Checks & Balances:
Last year I discovered a cache of canceled checks from the 1930’s, totaling 96 in number, inside an English writing box acquired by my parents for their antiques business. I was immediately taken with the beauty of the checks, the printed elements, the elegant handwriting from a bygone era, and all of the random stamps that mark their long-ago journey through the banking system. Something clicked in me with this discovery: I began harvesting the paper ephemera I had accumulated over the years, a collection that I had previously no inkling of its purpose, to create collages using the checks as backgrounds.
My work, no matter the subject or medium, addresses the “landscape of the mind”. I explore mood, mutability, and transience of the self and the world in which we live. Creating this series has been a journey, one of delving into a new medium, exploring different ways of creating a story, a composition, working with text as mark-making rather than language, and setting many moods. The title for the series, Checks & Balances, refers to not only the support upon which the collages are created, but also the checks and balances that our democratic society was built upon, which are now being put to the test.
Many of us are experiencing and expressing great anxiety over the way the president is running our country. Will these checks and balances restrain him? Will our elections fall prey to Russian interference once again? How will we deal with climate change when the people in power deny its very existence? It feels as though we are in an age of incredible uncertainty and tremendous anxiety, with shrinking liberties, racism, increasing pollution, violence, and a war on truth and decency.
In light of these circumstances, it is also interesting to consider the time period in which these checks were used. By the early 1930’s the stock market had crashed, creating ripples of economic hardship around the world. Fascism was on the rise, Hitler was soon to take power, World War II on the horizon, and the United States failing to engage, claiming “America First”! What do we have in common with those who lived through these harrowing times? How are they dissimilar to us?
The collages in this series reflect these uncertain times in multiple ways: through the harried and anxious expressions of creatures after prey or being preyed upon. Some of the animals represented are threatened by environmental factors or already extinct due to human carelessness. I have excised many illustrations of John James Audubon and Maria Sibylla Merian, to create these collages, in part as a homage to these great artists, who were committed to the cataloging, conservation, and preservation of species. I have also used a number of different vintage field-guide books.
The potential for danger and destruction, and reminders of death (momento mori), are also present in many of these compositions and further the sense of dread and anxiety about the future. A woman blithely dives while a shark awaits unseen beneath the surface. Faces of clocks remind us that time is short. Women in famous paintings are paired with animals who show more expression than society allowed the female sitters to evince at the time they were painted. A Pileated Woodpecker sits in conversation with a butterfly all the while considering whether or not to consume it. These pieces in particular are not without levity for comedy and tragedy are but two sides of the same coin.
One cannot live in a state of perpetual agitation and outrage. Many express the need to tune-out and turn away for a time in order to withstand the demands of living in the current political climate. I frequently experience the need to go “airplane mode” and retreat from the world into my studio to create apart from the world. This is where another reflection of the times is expressed and flights of fancy come into the series. Maria Sibylla Merian’s Lanternflys commiserate over the brevity of life, a Carolina parrot becomes a sword-wielding knight, Madame de Pompadour unleashes her true feelings by allowing her pet snapping turtle free-rein, and the Kraken wages a great battle at sea… These whimsical scenes are playful and invite the creation of narratives to go along with each piece.
The sense of mystery and whimsy in these works is yet another way to invite the viewer to consider that which is transient, ephemeral, and fleeting. People’s perceptions often shift with the introduction of new objects, as a once seemingly insignificant mundane check now becomes a work of art. I enjoy thinking about and collaborating with the people who wrote, stamped, and handled these checks almost 100 years ago. I delight in intensifying the sense of mystery that surrounds these collaged pieces of ephemera. Furthermore, I like the idea of re-using and repurposing on an environmental level, but acknowledge this probably only prolongs the life of an object outside a landfill. There is pleasure to giving life to something as unwanted as an outdated nature guide.
Beginning with a background that has writing on it, instead of a blank page, has allowed me to view text abstractly. Signatures become expressive marks, stamps act as horizon lines, and the printed design becomes sky, sea, or functions as a cloth of honor as within the 16th century Netherlandish painting tradition. Positive and negative space is carefully considered and emphasized in these sometimes-minimal compositions. I have transformed these checks into something else entirely through contemplation of each mark, crease, bruise, indentation, and meticulously chosen additions. It is my hope that the viewer will experience a sense of mystery, whimsy, the past and the present simultaneously, and perhaps even a hint of magic.
The paintings in the Explorations series are macro and micro reflections upon the element of water. Some of the paintings are inspired by satellite photographs, aerial views, and maps, while others explore more personal experiences. In my work, I combine my worry over the growing threat to natural bodies of water around the world, and ultimately us, with my impressions of the astounding natural beauty of water in all its forms during my international travels, including Iceland, Patagonia, the Caribbean, and here at home on the Potomac.
These works also consider our relationship with the element of water, both its life sustaining and life-taking aspects. Some of the pieces are satellite images showing sea level rising, and others examine where land and water meet. Other paintings depict the state of water far from land, and some the underwater confusion created when the tide comes into shore.
In a few of the paintings, I memorialize the time I spent ice-skating in my youth on natural bodies of water. I recall mystical moments of gliding across the ice while looking down at the vegetation encased within. I fear that future generations will not have the chance to experience this sense of freedom and communion with nature due to climate change.
My work is also influenced by the literature I’ve read about Polar exploration. The ideas, lore, romance, and forbidding nature of the frozen world that inform these works fill the conceptual background of this series.
The watercolor paintings are created on Yupo, a synthetic non-absorbent paper made of polypropylene. When given the appropriate amount of water and time, select pigments separate on Yupo, rendering interesting textures that mimic water in fluid and frozen states. I have also made use of print-making techniques to create some of the lines and textures visible in the work. Since paint can be lifted off the surface of Yupo with great ease, I employ both subtractive and additive techniques. These paintings are a result of repeated sittings, interspersed with drying time, and paint applications.
Bodies of Water
The Bodies of Water series depicts the interior landscape of the mind through gestural poses of the figure. Humans can instinctively intuit another’s mood through the observation of posture and position -- the slump of the shoulders, the ease or lack thereof in one’s gait, the look in one’s eyes, or the way someone is listening. Despite all of these cues, we often ignore them and allow language and communication to supersede this visual understanding.
This has become truer than ever nowadays as much of our communication is via the internet, where body language and tone of voice have been replaced by oversimplified digital attempts of equivalency. In this age of discord, these works explore how common feelings of isolation have become, despite the veneer of connectedness through social media.
All of these paintings depict a lone figure. I use this device to point out that we can only experience the world through the venue of our own bodies. While we may be in the same room together, our bodies have entirely different senses of reality – one sees blue, the other green, one is cold, the other hot, one in pain, and the other comfortable.
One cannot step into the same river twice. Although it is the same body of water, it is in constant flux. I feel the same is true of ourselves: we might appear to be the same person, but we are constantly changing as a result of time, our experiences, our moods, and even our chemistry. The title of the series plays on the fact that we are mostly made of water ourselves.
I create each of the Bodies of Water paintings by laying down a few strokes on paper. I let the focus of my eyes go soft and I begin to see a loose silhouette, sometimes they change position before my very eyes. I employ additive and subtractive methods to carve a figure from the pools of water, helping the figure I saw to emerge from the chaos of the wash. I consider the negative space around the figure as an important resting area for the eye before delving into the figure and making sense of it.
Twists and Falls
Nature provides countless symbols through which the artist expresses truth, meaning, and can explore the interior landscape of the self. One example is the mysterious and unpredictable tornado, which has captured the imagination of many, including mine. Much remains unknown about how and why tornados develop. This scientific mystery adds to the allure of these dangerous and all-powerful storms.
Twisters embody a terrible beauty, not only because of their deadly potential, but also for their colors, forms, and movements, which are violent and magnificent. Their unpredictable nature and singular paths make them appear to posses a will of their own. Tornados seem to keep their own counsel, choosing to spare or destroy upon a whim. The incredible destructive potential of these storms force us to acknowledge how small and powerless we are, despite the illusion of control we foster.
For me the twister has come to represent the chaos and irrationality of our emotions and the uncertainty of life. At times we are surprised by the depth and breadth of our emotions. We are swept away by anxiety, anger or passion. We become swirling masses of emotions that cast detritus upon unsuspecting bystanders.
Simultaneously, the twister symbolizes change and forward momentum, which in times of personal stagnation can be the very catalyst we need. When a “tornado” has passed through the landscape, both real and figurative, has been cleared. Something new can now be realized. What positive outcomes could be affected if the power of a “tornado” could be harnessed?
Map For the Eyes
When I look at trees I see human figures filled with emotion, twisted and pulled in seemingly impossible directions. Trunks act as spines. Branches extend out in all directions like arms. A protuberance becomes the thrust of a hip. The anthropomorphic qualities of trees are especially apparent in winter, when they reveal their true underlying forms, their skeletons. But as of late I also see my own angst. My sojourn in Buenos Aires has been fraught with the prospect of losing someone very close to me, and as a result the incredible trees of this city have taken on even more dramatic roles in my mind. Sometimes they appear as figures with hands reaching out imploringly or cradling the self in protection, other times they are abstracted elements of human anatomy such as arteries, veins or nerves.
In winter the naked branches become a map for the eye to follow through the emptiness of the sky. As such, in these works I've focused on balancing positive and negative space, playing emptiness and fullness against one another, and providing places of great detail and nothingness in contrast. My palette, which ranges from browns to greys and greens with the occasional blue, reflects the colors of Buenos Aires as I see it.
The paintings in ‘The Wayfarer’ series are about contrasts, push and pull, and charting a course where possible whilst accepting that control is an illusion. They are about making plans in the face of uncertainty and seeing light within the dark. The Wayfarer reacts to and makes her way through lands of darkness and light, fullness and emptiness, lightness and heaviness, being pushed or pulled in an unpredictable environment.
The support upon which the series is painted is a synthetic paper called Yupo, which is made of Polypropylene, a thermoplastic polymer. Yupo is a surface that resists watercolor rather than absorbs as with traditional watercolor papers. Pigments on Yupo separate and move when saturated, thus rendering a state of controlled chaos in the paintings. The chaotic nature of the technical aspects of these works also acts in part as their subject. Additionally, certain non-staining pigments can be removed entirely, making subtractive work possible. Time, temperature, and gravity also play an important role.
The silhouette is a different way to look at the human body. Everyone’s silhouette is unique, yet without interior lines giving us a sense of a person’s features it becomes somewhat anonymous. The anonymity allows the viewer to relate to the emotional state rather than focusing on the appearance of a particular person.
I use the silhouette as a framework for the interior and emotional world that is contained within our minds and bodies. We interact with one another while never really knowing what is going on the inside. I also find it interesting that we are so intimately involved with our own bodies yet we have no idea what we look like on the inside, visually we only see the exterior; we sense the interior. What do our emotions look like?
The paintings in the silhouette series function as shaped etching plates would. The painting is contained within the silhouette much as an etching is contained within a plate and is surrounded by the white of the paper. In the case of etchings white space is completely acceptable. In a painting, it is unexpected. Furthermore, one expects to see a figure within a background, I am more interested in that which can happen within the confines of the figure physically and symbolically.