This piece questions what is considered art today (hint: almost anything decorative). The leaf was carved by aphids while the background was marked by snails, with some participation from the human animal. While the insect and snail’s purpose wasn’t reflective, something “interesting” was created. I thus consider this art.
PROCESS (to demonstrate how much/little is preconceived)
This project started with the discovery of the following graphic, made by aphids eating through the leaf of a weed in my garden.
The shapes, so bold and strong, immediately called to mind graffiti. In comparison to the insect’s body size, they were exactly like huge murals. The insects were marking their space.
I saved the leaf – imagining it had conceptual artistic value – by pressing it (symbolically) between the pages of Sunset’s Western Garden Book (the 2001 edition).
When it dried and was ready to be showcased, I started wondering what kind of a background it should be placed against. A quick study on the computer, the place I’ve unfortunately begun to feel at comfort making drawings, proved that a large scale “graffiti-like” background, mimicking/reinforcing the aphid pattern, would work best.
As I was about to start drawing by hand, a light turned on in my brain and I realized that it would be much more fitting, and fun, if the background was also created by an “animal”… another animal that marks its path… a snail! My garden is full of snails; having terminated the basil, they prey mostly on my strawberries, leaving me half-eaten, half-rotten fruit to snack on. It was PAYBACK TIME! Welcome to America, my friends: you need to work for your feed!
The first background attempt involved asking the snails to glide across black backgrounds (one painted and shinny, the other purchased matte). I thought that their slithery goo would show up brightly against the black. WRONG! Their path was extremely difficult to spot on the shinny piece and was completely absorbed in the matte board.
So as to help the trails stand out, I painted over them with something that would resemble their silky quality: silver glitter paint and shimmering “pearl” paint.
The result: too much contrast for the delicate leaf. So I added orange and abstract traffic markers (they kind of looked like roads) to bring this one to a kind of completion, and moved on to more sensible colors.
The new snail I found to work on the beige sheet was a little sleepy and hardly moved (it was daytime and they are nocturnal). In the hope that a wet environment would encourage it to speed up, I sprayed the paper with water.
IT WORKED! For a snail, this is moving fast!
Having learned that its trail would disappear once the paper dried, I then followed it with a pencil.
As the paper dried, the snail fell asleep.
Once enough journeys had been marked, I painted over the trails again with shimmering “pearl” paint, adding a little bit of gouache color to bring back the kind of playfulness present in the moving wet environment.
(As you can see in the photo, the leaf is actually glued to a teal colored paper, for protection in moving it around, which I had hoped would add a bit of vibrancy back to the dried plant.)
The artwork considered final, I went to buy a frame. After a long comparison between every gold, silver and light wood 8×10 frame available in the store, the following intricately carved antique silver “box,” which models the animal carvings or markings, proved to be most appropriate. Being so heavy and over the top, it also raised the status of the animal art. If you want something to look important, put it in an important looking frame.
The frame and collage together also reminded me of the early modernist drawings and paintings which were/are often humorously (“inappropriately”) displayed in extremely ornate traditional frames; the frame craftsmen – and maybe society overall – not yet having caught up with the artists.