Beetles

12/15/2014

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This post will serve as formal recruitment for an art internship at the University of Idaho.

I'm looking for a University of Idaho undergraduate student in art who can help with a project at the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS). This position will be set up to offer internship credit (Art 497/498).

The student in this position will get training in Raku firing and other ceramic techniques, as well as the opportunity to teach in an interdisciplinary setting.

You can download the application form here.

You can also email me if you have questions.



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This project is based around the Douglas Fir Bark Beetle (Dendroctonus pseudotsugae), an insect that's been chewing a swathe of destruction across the Inland Northwest.

These bark beetles are tiny little buggers... but they proliferate like sea monkeys. For nourishment, they adore the juicy inner cambium of healthy trees... which is not a pleasant arrangement from the standpoint of the trees.

The results are visible below.


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Like most insects, bark beetles inhabit a world of chemical signals- lives shaped and driven by pheromones and funk (kind of like a freshman cohort in a frat house).

In particular,
D. pseudotsugae can emit a chemical called an 'aggregation pheromone' when they've successfully colonized a tree- effectively like yowling 'the keg's been tapped'. Other beetles flood in and begin to gnosh.

When the tree dies, however, its food value declines, and the beetles emit a second 'disaggregation' pheromone.

Researchers have discovered that this chemical can be applied to healthy trees, and that the trees will effectively be protected. They do this via a pheromone-soaked patch.

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In my work for the University of Idaho, I've built a connection with the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS). MOSS is located in the middle of bark beetle central... and the researchers on site are interested in doing some environmental education related to bark beetles and their impact.

The pheromone patches are pretty nondescript... not something that's particularly visible or interesting to locals.

We're proposing crafting ceramic bark beetles through a series of workshops at MOSS. These beetles will be slip-cast (a process that allows for making exact, repeated objects out of clay). Students at MOSS will be able to individually carve and glaze their beetles, and fire them using the Raku process. I've posted a couple examples below.

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We'll link these workshops to informational displays at trailheads, and other outreach. Hopefully, the majority of people who sees these objects will be curious and- eventually- better informed. I also assume that a few will be 'liberated' by hikers with sticky fingers... hopefully this won't lead to mass disaggregation events in local households.

Anyhow- again, if you're a University of Idaho student with some interest in art...

You can download the application form here.

Or you can also email me if you have questions.

 
 
I have a ton of new projects to write about... but before I get into my whole eco-schvingey, concept based Odyssey, let me talk about mugs.

I've had several mug orders for the holiday... and what is a mug but an excuse to fool with some new techniques?
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I've been intrigued for some time by the work of Steven Hill, a well known cone six potter who echoes Hi-fire reduction effects in his electric kiln. He does this through intensive spray-based glaze application, as well as the use of finger-trailed slip. Stunning work.

Here's a link to his website.

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I'm the recent and proud owner of a Paasche model LSC spray system. (And... thanks to my MFA program, I actually have the use of compressors, a spray booth, and other odds and ends that I'd really rather not buy).

If I were really cool, I'd undoubtedly be using this geegaw to feather the bustline on sketchy hot-rod detailing. Instead, I'm experimenting with multi-glaze application on mugs.

Here are some of the early results. All of these are grayling designs, fire to cone six. The lighting was poor when I took these images... the colors are actually quite a bit more vivid.

Anyhow, Bob Roon and Steven Bardolph get first cull- for services rendered and for general awesomeness.

 
 
As mentioned in my last post, I'm currently riffing artistically on the evils of bottled water.

I'd like for the works in this series to challenge the viewer is several ways. What does it mean when water is commodified? It's a rather absurd scenario... and it's easy to imagine the implications if free, ecologically vital water was replaced with Dasani bottles.

I have a number of concepts that relate to this... including the one diagrammed above. My fascination with harbor seals is not a secret... neither is my horror at the plastic rain swamping out our oceans.
One of my installations is going to feature a harbor seal's head poking out of a raft of bottles... as if the water itself had been replaced.

So- I've been cranking away on making reams of ceramic bottles (see below). I'm intrigued by the parallels between the ecological permanence of ceramic and the persistence of plastic. Also... why is plastic so freely consigned to the 'rubbish' category? There's nothing inherently un-lovely or useless about the objects...
My initial sculpt for the seal head had a couple of minor flaws (nose looked like a postcard heart, eyes were too wide, too bas-relief).
Adding a little contour to the eye-lid and shaping/altering the nose made a big difference.
It's a life-sized piece... which means SLOOOWWW on the drying cycle. It needs to be done by the 5th of December, though (when I present this work for critique). So... I'll need to fire it sometime over the next week. Should be an adventure.
 
 
I've often felt that bottled water represents the dark tipping point for the democratic experiment. The fact that corporations like Nestle are asking us to electively buy re-packaged tap water at a 500% mark-up... and that we're doing it...

Let's just say that I keep expecting Roddy Piper to jam a pair of magical sunglases on my face, and rip the veil off the aliens that are pulling the strings. Something has to be up!

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I could flood this post with infographics and stats... but I'll save the space and just direct you to this summary article from Scientific American.

This is a pretty rich theme to mine as an artist, however. I'm playing with various ways to comment on the whole absurdity. The first project I'll post involves 'fossilized' Dasani bottles with the bones of aquatic creatures (grayling, otters, etc.) embedded in the matrix.

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I have a broad range of linked ideas. Basically- the idea is to visually pose two questions...
  1. What are the implications of treating these vessels (plastic water bottles) as disposable objects?
  2. What are the implications of treating water (a fundamental building block of life) as a commodity?
For more information, you can view a video I put together for my MFA seminar.

I plan to do quite a bit with this theme- including some 2D work. I've posted a couple additional conceptual diagrams below.
 
 
As part of my MFA program, I'm taking a 'clay surfaces' class. Our instructor came up with a pretty fun project idea... take a gallery space, about a ton of raw, recycled clay, and see what you can build in a day.

I've always enjoyed 'pulling' clay (the process used to create handles on jugs and mugs). It occurred to me that pulled clay could make pretty sweet tentacles... so I started musing about anemones, hydras, jellyfish. Here's the resulting installation (at the Ridenbaugh Gallery in Moscow, Idaho). Each medusa is about four feel in length.


Just for giggles, I projected a montage of video clips- mostly native jellyfish footage... but a few bits of subversion slipped in for good measure. The video conveyed a sense of motion which was pretty effective.
 
 
Here's the latest opportunity to win a piece of my art!

I'm diving into my MFA degree in about a week. I'm going to need lots of creative ideas. I'm also working to beef up my mailing list. I periodically send out updates on work that I've generated. No spam... and generally about one every other month. So- I'm running another contest.
The winner gets the planter in the image above (see commentary on weedy sea dragons). The contest deadline will be August 31 (two weeks from today)

Here's what you'll need to do...

1)
Find an online image of a cool animal, location, Ent, or something awesome, and post the image- or a link. You can respond here or on my Facebook page. I'll choose the one I like best and render it in Raku.
2) Register for the Kohaku River mailing list

My designs tend to be simplified, somewhat abstract, but generally representative of some sort of marine, wildlife, coastal, or mythological imagery. I received some great suggestions last time. As you can see above and below, weedy sea dragons have become a mainstay. I'll hope for something equally cool this time!
 
 
It's been a busy summer, and I've been a bit recalcitrant when it comes to this website. I have, in fact, been producing and selling work. Here's a slideshow of my current inventory (all of these are also listed on my Sale Page).
I've also been cranking out some tables with tile inlay- here are a few examples. (I definitely need to learn a few things about photographing art- like not placing a piece of wooden furniture on a multi-hued wooden floor). If you ever have a manky old table that you want re-furbished, contact me.
Finally- I got to undertake a tasty collaboration with my lively wife- remodeling our bathroom and installing a boat-load of tiles in the stall and sink area. Here are some images.
 
 
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My 'self taught artist'*** status is about to change dramatically. I'm starting a Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Idaho (UI).

No one is self-taught... I've had some great mentors in ceramics... ranging from Steven Hemmingway in Minnesota to David Bogus in Idaho). However... I've definitely been a 'biologist with a sideline in ceramics'.

Until now.


As a tune up to considering starting an MFA, I took a sculpture class at UI
this spring. As a consequence, I've been thrown into woodworking, welding... all sorts of non-ceramic approaches to 3-D art. Here are some significant projects from my class.


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It's arguably a bit insane to go back to school at this stage... given that I've toting a PhD and a part time career in Wildlife Biology. I've been sort of blind-sided by my love for ceramics, however. Add in a sculpture course at the University of Idaho this spring, and it's become increasingly clear to me that it's really the creative process that stimulates me.

So- I'll be posting regular images of work that I generate as I work towards my MFA... as well as ceramic art that I spin off in the moments between.

As one example, the image at page top is my first woodblock (representing a Stellar Sea Lion). I've done minimal 2-d artwork... but there's some real kinship between printmaking and the types of designs that I've rendered on my pots.

The next image down is titled 'Flowering the Gyre'. It's a commentary on the enormous garbage patch that we (humanity) are collectively creating in the middle of the Pacific. This was an interactive piece- people were encouraged to add their own plastic junk to the sculpture.

(This was a constrained project in a sculpture class... I got to use a 4*4 piece of plywood, an eight foot chunk of 2*4... and a bunch of Tostitos bags and Clorox bottles.

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This class project is titled "Engineer' and can be loosely dubbed a 'bioremediation beaver'. We were asked to pay homage to artists who inspire us- I chose Mel Chin and Jackie Brookner (see my Tumblr blog for more information).  Both artists create sculptures that help filter and clean degraded biological sites.

My own beaver is constructed from tea-laced plaster over a metal armature. The tea-plaster mixture ended up looking bizzarely similar to the mud in a beaver lodge (or to dung, for the uncharitable). I originally was going to add surface detail... but there's something about the organic- dissolution surface here that I rather like.

I sort or envision a series of these planted in our local Moscow, Idaho Paradise Creek- possibly as Guerrilla art. The University of Idaho facilities staff trap beaver out of the creek. They have their reasons... but there's no question in my mind that the watershed would be cleaner and more lovely if these guys were given free reign.



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For this final steel-ceramic multi-media project, I'll just post my artists statement for class.

Prometheus and Peak Oil

David Roon: Artist Statement

Prometheus was a key figure in Greek mythology, a subversive character who dared to steal fire from the Gods on humanity’s behalf. For his audacity, he was chained to a mountain, where an eagle would daily tear the liver (seat of human emotion and passion) from his rib cage. Hercules eventually rescued him.

Since this inception of this myth, Prometheus has symbolized humanity’s quest to transcend mortal limits and approach ‘godhood’. For some, this is positive, hopeful imagery, symbolizing high aspiration and perseverance. For others, Prometheus serves as an indictment of hubris, of our precarious, arrogant tendency to outstrip our species’ accumulated wisdom.

Prometheus is as apt metaphor for our society’s fixation with oil and other fossil fuels. We’re burning through the wealth of eons- Jurassic bones and tree-ferns, rendered to black gold through the alchemy of pressure and time. The benefits are beyond question.  Cheap energy has given us plastics, a revolution in agriculture, and light in the dead of winter.  To a time-traveller from pre-industrial civilization, we might indeed resemble gods. At the same time, the manifold consequences of our fossil fuel addictions are becoming impossible to ignore.

We continue stealing fire, with minimal thought to the basic question ‘what next?’. Unlike the original Prometheus, we are chained to the mountain of our own free will, with no Hercules on the horizon. We seem helpless to break our self-selected manacles, or to cease our self-immolation.


 
 
I've joined a sculptors group at the University of Idaho. As part of this, I'll be running a Tumblr blog in which I review the work of a range of sculptors whose work I admire.

The first is the amazing Tetsunori Kawana. For images and thoughts related to his work, (or if you want to know what the heck a Kugel Ball is), please visit Kugel Ball!
 
 
It's been a stay-at-home holiday... one of the first we've had in ages. I'll comment in more detail about a few of these pieces later. To start things out, a few art plates (starting with the 14-inch giant octopus model above). Below- a Weedy Sea Dragon (10 inches- gift for one of my Irish music cronies) and a River Otter
I've been refining my fountain designs. This has been a loooooong process (which I may dissect in a future post). For now- note that the water cascades around the perimeter of the upper vessel on these new versions. Both of these feature otter designs...
Planters galore. These things are sort of my base canvas. Designs, in order, are...

  • Trigger Fish
  • White Pine (a scene from an island in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that I used to haunt)
  • A Harbor Seal
  • A Wolf Eel (Really cool fish from the cold Pacific- more on this later)
  • Matsutake Mushrooms (a delectable, wet coast mushroom that I've started hunting lately. Very endearing- smells like a combination of wet socks and red-hots)

I cranked out another set of carriage lanterns... these all have designs based on lantern fish. (And I'm currently burbling with excitement- in that there's actually a freaking LANTERN SHARK that I was previously unaware of). Yaahoo... yay biodiversity...
Lastly, I spun out some tiles for yet another table. Otters and sticklebacks. I see some fun with my router in the near future...