Saturday, June 29, 2013

Video of Breathtaking Installation by Artist Soo Sunny Park

I just saw this video, and had to share it here on the blog because it is so gorgeous and uplifting.  Mixed media artist Soo Sunny Park has created "Unwoven Light," a wonderful, light-filled, other-worldly installation made from sections of chain link material embedded by hand with thousands of individual scale-like pieces of plexiglass covered in dichroic film.  Park's work will be on view at Rice University's Rice Gallery through August 30, and I wish so hard that I could go see it in person!  Any readers who are in Texas, go experience this magic!

Soo Sunny Park: Unwoven Light from Walley Films on Vimeo.

Discovered on Hi Fructose, check them out!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Artist Interview with Susan Shie, Part 1

Today's interview subject is art quilter Susan Shie, who makes gigantic, colorful and incredibly uplifting quilts full of drawings and thousands of words of text. She creates her imagery using an airbrush and a new-to-me tool called an AirPen. Looking at the pieces in Susan's Kitchen Tarot series has made me think in a new way about how artists can share all kinds of ideas with all kinds of people using imagery that is simultaneously incredibly personal and somehow also universal. (by the way, you can totally buy a deck of cards based on some of the quilts, though you will have to wait a while longer for the full set!)

Here is the first half of my interview with Susan Shie: 

Here you can see the Obama garage door mural and Libby in the livingroom window, and some pretty nice Spring flowers at our place. Welcome to Turtle Moon Studios, my home.

Describe Your Workspace - is it in your living space or separate? Do you have a preference one way or the other? Is there anything your setup doesn't allow or that you have to do in a weird way? Have you come up with any ridiculously clever ways of working with the space you have available to you?

My studio has to accommodate not just me, but all the students I have living with us for a week, each time I have a Turtle Art Camp (TAC), which I’ve been doing since 1994.  This art biosphere setup can have up to 4 students, as we have 4 student bedrooms.  My studios are in the basement, so the students need to be able to do stairs, but they have 24 hour access to working, including the 6 hours of class I give them each day.
So my studio has to be pretty tidy.  I’ve just done a massive Big Dig cleanout, so it’s the nicest it’s been in years, and the students and I have plenty of elbow room again!  Actually I can even have 5 students, but 2 of them would have to share a bedroom with twin beds, which means they have to know each other well, before they come here.  The other rooms all have full size beds, so are one person rooms.
It gets a little tight with 5 students in the studios, doing painting with brush, airpen, and airbrush, and then maybe sewing one of their paintings from the week.  It’s a very different kind of experience, coming to live in the home of strangers for a week, so I try to put pix from camps on my Facebook page now, and had a running diary on my website, from 1997 on, way before there was the word “blog,” and that was my attempt to get people to feel like they sort of knew me, enough to come here and trust me!  You can read about Turtle Art Camp on my site at

My dog Libby and me. Early 2013.

What is your personal working balance between planning and spontaneity/accident? Does this balance look the same for each project you undertake?

In the OLD DAYS, I prided myself in just drawing on the piece, with no sketches made ahead.  But my work got more and more complex, especially when I ditched the hand sewing I’d been doing more and more and more of, and took up doing the Crazy Grid machine quilting I do now, which instantly meant I had time to work much larger.  With that came very complex compositions, and because of them, I started sketching a lot before pouncing on the cloth.  I sketch many images, zeroing in more and more on who will be in the piece, what they’ll be doing, and how they relate to each other.  What props they’ll have, how they feel, etc.  By the time I think I’m ready to use my airbrush and black paint and draw right on the big cloth, I’ve got the plot thickened well usually.
Then I fold my favorite of the many sketches into fourths, and draw a yellow overliner marker line to divide my big piece of cloth also into fourths so I can roughly judge how much of my composition goes into each quadrant, and especially where the very first marks will fit on the divided space.  I don’t want to LOOK at the sketches when I draw on my giant cloth piece, because I want to keep my drawing style fresh.  The hardest part is always getting the very first image onto the cloth, where it should be and at the right size.  Then, if I blow it, I have to adjust all the images’ sizes, etc, to make it all fit.
There are times when I do one sketch and have it.  Then there are the times it takes 15 sketches before I’m ready to paint in those black airbrush lines that can’t be changed!  Good thing I love to draw!

My studio holds 4 to 5 students and me, for my Turtle Art Camps, the weeklong art biosphere intensives I’ve held since 1994 here in Wooster, Ohio, in my home.

Do you incorporate any materials or techniques into your art that are not normally thought of as art supplies? What about these items makes them appeal to you personally?  How do you use them, and how did you discover this unexpected artistic use?

I think this would be my writing.  Most people don’t write all over their paintings.  I do, and I would feel sad if I couldn’t do that, because I love telling stories.  I spend way more time writing on a piece than sketching, drawing, and painting in the imagery, and I write as a first draft right on the cloth, not making that a copy from a planned script.  I do copy other people’s speeches or parts of them at times, but that’s not as much fun.  It has to be a really good speech, historically important, for me to want to do it that badly.  I think I got to writing in this overall style, that feels kind of like a screen door’s overall screen pattern, when I dumped doing all the tiny hand stitching I was doing for years and years.  Now I write with my airpen and black fabric paint, telling my own stories, giving news about current events and lessons from history, reporting on all kinds of things that fascinate me, and knowing that the words have to hold up as texture, because a lot of people will never read any of it.  These words take the place of the old tiny hand  stitches, giving the surface a nice pattern, but these words absolutely have to be meaningful to me.

Otis the cat studies some of the sketches I’ve made for “American Pie,” before I go downstairs to airbrush a very large, 60 x 90” white cotton cloth panel for the actual art piece.

Are there any media or methods that you know are definitely NOT FOR YOU? Did you discover this the hard way or do you know without having to find out? (feel free to tell some horror stories!)

I’m not interested in doing home ec style sewing at all anymore.  I had to do that from my girlhood 4H and home ec days, up through the years of making all our clothes and even making custom, very tailored leather garments in Jimmy’s leather shop in the late 70s.  I know that kind of sewing very well, as my mother was a great seamstress who taught me with great commitment and patience.  But my sewing now is art sewing.  It has to have the integrity of holding together well and looking like I want it to.  But I want my sewing to fit with my drawing and painting styles, and part of that is that it needs to look unique. And the technique needs to fascinate me, not drag me along with its rules.  I want people to look at my sewing and see how simple it is, and tell themselves that this can’t be what’s special about my work.  I want them to be compelled by the imagery and stories, not the sewing.  The sewing should sink into their background thinking, while the story sucks them in. I’m glad I understand sewing rules and techniques well, so I can pick what I want to use and know what I have to keep of the rules and what I can ditch.

Going from small sketches to huge cloth painting is scary, when you’re freehanding it, at least scary for the first marks, which set the scale for all the drawing.  I try to not look at the sketches while I draw with my airbrush, so the lines stay fresh and free. There are many albums of my works in progress on my facebook page Susan Shie Turtle Moon Studios.

Are you a stickler about your particular medium, or are you happy to cheat, borrow and steal from other disciplines whenever it seems like a good idea?

Hmmm.  Let’s say I am a pirate, going where I feel like going.  When I was in grad school, it never occurred to me to take Surface Design classes in the School of Art at Kent State.  I was in Painting.  So I did my paintings off stretchers, on fabric, not even thinking of them as quilts at all.  They were soft paintings.  If I’d been in Surface Design, I’d have found some way to work differently from the other grad students.  I am contrary!  But I had made a conscious choice in my undergrad years in the late 70s, to merge my “women’s work” sewing with my studio painting, as a feminist statement, for which I credit the feminist artist and teacher Miriam Schapiro, who was an artist in residence at The College of Wooster while I was a student there. She was really supportive, going around the country, pushing women to make a movement of Women’s Art.  I loved that, and I still love it!  My school was ablaze with feminism at that time, and when I went to Kent State for grad school, I was very active in bringing Women’s Art to the School of Art.

Libby and I relax, and I get to take off my respirator for a break, after drawing the whole piece with black paint and my airbrush.  You can see that the image has changed a lot, from the last sketch in my book.  I like that it’s really the next iteration of the sketches, only way big and permanent.

Are you currently having a passionate love affair with a particular medium or technique or concept, and would you care to share all the steamy details?

I’ve been in love with how I currently work since 2003, when I started using my airpen to write on my work with black fabric paint pushed by a tiny airpump through a surgical needle.  It doesn’t stress your hand, because you don’t squeeze to get the paint out.  I had been dreaming about that sharp, crisp, rich black line since I was a young painter in junior high school.  My husband bought me an airpen for Christmas 2002, and I almost sent it back, after failing to figure it out and not finding anyone who was able to use it on fabric with fabric paint well.  I gradually worked out many problems over the years, and am still having ah-ha moments.  I love my airpen and my airbrush both, and can’t imagine which one I would give up, if I had to let go of one and keep the other.  I’d never guessed I’d be using airpowered art tools, but they are both so natural to me now, that I never want them to leave me!
In 2006 I realized that the intensive hand sewing and beading I’d been doing so long had caused my fingertips to go numb.  I’d been experimenting with machine quilting, which I dubbed “crazy grid” work, because I prefer a rather intuitive, wobbly grid, which is not marked and tends to go all over the place with no rhyme or reason.  With the numb fingertips, I couldn’t bead well at all, and I decided that I am a painter, not a quilter really.  I made my first large machine sewn piece in 2005 and in 2006 dropped the hand sewing almost completely, only sewing a line of perle cotton running stitches around the border edge of each piece.  From sewing on tons of small glass bugle beads, I went to sewing on one Green Temple Buddha Boy bead to each piece.  I came full circle to being a painter again, making “soft paintings” again.  And all that writing took the place of all that hand stitched and beaded texture, but now I had back the storytelling aspect of the writing I’d done since childhood, as a fanatic penpal and diary keeper.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of my interview with Susan Shie!