Surface Modulation

Deer Field, 4:54, single channel video, 2010, Jamie Hahn,

Surface Modulation: Chapter Three of Figure Ground Rhythm Thesis by Jamie Hahn 2010

Spring grass has a kind of gentle sway about it as wind caresses the thin, tapering blades. Peaking through the damaged brown, dry grass of winter, the new blades shine and glisten in fresh color. Not yet cut, the new blades reach high toward the light of the sun and create a bed of density from which all other growth compares.

The view from here is of a detailed foreground that blends at eye level into a middle ground of land. Framing from above is a telephone line, which serves as a reminder of the distance between myself and the background of willow trees layered in front of a low hill. The sun is permeating through the new leaves, illuminating their tonality as they contrast the branches from which they stem. The from here is of warmth. The sun casts light through the blades, the leaves, and the trees with new buds.

Surface a gust of movement, a contrasting moment of perception alters the visual to reveal the tangible as my apparent stillness recalls a passive engagement within this constancy. I am transfixed by the complexity of nature in this landscape as each moment eases into the next. The sun begins to set and a light breeze brings about a cooler interpretation of discernment amongst all things herein. Every blade, every branch, every plant sways in reaction to the atmosphere. My figure to ground rhythm is in constant flux as time reveals difference.

Surface color, texture, form. Surface a screen, a frame, an expression.

Wispy clouds of fog dance across the mountain, reminding me of my rhythmic interchange between self and air, skin and spatiality. I draw inspiration from looking out the window. Though simple in action, the result urges a desire to meditate with nature as though to bond myself further within a living space of moment to moment perception; moments that deepen a desire to integrate my soul with the changeability that the landscape provides. A constancy of interplay, movement directs a meaning within my memory and my identity of self within place, a location, a history. I reflect, I engage, I learn, I embrace. Anew is my attention to each moment as visual and tangible perception reveals a difference within a space of internal simplicity.

Surface an exterior repetition. Surface a rhythm of similarity.

Difference within similarity of an atmospheric landscape can surface within a moving image. Similar to the representations discussed thus far, artists using video, film, frame and screen extended their perceptual view of the landscape by positioning the resulting projection as an example of moment to moment difference. Defined as experimental or avante garde film makers, these interpreters of motion within nature were as transfixed by atmospheric alterations of form and the resulting affect on mood as the Tonalists. Engaging the viewer with subtlety, Larry Gottheim and Peter Hutton each employed the camera to record single, continuous shots of subtle difference within a frame of an otherwise steady landscape. By embracing the temporal structure of the medium, they were able to identify a similarity of form as it related to movement and shifting suggestions within nature. Considerations of spatiality and viewer entry into the frame developed as a formal element. The two dimensional design of the fixed frame structure (projection screen) was key in the process of contextualizing an overall concept.

One of the most influential writers on experimental film, Scott McDonald, draws comparisons between Gottheim, Hutton and the history of American landscape artists, in his book “The Garden in the Machine“. Acknowledging the use of time in moment to moment perception as illustrated in the moving format, McDonald explores the representation of nature and landscape in what he expresses as “minimalist tactics” of these two particular avante garde filmmakers. Gottheim’s work of the early 1970’s contrasted heavily against the prevailing contemporary mindset of visual perception in time within a film or cinematic frame. He pushed the boundary of expectation often driving his viewers into irritation or annoyance at how “boring or slow” the piece seemed to be. Almost photographic in its apparent stillness, the imagery was even more bold through its silence.

“Viewers have been trained to feel that landscape is not a legitimate subject for even a ten-minute film experience. This provides us with a measurement of how different our sensibilities are from those of the previous century. When I ask viewers after a screening of Gottheim’s Fog Line what they’ve just seen, frequent response is “Nothing!”. Without overt plot and movement, viewers are just virtually blind to subtlety.”

Larry Gottheim’s Fog Line, 1970, introduces simple complexity as the opening frame displays a dense, green rectangle. Nearly an abstraction, the piece evolves slowly, “What one sees and can identify depends on the relative thickness of the fog, which gradually clears but does not disappear”. What one sees also depends on how attentive a viewer is of the subtle motion. Gottheim presents a fixed viewpoint. The only changes occurring are the atmospheric elements shifting or lifting as they reveal forms hidden within. Trees become identifiable as do three “high-tension wires”. Within this framing device, Gottheim allows the lifting of the fog to make visible suggestive moments happening in this set duration of time. The wires offer linear sections that break the composition into thirds, each section offering a change to the viewer who hasn’t “spaced out” to the green, murky introduction. McDonald writes, “The wires are central to Gottheim’s thinking about the scene he depicts. Their compositional effect is to raise our consciousness of the upper and lower horizontal lines of the film frame and of the frame’s rigid rectangularity. While we usually tend to use the film frame as a window into the conventional illusion of three dimensional space, the lines mitigate against our penetration of the space, and draw attention to the surface. The dispersal of fog is gradual that one cannot be sure when changes are actually occurring in the image and when they are occurring in the mind.”

Bringing attention to the capabilities of the medium and of the visual perceptual system, Gottheim intentionally presents a perspective as interpreted by first, his selection, and second, the camera’s transformation of it. The grainy surface of the film is illuminated by the projection and the surface of the material becomes an integral element of the composition’s formal elements. By creating a kind of perspectival spatiality, he reveals layers of shifting consciousness between the screen, the image and an illusion of meaning therein. Transient visual perception meets meditative focus in this atmospheric landscape. What was once a vague entry of abstracted tonalities and subtle forms, the view becomes an active visual experience tuned to individual discernment as suggestive moments linger on the edge of believability.

Here we find the frame of surface between materiality, illusion, projection and image. In Peter Hutton’s films, as in Fog Line, movement within a landscape is subtle and gradual. This modulation allows a very dramatic and intense representation of what moment-to-moment perception actually looks like and perhaps more importantly, what it feels like. Hutton is especially interested in tuning into the viewers mind through their senses. Through “spatial and temporal compositions” he allows “a revelation of the motion of the world to speak directly to the viewers mind”. Directing his work to this state, something of a meditative state akin to the Tonalists, he positions or re-positions the subject of the film to be a subject of the viewer’s own sense of introspection. Infused with qualities of light and atmosphere, his fundamental gesture directs the following in Landscape for Manon, 1987, as McDonald writes,

“An unusual perceptual process develops in these landscapes. In nearly every instance, the landscape seems first like a still photograph. It is only if and when one accepts this apparent stillness that a subtler form of motion begins to tease the eye and mind, and we realize that what looked to be still is actually a part of a much larger order of motion: the cloud masses are gradually, relentlessly shifting through the space defined by the frame; the subtleties of the composition are continually evolving to reveal an order much greater than the rectangular world represented by the camera.”

By extending perception from a visual systematic response to an internal reflection of introspection and self awareness, both Hutton and Gottheim embrace a sense of “the transformative”. Each illuminate the screen with moving atmospheres in a frame of landscape. In likeness to the Tonalists, their illusive depictions direct an internal destination.

Within this transient dialog between screen, illusion and introspection, it becomes evident that movement or modulation, occurs cyclically. In his book Movement as Meaning, Daniel Barnett enters a discourse in how movement is meaningful in avante garde film and other moving imagery. He suggests that as a surface modulates it shifts perception from a maker’s perspective, to what the camera frames and represents, to the projection frame and the illusory surface of the screen, and then, to the internal psychological frame of reflection. In consideration of the composition, Barnett states, “Pictorial movement within the overall design offers rhythms to shift our attention as the eye moves and revisits elements, making subsequent comparisons to represent a dialogue between ourselves and the composition. It’s as if the surface of the image becomes a semi-silvered mirror as our mind dialogues with itself, contemplating the relationships between what is seen and how it feels.”

Within this perceptual shifting, a tension arises, drawing us “from a depicted place in the world to the place we are in the moment, and then, to a contemplation of the comparison between the two.” Now we can see how the figure to ground rhythm occurs in time, between the viewer and the projected image, the moment between difference and similarity, and exterior surface to the internal reflection of contemplation.

Thesis Bibliography: Chapter Four

Barnett, Daniel. Movement as Meaning: in Experimental Film. Rodopi BV, Amsterdam-NY, 2008

McDonald, Scott. The Garden and the Machine. University of California Press, 2001.

Spielmann, Yvonne. Video the Reflexive Medium. MIT Press, 2008.Save


Tonal Expression

Interior Repetitions: II, 9:32, Jamie Hahn, 2017, still from single channel video
Interior Repetitions: II, 9:32, Jamie Hahn, 2017, still from single channel video

Tonal Expression: Chapter Three of Figure Ground Rhythm Thesis by Jamie Hahn 2010

Low light, nearly dusk, the bland grey sky presents a limitation on the familiarity of forms in the view from here. A tension exists between the inside perspective through the blinds and the quickly, darkening exterior of pine trees and grassy foreground. Within this low tonality, large shapes contrast heavily against the details. All in view is of low chroma. It is a rather expected view of nature after a snow filled winter. The grass is pale and brown. The pine tree is weathered. The brush is raw as it awaits new foliage. Time and light are escaping quickly.

With focus, I can see dry, brown leaves appear to emerge from being embedded in grass, pressed upon by the layers of white mass. Now free, they are wedged too deep to flee from their resting place. Catching my eye in this edge of darkness is their movement. Though entrenched with the blades of grass, almost as if one new formation, they blend and flicker at the will of the wind. Raw forms surface as the shape is caught in a push and pull between remaining light, the speed of the air and an apparent stillness that sets this scene for contrast, and for difference. Lightness is passing, details begin to fade. A contemplative reflection centers my focus on what is seen and how I feel. Within this twilight a reverie has surfaced.

Experientially, my figure within this ground has merged an idea of self or reflection thereof with nature and a landscape. This pairing references concepts developed in representational motifs of not only Monet’s late work, but also of a brief American art movement which occurred from 1880-1910. Prior to this time frame, American artists of the early to late nineteenth century created landscapes of grandeur and drama with panoramic vistas, bold lighting against sharp contrasting details. Figures within were often small as they were metaphorically linked to human simplicity within this grandiose of nature, of the sublime and of God’s creation. Hudson River School painters such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, and Frederic Edwin Church among others, represented the culture of the strength put upon the American landscape-one of creation, discovery and awe. Art historian Barbara Novak describes this age in her book “Nature and Culture“, in which “the idea of God in Nature was rendered by landscape painters who believed, along with the culture at large, that the glory of God as shown through America’s natural riches, was proof of the nation’s providential destiny; a reflection of the golden era of idealism”.

Entrenched with cultural identity and progressive embracement of all ideas of science, religion and place, the art of landscape grew into a new representation of “the truth of nature”. Within this realm, paintings became a pictorial entry for a collective mission of unification of every American.  Also supporting this ideal were the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Their reflections greatly impacted societal development and eventually helped to form considerations of nature in an altogether unified, yet, personal manner. Merging scientific detailed focus with a poetic, expressive reflection of an individual experience with nature, these artists and writers professed a new understanding of self reflexivity as it related to identity. Their works directed a kind of transition for the following generation of artists who “stubbornly” sought a deeper intensity of personalization within nature. The new generation “confronted nature as a private and extremely personal experience”.

Little was known or even recognized of this art movement in America until more than halfway through the twentieth century. Considered a “neglected” era, historians and curators of one particular exhibition held in 1972 finally appropriately honored artists such as Thomas Dewing, Edward Steichen, James McNeil Whistler, George Inness and John H. Twatchtman as Tonalists. Entitled “The Color of Mood“, the exhibition was curated by Wanda M. Corn. The accompanying catalog is one of the few written documents focused on what is now known as Tonalism. In the foreword, F. Lanier Graham, curator of M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, states,
“The world of the Tonalists was unique. In their special corner of subjective reality, scientific fact was overshadowed by poetic truth. Withdrawing from the hard edges of industrialization and the visual pollution of an urbanizing cityscape, they worked within the quietude of silent days and moonlit nights. Their subjects dwell in a distant border-state of consciousness, where motion has been suspended and energetic activity has evaporated into ethereal meditation. With perception as vaporous as a fog of colored feeling, they rendered images as tremulous as the murmuring vibrations of mood.”

Drawing from Romanticism, and neglecting Impressionism’s scientific view of nature, the artists created landscape motifs of self-reflection. Mesmerized by fog and other atmospheric delights, they worked upon a variety of surfaces integrating the paint, the canvas, the film and the photographic paper to illuminate moments of tranquility. This infusion of mood was typically dominated by a gradation of color, a tonal diffusion and a kind of translucence. The setting of light and objects related to one another within “an envelope of atmosphere”. Often blurring and confusing spatial relationships, the landscape became one of temporality, suggesting a shift from visual accuracy to an internal reflection of the moment in which the piece was being studied.

Painter and photographer Edward Steichen sought to transform this sense of time in to his “elusive, transient imagery”. His work rendered a pictoriality of his own private emotions,

“Because I found nature most beautiful in twilight and moonlight, all my efforts were directed toward finding a way of interpreting such moments. By taking a streetcar out to the end of the line and walking a short distance, I could find a few wood lots. These became my stamping grounds, especially during autumn, winter, and early spring. They were particularly appealing on gray or misty days, or very late in the afternoon and at twilight. Under those conditions the woods had moods and the moods aroused emotional reactions that I tried to render in my work”.

Steichen was a leader in developing photography as an art of expression. He often combined printing processes to create unique prints that could not be duplicated. The compositions montaged negatives, layered gum bichromate, and mixed toned platinum papers. While incredibly time-consuming, “His richly toned, evocative photographs reflected the yearning in the early years of the twentieth century to escape from the crass materialism and rationality of the everyday world into a space of quiet meditation”.

This kind of pictorial photography became known as Pictorialism. Photographers sought to redefine cultural understanding of an otherwise technological framing device. Photography was then gaining popularity to any average American who could as Kodak claimed, “Press the button, we’ll do the rest”. The Tonalist photographers or Pictorialists, rebelled and began to use the camera as a tool as any other painter would use a brush. By embracing and creating new methods of “making photographs”, their representations of nature appeared to be softened, illuminated by the glowing light of the atmosphere. Uninterested in sharp contrasting uses of light, these artist-photographers embraced the nuance of indistinctness “drawing attention to suggestive shadows and employing light as form” to evoke moods and feelings.

While the Tonalism period lasted for thirty years, its impact evolved to affect art making far into the twentieth century: from abstract expressionism to color field painting and later, experimental cinema and the transformative medium of video. When the exhibit, “Color of Mood” first recognized the movement, the curators acknowledged how the sentiment of expression from an individual reaction to nature was still at play in the consciousness of the twentieth century. Despite a lack in text, research has resurfaced in a new volume entitled “Tonalism”, a five hundred page recognition set to be in print this year, 2010, a hundred years after the end of this delicate, yet incredibly bold movement.

Thesis Bibliography: Chapter Three

Wanda M. Corn, “The Color of Mood: American Tonalism 1880-1910”, San Francisco: M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, 1972.

Barbara Haskell, “Edward Steichen”, The Whitney Museum of American Art, 2002.

Harvey L. Jones, “Twilight and Reverie: California Tonalist Painting 1890-1930”, Oakland Museum of California, 1995.

Barbara Novak, “Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting 1825-1875”, Oxford University Press, 2007.

James Smith Pierce, “From Abacus to Zeus: A Handbook of Art History”, University of Kentucky, 1998.

Atmospheric Perception

Atmospheric Perception: Chapter Two of Figure Ground Rhythm Thesis by Jamie Hahn 2010

At this moment, at this view, looking through the blinds to the scene outside, snow is falling quickly. In an irregular rhythm the flakes dance across the trees, bounce against the window and hide the distant mountain. The pine tree shifts in and out of focus as the snow static blurs its identity.

Outside, an intense wind pushes snow flakes against my stance. Stillness is not an option in this whirlwind. Everything is moving. Individual flakes become a white flock of wild masses flying through dense, cold air landing only for a moment before being whisked away by a frenetic wind.

The view is chaotic as a visual search begins for recognizable forms to lead the way. Distant markers have been masked by the atmospheric display of white static noise. An otherwise well-known path is obscured by a white dressing, and the walk becomes a search for familiarity.

Illuminating the moment, light has an ability to direct perception through colors, shapes and atmosphere. On a journey with time, the view welcomes new tonality as each moment passes from sunrise to sunset. Atmospheric rhythms emanate from falling snowflakes, misty fog, crisp frost, hazy thunderstorms and dancing winds. From within forms of spatiality arises a depth of perception that becomes something of a meditation on shifting focus between the detailed moment and the distant horizon of passing time.

Light gracefully serves as a guide through variations of darkness depending on time of day and place within an exterior environment or an interior one. We use light to see through to find our way. In its multitudes of variance, light comes to our visual system in waves of intensity. When standing outside, our vision takes us only so far as the light allows us to see clearly identifiable shapes within a scope of distance. Existing here is a boundary in actual lightness perception.

“In judging the lightness of surface, an observer must estimate and discount the optical viewing conditions: these include illumination level, haze, and interposed filters. The physical effects can be captured in terms of additive and multiplicative factors which we call the atmosphere.”

Atmospheric light is more easily identifiable on a hot, hazy day when the horizon is slightly out of focus from the haze of humidity in the air. We can also see this diffused light when fog hangs as a mist in varying levels of density. Looking out across a mountain range also provides an example of atmospheric light as our view is vast but the distance details are less discernible. The visual system is working to see through atmospheric particles in the air as they diffuse and shift in various angles and directions from the sun.

As atmospheric perception guides the view, it works to define spatial relationships in the figure to ground environment. In a moment to moment revelation, light and tonality offer change and contrast to a relative point of view. This four-dimensional (time-based) experience is translated to a two-dimensional space in still and moving images. Aesthetically, performatively, in technological and conceptual formation, a system is in place to bridge visual perception to an internal reflection. Frame to screen, this interpretive surface leads the way to the tangibility of rhythmic, time-based relationships between observer, maker, media and the representation therein.

Light and depth have been represented in two-dimensional forms since ancient Roman frescoes first depicted illusory scenes of atmospheric perspective. By adding shades of blue to an overlapping distant background, they were able to suggest distance. Additional techniques of creating perspective were developed in the Renaissance with the mathematical formula of perspective which included diagonal, single point, atmospheric, vanishing point, foreshortening, picture space and viewpoint. By using geometry, painters could enhance the illusion of depth which further added to the believability of the compositional design; making it appear as close to a real-life dimension upon an otherwise flat surface. This picture space then, became the plane of foreground, middleground and background, “any object or figure in the extreme foreground was used to lead the eye into the picture and push back other objects, making them appear further back in the picture plane”.

Color, tone, contrast and scale were also meticulously used in the designing of the scene being depicted.  Painters such as Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and Vermeer used light and tonality to contrast and enhance their dramatic depictions. Additional shifts in light as focus occurred in the Baroque and Rococo movements as artists began to search the canvas for motifs of greater emotional impact. What followed was the Romantic era of subject and object being of one in the same: feeling. Illuminating this new sensibility was the increased use of lightness with darkness. From Gericault’s Portrait of a Child Murderer  and Friedrich’s Abbey Among the Oak Trees, new directional lighting was infused into spaces of darkness. From madness to spiritual awakening, painters filled their canvases with awe, terror and what became known for what couldn’t be described any other way: the sublime.

Halfway through the nineteenth century, the industrial revolution brought about a new sense of time and perception of light and motion. The railway offered an entirely new perspective, “objects viewed while rapidly traversing the landscape appeared to melt, and nature itself to be in motion. The scenes which unfolded were rapid sequences. The landscape became about the whole rather than the details within”. Out of the industrial revolution arose a greater sense of identity in relationship to place and time.

Relating to the moment, a select group of artists encourage each other to continue the work of Romanticism by rejecting the current academic and accepted art of the time, which included realism, anything imaginative, nostalgic or historical. The group became known as Impressionists after Claude Monet’s Impression Sunrise in 1872. Their work redefined the illusion of depth in painting as atmospheric perception advanced to include an additional layer of motion. Brush marks identified the passing moment with angle, direction and tempo, “open contours and related chromatic values were used for the figure and ground; form was invoked through the interplay of colors”. Rendering shifts in light and motion from atmospherics such as fog, rain, and wind, the artists also became known for painting en plein air. No longer working from their studios, they were able to paint directly from the impression of the moment, new light infused colors graced the surface.

As the Impressionist painters rejected convention they echoed quite appropriately the mode of the times: reality in reflection through light: a scientific embracement of the landscape as it shifted between rural and city, atmospheric and structured. Within the canvas lived a motif of the moment as highlighted by the sun and whatever the view at a particular moment revealed to its maker. Painters were driven more and more to render an “instant view” of such a moment.  Representations of these moments were evident in cityscapes and landscapes wherein the motif exuded an energy of movement from changing light and atmospheric conditions.

While Monet’s Impression Sunrise was the beginning of Impressionism, his own work evolved through the years to a deep investigation of light, motion, and time within a landscape. He pushed the motif to new levels of intensity which gradually separated him from his contemporaries and later set a path for modern art of the twentieth century. His work until 1890 held the primary concepts of Impressionism, painting in plein air while recording the moment of light as accurately as possible. Then, one day, “during a walk he was struck by a row of grain stacks ‘At the start, I was just like everyone else: I thought two canvases would be enough, one for cloudy weather and one for sunshine. But no sooner had I begun to paint than the lighting changed, two were no longer enough if I was to render a truthful impression of a specific aspect of nature and not end up with a picture from a number of different impressions.'”.

The series Grain Stacks altered and enhanced the making process to include the idea of anticipation. Creating a new paradox for himself, the motif evolved from Impressionism into a more personal approach to “render what was experienced”. By also now working on the canvases in his studio, the series took on a reflection of memory and sentiment thereby suggesting a mood through use of color, tone and lighting. As he explored additional series, his interest grew in how solid and seemingly unchangeable forms became altered and transformed in their appearance when atmospherics were at play. Associations of color harmonized within a “pictorial motif under metamorphosis with dematerialized definitions”. Growing less identifiable, the paintings took on an increasingly subjective interpretation. Monet’s interest grew away from a ‘topographical observation’ and more into the ‘alteration of perception over time’. Seeking a harmonious moment between the motif and himself, the work exuded a reflection of surface, intangibility and self.

At the turn of the century, Monet’s work further escaped the boundaries of Impressionism as he challenged the motif to render beyond what was a traditional pictorial method of a consistent horizon line. Moving away from such a dependence on form, his paintings reflected a sense of disorientation. Primarily working in his personal garden, the motif became one of intense study of water, foliage, lilies and the lush integrations of light and tonality. This new spatiality of form led a viewer to no longer identify with a reference point, instead, shifting the reflection from viewer to canvas in a “Romantic, holistic, harmonious way”. His late work of reflection landscapes created a fusion of an illusory motif of “walking through his garden” in a wide panoramic format. Scale and abstractions of expressive gestures intensified viewing and led the way to contemplation.


Thesis Bibliography: Chapter Two

Walter J. Freeman, “The Physiology of Perception”, University of California Berkley, 1991.

Barbara Novak, “Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting 1825-1875”, Oxford University Press, 2007.

Karen Sagner-Duchting, “Monet”, Tachen Press, 1998.

A moment from last week

Blog post entry from my other site: A Cycle Within

“Today is September 21, 2016 and a Wednesday. This day still feels like summer and reminds me of all the months and days preceding this one. The sun is high and the light is bright. As this light is cast through the leaves, my eyes are drawn to the quiet spaces between the layers of varying tones. Green is such a variable color. As my eyes shift between the space outside the porch to the view inside, I am inspired further by the tubes of oil paint near my palette. I know, though, that color from nature can’t be placed on the canvas or really, in a photograph either. As an artist, I decided long ago not to try to replicate the outside world in my work. I am influenced by it and it inspires each piece I make, but I do not aim to re-make what is real or rather, make my perception of it. My view to the woods and the light this time of year spurs me on even as I make a painting full of other hues. Up close, the colors and textures blend and my interpretation of their existence guides my reaction to the next mark I make and eventually, I get almost lost in the process.

Getting lost in the process of painting has been my goal this summer. I’ve had other goals too. The porch is partially screened in and a few windows are covered with plexiglass. This allows for a breeze when needed and plenty of light. Up until this recent spring, our porch was used for storage of odds and ends. And, then, I decided to have goals. These goals were planned to help me with the process of the other big event: trying to conceive possibly through IVF. So, I cleaned up the porch and set it up as a painting studio and also, an indoor garden. We had leftover recycling containers that I deemed perfect for the planting of kale, swiss chard, basil and peppermint. The planting of seeds was clearly symbolic. And, I couldn’t wait to see something grow.

The process of planting is much more detailed than what I decided to do, which is probably contributing to the failure of their growth. However, the process did out weigh the end result, something that is equally important in other goal areas: be in the moment, not over think the end and be aware of anything happening at any time. Perhaps seeing it all as out of my control…similar to the IVF process and basically, life in general (no matter how much we think we do control it, we can only control some things and the rest is up to God/fate..or whatever you believe makes life happen). I did my part in watering the seeds and then, something tiny grew. And, after a few days it became clear that the small growth may be all that would happen. A month later it is obvious they are not living. The excitement of waiting for life has now become an awareness of the end-the possibilities of life and yet, out of my control or planning better, the seeds didn’t grow to their expected outcome. I’m not too concerned, but again find a similarity to my current state: my seeds haven’t turned into what I expected, my remaining eggs might not work and my goals are being revisited in a new way.

Painting has been a huge goal for me in these recent months. I’ve been a working artist for years now and most of my pieces are in the form of photography or video art. My pieces are sequential and connect place and time with ideas of identity and the moments between. My artist books, large prints and smaller photography images excite my ideas and research, and I do feel driven to make my work. The years since being at Alfred for my MFA have consisted of making work but also, dreaming of a time when I could paint again. In undergrad, I considered painting to be equal to photography in how I made work. However, even though that art program encouraged working across mediums, eventually, I had to focus on one and I chose photography simply because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it after college (I didn’t realize that I could build my own darkroom, which I did after graduation). So, painting got put aside and it took me almost ten years to get back into it. Part of the delay came from fear. Actually, most of the delay came from fear.

The summer before my fifth year of college, my dad and I turned a barn in our backyard into a studio. We built canvases and I spent every day for three months working on painting. I was in love with the rush of losing myself in the moment. After studying abstract expressionism in art history, I was eager to be like Jackson Pollock as he became more and more lost in the process of painting; concerned more with the moment rather than the end result. The natural high that came from painting reminded me of meditation or deep prayer. I never felt the need or interest to add to it artificially. Why would I change what happened so naturally with this kind of experience? I didn’t judge the ones who needed something else, but I was content with working in my own mind and finding a way to respond to the canvas. That fear of not working was actually more about the fear of losing myself in the process. I wondered if I would become lost in the process.  How would I make work that also needed to be talked about in an educated way? Painting was emotional and I felt connected to every mark I made. When I chose photography to focus on for senior thesis, I chose an easier route. And, after college, I continued with photography as I knew how to talk about it and how to make it without losing myself in the process.

Returning to painting happened near my thirtieth birthday. I had been making work and showing it but I felt something way missing. I knew that my urge to paint had been stifled long enough and finally, I let it out. I turned my second bedroom in my apartment into a painting studio. I was low in funds so I worked with the cheapest materials: plywood and house paint. I bought only black and white paint to work with. I let myself go and returned to the moment. These paintings contributed to a video art installation that finally led the way into graduate school at Alfred two years later.

I continued to paint when possible as I focused my research in time based media at Alfred. And, when I moved to eastern Washington for my first full-time teaching position at the university, all my canvases were set up in the new studio in the basement of my house. I had very large canvases to work on and when able, I would spend hours working on them. However, it was increasingly difficult to paint as I was balancing teaching with making my primary work: video and prints. Painting was an opportunity to express myself in the moment and do so again a month later. I painted repeatedly on those five canvases. A few of them are once again in my studio, waiting to be used again.

Only now, I feel as though my goals have been met for this summer. I have painted and lost myself in the process. The seeds were planted and barely grew.  I do not want fear to control my goals. I didn’t plant the seeds very well and if I want them to grow next season, I will do it differently. The canvases and the paints and brushes are finally connecting with my release of control of every mark. I’m finally letting the moment be my guide.”


My plan with this new website/blog is to post my thesis writing from grad school and also, to write about works in progress or other thoughts or ideas related to making my artwork. Today, I’m writing about recently trying to paint again.

I say ‘try’ to paint again because it seems as though I’ve forgotten how. Or maybe it’s a mix of things. I know how and I’m trying to not know how. I realize that sounds conflicting and it is. I’m trying to paint like I used to at two other times in my life when painting was something I felt like I could do. However, if I’m honest with myself, it has always been a struggle. And yet, doing it, has always felt completely natural, as though the process was as much a part of me as breathing.

What is a history of an artist? How does it all start? We usually start as every other kid who draws or paints in art education classes or another way. And, then, usually when others are starting new hobbies, we continue on and take more classes and possibly even take college classes. Some of us become art majors in college and then, after usually do something else. But, there are a few who continue to make their work and possibly pursue a higher degree such as an Master of Fine Arts or even a Ph. D. And with all this education and practice in making our work, we know how to do it and how to teach it as well. So, the question I’m wondering, is how do I go back to when I didn’t know as much? How do I go back to a place of pure creativity wherein the process leads the way and the mindful education thoughts are not a constant? How do I start to paint and just follow the paint rather than how each mark interacts and leads the eye and how the composition works as a whole?

In my early life, creativity came in the form of experimentation. I would often blend things, from the food at dinner to all the things in the bathroom, concocting my own mix of foods, or toothpaste or mouthwash. The end results were not important. The process was the joy.

The summer after fifth grade when I was about ten years old, I took a course in darkroom photography. I was excited by the process of taking pictures, developing the film and then, watching the magic of paper development. I continued to take pictures and dreamed of working in a darkroom again. In college, I was able to take another course and I was in love once again.

In seventh grade, I really started to enjoy painting in my art education class. For birthday and Christmas presents, I started receiving art supplies for this new hobby and would often set up a little studio in my room. I recall getting  lost in the process of creativity but also feeling frustrated by what I didn’t yet know how to do: composition and drawing perspective correctly. Art education classes spent a little time in this area, but I didn’t get to really know how to do these things until becoming an art major in college. I’d like to say that I figured it out, that the instruction I received and the many hours of working had a result that I was happy with. At that point in time, making art was about the process and even with the best instruction, I struggled with making work that didn’t follow my process and instead, followed life. Drawing or painting was not about replicating reality. Of course, learning perspective and measuring details was part of it, but for this creative soul, I found little joy in it. I knew that learning it could be done. Anyone can learn to draw. It is a technical skill that can be learned. Just as anyone can learn how to use a camera and how to print a photograph.

Even though I was frustrated with the details of drawing with proper perspective and composition, what I learned in those exercises contributed greatly to my ability to make work that was non-representational. In my painting, the canvas was not a place to recreate life. It was a place to express ideas. And, knowing composition and two-dimensional design was a necessity in making my work successful.

In college my love for painting and for photography allowed my studies to focus on both while I also pursued an art history degree. In my mind at the time, painting was something I could always do while photography, was something I could only do while I had access to a darkroom. So my primary work the last year was in photography. After graduating, I had a dream of being an artist and showing my work. I decided to continue with photography and built a darkroom in my parent’s basement. I joined a co-operative art gallery and starting showing and selling my work. But, it was always photography. And, while I loved making my work in this way: with composition and design an obvious and intuitive consideration, I missed painting.

The summer before my last year of college I decided to focus entirely on painting. My dad and I turned a small barn in the backyard into a studio. I spent hours every day working. My goal was to paint and lose myself in the process, to not over think anything and to make whatever I needed to or wanted to in the moment. The results were a mix of good and bad. Some pieces became favorites and hang to this day. Others were not as well composed and lacked direction. Art is a mix of these things: the intuitive creativity blended with composition, direction and or meaning. And, meaning can be suggestive or descriptive and direct. At the time, the meaning wasn’t as important as the process. However, I learned over time, in school and after, that to make my work effective, I had to pay attention to how the composition contributed to the meaning and or interpretation of the work by others. At that time in life, I didn’t care as much if anyone else understood any of it. I was making art for art sake: for myself and the process that fulfilled something inside. However, when I started to make work to sell it and show in art galleries (with the hope of selling it), I changed the way I made my work.

For photography, I had goals of being expressive as well as compositionally sound. In the early years after undergrad, I worked on making black and white photography to sell in the art galleries. I was successful in that most of what I made did sell and I had several shows in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Georgia. I felt as though the work was fulfilling me in a creative way but also, in a smart way: that everything I learned about composition and design in college art courses had finally clicked. After a few years, though, I felt an itch to do more. I started to wonder if my work was saying anything or doing anything other than serving an aesthetic need for hanging something decorative  on someone’s living room wall. In my mind, this body of work was expressive of conceptual ideas: of formal qualities, tones and textures found in the details of plants and flowers. The parts photographed were not the whole object but rather a close view. This abstracted view was of interest because it cut out the whole meaning and obvious interpretation. I was interested in showing parts to the whole (something we learn in two-dimensional design, principles of design, figure ground relationships, etc). I was looking at other photographers who had similar ideas: Karl Blossfeldt, Imogen Cunningham, and Edward Weston. While I was content with this work, I felt the need to do more. I was also wondering if I could make work that wasn’t just aesthetic. I wanted to make work that was thought-provoking, something beyond ‘beautiful’.

Painting hadn’t happened since the summer before graduating. I put it on the back burner, thinking that someday I would do it again. My focus had shifted to photography and making a living selling my work. But, as time went by, I noticed something was missing. In an attempt to fix this, I discovered Liquid Light. As a liquid emulsion, the mixture could be painted onto any surface and then, be exposed and processed similarly to a regular black and white print. While my research showed ways to make the emulsion a perfect form on the surface, my interest was in doing the opposite. For the first time in a while, I found myself making work in a creative and spontaneous way. I loved the process. The liquid emulsion could be applied with a paint brush on to watercolor paper. These brush marks brought back my passion of painting on canvas and the resulting photographs were expressive of the marks as well as the content within. Instead of working with plants and flowers, my negatives came from the land around my home in northeast Indiana. I was drawn to older forms of architecture in this farming landscape. Still hanging on my walls are two pieces from this body of work: “Grain Silos in the Snow” from 2003.

One aspect that I loved in these new photographs came as a result of the way I made them. Photography is a technical achievement that is difficult to do incorrectly once you know how to do it. And, with negatives as the original image, copies can be made almost indefinitely. Using Liquid Light the way I did, when I brushed it across the surface of the paper, the marks could not be repeated. I didn’t want to repeat an image once it was made. It was a one time thing: a monoprint. I also enjoyed how the surface of the image would change in development, washing and drying allowed inconsistencies that were out of my control.  I could not create all of it on my own. I was thrilled that the process had a part in the final outcome. Making this work was a mix of technology and the unexpected.

Thinking back to 2003, I was an eager young artist and my goals were met for the most part. However, it became clear that I needed to do something else to make a living and the natural option was to be a commercial photographer. I started a business taking senior, family and wedding pictures in Huntington, Indiana, my hometown. I found great joy in doing this work and as it grew to be more successful, I made less artwork. Not making art for a few years had an effect on me. I suppose it mixed with other life happenings and at some point near turning thirty, I realized that making art was something I really needed to do. I needed to paint and I needed to make the work I’d always wanted to but feared for some reason. In 2007, I taught a college photography class for the first time and found myself excited at the prospect of doing both: making my work and teaching for a living. I applied to graduate programs and thankfully, was accepted into the one that most spoke to my soul. From 2008-2010, I worked on my Master of Fine Arts in Electronic Integrated Arts at Alfred University in Alfred, NY. It was here that I found my way and faced the fears of doing what I wanted: to make the art work that I needed to make and have it be accepted in this new art world.

Painting returned to my life just before going to grad school. I turned a guest room in my apartment into a studio and got to work again. I was tired of thinking about what to paint and just let myself go. The works contributed to my application to grad school in a time-based video installation. In grad school, painting was not my focus, but I continued to do it when possible. My primary work was in time based media: photography and video. As I got used to making work that moved literally across the screen, each mark I made had a moving element and became one part to the whole of a time based video piece. I think this challenged my painting in that I was used to my marks moving continuously, but on canvas, they stopped.

My paintings became more about gesture and movement, the marks were faster and more of the moment. I would make a painting and move on to the next, not spending a lot of time on each piece, as if time would change what I made if it lasted longer than one session. I finally started to make work that I enjoyed: both for the process and the end composition near the end of grad school. One painting that I felt was successful combined paint and drawing with oil pastels and layers of gloss medium between each. The piece was layered and full of marks moving in and out of spaces in the composition. There was an implied landscape, but nothing too descriptive. Thinking back to how my graduate work evolved, the painting was very similar to my video work. I was interested in subtlety, mark making, gestures, movement through space and between objects. The only difference was time: one happened in time and the other through time.

After graduate school, I moved to eastern Washington to teach full-time at university level: digital art, photography, design, video art, performance and art history. I lived in a nice little house and worked on my new career quite intensely. I still felt the need to paint and set up a studio in my basement. From time to time, I would spent hours working on canvases trying to reconnect with the piece I’d made at Alfred. A few of them worked, but I didn’t feel satisfied. I had trouble getting in to making my work with the same intensity I had in grad school. My life was full of deadlines, pressure to teach and continue to make my other work when I had the time (which was not often). So, painting got further and further away. Then, it became something I did when I was stressed and needed to express myself in ways that were difficult to do in photography or making a new video art piece. While I did make work in those media, I longed to be in my painting the way I had in the past. But, it never quite happened.

Two years ago my life changed significantly when I found myself in love and planning my wedding. I no longer felt angst or emotion about what might happen next. I packed up my house and moved to the Cayman Islands with my husband. I started to make my work again and let go of all the stress from teaching. Letting that go took about a year, but as recently as this past Christmas, I found myself feeling creative again as I made new work. In the months leading up to this new website, I began to ponder whether or not I wanted to try to paint again. With spring’s arrival, the outdoor screened in porch seemed to be calling to me. I searched through my things in my parent’s basement and found my old easel, saved canvases and paint brushes. I bought myself five tubes of oil paint: blue, yellow, red, green and burnt umber. And, last week, I started to apply them to the canvas.

The feeling is like no other, really. I was instantly drawn into the process and the feel of the paint in the brush touching the surface of the canvas. I made marks and for a little while, let go. However, not for long. I realized that I was trying to make something representational. The blues and greens mixed and the red and yellow started to look like a sunset. I was irritated and annoyed and yet felt the drive to continue. I am out of practice. I am in a known and unknown place. I have the past and the present constantly in my mind. What I’ve done and what I could do if I just let myself. No pressure, of course, and yet, it is there. I have yet to break through that and to accept the moment and, to let time lead that moment to whatever “it” may be.