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.


©Susan McCaslin, Medicine Cabinet Early Morning, 2017
Early Morning Medicine Cabinet

This spring I took my final class at Wesleyan where I have been enrolled in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies. Marion Belanger was my professor for a class in photographic portraiture. Since this was my third class with Marion I was sure I would enjoy it. And just like in the other classes with her, I pushed myself beyond my expectations. She has a silent, strong way to get you to explore and to help you sculpt your focus until, by the end of the semester, each student has a strong, well edited portfolio of work. 

Here is a link to see the final ten photos. 

Wearable Art at Westville’s Artwalk 2017

For the past 20 years, each May, Westville Village has put on Artwalk, an event that celebrates the concentration of the arts in our small village. We are an historic village in the western part of New Haven. This year, Misti and Luke Hanscom of Lotta Studio arranged for 14 artists to create wearable art. Two of my works were worn in the fashion show on Friday night just before the Central Avenue Dance Party.  Damian Paglia wore my Serape/Jacket and Emmett wore one of my coats. Fun was had by all!

And thanks to David Sepulveda for the video he made and posted on YouTube so the rest of could enjoy it after the event.

Paper Mache Rock Sculptures

Paper Mache Rock Sculptures by ©Susan McCaslin
Paper Mache Rock Sculptures      ©Susan McCaslin

I have been making paper mache rock sculptures for the last 4-5 years. These are small, they fit in your hand. I have also made large ones, up to 60 inches tall.

Originally they were made to accompany a twig drawing installation.  Building from scratch is something I really enjoy, the sense that what was never there is suddenly in my hands is a great feeling and because these are paper, the painting of the surface is another element to the work that I enjoy. 

I am very process oriented. Mixing the wheat paste (flour and water) with my bare hands is the first and most delicious moment. Balling up the newspaper and taping it together. Applying the first of many layers. Refining and defining the soft spots that become the indentations.  Often I wish people could watch me work to get the sense of what pleasure I derive from the process.