It’s not that I’ve never been commissioned to do work before. After all, I just finished a number of clay commissions recently, the biggest being the porcelain vessel for Scarlett. One of my first was when my dear neighbor who had 6 kids asked me to do a set of bowls for her family. I was delighted to oblige. She picked the clay body – porcelain - and left it up to me to do my signature glazing. She was so pleased she then asked for plates and then mugs. No problem, especially when I explained she shouldn’t expect them to be exactly the same. My favorite line has always been, “If you want perfect, you can buy it at K-Mart.” To me, the beauty of being ‘handmade’ is being able to see the hand of the artist.
This is also not my first 2D commission. One of my favorites was when I was given an old photo of my friend Deborah Harding’s grandparents and created a very beautiful, somewhat mysterious piece, which she loved. Then, I made two different pieces and let her choose the one she like the best. Of course, the piece was only 10” x 12” so this was not a problem. And because I was left to create the work using my own aesthetic sensibilities, again this project was never riddle with anxieties I’m feeling now.
This is a new ballgame. And it seems like I’m making up the rules as we go along. I’m working with Jim on a very large piece – a triptych which will end up being 6’ w x 3’ h – and not only using his images but also trying to work with his limited visual concepts. He is certain he wants to have a phoenix as a symbol in this piece, not once but twice. Can I manage to take two phoenixes, one spilling out his old life into a horrific motorcycle accident and then the other, rising up into his new life holding all that is and might be, without it seeming too cliché? I certainly hope so.
My idea of having him create collages to be used in the piece at first seemed like a good one. And I have to admit the time we're spending together, sitting side-by-side, collecting images and words and talking about this life that we’re working to visualize into a cohesive art piece, is incredibly important for each of us. I’m learning so much about this young man and what it means for him to be alive after being given little chance to live out the night when they brought him into the hospital after scraping him off the highway. And each time he comes to the studio with other pictures from “before” and tells me the stories behind the pictures, I can see him relaxing into the process and getting more and more comfortable with me.
But this comfort comes with a price. The price is his becoming more involved and little by little taking ownership in the making of the piece. So where do I draw the line between his vision and mine? I’m in uncharted waters now and can only hope in time, I’ll find a compass.