New York – Tara Donovan and Hiroshi Sugimoto

Continuing to explore the New York galleries, I headed to Chelsea with my old Icelandic comrade and superb photographer Mark Hartman.

Icelandic comrades re-united on a Vespa

Icelandic comrades re-united on a Vespa

By far the best work was at Pace Gallery. Two outstanding exhibitions by two of my all time favorite artists – Tara Donovan and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Both end on June 28th so get going!!!

Tara Donovan

Tara Donovan

This amazing geological work is composed of millions of of white index cards stacked on top of each other in sedimentary layers. The structures remind me of those dribble sand mounds you make at the beach. The textures when you get up close belie the scale and I found myself imagining scaling the cliffs of paper.

Getting lost in the detail

Getting lost in the detail

The detail reminds me of my friend Stephen Hilyard’s seductive Rapture of the Deep  photo series created from images of diving in the crystal waters of Iceland.

Dougal, Leysin 1977 from Stephen Hilyard's Rapture of the Deep series

Dougal, Leysin 1977

Going deeper.

Going deeper.

In the adjacent gallery was another of her hard to define, but oh so evocative large sculptures made from thousands of narrow square section rods of acrylic.

Tara Donovan Untitled

Tara Donovan



As if that wasn’t delicious enough, in the adjacent gallery space was a huge showing of part of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s ongoing series of diorama photographs.They were presented beautifully. Huge black and white prints with immensely rich tonal range and detail,  mounted in fat black frames but with no glass, so there was nothing between you and the surface of the print – an open window onto an illusory landscape. They were all mounted high on the wall so that the I felt dwarved by the works. Almost as if I was a kid again peering over the lip of the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History (in Sydney, New York, San Francisco,Oslo, etc.). I’ve always loved dioramas and I feel already that they are going to be an important part of this trip – deja vu in hindsight – if there is such a thing.

Sugimoto in the woods

Sugimoto in the woods – c. 10 ft long!


Detail – luscious warm tones

Sugimoto on ice

Sugimoto on ice

Lone gull on the otherwise empty diorama.

Lone gull on the otherwise empty diorama.

Sugimoto and the Isbjørn

Sugimoto and the Isbjørn

A preview of travels and dioramas to come! Next stop Oslo……

Unfortunately, I won’t have internet access again until the end of June.

So stay tuned…..

New York – Kara E. Walker’s marvelous sugar baby

I guess I will have to rave about Kara Walker’s works at the Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn – everyone else has. And justifiably so!

It’s very impressive, a pleasure to experience and, perhaps most importantly, a huge event drawing constant crowds of all sorts of people. I always wish art events would draw the sort of crowds that a baseball game does. Kara has hit a home run with ‘a Subtlety’.

The doomed facade of the Domino Sugar refinery.

The doomed facade of the Domino Sugar refinery.

a Subtlety

“a Subtlety”

The long view along the old sugar saturated silo

The long view along the old sugar saturated silo

Sugar picaninny collapsing in his own sweetness

Sugar picaninny collapsing in his own sweetness

Her Majesty!

Her Majesty!

Watching the crowd was 1/2 the fun!

Watching the crowd was 1/2 the fun!

Sugar coated selfies!

Sugar coated selfies!

I wanted to nibble on her toes!

I wanted to nibble on her toes!

New York – Ai Weiwei at Brooklyn Art Museum

I had a fruitful and engaging  few days in New York on my way to Oslo. There is always so much to see and do in this great city. It was my first American city way back in the winter of 1995/6 and it’s always a pleasure to return – it feels like home (or one of my  several homes around the world). It was great to see Ai Weiwei’s comprehensive solo show at the Brooklyn Art Museum. I’ve only ever seen one or two pieces live, so to have two whole floors of the museum dedicated to his work was such an inspiring treat. The exhibition including many of his older works which I have always admired for their excellent craftsmanship coupled with a nuanced reading of materiality.

Kippe, 2006. Ironwood from demolished Qing dynasty temples and iron parallel bars

Kippe, 2006.
Ironwood from demolished Qing dynasty temples and iron parallel bars.

Kippe, 2006. Detail.

Kippe, 2006. Detail.

At BAM there were 7 of a series of 81 unique, exquisitely crafted ‘Moon Chests’ built from huali (Chinese quince). Large wardrobe-like boxes which reveal complex patterns (resembling the phases of the moon) when viewed through their central apertures. They call to mind traditional moon viewing pavilions as well as magicians boxes.

Moon Chest, 2008

Moon Chest, 2008

Moon Chest, 2008 Detail

Moon Chest, 2008

Ai Weiwei often uses repetition in his work – a reference to both the huge population and lack of individualism in China. This is best shown in his more recent work  ‘He Xie’, consisting of 3,200 porcelain river crabs. He Xie is a homonym in Chinese referring to both the crabs and the notion of harmony which is part of the Communist Party slogan. Ai was famously unable to attend a huge 10,000 river crab feast in response to the demolishing of his Beijing studio as he was under house arrest.

He Xie. 2010.

He Xie. 2010.

Similarly his ‘Bowl of Pearls’ is a contemplation on the value of the individual within a huge conglomeration – and a delightfully sensuous work!

Bowl of Pearls. 2006

Bowl of Pearls. 2006

Bowl of Pearls. 2006 Detail

Bowl of Pearls. 2006

For me, the most evocative and moving works in the show were those he created in response to the tragic Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2008 when an estimated 90,000 people died or went missing.

After the quake

After the quake

Ai Weiwei and his team bravely documented the shoddy building structures which were the main cause of so many fatalities and created several works to honor the dead and draw attention to the tragedy. They collected over 200 tons of concrete reinforcing rods which they shipped back to Beijing and used in several works. At BAM a single huge room was dedicated to ‘Straight’ – incorporating 73 tons of steel bar which had each been extracted from the ruins and painstakingly straightened by hand – an act that seems (in poignant contradiction) to both mirror  the official cover-up and to be an act of repair and restitution.

Straight. 2008-12

Straight. 2008-12

According to the wall label, “the large divide in the piece is meant to suggest a fissure in the ground and a gulf in values. The massive work serves as a reminder of the repercussions of the earthquake and expresses the artist’s concern over society’s ability to start afresh “almost as if nothing had happened.””

Straight. 2008-12 Detail

Straight. 2008-12

To add to the power and sadness of the work, Ai’s piece ‘Remembrance’ was playing constantly in the same space. This is a 3 hour and 41 minute recording of people from all over the world reading the list of names of the thousands of children who died in the earthquake.

Ai has said, “A name is the first and final marker of individual rights, one fixed part of the ever changing human world. A name is the most basic characteristic of our human rights: no mater how poor or how rich, all living people have a name, and it is endowed with good wishes, the expectant blessings of kindness and virtue.”

Moving, powerful and inspiring work. See it if you can!


Baer – Opið Hús

Tomorrow is my last day here at Baer before Sandra and I take off for a week of traveling around Iceland. Its very sad to be leaving what has come to feel like a second home. Our host Steinunn Jónsdóttir, her husband Finnur and the great team here (Eiðer, Bjarnveig, Sunna, Símon and Símon Jr.) have been so welcoming, accommodating and generous over these last four weeks. All of us feel like part of a large extended family.

Last night we enjoyed a big ‘Open House’ where hundreds of local folk came out to enjoy Baer hospitality and to see what we’ve been up to. Everyone was very interested, engaged, curious and complimentary. I had printed up a selection of the series of images I have been working on and displayed them in the ‘barn’. My studio had many of the images in process, as well as my ‘book’ project in process.

Seeing the images full size for the first time.

The pin-board in my studio

The final knolling of precious finds from the shoreline. And my ‘bærnjo’ to the left.

It was great to see everyone else’s studio. We’ve been aware of what each other has been up to but it was exciting to see how much work everyone had done and to think about the connections and different perspectives we’ve all had.

Tove’s spontaneous watercolor musings

Tove’s 10ft tall fabric, fish leather and pigment collages.

Linda’s 20ft long mutli-media drawing on crumpled printmaking paper


Diana’s intriguing nature table including her paper-wrapped rocks and flayed rock skins.

Rock skin – kozo paper laid over stones when wet and then worked with charcoal, and local natural iron pigments.

I enjoyed the resonance between Diana and Linda’s work and also with the series of rock surface investigations by Mark with his large format view camera.

The one person who’s work I can’t included is Mark. All of his work is on 4×5″ plates and 120 rolls awaiting processing – he’s had two special deliveries of more film from NY in the last two weeks to maintain his habit. I’m really looking forward to seeing the 4×5’s. The best way to get some idea of Mark Hartman’s work is to see some of his snappy images on instagram.

On my next post I’ll go into a bit more detail about my final project – the ‘book’.

The bridge after the fire

After spending time at Tassajara again last weekend I read the dramatic account of how five monks stayed behind after the main evacuation and risked their lives to save the building at Tassajara. You can read the blow by blow account and see the dramatic images of the fire racing down into the deep Tassajara valley along 5 separate fronts here.

Here is an image of the bridge taken by Mako immediately after the fire passed through.

I don’t know how it survived!

Smoke lingering in the air

The Tassajara Bridge

The Easter weekend was a time of resurrection for me personally. The Tassajara Bridge was rebuilt by an extraordinary team of friends – faculty and alumni from CCA. Following fires and floods the bridge is now standing astride the Tassajara River again marking the transition from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center to the Ventana Wilderness.

The bridge was designed by Richard LaTrobe Bateman when he was the Wornick Distinguished Visiting Wood Artist at CCA in 2005. I made a small catalog of the whole design, construction and then building of the bridge on site in 2005-6 which you can get here. This little book proved an invaluable guide to putting the Bridge back up again; as I was the only original crew member on site for the second coming of the Bridge and much water has passed under the metaphorical bridge since then.

2008 Basin Complex Wildfire from space

Russ Baldon and I took down the bridge in 2008 following  the 2008 Basin Complex Wildfire (the third largest in Californian history). Thankfully a few hardy souls stayed on at Tassajara when the valley was evacuated to fight the fire. The bridge was outside of the zone protected by hoses and sprinklers but the crew there were mindful of it and thankfully it wasn’t damaged. Here’s a photo of the bridge immediately after the fire – photo by Judith Keenan.

Now that the valley has greened up again and the threat of major silt flows and flooding has passed I was asked to collect a team to restore and rebuild the bridge. I am always delighted to spend time at Tassajara and this time I was able to introduce 4 friends to this extraordinary community.

The Bridge Crew!

Shawn Hibma-Cronan - unbridled enthusiast

John Randolph - balletic yet powerful

Lawrence LaBianca - master of the redundant system

Moi - corporate memory

Russ Baldon - chief gabion engineer

Adrien Segal - the yellow-legged, blue billed, Tassajara segal.

Barbara Holmes - the barefoot Diva

Barbara Holmes - the barefoot Diva

and many visitors over the four days...

First we had to clear the site of all the new riverine regrowth.

The site awaiting the bridge.

Including our old friend and constant companion – Poison Oak.

Nice and red and juicy!

Next we had to make sure we still  had all the bits.

Everything present and accounted for!

One team built a trestle to support the major beams mid-stream.

A worshipful thing!

The trestle in place, braced nicely against the far bank

A second team made needed repairs to the main beams with new material provided by Paul Discoe (who donated all of the original material for the bridge – Thanks Paul!!)

The scarf!

Many hands make light work.

Hi hooo!! Hi hooo!!!!

Lawrence busting a move, as we prepare to hoist the first beam into place.

Joining the three beams.

Once all three beams were atop the trestle we could join them together, attach the rigging and cross beams and raise the bridge with a chain hoist – I wish it had all gone as smoothly and quickly as this short little sentence! After a full day and a bit and a few setbacks we raised the bridge as the day faded to evening.

Thankfully at the end of every day we could look forward to delicious vegetarian meals and the best hot springs in California – to show us where our scratches were, to put the fear of poison oak contamination on us (it’s tricky finding the technu in the dark) and to soak out the stresses in our muscles.

The first portion is to end all evil...

Enjoying good food and good company.

By the fourth day we were ready for the footways.

More Hi Hooo!

Footway #1 in place.

Footway #2

Footway #3 lowered into place!

Then its was just tweaking turnbuckles, fitting handrails and cleaning up.

The rain started in earnest just at that moment – perfectly timed.


Mako, the Director of Tassajara, seemed pleased with the outcome.

And we were high as kites!

Barrows stacked under the eaves of the Zendo to keep dry

Rain dripping off the Zendo eaves being lapped up by the irises

"Cloud hidden ... whereabouts unknown"

Its always hard to leave.

Thank you Tasajara.

Thank you Bridge Crew!!

Bob Darr and the Arques School of Traditional Boatbuilding

The CCA Furniture program faculty went on a research trip last week to the Arques School of Traditional Boatbuilding in Sausalito. Bob Darr the master boatbuilder and heart of Arques spent an afternoon showing us around the beautiful boat works loaded with delicious eye candy. I’ve been in hundreds of workshops, studios, boatyards, lumberyards and junkyards in my life – but none as sweet as Arques.

There were boats in various states of construction on blocks, hanging from the high ceiling, outside in the yard and Bob introduced us to some sweet ladies out in the water waiting for a turn on the Bay.

Boats galore

Sweet lines in Pepperwood

Not a straight line on her!

Lawrence couldn't get the smile off his face!!

Bob showed us all stages of the process from drawing out boat lines by hand – no 3-D rendering programs here!

Ducks lined up in a row!
These are used to hold thin battens in place when drawing curved lines in lofting plans.

Through model making and a nice little rowing dory under construction by students.

Model under construction using identical tools and methods as the finished boat - except for those teeny weeny little hammers!

From model to full size!

And of course the real test!!

Down on the water we could see some of the other wonderful craft that Bob has built and overseen.

A gill-netter once used for salmon fishing up the Sacramento River delta.

A sweet 16' sailing dinghy, built from 'scrap'.
I'm wondering if I can get in, cast off and sail away before anyone notices.

Arques has been restoring the Freda for many years. A major project to breath life back in to the oldest active sailing yacht on the West Coast. Built in 1885.

Freda's shapely stern

Thanks Bob, for such a rich encounter!

Bob Darr, master boatbuilder.
In his element.

NorCal Musings

I’ve been working with a great group of graduate students at CCA this Spring in a Studio Research Lab entitled NorCal Musings. We’ve been spending time at the ForSite Foundation near Nevada City in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and at the Headlands Center for the Arts in the Marin Headlands. You can follow along on our explorations and see the works we are making in process at the new blog we’re creating.

NorCal Musings

Subscribe there if you want to be notified of updates!

Whittlin’ in Portland

It’s been much too hectic of late. I’ve been getting an inkling of what it must be like to be a professional musician now that I’ve taken the whittling’ show on the road. I was in Portland a few weeks ago for just my second trip up there. I prepped by watching back episodes of Portlandia (which everyone in Portland seems to relish) and Grimm – so I was prepared for almost anything.

I was whisked to the über-hip Ace Hotel on the edge of the very trendy (in a sou’wester and beanie way) Pearl District. I knew I had arrived! The lobby was full of delicious young things with very expensive looking shaggy haircuts sipping on excellent latte’s from the adjacent Stumptown Coffee store. I could live here with coffee this good!

Ace's über-hip foyer - lattes, digital devices, people watching.

Inside the Ace Hotel is pretty cool too. Bedrooms have signature blankets on the beds and wallpaper made of encyclopedia pages with hand painted murals.

More like Cicely than Portland

Read the walls!

I felt like an extra on the sequel to Barton Fink

I got to spend some quality shopping time at the Filson’s flagship store and other Pearl District gems. And stumbled across the Bullseye Glass HQ and gallery where I was pleased to see the “Canberra Connection”. An exhibition of the great work coming out of the glass program at the ANU School of Art  (my alma mater), including pieces by many old friends including Richard Whitely, Klaus Moje, Kirstie Rae and Giles Bettison.

Richard Whiteley

Giles Bettison

Detail of another of Giles' pieces - Murini magic

I also enjoyed this monumental work by Munson Hunt – two 8′ long, 2″ thick slabs. One of burned wood and its twin of smokey gray cast glass – with the surface texture on the glass derived from the glass burning into the wood slab.

Munson Hunt

Glass texture detail

I finally got to see the Museum of Contemporary Craft and spent the afternoon getting the full “behind the scenes” tour from its warm and whip smart Curator Namita Gupta Wiggers.

This teak door panel by Leroy Setzoil from 1966 caught my eye. I’ve been commissioned to make some large wall panels for the Highland Hospital in Oakland and am developing some solid wood wall works for the first time in my career. So I’ve got my eyes peeled for interesting precedents. I like the way Setzoil has balanced the geometric with the organic and the mark of the tool with sculptural shaping.

Leroy Setzoil - Teak door - 1966


Thanks to everyone in Portland at the Pacific North West College of Art and especially JP Reuer for the invitation and the hospitality! You can see some images from my whittlin’ workshop at PNWCA here. I’m looking forward to my next trip already!


I spent the last few days in Philadelphia catching up with old friends and colleagues and taking part in the Center for Art in Wood’s (nice videos on this site!) Challenge VIII event in conjunction with the Bartram Gardens – more (probably much more) on this later. Its been more than 8 years since I last set foot in this town and I’d forgotten how interesting a city it is.

I stayed with my longest standing friend in the US, the incredibly talented and charming Michael Hurwitz, his sculptor wife Mami Kato and vivacious daughter Marina. They have a great house and enviable studio space in the middle of the Old City. Michael showed us around his studio space and gave us an inside peek at some of the pieces he is working on. I believe Michael is one of the most talented and accomplished furniture craftsmen in the US at the moment and its always an inspiration and education seeing inside his working processes.

Michael explaining it all - well, some of it.

His action packed studio

We also got to see behind the scenes in Mami Kato’s adjacent studio. Mami’s work draws on the material culture and her associated memories of northern Japan where she was raised.

New work in the making

Tiny handmade rice straw brushes waiting to be inserted into a sculpture

I was lucky enough to get a chance to see some of her completed works in a show at the Asian Art Initiative. Delicate but robust work with an intriguing and compelling materiality! In a 3-person group show entitled “Moving Through Memory” on until November 18th – see it if you live anywhere near.

Love reading wall labels!

Hand Wrapped with Butterbur Leaf

Umbilical Field

Umbilical Field - detail

Hydrostatis (looking through version) with Don Miller Jr. and Michael Hurwitz

Later in the day we went to a totally enthralling little museum called the Wagner Free Institute of Science. Really cool! I’ll write about it in the next post.

Then to top of a great day, Michael took me to enjoy another museum piece in a way; Bob and Barbara’s Lounge. Famous for its ‘liquor drinking music’, exceptional Hammond B3 action and the classic “special” (a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of Jim Beam for just $3.50). The current incarnation of the in-house band “The Crowd Pleasers” were in fine form by the second set – The Crowd Pleasers consists of Bob Hampton on the drums, Howard “Candy Man” Candy on the Hammond B-3 Organ, and Wilbur DuPont on the tenor sax – he has the most amazing and huge hands. There’s a great article about the original “Crowd Pleasers” led by the late, great Nate Wiley and Bob and Barbara’s Lounge here.

The Crowd Pleasers - take it Wilbur