Architectural Equipoise at Schmidt Artist Lofts

Jul 28th, 2014

 

Schmidt Artist Lofts

My career as an artist started in two-dimensions. I have undergraduate and graduate degrees in painting/drawing, and my early installations were basically giant wall-based paintings or drawings, with very little dimensionality involved.  Although more recent works have departed from the wall, becoming much more sculptural, an allegiance to drawing and painting is still there–through the creation of shadows on the walls, the interplay between 2D and 3D, or simply the controlled backdrop that the wall provides. Still, it’s been a while since I created a work that really utilizes the wall in an intensive way.

Schmidt Artist Lofts

A recent opportunity at Schmidt Artist Lofts got me thinking about the wall again. The lofts are housed in the former Schmidt’s Brewery building in St. Paul. The building is an architectural marvel, a sort of industrial castle. I was immediately captivated by the architecture, and wanted to reference it specifically in the installation’s forms.

Schmidt Artist Lofts

The site I was given is prominent–a large wall behind the main desk in the entry of the building, the perfect place for a dramatic statement. However, the functionality of that space also necessitates that the work not be something that someone get tangled in while attempting to walk to the offices. And the work is permanent, so needed to be durable and easy to clean.

The more I studied the space, the more I became excited about a wall-based work with some degree of dimensionality. The painting portion of the project was really important, not only creating a background color and structure, but also creating elements of pattern and texture. And let me tell you, I am fierce with a paint sprayer. Now that I own one…watch out! The spraying allowed me to create some atmospheric effects with the paint, as well as to play with a kind of poor stenciling technique that I’ve been practicing on a smaller scale for months.

Liz Miller Schmidt Artist Lofts

Liz Miller Schmidt Artist Lofts

Liz Miller Schmidt Artist Lofts

Materials also shifted slightly for this work. To ensure durability against UV rays, dust, and general wear, I utilized high quality marine fabrics that actually function much like a cross between a plastic and a textile.

Liz Miller Schmidt Artist Lofts

The finished work, Architectural Equipoise, has a strong sense of symmetry and precision, along with some of the organic movement I’ve come to strive for in my work. The slight undulations in the material are what (for me) gives the finished installation a sense of energy.

Architectural Equipoise Liz Miller

In many ways, this project provided a nice lead-in to a large-scale permanent work that I’ll be installing at the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota late this fall. I am really excited to have the opportunities to create these permanent projects–something I’ve been wanting to do for some time!

Happy summer, and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

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From Denver to Duluth: How I Conquered the West and Ran a Half Marathon

Jun 25th, 2014

I spent the first month of summer in my backyard in southern Minnesota. Sounds dreamy, right? Well, maybe not quite as dreamy when I add that I was spray painting hundreds of pieces of paper! Some months earlier, I’d been invited to be part of an exhibition called Paper Work. Everything about the exhibition was enticing: The location (Denver!), the gallery (the lovely Center for Visual Art at Metropolitan State University of Denver !), and the other artists, who are amazing: (Anne Hallam ! , Jennifer Ghormley !, Bovey Lee ! , Diane Martonis !, Dawn McFadden !, Mia Pearlman !, Susan Porteous !). There was just one catch: In order to effectively participate in this exhibition, it seemed that I would have to complete an installation entirely from paper. Minor detail.

Honestly, up until recently, I’ve always kind of frowned upon the idea of using paper for my site-specific works. Sure, it’s readily available. Sure, it’s recyclable. But wouldn’t my work lose some of its tactile edge? Would it not be less sturdy, less strong, even less assertive? Having now completed my first work entirely comprised of paper, I can say that the answer to all of these things is, in some measure, yes. In order to work with paper, I had to let go of some of the qualities I’ve valued in previous projects. But I think that I was able to more than make up for the qualities lost with new, positive attributes.

Splendiferous Jungle Warfare

The work I created for the exhibition, Splendiferous Jungle Warfare, splices sources in a way that is freer and less inhibited than in previous projects. Weapon imagery still figures into this installation. But so does fashion. And home decor. And the topography of the jungle. My work has always been fiction, based in part on fact. But in this work, I was a little freer with the fiction…and the spray paint! No longer limited to a set palette of craft felt, I found myself interested in pattern combinations that would prove both beautiful and edgy. I created intense symmetry…and then challenged the symmetry in subtle ways. I created harmonious color…and then threw a wrench in it with several color combos that are gag-worthy close-up.

Splendiferous Jungle Warfare

Splendiferous Jungle Warfare

My favorite thing about this work is that I can’t explain it entirely. It is ahead of me. I think, as artists, we are always trying to control the outcome. But often, the best outcome is when the work leads you somewhere new. It’s as though all the things I do and see and absorb that have seemed meaningless finally found a place in this new work. I couldn’t be happier about it.

Splendiferous Jungle Warfare

Splendiferous Jungle Warfare

This Denver experience, like my previous one, was awesome. I haven’t been to Denver since 2012, when I had a solo exhibition at David B. Smith Gallery. The Paper Work exhibition features some smaller works on paper from my earlier David B. Smith exhibition. It felt like a wonderful way to connect the exhibitions, and also a way to mark the change that has occurred in my work from then until now. Some things, though, never change. It took me ten seconds to find my way back to Rockmount Ranch Wear, where I had purchased celeste green boots in 2012. This time, I bought some beautiful red boots. Say…isn’t it time for me to return to Denver already?! It seems that Denver has been very good to me :)

Rockmount Ranch Wear

Cowboy Boots

My project would not have been possible without the incredible staff at CVA-Metropolitan State University of Denver. A very special thank you to Curator and Creative Director Cecily Cullen and Gallery Manager Stacy Sturdy, along with the many other employees, interns, and volunteers that assisted me during my stay. Likewise, a huge thank you to David B. Smith and David B. Smith Gallery, who lent work for the exhibition, and who first introduced my work to the Denver community. And last but not least, a shout out to my Minnesota friend Sarah Rapp, who volunteered her time to help me iron paper during her Colorado vacation.

Flying home from Denver was bittersweet. I was ready to sleep for a week. But…wait for it: I had more work to do: The next morning my husband and I ran the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in Duluth, MN. In my younger days, I was reasonably speedy. This time around, I was just thrilled to finish. But let it be known: Our time was over a minute faster than the average! I’ve had several people comment recently that athletics and art don’t mix. I think the contrary is true. Anyone who has done large-scale, site-specific installations will have no trouble understanding how it’s not that different from running a marathon!

Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon

Next up: A big permanent project at Schmidt Artist Lofts in St. Paul. To be installed by July 14th! When I’m not sleeping, I’ll be in the studio! Thanks for reading everyone. Happy summer!

 

 

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What I’ve Been Up to for the Past Six Months, Part 5: Hydro-Anthem

Dec 9th, 2013

 

The finished work on a beautiful, sunny day!

The finished work on a beautiful, sunny day!

I didn’t want to blog about this project before sending out my Kickstarter rewards…because, as I’ll discuss, the people who surrounded me with love and support are really the ones that made this project happen. Honestly, I also just needed some time. There was some negativity that followed this project (some of you well remember this from my Facebook posts). I wanted to let go of that. Was it a perfect project? No. Did I feel like I could control the outcome? Not exactly. And, as most of you who know me well will attest to…I’m a pretty positive, gung-ho person. I am also a perfectionist. Or a control freak. So it was really draining to have so many obstacles that I felt were out of my control.

Hydro-Anthem in-progress

Hydro-Anthem in-progress

That said, I feel so proud of the project on so many levels…and I feel like I’ve really not been able to express what I liked about the project, and what I thought was successful. So I really want to focus on what went right here instead of what didn’t. At least, for the most part.

The beginning: Developing the work in my studio

The beginning: Developing the work in my studio

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On-site and ready to roll

It was a gargantuan effort, not only on my part, but on the part of the many people who showed their support by backing the project and volunteering their time and effort to dangle off the side of a high-in-the-air bridge in not-so-warm weather (yes, I mean you Michael Peoples and David and Sarah Johnson!!!). Equally important were the many, many, many people who cheered me on from afar. Without you, I couldn’t have done it. When some project support systems wavered, and when it seemed like no one was there to help out…my bold, brave crew of backers and volunteers stepped in to make it happen. I am eternally grateful.

The view from the boom lift as the work unfolds

The view from the boom lift as the work unfolds

I also want to give an enormous thank you and shout out to Forecast Public Art. I received a McKnight Professional Development Grant from Forecast that allowed me to experiment with new materials and processes, which ended up facilitating much of this new work.

One of the many spectacular views of the city from the boom lift.

One of the many spectacular views of the city from the boom lift.

Let me be clear: Even without the bumps in the road, this was an ambitious undertaking. My first outdoor public project, and a huge one at that: Over 400 linear ft. of bridge, 25 ft. high, in the heart of Grand Rapids, MI, on display for all the world to see during ArtPrize…with no dedicated budget, and no crew of volunteers. If I’d been sane, I’d have just said no. But since I’m clearly insane…or stupid…I signed on for this roller coaster ride.

Hydro Anthem

When I first saw the project site, I knew several things. Foremost, I knew that I wanted to do something that would change the way the viewer felt as they walked across the bridge. I wanted the viewer to be inside of the work as opposed to looking at it. Similarly, I wanted to create forms that referenced the physical architecture of the bridge as well as the history of the river.

Hydro-Anthem 03

The Blue Bridge, in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, is an iconic pedestrian bridge. The vibrant blue color of the rectilinear structure is visible from many vantages throughout the downtown. I opted to utilize bold oranges, reds, and yellows to contrast the color of the bridge, and to focus on open, curvilinear forms that echoed some of the bridge’s structural elements while contrasting them with circular forms. The shapes I researched for the work referenced hydro-electric power, steamboat travel, and invasive species.

Images like this one influenced the forms that comprised the installation

Images like this one influenced the forms that comprised the installation

Hydro-Anthem 05

 

With wind, sunlight, and public interaction playing large parts in the work, I needed to find materials that would be durable…but also affordable, particularly since the duration of the work was only three weeks. I settled on a heavy-duty marine-grade nylon. I liked the fact that it had nice movement in the wind, was UV and tear resistant, and had a beautiful translucency.

Hydro-Anthem 02

In my studio, I experimented with various relationships between the shapes, considering their movement in the wind. I wanted the shapes to change dramatically when the wind caught them. And I was thrilled with how this worked–it was as though the shapes came to life as the wind caught their edges.

The biggest reward for me was hearing the public’s reaction–seeing them move through the work, comment on how it changed their daily walk to work, or how they had driven by it from various angles, or how they had made a special trip just to see it one last time. During the install, I soared above the city…and the water!…on a giant boom lift. It was a vantage point that I’ll likely never have again.

Seeing the hundreds of photos of the work on Instagram, taken by other people, was also its own reward. I loved seeing it in various weather, at various times of the day, with different crowds of people.

The durability of the work did not meet my expectations…but I could have predicted this.. The permitting process barely happened at all, and only after I’d made considerable concessions in terms of how the work was attached, and what it was attached to. By the end of its run at ArtPrize, it showed signs of fatigue. If I am fortunate enough to revisit a similar project in a different setting, I hope that I have the confidence…and budget…to be a bit more emphatic about my own rules!

The great thing is that this project has helped give me a foundation of knowledge for new explorations in the coming year. I can’t talk publicly about these public projects yet…but I can tell you that they are not on an outdoor bridge!

Some of the many rewards I'm sending to thank everyone for their financial contributions, time and effort, and moral support.

Some of the many rewards I’m sending to thank everyone for their financial contributions, time and effort, and moral support.

Thanks for reading everyone! And again, many, many thanks for all the support and encouragement throughout this process. You are the best!

 

 

 

 

 

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