There Be Dragons Here

In the winter, around the solstice, we would rejoice in my mother’s front garden, as the dragons would emerge from their spiky nests. For that is what we called the giant, arching flower spikes of the agave atenuata plants that populate the frontage of the property. They became famous. Really! Buses of tourists actually stop for pictures when the dragons are in bloom.

Base image for Agave Solstice
Base image for Agave Solstice

Something I find most fascinating about the agave is that the flowers don’t produce seeds per se. Each blossom in the giant cluster turns into a baby plant, a pup.  And sometimes, a few of the pups still attached to the base of the cluster, in a premature exuberance of growth hormones, will sprout their own blossoms, creating a brood of mini-dragon.

©Susan Shalbe
©Susan Shalbe

Upon blooming, the agave plant has fulfilled it’s mission and produced hundreds of pups that may or may not take root. It’s a numbers game. The plant will whither and die, only to rise again in the form of new growth that will continue the cycle some ten to fifteen years hence. Unfortunately, the small blooming minis suffer the same fate as the mother plant.

The base image for Agave Solstice is from a less explosive stage in the life of the plant.

Agave Solstice
Agave Solstice

It’s done when I say it’s done.

Over the past several months, I have been sharing animations of my work that take you through the process of constructing a piece as I build it up layer by layer. Today I am sharing a different aspect of the creative process. When is a piece done? It is easy to overwork in the quest for that moment when the artwork is finished. Working on the computer, I have the luxury (or is it a curse?) of being able to endlessly edit. I also have the ability to save stages of a piece. The animation I am presenting here goes through many stages in the creation of “Perito Moreno Glacier,” searching for that moment when it is done.

Perito Moreno Glacier_animation from Karen Hochman Brown on Vimeo.

The Perito Moreno Glacier in southern Patagonia was one of the highlights of our trip to Argentina. My husband and I take the standard package deal for most of our travels. No jeeps or helicopters, we do the pedestrian version of the tour. At Perito Moreno, that means a multi-storied catwalk that comes very close to the face of the glacier. Your base of operations is a vast tourist center/cafeteria atop an overlook to the giant glacier. And you walk down a metal path that keeps the hoards from trampling the earth and still get up close to the face.

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Bits and pieces from the artwork. Some used, some not.

The view is from a high vantage point. The jagged structure of the glacier surface is startling in its severity. I knew I must take many pictures of the amazing blues and patterns to use in a kaleidoscope. As I began to work on the piece, I was continually stymied. My work has been mainly of organic material. The form of giant ice structures and watery blues seem unfamiliar, and monochromatic is problematic. And so I fiddle with many different iterations in search of the point when the piece is done. I believe that creating “Perito Moreno Glacier” took more time than any other work of mine. The animation shows “only” 14 of the 31 versions I recorded. I printed out drafts at an alarming rate. I gave it a rest for two weeks—twice. But in the end, it was beautiful; it was dramatic; it was done. 

Celebrate December’s Holiday Season with “Grevillea Regalia”

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Share the Love

#LoveWins

I have always loved making things. As a child, I sold watercolor greeting cards and beaded jewelry in my father’s place of business. I made my own clothes. I painted and crochet and embroidered and set bezels and on and on and on. While reviewing an old diary, I see that at one point, I had wanted to be a world famous fashion designer. I did have a small stint at making playful fabric hats (Bell Hats Over The Pacific) and other children’s dress-up items, but I moved on to working completely on my computer. 

LoveWins Animation from Karen Hochman Brown on Vimeo.

And in the digital realm, there is no actual product. Yes, I can and do print on paper and aluminum substrates that can be used to dress up walls. But my earlier passion was to make garments and personal adornments. For this, I have had to wait for the technology to print designs on fabric. And it is quite an interesting world now that artwork can be translated into fashion on demand! The first manufacturer I used gave me a good looking garment, but the fabric was thin and I was worried about having a Lululemon moment. Fortunately, I have found a company that produces a fine product that I am proud to present.

Leggings and beanie design from "LoveWins."
Leggings and beanie designs based on the artwork “LoveWins.”

I decided to use my artwork “LoveWins” for my first foray into digital printing on fabric. The piece was made in support of marriage equality and I think using it for fashion is an expressive way to share the love. The leggings and beanies I started with are a fun and cool way to take my artwork off the walls and share the love with the world. You can find them and other designs I’ve been working on over on my Art of Where site here!

 

Synthesized painting

This summer I had the opportunity to do a finite series of 50 small artworks in 50 days. I set up parameters for the work, one aspect was that I incorporate a technique I haven’t used before in the kaleidoscope pieces.

Yellow Sunflower Animation from Karen Hochman Brown on Vimeo.

For the entire series, I designed a custom paint brush that I created in the program Studio Artist (Synthetik Software) to create the backgrounds from each of my base images. Studio Artist is a graphics synthesizer that can apply individual brushstrokes based on a photograph or image. The program looks at the contours, luminance, color and texture and then can either auto-draw or be specifically directed by the user. 

Three examples of Studio Artist brushes
Three examples of Studio Artist brushes on the same rainbow sphere base.

Watch the animation and you will see the brushstrokes being applied in Studio Artist. From the resulting “painting” of the sunflower base image, I reflected a portion around into the background. The additional layers are more similar to my kaleidoscopic work. They are reflected and distorted, but still keep the starter image intact. 

Are You Feeling The Energy?

The Great Big Aloe Eye in the Sky is one of my more energetic pieces. The bright orange of the aloe bloom vibrates against the brisk blue sky. 

The Great Big Aloe Eye In The Sky Animation from Karen Hochman Brown on Vimeo.

I took the photograph used to create this work at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. It had rained only hours before I arrived. I usually focus in on the flower for my pieces, but the combination of the orange spikes and clear blue sky were irresistible.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Base Image for “The Great Big Aloe Eye in the Sky”

The Great Big Aloe Eye in the Sky is featured as the cover of my 2017 calendar. I only have a limited number and they will sell out quickly. 

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Click here to purchase the 2017 Wall Calendar

Keep Loving

Loving Day commemorates the 1967 Supreme Court decision of Loving v. Virginia, the case that legalized interracial marriage. Both the case and the holiday take their name from Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple that grew up and fell in love in Virginia. Although Loving v. Virginia was decided in 1967, the most reluctant southern states took until the year 2000 to repeal their miscegenation laws. This became pertinent in my life when our family became inter-racial when my son and his wife were married on Loving Day. The basis for this artwork is my beautiful daughter-in-law’s wedding bouquet.

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Adorn Your World With My 2017 Calendar

This is the sixth year of my self-published calendar/portfolio. Before I started specializing in my current form of art, I was a graphic designer. I guess I still am. The calendar gives me a chance to revisit my prior occupation. Putting the calendar together also gives me an opportunity to look back on the art I have created this year and relive what was going on with my life for each piece. The creations are very personal for me. Each photograph is a reminder of my travels or my mother’s garden or whatever was going on the day I took the picture. Each finished work is a memento that relays clues for what was going on in my life.

 

I included the four kaleidoscope pictures I created early in the year as Artist-In-Residence at the Los Angeles Arboretum. I wandered the grounds early in the morning to take photographs I would work with throughout the day, ending in the afternoon, and these pieces were done. This was an exciting challenge, creating a piece of art in a single day, in front of an audience. You can find these artworks in the calendar in February, April, November and December.

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Pieces I created for the Sanchez Art Center’s 50|50 Show in Pacifica, CA

 

The other big project I had this year is represented in the months of January, June and July. These artworks were part of an installation at Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica, California. In this project, I created 50 small artworks in 50 days over the summer. I decided to use this as an opportunity to incorporate a technique I have been toying with for years, even before the kaleidoscopes. The basic form continues with the use of a single photograph that I have distorted and reflected. But for these small works, I made the backgrounds with a technique I developed that brushstrokes to paint the image based on texture, shape and luminescence of a photograph.

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Feminine Rose Mystique

My husband has sub-titled this piece “Eggs and Orifices.” I think that is fitting for this powerfully feminine piece.

A bed of roses has been carefully arranged for a dance of fertility.

Base image (center) and two "foundlings" for "Victoria Rose."
Base image (center) and two “foundlings” for “Victoria Rose.”

Open petals of the pink rose are transformed into fleshy openings. Each corner holds an egg perched on the edge of a cliff, awaiting a synchronized dive into the welcoming folds. Corseted hourglass figures suspend a circular fixture above the bed, almost obscuring it from view. There is a hint of something lurid, maybe a bit nasty.

victoria-rose_merch

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