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Silence and art

March 18, 2022
Drawing with silence in mind
pyramidal cells 2

I was thinking about the relationship between making art and silence and looking for some insight…so, I’ve been reading the book Silence by Robert Sardello. Really, more like wading through it. I’ve been puzzled by the reviews and comments that are included in the book’s foreword. Based on those comments, I supposed that the writing would be straightforward and would easily lead me into a perception of SILENCE—how to appreciate it and immerse myself in it, tap into a deeper creative source. Instead it’s an esoteric treatise that emphasizes how elusive silence is and advises me not to mistake it for an egotistical swim in self-gratification. Yikes.

Book cover - where inspiration lives

So instead I found this from Peter Matthiessen: Often I go out alone, for walking in solitude through the dim glades, immersed in silence, one learns a lot that cannot be learned in any other way (p. 10, Where Inspiration Lives. Now that idea I can wrap my brain around.

I think silence may be underappreciated and mostly avoided, as if some necessary stimulus is missing. Instead it could be a “place” for letting our conscious thinking rest and letting our soul out for some air. Artmaking should be like that…

Drawing with silence in mind
charcoal, pencil, and powdered graphite on paper, 7×7

Desert hope

February 11, 2021

pencil sketch of distant trees

The invitation

Hope doesn’t have a time limit and is an inside-out phenomenon. It’s like a soup of possibilities—needing all the ingredients of silence, observation, time, dissolution of self.

When I look around me, walking, out in the desert, I feel that there is an intelligence at work, embodying hope. As if that intelligence is sifting through possibilities and incorporating them into the fabric of the ecosystem—where the junipers place themselves in relationship to each other, how the rocks get gathered in a stream bed because of the force of the water, how the walls of the arroyo crumble away adding dirt that gets placed somewhere else…and often exposing the roots of junipers as they start to hang out in open air. Eventually they fall. They create a space in the dirt for something else to appear. And on it goes.

Poem by Gary Snyder and sketch

Observation of natural things (sketch using rust and watercolor on paper)

Back in the trees

January 26, 2021

 

 

Minnesota trees in late autumn

It’s a gray day—clouds bumping around overhead, cold air. A little snow on the ground. It’s difficult to have a sense of time, of moving forward in any capacity—the time equivalent of trying to hear sound in an anechoic chamber. Time is COVID mushy and without boundaries, beginnings or endings.

I was feeling a little out of sync with stuff until I came across this wonderful book: The Night Life of Trees by Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai, and Ram Singh Urveti. It’s full of amazing images of trees done by Indian artists. The title reminded me of the intelligence of the trees around me and it rekindled my interest in forest bathing. Trees are immersed in their cycle of life, their presence in nature, with little regard for COVID-19, humans, or social distancing. A great example of continuity….

“The destination in forest bathing is “here,” not “there.” The pace is slow. The focus is on connection and relationship.”

M. Amos Clifford, Your Guide to Forest Bathing

Being in the trees (forest bathing) is not about naming anything, identifying or cataloguing. It’s about suspending the need to see things in categories—instead to observe the wholeness of your surroundings and how everything interlocks. It’s something to strive for…or sink into, since striving sounds a little too goal oriented.

Connecting with trees

A Tapestry

January 15, 2021

Continuing with the 100DayProject and my focus on continuity and connectivity…

From what I have been reading in a variety of books, and from my own experiential evidence, I want to try tuning into the landscape here—have an openness to what is around me when I walk or when I stop to listen and look.  And then I want to come back to my studio and “ooze” it out into an art work…as if I could shed my understanding of another dimension. Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley  have done something akin to that in Australia. Wirrpanda, a Yolngu artist, collaborated with Wolseley to create a unique and beautiful body of work titled Midawarr/Harvest: The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley.

They worked directly with natural materials in a “search to discover how we dwell and move within landscape.” Wolseley says:

“I see myself as a hybrid mix of artist and scientist; one who tries to relate the minutiae of the natural world—leaf, feather and beetle wing—to the abstract dimensions of the earth’s dynamic systems.  Using techniques of watercolour, collage, frottage, nature printing and other methods of direct physical or kinetic contact I am finding ways of collaborating with the actual plants, birds, trees, rocks and earth of a particular place.”

Buwakul from Distant glimpses of the great floodplain seen through a veil of trees and hanging vines.  Wirrpanda and Wolseley, 2017.

I thought the pieces Wirrpanda and Wolseley created looked like tapestries, deep and inviting,  and I wanted to play around with visually depicting overlapping sensory experiences that echoed that. I used Photoshop to create these:

To me they feel a bit dreamy with time suspended—how I imagine immersion in nature might be translated to imagery.

100 Days!

January 2, 2021

Crumbling arroyo wall–blocks of dirt fall,  widening the wash

I’ve signed up again this year for The100DayProject. Actually, I’m a little behind in posting, but not in thinking. The launch was the winter solstice, December 21st. I’ve been reading, reading, reading, and trying to sink into understanding a relationship between hope (a suggestion for the project), the span of time between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, COVID-19, and nature. I came up with the idea of connectivity and continuity—a focus that is a vehicle for slowing down and establishing a deeper conversation with my neighborhood:  the arroyos, junipers and piñons, the desert terrain.

Being an artist, is there some way I can create a glimpse of what I observe? Hmmm. I thought of stuff like rocks and dirt or gravel that seems stuck together because of  weather or water uniting them and then erosion returning them to a state of separation. There is a slow measure of time and sense of tranquility:

little pencil drawings from my sketch book trying to wrap my brain around connectivity

Christian McEwen in World Enough & Time  says:

Tranquility belongs to a long list of shadowy essentials to which our culture pays lip service, but to which we are mostly oblivious, among them rest, sleep, silence, stillness, and solitude. What I am describing is a certain vibrant emptiness, what the Japanese call ma. Ma is found in the silences between words, in the white space on a page, in the tacit understanding between two close friends.

 In my case, Ma might be the understanding between me and my desert surroundings.

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

Mapping??

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 dictionary.com: “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.

Collaboration…hmmm

February 5, 2020

Rock ribbons in the Sandia foothills

Collaboration suggests that two or more people are creating with a common goal in mind. But I think there might be something like side-by-side collaborating when it comes to art and science—more like adjacent ideas creating a bigger playing field, not looking for a shared outcome. I discovered  a project called On the Endless Here, a collaboration between artists and geologists in the UK in 2014.

When I came across it online, I imagined geologists and artists crouched down amidst rock formations, generating overlapping ideas and images—kind of an onsite cross-fertilization. When I looked at the catalogue that followed the project though, it seemed that the artists had taken on the role of field techs rather than producing work inspired by the geology surrounding them. Anna Kirk Smith, the originator of the project, said, “I have slowly morphed into wearing ‘geology goggles,’ admittedly looked through with a puzzled artistic bent. Metaphorically and literally, I am digging for narrative.”

So…when I was reading geological papers and looking at geology books for a perspective that would inform my strata series, I came up short. Hence, the parallel feeling of collaborating, in my case with virtual scientists.  I’m still in the mode of visual interpretation and responding to feelings. I have discovered that I am not so interested in the how or why of geological formations, but more in the WHOA!…look at that! How do I respond to that visually? How does it make me feel?

 

Here’s a painting I just finished that is way more about the response than about the science:

 

 

 

Mapping the strata XVIII, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 24

 

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

 

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