The Strength of Adaptability
The week began with a wonderful ART YARD Advanced Studio session with Carole Alden whose work was included in Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration. After seeing this remarkable and deeply moving exhibition I wrote a note of thanks to curator Dr. Nicole Fleetwood. That letter set in motion a collaboration with PS1 and made this Advanced Studio session come to fruition.
We were joined by Jinelle Thompson and Citlali Ortiz from PS1. Jinelle gave an introduction to the exhibition. Citlali participated along with all of us making work and sharing their ideas in critique.
This session titled Flying Fish: Inner Freedom and Survival that comes from the Strength of Adaptability was inspired by Carole’s drawings and sculptures. Her presentation was deeply moving and the “chat box” was lively with comments, exclamations, questions and compliments during her presentation.
We then got to work on our own flying fish aiming for some sort of sculptural manifestation. Carole gave a demonstration of paper building as we worked which many artists including Marilyn, Ardelia and Citlali found really helpful. As we worked there was a natural banter about the natural environment, fish, lizards and even – eek!!- tarantulas.
I found it a challenge to conceive of how to go about making a 3-D fish, but I followed Carole’s tips for working in parts and cutting out pieces to be re-attached in a more sculptural manner. I also used the soggy watercolor paper to advantage bending and molding the paper with my hands.
It was clear to me from the moment I looked at Carole’s PowerPoint presentation that her facility with materials and ability to envision both flat and sculptural work, her materials and of course the healing aspect of her practice would resonate with Sarah.
Sarah writes: “Carole is an excellent artist and an example of an optimistic person who turns conflict and pain into a work of art that represents her story and her suffering while at the same time inspiring hope. Draining pain through art and with simple equipment makes me think about my abilities and encourages me to do better." Sarah describes her work for the session: “I decided to draw a Japanese fish, its appearance is full of life, but it's locked in a jar. We are going through the Corona crisis, and our inability to travel and meet with my family makes me feel I am stuck in a jar, especially not knowing when the lid will open to be free. The work is still in progress, and I'll turn it into crochet work.”
Our Advanced Studio Pieces Pat and Amelia explored their duality in fish forms. Pat with side by side paintings and Amelia in a two-sided amalgam.
Ed’s piece, “Carp is a representation of a fish which is revered in Asia. Carp live long lives and grow to be huge when conditions permit. Carp were introduced to America as a food source but quickly took over many lakes and rivers, wiping out many of the more delicate native fish like trout and bass. Carp are considered a rough fish, an invasive species here, but they have a noble history in Asia and Eastern Europe. they have very large scales like mythological dragons.”
Halli and Jane went for the bedazzled look. Halli’s blowfish bedazzled with rhinestones and Jane’s mixed media piece employing glittery sealing wax!
August proclaimed his pride in his break from his preferred medium, pen. We loved his piece which not only moved into the sea creature realm but employed an ironic assessment of our pandemic boredom which leads to reading EVERY article in the New Yorker, every week. We were also really stoked to see Delphine for a bit and glad she worked with August on his sculpture.
Vera created a two sided painting during the session, which she then used as the basis for making an origami fish which she will transform a third time into a video called Swimming Pain.
Nayarit had an ingenious solution to the sculptural element, creating a narration which she formed into cylindrical form. During critique August pointed out it would make a great shade for a Lava Lamp!
Zahir and Zeke had to leave a bit early, while Wayne and Jacob joined us for critique after their busy days. Before signing off for dinner, Zeke sent a text: “Tell the teaching artist that I found her story very interesting and powerful, and her work is great. I don’t have much to show right now, since I had trouble coming up with what to do for the lesson. I did a lot of brainstorming with my dad however. We will be making a piece out of wood.”
Eden was “inspired by the fish and lizards (and my recent obsession with Kong vs. Godzilla) to do a piece on Godzilla (or Gojira) who’s a giant metaphor for the US military nuclear experimentation on Japanese fishing villages (and as a proverbial “screw you” to censorship laws that prevented discussion of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). He’s evolved to represent human fears of indescribable concepts - nuclear power, global warming, and government corruption.” A profound concept that really got the discussion going during critique!
Carole compliments Advanced Studio artists saying “Thank you all for listening, being willing to experiment, and sharing your art!”. She amazed us all with the stunning painted paper fish she created during the session.
Eden articulately complimented Carole “not only for her work and her lesson but for finding the strength to survive 13 years of prison but to use that experience to spread art and inspiration rather than let the bitterness and spite fester. She not only survived but thrived artistically under some of the hardest circumstances this country can offer.”
Ed added: “Eden talked about how Japanese horror movies like Godzilla were a metaphor for nuclear bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Likewise Carol’s imagery using angler fish and reptiles is a personification of the dehumanizing effects of incarceration. Carol talked about how the guards try to make you feel like a nothing. Her iconography is testimony to how she maintained her dignity through metaphoric expression. The Japanese gave their suffering a personified identity through the monster Godzilla. These images help us grapple with the terror that we are confronted with in our lives.”
Jinelle writes: “Monday night’s session was special. It was wonderful to learn about Carole’s work and be transported to her mythical and magical world of dragons, lizards, and fish. Carole gave me a new way of looking at fish, highlighting their significance for her as symbols of survival and adaptability.
I appreciated that Carole led the session in an open way allowing participants to create with their own interpretation of the prompt which resulted in an array of creations.
My biggest takeaway that evening was spurred by a reflection from artist, Eden who uplifted a theme I felt strongly about Marking Time. The exhibition lays bare the confines, brutality, and violence of prisons and incarceration but also showcases and amplifies the ingenuity, imagination, and resistance of the artists and the incredible work they created despite their confinement.”
We are deeply grateful to Dr. Nicole Fleetwood, Jinelle Thompson and all of the fine folks we worked with from PS1.
This week at ART YARD Art Matters at PS282 Teaching Artist Richard Estrin was back for his last session in his three-week series Unity/Community.
Students used all the skills we learned in our earlier sessions – wet-on-wet watercolor, overlapping imagery and mark making to make their artwork. As we discussed these techniques Richard shared images of work by Eddie Alicea, Andy Warhol, Charles Burchfield, and John Marin, as well as his own sample. Ending the presentation with all three of his samples assembled into a triptych.
Our young artists in all three sessions were deeply focused as they depicted a community important to them such as the park, the library, or their toys. We worked on heavy watercolor paper, first drawing in pen, making sure to overlap to create depth and use patterns to distinguish objects. Then we painted the piece using wet-on-wet watercolor.