IZJournal:  a notion of the integrative (z)arts through story, song, process, and visions.

What IZJournal IZ(is)

IZJournal starts off as my (Michael Biddison's) project.  It's my sketchbook,  songbook, and journal of experiences that point in the direction of stuff that inspires living life as a creative, sensitive, integrated  being.  Some entries will be ponderous, some silly, some beautiful, some ugly. In an integrated life, it's all holy. In casting such a wide net, I hope to include my various modes of obviously artistic expression (songs, sculptures, poetry, paintings, performances) as well as projects that more inclusively engage socially, ecologically, economically and politically.  This would include my various interests in creative community, beautiful tiny houses, general projects that deal creatively with "waste" and having joyful fun with as many participants as are willing.

TedX Talk: "Zart, the Art of Everything From Z to A"



This was a talk I did at CatPickering in Phoenixville Pa. for a TedX Talk.  

It's about 10 minutes of images and talking about what the hell I mean by Zart.

Here I am pictured with my fabulous tie, which gives me superhuman paisley powers 

(to be discussed at some other point)

Defintions of an izElephant

When I try and explain what I mean by the Integrative (Z)arts, it's a winding road to get there. What's integrative mean in this arty kind of way? Why call it Zart instead of art? (that's a weird word isn't it?)  I'll answer these important questions and also questions like "how come your studio is so messy?" and "what are you going to do with THAT?!" and MUCH MUCH more!!  In order to get to the bottom of what I mean by Integrative (Z)arts, I need to know what kind of person I'm talking to. The audience is everything. Here's a little parable you may have heard:

"Six blind men are asked to determine what an elephant looks like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe. But of course they are all right."  (the art below is a wall relief from northern thailand, from wikipedia)


Definitions of things limit them.  

If you really must know what Zart is see this.

Shrubbi #1: What iz a Window Sash

SHRUBBI #1: Window Sashes

We are a culture that has become expert at creating stuff.  That's had its good points.  It's had its not so good points. What we no longer have a use for (and currently this is what scientists call "a lot")  we discard, labelling it as garbage, refuse, junk, trash.  Sometimes it's not labelled at all, although people feel more justified tossing stuff if they label it first. 

But there is no such thing as garbage.  In nature everything is re-used, re-invented, woven back in.  

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Repetitive waste is a particular interest of mine.  It's heartbreaking enough for me to see older windows and doors replaced rather than repaired and tightened up. There are almost always interesting architectural fragments in scattered piles on the side of the road. Antique doors and window sashes are fine bits of joinery.  I've grown to deeply appreciate the materials, and craftsmanship of these flexible structures in my work both as a sculptor and a as a restoration carpenter (for more on this see my Blog post on repairing antique windows in the Native Woods restoration site). 

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The two pieces pictured above operate as either wall hangings or table tops.  The top one has cherry panels that have been colored and carved.  The design is one of my favorite character riffs, the holy paisley.  The bottom piece has a mixture of carved wooden scraps and poured resin.  You can probably tell it was meant to look like a chess board (it's called game buoy).  It looks so cool on a wall, though.  So that's where she sits. (yes, buoys can be girls and girls can be girls, it's a mixed up world)

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This window sash has a lot going on in the carving. I'll give you a peek on a detail.

Often my pieces have episodic imagery,  like frozen frames from a dream 

or a touching moment discovered during the day, 

or from one of the songs I'm writing or singing.

And then I forget.  And I just like how it all makes me feel together.

Window sashes, especially old ones, have a certain poetry 

because they have a history of being looked into/through. 

What farmer's field did they look out on?  

What birth or death did they witness.  

How many morning suns and how many winter moons have shone through them?

What iz a Shingle?

When I pull things out of the dumpster or from piles by the side of the road, the accumulation of time and energy in the objects feels exotic, enchanting to me.  In pulling out such collections of junk and ogling over them as many folks would over gold and silver, folks are generally amused.  

I offer this window into my world: if we were visiting Mars and found a pile of such stuff plopped in the middle of a vast red plain, would those objects feel like junk? I think we would pore over them as holy relics, looking for all possible clues to the kind of life that went there.  And most of those conclusions would be just stories, because we just barely could know the whys and the hows and the whens.  And so we just make it up.  We are story tellers.

So it was with this shingle.


A retired cedar shingle.

A shingle is a protection from the storms, the sun, the wind.  

It is that which is between us and the heavens.

As we lie in our beds at night

the shingle is over us.  

As we walk down paths

the shingle is over us.

As we lay down in the earth 

the shingle is over us.

As we ride into space

the shingle is over us.

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Muse's Door: Geode, Cave and Teetering Stone

This wall piece is made from the retired door of a 19th century buiding in Delaware (8'6" long 25" wide).  It hangs in my wife's Pilates studio (my gallery away from home), holding court. 

On first telling of its origins, I thought I remembered it came from a church.  

I loved the poetry of that.  

Doors and doorways have been an important part of my personal iconography for many years. Making a doorway to my view of the sacred was an inspiring beginning point, connecting the hallways of all that matters to me.


But then, on further inquiry, I found that I had mis-remembered, mis-heard, or something.  

It was actually from a jail.  

Well that has its own poetry. 

I had to connect yet another hidden hallway. 

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How I came by this door:  A good friend of mine who does high end mill work had a customer who sent this ancient door away to be stripped with acid and chemicals 

(not a great idea in general unless you prefer something to be mostly porous and falling apartish)

(but after all it was cheaper than stripping it by hand).  

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When it came back it was un-useable as a door, wood patches/repairs had fallen off, the joints were sloppy and loose, and the wood had become soft.  It no longer had enough structure to operate as a door.  


New doors had to be milled up and these were headed to the trash pile.  

"Not so fast!" cried Doc Salvage (one of my many altering egos). 

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 This is the re-imagined door. The panels have been replaced with a variety of found materials and images: plexiglasss, copper, and cherry make up the greater part of the new panels.

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There is a door with hidden song lyrics.

In my sacred door, there is earth. there are the whirling creatures.

and the muse that brings it all to singing.

and then of course there is the jail

which makes the love and beauty delightfully real.

In the words of Richard Lovelace, 

"stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage"

the rest of that poem, if you haven't read it recently, is this door.

Thunderbird: What Is a Car?

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This was a fun project.  A commission for the Automobile Association of America (AAA) in Wilmington, DE., it was  done in collaboration with fellow junk sculptor Scot Kaylor.  Collaboration projects are some of my favorites.  It comes from years of playing music in bands.  It comes from playing neighborhood sports. It comes from being involved with theatrical productions. And so on.  I find that unexpected fun (and strife of course) and creative turns make the journey of collaboration incredibly rewarding.  Much of this same dynamic appears in my work as a restoration carpentry, also in my marriage, family, and community.  I think of collaboration as a sculpture all of its own, as Joseph Beuys called it, a "social sculpture."  It seemed fitting that for this place centered around the modern vehicle, we were involved with the most ancient of vehicles, of trans portation: art.

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The piece was to be placed on a large rounded wall in the lobby of the new AAA headquarters.  We got drawings and took pictures and visited the sight...did measurements and set about making sketches, models, and gathering ideas for materials. The folks at AAA were enthusiastic and willing to be bold with the piece. 


I must admit I never was much of a car guy.  My parents had to force me to get my driver's license.  But once we began our research on older cars, especially the "brightwork" (the shiny jewelry of classic automobiles) I realized I had been missing how incredibly sculptural the details were.  I fell in love with hub caps and mirrors, with steering wheels and hood ornaments. I fell in love with the shapes of the hoods and the fenders. In general I became a great appreciator of the industrial design that flourished in our country (until roughly the time period that leisure suits and tony orlando and dawn seeped into our culture)(I'm not saying they caused the demise of industrial design... neccessarily)

Two things leapt out of our research for Scot and me, which we were inpired to explore more in depth for this piece.  

1. The visionary space age quality of much of these automobile/vehicle related designs

2. the relationship to ancient myth, especially in American Indian culture that permeated the names and imagery associated with road vehicles.  

The odd juxtapositon of these things, even contradictions, was part of what fueled our process I think.

After we did our presentation to the commitee, we went about collecting materials in the usual way.... going to junk yards, digging through our own piles of rubble, keeping our eyes peeled for stuff on the side of the road. We thought the piece would be nearly 20' long.  So both Scott and I had to build a scale model of the wall shape in our studios so we could make the pieces seperately that we would eventually sew together.  

Our studios are about an hour apart and couldn't be more different.  (That's another theme in my collaborations) Scot is a meticulous and delicate welder.  His studio is also meticulous, like a Joseph Cornell assemblage, with wonderful shelves of fasteners and odd metal parts.  My studio is not like that.  

My artwork to this point mostly involved wood and paint and carving and fabrication related to carpentry.  Metal was not much of my vocabulary.  Other than antique hardware for my restoration projects, metal was metal was metal.  Scot was all about metal, how it was joined, the brutal strength of it, and the refinement and permanence it was capable of.  In the exchange, I got all of those metal qualities, and he got color and texture and imagery.  

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The final wall piece utilized parts of 5 car hoods (a Volare is the only one you might recognize) numerous tail lights, boat parts, mirrors, grills, and other found "autoesque"  debris.  

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The wood work, the painting and carving and finishing happened in the last stage, after we had mechanically assembled the piece.  The final piece was 27' long, so it had to be designed in a way that could be taken apart into sections and then be reassembled.  You can see we were counting on the acuracy of our studio model in the picture above. And below.


Installation, miraculously went off without a hitch.  

In the end we titled the piece "Thunderbird."  Scot and I created a mythological creature, one that equally echoed the mythology of the American Indian version of the Thunderbird and the mythology of the American automobile. We saw our creature as a protector and generator of "trans portation" of all kinds.  The road and all its inhabitants, the web of roads and trails, is one giant cultural collaboration.  The whirring of multitudes of machines, all are speeding toward adventures and destinations, not completely intentional. For the auto is also a part of contributing to the fragility of our environment.  It has both the capacity to protect and to ruin us.  We must stay awake on the road. 

Or pull off and take naps.   

If you're on a road trip near Wilmington, DE. "Thunderbird" awaits your visit in the lobby of AAA headquarters there! 

Is it not enough

is it not enough that you melt inside my eyes 

and soak me

is it not enough that torrential rains expose the heart

of the earth, of the earth

in desert

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is it not enough that an ember has burnt me in the cold

           wanting more from bliss than moments passing

           wanting more from bliss than greed could gaurantee

 what wishes do i dwell on that feel like stalking hunters

protect me and confuse me into lieing down

from all that’s in my pockets and all that’s in my bones

i am looking at an undecided way


 wanting more from bliss than rain evaporating

            wanting more from bliss than greed could gaurantee

 is it not enough to be within this thin exquisite skin

is it not enough that you melt inside my eyes

and soak me

(written by me, this song is on a recording by the llama dalis, 

the last one on the album (recording) in fact.)


to get the whole album

What IZ Work: The Art of Every Day

I find that this is not the easiest experience to share, but it's probably one of the things I am most consistently passionate about sharing.  My art, whether it's painting, music, performance, furniture or re-shaping houses is really about allowing myself to express a kind of mythical appreciation for everyday experience.  For "non-artists" I often get feedback that they "don't have a creative bone" in their body, or that they "can't even draw a stick figure."  I know neither of these things can be true (also, who really wants to draw a stick figure anyway?).  The reason I know it's not true is that I see very clearly how these people are bountiful in their creations, making families, communities, building sheds, making gardens, cooking, trucking across the country and seeing the giant that is the earth.... and so on. Perhaps what they are saying, is that don't feel "alive" to what is gong on in their creations.  Perhaps that's a matter of paying attention.  And then being playful with what is noticed.  And being generous with ourselves, finding ourselves fascinating and even (gasp) beautiful.

My "every day work" often is in the capacity of a restoration carpenter.  Much of the materials for my sculptural wall pieces come out of the refuse piles at jobsites (we're quite proud of being able to do without a dumpster usually, recycling, re-using, collecting, and passing on what we can), or from the side of the road on my way there.  Throughout my day the art light will come on in unexpected ways.  I feel poetry and enjoyments and visions creep into my experiences.  (Well, not every day, but a LOT of days!)  Some days, it's falling through a floor and landing on my back and then making a song out of that months later. I'll have to share that song some time with you.

photos by Andy Gustine


Sometimes, while I am reconstructing a 200 year old window, amidst the sawdust, plaster, and strange bent nails I find myself connected to the imagined history of a place, to the people and forces that went there. 

The materials themselves have voices.  They feel.

 And nature is everywhere.  

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I feel the slow power of water that has leaked away the substance of a wall.

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Or I will sudenly feel that silky warmth of realizing what a magical place I once again find myself in.

Or I find myself really seeing a piece of hardware for the first tme.


Or see the light coming through the rafters of a dilapidated tractor shed casting abstract shadows.

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Or feeling the erosion of our grinders and sandpaper, wearing wood into becoming like river stone.

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This week I am doing a show with my long time friend and restoration partner, Andy Gustine.  I am showing my wall pieces, made of found materials, he is showing his photographs of found objects and atmospheres as we work.  There's an invitation for the show at the bottom.  Come participate in the art of gathering.

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photos by Andy Gustine

see native-woods.com 

for more examples of making beauty in every day places

Her's the show this weekend.

What IZ a Book?

At the art show last week, I brought out an old art book of mine and thought it would be fun to share it here.

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I foud this book at a goodwill in 1988 or so. I've always like the feel of old books, probably a symptom of being raised by two voracious readers who had many shelves of old books.  As I was growing up I remember that the books still smelled of Texas and Louisiana  (we moved to Pennsylvania when I was nine). Beyond their literary content, they spoke of substantive journey and sensual mystery in a way that e-media can only scratch the surface of.  

Hardback books of course were the pinnacle.

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So I would go to goodwills and pick up books that felt good, no matter the subject matter. This particular book was an old Sunday school book.  Thick in every sense of the word.  As it sat around my studio I would thumb through it. And certain things started jumping out at me. 

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Repeated words. repeated patterns, words that emerged consistetly throughout the text.  It seemed to me that maybe there were just too many words.  I resolved to begin to edit it.

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With only black paint and some black pencil, I began painting away the items on the page.  Sometimes I found poems underneath them.  

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Sometimes, by connecting the periods on a page like a constellation, I found images.  

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For about a half a year I came back over again and over again to  edit my found book.  

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These are some pages from the book. I think I probably ended up editing about half the book. I wrapped the rest with twine.

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I finished editing what I was going to edit back 1989 but I return to it. 

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As with all my work, I find myself circling back, pulling in strands from past tapestries into my current one.

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I still mine the poems and pages.

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I make new paintings based on poems I discovered. ( The piece above, "in the boat we had no words,"  was completed about a month ago)

On an end note, there are everal things I notice about books:  

They are very compact and dense, deceptively imaginative.

 They can be the lowest tech of media.  Anybody has access. They require no electricity or multi-national high tech industry to make, distribute or consume.

They encourage a slow pace and deep absorption.  I've rarely had someone pour over a painting for more than about 15 seconds (optimistically) but I have seen someone sit with this book and turn its pages for 15 minutes.  

Go ahead grab a book from a goodwill or you see in a pile going out with the recycling. Give it an edit.


Michael Biddison     woodsunarts@mac.com       610-247-8718