Styrofoam Head With Beads

I don’t often stray away from painting but sometimes life decrees a temporary shift in course. I had to vacate the studio to accommodate guests, but a chance dumpster find of a Styrofoam head put a spring in my step and made the situation a bit less ouchy.

It’s always satisfying to make art out of things which would normally end up in the landfill, and many of my frames and painting surfaces are gathered this way. It’s unusual to do entire sculptural works based on such finds, however. It’s nice to be reminded that I can do something unexpected and new.

I began with a Styrofoam head abandoned in the alley behind our house.

Styrofoam Head

These inexpensive forms are designed for wigs and are readily available in craft stores. Other than a few dents here and there, my example was in pretty good shape. I left it outside as a lawn ornament for a week before commencing work and even that didn’t seem to faze it. I learned some things the hard way on this project so here are some tips which might be useful to others.

First, the head must be sealed before painting. I used ordinary latex house primer but have since learned that smearing the outside with Elmer’s Glue works too. Don’t use spray paint or oils or anything with a solvent in it. Doing so results in a melted head, which might be appealing but I was going for something else. After giving the surface a good priming, I covered the surface with three coats of red acrylic paint diluted with acrylic glazing medium. When you’ve been an artist a while, the supplies mount up. It’s common for a piece to be determined pretty much solely by what’s on hand and I had an overabundance of both.

Styrofoam Head With Acrylic Paint

It soon became clear that the project was influenced by ancient art.

Clay Goddesses From the Pottery Workshops of Kumartuli, India

India is one of the few places where contemporary pieces have changed little from those of thousands of years ago and I often go to that tradition for inspiration. My head clearly owes a lot to the clay goddess statues still being made today by the potters of Kumartuli, India.

Red Styrofoam Head

As I painted my own version, it was interesting to see how differently the face would appear after the tiniest adjustments of a line. We are so attuned to the human face that changing the shape of an eye or a lip by even a millimeter can entirely change the way we interpret an expression. In art, as in life, it’s reassuring to know that small steps can lead to such big things.

I could have stopped at this stage but the project seemed a little too close to this-is-just-a-fancy-wig-holder. I needed something more to turn it into art, or at least a bolder and stranger wig holder. Here is the result.

“Red Styrofoam Head With Beads” by Lynda McClanahan

Some fake hair, buttons, a quantity of floral corsage pins and many beads later, I’m left with this vaguely Hindu goddess. Object of devotion or over-sized knick knack, this is one of the few recent projects which I would put in the category of sheer, unadulterated, joyful play. I feel refreshed, re-invigorated and ready for whatever comes next.


White Spy vs. Black Spy

I’ve been waiting to hear back from Wild Goose Creative Gallery regarding a dual show in July of 2020. I’ve been accepted as one half of a joint exhibit but confirmation by the other artist is yet to come. In the meantime, I’ve worked up two small things in anticipation of a Mad Magazine show curated by Jay Mueller to be held at the Vanderelli Room in December.

There is no formal call for submissions as yet and no guarantee my work will be included, but based on the intuition that I will shortly be very busy indeed, I plowed ahead. The worst that could happen is I’ll have two more sweetly funny pieces available for use in the future.

“Spy vs. Spy” was a cold-war-inspired cartoon drawn by Cuban expat artist Antonio Prohias which ran in Mad Magazine for many years. The idea seemed to be two identical combatants, one dressed entirely in white and the other in black, locked in eternal conflict. This was a fitting metaphor for the anti-communist anxieties of the 1950’s and ’60’s but also suits current rage-filled statecraft absurdities. I began to visually riff on what might have become of Black Spy and White Spy now that their Mad Magazine platform is fast receding into the past.

The first order of the day was to peruse the internet for traditional images of the characters. The most popular iteration was this view of the two ostensibly shaking hands while secretly menacing one another with dynamite and bombs held behind their backs.

“White Spy vs. Black Spy” by Antonio Prohias

It would have been fine to just copy this image, color it up a bit and be done with it, but I needed something more. When viewers think they know what they’re going to see even before they’ve seen it, you’ve wasted your time. I wanted to retain the spirit of the original but somehow turn it on its head and make it surprising.

I let myself imagine what became of the contentious spies once the curtain came down on all their aggression. Did they finish each other off? Or did they finally hold hands and declare the whole former enterprise just a closeted exercise in erotic action? I chose the latter.

“White Spy With Cat” by Lynda McClanahan

“Black Spy With Rabbit” by Lynda McClanahan

My version of these two adversaries affirms them as frustrated lovers. The menace remains but the gifts have been transformed into what they’ve secretly always been. In my imagination the spies are finally free to openly pursue their love affair. Who knows? Maybe they are quietly living in an assisted care facility, comfortably ensconced together on the couch, watching TV. Perhaps they learned that when rage, fear and competition have been completely expelled and used up, there is nothing left but love.


The Joy of Small Things

When the impulse to do large and ambitious projects appears but ideas do not, I turn to creating small things. This has the advantage of keeping the creative motor running while waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s never a mistake to have a quantity of small, modestly priced pieces to fill out hoped-for future shows. Such things move quickly, provide a bit of cash and reaffirm that the world supports what I do. I’ve just finished two such projects begun last week.

“Hand of Fatima” is pulled from one of the 100 images I used for “Snakes & Ladders.” This hand-and-eye symbol is from the ancient Middle East but is now popular in both Islam and Judaism as a good luck charm. There is some speculation that it is connected to various goddesses of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia but who knows about these things? I see it as a literal representation of the connecting point between human consciousness and the more general consciousness of Nature; Mother Earth placing her creative, shakti-infused hand directly against the foggy, obscuring windowpane of ordinary human perception.

“Child’s Pose” by Lynda McClanahan

The second piece to tumble from the drafting table is “Child’s Pose.” This work is basically a copy of a graphic seen in a yoga pamphlet put out by “Hinduism Today Magazine.” I changed the patterns on the rug and clothing and put the lady in white hair and braids but, other than that, the image is pretty much the same.

There is a positive joy in turning one’s hand to small things while waiting for “the big one.” I follow visual impulses without hesitation or censorship. I’m in the flow.