Friday, January 23, 2015

Legitimate Jell-O! Really important Jell-O!

Boy, this is going to be an inconvenience: I broke the J key on my laptop. Not the right time of year for that! I gave in and ordered another five pounds of gelatin. I'm on the last pound or so, and although I'm not planning anything big, it's a long time until the end of March and you never know.

I am working on a piece that is very exciting and a little bit secret. As I mentioned, the Radar Angels are being honored by Maude Kerns Art Center as a Community Partner. I can't tell you what a really deep honor this is; treating us like a real, legitimate arts organization is something that rarely happens. We come with such a prominent humor component that we don't seem serious. Yet, the group has been fostering artists throughout its history.

In case I don't get a chance to speak about this next weekend, I will say that when it formed, the group was a bunch of women artists who were friends and wanted to get together regularly to foster themselves. We came from the fifties kitchen. We were of similar ages (this was in the mid-to-late-seventies, when we were in our mid-twenties and early thirties) and had witnessed the limitations of our mothers' lives and their struggles for self-expression. The fifties has rightly been labeled as a decade of conformism and safety as well as suburbanization and the isolation of that. I know I was astonished when I asked my Mom to draw me a clown and she could just do that, freehanded. I didn't know regular people could do art.
Some foot-tall wings for the secret project

The liberation movements of the sixties and seventies were so widely popular because they were so needed in that era. We didn't have the ERA (and didn't get it either) and following the artistic was not encouraged. It was impractical and dramatic and only male artists were taken very seriously, plus the structure was very tight and regulated by money and criticism. My generation pretty much threw that stuff out the proverbial window.

I will be somewhat vague about the origins of the Radar Angels as for various reasons I stayed on the fringes of it. I didn't participate in the Frivolous Teas or photo shoots or the production of the many events but I did attend the Extravaganzas and some of the parties and shows. When the Jell-O Art Show started up in the late eighties I was ready for it. The appeal was immense. I had never studied art except one calligraphy class at Cooper Union when I lived in New York but I was making art nonetheless. I knew that I had no credentials as well as no training so I never was able to call myself an artist or really feel like one. I started making things, declared myself a signpainter and went on the road in my Willys jeep and when I got to Eugene in 1975 found the Saturday Market and became a craftsperson. Still not an Artist though.

Jell-O Art made me one. Making a piece of sculpture for gallery display was completely intimidating and seemed impossible except that Jell-O was right there in my kitchen and anyone could make it. It was so easy, so gorgeous, so possible, that the rest is history and after 27 years of it here I am a Queen. In 2012 my loyalty and dedication were recognized and in a big secret show they surprised me with a crown and the honor, and since then I have tried to live up to the role.I give credit to all of the ones who kept gently encouraging me even though I was such a hard case. I really am quite proud to claim the Artist title now and anyone who doesn't think it is legitimate can go till their field of f**ks as the kids say, as I don't give a flying one anymore.

Our symbols are aprons and wings. Aprons represent hard work and the kitchen, with the nurturing and feeding aspect of the artist within us all included. Wings represent the freedom to fly and the ascension of the ordinary to the extraordinary. Members of the Angels encouraged all to participate. Men were allowed in, though they certainly had to be feminist men. Kids came along with those who had them, and some are now participating as adults. Everyone in the world is encouraged to join in our movement for artistic freedom and the right to be who you want to be. Jell-O is the vehicle because it is uniquely qualified to express our silliness as well as our seriousness, our appeal and our frustrations (as you may know by now it isn't the easiest medium to master) and the Jell-O Art Show has survived and prospered even as the Angels have changed and expanded and contracted.

I used to say I wasn't a member of the performing wing of the Angels but now I am that as well, stepping up to lose my limiting self-concept of stage fright and sing and dance. Turns out it was just a myth and indeed I can get up on a stage in front of an audience. Sometimes you don't know you can do something until you are encouraged to try it, and there again the Angels work within each person to open the doors. You are in charge of it, and you can set whatever limits you like, but when parody and silliness are the frames you'd be surprised how brave you can be with your self-expression.
These will become wearable headpieces

So here we are in 2015, when I'm turning 65, expressing ourselves still with humbleness, confidence, and inclusivity for fun and for art. I don't know what Maude Kerns expects of us exactly as their Community Partner, but next Saturday January 31, we will be performing and wearing Jell-O Art at the annual meeting of the gallery. The secret piece will be revealed, and the Radar Angels will fly in, put on our aprons and open our hearts to the community they have formed over the many decades there. It's entirely fitting that our annual show has landed at a gallery named for a formidable woman, run by many dedicated volunteers, and one that promotes the arts in many easily accessible and wonderful ways. Their classes and workshops have encouraged countless young people and those of all ages to explore the arts. Their wonderful Art in the Vineyard event is world class in a town where artists and craftspeople are so ubiquitous as to be almost common. We live in a fabulous place to be an artist, and their gallery has been a huge part of this fabulosity.

So come to the meeting to support your gallery if you can, join as a member or as a volunteer and help them, and us, do the work to make the world a more beautiful and meaningful place.Nothing depends upon it but your own vibrancy, your depth of expression and love for this life, and your freedom. And you know, helping the gallery survive to continue to do their important work. Let's stir it up!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Going deep into it

Spiral that extends to five or six feet...oingy
Love this blue rose, very thin, ten inches across
 I made some Jell-O right after Christmas just to loosen myself up, and quickly immersed. I had carefully boxed up all the pieces I had made, all the petals and leaves and bits and scraps, and had forgotten what a rich collection I had. Once I dragged them out and started sorting the colors, the joyfulness of it took over.

I bought twelve clear plastic boxes and sorted the pieces by color and type, which greatly reduced the chaos and made me feel like a real artist again. These are my materials. The fun is matching them up and making things...I made flowers. I may or may not make these into fascinators by glueing hairbands to them.
These are 6-12 inches wide

The glueing part is simple: I use melted gelatin for that too. I put a small amount in a half-pint canning jar, and have a couple of tiny spoons to drip it onto the parts to be glued. Then I clamp the pieces together with a clothespin or just hold them together until it gels. I think a full minute is the minimum time to hold them together (tightly) and is usually adequate.

There is a stage of gellation that happens if you let go too soon and the pieces move, a weird stage where the gelatin breaks up into chunks and won't stick together. When that happens the best thing is to remove it and start over. I just dip the piece in the jar and melt the stuff off, or run it under the faucet though here I remind you that is isn't a great idea to drip half-gelled gelatin into your drains, where it will quickly get cold and coat whatever it wants. I picture it staying a long time unless frequent watering melts it off. Jell-O can be very durable. I'm glad I went for the bigger drainpipe sizes all the way downhill.

I've been making a lot of thin boingy things...updating my crown with what will probably be very annoying deelybobbers (I think that is the technical term.) I simply make a spiral cut in a pie plate full of jelled stuff about an eighth of an inch thick. It seems best for me to let the gelatin sit for about 8-12 hours and then flip it over, and with the spirals I carefully wrap them around an overturned bowl to keep the spiral shape but spread it apart so it can dry. It's quite simple though I don't know what practical use I will make of the longer ones. I hung them up to see if they would stretch more over time, and they do. Thicker gelatin would boing and stretch less.

Drying takes about 36 hours in a warm house. I put the pieces on top of the furniture where the most heat gathers in my house. I flip the pieces every 8 hours or so, and during the drying they are bendable and I can manipulate them in all sorts of ways to suit my purposes. If you notice them getting dull and granular, they aren't drying fast enough. They're on the way to getting moldy. Sometimes I remelt them or throw them away at that point, or if they seem close, I put them in a hotter place to finish quickly. The drying time will depend on your atmosphere...when I do it outside in the summer it only takes an hour or less sometimes. So check them every few hours and just flip them over when they need it.

This will be added to my crown
The secret to the thin glassy layers is to swirl the gelatin around in a bowl, glass or smooth plastic, so it evenly coats the inside of the bowl in a very thin layer. In about 6-12 hours it should begin to pull away around the top, or you might help it do that by carefully prying up the edge. If it dries too far and seems like part of the bowl, you can start prying by cutting into the center in the bottom of the bowl where it is thicker and still wet. Then pull gently on it to get it to release from the bowl and let it tear into pieces or come out whole. Then I reverse the bowl and let it dry more on the outside or in a flat disk. Draping it over the edge of a pie plate or dish gives it some nice curves and helps it dry faster. At any point you can spray or brush the drying gelatin with a small amount of water, or just pass it under the faucet and quickly drain it off. It will soak up some water and become pliable again. You can always remelt gelatin and start over, so don't throw it all away in frustration if you are not getting results that excite you.

If I'm getting too technical too fast for you, I pin that on my 26 years of experience...I have to make an effort to quantify and record these details because I forget that most of what I do in Jell-O is instinctive by now. I just settle into the flow state and play with it. It is the most fun thing I do I think. Assembling the pieces into flowers is just an incredibly blissful time for me; I'm continually astonished at the great beauty and randomness of it. I don't know what I'll do with these flowers, I just want to make them. That's how I know I am an artist. Thank you Jell-O.

I'll add some photos to this as soon as my camera recharges. Maybe the sun will come out...sun shining through the layers is really magical.