Wednesday, February 8, 2017
“I invented the one breath, one line method during my last year of graduate school,” says Theresa Antonellis referring to her unusual drawing process. “I wanted to find a way to synthesize everything I was thinking and learning before I started my MFA.” For many years prior, Theresa taught yoga and massage both of which involve a lot of breath work. Finding herself in the pressure cooker-environment of graduate school, she wanted to incorporate the two calming disciplines into her practice. That’s when she started experimenting with breath-generated mark making. “I was making marks based on the range of motion in my arm, and I came to settle on this very controlled one breath, one line and range of motion in the wrist or the arm plus the length of the drawing implement.“
At VCCA, Theresa was working on a series of line drawings made with a ballpoint pen and larger works made with oakgall ink on Japanese paper. The work shares an affinity, but the effect is quite different.
The smaller works are tighter, more controlled. To produce them, Theresa starts at the center of the page, drawing lines from the top down. After four or five lines, she flips the image around and works in the opposite direction so that the drawing emanates from the center. Each line is made on the exhale. When she stops, she has to rest her pen to inhale and gather her focus. While she’s doing this, the ballpoint pen is resting on the page. A little puddle forms as the paper absorbs ink, creating a little dot at the end of each line. The visual embodiment of her technique, the dots tell us that’s where she paused to take her next breath. They also add a visually interesting flourish to the lines, both tempering and accenting their verticality.
Theresa has a set of rules that govern the drawings: the lines can’t touch, but they have to be as close together as possible and as straight as possible. Theresa is as interested in the resulting negative space as she is in the lines she draws. “I really enjoy that kind of white space that shows up between the lines and it becomes its own pattern. Every line is a reaction to the previous line and I feel like breath is like that. Every breath, while it may be the same length, is a reaction to the depth or the shallowness of the previous breath and the lines express that.
“During the process the pen will run into little imperfections in the paper, or my hand will express an imperfection in its range of motion and that shows up as a blip. I’ll accept that blip and I’ll continue and almost exaggerate it until it’s worked out of the image. I’ll push it out of the image much like one would massage a knot out of a muscle.“ This narrowing and widening of the space between the lines infuses the work with a rhythm and produces the effect of light and shadow.
Theresa uses the same spare language as Minimalism, but without the hermetic coolness of that genre. With the one breath, one line drawings, she has breathed soul into the work with the hand (and breath) of the artist clearly revealed.
The oakgall ink pieces involve the same approach. Because they’re bigger, instead of using just the range of motion in the wrist, she’s using the range of motion in the entire arm. “I dip the brush into the ink and make one full line on one exhale. They’re going to be as straight as possible, but there’s going to be some variation within them. And I copy that variation, so I allow that variation to be copied as I work it out.”
Made from crushed oakgalls, which are round nut-like growths that oak trees produce to protect themselves from the eggs of nonstinging wasps laid in their leaf stems. Oakgall ink dates back to the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, it was used in illuminated manuscripts and many of our important civic documents were written in oakgall ink.
To make the ink, boiling water is poured over crushed oakgall and left to sit over night. The next day, ferrous sulfate is added causing a chemical reaction. (In ancient times they used rust or some bit of rusty hardware.) The solution is no longer a tea; it is now a permanent dye. Initially, the ink has a midnight blue, deep purple cast, which darkens as it ages. The addition of gum Arabic emulsifies the liquid making it less watery.
Like many Fellows, Theresa feels that one of the points of a residency is to experiment, to push yourself to do something you wouldn’t normally do, so she brought a set of colored pencils with her to VCCA. Using the pencils she created a series of freehand circles in grid, selecting the colors based on a random set of rules. She wanted to represent as many colors as possible, without automatically going for her favorite colors. She also made a second grid in more neutral hues. The work is her response to the intense focus that her line drawings require. Here, she’s not really focused on the breath, but on producing a perfect circle with the gestural mark—a discipline of a different sort.
“I’m very interested in perception, this breathable boundary between what we are thinking about inside and what shows up outside. So I’m drawing these circles, which look pretty perfect to me. I haven’t measured them with a compass. But, so what is perfect? Can I draw a perfect circle? No, but I can draw a nearly perfect circle and doing this makes me feel really good. I like the idea of drawing something that is physically in me and expressing that outwardly. And then there’s the idea of what does it take to perceive something? Some of these are barely coming off the page and others are much more delineated, much more detailed. I like the idea of the eye falling on the image and the moment it begins to see the image emerging from the page.”
When not working on her art, Theresa teaches art history at Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania where she also runs the Martha Gault Art Gallery.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
What better place to write poetry than Southwest France? Auvillar is a jewel of a village, one of France’s “100 most beautiful villages.” Truly, there’s nothing that’s not poetry in our village. As the light strikes it, the Garonne changes its appearance every time you look. The food is unbeatable, the wine is superb, the people are friendly. Oh yes, we write some poetry, too!
This is our 9th year and many of our poets have published the poetry they’ve written in the workshop. Afternoon demos in French cooking and photography add resonance to our workshop title, “O Taste and See: Writing the Senses in Deep France.” Workshop leader, Dr. Marilyn Kallet, Nancy Moore Goslee Professor of English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is the author of 17 books, including The Love That Moves Me, poetry from Black Widow Press. To contact Marilyn Kallet: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, January 27, 2017
Here’s your chance to work with composers Raphaël Cendo and Philippe Leroux and premiere a new work with the Ecce Ensemble. This year's Etchings program takes place from June 26th to July 3rd, 2017. For more information and to apply:
VCCA Fellow John Aylward, began the Etchings Festival in 2009, collaborating with VCCA at its Moulin à Nef Studio Center in Auvillar, France. VCCA's wish to have an international program that would further its mission of arts advocacy combined with John’s desire to create a positive environment for young emerging composers, where they would develop their craft through honest, frank interactions with each other. In a hyperactive Internet culture, it is more and more a unique experience to retreat to a quiet place to cultivate your art in a community of other passionate artists. To be influenced by such a community while being mentored by some of the great composers of our time and some of the best interpreters of modern music: that’s what the Etchings Festival provides.
Concerts at the festival take place in a 14th Century chapel, renovated and acoustically sublime. The village of Auvillar is deeply invested in the arts, and villagers come from across the countryside to attend festival concerts. Auvillar is on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route and so often traveling pilgrims will attend festival events.
Participant composers meet each morning for private lessons and each afternoon for masterclasses where guests share their music and critique participant work. In the evening, the village is alive with activity; you can sample delicious food and wine from local vineyards.
The fellows who study at Etchings come from around the world, traveling from as far as far away as Singapore and Argentina. The level of teaching is as high as any major international festival, but with the intimacy that allows for great attention and consideration to be given to each fellow. And fellows know they will receive an expert performance of their work: the ensemble rehearses each day with each fellow, resulting in stellar performances and lasting collaborations.
Monday, December 12, 2016
This year’s Goldfarb Family Fund Fellowship recipient was acclaimed novelist and Emerson College creative writing professor Mako Yoshikawa who has recently expanded her practice beyond fiction. Established in 2000 through the generosity of writer, literary agent and former VCCA Board member Ronald Goldfarb, he fund sponsors a fully funded two-week fellowship and is given annually to the top creative non-fiction applicant. This residency is awarded each year during the fall scheduling period.
While at VCCA, Mako worked on a memoir about her father. Begun shortly after his death in 2010, she has been working steadily on it ever since. She is now nearing the end, wrapping up the final chapter and about to begin the editing process.
“It has been a real journey to write such a personal piece and also to learn a new genre. Writing a memoir is such a different experience from writing novels. I like being accountable and having this emotional honesty.” While at VCCA, Mako met another Fellow, also from Cambridge, MA, at work on her own memoir. It turns out the two memoirs are very similar. “We’re both delving into family histories and we had many wonderful discussions. My father and mother were both Japanese—very Japanese. They moved to the U.S. in their twenties and a lot the memoir deals with race and nationality; the other Fellow, Dolores Johnson is also writing about race. That was such an unexpected gift. Our conversations were so productive for my work."
Mako’s father kept his Japanese passport and nationality all his life. “I think of my parents as accidental immigrants. Despite a stable and eminent position in the U.S., there was always this idea they would go back.” They did return when Mako was in second grade, but Mako and her mother and sisters all hated it and they came back to America after two years.
A brilliant physicist, Mako’s father was also bipolar. After a prestigious fellowship at MIT, he went on to teach and work at Princeton, the “temple of physics.” His field was fusion energy. According to Mako, it was a dream position. At the time, fusion energy seemed very plausible. Her father was a major figure in the field, but because of his mental condition, he alienated a lot of people. Eventually, his career, marriage to her mother and relationship with Mako and her sisters derailed. “It’s a really complicated story that I had wanted to write about for a really long time, but I couldn’t while he was alive.” Adding to the complication was the fact that after Mako’s parents divorced when Mako was a teenager, she rarely saw her father. They would occasionally exchange cards and once every five years or so they would meet. Her mother remarried and Mako became very close to her stepfather. When Mako got married in 2010 she wanted him rather than her biological father to walk her down the aisle. So she didn’t invite her father to the wedding. When he died the day before, she was filled with guilt.
At his memorial service, his colleagues talked about how wonderful he was citing his idealism, his generosity. “I felt stirred and proud and all those things and I also felt guilty about our relationship. I now believe they were whitewashing him in that way that one does in a eulogy. But hearing it, I thought I have to learn who my father is.”
Mako has written two novels One Hundred and One Ways (1999) and Once Removed (2003). For the first one, Mako drew on family history. “A lot of stories about my grandmother and my great-grandmother (whom I turned into my grandmother) in that novel, and my mother’s life too, are woven into the story. I’m writing about the same things in the memoir as well except of course without the veneer of 'fiction.' It's been interesting to revisit the same events in this other genre.”
Mako’s mother, to whom she is very close, is also a writer. She’s been very helpful serving as a sounding board and corroborating facts. “Memory is unreliable and there is this kind of self-doubt that happens. My mother’s really great; she tells me all these family stories and she also says she doesn’t have to read the memoir, which is a relief because it’s hard to write about someone when you know they’re going to read it. I often send her things to check on so I think of it as a collaborative work.”
The process of exploring family history has been challenging. “Some of it’s been so painful. It’s been freeing too, but hard. And messy. I think I have a grasp on something that happened in the past and then I think more about it, it transmutes, transforming into something else and I realize I hadn’t really understood it.”
While working on the memoir Mako has published five essays. “This has been really helpful because I’ve gotten feedback and the essays have served to break the ice, which is crucial. You feel so vulnerable writing a memoir, recounting something that actually happened and where the “I” is actually me."
“Residencies are so valuable. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by people who want to do nothing more than work. There’s a great quote, I think it's usually attributed to Noel Coward: ‘Work is more fun than fun.’ Not many people think like that. Artists feel this way and it’s so inspiring to be surrounded by those sorts of people in a place that honors that and which makes it possible.”
Thursday, November 17, 2016
While in residence at VCCA, Vincent Pidone built an automatic drawing machine that he hopes to program to draw using animation software. Normally, with stop motion animation, you would make drawings and then photograph those drawings individually putting them together to form an animation. It’s a laborious process when you consider that Vincent’s animations are composed of 300-400 individual drawings on file cards to yield about thirty seconds of animation. That’s why Vincent is attempting to get the animation software to do the drawing for him. Ideally, he will end up with a short animated film and a stack of physical drawings that are essentially one-offs.
“I’m basically grabbing the tail and wagging the dog instead of doing it the way it’s typically done,” says Vincent. “What I’m doing is very challenging. If it were easy, someone else would have done it by now. This is why I need a few weeks to work on this stuff.” The VCCA residency funded by the NEA for military veteran artists finally made it possible for him to do something he’s wanted to do for a couple of years, but never had the dedicated time and space to do it. Vincent works full time at R & F Handmade Paints in Kingston, NY. They were very supportive of his taking the time off to come to VCCA.
Vincent came to drawing as an adult. “I’m self taught, but not naive. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at art, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of what works.” This explains his sophisticated minimalist style. He uses silverpoint, which he discovered years ago while working in a factory where silver rod was used for welding. The shop floor was littered with little pieces of the silver rod. One day, he happened to pinch one between the machine he was moving and the melamine top of a table leaving a mark, which he found interesting. He started drawing on the plastic tabletop with the rod fragments and then researched how to translate the medium to paper.
Unlike drawing in graphite or ink, the silverpoint mark is very faint. Pressing down on it doesn’t make it any darker, but repeated trips over the same line, darkens it. That’s where the automatic drawing machine comes in. “The computer is much better at this than I am; it doesn’t care how many times it does it.
“I want to get me out of the process. The mechanical elements are pretty well under control, but I’m banging my head against the level of coding that’s necessary to get the software to work like I want it to. Eventually, it will make a little bit of a drawing, stop, pull the drawing arm out of the way, take a picture, bring the drawing arm back, do more of the drawing and then, repeat.”
The path the silverpoint follows is not programmed; its shape is dictated by the shape of the drawing arm, which holds the silverpoint stylus. However, Vincent tells the motor to turn this way and that at a particular moment. When he moves the motor, the pattern changes just slightly.
Vincent has made the machine intentionally loose. “If I made it tighter and more precise, the drawings would be a lot less interesting. You need that wobble in there. If everything were made like a German machinist had made it, the drawings would be dull. Part of what I’m doing is to get computer results without a computerized look.”
Once Vincent’s gotten all the various parts integrated to work, his plan is to find a drawing he likes, teach the animation software to make that particular shape, altering it ever so slightly between photographs so that he ends up with an animated film. It will start with a white screen and then the drawing will start to appear out of nowhere, becoming progressively darker until it is fully realized.
In a bit of synchronicity, an animation he created recalls a murmuration of starlings darkening the sky. During his residency he experienced the phenomenon. Every evening hundreds of birds flocked outside the Studio Barn around 5:30. There would be 500 to 1,000 of them chirping en mass. Suddenly they would all stop and fly off creating those distinctive swirling patterns in the air. The dotted line in this animation, which suggests individual birds, is achieved by speeding up the machine so that the line becomes choppy. Vincent was determined to record the birds for the soundtrack on the animation. This proved challenging as the birds didn’t flock in the same place or at the same time each evening. Eventually, he was able to assemble three minutes of useable track from nearly four hours he recorded. He also plans to incorporate into the soundtrack, the high-pitched tone the drawing arm makes.
Vincent uses the same animation software as Tim Burton. The software is not expensive—it’s the hardware that is. But this isn’t an issue for Vincent as he knows how to make it himself. Motors have interested him since he was a child and as a member of the military during the Vietnam War, Vincent’s training was in electronics.
“I applied to VCCA’s NEA supported veterans fellowship on the promise of what I might do, not, okay here’s my work and I’m going to make more of it. My feeling is, I can paint at home. Coming to VCCA, I wanted to do something I hadn’t done before. And it is better than nice to have gotten the support to try something new that I might not have been able to deliver on.”