The Eye Travels Along the Paths Cut Out (Blue-Orange)


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):

nick_strobelt2 wat


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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dashed lines

Rain + Pen lines

The artist does not and cannot transmit a phenomenon in its entirety. The common time with four beats already conveys a certain intermittence: ‘1 – 2 – 3- 4.’ This intermittence is real and it allows us to show a single property common to a set of objects that we behold, and which is beyond their recognizable quality. Art always divides objects and offers a part instead of a whole, a feature of the whole, and no matter how detailed it is, it is still a dashed line representing a line. Art always separates the similar and unites the different. it is stepped (gradational) and can be montaged. But art is not a train connecting cars full of phrases. Connections highlight the ruptures. We isolate separate features in order to transmit the whole. If we develop a certain segment in great detail, then that segment replaces the whole, transmitting not so much its condition but the meaning of its condition. We divide narratives into separate chapters or paragraphs; we emphasize the distinction of separate lines through rhythm and rhyme. At the same time, we ‘repeat’ and reinforce the previous word with the help of rhyme, as it were, forcing the reader to reread the preceding line.”

Viktor Shklovsky, from Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar

pinning a wave to the shore

Rikuo Ueda
Rikuo Ueda wind drawing

Rikuo Ueda came to Ball State, where I studied art in undergrad, and imprinted on my memory. He held a tea ceremony in a specially designed tea house outside the architecture building. He attached pen refills to the ends of branches and let the wind make drawings. “His works are a form of what has basically no form,” translates google from German in exhibition notes from a gallery in Hamburg that once showed his work.

I just ran across Los Angeles artist Sam Falls, who tracks slow, natural processes a different way– by placing a 2 x 4 or other object onto a piece of fabric and letting the elements (sun, rain, even rodents) do their work to transform the fabric into a record of time.

Sam Falls (OHWOW Los Angeles)

Trained as a photographer, it’s interesting that Falls’ pieces are like sun-prints– the most rudimentary form of photography. It is, like Ueda’s work, resonant with me, this tracking of natural processes.

I recently was looking at the process blog of an old friend, Susan Conaway, who is an extraordinarily thoughtful quilter who takes cues from all sorts of structures that she culls from the woods and water that surround her house.

Susan Conaway/pond/leaf/fabric collaboration

She writes:

Two oak leaves wrapped in cotton and left in the pond for about 7 weeks. It is my most successful act of patience and fabric to date. The darkest areas are the marks of sediment settled directly onto the fabric. The oak leaves rolled around themselves and the fabric made a repeat of vertebrae – a spine stretched out. The pond as dye pot made this – all the little life that lives there making an impression, with the help of a couple of oak leaves.

The whole spine

Other artists who have played with these slow revelations of time:

Dennis Oppenheim

Andy Goldsworthy’s “Rain Shadow”:

John Grade‘s “Collector”:

Sandy Geliss is an artist who worked with printer Julia D’Amario at the Sitka Center where I recently worked as a resident. She placed birdseed on etching plates that had been coated with soft ground. The beak and claw marks of the birds made the scratches that became the etching, and they were extraordinarily beautiful. I can’t find images of these online (I will keep trying!).

Over against the push of days is the rush of silence and the tragic idling of it. In the palm is a stone and the grass is a vast fast wrinkling of eras. Inside the hours are clicks and moans. Under them are sturdy chairs. The leaf is a page and the air is a whirring hush and the cars are waves and the sun plays a warm cloud around the face.


(Lee Piechocki)

Zack and I had the privilege of curating a show for NEPO House, based around our family’s shared fascination with the bending of time and space and matter (yes!). The press release follows…

NEPO House is proud to present:


an exhibition curated by Zack and Gala Bent

Calvin Ross Carl 
Lee Piechocki
Maria Gamboa
Molly Epstein
Nathaniel Russell

January 7- 21, 2011

Opening: Saturday January 7th, 6-9pm

Benders was triggered while Gala and Zack observed their sons obsessively entrenched in the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender– an epic story within which characters have an ability to manipulate earth elements (fire, water, earth, air). One evening, after watching a Nova segment on The Fabric of the Cosmos, it registered that their own interests and those of their sons struck an uncanny parallel between mind-bending scientific revelations and fictitious beings harnessing natural phenomena. In this spirit, Benders brings together works that toy with the perception of space or the limits of matter. The exhibit includes works by local and national artists: Calvin Ross Carl (Portland), Lee Piechocki (Kansas City), Maria Gamboa (Seattle), Molly Epstein (Seattle), Nathaniel Russell (Oakland/Indianapolis). The exhibit will also include artifacts from the Bent household, an essay by Gala Bent and homemade pretzels made by Zack Bent and guests.

You are cordially invited to join Zack Bent in an exercise of chemistry and bending, making handmade lye dipped pretzels at 4pm as a prelude to the opening.

Happy New Year!

part 2: the work

(a continuation of this post)

One day during my two-week stint at Sitka, I found myself walking through rain on my way back to the studio from lunch, and daydreaming about some of the tools in Julia D’Amario’s collection. I didn’t use a great number of them to make the prints I was working on, but they were so beautiful, and so rich in history. Julia had worked with Aldo Crommelynck at Pace Editions in New York, and Aldo had worked with small fries like Picasso, Braque and Matisse. When Aldo passed away, Julia inherited some of his tools, and these were the ones in my daydream, tucked into a roll of pocketed canvas, and looking like jewels in themselves. Some of my favorites were the stone-tipped burnishers (one is shown below, along with a few of the others). I don’t know if these tools have any special residual art-power in them, but this fact, and the fact that I had been graced with the mentorship and experience of Julia’s mind and hands, made me feel indebted and not a little bit awed.

Selection of Julia D'Amario's handed-down tools (photo: Brent Wojahn/ The Oregonian))

So I worked. We worked– 9 to 5– a schedule I have honestly never had the opportunity to have as an artist, nor perhaps the inclination. And by the end, there were four prints ready to pull (bon a tirer) into editions.

The greatest challenge for me was doing away with the crutch of multiple and endless hues. My drawings lately almost always are festooned with some flashes of geometric color. Julia assured me that I could add hand-painted elements, but I decided to see if I could work out some ideas with the possibilities of drawing and printmaking methods more than painting or coloring. In the end, three of the four pieces are one-plate prints, but each with a slight variation on black ink (one leans more blue, one brown, one terra cotta), and then one print was reserved for the experiment of two-plate printing:

"The Brothers"

“The Brothers” are related to “Watcher,” a piece that was an experiment in making actual landscape. I thought that I was fabricating the Watcher landscape when I constructed it, because of my own inexperience with landscape, but also because I flinch a little at traditional framing of the land. I was so surprised to arrive at this particular part of the Oregon coast, where strong old basalt chunks jut out of the frequently flooded and variable coast line, leaving land-locked rocky islands of trees surrounded by grass. Others end up in the ocean, as if part of a migrating herd of mountains:

So it was fun to be in the land of Watchers, and thinking about the flexibility of geology, the human sense of time compared to rocks’, the comparably flimsy structures that we build in their sight.

To see all of the prints go here.

pattern recognition

The Sitka Library

At the risk of repeating myself (especially for those who have been reading here for a while), I just returned from a two-week print-making residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. I have been planning to summarize the experience here, though I’m finding that it’s difficult to sum it up in a blog-appropriate way. Let me try anyway.

Consider this installment to be: Part One: The Setting (next… Part Two: The Work)

Sitka is tucked into the deep, dark (and often dripping) pines of the Oregon Coast. While outside, you can always hear the surf. Perhaps because the shape of the rocks at this particular location- cove-like, punctuated by an arch- the deep crash of the waves often sounds so low that you can feel it almost more than hearing it. But you can’t just stroll down to the beach. Sitka is situated on the Salmon River estuary, where salt and fresh water take turns pushing and pulling depending on the tides. The ocean proper can be seen from the banks of the estuary, past a long sandy spit, but it’s only accessible by boat, because the other direction is a steep cliff– Cascade Head— a basalt wall that hails from ancient volcanic activity that flowed from what is now Idaho. It took me a while to get this geography, but if my words are confusing, the map at the link above, or this clearer photo helps.

Looking down on the sand spit and cove from Cascade Head Trail
Grass at the riverbank-- showing evidence of the constant waterlevel changes

The nature of my particular residency, a two-week intensive with a printmaker, made the time very focused and necessarily goal-driven (the Jordan Schnitzer residency is designed to produce print editions that are shared between the artist and Sitka/Schnitzer). And because I used my weekend-in-between (which would have offered looser free time) to rendezvous in Portland with my sons, my time for hiking and wandering was limited to early morning, lunchtime, or pre-dinner. Still, without even really trying, I saw pelicans and seals, jellies, slugs and prehistoric-looking millipedes, a snake and two deer, a herd of elk, Steller’s jays and red-tailed hawks… I ate salmon freshly caught by founder of Sitka, Frank Boyden, chewed on seabeans that grow along the brackish rocks of the estuary, and heated my residence with a woodstove that I learned to use the night I arrived. How could you not think about ecology in a setting like that?

I was not chosen for this residency based on my ecological interest, but I felt very much at home in this historical hotbed of science and art, especially as the new residents (who, with less of a specific collaborative agenda, were arriving to stay for three months) began to arrive the second week. The residents included people like Susan D’Amato, who takes daily walks and makes daily drawings in response. Her goal is to make 5000, and she’s up to 1000. Or Kurt Fausch, whose studies of streams as central to the larger ecology have been recently made into a film that is bringing public attention to issues that affect us all.

I brought an old sketchbook with me, and happened upon this quote that I wrote down a few years ago; it was an appropriate tone-setter for my time at Sitka:

Art and science are very different, but they both spring from cultivated perceptual sensitivity. They both rest on a base of acute pattern recognition. At the simplest level, artists and scientists alike make it possible for people to appreciate patterns which they were either unable to distinguish or which they had learned to ignore in order to cope with the complexity of their daily lives.” Frank Oppenheimer

Coming next: The Work.