by Linda Stein
Originally published in On The Issues Magazine
I’m caught in an artistic state of transition. I didn’t plan it. It came slowly, over a period of 6-8 months, maybe more. I wasn’t aware of it happening. It took me by surprise.
Now, it’s become clearer to me: I have, indeed, been in a gestating/ incubating phase.
Let me try to remember its beginning, to articulate its progress, to recount my process.
At some point, at the beginning of this transition, I found myself thinking about how hard it is to store large sculpture, which as an artist I must do prior to its being sold or exhibited. Sculpture can’t be placed in penta-flex folders like small drawings or manuscripts of novels and music. It can’t be lined up easily on shelves like paintings and prints. It usually needs a lot of irregular space. Sometimes it needs crating or packing to protect against its fragility. This idea of the physical area needed for sculpture came into my thoughts and hibernated at the back of my mind, hardly noticed.
At the same time I had this desire to take my gender-bending art to another level, or to put it out into the world in another way. I was mulling over how I could expand the ideas of my latest work–The Fluidity of Gender series –which included my black leather torsos and Wonder Woman defenders, as well as my Knights of Protection series and Body-Swapping series–and expand its many gender presentations and identities. How could I meld and scramble the continuum between, and binaries of, masculinity and femininity, both of which had so occupied my thoughts since 9/11, (when my abstract sculpture first became figurative)? I wanted to take my current artistic output to another level, and wondered how I could dive into this gender maelstrom of visual/visceral scrutiny. How could I take what I had been doing in my art to its logical or illogical extreme?
And more was brewing within me. Yet another conglomeration of thoughts was commingling with this gender obsession: I wanted to bring in my work remnants of my past art, bits and pieces of prior artistic themes and concerns: the profile series of the 1970s, the excavation series of the 1980s, the machete blade series of the 1990s, the unrecorded but visceral images that were implanted in my brain from my evacuation from 9/11 ground zero. This mulling took place in my alpha-state moments: when I swam laps for an hour in the mornings, when I jogged or worked out at the gym, during sleep times, sitting quietly or doing mechanical tasks.
So this is what I did: I satisfied my craving to do mindless tasks by painting white the walls, floor and ceiling of my studio. I needed to clean my work area, to sort my tools. I needed to throw out all kinds of stuff, organize my brushes, empty containers.
And I started doodling in my sketchbook. I scribbled carelessly and without any goal. I used whatever utensil was easily at hand: pen, pencil, marker, bits of pasted collage and paint. Weeks later there seemed to be a pattern forming, a repetition of personally coded motifs: one combinative form starting with the tip of a machete blade and ending with a profile of nose, lips and chin; a calligraphic alphabet of what I call profile writing, a stick-figuration of the twin towers; two simplified representations of my androgynous sculptural forms.
And from there it was easy. I needed only a separate larger piece of paper or canvas to continue my private sketchbook doodles and make them public for viewing. I started with Gender Scrambling 758 which I made as an archival pigment print. My gosh, what happiness I felt to complete a work of art in a single day or two, rather than working for months on a sculpture. And what relief to accomplish this without lugging heavy tools and equipment. What a nice, restful break.
I combined acrylic and gouache paint with collage from newspaper and magazines, I printed up fragments from my previously completed art and merged them with figures from current events, such as politicians or historical icons. And then I branched out to have my gender-fluid figures include colleagues, role models, friends and family.
And so, my unconscious desire to travel away from my sculpture, for a while at least, led me to transition to an artistic world of 2-D collage-painting and printmaking, rather than 3-D sculpture, in order to hone in on a blending of the sexes, a reunion of my past artistic motifs, and even an inclusion of the people in and around my life. It seems so magical to me now. I was somehow programmed, as if in a dream, to drive through this phase of transition, one in which I remained and remain in the passenger seat, or perhaps in the driver’s seat–but as the chauffeur–ever surprised and curious to see what’s over the next bend in the transitional road.
Linda Stein is Art Editor of On the Issues Magazine. She is an artist-activist, lecturer, performer, video artist and currently has a seven-year solo exhibition, The Fluidity of Gender: Sculpture by Linda Stein, traveling the country through 2017, accompanied by her feminist lecture: The Chance to be Brave, The Courage to Dare. Her web site is: LindaStein.com and her archives are at Smith College. Stein is Founding President of the non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation, Have Art: Will Travel! Inc. She is represented by Flomenhaft Gallery in Manhattan. Stein’s traveling exhibit will be at the Robert Graves Gallery at Wenatchee Valley College in Washington from Jan 2 – March 14, 2013.