Wednesday, November 21, 2012

songs for the white owl part 3

Third part of an undelivered and unfinished lecture.

III.  The Sleep, or, the Transformation

Hopefully the "meaning" of my work is starting to become a bit more clear.  Through an approach to ontology and how that interacts with making things (be they paintings, sculptures, or the basement stairs I just rebuilt) and living in the world and ecosystem, I have found archetypal cycles.  Obviously, these cycles have been thought about and written about for years.  Some of my extracurricular research interests have to do with Gamelan, a Southeast Asian orchestral music that is written in cycles based on the particular tone of each instrument; Borobudur is an example of Buddhist architecture that is meant for the visitor to experience the motion of the cycle which is also a parallel experience (through carved stone panels throughout the monument illustrating the Buddha's journey) to Siddhartha achieving enlightenment.  Mircae Eliade and others have written and explored the idea of the eternal return.  Eliade's writings often refer to a doubling of action and existence are repeated archetypes of myth.  The same is true for ancient architecture, art, and dance, though modern personhood denies the mythological meaning and doubling of history for its preference of fragmented time and experience. 

What becomes important for me to address now though is the idea of poetics and transcendence, specifically how my view of poetics changes and adds to the meaning present in my work (and, to some extent, things that are made and crafted by human hands).  My interpretation of the word poetics certainly has a basis in poetry, but I think it is worth it to define what I see as the important part of poetry and its function.  The beauty of poetry is that the writer can put together two or more words, each with their own distinct meaning(s), and create a new, transcendent meaning by putting them together.  In Auden's poem Funeral Blues he writes the words 'dismantle the sun' as a manifestation of grief and sorrow.  I think it is obvious that dismantling is typically though of as applying to something that is made of components, like a machine, a clock, or something else that can be disassembled.  The sun, in all of its physical and metaphorical glory, would not be our first object proposed for a dismantling.  Somehow Auden puts this phrase together (along with the rest of the poem, of course) to make a transcendent statement of the dramatic thought process of grieving and accepting death. 

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I strongly believe that this is an aim for art making:  putting together different and disparate ideas, objects, symbols, elements, etc to form new and transcendent meaning.  It is transcendent at its best points, and transcendent in the sense that, while it still maintains the ideas original meanings, it also creates something new, something that can contribute to the history of the idea as it stands. 

Poetics, therefore, are an absolutely essential part of my studio practice.  There is no direct route to poetics, however.  Poetics comes from making and creating things, it is not something that can be planned in my mind.  I think that it is necessary for artists to form studio practices that allow for mistakes, exploration, and impulsive decision-making.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

song for the white owl 2 // UNC Charlotte

Part two of the ungiven lecture during my recent visit to UNC Charlotte.

II.  Concept of Being

For the last few years I have been consciously working to find ways in which I could more directly live the life that I was thinking about living.  The rural aesthetic felt more like it could be brushed aside as a schtick, as something that was a motif in my work, and I wanted to expand in ways that made being in the studio more meaningful. 

I remember getting a book from the library in undergrad called Rauschenberg: Art and Life and being particularly taken by the title; I found the book at a time when I was struggling a bit in school, not sure how much I wanted to be a part of the art world and not sure how I fit into it--I grew up lower middle class, worked multiple jobs through undergraduate and graduate school, and wasn't attracted to the culture of the art market and the fat cat collectors that I saw when I went to art fairs in Chicago.  The Rauschenberg book, though, helped me to realize that this way of life was possible; that Rauschenberg was clearly (as one of the most prolific artists I've ever seen) able to just make things even though he had a lot of monetary success in his lifetime.  Artists like Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, and Richard Tuttle also were good to hear about as they chose to live outside of NYC and make work away from those constraints.  Now, in our contemporary society, it is great to meet new artists who find themselves outside of metropolitan areas--starting great projects, creating small galleries, and building communities of creative individuals that provide far more than what money does.   

I have always wanted to be self-sufficient and leaned towards homesteading.  the Foxfire books were profoundly impactful to me as I started in college and I've always been interested in finding ways to make something as opposed to buying something.  In the last three years my wife and I have had a successful 500 SF garden in our backyard where we grow a number of vegetables, fruits, herbs and weeds.  As this part of my identity has developed, I have noticed my physical and mental body being more in tune with the progression and cycle of the year; I also started paying attention quite a bit more to what was happening in the night sky.  I started using constellations that where visible in the Northern Hemisphere while I was making the painting and/or drawing as the compositional basis.  I then developed the compositions with gestural marks, push and pull, and spatial geometric abstraction as an acknowledgement to the constellation that helped create this new image.  As I have always been partial to folk traditions and superstitions, the constellations helped me to make work that was connected to the experience of being on earth, living within a complex system of planet and space, and knowing my place and movement as the constellations changed and time moved forward to cycle back. 

I additionally started using the forms of plants, trees, and other forms of being (in that they have life, in some capacity) as the compositional basis for paintings as well.  This is a sort of overarching idea that I still consider and think about in my work, as most artists should--why is it that I am using the elements or symbols that I am using?  What do they mean, and what won't I use in my work?  This last question is particularly interesting to me because though it is worded in a negative way, it helps me establish boundaries and get a better sense of why I use the elements that I do choose to use.  The plants, trees, and leaves have continued to be a major part of my work; even in more recent wall-based installations.  In part these elements are not only interesting in terms of formal qualities--how a tomato vine can be a line, or a leaf can act like paper or an awkward brush mark.  It is also rewarding to me to use materials that I have--a lot of the organic elements in this work are dead plants that would just be composted if I didn't use them; I like using found wood or materials that are easily accessible not only because of my attempts at self-sufficiency but also because I think transcendence becomes all the more important with materials that I see and/or use every day, as a part of my existence. 

Drawing for the Backspace Collective fundraiser, which is still accepting drawings that will be sold to benefit the space in Peoria, Illinois.  Please consider donating a piece, drawings are due by Nov. 30, 2012.  All works will be sold for $25.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

song for the white owl // UNC Charlotte

...just back from a terrific trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, to make a print with Erik Waterkotte and some students in the UNC Charlotte Department of Art and Art History.  Along with an artists talk and a visit with a senior seminar course, I had a lot of time to interact with the great faculty and impressive group of students.  I think the show comes down soon, but there was a damn fine BFA exhibition (of which I bought a pretty amazing piece by fibers BFA student Laura Ewing titled Banner)--should you find yourself near Charlotte in the next day or two, please make sure to check it out.  I think it comes down on Monday.

The printing was fantastic and I learned quite a bit about lithography in the process.  It ended up having seven layers in total: four litho layers and three screen-printed layers; the whole piece was based off of some digital photography that I've been working with in a series called Songs for the White Owl, a sort of response to Ted Hughes poem Songs against the White Owl.  The final image is below.

I also worked on two presentations for an artist's talk; one completely written out and another that was off the cuff.  The written one didn't work for the presentation because it was difficult for me to connect it fluidly to the work in the presentation; I do, however, think that it provides a good conceptual framework for my approach to art making, so I'll post the talk, in three parts, here.  Fair warning: it is unedited, so there might be some gnarly wording.

Preamble and Part I
It might take a while for me to set up the framework for the most potent aspects of my work so please bear with me.  I will be showing work throughout my lecture but pieces and parts will build up to more of a design of the whole picture towards the end.  I find that this is the best approach to presenting my work because, in part, it preserves some structured ambiguity between what I am talking of and what is in the work, that gradually develops as the lecture goes on.  As Will Oldham just wrote in Poetry Magazine this June, in 'To Hell with Drawers: Poetry as cabinetry' :  

"The difference between lyrics and poetry is that I don't understand poetry.  I don't understand biology either.  Someone must be there to guide me through the meanings of things…I also do not like drawers.  There must be shelves, where the contents are visible.  When things are hidden in drawers, they do not exist…My mind is kept in a drawer, in the end.  And the drawer hides its contents from view…"

Its difficult to a certain extent to tell exactly how Oldham's facetiousness defends the structure of my talk, but I want to simultaneously guide you through the meanings of things and, also, defend that things hiding in drawers can be interesting.  For me to explain every mark is to bore you to tears; for me to say that everything is a matter of happenstance is to deny my own nature of finding and developing meaning in art making and life. 

I have grown up and lived all of my life in the Midwest.  I've always needed to connect to my family and ancestry as a means to forming part of my identity, so Midwestern-ness is a big part of that identity; my mother's family was largely farmers, Dutch-German immigrants in Pennsylvania and then Indiana.   My father's family is much more assorted in its ancestry--with some records reporting Cherokee from Eastern Tennessee along with the typical mixture of European immigrants.  My father's family, however, settled in the Moccasin Gap near Gate City, Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountains.  Farming is also a part of the history of that side of the family, along with logging and a family rock quarry.  It took me some time as I was growing up to realize the meaning of this history; I often wanted something concrete to connect to in forming my identity.  As I've grown older, however, I have realized how this truly impacts my life and work. 

I. Understanding the morning, every new day

While I've always had a penchant for the rural and "down-home" aesthetic, I've tried to develop ways of not simply relying on the visual language of the rural to suffice for my content.  I do feel like I made a number of successful pieces during this development and struggle, due largely in part to my interest in geography, specifically human geography.  Not only did it connect the placeness that I was feeling as I was establishing my identity (being Midwestern, traveling to Appalachia every year) but human geography is less scientific in nature and more about seeing place, location, or space as a state of context, not simply an individual point to study. 

Yi Fu Tuan and Gaston Bachelard were the most influential thinkers as I started to develop my work and connect it to a way of living.  Bachelard is typically considered to be a phenomenologist, but his book The Poetics of Space and many of his other writings have appealed to my sense of place and been instructive in another aspect of life and work--the poetic aspects of being. 

A good example of Bachelard's poetics deals with something that I have thought about for some time, especially as it grows colder and I tend to do things like bake bread, read and write poetry, and reflect more on what is happening.  He states:

"Winter is by far the oldest of the seasons.  Not only does it confer age upon our memories, taking us back to a remote past but, on snowy days, the house too is old."

Why does this transition happen during fall?  Why does my lifestyle and identity change as it grows colder?  Though I don't know the exact answers, I've started to learn and understand a sort of archetype of being, in the most general sense evidence of a cycle that is prevalent in my concept a day, my idea of a year, and my impression and anticipation of a lifetime, including the seasonal changes of the year, the changes of light in both a day and a year, and other experiential aspects of living.  Ontology is, like geography, something that is contextual, and the philosophical writing and ideas of being should be considered with the experiential context of every day life. 

song for the white owl: sleep will wait, 2012
lithography and screen print, ed. of 16
printed with Erik Waterkotte at the UNC Charlotte print shopt

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Places, the state of being

I'm busy preparing for a lecture and visiting artist gig at University of North Carolina in Charlotte--I hope to post the lecture notes and powerpoint here after it is finished.

While at UNC Charlotte I will be working with Erik Waterkotte to make some large scale prints based off of digital photos that I've been working with, down below (though these are smaller sketches, without the handwork of the prints).  I am always interested in text and how to fit it into my work; at times it is a bit of a struggle, but I think it works best when I don't over think it and use the text as a) an expressive mark and b) a poetic element.

If you find yourself in Charlotte on Monday, November 12, at 2 pm, swing by for the lecture; or stop in and see what is going on in the print studio.  I'll post the end result when I get back, too.

The images below reference (or react to) the poem by Ted Hughes
'Songs against the white owl'.

Listening to:
Tindersticks, in general, but mostly [II] and Claire Denis Film Scores
Sleep's Dopesmoker
Born Heller's self titled album
Implodes' Black Earth