Sunday, June 20, 2021

a summerville summer

Summerville.  What a great name for a town, right?  Summerville is the little town just outside of Charleston, SC that you pass just as traffic is backing heading toward the waterfront.  I’ve stopped there for gas before, but nothing else.  Last week I was lucky to spend several days there for art.

So there’s this guy Kevin.  Kevin and I went to the same college sort of at different times.  I took 5 years off between undergrad and grad school so it’s hard to keep track but he was a familiar face and a very familiar name.  Our paths crossed in recent years because he’s been teacher of the year and won all sorts of other cool titles at his teaching job near the coast.  I recommended a recent grad (and sculpture worker) to him for a job and he and I grabbed a coffee together once when we happened to be in the same town at the same time.  Anyway, he’s the kind of guy you really want to know…very cool, very talented, and very family oriented.  Kevin was a part of a group of “dreamers” who decided to start up an art center in his hometown.  They got funding for a building downtown and worked hard to open it just in time for a pandemic to shut everything down.  It was such a welcome idea though, that it continued to be supported and now it is a thriving part of Summerville.  

Kevin sent me a text this semester and asked if I’d consider doing an exhibit at the place.  It’s called Public Works Art Center and he and the board were interested in me doing something similar to the exhibit I did at Lander in January.  You know, where I put my sculptures and drawings in the gallery and then drew all over the walls with paint marker?  Yeah, I was terrified about doing that crazy idea and I had no idea if it would resonate with people.  Kevin’s text was a nice validation and I jumped at the chance to do the weird exhibit again.  I was excited.  

He connected me with Jana, the executive director of Public Works and together we sort of figured out how this would need to work.  I’d be driving 3 hours to Summerville so I’d need a place to stay during the days it took me to do an original mural on almost every surface in the gallery.  Jana is really great at her job and in hours she had a local bed and breakfast donate the accommodations.  She was also very patient with me as I finished up my semester, taught the week-long sand sculpture class, and went on vacation all right before the installation week.  

I tried my best to work out the installation in my head before the week arrived.  Remember I did this only once before and had the comfort of doing it during winter break with no audience and on my home turf.  If I needed something, I could walk down the hall to my office or to the sculpture studio to grab it.  We advertised this one as a “live installation” which meant the public was invited to come watch me flounder about as I installed.  Jana hooked me up with 24 hour access, a ladder, paint, brushes, and air conditioning.  I ordered my new jumbo paint markers from an online source I’ll leave anonymous along with some smaller tipped markers to try out and I forgot about them.  A week later a box came in the mail and I saw markers inside, but only a few.  I checked the order online and the other markers were backordered.  I still had a few weeks so I didn’t panic.  After a couple of mail-less days, I decided to order a handful of jumbos from a different online source just as a backup.  The 6 backup markers arrived without incident later that week.  

Family vacation ended and I was mentally ready for the installation.  I set my alarm for 5:45am on a Tuesday, got up and ran 3.1 miles, had a great coffee, and merged onto the interstate with a truckload of art.  The FJ was packed with about 16 drawings, 4 sculptures, my mural toolbox, a couple of travel bags, and two pedestals.  I forgot my water bottle.  I arrived at the B&B around 10:45 am to check in and drop a bag and I was at the gallery by 11:00 to unload.  

Laying out an exhibit is not easy, even when it’s your work.  Or maybe, especially when it’s your work.  I know gallery people who have very specific and particular rules and ideas about how an exhibit should be hung or installed.  As an artist, I understand that this comes down mostly to personal taste, regardless of what aesthetic wordsmithing they may use.  Ultimately an exhibit is a work of design and all the elements and principles of design should be considered when arranging a show.  I considered those things, of course, but I also had the freedom of not having to worry about hurting the feelings of the artist.  I could seriously do anything I wanted.  I also had the design cushion of the not-yet-drawn mural which I could use to balance anything out.  So I laid out the show with drawings against the wall and sculptures imagined in spots.  Then I moved a few things and reconsidered.  After a couple more quick edits, I started hammering nails into the walls and the drawings were hung by 2:30 pm.  The sculptures were placed but then I moved them to safety because I knew I’d be dragging a ladder and a loaded paint marker around the space for the next several days.  

frame and title card drawn directly on the gallery wall

One of the fun and ridiculous aspects of these exhibits is that I get to frame the drawings after they’re hung.  This means drawing a goofy frame around each drawing directly on the wall.  I see this as extreme silliness and I love it.  It really sets the tone for the mural to follow.  I took out the first jumbo marker, broke the plastic seal, and gave it a good shake.  This is when the terror really set in.  I was about to freehand paint on a pristine gallery wall and I was completely freaking out.  Knowing this fear would paralyze me, I pressed the marker tip against the cardboard blotter from the toolbox and started the flow of paint to the tip.  Once the paint is on the tip, I need to move quickly so there’s no time to freeze up.  I started with drawing the frames because this needed to happen first in terms of wall space, but also because I was pretty comfortable making up frames.  It got things moving in the right direction and I felt better after something was painted on the walls.  

After doing all the frames I took a food break by walking next door to get a late lunch/early dinner.  A few minutes later I was back in the gallery staring at a rectangular column holding a marker in my hand.  I was about to draw the first thing.  The tall, skinny column made me think of a flamingo and wrapping the flamingo creature around the corner of the column seemed like a nice challenge.  It turned out ok and that helped me to feel more confident.  I added a few things to a nearby wall and around 6:00 I decided to call it quits.  That was a lot for one day and I knew the next couple of days would be just as long.  I drove to a craft store and picked up a couple of smaller tipped paint markers to get those corner spots better and decided to pick up a sandwich and some cookies to take to the B&B.  I was pretty wiped out so I added a few things to my sketchbook and thought about what I wanted to do the next day before sacking out for the night.

the Linwood Inn

the view from my window

I forgot to set an alarm so the next day started at 7:15 am.  As I headed out to run, Linda the innkeeper gave me some running route advice.  The B&B is a historic Victorian mansion built in 1883 and the entire property is a beautifully maintained southern garden with sand pathways.  It was like a southern novel come to life.  After my run, I cooled down by exploring the property.  Linda saw me outside and told me I should go have a dip in the pool.  I was ill prepared with no towel and didn’t want to drip in this amazing home so I skipped the pool but planned to be better prepared the next morning.  I found a local coffee shop on the way to the gallery and had a nice breakfast at Coastal Coffee Roasters with my coffee and then got another coffee to go.  I was pretty amped by the time I got to the gallery.

I honestly don’t remember much about Wednesday.  I know I worked from about 10:00 am until 8:00 pm and didn’t eat during that time.  I had a lot of water and I was in the zone most of the day.  I do remember talking with a lot of visitors during the day.  This was mostly a welcome distraction from thinking about art.  People were so nice and that’s a huge understatement.  When I say nice, I mean they treated me like a celebrity all week.  The artists in the studios joining the gallery as well as total strangers all came in and just marveled at what I was doing.  Some families came in with children and the children all seemed to want to draw on their walls at home.  A recurring theme was the inevitable question of what happens when the exhibit is over.  When they were told the walls would be painted back white again, everyone had the same reaction.  One child told her mom enthusiastically that they would just have to buy everything in the gallery and take it home.  If you’re wondering, I’m completely in favor of that idea.  After everyone had left for the night, I had a slightly unbalanced moment on the ladder and almost fell.  This inspired me to draw a falling/broken skeleton guy on the wall.  I also talked with the artists in the neighboring studios earlier and asked if they had any requests for the spaces near their doors.  That was fun.  I looked up some restaurants and noticed there was a Kickin’ Chicken just down the street so I stopped there for a quick dinner before heading back to my bed.

the end of the second day

I was up at 6:00 am on Thursday and I took a different running route.  There was a partial solar eclipse but I couldn’t see it from my run.  I took that dip in the pool after my run and it was perfect.  I got breakfast at the same coffee place and planned what I needed to accomplish for the day.  I may have even made a list.  I worked from 9:00 am until 9:00 pm with one break.  I went thought 6 jumbo markers and if that number seems familiar it’s because I mentioned earlier that I ended up only having 6 jumbo markers because the unnamed online company never shipped my backordered ones.  Now I was out and I had two more things I had to draw and one more thing I wanted to draw.  I could have lost my temper but that wouldn’t have delivered me a new marker so I did what any self-respecting human would do.  I got ice cream.  I also got some chocolates and took a photo of the world’s largest sweet tea.  Back at the gallery, I went back through the dried up markers trying to squeeze out any more paint they had to give.  This was enough to get the necessary things drawn but I ended up having to scrap the idea of drawing on this one cool surface.  I still had my smaller markers to use for touch-ups.  And I had ice cream.  I skipped lunch again but I was pretty exhausted.  The closest place that was still open for dinner was the chicken place again.  Not what I wanted but it was all I had the energy for before bed.  If we ever have coffee together ask me to tell you about the crazy conversation I overheard from the bar.

my big head and the world's largest sweet tea

Friday started at 6:00 am with my run and another pool dip.  I had another quick breakfast at the coffee place and was in the gallery early.  I had a few things to finish and some small areas to touch up.  By 11:00 I was documenting the space with photos and packing up.  The exhibit was now officially open and I was officially finished.  

It was interesting being on this trip alone.  I’m a hermit at heart so being alone was fine.  The B&B was so quiet I think I tiptoed every step I took.  My brain was very active while I was working and the down time was all silent time.  I guess, that is if you don’t count me talking to myself.  A lot of the time that I spent in the gallery there were other people around.  They weren’t always talking, but I had to be ready for that because I didn’t want to zone out and accidentally ignore someone.  A couple of the artists who came through made comments about how confident my lines were and I had to laugh.  They seemed surprised to hear how terrified I was with each mark.  I guess we all have a way of thinking everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing.  The truth is we’re all scared and just trying to figure things out as we go.  I don’t think “imposter syndrome” is actually a thing.  I think what we call “imposter syndrome” is just life.  If you’re lucky enough to be chasing your dreams there’s no way around feeling like you’re pretending.  The hope is that you’ve never done whatever it is before and that every new mark, every new dish, every new solution is off the map.  That’s what makes life an adventure.  

Sorry, that got a little philosophical.  The point was just to let you know that I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m really glad that I’m so good at making it up as I go that some people think I’m confident.  

I wanted to end this by talking a little about this exhibit and what it means.  All of the drawings except for one were created during 2020 and most of those during quarantine.  The sculptures in this show are a little older but they come from a similar starting point as the drawings.  They all begin with characters who exist in a setting and interact with other characters in a narrative.  Each drawing tells a story (or many stories) and they often deal with the intricacies of being a social human.  Some are about relationships within families, some are about friends, some are about people we wish we didn’t know.  All of them are about how we can try to find positive ways to deal with all those people.  

I approach the making of a mural in much the same way I create an ink drawing.  There are characters who exist in relation to one another.  I begin with one character or entity and once that one is drawn, I begin to create the narrative from there.  I do not plan these out before I go into the gallery.  I do not sketch pencil lines on the wall.  The mural narrative evolves in real time during the installation.  Most of the characters in this mural I’ve never drawn before.  Others have existed in my sketchbook in some variation but took on a new life in Summerville.  And yes, there are hearts, stars, and glitter in this exhibit.  All three break McAbee’s Cardinal Rule of Design, “No hearts, no stars, no glitter!”.  The invisible string that ties the drawings, sculptures, and the mural together is love in all of its variations.  During our temporary separation from society last year, love is the thing that we missed, it is the thing that held us together, and it is the thing that is most needed as we shift back into a normal existence.  Even when it’s dark, we have love.  Dang.  Maybe the title should have been “Especially When It’s Dark”.  Bummer.  

I hope you’ll get to experience this exhibit.  It is quite different from just standing in a gallery looking at individual works of art on a wall.  It is as close to walking inside my head as you’ll get.  The exhibit is on view through July 23 and Public Works Art Center is open 10:00 – 5:00 Monday through Saturday.

Monday, June 7, 2021

vacation adventures

Vacation week seemed to run up on me quickly this year.  We had graduation, the next day I was off teaching a class, and after being back a week, I was packing the night before our family vacation started.  I realize I'm getting old and that the relativity of time is becoming more of a thing, but the week seems like it just started and at the same time the first day of vacation seems like it was months ago.  Here are some of the highlights...

We started our vacation a day early by driving to Charleston on Friday.  Taking two vehicles meant that Violet and I could stop in Columbia on the way down to see the M.C. Escher exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art.  I've been wanting to see it and I knew it was going to close in early June.  We rolled up into a good parking spot right as I realized I used most of my car change on the parking meter a week earlier delivering artwork to Charleston.  Some kind soul had left 50 minutes on the meter near the museum and the handful of nickels I scrounged got us just enough time to see the exhibit and run to Starbucks for lunch.  

Violet didn't realize what artist we were seeing until we got inside.  Then she was very excited to see artwork she had only seen in school and on Youtube.

It was great for me too.  Escher's work blows my mind.  We marveled for over an hour and witnessed several viewers getting yelled at for getting too close.  I usually also go upstairs and see the permanent collection but we were officially on vacation, so we ditched and ate lunch at Starbucks.  While we were eating, the sunny day turned into a downpour, the first glimpse at what would be a weird weather week.  We made it to the car as the final minute ticked away and we were off to the coast.

A couple of hours later we were in Charleston.  We met up with Blue and G, found our hotel and made our way downtown to see the Piccolo Spoleto Juried Exhibit at City Gallery.  It was nice to see Esther and I was really happy to be exhibiting so close to my friend Kevin (Shark Boy in the background).  

After the gallery we walked along the waterfront and decided to eat at Fleet Landing.  It was our 27th anniversary.

We walked a little after dinner and then drove back to the hotel.  I happened to remember that we were somewhere near my friend Armir and he's been away from school for several months on orders.  I took a chance and texted him and we made plans to hang out after I took the kids to the pool.  Armir is climbing his way through the ranks of the Air Force reserves but it was cool to get to chat for a while with the OG "coffee with McAbee" guest.

The next morning I ran around a few streets and a parking lot and we drove back into downtown to walk around a bit.  On the way, Violet and I stopped for coffee at a Starbucks.  The lady in the SUV in front of us was a huge jerk to the guy taking her order.  Violet and I started looking for a piece of paper to make a nice note to give to the window person to make up for the jerk in front of us.  While searching the car, Violet finds two bathroom humor stickers she got from a Piggly Wiggly last October just as we pulled up to the window.  The nice lady leaned out to say hello to us and we were both cackling with laughter.  She looked curiously at us and Violet just held up one of the stickers.  It was a parody of a Pringles chips can that read "Dingle-berries" and instead of chips it had several little poop emojis.  The nice lady read the sticker and as it registered with her, she held back a laugh but couldn't stop the big smile spreading across her face.  We got our beverages, told the lady she was beautiful, and drove away.  Charleston is such a beautiful city.  We didn't find Bill Murray's house so we drove up the coast to find our beach house for the week. 

First stop was for a Crab Melt, of course.  The grocery store had our weeks worth of groceries ready to pick up and we spent the next hour or so getting moved in and unpacked.  We tried a new beach condo this year and it worked out well. 

I love staying close to the inlet.  As soon as we were settled, Violet and I took the walk to the jetty.  The wind was blowing so hard it sandblasted our legs.

We found a dead shark in a tidal pool.  Yes, I poked him with a stick.  It was the first wildlife encounter for the week.

Our condo had the ocean on one side and the marsh on the other.  The daily sunsets were really good.

The foxes were also a good amenity.  Right in front our our balcony there were two fox dens dug into the dunes.  Two young foxes lounged and played there most of the week. A couple of times an older fox came by to check in.  

I made a few sand sculptures.  The first day was actually pretty chilly.  It was cloudy and there was a strong wind all day long.  I wore a hoodie out to the beach.  It kept the beach pretty empty so I was able to work in peace.

The sunsets just kept coming.  There was a little outdoor seating area with this view.  We sat outside and played games as the sun went down.

Ok, let me explain.  So we were outside playing a game when we started hearing the Mario video game song blasting from the street below.  We look down and see the Booze Pops truck go by.  The kids were telling me to run down and catch him but there was no way I could have made it and I knew he would eventually have to come back this way.  There's only one way out.  So we waited.  The longer we waited, the more they encouraged me.  It was probably an hour later that the three of us decided to go find the truck.  We walked down the street a few blocks before seeing the flashing lights and hearing the music again.  A big family had flagged him down and they were all ordering as we walked up.  The kids got ice cream and I tried a piƱa colada pop and got this priceless photo.  Don't be fooled, they were the ones encouraging this.  It was hilarious.

The next morning the foxes were very playful.

I was feeling playful too so I made a drag-i-corn.  It was pretty large but I made it quickly so Violet and I could go kayaking in the inlet.

Both the kids and I have kayaked in the inlet in previous years, but this year we took our kayak so we could go more than once and save some money.  We put in at a different location and paddled across a big area of open water in a strong wind.  Way out in the middle we saw something on the water and went towards it.  We realized it was a sea turtle just as it realized we were close to him.  He looked at us and ducked under the water.  He did a little flip, waved with his flippers, and was gone.  It was very cool.

Violet didn't bring a paddle.  That's a very smart way of getting me to do all the work.

Each morning started pretty early.  I know I was on vacation, but my body must have really wanted to see the sunrise because it woke me up close to 6:00 am each day.  Most days I snoozed at least a few more minutes, but there's just something magical about running on the beach with the sun rising beside you.  I cherish those early runs with the salt air in my lungs.

The sand sculptures were pretty cartoonish up to this point and with the quick one the day before, I decided it was time to actually try.  This one is a self portrait, abstracted a bit to fit the demands of the sand.  I started putting my IG handle in the sand and people started to notice.  It was fun to watch people go by later in the afternoon from the safety of my balcony.  They'd walk up, pull out their phones, and you could see them looking it up.  It was also cool to be out working early each morning before it warmed up.  I was often one of the only people out and by the time I finished, other people would venture out.  We had some neighbors who accidentally put their beach chairs out behind my sculptures.  After I went inside everyone thought they made them.  I encouraged them to take the credit!

We ended up in the parking lot of a western store.  You know, the kind with cowboy hats and boots.  We were trying to eat at a restaurant that turned out to be closed so while G found a new place to try, the kids and I went inside to goof around. I totally think I could pull off a cowboy hat but the kids gave it a hard no.

Also, my head is huge.  Almost none of the hats fit my giant head.

Blue and I wasted some time walking around Broadway At The Beach.  We grabbed the butt drawing from Monday and looked for a good place to hide it.  Blue was embarrassed of my ridiculousness and wanted to make sure I didn't put it somewhere people would see me.  We opted for this spot.  I never heard anything from it so I don't know where it ended up.  

I built the bald head just inside the high tide mark and I was shocked the next morning when I went out to run that it was still there.  Not only did the tide not touch it, no humans touched it either.  A dog scratched at the right cheek just a bit, but that was easy to fix.  I toyed with the idea of trashing it and using the sand to make something new, but then I decided to just add on.  I was in the mood for ice cream so I made a giant cone.  Then, at the request of a cool stranger, I turned the ice cream scoop into a skull.

Up to this point the temperatures had hovered around 70 degrees and the wind each day was ridiculous.  This made the water feel a bit icy.  I hate being cold so I kept the surfboard inside.  But now it was warmer and it was finally time to surf.  I finished the sculpture and grabbed the board.  It was so great.  I'm not a good surfer but I did manage to ride a few waves on the choppy seas.  Violet was a bit skiddish with the rough surf so she just posed for a photo.  

The first day I went out to sculpt I was greeted by a lady within 5 minutes of starting to shovel sand.  She said she and her family were from Nebraska and this was their first trip to a beach.  She was excited that I was going to make something and she asked if they could watch.  The watching was from their ocean front deck so it wasn't weird.  The kids in the family said some nice things through the week and eventually they tried their hand at making stuff.  

This crab was pretty creative with the use of shells for eyes.

Just down the beach there was a cool shark head sticking up with teeth and some seaweed in its mouth.  Also creative.  Another lady who spoke to me asked if I noticed the other sculptures popping up around me.  That was pretty cool.  
The grandmother from the Nebraska family told me at the end of the week that the sculptures had been the highlight of their week.  That was a very kind thing to say.  A couple of nice ladies took photos with me and if you know me, you can imagine just how awkward I felt and looked in those photos.  They had connections to Lander and Greenwood and they said some very nice things.

The high tide kissed the ice cream cone, but did not destroy it.  That meant it was time to add on again.  What goes great with ice cream?  Bananas of course!  I cut the self portrait in half and peeled the skin off to reveal the skull.  Then I added an angry banana.  Keeping it weird in 2021!

Look at that fist!d  These sculptures were all very big.  My sculpture muscles are still a little sore from all this work.  I need a vacation from my vacations sometimes.  

Another cool thing...Blue and Violet's former elementary school principal now lives at the beach.  Every time we go she sends a message asking to meet us for ice cream.  The kids both love her and we all love ice cream.  She's so great.  She's been a loving mentor for so many kids and she seems to have no idea just how much of an impact she's had on thousands of lives.  Before we left she handed us some passes for putt putt and the kids were thrilled.  We checked the forecast and grabbed our hoodies and then I schooled the kids in mini golf.  Blue's getting better and he had a real shot at taking me down.  Maybe next time.

The putt putt place had a dog.  He was old, fluffy, and possibly blind.  He was also very friendly.  We love petting dogs.

Friday when I woke up at 6:00 am I heard several cracks of thunder.  Not what you want to hear when you're about to run a mile and a half down the beach.  I checked the radar and waited a few minutes to get a break in the rain.  I don't mind getting wet but I do object to being struck by lightning.  When I got my chance, I headed out.  As I started toward the beach I heard more thunder and decided to play it safe by sticking close to the building.  I ran on the sidewalk but didn't venture too far away.  Of course by the time I was done running the rain stopped and the skies started to brighten.  Violet and I took this as a sign that we needed to kayak again.

We went to the same spot we put in earlier in the week and found it was nothing but pluff mud at low tide.  We drove around a little and found another public landing and we were back out for adventures.  We paddled to Goat Island and said hello to several baby goats.

The goats are cool and they seem happy isolated from humans and other animals on their little island.

We stalked a couple of pelicans because, come on, pelicans are some of the coolest birds.  They're so awkward looking but also so graceful all at once.  I love pelicans.

We found this guy slipping around the oyster shells at the water's edge.  He was pretty shy.  He kept his door closed until we put him back.

This guy wasn't quite as shy.  He was scooting along the dock area and he got used to crawling around on Violet's hands pretty quickly.  Don't worry, we put him back too.

We paddled all the way across the inlet to see if we could get closer to the UFO house.  This place was across the street from us and I've seen it most of my life.  I'm really intrigued by it and I want to go inside.  No one seemed to be living there but every time I tried to talk the kids into trespassing they talked me out of it.  Since the tide was low, this was the closest we could get from the water.  If you know anyone who can get me inside legally, feel free to contact me.

Last fall Blue got a Lard Lad donut from the Simpson's Kwik E Mart at Broadway.  He raved about how good it was and planned to get one when we visited a few nights earlier.  Apparently lots of people enjoy them because they were sold out by the time we got there.  Since it was National Doughnut Day on Friday, Violet and I tossed the kayak on top of my car and drove to try to get Blue a donut.  I'm a doughnut snob and I don't mind telling you.  Doughnuts in their purest form are from Krispy Kreme and they're spelled "doughnuts".  These other deep fried dough-things with a hole in them are simply lesser specimens and spelled accordingly "donuts".  When i grabbed one for Blue, I also grabbed a pink iced with sprinkles for me to try.  (It's still bread right?) I will admit that it was pretty dang good...for a donut.

So the weather was a little un-summer-like, there were lots of cool animal encounters, it was a good sculpture week, a good art viewing week, a great food week, and a great family week.  Now we all have to turn our attention back to life in the summer.  G is back to the work schedule.  I have a lot of art things planned.  The kids said they had a lot to do this week and I asked them what they had to do.  They both replied "resting".

Here's to resting.  I hope you get a vacation or some rest this summer.