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Where to go? What to do?

June 30, 2020

Doodling with maps in mind

With the pandemic still in full swing, I feel like I’ve come to a full stop. Lack of motion. Lack of motivation.

I’m having a hard time figuring out how I want to express my ideas about mapping. I’m intrigued by maps because they seem like a ticket to a different reality. They suggest that there is a perceivable route to be taken, A to B, and that there is information offered about the route on the map. Distance is “suggested,” as well as boundaries. All very useful!  Take this 16th C map (from You Are Here by Katharine Harmon):

I like it because it conveys a feeling—it’s a presentation of a space that draws me in and makes me want to live in that time period, in that place. Looking at the image brings alive the texture of the paper, the smell of the ink, the sound when it’s picked up and held. Of course, it’s an imaginary experience on my part. I don’t need it to be real, I just need it as a vehicle for cerebral participation.

I’m not going to draw and then paint maps like the 16th C one, but I want to represent how I think about the space and events that happen around me. What grounds me…what gets my attention…the patterns I see. Can I express that somehow?

Some sketches:

“Great art suspends the reverted eye, the lamented past, the anticipated future: we enter with it into the timeless present… it …suspends the desire to be elsewhere.”   Ken Wilbur in The Eye of the Spirit

A segue (I love this word)

April 21, 2020

Mapping the strata XVIII

I thought I needed a way to reinvigorate my Mapping the strata series. I don’t know how other artists regard their work, whether they are content to explore a particular genre or theme throughout their career, but I felt like I was becoming a little predictable after Mapping the strata XVIII. I needed a new way of considering my intent and interest…and a new way of painting to express it. I didn’t want to abandon Strata, maybe just take a vacation and see what turned up.

The Power of Maps and You Are Here

There is a monumental feel about geological formations—they seem impersonal and apart. But what about geography? Physical geography? Social geography? The overlap between geology and geography popped up in some of the books and articles I came across (see my little snapshots of a couple of the sources).

Aha, I thought! Maybe it’s geography I’ve been after on some level. Mapping geography as an extension of mapping strata?

I’m just starting to do some sketching and writing about this relationship. And I’ve done four small paintings (each 8 x 8 on cradled panel) to explore the idea:

I started with a base of thick gesso and Golden’s crackle paste to create some texture—really fun to work with.  Then I added several different washes, sanded a few times and ended up with these pieces that felt like landforms—personal geography! And that’s what I called them, numbers one through 4.

“When looking at paintings, most people are distracted by subject matter. But subject matter is really just an armature on which an artist hangs the blue and green hues or the abstract shapes, like notes of music.”

Ian Roberts


February 19, 2020

I hadn’t thought of mapping as something apart from strataMapping the Strata as a theme for this series seemed like a visual response to what I see out in the environment, the abstraction of physical geography to make paintings. Rocks, arroyos, sedimentation, layering of stuff all becoming somewhat symbolic.  I liked that the paintings coming out of that idea had the feeling of geological formations without looking exactly like them.

Then I backed up a little and thought just about mapping. How is it defined? Does my use of it make sense? I looked it up at “1) to sketch or plan; 2) a maplike delineation, representation, or reflection of anything;” and Wikipedia: “Mapping can mean cartography, the creation of maps, graphic symbolic representations of the features of a part of the surface of the Earth, or any other astronomical or imaginary place.” Well, I thought—that fits. I’m kind of in the imaginary anything place. Not representation per se, but more graphic symbolic interpretation.

It seems like EVERYTHING can be mapped. Processes, directions, plans, geography, on and on…. But back to mapping the strata, I thought there was a lovely parallel to the stratification I was tuned into in the physical world when compared to the development of a painting. My paintings evolve as layers, maybe mimicking a natural process?

Here’s a”stratification” of one painting:

“Mapping the strata VI,” steps 1-6, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36

In The Power of Maps, Denis Wood says:

We are always mapping the invisible or the unattainable or the erasable, the future or the past, the whatever-is-not-here-present-to-our-senses-now and, through the gift that the map gives us, transmuting it into everything it is not…into the real.


Morphing strata

February 16, 2020

Real strata in nature (photograph)

I’ve been wondering about that transition from representation to symbolism and, specifically, when it occurs in artmaking. For myself, I think of abstract painting as a step away from reality, but still very much related. There are stories and ideas behind each painting that I make—and a gut response to what ends up on the canvas. That dialogue of putting paint on canvas and adjusting the next layer to fit is always in answer to a question or two: “What does it remind me of? What does it need next? What color talks to the other colors already in place? or challenges them?” I think the whole process is more intuitive than planned, more unconscious than it is describing scientific understanding.

Small sketches of stratification, quick and simple

When I started the Mapping the Strata series, I very quickly got caught up in creating sketches of horizontal lines across a space—almost obsessively. It’s a reference to the layers that occur out in the physical landscape, but also a nod to the foothills overlapping as they recede in the distance. These stratifications of terrain seem symbolic of time passing and earth shifting. I like the “feel” of the way all of this looks.

I also kept on with the small oil pastels in my sketchbook. Here are the last four:

Each about 5 x 4 inches, oil pastel on paper

What keeps me going is the interest in discovering new ways to “capture” strata…

In the company of others

February 11, 2020

I’ve been cruising the internet looking for other artists using geological formations as a source of inspiration. I think we have a common interest (maybe), but the differences are great in the interpretation. It’s fascinating.

Per Kirkeby, “Vermisst die Welt” 

Here’s my most recent discovery—Per Kirkeby. In his obituary in Artforum, he is described as “heavily influenced by his training as a geologist” and that he “created work that synthesized nature and art.” Kirkeby, himself, says: “I believe that painting…is structures. Each application of paint to a surface is structure….A sort of geology. As when, in a constant process, sedimentation and erosion makes the earth we live on like it is now.”

I like his cumulative layering. It doesn’t seem representative, but more felt, like he ran his hands over a part of the landscape before he painted it.

Next is Othmar Tobisch, who also combines training in geology with visual art. He says:

Othmar Tobisch, “Landscape With Clam Mound” 

“I am working with a variety of materials and concepts to investigate the human condition and man’s connection to the earth and the cosmos. In the history of our earth, rock shows a record of countless cycles and transformations through geologic time. These changes in the earth, and the models man constructs to comprehend them are potent metaphors for the continual change man experiences in his life, whether measured in second, decades, or centuries.”

And finally, three pieces from Anna Kirk Smith, who was behind the project, On The Endless Here, which brought geologists and artists together on a geological survey in Great Britain.

She says: “I believe that the one of the greatest strengths an artist can possess is an honest, far-reaching curiosity, communicating and flipping facts into intuitive artworks, offering the viewer several ways into the piece: emotive, social or through wonderment.”

These are big ideas! What appeals to me about these artist geologists is the scope of those ideas and how they are captured visually. Their work and ideas are an amalgam of science and art on a wide, encompassing scale. Great stuff.

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