Originally Published on Art21, August 1, 2012
School’s out for summer. School’s out forever…until it starts again in the fall. This summer has been filled with many projects, residencies, art making, etc, yet these efforts have been laced with lounging near bodies of water, sunbathing, great mix tapes, warm breezes, and vodka lemonades.
After my first year in the sculpture department at Cranbrook, this summer has proved to be a much-needed reprieve from the intellectual and emotional rigor of grad school. It’s been seriously jam-packed with projects and art making, yet perhaps it’s the visceral nature of the summer that has allowed me to approach my work with a more relaxed and exploratory attitude. Lots of bare-feet-in-the-sand have reminded me not to take the work or myself too seriously, and taught me that a little space from the studio (whilst canoeing about or laying in the sand) is a healthy part of an art practice. This BB King album cover is exactly what I’m talking about. Let me expand.
The summer began with a full-out road trip from Michigan to New York to San Diego (see my last article). Once in San Diego, I was welcomed home by friends, family, and a key toHelmuth Projects downtown. Helmuth is run by good ole boy Josh Pavlick: ceramic artist and all around chill dude. He gave Hess and I full rein over the joint for a month, culminating in a two-person show entitled “Peached Out.” Josh describes the space as “a residency program focused on supporting difficult work…here to collaborate with artists and curators experimenting with ideas that might not be easily presented in a commercial setting. It’s a clean well-lit space for whatever. A platform somewhere between the maker’s studio and a proper gallery.”
It is the mix of Josh’s energetic and open attitude, and the versatile space (living quarters, art gallery and studio all in one) that make this venue a real diamond in the rough. So, after only being away from school for one week, I dove head on into a new month-long project. The difference was instantly clear to me. At school my studio is an open thoroughfare, with people constantly observing my progress, and then critically dissecting each piece at its conclusion. At Helmuth, it was just Hess and I. And the beach a short five minute drive away. And beach we did. Many a day was spent at our favorite spots playing backgammon and soaking in the sunshine. The month flew by, and rather than a critique greeting me at the finish line, the conclusion of the residency was met with a celebratory opening attended by old professors and friends.
Peached Out installation.
A day after the show came down, I flew with a few too many suitcases out to Maine to do a whirlwind one-day install at SPACE Gallery (in Portland), and visit my husband atSkowhegan. The SPACE install was a reconfiguration of the Helmuth show, which I called “Sunny Side Up.” I traveled with the most packable pieces from the San Diego installation (mostly hand crocheted pieces and photos), and essentially had just one day to install the work. With a little help from my friends, and a very welcoming gang at SPACE, the show went up, and John and I drove three hours north to Skowhegan. Having heard about Skowhegan for years, it was a treat to go visit first hand. The place is part summer camp, part grad school, and part party in the best way. After just a few days there, I really loved the lifestyle; a great community of artists that seem to maintain a great balance between making a lot of work, and also enjoying each other and the beautiful surroundings in which they live.
After four short days, and plenty of Maine lobster, I flew back to Detroit, had one hour to shower and repack my bags, then drive 3 hours east to Ox-Bow, where I have been for the last two weeks. Talk about trains, planes, and automobiles! I’m here for a 3-week residency, where I am given a place to stay, a studio, amazing food, and a glorious time. Ox-Bow, like Skowhegan, has a very particular culture. Their website is headlined by the quote “as much as Ox-Bow is a place, it’s also an experience.” My experience has been colored by art making, a wonderful cast of characters, canoeing, beaching at Lake Michigan, and perhaps a few too many beers. Because everyone lives and works here, friends are made quickly, and with them one can explore the surroundings and enjoy late night “toast tastings” (sriracha, honey, and butter is the winner thus far). The BB King album cover comes into play here, as his is the exact pose I assume daily either at the beach, or on the floating dock perched on the Ox-Bow lagoon.
Beaching buddies at Lake Michigan.
The rustic atmosphere has allowed me a really nice space, away from being inside my own head and own work too much. Watching the stars from Lake Michigan seems just as pertinent as staging a photo in my studio. I truly believe that this space from the work has been extremely healthy, and dare I say has even allowed me a breakthrough or two in the studio this week. It’s been a nice reminder that ten physical hours in the studio each day is not always the most productive. A little breathing room from the work, and space and time to really let things seep in is something I’d like to carry with me into my last year at Cranbrook.
I have one more week here at Ox-Bow, and as deadlines tend to light a little fire in me, I feel I have much work to do in a short period of time. Yet, you can bet I’ll be swimming at least once a day, and enjoying good company.
So I’ll leave you artists with a summer decree: Make lots of work, yes! But, put your feet in the sand, make new friends, submerge yourself in some water, and look at the stars. Your work will thank you.