Bliss

aabacklitcats

Calligraphy is everywhere on the prairie and in the woods.

I’m home; got in Friday during the late afternoon, very tired; unloaded the car yesterday, am not yet unpacked. The final 10 days of the residency were absolute bliss; I pleaded a bit and was temporarily excused from all but the most urgent outside admin till this week. And so I was able to let myself surrender fully into the flow. Not only was I able to I get to that place that seemed so far away during the first bit of the first residency, I went way, way, way beyond it.

aashroomsdraw

aariverdraws

There was a second piece that insisted on being made. The final Saturday morning, I brought food for lunch and dinner out to the studio in the morning and then spent eleven straight hours of what can only be called perfection, quietly bursting through any last shred of trepidation to a complete understanding of all the work, where it is headed, and most importantly, what it means to me and why.

aanomilkweed

The overbeaten milkweed was terrible to cast with, at least with the sheet formation method I had to use (it did, however, make lovely sheets; I air-dried several to use, and restraint-dried some in the wee press.) But, oh, the beautiful pale glowing color!  Moon-like. I’m not giving up yet, but further experimentation was best left for the home studio.

aabluecorner

The final week wasn’t without a few physical struggles in the making, but it was still wonderful, purposefully moving forward, happily solving those problems, fully engaged.

aanutherstem

aatexting

It was a time like the beginning of my work with paper, in this same geographical location in the old Meadow Studio: like music. What the current Meadow Studio gives me, among many other gifts, is the ability to spread out, switch processes, work on several things simultaneously, and to see all the work in relation to itself, the space, the prairie, and: my worldview. I repeat: bliss.

Aopenstudio

aopenstudio2

(Final tally: just under six weeks in residence, not counting time spent at home, seven new works, counting the ear installation. Only two are ‘finished’ – one of those gets a wee bit more tweaking then heads out into the world in ten days – but I know exactly where each piece is going!)

aaSingleSpecies

This Single Species (working title) is by no means finished, and will probably never be seen again this way, but I had to see them together on a wall for myself. They will not be for sale for a long while, if ever; they’re going to be tweaked, then move around.

Prairie dance

Segue: on the Vineyard

When Sandy and I were discussing the upcoming workshop, she said I must take time to spend on the island. I’m very grateful to her for that, because Martha’s Vineyard is a place I’ve always wanted to visit, not only because I love being on islands, Atlantic islands (on both sides of the pond) in particular. I also love – and even have a need – to physically experience places that are steeped in human history. The Vineyard holds fascinating, uplifting history that resonates at my core.

MVbook

I borrowed and read this excellent book about twelve years ago. In anticipation of my upcoming visit, I recently acquired my own copy. Re-reading it now, not so long after experiencing first-hand how ridiculously easy it is for corporations to blatantly, casually flout ADA laws, is proving to be an emotional event.

For about 300 years on Martha’s Vineyard, due to hereditary factors, there was an unusually high percentage of deaf people (one in 155, as opposed to one in nearly 6000 on the mainland). As the title of the book states, hearing and deaf alike learned sign language along with English as a matter of course in early childhood. Hearing people used sign language among themselves, whether or not deaf people were present; it was simply second nature. As a result, deaf people were full participants in every aspect of island life: like their hearing neighbors, they were farmers, fishermen, shop owners, churchgoers, members of local government and fully present at every social occasion. ‘The deaf’ were not though of as a group, but were remembered as individuals, according to their accomplishments, personalities, professions, and relationships first. To be deaf was simply not perceived as being unusual in any way. “It was taken for granted…as if somebody had brown eyes and somebody else had blue…They were just like anybody else.” Perhaps the most telling of many such quotes in the book is this, a reply by an island woman in her 80s when asked about neighbors who were ‘handicapped by deafness’: ‘“Oh,” she said emphatically, “those people weren’t handicapped. They were just deaf.”’

The history of Martha’s Vineyard definitively points out that the notion of ‘disability’ is something a culture creates by tacit agreement (as discrimination often is practiced as well). Perhaps walking the land and breathing the air of an island imbued with such beautiful history will provide my own last bit of healing, finally obliterating the remaining scars left by sanctioned bigotry. I felt a bit guarded about writing of this, until I read the jacket notes by no less a personage than Oliver Sacks: “ I was so moved by Groce’s book that the moment I finished it I jumped in the car, with only a toothbrush, a tape recorder, and a camera – I had to see this enchanted island for myself.”

its_here

Spring is here! And I’m in the studio, making books (but out every day, basking).

While I was out #1: Cleveland, Smith Stories

Here’s the first half of things that happened while I was experiencing blogsilence.  A couple of them made me uncomfortable for awhile, and contributed to that silence.

Rust Belt Chic was published. It’s an anthology of works addressing the concept behind its title, which is articulated nicely here.  I haven’t read the entire book yet, I’m skipping around, but what I have read, I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve been acquainted with David C. Barnett (click ‘on-air personalities and scroll down) for many years, though we are not often in contact. Last summer, suddenly, he popped into my inbox to interview me by e-mail for a piece in the History section of Rust Belt Chic, about some early art activity I participated in, titled ‘Tales of the Regional Art Terrorists.’

Then, when I was in Cleveland a few weeks later, DCB visited the Smith’s living room, and recorded a very long, fun interview, portions of which were broadcast a couple of weeks ago.  The segment is available to listen to here, and runs from about 8:40 to 18:30 (of course, I can’t hear much).

The bridge pillar read “Birthplace of Various Industrial Byproducts”.

Just recently, Richard Minsky’s interview (that also included bits about my early life) along with some images of of my work, was published in the Autumn 2012 issue of Fine Books and Collections magazine, in Richard’s regular column. It’s titled Book Art: Without Words.  I haven’t seen it yet; I’ve asked Paul to forward the issue to me here at Ragdale when it arrives at the house.

Why was I uncomfortable about these things? It’s simply that I’ve never talked much publicly about my early life (the reasons for that might be the subject of a future blog).  Then, last summer, I decided those reasons were (there is no more appropriate word) hooey.

So, I mentioned the early (enormous) influence the Cleveland Public Library had on me (as both safe physical refuge and source of absorbing escape while I was a young, homeless runaway) to Richard during my lovely interview visit. He asked rather incisive follow-up questions. At one point, I did try to back away, but Richard said, “No, no, this is good.”  David already knew parts of my history and also asked direct questions. Except for that frisson of discomfort while talking with Richard, I was fine with answering all, but as the time neared for publication, I experienced some more oddness, and, well: my words shut down.

My good longtime friend Smith (also featured in the Rust Belt Chic article and radio segment, where he said Really Good Things about me) has never had any such qualms.  It’s something I’ve always admired him for.  Maybe that’s why the first descriptor that comes to my mind after having read his new book is ‘brave’.

I’m certain he doesn’t see it that way; he doesn’t hold back anything, ever, unless what he has to say might harm someone; he is an open book.  Stations of the Lost and Found, co-written with his lovely and talented wife, Lady K, is utterly, at times even painfully, honest. It’s all there: outrageous drug use, armed robbery, sex, adultery, his near-death by alcohol…and, perhaps glossed-over a tiny bit: redemption.  A Next Chapter needs to be written, definitely.

I liked this book, A Lot.  Much more than Kerouac, to which it has been compared. Yes, Smith is my friend; I’ve read earlier versions and have known some of the stories for years (and have lived through some as well, though I learned some new things, like about the LSD). This is the best telling ever, no question, and I think I would have liked it if I didn’t know him or the stories.  Smith’s own blurb about the book is much, much better than anything I can write; so please read it here.  He has led one strange life. The oddest thing about it, though, is that Smith is – and has always been – one of the most morally sound people I know.  And absolutely one of the funniest.  One story that didn’t make it to the book is something another friend told him years ago (the second thing that comes to my mind after ‘brave’): “Smith, if we just went by the facts, none of us would be here.”  Read this book; it’s truly true and stranger than fiction.

Great DisContent, Great Read

Man, God and Magic – Brian Dettmer

Google Alerts just brought in a fantastic interview with Brian Dettmer.  I thank him hugely for the shout-out, but more importantly, I also agree wholeheartedly with just about everything he says here about books, being an artist and finding your own way. It’s an excellent read, heartening for young artists especially. Enjoy (and internalize)! (Here’s to being ‘stubborn and delusional’.)

In Other Words

I’m sort of impressed with what I’ve gotten done this week, until I look at what’s still on my overloaded plate.  My sweetest breaks have been to read: reviewing Aimee Lee’s outstanding manuscript, and also an unprecedented number of papers that were written about my work during the just-ended semester (something which still finds me astounded).

Two thoughtful, articulate grad students have kindly given me permission to publish excerpts from theirs; they are Ceci Cole McInturff, at George Mason University, and Barbara Landes, at the University of Iowa, Center for the Book (who interviewed five artists in total, including Aimee). When I compiled these quotes, I quickly perceived a distinct dialogue between the two, who will meet this summer in my first class at Women’s Studio Workshop. I am looking forward to that, very much.

Detail: That’s Life

“…in the late 1990s Craig decided to deprive her work of what she increasingly could not hear: words. The resulting bodies of text-free work are more narrative than her early word-involved and altered book works. They achieve a heightened level of aesthetic beauty. And they reveal more inner core in terms of belief in the cyclical power of nature and its lessons to us, while communicating vestiges of loss/ frustration/ anger/ resilience. They emphasize the intuitive.” – McInturff

“Previously, she created objects that communicated witty and intellectual ideas. Her work has become more direct and expressive, and can be “read” through the use of materials, scale, color and, in the case of (S)Edition, repetition”. – Landes

“Not only is this art of hand-created paper evocative, it may be importantly timed. New generations using…books digitally…are tempted to view art objects and installations as separate from “book,” (art being seen as relational, experiential, in the context of social change, or in contexts of museum, gallery, collection or decorative quality). Melissa Jay Craig’s narrative sculpture blurs such categorical lines. She plays out a love-hate relationship with language on one level, but on another, recalls Carrion* in that her work can be interpreted to still imply words by subconsciously evoking the mental images words convey.” – McInturff

“Another strong work from the Davenport show is “That’s Life,” an open book which sits on a table about waist high and rises above and to either side of the viewer. Its openness appears to leave it vulnerable. It seems to vibrate as if it is emitting sounds, a visual depiction of paper’s rattle. The different textures of this work are a feast for the eyes. They replace words with a more urgent communication. The inner pages are rippled, crisp and translucent, edges tinged with red. They are operatic, deeper sounds echoing in smaller denser ripples against the inner kozo cover….This is a book that will not close, it has something it needs to say.”. – Landes

“A survey of her work progressively and increasingly epitomizes what Joanna Drucker characterizes as an auratic quality. That is, books which ‘generate a mystique, a sense of charged presence, seem to bear meaning in just their being, their appearance, and their form through their iconography and materials.’” – McInturff

The scale of her work in the show struck me in a powerful way. I was surrounded by open, flittering books, some of which were as large as myself. Her works have a presence that one does not get from her website. They are made to be at a human scale and are often the wingspan or height of a viewer; they demand attention. – Landes

“…she argues for hearing, seeing and communicating on deeper and non-overt levels, and requires things reflective and perceptive of her viewers – something needed and rare in an over-stimulated contemporary culture.” – McInturff

“So much artwork today is viewed on a flat computer screen that the physical response to a work is lost…. Of course it is fantastic to see so much work so easily, but the experience of seeing artwork in person, where all one’s senses are called upon, is so much greater. In researching these artists, I did not have the luxury of seeing their work in person, except for Craig, so I had to rely on the computer. In writing about the work, I could feel that difference.” – Landes

***

“(Says) Craig: “Being deaf permeates every area of my life.” But ironically, so do words: she is an energetic blogger, and skilled writer and speaker who is highly exposed on the web in interviews, book reviews and critiques, a.k.a. a wordie.” – McInturff

Busted. But I’m also definitely a reader-wordie. Thank you, Ceci and Barbara, for providing these well-considered words. Not only do I wholly appreciate what they say about my own work (how could I not?), I am encouraged by the refreshing views put forth in terms of the overall realms of books, paper, and experiencing artwork in general. Excellent work!

* Ulises Carrion, ‘The New Art of Making Books’

Nemesis

Yesterday I had a pivotal conversation via captioned iPhone. Short tests with the app were wonderful, and I’ve used it successfully (and with a sigh of relief) for things like appointments. I really thought it would be fine. But the long conversation was simply ridiculous on my end: the app suddenly became agonizingly slow, misinterpreted words, and froze. three. times. I backed it up with headphones and cranked-all-the-way volume that just barely gave me the speaker’s voice, yet disconcertingly fed back loud, distorted,  delayed echoes of my own. I can do most anything but have an effective phone conversation, so I’m rather frustrated by the fact that so much, so often, seems to hinge on just that.

And now I’m left to wonder: do I become my own arch-nemesis when I attempt to accommodate the hearing world instead of relentlessly insisting on the other way around?

Quintessence

Google alerts brought this in a couple days ago, by someone I don’t know. I thought, “aww, that’s sweet (thank you)”  – and then I laughed out loud. The author inadvertently and succinctly exposes the heart of certain matters and attitudes I’ve struggled mightily to understand. Yes, sweet.