Gentle Condescension

Gentle Condescension

Our kitchen has a remarkably small amount of counter space, similar to a mid-size airstream. Now that our kid cooks, we literally have too many cooks in the kitchen. My husband freed up some space by moving the dish drain into one side of the sink. Finding the newly recovered area dim, he ordered a $25 lamp that mounts on the cabinet above. After installing yesterday, he turned it on while I was doing the dishes. Wow! The tiled wall was illuminated as never before, and boy was it filthy. Turn that light off! This was not the response he wanted.

Today, I came into the kitchen from the morning dog walk, noticed the new lamp was on and said, a bit dramatically, 

Check out the new light!

My husband replied, Did you just make light of my light?

On a roll, he re-stated with a witty precursor, Light of my life, did you just make light of my light?

I like it! I was being enthusiastic.

Well, I detected a bit of gentle condescension in your tone.

Was it an acceptable amount of gentle condescension or did I cross the line?

It was acceptable.

Tire Tread Face

Tire Tread Face

THE PROCESS

The dogs and I walk by a demolition site and see a weathered board covered by a muddy tire tread. I need to make a face on this!

It’s really hard to make upright faces because gravity removes most of the items I like to work with. What could I use? Mud? Plenty in the vicinity. My first attempts are bit heavy handed. It’s not looking great. I keep adjusting as best I can. I scrap around the eyes and put a mouth line in. I’m still not feeling it.

When walking the dogs and making my faces, I give up a lot. Frequently the face does not come together. No character behind the features. No emotion. Sometimes I give up right away. Who cares?! And other times I struggle for a while. I wasn’t sure about this one. I wanted it to work but the constraints were so constraining. I was thinking that maybe I hated it.

I stepped back and looked hard. The nose, the problem is the lack of nose definition. I added a final smear and took a few photos. I wouldn’t know if I liked it until later. The dogs need to get on with it peeing and pooing.

My work is so imprecise and precarious. With more tools and more time, I would have more control, I could really craft the face. But to what end? I am not trying to call forth an image in my mind, I am trying very hard to see what is actually in front of me and react to it in the moment. I am not trying to wrestle with it, I am trying to coax it. Not control but respond. Not pontificate but listen. The reward is always a total surprise, something I never in a million years could have made if I “tried” to make it. Responding quickly forces unexpected solutions. I am really grateful to each face for “coming” to me.

Turns out I like this one. Very alert expression. They are looking back at me as intensely as I am looking at them.

FAME

While I was making this face, I saw someone down the street watching me. That doesn’t happen often. Most people in Los Angeles couldn’t care less what their fellow Angelinos are up to and hurrah to that, I hate being conspicuous. A few blocks later I run into this person and they ask me if I am Sidewalk Face! OMG! I am having my 15 minutes of fame. They are a fellow Instagrammer who could tell we live in the same neighborhood. I like meeting people and exchanging goodwill but most of the time I prefer to be in the shadows. What I’m doing looks odd and though the faces are obvious in my photos, they aren’t necessarily obvious while I’m making them. I always look around before I stick my hand in mud. It would be embarrassing for someone to see me playing in the dirt. There’s just no explaining it.

FREE ART SUPPLIES

When I started this project, I didn’t have a concept or a goal, just a vague urge to make some faces outside. Six and a half years later it’s quite deliberate. The first few years I picked up so much stuff. I was carrying around at least 5 pair of broken sunglasses. On every dog walk! I did have a lot of items I could use to construct a face but as I wrote about in the Bags of Crap series, I had so many I filled up one bag, stopped using it, and then filled up another. Eventually I organized it all thinking that would solve the problem, but it didn’t. The bag may have been super tidy buy it still weighed six pounds and I kept not taking it with me. I don’t like to be weighed down. Now, I don’t carry anything but a few seeds and sticks. I prefer to approach each face with whatever is around. Very minimal.

The reason, as I stated above, is I am not trying to achieve a specific outcome. It’s more like a game, what can I do with only what I have in front of me? That doesn’t mean I don’t want it to look good. But why would looking good only be an option of time and material? I am of the opinion that the best faces come together really quickly. When that happens, I bypass the anxious part of me that wants it to look like something I have already seen. I want it to look like something I have never seen. I also want it to look organic to the scene. Too much manipulation makes it look manipulated. I want it to look like it came on it’s on accord.

I find it liberating to have an art practice where so much is totally random including the medium itself. It’s a small comfort that art exists beyond consumerism, beyond a studio, beyond my intention, beyond my control. Something delightful can come from almost anything, including a muddy panel of badly degraded wood.