3 ft. x 11 ft., variable, 178 tiles.
I have created a lot of art in my lifetime. Much of it has been ephemeral - performances and installations that live on solely through the documentation of their brief existence. Like many aging artists, I recently felt an urgency to make a project that would outlive me. But what would it be?
I am a person who is “full of try.” I’ve spent considerable energy putting things back together after one kind of devastating blow or another. I repair things. I start over. I make broken things whole again, one piece at a time. Mosaic seemed like a perfect metaphor for this outlook, so I decided to create one on the wall in my driveway.
Only one thing stood in my way. I’d never created a mosaic before. The medium seemed tedious, messy and labor-intensive. I even pronounced it incorrectly, referring to the process as “mose egg.” Still, the idea of creating wholeness and beauty from broken pieces spoke to my heart and to my life.
Few people consider themselves “hoarders,” instead preferring the term “collector.” Whichever it may be, I am a person who keeps all kinds of small treasures tucked away throughout the house. Most have a story attached to them. Some were gifts. There are pairs of my Grandmother Adelle’s earrings, game pieces once handled by us children on rainy afternoons, and pieces of her chipped china that I could not bear to throw away. Each object holds meaning for me, but it is safe to say that other people might regard it all as curious junk.
I envisioned a wall of many small tiles, each holding cherished objects, installed in a grid, much like a patchwork quilt. I am grateful that no one told me that this project would take a year to complete.
Unlike the more ambitious art of my younger days, I now lack the stamina and/or bandwidth for giant projects. Since my brain injury, I’ve chosen ideas that could be worked on in pieces, each contributing to a larger, later whole. This also gives me an opportunity to get a handle on the medium and to build confidence in my handling of materials. The approach is perfect for artists who do not have big blocks of time to work on their art. The project waxes quietly until there are enough components to put together. VOILA!
As my tenderly crafted squares began to accumulate, I realized I would need assistance to install them. Enter my sweet husband and fellow art maker, John Kieltyka. Thank you, John. Without your help and encouragement along the way, I could have never completed this daunting project. I feel so pleased and proud. When I leave this world, I’ll leave behind one very cool driveway wall.
My initial inspiration was provided by two important interactions. My friend and neighbor, Marie, gave me a book called “Broken For You” by a Seattle author, Stephanie Kallos. Another neighbor, Merrill, gifted me with pottery shards from his recent archeological dig in Jerusalem. These two influences provided both the “hook” and the “spark” I needed to delve into mosaic. I visited pea patches and studied designs. I checked out many books on historical mosaics. I studied exciting mosaics on Pinterest until my eyes felt crossed. I consulted my friends, Paul and Gretchen Keller, about materials that would hold up in Seattle weather. Then, I began the happy process of accumulating old dishes, which, when broken, would suit the project.
Seattle’s winter of 2016-2017 was long, dark and rainy. I began by sketching my loose visualization of how the wall might appear when the sun returned. Then I hunkered down in the garage, complete with fingerless mittens and open windows. There were bins of broken china all around me. Outdoors, with a top grade respirator and an angle grinder, we cut neat 6’ X 6” squares of Hardibacker, the type of concrete board used in shower stalls. This is very dusty and toxic work, best done outdoors, where it is more easily cleaned up.
Spring came and the production moved outside, where I could work into the warmer evenings. My neighbors soon grew accustomed to the sound of breaking glass and the tinkling “chip, chip, chip” of the china nippers, accompanied by my favorite Motown hits.
Each tile was a composition unto itself. Some were sentimental in nature, others were not. I designed the mosaic pieces without glue, and photographed them with my phone for reference. Then, wearing a mask, lightweight surgical gloves and turning on a fan, I got to work. Using a caulking gun, I applied a generous squiggle of LOCTITE PL 3X Premium construction adhesive, spreading it to the edges of the tile as if it were thick mayo on a piece of bread. Consulting my phone as I proceeded, I very carefully (sometimes using tweezers) placed the design elements into the glue. As each tile was done, I put it in a safe, well-ventilated place (away from cats) to cure for at least 48 hours.
Grout is the material that fills the spaces between tiles or design elements. It comes in many colors. I chose one called “Light Smoke” and used a very good brand. I made sure to buy a “sanded” grout, which is perfect for grouting items with irregular spaces between them. I had about 15 minutes to work before the grout was completely hardened, so I worked in small batches.
I placed a plastic tablecloth on the outdoor surface where I grouted the tiles. With my mask and a retired, hand-held, electric mixer, I followed directions and mixed small batches of grout (6 cups). The aim is to achieve a consistency much like very thick muffin batter. Wearing heavy duty gloves, I dipped the edges of a tile in the batter, then applied a glop to the face. The grout was worked deep into the cracks around objects. I wiped the away excess and set the tile aside.
With grout applied this way to five or six tiles, I used a series of brushes (coarse to light) to remove excess from the surface. I was careful not to press too hard; I didn’t want to risk removing too much grout. By the end, I was using a very soft brush and the design became clearly visible. After a day, I used grout cleaner and buffed each tile with a soft rag. This really brought out the shine of the surfaces, and prepared them for sealing.
The concrete wall needed a lot of elbow grease to prepare. As I dry-scrubbed it with a stiff wire brush, dirt and dried moss fell to the ground. Left unremoved, these things would have prevented a good bond between the mortar and the old concrete wall.
With John as my volunteer tile-setter, we worked as a team. First we used a chalk line to establish a level line for the first course of tiles. Then we sorted the finished tiles and pre-selected where each would be placed. We set up a tent to keep the wall from getting soaked in rain storms, and shelter us from the heat on sunny days. Each weekend, we were able to install about 30 tiles. The process took all summer.
The sacrificial hand-held electric mixer came in handy for mixing small batches of mortar - enough to “butter” and install about 6 or seven tiles. John applied a liberal amount of thick mortar to the place where a tile would secured. He then used a notched trowel on that surface. This process was repeated on the tile itself, which was then pressed into place. The excess mortar squeezed out around the edges and was wiped away. Suction kept the tiles attached to the wall. Small pieces of wood were used for spacers between the tiles, and boards and bricks were used to keep light pressure on the vertical tiles until the mortar dried, after which it could be removed and reused.
At summer’s end, all of the tiles were placed. I made something terrific!
The thing about meetings is that no matter how hard you try, your mind wanders. Not all the time, and not for the same reasons every time.
For several years I worked at Microsoft, where meetings can be as stultifying as they are numerous. There are many ways to deal with the inevitable boredom that grips you when you're in an endless, pointless meeting. Some people send emails from their cell phones, others surf the web on their laptops, and a few actually sleep. I doodled to pass the time, and I'm sure I wasn't alone...
Paradoxically, the very activity I turned to as a way of staunching the soul bleeding ended up having the opposite effect. It seemed I remembered much more of what happened in any given meeting when I doodled than when I did not. Recent studies have since confirmed this phenomenon. There's even a book devoted to the subject.
Enjoy this sample from many years at many jobs.
I have never been partial to the color pink. It always seemed to me to be charged with trite girlie frou-frou, frilly ballerinas, Barbie doll fantasies and Victoria’s Secret sap. But something happened over one long winter. I spent an inordinate amount of time paying attention to the health of the mouth of my sweet and now toothless cat. I read that jailhouse holding pens were being painted pink to diffuse violence. I anticipated the return of my favorite painting, a close rendering of the lips I love. A friend announced that she was going to the gynecologist to get her “pink parts” checked. I ripped countless sweaters, surprised that I inadvertently produced a suitcase of pastel pink balls of yarn. I changed my brand of nightly smoothies, delighted by the taste and color. I awaited the arrival of my secret-sexed grandchild (a girl - Ruby Jean!). I painted a bathroom in the retro pink style of a childhood neighbor. The next thing I knew I was wearing a pink thong and swooping up all of the pink “whoops” paint from the reject stands at Lowe’s. Studio time, typically so serious, became fun, fun, fun.
Sketchbook. Notebook. Journal. Scrapbook. Album. I've never been particularly successful at keeping any of these types of books. They seem so strongly identified with their names that I have never been able to finish one. My own narrow ideas of what they should contain always overwhelmed me before I could get very far. My life is littered with all sorts of sketchbooks, notebooks, journals, scrapbooks and albums, each started with fresh resolve and good intentions, and abandoned in self-conscious frustration just a handful of pages later...
I needed a new way to approach this problem.
I bought a hardcover "sketchbook" and cut off its binding. I could now do anything I wanted to any page, at any time, and return it to the book in any order and orientation I chose. My book would not have an up or down, a front or back, or a beginning or end. Ideas are covered up and re-worked, started over and repeated. Pages get taped to each other, cut apart and re-taped. When I run out of pages, I buy another book, cut it up, and add it to my book. Or I find other types of paper and add that. It just keeps growing.
The result has been completely freeing.
But how would I prevent this book from being like all the other good-intentioned books I had begun so many times? How could I avoid the pressure of The Finished Product? I don't call my book anything more specific than just that - a book. And it is never finished.
A BASIS FOR OPTIMISM
This series of paintings was the first collaboration Monika and I had ever done on a series. We have very different working styles, and are used to approaching our own work in specific ways. At the time, our schedules were different; while I slept Monika worked on these pieces, and while she slept, I took my turn.
At first it was very jarring for us both to wake up and see most of what you had done the night before gone over by the other person. In order to allow each other the freedom of our particular viewpoints, however, we had agreed to only discuss the over-arching idea and aesthetic behind each piece.
The longer we worked this way, the more attuned we became to the paintings themselves, and the more pleasant it became to wake up to something new each day.
in boiled low-lying times
emotional survival depends upon
an ability to find a basis for optimism
some imperfect perfect irony
an odd bird or sign of wonderment
those stark snorkel-straw dreams
seem tolerable only
when some scrap of silver lining
some small salvaged treasure
can grace and guide the day
one sublimely rendered intention
can slip its harness
a loaded brush can hit the canvas
then slide like tears down a surface
where beauty is awkward
spare and genuine
where that basis for optimism
is only partially obfuscated
by unhappy memory
Life-sized anatomically correct sock monkey
Over the years, I’ve crafted dozens of sock monkeys - always making sure that they were anatomically correct. Cute as they were, I dreamt of something bigger. Materials were a challenge, as there is no actual sock monkey fabric on the market. I purchased 16 woolen sweaters at Goodwill, ever mindful of desired colors.
After the sweaters were machine washed and dried (on hot settings) I ripped each row of yarn, knotting my way along. When the balls of yarn were ready, I mixed and matched colors into three-ply. Here, the tedium ended and the fun began! Thank you, grandmother, for teaching me how to crochet! Hours of guilt-free TV watching commenced. Mr. Johnson was finished in less than a month!
Mixed media on wood, 6" X 6" to 10" X 10"
I often have several smaller projects going at once in between larger pieces. The idea is to work quickly and intuitively, never lingering very long on anything. These square paintings were made this way over the course of a few years.
They are quite small. They range in size from 6 inches to 10 inches. The materials used were the materials I was using at the time in my larger paintings - photographic imagery, spray paint, oil paint and the occasional three dimensional object.
Although my intent was to use these paintings as studies, several of them were exhibited. At one point, I showed 100 or so of them as a large grid on the wall of a gallery. This modular view had its own appeal that I hadn't noticed when making them a few at a time.
After a few years, as my paintings changed, I stopped making these pieces altogether. Some were sold, many were given away as gifts, and a few I still have.
-John F. Kieltyka
Used guitar strings, dimensions variable
For years I've collected used guitar strings. Every time I change the strings on one of my instruments, I coil up the spent ones and toss them in a bucket.
A few years back, a friend of mine bought a guitar shop downstairs from our apartment. Not only did this become a home away from home for me, but it was also an excellent source of used guitar strings.
Every time they setup someone's guitar, every time they changed strings on an instrument in the shop, they kept the old ones for me.
Soon, my string collection grew unwieldy; I had (and still have) thousands and thousands of old guitar strings. I had no idea what I was going to do with them.
Eventually, I started futzing with them, trying to figure out what type of form to make. I tried weaving them, soldering them, braiding them; nothing quite worked.
Eventually I began coiling them as I had when I first took them off the guitars. As each string is coiled, it is interwoven with the others. As more strings are added, the form naturally begins to bend itself into a spherical shape. The size of the coils seems to dictate how big the overall sphere will be; start with bigger coils, and you end up with a bigger string ball in the end.
Menstrual Museum Calendar Girls
The cycles of the moon long defined the cycles of women. Before electric lights, women in similar geographic regions menstruated in cadence with the lunar 28-day cycle. Before “The Virgin in the Moon” was renamed “The Man in the Moon,” menstruation was a highly ritualized, sometimes celebrated event.
Perhaps a collective solidarity formed in those menstruation huts and “red tents” - an unintended effect of being banned from the central household during menses.
Women spend an average of six or seven collective years of their lives menstruating. One would think the experience would be recognized as an important shaping force in our lives, but this realm of our physicality is still taboo; it is minimized and discounted. Because menstruation has been relegated to such a quiet and personal corner, larger sociological, historical, environmental and product safety concerns remain unaddressed.
Even with the re-awakening of the body/mind connection, most women's' awareness of their own internal rhythms is limited to only their mood and the shared jokes about how this affects others. Assimilated attitudes, mostly negative, frame the collective experience with little discourse, humor or celebration. For the most part, women simply “deal” with the “business” of their periods. It is no wonder that our mysterious biology and all resultant dilemmas and body issues are somehow disconnected.
In this series, women in their 20’s and 30’s shared their sentiments concerning this aspect of their physical and emotional lives. They marked the days of their periods on calendar blotters, and added their own writing.
The women’s reactions are as varied as their individual female forms. From “Earth Goddess” to “Sobster” they speak not only of their personal perceptions of their bodies and the process, but of generalized and socialized attitudes toward menstruation.
Each woman was then photographed wearing outdated and bulky sanitary napkins in lieu of more contemporary, invisible products.
The blotters were mounted and encased in clear vinyl, then framed by sanitary napkins. Cotton string was used to whip stitch the edges of each piece.