Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hair and Blood as Art Media, and Other Messy Things

At the risk of jinxing it, I am aware that I am entering an extremely creative period. I have been married for two years now, and I have attempted to make changes in my life and schedule to allow my life to mesh with my husband's to a certain point, but I am realizing that there are some things I can do little about. For example, these past few days, I have awakened quite suddenly at 5 a.m. (even after 4 hours sleep the night before) with imagery and realizations that force me to get up and work (or in the case of this morning, blog). I have been staying up most of the night, consumed with working, even when there are no more deadlines.

So I awoke with a start this morning realizing that people are probably really scared/put off by my recent materials.

I have been discussing materials (in particular, blood) with my friend Sarah who has similar artistic sensibilities, and a similar need for deep meaning in her work. She is the one who became obsessed by, and bought, a drawing a while back that used pig's blood as a medium. We discussed it a bit at that time, and again yesterday. Being raised Catholic, I have all these amazing references that are not just external intellectual symbols, they are ingrained in me, I FEEL them, even though I am no longer a church goer. I feel the concepts of martyrdom, the sacrificial lamb, the strange mingling of grace, beauty and pain inherent in Catholicism. This morning, as I was lying in bed before dawn, it occurred to me what the impetus was for my last piece. I remember having a strong impulse to make it, looking for a beautiful way to articulate a particular emotion I was feeling, and did not stop to analyze where it came from. I have a family member whom I love dearly who is lost, self-destructive, suffers from addiction and depression, and is in a lot of pain. I worry about this person almost daily, sometimes at night I can't stop the worrying and it keeps me up. "The Initiate" was a piece about him, about how he "fell into" his place in the universe and in our family, and, now I realize, "Bloom" is about him, too. When I got the original idea for "Bloom", I wanted to bleed in sympathy for him. The truth is, when making the piece the other night, I tried to cut my finger to use my own blood, but couldn't do it. I made one little paper cut with an xacto and squeezed one drop of my blood into the gouache, then gave up, put some antibiotic cream and a band aid on my cut, and went to work. I had previously inquired about getting someone to take some of my blood correctly at a doctor's office, but was told it could not be done (to my partial relief, because I just about pass out every time they do it.) I was a bit disappointed the other night that I did not have the wherewithal to contribute more than a symbolic drop of blood, but then I got an idea. Lamb's blood. I remember 6-8 months back being at the Guggenheim and being stopped in my tracks by a painting of a bound sacrificial lamb. The painting was completely incongruous to the rest of the show, it was a Pop artist retrospective, (maybe Rauchenberg? Warhol?) and the painting was an early work. The sacrificial lamb was a perfect symbol for this family member, for his pain and his inability to escape his own life. All the pieces fit together perfectly. So, I got up the following morning and went to get some lamb, and finished the painting, using blood for the middle to lightest values. There is no other medium that could convey the strong and complex emotions that I brought to this painting.

As I responded to a comment made a few days ago by a woman who was "repulsed and fascinated" by the hair embroideries, it never would have occurred to me that people would have a problem with them, as there are so many contemporary artists who have been so much more extreme. Unlike many artists who do entire bodies of work about confronting the body's boundaries, I am merely reaching for the medium that will make each work as powerful and meaningful as it can be. Sometimes that means hair. or blood. As one of my undergraduate professors, Angelo Ippolito, used to say, "A painting that has a compromise is a failure." Once the pieces all fall into place, and they point to using blood in the piece, if you don't , you have failed, and the work has failed.

For many years I have been making art about extreme emotion, realizing that it was something that people were very uncomfortable with. Despite the fact that it is only human to experience extreme rage, grief, or joy, many people would prefer to go through their lives avoiding any confrontations with deep emotions. I feel the same way about contemporary society's inability to deal with bodily fluids. Throughout the centuries, people have engaged in powerful rituals and rites of passage that involved the body (such as keeping a lock of a deceased person's hair). These were activities that gave meaning to life. (note to self: is conceptual art a part of a movement away from "the messy"?) I sometimes wonder if fear of bodily fluids is fear of contamination or fear loss of boundaries as writers say, or if it is really fear of how charged with meaning these materials are, and fear of the corresponding deep emotions they elicit.

P.S. Completely off-topic (I must be ok, because in addition to being a blood painter, I am also a Williams Sonoma consumer and a bread baker), spent a few minutes today making this lemon rosemary bread, which is tremendously easy, and the best bread I have ever had.... it is better than cake, honestly. Everything about it is perfect... taste, texture, crust. I used twice the yeast 'cause I was scared, and King Arthur artisan flour.

Late addition: In relation to bodily fluids, but not bread, Sarah sent me this link to a beautiful Stan Brakhage film made about the birth of his first child.

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Blogger Maricana said...

I can't really approve of blood as a medium because of the way it breaks down over time. . . I'm not sure what you could mix it with to make it last longer. . . We have conservators who specialize in chocolate conservation. I guess soon there will be those who specialize in blood.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

(Maricana is an art conservator specializing in paper works....)

7:38 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

The painting is primarily gouache with the blood being used for the lightest values, so the essential image will not change. The paper is rag paper, and I am expecting that in 100 years the blood will look like some of the blood stains I have seen on cotton victorian clothing, which is ok by me.

11:45 PM  

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