Friday, October 17, 2008

More Baubles

"I'm getting worried."

"Why. What's up?"

"I need more baubles"

"More? We've been collecting stuff non-stop for nearly 4 years. The shelves in the basement are stuffed with found objects. You've probably used about 2% of what we've collected."

"I need different stuff"

"You. "

"I need plastic and non-rusty stuff."

As much as my brain is throwing a fit in an attempt to be with this, I know she's right. She's been using less and less rusty metal.

I need a few moments to let the short films playing in my head simmer down. The hundreds of hours of finding, carefully cleaning and storing over a thousand pieces of scrap metal. Some part of me knew that most of it wouldn't get worked into art. Paula usually has no idea how she'll use a piece of scrap until she's in process and the proper context shows up.

"I get. I get it. You're right. Let's go to the junkyard next week and stock up on some non-rusty stuff."

"Really? OK, how about Tuesday?"

". . . . sure. "

I've learned by watching Paula's creative process that an artist must find ways to let go of safe sensibilities in order to keep developing. Investing so much time, effort, money or other resources into a particular direction can create a lot of resistance to changing course. I think this keeps many artists from developing a unique voice. Paula has the ability to abandon a project that isn't working after months of time investment. She'll keep tweaking a piece or even completely take it apart to rebuild it a different way regardless of how much time or money has been sunk into it. It's still an emotional struggle, but she doesn't get stuck. I've learned from this greatly. Creative inspiration, like fire, needs space to get ripping.

I've found that the biggest breakthrough in my writing has been to let go and delete as many extraneous words as possible. Sometimes that leads to completely trashing a story and starting fresh by picking through the bones. The sooner you can recognize that something is no longer relevant to your work and move on, the better. To look at a studio full of supplies and make that call is a decision that I admire.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Holey Holey Pajama Bottoms

"You're fabricating steel in pajama bottoms. Aren't you worried about getting hurt?"


"You can't make industrial art in pajama bottoms. It's just wrong."

"They're great. I feel free and happy in them."


Maybe I need pajama bottoms.

I hated pajamas when I was a kid. They felt embarrassing to me. A 12-year old just wants to be taken seriously. Who would take you seriously when you're dressed in a pajama suit? The top just kills it for me. Even Mr. Hefner looks like a mental patient to me in full pajamas.

After honestly exploring my feelings I have to admit I do like the bottoms. I also love that they're referred to as bottoms instead of pants. Willy Wonka probably wears pajama bottoms in his laboratory when he's inventing stuff. I'm wearing a pair right now. In fact I've been writing in them all day. I can now see that magical things happen in pajama bottoms. My new theory is that they inspire creativity. This must be Pnut's secret advantage. It's so obvious, I don't understand how I could have missed it. Pajama bottoms are like wizard's robes.

Paula loves her pajamas so much that she wore her favorite pair until they nearly disintegrated. Her bottoms look like a heard of wild forest moths consumed them at some kind of horrifying pajama banquette. What may be even more disturbing is that I requested that I inherit them to be used in some kind of future art piece. So I am now in possession of one freshly laundered pair of holey, holey pajama bottoms. For now, they are being stored next to a pair of boots that I've had for nearly 20 years that are in the same condition. Am I nuts? Other people covet worn jeans and cowboy boots. There is something magnetically attractive to me about an object that has been used to within an inch of it's existence. At some point everything becomes so disorganized that it loses it's original form. I like seeing the transition.

Besides these pajama bottoms are powerful. I just can't bear to see all of that creative mojo taken out of circulation for good. I'm really hoping I can somehow extract some of Paula's powers from them. I'd like to wring just a small fraction of Paula's art juju from the remaining collection of plaid swatches to use for my own little projects. Shhh, here she comes.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Does This Look Straight To You?

"I drilled a hole wrong again."


"I'm such a fuck-up. I drilled the hole in the wrong place. I measured it twice. Does this look straight to you?"


"It's not straight is it? I know it's not straight."

These are exchanges I have with Paula about once a month.

"No Honeybuns, fucked up is good, remember? We've been having this same conversation for 3 years now. Your aesthetic is raw. Rustic. Sometimes Modern-Rustic. Right? Not knowing how to use tools properly helps your aesthetic. We've talked about this. "

"But shouldn't I be able to cut something straight? I don't think I'll ever get it. I don't understand fractions. How can I measure something if I don't know how fractions work? I just count the little lines that come after the number. I'm such an idiot. I have no idea what I'm doing . . . I just guess. Measuring never works."

"You have a good eye Honeybuns."

"How can I ever be a real artist if I don't know how to cut stuff right?"

"You can get people for that."

"How am I going to afford to do that?! And who would want to work with me?"

"You're a great designer, it's ok that you don't know how to fabricate everything."

"I hate myself. It's all so pointless. Who's going to buy this stuff?"


"Uggh, how many clocks can you own before you just get sick of it . . ."

This is the point at which my blood begins to froth. It used to scare me. After a week or two of not making art I would be terrified that she'd given up. Now I know better. I get angry. Good, defend-your-mate, angry.

"Look, somewhere in your frustrated, morbid little head there is the knowledge that you're a talented artist. You've found your artistic voice and your main bodies of work are mature. You've developed your unique artistic mojo by working until your fingers bleed for the last 4 years. You're innate design sensibility is staggering to me. The only reason you go insane, hating yourself is because you haven't had enough exposure."

"You're the only one buying my work, so what?"

"You've sold work in every show you've ever done a including a Vermont high school hockey arena, a retail clothing shop, and a 5-foot hallway in the back office of a light fixture company!"

"I didn't sell anything at the last Art Hop."

"It didn't help that you literally ripped your pieces off of the wall halfway through the show."

"They weren't safe there. The puzzle sculpture fell off the wall and no one picked it up. And it was a public space."

"Ok, I'll give you that. It was a bad scene and it was good that you took your work back early. Hey, you even sold The Birch Geisha at that horrible NYC show. The damn thing was 12 feet off the ground above an entire wall of two other artists' pieces."

"I've hardly sold any work this year."

"You haven't shown as much as last year."

The colicky exchange ends. Tomorrow or the next day I'll wake up to the sound of electronica and typing. I'll shuffle into the bathroom and turn my head to the left to see the studio door open, fluorescent lights blazing. I'll shuffle into the kitchen for a glass of water to the sound of scrap metal being laid out on the cement floor. The demons have vanished, looking for easier prey.

If you're lucky, someday you'll own a piece of art that is completely fucked up. Riddled with experimentation. . . frustration. . . creative angst. Rough edges, uneven paint. An extra drill hole with nothing in it. Bent. I love bent. You'll know that the piece has been suffered over rather than cranked out by a meticulous craftsperson. The world is drowning in a swamp of pretty and perfect soulessness. What I hunger for is battered wisdom. The honest beauty of survival. Something that has been left out to sea to be pummeled by decades of ravaging storms. Something that has been tested, broken and reborn. Paula has been out there. Now she's fighting her way to a different shore. She's shown me uncanny things. She'll tell you it just happens. No great meaning. No carefully planned process. "I have no idea what I'm doing," she says. "I don't understand anything." Study Buddhism and you'll find that The Buddha says the same thing minus the self-hatred. We all have our quirks. I just wait for the latest storm to blow over and another unexpected flash of design brilliance to tear through the scrap heap.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Stupid Anger

Fuck, I'm dying a stupid death. Stupid, stupid. Please life, let me at least make it off the toilet before I completely stroke out. The electrical tingling feeling inside my skull continues to build. Any second now the pressure from all of the blood pouring into my brain cavity is going to start hurting. If I stand up I'll pass out for sure and finish myself off with another blow to the head. Ok, I've managed to pull my pants up. Now I can save face with the first responders. If I could just get off of the toilet onto the couch I could die with complete dignity.

Pnut comes home. I'm on the couch. Alive. Clothed.

"Hey Daddy"


"What's wrong?"

"The mirror by the toilet fell on my head."

"The . . what? How did that happen?

"I slammed the bathroom door while I was sitting on the toilet."

"Why did you do that?"


"Unbelievable . . . Are you sure you're OK?"

"Not really."

Pnut continues to walk around the apartment doing stuff. We're both anti-hospital and mostly anti-coddling. It's agreed that the hospital is good for obvious broken stuff, but anything that can't been seen is off limits. Strokes, cancer, blood diseases, funny feelings - your on your own. Considering my non-slurring speech and undisturbed vision, I know I'm not getting a ride to the hospital. What still bothered me was the brutality of the event. The 1/4" thick mirror was affixed to a 3/4" piece of particle board that covered access to a crawl space. The thing weighed a minimum of 25 lbs. Luckily I was still partially leaned over from slamming the door when the board (with the mirror affixed) dislodged, fell on the back of my head, then shattered on the tile floor. It sounded like someone had slammed a solid door on my skull. Trauma. The worst part of it was that lately I have been freaked out by my left inner ear canal occasionally falling asleep after laying in bed on that side. Seconds after the mirror finished bludgeoning me, I felt the hot, horrible electrical tingling in that very area. This triggered the resigned feeling of certainty that I was only moments from losing consciousness.

The inner ear hemorrhage feeling is mostly gone now. Still angry though. An agitated life review bubbles through the surface of my thoughts. I'm stuck. I know I'm stuck. I need to be making more progress in my art life. Everyday I obsessively think about this. I live my life intuitively for the most part. When I don't make an effort to listen or act on what comes wafting my way bad things start happening. At first stuff stops working out. Something doesn't function properly. Somebody doesn't show up. Then stuff starts breaking. The next step is me being very grumpy . . . angry at little things, like this fucking piece of paper that won't fit in the envelope. I folded you correctly, now fit! Why won't you fit! GHAAAAAAAAAA!!! RRRRRRRRR!!! FIT!

I immediately decide that I must take a week off from work before I end up dead. Incredibly I am able to get seven days off starting next week, "if that's not too soon of course" No, no, not too soon. That works great.

The very day preceding the start of my vacation, life starts reaching for the big stick again. I make a mistake at work. I show up at a customer's house, back up to the garage, pop the trunk and get out to ring the doorbell. I am met by a stunned looking caretaker.

"Is there luggage ready I can start loading?"

"Luggage? Luggage?!"

"Uh, am I here on the wrong day? Are they not hea. . . did I read the schedule wrong?"


"I read the schedule wrong. They're not at the airport are they? They're at the airport. Ok, they're at the airport aren't they? Ok, alright, I'll fix this."

"You better do something!"

Numbness. I feel numb as I'm scrolling down the screen on my smart phone. Yep, they're at the airport. The private airport. This couple happen to be internationally known, full-time philanthropists complete with British accents. It is now exactly 3:58 and I have no doubt that they are standing on the tarmac while the ground crew unloads their luggage, wondering where their car is. The company I work for has been providing these people with transportation for decades. To my knowledge no one has ever left them stranded at the airport. The only other driver closer to the airport is currently with another passenger in the wrong type of vehicle (a van without a step which would require him to physically insert the unhappy couple into it.) They ended up getting a cab from Burlington. The next day I delivered an apology card and a pint of cherry tomatoes from my garden to their office. That was the first day of my vacation. Six days later I made my inaugural post on this blog. Life has stopped trying to humiliate and kill me and I carry on with my purpose like a good little mammal.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Number 58

I'm soaking wet and my hand can't find the soap. My little green tea lemongrass soap remnant has gone AWOL on me. The water continues to pour onto my soapless body. Uhhhhhhghh . . . out of the shower to grab my hand soap from the sink. The worst has happened. Like fingernails on a chalkboard . . . big footstep-puddles strewn across the floor. I close my eyes and desperately will myself back into a hot shower reverie. A quick dry off and out to work.

After work and dinner. Interneting.

Pnut - "Wooooooo! Wooooooo! I finished another clock. Come take a look."

Me - "Wow . . . it's really. . . nice. . . My soap! That's my soap!"

"Yeah, isn't it perfect?

I can't get past it. I just want my little soap back. I loved that little soap.

"Cool. It's cool. I like it. Crazy idea. Good stuff."

To make matters worse my Mom fell under the spell of number 58. Soon after discovering the origin of the 'fat green washer' ("It looks like a stone. What is that?) she bought it. She bought my little soap. Now I have to put up with seeing my little soap imprisoned whenever I visit my Mom.

It's hard not to get involved in art when your toiletries become incorporated into works.

The sick thing is that I know someday I'll get it back. I know it's wrong, but that's what I think about.

Hang on little soap. . . i'm still here. Don't dry out on me. I'll come back for you.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Freight Bearing Clocks

The clocks are pure genius to me.

The dichotomy just smacks you across the head. Wall clocks are generally made out of fragile, cheap materials that are light and finished in a way that makes them appear opulent and heavy. Faux metal; Faux finished; Faux. Paula's clocks are anti-faux. Everything that looks heavy, worn, rusted, sharp or dangerous is exactly that. That's why her art makes me giddy. In an age of digital trickery, giclees, photos, painted still-life's, Paula gives you the thing itself in all of it's impractical glory. There is a distinct, subtly powerful beauty to objects that are presented directly without being filtered. Painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, and most sculpting are subjective interpretations manufactured by the artist. Found objects have lived their own life. They survive a life of purpose before they're appropriated. An object brings an entire story with it, often ingrained in it's surface. You're forced to study something that you would choose to ignore in a different context. Hey, I like, even love work in all of the mediums I've mentioned (I live with a 90 inch oil painting hanging 1 foot above my bed . . . unframed so it won't crush me.) I'm just obsessed with the entropy that the physical universe imposes on man made objects.

Working with found materials does have it's drawbacks. If you want to add a tree to a nature scene in a painting you pick up a brush, mix a few colors and paint it (uh, yes I've worked color and I am aware of how much I'm minimizing the process here). Say you want put a clockworks into a piece of found metal. Just drill a hole. What if it doesn't like being drilled? What if you start drilling and your drill bit melts. Off you go to the internets to find out what you're doing wrong. The first thing that you discover is that whatever kind of metal you got, you need a drill bit made out of something harder than that metal to get through it. So you have to know what you're drilling through. There are basic metals - aluminum, copper, iron. Then there's steel. It's got a bunch of different metals in it (mostly iron). In fact there are like 7384 different types of steel when you take into account how it's processed and made. So what metal is harder than most steel? And more importantly how much does it cost (my brain could only throw pictures of diamond tipped bits at me) There are a few options. Titanium, cobalt, tungsten . . . cobalt - sounds like something that would power a Star Trek phazer. I don't know, maybe this isn't all that exotic, but it hits my surrealistic funny bone.

The first assembly step for Paula's clocks is to bore a hole into 1/2 inch thick cast steel with a cobalt drill bit (we still don't know it's composition and the hardness varies drastically from plate to plate. I think the foundries just used whatever was cheap and available). Horrible screeching noises and a wave of vibrations push the smell of burnt industrial cutting oil out the basement and up stairs. The first time I hear this my limbic system sounds the alarm bells of impending mechanical death. My higher brain functions frantically flash scenes of heavy machining tools hungry for human bones to rip into and pulverize. Icy sweat springs from my pores. Once I'm able to fight off the paralysis I sprint downstairs and push open the door to the workshop. My freaked-out stare is met with an annoyed glance from Pnut. I creep back upstairs.

Now, 2+ years later and I'm peacefully surfing the web amidst the odd screech, thump or curse. The building process continues - patina, texture, color, positive and negative shape all meld together when a piece is completed. Sometimes it seems obvious once it's done. Most of the time my brain gets poked in its sensibilities. Paula has become a reluctant fabricator. I have become the occasional research assistant and frequent prodder. The RR plates have opened up an entirely new universe of possibilities to me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Walking The Tracks

We walked a lot. Along a moonlit stream accessed from the parking lot of a mental hospital. Wooded paths discovered by motorcycle.

In late October we decided to camp out at a 'rustic' camping spot marked on a state forest map found archived on the web. We arrived at the end of the access road to find that it terminated into a heavily rutted logging road. A brief exploration on foot confirmed that the campsite was there, about a quarter mile ahead. An hour later and we were unloading firewood out the camper and lining a mud trench behind the vehicle. Backing out and leaving felt like a wonderful idea. Thanks to Paula's ingenuity of well placed logs, rocks and curtains (oh God, my original interior Westfalia curtains . . . ) The Dumpster managed to extract itself after some unseen scraping and bending. Paula began referring to the Westy as 'The Dumpster' at some point during that trip. It was actually fairly tidy inside. Pnut was referring to the exterior shape and that fact that it felt as if it would just overwhelm itself at any moment bounding downhill on country roads. As with most observations like this her gut was right. It did weigh nearly 4,500 lbs between its steel bulk and various added contents. Which isn't so bad until you consider that it sits on 14 inch wheels. Most small passenger cars use 15 or 16 inchers now. Even on mildly steep roads it handled like a wet diaper.

Following the wake of the rustic camping incident our adventures stayed closer to home. Shortly after arriving in Vermont Pnut rented an apartment in a dilapidated building about 500 feet from a set of active train tracks. A couple of times a week we would head out on long walks down the track bed to access hiking trails. Paula would take her small digital camera to snap a few close-up shots of tree stumps, roots, boulders, or freight cars along the way. Later we'd fire up the computer and look at the photos like unwrapping presents.

At some point Paula started collecting railroad fishplates or sleeper pads, er . . . these:

A year or so later we got to know a local sculptor who had lived in the area his whole life. He mentioned that he had always seen potential in the RR plates, but just never figured out what to do with them. Searching the internet at the time, I was only able to find a couple of artists that had gone beyond experimenting with them. The plates have severe limitations. They're made of 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick cast steel. That mostly means that they're shockingly heavy. And hard. What I have seen made out of them are smallish table sculptures that weigh nearly 50lbs, functional anchor points for structures and a massive multi-ton sculpture of a bull that's decided to bury itself by stubbornly sinking into the earth. Every one of these creations are welded together. Pnut doesn't know how to weld. Thankfully, neither do I. She wound hemp through their cast holes. Wired car parts to them. Eventually she started winding wire through the holes to create a hanging system. She used them as little canvases. Little 6 X 10 inch, eight pound canvases. Pnut had found her talisman. Soon an entire world would reveal itself through this medium. These little plates unlocked a flood of design instincts in Paula that continues to stun and inspired us both to this day. Just writing about it is enough to tweak my body into sweaty anticipation of what might be brewing in the concrete floored workshop humming below my feet.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gustav's Trap

The door swung open a scant five months before I met Pnut.

Klimt. That dead bastard unknowingly left some kind of gaping art portal on the kitchen side-table. The 'Sun Room', to be correct. The damn book had been there for years. It's not like I hadn't noticed its boring scholarly presence before. Laying there. Pompously. Ignoring me. Ok, so I was ignoring it. Or at least I was trying to. I used to hate antique gold jewelry, metallic gold paint . . . and quilts. I found that whenever I came across any of those things uptight old people would soon show their disapproving heads. Essential Klimt it's called (yes, the bloody title is italicized on the actual book. See? I told you it was pompous). On the cover is what appears to be a sick necrophiliac-man wrapped in some kind of misshapen gold leafed, quilted sleeping bag kissing a dead woman. Maybe they're both dead. Or the lighting's bad. I don't know. And all that blinding gold . . . The whole thing made me ill.

There I was, just wafting back into the material plane after a lengthy meditation session. My ego, bored stiff, wandering aimless around the back of my skull waiting for some action. My hand reached out and picked up the book. Opened it. My eyes looked. Pages were turned. My ego, suddenly realizing that the electricity was back on, burst into the room - "What the hell is going on here?! Put down the fucking book." The problem was that I couldn't put it down. Some other part of me was transfixed. Bathing in honey. Like some child who had just realized he was standing in front of an apple tree for the first time. Tears started leaking from my head. "This is beautiful", I muttered. I felt completely overwhelmed. By a book . . . of old Austrian paintings. It felt like someone had filled my head with molten lava and it was pouring down my insides. "I get it, I get it!" I said, looking up from the book. I realize this sounds like utter hyperbolic crap, but I actually felt and said these things to myself.

Five months later I find myself feeling possessed. For no discernible reason I feel that I must stop what I am doing and go to Liz's house immediately. I'm in the middle of straightening the mud room. I just know that there is something going on at Liz's house and if I don't go down there soon I'm going to miss it. The odd thing is that I don't really know Liz very well. She has a small pick-your-own organic garden at her house. I met her the previous summer after seeing the town sign on Route 100 before the turn off to Moscow Rd. It says, 'Inky Dinky Oink Inc. Gallery'. This is on an official state road sign in between the ones for the Moscow General Store and the Von Trapp Family Lodge. How could I not investigate that? Since then I had been occasionally stopping by for my snap pea fix. We had chatted a few times about deeper subjects, but I had only made maybe 5 or 6 visits to her place. When I arrived on this particular day it didn't look like anything out of the ordinary was happening. After Liz greeted me before I noticed that there was a woman standing on her porch. "Oh, Tod this is Paula. She stayed over last night after we had a pot luck dinner for the Stowe Arts Association. "
"Hi Paula, nice to meet you." Huh, seemed innocuous enough.

Little did I realize that the trap that Gustav had unknowingly set nearly a century ago would soon swallow the entirety of my peaceful, wispy existence. The enzymes had begun they're work.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My New World

Good God, where to begin. . . . I love old stuff. Not antiques or historically significant stuff. Old, worn-out,
useless stuff. This is not the way it's always been. Something happened a few years ago. Mostly I blame her. She came along and poked my tranquil little bubble of a life. One day I was floating along just like the previous day and the years before that, and the next day - **Pop**. Now I'm hungry for air on a new planet.

I find myself obsessively collecting junk. Trash really. It's the stuff people pay to get rid of or step over on the way into the convenience store. The stuff that collects on the shoulder of the road. Sheaths of cut power line casing. A metal spoon that's been run over 46 times. Bits of car. The truly strange part about this is that it's not for me. At least not for the first 4 years. Now I keep some of the small plastic scraps. And wire. Particularly the thin multi-colored stuff the utility workers shed around the telephone junction boxes. I carefully clean the various finds, then give nearly all of it to her.

A few weeks or months later it all comes back. Exquisitely regurgitated out of the basement in a magnificent new form. Small bits from the roadside attached to bigger bits from the town dump. Industrial plastic bits bolted to thick slices of oxidized steel. Wire, tiles, paint, eggshells, tar, dangerously jagged decomposing shards of metal. Things that you're not supposed to touch. Somehow all of this stuff finds other stuff that it never knew existed and gets married into a new form that is unquestionably whole. It's like suddenly discovering that Weeping Willows and steering wheels are a perfect match. You wouldn't think of it on your own, but once you see it bolted all together, it's just right. Once every couple of months or so I find myself in a trance handing over stacks of tip money to buy back the roadside junk that I nearly got run over picking up sometime last year. You see, I must have it. It says things to me. Wonderful things. I know, I know, there's probably something wrong with my brain.

People whiz around me accomplishing things. Achieving things. I Gather. Collect. It's everywhere. Flying off of cars smashing into snowy guardrails. Ripped from buildings in preparation for a face-lift. Fairy dust has been sprinkled on my shaggy little head. I can see things. All of the disaster and horrible pummeling abuse is creating it; neglected, despised, beautiful pieces of stuff. That's what I see. So I carefully pick it up and give it to someone who will fondle it. Love it. Listen to it hum a song of decrepit wisdom and inspiration. This has become my new life. I have finally allowed it to completely consume me. Now I can hear the notes. Feel the tugs. . . the faint whispers of creation. There is no reason to the process. I'm just grateful my apprenticeship has begun.