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Juxtaposition

August 26, 2019

Color pencil sketches, juxtaposed

 

I love quotations. They seem to capture a concept, a moment in time and invite us to stop there and think about what’s being said. More importantly, to stop and see how that statement can be useful to us. I just found one that sums up my thinking about artmaking, especially abstract art, although it’s a specific comment about collage:

“In the field of art, we find [reference]…to a collage…as being distinguished by a ‘marvelous capacity to grasp two mutually distant realities without going beyond the field of our experience and to draw a spark from the juxtaposition.'”

from “The Associative Basis of the Creative Process,” by Sarnoff  Mednick

 

That’s an elegant way of saying that collage creates a context for disparate bits of visual information, hopefully interesting. It means that the artist created a unique combination that raised a question, suggested a different way of looking at something, or maybe helped someone recall a memory. It’s not just about collage, but can apply to all artmaking—the act of creating a striking relationship.

I think the association, the spark, can happen in a couple of different ways. Hopefully it’s happening for the artist in creating a piece, and then happening again for someone looking at the finished work. When I’m painting and I find/create an area on the canvas that reminds me of something—a reference to writing, a symbol, a combination of colors, weird shapes next to each other that suggest something else—I have that “spark.” It’s what gives me the pleasure in painting. And I find the same thing when I look at others’ paintings—I make personal associations of what I am seeing.

One of my paintings that started with a wash and ended up in space:

Adrift and unanchored; acrylic on cradled panel; 24x24x1.6

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Expiration date?

July 15, 2019

I was thinking about expiration dates and a question popped into my mind—when do ideas expire? Are some ideas always cogent? And even more important, when do images expire? Often art exhibitions/competitions ask that submissions be recent—within the last two years. As if older work has fallen off the edge of meaningful or relevant.

How does time affect ideas and images? Can you be refreshed by a thought about art from 141 years ago? I’m using a specific number because I have a little book, Amiel’s Journal, and here is an entry from November 7, 1878:

A work of art ought to set the poetical faculty in us to work, it ought to stir us to imagine, to complete our perception of a thing. And we can only do this when the artist leads the way….Art lives by appearances, but these appearances are spiritual visions, fixed dreams.

I think the takeaway here is that art is not constrained by calendar time. And we should not be either.

I think we exist in a continuum and we can tap any part of that for meaning. We still evolve, but we remain connected to everything happening previously. As I look at my paintings that span over 40 years, I see a focus on how paint looks on a surface and the story it begins to tell as it is completed. I’m always surprised.

… an argument for the continuum by artist George Stoll:

From the beginning some of us have been artists, and my intention is to contribute to this ongoing and ancient conversation [emphasis mine].

Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, Sharon Louden, ed.

The conversation is not only between artists, but within an individual artist’s work. Here’s a bit of my continuum—paintings from different periods of time, starting with one of my very first, 42 years ago:

untitled, acrylic (1977)  |   Amorphos, diptych, acrylic (2005)   |   Little strata 8, acrylic (2018)

The underpinnings of artmaking

July 8, 2019
Layout sketch for a painting in the Mapping the strata series

Working sketch for large (40 x 90) triptych painting in the Mapping the strata series

I want to repurpose my college geology class. When I took the class a long time ago, I fell in love with the book that was used—the type font that the publisher used, the illustrations (a lot of pastel colors) that delineated geological processes, the description (magic!) of plate tectonics. I still remember the feeling. It amazed me that something so enormous—the earth—could be categorized and catalogued.

So, I’ve been thinking about my series Mapping the strata. I have 29 paintings to date, some bigger, some smaller.  I started the series because I like the layering of rocks and soil I see in the arroyos  where I walk in the morning. “College-geology-feeling” came right back as soon as I got out there in the open space near my house.

These are four of the smaller pieces in the Mapping the strata series:

acrylic on cradled panels, each 8 x 8

The rocks here are wildly diverse; some seem to have come from stream beds, being rounded and smooth; some seem to reflect glacial deposits, with a mix of sandstone, igneous, and metamorphic bits that were gathered up together (I’m imagining here…I don’t really know); and, some seem totally otherworldly and magical—warm caramel colors with satiny surfaces that pop up out of the sandy arroyo. It’s not that I want to represent the scientific and documented geology of the area in my painting series, but rather that I want an awareness of geology to provide a foundation for my artistic meandering.

I think of my drawings and paintings in this series as creating a common denominator, a bridge, between scientific study and artistic interpretation, heavy on the interpretation side.

Witness trees

April 28, 2019

“Garden and lanterns”
tiny drawing (6×2.5) graphite on paper

I was specifically focused for awhile on trees as part of the 100-Day Project—Solstice to Equinox, which ended in March on the spring equinox. Then I stumbled on another project that completely captivated me: the Witness Tree Project. What, I wondered, is this about?

From their website:

Since 2009, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and the National Park Service (NPS) have worked to develop a collaborative model for teaching and learning centered on witness trees, long-standing trees that were present for key moments in American history. The Witness Tree Project arranges for fallen witness trees to be shipped from NPS sites to RISD, where, in a joint history seminar and furniture studio, students interpret the history of a given tree’s site and make relevant objects from the tree’s wood.

I’ll keep working with trees—painting and drawing my idea of them, spending my time in and amongst them—but this is an amazing, and new to me, way to recognize a tree’s way of anchoring us in time. Imagine the strength of a whole forest witnessing!

I just finished two small paintings of trees (on the right). I’m sure they are witness trees in their storybook land.

 

 

Olmsted elm in health

Side note.  Here’s a witness tree story—the 200 yr. old Olmsted elm, growing next to the office of Frederick Law Olmsted (often called the father of American landscape architecture, d. 1903) eventually succumbed to Dutch Elm disease and was cut down on my birthday in 2011. The area is now a national park. The tree went to RISD.

The middle of the funnel

April 23, 2019

The spring equinox has come and gone…and now we’re headed for the summer solstice. The longest day of the year. Cycling through the seasons begins to look something like the center of the storm—the middle of the funnel for quiet observation—and a hint that there is no end, that everything keeps folding back in on itself. A continuum. (See my “My aha moment” for more about The Storm of Creativity by Kyna Leski.)

When I think of this continuum in making art, I think of  the flat planes of a picture that are juxtaposed; that they are simply one front, one surface, of a deeper space—and behind that cross-section of spaces, whole worlds are gliding, coalescing, dividing, redefining. At least that’s how I imagine it. So painting a 2D surface means defining the front edge of what’s happening, leaving opportunity to picture a whole experience happening right behind that plane. There are possibilities and potential stories right below the visible surface.

And when I’m thinking about trees, I’m capturing the “front”…but imagining the deeper experience. Walking through a forest, being surrounded by trees, feeling the quiet (or sometimes how the wind is moving branches, leaves, even the trunks). I think, for me, trees are a magical gateway. How cool is it that I can have access to that right outside my door? When I draw or paint, I can tap into that feeling.

small oil pastels from my sketchbook…about trees

 

 

Tree grammar

February 23, 2019

A segue into tree grammar (I promise it’s connected):

“Much as human artists have to know about the things they are depicting, so each of Cohen’s [computer] programs needs an internal model of its subject matter [referring to computer-generated drawings of acrobatic figures  that artist Harold Cohen created—on the left]. This model is not a physical object, like the articulated wooden dolls found in artists’ studios, but a generative system [my emphasis]: what one might call a “body grammar.” It is a set of abstract rules that specify, for instance, not only the anatomy of the human body (two arms, two legs), but also how the various body parts appear from various points of view.”

Margaret Boden, “What Is Creativity?”

Okay, that’s a lot of verbiage…but that concept sparked a question for me—how do artists create and rely upon “generative spaces” as a source library? Each art work I create stems from some stimulus, some base of information–a collection of ideas and images that I can develop as a piece of art. And there are some implied rules that direct my efforts.

Take trees: I’m thinking about trees in this space of time because of my focus for the 100DayProject, Solstice to Equinox, and I wondered what might be the characteristics of a tree generative space and how “body grammar” might translate to “tree grammar,” supposing of course that trees do have a language and a model that I can identify. Trees bring to mind a lot of descriptive words: boundary, linear, solidarity, comfort, elusive, community, indifferent, etc.

All of these words come into play when I create a tree piece. What I do know is that I get a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from my endless stick drawings of trees. It’s like repeating a code that links me directly to tree-ness. That’s got to be a kind of tree grammar, no?

A perfect ending from “The Life of Trees” by Dorianne Laux:

A quick little tree sketch from memory

“I want to sleep
and dream the life of trees, beings
from the muted world who care `
nothing for Money, Politics, Power,
Will or Right, who want little from the night
but a few dead stars going dim, a white owl
lifting from their limbs, who want only
to sink their roots into the wet ground   
and terrify the worms or shake
their bleary heads like fashion models
or old hippies. If trees could speak,
they wouldn’t, only hum some low
green note, roll their pine cones
down the empty streets and blame it,
with a shrug, on the cold wind.”

My “aha” moment

February 15, 2019

a sketch of trees in the Sandia Mountains

I’m coming back from being sick with the flu for a couple of weeks. Not a fun time, but in the midst of it I had a realization that I was looking at a crossover between making art and observing trees in my 100-day project. And that both are part of a bigger process—the unlearning that connects life experiences and allows new perceptions.

I just finished a book by Kyna Leski: The Storm of Creativity. One of the things she observed in her study of creativity is how important it is to unlearn what we know about something so that we can formulate a new problem statement. I love that idea—a problem statement! That means finding a new way to look at something that interests us or draws our attention. So, when I started the 100-day project, Solstice to Equinox, I immediately gathered details about my lovely trees. Fascinating. I wanted to focus on the period between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and see how that was reflected in the desert trees near me.

Now, however, I’m seeing that my focus on the trees is spilling over into my artmaking process and into how I see the rest of the natural and unnatural world. Hmmm. Unlearning means losing the constraints of how we normally look at everything…all the way from trees to a blank canvas. I think it means resting from interpretation and allowing different influences to surface. Let those muddle around together for awhile and you just might get a different way to do things. Something more creative perhaps by paying attention in a different way.

More little tree panels:

Trees, tangled; Trees, inviting; and Trees, perfectly straight

each cradled panel is 6×6 and coated with epoxy resin

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