toy Stove. I managed to convince the owner to mark it down some from the sixty-five bucks he had on it and I triumphantly carried it off into the sunset. Okay, so Torin carried it off into the sunset for me, but Betty Crocker’s body was found.
The same day in another of Tor’s favorite stores, Lucca, I found two sets of Santos hands. Beautiful carved wood hands. Eureka times two! Betty Crocker’s hands. Today, I finally had a chance to begin the project I have been accumulating bits of and ideas for, for over a year. This stove actually still had its electrical cord on it. Thank God, the plug is gone.
I remember this toy. At least one of my friends had one of these. This toy did not bake cakes with a light bulb. Nope, this puppy is wired for some serious heat. I was so curious as to what it was we were baking our tiny cakes and heating our tea with back in the fifties that I was determined to pry the back off and take a look. I turned it over and over and over, kind of like a dog with a Kong toy full of biscuits. There had to be some way to get into the thing. The inside of one oven was undone anyway, so to fix it I had to find out how it was put together in the first place.
I resorted to tin snips and carefully cut the thing up the back and then rolled the tin offf the rivets. The hubs came out to view the result and we both almost fell over. Holy Crap! I wonder how many house fires these little toys started? Not one but TWO porcelain heating elements are inside the back. I carefully rehooked the tabs on the ovens so I could use them as containers for Betty’s life. I think I will put plexiglass on the back and use the oven innards as part of the piece too. Who knows what may lurk in the back of Betty? I cannot wait to find out as the process informs my ideas. That and the box of pieces I have been saving for Betty’s story. I plan to write about the process as I go sharing my process and the product, stay tuned.