R.I.P. Big Blue Box

Say goodbye.

Say goodbye.

I remember visiting the Rhode Island School of Design when I applied to graduate school there (may they forever rue their shortsightedness).  The Chairman of the Fine Arts program said that they taught their students to fail, and try again, and fail, and try again.  And Milton Glaser, famous graphic designer and founder of my school, SVA, has said, “You must embrace failure. You must admit what is. You must find out what you’re capable of doing, and what you’re not capable of doing.”  I would add to this that sometimes the failure is in the idea, not the execution.  Each failure teaches us something, so that if we continue to take risks, we fail up.

Airless unworkable studio.  Can't breathe!

Airless unworkable studio. Can’t breathe!

Hence the end of the big blue box.  I got it to work, my concept was sound, I could imagine the stack of ever-smaller boxes reaching to the ceiling.  But then I realized that I was avoiding my studio.  I couldn’t make work.  That damn blue box was sucking all the air out of my space.   Aaah.  Space.  That was the problem.  That studio wasn’t big enough for the both of us.  And it wasn’t fun anymore.  It was a chore.  Art made without passion cannot communicate passion to the viewer.  Even giant origami.

Rachel and Nadia ignore the elephant in the room while I destroy it.

Rachel and Nadia ignore the elephant in the room while I destroy it.

I tentatively approached my friend Rachel, who had toiled so hard with me to make the enormous albatross, and told her I was thinking of getting rid of it.  She laughed and said she had wondered how long it would take me to figure out that it had to go.  She generously helped me lift the lid, fold it carefully and take it to HER studio.   She will no doubt find something incredibly meaningful to do with it.  Then I cut all the supports out of the bottom of the box and crumpled the 225 square feet of heavy ocean-blue paper into the world’s largest paperweight.  It now sits in an empty studio around the corner.  One of my classmates will want it.  There is very little waste in communal studio space.

Free to good home.

Free to good home.

I feel much lighter now, and ready to go back to work.  How about some teeny-tiny origami?

Big Blue Box, Part 2

Big Blue Box Bottom with no will to live

Big Blue Box Bottom with no will to live

When we last left our big blue box, it had slumped over like a murder victim on a park bench.  It was crushed and so was I.

But hope springs eternal in the human breast (thank you Alexander Pope) and the minute I stopped thinking about how to solve my problem, the answer came to me.  I built an infrastructure for the box, using foam-core and mat boards, and then folded the beautiful ocean-blue paper around the cardboard playpen.  No tape required – I had already cheated enough.

Reinforcing the base

Reinforcing the base

Yay!  Box standing up!  My invaluable friend Rachel helped me move it into my studio after I cleaned and swept and pushed everything to the side, leaving enough free room only for the box and two admirers to enter the space at a time.

Yay!  Box standing up

Yay! Box standing up!

Then we made the lid – which is exactly the same process as making the bottom, except the folds are made slightly further from the center point so that the ensuing box (which turns over to become lid) has dimensions just a little bigger than the base.  We were so much better at doing this the second time that I really feel we should hire ourselves out as a gigantic origami team.  Surely demand is peaking right now!

Rachel after the big move into the studio

Rachel after the big move into the studio

Carefully carrying our lid to my studio, we placed it over our now sturdy base and then stood back to watch what disaster would befall us next.  Hold our breath… don’t move… and nothing happened.  That was the best nothing I had seen in a long time.  The lid sat firmly on the reinforced side panels of our big blue box.  Perfect.  Long periods of appreciating our handiwork ensued.

Big Blue Box complete!

Big Blue Box complete!

So you’re thinking: okay, great job, amazing artists.  But don’t forget that this is just the first box of a stack that is intended to reach the ceiling.  Total of 8 or 10 or 12 – just high enough not to hit the duct work that we ARE ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN to touch.  The next box is supposed to be about 4 feet across.  That means a piece of paper 12 feet square for the base and another for the lid.  The piecing and creasing continue.

A 2-inch box.  No construction issues here!  Could this be our pinnacle?

A 2-inch box. No construction issues here! Could this be our pinnacle?

And will we need to reinforce our next creation?  Or will that extra weight crush the fragile base box?  Will the blue lid we just installed sag under the weight?  If we were engineers we would know that in advance.  After all, engineers don’t build bridges and then wait to see if cars will fall through them.  But we are not engineers, we are dreamers.

Stay tuned!

Color AND Line

Wolf Kahn July in Vermong

Wolf Kahn
July in Vermont

I get excited when I see art made by skilled hands instead of assistants and technicians. And I especially get excited by the able use of color and line.  After all, I spent years as an undergraduate trying to master these tools.  On Saturday I was again touring galleries with a friend and was happy to see that Chelsea was full of paintings.  I love paintings – that’s why I make them.

Wolf Kahn Blue Red Green

Wolf Kahn
Blue Red Green

Our first stop was Wolf Kahn’s show at Ameringer/McEnery/Yohe Gallery (www.amy-nyc.com).  Mr. Kahn is now 85 and receiving the respect he has always deserved but not always received.  His brave and idiosyncratic use of color pushes the limits of what we can see and like, and this new work shows that he is still evolving as an artist.   Scribbling with oil crayon on top of oil paint – I love that! – and paintings full of complimentary colors: violet with yellow, blue with orange, and red with green.  But he goes further and makes the red into magenta and the green into lime, until the colors are vibrating on the canvas.  It’s like spicy food for your eyes.  Spicy food releases endorphins in your brain and makes you feel better.  I don’t think anyone will dismiss him anymore.

Wolf Kahn All Gray Trees

Wolf Kahn
All Gray Trees

Zak Smith Samuel Beckett

Zak Smith
Samuel Beckett

My other favorite among the artists we viewed was Zak Smith, showing at Fredericks & Freiser (www.fredericksfreisergallery.com).  His drawings are amazing.  And the gallery assistant, Molly, was kind enough not to stop me when I stuck my nose right up to them to look at the lines and marks which made up his graphic-novel style works.  According to Molly, the show was a huge success and had almost sold out.  Congratulations Zak Smith.  I didn’t know anything was selling these days.  I could try to describe his work further, but really, wouldn’t you rather look at the pictures?

Zak Smith Girls in the Naked Girl Business: Ulorin Vex (detail)

Zak Smith
Girls in the Naked Girl Business: Ulorin Vex

Zak Smith Izzy and Mandy in Their Wheelchairs

Zak Smith
Izzy and Mandy in Their Wheelchairs

Big Blue Box, Part 1

After one of our Magical-Return-to-Childhood Craft Nights at school I got a little hooked on origami.  We were making paper cranes, which I continued to do on my own, even though I pretty much suck at them.   I also learned to make little lidded boxes.  Adorable!  And if you make them in descending sizes, they stack like ziggurat temples.  Even more adorable!

Origami (which I made for Rachel) behaving as it should

Origami behaving as it should

And then I got the idea, which because it is summer vacation no one discouraged me from pursuing, of making stacking origami boxes bigger.  Much much bigger.  How cool would that be? I wondered.  I did a little math on my $5 Staples calculator (do not tell me my phone has a calculator.  I know this.  I prefer the bigger buttons).  If I wanted to make an origami box that was six feet across, I would need to start with paper about eighteen feet square.  Okay.  That sounded pretty doable.

Where were the critical voices then?  Where were the professors telling me that it was a stupid idea?  That it was meaningless art?  That I am not Japanese and therefore cannot use origami to express myself and my culture?  Well, they were on summer vacation, too. And I was left with my studio mates who also thought it was a pretty cool idea.  Tunnel vision.  Groupthink!

Big Blue Box Bottom (in process)  (Photo by Wei Xiaoguang.)

Big Blue Box Bottom (in process) (Photo by Wei Xiaoguang.)

The biggest floor in our studios is in the crit space where we have our workshop classes.  I carved out a large empty area and swept up the dirt.  I ordered a roll of paper nine feet wide by 36 feet long.  It was the biggest paper I could find.  Then I measured the crit space, only to discover that it was 12 feet wide.  Did this discourage me?  No.  But I adjusted my project to start with a five-foot box, which would require paper only 15 feet square.  I know.  I know.  15 is still larger than 12.  I could have started with a four-foot box, which would have needed a sheet of paper 11.5 feet square, but NO.  That was not big enough for me.  I decided to go with the 15 x 15, which I already KNEW wouldn’t fit in my workspace.

As I STAND under the paper I have my first inklings of disaster.

As I STAND under the paper I have my first inklings of disaster.  (Photo by Wei Xiaoguang.)

My friend Rachel announced that I couldn’t possibly handle this project all by myself.  She was completely right and generously volunteered to help me wrangle paper.  It took all afternoon to make the box bottom, during which process the paper got crinkled and torn as we pieced it, taped parts of it to the wall, folded it back and forth, and had to check the directions on making boxes.  When it was finally folded perfectly, it looked gorgeous – WHILE WE HELD IT UP.


Success!  (Photo by Wei Xiaoguang.)

As soon as we let go, it completely collapsed: an ocean-blue origami soufflé.  Not sure what to do next, we dragged it through the hallways (more damage) and deposited it in an empty studio, as I tried to convince myself and Rachel that putting a lid on it was going to give it structure.  Neither of us believed me.

Big Blue Box Bottom shows its true colors

Big Blue Box Bottom shows its true colors

So much hard work.  Not sure what to do next.  Warning: a five-foot origami box does not behave like a five-inch origami box.  Just saying.


Buying time

Buying time

Coming soon: Big Blue Box Part 2.

Other People Are Artists, Too

I know I live in an art bubble.  Most of the time I’m thinking about art, or making art, or talking about art.  But lately I have lifted my head from the microscope, looked at the world around me, and realized why the word “arts” is plural.  There are SO many ways to create.

Terrence Mann as Charlemagne, and Matthew James Thomas as his son Pippin

Terrence Mann as Charlemagne, and Matthew James Thomas as his son Pippin

Like: the Dramatic Arts.  A couple of weeks ago I saw the current version of MacBeth that is playing on Broadway starring Alan Cumming.   He plays 95% of the parts himself, and it all takes place in an insane asylum.  It’s an amazing tour de force, frightening, mesmerizing, and often quite funny.  I also saw the new revival of Pippin, a musical that I loved (twice) as a teenager.  This is the first time the show has been reintroduced on Broadway, and if Terrence Mann weren’t reason enough to go (which he is) it is a wonderful production with dazzling dancing, singing, and circus acts.  Some people think the story is a little thin, but either I’m very shallow or they’re missing the real universal appeal and poignancy of Pippin’s search for his identity amid the spectacle and laughter. The story has stuck with me for decades, and I was not disappointed with the new iteration. (Tony Awards on t.v. tonight at 8.  Hope what I like wins!)

Alan Cumming as MacBeth

Alan Cumming as MacBeth…

and signing autographs after a performance

and signing autographs after a performance

The Musical Arts: my nephew Troy is enrolled at the Clive Davis School of Music at NYU, studying music production.  But he is also in a great band, Cheap Blue Yonder that you can often catch playing venues in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.  I love their song Picnic, and love that kids (young men!) whom I know can create such energy and pleasure out of thin air – and years of practice.  Listen to the song on their website: http://cheapblueyonder.bandcamp.com.

Cheap Blue Yonder

Cheap Blue Yonder

I think that’s what makes the arts so miraculous to me.  Humans create brand new experiences, objects, and spectacles with their brains and hands.  No one can make someone else’s art.  Each person, each artist, is unique.  What he makes carries a little piece of his soul, even if he’s reading from another artist’s script.  My day job is in finance.  And I certainly don’t mean to say that business, the sciences, or other fields are without creativity.  But I’m not sure that they create joy or reward it.

Arts and Crafts: Last week I went to my usual yarn store to get what I needed for my current project (hint: it’s orange, so you’ll recognize it when I wear it).  And for once I walked past the front doors of Lion Brand Yarn on West 15th Street and looked in their front window. The window display of an undersea kingdom is absolutely stunning.  I can’t imagine how long it must have taken for the Lion Brand employees to knit it and put it together.  If you look at their website or Google Images, you can see lots of their window displays.  What’s amazing is that they are created entirely from yarn.  But they are still art.


The window display from March 2012 at Lion Brand Yarn on 15th Street, west of Fifth

The window display from March 2012 at Lion Brand Yarn on 15th Street, west of Fifth

Yesterday I took a walking tour of the Flatiron District and Gramercy Park to look at the architecture and especially the gargoyles that decorate so many of the buildings.  Those are carved gargoyles, not cast.  They reminded me of the tradition of European Cathedral builders, taking centuries and generations of craftsmen to finish their work – just like St. John the Divine, here in Manhattan, which was started in 1892 and is still under construction.  They also reminded me of a wonderful drawing course I took as an undergraduate at Lyme Academy, in which I learned to draw gargoyles and lions’ heads and acanthus leaves and egg and dart moldings.  It was taught by the amazing Randy Melick.  Thanks to him I can do justice to the stone carvings which surround me here in Chelsea.

Thanks, Randy, for teaching me to draw

Thanks, Randy, for teaching me how to draw.

And with that, my head is back in the art cloud.

Am I a New Yorker Yet?

I now own four black skirts, four black tee shirts, three black sweaters, five pairs of black pants, seven pairs of black shoes, and two black messenger bags.  When I arrived a year ago I’m pretty sure I was wearing pink.


I do most of my furniture shopping on the sidewalk the night before trash collection.

Sidewalk Treasure

Sidewalk Treasure

Also much of my art supply shopping.

The last time I ate at a friend’s house, there were eight of us: two Americans, two from China, two Brazilians, one Argentinian, and one from Paris/Brazil/the Bronx.  Dinner conversation was in five languages, I only understand one and a half of them, and I had a great time.

If the subway doesn’t go there, I walk.

looking East from my roof

Looking East from my roof

My local convenient store is owned by a nice Pakistani man and his grown son.  There is a 7-Eleven two doors closer.  Why would I go there?  My hardware store is also family owned.  They scream at each other and I find that comforting.  I can barely squeeze through the aisles.  They must be violating 27 fire department codes.  I don’t care.  They have the best drain cleaner for $5.

I’ve realized that I don’t, in fact, live alone.  I live with family.  They’re called doormen.

My apartment is about 400 square feet.  I’m wondering if it’s not a little too big for me.

the view from my apartment

The view from my apartment

I’ve given up on Whole Foods and have embraced Trader Joe’s.  (Except for Diet Coke and peanut butter.  Then I’m off to Gristede’s.)

I think New Yorkers are really nice people – caring, eager for conversation and connection, and generally quite polite.