Wednesday, June 30, 2010


James Grashow is a printmaker and sculptor. His sculptures have involved multiple media and range in size from smallish "bouquets" to large installation pieces. He voices a fascination for the line between fantasy and reality; metaphor and truth. That fondness is on display in his Corrugated Fountain, currently exhibited at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke.

After graduating from the Pratt Institute of Art in the 60's, Grashow was awarded a Fulbright travel scholarship to study a year in Florence, Italy. There he tried to see everything, with his primary focus on painting and graphics.

Obviously, he absorbed a few influences from the statues and fountains that abound in Italian cities.

James Grashow's cardboard fountain references the marble fountains of the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). Bernini was the leading sculptor of his age as well as a prominent
architect. Additionally, he painted, wrote plays, and designed metalwork and stage sets.

While Bernini worked in enduring marble, Grashow chooses cardboard as his medium. Think about it: the whole concept of a fountain made of cardboard is absurd. Water and paper make for a mushy mix.

Quoting James Grashow:
"They say you know an artist more by the materials that he uses than the things he chooses to make. The artist that works in stone or steel is a different person than the one that works in cardboard and paper. Materials speak to your true identity, your core belief. Mortality, fragility,and the transient nature of man are what I believe in. I wish and try to be more positive, but my work always betrays me.

Corrugated board is a material that understands its mortality. It knows it is destined for the trash bin or recycle pile. It is bonded to the human experience. They say that 85% of everything on the planet has spent part of its life in a cardboard box. Corrugated board and all of us have a shared destiny, it is in our DNA. Rescued from trash, corrugated board is so grateful to be something; to have another chance, it becomes a perfect partner in play."


Grashow goes on to say:
"An artist always talks about his or her process, the creation of a work from start to finish. Stone or steel, the Afghan Buddhas or the World Trade Center, part of being human is dealing with the totality of process. If the question is of how we face the finite nature of our being, I chose paper."

For all of the deep thoughts and insights the artist offers, it is important not to lose sight of the sheer fun that comes in encountering this piece. Being able to walk through the piece, to view and experience it from different angles, evokes playfulness. It allows exploration.

James Grashow's Corrugated Fountain is on display at the Taubman Museum of Art until February 20, 2011. Next it goes on to the Allan Stone gallery in New York.
Lastly, true to the ephemeral nature of his material, this sculpture that took 4 years to create will be placed out-of-doors to allow the forces of nature to complete the totality of process.

See it while you can,

P.S. There is one more post coming about this exhibit. It examines more closely some details of construction.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Grashow at the Taubman

Not quite two years ago, I spent the day in Roanoke, Virginia. The new art Museum would open the next week on November 8th. Finally, a road trip up Interstate 81 had enough wiggle room time-wise to allow to checking out the Taubman.

Designed by Tennessee born and raised architect Randall Stout, the museum cost $66 million and features American Art with an emphasis on on the artistic expressions of the Western Virginia and the Appalachian region.

The current show that captured my fancy is entitled Corrugated Fountain, "The Cardboard Bernini". It was created by James Grashow.

Here is a link to an intriguing 5 minute youtube video where the artist speaks about the genesis of his concept.

The installation is fairly large and you can walk in between the various pieces and take photographs, which of course is what I did. My next post will share those photos.

Come back and see it soon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lagniappe - Or How the Dog Got it's Face

See the dog. See her face. Let me tell you how it came to be.

Diverted from the paper recycling box, some of these Inter Library Loan Records are destined to become postcards. The paper has a nice weight.

Step one uses the paint from other projects to cover and color the background. Rather than leave any paint on a palette, paint left at the end of a session is applied to scrap paper to create postcard backgrounds.

A dog cut out serves as a mask when a spritz of black spray paint is applied.
Sequin waste is used as a mask as light brown spray paint is applied.

Here commercial scrapbook paper becomes the next mask.

The multiple color applications tell the tale. This piece of scrapbook paper has been subverted form it's intended use several times.

Seen from the right side though, it looks like the paper might pass for scrapbook use, if perhaps a slightly grunged-up layout.

Not a completed postcard yet, but this is the image I will play with to make one.

Here's the paper image with the mask on top, so the accidental method of creating the face is more evident.

My suspicion is that this dog, with her new found face, will engender a postcard of her own and will cease to be simply an art tool.

And by way of title explanation I offer this definition, summarized from Webster.

Lagniappe : a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of purchase;
more broadly and as used in this instance : something given or obtained gratuitously.

Happenstance can make you happy. It did me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Round Robin #3 - Lost, Tossed &&& Found

This necklace and accompanying book have just set out on a journey that will take them to both coasts and will last for several months. As a member of the yahoo group Charmsters, I am taking part in my third round robin exchange.

Having completed two round robins last year, the concept behind these exchanges is now familiar to me. Being a bit of a word nerd, a modicum of research was called for before setting out to clarify the terminology for blog readers. I found that 'Round Robin' is now used to refer to things that operate in a rotational manner, like tournaments where each player plays every other, circular letters etc. Long before those contemporary meanings were known of, the term Round Robin had been used to refer to a variety of things. The earliest use was as a disparaging nickname, along the lines of 'sly dog' or 'dark horse'. This dates back to the 16th century.

The currently used rotational' meaning is independent of all of the earlier uses. This began in the 18th century as the name of a form of petition, in which the complainants signed their names in a circle, so as to disguise who had signed first. This was especially favored by sailors - not surprisingly, as mutiny was then a hanging offense.

In the case of Charmsters, there was an initial call for project participants. Ten of us answered that call. When sign up was completed the hostess set up the order or sequence of trades, which did indeed occur in the aforementioned circular format.

Each participant then selects their own theme. Mine, as you can see is entitled "Lost, Tossed &&& Found". Participants then create their base necklace or bracelet and focal to reflect their theme. These projects are generally accompanied by a booklet of some variety.

At the first of each month projects are forwarded to the next participant in the rotation. Thus, each month your piece moves forward for the next artist to add a charm reflective of your theme. Each month you receive a necklace or bracelet in the mail to which you create and add a charm. Your charm relates to the theme of that particular necklace. The lovely necklace currently in my possession is themed beach and has a mermaid focal.

After 10 months, a completed necklace with additions from all participants arrives back home.

My necklace focal is assembled like a small book, with the front cover being a leaf from a vegetable steamer. Next are two mica pages, one with a photo of Greta, the latest addition to our pack that now numbers 4 dogs. Greta is a lost or tossed pooch, found along a busy road last July at about 6 or 7 months of age. She has fortunately found a happy home with us.

The last page of the focal is cut from a recycled wafer tin and shaped like the other components..

As noted earlier, most projects generally travel with a booklet of some form. Here artists can record thoughts about the charm they added and/or tell a little about themselves or their inspiration.

Over the past several years I have become a fan of bookbinding, much to my own surprise. This one is made with watercolor paper; stencils and spray paint were used get the background colors and pockets were sewn in for each participant to add whatever so suits them. The cover is recycled from the garbage bin at our hospital's Medical Library. It is bound in a spiral format using cooper wire.

The base for my necklace is composed of rickrack, thrift store ribbon, a torn old white sheet and an inexpensive thrift store rosary all partially encased in plastic coil binding also rescued from library trash. The coil binding was separated from the bound notebooks with interior pages going to paper recycling and the covers becoming the background base for my recycled postcards.

Round robins are probably my favorite form of Charmster exchange. Each necklace or bracelet has it's own theme and design demands, so there is a lot of novel and fun problem solving to engage in.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Taking the Time to Smell the Catalpas

Every morning, while driving to work along King's Mill Pike I pass a stretch where numerous Catalpa trees grow. Realizing that their bloom cycle was drawing to a close, I finally took the time to pull over, smell the fragrant blossoms and snap a few photographs.

Catalpas typically grow to 40 to 60 feet tall and 20–40 feet wide. A 10-year-old sapling will stand about 20 ft tall. They can be recognized by their large heart-shaped leaves and showy white orchid-like flowers. In the autumn they sport 8 to 20 in long seed pods containing numerous small flat seeds, each seed having two thin wings to aid wind dispersal

Due to their large leaf size, Catalpas provide very dark shade and are a popular habitat for many birds, providing them good shelter from rain and wind. These trees have very little limb droppage, but drop large, dark brown bean pods during late summer. The wood of catalpas is quite soft.

Catalpa trees are the host plant for the Catalpa sphinx moth which has two or more generations each year. The caterpillars can completely strip catalpa trees and grow to three inches in length.

This photo shows late stage caterpillars. The back is velvet black upon molting. As they feed and expand, they lighten in color. Infestations rarely last more than two years in a row thanks to a parasitic wasp that attacks the caterpillars. This reduces damage to the trees as the caterpillars eat voraciously. Parasitized individuals will be covered with white cocoons. Just think of these insects as the tomato horn-worms of the catalpa trees and you will have the idea.

Catalpa worms are renown as great fish bait, especially for when going for catfish. Bait shops will pay a premium for them. The tree is at times dubbed the fish bait tree and anglers have been known to grow catalpas just for the bait potential, even going so far as to harvest and freeze caterpillars for future fishing expeditions.

Catalpa trees and picture-perfect lawns just don't mix particularly well, so it is not a frequent part of home landscapes these days. Part of the tree's lowly reputation is caused by the succession of lawn messes it creates. If it is not shedding leaves, it is dropping flower petals or long cigar-shaped seed pods. Those large green caterpillars create a lot of frass as they devour the tree leaves.

For now, I will just stop along that stretch of King's Mill Pike on occasion and enjoy the scent and beautiful blossoms of the roadside catalpas.