Writing about my work

My process is layered, layering. I build my work from flat bits of cardboard that, with the help of masking tape and glue, become a structure, a rock, a wall medallion, a house, a cave. I use newspaper and wheat paste and recently plaster. I am interested in creating works that feel discovered, like they were always there but behind something, under something, recently brought to light.

I am working in series format, I can’t just make one of something, just one is not a full thought, a full idea, it is just one word and I want to create sentences.

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is on a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”― Martha Graham


Medallion #1 by Susan McCaslin—”an oval or circular painting, panel, or design used to decorate a building or textile.”

I began this as an accident. I had made an oversized vessel that ended up looking like a trash can and I had the idea that if I made a top for it, it would look less like a trash can — more like a vessel.  No, it did not. 

And so naturally, I added a woman’s head to the trashcan lid! Then when a curator visited my studio, she called it a frieze and she liked it, allowing me to like it —for what it was, no longer a trashcan lid, now a frieze. 

But frieze seemed wrong. Medallion felt better.

Medallion #1-3 by Susan McCaslinAnd now there are three with one more in production. All of these medallions will address the female form, actually, bits and pieces of the female body.  Breasts, hair, brains, hands, and more. 



Vessels are not a new subject for me. I had made a series of folded drawings back a few years and I repeatedly draw vessels in my sketchbook. But in 2017, I saw the show  “Things of Beauty Growing”: British Studio Pottery at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven and I was inspired to consider making three-dimensional vessels. I started them last fall and I am continuing to investigate size, proportion, surface. 

I see my vessels, both drawings, and sculptures, as protection for the female form. They hold and/or trap emotions, they represent the uterus, the safe space for new life. They nourish, they contain, they serve. 

One issue I am having is the pedestal. I have shown these so far on newspaper columns which I like but they are unsteady when they get too high. I have a plan to make them steady but that would require altering in a secret way with rebar running down the middle of the stacks of paper and it irks me, the “honesty of materials” keeps coming back to me. Possibly use the rebar so that it is visible? I need my fellow artist Scott Schuldt to help me figure this one out.


Requiem for an Electric Chair

Since last summer, I have been working with Toto Kisaku, a Congolese artist, performer, writer, and activist, to create sculptures that will be part of his one-person performance Requiem for an Electric Chair. The World Premiere is on Friday, June 22 & Saturday, June 23 at the Arts & Ideas Festival in New Haven CT.  Tickets are available now at artidea.org/requiem

Toto Kisaku Requiem for an Electric Chair at Arts & Ideas New Have CT

“With a gun to his head, Toto Kisaku was moments away from being killed by his government when his executioner showed him a moment of mercy. His only crime? Creating art that questioned the practice of child exploitation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Toto Kisaku found refuge in the United States, but many people from his country have not been so fortunate. Be a part of the first audience to hear his harrowing story at the world premiere of his newest theatre piece  “Requiem for an Electric Chair”. — https://www.requiemelectric.com/

I am so grateful to be a part of this production—working alongside digital artist Sara Zunda, set designer David Sepulveda, and producer  Hanifa Washington .  

Installing at Westover School







Installing Wall/Paper II went smoothly with the help of Noé Jimenez, George, and Dylan, a student at Westover. It was vacation week but Dylan was helping out and they was incredibly professional. Plus a lot of fun to work with.  That’s Dylan adding paper to the wall and George and Noé on the 16′ ladder stapling the snow fence to the wall.

The install was on Thursday, March 15 and on Monday, March 19, I met with two groups of students for Diversity Day. It was an amazing experience.  They helped me set up the Detritus on Bank installation and they had incredible ideas.  I came away from the experience with some of my own new ideas thanks to their enthusiasm.

I want to thank Caleb Portfolio and Allison Hildebrand, co-directors of the gallery, for inviting me and for making every step an easy and fun experience. 

The show will be up until May 20. If anyone wants to visit the gallery, contact me for information about visiting or just go to the main entrance at Westover and tell them you want to see the show. 

Louise Bourgeois at MOMA

Hands down, my favorite artist…. 

What I love about Bourgeois, besides her work is her habit of working in different media at different times in her life. Growing up in art school in the 1970s was all about finding one thing to do and stick to it. This artist is my mirror to breaking that rule and she did it so well. 

I also love how prolific she was. Something I aspire to and hope to make my own habit.

Protection and the Wall

Everyone needs protection from their demons. Those demons can be real, like an abuser or they can be perceived, like a lack of confidence. They are not all easy to identify. We humans find ways to hide from these demons. It can be a closet in the attic or it can be a crowd at the bar.  I like to cover up with fabric, paper, armored surfaces, and more. I create the small spaces that can hold secrets, secrets/demons that I am hiding from or secrets that I have created to cover up the real demon.

Part of the development from child to young adult is to find or create a space of one’s own, a preparation for the inevitable move away from parents to independence. Within that space, we develop our hidden spaces as well that keep safe many of our secrets.

Each piece of paper that I use in my wall installations represents a safe space for my secrets. Each piece has been touched by me. I rip the paper, soak it in an ink bath, ring it out and hang it up to dry. Once dry, I take down each piece, one at a time and lovingly press out the wrinkles by hand and stack them 50 -100 high. I keep count of them like this — 375/2325 — the first number is how many I have made and the second number is how many I have left to make for that particular installation.



Photograph by Susan McCaslin @2017 "Paul Revere#1" Saturday
“Paul Revere #1” Photograph by Susan McCaslin @2017

Trying to figure out the best use of my Saturday is stressful, to say the least. With all of the events that revolve around friends and institutions that I want to support—exhibitions, lectures, receptions—it is difficult to find free time in the studio. I want to support everyone who supports me, a long list, but how do I fit it all in? 

And so each Saturday, I approach the day with a bit of resentment and a bit of resignation. And I wonder if the issue is not mine. Do I even want to go the studio on Saturday or do I want to take the day off? Don’t I need at least one day when I can stop everything—designing, learning, experimenting, teaching, sculpting, planning, applying, writing, invoicing—when do I make time for myself to sleep late, go to brunch, catch some shows and lectures, see a movie, cook dinner, catch up with my children. 

I think back to days before marriage and children. Before I had in-laws to consider and before I added the needs of children into the mix. I remember living on 23rd Street in NYC where my soon-to-be husband and I would buy some fruit, fry some eggs and listen to music as we ate a late lazy Saturday morning breakfast. It has been a long time since I felt that slow in the morning, without any deadlines reminding me to hurry up, time’s a wasting.

How do I get back to that time of slow mornings, filling the rest of the week with fulfilling time in the studio, not going to a job anymore so I will have time in the studio? Time to renew my commitment to studio time. Time to block out all mornings for exercise and my work and not give in to the whims and demands of earning an income. Time to take back Saturday for recovering from the long intense week.

More on Protection and Protective Shells

Metal Washers sewn onto a small doll as protection or a Protective Shell,
Small Doll with Armor ©Susan McCaslin 1984

I am committed to my belief that the need for protection, the creating of a protective shell is a common thing for all of us. We just do it in different ways and for different reasons.

We experience our lives filled with unique reasons for needing the protection we seek. 

Why did the Old Leatherman wear a suit made from leather boot-tops? No one really knows but I think it might be because he could. He was comfortable with the material and he knew how to make an outfit, a coat and a pair of pants. He knew how to work the leather. He knew what his limits were, what he could carry and what he needed to survive. But why did he need the protection? Was it weather, snakes, sunburn — what? Why do we wear certain clothing? Fashion, the temperature, use? Do I need protection for something else than what you need protection for — something emotional or physical for survival?

Is the reason for protection more meaningful to me than you? If I have suffered physical abuse and you have suffered psychological abuse, do I need more or less protection than you? If I come from a culture where there has been more abuse and you don’t—like the Jews and the Holocaust or the African Americans and Slavery—do I need more protection than you who comes from the Anglo Saxon culture? If you come from a background of privilege, are you suffering less than if you had come from a culture that has suffered trauma?

Are their clues to the trauma or the suffering that we can detect by the choice of protection? Does the woman who has been raped have a different fashion sense than the unraped woman? Can one of us claim a level of protection over that of another?

We all suffer from abuse and trauma and we each create the protection that we need to survive. One way I protect myself is to be hyper-vigilant in observing the ways of others. I want to know why they are acting that way and I want to understand what they are doing and why. If I understand their behavior, I can protect myself from their actions. I wonder, would it be better to just put on a leather suit that is impenetrable? 

Los Angeles visit with sculptor Mary Little

Bush Tapestry-9632 by Mary Little, Los Angeles CA https://www.marylittle.com/

Thanksgiving in Los Angeles!

Our son has moved to Los Angeles – allowing our entire family to spend a few days in paradise with him and his partner Angela Silva (more about them in another post.) Apart from the wonderful Thanksgiving feast, the walks around Echo Park Lake and the lazy visits to new coffee shops, we enjoyed a studio visit with old friends Peter Wheeler and Mary Little. They are fully committed to Mary’s new work – sculptural canvas works – some stretched, some hanging free. Rather than describing her work here, take a sec to look at her site marylittle.com and see the work as she presents it. 

Aside from the obvious joy in meeting up with old friends and the sheer awe I felt as I stood in their live/work space, I took away an intense admiration for their work ethic, the partnership they have always had but that has once again evolved to address the changing needs of Mary’s work. Suffice it to say, I will be bugging both of them with many questions about moving my work to a full-fledged business on which I just might be able to depend to pay the rent.