Gehry’s Fish


Gehry’s Fish (2013), atlas paper, wire lampshades, and rubber bands

Eris invited me to join her in exhibiting a piece in the Found Art Collective in Elkin this fall. I had not created a new piece in over three years, so I decided to create something new. This summer I completed The Creative Call, which is essentially a Christian version of The Artist’s Way. I found it in the midst of my weekend of labor after I walked to Edward McKay to move things along. I thought maybe if I start this book, the baby will finally come. I guess I was a little desperate at that point.

Once I finished the book and exercises in August, I immediately ran into a series of road blocks. I was invited to show three pieces at George Mason University that would have put my work in front of several leaders in my medium. It was a great opportunity for me. I started thinking about overhauling my web site, ordered new business cards and postcards for my work. I shipped my tobacco rug to DC, which is still MIA in the US Postal Service. I lost the plug to my paper cutter to recreate my flopped feather bouquet. And I had sold out of my little radiator books. So I had nothing to show. I tried to be ultra zen about the experience. The Holy Spirit was not going to sabotage my very first efforts after recommitting to do the work. Obviously I am meant to make something new.

Two members of my St. Phillip’s group were talking about the St. James’ Way in Spain. I had created my own Way when we were in Europe seven years ago. (Granted now that I read Martha’s daily posts, I find that my experience was very different from the true Camino.) I thought I would reread my journals to see what I had observed. I found them packed away in my little orange suitcase, but I never read them front to back. Instead once a memory popped into my head, I looked up the entry about that date. Fortunately, I had created a guide to what cities were were in which days. It was quite easy for me to find Bilbao, the inspiration for my first piece.

With this piece I thought a lot about Frank Gehry and his grandmother. I appreciate so much the time Lucy spends with her grandmothers, as well as the time I spent with my own. While visiting the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the building trumps the art collection. It is a spectacular space with a tender story that has always stuck with me. As a small child, Gehry would go with his grandmother to the market each Saturday to buy fish. They would bring the fish home and he would watch them swim in the bathtub. His work is greatly influenced by the time he spent with his grandmother and watching the fish.

Fish in Elkin Found Object Show
With a studio full of materials, I was committed to creating with whatever I could find in my studio. I had seven lampshades from my Grandma Merritt’s. I found them in mom’s attic and thought they would be perfect for this outdoor installation piece I wanted to create about popcorn. They really drove me crazy in my studio and I am not sure what made me want to work with them other than that the tower of them had toppled over. I originally wanted to paint water colors on some black and white text, but I found that an old atlas in my studio had the same color palatte I was craving.

It should not surprise you that I do not have a lot of time. So I would try to aim for one step at a time. I really had no idea what I wanted to create in advance nor how the finished piece would turn out. I just went for it. I started cutting squares out of the atlas and put them on the bottom edge of each lantern. Once I completed that step, I figured out the next step. It felt like I was waiting for instructions. I kept thinking in terms of baby steps. I would also write down words that were running through my mind as I worked.

Frank Gehry
thin places

Not only did I love the color palette of the atlas, but I loved the idea of latitude. Particularly how grandmothers give you so much latitude to learn and explore in ways that you don’t receive from your parents. I also loved the universality of grandmothers. Grandmothers are everywhere. This is an experience that most of us share in one way or another.

I used the Rose Window die to create shapes for the scales and eyes. I didn’t think much about the effect of the die shape, but I love the effect. I needed to cut out a lot of shapes in little time. I tore out the pages, rolled the machine and made stacks of the shape. What a great surprise. Cartoonish scales and eyes everywhere. To loop the paper onto the frame, I cut a small smile in the midst of the page. I just stacked them and cut several at a time. I didn’t focus too much on this act, but I would sometimes I have to recreate the page on the bottom of the stack.

Fish in Elkin Found Object Show

On one of the pages, I sliced right through Germanton, my tiny hometown. I could not believe it. The only reason that I realized this was because the cut did not go all the way through and I had to recut it. I felt a little torn that this had happened. I don’t want to cut into Germanton, but this was obviously some kind of wink that I was right on the mark with this piece. Yesterday I was telling someone about this experience while hanging the work. But I had no idea where Germanton was on the piece. After the installation, I looked down and found it right on front.


After I covered the shades, I struggled to figure out how to strand them together. So I actually went back to my journal to see if there was any inspiration for what to do next. Yes, there was.

In the [museum] introduction by the narrator, he describes the building and the cultural part as a heart with chambers or arteries, lifting people up via stairs and elevators. Plus they lead the people off to each gallery. The narrator also describes the panel of glass and tiles as scales, each slightly different and overlapping like scales. Then he went on to share that fish are very important to Gehry’s work. He has vivid memories going to the market with his grandmother as a child. She would buy a fresh carp and keep it alive in the bathtub until it was time to prepare it. Gehry played with the fish in the tub until that time. Knowing that you can definitely see this influence in the exterior of the building, which glistens on the riverside. The fish influence was also found in the largest gallery which houses five pieces by Richard Serra. Gills seem to let in light from the outside world overhead.

This description brought back vivid memories of me with Memaw – breaking beans and working in the popcorn bowl. I seem to always come up with projects that involve working small in a bowl on a larger project. I think of it as being a little monotonous, but social. You can do other things as well, like talk to who you are working with or watch TV. It also tends to feed my imagination and help me generate new ideas.

I think that immediately seeing Richard Serra’s exhibit only reinforced the ideas of the importance of my thesis project. He used to visit shipyards as a child. His work always illicts strong emotions. That was the most pieces I have ever experienced at once. The last of the pieces was my favorite, which was called Blind Spot Reversed. I see it as walking in geometry. He had to have been excited by the subject when he was younger.


Instead of creating one large fish with seven shades, I decided to use three shades each for two fish. I used seven large red rubber bands to bind them together and create the “corazon” or heart, described in the museum audio tour. Being able to see the binding bands reminds me of being able to see down into the fish through the gills. Somehow it works. What a nice surprise.

Fish in Elkin Found Object Show
The sky was glorious tonight as we headed over to the art show.

Fish in Elkin Found Object Show
The Elkin Big Band made for a delightful evening. If you are in the area over the next few weeks, please stop by for a visit of the Found Art Collective.

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