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Michelle Ray and the Sea – Part 2

Michelle Ray Three Ships 4Three Ships
published by Michelle Ray in 2012, in an edition of 35.

With Three Ships, Michelle uses a more sculptural, or display book, format than she has with previous editioned works. This sets it apart from her earlier work, and lays the foundation for her subsequent book God Created the Sea and Painted it Blue so We’d Feel Good On It . . .

The piece is housed in a double tray drop-spine box, but rather than housing a book that can be removed and examined outside of the box, the box itself is the book. The right hand tray has all four walls intact and presents an image of the sea, layered front to back with cut out, printed components. The physical layering assures that the uppermost part of the image, which is, in this case, the horizon line, is physically further away from the viewer than the immediate foreground. The image includes bright yellow silhouette forms of boats on which text appears.

Michelle Ray Three Ships

Michelle Ray Three Ships

The left hand tray, with the spine side one, has a four flap wrapper with a tab and slot closure affixed to the back of the box. Opening the envelope reveals both a 6 panel, map-folded page and a small Errata card. The folded page is printed both sides with imagery and text, and includes the colophon.

Michelle Ray Three Ships

Michelle Ray Three Ships

Three Ships exemplifies once again Michelle’s ability to convey an abundance of thought and relationship with few images and words presented on so few surfaces.

This piece was created in response to a specific text as part of the BookArtObject Edition #4. BookArtObject is an informal group of book artists that uses their blog as vehicle discussion and as an arena to make small editions of handmade artists’ books in response to various texts. The text for Edition Four comes from Sarah Bodman’s book An Exercise for Kurt Johannessen, in which 100 short story titles were provided as starting points for the participating artists.

Three Ships is the title Michelle chose to work with, giving he opportunity to explore an ongoing theme – the sea. In a continuation of her choice to present relationships from a broad range of sources, this work draws from the memory of the three life boats from Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition: Stancomb Wills, Dudley Docker and James Caird, Shackleton’s stash of rare and old Highland malt whiskey, and the safety and foolishness of that expedition. The book also explores through mnemonic devices this relationship between time, memory and seeing.

My favorite bit is the Errata card:

We suffer terribly from snow blindness. In the end, none of us could remember why we came to this place.

Michelle Ray Three Ships Errata

Michelle Ray and the Sea – Admeasure

Michelle Ray Admeasure

I have never met Michelle Ray but well remember the first work of hers I saw – The Kashash and the Archivist; it is one I wish I owned. Abecedarian Gallery represents Michelle, giving me a chance to get to know her through the works she creates. My respect for her continuing growth and work deepens with each new project.

Michelle Ray describes herself as a left brained maker; a devotee of organizing, list-making and labels. She also clearly loves language, research, storytelling and vast open spaces. Her level of craft is high, her writing skills well-honed and her evolving conceptual development is sophisticated enough to effectively translate multiple elements into objects so that they live in a state of complex harmony. Yet these works are not cumbersome or crowded; rich though they are, with words, imagery, reference and structure, they remain elegant and almost sparse.

This week I’m focusing on three of Ray’s limited edition book works – those that reference the sea:
Admeasure, Three Ships and God Created the Sea and Painted it Blue so We’d Feel Good On It . . .

Admeasure, the earliest of the three, was published in 2011 while Ray was an MFA candidate in the Book Arts Program at the University of Alabama.

Admeasure is structurally simple (an accordion book with pamphlet stitched pages in two sections housed in a paper wrapper) produced by uncomplicated procedures (letterpress, die cut, folding and stitching). Closed it measures 8 x 3 x .25 inches.
Michelle Ray Admeasure
The soft paper cover is printed in gray ink on a sand colored paper with a line drawing of waves that are turbulent and seem to be crashing off a rocky shore. There is no land in sight, only the horizon line of the endless sea.

Charmingly, the tab/slot mechanism that holds the cover closed is printed with the words

“I had a dream that I built a small boat & set out to sea in it.”

Michelle Ray Admeasure

On opening the book, we learn that Admeasure is a nautical term and refers to the act of measuring the dimensions and capacity of a vessel for official registration. Later in the book, the silhouetted forms of a bird and boat alongside upward and downward pointing arrows, illustrate how a vessel’s height and depth impact the spaces of the sky and sea.

The accordion pages are printed front and back, in the lower third, with more images of the roiling sea; a two sail boat rocked but upright appears on the fourth (of ten) panels. This panel also serves as the first page of a pamphlet, stitched through the accordion fold. A second pamphlet is stitched into the final fold of the accordion and goes through the book cover’s spine. This allows the book to be fixed in place in the cover, but also fully extended for a different viewing experience.
Michelle Ray Admeasure

The accordion panels are printed front and back with black line work and gray blocks of color; the text varying shades of gray. The two pamphlet sections introduce various shades of orange. While startling on first encounter, the bright, warm color gives a whimsical break from the prevailing muted tones, particularly as one of the images printed in orange is that of an albatross.

Michelle Ray Admeasure

The book utilizes quotes from Bas Jan Ader, a traditional pilot’s verse and draw’s from a variety of archetypal journey (including Ray’s own time spent in small boats).

It also gives clear directives: alongside the aforementioned orange albatross the words

“Now. Hold a live Albatross in your hands. Feel how hot it is. Smell its smell (dusty).

Under a cut-out of a woman’s silhouetted profile

“Go into a darkened room. Shine a flashlight through this cutout to project a silhouette on the wall.”

Michelle Ray Admeasure

Admonishments:

“Do not begin reading this book on a Friday, for it will bring you bad luck.”

Michelle Ray Admeasure

And a gentle suggestion:

“You are now being directed to create marginalia related to your journey at sea. Feel free to use all of the empty space on this page.”

Admeasure presents elements later projects have clarified about Ray’s engagement in the world. An interest in presence vs. absence, a love of the vast landscapes of sea and sky, an appreciation for the quirky and whimsical and her work as a book artist to draw connections between traditional lore and our continuing present.

Cornucopia Pick 1 – The Kashash and the Archivist

ABC11 Michelle Ray The Kashash  the Archivist

Michelle RayThe Kashash and the Archivist

 

This modest book has had more than modest impact on me. It is skillfully executed of materials well suited to its weight, scale and structure. The text written collage style speaks of things both within and outside my own experience, giving me an opportunity to reminisce alongside reflecting on new ideas and information.

 

The text begins with an Eco paragraph that concludes “We like lists because we don’t want to die”. The text continues on to define and address the role of the Kashash (a corrupt character who gambles and hoards nuisance birds), to reflect on the nature of collecting and archiving, with various personal and historic observations on birds, primarily pigeons. All this richness in a just a few pages, accompanied by drawings of birds, both soaring and held captive in constructed an chosen habitats.

 

Michelle Ray is currently a graduate student in The University of Alabama’s MFA in the Book Arts program. Before coming to Alabama, she worked as an art subject specialist librarian and adjunct studio arts faculty in New England.

 

In an edition of only 15, and priced at $175, I expect this edition to sell out quickly.

 

Artist statement, images, descriptive details and ordering information here:

http://bit.ly/hmwCI2