Because I do this process so often, make faces out the stuff I see while walking the dogs, I’m always ruminating over where “art” comes from? I make the faces quite fast, acting on impulse to see what will happen. Outside of the impulse, there are no premeditated ideas. The faces are so surprising to me. Even after all this time, they continue to be new and mysterious. I am convinced it’s because I am “drawing” with my animal senses and not with my intellect.
My intellect wants to convince me this is wrong, that what I am doing can’t possibly be intelligent (meaning good?) if she is not involved. She’s pretty convincing and I sort of believe her except the evidence supports a different conclusion. I am so used to thinking that intellect is intelligence. But there is a nonverbal intelligence at play here. I think that is really why I do this, to interact with this nonverbal form of intelligence. To see if I can get better at using it. To learn from it.
I don’t think I would want that form of intelligence to balance my check book but that’s not the point. I am not trying to get better at this so I can submit all our concerns over to sensory perception. But for art making, I can’t help but wonder if intellect can only use what intellect already knows. She’s good at analysis but not good as life force. She can’t make things come into being. She can only evaluate, categorize, critique, imitate and replicate. But she cannot make.
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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.
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.
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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.
If you don’t want wrinkles, you need to strike while the iron is hot. If you want to give someone a concussion, strike at any time.
What the heck does this mean? I don’t even remember writing it. I came here to write something else and this was waiting for me.
Maybe I can make it work?…….Okay, I’ve got something. I think it means that things can always go two ways. One of those ways necessitates preparation. The other way just needs raw emotion.
I’ve been offering my sidewalk faces as limited-edition prints. This is something I have wanted to do for a really long time, as in years long time. It’s amazing how long it can take to do things that you really want to do. It can take so long you could question if you really want to do it. For example, say that you really want to wear freshly ironed, straight as a pin linen pants. You see yourself in these gorgeous pants looking like a million bucks, like you haven’t a care in the world on your remote Caribbean island writing poetry and hosting fabulous friends while wafting about in your timeless linen pants forcing those visiting friends to huddle together in wonder at your effortless effervescence. But seeing it and being it and are not the same. That vision is not about spending your time ironing and yet those pants have to be ironed. They don’t get wrinkle free on their own. We often want the fruits of labor we can’t stand to make.
But I have made the labor. I have ironed the wrinkles out of my prints and now I can offer them to you. And because of that I don’t want to throw the iron at anybody’s head, most especially my own. Hurray! Check out my gorgeous new offerings here (and also in the Limited Editions menu).