Monday, May 19, 2014

State of Grace, the triptych part 2


Fall of Man
"He becomes still, forcing himself into a near comatose state, with his eyes wide open he waits for time to slow and the spirits that once traveled past him like bolts of lightning now travel like the smoke from a cigarette. He reaches out and grabs one, it is old and frail, and with the veracity of a starving wolf he consumes it.He has become a cannibal, he no longer wants to ascend to a higher plane, he only wants to fill his belly with the spirits of man and fauna.His sister who sacrificed herself to save her brother stands beside him; she is unable to stop him and can only look on in horror."

This is an excerpt from "State of Grace"' it describes the male twin's (one of the main characters) fall from grace and his transformation into a cannibal.

Cannibalism is the main idea behind the creation of this artwork, specifically the traditional cannibal stories and songs on the northwest coast. These stories and songs weren't about a person who suddenly became a cannibal because they were starving or mentally ill. They became a cannibal because they consumed too much.

They took to many fish from the ocean, to many trees from the forest and to many hides from the animals. They consumed so much that they became insatiable and transformed into a monster that craved human flesh. These stories were told to the young to teach them to only take from the world what they needed and if they took to much there would be dire consequences.

This idea is the main arc of the story, it was the problem that the Transforming Man could only overcome through self sacrifice.
The aesthetics of this artwork were inspired by a few sources. The first was "The Nightmare" by Henry Fuseli.
"The Nightmare" is an artwork that has fascinated me for many years. The strange little figure confronts the viewer and gives you a feeling like you are seeing something you shouldn't. I was looking for this kind of uncanny art when I created the "Fall of Man".

The hand the male twin is chewing on is an artists anatomical hand, this represented my consumption of western art history and critical theory, I was worried at the time that It might have a negative impact on my Northwest Coast Aboriginal practice.

And of course the teeth, the teeth were inspired by a demon from the pages of Alpha Flight by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

Fall of Man was a pleasure to create, it was one of those artworks that flowed. Some pieces are a struggle from beginning to end and some you can't wait to go to sleep at night so you can start working the next day, this was one of the latter.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

State of Grace, the triptych part 1

It occurs to me that I never discussed my thesis art works "State of Grace." I have made mention of them in past posts and I have even posted the story or imaginary myth associated with them but I have never given them their due.
In my last posts, Interview with a carver, I mentioned the back history of this triptych. How I created a narrative and artworks based on three undeveloped or partially developed ideas from my sketchbook.
"The Masquerade" is a chapter in my thesis, it describes the context in which I created "State of Grace".

The Masquerade
"My earliest memory of NWC art is a mask on the wall outside my parents’ bedroom in the basement of our duplex. I remember living in fear of the mask; the eyes were hollowed out, it had an evil crooked mouth and pencil thin eyebrows.
There was human hair on the mask and it made me uneasy because I assumed it came from a dead person. The mask was tilted down, so it always felt like this other-worldly being was staring down at me. Its gaze wasn’t drawing in images from the world, like a human gaze; instead, its gaze was like beams from a ray gun. The mask drew in the evil from the world and shot it out those eyes. I could feel the beams hitting my back when I rushed past it.
Through the art work I have made for my thesis project I want to capture this fear and abjection that I associated with NWC art as a child".

The artworks that make up State of Grace are; Saviour, Fall of Man and Punishment of the Grave.

Saviour

The first art work in the series yet the second to be completed. The original idea for this piece came from a story I heard on the radio about how provincial cut backs led to over 500 children's deaths being un-investigated.
I felt it was really sad that no one cared to find out wether the children's deaths were natural or suspicious. And then I thought of a story a friend told me about how in his culture, if twins were born they would kill one because they thought one twin was evil. I felt that society viewed these children as unimportant, but that they had to be very important to someone.

The leap of creativity I made with this idea was that I thought, "what if these lost children had a guide to help travel from our world to one of the many heavenly dimensions."
This guide would have to be able to transform itself to live in more than one realm. This is how the idea of using a transforming figure came to be. I did a rough draft in my sketch book but it never got beyond this stage for years because I could never get it worked out in my head. I couldn't resolve it until brought it together with two other ideas into a single installation.

My original intention was to have the Saviour coming out of a wall grasping the twins, but then I saw this large wonderful hide and I knew I had to use it. The fleshy texture and colour, the fact that it looked so fragile but was actually tough and that this hide was originally intended as a drum made it perfect.
I really wanted to show the figure as part raven part man, thats why it is has a human face and the wings look like large hands.
The reason I chose to have him grasping the twins by the hair is that I wanted to create an ambiguity about his intentions, we know he is there to save them, the twins do not.
In the second part of this post I will write about the other art works and describe how a triptych can have four parts.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Interview with a carver, part two


I find one of the most difficult elements of doing an interview is expressing ideas that you truly believe in and not talking about ideas that you are still formulating. it is an interesting process, seeing your spoken voice and realizing that sometimes you're not expressing your ideas clearly.
CGI: Can you describe any barriers you have when trying to share your vision with the general public?
 
LP: Obviously, there is the barrier that because of the way my work looks, it is pigeon-holed into being a Native art. It is a barrier, but not one that I mind in any way.
Another barrier comes with the sharing of information about my culture, but I have gotten around that in various ways. For example, when I have showed my work in critiques here [at Emily Carr University] I have had to bring in some of my own people. Because my work is so culturally specific, people don’t know how to interpret it, or give feedback, so I have invited Native dancers, artists and curators to help the class understand my work through sharing their own opinions.
As an artist, I am always looking for feedback, and when people didn’t know what to say, it was detrimental. Because the projects I was working on for class assignments were created much faster than ‘normal’, feedback was key to push it forward.
CGI: Do you have an example of one of your pieces/projects that makes people think about choices?
 
Well, I feel that Northwest Coast Art is much more like design than it is art – like design, it helps people make choices because a lot of the traditional work revolves around usable objects, and design is about being useful and informing people.
Carvers were canoe builders, they built houses and fish traps, they shaped the way people lived their everyday lives, and influenced people’s decisions through form. A totem pole tells the story of the people who live on the land, it tells people who owns the land, the history and the beliefs.
Generally speaking, the Northwest Coast, people own stories, and stories are tied to the land. This is especially true up North, where people retain more of our protocols. Songs and stories are owned by different families, and when they are related to the land, it means they own the land as well.
There is a huge element of meaning in Northwest Coast art. And that is another reason some Native Artists, when selling a piece, like a mask, to a commercial gallery, they make it so that it can’t be worn, because then it can’t be worn for a traditional purpose. When I am selling a piece to a gallery, I myself believe that it should be a piece of art in the western sense, I create western artwork, and I create cultural objects, this is a choice I make, and it is reflected in my work.
The interview ends there, it's strange how while in the interview the din of the crowded coffee shop becomes white noise. The voices and sounds mushed together like a faded sweatshirt seen through an unfocused lens. And I remember looking at people and objects while searching for my answers during the interview, but all I remember are portraits, still images of faceless strangers and brown walls with orange highlights.
Editing the interview for this blog was a balancing act, between keeping my unique speaking voice and making the spoken word readable. I did a little editing here and there making my answers clearer and shortening one answer, the answer was an idea I have yet to develop(stay tuned).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Interview with a Carver

I've never met my interviewer before, I'm not sure why I chose such a public place for the interview but here I am. Maybe it was because I wasn't sure if my practice was relevant to her thesis and I didn't want to sit in an uncomfortable silence when we both realized it. but when I mentioned it to her half jokingly, she said she was excited to hear what I had to say. She had read my blog (this blog) and some other information available about me online.
I walked through the door of the cafe and was hit by the familiar smell of burnt coffee beans and deep fried potatoes, the life's blood of university students and nightshift dock workers. I take a quick look around and I know she is not here and must be up on the second level. For a moment I consider going up and letting her buy me a coffee, after all I am doing her a favour, but then I think, "she's a student, buy your own damn coffee".

once I buy my coffee and add brown sugar and half and half, my cup is filled to the overflow mark. Its going to take the skills of a Chinese plate spinner to get myself and my coffee up the stairs without spilling the searing hot liquid all over my hands.

When I reach the top I know I will have to let her recognize me before I can recognize her, because this places clientele is shall we say, white to slightly off-white. And I think she should be able to recognize a slightly over weight pretty boy Aboriginal artist.
She doesn't disappoint as she looks me up and down and gives me a slightly nervous "Luke?" I sit down and we exchange pleasantry's. I remark that she has the same Starbucks* travel mug as me and we agree they make the best quality mobile hot liquid containers. After the small talk she slides her IPad on to the table and opens her Imic iPad app.
For this two part interview I will call the interviewer CGI and I have slightly altered her questions to protect her thesis.

CGI: In your biography, you speak about chronicling your culture through your art. Have you had to trigger people to act or participate with something you have created, and if so, what role has your culture played in this process?

LP: I created a piece halfway through my Masters Degree(for the 1st year masters program exhibition), and while I put it in the show, I felt it was unresolved.
Unresolved
I was very unhappy with it because normally I take years to plan a piece. I put it together in my head, and take it apart numerous times before I even start building it. So when I do start building, I already know what to do because I have imagined it, have been imagining it.
So coming here [to Emily Carr University], and being expected to create at a much faster pace was a difficult task. The wood from that unresolved project is still at my house, I plan to reassemble it in the future, but it let me know that in order to produce a graduation piece, I couldn’t just start from scratch.
I was working with storytelling and narrative for my thesis, and I knew I wanted to create a story – an imaginary myth, and I went through my past work and created a story that revolved around three works that were unresolved. These three pieces were based on different stories I had heard, and I had sketched them out, but they hadn’t gone anywhere until that point.

The three stories became three characters and as I kept writing, they started to feed back into the development of the artwork. The pieces shaped the artwork, but the artwork also shaped the pieces, to the point that triptych became so much more that I had originally imagined. At the graduation show, the work caught the attention of a curator who wanted me to show it at a gallery in Toronto, but I would have to find a way to tell the story along with the pieces.
At that point the story was far too long to have it as part of the artist’s statement, so I put my writing on my blog and created a QR code that would accompany the work, and people with a smart phone would be able to access the story. Not only was that a trigger to engage people with my work, but it also played with the concept of privileged knowledge, with some people being able to have the story, and others going without. The interpretation of the work would be different for those with access as opposed to those without.

CGI: How do you integrate storytelling, and the sharing of information, into your work?

LP: Because I was trained by a Master Carver who mostly does work related to traditional stories and myths, everything I do is based on a story.

CGI: A well-designed system as one in which feedback is given to the user to help them improve their performance, it tells people "when they are doing well, and when they are making mistakes."
As an artist, what role does feedback play in the planning of your projects? How do you let the viewer know they are correct in their interpretation of your work?

LP: I am thinking about this more in terms of criticism – it goes back to the fact that I take so long to imagine and construct a piece that once it is realized, my intentions are out there, and I can’t control how people interpret the work, but I can inform them.

I feel that with Native Art, people always expect you to tell them exactly what they are looking at, and the quickest answer, is to tell them exactly what they are looking at if you want that control over interpretation. I don’t like to do this, I like people to look at my work and imagine what they think it is, but what it comes down to sometimes is that people are scared to get it wrong, they don’t want to offend me, and so they are scared to imagine or interpret.

end part one.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Carved Sequential Art

"There is a story I know. It's about the earth and how it floats in space on the back of a turtle. I've heard this story many times, and each time someone tells the story, it changes. Sometimes the change is simply in the voice of the storyteller. Sometimes the change is in the details... But in all the tellings of all the tellers, the world never leaves the turtle's back. And the turtle never swims away." (Thomas King)

PowersWood Carved Sequential Art is the working title of a project I just got the go ahead on. I’ve already done a lot of research but I still need to do some preliminary sketches and choose or write an original narrative.

This project is 12 panels of painted and carved sequential art.

Each panel will be approximately 15”/15”/2”, the exact dimensions will depend on the availability of materials. I have chosen the wood to be two inches thick because I want the panels to have as much sculpture as possible. I am hoping to use yellow cedar but red cedar is probably the wood I will have to use as yellow cedar is rare and hard to get.

I am going to use a rigid panel and page layout, creating symmetry between the first half of the art work mirroring the second half. The creators of the Watchmen experimented with the layout of the graphic novel. Dave Gibbons, the visual artist on the project, drew issue five, titled "Fearful Symmetry", so the first page mirrors the last (in terms of panel disposition), with the following pages mirroring each other before the center-spread is symmetrical in layout. The panel and page set up is similar to a Northwest coast box design or split design where the composition is symmetrical.

WatchmenFearfulSymmetry

It is an interesting experiment in storytelling as I will not have the narrative completely drive the panel composition, the story will have to be written and then tweaked to fit the symmetry of the pages.

The question I asked myself is why is this project important? It is important because of the history of Northwest Coast art. In the 1960s Bill Reid, Bill Holm and others laid the ground work for the “renaissance” of Northwest coast art. That lead to perception of “traditional” artwork as artwork done in the 17th and 18th century, before colonial influence, completely discounting art done in the late 19th and early 20th century by Aboriginal artists. These artists were pushing the art form 100 years ago but their work is almost forgotten because it didn’t fit into the paradigm of cultural rebirth. I believe we are in a time now where Aboriginal artists are again pushing the boundaries of Northwest coast art. My project may seem outside of the criteria of the Traditional Art but, I don’t believe it is. I believe I am simply an Aboriginal storyteller who has his basis in tradition, but tells tales influenced by contemporary culture.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Magic Flute: Act one

I was referred by Brenda Crabtree to an exhibition curated by Rosemarie Spahan. The exhibition will run in conjunction with the Vancouver Opera’s rendition of The Magic Flute written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Rosemarie invited a few artists to watch, on DVD, a previous version of the opera done by the company. It had a heavy Aboriginal Aesthetic but apparently remained true to the original text. We were asked to create an artwork based on the Opera.

I originally intended to do a carving, but when I began workshopping ideas, I imagined colours.  I decided to create a triptych painted on wooden panels; each panel is 16”/16”.

magicflute01edit

This first panel is a representation of Sarastro as a Sun mask, the design around his head is his servant Monostatos. The reason I made Monostatos look like a rat is because of the rendition I viewed by the Vancouver Opera.

magicflute02edit

The second panel represents Tamino and Papageno; I saw them as on a similar journey or even two sides of the same coin.  They are both heroic and foolish in their own ways, this is why I made them a two headed figure.  Above their left hand is Papageno’s magic bells and above their right is Tomino’s magic flute.

magicflute03edit

The final panel in the triptych represents the queen of the night and her three lady helpers. The aesthetics of the queen is related to the Vancouver Opera’s previous version, though the Chilkat was my own choice.

This was a fun project to work on and it was my last project done at the ECUAD Mitchell Press Graduate Studios.  I’m going to miss working up there but I feel it was time to move on.

mitchell Press Mitchell Press Graduate Studios

Sunday, July 15, 2012

State of Grace

Prologue

He is a force of nature. Part human and part spirit, he has a foot in each world but he belongs to neither.

His mother was a human woman and his dad was the mighty Raven. At least that’s what his mother used to tell him. Every year on his birthday she would say “your father was no human man; on the day you were born he flew away.” And then she would show him the feathers, “he gave me sixteen feathers and told me to give you one on the day of your birthday till you turned sixteen.”

When he was nine he told his friends he was the son of the Raven. The next day when he walked into class his friends stood apart from him, from the other side of the room they stared at him, he stared back and said, “what?” His best friend spoke up,

“You’re a liar”

“No I’m not”

“My dad said your dad isn’t the Raven and that you’re lying”

“My dad is the Raven”

“No he’s not, your dad was a drunk and on the day you were born he got loaded and went down to the tracks and kissed a train”

It was a painful memory, he never mentioned who his father was to anyone again, nor did he believe his mother. For the next seven years on his birthday she would tell him the same story and give him a feather. On his sixteenth when she was about to give him the last of the feathers he said to her,

“So what now?”

She gave him the last feather and twenty dollars and whispered to him,

“I don’t know”.

He left his house and laughed, “Is this all I am” he thought. In his left hand he held sixteen feathers, in his right twenty dollars. He tucked away the feathers and replaced his twenty dollars with a pack of smokes and a bottle of whiskey.

Sitting in the middle of the tracks, smoking cigarettes, and drinking whiskey, he waited for the one a.m. freight from the pulp mill. At twelve fifty six he felt the ground start to shake, “its early” he thought and stood up.

Holding eight feathers in one hand and eight in the other he opened his eyes and stared at the train barreling towards him. A second before impact the light from the train nearly blinded him and he shut his eyes tightly.

When he opened them he was standing on the tracks and the train was barreling through him.

He is no longer a child, he is a man, he is a transforming man and he has his feet in many worlds but he belongs to none.

His arms become wings and he flies away.

Savior

She screams in pain as she pushes them out of her womb, two infants joined at the torso, the doctor gently holds them in her hands. The male twin cries the female twin does not, looking at the doctor the mother says, “Are they O.K.?”

“They’re twins”. So small and delicate and covered in birthing fluids they are beautiful.

“They’re conjoined twins” the doctor says, the mother leans forward to look and them and they both rear their heads to look back at her.

Moments later their small delicate little hearts stop beating.

Their little body is buried in a family grave and the mother grieves.

But the universe is sometimes unjust and their spirits remained in the hospital, their immortal souls tied together. At first they did not have the capacity to understand what they were but as the years passed they could see the world change around them. The real world comes and goes and spirits arrive and quickly move on but there they remained, until he found them.

The transforming man stood above them, like a light in the dark.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to find you”

He picked them up and held them in his hands.

“I’m going to take you home; I know you’ve never been there before but it is where you belong.”

It’s a strange thing to see a grown man kneeling on the floor of a hospital cradling nothing and talking to thin air, but most people can’t see the world around them. Of course to the twins he didn’t look like a man, they’ve seen men. He was part bird and part man and he cradled them in his wings.

The years of being alone on the hospital floor had made the twins bitter, they had seen other spirits ascend and never had they, so they did not believe the transforming man.

“It’s time to go” he said as he dropped them to the floor, spread his wings and grabbed them by the hair with his clawed feet.

“This won’t take long cherished ones” he said to them. His mighty wings flapped and the three began their journey to one of many heavenly worlds.

As they entered the void the male twin looked up at the transforming man and said,

“You’re a liar”

It was less than a second, less than a moment, but in that sliver of time the transforming man felt all too human. Taken aback by his deeply buried childhood pain he released his grip, but for a second, and the twins were lost.

The fall of man

The twins fall, their life in a state of purgatory which some say is a fate worse than death. They live on the edge of so many worlds with their feet in none. They can feel so many spirits around them, traveling like bolts of lightning from one world to the next. The male twin is enraged, he is starving and just beyond his fingertips is the sustenance he needs to survive. His sister who has only love for her brother feels his pain and weeps not for herself but for him.

She knows he needs strength to find his way home so she decides to allow her brother to absorb her spirit into his.

He doesn’t hesitate, he feeds on his sisters’ spirit and grows strong, strong enough to catch a bolt of lightning.

Still he falls but now alone his appetite becomes insatiable.

He becomes still, forcing himself into a near comatose state, with his eyes wide open he waits for time to slow and the spirits that once traveled past him like bolts of lightning now travel like the smoke from a cigarette. He reaches out and grabs one, it is old and frail, and with the veracity of a starving wolf he consumes it.

He has become a cannibal, he no longer wants to ascend to a higher plane, he only wants to fill his belly with the spirits of men and fauna.

His sister who sacrificed herself to save her brother stands beside him; she is unable to stop him and can only look on in horror.

She is no longer a character in this play she is now only a witness.

Punishment of the Grave

In this great and vast universe there is a balance, spirits travel between worlds never filling one world with so many spirits that it becomes unlivable or taking away so many that it becomes lonely. When a spirit leaves one world it is expected in the next and when those spirits start to disappear it creates an imbalance.

Charged to find the imbalance in the universe is the transforming man. Finding a needle in a haystack would be easy compared to finding an anomaly in an unending universe. He searches for years, guilt ridden because of what happened to the twins he has not lived as a man since. It was quite by chance that while riding a blue, green and yellow bolt of lightning, to a world without the colour red, he feels a hand grab him by the throat.

“You!” he screams as he looks to see who had grabbed him.

“Yes me, Savior”, says the male twin who has become a horror, deformed by his greed.

“So what now Savior, you punish me?”

“No, my father will” and with that a raven appears. The male twin looks into the Ravens eyes and confesses, “I took the gift my sister gave me and created an imbalance in the universe.”

From deep down in his gut a lump appears and the Raven begins to choke, convulsing and shaking until finally he expels a small wooden box from his mouth. The Raven motions to the box and then to the male twin, but before the male twin can move the transforming man speaks up,

“Wait, it was my weakness that allowed him to fall into darkness. I will pay penance for any sins committed by him.”

And finally the Raven speaks, “but you are my son.”

“I know father.”

On a small island forgotten by the world there is a tree, and in that tree is a box. That box is the final resting place of the transforming man, but no longer transforming he is just a man, condemned to eternity in a state of neither life nor death.

But he is not alone; on either side of the box are two spirits, one male and one female.

They have made a vow to never leave their Savior.

The Raven, saddened by the events of this story, transforms himself and spends a hundred years traveling as a leaf on the north wind.

 

Story: Luke Parnell 2012

Image: Fall of Man, by Luke Parnell 2012