I'm doing a lot of getting-ready-for-shows work, but I managed to take a little time and work on my Will you?/Won't you? signpost self portrait. It's almost finished.
I also printed the invitations for the upcoming studio sale today on my treadle operated Chandler and Price. It's always great fun to run the big press.
Plus I had a deadline for the Memphis Daily News today for my monthly sketch feature, so I headed down to the Woodruff-Fontaine House to sketch it all decked out for Christmas. They're having an open house this Friday evening, so it seemed like a good moment to feature them.
Just for my own satisfaction a few weeks ago, I took some leftover strips of paper and made some signs with my vintage wood type. This was the first one, needed for me that week on a couple of counts.
The response on Facebook was strong, and I'm going to be in the Tsunami holiday market this Sunday, so I got some more paper cut and decided to make a stack of different ones. It's fun to have a few lower priced items to sell, so going to have these as a grab and go, as is (not packaged, which takes so much longer) for $10 each.
In the midst of the worst of the park heartbreak, my lovely friend Beth Rowlett sent me a letter (hanging now in my workspace) that said, "dance more!" since she knows that is my happiness. I decided others might also want this lovely reminder. And then my sister Erin and I saw a handpainted sign in Binghampton driving home together from dancing that said "Kindness is free." It was perfect, so I did it too.
Finally, I've been seeing "Memphis as fuck" tee shirts around town and really wanting one despite being unsure if I could actually bring myself to wear one in public. So a studio sign may be just right for me. And it seemed like the right one to really play with my fonts on.
I'm still scrambling around with my show a bit, since the opening is tomorrow night (Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, 5-6:30pm), but I did manage a bit of sketching. The weather is fixing to change, so I took yesterday afternoon to go hang out in the forest with my sketchbook and drink in the last of the gorgeous weather. It's good to have the flexibility to do that and reorder my priorities as bit as the weather calls to me. And it was fruitful. I might try an oil from this first one. We'll see.
Then tonight I went to Dixon to see Wayne Edge's new show and hear some of my favorite jazz guys play at the reception. I couldn't resist sketching them too.
publicly invited Mr. Darcy in a facebook post to come in for the interview as well. He's got three rescues of his own and knows that Mr. Darcy is my constant art companion. So we both went in this morning to the studio.
What I realized today (aside from what a southern accent I have, which hits me annually as I do this interview for my big show of the year) is that my brain really closes one book artistically and moves straight into something else. I came home from Paris and spent a good bit of time painting and making prints from the landscape watercolors that I did there, but in the two weeks since the show got on the walls, I've completely shifted over to this new series I'm doing, and that's what was in my brain to talk about. Fortunately the first one of the self portraits was in the show, so it was a legit topic of conversation. And talking about the trip and my art process gave me things to say that weren't "Hey, I did this specific piece that you can't see because it's radio!"
So here's the interview, about 15 minutes, for anyone who's curious.
The Examined Life
I'm on my third self portrait in what I've come to think of as my Hopper series. It's funny, because the first of these sprang out of my time at the Musee d'Orsay looking at Odilon Redon, but I guess I just don't have it in me to go quite that far out. I do hope I'm capturing some of the sense of mystery and narrative that draws me into his paintings. Pure landscape (and TREES) will always draw me in, but I am enjoying working more figuratively the last few weeks. Story telling is a powerful thing. But I definitely seem to be in a Hopper place of people alone in spaces, caught at odd moments of their lives.
Self portraits can feel like the most self indulgent art form ("Here's another painting of ME!"), but one friend while I was still in Paris responded to my first one (my small form against a big window and bigger sky) by saying she felt exactly that way herself and that my painting gave voice to her feeling. That's what I hope for in this series. We all feel small in this large, crazy, heartbreaking, magical world at some point or another, and by expressing that, I hope to somehow invite people in to that place with me so that none of us feels as alone with it. Sometimes all we need to know is that other people have that same experience. But I also have the buttresses of art, music, and dog to keep me company in those spaces. This piece is also a celebration of the space I have to make my art, and the quiet that is necessary for it.
I got a lovely response from a fellow creative across facebook last night. Jude Dippold is a poet and photographer whose work brings me daily beauty in my feed. He saw this and wrote, "The sense of a life alone is profound with the way you placed yourself in the deepest space of that room; yet the banjo and your dog give both meaning and existential dignity." That understanding and sense of fellowship is what I most hope for with the self portrait series and whatever else might grow out of this work.
Here are several of the stages of the self portrait as I worked on it across two fullish days.
My show is fully up, signs and everything, my reception is this Friday (Nov. 18th, 5-6:30 at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis), so I went dancing to celebrate. And to restore a little equilibrium after the week that was difficult for me and so many of my friends. It was marvelous to spend a weekend with sisters and other special people and to get my joy on dancing. Usually dance weekends are the only time I completely walk away from art and don't even sketch, but I did do just a couple at Noodle in Decatur, Georgia, while having lunch with our crew. The laughing Buddha above was too delightful to ignore, and I also loved the warm lamps dancing above the table tops. Plus it's nice to have those good memories woven into my art journal.
Will you?/Won't you?
I'm trying another narrative self portrait like the one in Paris against the window of stars. This feels a bit like my Edward Hopper series -- woman alone in a large world.
This piece is based on a sign in the Old Forest where I walk daily. I've loved it for a couple of years. It seems to ask me regularly whether I will or won't step courageously out into the world and open myself up and take risks. I've done that again this fall, with not wonderful results so far, so I'm trying to remind myself to stay open. On the upside, this art is also a staying open to something new, and I'm excited about trying a new direction. So perhaps the results are mixed. And closed off is not how I want to live permanently (though I needed to be there for a while to heal last year), so I keep walking past and thinking about this sign.
I sketched it a few weeks ago and again more recently.
Then Peter Ceren posted this photo of it shining in a patch of sunlight, and I knew I had to go ahead and paint it for real. You can see more of his stunning photos of the forest we both walk daily in on his public facebook page The Old Forest.
First I typeset a couple of letterpress signs for my house, using the pointing hands I got in Paris last year. Sometimes it's good for me to have reminders in my work space. I printed the same image on the gessoed paper I'm using for this painting. I can paint over them if I decide I want to, but at the moment I'm liking the idea of combining letterpress with paint and also having a little bit more oddity and symbolism in this piece. I've been looking at Odilon Redon again and won't go as far out as he did, but the symbolism and surrealism are really appealing to me at the moment. I like that it's subtle but also there. I'll see if I keep feeling that way as I get further into the painting.
It's election day, and I walked around the corner to vote. I saw neighbors, I bought iced brownies at the bake sale that's always there (which means I never vote early unless I'm gong to be out of town), and now I'm going to get back to making art.
Oddly, when I sat down to sketch my teacup this morning (below), I had completely forgotten the sketch I did yesterday at Cafe Eclectic. I took Mr. Darcy over for a spontaneous brunch, and we scored an outdoor table even on a Sunday morning. I was flipping back through my sketchbook with a flock of little girls on Saturday as I sketched at a fundraiser and realized that it's been going a while (six weeks in Paris slowed down the progression, since I always use a dedicated one for trips), and there are some cumulatively hard places in this one. There has been a lot of good art and friend time since I got home from Paris but also some tough places, and I'm quite glad for the chance to turn a fresh page and start a new book. It's nice that art offers me this opportunity, and the timing of end this book is helpful.
So this morning I did a new sketch in a new book of the teacup I got at the street flea market down south in Paris. I'd been meaning to sketch it and hadn't yet. I also got the spoon, which says "Amsterdam" at the Marche d'Aligre, my favorite brocante. And the cup perfectly fits a saucer I had made by my friend Melissa, so I feel surrounded by good memories as I drink my tea. Now I'm off to the forest with my new sketchbook.
One of the seriously fun things about having a printing press is getting to do your own signs. Even doing the most mundane things, I somehow feel connected to centuries' worth of printers setting type and taking power into their own hands, all the way back to Guttenberg and the brave Reformers daring to print Bibles in the vernacular for people to study for themselves.
Nothing so weighty tonight, but I did make signs for my Celestial Paris show at Playhouse on the Square. I've been allowing myself a bit of a soft opening since the reception isn't till Friday, Nov. 18 (5-6:30), and there is no play currently on at the theater either. I've been kind of wrung out the last few weeks, so taking my time has been almost mandatory. I'm definitely more scattered than I usually am hanging a show, but I'm proud of the work, and the last signs will be up soon.
I grouped the show in overall areas of Paris (and used the back of the gallery to also hang a handful of my Amsterdam watercolors from the spring), so I made signs to help orient people in the general areas of the city. I also made a "Je suits Charlie" sign, referring to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. That really rocked me. It was not only in a city I love, but it was an attack against artists for making the art that they do. I'm worried about the move away from tolerance and free speech across the world. That attack felt deeply personal to me.
Again, the printing press resonates. So many people have been killed over time for having the audacity to say what they think in print. Presses continue to feel dangerous (the one I have was attacked not many decades ago before being restored), and making typeset art about Charlie Hebdo felt right. I couldn't mount a Paris show at this time without trying to stand with the people there, at least in a small way.
In the spirit of printed words having power, and while I had the press set up for type and the ink out, I made myself a sign as well. Liz Gilbert often says, "Onward!" about marching forward in life, and the simplicity and force of it appeal to me. Sometimes putting things in print, even if I know I'm the one who has done the typesetting, feels authoritative. I make reminder signs and hang them up for myself when I feel stuck sometimes, and it is definitely a season for me to pick myself up and move forward. So a sign will be a good reminder hanging in my workspace somewhere.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
Get studio email updates from Gideon and me.
To subscribe to this blog, by email: