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The Muse's Storage Box

The Muse's Storage Box
Copyright Diane Lou.

Alchemical Dreams and Disparate Realities

Rust and bones, broken toys and old text, game boards, gears and nests. Even as a child such odd, unwanted items evoked a pit-of-the-stomach response that bordered on exhilaration.
While I make no attempt to conjure up specific feelings in the viewer, the ambiguous juxtapositioning of familiar materials creates art that evokes half-forgotten, dream-like visions that beg to be interpreted by the viewer. There is a sense of deja vu (the already seen) tempered by a sense of jamais vu ( the never seen, or the illusion that the familiar does not seem familiar), and this contradiction asks the viewer to dig deeply, to look inside her own repository of wisdom, intuition and experience to find her own meaning in the familiar objects she sees.
The once-private discards of people's material lives that I collect for my art seem to carry universal memories with them, memories that can engage and mystify the viewer. Their beauty lies within the rust, the erosion, the wear, and the mere fact that they were once possessions.
I play with abandon and with no forethought. Each piece of detritus seems to suggest to me a relationship with some other piece, and I begin to put them together and wait for the mental "buzz" that lets me know I am proceeding as I should. Even at this point, I continue to remain in the play state and will not allow myself to direct the outcome of the piece, a process that requires complete trust. The outcome often mystifies me as much as it might any viewer.
Remember when, as a child, whatever was in reach became the instrument of your creative exploration? That is my life. A rusty, flattened piece of metal on the street, a gnawed bone by the roadside, a unique twisted branch from a tree, a fallen nest, a broken egg, a snake's skin, a dead butterfly...all will be added to my collection and eventually have their beauty honored in one of my pieces. The resulting art creates a new story with its own imagined history, one that invites the viewers to lay some claim on it by allowing themselves to be enveloped by the sight, the history, and the ambiguity of the realities before them.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

More curious detail...

This is the last and lower left section of The Queen's Cabinet of Curiosities that I posted previously. The lower left section with the red hexagon contains a disassembled music box (with the wind-up key coming out the bottom), the top of an old nut grinder, part of Shakespeare's face and more. In the box to the right, there are parts of real vintage letters glued into a small shelved box.

Went to the opening of the Wild Woman show last night, and have had busy, fun weekend with grandson Jake (10). Our exercise ritual has consisted of running up and down the hill to the studio numerous times a day. Give a boy a studio full of art, tools and clay and he is never bored! Now we are waiting on tree cutters to come take down some trees that threaten to fall into inappropriate places.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Curious details...

Just back from a full day at the coast helping my daughter, but thought I'd at least post a couple detail pictures of the Queen's Cabinet of Curiosities, as promised (in case you were waiting breathlessly :).

Still hard to see, I see, but inside the black box with the glass door on it (if you look very closely), there is a mummified mouse, a true rarity in our damp climate. Look under the rusted butterfly wing to TRY to see him. All his skin remains completely intacted. In retrospect, it would have been fun to have wrapped him in some tea-dyed linen so he looked more like a mummy.

I really wish you could see this in person as there is so much that can't be relayed with these small pictures...all the bits of letters glued inside the tiny shelves, the headless angel with a dragon's tail, the woman looking out through the brass stencil apostrophe, the crackled eggs, the lead type spelling out "Curiouser and Curiouser" and melted candles. You get the idea though. It was definitely a fun piece to create.

If you are in this area, the opening of the Wild Woman show is Saturday night at River Gallery (see address above listed under Shows) 7-10 p.m.

(Details of Queen's Cabinet of Curiosities, copyright Diane Lou 2009)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cabinet of Curiosities

The Queen's Cabinet of Curiosities pictured above is currently at the Wild Woman show at River Gallery. It is a radical departure from my usual way of working with a single thought (and in size, it is much larger.... about 2 1/2' x 2 1/2'), but lots of fun to have so many little vignettes going on.

I had made a couple of the small boxes as individual items, but they really didn't seem complete so I took a piece of recycled plywood I had and start laying out a series of boxes on the plywood until I had a layout I liked, then I fastened them all down. I gradually worked in each box really as a separate piece, so was pleasantly surprised when the whole thing came together at the end. I love how my muse works!

The photo of such a large piece leaves most of the detail undiscovered, so I'll post a couple detail photos a day so you can get a closer look.
(Queen's Cabinet of Curiosities, copyright Diane Lou 2010.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

San Diego...or not

Yesterday as Nils and I sat eating breakfast at the hotel in Portland, awaiting a shuttle to the airport, we looked at each other and both realized we didn't really want to go. Our motivation to go was for sun and warmth and being able to be outdoors, but the weather in San Diego has been just about the worst ever this week...torrential rains, gale-force winds, mud slides, coastal flooding, even tornadoes. So, two hours before our flight, we cancelled out, and thanks to charging on American Express, we got a full refund.

So we headed home (with a brief stop at the Goodwill bins where I did find a few lovely goodies for my art), gratefully unpacked and headed to the studio, relieved that we didn't go all that way to suffer through miserable weather. Yes, it will be cloudy and rainy here, but that's OK. We both love the comforts of our wonderful home and surroundings, so there is no sacrifice involved in the choice.

Interestingly, as soon as I unpacked my goodies from the bins, several found a place to go. So often, it seems that a work of art is just waiting for a certain object to show up and complete the piece, or at least move it forward.

The piece pictured today is one that is now in the Wild Woman show, and which was finished the day before jurying. It is entitled Wings #2.

Wings, metal bits, old alphabetical folder tabs, bottom decorative wood piece and clock hand all from the bins, key hanger from Jennifer, background board from Marlene, (you can tell I spend lots of materials, right?). Wooden "box" piece was from an old treadle sewing machine cabinet....part of the framework that held the drawers. Below is a detail of the piece.

Days are getting noticeably longer, the leaves of flower buds reach higher each day, and soon it will be time to plant the early cool-weather crops in the garden again. Must get the seed order in to Renee's Garden! (Fantastic and fun seeds. Order online.)

(Wings #2, copyright 2010 by Diane Lou. Photo by Diane Lou)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Final Versions...

As promised, I am posting the final pictures of Number 4 and of Wings #1.  The last minute changes were rather small, but finished the pieces (at least in my mind!)

Here, a couple transparencies mounted on balsa wood now grace the two outer alcoves, and chains of various types, fastened together with milagros, drap across the piece. Sometimes I think it is now too busy. We'll see how it holds up as I look at it.

Number 4 changes are only removing the 4 hanging pieces from the wooden block at the bottom, and replacing them with a decorative metal piece, and adding the little resin-encased baby crab I mentioned before on top of the wooden block that is attached at the bottom of the piece.

In my next post, I'll start showing images of the 3 pieces that were just juried into the Wild Woman IX: Queen of Hearts show at River Gallery in Independence, OR.

I'll be teaching 3 classes at Art and Soul in Portland in October 2010. Check the Art and Soul website for details, workshops, and costs. Registration begins March 1, 2010. Hope to see you there!

Keep having fun!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wings..early stages

This is the not-quite-finished state of a piece called Wings.  I'll show the finished version soon.
The background piece is an old wooden cabinet door.  I chose it because I needed something substantial to fasten all my other pieces to securely.  As pieces have become broken in shipping, I am becoming increasingly conscientious about having them be very, very sturdy!

Anyway, to the cabinet door, I screwed down the 4-section piece you see there which is a stainless steel bread loaf pan, slightly dented, from the bins (again).  Inside of each of those is glued a reproduction of a photo I took in England (on one of my very few bits of foreign travel) at St. Anne's chapel in London.  You can't really tell from the photos, but those 4 sections are concave, curved inward, to accommodate the loaf of bread so they become nice little alcoves for the image.  The combo of the photo and the alcove sets a rather religious tone for the piece.

Along the sides, the white pieces came from (how can I describe this?...) the wooden framework that would hold the drawers on an old treadle sewing machine.  In other words, I bought old sewing machine drawers that were still within the framework that held them, then disassembled the framework.

An aside here...Most often I cannot figure out what to do with something until I disassemble it.  In complete form, I have a hard time looking at it for other than what it is, so usually step one when I get something is to take it apart if it has multiple parts  (or wait until grandson Jake, age 10, comes over.  He loves to disassemble!)

The wings on the bottom came from a toy, and they too are screwed firmly into the wood.  Hanging in the two center sections of the bread pan are two freely-revolving pieces of balsa wood, covered with transparency images of children and people. They hang from recycled chains and fishing swivels.   At the very bottom is an old rusty castor, and at the very top, 1/2 of a stool seat.  There are just a few more touches which I have since added to this piece which I'll show you in a day or so.

Had a great day today with friends Kate and, lunch, and Avatar in 3-D.  Tomorrow off to jury for the Wild Woman show.  No studio time today, but hopefully tomorrow.  Finished another piece I'll be showing you soon.

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Number 4 continued...

Here you see what started to come together yesterday.  Sorry for the flash glare on the transparency film.

What was added was at the bottom was the wooden block with wires around it (thanks, Deb), some moss-covered branches, a tiny red feather, the transparency (with the Chinese writing still showing through, which you can't see on this photo),  some bamboo edging the transparency (also from Marlene), and a tall bottle holding moss and eggs fastened to the side tied with tea-dyed cheesecloth.

Many items are fastened down with Golden gel medium, as well as screws, L brackets, wire and more permanent methods of attachment.  At one of my first shows, I found people were fascinated enough to want to touch and pull on things and realized that the objects needed to be fastened down very securely.  Also when shipping works for shows, strong attachments are essential to keep the piece intact while it is being bounced from one side of the country to another.  So I continue to rely on glues as little as possible, and when I do use them, they are gel medium, The Ultimate, or construction-grade adhesives from the hardware store.  For paper to paper, I often use Yes! glue.

The piece has a couple little changes since the photo.  In taking apart a decorative metal piece yesterday, I acquired a lovely piece that now dangles from the bottom, making it all seem more grand somehow.  Friend Jennifer (that's 4 friends' contributions to this piece) recently gave me a bag full of baby crabs that had been encased in a dome of clear resin.  One of those now sits on top of the wooden piece at the bottom from Deb.  It's complete.  Time to move on to another piece.  Off to the studio...

(Number 4, copyright 2010 by Diane Lou.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Number 4" in progress...

The beginning...

I thought it might be interesting for you to see how a work develops for me.   So today I will show you a bit of one work as it started, and then tomorrow, how it ended up.

The first photo above shows a wonderful black piece of very odd-shaped wood given to me by friend Kim.  I remember ooohhhing and aaahhing when I saw it, but it sat for nearly a year before I figured out what to do with it.    The dominoes were not on it but I had just decided to put them on (again using Golden gel medium).  The box above it has Oriental writing on the sides and that seemed in some way to go with the black.  Inside the box, I put a piece of old cardboard with Chinese characters written on it, and pulled out an old torn oval mat to try (both saved by pack rat friend Marlene who always saves the very best stuff for me) .

The second photo shows where things went next.  Part of the black wooden black piece was removable, and it came off the bottom (where the natural wood color shows) and moved to the top of the piece where it would eventually be fastened.  I screwed the box to the "L" brackets that were on top of the black piece to start tying the piece together.

Tomorrow you'll see the rest of the story and the finished piece!

I just found out I'll be teaching at Art and Soul again this October in Portland, OR.  They host events around the country, so visit their website: .

Off to the studio.  Have a fun weekend!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Buddha Getting Out of Dodge

This is a new piece that kept me puzzled for quite a while, but which I ended up really liking for its whimsy but also its which only revealed itself to me at the very end, as so often happens.

A couple key components, the wheeled undercarriage and the empty old box camera both came from a scavenging trip to the Goodwill "bins" (the end of the line where they throw everything that is either unfit to sell or did not sell in the regular Goodwills).  My "rusty" Buddha actually came from there also in the form of a whole string of Buddha lights, like Xmas lights.  He was actually a transparent turquoise-colored plastic originally, but I used a rusting patina finish to create the look you see here.  After gluing the camera to the undercarriage and gluing Buddha inside, the piece sat for quite some time (partly due to surgery, partly due to being unsure where the piece was going).  

After reading about hummingbird nests, I made my own just for fun (from lichens and forest detritus, glued together with spiderwebs)...and this too sat around for a while since I had no intent of putting it in this piece.  I tried other top pieces...knobs, gears, etc...and finally tried the nest with the egg inside and loved it. (Hint: For gluing weird things like this nest to the metal clock gear below it, I used a glob of Golden Matte Gel Medium.)

Shuffling through my work area, I came across a page from an old typing book (back before the days of "keyboarding" for you younger readers) and part of the exercise said "get out" (and now you see where this is going). I tore out the words "get out", rolled up the paper and tied a red thread around it.  You'll see this glued in front of Buddha.

This is the piece viewed from the back where you see a transparency of rather morose-looking young boys holding flags, a small bird perched on top, and a hornet's nest resting on the back of the carriage.  (Another hint: To preserve very fragile things like this hornet's nest, I again used Golden Matte gel medium but this time diluted down to the point that it was quite watery.  I then painted it over the hornet's nest and let dry.  It is now quite sturdy but still somewhat flexible.  Great for butterflies too.)

The piece is about 7" tall and maybe 10" long (I'm not in the studio at the moment to measure).
(Buddha Getting Out of Dodge, copyright Diane Lou 2010.  All Rights Reserved.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A New Year and new look...

Here at the Lou home and studio, the New Year is off to a hopeful start.  As my energy returned, I dug into the black hole that was my studio work area and vowed to make order of chaos.  I apologize for not having "before" pictures to compare with.  Use your imagination and think "black hole of chaos".  These are some of the "after" pictures.  

I have 4 large shelf units in my area which are now filled with (mostly) carefully labeled clear Rubbermaids.  Some may have 6 or 7 labels on them so I actually know ALL the different things that might reside within.  I have mostly resisted my urge to label a container as containing "miscellaneous".

As we go to the work area photos, you can see that my definition of "organized" can be taken very loosely.  What I discovered is that there seems to be a point of critical mass that makes it impossible for me to work.   Then as I start to clean and put away and organize, there is also a magic point at which I suddenly do feel able to work.  The good part is seeing some item and being able to put it away because there actually is a designated space for it.

My work wall too. As I work on a piece, I repeatedly move it from the work table to the wall.  It may hang there for days or weeks while I look at it (while working on other pieces) trying to see where it is going next.  When the wall is too full of works in progress or finished works, I don't have a creative thought in my head.  Remove some items from the wall, and voila!...  creativity re-enters the room.  

After I cleaned, Nils did his part, cleaning the tool bench and the pottery area, and since then, we have both been on a creative roll.  I think we've learned that at least a certain degree of orderliness and organization is good.  We are off to a positive start!

I took photos yesterday of a new piece that I finished entitled, "Buddha Getting Out of Dodge." I'll post those probably tomorrow, then some pictures of a work nearly completed, and another work in the early stages as I figure out where it is going.

May your New Year be the best!  Oh, and rejoice in the fact that tomorrow's daylight will be 1 minute and 44 seconds longer than yesterday.