We Are Working On Something New This Year

Working The Machine – Michael Wilson

This year Michael and I are working with some friends on a new book featuring the assemblage and collage work that we do. I can safely say none of us are writers. It has been a huge stretch doing the writing for the book, but it has been a good stretch, none-the-less.

We are having to gather photo images of past and present works, and write about each of the pieces that will be in the book. This equates to an artist’s statement on 20 pieces of art each. Writing a statement for an exhibition is time consuming, but 20 statements is a monster. The one thing I must say, is that after writing and rewriting and editing down and building up, by about the 15th description, for me, I feel like I am hitting my stride.

It’s kind of like making art, I guess: you have to do the work, you won’t get better without putting in time in the trenches. In this way I am enjoying this task, not ready to write a novel, but I feel like a short statement is within my reach.

The greatest help I have had on this task comes from the book, Art-Write: The Writing Guide for Visual Artists, by Vicki Krohn Amorose. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to spruce up their writing for presentation of their art. And thank-you, Vicki, for giving us non-writers tools to remark intelligently on the art that we do.

Using Maps In Mixed Media

Not In Kansas -Susan Spencer

Maps are a popular addition to mixed media art these days. The practice of using maps came from the art of Joseph Cornell, one of the fathers of assemblage, particularly assemblages within boxes. Cornell produced art from the 30’s through the 60’s, and his use of maps has been brought forward with good reason. Maps have immediate viewer interest, we can relate to maps either through direct experience, or through nostalgia. Maps carry visual depth and can represent ideas like travel, adventure, and intrigue.

In ‘Not In Kansas’ I used two large areas of vintage maps to point to the idea of travel, particularly ocean travel. The boat, the fish, the headless bubbling characters, all add to that story, even Dorothy’s red slippers. All are floating on a sea of blue.

In the spirit of fun, and for the sake of incongruence, the child and clown drifted into the scene. The figures are in the boat, but really more like ‘represented to be in the boat.’ The images are from vintage photos that fit with the period references to Cornell, the maps, and Dorothy’s slippers. But to be honest I just like these two characters and I was glad to have found them a home in one of my collages.

I think this piece would be rather flat without the background maps. I’ve used them to help pull the piece together without overpowering the subject, and to represent that idea of travel to places unknown.

Open Studio Over Memorial Day

root swellNow on to the busy spring….there is nothing like an open studio event to get the place cleaned up! Michael is weed whipping the driveway, and I am trying to decide what cookies to bake for the upcoming weekend…

New for us this year is an outdoor display of Susan’s popular watercolors in the front garden. So it’s time to clean the fountain, and put water hyacinth in the fish pond….the red-hot pokers are blooming, and the dogs haven’t dug up the strawberries… yet!

We are also adding a pal to our open studios up here: Nadia Berrigan will be showing her photography up here. Yay for art friends!

Anderson Valley Open Studios, May 26-28, hope you can make it up the hill and have a visit, we are looking forward to it!


Studio Sneak Peak

studio 1


A huge big thank-you to all our friends who attended our opening at Mendocino Art Center last weekend. We had such a great time, and the center appreciates all of our support. Makes us pause and count our blessings…

And with the beginning of the week (right after slacker art group, which was phenomenal as usual,) I was ready to plow into preparations for the open studio event up here over Memorial Day weekend. The studio was in disarray, and still not as functional as it could be, so I dug into my side of the room.

With my new-found passion for having several work stations going at once, I did a little rearranging and total de-thugging. I now have four(!) work stations where I can assemble, paint, and explore to my heart’s content.

The top photo shows where I can work on the laptop, my “explore” corner (currently art journals), my new watercolor desk, and a new assemblage area. The corner comfy chair has a small table for laptop where I can ‘you-tube’ away with inspirational techniques or hook into some music. I have reached studio Nirvana….

For a more in-depth tour of my pride and joy, come visit Anderson Valley Open Studio Tours, Memorial Day weekend, May 26-28. We will be open from 11-5 each day.

Also coming up is the opening for the Influence and Inspiration Project exhibit, a collaboration between Alexis Moyer and myself at Edgewater Gallery in Fort Bragg, Friday May 4th, with the show continuing through the month of May. We still have a couple of spots open for the Influence and Inspiration workshop on May 5th at Edgewater, so let us know if you are interested in attending, at www.myartmuse.net


The Assemblage Art Of Dreams

Mrs. Sayers

In the last post I mentioned that this piece has a story behind it…well I better get to telling it because it is not often that I work on a piece like this, and the piece is gaining attention, I think, because of the story:

Mrs. Sayer’s Magic Cats

When I was just out of high school I had a very vivid dream. It has stayed with me over 40+ years.

I dreamed I was walking down a country road late at night. This road had no sidewalk, just a drainage ditch full of grasses that marked the edge of the road. I kept hearing this noise, “vvvvvvuuuup zing, vvvvvvvuuuuup zing….” I wondered what the noise was and turned to look. It was an amazing sight! Hidden along the road in the ditches were cats. And from the ditches running up into the sky were wires. Wires from the ditches disappearing into the night sky and every once in a while a cat went zipping up the wire, “vvvvvuuup zing!” as they rode the wire up to the moon.

It was a great dream, odd for sure, but not upsetting, just very odd and vivid.

I got one of my first jobs a few months later at a rest home. It was run by wonderful people who cared for their staff and clients. I worked on the cleaning crew during the day. The job was hard work, but not traumatic in that the residents were pretty together and some well-off. Mrs. Sayers apparently had plenty of money,  she lived in a private room surrounded by her own furnishings, big heavy drapes at the windows, it was more like entering someone’s parlor, than an institutionalized room. And Mrs. Sayers was eccentric to the nines! I loved that. Her comments were often head-shakers and always brought us to laughter.

One morning I went in to start cleaning her room. She was sitting in her big leather chair, grumbling. “Good morning, Mrs. Sayers, how are you, today?” my usual greeting. She looked at me and said, “I didn’t sleep a wink, last night, for all the noise…” Really? what was all the noise about, I asked. “Those cats!” she exclaimed. What cats? There are no cats here…I said as the hair started raising on my neck….

“All those cats! It was a full moon, you know, and they ride wires to the moon when it is full…the ditches were full of them! The noise went on all night!”

I’ve heard that in the late teen years young women can have a certain small clairvoyance. This was an instance that finally came out into an art piece…..those magic cats!


An Avalanche Of Stuff

headAs I write this I can hear Michael in the background entering all of the ‘junk’ purchases we made last year into QuickBooks. Each entry is accompanied by a “que-beep” as it makes its way to the list of items that were purchased and added into our tax information for Mr. Dean, our tax man,  to work his tax magic.

All that stuff….which brings me to today’s comment. We are asked at every exhibition, “Where do you get all that stuff?” So I have broken it down into the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here’s the orthodox list:

Friends and family- My darling cousin sent us a bag of drawer pulls via her husband, (my real cousin) today, via his 4 hour drive over! Now, let me see….next time can I send back some homemade jam? oops let the cat out, Debbie…

Ebay and Etsy-This is Michael’s world. He is a closet shop-o-holic. He finds so many cool little items there. He prides himself on never paying more than $7. (I know this is not always true…) But I overhear him talking a seller into free shipping all the time! oops, family secrets are out, Michael….

Yard sales-These are a desert of plastic junk these days, but sometimes….a real sweet antique shows up….like the vintage chess men Michael bought that were handed over in the (huge) copper pot that they didn’t charge for… We sold the copper pot on Ebay for enough to buy much more junk!

2nd hand stores- Like yard sales, you have to be willing to sift through some funky plastic junk, but the books can be a find…and my pal who works at one got me the metal folk-art kitty in the piece I just finished below.

Antique stores- This is the fun finds when we are on vacation. Last year my sister gave me a carry-on suitcase from her closet so we could lug all the good stuff we found while on our visit (with the cousins.)

And now the unorthodox list, or the list of shame…

The dump-We are rural, real rural. Garbage doesn’t magically disappear from our driveway. We will be spotted checking out the “metal” pile every 6 weeks or so…please, just don’t call out, “Hey! What’s up you guys?” when we are trying to go incognito….

Michael’s garage finds-Michael paints houses for the basic money we survive on. His clients are constantly telling him to ‘take what he wants,’ they just want to be rid of the stuff in the garage. Our cool headboard at the top is from someone’s garage. It was an old stair railing…

Our driveway-okay, not so inspiring , huh? But a lot of rusty nuts, bolts, and washers can be found on our ranch. These little embellishments can come in handy…

Here’s the folk art cat piece called Mrs. Sayers Magic Cats (there’s a story behind that) and our really cool headboard is at the top of this post.

Mrs. Sayers


Still Buzzing Around…

This week finds us editing pieces for the Mendocino show. Trying to find a cohesive representation of what we are currently doing is always challenging. Especially when we are constantly using differing materials on our surfaces. I often sneak around this problem by using similar frames.

But that brings up the point of frames, we don’t like using new frames. We like real wood, even if it a bit “used.” A frame can be cleaned up and given a new life. But that brings up another point. Those of us who prefer used, good quality frames, are you finding that these frames are skyrocketing in price? That was the case for us last year. Then earlier this week we went frame hunting and had better luck. Are the prices dropping, or did we just hit a good day? Anyway, it seems to be working out….

Below, I have used a great old frame. Re-painting and collaging have given it a new home. It’s one of the most ‘transformed’ frames I have done. It would be interesting to see what other artists are doing with their frames. Maybe in the ‘comments’ section of this post….?

Find us at the opening of the Mendocino Art Center’s opening next month, April 14, 5pm-8pm. The show runs April 4-29. We will be in Gallery 10.

‘A Universal Mind’ -Susan Spencer


Getting Ready For A Show

michael mac 2

Add It Up-Michael Wilson

This week finds us buzzing around the studio. We are getting ready for a solo show at The Mendocino Art Center in April. I must say the wonderful support the center has given The Beat Gallery has been great incentive for our studio to keep pushing forward in a media that employs common objects in an uncommon art form.

As artists, we often live in a vacuum of our imaginations and our work environment. We are solely responsible for the product of our efforts, and that’s good news and bad. But beyond the walls of the studio we need to take pause and recognize that a whole world out there is cheering us on, wishing us success  for putting ourselves out there.

More later on the particulars of the show…

Iron Clad Artists


Louise Nevelson and 2 works

(image photos courtesy of yahoo images)

Picture this:

You see a call for artists at a local show. The show is titled, “Changing Things Up-Discarded Objects As Art.” It sounds pretty good…soon you are getting emails from art friends forwarding the show announcement. They cheer you on, encouraging you, “This one’s for you!” So you submit your 3 photos and pay your fees. The show is all abuzz amongst the assemblage artists. When the list of accepted artists come out, 200 artists have submitted! And 135 artists have been  chosen to show…..you are not one of them.

Assemblage artists are a misunderstood lot. (boo-hoo) You won’t find us along the country roads in large sun hats painting impressions of light on the vineyards. We will be the ones stopping to scrounge the rusty hub cap at the turnout. We tell our stories of humanity through broken parts, forgotten. ( I was once told I lost a sale because one of the items in my assemblage was a broken piece…)

We are the ones most likely to hear the wafting whispers, “…my 5-year-old could have done that…” as polite head shakings steer them toward the lovely florals.  (yeah, well bet you wouldn’t have pulled over to get that hub cap for her…)

On the other hand, there is the camaraderie  of misfits with us. We share bits of stuff and junky items inviting pals to take what they want from our larders. We can be mysterious and intellectual, rough and raucous. We are the ones working with the grit of life. We create composition, balance and sometimes beauty using these items. And we may have a story to tell in there…

To help with the lonely times I offer some suggestions:

  • Try learning about the history of assemblage art and its major players. (It’s a short story) And it will help with that intellectual thing…
  • Next time you are at a group opening try engaging a stranger in conversation about them. It could be more interesting that hearing Matilda wax poetic over the ducks she painted in her landscape. ( Sorry, Matilda)
  • Hone your skills. Learn to manipulate your background and foreground. Pat yourself on the back when you figure out that tricky connection that fools the eye…
  • Dress outrageously at the opening. At 65 years, 5’2″, and 140 lbs., I’m tired of trying to look sophisticated at openings. Rock those bell-bottoms and head scarf like the Louise Nevelson you were meant to be! (I’ll let you know later how that one goes…)