This week I’ve been immersing myself in the paintings of Alex Beck, a Virginia-based artist whose work combines an old school painterly style with contemporary subjects and vintage mash-ups. I’m always intrigued by work that gives a nod to other techniques, as with Beck’s paintings that look like photographs, and paintings that look like collages of photographs. Plus, I’m a sucker for a bright pink/cool blue color scheme.
There’s a great quote by Bertolt Brecht that says that “Art is not a mirror held up to reality
but a hammer with which to shape it.” This idea has always really resonated with me in that what we create, no matter how small, is not only an expression of who we are, but also a vital part of making the world the way we want it to be. Whether painting or photography, or even a finger puppet!, the choices that an artist makes mean something because our work is inherently a message out to the rest of the world.
It’s always been important to me to create work that’s clever and fun, but given that art-making is also a opportunity to “shape the world,” I’ve also tried to feature puppet characters and people who were progressive or subversive in some way. Whether it’s a character we see take a journey no one would’ve expected at the start, one that breaks seemingly every stereotype, if I’m going to commemorate someone, it’s because I love it and I see real positive value in what that person represents.
In this spirit, I recently jumped at the chance to create a silent auction donation for Abortion Care Network‘s yearly meeting. ACN supports independent abortion providers around the country–a network that currently provides care for 2 out of 3 women in the U.S. who have abortions each year–and works to increase access and end stigma and harassment of abortion-seekers and caregivers.
Obviously this is an issue that’s been in the news in recent months, I was glad to have an opportunity to do something positive for this cause, and excited for the challenge of creating work that would appeal specifically to ACN’s members and donors. I decided that this event would be a great opportunity to celebrate some of my favorite feminist icons as puppets. It was no easy decision to narrow down the field, but I eventually chose four women: birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger (a no-brainer, given the cause), radical anti-racist and women’s right activist Angela Davis, scholar and writer bell hooks (watch this great recent clip of her and the divine Laverne Cox talking about feminism and reproductive rights), and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, my love for whom has been well-documented.
Custom projects like this are always exciting, and even more so when I have an opportunity to indulge my activist side more than usual. Here’s hoping the crowd at the ACN event agrees and the set raises some money for such a great cause!
Frida Kahlo is one of those historical figures that just about everyone likes. This mass appeal means that as she’s become mainstream, though, it’s easier to forget what a revolutionary she truly was. Like so many other cultural icons, Frida’s story has become sanitized over the years and it’s easy to forget the aspects that truly set her apart–a bisexual, Marxist, woman artist of color working in a time when any of those identities counted you out of the mainstream entirely. Even as big of a fan as I am, it was only last year that someone mentioned was an icon Frida is in the disability community. A survivor of polio and a catastrophic bus accident, it’s rarely mentioned the example she set in engaging so fully in life at a time when disability was not something to be talked about, let alone displayed in public. All these revolutionary aspects of her life get glossed over for the quirky but safe version of Frida we see so often.
It’s exactly Frida’s otherness, though, that draws people into her art and continues to make her story relevant. This revolutionary Frida is the spirit that’s captured in Todos Podem Ser Frida (All Can Be Frida), a photography series from Brazillian artist Camila Fontenele de Miranda. The project features gorgeous photos of people “being” Frida, complete with flowers, brows, and richly-detailed textiles. Featuring models of an array of genders, races, sexual identities, and ages, the series draws power from the revolutionary statement that being a person like Frida continues to be today. Via Bust
On Monday I had the opportunity to teach a puppet-making workshop at the Maker Lab at Harold Washington Library. That morning the news had broken that David Bowie passed away overnight, and it was clearly on everyone’s minds. I had intended on allowing participants to chose their own hero to commemorate as a puppet during the class, but someone suggested early on that the different Bowie eras people had been seeing on social media all morning would make the perfect subjects. So each person set out to select their favorite Bowie, from an eye-patched Ziggy Stardust, to the hairless The Man to Fell to Earth, Aladdin Sane’s iconic lightening bolt, and Labyrinth‘s flamboyant Jareth.
The class would have been fun regardless, but the special subjects turned it into a lovely tribute as well. Not to mention the amazing creations that came out of the event.
It’s tempting to think that science exists apart from the era it’s being conducted in. But like any other field, the times we live in are part of us, and sneak in to color even the most sterile and professional task. Case in point: these trippy moon maps created in the 60s and 70s. Look at this collection of images mapping the craters, highlands and plains of the lunar landscape, and tell me those wacky color combos aren’t reminiscent of a flower power muumuu.
Inspired by the Top Nine lists everyone’s been posting on Instagram this week, I decided to take a look back at some of my favorite moments from 2015. Instead of going on just people’s likes on the photos I posted (which, let’s be honest, tended to be an indicator of how well I hashtagged), I created a collage of the personal and professional moments that’ll stick with me most over the past twelve months.
- RBG: My new Ruth Bader Ginsburg puppet was by far my favorite design in years. I’ve already explored some of the many reasons why I love RGB, and it was lovely to know that she’s got plenty of other puppet-loving fans out there besides myself.
- Good/Bad: A twofer of possibly my best and worst parent moments of the year– The bad news: My kid got his front tooth knocked out at school. Dang. The good news: An epic Pee Wee Herman Halloween costume.
- The King: I love this custom Elvis puppet. It was about time I got to render that famous white suit in felt.
- Pride + Victory: This year, the Chicago Pride Parade fortuitiously fell the day after the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. To say that the event felt electric would be a bit of an understatement, and I’m so proud we could be there to witness that moment.
- Furiosa: My favorite custom puppet of the year– I got to create this Imperator Furiosa based on the badass character from the surprisingly good film, Mad Max: Fury Road. I shared a few months back about my process in getting her signature black make-up just right.
- New Views: Probably my biggest personal moment of the year, after a very long search and a lot of false starts and dead ends, this August I got a new job doing pretty much exactly what I dreamed of doing at pretty much exactly the kind of organization I wanted to work for. Oh, and this is the view from the building on Michigan Avenue. Not too shabby.
- Jean-Michel: Another fun custom order I completed this year was this Jean-Michel Basquiat. One of my favorite all-time artists, it was great to get the push to finally try out making him 4″ tall.
- Roadtrip: Our family vacation to Cape Cod this fall was an epic week of r + r, but the highlight of the trip (and one of my very highest highlights of the year) was the 30+ humpback whales we saw on our whale-watching excursion. It was pure magic to be in the presence of these incredible creatures, literally close enough to be eye to eye and get wet from their spray, and is an experience I’ll never forget.
- Furry Friends: This year we decided to volunteer as a foster home for the wonderful dog rescue One Tail at a Time. We hosted four lovely pups over the course of the year, the final one– Sprinks/now Murf– became a “foster fail” when we decided to make him a permanent addition to the family. How could we say no to that face!
There you have it–my 2015 in a nine-part nutshell! I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: thank you to you–my readers, customers, and friends–for coming along on this journey, reading what I have to say, and being interested in my finds. I hope 2015 was good to you, and wish for a brighter and kinder 2016 for us all.
Life is crazy at the moment, but I’m counting the days until holiday orders are out and presents are all purchased. If that ever happens, I’ve got big plans to actually decorate for Christmas, and make and cover the house with festive garlands. Till then (or just in case it never happens), I’m coveting these.