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):

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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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Flowering Fossil Bed


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.


Flowering Fossil Bed (Gala Bent 2013)


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.

(detail of Flowering Fossil Bed– Gala Bent 2013)

Catch up look ahead

I was scrolling back through last year’s posts and realize that the holidays and whatever-else bowled me right through the year-change and the last solo show without a reflection here on my blog. As I find myself elbow deep in a new set of pieces, it’s helpful to look back and see what happened in “The Ether and the Mantle,” which was shown at G.Gibson Gallery last Fall. I’m going to devote some time to looking at some of the work that has what I think of as the loose threads that I’d like to pick up and continue weaving.

Matter Mirror (2013) Gala Bent

This piece had its first incarnation as part of an installed set of drawings at Vignettes; the show was a visual response to the poetry of Heather Christle. I chose Aqualung:

what I like      likes me back     I like the sky     and

information     I walk around     everything bounces

off the world and sticks to me     and it is called a

system     the red light on my chest     is a symptom

of I am about to be shot     or else I am going to

be mentioned     in a short presentation on love

and deep misgivings     like how today I was

exploring     the pink coral reef     my body slipped

out     and stood beside me     we could not see each

other     and assembled our two visions into one

the world was different     because it looked

different     and it still likes us     but we don’t like it


I especially loved the body double aspect of this poem, and its wry humor (an element in a lot of Heather Christle’s poetry). For years, I have been thinking about reflections, echoes and mirrors. So much of the symmetry of the world is a bounce-back, an endless recording with variations. Having been at the chemical level lately as I learn about biochemical actions and reactions, it has become apparent that the act of mirroring and recording is ridiculously central to life, especially at that scale. But then the small adjustments and accidents and body doubles of the chemical world are the shifts that cause the astounding variety we see in the natural world. Practicing this process as I draw and paint– echoing but allowing variations to spin out, is a satisfying meditation. It makes sense to me in a very visceral way that my intuitive attraction to geometries that spin inside and out of looser forms is a formal portrait of the mathematical connections of atomic charge. (And, again, in my studio it is not an accurate or pragmatic illustration of these forces, but a lyrical response to them). There are webs of geometric electrical arrangements that hold our bodies and matter itself together. Mind blowing.

A Building for Breathing

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I spent a day one time learning the basics of manuscript illumination. The instructor was an immersive teacher, reading psalms to us and playing monastic chants as we worked. The day had a long, slow cadence that involved layering and waiting, eating together and discussing the symbolic aspects of, for instance, breathing warm air onto the adhesive before floating a thin skin of gold leaf over the surface. When I got into a car at the end of that time, I was overcome by the panic of speed. The movement seemed too great compared to the low slow pace I’d been keeping. The project “A Building for Breathing” with Serrah Russell has felt a little like this oasis of stillness and contemplation. Serrah invited me to contribute writing to an exhibit she was preparing at Gage Academy, and this evolved into a book project.

The process began with our discovery that we’d both been reading Gaston Bachelard’s “Poetics of Space,” and we began discussing the ways that his book had been influencing us. We shared thoughts about the domestic space as a psychological and oneiric stage, about the ways that buildings (especially houses) both echo and double our own bodies and about the idiosyncratic approach Bachelard felt free to use in this text. Serrah’s work was a wonderful jumping-off point for me, since it is evocative and visually sophisticated, but open ended. I find, in her work, the hush between sounds. The awareness of an edge before you arrive at an object fully formed and named.

The books we had published are embellished with handmade collages and drawings on vellum, so each is unique. This was another interesting level of collaboration, since I did not want to distract from the visual subtlety of Serrah’s work. Above, you can see one example of my pared-down approach. The exhibition (which is viewable at Gage Academy until November 15th) includes additional text written on the walls and Serrah’s work displayed on vellum. More to come on a closing reception and documentation of the exhibition!

If you are interested in purchasing one of the edition of 10 ($100 plus shipping), write to me at

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Snippets and Snapshots

I’ve been in a concentrated workshop-teaching season and now into the finishing days of solo show in the studio, so most of my online output has slipped into snippets and snapshots on Facebook or Instagram. But hey. There’s something that fits best here, and asks for a little more wind (as in long-winded). I have a real crush on chemistry. A real, unexpected, mind-blowing crush on the world of atoms and molecules, compounds and solutions. Covalent, ionic and metallic bonds. I am such a novice, but I am freshly enamored by the world in which we find ourselves. And it’s all thanks to chemistry.

One of the matchmakers is Natalie Angier, who wrote the book above. I started to read it because I find myself as illustrator of another book on biochemistry and the start of life on Earth through the lens of the periodic table and timely meetings of elements. The author of the latter probably had no idea how much his research would inspire my own practice and send me spinning into poetic reveries about rocks and air, and the bio-terrific forms that they have engendered by their interaction. Like you. For instance. But as soon as I began to understand the project, I remembered that Chemistry was one of my lowest grades in school, and dove into popular literature to help me regain a language lost.

Just one little fact that makes my use of graphite in the studio become something else: graphite is a loose carbon allotrope (one of the slipperiest bonds holds it together: the van der Waals force). So as I draw the pencil over the surface, carbon makes whatever world I think I’d like to build, visually, by happily leaving particles behind. It doesn’t take much force from my (carbon-based) hand. Another carbon allotrope, the same element in a more tidy and perfectly three-dimensional sturdy form, only happens under extremes of pressure and heat and time: the diamond.

Stay tuned for the way that these new bits of information will translate into a show about a love affair between rocks and sky.

Vessel Gallery Show, Oakland, CA

Last year, I stopped by this beautiful space in Oakland, CA, and admired both the tension-filled graceful sculptures by John Ruszel and Joanne Hashitani‘s delicate, intricate wall pieces.

This coming Thursday…

Vessel Gallery (photo from Allyce Wood’s blog)

Concerns for the Environment
EXHIBITION: July 18 – August 24, 2013

Group show including artworks by William Harsh,
Carol Dalton, Jon Gariepy, Gala Bent,
Walter James Mansfield, Iris Polos, Cyrus Tilton, Allyce Wood

Thursday, July 18, 2013, 6:30-8PM, Private Reception, You’re invited! Music Performance by Haydn Enthusiasts, performing Part 1 of Haydn Strings Quartet.

Oakland Art Murmur Open, Friday, August 2, 2013, 6-9PM
Music Performance by Echo Twin

We are experiencing a shift in the environment; our weather patterns are changing, global temperatures are climbing, our oceans are acidifying, and our sea levels are rising. At this critical moment, these artists have taken a moment to not only comment on a wide spectrum of personal concerns for the environment, but also provoke deeper thought regarding the effect we are having, and allow us this opportunity to take pause, consider our actions – actions that profoundly shape our future – and this shared global place we call home.

I’m going to be there for the artist’s talk, which is Saturday August 10th, 2-3:30. Please come by if you’re in the area!

Garden Variety

16th century engraving envisioning the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

In her 1972 article, “A View of Modernism,” published in ArtForum, Rosalind Krauss describes the Modernist progression of -isms as a series of rooms in a line. Theorists and artists during the Modern period, she says, perceived each leap into a new ideal art as the entering of a new room, with the door to the previous room closing securely behind them.

No à rebours was possible, no going backward against the grain. The history we saw from Manet to the Impressionists to Cézanne and then to Picasso was like a series of roms en filade. Within each room the individual artist explored, to the limits of his experience and his formal intelligence, the separate constituents of his medium.The effect of his pictorial act was to open simultaneously the door to the next space and close out access to the one behind him.

When Krauss wrote this essay, however, she was standing in the swirling waters of what had been dubbed Postmodernism. The doors to all of the rooms had recently burst their hinges. Anything became fair game; any part of history was a sampler platter of possibilities. Looking at where painting, specifically, is right now, I have been picturing Rosalind Krauss’ line of rooms as walled gardens, like the Secret Garden Francis Hodges Burnett described in her book by the same name. Each room of painting ideas, as the door was closed, stood in its semi-neglected space, planted in the forms of its own ideals and quietly continuing to put down roots and send runners. The plants went to seed and produced new hybrids of their predecessors. Weeds grew up and some mealy or weak ideas were choked out. The neat form of the original garden became overgrown, but still full of life—there may have been some secret gardeners who snuck in to tend it periodically. If you look at exhibitions like Painter Painter, at the Walker Art Center currently, you can find the sprouts and vines of Arte Povera, Conceptualism, Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Geometric abstraction, Art Informel, Constructivism, Suprematism, etcetera. Look at the uncannily similarly named Painters’ Painters coming up at Saatchi, and you see another set of rooms airing out… all of the above, plus the more figurative rooms of Surrealism, History Painting, Appropriation, Pop and Photograph-based painting. Wooly and unkempt! But very, very alive.

Ajay Kurian

Ajay Kurian, an artist working in Brooklyn, caught my eye with another set of ideas relating to gardening as a philosophical tool. I wish I could have attended this talk at the New Museum:

Ajay Kurian will present a Proposition that suggests “the garden” as a new metaphor for time and space. Kurian is an artist and curator who has run the itinerant project “Gresham’s Ghost” since 2008. “The Persistence of Gardens—Nuclear, Digital, and Otherwise” will serve to workshop ideas for Kurian’s upcoming solo show at 47 Canal. Unlike previous Propositions where a speaker’s presentation is followed by a panel or critical response, Kurian’s talk will be interrupted by J0HN, a projected presence within the theater.

On the ideas in his talk, Kurian writes: “Stromatolite is a fossilized record of ancient microorganisms that stretches back to the very beginning of life on Earth nearly 3 billion years ago. But does looking at this colorful rock really give you a sense of what has persisted and fallen away for so many eons? Does knowing the half-life of plutonium give you any sense of what the future will look like 14,000 years from now? How then can we legislate such stretches, let alone conceive of them? How are we to regard something that makes our finitude look squeamishly brief, especially when our focus tends towards those things that seem to persist not for eons but for mere seconds. The screen time that has come to dominate our lives can sometimes appear to be Narcissus’ pool, but as the larger objects of our planet begin to rumble – as the oceans rise, hurricanes hit, and radioactive waste is buried – our tiny kingdoms are beginning to feel the unwelcome shake. Through touring gardens both metaphorical and metaphysical, and speaking with J0HN, we will approach time as the persistence of things, emerging from objects rather than the reverse, and I will begin to reckon with my preoccupations: why does everything I think about recently exceed the human? And why does J0HN disagree with me so much?”