I just finished reading "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer.
This has been my favorite movie since high school, and I bought the book several months ago, but just now got around to reading it. However, while it still probably is my favorite movie, I'm not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend the book.
Essentially, the book is about a young man (Jonathan Safran Foer) who goes to the Ukraine to find the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The first half of the book is incredibly funny and the narrative grows progressively more serious as the characters are forced to confront a dark past and an uncertain future. Foer definitely raises some good questions about identity, which are intentionally, I feel, left unanswered.
I felt like the main character (Foer) was underdeveloped. The book is meant to be autobiographical, but by the end you know more about his companions than himself. I'm not sure if this was meant to be intentional as well, but there was something definitely lacking when it came to the character.
Also, one thing that makes it unique is that the story alternates between two different narratives: one the (fictional?) history of Foer's family through WWII and the other Foer's actual journey. These overlapping narratives made the structure of the book unique, but I feel like it interrupted the rhythm of the plot.
In the end, the book was engaging: diving head first into history and raw emotion. But it didn't capture me the way that the movie did and like I hoped it would. Maybe that's why I say that I can't wholly recommend it. Perhaps I was expecting to be blown away and wasn't, and that has skewed my perspective of the book.
We got a fair bit of ice last weekend here, so I was forced to stay home. I did manage to get some work done, although honestly I read most of the time.
I planned out a whole series of weavings based around poppy imagery and the idea of seeds as memories. I'm pretty satisfied with what I have planned out and I think there is a logical progression between the pieces. I have also developed a color scheme for my warps that I would like to stick to (poppy red, indigo blue, dark brown, white, and gray), but I have no idea what colors I want to use in my weft. I've thought about white, light gray, and a pale turquoise, but I am going to need to do a series of samples to see if those colors are going to work, and how they are going to interact with my warp colors.
I also started to make balls out of Sculpey to incorporate into the pieces (similar to the piece that I shared last week). It's taking a lot longer than I though and it really started to hurt my hands.
I've also been working on my self-portrait for 2015. I dyed the silk laminated paper black, and I am getting ready to cut out the contact paper for my silk screen, but I was looking at it the other day and I've sort of been tossing around the idea of, instead of printing the portrait with dye, to try and discharge the portrait with discharge paste. I've never attempted to do discharge on silk laminated paper, but I could always do tests. Then again, I want this portrait to be really dark, since my reflection is really about failure and depression. I just wanted to print with black ink on black paper and cover it in black tulle, like a veil. So, who knows, I need to really look at it this weekend. That is the piece that I want to get finished first.
I also took a break from reading non-fiction over the snow days, mainly because I have run out of non-fiction books to read for the time being. I've had Neil Gaiman's "Anansi Boys" sitting on my shelf for some time and I had started reading it, but kind of lost interest in it. So, I decided to give it another try. Overall, I thought it was decent.
I really enjoy Gaiman's style of writing in general, but with both "Anansi Boys" and "American Gods", I struggled to find the same joy I found in his other works like "Stardust". I like the way that Anansi's mythical world is implanted in the real world and interconnected with it. I also like the idea of the plot. But, I really thought that the story could have been much shorter. The first few chapters seem to drag on, and perhaps it is this way for the readers who have never read "American Gods", but I found it slow and tedious, which could possibly be why I didn't make it through the book the first go round. Some of the characters were annoying too, like Rosie's mom, making it hard to invest myself in their existence. Lastly, portions of the story do not further the plot and the I thought the ending was kind of predictable.
Overall, the book fell short, which is regrettable because it did have a lot of potential. I say read it if you are invested in Gaiman's work, but otherwise, I'd say take a pass.
This week's reading: "A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire" by Amy Butler Greenfield.
"A Perfect Red" was everything I could have asked for in a book about the history of a color. The story spans over 5 centuries and follows to trade in Cochineal, from it's discovery by Spain in the 1500's, through Spain's attempt to monopolize trade in the dye stuff, to the present day. It is well researched and detail, but the book never reads as boring and doesn't skip over any integral part of the history.
I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are interested in natural dyes or the history of textiles.
In terms of actual art production, I haven't done much this week.
I've been in a reading mood and have devoted most of my free time to that. But, I have done a lot of thinking this week about what sort of body of work I would like to do next. As I mentioned a week or so ago, I've been doing this disparate pieces since I completed my thesis, and lack of production aside, there haven't been any plans for a cohesive body of work. But, I've been looking around for inspiration and jotting down ideas, and I now think that I know where I want to go.
I know that I want to incorporate more weaving into my work. I also know that I want to go back to more traditional textile techniques instead of mostly painting like I have been doing (although I won't phase that out completely). I also know that I want to create a body of work based around memories of my grandfather. It's been 21 years since he passed, and it's been weighing on my mind more and more that what I remember of him is actually very lacking. There are certain things I can vaguely recall, but I can never tell if those memories are actually my own or if they are a conglomeration of things people have told me combined with the influences of photographs.
I also know that I want to focus on poppy imagery. Poppies are something that I strongly associate with my grandfather. He served in Korea with 3 of his friends. He came home, they didn't, and he never talked about the war. But several members of my family, including me, have three poppies hanging on their rearview mirror in memory of those three friends who didn't come home. I sort of leaning towards using poppy pods and seeds as a metaphor for memory.
I have a rough idea in my head of what these things may look like a physical pieces, but until I actually start sketching and making work, I'm not 100% sure how it will play out. I was scrolling though some of my work the other day, looking for a couple of extra images to add to a portfolio, and I stumbled across this piece I did while I was still in school:
It's a pre-woven, painted warp that was stitched and appliquéd. I think it might be a good starting point for me to do a couple of samples. I'm definitely going to have to get my loom fixed.
In other news, I was offered interviews for both of the jobs that I was hoping to hear from. Unfortunately, I had to turn them both down because I couldn't afford to take the cut in salary and they weren't willing to offer me more. I am EXTREMELY disappointed, because I really wanted to hear positive things back from both positions. It just wasn't meant to be, I suppose.
Perhaps though, this signals a change in my luck. Out of all of the positions that I have applied for over the last two years, they are the only ones that I have heard anything from. Oh well.
The newest book that I've read is "Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World" by Simon Garfield about how the discovery of aniline mauve dye changed fashion, industry, and science.
I have sort of mixed emotions about the book. While the majority of the book focuses on the dye industry and how it relates the fashion industry, the first few chapters of the book are very heavy with chemical terminology and I found them a bit dry. But once you get to the discover of mauve by William Perkin in 1859, the book really delves into how it revolutionized the world, going into discussions about education, industry, fashion, and law (aniline dyes led to lots of legal battles between companies regarding patents, and it was difficult to sort through legally because determining one shade of a color from another was often difficult and chemical analysis was in its infancy).
While the social, economic, and political aspects were all interesting, I found it a bit distracting that about a quarter of the way through the book, Garfield starts to alternate between discussing events in mid-late 1800's and discussing events in the late 1990's/early 2000's. While I feel there is a relevant connection to be made between the two time periods, I would have been much more satisfied if the book had been written more chronologically. What makes these parts distracting is that he focuses more on the fiber than the color (specifically the marketing of Tencel), and when color is discussed, mauve is not the main idea: it's color itself.
Needless to say, despite the title, the book is less about the color and it's effects on the world and more about how Perkin changed the dye industry and how that subsequently influenced the course of history. I was slightly disappointed, but the history of synthetic dyes presented in the book was still interesting. For instance, I didn't realize Bayer developed aspirin from a byproduct of dye synthesis.
Despite the slightly misleading title and it's out of chronological telling, I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in the textile industry (or chemistry, for that matter) because we tend to overlook certain aspects of history, especially the ones we take for granted.
This week I have read "Napoleon in Egypt" by Paul Strathern.
I will say that I was very hesitant to read this book. I read "La Grande Armée" by Georges Blond several months ago and struggled. It was a super dense book and by the time that I got to the end, I had developed quite a hatred for Napoleon and could not understand how his troops could remain loyal to him after everything that he put put them through.
Needless to say, I was afraid that "Napoleon in Egypt" was going to be a repeat of "La Grande Armée", but in fact it was the opposite. The book was well written and covered the political, military, and scientific aspects of the expedition without really prioritizing one over another. It also adequately discusses all the players involved from the French to the Egyptians to the British.
The book was never dull a certainly provided food for thought concerning the impact that the expedition had in the long term. There are insights into the relationships between westerners and middle eastern peoples, which I definitely think is applicable to the present. There are also clear connections drawn between the scientific and artistic activities that went on during the expedition and the modern area. For instance, you can consider the work that Vivant Denon did during the expedition as the foundation of modern Egyptology.
Probably the thing that I liked best about this book was that it made Napoleon's European campaign make so much more sense. When I read "La Grande Armée", I didn't really have an understanding of Napoleon as a person and just how far his ambition and megalomania extended. I think that this book really clarified those areas for me. Now the decisions he made later in Europe really seem more contextualized.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Napoleon, but I would probably read it before anything comprehensive like "La Grande Armée".
I've slowly been getting work done. I really started working on two portraits: my self-portrait for 2015 and a portrait in honor of my grandmother. I haven't been very good about taking in-progress shots, but I have the silk paper made for both, cut down to size, and ready to stitch the edges and dye. I'll be better about taking pictures once I get to those stages.
I also spent Saturday doing dye samples for an upcoming sewing project that, due to strange circumstances, I hope still happens. I ended up doing around 72 different samples, attempting to get a certain rosy salmon color. I think I achieved my goal, but I haven't quite had time yet to compare the samples to what it is I am trying to replicate. I'm going to look into that tonight because if I did not find a comparable color, then I have to do more samples. If I did find a comparable color, then I have to dye a yard and a half of linen in that color. So there's fabric to wash and dye baths to prepare!
My goal for this upcoming week is to pick a portrait to focus on and really get to work. I'm probably going to choose my self-portrait for 2015 just so I can get that out of the way and move on to other more in depth projects. I also want to get that yard and a half of linen dyed and rinsed. There are also several ideas for weaving projects in my head that I want to sketch out. It could be an interesting body of work, if it plays out in reality the way that it is playing out in my head.
Lastly, there is still no news regarding the weaving job I applied for. I'm still hopeful, but the anticipation is killing me and making me very anxious. The online status shows the job as being on 'hold', which I was told means that they are in the process of reviewing applications. It's been that way for about a week. So, it's a real toss up at this point, but I want that position very much.
This of you who know me well, know that I love to read...a lot. And I read a lot of non-fiction (which the English teachers at school always give me grief for).
Most recently I finished Jon Latimer's "1812: War with America", which I mostly enjoyed despite it being a relatively dense book. Essentially, it is an overview of the entire war, told from the British perspective. It provides a lot of context for understanding the United States' interest in Canada, how war in Europe affected Britain's approach the conflict, and how the war led to a great sense of anglophobia in the states that lasted until WWII. Overall, it was well researched and documented, but my biggest problem with it is that the writing feels inconsistent. I feel like the first half of the book was very thorough in discussing politics, economics, and battles themselves, but it shifts gears to be more rushed about half way through. And even though I have read about 1812 before, it was still difficult for me to keep up with some of the officers and units engaged in the conflict. Generally, I would say that it is a good read for anyone interested in the topic and wants to start with a general overview of the war, Even though it is written from a British perspective, it is not overtly biased in its discussion.
I also recently finished the Winter 2015 edition of "Artenol" magazine. It was just okay for me. The first issue of "Artenol" was thrilling for me because it was well written, revolved around a general theme, and posed some excellent questions about the current state of art. This issue I felt was a little disconnected even though I could see the thought process in the organization of this issue. I also thought that some of the writing came across as being a little pretentious. The first article 'HeArt Music' was, I thought, about the re-emergence of vinyl in the music industry, but after reading it, it was more about author Michael Simmons relationship with the music industry. It came across as whiny and derogatory towards the change in formats music had undergone since the 1960s (although Simmons does redemptively say that he may suffer from "First Love Phenomenon", or feeling fondly about experiences from his youth). That's all well and good, but the overall tone of the article turned me off to the issue almost immediately.
Perhaps my favorite article in this issue was 'Art to Die For', about how art essentially bought the freedom of Richard Matt and David Sweat: the two convicted murderers that escaped from a correctional facility in upstate New York for three weeks last June. What was the most interesting about the article was not its explanation of how both men used art to buy support from prison guards and other personnel, but the questions it posed about the power of representation. The author, Rowling Dord was quick to point out that outside of prison, the skills of both inmates would not be considered anything special, but the fact that the work was representational (portraits of celebrities, politicians, etc. in the case of Matt) and that a certain value is placed representational art based on the degree to which the depiction succeeds.
I also really enjoyed the story 'Panpoons' about a cat that learns to talk at the expense of his owner's ability to speak. It brings up good points about the ethics of language and evolutionary interests. Generally I would say pick it up if you have a vested interest in the magazine, but otherwise, I might just skip this issue.
School started back today. Honestly, I could use one more week of break. I've been going pretty much non-stop since school let out for Christmas and I am really tired. I just want a couple of days to sleep and not do anything.
One of my goals for this year is to be more productive artistically and I am slowly working my way towards fulfilling that goal. I have two or three small portraits started and ideas for a couple more in my head. I realized this morning driving to work though that I really need to start working towards creating a cohesive body of work, perhaps with the intention of having a solo exhibition, but I have no idea of what direction I might want to go. I am really going to have to sit down and think about it.
Also, while I was out at lunch today, I called regarding that weaving job I applied for. All they could tell me regarding my application status was that my application was received, that the position was still available, and that depending on the number of applicants, it could take a while for them to review all applications. So, it looks like it is just going to be a waiting game until I hear one way or the other. It's making me anxious because I want this job more than any I've applied for recently, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed and still asking for good vibes and positive thoughts.