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Fault lines and Superman

January 22, 2020

I like this map of the geology of the Bernalillo and Placitas quadrangles (New Mexico)—truly a work of art. I captured it on my computer right before the final grid lines and descriptors were in place. It reminded me of a series I did a few years ago—the Fault Line series. At the time I was thinking about fault lines as margins for change—appearing as gaps, folds, or points of friction and pressure. When I did the paintings, I wanted to recreate the feeling of objects, things (anything really that could be pulled in by a fault line event) that were pulled to that margin and held there in a kind of new stasis.

In some ways, they were a kind of hedge against a Superman movie I saw where the earth split in an earthquake…and I think Lois Lane fell into the giant crevice. Of course Superman saved her  by flying really fast to her rescue. I had the impression that the earth has a mind of its own and we might be just jostling about on the surface. So, I made paintings with the kind of “split” that I liked better. The pieces in mine have more glue.


Paintings from the Fault Line Series – water media on paper

Looking back, the Fault Line series is a precursor to the Mapping the Strata Series, and they share a reflection of physical geography/geology, imagined and real.

Back to ground zero…kind of

January 19, 2020

Very quick line drawings of the Fiery Furnace

I thought of my strata series as an interpretation of an idea. An interest. A theme. A way of researching and making the “under-ground” of a painting—the layers that accumulate to create a face (top surface), in this case a response to geographic/geologic formations in my neighborhood. What is covered up, what peeks through? How do I organize a concept, a visual presentation? I wanted to put on my scientist cap and find correlations between artists and scientists when considering geological data (visual and digitized, captured in deep information files or just observed).  I wanted to find a correlation between science and art that made sense to me.

Carl Andre says:

“…Science is creating and comparing, and art is creating conditions that do not quite exist. That is why art is different from science. The ideal of science is to create at least theoretical models of things we hope have some correspondence with what exists; whereas with art, you try as a human being to create something that wouldn’t exist unless you made it.”

 Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972

p. 40, Lucy R. Lippard, ed

I like the idea that artists create “something that wouldn’t exist unless you made it.” I’ve come to the conclusion that art and science might be operating on parallel platforms. Both are organizing information that, together, can offer an expansive interpretation of a thing, a phenomenon.

Here’s an artist who seems to bridge science and art, Nien Schwarz. She takes literal geological imagery and turns it into art (Earth Matters, scientific earth samples, original hand-coloured geological maps of Australia):

She says: “”The Earth’s geological fabric, the ground beneath our feet that sustains us all, underpins my arts practice.”

She uses earth materials to make many of her art works—a literal application.  So it’s not so much an inside-out kind of artmaking, but more of a collecting of bits and pieces to organize them in a new way that reflects an expanded viewpoint. In the piece above, the grid seems apropos.

I’m going more for how I feel when I think about rocks, dirt, ravines—an imagined soul of the stuff. Below are two small pieces I just finished. I think they have a bit of crunch and grit.

“Little strata 15” and “Little strata 16”; acrylic on cradled panel, 8 x 8 x 1.5

My rocks…

January 17, 2020

A rock in the Sandia mountain foothills

I wonder about the rock at the top of the trail. How did it get plopped up there? I appreciate it as an anomaly.  I thought I might find an answer as to how it got there by looking through some online geology books. Not so.  I didn’t anticipate that the scientific language and concepts would be so alien to me.

I believed I could probably open a textbook (I did take geology in college) and pick out a starting point for rocks (boulders?) forming and moving around—understanding my particular rock would fall into place. Instead I strayed into appreciating it as a magical interruption in my walking trail.


One of the pieces I read while combing through geology texts online was this:

“Everywhere the rocks are crumbling away; their fragments are creeping down hillsides to the stream ways and are carried by the streams to the sea, where they are rebuilt into rocky layers. When again the rocks are lifted to form land the process will begin anew; again they will crumble and creep down slopes and be washed by streams to the sea.”

A balanced rock–same foothills

William Harmon Norton was speaking poetry when he wrote that in 1905 in The Elements of Geology. And that’s where I’m at—the poetry of land formations. I would love to have a time lapse film of that rock arriving in that particular spot, a compression of the reality of slow-moving rocks that “…crumble and creep down slopes….” This moment in time when I’m walking on that trail and passing that rock would be in the middle of the story.

These rocks all have something to say. I know that science can give us the facts, but I think it is the artists and poets that will weave a tale that creates a different boundary for “reality.”


Here’s my version of rocks posed in an imaginary landscape:

acrylic on panel, 7×19, coated with epoxy resin


Finding community

January 3, 2020

Imagining layers in my sketchbook

I started the Mapping the strata series in somewhat of a vacuum, since the idea hadn’t come from seeing what other artists had created. I was just tuning into my small piece of the world. Now, having opened the door to a vast variety of interpretations by googling “art and geology,” I love what I’ve stumbled across.  I am intrigued by what other artists are doing or have done. I feel like I’ve opened a door and have joined a community that I didn’t know existed.

I don’t think we are all doing the same thing or maybe even anything similar. I wonder—are we recording? Imagining? Extending the meaning? Having fun? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we are just led by the complexity and beauty of geological formations and want to create a satisfying visual response that couldn’t exist otherwise.

Here’s one association of art and geology, Geology North, that I found—the geologist/artist, (either Stephen Marker or Ian Patience—neither identified on the website as the artist), says:

Geology, like all disciplines has its own set of concepts and I’m not alone in finding many of these concepts fascinating in their own right as well as exciting on account of the possibilities they offer for shaping the form and content of artworks….I enjoy the way rocks and minerals are moved and changed over time. They may be deposited at the surface of the earth, broken, eroded, transported, deposited, buried, subducted, melted and then redeposited prior to a new and different cycle. These reworking processes have their equivalents in the ways artworks can be reworked and recombined to produce new and surprising results.

Examples of his reworked art:

“Reworking 1,” 142x220mm; “Reworking 2,” 196x240mm; “Reworking 3,” 41x58cm; all oil on board

These are like weavings or stained glass. All about layers or integration of elements. I like it!

Reworking struck a chord. When I started this series, I was painting all abstract compositions, but that’s become a little bit of a moving target. In spite of the fact that I’m not drawn to working representationally, I skated a little closer in a recent triptych, which was painted on “reworked” canvases. Hmmm. Notional landscape, reworked.

Here’s the sketch I started with:

Sketch of imaginary landscape; ink on paper

And here’s the final piece:

“Mapping the strata XVI”; acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas; 40 x 90; triptych


Following a dialogue and inserting artistic license

December 26, 2019

A ribbon of landscape, color pencil sketch on paper

Part of the impetus for me in making art is to express a concept that can only be done visually. So if I can grab hold of an idea (even a tiny snippet), I can sometimes expand that into a theme or series just by exploring. In this case, it’s the dialogue between art and geology…and my resulting series, Mapping the strata.

Although living in the high desert has rekindled my interest in geology, I really have an old love: my geology class in college, specifically the textbook. Beyond the appeal of the textbook itself (the font, the paper, the images, the friendly explanations of natural formations), I was taken with the idea of explaining how something came to be and continues to evolve.  I was given a perspective for the whole natural world around me.  Making art sneaks in there as an interpretation of geology outside the limitations of scientific reality. It is poetic and ephemeral.

I found this remarkable painting when I was rooting around in art and geology on the internet:

Mountain at Dusk, ©Othmar Tobisch, 2009, Sumi ink on paper

“Such seemingly disparate disciplines as visual art and the geological sciences may appear unlikely mates. Yet in my experience. there are some common threads between these areas of activity which are worthy of bringing into one’s awareness….ln the twentieth century, a wide variety of artistic work displays an interface with the geological sciences on levels ranging from simple use of rock as medium to sophisticated use of geological metaphor.”

Othmar Tobisch, “Connections between the Geological Sciences and Visual Art,” Leonardo, Autumn 1983. Check  out Tobisch’s website.

Enlarging the minuscule or diffusing the large enables metaphor and abstraction. Painting representational landscapes, of course, is one approach, but hovering in the space between landscape painting (capturing a landscape in a painting) and reacting to a landscape as an abstract response in painting, seems a perfect outcome.

da Vinci and folded strata

December 19, 2019

Sketch by Leonardo da Vinci showing details of folded strata in the mountains of Italy (ca. 1500 AD)

“In geology, the stirrings of discovery are evident in the ink sketches of the great artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), who carefully drew the true shapes of rock bodies in sketches to understand the natural shape of the earth….” from Earth Structure by van der Pluijm and Marshak

I think “understanding the natural shape of the earth” is somehow attuned to a scientific perspective, not a poetic or artistic one. Geology as a discipline suggests that cataloging and describing geological processes and formations contains nature in some way. But it really remains out of my grasp from that view.

Appreciating strata in Sedona, AZ, 2014

We scratch the surface with documentation and details, but we can’t own the immensity of it. Levels, layers, organic materials…rocks, dirt, vegetation. Embedded fossils. There’s a passage of time, a story, that is recognizable but not encompassed by description. I think it has to be felt on a different level.

I like to do quick sketches that somehow reflect a flow across the landscape, trying to capture a rhythm from what I see. Below are three little sketches and the small paintings that resulted:


Sketches of an imaginary land formation in three pieces

The triptych that came after the sketches, each 6×6 acrylic under epoxy

Melding geology and art

December 10, 2019

New Mexico desert

If you live in a “wild” area like I do, you can easily tune in to the terrain that surrounds you. I am close to the city but am out in the foothills and arroyos of the desert mountains, mountains a bit more distant. There’s a word that fits here: earthfast. It means “firm or planted in the earth, and difficult to remove.” Basically, fastened to the earth.  My mapping the strata series is about looking for some way to illustrate that sense.

There is the starting place of geological stratification—the visual evidence in erosion, arroyos, collected layers of rocks.  But being able to catalog that and classify what’s happening into timelines, process, residue doesn’t correlate to an emotion.  A gut feeling. A response. What do those views of natural formations trigger? Immensity? Scale? Relationship? It’s as if there is a personality, an intelligence, encompassed in the rocks and dirt…much like with trees in the forest. That’s the feeling I’m after.

Here are some quickie sketches playing around with a simplified view of strata:

Imagining some possibilities for strata paintings in my sketchbook (ink)

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