Recollection

Today is Wednesday July 6, 2016. I am feeling familiarity and calm this morning. Many things around me are similar, but the differences remind me of time and place and how memory intertwines with the present. I am sitting at the same desk in the same room. However, it is on the opposite side of the room and the computer is a laptop instead of my large Mac. The room has been updated with new tile and painting and decorative blinds and rugs. There is a lovely palm plant in the corner. My memory of living here for nearly a year is blending with the present reality of our three-week visit. This is our third day and I look forward to writing, reflecting and making my work.

I had planned to start Chapter 2 of my thesis with this entry. However, it is feeling more relevant to recall an entry from an older blog about my experience here that first year.

     “Sunday December 28, 2014
Chasing the sun…..
The sun sets differently this time of year. I did not realize how the landscape would change here. How the light has been altered due to the time of the month and this date near the end of the year. My last visit here was five months ago. Then, it was hot, humid and mostly sunny. Now, it is warm, humid and mostly sunny. This is my third day in this new landscape and what is now being called home.
The sun set at 5:56 pm according to the app on the phone. I looked out the window at approximately 5:30. The view from within the frame of the window provided a glimpse at the sunset. Luminous clouds filled the space between the horizon and the darkening sky. I decided to go out to take in this view and my husband suggested that we hop in the car for a quick drive to the shoreline. As we walked quickly from the parking lot to the water, I felt as though we were chasing the sun. Between 5:48 pm and 5:56 pm the sun no longer cast its warmth and instead took up residence in the clouds hovering above the sea.

March 31, 2015

I have been here for three months. Rarely do I really consider where I am in relationship to place and perspective. I do not feel as though I am on an island. When driving, I see the water on one side at times, but never on both. This sense of relating to a place and its boundaries can only reveal itself realistically if actually perceived. And, at the moment, while in the act of walking or driving, such a view is not possible and therefore, seems to block the idea of the ‘island’. I have yet to gain that understanding. How is this space, this place perceived?

I’ve always had an interest in maps and direction. Growing up in northeast Indiana, I was surrounded by square miles of farmland. The house I grew up in was in a subdivision. However, the house was not part of the usual plan or organization and sat rather, on the parameter of the neighborhood. The backyard was not square or symmetrical and continued its boundary into an undetermined space of a wooded ravine. My childhood was filled with walks through this rugged place. Drawn to texture and details in nature, I recall explorations of plants and trees. By contrast, the daily route to elementary school involved traveling into the symmetrical fields of soybeans and corn. Less than a mile from home the roads turned from curvy to straight and the view opened. The charted path of the school bus involved time as it picked up students along the way. The thirty minute ride often included the act of simply looking out the window. The frame of the window selected my view.
The landscape of the place I grew up altered slightly when my family moved from the subdivision to a new neighborhood roughly four miles to the north and east. This home was located along a slightly curvy East/West state highway intersecting the square mile grid of North and South county roads. The backyard was pastoral as it encompassed several acres of land filled with a large pond surrounded by walnut, pine and sycamore trees. A winding creek flowed through an open space of wild grasses and unruly developments of Goldenrod and Milkweed. After the childhood years of exploration of the previous home, I was newly challenged by this space with its offerings of water, steep ravines and room to walk.
A few years ago I began to study the map of this landscape. I was intrigued by Google Maps and the new ability to view an area from above through the use of a computer. Through this study, I learned about my home place from a new perspective. I could see the roads connecting and the creek winding. I found myself in awe in the realization that the two home places were more connected than previously thought. The creek that flowed behind my childhood home was the same of my second home. Clear Creek charted its curvy path through the county roads from north to south where it eventually ended in the Wabash River.
This study of my home place arrived at a time of learning to navigate a new landscape. I was searching for similarities in a seemingly dissimilar place. I wondered about how to connect with a new place? How does the new space become familiar? Does it become a home? How does this relationship form?

A few years ago I made a new piece titled, “Merging Space, Merging Place”. As a time­-based single channel video, the piece aimed to answer questions I had about where I lived as it compared to my home in Indiana. I often made work considering this question. In the summer of 2008, I moved away from northeast Indiana for the first time. I had lived in the region for thirty­-one years (including college a mere fifty miles to the south). I was ready for a change in scene and a chance to make my work. Alfred, NY was about five hundred miles to the east and north. Surrounded by steep hills and low mountains, the village was small, quaint and charming. I found this new landscape to be very visually intriguing. The horizon line altered with each step and mile explored. No longer enclosed by square miles of farmland, I embraced the difference and challenged my sense of direction by taking many un-mapped excursions into the wilderness. My art soon became a study of this place and my relationship to it.

The two-year study in Alfred focused on research development for achieving a Master in Fine Arts degree. My research included visual art in the form of time based media with video, prints and artist books. Much of the imagery at the beginning depicted the land of Western New York, but it evolved to include the land I’d left behind. In my visits home, I continued the daily practice of making work by taking pictures and video of my favorite places. In leaving home, I found myself eager to return to the landscape for its meditative and soothing atmosphere. My relationship with this place was steeped in memory and years of exploration. Each time I visited during those two years, I found deeper appreciation for what it offered: a sense of history and connection and a difference to what appeared to be so exciting in the hills of Alfred. While I accepted difference in both locations, I found similarities and began to further research what would become my thesis.

In April of 2010, my MFA thesis culminated in a final exhibition titled, “Figure Ground Rhythm: Electronic Meditations on Time”. The visual element took form in exhibition design within a gallery space. A video installation room dominated and intersected the direction of view from beginning to end as the viewer became a participant in the four-dimensional relationship to place. All of the pieces interconnected to reveal a place: my home in northeast Indiana. The written thesis delved into research of landscape in art throughout history including: American Tonalism, straight photography, Pictorialism, American landscape painting of the 1800’s, German Romanticism, Claude Monet, and more recently experimental film and video art of the 1970’s. A study of psychology and perception were also included, as I was additionally influenced by Deleuze and Lacan. My work now, is at it was then, continues to be about place and time, meditation, introspection and identity in relationship to the landscape.

Last Friday I attended a luncheon for a ladies group celebrating six years of meeting once a month. Throughout the hour, they shared stories of the beginning and how various experiences became a yearly ritual. During the luncheon, as the women reflected, I too thought back to six years ago when I was half way through the first year of MFA studies in Alfred. Five years ago I completed my degree. Two years ago in March I sent an email to an old friend. A year ago we reconnected and now, we are married and living in Grand Cayman, an island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Today I’m asking questions about place and time as I pursue this new landscape. How does this new place connect to the others? Will the ritual of the tide and subtle sea remind me of the rolling hills of the Palouse? Will the sea mist add a layer of diffusion to an otherwise known landscape? Will my walk here also become a search for familiarity?”

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Surface

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.