All original images and text are copyright 2008-2018 Liz Sweibel


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Getting older - feeling older - is coming to feel like time is running out for me as an artist.  The distance between my daily activity (mental, emotional, physical) and my vision for myself (rooted in history, not fantasy) feels so great that bridging it seems ever harder.  Every day I push back against this thinking, with occasional breakthroughs, yet it's thick.  For instance, this summer I decided to sublet a studio rather than apply to residencies.  Actually getting to a residency is so problem-ridden that spending time on applications (especially with little new work) seems wasteful.  Better to get a space to make new sculptural and installation work, then use that to create opportunities down the line.  Another idea:  to build a miniature installation site I can develop in my home studio, and use the documentation to change the scale.  Like a maquette, but since I work small, who knows?  I do like this urge.

Obviously, I'm not without ideas.  What I am without is time.  This will shift with the end of the semester (mid-November), and I must shift everything else with it.  I've actually been wishing I were a writer!  I spend so much time writing and love it, but the gap between what I can say in words and what I can convey with my work is unbridgeable.  In "'Evidence' Revisited" in a long-ago issue of Art in America, Carter Ratcliff wrote about the impossibility of reducing art to words.  Nor can I elevate my words to art.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's been hard to come here to write, not just for the usual reasons, but because I've been trying to find a way to express my disappointment with the exhibit.  It has to be said.  The gallery was basically unprepared, noncommunicative, and uninvolved.  It is a weak, uncurated show.  I did the best I could with minimal direction, a space entirely wrong for my work, and scarce time, and am eager for it to be over.  I'm not promoting the show, and am fighting embarassment because I feel responsible for the gallery's shortcomings.

While I was excited by the openness the opportunity seemed to offer, my dealings with the gallery turned that into a point of vulnerability.  The install time was so rushed by the gallery's delays in preparing the space that making work on-site became impossible; I ended up pulling older work into the exhibit. The work is fine; the presentation is not.  I could have done something new and exciting with the space had I any sense of the gallery's vision for the exhibit and some lead time.  A big, lost opportunity.

I've been deep in the semester since late August.  It's been easy to draw strength from teaching and so I've kept my focus there (and by necessity, given my work load).  But when I peel that back, I am again questioning how my work should go into the world.  While the drawings are still active, I'm thinking about video.  Having the freedom to make work for the Internet and self-curate seems like just the thing now.

Yesterday, on the street, I saw a woman hitting her son (or grandson) with her umbrella while she yelled at him.  He was about 13 and apparently had mouthed off.  Feelings I've been keeping at bay (or letting work blanket) surged up.  I was horrified and wanted to help.  And in the end?  I kept going, deflated by the tragedy and thoughts of this young man.  There's cultural differences operating, but I cannot understand how any thinking being could administer such abuse, and with such an absence of consciousness that its public visibility was a non-issue.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Revealing the Ordinary

Tomorrow I begin installing Revealing the Ordinary at Gallery Korea, amidst an enormous amount of busy-ness and tumult.  Natural disasters (an earthquake and Hurricane Irene), a bathroom gut renovation, and the start of classes (I'm teaching five plus a seminar plus mentoring plus an administrative role plus ...) have fostered a dense environment where all my energy goes to meeting my essential commitments.  Installing this show feels like - and requires - moving into another world, and I am using this evening to settle and open my pores.  One evening!

Turns out the exhibit is much more open-ended than I knew, as the curators have invited me to bring all the work I submitted and other work I would like to include for their consideration.  I will be designing the exhibit independently and able to do the site work that will help snap the exhibit into the present.  With only three artists in the show, I will have a generous space.  The quality and nature of this opportunity are sinking in.  Tomorrow I get to work in real space and make new work that will be seen.

Part of what's snapped me to attention is learning that my dear, dear friend Maysey Craddock has an opening the night after mine at Nancy Margolis Gallery and will be in town from Memphis.  She will be at mine and I will be at hers.  I only learned this yesterday, and it has drawn a quick line from my present absorptions to the time when my work had my full attention - in graduate school with Maysey and before and after those years.  That's not been the case in awhile, and her presence and faith in me is, for lack of a better word, inspiring.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Things are changing.  I've had some meetings with curators recently, and the fallout is as it should be:  new questions, old questions made new.  For the first time, I'm working with literal imagery, and it's a whole new set of problems.  Decisions need another kind of consideration.  And it's fascinating to me that this is happening.  Why, now, does working with anything but literal subject matter seem ... irrelevant?  That's not a comment on my past work (or my future work), but on today.  I clearly need fresh language, yet I can't quite tell what it's trying to get at.  My underlying concerns are the same in the ways they have to be, but seem to be expanding, taking more into consideration.  It's not just our relationships with one another, and those moment-to-moment decisions we make that add up to so much, but the entire system and its vulnerability.  Ultimately, everything can be swept away, whether by a lacerating comment or a tsunami.  I can't go further with this yet but the seeds feel right.

I have an exhibit opening September 7, Revealing the Ordinary at Gallery Korea, which will include some older work.  I've always made site work or shown very recent pieces in exhibits, so this is a first.  (There may be a site piece; I'm not sure yet.)  For months I've been questioning my ambition to show in traditional gallery spaces, yet when I saw the announcement on the gallery site and sent word out to my community, the process (and the responses) thrilled me.  I mean thrilled me.  And that made me laugh at myself because my flirtation with disinterest in gallery exhibits has to be in part protective.  More accurate is that they are not my only interest, but the visibility they afford is important and rewarding and desirable.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

It's taken until my very last day out here for all the thinking, working, writing, worrying, reading, walking, looking, and the rest to congeal into the feeling I am going home refreshed.  I'm not sure a vacation has ever taken so long to sink in; then again, I've never been crushed by the particular challenges that have been crushing me.  (Or had to work so many hours teaching and editing while on vacation.)

I am so, so satisfied to see that the drawings are starting to suggest their next direction.  It's a feeling I've not had in a long, long time, and it is such a relief.  I'm luxuriating in it, allowing it to develop of its seeming-own accord while I work.

My students are expressing curiosity about the nature of inspiration.  (I actually detest the word.)  I've been sharing Picasso's perspective - that it exists but has to find you working.  It's a perfect description, yet I've not been living it.  In working steadily for just these two weeks, it has returned to felt experience.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Office of George J. Stretch, Ocean Beach, Fire Island
I'm wrapping up my time on Fire Island, ready to be going home.  The weather has been gray and rainy more than not over the two weeks, and it's starting to take a toll on my mood.  I'd rather be in Brooklyn at this point, back with my home and cats and Prospect Park, than with the beach a two-minute walk away, but not really available.  I have worn shoes less than a single day while here, and I will miss barefootedness.
I spent today on a new drawing and need to add a third word to my two-word statement:  essence.  Each piece needs to be built of as little as will hold it up. (And built is specifically apropos.)  Anything more dilutes, muddies, distracts.  None of this is new realization, but in returning to the studio after a period of absence or distance, it is a relief.  Like I recognize myself and can accompany myself moving forward.  The necessity is to keep working and defending the time.  The drawings have something, yet want something.  If I bring a freshened connection to the work home with me, and build on it, I'm satisfied.  The work is such a solace, yet equally a source of discomfort.

A teensy spider took a hike on my drawings, then up a spool of thread.

Spider, Thread, Planes in Japan Post-Tsunami
(thread, vellum)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Ocean Beach Parking Lot
I've been on Fire Island now for more than a week - the most incredible gift of time I could ask for.  My intentions were for this to be a self-created residency; my applications were not accepted. The immersion of a residency isn't possible (so the word itself is a stretch), as I am teaching an on-line course and have other work that must be done, but the amount of time that I can call my own is generous.  I've been wanting to write here, but always finding the time better spent, whether working in my makeshift studio, reading, or just being on vacation.  I try to accept that I need to restock if I'm to produce, so have allowed restocking to find its form.

Yesterday I walked from Ocean Beach to the Fire Island Pines, with a detour through the Sunken Forest and the paths of Cherry Grove.  How often are we truly, truly alone without any sense of what the next few minutes will bring, yet not anxious?  It's early in the season here, and so I had long stretches of true solitude - on the beach, in the forest, on the town walkways.   Incredible!  I'm glad to be comfortable in my own company, while realizing I don't necessarily need to be solo for the rest of my life.

I brought materials to continue with the vellum and thread.  As it turns out, the 19x25" format hasn't worked.  I don't see them resolving and stored them away for awhile.  I brought the 9x12 pad and have completed (I think) two drawings.  While at first it was essential that the photos I worked from be my own, without thinking I moved to images from the Japan earthquake and tsunami.  I was amazed at how quickly this moved from the front page.  Our memories are so short; we move so quickly to the next thing

Making the drawings, I keep thinking of fragility and impermanence and see that those two words are as complete an artist statement as I may ever write.  Anything else I have to say is in reaction to - or layered upon - those ideas.

Other awarenesses:
  • Unless I'm working for someone else (students, money), I always think I should be doing something else.
  • By limiting my applied vocabulary to line with these drawings, I limit my subject matter to the man-made.  I don't know what to make of that.
  • I'm not applying for anything until my studio feels active and I feel like I can argue on my own behalf.  My short-term goal is to work only.  I want to update my Web site by Labor Day to coincide with the exhibit at Gallery Korea.  C'est tout.
I'm reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen and will write about that tomorrow or so, as I have much to say.

Cottage Walk

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I now take two-month breaks from this blog.  I think about writing and wish my head were filled with the ideas and questions that take shape here, but my studio is still and I'm in a rut.  My climbing-out strategies include a private writing exercise, so this blog waits.  And judging from the struggle I'm in with myself, it could wait awhile.  Then again, all it takes is one shift in one moment and I'll be back.  Soon, I hope.

Monday, March 21, 2011

It has been a long while since I wrote, though I've been working in the studio as steadily as life allows.  On February 25, news of a death came suddenly and opened an enormous, painful void that just knocked me down.  He was a parental figure, a man who taught me about unconditional love and the nature of family and generosity.  He made things possible for me - both tangible and dynamic - and was a blessing in my life.  The loss undid me.  For most of my adulthood I identified myself by my losses, as if that sum were all I added up to, because that's all I felt.  I don't live that way any more, thankfully, but this loss activated the old ones.  It also shone a light on a current situation, and I was reeling.  I felt invisible, and turned fully inside.  Only when I allowed myself to reach for the resources that could help did it start to turn, and now, almost a month later, I'm vertical.  Changed and sad, but vertical.

I've continued with the thread-and-vellum drawings, working from photos.  The 19 x 25" format was a good move.  At first I kept doing what I was doing in the 9 x 12" format: just building the fragments in a much vaster space.  But something felt off, though ... incomplete.  It was only this weekend that their lack of tension, or punch, became clear to me.  They are inert; they don't get anywhere.  So now I can return to the several I have and view them as starts.  Of course, all of this perfectly parallels my return to verticality.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The weather has kept me from running for more than a week, the longest break since I got my rhythm back. I can do the cold, but less so the snow, which is piled high, and, worse, the ice. I haven't even tried to find my car beneath it.  I'm meditating spottily.  What I'm doing with utter consistency is wrenching myself around in my own head so that my default position is what I'm not getting done, not feeling, not succeeding at.  My thinking is like an obstacle course, or maze.  What I can say is, I keep trying.  I am nothing if not tenacious, even as my fear is that the struggle is just spinning wheels, no traction.  I know that's not true, but my psyche is doing its own thing and I spend a lot of time and energy wrestling with it.

At the same time, I'm doing a better job of disciplining myself so that work stays in the week and the weekends are free.  I'm overextended with the work I've taken on; containing it makes for very long weekdays.  The freedom of time on the weekends has its own perils, but is of course necessary.

So I am starting this Monday here.  These small acts of self-preservation are crucial.

My work has tended to strengthen as I yield to my innate sensibilities and use materials to pull them into being.  Something different is going on, and I'm having to resist the habit of dismissing the literal.  It began with finding photographs I took many years ago, before I was making art, and being struck at their aesthetic and conceptual consistency with what my work has come to.  My sensibility is already there, in them.  That led to using them for new thread-and-vellum drawings.  Here's a studio (i.e., amateur) shot of the first one, with a detail:

Liz Sweibel, 2011

Liz Sweibel (detail), 2011
It's all there:  the space, the structure, the weightlessness, the translucency, the process, the intention.  They do what I need my work to do:  slow me, keep me present so I can reach back to move forward, find the perfection in imperfection, build through repetition, allow for the slightest of means, hide nothing, leave room.

I have about ten now, all 9 x 12 except the one above, which is an inch or two smaller and more squared off.  I want to work on larger sheets (now that's new); this particular Canson vellum only (!!!) goes up to 19 x 24.  I'm very particular about the color and texture of the surface, so will sacrifice scale if need be.  I'm researching supplies, including colored vellum (!!!!!).

Here's the second drawing and a detail:

Liz Sweibel, 2011

Liz Sweibel (detail), 2011
I've started taking new photographs, and Thin Ice is from one of those.

Liz Sweibel, Thin Ice, 2011

Liz Sweibel, Thin Ice (detail), 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

I went for a gorgeous run in the park yesterday.  I planned to go again today but prepping for the start of classes tomorrow ate my weekend whole, despite my intention to get my work done so I'd have studio time this weekend.  Next weekend, definitely.

The swan family is still intact, and the signets are still carrying some baby feathers on top.  I don't know why this surprises me.  I couldn't get all six in one photo, since dad (I assume, given my dad) was off doing his own thing.

Five ...
... Plus One

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I've been keeping up with my applications, though admittedly my goals are modest.  Working on a statement for the Saltonstall Colony, I actually had a kind of epiphany:  a burst of understanding about how my work conflates (parallels? expands?) facets of my personality and pursuits.

The bolt hit when I was trying to articulate the role of restraint in my work - and like a flash seeing it as an act of generosity.  Holding back can maintain and protect a space, which means it can allow (wait?) for something or someone to enter.  Psychotherapy comes to mind, as technique.  (I love In Treatment, and am going to catch up on some episodes when I finish here.)

Holding back is different from withholding, which is rooted in anger (and fear); my father could be guilty of that.  Withholding is selfish, so that would make the two opposites.  They take opposing approaches to creating distance, one offering possibility and the other taking it away.  Where does this inclination live?  How deep?  Can a person change?

While this might not seem like an earth-shaking observation (my insecurity about stating the obvious as if it were a deep insight), something has come into juxtaposition that I don't think I understood as clearly before.  I've carried around a fear that I'm selfish, instilled by my father.  I've had to work to uproot that, which meant learning enough about myself to know whether he was right (he wasn't) or projecting (he was).

Perhaps without consciousness I've feared the restraint in my work has its roots in hostility.  (It doesn't.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

In continuing to set up my better studio I unearthed old family photographs that match the stories in preceding posts:  my mother's last Thanksgiving in the park, the palm tree where she carved my father's initials after his death, more. It was heart-wrenching.

I discovered a random, noteworthy measure of our priorities, for lack of a better word.  Every morning I open the Animal Rescue site and click to make a free donation (oxymoronic, I know). (One day I hope to see Glenwood on the home page, as I submitted her story.)  Then I click along the tabs left to right:  Rainforest, Literacy, Child Health, Breast Cancer, and Hunger.

At the start of this new year, the site reported the total number of clicks for each tab in 2010.  The differences were such a surprise.
  • Animal Rescue:  72,170,000
  • Rainforest:  10,446
  • Literacy:  411,552
  • Child Health:  668,061
  • Breast Cancer:  2,112
  • Hunger:  53,800,000

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I like January 1 ... the whole idea of a fresh start.

Art biz coach (Alyson B. Stanfield) offers some good tips, most recently advising a year-end stock-taking of accomplishments and plans moving forward. I am expert at downplaying achievements and challenged to set goals, so am giving it a public whirl.

Accomplishments in 2010: Attended the Selling Your Work Online workshop at NYFA in March, and listened. Also in March, was invited to develop a group exhibit proposal with Yoon Cho and Priscilla Stadler (Just a Moment). Relaunched my Web site in July. Showed my video and digital images for the first time in Ekleksographia.  Reinvigorated my studio practice, in part by leaving my full-time job at the Evil Empire in late August. Returned to running two to three times weekly. Reconnected with two friends from grad school, Paula Wood and Kirsten Reynolds in September. Posted new drawings to the Viewing Program at the Drawing Center in November. Spent time with my Boston art community in December (Diane Ayott, Susan Scott, Kathleen Connolly, Mary Bucci McCoy, Barbara Grad). Set up a much better studio at home, with the help of family and friends. Contacted the Drawing Center for a critique. Accepted by Gallery Korea for a group show in 2011. More generally: applied for more exhibits, grants, and residencies; persisted in my work; wrote in this blog.

Goals for 2011: [Goals should be observable. Some of mine aren't.  Oh well.] Do a residency. Have a critique at the Drawing Center. Continue to improve marketing and networking. Spend more time in the studio. Continue running. Restart meditation. Practice what I preach.

I started rereading Thoughts Without a Thinker on the subway today, which was the catalyst for my starting a meditation practice several years back. Even better, I sat for the first time in months.