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A 10 minute talk about feathers and art

Gerald Peters Video 2016
People came to listen to this informal 10 minute talk I gave at the Gerald Peters Gallery in late July in Santa Fe. It is sort of a condensed version of my longer talks.

https://vimeo.com/173829488

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A Possible Explanation for the Sudden Appearance of Swallows


In the stop motion video, you can see the progression of placement and cuts. For me, what really stands out is how the feathers and the cutout birds pop out at the end when they are elevated. The shadows give the work an added dimension.

A big piece like this usually comes after making several smaller pieces where the design concepts are tested. It took a while to collect enough of the right feathers—these are all from the right side of the wing of molluccan cockatoos. Some were shed from a pet bird over several years and some shed in a nonprofit rehabilitation sanctuary for parrots.

I often show a playful element in my work. Playfulness  allows me to learn new things and skills without being too tense, like the second brood of swallows today that were just off the nest learning to fly. I watched these young ones playing with a feather, catching it in their beaks, dropping it, and picking it up again and again. I bet they were enjoying improving their flying and bug catching skills.

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Lucky Icon?

holey feather driving icon

I don’t care if its rainy weather just as long as I have my holey feather riding on the dashboard of my car. ♪♪

This all seeing cyclops feather just travelled from Washington State to New Mexico and back. Having it with me reminded me of how I have chosen to see the world, through my focus on feathers. Perhaps it also brought luck as the Santa Fe show was a success and I am invited back next year. Now I am told that having a rearview mirror adornment is illegal if it blocks the driver’s view of the road.

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Lucky Icon?

holey feather driving icon
♪ I don’t care if its rainy weather just as long as I have my holey feather riding on the dashboard of my car. ♪

This all seeing cyclops feather just travelled with me from Washington State to New Mexico and back. Having it reminded me of how I have chosen to see the world, through a focus on feathers. Perhaps it also brought me luck as the Santa Fe show was a success and I am invited back next year.

Now I am told that having a rearview mirror adornment is illegal if it blocks the driver’s view of the road.

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Art Production vs Creativity

Harken

Harken 11 x 11 inches

Part of what makes making art rewarding is exploring new creative ideas. But people see the art I have already made and often want something like it, the original having already been sold.

This can create a quandary for the artist because if we fall completely into producing similar pieces to satisfy demand, we lose our time to create new works. So we strive to find a balance between producing a lot of similar work with producing only completely new creative original work.

Fortunately for me, I enjoy the process of making each piece and therefore am satisfied making a few originals based on previous designs, like “Harken”. However, exploring new creative territory remains extremely important so at least a day or two a week, if not more, I work on completely new design ideas.

Morning Crow 2 hardWEBwm

Morning Crow 11 x 11 inches

If you find yourself in Santa Fe before July 23, stop in at the Gerald Peters Gallery to see my show. You will see “Harken” in person. It is sold but I am sending the gallery several more pieces about the same size based on this design. Here is one:

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Shed skin and feathers

Dragon Snake hardWEBwmI sometimes work with snakeskin in my art as well as feathers. What is the relation of these outer coverings: human skin, snake skin, and feathers?

Unlike birds that sheds its feathers about once a year, or a snake that sheds its outer skin about three times a year, we shed our outer skin constantly. About .2 pounds a week. Our shed skin doesn’t look like our outer wrappings like shed snake skins do nor does it appear as beautifully complex structures like feathers. Our shed skin doesn’t end up in art. It gathers as dust in our houses.

What if instead of shedding constantly, we shed our outer layer intact like a snake? Would we have molting days built into our work schedule as days off? Would we keep our sheds as souvenirs like locks of hair? Would we use our skin in art?

I may make a piece using feathers, snake skin, and a background of dead human skin cells gathered as dust. I could mix the dust with a light water based glue like clear acrylic and paint it on paper as a background. But although I find shed snakeskin fascinating, I am slightly revolted seeing human dust when I wipe my finger across the top of a picture frame or look under the couch.

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Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe: Solo

Gera_ld Peters 2016 WEBI am most grateful to the Gerald Peters Gallery and to Maria Hajic who has been supporting me in my art at this Santa Fe gallery for several years. She is working hard on an upcoming show featuring my work. I will be driving there for the opening reception July 24th  and an artist talk on the 25th. If you are able to come, mention that you read about the show on my blog and I will give you a shiny feather from the national bird of Nepal.

 

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Feathered Nests

Barn Swallow flying with feather

copyright 2010 Chris Maynard

The 15 pairs of swallows that nest in my barn line their nest with feathers. I place curled, goose body feathers in an open space in front of my studio for them to swoop in and pick up off the ground. They especially like the large ones that are the width of the inside of their nests.

Besides the fun of watching swallows carry off these feathers which are sometimes longer than themselves, I feel like I am doing a good deed because these birds’ feathered nests are twice as successful at nests not lined with feathers.

That’s because the newborn birds have naked skin like us. Would you rather lie in a bed of grass or mud or a bed of feathers? It makes sense that feathering a nest helps eggs hatch by keeping the birds warm. The feathers also reduce parasites in the nest. I’m not sure exactly how.

I enjoyed reading through some of the studies but usually just skim and read the abstracts. Mostly people don’t find earth-shattering discoveries, but there are interesting little bits of knowledge that are gleaned from each study.

http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/winkler/Publication%20Copies/1993%20W%20Auk%20use%20feathers.pdf
http://www.eaglehill.us/NENAonline/articles/NENA-22-3/15-Heinrich.shtml
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4752222/
http://iis1.eeza.csic.es/eeza/documentos/golondrinas%20juanma%20DOI.pdf
https://books.google.com/books?id=jzhKCgAAQBAJ&pg=PT116&lpg=PT116&dq=%22lining+nests+with+feathers%22+study&source=bl&ots=OO_10n3bJL&sig=zm-ZIcpE4bakIxsvG5P1cGEnYXs&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjq1Lbe9sLMAhUX0GMKHUmcAmIQ6AEIJzAB#v=onepage&q=%22lining%20nests%20with%20feathers%22%20study&f=false
http://www.science.gov/topicpages/d/duck+feather+keratin.html

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Thoughts About Blackbird Melodies, completed Part 2

 

Blackbird Melodies

Blackbird Melodies, 36 by 55 inches, turkey and parakeet feathers with a small few amazon, conure, and peacock feathers

If the blackbird’s song is a shape, it might be a circle, sort of a blurt of music, leading with red just as the bird leads its flight with red shoulder feathers. This design is influenced by music notation—do you see quarter notes?

These birds are gregarious, traveling and living together in same-sex flocks much of the year. During breeding season they get on cattails and rushes to sing. One first supposes that they are trying to keep other males away and attract the females. Males do mate with several females and one may thiunk that each male monogamously serves these females. But the curious thing is that up to half the baby birds in each nest are sired by different fathers. It seems that in addition or in place of what we assume as aggression to each other, there may be more a sort of friendliness.

Anyway, I envisioned this piece as sort of a dream shared by the males as they sing.

Beletsky and Orians; Red-winged Blackbirds Decision-making and Reproductive Success; University of Chicago Press, 1996. Online at Google Books:
Olendorf  and Scribner; Cooperative nest defence in red-winged blackbirds: reciprocal altruism, kinship or by-product mutualism?; Proc Biol Sci. 2004 Jan 22;271(1535):177-82.

 

 

 

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Making a Large Feather Carving

Balckbird Melodies detail3WEB Blackbird Melodies Chris & Grant WEBAt 36 by 55 inches, Blackbird Melodies is one of my larger pieces. I waited until I had help to make this and it arrived in the form of Evergreen College intern Grant Walker.  One week, we made the background of acid-neutral foamcore and a 4 foot wide roll of beautiful thick Fabriano cotton paper. The next week, early on the morning of the day we were to begin, I was just finishing the design. To get there, I had sketched a lot of ideas, different bird song shapes and sketches. Nothing came close to looking right. Grant was due to arrive in a couple of hours and I wanted to begin laying out a 55 inch long design then.

It is the best and hardest part of creativity, making something that has never been made before. The hard part is not being certain of a direction while experimenting and trying out ideas and discarding most of them as awful. The worst part is not knowing that the end result will be successful. The best part is having faith that success will result. The very best is when everything works out. Which is what seemed to be happening with this piece. After hours of tring out ideas on paper and not having a clue whether or not I was close to a solution, everything fell into place in a matter of a split second “aha”.

 Since this post happens every two weeks, the next post will show the final piece with thoughts about its design.  

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