And another one - I've done a piece on a very similar frog in relief before (The Slightest Disturbance), and now here's a painting from a different angle of a marsh frog, Rana ridibunda and/or Pelophylax ridibundus, from the Jardín Botánico Canario Viera y Clavijo. This piece is acrylic on gessobord, 5x7", and is titled Comfort Zone.
artist in residence
While I was an artist in residence at Cerdeira Village, I used their studio space to sculpt detailed ceramics. They had two Shimpo banding wheels in the studio space, and I quickly discovered their utility in allowing me an easy method to keep on turning the pieces to aid in sculpting and painting them.
Upon arriving back in the US, my shipped sculptures from Cerdeira Village were waiting for me. I had mentally prepared for my own estimated 50/50 odds that they'd arrive intact due to their insanely fragile natural branch additions. Fortunately, the biggest parts that I'd worried about, the branches, were mostly okay - though one had fully detached from the turtle's back and had to be reattached. Unfortunately, the packing material I had selected to give the sculptures the best shot at arriving in decent condition meant that I had hours of clean-up ahead of me: I used tiny sytrofoam balls typically used in pillows or beanbags which - by intention - had secreted themselves into every nook and cranny of the sculptures and their natural branches and lichens. This meant I had to painstakingly, delicately remove each pellet (and fragment of pellet, as a lot of them fragmented in shipping) with tweezers. The two sculptures each also lost several nail tips, which I had to repair and repaint.
Though the cleaning and repair of the pieces took over eleven hours, I count myself lucky they arrived in such good condition since I was able to fully restore them - something that wouldn't have been possible if the branches had suffered severe injury. I spent much, much more than eleven hours (and used irreplaceable materials) in the initial creation of the pieces.
In repairing them, though, I kept trying to spin my non-spinning pot rest that I was working atop of on my table. When I couldn't, I had to keep picking up and rotating the sculptures myself, and each time I did that I increased the chances that I'd put them down off balance, or at an angle that threatened a nail tip, and so on. I realized that I wanted a banding wheel of my own.
I looked at several online; the Shimpo banding wheel I'd used in the Cerdeira Village studio was one of the more expensive ones available so I debated amongst my other options. From reading various reviews and looking at the details of other types, though, I decided that many of the others that are cheaper are too light-weight and/or don't spin as cleanly as I want. I really just wanted the same piece of equipment that I found so useful.
I also learned that there are several different types of Shimpo banding wheel. The one I used in the studio was the BW-25H. I really considered whether I wanted a different type, but in the end I went with that one again. The main reason is the height of it - it's the only one with significant clearance between the spinning top and the base. This was really useful for me when I wanted to move and/or cure the sculpture - without touching the top and getting near a fragile part of my sculpture at all, I could easily put my hands underneath the top to heft the whole thing up. I also often liked the bit of extra height - typically, when at a table or desk and sculpting or painting a relatively small piece, you're always looking down at it. The added height of the BW-25H means that you're closer to eye level with the piece.
So that's what I purchased, and I'm excited to own it. I do think I may eventually want to acquire a BW-25L or BW-22L at some point in the future as well, but for now, I don't need another one, they're expensive, and I'm already facing a lot of expensive artwork-related costs right now (material costs, international shipping fees, framing fees) so I'm holding off on that for the moment.
My final days in Madrid were spent in the studio, figuring out how to pack up and ship my artwork back home, and completing visits to the Prado and Reina Sofia museums as well as the Palacio Real and the Catedral de la Almudena.
When I studied abroad at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas-ICADE ten years ago, I took an art history class that was held most of the time in the Prado, so I feel strong nostalgia not only for the artwork inside but also for the rooms and building itself. The Prado has a shocking amount of masterpieces for the size of the collection. It's always interesting to me how even when I've seen the pieces in person as well as via reproduction, I'm still hit every time I go with how some artists really suffer in reproduction while others are assisted by it. A guard stopped me fairly early on and pointed out that on my guide it says in a tiny icon on the back that no photos are allowed, so unfortunately you won't get to see any of my own photos of Bosch's salon, or Velazquez's Bufones series, but I actually wasn't warned at the very beginning so I can share a couple images with you!
The Reina Sofia allows photos in all its exhibitions except the "Pity and Terror - The Path to Guernica" Picasso retrospective. Though I respect its historical and artistic significance, I don't really emotionally connect with Picasso as much as other artists and pieces in the Reina Sofia anyway - I am, for instance, somehow always surprised by the engrossing, varied details and the meticulous brushwork of Dalí. There were also a large number of temporary exhibitions featuring a range of artists including several contemporary ones.
No photos were allowed in the interior of the palace, but the Palacio Real is a really interesting space - on the one hand, the wallpapers, stucco decorations, and much of the decor is over-the-top and stands up to modernity just fine; on the other, some parts have suffered more than others. The ballroom/dining hall floor has seen better days, and some of the furniture seemed worn and small - in fact, so did a few of the rooms. Overall, though, the effect is pretty regal particularly when focusing on the Salon Gasparini or the Throne Room.
The Catedral de la Almudena is right next door to the Palacio Real, and though the interior of the cathedral is nice, my favorite part (where no photos are allowed to preserve the holy atmosphere) is the Capilla del Santísimo which is inlaid in mosaic tile by artist and Father Marko Ivan Rupnik.
My flights back home were great - though American Airlines had in their infinite wisdom chosen to use a plane with no personalized in-flight entertainment on the cross-Atlantic trip over, they did use a super teched-out plane on the return voyage. The windows tinted and untinted electronically, and the personal monitors in the seat backs had the most complex navigational information system I've seen as well as a surfeit of television and movie selections. I unfortunately didn't manage to get an aisle seat, though, which my knees really felt, but I did get asked to move from my middle seat to a window seat across the plane and happily complied so I could at least not be penned in on both sides by people. Plus my new seat neighbor was a nice guy. I was fairly worried the whole day as my connection in Dallas Fort Worth was only two hours, which is cutting it really close, but fortunately everything - passport control, baggage claim, customs, security - went smoothly and decently quickly and I made my next flight on time. That plane also had personalized in-flight entertainment, weirdly enough, as it's quite atypical on such short domestic trips. American Airlines, I do not understand you. Please to have personalized in-flight entertainment on all the longest trips first and then if you can on the rest it would be a nice perk.
I landed, my luggage came out in order, and my amazing colleague Susan came and picked me up! I am home!
Seriously, I've been really hard at work here creating lots of new artwork!
I went to see the Zoo Aquarium de Madrid a couple weeks ago, mostly because I remember it being huge from when I visited it ten years ago and with unusual access to some of the animals like the giraffes, bears, and wallabies. They've tightened up some of their security since, though I still saw patrons feeding peanuts to lemurs and bears despite the signage (I saw that ten years ago too, but also saw a wallaby with an entire bagel and giraffes also being fed peanuts by the crowd!), and it still seemed big but not quite as huge as it did when I was younger.
I typically don't paint zoo animals; I prefer to paint animals that are local and/or native to the places I'm inhabiting, and I also don't think I get very unique perspectives on many zoo inhabitants unless the zoo is one of the few that has surprisingly close access to the animals. However, this time around despite less access than I remember (though still on the more access side of zoos), a giant anteater had escaped from his enclosure and was having the time of his life in the green space between his enclosure and the public walkways. There was still a small fence between him and the walkways, but honestly, the fence he escaped from was much more difficult to surmount so while he could've escaped full-stop, I believe he just preferred the green space to that of his desert-themed enclosure. If I'd wanted to, I could've touched him, but I didn't - both because I'm a good zoo visitor, and also because he was a fighter! Peahens, unaware of his escape, were pecking around happily when he ran over and began repeatedly charging them. He did that until they hid behind some bushes and then he happily commenced wandering around the green space, digging and eating in the grass. I watched him for a while and then went off to other parts of the zoo; I returned a few hours later and he somehow got his girlfriend out as well! I think the Zoo must know they can escape, but I'm honestly surprised it's allowed since unwise guests could really cause a problem quite easily with the anteaters...
Watching him enjoy himself so much (and having an exceptional amount of access to him), it felt like I actually did get a real glimpse into his character. I left wanting a souvenir of the experience, and in my mind there's no better souvenir than painting him.
Dominion, acrylic on canvas, 25x39 3/4".
I really like how this piece turned out. A number of people have asked me about the background/paper, and yes, I did paint the background as well including the darker spots - the paper started off white. But no, I didn't handmake the paper, though it is artesanal! I bought it at Jeco here in Madrid.
The Ninth Hour, acrylic on paper, 11 3/8 x 15".
Here's my second interactive sculpture! It's had less time for the algae to grow on it, but so far I'm liking it. With the snails piece, having them entirely underwater wasn't necessarily a "death sentence" for the snails as a number of species of snails are aquatic. There are no aquatic pigeons, though, so I made this one to have its head jussssst above the top of the container.
I didn't take many in-process photos of this one primarily because a lot of pieces to this one were really delicate while uncured (the feet, the beak, the tail and wing tips) so I was mostly gently cradling it while sculpting and then went straight into curing it. But to the right is a photo of it post-curing but pre-powdering.
This painting of two sparrows I'm not completely happy with; I started the piece out with a composition I liked, but then some parts of it got away from me and I had to tear the paper down in size to correct it. Tearing it down fixed those issues, but now the scale of the sparrows in relation to the overall paper size is out of whack to me. So it goes sometimes - I think if I float mat it with a very large mat of maybe 2-3" it might turn out alright in the end. In Their Own Minds, acrylic on textured paper, 18 1/8 x 13 3/4".
My exhibition, titled "In the Dark" (in Spanish), associated with my Intercambiador ACART residency is opening tomorrow evening! I haven't been able to take a photo of the second sculpture I made yet for various reasons, but the show will have two interactive sculptures of mine as well as five paintings (two of which I just finished and also have yet to post online!). The exhibition will be held in Quinta del Sordo here in Madrid, Spain, and will be up from July 20-28th. Here's the exhibition card:
Here's the final (for now, at least) fox kit painting! It's titled All Out, is acrylic on canvas, and measures 18 7/8 x 21".
Here are the photos from Segovia, with a couple at the end of Plaza Mayor in Madrid, a photo of one of the invasive parrots I've talked about before briefly here, and the Alejandro Sanz concert fireworks!
I've been not posting as many text-based journals from this residency mostly because I've lived in Madrid before and this is a longer residency than I'm used to (the first one that's two months long), so I have fewer touristy desires than normal and I can spread them out more. Also it's been so insanely hot so much of the time that the studio often seems more appealing anyway! Other day-to-day things that occupy my time include occasionally going to the Chueca district to buy art supplies (it's also the gayborhood, interestingly) and similarly studio-related errands. This all makes me very productive but doesn't provide as much material to journal about.
However, I haven't yet covered that while Fari was still here, we took a day trip to Segovia on the recommendation of a local Spanish acquaintance who told me that it was her favorite nearby town, even besting Toledo.
Segovia lived up to her claims so much that I'm surprised I didn't go there ten years ago - it has a Roman aqueduct dating to around 112 AD and what is I think the most beautiful cathedral exterior I've ever seen. It also has a castle that inspired Walt Disney, called the Alcázar of Segovia, which had three trees of nesting storks out front (!!).
Interestingly to me, Segovia doesn't have any specific touristic goods apart from a meat entrée; Toledo for instance is well known for its metals including steel, gold, and silver. Segovia really doesn't need any as the city itself is sufficient to draw tourists, but I can't help but feel they could make more money if they perhaps sold special tapestries and other cloths in a nod to the past industry of cloth-making there.
Other than that, one night the stadium next to my apartment building had a famous Spanish singer, Alejandro Sanz, doing a twenty-year-retrospective concert; while we could hear it, we couldn't hear it; the audio was too distorted from that distance. I did photograph the fireworks, though!
Here's my second fox kit painting. I'm titling it Nativity in part due to the suggested mountainscape in the background which mirrors the homeland of this particular fox kit. This piece is also acrylic on canvas and is approximately 22.5 x 32".
Some random observations:
1) I am quite tall for the Iberian Peninsula (both Portugal and Spain). Headrests on buses and cars hit me in the back and I tower over pretty much all of the women and many of the men. I'm only very slightly taller than average (5'6" with average being 5'5" for women) in the USA, so it's weird feeling so very tall.
2) Madrid is a dog city. I noted that when I was here in 2007, too, and I love seeing all the dogs. I get to pet and play with a few particularly friendly ones, too, and that's grand. I do wish it was less of a dog poop city, though. Many people do pick up their dog's poop with little baggies and toss it away appropriately, but many also do not.
3) Travelers' diarrhea is really unpleasant. I kept getting it here the first few weeks and can't figure out what the precise culprit is. I feel that since I lived here once before (admittedly ten years ago) it is wholly unfair that it keeps happening (three separate occasions thus far).
4) Madrid is getting ever so slightly better with vegetarianism, but it's still very hard to be vegetarian here if you want to eat out.
5) Despite having lived here before and this being the case in other cities I've done residencies in as well, I'm still not entirely used to shops closing from 2-5pm. I like the European mindset toward work-life balance, but I'd prefer shift workers such that the stores could stay open.
6) If you live without A/C in constant 100-103*F weather, having one day that's overcast and merely 96*F feels markedly better.
7) Many Spaniards really don't speak English. I do speak enough Spanish to get along, but Fari doesn't speak any Spanish and I think she's surprised at how much it hinders her here - for a big European city like Madrid, the proportion who don't speak English is probably higher here than almost anywhere else of a similar size.
8) The flat I'm in has no microwave, no oven, and no pot with a lid. This severely hampers what I am able to cook. I'm also nervous that eating fresh fruit and vegetables is part of what's contributing to the traveler's diarrhea. As a result, I'm eating out a lot.
9) People drink non-alcoholic beer here surprisingly often. I typically only see it on offer in Muslim-run restaurants in the US. I only drink decaf coffee, so I get liking the taste of something but not the drug within it - but the cheap beer served everywhere here, Mahou, is to me not something I would prefer to other drinks without the alcohol...
10) There are more Asian immigrants here than ten years ago - a lot more. I used to walk around with an Asian friend in 2007 and people would scream "china" and run over to stare at her like she was in a zoo; nowadays there are "Chinese bazaars" on almost every street run by Asian immigrants.
11) There's a couple species of invasive small green parrot here. The more common one, the Argentinian parrot, has a very loud, annoying call. They're surprisingly hard to pin down in photos, but I've encountered them a few times.
Here are photos from my second journal, including my artist presentation and my trip to Toledo!
On Sundays in Spain, many shops are closed. There is, however, a giant market that is held every Sunday called the Rastro. It spans many city blocks, with tents selling various types of clothing, books, movies, magazines, antiques, jewelry, and more. Various bars and bakeries in the Rastro stay open as well to cater to the crowd. I told Fari we had to go there my first Sunday (which was my seventh day in Madrid), since she hadn't even heard of it. We went to the La Latina metro stop on Line 5 of the metro, and entered the Rastro. Fari thought she would want to shop for different things than I did, so we set up a time to meet back at the metro stop and then parted ways. Since I knew I would come back perhaps every Sunday or at least several more, I mostly just browsed and took stock of what was offered in multiple places and what was more unique. By the time we met back up, I'd only purchased a small antique Spanish tile - I spent six euro on it. Fari had purchased a few things, though, including a decorative Indian sheet, a pair of pants, and a loose housedress. I had gotten to our meeting place slightly before her and had time to check my phone for any vegetarian-friendly places nearby, so for lunch we went to a small place called Pura Vida. I really liked it - they give you a free tapas plate of vegetarian paella with a drink order and we also split a trio of salads with bread.
The following day was when Intercambiador ACART held our artist presentations, wherein interested members of the public can come listen to us talk about our artistic practices. Fari and I were joined by a South American artist named Tamara who has a studio space in the newly opened studio we visited a few days previously.
After another day in the studio (I'd spent a fair amount of time there already in the previous days), Fari and I took a day trip to Toledo. I've been there before back in 2007, but it was great to see it again. We spent most of the time there taking in the huge cathedral (with artwork by a number of great artists including El Greco), eating lunch, and just wandering and shopping around the streets between the cathedral and the downtown square. Fari and I ate and shopped independently, mostly because she was starving and left the cathedral earlier than I wanted to so she could get food. I ate at a vegetarian restaurant called Madre Tierra which I had googled, and had a very experimental salad with a frozen goat cheese that basically tasted like normal ice cream. It was interesting and I am glad for the experience but I wouldn't reorder it! We did manage to quickly poke around the monastery right toward the end, though, and there was some sort of honoring of recent doctoral candidates happening which was quite neat. Neither Fari nor I are great with directions, though, and we also had to locate and catch a bus back to the train station, so we headed back. In the end, we didn't get lost and we caught our bus right away, so we got to the train station way too early - a little less than two hours early! But our feet were sore, most of the tourist attractions and even some of the shops start to close around when we left anyway, and it's better to be early than miss your train!
Photos from my first few days in Madrid!
Whew, sorry for the slight delay in posting. Madrid is super hot (I'll tell you more when I actually journal about it) and it saps your desire to be productive, so I am currently channeling most of my energy into studio productivity and attempting to brave the outdoors! Anyway, here are the final photos from Cerdeira Village and the Elementos à Solta festival!
Here are a handful of photos of my overall exhibition space in the Cerdeira Village Elementos à Solta festival. I already published individual piece images in my earlier posts, but here you can see some combined installation shots.
Starting on Wednesday through Friday, artists piled into the shared house Julia and I were staying in so that they could set up for the festival (which officially began on Thursday but really truly started on Friday). In the end, I think we housed more than 16 people in the house, and 7 in our room! It was really packed and we had to take shifts in the kitchen. The festival, called Elementos à Solta (Art Meets Nature), took place throughout the village from Thursday through Sunday and involved ceramics as well as fiber arts, wooden pieces, motion-sensing installations, and more. There were additionally workshops for art novices in the mornings and scheduled theatre and music performances in the evening. I really enjoyed a stage performance by eight ceramic artists; it was the first theatre piece I've seen that was really nevertheless as much a studio art performance piece.
Many of the displaying artists come to the festival every year (and this was the festival's twelfth year) so they all knew each other very well, but they were also extremely welcoming to Julia and me. I found a mix of Spanish and English tends to be decently understood by most Portuguese speakers, which was helpful. We were provided meals during the festival (usually on the residencies I attend you make your own food) and the cooks very kindly made vegetarian fare available each time, which I found very thoughtful.
The festival wound down on Sunday, and Julia left early that afternoon (her installation will remain up until nature has its way with it - perhaps through the winter!) after we finished our scheduled artist presentation. I grew very close to Julia during our time there, and it was very sad to have her leave. It also meant my own time to leave was drawing near; I had decided to take a bus from Coimbra to Madrid the following morning. I had planned to try to use a sort-of legitimized hitchhiking (car-sharing) service, but no one was making the trip the day I needed to go. I then considered flying, but within-Europe flights don't provide any free checked or carry-on luggage beyond a small bag, and I have two big suitcases with me so it would have been too costly. The bus was only a few hours longer and was significantly cheaper.
Packing my sculptures took about two hours; I actually packed them about three times trying to get the packing materials to support and protect the pieces. I have no idea if the sculptures' fragile branches will be in fragments by the time they reach the US; I tried my best, though! I needed to mail them from Portugal because since I had two suitcases and a backpack already, I didn't have the hands to also carry a large box along. On Monday morning, Nuno and I went to the post office and mailed my box out (fingers crossed!) before he dropped me off at the bus station. The trip from Coimbra to Madrid was thankfully uneventful, and the bus driver of the second bus (we had to change buses very early into the trip to connect with the Spanish line) stopped several times such that we could avoid using the bus toilet - I was very appreciative of that! We did stop at the Spanish border and police came aboard and checked passports; I was a little surprised about this because one of my international students said the borders are not really controlled for ground traffic between EU countries.