POSTED: DEC 1, 2022
Several weeks ago, my neighbour Gabrielle was walking by a construction project, that coincidentally was being done by a carpenter, Henrik, I wrote about in The Turning Point, posted on Dec 1, 2021. He was clearing up some materials and was good enough to give her some large planks that she was keen to do an art project with. Because she knew him as I had introduced them when he came over to thank me after that jam he was in, the ever-cheeky Gabrielle was able to convince the lad to let her use part of the house that he was renovating, for a few days for her art projects.
Gabrielle and Gerhardt live on an absolutely massive steel hull trawler, so she is able to keep a set of cordless power tools as well as lots of hand tools and art supplies. But even a big steel hull trawler still sits very close to other vessels in our little marina. The point is she has the room to work on some big projects if they are quiet tasks, but can’t really cut loose on noisy endeavors, using tools like reciprocating or circular saws, power planers or belt sanders. While some of those things are used in the marina from time to time, it is for limited periods when someone is doing a specific repair or upgrade, not a recreational art project.
The day she made these arrangements with Henrik she told me over dinner with the others in our group and while I listened with interest, my ears certainly perked up when she told me of my involvement. Apparently to sweeten the deal she had offered that over the three days that she would get to use a room in the house under construction, I would bring the onsite workers a fabulous lunch each day. I had not really planned on this. Now to be fair she and Gabrielle do pay for all the groceries that Ciara and I as well as Malcolm and Martha and her and Gerhardt consume so I agreed that this was a wonderful plan. She would work like mad on the rough and noisy components of her new woodworking art project on the site, I would bring them a nice lunch (I downgraded it from fabulous) and in three days things would go back to normal.
Her project was an interesting one. She is usually somewhat secretive with her art until a piece is finished but because I was there to deliver lunch and then clean up, I got to see the progress each day.
Now I need to back up a bit here. Most of us are like pet dogs – we are off leash in our own homes but have to live in those confines unless we are on a leash. Most artists however have fewer boundaries, their lives more like cats, letting the full world be a place they can wander. Some cats like Gabrielle are somewhat feral. My point is that her art is not very conventional. She doesn’t paint still life depictions of a bowl of fruit or a life drawing of Gerhardt but produces thought provoking interpretations of life. For those who do not read this little blog of mine regularly go back to Gabrielle: Meta & Metaphor from September 1st 2020, and you will see some of the kinds of art she does.
Now this project, initiated at a time which is on the cusp of what might be another major wave of Covid is about a dream or hope, which we know is horribly naïve in a time when we have no friggin idea what is going to happen. It is based on the Greek myth about Icarus, the lad who got it in his head to stick feathers on his arms with wax, with the idea he could fly to the sun. Of course, the myth ends in the wax melting as he got too close to the hot object and he fell to the ground. Like most myths and religious parables, they are little stories to both teach and to keep us in line.
This project she is working on is a pair of life size wings for a person, carved out of wood as if Icarus had a Beta version. And her take on the Icarus mythology is not the hubris of Icarus to think that he could fly, but the optimism he had to think that it was worth trying.
Over the time she had at the house to do her rough work she began with laminating the planks with dowels and glue to create two large slabs of wood each about a meter (40 inches) long and half a meter wide. She had made up a template on construction paper ahead of time and did a rough cut of the shape.
That day I took her and the guys a muffuletta sandwich full of nice locally sourced meats and cheese and lettuce. I had made up some homemade chips and a lot of veggies with a dip.
I went back near the end of the first day as I was intrigued by the project. By the end of Day 1 she had done some strategic cuts at different depths in the wood with her circular saw. Each cut was at a different depth starting from what would be high point on the wood to the cuts out near the sides which were very deep. These were depth guides, so she could consistently create a curve to the wings.
The next stage was much more labour intensive, sawing off the edges to rough cut the depth on the sides, then planing the wood to get down to those marks to create the general arc of the wing.
I was hanging out watching but she threatened to make me do some work, so I headed out of there. I had a lot of clean up as that day I had taken over a big salad and baguette and had mixed it with salad dressing on site.
By lunch time on Day two she had both of the wings to the same stage. With the rough chiseling to get the arc of the wing she had moved on to planning it to make it a less rough surface.
With only three days available she was pushing pretty hard and I went over with Gerhardt at dinner time and took over her dinner and a bottle of wine. She was at the stage of using a belt sander with a really course grit to start to build the general shape of each of the layers of feathers. I eventually went home but Gerhardt stayed with her for the rest of the evening as she went through a lot of sandpaper belts, and a bit of wine as well.
Then with some carving chisels and knives on Day 3 she started to define the shapes of the feathers she had transferred from her plan. The original lines she had cut into the wood for depth now appeared as pencil lines so she could make sure the two wings would be the same on a grid. I think a lot of art making is just hard work and only a bit of it is the artistic part.
In watching the process, the parallels of the art and life, as a series of iterations started to jump out at me. When the project was young, it was a very rough project, and one slab looked much like any other. As it evolved, mistakes were made, and corrected and techniques perfected. The adjustments to the nature of the material, and the goals involved kept the exercise quite fluid but also growing on the experience of working on an earlier component. Some of the big shapes developed early, and some of the early templating kept it on course. So, the smaller details that were worked into the project as it developed later on, while the most striking visually, are actually just the last superficial layers.
On that last day I had prepped ahead the components for pad Thai, or my version of pad Thai and took it over and prepared it on a little butane stove, Malcolm and Martha have.
As it turned out with another job on the go and rain expected, Henrik was unable to move to working on the room he was letting her use and let Gabrielle come over for two more days. It allowed her to get the second wing to almost the same stage.
With all the rough work done she can now sit on the back deck of their yacht with some chisels, sandpaper and wine and enjoy the completion of the project. She plans on doing a lot of detailing in the feathers. She envisions making up a set of leather straps so it can be notionally worn by a person but more realistically just hung on a wall as an art piece.
While Gabrielle is pretty damn guarded with her art, she has agreed that as the project progresses, I can post a few more progress photos so stay tuned.