I have been looking for a quote, the spirit of which lingers in my mind– something to the effect of: “There are many times I have preferred the sound of birds over the sound of the human voice.” In any case, as I prepare for my show “Biographic” at G.Gibson Gallery in May, I have been thinking about what I like to listen to. Boy do I like people. But, as a city dweller in the pocket internet age, I get a lot of human voice without even trying. It jams the circuits, and it only goes so far. It circles the same spots in my brain. It makes ruts. The question I have been asking while making this new work is: “What does life write when it writes about itself? How does life draw when it draws itself?” As a human who has inherited visual language developed over thousands of years, I illustrate from a particular dialect. Drawings that have looked at other drawings, lines that have eaten up gestural painting and comic books, scientific identification and cursive and calligraphy. But there is another set of graphics that are innate, and they come from living inside a body built of patterns that I share with a broader family than the human one. While working on the drawing above, I wanted to know if calcium had a tendency to grow in florets. I didn’t find anything that pointed to that specific query, but I ended up on botanical sites (thank you pocket internet) that described various flower growth patterns. On this one, I found out that there is a classification of growth patterns called ligulate, the root word of which is ligula, or small tongue. I love this. From Encyclopedia Brittanica:
Ligulate flowers superficially resemble the ray flowers of radiate heads in having a corolla that is tubular at the base and prolonged on the outer side into a flat, strap-shaped ligule. They differ from ray flowers in that they are perfect (bisexual) and the ligule consists of all five lobes of the corolla and generally shows five terminal teeth. The dandelion is a familiar plant with ligulate heads.
The growth pattern happens to look like what I was drawing, at least in one iteration. I have also been drawing inspiration from diatoms and other shapes found in pond water, from incidental marks made by plants and animals… anything that speaks as if with small tongues.
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I found the following passage from an old journal, about trying to know the mountains that I can see when I look across the Puget Sound and how that relates to trying to know people. It fits my mood for this day-after-Valentine’s. I was solo (not because of a break-up, but because of divergent travels) for this Valentine’s day, so I found myself thinking about love from a distance, and love that is multi-faceted:
Every day, in different light, at different temperatures and different angles, The Brothers look different. To know them truly, I would need to climb them, but then their closeness would cause me to lose their shape. If The Brothers are seen on a topographic map, then the two peaks might be more clear. But everyone knows that a map is a severe reduction. Its clarity is helpful, but not accurate to the complexity of actually being in a place. As it is, the two peaks appear to me, across the Puget Sound, more as 3 1/2 peaks. And this feeds into my purposes well, as a mother of three sons. Knowing a person– even one closest to you– is not at all unlike this difficulty of ascertaining a mountain. Part of the process is a matter of finding contours, and slipping them, often temporarily, into a category. But each contour is approximate, each category permeable. As a mother, I have a common practice– that of identifying characteristics in my sons in order to understand and know them. Part of this is a constant and evolving compare/contrast exercise. What aspects do all of them share? Which similarities are shared by each pair? What traits stand alone in each boy? I group and name, only to be foiled by their complex natures. They defy my labels; they prove me wrong. Every day, in different light, at different temperatures and different angles, The Brothers look different.
The Country Of Marriage
I dream of you walking at night along the streams
of the country of my birth, warm blooms and the nightsongs
of birds opening around you as you walk.
You are holding in your body the dark seed of my sleep.
This comes after silence. Was it something I said
that bound me to you, some mere promise
or, worse, the fear of loneliness and death?
A man lost in the woods in the dark, I stood
still and said nothing. And then there rose in me,
like the earth’s empowering brew rising
in root and branch, the words of a dream of you
I did not know I had dreamed. I was a wanderer
who feels the solace of his native land
under his feet again and moving in his blood.
I went on, blind and faithful. Where I stepped
my track was there to steady me. It was no abyss
that lay before me, but only the level ground.
Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.
How many times have I come to you out of my head
with joy, if ever a man was,
for to approach you I have given up the light
and all directions. I come to you
lost, wholly trusting as a man who goes
into the forest unarmed. It is as though I descend
slowly earthward out of the air. I rest in peace
in you, when I arrive at last.
Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
of an expendable fund. We don’t know what its limits are–
that puts us in the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing
a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only
accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light
enough to live, and then accepts the dark,
passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I
have fallen tine and again from the great strength
of my desire, helpless, into your arms.
What I am learning to give you is my death
to set you free of me, and me from myself
into the dark and the new light. Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.
I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark,
containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning.
I give you the life I have let live for the love of you:
a clump of orange-blooming weeds beside the road,
the young orchard waiting in the snow, our own life
that we have planted in the ground, as I
have planted mine in you. I give you my love for all
beautiful and honest women that you gather to yourself
again and again, and satisfy–and this poem,
no more mine than any man’s who has loved a woman.
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^ A detail from an etching made by me with the help of Scott Kolbo and a group of students for the inaugural print residency at Seattle Pacific in 2014: “230 of an infinite number of possible universes,” and…
^…an illustration based in super string theory found here.
It occurs to me slowly that my art practice as it relates to science is not unlike the way that I have spent my life collecting, keeping, storing, packing and displaying rocks I find and like. These rocks do not end up in gridded boxes with identifying markers (though I do like that natural history museum aesthetic), but instead get shoveled into bowls and lined along window sills, funneled into glass jars with other curiosities– rubber toys and unidentified mechanical parts– charms and seeds and coins. I have collected them because I like how they feel in my hand– or their opaque luminosity or their unusual shape or texture– without, to be honest, thinking much about their classification. Theories or principles in mathematics and science are collected by a similar aesthetic process. I collect ideas that I like in my hand– the ones that give the world a shift of perspective and a “freshness deep down” (a la Gerard Manley Hopkins).
The print at top is a direct example of this mode– I love to think about the possibility of the multiverse, and the way it falls into my hand becomes a stream-of-consciousness free write imagining the shapes of unborn universes. It is not likely to be used as an illustration for hard science, dear reader, since it contains, in addition to string-theory-like forms, universe seeds that look like fried eggs or walnuts, or like 1950s decorative linoleum.
Bathsheba Grossman allows herself to dream around math as well, but some of her 3D printed sculptures are so wedded to “pure math” and so stunning that I wish I were more committed to the irresistible linkages between disciplines. Alas, my mind wanders, and there I am in class, doodling in the margins.
Here’s her description of the piece above:
“This is one of a delightful class of objects known as Seifert surfaces. Every knot and link (in mathematics knots are closed loops, links are assemblages of knots) has a continuous surface which it is the edge of […] These surfaces are often beautiful, especially for symmetrical knots and links, and here I’ve produced one of the sweeter ones. This surface has three edges, each a simple closed loop, which are locked together in an ancient form xcalled the Borromean Rings. Named after its use in an Italian coat of arms, these three rings are locked together inextricably although no two of them are linked. Their Seifert surface twists through the loops smoothly and gracefully, and I’m very happy with the organic mesh. It’s wide enough to let light through, while responding sensitively to the curvature and giving a tactile texture.”
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Erasure as subharmony
Erasure as intellectual flexibility
…as chaff (Thanks, Shawna)
Erasure as the growing market for tattoo removal
Erasure as “just like starting over” or as “no such thing.”
Erasure as palimpsest
…as wrinkled nose and sweaty brow.
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Repost of this set of goals. The older post has gotten infected by some spam engine of doom.
Some more goals:
A drawing that throbs with its own reckoning, Tell-Tale-Heart-style.
A drawing that breathes through its teeth, makes bad jokes and laughs at itself. That apologizes too often and second-guesses its intentions. Its lines are halting and unsure. It smells like milk and garlic.
A drawing that chops the water into black diamonds edged in gray. The color only comes if coaxed. It slides in on glass-smooth chips and takes its place between austere facets. It is a stifled giggle, a shred of music escaping the window of a passing car.
A drawing that shops at thrift stores and wears pants that I’m pretty sure are out of style. It might have a hole in the big toe of its sock. It might have a stye in its eye.
A drawing that just sits on its ass in a museum.
A drawing that rumbles like thunder, rimmed with trembling light and shivering in the sudden cold. Rivulets, downpours, wash-outs, sinkholes.
A drawing that tries to keep what has been lost—a lock of hair flattened along with its ribbon in an old book. It is preciously sentimental and adoringly useless. A voiceless specimen for an unnamed audience.
A drawing that offers a nauseatingly off-kilter missed-beat, back-beat, back-alley, skip-time record scratch. All the weight is thrown into the wrong corners. The open space is begging for a mark of any kind, sighing in its blankness, aching for new language—a pale steady hum held against the scratchiness of static.
A drawing that gets swallowed up by the earth when it opens up, finally. Rich loam and dark fragrance. Unopened seeds and insect eggs. Wandering roots like hair.
A drawing that makes it all okay—modern lines and mechanical curves. Everything has a place and everything in its place. A yoga topknot. Clean sheets. The right wine. Cute kids. Health insurance. A kitchen garden and herbs in a window box.
A drawing that tastes infinity at the edge of restless sleep and dives under the deep water with abandon bordering on recklessness. Impossibly indigo, beautifully black, Solaris’ circular windows. A swan dive, a breaststroke, a cruciform opening out and in at once.
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What a fun experience it was to collaborate with Nicholas Strobelt a couple weeks ago at Strange Coupling– an annual collaborative project between University of Washington seniors and graduate students with local working artists. Nick is a senior in Photomedia, with boundless energy and smarts. He’s been making photos like this (these are from a series called Self-Tracing):
I love how his photos are both austere and playful, messing with perception and the thin line between flatness and a sense of depth. I especially enjoy his photos where the devices are laid bare (say, the threading at the end of the mop handle used as a leg of a trapezoid and an imagined triangle.) My current obsession, though it has been rolling out in folded paper, drawing and painting, has been geometry. For years, I’ve been using it, and now my mind is trained on it as a subject for more focused contemplation. I’ve been looking at and reading and thinking about the ways that geometry has been a philosophical and even theological/spiritual tool for centuries. Nick and I enfolded our mutual interest in geometry, and my current teaching in color theory, to make an interactive stage of slowly shifting color fields. People were invited to come aboard and watch their shadows shift from teal to magenta, from green to gray to white. One of my favorite sections of the piece was the “box of light” where we positioned a pedestal on a cinder block to catch in its void a shifting color field abstraction. It was an ideal abstraction until you moved a little closer and the shadows of flyaway hairs or the crescent of your ear would invade. To me, it became a picture of our modernist ideas of perfection being dirtied up by the less-than-ideal figures of life lived in real spaces. And, of course, I find those less-than-ideal parts the most compelling, when it comes down to it.
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The name of the show “The Ether and the Mantle,” my last solo show at G.Gibson Gallery, was an imagined love affair between elements of the air and elements of the earth, a picture of the magnetism and wooing and coupling that has everything and nothing to do with human lovemaking. Here is my short statement from the show:
The work in “The Ether and the Mantle” can be read as a series of love poems between elements in the earth and those in the air. The timely meetings of these elements on Earth is a crucial part of the story of our genesis as living creatures. Inspired by recent work with a biochemist, and in the spirit of previous bodies of work, in which I have anthropomorphized mountains, water, rocks and air, I have both seriously and playfully engaged with the tumultuous history of life on a chemical/geological level. It is a story of catastrophe and exchange, morphing structures and unlocking of elements in their time, repulsion, attraction and harmony.
This piece above, “Flowering Fossil Bed,” was the largest piece in the show, and I thought of it as a sort of honeymoon bed. Rocks bloom and flowers crystallize. Hope and future-love hold tenuous sway. Do you know the feeling of weddings? Joy and melancholy and hope and small talk. Awkward dancing, public cake shoving, lights and flowers and aisles and old friendships. Heartbreak and mourning and laughter and boredom. The earth is so full of all of it.
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