Love Note #9: Rewind and Unwind

Wow! What a difference a month can make! May was absolutely insane. I was basically working non-stop to help my students get their art projects done, wrapping up my elementary school art classes and completing my own piece to ship to North Adams, MA. I probably got an average of 4-5 hours of sleep a night and my stress level was through the roof. And now... I'm living a stress free summer in Milwaukee kind of life! And it's magical. 

Now that all the stress has melted away, I can finally feel all the good feels that months of hard work produced. First, it was incredible to see five different groups of teens, with five different artists and site/community partners come together to create five meaningful works of art.

The first project was done in conjunction with a really cool initiative called Block Build MKE where volunteers are going block by block to revitalize and rebuild homes. This particular Block Build was happening in the South Side of Milwaukee and 30 homes were being worked on. Our students from the very first time I worked with them were extremely interested in making art with and for the community to celebrate the different cultures that make up Milwaukee and the South Side neighborhood specifically. So, that's exactly what we did! Lead by the incredibly talented artist, Jenie Gao, we used a steamroller (yeah, that's right a STEAMROLLER) and made triangular woodblock prints that fit together to make one giant print. 

When we arrived on site for this printmaking project, we foolishly thought and hoped the rain would hold off until the afternoon despite the overcast skies. Of course, it started pouring as soon as we set everything up. We rushed to put everything in a generous neighbor's garage and headed to lunch. Our first complete print was ruined, we were soaked, cold and unsure if we should just pack everything up and call it a day. That was when Jenie and I looked at each other and realized we were sitting under a huge tent and were completely dry. Once lunch wrapped up, we got a few volunteers to stack tables and make space for our materials - including the steamroller! I was most impressed by my students who did not complain once. In fact, I'm pretty sure I complained more about being cold than they did. They were such good sports and ended up having a great time engaging with their neighbors all day while making prints! Each teen got a chance to drive the steamroller and they must have made thirty t-shirts using smaller woodblocks and printing by hand. All and all, it was quite an awesome day! 

Next up was an awesome sign-painting and sculpture project with the teens at Our Next Generation lead by one of my Milwaukee faves, Mikal Floyd-Pruitt. This was an extremely ambitious project and was basically two projects in one. We were given the task by the owner of Amaranth Bakery & Cafe, Dave Boucher, to beautify the wooden structure on his property that provides shelter to Farmer's Market vendors. The students wanted to put an inspiring quote and after a lot of conversations, we finally decided on, "Change the World Bite by Bite." During one of our design days, one student came up with an idea to make a sculpture that spelled out "LIFE" with the letter "i" made out of a tree. Mikal spent a lot of time figuring out how we could get both projects done and while it was down to the hour (literally we were hanging the sign on the structure an hour before the ribbon cutting ceremony) it all got done! And while I'm totally biased, I have to say that both the sign and sculpture have totally transformed this space. So - go get a coffee and a delicious treat from Amaranth and then take a selfie with the LIFE sculpture - post it on Instagram and hashtag it #LIFEMKE - I'm pretty sure this is going to be an iconic Milwaukee landmark. Just saying...

And then it was on to complete a project with MIkal's brother, another fantastic artist, Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, and the teens from COA Holton Teen Center. This group took on a pretty heavy topic as they wanted to create something to bring awareness to gun violence. Under Anwar's patient and incredible leadership, we created 125 flower sculptures out of old records and placed them in a vacant lot. The number represents the number of documented homicides due to gun violence in Milwaukee in 2016. Installing this temporary sculpture garden was a labor of love and I absolutely loved how it came out. 

Another sculpture to find in Milwaukee is the beautiful, larger-than-life, interactive puppet in Alice's Garden created by Gabrielle Tesfaye and the students at NeuLife Community. Each limb represents a different element: fire, wind, water and earth. In the belly, a short history of the underground railroad can be found. This, in my opinion, was the most important piece of this puppet. Johnson's Park, which Alice's Garden is a part of, is the site where the first "passenger" of the underground railroad arrived in Milwaukee in 1842. At just 16 years old, Caroline Quarlls' arrival inspired Abolitionists to organize to assist and protect even more fugitive slaves. The puppet is stunning and I think that the garden could use even more!

And finally, the last project was at Escuela Verde where the students, under the direction of George Jones, created a vending machine that dispensed uplifting and positive items like small pieces of art, seeds, and words of encouragement. Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the finished product yet because I had to miss the celebration and revealing of the vending machine. I have no doubt it turned out awesome and I believe it may be traveling to a Night Market near you! ;) 

And the ONLY reason I missed the last project come together is because I didn't want to miss out on seeing my own work in an actual gallery! As I started this whole note, while I was busy helping all my students complete these great projects, I was making my own. The only other time my work has been in a traditional art gallery is in college so this was pretty exciting stuff! I was asked to be part of a group show called Babel's Bricks at MCLA Gallery 51 curated by a dear friend, Corwin Levi. When Corwin asked if I wanted to be in a building block themed show, I jumped at the opportunity. And Immediately, I knew I wanted to break things. You know, the exact opposite of building... ha! It has just been an incredibly tough year - the political nonsense, one of my best friends dealing with cancer, artistic rejection after artistic rejection, not feeling adequately valued (or paid) for work I was putting my entire heart and soul into... and the list goes on and on. It was time to let some aggression out. So I did just that with the help of my artistic partner in crime, Tracee Johnson. We smashed a bunch of plates out on Venice Blvd, in LA and filmed it. I came back to Milwaukee to create a 20 minute plate smashing complitation video and prep 100s of  broken shards to send to North Adams. And at the gallery, with instructions printed on a clipboard, I invited visitors to turn my aggression into art. And I have to say, I am completely in love with how this piece, Break·ing point turned out. 


And just like that, it's JULY and it's time to relax and unwind. I'm intentionally taking it pretty easy this summer and hoping that I can keep my stress level close to ZERO percent. One, because I need a break after six crazy, amazing, inspiring, stressful, sleepless months! And two, Milwaukee summers - well, there's nothing like it! 

Til' next time... xoxo