For me, the act of creating art is about being in the moment, connecting without judgement to the impulses I feel driven to express. As it turns out, I also have conflicting loyalties between technology and the physical act of making marks on paper. The work I present here encompasses two bodies of work with a single theme, gesture.
In fine art a gesture is an expressive mark derived from an impulse and captured with media, such as ink on paper. My paintings are clearly "of the hand" which are done with acrylic paint and watercolor media on paper, using the subconscious to develop the image. I often meditate before beginning to paint, looking to banish thought from my mind. Then, as I start to paint I let go of judgement and try to respond. Sometimes my response is based in emotion, sometimes from something I see, but knowing the source only comes after the painting is complete. For instance, months after painting "Bent Figure" I finally recognized the source, a stenciled graffiti on a regular route. The gesture found in these paintings isn't controlled or practiced. I rely on many years of experience, letting my body do what is familiar, without letting my mind create expectations. Not an easy task, yet a very satisfying feeling when I can accomplish it.
But finding a way to accomplish a satisfying gesture on the computer has been a bit more challenging. Creating an expressive line in Photoshop with a stylus is the obvious choice, but an interesting result requires a lot of practice and manipulation, and is therefore no longer an impulse. Early in the exploration process I threw handfuls of salt onto a black cloth, made gestures with my finger and photographed it. This process evolved into making gestures in sand at the beach under strong sunlight. Then one rainy day I struck upon the idea of substituting a scanner for the sand. The image to the right here is the result of scanning a gesture. Then in PhotoShop I lift interesting shapes from the gestures, recombine them to form motifs, finally collaging the motifs into new compositions. Every mark you see in my digital work is sourced from one of these scans, so in essence I've made this work entirely from fingerprints. See a short demonstration here.
This work was inspired by the dramatic views at Fort Ross, along the northern coast in Sonoma County near Jenner, California.
After a short hike through weather beaten fields and forest, followed by an exploration of the lives lived at a Russian fort, I arrive at the enormous cliffs overlooking the shore, an overwhelming view. Once I’ve caught my breath, closer examination of the shore from above provides dizzying spectacles; impossibly bright colors and movement under the water evolve into abalone hunters surfacing to their rigs while their partners, mere dots from above, await on shore. Seaweed pushed and pulled by the tide, slaps enormous boulders engulfed by surf, then suddenly exposed. A short but treacherously steep hike down to the shore is rewarded with lush vegetation and a small peaceful beach. Dried out dead thistles stand as sentinels to all the comings and goings, while a marshy area hides some horsetail ferns, a personal favorite.
Having grown up in a colder climate with a different range of flora, I am enthralled when I see horsetail ferns no matter what stage of life. Early shoots just developing or old and leggy plants ready to return to the earth, looking at them transports me to another world. It is not surprising therefore, that the horsetail ferns I saw that day dominated my thoughts as I began this work.
My making process begins by scanning gestures (dragging my fingers over a scanner), which are the only source used to produce this work. As I collage the captured fingerprints together they turn into new objects, in this case the horsetail fern.
Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic which features impermanence and imperfection. A western interpretation could be rustic elegance or shabby chic. Although wabi-sabi is much more than an aesthetic, it is mysterious and difficult to define. Accord ing to Leonard Koren, author of Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, “wabi- sabi can in its fullest expression be a way of life.” (Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley). In art wabi-sabi presents a vehicle for staying in the moment, with a willing release of perfection and complete acceptance of the result.
Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging, which westerners might interpret as understated elegance. I find many ikebana arrangements dramatic and simple, yet rich and beautiful. Presented more for contemplation than filling a room with scent and color, they often evoke a somber mood with a touch of reverence.
All of the work in this series came from the first two versions of Wabi-Sabi Ikebana, which were repeatedly layered and distorted in different ways to create new versions. With over 200 images in the series, it is impossible to show everything. I like to work with several files open at once, sharing information between them, so it is impossible to know which came first. The pieces evolve both independently and in unison with each other. Another tactic I take at times is to open an unrelated piece of artwork and combine it in some way with something new. Wabi-Sabi Ikebana used only two original files to produce a wide range of results. A larger selection of the series and a description of the evolution can be found in the portfolio book The Wabi-Sabi Ikebana Series: A Study of Impermanence.
This series began in response to Valentine's Day, which to me has an alluring gloss, but always makes me squirm a little. Originally a celebration of the Christian Saint Valentine, today the holiday seems to be mostly about commercialism. But even when it was about love, as I saw it in my youth, why should there be one day selected for demonstrating one's feelings? In adulthood, after the gloss had rubbed off, Valentine's Day would emphasize my singleness rather than celebrate romance. Here then is a beautiful, lopsided heart formed by worms, which I also have a love/hate relationship with.