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Drawing Show Opens at Lionheart Gallery

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So this past Sunday I gave a talk at the LionHeart Gallery in Poundridge, talking about the project and new direction. The talk was given showcase the new project drawings which were being displayed by the gallery.

Additional drawings will be added throughout the show

for more information go to

Hope to see you at the gallery!

Enter the Drawing

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“The architecture takes it a step further, it is the container that holds how that motion plays out. A great building rarely seems to forget its drawing.” – Kathleen Griffin

No. 14

Earlier this month, I met with with Rick Bell and Julie Trébault of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). We talked for a while about Butterflies of Memory, and it brought up issues of both the architecture and drawing of the butterfly. This piece was conceived of over such long period of time, and there are so many day to day technical elements that sometimes the more conceptual and artistic elements can get forgotten. But these points are very important. How the sculpture functions as a drawing – starting and finishing there, how it draws and creates line in the landscape and how its scale pulls us into the drawing.

But I should explain more where I am coming from. In my studio process, I go between drawing and sculpture, primarily. I approach drawing as a conceptual thinking space, focusing on the delicacy of the line employed, the physical materials involved and how the two push and pull on the drawing. The lightness of the material creating a flexibility in the thought, a temporal moment like thought itself. The point of the pencil as the point of the thought, held just barely in position by the placement of that graphite and how it touches the paper.

So drawing then becomes a kind of physical meditation. Drawing and redrawing the butterflies is, for me, thinking them into existence, thinking them into this space. The drawings are all part of that visual meditation.

Also, drawing is an impossible thinking space, unrestricted by anything else. It is captured thought, it is a measurement of it, crystalized. So much more than painting. So much lighter.

Then there is sculpture. If you ask me casually what I do, when I am not thinking too much, I will tell you I am a sculptor. More often than not I say artist, and this is why: all of this thinking and drawing, all this creation of conceptual place, hopefully develops ideas enough that they can come and join us here.  We do not go to its place, it comes to us.This poetry in reverse, it is my end point. For my work, that is also about impossibility and wonder, making things that seem impossible, a physical poetry or idea, who lives with us, almost in opposition to the world as it is, demanding more, expanding this space, to hold it. Living in the wonder and impossibility of those pure ideas, feeling unrestrained in those possibility, held for a  moment between disbelief and wonder. Where poetry is physical and surrounds us, where we are inside the drawing.

This is what leads to my concern for material and, as often as possible, locking meaning inside that material – to refuse the illusion and transformation of a picture plane, of drawing or specifically painting or television or the computer, but to create something real. A boat that really is filled with 2,500 pounds of candy, butterflies that actually are gold, that do fly above our city.

But in the case of this piece, the piece is so large and so far away, depicting a creature that is in and of itself so temporal, the piece itself will be temporal in that it becomes a drawing again. A butterfly more than perhaps any other creature is so temporal it almost refutes our three dimensions, remaining an idea too, a two dimensional expression. The gold on the butterflies like the gold leaf in the drawings, and it is a drawing in the landscape as well, pulling us into it, a larger drawing of the city. For a moment to look at it will be to be part of that drawing and the 60,000 pounds of steel on the building will be the same as the hard pencil lines that I lay against a ruler. A push-pull and the butterflies are here with us or we are in the drawing with it. It is this vibration that I greatly look forward to. To see if it gets pulled off. To see if it also feels like a drawing just as it seems impossibly real and among us.

I have always read with a great jealousy the work of  writers and poets whose work pulls us into the delicacy and place of their words. This will be the first piece I will have made whose scale is large enough to pull the viewer into its reality, and still as sculpture remain in ours. I am very excited about this.

And then the architecture takes it a step further, it is the container that holds how that motion plays out. A great building rarely seems to forget its drawing. And the Ruins are not a random choice, they come with an intense variation of histories. A building that has lived a large and full life.  The meanings also change, as those stories play out. The meaning of the  building becomes the content or realization of that first drawing and the realities of those stories. This piece works with that architecture, imaging its content both as it is and could be, playing with and altering its story, flipping that relationship of drawing again. They become so many things twisting together it becomes simple again, it functions again, and as that drawing or poetry, we read into its meanings.

The Year of the Butterfly

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“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, it became a butterfly.” – Kathleen Griffin



This is the New Year.

But some years are more difficult than others, so perhaps their endings should be sweeter. The New Year can wake up like morning, as we hope for renewal, the difference between release and forgetting, what knowing makes us become.

It has been a hard year.

A year that reminds us how ugly the world can be. I grew up two towns from Newtown. In my personal world and in the world at large, sometimes life is uglier than we thought it would be, turning out very different than we imagined. In that you have to make a choice, to use that darkness to become something better or to fall into it – to die of it or to become the golden butterfly. To transcend, to fight back with a deeper commitment to beauty, to what you believe in. To purify that hardship. That destruction and madness can be met by our commitment to something better, purer.

As an artist, and I mean that in the broadest sense of the word, particularly in New York City, it can be a very difficult life, and for myself and most creative people I know, you have battle with the question of “why am I doing this?” Why didn’t I become something that just made more money or had a safer track? But when things become horrible it becomes clearer, because it is those visions that allow us to see the world as it can be, who we can be. Medication may stop you from dying, but it teaches you nothing about living, or what is possible.

And in those hard moments we turn to things that can. We touch at that moment, the creator and the receiver. Silently. At the moment that somehow lifts us, reminds us of who we are. The receiver, everyone who stands there, listening or looking, in that moment sees themselves more clearly, in a moment of beauty or wonder.

That is the moment, together on both sides of that equation, we work towards it, that moment of transcendence.

The other day I was hanging out with Charles from SkyScraper Steel. While perhaps not technically the artist, at this point, he is one of the people working almost as hard as I am to realize this, to actualize this particular vision.  We were unloading the first golden butterfly next two his two now destroyed houses along the waterfront of Brooklyn. Rather than someone broken, or miserable, I see a friend who is still strong, more refined, who has gathered up his family and is figuring out, despite total destruction, how he will rebuild. He does not skip a beat, he works harder.

For myself, it is a faith in this, my religion in a way, a commitment to hope and beauty, sometimes in the face of everything else.

People ask me all the time why I am doing this, and I dance around the answer, but really that’s it.

This piece is a release of memory, a transformation of it, an image of becoming all that we were meant to be, because, just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, it became a butterfly.

And it is what I want to give to my city, that image, and when you see it, I want you to think of only yourself.

So, We Keep Moving Forward

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Kathleen Griffin on the site of the Small Pox Hospital ruins

So this is the hell or high water mark, where time is crunching and stakes are raising and winning is not enough.

The project is moving faster and gaining steam, I have a series of fantastic new team members and planners. Amazing foundations are actually seeking me out, to become part of the project. But this is the time where failing is about not winning fast enough, so I think that I will be running until three days after the project is up.

This is the time where the stakes raise and the partners raise and the numbers on both sides of the budget, in and out, go up. We are through the times of stitching things together with buttons and string. I meet with my business developers at least once a week, in a second floor office on 5th Ave., my business meetings do not include champagne anymore as often as they did this past fall and I am refining and rewriting – it is business.

John Babashek, our project manager, and I go over and over our important letters and financial business. Just last week we were contacted by the James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation about working with them and having them join our project. Today I met with Rick Bell and Julie Trebault from the AIA New York Chapter about how to promote our partnership and a summer art show at the Center for Architecture. Friday I am going to Philadelphia with Bullet Magazine to meet with Humankind and check out the butterfly. We are building the structure that can lift the structure, so that I do not get sued, and so that I get everyone what they need so things are done right and well.

As Charles, of Skyscraper likes to remind me, there is no turning back now, we’re like the British: “If you stop moving forward, we will shoot you.” So, we keep moving forward.

First Photos of the Finished Golden Wings

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The first gold-leafed Butterfly

Gold-leafing up close

The golden touch…


Step Two: Do a Lot of Bad Drawings

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“This piece lingers in a border space, something that is real and yet still feels like you are only seeing it and then finishing it or making it real in your head. Like a piece of poetry made real, crystallizing for a minute.”

I began drawing butterflies about six years ago. They just started popping into my head. It was strange how they would come, I knew they were an important idea for my work, but it would seem that just as I was understanding why, the idea would disappear, and I was left  with the feeling of having forgotten something important. I found myself struggling to remember the idea. So I began to draw butterflies. At that time I was still living and working in Birmingham, Ala.

A year later when I moved up to Ithaca, New York, the butterflies were still appearing.

I threw away the first year’s worth of my butterfly drawings, because they had no substance, they were just drawings of butterflies, the insect. This is the strange thing about drawing, sometimes you know you are just creating a space for an idea to grow, it becomes more of a muscular activity. I was deeply involved in other work at the time, so the butterflies were sedentary.

By the second year, it was clearer that the butterflies were about the pulling of memory. In the drawings they began pulling on things, on buildings, people and objects, tearing them down, carrying them away, lifting them up. Sometimes the drawings were dark and the butterflies destructive, other times they were a rescue or transformation. On my studio wall in pencil, I wrote “the butterflies of memory come in their outrageous beauty, they come to tear the buildings down.” I began to think about architecture and the second construction inside it, the second building, the one created from memory. The building that can linger long after the first one falls.

I started making butterfly sculptures and moquettes, but nothing I was happy with. They sort of lingered in my drawing room as piles of drawings began to build up. It was in these drawings that I worked out how the butterflies functioned conceptually, and why even now I think of this piece as much in terms of drawing as I do sculpture – in part because of the scale and visual distance created by the size and location of the piece, but also because of how the piece is meant to function visually.

This is not at all typical of my sculptural work, which is usually acutely concerned with it’s material reality and physical presence. This piece lingers in a border space, something that is real and yet still feels like you are only seeing it and then finishing it or making it real in your head. Like a piece of poetry made real, crystallizing for a minute. I think the piece will seem very unreal when it is up, the sunlight flashing and flickering on the gold, heightened by the fact that it’s temporary. You will see it and then it will be gone, and you will wonder if you imagined it. It will only continue to exist as long as it is remembered.

The Ruins

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Here’s how it starts:

It’s February 2009. I’m driving down the FDR for the billionth time in my life, feeling sad and overwhelmed. I’m broke and living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Astoria, using my living room as a studio. I had come two months before to New York with a plan, and with solid work in place. But everybody I knew had lost their jobs. I remember that January being the longest month. I had been teaching, and doing production design, but it all kept falling through. Or you work on a project and receive a fraction of the pay you were promised or the check bounces. But my sister was in New York, and upstate was lonely…

Around 70th Street, as I approach the rust-colored supports of the Queensboro bridge, I start thinking about the Ruins – the collapsed Smallpox Hospital on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, in the East River. I peer left, out the car window, past oncoming traffic, to see the building that I have loved since I was a little girl. I look to it for the comfort it has always provided me, and instead, I have a vision: Butterflies.

There has always been this connection for me. As a child I the early 1980s I’d visit the city several times a week from New Fairfield, Conn. with my mother – a Bronx native. On the ride home we’d get stuck in rush hour traffic, and for me this only heightened my anticipation of leering at the Ruins. I saw the stone structure as an old castle, and I would imagine that someday I would renovate the palace and live there – the Queen of Roosevelt Island. Being a little girl, I always thought it was a castle.

My mom was only 33, and I was six or seven, and we’d have these adventures — a return to this magical place, had crummy cars breaking down, and whenever the car broke down, someone would rescue us. New York in the 80s was wild. We’d go to a diner and they’d give us free donuts.

Later, when I tell my friend from graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design about my project, she laughed.  I always mentioned the ruins on road trips from Providence, she said. I have imagined them a thousand different ways over my lifetime.

But today, I see a swarm of shining yellow butterflies over the building, carrying it off, magically transforming the Ruins; completing, perhaps, an idea I started as a young girl. It was like a dream that had always been floating just above the spires of the old Small Pox Hospital, waiting for me.