Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The DIY Aesthetic- How we can still reach out to each other through art.

We have entered a new era of creation. Scrapbooking tools like Crikut and Silhouette replace jobs normally done by commercial vinyl cutters, and 3-d printing has made one off production not only possible, but commonplace. Photoshop has been manipulating images in ways only dreamed of in the days of layout paste-up and darkroom processing. WYSIWYG(what you see is what you get) website programs have made it easier than ever to look the part of a professional operation. New printing processes make archival color printing affordable and commonplace. A hd camera can be paired up with a small drone and grab sweeping images of scenes that used to cost major movie houses thousands of dollars. The average individual is being given the production capabilities of a major corporation, albeit without the benefits of economies of scale. Availability often equals democratization, and that is good.
Though all of these processes are quite miraculous, I find a great deal of it as lifeless as the made-for-commercial-consumption products it immitates. In this post-digital era, I find myself more than ever enamored with the tactile and the evidence of process.
Don't get me wrong- I like a good gadget/toy. I just happen to find evidence of the human hand in craft ever more satisfying. There was a time when a craftsperson desired perfection in the honing of their craft. I feel that pulling back on perfection is pulling back on that temptation to be more like a machine. Show a pencil mark, show the track of the saw blade, the groove of a carving tool.
This is the new DIY aesthetic. Ironically, the internet allows creative types the world over to teach each other how to carve, how to paint, how to create the dirty old-fashioned way.  There have always been makers like these, but somehow they have become more important of late, my cult heroes.
An incredible find on a very hot day.
Two of my favorite musical instruments carry the clear mark of the craftsperson. One is a Puerto Rican Cuatro that Ann and I found in a junk shop on the market square in Santurce, San Juan. It is a 60s home made instrument that would make a luthier cry, but makes me beam with pride! The front, back, and neck are made of a porus island wood, and the sides are crudely stacked with castellations of wood with a veneer stretched over to indicate the ribs of the instrument. Inside can be seen streaks of sloppy glue, and a black and white photo of some palm trees. Instead of inlays of semiprecious gems, it has glued on decorations including a diamond shaped slice of veneer stained and mounted to the back.
I coaxed this beauty to life by removing, steaming, and flattening the bridge, carving a new cow bone nut and saddle. I love the way it looks and sounds. I wonder about the well worn neck and all of the alley sessions it may have had. I think about the amateur craftsperson who made this instrument that looks so crude yet sounds so sweet.
The second instrument is a guitarron made by the Familia Timaure of Carora, Venezuela. I never traveled to Venezuela, but by the time I received my guitarron I felt like I had! The internet was my passport.
I enjoy playing my upright bass, but at times the size can be a burden. I tried an accoustic bass guitar, but it greatly lacked in volume. I saw guitarrons and wanted to dig deeper and find out all I could. All hail Google. Guitarrons are the giant guitars that the bass player uses in mexican mariachi bands.  Since they play in octaves and have very short necks, there would be a steep learning curve. I don't claim to be brilliant, or even the master of my choices, so I set about getting one.
At the time of my search for this instrument, ebay only had two versions. The made- in- China Lucida instrument seemed to be a decent enough starter instrument, but the other listing- this choppy, barely intelligible description paired with photos of the instrument leaning against a couch felt somehow more right.
Guillerno Timaure y Nieto Adalberto Timaure.
After a challenging spanish back and forth with the seller ,Augusto, I found out that a father and sons outfit in Carora would be making my instrument. He gave me the name " El Torrense" Timaure and Sons.  I Googled it, and I came across a Flickr album where a photographer visited the family of instrument makers.  The craftspeople were working away under a shed roof with the most basic of tools making some wonderful instruments.  Though this was Venezuela, I could see a family in Appalachia doing the same thing. These images somehow made me feel the beginnings of kinship to the makers I would never meet. Augusto warned that it would take more than a month and a half to ship, but I was already sold on it. Over that month and a half I had several phone conversations with him.  He would call as a courtesy to tell me when the item cleared customs, got past government screenings, etc.  The first month was spent getting the guitarron out of Venezuela. Once free of the border, the package moved with incredible efficiency to my door.  Upon my receipt of the package, I wrote Augusto and thanked him. I felt like someone who just got back from a vacation and decides to thank the kind host.
The guitarron is very well made, but there is evidence of the hand of a human being everywhere. The bindings are wrapped with bands of wood, each chip a little different from the last. You can almost make out the brush strokes of the finish on the wood, and if you look inside, you can see a ghost of a streak of glue here and there. Somehow that just makes it more special.
The next time you buy something hand crafted, try to remind yourself how lucky you are to share that experience with the artist. They likely could have just printed it off for you , but they made it with their own hands.

1 comment:

  1. ... love ... love ... love! ... from Susan