And here’s the result of the Baltimore Portrait Project! Our portraits — my book-y one of Paola (top), and her Star Wars-y one of me — are up on the big LED board on Charles Street in Baltimore’s Station North, right across the street from Penn Station and the 50-foot “Male/Female” sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky. Maybe they’ll wink at each other?
I’ve mentioned before how terrific Baltimore is for artists and writers. It seems like opportunities come fast and furious here, and it’s often just as much about connecting people as it is about the work itself. The last few weeks, I’ve been working on a piece for the Baltimore Portrait Project, which pairs artists so they can create portraits of each other. Ultimately, these will appear on a large LED board outside Baltimore’s Penn Station…how cool is that?
What a challenge to use a book form for portraiture…but also, how apt! A poem aims to shed a certain light on a subject; and its container, its book, can represent the subject in shape, as well. I was paired with a wonderfully imaginative and talented painter named Paola. After meeting up for coffee and a walk, I had enough clues to begin my 3-D portrait, a three-board exposed binding…complete with a portrait-ish poem (“Origin Story: Paola,” inspired by a painting she’s currently working on), nose, hair and a face.
I started by carving the shapes: the full face, a half face that lifts to reveal the book, and the neck, which acts as a stand when pushed backwards.
Carving the nose was tough! I wound up gluing several pieces of binder board together and then carving the block down. That’s a first…
To get a sense of Paola’s real hair, which is curly and toned brown on top and blond on the bottom, I dyed a nice wool yarn and then wrapped it tightly around wooden skewers, which I boiled and then baked so it would keep its shape (another first for me!)…
I did my best to paint a good face. This is not my strong suit, but what better challenge, right? I had hoped to be able to pull off some Mark Ryden-inspired eyes, since Paola loves his work, but I wound up working more from my photo of her, as my Ryden attempts didn’t seem right. And onto the hair…
In the end, I did away with the earrings and accepted the fact that she looks more like herself from certain angles than others. And I quite like how her form works, as if we can peer inside her mind a bit by reading her poem.
Sometimes a project comes along that’s too cool to pass up, even when you think you’ll probably have to build a time machine to finish on time. In this case, it was an art show benefit for Baltimore poetry group LitMore honoring the late great Bmore poet Chris Toll. Chris was an early supporter of my literary magazine, the light ekphrastic, submitting both poetry and collages. More importantly, though, he made me feel like what I was doing was worthwhile — to hear it from a member of Bmore poetry royalty meant a lot.
Each artist was given a line from the above poem, and mine was “but all she believes in,” an absolute gift to interpret. I knew I wanted to make a book, but I also wanted to be able to display it in a new sort of way…so I started by painting and cutting the paper…
…and then, I started sewing it together…
…I broke out the Shrinky Dinks…
…and wrote a poem about what it’s like trying (and failing, sometimes) to make something new. In the end, I wound up with something dreamy and poemy, but also a little dark. Maybe it’ll float away and Chris will see it in the clouds…
I’m a deadline person. I love/need them, especially when art is concerned (second only to that other all-powerful motivator, guilt). Lately, though, I’ve surrendered to the idea that being a little behind is not only an inescapable fact, but an a-okay way to be, at least in certain areas. Even that shark is okay with the idea ——>
So, today’s post is a quickie round up of two winter/spring-ish books. Better to be behind on the blogging, than to not be making art…right? Right.
Here’s a little leather book I made over the winter. It kind of reminds me of a dragon. It was alternately fun and scary working with leather…but mostly fun.
And here’s a shark book I made for my friend Heather. What a challenge! I like to think she’ll write some very important poetry inside…something that needs to be guarded by some serious chompers. My only regret is that it doesn’t play the theme song from Jaws when you open it…
As with so many of the pieces of my life that have fallen woefully behind lately, I hereby submit shots from my show at D Center in Baltimore, which happened waaaaaaaay back in December. The exhibit was called “b is for Baltimore,” and it highlighted work by 2013 winners of the Baker Artist Awards’ b-grant. Many thanks to the MICA Curatorial Practice students who made it all work so beautifully! All shots by Xiaotian Yang.
Talking to students and strangers about my particular brand of bookiness and poetry can sometimes be a little weird at the beginning. It generally starts with an awkward self-deprecating intro, followed by assorted blank stares. Sometimes I’ll toss out a bad joke or two. And then, usually around the moment I pull Agnes Matzerath’s eel poem out of her belly, it all changes. Wonder of wonders! They are alive!
And so it has been the last few weeks as I’ve visited the high schools of Howard County as writer-in-residence for HoCoPoLitSo, an absolutely wonderful organization that brings poetry of all shapes to the residents of that fine county. (I am the luckiest person in the world, by the way.) I’m in the thick of it now, visiting a school or two a week, sharing the poetry love with a new generation. On the whole, the students have been brilliant, asking terrific questions. I’m impressed.
As part of the program, I made a very small edition of a book entitled 11, which contains eleven ekphrastic poems and a bit of context about what inspired each one. In typical Jenny style, they’re all slightly different, with the stresses and pulls of reinforced brown paper bag, a bright long stitch down the spine and 11 random holes in the cover. Each school will get one to file away in the media center…how cool is that? More importantly, though, I hope to help the students realize that 1) poems can come from just about anywhere and look however they choose, and 2) their inspirations/stories/voices are just as valid as anybody else’s. Either it’ll work…or they’ll come away thinking I’m nuts. We shall see.
Below: making hundreds of holes.
The big kick-off for ‘b’ is for Baltimore: Baker Artist Awards 2013 b-grant Winners at D Center in Baltimore is nearly here…whee! Stop by the opening reception on Thursday, December 5, 5-7 p.m., to see several of my books along with a representation of my work space (where visitors will be able to play with some of my tools and materials). I’ll also be reading poems with poet Katharine McCord at 6 p.m. All free and open to the public…let us know you’re coming here!