Monday, August 31, 2009

Ekphrasis at UMF

“Reading drawings is like leafing through a book for answers, or turning a kaleidoscope until the bits fall into place.” So I wrote for my installation reading the landscape at the University of Maine/Farmington eleven years ago. I still believe that the landscape can be read, that it organizes itself in signs and equivalences, that every branch and every evening primrose is doing something that has meaning for each of us.

During a period of years from 2001 through 2005, I did some 250 gestural drawings of periwinkle shells and flowers. Those drawings have existed as discrete images until now, when in grouping them for the ekphrasis exhibition at Farmington I have been mindful of making connections between the purely visual and the literary. Sometimes the drawings tell their own stories. Other groupings are inspired by poems, as Buson’s haiku: “peony scattering/have piled up/two-three petals.” For the second time in my installation work, I have found inspiration in John Ashbery’s poetry. This time, I borrowed a title from “Some Trees” which begins “These are amazing: each/joining a neighbor, as though speech were a still performance.”

The methodology of each drawing was also simple performance. I laid down an ink or watercolor wash, dropped an ink line or periwinkle shells into it, and recorded the movement of its happening. The gestures are a calligraphy that has correspondences in Asian art, so the exhibition will include a Chinese scholar’s desk that the Curator, Sarah Maline, has very kindly offered include. I am also indebted to Sarah for the opportunity to bring a new dimension and new vocabulary to my work about the landscape.
And next week, possibly, I'll have images from the show.

Exhibition dates: September 3-24, with a reception on September 10.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ekphrasis: Nature’s Spreadsheet

Ekphrasis: a lucid self-contained explanation or description; the word made visible; words that describe something visual; by extension, visual art that is poetic or deals in words. . . . . The University of Maine at Farmington will explore the concept in a September show that includes my work along with that of five other artists and poets. In 1998, I mounted an installation at UMF entitled “Reading the Landscape.” My paper articulations were overwritten with text, which added content to the gestural imagery that in turn formed an intermediate layer on paper recycled from previous installations. This time I’m foregoing the text. Instead I am using gestural drawings to make storyboards whose narratives will depend on subtle variations – the bend of stems, the dispersion of periwinkle shells on ink wash.

I still believe that landscape is best understood as a written phenomenon, but I have become more attuned, to paraphrase something I read years ago, to the way nature reveals itself in multitudes and multiplicities. Repeats of a single gesture, rows of periwinkles and daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace, multiples of drawings in columns and grids, are another way to invent an installation.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Holy Shoe

Missed posting last Monday - it's too summer in Maine - but I did have a thought resulting from having heard an excellent "fireside chat" between the Farnsworth Art Museum's Roger Dell and Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For a while the discussion centered around "the whole issue of curatorial independence" which can be something of a headache for directors. When the phrase was uttered, I must have been in some sort of synesthetic mode because what I heard was "the holy shoe of curatorial independence." Or was that "holey shoe?" I think of saints and beggars. Curators may be either or both. Can't go very far with that thought, but I can report on my ducks. Last week the mother ended up dead in the ditch, and of the eight now teenage offspring, only five remained. I suspect a run-in with a truck. And today it appears that one of the five lies flattened in the road. No one's going to make way for ducklings on Route One.

image courtesy of Flickr