Working at the Community Day event for the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE) last Saturday was an interesting experience. Although I have been working on a map of Golden Gate Park for my residency, the original fairground map of the PPIE was intriguing to me, as was the possibility of working with participants who were equally interested in the unique combination of history, culture and economics that the PPIE presents. After seeing this map from the San Francisco Public Library, I was motivated to create my own version that played with the building names.
I recently completed a new Musical Anatomy piece entitled “Ira Arca.” This drawing was commissioned by the amazing Bay Area composer Gabriela Lena Frank. I first met Gabi back in 2005 when I was working for her publisher, G. Schirmer. We met in Kansas City, where I had the honor of sitting with her in an empty concert hall as the Kronos Quartet rehearsed her new string quartet.
Gabi is half Peruvian, and this ancestry informs her own music. She asked me to create a piece inspired by the musical heritage of the Andes. I didn’t know much about this area or its music, but luckily Gabi provided a wealth of information through CDs, books, stories, photos, and her own collection of instruments. After lots of listening, reading, and researching, I drew some initial concept sketches. Each concept incorporates a musician with a particular Andean instrument: pitu flute, bombo drum, animal horns, armadillo charango, panpipes (aka antara/siku/zampoña), quena, jaguar trumpet.
Gabi chose the panpipe concepts. Face to face, each player has one row of pipes that interconnects with the other to form a single instrument. This references the hocketing technique employed by this music: a single melody emerges from interconnected notes of different players. One row of pipes is called “ira” and the other is “arca”. Here’s an example of the hocket technique:
To better show the shape and interconnectedness of the pipes, I angled the faces slightly off-center. I created a rough mockup of the heads and pipes in 3D modeling software to more accurately understand the placement and proportions of the image elements.
In Photoshop, I sketched over the 3D render to connect the pipes to the mouths, and to indicate the headdresses and garments.
After getting Gabi’s feedback, we decided to differentiate the characters a bit more. They would both be old men, but in different outfits and with slightly different skin tones. The one on the left would be playing a note, the panpipes slightly cracked like old bamboo instruments, as the one on the right inhales. Here’s a video of Gabi and I discussing the sketch:
I developed the rough sketch a bit further, and incorporated a photo of my hand holding the pipes.
Throughout this process, I studied photos of Andean people to inspire the faces, expressions, garments, and patterns.
I transferred the sketch to 18 x 24” bristol vellum and began drawing with graphite, leaving a half inch border. The drawing process took about a week to complete.
Rather than smoothly blending the tones, I build them up with line work to give the piece a sense of vibration.
The finished piece will be on display during my residency at the de Young this June.
Although a great deal of my work is more traditionally called “painting,” I often use public interaction as a basis for work that addresses social issues. For projects like The TakeOut Project and A City In Maps, I knew that ongoing public dialogue about the subject would be as important as the materials used. I’ve always been interested in the way social spaces are shaped by economic and political factors, so a map made from donated materials and shared stories seemed the perfect way to look at the space of Golden Gate Park.
The gallery was empty for a while. My studio – or something resembling it – had been housed there for a month. With a lot of help, I had packed up my easel, drafting table, flat files and all my stuff into three vehicles and was ready to head back to my real studio. Before leaving, I looked back and took a snapshot of the empty gallery. For a moment, it was as if all the moments I had spent there were compressed. I could see the gallery as it had been and could almost hear the many conversations that had taken place. It was like a collage of images and spoken words – me, with my stories and others, with theirs.
I had included a lot of images in the installation and, because it was a residency, I was present to explain them. They were mostly images that had to do with where I’m from – the seaside town of St. Ives, in Cornwall. Many of these images provoked questions, so I often found myself sharing stories about my rather complicated relationship with the town, its histories and people. In some ways, I think, the work is complete during these conversations. Standing before a picture, I can tell the story behind the image and something of its deeper meaning is revealed. This, in turn, often prompts people to share their own stories and ideas, leading me to alter my presumptions, and change my perspectives.
People came from many different places with many different viewpoints to the Kimball Gallery during my residency. Like me, they had stories to tell about home, time and returning. In my own story, I had returned recently to the house I was born in, hoping to get inside. However, because I was never given permission to enter, much of my recent work has been about my experience of being literally, and in the broader sense, outside, looking in. Standing outside the house I was born in, I remembered images, sounds and conversations from my childhood. Describing this to people, in turn, led to many rich and varied conversations. There were people who were glad they were able to return and go inside. There were several who went inside and wish they hadn’t. There were people who would not want to return, and there were also those who could not – for emotional, economic, or political reasons, return to the place that they’re from. It made me wonder if we can ever really return. In the words of Thomas Wolfe, you can’t go home again. The place we’re from, I think, is a sort of paradox – it is always with us and always without us.
So many interesting stories get shared through the process of making this map. The weekends are filled stories from tourists from all over the world, but the weekday visitors are often locals who know the park in complex and layered ways. A story from Thursday was particularly relevant. A man had come into the space and immediately recognized my painting as a “toile wallpaper for Golden Gate Park”. He turned out to be an artist with experience designing wallpaper himself. He shared a old straw wrapper to add to my map of the park, and when I invited him back to closing reception, he shared that he had just been evicted and was finally leaving the city for good that afternoon. Although I am sure his future home of Nevada City will treat him well, his story is unfortunately a common one for many artists in San Francisco.
de Young Artists-in-Residence are at the museum for just one month, but the artists prepare materials and new works for many months, sometimes years, in advance. Shawn Feeney invited us into his home studio to see what he’s been working on. He created a sonic experience for Kevin Chen, Manager of Artist Programs, talked about his Musical Anatomy series, and showed us his newest work-in-progress, Ira Arca.
One day, some months before my residency began at the de Young, I was walking through the museum. I was on my own, thinking about the ideas I would be working on during the residency. I knew that I would be representing my studio as a place where I’d be working and thinking about where I’m from – but I was thinking about other people, too. After all, I thought, everyone is from somewhere. When we meet someone, we ask ‘Where are you from?’ My head was full of ideas about this but, as I was walking through the lobby, I began to hear the voices of people walking past me. They often had distinctly regional accents or different languages from my own. There were people not only from various parts of this country but various parts of the world. For a moment, the museum lobby seemed almost like an airport. Then I remembered the world maps you sometimes see in airports, showing flight trajectories criss-crossing the globe, and it occurred to me that I could make a map of the world describing where I and other people are from. We could make images of remembered places or people and connect them to that place in the world. I pictured a map that tells stories of places and people who converged for a time in a room at the de Young museum, leaving images and lines to describe the place where they are from, like trajectories of memory.
So I drew the map of the world on a large canvas, leaving a margin for myself and others to add an image in pencil, and included it in the installation. Many people have since drawn images with flight lines to show where they’re from. In the evening, after everyone has gone, I look at the images and follow the lines. There are many surprising images and the lines lead to many different places. These, I think, are flights of the imagination.
The theme of my residency at the de Young is the studio as a place of imagining. In this case it’s about where I’m from. It involves a reconstruction of my studio, unfinished, as if it is still being built. I transported my studio furniture, work in progress and a lot of my stuff to the museum for the installation, so it feels like my ‘real’ studio, even though it isn’t. Sitting at my drawing table, painting, in the reconstruction of my studio and thinking about where I’m from, I sometimes forget where I am. Then, I look out at the trees in the Concourse and I remember. It’s quite a view!
As the de Young Museum is closed on Mondays, I decided to head back home to Santa Cruz, where my real studio is. I needed some things from my studio and I wanted to touch base. I thought about going into the studio. The door to the studio is closed and I found I had mixed feelings about entering. My real studio is almost empty and nothing that’s there is in its place – I had boxed everything up and left in a hurry. It was a mess. Eventually, I found what I needed and headed back to the representation of my studio at the de Young. As I drove back on Highway 1, looking out at the ocean, I realized I could not wait to get to work. In fact, I thought, I was already at work and that the ‘studio’, whether real, reconstructed, or in the imagination, is as much a state of mind as a real place.
Andrea and Christopher (de Young) came to visit my studio on the day of Astrid’s first public press conference. We rented a professional table, comfortable seating, bought new light bulbs, and borrowed several cameras. I showed them around and they filmed us as we filmed her.
Many days later, Christopher recalled their visit to downtown Oakland in an email: “The land there is greatly confusing, consisting of concrete surfaces twisting through a strange metropolis. There were not many creatures about. Perhaps they had diurnal habits and became animated with the rising star on the horizon.”
Michael wanted to make good eye contact during his appearance in the video. In Astrid’s words: “The sounds you hear were composed and performed by Exray’s, a contemporary group of musicians who were inspired by my research and have provided me with free audio assistance for many years. Much to my delight, they have not only believed in Vessel XII, but have dedicated their music to the elucidation of its emotional trials. Since I have never received direct funding, you must understand that I will be forever indebted to them.”