I didn’t want to do a piece on Frida Kahlo when I started the #FemalePowerProject because it seemed to me that her work and her life have become kitsch and thus a minefield of meanings. I was urged by more than one advisor to proceed. But really, it wasn’t until that crazy election and the up-cry of female pain it elicited that I was able to frame my thoughts around the potent triumvirate of pain, anger, and creativity that Kahlo’s life exemplifies—that many women artists’ lives exemplify. Women’s experiences really are different from men’s, but still the male is seen as the universal. Here in our work female artists are showing that women’s experience is just as universal as men’s, and maybe more so, since there are more females in the world. The other is the self. The words on the shawl translate into English as “Here I have painted myself, Frida Kahlo” from her painting, “Self Portrait with Loose Hair” (1947). Design references: Tehuantepec textile designs; Kahlo’s imagery of drops (tears, milk) and binding ropes; floral hair ornaments; her eyes and brow.
I have a few of these shawls for sale in poly chiffon for $125. They measure about 3 feet by 7.5 feet. This design is also available on stretched canvas at 55 inches x 22 inches for $300 free delivery from the fabricator. You can contact me directly or find these shawls at Black Lab or Femme Fatale DC. There is a version on canvas for sale now at Femme Fatale. Look at the sidebar on this page for information on how to contact me or visit these locations.
I got a note from the director of the library at the National Museum ofWomen in theArts to say that as in queen (the abecedarium of a typophiliac) is in the current exhibition “Hard to Define: Artists’ Books from the Collection” on view in the library, Monday through Friday, until March 23, 2018. This prompted me to think (a lot!) about this book that I completed in 1997—can it really be 20 years ago? (Here is the link to the book’s page on this site because it seems to have disappeared from the navigation! And here is a link to the “trade edition” available ((now!)) as print-on-demand from Blurb.) In particular I am interested in how this work prefigures the work I am doing now, both my digital fine art and my perSISTERS graphic art. Also, I don’t think I have ever published a full description of this work and the process it dragged me through. For one thing, it is essentially an “Oh! I get it!” reading experience and I didn’t want to spoil it. However, I also think it reveals a little bit of the madness my particular consciousness is subject to. First, let me introduce you to this book and its device.
In the image above, scanned from the letterpress edition, look at the gray Q (actually printed in silver ink) and see the letter it is aligned over. It is the letter “p.” Then read down from that p: “poetica” is the typeface that this page’s Qs are set in. Each page spread features a different typeface, one for each letter of the alphabet, in alphabetical order, from “Anna” to “Zapf Book.” In the Blurb edition I have printed the typeface name in a different color so it is easier to find it. I would have lost a lot of paper and driven myself crazy (crazier) typesetting and printing the typeface name in a different color in the letterpress edition. It was hard enough hand setting the lead Century Schoolbook so that the typeface names would align vertically. Letter spacing in handset type is accomplished with tweezers and very thin strips of brass or copper to adjust the lines left and right. In this typesetting I also used tracing paper. Then, when I had it on press (I was running a Heidelberg Windmill at the time) I had to do even more adjusting based on proofs made while the type was locked up tight on press.
The basic idea of the book is that the Q is what we call nowadays “gender fluid.” I didn’t know the term at the time, I think. I do remember using the idea of continuum—that gender is a spectrum (rainbow!). The circle shape is “feminine” and the tail shape is “masculine.” The voice of the writing is of someone in love with the Q, celebrating its fluid and unfettered character. It is an expression of obsessive love, thus the term “typophiliac.”
The first impulse to create the book came from my obsession with typefaces and my fascination with capital Qs. The Q is often very weird, and the typeface designer can get away with this because we don’t use the letter very often. So in this sense also the Q is an exception to “the rules.” The Q is a traveler between categories—a trickster. As such, it calls attention to the artificiality of categories, and this is what my current digital fine art work addresses. The perSISTERS works, of course, address gender. Feminism is at foundation, in my opinion, the rejection of the tyranny of mental categories. Gender is a mental construction. The feminine is not ever just one thing, and neither is the masculine. Instead of saying, “This and NOT that” I believe the more accurate, positive, and less destructive statement is, “This AND this and also that…” This is what a “science of the particular” could be like.
Once I figured out what as in queen would be, it issued forth from me like something inevitable and right. I remember awaking in the middle of the night and writing in my studio (a small room near my bedroom) with the lights off, just using the illumination of the streetlight through the window. I didn’t want to wake my husband who is a light sleeper. In production, I spent so much time getting the type to align just right. For the cover, which I printed from plates made from digital type, I had to draw my own ffl ligature (in “affliction”) to get the type to look right at such a large size. I still have all the typeset lead on galley trays. I kept it even though I sold all my letterpress equipment in 2010, in preparation for my move to the DC area. It is the most physical of texts I have ever crafted.
When my husband suggested I could sell all that heavy stuff—I had been printing only occasionally—and buy something else with the proceeds, I knew immediately what I wanted to do. I wanted to print digitally. The tools had finally become affordable enough for me to make the jump. Photographic images have the benefit of seeming real to us—still—so it is a fitting medium to question reality. I work with words now less and less, except in the perSISTERS, where the words need to get at the very kernel of an idea. And Photoshop is so deep and so wide that I will always find more. What is more fine and obsessive than a thin piece of trace between letters? A pixel, of course.
“lay open this book
and you will see
a quaint affliction
the queen of letters”
Of course “undisguised” is ironic. The whole book is a disguise. All my work is a disguise.
I am an artist and I have an art business. These are intertwining occupations, obviously. There is making, and there is making ABOUT making. Art is, among other things, a mode of communication in itself. The object itself communicates. At the most fundamental level this is an interaction between an object and a viewer’s nervous system. An artist doesn’t have to be there when this happens. In fact, the artist is often—or almost always—absent when the communication happens. However, because I have a public studio—Black Lab—I often see people interacting with the objects I have made. This is part of the “Laboratory” aspect of the place where I make stuff. I don’t think I could make things without this kind of laboratory right now. Without this place my art production would be extremely slow, because communication, for me at least, needs to be tested in the world outside my head. So the business, the making about making, is also the art.
I have a long background in graphic design. This field has almost always been separate from fine art. Good design is supposed to communicate, visually and verbally, as quickly and precisely as possible—but not through direct and literal statements. Designs have to be persuasive and to that end they need to rely on culture-based associations and desires, and universal needs. Graphic design sells something through visual and verbal stories. These stories should have a natural narrative structure: this, then this, so this. This is the message.
I’ve realized that this website, this blog you are reading, is a poor design for the art business, although it maybe is okay as a document of art production. It has been created through time as the work is being made. I start out presenting my work here before I entirely know how to talk about it. I throw this content into the world before I know what the narrative structure, the “business story,” should be. This is probably true of many artists: I make something, and I’m thinking in a certain mode about what I want to say with the object, or how to externalize a particular image that has stuck in my head, then I make it, and the object turns around and starts talking to my own nervous system. Then I figure out what the object really means, or could mean, and what it is for, especially when I get to see other people interacting with it. For example, the perSISTERS prints: at first I called them “Positive Protest Principles Posters.” That was essentially their message. This made sense from the perspective of the development of the work. But then later I thought of a better name with which to approach the work after it already existed for a while.
I thought of writing about this here because I’ve just been rewriting the promotional postcard I have for the Female Power Project. This is a card with my contact info, studio location, photos of some works, the logo for the project, and a short description. The short description is the hard part. I first rewrote it because I adapted it for the display of my Female Power Project works at Femme Fatale DC, a pop-up shop for women-owned businesses. When I rewrote it, I thought, THIS is what I really want to say about this work, THIS is the message. Then I thought, I’m running out of the postcards, I should update and reprint those too. So I looked at what I had rewritten, and realized, no, not exactly, that’s not what this project is really about! I need to rewrite. Again. There’s a rushing of thoughts and ideas, but the words have their own flow, and sometimes, almost always really, these two processes just don’t line up right. The message is very slippery for me. That is what I am saying here: the message is slippery. Any message.
Here is the most recent iteration of the Female Power Project message. I would not be surprised if I change it again in a month.
Imagination is the Seed of Power
Female Power Project Shawls, Scarves, and Pins
perSISTERS Prints, Posters, Cards, and Stickers
Inspired by the powers of human and divine females, I have created these objects to represent a person as well as her attributes and message—or power—in words and images. The perSISTERS series reminds us of the positive actions women use to improve all of our lives. Because of the history of women’s oppression, these actions are often heroic and are messages we should celebrate. The shawls, scarves, and pins allow us to wear, and virtually to embody, the powers of exalted females. Women’s experience is human experience.
Here is an expanded version of the story I tell when people ask me how I came up with the Female Power Project and the perSISTERS prints. I’m going to use bullet points to break it down:
In 2015 I decided to make some shawls with Catholic themes because the Pope was visiting the neighborhood of my studio.
I made one with a dove image and another based on the iconography of the Virgin of Guadalupe—the Catholic image that I liked that I was most familiar with from growing up in New Mexico. I thought a lot about making such an image: I’m not Catholic or Latina, is it unacceptable appropriation to use this image? What is my approach to the image—is it respectful? What is the story of the image, where did it come from?
I made the shawl and watched someone put it on her shoulders. It seemed sort of magic, like she was wearing the Virgin’s power. I started thinking a lot about costume and dressing up and how that engages our nervous system. What an interesting thing to do with a work of art!
I thought that it would be interesting to make shawls about other females. I asked my friends about human and divine females they admire. From there I started with a short list: Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Marie Curie, Erzulie, Malala Yousafzai. I added scarves because I could make those less expensive. It wasn’t enough to do a little research on Wikipedia and then produce something. I really wanted to visually capture something important and fundamental about these characters. Then I wrote about this process here on my blog. The writing became part of the artwork and I print out these short essays and include them in the box with the scarf or shawl when someone buys one. I give them to people who don’t buy, if they ask.
The graphics I made right after the Women’s March were mostly complaints. There were lots of wonderful signs at the march, but most of them were poorly designed, so I thought that was something I could contribute. I made 10×8 posters with many colors and layered images, using a technique that was relatively quick and allowed me to print the images at any size. I printed them on canvas, varnished them, and supplied pins so you could attach them to your coat or bag and make every trip into a demonstration. The style of these is the seed of the style I use in the perSISTERS. But I ran out of complaints and I got tired of complaining in my art.
There are women who interest me, who don’t seem like shawl people. Ieshia Evans is one of those. She became famous because of a photograph taken of her. I made other artworks about her and that image. After the election I made posters based on photos of three women who were famous for such photos. The posters seemed to be a better way than shawls to express the powers they represent. These posters are BE PRESENT (Ieshia Evans), BE BRAVE (Danuta Danielsson), and SHOW UP (Tess Asplund). This is how the perSISTERS graphics came to be, although I didn’t call them that until I was making labels and packaging for the cards and small print sets. First I called them Positive Protest Principles Posters, because they state ideas in active verbs describing how amazing women have acted in the world and what message I think they are telling us, as women.
I want people to be able to imagine women as powerful and competent—as leaders—as heroes and strugglers. That is what I think the perSISTERS graphics help with. I believe that one big reason why we don’t have a female president is because of a lack of imagination. That is why I said “Imagination is the Seed of Power.”
I was surprised at how strongly and positively some people react to the images I have made. I don’t really remember what I was thinking when I paired the image of Ruby Bridges with the meme-ing phrase “Nevertheless She Persisted.” My inspiration must be related to the potency of that photo of the six-year-old leaving her school surrounded by federal marshals. Unlike the other three I mention above, Bridges isn’t just famous for that photo. In any case, many many people love that poster and must have it for their own. It seems to fill a need. We need to imagine what it is like to be a hero.
I will have all the perSISTERS and the Female Power Project scarves and shawls for sale at the Takoma Park Street Festival on October 1, 2017, 10:00am till 5:00pm. Come say hey! Event info: http://www.mainstreettakoma.org/featured-events/takoma-park-festival/
Fresh in the studio, 5 x 7 inch small prints of ten perSISTERS designs—you asked for them! Some are reworked designs and they are all slightly different because the ratio is different than the 8 x 10 base size I design them in. The “SPEAK” (honoring Elizabeth Warren) design is quite different, and also “use PRIVILEGE to sow JUSTICE” (honoring Eleanor Roosevelt alone here, without Edith Sampson). “SHOW UP” is “STAND UP” in this version. They are $4.00 for singles, $25.00 for a boxed set of all 10, $15.00 for one in a black or white wooden-ish frame. Contact me if you would like me to ship. Here they are.
This design was a personal commission for my daughter’s birthday. She had mentioned more than once that I might want to do a perSISTERS poster for Siouxsie Sioux. And then it was going to be her birthday and I thought I would do one especially for her. You might be able to tell that I have to devote some time to research for each perSISTER so that I can try to get to the essence of a woman’s power or gift. Well, I found out that Siouxsie Sioux really is amazing, and here is what I discovered:
“I do remember wanting to come across as all-powerful and I wanted to kind of make it painful for people.”
Siouxsie Sioux (Born Susan Janet Ballion on 27 May 1957), has been called “one of the most influential British singers of the rock era” because of her work with her revolutionary band, Siouxsie and the Banshees. Her musical genres are called “Post-punk, new wave, gothic rock, alternative rock, and exotica,” although in interviews she resists most labels. About her difficult youth she has said, “growing up in the suburbs you’re always very aware of being different. You want desperately to just not stick out. Thankfully as I grew older I kind of appreciated the difference and, I guess, accentuated it.”
This is adapted from Wikipedia (mostly) and several interviews available online:
At 17, she left school. It was during this period that she began frequenting the local gay discos where most of her sister’s friends used to go. She introduced her own friends to that scene. In November 1975, a new young group called Sex Pistols performed at the local art college in Chislehurst. Siouxsie did not attend, but one of her friends told her how their singer threatened the string of students present at that gig. In February 1976, Siouxsie and her friend Steven Severin (then still called Steven Bailey) went to see Sex Pistols play in the capital. After chatting with members of the band, Siouxsie and Severin decided to follow them regularly. In the following months, journalist Caroline Coon coined the term “Bromley Contingent” to describe this group of eccentric teenagers devoted to the Sex Pistols.
Siouxsie became well known in the London club scene for her glam, fetish and bondage attire, which later became part of punk fashion. She would also later epitomise gothic style with her signature cat-eye makeup, deep red lipstick, spiky dyed-black hair and black clothing. One music critic has pointed out, “She was overtly sexual on a level, but not for anyone’s pleasure but her own.”
One of Siouxsie’s first public appearances was with the Sex Pistols on Bill Grundy’s television show, on Thames Television in December 1976. Standing next to the band, Siouxsie made fun of the presenter when he asked her how she was doing. She responded: “I’ve always wanted to meet you, Bill”. Grundy, who was drunk, suggested a meeting after the show. That directly provoked a reaction from guitarist Steve Jones, who responded with a series of expletives never heard before on early-evening television. This episode created a media furore on the front covers of several tabloids, including the Daily Mirror, which published the headline “Siouxsie’s a Punk Shocker”. This event had a major impact on Sex Pistols’ subsequent career, and overnight, they became a household name.
Not liking the cliches put forward by the press, Siouxsie distanced herself from that scene and stopped seeing Sex Pistols. She decided to focus all her energy on her own band, Siouxsie and the Banshees…
Following the adage of DIY and the idea that the people in the audience could be the people on stage, Siouxsie and Severin decided to form a band. When a support slot at the 100 Club Punk Festival (organised by Malcolm McLaren) opened up, they decided to make an attempt at performing, although at that time they did not know how to play any songs. On 20 September 1976, the band improvised music as Siouxsie sang the “Lord’s Prayer”. The performance lasted 20 minutes.
For critic Jon Savage, Siouxsie was “unlike any female singer before or since, commanding yet aloof, entirely modern.” She opened a new era for women in music as Viv Albertine from the Slits would later comment:
“Siouxsie just appeared fully made, fully in control, utterly confident. It totally blew me away. There she was doing something that I dared to dream but she took it and did it and it wiped the rest of the festival for me, that was it. I can’t even remember everything else about it except that one performance”.
The singer from Radiohead, Thom Yorke, said: “The band that really changed my life was R.E.M. and Siouxsie and the Banshees …”. “My favourite show I ever saw then was Siouxsie and she was absolutely amazing. … She’s totally in command of the whole audience”. Yorke added that she “made an especially big impression in concert, she was really sexy but absolutely terrifying.”
Siouxsie Sioux is still making music, evading categories, and taking command. “I was doing what I wanted to do.”
The perSISTERS works are not the only things I’m making right now, but they are the pieces I finish the fastest. Every few days something happens to make a protest poster about! Soon I will be posting more about my (working title) Landscape of Objects pieces. August 28 is my deadline to complete three in that series, so there’s not long to wait.
So, Heather Heyer. This poster will be available at Black Lab starting on Thursday, August 17.
Heather Heyer, a 32 year old activist for social justice, was killed by a racist white supremacist terrorist in Virginia in August, 2017.
Heather D. Heyer was killed on Saturday, August 12, in Charlottesville, Va., when a car crashed into demonstrators protesting a white supremacy rally.
Heather D. Heyer died standing up for what she believed in.
Friends described her as a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised who was often moved to tears by the world’s injustices. That sense of conviction led her to join demonstrators protesting a rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.
“We were just marching around, spreading love — and then the accident happened,” a friend, Marissa Blair, said. “In a split second you see a car, and you see bodies flying.”
The authorities said Ms. Heyer, walking with her friends, was killed when a car driven by a man from Ohio rammed into the crowd.
“Heather was such a sweet soul, and she did not deserve to die,” Ms. Blair said on Sunday.
Others said Ms. Heyer, who lived in Charlottesville, spoke out against inequality and urged co-workers to be active in their community.
“Heather was a very strong woman,” said Alfred A. Wilson, a manager at a law firm where Ms. Heyer worked as a paralegal. She stood up against “any type of discrimination,” he said. “That’s just how she’s always been.”
Mr. Wilson said in an interview on Sunday that he found her at her computer crying many times. “Heather being Heather has seen something on Facebook or read something in the news and realized someone has been mistreated and gets upset,” he said.
She often posted messages on Facebook about equality and love, said Ms. Blair, who recently left the law firm. “She’s always so passionate and she speaks with so much conviction all the time,” she said.
She worked to improve herself by taking classes and studying. “If she’s going to do something, she made sure she understood it,” Mr Wilson said.
Ms. Heyer lived alone with her Chihuahua, Violet, who was named after her favorite color.
For her, activism was about more than just “sitting behind your computer screen,” Ms. Blair said. “You gotta get out in your community and do things.”
“I’ve never had a close friend like this be murdered,” Ms. Blair said. “We thought, ‘What would Heather do?’ Heather would go harder. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to preach love. We’re going to preach equality, and Heather’s death won’t be in vain.”
There’s so much to make art about right now. Sigh.
“I thank you for your compliments about how great I am but I don’t want to waste my time on me.” “The time belongs to the gentlelady from California.”
I’ve wanted to do a piece on Maxine Waters for a while but I’ve been waiting for a copy-able image of her looking over her reading glasses. The best one (not available for reuse) was by Alex Wong for gettyimages. But now I’ve made an illustration based on the video feed from the House Financial Services Committee meeting of July 27, 2017. Christine Emba of the Washington Post writes: “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was testifying before the committee about the state of the international finance system when Waters, the committee’s ranking Democrat, asked why his office had not responded to a letter from her regarding President Trump’s financial ties to Russia. Mnuchin tried to sidestep the question with platitudes and compliments, apparently attempting to run out the clock on her questioning. It didn’t work. Waters shut down his rambling and redirected him to her question again and again with the phrase “Reclaiming my time,” a stone-faced invocation of House procedural rules.”
When I first started researching Maxine Waters and her questioning of Mnuchin, I was discouraged to see that the right’s painting of her as an “unhinged liberal” claimed the top three search results. When I went back to get the exact words for the background text in this design, I saw that the search results have been seized by the progressives because of the meme-ing phrase “reclaiming my time” and the amazing viral song produced by Mykal Kilgore. (You have to watch it!)
Seize the narrative.
From Wikipedia: Maxine Moore Waters (born August 15, 1938) is an American politician, serving as the U.S. Representative for California’s 43rd congressional district, and previously the 35th and 29th districts, serving since 1991. A member of the Democratic Party, she is the most senior of the 12 black women currently serving in the United States Congress, and is a member and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Before becoming a member of Congress she served in the California Assembly, to which she was first elected in 1976. As an Assembly member, Waters advocated for divestment from South Africa’s apartheid regime. In Congress, she is an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and Donald Trump.
Waters was born in 1938 in Kinloch, Missouri. Fifth out of thirteen children, Waters was raised by her single mother once her father left the family when Maxine was two. She graduated from High School in St. Louis, and moved with her family to Los Angeles, California, in 1961. She worked in a garment factory and as a telephone operator before being hired as an assistant teacher with the Head Start program at Watts in 1966. She later enrolled at Los Angeles State College (now California State University, Los Angeles) and graduated with a sociology degree in 1970. In 1973, she went to work as chief deputy to a Los Angeles City Councilman, and in 1976 she launched her political career in the California State Assembly.
Sophia Magdalena Scholl was born on May 9, 1921, in Forchtenberg am Kocher, where her father, Robert Scholl, was mayor. At 12 Sophie joined the Hitler Youth, but became disillusioned. The arrest of her father left a strong impression on her. He was punished for telling his secretary: “The war! It is already lost. This Hitler is God’s scourge on mankind, and if the war doesn’t end soon the Russians will be sitting in Berlin.”
To the Scholl family loyalty meant obeying the dictates of the heart. “What I want for you is to live in uprightness and freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that proves to be,” her father told the family.
When the mass deportation of Jews began in 1942, Sophie’s brother and his university friends bought a typewriter and a duplicating machine and wrote the first leaflet with the heading: Leaflets of The White Rose. The leaflet caused a tremendous stir among the student body. It was the first time that internal dissent against the Nazi regime had surfaced in Germany. The group also used graffiti to get their message out.
When Sophie became a student at the university and discovered her brother’s involvement with The White Rose, she too joined the group. Members of The White Rose worked in secrecy producing thousands of leaflets calling for the end of the war and strongly denouncing the inhuman acts of the Nazis. They mailed them from undetectable locations in Germany to scholars and medics. Sophie bought stamps and paper at different places, to divert attention from their activities. Each leaflet was more critical of Hitler and the German people than the last. The Gestapo had been looking for the pamphlets’ authors as soon as the first ones appeared. As the language in the leaflets became more inflammatory they stepped up their efforts. They arrested people at the slightest hint of suspicion.
A university handyman and Nazi party member saw Sophie and her brother with the leaflets and reported them. They were taken into Gestapo custody. Sophie’s “interrogation” was so cruel, she appeared in court with a broken leg.
At the age of 21, Sophie Scholl was executed by guillotine for the crime of treason by the “People’s Court” in Germany on Feb. 22, 1943. When Sophie last spoke with her parents, within the few hours between her trial and execution, she said, “We took everything upon ourselves. What we did will cause waves.”
Making Waves: The White Rose has inspired many people and movements around the world, including many anti-war, anti-genocide, and anti-fascist activists.
These are the words of Leaflet 4’s concluding phrase, which became the motto of The White Rose resistance: We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!
Adapted from the articles by Margie Burns (Raoul Wallenberg Foundation) and by
Mr Hornberger (The Future of Freedom Foundation) and Wikipedia