Springing Up Like…A New Art Project

Last month’s posts focused on wrapping up loose ends from my time in Williamsburg. Whether I was bringing my Exhibition of the Month series to a (potentially temporary) close, or reflecting on the American Studies program, I wanted to acknowledge Williamsburg. I wrote a similar series when I left Roswell, after all, and this chapter deserved no less consideration. Life moves on though, so we’ll bid adieu to Williamsburg and focus on life in Norfolk. And to start things off, let’s take a look at not only my newest print project, but the first work I’m showing in a public exhibition in over a decade: Springing Up Like…!

Springing Up Like…currently on view at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. Image: an abstract artwork hanging on a wall.

Background I: The Norfolk Botanical Gardens and Its Summer Exhibit, Funky Fungi

My art is currently on display at the Norfolk Botanical Garden, as part of their summer exhibit, Funky Fungi: Nature’s Curious Creations. As the title suggests, the focus is on mushrooms and other fungi. It consists of both work on view outdoors and indoor pieces on display in the Gardens’ educational spaces. All works were produced by artists based in the Hampton Roads area.

I learned about the exhibit through the Barry Art Museum. In late February, it circulated a flyer calling for submissions. The flyer piqued my interest for several reasons. First, I thought the Gardens would be a good, low-stakes environment to get my art on view in a public space without the conflict of interest that could come with exhibiting in museums and galleries. Given my ongoing creative explorations of my local surroundings, I also thought it would be a fun way to explore my creative interests within the parameters of a themed exhibition. Finally, I wasn’t actively working on any art projects at the time. I had the time and creative energy to develop a submission proposal.

Background II: The Origins of Springing Up Like…

Springing Up Like… developed out of two interests in my creative practice, one long-established, and the other recent. The first, ongoing interest is the creation of abstracted compositions based on observations of my local surroundings. I started making these sporadically in New Mexico, when I observed the striking color juxtapositions between the red and ochre soils along Route 285 and the blue sky above it.

The abstraction I used as the color palette for Springing Up Like…is highlighted with a blue rectangle. Image: a series of painted abstract compositions.

Over the past decade, these abstractions have become a consistent part of my work. They’ve informed prints, paintings, murals, and most ambitiously, a year-long creative challenge. For the Funky Fungi exhibit, I looked to these 2019 abstractions.

Last year’s holiday card was one of my inspirations for Springing Up Like… Image: 32 individual monotypes assembled into a landscape of blackbirds flying in a field.

The second, and more recent interest, is my desire to create large print compositions by assembling multiple, small impressions. I’d already created such a piece for last year’s holiday card. For that project, I developed a landscape (itself based on an abstraction) assembled from 32 individual monotypes. I’d been wanting to expand that idea by incorporating intaglio and other printmaking techniques.

Developing Springing Up Like…

For the Funky Fungi exhibit, I combined these two interests into one composition. Taking my holiday card experiments as my basis but pushing the technique one step further, I decided I’d print intaglios on top of my monotypes.

Initially, I thought about using shaggy mane mushrooms as the basis for my composition. Image: sketches of shaggy many mushrooms.

Initially, I considered centering on shaggy mane mushrooms. I sketched out a proposal featuring 6 rows of prints, with each row consisting of each impression. For the first row, I rendered one mushroom. Each subsequent row included an additional mushroom. By the sixth and final row, the printing plane was full of them. In keeping with the multiplicity theme, I took inspiration from the idiom “springing up like mushrooms,” for my title.

After thinking that turkey tails might work better than shaggy mane mushrooms, I worked up sketches for both versions and compared them. Image: sketches of mushroom-themed artwork.

As I reviewed my 2019 abstractions for potential monotype material though, I changed my composition. After coming across a color block inspired by turkey tail mushrooms I’d seen during a walk, I started wondering whether turkey tails would work better with the composition’s abstract aesthetic. I then worked up a second maquette with turkey tails, and compared the two images. I also showed the two maquettes to Brandon to get a second opinion. And we came to the same consensus. Although the shaggy manes were more immediately recognizable as mushrooms, the wavy, shell-like forms of the turkey tails worked better as abstractions. So I settled on turkey tails. I kept the title though, because they’re hard.

The proposal I sent to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. While I ultimately reduced the number of prints, the basic concept remained the same.

Printing Springing Up Like…

I entered my proposal about a week before the submission deadline, and learned about its acceptance two weeks later. By that point, we were opening Message in a Bottle. With a defense scheduled to take place less than two weeks after that, I didn’t have much time or energy to dedicate to printmaking.

I ended up creating Springing Up Like… after my defense. Although I initially planned on printing 48 impressions, I cut it down to a more manageable 36, with each row consisting of 6 rather than 8 prints.

I managed to print them all in about three days, as I was able to print 2-3 rows per day once I got in the groove. I used the same plate for all impressions, using one side for the monotypes and the other for the intaglios. Between each row, I drew another mushroom onto the plate with my etching needle. I also reinscribed lines on previous mushrooms as the plate wore down.

Springing Up Like…2024, 36 2″ x 3″ intaglios and monotypes affixed to 18″ x 24″ canvas.

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to mount the prints. Initially, I considered cutting a single large mat, mounting each impression inside the mat, and framing the whole thing. After concluding that would be too costly and time-consuming, I settled on a simpler solution. I painted an 18″ x 24″ canvas gray, mixed up some wheat paste, and glued each print to the canvas. Start to finish, this project took about a week to finish.

A New Beginning?

Look, I’m a curator and writer for a reason. I enjoy making art. The practical experience I’ve had with painting, printmaking, and other media informs my curatorial practice. But I don’t want to make a living from it. What I’m saying is I don’t see myself quitting my job and becoming a full-time artist.

Image: a hallway filled with mushroom-themed artwork.

That said, I do see the Funky Fungi exhibit as an opportunity to expand my practice by showing my work in the public sphere. I last showed my work publicly in 2009, when I created a painting for a miniatures show in Kennebunkport. I don’t intend to show my work in a gallery or museum (not least because that represents a conflict of interest as a curator). What I see myself doing is exhibiting my work in libraries, coffee shops, and other public spaces. While I may not be an artist by profession, I know that the things I make bring joy to the people in my life. And in a world that seems increasingly grim, I see no reason to hide work that can potentially bring joy.

Me with Springing Up Like…Image: a white woman in overalls posing next to an abstract artwork.

Funky Fungi: Nature’s Curious Creations is on view through September 2024. If you’re in town, be sure to check it out!

Categorized as Art

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