Wednesday

documenting the process

Why? Why do I use the materials that I use for my art?

I have always thought the answer is obvious. But lately I have been giving it a lot of thought, talking about it with other artists, and I have discovered that it's maybe not so obvious... and I am not sure if I can always speak about it clearly.

The basic answer is that I like my materials. I like the way they behave, I like the way that they feel, I love what I am able to achieve with them. I also love that I am creating something beautiful out of trash. I love that I am keeping even a tiny amount of plastic out of the sieve that is the local recycling process. And maybe somewhere out in the ocean, one less little or large aquatic creature will have one less bag to strangle itself in...

I have decided to start documenting my process. And in writing about it, maybe I'll make clear to my collectors and even to myself what it is exactly that goes into loving my materials and why I feel it's important.

In the last few weeks I have spent quite a bit of time communing with these materials of mine. I need to prepare quite a bit of them for future artworks and that meant a lot of time with scissors in hand. The plastic supermarket shopping bag seems so pedestrian. Yet so graphic. I am cutting apart all the graphics, the lettering. Only to put in back together again in completely different ways. This, below, is my pile of large-ish letters.

I have also been sewing plastic netting to vintage linen. I am in the process of trimming away the excesses now to reveal the lines and I just could not throw away the trimmings. For now I am gathering them in a container, one day they will tell me what to do with them.


On my walk with the pup one day a couple of weeks ago, I spotted these plastic bags. Trapped in a tree and gently swaying in the breeze, there was something beautiful about them. Yes they are trash, yes they are polluting the area... and yet... 

Unfortunately I could not reach them to take them off. But they inspired me, as did that scene in American Beauty of the plastic bag dancing with the wind. 

And I love this quote from the script : "Ricky Fitts: It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes." 

So yes, I'm going to dance with some plastic bags....soon.



Back to the graphics of those plastic bags - I am also cutting out all the verbiage. It talks about how to recycle this bag, or where the store is located. I am interested in only the graphic nature of those lines. And I have amassed piles and piles of long and short, skinny and fat ribbons of plastic lettering. They will be my brush strokes...


And then there are pieces of plastic that have no graphic value to me. Or color value, or they are just in a awful shape and would not hold up to torture by stitching. Or I don't like the feel of them and don't want to use them in my art.

Those bags, and bits and pieces, and small hard plastic parts that get thrown in the trash and then quite likely wind up in the Pacific Garbage Patch; all those things, I am stuffing them into rinsed and thoroughly dried containers.

Those containers eventually become 3D buildings. Sculpture if you will, stitched sculpture. On their own they are very light, stuffed full of plastic they are still light, but have a bit of sturdiness to them. Enough to keep them upright and not blow away in the breeze.


I hate styrofoam. Yes hate is a strong word as I always tell my daughters. But I hate styrofoam and avoid purchasing anything in it. But sometimes it's inevitable. Especially if someone well meaning gives me something in styrofoam. I have discovered that if it's clean and dry, I can break it apart and stuff into my containers. That puts it to good use.


Most of the plastic bags come from my own household. I have been saving them for years, before I knew what it was that I wanted to do with them. Since I have started using them for my art, several friends have sent me their own collections. At the moment I have more than I can use for a long time. I now do grocery shopping with reusable bags and very rarely bring plastic bags into my home, and yet still have so many to make art from...

Since I have started filling the empty containers with rejected plastic and bits and pieces, I have become aware of how many of them there are! How many I have thrown into the trash, not even the recycling over the years... and I think of how many have found their way into the ocean. That thought saddens me.

Besides An Inconvenient Truth and the Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, see The Plastic Ocean and see what we're up against...


Here's how I used those strips of verbiage in a recent piece, Iron Spine 8, 12"x12".

Monday

texture addict

So a texture addict walks into a gallery...... and has to keep her hands in her pockets so that she doesn't fondle the million dollar artworks.....

Guess who is the texture addict! Yup. Yours truly.

The gallery? Gagosian. The exhibit? Anselm Kiefer.

Gigantic, monumental artworks. Canvases with trees, terra cotta, and rebar. Oh, and molten lead. Poured onto the canvas and peeled back. Yes. Oh and water colors and artist books. Many, many gigantic artist books. Go see for yourself until September 1st.



The other gallery is Tibor de Nagy. An exhibit of works by Medrie MacPhee. Very different kind of texture, much quieter. I think I was still under the influence of Anselm when I saw these works. I didn't think much of them. But thinking about them and looking at my photos, I like them more and more. Perhaps they also appeal to me because she uses garment parts as design elements in her paintings. Very simple on the canvas, yet complex and map like.


And just to let you know that I was paying attention as I walked the streets and not just gabbing with Nathalie, here's the best graffiti of the day. Somewhere on the Lower East Side.

And my new favorite and most refreshing drink on a sweltering NYC summer day - beet and lemon shrub from Russ and Daughters! YUM! Gotta make some!

Thursday

fire escape love story

I love fire escapes. There. I've said it. Wait. I may have said it before. Well it's true. I do love them. Let me count the ways. I love their graphic lines, their rusty or sleek texture, their negative space, the layers upon layers of straight lines, the angles.
research...

research...
 I love interpreting them in stitch. Large, small and medium.
detail of Iron Spine 4 (snow dyed pine thread on plastic)

detail of Iron Spine: Hot in the City ( embroidery thread on plastic and thread snips)

Iron Spine xs2 (variegated thread on plastic)

details of Urban Towers (embroidery thread on plastic and fabric over repurposed containers)

detail of Green News ( thread over newspaper and plastic)
And extra large of course.
in progress Iron Spine 6XL

in progress Iron Spine 6XL

trying to do good

I have been thinking a lot about what I can do as an environmentally and socially conscious artist and human. It is not enough for me to be using materials which, when not properly recycled, are destined to be trash that pollutes our waterways and makes its way to the Pacific Trash Vortex.


While I am still trying to figure out exactly what I could be doing, I can be helping already. And so can you. I am making a pledge to donate 25% from the proceeds of the sale of the artwork above to Riverkeeper, New York's clean water advocate.


It seems appropriate to me that the first artwork I will be selling to support clean water efforts is TZB Span. It depicts the old Tappan Zee bridge, which spans the Hudson River from Westchester county to Rockland county. It'll soon be gone as the new bridge is being built right next to it.

Let's help Riverkeeper keep the Hudson clean for us all. Every little bit helps. Thank you. Follow the links to see and purchase the art on my website or just click here! This piece is $650, so $162.50 will go to Riverkeeper. There is a $10 shipping fee. It's not much, but it's a start! Together we can make a difference!
TZB Span, 8"x8" © Natalya Aikens 2017

Friday

Quilt National visit redux

It's nearly a month since I have returned from a whirlwind trip to Athens, Ohio for the opening weekend of Quilt National 2017. What a fun weekend it was! My friend Gail was my copilot as we let Waze guide us along the roads of NJ, PA, MD, WV and OH. The routes were all very scenic, but we had no time to stop for pictures, we had a destination to get to!

I have to say that as much as it was a thrill to see my art hanging in this prestigious exhibit, it was even more of a thrill to commune with all the artists who were there!

There's nothing better than hanging out with fellow creative souls. Sharing ideas, techniques, trials and tribulations and just basking in each others company. I was delighted to meet all the artists that I could, and wished every single one could have attended!

Here's the gallery view with my piece, Iron Spine 5XL hanging between work by Paula Kovarik and Kit Vincent, and then followed by Amy Meissner and Kerri Green

Here's moi talking about my work.... apparently I talk with my hands....
The powers that be took videos of the two minute talks that each artist gave about their work and when those videos become available I will gladly share where they can be seen. I always find public speaking rather nerve-wracking, but I was told that I spoke well and made sense. What more could I ask for?

Upon my return home, there was a lovely surprise in the mail - SDA magazine wrote a bit about the exhibit and used my art to illustrate it! So cool!
I'm still reliving bits and pieces of conversations that took place. So much to consider and enjoy remembering!

Wednesday

Rauschenberg and I

Grand Black Tie Sperm Glut by Robert Rauschenberg

If you're in NYC or visiting soon, don't miss Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends exhibit at the MoMA. It's up till mid September thankfully!

As I wandered through this exhibition with my friend Nathalie, I felt more and more empowered. So odd. Usually I feel inspired by an exhibit. But this time I felt empowered! What the heck?

After some pondering I realized that it's because of the materials! Yes materials. Rauschenberg's and mine. I loved peering into each of his pieces on display and figuring out what he used where. I found cardboard and fabric of course. But also plastic! Plastic bags and balloons. And I must say that they still looked good after all these years, one was from 1961! I have heard that his work is a conservators nightmare, so I am being much more careful with mine. All my materials are archival, except for the plastic. But the plastic is indestructible as we all know....

And now that you see Rauschenberg's street signs above, I can make another connection. Perhaps an obnoxious one on my part.... but I've made some street sign art myself. Mine are a bit more delicate though... and a lot smaller! Stitched on plastic of course. And made completely by my hands.
Bump © Natalya Aikens
Other Side © Natalya Aikens

Crosswalk © Natalya Aikens

Dip © Natalya Aikens

No Turning Back © Natalya Aikens

One Way Or Another © Natalya Aikens
I've updated my website with new work including three of the pieces above. The other three were already there. There is still more new art to add, so check back every few days as I'll be adding a few on a regular schedule. And for everyones convenience, I'm adding PayPal buttons as I go.
Thank you!!

Monday

shadow play take 2.. or 3 or 4..

I love the shadows. Especially shadows that artwork makes. In the last few weeks I have been able to experience such shadows in abundance. MoMA, The Dairy Barn, Kennedy Museum of Art. How lucky am I? Here are a few of my favorites:
edge of a wall hanging by Cecilia Joe at KMA

edge of an art quilt by Danette Pratt at The Dairy Barn

bronze shadow makers by Dorothy Dehner at MoMA

bit of a wall hanging by Lenore Tawney at MoMA

wired orb shadows by Ruth Asawa at MoMA

corner of an art quilt by Sara Impey at The Dairy Barn

corner of a wall hanging by Sheila Hicks at MoMA

edge of an art quilt by Shulamit Liss at The Dairy Barn

floor shadow of an art quilt by Sue Benner at The Dairy Barn
Hope you have enjoyed these shadows as much as I did. I think I might make some art that makes shadows also soon....

Tuesday

teasing apart thread nests

Yup, that's the title of this post. I'm sure any long time reader of this blog must have suspected that I collect thread snips from various projects. I pile them up into little cubbies until I figure out a way to use them. I try to keep them in color families, but sometimes I fail and then I don't stress about it.

Recently I thought they (the thread snips) would make a great texture representing a brick wall and heat rising. So I used them in this piece - Iron Spine: Hot in the City.
fire escape detail

another fire escape, more to follow, but please note the threads in the back ground



Iron Spine:Hot in the City ©Natalya Aikens 2017
As you might suspect, I have a few more thread nests to unravel. Here's some that I am using for the sky in a piece about water towers. Still working on this one.
teasing out the thread nest over repurposed plastic

sketching out the water towers

building up the rungs
Stay tuned! Hopefully this piece will be finished before the end of the month..